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In a parliamentary political system, a general election is an election in which all or most members of a given political body are up for election. The term is usually used to refer to elections held for a nation's primary legislative body, as distinguished from by-elections and local elections.

The term originates in the United Kingdom general elections for the House of Commonsmarker.

In the United Kingdom

The General elections in United Kingdommarker refer to the election of Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commonsmarker; these must be held 5 years after the first session of the new parliament, (usually within 5 years and 1 month of the last one to due to the time it takes for parliament to assemble and the election campaign), but are often held before that time as it is up to the parties in government when to call a general election. The current Labour Party government have held general elections every four years since coming to power in May 1997 and thereafter in June 2001 and May 2005. Therefore another election is not legally obliged to occur until June 2010.

General elections in Britain traditionally take place on a Thursday; the last general election not on a Thursday was that of 1931.

The five year limit on the time of a Parliament can be varied by an Act of Parliament. This was done during both World Wars; the Parliament elected in December 1910 was prolonged to November 1918, and that elected in November 1935 lasted until June 1945. The House of Lordsmarker has an absolute veto on any Bill to extend the life of a Parliament.

In India

General Elections in India is the largest exercise of democracy in the World. In 2004, Indian elections covered an electorate larger than 670 million people—over twice that of the next largest, the European Parliament elections—and declared expenditure has trebled since 1989 to almost $300 million, using more than 1 million electronic voting machines. The Election Commission of India coordinates the elections, which owing to the huge size of the electorate is conducted in a phased manner.


See Elections in Japan

American usage

In U.S. politics, some parallels can be drawn between the general election in parliamentary systems and the biennial elections determining all House seats, although there is no analogue to "calling early elections" in the U.S., and the members of the elected U.S. Senate -- less subject to either party discipline or independent action by the lower house than the House of Lordsmarker -- face elections of only one-third at a time at two year intervals.

As a matter of terminology, "general election" is also more widely used in U.S. politics to denote an election whose winner takes office, as distinguished from a primary election for the same office, administered by government employees to determine the party's candidate for a specific office. In many situations where a member of a political party seeking candidacy does not consent to the result of the party's private decision-making process rejecting that candidacy, such a primary election determines who represents the party in the "general election" against candidates of other parties.


  1. Indian General Election Expenditure, from ECI website accessed 14 May 2006.

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