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?