Multiparty systems

Multi-party systems By far the most common party system found in democracies, a multi-party system is one in which several parties each win enough seats in the legislature to become serious contenders for a place in a governing coalition. The underlying dynamic is that political parties represent specific social groups (or opinion constituencies such as environmentalists) in divided societies. The legislature then serves as an arena of conciliation, with coalitions forming and falling in response to often minor changes in the political balance. Europe exemplifies the phenomenon, most countries in the region having parties drawn from some, but not all, of nine major party families . A good example is offered by Denmark, where no party has held a majority in the unicameral Folketing since 1909. The country’s complex party system has been managed through careful consensus-seeking but this practice has come under some pressure from the rise of new parties. In an explosive election in 1973, three new parties achieved representation and, since then, a minimum of seven parties have won seats in the legislature. The centre-right ‘Blue’ coalition that followed the 2015 election comprised five of these, controlling 90 seats, or just five more than the opposition five-party ‘Red’ coalition.

Far left Communists (France, Portugal), Left Party (Sweden), Podemos (Spain), Syriza (Greece).

Green Alliance ’90/the Greens (Germany), Green League (Finland), Greens (Sweden).

Social Democrat Social Democrats (Denmark, Finland, Sweden), Democratic Party (Italy), Labour (UK and Ireland), Socialists (France), Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party.

Christian Democrat Christian Democratic Union (Germany), Fine Gael (Ireland), People’s Party (Spain), Polish People’s Party.

Conservative Conservative Party (UK, Norway).

Centre Centre Party (Finland, Norway, Sweden), Free Democrats (Germany), Civic Platform (Poland).

Liberal People’s Party (Netherlands), Venstre (Denmark), Liberal Democrats (UK), Liberals (Sweden), La République En Marche! (France).

Far right New Flemish Alliance (Belgium), National Front (France), Party for Freedom (Netherlands), Sweden Democrats, Alternative for Germany, Law and Justice (Poland), Fidesz (Hungary).

Regional Scottish National Party, Christian Social Union (Bavaria), New Flemish Alliance (Belgium).

Brazil has developed a particularly colourful multi-party system since its return to civilian government in 1985. No fewer than 28 parties won seats in the 2014 elections to the Chamber of Deputies, representing a wide range of opinions and interests that coalesced into a pro-government coalition, two opposition coalitions, and a cluster of stand-alone parties. Twelve parties each had less than ten members, and the pro-government coalition contained nine parties that together controlled 59 per cent of the seats. The picture in Brazil is complicated by a widespread aversion to right-wing parties (stemming from the heritage of the military years), weak discipline within many of the smaller parties, and the powerful role played by other actors, such as state governors. The result is a system that has been labelled ‘coalition presidentialism’, describing presidents who must rely on large and unstable coalitions to pass legislation (Gómez Bruera, 2013). Two important elements of multi-party systems in several countries are niche parties that operate outside traditional party divisions , and parties that operate only at the regional level, or at the state level in federations. In the latter case, Britain – for example – has parties that represent the interests of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, while the German Christian Democratic Union is in a sustained coalition with the Christian Social Union, which operates only in the state of Bavaria. Few countries off er a more varied array of regional parties than India, where such parties now play an expanded role in national politics. For example, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance relied heavily after the 2009 elections on regional parties in the states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra. The 2014 election resulted in an 11-seat majority for the Bharatiya Janata Party, but it continued to be part of a coalition originally formed in 1998, in which it worked with nearly 30 regional parties with nearly 60 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower chamber of the Indian parliament