There are many different kinds of party systems in the world of global politics. While the United States has long utilized a two-party system, some countries go with one-party system and even systems with more than two parties. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and it is difficult to say which system is better. In truth, it is likely that each system can work in a given country if the right conditions exist. However, there are tangible differences that must be understood when conducting analysis of each.
A one-party state is a country that has a single party that has the right to form the entire government without the interference of another party. This does not necessarily mean the single party has the right to do whatever it wants. In some cases, there are constitutional principles that constrain what the single party can do. China is an excellent example of a country with a one-party state. One of the advantages of these states, as evidenced by China, is the ability to enact sweeping reform when necessary. China’s political climate has been fast-moving, especially in regard to fiscal policy. Because of the single party system, there has been a unique ability to enact that party’s agenda without the grind of a multi-party system. One of the weaknesses of a one party system that political opponents can sometimes be excluded. Corruption can also fester. China has been dealing with significant government and private sector corruption over the years.
The US, of course, provides the classic example of a country with a two-party system. In the American system, each party views for seats through elections. While it is true that there are third parties that could potentially take power, the practical reality in the US is that those parties have very little influence on the political system. One of the real strengths of the two-party system is that it ensures that small, incremental change will take place. If a country has something good going on and has a government system that does not need massive upheaval, then the two-party system can protect the status quo. Likewise, it can allow for productive debate. When there are two hardened positions, it allows for good debate not only between the two parties, but within the two parties. Importantly, there is also the problem with two-party systems that must be acknowledged. That is that two-party countries tend to lack the ability to bring about changes that need to happen. In two-party systems, a country can grow quite stagnant in nature, which can hurt the country if there are major problems, such as climate change, that need immediate attention.
A multi-party system is unique in both its advantages and disadvantages. India is a good example of a country with this sort of system. These systems are often parliamentary systems rather than first past the pole systems, which means that the people elected are there based on the proportion of the voting rather than who gets the most votes. These systems have some advantages, including the ability for those parties with fringe ideas to have official power. In the American system, people on the fringe have to join with one of the two big parties and try to change it from within. In a multi-party system, they have the ability to have an actual say. One of the disadvantages is that things can be quite hectic in a multi-party system. With so many parties competing for attention, the political gamesmanship between the parties, with individual parties joining together to form coalitions, can make it difficult to know what to expect. This can have a negative impact on the economy because of the uncertainty inherent in the interactions.
Ultimately there are many systems, with each having its own set of advantages. Different countries have utilized different systems with varying levels of success. In general, countries tend to adjust to whatever system they choose to use.
- Nikolenyi, Csaba. “Party Inflation in India: Why Has a Multi-Party Format Prevailed in the National Party System?.” Duverger’s Law of Plurality Voting. Springer New York, 2009. 97-114.
- O’brien, Kevin J., and Lianjiang Li. “Accommodating “democracy” in a one-party state: Introducing village elections in China.” The China Quarterly 162 (2000): 465-489.
- Riker, William H. “The two-party system and Duverger’s law: an essay on the history of political science.” American Political Science Review 76.04 (1982): 753-766.