Recent events in the Arab world have transported us to an interesting reflection on the role of parties in the current political landscape; mainly because the majority of the protest movements have been organized and circulated through social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
This type of social movements, outside of the parties, are not new per se, just remember the Portuguese transition process in the 70’s (or others). In the Portuguese case, the process of constitutionalization that followed institutionalized many of these actors (individual and collective), which then joined or formed parties. Later, the 1976 Constitution devoted exclusively political participation through political parties.
This solution, corrected later in the case of municipal elections (that allowed, since 2001 Independent candidates to run), allowed the regime stability, but also alienated other forms of active political participation outside the party spectrum. At the same time, it built a party elite too grasped to seize the opportunities that the ‘new system’ provided - especially in its municipal scale. Within this new framework, most major parties main concern was to defend the recently conquer state apparatus, building in the process wide clientelist networks, fed by intermediate elites of the party apparatus.
This sedimentation process of the party system created, then, a new administrative elite, and transformed the parties from institutions of representation of social interest into institutions of representation of self-interests.
Unfortunately, such a partidarization of the system has led, in Western democracies, to a progressive citizens alienation from parties activities and to the inability of regeneration of political parties, which today not only fail to genuinely attract new members and sympathizers, but also to promote any effective internal debate or devote participatory models of internal democracy.
In response, civil society, each day more and more politically educated, informed and willing to participate in the life of the Polis, has been organized around new social movements. Phenomenon, I repeat, not new per se, but with new communicational conditions and organizational tools that should allow us to access that the characteristics of this new ‘post-partisan political technologically developed culture’ needs to be taken into account by the System, if it as the ambition to continue to be significant, willing to reflect the will of its citizens and allow them to intervene outside of electoral cycles.
This, then, is the reflection I suggest: how can we, today, involve citizens in everyday political activity, in a scenario in which parties are discredited and when the new formulas of social organization exempt intermediaries in the relationship between citizenship and politics?
Now, I do not believe, yet, that we are prepared to question the role of parties in contemporary political systems, but I do believe it is urgent to revise its hegemonic role in the political organization of our societies and inject in then a new and genuine vitality.