Fatah now wants PR

Surprise, surprise. Now, Fatah would like any new parliamentary election in the Palestinian Territories to take place under a proportional system. Better late than never, but how much of the recent conflict might have been avoided had PR been used in January, 2006?

In the 2006 election, as I discussed at length at the time in various plantings (click “Palestinian Territories” above and scroll down), Fatah only narrowly lost those elections in the party-list vote, 44-41. Yet, the seat allocation was extremely disproportional, thanks to a variant of MMM (mixed-member majoritarian) that was based on a nominal tier of MNTV (multi-seat districts in which the voter could cast votes for as many candidate as there were seats in the district).

Hamas’s narrow plurality on 44% of the party-preference votes translated into close to three fifths of the seats, partly because of the inherent tendency of such a system to exaggerate pluralities and partly because of the far greater discipline of Hamas voters, who were somewhat more likely to cast all of their votes for Hamas candidates than were Fatah voters to do so for their candidates.

One must be cautious in a setting like the Occupied Palestinian Territories about attributing too much to institutions, but without a Hamas parliamentary majority, President Mahmoud Abbas could have appointed a Fatah-plus-independents cabinet with Hamas constituting the opposition. Not a fully peaceful opposition, surely–this is Hamas we are talking about–but in such a scenario, the US, Israel, and EU would not have had the justification for the boycott of the Palestinian Authority that has done so much to destroy both infrastructure and hope.

Thanks to the folks at Fair Vote for noticing Fatah’s expression of support for PR. I have a small disagreement with Jack’s conclusions in the just-linked post, however. He suggests that Fatah’s substantial underrepresentation was a result of over-nominating, that is, having too many candidates for its votes to support. That would be a valid conclusion were the nominal tier elected by SNTV or limited vote, or if voters for the largest party had not been so party-oriented. But given that in most districts, Hamas had the plurality of voters, who were generally willing to give all their votes to Hamas candidates, a different nomination strategy could hardly have made a significant difference in the outcome. The problem was the electoral system itself, and not nomination strategy.

0 thoughts on “Fatah now wants PR

  1. Thanks for commenting at my blog btw.

    I realize that your blog deals more w. electoral systems & reform than political analysis, but the essential problem for Fatah wasn’t the form the election took (though it might well have worked against them). Rather, it was the dreadful nature of the political movement–its total dysfunction, incompetence & corrupt nature. Were Fatah as viable, vibrant & responsive a movement as Hamas has been in its way, then Fatah might well have won any type of election that could’ve been imagined (well, maybe not ANY).

    I’m by no means averse to Palestinians using a better or more representative electoral process in their next election. But Fatah really needs to reform itself fr. the ground up & throw out the entrenched bums before it can win any election.

  2. Matt, the problem was also the french-style separation of powers. The divided government in semipresidentialism is referred to, in the French literature, as cohabitation. This configuration is prone to institutional conflict, especially when the ideological cleavage separating the prime minister and the president is deep. In such a political context, the design flaw of semipresidentialism becomes apparent: Ukraine, Sri Lanka and the Palestinian territories are good examples. Ukraine and Sri Lanka under premier-presidentialism and under president-parliamentary regimes are two critical cases in ongoing research on dual systems and subtypes of semi-presidentialism. Are Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories examples of president-parliamentarism?

    By the way, I am unable to find the link to your paper “Plurality vs. Runoff Election of Presidents,” It is the same link to your essay on reform in plurality systems.

  3. Palestinian semi-presidentialism is not French-style: The Palestinain presidency has clear authority to dismiss a cabinet, unlike the president of France (and despite Haniyeh’s current protests). And Abbas’s presidency also has a veto (two-thirds override), unlike in France.

    On the other hand, the Palestinian president has no authority to dissolve parliament, unlike the French (and despite Abbas’s repeated threats to call an election).

    So, Palestinian semi-presidentialism is indeed what I call president-parliamentarism, and is thus more a case of “separation of powers” than is the French case, because the presidency has both cabinet and legislative authority. France has a premier-presidential variant, in which the legislative majority is sovereign over the cabinet formation.

    And, Richard, I completely agree with what you say about Fatah.

  4. Afghanistan has a pure presidential system. (Go to my Afgahnisatan block, linked on the left sidebar, under VOTES >> Islamic Countries for previous discussions.)

    Thanks for the tip on the broken link to my working paper on presidential election methods. I have now fixed it.

  5. Palestinian semi-presidentialism is the first experience with divided government in president-parliamentarism? In this subtype the absence of any stable legislative majority is problematic. Generally, neither the president nor the prime minister nor any coalition or party in this constitutional design enjoys a majority in the legislature: Weimar, Russia under Yeltsin, Ukraine 1996-2005, Portugal under Eanes…

    In a premier-presidential system when there is a majority divided government, as cohabitation, the president must yield to the assembly’s preferences. However, in a president-parliamentary context with a bipolar partisan competition and divided government the differences in the formal powers of the president over cabinets are decisive. Both Taiwan and Palestinian territories exhibit bipolar party systems with divided political majorities and they are more prone to intstitutional conflict than premier-presidential systems under cohabitation. My doubt is Sri Lanka with recent divided government. Is Sri Lanka a premier-presidential system or a president-parliamentary regime?

  6. I certainly agree with Antonio’s take on how the two major variants of semipresidentialism handle bipolar party systems differently. In fact, that is one of the main themes of my article on semipresidentialism in the journal, French Politics, in 2006. (It was available on line and free for a while, but I am not sure it is now.)

    The Palestinian Territories certainly have a stable legislative majority since the January, 2006, elections. That’s the problem. While Abbas has the formal power to dismiss Haniyeh’s government, he can’t maintain a newly appointed government for more than 60 days (I think 60 is right) without parliamentary confirmation of the cabinet. And there is no way Hamas would approve a cabinet it does not have any participation in.

    Is this the first divided government under president-parliamentarism? No, I believe that that would be Taiwan. If there is a previous example, I can’t think of it.

    Sri Lanka converted its system from president-parliamentary to premier-presidential several years ago. It is a good thing, too, as it recently experienced divided government for the first time.

    (I am understanding “divided government” to mean a president with cabinet authority who comes from one political bloc facing a legislative majority from the main opposing bloc. I do not understand the term to refer to any generic situation in which the president’s party or alliance is not in the majority, as do some other analysts. That appears to be what Antonio means, too, given his references to bipolarity.)

  7. “MMD tier” here means the nominal tier?

    Of course, the president doesn’t have the authority to just decree away a whole tier of the electoral system!

    (Upon following the link, I see that the answer to my question is yes.)

  8. Yes, sorry about inventing an ambiguous term. One could see “multi-member” applying to either.

    Anyway, according to the second Xinhua article I found, Abbas believes he can legislate in the absence of a legislative branch:

    Abbas, for his part, insisted that he has the right to amend the electoral law.

    “It is my right as a president to legislate laws and decisions that are called decrees. These decrees are legal, as long as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is not able to convene,” Abbas said in a press conference held here on Sunday.

    “If the PLC is able to convene, then it would be its right to pass my decree or reject it,” said Abbas.

    In trying to figure out why the PLC “is not able to convene,” I notice something funny has happened to the PLC website, namely, a bunch of hyperlinks reading “hacked” on the left, where it looks like some sort of newsfeed should be.

    Enough blogginess for me tonight. Much reading to do.

  9. While Abbas has the formal power to dismiss Haniyeh’s government, he can’t maintain a newly appointed government for more than 60 days (I think 60 is right) without parliamentary confirmation of the cabinet.

    My understanding of the Palestinian Basic Law is the PA’s Basic Law is that while the president can dismiss the prime minister, the outgoing prime minister remains in office until the PLC elects a new one. So if the prime minister has a parliamentary majority then he cannot be removed by the president.

    Abbas largely got around this problem by joining his opponents in Hamas in effectively repudiating the Basic Law.

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