Via IFES’ ElectionGuide, the Pacific island of Nauru will hold a February 27 referendum on whether to switch to direct presidential elections. Currently, Nauru’s president is essentially a prime minister, elected by and subject to no-confidence votes of its Parliament.
Why the change? According to the Australia Network News, the idea is to shake a history of cabinet instability:
Nauru’s Justice, Health and Sports minister, Mathew Batsiua, says it is hoped that change will help end the volatile nature of Nauru’s politics, which has resulted in around 36 changes of government since independance [sic] in 1968.
“[I] think this is the right structure to gain political stability, and I think that’s what Nauru badly needs,” he said.
I’m no expert on Nauruan political history, but 36 governments in four decades is a lot. According to the CIA Factbook, the most recent change of government was in December 2007, when a no-confidence vote sacked President Scotty.
Unfortunately for those who support reform as a remedy for cabinet instability, the proposal for direct elections does not come with a complementary proposal to end presidential dependence on legislative confidence. Features of the Nauruan electoral system, moreover, may magnify the country’s stated troubles.
It may be a stretch to emphasize institutions in this 21,000-person country with its 18-member legislature, but some points are worth note. First, Nauru uses a candidate-based and effectively majoritarian electoral system: a modified Borda Count in two- and four-seat districts (seven and two, respectively) that weights voters’ higher rankings more heavily than lower ones. Second, elections in Nauru are non-partisan, whether by law or by fact. Notwithstanding, from what I can tell, candidates tend to line up behind one of two de facto party leaders, an outcome consistent with the country’s electoral rules. It’s also an outcome that may resonate with PR advocates who cite the tendency for ‘pendulum swings of government’ in parliamentary systems with majoritarian electoral formulas.
By contrast, the Netherlands Antilles
, only twice Nauru’s population, uses an open-list PR system within a parliamentary framework. If we accept that Nauru has two de facto parties, there is much more diversity in the Netherlands Antilles’ party system, an outcome consistent with its low-barrier voting system. My impression is that cabinets there generally have been more stable. Of course, the Netherlands Antilles are made of several islands – Nauru is not – and the Netherlands Antilles enjoy less sovereignty than Nauru, which could imply that the former’s domestic politics carry lower stakes. On the other hand, Nauru’s economy appears much more dependent on natural resource extraction, a fact that often coincides with extensive patronage and, as a result, governments less apt to change.
The Republic of Nauru has been quite a laboratory for institutional experimentation. It is one of three countries I know to use the Borda Count in national elections. The other two are Kiribati and Slovenia (for two ethnic minority seats in its legislature). According to Ben Reilly, the adoption of Borda Count appears to have been a reaction to “complicated” preference transfers under the previous alternative vote/IRV system. Its weighting of higher rankings is also novel. As Reilly notes, this modifies Borda’s original plan for a system in which preferences decreased in weight by a constant value. Within the context of the low-magnitude multi-member district system, then, this system has a strong MNTV (a.k.a. “winner-take-all at-large”) flavor.
The direct election proposal is one of four constitutional amendments coming before voters in the country’s first ever referendum. Regardless of the underlying drivers of Nauruan cabinet instability, the proposed institutional remedy is unlikely to address it because it would not end executive dependence on parliamentary confidence (see Article 24 of the aforelinked). Nor is any reform proposed that would address the essentially majoritarian character of elections in Nauru.
News in recent days from presidencies…
In Ukraine’s runoff, it appears that Viktor Yanukovych has now won (probably legitimately, despite the protests of the runner-up/incumbent premier) the presidency that he was initially (but fraudulently) said to have won in 2004. It was a relatively narrow win, so by now he has earned the name Landslide Viktor.
In Nigeria, power has finally been transferred to an Acting President while the elected one remains hospitalized in Saudi Arabia (for two months now, and counting). His name offers something his country’s politics surely require: Goodluck.
Recently re-elected Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has, as expected, dissolved parliament. (Elections will be only about two months ahead of when they needed to be held in any case.) Meanwhile, the candidate Rajapaksa defeated, former army commander Sarath Fonseka, is apparently under arrest. What was it that Juan Linz said about “zero sum” presidentialism?
In better news for presidentialism and representativeness, Costa Rica has elected its first woman president and first Jewish vice president.
Planted by MSS
Planted in: AV/IRV
; Green parties
Back in December, 2007, I asked if the UK Green Party could win a seat in the next House of Commons election; the question produced an interesting multi-national discussion of Green politics that is well worth reading again.
Now that an actual election campaign is underway in the UK, with the likely polling date 6 May, it looks like the answer to the question just might be YES!
A few days ago The Guardian discussed the prospects of the Green candidate in Brighton Pavilion constituency, Caroline Lucas (currently a Green Member of the European Parliament from the regional PR district that includes Brighton in EP elections).
Given that this UK election campaign is also taking place within the context of a debate over a potential future referendum on electoral reform, it is worth asking whether the Greens’ chances of winning even one seat are better with the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system than with the proposed alternative vote (AV). A recent poll by ICM Research and touted on Lucas’s website, puts the Brighton Pavilion candidates of the various parties with the following vote percentages:
While the “instant runoff” procedure of AV normally can be expected to make the final count come down to the top-two candidates, a field such as this is precisely the sort of contest in which AV might favor the third-placed candidate. If LibDem voters are more likely to give their second-preference votes to a third-running Labour candidate than to either of the top two, the sequential-elimination and transfer procedure of AV could result in a final round of counting between Green and Labour. Then Conservative preferences come in to play, and we are down to the question of whether they tend more strongly to lean towards “anybody but Labour” or towards “safe establishment over new politics.”
In any case, it has never been clear to me that parties like the Greens should prefer AV (or IRV as it is often called in the USA) over FPTP. Obviously, any form of proportional representation is superior to either single-seat system.
05 February 2010
Planted by MSS
Planted in: Australia
An election is likely in Australia this year. But will it be House and half the Senate (as is usual), or a double dissolution?
Antony Green goes over the various calculations that the government will consider.
04 February 2010
I have been meaning for weeks to ask my readers for their thoughts on the annual prorogation of parliament in Stephen Harper’s Canada.
The last time Harper did this, we had quite a lively discussion.
Planted by MSS
Planted in: AV/IRV
Gordon Brown, in The Guardian, makes the case for his bill to mandate a referendum in 2011 on whether the UK should change to the Alternative Vote.
After extolling the constitutional reforms Labour has introduced since coming to power in 1997 (assemblies for Scotland and Wales, elected mayor for London, a Supreme Court, etc.) and calling these ” important changes of which progressives can be proud,” he says:
To be blunt, we need to give politics back to the people.
Two quick reactions:
1. How cynical can Brown really be? His party promised in 1997 to hold a referendum on electoral reform in its first term.
2. If only a “progressive” leader and party in the USA would have such a “blunt” agenda of structural reform.
03 February 2010
Planted by MSS
Planted in: AV/IRV
BBC reports that British “MPs will vote next week on holding a referendum after the general election.” If the bill passes (both houses–yes, the UK parliament is bicameral) and remains in place after the new parliament is elected (under current FPTP rules) this spring, the referendum, likely in October, 2011, would ask voters to approve the adoption of the Alternative Vote in future Westminster elections.
This is the very same issue discussed here on 2 December, so I will simply refer interested folks to that very same thread (which already has an extensive, and sometimes relevant, series of comments).
Those wanting to discuss whether AV is indeed better than FPTP may want to check out (and add to) the extensive thread that already exists on said topic.
Nick Robinson’s blog (also at BBC) is worth a read, too.