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Unanimity is agreement by all people in a given situation. When unanimous, everybody is of the same mind and acting together as one. Though unlike uniformity, it does not constitute absolute agreement. Many groups consider unanimous decisions a sign of agreement, solidarity, and unity. Unanimity may be assumed explicitly after a unanimous vote or implicitly by a lack of objections.
Practice varies as to whether a vote can be considered unanimous if some voter abstains. Robert's Rules of Order allows unanimity even with abstentions, equating "unanimous consent" with "silent consent", i.e. with no objections raised. In contrast, a United Nations Security Council resolution is not considered "unanimous" if a member abstains. In the European Union, the Treaty of Amsterdam introduced the concept of "constructive abstention", where a member can abstain in a vote where unanimity is required without thereby blocking the success of the vote. This is intended to allow states to symbolically withhold support while not paralysing decision-making.
The occurrence of unanimity in a representative democracy can be elusive with the diversity and variety of opinions in a participatory democracy. There are many forms of government that provide citizens with representation to an elected body, the parliamentary system and presidential system are common examples, where a governing party seeks to implement their policies and plans.
Government conduct and procedures are informed by public consultation and independent expert advice. To ensure and enable that a government or institution is capable of producing results that are acceptable to the public and which commands public confidence, the practice of transparency is a fundamental prerequisite to an open government. Operating with transparency involves publishing, making free the availability of information and providing access to information on request, in the spirit of fairness and honesty, on matters concerning government process, accountability and auditability. An informed public with the facts, that are verifiable, easy to understand and are clearly explained, is thought to discourage and reduce political corruption, deception and fraud in government. There are many countries that protect transparency with freedom of information laws.
An open and balanced democracy includes opposition politics and opposition parties which can voice dissent, use veto and stop legislation, propose law or advise reform, and provide a check and balance to an elected parties' activities in government. The division of competing political parties can at times be unproductive, which is why broad principles and values are seen as important to bridge gaps and overcome differences of policy, especially in a coalition government. Parties can make unpopular decisions or appointments that a population may not approve of, the consequence of representatives pursuing controversial programs could mean they may not be reelected. This is the central impetus to elected representatives, to build consensus and partnerships around common understanding. Unanimity is often a political endeavour, however governments and international organizations do achieve unanimous decisions, popular consent is most often a more achievable aspiration for elected officials.
The legitimacy supposedly established by unanimity has been used by dictatorial regimes in an attempt to gain support for their position. Participants in a legislature may be coerced or intimidated into supporting the position of a dictator, with the legislature becoming little more than a rubber stamp for a more powerful authority.
Single-party states can restrict nominees to one per seat in elections and use compulsory voting or electoral fraud to create an impression of popular unanimity. The North Korean parliamentary elections, 1962 reported a 100% turnout and a 100% vote for the Workers' Party of Korea. 100% votes have also been claimed by Ahmed Sékou Touré in Guinea in 1975 and 1982, Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Côte d'Ivoire in 1985, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2002.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Apodaca v. Oregon that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution mandates unanimity for a guilty verdict in a federal court jury trial; but that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require jury unanimity in state courts. Notwithstanding this, many U.S. states do require jury unanimity for a finding of guilty; for example, article 21 of the Maryland Constitution's Declaration of Rights states:
That in all criminal prosecutions, every man hath a right to be informed of the accusation against him; to have a copy of the Indictment, or charge, in due time (if required) to prepare for his defence; to be allowed counsel; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have process for his witnesses; to examine the witnesses for and against him on oath; and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury, without whose unanimous consent he ought not to be found guilty.
- "Frequently Asked Questions; #26: How do you count abstentions? As ayes? As no's?". parlipro.org. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
- Robert, Henry Martyn (1915). "Art. VIII.—Vote. §48. Motions requiring more than a Majority Vote.". Robert’s rules of order revised for deliberative assemblies. Chicago: Scott, Foresman. pp. 202–204. ISBN 1-58734-108-5.
- e.g. "Resolution 904". United Nations. 18 March 1994. Retrieved 2009-01-30. "Note 7: The result of the voting on the second and sixth preambular paragraphs of the draft resolution S/1994/280 was as follows: 14 in favour, none against and 1 abstention (United States of America); all the other paragraphs were approved unanimously."[dead link]
- Philippart, E.; Monika Sie Dhian Ho (2003). "Flexibility and the new constitutional treaty of the European Union". In Jacques Pelkmans, Monika Sie Dhian Ho, Bas Limonard. Nederland en de Europese grondwet. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. pp. 128–136. ISBN 90-5356-656-2.
- McFarlan, Donald; Norris McWhirter (1990). "Most One-Sided Elections". Guinness Book of World Records. Bantam Books. p. 361. ISBN 0-553-28452-5.
- Chandrasekaran, Rajiv (2002-10-17). "Claiming 100 Percent Vote for Hussein, Iraq Hails Its 'Democracy'". Washington Post. p. A14. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
- Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972)
- "Maryland Constitution - Declaration of Rights". Maryland Government. 4 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-30.
- "Juries Act 1974 (c.23), §17: Majority verdicts". UK Statute Law Database. Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 2009-01-30.