Indirect election

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An indirect election or hierarchical voting, [1] is an election in which voters do not choose directly among candidates or parties for an office (direct voting system), but elect people who in turn choose candidates or parties. It is one of the oldest forms of elections and is used by many countries for heads of state (such as presidents), cabinets, heads of government (such as prime ministers), and/or upper houses. It is also used for some supranational legislatures.


Positions that are indirectly elected may be chosen by a permanent body (such as a parliament) or by a special body convened solely for that purpose (such as an electoral college).

In nearly all cases the body that controls the executive branch (such as a cabinet) is elected indirectly. This includes the cabinets of most parliamentary systems; members of the public elect the parliamentarians, who then elect the cabinet. Upper houses, especially in federal republics, are often indirectly elected, either by the corresponding lower house or cabinet. Similarly, supranational legislatures can be indirectly elected by constituent countries' legislatures or executive governments. The indirect democracy is run by electoral college or president.

An election can be partially indirect, for example in the case of indirect single transferable voting, where only eliminated candidates select other candidates to transfer their vote share to.

Heads of state

A head of state is the official leader and representative of a country. [2] The head of state position can vary from ceremonial figurehead with limited power to powerful leader depending on the government structure and historical legacy of the country. [3] For instance, in some cases heads of state inherit the position through a monarchy whereas others are indirectly or directly elected such as presidents. [4] Several examples are included below.

United States

The President of the United States is elected indirectly. In a US presidential election, eligible members of the public vote for the electors of an Electoral College, who have previously pledged publicly to support a particular presidential candidate. [5] When the Electoral College sits, soon after the election, it formally elects the candidate that has won a majority of the members of the Electoral College. Members of the federal cabinet, including the vice president, are in practice nominated by the president, and are thus elected indirectly. [6] The Electoral College is a controversial issue in U.S. politics, especially following presidential elections when voting is polarized geographically in such a way that the electoral college elects a candidate who did not win an absolute majority of the popular vote. [7] The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, if enacted, would replace the indirect election via the Electoral College with a de facto plurality-based direct election. [8]


The Constitution of the People's Republic of China specifies a system of indirect democracy. [9] The National People's Congress elects the president, also known as the state chairman, who serves as head of state. [10] The power of the presidency is largely ceremonial, the vast majority of power stems from the president's position as leader of the Communist Party and head of the military. [11]

European Union

The president of the European Commission is nominated by the European Council and confirmed or denied by the directly elected European Parliament (see Elections to the European Parliament). [12]

Parliamentary systems

Republics with parliamentary systems usually elect their head of state indirectly (e.g. Germany, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Malta, Hungary, India, Israel, Bangladesh). [13] Several parliamentary republics, such as Ireland, Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, operate using a semi-presidential system with a directly elected president distinct from the prime minister. [14]

Heads of government

A head of government is in charge of the daily business of government and overseeing central government institutions. In presidential systems the president is the head of government and head of state. In parliamentary systems the head of government is usually the leader of the party with the most seats in the legislature. [15] Several examples of heads of government who are chosen through indirect elections are summarized below.

Prime Minister

The most prominent position in parliamentary democracies is the prime ministership. [16]

Under the Westminster system, named after and typified by the parliament of the United Kingdom, a prime minister (or first minister, premier, or chief minister) is the person that can command the largest coalition of supporters in parliament. In almost all cases, the prime minister is the leader of a political party (or coalition) that has a majority in the parliament, or the lower house (such as the House of Commons), or in the situation that no one party has a majority then the largest party or a coalition of smaller parties may attempt to form a minority government. The prime minister is thus indirectly elected as political parties elect their own leader through internal democratic process, while the general public choose from amongst the local candidates of the various political parties or independents. [17]

The Westminster model continues to be used in a number of Commonwealth countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom. [18] Additionally many nations colonized by the British Empire inherited the Westminster model following their independence. [19]

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. [20]

Federal Chancellor

In Germany, the federal chancellor - the most powerful position on the federal level - is elected indirectly by the Bundestag, which in turn is elected by the population. [21] The federal president, the head of state, proposes candidates for the chancellor's office. Although this has never happened, the Bundestag may in theory also choose to elect another person into office, which the president has to accept. [22]


Some countries have nonpartisan heads of government who are appointed by the president, such as the Prime Minister of Singapore. [23]

Upper houses

Members of the German Bundesrat are appointed (delegated) by the Landtag of the various states.

The Control Yuan of China, formerly a parliamentary chamber, was elected directly by its respective legislatures across the country: five from each province, two from each directly administered municipality, eight from Mongolia (by 1948 only the Inner Mongolian provinces were represented), eight from Tibet and eight from the overseas Chinese communities. As originally envisioned both the President and Vice President of the Control Yuan were to be elected by and from the members like the speaker of many other parliamentary bodies worldwide. The Control Yuan became a sole auditory body in Taiwan in 1993 after democratisation.

In France, election to the upper house of Parliament, the Sénat , is indirect. Electors (called "Grands électeurs") are locally elected representatives.

Members of the Indian Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament) are largely elected directly by the Vidhan Sabha (legislative assembly) of the various states and Union territories; some are appointed by the president.

Members of the United States Senate were elected directly by the Legislature of the various states until ratification of the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913. Since that time they have been elected by direct popular vote.

In some cases, most officials, including most members of legislatures – national and subnational – may be regarded as elected indirectly, because they are preselected by political parties. This kind of system is typified by the United States, at both the federal and state levels. That is primary elections and/or caucuses are responsible for choosing candidates, whose preselection is ratified by a party convention.

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. The same applies to bodies formed by representatives chosen by a national government, e.g. the United Nations General Assembly – assuming the national governments in question are democratically elected in the first place.

Indirect single transferable voting is used to elect some members of the Senate in Pakistan. [24]

See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Westminster system</span> Parliamentary system of government

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parliamentary system</span> Form of government

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Presidential system</span> Form of government

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elections in Pakistan</span> Political elections for public offices in Pakistan

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Politics of Montenegro</span> Political system of Montenegro

The Politics of Montenegro takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Montenegro is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of Montenegro. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The Economist Intelligence Unit rated Montenegro a "flawed democracy" in 2022.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Politics of Serbia</span>

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In a governmental system, a party leader acts as the official representative of their political party, either to a legislature or to the electorate. Depending on the country, the individual colloquially referred to as the "leader" of a political party may officially be party chair, secretary, or the highest political office.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Semi-parliamentary system</span> System where voters vote simultaneously for both prime minister and members of legislature

Semi-parliamentary system can refer to one of the following:


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