Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: The entry surveys the term's genesis and evolution and presents a typology of oppositions in different political systems. The entry first distinguishes between political and social opposition. In western democracies political opposition exists within a framework of rights and law, and is considered a distinctive feature of these regimes.
Political opposition was institutionalized in the era of modern parliamentary democracies: thus the term is often used to denote parliamentary opposition. This institutionalization occurred as oppositional forces were integrated into the representative structures of the modern state. In such parliamentary systems, opposition is the function of minority parties in parliament, and is articulated in a dialectic between government and opposition. In political regimes based on the separation of powers, opposition is articulated through an institutional dialectic, such as tension between the legislative and executive branches. Thus the nature of the political order affects the role of the opposition.
The nature of opposition also depends on the particular democratic model. In a two-party system, the conflict between a majority party and a minority opposition is termed a "Westminster model" of democracy. By contrast, multiple-party systems have been characterized as "consociational democracies" (Lijphart): in such a model a coalition government includes all the major parliamentary parties.
Finally, the entry notes Sartori's typology, based on such variables as the number of political parties and the mechanics of the party system.