Posted: June 15th, 2021

Structural Functionalist Theory

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This essay is an attempt to discuss the problems political parties in Zambia are facing by using structural-functionalist and their contributions to liberal democracy. The academic piece shall begin by defining the key terms; those being, structural-functionalist, political parties and liberal democracy. This will be followed by a comprehensive discussion of political parties, focused on, with examples, the Zambian scene. Lastly, a brief conclusion based on the discussion will be outlined.
“Functionalism holds that society is a complex system whose various parts work together to produce stability and solidarity” (Giddens 2006:20). It also views society in terms of their functions. Merton (1968), made an important distinctions between manifest and latent functions. The manifest functions of an institution are open, stated, conscious functions. They involve intended, recognized consequences of an aspect of the society such as the university’s role in classifying academic competence and excellence.
By contrast, latent functions as unconscious or unintended functions and may reflect hidden purposes of an institution. Structural-functionalist acknowledges that not all parts of the society contribute to its stability all the time. This function refers to an element or process in society that may actually disrupt as social system or lead to a decrease in stability” (Schaefer, 2004: 14). Social life depends on unity and cooperation of a group.

The functionalist points out that for society to be stable the different parts of the society must contribute to the stability of society. For instance, the teachers should teach the society to reduce illiteracy, the doctors are making sure that society is healthy, and the police maintain order. Hence society becomes stable since everyone is contributing. According to MacIver (1962), a political party is an association organized in support of some principles or policy which constitutional means it endeavors to make the determinant of government.
Not only that, a political party consists of a group of citizens, more or less organized, who act as a political unit and who by the use of their voting power, aim to control the government and carry out their general policies. Similarly, a political party is different from a pressure group, though in some cases the distinction between the two is almost blurred. According to Ball (1976), It may be said that a political party is an organization of numerous people who are openly committed to broad matters of public policy and who want to assume direct responsibility for their policies by seeking monopolize power or share it with other parties in a position of political power.
According to Barker (1951), the panorama of a party system is so fluid that a good number of pressure groups behave like political parties. The cases of fragmentation and polarization of political parties may also be taken note of. It is also possible that some minor political organizations emerge at the time of elections and then they disappear. But the most essential fact remains that three, four even more parties manage to share power.
For instance, in Zambia before voting is taken place, there are many parties heard like Movement for Multiparty Development (MMD), United Party for National Development (UPND), Patriot Front (PF) and Heritage Party (HP). But at the end of elections only few will be available to be strong holding oppositions party for example the UPND and MMD. Political parties act as a check against the tendency of absolutism and totalitarianism, ideologies also known by names such as ‘Caesarism’ and ‘Bonapartism’ (CITE). When one party forms government or few form coalition to hold power, other parties play a role of opposition.
It not only keeps the government vigilant, it also prevents it from being arbitrary and irresponsible. The leaders of the opposition expose acts of corruption, nepotism, scandals and maladministration in which great men in power are involved. According to Lasswell (1950), the political parties enable the power to hold the government in check. The constant presence of a recognized opposition is an obstacle to despotism, with a programmed fairly within the limits of a possible public opinion, is a bulwark against the tyranny, not only of a despot but also a practical political majority.
Significant political developments have occurred in Zambia since the 2001 tripartite elections. After having had two previous elections in 1991 and 1996, the 2001 elections produced a multiparty Parliament for the first time since Zambia’s independence in 1964. These elections seem to signal that the country has moved from a dominant one party political system to a competitive multi-party system According to The Post Newspaper (20/01/2013), opposition parties have serious financial difficulties.
And for the new member of the opposition, MMD, this is even worse. The MMD doesn’t know how to operate without a lot of money. They were used to receiving a lot of money from all sorts of characters doing business with government. And the MMD was also parasitic on government institutions for resources. As a result of this, a series of other problems have appeared. Passions about the future of their party rightly fired people up, but wrongly led them to attack and despise their colleagues. The impact of disunity upon members of the party is clear to see.
They must in the very near future learn again to display the camaraderie and common purpose that are fundamental to a party’s prospects. If they don’t do so, they stand no chance of being re-elected Also, according to Okar (2005), the ruling parties deliberately employ a “divide-and rule” tactic to fragment and weaken the opposition parties. Wilson (1956) says, “The numbers of parties that appeared with the opening to democratization is not a demonstration of increased participation, but rather of fragmentation and therefore weakness of the party systems”.
Zambia had more than five political parties, and the dominant party was the movement for multi party democracy (MMD), which ruled the country since 1991 to 2011. According to The Post Newspaper (20/01/2013), opposition political parties like, UPND, that was bound together by regional, cultural and language ties is also now failing to conceal its problems and challenges. The regional, tribal and cultural glue that held them together is also starting to weaken. The hopes that they had of getting into government by 2011 have disappeared. The illusions that they had about their popularity have also dried up.
And they can no longer deny the fact that they are a regional political party that has serious problems and challenges becoming national. Their arrogance and pomposity can no longer carry them. The bragging of being this and that has proved unsustainable because it is unrealistic. They can no longer claim to be the most educated, the most knowledgeable when it comes to business and economic matters, the leading entrepreneurs. Parliamentary statistics actually show that UPND has the least educated members of parliament of the three major political parties.
And their leader, Hakainde Hichilema, who tried to project himself as a leading entrepreneur, an outstanding economist and a very rich man can no longer lay much claim to these credentials. According to Mwansa,(2012), The leadership of opposition parties suffer from overly rated ambition for power and pride, such that it overcrowds their effective participation on important national matters that affect the citizenry and poor people. They could be more effective by engaging government and the ruling party in debating policy frameworks on how to develop the country.
Particularly, pushing policies that address the needs of poor people such as improving access to clean water and sanitation, quality healthcare, education, rural and agricultural development, and debate macroeconomic policy frameworks required for growth and development, critically contributing to poverty eradication, employment creation and addressing inequalities. According to Soko, (2013), the opposition parties have to find their own political shoes rather than to follow in Sata’s shoes if they are to earn confidence of the electorates on social and developmental programmers’.
The strategies the opposition want to use today, of protesting against the Chief Justice, the demand to have a medical board to examine president Sata’s health, the demand to have the constitution changed, among others were Sata’s strategies when he was in the opposition. The opposition just seem to be recycling Sata’s political strategies with the hope of gaining confidence and trust from the Zambians but this will not work for them as they are being viewed as imitators instead of being initiators.
Opposition parties are also not given a fair chance by media. Media is always criticizing them and portraying opposition parties in a horrible way. All favor is upon the ruling party which is not supposed to be the case. Lastly, one of the very crucial problems in Africa at present is the unwillingness of the incumbent parties to be opposition parties due to their over-dependence on the benefits available to the ruling parties. Therefore, they are ill-equipped to become the opposition.
In conclusion, the ruling party in Zambia should try by all means to incorporate the opposition parties in some development decisions, there also has to be inter-party dialogue over how to move beyond the dominant party situation. Because the ruling party feel comfortable once in power and do not want to give chance to the opposition parties to rule the nation. Media should also be an independent source of information and not favor any party but be like a no man’s land that is not owned by anyone, the opposition parties should be able to broadcast their manifestos to the public.

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