4. Knowledge of the Role and Functions of the Political Party

Political parties are indispensable institutions in a modern democracy. Despite their social and political effects on both the individual and society, parties are here to stay. They therefore need to be studied and understood. Parties have controlling and constraining effects on members. They can also be divisive but also allow room for innovation and individual dynamism.

Allegiance to a party can compromise or enhance the qualities of being an effective representative. In Botswana the majority of party members tend to be ‘swallowed up’ by the party. It is important that one understands one's own party policies and those of opposing parties. However, in a democracy the key values are rights and responsibilities. Citizens have the right to form themselves into legal political parties and they should not be seen as wrong or hated for this reason. There should be tolerance of different views. Nobody should be discriminated against simply because they belong to a party that the mainstream population

page number of print edition: 10

does not necessarily support.

Unfortunately, in many African countries parties have divided families, communities and the society. Political parties become negative decisive forces because their support coincide with that of primordial loyalties such as kinship, religious, racial, ethnic clusters, etc. Parties whose loyalties coincide with these primary social structures tend to fragment society and lead to conflict. In Western democracies, on the contrary, members of the same family do belong to different parties but do not appear to have major conflicts. In developing countries such as Botswana, very often women and children are coerced to support the party of the husband/father. This is especially true if the husband/father is a representative of his party (see the case study of the Wilson's family in the Appendix).

An effective representative must respect rights and freedoms of choice of each individual. Tolerance and persuasion rather than force are more likely to bring effectiveness and respectability for a leader.

Representative democracy is based on the principle of meritocracy or the rule of merit. This guiding principle must be respected and party internal democracy permeates the structures of the party in order to enhance full participation.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Juni 1999

Previous Page TOC Next Page