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Minority government

For minority government as synonym to minority régime, see articles on South Africa and Apartheid.

A minority government, or a minority cabinet, is a cabinet of a parliamentary system which does not represent a majority in the parliament - or in bicameral parliaments, in that chamber whose confidence is considered most crucial.

Table of contents
1 Coalitions and Alliances
2 Criticism

Coalitions and Alliances

To deal with a situations where no clear majorities appear, parties either form coalition governments, ad-hoc alliances or loose agreements with other parties to stay in office.

A common situation is governance with "jumping majorities", i.e. that the Cabinet stays as long as it can negotiate support from parliament-majorities which well may be differently formed from issue to issue, from bill to bill.

An alternative arrangement is a looser alliance of parties, exemplified with Sweden. There the long governing Social-Democrats have governed with more or, mostly, less formal support from other parties; in the mid-20th century from Agrarians, after 1968 from Communists, and more recently from Greens and ex-Communists, and have thus been able to retain executive power and (in practise) legislative initiative. This is also common in Canada where parties can rarely cooperate enough to form a coalition, but will have loose agreements.

Westminster System

Under the Westminster system's First Past the Post electoral system, with only one elected representative per constituency, minority cabinets are rare. This is because the riding system heavily biases the vote towards increasing the number of seats of the top parties and reducing the seats of smaller parties. A party with less than forty percent of the popular vote can often win an outright majority of the seats. Nations like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are thus usually governed by parties that control over half of the seats in their legislature.

In a minority situation the head of the largest party is still asked to form a government. They must then either form a coalition with one or more existing parties, or they must win enough support from the other parties or independents to avoid no-confidence motionss. Because of no-confidence motions minority governments are inherently short-lived and frequently fall before their term is expired. The leader of a minority government will also often call an election in hopes of winning a stronger mandate from the electorate. In Canada, for instance, most minority governments last less than two years.

Proportional Representation

Minority governments are more common in countries using proportional representation systems, where it seldom occurs that one single party wins a majority of their own. For instance under Israel's purely proportional system between 1949 and 1992 no one party ever controlled a majority of the seats. These countries are thus usually ruled either by coalitions of parties, or by minority cabinets. Countries in Continental Europe and Israel all have proportional representation and rarely have a single party that controls a majority of the parliament.


Many criticize minority governments arguing they create deadlock within the government and prevent and slow changes. Others, however, view minority governments as beneficial for creating a more diverse government that reflects more than one viewpoint.