Still hanging

by John Q on August 30, 2010

It’s now nine days since the Australian election produced a “hung Parliament”. This term is used rather loosely for any outcome in which neither major party wins a majority of seats, but in this case it’s entirely appropriate. Labor and the Liberal-National coalition[1] each won 72 seats, which means they need the votes of four out of six independents/minor party reps to form government, and the six are wildly disparate.

Anything could happen: four of the six have in the past been Nationals (rural conservatives), though they have gone in very different directions since. If they let bygones be bygones we could have a very conservative government. On the other hand a couple of them now have a greenish tinge, and, with the remaining independent and the single Green party member, we could get a government more progressive than the one that went out.

Overall, this was the kind of election that both major parties deserved to lose and, in some sense, they both did. Isn’t democracy wonderful?

fn1. Here I’m counting as independent one candidate from a dissident branch of the National Party who has stated that he won’t join the coalition.



P O'Neill 08.30.10 at 11:44 am

It’s pretty impressive to have Satan making phone calls to the wife of the key player.


Earnest O'Nest 08.30.10 at 12:08 pm

Damned (but what’s new?): I wanted to keep that quiet.


Norwegian Guy 08.30.10 at 4:37 pm

So the Australian House of Representatives have 150 representatives, an even number. What would happen if the six independents/minor party representatives split 3-3?


KCinDC 08.30.10 at 5:16 pm

Having an odd number doesn’t avoid the possibility of ties, since members can always refuse to join any coalition, as happens with Sinn Féin MPs in the UK, as I understand it.


Norwegian Guy 08.30.10 at 5:32 pm

Well, an odd number of MPs makes a tie much less likely. Sinn Féin in the UK is a very special case. How many other countries have a party refusing to meet in the Parliament, but still able to get elected. I doubt it’s very common.

By the way, Sweden changed from having 350 MPs to 349 after the two blocks tied in the 1973 election.


Vasi 08.30.10 at 6:59 pm

Parliaments in the British model have a Speaker who only votes in case of a tie, and in such cases the Speaker votes according to a standard procedure, rather than along party lines. So it does make some degree of sense to have an even number of seats in a Parliament.


nick s 08.30.10 at 8:54 pm

MORE than one in 10 voters would have voted differently had they known Australia was headed towards a hung parliament, according to a new poll.” The internals hint that if Abbott was after a new election, he might not be so enthusiastic now.


Emma 08.31.10 at 3:41 am

Norwegian Guy @ 3: A Speaker has to be chosen from the House which usually means the even number problem is averted (and makes a greater than one seat majority necessary in practice). Still not clear what’s going to happen about that.

It’s never happened before here and all kinds of strange and amazing possibilities are still in play. The media and many of the parliamentarians are clearly spun out about it, and struggling to come to terms with the situation.


Ingrid 08.31.10 at 7:14 am

The Dutch parliament also has 150 seats, but it’s completely scattered over 8 parties (plus a few very small ones with each two seats). I don’t think anyone has ever contemplated the theoretical possibility that something like a ‘hung parliament’ could result. Very interesting. Keep us posted on what happens, John.


Guido Nius 08.31.10 at 7:39 am

Maybe your parliament doesn’t hang, Ingrid, but at least the Australians have a procedure that will avoid them having to undergo the pain of forming a government over 100+ days & without the slightest indication that any progress is being made to anything whatsoever.


Ingrid 08.31.10 at 1:04 pm

Guido, there was no undertone in my post. As you know from my earlier posts, I am not very happy or confident about either the Dutch or the Belgian cabinet formation. The only thing I was voicing is a sense of (non-judgemental) surprise – If Dutch parties would merge into two big parties, this could also happen in the Netherlands, but for some reason we do not have two big parties, but many small&medium-sized ones.
This relates to the discussion over whether it is better to have a two-party system (or two+ party system) or a many-party system; and there are pros and cons to both, I think. But what is interesting about the current Australian case is that the two party system can result in this ‘hung parliament’. How often does it happen to two+ party systems that there is a ‘hung parliament’ results?


Guido Nius 08.31.10 at 1:24 pm

Ingrid, sorry, I did not want imply that. To me the Dutch and Belgian situations are an extreme version of a hung parliament (isn’t the current UK parliament not deemed to be a ‘hung’ one?) – I don’t know whether more parties are merrier but I do think that it would be beneficial, at least in the Netherlands, to have a provision that government negotiations should be limited in time. As it stands voters vote and then an exceedingly complex game starts that alienates electors and at the same time gives them (the not alltogether mistaken) feeling that whatever their vote what is finally decided is decided intransparently in back rooms.


Pete 08.31.10 at 1:28 pm

The current UK parliament is a hung one, and is also considered by quite a lot of people to be one where neither Labour nor Conservative deserved to win.


Ingrid 08.31.10 at 1:36 pm

Guido, thanks for clarifying, and sorry for misreading you. I agree with what you say about the Dutch situation! The only good thing (for me, at least) is that my Dutch friends no longer make jokes about Belgian politics :-)


chris 08.31.10 at 2:22 pm

I thought the UK parliament was considered hung at first (compared to the normal UK situation of somebody winning an outright majority), but the formation of a coalition unhung it.

If coalition forming doesn’t count as unhanging your parliament, multi-party systems like the Netherlands would be perpetually hung, not just when they can’t agree on what coalition to form.


alex 08.31.10 at 2:34 pm

‘Hung parliament’ is an informal neologism dating from the 197os; seeking a formal definition of the limit-cases to which it applies is rather like chasing one’s tail:


Norwegian Guy 09.01.10 at 10:44 am

It’s not the number of parties that makes formations of Dutch governments often take a long time. But more that you can’t divide the parties neatly in approximately two blocks. It seams to me that, with some exceptions, almost all parties in the Netherlands can cooperate with each other. Compare with for instance Sweden, where all the parties in the parliament belongs to either the centre-right or the centre-left block.


Bancki 09.02.10 at 9:43 am

The Australian Speaker does not vote in the House except in the event of a tied vote.
I’ve always found this to be a strange rule:
– when a party has one seat majority and wins the speakership, every following vote is a tie and depends on the speaker
– when both parties have half the votes, the one winning the speakership (whatever the tie-braking rule for the elections of the speaker), loses the following votes by one vote.

Sweden had this situation in 1973: votes tied 175-175 and the speaker only votes to break a tie. Apparently, government and speaker stayed in power, and tied votes were decided by lottery. But how did Labour win the speakership without losing a vote in the following ties?

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