- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Last weekend’s inconclusive Australian election has produced the country’s first hung parliament in 70 years. But as Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics points out, the Australian result also marks another, albeit wonkier, milestone:
For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament. These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government.
Besides Australia, the "Westminster model" countries Dunleavy refers to are India (governed by a Congress-led 18 party coalition), Britain (governmed by an unlikely Conservative-Liberal partnership), New Zealand (where no party has held a majority in parliament since 1996), and Canada (ruled by a minority government.)
Thanks to its "first-past-the-post" voting rules, where the largest vote-getter in each district picks up its seat, the Westminster System traditionally favors larger parties and majority governments, unlike, say, Germany where coalition governments are the norm.
So why has it become so hard for parties to produce majority governments, even in electoral systems specifically designed to encourage them? I would suspect it has something to do with the shrinking ideological differences between the parties in these systems — India being an obvious exception — but it’s certainly a quesiton worth pondering.
Though before reform efforts get too rash, citizens of parliamentary democracies should keep in mind that there’s plenty of potential for obstructionism and dysfuntction in a government with only two parties as well.
Hat tip: The Monkey Cage