French cabinet survives no confidence motion

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron invoked Article 49:3 of the constitution, under which a bill proposed by the premier is considered passed unless the National Assembly majority votes no confidence in the premier and cabinet. The bill in question is a package of pension reforms, which have provoked widespread street protests and strikes. In the first no-confidence motion since Macron invoked the 49:3 procedure, the government has narrowly survived. The motion attained 278 votes, where 287 were needed. This motion was brought by a group of centrist deputies. Another has been put forward by the National Rally and is even less likely to pass.

The current government is a minority cabinet, due to the underwhelming performance Macron’s legislative allies had in the assembly election of 2022–relatively weak, that is, in comparison to a typical honeymoon election (one held shortly after the election or reelection of a president).

The Article 49:3 is in effect a decree provision, as it allows the executive to put in place legislation without an affirmative vote on the bill in the assembly. However, it is one with a clear accountability mechanism, in that the assembly can respond by ousting the cabinet. Basically, using the procedure converts the vote from “this bill vs. not this bill” to “this government (and the bill) vs. not this government.” In the event the assembly motion passes, then there needs to be a new government formed. Or the president could dissolve the assembly. Of course, the latter would not be attractive to Macron given the unpopularity of the bill and, independent of any specific political factors, the general likelihood of decline in existing legislative support for a president’s allies from an election at several months into the term (see the graph for the range of likely effects at elapsed time around 0.2, even if we did not make reference to polling).

Macron took a gamble, but it looks like it will pay off in terms of ability to enact the law and keep his government (whether or not he might decide to change who is at the top). He dared the opposition to combine against him and vote out his cabinet as their only way to stop the bill, possibly provoking an election that they–or at least those not at the relative extremes of the spectrum–may not sincerely have wanted to risk facing.

Germany electoral system change

Note: This is a revised version of an older post (originally 15 Jan. this year). The electoral system changes changes (with some modifications) have now been passed. Rather than make a new planting I am just re-upping this older one, as the comment thread has continued to grow with useful information. I particularly recommend a new comment by Thomas D for good detail. In addition, see the post by Verfassungblog for background and Twitter thread by Heinz Brandenburg which has both background and excellent detail on the final version. (The Verfassungblog post refers to an earlier version of the draft; in the finally passed version the 3-districts alternative threshold is indeed being abolished.) The law is sure to be challenged before the Constitutional Court, and some or all if it may fail the constitutional test. As Thomas notes, the law could be a mortal threat to the CSU as we know it, as well as to the Linke. And it certainly means no more “personal constituency mandate” and thus is not a mixed-member system.

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[original post, edited] The parties in Germany’s current governing coalition have agreed a package of reforms to the electoral system. The proposal keeps the size of the Bundestag at 598 and eliminates Ăśberhangmandate and “balance” seats.

For details, see first comment. This is a big deal. I’d understand this proposal as Germany abolishing MMP (and Verfassungblog and Brandenburg–linked above) agree. It is not a mixed-member system if it’s possible for a candidate with the most votes in a nominal district not to win the seat.

Low snow

Those who live in California or have followed news about our weather recently will know that we have had an epic rain and snow season–quite unexpected. One of the storms brought shockingly low snow levels in the Bay Area and surroundings on the night of 23-24 Feb. I took some photos from the finca and nearby.

The first picture, above, is taken from the back of the property with my telephoto. This is looking roughly due east. The next two are views slightly to the south of the first one. Wherever you looked, you saw low snow!

(Click any photo to load a larger version.) Next we shift the view from the back to the road side of the property, looking southwest in the general direction of the Berryessa Gap.

Then I went and took a short drive, finding a location where two roads meet near an overpass on the I-505 freeway, affording a view from a relatively high point. The view from here is especially striking because the almond trees were near their full bloom at the time.

We have lived at this current location for ten years now, and have never seen the slightest dusting of snow even at the top of these hills, which form the first range of hills separating the Sacramento Valley from the Capay, Napa, and other valleys farther west. Locals say there was maybe one other time about twenty years ago when there was snow on these hills, but not nearly this much. And about thirty years ago there was snowfall actually at the Valley floor where we are. That would be extremely unlikely to happen again. These synoptic conditions were probably similar to that storm, but in a significantly warmed climate. I believe I saw some snow flurries here right around sunrise, and some very nearby weather stations were reporting rain/snow mix at the time. The snow on the hills stuck for a couple of days, but was all gone before long as conditions warmed and more rain fell.

(Note: the blog’s banner photo is towards the northeast, looking at the Sierra, much farther away. Seeing snow in that direction is obviously not rare in the winter. That picture is from several years ago.)

It’s bargaining all the way down

A correspondent asked me recently if I thought the refusal of Israeli opposition leaders to hold talks on the government’s proposed judicial overhaul, unless the government first pulled the bills from currently scheduled committee consideration, was “legitimate.” She did not think so, and her reason was sensible enough and certainly not something I can disagree with: Committees are where the details of legislation are worked out, after all, and the final version could be quite different from the initial draft.

My response was that I did not think there was anything illegitimate about the opposition’s stance. Basically, that anything that is not illegal is fair game in a democracy, because of what the title of this post says. It is all about bargaining.

What I mean is that the opposition has a weak hand in the legislature and its committees–the government has a majority of the Knesset and the key committees. Israel has no entrenched constitution (aside from a few specific provisions of some Basic Laws), and a majority of members present and voting can change just about anything it wants. That is, the ruling coalition of Likud, Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties, and nationalists can implement institutional reform without compromising with non-coalition parties or societal actors–provided it remains united. I see the range of opposition tactics–including the protests and various letters from a wide range of actors in society as well as the insistence on a pause in the process before talks–as an effort to exacerbate and expose fissures within the coalition. It may even be working and a possible compromise has been floated via a process outside the Knesset committees. But whether it works or not, and whether it is really their best strategy or not, I think it should be seen as precisely a means of driving wedges in the coalition. At the end of the day, only the leaders of the coalition can decide that they either want to meet some opposition demands to calm the situation, or simply pass what they are currently proposing. The lack of a super-majority requirement for constitutional matters means everyone playing this game knows the government can do what it wants–unless sufficient members within it refuse to go along.

Another interlocutor said that the proposals should be seen as just an opening gambit, meant to stake out a position that will be compromised later. While such an understanding is consistent with a bargaining game, I have my doubts regarding the inferred intention. If a government is committed to the rule of law, it does not lead with proposals that would subordinate the judiciary to the government and its parliamentary majority. Whatever the governing parties’ “true” intentions, I can certainly understand why the opposition has seen them as a mortal threat to the rule of law and refused to negotiate when the government could, at almost any moment, just put its preferred version into law. (Even while I think claims that this would be the end of democracy are over the top.)

A bigger point is that the entire episode has made me question just a little my basic understanding of what form of democracy is best. I would always answer such a question with “unicameral parliamentary system with proportional representation.” This is, of course, what Israel has.1 As a student of elections, legislatures, and executives, I tend to give short shrift to judiciaries. I tend even to have my doubts about judicial review, because it may serve for a minority veto, and my premise in favor of unicameral PR-parliamentarism is that majority coalitions of multiple parties are the surest preserver of democratic liberty. The idea being that if one party in a coalition demands too much, it can be replaced by a different party. This of course “works” theoretically, and presumably empirically, to the extent that shifting majority coalitions are possible (whether changes in cabinet or simply changes in the complexion of coalitions passing different legislation). If you get a situation where parties comprising a narrow majority can govern and there are no opposition parties available to replace high-demanders in the current coalition, the result might be unbridled majoritarianism if there is no court (or other body) to check it. As I have written in recent plantings about current Israeli politics, the country seems to be in precisely such a situation now. In that context, preserving a judicial check–in some way–seems essential. So, yes, PR-parliamentary remains my clear choice for “best” form of democracy, but don’t forget about the judiciary.2

Finally, what are some examples of constitutional reforms on any fundamental institutional provisions that were put forth in such extreme initial form? I ask this with a limitation of the sample of possible cases to countries we would recognize as long-standing and well established democracies. I can’t think of many good parallels–maybe the recent measures in Hungary and Poland (depending on what “long-standing” means). I would think that governments with ambitious agendas of changing fundamental institutional balances would tend to seek consensus from the start, and not as part of a bargaining game after introduction of radical proposals. But I may be overlooking good historical examples, or it may simply be that elsewhere such proposals typically need larger-than-bare majorities to be enacted, which then contains what gets proposed at the outset. Electoral system reforms in majoritarian systems come to mind as offering possible examples. It is something I have written on, and generally processes contemplating reform to PR are set up with broader consultation and a referendum even though there is often no constitutional constraint requiring pro-reform governments to do so. And that’s with reforms that would restrain future majorities, not empower them, as the Israeli government’s judicial proposals would do. So, for various reasons, I think that what we are seeing is quite exceptional, and in this light I can understand why the opposition has elected to take the bargaining outside of regular channels like legislative committees. It’s bargaining all the way down, and bargaining need not be confined to the normal channels (provided it remains legal and non-violent) when the stakes are so high.

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  1. However, I would argue that the unicameral, PR-parliamentary combo works better if the threshold is low (yes, 3.25% is too high, at least for Israel), there is districting (perhaps a two-tier PR system, introducing local representation while preserving nationwide proportionality), and/or there is some degree of preference voting within the party lists. I would never argue that nationwide closed-list PR is the “best” system, even though I have generally been more favorable to the Israeli electoral-system design than many commentators have been.
  2. What about the unicameral part? I still prefer that in principle, but I could see a case for some sort of second chamber being a good idea for Israel. The important proviso is: not anything like the US Senate! Not both malapportioned and possessing a full veto. But “to cool the coffee” as I recall from the title of a paper on bicameralism I read long ago, maybe. Israeli politics could certainly stand to have its coffee cooled a bit these days.

Could Nigeria’s presidential election require a runoff?

On 25 February, Nigeria holds its elections for president, house, and senate. The country uses single-seat plurality elections, but with an important qualification in the case of the federal presidency. The winner of that contest must have not only a nationwide plurality of votes, but also meet a “distribution” requirement: earn at least a quarter of the vote in at least two thirds of the federal entities (consisting of 36 states and a capital territory).

If the first-round plurality candidate fails to meet the distribution qualification, then there is a runoff. The two candidates in a runoff would be the plurality candidate and the other candidate who wins the most states with a majority of the vote. Note that if there are three or more serious candidates, with regional bases, the runoff opponent might not be the one with the second highest votes in the first round.

Nigeria this year has precisely the situation that could lead to a runoff and possibly not with the top-two candidates: There are at least three candidates who might be considered “serious” and all exhibit Nigeria’s typical tendency towards regional concentration of support. See Africa Elects. Nigeria has not previously had a runoff.

Polling is apparently sparse, but shows Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) in the lead–some recent polls show him far ahead. I am not sure how reliable Nigerian polls are, let alone whether they effectively capture state-by-state trends. The next two candidates after Obi appear close in polling: Bola Tinubu (All Progressive Congress, APC) and Atiku Abubakar (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP). A fourth candidate, Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) also has regionally concentrated support. Given the distribution requirement, even a candidate with little chance of winning might deprive a more nationally popular candidate of 25% of the vote in some states or of a majority in enough states to affect runoff qualifications should there be a second round.

The APC is the incumbent president’s party, and the PDP has provided the winning ticket in various past elections (including its presidential candidate this year as vice president in the past). Obi was the PDP’s vice presidential candidate in the last national election, in 2019, with Abubakar at the top of the ticket.

As far as congress is concerned, at the 2019 election the APC won 202 seats and the PDP 126 in the House of Representatives, which has 360 seats. In the 109-seat Senate, the APC won 63 and the PDP 44. It seems likely that this year’s results will be more fragmented, but given the use of single-seat plurality in both houses, obviously it depends entirely on the parties’ relative regional concentration in the voting.

Nigeria uses a pure presidential system.

When did Israel become “majoritarian”?

I have run across various articles, tweets, and other items decrying an unbridled “majoritarianism” in Israel, as the current government moves rapidly towards granting parliamentary majorities control over the previously independent judiciary.1 One example of the genre is by Natan Sachs for Brookings, which refers to “Israel’s majoritarian nightmare.”

For those of us who are familiar with Arend Lijphart‘s work, this characterization of Israel comes as quite a surprise. Consider that his Patterns of Democracy rated Israel the third least majoritarian of his set of democracies. I am referring to his “executives-parties” dimension. The other dimension Lijphart calls “federal-unitary.” This includes judicial review, so it is relevant here, too. But I will focus on executive-parties. (Israel is highly unitary—no regional governments of any real powers.) Lijphart’s graph of his two dimensions is shown below. Note how Israel (ISR) is plotted the upper-left corner. On the executive-parties dimension, it is among the furthest to the left, corresponding to the consensus democracies on this dimension.

Source: From Arend Lijphart, Pattens of Democracy, Yale University Press, 2012, p. 244.

So Israel, according to Lijphart, is one of the highly “consensus” democracies—the opposite type to “majoritarian.” What does he base that on? Several things, but key factors are:

  1. Use of proportional representation. No argument here.
  2. Tendency for (a) short-lived cabinets, which are (b) often oversized (contain at least one party that could leave without depriving the government of its parliamentary majority).

It is 2b that is the rub now. The current cabinet is anything but oversized. It is a minimal winning coalition with a bare majority. It consists of only right-wing parties (unusual, as Benjamin Netanyahu’s past coalitions have never had his Likud as the left-most party in the cabinet). It has just 64 seats (of 120).

This is not the first such cabinet, however. When did Israel last have a cabinet that was minimal winning with a bare majority? Not so long ago! The one in question was not ideologically narrow (far from it!), but it was politically narrow. I am referring to the “change” government led by Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid, which was in power in 2021-22, and about which I mused whether it was “majoritarian” or “consensus.”

So perhaps we might criticize Lijphart for using a behavioral indicator (e.g., how big and broad coalitions tend to be) for what is mostly an institutionally based typology of majoritarian vs. consensus democracy.

There’s nothing is Israel’s constitutional rules requiring oversized or diverse coalitions, after all. Examples of features that might impel political leaders to build oversized coalitions (if not outright require them) might be strong bicameralism, whereby government leaders want to ensure a majority in both chambers, or a detailed and entrenched constitution, which might lead to governments with super-majorities because their policy agenda requires constitutional amendments. No such features are to be found in Israel.

We might note that the role of the courts—and just about everything else—and the constitution itself (Basic Laws) always could be changed by a bare majority. Other than some specific provisions, the Basic Laws that map out the functioning of the Israeli political system and define limits on government authority (e.g., protecting rights) are subject to change by a Knesset majority.2 Questions of court powers and ease of constitutional amendment are features of a democracy that Lijphart places on the federal-unitary dimension (which always struck me as a little odd, actually).

In other words, it has always been the case that the judiciary had the powers it had–such as the ability to strike down a regular law as being inconsistent with a Basic Law–only because a majority in parliament had never acted to say it did not have such powers. Moreover, the Knesset had passed legislation setting up very independent processes of appointing supreme court justices and other judges and the attorney general. Almost none of the supposed overreach that proponents of judicial reform are moving to change was ever codified in the constitution (i.e., a Basic Law). Yet a Knesset majority at any time could have codified such powers–or limited or abolished them. That is arguably a pretty non-consensus feature of any political system!

So at the end of the day, what is a “majoritarian” democracy? One that typically has single-party bare-majority governments and limited checks on what the government can do (in a nutshell, Lijphart’s definition)? Or one in which a parliamentary majority encounters limited checks, whether or not coalitions or single-party governments form?

Over time—and well before Israel’s current move to cut judicial power—I have come to believe that this second definition better suits “majoritarian”.

When a parliamentary majority is unchecked, but there is a multiparty system, we might ordinarily expect that coalitions will be short lived and will shift, meaning no single combination of parties comprising a bare majority is likely to remain in power for long.

That certainly describes Israel since about 2018 quite well. (The government formed in 2015 was initially oversized but became minimal winning when Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu defected. That defection help precipitate the deadlock with four elections 2019-21 and yet another in 2022.)

We do not know, of course, how long this current government will last. Its members are sure acting like they know it could break apart at any moment. Earlier I noted that one of the criteria for “consensus” government, according to Lijphart, is short-lived cabinets. This maybe has not changed!

But Israel in 2023 sure does not look like a “consensus democracy” anymore.3

And the root of why it does not is inherent in its rather extreme case of parliamentary-majority sovereignty, but also rests on contingent factors like Netanyahu having burned bridges with center-left parties (and even right-wing parties that joined the previous “change” government).

Israel in 2023 thus stands as a significant case for understanding how we think about patterns of democracy more generally.

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Notes

1. I will not attempt to summarize the entire package of judicial overhaul measures. But the key features are to give the government a majority on the judicial appointments commission, to require a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional (i.e., in conflict with a provision of a Basic Law), and to allow a Knesset majority to override any such declaration of unconstitutionality.

2. In many cases, moreover, that need not be an absolute majority (61) but merely a plurality. For instance, two of the Basic Laws on which the Supreme Court has based many of its rights-broadening rulings were initially passed with well fewer than a third of members voting in favor (with many abstentions), although some subsequent amendments to these Basic Laws obtained large majorities.

3. And not only because of the unusual situation for PR-coalitional parliamentary systems by which the current government rests on a manufactured majority: The parties comprising the cabinet collectively won less than half the vote. (Manufactured majorities are, of course, common in majoritarian democracies.)

Executive structure reform in Italy?

There are proposals afoot in Italy to depart from the parliamentary form of government, most likely replacing it with some type of semi-presidentialism. In addition, there is discussion of adopting a “constructive” vote of no confidence. (In Italian, see Repubblica, Libre Quotidiano).

Under a semi-presidential executive structure, the head of state (president) is elected popularly, and there is also a prime minister as head of government. The prime minister and cabinet are collectively responsible to the assembly majority. Under a constructive vote of no confidence, the majority that votes no confidence must also name a replacement prime minister. The two provisions are not often combined, although Poland has a semi-presidential system with a constructive vote (see Art. 158 of the Polish constitution).

The Brothers of Italy, party of the current prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, had in their manifesto for the last election a pledge to change to “direct election of the president.” One might presume that the subtype of semi-presidentialsm would be premier-presidential. Under premier-presidentialism, the president may have various initiative rights in proposing a premier following an election or resignation of incumbent premier, but does not have constitutionally delineated power to dismiss the premier, cabinet, or ministers.

A premier-presidential model certainly fits better with a constructive vote, given that both institutional features emphasize the primacy of the parliamentary majority in determining who is premier, in case of conflict. Nevertheless, the Repubblica article (linked above) states that the current proposal calls for “A President of the Republic …who presides over the Council of Ministers and can dismiss ministers.” The inclusion of power to dismiss would imply the other subtype of semi-presidential: in a president-parliamentaty model, the cabinet must maintain the confidence of both the parliamentary majority and the president. President-parliamentarism is, in general, a recipe for instability and competing legitimacy. When combined with a constructive vote, it would imply that a parliamentary majority could say “we want this person to be premier” and the president could turn around and dismiss him or her. Let’s hope when the proponents of this reform say that they want a “French” model they actually mean it. France has a premier-presidential system.

The debate could get even more interesting. There is a statement quoted by Libre Quotidiano (linked above) from Senator Carlo Calenda (Azione Party) and Matteo Renzi (former prime minister) in which they say they do not favor election of the president, but would be favorable to direct election of the prime minister (citing the example of Italian mayors). See also Agenzia Nova where Calenda expresses support for this idea along with a unicameral parliament. The point on unicameralism is important. Italy currently is a rare case of parliamentarism in which the cabinet can be voted out by either of the two chambers of a bicameral parliament. Having a cabinet that has to keep a president and two chambers supporting its continued tenure is probably unwise.

The proposal for semi-presidentialism also calls for changing the term of the head of state to five years. The current unelected presidency has a seven year term.

Italian reform debates will be worth keeping an eye on.

(Thanks to Francesco Bromo for sharing these links with me.)

Belize to correct its egregious malapportionment

The Supreme Court of Belize has brokered a consent order that will lead to a redistricting to correct the country’s extremely high malapportionment.

Co-Counsel Michelle Trapp stated that [Sean P.] Trende’s report, among other things, found at the time it was written, only five of Belize’s 31 electoral divisions met the international standard deviation of registered voters, generally between five to 15 percent with allocation made for sparsely populated areas.

Trende’s report itself indicates some districts have around five times the voters as some others.

The country has had some lopsided results in the past, including 2020 when a party with almost 60% of the votes won 26 of the 31 seats. Of course, FPTP in a very small assembly will tend to do that, but presumably it has been exacerbated by the malapportionment. (By the cube root law, Belize would be expected to have around 75 seats in total given its population.) Several other elections have been similarly lopsided.

Farther back, it even had a majority reversal. In FPTP systems, plurality reversals happen from time to time–defined as when the party with the plurality of votes does not win the plurality of seats–but majority reversals are rather unusual. Yet in 1993 the People’s United Party won 52.1% of the vote but only 13 of the 29 seats parliament then consisted of. The UDP-NABR alliance won the other 16 seats, despite just 48.7% of the vote.

Looking at the 2020 election at district level, I see one constituency, Ft. George, that had only around 1,500 votes cast (and the PUP nabbed with just 983) while Stann Creek West has over 7,600 votes cast and several others have more than 6,000. There is another around the voter base of Ft. George, as well as several in the mid two thousands or around three thousand. So it is indeed severely malapportioned.

The 1993 majority reversal did not take place under malapportionment this severe, but it was substantial. At that time Stann Creek West was among the relatively lower-population districts (just over 2,000 votes cast) while a few other districts had over 3,000. There were others with only around 1,500. So the problem is not new, but has got worse. And there seem to have been some really significant internal population shifts in the past thirty years. Fortunately, this will be corrected. They still should increase the size of their assembly, too–or adopt some sort of PR. But at least they will improve their small-assembly FPTP.

Finally, now that I’ve poked around Wikipedia pages on Belize constituencies a bit, I want to go see the Belize City Swing Bridge, one end of which is in Ft. George constituency, and which requires four operators to manually crank it.

When does a coalition partner have a veto?

Does entering into a coalition government imply that a political party is a “veto player”? Some scholars would say yes, while others raise cautions about such a generalization. I would side with those who sound the caution and say that it depends.

The issue arises because in Israel, the Otzma Yehudit party leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, has issued another demand that is gumming up the process of forming what in theory should be a highly compact minimum winning coalition of the right–orthodox bloc in Israel.

According to the Times of Israel, Ben Gvir said “We want a deputy in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation” and without this, “we can’t form a government.” The news update notes that a spokesman has clarified that he means that veto power is his intention with this demand.

As the article notes, the rules of procedure for the Ministerial Committee for Legislation are subject to each government’s internal agreements. It is not as if law specifies who sits on this committee and what each member’s powers are. The issue raises the more general point in the questions at the top of this entry. Does a coalition partner possess a veto by the very nature of coalition government or must it be agreed to explicitly?

Tsebelis, in his work on “veto players” would say that in a unicameral (or effectively so) parliamentary system like Israel’s, the veto players are the parties in the government. The implication is that no policy is changed without the consent of all veto players–all cabinet parties. Let’s leave aside cases of minority governments, which complicate the discussion (but are important to understand!) or oversize cabinets.1 I will focus on the simplest case of coalition–one in which there are two or more parties whose personnel populate the cabinet, the parties together command a majority, and there are no extra parties beyond what is needed for that majority. This is essentially what the emerging coalition in Israel will exemplify.2

In the situation resulting from the election and the bargaining positions of the various parties, each party that is expected to enter the incoming cabinet indeed would appear to be a veto player. There would seem to be little need to codify this in the operating procedures of a key cabinet committee. Nonetheless, I do not believe it is by definition the case that any cabinet coalition partner has a veto. It depends on the circumstances, and those can vary across governments within a country and could even vary across time within a government. The latter, of course, is a reason a party leader with extreme policy demands (like Ben Gvir) might insist on both personnel (a deputy chair of a key cabinet committee) and rules to codify the veto.

As a general rule, however, cabinet membership should not automatically make a party a veto player. Many cabinets will let a partner vote no on something without bringing down the government or categorically blocking the passage of a bill. In fact, this is arguably the purest form of “consensus” “majoritarian” democracy–one in which legislative majorities are sufficient to change policy (no minority veto/super-majority rules), but legislative coalitions need not be the same as the cabinet coalition on every piece of legislation. Policy-enacting majorities can “cycle” from one set of majority-holding parties to another, depending on the issue and the bargaining strengths of a wider set of parties than those that comprise the cabinet. See works of McGann & Latner, Li, and others on this point. 3

The reason Otzma is probably a veto player in the emerging government is that there appear to be scant options for the leading party, Likud and leader Benjamin Netanyahu, to construct legislative coalitions that replace one or more of his coalition partners with votes (let alone influential posts) from parties outside the cabinet. The current divide is stark–pro-Netanyahu vs. the rest–such that cross-bloc votes could not be counted on. That could change, of course, depending on various events that change the incentives of various parties. (Benny Gantz, Defense Minister in the outgoing government who is currently ticketed for opposition, hinted as much yesterday.)

Thus the veto player potential of a coalition partner depends on the degree of fluidity of blocs in parliament. It should not, it seems to me, be assumed from the mere role as a coalition partner. I doubt Ben Gvir has read much political science, but he seems to be learning fast, and to get the basic point. He does not trust Netanyahu and Likud to follow through on policy promises in their coalition agreement: he says that it “may be that they don’t really want to pass what they promised us.” Of course, a deputy committee seat within the cabinet and a codified veto will not help him pass anything that he wants. But it would give him leverage by allowing him to block things Likud might want, and bargain (logroll) for things he wants.

Again, however, if a government decides to change its internal rules it always can. And if Ben Gvir pushes too hard with his vetoes–codified or not–and the PM sees an opportunity to strike a more flexible deal with another party initially outside the government, such options remain at least potentially open. The veto is only conditional, not guaranteed by cabinet partnership or even by specific deals struck at the government’s formation.

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1. A minority government is one whose component parties (whether one or more) do not collectively have a majority in parliament. An oversize coalition is one that has at least one party that could leave without depriving the rest of the government of a majority in parliament. The former may give vetoes to parties lacking cabinet-level posts, and the latter may or may not give vetoes to all cabinet-member parties, depending on factors discussed here, as well as others that may be specific to that type of coalition or to institutional settings in which they commonly occur.

2. Essentially, because there is one mathematically superfluous party that has signed an agreement with Likud–the very unpleasant one-man band that is Noam, which won a seat on the same alliance list as Otzma Yehudit and the Religious Zionism party. Technically, Noam will not be a cabinet party, as its member’s post will be only a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office.

3. The title of the McGann and Latner piece says it clearly: “The Calculus of Consensus Democracy: Rethinking Patterns of Democracy Without Veto Players.” The piece it a rejoinder both to the Tsebelis point, and to Lijphart’s definitions of “majoritarian” and “consensus” democracy. Li’s book is about how “cycling” majorities are democracy-preserving, and require majority rule in a dominant legislative assembly.

Additional note: In thinking about these issues, I have benefitted greatly from communication with JD Mussel who frequently comments on, and writes for, this blog. But he bears no responsibility for whatever aspects I am getting wrong!

Further note (19 Dec.): It took me a whole week to realize I had called the cycling majorities possible under parliamentary coalitions the purest form of consensus government. Obviously I should have said majoritarian! That is, majoritarianism can be thought of as a situation in which elected representatives of an actual majority rule–rather than a manufactured one that is typical of Westminster-type systems referred to by Lijphart and others as “majoritarian”–but that majority need not consist of the same set of parties on every bill passed during the tenure of a given government. Lijphart would call any parliamentary system with coalition governments as its norm as tending towards the consensus pattern. Other scholars–including me when not suffering from a brain cramp–would say that multiparty coalition government is–or can be–more meaningfully majoritarian than the sort of system in which the party with the majority of parliamentary seats has been elected by less than half the voters, yet can rule alone.

Bilateral bargaining in multiparty coalitions

This is just a follow up to the previous planting. As I noted there, the incoming Israeli PM’s party (Likud) will sign separate coalition agreements with each of five partner parties (three of whom ran on a joint list in the election but maintain their separate “faction” status in the Knesset).

I believe this is typical of multiparty coalitions in parliamentary democracies: that when there are multiple partners, each one signs its own bilateral deal with the incoming cabinet head. I know it is the way it has been done in Israel for as long as I have been paying attention. It is also how it has been done in recent bargaining in New Zealand. I actually do not know if other counties with coalitions uniformly do this, or if there are cases where coalition agreements are joint among all the parties entering government. (There are some cases with no public agreements; that seems to be rare nowadays.)

Maybe someone knows of a case.*

The bilateral deals raise the specter for a party that a deal with another partner contradicts something in their own deal. Presumably the government-leading party seeks to avoid contradictions that will only cause headaches later. But some contradictions can’t be avoided, presumably, and some may even be strategic. This is precisely why parties also care about who gets junior ministers and committee chairs–the stacking vs. checking I talked about in the earlier entry. The agreements often contain a clause that they cover only the areas explicitly mentioned in the text, and do not preclude the PM’s party from striking agreements with other parties (presumably on different policy topics, but each party cares about more issues than those it gets in its own agreement). This is also why most coalitions create additional mechanisms, like coalition coordinating committees or inner cabinets, to work out inevitable disagreements.

The alternative agreement strategy would be to do a grand multilateral bargain. But that would be extremely complex and unwieldy to hammer out! But I wonder if there are countries, or specific governments, where that approach is taken.

A humorous (to me, anyway) aside is there was a report during the past weeks that Benjamin Netanyahu proposed having a single agreement with all parties. This was quickly shot down by his proto-partners, and presumably for good reason, from their perspective. He also went so far as to ask them to simply agree to form a right-wing government and delegate to him the personnel decisions for awarding each partner with posts. Naturally, that went over like a lead balloon. Nice try, though.

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* I since have been told that in Belgium and the Netherlands, they do multilateral coalition bargaining and agreements.

Stacking vs. checking: Otzma Yehudit in the emerging Israeli coalition

In a recent publication (details below), Reut Itzkovitch-Malka and I investigate when parties “check” partners in coalition governments and when they “stack” via the committee overseeing a ministry. Here’s a clear case of stacking in the incoming Israeli coalition: Otzma Yehudit reportedly will get both the ministry it most wanted as well as the chair of the parliamentary committee overseeing that ministry as part of the new Israeli government.

Broadly put, when coalitions are bargained, the parties forming the government have a choice of “stacking” whereby they agree to give one party full control over certain policy portfolios, or “checking” whereby two parties are given organizational bases from which to check one another in a given portfolio. There is considerable literature in political science on questions such as these, mostly focused on the degree of authority delegated to cabinet ministers. For instance, Laver and Shepsle (1996) famously developed a model to predict which cabinet deals would form, based on the policy preferences of the parties to the deal, and with the theoretical claim that the holder of a portfolio was a “policy dictator” in that policy domain. Within the cabinet coalitions literature, this has been challenged by the observation that often junior ministers are appointed from a different coalition party than the one that gets the (senior) minister in order for one party to “keep tabs” on the other (see Thies 2001). These views of the process are in direct tension with one another. The first assumes that what makes a coalition “work” is that all parties understand they get to do whatever they want in their portfolios and thus the bargain is credible (everyone knows this up front, so they won’t intervene in each others’ domains over the life of the coalition). The second assumes that what makes it work is the parties can have agents monitoring other parties to be sure they stick to compromises reached at formation of the coalition (the junior observes some “ministerial drift” and reports back to his or her own party).

In recent years, more attention has been turned to how parties might use parliamentary committees and their chair positions as part of the overall coalition bargain (e.g., Martin and Vanberg 2004, 2011). The notion of stacking vs. checking can also be applied here. For instance, the coalition agreement could see the party that gets a given ministerial portfolio also get the chair of the parliamentary committee that is charged with overseeing the ministry. That would be stacking. Alternatively, the committee chair could be from a coalition partner, creating an opportunity for checking within the coalition. (A third possibility is that the chair is from an opposition party. Most parliaments in coalition-based systems parcel out the chairs proportionally to all parties, so some committees will be allocated in a way that facilitates “monitoring” by the opposition.) All of these combinations assume chairs have some authority. That is generally true–they have agenda power within the committee. Even though a majority of the committee typically can override decisions of the chair, everyone’s time and attention is limited, and thus chairs should be in a privileged position in terms of hearings to schedule, witnesses to call, etc. And, at least among coalition partners, they may prefer to resolve things quietly rather than let conflicts erupt in the open. The ability of the chairs to acquire information on behalf of their parties serves to keep partners in line, or so the argument goes for checking. For stacking, it’s the opposite: the chair may be able to bury information that would raise the ire of a coalition partner or the opposition.

The deal first reported last week between Likud, the party of incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Otzma Yehudit, led by Itamar Ben Gvir, offers a clear-cut case of stacking. Ben Gvir will be named Minister of National Security, in charge of the national police and various other functions. It is a newly expanded ministry and portfolio, and thus a plum position for the far-right party leader. In addition, a member of his party is expected to be named chair of the Knesset Public Security Committee. Thus Otzma Yehudit gets both the policing ministry and the parliamentary committee chair responsible for domestic security policy and related matters.

The stacking, and evident cession of considerable autonomy to Otzma, in the area of public security grants Ben Gvir one of the aims he most regularly called for during the campaign leading up the recent election. He said repeatedly that he would demand the policing portfolio. And he got it. While this might not quite make him a literal “policy dictator,” that he also has the associated legislative committee surely limits the risk that he gets stymied by Likud or other partners.

In addition some reports had said he, or a member of the party, could obtain the agriculture ministry. I never would have imagined a far-right ultra-nationalist (and, frankly, racist) party being the defender of Israeli famers, but I’ve been informed that this is also related to his public-security interests. Theft of animals and equipment has become a serious issue in parts of rural Israel, and the politics around the problem is often tinged with racism. I wonder if his emphasis on this issue during the campaign actually earned him votes in the farm sector. The agreement does not grant Otzma the agriculture ministry, but it does transfer from that ministry to the new super-ministry Ben Gvir will head certain agencies responsible for the sector.

Ben Gvir is notorious for a history of racist comments and convictions for incitement against Arabs, along with admiration for the late Meir Kahane. In this election, his Otzma faction was part of a joint list with Religious Zionism. Together the RZ alliance list won 14 seats out of 120. Six of those elected from the list were Otzma candidates. The parties had declared their alliance a “technical bloc” and, as planned, formally split shortly after the election. Thus the two parties (plus a third, Noam, with just one of the electoral alliance’s seats) have been bargaining separately with Likud. This has made Shas (the Sephardi Haredi party), with 11 seats, technically the second largest party in the emerging coalition. It also means there will likely be five separate coalition agreements between Likud and a partner (Otzma, RZ, Noam, Shas, and the other Haredi party, UTJ) . It will be interesting to see which of the major ministries each partner gets will be “checked” by a coalition partner and in which portfolios the party will be granted “stacked” control via the committee chairs allocation.

The question of stacking and checking is a major theme of my paper with Itzkovitch-Malka. We find that stacking is quite common in Israel. We suggest that this may be due to the need of parties under conditions of high party fragmentation to make credible commitments that a partner, having been given a privileged position over the portfolio (via the minister) will be more able to deliver by also having the committee chair (given agenda control over proceedings, which Israeli committee chairs definitely have).

An interrelated theme of the paper is the expertise of the Knesset Members who obtain committee seats and chairs (expanding the party personnel research). Expertise is a subordinate, but still important, consideration that Israeli parties use. We do the first–to our knowledge–statistical analysis of any parliamentary system’s committee assignments to combine data on individual member attributes with an indicator of the partisan relation of chairs and ministers. Parties are somewhat more likely to appoint someone with pre-legislative experience to chair a committee when the party also has the associated minister, especially, we show, in “public goods” policy areas (like health and education). We suggest this is a further form of stacking–ensuring that the chair overseeing a co-partisan minister also has expertise in related policies. I am not sure yet which Otzma legislator is getting the Public Security committee chair in the new Knesset; I will take note of whether it is someone with any expertise in the policy area.

As for Ben Gvir himself, I suppose having been arrested and convicted on security matters counts as “expertise” of a sort in policing and public security, although not quite in the way I normally would code it.

The paper mentioned above is:

Committee assignment patterns in fragmented multiparty settings: Party personnel practices and coalition management, by Reut Itzkovitch-Malka and Matthew S. Shugart, Party Politics, 2022. Abstract:

This paper addresses the way parties assign members to parliamentary committees in fragmented multiparty settings. Thus, it analyzes how the two most central institutions of parliamentary politics––political parties and parliamentary committees––interact with one another. To the best of our knowledge, no research into this subject has systematically explored the intersection of considerations based on individual legislator characteristics and coalition management in committee assignment. Using Israel as our case study, we show that legislators’ expertise modestly shapes committee assignment patterns. However, parties in coalition often have another set of considerations to take into account when assigning members to committees. We show that parties in coalition do not only bargain on ministerial positions or committee chairs––they also bargain on their members’ assignment to committees and use this resource to allow (or hinder) each other to augment influence and control in a given policy area, or to perform affective monitoring.

Works cited in this entry:

Laver M and Shepsle KA (1996) Making and Braking Govern- ments: Cabinets and Legislatures in Parliamentary De- mocracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin LW and Vanberg G (2004) Policing the bargain: coalition government and parliamentary scrutiny. American Journal of Political Science 48(1): 13–27.

Martin LW and Vanberg G (2011) Parliaments and Coalitions: The Role of Legislative Institutions in Multiparty Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thies M (2001) Keeping tabs on partners: The logic of delegation in coalition governments. American Journal of Political Science 45(3): 580–598.

This is a short list of important works in the topic. Many more are cited in the article.

Coordination failure under nationwide PR: Manufactured majority in Israel 2022

The votes are not yet final from the 1 November 2022 Israeli general election, but the outcome is quite clear. The right-wing bloc of parties supporting current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu will have won a manufactured majority. Media are calculating the bloc’s combined seats at 65 out of 120. Yet the bloc currently has just 48.1% of the votes.* That is actually lower than the clear majority of the vote they got in April, 2019, yet at that election the result was deadlock while this one will produce a majority coalition government. What explains the difference? Coordination.

The reason for the manufactured majority in this election, despite a nationwide proportional representation electoral system, is coordination failure. The strategic choices of political leaders and voters in both the left and the Arab political camps have made Netanyahu’s impending return to government possible. On the left, Labor has barely cleared the 3.25% legal threshold, with 3.56% as of now (around 20:30 Israel time), while Meretz is below, at 3.19% (and its percentage has declined in recent hours as more votes are counted*). Even if–as appears unlikely–Meretz ultimately clears, and thus wins 4 seats instead of zero, it would not drop the right below 61 seats. For that to happen, it would also be necessary that all three Arab lists in this election cleared the threshold. But Balad is sitting on only 3.03%, so that looks at least as unlikely.

Had Balad stayed in alliance with the remnant Joint List (i.e., Hadash-Tal, which won 3.93%) and had Meretz either won just enough to clear the threshold or formed an alliance list with Labor, as Interim PM Yair Lapid openly encouraged, the additional seats won by these camps surely would have blocked Netanyahu from winning. Then there either would have been some unexpected coalition possibilities emerging, or another election next spring, with Lapid of the Yesh Atid party remaining Prime Minister during that time (and until a new government eventually formed). Thus it is hard to exaggerate just how much the left and Arab political camps blew it–assuming blocking the return of Netanyahu was important to them. (Frankly, I doubt Balad’s leaders care, although many of their voters must, and leftist leaders and voters alike surely do.)

I should add here that the third piece of the former Joint List, Ra’am, which backed the outgoing government, cleared the threshold easily with the highest vote percentage of any of the three Arab lists (4.34%). This appears to be vindication for leader Mansour Abbas’s consistent message over the last two years of normalizing Arab participation in national governance; in 2021 Ra’am had 3.79%. I will count this as one piece of good news from the election.

In some respects, this year’s outcome is a mirror image of the first of this recent run of frequent elections, in April 2019. In that first of two elections in 2019, the right suffered a coordination failure when New Right fell just below the threshold, with 3.22% of the vote. In that election, the combined right-wing vote was 55.4% if we include Yisrael Beiteinu or 51.44% if we do not. But the non-Likud, non-Haredi right was splintered: Union of Right-Wing Parties (3.70), Kulanu (3.54), New Right (3.22), and Zehut (2.74). Thus the right bloc had only 60 seats, or with Yisrael Beiteinu (4.01% of the vote) included, 65. Had New Right cleared the threshold, the combination without YB would have been 61 or 62, depriving YB leader Avigdor Lieberman of the pivotal position. (It was only after the election that he earnestly said no to the coalitions with Haredi parties that he had willingly been part of up to a few months before.) Thus coordination failure on the right probably prevented a right-Haredi government from forming in 2019, and kicked off the four-election cycle of deadlock and attempted “unity” governments.

In this year’s election, coordination on the right returned in a big way. The non-Likud, non-Haredi right was almost entirely consolidated on one list, that of Religious Zionism, which won 10.31% of the vote and probably 14 seats. There will be much consternation and condemnation over the prominent role that RZ leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir will play in the likely new government. Much of it will be deserved. They are genuine extremists. However, it will be portrayed as a far-right surge when it really only is the non-Likud, non-Haredi electorate converging on its only viable option. Consider that in the 2021 election, RZ won 6 seats (5.12% of the vote) and Yamina won 7 seats (6.21% of the vote). That is 13 seats and just over 11% of the vote. This time the remaining option will have actually lost vote share while picking up (apparently) one seat. It is not a far-right surge, it is a right-wing coordination success. To these votes we could also add Jewish Home, now led by Ayalet Shaked, which won 1.16% of the votes–far below the threshold, but suggesting the combined vote share for this more-rightwing-than-Likud flavor of politics basically did not change.

It is quite striking how much of the movement from utter coordination failure on the right in 2019 to smashing coordination success in 2022 is the story of Naftali Bennet and Ayalet Shaked and their supporters. Their gambit in 2019 was that there was political space for a strongly right-wing option that is less tied to the old religious Zionist parties, represented at the time by the Jewish Home alliance (in which both were prominent figures and Netanyahu coalition partners). But for a very small number of votes, they could have been vindicated, but instead the last three and a half years turned this on its head, with the list of Religious Zionism commandeering this segment of the vote in 2022. On the way here, Bennet and, more reluctantly, Shaked tried another gambit, teaming up with Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, Ra’am, and Yisrael Beiteinu (among others) on the “change” government. Bennet was at the time leader of Yamina, which did not even run in this election. We could say it was hardly a party at all, in terms of the disciplined outfit we’d expect of a party providing the prime minister, as it did for the initial period of the government formed in 2021. It only shed members of Knesset and voters from the moment it announced the coalition. And now its voters have a home and a government, in the form of the most hardline party to have entered any of Netanyahu’s cabinets to date.

As for the left, Labor and Meretz refused to forge an alliance. This is understandable, but also blew up on them in a big way. They had run on an alliance list in the March, 2020, election and won only 7 seats and less than 6% of the votes. Compare that to 11 seats (and over 9% of the vote) in September, 2019, for their separate lists and then in 2021, 13 seats (and combined 10.7% of votes) for their again separate lists. Thus they have reason to believe that together they are worth less than the sum of their parts–conditional on their two separate parts clearing the threshold! In this election they combine for only 6.75% of votes and 4 seats–8 if Meretz ultimately squeaks over the threshold as now seems unlikely. It was a gamble, and it looks to have failed.

There are already recriminations against Lapid for not properly “managing” the center-left bloc (see under “cannibalistic pig“). But he tried to encourage a Labor-Meretz alliance and was rebuffed. I am not in position to say whether he could have done more to prevent center-left voters from choosing him over his threshold-challenged partners. It seems to me that’s not really the bigger party leader’s job, even though it was obviously in his interests that both win seats. Once the Labor and Meretz leaders concluded they could clear the threshold running alone, it was incumbent on them to deliver their votes.

Frankly, it seems that Labor and Meretz are yesterday’s news, and they should either merge or fold. The future of the center-left is Yesh Atid. Over seven elections in just under a decade, Yesh Atid has proven it is not just another centrist flash in the pan, but a serious option with staying power and organization. It is, nonetheless, unlikely ever to be the head of a center-left/Arab government. As the 2021 experience shows, you need a party of the right to cross over and make that a majority (or you’d need Ra’am or some other cooperation-minded Arab party to supplant Hadash-Tal and Balad). It is not clear where another right-wing splinter could come from; it won’t be from the right of Likud, and there just isn’t a “soft right” anymore to its immediate left. Maybe after Netanyahu finally leaves the scene there will be. The future of the center-left is thus probably mainly as a potential coalition partner to a post-Netanyahu Likud, and it would be better for it to be one strong partner than to be fragmented into Yesh Atid and two minnows farther to the left (if they both could clear again in a future contest), plus whatever becomes of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White. (The latter is the real “soft right” in the current party system, but is already firmly tied to the center-left as of now.)

Many supporters of proportional representation in the US, Canada, and elsewhere speak as if PR means no need for strategic electoral behavior. The Israeli experience of 2019 through 2022 shows the folly of such belief. Coordination is still important, especially if there are any significant contra-proportional features to the PR system. And usually there are–sometimes in the form of moderate district magnitude, and sometimes–as in Israel–in the form of a moderately high legal threshold, despite nationwide PR. The right had the coordination this time that it lacked in 2019, whereas the left and Arab sectors in this election did not. And thus a bloc will have the parliamentary majority and government despite not having won a majority of the vote.

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Update: With around 99% counted, it is now 64 seats (53.3%) on 48.4% of the vote. Meretz shrank farther from the threshold and is at 3.16%.

Denmark 2022

In addition to Israel, there is also a general election today in Denmark. I don’t really know much about Danish politics, but I hope readers who are more informed might have comments as results become known.

One particularly interesting feature of the campaign that I will note is that former PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen is leading a Moderate (with a capital M) Party in this election that is campaigning outside the left and right blocs. If neither bloc wins a combined majority of seats, and his party does particularly well, it might attempt to lure the relatively more moderate (with a small m) parties from each bloc to split and form a center-spanning coalition. Otherwise, he could just be the “kingmaker“–a term I dislike, but which fits better than usual in a case of a party that has campaigned with indifference towards left or right and could strike a coalition deal with either. (That second link is actually about the first scenario I mentioned, and not the real “kingmaker” scenario.)

The incumbent government is a single-party minority cabinet of the Social Democrats, reliant on outside support from the Red–Green alliance.

Also, that second link notes the same point I made with respect to Israel: “Exit polls in Denmark can differ significantly from the final results.”

Israel 2022

Ah, yes, we are doing this again: Another Israeli general election. I am not going to pretend to know what will happen. As I type this, ILTV is making it seem as if the right-wing bloc has a majority with 61 or 62 seats. That would be a government of Likud, the two Haredi parties (Shas and UTJ), and the Religious Zionist list, returning Benjamin Netanyahu to the prime ministership.

HOWEVER, this is based on exit polls. These have been off before. It is downright misleading of media to treat these as if they are indicative of real results. On the other hand, it would be in no way a surprise if the final results were to confirm these exit polls. We just don’t know yet.

I won’t get into other possible coalition scenarios till we have actual results, other than to note that there are interesting possibilities, BUT none of them look much like the outgoing government. The bottom line on that broad yet narrow coalition is that voters who voted for the right-wing parties that joined the government did not like it. So much so that Yamina, the party formerly led by ex-PM Naftali Bennet, kept losing its affiliated Knesset members and did not even contest this election and the no. 2 on that list in 2021 (Ayelet Shaked) is leading a different list that is not expected to clear the 3.25% threshold. (The other right-wing splinter that enabled the “change” coalition, New Hope, led by ex-Likud member Gideon Saar, merged with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White for this election.)

Yamina in 2021 gave us a rare and interesting case of what might happen to voter perceptions of a relatively extreme and quite small party heading government. Alas, it won’t be around in the next wave of voter surveys for us to know.

So, for the results and coalition scenarios, we wait and see.

The output indicators for Italy 2022: Yes, MMM in a smaller assembly really mattered

In the pre-election planting I pointed out how much more disproportional Italy’s electoral system would be, given the substantial reduction in assembly size. The current allocation rules and balance between single-seat districts and list-PR seats remained unchanged since 2018, but the assembly size was cut from 630 to 400. (Here I will be referring only to the Chamber of Deputies.) The system is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM).

Assuming I calculated things correctly–and I think I did, but the party vs. bloc calculations can be a little confusing, so caveats apply–here is how the change mattered.

I will report effective number of seat-winning parties (NS), effective number of vote-earning parties (NV), and deviation from proportionality (D2, the Gallagher index also known as the Least Squares Index). I will report both by individual party and by pre-electoral bloc. I believe that for an electoral system like this, the bloc figures are more meaningful, but here you have both and can decide which one works for your analytic purposes.

2018 Party2018 Bloc2022 Party2022 Bloc
NS4.322.905.582.40
NV5.103.366.623.44
D2 (%)3.985.027.3011.74

The change is pretty dramatic. Taking that last line first–disproportionality–we see an increase at the bloc level from around five percent to nearly twelve percent. The 2018 bloc-level figure is a level just below what we might see in a moderately proportional system like Estonia (5.3% in 2019) or Spain (5.37% in 2016) or Luxembourg (5.20% in 2013). The 2022 bloc-level figure is closer to what we might find with a majoritarian system, such as Canada (11.3% in 1988) or the UK (11.8% in 2019) or to take a “brotherly” MMM example, Japan (11.5% in 2000). Thus the increase is quite consistent with how I characterized the system in the previous post, as having changed from an effective seat product just over 900 (consistent with moderate PR) to one of 650 (the same as the value for the UK) solely due to assembly-size reduction.

The effective number of seat-winning blocs is certainly in the ballpark of expectations under a majoritarian system, with 2.90 in 2018 and a drop to 2.40 in 2022 when the assembly size reduction makes it even more majoritarian. The reduction in 2022 occurs in spite of a slightly increased fragmentation of the vote, even at the bloc level (from 3.36 to 3.44). That is, of course, why the disproportionality is so high in 2022.

The bottom line result is that the center-right bloc obtained 59.3% of the seats on 43.8% of votes–a classic majoritarian outcome. In 2018, for comparison, it had 42.1% of the seats on 37.0% of the votes. Its votes grew by 6.8 percentage points, but its seats by 17.2. Some of that is due to the bigger gap between the top two two blocs this time around, which in turn was a product of the center-left’s less complete alliance formation, but a lot of it is the lower number of single-seat districts resulting from the cut in the Chamber size.

Based on the seat product model, by which we expect NS=(MS)1/6, and using the numbers reported earlier for effective seat product, we should expect the 2018 system to yield NS=3.12 and the 2022 system to yield 2.94 (based on effective seat products of 920 and 650, respectively). These are “politics blind” expectations, based solely on the systems’ fundamental design features–district magnitude of the basic tier and the sizes of the tiers that comprise the assembly. We can see that in both elections the actual outcome by blocs was a little less fragmented than these expected values, but not to any extraordinary degree. The calculation of effective seat product for these complex systems gets their impact on the assembly party system about right.

As I mentioned, I do think these indicators are more meaningful when calculated on party level for a system like this. The parties within a bloc coordinate nominations in the single-seat districts, and the contest over who will form the post-election government takes place between blocs. Thus the blocs are the meaningful units. On the other hand, nothing commits the parties within a bloc to continuing to work together, and they agree that the votes for list will determine which one gets the prime ministerial post if the bloc wins a majority. The parties thus remain relevant and competitive actors, too. The outcome at party level was a little less “blocky” overall this time, with more parties gaining significant vote and seat shares despite being outside a bloc.1 But even at the party level, what is likely to matter most–at least in the short run–is that the largest party within the largest bloc has a majority of its bloc’s seats (119 of 237 for the Brothers), despite only 26% of the overall vote for parties.2

All in all, the the key take-home outcome is that the MMM system strongly rewarded the parties that had coalesced to form the biggest bloc, and the largest party within that bloc. That is just as we would expect MMM to do, particularly with such a reduction in assembly size.

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  1. Five Star was in this category both elections. In 2018 it won 32.7% of votes and 36% of seats. This time it dropped to 15.4% of votes and 13% of seats. In addition, Action–Italia Viva in this election had 7.8% of votes and 5.3% of seats. More to the point, the three biggest blocs (counting Five Star as one of the “blocs”) had 92.5% of the votes in 2018 but just 85.4% in 2022.
  2. Quite different from 2018 when the League had just 47% of its bloc’s seats–which were in any case not a majority of the Chamber. The League’s party vote in 2018 was 17.4%.