Attorneys General–institutions matter

Now that indictments have been announced against the (outgoing–dare I say?) Prime Minister of Israel, it is worth reviewing the institutional basis of the office of Attorney General in Israel.

I am seeing some casual takes on Twitter about why the US doesn’t have an Attorney General who takes a tougher line against law-breaking at the top of government. But the offices could hardly be more different. The US Attorney General is a cabinet appointee. The President picks who holds that position, subject only to Senate majority confirmation. Of course, Trump has had a highly compliant Senate majority throughout his presidency.

Trump could not have had occupants of the office that have been as awful for the rule of law as they have been, if the office were structured like Israel’s. So it is worth sketching how the process of appointing the Israeli Attorney General works. My source for this is Aviad Bakshi, Legal Advisers and the Government: Analysis and Recommendations, Kohelet Policy Forum, Policy Paper No. 10, February 2016.

a. There shall be formed a permanent selection committee that shall screen suitable candidates, one of which shall be appointed to the position by the government. The term of each committee shall be four years. 

b. The chairman shall be a retired justice of the Supreme Court who shall be appointed by the President (Chief Justice) of the Supreme Court upon the approval of the Minister of Justice, and the other members shall be: a retired Minister of Justice or retired Attorney General appointed by the government; a Knesset Member elected by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset; a scholar elected by a forum comprising deans of law schools; an attorney elected by the Israel Bar Association. 

c. The AGI term duration shall be six years, with no extension, irrespective of the term of the government. 

d. The government may remove the AGI from his position due to specific reasons.… These reasons include, in addition to personal circumstances of the AGI, disagreements between the AGI and the government that prevent efficient cooperation. In such an event the selection committee shall convene to discuss the subject and shall submit its opinion to the government, in writing. However, the opinion of the committee is not binding, and the government may decide to remove the AGI contrary to the recommendation of the committee. The AGI shall have the right to a hearing before the government and before the committee. 

All of this makes for a reasonably independent office. Even if appointment and dismissal are still in the hands of the government, the screening and term provisions make it an arms-length relationship. The occupant of the post is obviously not a cabinet minister, as in the US, and is not a direct appointee of the head of government or the cabinet.

Worlds apart, institutionally.

And this is even before we get into the parliamentary vs. presidential distinction. A president is–for better or worse–meant to be hard to indict, let alone remove. That’s why the main tool against a potentially criminal executive in the US and many other presidential systems is lodged in the congress, through impeachment, and not in a state attorney. A prime minister in a parliamentary system, on the other hand, by definition has no presumption of a fixed term.

The normal way to get rid of a PM is, of course, a vote of no-confidence or the PM’s own party or coalition partners withdrawing support. But that’s the point–they are constitutionally not protected when the political winds, let alone the legals ones, turn against them.

In the broader institutional context of a parliamentary system, it is presumably much easier to take the step of also designing an independent Attorney General’s office that has the ability to indict a sitting head of government.

On the other hand, there is still no obvious way to remove Netanyahu from office any time soon, unless his own party rebels against him. Even though Trump’s own party will probably block the super-majority in the Senate needed to remove him from office*, the resolution of the case against Trump might happen considerably sooner than any resolution of Netanyahu’s case. Barring a rebellion by his current allies, Netanyahu may remain PM fore another 4-5 months, through a now-likely third election (since last April) and the post-election coalition bargaining process.

* Assuming the House majority impeaches him, which now looks all but inevitable.

Presidentialization

[As long as I made a tweet storm in response to, first, a tweet by Ezra Klein, and then a question by Nicholas Smith, I might as well turn it into a blog post. Process made easy by the Spooler app.]

First the preliminaries and context that got it all going…

Great question! A short thread on “personalization” and “presidentialization” of political parties…

Matthew Shugart

Yes, existing to promote and protect the leader who was separately elected to the country’s top office is the very definition of a presidentialized party (Samuels and Shugart, 2010).

The US, during this presidency, finally has become a more normal presidential democracy. https://twitter.com/ezraklein/status/1177244610931781634 

Ezra Klein

@ezraklein

There is nothing “conservative” about the Republican Party we’re seeing in these hearings. It’s a party that exists to promote and protect Donald Trump.

Nicholas Smith @_SmithNicholas_

What step in the process is it when parties are being created and collapsing solely around a party leader (e.g. IL, UA, FR)?

_____________________ Now for the thread (lightly edited)…

Personalization can happen under any type of democratic political system. In brief, it means that the election turns on the assessment of the leader, rather than on a platform, issues, ideology, or long-run party ID.

Presidentialization is something more. It is the leader becoming the de-facto principal over the party once elected (or even once nominated). It is the selection of an executive candidate who may not share the values of the party because the party needs someone who can win.

This can happen in parliamentary systems, but it is much less likely. It can be avoided in presidential systems, but it is harder to avoid. Why? Parl party leader, including PM (normally) remains accountable to the party (in the legislature). A president, by definition, does not. Presidents and legislative parties, by definition, can have distinct electoral coalitions. But the more they approach being identical, the more likely it is that the party falls in line behind the president, even if the pres. is taking the party places it otherwise would not go. That is, the party legislators’ fates become tied to the fate of the executive. In principle, it remains the reverse in a parliamentary system.

HOWEVER, there are exceptions. Corbyn, maybe Johnson, look pretty “presidentialized” as party leaders (and the latter as PM). There is obviously some degree of separation that has developed in these parties lately, due in part to unusual leadership selection rules and circumstances. However, of course, the voting remains fused–separation can’t extend to how voters vote for party & executive. The original tweet I am responding to mentioned cases of newly formed parties, whereas above I have referred mostly to established parties. Let’s take the mentioned examples

Israel. Blue & White can be seen as a personal vehicle for Gantz to be PM. But it is an alliance. The internal partners are also personal vehicles (Lapid, etc.). A key point is Gantz needed pre-electoral and now post-electoral allies if he is to head the government. Gantz, or any head of a parliamentary party/alliance, can’t present himself to the electorate separately from the party system, as is possible in a presidential or semi-presidential system. He has to get the nomination of an existing party, or form a new one, and the party must win seats.

(Semi-presidential = a popularly elected presidency AND a premier who depends on the confidence of a majority of the assembly. They vary a lot in the constitutional powers of the presidency.)

France. Semi-presidential. Macron formed an entirely new party, totally beholden to him. And benefited from the fact that assembly elections come AFTER presidential. It is sort of presidentialization on steroids!

See (and my earlier posts linked within): (fruitsandvotes.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/fra…)

(Because it’s semi-presidential and not “pure” presidential, he did need his party to do well in assembly elections, in order to be able to choose an ally as PM. In a pure presidential system, one can control the executive without a party, though one would rather have allies in congress, obviously.)

Ukraine. Also semi-presidential. I also wrote about Servant of the President. Oops, I mean to say Servant of the People, here. (fruitsandvotes.wordpress.com/2019/07/21/ukr…)

Ukraine honeymoon election today

Ukrainians are voting today in an assembly election. It is a relatively extreme “honeymoon” election, as the new president, Volodomyr Zelensky, was just elected in March-April of this year (two rounds). There was already an assembly election scheduled for October of this year, which certainly would have qualified as a honeymoon election. But in his inauguration, Zelensky announced he would dissolve the Verkhovna Rada and call an election even earlier.

And why not? Based on much experience in presidential and semi-presidential systems, we know that there is a strong tendency for the party of a newly elected president to gain a large boost in votes the earlier it is held following the presidential election. This topic of the impact of election timing has been a theme of my research ever since my dissertation (1988), an early APSR article of mine (1995), and most recently in a whole chapter of Votes from Seats (2017).

At the time Zelensky was elected, various news commentary had the all-too-typical concern that the new president would be weak, because he is an “outsider” with no established political party. We got similar useless punditry when Emannuel Macron was elected in France in 2017. And we know how that turned out–his formed-on-the-fly party did slightly better than the 29% of votes I projected, based on an equation in Votes from Seats, prior to Macron’s own runoff win. (The electoral system helped turn that into a strong majority in the assembly.)

In May of this year, I projected that Zelensky’s Servant of the People party could get around 34.5% of the votes in an election held on 28 July. (One week earlier obviously does not change anything of substance.)

Early polling had him short of this (not even 25% just before the presidential first round), but predictably, SoP has been rising in the polls ever since Zelensky took office. The party almost certainly will beat this projection, and may even have an electoral majority. If short of 50% of votes, the party still looks likely to win a parliamentary majority, given the electoral system (discussed below).

A bigger boost than average (where the average across systems with nonconcurrent elections is what my projections are based on) is to be expected in a context like Ukraine, in which the party system is so weak. That is, poorly institutionalized party systems would tend to exaggerate the normal electoral cycle effect. The effect will be only further enhanced by low turnout, as opponents of the new president have little left in the way of viable political parties to rally behind. Thus a performance in the range of the mid-40s to over 50% of the vote would not be a surprise.

As for the electoral system and election itself, Ukraine is using again (for now, at least) its mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system. It consists of 225 single-seat districts, decided by plurality, and 225 closed-list proportional representation seats, in a single nationwide district. The two components are in “parallel”, meaning seats won by any given party in districts and seats won from party lists are simply summed; there is no compensatory process (as with MMP). There is a 5% threshold on the list component; quite a few small opposition parties may waste votes below this bar. Due to parts of the country being under Russian occupation, only 199 single-seat contests will take place.

In some past MMM elections in Ukraine, a large share of the single-seat districts have been won by independents or minor parties, whereas the national parties (such as they are) have, obviously, dominated the nationwide list seats. It is probably quite likely that this rather extreme honeymoon election will result in most of the seats in both components being won by “Servants.”

On that theme, a tweet by Bermet Talant makes the following points (and also has some nice polling-place photos) based on conversations with voters in Kyiv:

• Ppl vote for leaders. Few know other candidates on party lists, even top5

• Servant of the People = Zelensky. Bscly, ppl vote for him again

• In single-member districts, ppl vote for a party too, not candidate

This is, of course, as expected. It is a completely new party. Many voters will be wanting to support the new president who created the party. The identity of candidates will not matter, either on party lists (where at least the top ones might be known in a more conventional party) or in the districts (where the vote is cast for a candidate). The single-seat districts themselves are referred to as the “twilight zone” of Ukrainian elections in a fascinating overview of the candidates and contests in the district component published in the Kyiv Post. These contests attract “shady candidates” many of whom are “largely unknown”. If a given election lacks a strong national focal point, it would tend to favor independents and local notables. In an election with an exceptionally strong focal point–as in a honeymoon election, more or less by definition–that will benefit whoever has the “Servant of the People” endorsement.

The timing of the election, and the likely dominance of an entirely new pro-Zelenskyy party, really is presidentialization at its very “finest”.

I am just going to quote myself, in the final paragraph of an earlier post about Macron’s honeymoon election, as it totally applies here, too: “All of the above should serve as a reminder of two things: (1) the purpose of the upcoming election is to ratify the new executive’s direction, not to be a second chance for an alternative vision; (2) the honeymoon electoral cycle matters.”

Expect the new Verkhovna Rada to be Servants of Zelenskyy.

Mexico, 2018

Mexico has its elections for President, Chamber of Deputies, and Senate on 1 July. It has been clear for a while that, barring a big surprise, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known as AMLO) will win.

AMLO’s support has risen steadily out of what looked like a tight three-way contest some months ago into a strong lead. When voters responding “no preference” are removed, it even looks likely that AMLO could win a clear majority of votes. Mexico elects its presidency via nationwide plurality, and no Mexican president has earned half the votes since 1994 (at a time when most experts still considered the regime authoritarian, albeit increasingly competitive).

Assuming AMLO wins, it will highlight the competitive three-party nature of the system. When the center-right National Action Party (PAN) won the presidency in 2000, it broke decades of continuous control by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PAN won again in 2006, on less than 37% of the votes in a very tight race, with AMLO close behind (and refusing to acknowledge defeat). The PRI returned to the presidency in 2012, and now AMLO will give the left its chance. (AMLO was with the Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD, but in recent years has set up a new party, MORENA, while the remnant PRD is backing the PAN candidate this time.)

I would be very interested in seeing an analysis of AMLO’s own manifesto (and his party’s, if separate). There is much hand-wringing over his leftist “populism”. However, when he ran in 2006, he staked out a centrist economic platform well to the right of his own party–a clear case of what “presidentialization” does to parties. (See the discussion of the general point, and also the 2006 Mexican campaign, in my book with David Samuels, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers). Is he doing so this time? I can’t claim to have followed closely enough to know.

As for the Chamber of Deputies, if the pattern of recent Mexican elections holds, the party winning the presidency will win fewer votes for its congressional candidates. That could mean MORENA (and pre-election allies) will not have a majority of seats. On the other hand, as noted above, these previous presidents have not themselves won majorities. Moreover, the electoral system is mixed-member (with the voter having a single vote). It is sometimes erroneously categorized as mixed-member proportional (MMP), but it is actually leans much more to the majoritarian category (MMM). Seats won based on nationwide votes for party are added to single-seat districts won (by plurality).

The allocation is not compensatory, but it is also not strictly parallel. There are caps on allowable over-representation (unlike in a “pure” MMM system). The most important cap is that no party can have a final seat percentage that is more than eight percentage points above its vote percentage. Thus if a party wins under 42% of the votes, it is unable to have a majority of seats. If it gets over 42% it is not guaranteed a majority, but a majority becomes likely, due to the non-compensatory nature of the allocation. This cap kept the PRI from retaining its majority in the midterm election of 1997, and I believe it has been hit in several subsequent elections, as well. This is what I will be watching most closely: Will MORENA (and allies) get a Deputies majority?

The Senate is also elected in a mix of regional and nationwide seats. Each state has three senators, elected by closed list, limited-nominations plurality. The largest list gets two seats and the runner up gets one. Then there are 32 seats elected by nationwide proportional representation (allocated in parallel, not compensatory manner).

These provisions, combined with the regionalization of party support in Mexico, make it difficult for a party (or alliance) to win a majority of the Senate’s 128 seats. AMLO is unlikely to have majorities in both houses, but it is worth noting that the federal budget must clear only the Chamber. There is no Senate veto on the spending side of the budget, although both houses must pass all other types of bills. Thus the left will be in a strong, but not unchecked, position to implement its program for the first time in Mexican democratic history.

Presidentialism and diverging intraparty electoral incentives

“We’ve got people running for president all trying to find their base, and then you’ve got people from Trump states that are trying to continue to legislate the way we always have — by negotiation.”
 
Thank you, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), for a wonderful quote about how presidential systems can fracture electoral incentives within a party.

Presidentialization in Turkey

As previously discussed at F&V, Turkey has made the constitutional change from parliamentary to premier-presidential system. The country’s first-ever direct election of the presidency is on 10 August (first round).

A headline today is a nice summary of the sort of things presidentialization can do to political parties: “Turkey’s secular opposition endorses devout Muslim for president“.

The two parties in question, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), would be unlikely to have nominated for prime minister someone like Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, described as “devout Muslim tasked with winning votes from the AKP’s traditionally pious electorate”. They also would have been somewhat unlikely to forge a pre-electoral coalition. However, given the need to appeal to the median voter against the incumbent Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will be seeking to move to the directly elected presidency, the opposition parties have devised a new vote-seeking strategy.

As the news item also makes clear, not everyone in the parties is happy about it. Yes, I have seen this sort of thing before…

Party-switching on the way to the top

While updating, via a comment, my post about the incumbent Vice President of Panama who had become opposition leader and has now been elected President, I got to probing some of the biographical data.

I cite some data there about the propensity of vice presidents to become president, and of presidents (whether previously VP or not) to change parties prior to making it to the top job. I noted that presidents are significantly more likely to have changed parties at some point than are prime ministers in parliamentary systems: 40.7% vs. 24.6%.* This is, of course, totally consistent with the theory of “presidentialized” parties, whereby party loyalty is less important than electability when assessing candidates for the top job.

I wondered about premiers in the two sub-types of semi-presidential system.

We have data on the career-long party affiliations of 105 premiers in premier-presidential systems and 134 premiers in president-parliamentary systems. The basic distinction by subtype is in whether the formal accountability of the premier is exclusively to the legislative majority (premier-presidential) or dually to the legislature and president (president-parliamentary).

35.1% of premier-presidential premiers had switched parties before ascending to the post, whereas only 17.1% of their counterparts in the other subtype had. That is significant at p=.002.

The effect is in the direction that I expected but bigger than I expected. I figured that where the presidency is the more dominant constitutional actor, i.e. in the president-parliamentary systems, presidents would tend to appoint loyalists, who in turn are less likely to have switched parties at some point.

However, that more than a third of premiers in premier-presidential systems have switched strikes me as high. This is, allegedly, the more “parliamentary” of the two subtypes. On the other hand, that they come down right between the top executives in the two pure types makes sense. In fact, the differences between premier-presidential premiers and either parliamentary PMs or elected presidents (of any regime type) are not significant.

Thus, at least in terms of their tendency to have party-switched, premiers in premier-presidential systems mirror the genuine hybridity of their regime type, whereas their counterparts in president-parliamentary systems look like the ultimate in loyalists. That seems about right!

________
* That’s presidents of pure presidential systems; if we include semi-presidential presidents, it hardly changes: 41.6%. In some respects, presidents are presidents, regardless of other regime features.