Motion of Confidence

Motion of Confidence

A Motion of Confidence is a motion of support proposed by a government in a parliament or other assembly of elected representatives to give members of parliament (or other such assembly) a chance to register their confidence in a government. The motion is passed or rejected by means of a parliamentary vote (a Vote of Confidence). Governments often propose a Motion of Confidence to replace a Motion of No Confidence proposed by the opposition.

Defeat of a Motion of Confidence in a parliamentary democracy generally requires one of two actions:

# the resignation of the government, or
# a request for a parliamentary dissolution and the calling of a General Election.

Where a Motion of Confidence has been defeated (or a motion of "no" confidence passed), a head of state is often constitutionally empowered (should they wish) to refuse a parliamentary dissolution if one is requested, forcing the government back to the resignation option.

A Motion of Confidence may be proposed in the government collectively or in any member thereof, including the prime minister. In Germany, a Motion of Confidence is sometimes added as an amendment to another piece of legislation.

A Motion of Confidence may also be used tactically to humiliate critics of a government (often from the inside of the governing party or parties) who nevertheless dare not vote "against" the government. By forcing them to vote for the government notwithstanding their public criticism, the proposer of the motion may hope to silence or embarrass critics. It may also be used to unite a divided party or government by creating a sense of 'one for all, all for one' loyalty, bonding a divided government together against the opposition.

However, tactical Motions of Confidence are dangerous, as they may backfire catastrophically against those who use them, if they have misjudged the willingness of their opponents to call the proposer's bluff and vote against the motion.

Finally in some cases, the government may intentionally lose a motion of confidence to accelerate elections.

Examples of defeats by Motions of Confidence

* Jo Cals' (Dutch) cabinet in 1966.
* Pierre Elliot Trudeau's minority government in 1974. Trudeau intentionally lost the budget vote to accelerate elections.
* The minority government of James Callaghan: British House of Commons in 1979
* Charles Haughey's minority government: Dáil Éireann (Irish lower house) in November 1982.
* Ruud Lubbers' (Dutch) cabinet in 1989.
* Gerhard Schröder's majority government in Germany in July 2005; however, in this case, Schröder fully expected to lose the vote — indeed, he urged his fellow SPD members to vote against the motion — and the move was to accelerate elections.
* Romano Prodi's government was defeated by the Italian Senate in January 2008.

Examples of how constitutional rules work

Bunreacht na hÉireann: Ireland's Constitution

Article 28.10

"The Taoiseach shall resign from office upon his ceasing to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann unless on his advice the President dissolves Dáil Éireann and on the reassembly of Dáil Éireann after the dissolution the Taoiseach secures the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann."

Where a Taoiseach seeks a dissolution in such circumstances, the following article comes into play.

Article 13.2.2

"The President may in his absolute discretion refuse to dissolve Dáil Éireann on the advice of a Taoiseach who has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann".

The Basic Law: the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany

The German Federal Chancellor can propose a Motion of Confidence to the Bundestag. Article 68 of the German Basic Law allows that procedure:

Article 68

#If a motion of a Federal Chancellor for a vote of confidence is not assented to by the majority of the members of the Bundestag, the Federal President may, upon the proposal of the Federal Chancellor, dissolve the Bundestag within twenty-one days. The right to dissolve shall lapse as soon as the Bundestag with the majority of its members elects another Federal Chancellor.
#Forty-eight hours must elapse between the motion and the vote thereon.

After the failure of such a Motion of Confidence the Chancellor can ask the President to dissolve the Bundestag or to call the Legislative State of Emergency ("Gesetzgebungsnotstand"). This is one of the rare cases in German constitutional law where the president has real power to decide whether to do as asked. If the president refuses the chancellor's request, no dissolution will take place.

Until 2008 there have been five motions of confidence since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949:
# September 22, 1972: Chancellor Willy Brandt wished to have the Bundestag dissolved because a stalemate over his controversial Ostpolitik allows no side to act. He lost on purpose by 233 votes to 263. President Gustav Heinemann dissolved the Bundestag. The following election turned out to be a victory for Willy Brandt's program.
# February 5, 1982: Chancellor Helmut Schmidt wished the Bundestag to express its confidence in him when there was growing discontent especially among the delegates of the FDP party, the junior partner in Schmidt's government. He won by 269 votes to 228. However, eight months later he was sacked when the FDP switched sides.
# December 17, 1982: Chancellor Helmut Kohl wished to have the Bundestag dissolved in order to call a general election, so that his new government could be confirmed by the people, following the switch of the FDP party from supporting Schmidt's SPD to supporting Kohl's CDU. He loses on purpose by 8 votes to 489; President Karl Carstens dissolved the Bundestag, and Kohl scored a major victory in the following election. The procedure — considered by many to be unconstitutional since Kohl had a secure majority — was affirmed by the Federal Constitutional Court with some grinding of teeth, but disallowed for the future.
# November 16, 2001: Chancellor Gerhard Schröder wished his coalition to pass by an "own majority" (i.e. without having to rely on opposition support) a government motion to allow German soldiers to take part in the U.S.-led military action "Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan. He won by 336 votes to 330.
# July 1, 2005: Gerhard Schröder (again) lost on purpose in order to ask President Horst Köhler to dissolve the Bundestag. The alleged reason was a crisis of confidence in his labour and welfare reform programmes within his own SPD party. Most observers doubt that Schröder would have had the ability to keep his very slim majority in line until the regular election in late 2006.

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