Bolivian electoral-system changes

Miguel Centellas notes that the new Bolivian constitution makes a few changes in the country’s legislative electoral system. [link removed]

The legislature is renamed the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and, presumably to put that into action, the first chamber electoral system will be required to have seats set aside for indigenous representation. However, Miguel notes that this is not very significant in practice:

The indigenous seats must come from the 130 total, are limited to “rural” districts […Moreover, ] Rural SMDs were already de facto “indigenous” seats; now that is merely recognized officially.

The MMP system, in which about half the seats are elected from single-seat districts, remains. This is in spite of earlier proposals from the ruling MAS to move to a system of exclusively single-seat districts.

MAS also previously advocated abolishing the Senate. Instead, it will be retained, but with a non-trivial change: the number of seats per department will go from 3 to 4. Currently, these are elected by that Latin American oddity that I refer to as “limited slate” or “limited nominations.” A party may nominate two candidates on a closed list, and the party with the plurality elects both, while the first runner-up elects its first-ranked candidate. (Similar systems are used in the second chambers of Argentina and Mexico.) Miguel notes that the electoral system for the new 4-seat districts is undetermined, but is supposed to be “proportional.”

Bolivia’s Senate is really an anomaly: it just might be the most malapportioned chamber in any unitary state. It is not surprising that, politically, it could not be abolished or even that its malapportionment could not be reduced, given conflicts over regional autonomy. Still, as Miguel says, this reform actually makes the small departments more over-represented. The move to 4-seat districts, however, should counteract that to some degree, as far as partisan representation is concerned, as long as the formula actually is PR and not some continued form of list plurality. Under PR, the second and even third largest party in a department would be better represented than is now the case, which potentially nationalizes the highly regionalized party system a bit more.

As for whether Bolivia retains a unitary state, I believe so. An earlier post by Miguel refers to a new federacy,” a term I understand as within the confines of a unitary state, but with special autonomy status for one or more of several sub-jurisdictions of the state.

In short, these changes seem like small improvements. But will they help solve the country’s deep political conflicts?

Mixed-member systems and regionalism

Miguel asks a good question about the extent to which mixed-member systems might encourage regionalism and thus discourage nationwide coalition-building. He was responding to an earlier (and since revised) planting of mine on Mexico, and offering lessons from the Bolivian experience. Regarding Bolivia, Miguel suggested that in 1997-2002 there appeared to be an emergence of separate regional party systems, similar to what appears to have happened in Mexico. He says:

I actually suspect this is a byproduct of MMP systems, since it encourages the localization of candidates (to win SSD seats) — which is part of my skepticism for MMP in new democracies, if it encourages regionalist splits & discourages nation-wide coalition-building.

First off, Mexico does not have MMP. But we might expect that MMM would have more localizing tendencies than MMP (because the districts actually matter to the overall outcome in terms of the balance of seats held by parties). Such tendencies could generate party systems that are distinct in different regions, possibly with two major parties in one region that are not the same two parties that are most competitive in some other region–national multipartism, regional bipartism.

Does MMP (or MMM) discourage nationwide coalition building and emphasize regionalism? As always in comparison of electoral systems, one needs to ask, relative to what? If the allocation of PR seats to parties is national (as it is in Mexico, though not Bolivia) then it obviously encourages parties to think nationally to a degree that a system of just single-seat districts would not. In Bolivia, it is possible that the adoption of MMP increased both personalism and localism because the antecedent electoral system was pure closed-list PR. In fact, on the interparty dimension–how seats are awarded to parties–Bolivia changed little. The old system was PR with each province as a self-contained multi-seat district. The new one is also PR, but of the MMP variety. There is no national allocation.

What there is, with the change, is a series of individual races by plurality. With MMP, that means a change primarily on the intraparty dimension, in that some legislators are being elected on their own “nominal” votes instead of by party ranking. As a result parties may care about the qualities of the candidates being nominated to a greater degree than on the lists, and those candidates might seek to develop personal connections to the districts.

So, should we expect MMP in Bolivia to be more localizing and personalizing than what went before? Probably, and because there is no provision for overhang seats (the addition of seats to compensate for some party’s getting more seats in the SSD competition than its proportional share entitles it to), there should be more premium on parties’ putting effort into the SSDs than if winning these had no impact on the partisan balance of the legislature. In other words, the MMP system provides some new incentives on both the interparty and intraparty dimensions for parties and candidates to exert effort in winning local races. Given that some parties may have an edge over others in any given geographic region either programmatically or in terms of the types of candidates they can recruit, then this should promote more “localization (to win SSD seats)” than the system that went before it.

As for the expectation that I allude to above that MMM would generate greater emphasis than MMP on the single-seat districts (and hence localization and at least local bi-polarization) the only problem with that is that while the rank order of the parties differs across Mexican states, in only a minority of the states is the third party far behind. So, Mexico would seem not to support the hypothesis that MMM (or mixed-member systems more generally) promote local 2-party politics.* The continued strength of the third party (whichever it may be) in districts that it has no chance to win, even under MMM, is partly a result of the single vote. That is, every party that hopes to win PR seats has a strong incentive to nominate 300 candidates, whether or not viable. Even with this consideration in mind, however, we have to ask what the mixed-member system adopted in Mexico is being compared to. Does it promote localization or nationalization, relative to what?

For Mexico, where at one time the system was all SSDs (and all dominated by one party), the addition of a nationwide PR allocation clearly has helped nationalize politics to a degree that could hardly have happened under a pure SSD system.

In assessing the impact of adopting MMP or MMM (or any other electoral system), we have to ask what variables are changing relative to the former system. And the different starting points, as much as the differences in the systems adopted, affect our expectations about whether mixed-member rules would increase or decrease the extent of regional electoral competition in any given polity.


* I realize that Miguel is responding to the original post, where I employed the “slip of the keyboard” and referred to regional two-party systems, when what I meant was simply that the second party is the PRI almost everywhere and thus local competition is usually PRD vs. PRI or PAN vs. PRI, but rarely what it was in the presidential election: PAN vs. PRD.

Bolivia constituent assembly election

UPDATE (3 July): Good analysis of the Bolivian result at Boli-Nica.

Mexico is not the only country having an election today. See Miguel’s notes about the referendum and constituent assembly election [link removed] in Bolivia. Also our previous exchanges about the funky two-vote, two-tier parallel closed-list limited-seats/[almost] “every party gets a seat”* electoral system being used today.

* I said it was funky. Just to tie today’s elections together, Bolivia’s lower tier rule is the same as the Mexican Senate’s lower tier (also used in Bolivia’s own senate). However, the upper tier is just weird: departmental-level allocation of two seats to the leading list, and one each for the remaining parties till the district’s seats are exhausted. Unless that gets down into parties with less than 5%… I told you it was funky! (And please don’t call it either “mixed-member” or “PR”! Labels matter.)

UPDATE (in response to Miguel): I changed the “limited nominations” in my original (whimsical) name for this electoral system to “limited seat” for accuracy (see comments below for more) and also becuase it has a nice parallel (so to speak) with the concept of a “limited vote” system (defined as a nominal-vote system wherein voters get to vote for more than one, but less than M candidates, where M is the number of seats in the district and the top M vote-winners are elected). The Bolivian rules that this discussion refers to say that the plurality party wins more than one seat (and likely more than proportional seats), but less than M seats. Hence “limited seats,” which I would consider a variant of list plurality, just as I would consider the limited vote a variant of nominal plurality. (The system in question would also be “limited nominations” if the party could place on its list only as many candidates as it could win, were it to get the plurality of votes, which apparently is not the case here.)

Bolivia and Morales’s “socialism”

[UPDATE: Eduardo posts the data and a discussion of the departmental elections below. Thanks, Eduardo!]

I want to call readers’ attention to an excellent radio program on Bolivia. On Open Source, it aired on January 3, but I just now have had a chance to listen to it.

It features Jeffrey Sachs and Miguel Centellas. Sachs, of course, is an internationally renowned development economist and advisor on economic reform in Bolivia during the hyperinflationary crisis twenty years ago (as well as in post-Soviet Russia and elsewhere). Centellas is familiar to F&V readers from his many excellent comments here in various threads on Bolivia and MMP systems. Jim Schultz, of the Democracy Center and Blog from Bolivia is also on the program. Continue reading

Bolivia’s MMP: The chamber of deputies result

Even though an excerpt of each of these comments appears (as with all comments at F&V) over on the left sidebar, the following comments to an earlier post on Bolivia are so interesting and relevant to ongoing themes here that I wanted to “promote” them to the front page. Thanks, Wilfred and Miguel! Please note: None of the remaining text in this post is mine.*

FROM WILFRED DAY: If the results posted on the National Electoral Court’s website are official, Bolivia’s MMP system has just passed its first “sweep test” with flying colours.

Previous elections have seen no party win a majority, so a congressional coalition would form a government and elect a president. But this time one party, MAS, got 53.74% of the vote, making Evo Morales president outright. With a single ballot for president and congress, and a proportional system, MAS should have 70 of the 130 deputies. Continue reading

Bolivia post-election update

MABB has posted a graphic of the Bolivian electoral results by department that is quite interesting. The results are not quite “final” but probably not much will change. Morales seems to have wound up with over 55%. Amazing.

He won majorities in five of nine departments. Podemos won pluralities–but not majorities–in the other four. The only department where the top two candidates were not those of MAS (Morales) or Podemos was Beni, where the MNR came in second (23.9%, to Podemos 47.6 and MAS with 15.3). Other than Beni, in the departments where Morales did not win the majority, he won a quarter to a third of the votes. This is impressive national coverage for a candidate who was, going into the election, widely seen as mostly a regional phenomenon. (Detailed departmental breakdowns are at the CNE site.)

This result would give MAS 12 senators, Podemos 13, and the MNR and FUN 1 each*. I have not yet seen any deputies results. The votes for the list tier of the Chamber of Deputies necessarily are the same as for president and senate (the voter selects a single party list for all three offices); however, the result in the lower house also depends on the results in the nominal tier (i.e. the single-seat districts). Even though the deputies are assigned via MMP (i.e. the list seats are allocated in compensatory fashion), it is not a simple translation of list votes into a share of the department’s total seat allocation, because with some departments having relatively few seats and compensation being carried out department-by-department (with no national adjustment, as in Germany) it is possible for a party to out-do its proportional share in the single-seat districts. In that case, the result will be somewhat disproportional in a way that can’t be determined without knowing the nominal-tier breakdown.

*This is corrected from an earlier version of this post.

Bolivia: why the polls were so wrong

boz offers some reflections on why several pre-election polls in Bolivia said that Evo Morales would not break 35% when in fact he broke 50% (and, apparently, with plenty of room to spare). He finds (as do I) that the most plausible explanations lie in pollsters’ reliance on models that failed to take account of how much more motivated to turn out were Morales’s supporters compared to those of other candidates, and the likelihood that a lot of voters decided very late in the campaign.