Study Of Intra Party Democracy And Open Lists Politics Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The analysis in this paper covers exceptionally important aspects of the intra-party democracy and its interrelatedness to the election system, or more precisely, the intra-party democratic processes impact in determining electoral lists in a country. Part one outlines the elements or pillars on which the intra-party democracy is founded, followed by the explanation of the impact degree on the manner of designing the electoral lists. In addition, the opposite process has been taken in consideration. This paper is founded on a substantial thesis, namely the willingness to increase the voters' influence over the election process should be parallel process with the need to support the stability and cohesion of the political parties. One of the most important determinants in promoting efficient and sustainable democracy is coherent and stable political parties.

Recently, the political analysts as well as the practitioners have been focused more on the essence of the intra-party democracy. The intra-party democracy is a term with normative and practical bases, comprised of the needful organizational practices adopted by the political parties to meet the expectations of the membership and their supporters, and the broader electorate. These practices are based on three important pillars:

create better link between the political party and its elected representatives in the parliament and other institutions,

enhance the transparency in the political process and the credibility of its results,

improve the democratic political culture of the political elite and the membership,

limit the effects of the particracy and party bureaucracy at every level of a party activities, as well as oligarchic tendencies in the democratic system. [1] 

There are considerations that define the intra-party democracy as an entirety of intra-party democratic procedures and processes organized to select the most capable leadership of the political party, with more responsive program to gain greater electoral success. Nonetheless, according to other considerations, the intra-party democracy, by using the internal democratic procedures in decision-making, aims to strengthen the democratic culture, in the political parties as well as in the country [3] .

However, the idea of intra-party democracy has gained bigger attention in recent years due to the widely accepted attitude that the cultivation of the intra-party democracy in the political system will considerably improve the quality of the citizens' impact over the political processes, strengthen the stability and legitimacy of democracy in the country, and overall all this shall also have positive effects on political parties.

However, there are different considerations.

For instance, according to Sartori, „the existence of intra-party democracy is not an essential prerequisite for democracy in the society". [4] 

Even if we agree with Sartori, we cannot neglect the fact that intra-party democracy is an important prerequisite for promotion of the broad concept of democracy in the society. The model of citizens' inclusion in the political processes of the country could be strengthened by means of promotion the participatory aspects of democracy in intra-party life. Thus, the greater involvment of the citizens in the political life should expnand their civic skills and opportunities, and the political parties perform useful educative function in transferring the civil power into the political system.

The citizens are active participants in designing of the political parties agendas for election, while political parties are likely to be more open to new ideas and new people. The outcome would be that these parties are likely to have less concentrated and non-transparent power.

However, too much democratization within the political parties, to the contrary, may also cause problems in their operations. The excessive citizens' influence could overly dilute the power of a party's inner leadership, especially during the assessment of the accomplished goals set out in the election program.

Often, the realization of electoral promises requires a greater extent of control and accountability in front of the party leadership, but if the party is too transparent and its structure is too democratically decentralized, the process could fail. Therefore, the need for citizens inclusion in designing transparent and feasible election programs, as well as the responsibility when the programs fail to accomplish, should be more emphasised.

The first step towards strengthening the intra-party democracy would be the citizens' inclusion in the political processes of decision-making. It is well known that in almost all political parties the party leadership, i.e. the leader of the political party, creates the key political decisions.

In the so-called inclusive political parties, all party members, or even all party supporters, are given equal opportunities to be involved in the decision-making for some significant political or economic issues.

Because inclusiveness is a matter of process as well as of formal rules that actually define the inclusiveness itself, more inclusive parties will offer more opportunities for an open process and participation in decision-making, rather than less inclusive parties.

The existence of intra-party democracy falls under three main heading:

1. The manner of recruiting and selecting candidates for the bodies of the party, as well as for the political positions during the elections in the country,

2. The manner of electing political leaders, and

3. The manner of defining the policy positions.

The more detailed analysis of the first item of intra-party democracy as well as greater effect that voters should have on the establishment of the governmental authorities and its policy is in the next part of the paper. The most important issue for the quality of the election system is the citizens' confidence for the importance of their votes, that they have actual impact over the establishment of the parliamentary majority and the government.

However, the willingness to increase the voters' influence over the elections process should be parallel process with the need to support the stability and cohesion of the political parties. On the other hand, the electoral competition within the political party is an impetus for the candidates to demand support first from the party's electorate, and then from the broader electorate.

Types of electoral lists and their impact on the intra-party democracy

There are several types of electoral lists, as follows:


relatively closed,

more open,

most open,

free and

combined lists.

For the closed electoral lists, only the political party, i.e. the party leadership are entitled to establish the order in which the candidates would be listed on the party electoral list. According to these electoral lists, the voters are not given the opportunity to express their preference for certain candidate/candidates. The majority of the countries applying voting with political party lists are actually using the closed type of electoral lists. This implies that the ranking of the candidates on the list is fixed, and the voters do not have the opportunity to influence the order of listing the candidates.

The lists in which the candidates should get certain quota (most often Hare quota or Droop quota) in order to be elected are relatively closed list, whereas in the case of more open electoral lists the quota that the candidates should fulfill may be lower than a full one instead. It is then possible that more candidates from one party list to be eligible for a seat then the party deserves as a whole.

It should therefore be known in advance how the mandates are being established in more open list: whether list ranking of the candidates or absolute majority votes takes precedence in this case. For instance, in Netherlands the voters can give his vote to any candidate of a list, whereby the candidates with the most votes and at the same time reached the established quota. The vote for the candidate in the election theory is known as „preference vote", whereas the voting itself is known as „preferential voting".

Many electoral systems use the proportional model with most open lists of candidates, where the voters may vote not only for the party, but also for certain candidates from the party list for which they vote. Thus, the open lists may be divided in three major groups, whether the voters have the right to vote for one candidate from the party list (single vote option), whether the voters have the right to vote for as many candidates as there are mandates in the districts (multiple vote options), or possibility to vote for a political party, and then vote from one candidate from the party list [5] .

In most of the systems allowing to vote both for the candidates and the political parties, the voters choose the manner of voting. From the experiences of these countries, it may be concluded that voters usually vote only for the parties, whereby the opportunity to vote also for the candidates from the lists has little effect.

However, there are exceptions to this rule.

For instance, in Finland [6] , following the elections reforms, it is mandatory that the voters vote for only one candidate of the party list. The voter circles or marks the number of the candidate listed on the ballot. It is considered that the elections in Finland are not only competition among the parties, but also competition among the candidates on the party list. The order in which the candidates are deemed elected will be determined according to the number of votes they have won each of them individually. [7] 

The bigger linkage between the voter and the candidate as well as the strong sense of responsibility among the elected members in the House of Representatives is deemed as the greater advantage. Although this system offers to voters more freedom in choosing the candidates, however there are certain side effects of its application. For instance, a side effect of this kind of voting is the possible conflict among party members on a party list.

Their mutual competition to win as many votes as possible can seriously disorganized the party's unity and cause disagreement among the party members. Therefore, the main advantage of the open lists become real weakness on party cohesion and stability, and that coherent and stable political parties in particular are one of the most important factors in promoting effective and sustainable democracy.

On the other hand, the maximum freedom of voters to choose individual candidates from the party lists may affect negatively the stability of the representative body. Namely, free lists may enhance the fragmentation of the parliamentary structure, which on the other hand may seriousely affect the quality of realization of the parties' election programs.

The voters have the biggest number of control mechanisms for the election process with the free electoral lists. For instance, in Switzerland and Luxemburg the voters have as many votes as there are seats in the parliament from the respective districts. The voters from these countries can cast votes as many times as there are seats to be filled in the representative body of the election district, whereby within the possible election alternatives they have the right to cast all the votes to candidates within a single party list or across several parties' lists. In the election theory, this method is known as „panachage method".

In addition, the voters may choose to cast more than one vote for a candidate of a single party list, moreover for a single highly favour candidate. This method is known as „cumulation." [8] 

The main difference between the open and free lists is that in the first case the voters can vote for only one candidate on single party list, whereas for the free lists the voters can cast votes as many times as there are seats to be filled in the representative body. These votes may be redistributed among different candidates from different party lists. With the free lists, the voters may even decide to give all the votes to only one candidate from single party list, which is not the case with the open lists.

Finally, there are so-called mixed open lists proportional representation model, which are combination of closed and open lists. According to this model, the parties put forward they list. The voters vote the political party of their choice and can mark also one candidate within the list if they want to alter the order of candidates put forward by the party leadership. The party vote total desides the final allocation of seats in the representative body, whereas the votes cast for certain candidates deside the order in which each party's candidate are awarded seat. This model combines the advantages from both the closed and open lists.

Closed lists

Preferential voting

(open lists)

South Africa












Dominican Republic




Sierra Leone






Costa Rica


El Salvador















Czech Republic


Sri Lanka

Bosnia and Herzegovina


Burkina Faso





3. Conclusion

The comparison between the open and closed electoral lists shows that the open electoral lists enhance the personalization in politics and the democratic features of the political parties respectively. Nevertheless, the open electoral lists should be initially experienced on a micro (intra-party) level and then taken into consideration their application at national level.

In this context, Pippa Norris stated: „ Where citizens exercise a preference vote (otherwise known as an 'open' or 'non-blocked' vote), this strengthens the chances that particular candidates from the list will be elected and therefore changes their rank. " In comparison with the open lists, as Norris stated, for the closed-lists multimember districts where the voters cast a single ballot for a party, and not for the candidate from the list are expected to encourage politicians to offer programmatic benefits and also to strengthen cohesive and disciplined parliamentary parties". [9] 

The need to strengthen the intra-party competition of candidates' selection on the electoral lists is a need suggested by many theoreticians. The key for the existence of the intra-party democracy is in the inclusiveness of as many citizens as possible in the process of decision-making consider some advocates of intra-party democracy.

On the other hand, centralization describes the extent to which decisions are made by a single group of party members, or maybe only by the party leader. Therefore, in highly centralized parties, the party executive committees meet frequently and have the authority to make decisions independently, accepted later at all levels of the party.

In decentralized parties, the national party committees probably meet much less often and tend to be focused more on party's coordination and communication than on providing definitive guidince to the party.

Somewhere in the middle on the centralization scale is the so-called „stratarchial" parties, in which decisions are decentralized among geographic layers of the organization ("strata") but tightly controled by party elites at each of these different levels [10] . Such stratarchial models would seems to holed greater appeal in federal countries, where regional bodies of the party have their own distinct political concerns, electoral priorities and reward structures.

The concept, that decentralized political parties are not necessarily always very democratic, is a widely accepted notion. In certain cases, the political party leaders utilize the intra-party democracy in order to weaken the regional party leaders within one decentralized political party.

The parties with high degrees of intra-party democracy are generally seen as highly institutionalized because they need rules to define who is eligible to participate in the party processes. However, high institutionalizationdoes not equal internal democratization. In fact, institutionalized parties that are not internally democratic may be more difficult to reform than are those with less well-entrenched rules and practices.

Regadless, high institutionalization of parties is generally seem as good factor for a country's political stability. On the other hand, open lists along with the preferential ballot can often deteriorate the political power and cause deficit in the institutional practice of democracy related to less accountability of the political party for policy implementaion and higher level of political corruption. Nevertheless, the advantages of the open lists perceived through the increased level of electoral turnout and increased involvement of voters in the personal creation of the political institutions in the country is inevitable. Open lists in the countries with so-called mature democracy indicate on high level of political accountability of the institutions and low level of political corruption. On the contrary, the countries that are still undergoing the transitional processes and have "young" political parties do not experience positive outcomes related to open lists. They can additionally deteriorate the grounds of the political stability and bring strong fractional movements that seriously jeopardize the party's stability. Therefore, the conclusion is that the process of implementing the open lists should be initiated gradually, i.e. first at the intra-party elections and then at national level.