Don’t miss Prof. Robert Pekkanen’s very informative on-the-scene report in the comments!
In Sunday’s election for Japan’s upper house, the House of Councilors (HoC), the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is winning most of the single-seat districts and will be the largest party in that body.
The HoC is elected by a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system, as is the more powerful lower house. However, the HoC electoral system differs in several important respects. First, terms are staggered, so only half the seats were up today. Second, the nominal tier consists of some single-seat districts (at any given election) and some multi-seat districts, with the SNTV rule in the latter saving the LDP from a total disaster (for instance, it has won 1 seat and its New Komeito ally another in Tokyo, where the DPJ won the other three). Third, the list is nationwide (whereas for the lower house each prefecture is a there are eleven regional list constituencies). Fourth, the list is open (rather than closed, as in the lower house).
The DPJ is really cleaning up in the single-seat districts (SSDs) where voters were given a clear choice of LDP vs. DPJ candidate. The Okayama prefecture, which forms a SSD for the upper house, offers a glimpse of clever one-on-one campaign tactics:
Toranosuke Katayama, secretary general of the LDP’s upper house caucus, lost his seat to Democratic Party of Japan rookie Yumiko Himei, a former member of the Okayama Prefectural Assembly backed by the People’s New Party.
Himei won with her slogan “Hime no Tora Taiji,” a play on both candidates’ names that means “The princess [hime] will wipe out the tiger [tora].”
That a leader of the governing LDP’s caucus lost is, of course, a big deal, and it was not the only such case. In another district, Shimane, a candidate of the People’s New Party (PNP) defeated a deputy secretary general of the LDP caucus. There were several districts in which the DPJ jointly endorsed candidates with the PNP, which is one of the parties founded by the “traitors” who were expelled from the LDP in 2005 for opposing then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal privatization program. (The PNP also is the party that placed former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori on its national list for this election; apparently he will not be elected.)
According to The Daily Yomiuri (first link above), many of the races won by the DPJ were won with policy-based and anti-government campaigning.
During the campaign [in Tokyo, DPJ candidate and director of an environmental NGO] Masako] Okawara, 54, stressed her achievements in dealing with food safety and environmental problems. She garnered support among housewives and swing voters. [...]
[ Also in Tokyo, DPJ candidate Kan] Suzuki, 43, emphasized his six years of activities as an expert on educational and medical issues throughout the campaign. He called for a change of government, saying, “The current administration cannot carry out real reforms.” [...]
[In Tochigi constituency, DPJ candidate Hiroyuki] Tani apparently gained wider support by capitalizing on public criticism of the ruling coalition over the pension record-keeping blunder and a series of scandals involving Cabinet members.
The success of such campaign tactics is significant for Japan, given that breaking with the old pork-barrel and special-interest-focused campaigns that long sustained the LDP was one of the goals of the lower-house electoral reform back in 1993. The LDP still has not lost an election for the lower house (partly due to its alliance with New Komeito), although the 2005 “snap” election that the LDP won big under Koizumi was fought almost entirely on a single national policy issue: postal privatization. Koizumi craftily used that issue to advertise the repositioning of his party as a policy-reform vehicle and to catch the DPJ off guard.
This election suggests that the voters are no longer buying the reform image of the LDP and have finally decided that the DPJ is the more reformist party. The LDP apparently will be reduced to being the second largest party in the HoC for (if I am not mistaken) the first time in about 50 years. (There was a period in the 1990s when it was not the majority, but remained the largest party.)
Nonetheless, this election is not necessarily fatal for the LDP government headed by Koizumi’s successor, Shinzo Abe. Unlike in Italy, for example, the elected upper house in Japan has no authority to withdraw “confidence” from the cabinet.* Only the lower house can do that, and no election is due for the lower house until 2010 2009. Nonetheless, almost all legislation must clear the upper house, and so Abe’s agenda will be greatly weakened. Will the LDP dump him? Will he decide he has to call an early election and challenge the voters to either oust his party entirely or reinforce his party’s authority vis-a-vis the upper house? I hope some readers more familiar with Japanese politics will weigh in.
* In most bicameral parliamentary systems, the upper house is constitutionally much weaker than the lower house. Other notably powerful parliamentary upper chambers would be those of Australia and Germany, though those also have no formal no-confidence authority. Even so, lack of an upper-house majority was one of the major reasons behind the early lower-house election in Germany in 2005. It is also worth remembering that the defeat Koizumi suffered on his postal privatization in 2005, which led him to call the snap lower-house election, was in the upper house.
On 19 May, Romanians vote in a referendum that will decide the fate of their impeached president, Traian Basescu. Parliament, in joint sitting of its two chambers, voted to suspend the president on 20 April by a vote of 322-108. Under the Romanian constitution, the decision on whether to remove the president from office or reinstate him rests with the electorate. RFE/RL has a good background report on the crisis, which arises from conflicts within the dual executive structure of Romania’s semi-presidential system, and charges and counter-charges of corruption. SEEurope.net has a timeline. And I have previously provided some context in a discussion of the party realignments that took place between rounds of the presidential election in which Basescu was elected.
Basescu is expected to prevail easily. In the run-up to the referendum, demonstrations have taken place in Bucharest, such as the one shown here (via DW’s Journal program, broadcast on Link-TV this past week).
With the help of a friend who is Romanian, I can report that the sign in the center reads, “322 members of parliament thieves”, and the one on the right says “we voted for him, they suspended him.”
But the most interesting one of all to me is the sign on the left, which (rather obviously) says: “unicameral parliament, uninominal vote.” The term, uninominal, presumably refers to a call to replace Romania’s closed-list PR electoral system (used in both houses) with a single-seat district system.
Regarding the cameral structure, apparently Basescu in 2005 called for a referendum on unicameralism, although it has not occurred. If he indeed wins big over parliament on Saturday, one might expect various institutional reforms to follow.
I have been meaning this week to say something about the long-awaited UK House of Lords reform proposal. One of the great assets of the blogging community is that sometimes readers do a lazy blogger’s work for him. The following was posted by Bancki in the comments to an earlier discussion. I might as well just “transplant” it here.
If the proposals make it, the upper house will have 540 members. Part of them will be directly elected, part of them appointed. MPs will choose in a ‘free vote’ the type of upper chamber they like best: they will be able to rank (a preferential ballot!) seven possible ratios of elected – appointed members (100-0%, 80-20%, 60-40%, 50-50%, 40-60%, 20-80%, 0-100%) Straws favors the 50-50% option, and I’ll use these numbers.
The 270 elected members would be elected by partially open-list PR (voters can vote for the whole list or for a specific candidate) in the existing European Parliament constituencies (Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and 9 regions in England) Every five years, coincidental with the EP elections, one third (90) would be renewed.
There would be 2 types of appointed members: 162 partisan and 108 non-partisan appointments. An independent Satutory Appointments Commission would appoint the non-partisan members and oversee the partisan appointments. Partisan appointees will be apportioned to the parties on the basis of the last general elections result (votes, not seats)
The appointed members also sit for 15 year terms, with one third (54 partisan and 36 non-partisan) renewed every five years.
No-one can sit more than one term: no re-election or re-appointment possible but also no switch from elected to appointed or vice-versa. And no-one can be elected MP save after some years in the cold.
And what with the historical oddities?
* The existing 615 life peers will not be forced to leave, and will sit besides the new members, with the first 180 elected/appointed in 2014.
* The existing 92 hereditary peers would go, but the question remains if they are allowed to ‘die out’ or if they will be replaced by new ‘last time’ life peers.
* Some Anglican bishops (now 26) can stay as part of the non-partisan appointed members.
* The upper chamber will no longer be styled ‘House of Lords’, but at present there is no new name proposed.
* Sitting or retired members will no longer by styled ‘peers’.
My comment: Why appointed partisan members? If the new ‘Lords’ will include members elected by the public from lists nominated by the parties, why also let those same parties appoint further members based on the votes in Commons elections?
The proposed new House of Lords would have 450 members, half of it elected, the others appointed.
The elections would be using open list-PR in the EP-constituencies at the same time as the elections to the House of Commons.
Besides some Anglican bishops and PM-appointed members, most of the appointments would be made by an independent nine-member Appointments Commission.
All members would sit for three Parliament terms. Most of the existing members (the co-opted hereditary peers and the life peers) would lose their seats.
In the paper, the advantages and disadvantages of various methods and timings of elections are discussed (thos that were not chosen in an appendix).
It puzzles me to read that regional lists “produce proportionate result” (catalogued as an advantage) and STV “allows proportional result” (advantage) but “can produce visibly disproportional outcomes” (disadvantage). This is only true if under STV one considers only the first preferences aggregated by party to calculate “the” proportional result, while voters can cross party-lines with their lower preferences. But if everyone votes completely loyal to only one party, STV gives the same result (on the party-level) as list-PR.
In a recent comment to the earlier thread on Canada’s dysfunctional electoral system, Wilf Day notes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised that reforms to the Senate will be in place before the next general election. Included in Harper’s plans is a move to an elected Senate.
In many comparative politics texts, Canada is listed among the countries with a weak upper house, but as Wilf notes, technically the Senate is almost as powerful as the lower house. The Senate has not frequently challenged the authority of the lower house and the government that emenates from it, in part because it is an unelected body. I would add that simply being appointed is not enough to render an upper house weak, as the British House of Lords is actually far more influential than is often assumed in many of those same standard comparative politics texts. However, the Lords have a special function in that many have been appointed for their special expertise in various policies, which gives them a basis for assertion of authority that Canada’s essentially patronage appointments do not afford.* (The hereditary members have been sharply reduced in their voting priveleges in recent years.)
Then there is the partisan factor. Canada’s lower house, and hence its executive, has been controlled by the Liberal party for about three quarters of the past forty-plus years. Hence most Canadian senators have been both appointed by Liberal prime ministers and faced co-partisan governments through most of their tenure. And, I do recall that the Conservative governments of the 1980s indeed had some difficulties getting budgets and other bills through an upper house dominated by the other party.** In the U.K., on the other hand, alternation of the lower house and government has been more regular, though that has not prevented a built-in conservative bias to the House of Lords (stemming from the till-recently dominant life peers). Many of the British upper-house members, however, sit on the “cross benches,” and the body may simply be less partisan than the Canadian Senate. (There may be comparative studies of the two upper chambers, but I am not aware of them if there are.) And, of course, one bill that the British upper house clearly can not veto or delay is the budget, which must pass only the Commons.
If Canada moves to an elected upper house, it will become more like Australia, which also has a powerful upper house. In addition to strong powers, the Australian senate is fully “federalist” in the American sense, in that it has an equal number of members per state, regardless of population. In this sense, the two houses of Australia’s parliament are highly incongruent in their composition. The incongruence is made even greater by the different electoral systems: Both are single transferable vote, but in single-seat districts in the lower house (i.e. the “alternative vote,” “instant runoff,” or “majority preferential” system, as you will), while the upper house is multi-seat STV and hence a proportional system. The PR-STV system for the upper house in Australia exacerbates the incongruence by making it more likely that the lower house majority (and hence the government) will lack a majority in the senate; on the other hand, the use of PR reduces the potential partisan bias of the chamber’s malapportionment in that it effectively ensures that the chamber’s majority will be represented across the states, and not concentrated in some over-represented states where one party is stronger than in the nation as a whole. (Contrast, for example, the Republican bias of the US Senate: that party has had occasional seat majorities over the past quarter century without ever having that majority rest on even a plurality of the vote.)
Strong bicameral parliamentarism is actually rather rare. That is, most parliamentary systems are either: (1) unicameral or, if bicameral, have an upper house that is either (2) easily overridden by the lower house, or (3) highly congruent due to similar districting arrangements and electoral systems. Presidential systems, on the other hand, are far more likely to have incongruent and co-equal upper houses.
As far as I know, the only parliamentary system in which the government can be ousted by a no-confidence vote in either chamber, acting alone, is Italy. But in Italy, through all three major electoral systems of the postwar era (open list PR, mixed-member majoritarian, and the new majoritarian-bloc, closed list system), the upper house has always been highly congruent to the lower house, thanks to nearly identical electoral rules.*** However, while Italy may be the only parliamentary system with a formal bicameral-confidence requirement, in the parliamentary (especially British parliamentary) tradition, a cabinet must resign if it can’t obtain “supply,” meaning that the upper house can effectively force a government to step if it has budget power.
So, how common is it for governments in parliamentary systems to need the upper house for supply? The only cases I know of are Australia and Canada. Some other parliamentary federations–Austria and Belgium, for example–have very weak (as well as quite congruent) upper houses. And while Germany has an upper house with real powers (unelected, but arguably even more powerful as a federal chamber than it would be if it were elected, given that its members are direct delegates who must vote as a bloc on behalf of their state cabinet), the budget must clear only the lower house.
Upper houses in parliamentary systems usually can’t be dissolved before the expiry of their terms, as typically the lower houses can be. Australia and Italy are exceptions, and unsurprisingly so: If the upper house can either oust the government (as in Italy) or block its budget (as in Australia as well as Italy), it makes good constitutional sense for the dependence to be mutual, so that a deadlock can be referred back to the people in the form of a “double dissolution.”
Thus, while Wilf asks about the uniqueness of Australia’s incongruent and nearly co-equal but incongruent chambers with the double dissolution possibility, I would say that it is Canada that is the unique one: A parliamentary systems with a (formally) co-equal upper house that is not subject to dissolution. The inability to dissolve the senate has not been a serious problem because the appointment of senators by cabinets, mostly of one party for the past forty years, has tempered the incongruence of the chambers. But if the Canadian senate were elected, it would become at once more inconrguent and more assertive. Then Canada would become a very odd case of a federal parliamentary system with the very real possibility of genuine deadlock.
Will Harper’s reforms include the introduction of a provision for double dissolution? It seems unlikely, because he also recently announced an intention to institute fixed general election dates, thereby eliminating the possibility of early dissolution of the lower house. (Surprising, I might add, as he became prime minister on account of an early dissolution, and he seems to be itching for an early election on his own terms in search of a majority; presumably he wants the fixed dates to kick in after he wins a larger “mandate” from that dysfunctional electoral system!)
* Recent allegations in the U.K. of the selling of peerages to campaign contributors are all the more scandalous given that the rather limited “legitimacy” of the upper house depends on its being a chamber of chosen “experts” and the “wise old men” (and some women) of the hereditary peerage.
** The 1984-93 period in Canada marks the only time since 1962 that the Conservatives have had a majority in the lower house. In other instances, like Harper’s government, Conservatives have been a mere plurality. Because a minority government is generally less likely to clear any controversial partisan legislation through the lower house, it is less likely to have bills rejected in an upper house dominated by the other party: Bills that reach the senate will have been watered down already.
*** In fact, in 1992, Italy’s reform away from PR was instigated by a popular initiative that struck a few key words from the senate electoral law. (That is all an initiative in Italy can do: overturn or strike provisions from an existing law). The old Italian senate electoral system had single-seat districts in addition to PR, but only a candidate obtaining 65% of the votes could win a district seat. If a district had no such candidate (and hardly ever did any), then the seat would simply be added to the regional PR district. By striking the cluase referring to the 65% requirement, the senate electoral system was efectively transformed into a parallel MMM system because the single-seat districts now would be won by a plurality. This threw the chambers into a potential future of unmanageable incongruence (given that the cabinet must maintain the confidence of both houses), and forced the parties to work on a new and more majoritarian electoral system for both houses–just as the promoters of the initiative intended!
The filibuster in the Senate that just defeated a defense bill because it contained, among other things, a measure to open up part of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, may look to some like nothing more than irrational obstructionism. However, the issue is largely one of procedures, and their abuse.
The party that currently has the majority of seats in each house has failed, despite those majorities, to obtain passage of an ANWR drilling measure. So it decided to use the gambit of an end-of-session conference report on a “must-pass” appropriations bill to force the wavering members of its own caucus in line. This is precisely the same tactic being followed with the “Patriot Act.” As far as their own caucus goes, it has worked, but the Senate is not–yet–a majoritarian body by design, and the other party was not buying in to the gambit.
This is not the first time, and it will not, sadly, be the last time that a party with the seat majority has used a conference report–which can’t be amended on the floor (i.e. is “fast-tracked”)–to pass a provision that there is no issue-specific majority on. But it is an abuse. A conference committee should not be able to act as secret “third chamber” to ram through by majority vote a package that contains within it provisions, non-germane to the basic underlying bill, for which there is not, in fact, a majority.
The Republican leadership faces a choice on this issue, as well as on the “Patriot Act” and other issues: compromise or polarize. Once again, it has chosen the latter, calculating (perhaps correctly) that a narrative of “national security” will resonate more with the electorate than one of “abuse of power.”
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