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Introduction

A political party consists of a group of like-minded people who work together as a unit to influence the general public, context elections to gain control over the government. Members of the same political party share a common goal, aims and objectives. Different political parties compete with each other with view to influence the public policies and opinion with their philosophies, ideals, and objectives. Parties often espouse an ideology or vision, expressed in a party program, bolstered by a written platform or manifesto with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.

Parties participate in electoral campaigns and educational outreach or protest actions. The winning party runs the government, and the opposition keeps a close watch at the functioning of the government.

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Role of Political Parties in a Democracy

To preserve and protect individual rights and freedoms, a democratic people must work together to shape the government of their choosing. And the principal way of doing that is through political parties. Political parties serve four key functions in a political system. Political parties (1) select candidates, (2) formulate public policies, (3) educate and mobilize voters, (4) facilitate governance and political stability, (5) recruit leaders, and (6) monitor the opposing party when it's in power.

1. Select Candidates. Political parties nominate candidates for political office. They narrow the field from a multitude of wannabes to a manageable few credible candidates. This simplifies the voters' role and brings a certain order to what could be a chaotic electoral process.

2. Formulate Public Policies. Each political party fights the election to achieve its objectives incorporated in their political manifesto. Soon after the election the majority party forming the government seeks to formulate its policies of administration on the basis of promises made in the election manifesto. These policies are made keeping in mind the interest of general public. The most important objective behind most policies remains the betterment of general condition. Other than this, they make policies on national security, internal law and order, etc. Besides, each party has its own ideology. It is assured that the majority party gets the mandate of the electorate to implement its own political programme.

3. Educate and Mobilize Voters. Political parties inform and energize their members. They help in the growth of the level of political consciousness of common citizens, who otherwise have no time to peruse and study issues of the state. They send out brochures, run media campaigns, knock on doors, and call voters on the phone. Individual candidates can do the same thing, but parties maintain elaborate networks of state and local offices that can be immediately pressed into the service of a candidate once the party nomination is secured. This provides the common people with an opportunity to analyze the pros and cons of various important issues. This process leads to organize and formulate public opinion on important issues. In addition, parties have fundraising apparatuses in place that simplify their candidates' ability to finance their campaigns.

4. Facilitate Governance and Political Stability. Parties also bring order to the process of policymaking. As party members, individual politicians have a ready-made group of allies that will usually cooperate with their efforts to pass and implement legislation. At the national level, this means that a rookie Congressperson arrives with a network of allies that will support his efforts and that he must support in turn. In addition, party alliances close the gap between the legislative and executive branches. While separated by the Constitution, the existence of political parties narrows the distance between the branches and helps them work together.

5. Recurit leaders. The essential function of any party is to recruit men of integrity, letters, action, leadership to its fold as members and prepare them for election in future. Because it is these members of party who propagate the party ideologies, discuss the burning issues and hold meetings and press conferences to mobilize public support. It is these leaders again who contest in the election and form government if elected to power. Such leaders being drawn from public life are expected to understand expectations of the common people and formulate public policies accordingly. Parties always get popularity and recognition though their leaders only.

6. Monitor the Opposing Party in Power. Parties also serve as critical watchdogs for the public. The adversarial relationship between the major parties ensures that the party out of power will keep a close eye on its opponent and notify the public of any wrongdoing or policy misstep. The concept of the loyal opposition is central to any democracy. It means that all sides in political debate – however deep their differences – share the fundamental democratic values of freedom of speech and faith, and equal protection under law. Parties that lose elections step into the role of opposition – confident that the political system will continue to protect their right to organize and speak out. In time, their party will have a chance to campaign again for its ideas, and the votes of the people.

These are some of the functions of political parties which make them significant in modern democracy.

Additional Resources
Download Politics - The Basics
Download Caribbean Political Systems
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