The List: Party’s Over?

Gordon Brown may be driving his party into the wilderness, yet it's unlikely that Labour is doomed to irrelevance forever. But from Tokyo to Tel Aviv, some once formidable political factions could disappear completely -- and sooner than you think.

Junko Kimura/Getty Images

LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Country: Japan

Leader: Taro Aso

Decline: Since the end of World War II, Japan has been ruled as virtually a one-party state. With only a one-year interruption in the early 1990s, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has held onto political power since 1955, electing 14 prime ministers in a row. The LDP was originally formed to unite conservatives against the Japan Socialist Party, but for years has seemed to lack a coherent ideology, its sole defining characteristic seemingly its members’ shared desire for political power.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had three successful terms in the first half of this decade, during which he oversaw economic liberalization and recovery, but he has been followed by a rapid succession of unpopular prime ministers: Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, and now Taro Aso. Currently, the LDP badly trails the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), led by Yukio Hatoyama, in the polls, with elections scheduled for the fall. One poll taken in late May gives the DPJ a 13 percentage point lead. If the LDP loses, as is widely expected, it could lead to a fragmentation of the party into more definable ideological groups.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

LABOR PARTY

Country: Israel

Leader: Ehud Barak

Decline: Left-wing parties, in various incarnations, ruled Israel for the first three decades of its existence. Formed as an alliance of left-wingers in the mid-1960s, Labor was Israel’s dominant center-left party until the turn of the millennium. Even after losing power to Likud in 1977, Labor remained a force to be reckoned with. Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin relied on Labor votes to pass the Camp David accords. In 1999, though, Ehud Barak was elected prime minister, and, unfortunately for Labor, his promises to withdraw from southern Lebanon and his offer of land for peace to the Palestinians backfired when violence increased. Barak resigned in 2001, and the party won only 15 percent of the vote in the 2003 elections — then a historic low.

Since then, Labor’s fortunes have only declined further. Some pressure has come from new religious parties and some from the new centrist Kadima Party, which under Ariel Sharon and now Tzipi Livni has attracted many prominent Labor figures, including former leader Shimon Peres (now president of Israel under the Kadima banner). Labor earned just under 10 percent of the vote in the most recent national elections, leaving it with only 13 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP/Getty Images

BLOC QUBCOIS

Country: Canada

Leader: Gilles Duceppe

Decline: Founded in 1990 after the defeat of the Meech Lake accord (which would have recognized Quebec as a separate society and given it veto power over the Canadian Constitution), the Bloc Qubcois (BQ) was established as a coalition to support Quebecois separatism. Initially, the coalition met with great success, capturing 54 seats in the Canadian Parliament and becoming the largest opposition party. A year later, its provincial counterpart, the Parti Qubcois (PQ), captured its first provincial majority in more than a decade, and the PQ readied for what was expected to be a successful referendum on sovereignty for Quebec.

Yet the referendum failed (by less than a percentage point), and the BQ has failed to maintain any momentum on its key issue: Quebec’s sovereignty. The party lost 30 percent of its parliamentary seats during the 1990s, and though it was able to recover some ground, the 2008 elections saw its lowest-ever vote total across Canada and its second-lowest ever in Quebec. Only protest votes from a series of scandals besetting Canada’s dominant Liberal and Conservative parties have prevented a complete collapse, but the BQ and PQ seem unable to revive their sovereignty campaign. A recent poll showed that only 34 percent of Quebec’s residents support independence, and only 26 percent think it is even a possibility.

DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images

UNIN CVICA RADICAL

Country: Argentina

Leader: Gerardo Morales

Decline: Founded in 1891, the Unin Cvica Radical (UCR) is Argentina’s oldest political party. Traditionally representing the urban middle class and positioning itself left of the rival Peronist party, it was the country’s primary opposition party throughout Juan Pern’s dictatorship and a number of military juntas. After allying with other left-wing parties to elevate its leader Fernando de la Ra to the presidency in 1999, the party’s support has slowly collapsed. De la Ra’s presidency was a disaster, as Argentina underwent a crippling economic crisis that forced him to resign in late 2001. By 2005, the UCR had lost nearly half of its seats in the Chamber of Deputies, Argentina’s lower house of Congress.

The UCR remained the second-largest political party, though, and might have been able to remain a significant political force. But since de la Ra’s presidency, the UCR has been split by factions supporting former Peronist President Nstor Kirchner and now his wife and current Argentine president, Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner. In the 2007 presidential elections, Mrs. Kirchner’s running mate was none other than former UCR leader Julio Cobos, who bolted from the party to support the Kirchners. As one analyst told Inter Press Service, the UCR continues to operate as a party, but is no longer a political force.

PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images

FIANNA FAIL

Country: Ireland

Leader: Brian Cowen

Decline: The party founded by Irish independence leader Eamon de Valera has long been one of the two dominant forces in Irish politics, long competing with its more conservative rival, Fine Gael, for majorities. At first glance, its position appears strong: It is the largest party in both houses of the Irish parliament, and it has held the Irish taoiseach (prime minister) position since 1997. So what is there for its supporters to worry about?

Plenty. Fianna Fail benefited greatly from the Celtic tiger economic growth of the late 1990s, and it was Fine Gael that looked obsolete in the beginning of the decade. But the near collapse of Ireland’s economy has seriously hurt the party’s fortunes. In 10 years, the party has dropped 15 percentage points in local government vote totals. Some polls earlier in the year even showed it as only the third-largest party in the country behind Fine Gael and the Labour Party. In particular, it has lost out in the biggest cities: For the first time in more than 70 years, the party of de Valera is no longer the largest party in his home turf of County Clare. As an article in Ireland’s Sunday Business Post put it even before the European parliamentary election results — in which Fianna Fail lost 6 percentage points from its 2004 total — The party has recovered from slumps before. But not a slump like this.

James Downie is an editorial researcher at FP.

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