Principles for political party assistance

These principles were prepared by Thomas Carothers, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for the Seminar on Trends in Support of Accountability: Political Party Assistance, co-hosted by GOVNET and International IDEA on 9 December 2011, and to the 14th Plenary Meeting of the OECD/DAC Network on Governance on 10 December 2011. They have been revised based on discussions and subsequent comments by GOVNET members.

Roles of political parties in democracy and development

When functioning well, political parties can play a number of fundamental roles in democratic politics, including:

  • • aggregating citizens’ views and interests;
  • • providing structured political choices to citizens;
  • • engaging citizens in the democratic process;
  • • training and socialising political leaders;
  • • developing policies and taking responsibility for implementing them; and
  • • facilitating co-ordination within legislatures and between branches of government.

In addition, political parties can help advance governmental accountability. Opposition parties have a direct interest in monitoring the actions and checking the power of ruling parties and putting forward viable policy alternatives. Parties are also held accountable for their performance by voters. Compared to individual politicians, parties tend to have longer time horizons and a stake in maintaining a long-term reputation. Any individual politician who ignores the electorate or abuses his power can face pressure from within the party to reign in his or her behaviour.

Although it is most common to think of political parties in terms of their role in democratic politics, they can also be key players in promoting sustainable development. Parties can initiate pro-development policies which reflect the interests of key social sectors and can gain public legitimacy for these policies through electoral competition. Parties can then ensure the necessary co-ordination within government to implement these policies. The long-term interest of parties lies in promoting sustainable development to continue winning popular support. Thus, the important roles that parties play in establishing political accountability potentially contribute to positive socio-economic development.

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