How long does it take to select a Prime Minister

Lately there’s been a lot of talk from such countries as Britain and Canada about how our inability to immediately select a new president is somehow a dire predicament. Both of these countries are parlimentary systems, which makes me wonder: how long does it take them to select a prime minister? I can’t imagine that the very same day of the election, the new parliment gets together, has one vote, and a new prime minister is agreed upon, which is what they seem to expect from our electoral college.

The Prime Minister is the leader of the party that got the majority (IE - won) the election. You don’t vote for the PM per se on the ballot, you vote for who is running as MP (member of parliment) in your riding.

The PM is the leader of successful party, as bernse says. Typically they are called upon to form a government by the Queeen (UK) or the Governor General (Australia) in the expectation that they will command the confidence of the lower house of parliament. There is no formal election of the PM in parliament and it is not necessary for parliament to sit to appoint a PM. If it is clear which party one, the incumbent is expected to resign his commission immediately and the new PM begins his term. In the last UK election, John Major was moving out of #10 Downing St the night of the election.

Of course, if the election is close the previous government stays on in caretaker mode until such a time as the result is clear.

That’s “won” not “one”. :o

[technical qualification]
These two statements are both correct but are not quite the same thing. Changing Prime Ministers does not require an election. Any political party can change its leader at anytime, by a simple magority vote. If the political party is the party in government, the new leader becomes the new Prime Minister.
[/technical qualification]

Ergo, a new Prime Minister can be appointed essentially as quickly as the parimentary party meeting can be convened. Maybe as little as an hour for the decision and the new PM is sworn in the next day. Naturally, the Machiavellian maneuvers might precede the “coups de théâtre” by some time.

In Australia, the last time this occurred was when Paul Keating ousted Bob Hawke in Dec 1991. At the time George Bush was due here on a Presidential visit. He was invited by Hawke, the arrangements had been Hawke’s department, but Bush met with Keating as PM when he arrived. In his speech to the Joint Sitting of Parliment, Bush noted that “you (Australia) have a robust democratic process”

[even more technical Oz politics bit] It is even possible for the party with a majority in parliament to choose someone who is not in the lower house or indeed in parliament at all as the new PM, as long as they then stand for a lower house seat within three months. John Gorton was appointed in this manner and subsequently moved from the Senate to the House. [/]

Usually, in Canada we know who will be the PM by the end of election night. If there’s a change in ministery, the time for transition depends on negotiations between the incoming PM and the outgoing PM. We’re not usually as quick as Britain, where the new PM is typically sworn in within 24-48 hours; more like two to three weeks, if I remember correctly from 1993 and 1984 (the last two times we had changes of government).

It gets a bit uncertain if there is no clear majority in the Commons, but that too is usually known by the end of the election night. If it is a minority situation, and the current PM decides to try to stay in office, he asks the GovGen to summon the new Parliament asap, and seeks the confidence of the house. If the PM fails to get confidence, the leader of the next largest party would get a chance to become PM.

I don’t have exact dates here at home; will poke around a bit and see if I can nail it down for you a bit more.

Little tidbit:

Technically, the Prime Minister has no power in the governemnt above that of other MP’s. He is only in charge of his party. So if the party didn’t do something he wanted, he would be utterly powerless (other than his 1 vote that he gets for being an MP)

If there’s a coalition government do you choose a factorable minister?

I keep reading that the “leader” of the party that wins the majority. In the US at least, that term doesn’t really have much of a concrete meaning.

What I’m suspecting The Ryan was asking with his OP (I share the question) was how (and when) this leader is chosen. The closest analog we have in the US seems to be stuff like Speaker of the House, the various Majority/Minority Leaders, etc. These positions are chosen by vote amongst the members of the houses after the elections - not all that quickly afterwards, at that. IOW, they wait until things settle down after an election, and then decide who their “leaders” are.

From the replies, it sounds like the leader of the party is well-known before the election. Could somebody elaborate on this? In the US, parties as a whole don’t really have single people in charge - not in any obvious way, at least. I don’t think being a presidential nominee quite qualifies one to called “leader of his/her party” in the same sense that Parliamentary countries look at it.

In the US, there is no real head of any one party that wields the same amount of power as a PM because there is nowhere near the same amount of party discipline in the US as there is parliamentary countries.

In the House of Representatives, one of the Democrats, James Traficant of Ohio, has pledged to vote for the Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, when the House chooses its speaker on January 3.

I believe that the Republicans and Democrats choose their leadership positions by secret ballot in their caucuses.

We have had the occasional coalition government but this was as a result of changes to the composition parliament during term of office.

When an MP dies that seat up up for grabs again and it seems to be a British tradition to elect MP’s from other parties to express dissatifaction with the way things are going.
This has caused the Conservatives to rely on the support of the Ulster Unionists who in turn used this leverage to gain some concessions in Northern Ireland - note that the Ulster Unionists are the ones who are responsible for the failure of the Stormont government and the discrimination against Catholics in the 60’s which led on to ‘The Troubles’.

In theory if no one party has a majority then the leader of the largest party is invited to attempt to form a government.
Such a government is extremely vulnerable to votes of no confidence and is forced to tread very carefully, Labopur ran a minority government in the early 70’s and played the ‘divide and rule’ game before it all ended in tears.

Our election campaigns from the announcement to go to the polls through to a new government being sworn in is usually about six weeks.

brad_d, your assumption is correct. All of the leaders of the parties are chosen well in advance. I’m a bit unsure on the dates, but I think that Jean Chrétien, our current PM, was chosen by the Liberal Party back in 1989, after the Liberals under John Turner lost the 1988 election.

Alexa McDonough, the leader of the NDP (the party that matt_mcl is running for) was chosen several years ago - 1995?

Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, was their leader, from about 1995 onwards, after Lucien Bouchard resigned as party leader to become Premier of Québec. Duceppe was forced out of the leadership for a short time, by maneuvering within the parliamentary caucus, but managed to regain the leadership a few years ago.

Joe Clark, the leader of the Progressive Conservative party, was elected leader a couple of years ago - 1998?

And Stockwell Day, the leader of the Canadian Alliance, was elected party leader last spring (June, 2000).

One feature of our system is that the public can become very familiar with the leaders of the parties, because they normally hold seats in the Commons, and participate in the day-to-day acitivities, like the Question Period, where the government members are asked questions about the conduct of the government. The electorate may have several years to assess the abilities of a particular leader before there is an election.

For example, Chrétien, McDonough, and Duceppe all led their parties in the last election. Joe Clark is also a well-known politician, as he was PM in 1979-80, Leader of the Opposition from 1980-83, and Cabinet minister under PM Mulroney, 1984-1993.

Stockwell Day is the least well-known, as prior to being elected leader of the Alliance, he was Treasurer of the Province of Alberta. This is the first time he’s been running in a federal election, unlike the other four leaders.

As to how these folk get elected, each party has its own selection process. Some use convention, with voting by delegates, others have been experimenting with mail-in or electronic voting by all of the party members.

I think I’m right in saying that in the UK, there is no absolute reason why the PM must even be an MP.

Coalitions in a first post the post system are the stuff of great political intrigue and horse trading.

The minor party in the coalition will want the best deal it can get which will involve a combination of policy implementation and as high ranking a Minister they can negotiate.

Something like “We will support your Government if you support our proposed legislation on minor Education reform and if our Mr / Mrs / Miss PainintheAss is made Minister for Something Not To Serious in your Government”

Larger Party says “Ooh, can’t do that but how about…etc, etc”


No, there isn’t. I believe the most recent example was Alec Douglas-Home, who became PM before renouncing his Peerage and being returned to the Commons in a by-election.

Nor is there any requirement that a British PM be the leader of a political party. Churchill wasn’t when he was appointed in 1940. There are in fact no formal restrictions at all on who the queen can appoint as PM.

The only restrictions are practical ones. These boil down to the requirement that whoever is appointed should be able to convince Parliament to transact the essential business of the queen’s Government. If any party has an overall majority, its leader becomes the obvious person who can claim to be able to do so. If there is no party with an overall majority, the choice may be more difficult.

Conversely, the circumstances under which a PM must submit his/her resignation boil down to the rule they should do so once they are unable to convince Parliament to transact that business.

The rules for the choice of First Minister of Scotland have been formalised, being based on the principle that the Scottish Parliament recommends the name of one of their own number to the queen.

FWIW, the US Speaker of the House is not required to actually be one of its members. So far, all of them have been, though.

If you want a real mind-bender, there is no provision in the Canadian Constitution Act for there to even BE a Prime Minister. That term does not appear anywhere in Canada’s Constitution. The job essentially exists as a practical convention.

It’s important to note, again, that the executive power in Canada is technically supposed to be the Governor-General (and through her/him, Her Majesty) but in practice it’s the Prime Minister because it just wouldn’t be considered acceptable for an unelected person to run the country. So the selection and duties of a Prime Minister are, in practice, pretty flexible if you want them to be.

For essentially similar reasons, the same is almost true of the British Prime Minister. The existance of such a position was not officially recognised until the early twentieth century. Its existance in law now rests on various subsidiary matters, such as the right to live at Chequers, rather than any definition of its powers.

One should add that British situations comparable to the current U.S. result can be envisaged. The outcome of a British General Election could depend on a single constituency result which might need the intervention of the courts to decide whether a recount is required. (It is unusual for the courts to become involved in British election disputes but not known.) What makes such a scenario very unlikely is the existance of several smaller parties with a few seats. This gives some scope for one of the two major parties to do deals to get a majority in the House of Commons. The process of negotiation could take some time and might even require the personal intervention of the Queen.

The basic point is that any system can give rise to extreme situations in which there is no obvious winner. Claiming that a parliamentary system is better a presidential one seems a bit pointless. They’re just different.