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The Challenges of Combining Intra-Party Deliberation with Effective Legislative Representation: A Case Study of Alternativet

Democracy
Political Participation
Political Parties
Representation
Party Members
Mixed Methods
Political Engagement
Nikolai Gad
Newcastle University
Nikolai Gad
Newcastle University
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Abstract

This paper evaluates the theoretical advantages, and reflect, on the practical challenges, of combining intra-party deliberation with effective representation in legislative assemblies and electoral competition using Alternativet as a case study. The Danish political party Alternativet was founded in 2013 on a number of values, including six debate principles that stresses the importance of listening sincerely to arguments about advantages and disadvantages of proposals, always providing justifications for ideas, and focussing on the common good. Consequently, Alternativet is an example of an emerging political party that emphasises the importance of intra-party deliberation. Jan Teorell (1999) has – among others – argued that a strong intra-party democracy, based on deliberation among party members, is beneficial to democracy on three grounds. Firstly, political parties are in a unique position to link deliberation in civil society with consequential decision-making fora in the political sphere. Secondly, parties are good arenas for deliberation, because they cannot exclusively focus on single issues like other secondary associations, but have to take into consideration how different issues relate to each other. Finally, their strong agenda setting power in the public sphere can only be normatively justified if these proposals are themselves a result of deliberation within parties. However, few studies have explored the empirical implications of implementing a strong deliberative intra-party democracy. Through semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in Alternativet and a membership survey, this paper reflects on the practical challenges of accommodating deliberative processes within a political party while also representing voters in legislative arenas and competing in elections. Alternativet’s experiences of combining electoral success with a commitment to deliberative policy formation procedures, demonstrates that there are a number of challenges in combining intra-party deliberation with effective representation of political preferences in legislative forums.