Motion of no confidence

A motion of no confidence (alternatively vote of no confidence, no-confidence motion, or (unsuccessful) confidence motion) is a statement or vote that a person or persons in a position of responsibility (government, managerial, etc.) is no longer deemed fit to hold that position: perhaps because they are inadequate in some respect, are failing to carry out obligations, or are making decisions that other members feel are detrimental. As a parliamentary motion, it demonstrates to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in (one or more members of) the appointed government.

A censure motion is different from a no-confidence motion. Depending on the constitution of the body concerned, "No Confidence" may lead to compulsory resignation of the council of ministers or other position-holder(s), whereas "Censure" is meant to show disapproval and does not result in the resignation of ministers. The censure motion can be against an individual minister or a group of ministers, but the no-confidence motion is directed against the entire cabinet. Again, depending on the applicable rules, censure motions may need to state the reasons for the motion while no-confidence motions may not require reasons to be specified.


There are a number of variations in this procedure in parliaments. In some countries a motion of no confidence can be directed at the government collectively or at any individual member, including the Prime Minister. In Spain it is presented by the Prime Minister after consultation. Sometimes motions of no confidence are proposed even though they have no likelihood of passage, simply to pressure a government or to embarrass its own critics, who may for political reasons decide not to vote against it.

Parliamentary systems

In many parliamentary democracies, strict time limits exist as to the proposal of a no confidence motion, with a vote only allowed once every three, four or six months. Thus the timing of a motion of no confidence is a matter of political judgement; using a motion of no confidence on a relatively trivial matter may prove counterproductive if a more important issue suddenly arises which warrants a motion of no confidence, because a motion cannot be proposed if one had been voted on recently. Sometimes, the government will choose to declare that one of its bills is a "motion of confidence" in order to prevent dissident members of parliament from voting against it.

United Kingdom

Traditionally, in the Westminster system, the defeat of a supply bill (one that concerns the spending of money) is seen to automatically require the government to either resign or ask for a new election, much like a non-confidence vote. A government in a Westminster system that cannot spend money is hamstrung, also called loss of supply. When the upper house of a Westminster system country has the right to refuse supply, such as in Australia during the events of 1975, the convention is in a grey area, as Westminster governments are not normally expected to maintain the confidence of the upper house.

Prior to 2011, in the British Parliament, a no-confidence motion generally first appeared as an early day motion, although the vote on the Queen's Speech also constituted a confidence motion.[1] However, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, only a motion explicitly resolving "That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government" is treated as a motion of no confidence.


In India, a Motion of No Confidence can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Parliament of India). The motion is admitted for discussion when a minimum of fifty members of the house support the motion.[2] If the motion carries, the house debates and votes on the motion. If a majority of the members of the house vote in favour of the motion, the motion is passed and the Government is bound to vacate the office. Acharya Kripalani moved the first-ever No confidence motion on the floor of the Lok Sabha in August 1963, immediately after the disastrous India-China War.[3][4]


In Italy,[5] the government requires the support of both houses of the Parliament. A vote of no confidence may be proposed if one tenth of the members of a single house sign the proposition and starting from three days before the appointed date, said vote can be brought into discussion. Following the case of Filippo Mancuso in 1995 and the subsequent Constitutional Court sentence in 1996,[6] it is possible to propose an individual vote of no confidence against a single minister instead of the whole government.


In Germany,[7] a vote of no confidence in the Federal Chancellor requires that the opposition, on the same ballot, propose a candidate of their own whom they want to be appointed as successor by the Federal President. Thus, a motion of no confidence can only be brought forward if there is a positive majority for the new candidate (this variation is called a constructive vote of no confidence). The idea was to prevent crises of the state such as those found near the end of the German Weimar Republic. Frequently, Chancellors were turned out of office without their successors having enough parliamentary support to govern. Unlike the British system, the Chancellor does not have to resign in response to the failure of a vote of confidence, provided it has been initiated by herself/himself and not by the parliamentary opposition, but rather may ask the President to call general elections - a request the President may or may not fulfill.


Article 69 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan provides that "if the House of Representatives passes a non-confidence resolution, or rejects a confidence resolution, the Cabinet shall resign en masse, unless the House of Representatives is dissolved within ten (10) days."[8]


In federal politics, a vote of no confidence takes down the government, and votes of no confidence may be asserted automatically if the House of Commons rejects the government's budget. Provincial governments may also fall if a motion of no confidence is passed by the legislature or if the legislature fails to pass a confidence measure (e.g. the provincial budget).

In the consensus government system of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, in which the premier is chosen among and by a vote of the members of the non-partisan legislature, a vote of no confidence removes the premier and cabinet from office and permits the members to elect a new premier.[9]


In the Australian Parliament, a motion of no-confidence requires a majority of the members present in the House of Representatives to agree to it. The House of Representatives currently consists of 150 members; requiring 76 votes in favour of the motion when all members of the House are present. A straight vote of no confidence in a Government, or a motion or amendment censuring a Government, has never been successful in the House of Representatives.[10] Despite this, on eight occasions Governments have either resigned or advised a dissolution following their defeat on other questions before the House.[10] The last time a government resigned after being defeated in the House came in October 1941, when the House rejected the budget of Arthur Fadden's minority government.

Specific motions of no confidence or censure motions against the Prime Minister, ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, Senators and leaders of political parties have been moved and have been successful on some occasions. Motions of no confidence against the Government may be passed in the Senate, yet may have little or no impact in the House.[10]

Presidential systems

In presidential systems, the legislature may occasionally pass motions of no confidence and may also have the procedure of impeachment by which an executive or judicial officer can be removed.

United States

In the United States, motions styled as "no confidence" are only symbolic and are rare. Party leadership turnover generally occurs as a result of internal discussion and vote among the elected members of the party, followed by the response of the public in a primary election and general election.

In organizations that use Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), there is no motion of no confidence, although the assembly could adopt a motion expressing a lack of confidence in its leaders (i.e. a motion to censure).[11]

The United States Congress passed a no confidence motion against Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the 1950s[12] and considered one against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales,[13] but these motions are of symbolic effect only.

In the United States Congress, there is a rule similar to a motion of no confidence, the Motion to Vacate the Chair. If the speaker of the house loses this motion he/she is no longer speaker of the house, and a new speaker must be elected. This has a similar effect as the leader of the lower house is removed from office.

The use of a motion to vacate the chair has been very rare in the United States House of Representatives, where under House rules it is considered a 'privileged' motion, meaning any Member can offer such a motion at any time, and the motion is subject to an immediate vote.[1]

In 2015, Representative Mark Meadows filed, as 'non-privileged', a motion to vacate the speakership of John Boehner.[2][3] Because Meadows had filed his motion as a 'non-privileged' motion, it was referred to the Rules Committee, instead of triggering an immediate floor vote.[3] The motion, however, did contribute to Speaker Boehner eventually submitting his resignation in September 2015.[4]

A motion to vacate the chair had only been attempted once previously in the House of Representatives, in March 1910.[5]

Removal from office

As U.S. political tradition does not include motions of no confidence, laws provide for the removal of specific people. All of these processes are designed to be rare.

In some U.S. states, a recall election fills a similar role of removing an unpopular executive officer, but in contrast to a motion of no confidence, a recall vote is a no-confidence election by the public and is normally only allowed against elected executive offices, rather than legislative seats. In states that have recall elections, the law usually restricts how often they are held, so that recall attempts do not follow each highly contested election.

Each house of Congress may, by a two-thirds majority, vote to expel any of its own members, and similar processes exist in U.S. state legislatures. These removals are very rare, and the motivations are typically criminal misdeeds or ethics violations, not mere loss of confidence.

Impeachment in the United States can remove a government officer through a two-part process in the legislature. Congress can remove a federal officer, including the President and any federal judge. State legislatures have similar powers over the state offices. Impeachment is reserved for criminal conduct or major ethical violations and is not directly a vote of no confidence in the party, since removal of the head of government usually results in succession by an officer of the same party.


In the Russian Federation, the lower house of parliament (the State Duma) may by a simple majority (i.e. at least 226 votes out of 450) pass a motion of no confidence against the Government of Russia as a whole. In this case, the matter goes for consideration of the President, who may choose to dismiss the cabinet (which the President can do at any moment of time at his own discretion anyway) or just to ignore the Duma's decision. Should the Duma pass a second motion of no confidence against the same composition of the cabinet within three months, the President will be forced to make a concrete decision – to dismiss the government or to dissolve the Duma itself and call for new general elections. The State Duma may not be dissolved on these grounds if it was elected less than a year earlier, if it has already initiated impeachment proceedings against the President himself by bringing respective accusations, if less than six months is left until elections of the President, or if there is a state of emergency or martial law throughout the whole territory of Russian Federation. In the above-mentioned cases, the President would therefore be effectively forced to dismiss the Government.


The first motion of no confidence occurred in March 1782 when, following news of the British defeat at Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War the previous October, the Parliament of Great Britain voted that they "can no longer repose confidence in the present ministers". Prime Minister Lord North responded by asking King George III to accept his resignation. This did not immediately create a constitutional convention. During the early 19th century, however, attempts by prime ministers such as Robert Peel to govern in the absence of a parliamentary majority proved unsuccessful, and by the mid-19th century, the power of a motion of no confidence to break a government was firmly established in the UK.

In the United Kingdom, there have been a total of 11 prime ministers defeated through a no-confidence motion. There has been only one (against James Callaghan) since 1925.

In modern times, passage of a motion of no confidence is a relatively rare event in two-party democracies. In almost all cases, party discipline is sufficient to allow a majority party to defeat a motion of no confidence, and if faced with possible defections in the government party, the government is likely to change its policies rather than lose a vote of no confidence. The cases in which a motion of no confidence has passed are generally those in which the government party's slim majority has been eliminated by either by-elections or defections, such as the 1979 vote of no confidence in the Callaghan government of the UK which was carried by one vote, forcing a general election which was won by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party.

Motions of no confidence are far more common in multi-party systems in which a minority party must form a coalition government. This can mean that there are many short-lived governments because the party structure allows small parties to defeat a government without means to create a government. This has widely been regarded as the cause of instability for the French Fourth Republic and the German Weimar Republic. More recent examples have been in Italy between the 1950s and 1990s, Israel, and Japan.

To deal with this situation, the French placed a greater degree of executive power in the office of its President, who is immune from motions of no confidence, along with a two-round plurality voting system that makes easier the formation of stable majority governments.

In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, of the re-appointed minority government of Canada, requested that Governor-General Michaëlle Jean prorogue Parliament. The request was granted, and it allowed the Prime Minister to delay a potential vote on the non-confidence motion presented by the opposition. (See 2008–2009 Canadian parliamentary dispute). 3 years later, in 2011, Harper's minority government was defeated by a motion of non-confidence declaring the government to be in contempt of Parliament, leading to the election that year.

In 2013, during the Euromaidan pro-EU riots, the opposition in Ukraine called for a motion of no confidence against the Cabinet of Ministers and pro-Russian, Euroskeptic Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. At least 226 votes were needed to gain a majority in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament. However, it fell 40 votes short, and Azarov's government prevailed.[14]

See also


  1. "House of Commons Factsheet M7: Parliamentary Elections" (PDF). House of Commons Information office. p. 3. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  2. "Current Lok Sabha hasn't seen trust vote, no-confidence motion". The Times Of India. Aug 11, 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013. the move could not even take off as Banerjee's party failed to muster the support of even 50 members, the minimum required for bringing a no trust motion.
  3. "Procedure regarding motion of no-confidence". Archived from the original on 9 Jul 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  4. "Rules of confidence". Jul 12, 2008. Retrieved 9 December 2013. What happens if the prime minister loses a motion of confidence? In such a case, he is obliged to resign
  5. Constitution of Italy. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  6. "Sentenza n. 7 del 1996". Retrieved January 3, 2015.
  7. German Constitution Official English Translation Article 67 - Vote of No Confidence
  8. Wikisource:Constitution of Japan
  9. (CBC)
  10. 1 2 3 Motions of no confidence and censure (HTML version). House of Representatives Practice (6th ed.). Canberra: Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  11. Robert III, Henry M. (2011). "Frequently Asked Questions about RONR (Question 7)". The Official Robert's Rules of Order Web Site. The Robert's Rules Association. Retrieved 2016-02-12.
  12. "THE CONGRESS: Vote of No Confidence". Time. Mar 3, 1952. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  13. Johnston, David; Lipton, Eric (11 June 2007). "No-Confidence Vote on Gonzales Fails in the Senate". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
  14. Marson, James; Bendavid, Naftali (December 3, 2013). "Ukraine Government Survives No-Confidence Vote". The Wall Street Journal.
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