Dissolution of parliament
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Usually a legislature in such a system must be dissolved on the expiration of a constitutionally specified term. Early dissolutions are allowed in many jurisdictions.
- 1 Australia
- 2 Canada
- 3 France
- 4 Germany
- 5 Hong Kong
- 6 Republic of Ireland
- 7 Italy
- 8 Japan
- 9 New Zealand
- 10 Romania
- 11 Russia
- 12 United Kingdom
- 13 See also
- 14 References
Parliament of Australia
The House of Representatives, but not the Senate, can be dissolved at any time by the Governor-General. The term of the House expires 3 years after its first meeting if not dissolved earlier. The Governor-General can dissolve the Senate only when the double dissolution provisions are invoked, in which case the House of Representatives is also dissolved at the same time. There is a convention that the Governor-General only orders a dissolution on the advice of the Prime Minister. This convention was broken in 1975, resulting in a very serious constitutional crisis in Australia, when the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, controversially exercised his reserve powers and dismissed the Federal majority government of Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Parliament of Victoria
Unlike the Commonwealth Parliament, the Premier and Governor of Victoria have very little discretion in dissolving the Victorian Parliament. Both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council are dissolved automatically twenty-five days before the last Saturday in November every four years. However, the Governor can dissolve the Legislative Assembly if a motion of no confidence in the Premier and the other Ministers of State is passed and no motion of confidence is passed within the next week. Finally, the Premier can advise the Governor to dissolve both houses in the case of a deadlocked bill.
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The House of Commons, but not the Senate, can be dissolved at any time by the Queen of Canada or by Governor General, conventionally on the advice of the Prime Minister. In case of a constitutional crisis the Crown may act on its own with no advice from another body of parliament. If the government is refused confidence or supply, the Prime Minister must either resign and permit another member of the House of Commons to form a government, or else advise the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. Also, the House of Commons automatically dissolves after five years, although no House of Commons has yet survived that long.
The provincial legislatures may also be dissolved at any time for the same reasons, by the Lieutenant Governor on the advice of the Premier. British Columbia, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories have established fixed election dates.
The French National Assembly can be dissolved by the French President at any time after consultation with the Prime Minister and the presidents of the two chambers of parliament. The National Assembly elected following such a dissolution cannot be dissolved within the first year of its term.
According to the German constitution, the Bundestag can be dissolved by the federal president if the Chancellor loses a vote of confidence, or if a newly elected Bundestag proves unable to elect a chancellor with absolute majority. The second possibility has never occurred yet but the Bundestag has been dissolved in 1972, 1982, and 2005 when the then-ruling chancellors Brandt, Kohl, and Schröder deliberately lost votes of confidence in order that there could be fresh elections. On the last two occasions the decree of dissolution was challenged without success before the Constitutional Court. No president has yet refused a dissolution of the Bundestag when the choice came to him.
The Bundestag is automatically dissolved four years after the last General Election, and most Bundestags have lasted the full term.
The second federal legislative body, the Bundesrat, cannot be dissolved, as its members are the federal states' governments as such rather than specific individuals.
In Hong Kong the Chief Executive, who is the head of the territory and head of government, has the power to dissolve the Legislative Council if it fails to pass the appropriation bill or any other important bill, or if it passes a bill but he or she refuses to give assent. In the latter case if the Legislative Council passes the bill again with two-thirds majority, the Chief Executive has to resign. This has not happened since 1997. Before 1997, the Legislative Council can be dissolved at the Governor's pleasure.
Republic of Ireland
Dáil Éireann (the lower house) can be dissolved by the President, on the advice of the Taoiseach. The President may only deny such a dissolution if the Taoiseach has lost the confidence of the Dáil, through a vote of no confidence (or, it could be argued, after a Budget or other important bill has failed to pass). This has never happened, and, in the past, Taoisigh have requested dissolutions before votes of no confidence have taken place, so as to force a General Election rather than a handover of Government. A Dáil must be dissolved, and then a General Election held, within five years of its first meeting.
There are two notable instances when the President did not dissolve Dáil Éireann: 1989 and 1994. In the first instance, the newly elected Dáil failed to elect a Taoiseach when it first met (and at a number of meetings afterwards). The incumbent Taoiseach Charles Haughey was obliged constitutionally to resign, however he initially refused to. He eventually tendered his resignation to President Hillery and remained as Taoiseach in an acting capacity. At the fourth attempt, the Dáil eventually re-elected Haughey as Taoiseach. Had he requested a dissolution, it would probably have been accepted by the President on the grounds that the Dáil could not form a Government, but the President would have also been within his rights to refuse it. It is thought that Haughey chose not to do so but instead to go into a historic coalition because of poor opinion polls showing his Fianna Fáil party would lose seats in a second General Election.
In 1994, Albert Reynolds resigned as Taoiseach when the Labour Party left a coalition with Fianna Fáil, but did not request a dissolution, in order that his successor in Fianna Fáil might forge a new coalition with Labour. Labour however went into Government with the main opposition party, Fine Gael. It has been speculated that the President at the time, Mary Robinson, would not have allowed a dissolution had Reynolds requested one. To date, no President has ever refused a dissolution.
One feature of the Irish system is that although the Dáil is dissolved, Seanad Éireann (the Senate) is not, and may continue to meet during an election campaign for the Dáil. However as many members of the Seanad are typically involved in election campaigns for the Dáil, the Seanad does not typically meet often, if at all, once the Dáil is dissolved. A general election for the Seanad must take place within 90 days of the election of the new Dáil.
In Italy the President has the authority to dissolve Parliament, and consequently call for new elections, until which the powers of the old parliament are extended. However, the President loses this authority during the last six months of his seven years term, unless that period coincides at least in part with the final six months of the Parliament's five years term, as stated in Article 88 of the Constitution:
- "In consultation with the presiding officers of Parliament, the President may dissolve one or both Houses of Parliament. The President of the Republic may not exercise such right during the final six months of the presidential term, unless said period coincides in full or in part with the final six months of Parliament."
In practice, after the resignation of the Government, which can be freely decided by the Prime Minister, or can be caused by a vote of no confidence by the Parliament, or after general elections, the President has to consult the speakers of the Houses, the delegations of the parliamentary groups and senators for life trying to find someone who might be appointed Prime Minister and lead a new Government with the confidence of both the Houses. The President dissolves Parliament only if the groups fail to find an agreement to form a majority coalition. Therefore the actual power of dissolution is in practice shared also by the Parliament, political parties and by the outgoing Prime Minister, if he still has influence on them.
Since the Constitution has been in force (1948), Italian Parliament was dissolved 9 times before its 5 years term: in 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1994, 1996, 2008 and 2013.
The House of Representatives of the Japanese Diet can be dissolved at any time by the Emperor on the advice of the Prime Minister. The 1947 Constitution specifies that Representatives serve a four-year term while the entire body stands for the election upon dissolution. However, the dissolution on 9 December 1976 is the only dissolution to this date that occurred at the end of the four-year term; all other parliaments have been dissolved prematurely. It is also important to note that the Emperor cannot deny the request for dissolution of parliament; the Constitution states that he must follow all advices of the Prime Minister.
The House of Councillors, however, cannot be dissolved. Its members serve a fixed six-year term, with half of the seats (and the position of Speaker of the Councillors) up for re-election every three years.
According to the Romanian Constitution, voted in 1991 and revised in 2003, the President may dissolve the Parliament only if the Parliament rejects two consecutive candidates proposed by the President for the function of Prime Minister. Both houses can be dissolved. No dissolution of the Parliament has taken place in Romania since 1991.
Under Articles 111 and 117 of the Russian Constitution, the President of the Russian Federation may dissolve the State Duma if it either expresses no confidence in the Government of Russia or rejects his proposed candidate for the Russian Prime Minister three times. The power to dissolve the State Duma was not exercised under the current constitution of 1993. Before the new constitution was enacted, President Boris Yeltsin had dissolved the Congress of People's Deputies and Supreme Soviet of Russia during the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993, although he did not have the formal constitutional powers to do so.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, as amended, Parliament is dissolved automatically 25 working days ahead of a general election. Elections ordinarily take place five years after the previous general election, but may be held sooner if the Prime Minister loses a vote of confidence, or if two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons vote in favour of an early election.
Under section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998, ordinary general elections for the Scottish Parliament are held on the first Thursday in May every four years (1999, 2003, 2007 etc.) The date of the poll may be varied by up to one month either way by the monarch on the proposal of the Presiding Officer. However, section 4 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has postponed the general election that would have been held on 7 May 2015 to 5 May 2016 to avoid it coinciding with the UK General election fixed under that Act.
Under section 3 of the Scotland Act 1998, if the Parliament itself resolves that it should be dissolved (with at least two-thirds of the Members voting in favour), or if the Parliament fails to nominate one of its members to be First Minister within certain time limits, the Presiding Officer proposes a date for an extraordinary general election and the Parliament is dissolved by the monarch by royal proclamation.
National Assembly for Wales
Under the Wales Act 2014, ordinary general elections to the National Assembly are held the first Thursday in May every five years. This extension from a four- to five-year term was designed to prevent Assembly elections clashing with general elections to the Westminster Parliament subsequent to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
- "The Italian Constitution" (PDF). The official website of the Presidency of the Italian Republic.
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- Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, section 4