Professor Md. Ali Ashraf MP
Political parties are indispensable for the working of modern democratic governments. The importance of Political parties lies in the fact that democracies con not function without the existence of political parties.
In the absence of organized political parties one just can not think of the working of representative government. In the light of the analysis of the functions of political parties may be discussed as follows.
- It makes the working of parliamentary government possible. A parliament consists of the representatives of the people. The political parties organize these representatives on party lines. The electorate chooses their representatives on the basis of their party affiliation. The party which gets the majority of votes forms the government and runs the state and the other parties in the legislature constitute the opposition and try to find fault with the government, thus making it more responsible. In the absence of political parties, the elected representatives may work at cross purposes just making the formation of a government of opposition impossibility.
2. Political Parties formulate public policies. Each political party fights the election to achieve its objectives incorporated in their political manifesto. Soon after the election the majority party forming the government seeks to formulate its policies of administration on the basis of promises made in the election manifesto. Besides, each party has its own ideology. It is assured that the majority party gets the mandate of the electorate to implement its own political programs.
3. Political parties educate Public opinion. Parties in any system of government educate, formulate and organize public opinion. They also help in the growth of the level of political consciousness of common citizens, who otherwise have no time to peruse and study issues of the state. The political parties in their effort to come closer to the people organize public rallies, meetings, press conferences on important issues and make their views clear. This provides the common people with an opportunity to analyze the pros and cons of various important issues. this process leads to organize and formulate public opinion on important issues. The common people who otherwise have no time to devote to politics immensely benefit by these meetings etc. and understand different aspects of the basic issues involved in administration.
4. Political parties provide political stability. The political parties in more than one way unite, simplify and stabilized the political process of the country. The destabilizing forces of localism, section, interests and geographical situations are tackled by political parties by making these parts of their party ideology thus pacifying the disintegration forces and inducing cohesion. The political parties mainly perform the functions of ‘aggregation of interests’. Besides the political parties in a representative democracy play a great role in maintaining the stability by performing their roles in the legislature. The majority party forms the government and the other small parties in the opposition. The party in power has to conduct itself very responsibly. Because any unwise move on their part would throw it off the power and help the opposition (parties) to take over the reins of administration. Opposition not merely criticizes the government; it also provides an alternative program and alternative government in the eventuality of any crisis in the government. As such it contributes to the stability of the government.
5.It helps in the recruitment of leaders : The essential function of any party is to recruit men of integrity, letters, action, leadership to its fold as members and prepare them for election in future. Because it is these members of party who propagate the party ideologies, discuss the burning issues and hold meetings and press conferences to mobilize public support. It is these leaders again who contest in the election and form government if elected to power. Such leaders being drawn from government if elected to power. Such leaders being drawn from public life are expected to understand expectations of the common people and formulate public policies accordingly. Parties always get popularity and recognition though their leaders only.
Conclusion : These are some of the functions of political parties which make them significant in modern democracy. The parties behave responsibly in states where the people in general are well educated and political parties in western countries, where the political culture is easily discernible than the non-European countries.
Political parties are a special form of social organization. They should not be confused with associations, federations and social clubs. A well-known definition of political parties comes from the American political scientist Antony Downs, who wrote “ A political party is a team of men seeking to control the governing apparatus by gaining office in a duly constituted election”. The Italian scholar Giovanni Sartori, who has lectured for a long time at the Columbia University in New York and is internationally one of the most well known researchers on political parties, defined a party as: “ any political group identified by an official label that presents at elections, and is capable of placing through election, candidates for public office”.
Criteria to identify political parties.
A party strives to influence the formation of political opinion and aims to have a general political impact. The active influence of political opinion-making is aimed at a longer period of time as well as a wider region and should not be concentrated on a local level or a single issue.
A party is an association of citizens holding individual memberships, and shall have a minimum number of members, so that the seriousness of its targets and the prospects of success remain clear.
A party has to demonstrate the will to consistently take part in the political representation of the people during election. It, therefore, distinguishes itself from unions, non-governmental organizations and other initiatives that do not want to carry any political responsibilities for larger sectors but only try to have selective influence, and that do not participate in elections.
A party as to be an independent and permanent organization; it shall not be formed only for one election and cease to exist afterwards.
A party must be willing to appear in public.
A party does not necessarily need to win a seat in parliament, but it has to fulfill all the other criteria.
Parties can therefore be understood as permanent associations of citizens that are based on free membership and a programme, and which are anxious to occupy through the path of elections, the politically decisive positions of the country with their team of leaders, in order to materialize suggestions for resolving outstanding problems. The means of elections implies the competition of at least two parties.
Parties not only strive to participate in the formation of political opinion, They also aspire to participate in the representation of the people in parliament. This presumes that parties take part in elections. A party’s political contribution as well as its political “weight” is closely tied to elections. The will of the voters is of significant importance for the parties.
Typical for parties is their “fighting spirit” Their readiness for political action and political confrontation and their aspiration to takeover and retain governing power. This competition among parties is the instrument to gain political power and the whole organization of a party is ultimately subject to this aim.
Contrary to interest groups, a party is expected to express itself on all issues relevant for government.
The existence of a two-party or a multi-party system depends on several different factors: political traditions, the development of political institutions, the socio-economic circumstances, and the relevance of regional cleavages, and ethnical or confessional conditions. The specifications of the electoral law can have a certain, but not decisive, influence on the composition of the party system. The majority voting systems (first –past-the-post-systems) rather favour the evolution of a two party system (or a system comprising only of a few dominant parties), whereas a proportional voting system is more likely to favour a multi-party system. However, there is no distinct connection between electoral and party systems.
The system of government influences the development of parties and party systems insofar as a parliamentary system offers more influence for political parties because the government emerges directly from the parliament, which is dominated by the parties. In a presidential system, it is the head of government-the president-who is directly elected by the people and thus its legitimacy is based not primarily on the parliament. In addition, he mostly exercises, beside the parliament, also legislative and other functions, and he normally has a right to veto parliamentary decisions or even has the authority to dissolve the parliament. So, at first glance, in presidential systems parties play a minor role. On the other hand, in presidential systems the separation of powers is usually more evident because the parties are not linked so closely with the government. In parliamentary systems, however, the identity and especially the relationship between the government and the ruling party or parties is greater. Even so, in presidential system the president also needs the approval of parliament and a parliamentary majority. The relative independence from the government which the parties enjoy in a presidential system is of considerable relevance. The number of parties represented in parliament is only slightly influenced by the system of government. This is rather a question of social cleavages, eventually also the ethnic and other cleavages in a country, the structure of conflicts and interests and the electoral system.
Writer is a Former Deputy Speaker