France: what to expect for the assembly?

I am going to assume the polls are right and Emmanuel Macron will squeak past Marine Le Pen and be elected president in the runoff in France’s presidential election. (The polls actually suggest he will win at least 60% of the vote.) Let’s think ahead to the assembly elections, which come in June (also in two rounds).

I have seen various references to a likelihood of “cohabitation”. This is nonsense, if we define that term properly to mean cases in which the president and premier are from opposing parties and the president’s party is not in the cabinet. But let’s give people saying this the benefit of the doubt, and assume they mean the presumptive President Macron will have a difficult coalition-building task ahead of him with the assembly he will face. This is not unreasonable to assume, given that Macron has no existing party to start with.

Even this weaker prediction of a challenging assembly environment for the young “outsider” president is probably wrong. Honeymoon elections really matter, and France has had, since 2002, an extreme version of a honeymoon cycle, with the assembly election only about a month after the presidential.

This first graph is from the forthcoming Votes from Seats by Rein Taagepera and Matthew Shugart (yes, me). Unlike most graphs in this book, this is not a logical model. That is, it is not based on deductive logic for the specific equation plotted. The equation is an empirical regression result. However, the basic idea of a honeymoon surge is itself well documented (as explained in Chapter 12 of the book, citing earlier work by me and others).

The plot is of the “presidential vote ratio” against “elapsed time”. The presidential vote ratio, or Rp, is the vote share of the president’s party in the assembly election, divided by the president’s own votes (in the first round, if two-round system). Elapsed time is the number of months into the presidential inter-electoral period in which the assembly election took place, so 0 means a concurrent election (same day) and the more closely elapsed time approaches 1.0, the closer it is to the next presidential election (but before it).

The upcoming French assembly election will be about 1/60=0.167 on elapsed time, E. Macron has won, according to initial results, about 24% of the first-round vote for president. So, doing the math in the (empirical) equation, we get:

Rp=1.20–0.725*0.017=1.19.

In other words, if the pattern holds for France, 2017, we should expect Macron’s new party, En Marche!, to get around 29% of the vote (24*1.19=28.6). Is that even possible, given En Marche! did not even exist prior to Macron’s campaign? I do not know, and I will not call this a “prediction” given it is just an empirical pattern and not a logical model. But there you have it, for what it is worth–in the absence of any other information, I am going with around 29% of the vote.

Note that there is only one non-concurrent election with E<0.1 that did not result in Rp>1. Even with an untested party, I like Macron’s party’s chances of getting over 25% of the vote.

For comparison purposes, note that a largest vote-earning party in this range would not be unprecedentedly low for France. In 2012, the Socialist Party of just-elected Francois Hollande won 29.4%, and this was the largest percentage for any party in the election by a margin of 2.3 percentage points. Hollande himself had won 28.6%, so his party had only a small honeymoon boost. In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP did better, at 39.5%. Sarkozy himself had won 31.2%, yielding a boost about in line with that implied by the Rp equation.

Of course, what matters more is seats. Does the French electoral system tend to boost seat shares. Yes, we might say that it does. Despite the low shares for the largest party, the use of two-round majority-plurality in single-seat districts means that the largest party can expect quite a further boost indeed.

The second graph has plots of the seat share of the largest party (s1, left panel) and the effective number of seat-winning parties (NS, right panel) since 1958. The “expected” line is based on the Seat Product Model predictions. As explained in Votes from Seats (and also in Taagepera’s 2007 Predicting Party Sizes), these are based on logical models (deductive quantitative reasoning). They are not merely empirical regressions, but regression confirm them on a large dataset of national elections. They are:

s1=(MS)-.125 and NS=(MS)1/6.

MS=mean district magnitude times the assembly size

 

It might be noted that the previous honeymoon elections depicted here are 1981, 1988, 2002, 2007, and 2012. All show s1 above and NS below the expectation. In other words a less fragmented party system due to the honeymoon boost for the just-elected (or, in 1988, reelected) president.

Even in 2012, with his party on only 29.4% of the votes, Hollande almost had a co-partisan majority. His Socialists had 48.5% of the seats, thanks to the electoral system; with allies, he had a large working majority of over 57%.

The models assume a “simple” system–one with a single tier of allocation in one round using a basic PR formula. FPTP counts (any PR formula when M=1 is the same as plurality), but obviously majority-plurality does not, because it is not a one-round system. Even so, the worst we can say is that in some elections we get an actual seat-winning party that is bigger than predicted (for a simple system of the same number of single-seat districts) and an effective number of seat-wing parties that is lower than expected. The major exceptions to this generalization are from the 1970s. (Note the abrupt change in expected value in 1986; this was the one PR election of the Fifth Republic.)

Of course, the reason why we might expect s1 to be higher than predicted and NS to be lower is the the largest party benefits from alliance deals in the districts between rounds. But the expectation on seats–based, again, on the incorrect assumption that this is a plurality system–is not too far off, despite the fact that the votes are so fragmented that a party with just 30% in the first round is sometimes the biggest party.

We can assume that Macron and En Marche! will benefit from alliances against the National Front. It is harder to predict what the patterns will be with respect to the traditional right and left.

The bottom line is that I would expect En Marche! to emerge as the biggest party, based on the honeymoon cycle, with somewhere between 24% and 30% (maybe more!) of the vote, and somewhere between 40% and over 50% of the seats. I would further expect Macron to have no difficulty appointing a premier of his choice, and to have a ruling coalition that will be dependent on him for its very existence. Of course, I can’t say how effective this coalition will be at governing, or whether it will last Macron’s term, or even if my expectations will be proven totally wrong. But at the very least, let’s not wring our hands over prospects of a president hobbled from the start.

The electoral cycle (honeymoon elections) and the electoral system (majority-plurality) work very much in the incoming president’s favor, and these patterns may well hold even for a president from a new and untested party.

So much for fixed terms

Barring a further unexpected turn of events, it seems the UK government has an answer to the question of whether an early election can be called, despite the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. [Update: the measure to call the election has passed.]

Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that she wants a snap election. In May, of course–Alas, no, it is actually on 8 June.

Under the FTPA, parliament can be dissolved early only if (1) the government loses confidence and a resolution of confidence in a government (whether the original or a new one) is not passed within 14 days, or (2) the House of Commons votes by two-thirds of its total number to dissolve itself.

May is seeking the latter, and with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying he “welcomes” an election, the vote is likely to go ahead.

May’s Conservatives have a narrow majority in the current Commons. The snap election is likely to give the party a much bigger one. This may not do much to strengthen the government’s hand with the EU in Brexit negotiations (the ostensible justification), but it should strengthen its hand against its own back-benchers.

Recommended: Alan Renwick’s take.

France 2017 presidential scenarios

The graphic at this link shows a wide range of scenarios for potential runoff pairings for the French presidential contest. It comes from a recent Les Echos poll.

The most likely overall scenario remains Emanuel Macron (independent center-left) beating Marine Le Pen (National Front) in the second round. He also beats François Fillon (Republican) by the same margin, 65-35.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the Left Front, does better than I would have expected against various potential runoff opponents, beating Le Pen, 63-37, and Fillon, 59-41. While the idea of Mélenchon making it to the runoff is still a stretch, various recent polls have shown him having surged to within a few percentage points of second place in the first round.

The potential runoff pairing of Le Pen and Fillon is the most worrisome. While Le Pen still loses, it is closer, at 58-42.

Macron beats Mélenchon in the closest (and probably least likely) of these scenarios, 54-46.

Macron has been slipping in first-round polls. What once seemed certain–that he would make the top two and then easily win the runoff–now looks somewhat less so. His position as a runoff contender has become more precarious, with a crowd of three (Macron, Fillon, Mélenchon) along with Le Pen (who is almost certainly going to finish first, or at worst second if Macron recovers).

These results are what always trouble me about two-round majority systems. It is not unusual for the main contest to be for the second slot, and for two or more candidates to be vying for it. And sometimes the runoff pairing can make quite a difference. Fortunately, there is no very likely scenario in which Le Pen draws such a weak opponent that she wins.

Yet the pairing with the scandal-plagued Fillon should give voters pause. Behind whom to coordinate to block him? The obvious choice is, of course, Macron. But Mélenchon may be more competitive than even recent polls suggest, if still more left-wing voters dessert Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate with no realistic chance of making it to the runoff. Fortunately, as noted, even Mélenchon looks to beat Le Pen, though I’d take a scenario that voters may not have really digested yet with a grain of salt.

The first round is on 23 April.

Turkey referendum: Latin Americanization on the road to autocracy

Turkey will go to the polls on April 16th, to vote on a set of constitutional amendments which would change the country’s system of government to presidentialism. Though it seems that in Turkey, the current system is generally referred to as ‘parliamentary’, Turkey has actually been semi-presidential (specifically, premier-presidential) since the country’s first direct presidential election was held in 2014.

The amendments passed the three-fifths legislative majority necessary to put them to referendum with support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Introducing presidentialism has long been president Erdogan’s express wish. The idea has apparently been around in Turkish politics for a while before it was adopted by the Erdogan and his party, AKP. Full presidentialism seems to have been ‘plan A’, so introducing semi-presidentialism (passed in 2007, entering operation in 2014) was perhaps only ever meant as a way-station toward this goal.

The main details of the amendments are as follows:

  1. Establishing presidentialism:

As stated above the president is already elected directly, specifically using a two-round system. The president is to become both head of state and head of government, with the power to appoint and fire ministers and the vice president. There is no requirement for the Grand National Assembly to confirm appointments. Executive office is incompatible with assembly membership. Interpolation of ministers is to be removed from the constitution, leaving MPs with written questions.

  1. Legislative powers:

The president is to have veto power over legislation, subject to absolute majority override in the assembly. He is to have the power to issue decrees in “matters concerning the executive power” and regulations “to provide for the enforcement of the laws, provided they are not contrary to them”. These cannot affect fundamental rights, except under a state of emergency; an emergency can be declared by the president without confirmation by the assembly, but the latter must be notified immediately and can shorten or end it at any time. These decree powers are essentially the same as those currently held by the cabinet. The president would also dominate the budgetary process: the complete budget is to be proposed by the president and put to a straight up-or-down vote in the assembly without possibility of amendment, with failure to adopt a budget within a timeframe leading to continuation of previous arrangements.

  1. Term lengths and dissolution power:

The assembly’s term in extended to five years (from the current four) and legislative and presidential elections are to be held concurrently. If the presidency becomes vacant, fresh presidential elections must be held. If parliamentary elections are due within less than a year, then they too are held on the same day as early presidential elections; if the parliament has over a year left before its term expires, the newly elected president serves until the end of the parliamentary term, after which presidential and parliamentary election cycles are held concurrently again.

The president is to be limited to being elected twice, but there are some exceptions, the first of which is that a mid-term vacancy-filling election doesn’t count towards the total. The current presidential power to dissolve the assembly is retained, in addition to a new clause which enables the assembly to dissolve itself, by three-fifths majority vote – in either case, fresh elections are held for both president and assembly, who serve new five-year terms. Early concurrent elections triggered by the assembly can always be contested by the president.

  1. Impeachment

The president or any member of the executive is indicted by two-thirds majority in the assembly (upon which many powers, including dissolution, are suspended), which takes the decision on removal to the Supreme Court. A president which has thus been removed is ineligible for re-election.

  1. Judiciary

The acts of the president, previously protected, are now to be subject to judicial review. The structure of the judiciary will not change much – with the role of the president in appointments remaining quite strong. Of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, the president is to appoint 6 and the assembly is to appoint 7 (4 of whom must be judges from the highest courts) – for renewable four-year terms. The Council appoints most (two-thirds to three-quarters) of the judges of each of the highest courts, with the rest being appointed by the president directly.

According to the BBC, Erdogan claims that the new system will ‘resemble those in France and the US’. There is clearly little truth to this. First of all, France is semi-presidential, specifically the premier-presidential variant. This means that the prime minister, while appointed by the president, can formally only be removed by the assembly – in other words, what Turkey has now. These amendments would outright abolish the prime ministership and parliamentary responsibility, granting the president (already in a position to play a dominant role in the country’s government) absolute control over the executive branch.

Does that mean that the new system will essentially be the same as the US? Not really. Presidential or not, the proposed system includes numerous features bearing little resemblance the American model of checks and balances. The amendments would invest the Turkish president with extensive constitutional decree powers, allow him to all but dictate the budget, but on the other hand leave him with a substantially weaker veto than the US. The absence of assembly confirmation vote for ministers, not to mention presidential dissolution power, are also alien to the US constitution. Overall, the proposed institutional framework is to bear far greater resemblance to past and present constitutions of Latin America, where assembly confirmation is non-existent, emergency and decree powers are common, while some of the other institutions in question have featured occasionally, e.g. presidential dissolution power (Ecuador, formerly Chile and Argentina) and weaker veto (Brazil, formerly Venezuela).

In any case, the proposed amendments represent an immense consolidation of power in the hands of president Erdogan. It would probably allow him to serve beyond the supposed limit of two five-year terms. Judicial appointments involve a somewhat greater degree of presidential influence over a judiciary that has already lost a great deal of independence in recent years. Judicial review, needless to say, will not amount to much. Furthermore, the requirement for judicial ratification may leave impeachment ultimately toothless even in the unlikely event that the requisite majority were achieved in the assembly. Meanwhile, the weak veto and the assembly’s own (weaker) power to call early elections is unlikely to provide much balance in practice. Though dissolution would entail new elections for both president and assembly, a president armed with the power to dissolve the assembly still seems more likely to have the upper hand in the exceptional situation his party ever lacks a majority there – exceptional because of the country’s majoritarian system, and because the president’s very power of calling early elections enables him to do so opportunistically, as Erdogan did in 2015[1].

The Venice Commission’s report characterises the proposed changes as “a dangerous step backwards” for democracy in Turkey. It certainly feels hard to disagree.


[1] One might add (as the Venice Commission does) the fact that elections will be concurrent, which is certainly true, though, as we have recently seen, it’s certainly possible (though still uncommon) for countries to elect a president in the second round that was not of the legislative majority elected concurrently with the first round (e.g. Argentina, Peru), while more generally, two-round systems cause vote fragmentation in the first round. If elections in Turkey remain competitive, it may be that the two round system will, in the long run, cause fragmentation which will spread to the assembly. Perhaps more likely is that once in a while, the concurrent elections could result in divided government as in the first scenario I mention here. A situation like that might provoke Linzian scenarios, but is probably most likely to simply result in early elections at some point, whose outcome would most likely be a reversion to the regular unified control.

Netherlands 2017 open thread

I hope to have something to say about the recent election in the Netherlands. But so far have not. But maybe you do. Here is your chance!

We can talk about the election result itself, or the coalition negotiations, which should be pretty interesting.

(Part of the reason for not having a post yet is that I made this election one of the themes for my students’ final exam earlier this week. And now that means exams and papers must be graded, grades assigned, etc.)

Unhappy coalition partners make for very quotable politicians

There is a coalition crisis in Israel–or at least a lot of posturing. The immediate issue is a bill that would restructure the state broadcasting authority. But usually these things are about something other than what they are claimed to be about. In any case, the point of this post is not to comment on the substantive issues, but to draw out some very nice quotes by politicians unhappy with something or other in the coalition bargain. These come from an article in Hamodia.

Likud MK Oren Chazan said that smaller parties in the coalition knew how to make demands to fulfill their agenda, but were less amenable to helping the Likud carry out its agenda. “We bend over backwards to help them, but when it comes to helping us carry out our platform they are nowhere to be found. This hurts us with our voters, and small parties have to realize that being in a coalition is a matter not only of taking, but of giving.”

The article goes on to say that PM Netanyahu sees the role of Finance Minister as too “prestigious” for Moshe Kahlon, given how little his party, Kulanu is, and how badly that party is doing in current polling. Then there is this from Transport Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud):

There are no differences of opinion in the coalition on the really important matters. You don’t call new elections over which broadcasting company will remain in business. There is no support in the Likud for this.

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) offers a somewhat different take on whether there is consensus in the coalition–or even the party–over that very question:

No one in the Likud is afraid of elections. Let the public decide whether or not coalition agreements should be respected. We cannot have a situation where each time the Likud asks that its agreements be enforced we get excuses from our partners as to why they should not be enforced. This is not about the IBC versus the IBA, but about the principle of coalition agreements.

[IBA and IBC are the Israeli Broadcasting Authority and Corporation, respectively.]

Finally, despite his own periodic threats to leave the coalition, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennet says, “I call on everyone to act with responsibility and prevent expensive and unnecessary elections that will harm Israel’s economy and our citizenry.” In other words, don’t take my previous threats seriously.

Coalition bargaining often occurs before an audience. And that audience can be treated to some really nice quotations!

Various recent polls show it could be a close call for largest party between Likud and opposition party Yesh Atid if an election were held now.