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Institutions in Tension: Economic Crisis, Democratic Crisis and Institutional Change

Comparative Politics
Democracy
Elections
Government
Institutions
Political Parties
S020
Jean-Benoit Pilet
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Sarah Birch
Kings College London
Rubén Ruiz-Rufino
Kings College London

Endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Comparative Political Institutions


Abstract

This section’s goal is to address processes of institutional changes as consequences of economic and political pressures that have been growing in the recent period, but also to discuss how reshaping institutions may be an efficient way to reduce the intensity of these pressures. First, for about 20 years now, scholars have been reflecting about how institutions and political regimes are being challenged by the growing dissatisfaction among the public about how democracy functions (Dalton, 2004; Norris, 2011a), about what it delivers in terms of public policies (Scharpf, 1999) and about the main actors of most democratic parties (Webb et al., 2002; Farrell and McAllister, 2011). These sentiments are generating support for reforms to improve the system of representative democracy. This creates fertile ground for political actors to suggest institutional reforms and experimentations. These processes of institutional change may be seen as attempts to reduce the pressure exerted on existing institutions as well as on politicians. By showing that they are responsive to public demands, reformers hope to legitimize themselves but also to restore the legitimacy of the political regime itself (Cain et al., 2003; Norris; 2011b). More recently, a new source of tension has emerged with the economic crisis. Here again, the idea is that deteriorating economic conditions would put governments under pressure and will damage the legitimacy of those in power. But when the crisis becomes very deep, as in countries like Greece, Ireland or Iceland, it is not only the legitimacy of the incumbent government that is damaged. Institutions also start being questioned and debates arise about whether the source of the incapacity of authorities to prevent or solve the economic crisis does not lie in the institutional system itself. In some cases, this new source of tension has led to a deterioration of the democratic institutions (Diamond, 2008; Rupnik, 2012). In others, as recently illustrated by the Irish and Icelandic processes of constitutional reform, reforms seem to go in the opposite direction by looking at how citizens could and should get more involved in the political system (Bergmann, 2013; Farrell, 2013). Yet, though scholarly attention to the interrelations between political crisis, economic crisis and institutional changes has been growing recently, these various approaches to the phenomenon of institutions in tension have not been much debated so far. With this section, we want to provide a venue for these discussions between scholars to take place. Therefore, the section invites panels and papers that will address the following themes. - Research trying to detect how various types of political crisis (declining crisis, electoral realignment, political scandals, political/electoral fraud) may be the source of institutional change. - Research looking at the link between the recent economic crisis and process of institutional reform, but also with experiences of democratic innovation (e.g. citizens assemblies, e-democracy). - Research addressing the impact of institutions and of institutional reform on citizens’ satisfaction with democracy in general but also with institutions and political parties more specifically. - Research examining the impact of institutional change on the policy process and the ability of elites to cope with evolving governance challenges. Short bibliography of the co-convenors Sarah Birch is professor of political science at the University of Glasgow. She specialises in the study of ethics and misconduct. Her current research has two main foci: attitudes toward public ethics (including environmental ethics) and electoral integrity. Her most recent monograph is Electoral Malpractice (OUP, 2011), and she is soon to publish a monograph on corruption perceptions in the UK with N. Allen (CUP, 2014). She is the co-convenor of the ECRP Standing Group on Comparative Political Institutions. Ruben Ruiz-Rufino is lecturer of International Politics at King’s College Londo. His research deals with measuring the functioning of political institutions and the effect of political representation in regime stability and political accountability. Rubén holds a Ph.D. from the Juan March Institute. He was Max Weber fellow at the University Institute (EUI). He is the co-convenor of the ECRP Standing Group on Comparative Political Institutions. Jean-Benoit Pilet is professor of political science. He works mostly on electoral institutions and intraparty democracy. He is soon to publish with Alan Renwick on the personalization of electoral systems in Europe (OUP, forthcoming) and wit William Cross on the selection of party leaders in parliamentary democracies (Routledge, 2014). He is the co-convenor of the ECRP Standing Group on Comparative Political Institutions. References Bergmann, E. (2013) Reconstituting Iceland – from an economic collapse to a new ‘post-revolutionary’, ‘crowdsourced’ constitution. Cain, B.E., Dalton R.J. and Scarrow, S.E. (eds) (2003), Democracy Transformed? Expanding Political Opportunities in Advanced Industrial Democracies. OUP. Dalton, Russell J. (2004). Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices: The Erosion of Political Support in Advanced Industrial Democracies. OUP. Diamond, L. (2008) The spirit of democracy: The struggle to build free societies throughout the world, Times Books. Farrell, D. M., & McAllister, I. (2011). Political Parties and Democratic Linkage. How Parties Organize Democracy. OUP. Farrell, D. (2013) Governments’ Efforts to Close the Legitimacy Gap: People’s Conventions as a Means of Managing the Reform Process. Norris, P. (2011a). Democratic Deficit. Critical Citizens Revised. CUP. Norris, P. (2011b). Cultural Explanations of Electoral Reform. A policy Cycle Model. West European Politics. 34 (3): 531-550. Rupnik, J. (2012). Hungary. How things went wrong. Journal of Democracy, 23 (3): 132-137. Scharpf, F. (1999). Governing in Europe. Effective and Democratic? OUP. Webb, D. M. Farrell, & I. Holliday (Eds.) (2002). Political parties in advanced industrial democracies. OUP.
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