Ranked: Divided Ruling Parties

It’s not just the GOP. Political dominance has a way of sowing discord among those who hold it.

Angela Merkel with Horst Seehofer
Angela Merkel with Horst Seehofer (Michael Dalder / Reuters)

There’s nothing like unified political power to divide a party. Donald Trump’s GOP is just one example. Around the world, parties that have clawed their way to victory have quickly found themselves facing off against their own members for control. Here, in rough order of how likely they are to tear themselves are apart, are governments where victory is splitting the victors.

5. Germanys CSU-CDU. Germany’s Angela Merkel, who will go for a fourth term as chancellor in elections in September, governs as the head of a long-standing center-right political alliance between her Christian Democratic Union and the smaller Christian Social Union. The two parties have always united behind one candidate for chancellor, but faced a serious falling out over Merkel’s decision to welcome refugees into Germany. Last year, the CSU’s leader, Horst Seehofer, who has been pushing for a cap on refugee admissions, warned that his party could “go it alone.” But facing a growing threat from the center-left Social Democratic Party, which is polling well under the leadership of former EU politician Martin Schulz, Merkel and Seehofer have papered over their differences. The two allies will go into the election united, with Seehofer stressing that his party will “put its own accent” on Merkel’s policies.

4. The United States GOP. After their surprise victory in November, Republicans have struggled to define a concrete agenda for the nation. Key divides span foreign policy—old-guard senators want to push back against Russia and resist efforts by the White House to cut funding to the State Department—and domestic policy. That split is starkest on health care, where there is complete agreement on the goal, to repeal and replace Obamacare, but as yet no consensus plan to achieve it. Tax reform, similarly, has broad appeal, but the devil is in the details, like a proposed border-adjustment tax, which has divided the House leadership and the White House. Trump’s speech to Congress this week will create a feel-good glow among Republicans, but that may not last when it comes down to haggling over budget lines.

3. Italys Democratic Party. The fallout from a failed constitutional referendum last year continues to shape Italian politics. Matteo Renzi, who called for the vote, resigned as prime minister shortly after his attempt to reform the electoral system failed, but his Democratic Party (PD) retained control of the government. Now that party has split over whether Renzi should attempt to return to power. His decision late last month to resign as party leader, as the first step toward new elections to restore his mandate, triggered an outcry from a more leftist group within his party. That group has now broken off to form a new party, weakening the government’s majority. The net result is that the main center-left party in Italy, which Renzi is likely to still control, will go into the next round of elections with a smaller base of support, possibly empowering its populist opponents.

2. South Koreas conservatives. The ruling party in Seoul has been in chaos since allegations emerged late last year that Park Geun-hye, who became president in 2013 but has since been suspended, had given political power and patronage to a private confidante. Park’s impeachment awaits a formal judgment by the constitutional court, but in the meantime, her party has fractured over whether to continue to support her. One faction split off in December and attempted to convince former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to run as its candidate in the upcoming presidential election. That failed as Ban bowed out. Since then, the remnants of the party has re-branded, changing its name from Saenuri to Liberal Korea. Without a standard-bearer, its future is murky.

1. South Africas ANC. The party that has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid is at war with itself. The stakes are high. The ANC is politically dominant in the country, so whoever takes control of the party is nearly assured to be the next president. The current president, Jacob Zuma, has presided over a campaign against his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, who has seen questionable legal charges against him come and go. Other members of the cabinet have threatened to resign if Gordhan is shuffled out of cabinet. Meanwhile, Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is a leading contender to succeed him in an internal contest that will come to a head at a party conference in December. And then, if all goes well for the ANC, it will win next year’s vote, and the divisions will roll on into next year.

This article has been adapted from Matt Peterson’s weekly newsletter for Eurasia Group, Signal.