Finnish electoral reform?

While I was in Estonia this past summer, I heard about an electoral reform in Finland, possibly involving the adoption of a national compensation tier. Perhaps this was in response to some of the unequal treatment of parties in the seat allocation in the “photo Finnish” election of 2007, as I wrote about at the time.

I do not have details of the proposed reform, or certainty that it has even been enacted. Perhaps a reader knows.

Thanks to Suaprazzodi in the Brazil thread for the reminder.

Sweden: election 2010

Note to readers: An excellent discussion is underway in this thread. Thanks to all who are participating.

Sweden’s election has produced a parliament with no majority for either main bloc, the incumbent center-right coalition or the Social Democrats. For the first time, an anti-immigrant party, the so-called Sweden Democrats, has won seats.

The BBC compares the Sweden Democrats to their counterparts in Denmark and Norway:

The most important difference between the SD and the others is that, whereas the two Danish and Norwegian parties started out as movements unhappy with everything from crime-fighting to income taxes, the Sweden Democrats have their roots in a racist organisation focused solely on throwing all immigrants and refugees out of the country.

This election also sees the Social Democrats having their worst result since 1921. However, they remain the single largest party, with 113 seats our of 349, compared to 107 for the Moderate Party.

According to preliminary results at the official Swedish elections website, the Social Democrats dropped 4.4 percentage points from the last election down to 30.9%. The Moderate Party gained 3.9 points to stand at an even thirty percent. The Sweden Democrats won 5.7%, an increase of 2.8 over the last election, and giving them 20 seats. The Green Party also scored well, at 7.2%, up 2.0.

Sweden uses proportional representation with a threshold of 4% of national votes or 12% in any given district.

The website indicates that the final count will begin on Monday, September 23. However, on my calendar there is no such date this year.

Three no-confidence votes

Three no-confidence votes have been held, or soon will be held, against coalition and minority governments in Canada (a parliamentary system), and Finland and Romania (premier-presidential systems).

Via CBC:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government has survived a Liberal no-confidence motion with help from the NDP, averting an election.

The Liberal motion, supported by the Bloc Québécois, was defeated by a vote of 144 to 117 on Thursday after the NDP decided to abstain.

NDP Leader Jack Layton had earlier said his party is propping up the Conservative government to ensure the speedy passage of legislation extending employment insurance benefits.

Just under a year ago, the Liberals and the NDP were on the verge of replacing the Conservatives with a coalition-minority cabinet, backed by the BQ, following the October, 2008, election. That was quashed when the House of Commons was prorogued. Now the three opposition parties are back to going their separate ways, with two of them helping the Conservatives remain in office.

In Finland (AP), the unsuccessful no-confidence vote was put forward as a result of a campaign-finance scandal.

Lawmakers in the 200-member assembly voted 117-27 in favor of the majority center-right coalition, with 56 abstentions.
The no-confidence vote, sponsored by opposition left-wing parties, was over alleged irregularities in accepting election and party funding from youth and sports foundations by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s Center Party. […]

In a decades-old practice, Finnish politicians have not had to declare campaign and party funding.

But it has been an open secret that trade unions liberally donate funds to the Social Democrats, partly from money unions gather from membership fees. Industrial and employers’ organizations have generously backed the conservatives, and agricultural and forest interest groups have contributed to the centrists.

The story notes that the Center Party may now be seeking a new leader (and hence that the PM’s days may be numbered). The current parliament has sat since a photo Finnish election in March 2007.

Meanwhile, in Romania (via Forbes),

Romania’s Social Democrats (PSD) plan to team up with the liberal opposition to try to bring down the minority government after suddenly quitting the centre-left coalition, officials said on Friday.

The PSD walked out of the government on Thursday in protest at the sacking of their interior minister, leaving their Democrat-Liberal (PD-L) partners to rule alone.

The news item goes on to note that the PSD would like to see a technocratic government in place until the 22 November presidential elections. Romania recently changed its term lengths such that there will not be legislative elections at the same time as this upcoming presidential election. Obviously, the parties are jockeying for position in the presidential race, the outcome of which could result in a different governing arrangement by realigning blocs in the current parliament, which was elected in November, 2008.

Some editing, including a new quote on the Canadian story, since original planting.

A scathing indictment of (large-magnitude, (semi-)closed-list) proportional representation

In the thread quoting a critic of STV in Ireland, Tom Round has quoted an extraordinarily scathing and interesting critique, from 1971, of party-based representation that is well worth replanting here:

The weakness of the Diet [ie, Riksdag], and its irrelevance to the search for political advancement, are not the arcane discoveries of political theorists, but truths so evident to the average Swede as not to be worth discussing. He knows that, although Cabinet ministers are nowadays expected to sit in the Diet, it is in the bureaucracy that they achieve their position, seats being provided as an afterthought. And he also knows full well that a Diet seat is usually the reward of a party hack or a stalwart of a corporate organisation. This is perfectly acceptable. Personality is at a discount in Swedish politics. Indeed, to say that an election has concerned personalities is to speak in a derogatory manner. Elections in Sweden are not about politicians but parties; that is to say, not about men [sic], but impersonal interest groups or disembodied manifestoes.

This is partly a consequence of proportional representation. The huge constituencies involved, with their cohorts of participants, mitigate [scil militate] against personal identity. The average Swedish constituency sends fifteen members to the Diet, and engages 150 candidates at a General Election. On the other hand, most European countries have some kind of proportional representation without necessarily abolishing the significance of the individual candidate: Germany is a case in point. But the Swede has consciously banned personality from politics; he has done so to obtain peace of mind. As a corollary, he has no respect for the Diet, which he sees as an assembly of nonentities. To him, the Diet’s function is to toe the party line, and keep the files moving. The real power lies elsewhere…’

–Roland Huntford, The New Totalitarians, (1971), Chapter 7: “The Rule of the Apparatchik,” pp 138-39.

The Swedish electoral system has been revised recently to make preference votes more important in the final ranking of lists. Perhaps the change was motivated in part by disenchantment with the sorts of behaviors that led to Huntford’s critique.

Iceland’s PM resigns

The Prime Minister of Iceland, Geir Haarde, has resigned, paving the way for early elections. One is almost tempted to say that the government was “overthrown,” given the scale of protests over the country’s economic implosion. In fact, the protests turned violent this week, and are said to be the worst the country–which in 2007 topped the UN Human Development Index–has seen in around fifty years.

Elections will be in May, just one year two years since the election of the current parliament.

Lithuanian elections: The inter-round phase

Lithuania uses an unusual two-round mixed-member majoritarian system. That is, the seats that are elected in the nominal tier, where single-seat-district, candidate voting is used, are elected by two-round majority runoff. The first round was held on 12 October, as was the vote for the party-list seats.

Via AP:

A conservative opposition party and a populist group led by an impeached ex-president made strong gains in Lithuania’s election Sunday, while the centrist government faltered, an exit poll indicated.

The poll, released on Lithuania’s TV3 network moments after voting ended, suggested the government could be ousted by a conservative-led coalition or a rival populist bloc.

It showed the conservative Homeland Union winning 21 percent of the vote, and two allied populist parties — led by ex-president Rolandas Paksas and Russian-born businessman Viktor Uspaskich — mustering a combined 25 percent.

Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas’ Social Democrats received 14 percent of the vote, while their four partners in the coalition government failed to break the 5 percent barrier to remain in Parliament, according to the survey by the Rait pollster.

The final result was unclear because the survey only included the party list vote, which covers 70 of the 141 seats in Parliament. The remaining 71 seats are decided in individual races in single-mandate constituencies, many of which will require a runoff on Oct. 26.

Regarding the ex-president:

The Order and Justice party is led by Paksas, a stunt pilot and former president who was ousted in 2004. Uspaskich, a Russian-born businessman who made his fortune selling jarred pickles, heads Labor.

Lithuania’s political system is premier-presidential.

Final results of the first round are to be announced today.

Denmark’s election and PR with nomination districts

I have been meaning to post on the Danish election, which is 13 November, and on its interesting electoral system.

Espen beat me to the part on the electoral system (in a comment at another thread), so why don’t I just copy what he had to say here (with some minor editing that I hope Espen will not object to):

Although the parties have considerable flexibility in how they nominate and to what degree they give their own voters the ability to influence which candidates get elected, in most cases the following is true:

Each candidate is selected in one of 92 nomination districts (opstillingskrædse). They all compete for votes in larger electoral districts (now ten in number) where party proportionality applies (also subject to national compensation). Thus, voters are free to choose among candidates nominated in any district within the larger, upper-tier districts, or to simply vote for a party without indicating a preference. In most cases, party candidates are elected in order of personal votes, although some parties in some upper-tier districts instead will choose either to count votes given straight to the party as support for the candidate standing in the respective nomination district, or to establish a ranked list, which the voters may only influence by letting lesser candidates reach a certain quota of personal votes (party-wise Droop, I believe). There is no requirement that all nomination districts will get someone elected, but there certainly is an incentive in the system for local associations to nominate visible candidates who will seek out personal votes in order to get elected. This also may help counteract somewhat the tendency in open- and flexible-list PR for personal votes to be concentrated at the top of the list, among candidates who would be elected anyway. [MSS here: Such a tendency does not, by definition, exist under open lists: only those with the top s preference votes, where s is the number of seats a list has won, can be elected. But what Espen says about flexible lists appears to be a typical occurrence.]

The system is a relic from 1918, when Denmark (outside the capital) had MMP. To promote proportionality, the FPTP element was removed in 1920, but the nomination process was kept at a very local level, in the former single-member constituencies (although the parties were made free to nominate at-large instead). There was major redistricting around 1970 and 2006, tied to local government reforms.

The Slovenian electoral system has similar traits, though I am not sure of the exact details there. Such “soft MMP” (which is not MMP at all, of course) also applied to the Italian Senate from 1948 to 1993, but there voters were limited to choosing candidates from within the smaller, lower-tier districts (the Regions constituted the upper-tier districts). Curiously, the 1994-2006 system was voted in, by referendum, simply by abolishing the 65 percent hurdle for direct election in the lower-tier Senate districts. The Parliament then tidied up the system and established a roughly similar system for the Camera. But that is another story.

Thanks for that, Espen!

Regarding Slovenia, ((See the translation of a 1995 Parliament of Slovenia document describing the system, which I believe is unchanged. The most relevant portion regarding the nomination districts is at the end:

When the list of candidates is determined, so is the respective electoral district in which each will stand, since only one candidate from the list stands in any one electoral district. Candidates may stand in one electoral unit [i.e. the larger multi-seat districts used for interparty allocation] and appear on one list only.

The appendix to Gary Cox’s Making Votes Count (1997) also has an excellent summary of the system.)) the main difference is that parties do not have an option in how they structure their lists: they must nominate candidates in nomination districts, and voters are (as far as I know) able to cast votes only for those cast in their own nominating district. (Did I understand Espen correctly that even a party in Denmark that uses nomination districts must allow voters to cast a vote for a candidate in the larger allocation district if they prefer one of these to the one nominated in the local nomination (sub-) district?)

Indonesia also used (or attempted to use) a similar system–ACE Project calls it “proportional system with district characteristics“–in 1999, after the fall of the Suharto dictatorship. For the 2004 election, the system was changed to a more conventional flexible list. ((The ACE project says:

The restricted open-list system finally agreed requires voters to vote for one party and, if they wish, one candidate from that party. However, this will only result in the election of a particular candidate out of the order in which names appear on the party list if that candidate gains more than a full Hare Quota of individual votes—which made its likely effect minimal, as proved to be the case in practice in the 2004 elections to the legislature.


One could say the Danish/Slovenian nominating districts have a parallel (so to speak) in the list tier of the Japanese lower house mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system: Parties may choose to “clump” at the same rank on the list several candidates who are nominated in a single-seat district as well as on the list. In such a case, the final ranking of the clumped candidates is based on how close they came to winning the plurality in their single-seat race.

As for the election itself–in Denmark, that is–one of the interesting developments is the formation of a new political party by a Syrian immigrant, Naser Khader’s New Alliance. It may displace the anti-immigrant Peoples Party as a major partner in the upcoming coalition. (See the recent preview in The Economist.)

Jacob Christensen has posted graphs of the polling trends. He also has various other posts on the campaign that are well worth checking out. The New Alliance has actually been slipping quite a bit in polling late in the campaign.

Finland’s election–and coalition bargaining (updated)

Revised and extended version of the earlier planting (most recently on 21 March)

Another squeaker

Or should I say photo Finnish?

The Centre Party won 23.1% of the vote, the National Coalition 22.2% and the Social Democrats 21.5%.

The current Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is the head of the Centre Party, which will have 51 of 200 seats. The conservative National Coalition is not part of the current governing coalition, but is now one seat behind the Centre.

Compared to 2003, the Centre Party lost support, even though it remains the largest party. The Social Democrats fall from the 53 seats they had won in 2003 to only 45 now. Thus it looks like there could be a realignment of the Finland’s coalition government towards the right.

Analysis: Government possibilities

Given that a Centre-National coalition would have exactly one more than half the seats, a narrow center-right government could form. However, that does not mean it will form, and there is a fairly strong tendency of Finnish governments to be greater than minimal winning (and you can’t get more minimal than 101 seats out of 200). Therefore, it is not a given that a rightward shift of the coalition will result. See Michael’s more-detailed analysis, in which he notes that two other leftish parties combined for 32 seats and two others of the right for just 12.

Analysis: Impact of (not-quite fully) proportional representation

It’s worth noting that the proportionality in Finland is not calculated nationally, but rather in a series of regional multi-seat districts of varying district magnitude. Thus a party with an optimal geographic distribution does slightly better than one that may have a similar nationwide votes share but less optimal geographic distribution.* (See Alex’s comment for more.)

Look at the advantage ratios (% seats/% votes) for the top three parties:

    Centre, 1.104
    National, 1.126
    Social Dem, 1.047

These are not huge differences, and would be almost trivial compared to what we see in less proportional systems. However, in such a close election, they matter. In fact, the Centre-National minimal winning coalition is possible only because those two parties were somewhat over-represented, compared to the Social Democrats.

If all three of the leading parties had had the same advantage ratio as the Social Democrats, the seats would have been a bit different: Centre (48), National Coalition (46), Social Democrat (45), instead of 51-50-45. The Centre-National coalition would not be feasible.

I do not know Finnish politics well enough to predict the result of the bargaining that will now follow. However, the advantage that the National Coalition (and, to a lesser extent, Centre) obtained from the electoral system gives likely Prime Minister-designate Vanhanen and his Centre party leverage over the Social Democrats that it otherwise would not, even if Vanhanen ultimately reconstitutes his center-left coalition.

In very close elections, even very small deviations from proportionality matter. If the Social Democrats had won the most votes by the same narrow margin as they trailed in the actual results, but with the parties’ having their same respective advantage ratios, we would have had a plurality reversal in the seats relative to the votes. ** That did not happen here, but it was close, and the actual differential treatment of the parties by Finland’s PR system may yet affect the coalition result.

* The differential treatment of the Finnish parties appears to be another case of the bias introduced against predominantly urban parties by magnitude variance. The bias results when one set of parties (usually conservative) are especially strong in rural areas that have lower district magnitude, and thereby benefit from the lesser proportionalityof votes-to-seats translation in those districts. On the other hand, the (usually leftist) parties that are strongest in urban areas with very large district magnitudes do not get the same sort of bonus out of their own strongholds. Meanwhile, the “rural” party has a (minority) constituency within the large urban districts, it gets proportionally repersented there, thanks to the large magnitude. (The “urban” parties get under-represented in the smaller districts even if they have a comparable minority share of the vote in such districts, which they may not.)

Of course, this bias, while real, is nothing like we see in plurality systems.

(Added 21 March: See Alex’s comment on the geographic distribution. Unlike me, he actually bothered to look at the district-level data and saw that the National and Centre did quite well in several large districts. However, the higher advantage ratios for these parties can’t result only from large districts, given the inherently greater proportionality of such districts. So, there is clearly more to the story. As Alex also reminds us, the provisions in the Finnish electoral law for inter-party alliances (vote pooling across parties within a common list) are undoubtedly also part of the picture.)

** Excuse me for almost wishing something that interesting had happened.

Estonian election

Estonia’s parliamentary elections were held on 4 March. The following discussion of the electoral system is transplanted here from something I originally wrote Sunday. Below that is entirely new text on the results.

The Electoral System

As I noted a few days ago, Estonia was, for one election, one of the few countries (the only one?) outside of the U.K. and its former colonies to have used STV. While that system turned out to be too unfavorable to party leadership for the tastes of–who else!–party leaders, the system adopted and in use ever since does have a stronger personal element than many party-list systems in Europe. That is, the current Estonian system is broadly in the family of ‘flexible list’ but the actual flexibility is much greater in practice than in others of that category (e.g. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands).

In Estonia, the voter must cast a preference vote for one candidate on a party list. Seats are allocated to parties according to their share of the national vote (with a 5% threshold). Seats are allocated to candidates as follows. Candidates can win outright on purely their own preference votes, but seats in the various multi-seat districts that are not filled by one of two stages where preference votes are taken into account* are filled instead in a third stage at the national level, based on their order on the party’s closed national list.

I believe the number of seats filled at the national rather than district level (and therefore by party rank rather than by preference votes) has grown over time, in part because parties are free to nominate many more candidates than there are seats in a district, and the more that parties do so–and nominate candidates with a personal following–the lower the number of candidates that will tend to have enough votes to be elected based on their preference votes at the district level. (See the comment below by Taavi Annus for new information here.)

Clearly, it takes more than just a moment to attempt to explain the Estonian electoral system (and, actually, there is much more that could be said). I should note that Estonia’s most famous expert on electoral systems, my graduate-school mentor, Rein Taagepera, did not design this system!


Preliminary results show that the ruling coalition performed well in Sunday’s election. Reform won 31 seats and Kesk 29, which is a large majority of the 101-seat Riigikogu. The results represent a gain of 12 seats for Reform and one for Kesk.

The largest opposition party remains the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, despite its loss of 16 seats. It now will have 19. (Taagepera was involved in founding Res Publica and published an academic article about its “meteoric rise.” He is no longer involved with the party, and its showing in this election has to count as a recovery considering the party’s post-election meteoric fall that Rein’s article also addresses.)

Add Estonia to the ranks of countries (all of which use PR) to have Green representation: The Rohelised party won 6 seats. (This Green party is new. However; the green movement has deep roots in the social movements of the late Soviet period. This new party marks the first representation by a Green list since 1992, before the threshold was raised to 5%. In 1999 green candidates ran on joint lists with Kesk, but none had enough preference votes to win. Thanks to Taavi for corrections here.)

Other bloggers’ commentary

Josep Colomer has a very interesting post about Estonian democracy and Taagepera’s role in its development since the country recovered its independence from the Russian-Soviet empire.

(Josep mentions having visited Estonia in October, 1991. I guess we just missed each other, as I was there at the end of that very month. Interesting experience–maybe I will tell some time.)

Another of Taagepera’s former students, Steven Taylor, notes that the election will have a considerable element of on-line voting. From the country where Skype originated, this election is apparently the first widespread use of Internet voting technology anywhere.

Alex Speaks about the election results.


* In one of two ways: Either by having personally a quota’s worth of votes, where the quota is the number of valid votes divided by the district magnitude (the ‘simple’ or ‘Hare’ quota), or by having preference votes equivalent to at least .1q, where q refers to the quota.

Finnish party leader and open lists

An item in the Helsingin Sanomat notes that former leader and presidential candidate of the National Coalition Party, Sauli Niinistö, will run for a parliamentary seat from Uusimaa district in the next elections:

The National Coalition Party calculates that Niinistö’s immense popularity could bring him enough personal votes to give the party as many as two extra seats. In Finland’s system of proportional representatives, voters cast ballots for individual candidates; massive personal landslides for popular candidates can have a coattail effect, helping other candidates on the party’s list win election.

Uusimaa is the highest-magnitude district in Finland, with 32 seats (as of 1999). It contains Vantaa and Espoo, two major suburbs of Helsinki.

I also found it interesting that the report says “Niinistö decided to run for Parliament again after he failed to find a suitable international job.” He currently is Vice President of the European investment Bank.

“Landslide” in Sweden

Over the weekend, Sweden gave us yet another in a rather incredible series of very close elections in that past year (-plus) of F&V. But this one was almost a landslide compared to recent elections in Norway, the Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand, Mexico, etc…

The major parties in Sweden are grouped into two blocs, and the right-wing bloc (including the Moderate, Liberal People’s, Centre, and Christian Democratic parties) combined for 50.0% of the vote, while the incumbent left-wing bloc (including the Social Democratic, Green, and Left parties) won 48%. In seats, the right will have 178 to the left’s 171.

The Social Democrats won the most votes (35.2% to the Moderates’ 26.1%), but lack any means to form a government against the combined strength of the right. A scandal earlier this year had been expected to help save the left from defeat. The EU observer describes the scandal:

Previously enjoying a reputation for being squeaky clean, the country’s pending elections hit the headlines in newspapers around Europe when it emerged that members of the liberal party had hacked their way into the ruling social democratic party’s computer network.

The scandal was dubbed “Sweden’s Watergate,” although the label is misleading. The hacking was by the opposition, whereas in the real Watergate, the bugging was by the government, (ab)using government institutions and personnel. That’s quite a difference. But the more important difference is that, given a PR system, voters wanting to punish the offending party did not have to cross over to the other side of the spectrum. And, in the end, the scandal probably redistributed voters among the right, rather than from right to left, costing the Liberals to the benefit of their partners.

Norway post-election update

Coug at Eurotrib does the heavy lifting here, with a report on the winning parties’ having agreed to disagree on the EU, NATO, and expanded oil drilling.

The post notes that Labor has never been in coalition before (either having had a majority of seats on its own, or having formed a single-party minority cabinet) and the Socialist Left has never been in government at all.

Norwegian election cliffhanger

Although I somehow left it off my list of elections in September, today Norwegians voted in general elections. The count went back and forth after the polls closed, but the incumbent conservative prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik has conceded defeat.

Norway’s new government will be a coalition of the Labor, Socialist Left, and Center parties. These three parties campaigned together. They combined to win a majority of the seats in parliament. For decades, most of Norway’s governments have been minority cabinets (often of the Labor party). This was the first time the various left parties had campaigned as a team.

The victorious parties campaigned against the upper-bracket tax cuts implemented by the incumbent government and in favor of increased spending of Norway’s considerable oil revenue on education, health and welfare.

The parties disagree on foreign policy, however, and so it will be interesting to see how they govern in this area. The Socialist Left is on record as opposing Norway’s membership in NATO. It is also opposed to joining the EU. Norwegian voters have twice rejected EU membership in nationwide referenda. The issue is expected to come up again soon. There is not much evidence that the public mood would be any more favorable now, however.

Turnout was 76% of eligible voters.