Has the Greek electoral system been changed–again?

Greece has parliamentary elections Sunday. All indications are that the two parties that have taken turns in power in recent decades–New Democracy and PASOK–may struggle to reach a combined 40% this time.

A motley collection of far-left and ultra-nationalist parties look to be among those winning seats. Among these are the Golden Dawn, which uses a symbol that looks way too much like a swastika for my comfort. Oh, and their leaders also have a fondness for the Hitlerian salute. What is that old saying about if it quacks like a duck…

Al Jazeera has a handy guide to the parties. It suggests that around ten of them could win seats.

But what is the electoral system? It has been changed many times, and the Wikipedia page says:

the new electoral law, which will be used for the first time in the election on 6th May 2012, reserves 50 parliamentary seats for the “first past the post” party or coalition of parties, and apportions the remaining 250 seats proportionally according to each party’s total valid vote percentage.

The previous system, used in 2007 and 2009, had 40 seats guaranteed for the leading party/coalition. The total assembly size is 300.

The interesting thing will be whether the largest party actually gets more seats via the “bonus” clause than it is entitled to via the proportional component for the rest of the seats! That likely won’t happen, but it could be a close call, if the remaining seats are allocated something like proportionally to national vote percentages, as the above quote implies.

But how are the rest of the seats allocated? Various sources, including the one linked, say that there are 56 districts, which would make for an average district magnitude of only 4.5. The link between these districts and nationwide proportionality is not clear to me. Does anyone know?

There is also apparently a 3% threshold required to win any seats.

40 thoughts on “Has the Greek electoral system been changed–again?

  1. I’m pretty sure the proportional allocation is top-down, meaning allocation by party on the national level, followed by distribution among the constituencies and party lists at that level. A similar system, if I remember orrectly, is used in Russia.

  2. Looking at the Wikipedia article about New Dawn, they seem to be a flat out, no bones about it, neo Nazi party. They are really not being coy about anything.

    Well, if the political elites bankrupt the country, this is the sort of thing you can expect. This is why its important for political elites to govern at some minimal level of competency and governance.

    Greeks are seeing their living standards plummet under a coalition government that consists of the two largest parties. The usual far right party, LAOS, which is actually somewhat sane, briefly joined the government and promptly lost most of its support to New Dawn.

    Looking at the polls on Wikipedia, the government of ND and PASOK still looks likely to get reelected, though with a big assist from the electoral system.

  3. Even though this is an old article:

    Greek Riots: Look what Mr Clegg’s beloved PR voting system did for Greece

    This article seems to make a lot of hasty generalizations about Greece’s system of PR. They act as if the country has coalition governments, when single party majority governments are common, and minority governments are rare, and coalitions are unheard of in Greece.

    Greece does not use real PR, it’s uses fake PR. Would Greece have been better off if it’s system of PR had been more proportionate, and minority and/or coalition governments been more common?

    Since the country has fake PR, and single party majority government, one would think that it would have been easy to ram through economic reforms a long time ago.

    I think the problem with Greece is that it did not do the necessary reforms it needed a decade ago.

  4. The Daily Mail tripe is pretty common in English newspapers, and you see it over in the U.S. the few times proportional representation are mentioned. Its amazing given this environment that the Liberal Democrats have stuck doggedly to PR as a party policy as much as they have.

    Incidentally, in the US, Israel is always cited as a negative effect of proportional representation. Apparently we are supposed to emulate Israel’s foreign policy and security policy, but avoid its domestic policies or politics.

    But I actually think Greece is one example of a country where geography -lots of islands and inland areas semi-isolated by mountains- should have produced a bias towards small, single member districts.

  5. Looking at the 2009 results, it is quite clear that JD is right: if you take off the 40 bonus seats that there were at the time, allocation is as if it were 240 seats, one district, PR (with 3% threshold).

    For instance, the Radical Left won 4.5% of the vote 13 seats, which is 4.3% overall. However, it is 5% of the 240. The ND won 33.5% of the vote and 91 seats, which is only 30.3% overall, but it is 35% of the 240. The winner, PASOK, won 43.9% of the votes and 160 seats, which is 53.3%. However, ignoring their 40 bonus seats, they won 46.15% of the 240. These modest degrees of over-representation are consistent with nationwide PR (again, ignoring the bonus), with a threshold (4.8% of vote were wasted on below-threshold parties).

    The districts must apply only to regional and intra-party allocation, not to the balance between parties.

  6. Will the new tinkered electoral system produce a disproportionate outcome? If the first party has a large lead over the second party, will the first party win a massive seat bonus it doesn’t deserve?

    What is the average district magnitude? Isn’t the Greek system of reinforce PR similar to the Spanish system of PR with the exception of the bonus seats?

  7. As detailed on my website’s Greece page, PR seats are distributed on a nationwide basis among qualifying parties by the largest remainder method. The 2004 electoral law set the number of PR seats at 260 of 300 – the remaining 40 seats being majority premium mandates – but a 2008 amendment, namely Law 3636/2008 increased the majority premium to fifty mandates, leaving 250 PR seats.

    I found the Greek-language text of Law 3636/2008 here. Now, I speak no Greek at all – one could say in a very literal sense that it’s all Greek to me – so I used Google Translate to convert the page in question to English.

  8. The place to follow the results is the Greek Interior Ministry website. It seems they have stalled for now on just under 64% of votes counted. Perhaps they will not resume till some time after the daylight.

    As of 2:00 a.m. Athens time, New Democracy was leading, albeit with under 20% of the vote. The Coalition of the Radical Left is only a little over three percentage points behind in second place, and has been gaining as the count has gone on. PASOK is another three or so percentage points behind and seems to be losing ground. The nazis may have around 21 seats.

    New Democracy and PASOK currently have a combined majority with one seat to spare, if they actually are willing to form a post-electoral government together. Thanks to the enhanced seat bonus, these parties have this bare majority on less than a third of the votes (33.18%).

  9. Well if the early results hold, it looks like the Greeks will reelect the government and give a majority to the pro-bailout parties, thought its still very close.

  10. And actually it looks like the bailout parties and the government are getting their majority, if that is what they wind up with, with just over a third of the vote.

  11. I hope, for Greece’s sake, that the austerity parties do not achieve an absolute majority in the parliament when the anti-austerity vote stands at at almost 60%.

    Reversed majorities are difficult in developed countries in normal times. One this blatant in a time of crisis would be a disaster.

    In a really small step for ever-closer union, Der Spiegel called this Super-Sunday with elections in France, Greece, and Schleswig-Holstein. The results all move in the same direction. One wonders how the Dutch will vote.

    Somewhere a crowd of well-dressed people is waving posters and singing:

    All we are saying
    Is give pain a chance

    But where?

  12. I was following a little bit Greek elections yesterday and really shocked by the performance of the Nazi Party. But leaving this aside, what stricks me the most is the allocation of the 50 bonus-seats. I am particularly interested in seeing how this works, and mostly, which are the implications in those districts in which the allocation of the bonus seats could mean at the end that the first party in the district receives no seats at all (or two or three times less than ND). Finally, if you have not tried yet, I strongly recommend you this new Voting Advice Application on Greek Elections created by some Greek colleagues. It is fun and very informative about the Greek political landscape (and the issues on which party competition takes place there):

    • Pedro (at #16), thanks for the link on the Voting Advice Application!

      I am not really very close to any of these parties! My answers place me a bit closer overall to the Social Pact, which did not even end up with 2.5% of the vote. Also not too far from Democratic Left (which got 6.1%). On the bailout, I am with the Greens, but a fair bit to their right on the main L-R dimension. The Greens lost all their seats. (However, the application says my “self-placement” makes me a Commie!) The app has trouble with me, because, among other reasons, I “completely agree” that Greece should have stronger ties with Israel, while the parties otherwise closest to me are anti-Israel.

      I am really puzzled by how the seats are assigned at the district level.

  13. From the wikipedia page on the election, it looks like New Democracy increased their number of seats from 91 in the previous election, to 108. They did this on a drop in their popular vote percentage of 14.6%!

    New Democracy’s lead over the next largest group was only 2.1%. Looking at the geographic spread of the results, it looks like the same results under single member plurality would have returned no majority for any party, though the scale of the map makes it impossible to determine the breakdown in Athens.

  14. @JD

    The structural problem in Weimar, apart from the strange mix of powers vested in the presidency, was the difficulty of forming a government with a majority of deputies when roughly 1/5 of the Reichstag belonged to the extreme right and 1/5 belonged to the extreme left.

    It is not all that long since you could easily find suggestions that the parties of the centre-left were dead. The French, Greek. Schleswig-Holstein and English local government results suggest otherwise.

    The extreme right did well in France and Greece. Ditto the extreme left. They will probably repeat that performance in the Dutch election. Such parties do well when governments decide to party likes its 1929.

  15. With 99.9% counted, the two establishment parties (ND and PASOK) have combined for 149 (of 300) seats on 32.03% of the vote.

    ND has 108 seats, which is 36%, on 18.85% of the vote, so its advantage ratio is an outrageously high 1.91. Remarkably, 46.3% of its seats come from the bonus granted the largest party, notwithstanding that its lead over the second party, the Radical Left, was only 2.07 percentage points.

    Regarding some comments above, while there is a parallel to the Weimar party system, the electoral system is fundamentally different, due to the plurality bonus.

    The bonus prevents a plurality reversal; if the anti-austerity parties wanted to take advantage, they should have run a joint list. But they are too fragmented to have done so, and thus ND will get to take the first crack at forming a government.

  16. Ed @17: This might help with regards to any specific local results.

    Alan @18: You’re right, and that’s one of the main reasons I made the comparison. The far left, including the the Radical Left, who said they wouldn’t negotiate with ND or PASOK, and the Communists, who won’t negotiate with anyone, have a total of 26%. Granted, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn on the far right hold ‘just’ 7%, and not the Weimar 20% you mentioned, the ‘Independent Greeks’, who made a pledge similar to that of the Radical Left with regards to coalitions, hold a further 11%.

    Especially in light of the fact that he has no more than 3 days to do it, Samaras will faces a herculean coalition-building task.

    On the other hand, the parliamentary nature of the Greek system makes it rather different from Weimar.

  17. MSS @19: The electoral system IS indeed fundamentally different from Weimar’s, in a way that makes it so surprising that this is the situation. Clearly, the 50-seat bonus has failed its purpose spectactularly, and Greece is in a deep political mess despite that rule.

  18. @MSS

    Austerity parties on 32.03% and 1 seat short of an absolute majority strikes me as a majority reversal. Now obviously the anti-austerity parties could not form a government because they are divided on so many other issues. Even so over 2/3 of the electorate will almost certainly have no voice in a government committed to carrying out an economic policy they have rejected.

    • Alan, that assumes there is one dimension. Clearly there is not. I prefer to do the analysis by electoral agents (i.e. parties or pre-electoral alliances), rather than by loose blocs that disagree on various issues even if they agree on one seemingly dominant one. If one issue were so dominant, the parties with like views on it should have allied, given an electoral system that gives a nice bonus to the largest group.

      You can call it a coordination failure by the anti-austerity parties, certainly, but the electoral system respected the ranking of the parties by votes in allocating seats, as it is designed to do.

  19. Gentle reminder: I wish folks would refrain from copying template-busting long URLs into the comment form.

    Now back to our discussions…

  20. Concerning the allocation of seats among the 56 constituencies, I should note that almost five years ago Espen Bjerke posted a lengthy comment on this blog (available here) in which he detailed step-by-step the distribution of Vouli seats at the constituency level under the 2004 electoral law.

    More importantly, I ran the described procedure using 2012 election results (while taking into account that there are now fifty bonus seats instead of forty), and can confirm that it produces a constituency-by-constituency distribution of seats that’s identical to the figures published by Greece’s Interior Ministry.

  21. Thanks, Manuel, for showing that everything we need to know is right here at F&V!

    And thanks, Espen, for that earlier comment!

    • Actually, of course, what Espen did would have been impossible without Manuel. This is a nice set of feedback loops we have going!

  22. @MSS

    New Democracy have abandoned attempts to form a government. There is no prospect of a New Democracy/PASOK coalition unless the rest of the left co-operates, which at least mitigates the chance of a crazy electoral system rewarding the austerity parties with government on less than a third of the popular vote.

    I don’t argue that the system has not worked as intended. I argue that a system where less than a third of the popular vote gets you within 2 seats of an absolute majority cannot be called either rational or democratic.

    In a more normal election you could suggest that issues other than austerity are in play. This is not a normal election and the lockout will be exacerbated by the absence of countervailing institutions such as a second chamber or federalism in Greece.

  23. As it happens, I remembered Espen’s comment because there’s a curious twist about it: he wrote it well before I became a frequent visitor to this blog in late 2008, but somehow I didn’t become aware of its existence until I came across it by chance shortly before Greece’s 2009 parliamentary election. As I wrote at the time to a Greek political scientist (who also provided further confirmation that Espen’s findings were right on target), “it’s a global village after all.”

    At any rate, I’ve now updated my website’s Greece page with 2012 election results, which I also have available for downloading as a CSV data file.

  24. > “a system where less than a third of the popular vote gets you within 2 seats of an absolute majority”

    well, one that is deliberately designed to produce results like that. FPTP can do that too (UK 2005) but does so “accidentally”, so to speak, in that no one’s minding the shop in terms of drafting a law that specifies how seats are to be allocated: it’s a quirk of vote-splitting and the distribution of electoral boundaries.

  25. @Tom

    I am not sure a tu quoque to FPTP is necessarily an excellent argument in favour of reinforced PR)

  26. I certainly agree that Greece’s electoral system is an abomination. Going along with the common practice of calling it “reinforced PR” is almost as bad, given that it is not PR that is being reinforced.

    I am really pleased that the result was such that ND and PASOK could not form a government. I am not sure that they intended to do so, but now that possibility is removed.

    As for the dominant issue in this election, well, sure. So why couldn’t the broad anti-austerity left present one list and take advantage of the bonus? I assume at least a significant part of the answer is that the Greek left is divided on, and still cares about, too many other issues to coordinate.

    Manuel, great “global village” story!

  27. By the way, I am told that the increase in the seat bonus from 40 to 50 was passed back before the 2009 election, but could not be legally implemented till now.

  28. MSS: why do you hold the Greek system in such low regard?

    And yes, it could not be applied until now as the Greek constitution states that electoral laws have to pass by supermajority – otherwise they only apply at the election after next.

  29. Given the apparent final seats breakdown, as shown below, what is a realistic coalition?

    108 New Democracy (mainstream right)
    52 Syriza (radical left)
    41 PASOK (Socialist/old mainstream left)
    33 Independent Greeks (ND defectors)
    26 KKE (Communists)
    21 Golden Dawn (nazis)
    19 Democratic Left (defectors from Syriza)

    It is hard to see a plausible coalition here. Elections again in a few months, anyone?

  30. I thought Dem.Left might bridge the gap for a majority for ND and PASOK, as the Al-Jazeera party guide indicated they’re more moderate with regard to bailouts and austerity.

    I really think the three days given to each party leader is far too little. It’s certainly the strictest constitutional coalition-making deadline I’ve seen.

  31. Sadly I believe there are actually candidates and parties out there whoa re not wise enough to read Fruits and Votes before they formulate their electoral strategy.

    The ABC seems to think that a repeat election is the only viable solution.

    Mr Samaras was rebuffed by the leftist Syriza party – the runner-up in the weekend poll – and the small Democratic Left group, while the nationalist Independent Greeks and the Communist party refused even to meet with him.

    Third-placed Pasok, the socialist party formerly in a coalition with New Democracy, agreed to cooperate but only if the leftists also joined.

    Presumably Syriza think they could well get the bonus seats in a revote and that they could then form an anti-austerity coalition without New Democracy. The results of that reinforced disproportional representation seem to be early elections.

    One really wonders how long the pain caucus think that EU leaders are going to continue dying in the ditch for the sacred cause.

  32. JD, it’s not that the Greek constitution sets a 3-day limit for government formation. It gives the leader of the largest party three days to respond as to whether he or she will begin an attempt to form a government.

    We are at the fomateur-selection stage, which precedes the government-formation stage.

  33. Pingback: Where Greece is, constitutionally & democratically | Fruits and Votes

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