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Little Nemo
03-31-2004, 12:30 AM
I'm a Merkin so my knowledge of Parliament is based on listening to George Clinton albums. Now I understand that the majority party gets to form a government and name a Prime Minister. And I know that in some multi-party states, no single party gets a straight majority and the largest party has to form a coalition government with other parties to reach a majority.

But does the majority coalition have to be formed by the largest party or can anyone try to form one? Let's suppose that Fredonia has a hundred seats in Parliament and after the recent election, the Liberty party won 45, the Fraternity Party won 33, and the Equality Party won 22. Could the Fraternals and the Equals get together, declare they have a 55 seat majority, and submit the name of their Prime Minister to King Rufus?

Really Not All That Bright
03-31-2004, 12:39 AM
But does the majority coalition have to be formed by the largest party or can anyone try to form one? Let's suppose that Fredonia has a hundred seats in Parliament and after the recent election, the Liberty party won 45, the Fraternity Party won 33, and the Equality Party won 22. Could the Fraternals and the Equals get together, declare they have a 55 seat majority, and submit the name of their Prime Minister to King Rufus?
In the UK, no. The Queen, by tradition, invites the leader of the majority party to form a government. You can't just call up HRH and say, "look, I sorted out a nice little collection of seats.. do you think you could make me Prime Minister instead?"

Only if the largest party fails to win an absolute majority could this happen, and to the best of my knowledge, it never has. At least, the plurality party is always in the new government.

Of course, there's no statute to say they couldn't*, but the people wouldn't stand for it. Interesting how slender a thread the principles of democracy hang by, isn't it?

*there may actually be just such a statute, but I've never heard of it and it would be extremely unlikely that any sitting Government passed one.

ruadh
03-31-2004, 12:49 AM
It's happened in Ireland a number of times. Most recently in November 1982 when Fianna Fáil won 75 seats, Fine Gael 70 and Labour 16. Fine Gael and Labour formed a coalition government.

Cunctator
03-31-2004, 12:54 AM
In Australia, the three major parties are the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the National Party. The latter two traditionally operate as a coalition. The Commonwealth parliament has 150 seats. It would be perfectly feasible for a situation to emerge after an election where the Labor Party had the greatest number of seats (say 70), while the Liberal Party and the National Party each had a lesser number of seats (say 65 and 15 respectively). However, the Labor Party would not be able to command a majority in the Parliament, while the Liberal/National coalition would. Therefore the Governor-General would invite the Liberal/National coalition to form government and the Labor Party would take its place on the Opposition benches.

Current state of the parties is actually Liberal/National coalition 82 seats, Labor Party 64 seats, Greens 1 seat and Independents 3 seats.

Tamealien
03-31-2004, 01:24 AM
In the UK, no. The Queen, by tradition, invites the leader of the majority party to form a government.

IIRC it nearly happened in February 1974. The Conservatives, who had been in power got 297 seats, and the Labour party 301. Liberals had 14, and there were various nationalists and Ulster Unionists, total 635 MPs. Ted Heath, the leader of the Conservatives was given a couple of days to see if he could come up with a coalition - only when he failed did the Labour party put together a deal with the Liberals.

don't ask
03-31-2004, 01:53 AM
The last British Prime Ministers to head coalition governments were:

Herbert H. Asquith 1915–16, David Lloyd George 1916–19, David Lloyd George 1919–22 a different coalition, Winston Churchill 1940–45.

The reigning monarch appoints the Prime Minister, guided by the strict convention that the Prime Minister should be the member of the House of Commons most likely to be able to form a Government with the support of the House. In the above list both David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were second choice for PM, Andrew Bonar Law and Lord Halifax having knocked back the offers.

chiefgnome
03-31-2004, 02:46 AM
The last British Prime Ministers to head coalition governments were:

Herbert H. Asquith 1915–16, David Lloyd George 1916–19, David Lloyd George 1919–22 a different coalition, Winston Churchill 1940–45.

The reigning monarch appoints the Prime Minister, guided by the strict convention that the Prime Minister should be the member of the House of Commons most likely to be able to form a Government with the support of the House. In the above list both David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were second choice for PM, Andrew Bonar Law and Lord Halifax having knocked back the offers.

Lord Halifax certainly didn't reject a request from the monarch to form a Government. He was perceived as the favourite to succeed Chamberlain but over a series of meetings of party grandees, other party leaders etc, Churchill "emerged" and he was the sole person who the King asked to form a government.

Bonar Law however did decline an invitation to form a government.

chiefgnome
03-31-2004, 03:00 AM
IIRC it nearly happened in February 1974. The Conservatives, who had been in power got 297 seats, and the Labour party 301. Liberals had 14, and there were various nationalists and Ulster Unionists, total 635 MPs. Ted Heath, the leader of the Conservatives was given a couple of days to see if he could come up with a coalition - only when he failed did the Labour party put together a deal with the Liberals.

FWIW the reason that Heath, as the leader of a losing party was allowed to have a go at finding a majority was that he was already Prime Minister. When a sitting Prime Minister wins a General Election the Queen doesn't ask them to form a new Government, they merely continue. Hence February 1974.

If there had been no sitting Prime Minister (something that doesn't happen in our system, but just imagine for the sake of argument) then the Queen would have immediately asked Harold Wilson to see if he could form a government, if Wilson declined or was unable to, then she would *then* have proceeded to ask Ted Heath as the leader of the next largest party and so on, after that she would have asked anyone else who she thought was capable of commanding a majority in the House of Commons (in real life the only time a non-party leader has been appointed PM was Churchill).

In 1974 of course, Heath was already Prime Minister and rather than resign and leave the Queen to "chose" a successor, he spent a couple of days trying to arrange a coalition government. As sitting PM he had this right, despite not leading the largest party. When he found he couldn't, he resigned and the Queen summoned Wilson.

The previous hung Parliament was 1923 - then the Conservatives under Baldwin were the largest Party, but lost their majority. Like Heath, Baldwin remained as PM despite his defeat - but unlike Heath remained there until Parliament next met when he was defeated on a vote of no confidence and resigned. Baldwin having failed to command a majority in the House, the King proceeded to summon the leader of the next largest party - Ramsey Macdonald, the next party leader.

(It might be worth noting also that in February 1974 Labour didn't do a deal with the Liberals, they just governed as a minority for a couple of months. They then won a second election in October 1974 and secured a small majority. This was whittled away over subsequent years and they were eventually forced to do a deal with the Liberals.)

don't ask
03-31-2004, 03:10 AM
Lord Halifax certainly didn't reject a request from the monarch to form a Government. He was perceived as the favourite to succeed Chamberlain but over a series of meetings of party grandees, other party leaders etc, Churchill "emerged" and he was the sole person who the King asked to form a government.

I understand that the generally accepted account is that Chamberlain offered the position to Halifax who refused. Churchill required the support of Camberlain and Halifax to be able to accept the position. Presumably that is why the "appeaser" Halifax became part of the "War Cabinet". Certainly the offer never came from the King.

Mops
03-31-2004, 05:33 AM
In quite a few countries, a government does not even need a majority in parliament to be elected - if no majority can be got together the prime minister can get elected by a plurality, form a minority government and then try to govern with ad hoc legislative majorities. Example: Article 63 (4) of the constitution of Germany (http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/eurodocs/germ/ggeng.html) (this case did not occur yet on the federal level, but there are equivalent provisions in most states and there have been a few minority governments in states.)

Northern Piper
03-31-2004, 08:06 AM
I believe that the first Labour government in Britain took office after Baldwin's Conservatives were defeated in the Commons, without an election beng called. Given the number of parties represented in the Commons, it wasn't clear if Baldwin's defeat meant the Commons was hung, so Labour got a shot. Ramsay Macdonald became Prime Minister and Baldwin went into Opposition, but the Labour government only lasted for a short time. When the Labour government was defeated in the Commons, there was a general election. (Going by memory here, so would welcome comments from anyone who's got more details.)

When Macdonald was in office the second time, he formed a National Unity government to deal with the economic crisis of the early years of the Depression. He gradually lost the support of a substantial number of his own party, who considered him to be selling out to the vested interests. Towards the end, I believe the Labour supporters of the government were outnumbered by the Conservative supporters.

In Canada, there was one occasion when the second largest party formed the government at the federal level. In the election of 1925, the Liberals came in second in number of seats, but were able to put together a coalition with some of the smaller groups and stayed in power, even though tthe Conservatives were the single largest party. The Conservatives stayed in Opposition.

So I would respectfully disagaree with Really Not All That Bright: there is no clear convention in the U.K. or Canada that the single largest party must be in the government. It's purely a question of what party controls the confidence of the Commons.