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People seeking Power. A Qualitative Analysis of Local Coalition Formation in Belgium

Monday, 6 June, 2011 - 15:30
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Social Sciences and Solvay Business School
Fanny Wille
phd defence

Coalition formation has been a favourite topic in political science research. It has led to many
theoretical approaches and a lot of empirical studies. But despite all these efforts, several crucial
questions remain unsolved and need attention.
The formation of coalitions is usually analyzed at the national level and is also theorized based
on that same level. In this dissertation we focus at the local level of politics. By choosing the
local level to conduct our research we wanted in the first place to get more easily access to the
information to discover all the treasures and surprises of the so-called ‘black box’ of (local)
coalition formation. We have explored the formation of coalitions after the local elections of 8
October 2006 in ten Flemish and ten Walloon municipalities and these twenty cases were the
result of a maximum variation purposive sampling.
Our choice of methodology has been inspired by the different shortcomings and puzzles
identified in the coalition literature. We therefore opted for a qualitative approach. The open
interviews allowed us to dig deeper in and to reconstruct the way in which coalitions were
formed. This dissertation thus tried in the first place to understand why some coalitions (at the
local level) were formed and others were not and how local coalition formation really operates.
The overall picture of our qualitative research - two major conclusions - is that the local level in
Flanders and Wallonia is one of power-seeking actors in which persons are essential. The
importance of personal relations is indeed quite striking. Personal sympathies and fine
relationships can facilitate local coalition formation. Bad relationships and personal incidents
however can be a real problem and burden local coalition formation. And very prominent and
evident is the power-seeking ambition of almost all local parties and lists. That makes the local
level a very ‘insecure’ environment in which persons seeking power need to make their strategic
moves on time and thus often well ahead of the next elections.

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