When did we become so impatient? Two weeks after the final results of the 2023 election, we sit and wait for a new government. For some, this appears to be one of the most frustrating experiences of their lives.
While not ideal, negotiations taking this long are not the end of the world, nor are they close to any sort of record…yet.
Globally, they pale in comparison with other representative democracies, some of whom have been forced back to the polls when negotiations fail spectacularly.
And we don’t have to go back in time very far to find examples of complicated or dragged-out coalition talks.
The German Federal elections of 2017 took place on September 24vand resulted in some major predicaments for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
One of the major shifts was growth of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) who managed 12.6 percent of the vote and became the third largest party in the Bundestag (German Parliament).
The first attempt by Merkel to form a coalition between her own CDU/CSU, the FDP (akin to ACT, sort of), and the Greens collapsed after the FDP withdrew. Merkel then initiated a process with the SPD (Social Democrats, German version of Labour) to form a grand coalition.
Finally, on March 14, 2018, Merkel was re-confirmed as Chancellor at the head of the grand coalition, nearly six months after the election.
If anyone has ever seen the (fantastic) television series, Borgen, the inclusion of Denmark won’t be a surprise.
The November 1, 2022 election saw 179 seats in the Folketing (Danish Parliament) spread across a whopping 16 parties (including four who represent the Faroe Islands and Greenland). The Social Democrats came out as the largest party with 27.5 percent of the vote, and no other party manged to top get over 14 percent.
As a result, Mette Frederiksen, the Social Democrat leader and incumbent Prime Minister, pledged to form a centrist government with representation from both sides of the political spectrum, despite a bloc of left-leaning parties holding a one-seat majority.
The ensuing discussions resulted in the left-bloc negotiations breaking down and being replaced with negotiations between eight parties. Eventually, a coalition was agreed between the Social Democrats, Moderates (centrist-liberal party), and Venstre (the major centre-right party), with five other parties in support.
The government was finally formed on December 15, six weeks after the election.
Much like the Danes, the Dutch House of Representatives is regularly populated by a patchwork of parties. The mid-March 2021 elections were no different, with 17 parties gaining seats. The VVD (major centre-right party) was the only party to top 20 percent.
A series of negotiations with parties from across the spectrum followed, and after a series of media scandals and attempted no-confidence votes in the incumbent Prime Minister, the four parties who were in coalition before this election finally decided to re-enter negotiations, some six months after the election.
Final agreement between the four parties involved in negotiations was reached on December 15, and the new government (same as the old government) was finally inaugurated on January 10 2018, almost 10 months after the election.
The February 8 2020 election in Ireland threw up an exceptionally tight three-horse race. Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and Fine Gael all received between 20-25 percent of the vote, a massive result for Sinn Féin who saw their vote grow by over 10 points. Adding to this complexity is the large number of independents elected in Ireland – this election saw 19 elected to the Dáil (lower house of Parliament).
Compounded by Covid-19, negotiations and potential arrangements took months to work through. Attempts by Sinn Féin to form a centre-left government failed, while Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael entered talks to form a grand coalition.
Finally, in June a programme for government was agreed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party, which featured the agreement for the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) to rotate between the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
The new government was eventually confirmed on June 27, almost five months after the election.
What to take from these examples
These examples are by no means an exhaustive list of trials and tribulations that take place in representative democracies (We haven’t even touched on the 541 days needed to form a government in Belgium in 2010-2011).
By their nature, representative democracies can be slow and cumbersome when it comes to decision-making, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can be highly frustrating for some.
These types of systems ask the people to elect parliaments, and then asks those elected members to work together to form a governing arrangement. Sometimes that process is easier said than done.
What we can take from these examples is that sometimes democracy is difficult, ideas aren’t always compatible between the various groups involved, but the country won’t collapse and we will get a new government eventually.
We should try and enjoy the relative quiet from Wellington while we can, because it won’t (and can’t) last forever.
Michael Swanson is a PhD candidate in politics at the University of Otago