In political systems with two or more parties, less powerful parties assume a watchdog role by paying close attention to the actions of the party in power. They quickly bring suspicious behavior to the attention of the public. In this way, less powerful political parties help balance the scales of power.
Watchdog parties observe the party in power for a range of questionable behaviors, including enacting controversial legislation, circumventing traditional customs or engaging in full-blown illegal activity. For instance, if the party in power promotes a piece of legislation without revealing its full impact on a community, the watchdog party may prevent the passage of the law by bringing attention to this impact. This role is especially important between elections, when minority political parties have less means of influencing the direction of the government.
It is not just individuals holding office who act as watchdogs. Watchdogs also include committees, organizations and people who do not hold political office but who work to further the goals of the party. The mission of some of these semi-autonomous committees and organizations is solely to observe and investigate the actions of the party in power. This watchdog role is self-appointed and sometimes backfires if it seems as if the criticisms being raised align too closely with the interests of the watchdog party.