Political party can be defined as a group of people or an organized group of people who seek to control the government in order to put their ideologies or programmes into practice. Dr. B.C. Nwankwo (1990), in his own definition of political party, defined it as an organized people or individuals seeking to seize the power of the government in order to enjoy the benefits to be derived from such control.
Furthermore, a political party exists primarily as an electoral machine for gaining power with no coherent philosophy and its deep ideological aims. Therefore a political party can be summoned up as an organized group of people or individuals whose intentions are to control the apparatus of the state, if given the opportunity to form government.
Types of Political Party
ELITE PARTY: This is the type of political party mainly formed by the elites in the society. Membership to this type of political party is strictly restricted to intellectuals or technocrats, economic or academic bodies. Elite or cadre party is not interested in the number of members but on the quality of the members. They strongly believe that a man of high education background or influence can easily attract electorates during elections than men of low intellectual abilities.
MASS PARTIES: The term mass party has been used or applied to political parties because of certain techniques of organization and control. The parties were formal organization found during the 19th century that helped in the effective support of the mass of the people who became enfranchised. Mass parties believe in winning as many supports as possible. The basic assumption of the party is that, there is power in number or that mass is strength.
DIRECT PARTY: Direct party is formed when members join the party, sign membership forms, pay their monthly dues and attend party meeting regularly. In direct party, people are allowed to register as individuals and not as group like the trade unionism. Examples of direct party are the types of parties that exist in the present Nigeria democratic system.
INDIRECT PARTY: When membership of political party is through trade union or other organizations, it is regarded as indirect party. In indirect party there is no room or provision for individuals joining the party directly, rather, membership is through organizations. Examples of indirect parties are the catholic or socialist parties in Soviet Union and France, the Labour party in Britain.
IDEOLOGICAL PARTY: Ideological party does not aim at achieving mass support or attracting mass membership but to ensure that their ideologies are kept and maintained. Therefore, if you accept the membership of ideological party, you must make sure that the entire party ideological proposals are realized. In ideological party, if a member is detected to be defaulting, the member will be sacked. Example of ideological party is the communist party of the Soviet Union.
Functions of Political Parties
WINNING POLITICAL POWER: The most important function of a political party is to win political power in order to put its ideology into practice. Every party has its own ideology and manifesto, the manifesto contains what the political party intends to achieve if elected into power. When a party wins election, it gains the political power to carry out its ideology.
PROPOSING CANDIDATES: Political parties project or propose all the candidates needed to stand for the elections into different offices. The political parties will first of all do party nominations before the candidates stand for elections. It’s the duty of parties to select who represent their party in different position of government during election.
EDUCATING THE ELECTORATE: Another vital function of political parties is to educate the electorate on the need to participate in election, educating the electorate help increase their morale on the need to cast their vote wisely during election. Many persons will fail to vote if not because of the training or political education given to the voters by political parties.
CRITICISM: Political parties carry out propaganda agenda which aim at criticizing the party in power and the activities to the people. Therefore political parties always oppose the actions of other political parties especially the parties in power. Political parties criticize other political party in order to gain electorate attention to their party manifesto.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR GOVERNMENT: Political parties may be expected to assume responsibility for the behavior of their members in office. The amount of responsibility varies according to the degree of control exercised by the central party organization.
STIMULATING PUBLIC OPINION: By their activities between and during political campaigns, political parties help to form public opinion. However, the discriminating person needs to consult the utterances of the major parties and be able to draw a balance in order to understand most of the issues at stake. It is the duty of a political party to find out the opinion of the electorate towards their selected party flag bearer.
Roles of Political Parties in an Election
Political parties are machinery through which politics and election are conducted. Parties live in continuous activity to achieve change or dominance in politics and election. Political parties through continuous meeting, lectures, distribution of pamphlets, radio and television broadcast, newspaper editorials, debates, conference and publication of books, seek to organize and persuade the electorates on the advantages of their policies and the defect in their opponent programmes and thus make political discussions lively and meaningful.
The parties through its machinery select the best candidate for the election. Political parties through campaign and presentations of their programmes, manifestos and policies to the electorates enable the citizens and electorate to make a meaningful choice in their selection of parties and candidates for election. The parties through their candidates discuss and debate political issues in newspaper, magazines, and radio and television programmees. Parties ideologies are thoroughly debated and discussed to enable the citizens make their choice.
The character of the individual who contest for a political position is brought to the knowledge of the electorates during campaigns. Political parties through their network of organization both at the national, state, local government and wards levels help to sensitize and unite citizens of various ethnic groups and religious believes. The existence of campaigning and contesting for election makes it possible for alternative government of different party.
The electorates and the citizens are given the opportunity of having a choice where the incumbent party in power fails the citizens. The roles of party in an election are numerous. It is only through party system that the complex nature of campaigns, formulation of ideologies, programmes etc could be carried out. No single individual can easily organize himself and campaign for an election without employing the party machinery. Party politics articulate the interest and opinions of members and this provide greater knowledge than any other system.