Prime Minister - Entry Into Office

Entry Into Office

In parliamentary systems a prime minister may enter into office by several means.

  • By appointment by the head of state, without reference to parliament: While in practice most prime ministers under the Westminster system (including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, India and the United Kingdom) are the leaders of the largest party in parliament, technically the appointment of the prime minister is a royal prerogative exercised by the monarch or the governor-general. In India, the Prime Ministerial candidate must be a member of parliament either Lok Sabha (Lower House) or Rajya Sabha (Upper House). No parliamentary vote takes place on who is forming a government.
However as the government will have to outline its legislative programme to parliament in, for example, the Speech from the Throne, the speech is sometimes used to test parliamentary support. A defeat of the Speech is taken to mean a loss of confidence and so requires either a new draft, resignation, or a request for a dissolution of parliament. Until the early 20th century governments when defeated in a general election remained in power until their Speech from the Throne was defeated and then resigned. No government has done so for one hundred years, though Edward Heath in 1974 did delay his resignation while he explored whether he could form a government with Liberal party support.
In such systems unwritten (and unenforceable) constitutional conventions often outline the order in which people are asked to form a government. If the prime minister resigns after a general election, the monarch usually asks the leader of the opposition to form a government. Where however a resignation occurs during a parliament session (unless the government has itself collapsed) the monarch will ask another member of the government to form a government. While previously the monarch had some leeway in whom to ask, all British political parties now elect their leaders (until 1965 the Conservatives chose their leader by informal consultation). The last time the monarch had a choice over the appointment occurred in 1963 when the Earl of Home was asked to become Prime Minister ahead of Rab Butler.
During the period between the time it is clear that the incumbent government has been defeated at a general election, and the actual swearing-in of the new prime minister by the monarch or governor-general, that person is variously referred to as the "prime minister-elect", "...-designate" etc. Neither term is strictly correct from a constitutional point of view, but they have wide acceptance. In a situation in which a ruling party elects or appoints a new leader, the incoming leader will usually be referred as "prime minister-in-waiting". An example or this situation was in 2003 in Canada when Paul Martin was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada while Jean Chrétien was still prime minister.
  • Appointment by the head of state after parliament nominates a candidate: Example: The Republic of Ireland where the President of Ireland appoints the Taoiseach on the nomination of the Dáil Éireann.
  • The head of state nominates a candidate for prime minister who is then submitted to parliament for approval before appointment as prime minister: Example: Spain, where the King sends a nomination to parliament for approval. Also Germany where under the German Basic Law (constitution) the Bundestag votes on a candidate nominated by the federal president. In these cases, parliament can choose another candidate who then would be appointed by the head of state.
  • The head of state appoints a prime minister who has a set timescale within which s/he must gain a vote of confidence: (Example: Italy, Romania, Thailand)
  • The head of state appoints the leader of the political party with the majority of the votes in the Parliament as Prime Minister: (Example: Greece)
  • Direct election by parliament: (Example: Japan, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan.)
  • Direct election by popular vote: (Example: Israel, 1996–2001, where the prime minister was elected in a general election, with no regard to political affiliation.)
  • Nomination by a state office holder other than the head of state or his/her representative: (Example: Under the modern Swedish Instrument of Government, the power to appoint someone to form a government has been moved from the monarch to the Speaker of Parliament and the parliament itself. The speaker nominates a candidate, who is then elected to prime minister (statsminister) by the parliament if an absolute majority of the members of parliament does not vote no (i.e. he can be elected even if more MP:s vote no than yes).

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