Party Personnel Strategies is published

Just received: My copy of Party Personnel Strategies: Electoral Systems and Committee Assignments.

A preview of most of Chapter 1 is available for free at Google Books. More details, including the table of contents, can be viewed at the book’s Oxford University Press page.

The back cover has the short summary, as well as some very kind words from other scholars:

The country cases covered in the book, each with its own chapter, are Germany, Japan, Israel, Portugal, Britain, and New Zealand. The research design leverages the electoral-system changes in Japan and New Zealand.

The book develops two “models” of party personnel practices, tested on the patterns of assignment of a party’s legislators to committees, broken down into three categories: high policy, public goods, and distributive. Under the expertise model, parties are assumed to want to harness the perceived expertise of their individual members by assigning them to committees with matching policy functions. We assume all parties in parliamentary democracies would like to achieve such matches, but, depending on features of the electoral system, they may have to trade off fulfilling the expertise model in order to assign according to an electoral–constituency model. Within the expertise model, there are also a series of issue ownership premises, under which parties of the center-right are expected to match experts to high policy and parties of the center-left to public goods (even if they do not expertise-match in other categories). As expected under our theory, the more that an electoral system makes seat-maximization depend on the geographic location of votes (as with FPTP) or on candidate’s personal votes (or both, as with Japan’s former SNTV), the more the electoral–constituency model dominates over the expertise model.

Although not the book’s central theme, a key subtext is that we now probably can take the question mark off of “best of both worlds” regarding the impact of mixed-member electoral systems, at least for the proportional (MMP) variant used in Germany and post-reform New Zealand. These systems show the highest reliance on the expertise model while simultaneously also fulfilling key premises of the electoral–constituency model.

The project was a long time in development. The book arrives thirteen and a half years after the original “central team” (me, Krauss, and Pekkanen) obtained the news that our NSF grant proposal was going to be funded. It was a complex collaboration, involving scholars specializing on each of the cases, who led the data collection and answered many a question we had. The book could never have seen the light of day without their effort. Nor could have been written without the addition to the author team of Matthew Bergman (originally the project’s research assistant, and central data manager, as well as the originator of our issue-ownership premises) and Cory Struthers (who brought new ideas about distributive policy to the author team, and was my first UC Davis Ph.D. student, not counting one who originally started at UCSD before I moved). We also benefitted from numerous other research assistants and the work of several undergraduate students at Davis, who are named individually in the preface.

As foreshadowed previously at this blog, the book is dedicated to one of the most important scholars ever of comparative legislatures, Gerhard Loewenberg, of blessed memory.

Datasets used in the book will soon be made public. They are not quite ready yet (pending review of a planned journal article that will introduce them to the wider public), but I will post a notification when they are available.

Why so much “high policy” in the LDP?

I am close(-ish) to finishing up a book on Party Personnel, coauthored with Matthew Bergman, Cory Struthers, Ellis Krauss, and Robert Pekkanen. The short version of what the book is about: How does the electoral system (and electoral reform) shape how parties deploy their “personnel” (i.e. elected legislators) to legislative committees to allow them to engage in activities that support the party organizational goal of seat-maximization?

(Quick note: While the book is coauthored, I should make clear that this post is just my musing about a puzzle, and not a piece of the book. Nor do my coauthors bear any responsibility for what I am writing here, or conclusions I attempt to draw.)

The outcome variable of interest in the Party Personnel project is the “type” of committee assignment a legislator receives–high policy, public goods, or distributive. This typology first appeared in Pekkanen, Nyblade, and Krauss (2006). In most of the countries covered in the book, a party typically has 50%-60% of its legislators sitting on high policy in any given term of parliament (not necessarily all at once, as members may be rotated). But, in Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party often has 75% or more on high policy, and in some years over 90%!

What explains the unusually high rate of high policy committee assignments in the LDP? I do not think we currently have a good explanation. We have floated some in internal discussions (mostly internal to my own brain), but as I will show in this post, they are not adequate. Before we get into trying to answer the question posed in bold at the start of this paragraph, let’s establish which committees are classified as high policy. These are committees charged with involvement in policies that are about the management of the economy and other matters of state–this is the sense in which they are “high”. Examples are finance, economy, budget, justice, defense, and foreign affairs.

Japan underwent a major electoral reform prior to the 1996 election. The old system was single non-transferable vote (SNTV). The post-reform system is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM). If we look only at averages by electoral-system era, it looks like a case of electoral reform resulting in a large increase in the percentage of LDP members of the House of Representatives obtaining high policy (HP) committee assignments:

SNTV era: 73% of legislators on HP.

MMM era: 86% of legislators on HP.

The difference in means when comparing eras is statistically significant. So, it is the electoral reform, right? (Never mind that even 73% pre-reform would be high, compared to other cases.) Is there a reason why MMM would lead a party to want to emphasize the experience of its caucus in HP more than would be the case under SNTV? Amy Catalinac‘s book, Electoral Reform and National Security in Japan (2016), suggests a reason why the answer might be yes. She analyzes individual candidates’ campaign manifestoes and finds that they are more likely to mention defense under MMM than they were under SNTV. The reason she gives is that members’ having a reputation for high policy areas like defense and foreign affairs was not useful under SNTV, when they were overwhelmingly concerned with “pork” for which they could get individual credit. By contrast, under MMM, each member is the sole standard-bearer in a single-seat district (and is often also running on a closed party list), and thus the pork incentive is greatly diminished. As national security is a key component of high policy, a similar effect might also account for the higher rate of HP committee assignments after electoral reform. That is, HP committees are assigned to LDP legislators at a greater rate under MMM because the party as a whole has a stronger interest in appearing credible on high-policy issues, including national security. This is one plausible explanation of the changes in era averages. For reasons I will turn to later, I am not satisfied with this attempt to explain the patterns in committee assignment.

An initial idea I had was that perhaps the high rate of HP, post-reform, is a legacy of a high rate under SNTV, and will be seen to have declined under MMM. In other words, this is a totally competing explanation to the one that could be derived from a logic similar to that of Catalinac. I would expect more delegation to the cabinet under MMM, in the sense of its being more Westminster-like than under SNTV. (This is a point that Catalinac explicitly argues, in justifying her disagreement with some Japan specialists who, upon the electoral reform, thought pork would remain just as important, only district-focused rather than more narrowly focused as under SNTV.) The problem with expecting a shift towards more HP committee membership under a supposedly more Westminster-like system, or just generally a more policy-centric system, is that it does not comport well with our comparative evidence.

We know that in two Westminster systems covered in the book, Britain and pre-reform New Zealand, the rate of HP committee membership is not especially high (30% in UK Conservatives, 33.5% in Labour; NZ National 54%, Labour 68%). All of these percentages are lower–most are much lower–than the MMM-era mean for the LDP. Nor is it high in Germany (near 60% in both major parties) or post-reform NZ (46% National, 57% Labour), our two MMP cases. These are all systems in which we expect party policy reputation to matter more than individual reputation. So, if Japan moves from SNTV, with its strong focus on the individual, to MMM, with greater focus on the party as a “team” seeking to take on (or hold on to) governing, why would HP be high under MMM?

With this as a puzzle, it seemed likely it might have been just a legacy of pre-reform SNTV. Perhaps, under SNTV, there actually is a logic to getting nearly everyone on HP because your electoral system makes everyone need to have a unique personal reputation. While this does, as noted, run up against the problem that the HP percentage is higher post-reform, it is worth entertaining why its being high under SNTV might not itself be inconsistent with the incentives of the system.

Why might HP for almost everyone be a strategy compliant with SNTV? Maybe the former SNTV system led the party to want most of its members to gain experience in high-policy areas because each member needs to be “his own party”. (Under SNTV, especially, LDP legislators have been overwhelmingly male.) This possible explanation seems at first to be in tension with common expectations that members under SNTV have to differentiate themselves, such as by credit-claiming for pork. Because votes are not pooled (or transferred) among co-partisans, the party needs a way to divide the vote efficiently in order to maximize seats. The literature on vote-division emphasizes how members need to be distinct from one another, so why have almost everyone on high policy?

Actually, this piece of the larger puzzle turns out not to be such a puzzle at all, even though it initially struck me as odd. Even if all legislators (2 or 3) from a given district are on HP, they can still differentiate by being on different HP committees (one on budget, one on defense, for example). Thus having many members on HP and having them develop their own personal reputations are not in any way contradictory. However, differentiating on sub-categories within HP may still not be as beneficial to claiming credit for things uniquely attributable to a specific politician as are pork-related benefits. A common expectation in the vote-division literature (including a key point of Catalinac’s thesis) is that pork is more useful for vote-division than high policy.

Even if we accept that HP is likely suboptimal for vote-division purposes, having everyone on HP does not preclude legislators also being on more specifically district-focused committees in the areas of public goods (e.g., health or education) or distributive (e.g., construction, agriculture, or transport). In fact, the LDP also has an unusually high rate (relative to other parties among the book’s cases) of category overlap. The average member is on about 1.6 of our three categories, unlike in most other countries where the figure is in the range of 1.2 to 1.4. In other words, by our categories, it is members in other countries that are the specialized ones. In the LDP, they are not; they are actually closer to being generalists, at least in this sense.

Having assignments in multiple categories allows each legislator to build a personal portfolio, almost like a micro-party, in which they are involved in some HP task and also frequently a task in either public goods or distributive during the same term. This kind of portfolio could be very useful for building the personal electoral coalition each individual needs to ensure election under an electoral system that pits members of the same party against each other in multi-seat districts, with no party-level vote-pooling. In other words, SNTV.

If the building of a personal portfolio, including but not limited to HP, due to SNTV incentives were the explanation, we should see a decline after the change to MMM. In the graph below, we will see that we do! So that is good. However, we still face the problem that it should not be higher on average during the era of MMM (so far) than it was during the era of SNTV. Yet that is precisely what we saw in the era averages shown above. Now, let’s disaggregate this thing called an electoral-system era. The graph shows the percentage on HP in each election from 1980 through 2009. The vertical line demarcates the eras, marking the first election under MMM.

The decline under MMM is certainly consistent with the notion that HP is less important to the individual legislator over time, given an electoral system that has eliminated intraparty competition in multi-seat districts. Additionally, the 1990 and 1993 elections show exceptionally high levels of personal portfolios including HP at the end of the SNTV era. Yet look how low the rate is before 1990. Thus, while we might be able to say that adaptation to MMM is leading to an expected decline in HP service after 1996 (albeit perhaps too slowly by 2009), we obviously should not conclude that it started so high because of SNTV! It was low under SNTV… until it was high. It then peaked in the first MMM election, before beginning a decline.

So what changed to lead the LDP suddenly to want nearly everyone to have high policy in their portfolio in 1990 and 1993? This–finally–is the question I am crowd-sourcing. The context of the 1990 election is one in which the LDP had just lost its majority in the second chamber (the House of Councillors). There was also a divisive debate at the time on enacting a national consumption tax, around the same time that real estate and stock market valuations were unsustainably high (leading to a subsequent period of economic stagnation). Also in 1993, due to splits over various issues including electoral reform, the LDP actually failed to win a parliamentary majority and found itself temporarily in opposition. How these would explain a surge in HP is not clear to me. So I am not proposing an explanation, but that is the context and perhaps points towards an explanation.

The pattern is similar if we look at category overlap. Again, this simply measures how many categories–out of high policy, public goods, and distributive–a member sits on. So, ignoring anyone who is on no committees in these categories (and I am ignoring such rare birds here), it can range from 1 to 3. The next graph shows this averaged across LDP legislators by election year. Again, the vertical line marks 1996, the first election under MMM. As we see, it is only 1990, 1993, and 1996 when the average number of committee categories per legislator approaches or exceeds 2.0. While lower in the other seven election, it is still above 1.5 in all elections except the three earliest SNTV elections in the sample (1980 through 1986) and then again in 2003 and 2009 of the MMM era. In the five just mentioned, it is between 1.3 and 1.4.

The pattern is again consistent with the LDP deciding for some reason before the 1990 committee allocations that it needed each member to have both high policy and at least one committee assignment from another category. After 1996, this category overlap becomes markedly less common (but still is higher than in most other parties we cover in the book).

A final graph breaks the HP category down and shows three of the main committees within it.

It is clear that the pattern of surging HP membership in 1990 is largely about the budget committee. More than half the party’s legislators sat on this committee in the legislatures elected in 1990, 1993, and 1996. The other two included here (economy and defense) show smaller bumps as well, just not rising as high. This again would be potentially consistent with my proposed explanation that “everyone needs a diverse portfolio under SNTV”, provided we can add a condition as to why this need is only actually realized at the end of the SNTV period and not the entire era. So, the electoral system explanation needs to be augmented by some political factor, like fracturing of the party and greater pressure from the opposition.

It is further worth noting that of all “high policy” committees, it is budget and economy that would have the greatest “pork” potential. While I would not want to reclassify committees dealing with such clearly aggregate national matters to the distributive category–they are clearly “high” topics–they do allow for opportunities to claim credit. Did the LDP simply need this even more in the 1990s than in the 1980s? The patterns certainly suggest they need it less under MMM, at least after the first MMM election of 1996. The patterns also show that defense committee assignments very quickly went back down in the 2000s after their peak with the first MMM election. So, while they may continue to talk about national security in the individual campaign manifestoes (per Catalinac), few LDP members by 2009 are sitting on committees where they can actually be involved in such policy discussions.

This has been a long post. Thank you to anyone who made it this far! I hope someone has some suggestions for why these patterns are seen in the data. The book does not look at time factors in committee assignments, except for pre-reform and post-reform eras where there has been a change of electoral system (Japan and New Zealand, among our cases). However, any attempt to explain the anomalously high averages in high policy assignment and committee-category overlap in Japan has to grapple with the fact that there is a within-era variance in the LDP that is quite stark. It is not just a story about two different electoral systems, nor is it something immutable about the LDP.

Japan 2017

Japan has a general election this Sunday. Yes, again. It looks pretty uninteresting, as we almost certainly know the result will be a big majority for the LDP and its pre-election alliance partner, Komeito. Yes, again. The main question seems to be whether that majority will be two thirds or less.

When Japan had its election in 2014, I used it as an example of different ways a cabinet can be terminated. More specifically, I used it as an example of a case where there was no reason why an early election was needed, because the government has a solid majority. That is at least as true in 2017 as it was in 2014.

Japan’s electoral system for the House of Representatives is Mixed-Member Majoritarian (MMM). Those not familiar with the term might refer to my post on the 2005 election. Now, that was an interesting election. (2009 was interesting, too, and even 2012 was, sort of.)

The ways a cabinet can be terminated

There is a literature in political science on government (cabinet) termination in parliamentary democracies. This is not a review of that literature. Rather, it is an accounting of three recent cases that illustrate different ways that a government in a parliamentary democracy can end.

We can have a party based on an electoral majority that seeks a fresh mandate. That is, a party–or bloc of parties running together in the election– that has won a majority of seats, but, for strategic reasons, decides to hold an early election. Exhibit: Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Liberal Democratic Party) announced a snap election on 18 November, despite about two years remaining on the term and a comfortable majority won in the 2012 election. The election will be 14 December.

We can have a coalition government, formed by bargaining among multiple parties after an election, which holds a majority of seats. The parties might have a falling out over one or more policy issues, and the parties break up the government rather than resolve their differences within it. Exhibit: Israel. On 2 December, Prme Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two ministers, each of whom heads a party that was in his coalition: Finance Minister Yair Lapid (of the Yesh Atid party) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (of HaTnua). The firing, which meant the breakup of the coalition, followed weeks of rancor over the budget and a bill backed particularly by another coalition partner, the Jewish Home party, that critics (including the ceremonial president) said would elevate the state’s Jewish character over its democratic character. New elections will be 17 March.

We can have a minority cabinet, in which the party or parties holding ministerial positions do not hold a majority of parliamentary seats, with no available backing from among the non-governmental parties in parliament, and which fails to get the support needed to pass its budget. Exhibit: Sweden. On 3 December, the minority center-left government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven lost a budget vote, 153-182, and announced there would be a snap election. The wild card here was the Sweden Democrats, a far-right or “populist” party that neither Lofven nor the center-right opposition wanted to be seen to deal with following elections that were held less than three months ago. When the center-right would not back the budget, the government effectively lost its right to continue governing. A new election is expected to be set for 22 March.

One could say that these were listed not only in chronological order, but in reverse order of “necessity”. There was no reason why Japan needed an early election–its government has a solid majority. The Israeli election call is also not exactly necessary–the parties whose leaders Netanyahu fired were not in anything like open rebellion even if they were in policy disagreement (which is, after all, natural in coalitions). It was, however, a coalition that the PM himself clearly never wanted, and was forced upon him by the election results in early 2013 and the bargaining stances of other parties (specifically, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home). Polls show the potential of a much stronger right-wing bloc in a new election. So, it is an opportunistic call, but arguably less unnecessary than Japan’s. The Swedish situation, on the other hand, is one of real deadlock.

Of all these countries, the one that has the lowest tendency towards early elections is Sweden, even though minority governments are quite common there. Usually, however, they have had a fairly reliable “outside” party to back them on budgets or other confidence matters. Israel has frequent early elections–although this one will be earlier than any in years–and usually has oversized governments (meaning containing more parties than actually needed to have a parliamentary majority–such as the just-collapsed one). Japan usually has electoral-majority governments, but has had many early elections, including the famous one of 2005, also called by a government that had a secure election-based majority, but wanted (and got) a bigger one to push through reforms blocked by intra-party resistance.

All these great examples of early elections in parliamentary systems, and it wasn’t even my teaching quarter for any of my comparative democracy courses.

Three recent publications: Party Capacity in New Democracies; Patterns of Intraparty Competition; Localism and Coordination in the Japanese House of Councillors

The following items have been published in the past several weeks. Please note that the links are to publisher’s websites, and are not open-access.

Abstracts are viewable at the links without a subscription, but I will also put them in (long) footnotes here.

David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, “Party ‘capacity’ in new democracies: How executive format affects the recruitment of presidents and prime ministers“, Democratization (2013). ((Abstract: Scholars and practitioners express concern that parties in “third wave” democracies are poorly developed, compared to parties in older democracies. We suggest that parties vary in their organizational “capacity”, focusing on parties’ ability to select trustworthy executive agents. Capacity is higher where parties can vet potential executive talent by observing future leaders over time in the legislature – an increasingly available option as democracy matures. The key distinction in parties’ use of this option lies in the delegation structure between a party and the executive. Parliamentary systems offer a clear line of delegation, which parties control. In presidential systems, parties must recruit executive candidates who can win a popular election, requiring characteristics that may not be well correlated with those that make them good party agents. As parliamentary democracy matures, we find a steady increase in prime ministers’ average length of prior legislative service. For presidents, there is significantly weaker growth in prior legislative service. We also theorize about and investigate patterns in semi-presidential democracies. Our findings suggest that the institutional format of the executive is more important for party capacity in new democracies than the era in which a democracy was born.))

Matthew E. Bergman, Matthew S. Shugart, and Kevin A. Watt, “<a href="Matthew E. Bergman, Matthew S. Shugart, and Kevin A. Watt, "Patterns of Intraparty Competition in Open-List and SNTV Systems," Electoral Studies (2013). ((Two electoral systems that use “nontransferable preference votes” are commonly used: single nontransferable vote (SNTV) and open-list proportional representation (OLPR). Both systems promote intraparty competition by vote-seeking candidates, but differ on the extent to which the incentives of individual candidates and collective seat-maximizing parties are aligned, or not. We develop “logical models” of expected vote shares of parties’ first and last winners, and test (and confirm) these models using “symmetric regression” on an original data set drawn from over 2000 party-district observations in nine countries. The analysis helps bring us closer to an understanding of the relatively neglected “intraparty dimension” of representation, and allows us to offer some modest suggestions for improving systems of nontransferable preference votes.))

Kuniaki Nemoto and Matthew S. Shugart, “Localism and Coordination under Three Different Electoral Systems: The National District of the Japanese House of Councillors,” Electoral Studies (2013). ((Democratic representation involves tradeoffs between collective actors – political parties seeking to maximize seats – and individual actors – candidates seeking to use their personal vote-earning attributes (PVEAs) to maximize their own chance of election and reelection. We analyze these tradeoffs across three different electoral systems used at different times for the large-magnitude nationwide tier of Japan’s House of Councillors. These electoral systems – closed and open-list proportional systems and the single non-transferable vote – differ in the extent to which they entail candidates seeking individual preference votes and in whether collective vote shares affect overall party performance. We use local resources as a proxy for PVEA and seek to determine the extent to which parties nominate “locals” and how much the presence of such locals affects party performance at the level of Japan’s prefectures.))

Tokyo High Court: 2012 Japan election unconstitutional

Professor Kuniaki Nemoto of Waseda University sends along this note, which he kindly agreed to let me post:

The Tokyo High Courts ruled the House of Representatives elections in 2012 as unconstitutional, though the results as non-unconstitutional.

…meaning that the HoR needs to fix the malapportionment, but the MPs elected in 2012 can maintain seats.

If the group appeals to the Supreme Court and the SC would rule both the elections and the results unconstitutional, then I don’t know what will happen, but here are some options:

1. The HoR will be dissolved. It could be argued the entire chamber is unconstitutional.

2. The HoR will have by-elections but only in under- and over-represented districts. Or probably only in SMDs. At least MPs elected on PR should be constitutionally OK.

3. The HoR will fix the rule but won’t have the by-elections, because it could be argued overturning voters’ decisions, however malapportioned they were, should be undemocratic and unconstitutional.

The link to the story Kuni is referring to (in Japanese):

What if Japan used MMP?

The following post is by Professor Michael Thies of UCLA. [Corrected since initial posting.]
One weirdness of MMP is what to do when a party wins more seats in single-seat districts than its PR vote share would have earned. A few “overhang seats” are easy enough to deal with, but I wondered how last month’s Japanese election results would have looked under MMP (with the dubious assumption that nothing else changes).

If we simplify and assume nationwide PR, and use the PR vote shares that each party actually earned in the 16 December election (1st column of the table below) for all 480 seats, the 2nd column shows the seats “earned.”

If this were Germany, with overhang seats, the LDP would get to keep all 237 SMD seats (not 294 combined total that it actually received, because it would get no PR seats), and the legislature would have to grow to 584 seats. Of course, if overhangs were not part of the rule, the LDP would have 27.6 percent of the seats instead of the 61.3% they do have. This way, LDP-Kom would be well short of a majority (133+57)/480 = 39.6% w/o overhangs, and with a slim majority with overhangs:  (237+57)/584 = 50.3%.

Japan 2012 MMP scenarios

Japan 2012: A deeper look at the nominal-tier result

Following up on our earlier review of the 2012 Japanese House of Representatives election, the graph below shows the patterns of two-party competition in the nominal tier, consisting of 300 single-seat districts, won by plurality. The graph plots a district’s winner’s vote percentage (vertical axis) against that of its runner-up (horizontal axis), showing the four most common district dyads. If a district featured two parties getting all of the votes, its marker would be on the diagonal line where the top two vote shares sum to 100%. There are no districts on this pure two-party line, though it is immediately obvious that almost all of those that are were close to it were won by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) second.

top two LDP DPJ JRP v2
Click the image for a larger version

As if we needed more evidence of the slaughter suffered by the DPJ, the graph makes clear how much worse it could have been. Continue reading

Japan’s election, 2012

You do not have to read Japanese to know that this means landslide. (This is the single-seat districts only; but even with the list-PR seats added in, the LDP and is ally, Komeito, have crossed the two-thirds mark.)

Shinzo Abe will get a second stint as Prime Minister.

It is an even bigger victory than the LDP’s most recent prior House of Representatives win in 2005. And this despite not having the hair factor so clearly in its favor.

I wonder how many election alternations have been as undeserving as this one. For that matter, how many proved as disastrous as the last one? The DPJ, winning big in 2009, proved utterly incompetent (even allowing for the rather bad hand it was dealt), and as various commentators have noted, it was not so much that the LDP won today’s election as that the DPJ simply folded.

There were various new parties that were at one point looking like they might break the LDP/DPJ dominance. But, largely due to the majoritarian elements of the mixed-member system Japan uses, there just wasn’t much chance of a breakthrough.

Japanese PMs

Japan’s PM Naoto Kan made it official, and resigned today. His Democratic Party of Japan will choose a successor next week.

The successor will be Japan’s sixth since the departure of Junichiro Koizumi in 2006. That’s a lot of PMs in a short time.

Why does Japan have such short-lived PMs? In one regard, maybe Japan is “typical.” After all, unlike presidents, who are essentially never forced out by their own parties, prime ministers are by definition agents of their parties (as well as of the legislative majority). Indeed, Samuels and Shugart (2010: 96) report that 30% of all PMs in parliamentary systems leave office for “intraparty” reasons (N=354). So there is nothing unusual about parties “firing” a PM. (Kan was not formally fired; few are. But no one doubts that it was intraparty politics that has led him to this point. He survived an internal challenge just months ago, and promised then not to remain for long.)

Still, in Japan an “intraparty” termination of a prime minister happens rather more often than in most parliamentary systems. Moreover, while short-lived prime ministers logically follow from the inter-factional politics that used to characterize the Liberal Democratic Party, they make much less sense following the electoral reforms of 1994. Besides, this is not the LDP. It’s the DPJ, which won a resounding electoral victory in 2009–and is already about to have its third PM since that election!

Under the old LDP system, “back-room” factional politics was the kingmaker, and the electoral system (SNTV) made factions and individual politicians the agents of representation at least as much as the party itself. It thus also made them agents of inter-electoral bargaining, hence the PM-ship was always subject to renegotiation.

This was supposed to change with the electoral reform–to mixed-member majoritarian (MMM). And much has changed, with factions becoming less important to leadership selection within the LDP, according to various accounts. And the 2001-06 rule of Koizumi suggested a real turn in the position of the PM vis-a-vis the party. The instability of PMs following Koizumi (three of them from 2006 to 2009) perhaps could be written off as an exhausted and about-to-lose party casting about for what it stood for and who could represent it. But the DPJ presents a puzzle. Its first PM did not even last a year, and its second has made it just over a year. The disasters that struck Japan earlier could cut either way–they could have been an opportunity for the party to rally around the leader. In any case, he was already in trouble politically prior to those events.

Generally speaking, PMs in “Westminster” type systems with a single ruling party should be less vulnerable to internal party challenges. The logic is that such political systems maximize the alignment of incentives within the party, and give the party ample opportunity to vet potential PMs so that those they choose enjoy the backing of the party. Thus leaders who head their party when it wins election usually stick around for at least the term, and if they win again, usually for a second term. (Yes, it is stylized, which does not mean it is not generally accurate, Australia’s anomaly notwithstanding. And things often get sticky during third terms–see above point about exhaustion and casting-about.)

Japan does not have a Westminster system, by usual definition. Yet the reform of the electoral system, from SNTV to MMM, was supposed to move the country’s politics in that direction. In many respects, it clearly has done so: factions less important, policies more so, alternation in government, two clear blocs instead of one dominant party and a fragmented opposition, etc. So why not more stability in the top post?

Kan’s survival

Japanese PM Naoto Kan survived the no-confidence motion against him in the House of Representatives.

To pass and compel Kan’s resignation (and probably early elections), the measure would have required a significant rupture in Kan’s own Democratic Party of Japan, which has a majority won in 2009. In the end, only a few of the threatened defections materialized, thanks to a last-minute meeting between Kan and his intra-party rivals, including the DPJ’s first post-election PM, Yukio Hatoyama.

One of the agreements stemming from the meeting is that Kan eventually will resign, supposedly as soon as the post-disaster situation is stabilized.

It is striking the extent to which Japan continues to face party leadership instability, in spite of the 1993 electoral reform that eliminated the old factional competition in elections (the single non-transferable vote). Other than Junichiro Koizumi (of the now-opposition but long-ruling Liberal Democrats), the Japanese premiership continues to be a precarious position.

Japan: Second-chamber electoral reform proposed

A change of the electoral system for the House of Councilors, Japan’s second chamber (or upper house), is under consideration. The proposal has been advanced by the current president of the chamber, Takeo Nishioka.

The current system is a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, or “parallel”) system, in which the nominal tier is mostly FPTP, but some districts are multi-seat, where SNTV is used. This tier currently elects 73 seats in any given triennial election, and 146 in total, given staggered 6-year terms. Another 48 at any election (thus 96 altogether) are elected in a single national district, using open-list PR.

The proposal would switch to open-list PR entirely, in nine regional districts–implying an average magnitude of 13.4 (121 seats per election in 9 districts). Apparently the national tier would be abolished, along with the nominal tier. No changes would be made to the staggered terms, as that would require a constitutional amendment.

The linked story makes one error, however. It says, “The current system allots seats to candidates according to a list fixed by their party prior to the election.” That implies closed, rather than the (fully) open lists that are used now. I am told by Japanese-literate contacts that the original version of the story did not have that error; so it must be a translators’ error.

The House of Councilors has been quite a laboratory of electoral systems over time. The nominal tier has been consistently FPTP or SNTV (depending on the district), but the national tier used closed lists from 1981 until 2001, when the current open-list system was adopted. Prior to 1981, the national tier was one large SNTV district.

The current nominal tier is quite severely malapportioned, a factor that triggered a Tokyo High Court ruling against the system recently. The impact of the malapportionment is clear from a glance at the 2010 election results. The DPJ and allies actually slightly outperformed the LDP and its allies in votes cast in the nominal tier, yet the LDP(+) won 42 seats to only 28 for the DPJ(+). Some of this may be due to coordination issues in the SNTV districts–discussed here with respect to the 2007 election–but most of it surely is the malapportionment. Of course, a regionalized PR system does not necessarily guarantee a lack of malapportionment, which would depend on how boundaries and magnitudes of districts determined.

Thanks to Kuniaki Nemoto, on his Facebook page, for the tip.

DPJ performs poorly in second chamber

The first second-chamber (House of Councilors) election since the Democratic Party of Japan ended the Liberal Democrats’ long run of power went badly for the party. It was not a drubbing, but the LDP won more of the seats at stake–especially in the single-seat races where the two parties went head-to-head.

The House of Councilors is elected by fixed six-year terms, half every three years. It does not have the power to remove a government or veto a budget, but in all other respects it is a powerful second chamber.

In less than a year in power, the DPJ has already had to change prime ministers and now this defeat. Not a promising beginning for Japan’s supposed new two-party era.

Japan’s SDP may compete against DPJ

The Mainichi Daily News of 1 June reports that the SDP, having left the governing coalition, may join a no-confidence motion against the government of Yukio Hatoyama. Or then again, they might just abstain, according to the news item. (No chance of passage in any case.)

The SDP also may compete against the governing Democratic Party (DPJ) in the upcoming elections to the second chamber of parliament, although apparently not in all constituencies:

The SDP is expected to further its position as an opposition party, with Fukushima indicating the possibility that the party may back candidates for the House of Councillors election this summer in constituencies where it had heretofore refrained from doing so out of consideration for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), their former coalition partner.

“I’ve heard that we may be fielding candidates in Nagano,” Fukushima said on a television program, regarding a constituency in which DPJ member and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa is expected to run for a fourth term. “I’ve also been hearing about the possibility of somehow backing candidates in Iwate and Kanagawa prefectures. Electoral cooperation (with the DPJ) will only be conducted on a limited basis.” (My emphasis)

So, the SDP has decided to become a sort-of opposition party.