Nonpartisan democracy (also no-party democracy) is a system of representative government or organization such that universal and periodic elections take place without reference to political parties.
In a nonpartisan system, no official political parties exist, sometimes reflecting legal restrictions on political parties. In nonpartisan elections, each candidate is eligible for office on his or her own merits. In nonpartisan legislatures, there are no typically formal party alignments within the legislature. The administration of George Washington and the first few sessions of the United States Congress were nonpartisan. Washington also warned against political parties during his Farewell Address.
In the United States, the unicameral legislature of Nebraska is nonpartisan but is elected and often votes on informal party lines. In Canada, the territorial legislatures of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are nonpartisan. In New Zealand, Tokelau has a nonpartisan parliament. Many city and county governments in the United States and Canada are nonpartisan. Nonpartisan elections and modes of governance are common outside of state institutions. Unless there are legal prohibitions against political parties, factions within nonpartisan systems often evolve into political parties.
A non-partisan system is a system of government or organization such that universal and periodic elections take place without reference to political parties.
Sometimes electioneering and even speaking about candidates may be discouraged, so as not to prejudice others’ decisions or create a contentious atmosphere. Nonpartisan democracies may possess indirect elections whereby an electorate are chosen who in turn vote for the representative(s). (This is sometimes known as a 2-tier election, such as an electoral college.) The system can work with a first past the post electoral system but is incompatible with (partisan) proportional representation systems other than single transferable vote or reweighted cardinal voting systems, or semi proportional systems such as cumulative voting and single non transferable vote.
A nonpartisan system differs from a one-party system in that the governing faction in a one-party system identifies itself as a party, where membership might provide benefits not available to non-members. A single-party government often requires government officials to be members of the party, features a complex party hierarchy as a key institution of government, forces citizens to agree to a partisan ideology, and may enforce its control over the government by making all other parties illegal. Members of a nonpartisan government may not share any ideologies (though in voluntary organizations, they of course may). Various communist nations such as China or Cuba are single-party nations although the Members of Parliament are not elected as Party candidates.
A direct democracy can be considered nonpartisan since citizens vote on laws themselves rather than electing representatives. Direct democracy can be partisan, however, if factions are given rights or prerogatives that non-members do not have.
In many nations, the head of state is nonpartisan, even if the prime minister and parliament are chosen in partisan elections. The heads of state are expected to remain neutral with regards to partisan politics.
There are two basic types of nonpartisan governments – de facto and de jure. De facto nonpartisan governments are ones where no laws prevent the formation of political parties, but no parties exist. Most of the de facto nonpartisan governments represent very small populations, such as in Niue, Tuvalu, and Palau.
On the other hand, governments that outlaw political parties but do have elections are de jure nonpartisan systems. Several de jure nonpartisan national governments are Persian Gulf states, such as Oman and Kuwait. The legislatures in these Gulf state nonpartisan governments typically have advisory capacity only (i.e. – They may comment on laws proposed by the executive branch, but are unable to create real laws themselves.), but are partially or entirely elected by citizens. So, they can’t really be called “democracies”.
Unless there are legal restrictions on political parties, factions within nonpartisan governments may evolve into political parties. The United States of America initially did not have enfranchised political parties, but these evolved soon after independence.