The Czech government is proposing to amend the country’s constitution to make the vote of no-confidence “constructive”:
If the opposition wants to propose a no-confidence vote, it must agree on the name of the future prime minister and have this agreement signed by at least 50 lower house deputies, according to the government’s draft amendment.
If a no-confidence vote fails, the opposition may not propose a new vote sooner than after six months or when 80 deputies support its proposal. (Prague Monitor)
The Czech proposal is more restrictive (constrictive?) than the other two longest-existing provisions for constructive votes. For example, under Article 67 of the German constitution, there is neither a stipulated minimum number of legislators who must propose a no-confidence vote nor a limitation on future motions if a motion fails. In Spain’s constitution, Article 113 requires a minimum one-tenth of the chamber to propose a motion against the government, compared to one-fourth in the Czech proposal. There is in Spain a prohibition on the same signers of a failed motion proposing another one in the same parliamentary session.
While a constructive-vote provision along the lines of Germany’s seems like a good idea to me, I am very skeptical of provisions that make it considerably more difficult for a parliamentary majority to remove a government. The more restrictions there are on parliament’s rights in this area, the more the system shades towards separate survival in power of the executive and legislature–thereby undermining the critical accountability feature that makes a democracy parliamentary.
To pass, the Czech proposal would need support from the leftist opposition, as the government is well short of the necessary three-fifths majority for constitutional changes.
________ UPDATE: As Robert Elgie notes in a comment, the Czech Republic is already moving to direct election of the president. Thus the country will join Poland in having the unusual combination of both semi-presidentialism and constructive vote of no confidence.
Even when embedded in a broader political system that is firmly parliamentary, direct election of an executive matters.
From UK Polling Report’s summary of a recent poll in the London mayoral race:
57% of Londoners say they like Boris Johnson, compared to just 36% who say they like the Conservative party – meaning Boris is outperforming his party by 21 points.
Some folks identify results like this as one major aspect of the phenomenon of “presidentializaton”–where separate election of an executive allows for the building of electoral constituencies that are broader than (or different from) that of the executive candidate’s party.
The election is on 3 May. The electoral formula is the supplementary vote, which is a form of “instant runoff”, but not a good form. Unlike the alternative vote, all but the top two candidates, based on first preference vote, are eliminated. Second preferences are then redistributed–if no candidate had a majority of first preferences–and the winner is the candidate with the most votes after redistribution.
This “news” item was in response to an “announcement” by Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich of “her intention to run for prime minister against incumbent leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming election.”
This is hardly big news. When you are the leader of a party in a parliamentary system you are generally presumed to be said party’s candidate to be prime minister. So we did not learn anything new by this announcement–which makes it seem as if the PM is elected directly, like a president. Which, you may know, Israel tried for a little while, but it was such a disaster that they went back to standard parliamentarism over a decade ago.
So, while we have known since Yachimovich won the leadership contest of one of Israel’s four largest parties that she was thereby a candidate for the top executive post, it is much more difficult to see how she can become prime minister than it is to recognize her intentions. The dynamics of the post-election coalition situation are unlikely to favor Labor.
A parliamentary election is not due till late 2013, but there is continuing speculation that it could be called for later this year.
As I type this item, we are a few hours from the caucus meeting of the Australian Labor Party, where a decision will be made on the party leader. Current leader and PM, Julia Gillard, is being challenged by former PM (and until a few days ago, Foreign Minister), Kevin Rudd. Today’s caucus vote is a good case study in parliamentary vs. presidential democracy.
In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, David Samuels and I make the point that Prime Ministers in parliamentary democracies are agents of their parties, whereas parties in presidential systems must select executive candidates who can succeed as agents of the electorate. We show that this fundamental institutional distinction has consequences for the types of leaders who are chosen under each system. We suggest this is because the qualities that make a potential executive leader a “good agent” of the party might be only loosely correlated with the qualities that make a potential leader sufficiently popular to win a separate election. Australia today is apparently going to give us an excellent case study in exactly why these leadership-selection distinctions matter.
It now appears, based on various news accounts, that Gillard has outmaneuvered Rudd and will survive the challenge, notwithstanding evidence that Rudd is favored by the voters.
If public opinion polls are to be believed, Rudd is vastly more popular than Gillard. For example a Newspoll survey, reported in The Age, has Rudd preferred over Gillard, 53% to 28%. Polls also suggest that he would run a closer contest, or even beat, opposition leader Tony Abbot, while Gillard would lose badly.
However, Australia does not select its executives by popular vote. The only voters who matter under the rules the Labor Party uses are the members of its parliamentary caucus. The Sydney Morning Heraldestimates that the 69 of the 103 caucus members back Gillard and only 29 Rudd.
That’s 67% Gillard in the caucus (and it may end up much higher), 53% Rudd in the public.
Rudd’s wife says the challenger’s campaign is “people-led“. Right; that’s the problem! Rudd and his backers are encouraging voters to contact their Labor MPs on Rudd’s behalf. I doubt many MPs will be swayed. This is their decision.
If the challenger is more popular with the public than the incumbent, one might expect that it would be the marginal seat-holders who would most tend to be in favor of the challenger. After all, they are the Labor MPs who are most vulnerable, and therefore would gain most from whatever additional votes a changed leader might bring to their party. Yet marginal members are actually more likely to favor the incumbent party leader and PM, Gillard, over Rudd. According to a count by the Sydney Morning Herald, only 5 of Labor’s 20 most marginal MPs favor Rudd. They are prepared to sacrifice their seats for the current leader. As the Herald concludes:
Another MP said marginal seat holders tended to support the leader because they got the most attention “Name me a leader who doesn’t listen to marginal seats and I’ll show you a leader who won’t win,” the MP said.
Evidently she listens to the selectorate that matters most to a PM’s career, an area in which Rudd has an ongoing failing.
If Rudd really is more popular, by such a wide margin as polls suggest, one might expect MPs and Senators to be persuaded. Of the many tasks a party leader has to perform, one of the most important is to be able to lead the party to electoral success. Quite likely, however, the caucus members simply do not believe the leader makes this much difference. There is little objective reason to think it would matter as much as the polling says, for when an election actually comes, voters in a parliamentary system will select their legislators based overwhelmingly on the party record, and not on images of the leader. Besides, before the election there is a government and a party to manage, and for Labor caucus members, they have been there, done that with Rudd.
From the point of view of the caucus, it can’t be a good thing to contemplate entering a second consecutive election with a PM who came to power due to an inter-electoral leadership “spill”. Divided parties rarely prosper–it is almost a political-science truism. Better to get this behind them–if they can–and get on with governing and repairing a record on which to run come the next election.
The Labor Party will undergo a leadership ballot on Monday morning after Kevin Rudd quit his post and flew back to Australia to challenge Julia Gillard for the job she took from him 20 months ago.
If Rudd wins, it may have implications for the current Labor-led minority government. At least two of the independent MPs have given some indications of doubt that they’d support a government under a changed PM.
In a previous thread it was established that Australia has a strange record of prime ministers being removed by their own parties at a far greater rate than anywhere else. We appear to be about to confirm that tendency:
Caucus members have been back in their electorates for two months and they have had plenty of time to soak up voters’ feelings. Now that they are returning to Canberra this weekend before the resumption of Parliament next Tuesday, some are admitting, away from the microphones and the cameras, that they cannot see how they can continue to support Gillard as their leader.
We may also be about to establish a record for prime ministers doing a Lazarus.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has withdrawn support from the Labor minority government in Australia over failure of the government to advance poker-machine reform. However, as noted in the Sydney Morning Herald, this development is not fatal to the government.
When, after the 2010 election, Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and the Greens agreed to support Labor, they gave just two guarantees: confidence and supply.
On the first, they would support a no-confidence motion against the government only in a case of serious misconduct or corruption. And, while they would guarantee supply, they reserved the right to vote against individual budget measures and other policies.
In announcing he was withdrawing support, Wilkie reaffirmed that this did not imply he would join the now-certain no-confidence motion to be brought by the opposition.
Wilkie’s threat to bring down the government if it did not meet his demands lost potency in November when Harry Jenkins was nudged from the speaker’s chair and replaced by the Liberal turncoat Peter Slipper. This gave Labor a two-vote buffer on the floor.
Wilkie would lose all influence if he voted to bring down the government, anyway. The tail can’t wag the dog if the dog is dead. And the Wilkie Wag [TM] now looks to be a weaker influence on the Labor party than that of the poker clubs’ lobby.
Israel’s Minister of Transportation, Yisrael Katz, says, “We will replace the governing system before the upcoming elections”, according to Ynet.
Having spent some months in Israel in 2010, partly to work on political reform proposals, I have some idea how tough a nut this is. So I don’t necessarily expect anything big to happen in the 21 months or less leading up to the next general election.
Areas of reform would supposedly include raising the threshold for a party to enter the Knesset, limiting the number of ministers and deputies, increasing the number of votes required to for a vote of a no confidence, and adopting regional elections.
Some of these are good ideas, some bad. For example, raising the number of votes needed for the Knesset to dismiss a government would, by definition, mean replacing the parliamentary system of government. If more than 61 votes (out of 120) are required, then a government could lose the confidence of a majority–the situation that would lead to a change of government or early elections under parliamentarism–yet remain in office.
If government originates from the parliamentary majority, but is not dependent upon it for its survival, then the regime is what I call assembly-independent, not parliamentary. This is one of the “mixed” systems, in that it does not have either “fusion” of both origin and survival (parliamentarism), not “separation” of both (presidentialism), but rather mixes and matches. So I have to say that it would be quite good for political science if Israel would do this, as the country has already had the opposite combination–separation of origin but fusion of survival–during the phase of directly elected prime ministers from 1996 to 2001. I could imagine writing some interesting papers! But I doubt such a system is a good idea for Israel. It seems it would reduce, rather than increase, accountability.
Raising the threshold, which is currently 2%, seems like a good idea. However, as always, even a good idea has its downside. It just so happens that some of the parties that regularly reside right around the current threshold are the parties that attract mainly Arab votes. For instance, Balad has hovered between 1.9% and 2.5% since 1999, the United Arab List 2.1% and 3.4%, and Hadash 2.6% and 3.3%. A threshold that threatens these parties (individually, and it is not a certainty that they would merge) is problematic, to say the least. If one wanted to force one of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, United Torah Judaism, to direct its votes to someone else’s list, the threshold would need to be as high as 5% (UTJ has had 3.7-4.7% during this time, with some upward tendency). So raising the threshold is not so simple, after all. Besides, even with a 5% threshold, the problem that Israel has as many as five parties capable of getting 10% but not any of them would necessarily get much over 30% in any given election, would remain.
The Israeli system needs reform, but what sort of reforms is not a straightforward question.
In elections Saturday, the Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT), was reelected with 51.8% of the vote. Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came second with 45.6%, and James Soong of the People First Party won 2.8%.
The election is by plurality, so it was not especially close.
These were the first concurrent elections in Taiwan, the electoral cycle having been modified recently. As is to be expected with concurrent elections, the presidential and legislative votes were quite similar. The KMT-led alliance won 51.5% of the legislative votes, and will continue to control a majority of seats, with 67 of 113. (This is a decline from 85 at the previous, non-concurrent, election of 2008.)
These elections feature an unusual example of two parties competing in presidential elections but allied in concurrent legislative elections. Soong’s People First Party is part of the Pan Blue alliance, and whereas Sung himself managed only 2.8% of the vote, his party contributed 5.5% of the Pan Blue legislative vote.
Taiwan’s electoral system is mixed-member majoritarian (or parallel), with 79 district races decided by plurality, and 34 nationwide seats elected by proportional representation. People First won one single-seat contest, and 2 list seats. I assume the parties in alliance run common candidacies in the single-seat districts (and hence that the KMT stood down in the one contest won by the PFP, and the PFP did not contest many other districts), but that they run separate party lists. I hope someone can confirm that.
The only other case I know of where two parties competed in a presidential election but were allied in a concurrent legislative election would be Chile, 2005. At the time of the Chilean example of this sort of unusual alliance behavior, I remarked that the electoral rules of Chile made it advantageous for the parties to remain in their legislative alliance even after they chose to compete in the presidential race. In Chile, these rules are two-seat D’Hondt open lists. Taiwan’s MMM provides similar, if distinct, incentives to cooperate.
What is more surprising about the Taiwanese case is that by running separate presidential candidates, the alliance risked splitting the vote, given the use of plurality rule. In Chile, on the other hand, the presidency is elected through majority runoff. That Soong’s vote for president, where a split of the alliance vote was risky, was so much lower than his party’s legislative votes can be scored as a victory for Duverger.
The presidency of Christian Wulff appears to be coming to an end. I found some of the language a little more elevated than one would expect from say discussion of the governor-gneral of Australia:
It is very difficult now to imagine how Wulff will exude the luminosity that I had hoped of him.
It does raise the question of how best to appoint and remove a ceremonial president. On the face of it comparing cases like Ireland where the president is popularly elected and Germany and Australia where the president is indirectly elected, indirect election does not always seem to work well. Since 1972 two governors-general of Australia (and 2 state governors) have been forced to leave early by public opinion. I am not aware of that happening with any Irish presidents.
Whoever wins tonight will have to form a coalition with one or more of three smaller parties including Tusk’s current junior partner the Polish Peasants’ Party, which is seeing its support slip.
A left-wing liberal newcomer, Palikot’s Movement, a splinter from Civic Platform, may confuse matters. Among other things it wants to eliminate the power and privileges of the Catholic church in public life.
The latter party is interesting, not only due to its newness, but because it clearly is attempting to shake up the existing Polish political spectrum, through both its party platform and the profiles of its individual candidates. DW reports:
Palikot became notorious in Poland’s conservative circles because of his outspoken attacks on the church. Insiders say this was also the reason why he was kicked out of the ruling Civic Platform party, which was keen not to upset the church. In this election campaign, Palikot has made anticlericalism his main weapon.
The party’s lists of candidates are also of interest:
Its candidates include Anna Grodzka, a transsexual woman whose public battle with the Polish legal system after sex reassignment surgery made her something of a celebrity, and Poland’s best-known gay activist, Robert Biedron.
Poland uses open-list PR,1 so the personal followings of candidates can be critical to the success of a party, especially a new one like Palikot’s. An article from this past July, when Palikot was still setting up his party, said that “Palikot also declared that figures from the worlds of sport and music were in line to run as candidates for his party.” He also said his lists would have equal numbers of men and women, as well as many young people. “It’s time to cure the Polish party system, which is ill and undemocratic,” he said in the interview.
Poland has a highly fragmented party system, so the leading party is quite likely to have only around a third of the votes and seats. This will necessitate post-election coalition bargaining. Plus, the presidency in Poland’s premier-presidential system is far from merely ceremonial.2 The presidency is held by Civic Platform, whose candidate Bronislaw Komorowski defeated Kaczynsni, 53-47, in a runoff in July, 2010. In the first round of that election, Komorowski won around 41% of the vote. Can his party come close to that level in an election more than one year after the presidential election? Typically, the answer in presidential and semi-presidential elections would be no: beyond the president’s “honeymoon” and with the presidency itself not at stake, we can expect the party to poll considerably lower. The fact that the party holds the presidency, however, makes it likely that it will also retain the premiership, following post-election bargaining. The only hope for Kaczinnski would be a decisive lead, plus a good showing for parties clearly more compatible with his party than with Komorowski’s. That seems unlikely.
That is, once parties are assigned seats in proportion to their votes in multi-seat districts, those seats are assigned within each party’s lists solely on the basis of how many votes candidates receive personally. Under Poland’s variant, the voter must cast a candidate-preference vote, as there is no party-only option. [↩]
That is, the presidency is directly elected. The prime minister and cabinet are responsible to the majority in parliament (the Sejm, the first chamber of the bicameral legislature). The president has no constitutional authority to dismiss a PM, but has initiative in designating a PM-to-be. Poland’s president also has a veto on legislation that requires 3/5 to override. [↩]
Japan’s PM Naoto Kan made it official, and resigned today. His Democratic Party of Japan will choose a successor next week.
The successor will be Japan’s sixth since the departure of Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. That’s a lot of PMs in a short time.
Why does Japan have such short-lived PMs? In one regard, maybe Japan is “typical.” After all, unlike presidents, who are essentially never forced out by their own parties, prime ministers are by definition agents of their parties (as well as of the legislative majority). Indeed, Samuels and Shugart (2010: 96) report that 30% of all PMs in parliamentary systems leave office for “intraparty” reasons (N=354). So there is nothing unusual about parties “firing” a PM. (Kan was not formally fired; few are. But no one doubts that it was intraparty politics that has led him to this point. He survived an internal challenge just months ago, and promised then not to remain for long.)
Still, in Japan an “intraparty” termination of a prime minister happens rather more often than in most parliamentary systems. Moreover, while short-lived prime ministers logically follow from the inter-factional politics that used to characterize the Liberal Democratic Party, they make much less sense following the electoral reforms of 1994. Besides, this is not the LDP. It’s the DPJ, which won a resounding electoral victory in 2009–and is already about to have its third PM since that election!
Under the old LDP system, “back-room” factional politics was the kingmaker, and the electoral system (SNTV) made factions and individual politicians the agents of representation at least as much as the party itself. It thus also made them agents of inter-electoral bargaining, hence the PM-ship was always subject to renegotiation.
This was supposed to change with the electoral reform–to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM). And much has changed, with factions becoming less important to leadership selection within the LDP, according to various accounts. And the 2001-06 rule of Koizumi suggested a real turn in the position of the PM vis-a-vis the party. The instability of PMs following Koizumi (three of them from 2006 to 2009) perhaps could be written off as an exhausted and about-to-lose party casting about for what it stood for and who could represent it. But the DPJ presents a puzzle. Its first PM did not even last a year, and its second has made it just over a year. The disasters that struck Japan earlier could cut either way–they could have been an opportunity for the party to rally around the leader. In any case, he was already in trouble politically prior to those events.
Generally speaking, PMs in “Westminster” type systems with a single ruling party should be less vulnerable to internal party challenges. The logic is that such political systems maximize the alignment of incentives within the party, and give the party ample opportunity to vet potential PMs so that those they choose enjoy the backing of the party. Thus leaders who head their party when it wins election usually stick around for at least the term, and if they win again, usually for a second term. (Yes, it is stylized, which does not mean it is not generally accurate, Australia’s anomaly notwithstanding. And things often get sticky during third terms–see above point about exhaustion and casting-about.)
Japan does not have a Westminster system, by usual definition. Yet the reform of the electoral system, from SNTV to MMM, was supposed to move the country’s politics in that direction. In many respects, it clearly has done so: factions less important, policies more so, alternation in government, two clear blocs instead of one dominant party and a fragmented opposition, etc. So why not more stability in the top post?
It is often alleged that projects to develop high-speed rail systems are cases of “pork-barrel” politics. Lots of money, sexy projects, and politicians can’t resist “targeting” the spending to areas of benefit for their reelection campaigns.
With respect to the funds to assist high-speed rail that were in the “stimulus” package early in Obama’s presidency, I addressed this charge: as best I could tell from the information available, it was not pork, at least at the legislative stage.
On the other hand, I have heard allegations that certain lines and stations in Japan’s system are “porky” in that they were built in regions that supported key Liberal Democratic Party politicians, but had less obvious merit in terms of the coherence of the rail system itself.1
The distinction here is in the extent to which a public project is sited in a way consistent with programmatic criteria, on the one hand, or for political objectives, on the other. There is not always a bright line between programmatic decisions and pork-barrel decisions in individual cases. Sometimes the objectives are even aligned! Yet conceptually, the distinction is fairly clear. If the decision regarding where to place a line (for example) are based on objective criteria, where some panel of nonpartisan experts scores various competing proposals in order to determine which ones have the most merit, it’s not pork. If politicians determine where to put a line based on the value of that line for their party (or individual politicians’) constituencies, it’s pork.2
So the politics of a proposed high-speed system in the UK are interesting. Normally, at least in US discussions of pork-barrel politics, we assume that projects get sited based on their providing benefits to the districts of politicians who are strategically positioned to influence the choice of routes and stations. We do not normally think that the electorally secure politicians whose districts the lines will traverse will oppose the project, while the project will mainly benefit locations not currently represented by politicians in the governing party or coalition.
Yet the latter pattern is what we observe in the UK currently, as The Independent reported on 26 June.
David Cameron is pinning his hopes of an outright victory at the next election by pushing ahead with a controversial high-speed rail project. Ministers are convinced the expensive rail link will give Tories the breakthrough in northern cities that they need to gain a majority.
The PM is risking the wrath of the Home Counties, where 14 Tory constituencies with rock-solid majorities are affected by the building of the £33bn line.
The news article goes on to note that the high-speed rail line may cost the Conservative party votes in these “rock-solid” districts, but the party will win them in the 2015 election, anyway. The project will be popular enough in northern areas where the party is targeting many seats for possible pick-up in the next election, so there will be a net gain for the party.
At least within the classic US frame, pork is about rewarding incumbents for their incumbency, and rewarding voters or interest groups for their support of the incumbent. But apparently that is not the case in the UK, for this project.
The difference lies in the highly party-centered nature of parliamentary politics, UK style. As opposed to the more decentralized parties and candidate-centered politics of the US presidential system, in the UK politically based decisions on where to build projects are driven by collective party needs, instead of by needs of individual politicians.
This is exactly the pattern we should expect in a political system like that of the UK. If there is pork–and generally it is assumed that there is some just about everywhere, but not a lot in the UK–it should be based on party criteria. If the article is accurate in its portrayal of the politics of high-speed rail, party pork is precisely what we are seeing. Top governing party leaders propose to spend on a project that may earn the party votes in areas it needs to win the next election, even if the project is opposed by some of the party’s own secure incumbent MPs.
This does not mean that the shinkansen project as a whole has not been beneficial, only that certain parts of it may have had political, rather than technical, criteria behind their selection as priorities for spending. [↩]
Note that this implies that the criteria to evaluate programmatic vs. porcine policy are thus largely ones of the process of decision-making, and certainly not normative judgments of whether one likes a given policy choice or not! [↩]
By decision of the electoral commission, Taiwan will move to concurrent elections for president and legislature. Robert Elgie has some details, and concludes by noting:
The other semi-presidential democracies with scheduled concurrent elections are Mozambique, Namibia and Peru. The last concurrent elections in Romania were in 2004.
Taiwan’s move makes sense, as did Romania’s–in the other direction–before it.
With the Taiwanese move, the remaining cases of concurrent elections are of the president-parliamentary subtype of semi-presidential democracy. Romania, on the other hand, is premier-presidential.1
I would argue that the more the formal rules of a semi-presidential system lean towards presidentialism, as in Taiwan, the less it makes sense to have nonconcurrent elections, which increase the odds of an opposition-dominated legislature. For premier-presidentialism, on the other hand, it is logical to increase the (potential for) independence of the premier by making legislative elections separate temporally from presidential.
It appears that constitutional reformers agree–at least those who have recently reformed the electoral cycles in Romania and Taiwan!
Definitions: A semi-presidential system has a popularly elected president alongside a premier (prime minister) who is responsible to the legislative majority. Under premier-presidentialism, that responsibility is exclusive: the president is not granted constitutional authority to dismiss a premier or cabinet. Under the president-parliamentary subtype, the president has constitutional authority to dismiss a premier, who thus (along with the rest of the cabinet) must maintain the confidence of both the elected president and the majority of the legislature. [↩]
Japanese PM Naoto Kan survived the no-confidence motion against him in the House of Representatives.
To pass and compel Kan’s resignation (and probably early elections), the measure would have required a significant rupture in Kan’s own Democratic Party of Japan, which has a majority won in 2009. In the end, only a few of the threatened defections materialized, thanks to a last-minute meeting between Kan and his intra-party rivals, including the DPJ’s first post-election PM, Yukio Hatoyama.
One of the agreements stemming from the meeting is that Kan eventually will resign, supposedly as soon as the post-disaster situation is stabilized.
It is striking the extent to which Japan continues to face party leadership instability, in spite of the 1993 electoral reform that eliminated the old factional competition in elections (the single non-transferable vote). Other than Junichiro Koizumi (of the now-opposition but long-ruling Liberal Democrats), the Japanese premiership continues to be a precarious position.
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