A Typology of Postcommunist Successor Parties in Central and Eastern Europe and an Explanatory Framework for Their (Non-)Success

In: East Central Europe
Seongcheol Kim Institute of Intercultural and International Studies, University of Bremen, Germany,

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Endre Borbáth Department of Political and Social Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Center for Civil Society Research, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Berlin, Germany,

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This article revisits the phenomenon of postcommunist successor parties – defined as the formal successor organizations of state-socialist ruling parties – in Central and Eastern Europe three decades after the transformative events of 1989–91 and two decades after the most recent period of sustained academic interest in the topic. The article begins with a critical reexamination of the late 1990s and early 2000s comparative politics literature on postcommunist successor parties, noting in particular its reliance on path dependency as well as subsequent empirical developments that cannot be explained by established approaches. From here, this article argues that major changes in the electoral fortunes of numerous successor parties since the mid-2000s require instead a relational perspective on party competition and interactions with competitor parties in the respective party systems, allowing for the identification of realigning elections in which successor parties are programmatically outflanked or crowded out on one or more issue dimensions by competitors or vice versa. The article applies this perspective to reexamine successor parties in six countries that exhibit a pronounced explanatory deficit vis-à-vis the previous literature: Czech Republic, (the former East) Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. In doing so, it draws on expert survey (ches) data and postelection studies on voter flows in addition to qualitative case analyses in order to demonstrate these interactions at work in critical phases of successor-party decline or growth.

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