Pressure Groups v/s Political PartiesPressure groups or interest groups can be defined as organizations whose members all share a common interest /goals and they wish to influence the government to attain these goals. Newman (2008)
A pressure group is an interest group that endeavors to influence public policy and especially governmental legislation, regarding its particular concerns and priorities. Muffiln (2000)
Generally pressure groups are the collections of individuals who hold a similar set of values and beliefs based on ethnicity, religion, political, philosophy, or a common goal.
The pressure groups usually differ from one country to another. In Britain for example, there are sectional pressure groups like; TUC, The Confederation of British Industry, The institute of Directors, British Medical Association, Federation of Small Business, National Farmers Union, The Law Society, Association of Radical Midwives, just to mention a few. In America, for Health (American Public Health Association), Medical (American Medical Association), Education (American Federation of Teachers) Religion (National council of Churches), civic (Association for Non-Smokers Rights), Youth (Girl Scouts of the USA) to mention just a few.
In Tanzania we have HakiElimu, Policy Forum, TAMWA,(Tanzania Media Women’s Association), CWT(Chama cha Walimu Tanzania), for gender parity (TGNP), WAMA (Wanawake na Maendeleo) TAWLA(Tanzania, Women Lawyers Association), TMN (Tarime Mindset Network) TUCTA and many others not appearing in the list.
A political party is an organization of like-minded individuals who come together in an attempt to form a government. Newman (2008)
Political parties are voluntary organizations made up of members with broadly similar views that seek to form government through securing the election of its candidates. (Ibid)
Generally, a political party is a group of people with common political beliefs, manifesto, constitution, rules of membership, offices and interests, who come together to struggle to gain control of the government, through legal and democratic election.
Like pressure groups, political parties also differ from country to country. In most cases only one political party forms the government after coming victorious in the democratic election with exception of few cases like Zimbabwe (ZANU&MDC), Kenya (NAC&ODM), Zanzibar(CCM&CUF), where, following the political clashes were forced to form joint government between the two respective political parties.
CCM is the ruling political party in Tanzania, Frelimo in Mozambique, ANC in South Africa, Democratic in USA and the like. Significantly, political parties and pressure groups/interest groups have similarities and differences. Their aims, interests, strategies, and ultimate goals are the ones that set them apart or congruent. Below is a detailed discussion of the differences and similarities between pressure groups and political parties.
The following are the differences between Pressure Groups and Political Parties
Political parties put up candidates and compete in elections to form a government but Pressure groups do not put candidates for election, neither do they compete to form a government. The primary aim of political parties is to get as many candidates elected as possible. For example in Tanzania after every five years political parties such as CCM, CHADEMA, CUF, TLP, NCCR, UDP, and others have been putting up candidates to be elected in the general election. This range from Presidency to party branches (local government.) but no any pressure group has put the candidate to compete, though they may have the effect on the campaigns of some political parties for example WAMA campaigned for CCM.
Political parties deal with broad range of issues (general issues). They provide a manifesto that cover broad policy areas, such as health, education, defense, and infrastructures. Their main focus is that people will vote for them because of the changes (reforms) they wish to implement to improve the country. Pressure groups on the other hand, usually have a single policy that they focus on, like the environment, animal rights, children, women, mother and child health, education, or people with disability. For example HakiElimu specially deals with educational based matters.
Political parties usually have formal structure and are recognized through elected leadership. Pressure groups on the other hand do not necessarily have formal structures and they are usually dominated by an unelected leadership. The structure depends on the need of the pressure group itself. These groups do not have rigid and democratic structure especially very large organizations. Political parties like CCM, CHADEMA, and CUF have formal structures such as, Chairman-General Secretary, up to local branch chairpersons.
Unlike interest groups which represent the interests of only marginalized or disadvantaged groups in the society, like students, children, mentally retarded, workers, women and disabled, political parties represent the interest of all groups in the society.
So, political parties differ from pressure groups in that they address the general interests of the whole community covering all groups of people in the country, while pressure groups mostly address the voice of those thought to have no voice in the policy making bodies. For example, TAWLA, represents the interest of women lawyers, while CWT represents the interests of teachers only
While the objective of the political party is to attain power and form the government, the aim of a pressure group is to influence the decision making of the government. For example more frequently, HakiElimu has been influencing the decision making in Educational sector. These include the rapid expansion of the number of secondary schools which does not match with the available resources (teachers, books, laboratories, and dormitories) as compared to the increase in enrolment rate. With political parties, whatever they do has to do with building trust in the citizens to vote for them in subsequent elections.
Political parties are accountable to the people, because the leaders are put in power through people’s votes, but pressure groups are not accountable to the people since they are not elected by people’s votes. The interest groups usually operate on humanitarian and voluntary grounds and are not questioned of not meeting the demands of the citizens. This is because people did not participate in putting them in power or positions. Political parties on the other hand, operate under pressure of being voted out in the general elections if they are not accountable enough to the people. For example in 2002 the then Kenyan ruling party KANU, was voted out as it was seen not accountable enough.
Political parties are open, formal, and recognized part of the political system. For example, in USA, Democratic and Republican, in UK Labor, Conservative, and Liberal Parties, CHADEMA, CCM, CUF, TLP, UDP in Tanzania are examples of recognized political parties. Pressure groups on the other hand are informal, closed and unorganized part. Newman (2008)
Unlike political parties which operate at national level, pressure groups operate at local, sub national (regional) level, national level and international level. When a political party campaigns for power it aims at taking control of the whole nation, and the branches throughout the country. For example CCM has branches from national level to local level. Interest groups on the other hand may only operate in a single district like TMN- Tarime Mindset Network, National level like TAMWA, TAWLA, WAMA and other are international like World vision, and USAID.
Only one political party rules one country at a time predetermined in the constitution (ruling party) and others become opposition parties, while there are no ruling pressure groups over others. All pressure groups have equal chances of operating no matter which political party is in power. The ruling party may use its power and defense forces to suppress other political parties in fear of being overthrown. The pressure groups have no power to suppress other pressure groups since they do not own any defense forces, neither do they have political power.
Similarities between Pressure Groups and Political PartiesBoth political parties and pressure groups seek to influence the government. They influence the government policies and alert for changes. For example the opposition political parties in the parliament raised the issue of abolition of unnecessary “POSHO” (sitting allowances) to members of parliament or government officials. This issue was joined hand by a number of non-profit organizations and interest groups. Following public protests against the issue the government decided to review it and promised to work on it and see the necessary changes to be made on sitting allowances.
Both political parties and pressure groups are voluntary organizations. Being voluntary, this means that people are free to join or leave any political party or any pressure group as it is not compulsory. However when someone is a member of a political party or pressure group it is necessary to pay membership fee for funding the organization or the party. For example members of all political parties like CCM, CHADEMA, CUF TLP, Conservative(UK), Republican(US) pay annual membership fee but are not forced to join or leave these parties and join others. However, it is sometimes difficult to join some sectional groups which represent members of special occupations like teachers (CWT) if one is not a teacher.
Both political parties and interest groups may work together depending on the issue they represent. If their policies match, it is more likely for them to cooperate. For example, in America an interest group NRA (which is for less strict gun control laws) supports the republican party while other interest groups which associate with equal rights for all Americans would associate with Democratic party. For example, Health (American Public Health Association), Religion (National Council of Churches), civic (Association for Non Smokers Rights) Mahood(2000)
Both Political parties and pressure groups criticize the government policies. Some of the government policies may have no benefits to the citizen at all or may favour only the ruling class. This being the case both Political parties and pressure groups criticize the government plans, policy and practice and suggest the way forward. For example when the government presented the reform bill for constitutional amendments of the current constitution it received relatively varied hot debates from both political parties and pressure groups. The pressure groups like Kigoda cha mwalimu and political parties like CHADEMA, CUF and NCCR strongly criticized the draft until it was withdrawn for further re-amendment.
Both political parties and pressure groups take actions to promote changes and further their goals. For example they may struggle for advocacy, public awareness programs, policy reform and so forth to achieve their goals. They may wage demonstrations or public protest against any social misconduct forcing the government to take measures. For example the albino killings, protest against National constitution Reform Bill, election results, or corruption scandals. This has led to the appointed MP for special seats to represent the interests of albinos. In UK there is MADD (Members of Mothers Against Drug Driving) share a common belief that in turn influences actions. Mahood (2002).
They both represent the viewpoints of people who are not satisfied with the current conditions in their societies and often represent alternative viewpoints that are not well represented in the mainstream population. By forming pressure groups or political parties people seek to express their shared beliefs and values and influence changes within communities and social political structures such as government and cooperation. For Example in USA the Tobacco-Control Movement has been successful in influencing changes across a number of social political structures. (ibid).
Both the political parties and pressure groups may use a variety of strategies to achieve their goals. These include lobbying the elected officials, the government, media advocacy and direct political actions (eg organized protests.). Clearly some pressure groups and political parties exert more influence than others. Mufflin (2002). In Tanzania for example this is particularly true as CHADEMA has put more influence over the ruling part CCM which has had an influence since its birth in 1977. Some pressure groups like CWT, HakiElimu, TUCTA and TGNP are among the most influential groups in Tanzania.
Both the political parties and pressure groups may provide the social services where the service is due. The political parties in need of people’s appreciation will always be there when people need their help. Likewise, the pressure groups provide the social services in response to different calamities. For example, following the Mbagala and Gongo la Mboto bombs blasts, many voluntary pressure/interest groups and political parties participated in providing humanitarian aids to the victims. Also when the incident of Tigite river pollution in Nyamongo-Tarime became a public issue, many political parties and interest groups were not left behind in showing their deeply felt emotions on the matter. Some went further to visiting the place and provided immediate assistances to the victims.
So basically, while pressure groups and political parties are generally acknowledged as potential and beneficial to a democratic society, problems can arise when the democratic process becomes dominated by few specific groups. In this situation the voice of small group of people with a particular interest can become overly influential and negatively affect the rights of other individuals. In a democratic society like Tanzania, there is a need for compromises in order to reach a consensus regarding the common good. If pressure groups and political parties remain rigid and refuse to compromise on specific issues, they can potentially monopolize the democratic process by focusing public debate on a few specific issues.
Mahood, H.R (2000) Interest Groups in American National Politics: An Overview. Upper Saddle
Mahood, H.R (2002) American National Politics: An Overview. Upper Saddle River.NJ:Prentice-Hall
Muffiln (2000). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language. Forth Edition
Copyright©2007 by Honghton Mufflin Company.
Newman (2008) Pressure Groups in Wikipedia the free encyclopedia visited on 3rd July 2011