Votes are now being counted in Sri Lanka’s presidential election. Various news reports have indicated that citizens from the Tamil minority are expected to side mostly with opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka against incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa. Unlike in past, war-time, elections, Tamils appear to have turned out in large numbers.
This contest is classic presidentialization in action, but it seems somewhat less classic as an example of the “instant runoff” rules that are used.
Presidentialization is manifest in the main opposition party, the United People’s Freedom Party (UNP), having endorsed as its presidential candidate a person with no links to the party whatsoever. In fact, Fonseka was the head of the army, and thus an agent of President Rajapaksa, as the Sri Lankan state crushed the Tamil Tigers (TTLE) guerrilla forces last year. The Independent describes the dilemma faced by the UNP and others seeking the defeat of Rajapaksa:
The former army chief was quickly recruited by an unlikely coalition, made up of the UNP, Muslims, Tamils and some strident nationalists who believed that in the martial, militaristic atmosphere following the crushing of the LTTE, Mr Fonseka with his chest full of medals represented their only chance of defeating the president. “You have to make the best of what there is,” admitted a senior UNP leader, Ravi Karunanayake
If Fonseka wins, what loyalty can the UNP count on? He is an army man, who launched his candidacy outside the party organization, and then was endorsed by the UNP. The UNP surely needs him far more than the reverse. Classic presidentialization.
Not so classic is the way Sri Lanka’s version of “instant runoff” for presidential elections is working in this campaign. Although there are twenty-two candidates, and voters may give a second-preference ranking as well as a first, the contest is very much a two-man race. Most strikingly, the Tamil minority does not have its own candidate, but rather is being courted by the two leading candidates. That seems much more like a plurality dynamic than an instant-runoff dynamic.
It must be noted that the electoral rule in Sri Lanka is not the alternative vote (i.e. STV with one being elected), in which the lowest-ranking candidates are sequentially eliminated until transferred preferences push one of the remaining candidates over the majority threshold. Rather, in Sri Lanka, if no candidate has a majority of first preferences, all but the top two are eliminated, and their ballots are examined for lower-ranked preferences among the remaining two. This is a more literal definition of “instant runoff” but not (I hope) what US-based IRV advocates mean to see adopted. (What to call this variant that Sri Lanka uses is not entirely clear; see Bob Richard’s comment.)
I am curious to know how IRV advocates would explain the absence of a significant Tamil candidate (or candidates of the Muslim and other minorities) in an IRV contest, but rather a plurality-like contest in which minority voters choose the “lesser evil” among the majority’s two candidates. Is it because of the war (too dangerous for a Tamil to come forward, too politically volatile for a Sinhala candidate to appeal for second preferences)? Is it because the rules in use are not the alternative vote? Or what?
(Rajapaksa was elected in 2005 by majority of first-preference votes as candidate of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance.)
In any case, this campaign does not match the “IRV” dynamic, but it most certainly does match the “presidentialization” dynamic.
This week’s Economist (not yet on-line) has as one of its lead articles an ardent plea for President Barack Obama to respond to the past week’s special-election Senate defeat by moving to the center. Or, actually, it says the centre, but I am pretty sure these are the same place. The problem is, I can’t tell where this place might be.
The focus of the article is, of course, principally on the health-care reform bill (though a wide range of policies is mentioned). But if the notion of a centrist course in policy reform is to mean anything, I fail to see how the health bills thus far can be meaningfully anything but centrist. Policy reform that consists mainly of compensating (one might say “buying off”) incumbent interests–e.g. increasing the market for insurance policies and medical services–for various new restrictions imposed upon them (e.g. addressing the “pre-existing conditions” problem) is a centrist course.
If a policy reform were ideologically of the left (or, for that matter, the right), it would entail not compensating incumbent interests, but rolling them. Ideologically drive reform implies making incumbent interests pay the costs of new benefits distributed to the constituents of the governing party (or more broadly). Manifestly, this is not what Obama or his party has even attempted to do.
So, it simply is not clear where this center to which The Economist wants Obama to move is located. It would seem to look a lot like the status quo. And therein lies the rub: one can’t be an agent of “change” at the same time as one governs from the “center”–except perhaps in the most incremental fashion. Yet it is not clear that even incrementalism could command any support from the now marginally expanded veto block in the Senate. This contradiction seems lost on those proffering “centripetal” advice to a president who is evidently deeply beleaguered now that his party holds a mere 59% of the seats in the Senate.
There will be a few changes around here. First of all, I am about to hand over the keys to the potting shed to several propagators. That is, there will be others aside from me who will be allowed to post.
I will let them introduce themselves on their own terms.
This decision is prompted largely by the fact that I will be away from the San Diego area for an extended period this year. I have been awarded a Lady Davis Foundation Fellowship to be a Visiting Professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition to this extended gig, I will be traveling in the U.K. and Germany, in connection with my NSF-funded research on Party Personnel Strategies. I also plan to make a “side trip” to Estonia to give a seminar in Rein Taagepera‘s Logical Models Program at the University of Tartu.
During my absence, from early April till some time in August, I do not plan to be blogging much (if at all). Moreover, as my extended time off-line in December and early January showed, moving and settling into a new house and finca can be time-consuming, on top of one’s regular responsibilities.
Starting the multiple-planters model well before going on sabbatical will allow me to continue contributing with the new team and to assess how things are going, before heading off.
At some point in the coming weeks, I hope to adjust the template just a bit to make the blog appear a bit less as a personal website, which it still will be, but obviously to a lesser extent.
One way that the Democratic Party can prevent a loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat from stopping their healthcare program from becoming law, without either reopening negotiations (e.g. trying to get one of the Maine Republicans to vote with them) or using hardball tactics (e.g. finding a procedure to pass the bill without needing 60 votes), is for the House simply to adopt the Senate bill. Then it would not require another vote in the Senate.
I can’t claim to know who will win the special election for the US Senate seat from Massachusetts formerly held by Ted Kennedy. However, I do know one thing: It is yet another item in the “charge sheet” against the American way of politics and policy-making that a government that, along with its legislative majorities, was endorsed by substantial majorities of the electorate could have its entire agenda pivot on the outcome of a special election for one seat in one house in one state just one year into its tenure.
It is worth noting that the current government is the first government in the USA to have popular majorities backing both it and its legislative majorities in quite some time (since 1976, I believe; no Republican Senate majority in at least five decades has been backed by a popular majority and Clinton never won over 50% of the vote). But that does not matter. One might think that elections should matter–that is, national elections–and that governments endorsed by majorities might be generally able to implement their programs. Well, at least that is what one might think if one were a committed small-d democrat.
That the Democratic Party is in such a fight for this seat–in Massachusetts!–is also a new item for the charge sheet against the party. How can it have missed the boat so badly with its policy agenda that it is struggling to hold a Senate seat in a state so reliably Democratic, till now, in Senate elections?
One item from the Globe and Mail suggests one reason why Republican Scott Brown is putting up such a challenge: He says that health care is a state issue. That is a defensible position–personally, I think it’s wrong, but it is defensible. The interesting twist is that various elements of the Democratic proposals resemble the healthcare policy put in place already in Massachusetts. That healthcare program was signed by a Republican governor (Mitt Romney, and that fact won’t help him with the national Republican primary electorate in 2012). So, in a sense, at least some swing voters in Massachusetts may be voting to protect what they already have from feared federal intrusion by a national policy. Ironically, that is how the Senate is supposed to work: as a forum for protecting state interests. Here we have a state that is seriously under-represented in terms of population per Senator, given that severe malapportionment of the institution. But in this one election, it will be seriously over-represented, as a relative few swing voters in one state essentially decide the fate of the governing party program, by bringing its majority below 60% in one house.
On the contest itself, Republicans chose for themselves about as good a candidate as they could have: Brown is very liberal for a Republican–even in the context of Massachusetts, where Republicans are in general about as liberal as they can be and still be Republicans. (Both points are made by Boris Shor, in a graph posted by Andrew Gelman at 538.)
On the other hand, evidently Democrat Martha Coakley is no exactly an exciting candidate, or one in touch with her voters–she evidently does not even know that Curt Schiling is something of a Massachusetts legend, suggesting he was a Yankees fan. If Coakley loses, there will be debate about how much candidate effects mattered and how much it really was a referendum on Obama’s policies, especially healthcare. But there is little doubting the impact. And, whatever one’s opinion of the policies or the current government, that just shows what an odd way we run this system known as American democracy.
Does anyone know of a worse showing for a president seeking reelection than Viktor Yushchenko’s 6%, according to exit polls from today’s election? I can’t even think of another incumbent who failed to make the top two.
Speaking of top two, those would be (as expected) Viktor Yanukovych and Yuliya Tymoshenko. They finished at 32% and 27%, respectively (and again, according to exit polls), and will face off in the runoff.
I suppose it would be far too much to ask of journalists and headline writers to refrain from saying that any candidate “wins” the first round of an election that must go to a runoff, wouldn’t it? It seems to me that if anyone wins the first round of a top-2 runoff it would be, well the top two. Unlike all the other candidates (sixteen of them in Ukraine), those two get to go on and see who ultimately will win.
This Sunday, 17 January, voters in Chile and Ukraine will vote in presidential elections. In Ukraine the vote will be the first round of a near-certain two-round contest, while in Chile it is a top-two runoff.
This will be Ukraine’s first presidential election since the Orange Revolution of late 2004, and the man whose name was chanted for days and nights by the crowds in the central square of Kyiv, Viktor Yushchenko, is expected to place no higher than third and thus be eliminated. I wonder how often an incumbent president fails to place in the top two–not very often, I presume. The runoff would thus pit Yuliya Tymoshenko against Viktor Yanukovych–the same two who have taken turns in the prime minister’s chair since the Orange Revolution. Given the voting patterns that have characterized Ukraine’s legislativeelections during Yushchenko’s term, one hardly needs to consult the polls to predict that Yanukovych will “win” the first round (leading to predictable hand-wringing about Ukraine returning to Russia’s orbit), but Tymoshenko will win the decisive second round.
In Chile, most of the polls and punditry say that this is the year that the right, behind the candidacy of Sebastian Pinera, wins executive power through an election for the first time since 1958. I would not write off the Concertacaion (center-left) candidate, Eduardo Frei, just yet, however. A poll this week puts Pinera up only 50.9-49.1. Needless to say, that’s too close to call. Pinera led 44.1 to 29.6, with 20.1 for independent-left candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami Gumucio (ME-O), in the first round. So the big factor is how many ME-O voters get over their unhappiness with ex-president Frei of the Christian Democratic Party being the center-left candidate and return to the Concertacion fold for the runoff. In the legislative elections held concurrent with the first round, the two main blocs were very close (44.4 for the Concertacion and 43.4 for the Coalicion por el Cambio for the Chamber of Deputies). Obviously, many ME-O voters kept to the old habit of voting Concertacion for the legislative race. Will they do so in the presidential runoff? (First round discussion at F&V.)
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