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Opinions of Sunday, 20 February 2005

Columnist: Mensah, Sylvester A.

The Dynamics of Political Party Organisation

A number of party officials and actors across the spectrum of political parties in our country tend to approach the management of parties with mental models similar to those employed in the management of formal bureaucratic organisations. I contend that this is not only ineffective but also divisive because it tends to alienate segments of target membership from involvement and participation in party activities.

Formal bureaucracies tend to have clearly defined rules and modes of engagement. Besides members tend to have clearly defined roles and are often subjected to performance measurement as the basis for progression. Importantly, there exist a direct and immediate input?outcome/reward relationship that binds employees and employers. Formal bureaucracies seldom engage in mass internal membership drive, save for customers and the drive for increasing market share. They have a ?single corporate mind? or management that develops the strategic plans in consonance with the organisations ?strategic intent? or vision, which is necessarily shared by members at all levels. These then inform tactical and operational programmes often drawn by middle level managers and operational staff.

Formal bureaucracies tend to have only one leader at the apex of the hierarchy, with a clearly defined chain of authority. Employees by their terms of engagement are obliged to accept legitimate orders from a specified superior. Coherence, discipline, order and a guaranteed mutuality of interest, consequently derive from the above picture. This generates relative harmony for a focused pursuance of defined corporate goals and objectives.

Political parties are different in very many respects. The purpose and mission, driving force and configuration of their membership, as well as the inherent diversity of interests and the dynamics of power competition that characterises their internal environment, set them apart from strictly formal bureaucracies and informal organisation alike.

Like bureaucratic organisations, political parties also recruit new members. What is significant, however, is their continuous, free and open door policy to membership and participation, which attracts little or no inhibitions. Parties also undertake aggressive membership drive spiced with occasional poaching from rival parties using a combination of material influence and coercion as recorded in very recent Ghanaian politics.

The general tendency, though, is to apply conventional business organisation principles to public service as well as what can be termed ?unconventional business?. This may, however, have its limitations within the context of political party organisations. Be that as it may, what is consistent irrespective of the context, however, is the validity of the fact that ?what gets measured gets managed? in all management situations and circumstances.

Political parties thrive on patronage and may have multiple layers and levels of leaders. The forces and factors that drive patronage may be varied and complex. Some parties may have ?charismatic? leaders who may attract significant membership or patronage. Others may join a political party because they identify with its culture and philosophy. Some also are attracted by a party?s alternative development strategies, as reflected in party manifestos. There are those who follow specific individuals or opinion leaders, such as, Chiefs, Members of Parliament or Parliamentary candidates, Assemblymen and women, spouses, family relations, and friends. The diversity of interests that make up a political party, among others, include business interests, as well as the opportunity to offer and apply ones ability, skills, and competence to public office, and service to ones nation.

Despite the growing global perception that there is a tendency towards a convergence of political ideals, it is becoming critical and essential that parties define and maintain a ?loose-tight? type of membership ethos (culture and philosophy) and discipline. Parties, the world over, tend to position themselves along the continuum of the global ?left?right? political divide, and seek to propagate their world outlook and internal culture, that sets them apart from other parties. A mere ideological nomenclature expressed in terms of such slogans as a belief in ?property owning democracy?, without sufficient expatiation may be inadequate. On the other hand, a social democratic agenda, which combines with a thoughtfully set out manifesto, may be commendable in this regard.

Furthermore increasing sophistication of our individual membership and the complex expectation of our general electorate as a whole, demand that political parties develop conscious and effective strategies to market concrete programmes to the electorate. This could bring to the fore an appreciation of the desires and preferences of our valued customers or electorate for that matter, who must be placed at the centre of all party choices and decisions. Self-serving and speculative judgements, spiced with jaundiced reasoning and analysis should give way to a more scientific analysis of social and political developments.

Our democratic dispensation has penetrated the fabric of all social arrangements and institutions, threatening even our revered chieftaincy institution and civil / public services. Ghanaians have developed very passionate democratic sentiments and tend to frown on what they perceive as contrived and therefore illegitimate. This can be measured by the litany of intra and inter-communal disputes. The bottom line has been the desire for broader consultation and participation.

Political parties, which serve, as the breeding grounds for democratic aspirations and practices therefore, must set unambiguous examples. They cannot afford to subtly cast away inner-party democracy, by employing a combination of hectoring, followed by indecent cajoling, wrapped neatly into what appears only on the surface as successful internal democracy. Any party that is tempted to go along such an unhealthy path and process may only succeed in exposing gaping sycophants, appeasers and apologists of democracy. Importantly however, it may fail to appeal to the most important stakeholder group that defines political fortunes or election victories and individual destiny ? the general electorate.

In order for multi-party democracy to thrive, it is imperative that the ingredients of inner-party democracy be clearly appreciated and accepted. Until and unless individual parties allow themselves to be guided by social laws that govern their internal arrangements, they will continue to fester internal apathy and inertia. Cosmetic solutions that are consequently applied, to tone down avoidable and self-generated nuisance and nuances in the process of critical decision-making usually fails because loyalties are overstretched. More often than not, it results in internal stakeholder-groups ?tossing grudging morsels of support?. The strength and synergy otherwise derived from unity and teamwork is therefore lost.

The concept of stakeholder influence and interest is apparent but it often appears much more complex and difficult to define within the context of political parties. Among the questions it throws up include - On whom do we place premium when making choices and taking decisions? ? Is it the desire of the general electorate or the party?s electoral college? Should it be significant individuals or the national executive committee? Is it the group of financiers or candidates vying for the party?s leadership? Should it be party members or the council of elders? This list could be endless. Unless we have a clear idea of our overriding purpose as a collective, and are able to determine what our priorities should be, and can therefore focus on the ?ball?, your guess could be as good as mine.

While it is true that consensus building in the light of the above could be challenging, a conscious and sincere consultation could generate a broad understanding with relative internal harmony. On the contrary, when the interests and fears of other significant internal and external stakeholders are not sufficiently and sincerely massaged and consequently do not mesh into what eventually crystallises as party choices and decisions, tension and conflicts become eminent. The conflicting interests and contradictions that arise are fought fiercely and aggressively but usually in a rather covert manner.

It is a hidden truth and a stubborn fact, bizarre as it may be, that stakeholders may not necessarily share the same goals and objectives relating to the outcome of a general election at a given time. One must understand that goal congruence; political commitment; sacrifice; and co-operation are a function of the degree of guaranteed mutuality of perceived benefit.

What could be healthy but often-misunderstood are the competing views about the appropriate strategies for achieving party objectives effectively and efficiently. Unlike formal bureaucracies, political parties are pluralistic rather than unitary systems and may, therefore, have difficulties yielding to a ?single corporate mind? that takes decisions for the party. Every active member of a party may be considered as a mature partner and as is the case in a partnership, a broad consensus among partners must inform decision-making. This is even more crucial when ?the chips are down? or the party is in ?opposition?. The leader of a party in government may have the luxury and protection of the law to indulge in what may be described as a ?one-man show?, but not for long.

Generally, unless decision-making takes account of the interests and fears of dominant stakeholders, within and outside the party, major cracks are likely to occur, which does not make any party attractive and elect able. These cracks give louder expression to the concept of power struggle and power play, which lie at the heart of inner-party struggles. Individual groups, and coalitions compete to secure the basis or means of power within the party in order to factor their perceived neglected views, interests and fears into the party?s general strategy. The extent to which the dominant groups within the party appear sidelined, informs the ferocity of the struggle for the means and levers of power. This could take several forms or schemes with a potential lethal effect on the fortunes of a political party.

Interestingly, coalitions and alliances tend to be formed between and among different interest groups or stakeholders, which last for as long as a common interest is perceived. New interests or threats may inform completely different coalitions, however incompatible they might have appeared in the past. This generates perpetually, a ?shifting coalition of interest?, which may be a normal feature in the context of political parties.

To reduce the inherent contradictions and generate a relative convergence of stakeholder interests, compromises and consensus building must, as much as possible, be at the core of political decision-making - if we desire internal cohesion and harmony.

In our inability to strike meaningful compromises or failure to succeed in our parochial fights to achieve the choices and decisions that we desire, it is in the supreme interest of our parties that we support the emerging choices and decisions ? irrespective of the circumstances of their ?birth?.

It is instructive to appreciate the legitimacy of individual ambition that informs group interests.

It is crucial to allow the interaction of contending ideas and views, as that helps to shape concepts that inform party campaign strategies.

It is essential that notwithstanding the differences in interests, that inform our choices, internal party leadership must be allowed to emerge on the strength and will of the general party membership. Importantly, this must necessarily mesh with the general expectation and desires of the broad electorate, who hold the key to the political fortunes of parties.

It is particularly instructive to appreciate that when the emergence of a leader is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as reflecting a nonnegotiable interest of any dominant group or individuals, that leader?s legitimacy may be compromised.

It is rewarding to realise the benefit of teamwork because Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM)

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.