Donor consensus: SNTV bad for Afghanistan

Democracy International, a DC-area contractor that implements democracy assistance programs around the world, late last month released 34 “Consensus Recommendations for Electoral Reform in Afghanistan.”

According to the report, these 34 items are “the major points of consensus among Afghan civil society organizations, international observer missions, assistance organizations, and independent election experts.” Notable actors included various UN bodies, ANFEL, the local AREU, various EU groups, IFES, NDI, the OSCE, and so forth. If you want to see all 437 recommendations that those groups made, visit DI’s Afghanistan website.

Recommendation number one:

The use of the SNTV system should be reconsidered: There is broad agreement that the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system impedes the development of political parties and prevents fair and accurate representation of Afghanistan’s diverse population. A public consultative process should take place to solicit the opinions of relevant Afghan actors and international election experts to determine the best alternative system for Afghanistan. One alternative which has been consistently presented is a mixed SNTV-proportional system.

Afghanistan clearly does not host a model party system. Yet I wonder whether the ‘strong’ parties that might result from more party-centric electoral rules would be all that great. If, for example, closed-list PR turns divided societies’ elections into “national identity referenda,” would programmatic coherence and party discipline be such great ideas?

It’s nice to see consensus emerging on some form of system that retains a role for the personal vote, whether through an SNTV tier as alluded to above, or maybe through OLPR, as belatedly used in Iraq. This is because I believe that most voters prefer moderates to extremists. Therefore, when a country’s best organized political leaders are extremists, institutions should be used to diminish their control over ballot access and rank.

The verdict on this theory, of course, is still out, but I’m working on it.

9 thoughts on “Donor consensus: SNTV bad for Afghanistan

  1. I just tried a back-of-the-envelope model combining SNTV with (semi-compensatory) lists… Small local districts with (say) 3 to 10 seats… you can vote for up to half as many candidates as there are seats… your vote for a party list (same ballot paper) is marked down in value according to how many successful local candidates you voted for (the Swedish d’Hondt formula – eg, if you voted for 4 candidates and 2 were elected, your vote has a value of 0.333 when counting for the lists). Ie, compensation would be via the Hungarian rather than the German method.

    Make the lists open, let candidates for local seats also run for list seats. Each candidate’s effective total is the higher of his/her (a) personal votes from the list’s supporters, (b) local votes in a district. Elect the highest candidates, maybe subject to a threshold – ie, candidates polling below say half a Hare quota in personal votes come after candidates ranked higher on the list.

    (Or you could bring in STV-PR, but seeing as it’s apparently far too complicated for English voters in London and Birmingham and Liverpool to understand, Afghans in Kabul and the provinces would have no chance).

  2. Why such a “complex form of PR”, Tom?

    I interpret “mixed SNTV-proportional system” to mean allowing candidates to link up into groups, possibly under party labels. Basically the Finnish system. This would not necessarily lead to strong parties (depends on the parties), but would certainly cut the number of wasted votes, as well as increase the coattails of the more popular candidates (for good or bad). It would be a lot better than what is in place now, at least, while not adding complexity.

  3. Why, Espen? To fit the constraints of “a mixed SNTV-proportional system”. It’s like composing a haiku…

  4. Following up on the preceding. Clearly I had assumed that the phrase means a non-compensatory system with two tiers.

    What reform advocates want is there to be fewer parties. The prospects for any system promoting that goal will depend on the number of legislative factions, their relative strength, and – we should not take this for granted – whether they understand the implications of said system for a future balance of legislative power.

  5. I’m not a big fan of German style “direct” compensation – ie, working out how many district seats each list has “won” already, and deducting this from the list’s proportionate total – because I can see how it could easily be abused. (43% in district elect a Progressive Conservative local MP, but then cast their Zweitestimmen for a different list, the Conservative Progressive Party).

    However, given that Hungarian-style “indirect” compensation (marking down the “transfer value”, so to speak, of the Zweitestimmen on those ballots that did already elect a local Member) doesn’t raise these problems, why not work it into the system if there’s a chance? True, it won’t produce the exact nationwide proportionality that (un-rorted) MMP will, but it’s a lot more proportional than a simple parallel system with two entirely separate levels of allocation.

  6. I’ve raised this point before, but I like the Hungarian style system of indirect compensation, because I think its important that every member of the lower house of the legislature is, at least in theory, elected. The Hungarian system could be adjusted to maintain this.

    The German system results in almost half the members of the Bundestag appointed by their parties, granted with each party gaining appointments based on their share of the vote, but its hard to say who exactly elected these deputies. They represent their parties instead of their voters directly. Now this hasn’t been a problem for German voters or New Zealand voters, but I just don’t like the optics.

  7. Baden-Wurttemberg has that best losers system. So district winners + best performing losing candidates for the compensatory seats. Not sure if they do overhang seats.

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