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Political Participation

Political participation is necessary ingredient of every political system. All political systems encouraged political participation through varying degrees. By involving the people in the matters of state, political participation fosters stability and order by reinforcing the legitimacy of political authority.

People living in a particular society participate in the political system, which they develop. There are many forms of participation and democracy in the form of government that encourages maximum participation in governmental processes. Participation does not mean more exercise of political rights like franchise, by the people.

It means their active involvement, which in a real manner influences the decision-making activity of the government. Democratic theory considers citizens as rational, independent, and interested political persons capable of expressing their opinion regarding the persons aspiring for holding offices and also competent in electing some persons who deal with the policies of government in a way conducive to the interest of the mass. "Perhaps the most pervasive participation is simply living in a democratic community and where all government action and policy are publicized in press, radio, and television. In this situation those in position of authority must conduct themselves in such a fashion as to as appear to the sensible people.

Thus the great public in a democracy serves a sort of sounding board for public policy deliberations and discussion. Thus even a passive participation is a constructive part of democratic process." The most obvious way of political participation in democracy is voting. Other ways include such behaviors as reading or listening or watching the mass media of communications, taking part in political discussions, listening to political speeches, attending party meetings, giving contribution to political parties, writing petitions or letters to public officials or newspaper editors, trying to influence the voters, contesting the election for office etc. Lipset has pointed out that high-level participation cannot always be treated as good for democracy. It may indicate the decline of social cohesion and breakdown of democratic process. "A principle problem for a theory of democratic system is under what conditions a society can have sufficient participation to maintain the democratic system without introducing sources of cleavage which will determine cohesion".

Some other political theorists are of the opinion that when majority of the people in a society are contended, participation is small. This should be taken as a favorable rather than unfavorable sign because it indicates stability and consensus within the society and also absence of broad cleavages.

Depending on the intensity and degree of participation Lester Milbraith has categorized political participation in three forms:

  • Gladiators represent that small number of party activists, whose active association with political parties keeps them engaged in series of direct party activities like holding party offices, fighting the election as candidates.
  • Transitional activities include attending party meetings party spectators or party sympathizers making contributions to the party fund and maintaining contacts with public officials or party personnel.
  • Spectator activities on the other hand include voting, influencing others to vote in a particular way, joining political discussions or exposing oneself to the political stimuli.