With a just a few days till the Israeli election, it is time to analyze the impact of the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu on the campaign. The presentation of a joint list was announced in late October. There is no question that this will be the list with the most seats–by far–and thus Binyamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. But can we assess how well the two parties’ merger decision has worked out thus far?
First, to what extent have the two parties campaigned as a unit?
Quite a bit. The photo above is from my TV screen during a news broadcast by DW-TV (carried on Link TV) regarding the Israeli campaign’s final week. It shows pamphlets lying on a table at a mall, one of which shows the two leaders, Netanyahu of Likud and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, side by side. Lieberman was the Foreign Minister until he had to step down in mid-December due to legal proceedings. (The legal charges have been pending for some time; there was no great surprise here.) Even the pamphlet that shows only the Prime Minister has both parties’ names at the bottom.
Here is another that shows an information booth, with a sign above it that has both parties’ names. The parties clearly retain their distinct identity, despite their having presented a joint list; they clearly have a joint campaign as well.
Second, how did they construct their merged list? Likud held a primary, which resulted in a dramatic shift in the list’s overall complexion towards the hard-line, pro-settler elements on the right. (More on this later.)
The Yisrael Beiteinu list is ranked by its leadership–meaning mainly Lieberman himself. Subsequently, the two parties combined their lists. (more…)
This campaign advertisement by Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) has been ruled a violation of Israel’s campaign laws.
The ad, showing Likud leader and PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet, says “Strong together, choosing Bennet”. Bayit Yehudi is mainly a Judean/Samarian (West Bank) settlers’ party, and is competing for votes on the Israeli right with Likud. The two are almost certain to go into coalition together after the election.
However, the ad was banned on the grounds that it gives the impression the two parties are cooperating in the campaign and committed to working together after the election. As there is no such mutual declaration, the ad was deemed misleading. (My account and the ad image are based on an IBA news segment from Friday, 18 July.)
Relations between Bennet and Netanyahu are known to be strained. When asked about that recently, Bennet suggested that their tensions are nothing that 15 seats could not overcome.
Bennet has been the sensation of this campaign, with his party originally thought to be likely to win 7-9 seats but polling in the 15-18 range in recent weeks. Some polls have shown it second, after the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance. More likely it will finish third, behind Labor.
The election is Tuesday.
The ad is photographed by me from a news broadcast of Israel Broadcast Authority, carried in the USA by World Harvest Television.
The question of party and voter strategy in PR systems with legal thresholds has received less attention from analysts of electoral systems than it deserves.1 The impact on a party’s fortunes of individual candidates who are too low on a closed list to be elected also receives too little attention.
Here are two examples, which I offer as small correctives to these deficiencies, from the current Israeli campaign. Both are based on interviews I heard on IBA News (broadcast on World Harvest TV).
Kadima, which was the largest party in the 2009 election, but went into opposition rather than make a deal with the ultra-orthodox parties, is fighting for its life in this campaign. In 2012, the party dumped its leader, Tzipi Livni, who then announced her retirement from politics. However, once this election was called, Livni unretired and set up her own party, called Tnua (Movement). My examples come from each of these parties.
Today’s election for the state assembly of Lower Saxony, Germany, was considered too close to call as polls closed. It is regarded as one of Germany’s most important bellwethers, given the state’s large size and that its election is occurring several months before a federal election.
The state’s incumbent government mirrors the federal: a coalition of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The latter party has had a string of bad results in state elections, and many pre-election polls suggested it might not pass the 5% threshold in today’s election. If it did not, the Christian Democrats (CDU) would not be able to govern except in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).
However, exit polls suggest the FDP has reached 9%:
Its gain was attributed to the CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament — a precondition for him remaining in office.
Pre-election polls had put the CDU at 42% or higher, but all those threshold-surpassing list votes for the FDP had to come from somewhere. As a result, the CDU is down to 36%, according to the exit polls.
As for the SPD, its former federal chancellor (PM), Gerhard Schröder was shown on DW-TV campaigning directly on the promise of an SPD-Green coalition. He said (paraphrasing from the translation on DW English): voters know the SPD and Greens served them well when we governed before, because the SPD took care of jobs, while the Greens took care of the environment”.
The SPD is on 32% and the Greens on 13.5%. Thus the two opposing combines have almost the same combined vote totals. Both the Left and Pirates are below 5%.1
The campaign signs, photographed from the DW Journal (aired in the USA by Link TV), are interesting. Note how the CDU and SPD both emphasize their leaders, while the FDP and Greens explicitly call for list votes (Zweitstimme, or “second votes”) in the state’s two-vote mixed-member proportional system.
I had seen some polling that had the Left well above the threshold; maybe there was some tactical voting there, too, by soft Left voters who feared voting for the Left would only increase the odds of a grand coalition, given that SPD-Green-Left post-electoral cooperation would have been unlikely. [↩]
Do I need to revise those lecture points about “fusion of powers” and “ceremonial head of state”?
Papers prepared by the Cabinet Office and recently made public shed light on the UK monarch’s employment of the veto (Guardian, 14 Jan.).
Most of the cases cited involve bills that directly affect crown interests, although one bill vetoed in 1999 was a private member’s bill concerning military actions against Iraq, and others have been on agricultural and housing bills.
The withholding of consent is on “advice” of ministers, so it would be misleading to see this as a runaway unaccountable monarchy blocking the normal functioning of parliamentary government. On the other hand, it seems a significant curtailment of “parliamentary sovereignty” if executive ministers can “advise” the monarch to veto bills duly passed by parliament.
Moreover, it seems that the veto can be to individual provisions of a bill. If so, then maybe I need to add UK to cases of not just veto, but also item veto!
From the thread on Russia, it seems there is discussion of adding (or should I say grafting) a small list tier on to the French two-round system for National Assembly elections.
In that thread, DC says:
The French are planning to add a national PR tier (15% of the seats in the lower house of parliament). This appears to be parallel rather than compensatory, with two ballots. However it is constantly referred to as the “German model”, which demonstrates journalistic ignorance about PR is nor confined to Anglo-Saxon countries.
The French PR tier is supposed to help “inclusivity”. Currently small parties (that don’t make a deal with a large party) can be completely shut out of national politics. Rather than alienate those voters who never see their interests represented in parliament, the French state would rather coopt them by allowing them some representation, but not very much. It appears that completely revamping the electoral method was outside the mandate of the commission in any case, so any reforms were bound to be minimal.
Should the proposal be implemented, the most meaningful effect will almost certainly be the Front National gaining a dozen or two seats in parliament. Will that increase their legitimacy and power? Force them to compromise? It’s hard to know!
I think the point of it is that the PS and the UMP will no longer be obliged (or at least will be less obliged) to court smaller parties at district level.
So called “useful voting” will probably see lots of French voters split their ballot between the district and PR levels, as we saw in Japan, thus a small party seeking representation will not waste a lot of resources at local level unless they have a solid existing base (the PCF, or the PRG, for example).
Any meaningful fair representation will see the FN in parliament-its basically unavoidable. I’m sure a large part of the reason the PR component of this reform is so niggardly is an attempt to avoid a situation where the FN would systematically be the third or fourth party, potentially holding the balance of power.
It could be worse-they could have tried to impose the awful system for regional elections (two-round list PR with “winners” bonus) at a a national level, which was apparently a proposal at one point.
This is not a blog about conflict resolution, and I am certainly no expert on the Middle East conflict. Lack of expertise does not stop many other folks from commenting, so why should it stop me? The following is simply based on my close attention to the media from Israel (in English, both print and broadcast) and international sources, as well as my own observations of many of the much-discussed locales when I was in Jerusalem (in what is technically a “settlement”) for over two months in 2010.
There has been much–too much–attention to the Israeli cabinet’s declaration (not really a “decision” as best I can tell) to move ahead with some 3,000 new homes beyond the Green Line (the 1949 armistice lines), including in an area known as “E-1″.
Report after report says that building homes in E-1 is the death knell of a future Palestinian state. It is alleged to make contiguity of such a state impossible, by cutting off access between the Ramallah area (northwest of Jerusalem) and Bethlehem (to the south of the Jerusalem center).
There is no kinder way of putting it than to say this is BS.
The proposed E-1 homes are northeast of Maale Adumim, which is itself some distance east of Jerusalem.
Ramallah and Bethlehem can’t exactly be easily connected even now, due to the incredibly rugged terrain. Homes northeast of Maale Adumim, a city of about 40,000 east of Jerusalem along Highway 1 towards the Jericho and Dead Sea areas, doesn’t change these geographic realities.
As for the other areas in which new homes would be built, these are not new proposals. They are not even new settlements. They are in places like Ramat Shlomo, which I have commented on before. That is, they are homes within the boundaries of existing built-up areas–at least as I understand what is covered by the cabinet’s declaration of intent to proceed. They are in areas that will not conceivably be either evacuated or turned into islands within a sovereign Palestinian sea whenever there actually might be a negotiated solution.
As for contiguity, it might be noted that Gaza–from which Israel did pull out its settlers—is not contiguous with the other regions that are proposed as part of a Palestinian state. So this is actually something of a red herring. If a Palestinian state is ever created, it will not be contiguous, regardless of Mevasseret Adumim (the name of the housing area within “E-1″) and Ramat Shlomo and Ariel and Kiryat Arba (etc.). It will have to involve various road and other corridors, overpasses and underpasses near developed Israeli areas, and tight security guarantees. It will also involve transferring some current territory–and presumably some Arab population–on the pre-1967 Israeli side of the Green Line to the new state. All of this is precisely what makes a negotiated solution so difficult, and nothing that the cabinet has said in recent days changes this difficult reality.
It must be emphasized that all of these development plans, as well as the ideas of territorial swaps and security guarantees, have been on the table for close to two decades now–a key fact lost in the excited rhetoric of recent days. In fact, there are many influential voices in Israel, including within the cabinet itself, disappointed with the slow pace of approvals of long-planned housing developments. Israel is just now in the midst of an election campaign, and we can hardly expect the incumbent government, particularly given its political complexion, to have greeted the UN resolution “upgrading” the status of “Palestine” with anything milder than it has done so far. One does not have to be a supporter of the Likud and its allies and their strategic visions–I certainly am not–to recognize that the bluster from European governments about withdrawing ambassadors and such is not constructive, and probably only plays into the hands of the harder-line elements of the Israeli electoral majority.
In context, the diplomatic and media excitement of this past week is just so much noise.
I imagine a prime minister being “rolled” over foreign policy issues is not common, especially when the issue is nothing more than how to vote on a symbolic United Nations General Assembly resolution. But such is the precariousness of both Julia Gillard’s grip on her party and the Israeli government’s diplomatic strategy that this is exactly what happened earlier this week.
The Australian government had planned to vote against the resolution to upgrade the status of the “nonmember state” of “Palestine” at the UN. However, Gillard’s Labor Party cabinet members forced her to change Australia’s position to abstain.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, who met Ms Gillard before cabinet, drove the push to oppose the Prime Minister…
Ms Gillard had wanted to vote no while the Left faction, which is pro-Palestinian, wanted to vote for the resolution.
The Right faction, which would usually support Ms Gillard, backed an abstention, in part due to the views of its members that the government was too pro-Israel, and also because many MPs in western Sydney, who are already fearful of losing their seats, are coming under pressure from constituents with a Middle East background.
I might note that we Jews, too, have a Middle East background,1 but presumably the SMH means Australian citizens from Arab or other Muslim countries. There just aren’t enough Jews in swing districts, apparently.2
One source said Ms Gillard was told the cabinet would support whatever final decision she took because it was bound to support the leader but the same could not be said of the caucus.
“If you want to do it, the cabinet will back you but the caucus won’t,” a source quoted one minister as telling the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the German government has also announced it will abstain. When you lose Australia and Germany, even only to abstention on something symbolic, it may be a signal that your diplomatic strategy is lacking.
Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has said he would support the Palestinian Authority’s UN gambit.
The “resistance”, so to speak, of the Palestinian organizations and their sympathizers abroad to recognize this basic fact is at the very core of the conflict. [↩]
And I do not know the views of the Australian Jewish population, but I assume its organizations would favor a no vote on the UN resolution. [↩]
The Israeli political party system may be undergoing some sort of realignment since the calling of elections for January, 2013. The biggest news at this point is the union of the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu (YB) parties, a move approved with no significant dissent.
According to a radio or TV report I heard,1 the plan is for Likud and YB to divide the list positions in the same ratio of their current Knesset representation (roughly 2:1). Most of the media reports say this is a “merger” but if the parties are retaining their distinct identities–as seems to be the case–it is simply a joint list instead.
Frankly, I do not understand the logic of the joint list (or merger). The two parties would be expected coalition partners again in any case, and Likud is highly unlikely to be displaced as the largest party whether running alone or in this combine. Some analysts have said, and some early polls suggest, that the combined list could get fewer seats than the two parties running independently. This makes sense to me, as some Orthodox voters on the fence between Likud and Shas or another smaller party might be repelled by YB leader Lieberman and his support for civil marriage, among other issues. Some floating voters of the center might be scared off by Lieberman’s perceived extremism and vote for Labor or another party instead. There is already at least one potential formal splinter, to be led by outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. However, in Israel many more splinters are talked about, or even tried, than ever become relevant.
So why form a joint list? I don’t find it credible that the various parties already existing or being formed (or just talked about) on the center-left would form a joint list, though the Likud Beiteinu, as it is being called, looks like an attempt to preempt just such a threat. Of course, speaking of preemption, there are those who have claimed it makes a post-election raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities more likely. I don’t buy that; if such a raid is going to happen, the two parties don’t need to have run as one. There is no evident daylight between them on this issue, and if there were, it is hard to see how the joint list would fundamentally resolve it.
There will be greater flexibility in the slots on the Labor Party’s Knesset list reserved for specific sectoral interests such as kibbutzniks, female and Arab delegates, it was decided at a party convention Tuesday evening.
These slots will also be voted on by the entire party, not only by the small group of members belonging to the specific sector, it was also agreed.
I suppose this suggests that they are not really sectoral representatives anymore, but maybe that’s precisely the point. Ascriptive representation of these sectors would remain, but without delegating out the nomination process to the sectors that get these slots. The former system and this reform offer two competing models about how parties go about “balancing” their lists.
Throughout the campaign, you can follow polls at the Knesset Poll Tracker. I would observe that it must be hard to track polls–or to poll–when the lineup of parties remains so uncertain. But it seems pollsters ask about just about any imaginable combination.
I forget whether it was IBA TV news or Arutz Sheva radio, both of which I follow. [↩]
Article 3 The practice of Christianity and Judaism
Persons embracing Christianity and Judaism shall have the right to revert to their respective religious laws in matters relevant to personal affairs, the practice of religious (affairs) or (rituals), and the nomination of spiritual leaders.
On the other hand, there is this (in Art. 2):
Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic is the official language. The principles of Islamic Law are the main source of legislation and Al-Azhar is the final authority in the interpretation thereof.
Article 4 Al-Azhar
Al-Azhar is an independent Islamic authority, headquartered in Cairo, and responsible for the affairs of the Islamic nation and the world as a whole. [...]
(Egypt’s draft, at least the English translation posted, does not yet define the system of government.)
A draft, in English, of the Tunisian constitution has been posted at Constitution Net. The draft includes the competing provisions that are being debated by various factions in the Constituent Assembly. Most of the remaining contention concerns the executive format.
The Ennahdha party, which won by far the largest share of seats in the Constituent Assembly election of October 2011, but short of a majority, is campaigning for parliamentarism. This is not surprising, for if the fragmentation of the rest of the party system continues, Ennahdha would be almost assured of holding the prime ministership in a parliamentary system. However, it might struggle to win a presidential election, given that Ennahdha was short of a majority of the vote, and that the opposition might more easily come up with an electable individual candidate than coordinate on an alliance for parliamentary elections.
The two main options are parliamentary and semi-presidential. Under the former proposal, the head of state would be a president selected by the parliament, and all major executive authority would be vested in the prime minister, who along with the cabinet depends on the confidence of the parliamentary majority. Under the latter, the head of state would be popularly elected by two-round majority (see Art. 45).
Moreover, in the proposal with the elected presidency, it would be this president, more than the premier, who would have significant executive power. For instance, the semi-presidential proposal grants the president a veto. If the law is one that the constitution classifies as an organic law, it would take two thirds to override the veto. Otherwise, it would take an absolute majority (half plus one). Even the latter is stronger than the veto that the (unelected) president would have under the parliamentary proposal, which is suspensory only, requiring no larger majority than the original passage of the bill. In case of passing the bill over the objections of the president, it is the president of the chamber, rather than the president, who promulgates the law in the parliamentary proposal (see Art. 57).
Both proposals feature a constructive vote of no confidence (Art. 71), by which the cabinet can be voted out by a majority of legislators only if, on the same vote, the majority elects a new prime minister. Both proposals say that it would take one third of members to initiate a no-confidence vote.
However, the semi-presidential proposal places restrictions on no-confidence (or “censure”) votes :
In the event the specified majority is not attained, the motion of censure may not be reintroduced against the government except after the elapse of a six-month period.
In the event the specified majority is not attained, the motion of censure may not be reintroduced against the government except after the elapse of a six-month period.
I do not see any provision clearly granting the president the right to dismiss a prime minister and cabinet unilaterally. In fact, in addition to the confidence vote provision, both versions at Art. 67 say, “The government shall be held accountable before the Chamber of Deputies.” Without a provision empowering the president to dismiss a cabinet, the system does not meet the criterion of president-parliamentary, the subtype of semi-presidentialism in which the president has a more dominant constitutional role (compared to premier-presidentialism, with its exclusive accountability of the premier and cabinet to the legislative majority). Nonetheless, I might be tempted to classify this proposal as president-parliamentary, given the limits on government responsibility in Art. 71. It would seem that somehow the cabinet must remain responsible to someone during the periods when the parliament can’t engage the government’s responsibility, and that someone would be the president (even if de facto).
The semi-presidential version also allows no-confidence votes against individual ministers, which would seem to undermine the core parliamentary principle of collective responsibility. Such provisions are, however, common in president-parliamentary systems (but not, I think, in premier-presidential ones).
The president, on the other hand, would have little discretion in selecting a prime minister, having to grant the leader of the largest “electoral party or coalition” the first right to form a government after an election (Art. 66). This almost seems, in the present Tunisian party-system context, like a provision meant to maximize the chance for cohabitation!1
There is a potentially good argument to be made for a popularly elected counterweight to the dominant Islamist party that has emerged in Tunisia. However, the semi-presidential proposal currently under consideration would seem to risk confrontations over powers between the presidency, on the one hand, and the government and assembly, on the other hand.
Of course, if other parties hold out for a coalition including parties allied with the president, then the resulting cabinet would not be a cohabitation cabinet. But my point is that the constitutional provision appears to give more leverage to the head of the largest party than to the president, which is unusual in a semi-presidential system. An exception that comes to mind is Ukraine, between 2005 and 2012, but in a very different party-system context. [↩]
London mayor Boris Johnson will attend his Conservative Party’s upcoming conference “to reveal the secret of how to get re-elected against Labour in a time of austerity in what will be seen as fresh evidence of his ambition to succeed David Cameron”, reports the Guardian.
This comes in the wake of a YouGov poll that shows Johnson as Britain’s “most respected” politician.
Is Boris going to replace David Cameron as PM? I would not bet on it, for two reasons that I can draw out of my research on career trajectories of prime ministers, in comparison with presidents.
First, Johnson’s formula for being (re)elected against a Labour Party that is otherwise well positioned–whether in London politics, or in current national polling–is based on direct election of an individual. That is, “presidentialization“. To expect the same effect if Johnson were the PM candidate (and, presumably, sitting PM) at the next election is to fail to understand how direct election, as with the London mayor or a president, is fundamentally different from selection by and dependence on a party organization, as in a parliamentary democracy.
Second, he would be swimming against a pretty strong current of institutional effects here. Let’s look at the broad patterns of executive recruitment in democracies, comparatively. Out of 390 prime ministers in parliamentary systems in the post-WWII era, how many have been former mayors? If you guessed about 10%, you are a bit high. The answer is 34, or 8.7%. Parliamentary parties just do not look to mayors very often for their chief-executive talent.
Twelve of these PMs are from the French Fourth Republic (including Antoine Henrie Queuille, who counts as a newly appointed PM three times). Five more come from Norway (including another three-time appointee, Einar Gerhardsen). In fact, these two countries, France and Norway, account for half the ex-mayor PMs, and two politicians count for almost 18% of them. There is just one British PM in the list, Clement Atlee.
It is worth noting that mayors are far more likely to become president, where there is such an elected executive post, than to become PM in a parliamentary system. About the same number of presidents in the dataset have been former mayors, 37, but this is out of 236 total presidents. This rate among presidents, 15.7%) is significantly greater than the rate among PMs (p=.04).1
Of course, this pattern is not surprising: mayors in some major cities (including London now) possess a talent that parties in presidential systems desire: proven ability to win a direct election, which often means appealing beyond (and in some carefully chosen ways, against) one’s party. Such skills are not nearly as in demand among parliamentary partisans. What is striking is that the pattern regarding ex-mayors shows up without our having considered whether the politician in question was a directly elected mayor or not.2
None of this means Boris Johnson is not on his way to residing at No. 10. But it does mean he would be a rare case.
Data note. The data reported here come from the data for Chapter 3 of David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
It makes no difference to the significance of the finding whether we include presidents in semi-presidential systems, as in the numbers cited here, or look only at pure presidential systems. In the latter, 15.8% are former mayors. How about premiers in semi-presidential systems? Of these 12.81% are former mayors. That rate is statistically different from pure-parliamentary PMs (p=.05), but not from that for semi-presidential presidents. In other words, it is PMs in parliamentary democracies that stand apart from either type of executive in regimes with elected presidents. [↩]
It would require additional data collection to determine which of the mayors in the data were elected by the city electorate and which were selected by a city council or appointed by the center, or some other mechanism. I suspect most of those in the data–though certainly not Atlee–were indeed popularly elected. [↩]
The following entry is authored by JD Mussel, who frequently comments here at F&V. Because JD is in the Netherlands, I asked him if he would like to offer a preview of the 12 September elections in that country.
All of what follows is by JD, not me.
On Wednesday 12 September next week, Dutch voters will choose the ‘Second Chamber’ – the lower house of the Dutch Parliament. The elections are being held two years early after the government fell in April – in short, the Freedom Party (PVV), who were supporting the minority Liberal (VVD)-Christian Democrat (CDA) government, withheld their support after some weeks of consultations on the budget. Since it was calculated the deficit was going to rise above the EU-agreed norm of 3%, the two government parties wanted another round of cuts, which the PVV could not agree with. Despite being able to quickly make a new budget with three other parties, the government resigned and new elections were called.
The electoral system is flexible-list PR – and is probably the most proportional in the world, as all 150 seats are one nationwide constituency with the only threshold being that a party needs to win enough votes to fulfil one quota – ie 0.67% of the national vote. Partially as a result of this system, but perhaps more so as a result of the breakdown of the Dutch social order based on ‘pillarization’, the political landscape has been very volatile ever since the turn of the century. Most importantly, new parties have been storming in and out of parliament, radical or protest parties have grown in size while the three ‘established’ parties – CDA, VVD and Labour have been collectively losing ground (especially the CDA) and therefore finding it difficult to form relatively comfortable (and stable) coalitions. Since 1994, with the exception of the elections that followed in 1998, after every election, a coalition government has been formed in a way that had never been tried previously, with the most recent example being the Rutte minority cabinet supported by the PVV. Moreover, since 1998, a government has never served for the full term.
Over the month or two, the main election battle – for which party would become biggest – seemed to be between the VVD and the formerly-Maoist Socialist Party (SP). However, about a week ago the Labour party leader did very well in an important televised debate, and since then left-wing tide has turned in favour of the more mainstream Labour. This is a radical turnaround – in mid-August the SP was still predicted by the polls to win twice as many seats as Labour, while now it is Labour, with continuing momentum, who are vying for a first-place finish with the VVD.
But what is the importance of such a ‘victory’? After all, no party is even close to winning a majority. I think the main the main issue is that of which party will provide the prime minister. But what I hear more often (from Dutch as well as external sources) is that the biggest party ‘gets the first attempt at forming a government’. However, the Netherlands uses a system where ‘informateur(s)’ are appointed to hold consultations with party leaders as to a possible coalition. Only once agreement has been reached for a coalition, a ‘formateur’ is appointed to actually form the cabinet, with the formateur usually becoming PM.
Since the above system has been put in place, the Dutch Queen has had an important role in the formation of a government. First, she would meet with each party leader, as well a number of other important figures, for advice. Then she would appoint an informateur, usually some preeminent figure from the political establishment, with the task of exploring the possibility of a certain coalition. Often there would be more than one round of ‘information’ conducted, with multiple informateurs, until an agreement was in sight and a formateur could be appointed to finish the job of forming a government. However, sometime last year, the parliamentary rules of procedure were amended to provide for election of informateur and/or formateur by the incoming Second Chamber. This was possible as the whole system of government formation is in convention rather than law. If the newly-elected chamber manages to make this new system work, it will now all be done independently of the Queen, who will only have to sign the ministerial appointment documents and pose with the new ministry. With regard to the new system, many have suggested that the Chamber should elect the leader of the largest party as informateur, or elect him straight away as formateur – thus returning, in essence, to the 19th-century system where the Queen would appoint formateur after formateur until one of them succeeded (the only difference of course being the appointer).
Lastly, I’d like to mention a trend among Dutch party leaders – some time ago, the VVD codified an existing convention that their political leader, who stands at the head of the list, remains in the Chamber to lead the faction unless he becomes the PM (Ministers in the Netherlands have to resign their seat in parliament). Recently in the campaign, Labour party leader Samsom said he would do the same – he would not become minister in a cabinet led by someone else if Labour participates in the government, but remain in the chamber unless he becomes PM.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my entry! If I’ve managed to interest you in Dutch politics, do have a look at the great website by Peter-Paul Koch. It’s absolutely fascinating, and I’ve learned quite a lot from it myself.
This has been JD Mussel, reporting from the heart of Dutch democracy in The Hague.
On a “how to vote” application for the upcoming Dutch election, the second statement you are asked to agree or disagree with is:
The number of members in the Lower House should remain at 150.
Is the size of the chamber an issue in the Netherlands?
For the record, the chamber is one of the most undersized among the major democracies (see graph), according to the cube-root rule.
On a somewhat related note, can anyone explain the Central Planning Agency, mentioned in a Monkey Cagepost as an “authoritative” institution that “runs each party’s submissions [i.e. campaign proposals] through a model and offers projections”?
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