Why Do We Need Political Parties?

A political party is a group of people who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government.

  • It mobilises voters to support common sets of interests, concerns and goals. A political party fixes the political agenda and policies and tries to persuade people by claiming that their policies are better than those of other parties.
  • A political party is the means through which people can speak to the government and have a say in the governance of any country.
  • A political party has three components : i) the leaders, ii) the active members, and iii) the followers.
  • Parties contest elections by putting up candidates.
  • In some countries, candidates are selected by members and supporters of a party (for eg, in the USA).
  • In other countries, candidates for contesting elections are chosen by top party leaders for e.g. in India.
  • Parties put forward different policies and programmes and voters choose from them.
  • In a democracy, a large number of people with similar opinions group together and form a party and then give a direction to the policies followed by the government.
  • The parties that lose elections from the opposition and voice different views and criticize the government for their failures and wrong policies.
  • They mobilise opposition to the government.
  • They shape public opinion. Parties with the help of pressure groups launch movements for solving problems faced by the people.
  • Parties provide access to government machinery and welfare schemes implemented by the government. For an ordinary citizen, it is easy to approach a local party leader than a government officer.
  • The democracies cannot exist without political parties being clear about the functions they perform. It there were no political parties then:

i) All the candidates in an election would become independent candidates. They cannot promise any major policy changes to the people. No one will be responsible for how the country runs.

ii) In large societies, only representative democracy can work. Political parties become an agency to gather different views on various issues and present them to the government.

  • Party : Parties are necessary to represent the people of a country. They help to conduct elections in an organized functioning of the legislature.
  • Political party : A political party is a group of people with a definite agenda and who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government.

Types of Party Systems

There are three types of party systems: a) One-party system b) Two-party system and c) Multi-party system.

a) One-Party System : In some countires only one party is allowed to control and run the government. There is no competition in this system. The mono party nominates the candidates and the voters have only two choices – i) Not to vote at all or ii) write ‘yes’ or ‘no’ against the name of the candidates nominated by the party. This system has been popular in Communist countries and other authoritarian regimes e.g. China, North Korea and Cuba. This system was also prevalent in USSR till Communism collapsed.

b) Two-Party System : Power changes between two major, dominant parties. In this system, to win elections, the winner has to get maximum number of votes, but not necessarily a majority of votes. The smaller parties usually merge with the bigger parties or they drop out of elections. This parliamentary system prevails in Great Britain and the United States of America, in which only two parties hold significant numbers of seats. Supporters of this sytem believe that this prevents dangers of fragmentation (too many parties winning seats from different constituencies) and the government can run smoothly.

c) Multi-party System : It is the most common type of party system. In this system, three or more parties have the capacity to gain control of the government separately or in coalitionn. When no party gains a majority of the legislative seats in multi-party parliamentary system, then several parties join hands and form a coalition government. Supporters fo this sytem point out that it allows more points of view to be represented in the government. Critics of this system point out that multi-party system sometimes leads to political instability.

  • Mono-party system : Mono-party system is a political system in which only one party controls and runs the government.
  • Bi-party system : Bi-party system is a type of system in which power alternates between two parties only. The party that gets the majority, forms the government and the other party forms opposition.
  • Multi-party system : It is a system in which several parties compete for power and more than two parties have a reasonable chance of coming into power either on their own or in alliance with others.
  • Coalition government : A coalition government is generally formed in a multi-party system, when no single party wins a majority of seats, then many parties get together based on compromise and tolerance.

National and Regional Parties

  • An Alliance : When several parties in a multi-party system join hands for the purpose of contesting elections and winning power, it is called an alliance or a front. India, in 2004 and 2009, has three such alliances for parliamentary elections i) National Democratic Alliance ii) The United Progressive Alliance and iii) Left Front.
  • Proportion of Participation : Level of participation in the activities of the parties was very high in India than many advanced countries like Canda, Japan, Spain and South Korea. The proportion of people in India who feel close to a political party is very high – membership of political parties has also gone up.
  • Election Commission : Every party in India has to register with the Election Commission. The Commission treats every party as equal to the others, but it offers special facilities to large and established parties. They are given a unique symbol and are called, ‘recognized political parties’.
  • Introduction to Major National Political Parties in India :

i) Indian National Congress (INC)

ii) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

iii) Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)

iv) Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M)

v) Communist Party of India (CPI)

vi) Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)

  • State of Regional Political Parties:

i) Regional parties need not be regional in their ideology or outlook. Some of these parties are all India parties that happen to have succeeded only in some states.

ii) Parties like the Samajwadi Party, Samata Party and Rashtriya Janta Dal have national level political organization with units in several states.

iii) Some of these parties like Biju Janta Da, Sikkim Democratic Front and Mizo National Front are conscious about their state identity.

  • National Party : A party that secures at least 6% of the total votes in Lok Sabha elections or win four seats in the Lok Sabha is recognized as a national party.
  • Regional Party : All parties, other than the six national parties, are classified as state parties by the Election Commission of India. They are also called regional parties.
  • Alliance : When several parties in a multi-party system join hands for the purpose of contesting elections and winning power, it is called an alliance or a front. India, in 2004 and 2009, had three such alliances for parlimentary elections : i) National Democratic Alliance  ii) The United Progressive Alliance  iii) Left Front.

Challenges Faced By Political Parties and its Reforms

  • Lack of Internal Democracy within Parties

i) Power concentrated in the hands of few.

ii) No organizational meetings. No keeping of membership register.

iii) No internal, regualr elections.

iv) Ordinary members fo nto have access to information, cannot influence decisions.

v) Disagreement with the leader leads to outster from the party.

  • Dynastic succession of family members

i) Leaders on top have unfair advantage to favour people close to them.

ii) Top positions controlled by family members in most parties

iii) Bad for democracy

iv) Tendency seen all over the world, even in the older democracies

  • Money and muscle power

i) During elections this pwoer is very visible

ii) Candidates who can raise money are nominated

iii) Rich people and companies who give funds have influence on policies.

  • Parties do not offer a meaningful choice to the voters.

There is not much difference in ideology among parties. They only differ on details of implementation rather than fundamental principles. In India also, there is not much difference among parties on economic issues.

  •  Reforms : As political parties face these challenges, there is a growing need to reform the system. Some of the reform measures taken by the government are: Anti-defection law, affidavit requirement and organizational meeting for political parties.
  • Some suggestions to reform political parties and its leaders:

i) A law should be made to regulate the internal affairs of political parties. It should be made compulsory for political parties to maintain a register of its members, follow its own constitution and hold open elections to the highest posts.

ii) It should be made mandatory for political parties to give a minimum number of tickets, about one-third, to women candidates.

iii) There should be state funding of elections. The government should give parties money to support their election expenses. This support could be in kind: petrol, paper, telephone, etc. to support their election expenses.

  • Defection : Changing party allegiance from the party on which a person got elected (to a legislative body) to a different party.
  • Affidavit : A signed document submitted to an officer where a person makes a sworn statement regarding giving details of his property and criminal cases pending against him.
  • Election Commission : An independent multi-member body which is constituted for the superintendence direction and conduct of election.