California Yankee has an excellent post on how to help the victims of this terrible storm. A lot of research and thought went into the creation of his post.
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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31 August 2005
Planted by MSS
Planted in: Homeland security/disaster response
California Yankee has an excellent post on how to help the victims of this terrible storm. A lot of research and thought went into the creation of his post.
30 August 2005
I see Jack Grant over at Random Fate was struck much as I was by a story in the Christian Science Monitor a few days ago comparing gas prices and fuel economy in Europe and the USA.
I recommend reading both the original piece and Jack’s commentary, but the punchline is here:
Yes, it is about political choices, but I think a case can be made that it is more fundamental even than that. European political systems generate more public goods, of which I would include their generally fantastic urban and inter-urban public transit systems and lower fuel consumption itself, along with universal health care and others that Jack alludes to.
What political science has not really figured out is the extent to which these outcomesâ€”more government-provided public goods in Europe, lower consumer prices in the USAâ€”are a result of preferences (what people “feel” they have a “right” to), as Jack suggests, or of the institutional structure of government.
A good case can be made that some significant portion of the difference rests with the institutions. European political institutions (always fundamentally parliamentary, and usually proportional representaion) tend to delegate citizens’ electoral choices to strong national parties. Our institutions (presidential with single-member districts), on the other hand, tend to delegate more authority to individuals (president and congress members alike). Individuals have to finance their own campaigns, are less bound by party platforms, and have both shorter time horizons and narrower constituencies than disciplined party organizations and the coalitions they form in most European systems. These characteristics render individual politicians realtively more vulnerable to pressures from “special” interest groups like oil companies, auto manufacturers and organized workers in the latter industryâ€”all of whom have a vested interest in low gas prices and the consumption habits they foster. (Note to those who have their “conspiracy theory” meters set at too sensitive a level: I am not saying there is anything conspiratorial about this! I am saying there is a political logic within variations in the structure of democracy itself, and how those structures frame choices for voters.)
Cheap gas and other consumer products have their upside, to be sure, but they have their environmental and national-security downsides and other broadly imposed costs that are not factored into the prices. Cheap gas prices are not very helpful if you are one of those without any health care, for lack of insurance. And cheap gas prices are not so necessary in the first place if you have publicly funded alternatives like comprehensive and low-fare urban and suburban transport that runs frequently more or less around the clock.
The relationship between between political institutions and policy (which, note: might be seen as the “fruits” of people’s votes!) is one theme I intend to develop over time here at Fruits and Votes, so please stay tuned.
(And as a footnote, I will add that my criticism of US institutions indeed can be reconciled with my admiration for James Madison’s original insights at the founding. Another theme I will be developing.)
Propagation: Seeds & scions (3)
29 August 2005
Yes, we have some:
If you look really closely, in the center you can see one with fruit on it, up in one of the higher rows. Each clump you see here is a different variety!
Planted by MSS
Planted in: Citrus
I really dislike fog and gloomy weather generally. (I love rain and big storm clouds, on the other hand.)
But I have to admit. When I get up in the morning and see what I saw today, it’s pretty cool.
This is from the front veranda of the house, overlooking the grapefruit grove and out to the valley belowâ€”just after a dense fog had begun to lift.
Speaking of grapeftuit, I just got word that the pickers will be here tomorrow!
After each census, the number of seats in the US House that each state is entitled to must be recalculated. Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog contains a pointer to an opinion piece in the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press that suggests a change in the way this process is done.
The article goes on to say that this would grant Michigan one more seat than it currently has and California six (!) fewer.
Well, yes, only citizens vote; however non-citizens pay taxes and receive government services–two reasons that would seem to make them relevant to calculating how much weight a state ought to have in the House of Representatives.
However, there is an alternative solution, and it does not force us to get into a divisive debate about citizenship and representation. It is so simple that it is rather amazing to me that it is rarely discussed:
INCREASE THE SIZE OF THE HOUSE.
It really makes little sense that a state should gain population (citizen or non-citizen) yet lose House seats, as Michigan and other states did after the 2000 census.
We are one of the few democracies in the world that does not periodically adjust the size of its lower (or sole) house. There is nothing set in stone about 435. It is just in federal law. In fact, we used to increase the size of the House periodically as population increased. We could do so again. Look at this graph:
(This is for a forthcoming book on American democracy in comparative perspective; all rights reserved, of course.)
You can see two things here:
1. The US used to keep its House size just below the cube-root of its population (as Rein Taagepera’s model predicts), but has not done so since its population was under 100 million (in 1912!).
2. The US House is one the smallest in the world among established democracies with over around 60 million residents (citizen or otherwise).
So, why not make the House even a little bit bigger? We don’t have to go all the way up to 600 or so (which would still leave us below the cube root) all at once. We could just make long-term adjustments with each subsequent census (say 480 next time, then 500, and so on), thereby not depriving Michigan and other states of existing congressional districts.
Further discussion in subsequent posts:
Increase the size of the House via the “Wyoming Rule” (December 1, 2005; also has several interesting comments from readers)
US House size, continued (December 4, 2005)
See also Steven Taylor’s analysis: An Intriguing Proposal (December 2, 2005)
Propagation: Seeds & scions (21)
The entire text of the draft constitution for Iraq has been made available in a translation by the AP.
I have just taken a careful look at it, and compared it to the excerpted text that was available for the August 22 draft, and to the Transitional Administrative Law. It is helpful that AP indicated provisions that had been added in the new draft or changed substantially.
My overall view is that it has been improved in some ways, mainly in respect to the definition of federalism, but still provides few other institutional guarantees for minorities other than the Kurds.
It is more clearly federal, in that the provision that I had been worried about earlier that appeared to grant federal law (and not just the constitution) supremacy over regional constitutions has been removed. The most relevant provision here would seem to be Article 13, para 2:
(Previously the draft had referred to a “central law” as superior to a regional constitution.)
The list of exclusive authorities of the central government is short, and a lot of areas (including customs) are listed as joint responsibilities of the center and regions. This implies a high degree of decentralization, but not a ‘confederation’ or ‘loose federalism’ (whatever that might mean), as has been claimed in some accounts.
The Kurdistan region is explicitly defined as already existing (as it is in the TAL but was not in the Aug. 22 draft).
It clarifies that provinces enjoy autonomy even if they do not join a region.
It prohibits the inclusion of Baghdad in any region. This is important, as there was a real potential for conflict here, given that Baghdad sits at the junction of the Sunni and Shiite regions, and the previous draft had no provisions on the status of Baghdad.
On the other hand, it does not prohibit Kirkuk from becoming part of a region (guess which one!). And the provisions on the distribution of oil revenue are pretty much the same as before, which is obviously unaccpetable to Sunnis who will not form the majority group in any region in which there are known oil reserves.
Then there is a long list of provisions at the end that essentially are tacked on and that amend what precedes it. This looks like a rush job here, in that they are pretty fundamental, but they did not take the time to back and change the original provisions.
For instance, the presidency is redefined in Article 135 (within the ‘transitional’ portion of the draft) as a three-person council, rather than as a single individual. This is really significant, in that it continues the provisions of the TAL in this regard.
The presidency council is elected on a ticket by 2/3 of the Council of Representatives (CoR), and has veto power over legislation, subject to override by 3/5 of the CoR.
[UPDATE and CORECTION, Sept. 10, 2005: Any member of the council may veto a bill; it is the approval, not the veto, that must be exercised unanimously. Here was my original wording: This veto must be exercised unanimously, however, so it does not provide a means for a representative of one community to block a bill passed by a CoR majority that is representative of others. (It would be more consensual if it had such a provision.) WELL, YES IT DOES; END OF CORECTION.]
The cabinet is dependent exclusively on the majority in the CoR and the presidency has no discretion in choosing the prime minister (unlike under the TAL).
These provisions on the presidency council and the cabinet together mean that the presidency is pretty weak, but not powerless. [It looks more powerful now, on Sept. 10, than it did when I wrote this post initially.] Ensuring that it is collective is a fairly significant concession by the dominant (Shiite) United Iraqi Alliance, though not a huge concession, given that the prime minister and cabinet are explicitly defined (Art. 76) as the more powerful part of the executive branch.
There is an upper house, called Council of the Union, but its powers are not set out. All the draft says is that the CoU is made up representatives of the regions and provinces that are not part of a region. But everything else about it is to be determined by a law passed by 2/3 of the CoU. So, it is likely that bicameralism will be pretty weak. This is unusual, but not unheard of, in federal systems around the world.
The ratification provision still does not explicitly mention that the constitution will be vetoed in the event that three or more provinces vote ‘no’ in the “universal referendum” by 2/3 or more. There may be an understanding that the TAL provision in this regard is still binding, but I still think that two thirds of the Assembly could decide to ignore such provincial ‘no’ votes, should they occur, and should it want to implement the constitution anyway. (The UIA and the Kurdish list and various allies could very well get 2/3 in the planned December Assembly elections even if Sunnis participate fully.)
All in all, there are some improvements and clarifications that restrain the national majority a bit more than in the Aug. 22 draft, but it is still a fairly majoritarian constitution. In most areas, the Shiites will get what they want if they are unified.
I would conclude that this is a clearly federal constitution (I did not think the previous draft qualified), rather than either unitary or confederal. However, it is still overly majoritarian at the federal level for such a divided society, even if notably less so than the previous draft.
28 August 2005
I highly recomended reading Steve Clemons’s August 27 post. Clemons, guest-blogging for Joshua Micah Marshall, suggests that the US and Iraqi interim government policy towards Baathists has been less pragmatic than the Allied approach to the less seriously criminal among the defeated Japanese imperial government after WWII.
I have been skeptical all along about the extent of the ban on the Baath Party and the dissolution of the Iraqi army, both of which are institutions that predate Saddam Hussein’s rein of terror. I think it is now clear that it was a poor policy decision and, as we have seen in recent days, the Baathist issue has been one of the sticking points in developing a consensus on the constitution.
Right, and in fact, those differences between the occupations (or “engagements”) in Iraq and Japan only make the case stronger for avoiding too deep and sweeping a purge. In the case of Japan we had an unconditional surrender and a vast occupation presence and administration. In Iraq we have had neither, making it all the more important to be pragmatic and work with those who stood and probably still stand the best chance of providing capable administration and luring political support away from the guerrillas.
On developing a serious exit strategy, such as the one Juan Cole put forth a few days ago, Clemons says:
The entire piece is well worth reading.
The ‘Coffeecake’ persimmons are ripening:
At the right of that picture you can see a row of low-chill peaches and nectarines (the ones that need more winter chill are down the hill, as I’ll show and explain in later posts). At the end of the path between the persimmons and peaches you can see Fruits and Votes Central, which also doubles as my office for both fruit-growing and research/writing purposes.
The one fruit we had so far was a bit astringent because it had not ripened properly. When rodents take a bite out of fruitâ€”a serious problem here at Ladera Frutal, despite the best efforts of our dedicated Department of Fruitland Defenseâ€”it hastens the ripening process, but also means the fruit will never properly ripen. (Very much like what happens when a fruit is picked before it is ripe, otherwise known as supermarket commercial fruit-growing.)
I eagerly anticipate the first truly ripe ‘Coffeecake’, assuming the rodents will be so kind as to respect that sheet metal and netting.
From the wholesale grower, Dave Wilson Nursery‘s description:
Now, does that sound intriguing or what? But, I wonder, can it really be better than ‘Nishimura Wase’, which was described this way in my 1997 catalogue from Bay Laurel Nursery (a mail-order source for Wilson varieties):
That was the entire description. Nothing about cinnamon pastry, coffee, or even morning sunshine. ‘Coffeecake’ is just a new marketing name for ‘Nishimura Wase.’
Isn’t it amazing what a name change can do for a fruit!
Propagation: Seeds & scions (6)
The NYT reports that there have been “only slightly revised language” on provisions in the draft Iraqi constitution for creating regions. An earlier story by Dexter Filkins in the print late edition (via Lexis Nexis, no link) offers slightly more detail:
This could be closer to the language of the TAL that required NA approval rather than just leaving it to provincial assemblies and referenda to determine who sets up a region. However, without the TAL’s safeguards limiting the number of existing provinces that can form a single region, Sunni negotiators are right to say that this late concession in the draft is largely meaningless. That is beacuse Shiites are sure to have a majority in the next Assembly, as they have in this one, making NA approval a largely foregone conclusion.
The LA Times print edition story that I cited in an earlier post today says that another sticking point has been that Sunnis want the presidency to be stronger than in the current draft. Now this is odd. Assuming we are talking about a single-person presidency, the Sunnis have little chance of electing one of their own any time soon, so a weak president (possibly elected by parliament or an electoral college that includes provincial council delegates) would seem to be in their interests. The only thing I can think of is maybe they figure there will be rival candidates in the Shiite community and thus Sunni votes can matter in who is elected, whereas their elected representatives are unlikely to comprise any part of the parliamentary majority that will sutain the prime minister and cabinet in office. Still, a strong presidency could be quite risky for them.
Meanwhile, AP reports (via Lexis-Nexis, so no link) that the amendments that were considered but not agreed to immediately prior to the decision to submit the draft to the National Assembly also included:
–Removing the word ‘party’ from the phrase about the Baath party’s illegality;
–Allowing the next parliament to decide how to organize the committee set up to purge Baathists from government.
On the first of these two points, the NYT print article referenced above says that the revised language supposedly makes clear that the provision is aimed at “Saddamist” Baathists, and not all of them. But Sunnis, it says, are not happy with that, given that most of them were Baathists and they fear the drafting changes are just a way of “papering over a plan to drive former Baathists out of public life.”
The Sunday LA Times (print edition) has a report that the Sunni negotiators have presented a series of amendment proposals and that Ali Dabagh of the main Shiite party, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) said:
An update at the Times website reports that talks on these amendments had collapsed, and that the draft was being sent to the National Assembly. Nonetheless, the story reiterates that negotiations could be resumed and continue up to the referendum:
I must admit to being surprised at this claim that the draft could be changed right up to the date of the referendum. As a legal matter, I don’t see how that can be, because voters need to know that they are voting on a specific text that has been circulated ahead of the vote. However, as a pratical political matter, this comes as welcome news that talks may continue, and it is not as though very many voters are going to read and ponder the draft anyway. Unfortunately, most will just follow the instructions of some elite that they trust from within their community (and that is not just in Iraq; that is how rational voters behave anywhere, or so many political science studies say).
I think that two developments over the last few days may have helped spur this willingness to go on talking even as no agreement was crafted before the drafting committee decided to go ahead and present the draft to the Assembly. One is that the Sunnis turned out to be more united than the UIA anticipated, and the other is that their own Shiite community turned out to be more divided than they expected.
First on the Sunnis. The article in the LA Times Sunday print edition that I referred to above notes:
As I noted on Wednesday, Humam Hammoudi, the chairman of the drafting commission had previously disparaged the Sunnis on the committee as not being representative because they were not elected. Well, the development reported by the Times confirms that they are representing the views of the legislative leaders who would have been elected if not for the boycott in January.
Meanwhile, as The Christian Science Monitor‘s headline on August 26 put it, Iraq’s Shiites split violently. The story notes that there are many grievances being raised by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in these clashes with the UIA-allied Badr Brigade, but one of the issues is federalism.
Thus there is unified opposition by the Sunnis against federalism (at least as that is currently understood in Iraq) while there is not unified support for federalism within the majority Shiite community.
These twin developments may be what is spurring the parties to say they will keep on talking.
But here is a question: Why would the Sadr forces be opposed to the ‘federal’ provisions of the constitution? The only reason I can think of is that it is a wedge with which to battle the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (a main component of the UIA whose miltia is the Badr Brigade) for supremacy among Shiites. But is there an objective reason beyond intra-communal competition? I don’t know.
27 August 2005
Planted by MSS
Planted in: The Hopyard
Yes, ‘pop’ is what I grew up calling it, despite being a California native. Must be from my mom’s Minnesota roots.
Anyway, I have to say that I have never really been a big fan of fizzy water with corn syrup. However, I will admit to liking Vernor’s. I never knew why, till I followed the link provided over at Cinerati. It’s the oak aging. Now that is something I am a big fan of.
But I wonder, regarding Faygo Original Rock and Rye, why does the list of ingredients not include rye? That’s something else I am a big fan of, especially when combined with ample hops.
Oh, my. When is the next flight to Anchorage, so I can have rye and oak all in one???
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
As the yet-again-extended ‘deadline’ for a final draft of the constitution for Iraq looms, I thought it would be useful to look at some aspects of the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period (also known more simply as the TAL) that protects minorities against the kind of majoritarianism that I have expressed concerns about in previous posts (please go to the ‘Iraq’ category link at the right sidebar for those).
If these sorts of TAL provisions do not reappear in some form in the final draft, we can conclude that these days of further negotiations have been more for show than substance, or simply that the differences could not be bridged despite efforts. If these sorts of provisions reappear, it will be a very good sign.
On the formation of regions
The TAL, at Article 53 (C) specifically limits the number of provinces (or ‘governorates’) that may come together in a region:
The Aug. 22 draft simply says:
Not only does this not pose any limits on the number of province that may accede to a regionâ€”and thus no limits on the extent of the national population any region may containâ€”it also removes the TAL provision that specifically prevents Baghdad and Kirkuk from becoming part of another region. It is clear that the wording of Article 114 is part of a deal between the Kurds and Shiites, in that it would allow Kirkuk to be annexed to Kurdistan (in fact, the TAL actually pre-established Kurdistan in order to leave Kirkuk out, as well as allow it to span more than three provinces, as the area they have controlled for some time already does). Of course, annexing Kirkuk to their region has been one of the Kurds’ primary goals. The Aug. 22 draft provisions, as opposed to those of the TAL, would also raise the alarming prospect that Baghdad itself could become part of the Shiite super-region in the south.
On the procedures for ratifying the creation of a region
Not only in the sense of which and how many provinces may associate as regions, but also in the process of approving their creation, the TAL had a stricter process than the Aug. 22 draft.
In the TAL, continuing Article 53 (C):
The Aug. 22 draft, in paragraph 2 of Article 114, specifies the petition for a province’s accession can be by either 1/3 of a provincial council or 1/10 of a provincial electorate, and then the region’s ratification is by “general referendum by the residents of the designated provinces,” with the following additional provision:
As I noted on Thursday, this is not clear as to whether it means the entire proposed region votes up or down, with a possibility of a follow up request from one or more provinces for a reconsideration, or what. It is vague and worrisome. But what is clear is that the draft constitution makes it much easier to form a region, by taking away the requirment for approval by the National Assembly.
The TAL set up a three-person presidency and required that it unanimously name the candidate for prime minister (Art. 38). I have not seen the provisions on the presidency or nomination of the prime minister in the current draft. However, the few references to the presidency in the excerpts I have seen imply a single person, rather than a collective presidency. In such a divided society, the collective presidency, albeit cumbersome, is a useful guarantee for the minority. If the presidency is a single person, it is likely to be held by a Shiite for about as far out as one can imagine. So watch closely what the powers of the office areâ€”whether rather limited, as in the TAL, or more expansive.
On Islam and the law
The TAL, at Article 7, says:
The Aug. 22 draft says,
I will leave it to others to interpret what this means, but “a source” and “a main source” seems like not just a trivial matter of wording.
On ratification of the constitution
I have already talked quite a bit about this (here and at the end of this post). I will just note here that whereas the TAL was explicit about the veto if three provinces have 2/3 ‘no’ votes, the draft is not. The TAL specifically defined that this is what is meant by ‘general referendum,’ whereas the Aug 22 draft does not.
The Aug. 22 draft does, however, add the caveat to the phrase ‘general referendum’ as it applies to the ratification of a region (where Shiites or Kurds could be the minority that seeks protection from the majority of a province), but not as it applies to the ratification of the constitution itself (where the Shiites are obviously not the minority seeking protection, and neither any longer are the Kurds, now that the draft effectively gives them Kirkuk).
I am sure there are other areas, but these are some that have caught my eye, and are worth paying attention to once we see the final draft.
26 August 2005
Two of the (as yet underdeveloped) categories of this blog combine in this photo in somewhat unconventional ways.
BBC is reporting that Shiite negotiators say a deal has been reached on issues of federalism and that a final draft will be put before parliament within two days.
Sunni politicians say there is no deal.
Wouldn’t you just love to know what is being said behind those closed doors?
Propagation: Seeds & scions (1)
As I mentioned earlier, the German Constitutional Court on Thursday gave legal sanction to the sequence of events by which the current Chancellor (prime minister) Gerhard Schroeder lost a vote of confidence in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament). The strange thing in all this is that Schroeder wanted to lose the Bundestag vote!
The decision raises significant questions about the suitability of Germany’s constitutionâ€”crafted in 1949 amidst fears that German democracy might break down again as it did in the 1930sâ€”to today’s conditions. The constitutionâ€”or Basic Lawâ€”has provisions meant to make it hard to dissolve parliament. However, dissolution of parliament is a basic feature of most parliamentary democracies that allows the government to reflect major shifts in popular sentiment that may not coincide neatly with fixed-date elections (such as those in presidential systems like the USA or Mexico).
The effect of the Court’s ruling is to allow the election, scheduled for September 18, to go ahead. Had the court ruled otherwise, the campaign that is already in full swing would have been aborted, and the government would have been obliged to remain in office for the remainder of its term, or find a way to lose confidence that the court would accept.
The Court’s vice president, Winfried Hassemer, described the decision as “the choice between the plague and cholera”:
So, the court chose ‘cholera.’ But why was it necessary to bend the constitution in order to allow an early election that almost everyoneâ€”the Chancellor, the opposition, and apparently most German citizensâ€”want, and are already preparing for?
The answer has roots deep in German constitutional history. The German Weimar Republic of the interwar years allowed a directly elected president essentially unrestricted power to dissolve parliament and order early elections. With some justification (though perhaps exaggerated), the frequent elections of that period were one of the features of that political system that were seen as facilitating the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
After WW II, the writers of the current Bonn constitution of the Federal Republic set about to make it difficult to hold early elections, principally by two provisions:
(1) They greatly weakened the presidency, by abolishing direct elections for the office and eliminating presidential initiative in the dissolution of parliament. Today the German president is selected by a Federal Convention consisting of elected members of the Bundestag and delegates from state legislatures. The President has no initiative, and like a European monarch, performs mostly ceremonial functions.
(2) They instituted a ‘constructive’ vote of no confidence, whereby the Bundestag may dismiss a Chancellor and cabinet only by simultaneously electing, by majority vote, a new Chancellor (Article 67 of the Basic Law).
The latter provision is key here. The underlying reason for frequent elections in the Weimar Republic had been that the governing coalitions of the center were highly unstable, because the Communists and Nazis would vote to oust the government in no confidence votes, but had no ‘constructive’ alternative for a new government. The thinking was that if a majority had to vote in a new government in order to toss out an old one, a government could survive even if it lost its supprtive majorityâ€”that is, negative majorities could not oust the government, only positive ones.
Similar constructive votes have been adopted in Spain, Hungary, and Poland more recently. These stand in contrast to the more typical ‘no confidence’ votes found in other parliamentary democracies, whereby the government must retain the confidence of the majority or else resign. In Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Spain, it is possible theoretically for a government to remain in office even when it has lost that confidence, until such time as an alternative coalition has formed to replace it.
What does all this have to do with Gerhard Schroeder? He sought to engineer his government’s own demise. He was facing opposition within his own party, the Social Democrats, and the party’s coalition partner, the Greens, to a series of economic and social-policy reforms. The government’s popularity is low, and it was stunned by the Social Democratic Party’s loss of a state election in May in North Rhine-Westphalia, a state in which the Social Democrats had ruled for 33 years.
Early elections are hardly unusual in parliamentary systems. Sometimes the prime minister can call them himself of herself (usually with the formality of a monarch or ceremonial president actually issuing the proclamation dissolving parliament and calling the elections). But not in Germany.
Schroeder invoked Article 68 of the Basic Law, by which the Chancellor can ask for an ordinary confidence voteâ€”one in which he can be voted out even if parliament has no alternative majority to elect. Once a government loses such a vote, the Chancellor can ask the President to dissolve parliament.
But the purpose of Article 68 is to reinforce the authority of the executive by forcing a reluctant parliamentary majority to choose either to (a) keep the current government, even if they do not like it; or (b) face early elections. It was never intended to allow a prime minister to choose the date of an election (as British prime ministers effectively can do without any real controversy: Britain’s election last May was held early because the Labor party was confident it could win and did not want to wait).
Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled on this question once before, in 1983, after the Free Democrats had flipped their support in parliament from the Social Democrats to the Christian Democrats, thereby using Article 67. The new Chancellor, Helmut Kohl wanted to prove that his ascension to power on the backs of a party (the Free Dems) who had won only about 10% of the vote in the previous election really did reflect the popular will.
Kohl faked a no-confidence vote in 1983, much as Schroeder would do 22 years later. (Kohl and his Christian Democratâ€“Free Democrat coalition were returned to office by the voters in 1983 and three straight elections thereafter.)
So, what we have here is a case of the provisions of the German Basic Law that were meant to shield democracy from the extremist machinations of the 1920s and 1930s standing in the way of contemporary Chancellors who want to respond to the democratic will by holding a new election. (In this case it really does not matter whether the underlying motive is to confirm a parliamentary change of government for a new full term, as in 1982-83, or to cope with intra-party dissent , as now). The spectre of a government staging its own defeat by asking its own parliamentarians to abstain is not exactly healthy for democracy. Nor is having to call in the highest court to determine if a government really has lost confidence, and then have the court perform some legal gymnastics in order to say, sure it is.
It would be much cleaner if there were a mechanism for early elections that did not involve first going through such hoops.
Nonetheless, in my view, fears like those expressed in the business daily Handelsblatt should not be dismissed lightly. A commentaor (unnamed in Der Spiegel’s English summary) said the court:
that is, a way to appeal to the people over the heads of the parliament to which he is constitutionally accountable under the parliamentary form of government.
There is a way to avoid this problem, and it is being debated in Germany now: Allow the Bundestag to dissolve itself with a two-thirds majority. In that way, a Chancellor and his or her own majority could not simply hold elections at their own convenience, but when there is broad consensus on the desirability of early elections (as there was in 1983 and is now), there is a means to go back to the people and elect a new parliament.
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Propagation: Seeds & scions (4)
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FRUITS: Support your local, organic growers; and, plant vines and fig trees and pomegranates for the generations to come...
VOTES: For democratization and full representation, for environmental sustainability, social justice, and peace, always sincerely...
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