Political Parties: The Meaning, Features & Development

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Political Parties: The Meaning, Features and Development In Nigeria

There are many definitions of political party as there are writers on the subject. Coleman and Roseberg, For example, claim that;

Political parties are associations formally organised with the explicit and declared purpose of acquiring and/or maintaining legal control, either singly or in the coalition for electoral competition with other similar associations over the personnel and the policy of government of an actual or perspective sovereign state.

The above definition is useful to the extent that it encompasses some of the issues that need to be discussed under the term political party. But the emphasizes of this definition on electoral competition may not rule out one-party states where competition is between candidates rather than parties.

There are also some small parties in countries like the United States and Nigeria, which are not directly engaged in electoral competition. Some revolutionary parties also work outside and electoral framework. As such, the definition by Coleman and Roseberg is not entirely satisfactory.

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Political parties may also be viewed as the associations or organised groups of citizens who acts together as political units, have specific objectives and opinions on important political issues in the state and who by acting together as political units, seek to gain control of the government.

Joseph Schumpeter, in his writing, observed that the first and foremost aim of political party is to prevail over others in order to get into power or to stay in it.

Definition of Political Parties

In simple terms, a Political Party is an association of like-minded individuals who seek to contest election and control the personnel and policies of government.

Political Parties is defined as an organised group of citizens, act together as a political unit, having distinctive aims and objectives involving political questions in the state and acting together and seeking to obtain control of government.

Features of Political Parties

Certain features of parties are clear from the above definitions. They include:

  1. Several political systems have party systems and political parties.
  2. The central objectives of a political party is to achieve political power.
  3. This goal of seeking power distinguishes a political party from other groups such as pressure groups, religious institutions and Boy’s Scout.
  4. Every political party has an ideology.
  5. The party’s manifesto contains the official programmes to be executed by the party, if elected into office.
  6. Political parties campaign to publicize their manifesto
  7. Political parties are hierarchical organised.
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Development of Political Parties

Political parties emerged in the 19th century following the introduction of representative government and the expansion of the suffrage. Although political parties may not be an essential feature of a political system (for example, authoritarian states may even ban political parties), yet they are very vital to the growth and survival of liberal democracy.

Imagine the consequences of the absence of political parties in the British and American political systems. Most African political parties historically emerged from protest groups, self improvement associations, literary societies and tribal associations of one kind or another to influence colonial government and policies.

Modern political parties in Africa are usually offshoot of parties established during the colonial era. The Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Nigeria can for example be traced to the Action Group established during the colonial era. The People’s Democratic Party – PDP appears to be a refurbished version of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) of the Second Republic.


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