At least for now, a “contentious” proposal to add about 15 list seats to Ireland’s single transferable vote system has been left out of the main governing opposition party’s ambitious proposals for political reform. (See Irish Times for full story and politicalreformireland.ie for periodic updates and links.)
Given that, some time around the mid-1990s, the US has entered the brave new world of relatively unified partisan voting–relative to its own past, not to most democracies–it is hardly surprising that recent House of Representatives have used things like “self-executing” rules to pass bills.
I scarcely pay attention to the various noise machines that constitute “debate” in the US media, but some of it penetrates anyway, and I have been befuddled over all the flap over the use of such procedures.
Some on the right (which, to be clear, used the tactic when it was in power) even claim that what the Democrats are prepared to do today to pass their a bill is unconstitutional. Last time I checked, the constitution was pretty clear that each chamber of the legislature had blanket authority to do what it wants with regard to internal procedure. (In fact, it is that blanket authority upon which rests the right’s cherished–at least for now–Senate filibuster rule.)
I will count myself as among those who would like to see more, not less, use of self-executing rules. Along with similar (and similarly derided) rules like “fast track,” such rules are among the few devices that exist in the fragmented US political system for promoting collective accountability. By limiting amendments and debate, and likewise limiting individual accountability of members for difficult votes, self-executing rules and fast track enhance the capacity of parties to act–and to be held accountable at the next election. In other words, they are fundamental devices of democracy.
See also the good insights at PoliBlog (on the procedures and on the bill itself).
One of the expectations of the reformers who advocated replacing Colombia’s former de-facto SNTV (single nontransferable vote) system with list-PR using D’Hondt divisors (and of the foreign political scientists who advised them) was that party-system fragmentation would be reduced.
In the first use of the new system in 2006, there was change, but not much. The effective number of seat-winning parties (Ns) in the single 100-seat district for the Senate fell from 9.33 in 2002 to 7.18 in 2006. That’s not a trivial drop, but 7.18 would still be “too high” by the normative standards likely to be used by almost any electoral reformer.
Now, in the just-concluded second run of the new system, the effective number of seat-winning parties in the Senate was 5.43.
It seems the reform is working.
1. Already in 2006, we saw expected effects of the reform, even if they did not show up in this common comparative measure of electoral fragmentation. There were many fewer one-seat parties in 2006 (2) than in 2002 (42!). (I guess “many less” is an understatement!) The reason the effective number did not change much was that the size of the largest party fell from 28 in 2002 (Liberal) to 20 in 2006 (La U).
2. The effective number of seat-winners in 2002 was actually greater than the effective number of vote-winning parties (Nv). The latter fell from 8.93 in 2002 to 8.07 in 2006. It is very unusual for Ns>Nv, and that it was so in 2002 was a product of how easy it is to win a seat under high-magnitude SNTV with very small vote shares.
3. In a surprising way, the inability of Uribe to run for a third term might have helped produce greater concentration on a few large parties in 2010. In 2006, as in 2002, Uribe ran as an independent, which complicated the coordination of legislative candidacies around a smaller number of parties–especially given that legislative elections occur before presidential (by eleven weeks). In 2010, the various partisan options for succession to Uribe are clearer, even if the two main ones (La U and Conservative) are competing in the presidential election this time rather than endorsing the same one, as in 2006. (The main opposition party, Liberal, was the same size in 2010 as in 2006.)
4. Here are the preliminary seat totals, presented as 2010 seats, 2006 seats, party name (corrected):
28, 20, La U
23, 18, Conservative
17, 17, Liberal
9, 0, PIN
8, 15, Cambio Radical
8, 11, Polo Democratico
5, 0, Verde
2, 0, MIRA
0, 7, Convergencia Popular Civica
0, 5, Alas Equipo Colombia
0, 3, Colombia Democratica
0, 2, Colombia Viva
0, 2, others
Most polls in the UK continue to show that the election, expected 6 May, is likely to result in no single party holding a majority of seats. A so-called hung parliament certainly is not something in the recent experience of The Mother of All Parliaments. The prospect is getting a lot of attention in the British media–predictably, most of it not positive. In fact the very term, hung parliament, implies indecision: juries, after all, have failed to render their required dichotomous verdict when they are “hung.”
A minority situation last resulted from a UK election in 1974 (the election of February of that year, which was shortly followed by one in October that produced a narrow Labour majority). It just may happen in 2010. There is even a chance, if the voting result is close, that we could see a reversed plurality: Conservatives will almost certainly have the voting plurality, but they presumably need a lead of several percentage points to win the plurality (let alone a majority) of seats. As John Rentoul notes, that is the “nightmare” for Nick Clegg, leader of the third largest party, the Liberal Democrats.
Clegg has been careful to say that it is the voters, not he or his party, that are the “kingmakers.” He has also been careful not to delcare that he will work with the party that has the most seats, but rather with the party with the “strongest mandate.” In a reversal situation, that would be quite ambiguous indeed.
While no-majority situations have been rare in the UK, they have been rather common in one of the “daughters” of Westminster: Canada. As noted in a recent Globe and Mail article, Canadian experience is being invoked on the British campaign trail. Some campaigners for the big parties are warning of an alleged “nightmare scenario” of “Canadian-style” minority government if there is a “hung” parliament. Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, are touting Canada’s experience with reducing its deficit in the 1990s (to be fair, under majority Liberal governments) as a model. Of course, the not-so-subtle message is that it is a model that Britain would follow only if the Liberal Democrats were in a position to bargain with a minority cabinet and prevent either big party from implementing its own designs.
Not only would a representative parliament–as I prefer to call it–not be a disaster for Britain, it actually could be quite beneficial.
With all the fuss about the Ramat Shlomo decision by the Israeli government, announced as a (likely deliberate) slap in the face at Vice President Biden, I thought it was worth a little perspective–geographic perspective.
One hears over and over in the news that this is an “expansion” of a “settlement” in Occupied East Jerusalem.*
That’s Ramat Shlomo there at the top (north) of the image (which is from Google Earth), circled. Down in the lower right, you will see the Temple Mount, in the rectangle. (Click for a larger image.)
Clearly, Ramat Shlomo is not in East Jerusalem–at least not in any geographically meaningful sense. In fact, it is north and west of the heart of Jerusalem. It is indeed on the other side of the Green Line (which for some reason Google Earth depicts as a red line). That means it was in the part of the former British Mandate of Palestine that was occupied territory on account of the Jordanian army having seized it during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.
Whatever one might think of the presence of Jewish communities on the other side of the 1948 armistice lines (they are not “the 1967 borders,” as often stated in the press), no one can realistically expect that established suburbs such as Ramat Shlomo, on the northern edge of Jerusalem, are going to be evacuated as part of any potential two-state solution.
I have taken a personal interest in this controversy, erupting as it did so soon before our departure for Jerusalem. In fact, the apartment where we will be staying while I am a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University is in French Hill (marked by the yellow pin). As you can see, French Hill is within the formerly Jordanian-occupied portion of the former British territory of Palestine. The Mount Scopus campus of the university itself is in the “island” on the right of the image that was already under Israeli control before 1967.
It just so happens that we arrive in Jerusalem two days before Yom Yerushalayim, which should be interesting.
* All three words capitalized because that is how it is almost always stated in media accounts, as if Occupied East Jerusalem were the place name.
While doing some research into the candidates, their backgrounds, and their campaigns in some of the constituencies I may be visiting ahead of the UK parliamentary elections, I ran across this gem:
CAROLINE RIGHTON, the Conservative prospective MP for St Austell & Newquay, has welcomed the decision by Cornwall Council to remove the pissoirs in central Newquay and re- open public toilets.
Speaking on the decision, Caroline said: “Thank goodness! I’ve always thought these pissoirs were disgusting and have always been against them. They hardly sent out the right message to the families and visitors the town wants to attract. [..."]
But what I really want to know is, where does Mebyon Kernow, um, stand on this issue?
And just to continue the theme a tad longer, I initially looked up this district because I was wondering whether the town of Looe was within its boundaries. (It is not, apparently.)
This past Sunday, Colombians voted for national legislators and in presidential primaries for those parties that opted to have a primary.
The primary in the Conservative Party is extremely close–and, yes, they do call it in Colombia a “voto finish”–with counting only partially complete. The result may not be known for days. As of Monday morning–the latest update as of now–there are only 404 votes (out of over 1.3 million so far) separating the two leading candidates. Noemi Sanin “leads” Andrés Felipe Arias. There are three other candidates in the race, and the nominee will be decided by plurality. The current standings of the candidates are Sanin 42.45%, Arias 42.42% (the next highest vote share is 8.6%).
More rules: it is an open primary; any voter may request a primary ballot and given that it is concurrent with the legislative election and that not all parties have primaries for presidential candidate, there may be quite a lot of other party voters participating.
Predictably, there is already speculation that the close contest could split the party. Given that the party, one of Latin America’s oldest, has split before (it was fragmented throughout the 1990s and only really got its act back together in the last election, 2006), this is not a threat to be taken lightly. Moreover, Sanin and Arias have rather different orientations. Sanin, running then under a different banner, competed against President Alvaro Uribe in 2002, whereas Arias is sometimes seen as even more “uribista” than the nominee of the party most closely associated with Uribe himelf, Juan Manuel Santos. (That party is known as “La U” to remind everyone of its fealty to President U himself.)
The other party to hold a presidential primary Sunday is the new Partido Verde, which had an interesting and entertaining contest among “The Three Tenors.” The Tenor most “alto” in votes was Antanas Mockus, with 52% (in preliminary results). Enrique Peñalosa, like Mockus a former mayor of Bogota, came in second with about 31%. Running third was Lucho Garzon with about 17%. (Garzon was a presidential candidate in 2002 as well as a one-time–you guessed it–mayor of the capital.)
I’ll analyze the legislative elections once the results are more complete. The big picture is clear, however: the various parties that were in Uribe’s coalition generally did well again, though perhaps not as well collectively as they did in 2006 (when Uribe won his second term). It appears that La U will have 27 Senate seats (out of 100, elected nationwide), which is a few less than in 2006, and the Conservatives will have about 22 or 23 (not much different from 2006).
This election represented the second use of the D’Hondt list-PR electoral system that replaced the former de-facto SNTV. (If you go down through the “Colombia” block to March, 2006, this is explained.)
Full coverage at El Tiempo. See also Steven’s posting (Steven is there, and has been posting interesting photos and notes about the election for the past week).
Even though we thought we had settled the question, maybe not.
An acquaintance who voted out-of-country in the election of Baghdad’s Council of Representatives delegation (M=68, he said) told me tonight that he had cast his vote for a list. He did not use his option to cast any preference vote. He also said that, in order to cast a preference vote, one first had to vote for a list. Then one could express a candidate preference using information from a directory of candidates-by-party. (I do not know any more about how that worked because I do not read Arabic, but Pauline at FairVote offers a specimen ballot.) All this suggests a flexible-list system like the one we assumed had applied to the governorate (i.e. provincial) elections in January 2009. The question then becomes (once again) what quota of preference votes a candidate needs for his/her position on his/her party’s list to change.
If only it were that simple. My acquaintance moreover told me that one had the option to rank up to all of the candidates on a party’s list. Having been an amateur STV junkie for many years, I can imagine ways in which ranking would factor into a flexible-list system. But what’s the use in speculating when the basic rules are so difficult to nail down? And here I thought I had painstakingly tracked down the important details.
What can be said of all this uncertainty? Assuming my acquaintance spoke truth…
First, I am conditionally skeptical of cross-national work treating institutional details like these as variables. I had put a lot of time into once-and-for-all answering the open/flexible question, drawing on resources unavailable even to most academics, and here came a real-life Iraqi voter with reasons for doubt. If my acquaintance spoke truth, I can only wonder about the extent to which measurement error (i.e. incorrectly coding a polity’s electoral rules) makes suspect what we think we have learned about institutions’ causes and effects.
Second, I am conditionally convinced of the unreliability of ostensibly reliable sources. The one I edit may not be exempt from this charge, despite my obsessive propensity – as my beleaguered assistant can attest – for filling in every missing value. The same goes for information put online (yet no longer available in some cases) by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Independent High Electoral Commission… assuming, of course, that my acquaintance spoke truth.
Third, my belief in the investigative efficiency of talking to people is reinforced. Where Google searches yield quantity, a few personal conversations yield quality. Conversations allow one to ask for clarification and to pose follow-up questions. Assuming my acquaintance spoke truth, I learned more about the present, national Iraqi electoral system in five minutes than I did in days of scouring the Internet.
On a more technical note, my acquaintance said he was disappointed that the system had not provided for panachage.
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