Turkey 2015: The AKP’s non-majority is not a surprise, and higher thresholds can only increase the largest party’s seat share

The reporting on the Turkish election results is treating the AKP’s fall to less than half the seats as a really big surprise. There was even a column in a Turkish newspaper that suggested the high threshold may have been a reason for the non-majority. This post attempts to set the record straight: these claims are bogus.

Was the AKP losing its majority a surprise?

Pre-election polls suggested the AKP would earn around 40% of the vote, which proved spot on. (The link there is an article from May 28, which I cited in my pre-election post.)

The Turkish electoral system is sufficiently proportional (although only modestly so) that a leading party with around 40% of the votes would be highly unlikely to get a majority of seats–UNLESS there were sufficient numbers of wasted votes for parties falling below the threshold. That threshold is set at 10%, and applied nationwide, in spite of all seats being allocated in 85 multi-member districts. In the past, the AKP had won parliamentary majorities on less than half the votes (and as low as 34%), but only due to a large below-threshold vote for minor parties and independents (many of them Kurds who this time coalesced behind the HDP).

Once the HDP cleared the threshold, there was essentially no way for the AKP to get a majority. In the same pre-election polls, the HDP was in the range of 8.5-11.5%. Thus it was a knife edge whether it would clear, but hardly a big surprise. And if the HDP had a good chance of clearing the threshold, the AKP could not get a majority unless its vote share was considerably higher than anticipated.

Did the threshold actually hurt the AKP this time?

Regarding that threshold, there was a piece in the Monkey Cage blog that was otherwise a very fine overview of “How the Kurds upended Turkish politics“, but in which one point makes no sense:

As editor of the English-language Hurriyet Daily News Murat Yetkin shrewdly pointed out, the AKP may have been a victim of its own dependence on the unfair 10 percent threshold rule. If the threshold had been lowered to 5 or 7 percent, argued Yetkin, the AKP still would have been prevented from adopting Erdogan’s presidential system, but its parliamentary majority would have been salvaged.

That point actually does not seem so shrewd to me. Yetkin himself further says:

Because of the complicated calculation system that the 10 percent threshold brings with it, the AK Parti has lost its parliamentary majority.

The system is indeed somewhat complex, but there is nothing complicated about how thresholds affect the outcome. If you attain the stipulated minimum vote share nationwide, you qualify for seats in any of the 85 districts in which you have sufficient votes.

How could it be that a LOWER threshold would INCREASE the seat share of the largest party?

he only thing I can imagine Yetkin may have meant–although he does not spell this out–is that the HDP vote itself would have been lower if the threshold had been lower, and implicitly, the AKP vote would have been higher. In other words, HDP, according to such an argument, may have benefited from strategic voting by voters who wanted to ensure it got 10%. Given that it got almost 13%, which was–as I noted above–more than pre-election polls predicted, while the AKP result was in line with those polls, such an argument (which, again, Yetkin did not actually make) seems a stretch.

A “normal” result, given the electoral system and HDP being over the threshold

The bottom line is that the result of this election, while quite a watershed for Turkish politics, has given Turkey a fairly “normal” result for an electoral system of its average magnitude (around 6.5). The threshold, in the end, did not bar any significant political force from representation, unlike in previous elections. A largest party winning around 47% of the seats on about 41% of the votes is nothing out of the ordinary. Whether Turkish-Kurdish politics can be as “normalized” as the election result itself is another matter. Stay tuned to the government-formation process and aftermath for clues.

The impact of M=96 and no legal threshold

The decision of the German Constitutional Court to invalidate the legal threshold for election of MEPs has been predictably consequential. Given the single 96-seat district, a very large number of parties has won at least one seat, and some have won with less than 1% of the vote.

There will be thirteen parties (counting the CDU and CSU separately) in the German delegation. Seven of them had less than the former 3% threshold; the biggest of the sub-3% parties had not even quite 1.5%. The German government reports the votes; seats are shown at Wikipedia.

Assuming the Wikipedia list is accurate (and it looks likely to be so), these parties that won representation thanks to the Court ruling are: Free Voters, Pirates, Human Environment Animal Protection, National Democrats (yes, a German neo-Nazi will be in the European Parliament), Family Party, Ecological Democrats, and some outfit called Die PARTEI. The last three of these have vote totals ranging from 0.69% down to 0.63%. The NPD’s vote percentage was 1.03.

Also noteworthy is that the Free Democrats continued their slide, winning only 3.36%. They had just missed the 5% threshold for the federal Bundestag elections last year. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which also had just missed the threshold for the Bundetag won 7.04%.

Israeli “governance” law passed

The official Knesset press release has details of the new law to raise the threshold and make other changes in government formation.

As expected, the threshold is raised to 3.25%. I am pretty sure this is the first time anyone has used a threshold with a quarter percent in it. (Offhand I can’t think of a case that has used half a percent, other than Israel, where the threshold was 1.5% in 1996-99.)

The size of the cabinet will be limited to 18 ministers, and ministers without portfolio are eliminated. “However, the government will be able to appoint additional ministers if at least 70 Knesset members support the move.” The latter is an odd provision in that it gives the opposition a veto over composition of the government–unless, of course, the coalition includes at least 70 MKs.

There are also changes in rules governing splits between elections:

The approved amendment to Basic Law: The Government also eliminates the option permitted by current law that allows seven MKs to split from their faction, even if they do not constitute a third of it. The law states that an MK can leave his faction if it decides to merge with another faction, but that this MK must join a different faction. The party financing budget in this case will only go to a faction with at least two MKs.

Another important change is to make the no-confidence vote constructive. Sometimes the current Israeli provision (enacted with the repeal of direct election of the Prime Minister after 2001) is classified as “constructive”. However, really it is not, because it only mandates that the person named in the motion be given the first chance to form a government. The new measure, according to the press release:

states that an MK seeking a no-confidence vote in the government must propose an alternative government and nominate a prime minister and ministers. The parties seeking a no-confidence vote must also state the guidelines of the proposed alternative government. The new government will take office immediately after the Knesset plenum votes in favor of the no-confidence vote and for the new government in a single vote.

This actually goes even farther, I believe, than existing “constructive” provisions in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere. Those entail the election of a new prime minister on the same motion and vote that removes the incumbent government, but do not require the naming of ministers. I’d like to see a translation of the full provision to be sure that the press release is accurately portraying it, but this seems like a sort of super-constructive vote of no confidence.

The law passed with a 67-0 vote, with opposition members boycotting.

Colombian legislative elections, 2014

Colombia’s congressional election is this Sunday. It will be the third under the D’Hondt proportional, optionally open list, system that I had a very small hand in helping bring about in 2003. Years before that reform, I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Robledo at his truly amazing home (he is an architect) in beautiful Manizales. At the time I met him in 1990 I could not have imagined that, under the new system he would end up being the candidate with the third highest vote total in the nationwide district for the Senate.*

For this election, the threshold in the nationwide Senate district (100 seats) has been raised from 2% to 3%.** He says he is sure (of course!) that his party list, Polo Democratico, will clear the threshold, despite divisions on the left. The interviewer does not seem to believe him, and suggests Robledo could be the highest individual vote-getter and yet not be reelected.

Robledo might be better positioned to retain his seat had the electoral reform never been adopted!

The Chamber of Deputies is also elected Sunday; it uses the same allocation formula, but in districts ranging in magnitude from 2 to 18, without (need for) the threshold.

Through 2002, both houses used what was essentially an SNTV system, so only individual votes mattered.

Another interesting point in the interview: Robledo insists (and I assume he is right) that his vote is of “opinion” and not of “clientelism”, as are those of so many other Colombian congressional members. The reform was supposed to reduce clientelism–at least at the margins–by encouraging collective action by parties. Whether it has done so would require some extensive study; it is clear that it significantly reduced overall fragmentation, as a result of the vote-pooling feature of the list system (and, in the Senate, the threshold), which encouraged the numerous examples of what were effectively one-person “parties” under SNTV to pool their efforts on lists that could earn larger collective vote totals. There are several posts from back in 2006 and 2010 on the results of the first two elections after the reform.

I also have some published works on the reform:

Mónica Pachón and Matthew S. Shugart. 2010. “Electoral Reform And The Mirror Image Of Interparty And Intraparty Competition: The Adoption Of Party Lists In Colombia,” Electoral Studies 29: 648–60.

Matthew Soberg Shugart, Erika Moreno and Luis E. Fajardo, “Deepening Democracy through Renovating Political Practices: The Struggle for Electoral Reform in Colombia,” in Christopher Welna and Gustavo Gallon, eds., Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights in Colombia. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2007.

And in a Colombian magazine: Matthew Shugart, “La Reforma Política, Paso Crucial.” Cambio 6, 522 (June 30–July 6, 2003), Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia.

* And not only because the nationwide district for the Senate did not exist yet; that would be adopted a year later in the new constitution.

** Yes, my third post today on threshold changes!

No threshold for German MEPs

Apparently it is threshold day at F&V. While Israel may be raising its threshold, Germany will be dramatically lowering its. But only for its members of the European parliament (MEPs).

The Constitutional Court ruled in late February that the existing 3% threshold violated political parties’ rights to equal opportunities.

To the immediate question of why, then, the Bundestag (Germany’s elected chamber of the federal parliament) can have a 5% threshold–which was highly consequential in the most recent election–the Court has a ready answer: the role of the Bundestag is to sustain a government, and so limiting fragmentation is a valid interest. However, the European Parliament has no such role, and so it isn’t.

Israel threshold bill advances

The Israeli Knesset constitution committee has cleared the “governability bill” and sent it on to the full chamber. If passed, it would raise the threshold for representation from its current 2% of the vote to 3.25%.

Haaretz notes:

This change will keep parties with fewer than four seats out of the Knesset. Thus the three Arab parties, each of usually wins three to four seats in election, would have to merge to ensure that they get in.

The bill also makes other changes in the system of government, including restricting the cabinet to 18 ministers and four deputy ministers and barring the appointment of ministers without portfolio.

Further, the Haaretz item (which unfortunately you probably have to be a subscriber to access) indicates the intra-coalition logrolling that went into advancing the bill to this stage:

Unusually, the final committee vote on the governability bill coincided with votes on key sections of the new conscription bill in the Shaked Committee. Moreover, in both committees, the coalition had a majority of only one Knesset member. The Habayit Hayehudi party therefore exploited the situation to try to ensure that the conscription bill would meet its approval: Its two MKs on the Constitution Committee, Orit Strock and Shuli Moalem, threatened not to vote for the governability bill if the party’s demands on the conscription bill weren’t met.

Haaretz claims, without detail, that the maneuver did not secure any change of substance. Nonetheless, the episode underscores the narrowness of majorities under the current government.

The change to the threshold is not a minor matter, yet it is being pushed through without consensus.

Israel: Competing governance bills from within the coalition

Members from two of the coalition partners in the Israeli government have submitted bills to reform various aspects of governance.

The first, from Yisrael Beiteinu, would keep the current requirement for an absolute majority (61/120) to remove a government via a vote of no-confidence, but not allow such a motion even to be debated until signed by 61 MKs.

The second, from Yesh Atid, would require 65 votes to remove a government. (It is not clear what the minimum number of signers would be for the motion to go to the Knesset agenda.)

Both bills propose raising the electoral threshold to 4% (from 2%), and mandating a maximum size of the cabinet, including limits on deputy ministers.

In support of the Yesh Atid bill, sponsor Ronen Hoffman says, “The adoption of the procedure means a government can only be overthrown once a realistic, serious alternative is in place.”

Actually, this could be accomplished without requiring more than 50%+1 votes. Why not a constructive vote of no-confidence, whereby a government can be removed only if a majority (61/120) of legislators votes affirmatively for an alternative prime minister (or full cabinet)?*

If forced to choose between these two options, I would actually take the Yisrael Beiteinu one. However, while raising the minimum number of sponsors of a no-confidence motion seems sensible, raising it all the way to 50%+1 is unnecessary. I do not know what the highest currently used in any parliamentary democracy is, but I think more on the order of 25%.** Speaking of parliamentary systems, if it takes more than 50%+1 to remove a government, the system fails to meet the basic criterion of such a system: the accountability of government to parliament–the majority of parliament.

* Israel adopted a weak form of constructive vote about a decade ago, but a motion must only name a candidate to be PM, not actually invest a new PM, as is the case with full constructive votes in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere.

** The linked news item says that currently, “any faction” may propose a motion, which is debated. That’s too low a requirement!