General election

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In a parliamentary political system, a general election is an election in which all or most members of a given political body are up for election. The term is usually used to refer to elections held for a nation's primary legislative body, as distinguished from by-elections and local elections.

The term originates in the United Kingdom general elections for the House of Commons.


In the United Kingdom

The term general election in the United Kingdom often refers to the election of Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons. These must be held every five years, but may be held more often at the discretion of the British Prime Minister.

The term may of course also be used to refer to an election to any democratically elected body in which all of the members are up for election. Section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998, for example, specifically refers to ordinary elections to the Scottish Parliament as general elections.[1]

General elections in Britain traditionally take place on a Thursday; the last general election not on a Thursday was that of 1931.

The five year limit on the time of a Parliament can be varied by an Act of Parliament. This was done during both World Wars; the Parliament elected in December 1910 was prolonged to November 1918, and that elected in November 1935 lasted until June 1945. The House of Lords has an absolute veto on any Bill to extend the life of Parliament.

In India

General elections in India are the largest exercise of democracy in the World. In 2004, Indian elections covered an electorate larger than 670 million people—over twice that of the next largest, the European Parliament elections—and declared expenditure has trebled since 1989 to almost $300 million, using more than 1 million electronic voting machines. The Election Commission of India coordinates the elections, which owing to the huge size of the electorate is conducted in a phased manner. In General Elections, the candidates are elected for the Lok Sabha and they are called MP's(Member of Parliament). They are held every 5 years.


See Elections in Japan.

American usage

In U.S. politics, some parallels can be drawn between the general election in parliamentary systems and the biennial elections determining all House seats, although there is no analogue to "calling early elections" in the U.S., and the members of the elected U.S. Senate face elections of only one-third at a time at two year intervals.

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