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Thies: Keeping tabs on partners

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Thies. 2001. Keeping tabs on partners: The logic of delegation in coalition governments. AJPS 45 (3): 580-598.


In a one-party-majority parliamentary government, delegation is straightforward: backbenchers delegate to party leaders. Delegation becomes messier in coalition governments. Coalition members have two options: (1) ministerial government or (2) managed delegation. If they choose ministerial government, each minister becomes sovereign over his portfolio; if your coalition party got the Finance portfolio, then you let them have their way with it. But with managed delegation, the coalition members try to ensure that their partners don't go too far out of line.

What does managed delegation look like? Either (1) monitoring or (2) institutional checks. Thies finds evidence of monitoring in countries without institutional checks (and, it follows, institutional checks in the other places). Monitoring typically takes the form of appointing a "junior" minister to keep track of what the real minister (who is a member of your partner's party) is doing.


  1. Parties are more likely to monitor each other's ministers if there are fewer institutional checks.
  2. Parties are more likely to monitor ministers that control more salient portfolios (e.g. Finance).
  3. Parties are more likely to monitor ministers with extreme preferences.
  4. Parties are morel ikely to monitor ministers in situations of increased uncertainty.


Ministers from all parties in Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan (and all factions during Japan's one-party period) were nearly always assigned hostile junior ministers. By contrast, junior minister-based monitoring of ministers was much less frequent in Germany, where there are stronger institutional checks.


Because the conflict built into multiparty coalitions is very similar to the one inherent in a separation of powers, the traditional distinction between presidential and parliamentary systems is overstated.