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.

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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.

MMP in Lesotho, 2012

Following the debacle of 2007, Lesotho had a successful MMP election earlier this year (16 May). ((See results from the Independent Electoral Commission (PDF).))

The system continues to have a nominal tier made up of 80 single-seat districts, decided by plurality, and a list tier of 40 seats. The following examples confirm that it remains MMP:

    1. The largest party, DC, won 40% of the party-list votes, and 41 of the 80 constituencies. It won 7 of the 40 list seats, for a total of 48 seats, which is precisely 40%.

    2. The ABC won 25% of the list votes and 26 constituencies. Its list votes are 4, giving it 30 seats (25%) in total.

    3. The LCD won 22% of the list votes and 12 districts. Its was awarded 14 list seats to bring its seat total to 26, or 21.67% of the total.

    4. The BNP won 4% of the party vote and no districts. Apparently there is no, or an extremely low threshold, which would entitle it to 4 or 5 seats. It won 5, all from the list. (A few parties won a single seat off the list on less than 1% of the vote.)

In 2007, the allocation had appeared to be de facto MMM, because each of the two biggest parties had set up “dummy” lists that ran no candidates in the nominal tier. This allowed the main parties to win single-seat districts plus a full proportional share of the list seats for their dummies. In that election, the LCD and its dummy combined for 83 seats on around half the votes.

I think that there is now just a single vote, instead of separate nominal and list votes. The thread on the 2007 results (first link here) had some extensive discussion of possible ways to limit gaming of MMP without going to a single vote.

MMP manipulated in Lesotho?

Maseru Observer alleges that the ruling LCD party in Lesotho manipulated the two-tier, two-vote MMP system in last Sunday’s election, setting up a shell party in the list compensation tier to increase its overall seat total dramatically. That is, by running a separate but dependent party slate that had no candidates win (or run) in the single-seat districts, it was able to win PR seats that otherwise would have gone to opposition parties. (The main opposition party apparently did something similar.)

This potential for manipulation of MMP has been recognized in the literature on Germany for as long as I have been reading electoral-system literature. However, I am not aware of a case where it had been practiced (at least on any significant scale) until an Albanian election a few years ago.

I have several readers who know a lot about MMP and/or are fans of the system. How would you prevent this sort of manipulation? One obvious way is by having a single vote, rather than separate SSD and list votes. However, that has disadvantages of its own.

(Please note that I have not independently verified Maseru Observer’s claims.)

MMP in Africa: Lesotho’s election

Updated below

On Sunday elections were held in Lesotho. The small southern African “kingdom in the sky” was the continent’s first country to use a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, in 2002. Sunday’s election was Lesotho’s second under MMP, and as I am not aware of any other African countries having opted for MMP (as opposed to MMM/parallel, which is used by several countries*), it must have been only the second African MMP election.

As of today, counting was still continuing. The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) was well ahead, but facing “an unexpected challenge from a new party,” the All Basotho Convention (ABC), Reuters reported.

Jørgen Eklit, writing for the ACE project, has an excellent short overview of the 2002 election and the political compromises that went into the electoral system. Eklit notes that there was violence after the 1998 election, at which time Lesotho was still under a pure FPTP system. In 1998 the LCD had won 79 of the then 80 seats on about 60% of the vote. Haggling over important details of a mixed-member system postponed the first post-conflict election. When the MMP system was used in 2002, the LCD again won nearly all (77 of 80) single-seat districts, but the compensatory nature of the list tier meant that the forty new PR-tier seats all went to various opposition parties, which had combined for 45% of the votes. Thus the result, with the LCD holding 65% of the seats, was not particularly proportional, but only because the PR tier would need to have been about as large as the nominal (SSD) tier to offset such a lopsided result in the SSDs. (By contrast, had the system in 2002 been MMM/parallel, the LCD would have had about 101 of the 120 seats, or 84%.**)

I saw a BBC TV report yesterday that obliged the electoral-system fans in its audience with close-ups of the ballots. It was clear that there are physically separate ballot papers for the nominal (SSD) and list (PR) tiers, and separate ballot boxes. One ballot paper was a different color than the other, and the list ballot had party names and symbols, while the nominal ballot had candidate names as well as party names and symbols.

In the current election, the LCD has won at least 30 of the 80 single-seat districts and the ABC at least 15. If the LCD’s ratio of SSD seats won holds as more come in (and, given that many of the still outstanding counts are probably in rural areas, as implied on the BBC report, it is probably more likely to increase), most or all of the PR seats will again go to the opposition. But the better performance of the opposition this time in the SSDs guarantees that the compensatory nature of the MMP system will lead to a more proportional result this time than in 2002.

UPDATE: As I suggested above, the LDC lead in seats won indeed expanded as more rural results came in. It appears that the ruling party has won 61 of the 80 single-seat districts. That happens to be precisely a majority of the full parliament. Thus unless the LDC’s percentage of the party-list votes (which are not available yet on the electoral commission website) is more than about 51%, the opposition parties will again win all of the party-list seats. And, even if the LDC’s percentage of the party-list votes is under 50%, the LDC will have a majority of seats. With either a larger list tier (and parliament) or a provision to compensate for “overhangs” (SSDs won in excess of proportional share), the LDC might have fallen short of a majority. In any event, the parliament will be much more closely divided this time. We can also expect some challenges over any district races that were close.

See also the discussion at The Head Heeb.

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* Including Senegal, which has elections for president and parliament on 25 February. (Parliamentary elections have been postponed till 3 June.)

** Its 79 SSDs, plus 55% of the 40 PR-list seats.