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A national unity government, government of national unity (GNU), or national union government is a broad coalition government consisting of all parties (or all major parties) in the legislature, usually formed during a time of war or other national emergency.
Some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have or have had a National Party, which can lead to the use of the phrase "National government" when it is in power. Such governments are not national unity governments.
During World War I the Conservative government of Sir Robert Borden invited the Liberal opposition to join the government as a means of dealing with the Conscription crisis of 1917. The Liberals, led by Sir Wilfrid Laurier refused; however, Borden was able to convince many individual Liberals to join what was called a Union Government, which defeated the Laurier Liberals in the fall 1917 election.
During World War II, the opposition Conservative Party ran under the name National Government in the 1940 election as a means of promoting their platform of creating a wartime national government coalition (evocative of the previous war's Union government). The party was not successful in the election, which re-elected the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King, whose party continued to rule alone for the duration of World War II.
Croatia formed a national unity government in 1991 under prime minister Franjo Gregurić in response to the outbreak of the Croatian War of Independence. Even though the cabinet included ministers from minority parties, all heads of ministries were either from the majority Croatian Democratic Union or soon defected to it.
A national unity government in Greece is often called ecumenical government:
- 1926 under Alexandros Zaimis
- 1944 under Georgios Papandreou
- 1974 under Konstantinos Karamanlis
- 1989 under Xenophon Zolotas
- 2011 under Lucas Papademos
There are five periods in Hungary when national unity governments emerged:
- 1917–1918, during World War I (Móric Esterházy and Sándor Wekerle cabinets)
- 1919–1920, cabinet of Károly Huszár, restoration of the Kingdom of Hungary
- 1944–1945, meanwhile World War II, Government of National Unity (Ferenc Szálasi cabinet)
- 1944–1947, opposition government meanwhile World War II (Béla Miklós) and after following Zoltán Tildy and Ferenc Nagy cabinets)
- 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (third cabinet of Imre Nagy)
Republic of Ireland
Israel has had several national unity governments, in which major rival parties formed a ruling coalition. Such a coalition was notably formed in the days leading up to the Six-Day War, and after the 1984 and 2009 elections. Another was formed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In the republican era, the first two cabinets, led by Alcide De Gasperi, were supported by all three of the following parties, the pro-American Christian Democrats and the pro-Soviet Italian Communist Party and Italian Socialist Party.
Afterwards, the first government generally recognised as a national unity government was the third Andreotti Cabinet, also known as non-no confidence vote government, as the Italian Communist Party decided to not take part at the confidence vote. The communists voted in favour of the motion of confidence for the following cabinet, still led by Giulio Andreotti.
During the Eurozone crisis, the two main parties, The People of Freedom and the Democratic Party, along with other minor political forces, supported the Monti cabinet, and eventually, after the 2013 general election, formed a grand coalition in support of the Letta Cabinet, which, however, was opposed by a new major political force in parliament, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
Here is a list of national unity or grand coalition governments:
- De Gasperi II Cabinet (14 July 1946 – 2 February 1947)
- De Gasperi III Cabinet (2 February 1947 – 1 June 1947)
- Andreotti III Cabinet (29 July 1976 – 11 March 1978)
- Andreotti IV Cabinet (11 March 1978 – 20 March 1979)
- Ciampi Cabinet (28 April 1993 – 10 May 1994) – Note: grand coalition support lasted only until 4 May 1993
- Monti Cabinet (16 November 2011 – 28 April 2013)
- Letta Cabinet (28 April 2013 – 22 February 2014) – Note: grand coalition support lasted only until 15 November 2013
From 2008 to 2013, Kenya was governed by Government of National Unity between the rival Party of National Unity of Mwai Kibaki and the Orange Democratic Movement of Raila Odinga following the 2007 presidential election and subsequent violence. This was due to the ODM winning the majority of seats in the National Assembly, but controversially losing the presidential election by a margin that has since been called into question for its validity.
Luxembourg has had two National Union Governments. The first was formed in 1916, during World War I (in which Luxembourg was neutral, but occupied by Germany nonetheless). It was led by Victor Thorn and included all of the major factions in the Chamber of Deputies, but lasted for only sixteen months.
The second National Union Government was formed in November 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, which had devastated Luxembourg. It was led by Pierre Dupong, who had been Prime Minister in the government in exile in the war, and included all four parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies. The government lasted until 1947, by which time, a normal coalition between two of the three largest parties had been arranged, thus maintaining the confidence of the legislature.
In addition, Luxembourg had a Liberation Government between November 1944 and November 1945, also under Dupong. It served a similar emergency role to a national government, but included only the two largest parties, the CSV and the LSAP.
Following the devastating April 2015 Nepal earthquake, top political parties in Nepal have decided to form a national unity government in order to handle the crisis and draft a constitution that's been long overdue. The major political parties and unified political fronts have agreed to settle the disputed issues of the constitution drafting process by 3 June and to form a national unity government.
The Palestinian Unity Government of June 2014 was a national unity government of the Palestinian National Authority under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formed on 2 June 2014 following the Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation Agreement that had been signed on 23 April 2014. The ministers were nominally independent, but overwhelmingly seen as loyal to President Abbas and his Fatah movement or to smaller leftist factions, none of whom were believed to have close ties to Hamas. However, the Unity Government was not approved by the Legislative Council, leading to its legitimacy being questioned. The Unity Government dissolved on 17 June 2015 after President Abbas said it was unable to operate in the Gaza Strip.
The interim constitution negotiated by the multi-party negotiations that started in 1990 allowed all parties that gained more than 10% of the vote to participate in a Government of National Unity. The new government that was elected in 1994 therefore had members from many political parties in the cabinet. This government of national unity lasted until the general election in 1999, although a reported lack of shared decision-making prompted the second-largest party to withdraw from the GNU in 1996.
Following the fall of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, the United National Party who won the 2015 elections formed a National Unity Government with the main opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party Under Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe.
Sweden has only had one national unity government; The Hansson III Cabinet during World War II. The government was made up of all parties in the parliament except the Communist party which was considered to be pro-Soviet and hence unreliable (the Communist party lost their parliamentary representation in 1940 election). The government consisted of six ministers from the Social Democratic party (including prime minister Per Albin Hansson), three from the Right Wing party, three from the Liberal People's party, three from the Farmer's League and two nonpartisan politicians. The ultimate goal of this government's policy was to keep Sweden out of the war, which they also succeeded with. The Hansson government introduced censorship of press, literature and culture, which was applied to both pro-nazi and pro-communist propaganda. The government also approved departures from the neutrality policy to keep Sweden out of the war.
First-past-the-post voting, the British electoral system, has long increased the likelihood of a single party gaining a majority of members of Parliament, who have run most departments and the government legislation of the country since the early 20th century.
After the formation of clear political parties in the Lords and Commons, the first national unity government in the country was the Ministry of All the Talents that led the United Kingdom for about a year after the death of William Pitt the Younger in 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars. This ministry had cross-party support, ranging from very socially conservative Tories, and the broad range of Whigs (among them Charles James Fox and his 'Foxites'), selected for their combined broad political support in both Houses of Parliament and known capabilities in a time of crisis. However, the ministry was frustrated in its attempts to make peace with France, and despite one major legislative success (banning the slave trade in Britain), it fell apart in 1807 over the question of Catholic Emancipation and was replaced following a general election by a Tory ministry led by the Duke of Portland.
It proved that major wars and the long recovery to Great Depression would be the only further instances of National Governments.
During the Great Depression the first of four consecutive National Governments was formed in 1931 by Ramsay MacDonald (Labour/National Labour) succeeded by Stanley Baldwin (Conservative) with their largest opponent and the Liberals. Most members of the Labour and Liberal Parties rejected the government, however, and moved to the opposition benches leaving MacDonald's supporters to rival mainstream party candidates in many cases as National Labour/National Labour Organisation or in Lloyd George's revived National Liberal Party. Notably candidates styled in this way contested the 1935 election; this long period of quasi-national government took in broader support and widened its selections of ministers in the war years, and its fourth transmutation persisted until the general election of 1945.
In 2019, the idea of a government of National Unity was proposed by politicians including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson to stop a no-deal Brexit spearheaded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In hopes of bridging partisan politics during the American Civil War, Republican Abraham Lincoln ran his second term as a National Union government with Democrat Andrew Johnson as his vice president. The new National Union Party allowed members to retain affiliations with other political parties.
Since the Civil War, there has never been a "national unity" government in the United States in the traditional sense. There have been several instances, however, during national disasters or wars, that the two parties have briefly "rallied around the President." Such instances include the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the September 11 attacks, all of which not only had a worldwide effect, but preceded a massive spike in the approval rating of the sitting president.
The 2008–2009 Zimbabwean political negotiations between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (led by Morgan Tsvangirai), its small splinter group, the Movement for Democratic Change – Mutambara (led by Arthur Mutambara), and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (led by Robert Mugabe) created a framework for a power-sharing executive government between the two parties. These negotiations followed the 2008 presidential election, in which Mugabe was controversially re-elected, as well as the 2008 parliamentary election, in which the MDC won a majority in the House of Assembly. The new national unity government, including Tsvangirai, was sworn in on 11 February 2009.
- Big tent
- Grand coalition
- Polish National Government (disambiguation)
- Government of National Unity (Hungary)
- Cabinet of Franjo Gregurić in Croatia
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