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A minority government or a minority cabinet is a cabinet of a parliamentary system formed when the governing political party or coalition of parties does not have a majority of overall seats in the parliament. It is also known as a hung parliament. In bicameral parliaments, the term relates to the situation in the chamber whose confidence is considered most crucial.

In general, a minority government tends to be less stable than a majority government, because the opposition can always bring down the government with a simple vote of no confidence. Also, it is often argued that a minority government is less accountable because the leader can dodge responsibility and shift blame to the opposition. However, a minority government tends to be less arrogant because it often requires compromise between the different parties to ensure the passage of legislation.

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Coalitions and alliances

To deal with situations where no clear majorities appear, parties either form coalition governments, alliances or agreements with other parties to stay in office.

A common situation is governance with "jumping majorities", i.e. that the cabinet stays as long as it can negotiate support from the parliament — majorities which well may be differently formed from issue to issue, from bill to bill.

An alternative arrangement is a looser alliance of parties, exemplified with Sweden. There the long governing Social Democrats have governed with more or less formal support from other parties: in the mid-20th century from Agrarians, after 1968 from Communists, and more recently from Greens and ex-Communists, and have thus been able to retain executive power and (in practice) legislative initiative. This is also common in Canada, where nine elections from 1921 to 2005 effectively produced minority federal governments: the parties can rarely cooperate enough to form a coalition, but will have loose agreements instead.

Occasionally a confidence and supply agreement may be formed. This is more formal pact which still falls short of creating a coalition government. In the Canadian province of Ontario, the Liberal Party formed a minority government from 1985 to 1987 on the basis of a formal accord with the New Democratic Party (NDP): the NDP agreed to support the Liberals for two years on all confidence motions and budgetary legislation, in exchange for the passage of certain legislative measures proposed by the NDP. This was not a coalition government, as the NDP remained an opposition party and was not given seats in the cabinet. In this case the Liberals did not even have a plurality of seats: they had 48 and the NDP had 25, but the Progressive Conservatives were the largest party with 52.

In Canada, in minority situations, the incumbent government has the first opportunity to attempt to win the confidence of the House even if it has fewer seats. Usually in this situation the incumbent government simply resigns if the main opposition party is only a few seats short of having a majority or if it feels it has no chance of winning the support of enough members of smaller parties to win an initial confidence vote. Thus in 1957, 1963, 1979, and 2006 the incumbent governments resigned rather than attempt to stay in power.

New Zealand's 48th Parliament operated with both a coalition and a looser agreement: the government was a coalition between the Labour Party and the Progressives, while United Future and New Zealand First had an agreement to support the government on confidence matters, while the Green Party abstained.

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Simple plurality system

In most Westminster system nations, each constituency elects one member of parliament by simple plurality voting. This system heavily biases the vote towards increasing the number of seats of the top two parties and reducing the seats of smaller parties, a principle known in political science as Duverger's law, and thus minority governments are relatively uncommon. Advocates of this system see this as one of its advantages. A party with less than 40% of the popular vote can often win an outright majority of the seats. (For instance, in the 2005 UK General Election, the governing Labour party won a majority of 66 in House of Commons with only 35.3% of the popular vote.) If support for some parties is regionally concentrated, however, then Duverger's law applies separately to each region, and so it is quite possible for no party to be sufficiently dominant in each region so as to receive a majority of the seats. In a minority situation the head of the largest party is usually asked to form a government. They must then either form a coalition with one or more existing parties, or they must win enough support from the other parties or independents to avoid no-confidence motions. Because of no-confidence motions, minority governments are frequently short-lived or fall before their term is expired. The leader of a minority government will also often call an election in hopes of winning a stronger mandate from the electorate. In Canada, for instance, federal minority governments last an average of 18 months.

United Kingdom

The complexities of the British voting system mean that there are few occasions since 1900 in which a minority government has been formed, with coalitions last in office between 1931 and 1945. However, the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson formed a minority government for eight months as a result of the General Election of February 1974 until the October election later that year which resulted in a Labour Government with a tiny majority of three.

The following administration became a minority government once more after the collapse of the Lib-Lab Pact in 1977, and the then British Prime Minister James Callaghan's Government fell in March 1979 with an infamous vote of no confidence carried by a single vote.

The last occasion a minority Government held power in the UK was between December 1996 and May 1997. John Major had won the 1992 General Election with an absolute majority of 21 seats over all other parties. This majority was wittled away through by-elections defeats, notably including Newbury, SE Staffordshire and Wirral South and defections leading to a loss of a majoirty in Parliament.

Canada

In Canada, the party which wins the most seats in a general election forms the government.[1]

During the history of Canadian politics there have been twelve minority governments on the federal level, in eleven separate minority parliaments (there were two minority governments during the life of 15th Parliament). One of these minorities, the 14th Parliament, was only a minority for half of its duration due to floor-crossings and by-elections. The tenth and eleventh (current federal minority parliament) were elected twice in Canadian federal elections of 2005/2006 and again in the 2008 election. There have also been numerous minority governments in provincial legislatures, particularly in provinces such as Ontario where there are strong third parties.

The Netherlands

Coalitions in the Netherlands are formed with the support from parliamentary parties, elected in a system of proportional representation. Although very rare, minority governments can be formed during the formation period of a Dutch cabinet, since an election might not result in a coalition that can be agreed upon by the parliamentary parties. More often, a minority government is formed when one of the parliamentary factions of a coalition partner of the cabinet retracts its support for the coalition, or when all ministers of that parliamentary party resign. Then the Prime Minister will offer the resignation of the full cabinet to the Dutch Monarch.

At this point, the Monarch may choose to dissolve Parliament and hold a general election, making the cabinet demissionair. A demissionair cabinet is not a minority government, but rather a form of caretaker government, enjoying only limited powers until the new Parliament assembles.

If the Monarch does not dissolve Parliament, the remaining Cabinet continues as a rompkabinet in full possession of its powers. A rompkabinet can finish any introduced legislation (e.g., a budget), but will need to obtain majority support in Parliament if this legislation is to be passed; this will necessarily mean gaining the support of parties outside the government. General elections may then be held at some later time. Theoretically, there is no need to hold an early general election, but early elections are often called in practice because the basis for the regeerakkoord is gone.

A third option available to the Monarch is the formation of a new cabinet, based on a different Parliamentary majority, which may even include the defecting coalition partner. Elections are then held as scheduled at the end of the parliamentary term, since the Monarch will not dissolve parliament when an informateur was able to negotiate a new regeerakkoord.

Scotland

After the 2007 parliamentary elections, the Scottish National Party led by Alex Salmond constituted a minority government in the Scottish Parliament. This was because the SNP gained 47 seats out of 129 in the election, which was some way short of achieving an absolute majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, but more than any other single party gained. The SNP were unable to negotiate a majority coalition government with any other party, but as no other combination of parties were able to agree a deal, the SNP was left to become the government though without a majority.

Wales

After the 2007 Assembly elections, the Welsh Labour Party led by Rhodri Morgan initially formed a minority government in the Welsh Assembly. This was because they gained 26 seats in the election, which was short of an absolute majority of seats in the Assembly. Whilst Labour were initially unable to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a 'Rainbow Coalition' of the Conservative Party (UK), Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru failed to come to fruition. However on 6 July 2007, Welsh Labour Party members voted for a coalition with Plaid, which was followed by a similar result from Plaid Cymru members the next day. As a result, the Welsh Assembly was controlled by the Labour-Plaid alliance with Rhodri Morgan as First Minister (up until his retirement in 2009 and subsequent replacement by Carwyn Jones as First Minister) and Plaid Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones as his deputy.

See also

References

External links


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