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A snap election is an election called earlier than scheduled. Generally it refers to an election called when no one expects it, usually to capitalize on a unique electoral opportunity or to decide a pressing issue. It differs from a recall election in that it is initiated by politicians (usually the head of government or ruling party) rather than voters. Because the power to call snap elections usually lies with the incumbent, they frequently result in increased majorities for the party already in power, having been called at an advantageous time. Generally speaking, the Prime Minister under such systems does not have the legal power to call an election, but rather must request the election be called by the head of state. In most countries, the head of state always grants such a request by convention, but in some systems (for instance, the semi-presidential system of the Weimar Republicmarker in Germanymarker 1920-1933) the head of state has been known to deny the Prime Minister's request.

In the Westminster parliamentary system a snap election is an early election called when the Prime Minister (or equivalent, as the Premier of a Canadian province or that of an Australian state) dissolves the legislature part way through a government's mandate.

Australia

In Australia, the 1983 federal election was a rare example of a snap election backfiring on the prime minister who calls it. On the morning of 3 February, the Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had gone to the Governor-General to seek a double dissolution. He expected he would be facing Opposition Leader Bill Hayden (the parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party) in the campaign. But unbeknown to Fraser, Labor had changed leadership from Hayden to Bob Hawke earlier that same morning. Labor under Hawke went on to defeat the Fraser government.

Canada

In Canadamarker, the most notable case is the Canadian federal election, 1958 where Prime Minister John Diefenbaker called an election just nine months after the previous one and transformed his minority government into the largest majority in the history of Canada.

A snap election was also called in the province of Ontario in 1990, just three years into Premier David Peterson's term. Peterson was polling at 54% and expected to win a large majority. However, the snap election was interpreted as a sign of arrogance, and in the biggest upset in Ontario history, the tactic backfired and Bob Rae's NDP won a majority government.

An extreme case of a snap election occurred when newly elected Progressive Conservative Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador, Tom Rideout, called a snap election just 45 days after winning Premier and lost to the Liberal party's Clyde Wells.

Japan

In Japanmarker, a snap election is called when a Prime Minister dissolves the lower house of the Diet of Japan. The act is based on Article 7 of the Constitution of Japan, which can be interpreted as saying that the Prime Minister has the power to dissolve the lower house after so advising the Emperor. One such occurrence was the general election of 11 September 2005, called by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after the Diet rejected his plan to privatize Japan Post. Koizumi won a resounding victory, and the privatization bill was passed in the next session.

New Zealand

Although New Zealandmarker elections must be held about every three years, the exact timing is determined by the Prime Minister, and elections are sometimes held early if the Prime Minister loses the ability to command a majority of parliament or feels the need for a fresh mandate.

New Zealand has had three snap elections, in 1951, 1984 and 2002. The 1951 snap election occurred immediately after the 1951 waterfront dispute, in which the National Party government sided with shipping companies against a militant union, while the Labour opposition equivocated and thus annoyed both sides. The government was returned with an increased majority. The 1984 snap election occurring during a term in which the National Party government had a majority of only one seat. An election was called by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon after he lost patience with his less obedient MPs. The government lost and the Labour Party took power. Labour Party Prime Minister Helen Clark called the 2002 election after problems with coalition partners, but denied it was a snap election. Although the election was held within the expected period, its date was announced with much less advance warning than was normal. The National Party was caught unprepared and suffered its worst ever result (20.9% of the party (popular) vote), and the government was returned with an increased majority.

Philippines

In the Philippinesmarker, the term "snap election" usually refers to the 1986 presidential election, where President Ferdinand Marcos called elections earlier than scheduled, in response to growing social unrest. Marcos was declared official winner of the election but was eventually ousted when it was alleged that he cheated in the elections.

The reasons for the calling of the snap election are because of political and economic crisis, political instability in the country and deteriorizing peace and order situation.

In the current constitution, a snap election will be held for the positions of president and vice president on the condition that both positions are vacant, and outside the 90-day range of the next scheduled presidential election.

Sweden

The Instrument of Government (Regeringsformen) in the Constitution of Sweden allows an "extra election". The wording is used to make clear it doesn't change the period to the next ordinary election.

Thailand

In 2006, the general election called by Thailandmarker's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, can also be categorised as a snap election. Despite winning a majority of votes, he stepped down.

Ukraine

In Ukraine a snap poll must have a voter turnout higher than 50%.

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