Here’s a new one: a parliamentary leader who wants to lose a vote of no confidence:
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will call a vote of confidence in the German parliament on Friday as part of his plan to hold early elections.
Schroeder is hoping he will lose the vote of deputies in the Bundestag, a move that would allow him to resign as chancellor and call fresh elections in the autumn—probably in mid-September.
He would then begin campaigning for a fresh mandate to push through tough economic reforms.
There’s some background on Germany’s rather unusual confidence procedures here at Wikipedia (the standard Wikipedia caveat applies)—there are actually two different types of confidence vote, one of which replaces the chancellor (the “constructive” vote that most comparative politics textbooks talk about) and the other of which requests (but does not require) that the president call new elections.
Stephen Downes (both in my comments below and at his blog) disputes that the motion voted on yesterday by Canada’s parliament is really a confidence motion; he instead characterizes it as “nothing more than a recommendation to a committee.” This radically understates the nature of the motion.
In parliamentary procedure, a motion to recommit with instructions is more than a mere “recommendation”; it is a message from the floor that the committee must amend the legislation in question and then report it back to the floor as amended. Both Canadian and U.S. parliamentary rules state that anything ordered by a motion to reconsider is mandatory.
The most charitable interpretation—one denied by the Liberals—is that the amendment requires the immediate reporting of a confidence motion by the committee on public accounts. Canadian political scientist Andrew Heard argues that, in fact, the vote was a confidence motion and should be treated as such.
When is a vote of no confidence not a vote of no confidence? When it takes place in Canada, apparently. As Mustafa Hirji of Points of Information explains, Westminster parliamentary rules don’t obligate the executive to resign when they lose a confidence vote, but nonetheless the traditional response of resignation is key to parliamentary sovereignty:
[R]esponsible government’s preservation requires that the Executive honour votes of no confidence. Otherwise, the Executive ceases to be responsible to the legislature and is, instead, responsible only to the unelected monarch or representative thereof.
Responsibility to Parliament is absolutely key in our system of government. Unlike the United States, we lack checks and blances to constrain the power of the Executive. Parliament is the only meaningful constraint on the Executive and their widespread powers. When this constraint ceases to exist, the Governor-General, effectively chosen by the Prime Minister and likely therefore beholden to him/her, becomes the only check on the Prime Minister. That check is neither realistic nor desireable, let alone democratic or accountable.
Of course, if the role of the governor-general (or, in the case of Britain, the monarch) was taken by an official responsible to the electorate or parliament—most other parliamentary regimes use the largely ceremonial president in this role—the conflict of interest would be greatly diminished. Either way, it seems to me that if parliament does vote in favor of a no confidence motion, and the executive refuses to resign, the governor-general has an obligation to dismiss the executive.
Update: More via InstaPundit: perspectives from Ed Morrissey and “ferret” of Conservative Life, as well as liveblogging from Stephen Taylor (not the PoliBlog guy). Kate also has a post at Outside the Beltway, with a link to another news story on today’s events.