Lebanon’s new electoral system

This is a guest post by Steven Verbanck

Lebanon finally has rewritten its electoral so that parliament can be renewed in 2018 (the sitting parliament was elected in 2009). The best explanations I’ve found so far are on Blog Baladi, Moulahazat, and Executive Magazine. Until I’ve found a translation of the text of the law itself, I have to rely on these sources.

1. Lebanon makes a major electoral system change by changing from multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV) to (open) list PR with average magnitude of 8,5 (128 seats in 15 districts, range 5 to 11).

It’s in line with a more general trend: many countries once started with MNTV but when elections become more partisan, search for ways to make the outcome less risky. One way to do this is to reduce district magnitude, with many countries ending up with M=1 (FPTP). In Lebanon the endpoint was the qada as district (law of 1960 and Doha law of 2008: 26 districts). Designing even smaller districts is too difficult given the predetermined allocation of every seat to a specific religious community.

The districting still bears the mark of majoritarian thinking: they avoided merging districts that differ too much in their religious makeup.

Introducing a proportional system makes the outcome less risky in competitive districts (51%-49% -> 3-2 instead of 5-0) but on the other hand, in districts who were until now won overwhelmingly, competition become viable (80%-20% -> 4-1 instead of 5-0)

Specifically, they have chosen single quota largest remainder as allocation mechanism between lists. The quota is also threshold and the quota is recalculated with the vote total of the lists still in the running.

2. The intraparty allocation of seats to candidates is rather complex because they combine proportionality between parties with the prefixed allocation of seats to religious communities and to sub-districts (= nada).

A voter is not restricted to candidates of his own religious community but can only give a personal vote to a candidate of his sub-district. It’s unclear to me if a voter has the option of a list vote without a personal vote for a candidate of that list.

All candidates (irrespective of their list or their religious community & sub-district) are ordered according to their personal vote share in their sub-district (not the absolute number of personal votes to balance sub-districts of different sizes).

Seats are then awarded one by one to the candidates in that order. As soon as a list is awarded all its seats, all lower candidates of that list are defeated and as soon as a religious community & sub-district is awarded all its seats, all lower candidates of that religious community & sub-district are defeated. Or put in another way: a candidate loses if enough higher placed candidates of his list have already won to fill the vacancies of that list or if enough higher placed candidates of his religious community & sub-district have already won to fill the vacancies of that religious community & sub-district.

For lower-placed candidates this can be somewhat erratic and unpredictable: you can end up defeated because your list or religious community & sub-district has already enough winners, while lower placed candidates overtake you because their list and their religious community & sub-district still have vacancies. (This will even more be the case if personal votes are concentrated on the first candidate on the list: the differences in personal votes between lower candidates then becomes less meaningful but stays relevant for the allocation.)

For the last vacancy, there can be only one winner because there is only one list left with one vacancy and only one religious community & sub-district left with one vacancy, no matter how few votes that candidate received. (Compare with Romania 2008 where the Hungarian party won the last seat, the only seat of the expatriate district for Africa & Middle-East with only 2% of the votes in that district.)

I have no idea what happens if there is no such candidate: does the seat remain empty? (Compare with Mauritius where sometimes no candidate meets the requirements for the best loser seats.) This problem, proportionality in two dimensions (rows and columns, parties and preset religious communities & sub-districts) can be solved in a better way .)

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More parliamentarism in Central Asia

The Venice Commission has published an generally positive opinion on the Georgian government’s proposal for constitutional reforms. The reforms were proposed after the governing Georgian Dream party won 115 seats in the 150 member legislature in elections, slightly more than the three-quarters majority required to amend the document.

Specifically, the amendments propose repealing direct elections to the Presidency, replacing it with election by a 300-member electoral college composed of members of the national legislature and local councillors. In addition, most of the powers of the Presidency are stripped. This creates a parliamentary system, with a Prime Minister only removable through a constructive vote of no confidence.

The previously unicameral legislature will be replaced, nominally, with a bicameral legislature, comprised of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. However, the Senate specifically includes members elected from Abkhazia, currently under the control of a separatist government, and is only to be created after “appropriate conditions have been created throughout the territory of Georgia”. This would seem to imply that the chamber can only be created when Abkhazia returns to government control, and the Venice Commission’s report confirms that they understand its creation will be delayed.

In addition, there are changes to the electoral law. The existing mixed-member majoritarian system with a roughly even split between single-member constituencies elected using the two-round system and party-list PR with a 5% threshold will be replaced with a system of list PR only, still with a 5% threshold. While there is little elaboration, the document does specify that seats shall be allocated by the Hare quota, but instead of allocating seats by largest remainders, all remaining seats are allocated to the largest party (a method used in Greece in one of their endless electoral system changes).

The change bears some resemblance to the relatively recent amendments in Armenia. Like Georgia, a semi-presidential system with a legislature elected with a mixed-member system transitioned into a parliamentary one with a legislature elected under a list system with a bonus (though Armenia’s bonus is somewhat more elaborate, and guarantees a majority government in one form or another). While drawing broad conclusions off two examples is obviously bound to be, these two results may suggest that there is a shift away from politics centred around an all-powerful directly elected presidency, and towards more party-based politics.

A more tenuous argument along these lines could be made in relation to the electoral system. In both cases (along with Kyrgyzstan, which actually moved from single-member districts to MMM to party list), a system in which individual candidates were an important part of legislative elections (especially in the years shortly after independence) has been replaced by a system in which parties are the dominant actors. On the other hand, the pendulum has moved the other way elsewhere in the region, in Russia and the Ukraine.

The President, though endorsed by the Georgian Dream party at the 2013 election, does not appear to have been overly enthusiastic about the landslide victory. The Venice Commission did express some concerns about the power of a government with an overwhelming parliamentary majority, but that seems less likely in Georgia than in Armenia, owing to the more proportional system.

Uttar Pradesh, 2017

Election results have been released for the state assembly of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. It was a big win for the federal ruling party, the BJP. The seat tally shows 312 for the BJP, with the second highest being the Samajwadi Party (SP) at 47. The SP, the ruling party since 2012, was in a pre-election coalition with the Indian National Congress (INC), which won just 7 seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has been a significant party in the state in the past, won 19 seats.

Unlike 2012, when the SP majority in the assembly was achieved on not even 30% of the vote, this year’s BJP victory was a big win in votes, too. Not a majority, but a decisive plurality, at 39.7% of the vote. The SP-INC combine had 28.0% and the BSP 22.2%.

Note that the BJP managed a three-fourths majority (77.4%) of the 403 seats on not even 40% of the vote. The advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) was 1.95. That must be one of the biggest manufactured majorities under FPTP anywhere, at least in a large assembly.

Several other states have had recent elections as well. The news was better for the struggling INC in some, including Punjab, Goa, and Manipur, though its pluralities in these are short of majority status. The Aam Aadmi Party (which governs Delhi, but has had minimal success elsewhere) managed a distant second place in Punjab. See the results at the second link in this entry.

Jordan’s new electoral system – the more things change…

By JD Mussel and Henry Schlechta

Jordan held a parliamentary election last month, for the first time under a proportional party-list system. This reform, in line with many previous proposals, replaces the earlier Single Non-Transferable Vote or (mechanically FPTP) pseudo-SNTV (it’s not clear which one was actually used last time around) which at the last election in 2013 was accompanied by a small national list-PR tier.

Reform of the previous single-vote system was a long-running demand of opposition parties, a number of which have taken part in these elections after having repeatedly boycotted them in the past. However, what they may not have noticed (yet) is that the new electoral system may turn out to be remarkably similar to the old SNTV.

A total of 130 non-reserved seats were filled proportionally from open lists of candidates in 23 districts, out of which 9 seats are from 3 parallel Bedouin districts (similar to NZ’s Maori districts) electing 3 seats each. The districts range from 3 to 10 seats, with a median of 4. Spread out among all the districts is a quota for 15 women and (among the non-Bedouin districts) there are quotas for Christians (9 seats) and Circassians/Chechens (3 seats). With more seats allocated to the cities, there seems to be less malapportionment than under the previous system, but it is not clear how much less.

The lists are open, with seats going to candidates with most votes within each list. This was presented as a kind of return to the ostensibly similar multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV) which had existed before the introduction of SNTV: voters have as many votes as there are seats to be filled, and can cast them for a list as a whole or for any number of individual candidates on the list. Candidacies must be as part of lists with at least 3 candidates up to the number of seats available.

Largest-remainder PR and ‘SNTVization’

Now, technically, the system is proportional. However, the apportionment formula is largest remainders, using the Hare quota. The potential problem is that the combination of these features and the open-list aspect may present incentives that roughly approximate SNTV. Larger quotas (the Hare quota is the largest of the commonly used ones) are advantageous to smaller parties: the fewer seats are allocated by quotas, the more seats allocated by remainders. The smaller number of votes required to win a seat by remainder means that smaller parties are able to win these seats. On the other hand, for a large party to win multiple seats, they must fill multiple quotas.

The possibility of getting seats from remainders can encourage large parties to turn themselves into multiple small parties, through running multiple lists and dividing their votes between these lists[1]. Hong Kong represents the best example of this tendency. While on paper it is a party-list PR system with largest-remainder and the Hare quota, the 2012 and 2016 elections saw no ‘list’ win more than one seat. Instead, larger parties like the Democratic Alliance ran multiple lists, and divided their votes between them. If no seats are allocated by quotas, the M-lists with the highest vote are allocated one seat. The effect of this is to create a system approximate to SNTV.

District magnitude does not appear to be an especially important factor in this process, with 5-member districts in Hong Kong and the 100-member nationwide district for the Colombian Senate (up until 2002) both being on paper party-list but effectively acting as SNTV.

Of course, there are other relevant institutional considerations. The new law’s requirement for at least three candidates per list could theoretically limit this tactic, though it could probably still be possible for a list to consist of one politician with public profile and two other ‘decoy’ candidates. It is not clear if there are any legal restrictions on one political party registering multiple lists; however, in the context of an electoral politics where parties are still weak and fragmented (and which was until now dominated by independent politicians), it is unlikely to be difficult to register effectively duplicate lists under similar labels.

Political impact

The results of the election show a continuation of the party fragmentation that existed before; barely any parties won more than one seat in each district. However, fragmentation was occasionally an outcome of the electoral system, as there are a couple of cases where lists that won a single seat received more than double the votes of other winning lists. This would have given them two seats if they had presented two separate lists, at least if they had managed to keep the vote distributed evenly between them. Of course, electoral systems take time in order to affect behaviour; however, it won’t be long before politicians will notice this outcome, and the strategic response would seem to be obvious. Therefore, more than likely, the new party-list system will continue as an obstacle to the development of larger and more cohesive party organizations, despite the fact that it was presented as a reform designed to bolster party-politics.

Hence, it looks like the reform may have been a clever stratagem by the government: it can be presented as an ‘abolition’ of SNTV and ‘return’ to MNTV, yet it will likely retain the incentives caused by SNTV. Or it could have been accidental. Whether or not this was intentional, it would certainly seem advantageous to the King: in public opinion, it enhances the regime’s legitimacy (the best evidence of this being how it brought an end to the Islamist boycott); nonetheless, in reality it will likely continue the previous incentives for fragmentation which weaken the parties (most importantly, the Islamists) and, crucially, the House of Representatives, which needs to remain fragmented for the King to maintain substantial power in what is constitutionally supposed to be a parliamentary system[2].

 


[1] The ideal number of candidates elected from each of these lists is one, since a party can win only one seat by remainder.

[2] There are of course other factors relevant in determining whether or not a given ‘constitutional monarchy’ is more monarchy or more parliamentary democracy (as demonstrated by the recent constitutional amendments giving the King more power over appointments) but hopefully it can be agreed that the crucial factor is whether or not governments are responsible to an elected house of parliament, by which I mean that a prime minister and cabinet can be removed by that house. Jordan’s constitution, at least since 2011, makes the government responsible to the House of Representatives.

Nepal’s new constitution

After its revolution in 2007 more than seven years of discussion, missed deadlines and constitutional deadlock in two consecutive constituent assemblies, Nepal finally passed a permanent constitution earlier this year, which entered into force on September 20th. A two-thirds majority was required to pass it.

The new constitution establishes the country as a federal parliamentary republic, with marked similarities to India and Pakistan. The president is elected for a five-year term by an ‘electoral college’ consisting of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. Executive power is vested in the cabinet.

Legislative branch

Parliament is to be bicameral. The cabinet is responsible to the House of Representatives, which, like the Constituent Assembly, will be elected for five years through Mixed-Member Majoritarian: 165 seats by single-seat plurality and 110 by party-list PR, with no districting. The unusually-named (for an upper house) National Assembly have 59 members: 8 members from each of the 7 provinces elected by Provincial Assembly members, joined by local representatives (chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of village councils, and Mayors and Deputy Mayors of Municipal councils) whose votes will be weighted, presumably according to each local authority’s population; the other 3 will be appointed by the government. They are to serve a six-year staggered term, with one-third retiring every two years.

The National Assembly may delay financial bills by 15 days, and delay other bills proposed by the lower house for two months. Only bills that were introduced in the upper house but lack bicameral agreement are to be sent to joint session. Thus, Nepal’s bicameralism is far weaker than in India and Pakistan, where joint session is the deadlock-breaking mechanism for any non-financial bill. And even on bills that make it to joint session, Nepal’s upper house is weaker as it is smaller in relation to the lower house (India is roughly 2:1, Pakistan 7:2 while Nepal will be about 9:2).

With this weak upper house, the constitution enacted has no constitutional ex-ante checks on the power of a majority government to pass legislation. A large number of the proposed drafts contained a more powerful upper house. Sadly, the main parties probably made short shrift of such proposals, preferring not to have their ambitions checked when taking part in future governments.

The constitution can be amended by two-thirds majorities in both houses, with changes to provincial boundaries also requiring the consent of the assemblies of the provinces involved.

Judicial branch

Lastly, the Supreme Court is to be appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Council, out of which a special Constitutional Bench will be formed including the Chief Justice and four other Justices chosen by the Judicial Council. The Chief Justice is appointed for a six-year term on advice of the Constitutional Council. All Justices serve until mandatory retirement age of 65.

The Judicial Council will consist of:

  1. the Chief Justice, presiding,
  2. the most senior Supreme Court Justice
  3. the Federal Law & Justice Minister,
  4. a senior legal expert appointed by the PM, and
  5. a senior legal advocate appointed by the Nepal Bar Association.

The Constitutional Council will consist of:

  1. the PM, presiding,
  2. the Chief Justice
  3. the chairman of the upper house
  4. the speaker of the lower house
  5. the deputy-speaker of the lower house, and
  6. the Leader of the Opposition

Enduring controversies

Far from settling Nepal’s political quagmire, the new constitution has proven to be very controversial. Its (impending) passage sparked demonstrations and unrest around the country. Protesters have blocked roads and vital supplies and dozens have died in clashes with police over the past few months.

The most contentious issue remains as it was during the years of deadlock in the Constituent Assemblies: the drawing of the boundaries of the new provinces. While the final boundaries are said not to be completely settled yet, the schedule is quite specific, and it provides for largely multi-ethnic provinces. There is therefore a great deal of opposition from groups wanting a linguistic and ethnic delineation providing them with their ‘own’ provinces.

Other disputes include women and minority rights in the new constitution (including in particular the definition of citizenship, which favours the father), its secular nature, the lower proportion of lower house seats to be elected by PR (45%, compared with 58% for the Constituent Assembly), and the federal terms concerning provincial autonomy. There are, of course, also those happy the constitutional deadlock is over, if not with the constitution itself, but

It will be interesting to see whether the final provincial boundary-drawing will be affected, and how the salience of these constitutional issues evolves. The first regular elections will not be held for several years, as the term of the Constituent Assembly, now transformed into ‘Legislature-Parliament’, will end in January 2018.

Bihar 2015: Indian democracy still works

The ‘Modi wave’ has been flattened in Bihar, one of India’s biggest states.

This past Sunday, the Electoral Commission announced the results. The BJP, the national ruling party since the 2014 federal election, was trounced.

A ‘Grand Alliance’, including among its main components two state parties (one of which formerly ruled the state in alliance with the BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), won an overwhelming majority. According to results currently posted on the Commission’s front page, the BJP remained the largest single party in votes (24.4%), but the combined votes of the three main grand alliance partners came to 41.9%. Other smaller parties that participated in the “seat-sharing” (whereby one of the partners represents the alliance in a given constituency) bring the total to around 46%. Of the main alliance partners, the Rashtriya Janata Dal won 80 of the 243 seats, the Janata Dal (United) won 71, and the INC 27.

The total alliance seat take represents over 73% of the seats, offering a stark reminder of just how disproportional the FPTP system can be, especially when multiple parties cooperate and there is a relatively uniform swing.

I had suggested back in May, 2014, that I did not think the BJP win meant a fundamental change in how the country would be governed, despite the fact that the BJP had won big in Bihar itself in the national election. The outcome of the Bihar election is yet another reminder of the centrality of alliance politics in India.

District magnitude and reelection in Iran (and what is a mixed-member system)

A recent entry at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog by Paasha Mahdavi (Georgetown) is a summary of the author’s really fascinating research on Iranian MP reelection rates. Mahdavi finds that MPs from more resource-rich regions are more able to secure reelection because they get credit from targeted spending in their districts.

Reelection rates in Iran are overall low: “Since 1980, less than 30 percent of politicians running again in Iranian parliamentary elections retained their seats.” However, rates vary substantially across districts.

The relationship between increased resources and reelection rates is statistically stronger in those districts that elect one MP than in those that are multi-seat districts (graph at Mahdavi’s blog entry). Mahdavi argues this is due to the stronger accountability relationship when there is only one MP.

So far so good. It is terrific to see this sort of research in any country, but especially in Iran, which of course has an authoritarian regime, yet one with regular semi-open elections (which have long fascinated me).

However, can we please get the terminology right? Mahdavi writes:

Iran’s parliament is elected by what political scientists call a “mixed-member system.” Some districts only elect one representative while others elect two or more.

The term, “mixed-member system” does not simply mean a system in which the country contains a ‘mix’ of different magnitudes, including some that are single-member. (If that were the case, there would be many more “mixed-member” systems than there in fact are, as magnitudes ranging from 1 to some higher number are pretty common.*) A mixed-member system is defined by the following two minimal criteria:

    1. The entire country is divided into districts in which candidates win on their own individual votes (“nominal” election, some of us call it). These districts in practice usually are all single-seat, although that is not a defining requirement for many typologies, including mine.**

    2. Every voter also resides in a multi-member district–which may be the entire country, though could be regional–in which legislators are elected via party lists (in practice, almost always proportionally).

It is these overlapping components or tiers, one individual (and usually single-seat plurality or majority) and the other party list (proportional) that make a system mixed-member. Numerous other features define sub-types (mixed-member proportional, where the list seats are allocated in a compensatory manner, vs. mixed-member majoritarian, where the two sets of seats are elected separately or “in parallel”); there may be separate votes in the two types of districts (as is usually the case) or your candidate vote might also count for the candidate’s party’s list (as in Mexico). Despite these variations, the two criteria mentioned above are required for the system to be mixed-member.

In Iran, there are no party lists (as this term is understood in the electoral systems literature). All candidates win based on their own nominal votes–that is votes cast for them personally. The system for parliament (and some other elected bodies) is probably best characterized as a form of multiple nontransferable vote (MNTV); however, unlike most such systems, I believe that there is a provision for a second round where sufficient candidates have not met some threshold of votes*** in the first round.

I read something like Mahdavi’s fascinating Monkey Cage post and have two thoughts: (1) Very cool research that I wish I had done; (2) I still have plenty of my regular work to do, because even as vast as the subfield of electoral-systems analysis has become, political scientists in other subfields still make fundamental errors about well established electoral system terminology.

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* One example: the current Venezuelan system clearly meets the two criteria here for qualifying as mixed-member; several of its nominal-election districts elect more than one member.

** Finland, Peru, Spain, and Switzerland are among the districted PR systems having at least one district has a magnitude of just one seat. There have been examples of electoral systems in the past (although I can’t think of a current one) with numerous single-seat districts along with other districts that are multi-seat. There also have been many cases of mostly single-seat districts but some districts electing two or more candidates, non-prorportionally. (India in its first elections was such a case, and farther back, UK.)

*** I do not know details here. Majority? If so, how determined, given magnitude greater than one, and the possibility that not all participating voters use their full M votes (M=magnitude of the district)?