Why Do Opposition Parties Exist in Democracy
A democratic government is considered to be, as Abraham Lincoln puts it, ‘Of the people, by the people and for the people’…whereby citizens of a nation exercise their franchise to elect a candidate or a political party, whom they feel is most capable of running the affairs of the nation. It also stands for addressing citizens’ grievances and materializing the interests and demands of the people, in the form of policies and laws.
The ruling party (in Parliamentarian form of government) is the party that along with its allies enjoys a majority in the Parliament. ‘Formal opposition’ refers to the party that along with its allies secures second largest number of seats in the parliament and is not a part of the ruling party/coalition.
In a two party system for example, where legally there are just two existent parties that the citizens can vote for, when, say party ‘A’, forms the government, then the other party, ‘B’, by default would sit in opposition. For example The Republican Party and The Democratic Party are two rival political parties in US electoral politics.
India has a multi party system, where there are a number of national as well as regional parties. A regional party may gain a majority and rule a particular state. If a party is represented in more than 4 states, it is labeled as a national party. However, in case of a multiparty system, often the Government is a ‘Coalition’ government i.e. when a party securing majority of the votes in an election is unable to fulfill the required quota to form the government, it asks for support and creates alliances with other political parties that have a somewhat similar party ideology and political leanings. For example United Progressive Alliance (UPA 2004) was a coalition of the centre-left parties in India with Indian National Congress being the single largest party in terms of numerical strength in the Lok Sabha with Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the coalition and Dr. Manmohan Singh as the acting PM. In opposition was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), headed by the Leader of Opposition, L.K. Advani.
The opposition thus in such a scenario comprises of all parties who do not form the government.
The role of Opposition therefore is to ensure that all the different stands of opinions are represented and given a voice while formulating policies. Lawfully elected representatives should be able to throw light on alternatives and options other than the proposed course of action…even if they themselves do not form a part of the government. The opposition thus acts as a watchdog to any breach from normalcy. It keeps a lidless eye on the ruling party so that neither there is any misuse of power, nor the concentration of power in a few hands. Such sinister practices might lead to an ‘Authoritarian Rule’ elected government during its stay in office.
The government (in a Parliamentary form of democracy) has to have the support of the majority on the floor of the house to remain in power. The opposition therefore holds tremendous power for keeping the ruling government on its toes…by holding it accountable for its actions, through close monitoring of them. Meanwhile as ‘Government-in-waiting’, it also prepares its ground for the next elections.
Opposition parties play an important role in scrutinizing the policy framework of the ruling government and questioning the heads of various ministries during the question hour. They act as representatives of their own constituencies and try to influence public policy into a direction, which is in consonance with their own party’s ideology.
The lack of a solid opposition (which is more apparent in countries with one party system) leads to tyrannical rule. For example, Communist Party of China and Liberal Democratic Party of Japan are the dominant parties in these two countries, controlling their respective politics. In certain countries either opposition parties are not allowed to exist… or even if they do exist, they do not have a good chance of coming to power. Voters are therefore not offered a real choice.
One setback of having too strong and rigid an opposition or too much diversity in the parliament is…the reduced efficiency of the legislature. Since there is no consensus among the various representatives, there is bound to be chaos and delay in the law making procedure. Important bills are shunned and matters of national importance are ignored as parties disrupt the normal routine of the parliament by staging protests and walkouts in an attempt to destabilize the government and stall a decision.
The present government is UPA II (2009) - a coalition of the INC with the Center/Leftist parties of the country. Dr. Manmohan Singh is the acting PM. So far, the BJP as the ‘formal’ opposition in the parliament with Sushma Swaraj as the Leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitly in the Rajya Sabha; have done a decent job. While they have repeatedly brought the issue of corruption to light and reminded the country of how much of a scam tainted government UPA II is, it has also played its share of politics by disrupting parliamentary proceedings and shunning discussion on crucial bills like the food security bill.
What must be the need of the hour…is to strike a balance between Outrageous Opposition and Gory Governance, which can be done only if these ‘Multi Parties’ look beyond their personal agenda, and at the greater good of the people .