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Internal Democracy in Political Parties

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    7th Oct, 2022

Context

In Indian democracy, one of the big conundrums that agitate its citizens is the lack of internal democracy in all political parties. The same can be observed in the recent uproar over the leadership crisis in Congress. 

Internal democracy in political parties:

  • It is also known as intra-party democracy, which refers to the level and methods of including party members in the decision-making and deliberation within the party structure.
  • Intra-party democracy is usually known to nurture citizens’ political competencies and/or produce more capable representatives which in turn ensure that the party produces better policies and political programmes.

What are the factors that hinder inner-party democracy?

  • Nepotism in Politics: The lack of intra-party democracy has also contributed to the growing nepotism in political parties. With senior party leaders fielding their kins in elections, the succession plans for “family” constituencies are being put in place.
  • Absence of a credible regulatory framework: The only governing law is provided by Section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples’ Act, 1951 which provides for the registration of political parties with the ECI.
  • ECI does not have any statutory power to enforce internal democracy in parties or to mandate elections.
  • Personality cult: There is a tendency for hero worship in people and many times a leader takes over the party and builds his own coterie, ending all forms of intra-party democracy.
  • Easy to Subvert Internal Elections: The ability of existing repositories of power to subvert internal institutional processes to consolidate power and maintain the status quo is unquestionable.
  • Centralized Structure of Political Parties: The centralized mode of functioning of the political parties and the stringent anti-defection law of 1985 deters party legislators from voting in the national and state legislatures according to their individual preferences.
  • Institutional weakness
  • an asymmetric political landscape

Need for Internal Party Democracy:

  • Representation: The absence of intra-party democracy has contributed to political parties becoming closed autocratic structures. This adversely impacts the constitutional rights of all citizens to an equal political opportunity to participate in politics and contest elections.
  • Transparency: A transparent party structure with transparent processes will allow proper ticket distribution and candidate selection. The selection would not be based on the whims of a few powerful leaders in the party but will represent the choice of the larger party.
  • Accountability: A democratic party will be accountable to its party members, for they will lose elections in the next cycle for their shortcomings.
  • Decentralizing Power: Every political party has State and local body units, an election at each level will allow the creation of power centers at different levels. This will allow decentralization of power and the decision-making will take place at the ground level.
  • Criminalization of Politics: As there is no well-defined process for the distribution of tickets to candidates before elections, tickets are given to candidates on the vague concept of winnability. This has led to an additional problem of candidates with criminal backgrounds contesting elections.

Can Election Commission of India interrupt?

  • In the landmark judgment in Indian National Congress (I) vs Institute of Social Welfare, the Supreme Court had reiterated that the ECI cannot take punitive action against registered parties for violating the principles of inner-party democracy.

The directives of the Election Commission on Internal Democracy

  • Representation of the People Act, 1951:
  • The ECI has periodically used guidelines issued for the registration of parties under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to remind parties to conduct elections and to ensure that their leadership is renewed, changed, or re-elected every five years.
  • The EC’s guidelines for parties applying for registration under the Act state that the applicant should submit a copy of the party constitution.
  • Power of De-registration of Political Parties:
  • The commission has asked the Law Ministry for the power to deregister political parties in the past, but the proposal has not been implemented so far.
  • No Permanent President for a Party:
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) has also recently rejected the idea of a ‘permanent president’ for a party.
  • The ECI says such a step is inherently anti-democratic.

Global scenario

Political parties in developed nations maintain high levels of internal democracy.

  • In the U.K., the Conservative Party has the National Conservative Convention as its top body. It has a Central Council and an Executive Committee. The Central Council elects its President, a chairman, and Vice Chairmen at its annual meeting. It also elects an Executive Committee which meets once a month.
  • In the U.S., both the Democratic and the Republican Party have the National Committee as their top decision-making body. The National Committee plays an important role in the presidential election and agenda setting.

The German model of constitutionalizing political parties:

  • The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (1949) gives constitutional status to political parties.
  • Article 21 of the Basic Law deals with their status, rights, duties, and functions. It provides:
    • Their internal organization must conform to democratic principles.
    • The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality
  • The German model of constitutionalizing political parties is more desirable for India.
  • Section 29A (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is the only major statutory provision dealing with political parties in India.
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