Governing by consensus is hard – even harder today when “compromise” has become a dirty word and so many political parties (and the voters who back them) are obstinate in their demands. That reality was made painfully obvious to Sweden’s Stefan Löfven (pictured with Angela Merkel), who resigned as prime minister yesterday over the mundane matter of housing policy; Löfven couldn’t reconcile the opposing views on the subject of two smaller parties in his left-right coalition government.
Löfven’s fate offers a reminder: such fragile “unity” governments can be decent managers in a time of crisis – Löfven’s coalition survived pandemic-related policy-making that drew heavy international criticism – but they struggle once the pressure is off and fissures on other issues are exposed. That doesn’t bode well for Israel’s new anti-Netanyahu coalition – the clock is already ticking on how long Israel’s eight factions can make nice – or Italy’s Mario Draghi-led unity government as the pressures of the pandemic ease.
Sweden’s troubles also make the almost 16-year reign of Germany’s Angela Merkel, who likely celebrated her final EU summit last week, all the more impressive. In that time, she has never governed alone but instead managed competing interests throughout – often in a coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats. Yes, she’s known as a crisis manager but it’s notable that she survived the quieter times between crises as well. Merkel the ultimate pragmatist seems like something of a dying breed; steadfast in her beliefs but willing to compromise, heeding the opinions of the average voter rather than those on the dogmatic extremes. And while it’s nearly time for Merkel to go, it’s hard to imagine another politician (including her possible successors) walking that same line successfully. Germany’s next leader will need some of that Merkel sensibility to avoid the fragile government and polarising election cycles that plague so many other countries.