Political parties and associations are a central feature of any democracy. They allow citizens to come together and campaign for public office, express their interests and define goals for their communities. Registration of political parties gives these groups legal status, defining their rights and roles in society. The steps that they must take to register vary across countries. In some places, parties are only required to submit their name, symbol, officers, charter and sometimes, a brief list of members. In other countries, applicants have to demonstrate that they have enough members to form a legal party by collecting members' signatures. Additional requirements for party registration might include that the applicants have a minimum geographic distribution of members and publish a manifesto. They might also have to pay a registration fee, which can sometimes be significant. Requirements are often stricter in systems where registered political parties receive public funds, broadcast time on radio and television, free or discounted postal services or other forms of public support. Whatever the exact requirements, the registration process must be based on clear criteria and applied fairly to all who apply. Once parties are registered, they can then go through the necessary steps to qualify to compete in an election (see Ballot Qualification).
Citizens should be allowed to freely associate into political organizations and seek government office based on their common interests. Otherwise, the electorate may be deprived of the opportunity to make its choice as to who has authority to govern. Unless such organizations receive legal recognition through registration, they may not be able to present themselves on the ballot or otherwise seek peaceful political change. In order to protect the rights of citizens to organize, political party registration must be based on reasonable, clear criteria. These criteria must be made public, so interested citizens know what steps they must take to get legal recognition of their party. The criteria must also be applied impartially and in the same manner to all who seek to register. Any rejections should be explained clearly, and those who are rejected should have an opportunity to appeal the decision. With information about the political party registration process, citizens can take steps to get legal status for their organizations and associations. Parties, civic organizations and media can assess whether the rules are fair to begin with and whether they are applied fairly to all who apply. This type of analysis relates to whether the process is inclusive, with reasonable opportunities for citizens to organize and campaign for office, and competitive, with equal chance for a range of groups across the political spectrum to take part.
Information relating to political party registration includes: a list of parties, including who applied, was accepted and was rejected by the EMB; party member names; and rules for nomination (including number of signatories required to be registered, filing fees and other details). The Supreme Tribunal of Elections (TSE) in Costa Rica serves as a good example of how to make political party registration information available. They publish a list of which parties applied for registration, which were accepted and which were canceled or denied registration.