Is there a good way for a political party to achieve internal democracy

Synopsis: Democratic functioning may be an ideological imperative, operational choice, or legitimising tactic, but it is not an end in itself for a political party.


Political parties play a key role in any democratic setup. Interestingly, the distribution of power within the political party plays a very important role in the functioning of the party.

What is the role of political parties in democracy?

A political party is a collaborative platform consisting of people who have a similar vision for society and the country. It is designed to capture state power to achieve that vision for society.

In any country, there are sharp differences between citizens on the vision and values. Firstly, the role of democracy is to create a framework to negotiate conflict. Secondly, it should also ensure that the state is represented. So it is obvious that institutions like political parties in a representative democracy must themselves be democratic.

Read more: Making parties constitutional
How can India achieve internal democracy within political parties?

The simplest method is through internal elections for the posts of party leadership. This mechanism has the potential to hold the party leadership accountable.

What are the challenges with internal elections?

All the levels within the political party will align to vertically consolidate the power. Moreover, such elections are fruitful when the electorate is independent. But in indirect elections, the electorate aligns itself to mirror the existing balance of power. One such example was Donald Trump hijacking the power of the Republican Party in the USA.

Internal elections may factionalize power but cannot establish accountability. This is because Political parties are repositories of hard power. They draw a mix of people who are driven by the same ideology and personal interest. Over the period of time, this balance has tilted towards the latter. This has led to irreconcilable internal conflicts of interests, which cannot be resolved through debates and discussions in open meetings.

What should be the way forward?

Instead of looking at internal party processes, one way to decentralize power is by getting rid of the anti-defection law. This will help to create room for negotiation during the voting process in the party organization. It further helps to bring changes in the overall political culture.

Source: This post is based on the article “Is there a good way for a political party to achieve internal democracy?” published in the Indian Express on 23rd October 2021.

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