Determinant of Party System in States: US and China
Different countries and states have different forms of party systems. Some countries or states have one-party system, others have two-party systems while others have multi-party systems (more than two parties). In earlier regimes, monarchies, bourgeoisies and aristocracies dominated the political system. At the time, the mechanism of acquiring and exercising political power was constrained to circles of factions and cliques that were centered on influential noblemen and elites. Hence, the number of parties tended to be limited by the number of those circles. A striking observation of political interest that is worthy of investigating is the existence of different numbers of political parties in different countries or states.
The number of political parties in a country or a state can be explained using political factors. By looking into the political history of a country, as well as how those countries are run, puzzles regarding their current political systems can be deciphered. The paper seeks to explain the source of the different numbers of political parties in China and the United States in terms of their political history (socialism and capitalism); the structure of their political parties; and their electoral systems.
The existence of a one-party system in China is attributed to the fact that China is generally a Communist System. It is run by the Communist People’s Party. As it was in other communist countries in the in the twentieth century, the communist party was intended to contribute to the establishing of a socialist regime during the transition from a capitalist system to a purely socialist system. Thus, the role of the party was to bring together all workers from the working class through intellectuals to peasants. The party’s role is understood by the Marxist concept of how a state evolves (from capitalism to socialism in this case). From the Marxist perspective, if the factors of production in a country are privately owned, state power is used to serve the interest of its capitalists (Dirlik, 2005). Thus, in the earlier phase of transition, the country or State has to lose all its power to the party. The party therefore takes over all the functions of the State. The result of having all the power is that other parties cannot exist, hence the explanation to how China became a one-party system.
On the contrary, the United States is a capitalist state. In fact, the United States was and still is strongly opposed to socialism/communism. Following the Marxist argument, the existence of private owners or capitalists in the United States could be an explanation for its more-than-one party system. The capitalists exert their influence on the system to gain advantage over each other. Corporations and big business have been known to fund election campaigns in the United States, thus influencing the outcomes of those elections (Gillan & Starks, 2007). As to why there are no more than two parties, socialist parties rose at different points in the United State’s history but failed. The reason for their failure is attributed to the high upward mobility facilitated by its wealthy and continuously developing economy. The mobility has prevented the development of consciousness of class in a way that would facilitate the mushrooming of big communist or socialist parties.
In terms of party structure, in China, the structure of the party was needed to be such that it governed firmly (or authoritatively), while at the same time establishing and maintaining a connection with the masses. The party is made up of all workers: the working class, the intellectuals, the peasants and others, and they all remain in contact as regards state matters (Yongnian, 2009). As such, the party is thought of as being made up of members of the general public. These members are considered to be the most politically conscious and active members of the public. They keep contact with the masses through networks of the party. The party members are therefore constantly in contact with the general public, always listening to the masses. Decisions made by the leaders of the party are also conveyed to the masses through the same networks. In addition to linking the leaders of the party and the masses, the party was/is also used as an instrument of propaganda. To safeguard its survival, the party was/is used to indoctrinate the masses. The party deploys resources achieve political indoctrination via ‘education’, censorship and through the military (Yongnian, 2009). In the original communist model, real power was held by the hierarchy of the party in lieu of the hierarchy of the state. Therefore, political power is held by the party. Thus, more parties encumbered from gaining political power.
In comparison, unlike in China, the structure of each party in the United States is flexible and decentralized. Their hierarchies are not characterized with rigidity and discipline. The lack of rigidity and weakness of authority is accentuated by federalism and the presence of some level of local autonomy (Sundquist, 2011). The strength and homogeneity of organization weakens from the local levels through the state level up to the national level where it is more or less nonexistent. This sharp contrast with the Chinese party structure, the structures in the United States encourage the formation of more parties.
The system of election too tends to determine the number of political parties as evident in China. The Communist party is not the only party in China. There exist other parties in China referred to as ‘democratic parties’. These parties have however been always suppressed during elections. Though the Communist Party of China (CPC) has taken measures to establish a democratic system of election, the electoral positions are only openly held at town and village levels (“Beijingers …”, 2003). The Communist Party also plays a role in the nomination of those who stand for elections. For instance, in 2014, the Top Legislative Committee in China ruled that candidates standing for election in Hong Kong will be nominated by a pro-Beijing nominating committee, and that they would be the only ones who voters will elect from (“Hong Kongs Democracy…”, 2015). As such, the party is able to tighten its grip on power, making China a one party state.
The system of elections in the United States is very different to China. The system of elections is reflective of democracy and is generally fair, thus allowing the presence of more than one party. There are no suppressions of other parties. However, the system as it is also discourages the formation of a third or more parties. The United State’s two-party system is favored by the country’s electoral system’s use of single-member districts to elect representatives, the presidential system, as well as the lack of proportional representation (“two-party system”, 2015). The choosing of the representatives of national assembly from the single-member districts means that the candidate who polls the highest number of votes wins. This system of election compels a party to strive for the most votes at district levels. Usually, offices in such single-member districts are competed for by the two most fairly matched of all the parties only. A third party, therefore, always suffers defeat. This is owed to the fact that even if the third party has a popular following, unless it captures many seats as required by the single-member district system, it loses the elections. Besides the single-member district system, the presidential system in the United States makes every party seek the support of the majority. A fractional party cannot elect a presidential. Thus, the election system squeezes them out a third or more parties.
The number of political parties in a state or country is determined by, among other factors, whether the country is (originally) capitalist or socialist; the structure of the party or parties in the country; and the electoral system in the country. The electoral system here refers to, in addition to the process, the fairness and freeness of elections. The discussions have revealed how they explain why China has a one-party political system (or what makes the Communist Party of China appear as if it is the only party in China), and why United States has only two parties rather than more or just one. Hence, the number of political parties a country or state has can be explained using political variables such as the ones mentioned.
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