© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
FACT CHECK: Are there really up to 1600 political parties in India?
PRESIDENTIAL candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) in this year’s general elections, Tope Fasua, has pointed out that Nigeria is not the only country with a large pool of political parties.
In an article published on Friday by different platforms, titled For Those Irritated by Nigeria’s Many Political Parties, he included the result of his “research of how many parties there are in a few countries”.
“They have two main parties divided along ideological lines in the U.S.A,” he wrote. “They also have 38 minor parties who contest for the presidency and 49 regional parties. That is 89 parties in the U.S.A.”
He added: “India has 1,600 political parties and over 900 million voters. The U.K. has 40 parties. South Africa has 68 parties.”
Fasua argued that the formation of new parties is an expression of people’s right to associate freely and their desire to change the country, and said “everyone who can put a group together for the dissipation of the tension in the land [should be allowed] do so. His piece is a reaction to concerns that have been raised by political analysts such as Akin Oyebode, Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence at the University of Lagos.
“Here it is an all-comers game,” the professor said during an interview on Channels TV in August. “We have to reform our electoral laws to exclude parties that have little or no followership.” The Independent National Electoral Commission had disclosed that there are now up to 91 political parties in the country, 73 of which fielded candidates for the presidential race, compared to 30 registered parties in 2012 and 26 that participated in the 2015 general elections.
Is it true, however, that the political parties in India, the United States, among others, are as many as stated by the ANRP presidential candidate?
The number of political parties in India is actually more than the figure mentioned in the said article. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), as at April 13, 2018, there were 2,099 political parties registered in the world’s second most populous country.
However, only 55 of these parties, that is less than three per cent, are recognised. According to The Economic Times, an Indian daily newspaper, unrecognised parties are “either newly registered parties or those which have not secured enough percentage of votes in assembly or general elections to become a state party or those which have never contested in elections since being registered”.
These parties are not entitled to certain privileges, such as the determination of their party symbols. They are often assigned through a draw of lots and may not be able to get a uniform symbol in all the constituencies where they have candidates.
On the other hand, recognised parties are given reserved symbols from the commission’s database. They also get free time on Doordarshan and All India Radio, both government-owned broadcasting stations, for publicity. They are eligible for subsidised land allocations to build party offices, as well as free supply of copies of electoral rolls, and so on.
Because it runs a parliamentary system of government, the president of India is not elected by a popular vote, but by an electoral college comprising the Indian parliament and lower legislative assemblies. In the presidential election of 2017, two candidates, Ram Nath Kovind and Meira Kumar, were nominated from the ruling NDA coalition and the opposition UPA coalition respectively.
The United States of America practically runs a two-party system, which has seen that since 1860 only the Republican and Democratic parties have dominated the political sphere even across state legislatures. It has become nearly impossible for third parties to rise to the same level of nationwide influence.
Asides needing a lot of money and collecting millions of petition signatures, “there simply isn’t enough time between the end of primary season and the general election to gain meaningful ballot access in enough states to win an Electoral College victory,” explains Micah Sifry, Senior Analyst at Public Campaign, a nonpartisan election finance reform group.
According to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit digital encyclopedia of American politics and elections, as of May 2018, there were at least 32 distinct ballot-qualified political parties in the US, including the two major parties and a group of parties referring to themselves as Independent. There are also other parties that have got ballot status at the municipal level.
The US Federal Election Commission in its campaign finance database, however, listed up to 45 political parties by name.
The rules guiding major and minor parties differ from state to state. For instance, some states permit minor parties to partake in primary elections; others do not. In 2016, asides the two major parties, the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and Constitution Party also achieves presidential ballot access, but not in all 51 states.
According to the database of the Electoral Commission, an independent body overseeing elections and regulating political finance in the United Kingdom, there is a total of 405 parties in the country, including minor ones. But checks by The ICIR showed that only 56 of the parties field candidates in all of England, Scotland, Wales, and Europe.
Just as in the US, there are two major parties in the UK: the Conservative and Labour parties. Asides these, there are also other centrist, right-wing and leftist parties; regional and nationalists parties promoting English Scottish, Irish, and Welsh interests; religious parties; non-parliamentary political parties, which have no representatives in the legislative houses; and even frivolous parties created for the sake of entertainment or political satire.
There are numerous parties in South Africa but only one, the African National Congress, is dominant, having 249 of the 400 seats at the National Assembly based on the results of the last general elections of 2014. The ANC also controls 60 out of 90 seats at the National Council of Provinces, and has consistently got majority votes in provincial and municipal elections.
According to the political party list of the Electoral Commission of South Africa, there is a total of 599 registered political parties in the country—305 national and the rest provincial. 205 of these parties contested in the municipal election of 2016, but only 13 are represented in the 26th South African parliament.
Since South Africa operates a parliamentary political system, the president can only be appointed by the National Assembly from its members, for a maximum period of two five-year terms.
Most of the figures provided by the ANRP candidate are inaccurate and understated, and we have been unable to find sources substantiating them. Available records show that India has 2099 political parties, not 1600; the United States of America has up to 45 political parties, not 89; the United Kingdom has a total of 405 parties, not 40; and South Africa has 599 registered parties, not 68.
Majority of these parties do not, however, participate in electoral processes, especially at the national and presidential levels.