There were by-elections (i.e. to fill vacant seats) in three Canadian federal parliamentary ridings (districts) today. All three are in Quebec: Outremont, Roberval/Lac Saint Jean, and Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot.
Liberal Jean Lapierre, elected in Outremont in the past two federal elections, stepped down to resume his media career. Yvan Loubier, elected five times for the Bloc Quebcois in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, switched to provincial politics and ran unsuccessfully for the Parti Quebcois in the March Quebec election. Five-term Bloc member Michel Gauthier quit his Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean seat, partly for health reasons and to work in the media.
The other ridings are in rural areas, and the BQ may hold them both, but if it does not, it will be interpreted as another sign that the party is faltering badly. In Sainte-Hyacinthe the Conservatives are getting help from the provincial ADQ (which had surprising success in the recent provincial election), and the Conservative candidate in Roberval is the local mayor. So a pick-up of a seat (or two) for the federal governing party is possible.
Aside from extrapolations to possible trends in party support, the other potential impact of these by-elections is that, if the NDP wins Outremont, it would be in a pivotal position to support the Conservative government in exchange for policy concessions, given the current party standings. FPTP parliamentarism in action: on a single local race the national power balance rides.
September 17 is US Constitution Day, a public commemoration first officially observed only in 2005, but which marks the day, in 1787, of the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
This year, Constitution Day falls during the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur when Jews the world over assess their actions in the past year and atone for their sins and thereby seek to “return” (t’shuvah) to the right path.1
The coincidence of Constitution Day and the Days of Awe is thus a perfect opportunity for Americans–Jew and Gentile alike–to assess whether our path is the right one. Has the Constitution been faithfully upheld by the party in power? By the “opposition”? By the media? By us as individuals? Are we as a nation even aware of the core precepts of limited, constitutional, government? How many of our citizens know that Madison’s original “Virginia Plan” for the constitution was radically different from what was completed as a politically feasible draft 220 years ago this day?2
Limited government is a radical idea of which America was one of the originators, but it seems we have strayed very far from the path set by our founders 220 years ago. What steps can we take as a nation to return to the constitutional path? What have we, individually and collectively, failed to do in the last year to reinvigorate our electoral and constitutional processes? Many of us who were fortunate enough to live in the handful of swing districts and swing states thought we were taking an act of t’shuvah by voting for the party opposed to the incumbent executive. And then what? In the fundamental sense of restraining the president’s claimed wartime powers at home as well as abroad, not much. We as a nation have a lot of “returning” and atoning yet to do.
What can we do in the coming year to set the constitutional and democratic path straight again? Work for fundamental electoral reform, so that we can be represented swing voters without regard to our address? Work for constitutional reform in the spirit of the original idea of constitutional government, if not in its precise, politically bargained, structure?
We should not fear reform, or shrink from even “radical” ideas for improvement in our democracy. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1810, and in words that are literally carved in stone in the Jefferson Memorial, said:
I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions… But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the same coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
Even more, Jefferson warned against what he referred to as “sanctimonious reverence” for the Constitution and its founders.
If we use Constitution Day, and other patriotic commemorations, as an opportunity for “sanctimonious reverence,” we as a nation are idolators–as any student of Jewish history and the Bible will know, one of the worst of all sins.
We Jews give honor to our Torah as a guide to life–a “constitution,” in a sense. We don’t idolize it, but we revere it as the document of our people’s quest to make sense of the world and to guide us in living ethical lives. The progressives among us read it critically and while we certainly do not propose to amend the Torah, we do regularly reform how it is understood in our era, to keep it going hand in hand with progress of the human mind.
So, just as Jews have historically read the Torah and interpreted it and shaped its application–even in early rabbinic times through Talmud–and endeavored to keep it up to date through commentaries and discussion, so we Americans should do with our Constitution. We must not idolize it, or its original authors. For we are its authors. It is our Constitution, and we are responsible for making sure that our leaders–and we ourselves–live by its precepts.
Wherever Americans gather–in public events for patriotic days, in our schools and civic clubs, and in our synagogues, churches, mosques, and other religious institutions–we should make the Constitution come alive by reading it and discussing its relevance to our times. We should embark on a national program not only to read the Constitution itself, but to read the Federalist Papers (an “American Talmud”?), and to read generations of commentaries, controversies, and reform proposals. Always to ask ourselves, is its implementation consistent with its principles? If not, how can we return to the original paradigm in our own days?
This Constitution Day, let us be in justifiable awe of our constitutional heritage, but let’s not be afraid to be critical, to be reformist, to take the difficult steps towards national t’shuvah.
It is worth noting here that “right path” does not carry the theological implications for Jews that it might for members of other religions, nor does it mean primarily seeking forgiveness from the Divine (though it means that, too). It means first and foremost repairing our own personal relationships, working to correct injustice, and committing acts of gemilut chasidim or “loving kindness.” [↩]
The Virginia Plan, in a nutshell, called for both houses of congress to be apportioned to the states based on population and for the executive to be elected by congress, and to have no veto over legislation. The upper house members would actually have been elected by the House of Representatives (from candidates nominated by the state legislatures) and while the president would not have had a veto, he could have convened a Council of Revision, which would have included judges, to consider a law’s constitutionality. Congress would have retained the final say on which laws were constitutional–including those passed by state legislatures. Madison was a “federalist,” but his constitutional proposal was centralizing, nationalizing, and majority-empowering. These remain fundamental democratic principles worthy of reenactment in our time. [↩]
Greeks went to the polls today in general elections. It looks like it will be yet another cliffhanger result. We sure have had a run of those the last several years around the world.
The incumbent New Democratic Party appears ahead, according to exit polls, but a four percentage point lead (42-38) makes it too close to call.
In part because of the recent devastating fires, various news reports indicate there is likely to be a rise in protest votes against the two party dynasties–Papandreou of the social-democratic PASOK and Karamanlis of the center-right New Democracy–and thus that the votes of smaller parties could be greater than at recent elections.
According to London Greek Radio, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has vowed not to form a coalition government. Thus if his party fails to get a majority of seats, and he holds to his pledge, a new election could come rather soon, unless PASOK were able to form an alternative coalition or minority government.
A far right party that failed to clear the 3% threshold at its first try and has been internationally denounced for its “virulent nationalism, anti-semitism, racism and xenophobia” may make it into parliament.
Greece’s electoral system has long been a form of party-list “PR” but with many small-magnitude districts and upper tiers of allocation that “reinforce” the lead of the largest party (the exact opposite intent and impact of most upper tiers in party-list PR systems). Thus the electoral system has manufactured majorities in the recent past, on as little as 41.5% in 1996 for PASOK. The current ND majority was manufactured on 45.4% of the vote in 2004.
In any event, the London Greek Radio item, cited above, suggests there has been a change to the electoral system:
Under Greece’s new election law, 260 seats in parliament are allocated by proportional representation, and the remaining 40 automatically go to the party with the most votes. It replaces a complex system that gave greater weight to regional results.
That automatic boost to the largest party would seem to make a manufactured majority more likely, but LGR suggests otherwise:
The change could benefit smaller parties which have more scattered support geographically.
That implies that the small districts that were the backbone of the former system may have been replaced. The story also quotes a pollster as saying that 41.5% may be enough for a “working majority” (whatever that means) and that the three smaller parties (Communist, Left Coalition and the far-right Orthodox Rally) would need around 17% combined to result in a hung parliament. So, the outcome indeed looks close, but ND may have just enough for a majority of seats.
Oh, and yes, the previous system was indeed complex.
Tonight is the new moon closest to the autumnal equinox.
Here’s wishing everyone a sweet and fruitful 5768!
And not just any year will it be. 5768 is divisible by 7, as all my quant-minded readers will recognize. Thus it will be shemitah. That law is not binding on Ladera Frutal. Nonetheless, some of the land at Ladera Frutal is going to get an indefinite Shabbat. More on that in the new year…
Facing a rebellion within his own Liberal/Coalition cabinet,1 Prime Minister John Howard has announced that, while he will lead the party in the election expected this year, he will not continue to lead the party through the full term of the next parliament.
As Greg notes in a comment, the polls have been showing likely electoral defeat for Howard’s government, anyway. The election will have to be within the next four months.
“Coalition” here refers to Australia’s essentially permanent electoral alliance of the Liberals and smaller center-right parties. [↩]
An item regarding the recent Moroccan elections on Al Jazeera English, originally broadcast 7 September (seen on Mosaic), featured interviews with some of the women running for parliamentary seats.
The story indicated that of the 325 seats, 34 “national posts” are reserved for women. One woman profiled in the segment was Maguy Kajon, described as a leader of a “small liberal party.” The party’s symbol is a bee because “she is ready to sting if need be.” She is also Jewish, and indicates that she is well known as such in the country. While she is interviewed on camera as saying it has never been a “problem” for her to be Jewish, a voice over during images of her handing out leaflets says that she faces challenges convincing voters to vote for her “despite being Jewish.”1
Another woman featured on the segment was Bassima Hakkawi, running as a candidate for the Party of Justice and Development, the Islamist party. She said that:
Voters tend to trust women candidates more than men, but when it comes to casting their ballots, they vote for male candidates. And probably there’s a psychological reason for that.
Probably so. In any event, a report on Abu Dhabi TV (also via Mosaic) on 9 September reported that 34 women were elected. It also said that four ministers and seven “party leaders” (whatever that might mean) lost their seats.
Mosaic is really a fantastic service. Please consider supporting it.
The Jewish Virtual Library page on The Jews of Morocco is interesting. It notes that “at present Morocco has one of the most tolerant environments for Jews in the Arab world.” Nonetheless, the numbers have declined from more than a quarter of a million in 1948 to around 5,500 as of 2003. [↩]
The vote for the national party list (which elects about 20% of the seats in congress) looks a bit different. I thought this vote was fused with that for president (and I believe it once was), but evidently not. For this vote, the UNE won 22.9%, GANA 16.4%, PP 16%, and twelve other parties won between 0.9% and 9.9% each.
Results from the TSE, and they are refreshed regularly, so what is shown above may change a bit.
There are also pages of the results by department, but I do not see an aggregation of the departmental-district votes for congress. (There is a districted PR system for most of the seats in the unicameral congress.) In any event, whoever wins the presidential runoff is going to face a very fragmented congress.
Rigoberta MenchÃº won 3.1% of the presidential vote (seventh place); her Encuentro Guatemala ticket doubled that in the congressional national-list vote.
As I have noted on numerous occasions, party naming is something of a lost art, though GANA, which stands for Gran Alianza Nacional, is pretty good. As an acronym at least, if not as a guide to what the party might stand for. [↩]
Sierra Leone is awaiting the results of its runoff election for president, as reported by All Africa. In the first round, on 11 August, incumbent Vice President Solomon Berewa, the candidate of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), came in second with 38% votes cast. Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) led the field with 44%.
Congressional elections were held at the same time as the first round, and the APC won a majority of seats (59 of 112).
The electoral system for congress is first-past-the-post. (IFES says that the congress is elected by “party-list proportional representation,” but that was true only for 2002. Thanks for Bancki, in the comments, for pointing this out.) Assuming that the APC did not perform markedly better in the congressional party vote than its 44% for president–which would be very unlikely1 — Sierra Leone’s FPTP has produced a very disproportional result (advantage ratio of 1.2).2
The combination of two rounds to elect a president and a disproportional system to elect the congress greatly raises the risk of divided government. The APC might not be the consensus party choice of a majority, in which case it could lose the runoff, despite already having won a (manufactured) majority of seats in congress.
This isn’t a combination of electoral rules that any institutional engineer seeking to maximize a young democracy’s chances of survival would ever choose.
And there is yet another institutional oddity: The first round for president requires not simply a majority, but 55% of votes cast.3 I know of no other case requiring an extraordinary majority of popular votes to elect a president.4 While it is a laudable goal of institutional engineering to seek to elect a president with a broad consensus of support, the rule creates the potential anomaly in which a candidate who already had the support of more than half the voters was forced into a runoff, in which he or she would be pretty unlikely to lose the majority already obtained.
As best I can determine, Sierra Leone is a “pure” presidential system, with the president legally entitled to appoint a cabinet of his choosing, regardless of who has the majority in the congress.
The runoff was said to have gone smoothly with a close result expected. The winner, and thus whether Sierra Leone has majority or divided government, may not be known for 12 days.
The National Electoral Commission posts results, but does not include national parliamentary data. I am not even sure if there is a separate vote from that for president. [↩]
For 2002, when list PR was used, Adam Carr’s 2002 results show that all districts had a magnitude of 8 seats. An even-number magnitude, unless very high, tends not to give as big a boost to the largest party in any given district as it gives to trailing parties that have enough to win any representation. This may have been intentional, given that the 2002 election was held in the wake of a settlement to a civil war. A quick glance at the 2002 results, in which the SLPP was much more dominant, indeed shows the second party, usually the APC, over-represented in numerous districts. However, the results also show often rather large percentages of the vote for parties that won no seats. On the other hand, in 7 of the 13 districts in 2002 the SLPP won all 8 seats. [↩]
IFES does not mention this (strangely), but various news reports, including that from All Africa, linked above, do. [↩]
There are of, course, various “distribution” requirements elsewhere, some of which require a given minimum share in some stipulated number of territorial sub-units. These have a similar motivation, and may be more workable, inasmuch as the distribution can be combined with a plurality requirement. If it is combined with a majority requirement, it has the same potential flaw I note here for Sierra Leone’ rules. [↩]
The Polish Sejm, or lower house of parliament, voted (by more than the required two thirds) to dissolve itself and go to early elections.
Poland is a premier-presidential system with a fairly powerful presidency; nonetheless, the president can ensure his allies control the prime minister’s chair and the cabinet only if the balance of partisan forces in parliament is favorable to him.
Of course, following the most recent elections about two years ago, not only did President Lech Kaczynski manage to place an ally in the prime minister’s chair. He was able to get his twin brother as PM.
The campaign is underway and already “bitter.” Who will win? In Poland’s volatile and fragmented party system, it is hard to say, but clearly the twins are anticipating a changed parliamentary balance that will permit them to realign what has been an unstable coalition.
The crisis that triggered the decision to dissolve parliament came to a head when the Prime Minister fired Andrzej Lepper, the leader of Self Defense, from his position as deputy prime minister and agriculture minister, resulting in a cabinet lacking a parliamentary majority.
Civic Platform [a pro-business party], which according to two recent but conflicting opinion polls, is either running neck-and-neck with [the ruling] Law and Justice or trailing it, will in any case need at least one coalition partner if it manages to win the most votes in October.
The party is already considering the possibility of a coalition with the small leftist Polish Peasant Party. The problem for Donald Tusk, the leader of Civic Platform, is that the newly established Left party, led by the former President Aleksander Kwasniewski, is also trying to bring this peasant party into his movement.
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the twins’ Law and Justice party intend to tap the rural vote, which went mostly for rivals Self Defense or for the Polish Peasant Party in 2005. The campaign will try to make it a fight against corruption, which may seem odd for a party (and family) that currently controls both the presidency and the prime ministership, but, of course, Law and Justice is blaming its erstwhile partner for the corruption (as well as clearly attempting to emphasize it stands for what its rather empty label implies).
The election will be 21 October.
Click on “Poland” above to see entries relating to the previous elections (both presidential and parliamentary) and the twins.
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