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A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate, reducing the dominance of any one party within that coalition. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament. A coalition government might also be created in a time of national difficulty or crisis, for example during wartime, or economic crisis, to give a government the high degree of perceived political legitimacy, or collective identity it desires while also playing a role in diminishing internal political strife. In such times, parties have formed all-party coalitions (national unity governments, grand coalitions). If a coalition collapses, a confidence vote is held or a motion of no confidence is taken.
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To deal with a situation in which no clear majorities appear through general elections, parties either form coalition cabinets, supported by a parliamentary majority, or minority cabinets which may consist of one or more parties. Cabinets based on a coalition with majority in a parliament, ideally, are more stable and long-lived than minority cabinets. While the former are prone to internal struggles, they have less reason to fear votes of non-confidence. Majority governments based on a single party are typically even more stable, as long as their majority can be maintained.
Coalition cabinets are common in countries in which a parliament is proportionally representative, with several organized political parties represented. It usually does not appear in countries in which the cabinet is chosen by the executive rather than by a lower house, such as in the United States (however, coalition cabinets are common in Brazil). In semi-presidential systems such as France, where the president formally appoints a prime minister, but the government itself must still maintain the confidence of parliament, coalition governments occur quite regularly.
Countries which often operate with coalition cabinets include: the Nordic countries, the Benelux countries, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Turkey, Israel, New Zealand, Kosovo, Pakistan, Kenya, Nepal, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand and Ukraine. Switzerland has been ruled by a coalition of the four strongest parties in parliament from 1959 to 2008, called the "Magic Formula". The United Kingdom also operates a formal coalition cabinet between the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties, but this is unusual because the UK normally has a majority government.
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In the United Kingdom, coalition governments (sometimes known as national governments) usually have been appointed only in times of national crisis. The most prominent was the National Government of 1931 to 1940. There were multi-party coalitions during both world wars. Apart from this, when no party has had a majority, minority governments normally have been formed with one or more opposition parties agreeing to vote for the legislation governments need to function, as the Labour government of James Callaghan formed a coalition with the Liberals in 1977 when it lost its narrow majority gained at the October 1974 election. However, in the run-up to the 1997 general election, Labour opposition Tony Blair was in talks with Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown about forming a coalition government if Labour failed to win a majority at the election; however there was never any need for a coalition to be formed as Labour won the election by a landslide. The 2010 general election resulted in a hung parliament (Britain's first for 36 years), following which the Conservatives (led by David Cameron), which had won the largest number of seats, formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in order to gain a parliamentary majority, ending 13 years of Labour government. This was the first time that the Conservatives and Lib Dems had made a power-sharing deal at Westminster. It was also the first full coalition in Britain since 1945, having been formed 70 years virtually to the day after the establishment of Winston Churchill's wartime coalition, although there had been the "Lib-Lab pact", an agreement stopping well short of a coalition between the Labour and Liberal parties, from March 1977 until July 1978, when a series of by-election defeats had eroded Labour's majority of three seats which had been gained at the October 1974 election.
In Germany, for instance, coalition government is the norm, as it is rare for either the Christian-Democratic Union of Germany and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CDU/CSU) or the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) to win an unqualified majority in a national election. Thus, at the federal level, governments are formed with at least one of the smaller parties. For example, Helmut Kohl's CDU governed for years in coalition with the Free Democratic Party (FDP), from 1998 to 2005 Gerhard Schröder's SPD was in power with the Greens and from 2009 Angela Merkel, CDU/CSU was in power with the FDP.
In both countries, grand coalitions of the two large parties also occur, but these are relatively rare and large parties usually prefer to associate with small ones. However, if none of the larger parties can receive enough votes to form their preferred coalition, a grand coalition might be their only choice for forming a government. This was the situation in Germany in 2005 when Angela Merkel became Chancellor: in early elections, the CDU/CSU did not garner enough votes to form a majority coalition with the FDP; similarly the SPD and Greens did not have enough votes to continue on with their formerly ruling coalition. A grand coalition government was subsequently forged between the CDU/CSU and the SPD. Partnerships like these typically involve carefully structured cabinets. The CDU/CSU ended up holding the Chancellory while the SPD took the majority of cabinet posts.
In German coalitions rarely consist of more than two parties (where CDU and CSU, two non-competing parties which always form a single caucus, are in this regard considered a single party).
A coalition government may consist of any number of parties.
In federal Australian politics, the conservative Liberal, National, Country Liberal and Liberal National parties are united in a coalition, known simply as the Coalition. The Coalition has become so stable, at least at the federal level, that in practice the lower house of Parliament has become a two-party house, with the Coalition and the Labor Party being the major parties. This coalition is also found in the states of New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria. In South Australia and Western Australia the two parties compete separately, while in the Northern Territory and Queensland the two parties have merged, forming the Country Liberal Party, in 1978, and the Liberal National Party, in 2008, respectively.
The other federal coalitions have been:
Coalitions formed at a State/Territory level have included:
In Canada, the Great Coalition was formed in 1864 by the Clear Grits, Parti bleu, and Liberal-Conservative Party. During the First World War Prime Minister Robert Borden attempted to form a coalition with the opposition Liberals to broaden support for controversial conscription legislation. The Liberal Party refused the offer but some of their members did cross the floor and join the government. Although sometimes referred to as a coalition government, according to the definition above, it was not. It was disbanded after the end of the war.
According to historian Christopher Moore, coalition governments in Canada became much less possible in 1919 when the leaders of parties were no longer chosen by elected MPs, but instead began to be chosen by party members. That kind of leadership selection process had never been tried in any parliament system before, and remains uncommon in the parliaments of the world today. According to Moore, as long as that kind of leadership selection process remains in place, and concentrates power in the hands of the leader, as opposed to backbenchers, then coalition governments will be very difficult to form. Moore shows that the diffusion of power within a party tends to also lead to a diffusion of power in the parliament in which that party operates, thereby making coalitions more likely.
During the 2008 Canadian parliamentary dispute, two of Canada's opposition parties signed an agreement to form what would become the country's second coalition government since Confederation if the minority Conservative government was defeated on a vote of non-confidence; unseating Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. The agreement outlined a formal coalition consisting of two opposition parties, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. The Bloc Québécois agreed to support the proposed coalition on confidence matters for 18 months. In the end, parliament was prorogued by the Governor General and the coalition dispersed following the election.
In Denmark, all governments since 1982 have been coalitions. The first coalition in Danish political history was formed in 1929 by Thorvald Stauning, and consisted of the Social Democrats (Staunings own party) and the Social Liberals. Since then, a number of parties have participated in coalitions.
Excluding the post-WW2 Liberation Cabinets member parties, the following parties have done so: The Centre Democrats, the Christian People's Party, the Conservative People's Party, the Retsforbund, the Social Democrats, the Socialist People's Party, the Social Liberal Party, and Venstre.
The current one consist of the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals, holding a total of 61 seats in the Folketing. A majority of the seats (excluding the North Atlantics) takes 88. These are secured through the Red-Green Alliances 12 seats and the Socialist People's Partys 16, for a total of 89 seats.
In Finland, no party has had an absolute majority in the parliament since independence, and multi-party coalitions have been the norm. Finland experienced its most stable government (Lipponen I and II) since independence with a five-party governing coalition, a so-called "rainbow government". The Lipponen cabinets set the stability record, and were unusual in the respect that both moderate (SDP) and radical left wing (Left Alliance) parties sat in the government with the major right-wing party (National Coalition). The current Finnish cabinet is also a rainbow coalition of a total of five parties.
At the national level India's first ever coalition government was formed under the Prime Ministership of Morarji Desai which existed from 24 March 1977 to 15 July 1979 headed by the Janata Party. The first successful coalition government in India which completed the whole 5 year term was the BJP Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister from 1999-2004. Then another coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, consists of 13 separate parties ruled India for two terms from 2004-2014. Now after the elections in May 2014, National Democratic Alliance again came into power with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.
As a result of the toppling of Suharto, political freedom is significantly increased. Compared to only three parties allowed to exist in the New Order era, a total of 48 political parties participated in the 1999 election, a total of 24 parties in the 2004 election, and 38 parties in the 2009 election. There are no majority winner of those elections and coalition governments are inevitable. The current government is a coalition of 5 parties led by the Democratic Party.
In Ireland, coalition governments are quite common; not since 1977 has a single party been able to form a majority government. Coalitions are typically formed of two or more parties always consisting of one of the two biggest parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and one or more smaller parties or independent members of parliament. The current government consists of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.
Ireland's first coalition government was formed in 1948. Ireland has had consecutive coalition governments since the 1989 general election, excluding two brief Fianna Fáil minority administrations in 1994 and 2011 that followed the withdrawal of their coalition partners from government. Before 1989, Fianna Fáil had opposed participation in coalition governments, preferring single-party minority government instead.
Irish coalition governments have traditionally been based on one of two large blocs in Dáil Éireann: either Fianna Fáil in coalition with smaller parties or independents, or Fine Gael and the Labour Party in coalition, sometimes with smaller parties. The only exception to these traditional alliances was the first Government of the 27th Dáil, comprising Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party, which ruled between 1993 and 1994. The Government of the 31st Dáil, though a traditional Fine Gael–Labour coalition, resembles a grand coalition, due to the collapse of Fianna Fáil to third place among parties in Dáil Éireann.
A similar situation exists in Israel, which has dozens of different parties with representation in the Knesset. The only faction to ever gain a majority of Knesset seats was Alignment, an alliance of the Labor Party and Mapam that held an absolute majority for a brief period from 1968 to 1969. Historically, control of the Israeli government has alternated between periods of rule by the right-wing Likud in coalition with several right-wing and religious parties and periods of rule by the center-left Labor in coalition with several left-wing parties. Ariel Sharon's formation of the centrist Kadima party in 2006 drew support from former Labor and Likud members, and Kadima ruled in coalition with several other parties.
Post-World War II Japan has historically been dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party but there was a brief coalition government formed after the 1993 election following LDP's first loss of its overall House of Representatives majority since 1955. Japan has had coalition governments since 1994.
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Advocates of proportional representation suggest that a coalition government leads to more consensus-based politics, in that a government comprising differing parties (often based on different ideologies) would need to concur in regard to governmental policy. Another stated advantage is that a coalition government better reflects the popular opinion of the electorate within a country.
Those who disapprove of coalition governments believe that such governments have a tendency to be fractious and prone to disharmony. This is because coalitions would necessarily include different parties with differing beliefs and who, therefore, may not always agree on the correct path for governmental policy. Sometimes the results of an election are such that the coalitions which are mathematically most probable are ideologically infeasible, such as in Flanders or Northern Ireland. A second difficulty might be the ability of minor parties to play "kingmaker" and, particularly in close elections, gain far more for their support than their vote would otherwise indicate.
Coalition governments have also been criticized[by whom?] for sustaining a consensus on issues when disagreement and the consequent discussion would be more fruitful. To forge a consensus, the leaders of ruling coalition parties can agree to silence their disagreements on an issue to unify the coalition against the opposition. The coalition partners, if they control the parliamentary majority, can collude to make the parliamentary discussion on the issue irrelevant by consistently disregarding the arguments of the opposition and voting against the opposition's proposals — even if there is disagreement within the ruling parties about the issue.
Powerful parties can also act in an oligocratic way to form an alliance to stifle the growth of emerging parties. Of course, such an event is rare in coalition governments when compared to two-party systems, which typically exists because of stifling the growth of emerging parties, often through discriminatory nomination rules regulations and plurality voting systems, and so on.
A single, more powerful party can shape the policies of the coalition disproportionately. Smaller or less powerful parties can be intimidated to not openly disagree. In order to maintain the coalition, they will have to vote against the party's platform in the parliament. If they do not, the party has to leave the government and loses executive powers.