Venezuela in Crisis: The Deterioration and Polarization of Party Politics

Over the past two decades, Venezuelan has shifted from being one of the most stable democracies in the global South to being marked as an unstable, conflict-ridden regime. Throughout the 1990s, established political parties that had traditionally offered meaningful mechanisms for representation experienced significant deterioration in their ability to provide effective state-society ties, opening the door for the rise of left-leaning outsider and former coup-plotter Hugo Chávez Frias.

With the collapse of the traditional party system, party politics, and the political system more broadly, have experienced traumatic shifts in their most fundamental facets. Rather than being dominated by two highly structured party organizations engaged in institutionalized patterns of competition, the contemporary party system features a multitude of comparatively weak parties. These parties compete in two coalitions, each encapsulating diverse interests unified primarily by support for or opposition to the polarizing project of political and economic transformation advanced by Chávez. While the new political system offers formerly marginalized groups new voice and provides meaningful policy options to voters who previously had none, collapse has also aggravated social and political conflict, heightened personalism (a doctrine emphasizing the significance, uniqueness, and inviolability of personality), disrupted the predictability and routinization of party organizations, and undermined liberal democratic institutions.

Professor Morgan will discuss the reasons for these fundamental changes, outline some of the major features of the current system, and discuss possible trajectories for the future of Venezuelan politics.