Romania returns to Party-List PR and to cohabitation

By Henry Schlechta and JD Mussel

Romania held elections to its bicameral legislature on December 11. The elections resulted in the Social Democratic Party winning almost half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, while the largest opposition National Liberal Party appears to have received only about 20%.

The election saw a return to Party-list PR after having used a type of District-Ordered List system at the last two elections (2008 and 2012). The previous system worked as follows: candidates competed in single-seat districts; if a candidate received 50% of the votes, they were elected. The rest of the seats were first allocated to parties so that the overall result was proportional (with the possibility of overhang), and then was decided which candidate was elected in each district through a complex formula (truly!) which allocated seats roughly in order of candidates’ share of the vote, but ensuring each district had (at least) one of its candidates elected. As the number of seats per party was decided proportionally, this often resulted in the situation that a district was represented by its second, third, or even fourth-most voted candidate. Lastly, a few seats were allocated to minority parties, for whom the 5% threshold applied to other parties is waived under the constitution.

The new system effectively returns to that used before 2008, with party-list PR in multi-seat districts (the electoral system was, and is, identical for both chambers with the exception of district magnitude; Chamber average M=7 (‘M’ for district magnitude), Senate average M=3). The old system seemed to have become unpopular given its creation of a large number of overhang seats in 2012[1]. As a result of the landslide victory of the Social Liberal Union pre-electoral coalition, which required a great deal of extra compensatory seats to be given ensure proportionality. Parliament had tried to change the electoral system to single-seat plurality (First-Past-the-Post) in before the election in 2012, but this was overturned by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that this was incompatible with the constitutional 5% threshold provision and its waiving for ethnic minority parties in the Chamber.

This year’s election result is particularly interesting because of Romania’s semi-presidential constitution. The President, Klaus Iohannis, was elected in 2014 as the National Liberal candidate. He first served alongside a Social Democratic prime minister, Victor Ponta, whose cabinet  was a coalition which did not include the National Liberal Party, but after Ponta resigned in November 2015, and subsequently Iohannis appointed a technocratic non-partisan cabinet. The cabinet is required to step down following the election, so no no-confidence vote is required against the incumbent cabinet.

Romania’s system is premier-presidential, and president Iohannis will have the initiative in appointing the prime minister. However, since the Social Democrats form a majority with their preferred coalition partners, the result will almost certainly be a return to cohabitation for a country which has already had it for much of the past decade (2007-2008, 2012-2015), including immediately before the appointment of the current non-partisan cabinet.

Nonetheless, president Iohannis has shown he is willing to use his position, ruling out the nomination of anyone with a criminal record for the office, in keeping with a law a Social Democratic president might have been willing to flout in order to appoint the Social Democrats’ leader Liviu Dragnea, who got a suspended prison sentence this year for trying to rig a referendum in 2012, making him ineligible under a 2001 law.

In response, the Social Democrats have nominated an alternative candidate for prime minister, Sevil Shhaideh, a Muslim woman from the country’s Tatar minority; this means Romania will have both president (Iohannis is a Transylvanian German protestant) and prime minister from ethnic and religious minorities.

Interestingly, the authority to approve and dismiss Romania’s Prime Minister is vested in both houses sitting together as one. Romania has (somewhat unusually) bicameralism with two powerful and elected houses. Even more unusually, rather than the normal practice of requiring one or both houses to approve all legislation, each house has certain reserved competencies, on which it may pass legislation without the approval of the other (the latter having only a suspensory veto of no more than two months’ delay). Probably due to the two chambers concurrent terms and virtually identical electoral system (and therefore composition), this does not seem to have caused any major problems.

Similar procedures (including both houses in no-confidence votes) existed at some point in Peru (before Fujimori’s self-coup), where ministers were removable by either house of the legislature. Argentina has a ‘Chief of Cabinet’ responsible to both houses voting separately, though remaining ministers are not, and Colombia’s ministers are individually responsible to votes of either house, though there is no Prime Minister.

[1]176 senators and 412 deputies were elected, 22% and 19% of which was due to overhang, respectively.  According to the cube-root law 412 would be appropriate for a country of 70 million, whereas Romania’s population is about 20 million. The current numbers seem have returned to 136 Senators and 329 deputies or thereabouts.

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.

Elimination of open lists in Peru (proposed)

There was a debate in Peru about possibly eliminating the preference vote, and thereby changing from open to closed lists. I wonder if any readers have further information. The following news item (quoted in full) is from November, 2015:

La Comisión de Constitución del Congreso de la República inició esta mañana el esperado debate del proyecto de ley que elimina el voto preferencial para la elección de parlamentarios, sin embargo, pese al compromiso público de sus líderes, los legisladores de diversas bancadas, salvo la nacionalista, se pronunciaron en contra de la propuesta.

José León, de Perú Posible, planteó que la propuesta no sea sometida a votación hoy y que continúe el debate en el seno de la Comisión de Constitución. Dijo, incluso, que es una impertinencia cualquier intento de eliminar el voto preferencial, ya que en 20 semanas se llevarán a cabo las elecciones y ningún partido político está en condiciones de implementar todo un sistema de elección de candidatos al Congreso a través de lista cerrada.(Peru21)

The next elections are now quite soon; presumably the open list will, continue, for now at least.

Dominican Republic has abolished its open-list system. Or has it?


While attempting to track down records of preferential votes in Dominican Republic congressional elections, I discovered something that will be of interest to many readers of this blog:

By resolution adopted by the Junta Central Electoral in 2010 the preference vote was eliminated. It is particularly interesting in that the resolution states that the electoral law does not specify the “modality of voting” and that the adoption of open lists for the 2002 election was a prior resolution of the JCE. I wonder how many countries using PR systems do not specify in their law what the list type can be.

The resolution gives as a reason for its decision that the preferential vote has been “traumatic” for the party system. It also states that “primaries” within the parties are sufficient.

Thus in the next elections, in May 2016, the DR is supposed to revert to closed-list PR. I can’t name offhand another case that has moved from open lists to closed. Am I forgetting some other case?

However, not so fast! While the Constitutional Tribunal upheld the JCE’s ruling in 2013, congress passed a law reestablishing the preferential vote. However, the president may not have signed it, as there is another news article from 2015 that says that the preference vote is under threat, and accuses the PLD (the president’s party) of wanting closed lists in order to cope with its own internal divisions. Thus, at the moment, I don’t think we can say what the system is going to be as of May.

So far, the DR has held three elections under open lists: 2002, 2006, and 2010; before that, lists were closed. There were no congressional elections in 2014, because they are resynchronizing them with future presidential elections, starting in 2016. In other words, the congress elected in 2010 was elected for a six-year term; this is also very unusual. Not very many countries have ever had six-year terms for their sole or first chamber, although in this case it is just a one-off. Apparently they need all this time to figure out what the electoral system is going to be!

And if anyone can find for me the record of preferential votes for losing as well as winning candidates in 2002 and 2006, I will be grateful. I obtained those from 2010, and I have winners only for the other two years. The JCE’s email address for public information now has “permanent fatal errors”.

Finland election, 2015

(Revised and extended, 19 April, 9:30 a.m. PDT)

Finland has a parliamentary election on 19 April. The Center Party, which fared usually poorly in 2011, is leading all polls. But leading polls in Finland can mean under 25% of the vote.

An article in the Canberra Times captures a little of the flavor of Finland’s candida-centered open-list system and large number of parties:

The scene was a street market in an outer Helsinki suburb. Beside stalls selling long worms of coloured candy, and soft toys, and root vegetables, were the stands erected by four or five political parties. Outside each stood at least half a dozen candidates, including our interviewee, handing out their own personal campaign leaflets and engaging, when a voter showed the slightest interest, in vigorous political discussion.

Finland’s electoral system is, to an outsider, of mind-boggling complexity. The Helsinki district sends 22 members to the 200-member, single-chamber national parliament. Each party’s share of that total is proportional to the total votes cast for all its individual members.

The four major parties in Finland can each expect to send between four and six members to the national assembly from the Helsinki district. But which four or six? In Australia, party power brokers decide who tops the list of senatorial candidates, and who gets relegated to an unwinnable place on the list. In Finland, that’s decided by the number of votes each individual candidate garners.

The Finnish voter is faced with more than 50 candidates in any one district. There’s a list posted in every polling booth, where each candidate is assigned a number. You write one number, and only one, on the ballot paper. You are choosing, with that one vote, which party you prefer, and which candidate you want that party to send to the Parliament.

Even if the article does not say “open list”, it is a good (and too rare) example of a news piece at least acknowledging the different process of voting.

This election also marks the first under a somewhat revised electoral system, as Yle News notes:

A reform in electoral districts means that the 2015 elections are substantially different from those of years past – what was hitherto four constituencies have now been been merged into two separate constituencies. [Justice Ministry’s election chief Arto] Jääskeläinen estimates that counting in these new South-East Finland and Savo-Karelia constituencies will take a little more time than usual.

“Substantially different” is a bit of an overstatement, as there were fifteen districts, and only four of them are affected. The country’s mean magnitude thus increases from 13.3 to 15.4, which is hardly a major increase to what was already a quite highly proportional example of districted PR.

Of course, increasing the district magnitude for the voters in these former four is a substantial change for them. These were among the districts in which alliance lists were most common, as smaller parties would forge joint lists with larger ones to reduced wasted votes. (The parties in such alliances in low-magnnitude districts would run separately in the districts with higher magnitude.)

Yle News will carry live results after polls close at 8:00 p.m., Finnish time. They also have posted English-language interviews with the party leaders.

El Salvador joins the panachage ranks, president’s party holds steady

El Salvador held its legislative election on 1 March, using a modified electoral system. The country had already left behind the closed list in 2012, replacing it with an open list. This year the country moved to panachage, the variant of open list in which voters may vote for candidates on different lists (sometimes called “free list”).

El Salvador is one of the few pure presidential systems still using an electoral cycle (a long-term interest of mine) consisting of all non-concurrent elections, with presidential terms of five years and legislative terms of three years. This election is in the first year of the incumbent president’s term, and offered neither “surge” nor decline in his party’s legislative support.

I was first tipped off to the change to panachage by a remark in a Tico Times article just before the election that said:

For the first time, voters will be able to select individual candidates from any party rather than being forced to vote for a single party with an established list of candidates. Voters can still opt to simply choose a party.

This is definitely far more detailed than your average journalistic note about an electoral system. But to be sure, I checked with the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, which has a very useful gallery of ballot images and instruction cards. Below I post an image of the instructions for the district (department) of Cabañas.

ElSal 2015 guia

It offers the voter five options:

      1. Vote solely for the list of a party or coalition;
      2. Vote for a list and mark the photo of “one, various, or all the candidates” on that list;
      3. Mark the photo of “one, various, or all the candidates” in one list (without also indicating a list vote);
      4. “Mark candidates of distinct political parties or coalition” or candidates of distinct parties and a non-party candidate”, not exceeding the total number of deputies elected from the district.
      5. Mark the photo of a non-party candidate.**

It is option 4 that clearly establishes panachage.

By contrast, in 2012, the options excluded any mention of marking candidates across different lists.

El Salvador open list 2012

See also images of a portion of the ballot from 2015 or 2012.

For a long time the only panachage systems in use at the national level (to my knowledge) were in Luxembourg and Switzerland. In 2005, Honduras adopted such a system, and now one of its immediate neighbors has followed suit. (I believe Ecuador still uses a panchage system adopted several years ago; Venezuela used one at least once, but only at the municipal level.)

As for the election itself, there was a considerable delay in reporting the results. It does not seem that the panachage system had anything to do with the delay.

Preliminary results suggest that the opposition ARENA will have a plurality of seats, with 35 (of 84). That would represent a gain of two seats from the 2012 legislative election. The governing FMLN is likely to have 31 (no change) and its ally GANA 10 (-1). The PCN (the pre-1979 ruling party, still just hanging on) is expected to have 6 (-1) and the PDC would have 2 (a doubling of seats for this party that was the main alternative to the right before the civil war ended).

El Salvador hence essentially maintains its long-term relative stasis and close left-right division. The incumbent president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the FMLN, was elected by a very narrow margin a year ago. This election barely changes the balance of power, even though it occurs within the first year of a president’s five-year term and hence could qualify as a “honeymoon election”. In Salvadoran politics, there really isn’t much of a honeymoon, or any near-term prospect for the much-anticipated realignment. The big swing to the FMLN in the 2009 legislative election looks, in retrospect, like a blip within what is otherwise ongoing stasis.

It will be interesting to see if the move to an electoral system allowing cross-party voting for the first time begins to break down El Salvador’s remarkably rigid partisan lines.***

* Elections could be concurrent every 15 years, as they were in 1994. However, in 2009, the legislative election was shifted to the “counter-honeymoon” and held in January, with the presidential election, as usual, in March.

** In both options 4 and 5, the reference to independents is singular; logically if voting for an independent is an alternative to voting for a party, one could vote for only one independent just as one can vote for only one party. On the other hand, in a panachage world, one actually can vote for more than  one party (assuming a vote for any candidate also counts for the party on whose list the candidate was nominated), so why would there need to be a restriction on the number of votes that a voter may give for independents? (Note that it is probably quite difficult for an independent candidate to be elected in any case.) [I edited this footnote shortly after posting.]

*** Whether the partisan lines over El Salvador can ever be broken down in the United States is another matter.

Marginal candidates on closed lists: Israel 2015 edition

Do party leaders use personal characteristics of candidates they recruit to their closed lists as a way to attract voters to the list? If the objective is to mobilize voters who might not otherwise have strong incentives to vote for the list, the strategy we might observe is the nomination of candidates associated with particular groups (or partnering parties) to marginal ranks–a rank at which the party is likely to be on the cusp of winning or losing. I pointed out such a strategy in the Israeli election of 2006, when Shas nominated representatives of the Ethiopian and Georgian immigrant communities to the 12th and 13th ranks. The party had won 11 seats in the 2003 election and would win 12 seats on 2006; there were indications that the party indeed received votes from the two communities.

How common are such marginal-ranks personal-vote strategies by parties? I wish I knew! I do have another data point from Israel, however: this year’s Zionist Union list.

The Zionist Union (or Zionist Camp) list was formed by the merger, for purposes of this election, of Labor and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua party. Although Labor holds a member primary, the joint-list agreement gave Livni the right to nominate candidates to various positions on the list. One of these was position #24.

On January 25, it was reported that the 24th spot would go to Yael Cohen Paran, “one of Israel’s leading environmentalists for the past two decades”. She is one of the leaders of the Green Movement party.

By nominating Cohen Paran, Livni has maintained her agreement with the Green Movement, whose leader Alon Tal was given the 13th rank on Livni’s HaTnau list for the 2013 election. The list won only six seats, so Tal was not close to winning, but Livni’s manifesto commitment to focus on the environment was upheld in various ways, most prominently by claiming the Environment Ministry for one of her MKs, Amir Peretz.

Of course, I can’t prove that Cohen Paran received this specific list rank for this campaign because of her ability to bring additional votes. It is possible, however, given the past record of Livin-Green cooperation. It is especially noteworthy that in the week immediately prior to the announcement, the Labor-HaTnua list was averaging just about 24 seats in the polls, meaning Livni controlled what could be the most marginal rank on the list. If there is a bloc of potential votes, and a candidate who might appeal to such a bloc, and the nominator was strategic… let’s just say Livni behaved exactly as a hypothesis about personal votes for marginal ranks on closed lists might predict.