Comparing Multi-Party With Other Party Systems
Recall that a system where only two parties have the possibility of winning an election is called two-party system. A system where only three parties have a realistic possibility of winning an election or forming a coalition is sometimes called a “Third-party system”. But, in some cases the system is called a “Stalled Third-Party System,” when there are three parties and all three parties win a large number of votes, but only two have a chance of winning an election.
Usually this is because the electoral system penalises the third party, e.g. as in Canadian or UK politics. In the 2010 elections, the Liberal Democrats gained 23% of the total vote but won less than 10% of the seats due to the first-past-the-post electoral system. Despite this, they still had enough seats (and enough public support) to form coalitions with one of the two major parties, or to make deals in order to gain their support.
An example is the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition formed after the 2010 general election. Another is the Lib-Lab pact during Prime Minister James Callaghan’s Minority Labour Government; when Labour lost its three-seat majority in 1977, the pact fell short of a full coalition. In Canada, there are three major federal political parties; the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, and the New Democratic Party of Canada. However, the Liberals and Conservatives have been the only two parties to form government in Canada with the New Democrats as the third party, except in the 2011 Canadian election when the New Democrats were the Official Opposition.
Unlike a one-party system (or a two-party system), a multi-party system encourages the general constituency to form multiple distinct, officially recognized groups, generally called political parties. Each party competes for votes from the enfranchised constituents (those allowed to vote). A multi-party system prevents the leadership of a single party from controlling a single legislative chamber without challenge.
If the government includes an elected Congress or Parliament, the parties may share power according to proportional representation or the first-past-the-post system. In proportional representation, each party wins a number of seats proportional to the number of votes it receives. In first-past-the-post, the electorate is divided into a number of districts, each of which selects one person to fill one seat by a plurality of the vote.
First-past-the-post is not conducive to a proliferation of parties, and naturally gravitates toward a two-party system, in which only two parties have a real chance of electing their candidates to office. This gravitation is known as Duverger’s law. Proportional representation, on the other hand, does not have this tendency, and allows multiple major parties to arise. But, recent coalition governments, such as that in the U.K., represent two-party systems rather than multi-party systems. This is regardless of the number of parties in government.
A two-party system requires voters to align themselves in large blocs, sometimes so large that they cannot agree on any overarching principles. Some theories argue that this allows centrists to gain control. On the other hand, if there are multiple major parties, each with less than a majority of the vote, the parties are strongly motivated to work together to form working governments. This also promotes centrism, as well as promoting coalition-building skills while discouraging polarization.
Demerits of Bi-Party System and Merits of Multiple Party System
1. The bi-party system splits the nation into two irreconcilable camps. In the words of Prof. Smith, the two party system presumes a bisection of human nature which is not true. It is based on the principle that people have only two opinions. But modern society has various conflicting interests. All these interests do not get adequate representation under this system.
The multiple party system is superior to the bi-party one in as much as it can give representation to all shades of public opinion. The Parliament becomes a true mirror of public mind. Voters can have many choices.
2. Under bi-party system the majority party in the legislature might have been elected with minority of votes an;’ thus the minority may rule in the name of majority but under multiple party system, the government would normally represent majority of voters.
3. The bi-party system, according to Ramsay Muir, undermines the prestige of the legislature and results in Cabinet dictatorship. Under multiple party system, however, such a phenomenon is not possible where legislature by grouping and regrouping can oust a cabinet at once out of office.
4. The bi-party system leads to despotism of the majority which rides rough-shod over the wishes of the minorities. This is not possible under the multiple party system where the coaltion government is terribly afraid of the legislature. In conclusion, it must be said that multi-party is more democratic and wide spread in the world than bi-party system.
Other Types: Dominant-Party System
A dominant-party system, or one-party dominant system, is a system where there is “a category of parties/political organisations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future.” Many are de facto one-party systems, and often devolve into de jure one-party systems. Usually, the dominant party consistently holds majority government, without the need for coalitions.
In simpler terms, adominant-party system is a system where there is “a category of parties/political organizations that have successively won election victories and whose future defeat cannot be envisaged or is unlikely for the foreseeable future”.
Examples commonly cited include: United Russia (ЕP) in Russia, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in Serbia, SMER-SD in Slovakia, Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS) in Montenegro, the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, Awami League in Bangladesh, MPLA in Angola and the ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe.