The word, COALITION, is derived from the Latin word ‘coalitio’ which means ‘growing together’ or working together. It can be further defined as a measure of ‘peaceful co-existence’ between two major political parties or an alliance of several parties for an agreed political purpose. It can also be described as an alliance of parties that agree to work together during the election process and after the elections, based on the electoral results share power for the smooth operation of a government on an agreed programme.

There is another point of view regarding the formation of coalition options. According to this definition, a coalition government is a Cabinet of parliamentary government in which many or multiple political parties cooperate, reducing the dominance of any one party within that coalition. A coalition government will also come into being in a time of national crisis or in a national difficulty (for example, during war time, economic crisis or at a critical moment when there is an imminent threat to democracy). The rationale behind the formation of this type of coalition government is to provide a government of this nature, a high degree of perceived political legitimacy or collective identity it desperately needs, while also playing a strategy in diminishing internal political strife. World history has recorded repeated instances of this nature, where all –party coalitions, in the form of national unity governments or grand coalitions have come up to meet different challenges.

However, according to Marxist criteria, there is a class character or a class basis for all coalitions. Class interest is the basis for all coalitions. In another definition, Marxists call it as an example of class collaboration.

The role of political and economic policies in a coalition is also debatable. When political parties are confronted for nation-wide general elections, they may use ‘policy packages’ as store fronts to attract the voter base and the leaders may forget the promises or the political packages once the elections are won. A leading political scientist once said that parties formulate policies with the sole aim of winning elections, rather than win elections to formulate policies. Analyzing in broader terms, coalition politics involve a certain, well conceived commitment on the part of the main stakeholders to implement a pragmatic political programme, however much ideologically they may differ from each other.

Objective of sharing power

In the well-researched thesis, “Coalition Politics and the Indian experience”, Indian Political Scientist N. Jose Chander says “Partners should agree on a common programme of action, the implementation of which becomes the objective of sharing power. This involves ‘ideological compromises’ on the part of radical and fundamentalist parties. Sometimes rights and leftist parties come together to stall a common enemy-or it may be a coalition of secularists and communalists or even of Marxists and anti-Marxists. In either case, there must evolve a common programme for positive action. ………………..When ‘like-minded parties’ or parties with similar ideological goals make a coalition, the making of a common programme may not have serious setbacks. Serious problem occur when ideologically polarized parties are forced to work together”.

Popular opinion

Advocates of proportional representation suggest that a coalition government leads to more consensus-based politics, as a government comprising different parties (often based on different ideologies) need to compromise on various government policies. Another advantage, they point-out in their favour is that a coalition government is bound to reflect the popular opinion of the electorate in a better way, within a country in a given time.

The opponents of coalition governments believe that such governments have a tendency to be fractious and prone to disharmony, as the component parties of the government hold different beliefs and thus may not always agree on policy. Sometimes, the results of an election mean that the coalitions which are mathematically most probable are ideologically infeasible. Another difficulty might be the ability of minor parties to play a role of ‘king maker’ and particularly in close elections, gain far more power in exchange for their support than the size of their vote would otherwise justify. (In the recent past, in numerous elections and coalitions governments formed thereafter, political developments of this nature has happened in Sri Lanka and India too).

Coalition governments have also been under heavy criticisms by some political thinkers for manipulating and sustaining a consensus on issues with disagreement. They hold the view that a full and lengthy discussion participated by all groups is more fruitful and beneficial in the long run, than reaching a consensus on disagreed matters. To forge a consensus, the major players of leading political groups or parties can agree to silence their disagreements on an issue to unify the coalition against the opposition. With the parliamentary majority they have in their hand, the coalition partners can collude to make the preliminary discussions on the issue irrelevant by continuously disregarding the arguments of the opposition and even voting against the opposition proposals or amendments-even if there is disagreement within the ruling parties on the issue.

Countries which often operate with coalition cabinets include-The Nordic countries, the Benelux countries, Australia, Austria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kosovo, Latvia, Lebanon, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, Trinidad, Tobago, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Switzerland, is a specific example of matured coalitions. Switzerland, has been ruled by a coalition of four strongest parties in parliament for a very long time. It is popularly known as the ‘MAGIC FORMJULA’. The United Kingdom also embarked upon a coalition government some years back-this was a coalition between the conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties. However, this was a temporary phenomena, as the UK has had single-party majority governments in recent his history. However, the present government in UK headed by Therasa May is also a ‘minority government’ as it lacks a solid majority for its existence.

UNITED KINGDOM: The past history of United Kingdom reflects that various governments in power have formed coalitions in times of national crisis, in the name and style of national governments. In UK, there had been six coalition governments during the last 120 years and joint partners have been Liberal and Conservatives. The most significant coalition, was the National Government that existed between 1931 and 1940. During both world wars, multi-parties coalitions were the order of the day.

Apart from this scenario, when a single party was unable to command a majority in the House of Commons, minority governments have come into existence, with the support of one or more opposition parties agreeing to vote in favour of the legislation which governments need to function. Recent example, is the Labour Government led by James Callaghan which came to an agreement with the Liberals in 1977, when it lost the narrow majority it had gained in the October 1974 election. However, in the run up to the 1997 general election Labour leader Tony Blair had initial discussions with Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown of forming a coalition government if the labour failed to get a working majority in the House. However, the Labour won this election with an astonishing landslide and there was no reason to go for a coalition.

However, the 2010 general election resulted in a hung parliament(Britain’s first for 36 years) and as well-known the Conservatives led by David Cameron claiming a larger number of seats in the house, formed a unique coalition with the Liberal Democrats to seek a parliamentary majority, ending 13 years of Labour government. In the history of parliamentary government in UK, this is first time that the Conservatives and Lib Democrats reached an accord for a power-sharing deal at Westminster. It should also be stated here, that this coalition was the first full coalition in Britain since 1945, after Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition.

INDIA: Unlike UK and other European countries the political situation and political issues in India are basically different. This is mainly due to the nationalistic, ethnic and also regional feelings drawn in to the Indian political drama. Here, we must not forget the fact, that India is the largest democracy in the world and the Indian Constitution has also adopted the Westminster type of parliamentary structures for both the Central and State governments.

Party coalitions in India always make an attempt to expand and strengthen their base by attracting numerous parties than required for keeping themselves in power. Large-sized coalitions are a matter of attraction in the Indian political scene. The main political party in India-the Indian National Congress also is inclined to accommodate a large number of groups and interests in forming coalitions.

This is a strategy adopted by main political parties to form ‘MAHA-COALITIONS’ for winning the largest number of seats for themselves and reduce the opposition to nil. At the Centre, the government should command a two-third majority to form a stable and effective organ of power-only then it will be able to go constitutional amendments if necessary. At the state level of course, even a minimum majority is enough to maintain the status-quo and make it effective. However, the present trend is to accommodate large size coalitions in states too. This is a remarkable reflection of the political culture of the Indian society.

Looking back at the Indian constitutional development, since India’s Independence on August 15, 1947, the Indian National Congress, the major political force instrumental in ending British rule and winning national Independence from the yoke of imperialism, ruled the nation for a long time. Its first Prime Minister was Jawaharlal Nehru, who fought the British Raj with Mahathma Gandhi. Second PM was Lal Bahadur Shastri and the third was Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, all were from the Congress.

However, Raj Narain, who had unsuccessfully contested the general election against Indira from the constituency of Rae Bareilly in 1971, lodged a case against electoral malpractices. In June 1975, Indira was found guilty and barred by High Court from holding public office for six years. In response, an ungracious Emergency was declared under the pretext of national security.

At the next general election, India’s first ever coalition government came to the surface under the leadership of Moraji Desai. This non-congress national government existed from March 24, 1977 to July 15, 1979 headed by the Janatha Party-this was an amalgamation of political parties opposed to the Emergency, imposed between 1975 and 1977. However, as the popularity of the Janatha Party diminished, Moraji Desai had to resign and Charan Singh, a rival of Desai became the fifth Prime Minister of India. Due to lack of support, this coalition did not complete its five-year term.

Under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, Congress returned to power again in 1980 and later under Rajiv Gandhi. The 1989 election brought a coalition government under a National Front which lasted till 1991. The Congress was again lucky enough to form a stable minority government in 1991. Whatever the problems and difficulties this lasted for five years. The next 11th Parliament produced three Prime Ministers in two years and forced the country back to polls in 1998.

The Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) led the National Democratic Alliance into political power in 1998, under the charismatic leader Atal Bihari Vajapee and it lasted for five years, until 2004. This can be called the first successful coalition government in India. Then came another coalition, Congress led United Progressive Alliance, inhabiting 13 separate parties. Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister of this grand coalition which lasted for two terms, from 2004 to 2014.

The 16th general election held in 2014, brought the BJP back into exclusive political power as the mainstream of Indian politics, securing a majority of its own (first party to do so since 1984 election). This government continues in power very successfully and has just entered the fourth year, under the bold leadership of Narendra Modi-the uncommon man among common people.

INDONESIA: As a result of eradicating the dictatorial government of President Suharto, democratic traditions have come back to Indonesia. Mushroom of political parties and varied political groups exist in the Indonesian society. A total of 48 political parties participated in the 1999 election and thereafter 24 parties contested the election in 2004. 2009 election saw 38 parties on the political platform and again 15 parties in the 2014 election.

The existing government in Indonesia is a coalition government of seven parties led by the PDIP and Golkar.


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