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I want to create world where legislative body is full of ideologically pure extremists. I don't want any party that is ready to compromise on its principles. I mean green would be borderline Eco-terrorists, religious would try to outlaw divorce and any religion beside Christianity, socialist would want 75% highest tax brackets and would nationalize every industry they could get their hands on, nationalist would try to expel foreigners etc. The more ideologically pure you are the better. Moderate parties should have trouble to win any seats.

In other words I need some kind of reason why are moderate parties absent from the legislative body.

What kind of political system would reward extremist parties?

First past the post system leads to creation of two very similar parties. So that would probably mean some kind of proportional representation. However even in proportional representation the largest parties are the moderate ones. Extremist become king-makers only if one the moderate parties need their votes badly to pass the budget or some law.

I don't want a system where center right/left parties accept few ideological policies from the extreme right/left in exchange for votes. I want center right/left parties small & weak.

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    $\begingroup$ @ldutch We allow questions based on building political systems. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Jul 1 '17 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ @L Dutch Really? I think that you fail to see how the vote counting algorithm could produce a dramatically different result from the same voters. Anyway - not world building? So what? Politics? It would be an uncommon question there how to make even more dysfunctional political system... $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Jul 1 '17 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ This question could be many things, but I really don't think it is primarily opinion-based. Except when really going into details, there is a somewhat limited number of possible ways to arrange political systems, and we can certainly judge each that is described on how well it would reward parties that could be considered extremist at the expense of moderate ones. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 1 '17 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ You must have missed the last U.S. election. Just copy their system and you'll get the result you want. $\endgroup$ – aroth Jul 2 '17 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ 2 party systems are the best, with no third option the parties can only push polarization to the extremes. Go with a single vote, most votes, winner take all for each each election at all levels, basically the American system. The fewer options people have the less likely a moderate party can gain a foothold. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 2 '17 at 18:56

17 Answers 17

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  • Use proportional representation without an election threshold. So even a small number of votes is enough to get a seat.
  • Make it hard and inconvenient to vote, so only those people who are extremely convinced of their political party will go voting. The fanatics will do anything to get their vote counted while the apathetic centrists won't bother.
  • On the other hand, make it quite easy to form a political party and run for election.
  • Encourage political single-issue NGOs to also act as political parties. You can, for example, do that by only giving them charitable tax exemption status when they are running for election and get at least one seat. Having the NRA, Femen and PeTA in your parliament might be fun.
  • Outlaw paid campaign advertisement. No political ads on TV, radio or billboards. That way elections aren't decided by campaign budget. Guerilla marketing strategies usually work better for the underdogs.

By the way, when you have a parliament full of single-issue extremists, they will soon realize that none of them will ever be able to get a majority for any of their demands unless they cooperate. Anyone in your parliament who has the slightest knack for politics will start to seek alliances. They will likely do that by contacting those who have an agenda which is orthogonal to their own. For example, the ecologists, nationalists and fundamentalists might form a coalition, because their agendas can easily coexist.

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    $\begingroup$ /Make it hard and inconvenient to vote, so only those people who are extremely convinced of their political party will go voting./ yes. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 2 '17 at 2:24
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    $\begingroup$ As you said, alliances will eventually come up, but that is the short term. Should sanity prevail (quite likely), a major centrist party will emerge. Workarounds would be severe hormonal imbalance in majority of the population, causing them to be super infuriated about one thing, or some structural deformity in the brain so they can't think of two ideas at once (improbable, i know), or both. $\endgroup$ – Varad Mahashabde Jul 2 '17 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ @VaradMahashabde Throughout history, I've noticed that 'sanity prevailing' and 'extremist parties' generally do not ever go together. While it might quietly prevail, there will always be a party screaming for extreme beliefs cough cough Freedom Caucus cough cough SJW. Outside of the US as well cough cough DUP cough cough Sinn Fein. $\endgroup$ – Imperator Jul 2 '17 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ Some points from my answer (you may add them): * Bad economic situation, recent defeat in a war or geopolitical struggle. * Population consiting from ethniclly and religiously different clans $\endgroup$ – Anixx Jul 3 '17 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ Also, make 100% legislative communication public. Any horse-trading and dealing can and will be used to primary a more deal-making candidate (I'm too lazy to make that into an answer but would fit yours) $\endgroup$ – user4239 Jul 3 '17 at 12:51
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Maybe not to this magnitude, but such problem can happen in case of fully proportional system without any minimum thresholds. Its perfectly democratic. (and was tried in many new democracies after WW1, which lead to their collapse)

The system that are used in RL are skewed a bit (Western Europe) or terribly (USA, UK) in favor of big parties. (it's a noble lie that such system still remains democratic...) In order to get extremism so popular, the system should be not perfectly representative, but actually skew it in actually opposite direction. How? Make a party list voting, and algorithm in which marginal gain for each next vote is actually decreasing. Under such system tiny parties would thrive, and instead fighting main right wing party vs main left wing party, the real fight would be among similar parties, that instead of proving that they are acceptable compromise that suits high enough number of voters, would has to prove the voter that they are even more ideologically pure than others.

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  • $\begingroup$ How about having whole country as single unit, large congress ~600 seats, and no threshold where every party that wins 1/600 of the vote gets a seat. I don't understand how would marginal vote should be less valued in proportional system. $\endgroup$ – Top5AtLeast Jul 1 '17 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Top5AtLeast I thought about it - it would be enough to let freaks in, but not to fully eliminate moderate parties. To achieve the second goal, there should actually a penalty for being a big party. $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Jul 1 '17 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Most European countries have a fully proportional system as you describe. And most of their parties are more moderate than e.g. the democratic and republican parties in the USA. The extreme parties in Europe don't end up in government, even if they are large, because you need a coalition to govern. $\endgroup$ – fishinear Jul 3 '17 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ So you definitely need to favour small parties more, as you describe later. Still don't think that is enough, you still need a coalition to govern, so the parties cannot hold on to their extreme believes, because otherwise they don't end up in government. $\endgroup$ – fishinear Jul 3 '17 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @fishinear In RL Europe the systems are not FULLY proportional. There are usually some mechanism that skew system towards bigger (like D'hondt method) or minimum threshold. $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 Jul 3 '17 at 21:13
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Many indirect ways of benefiting extremist parties

The obvious way would be for the system to give less seats per vote to the major parties. However, that would be more likely to reward sockpuppets than extremists. In Australia, there is a party called "the coalition" because it is technically a coalition between two parties. Actively rewarding small parties would mean that all parties would technically be coalitions. However there are some things that indirectly favor extremist parties.

  • Voluntary voting. People without strong political views are less likely to bother to vote.
  • IQ testing. If the testing is inconvenient, the primary effect may be to further dissuade moderates from voting.
  • Legislative violence. In some countries, political debates tend to involve fists. This would discourage moderate running for office.
  • One sword, one vote. In a culture where trial by combat and duels are the norm, the purpose of the legislative body may be to keep the violence off the streets. Politicians are expected to fight for what they believe in, in an entirely literal sense. Moderates stay well way from the legislative body. It is "hard to joust with someone if you partially agree with their point of view".
  • One thumb, one vote. Due to concern about electoral fraud, human officials are taken out of the equation. Instead biometric machines enforce one simple rule: "one thumb, one vote". Voting fraud remains rampant, but only among violently extremist parties.
  • Polygraph. Fed up with lying politicians, the citizenry decide to make politicians say what they really mean. Alas, a normal person is just someone you don't know very well yet, and everyone has some unusual belief. Suddenly politicians are unable to unite based on what they agree on, but are instead judged by and elected on the basis of their most extreme beliefs.
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    $\begingroup$ I like how some of these seem like the result of (ostensibly) well-intentioned programs. Sounds like it would be easy to write a story around those. $\endgroup$ – tsbertalan Jul 2 '17 at 15:20
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Governments are nothing more than a reflection of the people who elect them.

If you want a polarized political situation, with several uncompromising parties, then you should have several polarized blocks of voters to elect them. Shouldn't need a system for that, you just need an interesting electorate. This is your world, make it what you want to support your story. And the story is more authentic if the ideological conflict is mirrored in the population.

You could highlight the divisions by having these groups live in very different locales, which could explain the uncompromising nature of the debate: they don't mingle much, if any. Generally speaking, the more rural settings have the conservative, self supporting types of people, whereas urban areas have the more liberal, collective action type of people, as befits the nature of their home.

For the religious fanatics, put together a new religion, but a plausible one drawn that parallels current religions, so the contrast can be seen more clearly. Making your hardcore religious types Christian, or maybe Muslim, tends to muddy the message with contemporary preconceptions, especially if the message is to illustrate the fallacies of religious extremism.

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Your question is kind of funny, if seen through my political scientits glasses, since most of your literature focuses on how to avoid that kind of situation. So you might have great fun reading the work of Eric Lijphard, Horowitz and others and reverse their ideas.

There are a few thinks you can do, to maximize ideological extremes in your parties:

  1. Have issues which are seen as zero sum games - e.g. any compromise would have to take something from a group. Compromises in modern democracies are often found when we can achieve some kind of benefit for all involved parties.
  2. Have a "winner takes it all" election system. Such systems maximize ideological distances. See the USA for an example where more "pure" challengers force the party into ideologic extremes.
  3. Have the parties organized along ethnic lines - since any isse can (and will!) be seen through ethnic glasses, your party system will be polarized along ethnic rifts. Bridging such kind of rifts is not easy, and calls for ethnic heritage or ethnic grudges will almost certainly drown out moderates.
  4. Have calture which dislikes compromises and strives for total victories. The Weimarer Repulic is an excellent example where failing to compromise led to an absurd situation: left and right extremist parties had the majority.

Especially useful is the combination of multiple factors - any one does not need to promote extremsim in your party system, but combinations will make the rise of extremist parties vastly more probable. For example: ethnic parties combined with winner takes it all elections in the districts will create a situation where most districts are not competetive since they are "owned" by the ethnic majority of that district. Thus, there is no incentive to compromise with other ethnic groups since you will not get any advantage from such a compromise.

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A lot of great answers focusing on the election system, but also, don’t forget to have the legislative process reward intransigence. As someone who was born in Belgium and now lives on the West Coast of the US, I think you really want built-in, intractable gridlock. (I’ll omit specific contemporary examples, but you want structural incentives that every party responds to, and a bad stable equilibrium, not a country where parties happen to be run by crazy people.) It should not only be possible for a minority party to stop anything from getting done, it should be impossible to agree on anything without agreeing on everything. Most important, the only way to win concessions in the eventual Grand Bargain must be total, unanimous intransigence. If individuals defect, the whole party gets rolled. That way, any member who compromises and defects really is selling out.

There should, however, be a robust way for all the normal, routine business to go on: the last year’s budget is automatically reauthorized if a new one does not pass, a caretaker government remains in place that must maintain the status quo, there are independent civil service or military officials with a free hand to deal with crises who are a lot more trusted and respected than politicians, a lot of policy is in the hands of other levels of government that are more functional. That way, there’s no overwhelming urgency and no outside pressure to force a bargain. It’s stable. People don’t feel all that bickering affects their daily lives or accomplishes anything, so they tune it out. It becomes a sport. If stuff only happens when party leaders agree, and election returns short of a massive landslide don’t change who has to agree or what they can agree on, it becomes just a game. For drama, though, there can be one looming dead-man switch which the country cannot just keep muddling through.

When nobody can ever agree, nothing is ever anybody’s fault. The cause of dysfunction today is the same as yesterday and tomorrow: the parties couldn’t reach a compromise. Saying who should have compromised is the same as saying whose position is wrong.

Make sure every faction listens exclusively to their own side’s propaganda and doesn’t live around anybody who openly disagrees with them. Even better is if they literally speak different languages. Give them a history that poisons the well, then make it so there can be no cooperation across either ethnic or ideological lines.

You can raise the pressure by having some hot-button issue that constitutionally cannot be solved by the legislature, so the activists displace all that frustration onto whatever they can disrupt.

Make sure politicians can’t trade horses: you can’t throw in some pork for someone’s hometown in exchange for a vote if there are no local districts and all contracts must be awarded to the lowest qualifying bid. You can’t trade a vote here for a vote there if only one omnibus bill can pass. These can even be a well-intended anti-corruption effort. Prevent backroom negotiations and make people say which of their positions they’d be willing to compromise on in public.

Be sure to have your party lists decided by the most committed activists, who show up to all the meetings, not corrupt party bosses. Corrupt bosses pick people who will return the favor by going along with the deals they negotiate.

It helps if people with no interest in a functioning democracy (an authoritarian monarch, foreigners, oligarchs) have a lot of influence over the process. This doesn’t have to be evil: looking at this country, are the separatists who want it to break up entirely or the radicals who think forcing a constitutional crisis is the only way forward totally wrong?

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Have each party's candidates selected by the party membership in a long and tortuous process. That guarantees that only the most dedicated party members will participate in the process, and the voters will have to choose between ideologically extreme candidates from different parties. This has to apply to all parties -- if you let one party have a different process and select moderate centrist candidates, then they will win all the elections.

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In upper houses in Australia, "micro parties" often get elected with a very small primary vote. They get elected off the preferences of other micro parties, and even the major parties, who'd rather see a large crossbench who may have some members that are willing to negotiate with them, rather than a unified opposition in the form of their main opposition party. Further reading: Glenn Druery and the Minor Party Alliance. Fun fact: Australia has a political party formerly called the Australian Sex Party, who has Fiona Patten elected in the Victorian Legislative Council. It's now called the "Reason Party".

In the US, I've heard that gerrymandering has been conducted to create seats with solid Democrat majorities (by Republicans), and that even Republican seats are getting more "secure". Such seats are more likely to have extremist Democrats or extremist Republicans, because electability is less of an issue and winning the primaries is more of an issue.

Social media that favours extremists over moderates can also fuel extremism. Twitter may well favour extremism, as extremists views can fit into 140 characters better than moderate, nuanced views. Also, "following" means that you prioritise some views over other views, and it's more of a monologue rather than a dialogue. During the 2016 US presidential election, Trump's tweets (and those of his supporters) received far more media coverage than any of the other candidates.

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Proportional representation is the sure fire way to do this. Since the rules of PR generally prevent any single party from achieving a majority government, parties in all PR nations seek out other political parties to form coalition governments.

As the electorate becomes more and more fractured, small extremist parties might not actually grow in size (the voter base for extreme views remains the same), but the need to get that last one or two votes to build a majority coalition becomes greater and greater, making the negotiating position of extreme parties much greater, and allowing them to force their platforms onto the coalition in exchange for their vote.

So extreme religious, ideological and other ideas get instituted in government policy as a result of the more mainstream parties scrambling for that last vote to make a government.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's basically the normal PR and not what I want. I don't want center right/left accepting few ideological policies from the extreme right/left in exchange for votes. I want center right/left small weak. $\endgroup$ – Top5AtLeast Jul 1 '17 at 22:52
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Part of your problem isn't just having a type of government that rewards extremism. You also need an environment that fuels extremism and discourages moderation.

Some political parties in real life have done things so horrible or scandalous that it poisoned their entire agenda for years or even decades. Think for example of the Nazi's, and how so many people and politicians support laws banning hate speech to prevent people with ideological views like the Nazi's from spreading their hateful agenda.

Perhaps moderates, or a moderate party, did something in the past in your world that badly tarnished the very idea of being a moderate. Perhaps the government also spreads propaganda about the danger moderates pose to society. Extremists of all parties could warn constantly that whatever tragedy/scandal the moderates caused in the past will happen again if the moderates ever got control of the government again. Maybe some 'moderate' party that did something bad in the past is even outlawed by the government, and those who express moderate political views are accused of being sympathizers with the tainted moderate party.

When history and propaganda taints moderation so badly it doesn't matter what kind of a political system you have, the extremists will be empowered no matter what.

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The other answers are all quite good, but I had one extra special-sauce to add:

Violence:

In a nation with poor rule of law it wouldn't be hard for parties to form gangs of thugs to fight/intimidate each other. This happened all over Europe between the two world wars. When power is in the hands of the mob, it pushed people towards extremes. Moreover, extremist parties are generally the ones to form militias and fight one another.

In Germany after WW1 the nation was divided between the proto-fascist Friekorps and Communist worker's militias. The two groups battled each other in the streets and the weak and defeated government couldn't do anything about it, encouraging more violence. Interestingly, this didn't last too long. After the Communists were put down the Friekorps didn't take control of the government and instead the Weimar Republic, one of the more moderate regimes of the time, was founded (they were overthrown by the Nazis about 10 years later, but that's another story). So in the long run people usually get sick of violence and compromise, but in the short term it pushes them to extremes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Even if the law had been stronger, those two parties would still have been extreme. Conversely moderate parties could just as easily bully their way into power like this. $\endgroup$ – Daron Jul 2 '17 at 23:10
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Partisan primaries

Allow voters to choose who will represent their political party by a partisan primary. This empowers the extremes in a party, as it is much easier to dominate the party than the electorate as a whole.

Commit primary voters

Currently, primary voters in the United States can vote for the candidate of the other party in the general election. Change that. So moderates have even less reason to vote in primaries. But if they do vote, then they can't vote in the general. Their vote will be automatically cast for the winner of the primary in which they voted.

Powerful and moderate judiciary

If the judiciary rules on something, then it is much harder for politicians to rally support for the position that the judiciary took and much easier to rally against them. This is because supporters expect the judiciary to fix things for them. So they don't worry as much about what the politicians might do. Meanwhile, opponents feel powerless and marginalized. I.e. ready for extremism.

Single chamber parliament

Multiple chambers or a separate nationally elected figure require more cooperation for everyday operation. And the overlapping districts make it easier for big parties that compete in every district. Different candidates support each other. So reduce levels as much as possible.

The same representatives for municipal elections as national elections. It's just that only some of them vote in municipal, school, county, or state parliaments.

Appoint executive positions by legislative votes. So the head of state and ministers are appointed to the positions.

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Have a series of campaign reform measures, each of which has unintended consequences that dwarf the intended consequences. Every law has unintended consequences, just as every software package has unintended consequences. But when the unintended consequences dwarf the intended ones, really strange things can happen.

If the campaign reform measures have the effect of discouraging moderates from running, or of preventing moderates from reaching the voters, or of preventing moderates from being effective once elected, the stage is set. Over time, the system will gravitate towards the scenario you requested.

Normally, when a political system gets into serious trouble, reformers come along to remedy the situation. But if the reformers themselves are part of the problem, and not part of the solution, then that remedy is unavailable.

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I think you're misunderstanding the nature of the beast. Extremist politics isn't a consequence of the electoral system; it's the social circumstance. During the 1920s the Nazi party existed in the Weimar Republic, but it was considered a bad joke with almost no support. Similar with communists. The economy was booming and this strengthened the arguments made by liberals and conservatives that a free market and personal freedom works to empower everyone.

... that was, until the great depression, when every single German bank failed and people started to go hungry. In these circumstances moderate liberals, conservatives, social democrats, lost the arguments. They had failed to provide, and the people looked for alternatives. It wouldn't matter much if the voting system was First Past the Post or Proportional Representation; it depends who has mass support. Even if you flood the ballot with daft choices under a system with a low bar to entry, that doesn't guarantee anyone will care.

The bottom line is that if you want extremist politics you need to make the environment extreme too. If the economy is growing and everyone has a job and the government is not overtly corrupt few will be willing to reject it. If the democratic system cannot provide for the people they will not support it. You'd do well to examine the rise of extremist politics in the Weimar Republic during the great depression, as well as the rise of extremist politics in modern day Greece during their economic crisis.

The popular consensus has to fail. In Germany this was the liberal consensus, in former Yugoslavia this was the communist consensus. In both circumstance the failure of the popular consensus led to widespread ethno-nationalist violence.

It's worth considering examples like Northern Ireland and the Balkans (Balkanisation). When you have two or more communities who choose to live apart instead of together, it sows the seeds of prejudice, discrimination, and violence. A society composed of ghettoised homogenous regions put under the stress of economic and political crisis would definitely lead to the rise of extremism.

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Use PR and no threshold for gaining seats, 500 seat parliament, 0.2% gets your party one seat. Next create a punishment for big parties, so maybe under the argument of 'more voices the better' and 'big parties dominate too much politically' round up to the next seat starting with the smallest party, then as you inevitably run out of seats to round up for the biggest parties, round down for them. This will definitely encourage more small fringe parties and make moderate parties smaller and weaker.

Outside of political systems: Moderate parties do worst in times of upheaval, economic and civil, this leads to voters going for extremes. Also creating alternative education systems based on political ideology, eco schools, Marxist schools, white nationalist schools, etc.

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The primary job of a politician is to get re-elected. To that end your best bet is to muddle around, make as few concrete statements as possible. Remain moderate and avoid shaking the boat. Enjoy the respect your position of power gives you. Become better at the game of politics and remain in power until it's time to retire. Then enjoy your hefty pension.

You need to make this state of affairs impossible, so the people who get into power are not just those who want to be in power -- but those who genuinely want to change the world.

(1) First thing remove the salary. From now on politicians receive no pay or pension. They live in moderately uncomfortable dormitories attached to the senate house.

(2) Second make it impossible for them to obfuscate. A politician gets exactly one chance to vote on an issue in their whole career. Then they are shown the door.

Darker version: The politician is ritually slaughtered after making their one vote!

(3) Design your society so politics is seen as the lowest of the service professions. Like garbageman or actors in Medieval times. Explain (2) using this fact: No one should have to endure the position for their whole life!

There can still be political parties under this system. Only these parties will operate largely outside the senate. These chessmasters will maintain their agendas but rotate their members in and out of office as they need to use up their votes one at a time.

However, if someone found a way to operate a moderate party under this system, it would win all the votes. I'm not sure how they would do this: They couldn't offer their members high salaries, for example, because the party would by necessity be much larger then real parties.

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Possibly having population divided along ethnic or religious lines may help your aim.

Condsider several clans living in country:

  • One is religiously monolithic and very conservative

  • One is considered the natives and the descendants of the founders of the country, they are also considered the most cultured

  • One is living in an ecologically damaged area in constant danger

  • One is considered pariah and disenfranchaised from economic life.

Make them vote traditionally for the same parties for generations. The first always vote for religious fundamentalists, the second for nationalists who wants suppress the other clans, the third always vote for ecologists, and the fourth may always vote for the left.

Also, very bad econiomic conditions (compared to the former times), defeat in a war usually favors extremism.

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