4.4 Understanding the Role of Political Party Systems
Now that you can describe the political party systems in each course country, we need to move onto explaining how political party systems and memberships link citizen participation to policy making.
Party systems vary across the course countries in terms of rules governing elections, party structure, and laws regulating political parties. The CED (Course and Exam Description), is very clear regarding examples of rules, party structure, and laws regulating political parties that you should be aware of. In the following paragraphs, I will share those examples and add to them.
In China, one party (Communist Party of China) has controlled the government (and military) since 1949, while minor parties have limited power to fill minor political offices. China is an example of an authoritarian regime in which the people have little to no impact on policymaking. Policymaking is entirely in the hands of the Communist Party. In effect, China is a one-political party state.
The Communist Party of China allows eight minor parties at the national level, and the parties must agree to the dominance or leading role of the CCP, or they will be disbanded by the CCP. These minor parties may participate in the National People’s Congress, but their participation is vetted by the CCP.
There are no direct elections at the national level in China. The CCP selects the President from within their ranks. One important thing to note here is that prior to 2012, China’s leadership and decision making within the CCP tended to be collective decision making among party members within the standing committee (the top members of the Communist Party of China). But, since 2012, more and more power now rests with a single entity, the President.
As you can see, the only political party that links citizens to policymaking, would be the CCP. As individual politicians prove themselves in village, county, providence, and national roles, they may have an opportunity to move up within the CCP and have more influence on policymaking. But, the average citizen has no influence as they don’t elect theses individuals once they start moving up the party hierarchy because the individuals are appointed from within the CCP.
Iran lacks formal political party structures; parties operate as loosely formed political alliances with questionable linkage to constituents. The 1979 Constitution of Iran does recognize “Freedom of Association” or the formation of parties, societies, political or professional associations, as well as religious societies. These groups may be Islamic or pertaining to one of the recognized religious minorities, provided they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic Republic.
However, there is no clear direction or rules listed in article 26 of the Constitution that provided for Freedom of Association, so in 1981, a Parties Law was created. The law specifies what a political party is and defines the conditions according to which political parties can be established and operate.
First of all, political parties need to get a permit from the Interior Ministry. According to Article 10 of the Parties Law, a special commission, known as “the Article 10 Commission”, should be established to do the duties specified in party law and to supervise the performance of the Parties Law. The commission comprises one Interior Ministry official, two parliamentarians, and two representatives of the judiciary. It has the right to issue party permits and dissolve those parties which act against the law. In 1988, almost thirty organizations applied for permits and most of them were granted permission, although very few appeared in the political arena effectively.
Much like China, this does not provide the average citizen much, if any, influence on policymaking, as parties are fully vetted by the Theocratic Government. Therefore, parties that don’t share the beliefs of the Supreme Leader are not approved. In essence, this means that multiple voices are not heard, as the only political parties approved provide no opposition or dissenting voice. If they did, they would be disbanded.
In Mexico, a multi-party system is dominated by the National Action Party (PAN), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); parties are allowed to form coalitions to nominate candidates for any particular election.
Mexico has been moving from an authoritarian nation to a more democratic nation. This is evidenced by the fact that, in the multi-party systems, the three political parties mentioned above all have the opportunity to win positions of power within the government, like the presidency.
The political parties not in control can form coalitions to exert pressure and influence on the political party in control in order to influence policymaking. Because there is an actual multi-party system, this means that a variety of voices are heard when debating policy and, therefore, the people of Mexico have more influence over policymaking than in authoritarian nations like China and Iran.
In Nigeria, multiple parties with ethnic quotas affect representation in the country’s federal legislature. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution provides for political parties and, more importantly, the INEC (Independent National Election Committee) which has the power to oversee elections and political parties. The INEC has continued to gain independence from the presidency through Constitutional amendments, and this insulates political parties from direct control of the presidency and strict regulation. Like Mexico, Nigeria has been moving towards democracy, and multi-party systems are a key factor in democratization and allowing the citizens a more direct role in policymaking.
As of the 2019 elections, Nigeria had 91 political parties, many with inclusive quotas to ensure the voice of minority groups throughout the 36 states, which allows for a multitude of voices in politics. However, there are limitations to the ability of the average citizen to impact politics through their participation in political parties.
First, we'll discuss the recent de-registration of political parties in Nigeria. In 2019, the high number of political parties running candidates for national, state, and local positions, led to numerous complaints from Nigerian voters that the ballot for president was too long (there were 71 candidates!!!). As a result, the INEC announced the de-registration of 74 out of the 92 registered political parties, which has the potential to streamline the electoral process. But, this removes a variety of parties and perhaps voices of the average citizen with fewer parties to represent them.
Secondly, no one can run for election in Nigeria unless they are part of a political party, and parties require those candidates to pay for inclusion in the party. This means that only the wealthiest of individuals can run and prohibits the average Nigerian from running for political office.
In Russia, one party has been dominating recent elections. Diminished representation of smaller parties occurs because of changing threshold rules. The elimination, and then reinstatement, of single-member districts, has affected regional parties and the representation of independent candidates.
Technically, Russia is an example of a multi-party system, but rules regarding political parties align it more with the characteristics of the one-party system that we discussed with China.
As an example, from 2008-2012, there were only seven political parties in Russia, and every new attempt to create new, independent parties was blocked by the party in power, United Russia. After 2012, the number of parties increased to 48 parties as a result of a European Court decision. But, as of 2017 only 6 of the 48 parties are represented in the State Duma (directly elected legislature). Of those 6, the only party with a majority is United Russia with 340 of the 450 seats.
As you can see, the minority parties do not have enough representation to challenge the majority party, United Russia, even if they formed a coalition. This means that there are not multiple voices in the legislature.
United Kingdom 🇬🇧
In the United Kingdom, two large parties (Labour and Conservative) dominate the House of Commons. In the United Kingdom, single-member district plurality elections diminish minor party representation. Single-member districts allow regional parties to win legislative seats. As a procedural democracy, the UK has a multi-party system that allows for a multitude of voices.
The democratic regime allows individuals to participate or have a voice in policymaking. A great example of this would be the Brexit vote in which a referendum (a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision) of the people, which is non-binding, influenced politicians enough for the parliament to vote on the exit from the EU and pass legislation to go ahead and do so.
Before we close out this topic, let us quickly review what we have learned. The structure and function of political parties varies greatly among our course countries. The factor that impacts structure and function most significantly is regime type. Let's go through an example to help make this more clear. Mexico, the UK, Nigeria, Russia, and Iran all are multi-party systems. While they have the same political party structure, their function is extremely different.
In Mexico, the UK, and Nigeria, coalitions can be formed to give more voice to minority groups, and political parties all have a chance to win elections at a national level and, therefore, provide a voice for a multitude of individuals who are a part of those parties. Compare that to Russia and Iran, which are both multi-party systems in structure, but in function, they are more aligned with one-party systems in that the parties that are formed must be vetted by the majority parties in control (United Russia) or individuals in control (Supreme Leader-Iran).
Furthermore, the opportunity to affect politics is limited. In Russia, for example, United Russia controls 350 of 450 seats in the State Duma (directly elected legislature) and the minority parties have no voice in policymaking. This means the voices heard in policymaking decisions only belong to the majority party, United Russia.