German President Horst Köhler has resigned in the wake of controversial comments he made upon returning from a trip to Afghanistan. Via Spiegel:
In an interview with a German radio reporter who accompanied him on the trip, he seemed to justify his country’s military missions abroad with the need to protect economic interests.
“A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that … military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests — for example when it comes to trade routes, for example when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes,” Köhler said.
It sounded as though Köhler was justifying wars for the sake of economic interests, in the context of the Afghan mission which is highly controversial in Germany and throughout Europe.
Regarding the resignation:
In his statement on Monday, Köhler said: “My comments about foreign missions by the Bundeswehr on May 22 this year met with heavy criticism. I regret that my comments led to misunderstandings in a question so important and difficult for our nation. But the criticism has gone as far as to accuse me of supporting Bundeswehr missions that are not covered by the constitution. This criticism is devoid of any justification. It lacks the necessary respect for my office.”
So, today’s questions are: How often in the past have presidents in parliamentary systems (where they are mostly ceremonial) resigned due to controversy? How often do they even say things that could stir up controversy?
So now the Federal Assembly (Germany’s electoral college, made up of parliamentary and state delegates) will have to elect a successor.
The Mainichi Daily News of 1 June reports that the SDP, having left the governing coalition, may join a no-confidence motion against the government of Yukio Hatoyama. Or then again, they might just abstain, according to the news item. (No chance of passage in any case.)
The SDP also may compete against the governing Democratic Party (DPJ) in the upcoming elections to the second chamber of parliament, although apparently not in all constituencies:
The SDP is expected to further its position as an opposition party, with Fukushima indicating the possibility that the party may back candidates for the House of Councillors election this summer in constituencies where it had heretofore refrained from doing so out of consideration for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), their former coalition partner.
“I’ve heard that we may be fielding candidates in Nagano,” Fukushima said on a television program, regarding a constituency in which DPJ member and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa is expected to run for a fourth term. “I’ve also been hearing about the possibility of somehow backing candidates in Iwate and Kanagawa prefectures. Electoral cooperation (with the DPJ) will only be conducted on a limited basis.” (My emphasis)
So, the SDP has decided to become a sort-of opposition party.
The chances that Colombia would become the first country to elect a Green chief executive–as numerous polls had said was likely–dimmed dramatically after the outcome of Sunday’s first round.
Juan Manuel Santos of the party most closely affiliated with outgoing incumbent President Alvaro Uribe, came close to an outright win. He scored 46.6%, to a distant 21.5% for Green candidate Antanas Mockus.
Polls in recent weeks had tended to put the two candidates close, in the mid thirties percent range, and generally had Mockus winning the runoff, which will be on 20 June.
However, with that large a lead, there is only the slimmest of chances that Mockus could ultimately win.
I always expected Santos’s support within the “political class,” and the ability of rural leaders to mobilize votes for the more establishment candidate, would pull Santos through. But I had no expectation that he would be so close to 50% in the first round, or so far ahead of Mockus.
The Social Democratic Party has withdrawn from the coalition government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, after the PM fired SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima as his consumer affairs minister (AFP) for criticizing Hatoyama’s decision to retain the US base on Okinawa.
Following general elections Saturday, the Czech Republic should have “the strongest government in years” (Deutsche Welle). It will be a government of the center-right, notwithstanding a NY Times headline that might lead one to believe otherwise: “Left Wins Czech Vote, but Right Makes Gains.”
To be clear, the Social Democrats did win the highest vote total, but it was just 22.1%. The combined parties of the right won a majority of seats, with the largest among them being the Civic Democrats, with 20%. Two new parties of the right, TOP 09, with 16.7%, and Public Affairs, with 10.9%, will form the next government in coalition with the Civic Democrats.
So we have here a case in which the largest party in a parliamentary democracy will not form a government, because it lacks allies. There was a clear shift to the right in the electorate’s preferences–the three parties of the right will have 118 of the 200 parliamentary seats, aided by the 5% threshold–despite a center-left party being the single largest.
On the intra-party dimension of the country’s “flexible list” system, Roman Chytilek, a specialist on Czech parties, informs me that this time 48 legislators were elected purely on preference votes (i.e. their party-given rank would have been too low for them to win without preference votes). Only 86 incumbents were reelected (down from 115 in 2006). In addition, 44 women were elected (up from 31 in 2006); fourteen of them due to preference votes.
In this election, voters were allowed to cast four preference votes, up from two in 2006.
The Greens and Christian Democrats, both of which were allies of the Civic Democrats at the last election, failed to cross the 5% threshold.
They call the site of the campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where my office is located Mount Scopus for a reason.
Here we are looking east/southeast from the amphitheater. Although it was somewhat easier to see with the naked eye than it is in the photo, the Dead Sea is off in the distance–just beyond the ridge of brown hills of the Judean Desert, but before the far more distant mountains that appear just another shade of blue (and which are in Jordan).
Down in the valley below the Hebrew University campus is an Arab neighborhood, Al Za’im. There is smoke rising from a fire just before it–burning trash, I assume (an all too familiar sight and smell here). Beyond the Arab town one can see some taller buildings in Ma’ale Adumim, a Jewish neighborhood (or “settlement,” if you prefer).
From the Hebrew University, through Arab and Jewish towns, and on to the Dead Sea and Jordan. Yes, things are close to one another here!
And here is another view.
This one is taken from the access road to the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which is located near Mount Zion, just outside the southwestern edge of the Old City. The view is also to the east/southeast. Up near the ridge of the distant hill a segment of the (in)famous wall (or “separation barrier”) is clearly visible, with the town of Abu Dis beyond it. On the side of the wadi just opposite from where the church stands is the Arab neighborhood of Silwan, which obviously is on this side of the wall.
I do not pretend to understand the politics of which Arab towns get on which side of the wall. I just do electoral systems, which generate their own passions (as I am finding up close), but of a rather less dangerous sort.
Campaigning is in the final stages in advance of the Trinidad and Tobago general election of Monday, 24 May. The race is expected to be tight. This is a “snap” election called by PM Patrick Manning, leader of the Peoples National Party (PNM). Will he be sorry for having called it early?
In my work on “systemic failure” and reform in FPTP systems,* I concluded by drawing up a “watch list” of jurisdictions where recent results suggested the electoral system was inherently prone to producing anomalies, based on deviations of actual outcomes from what the Seat-Vote Equation would expect. T&T was on my Watch List. In the case of T&T, the inherent tendency towards unexpected outcomes derives from a frequent over-representation of the second-largest party, relative to expectations based on “normal” performance of FPTP systems.
For instance, in 1995 and 2001, the top two parties tied in seats due to the second party performing considerably better in seats that would be normally expected. In 1995 the PNM was the largest party but it won a lower percentage of seats (47.2%) than of votes (48.8%); in 2001 the United National Congress (UNC) was first in votes by a respectable margin (49.9% to 46.5%) yet each party won half the seats. Either of these elections could have resulted in a spurious majority (or “wrong winner”).
This will be the country’s fifth election since 2000. The 2001 election had been called very early: in 2000 the UNC had won a very narrow majority of both votes and seats (51.7% and 52.7%, respectively). It fell to 49.9% of votes and half the seats in 2001, and then another election was called in 2002. This one produced alternation to the PNM, with majorities of both seats and votes (55.6% 50.9%, respectively). The party was reelected in 2007, and despite a fall in its votes (to 45.9%) its seats increased (to 63.4%). A third party, the Congress of the People (COP), won over 22% of the vote but no seats.
The underlying problem in T&T stems from two common sources of poor FPTP performance: small assembly size and regionalism. The assembly size was stuck on 36 for many elections (at least as far back as 1966). That is very small for a country with now over 650,000 votes cast in the last two elections (and around a million eligible). By the Cube Root Rule, a country this size should have an assembly of 100-125 members. This problem was “addressed” in 2007 when the assembly was finally increased–all the way to 41.
The nature of regionalism can be seen by looking at the maps from recent elections at Psephos. As is common under FPTP, each party has strongholds and only a few seats change hands at any given election. The UNC dominates most of the center and southeast of Trinidad, whereas the PNM wins nearly every seat in Port of Spain and on Tobago. The partisan division mirrors the division between citizens of Indian or African descent, with the governing PNM relying on the latter group.
In this election, the UNC and COP have joined forces as the core components of a five-party pre-election coalition known as the People’s Partnership. It might seem that such a coalescence of the opposition would make a dramatic difference in the votes-seats conversion to the opposition’s advantage, but it may not. A quick and not-very-systematic perusal of the district-by-district results in 2007 shows only a few districts where the PNM won with less than 50% and where the combined UNC-COP vote would have meant PNM defeat. Most PNM districts were in fact won with majorities, whereas it was the UNC that often won with less than 50%. Still, if the race really is close, even a relative few seats could tip the result. A few seats could result in an over-representation of the Peoples Partnership even if it second in votes–and could even contribute to a spurious majority.
About the campaign, the Jamaica Observer (second link above) notes:
Music in the nation famed for calypso has played a key role in campaigning.
One PNM video shows red-clad crowds dancing at rallies in front of a smiling Manning, with slogans such as “free education” sliding across the screen to a catchy tune.
On the other side, a People’s Partnership campaign song contains the lyrics: “Allegations here, allegations there,” and shows pictures of flashy high-rise buildings alongside hospitals without beds.
“I can’t vote for that!” rings out the chorus.
Trinidad and Tobago would be better served by some form of proportional representation and has earned its place on the Watch List.
There are twenty three ministers in the cabinet, five of them Liberal Democrats. That’s 21.7% of the ministers for a party that contributes 16.1% of the coalition’s parliamentary basis. That’s an advantage ratio of 1.35. While I do not have comparative statistics, that must be unusually high in comparative terms.*
How did the LibDems get this good a deal?
* The LibDems contribute 39% of the coalition’s electoral basis, but as discussed in the previous thread, it is seats that are the currency of power in coalition bargaining.
A proposal that has been floated in Israel is requiring the vote of 70 (out of 120) members of the Knneset (MKs) in order to dissolve parliament. Currently 61 votes, an absolute majority, are required for the Knesset to dissolve itself.
Just as I was contemplating how unusual such a provision might be in practice, I remembered that the new UK coalition agreement contains a clause stating that the government will seek to pass a bill requiring a 55% vote of the House of Commons for dissolution.
My immediate reaction to the Israeli proposal was the same as what some Tory backbenchers are saying–that it undermines a key aspect of parliamentary democracy. For instance, Charles Walker, MP for Broxbourne, said:
It is not the duty of parliament to prop up this coalition. That is the duty of the coalition partners, and if they can’t make it work, and if they lose the confidence of parliament, then we must have a general election. …he told the BBC News channel. [...]
“But if parliament and the nation lose confidence in this coalition government there should be a general election, whether that is in two years or three years or four years. This is about the primacy of parliament. (Quoted in The Guardian Live Blog of 14 May, at the 1:15 p.m. entry.)
Quite apart from any extraordinary majority requirements, is it common for parliaments to vote to dissolve themselves? A majority vote to dissolve is the common way that an early election is called in Israel. However, I would think that dissolution in parliamentary systems is far more commonly ordered by the Prime Minister (where, as in Japan, the PM has such authority) or by the Head of State (acting, typically, on “advice” of the PM, and with varying but usually limited degrees of discretion).
How under-represented was the Conservative Party on 6 May? Oh sure, I know that the party was over-represented, relative to its vote share. But that’s what FPTP is supposed to do. In fact, it is supposed to do so sufficiently to give a “decisive” result. At least that’s what David Cameron said throughout the campaign in defense of the current electoral system. So, relative to the expectation of a substantial boost from FPTP, how under-represented was the largest party in the recent UK election?
By running the seat-vote equation on the actual voting result, we can get an idea of the answer to this question. The Conservatives won 307 seats, for 47.2%, on 36.1% of the vote. Labour came second with 258 seats, for 39.7%, on 29% of the vote. For these top two vote percentages, the seat-vote equation says the largest party “should have won” 51.4% of the seats and the second “should have won” 31.5%. (The Liberal Democrats presumably “should have” won the greater part of the remaining 17%, rather than the mere 9% that they have to show for their 23% of the vote.*)
For the largest party, obviously the deviation between an expectation of 51.4% and an actual result of 47.2% is minor, aside from the rather important detail of these percentages straddling the magic 50% (plus 1) marker.
The outcome of the election continues in a striking way the over-representation of Labour. Note that their 29% of the vote could have been expected to result in just over 30% of the seats, but instead they are close to 40%. The bias of the system in favor of Labour, whereby that party wins more seats than the Tories for any given vote share, is well known. It is likely not, however, a product solely of the current district boundaries, as Cameron and other Conservatives are fond of saying. Districting plans come and go, but this bias has been in place for some time.
We can see the differential treatment of the parties by looking at the advantage ratios (%seats/%votes). In this election, Labour had A=1.37, which is the best result for a second-place party in the UK in my data-set (which goes back to 1959). For the Conservatives, A=1.31. While this is a relatively low A for the largest party, in the UK context it is not low–for a first party branded as “Conservative.” Even when the Conservatives were winning substantial seat majorities from 1979 through 1992, their A surpassed 1.25 only in 1983 (1.44) and 1987 (1.37), while in the “Thatcher landslide” of 1979 it was only 1.22. (In 1992 it was 1.23.) Labour, on the other hand, enjoyed advantage ratios of 1.47 or greater in each of the three recent elections when it was the largest party.
These figures suggest that the Conservatives might have a hard time finding a FPTP districting plan** that would really work for them, unless they can again be confident of surpassing 38% or so of the vote. Meanwhile, Labour is benefiting rather handsomely from FPTP, though the 2010 outcome in particular suggests that the bulk of that advantage is coming at the expense of Britain’s rather large third party instead of the Conservatives.
* Various fourth and lower-ranked parties won around 4% of the seats, owing to concentration of the relative few votes won by any one of them, despite combining for 11.9% of the vote. We can discount them for present purposes and just call them “others.” (Which is not to say that some of them might not prove relevant in the coming parliament, of course.)
** That is, without major gerrymandering on a scale not practiced in the UK, unlike the USA.
Our travel destination has shifted from the UK to Israel. Had I known how interesting the post-election phase would be, I would not have booked the flight to Tel Aviv for so soon after. But in the UK, the new PM moves in to No. 10 immediately after the election. Or so I had been told.
So, after a day of being mostly cut off from UK (or any) news we arrive Monday in Israel to find that the parties are talking about a “rainbow coalition“–a governing formula consisting of the second and third largest parties and a smattering of far smaller parties. Yes, the British parties, not the Israeli parties.
Is Britain about to adopt an Israeli-style governing arrangements without any of the advantages of Israel’s proportional representation?
No, probably not. Latest news (about 3:30 p.m., UK time) suggests too much opposition within Labour to the idea.
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