Constructive vote proposal in Czech Republic

The Czech government is proposing to amend the country’s constitution to make the vote of no-confidence “constructive”:

If the opposition wants to propose a no-confidence vote, it must agree on the name of the future prime minister and have this agreement signed by at least 50 lower house deputies, according to the government’s draft amendment.

If a no-confidence vote fails, the opposition may not propose a new vote sooner than after six months or when 80 deputies support its proposal. (Prague Monitor)

The Czech proposal is more restrictive (constrictive?) than the other two longest-existing provisions for constructive votes. For example, under Article 67 of the German constitution, there is neither a stipulated minimum number of legislators who must propose a no-confidence vote nor a limitation on future motions if a motion fails. In Spain’s constitution, Article 113 requires a minimum one-tenth of the chamber to propose a motion against the government, compared to one-fourth in the Czech proposal. There is in Spain a prohibition on the same signers of a failed motion proposing another one in the same parliamentary session.

While a constructive-vote provision along the lines of Germany’s seems like a good idea to me, I am very skeptical of provisions that make it considerably more difficult for a parliamentary majority to remove a government. The more restrictions there are on parliament’s rights in this area, the more the system shades towards separate survival in power of the executive and legislature–thereby undermining the critical accountability feature that makes a democracy parliamentary.

To pass, the Czech proposal would need support from the leftist opposition, as the government is well short of the necessary three-fifths majority for constitutional changes.

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UPDATE: As Robert Elgie notes in a comment, the Czech Republic is already moving to direct election of the president. Thus the country will join Poland in having the unusual combination of both semi-presidentialism and constructive vote of no confidence.

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Czech elections

Following general elections Saturday, the Czech Republic should have “the strongest government in years” (Deutsche Welle). It will be a government of the center-right, notwithstanding a NY Times headline that might lead one to believe otherwise: “Left Wins Czech Vote, but Right Makes Gains.”

To be clear, the Social Democrats did win the highest vote total, but it was just 22.1%. The combined parties of the right won a majority of seats, with the largest among them being the Civic Democrats, with 20%. Two new parties of the right, TOP 09, with 16.7%, and Public Affairs, with 10.9%, will form the next government in coalition with the Civic Democrats.

So we have here a case in which the largest party in a parliamentary democracy will not form a government, because it lacks allies. There was a clear shift to the right in the electorate’s preferences–the three parties of the right will have 118 of the 200 parliamentary seats, aided by the 5% threshold–despite a center-left party being the single largest.

On the intra-party dimension of the country’s “flexible list” system, Roman Chytilek, a specialist on Czech parties, informs me that this time 48 legislators were elected purely on preference votes (i.e. their party-given rank would have been too low for them to win without preference votes). Only 86 incumbents were reelected (down from 115 in 2006). In addition, 44 women were elected (up from 31 in 2006); fourteen of them due to preference votes.

In this election, voters were allowed to cast four preference votes, up from two in 2006.

The Greens and Christian Democrats, both of which were allies of the Civic Democrats at the last election, failed to cross the 5% threshold.

Early Czech elections called off

Via the Prague Post:

Early parliamentary elections, already once delayed, will now not take place at all.

Any further legislative action to push for November elections was doomed to failure in the form of another challenge before the Constitutional Court, say leaders from political parties who reversed course Sept. 15 and declined to support dissolving the Chamber of Deputies and calling new elections. […]

The result is that the technocratic government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer – appointed as a caretaker in May – would most likely be left governing until June of next year, when the current Chamber of Deputies’ mandate runs out and regular elections are already scheduled.

The dominoes fell starting with the Social Democrats (SSD) just hours before debate was to begin Sept. 15 in the Chamber of Deputies; the Green Party (DZ) and the Communists (KSM) followed suit. Until the announcement, the widespread consensus was that the lower house would be dissolved and that authorities would push forward with a plan for elections in November.

Already, elections that were being considered for October had been delayed:

After independent Deputy Miloš Melcak filed a challenge with the Constitutional Court over early elections originally slated for October, the court ruled in his favor Sept. 10, striking down the mechanisms used to call elections. To bypass this ruling, both houses of Parliament passed a constitutional amendment with the necessary three-fifths majority Sept. 11, which allowed the Chamber of Deputies to dissolve itself. At the same time, MPs passed a law shortening the period from 60 to 50 days that the president has to call for new elections. This was all meant to pave the way for elections in early November, but the process itself again appeared open to challenge in the Constitutional Court, and constitutional experts agree it easily could have been.

Many more juicy details at the Prague Post!

The Czech Republic system is “pure” parliamentary; the (unelected) presidency is (mostly) ceremonial.

Czech government narrowly survives

As noted previously in the Czech Republic block here at F&V, the previous Czech parliamentary election resulted a tied result between the two pre-election alliances.

Last week, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s three-party center-right ((Despite the Greens’ being one of those three. Topolanek heads the Civic Democratic Party, and the Christian Democrats are the other partner.)) government survived a no-confidence vote. The Prague Post news item, excerpted below, hints at (in the part I put in bold) how it is that a bloc of parties with exactly 50% of the seats is able to govern: some defectors from the opposition. ((Survival is a different matter: It takes a majority to oust the cabinet, and obviously the opposition does not have a majority either. But without the independent support, the cabinet could not pass legislation if the opposition united to, well, oppose.))

It was the opposition’s third attempt to topple the coalition government and despite its fragile majority in the lower house it was fairly clear from the start that the opposition’s chances of success were slim, largely thanks to three independents – former Social Democrat rebels who were expected to support the government. In the end only two of them did, but it was enough. The opposition fell three votes short of achieving its goal and, having done his mathematics, the prime minister looked supremely confident as he listened to criticism from the opposition benches. In fact he even made a point of leafing through the morning papers during the vote itself to show just how unconcerned he was.

Just another day in parliament…

Another excerpt from the article is a reminder that parliamentary governments can tolerate dissent on policy votes, but once it comes to survival, the dissidents’ calculation can change quite dramatically:

Thwarted by three of his own MPs during a Parliament debate on church restitutions on Tuesday, Mr. Topolánek was smarting from his unexpected defeat. Tuesday’s show of coalition unity in the lower house could not have come at a better time for him.

Just another week in parliamentarism.
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Preference vote shares

Now corrected from its original version (which contained some errors in the Czech data reported). Originally planted 18 July.

In discussing the proposed threshold of 5% of party preference votes to guarantee election from “flexible” lists in Catalonia, I expressed skepticism that this would result in many members being elected by their own votes.

Well, I just happen to have some data that might shed a little ray of light on this question, for those few of you who actually find this kind of stuff interesting. I opened up my merged data set of legislators from several open list systems, and restricting the analysis to districts that are about the size proposed for Catalonia (specifically, districts of 10 to 25 seats), I find that the mean preference vote share (preference votes divided by list votes in the district) of the elected members is .174. That is a lot more than .05, but the standard deviation is almost as big as the mean: .162. The median share is .115, and about 15% of elected candidates in these districts won with under .05.

So, perhaps I turned the old skepticism meter a bit too high when I expressed doubt that many candidates would be elected on their preference votes under a 5% threshold. Still, if the legislators in my data set had needed 5% to be elected, 15% of them would not have been–unless they had a high enough list rank provided by the party to be elected anyway. (Remember, in a flexible list system, seats not filled by preference votes default to the list rank, unlike in an open list, where there is no list rank and thus preference votes alone determine election.)

For larger parties, those that win at least the mean for this set of districts, which is 5 seats, the result is more favorable to my skepticism: Mean prefshare of .097, standard deviation of .10; median of .068; and around 28% elected with less than 5%. Not surprisingly, larger parties divide their votes among more candidates, successful or otherwise, while smaller parties are somewhat more likely to have a single vote-puller.*

However, all the above may overestimate the number of members who would be elected on preference votes if lists were flexible rather than fully open. My (more limited) information on existing flexible-list systems suggests that a very high share of total preference votes in such systems are given to the list head or one of the other top-ranked candidates (in other words to those who would win easily anyway). Of course, the more that voters do that, the smaller the pool of preference votes left to go around for other candidates with lower ranks, and thus the fewer candidates win on “their own” efforts and the more that are elected as if the list were closed.

To probe this further, we can look at data that I have from one flexible-list case in which many legislators are elected in districts of magnitudes ranging from 10 to 25: The Czech Republic (2002 and 2006). There, for winning legislators in these districts, the mean prefshare is only .017, the standard deviation is .022, and the median is .028. How many of those elected had preference shares under 5% of their list’s vote? 71.4%!

A quick check of the data appears to show only 17 of the 374 members elected on their preference votes who would not have been elected based on their party-provided rank. Thus the lists do not prove to be very “flexible” in practice.

The Czech rules in 2002 and 2006 allow the voter to cast up to two candidate preferences and require a 7% threshold of list votes for the candidate to be assured of election (i.e. even if the party has not given a high enough pre-election rank to the candidate).

Surprisingly (to me, anyway), Czech voters do not appear to concentrate their preference votes on a few top-ranked candidates. Even the winners who had the first rank on their list average less than 9% of their list’s votes. Nonetheless, the result is the same as what I expected–lots of candidates getting less than 5% of their list’s votes–even if the way that result came about is quite different from what I expected. (Looks like some research into flexible lists is in order!)

Is any of this relevant to Catalonia? Well, if Catalonian voters vote like Czech voters when it comes to using the preference vote, not very many candidates are going to clear the 5% preference-vote threshold.

Roman Chytilek, a political scientist at the Masarykova University of Brno, reports that for the next Czech elections the intraparty threshold will be reduced to 5% and a voter will be allowed up to four preference votes. (Before 2002, the rules provided for four preference votes and a 10% intraparty threshold.)

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*In fact, each additional seat won by a party reduces the estimated prefshare of its winning candidates by .02, and the relationship is highly significant and the R-squared is more than 20%.

Data sample sizes: N=767 for the open-list sample; N=374 for the Czech Republic.

Another data note: In the Czech data, there is a much smaller relationship between the number elected off the list and the prefshare of those who are elected. It is “significant,” but barely more than zero anyway (-.003) and the R–squared is only around 7%.

I thank Joel Johnson for correcting my misreading of the data output and Roman Chytilek for his help in data acquisition as well as interpretation (including his comments in this thread since its original 18 July “plant” date.)

Could the anti-missile system doom the Czech government?

Could the Czech government, which rests on a thin reed after taking more than seven months to form in the evenly divided parliament, be threatened by the prospect of being one of the hosts to a controversial proposed US missile defense system?

&#268eské Noviny, as noted at the blog Greens for Greens, reports that one of the coalition partners, the Czech Green party, might vote against the proposal. The deputy chairman Ondrej Liska said that this would not have to mean an end to the government coalition.

Whatever the deputy leader might say, it is hard for me to see how the government could survive one of its partners voting against such a major foreign policy issue. The Czech Green party is more liberal (in the strictly economic sense, and as that term is understood outside the USA) than most of its counterparts in other counties (as discussed at F&V previously). Indeed it is in coalition with center-right parties. Nonetheless, they are greens, and I have wondered how they would finesse an issue like this one.

The largest governing party (Civic Democratic Party of PM Mirek Topolanek) is in favor of the radar, while the main opposition party (the Social Democratic) is calling for a referendum. According to a recent STEM poll, 70 percent of Czechs reject the radar.

This looks to be a big political test for this government. And for the Czech Greens.