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A snap election is an election that is called earlier than the one that has been scheduled.

Generally, a snap election in a parliamentary system (the dissolution of parliament) is called to capitalize on an unusual electoral opportunity or to decide a pressing issue, under circumstances when an election is not required by law or convention. A snap election differs from a recall election in that it is initiated by politicians (usually the head of government or ruling party) rather than voters, and from a by-election in that a completely new parliament is chosen as opposed to merely filling vacancies in an already established assembly.[1][2] Early elections can also be called in certain jurisdictions after a ruling coalition is dissolved if a replacement coalition cannot be formed within a constitutionally set time limit.

Since the power to call snap elections (the dissolution of parliament) usually lies with the incumbent, they often result in increased majorities for the party already in power provided they have been called at an advantageous time.[3] However, snap elections can also backfire on the incumbent resulting in a decreased majority or in some cases the opposition winning or gaining power. As a result of the latter cases, there have been occasions in which the consequence has been the implementation of fixed-term elections.

Americas

Belize

According to Section 84 of the Constitution of Belize, the National Assembly must be dissolved "five years from the date when the two Houses of the former National Assembly first met" unless dissolved sooner by the governor-general upon the advice of the prime minister.[4]

Since Belize gained independence from the British Empire in September 1981, snap elections have been called twice, in 1993 and 2012. In March 2015, Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow ruled out the possibility of a snap election later in the year.[5] In the November 2015 general election, Prime Minister Barrow's United Democratic Party increased its majority by 9 percent as it made Belizean history, forming its third consecutive government.[6]

Canada

Main article: List of snap elections in Canada

In Canada, snap elections at the federal level are very common. Section 50 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and section 4 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms limits the maximum life of a federal parliament to five years following the return of the last writs of election.[7] A law was passed to set the election date on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, although courts found it effectively legally unenforceable and not binding on the prime minister. Any election that occurs before the schedule is a snap election.

During his 10 years as prime minister, Jean Chrétien recommended to the governor general to call two snap elections, in 1997 and 2000, winning both times. Wilfrid Laurier and John Turner, meanwhile, both lost their premierships in snap elections they themselves had called (in 1911 and 1984, respectively). The most notable federal snap election is that of 1958, where Prime Minister John Diefenbaker called an election just nine months after the previous one and transformed his minority government into the largest majority in the history of Canada up to that date.

A snap election was also called in the province of Ontario in 1990, three years into Premier David Peterson's term. Peterson was polling at 54%, lower than his peak popularity but still well above the opposition party leaders, and expected to be re-elected with comfortable majority. However, the 1990 Ontario general election backfired since it was interpreted as a sign of arrogance, with some cynically viewing it as an attempt to win another mandate before an anticipated economic recession. In the biggest upset in Ontario history, the Ontario New Democratic Party led by Bob Rae won an unprecedented majority government while Peterson lost his own seat to a rookie NDP candidate. A similar result occurred in Alberta in 2015 when Premier Jim Prentice of the governing Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta called a snap election. A few months before, 11 MLAs including their leader from the official opposition Wildrose Party had crossed the floor to sit with the government. However, the province was entering an economic recession due to the abrupt 2010s oil glut, and Prentice's budget was not well received by either the political left or right. The resulting Alberta New Democratic Party majority victory unseated 13 cabinet ministers and ended 44 years of Progressive Conservative government in Alberta.

In 2021, sitting Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election in an attempt to win a majority, up from his previous minority government. He justified the snap election as a way for Canadians to choose which government leads them through Canada's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Trudeau was widely criticized for calling the snap election while the country was in the midst of a 4th wave of Covid.[8] Following the election Trudeau managed to remain Prime Minister, but the Liberal Party failed to win a majority government.[9]

Peru

The Constitution of Peru allows for the dissolution of Congress by the President if a vote of no-confidence is passed two times by the legislative body, and has four months to call for new parliamentary elections or faces impeachment. The 2020 Peruvian parliamentary election parliamentary election were declared after President Martín Vizcarra dissolved Congress.

Asia and Oceania

Australia

There are three procedures in which elections can be held early in Australia:

Examples of early elections in Australia:

Bangladesh

After Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party five-year term ended in January 1996, the country went to the polls on 15 February 1996, where elections were boycotted by all major opposition parties including BNP'S arch-rival Sheikh Hasina's Awami League. The opposition had demanded a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls, but it was rejected by the incumbent government and the election went on as scheduled. The BNP won by default, grabbing all the 300 seats in the Jatiya Sangsad and assumed power. The Awami League and its allies did not accept the results and called a month-long general strike and blockades to overthrow the BNP government. The general strike was marred by bloody violence including a grenade attack on Awami League's headquarters which killed scores of people. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh annulled the election results which forced the BNP government to amend the constitution in a special parliamentary session by introducing the Caretaker government system as a part of the electoral reform. Eventually the BNP government was toppled and ousted when they resigned on 31 March 1996, and handed over power to the caretaker government. The caretaker government stayed in power for 90 days before new elections could be held. Finally a snap election was held on 12 June 1996, where Awami-League won a simple majority by beating its bitter rival BNP and stayed in power for the next five years.

India

On 17 April 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed a to win a confidence vote in the Lok Sabha (India's lower house), falling short a single vote due to the withdrawal of one of the government's coalition partners – the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The leader of the AIADMK, J. Jayalalitha, had consistently threatened to withdraw support from the ruling coalition if certain demands were not met, in particular the sacking of the Tamil Nadu government, control of which she had lost three years prior. The BJP accused Jayalalitha of making the demands in order to avoid standing trial for a series of corruption charges, and no agreement between the parties could be reached leading to the government's defeat.[11]

Sonia Gandhi, as leader of the opposition and largest opposition party (Indian National Congress) was unable to form a coalition of parties large enough to secure a working majority in the Lok Sabha. Thus shortly after the no confidence motion, President K. R. Narayanan dissolved the Parliament and called fresh elections. Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained caretaker prime minister till the elections were held later that year.[12]

Israel

See also: 2019–2021 Israeli political crisis

After the legislative election in April 2019 resulted in a political stalemate after Yisrael Beiteinu refused to join a Likud-led governing coalition, on the day transitional prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's mandate for coalition formation ended, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself (preventing president Reuven Rivlin from transferring the mandate for coalition formation to the second-largest party Blue and White's leader, Benny Gantz, with respect to the process defined by the law). Thus, a snap legislative election was called, which resulted in a similar stalemate. After both Likud and Blue and White failed to form a coalition, a third consecutive snap election resulted in yet another stalemate. Progress has been made due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and consequently the thirty-fifth government of Israel was formed. However, another snap election was held in 2021 after collapse of the coalition government.

Japan

In Japan, a snap election is called when a prime minister dissolves the lower house of the Diet of Japan. The act is based on Article 7 of the Constitution of Japan, which can be interpreted as saying that the prime minister has the power to dissolve the lower house after so advising the Emperor. Almost all general elections of the lower house have been snap elections since 1947, when the current constitution was enacted. The only exception was 1976 election, when the Prime Minister Takeo Miki was isolated within his own Liberal Democratic Party. The majority of LDP politicians opposed Miki's decision not to dissolve the lower house until the end of its 4-year term.

Kazakhstan

Nationally, general elections in Kazakhstan are held every five years. According to the Constitutional Law, the President may call a snap election both for parliamentary and presidential races and must held no later than two months respectively after which they are called.[13]

New Zealand

New Zealand elections must be held every three years, and the date is determined by the prime minister. There have been three snap elections, in 1951, 1984 and 2002.

Pakistan

Khan and Sharif then began to battle for control of Pakistan for the next two months. They both attempted to secure control over the regional assemblies and in particular, Punjab. In Punjab this saw a staged kidnapping and the moving of 130 members of the Punjab Assembly to the capital to ensure they stayed loyal to Sharif. Meanwhile, the leader of the main opposition party Benazir Bhutto threatened to lead a march on Islamabad unless new elections were called.[24]

Finally on 18 July, under pressure from the army to resolve the power struggle, Sharif and Khan resigned as prime minister and president respectively. Elections for the National Assembly were called for 6 October with elections for the regional assemblies set to follow shortly afterwards.[24][27]

A former speaker and member of the PPP Miraj Khalid was appointed interim prime minister. The National Assembly and provincial assemblies were dissolved and elections called for 3 February 1997.[31] Bhutto denied all the charges against herself and petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse her dismissal. However, the court ruled in January that there was sufficient evidence for the dismissal to be justified legally.[32]

Philippines

The Philippines has used the presidential system with fixed terms more much of its history. This means that Congress cannot be dissolved, and that "snap elections" as understood under the parliamentary system cannot be invoked. However, during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, the constitution starting from 1973, and first applied in 1978, placed the country under the semi-presidential system of government, where the Batasang Pambansa (parliament) can be dissolved. During the operation of that constitution, the parliament was not dissolved, but Marcos, who had earlier been elected in 1981 for a six-year term, asked parliament to move the 1987 presidential election to 1986, in response to growing social unrest, political and economic crises, political instability, and deteriorating peace and public order.

In the Philippines, the term "snap election" often refers to the 1986 presidential election. Marcos was self declared the official winner of the election but was eventually ousted when allegations of fraud marred the election. A new constitution approved in 1987 reverted to the presidential system, which made future snap elections unlikely. Fixed presidential elections are held every six years, with legislative elections held every three years.

Thailand

Europe

Armenia

Snap parliamentary elections were held in Armenia on 9 December 2018, as none of the parties in the National Assembly were able to put forward and then elect a candidate for prime minister in the two-week period following the resignation of incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. They were the first elections following the 2018 revolution and the country's first-ever snap elections.[33]

Czech Republic

Snap general elections were held in the Czech Republic on 25 and 26 October 2013, seven months before the constitutional expiry of the elected parliament's four year legislative term.

The government elected in May 2010 led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas was forced to resign on 17 June 2013, after a corruption and bribery scandal. A caretaker government led by Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok was then appointed by the President, but narrowly lost a vote of confidence on 7 August, leading to its resignation six days later.[34] The Chamber of Deputies then passed a motion dissolving itself on 20 August, with a call for new elections within 60 days after presidential assent.[35][36] The President gave his assent on 28 August, scheduling the elections for 25 and 26 October 2013.[37]

Denmark

In Denmark, Parliamentary elections take place every fourth year (Danish Constitution art. 32, sec. 1);[38] however, the prime minister can choose to call an early election at any time, provided that any elected parliament has already been called into session at least once.(Danish Constitution art. 32, sec. 2).[38] If a government loses its majority in the Folketing, this is not automatically a vote of confidence, but such a vote may be called, and – if lost – the government calls a new election. Denmark has a history of coalition minority governments, and due to this system, a party normally providing parliamentary support for the sitting government while not being part of it, can choose to deprive the government of a parliamentary majority regarding a specific vote, but at the same time avoid calling new elections since any vote of no confidence takes place as a separate procedure.

Notably, Denmark faced a number of very short parliaments in the 1970s and the 1980s. Prime Minister Poul Schlüter lead a series of coalition minority governments calling elections in both 1984, 1987, 1988 and 1990. Likewise, his predecessors called elections in 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1981. For more than 40 years, no Danish parliament has sat its full four-year term, in all cases, the prime minister has called elections at an earlier date.

Finland

The President of Finland can call for an early election. As per the version of the 2000 constitution currently in use, the president can do this only upon proposal by the prime minister and after consultations with the parliamentary groups, while the Parliament is in session. In prior versions of the constitution, the President had the power to do this unilaterally.

France

In France, under the Fifth Republic, while the National Assembly is elected for a five-year term, the President has the authority to dissolve the National Assembly and call an early election, provided the Assembly hasn't been dissolved in the preceding twelve months. Since the synchronization of the presidential and parliamentary terms to five years in 2002, reducing the risk of a cohabitation, an early election has not been called.

Germany

In the Federal Republic of Germany, elections to the Bundestag must take place within 46–48 months (every four year) after the first sitting of the previous chamber. The Federal President may dissolve the chamber prematurely if the government loses a confidence motion (at the request of the Chancellor), or if no majority government can be formed.

Greece

In 2012, Greece held snap elections in two consecutive months. The government of George Papandreou, elected in the 2009 legislative election, had resigned in November 2011. Instead of triggering an immediate snap election, the government was replaced by a national unity government which had a remit to ratify and implement decisions taken with other Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a month earlier.[39] This government served for six months.

The May 2012 legislative election produced a deadlocked parliament and attempts to form a government were unsuccessful. The constitution directs the president to dissolve a newly elected parliament that is unable to form a government. Ten days after the election, the president announced that a second election would be held.[40] The June 2012 legislative election resulted in the formation of a coalition government.

Italy

In Italy, national snap elections have been quite frequent in modern history, both under the Monarchy and in the current republican phase. After the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946, the first snap election occurred in 1972 and the latest one in 2022. After significant changes in the election system (in 1992–93), the frequency of snap elections has been slightly reduced since new regulations granted completion of two of four parliamentary terms. Nonetheless, snap elections still play a role in the political debate as tools considered by political parties and the Executive branch to promote their agenda or to seize political momentum. No recall election is codified in electoral regulations. The Italian President is not required to call for a snap election, even if the prime minister asks for it, provided that the Parliament is able to form a new working majority (President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro denied snap election to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after the loss of confidence in 1994).

Luxembourg

Early general elections were held in Luxembourg on 20 October 2013.[41] The elections were called after Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, at the time the longest serving head of government in the European Union, announced his resignation over a spy scandal involving the Service de Renseignement de l'Etat (SREL).[42][43] The review found Juncker deficient in his control over the service.[43]

After a spy scandal involving the SREL illegally wiretapping politicians, the Grand Duke and his family, and allegations of paying for favours in exchange for access to government ministers and officials leaked through the press, Prime Minister Juncker submitted his resignation to the Grand Duke on 11 July 2013, upon knowledge of the withdrawal of the Luxembourg Socialist Workers' Party from the government and thereby losing its confidence and supply in the Chamber of Deputies. Juncker urged the Grand Duke for the immediate dissolution of parliament and the calling of a snap election.[42]

Romania

In Romania, under the 1993 constitution, according the article 89, the President of Romania can dissolve the Parliament of Romania if a government has not been formed in 60 days and two proposals for Prime Minister have been refused.[44]

Russia

In Russia, under the 1993 constitution, according the article 109, while the State Duma (lower house of the Federal Assembly) is elected for a five-year term, but the president has the authority to dissolve the State Duma and call a snap election. However, this possibility of the president is limited, and he can use it only in two cases: if the State Duma three times in a row refused to approve the prime minister, or twice in three months pass a motion of no confidence against the Government of Russia.[45]

Slovakia

A snap general election took place in Slovakia on 10 March 2012 to elect 150 members of the Národná rada. The election followed the fall of Prime Minister Iveta Radičová's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party-led coalition in October 2011 over a no confidence vote her government had lost because of its support for the European Financial Stability Fund. Amidst a major corruption scandal involving local center-right politicians, former Prime Minister Robert Fico's Direction – Social Democracy won an absolute majority of seats.

Slovenia

A parliamentary election for the 90 deputies to the National Assembly of Slovenia was held on 4 December 2011.[48] This was the first early election in Slovenia's history. 65.60% of voters cast their vote.[49] The election was surprisingly won by the center-left Positive Slovenia party, led by Zoran Janković. However, he failed to be elected as the new prime minister in the National Assembly,[50] and the new government was formed by a right-leaning coalition of five parties, led by Janez Janša, the president of the second-placed Slovenian Democratic Party.[50][51][52] the National Assembly consists of 90 members, elected for a four-year term, 88 members elected by the party-list proportional representation system with D'Hondt method and 2 members elected by ethnic minorities (Italians and Hungarians) using the Borda count.[53]

The election was previously scheduled to take place in 2012, four years after the 2008 election. However, on 20 September 2011, the government led by Borut Pahor fell after a vote of no confidence.[54]

As stated in the Constitution, the National Assembly has to elect a new prime minister within 30 days and a candidate has to be proposed by either members of the Assembly or the President of the country within seven days after the fall of a government.[55] If this does not happen, the president dissolves the Assembly and calls for a snap election. The leaders of most parliamentary political parties expressed opinion that they preferred an early election instead of forming a new government.[56]

As no candidates were proposed by the deadline, the President Danilo Türk announced that he would dissolve the Assembly on 21 October and that the election would take place on 4 December.[48] The question arose as to whether the President could dissolve the Assembly after the seven days, in the event that no candidate was proposed. However, since this situation is not covered in the constitution, the decision of the President to wait the full 30 days was welcomed by the political parties.[57] The dissolution of the Assembly, a first in independent Slovenia, took place on October 21, a minute after midnight.[58]

Spain

Sweden

The Instrument of Government (Regeringsformen) in the Constitution of Sweden allows an "extra election" ("extra val" in Swedish). The wording is used to make clear it does not change the period to the next ordinary election, and the Members of Parliament elected merely serve out what remains of the four-year parliamentary term.

Elections are called by the government. Elections are also to be held if the parliament fails four times to elect a prime minister. Elections may not otherwise be called during the first three months of the Riksdag's first session after a general election. Elections may not be called by a prime minister who has resigned or been discharged.

Ukraine

In Ukraine a snap poll must have a voter turnout higher than 50%.[66] A snap election was most recently held with the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election held after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dissolved the Verkhovna Rada shortly after his inauguration to win a parliamentary majority for his Servant of the People party.[67]

United Kingdom

The prime minister of the United Kingdom has the de facto power to call an election at will by requesting a dissolution from the monarch – the limited circumstances where this would not be granted are set out in the Lascelles Principles. From 2011 to 2022, the conditions for when a snap election were called were significantly restricted by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) to occasions when the government loses a confidence motion or when a two-thirds supermajority of MPs vote in favour. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act was repealed on March 24, 2022 by the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, which restored the Monarch's power to dissolve parliament, on request by the Prime Minister.

During autumn 2019 there were three attempts to trigger an election through the FTPA's provision for a two-thirds majority: all failed. Then the FTPA was bypassed entirely by Parliament enacting the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019 stipulating a set date for the next election: the 2019 United Kingdom general election. This required only a simple majority, because of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy: Parliament cannot pass a law that cannot be changed or reversed by a future Parliament.[68]

The following elections were called by a voluntary decision of the government less than four years after the previous election:

Gordon Brown came very close to calling a snap election in the autumn of 2007; after he failed to do this, his popularity and authority greatly declined and he lost power in 2010.

The following election was called by a vote in the House of Commons resulting in a two-thirds majority of MPs, under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011:

The following elections were forced by a motion of no confidence against the will of the government:

Devolved governments

The devolved UK administrations (the Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament, and Welsh Assembly; established in 1998, 1999, and 1998 respectively) are also elected for fixed terms of government (four years prior to 2011, five years thereafter), but snap elections can still be called in the event of a motion of no confidence, or other special circumstances.

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