When we
notice European politics at all, we tend to focus on the exotic – for
example last weekend’s election in Bulgaria, which was indecisive
because the outgoing prime minister won’t form a coalition with the
social democrats as they forced him into exile when he used to be king
and they used to be communists.

Let’s instead try to focus on
what’s interestingly different. Here, in summary, are the results from
the Bulgarian election (thanks to Adam Carr’s wonderful Psephos site) here:

Social democrats: 83 seats
Centrists/liberals (two parties): 86 seats
Conservatives (three parties): 50 seats
Extreme right: 21 seats

every European democracy has a party system that looks something like
this. If no group has a majority on its own, some sort of coalition has
to be formed, and that usually means the middle group, the liberals,
have to decide whether to align themselves with the conservatives or
the social democrats. In some countries they go one way, in some the
other, and in many cases they switch back and forth.

And there’s
a major reason why Australian politics is so rigid and unresponsive. A
hundred years ago, our liberals decided that keeping Labor out was of
paramount importance, so they made a permanent alliance with the
conservatives – a “fusion” into a single party. And, apart from a few
splitters who formed the Democrats and its predecessors, they’ve been
stuck there ever since.

Bulgaria will almost certainly end up
with a governing alliance of either liberals and conservatives or
liberals and social democrats. In many countries, including some of the
former Soviet bloc, the latter combination has proved itself to be both
stable and successful. What a pity that option has been closed off in

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey