Political Party

… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

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Concept description

The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network (reference below, link on right) describes a political party (p. 8) as “an organized group of people who exercise their legal right to identify with a set of similar political aims and opinions, and one that seeks to influence public policy by getting its candidates elected to public office.”

ACE notes that:

“Even though the presentation of candidates and the electoral campaign are the functions that are most visible to the electorate, political parties fulfill many other vital roles in a democratic society. They are also institutionalized mediators between civil society and the duly-elected representatives who decide and implement policy. For example, political party-affiliated legislators who meet with civil society representatives to solicit individual (or organizational) opinion in the public policy formulation process. By this, they enable their members’ and supporters’ demands to be represented in parliament and in government.”

Key tasks of political parties

ACE identifies the following key tasks (p. 8-9):

  • Solicit and prioritize needs and policy priorities as identified by members and supporters
  • Familiarize and educate voters and citizens in the functioning of the political and electoral system and in generating general political values
  • Educate and train party members and leadership on an ongoing basis
  • Balance opposing demands and convert them into general policies
  • Activate and mobilize citizens toward political participation while demonstrating how they can transform public opinion into viable policy options
  • Channel public opinion from citizens to government
  • Recruit and train candidates for public office
ACE’s guiding principles of parties and candidates

ACE offers (p. 11-13) the following principles to guide legislation and practices regarding political parties and candidates, noting that the first three derive directly from basic civil and political rights, while the other seven relate to what is needed in practice for a political system to function democratically.

  • Freedom to stand for election – The freedom to stand for election refers to an individual’s ability to stand for election and to be duly elected to office. This may be either as an independent candidate or as a candidate of a political party or other organisation. Principles to take into consideration when restricting individuals’ freedom to stand for election include non-discrimination, relevance, reason, and objectivity. It is critical to ensure that the restrictions on and process of nomination are clearly stated in the electoral law.
  • Freedom of speech and assembly – Freedom of speech and assembly refers to the right of citizens to express their opinions freely, individually or with others. It also refers to the ability for political parties and candidates to hold meetings and rallies and to freely and openly conduct public election campaigns. If restrictions are imposed, they tend to address issues of protection from, for example, hate speech or incitement of hatred and violence.
  • Fair and peaceful competition – For the electoral competition to be fair and peaceful, political parties, candidates, and other electoral actors need to agree on the rules of the game. Such rules may include refraining from practices of hate speech, electoral violence, and defamation. This agreement can be informal, through a voluntary Code of Conduct, and/or supported through a legal framework with enforceable sanctions and is usually contained with the Electoral Code.
  • Plurality – In order for voters to have a real and meaningful choice on election day, the political and legal system of a given country usually considers establishing and maintaining a multi-party electoral system. This system usually includes provision for independent candidates to stand for election – in order for voters to have a choice among several political parties and/or independent candidates.
  • Inclusion in the electoral process – In all aspects of an election – changes to electoral laws, election administration, codes of conduct, etc – countries need to decide what kind of involvement they want from political parties, candidates, voters, and other key stakeholders. The involvement can take different forms ranging from being informed to being consulted, part of decision-making, or free to observe voting, vote counting, and collation of results. In some countries, this may include active participation of political parties in the election cycle prior to Election Day when the Central Election Commission (CEC) or other electoral governing body is deliberating and determining the content and character of the electoral code.
  • Level playing field – Political, cultural, legal, and financial realities might lead to a situation where some political parties or candidates have (or are perceived to have) an unfair advantage over others. Equal access to media legislation can help to ensure that all candidates (and their respective parties) receive air time and press access. . Additional measures such as party registration, freedom of assembly, ability to promote party platform in the media, and quotas to enhance the participation of under-represented groups may also be applied.
  • Media access and reporting – The media are a key channel for voters, political parties, candidates, and other stakeholders to receive information related to an election. Legal frameworks should in protect media freedom to report and scrutinize the workings of political parties and other actors in the electoral process, and should also address ways to ensure that parties and candidates receive an equitable access to and coverage in publicly owned media.
  • Transparent and accountable political finance – Money is a key element in modern political campaigning, and legal frameworks and administrative practices often regulate party and campaign finance. Regulations may cover possible access to public funds, restrictions on (mis-)use of public resources (by the incumbent party or candidate), provisions for the finances of political parties and candidates to be transparent, or prohibitions on certain sources of funds.
  • Internal party democracy – If a political party would like the democratic principles of electoral politics to be applied within the party, it may consider practices like internal information and consultation processes, internal (formal or informal) rules and structures for the organisation and decision-making within the party, and transparency in its functioning at all levels. Party members may also take on more formal roles in the decision-making like participating in internal elections for leadership positions or in selecting the party’s candidate(s) for the upcoming elections. Many parties also work actively to enhance the role of traditionally under-represented groups in their parties.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, The ACE Encyclopaedia: Parties and Candidates, at http://aceproject.org/ace-en/pdf/pc/view, accessed 25 August 2016, and uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Parties-and-Candidates-2013.pdf.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 25 August 2016.

Image: ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, Electoral Systems, at http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/onePage, accessed 25 August 2016.