Greece to abolish bonus adjustment (maybe)

A law to change Greek electoral system has passed, according to Ekathimerini. The law removes the provision that awards the plurality party 50 bonus seats in the 300-seat parliament.

This complies with a manifesto commitment of the party that leads the current governing coalition, SYRIZA.

The cynical interpretation, of course, is that they must not be very confident of remaining the largest party. Indeed, polling shows New Democracy (the prior ruling party, of the center-right) ahead. By a lot, though only around 30%, with SYRIZA in something of a free fall.

Nonetheless, the removal of the bonus adjustment will not take place in time for the next election, but rather would start with the one after that. Greece is one of the few (only?) democracies to mandate that an electoral system change can take effect immediately only if it obtains a super-majority.

As things stand, apart from the 144 SYRIZA and nine Independent Greeks lawmakers, the only other members of the House that intend to vote for the draft legislation are 15 from the Communist Party and nine from the Centrists’ Union, as well as two independent deputies. (Ekathimerini)

This left the law short of the required two thirds.

Of course, if the next government is made up of a party or coalition that likes the bonus, the reform law could be repealed. Hence the “maybe” in the title of this post.

(A later WSJ report–behind a pay wall–confirms that the bill passed, with well under 2/3.)

16 thoughts on “Greece to abolish bonus adjustment (maybe)

    • Possibly Cyprus, but I do not know the specific provision. I guess it’s a neighborhood phenomenon. The Italian system is (was) quite different, and even less proportional, but still I would call it bonus-adjusted PR.


      • I think Cyprus at the moment is pretty vanilla list PR with an average DM of 9 and a fairly low threshold. I don’t think there is a bonus for the largest party, though before 1995 the electoral system was a copy of the Greek electoral system at that time (parties who won a quota in a district won a seat, and seats not distributed in the districts were distributed amongst parties at the national level, though those parties needed a high share of the vote to participate in that distribution).


  1. Interesting that Greece uses a Scandinavian Constitutional Method for change the electoral system, is this a good thing, or something that Canada needs? I am surprised that they wouldn’t have in addition to abolishing the bonus seats, that they would have raised the threshold as well.


    • I assume that not raising the threshold was an attempt by SYRIZA to get support from the smaller parties for the change, and thus get their backing, though this attempt does not seem to have been especially successful.


  2. “Of course, if the next government is made up of a party or coalition that likes the bonus, the reform law could be repealed.”

    But if in the next election is elected a parliament that resurrects the bonus, the next-next elections will have bonus or only the next-next-next election?


  3. In principle, I like the Greek idea. It strikes a neat balance between allowing the governing party or coalition to fiddle electoral rules to produce the result it wants (Queensland Labor in 1986: “Preferences should be outlawed! Bring back first-past-the-post!” Queensland Labor in 2001: “Preferences should be optional! Just vote 1!” Queensland Labor in 2016: “Preferences should be compulsory! Number every square!” Federal Labor re the Senate: “The 2016 moves to semi-optional preferences fall between two stools – more votes binned before the count as informal because they don’t number enough squares, AND more votes binned during the count as exhausted because they don’t preference enough candidates.” Federal Labor re the House: “Make it a valid vote to just number one square on the ballot paper? Uh… rather not, thanks”. Anyway, you get the point) and entrenching the current rules to require a referendum or supermajority to amend (eg, NSW Labor entrenching in the State Constitution in 1978 that 10 [later 15] preferences shall be necessary and sufficient for a valid Upper House vote: useful as a safeguard against Evatt-like lunatics trying to make full preferences compulsory by statute, but also a roadblock to further relaxation of the preference rules, and now also requires any party wanting a group=voting square to field at least 15 candidates).
    However, with my lawyer hat on, I see potential pitfalls. What if the existing rules (in force for the next <729 days) have some ambiguity? is it permissible to immediately bring in an Act that clarifies an ambiguous existing law, as opposed to one that overturns clear existing law? If the former, does this give an incentive for legislators to write vague laws?
    Eg, suppose your existing law says "A ballot must vote for at least 10 candidates to be valid". A candidate dies between close of nominations and election day. Questions arise as to whether a ballot containing votes for 9 living candidates plus the deceased is still valid. (I'd have thought "Obviously yes", but in NSW the legal advice is no, which is why every Legislative Council ticket has to nominate an additional 15 reserve candidates in case a death leaves the ticket with only 14 or fewer of the original candidates). The Parliament immediately rushes through (by simple majority) an Act clarifying this, either way. Is a court bound by this when deciding the issue during the 2-year cooling-off period? or should judges treat a not-yet-operative amending Act as persuasive, perhaps, but not legally binding on them?


    • By the way, my random selection of examples above picked on Labor, but the conservatives have been nearly as nakedly opportunistic. After the 2010 election, the Right discovered that preferential voting was some kind of commie trick to keep Julia Gillard in power, and started demanding first-past-the-post. Now that the Right wing of the Liberals have protest-voted against Turnbull, or at least against those Liberal candidates who voted to dump Abbott as leader, they seem to have discovered the beauties of preferential voting all over again.


      • Antony Green explains “[NSW] Legislative Council Second Preference Groups” (15 March 2011):

        “… second preference groups … are required because of the rigidity of the Legislative Council’s electoral system, detailed in Schedule Six of the NSW Constitution. When popular election for the Legislative Council was introduced in 1978, all the detail of the counting method was entrenched in Schedule Six and can only be amended by referendum.

        … Entrenched in Schedule Six of the Constitution is a minimum requirement of 15 preferences for a formal vote. When the ‘above the line’ ticket voting option was changed in 2000, a single ‘1’ above the line was restricted to being for the chosen group only, which is why groups are now forced to stand at least 15 candidates.

        But the Constitution has no counting procedure for candidates that die, and the second preference groups were introduced to deal with the problem. At the 2011 election, the Coalition are standing 15 candidates, meaning there would be only 14 candidates if one died, and all Coalition above the line ‘1’ votes would then become informal. By lodging a second preference group, a safety net is introduced by nominating a second group on the ballot to whom preferences can flow on to achieve 15 preferences…”


      • I think the answer is that the electoral system should be entrenched and gaps can be covered by ordinary law. I much prefer Ireland’s provision which calls for the single transferable vote and otherwise stays silent, than NSW detailed prescription of how to count and election. I would add 3 words to the Irish provisions. In relation to the president they read:

        12.1.3The voting shall be by secret ballot and on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.

        I would add ‘of the electors’ to make clear that the electoral system represents the electors, not the candidates or the parties.


    • Incidentally, it’s always surprised me that Labor have not tried to introduce something similar to the South Australian House of Assembly system for the Federal House. In South Australia, voters are instructed to number every box on the ballot paper. However, parties also register how-to-vote cards displayed in the voting booth.

      As I understand it, if a voter does not number every box on the House ballot, but their vote indicates the same preferences as a registered how-to-vote card, that vote is counted as formal, and the preferences on the how-to-vote card are applied to it. (so, for example, if the Labor HTV card is 1 Labor 2 Green 3 Liberal, and the vote is 1 Labor, the vote would be treated as 1 Labor 2 Green 3 Liberal.)

      It seems to me that such an approach would reduce informal voting, which I believe is still an issue for Labor, while ensuring that no Green preferences exhaust.


      • I am afraid I find the South Australian system reprehensible. It is above-the-line voting without any boring formalities like a line or the consent of the elector. I might have only 1 preference, consciously intend a protest vote, or not know the electoral legislation. In any of those cases S93 snaffles my vote against my intent to the convenience of the political parties.


      • You may well find it reprehensible, and I would agree with you (optional preferences are a far better way of reducing the informal vote), but I have a feeling that the Labor Party would not necessarily be deterred by this.


  4. Doesn’t also Ireland require multi-member districts no smaller than 3 in it’s Constitution as well, or else the parties would fiddle with the system if there isn’t a minimum district magnitude?


  5. Armenia held elections on Sunday (thanks to the front page of Wikipedia for informing me!). Interestingly, they appear to have adopted bonus-adjusted PR in 2015 (replacing MMM), with a unique two-round system for determining who gets the bonus (actually, that may have been a feature of the introduced-but-never-used 2015 ‘Italicum’ system in Italy, but I’m not certain); they also appear to have moved from semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism at the same time.

    They now use two-tier PR (with what appear to be closed lists at the national level and open lists at the district level). If the first place party/alliance has a majority of the vote but less than 54% of seats, it gets increased to 54% of total seats. If no party/coalition has a majority of seats, there is a 6-day negotiation period to form a majority coalition, and if a majority is formed in that time, they are increased to 54% of seats. If no majority is formed in that period, a second round of elections between the two largest lists (who can form new alliances), and the list getting the most votes is increased to 54%.

    They’ve also introduced some minority protections: at least 3 lists must be elected to parliament, even if fewer than 3 cross the threshold; there are reserved seats for ethnic minorities; there is a 30% gender quota for the “top segment” of the party’s list (not sure how that’s defined); and if the majority win over 2/3 of seats, additional seats are provided for the minority so that they have 1/3 of the total seats in parliament.

    As far as bonus-adjusted systems go, this appears to be pretty well-designed and democratic (in that it is explicitly a majority bonus and not a plurality bonus, and that the bonus cannot give the majority the power to unilaterally amend the constitution). However, thus far the bonus provision has been unnecessary, though the 1/3 seats for the minority rule appears to have been applied in 2018 and looks like it should be applied this year as well, as the largest alliance won 69% of seats on less than 54% of the vote (nearly 20% of votes went to parties below the threshold).

    Click to access 293546.pdf


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