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Democratising Party Leadership Selection in Belgium: Motivations and Decision Makers



Political parties are increasingly adopting more inclusive procedures to select their party leader, most notably by introducing party primaries. This article tries to detect motives and decision makers for this introduction in Belgian parties. The literature on Westminster-style parties contends that party elites only reluctantly transfer more power from the parliamentary party group (PPG) to party members. They do so only when finding themselves in a weak position: after electoral defeat, when in opposition, when other parties are doing so or when the party is new. The situation in Belgium is different, as is demonstrated with quantitative and qualitative data. Mostly, the party elite was keen on introducing party primaries and took the initiative itself to carry them through. The mechanism at work, however, is the same as in Westminster parties: avoiding too much power for middle-level elites. Because of the different starting position (party delegates selecting the leader), the decision-making process looks completely different. We also argue that the results from Belgian parties might apply to consensus democracies in general.