Nepal’s new constitution

After its revolution in 2007 more than seven years of discussion, missed deadlines and constitutional deadlock in two consecutive constituent assemblies, Nepal finally passed a permanent constitution earlier this year, which entered into force on September 20th. A two-thirds majority was required to pass it.

The new constitution establishes the country as a federal parliamentary republic, with marked similarities to India and Pakistan. The president is elected for a five-year term by an ‘electoral college’ consisting of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. Executive power is vested in the cabinet.

Legislative branch

Parliament is to be bicameral. The cabinet is responsible to the House of Representatives, which, like the Constituent Assembly, will be elected for five years through Mixed-Member Majoritarian: 165 seats by single-seat plurality and 110 by party-list PR, with no districting. The unusually-named (for an upper house) National Assembly have 59 members: 8 members from each of the 7 provinces elected by Provincial Assembly members, joined by local representatives (chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of village councils, and Mayors and Deputy Mayors of Municipal councils) whose votes will be weighted, presumably according to each local authority’s population; the other 3 will be appointed by the government. They are to serve a six-year staggered term, with one-third retiring every two years.

The National Assembly may delay financial bills by 15 days, and delay other bills proposed by the lower house for two months. Only bills that were introduced in the upper house but lack bicameral agreement are to be sent to joint session. Thus, Nepal’s bicameralism is far weaker than in India and Pakistan, where joint session is the deadlock-breaking mechanism for any non-financial bill. And even on bills that make it to joint session, Nepal’s upper house is weaker as it is smaller in relation to the lower house (India is roughly 2:1, Pakistan 7:2 while Nepal will be about 9:2).

With this weak upper house, the constitution enacted has no constitutional ex-ante checks on the power of a majority government to pass legislation. A large number of the proposed drafts contained a more powerful upper house. Sadly, the main parties probably made short shrift of such proposals, preferring not to have their ambitions checked when taking part in future governments.

The constitution can be amended by two-thirds majorities in both houses, with changes to provincial boundaries also requiring the consent of the assemblies of the provinces involved.

Judicial branch

Lastly, the Supreme Court is to be appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council, out of which a special Constitutional Bench will be formed including the Chief Justice and four other Justices chosen by the Judicial Council. The Chief Justice is appointed for a six-year term on advice of the Constitutional Council. All Justices serve until mandatory retirement age of 65.

The Judicial Council will consist of:

  1. the Chief Justice, presiding,
  2. the most senior Supreme Court Justice
  3. the Federal Law & Justice Minister,
  4. a senior legal expert appointed by the PM, and
  5. a senior legal advocate appointed by the Nepal Bar Association.

The Constitutional Council will consist of:

  1. the PM, presiding,
  2. the Chief Justice
  3. the chairman of the upper house
  4. the speaker of the lower house
  5. the deputy-speaker of the lower house, and
  6. the Leader of the Opposition

Enduring controversies

Far from settling Nepal’s political quagmire, the new constitution has proven to be very controversial. Its (impending) passage sparked demonstrations and unrest around the country. Protesters have blocked roads and vital supplies and dozens have died in clashes with police over the past few months.

The most contentious issue remains as it was during the years of deadlock in the Constituent Assemblies: the drawing of the boundaries of the new provinces. While the final boundaries are said not to be completely settled yet, the schedule is quite specific, and it provides for largely multi-ethnic provinces. There is therefore a great deal of opposition from groups wanting a linguistic and ethnic delineation providing them with their ‘own’ provinces.

Other disputes include women and minority rights in the new constitution (including in particular the definition of citizenship, which favours the father), its secular nature, the lower proportion of lower house seats to be elected by PR (45%, compared with 58% for the Constituent Assembly), and the federal terms concerning provincial autonomy. There are, of course, also those happy the constitutional deadlock is over, if not with the constitution itself, but

It will be interesting to see whether the final provincial boundary-drawing will be affected, and how the salience of these constitutional issues evolves. The first regular elections will not be held for several years, as the term of the Constituent Assembly, now transformed into ‘Legislature-Parliament’, will end in January 2018.

Polish electoral system referendum

Poland held three referendums on September 7th, one of which concerned a proposal of changing the Sejm (the country’s lower house) electoral system to one of single-seat districts. The proposals were submitted to referendum by outgoing president Bronislaw Komorowski. Under the Polish Constitution either the president, with consent of the Senate, or the Sejm, may submit proposals to referendum (article 125), the result of which is binding if turnout is over 50%.

Turnout in the referendum was extremely low: only 7.8% of Polish voters bothered to vote. Almost 79% voted in favour of changing to FPTP, which was very much in line with the polls, which had consistently shown large majorities in favour.

However, it is doubtful if the electoral system proposal could have been implemented even if the turnout threshold had been reached, considering that the constitution mandates proportionality in Sejm elections. Moreover, the procedure used was a ‘regular’ referendum rather than the procedure necessary for a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in the Sejm.

What led to this referendum? The issue was basically put on the agenda by Pawel Kukiz, a rockstar, social activist and presidential candidate, who came third in the first round of the presidential election in May with just under 21% of the vote. Electoral reform, in the shape of adoption of single-seat districts, was one of his few main issues in his grass-roots, anti-system campaign, with the stated aim of breaking up the ‘partocracy’ and making politicians more individually accountable. In response, after the first round Komorowski ordered the referendum on the issue.

This is not the first popular movement in favour of a move in the direction of more majoritarian electoral systems. Romania and Italy have had comparable movements, successful in Italy, almost successful in Romania. Personally I’m a little puzzled by Poland’s movement, or at least the supposed aim as I would expect that individual MP accountability would be a relatively strong side of Poland’s open-list system (which allows a high degree of voter influence over which candidates are elected from each list), while local representation wouldn’t be too big an issue under its moderate district magnitude (7 to 19, mean is about 11). Are they indeed grasping at straws, or am I missing something?

On District-Ordered Lists: in reaction to Éric Grenier’s proposal

A month or two back, Éric Grenier from, who is often cited on this blog when the discussion turns towards current electoral prospects in Canada, proposed an electoral reform to introduce PR in that country. The proposal suggests a retention of current electoral districts as a list-ordering mechanism: while seats would be allocated proportionally to parties within each province, voters would still cast a vote for one candidate in their district, and each party’s seats would be awarded to the party’s candidates achieving the highest shares of the vote in their districts.

To my knowledge, two countries use a very similar system: Slovenia and Romania. The Slovenian system is practically identical, with the difference that seats are allocated to candidates on the basis of the number of votes they receive in their district, rather than the percentage. The Romanian system is different in that it guarantees a seat to any candidate with more than 50% of a district’s vote, and guarantees that each district has (at least) one representative (with potentially more in the case of an overhang). Another substantially similar case is the German state of Baden-Württemburg, where half the seats are filled by the plurality winners of each district and the other half by the party’s ‘best loser’ candidates by district vote share. In the absence of another moniker (as far as I’m aware) I shall collectively call all these systems (including Grenier’s proposal) ‘District-Ordered List systems’. Of these, only systems where each district winner is guaranteed a seat (as in Baden-Württemburg’s ‘best loser’ scheme) may be considered to be a type of MMP.

Though I recognise that District-Ordered List systems may have some merit, they suffer from some serious disadvantages, especially with comparison to 2-vote MMP.

As the Jenkins Commission put it some years ago, “turning losers into winners” may be seen as problematic. This is even more the case in those systems which do not guarantee district plurality winners a seat, as the representative elected from a district may only have taken a small share of the vote while the first-, second-, third-, and even fourth- placed candidates return empty-handed. In Slovenia (and under the Grenier proposal), some districts, particularly deeply-divided ones, can be left with none of its candidates elected and no local representation at all, while other districts may see more than one candidate elected. Romania doesn’t have that problem as its system ensures that every district has its own MP, but those MPs are more likely to be second- or third-placed within their own district. Baden-Württemburg’s best-loser MMP eliminates most of these problems by ensuring each district’s first-placed candidate gets a seat.

Another limitation of District-Ordered List systems is that they (as proposed or currently used) feature a single vote, meaning voting for district representative is completely tied up with the party vote (unlike the most commonly used variant of MMP, which features two votes: a district vote and a list vote). While ordering lists by district is an attempt to bring individual accountability to the list component[1], having a single vote means that voters cannot assess district candidates independently from the parties. For example, if a voter identifies with a party but dislikes that party’s candidate in his district, he may be faced with a dilemma. That dilemma does not exist under 2-vote MMP, where a district vote for party A’s candidate should not, in principle, affect party B (or any party’s) final seat count, which is determined separately according to the number of list votes attained by each party. This should make individual, district-level accountability stronger under regular 2-vote MMP.

Another issue has been raised previously by Matthew Shugart, this blog’s chief planter:

“By rewarding a candidate for driving up his or her vote even in a district where the candidate has little realistic chance of winning, best-loser allocation exacerbates some of the worst features of FPTP. Whereas under [2-vote] MMP rules, the two big parties have a strong incentive to seek to position themselves near the center of the nationwide electorate to maximize their party vote, under the best-loser rule, they would be back to the old days of targeting districts and seeking to appeal to voters located in relatively closely contested districts. They would want to do so because, even if they are not likely to win such electorates, those are the electorates where their highest quality candidates have the best shot at entering parliament despite losing the district race.”

I don’t know to what degree this has been the case in the aforementioned countries using district-ordered lists[2], but the charge certainly makes sense, although I think it is a little overstated: under First-Past-the-Post, parties target marginal seats as a seat-maximizing strategy. Under any system with district-ordered lists, each party’s seat total is generally determined proportionally and independently of the number of districts won[3]. This means the general effect should be lesser than under FPTP, though it may still be just as strong when it comes to nomination strategies. Either way, Matthew’s argument underlines the point I try to make above: though 1-vote district-ordered list systems are supposed to introduce a certain individual accountability to the list, the fact that voters have but one vote means that to a large extent, voting patterns are party- rather than candidate-based. Safe and marginal seats can therefore be expected to exist by virtue of partisan rather than candidate support. To summarize, this not only means personal, district-level accountability will not be any stronger than under first-past-the-post, but may also impact parties’ nomination strategies at least as much as FPTP.

To some degree, one could address these issues with the best-loser MMP model by slightly modifying it to have two votes: one for district representative and the other determining each party’s overall share of seats, but with list seats going to the ‘best losers’ in the district tier. Voters could split their vote, thus generating district results that more closely reflect voters’ appreciation for the candidates rather than for the parties they are affiliated with (all the while having their list vote count fully for the calculation of the seat total of their preferred party). There would be less of a risk in nominating ‘quality’ candidates in less-than-safe districts, as the relative safety of a district would less be a function of partisan preferences and more of appreciation for the nominated candidates. Of course, this may work only to the degree that people understand and use their two votes in this way. If they would still overwhelmingly vote for their preferred party’s candidate, either because they do not understand that it does not impact their party’s total or for instance because they only value candidates based on their partisan affiliation, the improvement felt would be negligible.

Either way, this also raises a broader question: is pitting individual candidates against other individual candidates of other parties an effective way of holding candidates individually accountable, as under FPTP, MMP or any district-ordered list PR? Personally, I suspect systems where candidates face competition from other candidates of the same party, such as open-list systems or STV, may have more to offer on this score[4].

[1] For example, the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly described best-loser MMP as having “greater accountability [than regular 2-vote MMP] as voters would have a more direct vote for those who are chosen to represent them.”

[2] The evidence Matthew cites comes from Japan, which allows parties to order their lists based on success in districts, but does not make it mandatory.

[3] The exception is overhang, which under some systems may increase a party’s seat total beyond its proportional share, and which may or may not be a realistic prospect, depending on the electoral situation.

[4] Whichever is the case, I can think of only one system that offers a direct compromise between the two principles: open-list MMP.

Majoritarianism with little strategic voting in Andorra

The Pyrennean microstate of Andorra held a parliamentary election in March.

The principality’s General Council consists of 28 members elected by a majoritarian mixed-member system (MMM): half is elected proportionally from national party lists (largest remainders; the threshold is one Hare quota – 7.15%) and the other half, in parallel, by list plurality (party with most votes takes all seats) – 2 from each of the country’s seven parishes, with quite a bit of malapportionment.

The results were as follows:

Party District List PR Total
Votes (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats
Democrats for Andorra 39.4 (38.6) 10 37.0  (36.3) 5 15
Liberal Party of Andorra 27.5 (26.1) 4 27.7  (26.7) 4 8
PS+VERDS+IC+I 23.6 (24.0) 0 23.5  (24.6) 3 3
Social Democracy and Progress 9.5   (11.3) 0 11.7  (12.5) 2 2
  • The figures in brackets exclude votes from the two parishes where one or more parties did not put forward a slate of candidates.
  • The Democrats and Liberals were allied with various local parties and independents in most parishes.

Curiously, though the tiers are clearly separate, the parties’ vote shares in the different tiers were almost identical (a total of 4.9% when adding up the differences, 4.7% when disregarding votes from districts with incomplete nominations). The same pattern largely holds across districts, and can be observed in previous election results. The only times there has been a significant difference between vote shares in the two tiers occured when certain parties did not nominate in a district.In the districts, the Democrats and Liberals were allied with different parties and independents.

These results run counter to the expectation of strategic voting in the district tier, where the smaller parties had little chance of winning seats. Such strategic voting (in one tier) is common in mixed-member systems. If we can call the pattern in Andorra’s results cross-tier contamination, it would seem to run from the list tier to the district tier rather than the other way. However, this may not the best way to look at it.

Maybe the lack of polls in this small country left voters with too little information to vote strategically? But they could still have learnt about the different parties’ chances from previous elections (of course, strategic voting elsewhere predates the proliferation of public opinion polls anyway). Andorran parties certainly seem to have nominated more strategically in the past, most notably in the previous election (2011) when only two parties competed in each district; this was more rare this time, but alliances between parties remain common.

It may not be of any great significance, but I think it’s a fascinating anomaly.

Luxembourg term limit referendum

On June 7th, the same day as the Turkish and Mexican elections, Luxembourg held three referenda: one proposal would have reduced the voting age to 16, another would have extended voting rights to foreigners living in the country for more than 10 years and the last one would have imposed a ten-year term limit on serving as member of the government. All three proposals were resoundingly defeated, though the term limit measure came closer to being approved than the others (30% in favour).

The background for the term limit proposal is the premiership of Jean-Claude Juncker, who served lasted for no less than 18 years before resigning in 2013 amidst a corruption and spying scandal (he went on to become EU Commission President). Following early elections, a new government formed which excluded Juncker’s party, CSV, from government for the first time since 1979. It is this government that initiated these constitutional amendment proposals.

Though being very common among (semi-)presidential countries, term limits are exceedingly rare among parliamentary systems; the only examples I know of are Thailand and South Africa.

[MSS adds: Perhaps also Botswana among parliamentary systems. In semi-presidential systems, there certainly are cases of term limits on the president, but I do not think there are any such limits on membership in the cabinet. We might also add here that, as far as I know, the only cases with term limits on legislators are all pure presidential systems–some Latin American countries, including Mexico, as well as the Philippines and some US states, including California.]

Jobbik ‘wins first seat’ and other journalistic foot-in-mouthisms on Hungary

(Comments are open)

Hungary’s extreme nationalist party, Jobbik, won a tightly-contested by-election on Sunday. In Hungary’s mixed-member majoritarian system, a little over half the seats are elected by plurality from single-seat districts (before 2014, a two-round system was used). The by-election was held to fill one of these seats, previously held by government party Fidesz.

If you read the BBC’s headline, you could be excused for thinking this is a major political breakthrough for Jobbik: “Far-right Jobbik party takes first seat in Hungary”. This is of course not the case; Jobbik has been represented in parliament since the 2010 election, where it secured about a sixth of the vote, consequently growing to more than a fifth of the vote in 2014. In both elections it was unsuccessful in winning any constituency seats, so all its MPs (23 out of the total 199 in 2014) were elected from the party list. The text accompanying the video-article is more accurate, but is probably still confusing to those unfamiliar with Hungary’s electoral system:

The far-right Jobbik party in Hungary has won its first ever individual constituency in parliament, taking the Tapolca seat with a majority of just under 300 votes. It is now the most successful nationalist party in Europe and will challenge the governing Fidesz party in parliamentary elections due in three years’ time.

The video doesn’t offer any clarification. One might wonder, if this is really only its first-ever seat, how exactly its the most successful party of its kind, and how such a small force might challenge Fidesz for government.

Of course, being able to win a constituency seat is a great achievement for Jobbik and indicates it may even be in the running for first place in 2016; considering its political position, however, it will almost certainly only enter government if it wins a parliamentary majority. This is however rendered more likely by the change in electoral system from two-round to single-round plurality, which means Jobbik can benefit from the split in the vote for its more mainstream rivals, as it did in Sunday’s by-election.

Jobbik’s win is a further blow to Fidesz, whose approval ratings have tanked since winning the general election last year. It has already lost a seat in another by-election in February, causing it to lose its two-thirds majority required to unilaterally amend the country’s constitution. Strangely, this was reported by some news outlets as being a loss of its three-quarters majority. One truly wonders how such a detail could be lost in translation.

Choosing executive format in Sri Lanka and Mauritius

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As previously mentioned on this blog, Sri Lanka recently elected Maithripala Sirisena as president. Among his campaign promises was a pledge to initiate a series of constitutional reforms, including to the judiciary, parliament’s electoral system, as well as the reform of his own post, the executive presidency. Though his manifesto is a little vague[1], it seems the intended reform is a return to parliamentarism.

Sri Lanka adopted semi-presidentialism in 1977, with the first direct presidential elections being held in 1982. The current constitution puts the president at the centre of the political system. Specifically, it is president-parliamentary, the semi-presidential variant which empowers the president both to appoint and to fire the cabinet, which is also subject to parliamentary confidence. This executive format has combined with other institutions to make for an exceptionally powerful presidency – some common in such systems (such as a dissolution power), other unusual among democracies of any executive format (such as the ability to call and set the date for a snap presidential election, as well as the ban on MP defection, which has allowed presidents to remove dissident MPs from their party from parliament, not to mention the recent amendment allowing a president to run for a third term).

This constitutional arrangement has been a source of contention for most of its existence; in fact, abolition of the executive presidency and a return to parliamentarism has already been promised by various politicians since the 90’s, when Chandrika Kumaratunga was twice elected on that very platform. The new constitution which consequently emerged from multi-party talks was shelved by the withdrawal of the United National Party from the talks, preventing the necessary 2/3 majority from materialising. Sirisena’s constitutional reform proposals face the same challenge; although his broader agenda seems to be picking up momentum in parliament, where he has secured a majority as a result of defections, his new coalition still falls far short of the necessary supermajority. If his proposals fail to pass, calling a snap parliamentary election looks like the obvious strategy.

Interestingly, voters in neighbouring Mauritius were recently offered a constitutional reform in the opposite direction. Like Sri Lanka, the country was a Commonwealth Realm before becoming a republic, but it is still governed under its inherited parliamentary system. Its electoral system is multiple-seat plurality or bloc voting (also known on this blog as Multiple Non-Transferable Vote or MNTV) along with a small number of members appointed from among the highest-voted losing candidates in order to ensure ethnic and religious minority representation. Over the last decades, elections have increasingly been fought between pairs of variable pre-electoral coalitions.

The 2010 general election was won by the Alliance de l’Avenir, consisting of Labour (PTR), PMSD and MSM, which faced the MMM-led Alliance du Coeur. The Alliance d’Avenir dissolved in 2012, leaving Labour governing alone. Before calling the December, 2014 election, Labour forged an alliance with MMM, with at its heart an agreement to establish a semi-presidential ‘Second Republic’, an idea which has been put forward before. Though the proposal is said to be inspired by the French model (as it had been in Sri Lanka), it, too, differs from it significantly. It would have elected the president, along with a vice-president, by plurality for a seven-year term (in France, it was reduced to five in 2002), while seemingly increasing the president’s control over the cabinet to a level higher than standard premier-presidentialism,[2].

Under the agreement, if the alliance were to achieve the necessary three-quarters majority in parliament, the constitution would be amended to bring about the change, with Labour leader, Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam resigning to present himself as a presidential candidate and MMM leader Paul Berenger would replace him as Prime Minister. In the event, the Labour-MMM alliance lost the election to the opposition Alliance Lepep, led by MSM’s veteran politician and longtime prime minister, Anerood Jugnauth. As it stood opposed to the ‘Second Republic’ proposal, the Alliance Lepep’s victory puts it off the agenda for the foreseeable future.

[1] From Sirisena’s manifesto: “The new constitution structure would be essentially an Executive allied with the Parliament through cabinet instead of the present autocratic Executive Presidential System”, which I read as parliamentarism, but does not explicitly rule out that the emasculated presidency will remain directly elected.

[2] “The Prime Minister shall give effective consideration to any recommendation of the President to appoint and revoke a Minister.” Some commentators have argued this amounts to president-parliamentarism.

Electoral reform debate in Burma

Burma’s parliament is currently debating electoral reform ahead of next year’s election, as part of a wider constitutional debate.

Burma, which had been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1962, has recently embarked on a path of democratisation. Since a new constitution was passed in 2008, a lot of progress has been made, including the freeing of most political prisoners and expansion of civil liberties: people have become far freer to criticise the government and some public demonstrations are being permitted, something completely unknown just ten years ago.

Burma’s current constitution came into force in a 2008 referendum. Consequently, legislative elections were held in 2010 for three-quarters of each house, the other one-quarter being appointed by the military. In the House of Nationalities, the upper house, each state or region* elects twelve members, with the lower house representing by population, for a total of 168/224 and 330/440 seats respectively (elected/total); all elections were by single seat plurality. The election was not considered free and fair, and was boycotted by the opposition National League for Democracy, whose leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was still under house arrest at the time. The military government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) captured an outright majority in both houses (over two-thirds of all elected seats).

Under the new constitution, the president is elected indirectly, with the military and both houses of parliament each having one vote. After the 2010 election, USDP leader and incumbent premier in the military government, Thein Sein, was elected president, taking office in 2011 and forming the country’s first fully civilian government under the new constitution. Though many expected the new government to act as a proxy for the military and for the new parliament to act as a rubber stamp, both have shown surprising independence and commitment to democratisation; even military-appointed MPs aren’t always voting as a bloc.

In 2012, more than forty by-elections were held (on a single day), mostly to fill seats vacated by MPs appointed to Sein’s cabinet. With Suu Kyi having been released, the NLD decided to take part. Despite continuing irregularities, the by-elections were regarded as freer than the general election two years prior. Almost all seats were won by the NLD, with Suu Kyi winning a huge majority in her own constituency. The NLD has confirmed that it will contest the next general election, scheduled for October next year.

A few months ago, an electoral reform proposal introducing PR was passed in the upper house, and it has been debated in the lower house since then. Unsurprisingly, the proposal is backed by the USDP, which can expect a near-wipeout next year if first-past-the-post is kept, as indicated by the by-elections. This would replicate the result of the 1990 election (ultimately rejected by the junta) where the NLD won just shy of 80% of seats on 53% of the vote.

The NLD, probably for the very same reason, strongly opposes PR, at times offering arguments as silly as that PR favours large parties while suppressing small ones. At best, they’ve called for a referendum on the topic. Many from ethnic minorities are also opposed, with some taking to the streets to demonstrate against the proposal. The opposition of minorities is perhaps surprising considering the nature of PR, but in Burma most ethnic minorities are geographically concentrated and so benefit from FPTP.

The exact reform on the table is not yet clear, as the the lower house seems to have abandoned the original proposal, appointing a special commission, which came up with a number of alternatives. Besides PR, the commission put forward a number of hybrids, some of which envisage different systems for different regions of the country, with the ethnic states to retain a more majoritarian system. Either way, considering the USDP’s parliamentary majority and the assured support of military appointees, it seems all but certain that some change will be made by the time of next year’s election.

* Burma has 7 ‘states’, where ethnic minorities, such as the Shan and Karen, form majorities, and 7 ‘regions’, where the Bamar majority is dominant.

Turkey’s new semi-presidential politics

By JD Mussel

At Al-Monitor, Cengiz Candar offers an insightful perspective on politics under Turkey’s now semi-presidential constitution.

Turkey’s Constitution was amended in 2007 to make the president directly elected, changing the executive format from parliamentary to premier-presidential. Accordingly, the first presidential elections were held on August 10th, which were won by majority in the first round by Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been prime minister since 2003.

Outgoing (indirectly-elected) president Abdullah Gul (who, along with Erdogan, was one of the AK party’s founders), had been considered the strongest contender for the party chairmanship and premiership* now vacated by Erdogan. However, Erdogan appears to have viewed this prospect as a threat, and has instead designated Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as prime minister, to be confirmed by a special party congress on the 27th, the day before Erdogan’s swearing-in.

As Candar puts it:

Erdogan does not want Gul at the head of the AKP, and he does not want him as the next prime minister of Turkey.

The reason is transparent: Gul cannot and will not be a puppet prime minister for Erdogan, who wants a more or less South American-style presidency for the next five years, if not 10.

To be more constitutionally exact, it will resemble a French-style (non-cohabitation) presidency, considering its premier-presidentialism framework as well as the AKP’s clear majority in the Grand National Assembly, which it partly owes to the country’s majoritarian 10%-threshold electoral system. This combination of institutions should work to strongly presidentialize parties, and invest the president with the effective power to choose and fire his own prime minister, as is the case in France.

However, it would seem that the situation might develop differently if Gul does manage to become party chairman after all. It certainly doesn’t seem likely to happen, but it would certainly be interesting if it did. Are there precedents of such a thing happening? Has a majority party in a premier-presidential system ever successfully picked its own agent as prime minister against the wishes of a president of the same party**? Has it even been tried?


* The article above mentions a constitutional provision obliging the president to appoint the head of the ‘victorious’ party as PM, but I failed to find such a provision in the constitution, which simply states that the President appoints the PM.

** That is, a non-cohabitation situation.

Electoral reform and the (un)importance of simplicity

By JD Mussel

Perhaps among the most frivolous arguments one is likely to hear against any electoral reform is that a proposed system is ‘too complex’. Let me illustrate:

The 1953 Dutch State Commission on the electoral system had this (among other things) to say in consideration of a reform along the lines of the Danish system:

After further consideration of the pros and cons, the commission will not conceal that there are also reservations to be expressed against this system. We fear that a large part of the electorate, accustomed as it is in principle to a simple system, as is established by our present electoral law, will not be attracted by it, probably at the expense of the so desired political interest.

Under the ‘Danish system’ as reviewed by the commission, voters can vote either for a candidate on a party list or for the list as a whole. Seats are first divided proportionally among parties in multi-seat districts, while an ample number of ‘levelling seats’ are then distributed in a compensatory fashion, resulting in a very proportional result overall.

To be fair, the system used in the Netherlands is, on the face of it, quite a bit simpler: seats are simply distributed to parties in proportion to their national vote in one nationwide district, being allocated first to candidates having received more than a certain threshold (in 1953: half of the quota) and then according to the party-list ordering.

However, on a closer look, the Dutch system also includes nomination-districts, within which parties can, but do not have to, propose different lists (a practice which was still relatively common, although limited, in 1953, but which has all but disappeared by 2006). This does not affect the allocation of seats to parties, but can rather complicate the allocation to candidates.

But does any of that really matter? I somewhat doubt that there are too many voters in the Netherlands, or in Denmark, for that matter*, know the intricacies of the D’Hondt formula, the workings of nomination districts or even the number of preference votes candidates need to be elected in their own right.

Does this undermine the electoral process or people’s interest in politics? Of course not. As long as the system is generally responsive and the act of voting is not a complicated or confusing hassle, the complexity of an electoral system shouldn’t pose any problems. Few systems have ever really made voting difficult after voters got used to them, even in countries with illiteracy problems. Australian Senate STV before the introduction of above-the-line ticket voting was one of them, though even then the vast majority of voters still managed to cast a formal ballot despite the increasingly onerous nature of the task. In the case of the Netherlands, adopting the Danish system could actually make voting simpler, considering that the current bed-sheet sized ballot would become smaller (due to the lower district magnitude) with otherwise no changes to it; apart from the candidates, most voters would hardly notice any difference.

When it comes to electoral reform, ‘it’s too complex’ is usually little more than a red herring.

* Although the commission would seem to imply that Danish voters are better at this than the Dutch…

The Isle of Man: nonpartisan ‘consensus’ politics and executive-legislative fusion

By JD Mussel

Last week, curiosity led me to explore politics on the Isle of Man; to this end, the parliament’s website was particularly useful, as well as a recent report issued by the Council of Ministers.

The Isle of Man (or simply: Mann) is not a part of the UK, but a mostly self-governing Dependency of the Crown, with not much more than defence and foreign affairs in the hands of the British government. Its head of state is the Lord of Mann, a title held by the British monarch, who is represented by the Lieutenant-Governor.

The island’s parliament is called Tynwald, and claims to be the world’s oldest in continuous existence, having been founded in CE 979. Tynwald is made up of two chambers, the lower house being the House of Keys, which is composed of 24 members elected for five years by plurality in single- and multi-seat districts; the upper house, the Legislative Council, consists of 8 members elected by the House of Keys and 3 ex-officio members:  the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the President of Tynwald, who is elected by members of both houses, and the Attorney-General, who has no vote.

Manx politics are mostly nonpartisan, with Tynwald being composed almost entirely of independents; the only party – Liberal Vannin – was formed only recently, winning a few seats at the last two elections. An oft-mentioned element of Manx politics is the role of consensus, particularly in relation to, or as a result of, the absence of parties. But it also has an institutional side, in the way the executive is structured. The Island’s cabinet is not unusual: the Chief Minister is nominated by Tynwald (in joint session), with other ministers appointed on his advice. However, many more members of Tynwald (MTs) are generally invited to play a role in the executive, as members of the departments.

According to the Government Code, each department statutorily consists of a minister and at least one additional MT, appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor (presumably on the advice of the minister in question). The scope of delegation of functions and tasks to a department’s members is decided by each minister, who is ultimately responsible for all the department’s functions; nonetheless, that delegation of decision making responsibilities is formally encouraged. The report mentioned above indicates that such delegation is indeed commonplace, and most members of Tynwald tend to take part in the executive in this way. As a result, it is often said that it is “difficult to tell where Government ends and Parliament begins”.

Along with the two types of executive committee (ministerial and departmental) there are two types of collective responsibility, that is, the convention that governmental (or department) decisions are supported by all members even if they do not privately agree with them. This includes voting for government motions and legislation in Tynwald[1]; hence, “a Member of a Government Department may be considered “in Government” on motions affecting a Department of which they are a member, whilst they are free to vote for or against Government on all other matters without repercussions”.

Mann’s political system is characterised as ‘consensus government’, but why should the absence of parties necessarily imply such a format of government by consensus[2]?

It would seem that the extended executive and resulting greater overlap between the members of the it and the legislative branch serves to ensure cohesion and effective co-operation between the two in the absence of party politics. As virtually all MTs are independent, the cabinet has no whip to control the members of its parliamentary majority. The inclusion, to a certain extent, of most MTs in the executive should make up for this absence of the ‘efficient secret’, by providing a base for government policy which needs to pass through (and maintain the confidence of) Tynwald[3].

Other nonpartisan regimes Include Vanuatu, Tuvalu, the Canadian territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territory, as well as the Isle of Man’s fellow Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands: Jersey and Guernsey. Many of them have high degrees of legislative-executive institutional fusion, comparable to Mann’s. Among them, the Channel Islands, the polities otherwise most similar to Mann, exhibit a remarkable degree of institutional divergence. Guernsey’s branches of government are even more wound up together, with a committee-based government co-ordinated by a weak ‘Policy Council’ instead of a cabinet, consisting of ‘ministers’ who are in effect chairmen of their respective committees. Jersey, on the other hand, operates a basically ministerial system, but with a plural executive style cabinet: ministers are not appointed by the Chief Minister, but elected in competitive elections by the legislature, and with their own manifestos. Meanwhile, the number of ministers and assistant ministers is capped at 22 members out of the legislature’s 51. However, all this is about to change with the forthcoming introduction of nomination of ministers en bloc by the chief minister (subject to confirmation vote, but no alternative nominations as currently) along with collective ministerial responsibility and a removal of the restriction on the number of executive members (these changes were passed in May).


[1] although the Code formally defines 5 allowable exceptions, circumstances under which Ministers or department members may speak publicly against policies: “Matters of Conscience; A Declared Position; Constituency Matters; Inconsequential Matters and Unresolved Issues”. These might be more exceptions than are allowed in the typical party-based parliamentary cabinet, but I’m not sure.

[2] Especially seeing as the opposite (namely, having a party system) does not necessarily mean not having consensus-based politics.

[3] Of course, appointment of MPs to executive positions in party-political systems often involve similar motivations – but it hardly ever happens to this extent.

Slovenia PM loses party leadership challenge; new election imminent

By JD Mussel

Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek was defeated as party leader in a vote a week ago at a party conference of Positive Slovenia (PS).

The ballot was won by the party’s founder, Ljubljana mayor Zoran Jankovic by 338 votes to 422 (which raises the question, who could vote?). Jankovic formed the party in the lead-up to the last election in 2011, winning a plurality with 28 seats out of 90 in the National Assembly, but was thereafter unsuccessful in forming a government. Instead, a government was formed by Slovenian Democratic Party’s Janez Janša.

Janša’s government collapsed in early 2013 as a result of a corruption scandal (which ultimately resulted in Janša himself being sentenced to two years in prison). At that point, Jankovic stepped down from the party leadership to allow his successor Bratusek to form the new government.

Before the convention’s vote, Bratusek told the party she would resign if she was not re-elected. Jankovic said he said he hoped she would stay as PM nonetheless, but PS’s coalition partners have made it clear they would not govern together with the party if it is led by Jankovic, and would prefer holding new elections.

Bratusek will present her resignation to President Pahor on Monday. “The outgoing prime minister said on Saturday that snap elections could be held as soon as June 22, provided that none of the major parties presented a different prime ministerial candidate,” Deutsche Welle reported on 3 May.

Slovenia has a premier-presidential system, but one with quite weak presidential powers over either government-formation or assembly dissolution. When the premier resigns, the National Assembly has 30 days to elect a new PM. If the attempt is unsuccessful, the assembly is dissolved.

[Note: while the post was drafted by JD, MSS wrote the last two paragraphs after letting the post sit for a week as a draft. Apologies to JD for that; but at least it is up to date now!]

Quebec pro-PQ bias and electoral reform

By JD Mussel

The Montreal Gazette has reported about the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle (MDN), which recently launched its campaign for proportional representation in Quebec, specifically MMP.

The article mentions a number of factors that may be at involved in creating the apparent pro-Parti Quebecois bias in First-Past-the-Post in Quebec. Firstly, ridings in Montreal traditionally favour the Liberals, where their votes are very concentrated, to the party’s disadvantage. Secondly, the article highlights malapportionment in the Province, which may be one of Canada’s worst. The overrepresented ridings are generally more likely to be rural and francophone, while the underrepresented ones tend to be more urban and are likely to have a larger anglophone population, as illustrated here.

There have been three plurality reversals in Quebec since the rise of the Union Nationale (1936), all of which occurred in elections where the Liberals had received a plurality of the vote.

The article also included projections, produced by Wilfred Day of what the 2012 result would have been under pure PR and MMP. I am very curious as to the exact model used for the latter projection!

Meanwhile, the MDN’s website (in French) is worth a browse, in particular its historic overview of all Quebec elections since Confederation, showing vote shares vs seat shares as well as some historic background.

Libya Constituent Assembly elections

Authored by JD Mussel

Elections were held on 20 February to Libya’s Constituent Assembly, which will have 120 days to draw up a new constitution, to be approved in a referendum.

20 members will be elected from each of Libya’s three regions:  Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan. 6 seats are reserved for women and 2 each for the Tabu, Tawaregh and Amazigh ethnic groups; the Amazigh are boycotting the election and no nomination were made for their seats, so a total of 58 members will be elected.

from IFES it is clear that most members will be elected by FPTP, with some multimember SNTV districts. However, it is less clear how constituencies work, in particular the women’s seats:

“The Constituent Assembly will be elected in three regions – the East, West and South – and will be divided into 11 main constituencies. These main constituencies are further divided into 46 electoral constituencies with unique races. Within each of the 46 constituencies, there will be separate races for a defined number of seats.

Women will register to run in specific constituencies but will be elected to seats that cover multiple constituencies. Therefore, the seat she will occupy will not be pre-determined and could be taken from any of the constituencies covered. In total, there will be 51 different ballots.

…The race for women-only seats will take place in parallel with the general races. Thus, in constituencies with both a general and women’s race, voters will be given two ballots: one general ballot and one special ballot for the women’s race list. In these constituencies, voters mark their choice on each ballot.”

In any case an interesting electoral system for a constituent assembly. I had expected them to use PR of some sort, but they have instead opted for something resembling the nominal tier used in the 2012 election.

Belgian Senate reform

authored by JD Mussel

Since 1970, Belgium has gone through no less than 6 constitutional reforms, possibly more than any other western democracy during the same period. Most importantly, these have transformed it from a unitary state into a full-fledged federation (since the 4th reform, in 1993-95). One of the results to come out of the prolonged (and record-breaking) government formation of 2010-2011 was agreement on a 7th constitutional reform, which will enter into effect after the upcoming elections in May 2014. The most well-known of the changes to be implemented is the splitting up of the Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency along language lines, a measure mandated by the Constitutional Court, solving a quandary which has been a major stumbling block in government formation and reform negotiations over the last five years.

There are more parts to the constitutional reform, but the most important change is probably to Belgium’s Senate. Before 1993, the Senate was perfectly co-equal with the House of Representatives, to the point that governments needed the confidence of both houses. This did not cause much instability, as the houses had similar political compositions; the Senate was largely elected, at the same time as the House, with some members indirectly elected by provincial councils, and the last group co-opted by the first two (Additionally, some Princes were, and until next year remain, members of the Senate by right, but in practice they do not participate or vote). In 1995, the composition of the Senate was changed to 40 directly-elected, 21 elected indirectly by the new Community/Regional parliaments and 10 co-opted members, while its powers were drastically curtailed: its powers to remove a government, as well as block supply, were removed, as were its powers over a host of issues for which the House was designated as having the final say. The Senate retained its veto on constitutional amendments and other changes to state organisation, federal relations and treaties. For other matters bicameral procedure became ‘optional’ – the lower house could decide what to do.

The newest reform will change the composition of the Senate to 50 elected indirectly by the Community/Regional parliaments and 10 co-opted, removing all directly-elected members. Its powers and functions will also be hugely curtailed: it will no longer take part in regular legislation, will no longer have the power of inquiry or to ask ministers questions. The only legislative power it retains regards to the constitution and the monarchy. Instead of being a true legislative chamber, the Senate is supposed to become a forum for the Regions and Communities. The reform was a compromise between those wishing to abolish and those wanting to retain the chamber (the latter being mainly French-speaking parties, if I’m not mistaken).

The difference in political composition that is likely to result may justify a certain curtailment in the Senate’s powers, but why that should mean it abolishing its legislative role entirely, let alone taking away its powers of inquiry, is somewhat beyond me…