Snap election

Snap election

A snap election is an election called earlier than scheduled. Generally it refers to an election called when no one expects it, usually to capitalize on a unique electoral opportunity or to decide a pressing issue.

In the Westminster parliamentary system a snap election is an early election called when the Prime Minister (or Premier) dissolves the legislature part way through a government's mandate.


In Australia, the 1983 federal election was a rare example of a snap election backfiring on the prime minister who calls it. On the morning of 3 February, the Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had gone to the Governor-General to seek a double dissolution. He expected he would be facing Opposition Leader Bill Hayden (the parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party) in the campaign. But unbeknown to Fraser, Labor had changed leadership from Hayden to Bob Hawke earlier that same morning. Labor under Hawke went on to defeat the Fraser government.


In Canada, the most notable case 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.

A snap election was also called in the province of Ontario in 1990, just 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, and in the biggest upset in Ontario history, the tactic backfired and Bob Rae's NDP won a majority government.

An extreme case of a snap election occurred when newly elected Progressive Conservative Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador, Tom Rideout, called a snap election just 45 days after winning Premier and lost to the Liberal party's Clyde Wells.


The early German federal election in 2005 became necessary after a motion of confidence in Chancellor Gerhard Schröder failed on July 1. Following the defeat of Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) in a state election, Schröder asked his supporters to abstain in the Bundestag motion in order that it fail and thus trigger an early federal election.


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.

New Zealand

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:


This 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 National Party government had a majority of only one seat, and a snap election was called by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon after he lost patience with his less obedient MPs. The government lost the election and the Labour Party took power.


Labour Party Prime Minister Helen Clark called this 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.

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 doesn't change the period to the next ordinary election.


In 2006, the general election called by Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, can also be categorised as a snap election. Despite winning a majority of votes, he stepped down.

United States

Snap elections do not exist for the federal government of the United States. The Constitution does not provide for the dissolution of Congress before the beginning of the next Congress, and in the event of a vacancy in the office of President, another official succeeds to the office for the remainder of the term without a new election. In some states and localities, elected officials may be recalled by the voters during their terms of office.

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