MMM returning to Russia?

A return of the Russian Federation electoral system to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, also known as a “parallel” system) is underway. Essentially, it would return the county to the system used until ten years ago, when it was replaced by a single national district (450 seats), closed lists. Under the new-old MMM system, half the seats would continue to be elected in a nationwide closed-list contest, while the other half would consist of single-seat districts (plurality rule).

As noted in the Boston Globe:

But while the prospect of individual candidacies suggests a liberalizing of a political system often criticized as heavily tilted in favor of Putin and the governing authorities, history shows that they can actually have the opposite effect.

This is because individuals endorsed by the majority party tend to have an advantage in name recognition and resources in local races, and because candidates who run as independents can often be enticed to join the majority party when the new Parliament is formed, using perks offered by the presidential administration.

The article cites the similar experience of Ukraine, which also has followed the path of MMM > nationwide PR > MMM:

In 2007, under a system of proportional voting for party lists, the Party of Regions won 175 seats with 34.4 percent of the vote. In 2012, the Party of Regions won only 30 percent in proportional voting but now holds 209 seats thanks to victories in individual districts by its own nominees or by independents who joined the faction later.

Finally, the article quotes a Russian election monitor, Arkady Lubaryev, saying his organization would have preferred a “mixed closed system” like that of Germany, rather than the “mixed open” system being proposed. I have never seen this terminology, and it makes no sense to me (raising the risk of confusing open/closed with the type of party list used). I will stick to MMP and MMM, or compensatory and not respectively.

While I still think MMM has its uses, the more I follow developments concerning that system, the more I think it is generally the worst of both worlds. ((I might add that my co-edited book on mixed-member systems (2001) has an oft-overlooked question mark on its “best of both worlds” subtitle, and that I always thought the affirmative answer to that question was more plausible with MMP than with MMM.)) It allows establishment parties to over-perform their party label popularity, while also complicating the strategy of opposition forces, which face the contradictory pulls of incentives to coordinate in the single-seat districts with incentives to run separately due to the proportional tier. The 2012 election in Japan suggests that country may be headed down a similar path after a brief period of two-bloc competition and alternation.

13 thoughts on “MMM returning to Russia?

  1. The French are planning to add a national PR tier (15% of the seats in the lower house of parliament). This appears to be parallel rather than compensatory, with two ballots. However it is constantly referred to as the “German model”, which demonstrates journalistic ignorance about PR is nor confined to Anglo-Saxon countries.

  2. I don’t understand the need to combine proportionally elected representatives with locally elected representatives in a single chamber. Since bicameralism is not an unusual concept, why not one chamber with the locally elected representatives and a second chamber elected by some version of nationwide or provincial proportional representation?

  3. A good analogy of MMM is that it is a hybrid car with the gas and electric motors not in sync whereas the MMP system is a hybrid car where the gas and electric motors in sync, but the electric improves the gas mileage; actually one cannot say that with an MMP system; the list seats vastly improve the proportionality of the single member districts, this is probably a horrible analogy, but I gave it a try.

    MMP is a system with the list votes removing the disproportionately of the single member districts. MMP is not necessarily the best of both worlds, MMM is the worst of both worlds and both systems can be problematic especially if the country in question has a party system that is regionally fragmented, and/or atomized party system in the list component and that is especially more so in an MMM system.

    An MMP system could degrade to an MMM system if the parties themselves split into a single member district component, and a list component just to win more seats. I don’t think Russia is a country where an MMP system would work.

    Isn’t it possible to create a system that is somewhere inbetween a MMM and MMP system? Was Hungary’s old electoral system a MMM with partial proportionality?

    The difference between MMM and MMP is that the former, the two tiers have no relationship in proportionality, so it’s half proportionate system, and MMP is where the two tiers have something to do with each other.

    Both systems do have one thing in common is that politicians who lose in the single member district tier can win seats on the other tier; other than that, one is proportional representation (MMP), and the other is fake (MMM) similar to Greece’s reinforced system of PR, whatever that means.

    Australia is the country that uses the majoritarian Alternative Vote for the lower house, and proportional single transferable vote for the Senate.

    Why doesn’t Russia just use PR in multimember districts based on regions? That would be easier than having to draw single member districts boundaries.

  4. One of the problems with MMM, is that even a large PR-tier often make for only a little more proportional result. What can happen is that the gap in votes between two parties may be small, but this is not reflected in the SMD-tier, which gives one party a large lead in seats. The PR-tier, however, does reflect it. Consequently, the difference between the parties in the total seat count is dictated by the SMD-tier, and not at all balanced out by the PR-tier. This probably makes MMM little less vulnerable to perverse (‘wrong-winner’) pluralities/majorities than completely SMD systems.

    Ed@2: An interesting assertion, certainly makes sense. But there are different ways and aims for which SMDs and List-PR are combined. Sometimes it’s more about giving large parties a bonus, or making a small way for independents to be elected, as I think is the case in Bulgaria or Armenia, which both have a SMD-tier of less than 1/3.
    In a bicameral system, I think it would be desirable to inject a small degree of proportionality into SMD systems (5-15% compensatory tier) in order to prevent perverse results, as proposed by the Jenkins commission. This tier could still be locally representative through small districts, as in Jenkins’ AV+ or the Quebec MMP proposal.

    Suaprazzodi@3: Hungary’s system was, and will continue to be very close to MMM, largely because it’s ‘compensatory’ tear is and remains small, and at the same time inclusive of all wasted votes, including those of parties overrepresented in the SMD-tier.
    Russia won’t take such a course of action because its electoral system is being dictated by Putin’s partisan interest. Somewhat logically (and perhaps thankfully), Putin’s cronies are taking their lesson from Ukraine rather than Singapore. Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised if they would also follow Ukraine’s example by simply using the same districts used in the last MMM-election, rather than drawing up new and well-apportioned ones.

  5. DC@1: What a ridiculous proposal! If it won’t be compensatory, what is that PR-tier supposed to achieve?

  6. JD,

    The French PR tier is supposed to help “inclusivity”. Currently small parties (that don’t make a deal with a large party) can be completely shut out of national politics. Rather than alienate those voters who never see their interests represented in parliament, the French state would rather coopt them by allowing them some representation, but not very much. It appears that completely revamping the electoral method was outside the mandate of the commission in any case, so any reforms were bound to be minimal.

    Should the proposal be implemented, the most meaningful effect will almost certainly be the Front National gaining a dozen or two seats in parliament. Will that increase their legitimacy and power? Force them to compromise? It’s hard to know!

  7. I think the point of it is that the PS and the UMP will no longer be obliged (or at least will be less obliged) to court smaller parties at district level.

    So called “useful voting” will probably see lots of French voters split their ballot between the district and PR levels, as we saw in Japan, thus a small party seeking representation will not waste a lot of resources at local level unless they have a solid existing base (the PCF, or the PRG, for example).

    Any meaningful fair representation will see the FN in parliament-its basically unavoidable. I’m sure a large part of the reason the PR component of this reform is so niggardly is an attempt to avoid a situation where the FN would systematically be the third or fourth party, potentially holding the balance of power.

    It could be worse-they could have tried to impose the awful system for regional elections (two-round list PR with “winners” bonus) at a a national level, which was apparently a proposal at one point.

  8. To get back to Russia-wasn’t the last time Russia had MMM something of a problem for Yeltsin (and for Putin at the beginning of his rule)-in that local barons could and did create strong power bases independent of Moscow-it wasn’t necessarily progressive (far from it) but it did put legislative breaks on the regime. The national list PR (with ridiculously high threshold and qualification rules) was designed to squash that localism.

    • DC, your recollection matches mine. Maybe this time around, Putin is willing to risk some resurgent localism as the price to pay for working around the declining value of his party label. By now, the United Russia may be sufficiently centralized that localism can be more readily co-opted.

  9. Odd that anyone would confuse “closed” with “compensatory.”

    However, as to “best of both worlds” being the right slogan for MMP advocates, in Canada we often use it twice. Both the Law Commission of Canada and the Quebec Director-General of Elections have looked closely at open-list MMP and closed-list MMP, and concluded that “flexible list” is the best of both of those worlds too. As the Quebec DGE said “The objective of the flexible list system to achieve a balance between voter choice, usually associated with open lists, and better representation of women and minorities, usually attributed to closed lists.”

  10. Ed (#2), there should be a big difference, in terms of policy-making, between having two chambers fully elected by different means, and having one chamber in which a majority must encompass members elected by different means.

    One involves inter-cameral transactions (between separate veto gates, assuming the chambers are co-equal) and the other involves intra-cameral transactions. In the latter, the countervailing incentives must be internalized within the majority party, or within and between parties in case of no majority party, in order to arrive at a chamber position. In the former, by contrast, each chamber arrives at a separate and less internally diverse position, and then they bargain.

    Ultimately, it would be very hard to show how or if the results are empirically different, but theoretically, the process is certainly different. And, of course, in most parliamentary systems, the government will be accountable to only one of those chambers, which further differentiates the two institutional scenarios.

    (This discussion would be more appropriate for a general discussion of MM systems than one specific to Russia, but we are where we are…)

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