Multi Party System is defined as a system with more than two political parties are contesting for political power in a country. All the parties are duly registered and recognised by law. In multi-party system, a coalition government may be formed, if no party had absolute majority seats in parliamentary election.
However, coalition government is mostly common with parliamentarydemocracy. Nigeria, France, Italy, Zambia, Malawi, etc, practise multi-partysystem.
Characteristics of Multi Party System
The main features of multi-party system include the following:
There are usually many political parties, some of which are sufficiently strong to contest and win elections on their own.
Each political party stands for a definite issue or principle and may find it difficult to compromise in respect of such a principle. A critical assessment of some of Nigeria’s political parties, for example, may reveal some of their underlying or hidden interests.
The Alliance for Democracy (AD), for example, stood for (true) federalism and protection of the “interests” of the Yoruba people. In fact, the registration of the party in 1998 by the Abdusalami Administration was essentially meant to give the Yoruba a sense of belonging after the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections believed to have been won by ChiefM.K.O. Abiola, a Yoruba man.
The party did not qualify for registration in fact. But what is the interest of the Yoruba? Are the interests of poor and rich Yoruba the same? The All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) represents mainly conservative religious and upper North “interests”.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)represents free enterprise and anti-military (or more specifically anti-Abacha) political “interests” although the upper echelon of the party was at a time dominated by retired Generals.
The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has never hidden its intention to protect Igbo “interest”. This is not to say, however that there are no overlapping interests.
It is however difficult to define what Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa interests are. Sometimes, the interest of the ruling oligarchy is confused with the interest of the people. The basic interest of the ordinary Nigerian, for instance, is good governance, good roads, affordable housing, regular electricity and water supply, access to affordable education and accessible health facilities, employment and security of life and property.
Ironically, Nigerian governments have not succeeded in satisfying these basic needs of the Nigerian people. And how can a party which articulates sectional or parochial interest (e.g. Yoruba or Igbo interest) win a national election?
The voter usually joins the party, which most clearly represents his opinion or interest.
Because there are so many political parties contesting elections with a view to winning political power, it is usually difficult for one party to obtain a majority. There were at least eight parties, for example, represented in the Italian parliament and no party, since the Second World War, has been able to win a majority of seats.
In the general elections held in April2006, the center-left coalition led by Romano Prodihad only a slim victory over Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Christian Democrats. For several weeks the new Prime Minister could not form a government.
Governments are usually based on center coalitions with the parties of the right and left in opposition. Thus, for most of the time since 1947, the Christian Democrats (a party of the center) has formed the Governments in Italy with the smaller parties which are to the right or left.
Although there are more than two parties, the system behaves like the two party system with regard to the stability of government.