In most countries with an elected government, the incumbent prime minister (or whatever the office is called) resigns shortly before the election is called, and the newly elected prime minister takes office almost immediately after the election.

But in the USA, the president is both head of government and head of state, and remains in office for two and a half months after the election.

Are there many other countries where the head of government remains in power during and after the election?


Note that I'm not asking about cases where it can take a long time to select a leader following an election.

I'm asking about cases where the election immediately determines the new leader, but there is a significant delay during which time the previous leader still retains and exercises power.


7 Answers 7


In countries with a President fulfilling the role of joint head of state and government, these transition periods are generally written into their constitutions - although the US is certainly on the lengthy side. To give a couple of particularly long transition periods which have the potential to beat the US maximum of 78 days:

Article 274 of the Dominican Republic's constitution states:

The elected exercise of the President and Vice President of the Republic, as well as the legislative representatives and parliamentary members of international organs, shall end uniformly on the 16th of August of every four years, the date on which the corresponding constitutional term begins, with the exceptions given in this Constitution.

August 16th is also the date of the swearing-in of the new President, according to Article 126. Article 209 states that elections for President/Vice President should take place "on the third Sunday of the month of May", and if no candidate wins a majority of votes, a second election with the top two candidates should take place on "the last Sunday of the month of June of the same year".

If a candidate is elected with a majority at the first election, the earliest this could occur would be May 15th, which would be 93 days from the expiration of the outgoing President's term.

Close behind them is Brazil, whose President takes office on January 1st, according to article 82 of the constitution. Article 77 sets out the date of the first round of elections as the first Sunday in October. If a candidate attains a majority of votes, there is no second round of elections, so therefore the earliest a President could be elected is October 1st, 92 days before they would begin their term in office.

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    CDJB you should consider running for office. We could use more mathematicians in the political fold Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 16:09

In most countries, the head of government doesn't actually resign before the election is called. Instead, the Prime Minister retains his post during the election campaign, albeit in a caretaker capacity (i.e. his powers are rather limited). If he loses the election (specifically if another party gets a majority of seats in Parliament), he resigns shortly thereafter. For example, Canada's 2015 federal election was held on October 19, but Stephen Harper did not resign as Prime Minister until November 4 (two weeks later).

Countries that elect their Parliaments proportionally, and whose Parliaments have the power (either officially or otherwise) to elect a Prime Minister, can take a while to get a new Prime Minister appointed after an election. The Netherlands is particularly well-known for this. The current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, assumed office on October 14, 2010, following an election on June 9 of that year.

If you want a particularly extreme case, we can look at the elections in Spain in 2019. After April's election, Pedro Sánchez continued as acting PM while attempts were made (by himself and others) attempted to negotiate the formation of a government. When no government could be formed, a second election was held in November of that year, but Sánchez remained as Prime Minister for that entire time (and he was able to form a government after the November election).

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    Belgium went 18 months without a new government after the election in June 2010. Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 21:44
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    The question seems to be asking about "natural" delays (what might be defined by a constitution or founding document, regular law, etc). Is that the case for the Netherlands? (it sounds like the paragraph about Spain doesn't answer the question)
    – BurnsBA
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 12:07
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    @RayButterworth: The US president is not chosen by the election in November, but by a process that happens afterwards (electoral colledge).
    – raznagul
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 13:10
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    @raznagul the electoral college is just the first stage of the process. There is a provision if the electoral college does not form a majority. I imagine the delay is to allow these processes to happen. This would include allowing electors time to travel to their state capitals on horseback; time for electors to meet; time for horseback dispatch to Washington; time for Congress to meet and receive the results; and time for Congress to act in the event of a non-majority. Acting would include a significant amount of orating.
    – emory
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 1:24
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    @BurnsBA No. The big difference between the USA and countries like the Netherlands is that the Netherlands does NOT elect individuals. Not as prime minister, nor any other government official. The Netherlands elects a parliament using proportional representation, and about a week later, the new parliament starts its session. Only then they start searching which majority of parties can form a government. And that latter process can easily take months.
    – Abigail
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 20:34

Yes, but...

It's not actually two-and-a-half months

The President is not elected early-November, but mid-December by the Electoral College.

This is similar to parliaments who choose a prime minister. As extreme examples, Belgium went 18 months without a PM in 2010. Spain went without a PM for 7 months last year.

Practically, the future US President is usually known soon after the November election. However, this is only a consequence of the de facto two-party system present in the US, not a legal condition. Were the US to have several significant parties like Belgium or Spain, similar events with the would occur.

And in fact the US has had a contingent (non-majority) Presidential election twice: 1800 and 1824. The election went to House for additional voting. The former event required thirty-five rounds of voting by the House to resolve.

The significant factor is the fixed date

Countries with a fixed inaguration date place election a ways before it. As another answer mentioned, the Dominican Republic has fixed inaguration dates, with a similar delay between it and the election.

Most democracies don't have constitutionally-fixed dates. (This is why governments were able to delay elections for the pandemic; imagine the crisis if Trump attempted a similar action.)

If you have a fixed inaquration date, there is really no choice but to separate them by some time. Consider the protracted court battle in 2000 that wasn't resolved until over a month after the popular vote. Or consider recent judicial rulings that US states must count mail-in ballots weeks after election day.

Under those circumstances, it'd be extremely risky to hold election only a few weeks between the required transition of power. You'd be only one sticky situation away from a constitutional crisis.

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    Also, consider how much work has to be done by the election winner before inauguration. They have to put together their entire cabinet and staff, relocate everybody, go through security clearance processes, get briefed by the outgoing administration on a plethora of ongoing issues, etc. Even with the US's supposedly "long" time before inauguration, the incoming administration is usually rushing to get everything done in time. Throwing the Christmas/New Years federal holidays in the middle doesn't help either.
    – bta
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 2:45
  • @bta: That is a good point. E.g. in the UK, the number of political appointees that need to be replaced after an election is 121. In the US, it is between 3000-6000 depending on sources, of which about 1000 require Senate approval. So, not only does the President-elect have transition meetings with the sitting President (for example, in 2016, President Obama briefed President-elect Trump on the possibility of a worldwide pandemic, and how to respond to it), but he also has to find about 6000 employees, 1000 of which need to be acceptable to a Republican-led Senate. And all of those 6000 … Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 18:49
  • … need to organize an orderly transition with their predecessors as well. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 18:49

In Germany, the Chancellor is basically in office until a sufficient majority of the parliament elects a successor (it has to be a majority of all members, not just those present and voting). This can happen very quickly, before/without new elections, or it can take a very long time if a coalition has to be formed. (This is a summary, I don't think you want the intricacies of German constitutional law here.)

The most recent coalition talks took half a year, after first trying a conservative/liberal/green coalition and then a conservative/social-democrat one.

Belgium also requires a coalition and in 2010-11 that process took more than a year.

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    It also took (or rather, is taking) more than a year in 2019-2020.
    – Arnaud D.
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 8:01
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    Germany and Belgium are examples where the new leader was chosen by a process that happens after the election. I'm asking about cases where there is a long delay in the transfer of power when the new leader is already known (e.g. determined directly by the election). Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 13:04
  • @RayButterworth But that doesn't apply to the US president, either., The US president isn't elected directly, the electoral college is. Which then goes on to choose the president in a process after the November election.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 10:13

In Uruguay the president is typically elected the last Sunday of November (unless a candidate gets over 50% on the first round the last Sunday of October), while the inauguration is on March, 1st. That's three or four months plus a few days.


In Mexico we have our elections usually on the first days of July (not sure what does it depends on, probably is the first Sunday of July), with preliminary results basically that night, and official ones some days later, but the new president takes office until the 1st of December. So it’s almost 5 months later from the day of the elections.


In France,

L'élection du nouveau président a lieu vingt jours au moins et trente-cinq jours au plus avant l'expiration des pouvoirs du président en exercice.

Article 6 de la Constitution

The election is held at least twenty days, and at most thirty-five days before the end of the current mandate.

In that respect, the US delay is far two to three times longer.

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    But in France, the head of state (Président) and head of government (premier ministre) are different offices. With a head of state to make sure everything is done correctly, the country can function without a head of government for a while (similar to UK, Canada, etc.). But both US positions are held by the same person, meaning that the individual responsible for ensuring the departing leader does things according to the book is the same person as the individual that could choose to not follow the rules. There is a potential danger there, but I don't think it has happened in practice. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 16:51
  • @RayButterworth Yes and no... It is customary for the President to ask the PM to sign an un-dated resignation letter upon taking office, effectively making the PM serving at the pleasure of the President (marianne.net/politique/elysee-matignon-le-coup-d-etat-permanent)
    – Maxime
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 17:08

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