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An elite party is a political party consisting of members of the societal elite, particularly members of parliament, who agree to co-operate politically in the spirit of principles and goals. The first to describe this party model was Edmund Burke in 1770.[1]

Elite parties form as groupings of elite members particularly in situations where an individual politician's political standing can be secured without the support of large populations. An elite party can form internally in the parliament and its political power is derived from that of its individual members. Elite parties have practically no extra-parliamentary structure and are generally more flexible than mass parties. The central role of independent, powerful individuals implies that their structure is often loose and that their policy may be internally disputed due to disagreements between individual members.[2]

Elite parties tend to consist of local notables or clients of powerful patrons. These are weakly organised and mobilize support through personal resources of the notables or through vertical patron-client networks.

Elite parties are contrasted to mass parties that largely consist of "masses" of laymen. Mass parties can be democratic, such as decentralized liberal parties, or massive but centrally controlled like Nazi or Communist parties; these are occasionally classified separately.[citation needed]

Elite parties, despite their origin in the elite, need not to be elitist and may represent any ideology. For example, there have been elite parties supporting ideologies as diverse and conflicting as classical liberalism, nationalism and aristocracy/elitism.

A prominent example of a political system based on elite parties were the Hats and Caps parties in Sweden during the Age of Liberty (1719–1772). Another example would be the Optimates and Populares of the Roman Republic, or the Whigs and Tories of the Unreformed House of Commons (UK before 1832). An example of an elite party in Asia would be the People's Action Party in Singapore.

See also


  1. ^ Maurice Duverger, Party Politics and Pressure Groups: A Comparative Introduction, Robert Wagoner (trans.), Nelson, London, 1972.
  2. ^ Duverger, p. 7.