Merits of the Political Party System

History is no doubt full of mischief and evil caused by the Party System. Yet there is another side to the matter. Parties have also done much good and averted many evils, as explained here:

It is essential for democracy. Modern representative democracy, with its large size and great population, is unworkable without parties. They enable people, scattered all over the country, to agree upon some common principles and work together in support of them. Thus they help the people to express their will. The success of the representative government has mainly depended upon the energy, efficiency and enterprise of the party system. ‘The party system,” writes Maclver, “was in particular the mechanism by which the Class-State of the past was transformed into the nation-state of today.”

It gives political education to the people. Left to themselves, the people are an unorganised mass of conflicting opinions, with no interest in politics Political parties arouse the people’s interest in politics. They define and clarify national issues to the people, especially at the time of elections. Each party offers them its own explanation and solution of national problems. Thus the people are presented with alternative solutions, views and programmes. When the people vote for or against the candidates of the various parties, they really vote for or againsti their views, policies and programmes. In this way the parties keep a nation’s mind alive to national affairs and educate them. As Maclver says, they ‘make articulate the inarticulate desires of the masses.” Thus they are as Lowell puts it, “the brokers of ideas.” “Without political parties,” as Finer remarks, “an electorate would be either impotent or destructive by embarking on impossible policies that would only wreck the political machine.”

It makes representative government stable and responsible. As we said above, before the rise of the party, system, democracy was impossible and unworkable. Political parties not only offer alternative programmes but also alternative governments to the people. Without political parties, the only method of securing a change of government would be by revolution or coup d’etat, as it was in pre- democratic States. Under the party system, there is always an alternative or “shadow” government of the opposition party or parties. If the policy of the party-in-power is not approved by the people, they can change it constitutionally by voting it out of power and replacing it by the opposition party. As Maclver says, Party-rule “implies the alternation of power, as system of succession which gives each its opportunity.” It regards “persuasion more desirable than compulsion, and the conflict of ideas more creative than the clash of arms.”

The party government is responsible government. The government of the ruling party is subject to constant criticism by the opposition party which acts as a check on any tendency towards despotism and tyranny.” Thus the party system checks the growth of executive despotism and makes the government responsible to the public opinion. It acts as a check on hasty and ill-considered acts and laws of the party in power, which knows that the opposition will expose its weaknesses and mistakes to the people and bring about its defeat at the polls. The opposition thus keeps the government on the right path.

Under the party system, government becomes stable: It produces harmony between various organs of the State. In the parliamentary government, the cabinet consists of the leading members of the majority party in the parliament and thus the legislative and the executive organs are linked by the party membership and discipline. In the presidential form of government, the party is the only link which brings harmony between the president and the legislature, which are otherwise quite separate and distinct. If they belong to the same party, the danger of deadlock is minimised.

Party discipline brings harmony between the government and the people. Although some critics deplore the fact that party discipline and adherence to party policy restricts the independence of the members to think and act as they like, yet it has some advantage also. It brings harmony between the laws and acts of the government and the wishes of the people. The ministers get the laws passed by the legislature with the support of the majority they command in the legislature, elected by the people.