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Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

11 - PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUTIONS WITH PROPORTIONAL ELECTIONS: THE MAIN ACTORS' INTERACTIONS

In this constitutional setting the main actors are, as we have seen, likely to be cohesive and disciplined political parties. Some of these actors or parties are furthermore likely to form an executive as explained in parts 5 and 6 (in particular 6.2), and they are also likely, as explained in part 9, to rely to a considerable extent on instructions, and bundles of instructions or programs, in their efforts to get votes.

Now, when discussing the formation of an executive it is essential that the number of main actors, although they are few, most likely are more than two. Each party therefore knows that in all likelihood it will have to make deals with other parties. Thus, the main actors must adopt strategies which are instrumental in bringing them into coalitions, and in affecting the policies of those coalitions. What kind of strategies are these? What kind of matters are the parties to a coalition likely to agree about? In part 9 we concluded tentatively that the parties to a large extent will rely on instructions in their electoral strategies. This topic will finally be discussed in part 12, but assuming so far that the tentative conclusion is correct, the coalition agreements are likely to be about instructions as well. But what kind of instructions?

A first point is that specific instructions, rather than general, are likely to be particularly important in these agreements. There are two reasons for this contention.

The first one is that it is easier - as explained in part 8.1 - for political parties to make deals about specific instructions than about general ones. If, for instance, one party is committed to a particular specific instruction, and another party to another one, they can easily agree about supporting each other - if you support my instruction, I support yours. General instructions, on the contrary, are often in conflict with each other and, if so, not easily reconciled. This first reason is thus related to the compatibility of various political positions as such.

The second reason, on the other hand, has to do with the acceptability for those concerned of a reconciliation. This problem, as it happens, is the subject matter of a theorem saying that a coalition executive cannot have a purely ideological foundation (Moberg, 2000). Following the terminology used here it may also be said that a reconciliation of two general instructions, even if such a reconciliation, in spite of the technical difficulties, is reached, is not likely to be accepted by the parties concerned. This matter will be demonstrated in part 11.2.

But even if compromises based only on general instructions from the different parties are unlikely, there may be deals in which a general instruction of one party is knit together with a specific instruction of another party. They may agree that the first party supports the second party's specific instruction, if the second party supports, or perhaps just tolerates, the first party's general instruction. This, however, requires that the general instruction involved is not too offensive but rather attenuated or pragmatic enough. It may also be argued that general instructions, which give a prominent and far-reaching role to the state, are more easily reconciled with specific instructions than those giving a limited role to the state. The reason is that specific instructions often are natural parts of state interventionism. From these general arguments we can now infer the following hypotheses about the parties' programs:

We also get these hypotheses about the executive coalitions likely to emerge, and about their governmental programs: The purpose of the negotiating parties is, as I have mentioned above, to form a durable executive. This means that, in this constitutional setting, the main actor interaction, and thereby also the real decision making, to a large extent occurs in the government formation process. After that the executive will just go on presenting its agreed upon program, bit by bit, for the legislature. The real decision making is thus a batch process rather than a continuos process. The interval between the batches may be as long as the whole election period. This obviously also means that the majorities are fairly constant over the same long time periods. There is no constant recomposition of decisive majorities.

Matters may, however, turn out somewhat differently if a minority executive, rather than a majority executive, is formed. Even such an executive depends, for its existence, on the support of a majority, but that majority, by definition, will contain parties which do not belong to the executive proper, and therefore the membership of that majority may shift to some extent, for example from decision to decision in the legislature, or from time to time. This means that the decision-making will become somewhat more of a continuos process, and also that the composition of the majorities may change to some extent.

Another conclusion is that a big party may dominate the politics of its country for a long period even if it suffers occasional electoral recessions and, indeed, even if it never has a majority of its own. The party can stay in the executive all the time just by making deals about some specific instructions favored by one or two small parties, and then govern together with them. Most likely such a party continuously appoints the prime minister and the heads of a number of key ministries. This possibility for ideological influence may, in fact, be an important driving force for big parties to suppress internal divisions, or to live with them in one way or another, in order to remain big. If so we should expect to find an important ideological component in the programs of big parties like that.

We may also conclude that an organized opposition, in the form of for instance a shadow cabinet, is unlikely. The reason is that a new governing coalition, since the parties can combine in many ways, not necessarily consists exclusively of the former outsiders. Rather, some former outsiders may join some former incumbents in a new executive. In order not to jeopardize any such possibilities the present outsiders are therefore not likely to form an organized group and thereby link their destinies. For a party aiming to develop and keep a pivotal position this consideration is particularly important.

Finally it may be concluded that the executive coalitions formed are likely to be minimal winning in William Riker's sense (Riker, 1962). The reason is the important roles played by interests and specific instructions in the coalition agreements. Thus, and in other words, the executive coalitions are likely to exploit their outside minorities.