Two Party System | Definition, Features, Merits & Demerits
The two party system is a system in which there are two major political parties of nearly equal strength and a few minor parties that may be too small to have any major influence on the outcome of an election, although a third party may arise which threatens to, and sometimes does supplant one of the two large parties.
It does not necessarily mean therefore that there are only two parties in a two-party system. There may be more than two parties but two only are dominant.
In the 2001 parliamentary elections held in Britain, for example, the Liberal Party won almost 20 percent of the votes thereby posing a threat to the two major parties, namely, the Conservative Party and Labour Party. Besides Britain, the system also operates in the United States and Israel.
This party system was also adopted in Nigeria’s Third Republic when the Ibrahim Babangida Government created the NRC and the SDP.
Characteristics of Two Party System
The two party system has the following features:
- Two Major Political Parties: There are only two major political parties, that are legally and constitutionally recognised. However, there may be in existence more than two political parties contesting elections.
- Opposition Party: Opposition party is legally recognised in a two-party system.
- Choice: There is room and opportunity for choice of candidates and parties.
- It Is Democratic: It accommodates democratic princples and allows the operation of the rule of law.
- Press Freedom: Two party system allows for press freedom, no censorship.
- Change of Government: Change of government is possible because there is the provision for periodic elections. The electorate still have the power to change government that are not responsive and accountable.
- Corrective Party: The opposition party is seen as a corrective party in government. It watches over and criticises some of the policies of the ruling party.
Merits of Two Party System
- Choice: Two-party system makes for choice between political parties. The party with better programme is chosen by the electorate.
- Provision of Strong Opposition: In this system, one party forms the government, the other, opposition. In Britain, for example, Labour Party is the ruling party and Conservative Party serves as the opposition.
- It Makes For Good Governance: The duty of the opposition party is to watch and criticise the government over bad policies. lt makes the government cautious in its policy formulation and implementation.
- It Ensures Stability: Stability is ensured and the reason is that there is no room for a coalition government which may create a weak and unstable government.
- It Is Democratic: There is the opportunity for freedom of choice and association.
- Easy Identification: People can easily identify the strength and weaknesses of the party in government.
- Change of Government: Change of government is possible, because the provision for periodic elections is entrenched in the constitution.
Demerits / Criticism of Two Party System
- Division of the country into two factions: There is the possibility of two-party system dividing the country into two opposing factions. This can affect national unity.
- It does not promote unity: The struggle for power within the system may not promote national unity.
- It may lead to a one party state: If one of the two parties holds office for a long time, the other may dissolve into the ruling party.
- Electoral Malpractices: This is possible because each party would want to be in power, also, subsequent elections maybe manipulated by the ruling party, through incumbency apparatus.
- Unhealthy party rivalry: Intimidations, victimization of political opponents, threats, etc, could result from two party system.
- Waste of the nation’s resources: Most of the resources are wasted in conducting elections and in the maintenance of two political parties.