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.


[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. 

Ezra Klein


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): (…)

(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. (…)

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.

A vice president is not an outsider, Panama edition

In Sunday’s election in Panama, the incumbent Vice President was elected President. The BBC headline reads, “Outsider Juan Carlos Varela wins Panama election”. But wait, he is the Vice President. That most certainly does not meet any sensible definition of an “outsider”.

Yes, as the BBC notes, Varela had become the leader of the opposition after a falling out with current President Ricardo Martinelli. Presidents and other officeholders of their parties falling out once the president has been elected is pretty ordinary in presidential democracies. So are elections of outsiders. But you really can’t get more insider than a vice president, regardless of his relation with the chief.

Oh, I could (co-)write a book about such things.

UPDATE: In a comment, I take a look at what little data I have to shed a (little) light on the matter.

Young and inexperienced–how common?

New Italian PM Matteo Renzi has never served in the national legislature or cabinet (till now), and is only 39. These are unusual characteristics. Usually parliamentary parties prefer to “vet” their executive talent for a while through having them serve in the legislature and/or cabinet before being elevated to the top job (much more so than in presidential systems, where the candidate for the top job has to be able to win a plurality or majority as an individual–see Samuels and Shugart, 2010, 2014).

How common is it for the head of government of a parliamentary democracy to be as young and inexperienced as Renzi? Some insight comes from the Executives Biographical data of Samuels and Shugart. Here I offer some lists selected with intent to compare Renzi to other PMs. Caveat: in addition to being post-WWII only, the dataset ends with 2005. I won’t be updating it any time soon, but of course I would welcome readers’ additions via comments to this entry.

The first list (Dropbox link) is of all the parliamentary PMs in the dataset who had never served in the legislature before, along with how many years they had served in the cabinet prior to becoming PM (yrscab) and their age when starting their stint as PM (agestart). The list contains only 24 names–these are all the PMs in parliamentary systems who had no prior legislative service. That’s out of 411 total. So lack of legislative experience is quite rare. Exactly one of them was younger than Renzi is now (Vasile Petru Tarlev of Moldova, 38 when he took the job in 2001). Several on this list can be explained through newness of the democratic regime itself (e.g. Mandela) or immediate post-war years. You will note the multiple appearances of a few countries* on the list, including… Italy.

A second list has all parliamentary prime ministers who assumed the position before the age of 40. It is also a short list, and it is heavily dominated by young democracies, mainly in Central-Eastern Europe. It looks like our youth champion is Pandeli Majko of Albania, 31 when he assumed the job in 1998, followed by Mart Laar of Estonia, 32 when he became PM in 1992; Laar began a second stint seven years later, when he was still about the age of Renzi now. We also see from the list that, despite their youth, some of these PMs had considerable experience already in the legislature (e.g. Felix Gaillard of France, 10 years**) and a few had cabinet service (e.g. Stanislav Gross of the Czech Republic and Aigars Kalvitis, 4 years each).

One more list of background relevant to Renzi: how common is it for a PM to have been a mayor, but not a legislator or cabinet minister before elevation to the top job? Renzi might be only the third (see caveat above), following Jirí Paroubek of the Czech Republic (2005) and Jawaharlal Nehru of India (1947, the year of Indian independence). Upon assuming office, Paroubek was 53 and Nehru 58.***

So Renzi’s combination of youth and inexperience, aside from having been mayor of a major city (Florence), is indeed unusual.

Previous related post: Age of PMs and presidents upon assuming the position, in new and old democracies.

* There are five Netherlands PMs on this list, which is a bit surprising. Service in the senate, perhaps? And that makes me wonder if we counted service in the Italian senate, which we should have, given it has confidence powers over the cabinet, unlike most other second chambers.

** Ilir Meta of Albania, 15 years service as MP, is, I am sorry to say, a mistake in the data! He was born in 1969, elected to parliament in 1992, and became PM in 1999 (not 2001, as the list indicates), according to an online bio.

*** Nehru was a mayor? That is what the dataset says. According to Wikipedia, he was elected chairman of the Allahabad Municipal Board in 1923. (Yes, students, I can use Wikipedia. This is a blog post.)

Age of PMs and presidents upon assuming the position, in new and old democracies

Would we expect the executive format (presidential, parliamentary, etc.) to affect the age at which an executive leader assumes office?

I might expect either no effect (too many other variables might swamp the format) or a positive effect of PMs. We know that prime ministers tend to have more “insider” experience (e.g. as cabinet minister, legislator, etc.) than presidents have. It takes time to get experience, so prime ministers might tend to be older.

However, exploring the data a little bit, what we actually see is the reverse. PMs tend to be younger. The effect is stronger in “third wave” democracies than in a set of both older and newer democracies. ((The president-vs.-PM effect gets slightly stronger when executives of semi-presidential systems are included, but what is shown here are the data from pure-format systems.)) The effects are statistically significant, though somewhat less so when the older democracies are included.

Why? An “older statesman” effect, whereby voters are more likely to elect older candidates? A compensation effect by parties whereby, aware of an electoral advantage in nominating relatively less “insider” politicians, they select older candidates whose “type” might be better revealed compared to those who are both outsider and young?

That prime ministers tend to be younger in parliamentary systems of the third wave than in older democracies might mean that political careers overall start younger when the democracy is younger. We already found (Samuels and Shugart, 2013; see prior link) that there is no observable difference in length of prior legislative experience of third-wave parliamentary PMs compared to those in older parliamentary democracies. But there is a difference in average age of PMs across eras. ((If we compare only older democracies, PMs do tend to be older than presidents. But the effect is not close to significant.))

So, to summarize, it seems that parties in parliamentary democracies in the third wave are promoting politicians to the top job who are younger than their counterparts in older democracies (but not less experienced as legislators). In presidential systems, on the other hand, in both new and old democracies there is a tendency for successful presidential candidates to be somewhat, and significant statistically, older.

There is, by the way, no time trend. That is, neither type of executive tends to start office older (or younger) as the democratic regime itself becomes older.

Data summaries (average age at start of tenure); all tests exclude executives who started their tenure before the date the regime became democratic (though the effects work even if these few politicians are included).

Third-wave, pure-format, democracies
Pres: 56.3 (n=84)
PMs: 51.1 (n=109)

Third-wave and older pure-format democracies together
Pres: 56.0 (n=148)
PMs: 54.7 (n=399)

Parliamentary PMs in older and newer democracies
Not third wave: 55.97 (n=290)
Third wave: 51.1 (n=109)

Based on the Samuels and Shugart biographical data.

Three recent publications: Party Capacity in New Democracies; Patterns of Intraparty Competition; Localism and Coordination in the Japanese House of Councillors

The following items have been published in the past several weeks. Please note that the links are to publisher’s websites, and are not open-access.

Abstracts are viewable at the links without a subscription, but I will also put them in (long) footnotes here.

David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, “Party ‘capacity’ in new democracies: How executive format affects the recruitment of presidents and prime ministers“, Democratization (2013). ((Abstract: Scholars and practitioners express concern that parties in “third wave” democracies are poorly developed, compared to parties in older democracies. We suggest that parties vary in their organizational “capacity”, focusing on parties’ ability to select trustworthy executive agents. Capacity is higher where parties can vet potential executive talent by observing future leaders over time in the legislature – an increasingly available option as democracy matures. The key distinction in parties’ use of this option lies in the delegation structure between a party and the executive. Parliamentary systems offer a clear line of delegation, which parties control. In presidential systems, parties must recruit executive candidates who can win a popular election, requiring characteristics that may not be well correlated with those that make them good party agents. As parliamentary democracy matures, we find a steady increase in prime ministers’ average length of prior legislative service. For presidents, there is significantly weaker growth in prior legislative service. We also theorize about and investigate patterns in semi-presidential democracies. Our findings suggest that the institutional format of the executive is more important for party capacity in new democracies than the era in which a democracy was born.))

Matthew E. Bergman, Matthew S. Shugart, and Kevin A. Watt, “<a href="Matthew E. Bergman, Matthew S. Shugart, and Kevin A. Watt, "Patterns of Intraparty Competition in Open-List and SNTV Systems," Electoral Studies (2013). ((Two electoral systems that use “nontransferable preference votes” are commonly used: single nontransferable vote (SNTV) and open-list proportional representation (OLPR). Both systems promote intraparty competition by vote-seeking candidates, but differ on the extent to which the incentives of individual candidates and collective seat-maximizing parties are aligned, or not. We develop “logical models” of expected vote shares of parties’ first and last winners, and test (and confirm) these models using “symmetric regression” on an original data set drawn from over 2000 party-district observations in nine countries. The analysis helps bring us closer to an understanding of the relatively neglected “intraparty dimension” of representation, and allows us to offer some modest suggestions for improving systems of nontransferable preference votes.))

Kuniaki Nemoto and Matthew S. Shugart, “Localism and Coordination under Three Different Electoral Systems: The National District of the Japanese House of Councillors,” Electoral Studies (2013). ((Democratic representation involves tradeoffs between collective actors – political parties seeking to maximize seats – and individual actors – candidates seeking to use their personal vote-earning attributes (PVEAs) to maximize their own chance of election and reelection. We analyze these tradeoffs across three different electoral systems used at different times for the large-magnitude nationwide tier of Japan’s House of Councillors. These electoral systems – closed and open-list proportional systems and the single non-transferable vote – differ in the extent to which they entail candidates seeking individual preference votes and in whether collective vote shares affect overall party performance. We use local resources as a proxy for PVEA and seek to determine the extent to which parties nominate “locals” and how much the presence of such locals affects party performance at the level of Japan’s prefectures.))

PM Boris?

London mayor Boris Johnson will attend his Conservative Party’s upcoming conference “to reveal the secret of how to get re-elected against Labour in a time of austerity in what will be seen as fresh evidence of his ambition to succeed David Cameron”, reports the Guardian.

This comes in the wake of a YouGov poll that shows Johnson as Britain’s “most respected” politician.

Is Boris going to replace David Cameron as PM? I would not bet on it, for two reasons that I can draw out of my research on career trajectories of prime ministers, in comparison with presidents.

First, Johnson’s formula for being (re)elected against a Labour Party that is otherwise well positioned–whether in London politics, or in current national polling–is based on direct election of an individual. That is, “presidentialization“. To expect the same effect if Johnson were the PM candidate (and, presumably, sitting PM) at the next election is to fail to understand how direct election, as with the London mayor or a president, is fundamentally different from selection by and dependence on a party organization, as in a parliamentary democracy.

Second, he would be swimming against a pretty strong current of institutional effects here. Let’s look at the broad patterns of executive recruitment in democracies, comparatively. Out of 390 prime ministers in parliamentary systems in the post-WWII era, how many have been former mayors? If you guessed about 10%, you are a bit high. The answer is 34, or 8.7%. Parliamentary parties just do not look to mayors very often for their chief-executive talent.

Twelve of these PMs are from the French Fourth Republic (including Antoine Henrie Queuille, who counts as a newly appointed PM three times). Five more come from Norway (including another three-time appointee, Einar Gerhardsen). In fact, these two countries, France and Norway, account for half the ex-mayor PMs, and two politicians count for almost 18% of them. There is just one British PM in the list, Clement Atlee.

It is worth noting that mayors are far more likely to become president, where there is such an elected executive post, than to become PM in a parliamentary system. About the same number of presidents in the dataset have been former mayors, 37, but this is out of 236 total presidents. This rate among presidents, 15.7%) is significantly greater than the rate among PMs (p=.04). ((It makes no difference to the significance of the finding whether we include presidents in semi-presidential systems, as in the numbers cited here, or look only at pure presidential systems. In the latter, 15.8% are former mayors. How about premiers in semi-presidential systems? Of these 12.81% are former mayors. That rate is statistically different from pure-parliamentary PMs (p=.05), but not from that for semi-presidential presidents. In other words, it is PMs in parliamentary democracies that stand apart from either type of executive in regimes with elected presidents.))

Of course, this pattern is not surprising: mayors in some major cities (including London now) possess a talent that parties in presidential systems desire: proven ability to win a direct election, which often means appealing beyond (and in some carefully chosen ways, against) one’s party. Such skills are not nearly as in demand among parliamentary partisans. What is striking is that the pattern regarding ex-mayors shows up without our having considered whether the politician in question was a directly elected mayor or not. ((It would require additional data collection to determine which of the mayors in the data were elected by the city electorate and which were selected by a city council or appointed by the center, or some other mechanism. I suspect most of those in the data–though certainly not Atlee–were indeed popularly elected.))

None of this means Boris Johnson is not on his way to residing at No. 10. But it does mean he would be a rare case.

Data note. The data reported here come from the data for Chapter 3 of David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Democracy in northwest Africa: Mali and Senegal

Trouble is brewing in two (erstwhile) democratic states among the former French Soudan.

Mali experienced a military coup last week, apparently ending a 20-year experience of democracy–and just about a month before new presidential elections were due. There was no sign of the incumbent attempting to stay on for a third term (which would violate the current constitution). Meanwhile, today Senegal has its presidential runoff, and the incumbent is seeking a third term under dubious constitutionality.

These events are distressing because both countries had emerged recently as apparently functioning democracies. The Malian situation may be “collateral damage” from the NATO war in Libya. Touareg rebels, some of whom were among Qaddafi’s mercenaries, have been making gains in the country’s remote east. Evidently, at least part of the military was unsatisfied with the president’s handling of the internal war. Still, they might have waited to see what a newly elected president’s policy would be.

As for Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade had overseen a constitutional change limiting the president to two terms. He is not the first president ever to make the claim that such a change does not apply to him, because his first term was before the constitution was changed. Most of the others have not gotten away with a third term, but this runoff is said to be close. He just might pull it off on election day, but at what cost to the country’s democracy?

Various news reports have suggested that Wade enters the runoff in a weak position, having won just under 35% of the vote in the first round. Supposedly the other candidates are all endorsing his remaining opponent, former Prime Minister Macky Sall. I would not be so sure. Sall was more than 8 points behind in the first round, and if Wade vs. Opposition were the dominant cleavage, one might have expected the anti-Wade forces to have coordinated on fewer than thirteen (!) candidates, the top two of which managed to combine for less than 40% in the first round. Of course, given a two-round majority system, one need not expect a single opposition candidate, but such a high degree of fragmentation does not bode well–even assuming the election is completely fair. (See first-round results at Psephos.)

Anticipating fragmentation of his opposition, last year Wade attempted to lower the threshold for a first-round victory to 25%.

Mali has a premier-presidential system; Senegal is president-parliamentary. If Mali’s democracy is not quickly restored, then it will no longer be true–as stated by Samuels and Shugart (2010, p.260)–that no premier-presidential system has ever broken down once meeting the thresholds for democracy that the authors established for inclusion of cases in our study.


Among my cherished cartographic possessions is a National Geographic map of Africa from around 1960 that shows these two countries as one, in the Mali Federation. The federation did not last, and the unit initially called Soudan split and became the independent state of Mali.

This map also showed a Union of Central African Republics (French Congo, Chad, and in between them, Ubangi-Shari, later the Central African Republic (singular)). This “union” was even shorter lived.

Popularity vs. collegiality

As I type this item, we are a few hours from the caucus meeting of the Australian Labor Party, where a decision will be made on the party leader. Current leader and PM, Julia Gillard, is being challenged by former PM (and until a few days ago, Foreign Minister), Kevin Rudd. Today’s caucus vote is a good case study in parliamentary vs. presidential democracy.

In Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, David Samuels and I make the point that Prime Ministers in parliamentary democracies are agents of their parties, whereas parties in presidential systems must select executive candidates who can succeed as agents of the electorate. We show that this fundamental institutional distinction has consequences for the types of leaders who are chosen under each system. We suggest this is because the qualities that make a potential executive leader a “good agent” of the party might be only loosely correlated with the qualities that make a potential leader sufficiently popular to win a separate election. Australia today is apparently going to give us an excellent case study in exactly why these leadership-selection distinctions matter.

It now appears, based on various news accounts, that Gillard has outmaneuvered Rudd and will survive the challenge, notwithstanding evidence that Rudd is favored by the voters.

If public opinion polls are to be believed, Rudd is vastly more popular than Gillard. For example a Newspoll survey, reported in The Age, has Rudd preferred over Gillard, 53% to 28%. Polls also suggest that he would run a closer contest, or even beat, opposition leader Tony Abbot, while Gillard would lose badly.

However, Australia does not select its executives by popular vote. The only voters who matter under the rules the Labor Party uses are the members of its parliamentary caucus. The Sydney Morning Herald estimates that the 69 of the 103 caucus members back Gillard and only 29 Rudd.

That’s 67% Gillard in the caucus (and it may end up much higher), 53% Rudd in the public.

Rudd’s wife says the challenger’s campaign is “people-led“. Right; that’s the problem! Rudd and his backers are encouraging voters to contact their Labor MPs on Rudd’s behalf. I doubt many MPs will be swayed. This is their decision.

If the challenger is more popular with the public than the incumbent, one might expect that it would be the marginal seat-holders who would most tend to be in favor of the challenger. After all, they are the Labor MPs who are most vulnerable, and therefore would gain most from whatever additional votes a changed leader might bring to their party. Yet marginal members are actually more likely to favor the incumbent party leader and PM, Gillard, over Rudd. According to a count by the Sydney Morning Herald, only 5 of Labor’s 20 most marginal MPs favor Rudd. They are prepared to sacrifice their seats for the current leader. As the Herald concludes:

Another MP said marginal seat holders tended to support the leader because they got the most attention “Name me a leader who doesn’t listen to marginal seats and I’ll show you a leader who won’t win,” the MP said.

Evidently she listens to the selectorate that matters most to a PM’s career, an area in which Rudd has an ongoing failing.

If Rudd really is more popular, by such a wide margin as polls suggest, one might expect MPs and Senators to be persuaded. Of the many tasks a party leader has to perform, one of the most important is to be able to lead the party to electoral success. Quite likely, however, the caucus members simply do not believe the leader makes this much difference. There is little objective reason to think it would matter as much as the polling says, for when an election actually comes, voters in a parliamentary system will select their legislators based overwhelmingly on the party record, and not on images of the leader. Besides, before the election there is a government and a party to manage, and for Labor caucus members, they have been there, done that with Rudd.

From the point of view of the caucus, it can’t be a good thing to contemplate entering a second consecutive election with a PM who came to power due to an inter-electoral leadership “spill”. Divided parties rarely prosper–it is almost a political-science truism. Better to get this behind them–if they can–and get on with governing and repairing a record on which to run come the next election.

Japanese PMs

Japan’s PM Naoto Kan made it official, and resigned today. His Democratic Party of Japan will choose a successor next week.

The successor will be Japan’s sixth since the departure of Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. That’s a lot of PMs in a short time.

Why does Japan have such short-lived PMs? In one regard, maybe Japan is “typical.” After all, unlike presidents, who are essentially never forced out by their own parties, prime ministers are by definition agents of their parties (as well as of the legislative majority). Indeed, Samuels and Shugart (2010: 96) report that 30% of all PMs in parliamentary systems leave office for “intraparty” reasons (N=354). So there is nothing unusual about parties “firing” a PM. (Kan was not formally fired; few are. But no one doubts that it was intraparty politics that has led him to this point. He survived an internal challenge just months ago, and promised then not to remain for long.)

Still, in Japan an “intraparty” termination of a prime minister happens rather more often than in most parliamentary systems. Moreover, while short-lived prime ministers logically follow from the inter-factional politics that used to characterize the Liberal Democratic Party, they make much less sense following the electoral reforms of 1994. Besides, this is not the LDP. It’s the DPJ, which won a resounding electoral victory in 2009–and is already about to have its third PM since that election!

Under the old LDP system, “back-room” factional politics was the kingmaker, and the electoral system (SNTV) made factions and individual politicians the agents of representation at least as much as the party itself. It thus also made them agents of inter-electoral bargaining, hence the PM-ship was always subject to renegotiation.

This was supposed to change with the electoral reform–to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM). And much has changed, with factions becoming less important to leadership selection within the LDP, according to various accounts. And the 2001-06 rule of Koizumi suggested a real turn in the position of the PM vis-a-vis the party. The instability of PMs following Koizumi (three of them from 2006 to 2009) perhaps could be written off as an exhausted and about-to-lose party casting about for what it stood for and who could represent it. But the DPJ presents a puzzle. Its first PM did not even last a year, and its second has made it just over a year. The disasters that struck Japan earlier could cut either way–they could have been an opportunity for the party to rally around the leader. In any case, he was already in trouble politically prior to those events.

Generally speaking, PMs in “Westminster” type systems with a single ruling party should be less vulnerable to internal party challenges. The logic is that such political systems maximize the alignment of incentives within the party, and give the party ample opportunity to vet potential PMs so that those they choose enjoy the backing of the party. Thus leaders who head their party when it wins election usually stick around for at least the term, and if they win again, usually for a second term. (Yes, it is stylized, which does not mean it is not generally accurate, Australia’s anomaly notwithstanding. And things often get sticky during third terms–see above point about exhaustion and casting-about.)

Japan does not have a Westminster system, by usual definition. Yet the reform of the electoral system, from SNTV to MMM, was supposed to move the country’s politics in that direction. In many respects, it clearly has done so: factions less important, policies more so, alternation in government, two clear blocs instead of one dominant party and a fragmented opposition, etc. So why not more stability in the top post?