Today the Israeli Knesset (parliamentary body) will be voting to dissolve the government, and deciding when elections will be called for. The last elections were around 2 years ago, meaning that in theory the government could have gone on for a couple more years before elections. This is far from the first time this has happened, in fact, very few coalitions last until elections. Are there other countries where this is true?
There are a few countries where governments rarely last for a full legislative term and many others where early elections or intermediate changes of governments are not unheard of. Just a few examples in large European countries (but you could also look at many smaller ones for interesting cases):
- Under the third and fourth Republic (until 1958), French governments lasted two to three years at most, many of them less than that. Presidents formally had the right to dissolve the lower chamber of parliament and call for new elections but they stopped using it very early so that there were no intermediate elections but only new coalitions formed within the previously elected assembly.
- Italy (since 1946) similarly has many short-lived governments and changing coalitions.
- For most of the time since the Second World War the German party system has been very stable and governments last longer than in France or Italy but there have been a few early elections in 1972, 1983 and 2005.
Very often, the parliament cannot easily dissolve itself and call for new elections so that slightly different coalitions get formed from the same parliament. These sorts of things can hardly be avoided in a parliamentary democracy with a proportional voting system (there are some solutions to limit them, e.g. the German 5% threshold to be represented in parliament). What little I know about Israel suggests that it's only slightly more common there because of the large number of parties and other details of the society and electoral system.
The only alternative would seem to be either having a powerful president/head of government who mostly gets what he or she want and can govern for a whole term (e.g. the UK and also to some extent France's current constitution) or tolerating a divided government with no way to resolve the institutional blockade (the US). In all these cases, the electoral systems strongly favors large majorities so that parties or small groups of MPs have less leverage to outmaneuver the head of state/government.
Italy is the most meaningful example of such event.
This is due to the Constitutional regulation that was introduced after World War II.
The Founding Fathers were shocked by how easy had been for Benito Mussolini to reach the total power using some democratic means.
So they wrote the entire Parliamentary process regulation according to the idea that only through a complex path - requesting many degrees of approval - a law would have never been resulted into an abuse for anybody.
In Italy any law project is submitted to four parliamentary readings, that are Chamber, Senate, Chamber and Senate as last. During this process modifications to the original text are possible, and in this case the law restarts the process from the beginning. When this process conks out, the party that was interested in that project usually revenges on the coalition making the government fail - taking away the support to it's own coalition. Very often this failure ends with the Parliament dissolution and the people has to vote. Small parties have a lot of responsibilities in government failures and Parliament dissolutions because their continuous blackmails to the coalitions they were in. This is why there was not a majority premium until few years ago and the power of the smll parties was enormous, not proportional to their elective representativeness. In Italy we have more or less ninety parties who want to be represented in Parliament. Since we have adopted a majority premium and an access threshold, this phenomenon has reduced, but it is still present.
Mr Renzi wants to reform the elections law to introduce an higher majority premium and higher threshold access to grant the Government a better level of stability and visible responsibility.