[EM] Possibly more stable consensus government

Juho Laatu juho4880 at yahoo.co.uk
Tue Dec 4 02:21:29 PST 2012

On 26.11.2012, at 0.03, Kristofer Munsterhjelm wrote:

> You have a parliamentary system.
> Forming a government requires a supermajority (say 60%).

That says to me that the policy of the governmnet will be on average more centrist (averaged) than e.g. with 51% governmnets. Since the governments will be a combination of multiple interest groups, each party probably has to commit to supporting few topics that they actually don't like. And this means that the parties should have strict party discipline.

I'll use FInland as an example. In the recent years there have been three major parties. Any two of them can form the core of the government. In order to make the government stronger they invite also some smaller parties in the government. Those governments have been very stable (regularly from one election to the next election). It is normal that all parties in the government at least stay silent and vote as agreed when the government was formed, even if they disagree on the content in some questions. One reason is that the politicians love being ministers. Also the small parties tend to be loyal. One reason is that they want to be included in the next governments too (as loyal members of the government, with one or two own requirements that they want the government to support).

The Finnish system does not require 60% support, but in practice the "three party system" has thus led to a quite similar situation.

> However, all motions of no confidence have to be constructive, i.e. they have to propose a new government and thus be subject to the supermajority rule.

In FInland the government usually has no problem making (practically) all their MPs support the government when the parliament votes on confidence in the government (and in other questions too).

> What kind of behavior would you see under such a system? One would ordinarily consider parliamentary systems that require a supermajority for forming a government to be very unstable, because it may take forever to get the required majority, and in the meantime, a simple majority can tear down the government that already exists.

In Finland the policy does not change very much between governments. It may be even so that the policy (or rhetorics) of that major party that move from government to opposition (or in the other direction) is the part that changes. There is thus no alternating government policy style behavour e.g. between the left and right wings. Nowadays there are also other factors in the political fiels than the traditional left vs. right battle. Also coopertion of the leftmost and rightmost large parties is no problem. They have other things in common (e.g. som more salary worker, industry and city orientation than the centre party has).

> But by insisting that all votes of no confidence are constructive, a simple majority can't remove the government. Only a supermajority can, and then only when it has a proposal for another government.
> So what we would expect to happen is that the government can stay in office for a much longer time than would otherwise be the case. This, in turn, is offset by the supermajority requirement for getting your particular government proposal into the executive in the first place.

In Finland the political system has resembled this approach in the recent years although there are no specific supermajority requirements to form or to break governmnets. Having such rules could strengthen similar behaviour even more. Looking at the rules from a Finnish perspective, the supermajority rule to replace the current government could be too strong since it could make the "maybe too stable" system even more stable.

> Would that configuration weaken the consensus aspect of the system?

That doesn't seem to be the case in Finland.

One problem that I see is that the consensus may not be a true consensus of the voters. Sometimes it appears to be more a consensus of the professional politicians themselves, including their interest to stay in the government (higher salary, more power, more visibility). Sometimes it appears that the politicians agree what to do between themselves an tell to the media and voters only the official planned story (as agreed by the government parties).

> Perhaps a government that happened to have a supermajority at one point "outstays their welcome" and gets increasingly unpopular until there's a sufficient supermajority in the other direction, then that government gets replaced by its opposite pole, and rinse and repeat.

Maybe in some other countries, but in Finland the party discipline or "governmnet discipline" tends to be quite strong.

> On the other hand, the opposition might try to appeal more broadly so that, as the government gets less popular and the centrists previously aligned with the government starts abandoning it, the opposition almost immediately has a variant of the centrist policy ready to catch them so their alternative can get the required supermajority.

In Finland the opposition tends to wait for the next election and tries to prove that the government and government parties have failed and not kept their promises. The general thinking pattern is that being in a government tends to reduce support and being in the opposition tends to add support.

> Or perhaps the power would move from the government itself, which is subject to supermajority rules, to the bureaucracy, which is not (and is unelected). Or the overlapping center that one needs to have to get 60% in a left-right situation might become kingmakers.

As I already noted, at least in Finland the traditional left vs. right confrontation is not as strong as it used to be, and as a result the centre has no kingmaker position.

> What do you think would happen?

In Finland there are now four large parties (after the last election). In the light of this discussion one could claim that there maybe was some mutiny against having these three parties that continue the same consensus policy and party leadership control without paying much attention to how people voted. As a result a moderate populist party gained more support. Time will show how this will impact the system. Certainly it has changed the balance.

I used Finland as an example although it doesn't even have the supermajority rules in place (but behaves pretty much as if they were). Other countries might however behave in a very different way. For example party discipline might be much weaker, and reactions of parties to new situations might be stronger (in Finland governments seem to be so strong that they even tend to do government internal majority decisions that all government parties will then respect, when new issues emerge on areas that are not covered by the initial agreements of the government! (this could be already be said to be non-democratic)). Also the party structure may be very different in different countries (number of them, relative size of them, political positions, impossible combinations).

My opinion is thus that different countries would pobably react in different ways to the proposed set of rules. My guess is that on average that requirement may increase consensus oriented politics, assuming that patries are able to agree a compromise program for the government in the first place (without losing their face).

Forming a government under the 60% rule (or in Finland) may be also easy if one looks at the questions as "whom should we leave in the opposition this time". In Finland I guess the most common pattern has been that the bigger loser of the two major government parties knows that it will spend the next term in opposition. Small parties are selected into the government by the two core parties. Government negotiations are likely to be more difficult if there will be four large parties also in the future (at least at the first time it took a lot of time and effort to form a government).


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