Lesotho (MMP) & Malta (STV) hold early elections on the same day

Lesotho and Malta will hold early elections this Saturday, June 3rd. Both have parliamentary systems and each one uses a different (and interesting!) type of proportional representation – each having a certain following among readers of this blog.

Lesotho uses a one-vote variant of MMP, with 80 single-seat districts in the nominal tier and 40 in the list tier. There is no threshold, and no seats are added in case of overhang, so a party can win a majority by taking more than 60 districts.

Malta uses STV, with a twist: if I understand correctly, in case one party receives an absolute majority of first-preference votes, seats are added to ensure that party has a majority, and that the majority is in proportion to its majority of the vote.

The elections were also called in different ways. Lesotho’s parliament (election not required before February 2020) was dissolved after the government lost a confidence vote in March – the prime minister could have handed over power to the coalition that ousted him, but chose instead to ask the king for an early election. Malta’s early election (originally not due until March 2018) was called by the prime minister.

Retractable concession–Gambia

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

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

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

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

(Gambians vote with marbles!)

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


Zambia Constitutional amendments

Last week, Zambia enacted a package of amendments to the constitution that has been years in the making.

Among the amendments are a number of significant changes to the presidency. In the last decade, two early presidential elections (2008 and 2015) were instigated by the incumbent’s death. In the wake of the cost and difficulty of organising these elections, there were calls for the institution of a vice-presidency elected as the president’s running mate and replacing the vice president on a permanent basis. This change was included in the amendments, replacing the previous position of vice president which was appointed by the President and only substituted him on an interim basis.

Another change was to the president’s dissolution power. Under the previous provisions, the President was able to call an early general election at any time, which would include both presidential and legislative elections. The new provisions stipulates that such a dissolution can only be effected “if the Executive cannot effectively govern the Republic due to the failure of the National Assembly to objectively and reasonably carry out its legislative function”, and must be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, which determines whether or not that is the case. This seems to me as rather ill-advised; whether or not parliament fulfils its role ‘objectively’ or ‘reasonably’, and whether or not the President is able to ‘govern effectively’, are fundamentally political questions, and getting the courts involved in that could seriously undermine their neutrality and independence.

Additionally, in response to widespread calls for such a change, the electoral system for president has been changed from plurality to two-round majority. The original draft presented to parliament several years ago also envisioned the adoption of Mixed-Member Proportional for legislative elections, but this was removed from the bill by the National Assembly.

Lastly, in what seems to be a growing trend in new or heavily-amended constitutions, the amendments introduce federalism (seeing as they include lists dividing up competences among national, provincial and local government which are entrenched along with the rest of the constitution), but call it a system of ‘devolved’ governance.

Nigeria: Jonathan concedes

In the end, despite the initial postponement, technical troubles, and the general doubt that either candidate would accept defeat, it went pretty smoothly. Nigeria’s incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan has conceded defeat.

It would be nice if the voters had not just elected a former dictator. But at least they have shown alternation is possible at the ballot boxes. This is good.

For results: nigeriaelections.org

Lesotho election, 2015

Lesotho pulled off an alternation in government coalition earlier in March, in an election called following a coup attempt last year.

The two leading parties finished within one seat of each other, with the incumbent PM, Tom Thabane of the All Basuto Convention, in second place (47 of 120). The challenger, Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress, was able to form a collation.

Lesotho uses mixed-member proportional representation (MMP), with a single vote. The use of one vote was a response to an earlier election in which the two main parties each put up “dummy” lists in order to do an end-run around the compensatory mechanism.

Zambia’s offseason election

Zambia normally votes in September or October. However, the country’s constitution mandates an early election to fill the remainder of a term when a president leaves office early–notwithstanding the existence of a vice president, who takes over only on an interim basis.

Earlier this week, the country went to the polls to elect a new president (and vice president, I assume) to fill the vacancy left by the death in October of President Michael Sata, elected in 2011. The replacement will sit till the end of 2016.

The rainy season can make travel in Zambia difficult:

A lot of the camps in Zambia are closed from the 1st December right through to mid-May on an annual basis, due to the roads being impassable because of the heavy rains.

Those who have to transport ballots are not immune to these seasonal travel challenges. Thus the results of the election are going to take a while longer to be known, while the boats and oxen are deployed.

In countries with rough weather seasons and limited infrastructure in parts of the territory, fixed election dates seem like a good idea. Having a vice president to fill out a term also seems like a good idea in such countries. Why Zambia has a vice presidency and yet a provision for interim elections is puzzling to me–especially as special election can come up at inopportune seasons.

The election is apparently close. Edgar Lungu, the candidate of Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF), is leading, but not by much. (Aside: odd that results are being released while voting is ongoing.) Hakainde Hichilema (who had run a distant third in the 2011 presidential election) of the United Party for National Development (UPND) is very close behind. No party won a majority in the congress elected concurrently with Sata in 2011, but the UPND is the third largest party, with only 28 of 150 seats, against 60 for the PF and 55 for the Movement for Multi-party Democracy. With numbers like that, a Hichilema victory could make for stormy executive-legislative relations.

Burkina Faso a-Blaise

Burkina Faso, a marginal democracy, perhaps, but one with competitive elections, is suddenly in the news. Government buildings are ablaze, and its president, Blaise, is in danger of overthrow. So my thoughts naturally turned towards the question of how the country’s parliament is elected.

Balise Compaoré has been president for 27 years. The trigger to today’s violence and declaration of a state of emergency, and reports of some soldiers defecting, was a meeting of the parliament to consider lifting a term limit that otherwise prevents Compaoré from running yet again in 2015.

The most recent presidential election was in 2010, and it was not exactly a close contest. Compaoré won 80.2%. He had won a similar total five years earlier, which was quite a decline from his 87.5% in the election before that.

In the election for parliament (which was dissolved late today), held in 2012, however, the president’s party was in a much less dominant position. The Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), won 48.7% of the national votes and 70 of 127 (55%) of the seats. No other single party was close–the two next largest parties each had around 11% of the vote and 18 and 19 seats–but the election results over the past fifteen or so years show a general, if slow, decline in CDP dominance.

The electoral system is unusual and interesting. As best I can tell, it is a parallel two-tier PR system. There is a national tier with a district magnitude (M) of 16, of which the CDP won 8 seats. This tier is quite clearly not compensatory: the seats won here are just added to the seats won in the provincial contests. It is in the latter that things get interesting. There are 111 provincial seats divided among 45 provincial districts. This works out to an average magnitude (ignoring the national seats) of 2.47.

Of the 45 districts, 37 have M=2. These 74 seats represent two thirds of all the seats in the provincial tier, and 58% of the entire parliament. This must be the highest share of two-seat districts of any country other than Chile (where all districts in both houses elect two members*). As we know from Chile, or from electoral-system theory, two-seat districts with a non-majoritarian formula systematically favor the second-largest party or alliance, in contrast to the usual rule that smaller magnitudes favor larger parties under proportional or “semi”-proportional allocation formula. Such over-representation was the explicit aim of the Chilean system’s designers, who were inside the former dictatorship and had evidence from the 1988 plebiscite that they would be the second largest political force in the country upon a return to fair elections.

I know nothing about Burkina Faso politics prior to what I have learned today, but it is hard to imagine that an electoral system with a majority of its seats elected in two-member districts was not deliberately designed to offer a boost to the second political force in each province. I can’t say the second nationally, as in Chile, because it appears that there is no single nationwide force in opposition to the CDP. Even so, the second largest party, the Union for Progress and Change, with 19 seats in the parliament, was significantly overrepresented: 14.96% of the seats on 11.1% of the national votes. (I should note that it is not clear to me whether voters get a single vote or separate national and provincial votes, although it seems that they might be separate; Adam Carr reports “voting for members elected from national lists” and that is what I am referring to here, until I turn to “voting for members elected by province” below). The 18 seats for the third largest party in parliament, the Alliance for Democracy, give it 14.17% on 11.2% of the votes. So the Chilean pattern is evident here, too.

Moreover, unlike Chile’s use of D’Hondt, in which a list wins both seats if it doubles the votes of the second list in the district, in Burkina Faso there are cases of the second list being well under half the votes of the CDP yet getting a seat. So not only the district magnitude, but also the formula, appear designed to boost the seat share of the runner-up. Take the case of Banwa province. Here the CDP had 55.6% of the vote and the Alliance for Democracy had 15.3%. That’s a votes ratio of 3.6:1. Yet each has one seat. There are numerous other examples of ratios of 2.5:1 or greater in the two-seat districts, but the seats splitting 1:1.

Of course, sometimes the CDP is not the largest party in a province, and the M=2 system then benefits it. For example, in Bougouriba, the CDP won 37.8% to 42.4% for the Union for Progress and Change. There are three other districts, all with M=2, where the CDP came in second place, but strong enough to get a seat. In addition, there were six districts, also all M=2, where the CDP managed both seats on vote percentages ranging downward from 88% to 60.3%.

What about the districts with magnitudes greater than two, aside from the national district? We have four cases of M=4, two of M=3, and one each of M=6 and M=9. Note the dominance of even magnitudes. Aside from M=2, the most favorable to parties other than the largest would be, of course, M=4. In each the four M=4 districts, the CDP got two seats on vote percentages ranging from 37.8% to 52.4%. In one of them, Yatenga, the runner-up won both of the other seats on just 35.5% of the vote (to the CDP’s 45.5%). This was one of only two provincial districts in which a party other than the CDP won more than one seat; the other was the one M=9 district. Even there, the second party was somewhat over-represented (2 seats on 20.2%).

The CDP’s 55% of the nationwide seats on 48.7% of the national list votes is, of course, over-representation. However, based on Adam Carr’s results showing different numbers of parties contesting some provinces than others, and often fewer than are reported in the national list results, there likely are separate ballots. If there are, it is possible that the CDP’s aggregate provincial list vote is more than 50%.** In any case, it is clear that the party would have won many more seats if not for an electoral system that systematically over-represents whichever list comes second in a given province.

It appears the district tier of the current system may already have been in place in 2007, with the parliament consisting of 111 seats, the same number as the 2012 sum of provincial seats.*** In that election the CDP won 59% of the votes and around 65% of the seats, but the second largest party was over-represented despite trailing far behind (14 seats on 10.7% of votes). In 2002, by contrast, the system had divided 91 seats among 13 regional districts (with no national tier). That means an average magnitude of seven; the range was 2-10, but only one district had M=2 in that election. The CDP then won 47 seats on 49.5% of the vote, an almost proportional result even if technically a manufactured majority. That’s at least three different electoral systems in three elections–stability in the presidency, but institutional instability for a legislature that is much less dominated by the ruling party.

Burkina Faso politics suddenly look interesting!


* Pending an in-progress electoral reform.

** The motivated reader is encouraged to convert the results to spreadsheet (or search for a source that has them in such a format already) and let us know in a comment.

*** Adam Carr does not show district-level results in 2007.