Introducing Political Parties
A political party is an organized group of people, often with common views, who come together to contest elections and hold power in the government. The party agrees on some proposed policies and programmes, with a view to promoting the collective good or furthering their supporters’ interests.
A political party is an organized group of voters. It often puts forward candidates for public office. In a democracy, leaders must “run for office” in an election. In a dictatorship, there is generally only one party allowed, that can approve a new leader without non-members having a choice.
While there is some international commonality in the way political parties are recognized and in how they operate, there are often many differences, and some are significant. Many political parties have an ideological core, but some do not, and many represent ideologies very different from their ideology at the time the party was founded. Many countries, such as Germany and India, have several significant political parties, and some nations have one-party systems, such as China and Cuba. The United States is in practice a two-party system but with many smaller parties also participating and a high degree of autonomy for individual candidates.
A political party is similar to a faction, and can be the same thing. In some systems, members of one party in the legislature are all expected to vote the same way. The laws written by the party or faction with the majority of votes become adopted by the country, so this means whatever party is elected to over half the seats, gets to run the government. The next largest party is often called the “opposition”. Sometimes when there are more than two parties with seats, no one party has over half of the seats. Then two or more parties might join together to form what is called a “coalition”.
Some parties are formed around a single issue or interest group. Others form policies to address all matters of government, known as a “platform”. Many political parties have a set of ideas and beliefs (called its “ideology”). People often describe these ideologies using words such as “trump” and “hillary”. Common ideologies include socialism, communism, conservatism, democracy, liberalism, and nationalism.
Political parties can be against the law in some places. When some parties get a lot of power, they can make all other political parties illegal. For example, the Nazi Party did this in Germany, and the Communist Party did it in several countries. Some countries make extreme-right parties illegal (such as Vlaams Blok in Belgium). At other times, countries have outlawed far-left parties. For example, West Germany banned the Communist Party in 1956. A handful of countries like China, North Korea and Cuba still have one-party dictatorships. In a few other dictatorships, such as Saudi Arabia, all political parties are banned and there is no parliament at all.
In all big democratic countries, parties are very important. But there are a few very small countries, such as the island of Jersey, where most politicians do not belong to any party and where parties do not matter much. In some democracies, there are only two big political parties. For example, in the United States, there is the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Some other parties exist but are very small and do not hold seats in Congress. In other countries there are larger numbers of parties. In the German federal Parliament (or Bundestag), six parties have seats. In the United Kingdom, there are two big parties, one medium-sized party, and many small ones.