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Organisational Structures


National Leadership Committee, i.e. The National Executive Body

The National Executive committee (NEC) is usually the party’s highest decision-making body between the national conferences. The NEC can set policy and programs in line with what the national conference has decided. The NEC consists of the party’s key officials: the chairperson, deputy chairperson, secretary general, deputy secretary general and treasurer. There are also a number of elected members which can differ from party to party but usually represent the party’s different regions.

The decision as to who is to be a member in this body determines much of the party functioning. The composition of the national executive body varies between political parties: sometimes just a few party leaders form the leadership, while in other cases, representatives of party wings, such as the women’s wing, members of local branches, or auxiliary groups are represented in the leadership committee.

How members of this committee are appointed differs between political parties and countries: some parties hold elections for leadership committees where for instance delegates from the party organisations, such as regional and local groups, are entitled to vote, while others do not. When elections are held, quotas for women or ethnic minority groups may be applied. There is also a difference between countries and parties as to whether the members of the national executive body are paid by the political party or not. This may have a great influence on the professionalism, responsibilities, and dedication of the leadership committee.

Party Headquarters

The party headquarters is at the top of the party organisation. The basis for the party president and the party council is the party headquarters. This should have some “technical” departments that concentrate on certain issues to prepare the party’s positions on actual themes of the political debate and to provide party members and representatives with information and arguments. Additionally, the party headquarters has to care about the communications and public presentation of the party. Last but not least, the headquarters has to organise and realize the electoral campaigns.

Diagram, schematic

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National Conference, Congress, or Convention

The national conference is the party’s highest decision-making body. It determines the broad policies and the party’s direction. Often, the national conference also elects the national leadership. The delegates at the conference are selected by lower structures or directly by the members of the party.

National Congresses usually meet one to five times a year. Attendance at the conference may include delegates from regional and local branches and auxiliary groups, such as the women’s wing, and the youth wing of the party. Ordinary members may also be welcomed. Sometimes, Congress resolutions are binding upon the party leadership, while in other cases they are just suggestions or guidelines.

Local and Regional Party Branches (Geographic Units)

The local and regional party branches are promote stability and participation within a political party. At the local level, party members have the closest contact with their party and politics in general.

Most political parties have local and regional party branches. These can be sometimes in up to five layers below the national level. Internal party rules determine who is in control of the decision-making process – the national level or the local levels of the party. Local and regional party branches can be more or less independent from the national party organisation in leadership, budget, and campaigning.

When a party is in power, the Branch is an important channel through which the party and the general public can communicate. The Branch can inform and explain the government’s policies and programs and it can pick up what people think about the government’s performance and make sure the feedback reaches relevant people.

Local and regional party branches should conduct regular membership meetings, and support, promote and integrate (new) members. These should be invited to meetings and social events, as well as to discussions on local politics issues and local initiatives. These might include residential development, road building or issues related to local schools or business.

The local or regional party branches should have their own political conventions, nominate candidates for local or regional elections, coordinate the activities of the party at a local or regional level, and maintain contact with non-partisan organisations in the local context (like religious communities, civic or professional associations, etc.) They should also develop their own local political positions (in line with the principal programme of the entire party) and local government programmes. Finally, the members at the local level also conduct the campaigns for local, regional or national elections.

Branch Level Structures

The number of members in a Branch can vary, often consisting of between 50 and 1 000 members, sometimes more. The Branch formulates and proposes policies to higher levels. It also holds higher structures in the party to account.

The key task for a Branch is to recruit members and activate them. The members’ skills, energy and political insights are what form and develop the party’s politics and organization. A Branch with active members and many activities that reach out to society are a party’s best assets.

The Branch Annual General Meeting (AGM)/Conference

Most party constitutions stipulate that the Branch must hold a member meeting once a year called an Annual General Meeting (AGM) or a conference. This might be at the state or regional, district or local level.

The Branch AGM/conference is the Branch’s highest decision-making body. This is where members elect leadership. The Branch AGM/conference also hears and adopts organizational reports from the Branch Chair, Secretary and Organizing Secretary and a Financial Report from the Treasurer. The party constitution stipulates that you must have half of the Branch members plus one in order to elect Branch Executive Committee BEC members or approve any reports. This can be difficult to achieve and AGMs/conferences must therefore be well publicized and organized far in advance.

Branch Executive Committee

The Party’s highest decision-making body at any level is the conferences where representatives from lower structures elect Executive Committees. These conferences can be either at the national, state/regional, district or local level. At local level conferences, the members elect the Branch Executive Committee (BEC) which consists of a number of portfolios.

The BEC is elected at the AGM and consists of a chairperson, deputy chairperson, secretary, deputy secretary, treasurer and between three and ten additional members. The role of the Branch Executive Committee is to build, lead and guide the Branch.

The roles, responsibilities and powers of the BEC and its members should always be spelled out in the party constitution. The BEC should make decisions collectively, just like a Cabinet in Government. Tasks are performed by different portfolios and each office bearer has the responsibility to see that it is carried out in a way that can be accounted for. Here is a short list of tasks for BEC-members:

• Build strong Branches – support and develop activists in the Branch.

• Initiate and perform Branch strategic planning and action programs.

• Assess the Branch’s strengths and weaknesses.

• Be the Party’s face and build partnerships with other groups in civil society as well as with business when it is in our interest.

• Have good knowledge and understanding of the dynamics in the community.

• Be well-read about general politics and society, its functions and dynamics.

• Be well-informed about the party: its history, developments and politics.

Auxiliary Groups (Functional Units)

Youth wings and women’s wings are the most common auxiliary groups in political parties all over the world. They are usually part of the party organisation and lobby the party leadership on issues of specific concern to their members. The independence of the auxiliary groups differs in terms of rights to have their own membership registers and budgets and to make independent decisions. Auxiliary groups often have the right to send their own delegates to National Conventions and are sometimes even represented on the National Executive Committee.

Many parties also have technical committees and working groups for specific tasks; for example, for the discussion of programmatic questions (economic policy, domestic policy, foreign policy etc.) as well as for the participation of specific groups (unions, local politicians, middle-class citizens, entrepreneurs, seniors etc.). These committees play an important function for the inner life of parties and their external image.