In many Latin American countries, the phenomenon of the Parliamentary Party Group Switching (PPGS) – changing party group membership during the legislative period – has intensified over the last decades. In spite of this, very few academic studies have investigated this subject. The existing works have very descriptive approaches, or are selectively legal or sociological. In the Central American region, there is no study that thoroughly analyzes the phenomenon of party switching from an integral and explanatory political science perspective.
The numerical importance of PPGS, the severe impact it has in terms of parliamentary fragmentation, the relations between the Executive and Legislative Powers, the internal organization of parliaments, the volatility of the party system, the alteration of coalition dynamics and of democratic governance as a whole, call for a broader understanding of the phenomenon.
To many observers, party switching is simply an opportunistic act of treason, being both the reflection and a cause of decaying support for democracy, in particular in Latin American countries. It is also seen as an expression of weak political institutions, insignificant parliaments, corrupt political practices and identity lacking political parties in overall underperforming democracies.
But is party switching mere betrayal? Is loyalty to the party necessarily more moral and high standing, even when this loyalty is motivated by opportunistic purposes? And isn’t politics always about personal ambitions?
The explanatory factors of party switching are not easily identified, apart from the fact they differ from person to person. Often, the decision of a legislator to leave – to betray – the party by which he has been elected is the result of a complex process of individual trade-offs, that are not necessarily rational, but always rational from a political perspective.