The concept of what is a good party

Let me start by making two disclaimers:

First, I am not speaking here on behalf of the EU or any part of it, nor on behalf of UNDP. My comments are entirely personal and come from forty years experience in party politics, initially as a volunteer worker, then as a party official and later an an elected Member of Parliament.

Second, my comments on parties do not refer to any specific party here in Indonesia or elsewhere. I am endeavouring to set out general principles which apply everywhere. Inevitably my comments also apply more to the long-term than the short-term.

The Importance of Political Parties
Political parties are crucial to every democracy.

  • The provide the means of presenting a clear choice between competing political philosophies and  programmes at an election
  • They provide a way for individuals to participate in a key aspect of public life
  • They provide a channel for developing and debating ideas
  • They provide a vehicle for ensuring cohesion in government and opposition

A Party's foundation
There is no sound long-term future for a political party which is not based on political philosophy. If parties are founded on tribal loyalty, regional identity, charismatic leadership, liberation movements or even on a policy programme, their basis for electoral appeal or sustained performance in government is seriously compromised.

A good party is one which is founded on a coherent statement of its position on the universal and timeless issues which have legitimately divided political thinkers down the ages. A good party will have a short statement of its beliefs "not its policies" at the beginning of its constitution. This is often called a "preamble" and is similar to a "Mission Statement". These historic philosophic issues include:

  • A planned or a free enterprise economy
  • The centralisation of power or its devolution
  • A nationalist or an internationalist outlook
  • A free society or an authoritarian society
  • A society which emphasises individual or communal values

Internal democracy
A good party is one which welcomes individual members, who formally join voluntarily, who hold a membership card and have rights and responsibilities within the party structure.  A good party's constitution will state the means by which officers are democratically elected at each level, how policy is formulated, and how candidates are selected at all levels. It will also avoid any discrimination in its internal processes. It seeks to avoid having in membership anyone who joins only to enhance their personal or financial status.

A good party maintains high principles in its attitudes to the democratic process and to public life generally. In encourages public debate, seeking to show its belief in its own policies by entering into debate.  It recognises the rights of other parties. It realises that electoral tactics such as provocative, obscene or indecent language, or incitement to violence or hatred, which undermine democracy even if they bring short-term benefit to the party, harm the whole process.

In particular, a good party does not countenance financial or political corruption and deals swiftly with any proven case within its own membership.

A good party seeks to co-operate with legal authorities to guarantee the  proper exercise of the democratic process. This includes participating in the formulation of and the enforcement of a duly agreed Code of Conduct; following the rules laid down by the national electoral commission particularly, for instance, in regard to the media; and accepting the verdict of courts which function within the structure of the Constitution.

A good party is one that men and women wish voluntarily to join, because its beliefs are persuasive, because it presents its attractively, and because it offers an opportunity to participate in the political life of the community.