Multi-Party System | Definition, Features, Merits & Demerits
The third leg of the party system is the multi-party system. The word ‘multi’ itself stands for many. A multi-party system is therefore a system in which there are several political parties of nearly equal strength. Unlike the two party system in which two of the many parties may be dominant, multipartyism is a party system in which there are several parties, any of which can win a general election.
Countries like Italy, France, Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria operate this system.
Factors Leading To The Formation Of Multi-Party System
The historical development of multi-party system is often associated with the following factors.
- The French Revolution of 1789 led to the division of the French society into two, namely, first those groups who supported and accepted the revolution and the separation of the state from the church and second, those groups who stood against the revolution but were in support of the monarchy and unity of the church and state.
The people and groups, which supported the revolution, formed leftist or radical political parties while the others formed conservative parties. In short, several political parties were formed to reflect the divisions in the society.
- The division of society along sectional, religious, tribal, linguistic, ethnic, occupational and ideological lines sometimes leads to the formation of multiple parties which tend to represent the different but contradictory interests.
Thus, the more diverse and stratified a society is, the greater the likelihood that several political parties will be formed. There are, for example, several political parties in Nigeria which represent interests that are difficult to define.
- Powerful individuals and groups that are not adequately represented in the legislature sometimes form political parties of their own.
- The voting system also encourage the formation of several political parties. This is especially the case where the proportional representation system is used.
Features of Multi-Party System
- Existence of many parties: There are more than two political parties in the system.
- Legal recognition: All the political parties are recognized by the law.
- Choice: Individuals can easily make choice of parties and programme.
- Respect for rule of law: There is respect for the rule of law by political leaders and citizens making up the system.
- Political education: The scope of political education is enhanced and widened.
- Absence of dictatorship: There is no place for dictatorship in multi party state.
- Protection of human rights: The rights of individuals are guaranteed and protected by the government.
- Coalition government: Multi-party system may give rise to a coalition government.
- Periodic election: Elections are conducted at periodic intervals.
- Wider representation: People of different interests and opinions are represented in decision making process.
Advantages of Multi-Party State
- It is democratic: The electorate are exposed to a number of choices party, programme, candidates, etc, and that is what democracy sets to achieve.
- Wider political participation and education: The scope of political participation and education is enhanced and widened to the extent that people now play major role on issues of national importance.
- Wider representation: Interests of diverse naturereligious, ethnic, different groups, are represented in the decision making process.
- Reduces the chances of the emergence of a single party dictatorship: This is because in the system, no party is strong enough to suppress the other party.
- Party organisation: Multi-party system encourages better party organisation through competition.
- Recognition of opposition parties: The other political parties, outside the ruling party, can criticize govennent policies and actions.
- Change of government: The provision is made in the constitution for change of government through periodic elections.
- Human rights: The rights of citizens are entrenched in the constitution. They are guaranteed and sustained by the government.
- Rule of law: There is adherent to the rule of law and the provisions of the constitution by political leaders and citizens of the county.
Limitations of Multi-Party System
- Coalition government: Multi-party system often leads to the formation of coalition governments in parliamentary system which are often weak and unstable.
- Too many political programmes: The people could be confused as to which of the parties has the best to offer them.
- Difficult to hold a particular party responsible: It does not allow the electorate to easily hold a particular party responsible for the success or failure of govemment policies.
- Ethnic and sectionally based political parties: In some countries, it produces ethnic and sectionally based political parties which may not be in the national interest.
- It makes the formation of a new government very difficult: This is because political parties have no common policy before assuming office. A lot of unhealthy compromises may have to be made.
- It is a very expensive party-system: This is because of the cost involved in party organisation.
- Victimization of political opponents: This is a common feature of multi-party system.
- Political instability: With too many political parties competing for political power, unhealthy rivalry and political instability may result.
- Multi-party system weakens the executive: It gives a disproportionate power to self-seeking minorities.
- It turns important branches of legislation into class bribery: This lowers the standard of public life.