On Political Coalitions

by Manuel B. Quintal, Esq.

Photo by USDAgov via Flickr/Creative Commons

Coalitions are groupings for expediency. A dictionary refers to a coalition as a “government which political parties cooperate to form a government. The usual reason for such an arrangement is that no single party has achieved an absolute majority after an election.”

This definition is more applicable to a country with a parliamentary system, as distinguished from a parliamentary system of government where there are more than two political parties. In this sense, the term “government” actually refers to the group of leaders (prime/chief minister and the members of the cabinet that strictly constitute the executive branch) coming from the political party or parties that, together, have the majority of seats in the parliament or lawmaking body. If no single political party gains the majority of seats in a lawmaking body, the party with the most seats would strategically seek to invite the party with the least number of seats to unite with them in exchange for positions in the cabinet. The party with the least number of seats is most interested in being part of the “government.” It provides a minor threat to the political party with the highest number of seats yet insufficient to constitute more than half of the total members of the lawmaking body.

As a result of individuals or groups of individuals with more differences than similarities, coalitions have short life spans. Coalitions are inherently temporary and short-lived. They have a minimal purpose(s), the purpose(s) limited to those familiar to the members of the coalitions. The differences among them sooner or later predominate. Like the clouds, they evaporate when the temperature rises, when the fundamental differences among them become more critical again than the limited and narrow goals that brought the parties together. The “government” is said to “fall” when the coalition breaks or falls apart.

History has numerous examples of coalitions that succeeded in achieving their limited goals, and then internecine quarrels among the coalition members ensued. In all those cases, the citizens do not fully realize the benefits intended for them to enjoy after accomplishing the narrow purpose of coalition. The English barons might have secured the Magna Carta of 1215, but the rebel barons have their feudal lands to protect. The French Revolution, led by men united in overthrowing the monarch, killed one another before achieving fraternite, liberte, and egalite among the people. The Spanish colonies in South America merged with the singular purpose of driving away from the Spaniards from their lands. Still, they soon chose to be self-governing countries with independent-minded leaders pursuing different outlooks of government. In recent history, a loose association of an assortment of dynastic politicians, politically active religious leaders, civil leaders, and other concerned individuals overthrew the Marcos regime. The several unsuccessful coups d’ etats in the six years after the 1986 EDSA People’s Power that led to Marcos’ forcible eviction from Malacanang dramatically show what happened to that coalition.

“The purpose of getting together as a coalition is to remove an obstacle to their assumption of power. A coalition opens opportunities and feeds ambitions, whether noble or ignoble, selfishly personal or germanely patriotic.”

In the Philippines setting, a coalition more commonly and appropriately refers to a temporary grouping of individuals in their capacities rather than of organizations he/she represents. Getting together as a coalition seems easy because there were no significant differences in the underlying philosophies/doctrines of the different political parties and individuals comprising them. Changing party affiliations are known to happen before and after elections. Every election, either local or national.

The purpose of getting together as a coalition is to remove an obstacle to their assumption of power. A coalition opens opportunities and feeds ambitions, whether noble or ignoble, selfishly personal or germanely patriotic. The coalition members are one in their belief that the present dispensation is terrible and the country and its people saved from further degradation. They are, likewise, are one in their belief that they are the saviors. Perceived as such, the formation of a coalition acquires great importance. Joining a coalition appears and becomes a necessary action and duty, and obligation of every well-meaning citizen.

Though intended to ensure or maximize achieving its limited goal, winning is not a given. It can never be. Essential disagreements may cause the coalition to be smaller and less effective. Members, whether individuals or associations, can decide to withdraw from the alliance anytime they so decide and for any reason. The administration that the coalition seeks to unseat and remove may have an impossible arsenal in its hands to stave off any challenge. While not insinuating any possible wrongdoing by anyone or groups, they can reasonably argue that tools and machinations do exist to negate the electorate’s real choices.
Whether those tools or machinations are or will be employed is another story. Some people doubt election results. Those who have become unreceptive and numb to any beliefs contrary to their own will always entertain them.

The government is not perfect, and the government system is not perfect either. They can never be perfect. Changes and improvements need to happen. But the people need to change before they can sensibly expect their leaders and the government to change.”

While continuity in government policies and projects is desirable with an administration that espouses the programs of its predecessor, the natural law of change should be allowed to apply unhampered and undisturbed by any administration that failed the people’s expectations. Note that the perception of every administration was unable to some degree. Because of circumstances, it was unable to surmount or because of idealistic expectations of the citizens.

The government is not perfect, and the government system is not perfect either. They can never be perfect. Changes and improvements need to happen. But the people need to change before they can sensibly expect their leaders and the government to change. Thus, in a country that claims to be free and democratic, the change can be effected peacefully, democratically, and orderly through a coalition of leaders that the alliance intends to replace, supporting the people’s unstifled and unhindered choices.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Manuel B. Quintal, ESQ., practices law in New York since 1989. He is active in the community as a member, an officer, or a legal adviser of various professional, business, and not-for-profit organizations. He was a columnist of Newstar Philippines, an English language weekly newspaper published in New York, from 2006-2009. He was Executive Editor of International Tribune, an English language weekly newspaper for the Asian community, based in New York, from 2010 to 2012. He is admitted to practice law in the Philippines and New York State. He has graduate degrees in Political Science and an LL.M. major in International Law.

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