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A minority government in its most basic form is a government in which the party holding the most parliamentary seats still has fewer than half the seats in parliament and therefore cannot pass legislation or advance policy without support from unaffiliated parties. Because seats in minority parliaments are more evenly distributed amongst multiple parties, opposition parties have greater opportunity to block legislation. A minority government must therefore negotiate with external parties and adjust its policies to garner the majority of votes required to advance its initiatives.

This paper serves as a taxonomy of minority governments in recent history and proceeds in three parts. First, it provides a working definition of minority governments, explains the different types of minority governments, and identifies how minority governments relate to coalition governments. Second, the paper explores the ways minority governments form, including the various ways they take power and the types of electoral systems likely to produce them. Finally, the paper examines the relationship between minority governments and constitutional design, primarily focusing on the role of first past the post and proportional representation electoral systems and semi-presidential executive systems. Ultimately, this taxonomy asserts that a democratic instability is neither a cause nor an effect of the formation of minority governments: minority governments are not a sign of democratic failure and do not threaten a country’s democratic performance.