Julia Gillard just announced a federal election for 14 September. This raises a number of slightly troubling issues, not least the religious significance of the day for Australian Jews. She will ask the governor-general later today, to agree to issue writs for the September date. I’d be surprised if the governor-general does not at least state that she retains power to appoint a different prime minister in appropriate circumstances and to accept different advice on the election date. While there are precedents from Queensland and New Zealand for very long pre-election announcements, they were both by governments with a parliamentary majority in their own right.
Sent to The Los Angeles Times today, in response to an article that inaccurately refers to Republican proposals for several state’s allocation of electoral votes as “proportional systems”:
The LA Times refers today (Jan. 27) to Republican proposals in several states to replace statewide winner-take-all allocation of presidential electors with “a proportional system”.
These proposals are NOT proportional; they are still winner-take-all, but in each congressional district. As noted elsewhere in the article, had a district plan been in effect in 2012 Mitt Romney might have won 9 of Virginia’s 13 electors.
This means Barack Obama, who won 51.2% of the statewide vote, would have had barely 30% of the electors! This does not meet any standard of proportionality.
Even the House of Representatives, which is obviously allocated based on congressional districts, is not proportional: Democrats won the most House votes in 2012, but Republicans won a majority of seats.
Proportional representation is used by most of the world’s democracies. It produces allocations of political power that mirror how people actually vote. By contrast, the Republicans are proposing a house of mirrors to distort the vote for partisan advantage.
A very good overview of the outcome of the Israeli election is provided by The Times of Israel.
I agree completely with two big take-home points here:
(1) All the hand wringing (my term, not the author’s) about divisions on the center-left was misplaced. The separate parties hoovered up more votes than a unified effort at creating an alternative bloc could have;
(2) The more costly divisions were on the right, due to two parties that fell below the threshold: Otzma L’Yisrael and Am Shalem.
I would add that, thanks to proportional representation and parliamentary government, Israelis will get what they appear to have collectively chosen: a continuation of Netanyahu, but balanced by a larger and more assertive centrist wing of the government.
It is also noteworthy how badly the Labor Party failed to reestablish itself under Shelly Yachimovich’s leadership. She and the party tried to position themselves as some sort of blend of centrist on security and social democratic on economics. The party was supposedly set to become a viable governing alternative–if not in this election, than after a rebuilding phase as the main opposition. The party will indeed be the main opposition, assuming Yesh Atid’s likely entry into the cabinet, but 15 seats is a very weak position.
Meretz doubled its seat total, probably as a result of otherwise Labor voters disgusted that the “new” Labor seemed to want to pretend the settlements and two-state issues would just go away. At one point, Yachimovich said something like “everyone knows my position” on these issues. That’s not likely good enough for someone calling herself a candidate for PM. I can’t imagine it will be long before there is another leadership change in Labor.
With a just a few days till the Israeli election, it is time to analyze the impact of the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu on the campaign. The presentation of a joint list was announced in late October. There is no question that this will be the list with the most seats–by far–and thus Binyamin Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister. But can we assess how well the two parties’ merger decision has worked out thus far?
First, to what extent have the two parties campaigned as a unit?
Quite a bit. The photo above is from my TV screen during a news broadcast by DW-TV (carried on Link TV) regarding the Israeli campaign’s final week. It shows pamphlets lying on a table at a mall, one of which shows the two leaders, Netanyahu of Likud and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, side by side. Lieberman was the Foreign Minister until he had to step down in mid-December due to legal proceedings. (The legal charges have been pending for some time; there was no great surprise here.) Even the pamphlet that shows only the Prime Minister has both parties’ names at the bottom.
Here is another that shows an information booth, with a sign above it that has both parties’ names. The parties clearly retain their distinct identity, despite their having presented a joint list; they clearly have a joint campaign as well.
Second, how did they construct their merged list? Likud held a primary, which resulted in a dramatic shift in the list’s overall complexion towards the hard-line, pro-settler elements on the right. (More on this later.)
The Yisrael Beiteinu list is ranked by its leadership–meaning mainly Lieberman himself. Subsequently, the two parties combined their lists. (more…)
This campaign advertisement by Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) has been ruled a violation of Israel’s campaign laws.
The ad, showing Likud leader and PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet, says “Strong together, choosing Bennet”. Bayit Yehudi is mainly a Judean/Samarian (West Bank) settlers’ party, and is competing for votes on the Israeli right with Likud. The two are almost certain to go into coalition together after the election.
However, the ad was banned on the grounds that it gives the impression the two parties are cooperating in the campaign and committed to working together after the election. As there is no such mutual declaration, the ad was deemed misleading. (My account and the ad image are based on an IBA news segment from Friday, 18 July.)
Relations between Bennet and Netanyahu are known to be strained. When asked about that recently, Bennet suggested that their tensions are nothing that 15 seats could not overcome.
Bennet has been the sensation of this campaign, with his party originally thought to be likely to win 7-9 seats but polling in the 15-18 range in recent weeks. Some polls have shown it second, after the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance. More likely it will finish third, behind Labor.
The election is Tuesday.
The ad is photographed by me from a news broadcast of Israel Broadcast Authority, carried in the USA by World Harvest Television.
The question of party and voter strategy in PR systems with legal thresholds has received less attention from analysts of electoral systems than it deserves.1 The impact on a party’s fortunes of individual candidates who are too low on a closed list to be elected also receives too little attention.
Here are two examples, which I offer as small correctives to these deficiencies, from the current Israeli campaign. Both are based on interviews I heard on IBA News (broadcast on World Harvest TV).
Kadima, which was the largest party in the 2009 election, but went into opposition rather than make a deal with the ultra-orthodox parties, is fighting for its life in this campaign. In 2012, the party dumped its leader, Tzipi Livni, who then announced her retirement from politics. However, once this election was called, Livni unretired and set up her own party, called Tnua (Movement). My examples come from each of these parties.
Today’s election for the state assembly of Lower Saxony, Germany, was considered too close to call as polls closed. It is regarded as one of Germany’s most important bellwethers, given the state’s large size and that its election is occurring several months before a federal election.
The state’s incumbent government mirrors the federal: a coalition of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The latter party has had a string of bad results in state elections, and many pre-election polls suggested it might not pass the 5% threshold in today’s election. If it did not, the Christian Democrats (CDU) would not be able to govern except in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).
However, exit polls suggest the FDP has reached 9%:
Its gain was attributed to the CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament — a precondition for him remaining in office.
Pre-election polls had put the CDU at 42% or higher, but all those threshold-surpassing list votes for the FDP had to come from somewhere. As a result, the CDU is down to 36%, according to the exit polls.
As for the SPD, its former federal chancellor (PM), Gerhard Schröder was shown on DW-TV campaigning directly on the promise of an SPD-Green coalition. He said (paraphrasing from the translation on DW English): voters know the SPD and Greens served them well when we governed before, because the SPD took care of jobs, while the Greens took care of the environment”.
The SPD is on 32% and the Greens on 13.5%. Thus the two opposing combines have almost the same combined vote totals. Both the Left and Pirates are below 5%.1
The campaign signs, photographed from the DW Journal (aired in the USA by Link TV), are interesting. Note how the CDU and SPD both emphasize their leaders, while the FDP and Greens explicitly call for list votes (Zweitstimme, or “second votes”) in the state’s two-vote mixed-member proportional system.
I had seen some polling that had the Left well above the threshold; maybe there was some tactical voting there, too, by soft Left voters who feared voting for the Left would only increase the odds of a grand coalition, given that SPD-Green-Left post-electoral cooperation would have been unlikely. [↩]
Do I need to revise those lecture points about “fusion of powers” and “ceremonial head of state”?
Papers prepared by the Cabinet Office and recently made public shed light on the UK monarch’s employment of the veto (Guardian, 14 Jan.).
Most of the cases cited involve bills that directly affect crown interests, although one bill vetoed in 1999 was a private member’s bill concerning military actions against Iraq, and others have been on agricultural and housing bills.
The withholding of consent is on “advice” of ministers, so it would be misleading to see this as a runaway unaccountable monarchy blocking the normal functioning of parliamentary government. On the other hand, it seems a significant curtailment of “parliamentary sovereignty” if executive ministers can “advise” the monarch to veto bills duly passed by parliament.
Moreover, it seems that the veto can be to individual provisions of a bill. If so, then maybe I need to add UK to cases of not just veto, but also item veto!
Fiji has suffered a string of coups since independence, including coups within coups, counter-coups, and something called a civilian coup. The present regime is a military dictatorship headed by the armed forces commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. Like many junta leaders Bainimarama has assumed a number of civilian titles, including that of prime minister, but let’s be good small-d democrats and not give him dignities to which he has no claim.
Tha Bainimarama regime, in power since 2006, is going through a constitution-drafting process as a prep to promised elections. Those promises have been repeatedly broken. Professor Yash Ghai, who helped draft the South African and Kenyan constitutions, was nevertheless appointed to a constitutional commission and duly prepared his recommendation. Of course it has turned out that Frank has been betrayed again and the Ghai constitution is not at all what he wanted, but Fijileaks has posted the Ghai report. The regime has naturally declared the publication of the Ghai constitution most improper and is chasing people all over Suva for fear that someone may get to read it.
The Ghai constitution is an interesting document in a number of ways and worth a look.
The following post is by Professor Michael Thies of UCLA. [Corrected since initial posting.]
One weirdness of MMP is what to do when a party wins more seats in single-seat districts than its PR vote share would have earned. A few “overhang seats” are easy enough to deal with, but I wondered how last month’s Japanese election results would have looked under MMP (with the dubious assumption that nothing else changes).
If we simplify and assume nationwide PR, and use the PR vote shares that each party actually earned in the 16 December election (1st column of the table below) for all 480 seats, the 2nd column shows the seats “earned.”
If this were Germany, with overhang seats, the LDP would get to keep all 237 SMD seats (not 294 combined total that it actually received, because it would get no PR seats), and the legislature would have to grow to 584 seats. Of course, if overhangs were not part of the rule, the LDP would have 27.6 percent of the seats instead of the 61.3% they do have. This way, LDP-Kom would be well short of a majority (133+57)/480 = 39.6% w/o overhangs, and with a slim majority with overhangs: (237+57)/584 = 50.3%.
From the thread on Russia, it seems there is discussion of adding (or should I say grafting) a small list tier on to the French two-round system for National Assembly elections.
In that thread, DC says:
The French are planning to add a national PR tier (15% of the seats in the lower house of parliament). This appears to be parallel rather than compensatory, with two ballots. However it is constantly referred to as the “German model”, which demonstrates journalistic ignorance about PR is nor confined to Anglo-Saxon countries.
The French PR tier is supposed to help “inclusivity”. Currently small parties (that don’t make a deal with a large party) can be completely shut out of national politics. Rather than alienate those voters who never see their interests represented in parliament, the French state would rather coopt them by allowing them some representation, but not very much. It appears that completely revamping the electoral method was outside the mandate of the commission in any case, so any reforms were bound to be minimal.
Should the proposal be implemented, the most meaningful effect will almost certainly be the Front National gaining a dozen or two seats in parliament. Will that increase their legitimacy and power? Force them to compromise? It’s hard to know!
I think the point of it is that the PS and the UMP will no longer be obliged (or at least will be less obliged) to court smaller parties at district level.
So called “useful voting” will probably see lots of French voters split their ballot between the district and PR levels, as we saw in Japan, thus a small party seeking representation will not waste a lot of resources at local level unless they have a solid existing base (the PCF, or the PRG, for example).
Any meaningful fair representation will see the FN in parliament-its basically unavoidable. I’m sure a large part of the reason the PR component of this reform is so niggardly is an attempt to avoid a situation where the FN would systematically be the third or fourth party, potentially holding the balance of power.
It could be worse-they could have tried to impose the awful system for regional elections (two-round list PR with “winners” bonus) at a a national level, which was apparently a proposal at one point.
A return of the Russian Federation electoral system to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, also known as a “parallel” system) is underway. Essentially, it would return the county to the system used until ten years ago, when it was replaced by a single national district (450 seats), closed lists. Under the new-old MMM system, half the seats would continue to be elected in a nationwide closed-list contest, while the other half would consist of single-seat districts (plurality rule).
But while the prospect of individual candidacies suggests a liberalizing of a political system often criticized as heavily tilted in favor of Putin and the governing authorities, history shows that they can actually have the opposite effect.
This is because individuals endorsed by the majority party tend to have an advantage in name recognition and resources in local races, and because candidates who run as independents can often be enticed to join the majority party when the new Parliament is formed, using perks offered by the presidential administration.
The article cites the similar experience of Ukraine, which also has followed the path of MMM > nationwide PR > MMM:
In 2007, under a system of proportional voting for party lists, the Party of Regions won 175 seats with 34.4 percent of the vote. In 2012, the Party of Regions won only 30 percent in proportional voting but now holds 209 seats thanks to victories in individual districts by its own nominees or by independents who joined the faction later.
Finally, the article quotes a Russian election monitor, Arkady Lubaryev, saying his organization would have preferred a “mixed closed system” like that of Germany, rather than the “mixed open” system being proposed. I have never seen this terminology, and it makes no sense to me (raising the risk of confusing open/closed with the type of party list used). I will stick to MMP and MMM, or compensatory and not respectively.
While I still think MMM has its uses, the more I follow developments concerning that system, the more I think it is generally the worst of both worlds.1 It allows establishment parties to over-perform their party label popularity, while also complicating the strategy of opposition forces, which face the contradictory pulls of incentives to coordinate in the single-seat districts with incentives to run separately due to the proportional tier. The 2012 election in Japan suggests that country may be headed down a similar path after a brief period of two-bloc competition and alternation.
I might add that my co-edited book on mixed-member systems (2001) has an oft-overlooked question mark on its “best of both worlds” subtitle, and that I always thought the affirmative answer to that question was more plausible with MMP than with MMM. [↩]
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