Pros And Cons Of Coalition Politics

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Nepal has braced for the era of coalition politics after the adoption of the proportional representational electoral system in the interim constitution promulgated following the end of the decade-long armed insurgency in 2006.  Following the first elections held for the Constituent Assembly in 2008, Nepal has reconciled to one or the other kind of coalition governments produced by combination and recombination of political parties regardless their ideological leanings and platforms. Oftentimes, parties that are ideologically estranged and poles apart from each other suddenly mend their differences and come together to form the rag tag government which cannot be imagined in normal political circumstances. By way of example, political hobnobbing of Nepali Congress and Nepal Communist Party-Maoist Centre would not have been possible, should crude ideology and political values that they espouse are taken into account. 

Similarly, the collaboration between CPN-UML and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) in the polls has been something of a compromise on the ideological and value platforms they stand for.  However, this has become an established practice in the political landscape of Nepal. In fact, this is not only the case of Nepal alone. In European democracies where proportional representation mode of election is adopted, coalition politics is normal as the far right and the far left parties   tend to cohabit to deliver government.

Political interests

The elections held during the last fortnight for federal and provincial parliaments in Nepal have not given a single party the mandate to form the government to rule, hence  requiring the parties  to come together to deliver the government.  Generally, coalition government means two or more political parties coming together within a single umbrella for forming a government if a single party does not have the required majority to form a government. A coalition government, therefore, remains under pulls and pressures of the several competing political interests. In fact,   formation of coalition can occur through pre-election and post-election alliances among the parties. The pre-election alliances involve electoral – tie-ups and adjustment for fighting election for various seats among the political parties. The pre-poll understandings between the parties are very common. They may agree on a common programme or an understanding not to oppose others’ candidates in certain constituencies and even to extend support.

On the contrary, post-election coalition starts after the declaration of the voting result and this type of political coalition is totally different from the pre-election coalition.  A lot of negotiations and much of give and take occur in case of the post-poll alliances to deliver the government. There may be a lot of horse trading or other types of exchanges in the formation of the coalition government. A coalition government reduces the one-party dominance within the alliance or coalition as a single party holds no strength to form the government.

In coalition governments, the ultimate result is that the content of parties’ political ideology is severely diluted, because the left party, right party, caste-based party, communal political party, regional party and so on come together under a single umbrella. The coalition politics in India’s case in particular has led to the rise of regional parties which is an important aspect of Indian federal polity.  The coalition governments have some strengths and weaknesses as well. The strengths lie in the fact that coalition politics brings the mutually antagonistic political groups into a platform and help dilute their extreme positions on national issues. This contributes to hammering out broader consensus on the issues of strategic national interest.

The failures of coalition governments have been attributed to many reasons. It is less effective and efficient with multiple centers of influencing decisions. The poll manifesto presented to the public before the elections is practically unrealistic as several amends may have to make running the government. A coalition government is very unstable, often collapsing and re-election taking place are the natural phenomenon. Needless to say, coalition governments are far less effective, non-durable, and non-dependable as compared to the governments formed by a single party with definite principles and specific ideology.

In coalition government, lawmakers from the constituent political parties are given ministries/portfolios through appointment as ministers. These ministers are assigned on the recommendation of parent party, without any enquiry or any qualification, experiences or criminal records. Horse trading through unscrupulous practices is another demerit of coalition government.  

Coalition politics has entered into a new phase of Nepali political system. In today’s political scenario of Nepal, governing system and multiparty alliances have become gradually correlated. Every small party with three to four seats in the federal and provincial parliaments has started to play an important role in forming the government. Although it may be argued that coalition provides good government as their decisions are made in the interest of the majority of the people, often it is seen that the various demands made by the coalition partners lead to extreme tension within the government and make it impossible to formulate laws and implement good decisions. 

Degree of compromises

The current political scenario shows the degree of compromises and adjustments the political stakeholders have to make as part of the moves and maneuvers to form the coalition government. The recent controversy relating to ordinance is one of such examples. The  constraints of the coalition is that the  national policy, which may not tally with  the interest of a region, cannot be formulated, if a party belonging to that region is part of the government. The role of prime minister of a coalition government is very different as s/he is neither able to select his colleagues nor exercise his control over them. In parliamentary system, major responsibility to achieve commitments falls on a coalition cabinet where prime minister is the keystone. But it should be mentioned that to achieve the commitments in a coalition government is much more difficult than in a single party government.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.  rijalmukti@gmail.com)

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