Building on a discussion in one of the Australia post-election threads, I checked the data for Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers to see if PMs in “Westminster” systems were any less frequently dismissed due to “intra-party” politics than PMs in parliamentary systems overall. To make a long story short, they are (except, apparently, in Australia).
The question came up because Julia Gillard, the current PM of Australia, replaced a co-partisan PM between elections, and Alan noted that her predecessor was the third out of the last ten so replaced. At the time I pointed out that 3 out of 10 was precisely the rate at which PMs in parliamentary systems overall are dismissed by their own parties. More precisely, we found that 30.2% of 354 PMs surveyed left office on account of internal party politics. (The remainder was about evenly split between election defeats and coalition breakdown.) So, Australia seemed “normal,” not a case where PM termination between elections was overly frequent by the comparative yardstick.
But what about compared to similar parliamentary democracies, where majority government is the norm (or at least used to be!)? That is, let’s leave out parliamentary systems where coalitions are the norm, and where perhaps some cases of intra-party conflict are really generated by the tensions of governing in coalition, and not by purely intra-party matters.
My first look at the data suggested that the rate was not much different in this subset than overall (I found 22 of 78). However, quite a few of these were coded in the detailed data as something like “Intraparty — left office voluntarily.” Now, that is clearly an intra-party replacement, so I am not second-guessing our own data coding! However, there is quite a lot of difference between a party undertaking an inter-electoral leadership change because the former PM decided on his or her own accord to leave, and a challenge to a sitting leader who goes involuntarily.
So let’s look at things again, with cases of “voluntary” departure relegated to a residual category.
Now things look rather different. There are only nine of 78 PMs in Westminster systems who leave for reasons that might be termed intra-party conflict. That’s 11.5%, which I have to agree is a good deal less than 3 of 10!
What about in the non-Westminster cases? We should also remove the “voluntary” departures from this subset. When we do, we are left with about 24% leaving due to intra-party conflict in the entire parliamentary data. In the non-Westminster subset, it’s 28%.
So there you have it. Roughly one eighth of Westminster PMs leave due to intra-party conflict, compared to well over a quarter of non-Westminster PMs. That seems pretty significant. And I thank Alan for prompting me to look deeper at the data!
The countries taken as “Westminster” for the purposes of this exercise, and their own rate of dismissals for intra-party reasons, are:
New Zealand (1/12)***
Sri Lanka (0/10 during its parliamentary regime)
The real question, of course, would be to break down majority vs. coalition (and minority) governments, not Westminster vs. non-Westminster. But the two categories are quite closely aligned.
Obviously, another big difference across parliamentary subtypes is in the percentage of PMs who leave office due to electoral defeat. Elections account for about a third of all parliamentary PM terminations, but 48.1% (38 of 79) in these Westminster systems. Electoral defeat is what we might expect to be the most common mechanism of PM termination in a Westminster system, of course. Just as obviously, inter-party conflict is almost never a cause of PM termination in Westminster systems: just five PMs in India and one in Bangladesh left for such reasons. (Perhaps we could add Whitlam, in Australia, who is coded as an “other” due to his dismissal by the Governor General, but the underlying reason for conflict was his lack of support in the second chamber.)
* This was before Rudd’s forced resignation.
** The Indian case is Desai, who headed the unwieldy (and not very Westminster) anti-Congress coalition that collapsed in 1979.
*** I excluded PMs in the PR era, since 1996. Since then, our dataset has only Shipley, who served out her term. We could add Clark, who also survived to see electoral defeat. The two of them would leave NZ, through 2008, at 1/14.