The Role of Parties in Modern Democracies

Political parties are now accepted as an essential feature ofany liberal democracy. They are existing in different forms underdifferent political systems. They bring together a variety ofdifferent interests in any society, and by doing so, ‘overcomegeographical distances’. Via the electoral process, they determinethe shape of governments.Parties have contrasting significance in different democracies.

In Britain and the rest of Western Europe they are much strongerthan in the USA, where they are noticeably weak. In much ofWestern Europe they have a large membership, a reasonablycoherent ideology and a high degree of discipline among membersof parliament. In the USA, none of The Role of Parties in Modern Democracies these factors apply. In parts ofthe country they hardly seem to exist between elections. Britainhas party government. At election time, a party seeks to capturethereins of power and win a mandate to govern. To do this, itrequires a majority of seats in the House of Commons. If it obtainsa working majority, it can then expect to control the machinery ofgovernment until the next election is called. Having control of theexecutive branch and being in a position to dominate thelegislature, it will be able to carry out its manifesto. Its leaders

know that they can normally count on the support of their MPs The Role of Parties in Modern Democracies toensure that their programme passes through Parliament.

The situation is different in the United States. America lacksthe concentration of power possessed by the British Executive andhas a more dispersed system of government. Presidents may havegrand ideas for action, but they cannot anticipate such a relativelyeasy ride for their plans. Because Congress has the role of actingas a counter-balance to the executive branch, it takes the task ofscrutinizing White House proposals seriously. In any case, thePresident’s policies must be approved by the House ofRepresentatives and the Senate before they can become law. Indomestic as well as in foreign The Role of Parties in Modern Democracies policy, the President can seldomcount upon the automatic support of Congress, even when his ownparty has a majority in both the Senate and the House. Therefore,he must be able to convince Congressmen, the Representativesand the Senators of his point of view. He must bargain andcompromise. This is a major difference between the Americansystem and those in which the nation’s leader represents themajority party or parties, that is, parliamentary systems.

In terms of size and number, political parties are growingnowadays. At the beginning of the century, they were confinedmainly to Europe and North America, elsewhere they The Role of Parties in Modern Democracies were quiteweak or nonexistent. In the late 20th century, parties are foundpractically everywhere in the world. Today they are larger,stronger and better organized than those of the late 19th-thebeginning of the 20th centuries.

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