Two-Party system may be defined as the existence of only two major political parties in a political system. These two parties are constitutionally recognised to contest elections.
Britain is a good example of a two party state. There are two major political parties – the Labour Party and ConservativeParty. Liberal Party is a minor party.
United States, Canada, Australia, etc, also practise two party system.
The Two Party State (Merits & Demerits)
Success of Two-Party System
The two party system has the following advantages.
It engenders a healthy competition between the parties as the party in power is quite aware that its continued stay in office depends on effective performance while the opposition or minority party realizes that it may come to power if it is seen by the electorate as a good alternative to the ruling party.
The two party system presents the voters an opportunity to make a choice between contending issues and candidates and to choose the next government.
The two party system leads to a stable government and smooth change of government. The reasons are not far-fetched. In a cabinet system, a government that is adjudged good may be in office for as long as it controls the parliamentary majority and fulfills its electoral promises.
As Prime Minister of Britain for eleven years (1979-90), Mrs. Margaret Thatcher for example, not only brought stability to the British government, but also introduced far-reaching reforms (including the privatization of unviable public utilities), the effects of which are still being felt in Britain and beyond.
Thatcherism today is synonymous with the withdrawal of the state from economic activities. Similarly, under the presidential system of government, the party that produces the president may retain power for as long as it works in the interest of the people.
All these afford the government the opportunity for long-term planning and implementation of programmes without which there can be no sustainable development.
The existence of the two party system provides the government with a systematic and constructive criticism of its policies and programmes, which may be impossible in one party system.
Criticism provides the government with another viewpoint on issues and this may help the government adjust itself and its programmes.
The two party system helps to protect minority interest. In particular, the opposition or minority party helps to project and bring to the fore the interests of groups not adequately represented in government.
The two-party system makes possible the integration of norms and values. In societies where party loyalty cuts across tribal and ethnic lines it can help to promote unity by replacing tribal loyalty with party loyalty.
The disadvantages of the two party system include the following:
Because of the inherent fear of losing the next election to the opposition, the ruling party is often unwilling to experiment with or take up new and untested issues.
Since both major parties are pragmatic and not ideological; the voters may find it difficult to choose between them when it comes to issues and programmes. Thus, like in the one party states, the voters are compelled to concentrate their attention on candidates and not on principles.
In a heterogeneous society like India and Nigeria, the two party system may be too narrow to accommodate all the multifarious and contending interests.
The two party system may lead to favouritism and regional imbalances in the distribution of power and social amenities.
The desire of the ruling party to cling to power may create instability. Unconventional methods may be employed to win elections and political opponents may be arrested or intimidated.