Argentina post-election report, 2013; plus staggered elections elsewhere (e.g. North Dakota)

***  The following is a guest post by:

Natalia Del Cogliano @NatyDelCo

Mariana Prats @MarianaPrats

Political Scientists. Natalia Del Cogliano is PhD candidate in Political Science at the National University of San Martín (UNSAM). Mariana Prats is PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA)/Sorbona Paris I. Teaching assistants, researchers and CONICET scholars. Both have worked in governmental positions and different international and national academic institutions.

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Argentine Midterm Elections: Signals to the Government and Gestures for the Future.

Since the primaries on August 11, the legislative campaign was rocked by an unexpected development: just 19 days before the general election, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had to undergo surgery. Accordingly, Argentina held legislative elections on Sunday, October 27, with the most relevant political player prevented from governing and from taking an active part in the campaign.

Despite this and some other developments, the day before the election, the political landscape hadn’t changed much since August. As in 2011, the results were a foregone conclusion; the uncertainty that had characterized the primaries was now a missing factor. Polls witnessed only small changes and, as a consequence, many citizens conceived the act of casting their ballots (which is compulsory) a mere formality.

We weren’t expecting important electoral shifts. But politics is always exciting, even more when the political consequences of the election hinge on minor shifts in the vote and when the presidential succession of 2015 begins to take shape (either by the emergence of potential future candidacies or by a shift in the congressional composition).

Last Sunday, half of the Chamber of Deputies (127 seats) and a third of the Senate (24 seats) were up for election. According to polls released just nine days before the election, in the most relevant districts the electoral margins between the two main lists of candidates were expected to be wider than in the primaries. The polls predicted that the ruling party would suffer losses. The one area of uncertainty was the size of the margin of victory between the winner and the runner-up, which would send important political signals about the pulse of the electorate.

Aside from some tights races, the results confirmed the electoral forecast provided by the Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primaries (already identified as a “national general poll”). In general terms, the results showed that there was a considerable percentage of the electorate unhappy with the national government; such citizens opted for candidates of the opposition, and for parties governing the provinces. These parties are mainly concentrated in the biggest districts (the ruling Frente para la Victoria –FpV- was defeated in the five most densely populated districts).

In Buenos Aires (the most relevant district both in political and electoral terms) the FpV suffered a major setback. A Peronist and former Kirchnerist, Sergio Massa (party Frente Renovador, 43.92%) beat Martín Insaurralde (FpV, 32.18%) by almost 12 percentage points, more than the polls had predicted. These results confirmed that the FpV is having difficulty handling and keeping the provincial peronist aparato on its side. Having this key district in electoral terms (also a traditional source of presidential candidacies) undoubtedly is a good starting point for Massa’s presidential projection as the leader of the peronist opposition.

The results in the city of Buenos Aires were also disappointing for the President’s party. There, where the right–wing party PRO has ruled since 2007, the opposition (PRO and UNEN[1] –a center/center left alliance-) won 10 of the 13 seats at stake for the Chamber of Deputies. The FpV kept the remaining 3. Since this was not a surprising result, the real news was for the Senate. There, the FpV was fighting hand-to-hand with UNEN for the third Senator (according to the limited vote electoral system, two Senators belong to the party that gets the majority of the vote and the one left goes to the runner-up), but lost it by 4.5 percentage points.

Finally, in Santa Fe, a province worth mentioning for its importance regarding the 2015’ scenario, the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) won an indisputable victory by more than 15 percentage points over the runner-up (Union PRO). This consolidates the provincial leadership of the socialist Hermes Binner, who was a relevant presidential candidate in 2011 and may still be a key figure in 2015.

At the same time, electoral figures revealed that the ruling party (FpV) still retains the majority of the national electorate, even after 10 years in power The FpV received 33,15% of the national vote, winning in 13 of the 24 districts, and coming in second in seven other districts. Consequently, although its support is considerably less than the 54% it received in the presidential election of 2011, it still retains the absolute majority in both chambers: 132 out of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 36 out of 72 in the Senate.

Another import dimension of the election was the surprising success of the political left. The Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores (FIT) received more than 5% of the national vote, thus obtaining three national deputies. With this result, the left returns to Congress after an eight-year hiatus.

Aside from Massa and Macri (the chief of government of the City of Buenos Aires), who were both victorious in their respective districts and have since expressed their intention to run for the presidency in 2015, it is still hard to predict who will be the FpV’s presidential candidate. The overwhelming electoral victories of the FpV in the provinces of Chaco and Entre Ríos render their governors viable contenders for the presidency in 2015. Likewise, the governor of Buenos Aires, who ran the campaign in the province, appears as another possible option, despite the negative electoral results in the district.

Notwithstanding all this, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner still has two years left in her term and maintains a governing majority in congress. It remains to be seen whether the president will listen to the polls and act accordingly. We do not know what the strategy will be after the electoral defeat – whether her party will make some changes or simply implement “the model” with renewed vigor. If Cristina listens, she may be able to recapture some lost votes and even broaden the base of support of the FpV (as she did in 2009 after another major electoral defeat). This will also depend however on the candidate she nominates as her successor.

A highly relevant event that politically defined the aftermath of the election was the Supreme Court’s declaration of the constitutionality of the media law that Congress passed in 2009 and that has been the subject of a long-running legal battle. This can be read as a triumph of the national government just two days after an electoral setback in many relevant districts. Needless to say, such an important development has already taken the focus out of the electoral results, thus overshadowing (at least for a while) both the recent victories and the defeats.  This however, is the subject of another post.


[1] The Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) and Proyecto Sur are all part of this alliance. They made up three lists of pre-candidates that competed in the primaries in the City.

Argentina’s “primaries”

At the Monkey Cage, Natalia C. Del Cogliano and Mariana L. Prats offer a report on the recent primary elections in Argentina. However, as they note, calling them “primaries” is somewhat misleading.

Here is the first paragraph:

On Sunday, August 11th, open, compulsory and simultaneous primary elections were held for the second time across the whole of Argentina since their enactment in 2009[1]. However, they were still far from being primaries stricto sensu. They were probably more like simple primaries. As we already said in our previous Monkey Cage election report, the actual system of primaries can mostly be defined as a virtual first round of an unofficial two-round legislative election. Our primaries function more like a de facto national poll that sets the stage for the general election.

Although the post describes the political implications well, I do not think I understand the electoral rules. Maybe a reader of this blog knows the fine details.

Argentina’s primary elections

Natalia C. Del Cogliano has a very interesting post at The Monkey Cage about Argentina’s “Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primaries.”

Voters were able to select presidential candidates from across party lines, hence the “open” and “simultaneous” parts. However, this was not much of a primary: each party had only one presidential (pre-)candidate! In other words, this turned out to be nothing more than an early dry-run of the general election. (President Cristina F. de Kirchner won just over half the votes cast, with no other candidate even close.)

For other offices besides the presidency, there was intra-party competition.

As for all Argentine elections, voting was obligatory.

Macri’s rabbi

So what do you do if you are mayor of a major city, and your opponent is Jewish?

Recruit a rabbi to head your list for the local legislature, of course.

That’s what Mauricio Macri, Mayor of Buenos Aires, has done: the top-ranked candidate on the list of his PRO party in the 10 July elections is Rabbi Sergio Bergman, described by JTA as “one of Buenos Aires’ most prominent spiritual leaders.”

Macri’s main opponent is Daniel Filmus, a former national Minister of Education, and the favored candidate of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Thoughts on Argentina’s midterm election

Not my thoughts, but those of John Carey, who sent them to me via e-mail. I had been thinking along similar lines, but as usual, John is more articulate than I am. So I am transplanting from the e-mail to here, with John’s permission, of course.

Do the Argentine electoral results demonstrate conclusively that Fernandez de K made a colossal strategic error in moving the election date up?  

Let’s think about the counterfactuals.  First, when she declared the June election date, the initial interpretation was that given the way the economy was headed (and expected to continue to head), the value of the Kirchner label was inevitably going to decline, so better to lock in a ‘price’ (i.e. some share of votes/seats) earlier than later when the expected value would be even lower.  Is it possible that, as badly as things went for Cristina and Nestor, she was correct in that things would have been even worse had she waited until spring?  

Of course, one danger Cristina may not have fully appreciated could be that the transparent political calculation of moving the date for such purposes itself alienates voters and costs the Kirchners support.  Is there any evidence that this was the case?  Or is the larger-than-expected electoral loss attributed to other strategic mistakes, like loading up lists with a bunch of show-pony candidates everyone knew wouldn’t serve even if elected?  

Finally, what happens now?  Back in 1989, when the Argentine Constitution used to provide for an 8-month time window between the presidential election and inauguration, Alfonsin stepped down 6 months early, allowing Menem to take office early, basically acknowledging that the results had repudiated his party and government.  Is Argentina going to sit on a Kircher-ite congressional majority for 6 months now?  Would they dare to legislate?

Good questions. For some related thoughts, see also boz.

Elections today, 28 June 2009

Albania and Argentina have legislative elections today.

The election in Albania, a parliamentary democracy, will be its first under a pure list-PR system (which is, of course, much too “complicated” for us to even try to understand, according to the obliging WaPo). At various times since the end of the communist government, Albania has used mixed-member systems of both the majoritarian and proportional variety.*

Of course, the NY Times saw fit to print that the proportional system was “prompting concerns that a messy coalition-forming process could plunge the country further into murk.”

The WaPo story (first link) notes:

At one polling station in the mountainside town on Kruja, famed as the 15th-century stronghold of resistance to Ottoman invasion, a Reuters correspondent saw two separate incidents of men casting ballots for elderly women dressed in black.

Ah, Kruja. Fascinating place. A small personal aside: on my trip to Albania as an electoral system adviser (but don’t blame me for the “murk”!) in 1991, our delegation’s driver took us on an off day to Kruja (Kruje?). The museum of Albanian culture was closed, officially. But being so excited by the appearance of the then-rare Westerners, the caretaker opened it up and showed us around. On the same trip, I drank raki with Sali Berisha, who was already one of the main non-communist leaders then, and is currently Prime Minister.

OK, back to the elections…

Argentina’s election is a midterm legislative election. The president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, succeeded in moving up the date of the elections, which would normally not have been held till October.

Argentina is among the relative few presidential systems to have both concurrent and midterm legislative elections (as are the USA and Mexico, with the latter’s midterm elections a week from today). Argentina is also the only democracy in the world that I know of that has staggered elections for its first (or sole) chamber (as well as for its second chamber).

As is typically the case with midterm elections in presidential democracies, the election is being seen as a “referendum” on the executive.

Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies is elected by closed-list PR, but it is not very proportional, due to both malapportionment and many small-magnitude districts.** The Kirchner couple has used the closed-list system rather creatively to try to hold on to votes for their Peronist party. As the WSJ noted on 10 June:

The campaign has also seen the phenomenon of “testimonial candidates:” star names like Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli and actor Nacha Guevara added to Kirchner’s list of fellow candidates even though they are widely expected to never take office. Two judges have already turned down opposition efforts to ban those candidacies, arguing that there is no way to determine ahead of time whether they truly intend to take office or not.

Of course, the governor could not take up legislative office without giving up the (far more valuable) governorship.

Although the election date was moved froward several months, the installation date for new members is unchanged, giving the outgoing chamber, many of whose members will have been replaced as candidates by their parties or as legislators by the vote outcome, a long lame-duck period.

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* The first competitive election, in 1990, used two-round majority. See the comment thread of the second link for discussion of some problems Albania had with its mixed-member systems.

** And, of course, due to the staggering. That is, each provincial district (and the Capital Territory) votes on new legislators at each election, but on only half its delegation (or half, +/-.5, in the case of odd numbers from a district).

Argentina election date change?

Update: boz notes that the bill to change the dates has passed.

So why are Argentina’s leaders proposing to move the date of legislative elections from October to June? The explanation in Prensa Latina somehow fails to satisfy:

Supporters claim the ballot in June will escape the distress of an election drive, bring the date closer to the provincial elections, while cutting expenses and keep voters´ interest.

These are the midterm elections, halfway through term of current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Or a little earlier than halfway if her proposal becomes law.

The elections will renew half the Chamber of Deputies–is Argentina the only country in the world still not to renew in full its first or sole chamber at each election?–and a third of the Senate. (More detail: in the first chamber that’s half the seats in every province–plus or minus one in case of odd number of seats–and all three senate seats in one third of the provinces. Or at least I think I got that right.)

Argentina: VP Cobos joins opposition

boz notes that Argentine Vice President Cobos has announced that he will return to the Radical Civic Union (UCR) Party.

While this is a remarkable turn of events that I would not have anticipated, my position remains what I articulated after his high-profile vote in the Senate against a president-supported bill: I am surprised that major dust-ups between presidents and vice presidents are not more common.

And this is quite a dust-up.

boz notes that “The official statement from the government simply reminded Cobos that he has institutional duties.” Well, sure, but those institutional duties say nothing about what, if any, party he has to serve. Presidents and vice presidents may be nominated by parties, but they are institutionally autonomous from them (and each other!).

See also Two Weeks Notice.

Vice presidents and tie-breaking

This is oldish news, but then this never has been a news blog. (And the discussion continues in the comments!)

The week before last, the Vice President of Argentina, Julio Cobos, cast a vote in the Senate to break a tie on an important piece of legislation for President Cristina Kirchner. The vote was against the president’s declared preference on the bill.

I have no idea how common the provision for a VP to have a tiebreaking vote on legislation is in those countries that have a VP, let alone how often actual tiebreking votes occur. As I have argued before, the entire position of a vice presidency was one of the most poorly thought-out provisions in the original US constitution. Evidently most of the countries in Latin America that have a vice presidency have a similar tiebreaking provision, or at least Greg Weeks suggests that is the case. ((I wonder if such provisions exist even where the legislature is unicameral; and what about those countries that have more than one VP?))

It may be particularly rare for the VP to vote against the president, although it is not clear to me why we should expect the VP to always line up with the president, especially if the latter is unpopular and/or a constitutional lame-duck. Greg asks, “If you cannot control your own VP, then what does that say about leadership?” But I would ask, how should the president be able to control the vice president? Like the president, the VP is elected for a fixed term, and hence not institutionally subordinate to anyone. Unlike many presidents the vice president is almost always eligible to seek the presidency in the next election, and often ambitious. ((Kirchner, on the other hand, is eligible for reelection.)) Moreover, many VPs (though I do not know about Cobos) are selected from a rival wing of the president’s party or even from a different party.

It seems to me that, institutionally, we should not assume that VPs would necessarily cast their tiebreaking votes in favor of the president’s position on the item in question. In fact, if VP votes against the president are rare, I suspect it is simply a shortage of cases: VPs probably do not face many such opportunities to advertise their independence. But they might be expected to do so when given the chance, except in cases in which they really are well screened and handpicked by the president (which is the case, perhaps unusually, in the contemporary USA).
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Argentine elections today

I am rather too preoccupied with the smoke and ash around the finca to have much to say here, but…

Elections for president and congress in Argentina are today.

The president is elected by qualified plurality: 45% suffices for a first-round victory, as does a plurality of between 40% and 45%, as long as the runner-up trails by at least 10 percentage points. There is probably no doubt that the next president will be the wife of the current Peronist one (Kirchner). Is there any chance of a runoff? Doubtful, I think. (There has not been a runoff since the current rules replaced an electoral college in 1995, though there should have been once: In 2003, the Peronists split and presented several candidates, but the number two candidate, former president Carlos Menem withdrew, and the runoff was never held. Nestor Kirchner became president on around a quarter of the votes.)

Argentina is the only country in the world to have staggered terms for its lower house (as far as I am aware). In each province, half the deputies will be elected today (plus or minus one in the case of odd numbers). Closed-list PR.

There are also elections for federal senators in some (half?) of the provinces. Closed-list plurality with limited nominations (i.e. two candidates nominated per party, with the plurality electing both and the second party electing its first-ranked candidate).

I hope some readers can fill in details or offer corrections in the comments. This is all off the top of my rather hazy head.

Two two-round systems, very different results

This month there have been two presidential elections in the Americas under different rules requiring a second round (runoff) under certain conditions. In one, there will almost certainly not be a runoff, while in the other there may be. Yet in the one in which there probably will not be a runoff, the election was extremely close and a runoff could change the outcome. In the one where there may be a runoff, the leading candidate is far ahead, and a runoff almost certainly would be superfluous.

Results from Haiti’s February 6 election remain provisional, but Rene Preval is hovering right around half the votes. BBC (seen on PoliBlog) reports there might be a runoff, with Preval currently at 49.6% of the votes. This result is with 72% of the vote counted. The runner up, Leslie Manigat1, is at 11.6%.

In other words, in Haiti, there could be a runoff between a candidate who very narrowly missed a majority and a candidate trailing him by thirty eight percentage points. Why? Because the Haitian constitution mandates a runoff unless the leading candidate has at least one more than half the votes in the first round.

Meanwhile, Costa Ricans await the results of their presidential election, held the day before Haiti’s. The leading candidate, Oscar Arias Sánchez, has 40.5% of the votes, according to preliminary results posted by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (via Adam Carr). The runner up, Otton Solís Fallas, has 40.3%. There will not be a runoff if this result holds, even though the leading candidate is nearly ten percentage points short of a majority and leads his main challenger by only two tenths of a percent (3,250 votes). Why? Because under the Costa Rican constitution, a runoff is held only if the winner of a plurality of the vote has less than 40%.

So, the Haitian first-round result is by any standard decisive, and if Preval really is that close to 50% there is almost no chance whatsoever that a runoff could lead to Preval’s defeat. But in Costa Rica, there is a very good chance that a runoff could produce a different result, but there will not be one (unless, of course, the recount puts both candidates below 40%).

There are better ways to determine when a plurality is sufficient and when there should be a top-two runoff. For instance, the double complement rule, first proposed in 1994 by Rein Taagepera and yours truly (in Comparative Political Studies). Under the DCR, in any election in which no candidate obtains over 50%+1, there is a runoff if (and only if) the second candidate’s shortfall from majority is less than double that of the leader.

In other words, if the leader has 44%, he is six percentage points short of 50%. There would be a runoff if the second-place candidate had more than 38%, which is double the leader’s shortfall from majority. If the second candidate is under 38%, the election is over in one round, with the leader’s 44% sufficing. Obviously, the gap required between the top two candidates to avoid a runoff shrinks as the leader approaches 50% and increases as the leading candidate’s plurality decreases–as it should. So with a leading candidate at 40%, there would be a runoff unless the second candidate had less than 30%.

The DCR is not actually used anywhere, but it was the inspiration behind the rule adopted in 1994 in Argentina when that country junked its US-style electoral college. The Argentine rule is a bit more complex. A leading candidate with 45% wins in one round under any circumstances, even if the runner-up is at 44.99%. And less than 40% for the first candidate necessitates a runoff no matter how far the runner-up trails. But in between 40% and 45%, the first round is decisive only if the leading candidate has a ten-percentage-point lead over the runner-up.

The spirit is the same as the DCR, in that the Argentine rule says that what matters is not so much the absolute share of the votes (unless it is over 50% of course), but how successful the leader is at building a majority-approaching coalition relative to the competition. A similar rule is used in Ecuador2, as well as some Argentine provinces and for Uruguayan presidential primaries.

The DCR or any of the existing “qualified plurality” rules would be better than the majority-runoff rule, which may still give Haiti a runoff it does not need, or the 40% rule, which will not give Costa Rica a runoff it arguably should have.


1. Don’t feel to bad for Manigat if he does not get to play in a runoff. In 1988, he narrowly averted a runoff with 50.2% and a runner up at 19.7%. So he’s been on both sides of this wide-first-round-lead thing. (Of course, about six months after his decisive win he was sent off into exile.)

2. In Ecuador, the leading candidate must have at least 40% and a ten-point lead; unlike in Argentina, 45% with a smaller lead is not good enough. There is a similar provision in the Nicaraguan constitution, where the president needs 40% or 35% with a lead of at least five percentage points.


Epilogue: I might also note that today happens to be the birthday of the man who won the US presidency with the smallest plurality in history. Lincon had only 39.9% of the popular vote in 1860. The runner-up, Stephen Douglas had 29.5%. Lincoln’s plurality would have just barely sufficed under the DCR, but obviosuly not under Haitian rules and would have been just barely insufficient under Costa Rican rules.