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Patrons or Champions? Ethnic Minority Parties and Clientelism

Political Parties
Public Policy
Representation
Maria Spirova
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Petr Kopecky
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Maria Spirova
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden

Abstract

The representation of members of ethnic minority groups in the national political process has been a challenge for political systems of all types and in all geographical regions. Scholarship ethnic political parties often reflects an uneasiness about the nature and behavior of such parties. The limited and ethnically delineated number of members, supporters, and potential voters that an ethnic party has is why such parties are constrained in terms of electoral strategies and policy positioning, just as their organizational efforts are expected to be focused on the distribution of selective benefits to the members of the ethnic group that they represent. This paper asks the following questions: how the ethnic party’s numerically limited and group delineated electoral base influence its organizational strategies? To what extent do clientelistic linkages dominate the party organization? Are beneficiaries limited to members of the group? The paper is organized as follows. The first part builds a theoretical argument about the links between the party’s base and its clientelistic strategies by borrowing from the mainstream party literature and the ethnic party literature to construct a number of expectations about ethnic party behavior. It then applies the model empirically to the experience of ethnic parties in Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and Slovakia. The paper concludes with some preliminary observations about the impact the organizational strategies of ethnic parties have on the representative functions of the parties and the situation of the ethnic minority they represent. The paper fits in the bigger framework of the workshop by linking the political mobilization of certain social groups to the practice of clientelism and patronage and exploring the consequences these have for the group representation in the political system and its participation in the policy-making process.