Why parties lose power

Why parties lose power

Kenneth Greene understands why dominant parties rise and fall probably better than most. In his book, “Why Dominant Parties Lose: Mexico’s Democratization in Comparative Perspective,” the UT assistant government professor studies closely dominant parties in Taiwan, Italy, Malaysia, Japan, and his area of expertise, Mexico.

What Greene found in his research was that dominant political parties stay in power using the revenue of the state to pay for their patronage. Since they control public coffers, they don’t need to fall back on fraud or military power to maintain dominance.

“Dominant parties persist when they can politicize public resources,” Greene said. “Essentially, they steal money from the public budget and reroute it for political use.”

As long as these political parties can make available patronage jobs, cash, scholarships and other goodies taken from state-owned enterprises they can stay in power.

Greene's research included 1,500 in-person interviews conducted by college students, his own in-depth interviews with party leaders and powerful activists, and his field observations of party building in Mexico City. He also relied on twenty years of experience studying Mexican politics.

Greene believes that to maintain power, the dominant party must control the federal agencies and offices that maintain access to the public budget. Also, it must increase the size of the publicly controlled economy. One way to do that is to federalize industries.

“That expanded the pie from which they could take liberal slices,” Greene said.

An example in Mexico is Pemex, the state-owned oil company. Now, it’s the largest remaining state-controlled business, but there used to be many more.

The beginning of the end of Institutional Revolutionary Party’s grip on power in Mexico was the financial crisis of 1982, which resulted in many reforms, including the privatization of much of the country’s economy.

Before the 1982 crisis, state-owned enterprises accounted for nearly 23 percent of gross domestic product. By the time of the presidential election in 2000, it was down to 5.5 percent.

—Daniel J. Vargas