Transfuguismo – What is, definition and concept | 2022

The turncoat is a behavior by which an individual goes from one party or political force to another, usually for reasons of personal gain.

The phenomenon of transfuguismo consists of a person leaving the political party or organization in which he is found and joining a different one for personal interests. In other words, the political force is changed as part of a strategy to achieve a larger objective.

If we stick to this definition, it should not have, a priori, any negative connotation. There seems to be no problem in a person changing parties for the reasons that the individual in question has. The problem comes when this change is made in the middle of a legislature, completely affecting its development and what citizens voted in the elections that gave them the position.

When a citizen with the right to vote attends certain elections, he does so in order for the people he is voting for to remain in office and respect, within what is expected, party discipline. The will of the elected official, in theory, is subject to his electoral program.

It is for the above that turncoat has a pejorative meaning, because he is a person who betrays the organization in which he is and goes to another rival. Although it is a movement with which it is expected to win, there are situations in which the objectives of said strategy are not fulfilled.

Context of the turncoat

The transfuguismo, carried out within a legislature, can occur mainly in three contexts:

  • In a motion of censure: It happens when a parliamentarian or a group of them give their votes to the opposition in order to overthrow their own government. In exchange, they will get benefits from the party they ultimately support, usually a political office. The reverse could also happen, that parliamentarians who support a motion of censure go over to the opposite party in order to knock it down.
  • In a matter of trust: It works basically the same as the previous case, but in different situations. This is due to the fact that the question of trust is initiated by the government party itself, in order to strengthen the legitimacy and support of the Legislative Power.
  • In a vote of great importance: There are certain votes that are very relevant in a legislature. This is the case of budgets, or laws that affect health, education, pensions, the Judiciary or any of this scope. Certain people may be against the will of their party and break their discipline. But if they go further and go to the opposite party, we would speak of turncoating.
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Consequences of turncoat

Law professor Jorge de Esteban establishes the negative implications of this phenomenon and how they affect the democracy of a country:

  • They falsify political representation: It is precisely what we described earlier, the scam that supposes that the representatives one votes for, as well as the parliamentary majorities that have been established, are altered by the personal tactics of some deputies.
  • weakens the party system: Parties evolve naturally over the years and with the demands of voters. But the shifter supposes an unnatural alteration that affects the normal development of these organizations. It is even more dangerous when the system is made up of fragile and short-lived parties.
  • It harms governance: When the parliamentary groups and the strength of each of them are established, alliances begin to develop in order to implement the expected policies. Turncoating fully affects governability, since there may be people who threaten said pacts and alliances.
  • favors corruption: The reasons that move the turncoat are for personal benefit. That is why you can accept money or future office in order to boycott the legislature, for example, in a motion of no confidence or a vote on a key law.
  • Deteriorates democratic political culture: It is perhaps the most serious consequence of turncoating. If the population begins to see that democracy and what is voted do not have the weight that they should and that these scams are being carried out, the legitimacy of the system falls. The first response may be apathy and rejection of the political class. But it can trigger a process that favors the change of the system, obviously to regimes with a lower democratic quality.
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Examples of turncoat

To understand this phenomenon we are going to give some examples:

  • Spain (2021): It was one of the most recent and most notorious cases that the peninsular country experienced. It happened in the Region of Murcia. The PSOE and Ciudadanos parties had presented a motion of censure against the Popular Party government. In the vote and prior agreement with the Executive, three of the Ciudadanos deputies decided to vote against the motion and not end the regional government. In exchange, two of them obtained the ownership of two ministries and the third deputy kept her position as vice president.
  • Latin America: In Latin American countries this practice has been very common. We have cases like that of Gonzalo Mujica in Uruguay, who once elected abandoned the party and declared himself independent. Or in Brazil, that during the first month the representatives could legally change parties. Thus, it should be noted that some of these countries have limited this practice through the law.

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