It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Role of Political Parties in a Democracy

What is a political party?

In democratic societies, people who share similar views and goals often join together to form political parties. They do this to strengthen their ability to influence the governmental decisions of the country. In forming political parties, party founders usually promote a common set of beliefs and values – called ideology – and develop a message which conveys to others their collective beliefs and values.

In order for people to be attracted to your party you must tell them what you stand for. How are you different from other parties? How will your party’s programs benefit the average citizen? What are your party’s plans for governing the country if elected? If the prospective party member and, later on, the voter cannot tell the difference between your party and other parties, then why should they join or vote for you?

Remember, when defining what your party stands for, try to reach out to as many groups as possible. For instance, develop party positions that appeal to various groups such as women, youth, labor, farmers, business people, etc. In order to remain healthy and successful, especially during elections, you must always be expanding your party’s message and appeal.

When this defining process is taking place, it must include input from all facets of the party. A party platform that comes down from the top is weak. The people who are closest to the issues that affect citizens are usually in more rural areas. These members must be a major part of the information and decision-making process.

What do political parties do?

Based on ideology, political parties develop policies and messages on how they believe the country should be governed. To do this, parties:

· identify the needs and concerns of the people by interacting with the public at different levels of society
· address these needs and concerns through the formulation of policies
· disseminate their policies and messages to the public
Political parties participate in elections; by winning elections, a party’s policy can be put into practice.

In summary, political parties provide the structure and organization to:
· bring people together
· formulate and develop policies for the governing of the nation
· identify and recruit candidates to participate in elections
· win elections
· empower people through elected representatives

What do political parties offer citizens in a democracy?

The answer is contained in three simple words:
· Voice
· Choice
· Continuity

In a democracy, everyone has the right to think and believe as he or she chooses. He or she also has the right to express these opinions. From taxi drivers to doctors and lawyers, political parties provide a strong and effective means of communicating these opinions, to other citizens as well as to the government. Parties give a voice to different elements of society, and provide a safe means of competing with other parties without threats of violence. Without a party, many people would not have a voice. The more ideas you have and articulate, the more people you may attract to your party.

One of democracy’s basic characteristics is that it provides people choices for how they want to live and be governed. Political parties offer a wide variety of choices to allow citizens to select among different ideas of governance. One characteristic shared by all democracies is that they have at least two or more strong political parties which offer voters a real choice in government. These parties differ in how they think the government should work, and what it should provide to its citizens.

Political parties are more effective when they are founded on a set of ideas for governance. This is because ideas live longer than people. If a political party has a strong grounding in ideology, it can keep its members and supporters together even if the leadership changes. Parties which are only centered around a dynamic leader are usually strong as long as their dynamic leader remains popular and alive.

Can political parties that do not hold elective office be influential?

Yes. In a democracy, parties that do not hold elected office continue to play a valuable role by serving as a voice for their members and supporters, and for other people who might oppose some of the policies and activities of the elected government. Those who are not chosen to govern have an opportunity to represent alternative views, and to make sure the government is acting responsibly, in accordance with the law and the peoples’ wishes.

Political parties have a responsibility to analyze the laws being considered and passed by the elected governmental body. Parties must then speak out on the pros and cons of these prospective laws before they are passed. Are they good or bad for the country? How do they affect everyday citizens? Should citizens contact elected representatives in support or opposition to the laws?

Parties have a responsibility to oppose bad legislation and help pass those laws that are consistent with their party platform. This strengthens a party by attracting public input and support and it also shows strong leadership. People will come to look favorably at a party that takes a stand for strong guidance and leadership.

Democratic political parties do not have to like or agree with their political opponents, but they must tolerate their right to hold their own opinions and beliefs. Elections are a competition between parties for the opportunity to serve the people – they should not be a violent fight for power.

What makes a political party democratic?

A democratic political party:
allows its members the right to think and believe as he or she chooses
· provides members an opportunity to express their views and to participate in the decision making process
· is open and transparent – it wants the public to know its policies and beliefs
· is committed to a democratic system of governance including free and fair elections and the alternation of power.

How to sustain a political party

"The foundation first" is a motto that party leaders and organizers should keep in mind when they seek to build a successful political party. Thomas P. O’Neil, former head of the United States Legislature from Boston, Massachusetts, often explained to his party colleagues that “all politics is local”.

A significant portion of a party's time, attention and money should be directed to the local level. Ultimately, the strength and stability of a national political party and the success of its candidates for elective office at every level are closely related to the number of active, enthusiastic party members and supporters at the local level.

The local base of a political party, just like the roots of a tree, must be strong if the party is to grow and succeed. Party leaders may understand the importance of local party building, but in practice many do not and often many work solely for their own self interests. The result is often a party that is uncompetitive and not able to assume control of government.

Party leaders and organizers cannot forget about the central importance of the individual member. Without members, a party's leaders, no matter how well spoken or smart they might be, are doomed to occupy the margins of their country's democratic political life. Moreover, party leaders cannot afford to forget that ultimate policy-making authority is and should always be the membership of the party if the party is going to be genuinely democratic.