Motion of Confidence

From Academic Kids

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 for a government by means of a parliamentary vote. 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:

  1. the resignation of the government, or
  2. 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 many 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.


Examples of defeats of Motions of Confidence

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 12.2.2

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.
(1) 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.
(2) 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.

As of 2004, there have been four motions of confidence since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949:

1. April 27, 1972:
Chancellor Willy Brandt wants to have the Bundestag dissolved because a stalemate over his controversial Ostpolitik allows no side to act. He loses on purpose by 233-263 votes. President Gustav Heinemann dissolves the Bundestag. The following election turns out to be a victory of Willy Brandt's programme.
2. February 5, 1982:
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt wants the Bundestag to express its confidence in him when there is growing discontent especially among the delegates of the FDP party, the junior partner in Schmidt's government. He wins by 269-228 votes. However, eight months later he is sacked when the FDP switches sides.
3. December 17, 1982:
Chancellor Helmut Kohl wants to have the Bundestag dissolved in order to call a general election, so that his new government can 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 8-489 votes; President Karl Carstens dissolves the Bundestag, and Kohl scores a major victory in the following election. The procedure - considered by many to be unconstitutional since Kohl had a secure majority - is affirmed by the Federal Constitutional Court with some grinding of teeth, but disallowed for the future.
4. November 16, 2001:
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder wants his coalition to pass by an own majority (i.e. without having to rely on opposition support) a government motion which is to allow German soldiers to take part in the U.S.-led military action Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He wins by 336-330 votes.

A fifth motion of confidence is expected for early July 2005, which Gerhard Schröder plans to lose on purpose in order to ask President Horst Köhler to dissolve the Bundestag. The alleged reason shall be 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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