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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).
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.
After Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP 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 illegitimate 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, 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, overthrown 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- "Voters Committee Predicting 60% Snap Election Turnout". Ukrainian News Agency. 16 October 2008. Retrieved 16 October 2008.
- BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/vote2001/in_depth/election_battles/1974f_over.stm
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- BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/vote2001/in_depth/election_battles/1974o_over.stm
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