Minority government

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A minority government, in a parliamentary democracy, is one in which the governing party has fewer seats than the parties of the opposition. In the opposite situation, a majority government, the government is virtually certain to win any vote put to the legislature. It can thus be said to have the full confidence of parliament. A minority government is part of a hung parliament and can be subject to a vote of no confidence, which would bring down the governing party and force an election. A minority cannot occur in a two party system, but as the number of parties in the legislature increases, so does the chance of a minority.

The mechanics of minority government

The government must come to some sort of arrangement with one or more of the opposition parties in order to retain power;these arrangements can be formal or informal. One formal approach is to create a coalition government. In a coalition one or more parties make a formal agreement to share power, including access to cabinet posts. Alternately, the opposition parties may simply find it in their best interest to support the government, informally agreeing not to force an election

Advantages and disadvantages

An advantage often put forward for parliamentary democracy is the virtual certainty of the executive being able to implement its program; this can also be seen as a disadvantage. A majority government becomes a virtual dictatorship while it is in office, so long as it remains within its constitutional rights.

Recent experience

Canada

In the 2008 Canadian General election, the Conservative Party, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was returned to power with a minority government. In fact, the previous Harper government had been a minority. The Conservatives had hoped to improve their standing in the house by calling an election while they were in a relatively strong position. These hopes were effectively dashed by by the Crash of 2008. On December 1st, 2008, the Liberal Party, led by Stéphane Dion and the New Democratic Party, led by Jack Layton, announced their intention to form a coalition supported by the separatist Bloc Québécois party. On December 4th Governor General Michaëlle Jean agreed to prorogue parliament until January the 26th.

The Indian Scenario

In 1989 and again in 1991, there were minority governments formed in India. In 1989, Vishwanath Pratap Singh (died November 27, 2008) became the Prime Minister. In 1991 P V Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister. In 1998, Atal Behari Vajpayee headed a minority government for 13 days. However, the first minority government had been formed by Chaudhary Charan Singh on July 28, 1979 - but he had never faced the Parliament in his brief tenure, followed by his resignation and being a caretaker PM for nearly six months.

United Kingdom

Minority governments have been rare in the United Kingdom in recent years, and historically have occurred during periods of considerable economic strife. Although several parties sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, most of the seats are usually won by just two. The last minority government was that of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, whose Labour Party was returned to Parliament in February 1974 with fewer seats than the opposition parties. His predecessor Edward Heath, whose Conservative Party actually won more votes than Labour, had governed at a time when a miners' strike was threatened and war in the Middle East led to an oil shortages. Wilson went to the country again in October 1974 to try to win a majority, returning with a three-seat margin over the opposition.

Previously, two minority governments were formed in the 1920s and 1930s. The first government of the Labour Party, for instance, lasted for ten months in 1924. Another Labour minority government, again under Ramsay MacDonald, served as a minority from 1929 to 1931.