Coalition governments are often criticised, for a number of valid reasons. I intend to address these later in this essay, however the main point of this essay, for me, is to state and explain why I believe coalitions work well as single-party governments. Upon thinking of how I would answer the question posed”Do Coalitions work well as single party governments?” a number of important points were brought to my attention straight away.They were both in favour and opposing coalitions and their ability to work well as single party governments. Throughout the course of this essay I will state the positive and negatives aspects of coalition governments. I will discuss these points based on research I have done and knowledge I have acquired. I will conclude by discussing the various rules associated with the electoral and party systems when forming coalition governments. I will focus my attention on Ireland and Denmark, by way of European examples.
A coalition government by definition is “A governing body formed by multiple parties who must compromise on principles” the question we must ask ourselves is If these parties do work well together as single party governments. Is there evidence to suggest that the merits of coalition governments outweigh the various policy compromises by individual parties within the coalition? In my opinion there are certainly variousdisadvantages of coalitions. They are often described as less effective, not as durable and even non-dependable when compared to other governments who have strict principles and ideology. Within Coalition governmentsMembers of the Legislative Assembly and members of parliament are all handed portfolio’s/ministries and appointed as ministers. These ministers are appointed on the recommendations of the parent’s party without taking the qualification, character and criminal/clean record of the members of the legislative assembly and members of parliament. More often then not the number of ministers is so large that leaders run out of portfolios to give out. Sometimes there are ministers without portfolio’s or somewhat meaningless ones. An argument can also be made that a coalition governments may not always perform at their greatest capacity. “The biggest disadvantage of a coalition government is that the end product depicted is very unstable and vulnerable as the core element of the coalition has to keep up with all the promises made to its partners and do the impossible – make everyone happy with the platter offered to him or her” (Theviewspaper.net). This suggests that the government ends up compromising on policies in order to try and keep the electorate content.
Throughout my study I discovered that there were a number of arguments claiming the superiority of coalition governments. Coalition governments lead to more accordant politics meaning that a government with different ideologies would have to concur in regard to government policy. Another argument in favor of coalition governments suggests that it “Better reflects the popular opinion of the electorate within a country” (www.americanchronicle.com) I believe this is a valid and important argument in favor of coalitions as single party governments.
“Coalition Governments in Western Europe – Wolfgang C. Muller and Kaare Strom” describes Irish politics in the chapter “Ireland: From Single-Party to Coalition Rule” I found this chapter most interesting as it describes Ireland’s political journey over the last number of years. Wolfgang suggests, “Although the process of government formation had been heavily influenced by self-imposed behavioral constraints (most notably the changing attitudes of Fianna Fail and labour towards coalitions), institutional constraints have played a fairly small role in shaping coalition politics in Ireland, at least relative to some other European countries” the author goes on to state that”Patterns of government formation have closely corresponded to what Laver and Schofield have describes as “freestyle bargaining between elites” I find this most interesting as it suggests that rules and regulations have had little to do with shaping coalitions in Ireland.
I also found it interesting to note that Wolfgang suggests that an “Institutional rule that significantly structures coalition politics” is in fact: the nature of the electoral system” the “Single Transferable Vote electoral system” encourages voters to “rank-order candidates (and thus, parties) rewards cooperative electoral strategies. Here the author suggests that before the election there is a “coalition formation phase” due to the fact leaders have to transfer their lower preference votes to the most likely prospective coalition partners. This institutional influence in Ireland means that transfers can “make or break a prospective coalition” An example of such an institutional constraint can be taken from the 1983-1987 period when a coalition existed between Fine Gael and Labour, these parties always transferred to eachother at rates of 60-70 per cent. In 1987, following the collapse of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, voters that supported the parties were loyal to their individual parties and went their separate ways, transfers then fell to 30 per cent each way (Sinnott 1995: 215)
Other institutional influences behind coalition governments in Ireland include can be examined when we look at coalition formation. When compared to other countries coalition formation in Ireland is a “relatively unstructured process in which party leaders engage in freestyle bargaining.” There are no recognition rules and nobody is actually designated to lead or chair the negotiations between the parties.
Another European country I studied when preparing for this essay is Denmark I found it most interesting to note that there were no single party parliamentary majorities in Denmark since the first decade of the twentieth century. “Some kind of inter-party cooperation is therefore required for decision making in legislative and governmental affairs.” It was also brought to my attention that majority coalition governments in the post-war period have been the exception not the rule, most of these have been minority type (Thomas 1982) these minority governments were coalitions since the early 1980’s however before this they were mostly single-party governments.
Various rules on the formation and termination of governments are interesting in Denmark. The monarch appoints the prime minister and other ministers. The King and Queen also decide on the amount of ministers and their portfolios besides this there are in fact no other rules on how a government is to be formed. However “The constitution clearly states that no minister can remain in office if he or she has received a motion of no confidence passed by the Folketing (parliament). Should a no confidence motion concern a prime minister the government must resign or hold call an election.
I also studied the area of electoral performance in Denmark and found it interesting to note that statistics show that governing parties usually loose votes in elections (e.g. Rose and Mackie 1983; Stro**m 1990), I also realised that Danish majority coalitions do not survive elections. It is useful to note also that all the participating parties never get rewarded at the same time. The electionresult may have appeared to go against this but the parties had in fact already terminated before the election.
It can be argued that coalitions aren’t very stable and often collapse and that they are unable to take a long-term view of proceedings within a country. It can be argued that parties with little following can in fact impose their policy upon the majority by a process of “political blackmail” e.g. “the role of religious parties in Israel, the Greens in Germany and France, and the demand of constitutional reforms by the Lib Dems in the UK as their price of coalition support in the 2010 hung parliament.”
I believe the positives of coalition governments outweigh the negatives by a long shot. I believe it is a fair to suggest that coalition governments create a more authentic and compelling political system. Coalitions are beneficial as the choices they make represent the majority in society. Issues will be debated on and thoroughly tested before any decision is made. In contrast single-party governments may be guilty of imposing bad policies that aren’t well structured or thought out. “When difficult or historic decisions have to be taken, for example in wartime over membership of the European Union or NATO, or on the scale of spending cuts needed to deal with the UK’s budget deficit the consent of politicians representing a wide range of interests and opinion is important in committing the country and its people to difficult but necessary courses of action”.
Coalition is good for ensuring no party is in power for too long and therefore no “adversarial political culture” develops as we see happening in countries where coalition governments do not occur frequently. If an alteration does occur the new government is often inexperienced and unaware of the best course of action to take a “wholesale reversal” of the previous regime’s policies is often what happens this is obviously not a positive outcome. More often then not ministers from the previous government will have considerably more experience. “A more consensual style of politics also allows for a more gradual and constructive shift of policy between administrations”.
All in all it is clear there are many pros and cons of a coalition working as a single party government in a country, in my opinion the merits of a coalition certainly outweigh the negative aspects of to or more parties working as a single-party government. I believe I have backed up my view throughout the essay and have provided relevant points to support the argument I have made.