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A snap election is an election called earlier than expected.
Generally it refers to an election in a parliamentary system called when not required (either by law or convention), usually to capitalize on a unique electoral opportunity or to decide a pressing issue. It 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 special election in that the winners will serve an entire term as opposed to the remainder of an already established term.
Since the power to call snap elections usually lies with the incumbent, they frequently result in increased majorities for the party already in power having been called at an advantageous time; however, there have been cases of snap elections backfiring and resulting in an opposition party's winning or gaining power. Generally speaking, the Prime Minister under such systems does not have the legal power to call an election, but rather must request the election be called by the head of state. In most countries, the head of state always grants such a request by convention, but in some systems (for instance, the Weimar Republic in Germany 1920-1933) the head of state has been known to deny the head of government's request.
- 1974 election: The double dissolution election focused on Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's first one-and-a-half years in office and whether the Australian public was willing to continue with his reform agenda, and also to break a deadlock in the Senate after Opposition Leader Billy Snedden announced that the opposition would block the Government's supply bills in the Senate following the Gair Affair. The Whitlam government was subsequently returned with a reduced majority in the House of Representatives but increased presence in the Senate, allowing the government to pass six reform bills in a joint sitting of the two houses of the Australian parliament.
- 1975 election: The election followed the controversial dismissal of the Whitlam government by Governor-General Sir John Kerr in the 1975 constitutional crisis and the installation of Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister. Labor believed it had a chance of winning the elections, and that the dismissal would be an electoral asset for them but the Coalition attacked Labor for the economic conditions they presided over, resulting in the Coalition winning a record victory, with 91 seats in the House of Representatives to the ALP's 36 and a 35–27 majority in the expanded Senate.
- 1984 election: This election was held 18 months ahead of time in order to bring the elections for the House of Representatives and Senate back into line. They had been thrown out of balance by the double dissolution of 1983. It was widely expected that the incumbent Hawke Labor government would be easily re-elected, but an exceptionally long 10-week campaign, confusion over the ballot papers and a strong campaign performance by Liberal leader, Andrew Peacock, saw the government’s majority reduced (although this was disguised by the increase in the size of the House from 125 to 148).
- 1998 election: The election on 3 October 1998 was held six months earlier than required by the Constitution. Prime Minister John Howard made the announcement following the launch of the coalition's Goods and Services Tax (GST) policy launch and a five-week advertising campaign. The ensuing election was almost entirely dominated by the proposed 10% GST and proposed income tax cuts.
After Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party five-year term ended in January 1996, the country went to the polls on February 15, 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 house of parliament 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 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 March 31, 1996, and handed over power to the caretaker government. The caretaker government would stay in power for 90 days before new elections could be held. Finally a snap election was held in June 12, 1996, where Awami-League won a simple majority by beating its bitter rival BNP and would stay in power for the next five years.
In Canada, snap elections at the federal level are not uncommon. During his 10 years as Prime Minister, Jean Chretien called 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 the Canadian federal election, 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% and expected to win a large majority. However, the snap election was interpreted as a sign of arrogance, so the tactic backfired. In the biggest upset in Ontario history, the New Democratic Party led by Bob Rae won an unprecedented majority government and Peterson lost his own seat to a rookie NDP candidate.
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. 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. The President gave his assent on 28 August, scheduling the elections for 25 and 26 October 2013.
Former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a election date for 24 October 2007. The election was held ahead of time in the sense that by law, the election needed to be held before 8 February 2009, four years after the previous election.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen explained that the elections were called early in order to allow the parliament to work on important upcoming topics without being distracted by a future election. Referring specifically to welfare reform, he said rival parties would then try to outdo each other with expensive reforms which would damage the Danish economy.
A general election was held on Sunday 6 May 2012 in Greece, to elect all 300 members to the Hellenic Parliament. Under the constitution, it was due to be held in late 2013, four years after the previous election; a snap election was agreed under the November 2011 agreement to form a coalition government, formed with a remit to ratify and implement decisions taken with other Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a month earlier.
However, a new general election took place 6 weeks later on Sunday 17 June 2012, after all attempts to form a new government failed following the 6 May election. If all attempts to form a new government fails, the constitution directs the president to dissolve a newly elected parliament, and then to call for new parliamentary elections within 30 days of the dissolution. The president announced at 16 May the date for the new election, and signed the formal decrete to dissolve the parliament and call for the election at 19 May.
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 2008. 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 ask for it (President Scalfaro denied snap election to Prime Minister Berlusconi after the loss of confidence in 1994), provided that the Parliament is able to form a new working majority.
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. One such occurrence was the general election of 11 September 2005, called by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after the Diet rejected his plan to privatize Japan Post. Koizumi won a resounding victory, and the privatization bill was passed in the next session.
Early general elections were held in Luxembourg on 20 October 2013. 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). The review found Juncker deficient in his control over the service.
After a spy scandal involving the SREL illegallly 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.
A snap general election was held in the Netherlands on 12 September 2012 after Prime Minister Mark Rutte handed in his government's resignation to Queen Beatrix on 23 April. The 150 seats of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands were contested using party-list proportional representation. The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) received a plurality of the votes, followed by the Labour Party (PvdA).
Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government fell after the Party for Freedom (PVV), which had supported the government from outside, refused to sanction the austerity measures the government sought in April 2012. This called for a new early election to be held in September 2012. It is the fourth early election in a row since the Second Kok cabinet fell very near the end of its mandate, which allowed that government to keep the election date to be held as scheduled by the term in May 2002. Early elections were subsequently held in January 2003, November 2006, June 2010 and September 2012. And during that time a total of five governments ended prematurely, as it was possible for the Third Balkenende cabinet (July–November 2006) to be formed without a new election.
Although New Zealand elections must be held about every three years, the exact timing is determined by the Prime Minister, and elections are sometimes held early if the Prime Minister loses the ability to command a majority of parliament or feels the need for a fresh mandate.
New Zealand has had three snap elections, in 1951, 1984 and 2002. The 1951 snap election occurred immediately after the 1951 waterfront dispute, in which the National Party government sided with shipping companies against a militant union, while the Labour opposition equivocated and thus annoyed both sides. The government was returned with an increased majority. The 1984 snap election occurring during a term in which the National Party government had a majority of only one seat. An election was called by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon after he lost patience with his less obedient MPs. Announcing the election to national television while visibly drunk, Muldoon's government subsequently lost and the Labour Party took power. Labour Party Prime Minister Helen Clark called the 2002 election after problems with coalition partners, but denied it was a snap election. Although the election was held within the expected period, its date was announced with much less advance warning than was normal. The National Party was caught unprepared and suffered its worst ever result (20.9% of the party (popular) vote), and the government was returned with an increased majority.
On 12 June 2002 the government announced that the country would have a general election on 27 July 2002. This was several months earlier than was required, a fact which caused considerable comment. The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, claimed that an early poll was necessary due to the collapse of her junior coalition partner, the Alliance. Critics, however, claimed that Clark could have continued to govern, and that the early election was called to take advantage of Labour's strong position in the polls. Some commentators believe that a mixture of these factors was responsible.
In the Philippines, the term "snap election" usually refers to the 1986 presidential election, where President Ferdinand Marcos called elections earlier than scheduled, in response to growing social unrest. Marcos was declared official winner of the election but was eventually ousted when it was alleged that he cheated in the elections.
The reasons for the calling of the snap election are because of political and economic crisis, political instability in the country and deteriorating peace and order situation.
In the current constitution, a snap election will be held for the positions of president and vice president on the condition that both positions are vacant, and outside the 90-day range of the next scheduled presidential election.
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.
A parliamentary election for the 90 deputies to the National Assembly of Slovenia was held on 4 December 2011. This was the first early election in Slovenia's history. 65.60% of voters cast their vote. 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, 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. he 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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. The dissolution of the Assembly, a first in independent Slovenia, took place on October 21, a minute after midnight.
The 2011 Spanish general election took place on Sunday, 20 November, to elect the 10th Cortes Generales of the Kingdom of Spain. At stake were all 350 seats to the Congress of Deputies and 208 of 266 seats to the Senate. The Cortes were dissolved and the general election called by King Juan Carlos I on 26 September, at the request of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who had already announced his intention to call for a snap election on 28 July.
The Instrument of Government (Regeringsformen) in the Constitution of Sweden allows an "extra election". The wording is used to make clear it does not change the period to the next ordinary election. Any new deputies who win seats in such an election merely serve out the balance of the four-year parliamentary term.
In 2005, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party was re-elected for a second consecutive term in office when they won a landslide general election victory by grabbing a whopping 375 out of 500 seats in parliament.This result gave his party the power to amend the constitution since they have won a two-thirds majority. However one year later, in 2006, Thaksin was found to have been indulging in corrupt business practices in his own telecommunication firm Shincorp. This led to a violent street protests in Bangkok arranged by his rivals the Democrat party led by the main opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva where they demanded his resignation. On the other hand Thaksin took a gamble and called a snap election scheduled for April 2, 2006 where all the main opposition parties boycotted the polls and over 50% of voters abstained to cast their ballots. Thaksin won by default and captured all the 500 seats in the house of parliament. Months later, the supreme court annulled the election results and ordered a fresh election to be held within 100 days from the date of the court's ruling. However, that wasn't to be as Thaksin was ousted in a bloodless military coup forcing him into exile in the Philippines and Dubai. The military would stay in power until 2007 when they stepped down and held a general election in December that year to restore democracy.
Thaksin Shinawatra's sister Yingluck Shinawatra became Thailand's first female prime minister in August 3, 2011 when she won a landslide election victory on July 3, 2011. Peace prevailed in Thailand for the next for two and a half years under Prime Minister Yingluck's rule. The country returned to another political crisis in November 2013 when her opponents wanted the prime minister and her Pheu Thai Party government to resign after she tried to pass a controversial amnesty bill in parliament which would permit the return of her brother Thaksin as a free man. However, the bill was not passed because the government succumbed to pressure from the weeks of street protests and blockades that took place in Bangkok, which intensified before the King's birthday. On December 9, 2013, prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra decided to dissolve parliament and call a snap general election which will be held on February 2, 2014. This announcement came a day after the resignation of all MP's from the main opposition Democrat party led by opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
In February 1974, Conservative prime minister Edward Heath called a snap election for 28 February despite the deadline for an election being more than a year away. He urged British voters to "return a strong government with a firm mandate", but the election produced a hung parliament. The Tory government had the larger share of the vote, but the Labour opposition led by Harold Wilson had marginally more seats. Four days later, having failed to form a coalition with the Liberals, Heath resigned as prime minister and paved the way for Labour to return as a minority government under Wilson. Another election was held on 10 October that year, and Labour won by a three-seat majority.
Snap elections were eliminated by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
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