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Is This What A “Government Collapse” Looks Like?

Submitted by on October 1, 2013 – 9:29 amNo Comment

If your follow international news, you might often hear the phrase, “Prime Minister so-and-so’s government has collapsed.” It happens all the time in Italy. I’ve always been caught off guard by this dramatic-sounding expression. Does it mean there’s been a coup? Are there tanks in the streets? Is the supreme court of the land holding midnight Satanic sessions, while former legislators loot office supplies?

Actually, it’s just a term from parliamentary democracies that means the governing coalition has broken up. In most parliamentary systems, the plurality party chooses the Prime Minister, who must then assemble a majority coalition among the parties present in the parliament before he can appoint ministers and start governing. Unlike in the US, most nations have way more than two political parties notably represented in the legislature. (Anyone from a parliamentary nation- please correct me if I’m wrong.)

If one of the coalition parties gets fed up with a policy and withdraws from the coalition, the Prime Minister must quickly placate that party, or find a different ally- or new elections may be called. Hence, the government collapses.

Not as dramatic as a coup, but still not something you want happening on a weekly basis.

So I was amused yesterday by Slate’s new series If It Happened There, “in which American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.” Their first subject is the government shutdown:

The capital’s rival clans find themselves at an impasse, unable to agree on a measure that will allow the American state to carry out its most basic functions. While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards.

If America had a parliament, I think our government would have already collapsed many times over the last two years. “Political brinksmanship” and “the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy” were major reasons the S&P downgraded the US’s credit rating in 2011.

So yes, I guess this is what a government collapse looks like from the inside.

What do you think? Let us know in the Comments section.

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