Bolivian electoral-system changes

Miguel Centellas notes that the new Bolivian constitution makes a few changes in the country’s legislative electoral system. [link removed]

The legislature is renamed the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and, presumably to put that into action, the first chamber electoral system will be required to have seats set aside for indigenous representation. However, Miguel notes that this is not very significant in practice:

The indigenous seats must come from the 130 total, are limited to “rural” districts […Moreover, ] Rural SMDs were already de facto “indigenous” seats; now that is merely recognized officially.

The MMP system, in which about half the seats are elected from single-seat districts, remains. This is in spite of earlier proposals from the ruling MAS to move to a system of exclusively single-seat districts.

MAS also previously advocated abolishing the Senate. Instead, it will be retained, but with a non-trivial change: the number of seats per department will go from 3 to 4. Currently, these are elected by that Latin American oddity that I refer to as “limited slate” or “limited nominations.” A party may nominate two candidates on a closed list, and the party with the plurality elects both, while the first runner-up elects its first-ranked candidate. (Similar systems are used in the second chambers of Argentina and Mexico.) Miguel notes that the electoral system for the new 4-seat districts is undetermined, but is supposed to be “proportional.”

Bolivia’s Senate is really an anomaly: it just might be the most malapportioned chamber in any unitary state. It is not surprising that, politically, it could not be abolished or even that its malapportionment could not be reduced, given conflicts over regional autonomy. Still, as Miguel says, this reform actually makes the small departments more over-represented. The move to 4-seat districts, however, should counteract that to some degree, as far as partisan representation is concerned, as long as the formula actually is PR and not some continued form of list plurality. Under PR, the second and even third largest party in a department would be better represented than is now the case, which potentially nationalizes the highly regionalized party system a bit more.

As for whether Bolivia retains a unitary state, I believe so. An earlier post by Miguel refers to a new federacy,” a term I understand as within the confines of a unitary state, but with special autonomy status for one or more of several sub-jurisdictions of the state.

In short, these changes seem like small improvements. But will they help solve the country’s deep political conflicts?

One thought on “Bolivian electoral-system changes

  1. “makes the small departments more over-represented. The move to 4-seat districts, however, should counteract that to some degree”

    Analogy with the Australia giving two Senate seats each to the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. Per capita, they are slightly over-represented (4 out of 76 Senators, or 5.3%, for just under 3.5% of the population), but any partisan advantage from this is nullified because filling two seats at a time using STV-PR almost certainly guarantees one for Govt and one for Opposition (although at times there have been speculation that the Democrats or a left-wing Independent might have taken Canberra’s second seat from the Liberals. Also, interestingly, in the postal ballot election for Constitutional Conventional delegates in 1997, the result in each internal Territory was 2 delegates for the republicans vs 0 for the monarchists).

    Compare the system used in some US cities (eg, DC) where two councillors are chosen at large and by law must come from different parties even if one gets over 66.67% of the total vote (or the two-largest-parties vote), as is not at all unthinkable for the Democrats in DC.

    I have wondered whether the solution to malapportionment in the US Senate might be abolishing rotation (or at least making it inter- rather than intra-State, so that every 2 years, 16 or 17 States each elect both their Senators at once) and using PR to elect 2 per State, and relying (MSS, you may wish to avert your eyes at this point) on the VP’s casting vote to ensure nationwide majority rule. Of course, some States are so deep Red/ Blue that they could well return a 2-0 delegation: Utah, I believe, usually goes about 70% GOP. Still, this reform would (by my reading of the US Const) need only 38 States, not all 50, out of 50 to ratiffy.

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