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In the Dutch general election, 2012, 11 parties entered parliament.

In the opinion polls for the upcoming election, 14 parties are deemed to have a good chance to enter parliament.

In the German federal election, 1930, 15 parties entered parliament. No recent German election comes close because in post-war (West) Germany, because a 5% electoral threshold makes it much harder for small parties to enter (which was partly motivated by the Weimar Republic polarisation that contributed to the political stalemate in which Hitler rose to power).

What is the largest number of parties that ever entered a national parliament in a general election?

  • A good question... but kinda curious, why do you care? – David Grinberg Mar 1 '17 at 16:41
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    @DavidGrinberg Wondering if there are other historical precedents to compare to, besides the ill-fated Weimar republic. Perhaps I should phrase it differently and ask on History. – gerrit Mar 1 '17 at 17:03
  • One could argue that in countries with direct majority voting, e.g. the UK, every single MP kind of forms its own party before election and only later kind of joins some kind of group in Parliament. Following this line, the UK Parliament would consist of about 600 one-person parties. – Trilarion Feb 9 '18 at 8:57
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    @Trilarion Perhaps one could, but I would disagree with such an argument. For many candidates, the fact that they can label their candidacy with a political party affiliation is instrumental to being elected. The rarity of successful independent candidates shows how hard it is to win without such a label. – gerrit Feb 9 '18 at 11:17
  • Okay, but even then, UK Parliament now has 8-15 parties: Conservatives, Democratic Unionists, Labour, Scottish Nationals, Liberal Democrats, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru, Green party and 7 independent candidates. >10 different fractions doesn't seem too uncommon. – Trilarion Feb 9 '18 at 13:56
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Theory

The theoretical limit to your question is the number of seats within the Parliament. You can find this list here. Although China has the largest number of members; the Legislature is cemented under one party. The European Parliament numbers are skewed because the parties form ideological groups. India is, possibly, the most fragmented legislature in the world.

Thank you to SJuan76 for prompting me about the Middle East. Elections are often marred by multiple parties, multiple 'blocs' and multiple affiliations, denominations and faiths which have protected seats. For instance the Iraq Election of 2014 has arguably 40 'parties' but whether they are defined at political parties in the generally accepted sense is up for discussion. For instance; is the Unity of the Iraqis (Wahdat Abnaa al-Iraq) the party or is that party comprised of the following parties;

  • National Alliance of Saladin
  • National Coalition in Saladin
  • Independent Civil Alternative Coalition
  • Dignity Alliance (Karama)
  • Al-Sadiqoun Bloc
  • The Equitable State Movement
  • Ad Dawa Iraq Organization
  • Solidarity in Iraq (Al Tadamon) Alliance
  • Salvation (Khalas) Alliance
  • Arab Kirkuk Alliance

Answer

You are looking for the 2014 election in India. 35 parties with 1 seat or more were elected. 38 if you count the 3 independents as a party each.

About 15,000 candidates from 500 political parties compete for 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.

You can read a documented account in this article.

Parliamentary elections in India are held every five years, unless the government is dissolved before that. With 1.2 billion people in India, it requires 800,000 polling stations, multiple phases, and a period of weeks to declare the winner.

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Detailed Breakdown

According to the Election Commission of India, 814.5 million people were eligible to vote, with an increase of 100 million voters since the last general election in 2009, making it the largest-ever election in the world. Around 23.1 million or 2.7% of the total eligible voters were aged 18–19 years. A total of 8,251 candidates contested for the 543 Lok Sabha seats. The average election turnout over all nine phases was around 66.38%, the highest ever in the history of Indian general elections.

Party List

You can find an abridged table of the parties involved here.

  • If its the 2014 election doesn't it move from 'are expected' to 'have spent'? – David Grinberg Mar 1 '17 at 17:19
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    Note: the question was not about the number of parties that entered the election, but that entered parliament after the election, i.e. that gained seats. But looking at the Lok Labha Wikipedia article it certainly dwarves the examples I gave. – gerrit Mar 1 '17 at 17:23
  • The theoretical limit to your question is the number of seats within the Parliament. You can find this list here. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_legislatures_by_number_of_members Although China has the largest number of members; the Legislature is cemented under one party. The European Parliament numbers are skewed because the parties form ideological groups. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. India is, by far, the most fragmented Legislature in the world. – Venture2099 Mar 1 '17 at 17:26
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    @Venture2099 Not quite. In Germany, there is a threshold of 5%, so the theoretical limit is 20. In Turkey, the threshold is 10%, so the theoretical limit is 10. One wonders what happens if more parties take part and none reach the threshold! – gerrit Mar 1 '17 at 17:29
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    @gerrit In Germany, candidates with a plurality of the so-called “first votes” in a district are guaranteed a seat in parliament, even if their party does not reach 5%. There are 299 such districts (half the minimum size of the parliament, effective size is a little bit higher due to some additional complexities in the rules) so the theoretical limit would be 319 (and the parliament would have 897 members if I understand the rules correctly). – Relaxed Mar 2 '17 at 0:21
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Currently 27 parties have representants in the National Congress of Brazil.

The lower house, called the Chamber of Deputies, has 513 members with the largest party having only 65 seats, or less than 13%.

1

Up to sixteen parties got a seat in Italy Parliament after the 2006 election, and reviewing past elections it seems that it is usual to have at least 12 different political parties in the parliament.

That said, it seems that most of these parties are usually aggregated into 2 or 3 formal major alliances. The advantages of formalizing these alliances are unknown to me (each party has its own voting percentaje, so it means that they do not competed as a single list for alliance).

As a side note, some countries have Parliamentary systems but do not allow for official political parties (e.g. Kuwait), so maybe you could count as many "parties" as elected MP (50 in Kuwait).

  • Do the alliances make a difference for the electoral threshold? – gerrit Mar 2 '17 at 9:25
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    @gerrit I should check to be 100% sure, but in general yes, alliances get a lower threshold (8 vs 5% IIRC) Edit: checked. yes, parties in a coalition get a lower threshold, but the coalition itself has a higher one (12%) Edit#2: those where the limits for the election mentioned in the answer, they have been since changed (4% 2% 10% respectively for the lower chamber, 8 - 3 - 20 for the upper) – Federico Mar 3 '17 at 10:13
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In the USA there is a common misconception that there are two parties but actually there are separate parties in each state which are combined in some form of a loose federation. So in the Congress there are many more than two parties as is evident in the votes.

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    Although that may be true in a strict sense, I don't think it's a particularly useful comment in practice. – gerrit Feb 10 '18 at 12:23
  • The point is that in other parliaments parties vote more or less in unison and there is some form of party discipline in the USA it is much more loose. It boils down to what is meant by “party”. – Jonathan Rosenne Feb 10 '18 at 12:34
  • It may be that party discipline is looser than in some other countries, but even then it's more of a comment than an answer. – gerrit Feb 10 '18 at 12:36

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