Not what it says on the tin: 8 political parties that could do with a name change

Author:
Dylan Difford, guest contributor. This article is part of a series on Dylan's research on elections, party systems and voting methods around the world.

Posted on the 10th January 2022

Most political parties go for a simple, descriptive name that, as best as possible, indicates their ideology, platform or who they seek to represent. In other words, they do exactly what it says on the tin. But there are some parties you come across where there is a total disconnect between the name and the party. Names that are so counter-intuitive or perplexing that you can only wonder why they haven’t changed it. Here are a few.

Social Democratic Party, Portugal

If you saw the results of 2019 Portuguese election where the Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Left Bloc and the Communist Party took 94% of seats between them, you could be forgiven for thinking that Portugal is the most left-wing democracy ever. The catch, though, is that the Social Democratic Party (PSD) are not actually social democrats, rather they are a somewhat standard centre-right party that are usually classed as ‘liberal conservatives’.

As with many oddly named parties, there is some historical truth to their name. The PSD were founded as a social democratic party in the aftermath of the fall of Portugal’s far-right dictatorship in the early 1970s, but quickly crossed the political divide and were in alliance with the conservative CSD by the end of the decade.

Venstre, Denmark/Norway

Venstre, which in Danish and Norwegian translates as ‘Left’, might not seem like a bad name for a political party – Germany and Luxembourg both have parties simply called The Left. The problem, though, is that both Venstres are not left-wing. They are both centre-right liberal parties that are fairly pro-free market. In fact, Denmark’s Venstre has been the country’s main right-of-centre party for over 25 years.

While both parties may have been the left-wing option when they were founded in the 19th century, it must be more than a little odd today opposing the left from the Left. Doubly so in Denmark where they also have the social liberal Radikale Venstre (Radical Left), the least left-wing party in the left bloc.

Social Liberal Party, Brazil

The far-right President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is known for many things, though something that might be a surprise is that he was elected as the candidate of the Social Liberal Party. But this isn’t so much a party that drifted from its original beliefs, rather than one that was hijacked.

The party may have been a bit more economically right-wing than is normal for social liberals, but it was largely a true liberal party until Bolsonaro joined in 2018. Most of its original membership quickly quit, something which Bolsonaro later did himself. The remaining far-right party is now attempting a merger with other right-wing parties.

Centre Party, Sweden

The Nordic Agrarian parties were initially established to represent the interests of farmers in parliament, but they have now since rebranded as Centre parties with a slightly broader appeal. Norway and Finland’s Centre parties are today genuinely fairly centrist, but Sweden’s is a bit different. It is a resolutely right-wing liberal party that is more economically and socially liberal than the Liberals themselves – with Centre hoping to capitalise on the recent shift of the Liberals in favour of co-operating with the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats. Despite not being ideologically centrist, the party is, however, rather aptly situated in the middle of the two blocs after last year’s government crisis.

Labour and People’s National Parties, Jamaica

As names for political parties go, National and Labour have to be some of the most common – searching Wikipedia for them will lead to disambiguation pages that are basically a list of UN member states. But wherever you find one of these parties, it is usually the case that Labour is on the left and National is on the right. Not in Jamaica.

There, the governing Labour Party is a right-wing conservative party, though one with admittedly strong links to some of Jamaica’s trade unions. It is instead the People’s National Party that is the social-democratic one.

Social Democratic Liberal Party, Fiji

How much would you be willing to bet that the Social Democratic Liberal Party of Fiji is a progressive, centre-left party? It sure sounds like it should be (if you haven’t read the rest of this blog!). But it’s actually an ethno-nationalist party that seeks to represent the interests of the largely Christian native Fijian majority over that of the largely Hindu Indo-Fijian minority. The party is also strongly connected to the perpetrators of the 2000 coup and seeks to reverse many of the democratic, multi-racial reforms implemented since the 2006 countercoup and 2014 restoration of democracy.

 

While it is easy to quickly glance at election results from around the world and come to a conclusion, it’s always worth having a closer look. Every country has a slightly different political system, history and culture – you can’t just assume that things work the same way halfway around the world.

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