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An indirect election is an election in which voters do not choose between candidates for an office, but elect people who then choose. It is one of the oldest forms of elections, and is still used today for many presidents, cabinets, upper houses, and supranational legislatures. Presidents and prime ministers can be indirectly elected by parliaments or by a special body convened solely for that purpose. The election of the executive government in most parliamentary systems is indirect: elect the parliamentarians, who then elect the government including most prominently the prime minister from among themselves. Upper houses, especially of federal republics, can be indirectly elected by state legislatures or state governments. Similarly, supranational legislatures can be indirectly elected by constituent countries' legislatures or executive governments.
Examples of indirectly elected individuals include:
- the election of the United States President and the Vice President is indirect election. Voters elect the Electoral College, which then elects the President. The Electoral College is a controversial issue in American politics, as the Electoral College vote may not agree with the popular vote.
- The President of Germany is similarly elected by a Federal Convention.
- in the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister usually is a member of the House of Commons, the lower, elected house of Parliament, and is the leader of the political party with the most seats able to command a majority either outright or by agreement with other parties. Similar arrangements are used in the devolved assemblies and most local councils.
- in Spain, the Congress of Deputies votes on a motion of confidence of the king's nominee (customarily the party leader whose party controls the Congress) and the nominee's political manifesto, an example of an indirect election of the Prime Minister of Spain.
- Many countries with parliamentary systems elect their head of state indirectly (Germany, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Malta, Hungary, India, Israel, Bangladesh). In most of these, head of state is merely a ceremonial figurehead with limited power.
- Political party nominees can be indirectly elected in party conventions, such as in the United States. Local caucus attendants vote for delegates, who vote for a nominee in state conventions.
Some examples of indirectly elected upper houses include:
- the German Bundesrat, where voters elect the Landtag members, who then elect the state government, which then appoints its members to the Bundesrat
- In France, election to the upper house of Parliament, the Sénat, is indirect. Electors (called "Grands électeurs") are locally elected representatives.
- the Indian Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) is indirectly elected, largely by state legislatures; Manmohan Singh was a member of the Rajya Sabha but chosen by the majority party in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) as the Prime Minister in 2004; as such, Singh as Prime Minister had never won a direct or popular election; introduced as a "technocrat"
- the United States Senate was indirectly elected by state legislatures until, after a number of attempts over the previous century, the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1913.
Some examples of indirectly elected supranational legislatures include:
- the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe, OSCE, the WEU and NATO - in all of these cases, voters elect national parliamentarians, who in turn elect some of their own members to the assembly
- most bodies formed of representatives of national governments, e.g. the United Nations General Assembly, can be considered indirectly elected (assuming the national governments are democratically elected in the first place)