Fruits & Votes is the Web-log of Matthew S. Shugart ("MSS"), Professor of Political Science, University of California, Davis.
Perspectives on electoral systems, constitutional design, and policy around the world, based primarily on my research interests.
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20 January 2012
04 April 2011
Thailand’s mixed-member majoritarian electoral system is being modified–again.
According to the Thai paper, The Nation, the number of party lists seats is being increased from 100 to 125, and the multi-seat districts in the nominal tier are being replaced by all single-seat districts.
This would make the system more similar once again to the one used from 2001 to 2006, except that I assume the list tier will remain districted (because the article says nothing to suggest that is being changed). In the 2001-06 system, the list tier was nationwide. In 2007, smaller districts for the list tier were introduced, and the nominal tier reverted, partially, to mutli-seat districts using multiple nontransferable votes (MNTV, or “block vote”).
Maybe they can keep this new new system for a few elections.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (5)
02 December 2008
Some years ago I coauthored some work on the concept of ‘superintendence’ agencies, understood as non-elected institutions that provide “horizontal exchange.” The agencies provide checks on the executive and legislature that go well beyond the more typical constitutionality determinations by courts (rejecting laws or decrees, for example). Instead, superintendence agencies substitute for gaps in the “vertical” relationship between voters (the ultimate principal in a democracy) and their elected agents.
The basic idea behind the design of superintendence institutions seems to be an attempt to answer the question: but what happens when the voters themselves choose “bad” agents–those who violate election laws and other constitutional and legal provisions that are meant to ensure “good government.”
There has been quite a proliferation in recent decades of such agencies, including evermore powerful electoral commissions (whose authority extends well beyond mere administration of elections), independent prosecutors, human rights ombudsmen, counter-corruption commissions, and the like. Several superintendence institutions were created in recent constitutional overhauls in Colombia (where they are operative) and Venezuela (where they mostly are not), among other countries. However, perhaps nowhere has the concept of superintendence gone so far as in Thailand’s constitutional innovations of 1997.
This is all a long set-up for a question for the readers: Can anyone identify another case where an unelected institution–other than armed forces, of course–has dismissed a sitting chief executive? This just happened in Thailand:
I covered the election at the time: click the country name in the “Planted in” line to see them.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (6)
21 January 2008
A coalition consisting of every party in the Thai parliament except for the Democrats has been announced. Details at the earlier election planting. (Please place any further comments or updates there.)
24 December 2007
Following up on some themes of the earlier Thai planting, I continue reading items from the English-language Thai press about the election outcome and the electoral system. One item from the Bangkok Post‘s general news section, 24 December, caught my eye with the headline, “Big names fall by the wayside.”1
I am going to quote most of the news item below. It shows the hazard parties faced due to the smaller list-tier magnitudes (compared to the former system, with its 100-seat nationwide list district) and the ban on dual nomination (i.e. a candidate had to run in either tier, but could not run in both).
That’s one for the party list “clipping file,” for sure!
In the first general elections since last year’s coup, Thai voters and the revised electoral system have given the party of ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra a plurality of parliamentary seats. The People Power Party (PPP) is likely to be able to woo enough of the many smaller parties to form a majority, as it is only about 12 seats (out of 480) short of a majority. The Democrats are the biggest opposition party, with 165 seats, and have stated their willingness to form a coalition in the (unlikely) event that PPP fails.
The pre-coup electoral system, adopted in 1997, was mixed-member majoritarian (parallel) in its most straightforward design: a nominal tier of only single-seat districts (plurality rule) and a list tier that was nationwide (and closed list). The list tier comprised 20% of the total 500 seats. It had been engineered with the intent of consigning to history Thailand’s weakly organized parties and fragmented multiparty system with shortlived coalitions. Mission accomplished–too well. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai1 party emerged as dominant–initially just missing a manufactured majority2 and then with an “earned” majority but overwhelmingly over-represented by the MMM system.3
The military-initiated constitutional re-engineering project resulted in a revised electoral system that is still MMM, but in a way that is potentially less majoritarian in the nominal tier yet more so in the list tier. Now the list tier is only around 17% of the total (80 of 480) and regionalized rather than a single national district. These 80 list seats are elected in eight districts or “zones,” each comprising from 9 to 15 provinces. The “zone magnitude” is in all cases 10 seats. Lists remain closed. The much lower magnitudes mean that there are fewer “safe” seats on the lists and, obviously, fewer deputies elected far down their list in “invisible” ranks. In most list districts, the PPP and Democrats each won 3 to 5 seats. Only in two cases did one of the parties win more than five.4 This is quite a contrast from 2001, when 48 TRT candidates and 31 Democrats were elected from their respective party’s single national list.
The nominal tier now consists mostly of 2- and 3-seat districts, using what I would call MNTV–votes are both multiple and nontransferable. Prior to 1997, all seats were elected by MNTV, and given the personalization and factionalization of Thai parties, few districts were won by partisan sweeps. (In other words, most voters either did not use all their multiple votes, or did not cast all for candidates of the same party). There are also some single-seat districts.
In preliminary results posted at The Nation (a leading Thai newspaper), the seat-winning parties’ votes and seats in each tier are as follows.
First, the list votes percentage, seats, seat percentage, and advantage ratio (%/s/%v). These are listed in descending order of list votes won.
PPP, 39.60, 34, 42.5, 1.07
Pua Paendin, 5.6, 7, 8.8, 1.57
Chatthai, 4.4, 4, 5.0, 1.15
RJTCP5, 2.7, 1, 1.3, 0.47
Pracharaj, 2.1, 1, 1.3, 0.59
Now for the nominal tier, listed in descending order of seats won.
PPP, 36.6, 198, 49.5, 1.35
198+ 34 =232 …People Power Party
132+ 33 =165 …Democrat Party
018+ 07 =025 …Pua Paendin
033+ 04 =037 …Chatthai Party
007+ 00 =007 …Matchima Thipataya Party
008+ 01 =009 …Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana Party
004+ 01 =005 …Pracharaj Party
Note that if the military wanted an electoral system to favor the party it had recently ousted, it did it a pretty good job! The PPP has won 48.3% of the seats, despite being very narrowly only the second choice of Thai voters on the party list. The PPP and Democrats roughly tied with 39.6% and the PPP won only 36.6% of the nominal votes. That is an overall advantage ratio for the PPP of 1.22, based on list votes, and 1.32 if we want to use the nominal votes in our denominator of overall advantage.
The Democrats won one less seat in the list tier than the PPP did, despite having more list votes. The reason, of course, is the regionalization of the list tier. But, of course, it was the nominal tier that benefited the PPP.
The Pua Paendin also was significantly advantaged in the list tier, with 8.8% of seats despite only 5.6% of list votes. Nowhere did it place higher than third in votes; however, it won one seat in each of seven list districts.
One might conclude that if the military had wanted to boost the anti-Thaksin forces, it might have found a way to use list-only allocation. The Democrats obviously have a stronger party label than they have candidates or regional machine, with a list vote equal to that of the PPP and +9.3 compared to its nominal vote. What surprises me somewhat is that the PPP does not show evidence of strong candidates and nominal-vote delivering capacity, as it, too, has a list vote greater than its nominal vote (+3.0). Its advantage comes from the mechanical effect of the majoritarian nominal tier at least as much as it comes from from a strong nominal vote (which, at 36%, is hardly impressive, even if it was the plurality by a six percentage-point margin).
The smaller Chatthai is evidently a party dependent on its regional candidates, with its list vote -4.8 compared to its nominal vote, or less than half.
I certainly do not have the time to go through all the nominal-tier results, but it is clear that votes in this tier remain significantly personal rather than partisan. Many of the districts that I looked at (a small and not necessarily representative sample) were not clean sweeps by one party, notwithstanding an electoral system that would allow a party to win all the seats if it were the plurality party and its voters cast their full allotment of votes for the party’s candidates.
In Bangkok there were many sweeps, but only because the Democrats are quite dominant there. Bangkok has twelve 3-seat districts. In seven of these, the Democratic candidates won all three, in one the PPP did, and there were four districts with 2-1 splits (two favoring each party).
One of the Bangkok splits shows the impact of personal and party votes under MNTV quite well. In Bangkok 6, the PPP had three candidates with individual votes ranging from 84,844 to 86,641 (average 86,042). Not much difference, suggesting they were mostly party votes. The three combined for 258,126 votes. The Democrats, on the other hand, had three candidates ranging from 84,653 to 92,386 (averaging 87,530) and summing to 262,591. So, the Democrats had a plurality of votes cast in this district, but won only one seat against a PPP competition that had more even candidate vote totals. That leading Democrat vote was sufficient to win the party the first seat in the district, and the party missed the third seat by only 726 votes.
Another example, from outside Bangkok, is Kanchanaburi 2, in the Central region. There the leading candidate obviously had a strong personal vote. A Democrat, this candidate won over 74,000 votes and the first seat. The PPP won the second seat with around 58,000 votes. Then the first runner-up was another Democrat, with just over 53,000 votes, followed by the second PPP candidate, who had only around 41,000 votes. This kind of result can happen only if many voters split their two votes between the popular candidates of the two parties, or voted for just their one favorite. In either case, the personal votes obviously are determining the result. In this district, other parties that trailed farther behind likewise ran two candidates, and tended to have very small differences between the votes of their two, suggesting a party vote (i.e. their voters gave both their votes to the party’s candidates).
The electoral system promotes a personal vote, and these personal votes made the difference in specific races. However, one would need to do this analysis systematically to determine the degree to which the personal votes in MNTV affected the aggregate result. As I noted above, both parties had a total share of nominal votes that lagged behind their party votes, though this lag was more than three times as great for the Democrats as for People Power. The breakdown of nominal and list votes suggest that the Democrats would be in a strong position in coalition negotiations if the list vote predominated in seat allocation. However, because the nominal vote so predominates, the first post-coup government likely will be more similar to the pre-coup one than the military coup-makers presumably had hoped.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (2)
05 September 2007
The wording of the article implies a national list, but as noted in the previous planting here in the “Thailand” block (click the country name above to see it on the same page), there is no longer a national list in the new system. Instead, there will be several regional list districts.
22 August 2007
The constitutional revision process set up by the military government has reached its conclusion, as Thai voters approved the new constitution, which will replace the charter of 1997.
It was not exactly a ringing endorsement, however. Only 57.8% voted for the draft and the voter turnout was only 57.6%. Although I can’t say for sure, I believe the recent historical record of constitutions drafted by authoritarian governments claiming to be returning to democracy are passed overwhelmingly. (I can think of one outright defeat: Uruguay in 1980. Perhaps readers will know of others.)
RTE Ireland also offers a brief summary of some of the new provisions (with some details from the original edited out and commentary of mine added in footnotes):
The lower-house electoral system was actually MMM after 1997 (see previous entries here in the Thailand block for details). The new one restores a version of the old MNTV system (1 – 3 seats each), but from other sources, I understand that there will still be a list tier, as well: 400 seats in the nominal tier and 80 in the list tier (with no separate list vote and, I believe, a ban on dual candidacy). Unlike the 1997-2006 system, the list tier is itself regional, rather than a single national district.
The new constitution will not be quite a restoration of the pre-1997 system, but it contains many elements more in line with it than with the one overthrown by the military. It certainly is more favorable to the old pre-Thaksin regional elites than the 1997 charter was.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
23 February 2007
Thailand may be about to violate a near-iron law of electoral-system change: that no country, having abandoned a multi-seat nontrnasferable-vote (NTV) electoral system ever reverts to such a system. *
In its 1997 constitution, adopted in the wake of a serious political and financial crisis, Thailand replaced its MNTV system (M>1 seats in a district, each voter casting up to M votes, and top M vote-earners elected) with a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system. Under the MMM system, 400 MPs were elected in single-seat districts and the other 100 in parallel via closed-list, national-district PR.
Since shortly after last year’s military coup, there has been a constitutional re-drafting process underway. It appears the Thai drafters are about to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
On 9 February, The Nation (a major Bangkok paper) noted:
In other words, not only will there be no MMM system and no national party-list PR tier, but there will also be a return to NTV. This could mean a reversion to the old system of MNTV, or it could even mean SNTV. Either way, it would be quite a regression from a system that was helping build parties out of the weak regional and personal vehicles that existed previously. It would bring Thailand back to a system that exacerbated some of the worst features of Thai politics.
The reasoning is ironic. From the same news article:
Of course, in a capitalist system the capitalists are sure to have political power, but putting that aside, is money politics worse with party lists than with NTV? The old system, and its counterparts wherever they have been used (Japan, Colombia, Taiwan, etc.), requires candidates to raise large sums of money to differentiate themselves from other candidates, including candidates using the same party label. (The differentiation premium is stronger with SNTV, because of the indivisibility of each voter’s support and the need that a party has to ensure its votes are distributed efficiently across multiple candidates if it is to be able to elect more than one in a district; however, the problem exists with MNTV as well, for not all voters will use all their votes, or cast all of them for candidates of the same party. In its favor, SNTV makes the representation of minorities much easier than does MNTV.)
There is little doubt that in systems with weak parties, such as Thailand, parties can literally sell list slots for campaign cash and guarantee victory to the buyer (assuming the lists are closed, as they were in Thailand). I assume this is where the claim that party lists promoted money politics has come from. However, to assess the impact of an electoral system, we must not compare its effects against those of a perfect world in which all corruption has been eliminated, but rather to what other systems will do in the same context. That Thai leaders already have experienced what NTV does and yet are ready to revert to such a system shows either shocking lack of memory or shocking contempt for democratic development.
The MMM system was far from perfect. In fact, in one sense, it worked too well. It buttressed the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Its disproportionality gave TRT a huge bonus in seats compared to its votes total,** while the closed lists (and to a lesser degree, the single- rather than multi-seat districts) greatly centralized intra-party authority. However, given the extreme fragmentation–across and within parties–under the pre-1997 system, this was what was needed.
If the MMM system overshot its goals, by strengthening TRT too much at the expense of its rivals (on the interparty dimension) and the TRT leadership at the expense of its rank and file (the intraparty dimension), then the possible solutions would be really simple:
2. Link the tiers, that is changing to (or towards) MMP rather than MMM.
3. Regionalize the party list rather than have a single national district for this tier.
4. Make the list open (or flexible) rather than closed.
Any one of these would have moved the system in the desired direction on at least one of the two dimensions, and these solutions are not mutually exclusive, meaning two or all of them could have been employed together. One need not go all the way back to the party-debilitating NTV system of the past. Alas, it looks Thailand will break an iron law.
** In 2001, 49.6% of seats on 40.6% of votes; in 2005, 75% of the seats on 56.4% of the vote (thanks to its winning 310 of the 400 SSDs).
Propagation: Seeds & scions (2)
29 January 2007
Full text of an item from The Nation (Bangkok):
Thailand’s suspended parliament had 500 members, with 400 single-seat districts and 100 party-list MPs, the latter elected nationwide, and in parallel.
21 September 2006
The new military government of Thailand is tightening restrictions on political parties, assuming all legislative authority, and claiming it will be a year before elections are held again under a new constitution.
Thailand’s suspended constitution had been in place only sine 1997, when it was enacted with broad national consensus and much international acclaim in the wake of the currency crisis. Among the world’s constitutions, it would rank pretty high as a modern democratic document. Among the problems of Thai democracy–and there are many–the constitution would rank pretty low.
The main opposition Democrats deny that there is a need for a new constitution, but the military’s restrictions include all parties, not just that of the ousted leader.
It remains early in the process, but this is beginning to seem less like Poder Moderador (being an arbiter, a la Brazilian and most Latin American coups before the 1960s) and more institutional (i.e., bent on changing the regime and not merely the government). That is not to say that we are looking at 15-20 years of military rule (as was the case in much of South America), but the Thai military seemingly has adopted a transformative mission. If so, it is likely to be in power for more than the avdertised one year.
Propagation: Seeds & scions (3)
19 September 2006
Yeah, that’s the thing about coups. They are so inconvenient.
Elections are (had been) scheduled for October. The last elections were boycotted by all the opposition, and subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court. Thaksin has been on and off about whether he would accept demands from the opposition–and even from within his own party–that he retire from active politics. In other words, political instability has been in the air for a while in Thailand. Still, it has been fifteen years since the last coup attempt (in a country where coups and attempted coups previously had been common). And, once again, the king–who has already shown his skills not only as mediator, but also as political analyst–may be called upon again to be the arbiter.
23 August 2006
From Thai News.com:
23 May 2006
Thaksin is again acting as head of cabinet.
16 May 2006
The Thai electoral commission is proposing 22 October for the new election. Any date over 90 days out will resolve the problem of the constitutional prohibition on candidates running for parties that they were not members of more than 90 days before the election. Many members of incumbent (and now caretaker) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s TRT party would then be expected to defect to other parties.
This could be the key to resolving the “mess” in that it would weaken TRT and thus allow for an alternative majority party or coalition to emerge. Part of the underlying source of the mess is that the electoral reform worked too well. The adoption of the mixed-member majoritarian electoral system was meant to generate single-party majorities and nationalize party leadership. Well, it did!!
While no one would want Thailand to return to its previous situation of extreme fragmentation–both in terms of the number of parties and their lack of cohesion–somewhere between the recent situation and the former one there lies a happier (or at least less messy) medium
Meanwhile, the above-linked story also notes that Thaksin might be the no. 1 candidate on the TRT national party list, raising the possibility that he might renege on his earlier pledge not to remain head of the party or seek to be PM again.
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Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
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