Dominant-party system

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A dominant-party system, or one-party dominant system is a political system in which opposition groups or parties are permitted, but a single party dominates election results.[1] Any ruling party staying in power for more than one consecutive term may be considered a dominant (also referred to as predominant or hegemonic) party.[2]

Between 1950 and 2017, more than 130 countries were included in the list of dominant-party systems, i.e. almost every state in the World on national, sub-national and district levels, both democratic and authoritarian[3].

Contemporary examples include United Russia (UR) in Russia, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in Serbia,[4][5] the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in Venezuela, the New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) in Azerbaijan, Georgian Dream in Georgia, Nur Otan in Kazakhstan, the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT) in Tajikistan, the Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party in Uzbekistan, Fidesz in Hungary, the People's Action Party (PAP) in Singapore, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa,[6] the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan,[6] the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) in Cambodia, the Awami League in Bangladesh, ZANU–PF in Zimbabwe, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in Botswana, the MPLA in Angola, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) in Rwanda, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) in Samoa and the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD–FDD) in Burundi.


Critics of the "dominant party" theory argue that it views the meaning of democracy as given, and that it assumes that only a particular conception of representative democracy (in which different parties alternate frequently in power) is valid.[6] Raymond Suttner, himself a former leader of the African National Congress (ANC), argues that "the dominant party 'system' is deeply flawed as a mode of analysis and lacks explanatory capacity. But it is also a very conservative approach to politics. Its fundamental political assumptions are restricted to one form of democracy, electoral politics and hostile to popular politics. This is manifest in the obsession with the quality of electoral opposition and its sidelining or ignoring of popular political activity organised in other ways. The assumption in this approach is that other forms of organisation and opposition are of limited importance or a separate matter from the consolidation of their version of democracy."[6]

One of the dangers of dominant parties is "the tendency of dominant parties to conflate party and state and to appoint party officials to senior positions irrespective of their having the required qualities."[6] However, in some countries this is common practice even when there is no dominant party.[6] In contrast to one-party systems, dominant-party systems can occur within a context of a democratic system. In a one-party system other parties are banned, but in dominant-party systems other political parties are tolerated, and (in democratic dominant-party systems) operate without overt legal impediment, but do not have a realistic chance of winning; the dominant party genuinely wins the votes of the vast majority of voters every time (or, in authoritarian systems, claims to). Under authoritarian dominant-party systems, which may be referred to as "electoralism" or "soft authoritarianism", opposition parties are legally allowed to operate, but are too weak or ineffective to seriously challenge power, perhaps through various forms of corruption, constitutional quirks that intentionally undermine the ability for an effective opposition to thrive, institutional and/or organizational conventions that support the status quo, occasional but not omnipresent political repression, or inherent cultural values averse to change.

In some states opposition parties are subject to varying degrees of official harassment and most often deal with restrictions on free speech (such as press laws), lawsuits against the opposition, and rules or electoral systems (such as gerrymandering of electoral districts) designed to put them at a disadvantage. In some cases outright electoral fraud keeps the opposition from power. On the other hand, some dominant-party systems occur, at least temporarily, in countries that are widely seen, both by their citizens and outside observers, to be textbook examples of democracy. An example of a genuine democratic dominant-party system would be the pre-Emergency India, which was almost universally viewed by all as being a democratic state, even though the only major national party at that time was the Indian National Congress. The reasons why a dominant-party system may form in such a country are often debated: supporters of the dominant party tend to argue that their party is simply doing a good job in government and the opposition continuously proposes unrealistic or unpopular changes, while supporters of the opposition tend to argue that the electoral system disfavors them (for example because it is based on the principle of first past the post), or that the dominant party receives a disproportionate amount of funding from various sources and is therefore able to mount more persuasive campaigns. In states with ethnic issues, one party may be seen as being the party for an ethnicity or race with the party for the majority ethnic, racial or religious group dominating, e.g., the African National Congress in South Africa (governing since 1994) has strong support amongst Black South Africans and the Ulster Unionist Party governed Northern Ireland from its creation in 1921 until 1972 with the support of the Protestant majority.

Sub-national entities are often dominated by one party due to the area's demographic being on one end of the spectrum. For example, the current elected government of the District of Columbia has been governed by Democrats since its creation in the 1970s, Bavaria by the Christian Social Union since 1957, Madeira by the Social Democrats since 1976, and Alberta by Progressive Conservatives from 1971 to 2015. On the other hand, where the dominant party rules nationally on a genuinely democratic basis, the opposition may be strong in one or more subnational areas, possibly even constituting a dominant party locally; an example is South Africa, where although the African National Congress is dominant at the national level, the opposition Democratic Alliance is strong to dominant in the Province of Western Cape.

Current dominant-party systems




Canada's House of Commons, the lower house of the Parliament of Canada, operates under a multi-party system, although every federal election since 1867 has seen in essence only two federal parties win enough seats to form a government: the Liberal Party, and various iterations of a conservative party including the now defunct Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the Conservative Party, which governed from 2006 to 2015. While federally, the Liberals and Conservatives generally dominate federal politics, provincial political parties are not directly affiliated with their federal counterparts, and several have formed majority and minority governments on a provincial level.

The Liberal Party of Canada was the dominant party in the federal government of Canada for so much of its history that it is sometimes given the moniker "Canada's natural governing party".[13] The party ruled for most of the 20th century between 1935 and 1984 (the only exceptions being in 1957–1963 and 1979–1980), as well as 1896–1911, 1921–1930 (save a few months), and 1993–2006, with a total of 81 years governed in the past 120 years (as of 2019). After a decade in opposition, the Liberals have returned to power following the 2015 election and was re-elected in the 2019 election. [14]

United States

As a whole, the nation has a two-party system, with the main parties since the mid-19th century being Democratic Party and the Republican Party. However, some states and cities have been dominated by one of these parties for up to several decades. Generally, the Democratic Party dominate in the urban metropolitan areas, while the Republican Party dominate in the rural areas. Following the 2018 elections, the Republican Party continued to hold a majority of State Legislatures and a majority of Governorships. However the Democratic Party won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, while the Republican Party increased their majority in the Senate, resulting in a split Congress. As a consequence of Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 elections, the Republican Party also controls the Presidency.

Dominated by the Democratic Party:

Dominated by the Republican Party:

Dominant-party systems can also exist on native reservations with republican forms of government. The Seneca Nation of Indians, a tribe with territory within the bounds of New York State, has had the Seneca Party as the dominant party in its political system for several decades.

Asia and Oceania



including the then leader, Luís Marques Mendes, say NO) No: 65.40%

Formerly dominant parties

North America

Caribbean and Central America

South America






  1. ^ Presidents in Singapore are not allowed to belong to any party.
  2. ^ a b c The predecessors of the ÖVP are the Christian Social Party ruled from 1907 to the renaming 1933 and the Fatherland Front ruled from 1933 to the Anschluss 1938.
  3. ^ a b Formerly its predecessors Italian Socialist Party (before 1924), PCI, PDS and DS.
  4. ^ Formerly its predecessors People's Labor Party (with SHP), People's Democracy Party, Democratic People's Party, Thousand Hope Candidates and Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc.

See also


  1. ^ Prior to 1942, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario was formally known as the Liberal-Conservative Association of Ontario.


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