Philippines midterm elections and MNTV ( “bloc vote”)

Midterm congressional and local elections are held today in the Philippines. Opposition candidates are expected to do well–as is often the case with midterm elections in presidential systems.

You have to love the first paragraph of this morning’s LA Times story:

Lured by ladies’ underwear, herring, free insurance and other gifts, millions of voters cast ballots today in a midterm election the opposition hopes will strengthen efforts to impeach President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

I don’t know about you, but I’d vote for the candidate offering the herring.

Most of the seats in the lower house of congress are elected by FPTP. The Senate is elected nationwide by multiple nontransferable vote (MNTV, sometimes miseladingly known as bloc vote). The Philippines is notorious for its weak parties and personalized campaigns. The article refers to one candidate, Manny Pacquiao, a former World Boxing Council super featherweight. He is running on the Peoples Champ Movement, which is offering free insurance policies.

The House Speaker, Jose de Valencia is under investigation for vote-buying, which his lawyer defended as follows in a letter to the National Election Commission:

There is nothing illegal, much less an act of vote-buying, in the distribution of the cards [for insurance] because they are given to party members who are already captive voters.

Despite polls showing opposition strength, don’t count out President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats Party, or her allies in Team Unity, just yet.

In addition to most of the legislators being elected on strictly nominal (candidate) votes, a small share of lower house seats is elected by party list, in one of the weirdest list systems ever devised.

0 thoughts on “Philippines midterm elections and MNTV ( “bloc vote”)

  1. How many seats are there in the upper house? And how many votes does each voter have? With a large district magnitude, MNTV must seem like an essentially meaningless exercise.

    And why is it misleading to call MNTV “bloc voting”? At least with small district magnitudes, the frequent result is that enough voters vote for a bloc of like-minded candidates that all of the winners represent the same segment of the community. I kind of like the name.



  2. Pacquiao is the current WBC super featherweight champ. His record is 44-3-2. Apparently he is going down to defeat in his congressional race, however.


  3. Projections from the Philippine Senate races show why “bloc vote” is a misleading name. With 12 seats at stake, and the voter casting up to 12 nominal (nontransferable) votes, the opposition looks likely to win 7-8 seats, and pro-Arroyo forces 2, and the rest independents. (The Senate has 24 seats, half of which are contested nationwide every three years.)

    Even in small magnitudes, whether voters vote in bloc is a function of how party-oriented (or “bloc-oriented” they are). In the former Thai system, for example, even with 3 seats in many districts, my understanding is that sweeps were not common.

    Moreover, even with strong bloc orientation, as in Palestine, casting the full number of allotted votes may be something many voters just do not want to do, for whatever reason. (Fatigue, dislike of some specific candidates, etc.). (I discuss this aspect of the Palestinian elections in the post linked under “Preserved Fruit” on the left sidebar.)

    In general, it just makes little sense to call it “bloc” voting if voters have to vote for individual candidates and these votes stay with that candidate (i.e. are not transferred or pooled in any way).

    (If you click on the “SNTV/MNTV” link at the top of this post, you will see several previous discussions of this family of electoral systems appear on the page.)


  4. OK, MNTV is frequently not as majoritarian in practice as it appears on paper.

    In addition to the factors you mention, in U.S. local elections it’s common to “bullet vote”, in other words deliberately not use one or more of your NTVs. If your most preferred candidate is in danger of losing, this is in fact good tactics because your votes for your second and third choices can hurt your first choice.

    The need for such tactical voting is, of course, among the major defects of the method.

    I understand why MNTV is a good name in academic discussions. But it’s a mouthful for activists to use when promoting choice voting (sorry … STV) for local elections. “Multi-winner plurality” isn’t a whole lot better.

    Any suggestions? Thanks!


  5. Indeed, MNTV is much more nominal than majoritarian. The more that voters plump (“bullet vote”) the more it trends towards SNTV, the purest nominal and thus most candidate-centered of all electoral systems.

    Even FPTP (single-seat plurality) is more nominal than majoritarian. It depends on voter behavior and party formation for it to be majoritarian in effect. SNTV, due to its low effective threshold, is sort of “super-proportional” notwithstanding that it is just a one-vote nominal system (like FPTP) but with more than one seat per district. And the other variants–limited vote, MNTV, cumulative vote–can fall almost anywhere on that continuum from super-proportional to highly majoritarian, depending on campaign strategy (party-based or personal-vote-seeking), how voters use their votes, geographic distribution, and other factors.

    As far as a good name is concerned, I leave that to others. For me, it’s “MNTV” all the way! If someone does not find that term useful for public discourse, I just hope he or she can do better than some of the existing nomenclature in the American electoral-reform community, such as “choice voting” for STV or calling cumulative vote a “proportional system.” Of course, I have gone over this before…


  6. Having done American electoral reform for a couple of years, I’ve learned one thing.

    If you want to sell proportional representation to the public, avoid at all costs any description including the word “proportional.”


  7. This is really picky, but since we’re defining terms I’ll mention it anyway.

    I’m surprised that you treat “plump” and “bullet vote” as synonyms. I thought “plumping” refers to cumulating votes on one candidate (or less than M candidates) in a cumulative voting election. The voter’s purpose is closely related to the purpose of “bullet voting” in an MNTV election, but I didn’t think the terms were interchangeable.


  8. JS, what’s your take on why this is so? Is it primarily because people hear “quota” (as in “racial quota”)when you say “proportional”? Or is it primarily because people hear “European” (as in “foreign”) or (worse) “Italy, Israel, et. al.”? Or is there some other connotation I’m not aware of that puts people off?



  9. Bob, I understand “plumping” to be voting for one candidate when a voter could give her multiple nontransferable votes to different candidates.

    MNTV systems may allow (or may not allow):

    Cumulation (giving more than one of the allowable votes to one candidate);

    Plumping (voting for only one candidate);

    Partial abstention (not using all of one’s votes).

    If the rules prohibit cumulation (as does MNTV in the Philippine Senate), then the only way to plump for your most-preferred candidate is to partially abstain. That’s what you referred to as “bullet vote.”

    If the rules allow cumulation, you could give all of your votes to one candidate, which indeed would be plumping. But you could also vote only for that candidate but not give him or her all your votes (partially abstaining) or you could cumulate two on one candidate while giving your remaining votes (assuming you are allowed three or more) to other candidates (thereby voting fully, cumulating, but not plumping).

    So, the terms, plump and bullet vote, would be interchangeable under MNTV without cumulation (but with partial abstention permitted). But in other MNTV systems, they would not be.


  10. Bob-

    They hear almost all those things.

    “Droop quota” smacks of affirmative action, so one says “victory threshold” instead.

    STV sounds ostensibly Byzantine, so we say “choice voting.”

    “Proportional” is lost on some. They think we already have it in the U.S. House with the Connecticut Compromise and 1P1V.

    For others, as you mention, “proportional” immediately calls up Israel, Italy, and the numbers of “whackos” who will win seats in Congress. Forget explaining district magnitude. You’ve already lost the battle.

    I have one friend who consistently wants to know how many Nazis will win seats if we use IRV for federal House races.

    Dismal picture of rational public discourse — but is anyone really surprised?


  11. I rather like “Victory Threshold” even if I regret the absence of Mr Droop’s name.

    But “choice voting” really drives me up the proverbial wall. I mean, unless it’s the USSR (or the many one-party US districts!), isn’t voting by definition about choice? Also, when I served as a “Resource” for the local chapter of the League of Women Voters back in 2001 on their electoral-systems study, one woman pointed out (to widespread approval from the group) that “choice voting” sounded like something to do with abortion.

    Well, in any event, the good women (and a few men) of Oceanside and Carlsbad preferred MMP (and had no problem with the concept of “proportional” in that name)!


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