Government formation in 'hung' Westminster parliaments: a comparative analysis

Stream: Panel 78 - Comparative Politics: Westminster Systems
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


Academic, political and popular wisdom tends to assume that Westminster systems are synonymous with majoritarian politics (see, for example, Lijphart 1999: 9-30). Most elections in Westminster systems result in a single party or stable coalition winning a majority of lower house seats and forming government. When this does not occur, the dominant reaction is to view the hung parliament as an aberration and to hope that not too much damage is done before the resumption of normal political service. As a result, little academic attention has been paid to hung parliaments across Westminster systems. This paper starts to fill this gap through a comparative analysis of the ways in which politicians at the national level in four Westminster systems—the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have gone about forming governments in response to recent elections that have not produced majoritarian outcomes. Solutions to the problem of hung parliaments have varied across the four jurisdictions, both in terms of the types of government formed and the nature of the agreements struck between those involved. The outcomes have reflected mixtures of perceived national political customs, strategic considerations and personality politics. Those involved do not appear to have looked to other Westminster jurisdictions for inspiration or guidance. As is the case with much else, members of the Westminster family have no common traditions for dealing with forming governments in hung parliaments.


Smith Rodney (Presenter), University of Sydney
Rodney Smith is Professor of Australian Politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, where he has worked since 2001. His books on Australian politics include Australian Political Culture (2001), Keywords in Australian Politics (co-authored, 2006), Contemporary Politics in Australia (co-edited, 2012) and Contemporary Australian Political Party Organisations (co-edited, 2016).