Forming a Coalition Government

Forming a Coalition Government

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

David Cameron walked away from his extraordinarily surprising victory last week and went right to see the Queen to inform her that he had a Government in place. Despite dire predictions to the contrary, Cameron’s victory appeared like shades of Harold Wilson’s smashing triumph in 1966, Cameron emerged from the election fight to save himself and his party without the expected struggle to create a coalition. He sent Ed Miliband and his band of party pros back to the drawing board clearly deep in opposition and now looking at a rising Scottish National Party challenging British politics on both sides of the aisle.

Meanwhile, Binyamin Netanyahu must have looked at this performance with wishful eyes as he struggled to put together a coalition Government now apparently composed on 61 of the 120 Knesset members; hardly a stunning demonstration of political power. While leaving the substantive issues to another time, the Israeli political system demonstrated once again that while democracy works, Israel remains unconscionably burdened by a political system in dire need of reform and with no reformers—other than ivory tower academics—demanding it.

As the current coalition appears, the parties with fewer votes than Netanyahu’s larger Likud Party, once again are successfully able to leverage cabinet positions (with all their perks); Knesset chairs with its power; and promises of enhanced and expanded ministry budgets. Parties with many less Knesset votes than Bibi’s Likud Party have demanded more and specific Ministries or have suggested they will bolt the coalition.  While the new coalition appears to be in place and will hold—at least temporarily—it remains to be seen when and under what circumstances these smaller parties will bolt the razor thin margin within the coalition and force new elections. (The only equalizer in this saber rattling game is that people in power rarely give up power casually unless they are forced to do so.)

Leaving aside the international issues, and they are plentiful, the internal turbulence that this coalition appears probably likely to create are very disturbing. Those who opposed Bibi are now hoping and praying that their worst fears will not be met by the new Government’s political engagement of the religious parties which will demand that the secular curriculum (the 3 R’s) not be required in their school systems; by the Jewish Home’s insistence that the power of the Israelis judiciary be fundamentally curtailed; and by passage of legislation to financially punish left-wing non-profit organizations.  

As is always the case in coalition politics, the parties with the fewest seats in the parliament have the most leverage. If and when they can be accommodated, they will tack to the coalition drivers, but when they are not satisfied they will threaten to break the agreement. Beyond wishful thinkers, there are some reasonable observers who suggest that this new Government may well not have a long life expectancy given the aggressive demands from numerous sides. 

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