Extant research on political parties focuses exclusively on their ideological specifics, strategic choices during elections, and policy performance when in government. More recently, scholars have started to emphasize the importance of organizational principles of party building and internal party operation for the overall level of democratic performance in a country. Numerous polls over the last several years have indicated that the level of citizens’ trust in political parties and national parliaments is at an all-time low. This raises questions about the democraticness of parties and the connections they build to society. This concern is especially troubling in the case of emerging party systems in countries undergoing democratic transitions, such as those in Eastern Europe. As carriers of the very idea of pluralism in democratic representation, post-Communist political parties have been key actors in the process of transition. Success in developing solid party structures and clear procedures would likely help those parties fulfill a very important mission: transformation of Eastern European post-Soviet bloc countries into vibrant modern democracies. This chapter explores whether political parties have been able to grow organizationally and develop democratically in the region by assessing the extent of institutional sophistication of major political parties in the context of Bulgaria.
Since the revolutions of 1989, the Bulgarian party system has undergone important transformations. Throughout the 1990s, it changed from a one-party totalitarian system to a multi-party competitive system. During this period, two formidable political forces, namely the ex-Communist Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) – and to a lesser degree the smaller ethnic minority Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) – dominated the political arena. Since 2001, new parties have not only continued to emerge, but have also gained victories in Bulgarian elections (see Table 1). The organizational capacity developed by transition-era parties is no longer an advantage, and newcomers have made significant advances with little organization and modest resources. As this study reveals, both the institutional context and the choices made by Bulgarian parties have shaped a reality in which organizational structure and procedure vary widely with regard to power distribution and degree of intra-party democracy.