Political Parties of the USA

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Political Parties of the USA

The US Constitution says nothing about political parties, but over time the US has in fact developed a two-party system. The two leading parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. There are also other parties (a Communist party, several Socialist parties, etc.) but they do not play a role in national politics.

The present-day Democratic Party was founded in 1828, representing Southern planters – slave owners and part of Northern bourgeoisie, as well as groups of petty bourgeoisie and farmers. Sometimes, the Democrats are thought to be associated with labour and tend to favour a more active role of the central government in social matters. The Republican Party was founded in 1854. It united industrial and trade bourgeoisie from North-East, farmers, workers, craftsmen who were interested in destroying the political power of the South and abolishing slavery. But after the Civil War of 1861-1865 the party lost its progressive character and the difference between the two parties disappeared. The Republicans tend to oppose the greater involvement of the federal government in some areas of public life.

The parties are not divided by any doctrinal [dok´trainl] gulf. To distinguish between the parties is often difficult. Furthermore, the traditional European terms of ‘right’ and ‘left’ or ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ do not quite fit the American system. Even if they have been elected as Democrats or Republicans, they are not bound to a party programme, nor are they subject to any discipline when they disagree with their party.

While some voters vote a ‘straight ticket’, in other words, for all of the Republican or Democratic candidates in an election, many do not. They vote for one party’s candidate for one office and another’s for another. As a result, the political parties have much less actual power than they do in other nations. One of the reasons for stability of the two-party system is the family tradition. Each new generation inherits its politics and party loyalty from their fathers. Descendants of Northern Europeans tend to support the Republican Party while those of southern and eastern Europeans prefer the Democratic Party.

In the US, parties cannot win seats which are then free to fill with party members they have chosen. Rather, both Representatives and Senators are elected to serve the interests of the people and the areas they represent, that is, their ‘constituencies’. In about 70% of legislative decisions, Congressmen will vote with the specific wishes of their constituencies in mind, even if this goes against what their own parties might want as national policy. It is quite common, in fact, to find Democrats in Congress voting for a Republican President’s legislation, quite a few Republicans voting against it, and so on.

Political Parties of Ukraine

More then 100 political parties are registered in Ukraine, but only a dozen or so have significant size and influence. After the last parliamentary election, parties have become stronger and more significant, the new electoral law, which gives the seats in the Verkhovna Rada to party lists, has forced parties to begin to play a role they did not play before and stimulated the growth of coalitions among parties. It means whatever parliament comes out of the election, it is dominated by the strong parties and coalitions.

It should be noted that the political scene in Ukraine is relatively one-dimensional. The main difference between parties is their pro-communist or anti-communist stance. As a rule, older people are more likely to vote for the Socialist or Communist parties, while younger people are more likely to vote for reformers. However, as in the United States, money plays a very large role in elections, and rich parties are more likely to be able to attract support than small parties.

Generally, the Communists and the so-called leftist ‘fellow travelers’ are stronger in Eastern Ukraine, in part because the economic crisis there is much worse, and in part because of the large Russian / Russianized population there, while rightist and nationalist parties are stronger in Western Ukraine. The parties organized around personalities are usually in the centre and as a rule reflect their own reformist views.

Electoral System in the UK

Every British citizen aged eighteen years or over who is not serving a sentence of imprisonment and is not a peer is eligible to be placed on the electoral register in a constituency. Normally this involves residence in the constituency on a certain day (10 October) but members of the armed forces and now British citizens who live abroad but have been registered within the previous five years can be entered on the register. At the moment there are 650 constituencies, the boundaries being drawn by impartial Boundary Commissions whose recommendations need approval of both Houses of Parliament. Their impartiality has not prevented their recommendations from being highly controversial as the way the boundaries are drawn can profoundly affect the electoral prospects of a particular party. The parties draw their support from different sections of the electorate and the exclusion or inclusion of a particular area can turn a safe seat into a marginal one and vice versa.

The choice of candidates by the parties profoundly affects the extent to which the voters’ wishes are reflected in the House of Commons because the voter can only choose between rival candidates. Each party has its own method for choosing candidates. The Labour Party in 1980 insisted that all Labour MPs must undergo a reselection process if they wished to be candidates at the next General Election. Anyone can form a political party, as happened in 1981 when the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was launched. Though election law puts strict limits on expenditure during an electoral campaign, to prevent bribery and corruption, it is very expensive to fight an election, particularly as national propaganda does not count towards election expenses. The Labour and Conservative parties draw their financial support mainly from the trade unions and industry respectively.

Their main disadvantage is, however, the British electoral system. Electors vote in their constituency and whichever candidate obtains most votes is elected an MP; even if he or she obtains only one vote more than his or her nearest rival and only a small percentage of the total vote. This system works best when there are only two parties, though even then it is possible for a party to obtain more over the country as a whole but have fewer seats in the House of Commons because its support may be unevenly distributed, so that it obtains big majorities in some seats and loses narrowly in others. This result is accentuated when there are three or more parties. A third party like the Liberals or now the Social Democratic and Liberal Alliance, whose support is spread fairly evenly throughout the country, is likely to win few seats but come second in many. Thus in the General Election of 1983, the Alliance obtained 25 per cent of vote but only 4 per cent of the seats.

Elections in Great Britain

The general election means that the voters in the country cast their votefor the candidate from the political party of their choice to be the Member of Parliament for the constituency. The political party which wins the most seats in the House of Commons forms the Government. This is different from by-election, which occurs when a Member dies, retires or disqualified, and voting takes place only in the constituency without a member, not throughout the country.

The United Kingdom is divided into areas which are known as constituencies. You live in a constituency and will register to vote there. You have one vote which you cast for the person you wish to represent you in the Parliament. Through this you also vote for the party which you wish to be in power.

The time between general elections is 5 years. About the month before the election the Prime Minister meets a small group of close advisers to discuss the date which would best suit the party. The date is announced to the Cabinet. The Prime Minister formally asks the Sovereign to dissolve the Parliament. General elections are usually held 17 days after the dissolution of the Parliament. Thursdays are popular general election days. General elections are often held in either spring or autumn.

Each constituency is divided into a number of polling districts; each of them has a polling station. Most polling stations are in public buildings such as schools, town halls or council offices. Voting takes place on Election Day (polling day) from 7 am till 10 pm in each constituency. Voters are sent a polling card in advance. Voting is by secret ballot, and the only people allowed in the polling station are presiding officer, the polling clerks, the duty police officer, the candidates, their election agents and the voters.

Just before the poll opens, the presiding officer shows the ballot boxes to those at the polling station to prove they are empty. The boxes are then locked and sealed. Voting takes place in a booth. The voter marks the ballot paper with a cross in the box opposite the name of the candidate of his or her choice and folds the paper to concealthe vote before placing it in the ballot box.

The results from each constituency are announced as soon as the votes have been counted, usually the same night. The national result is known by the next morning.

When all the results are known, the Queen usually invites the leader of the party winning the most seats in the House of Commons to be the Prime Minister and to form a Government. The second largest party becomes the official Opposition with the small group of its MPs being chosen to form the Shadow Cabinet. Its leader is known as the Leader of the Opposition. A date is then announced for the State Opening of Parliament, when the Monarch officially opens the new Parliament.

The House of Lords is unelected Chamber so is not involved in the electoral process. It closes when the Parliament dissolves and reassembles for the State Opening of Parliament.

Elections in the USA

Anyone who is an American citizen, at least 18 years old, and is registered to vote may vote. Each state has the right to determine registration procedures. A number of civic groups, such as the League of Women Voters, are actively trying to get more people involved in the electoral process and have drives to register as many as possible. Americans who want to vote must register, that is, put down their names in register before the actual elections take place. There are 50 different registration laws in the US – one set for each state. In the South, voters often have to register not only locally but also at the county seat.

Another important factor is that there are more elections in the US at the state and local levels than in most countries. Certainly, Americans are much more interested in local politics than in those at federal level. Many of the matters, such as those concerning education, housing, taxes, and so on, are made close to home, in the state or county.

The national presidential elections really consist of two separate campaigns: one is for the nomination at national party conventions. The other is to win the actual election. The nominating race is a competition between members of the same party. They run in a succession of state primaries and caucuses (which take place between March and June). They hope to gain a majority of delegate votes for their national party conventions (in July and August). The party convention then votes to select the party’s official candidate for the presidency. Then follow several months of presidential campaigns by the candidate.

In November of the election year (years are divided by four – leap years, e.g. 2000, 2004, 2008), the voters across the nation go to the polls. If the majority of popular votes in a state go to the presidential (and vice-presidential) candidate of one party, then that person is supposed to get all of that state’s ‘electoral votes’. These electoral votes are equal to the number of Senators and Representatives each state has in Congress. The candidate with largest number of these electoral votes wins the election. Each state’s electoral votes are formally reported by the ‘Electoral College’. In January of the following year, in a joint session of congress, the new President and Vice President are officially announced.

3. Legislative Power in Ukraine, Great Britain and the USA.

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