The 100-member Convention strongly favors a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, with 69% preferring it over other options. A “proportional list system”–not clear whether open or closed was specified–wins 29% support, and a paltry 3% would like FPTP. (And, yes, those numbers sum to more than 100.)
The news story does not offer information on preferences for keeping the current system vs. change, either in general or any specific replacement system. It does note that there will be a further round of deliberations next month on the exact model that the Convention will recommend.
Ireland is, of course, the main model we have of Single Transferable Vote (STV). MMP and STV are usually the two models most preferred by reform activists (at least in current FPTP jurisdictions) and by political science expert in electoral systems. It is very interesting to see an Irish process possibly leading to STV vs. MMP as choices for the country.
The Irish Times states that “Ireland is now one of the few parliamentary democracies in which members of parliament are not allowed free votes on issues of conscience.” It cites many cases of free votes (also known as “conscience votes”) on issues such as homosexuality law reform, gambling, abortion, and numerous other matters in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Leaving aside the technicality that Ireland can be classified as semi-presidential–the presidency really is weak enough that we can call it parliamentary–is it possible that the use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) to elect the Dail (parliament’s first chamber) is a factor?
The editorial correctly notes that such votes occur “where views differ strongly within parliamentary parties”. What might STV have to do with this? It would be a whole lot more dangerous for party leadership to open up its divisions to be recorded on the floor in a system where the members could then compete for votes on precisely these internal divisions.
Whatever the underlying cause in variation in the use of free/conscience votes, one thing is certain: such votes are called when the government wants them. This could be when it prefers not to be held collectively accountable for some issue (let it pass but don’t call it your program), or when the government favors the passage of some measure that enjoys majority support in parliament but divides its own caucus (be sure it passes, but let your MPs claim credit for having tried to stop it). In other words, when there is conflict between the individual interests of MPs and their parties’ collective interests. If the electoral system reinforces such conflicts–as STV surely does, but FPTP, MMP, and closed-list PR do not–then we might expect parties, when in government, to do what they can to keep such conflicts from spilling into the open.
In any case, the usual agenda control of parliamentary cabinets means that we can understand these votes only by understanding governing parties’ decision calculus. What are the conditions under which free votes are seen as desirable or risky by those who decide to apply, or not, the government whip on a vote?
Ireland has its presidential election today. The president is elected by an “instant runoff”–specifically, the same Single Transferable Vote system that is used for the Irish parliament, but given a single seat, the quota for election is 50%+1. Of course, this means it’s the Alterative Vote, electing the first candidate to reach a majority on either first preferences or transferred lower preferences of voters whose higher-preferred candidates have been eliminated from the count.
TODAY, FOR only the second time since 1938, a presidential election will ultimately be determined by the second, third and fourth preferences cast by voters…
This year, unless the polls are seriously wrong, no candidate is likely to be within 10 percentage points of a simple majority on the first count. The election, with seven in the race spread out the way they appear to be, is certain to go to a second, probably a third, and possibly even fourth or fifth counts.
The Irish presidency is weak, within a premier-presidential system that is almost parliamentary. Yet I wonder if the current political upheaval could lead to a president asserting more influence for the office.
Ireland’s new Government of National Recovery, as the coalition consisting of Fine Gael and Labour is to be called, took office Wednesday.
The coalition agreement* begins,
On the 25th February a democratic revolution took place in Ireland. Old beliefs, traditions and expectations were blown away. The stroke of a pen, in thousands of polling stations, created this political whirlwind. The public demanded change and looked to parties that would deliver the change they sought.
Among the commitments regarding political reform is to abolish the second chamber (Seanad), subject to voter approval in a referendum (p.18).
A Constitutional Convention is to be established. It will consider several amendments, including reduction of the presidential term to five years “and aligning it with the local and European
Also included are plans to restrict campaign spending, consideration of lowering the voting age to 17, and working to increase the representation of women. “We will ask the Constitutional Convention, which is examining electoral reform, to make recommendations as to how the number of women in politics can be increased,” it says (p. 20). No guidelines about what sort of electoral reforms might be considered are given.
There are a series of proposed reforms dealing with legislative procedure, including more time for question periods, fewer committees but with constitutional recognition for key committees, and more opportunity for debating non-government bills (pp. 21-2).
While the results of some constituencies are not yet complete, the general shape of the Irish result is known.
Elections Ireland.org compares seats so far to seats at the last election. Out of 153 seats called thus far, it shows the top four parties as follows:
Fianna Fail 18 (-60)
Fine Gael 70 (+19)
Labour 36 (+16)
Sinn Fein 13 (+9)
Independents and others will have 14 seats, up by 8.
As expected, quite a debacle for Fianna Fail. Preliminary results show Fine Gael with 36.1% of the first-preference vote (up 8.8 on 2007), Labour on 19.4% (+9.3). Fianna Fail has fallen to 17.4% (from 41.5%!).
Independents combined for 12.6% (almost double last time). The Greens, who were coalition partners to Fianna Fail in the outgoing government, saw their vote fall from 4.6% to 1.8%, will not win a seat.
At the Political Reform blog, Eoin O’Malley poses the question of whether Labour should join a coalition (as expected) or support a minority Fine Gael cabinet.
A sampling of the argument:
By entering government Labour will stunt its own growth and the potential development of a left-right divide in Irish politics. If it were to stay in opposition it would displace Fianna Fáil as the main opposition party. …
…staying in opposition would protect Labour’s left flank. In going into government Labour will be opposed vigorously by a young, energetic and largely articulate Sinn Féin and ULA.
The Labour leadership will no doubt claim that it does not want to go into government but that the national interest demands it. … But it’s not even that clear that it is in the national interest to enter government.
Ireland, of course, is the land of the Single Transferable Vote (STV).
Indications are that turnout is high.
The Fianna Fail party, which has led the government during the current financial crisis, is expected to fall to third place. How often does a governing party in a democracy fall to third place? Not too often. Canada 1993, when the Progressive Conservatives fell to fifth place, with only 2 seats, must be the record.
Fianna Fail, which won 42% in the 2007 election, has been polling at around 15%. So, in terms of votes, if not seats, the party could challenge the Canadian record (where Conservatives fell from 43% to 16%).
The implosion of the Irish government, and the main party in the governing coalition, Fianna Fail, has been quite a spectacle.
After narrowly surviving an internal leadership battle, Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen saw five of his own party’s cabinet ministers resign. Shortly thereafter, Cowen himself resigned–as party leader. It is very unusual in parliamentary democracies for the leader of the main party in government not to be the PM, but for the first time in the history of the Fianna Fail, the usual governing party in Ireland, that is now the case.
How long this anomaly can last–if it can even go till the now-scheduled 11 March general election–is anyone’s guess. Elections may have to be moved up, now that the main coalition partner, the Green Party, has pulled its support.
Regarding the Donegal South-West by-election, thejournal.ie has this tidbit:
Polling stations opened at 7am this [Thursday] morning and remain open until 10pm tonight – though voters on Donegal’s islands voted on Monday, as is traditional, to account for any difficulty in bringing the votes to land.
The count begins at 9:00 a.m. Friday, Irish time.
The Sinn Fein candidate, Pearse Doherty, is expected to win rather easily.
A Red C poll commissioned by Paddy Power two weeks ago showed Doherty commanding a massive lead in the opinion polls, with 40% of respondents saying they were likely to give him their first preference vote, while another 17% said he would receive their second preference.
The electoral system, of course, is single transferable vote. But this election is for one seat, which means the system reduces to the alternative vote, where the quota to win the seat is 50% + 1.
Irish Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen has announced that parliament will be dissolved following the passage of the upcoming austerity budget necessitated by the current financial crisis. The move became inevitable once the Green Party, coalition partners to Cowen’s Fianna Fail, demanded early elections. Cowen is also facing calls for his resignation from backbenchers of his own party.
Passing that budget will not be easy. In addition to the Green Party, the government also relies on several independent members, some of whom have said they may not vote for it. Just to complicate things yet further, the government is facing a by-election in a seat in Donegal South West.
And a recent poll of national voting intentions has Fianna Fail about as low as it has ever been, while Fine Gael and Labour are running higher than they have scored at just about any election. The Greens might fail to win a seat, and Sinn Fein is doing better than usual. The financial crisis might lead to quite a political shake-up.
At least for now, a “contentious” proposal to add about 15 list seats to Ireland’s single transferable vote system has been left out of the main governing opposition party’s ambitious proposals for political reform. (See Irish Times for full story and politicalreformireland.ie for periodic updates and links.)
An op-ed in the Irish Times decries the “inefficiency” of Irish politics. About the Irish political system, Gemma Hussey asks:
Is it fit for purpose? Is our electoral system, which frames that political establishment, suitable for Ireland of the 21st century? [...]
We have in Ireland an electoral system, multi-seat proportional representation, which almost ensures that a broad range of the best brains and achievers in the country will never see the inside of Leinster House, much less the Cabinet room. At the same time, we have too many Dáil members.
The electoral system imposes a lifestyle on politicians which is directly inimical to good government and is a considerable deterrent to potential participants.
The skills required to massage a constituency seven days and nights a week have nothing to do with running a small European country with an open economy.
Ministers have to spend 20 to 30 hours a week attending local functions, holding clinics, going to funerals – they’ll lose their seats if they don’t.
The solution? A party-list system and a smaller, unicameral parliament.
Actually, Ireland’s 166-member first chamber, the Dáil, just about nails the “right” size under the cube-root law, given a population of around 4.1 million. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the merits of STV vs. list forms of proportional representation for the 21st century.
In an effort to maximize turnout, polls will be open till 10 p.m. tonight, Irish time, in Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon EU Treaty. Ireland is the only EU country having a referendum on this treaty. The cynic might note that referenda have such a nasty habit of turning out contrary to the wishes of the elites who so carefully craft agreements that it is just too risky to submit such big issues to the masses. But the treaty needs unanimous ratification by signatories, so a failure in Ireland (where any constitutional change must be submitted to the electorate) would send everyone back to the drawing board yet again.
Polls have been divided on which side is ahead, and conventional wisdom evidently suggests that low turnout favors the no.
Ireland will be getting Greener, as that nation’s Green Party has agreed for the first time to join a coalition government. Fianna FÃ¡il, the party of current premier, Bertie Ahern, has agreed to introduce a carbon tax during the lifetime of the next parliament in exchange for the Greens’ entry into the coalition, while the Greens agreed not to use their government role to block Fianna FÃ¡il’s road-building plans or to stop Iraq-bound US military flights from using Shannon airport.
As Wilf Day pointed out in the earlier planting, under Ireland’s single transferable vote (STV) system, we know the patterns of vote transfers between candidates of various parties. It just so happens that Green votes were highly unlikely to transfer to Fianna FÃ¡il and more likely to go to the leading opposition party, Fine Gael. So, in terms of the connection between votes and executive-formation, assuming the coalition goes ahead, do we have here a systemic failure, or at least a mandate violation? The coalition agreement needs to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Green’s national conference today (which about 500 party members are expected to attend).
It is not yet known which or how many portfolios the Greens will get, but they are seeking Transport (which would put them in charge of implementing road projects that they campaigned against!) and Environment. The Greens would like to reorganize the ministries, combining parts of Energy and Environment to address global climate-change issues.
Ahern is also working on support deals with two independent members of parliament.
Update: The coalition is approved, with 86% of Green delegates to the conference approving, although the Greens party leader is stepping down to honor a previous pledge not to enter a coalition with Fianna FÃ¡il. Greens will have two portfolios (probably environment and energy, rather than transportation) and the PDs one. The Irish Times has more detail on the agreement, including its policy guidelines and the information that the Greens will also have two junior ministers. Thus four of its six legislators will have government posts. Meanwhile, the article also notes that Ahern continues to offer budgetary commitments so far up to “hundreds of millions of euros” with three non-party members (with a fourth possibly also to be signed up).
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4