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The role of a party chairman is often quite different from that of a party leader. The duties of the chairman are typically concerned with the party membership as a whole, and the activities of the party organization. Chairmen often play important roles in strategies to recruit and retain members, in campaign fundraising, and in internal party governance, where they may serve as a member of, or even preside over, a governing board or council. They often also have influence in candidate selections, and sometimes in the development and promulgation of party policy.
The nature and importance of the position differs from country to country, and also between political parties.
In Belgium the chairman of a political party is the mightiest person within the party, controlling appointments etc. After the Prime Minister of Belgium the party chairmen are the most important figures in Belgian politics, sometimes characterized as a particracy.
In the Netherlands, in contrast to Belgium, the chairmen are relatively weak, due to a separation of powers. Chairmen of political parties merely control the party organization, the bureau, and its finances, while the political leader, often the chair of the parliamentary party, decides over the party's political course. Many party chairmen go on to occupy more important posts. Ria Beckers for instance was chairman of the Political Party of Radicals, before she became chair of its parliamentary party. There is one important exception to the above picture: Jan Marijnissen, former political leader of the Socialist Party combined being political leader of its parliamentary party and chairman of the party itself.
In the United Kingdom the term may refer to the holder of the office of Chairman of the Conservative Party or to a senior member of the Labour Party (not to be confused with the other Chairman of the Labour Party who chairs the NEC or the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party elected solely by Labour MPs). This title was given to Labour's Harriet Harman after she was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in June 2007.
The closest to a party chair in the US is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Republican National Committee (RNC). In addition, each state has their own Democratic and Republican Party which also have chair people.