Amusingly, in most large "multi-party" parliamentary democracies, there are... two large, stable parties which actually govern (in the sense that no other party or coalition of other parties will ever be able to form a government) and occasionally a third which gets just large enough to play kingmaker before the system re-stabilizes.
More amusingly, the standard complaint in this setup is the disproportionate power which the small parties wield - since it is often necessary for the larger parties to form coalitions with the smaller ones, and the smaller ones, catering to specific niches, are not accountable to larger electorate and thus are not afraid to offend it by openly extorting the larger parties. The second complaint is an inherent instability of such system - as soon as smaller ones are paid, or as soon as larger ones are unable to keep paying (paying doesn't have to be money, of course - can be policies, appointments, etc.) the coalition breaks down and the shopping season starts again.
I'm not sure which one is the better - having only two choices which are roughly equally bad or having multiple choices two of which are equally bad and then also must buy the votes of the choices which are even worse.
> The second complaint is an inherent instability of such system - as soon as smaller ones are paid, or as soon as larger ones are unable to keep paying (paying doesn't have to be money, of course - can be policies, appointments, etc.) the coalition breaks down and the shopping season starts again.
To me this reads like an extremely cynical interpretation of what "working together" looks like. As someone who lives in a country with this style of government, I would hardly interpret it like that.
It's more like niches actually have a voice because they control some of the vote. I had never really seen that as a bad thing until you put it in those terms.
In reality, the leading parties can still govern, they'll just have a harder time pushing pet legislation through without the co-operation of the other parties. The other parties use that to their advantage so they and their constituents can be heard.
> offend [the electorate] by openly extorting the larger parties
How is this extortion exactly? In a system like this, the ruling party can still lead just fine, they just don't get unilateral control over everything if they don't get that much of the vote. I don't know how that can be spun as a bad thing.
It all depends on political culture. If the voters for the small parties are community-minded enough to not let their representatives go too far - it may work. If not - it would be a mess. "Constituents to be heard" can mean very different things - from actual concerns of minority to pure and overt bribery. It sometimes comes to minor parties openly saying "if you don't give us one minister post, X percent of the budget and except our constituency from Y legislation that hurts their pockets - we won't vote with you". Of course, it happens in 2-party system too - see what happens with unions and other "vote contractors".
>> In a system like this, the ruling party can still lead just fine
The whole point that it can't without a stable majority. You need majority to pass budgets, appropriations, appoint officials, etc. And if your opponents can get a majority - even temporary - they can pass a law dissolving the government and declaring new elections at any time they think they'd have advantage. Imagine something bad happening on your watch and next week opposition declaring you are at fault and calling for new elections because they think now the vote will swing their way. If the citizens are willing to accept this kind of games - and in many countries they frequently are - it will work. It sounds cynical, but I have seen such things happen. It is exactly as disgusting as you think it is, but it is what it is.
> Imagine something bad happening on your watch and next week opposition declaring you are at fault and calling for new elections because they think now the vote will swing their way.
As someone who has only lived under this system of government, I find it hilarious to see this phrased as a bad thing. Having scheduled elections with the insane run-up the US has is so, SO much more painful.
"Call an election" here means a quick, 30 day race. The US election feels like it starts the moment the previous one finishes. I would much rather have somewhat more frequent elections that are quick and painless than the scheduled, drawn out slaughter-fest that is American presidential elections.
> If the citizens are willing to accept this kind of games
I really don't see the "game" in a party stopping bad legislation from screwing things up by dissolving government. FFS it's not like it happens every time they have a little spat. Usually it is major things like the budget. I have no problem with a party being forced out because they can't collaborate on a budget.
If you have to vote for a budget, you have to have a majority, and everybody knows that. And small parties know you'd have to pay them if you want the budget passed. Between those, you have also some agenda you probably want to advance, and this requires majority too. So unless the principle of the ruling party is to make as litte laws and humanly possible - and don't get me wrong, I'd love such party, but it is very rare - they'd have to form a majority, even if temporary. And the temporary one is more dangerous because you'd have to pay each time you need it.
Italy is in no way unique at this, of course, there are many more countries with same problems.
A glance over the wiki pages for countries that use FPTP and PR suggests that PR at least correlates better with sanity.
My personal beef with FPTP is that it devolves so much power to the party base - since you can't start new parties around new ideas (and test whether the voters like the ideas), the best way to make things happen is to just get involved with local politics and influence people within the party. Since voters are so entrenched, your ideas have to be really terrible and large scale before they affect your party's chances. This means that instead of being influenced by the electorate, parties are more influenced by the personalities within them.
The upstream comment by AnthonyMouse mentioned "approval voting or the like"; in that context, ubernostrum's comment about parliamentary democracy is a bit of a red herring.
In the parliamentary system, those third (or fourth, etc.) parties are actually elected and have power, right? While a non-parliamentary approval-voting system would allow people to vote for a third party and also help elect their preferred major-party candidate. That could sidestep the "forming a government" parliamentary negotiation process.
How that would actually look in practice, I'm not sure. Would it actually help those third parties if they get votes but don't get elected? Would third parties be able to "extort" major parties just by offering pre-election endorsements? How many of those third party candidates would actually end up in the legislature? I don't know if it's been tried at scale.
It's not a binary choice. Of course, you always have local versions of republicans and democrats. Of course, it can lead to unstability (Italy, pre-1958 France) with an undue amount of power for smaller parties.
But the way it actually works is how proportional the vote is, eg, what minimum does a party need to get an MP seat. If you set the minimum too high, all the smaller parties are excluded, if it's too low, the lunatics run the asylum. You have to have the right balance, which will also depend on the political landscape in your country (eg, the more proportional Danish system seems to work OK given the nation's culture of political consensus).