Battleground: candidate selection and violence in Africa’s dominant political parties

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This article develops a theory – rooted in the experience of the African National Congress in South Africa – to explain how, and why, a dominant political party is less likely to conduct orderly elections to select its political leadership. First, I demonstrate that canny party leaders – operating in the space between a divided society and a weak state – make an ideological turn to a “congress-like” political party, which is clever (in the short term) because it provides party leaders with an in-built electoral majority. It is, however, also a dangerous manoeuvre because it essentially endogenizes social competition for state resources inside the dominant party. This displacement of social competition away from the public sphere towards the partisan organization increases the likelihood of disorderly competition for party candidacies. Second, I demonstrate how this competition need not necessarily become the basis of violent competition inside the dominant party. The party leadership can use intra-party elections to stabilize competition, but only if the party invests in an organization that applies impartially the rules that govern the election.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)978-995
Number of pages18
Issue number6
Early online date1 May 2018
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Sept 2018


  • political parties
  • Africa
  • electoral violence
  • African National Congress
  • party modernization


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