Quebec will hold general elections for its provincial assembly on 26 March. An excellent way to follow the campaign is at QuebecPolitique.com (if you read French, that is).
Quebec’s FPTP electoral system has a long record of producing odd results, including a plurality reversal in 1998 and several lopsided majorities. In my research on conditions for reform in FPTP systems, the province rates as one of the most ripe for reform. However, so far a reform process initiated by the now-ruling Liberals after their “victimization” by the vagaries of plurality allocation in 1998 has not borne fruit. I hope some of my readers who follow politics in the province can give us some ideas of the likely dynamics of seat distribution in this race, and whether this election is likely to bury or revive the movement for reform.
With the Afghan congress having passed an amnesty bill, all eyes are on President Karzai as he considers whether to issue a veto. The Afghan presidency has a veto on legislation that can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in eachthe lower house of congress.*
The bill passed the upper house with more than a 75% support (50-16). However, despite considerable searching on both Google and Lexis Nexis, I was unable find a report of the vote in the lower house, except that it was by “majority” (obviously). Thus I am uncertain whether the lower house would have the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto.
I did, however, find an interesting transcript of a debate on Afghan Aina TV (via BBC Monitoring Service, 21 Feb., 2007), including this remark in support of the bill by Haji Abda, an MP from Balkh Province. The Moderator asked about international–specifically Human Rights Watch–opposition to the bill. The MP responded:
Those friends believe that jihadi leaders do not have a suitable status and are rights violators. When one looks at the election results, you will see how much respect these jihadi leaders enjoy amongst the people. When these objectors are asked as to how they entered parliament, then the problem will automatically be resolved. Those who entered parliament with majority of votes mean that the people elected them, but they say the people do not want them. If the people did not want them, why they voted for them?
I can’t deny the MP’s claim that the warlords and Jihadis and their allies who have seats are personally popular. But, of course, the idea that Jihadis in the Afghan parliament have majority support is a bit suspect, given the low turnout, and the small votes shares members received, thanks to the SNTV electoral system.
Abda himself won a whopping 3.7% of the vote in Balkh, where he was sixth of ten candidates elected. More than two thirds of the votes cast in Balkh did not go towards the election of any candidate.
* Apparently, while both houses must give their approval before a bill is presented to the president for his signature or veto, an override vote takes place only in the lower house. At least that is how I read the provisions on legislation in the constitution:
Article 94 [Legislation, Veto, Qualified Vote]
(1) Law is what both Houses of the National Assembly approve and the President endorses unless this Constitution states otherwise.
(2) In case the President does not agree to what the National Assembly approves, he or she can send the document back with justifiable reasons to the House of Representatives [Wolesi Jirga] within fifteen days of its submission.
(3) With the passage of this period or in case the House of Representatives [Wolesi Jirga] approves a particular case again with a majority of two-thirds votes, the bill is considered endorsed and enforced.
Sunday was election day in Senegal. Both the president and parliament were to have been elected, but due to a dispute over electoral boundaries, the parliamentary elections have been postponed till 3 June (thanks to Alex for pointing that out in the earlier thread on Lesotho).
I do not really know anything about Senegalese politics, besides what I read at BBC, which notes that the incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, faces 14 rivals and is unlikely to win the needed majority today. That means a runoff is likely.
I do, however, know something about Senegalese political institutions. Journalists (and even the occasional political scientist) who see a system with both a president and a prime minister often rather sloppily say it is “the French system” (especially when the case in question is a former French colony). In this case they are right. The Senegalese “premier-presidential” system is about as similar structurally to that of France as any you will ever see (with the exception of Burkina Faso).
That means that the president can nominate a prime ministerial candidate, but can appoint only a candidate who can obtain confidence from parliament. Once confirmed, it is the prime minister, more than the president, who has the real executive powers–at least as the powers are outlined in the constitution. As I said, I know almost nothing about actual politics in Senegal.
There is one important twist on the president’s powers, however: He has a veto, which takes three fifths to override. There is nothing like than in France.
(There is no better place than here to note that I am positively an expert on Senegal, compared to what I know about Guinea. Thus I have no idea how significant it is that this other West African former French colony has just seen its prime minister replaced by the president, meeting a key demand of leaders of a general strike, now ended, and days after parliament refused to extent a state of emergency.)
[New visitors' guide, given the continued traffic I owe to Paul Wells]
…you might be looking specifically for my posts on Canada, which are in their own subdomain (http://canada.fruitsandvotes.com) and include posts on the 2006 federal election and various posts on electoral reform in Ontario, BC, New Brunswick, and PEI, as well as the recent provincial elections in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
For posts (or plantings as they are more typically known around here) on other countries see the menu of categories (orchard blocks) farther down on the left sidebar.
Thailand may be about to violate a near-iron law of electoral-system change: that no country, having abandoned a multi-seat nontrnasferable-vote (NTV) electoral system ever reverts to such a system. *
In its 1997 constitution, adopted in the wake of a serious political and financial crisis, Thailand replaced its MNTV system (M>1 seats in a district, each voter casting up to M votes, and top M vote-earners elected) with a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system. Under the MMM system, 400 MPs were elected in single-seat districts and the other 100 in parallel via closed-list, national-district PR.
Since shortly after last year’s military coup, there has been a constitutional re-drafting process underway. It appears the Thai drafters are about to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
On 9 February, The Nation (a major Bangkok paper) noted:
The party-list MPs and single-MP constituency elections will be scrapped, the constitution drafting subcommittee chaired by Charan Pakdithanakul ruled yesterday.
In other words, not only will there be no MMM system and no national party-list PR tier, but there will also be a return to NTV. This could mean a reversion to the old system of MNTV, or it could even mean SNTV. Either way, it would be quite a regression from a system that was helping build parties out of the weak regional and personal vehicles that existed previously. It would bring Thailand back to a system that exacerbated some of the worst features of Thai politics.
The reasoning is ironic. From the same news article:
The main reason for scrapping the party-list MPs is because the system allows capitalists to rise to power through money politics.
Of course, in a capitalist system the capitalists are sure to have political power, but putting that aside, is money politics worse with party lists than with NTV? The old system, and its counterparts wherever they have been used (Japan, Colombia, Taiwan, etc.), requires candidates to raise large sums of money to differentiate themselves from other candidates, including candidates using the same party label. (The differentiation premium is stronger with SNTV, because of the indivisibility of each voter’s support and the need that a party has to ensure its votes are distributed efficiently across multiple candidates if it is to be able to elect more than one in a district; however, the problem exists with MNTV as well, for not all voters will use all their votes, or cast all of them for candidates of the same party. In its favor, SNTV makes the representation of minorities much easier than does MNTV.)
There is little doubt that in systems with weak parties, such as Thailand, parties can literally sell list slots for campaign cash and guarantee victory to the buyer (assuming the lists are closed, as they were in Thailand). I assume this is where the claim that party lists promoted money politics has come from. However, to assess the impact of an electoral system, we must not compare its effects against those of a perfect world in which all corruption has been eliminated, but rather to what other systems will do in the same context. That Thai leaders already have experienced what NTV does and yet are ready to revert to such a system shows either shocking lack of memory or shocking contempt for democratic development.
The MMM system was far from perfect. In fact, in one sense, it worked too well. It buttressed the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Its disproportionality gave TRT a huge bonus in seats compared to its votes total,** while the closed lists (and to a lesser degree, the single- rather than multi-seat districts) greatly centralized intra-party authority. However, given the extreme fragmentation–across and within parties–under the pre-1997 system, this was what was needed.
If the MMM system overshot its goals, by strengthening TRT too much at the expense of its rivals (on the interparty dimension) and the TRT leadership at the expense of its rank and file (the intraparty dimension), then the possible solutions would be really simple:
1. Expand the size of the list tier as a share of the total number of seats.
2. Link the tiers, that is changing to (or towards) MMP rather than MMM.
3. Regionalize the party list rather than have a single national district for this tier.
4. Make the list open (or flexible) rather than closed.
Any one of these would have moved the system in the desired direction on at least one of the two dimensions, and these solutions are not mutually exclusive, meaning two or all of them could have been employed together. One need not go all the way back to the party-debilitating NTV system of the past. Alas, it looks Thailand will break an iron law.
* I just noticed that in an earlier planting, I had spoken of a potential Mongolian breaking of this “law,” as well. Mongolian had gone from MNTV to FPTP. AS I discuss here, Thailand had gone farther from MTNV by adopting closed party lists as well as FPTP.
** In 2001, 49.6% of seats on 40.6% of votes; in 2005, 75% of the seats on 56.4% of the vote (thanks to its winning 310 of the 400 SSDs).
Maseru Observer alleges that the ruling LCD party in Lesotho manipulated the two-tier, two-vote MMP system in last Sunday’s election, setting up a shell party in the list compensation tier to increase its overall seat total dramatically. That is, by running a separate but dependent party slate that had no candidates win (or run) in the single-seat districts, it was able to win PR seats that otherwise would have gone to opposition parties. (The main opposition party apparently did something similar.)
This potential for manipulation of MMP has been recognized in the literature on Germany for as long as I have been reading electoral-system literature. However, I am not aware of a case where it had been practiced (at least on any significant scale) until an Albanian election a few years ago.
I have several readers who know a lot about MMP and/or are fans of the system. How would you prevent this sort of manipulation? One obvious way is by having a single vote, rather than separate SSD and list votes. However, that has disadvantages of its own.
(Please note that I have not independently verified Maseru Observer’s claims.)
Colombia’s Senator Alvaro Araujo made headlines this past week when he was arrested for suspicion of ties to paramilitaries involved in the drug trade.
Over at Steven Taylor’s new Colombian politics blog, I asked whether the Senator was a â€œlist pullerâ€ (i.e. lots of preference votes) or trailer. That is, might we infer whether he was elected because of, or in spite of, his allies?
In 2006, the first election in Colombia using a list PR system* (with parties having the option of presenting open or closed lists), Araujo was elected on the (open) list of the Movimiento Alas Equipo Colombia (quite a name). As has been widely reported, this party was indeed one of several that President Alvaro Uribe endorsed prior to the 2006 elections.
The list won 439,678 votes, and 20% of these were cast just for the list. Alvaro Araujo Castro won 66,234, the second highest total of any of the party’s candidates and 15.1% of the party total. (Oscar Suarez Mira won 15.3% and no other candidate had more than 7.7%.) The party elected five senators.
Looks like Araujo was the very definition of a list-puller.
In fact, Araujo was one of the most popular candidates in the election. His preference vote total was the 11th highest across all parties in the nationwide district and his share of his own list’s preference votes was the 7th highest of all candidates across all parties.
He was also elected to the senate in 2002, when the electoral system was essentially SNTV. That is, rather than run on party lists, each legislator was elected on a “personal list” based on how many votes he or she obtained as a candidate.** In that election, Araujo won 77,891 votes, the 16th highest in the 100-seat national district.
This, of course, does not “prove” that his drug and paramilitary ties bought him votes, but it sure doesn’t look like the connection hurt him.
There have been several members of the current Colombian congress arrested or implicated. If someone can provide this lazy blogger with their names, I will look them up in my data files.
* For details, just click on “Colombia” at the top of the post and scroll. The elections were last March, and before and after I posted quite a bit on the reformed electoral system and its impact.
* * There were a few exceptions, where one of these lists obtained enough votes to elect more than one candidate, but the vast majority were elected as the only winning candidate on their own list.
I just ran across these very nice words at a Macleans blog written by Paul Wells, and known as Inkless Wells:
Let a hundred flowers bloom
A reader hipped me to this absolutely extraordinary blog about electoral systems in various countries and sub-national jurisdictions, and the ways they translate votes into seat counts. It’s called “fruits and votes” because the author, a political scientist at the University of California â€” San Diego, likes to indulge a green thumb when he’s not poring over election results from hither and yon.
Canada, as you’ll see, is only one (or 13, depending how you count these things) of dozens of jurisdictions he keeps his eye on, but his analysis of electoral systems in Canada, and the various provinces, is extraordinarily rich, detailed and insightful. If you’re an electoral-system geek â€” and I know from email that many, many of my readers are â€” welcome to heaven.
“Heaven”! Well, I am eternally grateful. (And I have to say that Inkless Wells is a great blog name!)
OK, back to geekily poring over some election results…
The center-right Australian Liberal Party government of John Howard has announced a plan to phase out standard lightbulbs in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs by 2009. From the Sydney Morning Herald:
Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the expensive bulbs will pay for themselves within a year by reducing household electricity bills by up to 66 per cent and eventually cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by four million tonnes a year. [...]
Mr Turnbull said that during the Kyoto Protocol target period between 2008 and 2012, the light bulb phase-out would cut 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia each year.
Meanwhile, the government of Ontario is considering making the province the first in Canada to enact a similar measure. From the Toronto Star:
No one in Ontario should underestimate the importance of replacing standard bulbs with more energy-efficient ones, [provincial Environment Minister Laurel] Broten added. By Premier Dalton McGuinty’s estimate, replacing every old-fashioned bulb with an energy-efficient one would allow the province to shut down one coal-fired power plant.
The Ontario government is headed by the Liberal party (which is a good deal more center-left than Australia’s conservative party of the same name), but it is being urged to adopt this measure not only by environmental organizations, but also by its main opposition, the Conservative Party.
Oh, if only we could have “conservatives” in this country like those in Australia and Canada!
When is a non-binding vote on the government’s conduct of a war a crisis for that government? When the system is parliamentary!
After losing, by a two-vote margin, a vote in the Senate on a non-binding resolution on its military presence in Afghanistan, the Italian cabinet of the center-left alliance headed by Roman Prodi has submitted its resignation. Under the Italian constitution, the “mostly ceremonial” President is now conducting talks aimed at determining whether to call new elections or whether a new government can be formed with support from the current parliament. The latter is much more likely, for reasons developed below.
This incident is a reminder of why, as I noted back in May, the parties care who the president is, even though the Italian presidency is not a particularly powerful position. After a razor-thin election for parliament that happened to coincide with the end of the outgoing president’s term, several votes in the electoral college (made up primarily of the newly elected parliament, but also of regional delegates) were required before the left’s candidate, Giorgio Napolitano, was elected.
It is after a “cabinet crisis” (the resignation of a cabinet upon its loss on a vote it considers a matter of confidence) that the president has some discretion. Napolitano is expected to ask Prodi (or perhaps another leader on the left) to form a new coalition, rather than to call new elections.
The ruling alliance would like to change the electoral system before any new election, and so its component parties are likely to agree on a new governing formula, rather than prolong a crisis and force the president to call new elections. While in Japan earlier this month (and promising the more assertive foreign policy that his government just lost a vote on), Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema appeared to advocate a return to a mixed-member system of some form, perhaps with a 5% threshold.
Remember, the current Italian electoral system is not proportional representation. Don’t let the media tell you it is! Italy’s last election under PR was in 1992. A mixed-member majoritarian system was implemented in 1994, but in the run-up to the 2006 elections, the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi changed the electoral system to an all-list, but non-PR system. The new system guarantees that the pre-election alliance of parties with a plurality of votes will have a comfortable majority in the lower house, and indeed Prodi’s coalition can still count on its lower-house majority. Berlusconi had “engineered” the system with the intention of giving his alliance a continued parliamentary majority, despite declining popularity, against a more divided left. Instead, a united left narrowly beat Berlusconi’s alliance and benefited from the Berlusconi-engineered “bonus” in the new electoral system.
Despite the government’s strong lower-house majority, Italy’s Senate matters for government formation and duration to a greater degree than upper houses in most other bicameral parliamentary systems. The Senate’s electoral system, while very similar, calculates its representation bonuses on a regionalized basis, rather than nationally as in the Chamber of Deputies. The aggregate Senate seat result was much closer, making any majority inherently less stable.
Given the danger of further intra-alliance troubles in the future in the closely divided Senate, the left leaders are seeking to woo some centrist parties that contested the last election as part of Berlusconi’s alliance. If they would defect, a new center-left government would be at lesser risk of defeat from a few renegade MPs. BBC Radio reported this morning that speculation centers on a small Christian Democratic party.
When the California Avocado Commission objected to federal government plans to expand the amount of Mexican avocados imported into the USA and the range of destinations to which they could be shipped–a policy just implemented last month–critics claimed that the domestic avocado growers were concerned only about market competition. The Commission, which we growers fund by a tax on all Hass avocados that we sell,* always claimed that its (our) opposition was based on legitimate concerns over pests found in Mexico and other countries that we do not (currently) have here in California. Of course, producers who will be subject to import competition always make such “objective” claims, so those who are not the producers always have good reason to be skeptical that opposition to expansion of imports is just protectionism based in economic self-interest.
Well, it turns out growers’ fears are real. While the incidence of armored scale in a recent shipment inspected by the California Department of Food and Agriculture was less than initially reported, the pest is indeed arriving on shipments from the south. The CDFA and the federal officials are currently disputing whether armored scale is a sufficiently serious pest to lead to a ban on shipments. So, this policy issue has a federalist dimension to it, with the state agency being more supportive of producers who are concentrated in its state and the federal agency being more attuned to broader trade interests (exactly as we would expect).
The Mexican government in the past has threatened retaliation against imports of US-grown agricultural products if the liberalization of avocado imports is curtailed. So this policy issue certainly has an international-relations, two-level-games dimension.**
There is little doubt that the armored scale could be a serious pest if it ever were to be released somehow from a shipment of fruit and find its way into a grove in California. Because scale do not move much, the threat is not as great as with other pests like the fruit fly. But the threat is significant. For one thing, there is currently no US-approved pesticide that would combat this type of scale for conventional growers, let alone for those of us who are organic. Most of our current scale problem (from other species) is kept in check by biological controls (natural predators, such as wasps, that are released in groves). But there is currently no known predator for the armored scale. It is likely that such a predator exists in Mexico or elsewhere, but is currently being killed by broad-spectrum pesticides being sprayed in Mexican groves. (Broad-spectrum pesticides kill good bugs as well as bad; the bad bugs often are better at developing resistance and thus surviving chemical warfare than are the good bugs.)
Please buy California and organic avocados if you can!
* Especially for my students: An excellent case of what I mean by “coercion” of collective action. In order to sell our products legally, we individual growers must pay this tax to support the Avocado Commission’s collective goods of research, marketing, and, yes, lobbying, on behalf of our interests.
** By targeting other US products for import restrictions, the Mexican government could engage domestic actors on this side of the border who otherwise would not care about avocados in opposing limits on avocado imports.
I guess our quiet little pocket of San Diego County is on the map. Coming soon to a B&B near Ladera Frutal: “Tori & Dean: Inn Love” (cute, isn’t it?).
The linked story notes that Tori and Dean will not be the first celebrities in the Fallbrook/Bonsall area. It mentions Frank Capra. But it fails to note Cigar (whose one-time home is visible in various photos I have posted here of the view to the west) or, more importantly, Duke Snider.
I want to draw readers’ attention to two throught-provoking entries at Make My Vote Count (both of which link to articles at the Guardian, one of the world’s best English-language papers).
These pieces discuss how the problems of gun violence (or, more specifically, the absence of incentives for politicians to address the underlying social problems) and child poverty (on which the UK and US are vying for worst ranking among the wealthy countries) are made worse by FPTP voting.
Is organic farming ‘no better for the environment’? The headline in The Independent, regarding “The first comprehensive study of the environmental impact of food production” suggests not. However, the study, by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is evidently rather more mixed than the headline implies.
[It] found “many” organic products had lower ecological impacts than conventional methods using fertilisers and pesticides. But academics at the Manchester Business School (MBS), who conducted the study, said that was counterbalanced by other organic foods – such as milk, tomatoes and chicken – which are significantly less energy efficient and can be more polluting than intensively-farmed equivalents.
I don’t know much about dairy or chicken farming, but deeper into the story it becomes clear that much of the problem with tomatoes (and other vegetables) is out-of-season hothouse production. Well, no surprise there. Organic standards are one thing, but the organic spirit is one of natural methods. And growing things in heated indoor spaces because one’s climate will not support outdoor growing is a far cry from the spirit of harmony with the natural environment that organic (and, for that matter, non-organic) growers should aspire to.
Some of the organo-skepticism expressed by the study (as reported in the Independent) also has to do with scale inefficiencies. However, I would be somewhat skeptical of these conclusions, as well:
Advocates of organic farming said its environmental benefits had long been established, not least by Mr Miliband [the Environment Secretary] who has written it is “better for biodiversity than intensive farming“. The Soil Association said it recognised that in some areas, such as poultry and growing vegetables out of season, organic was less energy efficient.
But it said that was vastly outweighed by factors which the Defra study had not taken into consideration such as animal welfare, soil condition and water use. [my emphasis]
As for Ladera Frutal (which is certified organic), the heavy use of imported water to grow a subtropical crop like avocados in this naturally dry a climate does concern me. If only I could afford to drill a well or bear the up-front investment costs of converting the avocado grove to a less thirsty crop. Nonetheless, it is highly likely that any broad assessment of the impact of fruit-growing methods would be favorable to organic over conventional.
Furthermore, if the alternative to growing avocados in California is buying them from Chile and Mexico, an assessment of the environmental impact would have to take into account the vastly greater insecticide use in those countries (in part due to past over-use that has killed off beneficial insects and resulted in evolved resistance) and the carbon impact of the longer-distance transportation. These considerations would be separate from the straight comparison of organic vs. conventional methods in either California or Latin America, and yet a further question would be the quality of the oversight on organic (or other) standards in developing countries.
I would take home two conclusions: (1) There are more important assessments of producer practices that the informed and environmentally sensitive consumer should take into account than the simple organicâ€“conventional dichotomy, and (2) As always, the evaluative criteria employed–rather narrow in the UK Defra study–are essential to the conclusions of any study of the impact of the processes of producing our food on the environment.
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