The term – Political Party is an organized group of people who have the same ideology, or who otherwise have the same political positions, and who field candidates for elections, in an attempt to get them elected and thereby implement their agenda.
In simple terms, a political party is an Association of like-minded individuals who seek to contest election and control the personnel and policy of government.
Functions of Political Parties
Political parties perform the following functions in the political system.
Recruitment and removal of political leaders
Link between government and the people
Mobilization of public opinion
Peaceful means of changing government
Simplification and clarification of issues
#1 – Interest Articulation
Interest articulation is the process by which the demands of the people are channeled to influence government policies. Political parties represent the interests of their members and provide opportunity for members to channel their demands, contest and win elections to form government. Interest articulation is one of the major functions of political parties.
Political parties bring order out of chaos and seek to widen the interest they represent. They harmonize these interests with each other. They represent various diverse interests in the political process and attempt to satisfy these interests. If there are no political parties to aggregate these interests, people will vote in different ways and there may be chaos and an unstable government.
As an organisation in conflict situation, the party must somehow manage its internal conflicts and stabilized the groups in the coalition so that the goal of attaining power is more likely to be realised.
#3 – Recruitment and Removal of Political Leaders
Perhaps the most important function of political party is the recruitment and the removal of political leaders such as president, prime minister and legislators. During elections, political parties present their preferred candidates for political offices, and support them with funds and logistics. If they win, the candidates will hold important political office in the government.
The party can also refuse to present them for future elections if they failed to heed party discipline. The fact that only few independent candidates in elections shows how important political parties are in the political recruitment process. In states where political parties are absent or weak, public office holders are recruited from traditional elites such as traditional ruling families or through religious or military organization. But this kind of political recruitment does not foster political stability.
Political parties serve as the link between the government and the governed. They managed to flow of information between the government and the people. They explain government policies and programmes to the people and educate them on their rights and obligations as citizens.
This is important so that the people will exercise their civic rights in a responsible manner. Parties also give feedback to the government on the feelings and observations of the people. This enables the government to fine-tune its policies to suit the interest of the people.
By so doing, political parties serve as a mediator between the conflicting interests of the people and the goals of government and this enables the government to become accountable to the people. Server as a bridge or link between the rulers and the ruled is another major functions of political parties.
#5 – Mobilization of Public Opinion
A major function of political parties is the mobilization of public opinion in favour or against particular government policies. Political parties may mobilize the people through mass rallies, flags, uniforms and other symbols of unity to emphasize the close relationship between the people and the party or government.
This function is particularly important in socialist states where a political party is the vanguard for mobilizing the people in support of government policies. In liberal democratic states, parties which are averse to a particular government policy made mobilize the people against such policy.
Political parties provide an orderly means of changing government. In a cabinet system of government, the party that wins the majority of seats in Parliament is called upon to form the government while the losing party forms the opposition.
The leader of the victorious party becomes the Prime Minister while the leader of the leading opposition party is called the leader of opposition. The process of changing government is even simpler in a presidential system of government where the candidate of the party that wins the largest number of votes in general election is elected president.
A different candidate sponsored by another party may emerge as president in the next election. When a political party wins an election, it provides national direction by trying to implement the policies and programmes stated in its manifesto. Without political parties, such a smooth change of government is difficult, if not impossible.
#7 – Simplification and Clarification of Issues
Political parties present and clarify important political issues to the electorate during elections. They also provide information on these issues and on the candidates seeking to contest public office.
All these are done within the framework of the party’s ideology. An ideology is the philosophical base of a political party and it helps to distinguish a party from others and allows it to organise public opinion in a particular ideological direction.