Dominican Republic has abolished its open-list system. Or has it?


While attempting to track down records of preferential votes in Dominican Republic congressional elections, I discovered something that will be of interest to many readers of this blog:

By resolution adopted by the Junta Central Electoral in 2010 the preference vote was eliminated. It is particularly interesting in that the resolution states that the electoral law does not specify the “modality of voting” and that the adoption of open lists for the 2002 election was a prior resolution of the JCE. I wonder how many countries using PR systems do not specify in their law what the list type can be.

The resolution gives as a reason for its decision that the preferential vote has been “traumatic” for the party system. It also states that “primaries” within the parties are sufficient.

Thus in the next elections, in May 2016, the DR is supposed to revert to closed-list PR. I can’t name offhand another case that has moved from open lists to closed. Am I forgetting some other case?

However, not so fast! While the Constitutional Tribunal upheld the JCE’s ruling in 2013, congress passed a law reestablishing the preferential vote. However, the president may not have signed it, as there is another news article from 2015 that says that the preference vote is under threat, and accuses the PLD (the president’s party) of wanting closed lists in order to cope with its own internal divisions. Thus, at the moment, I don’t think we can say what the system is going to be as of May.

So far, the DR has held three elections under open lists: 2002, 2006, and 2010; before that, lists were closed. There were no congressional elections in 2014, because they are resynchronizing them with future presidential elections, starting in 2016. In other words, the congress elected in 2010 was elected for a six-year term; this is also very unusual. Not very many countries have ever had six-year terms for their sole or first chamber, although in this case it is just a one-off. Apparently they need all this time to figure out what the electoral system is going to be!

And if anyone can find for me the record of preferential votes for losing as well as winning candidates in 2002 and 2006, I will be grateful. I obtained those from 2010, and I have winners only for the other two years. The JCE’s email address for public information now has “permanent fatal errors”.

Myanmar 2015

The ruling party of Myanmar (Burma), the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), has conceded that it lost this past Sunday’s election to the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Apparently the NLD has won over 70% of the elected seats. It needed over two thirds to ensure a majority in the chambers, where the military has dedicated a quarter of seats for itself. Now it can elect the country’s next president, although the current constitution bars the NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from holding the position. Several days ago she stated that she would be “above” the president, implying that the president will be a figurehead. (There is no prime minister.) As leader of the majority party, and with no independent electoral mandate for the head of government, it is indeed plausible that she could wind up as the de facto leader of the country and its government.

I have not seen any estimates of vote percentages, and a final accounting may be a while off. The electoral system is first past the post, so the 70% of seats could have come on a substantially lower percentage of votes. I am also unsure of the extent to which there were other parties running. If it was just the USDP and NLD, then the latter probably won a clear majority of the vote. In any case, the term “landslide” is being used, and is probably appropriate.

The outcome does not by any means guarantee smooth democratization. The military and the new legislature will be bargaining over the scope of each other’s powers–assuming the military doesn’t stage a coup to stop it all, as it did in 1990. I do not know enough about the country to make any predictions, other than that full democracy is not here. But if it arrives, this will have been an obviously critical juncture in the process.

Nepal’s new constitution

After its revolution in 2007 more than seven years of discussion, missed deadlines and constitutional deadlock in two consecutive constituent assemblies, Nepal finally passed a permanent constitution earlier this year, which entered into force on September 20th. A two-thirds majority was required to pass it.

The new constitution establishes the country as a federal parliamentary republic, with marked similarities to India and Pakistan. The president is elected for a five-year term by an ‘electoral college’ consisting of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. Executive power is vested in the cabinet.

Legislative branch

Parliament is to be bicameral. The cabinet is responsible to the House of Representatives, which, like the Constituent Assembly, will be elected for five years through Mixed-Member Majoritarian: 165 seats by single-seat plurality and 110 by party-list PR, with no districting. The unusually-named (for an upper house) National Assembly have 59 members: 8 members from each of the 7 provinces elected by Provincial Assembly members, joined by local representatives (chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of village councils, and Mayors and Deputy Mayors of Municipal councils) whose votes will be weighted, presumably according to each local authority’s population; the other 3 will be appointed by the government. They are to serve a six-year staggered term, with one-third retiring every two years.

The National Assembly may delay financial bills by 15 days, and delay other bills proposed by the lower house for two months. Only bills that were introduced in the upper house but lack bicameral agreement are to be sent to joint session. Thus, Nepal’s bicameralism is far weaker than in India and Pakistan, where joint session is the deadlock-breaking mechanism for any non-financial bill. And even on bills that make it to joint session, Nepal’s upper house is weaker as it is smaller in relation to the lower house (India is roughly 2:1, Pakistan 7:2 while Nepal will be about 9:2).

With this weak upper house, the constitution enacted has no constitutional ex-ante checks on the power of a majority government to pass legislation. A large number of the proposed drafts contained a more powerful upper house. Sadly, the main parties probably made short shrift of such proposals, preferring not to have their ambitions checked when taking part in future governments.

The constitution can be amended by two-thirds majorities in both houses, with changes to provincial boundaries also requiring the consent of the assemblies of the provinces involved.

Judicial branch

Lastly, the Supreme Court is to be appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council, out of which a special Constitutional Bench will be formed including the Chief Justice and four other Justices chosen by the Judicial Council. The Chief Justice is appointed for a six-year term on advice of the Constitutional Council. All Justices serve until mandatory retirement age of 65.

The Judicial Council will consist of:

  1. the Chief Justice, presiding,
  2. the most senior Supreme Court Justice
  3. the Federal Law & Justice Minister,
  4. a senior legal expert appointed by the PM, and
  5. a senior legal advocate appointed by the Nepal Bar Association.

The Constitutional Council will consist of:

  1. the PM, presiding,
  2. the Chief Justice
  3. the chairman of the upper house
  4. the speaker of the lower house
  5. the deputy-speaker of the lower house, and
  6. the Leader of the Opposition

Enduring controversies

Far from settling Nepal’s political quagmire, the new constitution has proven to be very controversial. Its (impending) passage sparked demonstrations and unrest around the country. Protesters have blocked roads and vital supplies and dozens have died in clashes with police over the past few months.

The most contentious issue remains as it was during the years of deadlock in the Constituent Assemblies: the drawing of the boundaries of the new provinces. While the final boundaries are said not to be completely settled yet, the schedule is quite specific, and it provides for largely multi-ethnic provinces. There is therefore a great deal of opposition from groups wanting a linguistic and ethnic delineation providing them with their ‘own’ provinces.

Other disputes include women and minority rights in the new constitution (including in particular the definition of citizenship, which favours the father), its secular nature, the lower proportion of lower house seats to be elected by PR (45%, compared with 58% for the Constituent Assembly), and the federal terms concerning provincial autonomy. There are, of course, also those happy the constitutional deadlock is over, if not with the constitution itself, but

It will be interesting to see whether the final provincial boundary-drawing will be affected, and how the salience of these constitutional issues evolves. The first regular elections will not be held for several years, as the term of the Constituent Assembly, now transformed into ‘Legislature-Parliament’, will end in January 2018.

Bihar 2015: Indian democracy still works

The ‘Modi wave’ has been flattened in Bihar, one of India’s biggest states.

This past Sunday, the Electoral Commission announced the results. The BJP, the national ruling party since the 2014 federal election, was trounced.

A ‘Grand Alliance’, including among its main components two state parties (one of which formerly ruled the state in alliance with the BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), won an overwhelming majority. According to results currently posted on the Commission’s front page, the BJP remained the largest single party in votes (24.4%), but the combined votes of the three main grand alliance partners came to 41.9%. Other smaller parties that participated in the “seat-sharing” (whereby one of the partners represents the alliance in a given constituency) bring the total to around 46%. Of the main alliance partners, the Rashtriya Janata Dal won 80 of the 243 seats, the Janata Dal (United) won 71, and the INC 27.

The total alliance seat take represents over 73% of the seats, offering a stark reminder of just how disproportional the FPTP system can be, especially when multiple parties cooperate and there is a relatively uniform swing.

I had suggested back in May, 2014, that I did not think the BJP win meant a fundamental change in how the country would be governed, despite the fact that the BJP had won big in Bihar itself in the national election. The outcome of the Bihar election is yet another reminder of the centrality of alliance politics in India.

Turkey 2015b: Erdogan’s gambit pays off (apparently)

Well, this is depressing. The Turkish AKP party apparently has regained the parliamentary majority in today’s general election, the second in the country this year.

While the Guardian calls it a “surprise“, I don’t think so. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presumably knew what he was doing when he refused to go into coalition following the results of the June election, and let parliament be dissolved instead.

Quoting from the Guardian live blog, 14:10 update:

With 95% of votes counted, the AKP won almost 50% of all votes, according to the state news agency Anadolu. The main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) stood at 25.2 percent, smashing all possibilities of a coalition government. The HDP scraped over the unusually high threshold of 10% with 10.6 percent of all votes, down from 13% in the 7 June election.

At least the parliamentary majority is not due to exclusion of the HDP.

Parliamentary majority in Poland?

Poland uses a proportional system, and has a generally very fragmented party system. Yet the Law and Justice Party (PiS) may have won a majority of seats today.

The headline in says “Polish right sweeps parliamentary elections”.

Somehow I don’t think of 39% of the vote as a “sweep”. However, if the exit polls are accurate, the wasted votes (below the threshold) were so high that PiS could have around 242 of the 460 seats.

However, if you read far enough down in the Politico piece, you see, “In previous elections, Polish exit polls have not always been accurate. There is a chance that some of the smaller parties balancing on the edge of the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament, could still squeeze in.” In which case, it would be rather less sweepy.

Also: “A coalition of left-wing parties failed to make it past the 8 percent threshold to get seats in parliament”.

WAIT. Is the threshold 5% or 8%? Yes; 5% for a single party, 8% for a pre-electoral coalition. And apparently there could be a lot of votes that were cast for parties (or coalitions) that did not clear it.

The outcome is not really a complete shock, at least in terms of vote percentage. The largest party has had 39-41% of the vote in a few elections since 1991. In fact, as recently as… 2011, when it was Civic Platform that won 39.2% of the vote (and 45% of the seats).

Moreover, the presidential candidate of the PiS was just elected in May; no candidate of Civic Platform even entered. (The runner-up was an independent backed by Civic Platform.) Thus this election was held within the “honeymoon” of the president opposed to the incumbent government, and so a surge in the PiS’s vote is what I would have predicted even knowing nothing about Polish public opinion.

However, an absolute majority of seats would be a first for Poland since the fall of the communist government in 1989. It would not be, however, the first time a lot of votes were wasted below the threshold (see 1993, 1997, and 2005). It would just be the first time that a leading party on around 40% of the votes and a big wasted vote happened in the same election. That combo is a recipe for a majority, even under “proportional” representation.