How Stuff Works: The different types of Coalition

Coalitions in UK are a rarity; something we’ve only experienced a handful of times. But in other parts of the world they are the norm – and due to the individual intricacies of each political system, a number of different types of coalition have emerged.

NB: coalition types are not mutually exclusive.

1. Minimum Winning Coalition

Definition: “Contains the smallest number of parties which together can secure a parliamentary majority”1

Example: The government of the 26th Irish Dáil: a coalition between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. 83 seats are needed for a majority, Fianna Fáil had 77 and the Progressive Democrats had 6, together the coalition reached 83 seats – the minimum number needed for a majority coalition2

2. Oversized Coalition

Definition: “Contains more parties than the minimum winning coalition”3

Example: The Thai election of 2011 gave The Pheu Thai party a majority, with 265 of the 500 seats in the lower house. However, party leader Yingluck Shinawatra decided to negotiate a coalition with 4 other parties to boost the government’s parliamentary majority4

3.  Grand Coalition

Definition: “Formed by the two leading parties, usually from the left and the right, which together command a substantial majority of seats” 5

Example: The first Merkel government was a grand coalition between the centre-right Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union and the centre-left Social Democrats, as the CDU/CSU’s more obvious coalition partner – the Free Democrats – did not have enough seats to give a centre-right coalition a majority6

4. Connected Coalition

Definition: “Only contains parties that are located next to each other on the ideological spectrum”7

Example:The Danish government elected in 2007 is a connected, centre-right coalition of the Liberal Party, the Danish People’s Party and the Conservative Party8

The 2010 UK coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives can be classified as a Minimum Winning Coalition and may also be argued to be a Connected Coalition.

1 Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction, Eighth Edition, Hague and Harrop, page 330


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