Bjmc i, igp, unit-iii, Nature of Political Parties
1. Nature of political parties
Political parties are indispensable for the successful functioning of democracy. Modern democracies are representa-tive or
indirect democracies. The citizens of a state elect the representa- tives periodically at election. Political parties put up the
candidates and present their programmes and appeal to’ the
electors to vote for their candidates. The party, which secures the majority at election, forms the government and
implements the programmes, which they had put before the electorate and are approved by them.
The political parties have come to occupy the most influential and dominating position in the process of democratic
govern- ment. Yet they are an extra-legal growth. No democratic constitution mentions the existence of a political party.
There were no political parties during the initial stages of some of the major democracies of today. Unlike other political
institutions, it is not created by or not even referred to in any constitution. But later it has become as indispensable as the
constitution itself. In Britain where the party system 6riginated, it is still outside the legal framework of the state.
But without political parties the British constitution, which is mainly based on conventions is unworkable. Similarly the
makers of the constitutions of USA abhorred political parties, because they thought, it would encourage division, strife,
and manipulation. But within a few years the party system became the mainstay of American democratic system.
Presently Political parties influence, control and dominate almost the entire game of politics in almost every country. They
exist not only in the democratic countries but also in totalitarian states, though they differ in their purposes and
D e f init io n
There are various definitions offered by different writers on political party. Gettle defines ‘political party as a group of
citizens, more or less organised, who act as a political unit and who by the use of their voting power aim to control the
government and carry out their general policy.’ Ranny and Kendall define a political party ‘as an autonomous organised
group that makes nominations and contest election in the hope of eventually gaining and exercising control of the
personnel and policies of government.’ Prof. R.N.Gilchrist defines a political party ‘as an organised group of citizens who
profess to Politics is a contest among different interests and groups organised or unorganized for influence over the
politics of the government. Four elements are necessary to constitute a group of persons into a political party 1) People
must be organised. Without organisation it is difficult to carry out common programmes. 2) What binds the people
together is a common belief in certain principles. There may be differences in detail, but all of them must agree in
fundamentals 3) A political party seeks to carryout its policies by constitutional means and by capturing the government. It
is the ballot box, which gives them power 4) political party, exists to promote the national interests as distinguished from
the sectarian or Communal interests.
Sir Edmund Bruke defines a political party “ as a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavors the national
interests upon some particular principles in which they are all agreed.”
The political parties in the present form came to existence only a couple of centuries ago. Before that as Maciver says, there
were only ‘trends of opinion, popular clubs, philosophical societies and parliamentary groups, but no real political parties.’
Political parties have become indispensable only after the introduction
of universal suffrage. When the voting right has passed on to the masses, it became necessary to organize, educate, and
canalize the voters to gain control of the government and this led to the formation of political parties.
Cl assi f ica t io n o f Po lit ica l Pa rtie s
Party system is a term used by political scientists to identify certain general characteristics of political parties in acountry. The
most common criterion used is the number of parties. It does not account all the parties in existence but only those which
have been strong enough and able to secure a substantial
amount of votes and form the government or to form a recognized opposition in the near future. On this basis we may
classify the party into ‘single party’, ‘bi-party’ and ‘multi-party’ systems.
Single Party System
Single party system is referred to a party system where only ‘one party’ dominates in the politics of that country. There may be
other parties, but they are not popular, influential and strong enough to secure substantial amount of votes to form
government or an effective opposition. However now a days the term single party system is referred to denote the single party
dominance in totalitarian states. The Nazi party of Germany during the dictatorship of Hitler, the Fascist party of Italy during
the dictatorship of Mussolini and the Communist party of China are examples of single party system.
2. In a single party system the authority of the party is totalitarian. They are organised like well disciplined armies, they have an
ideology and the faith in it is unflinching and dogmatic like a religious order. Single party system aims to canalize the political life of
the country in a single way. The life of the nation is regimented to the pattern of that party and opposing parties are liquidated
either as a consequence of the positive law or by
force. The Single party thus, becomes the engine of the whole life of the nation. Party instead of remaining a means to
democracy becomes the end.
A single party system is, therefore, totalitarian. All the authority of the state is concentrated in a, single integrated political party. It
even absorbs the state instead of merely acting on its behalf. Any single authority by its nature is total. It has no other authority at
its side with which it must divide the exercise of power. Its authority, accordingly, embraces all aspects of human life and every form
and phase of community’s life. It was
national unity for the Nazis and fascist and it is social unity with in communists
M erits of Single Party System
Single party system can provide a stable government, since it has monopoly over the government and politics and there is no
opposition to dislodge it from Power 2) It is suited for undeveloped states which cannot afford the wasteful luxury of frequent
elections and expensive election campaigns 3) It can provide an efficient government and can bring rapid prosperity to the country 4)
There will be no conflict between the party and the government, since members of one are also members of
the other. This provides for smooth functioning of the government 5) A single party system is able to achieve national and social
unity 6) It helps to avoid classes and cleavages and clashes of interests in society.
1. The main defect of one party system is that, since the party has a monopoly over the government and politics of the nation, it
would tend to become tyrannical and irresponsible. It ruthlessly suppresses and eliminates all oppositions 2) There is no
alternate government that can be formed and no genuine option for thepeople at theelection 3) One party system leads to
totalitarian rule where thepolitical and social get identified with each other 4) It leads tothe rule of the
elite and the supreme leader becomes unrestrained 5) It is prone to commit mistakes and repeat them since there is no
opposition to criticize them.
A BI -party system is that in which only two parties regularly secure substantial portion of the votes and public offices and in which
the two major parties alternate in the exercise of power. Such system might also contain many other minor parties, which will
nominate the candidates for election, but rarely win more than a fraction of the votes or elect any candidate. In a
two party system the political opinion is polarized into two major parties. In the election, the party, which secures a majority in the
legislature, forms the government and the other forms the opposition. In the presidential form, the candidate of one of the
parties is elected as the president and the same party or the other will have majority in legislature m-party system is prevalent in
countries such as USA, UK , Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In a BI -party system, the parties are moderate and
are normally of broker type rather than of missionary type. Their views are usually identical.
M erits of Bi-party System
1. A two party system ensures stability. A majority in the legislature in such a context will be a decisive majority and
‘not a relative majority. A cabinet supported by such a majority can be strong and masterful. It can effectively implement its
programmes and can give forceful leadership in the legislature. 2) In a BI -Party system the election is simple. It presents just two
alternatives to the electorates, making it easy for them to choose. Besides a two party system provides an alternate government,
an alternate policy and an alternate leadership. 3) There is less chances of corruption in this system because the ruling party is not
obliged to satisfy any other party by allowing or ignoring or defending some political corruption for their support to retain the
ministry 4) In a two party system the responsibilities are easily identified. One party rules and the other forms the opposition.
The leaders of both the parties and the people know the responsibilities of each.
1. A two party system can lead to a very strong executive.
Supported by a majority in the legislature, the cabinet can establish its dictatorship 2) In this system the choice of the voters is
limited to only two alternative policies and programmes. It helps to create polarization of vested interests and party prejudices.
It may ignore minority interests, 3) In a bi-party system the ruling party might ignore the opposition or even public opinion
because it is secure by virtue of its majority. It can be removed from power only through a general election. Similarly if the
opposition is too strong the work of the government is hampered by too much of criticism. 4) A two party system implies that
both the parties must be well disciplined and the rigidity of the party discipline nullifies the freedom of the party members to
make their own decisions.
M ulti Party System
3. A multi party system is that in which at least three or more parties regularly secure a substantial number of votes and public offices
and usually a single party isnot able to secure an absolute majority to form the government. The result of such a
situation is coalition government.
In a multi-party system, there are number of major parties, each well organised on an ideology of its own and has considerable
influence over the national politics. In a general election., It is very rare for one single party to win a majority of votes or seats in the
legislature to form the government. Multi-party system prevails in many countries of Europe. Presently India also can be included
in this category. Most of the parties differ in name
in different countries but closely resemble in their ideology, organisation, policies and programmes.
Merits It is more democratic than any other system. Since various parties represent various ideologies, interests and shades of
opinion, a combination of these parties in a coalition govern- ment naturally reflect various shades of public opinion, hence more
democratic. 2) In a multi-party system the government is more sensitive and responsive to public opinion. It cannot ignore any
section of interest or opinion as it would sometimes lead to the downfall of the ministry. 3) In a multi-party system people have
enough choice. People can vote for a party, which they think, represent and would work for their interests.
The main drawback of multi-party system is the instability of the government. Since it is almost always a coalition of heterogeneous
political parties, it is very likely to collapse on simple reasons 2) the legislature becomes a hot-bed of intrigues and ‘horsetrading’.
Alliances and counter-alliances are formed among the parties adversely affecting the efficiency and stability
of the government 3) there is no continuity of policy or programmes for the government. Each party puts forward its own
ideology, policy and plans to the electorate. They might even be mutually opposing. After the election, a coalition is formed on a
common minimum programme. But each party is enthusiastic to give more consideration to its own policies and plans. 4) The
government is compelled to make any political compromise and grant concessions to the constituent parties in order to remain in
power. This leads to political corruption. 5} Multi-party system confuses the voters. In this system the choice becomes very wide and
hence confusing. Out of the welter of manifestoes and programmes the elector has to choose only one. The general masses of
electors are bewildered by the complexity of choice. 6} Finally in this system the community is divided into mutually opposing
Funct ions of Polit ical Part ies
Democracy and Political parties go hand in hand. Parties can exist under other conditions too, but can flourish most in a
democratic state, as the representative government is the best medium for the expression of public opinion. Political parties,
accordingly, perform certain indispensable functions.
1} Political parties organize and fight elections on a determined program, which is put before the electorate. They choose the
forms the government, the minority parties subject the party in power to a searching criticism.
5) Political parties secure harmony of action among the various departments of government. ‘I t is the work of the parties to find
these disconnected organs into a unity and secure the harmonious co-operation of the entire government’ It is a unifying agency
which makes democracy workable.
6) Political parties also co-ordinate the members of the legislature. It keeps them under some sort of discipline. The legislative
chambers cannot function smoothly without party whip. In its absence the legislature would be a babel of tongue.
7) Political parties ‘Canalize politics and keep the nation politically alive, They are links which keep the individual in touch with the
Apart from these main functions enumerated above, the political parties perform many other functions. It co-ordinate the
functions of the executive and legislative branches of government especially in a presidential form of government. It helps to
maintain discipline in legislature. Some parties establish youth organisation to mobilize young electorates, conduct
study classes establish libraries and run charitable institutions.
SUM M A RY
Party system is a term used by political scientists to identify certain general characteristics of political parties in acountry. The most
common criterion used is the number of parties The different party systems are single party system; bi party system and multi party
system. All the party systems have their own merits and demerits. In India the multi party system is used. Political parties are the
best forms of public expression in the government.
A SSIGN M EN T
How has multi party system helped India to be the largest democracy? Explain it with some case studies.
s. While the majority party
1. Public Policy and politics in India By Kuldeep Mathur
4. 2. Indian Political Trials By A.C. Noorani.
3. Basu, Durga Das. The Laws of the Press in India(1962) Asia Publishing House, Bombay