|Political parties||Graphical version|
A political party is established to further the interests, ideals and values of its members and supporters. In this sense, a political party has a background similar to that of any other social movement or organisation. Even a popular movement can become a political party or compete for votes in elections.
Political parties are the strongest players in democracies. No other group of citizens can compare to their political clout. A modern democracy needs political parties (see party roles), since they organise and structure political life.
A political party differs from other groups and civil movements because it
Pursuing governmental power means that a party tries to get as many seats as possible in parliament. In other words, Finnish political parties compete for seats in the Parliament of Finland or Eduskunta.
Having secured seats in the Eduskunta, the parties then try to get into the government, which is the country’s most important executive power. In a parliamentarian system such as Finland’s, the prime minister is at the heart of political acts.
To obtain votes in elections, parties generally have to form a united stand on a whole range of factual issues. To obtain wider support, they have to take a stand on all kinds of matters such as pensions, employment policy, school curricula and public healthcare.
Non-governmental organisations and movements can focus on advancing one or just a few matters. The protection of flying squirrels, for example, can give rise to an entire popular movement, but is insufficient alone for a political party.
Parties must have some kind of overall view of society. They cannot become caught up in just a few issues, but must form an overall policy. Parties interested in a single issue do not enjoy widespread support for long unless they manage to turn into a general party.
Finnish political parties date back to the 19th century. The Finnish political map has remained virtually unchanged during recent decades. Except for the Greens, new parties have failed to be long-lived or even to grow considerably in size. However, the fact that new movements occur from time to time on the political map is a sign of healthy democracy.
Parties are traditionally built on some ideal or ideology, such as the working-class ideology or liberalism. Over the years, party aims have changed with society. Social issues, once major issues of principle, have transformed into a more fragmented struggle for the interests of different groups of people and professions.
The political ideal has not entirely disappeared, but has changed its form. People often find it difficult to distinguish between the parties since “they all seem alike”. According to malicious observers, the parties have become mere organisations that compete for power and have no higher aim than winning the next election. Party politics often suffer from other problems, too.
Updated on September 15, 2006