Another quirk of parliamentary democracy, that many readers might not fully understand, is the vote-of-no-confidence. A vote-of-no-confidence is a legal means by which a governing coalition in a parliamentary democracy can be overthrown by a vote in the primary legislative body.

Let’s give another example using our previous scenario in the United States. Again, the Senate has been dissolved, the President and their cabinet secretaries fired and the United States is now a parliamentary democracy. The House of Representatives has been chosen as the primary legislative body. The 2018 midterm results are the same- Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats have a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi becomes the President of the United States.

Pelosi’s first official act is to push for a bill that will create a Medicare For All healthcare system. Many of the more moderate Democrats in the house dislike this plan intensely- they want Pelosi to push for a more modest means of promoting insurance coverage in the U.S.. But, Pelosi refuses to heed their calls. So, the moderate Democrats band together with the Republicans in the minority of the House and they propose a vote-of-no-confidence. Let’s further say that these moderate Democrats and the Republicans make up a majority of the House of Representatives. Therefore the vote-of-no-confidence passes.

The Pelosi-led executive government of the United States would dissolve. New elections would be planned for the coming months. The Pelosi-led government would probably retain some basic power to administer the country before the new elections. But, this vote-of-no-confidence has hit the restart button on United States democracy. Voters will again have to decide whether they want a Democratic government with Pelosi as its likely head.

Every Israeli government worries about a vote-of-no-confidence. It’s the signal that its days are numbered. Likewise, every opposition faction in the Israeli Knesset (those parties not in the coalition) sees the vote-of-no-confidence as an opportunity. To the opposition, a vote-of-no-confidence is an electoral do-over, a new chance to prove their fitness to lead Israel.

Given the above, any Israeli party hoping to form a long-lasting government will want a coalition with a stable composition- with the least likelihood of being dissolved after a vote-of-no-confidence. What makes a coalition stable in this way? Let’s take a look at 2 different coalitions with the same 4 parties we’ve been using: Likud, New Right, Shas and UTJ.

In coalition 1 Likud has 45 seats and each other party has 8 seats. In coalition 2 Likud has 45 seats and each other party has 7 seats. Which is the more stable coalition?

The correct answer? Coalition 1.

Why is this the case? In Coalition 1 it would take the defection of more than one party to pass a vote of no-confidence. The math is pretty simple. Coalition 1 has 69 seats and each of the smaller parties has 8 seats. So, let’s say UTJ decides to leave the coalition and agrees to help pass a vote-of-no-confidence. Even if all of the opposition parties vote with UTJ, they will only have 59 Knesset seats as the coalition will still have 61 seats without UTJ (69-8= 61). Thus, the vote-of-no-confidence will be defeated.

But, what happens in coalition 2 if UTJ decides to defect? That coalition has 66 seats total and each of the smaller parties have 7 seats. So, again, let’s say UTJ defects and supports a vote-of-no-confidence in the government. If the opposition also votes in favor, then this motion could pass with 61 votes, as the coalition will only have 59 seats (66-7=59).

What does this mean? It means that coalitions where there is a single party that has a lot of the seats, and where no smaller party can, just by themselves, bring down the government through their defection, are more stable than coalitions where this is not the case. And the more a single smaller party has the ability to bring down the government the more they can influence the policies, personnel and specific actions of that government.

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1 reply »

  1. Wrong on key points. Ignores the ‘constructive no-confidence’ reform Israel passed over a decade ago, which changes these scenarios significantly to make the government more stable. Also ignores the requirement to pass a budget which is in many cases the bigger obstacle to coalition stability.


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