Closely related to the concept of democracy are the activities of political parties. The formations and persistence of party activities is inevitable in every democratic society. Political parties provide the general public with the opportunity to elect their governmental leaders through a periodic election organized and conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

POLITICAL PARTIES

A party can be seen as an organized group of men and women united with the basic aim of controlling governmental powers. Nominated members of a party are to contest for an election, and if elected will now be in a position of leadership .”A country may be operating a single party, two party or it may take the pattern of multi­party system. A political party has a number of features, and they are as follows;
1. Power Struggle: A party is the group of men and women organized to engage in power  struggle. Political parties organize themselves to engage in power struggle in order to have the machinery of government under their control. The struggle is therefore to make members of the political party win election.
2. Party Ideology: Every political party must have its own ways of thinking on how the society should be, should the party come into power. This is to say that different parties must have their own plan which they wish to transform into real action, if the said party wins the election.
3. Rule of Governance: A political party must have its own rules and regulations for its party executive and party followers. That is to say, that, party has its own ways of absorbing members, dismissing and rewarding them. These are contained in the constitution of every political party.
4. Leadership: This is to say that, the party’s leaders should only stay in power for a definite period of time. A party cannot operate without effective leadership.  Political parties   conduct   electrons  periodically  to   elect  the executives,   who   should   be   charged   with   the responsibilities of organizing and promoting activities of the party.

Functions of Political Parties

A Party has a number of functions to perform i.e to its followers, the electorate and in the pursuance of governmental policy measures as follows:
1.        Political party conduct primary elections to elect the popular candidate to contest for the general election (1999 constitution) where leaders will emerge to control the governmental activities.
2.        A political party collects, articulates and assess the various opinion of its members and make them open to the government to act upon, especially where the political party is in control of government.
3.        Political party plays a role in terms  of change of government, through a democratic process. A political party nominates candidates to contest for a given position periodically which inturn will bring about a change of governmental leaders.
4.        Political party also creates political awareness to both the party followers and the general public through political campaign. This is possible through the use of Radio, Posters, Television and many other means of communications. These are some of the functions of political parties to the party followers in particular and to the general public.

ELECTORAL SYSTEM

The modern democratic nations of the world have developed a system through which a smooth and orderly change of leadership can be effected through the process of an election. That is to say a state is democratic only when elections to governmental posts are organized to give room for all citizens to participate.
In Nigeria for instance, we have the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as well as the state electoral commissions which have all been charged with the responsibility of deciding on when and how the election is to be conducted, who should stand or and who should not stand for an election and the same commission has power to announce the result and thus, declare the winners of any given election.
However, election can be seen as a means through which the eligible members (voters) of a given society can elect some members to represent their opinion in the decision making process. Those elected, are therefore, considered to be representatives of their area. Election also means a process of electing representatives (Oxford Mini ref dictionary).
The electoral system of a given country may differ in details, but there exists some general items which can be seen as the main demands or conditions for any successful election in a democratic state. The following conditions can be seen as the basis for any successful election.
1. Registration of the Eligible Voters: For a successful election to be conducted, there should be a definite period of time set-up to register all the eligible voters. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shows that, only those that are eighteen years and above (18+) can be registered (1999 Constitution). Data like the Name, Sex, Occupation, Residence of an individual eligible voter are to be recorded.
2.        Nomination of Candidates:  This is another requirement which   is   a  must  since   election  without   contesting candidates will be meaningless. The idea of nominating candidate to contest in a given election should be the activity of political party. For example, Obasanjo was first nominated by his party members i.e Peoples Democratic Party (P.D.P), at Jos, during the party convention, to contest for the post of President under its plat-form before 1999 election.
3.        Division of the country into constituencies: For any meaningful election to take place in a democratic state, the country should be divided into constituencies (1999 Constitution). By constituency it simply means an area so designed and whose people are capable of sending a member to represent their interest at the parliament or assembly. Therefore, the number of representatives to the parliament will automatically determine the number of the required number of constituencies in a given country.
4.        Campaign Exercise:   Before any meaningful election can take place, there should be a definite period of time set-aside for the contestants to go round and sell out their ideas to  the  general  public.  With  this  development,  the contestants can now gain more popularity and then get the support of the voters on the election day.
5.        Review of Voters Register: Prior to the election day, review of voters register takes place. This is to enable the eligible voters  to  check  and  up-date  the  records.  Another importance associated with this exercise is that it enables those who now reached the age of voting to register.
6.       Election: This is to be organized and conducted by the commission incharge. A day is usually set-aside in which all the eligible registered voters go to the polling stations to elect candidates of their choice after they had been accredited by the official incharge. Example, for the position of President, an individual must be citizen of Nigeria by birth and must attain fourty years (1999 constitution). However, other requirements for a successful conduct of an electing include the counting of votes, announcing the result and declaring the winner.

The Significance of Free and Fair Election in a Democratic State

Through free and fair election, the electorate can now choose their leaders. It is difficult for the people to elect their leaders from among themselves in an atmosphere that is not free and fair. Free and fair election provide a basis for proper check on the excessive use of governmental powers. This is because individuals might tend to misuse the governmental powers, or grow tyrannical and oppressive. The idea of the second term of the incumbent makes him to remember the mandate of the masses.
Through free and fair election a democratic state can now succeed in bringing about a smooth and non-violent change of governmental leaders. For example, with the development of free and fair election, there was a change of leadership in Nigeria from military government under the military leadership of Abdulsalam Abubakar to a civilian government headed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Activities for smooth change of leadership should prevail from time to time. For example, the Constitution of Nigeria and that of the United States of American states four (4) years before the next election.
Free and fair election gives voters an opportunity to indirectly participate in the government through casting their votes to the candidate of their choice. This will enable the elected members to represent the interest of their people while deliberating on certain issues at all levels of government.
CONCLUSION
Democracy being the government of the people by the people and for the people cannot be ascertained in a state or country that failed to recognize the formations and persistence of political parties and the election process. Political party must be formed to produce the contesting candidates who should stand and contest for various political positions. If elected they manage the machinery of government. Election is yet another requirement necessary for any democratic state. Election determines who and who should hold governmental position.
REFERENCES
APPADORAI, A (1968): The substance of Politics- Madras Oxfon University Press.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA (1989): Political an Education Manual Report of the Political Bureau Directon for Social Mobilization ” NAMSER”, Abuja
………………….(1999): Constitution of the Federal Republic
Nigeria. HAWKINS, J. M. (1995): The Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary
Oxford University Press.