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A Comparison of Political Systems: Multi-party vs. Two-party
 

A Comparison of Political Systems: Multi-party vs. Two-party

TestFunda ,  18-Nov-08

Stakeholders: India, USA, two-party democratic systems, multi-party democratic systems

Background

·         The recent election in the US has once again brought the focus on the debate whether a two-party system of democracy is better than multi-party system (more than two parties).

·         The US, the world’s oldest democracy, has traditionally followed a two-party system. India, on the other hand, has taken the latter route. Both systems have their pros and cons.

Key Points

·         In the US, elections have been traditionally contested between the Republicans and the Democrats.

·         Both parties have their own policies and views on various issues, such as health care, foreign affairs, internal security, employment, outsourcing and the war on terror.

·         Every four years, both parties nominate candidates to contest the post of the President of the US.

·         The President is elected by the Electoral College, which is a body of popularly elected representatives from each state.       

·         In a multi-party system, various national and regional parties field candidates to contest elections to represent constituencies. Each state has a different number of constituencies depending on the size and population.

·         The party which has a majority of elected representatives has the right to form the government and choose the Prime Minister.

Why a multi-party system is better

·         Restricting choice to two parties limits the number of ideas on every issue and reduces each voter's choice. Each of the two parties has fixed views on various topics. A voter who supports the view of one party on a topic but supports the view of the other party on another topic is forced to compromise one of his views.

·         A multi-party system, on the other hand, allows each citizen to vote for the party that best fits their beliefs and represents their ideology.

·         Countries like the US and India are known for the diversity of their population. Two parties are not enough to represent this diversity.

·         A multi-party system is more responsive to a change or shift in public opinion. Two-party systems are not as flexible because they have a more or less rigid set of opinions on every issue.

·         To win an election, each party in a two-party system is forced to moderate its views. Thus, each party represents the radically moderate, and not the conservative and liberal wings. As is evident in India, the multi-party system also caters to people with extreme views.

·         If the voter turnout is very low, the votes that the winning party gets would actually only represent a minority of the population.

·         Some voters tend to have one issue that determines which party they will vote for. In a two-party system, opposing parties tend to take opposite sides on many issues. These "one issue voters" will automatically vote for the party that represents their view on the one issue, even though they may disagree with most of their other positions.

·         Since the two parties have completely opposing views on issues, they tend to reverse the policies of the previous government when voted into power. This does not benefit the state in the long run.

·         A multi-party system prevents the leadership of a single party from setting policy without challenge.

·         If any one party in a two-party system becomes weak, a dominant-party system may develop.

·         In a two-party system, candidates are motivated to run negative campaigns, pointing out the flaws in the "other person" (usually the leader of the other party).

Why a two-party system is better

·         The two-party system presents voters a simple choice.

·         Since the parties in a two party system have to moderate radical views, they follow public opinion better than a multi-party system would.

·         If the majority opinion is split among a large number of parties, it is possible that a party representing a minority view may prevail over the majority in a multi-party system. In this sense, the two-party system protects the majority from the minority.

·         In a multi-party system, even parties with extremely radical views have a chance to be elected to power. This could result in chaotic and disastrous reforms. The moderate approach of a two-party system negates this possibility.

·         There is no real control or limit over the number of parties. Sometimes, no single party is able to get a clear majority. This leads to hung parliaments and coalition politics, as has been the case in India for sometime now.

·         Coalition partners often tend to use their clout to get their way on key issues. This can be very detrimental to progress.

·         There is very little chance of a coalition government in a two-party system. This provides for stable governance.

 

More Links

·         The stability of multi-party democracy in India

·         No Major Shakeup Likely in U.S. Two-Party Political System

Group Discussion Topics

1.       Will a two-party system work best for India?

For

·         It will put an end to coalition politics. The declared agenda of the contesting parties won’t change as a result of any coalition formed after the election.

·         The elected government will be able to function without any undue pressure. It will be able to take crucial decisions without having to succumb to the demands of coalition partners. For example, India could have signed the Civilian Nuclear Deal with the US far earlier had it not been for coalition politics.

·         It is far easier to choose between two candidates, rather than studying the policies of different parties before making a choice.

·         Both parties in a two-party system tend to be moderate in their views on all issues. This automatically rules out any radical ideas being implemented by the government.

·         For all practical purposes, there are only two real major players on the political scene anyway. The smaller parties do play significant roles, but can never hope to form the government on their own.

·         Leaders of the UPA could seriously consider making the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) a national party. The coalition already has a Common Minimum Program. It can be broadened into a party manifesto. The BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) can follow suit, resulting in a two-party system at the national level.

Against    

·         A two-party system will not be able to fully represent a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, large country like India, where people speak different languages and have different takes on various issues.

·         A multi-party coalition ensures that a proper check is kept on the government. For example, the UPA government had a tough time going ahead with the Civilian Nuclear Deal because some parties that supported it were against it.

·         Stability is undesirable in a democracy. It results in complacency, which could lead to poor governance.

·         For a developing country like India it is necessary to have a pool of ideas and thoughts on every issue. In a two-party system, the number of ideas is always restricted.

·         In a two-party system of governance, newly elected governments tend to reverse the policies of the previous government. This could lead to instability, especially in the transition phase.

·         A two-party system forces people to compromise on some of their values and choose the party that represents their view the best, rather than entirely.

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