On ‘The Tally Room” talking about the Seat Product Model

For the second time in 2023, I have made a foray into podcast land. I was interviewed by Ben Raue for his podcast, The Tally Room: “From seats in to votes,” in which we discuss what the Effective Number of Parties is and how the Seat Product of an electoral system shapes party systems. We discuss Australia extensively, but also Canada and various other systems. Even St. Kitts & Nevis gets a reference.

Turkish runoff 2023 in perspective

To utter non-surprise, Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s presidential runoff. He had led the first round, 49.5–44.9% , and won the runoff 52.2–47.8%. Take a look at my graph of first and second rounds from a dataset of two-round majority elections and note just how few cases are similar. It is very unusual for a runner-up to be at almost 45% or higher in a contest that goes to a runoff, but it is even more uncommon for a leading candidate to be over 45% yet short of 50% in the first round. In most such cases, the eventual winner ends up with more like 55% or higher.

Thus Erdogan has won about as narrowly as presidents ever win in two-round majority elections. Not much of a “mandate,” even if in a binary outcome he got what he needed. That includes a majority–not for his own party, but for his pre-election alliance–in the assembly election that was concurrent with the first round of the presidential contest.

The result continues to puzzle me. You can turn to numerous other sources to read up on whether it was a fair outcome or not. I just note some things do not seem quite right. First, as I noted after the first round, it basically never happens that a presidential candidate and supporting party/alliance have vote totals as similar as was the case here. Second, if the result is fraudulent in some sense, why would Erdogan have bothered to admit he needed a runoff? If he could “steal” his way to 49.5%, why not go all the way to 50% (+1) and be done with it? It is not as if the final round resulted in a more convincing win. So maybe the outcome, at least in the vote counting sense, is legitimate after all. Just weird, in comparative perspective.

Greece 2023a

Greece today held what will almost certainly be its first of two general elections of 2023 (hence the ‘a’ in the title above). The incumbent New Democracy (ND) won a substantial plurality of the vote, around 41%, over Syriza’s 20%. By seats, ND has 146, which is 48.7% (BBC, Wiki). That’s five seats short of a majority. The advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) is relatively high (1.19), but the electoral system did not quite manufacture a majority. And therein lies the reason why there will be another election, most likely.

In most recent elections, Greece has used a bonus-adjustment system, whereby the plurality party automatically wins 50 seats before the remaining 250 are allocated proportionally among those clearing the legal threshold (3%). However, back in 2016, the Syriza government passed an electoral system reform that removed the bonus provision. Under the Greek constitution, an electoral reform can take place only upon the second election following passage (unless it is passed with a two-thirds majority). When ND won the 2019 election–158 seats on just under 40% of the vote, thanks to the bonus still being in place–it passed a reform to restore the bonus. However, its bonus could not take effect in the immediately following election, but the one after that. That subsequent election, using the bonus, can take place as soon as the parties “fail” to form a majority on this election. Presumably the ND will try really hard to fail, so that its preferred electoral system can be used, and it can get its parliamentary majority.

It is my understanding that the bonus provision is somewhat different in the new law, although I lack details. I was told by a correspondent that it is “graduated” somehow–that is, instead of a flat 50 seats for any plurality, the size of the plurality will affect the size of the bonus.

I am also unclear on whether the former provision still applies whereby a second election in close succession after an initial one is run under closed lists instead of the usual system of (mostly) open lists.

The relevant articles of the Greek constitution are as follows. Art. 54 states “The electoral system and constituencies are specified by statute which shall be applicable as of the elections after the immediately following ones, unless an explicit provision, adopted by a majority of two thirds of the total number of Members of Parliament, provides for its immediate application as of the immediately following elections.” Art. 37 sets a strict timetable for forming a government and makes another election automatic if conditions are not met. Excerpts: “…If no party has the absolute majority, the President of the Republic shall give the leader of the party with a relative majority an exploratory mandate… [followed by the second and third parties]. Each exploratory mandate shall be in force for three days. If all exploratory mandates prove to be unsuccessful… he shall attempt to form a Cabinet composed of all parties in Parliament for the purpose of holding parliamentary elections. If this fails, he shall entrust the President of the Supreme Administrative Court or of the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court or of the Court of Audit to form a Cabinet as widely accepted as possible to carry out elections and dissolves Parliament.”

The Israeli coalition’s judicial reform: What would it mean for democracy?

I have given a semi-public lecture on the Israeli judicial reforms in comparative-institutional perspectives three times since late March. Now, with the permission of the hosts, I have uploaded one of them to YouTube.

In this lecture I offer my perspectives on the proposed judicial overhaul in Israel, speaking as a specialist on constitutional design of democracies around the world, as well as someone who has followed and taught about–and sometimes published on–Israeli democracy for years. I gave this for Congregation Beth Israel in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the invitation of my friend, Rabbi Nadav Caine, who also serves as host of the lecture.

Turkish presidential and assembly votes

It looks like Turkey’s presidential election will go to a runoff, while the ruling AKP and allies have won a majority of assembly seats.

In the official reporting of results from Sunday’s elections, something looks implausible. The ballots for presidential candidates and (closed) party lists were separate. Yet the votes for incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the alliance backing him are almost identical. In fact, for a good time yesterday the NTV site was showing the percentages as precisely identical to two decimal places. Today, at last check, they are 49.50% for the president and 49.49% for the assembly lists. So they are diverging. Kind of.

I have spent a lot of time over many years analyzing the interplay of presidential and assembly votes, and I would say this almost never happens. There is basically always enough ticket splitting for the percentages to diverge, with the leading presidential candidate usually out-polling the supporting party or alliance. In this case, Erdogan is far ahead of his own party, which has 35.6%, but has this essentially identical percentage when the alliance partners are included.

I am not alleging fraud. There are plenty of folks closer to the events doing that (for instance), and I certainly can’t claim evidence. This just looks strange. If they were going to inflate their vote one might think they’d look for a way to push the presidential vote over 50%, so perhaps it is the assembly vote that deserves more scrutiny than it is getting. Or maybe it is just one of those strange but true results. The reported seat total is not a narrow majority–the AKP, MHP, and a third partner together have 322 seats out of 600.

For the opposition, the divergence of presidential and assembly vote percentages is more normal-looking. The main opposition candidate, Kemal Kilcdaroglu, has 44.89% while the alliance backing him has 35.04%. The alliance of two left-wing parties (including the re-organized HDP) has 10.55%. If you add those together, however, their total of 45.59% is only slight higher than Kilcdaroglu’s, but this looks rather more normal.

The third presidential candidate in the race, Sinan Ogan, is on 5.17% while the ATA alliance backing him won only 2.44%. This is also odd, in that usually smaller political forces do better in assembly than in presidential elections. However, consider the unusual nature of the rules for these elections. The presidential election, first round, is arguably more “permissive” than the assembly electoral system, given the latter has a 10%* nationwide threshold. Obviously ATA was far short of this; its voters may have felt much more free to vote for their presidential candidate (who then could have leverage in the contest for support in a likely second round) than for assembly (where it would be a wasted vote).

Note that the 10%* threshold is applied to alliances, not to individual parties. If parties register an alliance, then the individual parties’ votes can contribute to seat winning even if the party itself fails to break 10% (as long as the alliance as a whole clears). Thus three alliances have won seats, but lists of seven different parties will be represented. *CORRECTION: That threshold is now 7% (see comments), although this does not change the argument I am making.

A ballot image shows how the parties that are allied are grouped on the ballot.

Thanks to Henry for finding and sharing this photo. Also note the very unusual split vote cast by this voter: Erdogan and the leftist TIP. Also, once I noticed the shoes of the voter, that was kind of all I could see.

As for the presidential votes, obviously a first-round percentage as high as 49.5%, taking it at face value even though there are allegations it is not “real,” makes a runoff comeback almost impossible. Not only is the leading candidate barely short of the required majority already, but also he has more than a four-and-a-half percentage-point lead over the runner up. Even if we knew nothing about the political leanings of voters who supported candidates other than the top two, we might be tempted to conclude the runoff is a foregone conclusion. In this case, the ATA alliance is right-wing and nationalist, so it seems likely its votes would go to Erdogan. (Perhaps those with actual knowledge of Turkish politics can disabuse me of this assumption.)

Erdogan made an interesting claim on election night, saying that if he did not win a majority in the first round, the majority his alliance won in parliament will encourage voters to support him in a second round (via journalist Ayla Jean Yackley on Twitter). Independent of the validity of his claim, no other case comes to mind of a presidential candidate claiming that a concurrent assembly election outcome will shape a presidential runoff. I suppose it is possible, although I am skeptical. On the other hand, I also would not expect voters to specifically vote to check the AKP and allies with their presidential vote. As I have said before in different contexts, elections in presidential (and semi-presidential) systems do not really work that way. They are more more like referendums on the president or presidential candidate–in favor when happening in close succession, and against at midterm and later.

Finally, it is notable that the AKP’s own vote percentage this time, at around 35%, is almost identical to what it won in 2002, when it and Erdogan first came to power. However, in that election, the party was able to turn that into 66% of the seats, due to so many parties falling below the 10% threshold.

From Erdogan’s perspective, it looks like the decision to move to presidentialism was a good call. The party is evidently not as popular as he is, and this time various other parties have grabbed on to his coattails in the form of an alliance. Presidentialization at work. On the other hand, of course, it could still turn out badly for him, if he loses the runoff. (I wonder if the allies would stay with him then. Maybe not, given the very same logic of presidentialization.)

The runoff, assuming it is indeed required per the final first-round results, will be on 28 May.

Correction: Thailand is using MMM, not MMP

I had understood that Thailand would be using mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) in this year’s election. However, I have been corrected by a kind Twitter user, who sent me this article. In fact, it is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM). The article is in Thai, so I am relying on Google Translate. Some key points in the article (per Translate):

There are 500 MPs in total.

• 400 constituency divisions

• List of 100 people

List of MPs come from political parties, creating a list of 1 list for each party. [...]
• Names must not be the same as candidates for constituencies. [...]

Method for calculating the number of MPs on a list basis
    • Item (1) includes all the votes received by all political parties from the national party-list election.
    • item (2) total score from item (1) divided by 100 = average score per 1 party-list MP.

14 May 2023: Thailand and Turkey elections

Both Thailand and Turkey have held general elections today. In both cases, results are already coming in, with the opposition ahead in Thailand and the incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leading in Turkey, but unclear if he can stay over 50%.

Thailand is using an MMP MMM system to elect the popular chamber of its parliament, but the military-imposed constitution gives a senate it controls powers over government formation. In Turkey, the relatively new constitution makes the presidency extremely powerful. The presidential election requires a majority. The assembly is also up for election today.

I would be dubious (understatement) about calling either country a democracy currently, but obviously if oppositions can prevail despite the deck being stacked against them, it might help nudge the systems back towards democracy.

That is about all I know. I hope readers will chime in as F&V-relevant news arrives on either country.

Chile’s ongoing constitutional process: 2023 election

Chilean voters selected a new “constitutional council” on 7 May. This renewed process of constitution drafting comes after voters decisively rejected a draft that had been developed by an elected “constitutional convention” in a referendum in September, 2022.

This council consists of 51 elected members (the previous convention had 155). Unlike the previous body, which needed a two thirds vote to submit a draft to the public, this one requires only three fifths. However, it also is bound by a series of principles in a prior agreement among some of Chile’s parties and is supposed to work with a draft created by an expert commission appointed by congress. (Details of the rather complex process at Constitution Net.)

This council was elected via open lists (per the last-linked item), but I do not have the other details of the electoral system. The election result is rather short of being fully representative. The Republican Party won 22 of the 51 seats on only 34.3% of the votes. That’s an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.26, which is very much on the high side for a “proportional” system. Two parties that combined for over around 14% of the votes obtained no representation at all and nearly 21% of votes were blank or “invalid.” The Republicans are the party of the 2021 presidential runner-up, José Antonio Kast, who is on the pinochetista far right. Combined with other right-wing parties, the broader right has the three fifths majority needed to approve a draft (“Safe Chile,” which includes the old RN and UDI, won 11).

Another notable difference is this council will have one indigenous representative, elected on 3% of the votes cast for indigenous lists. The previous constitutional convention had 17 indigenous seats elected separately from the 138 general seats. (That 3% this time is over 300,000 votes, whereas the 17 previously represented around 283,000, but total turnout and valid votes were much lower then.)

The previous assembly was evidently well to the left of the median voter (based on the nature of its draft and how badly it was rejected in the referendum). This one would seem to be well to the right of the median (after all, the president, elected in a two-candidate runoff in 2021, heads an alliance that includes the Communist Party). Whether the constraints on the council elected this time will lead to the adoption of a draft acceptable to the public is an open question. In any case, Chile is certainly showing the difficulties inherent in attempting to established a representative process for constitutional replacement.

On ‘The Downballot’ talking about electoral systems

I was on The Downballot, a podcast at DailyKos, discussing electoral systems in the context of what reformers in the US should be thinking about.

It was a lot of fun to do, and I hope readers of this blog might enjoy listening to it. There is also a transcript (at the same link). It was auto-generated and thus contains a few errors, but the more egregious mis-transcriptions I mentioned in an earlier version of this post have been fixed.

Iraq electoral system change–again

The parliament of Iraq on Monday changed the country’s electoral system again, scrapping a law that had been enacted in 2020 (see Arab News). As is far too typical of journalistic accounts of electoral systems, the details mentioned make it hard to suss out just what has been adopted–or even what it is replacing. I had a similar struggle with the reports of the previous change.

As best I could tell about the 2020 changes, they adopted single non-transferable vote (SNTV). Preceding elections since the US-led invasion had been held under various versions of list PR. The Arab News article refers to the just-adopted law as one that “replaces a first past the post system with proportional representation.” One substantial problem with that statement is that the previous system was not FPTP. The article also says the new act of parliament “removes 83 electoral districts and creates 18 seats, one for each of Iraq’s provinces.” The reference to 83 districts in the old system is consistent with my understanding of the previous system’s having had a mean district magnitude of around four (329 seats divided among 83 districts would mean an average magnitude M=3.96 seats per district). Further, I assume the just quoted statement is meant to say 18 districts in the new system. If each province is a district, it would seem that the new system would be a fairly conventional districted PR system in which parties win seats proportionally to votes within each province. (But, of course, there could be other complexities that the news article fails to note.)

Further, the Arab News article states that this recent vote in parliament “revives” the previous law that was in 2018. That was indeed a PR system (open list, I think). Independent candidates who were elected under the SNTV system at the 2021 election–there were 70 of them–are decrying this change. Of course, SNTV is very friendly to independents (the winners are the top M in the district, regardless of whatever party affiliation, if any, they have), whereas list PR is not. As a political scientist whose speciality is electoral systems, I’d say this is precisely the problem with SNTV and the advantage of list PR. Policy-making for a society is a collective enterprise, and parties are the vehicles for collective action and representation in a democracy.

So, while there may be legitimate complaints raised by opponents of the change/reversion, it seems like it should be a positive change overall.

French cabinet survives no confidence motion

Last week, the government of French President Emmanuel Macron invoked Article 49:3 of the constitution, under which a bill proposed by the premier is considered passed unless the National Assembly majority votes no confidence in the premier and cabinet. The bill in question is a package of pension reforms, which have provoked widespread street protests and strikes. In the first no-confidence motion since Macron invoked the 49:3 procedure, the government has narrowly survived. The motion attained 278 votes, where 287 were needed. This motion was brought by a group of centrist deputies. Another has been put forward by the National Rally and is even less likely to pass.

The current government is a minority cabinet, due to the underwhelming performance Macron’s legislative allies had in the assembly election of 2022–relatively weak, that is, in comparison to a typical honeymoon election (one held shortly after the election or reelection of a president).

The Article 49:3 is in effect a decree provision, as it allows the executive to put in place legislation without an affirmative vote on the bill in the assembly. However, it is one with a clear accountability mechanism, in that the assembly can respond by ousting the cabinet. Basically, using the procedure converts the vote from “this bill vs. not this bill” to “this government (and the bill) vs. not this government.” In the event the assembly motion passes, then there needs to be a new government formed. Or the president could dissolve the assembly. Of course, the latter would not be attractive to Macron given the unpopularity of the bill and, independent of any specific political factors, the general likelihood of decline in existing legislative support for a president’s allies from an election at several months into the term (see the graph for the range of likely effects at elapsed time around 0.2, even if we did not make reference to polling).

Macron took a gamble, but it looks like it will pay off in terms of ability to enact the law and keep his government (whether or not he might decide to change who is at the top). He dared the opposition to combine against him and vote out his cabinet as their only way to stop the bill, possibly provoking an election that they–or at least those not at the relative extremes of the spectrum–may not sincerely have wanted to risk facing.

Germany electoral system change

Note: This is a revised version of an older post (originally 15 Jan. this year). The electoral system changes (with some modifications) have now been passed. Rather than make a new planting I am just re-upping this older one, as the comment thread has continued to grow with useful information. I particularly recommend a new comment by Thomas D for good detail. In addition, see the post by Verfassungblog for background and Twitter thread by Heinz Brandenburg which has both background and excellent detail on the final version. (The Verfassungblog post refers to an earlier version of the draft; in the finally passed version the 3-districts alternative threshold is indeed being abolished.) The law is sure to be challenged before the Constitutional Court, and some or all if it may fail the constitutional test. As Thomas notes, the law could be a mortal threat to the CSU as we know it, as well as to the Linke. And it certainly means no more “personal constituency mandate” and thus is not a mixed-member system.


[original post, edited] The parties in Germany’s current governing coalition have agreed a package of reforms to the electoral system. The proposal keeps the size of the Bundestag at 598 and eliminates Überhangmandate and “balance” seats.

For details, see first comment. This is a big deal. I’d understand this proposal as Germany abolishing MMP (and Verfassungblog and Brandenburg–linked above–agree). It is not a mixed-member system if it’s possible for a candidate with the most votes in a nominal district not to win the seat.

Low snow

Those who live in California or have followed news about our weather recently will know that we have had an epic rain and snow season–quite unexpected. One of the storms brought shockingly low snow levels in the Bay Area and surroundings on the night of 23-24 Feb. I took some photos from the finca and nearby.

The first picture, above, is taken from the back of the property with my telephoto. This is looking roughly due east. The next two are views slightly to the south of the first one. Wherever you looked, you saw low snow!

(Click any photo to load a larger version.) Next we shift the view from the back to the road side of the property, looking southwest in the general direction of the Berryessa Gap.

Then I went and took a short drive, finding a location where two roads meet near an overpass on the I-505 freeway, affording a view from a relatively high point. The view from here is especially striking because the almond trees were near their full bloom at the time.

We have lived at this current location for ten years now, and have never seen the slightest dusting of snow even at the top of these hills, which form the first range of hills separating the Sacramento Valley from the Capay, Napa, and other valleys farther west. Locals say there was maybe one other time about twenty years ago when there was snow on these hills, but not nearly this much. And about thirty years ago there was snowfall actually at the Valley floor where we are. That would be extremely unlikely to happen again. These synoptic conditions were probably similar to that storm, but in a significantly warmed climate. I believe I saw some snow flurries here right around sunrise, and some very nearby weather stations were reporting rain/snow mix at the time. The snow on the hills stuck for a couple of days, but was all gone before long as conditions warmed and more rain fell.

(Note: the blog’s banner photo is towards the northeast, looking at the Sierra, much farther away. Seeing snow in that direction is obviously not rare in the winter. That picture is from several years ago.)

It’s bargaining all the way down

A correspondent asked me recently if I thought the refusal of Israeli opposition leaders to hold talks on the government’s proposed judicial overhaul, unless the government first pulled the bills from currently scheduled committee consideration, was “legitimate.” She did not think so, and her reason was sensible enough and certainly not something I can disagree with: Committees are where the details of legislation are worked out, after all, and the final version could be quite different from the initial draft.

My response was that I did not think there was anything illegitimate about the opposition’s stance. Basically, that anything that is not illegal is fair game in a democracy, because of what the title of this post says. It is all about bargaining.

What I mean is that the opposition has a weak hand in the legislature and its committees–the government has a majority of the Knesset and the key committees. Israel has no entrenched constitution (aside from a few specific provisions of some Basic Laws), and a majority of members present and voting can change just about anything it wants. That is, the ruling coalition of Likud, Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties, and nationalists can implement institutional reform without compromising with non-coalition parties or societal actors–provided it remains united. I see the range of opposition tactics–including the protests and various letters from a wide range of actors in society as well as the insistence on a pause in the process before talks–as an effort to exacerbate and expose fissures within the coalition. It may even be working and a possible compromise has been floated via a process outside the Knesset committees. But whether it works or not, and whether it is really their best strategy or not, I think it should be seen as precisely a means of driving wedges in the coalition. At the end of the day, only members of the coalition can decide whether they either want to meet some opposition demands to calm the situation, or simply pass what they are currently proposing. The lack of a super-majority requirement for constitutional matters means everyone playing this game knows the government can do what it wants–unless sufficient members within it refuse to go along.

Another interlocutor said that the proposals should be seen as just an opening gambit, meant to stake out a position that will be compromised later. While such an understanding is consistent with a bargaining game, I have my doubts regarding the inferred intention. If a government is committed to the rule of law, it does not lead with proposals that would subordinate the judiciary to the government and its parliamentary majority. Whatever the governing parties’ “true” intentions, I can certainly understand why the opposition has seen these proposals as a mortal threat to the rule of law and refused to negotiate when the government could, at almost any moment, just put its preferred version into law. (Even while I think claims that this would be the end of democracy are over the top.)

A bigger point is that the entire episode has made me question just a little my basic understanding of what form of democracy is best. I would always answer such a question with “unicameral parliamentary system with proportional representation” (PR). This is, of course, what Israel has.1 As a student of elections, legislatures, and executives, I tend to give short shrift to judiciaries. I tend even to have my doubts about judicial review, because it may serve for a minority veto, and my premise in favor of unicameral PR-parliamentarism is that majority coalitions of multiple parties are the surest preserver of democratic liberty. The idea being that if one party in a coalition demands too much, it can be replaced by a different party. This of course “works” theoretically, and presumably empirically, to the extent that shifting majority coalitions are possible (whether changes in cabinet or simply changes in the complexion of coalitions passing different legislation). If you get a situation where parties comprising a narrow majority can govern and there are no opposition parties available to replace high-demanders in the current coalition, the result might be unbridled majoritarianism if there is no court (or other body) to check it. As I have written in recent plantings about current Israeli politics, the country seems to be in precisely such a situation now–indeed, with a narrow majority coalition whose component parties did not even win a majority of the vote. In that context, preserving a judicial check–in some way–seems essential. So, yes, PR-parliamentary remains my clear choice for “best” form of democracy, but don’t forget about the judiciary.2

Finally, what are some examples of constitutional reforms on any fundamental institutional provisions that were put forth in such extreme initial form? I ask this with a limitation of the sample of possible cases to countries we would recognize as long-standing and well established democracies. I can’t think of many good parallels–maybe the recent measures in Hungary and Poland (depending on what “long-standing” means). I would think that governments with ambitious agendas of changing fundamental institutional balances would tend to seek consensus from the start, and not as part of a bargaining game after introduction of radical proposals. But I may be overlooking good historical examples, or it may simply be that elsewhere such proposals typically need larger-than-bare majorities to be enacted, which then constrains what gets proposed at the outset. Electoral system reforms in majoritarian systems come to mind as offering possible examples. It is something I have written on, and generally processes contemplating reform to PR are set up with broader consultation and a referendum even though there is often no constitutional constraint requiring pro-reform governments to do so. And that’s with reforms that would restrain the majoritarianism of future governments, not empower them, as the Israeli government’s judicial proposals would do. So, for various reasons, I think that what we are seeing is quite exceptional, and in this light I can understand why the opposition has elected to take the bargaining outside of regular channels like legislative committees. It’s bargaining all the way down, and bargaining need not be confined to the normal channels (provided it remains legal and non-violent) when the stakes are so high.


  1. However, I would argue that the unicameral, PR-parliamentary combo works better if the threshold is low (yes, 3.25% is too high, at least for Israel), there is districting (perhaps a two-tier PR system, introducing local representation while preserving nationwide proportionality), and/or there is some degree of preference voting within the party lists. I would never argue that nationwide-district closed-list PR is the “best” system, even though I have generally been more favorable to the Israeli electoral-system design than many commentators have been.
  2. What about the unicameral part? I still prefer that in principle, but I could see a case for some sort of second chamber being a good idea for Israel. The important proviso is: not anything like the US Senate! Not both malapportioned and possessing a full veto. But “to cool the coffee” as I recall from the title of a paper on bicameralism I read long ago, maybe. Israeli politics could certainly stand to have its coffee cooled a bit these days.

Could Nigeria’s presidential election require a runoff?

On 25 February, Nigeria holds its elections for president, house, and senate. The country uses single-seat plurality elections, but with an important qualification in the case of the federal presidency. The winner of that contest must have not only a nationwide plurality of votes, but also meet a “distribution” requirement: earn at least a quarter of the vote in at least two thirds of the federal entities (consisting of 36 states and a capital territory).

If the first-round plurality candidate fails to meet the distribution qualification, then there is a runoff. The two candidates in a runoff would be the plurality candidate and the other candidate who wins the most states with a majority of the vote. Note that if there are three or more serious candidates, with regional bases, the runoff opponent might not be the one with the second highest votes in the first round.

Nigeria this year has precisely the situation that could lead to a runoff and possibly not with the top-two candidates: There are at least three candidates who might be considered “serious” and all exhibit Nigeria’s typical tendency towards regional concentration of support. See Africa Elects. Nigeria has not previously had a runoff.

Polling is apparently sparse, but shows Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) in the lead–some recent polls show him far ahead. I am not sure how reliable Nigerian polls are, let alone whether they effectively capture state-by-state trends. The next two candidates after Obi appear close in polling: Bola Tinubu (All Progressive Congress, APC) and Atiku Abubakar (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP). A fourth candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) also has regionally concentrated support. Given the distribution requirement, even a candidate with little chance of winning might deprive a more nationally popular candidate of 25% of the vote in some states or of a majority in enough states to affect runoff qualifications should there be a second round.

The APC is the incumbent president’s party, and the PDP has provided the winning ticket in various past elections (including its presidential candidate this year as vice president in the past). Obi was the PDP’s vice presidential candidate in the last national election, in 2019, with Abubakar at the top of the ticket.

As far as congress is concerned, at the 2019 election the APC won 202 seats and the PDP 126 in the House of Representatives, which has 360 seats. In the 109-seat Senate, the APC won 63 and the PDP 44. It seems likely that this year’s results will be more fragmented, but given the use of single-seat plurality in both houses, obviously it depends entirely on the parties’ relative regional concentration in the voting.

Nigeria uses a pure presidential system.