RE: What a weird situation

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From: Lisa Dusseault (
Date: Mon Nov 20 2000 - 17:45:26 PST

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Josh Cohen
> ... with the "winner take all" pettiness
> of the parties today, I can just see gore or bush laughing off their
> chair if they were ever expected to concede even one bit to allow
> for a coalition type gig.
When it's a choice between sharing a gov't or not governing at all, most
pols seem to be able to compromise.

>In these other "coalition" governments, how do they
> occur? Are the constitutions, or equivalents, set up to provide for
No, I don't think there are many rules on coalition-forming. In Canada, I
_think_, a coalition simply agrees to mostly vote together, and they agree
who gets to be the PM, typically splitting the cabinet posts up among the
coalition partners. There is leeway for them not to vote together on
non-crisis issues. If they don't vote together on "votes of confidence"
this probably topples the gov't and causes a new election. Votes of
confidence are lost when individuals in the governing party lose confidence
in their own party/PM/cabinet, or when the smaller partner(s) in a coalition
decides to shove off.

Italy and Israel, also India I believe, have proportional-representation
system which favours small parties. These all tend to be able to form
governments ONLY with coalitions, and sometimes the coalition partners are
very strange bedfellows. Sometimes popular politicians will even leave
their party, form a new one, and then have the power of making demands
(typically demands which favour their regions, of course) in order to form
the winning coalition. Because the coalitions have so many ideologically
different stake-holders, they do tend to fall apart. Italy went through
about 10 yrs without ever having a stable gov't for two years running.

That's a little bit of an extreme situation, but if you must have
proportional representation, allowing coalitions is better than having a
two-party-runoff or winner-takes-all system. Now this is neat: Imagine a
prop-rep system with 20 political parties (very realistic). None of them
get more than 10%; the top vote-getter takes 10%, the second gets 8%.
 - Winner-takes-all would mean that the 10% vote-getter would run the
 - Two-party-runoff might even mean the 8% overall-vote-getter would run the
Coalitions are the only working method I've seen with prop-rep for ensuring
that a reasonable people are represented by the [group] in power.

Anyway, Canada's not like that because we don't have prop-rep. Parties have
to be popular enough to win an entire region in order to get even one seat
in our parliament. But with the fragmentation of Canada's politics by
region, it's beginning to be quite possible for the NDP, Alliance, Liberals,
Parti Quebecois and Conservatives each to win a sizable number of regions
(particuarly in the provinces where each is favoured). Then there would
have to be coalitions. Britain is much the same.

> Seems to me that in the US, the idea of a party-coalition is so foreign
> to most people.
All this is, yes, often wierd to Americans! It's getting better, but when I
was an intern at MS I used to meet quite a few college-attending Americans
who had no idea that there were democracies which functioned differently
from the USA. It's understandable, because no government changes affect USA
as much as USA government changes affect the world. When the USA media does
cover foreign gov'ts, it's usually a country like Serbia or Phillipines, and
the tone is often nearly one of scorn. "Look how awful these savages are!"
Makes for complacency and re-election of the current status quo :)

I remember one intern in particular made the loud statement at lunch that
despite whatever weaknesses of democracy, "America has the best God-damn
government system in the world". I demurely asked "Oh yes? Then what are
your criticisms of the Swiss canton system?"


(ok I admit not quite so demure ;)

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