Political parties are essential parts of any democratic political system. They are the vehicles through which citizens are able to compete together for power; they make a political system legitimate; they allow citizens to be represented in the state; they facilitate a degree of responsiveness and accountability; they are instruments for the recruitment of political leaders; and they act as mechanisms of political communication and education. By creating coalitions within a society, they also promote social cohesion.
The benign potential of political parties is rarely fully realized, however. Parties are often involved in political intimidation, corruption, the politicization of state institutions, the manipulation of racial and ethnic antagonisms, and the pursuit of short-term partisan advantage at the expense of the longer term interests of citizens, future generations, and the environment.
South African activists have mostly maintained the position that parties should be open, transparent and accountable. In particular, information about how parties are financed is necessary if citizens are to make informed decisions about the political parties they choose to support. Constitutional lawyers too, are quick to point to the principles that have been advanced by the Constitutional Court in defending the kind of society imagined by the Constitution. However, political scientists have frequently warned of the dangers posed by the unintended consequences of political party regulation, often sought by those who intend to protect the Constitution.
The potentially benign and malign potentials of political parties and party systems have legal, political and sociological dimensions. These can only be understood by means of interdisciplinary study and deliberation, involving dialogue between specialists in the organisational and political aspects of democratic systems, scholars of the legal and constitutional factors that shape political party operations, party political strategists, and social justice activists.
The Department of Political Studies at the University of Cape Town and the UCT School of Law, in collaboration with civil society group, My Vote Counts, would like to stimulate such a dialogue. They therefore intend to hold a conference in Cape Town on the theme “Political parties in South Africa: Legal and political considerations” on August 27 and 28 2015.
Suggestions for papers and panel themes are welcomed. These will include but not be limited to the following issues and questions:
- To what degree and in what ways should political parties be accountable, transparent, and open, and how can such properties be realised in practice? Is it desirable for the state to oversee the operations of political parties and in what ways?
- How should the relationship between money and politics be regulated in South Africa, in both legal and political terms?
- Which legal and political factors will shape changes in the South African party system?
- To what degree is it desirable or possible for political parties to be “internally democratic”?
- What are the implications of the political rights contained in section 19 of the Constitution for political parties? What is the significance of section 19 being bestowed on citizens only?
- Traditionally in South Africa, both in political and legal theory, political parties are commonly understood as private associations. However, in addition to receiving vast amounts of public funding, the South African Constitution places a very unique set of demands on political parties. What is the public/private nature of political parties under the Constitution and what are the associated legal and political consequences of this classification?
- Are there tensions between the state of internal party democracy practised by South African parties and the levels of political participation demanded by citizens under the Constitution? What are the legal and political consequences for interfering with internal political party politics?
- What comparative lessons can be learned about South Africa’s political parties from other countries?
The organisers invite those interested in presenting a paper at this noteworthy conference to submit abstracts to Prof. Anthony Butler firstname.lastname@example.org or Prof. Pierre De Vos email@example.com. Abstracts should be no longer than 500 words in length and must be submitted by 22 March 2015. We plan to seek publication of these papers in a book or special journal edition.