How are political parties expected to attract new members?
About a week ago, there was a news item on one of the national television talking about registration of NRM members in their exercise of updating their membership register. What followed was some people roughly pushing and shoving a guy they accused of ‘not being a member of their NRM party yet was trying to register as a member’.
They pushed the poor guy who kept on saying he wanted to join the NRM party and didn’t understand why he was being called a non-member when ‘he was going to be voting for the first time’. Anyway, he was chased away and the video showed him walking away.
What we found surprising about this brief news item, was how a political party trying to register people into their party prior to the 2016 general elections, could have the luxury of not wanting to attract new members to their party. This was in spite of the fact that not long before, the leader of the NRM party who is also the president of the Republic, had called on Ugandans to join his party in big numbers in order to join him in national building effort.
What President Museveni didn’t seem to have been told, was that the old members were looking at new members as threats to their political empires. For example one media outlet reported of a former Democratic Party (DP) member of parliament for Kyamuswa crossing over to the NRM party. While the first impression was that the NRM was beginning to attract Opposition politicians, the story went ahead to quote current MP for Kyamuswa expressing unhappiness about the crossing of the former DP man.
The study of politics shows that any political party that does not attract new members is a party that isn’t growing. And a party that is not growing, that party can only be destined to disappearing into obscurity. That is why ambitious political parties strive to always attract new members, at whatever cost, so that their party can remain not only active in the ‘market’, it can remain visible, relevant, and in power.
The reality of party politics is that only attractive and active parties do win elections. There are many ways of growing supporters. Under normal circumstances, citizens will always be attracted to a party because it cares about people and people can relate to it. The parties which don’t have those qualities try to use other means of increasing their membership if they are to stand a chance of winning elections.
Parties that aren’t attractive are doomed to remain in Opposition. But all political animals join politics to win political power. But how can a party that wants to win power, chase away people that would actualize their political dream?
There are parties which may not necessarily be popular but they happen to have money to buy voters over on their side. Question is, why would a party chase away potential voters only to follow them up with ‘bribes’ when the going gets tough? Why do fellows hate their parties?
Lutz argues that ‘in order to gain votes, parties have to follow two goals. On the one hand, they have to focus on converting voters of other parties to vote for their party. On the other hand, they have to make sure that their partisans actually participate’. This is not rocket science!