The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: In approximately 1100 words, this entry defines opposition, discusses opposition's role in different political systems, and analyzes how to measure oppositional success.
The entry defines opposition politically as the minority's right to criticize majority decisions and advocate alternative ideas. Such opposition may be loyal or fundamental, parliamentary or extraparliamentary. Loyal opposition aims at reforming the existing government while fundamental opposition seeks an abolition or transformation of the political system itself. Parliamentary opposition comes from minority parties within parliament and extraparliamentary opposition emanates from political parties not represented in parliament. Opposition also occurs within political parties and interest groups.
Opposition's role varies depending on the structure of the political system. The classic parliamentary system views opposition as a shadow government that can grasp the state reigns at any time. In this system, opposition offers a measure of accountability by criticizing government policies and offering alternatives. In democratic presidential systems, opposition differs from issue to issue.
A significant measure of oppositional success is the ability to form a government. In federal systems, the governing party often overlaps with the opposition because each one may win at the federal level and one at the state level. Parliamentary systems generally incorporate the opposition into the legitimate government. Extraparliamentary opposition directly challenges parliamentary legitimacy and seeks a political transformation.