UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


World Wide Elections

A regulated electoral process and the existence of a range of political parties help ensure democratic principles are adhered to in a country. A political party is an organisation with particular political beliefs and policies and the aim of putting them into operation. Parties provide the opportunity for people of similar attitudes and ideals to meet and develop these views and establish policies. They also enable party members to work together to gain support for their ideas.

Democratic regimes require public support. On the one hand, it is necessary that the public shows signs of a strong support system political and its institutions; this condition is traditionally called legitimacy. This implies the recognition of the right that public authorities have to govern, as well as the participation of people in political life enforcing their rights. Moreover, a second pillar of citizen support for democracy is political tolerance, understood as respect for the citizenship rights of others. The combination of legitimacy and political tolerance creates good conditions for stability democratic. Conversely, when one of these two factors is weakened or, worse, when both deteriorate, political stability can be undermined.

Election processes are the largest, most complex and most expensive technical, logistical and administrative operations that are regularly carried out by democratic countries. Successful elections depend on proper and meticulous preparation of the whole election process, as well as on careful planning of all the core aspects which make this process up. A successful electoral process, therefore, requires an election calendar which strictly adheres to established legal guidelines.

Political parties play an indispensible role in a democracy, aggregating and representing citizen interests in the political process. The main argument for having internal party democracy elections or primaries is that it also applies to the system of democracy in general. The objective of democracy is that the people should have the right to choose. Just as the citizens of a nation are entitled to cast ballots in elections, so the citizens of a political party should be entitled to select and/or reject their own leaders for public office. There are three types of primaries: 1) Open – Voters may vote in primaries of a party of their choice, the choice to be made at the voting booth; 2) Closed – Voters may only vote in a primary if they are registered members of that party; and 3) Semi-Open - Voters registered with a party may only vote in the primary of their party. Independents may choose which primary to vote in at the voting booth.

Voter registration involves several stakeholders. Citizens and the government's election administration apparatus are the most obvious stakeholders. But a number of other stakeholders have an interest in the outcome of the voter registration process inasmuch as it may effect the election outcome. These stakeholders include the government, the military, political parties, interest groups, social institutions such as the church, foreign governments, and international organizations.

The promotion of democracy is a long-term process that requires sustained commitment, and timely and politically adept interventions. This is achieved through the establishment of democratic institutions, free and open markets, an informed and educated populace, a vibrant civic society, and a relationship between state and society that encourages pluralism, participation, and peaceful conflict resolution. As crucial political institutions in democratic societies, political parties serve to organize, aggregate, and articulate the political interests of citizens in the political arena. Unlike social movements, voluntary associations, interest groups, or other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), political parties have responsibilities for fielding candidates for elective office and, in turn, for governance of the political system or for providing “loyal opposition” to the party or parties in power.

Democratic parties and party systems provide citizens with choices in elections. As individual democratic political parties field candidates for elective offices, they seek to represent express the collective interests of their constituents. Expression of distinct sets of constituent interests in the electoral process results from the competition between parties in a party system. As multiple parties attempt to represent the interests of their constituents, they provide voters with alternative policies and candidates that represent the essence of democratic choice and accountability. If the party system is dominated by one party, then choice and, therefore, expression become limited.

In competing for office and governing, political parties and their representatives play a crucial role in framing public policy choices, structuring electoral competition, and shaping political discussion among citizens. How parties perform the roles of mobilizing public support, developing policy agendas, and debating and formulating public policies will determine the legitimacy and sustainability of democratic rules and norms. In emerging democracies, political parties and their elected representatives are the primary political actors responsible for legitimizing and sustaining the laws and norms that govern political participation and competition.

Unlike social movements or interest groups, political parties are institutions that seek to represent more than a single, narrow interest in a society. In democratic political systems, parties organize and channel collective societal preferences in ways that enable greater responsiveness and reduce the threat that interest group demands made on the state will be able to capture state institutions and cripple the public policy making process. In aggregating and articulating party programs, political parties provide coherent and manageable political cues to citizens who might otherwise be overwhelmed by the complexities of public policy making.

Political parties and their roles in democratic development have changed significantly in recent decades, both in industrialized western democracies and in newly developing democratic nations. While the changes have resulted in a weakening of the connections between citizens and the state, there remains widespread consensus that political parties are essential elements in democratic societies. More than 50 years ago, E. E. Schattschneider stated bluntly that "Political parties created democracy and that modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties. As a matter of fact, the condition of parties is the best evidence of the nature of any regime. The most important distinction between democracy and dictatorship can be made in terms of party politics. The parties are not therefore merely appendages of modern government; they are in the center of it and can play a determinative and creative role in it."

Much more recently, Alan Ware viewed political parties as pervasive elements in contemporary societies: "In contemporary states it is difficult to imagine there being politics without parties. Indeed, in only two kinds of states today are parties absent. First, there are a few small, traditional societies, especially in the Persian Gulf, that are still ruled by the families who were dominant in the region they control long before the outside world recognized them as independent states. Then there are those regimes in which parties and party activities have been banned; these regimes are run either by the military or by authoritarian rulers who have the support of the military."

Finally, in a conference convened by the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, many of the world’s leading political parties scholars and practitioners gathered in Washington, DC to “address the current and future prospects of political parties.” The conference participants took a critical look at the state of parties in industrialized western democracies as well as in newly democratizing countries around the world. The prevailing view of conference participants was articulated by Juan Linz: "Today, in all countries of the world, there is no alternative to political parties in the establishment of democracy. No form of nonparty representation that has been advocated has ever produced democratic government. Thus we are faced with a world of democracies based on parties."

Not all participants, however, were convinced that political parties are necessary for democratic development. Phillipe Schmitter provided the most succinct critical assessment: "Political parties are not what they used to be. They no longer structure electoral choices as clearly and decisively, command citizen attachments as passionately and persistently, form governments with as much discipline and distinctiveness, or aggregate interests as widely and explicitly as they once did. Clearly, political parties everywhere, both in the industrialized countries and in the developing world, are becoming less and less able to perform these core functions. In short, they are no longer indispensable for the consolidation and perpetuation of democracy."

Some analysts would argue that Schmitter’s description of the weak state of political parties makes the most compelling case for strengthening political parties in order to promote democracy. But detractors of political parties argue that the decline in parties reflects trends that are not likely to be reversed: the rise of civic groups that carry out tasks traditionally associated with political parties and changing modes of communications that alter the frequency and type of interaction between party officials and citizens.

The idea of political parties serving as a loyal opposition to the government in power was first articulated in the British House of Commons in 1826 by John Cam Hobhouse: “It was said to be very hard on His Majesty’s ministers to raise objections to this proposition. For his own part, he thought it was more hard on His Majesty’s opposition (a laugh interrupts) to compel them to take his course.” The phrase was immediately taken up in the debate and continued to be used thereafter. While the phrase was introduced in the 1820s, it was not until the passage of the Second Reform Acts of 1867 and 1868 that a true organized party opposition was formed. With the broadened enfranchisement of male working-class property owners and the development of a strong and disciplined two-party system within the British Parliament and throughout the country, Her Majesty’s loyal opposition truly became the alternative (or shadow) government. In the contemporary context of developing political parties in newly democratizing countries, it is especially difficult to organize nascent political parties and their representatives in elective offices into either coherent governing party coalitions or organized party opposition forces.

Democratic political parties socialize citizens to democratic values and behaviors. Parties are often responsible for mobilizing voters for elections, integrating new constituencies into the political system, and generating support for or opposition to public policies under debate. In performing these functions, political parties help to socialize citizens to the practices of a democratic system. Even more directly, in many democratizing systems, parties are responsible for civic and voter education programs that seek to facilitate the political participation of increasing numbers of citizens. Finally, political parties may socialize rather than galvanize political conflict. Broad-based political parties allow for societal conflicts to be debated widely, cutting across ethnic, tribal, regional, or religious lines.

Democratic parties select the candidates who will ultimately fill elected posts. The strength of political parties and their elected representatives in providing coherent, programmatically-based political leadership in the organization and operation of government or opposition mitigates personalistic political tendencies and ensures greater continuity, both in terms of leadership and public policy making. These roles are central to the establishment and maintenance of stable democratic societies. When political party systems fail to perform these functions, the very survival of democratic political systems is threatened. Ultimately, issues of political competition, democratic expression, and political choice—the key components of any democratic society—revolve around political parties.

Political environments within newly democratizing countries are not always conducive to facilitating political expression and choice, competition and dialogue, aggregation and articulation of interests, political socialization, and leadership selection and governance. It may well be that there does not exist the political space or political will necessary to organize political competition in the form of political parties. Further, based on experiences with political parties, citizens may not view such institutions as legitimate means for expressing political choices.

Citizens might also question the value of political parties. Citizen disaffection with politics can be more a reflection of declining living standards, for which institutions like political parties are held responsible, than the lack of outreach of political parties to constituents. It is not self-evident that parties that make an effort to be more responsive and representative are necessarily more effective government administrators. In fact, the converse can be true.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 01-02-2023 20:27:36 ZULU