Coalition Theory

A long wake is happening. Just not sure for whom it is. BN or Pakatan Rakyat. At this wake we might want to revisit the concept of coalitions, beyond what we are used to in the fifty years of Barisan Nasional and its predecessor the Alliance.

Malaysia is unique in that it has a 14 party fixed coalition. No one else has one like that.

There are longstanding coalition between National Party and Liberal Party in Australia, making it the National-Liberal. However the two parties are not in a coalition as tight as what we have in Malaysia. In two states they are not in coalition.

So down under, although historically we have looked at Liberal and National synonymously at a federal level the parties have maintained their individuality.

The main difference between BN and coalitions in general is that most coalitions are formed after elections. It is about political expediency rather than a deep rooted relationship. And usually it will be one of the two biggest winners of the elections who have not won enough to have a simple majority of their own. So they co-opt a few more MPs by getting another party to work with them.

There are various permutations elsewhere.

So Silvio Berlusconi gets his right wing Forza Italia to work with Northern League who are primarily just a regional party (and xenophobic at that) to work his party, so that he can form government. His own party does not have enough seats so he looks for bedfellows, and usually you look for those who are closer to your own agenda or beliefs.

Italy has much experience with coalition governments since it has had more than 40 change of governments since the end of world war two. It also probably has the most experience in working with different permutations.

There is a chance that the junior member in your coalition is loud and not really submissive. The Greens when they partnered the Social Democracts in Germany rarely backed down from their environmental positions and went hard on Shroedders government if it lacked the moral fibre the Greens had.

And in battles between really strong opponents, very small parties can become kingmakers. In Israel’s Knesset, the battle over the years between Likud and Labour is so close that neither forms government on their own. They rely on orthodox jewish parties or Arab parties to get power. So that is why it is not odd when Likud is in power it is very aggressive in keeping the palestinean zones and extending jewish settlements, as they rely on the orthodox jews/russian influenced, and Labour with the support of Arab parties keeping a more liberal line.

The same thing happens in India currently as tamil nadu based All India Anna dravida munnetra kazhagam (AIADMK) run by Jayalalitha keeps her one state party shake up Congress party who run 25 state India everytime she feels aggrieved.

Apologies for all the examples across the region, but the summary is, you can have various permutations for coalitions and they are usually decided after an election. There are no hard and fast rules about what a coalition has to look like, and even after a coalition is formed its members can leave and form coalitions with other parties.

This is the strength of democracy.

However, constant changes of coalitions can be quite frustrating and will lead to volatility to the country.

I share that fear, however we have never had a change of government since independence, so it is a little disingenuous for people to have a go at Pakatan Rakyat to try to get a majority in parliament now.

You have to examine this effort with an eye on the electioneering BN does, the media blanket they apply, the non-application of indelible ink and the police intimidation readily available.

Be fair, can you see anyone beating BN in an election outright with the scales so unfairly positioned?

Of course the iron is going to be struck in the most inopportune time for BN, and it will be a relentless strike when their administrative knees collapse under the weight of indecision. And it won’t be pretty in political sense.

The mighty never make gracious exits, and the same fate will lie for BN, even if this current initiative peters out unceremoniously for one reason or another.

The most salient thing to understand is not to expect the Pakatan Rakyat format to follow the BN format which is unique to only Malaysia. As Malaysia joins the parliamentary competitiveness of other countries it will also have to subsume the political cultures that come with it.

That coalition members are not under remote control of the main party. PKR is not to be the new Umno. DAP will be strong minded and want various things that will be at odds with Anwar. PAS will look for ways to get some more Islam into the country. And so will it be if PSM, Sapp or any other party joins Pakatan.

These are interesting days in Malaysia, and the options emerging is going to require more political operatives who are flexible and daring.

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