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Coalition Government and Parliamentary Opposition


This course is earmarked for the specialisations Parties, Parliaments and Democracy and Dutch Politics/Nederlandse Politiek


The core institutions of parliamentary democracy are cabinet government and parliament. Most cabinets are formed through the formation of a coalition between political parties and are confronted by a parliamentary opposition. In recent years, coalition governments and parliamentary oppositions must operate in a context of an ever more unpredictable electorate, the loss of electoral support for previously strong centrist parties, and the formation and rise of new anti-establishment parties. This course examines the implications of these contemporary developments for coalition government and parliamentary opposition. How are coalitions formed in increasingly fragmented parliaments? Has the growing complexity of the bargaining environment led to more conflictual cabinet terminations and early elections, or have coalition parties found ways to deal with internal tensions? Are opposition parties willing to cooperate with the government if needed? Or do they behave more adversarially, focusing on government scrutiny rather than on policy alternatives? We will take a comparative perspective, with a focus on established parliamentary democracies. Some of the main themes are government formation, governing in coalitions, parliamentary institutions, sources of opposition parties’ behaviour, government-opposition cooperation, the stages that lead to government termination, and voters’ responses to parties’ behaviour in government and opposition.

Course objectives

At the end of this course students can:
1. use concepts and theories from the literature on coalition government and parliamentary opposition to understand developments in coalition and opposition politics.
2. critically reflect upon the question under which conditions political parties in government and in opposition cooperate with each other or distinguish themselves from each other.
3. select appropriate methods and data to study party behaviour in government and in parliament.
4. communicate their understanding of coalition governments and parliamentary opposition to audiences within and beyond traditional academia.


See 'MyTimetable'

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Paper assignments (80%)
Group presentation (20%)

Reading list

A selection of journal articles and book chapters, announced on Brightspace


See 'Practical Information'


Rick van Well