Party identity in coalition

An Australian Green senator, Richard Di Natale (Victoria) has spoken of the importance of the smaller party maintaining its identity if it enters coalition. The remarks were made at the New Zealand Greens’ conference in Christchurch (NZ Herald).

Sen. Di Natale spoke of changes to the current Labor Party minority cabinet’s program that his party could claim credit for–putting a price on pollution, a new $10 billion investment in renewable energy, and free dental care for children–but also of the fear of the credit not being noted. “The key issue is knowing when not to compromise,” Dr Di Natale said. Moreover,

Maintaining your identity when there is a perception that you are part of the government is a huge challenge.

Such are the perils for small parties. However, based on polling in the run-up to this year’s Australian election, claiming credit for policy seems like the least of the Greens’ current concerns. Rather, they need to be more worried about keeping enough senators after the coming debacle for Labor to protect the few policy gains they’ve managed since 2010.

Labour+Greens or +NZF?

There is an interesting item about a recent poll in the New Zealand Herald. The upshot of it, as I read it, is that the New Zealand Labour party may be so concerned about being tied too closely to the Greens that they’d at least like to signal a preference for forming a coalition with Winston Peters and his New Zealand First Party. Now that’s desperate!

The story notes that Labour+NZF would be unlikely to be a majority, but they may hope they can just say to the Greens that they can either agree at least to abstain and allow a minority government to function, or be blamed for a fresh election.

Then again, maybe Labour and Greens will yet end up forging a joint program before the election, and this is all posturing. As also noted in the news item, the Greens have made no secret of wanting the Finance ministry, and Labour certainly has an interest in signaling that this would be non-negotiable.

PM Boris?

London mayor Boris Johnson will attend his Conservative Party’s upcoming conference “to reveal the secret of how to get re-elected against Labour in a time of austerity in what will be seen as fresh evidence of his ambition to succeed David Cameron”, reports the Guardian.

This comes in the wake of a YouGov poll that shows Johnson as Britain’s “most respected” politician.

Is Boris going to replace David Cameron as PM? I would not bet on it, for two reasons that I can draw out of my research on career trajectories of prime ministers, in comparison with presidents.

First, Johnson’s formula for being (re)elected against a Labour Party that is otherwise well positioned–whether in London politics, or in current national polling–is based on direct election of an individual. That is, “presidentialization“. To expect the same effect if Johnson were the PM candidate (and, presumably, sitting PM) at the next election is to fail to understand how direct election, as with the London mayor or a president, is fundamentally different from selection by and dependence on a party organization, as in a parliamentary democracy.

Second, he would be swimming against a pretty strong current of institutional effects here. Let’s look at the broad patterns of executive recruitment in democracies, comparatively. Out of 390 prime ministers in parliamentary systems in the post-WWII era, how many have been former mayors? If you guessed about 10%, you are a bit high. The answer is 34, or 8.7%. Parliamentary parties just do not look to mayors very often for their chief-executive talent.

Twelve of these PMs are from the French Fourth Republic (including Antoine Henrie Queuille, who counts as a newly appointed PM three times). Five more come from Norway (including another three-time appointee, Einar Gerhardsen). In fact, these two countries, France and Norway, account for half the ex-mayor PMs, and two politicians count for almost 18% of them. There is just one British PM in the list, Clement Atlee.

It is worth noting that mayors are far more likely to become president, where there is such an elected executive post, than to become PM in a parliamentary system. About the same number of presidents in the dataset have been former mayors, 37, but this is out of 236 total presidents. This rate among presidents, 15.7%) is significantly greater than the rate among PMs (p=.04). ((It makes no difference to the significance of the finding whether we include presidents in semi-presidential systems, as in the numbers cited here, or look only at pure presidential systems. In the latter, 15.8% are former mayors. How about premiers in semi-presidential systems? Of these 12.81% are former mayors. That rate is statistically different from pure-parliamentary PMs (p=.05), but not from that for semi-presidential presidents. In other words, it is PMs in parliamentary democracies that stand apart from either type of executive in regimes with elected presidents.))

Of course, this pattern is not surprising: mayors in some major cities (including London now) possess a talent that parties in presidential systems desire: proven ability to win a direct election, which often means appealing beyond (and in some carefully chosen ways, against) one’s party. Such skills are not nearly as in demand among parliamentary partisans. What is striking is that the pattern regarding ex-mayors shows up without our having considered whether the politician in question was a directly elected mayor or not. ((It would require additional data collection to determine which of the mayors in the data were elected by the city electorate and which were selected by a city council or appointed by the center, or some other mechanism. I suspect most of those in the data–though certainly not Atlee–were indeed popularly elected.))

None of this means Boris Johnson is not on his way to residing at No. 10. But it does mean he would be a rare case.

Data note. The data reported here come from the data for Chapter 3 of David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Greek party law?

I wonder if anyone knows what the party law is like in Greece. That is, what does it take to register a new party? Are joint lists of two or more parties permitted?

The question arises because in Sunday’s election, there was a clear coordination failure. Anti-austerity parties had a clear plurality of the votes, yet the two establishment parties combined to be one short of a majority of seats–on less than a third of votes.

With the huge bonus in seats–50 out of 300 total–there for the taking by whichever list is largest, the electoral law should provide a strong incentive to coordinate. One possibility is that the regulations on party and list formation work in the other direction.

Yes, Shelly, we know

A few days ago, Ynet carried a story under the headline:

Yachimovich to run for prime minister

This “news” item was in response to an “announcement” by Labor Party Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich of “her intention to run for prime minister against incumbent leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the coming election.”

This is hardly big news. When you are the leader of a party in a parliamentary system you are generally presumed to be said party’s candidate to be prime minister. So we did not learn anything new by this announcement–which makes it seem as if the PM is elected directly, like a president. Which, you may know, Israel tried for a little while, but it was such a disaster that they went back to standard parliamentarism over a decade ago.

So, while we have known since Yachimovich won the leadership contest of one of Israel’s four largest parties that she was thereby a candidate for the top executive post, it is much more difficult to see how she can become prime minister than it is to recognize her intentions. The dynamics of the post-election coalition situation are unlikely to favor Labor.

A parliamentary election is not due till late 2013, but there is continuing speculation that it could be called for later this year.

Kadima leadership primary

Israel’s largest opposition party–actually larger than any party in government–holds its leadership primary Tuesday.

Current leader Tzipi Livni is claiming that the law on parties does not allow one rival to drop out and endorse the other. Can that possibly be right?

The news story does not indicate what the rule is for determining a winner. Maybe someone “out there” knows.

NDP leader chosen

On Saturday, Canada’s Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party, chose its new leader: Thomas Mulcair, MP, of Quebec.

Although there were several candidates, Mulcair always seemed to me to be the most likely of all of them to win. The election–partly on-line and partly at a party convention–took four rounds to decide. (I gather the party uses sequential-elimination majority.)

Much of the coverage seems to be stressing the low turnout (e.g. Huffington Post, CBC), as well as attacks on the on-line voting system.

The turnout was just over half of the eligible membership (around 69,000 out of 131,000. I have no idea whether that is really “low” by comparative party leadership-ballot standards or not. I would like to know, however…

Primaries for party-list candidates?

Should the candidates on party lists, and their ranks, be determined by a system of primary elections? The New Zealand Herald has an editorial on 20 February that suggests primaries for the list tier of the NZ MMP system.

Whatever the calibre of party appointees to Parliament, it seems wrong that they are not subjected to some sort of electoral test. Perhaps list seats should have to be filled by the party’s highest polling losers in electorates – or perhaps an American system of party primary elections could compile the lists.

Some American primaries are open to all voters in the state, others are restricted to voters who have registered with one of the parties. The restricted system could work for party lists under MMP. Candidates for the list could campaign for the support of voters registered with the party for a primary in each region before the election. They would be ranked for list seats in order of their total vote at the end of the primaries.

First of all, let me say that I reject the labeling of party-list candidates, however the list is determined, as party “appointees”. Those who enter parliament via the list are elected–directly elected, even–but via a different method. There is nothing inherently “more democratic” about elections via plurality or other “nominal-vote” rules, nor about open lists, nor about primary elections. ((As for the possibility of having the “list” seats filled by the party’s highest polling losers in the districts, I have already addressed that. I put “lists” in quotation marks here, because strictly speaking, there are no party lists if all of the PR tier is filled in this way.)) Regardless of such arguments, however, are primaries in closed party list systems, including the list tier of a mixed-member system, a good idea?

I am skeptical, although at this point I do not have a fully formed idea about this. I am somewhat biased against primaries in list systems because of the experience of some Israeli parties, but political problems in Israel always seem to be somewhat, shall we say, overdetermined. So maybe primaries, per se, are not the problem.

In this context, it is interesting that today’s news has an article from Israel’s Ynet, “PM speaks out against elimination of Likud primaries”.

The Ynet article is without any context, and no other stories about proposals to eliminate primaries in the Likud have come through my news feed. The story quotes PM, and Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu as saying “The Likud used to [be] very centralized, and we decided to open it up. Today we have 130,000 people, instead of 3,000, deciding who will represent the movement”.

Do only 130,000 people participate in Likud primaries? There were 729,054 voters for Likud in the last general election. So that means that a selectorate equivalent to only around 18% of the party’s general-election constituency is effectively setting the lists. Yes, I recognize that 130,000 is a lot more than 3,000, but even 3,000 is a large (and thus at least potentially representative) body for a “centralized” process. Again, there is nothing inherently more democratic about having a self-selected minority of a party’s voters choosing its lists than there is of having a large conference of party delegates do the same.

I hope readers will offer some comments in favor of, or against, primary elections in closed-list PR systems, because this is an area of electoral systems and party organization where my thoughts are far from crystallized.

Green in runoff for Finnish presidency

In Finland’s presidential election this past weekend, the two leading candidates were Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party and Pekka Haavisto of the Green League.

Niinistö won 37.0%, Haavisto 18.8%. The third-place candidate was Paavo Väyrynen of the Centre Party (KESK), with 17.5%. The Social Democratic Party had an embarrassing result, with its candidate getting only 6.7%, behind the candidate of the True Finns (9.4%). See Robert Elgie’s blog for more.

The Social Democrats currently hold the presidency, having won 46.3% in the first round in the 2006 presidential election, and then 19.1% in the 2011 parliamentary election, so this year’s result is a spectacular fall for the party.

Both runoff candidates’ parties are in the current governing coalition, as are the Social Democrats.

Robert asks the same question I was wondering when I heard of the Finnish result on the news: Is this the first time a Green has qualified for a presidential runoff anywhere? At first I thought so, but then I remembered Colombia’s precedent.

In the run-up to the 2010 Colombian presidential election, polling suggested Antanas Mockus, the Green candidate would not only make the runoff, but might win it. Mockus did indeed finish second in the first round, with a higher percentage (21.5%) than Haavisto just won, but Juan Manuel Santos (46.6%) went on to win the runoff easily.

As Helsingin Sanomat notes, Haavisto would need the support of 71% of the 45% of voters who voted for a now-eliminated candidate in order to win. Despite some labor-union endorsements, that seems like a tall order.

Finland’s constitutional structure is permier-presidential, meaning that the cabinet depends on the exclusive confidence of the parliamentary majority. The presidency was reduced in power by a constitutional reform in 2000.

What were the strong parties in 18th century Europe?

In an otherwise good piece by a Republican insider about why a Newt Gingrich presidency would be dangerous, Mickey Edwards offers this line:

It is why they argued against creating strong political parties like the ones they had left behind in Europe.

The “it” here is the “confrontational” style of Gingrich that, Edwards says, is more responsible than anything else for the current “dysfunctional” nature of American politics. “They” are the drafters of the US constitution.

No argument here about Gingrich’s dangers, or the incompatibility of strong parties (at least when there are just two) with the US Constitution as it emerged from the Philadelphia Convention. And certainly no argument to be offered here against the dysfunction of the US political system.

I just want to know, because I am not a historian of European parties, what “strong political parties” did the early European settlers of America (neatly conflated here with the constitutional founders) leave behind?

Electoral democracy and disciplined parliamentary parties must have emerged rather earlier than I had been aware previously.

The Australian Labor Party conference

By chance, we passed back through Sydney on our way home from New Zealand on the weekend when the Australian Labor Party was holding its conference in the city.

There were posters around downtown announcing various protests on positions taken by the party, including on same-sex marriage and the “offshore processing” of refugees.


This sign says that a conscience vote is not enough. The Labor-led government plans to allow such a vote, meaning that the vote will not be whipped as government policy. Which likely means a proposal for leagalizing same-sex marriage will be defeated, which suits PM Julia Gillard just fine.


Here is a sign announcing a demonstration against the refugee policy.


And here is a view of one of the rallies outside the Convention Centre on Sunday, taken with the telephoto from the 40th floor of the Meriton Serviced Apartments on Kent St.

Australia’s carbon bill passes House

The Australian House of Representatives has passed the government’s carbon tax bill by a vote of 74-72. To paraphrase Joe Biden, this is a B.F.D.

The measure still must pass the Senate, but there the Labor government and Greens combine for a large majority, so it is not in doubt. The House, where Labor has a minority and there is only one Green MP, was where the result was uncertain.

The Green leader, Bob Brown, has claimed that his party was right to block the previous Labor PM Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme, because the now-passed measures offer “so much more” than the previous proposal.

On the other side, opposition leader Tony Abbot has made a “pledge in blood” to repeal it if his Coalition wins the next election. Brown, the Green, does not think the threat is credible. “We’ll be winning more lower house seats, and we’ll be winning a stronger hold in the Senate,” he predicted.

Ontario Greens

Two questions on the Ontario Green Party that I hope someone can answer.

1. What happened to their campaign this time? In 2007, they came pretty close to winning one riding (district). ((I can’t recall which one. So I guess that’s yet another question that I hope someone can answer!)) Apparently they have almost no chance this time, despite this being the year when the national Green Party got its first seat (in British Columbia).

2. Is the Green Party of Ontario really to the right of the Liberal Party (on the socio-economic dimension), as well as more socially conservative? That is what the CBC’s Ontario Votes-Vote Compass says.

The ambitions of a Pirate

DW has an interview with Pirate Party leader Sebastian Nerz about his expectations for the party now that it has broken through in the Berlin legislature.

Key quote:

we’re not merely trying to push political issues, we want to change the way politics are shaped in Germany

That’s a good summary of what Veronica Hoyo ((UCSD Ph.D. 2010; I was a co-chair of her dissertation committee.)) means by a radical party, as opposed to other types of outsiders.