Bi-Party System: Meaning, Merits and Demerits of Bi-Party System are described below:
Bi-party system does not mean that a particular country has only two parties and there is no third party in it.
It means there are only two major parties and the rest of the parties are less important.
For example, there are more than two parties in England, viz., Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Party, Fascist and Communist Party.
But in politics, only two parties are important, i.e., the Conservative and the Labour Party. Sometimes the Conservative Party and at other times the Labour Party forms the Government. No seat has been obtained by the Communist and the Fascist Party. In the House of Commons, the Liberal Party has only a few seats.
Similarly in the U.S.A., though there are many parties like the Communist Party, the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party, yet only Republican and Democratic Parties are important and they form the Government. The Communist Party has no importance in the politics.
Thus, there is a bi-party system in the Great Britain and the U.S.A. Where there is a multi-party system, there are more than two important parties in politics. This system prevails in France, West Germany, Italy and certain other countries of Europe.
Merits of Bi-Party System:
The following are the merits of the bi-party system:
(1) Government becomes more stable:
The Government is more stable in a bi-party system, because the party which has a majority in the legislature forms the Government and the other party acts as opposition. Coalition Governments are not formed in a bi-party system. If the ruling party loses the majority in the legislature, the Cabinet tenders its resignation. In such an eventuality, the opposition party forms the Government. It becomes the ruling party and the party which was hitherto for the ruling party, becomes the opposition party.
(2) Direct Election of the Government:
In the second system, the Government is elected by the people directly, because the voters know the party in whose favour they are casting their votes. Thus, the people vote for the party whom they wish to form a Government. For example, if the people in England want a progressive Government, they cast their votes in favour of the Labour Party, and if they like the Conservative Government, they cast their votes in favour of the Conservative Party.
(3) Formation of Government is easier:
In this system, it becomes easy for the Head of the State to decide which party should be invited to form the Government. The Head of the State (President, King or Governor-General) invites the leader of the majority party to form the Government. In this way the majority party forms the Government. If the majority party loses the majority support in the legislature, the Head of the State invites the opposition party to form the Government.
(4) It ensures a strong Government and continuity of Policy:
Because of the stability of the Government in a bi-party system, ii is strong and it can pursued good policy continuously. In contrast to this, the cabinets change very often multi-party system. The Government becomes weak and there is no continuity in the policy. In a bi-party system, the Government is stable and it can formulate long term plans for the welfare of the people. It can also ensure its goodwill to foreign countries.
(5) Responsibility for the failure and shortcomings of the Government easily located in their system:
In a bi-party system, the Government is in the hands of one party, and if it functions well, it can be given credit. But if it fails to perform its duties effectively, it will earn bad name. In this system of Government, it is easy to fix the responsibility and the ruling party cannot shift its responsibility to others, which usually happens in a multi-party system.
(6) Conservative Criticism:
In this system, the opposition party indulges in constructive criticism of the Government because it is well-known to the opposition party that in case of the failure of the Government, it will have to take the responsibility of the Government. In such an eventuality, it will have to remove all those defects for which it had criticised the ruling party.
(7) Commanding Position of the Prime Minister:
In a bi-party system, the position of the Prime Minister is very important because he has work with the co-operation of the other parties, as is done in a multi-party system. In a bi-party system, the Prime Minister enjoys the confidence of his own party. If the Prime Minister has sufficient influence on his party and if his party has sufficient majority in the legislature, he will have no difficulty in running the Government.
Laski has very aptly said, “It is the only method by which the people can at the electoral period directly choose the Government. It enables the government to derive its policy from the statute book. It makes known and intelligible, the results of its failure. It brings an alternate Government into immediate being”.
Disadvantages of Bi-Party System:
(1) Dictatorship of the Cabinet:
In a bi-party system the dictatorship of the cabinet is established as in the case in England, because it has the majority support in the Parliament. In such a situation, the ruling party does not care much for the opposition.
(2) Limited choice before the voters:
When there are only two parties before the electorate, they have to elect one out of the two parties, even if they do not like both the parties. In this way, the electorate loses its freedom of choice. In case there are more than two parties, the choice for the voters becomes wide.
(3) The Prestige of the legislature is lowered:
In a bi-party system, the majority party supports the cabinet. The Prime Minister has a special influence over the Parliament because he is the leader of the House by virtue of his position as the leader of the majority party. With the help of his majority party he can get the Bills, budget, policies and treaties passed in the way he likes. In case he is not supported by the Parliament, he can recommend to the Head of the State for the dissolution of the Lower House. Therefore, the Parliament is a sort of puppet in the hands of the Prime Minister.
(4) Dictatorship of the Majority Party:
In this system the dictatorship of the majority party is established and it cares little for the opposition, because it enjoys a majority in the Parliament.
(5) It divides the nation into two Irreconcilable camps:
When there are only two parties in a country, there is a great difference in their ideologies and there is great controversy over the basic policies in the country.
(6) All shades of opinion are opinions are not represented in the legislature:
Where there are only two parties, the voters have no freedom to express their views. Where there are many parties, the voters cast their votes to the parties of their choice. In this way, all shades of opinion are given representation.