Motion of no confidence

Motion of no confidence

A motion of no confidence (alternatively vote of no confidence, censure motion, no-confidence motion, or (unsuccessful) confidence motion) is a parliamentary motion whose passing would demonstrate to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the appointed government.



Typically, when a parliament passes a vote of no confidence in an existing government, the head of state must respond in one of two ways:

In determining whether another individual can command the confidence of parliament, the head of state examines whether that individual has the backing of a parliamentary party, a coalition of parties and MPs, or an agreement of support with enough parliamentary seats to withstand any confidence challenges against them. If this cannot be done, parliament is dissolved and a general election is called.

In some cases, the sitting government will request that the head of state dissolve the elected parliament and call a new election without seeking the forming of another Government, such that it would remain in power during the election period. The head of state may agree to do this, depending on factors such as time until a mandated election, reasonable expectation of the forming of another government or in very rare circumstances, on royal prerogative alone. However, where the head of state believes the government no longer has the confidence of the responsible house (i.e., the directly elected lower chamber which can select and dismiss it; in some states both houses of parliament are responsible), a head of state may refuse a request for a parliamentary dissolution, so forcing an immediate resignation.

This procedure is either formalized through constitutional convention, as is the case in Westminster style parliaments such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia,[citation needed] or explicitly stated in a written constitution, as is the case with Germany [1]and Spain.[citation needed]

Sometimes, the government will choose to declare that one of its bills is a motions of confidence. This may be used to prevent dissident members of parliament from voting against it. Sometimes (depending on the country) a government may lose a vote because the opposition ends debate prematurely when too many government members are away.

In the Westminster system, the defeat of a supply bill (one that concerns the spending of money) automatically requires (by convention) the resignation of the government or dissolution of Parliament, much like a non-confidence vote, since a government that cannot spend money is hamstrung. This is called loss of supply.

Where the upper house of a Westminster system country has the right to refuse supply, such as in Australia during the events of 1975, the convention becomes a grey area as Westminster governments are not normally expected to maintain the confidence of the upper house.


There are a number of variations in this procedure.

For example, in Germany, Spain, and Israel, a vote of no confidence requires that the opposition, on the same ballot, propose a candidate of their own whom they want to be appointed as successor by the respective head of state [1]. Thus the motion of no confidence is required to be at the same time as a motion of confidence for a new candidate (this variation is called a constructive vote of no confidence). The idea was to prevent crises of the state such as those found near the end of the German Weimar Republic by ensuring that whoever is head of government has enough support to govern. Unlike the British system, the German Chancellor does not have to resign in response to the failure of a vote of confidence, provided it has been initiated by herself/himself and not by the parliamentary opposition, but rather may ask the Federal President to call general elections - a request the President may or may not fulfill.

A motion of no confidence in some countries can be proposed in the government collectively or by any individual member, including the Prime Minister. In Spain it is presented by the Prime Minister after consultation. Sometimes motions of no confidence are proposed, even though they have no likelihood of passage, simply to pressure a government or to embarrass its own critics who nevertheless for political reasons consider not to vote against it. In many parliamentary democracies, strict time limits exist as to the proposing of a no confidence motion, with a vote only allowed once every three, four or six months. Thus knowing when to use a motion of no confidence is a matter of political judgement; using a motion of no confidence on a relatively trivial matter may prove counterproductive to its proposer if a more important issue suddenly arises which warrants a motion of no confidence, because a motion cannot be proposed if one had been voted on recently and cannot be proposed again for a number of months.

In the consensus government system of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada, in which the premier is chosen among and by a vote of the members of the non-partisan legislature, a vote of no confidence removes the premier and cabinet from office and permits the members to elect a new premier.[2]

In the British Parliament, a no-confidence motion generally first appears as an early day motion, although the vote on the Queen's Speech also constitutes a confidence motion.[3]

Presidential systems

In presidential systems, the legislature may occasionally pass motions of no confidence, as was done by the United States Congress to Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the 1950s [4] and was contemplated against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but these motions are of symbolic effect only. Presidential systems also usually have the procedure of impeachment by which an executive or judicial officer can be removed.

In certain parts of the United States and Venezuela, the recall election fills a similar role of removing an unpopular government, but, in contrast to a motion of no confidence, this vote involves the entire electorate.

In the Russian Federation the lower house of parliament (the State Duma) may by a simple majority (i.e. at least 226 votes out of 450) pass a motion of no confidence against the Government of Russia as a whole. In this case the matter goes for consideration of the President, who may choose to dismiss the cabinet (which the President can do at any moment of time at his own discretion anyway) or just to ignore the Duma's decision. Should the Duma pass a second motion of no confidence against the same composition of the cabinet within three months, the President will be forced to make a concrete decision - to dismiss the government or to dissolve the Duma itself and call for new general elections. The State Duma may not be dissolved on these grounds if it was elected less than a year ago, if it has already initiated impeachment proceedings against the President of Russia himself by bringing respective accusations, if less than six months is left until elections of the President or if there is a state of emergency or martial law throughout the whole territory of Russia. In the above mentioned cases the President would therefore be effectively forced to dismiss the Government.

Several state legislatures have the power to remove its members from leadership positions through similar motions. New York State has done so at least twice in recent history; in 1994, the New York Senate ousted Ralph Marino in favor of Joseph Bruno, and more recently, a vote of no confidence led Malcolm Smith to be thrown out of his post as majority leader in favor of Pedro Espada Jr. in the 2009 New York State Senate leadership crisis.[citation needed]


The first motion of no confidence occurred in March 1782[citation needed] when, following news of the British defeat at Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War the previous October, the Parliament of Great Britain voted that they "can no longer repose confidence in the present ministers". Prime Minister Lord North responded by asking King George III to accept his resignation. This did not immediately create a constitutional convention. During the early 19th century, however, attempts by prime ministers such as Robert Peel to govern in the absence of a parliamentary majority proved unsuccessful, and by the mid-19th century, the ability of a motion of no confidence to break a government was firmly established in the UK.

In the United Kingdom, there have been a total of 11 prime ministers defeated through a no-confidence motion. There has been only one (against James Callaghan) since 1925.

In modern times, passage of a motion of no confidence is a relatively rare event in two-party democracies. In almost all cases, party discipline is sufficient to allow a majority party to defeat a motion of no confidence, and if faced with possible defections in the government party, the government is likely to change its policies rather than lose a vote of no confidence. The cases in which a motion of no confidence has passed are generally those in which the government party has a slim majority which is eliminated by either by-elections or defections, such as the 1979 vote of no confidence in the Callaghan government of the UK which was carried by one vote, forcing a UK General Election and the election of Margaret Thatcher's government.

Motions of No Confidence are far more common in multi-party systems in which a minority party must form a coalition government. This can result in the situation in which there are many short-lived governments because the party structure allows small parties to break a government without means to create a government. This has widely been regarded as the cause of instability for the French Fourth Republic and the German Weimar Republic. More recent examples of this phenomenon have been in Italy between the 1950s and 1990s, Israel, and Japan.

To deal with this situation, the French placed large amount of executive power in the office of President of France, which is immune from Motions of No Confidence.

In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, of the re-elected minority government of Canada, requested that Governor General Michaëlle Jean prorogue Parliament. The request was granted, and it allowed the Prime Minister to delay a potential vote on the non-confidence motion presented by the opposition. (See 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute.) However, two years later in March 2011, his government was defeated by a motion of no confidence after being held in contempt of Parliament, a Commonwealth first.

See also


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