For example, suppose there are 100 seats available. Party A wins 45 seats, party B wins 45 seats, and party C wins 10 seats. "Usually" party A and party B will court party C, and whoever C ends up with will have enough seats to form a government.

Has it ever been the case that party A ends up partnering with party B to govern?

I browsed through the Wikipedia article on hung parliaments and didn't see anything, in fact it seems to assume that this will never happen:

Hung parliaments are rare at the federal level in Australia, as a de facto two-party system, in which the Australian Labor Party competes against a permanent Liberal-National Coalition of the conservative parties, has existed with only brief interruptions since the early 20th century.

The hypothetical election above could easily be the result of a two-party system, where the third party is greatly outnumbered but still gets to play kingmaker.

  • 1
    In general under PR, it might well be that the two biggest parties are still nowhere near a majority, and as such it might be no great surprise that whatever coalition you come up with happens to contain the two biggest, depending how different they are. Or suppose there's a near 50-50 split between 2 "blue-ish" parties and 4 "red-ish" parties, then a blue majority might easily contain the two biggest parties, but it's not really a grand coalition and it has no need for a kingmaker. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 15:41
  • 12
    This is extremely common in Europe.
    – Davor
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 21:00
  • The question seems to reason from a First-past-the-Post style of elections (US/UK-like) where each district elects one seat. Proportional Representation (PR) doesn't produce such 45/45/10 splits.
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 15:19
  • It's the current situation in Ireland
    – Mohirl
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 11:35
  • 1
    @MSalters this split is very common in New Zealand, which uses a proportional representation system. e.g. 45% National, 45% Labour, 10% Green. (this would be a de facto Labour victory as National refuses to side with Labour or Green but the other two parties have no problem agreeing to make it a Labour victory while Green does nothing...) Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 15:43

6 Answers 6


Yes. This is called a grand coalition. That was the arrangement in Germany until a few years ago, and it has been very common in Austrian history too. Both of these countries use a system of proportional representation.

  • 7
    See also Grand coalition - Wikipedia: 1966–1969. Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 10:51
  • 10
    Also happens in Israel quite a lot.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 17:18
  • Also a “national unity government”
    – Davislor
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 13:21
  • Situation in Austria (taken from Wikipedia): Of the 31 governments which have taken office since 1945, 20 have been grand coalitions (between Social Democratic Party and Austrian People's Party), including eleven consecutively from 1945 to 1966. Grand coalitions again governed from 1987 to 2000 and 2007 to 2017. Commented Jan 10 at 13:01

In British history this has happened at least twice. Although major parties seem to prefer coalition with smaller parties, or after that minority government, over coalition with their greatest rival.

In 1915, during the First World War, the Liberal government was replaced by a coalition of Liberal, Labour and Conservative parties under the incumbent Liberal PM, Herbert Asquith.

This was 5 years after the election which had produced a hung parliament - the Liberals remained in power and Asquith led a minority government from 1910 to 1915. So it was the war rather than the election which brought this coalition into being.

In 1940, the Conservative-dominated government was dissolved and replaced by a coalition of all parties under a new Prime Minister. Although the Conservatives had a large majority, even excluding the ex-Liberal and ex-Labour MPs who had been part of the previous humbug coalition ('National Government'), Churchill wisely decided to include the (real) Labour and Liberal parties in his government and give them senior positions in his cabinet.

So again, a collaboration between the two biggest parties, which wasn't demanded by an election result but by the situation facing the country.

  • Probably should edit this to indicate what nation it's talking about. Was pretty sure it was the UK, but I had to hover the links to be sure. The question references the Austrian parliament, so its pretty clear it wasn't just the UK government that was being asked about.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 1:24
  • 3
    Right, sorry. When you learn history at school your country is the centre of the universe. Occassionally that perspective pops up again when it shouldnt (:
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 10:53

This is (or was until some years ago) the norm in the Netherlands.

Until about 10 years ago we rarely had coalitions of more than 2 parties. The largest and second largest are matched, and if they can come to a coalition agreement, there is a new cabinet.

Only reasons to add more parties (or go with another combination than the two largest) is when either the two largest have no majority OR they cannot reach a coalition agreement (which has happened once or twice). First case the third largest party is invited to join the talks, and more if needed, second case the second largest party is replaced with the third largest party and talks start all over again.

  • Interesting. This is quite different from Germany, where a grand coalition was usually seen as an awkward compromise that would only be used if neither of the big parties managed to form a majority with small coalition partners. Of course, this stems from the history that in most elections from 1950 until 2010, at least one of either CDU or SPD would reach more than 40% of the vote all by itself. That a grand coalition would not be a possibility was almost unthinkable until it happened in the 2021 election. Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 17:32
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    @leftaroundabout and in the Netherlands it has AFAIK never happened that any one party had a majority in parliament so could form a cabinet on their own.
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 6:03

In Finland this has been the norm lately. Out of the last five parliaments, we've had a total of nine government coalitions, and seven of those have had the two largest parties in it.

  • After the 2003 election, the Jäätteenmäki government and first Vanhanen government both had the Centre (largest), the Social Democrats (2nd) and the Swedish People's Party (6th).
  • After the 2007 election, the second Vanhanen government and the Kiviniemi government both had the Centre (largest), the National Coalition (2nd), the Green party (5th) and the Swedish People's Party (6th).
  • After the 2011 election, the Katainen government (dubbed "the six-pack" by the media) consisted of the National Coalition (largest), the Social Democrats (2nd), the Left Alliance (5th), the Greens (6th), the Swedish People's Party (7th) and the Christian Democrats (8th).
  • The Katainen government was replaced by the Stubb government with the same parties, except the Left Alliance.
  • After the 2015 election, the Sipilä government consisted of the three largest parties: the Centre (largest), the Finns party (2nd) and the National Coalition (3rd). During this parliament, the Finns party broke into two due to internal politics, and the splinter group, the Blue Reform, stayed in government.

The exception is the very latest parliament. After the 2019 election, the Rinne and Marin governments have been led by the Social Democrats, and included the Centre, the Greens, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People's Party, with the opposition consisting of the second and third greatest parties: the Finns and National Coalition, respectively, along with the smaller parties the Christian democrats and Movement Now.


I'm actually surprised that it is somehow alluded that having a coalition of the first two parites should be rare. It is rare in a two- or three-party system, since in these cases either one party alone has a majority, or the largest and the smallest have a majority.

As soon as you have 4 or more parties in the parliament, a coalition of the first (largest) and the smallest party may not be enough to have 50+% of votes. So you either have to get a third party on board to form a coalition of 3, or you need to seek a larger party as a partner for a coalition of 2. Both of these is not an easy task, since a larger party usually will have more opposing stances and differences compared to the first party. And they will be firmer in defending those stances, since they have a large part of the population behind them. Smaller parties will be more inclined to compromise in order to get into government, which they would otherwise seldom have a chance to do. However, having to bring two or more small parties, which usually also have even more differences among themselves, into a coalition can also be nearly impossible, even if each small party alone would be willing to compromise.

At the end, it's all up to negotiating skill and will to compromise on all sides. Coalition forming is among the hardest and toughest parts of politics these days.

  • 1
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    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 19:48
  • It's assumed to be rare as in most countries you have a left wing bloc and a right wing bloc who would struggle to agree on just about anything!
    – deep64blue
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 20:11
  • @deep64blue, I agree, but if you have 2 or more other parties (other than the left and right wing), then it could be even harder to agree with them, and to make them agree among themselves. So in the end, uniting with your "archrival" may end up being easier.
    – Mike
    Commented Nov 26, 2022 at 3:39

In Switzerland this is how the country is supposed to be run, the coalition usually involves up to 6 or 7 different parties ! In fact our government has no president or Head of State but 7 "federal counselor" who are usually of the 4 largest parties, in order the correctly represent the population. It would be seen as disastrous if a single party got an absolute majority !

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