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.