Two more AfD breakthroughs in German state elections

Hard on the heels of clearing the 5% threshold in the Saxony elections, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has won a chunk of seats in both Brandenburg and Thuringia. The party went over 10% in both states.

There is even speculation that the Left Party could get its first premier, because the current CDU-SPD coalition (Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) is well short of a majority of the vote in Thuringia. (The two parties had combined for 49.7% in 2009, and easily won a majority of seats in that election.) The Left Party (28.2%) is in second place to the CDU (33.5%), with the SPD third (12.4%). Greens won 5.7%. The three-party bloc of Left-SPD-Greens coalition has 46 seats, the same as the CDU-SPD bloc. Either would control a bare majority of the assembly’s 91 seats. (The AfD is the only other party to have won seats, and has 11; no one is interested in it as a coalition partner.)

In Brandenburg, the SPD retained its plurality, with 31.9%. It currently governs with the Left as a junior partner. The Left, which won 18.6% in this election, is down 9 seats from the last election. The two parties’ combined strength of 47 seats is still a majority in the assembly of 88 seats. SPD (30) + CDU (21) is also a possibility. In additions to the 11 new seats for the AfD, a party called Brandenburg United Civic Movements/Free Voters broke through and won 3 seats. Given that its list vote was only 2.7%, it obviously won on the strength of single-seat district wins.

The Free Democrats continue their collapse. They had 7.6% in Thuringia in 2009 but managed a mere 2.5% this time. It was even worse in Brandenburg, where the FDP won only 1.5% of the vote.

Before the election, federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose CDU is in coalition with the SPD (and the Bavarian CSU) warned against the possibility of a Left-SPD alliance in Thuringia, saying:

There’s a big national party here, the SPD, with a proud history…who would have thought that. A big, proud party like the SPD is making itself small.

Merkel’s remark is a tad self-serving. She has a vested interest in the SPD not trying out new partnerships with the Left (in addition to those states where such a coalition already has worked). Given her lack of partners, with the unattractive (for the mainstream) AfD replacing the FDP on the right, she needs the SPD to be a wiling junior partner for her party.

As I noted before the last federal election, small is exactly what the SPD has become, and its coalitions with the CDU are nowadays somewhat less than “grand”.

Scottish referendum on independence

The Scottish referendum on independence from the UK is this Thursday. I offer this space as a place to discuss, and also include some links I have seen recently and found interesting.

Stephen Fisher at Elections Etc. cautions that the polls could be overestimating the “yes” vote. (That would be bad news for the separatists, as only a few polls in the entire campaign have put them ahead.)

John Curtice at What Scotland Thinks probes the question of whether the ‘Missing Million’ could swing the vote to yes.

At Politics Upside Down, Robert Ford, Will Jennings, Mark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien look into the polling trends in great detail and considers what we can learn from them.

Sweden’s 2014 election

In Sweden’s general election on 14 September, the bloc of center-left parties headed by the Social Democrats won 43.7% of the vote, with the incumbent center-right parties reduced to a combined 35.3%. The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have around 12%, or roughly a doubling of their support from 2010.

Stefan Löfven, the Social Democrat leader, has ruled out cooperation with the Sweden Democrats, as has the outgoing center-right leadership. That means that the statement I have heard and read in various media that the Sweden Democrats “hold the balance of power” is evidently false. In fact, center-right PM Fredrik Reinfeldt has already resigned.

The Guardian reports:

Löfven hinted instead at deals with the two smaller parties in the country’s rightwing alliance, whose combined 11.5% share would bring them close to a majority. “I want to say that the hand is extended to other democratic parties,” he said. “Our country is too small for conflict.”

I do not know enough about Swedish politics to assess this. Maybe someone can help. The two major blocs are often reported as “alliances”, in the sense of signaling in elections their intent to govern together, given a favorable election result. Normally, I’d expect pre-election alliances to imply also going into opposition as a bloc. This sort of election result can change things, but how readily would parties within an alliance in Sweden break and extend support to (or even enter a cabinet of) a government of the other bloc?

A related question is, to what extent (if at all) do the parties within an alliance cooperate in the elections themselves?

A final note, also from the Guardian:

Reinfeldt’s minority government benefited from the tacit support of the far right, whose MPs voted in favour of an overwhelming majority of their measures. But it has always refused any formal cooperation.

Presumably even such tacit cooperation is less an option for Löfven, and appears in any case to be ruled out by his public statements.

And a final final note: Löfven had not previously been elected to public office; this is quite unusual for prime ministers in parliamentary systems, especially long-established ones. In fact, just 21 of 377 (5.6%) of PMs in parliamentary democracies have no prior experience as an elected national or regional MP, or regional or municipal executive, according to the Samuels and Shugart dataset.*

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* Or 24 of 391 (6.1%) have no parliamentary experience. (There are some missing data on some of the other experience variables.) For democracies older than the median parliamentary system in the dataset (18 years), only 6 of 203 (2.96%) PMs lack prior electoral experience.

Trinidad & Tobago political reform

At the end of August, the Senate of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) passed a package of constitutional amendments, which include some significant changes to the electoral system.

T&T has been a FPTP (M=1, plurality) system throughout its years as a democratic independent state. It has had some anomalous outcomes with FPTP, and, due to that record, in a book chapter published in 2008* I placed T&T on my “watch list” of jurisdictions in which the performance of the FPTP seemed to be setting the ground for the “inherent” conditions for a reform process to come about. Apparently T&T leaders agreed. However, the chapter was about conditions for fundamental reform to a different electoral system, such as a form of PR. The reform actually in the process of being adopted is instead non-proportional. It is still well within the “majoritarian” family. In fact, it could be seen as a move further in the majoritarian direction.

The amendments passed by the Senate call for a runoff system. The reforms have not exactly been a consensual process, with only government Senators and three independents voting for it, according to the Guardian (of T&T):

All the Opposition Senators present and six independents voted against the bill. However, the bill received the three Independents’ votes only after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar agreed to accept an amendment to the controversial runoff clause put forward by [Independent Senator Dhanayshar] Mahabir.

The amended provision says that a majority is required for election in the first round. However, unlike the initial proposal of the government, when a runoff is needed it is not necessarily a top-two contest. Rather, the provision is that:

a third place candidate in an election, who gains 25 per cent of the votes and who is within a margin of not less than five percentage points of the second place candidate, also be allowed to contest the runoff election.

In case of a 3-candidate second round, the winner will be the candidate with a plurality. Thus we will have here a form of majority-plurality system, but with different (more “restrictive”) second-round qualifying rules than in France.

Other provisions in the original bill, and which I assume remain intact in the Senate version include (with my brief reaction):

    Term limits for the Prime Minister (unusual for a parliamentary system, although not unheard of–see South Africa and Botswana, where the term-limited “president” really is a PM).

    Right of recall against individual MPs (also unusual–unheard of?–in a parliamentary system).

    Fixed election dates (used to be unusual in British-influenced parliamentary systems, but seems to be all the rage these days).

Trinidad and Tobago is undergoing some fairly significant reforms. The bill awaits presidential assent, and despite a candlelight vigil outside the president’s residence by The Movement for Social Justice, assent is presumably a foregone conclusion.

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* “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in the edited volume by Andre Blais, To Keep or Change First Past the Post.

Question on overhang seats

Does anyone “out there” know of a case under a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system in which “overhang” seats were responsible for a manufactured majority? Or determined which potential coalition could form after the election?

I have a vague recollection that there was a German federal election in which one of the coalitions’ ability to form was shaped by overhang seats. I also know that the last Scottish election featured a manufactured majority, but I am not sure if the mixed-member provisions, per se, were the cause, or if the small size of the regions in which compensation is carried out would have been sufficient to produce the outcome.

By “manufactured majority” I mean more than half the seats for a party (or pre-election alliance cooperating in the district races) that had less than half the votes.

By “overhang” I mean… what, exactly? It seems some folks use the term to refer to any case of a party having more seats via the (nominal) district contests than its proportional entitlement would have been, while other folks mean additional seats added to the legislature as a response to such district wins. Either way, the question is of interest.

_____________ UPDATE

The question arose out of a conversation I was having with John Carey, who passes along a much more thoughtful version of the question, which I am posting here:

Can anyone identify a case where a less-than-fully-compensated overhang produced a parliamentary majority in an instance where a fully-compensated overhang (or just a fully proportional election) would not have?

Explanation: The question refers to mixed-member compensatory systems, like those used in Germany, New Zealand, or Bolivia. In instances where a given party wins more seats in the SMD tier than its list PR vote would warrant, the excess seats are referred to as “overhang” seats. Overhangs can be dealt with various ways:

Overhang Expansion: The party with the overhang keeps its excess seats. Other parties are awarded the number of seats each would be entitled to according to its share of the list PR vote. The size of the parliament is increased by the number of overhang seats. (Example, Germany before 2013.)

Full Compensation: The party with the overhang keeps its excess seats. All other parties are also awarded additional seats such that the overall distribution of seats achieves full proportionality. Parliament is thus enlarged both by the overhang seats and by the additional seats given to other parties in order to balance the overhang. (Example: Germany as of the 2013 election, following the Constitutional Court-mandated reform of 2011.)

Non-Expansion: The party with the overhang keeps its excess seats. Seats to which some other party or parties would be entitled, according to their share of the list PR vote, are not awarded to them in order to maintain the size of parliament at a fixed number of seats. (Example: Bolivia)

So, effectively, the question is whether use of either the first (Overhang Expansion) or third (Non-Expansion) method yielded a winner’s bonus that produced a parliamentary majority that would not have prevailed had Full Compensation been used.

Legislative Institution Law, Indonesia

An op-ed in the Jakarta Post expresses concern (alarm?) over a new Legislative Institution Law, otherwise known as the MD3 Law, in Indonesia.

I do not have enough background to understand all the issues raised in the piece, but one thing stands out. The author is worried that this is an effort by the majority coalition, opposed to the president, to “weaken the Indonesian presidential system”.

Let’s be clear here, if the procedural aspects of the law really do empower a legislative majority that is opposed to this president, this doesn’t “weaken the Indonesian presidential system”, it strengthens it. A presidential system does not mean the president (necessarily) controls the legislature. It means the head of government is elected separately from the legislature and does not serve at the pleasure of the political majority. If the legislative majority asserts itself in dealing with the executive, that can be a good thing for institutionalization of presidential democracy.