Don’t miss the ongoing discussion beneath a previous post on the competitiveness of US House elections in comparative perspective. So far, readers have commented, some posting actual data, on Australia, Canada, and the UK.
It is the contributions of readers in, or who follow the politics of, so many countries that make this blog most rewarding. Thanks to my readers and contributors!
Comments are not enabled on this post. Please post comments at the original post. It will say, at the propagation bench below, that this soil has been overplanted. That’s actually not the case; it is that the most fertile soil remains at the orginal planting.
New Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leading Canada’s new Conservative minority government, is on the record believing judges have assumed too much power over public-policy decisions, and had pledged to institute a public hearing for court appointees.
So, this means Canada is instituting judicial-appointment procedures like those of its neighbor to the south, right? Hardly.
In other words, unlike in the United States, a ‘conservative’ chief executive is not asserting a right to appoint partisans to the highest court. This is a consensual nominee.
The hearing was before an ad hoc committee of the lower house, rather than a standing committee of the upper house, as in the USA.
Another aspect that is different from the USA is the nominee’s age, 65. When, like the current US executive, you are packing the court with your partisans, you want your appointees to be relatively young. A more common practice in parliamentary systems, on the other hand, is to appoint relatively more senior judges to the highest court. Being older, they have a clear track record, they will not serve long (in fact, Canada has a mandatory retirement age of 75), and there is less chance that the Court will fall far behind shifting popular sentiment, as reflected in the democratic process.
On that latter point, Rothstein said in his hearing:
The important thing is that judges, when applying the Charter, have to have recognition that the statute that they’re dealing with was passed by a democratically elected legislature … and therefore they have to approach the matter with some restraint.
Of course, Alito said similar things. But no one who has been paying attention should see Alito’s remarks as anything other than a ruse.
Past Canadian practice has been for appointments to be simply by cabinet decree, with no public scrutiny. Harper’s innovation–taking a senior judge who has been vetted by both major parties, and having him answer questions in the lower house of the legislature–is a remarkably sane way to appoint a Supreme Court justice.
As is often (perhaps always) the case when a prime minister calls early elections, there is not just an inter-party dynamic at work in Thailand, but also an intra-party dynamic. Going to an early election is often an attempt to reinforce the leader’s authority within his own party.
Certain figures in the Thai Rak Thai Party have advised the premier to step down as a way out of the ongoing political crisis, a source in the TRT said yesterday.
The TRT figures believe that with the premier resigning, the governing party would be able to maintain most of the status quo, while placating the anti-Thaksin campaigners focused on bringing him down because of the Shin Corp sell-off scandal, according to a source.
The article was written before Thaksin’s dissolution of parliament, and it noted:
The TRT source said that if forced to choose, Thaksin would favour House dissolution rather than resignation.
That Rak Thai MP Chalermchai Ulankul said yesterday that dissolving the House without first amending the charter would leave many problematic issues unsettled.
I have seen a few references to proposals for constitutional amendments, including the one in that last sentence. However, I have not yet seen what those proposals are.
Finally, in the event Thaksin is forced to resign (which still looks unlikely):
… there is a limited list of possible successors. The Constitution requires that the prime minister must be an elected member of Parliament, so one of TRTâ€™s top 10 party-list MPs is likely to replace Thaksin.
Political pundits said possible candidates were Deputy PM and Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit, who is No 2 on the list, Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng, fourth on the list, and House Speaker Bhokin Bhalakula, ninth on the list.
They said while Suriya is the first candidate, he is the worse possible choice. Suriya leads the Wang Nam Yom faction, which has more than 100 MPs, making it the second biggest faction in the ruling party. Thaksin has realised that Suriyaâ€™s faction is too big to control.
This news story is a reminder that, while the TRT may be dominant over the other parties and Thaksin may be a “strong” leader over the party, it remains internally divided. Thai parties have long been factionalized. The change in electoral system (from multi-seat plurality to MMM/parallel) since 2001 has increased both the dominance of the largest party over others (because single-seat districts and a parallel rather than compensatory PR tier give a good boost to the largest party) and the dominance of the leadership over the party’s rank and file (by eliminating intra-party electoral competition through the adoption of single-seat districts and a PR tier using closed lists). However, it has not eliminated the internal divisions, and Thaksin’s gambit is partly about reinforcing his own and his faction’s authority as the party and government cope with threats from the opposition in and outside of parliament.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s early-election gambit was probably intended to secure a fresh early mandate while the opposition was unprepared for a poll and with his own party benefiting from its considerable rural strength. If so, it was apparently working, because the opposition has decided to boycott the 2 April election. You only boycott when you can’t win.
On the other hand, a boycott by the opposition is also a crisis for the government (as I noted back in December regarding the boycott in Venezuela), because the absence of any opposition presence in a “campaign” and in the resulting legislature only plays into an opposition’s criticisms of the government as corrupt and the electoral playing field as unfair.
Boycott calls, and actual boycotts, are, like war, a continuation of politics through other means.
I hope that some of the readers of the blog who follow Canadian, UK, or other countries’ elections can enlighten us as to what is a typical share of seats that are competitive in elections in other single-seat-district systems.
Single-seat districts, especially with plurality rule, tend to have lots of ‘safe’ seats. It is inherent in the system, because party electorates always include some geographic strongholds. But there an be little doubt that the US House is on the low side (and that it has gotten worse over time). Of course, gerrymandering is a factor, but so are the increasing homogeneity of the two major parties’ electorates, and the greater use in the USA than in other plurality jurisdictions of pork barrel and other practices that shift voter attention away from party and towards incumbents’ district service.
Two responses already within the first twelve hours! Thanks Lewis and Alan!
Cape Verde‘s presidential election was on 12 February. It was won by incumbent Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires of the Partido Africano da IndependÃªncia de Cabo Verde (PAICV), who defeated Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga of the Movimento para a Democracia (MPD). The margin was 50.97% – 49.03%, or 3,282 votes.
That was a landslide compared to five years ago when Pires defeated the same challenger in a runoff 50.006% – 49.994%, or by 17 (yes, seventeen) votes. In 2001 the candidates had been much, much more separated in the first round: 46.5% – 45.8%. (These two politicians have been dominant political figures since independence in 1975.)
Talk about a country with closely divided politics!
Its legislative elections produce rather less sharply divided results, however. Cape Verde is one of those separated-powers systems in which not only the powers, but also the election dates, of executive and legislative branches are separated, albeit not by much. Legislative elections occur a few weeks before the first round of the presidential election. And in both 2001 and 2006 the PAICV has peformed better (and the MPD worse) in legislative than in presidential elections.
The PAICV won 49.5% of the legislative vote in 2001 (but, as already noted, only 46.5% for president in the multicandidate field and barely over 50% in the two-candidate runoff), while the MPD won only 40.5% (or more than five points behind what its presidential candidate would do less than a month later). In 2006, the pattern was much the same, with the PAICV managing 52.3% of the legislative vote and the MPD almost ten points behind (42.7).
The electoral system is also somewhat disproportional, giving the PAICV about 57% of the seats in 2006 and 56% in 2001, while underrepresenting the MPD.
Cape Verde’s legislative electoral system is PR (d’Hondt method) in districts of varying size. The two major parties are differentially affected by varying district magnitudes, because one party (obviously the PAICV) is able to win: (a) most of the seats in outlying districts with low magnitude where it is the dominant party, and (b) some seats in the higher magnitude and thus more proportional districts in urban areas where it is weaker.
Districted PR systems with divergent magnitudes have this characteristic by their very nature: The smaller party in urban districts wins a share proportionate to its minority status there, and the larger party in the rural districts wins an above-proportional share there. If the “small urban” and “large rural” parties are the same party, the electoral system exhibits a partisan bias in favor of that party. This effect is known as the Monroe-Rose ‘variance effect’ after the two political scientists who discovered it (and they indeed used Cape Verde as one of several illustrative cases).
So, the electoral institutions of Cape Verde are biased towards the PAICV in two respects: the variable magnitude, and the separate timing of the presidential and legislative elections. The variable magnitude gives us the Monroe-Rose effect (which, the authors’ simulations show, may have cost the MPD a majority of seats in 1995, in an election in which it had to settle for a plurality). The separate election dates mean that even though the MPD has a presidential candidate who is obviously popular enough to win almost exactly half the votes nationwide, he has no opportunity to have coattails to the benefit of his party in the legislature.
The net effect is that the MPD is obtaining both fewer votes cast for its legislative slate than for its presidential candidate and a lower ratio of seats to votes cast than is the PAICV.
Cape Verde, like its “mother” country, Portugal, has a semi-presidential system. Had the MPD won either of these last two presidential elections that it lost so narrowly weeks after the election of a PAICV parliamentary majority, the country would have seen “cohabitation” between a president and prime minister from opposing parties.
The Monroe-Rose effect is from: Burt L. Monroe and Amanda G. Rose, “Electoral Systems and Unimagined Consequences: Partisan Effects of Districted Proportional Representation,” American Journal of Political Science 46, 1. (Jan., 2002), pp. 67-89. JSTOR access (restricted). This is one of my favorite articles of all time in the field of electoral-system research.
Sample passages (with my emphasis in bold, his in italic):
If you’re shocked, shocked to discover that Cheney wants to stretch Article II, section 2 even further [than warrantless wiretaps and the Gitmo Gulag], you just haven’t been paying attention.
The only surprising development is the absence of mass demonstrations over a clear subversion of the Constitution.
Rather than defending the Constitution that somehow saw them through these national emergencies [past wars and the Cold War], Americans are watching docilely while the Administration says, Because some terrorists got lucky, the Consitution is now whatever we say it is. Or we just ignore it.
Americans should have already been on their guard when, in 2001, Bush broke with centuries of political tradition and Constitutional interpretation in naming Cheney as a virtual “co-President.”
To that last passage, I would add: If Americans were not already on their guard between November 7 and December 12, 2000, it was probably by then already too late.
It is a great post. As bloggers are required by our union to say: Read the whole thing.
Under pressure over the sale of shares in a giant telecoms company, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has dissolved parliament. Early elections will take place on 2 April.
Meanwhile, the people of the Philippines will be under a state of emergency as they mark the twentieth anniversary of the ‘People Power’ revolution that restored democracy. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued the declaration because of an alleged coup plot. Arroyo, accused of irregularities in her reelection in 2004, survived an impeachment attempt last year and an army mutiny in 2003.
The Philippine state of emergency is obviously bad news for democracy, but the Thai dissolution is potentially good news. Thaksin won a masive majority in 2005, with his Thai Rak Thai party holding 75% of the seats (on around 56% of the vote). Elections would have been held again only in 2009. Parliamentary systems, such as Thailand, usually have mechanisms for early elections, but it is rare for them to be invoked so early in the term of a single-party government with such a large majority. But as the Bangkok Post discusses in good detail, the political crisis is deep, with some of the opposition undertaking actions outside the constitutional framework (in part because the large victory by TRT, exaggerated even further by the electoral system1, makes the parliamentary opposition so weak). Resorting to an early election is a good safety valve for seeking a resolution of the crisis within a constitutional framework.2
Whatever the outcome of the election, the dissolution of parliament in Thailand offers a possibility for electoral resolution of the political crisis that is lacking in the Philippines, where Arroyo’s term is constitutionally fixed (unless an impeachment process were to succeed in removing her, and even then there would not be an early election3). (more…)
By way of Southeast European Times. The vote was 246-214. By surviving the vote, the government may now automatically implement a package of health system reforms that it had invoked special powers on.
Romania has a semi-presidential system: Directly elected president, but most governing powers in the hands of a prime minister and cabinet dependent upon parliamentary confidence (similar to France). I had not previously been aware that Romania had a formal procedure whereby the government may avoid a direct vote on one of its bills. Sometimes called the ‘guillotine‘ procedure in France, the government may invoke the right to implement a bill by decree, forcing the parliament to confront the following choice:
Accept the bill, or oust the cabinet.
Of course, in all parliamentary and most semi-presidential systems, a cabinet may engage its own confidence on almost any measure. But the standard mechanism requires ordinary parliamentary debate on the bill, after which the government resigns if it loses. The ‘guillotine’ procedure means that the debate is on the parliamentary majority’s confidence in the government, and if the government wins that, there is no further debate on the bill itself.
The guillotine thus allows the government’s own majority to enact the bill passively, in a process in which it is defending its own government and its broader program, but not necessarily the substance of the bill.
Today marked the launch of a plan to promote a citizen- and state-driven approach to changing the archaic and anti-democratic manner in which the United States currently elects its president: National Popular Vote. The idea was launched via C-Span this morning, and the program will be repeated. Check the C-Span schedule for times.
I will have much more to say about this in the near future. For now, I am just flagging the existence of the campaign, and a book released today (most of which I have already read eagerly, courtesy of an advance copy). The short version of the story is that the proposal is to avoid the (also archaic and anti-democratic, as well as cumbersome) process of amending the constitution, and have states enter into interstate compacts. Once a sufficiently high number of states has entered into such a compact, the states in question would change, under their Article II authority, the means by which they appoint electors such that the electors would go to the winner of the national popular vote (even if that ticket were not the winner of the popular vote within any given state). Voila, you have de facto direct vote (by plurality rule).
That last part–plurality rule–is an Achilles heal of the proposal, in the event of a three-way race. But there is no way I can see to mandate a runoff, whether in two rounds or “instant.” Congress would have to act to allow a second round of voting. (I do not believe doing so would require a constitutional amendment.) Most certainly, the instant runoff (alternative vote) favored by many American political reformers could not be adopted through the NPV plan. No allocation method, aside from the current state-by-state method, can be based on votes cast in any subset of the states. Thus I don’t see a way to implement this other than with plurality; we can determine the national popular-vote winner, just as we now do, and states in the compact–once they amount to states with 270 electoral votes–can each award all their electors to the candidate with the national-vote plurality. Efforts to use something other than plurality would have to await all states joining a compact that also covered the voting rules within the states, or else a constitutional amendment. One step at a time…
Anyway, more to come, for sure. This is an exciting, innovative proposal.
The completion of the recount in the Costa Rican presidential election shows the lead for former President Oscar Arias having grown from 0.5% in the preliminary result to 1.1% now. However, the final result has not been declared, as allegations of irregularities still have to be investigated. Costa Rican law provides for a runoff between the top two only if the leader is below 40%, and there is so far no indication that Arias will fall below that threshold. (The runner-up, Otton Solis, was over 40%, but apparently has fallen just below and the two are now 40.9-39.8.)
I do not know whether Costa Rican law allows a re-vote, which should be distinguished from a runoff in that it would take place only in the case that a certain level of irregularity had been legally shown to have taken place. A re-vote, as I am defining it here, would also entitle all candidates from the original vote to run again. A runoff, on the other hand, is a race between the top two* from the first round, and is triggered not by irregularities but by the failure of the leading candidate to have reached a stipulated threshold (or, as I have argued, it could be a stipulated margin) in the first round.
The most famous case of a re-vote was, of course, Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election (which was actually a re-vote of a runoff). Ukrainian electoral law was already clear at the time that a re-vote could be called if the Supreme Court determined there had been irregularities sufficient to call the election into question.
* Some second rounds permit more than two, although I am not sure those should be called runoffs. French legislative elections are an example. I am not aware of any second-round rules that permit more than two candidates in popular elections for presidents, except for the former German Weimar Republic.
(UPDATE: Somewhat later, Jonathan Edelstein made me aware of a country with more than two candidates in its presidential runoff: The Comoros.)
Meanwhile, with reprisals against several of their own mosques, the major Suuni Arab party, the Iraqi Accord Front, is boycotting talks on government formation, as well as a summit called by chairman of the Presidency Council, Jalal Talabani, to deal with the crisis.
Juan Cole has his usual in-depth coverage of what news outlets in the region are reporting on all of this.
That’s what Alan, of Southerly Buster (which I almost typed as Southerly Bluster, which would only have perpetuated the fun!) at my much deserved expense. It seems that a word I use here often at F&V–magnitude, as in district–sometimes come out as mangitude. Alan asked, of my reference, on 20 February, to the “lower mangitude” of Colombian house elections: “Why do Colombians read manga so much before voting in House elections?”
I must admit I did not know what manga was, and I wonder if now I have coined a new term with mangitude. Upon correcting the typo in the post on Colombian magnitude, I deleted Alan’s comment there, as it makes no sense now that I have rendered the post so much less interesting. But I wonder, why doesn’t Word Press include a spell-checker for us bad typists? Thanks, Alan, for being my spell-checker!
Oh, and there is an on line newspaper in Cyprus called Typos.com. Perhaps I should write for them (except for the small problem that it’s in Greek, and please withhold your comments about posts at this blog being Greek to you already).
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