A caretaker government is a government that rules on a temporary basis, due to the loss of election or a pending transition of power.
Caretaker governments may be put in place when a government in a parliamentary system is defeated in a motion of no confidence, or in the case when the house to which the government is responsible is dissolved, to be in place for an interim period until an election is held and a new government is formed. In this sense, in some countries which use a Westminster system of government, the caretaker government is simply the incumbent government, which continues to operate in the interim period between the normal dissolution of parliament for the purpose of holding an election and the formation of a new government after the election results are known. Unlike in ordinary times, the caretaker government's activities are limited by custom and convention.
In systems where coalition governments are frequent a caretaker government may be installed temporarily while negotiations to form a new coalition take place. This usually occurs either immediately after an election in which there is no clear victor or if one coalition government collapses and a new one must be negotiated. Caretaker governments are expected to handle daily issues and prepare budgets for discussion, but are not expected to produce a government platform or introduce controversial bills.
Many countries are administered by a caretaker government during election periods, such as:
Heads of caretaker governments are often referred to as a "caretaker" head, for example "caretaker prime minister".
Similarly, but chiefly in the United States, caretakers are individuals who fill seats in government temporarily without ambitions to continue to hold office on their own. This is particularly true with regard to United States Senators who are appointed to office by the Governor of their state following a vacancy created by the death or resignation of a sitting senator. Sometimes governors wish to run for the seat themselves in the next election but do not want to be accused of unfairness by arranging their own appointments in the interim. Also, sometimes they do not wish to be seen as taking sides within a group of party factions or prejudicing of a primary election by picking someone who is apt to become an active candidate for the position. At one time, widows of politicians were often selected as caretakers to succeed their late husbands; this custom is rarely exercised today, as it could be viewed by some as nepotism.
In a similar vein, Nelson Rockefeller was said to be a caretaker Vice President of the United States (1974–1977). He was nominated for the office by President Gerald Ford, who had succeeded the resigned President Richard Nixon. Rockefeller made it apparent that he had no further presidential ambitions of his own (unlike many Vice Presidents), despite having run for the office three times in the past, and he had no intention of even running for a full term in the vice presidential office. He followed through on his intention when Ford's running mate in the 1976 presidential election was Senator Bob Dole.
In Canada and most other English-speaking countries, the more widely accepted term in this context is interim, as in interim leader. In Italy this kind of premier is the President of Government of Experts.
The following is a list of individuals who have been considered caretaker (or provisional or interim) heads of state or heads of government: