Opposition coalitions

Authored by: Nicole Beardsworth

Routledge Handbook of Democratization in Africa

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  July  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138081246
eBook ISBN: 9781315112978
Adobe ISBN:


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The increasing number of opposition turnovers in Africa—in Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, and The Gambia among others—has prompted growing interest in research into party coalitions. This chapter highlights some of the most important questions in the coalition literature. Why are coalitions formed? How useful is European party literature for understanding African coalitions? What role do electoral institutions play in coalition formation? Is ethnicity a hindrance or a help to coalitions? And what are the consequences of coalitions for democratization in Africa? It finds that opposition coalitions in Africa remain poorly understood, with the effects of institutional design and ethnicity overdetermined. This chapter argues that more needs to be done to understand the parties that constitute coalitions so as to link coalition-building in with a more grounded understanding of party expansion and mobilization strategies—what gap does coalition formation fill that traditional mobilization strategies cannot address? Is it reasonable to expect that parties’ expectations of coalitions are conditioned both by previous experiences of coalition bargaining, and by expectations that there will likely be future rounds of bargaining? Coalitions need to be understood in situ, as part of an iterative game played between opposition parties while each party weighs up the costs and benefits of running alone. This chapter is a call to action for coalition studies to move beyond its current rational actor framework, towards a more contextualized understanding of both coalitions and the parties that constitute them.

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