PM rotation in Ireland?

In the earlier planting on Israel’s new government, I asked if examples of rotating the position of prime minister existed outside of Israel. There is evidently a good chance we might be seeing one in Ireland!

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is expected to be taoiseach in the first half of a coalition government with Fine Gael and the Greens, with Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar going second. (Source: Irish Times; h/t to Steven Verbank.)

There was even some discussion of the Greens’ leader also being part of a possible rotation deal.

Senior Green sources had previously floated the idea of Mr [Eamon] Ryan also getting a year as taoiseach, although Mr Ryan ruled this out…

What a shame. I am pretty sure it would have been the first case of leaders of three different parties taking turns as prime minister under a coalition agreement!

(Taoiseach is the Irish term for the prime minister.)

Ireland 2020

Ireland holds its general election on 8 February. I wish I could offer a good preview. But no time. However, given how much many of us enjoy elections under single transferable vote, it seems like the community might want to gather and do some fruitful plantings. So here’s the place for it.

One thing of note I am aware of is polling showing Sinn Féin doing well, possibly enough to break into the top two. In first preferences, that is. Given STV, of course, an important consideration will be if it picks up transfers (or where, if anywhere, its supporters go in districts where they have votes that don’t elect one of their own).

Apparently this is the first time Ireland has voted on a Saturday. Naturally, I am not a fan of that idea. (The link is to Charles Richardson’s blog, The World is Not Enough, which I just discovered thanks to a comment on another thread here by Tom.)

Irish election 2016

Ireland’s 2016 general election will be held 26 February. The current coalition of Fine Gael and Labour is not doing well in the polls. However, neither is the main opposition party, Fianna Fail. The RTE seat projection currently has Fine Gael on 55 seats (based on just 28% of the vote), Labour on 13. Fianna Fail is barely holding off Sinn Fein for second place, 33 to 29 in the projection (20% and 18% in voters, according to the poll of polls).

The assembly size has been reduced. It was 165 in the last election (2011), but will be 157 in this one (not counting the seat of the Speaker). Fine Gael’s 2011 result was 46% of seats; they may not make it over 35% this time.

So worried is Fine Gael that it is “devising a risky battle-plan aimed at salvaging as many seats as possible,” according to the Independent. The plan is to ask senior members of the party to reduce their own personal vote by shifting votes to weaker co-partisan candidates.


Fine Gael is devising strategies in a series of constituencies, which involves divides of territory and asking loyal supporters to vote for one candidate over another in a particular area.

Although this tactic has often been used in the past, it hasn’t been employed in such large numbers before. And the decline in support levels make if far more difficult to pull off.


The article has a list of strong incumbents who are being asked to sacrifice voters, and notes that the party is attempting to use Facebook to target reliable voters who would shift.

Of course, all this vote-management reminds us that the Irish single transferable vote (STV) is not dramatically distinct from the old Japanese single non-transferable vote (SNTV). In either system, parties can be hurt, relative to the seats that their collective vote totals could deliver them under a list system, if their leading candidate obtains too large a share of the party’s total votes in a district. With votes overly concentrated on one candidate, the weaker ones could be eliminated too early to benefit from vote transfers from other candidates, including the co-partisan strongest one. (I assume this also implies that not enough voters for the leading candidate can be counted on to list co-partisans second. Otherwise there would be little need to manage first-preference votes in this manner.)


Labour is banking on “locking down” its traditional core vote of 10pc and its TDs coming ahead of the second Fine Gael candidate to benefit from transfers.

Yes, there is an advantage that small parties under STV have that is not available to such parties under SNTV. But for large parties, especially those with declining support, STV poses serious coordination challenges.

The seat projections, it should be noted, come with some grain of salt, because projecting seats under STV is hard.

Irish voters keep bicameralism

In a referendum, Irish voters have chosen to retain their second chamber, the Seanad. The vote was 51.7%-48.3%.

Some comments about this result have already appeared at the thread on “Shutdowns elsewhere?“. I agree with JD’s observation:

I don’t understand how an upper house which has no power at all over money bills, can delay other legislation for no more than nine months and whose membership includes almost 20% appointed by the prime minister, can be seen as a check on government power…

Readers interested in background (and, presumably in the days ahead, post-mortems and “where do we from from here?”) will want to check out The Irish Politics Forum.

Is MMP in Ireland’s future?

The Constitutional Convention of Ireland is considering proposing a new electoral system for parliamentary elections.

The 100-member Convention strongly favors a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, with 69% preferring it over other options. A “proportional list system”–not clear whether open or closed was specified–wins 29% support, and a paltry 3% would like FPTP. (And, yes, those numbers sum to more than 100.)

The news story does not offer information on preferences for keeping the current system vs. change, either in general or any specific replacement system. It does note that there will be a further round of deliberations next month on the exact model that the Convention will recommend.

Ireland is, of course, the main model we have of Single Transferable Vote (STV). MMP and STV are usually the two models most preferred by reform activists (at least in current FPTP jurisdictions) and by political science expert in electoral systems. It is very interesting to see an Irish process possibly leading to STV vs. MMP as choices for the country.

Does STV have anything to do with absence of “free votes” in Ireland?

The Irish Times states that “Ireland is now one of the few parliamentary democracies in which members of parliament are not allowed free votes on issues of conscience.” It cites many cases of free votes (also known as “conscience votes”) on issues such as homosexuality law reform, gambling, abortion, and numerous other matters in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Leaving aside the technicality that Ireland can be classified as semi-presidential–the presidency really is weak enough that we can call it parliamentary–is it possible that the use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) to elect the Dail (parliament’s first chamber) is a factor?

The editorial correctly notes that such votes occur “where views differ strongly within parliamentary parties”. What might STV have to do with this? It would be a whole lot more dangerous for party leadership to open up its divisions to be recorded on the floor in a system where the members could then compete for votes on precisely these internal divisions.

Whatever the underlying cause in variation in the use of free/conscience votes, one thing is certain: such votes are called when the government wants them. This could be when it prefers not to be held collectively accountable for some issue (let it pass but don’t call it your program), or when the government favors the passage of some measure that enjoys majority support in parliament but divides its own caucus (be sure it passes, but let your MPs claim credit for having tried to stop it). In other words, when there is conflict between the individual interests of MPs and their parties’ collective interests. If the electoral system reinforces such conflicts–as STV surely does, but FPTP, MMP, and closed-list PR do not–then we might expect parties, when in government, to do what they can to keep such conflicts from spilling into the open.

In any case, the usual agenda control of parliamentary cabinets means that we can understand these votes only by understanding governing parties’ decision calculus. What are the conditions under which free votes are seen as desirable or risky by those who decide to apply, or not, the government whip on a vote?

Ireland’s presidential election, 2011

Ireland has its presidential election today. The president is elected by an “instant runoff”–specifically, the same Single Transferable Vote system that is used for the Irish parliament, but given a single seat, the quota for election is 50%+1. Of course, this means it’s the Alterative Vote, electing the first candidate to reach a majority on either first preferences or transferred lower preferences of voters whose higher-preferred candidates have been eliminated from the count.

As noted in the Irish Times:

TODAY, FOR only the second time since 1938, a presidential election will ultimately be determined by the second, third and fourth preferences cast by voters…  

This year, unless the polls are seriously wrong, no candidate is likely to be within 10 percentage points of a simple majority on the first count. The election, with seven in the race spread out the way they appear to be, is certain to go to a second, probably a third, and possibly even fourth or fifth counts.

The Irish presidency is weak, within a premier-presidential system that is almost parliamentary. Yet I wonder if the current political upheaval could lead to a president asserting more influence for the office.

Irish coalition deal

Ireland’s new Government of National Recovery, as the coalition consisting of Fine Gael and Labour is to be called, took office Wednesday.

The coalition agreement* begins,

On the 25th February a democratic revolution took place in Ireland. Old beliefs, traditions and expectations were blown away. The stroke of a pen, in thousands of polling stations, created this political whirlwind. The public demanded change and looked to parties that would deliver the change they sought.

Among the commitments regarding political reform is to abolish the second chamber (Seanad), subject to voter approval in a referendum (p.18).

A Constitutional Convention is to be established. It will consider several amendments, including reduction of the presidential term to five years “and aligning it with the local and European
elections” (p.17).

Also included are plans to restrict campaign spending, consideration of lowering the voting age to 17, and working to increase the representation of women. “We will ask the Constitutional Convention, which is examining electoral reform, to make recommendations as to how the number of women in politics can be increased,” it says (p. 20). No guidelines about what sort of electoral reforms might be considered are given.

There are a series of proposed reforms dealing with legislative procedure, including more time for question periods, fewer committees but with constitutional recognition for key committees, and more opportunity for debating non-government bills (pp. 21-2).

* It can be downloaded at the Fine Gael party website.

Ireland 2011: Big shift

While the results of some constituencies are not yet complete, the general shape of the Irish result is known.

Elections compares seats so far to seats at the last election. Out of 153 seats called thus far, it shows the top four parties as follows:

    Fianna Fail 18 (-60)
    Fine Gael 70 (+19)
    Labour 36 (+16)
    Sinn Fein 13 (+9)

Independents and others will have 14 seats, up by 8.

As expected, quite a debacle for Fianna Fail. Preliminary results show Fine Gael with 36.1% of the first-preference vote (up 8.8 on 2007), Labour on 19.4% (+9.3). Fianna Fail has fallen to 17.4% (from 41.5%!).

Independents combined for 12.6% (almost double last time). The Greens, who were coalition partners to Fianna Fail in the outgoing government, saw their vote fall from 4.6% to 1.8%, will not win a seat.

At the Political Reform blog, Eoin O’Malley poses the question of whether Labour should join a coalition (as expected) or support a minority Fine Gael cabinet.

A sampling of the argument:

By entering government Labour will stunt its own growth and the potential development of a left-right divide in Irish politics. If it were to stay in opposition it would displace Fianna Fáil as the main opposition party. …

…staying in opposition would protect Labour’s left flank. In going into government Labour will be opposed vigorously by a young, energetic and largely articulate Sinn Féin and ULA.

The Labour leadership will no doubt claim that it does not want to go into government but that the national interest demands it. … But it’s not even that clear that it is in the national interest to enter government.

The Fine Gael and Labour leaders have begun coalition talks.

Ireland: Election 2011

The polls are open till 10 p.m., Irish time. (How many jurisdictions keep polls open that late?)

Updates on the voting and, after polls close, the count can be followed at RTE, Irish Times, or Elections Ireland. Also, don’t miss the Political Reform blog.

Ireland, of course, is the land of the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

Indications are that turnout is high.

The Fianna Fail party, which has led the government during the current financial crisis, is expected to fall to third place. How often does a governing party in a democracy fall to third place? Not too often. Canada 1993, when the Progressive Conservatives fell to fifth place, with only 2 seats, must be the record.

Fianna Fail, which won 42% in the 2007 election, has been polling at around 15%. So, in terms of votes, if not seats, the party could challenge the Canadian record (where Conservatives fell from 43% to 16%).

The implosion of the Irish government

The implosion of the Irish government, and the main party in the governing coalition, Fianna Fail, has been quite a spectacle.

After narrowly surviving an internal leadership battle, Taoiseach (PM) Brian Cowen saw five of his own party’s cabinet ministers resign. Shortly thereafter, Cowen himself resigned–as party leader. It is very unusual in parliamentary democracies for the leader of the main party in government not to be the PM, but for the first time in the history of the Fianna Fail, the usual governing party in Ireland, that is now the case.

How long this anomaly can last–if it can even go till the now-scheduled 11 March general election–is anyone’s guess. Elections may have to be moved up, now that the main coalition partner, the Green Party, has pulled its support.

The Donegal by-election

Regarding the Donegal South-West by-election, has this tidbit:

Polling stations opened at 7am this [Thursday] morning and remain open until 10pm tonight – though voters on Donegal’s islands voted on Monday, as is traditional, to account for any difficulty in bringing the votes to land.

The count begins at 9:00 a.m. Friday, Irish time.

The Sinn Fein candidate, Pearse Doherty, is expected to win rather easily.

A Red C poll commissioned by Paddy Power two weeks ago showed Doherty commanding a massive lead in the opinion polls, with 40% of respondents saying they were likely to give him their first preference vote, while another 17% said he would receive their second preference.

The electoral system, of course, is single transferable vote. But this election is for one seat, which means the system reduces to the alternative vote, where the quota to win the seat is 50% + 1.