As one of the key organisational building blocks of representative democracy, political parties are central to democratic life in a diverse range of polities and at numerous levels of government. Political parties inherently shape the electoral contest – before, during and after polling day. Several aspects of party organisation illustrate this influence: the rules that parties use to select their leaders and candidates profoundly affect political competition, recruitment and access. Variations in organisational structures can facilitate or hinder parties in building and mobilising support bases, promoting citizen engagement in politics, and either helping to stabilise political competition or to contribute to its volatility.

Finally, how parties are funded influences political competition and outcomes, determining whether a party has adequate resources to communicate its message and on whom the party must rely for its resources.

Consequently, the organisational choices that political parties make affect many aspects of the nature of electoral competition in any given system. However, these choices are in turn constrained by the body of laws, determinations and regulations that govern parties’ behavior as political actors. Derived from a diverse range of sources including constitutions, administrative and electoral legislation and case law, party laws regulate many aspects of party life, including freedoms of association, registration requirements, candidate and leadership selection, communication and campaigning, as well as political finance. The character and consequences of party law have gained greater attention amongst party scholars in recent years, with studies examining the trend towards increased legal regulation and the implications for parties’ relationship with the state. Legal scholars have similarly turned their attention to the impact and politics of electoral and party laws. While studies such as these have make excellent inroads into documenting the diversity and scope of party laws in existence, relatively few of these studies have examined party laws in their broader normative context: either as a product of, or a means to achieve, particular democratic outcomes.

Specific aims and objectives of the workshop

The proposed workshop will adopt a new approach to understanding party law and the legal regulation of political actors, by utilising the overarching principle of electoral integrity. Defined broadly as a set of shared international principles that apply universally and are reflected at all stages of the electoral process, electoral integrity is a useful heuristic for understanding the relationship between the intention, substance and effect of legal regulations. The principle objectives of the workshop are to:

  1. Analyse the principles of electoral integrity, which could include competition, fairness and engagement, and how they relate to political parties and other electoral actors (including third parties). What is the appropriate role of political parties in electoral contests and polities guided by the principles of integrity? From which sources (international laws, constitutions, accepted practices) might these norms derive? What types of legal interventions might be necessary to achieve these objectives?
  2. Investigate how these principles are expressed or codified in the legal regulations that govern political parties and other electoral actors.
  3. Identify and analyse the key patterns of regulation that occur in Australia and comparable democracies. What are the main aspects of party organisation and activity that are regulated? Are regulations enabling or constraining? What factors might affect patterns of regulation? How might political, institutional, cultural and social conditions impact upon the implementation and effectiveness of regulations that seek to promote integrity?
  4. Assessing the implications for public policy: what is the most appropriate regulatory environment for political parties and other electoral actors if we wish to achieve the normative goals associated with the principles of electoral integrity?The proposed workshop will be conducted over two days in June 2014 and will be structured according to these key themes, exploring diverse arenas for party regulation (for example, finances, membership, candidate selection, registration). The participants will reflect the inter-disciplinary nature of the research (an intersection between political science and the law) and includes a mix of leading experts in the field, established scholars and early career researchers.

For more information, please contact:
Mrs Nurdan Kulluk-Rennert
Manager, Executive and Workshops
Nurdan.Kulluk-Rennert [at]
+61 .2 62491788