No, the allies did not “impose” MMP on Germany

An entry on the Whoa! Canada blog claims that the mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system Germany uses was an imposition of the allied occupational authorities.

For those who don’t know, at the end of Second World War the victorious Allies governments imposed Mixed Member Proportional Representation on West Germany.

They did this specifically to prevent the rise of another Hitler.

Further on, it makes a specific claim about the then British Prime Minister, in a bold subheading of a section that actually does not even try to elaborate on its claim:

Winston Churchill knew Proportional Representation was a defence against fascism.

This is all very fanciful. The allied occupation authorities did not “impose” MMP on Germany, and the British in particular favored reverting to Germany’s pre-Weimar majoritarian system, as did the Americans. MMP was a product of compromise among the various German parties and the American, British, and French occupation governments.

The (unsourced) claim that Churchill saw PR as a bulwark against fascism is especially creative. At the time, PR was widely (if inaccurately) seen as responsible for the rise of the Nazis. If anything in the German system was adopted to be a bulwark against fascism, it was the 5% threshold–the very most non-proportional feature of the system to this day.

For a good overview of the adoption of MMP in Germany, see Susan E. Scarrow, “Germany: The Mixed-Member System as a Political Compromise,” in Matthew S. Shugart and Martin P. Wattengerg, eds., Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds? Oxford University Press, 2001.

Canadian electoral reform: No longer the government’s plan

The Liberal Party government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has abandoned its campaign pledge to reform the electoral system.

This is both a surprise and no surprise at all. On the one hand, it looked like a firm commitment: “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.” On the other hand, since when do parties that can win parliamentary majorities on less than half the votes opt for systems that would make it harder for them to do so in the future?

In parliamentary questions the day the commitment was dropped, Trudeau again indicated his support for a “preferential ballot”. While that could mean STV, a form of proportional representation, it has been clear for a while that he means the Alternative Vote when he uses this expression. The third largest party, the center-left NDP, has no incentive to support this option, and prefers Mixed-Member Proportional (see p. 56 of their platform [PDF]). The Conservatives want a referendum on any proposal, presumably because they are confident the status quo would prevail. These conflicting positions led Trudeau to declare there is “no consensus” on how to move forward.

Were the government actually committed to moving forward, of course, it could have forged a consensus. The parliamentary committee that studied the matter produced a report that could provide the basis for crafting some form of proportional proposal, even with a referendum on it, were the government willing to go that way. It is true it did not propose a specific new model–that was not its mandate!

In remarks I made at a workshop at UBC last summer, I said that from the standpoint of my work on where electoral reform processes emerge, Canada was a surprise. The usual preconditions were not present, at least recently, at the federal level: there have been no plurality reversals and no opposition wipeouts. (Manufactured–or “false” majorities and occasional minority governments are not preconditions, according to my research. The former is expected under FPTP and the latter tends to be short-term and only partially disrupts the normal pattern of adversarial inter-party politics that is the hallmark of the Westminster model.)

In that sense, then, my surprise that Canada had an official process that might have led to a proposal for a new system is vindicated. It “should not” have gotten this far, and it won’t go any farther–at least if the Liberals have their way.

On the other hand, once a reform process is underway–and appointing a parliamentary committee to study electoral system options means it was underway if anything does–a government can lose control of it. That was the case in New Zealand, where a Royal Commission recommendation (for, it is worth making clear, a specific system model) eventually was put to a referendum despite the rather obvious reluctance of each major party in turn.

When the Canadian Liberals were forced by political pressure to relinquish their majority on the parliamentary committee on electoral reform, that seemed like a good sign for reform. Suddenly they could not just have the committee either bury the idea or else slant it towards their preferred variant. This looked like a classic “act contingency”–not wanting electoral reform for the gains a new system would offer the party (which would be “outcome contingency”), but wanting the votes that could come from appearing to be generally committed to “better” governance. On the other hand, the removal of the Liberal majority on the committee also made it easier in the end to claim “no consensus” (as I suggested in November might be the case).

So is electoral reform dead in Canada? I will let others who are closer to the situation tell us. However, I would say, not necessarily. The testimony and committee report are there. The issue has been studied now many times at both federal level and in several provinces. It will not just go away. Even this government could yet be forced to reconsider if the public pressure is there, or if the breaking of a promise looks likely to hurt them at the next election. However, the government presumably would not have taken this step had it not been reasonably confident that it could get away with it, politically.

Colombia electoral reform video

If you understand Spanish, you should watch John Sudarsky’s video criticizing the current electoral system of Colombia (which is open-list* PR, including in the 100-seat nationwide district of the Senate), and advocating MMP.**

I offer for your viewing pleasure, not necessarily as an endorsement.


* Mostly. Parties have the option to present a closed list, and there are always some members of each house elected this way. But most come from open lists.

** The video and website only call it “mixed”, but it seems pretty clear from the examples given that it is intended to be MMP.

Chill hours, climate change, and my orchard’s winter so far

Temperatures are warming more in winter than other seasons, according to research carried out in the Central Valley, including here in Yolo County, by UC Agricultural and Natural Resources (UCANR). That is bad news for growers of deciduous nut and fruit trees.

Tree crops will move northward (a trend that is already noticeable). Breeders are working on new varieties of pistachios that have lower chilling requirements. In the shorter run, growers are working with “other tactics to improve winter chill, such as using overhead sprinklers to cool the trees and painting them white with liquid clay to reflect sunlight.

I have used both (in my San Diego County days) sprinkling during warm spells and painting of trunks and major branches to boost chances of production on varieties that are a bit marginal for my area.

Orchard rows on Dec. 19, 2016. Trees in background just pruned. Those in front not yet, at the time. That’s the ultra-vigorous ‘Shaa Kar Pareh’ apricot in front.

Such tactics won’t be necessary for me this winter, however. We have had an exceptionally–by recent standards–chilly winter. At my location, December’s mean low and high temperatures were 36.8 and 54.9F, which is slightly below long-term averages for nearby stations (Davis and Vacaville). By comparison, our monthly means for December, 2015, were 39.4, 55.1; in December, 2014 they were 47.1, 58.0 (!).

This January, so far: 40.8, 52.2. The days have been cool, for sure! And that is much better than January, 2016: 43.9, 55.8; 2015: 39.0, 59.8 (!). Yes, 2014-2015 was pretty bad for the deciduous fruit trees.

My trees should like this winter a lot! Now, if only we can avoid really heavy rain in the bloom period. Given the trend so far this winter–on track for possibly the wettest ever recorded–that is certainly not something I can count on.

Yes we have had some rain

After years of little more than an occasional storm, we had quite a series of storms, and they were big ones. The Sacramento River is mighty once again!


The view is from Old River Road, which is usually high above the water level. So are those houses. Now they are really riverfront properties in a perhaps overly literal way.

The river does not flood its banks, however, due to a remarkable piece of 1916 engineering called the Sacramento Weir and its manually operated gates. Last week was the first time this had been opened in over a decade.


(short video; click to open in a new window and play)


That is Old River Road running over the Weir, and parallel to it, the Sierra Northern Railway.

When the river reaches a certain level, the gates of the Weir are open and the overflow spills into the vast tract of low land known as the Yolo Bypass.


The levees around the river and the bypass protect not only houses, but farmland. For instance, this recently planted nut grove (walnuts, probably) that is directly across Levee Road from the bypass. grove-beyond-levee

Below is a photo of the Sacramento River looking upstream. Those trees are growing on the steep bank of the normally dry levee.


The Sierra Northern crosses another section of the bypass that is fed by a weir farther upstream. Here it is on a trestle that is normally high above the wetlands. A road runs through there, but at ground level, which is, for now, now well below water level. (View from the I-5 causeway.)






Retractable concession–Gambia

It is always a remarkable thing when an authoritarian president who no one expects to lose accepts defeat (quite jovially and seemingly even humbly) in an election. It is still remarkable, though less enjoyable, to see such a president turn around and retract his concession. That’s what happened in Gambia in the space of a week earlier this month.

An opposition leader’s unfortunate remark about plans to prosecute President Yahya Jammeh might have contributed, but surely Jammeh would fear that regardless of any statements. He may have attempted to stop the vote count on election day and failed, lacking support among military and police. (Guardian, Dec. 7)

Perhaps it just took him a week to rally (buy?) support in the security services to reject the election. The head of the army actually pledged his allegiance to the victor, Adama Barrow (defenceWeb, Dec. 8) only to appear a few days later with an image of Jammeh pinned to his uniform (Dakaractu, Dec. 14)

In the meantime, there had also been a substantial revision of the vote. Jammeh’s margin of defeat to Barrow narrowed from about nine percentage points to only four, although that’s still a fairly clear margin. Notwithstanding the result, Jammeh has declared himself president while armed forces continue to block the Independent Election Commission headquarters.

(Gambians vote with marbles!)

I will add, because this is F&V, that Gambia elects its president by plurality. Barrow’s vote total, according to the election commission, was 43.3%. Jammeh’s was 39.6% and a third candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 17.1%. I don’t know anything about Kandeh, but I wonder if his presence–or the lack of a runoff requirement–robbed Barrow of a more decisive victory. It might not have mattered, and of course we have seen African dictators before who admit falling to second place in the first round of a two-round election, then manage to make it impossible for the opposition to prevail (or even contest) the runoff. (See Zimbabwe, 2008.)