Structure of Political Parties
A political party is typically led by a party leader (the most powerful member and spokesperson representing the party), a party secretary (who maintains the daily work and records of party meetings), party treasurer (who is responsible for membership dues) and party chair (who forms strategies for recruiting and retaining party members, and also chairs party meetings). Most of the above positions are also members of the party executive, the leading organization which sets policy for the entire party at the national level.
The structure is far more decentralized in the United States because of the separation of powers, federalism and the multiplicity of economic interests and religious sects. Even state parties are decentralized as county and other local committees are largely independent of state central committees. The national party leader in the U.S. will be the president, if the party holds that office, or a prominent member of Congress in opposition (although a big-state governor may aspire to that role). Officially, each party has a chairman for its national committee who is a prominent spokesman, organizer and fund-raiser, but without the status of prominent elected office holders.
In parliamentary democracies, on a regular, periodic basis, party conferences are held to elect party officers, although snap leadership elections can be called if enough members opt for such. Party conferences are also held in order to affirm party values for members in the coming year. American parties also meet regularly and, again, are more subordinate to elected political leaders.
Depending on the demographic spread of the party membership, party members form local or regional party committees in order to help candidates run for local or regional offices in government. These local party branches reflect the officer positions at the national level.
It is also customary for political party members to form wings for current or prospective party members, most of which fall into the following two categories:
- identity-based: including youth wings, women’s wings, ethnic minority wings, LGBT wings, etc.
- position-based: including wings for candidates, mayors, governors, professionals, students, etc. The formation of these wings may have become routine but their existence is more of an indication of differences of opinion, intra-party rivalry, the influence of interest groups, or attempts to wield influence for one’s state or region.
These are useful for party outreach, training and employment. Many young aspiring politicians seek these roles and jobs as stepping stones to their political careers in legislative or executive offices.
The internal structure of political parties has to be democratic in some countries. In Germany Art. 21 Abs. 1 Satz 3 GG establishes a command of inner-party democracy.
When the party is represented by members in the lower house of parliament, the party leader simultaneously serves as the leader of the parliamentary group of that full party representation; depending on a minimum number of seats held, Westminster-based parties typically allow for leaders to form frontbench teams of senior fellow members of the parliamentary group to serve as critics of aspects of government policy.
When a party becomes the largest party not part of the Government, the party’s parliamentary group forms the Official Opposition, with Official Opposition frontbench team members often forming the Official Opposition Shadow cabinet. When a party achieves enough seats in an election to form a majority, the party’s frontbench becomes the Cabinet of government ministers. They are all elected members.There are members who attend party without promotion.