A good political coalition should be like a delicious lasagna

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29 - July - 2011

The d'Hondt method used in Croatia, and many other European countries favors large parties and coalitions. In Croatian Sabor elections there is a large disparity in seat allocation comparing small parties to the HDZ and SDP. While HDZ and SDP receive 7 seats per 100,000 votes the small parties receive just under 4 seats per 100,000 votes. To overcome this disparity, the "fragmented right" must understand the dynamics of how seats are allocated and play the game in a way to maximize their seat potential.

The two options for the fragmented right is to either merge into one new "super party" or to form a coalition. The new party concept has the most marketing potential (something new and fresh) but the high levels of ego and low levels of willingness to compromise prevent the formation of such a super party. A coalition which allows a consolidation of resources and aggregation of votes to overcome the high bias against small parties is the only other option available for success. The relative ease of creating a coalition is also the fundamental flaw and weakness of the entity in that the voters might see it as "more of the same old, same old".

A political coalition should be greater than the sum of its parts. The coalition objective should not be to "game the d'Hondt system" but to develop something new, something better and gain more votes than before. The two options for a coalition are:

A Loose/Simple Coalition is one where each entity in the coalition "does its own thing" maintaining its own leadership and philosophy. The main objective is vote aggregation. The end result of a loose coalition might be where 1 + 2 + 3 = 7

A Tight Coalition is one where coalition entities consolidate more than just votes by unifying leadership and philosophy. The main objective is to stimulate an increase in votes. The end result of a tight coalition might be where 1 + 2 + 3 = 10

As a point of reference, individual players in a pre-coalition state might attain 1 + 2 +3 = 5. Clearly a loose coalition is better than no coalition, but my philosophy is that if you want to do something, do the best that you can - go all the way.

Loose/Simple Coalition

In an election system with numerous fragmented small parties, many of parties which do not get enough votes to pass the threshold to get at least one seat in government. The end result is that in Croatia potentially 250,000 votes are wasted because they go to small parties that do not get representation.

By pooling votes with other small parties that also do not pass the threshold three parties, as an example, might get 1 or 2 seats which they would not otherwise have received. The key benefit for the simple coalition is to aggregate votes and gain more seats through the d'Hondt allocation model. For example:
  • Small party receives 4 seats per 100,000 votes
  • Medium sized party or coalition receives 5 seats per 100,000 votes
  • Large party receives 7 seats per 100,000 votes

A further election campaign benefit is that the coalition could benefit from is a consolidation of marketing resources might attain economies of scale which could benefit in more effective marketing.

The end result is that a previously dispersed set of 200,000 votes which would have received only 7 seats might now turn into 250,000 votes which could receive 10 or 11 seats. In a government system with 153 seats, this might be an inconsequential increase and total number of seats.

The unfortunate aspect of this simple strategy is that it can be perceived as just "more of the same old ...". If voters did not like what the individual parties offered before the creation of the coalition then why would they vote for the same parties with the same ideas after creation of the coalition?

Tight Coalition

A tight coalition, which can even be considered a "Value-added" coalition because something new and more valuable is created. In a tight coalition parties will united under a unified leadership structure (one leader) and philosophies are merged based on areas of overlap. The Coalition will show an ability for evolution, overcome the problem the loose coalition faces where the voters see it as more of the "same old, same old", and subsequently attract a wider group of voters.

Voters have more faith in tight coalitions. The ability to unify and cooperate on the interests of the nation and the voters is seen as a positive thing by voters. The role of government is to make rules and allocate resources which will benefit the nation. The ability to make compromises in a coalition proves to the voters that compromises for the greater good will also be made in government. This makes the coalition more appealing to a wider base of voters and the coalition becomes a mass market party rather than a niche party.

The new coalition will, by creating something new and superior to what existed previously, turn the original base of 200,000 votes into 350,000 votes which could get 22 seats in government. Only this sort of increase can put a credible and influential force into government.

A long-term benefit of a tight coalition is that if the coalition has unified effectively and performs well in the election it is just a few small steps away from further unification into a party.

To have some fun, I will use the example of lasagna to explain the differences between the loose coalitions and tight coalitions.

Homemade Meat Lovers Lasagna

Loose/Simple coalition - bring together the Lasagna ingredients:

(Note: See the end of the article for the lasagna recipe)

To make a lasagna you need to have the required ingredients - for example meat, pasta, cheese, tomato sauce and spices. The first step in making a lasagna is to bring the ingredients together into the kitchen. How you put the ingredients together determines how delicious the lasagna will be. This is similar to a group of parties, movements and associations coming together to pool their votes so that they get more seats in government.

Tight Coalition - Making the Lasagna

Question: Do you make anything interesting by just mixing the ingredients, in some random way, in a bowl and then putting it in the oven?

Answer: No. Mixing ingredients creates a "mush". You need a vision of what to create.

The whole should be greater than the sum of the parts. A lasagna is so much more than just putting together the ingredients in any order. A lasagna is a new dish which is more delicious than any one of the component ingredients. The value added in the creation of a lasagna comes in the mixing and preparation of ingredients and the subsequent baking which creates something new. While the ingredients used to make the lasagna might cost $8 and the labour might cost $10, the finished lasagna might be worth $28.

Is a lasagna ever sold because it has the best tomato sauce or because it is made from organic beef? No, a lasagna is sold on the taste of the lasagna as a whole and not the constituent parts.

The ingredients used to make lasagna can be used to make other dishes as well. The chef needs to have a vision of what he wants and then processes the ingredients to bring to life that vision. In the political space, the coalition is built on the common themes that draw people in the various parties together and give them strength to overcome the injustices and inequalities that they are struggling against.

The Croatian Problem in the Kitchen

There are two problems in the Croatian political kitchen:

1. We have two sets of chefs, Plamen and Hrast, each trying to create and sell similar lasagnas. The market is not large enough to support two sightly different meat lasagnas. One set of chefs will need to decide to make a meat lasagna while the other will need to make either a vegetarian or seafood lasagna.

2. In each group, Plamen and Hrast, there are too many chefs trying to make the lasagnas and each chef prefers their own favorite ingredient. Can anyone say that the meat, which is the most expensive part of the lasagna, is more important than the spices which might be the least expensive of the ingredients? Is the cheese more important than the tomato sauce? Can a lasagna still be a lasagna if any one of the ingredients is missing? The chefs will need to start thinking about the lasagna that the people want to buy and not the individual ingredients they like and want to put into the lasagna.

The Croatian people are waiting for a chef that will make a fantastic lasagna.
Hopefully too many cooks will not spoil it.

Lasagna Recipe


• 700 g fresh lean ground beef
• 700 g fresh lean ground pork
• 1 can (796 mL) whole tomatoes
• 2 cans (796 mL) crushed tomatoes
• grated romano or parmesan cheese
• 450 ml ricotta cheese (italian style)
• 1 brick mozzarella cheese 500 grams

• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1 clove garlic
• 1 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper (or to taste)
• whole dried red chili pepper
• 1 tsp oregano
• 5 leaves fresh basil


Step 1 - The Sauce

• In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.
- Add onions and garlic; cook until lightly browned
• Add all three meats, salt and pepper;
- Cook 10 minutes or until meat is cooked through, stirring constantly.
• Stir in tomatoes, bay leaf, chili pepper, bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and cook 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
• In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook lasagna pasta 6 minutes, al dente (half cooked).
- The pasta is half cooked is because in the oven the lasagna will resume cooking.
• Drain lasagna pasta and set aside.

Ricotta Mixture:
• In a bowl mix ricotta and eggs and whisk until creamy.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 2 -The Assembly

• In a large baking pan add some sauce to the bottom of the pan.
• Add the lasagna one piece at the time and compile them side by side.
• Now add some sauce on the layer.
- Add grated cheese and some shredded mozzarella so the layers stay together and firm.
• On the third layer of lasagna pasta add the sauce and the ricotta, egg mixture .
- Keep going until you get to the top of the pan.
• You should have not more than 6 layers.
- The ricotta mixture should be put on at least two of the layers.
• The final assembly is the last layer - lots of mozzarella and grated cheese.

Step 3 -The Cooking Process

• Now that the lasagna is put together pre-heat oven 350 degrees F. Let cook 25 minutes covered. Uncover and cook an additional 15 minutes. If the top is still now browned.
• Open top element in oven for a few minutes and monitor the cooking cycle so not to burn the top of the lasagna.
• Once you have achieved the full cooking process let chill for at least 20 minutes so that the lasagna becomes firm enough to cut into portions without having the lasagna to break apart and be to liquid.
- The important thing is let it cool.
Željko Zidarić