Obviously, parties do not boycott elections, as Venezuela‘s largest opposition parties will do in Sunday’s National Assembly election, that they have any chance of winning. They boycott when they know they are going to lose, but when they calculate that they have a case to be made that the process itself is unfair.
Thus the point of a bocott is to provoke a crisis for the government. Any governing party bent on total domination of its opposition wants to keep an opposition involved right up until the time that it (i.e. the government) is secure enough to clamp down. When the opposition cries fraud and pulls out before it is at that point of domination, it is a crisis for the government. The facade of demcoracy has been torn down when you no longer can point to the persence of political competition as evidence that you aren’t authoritarian.
This is all done before an audience–both external and internal. The opposition is counting on this boycott exposing the ChÃ¡vez government as no longer democratic. The government will count on the opposition being seen as sore losers–in advance of any votes being cast and counted.
It is not unusual for boycotted elections to result in subsequent elections–sometimes well ahead of schedule–being called under different procedures negotiated between the government and opposition. The Peruvian experience of 2000-2001 comes to mind. But then there are also cases–some Eastern European cases after WWII–when the opposition is essentially never heard from again. I don’t see Venezuela–yet–in the latter category. The opposition is playing a very high stakes game. But given the increasing authoritarian bent of the ChÃ¡vez government, they had little choice but to shift the arena away from the elections themselves and into an arena in which the nature of the regime itself is at stake.
In other words, they are still competing. Just not, for now, for votes.
The most likely outcome of the January 23 federal general election in Canada appears to be another minority government, most likely again by the Liberal party.
A poll from November 29 says only 31% of Canadians think a minority government is preferable to a majority government. Yet they are so divided over party preferences that they are not going to get a majority government (unless one of the parties rises in popular preference dramatically during the campaign).
In the poll, 47% say they would like to see the Liberals out, yet a similar percentage prefers the Liberals to the Conservatives.
The poll shows the Liberals on 35% and the Conservatives on 30%. The NDP is on 20%, which would be a huge increase if they can hold it (they won 15.7% in 2004). Given the systematic punishment a first-past-the-post electoral system metes out to a third party that has dispersed support, 20% for the NDP seems unlikely. However, there are districts where they ran second place in the last election and where a vote for them would thus not necessarily be wasted. They could gain, especially in several ridings in British Columbia. To the extent that they do, it will only make whichever party comes out with the most seats even shorter of a majority. The NDP could be in an excellent position to bargain with the Liberals, including getting some real movement on electoral reform, which would at least ensure that minority single-party or majority-coalition governments in the future would be based on parties having a bargaining weight reflective of their actual voter support.
The Bloc Quebecois is on 14% in the poll, which is about where it was in 2004 (and 1993 when it wound up as the official Opposition). Of course, it is a strictly Quebec phenomenon, so its concentration of votes in one province nets it a much greater seat return on its votes.
2006 will be a year of elections for the coastal district. There will be a special election to fill the remainder of Duke’s term, as well as the regular election to fill the seat for the 2007â€“09 term.
That means a primary some time in the January to April window; if no candidate obtains a majority in that election, the top vote-getter in each party will advance to a special runoff about a month later. Then there will be the regular closed party primaries in June, and the general in November.
The proposal to adopt MMP in Prince Edward Island went down to crushing defeat in a very low-turnout referendum on Monday. As I had noted a few days ago, PEI was not a jurisdiction where any form of PR could be expected to sell well. The province lacks the multiparty competition in the electorate that almost always precedes serious movements towards PR; moreover, while colorful, its electoral history is hardly reformist. It does, however, have a history of ridiculously lopsided votes-to-seats conversions, so some form of electoral reform would seem to be a good idea. Whether any other reform discussion will ensue before the next time an opposition party is nearly or totally wiped out of parliament will be something to keep an eye on.
The official results, still being counted, show about 36% yes to 64% no. Aproval only in two of Charlottetown’s three ridings.
Via Votelaw, an AP story says South Dakota’s current 2-seat house districts could be split, creating 70 single-seat districts. Currently there are 35 state legislative districts, each electing one senator and two house members (with the exception of one that is split into two house districts). (more…)
Well, the heat wave is gone at last, and the forecast promises a chilly weak ahead. Today’s low down at the bottom of Ladera Frutal: 38. Up at the summit: 45. Today marks the first day of the 2005-06 winter season in which we will accumulate chill hours. Deciduous fruit trees–apricots, peaches, plums, etc.–require an accumulation of “chill” before they will bloom and set fruit the following spring. This is one of nature’s fascinating evolutionary adaptations. It serves to keep a tree from budding after a mid-winter warm-up only to have frost or freeze later kill off the blooms and thus the fruit (and, more importantly from an evolutionary perspective, the seed inside). (more…)
I highly recommend Jonathan Edelstein’s entry at The Head Heeb about the ideology of Christianism. Jonathan develops the concept by analogy to Islamism, and with specific respect to the recently enacted autonomy constitution for Bougainville within Papua New Guinea. But as he notes:
Christianist political threads cuts across denominations and exists in many parts of the world besides the Pacific: the United States, much of eastern and southern Africa, arguably Ireland and Poland. In the Pacific, however, conditions are nearly ideal for Christian-based politics.
As previously noted, Prince Edward Island will hold its referendum on adopting mixed-member proportional representation for its provincial legislative assembly on Monday, under rules changed late in the game by the premier in order to put roadblocks into a reform path that he himself had initiated. PEI could be the first province to go to a PR system, BC having narrowly missed the chance some months ago.
In the provincial general election of May, 2005, 57% of British Columbia voters favored a change of their electoral system from plurality (FPTP) to STV. Only 46% of voters favored the incumbent Liberal government. Yet STV was “defeated” while the Liberals “won” another four-year term as a majority government.
The referendum and its anomalous outcome was a result of a previous decision by the Liberal government to set up a Citizens Assembly to consider an alternative way to elect the provincial parliament, but to mandate that the Assembly’s proposal would require a 60% vote (and also majorities in 60% of the provincial ridings, or electoral districts). Similar rules will be in place in PEI.
Rather embarrassed by being returned to unchecked power despite being less popular than an electoral system that would have forced them to share power had it already been in effect, the BC Liberals announced that they would allow a second referendum (under the same rules).
Norman Specter, in the Globe and Mail, is not too happy about the whole situation–or the referendum on proportional representation Monday in PEI. As he notes, the second BC referendum will be at the same time as the next BC municipal elections, when turnout tends to be low.
In fact, based on the turnout in the last provincial election, only about a third of voting-age British Columbians approved STV. And, with the normally lower turnout of voters in municipal elections, an even lower percentage of voters will have the power in 2008 to change the most fundamental rule of our democratic system.
Of course, if only a third of voting age British Columbians approved STV, then less than thirty percent approved the current government. That would seem to make STV (or any form of PR) more, not less appropriate, in the sense of preventing full authority being lodged in the hands of a party with such a thin mandate.
Turning to PEI, Specter says:
Looking at that situation, one has to wonder exactly what problem is being addressed. In the last PEI provincial election, 26 of the 27 MLAs were elected with more than 50 per cent of the vote.
He has a point. Proportional representation is usually adopted only where three or more parties are splitting the vote, resulting in governments that are clearly majority-opposed rather than (nearly) majority-supported. For the record, the problem electoral reform in PEI seeks to address is super-lopsided parliaments. The PEI Conservatives won 96% of the seats on 57% of the votes in 2000, two elections after the Liberals had won 98% (i.e. all but on seat) on 55%. In between, in 1996, the Conservatives won two thirds of the seats on just 47% of the vote. Reform of some type is clearly needed, though the absence of multipartism in the electorate makes PR a tougher sell.
But Specter thinks that FPTP can accommodate three parties fairly well, and points to the last BC election. It was indeed a classic Westminster-style election,with Liberals winning their comfortable majority with 46 (of 79) seats on 46% of the vote, the NDP 13 seats behind despite trailing by only around four percentage points of the vote, and no seats were won by the Greens (9% of the vote) and other parties. While this is an outcome that PR advocates would argue is unrepresentative, it is nonetheless certainly the case that PR would never have come on to the the agenda if all BC elections turned out like 2005. But of course they do not.
PR got on the agenda in the first place because of the 1996 BC election in which the NDP won a majority of seats on only 39% of the vote while the Liberals actually had nearly 42% of the vote. Then in 2001 BC had an election like the two mentioned above in PEI, when the Liberals won all but three seats on 57% of the vote. That’s why nearly 58% of voters wanted a new electoral system, even if the rules were set up to make that insufficient.
As noted here before, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia are looking to introduce some major changes to Italian political institutions. Some, such as a return to proportional representation (only this time, unlike before 1993, with a threshold of 4%), would take effect in time for general elections due in April. Others, which include some regional devolution and enhancement to the prime minister’s authority, include constitutional amendments that would require a referendum and hence would take effect later.
Currently, three-quarters of the seats in the lower house are decided in uninominal racesâ€”i.e. one candidate is elected out of each electoral districtâ€”while the remaining quarter is filled through proportional representation. The amendment that created the present system was passed in 1993, and has produced the most stable governments in Italyâ€™s post-war history.
A major impetus for the change to the mixed system more than a decade ago was the publicâ€™s disenchantment with habitually ineffectual governments. When Italy first became a republic following World War II in 1946, its constitution stipulated a full proportional representation electoral system. In the 47 years during which the system was in effect, there were 51 changes of government, as no party was ever able to cobble a viable mandate.
When the new mixed-member system was put in place, it was Berlusconi who was the immediate beneficiary, as the majoritarian nature of Italy’s unique and extremely complicated variant of mixed-member rules manufactured a majority for the alliance of parties supporting him. In the 1996 election, the electoral system again facilitated an alternation when Berlusconi’s allies lost to an alliance of the left. And the electoral system once again helped generate alternation in 2001, back to Berlusconi’s alliance. Three alternations in three elections under the new rules.
The majoritarian nature of the current system is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Berlusconi’s House of Liberty alliance won almost three fifths of the lower-house seats in 2001, on less than a majority of the votes (around 45% of votes cast for candidates in the FPTP races and about 48% cast for party lists associated with Berlusconi).
Given Italy’s history before 1993 of elections with such party fragmentation that electoral mandates and alternation were never feasible–instead post-election and inter-election bargaining determined the making and breaking of governments–a system that facilitated two blocs in the electorate was a salutary development for Italy.
However, Berlusconi has had a bit of a change of heart. From Angus Reid again:
The Union of Christian and Centre-Democrats (UDC), a faction in Berlusconiâ€™s right-wing governing coalition, were actually the first to suggest reverting to a full proportional representation electoral system. [...] Reports suggests that it was only after a meeting with market researchersâ€”who tested numerous statistical models and concluded that a proportional representation system is the governing coalitionâ€™s sole chance at a majority government in the next electionâ€”that Berlusconi became an advocate for the change.
Now, I have to say that last sentence contains a key logical flaw. The current system manufactures majorities for the largest alliance in the electorate, even if it is just a plurality of votes. So how could PR provide Berlusconi with a majority that the mixed-member majoritarian system would not? Clearly there is more here than meets the eyes of Angus Reid.
I suspect they mean plurality, not majority. That is, because the right is fairly unified and the left is currently anything but, PR will render Berlusconi’s alliance the largest in parliament, thus able to cobble together a coalition after the elections. [Note, this was written before it was clear to me that the new system put in place for the 2006 elections was not, in fact, PR. See some of the more recent posts in the Italy subdomain (click on the country name at the top of this post, which will take you to the most recent posts, and then scroll down).]
The current [i.e. 1994-2001] system, on the other hand, could produce a left-wing government. Why? Because it allows multiple parties to coordinate on single-member distirct nominations without having to present a common proportional list. That this is indeed the motivation is hinted at by this report about one leftist leader’s reaction, from Agenzia Giornalistica Italia [my emphasis]:
(AGI) – Rome, Italy, Nov 14 – DS party secretary Piero Fassino today described the centre-right’s approval of the electoral and devolution reform as “a desperate counteroffensive, and a dangerous one at that: their recklessness in nothing new, we knew they’d of anything to keep a hold of power, even changing the electoral system alone, barring any broader consensus with the opposition; with elections months away”. According to Fassino the centre-right coalition “has paved the way to a squalid barter, which would have the constitution reduced to a mere item of trade. [The government coalition] feels the drastic its slump in confidence and credibility and has changed the electoral system in order to avoid losing. The word at their headquarters runs more or less as follows: “if we don’t win, nobody must win. Samson and the Philistines must die together; they are an army on the retreat applying scorched earth”. The current electoral system “isn’t perfect – Fassino stressed – and that’s clear to us too: it doesn’t help to strengthen coalitions and grants parties an excess of power in the process of designating candidates”. However “it does have its positive aspects: its has made bipolar politics possible and has engendered alternation, and the constituency system has made for a more direct link between candidates and the electorate”. The reformed system, according to Fassino, will lead to “lesser cohesion and greater oligarchy, less stability and greater fragmentation, less bipolar politics and greater political ambiguity: that exactly the opposite of what the country needs. [...] We believe there are sound grounds for its unconstitutionality; we have made that point in all areas of governance, foremost in parliament; but that is an issue that warrants being judged” by the Constitutional Court.
As I mentioned, there are other reforms Berlusconi has in mind. A-R again:
This month, Berlusconi also pushed through a substantive constitutional overhaul of the authority of a number of government branches and offices. While some presidential privileges were eliminated, the prime ministerâ€™s power was expanded to include the ability to hire and fire ministers at his exclusive discretion, as well as the prerogative to dissolve parliament. Greater regional autonomy over education, health, and law and order was also granted. Following months of acrimonious debate, senators voted to adopt the motion.
[LATE GROWTH FLUSH: No surprise: turnout was very light; but surprisingly, it seems this chamber is set up to have no veto power, leaving one to wonder, why bother]
[LATER GROWTH FLUSH: The Head Heeb has a re-cap, noting that this election may "mark an end to any kind of credible political opposition in Zimbabwe."]
November 26 is the date for the elections to the controversial new senate in Zimbabwe. Angus-Reid has a useful backgrounder and timeline, in which it is noted:
Mugabe loyalists argued that a Senate was necessary to improve legislation, while the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claims the new body was created to accommodate supporters of the current regime.
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