Party Systems; Definition, Types, Explanations, Features, Merits & Demerits
Political parties operate in a political environment. This environment may be competitive or non-competitive. A competitive party systems is a system in which more than one political party is officially recognized by the state. The two-party and multi-party systems fall into this category.
In a competitive party system, the parties compete between themselves and the party that wins elections forms a government either on its own or in coalition with others.
On the other hand, a party system is non-competitive if there is only one legally recognized political party in the political system.
The behaviour of political parties is therefore determined by the kind of party systems in existence. Where the party system is competitive, the parties will likely be engaged in continual political activities. But where there is no inter-party competition, as in one-party states, the political party will be primarily engaged in the practice and justification of political authority.
The party system may change from time to time to reflect changes in the overall society. Such changes also affect the number of political parties. For example, Nigeria adopted the multi-party system in the First and Second Republics.
The polarization of the parties along ethnic and sectional lines triggered the early collapse of the Nigeria first and second republics. There was a palpable fear during the succeeding military regimes that multipartyism was responsible for divisions in the Nigerian society and the nonemergence of a genuine national party.
Consequently, a two-party system was introduced in the still-born Third Republic. Although the two parties were said to be ideologically dissimilar (the NRC was a “little to the right” and the SDP was a “little to the left”), they rather brought together different political tendencies and strange bedfellows.
To ameliorate the situation, the 1999 Constitution re-introduced the multi-party system although most of the 63 political parties exist only on the pages of newspapers.
From the foregoing – a party system refers to the number of political parties that are legally allowed to operate in a political system.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Party Systems
Party Systems has some certain advantages and disadvantages. These are outlined below:
Merits of Party Systems
The arguments in favour of the party system are as follows:
- The party system ensures a peaceful change of government. It therefore provides for a stable government.
- It provides information to the electorate on issues and candidates being presented for election and this enables the voters to make a rational choice among candidates and issues brought before them.
- With the party system it is possible for people who hold similar views on issues of national concern to come together under one umbrella with a view to changing the course of public policies.
- The party system promotes national unity especially in developing countries as it brings together people from diverse background.
- It is practically impossible for a government to function adequately without the existence of at least one party, for example, to mobilize the people in support of government policies.
- Without political parties, it is impossible to talk about democracy.
Demerits Of Party Systems
The limitations of party systems include the following:
- In Nigeria, for example, the party system intensifies the existing differences and division in the society. The collapse of the First Republic was to some extent, due to the failure of the parties to rise above their sectional and ideological differences.
- The legislature may be turned into a battleground by political parties, and this may lead to the fall of the government. The collapse of Nigeria’s First Republic was hastened by the open fighting by parliamentarians of the two major parties in the Western Regional Assembly in May 1962.
- Party connection and affiliation may become the only requirement for top political and public service positions and the award of contracts.
- There may be unhealthy rivalry and competition in the political system. Consequently, political assassination, thuggery, violence, arson and corruption may become ready tools in the hands of ambitious politicians.
- Because of the risk and uncertainty of party politics, top-flight professionals and highly experienced people may lose interest in contesting elections and holding public offices.
- Party leaders may use their privileged position for private gain and self aggrandizements.
Types and Features of Party Systems
There are three types of party system, namely, one party system, two-party system and multi-party system. However, the party systems that exists in a state depends to some extent on the political structure and the constitution of that state.
The features, as well as the advantages and limitations of each party system are explained below.
One-Party or Single Party System
One party system is a system in which there is only one party in a country. It is a very rare occurrence in contemporary times.
In a one-party state, there may be more than one party, but only one party forms the government. The general trend in most African countries since the achievement of independence has been toward the one party system. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly it is argued that since the African states are in a haste to develop, the one-party systems provides the best medium for sharing the national cake adequately. That is, One-Party system facilitates equitable distribution of natural resources and also hastens economic development.
This may not be possible in a Two-Party or Multi Party state where there is lack of co-operation between the government and the opposition parties.
Another argument in support of one-party state is that it eliminates rivalry and competition which would result in the loss of man power and resources.
It is further argued that the one party system reflects the traditional African system in which there is no competition or opposition. Under this system, once a legitimacy has been established, it may never be challenged.
Finally, it is contended that the one party system ensures national integration and consciousness than either the two-party or multi party system.
However, it must be mentioned that the one party system has got some disadvantages. One of these disadvantages is that it may lead to dictatorship as was the case in Ghana under Kwame Krumah.
The one party system also limits the freedom of the citizens. Public opinion is not often respected in a one party state. The citizens are sometimes afraid to express their wishes or speak against the government because they may be arrested for so doing.
Features of One-Party System
- Only one party is allowed to function
- No opposition party is recognised
- The only party contests elections
- Freedom of expression is usually suppressed
- Party leaders occupy top positions in government
Advantages of One-Party System
- One-party system integrates people of differing ethnic, religious and other interest groups under one Political party.
- It creates room for concentrated efforts at governance and economic development due to reduced incidents of political rivalry.
- Incidents of election malpractices will be greatly reduced.
- Communication and relationship between the government and the people is facilitated because ‘the party is the government’.
- One-party system encourages quick decisions and action by the government because decisions taken at the party level are mostly recognised as government policy.
Disadvantages of One-Party System
- One-party system encourages dictatorship because of the absence of rivalry.
- Decision-making is concentrated in the top hierarchy of the party which discourages democracy.
- Succession disputes may occur when a long-tenure charismatic or tyrannical leader leaves office.
- It limits political education since the political experience of the citizenry is limited.
- It limits freedom of expression and of the press.
- Information which reaches the government may be distorted by party officials carrying such Information.
The two – party system on the other hand exists in a State where there are two parties in power, the ruling party and the opposition party. Under this system, the ruling party forms the government and is responsible for policies.
Under the two party system, public opinion is often respected and the government is always mindful of the fact that they are bound to rule according to the wishes of ‘the people‘. This is because there is always an opposition party waiting to take over if and whenever the electorates express a loss of confidence in the ruling party.
Unlike what obtains in a one-party system, the citizens are free to exercise their rights under the two-party system. However, the two party system may sometimes cause delay in taking decisions especially as there is always an opposition party waiting to criticize government policies.
This may also create bitterness among the members of the ruling party and these of the opposition party.
Finally, there is the multi-party system in which case there are several political parties existing in a state. In such cases, more than two parties are usually represented in the legislature.
A multi-plicity of parties can easily lead to the formation of a coalition government. A coalition government is formed, when two or more parties join to form the government.
However, coalition governments are usually weak and unstable, especially if there is no co-operation among the parties in power.
Zero Party System
Zero party system has to do with a standard where political leaders are elected by the people on indvidual basis. There is no political party. Candidates are mostly independent and are elected according to their merits.