Government-Opposition Dynamics and the Constructive Vote of No-Confidence
Parliamentary democracy, unlike the separation of powers in presidentialism, is a system where “executive authority emerges from, and is responsible to, the legislative authority” (Lijphart 1984:68). In other words, parliamentarism requires “government to be appointed, supported and [...] dismissed, by parliamentary vote” (Sartori 1997:101). Parliamentary democracies are thus defined by the rules for how governments form and terminate, but more importantly the latter because many countries lack an investiture vote before a government takes office (Bergman 1993; Rasch, Martin & Cheibub 2015). The core feature of parliamentarism is, therefore, legislative confidence. That is, government has to be tolerated by the legislature. No government can survive against the will of parliament. The instrument by which parliament can express its support, or lack thereof, is the vote of no-confidence. The vote of no-confidence is the institutional mechanism by which parliamentary democracy is fulfilled.
In established parliamentary democracies, no-confidence votes are rare. Instead, parliamentary systems operate on the potential of, and anticipation for, a vote of no-confidence. The specific mechanism that exists for the removal of the government will influence executive-legislative relations in general and the dynamics between the government and the opposition in particular. The topic this paper addresses is therefore the effect of constructive vote of no-confidence on the behavior of parliamentary opposition parties.
There are two main types of no-confidence votes. The majority of parliamentary democracies use a regular no-confidence vote. The minority of parliamentary democracies use the constructive vote of no-confidence – requiring the support of an absolute majority and an agreement on an alternative candidate to lead the government. The latter can create a situation where an absolute majority of the legislature opposes the government but cannot agree to form an alternative, thus maintaining the government in power with all the repercussions for relations with the opposition. In order to minimize the political consequences of no-confidence votes and increase stability, several countries have adopted a constructive vote of no-confidence – Germany, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Belgium and Israel – while others have discussed its adoption – Canada, India and Czechia.
Comparative studies of parliamentarism have devoted some attention to the details of the institutions that regulate the relationship between the government and the opposition, but the study of the no-confidence mechanism has received very little conceptual or empirical attention by scholars, with hardly any focusing on the constructive variant. Moreover, the opposition continues to suffer from a dearth of analytical and systemic research.
The paper conceptualizes the effect of the constructive vote of no-confidence vote on the parliamentary opposition by assessing three different phases of parliamentary life. First, how the constructive vote of no-confidence affects the relationship between the government and the opposition compared to parliamentary systems with a regular vote of no-confidence. Second, how different are the incentives for the opposition to use the constructive vote of no-confidence compared to a regular vote of no-confidence. Finally, how does the constructive vote of no-confidence influence the dynamics within the opposition compared to a regular vote of no-confidence.