"Political parties are essential to the development and sustenance of any pluralistic democracy. They are crucial instruments in ensuring participation in political life and the expression of the will of the people, which should form the basis of the authority of the government in a democratic state. The international framework for protecting the rights of political parties is based mainly on the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, and the right to assemble peacefully. These three principles were stipulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and have subsequently been transformed into binding legal obligations through a number of international and regional human rights instruments. Most notably, both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms include provisions containing the rights and freedoms that safeguard the free functioning of political parties. Another important component of these rights is the freedom of individual candidates who have no political party association to seek and obtain political or public office without facing any form of undue obstacles or discrimination, as the OSCE participating States agreed in 1990 in article 7.5 of the Copenhagen Document. The possibility for individuals to challenge established political parties through new political initiatives is an important part of any dynamic multiparty system.
While the role and importance of political parties have long been established, specific legal regulation of political parties is a relatively recent development. Although many states with party-based systems of governance now refer to the role of political parties in their constitutions or other laws, the first examples of legislation directly affecting 12 the operation of political parties did not appear until the 1940s. Even today, following significant development in this area, differences among the legal traditions and constitutional orders of states mean that the degree to which political parties are subject to regulation varies from country to country.
Distinct paths of historical development and unique cultural contexts preclude the development of a universal, single set of regulations for political parties. However, on the basis of decisions of the European Court for Human Rights, general human rights principles and OSCE commitments, it is possible to establish common principles applicable to any legal system for the regulation of political parties in a multiparty democracy. Owing to the pivotal role political parties play in democracies, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) undertook to bring together in one document the expertise and good legislative practices of OSCE participating States in regulating political parties and different guidelines and recommendations of the Venice Commission.
These Guidelines on Political Party Regulation have been created as a tool to assist OSCE participating States and Council of Europe Member States in formulating legal frameworks that comply with OSCE commitments and other international standards in facilitating the proper establishment, development and functioning of political parties. The development of these Guidelines is the cornerstone of assistance in this particular area, as they are an important addition to ODIHR’s LegislatiOnline.org database, where lawmakers can obtain examples of good practices from legislation in other states to assist them in framing and making their own choices. The Guidelines have been elaborated against the background of the work performed by ODIHR and the Venice Commission, based on an international human rights framework that includes the case law of the European Court for Human Rights and OSCE commitments in this realm. The Guidelines are not intended to as a final, complete code of regulation, but rather as a living instrument that will be enriched by further development and input from those who make use of it. We hope that these Guidelines will assist a broad range of users in policy-making, legislative, regulatory and academic fields alike, and that they will further contribute to the enrichment and development of this instrument with the addition of their expertise and experience."
Venice Commission of the Council of Europe
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)