A dominant-party system, or one party dominant system, is a party system where only one political party can realistically become the government, by itself or in a coalition government. Under what has been 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, or finally, and most controversially, inherent cultural values averse to change.
Not all dominant-party systems are undemocratic. In many cases, such as the presidency of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or the government of Tommy Douglas in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, sheer populism can keep the momentum of a government going for quite some time. In other cases, sheer inertia preserves the dominant party, as with the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, where some argue the Japanese people as well as Japanese special interests have gotten so accustomed to LDP rule that until quite recently they might have found it hard to imagine it any other way. However, others point out that until 1993 Japanese electoral districts suffered quite sever malapportionment, ranging from 1:2 ratio to extreme of 1:6 ration vote per candidate which favour LDP. In Canada, the federal government has been dominated by the Liberal Party of Canada since 1896, with governments of the Conservative Party of Canada and its predecessors forming a number of short-lived governments in comparison to the longer periods of Liberal Party rule.
Thus in contrast to single-party systems, which are almost always authoritarian, dominant-party systems can occur within a context of a democratic system. In a single-party system other parties are banned, but in dominant-party systems other political parties are tolerated, and (in democratic dominant-party systems) operate without any 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).
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 clubs), lawsuits against the opposition, rules or electoral systems (such as gerrymandering of electoral districts) designed to put them at a disadvantage. In some cases outright electoral fraud keep the opposition from power. On the other hand, some dominant-party system occur in countries that are widely seen, both by their citizens and outside observers, to be textbook examples of democracy. 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.
Current dominant-party systems
The following countries appear to be run by dominant-party systems:
- Popular Rally for Progress
- Rassemblement populaire pour le Progrès (RPP)
- Led by President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in office since 8 May 1999
- In power since its formation in 1979
- Sole legal party, 1979–92
- Presidential election, 2005: Ismail Omar Guelleh (RPP) re-elected unopposed
- Parliamentary election, 2003: RPP in coalition, 62.4% and 65 of 65 seats
- Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea
- Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial (PDGE)
- Led by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, in office since 3 August 1979
- In power since its formation in 1987
- Sole legal party, 1987–91
- Presidential election, 2002: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (PDGE) 97.1%
- Parliamentary election, 2004: PDGE 47.5% and 68 of 100 seats (91.9% and 98 of 100 seats including allies)
- Party of Unity and Progress
- Parti de l'Unité et du Progrès (PUP)
- Led by President Lansana Conté, in office since 3 April 1984
- In power since its formation in 1991
- Presidential election, 2003: Lansana Conté (PUP) 95.6%
- Parliamentary election, 2002: PUP 61.6% and 47 of 76 seats
Western Saharas Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
- Liberal Party of Canada
- Has ruled Canada for long, uninterrupted periods of time such as from 1896 to 1911, 1935 to 1957 (this being the longest period of time in office for the Liberal Party at 22 years in total), 1963 to 1979 (followed by less than a year of rule by the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and then another Liberal government from 1980 to 1984), and 1993 to 2006. Has been out of office since 2006.
- The Canadian province of Alberta has been ruled continuously by the Progressive Conservatives since August 30, 1971. Prior to that, the Social Credit Party held power for 36 years starting on August 22, 1935.
- The Mayor of Chicago has been held by a member of the Democratic Party since 1927. The City Council is composed entirely of members of the Democratic Party except for one member.
Republic of Ireland
- Fianna Fáil have been the dominant government party since 1987, except for a 30-month period in 1994-1997. The next election is scheduled for 2012, by which time the party will have held power for 23 of 25 years. Fianna Fáil have taken the largest number of seats in all Dáil Éireann elections since 1932.
- The Partit Nazzjonalista has democratically been the sole governing party in Malta since 1987, except for a brief 22-month period between 1996 and 1998. It won elections held in 1987, 1992, 1998, 2003 and 2008, each time defeating the left-of-centre Malta Labour Party. Since 1966 there have only been these two parties represented in the Maltese Parliament.
- Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (founded 1943, League of Communists of Montenegro up to 22 June 1991, Communist Party of Montenegro up to 1952)
- Demokratska Partija Socijalista Crne Gore (founded 1943, Savez Komunista Crne Gore [SKCG] up to 22 June 1991, Komunistička Partija Crne Gore [KPCG] up to 1952)
- Led by Milo Đukanović, Prime Minister since 29 February 2008 (PM in three terms from 15 February 1991 to 5 February 1998 and then again from 8 January 2003 to 10 November 2006, President in 15 January 1998 to 25 November 2002; acting Defense Minister from June 2006 to 10 November 2006)
- in power since establishment of Communist rule in Yugoslavia in 1945
- Sole legal party, 1945–90
- Presidential election, 2003: Filip Vujanović (DPS CG), 63.04%
- Parliamentary election, 2006: DPS CG in coalition, 47.65% and 40 of 81 seats
In Sweden, the Social Democrats have been the ruling party almost constantly since World War II. All party leaders since 1907 have served as Prime Minister at some point. In 2006 a right-wing government was elected, but only after its component parties moved their policies significantly to the left.
Former dominant-party systems
Countries which have since lost their one party dominance include:
- Arguably, the Democratic-Republican Party was a dominant party nationwide in the United States during the Era of Good Feelings. Also, the Democratic Party was dominant in the Southern United States from the end of Reconstruction to the 1960s (the Solid South) and across much of the nation during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Republicans won 14 out of 19 presidential elections from 1860 to 1932, while the Democrats won five consecutive elections from 1932 to 1948.
- The Democratic Party was the dominant party at the federal level in the United States from 1933 to 1969. The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for all but six of these 36 years, and the Presidency for all but eight.
- The Colorado Party of 19th- and 20th-century Uruguay
- The Liberal Party of Colombia from 1863 to 1880
- The Liberal Party of Guatemala from 1871 to 1944
- The Partido Autonomista Nacional of Argentina from 1874 to 1916
- The Colorado Party of Paraguay from 1880-1904 and then 1947-2008. They were the sole legal party from 1947-1962.
- Since 1896, the Liberal Party of Canada has held either majority or minority control of the government for 79 out of 111 years, not including four years of coalition government from 1917-21. The Progressive Conservatives and the Conservatives have held outright majorities for only 24 years in the same timespan, though the Conservatives do currently hold power in Parliament, albeit in a minority government. Inclusion of the Liberals is debatable, as even during long stretches of electoral losses (between 1963 and 1984 for example) the Progressive Conservatives were seen by the media and the public as real contenders for government.
- The Christian Social People's Party (and its predecessor Party of the Right in Luxembourg has held office for all but five years since 1914.
- The Partido Revolucionario Institucional in Mexico from the 1920s until 2000
- The Norwegian Labour Party ruling from 1935 to 1965, though it has been the biggest party in Norway since 1927 and has been in power many other times.
- The Nacionalista Party in the Philippines was the dominant party during various times in the nation's history from 1935-1941, during 1945, from 1954-1961, and from 1966-1972
- The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario , in Ontario (in Canada) from 1943 to 1985.
- The Indian National Congress from 1947 to 1977.
- The Muslim League in Pakistan from 1947 to 1958.
- The Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League in Burma (now Myanmar) from 1948 to 1962.
- Democrazia Cristiana in Italy from 1948 to 1992 (usually in coalition with a group of smaller centrist parties). The only other major party, the Italian Communist Party, was prevented from taking power due to the Cold War.
- The National Party in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
- The Liberal-Country Party Coalition government of Australia between 1949 and 1972 can also be considered an example of a former dominant party system.
- The Labor Party (under various names, including Mapai, The Alignment, and Ha'Avoda--i.e. Labor) in Israel until 1977
- The Christian Democratic Union in Germany from 1949 to 1969 (usually in coalition with the Liberals and smaller conservative groups).
- The Popular Democratic Party in Puerto Rico from 1949 to 1969.
- The Revolutionary Nationalist Movement in Bolivia from 1952 to 1964.
- The Antigua Labour Party in Antigua and Barbuda from 1960-1971 and 1976-2004.
- The People's Progressive Party in The Gambia from 1965 to 1994.
- The Golkar (Acronym of Golongan Karya or Functional Group) in Indonesia from 1971 to 1999.
- Kilusang Bagong Lipunan in the Philippines from 1978-1986.
- The Socialist Party of Serbia in Yugoslavia from 1992 to 2000.