In many democratic countries, such as Germany, France, Australia, India, Israel and Italy, government by a coalition of political parties is considered normal. Often in such countries there are many political parties with a significant level of popular support in elections.
This means no one party usually can gain more than 30% of the seats in the parliament or national assembly, so it is necessary for several parties to come together to form a viable government, generally under the premiership of the leader of the largest party involved.
In other states, such as the UK, USA and Japan, there are fewer significant political parties and coalitions are rare, as after an election a winning party is able to form an effective government without any help from others.
This debate is closely related to issues of voting reform, as countries with some form of proportional representation tend to have more political parties in parliament than those that use a first-past-the-post system, and so are more likely to have coalition governments.
A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several parties cooperate.
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, to give a government the high degree of perceived political legitimacy it desires whilst 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.
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.
Coalition Governments Worldwide
Countries which often operate with coalition cabinets include: the Nordic countries, the Benelux countries, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Turkey, Israel, New Zealand, Pakistan and India. Switzerland has been ruled by a coalition of the four strongest parties in parliament from 1959 to 2008, called the “Magic Formula.”
Coalitions Composed of Few Parties
In Ireland, coalition governments are quite common with a single party not having ruled since 1989. Coalitions are typically formed of two or more parties always consisting of one of the two biggest parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and one or smaller parties or independent members of parliament.
The current government consists of Fianna Fail, the Green Party, and the Progressive Democrats and supported by independents.
Coalitions Composed of Many Parties
A coalition government may consist of any number of parties. In Germany, the 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), while in Belgium, where there are separate Dutch and French parties for each political grouping, coalition cabinets of up to six parties are quite common.
India’s previous governing coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, consists of 13 separate parties. A similar situation exists in Israel, which has dozens of different parties with representation in the Knesset.
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 and only loss of its overall House of Representatives majority since 1955.