Making or Breaking Politics: Social Conflicts and Party-System Change in Democratic Bolivia

Jennifer Cyr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Why do only some social conflicts lead to party-system change? In Bolivia, the recent politicization of the regional autonomy movement represented a stark difference with how conflicts had affected party-system dynamics in the past. This study argues that social conflicts led to party-system change in Bolivia thanks largely to the strategies of ruling party elites. Motivated to preserve their position in power, elites had a menu of strategic options at their disposal to integrate, defer, or disregard demands from below. The study situates the recent regional conflict in Bolivia within the country’s longer history of mobilizational politics. It finds that ruling elites utilized different strategies of exclusion and inclusion to neutralize social conflict and preserve the status quo party system. They appropriated the regional autonomy demands as a last-ditch effort to remain electorally relevant in the face of successful party competition. In so doing, they helped transform the party system. Even from a position of electoral weakness and in the face of overwhelming demands from below, Bolivia’s elites shaped the transformative impact of those demands. This study relies upon a least-likely case design to highlight the impact elite agency can have in making or breaking politics under democracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-303
Number of pages21
JournalStudies in Comparative International Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 8 2015


  • Bolivia
  • Democratization
  • Elite agency
  • Party-system change
  • Representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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