A political party is defined as an organised group of citizens, who 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.
Secondly, it is also defined as an association of like minded persons who organise themselves into a political group for the purpose of controlling political power and the administrative machinery of a state.
Joseph Schumpeter, in his writing, observed that the first and foremost aim of each political party is to prevail over others in order to get into power or to stay in it.
Note that it is the goal of attaining political power that distinguishes political parties from other groups in the political system e.g. Pressure group.
In Nigeria’s First Republic (1963-66) NPC, NCNC and AG were the prominent political parties that contested elections. However, there were a few other minor political parties.
CHARACTERISTICS OF POLITICAL PARTIES
- Organisation: Political parties are organised, with procedure for electing party leaders properly defined. The National Executive Committee responsible for preparing or drawing up the policies and programmes of the party equally coordinates the activities at local level including important decisions affecting the constituency and the local committees.
- Manifesto: This is the cardinal plan or programme of a political party which the party intends to fulfil to the people if elected into power.
- Contesting elections: This is the primary motive of a political party, to contest election and be in government.
- Nomination: In democratic states, it is the political parties that carry out nomination of candidates and these candidates contest election under the banner of their political parties.
- Campaign: During the period of campaigns, political parties publicise their manifestos to the electorate and the purpose of this is to win their support and votes.
- Ideology: Their philosophy, system of thought, ideas are parts of what the political parties tend to propagate to the electorate. For example, a socialist party would like to transform the state into a welfare socialist state.
- Primary election: It is an election conducted within a political party to choose popular candidates that can represent the interest of the party in any election.
- Rallies, congresses, conference: These are some of the features of a political party.
- Purposeful leadership: Leaders with purposeful and positive qualities are better at organising political parties and giving them a focus.
FUNCTIONS / IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL PARTIES
- Unity: Political parties unite the people on major issues affecting the state.
- It serves as a link: Political parties always serve as a link between the people and government.
- Accountability: They enable the government to become accountable to the electorate through constructive criticism of the government in power.
- Machinery for recruitment: Political parties provide a machinery for recruiting political leaders.
- Clarification of issues: Political parties try to clarify issues and provide relevant information on candidates and current events there by encouraging the electorate to be more interested in governmental activities.
- Provision of organisation: They try to provide an organisation for running the government.
- Control of the government: Political parties exist to contest elections and control the government.
- Dramatisation of politics: This is done by keeping the nation politically alive.
- Sectional or diversified interests: They harmonize sectional and diverse interests.
- Change of government: With political parties contesting elections,change of government is made possible with ease.
- Political education: It provides political education, through lecture, symposia, manifestos and other social programmes.
- Social Welfare and humanitarian Services: It provides social welfare services for the people e.g. job opportunities, award of scholarships, etc.
- Opposition: Political parties/provide opposition to the ruling party.
- Sponsorship: They nominate and sponsor candidates for elections.
- Training: Political parties equally train future political leaders.
- Provision of Programmes: They provide programmes which they hope to implement when voted into power.
- They organize: rallies, campaigns, lectures, debates and symposia on government programmes and activities.
Demerits of Political Parties
- Waste of funds: Floating a political party is a costly venture, government also gives funds to them, resulting to waste of public funds.
- Division of the country: A country with two party or multi-party systems can divide the country into different opposition camps and this does not make for unity of a country.
- Candidates for elections: Nomination of candidates, by political parties for elections, may not have the people’s consent or legitimate support.
- Evil practices: Evil practices of different dimension could result from political parties. For example, tribalism, sectionalism, victimization and nepotism. People could be instigated to commit evil, because of being involved in a political party.
- Appointments: Most appointments made are based on party leaning. Ministers, Judges, Ambassadors, etc,are appointed according to their loyalty to a particular party in power.
- Issue of neglect: Neglect in areas of provision of amenities may happen to communities that did not give their votes to the party in government.
- Apathy: Some people are apathetic to politics. They see political parties as not living up to their expectations, especially in the areas of fulfilling their electoral promises.
- Party disloyalty: Carpet crossing is a common feature of political parties. It makes nonsense of the earlier avowed loyalty an individual has made to his party.
TYPES OR STRUCTURE OF POLITICAL PARTIES
- Branch/mass parties: This type of party cuts across tribes, interests, and individuals. People wishing to become members are free to join. Membership of mass parties are mainly composed of different sections of the society. The programme or manifestos of such parties are directed towards the welfare of the people.
- Caucus/elitist parties: It is made up of people of the upper class in the society. These people believe that the control of government should be their preserve. In addition, it should be in the hands of those with distinction and of high intellectual standing.
- Religious parties: Religious doctrines existing in a country determine the formation of these parties. In some countries, religious parties are very strong in the political process e.g Iran.
- Broker parties: It is a party of both the rich and the poor. They work towards bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, and promoting equality and welfare of the people.
- Charismatic parties: Individuals with unique and enviable qualities, talent, etc, can form these parties. People are attracted to these parties because of the charisma of those individuals that formed them. For example, NPC of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto in the first Republic, NCNC of Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe, and A.G. of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The Organisational Structure of a Political Party.
- Ward smallest unit of the party structure: Officials are Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer.
- Branches: There are local government branches throughout the country if the party is a very strong party with mass followership.
- Constituency Branches: It includes a Chairman, Organising Secretary, Treasurer, etc.
- Affiliation: There are other affiliated bodies.
- Regional/State Branches: Coordinate the activities of all constituency branches.
- National Conference: This conference is responsible for National delegates conference. .
- National Working Committee: This committee makes decisions or deal with a particular subject.
- National Secretariat: It is responsible for running the affairs of the party.
- National Executive Committee: Is responsible for preparing or drawing up the policies and programmes of the party and equally coordinates the activities at local level.
- Board of Trustees: This board controls the financial affairs of the party.
- General Convention/Congress: A large formal meeting or series of meetings where representative from different groups make decisions. It is also the gathering of members to elect candidates for different elections e.g. Presidential and Governorship.
Factors Which Determine the Electoral Success of a Political Party
- Manifesto: If a political party has a good manifesto, this may produce overwhelming support for the party at elections.
- Realistic past performance: A good track record of a political party may give it an edge over others.
- Spread of membership: A political party has more chances of victory at the polls if followership cuts across the society.
- Organisation: Well planned organizational structure can produce better chances for a party at elections.
- Leadership quality: If the leaders of a political party are capable and have vision, the party can make a head-way at the polls.
- Quality of Candidates: The type of candidates presented by a party to contest elections may make or mar the party’s chances at the polls.
- Adequate funding: A party with enough fund can organize the best of campaigns and rallies by engaging the services of an advertising agency for a well produced party emblem and jingles, etc. These may help in recording successes at the polls.
- Party Patronage: If a political party can win the support of some organizations, wealthy or influential individuals in the society, its changes at the polls may be enhanced.
- Unity: This can help to brighten the chances of the party at elections.
- Sensitization: Massive sensitization and education of the electorate by the party.
- Party Discipline: Very strong party discipline determines the electoral success of a political party.
- Auxiliary Bodies: Well organized auxiliary bodies within the party such as the Youth and Women’s Wing.
- Effective Propaganda: Machinery of a political party determines the electoral success e.g. Press.
- Transparent Electoral Process: This is also a factor that can determine the electoral success of a political party.
PROBLEMS OF POLITICAL PARTIES
- Anti-Party Activities: Some party members are disloyal and involved in antiparty activities.
- Irresponsible acts: Most of the party leaders are irresponsible. Many of them were imposed on party members or faithfuls.
- Corruption and favouritism: Political Parties are always guilty of nepotism, bribery and corruption.
- Fractionalization: Within any political party has the capacity of weakening its cohesion.
- Inadequate Funding: Poor and inadequate funding has overtime affected the smooth running of mostly the small parties and their successes at the polls.
- Imposition: Imposition of ideas and candidates on political parties by influential members.
- Poor Organization: The bane of most political parties is poor party organization or management.