Political participation would refer to the act of voluntary action or participation in any successful or unsuccessful, organised or unorganised, episodic or continuous, employing legitimate or illegitimate methods intended to influence the choice of public policies, the administration of public affairs or the choice of political leaders at any level of government (Local or National). This definition above shall be adequately understood when we look at various forms of political participation.
Forms of Political Participation
– This is often used to refer to acts of support for any established regime or governmental elites. Authoritarian regimes often sponsor referenda, plebiscites and mass rallies as a justification of asserting that the authority rest upon popular support. Participation in this sense is meant to refer to popular legitimacy. It does not however mean that those who provide support have the opinion of making support or making demands.
– Participation is often used to mean only successful efforts to affect the action of government or to choose government leaders. Critique of democratic systems often describe participation as formal and ineffective when the efforts of some groups to change policies or leaders are unsuccessful.
– Some authorities define this as only those acts of citizens that are defined by law as legitimate. For instance, voting, lobbying, petitioning, etc., but in contrast some radicals see illegal acts such as civil disobedience and other forms of mass confrontations as the only genuine acts of participation in democracy.
– One school of democratic thought views representation as an appropriate form of participation in large scale complex societies since direct participation is impossible. Others argue for direct democracy or intermediaries between citizens and the State.
– Alienation as distinguished from apathy is sometimes seen as a form of participation. Apathy suggests the lack of interest as well as lack of action while alienation suggests intense political feeling concerning futility of political action. The inaction of the alienated and the pathetic may have quite different consequences for the performance and subsequent development of the political system.
– When we talk of participants sometimes, we mean the activist who runs for public office, attend public meetings, join political parties and spend a substantial portion of their time on public matters. Sometimes included are lesser forms of political participation such as voting. Some definitions of participation include those who do not vote but discuss political matters with their neighbours and even express political opinions through the mass media.
– Although, generally, participation refers to acts aimed at choosing political leaders and influencing public policies, participation might also include efforts to influence affairs in government. For instance, representation from farmers to, local government officials and local businessmen in order to achieve a goal.
All these various forms of political participation suggest that we are dealing with a continuum rather than a dichotomy concept. Societies and individuals differ in their conceptions of what constitutes a political act as most of the definitions have normative values associated with it.
Purpose of Political Participation
The encouragement of widespread participation in a democracy may develop desirable qualities as follows:
– A sense of tolerance towards differing views from one’s own. Participation exposes people as they interact with others and begin to appreciate the views of others that differ from their own views. This can only occur when people actively participate in a political system.
– Willingness to arrive at conclusions by majority decisions. People who participate politically in the business of State cannot act alone but must depend on others for popular opinion and decisions.
– Political participation encourages cooperation among men for common good. This is essential for the development of the society.
– Political participation brings about the development of national awareness and the integration of the diverse elements of the society.
– Political participation leads to a sense of fulfillment. People are more likely to accept decisions and policies if they have a sense of participation.