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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
A multi-party system is wheremany parties compete for power and government will often pass between coalitions formed by different combinations of parties (e.g. Italy, Israel). This is distinct from other party systems, particularly the two party system, where power and government passes between only two parties.
In the vast majority of multi-party systems, numerous major and minor political parties will hold a serious chance of holding office. This level of competition means that it is unlikely that one party will control the country’s legislature, which forces the creation of a coalition.
Multi-party systems are far more commonin countries that use proportional representation as their election system than countries that use first past the post elections. It tends to reflect better the range of a population’s views.
The UK has been edging towards a multi-party system in the past few years. The use of proportional representation in elections other than Westminster means the electorate have got used to voting for smaller parties, which helps explain why they make up 33% of the vote even for the Westminster General election.
UKIP achieved 124 second places in the 2015 election, and the SNP won 56 seats. Anyone who could mobilise the 33% of the population who didn’t vote could actually win. Some now argue that the voting system should change to reflect this move to multi-party politics.