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A political party is a political organization that subscribes to a certain ideology and seeks to attain political power within a government. In party-list proportional representation, parties (and sometimes multi-party cartels) can play a functional role in the voting system. Individuals who are members of political parties defend the party's values and/or platform, and also sometimes contribute efforts that benefit the party. Partisanship is when partisan politicians spar against other partisan politicians (in another party) in the conduct of a legislative process. Extreme partisanship is referred to as partisan warfare.
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Single-party, two-party, and multi-party governments
In single-party states, only one political party is legally allowed to hold effective power. Although minor parties may sometimes be allowed, they are legally required to accept the leadership of the dominant party. This party may not always be, however, identical to the government, although sometimes positions within the party may in fact be more important than positions within the government.
In one party dominant states, opposition parties are allowed, but are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power. Often, the dominant party will remain in power by using patronage and sometimes by voting fraud. Examples of one party dominant states include the People's Action Party in Singapore. Also, one party dominant systems existed in Mexico with the Institutional Revolutionary Party until the 1990's, and in the southern United States with the Democratic Party from the 1880s until the 1970s.
Two-party systems are states such as the United States and Jamaica in which there are two dominant political parties, with extreme difficulty for anybody to achieve electoral success under the banner of any other party. In two party states political parties are traditionally catch all parties which are ideologically broad and inclusive. One right wing coalition party and one left wing coalition party is the most common ideological breakdown in such a system. The relationship between the voting system used and the two-party system was described by Maurice Duverger and is known as Duverger's Law.
Multi-party systems are systems in which there are multiple parties.
In nations such as Canada and the United Kingdom, there may be two strong parties, with a third party that is electorally successful. The party may frequently come in second place in elections and poses a threat to the other two parties, but has still never formally held government.
In some rare cases, such as in Finland, the nation may have an active three-party system, in which all three parties routinely hold top office. It is very rare for a country to have more than three parties who are all equally successful, and all have an equal chance of independently forming government.
More commonly, in cases where there are numerous parties, no one party often has a chance of gaining power, and parties must work with each other to form coalition governments.
Parties and directions
Political parties are often considered on a political spectrum. One typical spectrum has the Left associated with radical or progressive policies and the Right with conservative or traditional policies. Other analyses include other dimensions such as the political parties' acceptance of parliamentary democracy as opposed to authoritarian or totalitarian attitudes, and economic policies, the Left favoring social-democracy, socialism or communism, while the Right tends to favor laissez-faire economics. Centrist parties often adopt a collection of policies that defy easy placing on the political spectrum.
Many parties will have (formal or informal) factions within them that have differing views on policy direction.
Colors and emblems for parties
- Main article: see political colour
Generally speaking, over the world, political parties associate themselves with colors, primarily for identification, especially for voter recognition during elections. Red usually signifies leftist, communist or socialist parties. Conservative and Christian democratic parties generally use blue or black. Recently in the United States, this trend has been reversed. Pink sometimes signifies socialist. Yellow is often used for liberalism. Green is the color for green parties and Islamist parties. Orange is sometimes a color of nationalism, such as in The Netherlands, or is a color of reform such as in Ukraine. In the past, Purple was considered the color of royalty, but is rarely used in modern day political parties. Brown is generally associated with fascist or neofascist parties, going back to the Nazi Party's brownshirt security guards.
Color associations are useful for mnemonics when voter illiteracy is significant. Another use case is when it is not desirable to make rigorous links to parties, particularly when coalitions and alliances are formed between political parties and other organizations, for example: Red Tory, "Purple" (Red-Blue) alliances, Red-Green Alliances, Blue-Green Alliances, Pan-green coalitions, and Pan-blue coalitions.
International organizations of political parties
During the 19th and 20th century, many national political parties organized themselves into international organizations along similar policy lines. Notable examples are the International Workingmen's Association (also called the First International), the Socialist International (also called the Second International), the Communist International, (also called the Third International), and the Fourth International, as organizations of Working class parties, or the Liberal International (yellow), and the International Democrat Union (blue). Worldwide green parties have recently established the Global Greens. The Socialist International, the Liberal International, and the International Democrat Union are all based in London.