Proposals for Israeli political reform–again

One thing I like about following Israeli politics is that there is no lack of willingness to propose institutional reforms to deal with (real or perceived) problems of governance. They are not always good ideas (see the term limit proposal proposed by a party in the outgoing coalition), but it is good that there is a willingness to debate ideas for political reform.

A news update from the TOI today mentions a couple that are in play during the current election campaign. The National Unity Party, led by Benny Gantz and Gideon Saar, is proposing to (1) require more than an absolute majority for the Knesset to dissolve1 itself, and (2) not make the failure to pass a budget a cause for automatic dissolution.

The second of these is an excellent idea, and I have thought for some time this should be changed. The problem with the current provision was on display in 2020 when then-PM Benjamin Netanyahu prevented the alternation of the premiership to which he had agreed from going ahead by withholding votes for the budget, thereby forcing an early election and breakup of the “unity” government. That the planned alternation would have been to Gantz is surely why the latter now wants to change this provision. Regardless of motive and experience of the proposer, the idea is sound. While it may seem straightforward that the inability to pass a budget is evidence of a lack of parliamentary confidence, it need not be so. I believe there are other parliamentary systems that can run on an automatic “continuing resolution” (borrowing a term from US politics), at least for a set period of time, if no new budget has been agreed. It is sensible as a way to prevent coalition partners from forcing an early election “passively” as opposed to actively attaining a majority for dissolution or government replacement.

As for the supermajority–specifically 70 members (58.3%)–to dissolve, the idea goes well with the proposal on the budget, and more importantly with the existing constructive vote of no confidence. Under the latter rule, in place since around 2015, the Knesset majority is not able to vote to dismiss the government unless there are 61 votes for a specific alternative. The new provisions proposed by National Unity would cement the notion that the government remains until the Knesset votes in an alternative (or the regular term ends).

Provisions for a parliament to dissolve itself are not the norm. Israel is an unusual case in this respect as far as I know.2 It is probably permitted elsewhere (see the Early Parliamentary General Election Act passed in the UK in 2019) if not specifically prohibited, but I am not sure I could name another case where a common path to an early election is the parliamentary majority passing a law to set a new election. Regarding having a super-majority vote to set an election, it is reminiscent of the debates leading up to the Fixed Term Parliament Act passed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition in the UK in 2011.3

The TOI update also notes another proposal, this one from the Yisrael Beiteinu party (Avigdor Liberman). It would require at least 90 members of the Knesset to bring down a government within two years of its formation. That’s a 75% majority requirement! The TOI says the first proposal of National Unity mentioned above is “similar” to this one from YB. But it is not similar! A super-majority for dissolution of the Knesset is consistent with the parliamentary form of government. A super-majority for dismissal of a cabinet is contrary to the very core of the parliamentary principle. I do not know where else such provisions can be found, other than Papua New Guinea4–not normally a shining model of effective governance that others seek to emulate.

The constructive vote of no confidence already introduces some potential for separation of powers (more to the point, of separation of purpose) in that a government potentially can face majority opposition yet remain in office. Yet it preserves the core of the parliamentary principle by ensuring that if a majority of the voters’ elected representatives prefers a different coalition be in power, it can proceed immediately to enforce its preference. Shielding a government from such majority preference, and allowing it to govern for up to two years unless a very substantial super-majority votes it out, is a recipe not for stability but for deadlock.

Gantz’s two reform ideas are promising. Liberman’s is very bad.

____

Notes

  1. As I have probably said before, technically the Knesset is never dissolved. It continues to hold legislative authority, albeit normally remains out of session, between the calling of an early (or regular) election and the installation of the new Knesset after the election. Lacking a good alternative term, I will go on calling it “dissolution.”
  2. Papua New Guinea has such a provision, I learned as I was drafting this. See Article 105.1.c: an absolute majority of parliament may vote to dissolve.
  3. The Johnson government repealed it with the passage of The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022.
  4. See the PNG constitution, Article 145.4: “A motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or in the Ministry may not be moved during the period of eighteen months commencing on the date of the appointment of the Prime Minister.” PNG also has a constructive provision that applies for most, but not all, of the term (145.2.a: “A motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or the Ministry… moved during the first four years of the life of Parliament shall not be allowed unless it nominates the next Prime Minister”.)

France 2022: Assessing the honeymoon election and towards a model of the impact of election timing on the president’s party’s seats

Was the French 2022 honeymoon election one that defies the usual impact of such election timing? Not to offer a spoiler, but the answer is yes and no.

Back around the time of the presidential runoff, I restated what I often say about elections for assembly held shortly after a presidential election: they are not an opportunity for the voters to “check” the president they have just chosen; presidential and semi-presidential systems just do not work that way. Well, usually. It seems hard to escape the notion that voters did just that–by holding Emmanuel Macron’s allies in Ensemble to less than a majority of seats, and by delivering bigger than expected seat totals to the Mélenchon-led united left (Nupes) and even to Le Pen’s National Rally (RN).

There will not be cohabitation, which was what I really meant in the French context when saying that honeymoon elections were not an opportunity to check the president. The results have not offered up any conceivable assembly majority that would impose its own choice for premier on Macron. I was also generally careful to say that I thought Macron’s allies would win a majority of seats, or close to it. They are relatively close, but considerably farther away that I expected, on about 42%. So, how does this outcome compare to honeymoon elections generally?

I have prepared an updated version of a graph I have shared before. An earlier version appears in Votes from Seats, as Figure 12.2. The x-axis is elapsed time, E, defined as the share of the period between presidential elections at which the assembly election occurs. The y-axis is the presidential seat ratio, RP, calculated by dividing the vote share of the party (or pre-electoral alliance) supporting the president by the president’s own vote share in the first or sole round. The diagonal line is a regression best fit on the nonconcurrent elections (those with E>0), and is RP=1.2–0.7E.

I added the France 2022 data point and label a little larger than the others, to call attention to it. The most notable thing is that this is the only case of a really extreme honeymoon–defined loosely as those with E<.05 but E>0–to have a value of RP<1.00. So in that sense, it is a poor performance. There are other honeymoons for which E≤0.1 that are below RP=1.00, including Chile 1965 and Poland 2001. In the Chilean case, the result obtains simply because the right did not present its own presidential candidate, but ran separately in the congressional election. Although this post is focused on honeymoon and other nonconcurrent elections, I also added labels to the two cases of concurrent elections (E=0) that have unusually low presidential vote ratios. Note that on average, RP in concurrent elections tends to be a bit below 1.00, as a combination of strategic voting and small-party abstention from the presidential contest leads assembly voting to be more fragmented than presidential voting, hence lowering RP. However, in very early term elections, the president’s party/alliance almost always gains. So France 2022 is unusual, but not a massive outlier. In fact, in terms of distance from the regression line, it is about equivalent to France 1997 or El Salvador 2006 (labelled).

We see that the 2022 election also features the lowest RP of any of France’s six honeymoon elections to date. The 2002 election (Chirac) produced an especially huge boost, whereas the 2017 election, when Macron had just been elected the first time, is almost on the regression line. (The regression does not include elections after 2015 because the dataset was collected around then; I added these more recent ones to the graph directly.) I also want to call attention to Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s 2019 honeymoon result in Ukraine for Servants of the People, as it is also among the most extreme honeymoon vote surges recorded anywhere as expected, perhaps aided by how uninstitutionalized that country’s party system has been. (If I wanted to be provocative, I’d say that factor also has been present in France, given frequent realignments on the right, the emergence of Macron, etc.)

(As an aside, I was somewhat surprised that an outlier, the one case of E>0.6 to have RP>1 is the French late-midterm election of 1986. This is remembered as the election that produced the first cohabitation of the French Fifth Republic. But the vote share of the Socialists was still considerably higher than Mitterrand’s own vote share in the presidential first round of 1981, when the Communists had presented their own candidate.1)

So much for the votes. I was wondering what happens if we look at seats? Strangely I had never done this before (at least with this dataset). This graph has as its y-axis the seat share of the president’s party (or alliance) divided by the president’s own first or sole-round votes, which I will call RPs. The x-axis is the same. In addition to plotting a best fit line, the diagonal, I also added the 95% confidence intervals from the regression estimates to this graph. There is also a lowess (local regression) plotted as the very thin grey line. Note how flat it is for a long portion of the term, a fact related to a point I will come to at the end (and also suggesting a more complex than linear fit may be more accurate, but I want to keep it simple for now).

The regression line here is very close to RPs=1.5–E, which is a wonderfully elegant formula! It says that at a midterm election, a president’s party’s seat share would be, all else equal, the same as his or her own vote share half a term earlier. At a truly extreme honeymoon election–imagine one held the day after the president was elected, but with the result known–the seat share would be about 1.5 times the president’s vote share. At an extreme counter-honeymoon it would drop to around 0.5. So where did Macron’s Ensemble come out in the election just concluded? His RPs=1.52! So the party actually did about what the average trend says to expect. It was his 2017 surge that was higher than we perhaps should have expected (although, again, not as high as Chirac’s in 2002).

The result in the second figure is obviously holding constant the electoral system, so it should be taken with a grain of salt, given the importance of variation in electoral systems in shaping the size of the largest party (which is usually the president’s party, at least until we get to midterms and beyond).

What I find particularly elegant about the equation is its suggestion that midterm elections are no-effect elections, in terms of seat share for the president’s party. This was presumably what major party leaders were going for in the Dominican Republic when they shifted to the world’s only ever case (to my knowledge) of an all-midterm cycle. Both president and congress were elected to four-year terms, each at the halfway point of the other. (Actual outcomes during were not always no-effect, though on average they were close2; they have since changed back to their former concurrent elections.) This may seem a surprise to readers who know the American system and its infamous midterm decline, but actually the midterm-election median in the US is 0.969. In an almost pure two-party system, anything below 1.00 might look bad, and be both politically consequential and also somewhat over-interpreted. But 0.969 is not really that much below 1.00! Okay I am cheating just a little by reporting the median. The mean is 0.943; it is brought down by a few major “shellackings” like 2010 (0.891), although 1990 was worse (0.719, in this case because G.H.W. Bush had won such a big landslide of his own).3

In concurrent elections, the regression suggests also that on average, RPs is around 1.00. For the US, the median is 0.979, and the mean is 1.009. Note how it is higher than the midterm average, but perhaps not as much as one might expect.4

At this point, both these equations are just empirical regression best fits, not logical models. There is logic behind the general effects of electoral cycles on a presidential party’s performance, but not a logical basis for the specific parameters observed. I would very much like to have such a logical basis, but I have not hit upon it. Yet.

(Considerably nerdier and some rather half-baked stuff the rest of the way.) Such a logical model may be closer now that there is a simple and elegant empirical connection between presidential votes and seats. Seat shares are more directly connected to parameters of the electoral system than votes shares are–even vote shares for assembly parties, but vote shares for presidential candidates are a good deal more remote from the assembly electoral system. Nonetheless, in Votes from Seats we do derive a predictive formula for the effective number of presidential candidates, based on the assembly’s seat product. A regression reported in the book confirms its plausibility, but with rather low R2. From that formula one could get an expected relationship for the leading presidential candidate’s vote total, vp. It would be vp = 2–3/8[(MS)1/4 +1]–1/4. We already have, for the seat share of the largest party, s1=(MS)–1/8. It so happens that these return the same value at around MS=175. Expectations of vp<s1 or s1<vp would then depend on whether MS (mean district magnitude times assembly size) is higher or lower than 175; for most presidential systems it is a good deal higher (the median in this sample of elections, including semi-presidential, is 480). Tying this observation to the one about midterm elections (E=0.5) yielding actual (not predicted) sp=vp and accepting for simplification that the president’s party seat share (sp) is also the largest party seat share, at least in elections that are not after the midterm, might be a path towards a model. But that may take a while yet. Below I will copy a table of what the formulas for vp and s1 yield at various values of seat product, MS, for simple systems. These values of s1 are without regard to elapsed time when the assembly election takes place.

Table of expected values of presidential vote shares (pv) and largest assembly party seat share (s1)

MSpvs1ratio_s1_pv
10.651.001.54
100.600.751.26
250.570.671.16
500.560.611.10
1000.540.561.04
1500.530.531.01
1750.520.521.00
2000.520.520.99
2250.520.510.98
2560.510.500.97
3000.510.490.96
5000.500.460.92
10000.480.420.88
100000.420.320.75
250000.400.280.70
500000.390.260.67
1000000.370.240.64
2000000.350.220.61
Note how we would expect president’s parties to have a seat share greater than the president’s own vote share at low MS due to system disproportionality, but higher as MS increases beyond 175, presumably because of strategic behavior being different around the majoritarian presidential election and the more permissive assembly electoral system. The smallest MS observed in this dataset for a (semi-)presidential system is 124 (Sierra Leone, 2002, 2007). The largest is 202,500 (Ukraine, 2006, 2007). For nonconcurrent elections, the minimum MS is 240 (Chile, 1997, 2001).

Footnotes

  1. Also, Mitterand himself had finished second in the first round, with 25.9% of the votes (the incumbent, Giscard, had 28.3%). The Communist candidate had 15.4%. In the 1986 election, Socialists won 31% of the votes, for RP=1.2. (I am not counting the Communists as part of Mitterrand’s alliance by then, as he had fired the Communist ministers that were in his initial cabinet.)
  2. The values for RPs in these Dominican elections were: 0.587 in 1998, 0.975 in 2002, 0.945 in 2006, and 1.067 in 2010. So other than that first run, if the no-effect was what they wanted, they basically got it.
  3. [Added, 21 June.] I somehow forgot that my first publication on this topic, in the APSR in 1995, also used seats as its outcome of interest–but it was change in seat percentage for the president’s party from the prior assembly election (with president’s vote share as a control). Looking back on that pub, I see that my regression there would agree with my updated analysis here in suggesting that midterm elections, all else constant, are no-effect elections. The regression line clearly passes very near the change=0, E=0.5 point in the article’s Figure 1. And, yes, in that article I commented on this as a “particularly striking feature” (p. 332).
  4. The way I set up the regression, its constant term would be the RPs when E=0, a concurrent election. This constant is actually 0.95, but its 95% confidence interval includes 1.00 (it is 0.844–1.057). The coefficient on the nonconcurrent dummy is 0.552, from which I get the approximation, 1.5, in the equation in the second figure (summing this coefficient and the constant). The coefficient on E is –1.072. R2=0.215.

Israel’s stable coalition

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Ever since the current broad-yet-narrow coalition government in Israel was formed, it has been something of a sport for various journalists covering Israeli politics to predict its early demise. I cautioned otherwise at the time. [Note: see UPDATE at very bottom of post, 16 June]

It may be that the coalition really is in its death throes, even as it has only just passed the one-year mark of its planned three-year term. I have lost count of the number of individual members of coalition parties who have announced a “strike” or a “freeze” whereby they stop voting with the coalition for a period of time to try to get some measure they favor passed (or something they oppose stopped). Most of them have made clear that they would not defect to the opposition or vote to call an early election. But some (I think three dating back to the original investiture vote) have outright defected. The coalition fell to a 60-60 deadlock with the opposition when Idit SIlman (Yamina), coalition whip, went over to the opposition in April. More recently, there was one member from Meretz (the left-most flank of the coalition), Ghana Rinawe Zoabi, who announced she was leaving–bringing it to 59–but then walked it back a few days later after mayors of Arab towns persuaded her to stay. The most recent defector is Nir Orbach from Prime Minister Naftali Bennet’s Yamina Party, who has said “I am not part of the coalition,” putting it back, apparently, at 59 active members (where “active” might include, at any given time, one or two on “strike” of some presumably temporary sort ).

The question is whether a government can survive when it has 61 or more announced opponents in the 120-member Knesset. A majority opposed means it is done, right? Well, not necessarily. Israel has a full constructive vote of no confidence. This means a government can’t be voted out by a parliamentary majority unless that majority is simultaneously electing a replacement government. There is almost no prospect of this happening, as it would require the Joint List (of mostly Arab parties) to be willing not just to passively tolerate a Likud-led (and, yes, Bibi Netanyahu) government, but actively vote for its installation. This is almost impossible to imagine, so in this limited sense, the government may actually be stable.

We are talking about Israel, a country whose politics are notably unpredictable, so there are other scenarios that can’t be entirely ruled out. Maybe at least two of Blue & White (Benny Gantz, 8 seats) or New Hope (Gideon Saar, 6) or Yisrael Beteinu (Avigdor Liberman, 7) will surrender their current ministerial posts and vote for a new coalition with Likud as a partner if not leader. Each has as at least as many seats as the Joint List (6), and if the two bigger of these parties defected, they could then form a majority without either the Islamist Ra’am party (4 seats), which backs the current coalition, or the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist party. All three of the lists I mentioned as hypothetical defectors from the current ministerial team have been burned in the recent past by Netanyahu; it also means Liberman has to join up again with the Haredi parties, which would be a big backtrack from a position he’s held firm on since 2019. So it is hard to see what they gain by enabling his return to power. Never say never, but it seems unlikely. That suggests that indeed, at least as far as no-confidence votes are concerned, the coalition is still stable, and could remain so even if suffered another defector or two.

Stable in terms of remaining in power. Of course, it can’t pass legislation if the opposition unites against it. But that is a big “if.” Just this week, the first reading of a tax measure passed against the coalition’s declared position, but it was only 51–50. In other words, while the government may have trouble mustering a majority, it is not a sure thing for the opposition, either–even on a bill sponsored by a member of Likud. Then there is always the possibility of a selective member or two from outside the coalition voting with the government on specific bills. The government may not be able to pursue its most ambitious legislative agenda, but it probably can pass bills here and there (as well as continue executing laws already passed in a way favorable to its agendas to the extent permitted).

The bigger obstacle is the next budget. This is the one way a government can fall without losing a constructive vote of no confidence. The next budget bill must be passed in March, 2023. This vote, however, does not require 61 members of Knesset. More yes than no is sufficient. So that is a somewhat easier obstacle for the government, although by no means an easy one.

The final way–and the most likely way–that it could be forced out is if the Knesset votes to set an early election. This requires 61 votes, but it can be a negative coalition (i.e., we don’t want this Knesset and government to continue), rather than the positive vote (here’s a new government we are putting in now) like the constructive vote of no confidence. Orbach, the most recent defector from Yamina, stated in his announcement that, while he was leaving the coalition, he would not vote for early elections. He said instead that he would work to form an alternative government from within the current Knesset. We have already been over why that is not likely. At least as of now, it does not seem that there are 61 votes for an early election.1

Thus, unless the government simply resigns, it may continue on, despite its current difficulties. The constructive vote of no confidence really does enhance the potential for “separation of powers” (or better, separation of purpose) whereby the assembly majority opposes the government but does not have the means to replace it–in this case, because it does not agree on what the replacement should be (and does not favor going to elections).

So it may seem strange to call the Israeli coalition “stable” in its current situation. But if “stable” simply means that it can survive, then it is stable unless there are multiple further individual defections or a surprise change of heart by two or three of the party leaders who made this government possible in the first place. There are certainly other ways we might define whether a government is “stable” but by this criterion, and at this moment, it’s stable.

  1. Another consideration here is that the coalition agreement provisions that were put into Basic Law (i.e., Israeli’s constitution in all but name) have stipulations about the interim period after an “alternating” government like the current one has its term ended early via the setting of elections. If there are at least three defectors from Bennet’s (right-wing) side of the government, Alternate PM Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (center-left) automatically becomes PM. An election would be at least three months from the passage of the bill calling the election, and given that there is no guarantee that the election would result in a Knesset that could have a majority for a government (meaning potentially yet another election or elections, like 2019–21), those on the right voting for this option would be risking a signifiant period of time with PM Lapid. An Israeli government in this position is no mere caretaker. It is a government, period. I put all this in a footnote because I do not take it too seriously. The Knesset does not actually dissolve in the period between passage of a bill calling an election and the time the new Knesset is elected. It can still function. And these measures were passed by… 61 votes. Therefore, if 61 votes exist to call an election, 61 votes probably also exist to repeal the provisions and allow Bennet to remain as PM. Still, there would be some risk to right-wing politicians doing this, as they could not do these acts–call the election and repeal the provisions–simultaneously. So an agreement to do so could fall apart. But I’d think they could pull it off.
  2. UPDATE (intended to be part of the previous footnote but Word Press won’t allow a new paragraph here without putting a number in front of it): I just heard of a twist on all this that I wasn’t aware of, from Haviv Rettig Gur on the Times of Israel Daily Briefing podcast. The bill regulating legal matters in Judea and Samaria, which expires at the end of June—and which Likud and allies say they won’t vote for (even though expiration would be bad for some of their voters)—would get an automatic 6-month extension if the government falls before 30 June. Thus some members from the right of the coalition may want to pull the plug to save (temporarily) the status quo of the otherwise sunsetting legislation—even if it meant an interim PM Lapid. On the other hand, the polls aren’t great for the opposition and Netanyahu may not want to provoke an election now—“assessments are changing daily.” (This paragraph added 16 June, 6:30 a.m., PDT)

France assembly 2022: Putting the prospects for NUPES in context

The first round of the French 2022 National Assembly election is on 12 June. As readers of this blog recognize, this is an extreme honeymoon election, owing to the short time that has elapsed since the presidential election. In that two-round contest in April, Emmanuel Macron was reelected, winning 27.9% of the vote in the first round and 58.6% in the runoff.

The runner-up in the presidential contest was Marine Le Pen of the extremist National Rally, with 23.2% in the first round and 41.5% in the runoff. In a close third place was the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with 22.0%. In the period since the runoff results were known, Mélenchon has led the formation of a left alliance known as the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union (NUPES). (See the series of very helpful comments from Wilf at an earlier post, where he shared news stories about the coalition bargaining as it was taking place.) Mélenchon has not been shy about his goal, proclaiming that he is running to be premier. If this happened, it could usher in a period of cohabitation, defined as president and premier from opposing parties and the president’s party not in the cabinet. (I say “could usher in” because there’s always the possibility Macron’s party would be in a cabinet headed by Mélenchon, although if the latter actually were premier–and especially if NUPES won a majority of seats–that would be rather unlikely.)

As readers of this space will know, I find such an outcome extremely unlikely. Honeymoon elections do not work that way. They are not a second chance for voters to “check” the president. They confirm the mandate the voters have just conferred on the new (or newly reelected) president. Or do they? Maybe this will be a special case. That is what I am setting out to explore in this post.

Regarding “normal” honeymoon elections, see the post on France that I wrote in 2017, just before the presidential runoff, suggesting that Macron’s then-new party would get around 29% of the vote, and be the largest party. It actually won almost exactly that, 28.2%, and given both allies and the majoritarian two-round electoral system, Macron ended up with a large assembly majority. See the graph in that post, which also appears in Votes from Seats, and shows how nearly all elections early in a presidential term result in rather significant surges for the president’s party. The graph shows something called “Presidential Ratio” graphed against “Elapsed Time.” The ratio, RP, is simply the vote share of the president’s party, divided by the president’s own (first or sole round) vote share in the preceding presidential election. The elapsed time, E, is the percentage of the time between presidential elections at which the assembly election takes place.

For all non-concurrent elections, a best fit shows a steep slope starting at about 1.2 if the honeymoon election is immediately after the presidential election, and dropping steadily as assembly elections occur later in the period between presidential elections. It crosses the 1.00 line (indicating identical assembly and presidential vote shares) at around E=0.28, or just past the quarter mark, then drops to around 0.84 when E=0.5, encompassing the well known midterm-decline phenomenon. Given that for France in 2022 (as in 2017 and some previous cycles), E=0.017, we expect RP=1.19. Taking Macron’s first-round vote of 27.9%, his party should win around 33.1% of the votes. Presumably that would be a plurality and would again be sufficient to win a majority (or close to it) in the assembly when the two-round process is all said and done. Or should we be sure that would be a plurality this time? Let’s see.

Please remember that the equation of this line for presidential vote ratio is not a logical model (like the Seat Product Model or the Cube Root Law), and in any case, even logical model predictions get tripped up by real politics at times! Maybe this honeymoon election will be different. Macron won many voters in the runoff who would have preferred Mélenchon but felt they had to vote to stop Le Pen. There may be much more energy on the side of NUPES than is normal for an alliance that backed a loser.

So how surprising would a good performance be? I decided the best way to put a potential answer to this question in context was to go back to my dataset and augment it with votes data from runners-up and third-place presidential candidates. I have never looked into this before! So here we go…

First, let’s see what it looks like for the party of the candidate who finished second in the second or sole round of presidential voting.

We see that honeymoon elections are really bad for your party if you just lost the presidential election as the runner-up! All data points are below the 1.00 line until nearly E=0.3. The dashed curve is just a lowess (local regression) curve. I did not continue it much past the midterm, because the data get rather sparse late in the term. Not because there are no such elections (again, see the graph for presidential parties), but because the farther you go into the term, the more likely the runner-up’s party does not exist in a recognizable form. Presidential and semi-presidential systems can be that way.

In France 2022, it was Le Pen who finished second, and I do not think anyone would be surprised if her party got less than two thirds of what she won (in other words, around 15%). In fact, it will probably be much worse than that for her.

The topic of interest here, though, is the third presidential candidate’s party. Here is what that graph looks like:

Interestingly, the party backing the candidate who came in third quite often increases its support in a honeymoon election. In most cases, that probably comes predominantly at the expense of the second candidate’s party. But there is probably no reason why it could not come from the winner’s, in a case where there was a good deal of strategic voting in the presidential election (or specifically, in a runoff).

The curve is pretty level until E=0.2, with a mean of almost 1.5. Given how sparse the data are–there are lots of presidential elections with no third candidate or where the third had no party–I would not draw too much of a conclusion from this. However, note that 1.5 times Mélenchon’s vote would reach 33%, or almost exactly what we “predict” for Macron’s La République En Marche! (The exclamation point is in the party name, although you should be as excited about this convergence of their potential shares as I am!) If one were to add in the votes of the other presidential candidates whose parties since have joined NUPES, perhaps we would “predict” a voting plurality for Mélenchon.

So, while I still do not think Mélenchon is going to become premier, this data exploration has led me to believe it would not be as shocking a development as I initially assumed. It could be that this is the honeymoon election that has the ideal convergence of factors to generate an upset. And make no mistake, if a just-reelected president were to be forced to appoint as premier someone opposed to him, it would be an upset. On the other hand, polls do show it will indeed be close, at least in the first round.

Canada confidence-and-supply agreement, and irresponsible opposition

The Canadian government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have forged a confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democratic Party (NDP). Under the terms of the deal, set to run thorough June, 2025, the NDP publicly commits to supporting the Liberal minority cabinet on budget and confidence votes, in exchange for the government advancing some NDP policy priorities. Seven policy areas are mentioned in the agreement itself. One of the key priorities–in fact, the first item in the list–is a dental care program, which has been a campaign pledge of the NDP in recent elections. There are proposals for “making democracy work for people,” but in case anyone is wondering, no, electoral system reform is not on the list.

Predictably, figures within the opposition Conservative Party is decrying the “back room” deal (as if it were not public–it is on the official government website, after all–and as if bargaining processes themselves were ever productive when carried out in a “front room” of scrutiny). But two candidates vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party have gone well beyond normal criticism of such a deal or the policies it will lead to. Jean Charest accused the government of ignoring the results of the election and of embracing an “anti-democratic” ideology. Patrick Brown said “the will of Canadians has been subverted.” (There are several contenders for the leadership; the party has been with an interim leader since shortly after its 2021 election defeat. Among the contenders, Charest and Brown would actually be considered relatively moderate!)

These are irresponsible statements, and are playing on ignorance about how parliamentary democracy works. Quite contrary to Charest’s statement, the Liberal-NDP agreement is precisely how democracy should work. Canada has a parliamentary form of government (far superior to the presidential form, by the way). Governments must maintain the confidence of the majority of elected representatives. If no party has a majority on its own—something the Conservatives have managed to achieve just once since 1988–then inter-party agreements stabilize the government and facilitate passage of policies favored by parties representing a majority. 

As for “will of Canadians” most political scientists would caution that there is no such thing as a general will. What makes democracy work is accountability at the next election, and cooperation between elections. That is what this agreement is about.

I believe it is not the first such agreement in Canadian history, although it is the first of many minority governments in some time to have such an explicit agreement. Broadly, there are three options when an election in a parliamentary system does not result in one party attaining more than half the seats. (1) Two or more parties can form a coalition cabinet; (2) one party can govern alone with a public commitment from a support party (or parties) in parliament; or (3) one can govern alone and seek case-by-case support from various parliamentary parties on specific bills and on the annual budget. One could add other options, as well, such as act as if you are the majority and dare the opposition to combine and vote you out, or call an early election and try to win a majority. The latter is, of course, precisely what Trudeau attempted in 2021, and the result ended up being hardly any different from that of the 2019 election.

This agreement represents the second of those three main options. The NDP gets no cabinet seats, and thus it is not a coalition. The NDP commits specifically not to vote against the government on budget or no-confidence votes, while the Liberals agree to take up some NDP policies. Thus the Liberal Party does not have to worry about the NDP joining with other parties against it, nor do the Liberals have to attempt to please the Conservatives or Bloc Quebecois in order to gain support for legislation. Thus it is firmly in the category of public commitment between a minority government and a support party. (Like all coalition and confidence-supply agreements, it is not legally binding, and either side could elect to break it at any time.)

It is worth noting that the Seat Product Model expects no-majority situations to be a regular occurrence. Given the district magnitude (1) and assembly size (currently 338), we should expect the leading party to average around 48% of the seats. Over time, this is very close to what we have observed. Since 1997, the first year the House of Commons had over 300 seats, the mean seat share of the largest party has been 49%, and the median has been 47.3%. The Liberals currently hold 47.0%. Five of nine elections since that time have resulted in less than 50% of seats, while the others have returned majority governments. Over the entire period since 1949, eleven of twenty four elections have returned minority situations. So roughly half of elections result in no majority, which is about what we would expect from a seat product that predicts about half the seats, on average, for the largest party.

Canadian party elites and the public thus should have got used to the idea that a majority is not the natural outcome of an election. They should further get used to the idea that, as a result, parties might strike deals to enable minority government to be stable and successful at implementing policy. Yet the habits of majoritarianism die hard, especially when both the empirical record and the Seat Product Model show that majorities always are a likely outcome, even if not necessarily the most likely at any given election. The majoritarian habit is even harder for the Conservatives to kick, given that they currently have no viable partners, and if they form minority government, their best hopes are either case-by-case deals or provoking early elections and hoping vote splits among other parties and wedge issues allow you to get a majority (both of which were practices during Stephen Harper’s two minorities before winning a majority in 2011). If the consecutive elections with similar results in 2019 and 2021 have convinced at least some party elites that a more consensual style is needed, it would mark an advance for Canadian democracy. But not an advance the Conservatives are going to find it easy to reconcile themselves to. Hence their resort to claiming inter-party cooperation is an illegitimate and anti-democratic practice, when that could hardly be farther from the truth.

The political system of Guyana

What do we consider the political system of Guyana to be? On the one hand, there is an official who is both head of state and head of government, who is determined by nationwide plurality vote. On the other hand, the constitution, in Article 106, paragraph 6, states:

The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.

Thus the president is clearly subject to majority confidence, like a parliamentary head of government–President David Granger and his cabinet fell due to a vote in December, 2018. Superficially, this implies a form of elected prime-ministerial government (like Israel 1996–2001), in that an elected head of government, and the cabinet, must maintain confidence in order to stay in office. Thus we appear to have separate origin and fused survival. Moreover, the president has no veto power other than suspensory (article 170, para. 4-5), and no other constitutional legislative powers that can be used against the majority of parliament.

It is, however, questionable whether we should conceptualize the executive’s origin as separate. The president is elected as the designated candidate on the list of the party that wins a plurality. On this point, the constitution, at Art. 177, says, in part, that a list of candidates for parliament,

shall designate not more than one of those candidates as a Presidential candidate. An elector voting at such an election in favour of a list shall be deemed to be also voting in favour of the Presidential candidate named in the list.

There is thus no separate election for president. On the one hand, this could be classified as just another case of fused-ballot presidential election, like the Dominican Republic and Honduras have had at times in the past. (I do not generally consider these systems non-presidential just because voters can’t ticket-split between president and congress, although a case could be made for considering them in a distinct class.) On the other hand, defining the president as the head of a winning party list, rather than as a separate candidacy, could be said to be no more separate origin than we have in Botswana and South Africa (cases I consider unequivocally parliamentary). What is unclear to me is what happens in Guyana if the plurality list in the parliamentary election is opposed by a multiparty post-electoral majority in parliament. Is the head of the plurality list still president? It seems so. Yet Art. 106 implies such a leader would not remain in office.

It is thus unclear how this case should be classified, and I think I have tended to ignore it in the past. Now that I am planning no longer to ignore it, I need to decide if it is “parliamentary” or “hybrid.” There might be a case to be made that this is just a parliamentary system where the leader’s election only appears direct and separate. Or it could be that it is a hybrid of separate election but parliamentary-style fused survival through the no-confidence mechanism in Art. 106.

I should note that there is a constitutional office of Prime Minister, so unlike in Botswana or South Africa it might be odd to say that the “President” is really a prime minister on account of being dependent on parliamentary-majority confidence. However, the PM is clearly a subordinate appointee of the president (and also serves as Vice President, and the President may appoint others to be Vice Presidents as well). So I would not let this quirk determine which executive-type box I put the case in.

As for the country’s electoral system, it appears to be a straightforward case of two-tier PR. There are both regional multi-seat districts and a nationwide PR tier, and it seems there is full compensatory allocation. (See constitutional article 160 or the election results at Psephos.) This would make it one of the few two-tier PR systems outside of Europe (leaving aside the question of whether MMP–found in New Zealand, Lesotho, and Bolivia–is a sub-type of two-tier PR or not). Thus the case is valuable for my goal of maximum coverage of both simple and two-tier PR around the world. (For instance, my recent queries about small dependent territories and free-list systems, and ongoing efforts to make sense of remainder-pooling systems.)

But does Guyana have a parliamentary system, some sort of parliamentarized hybrid presidential system, or an elected prime-ministerial system?

Tunisia power grab: And a challenge to claims that premier-presidentialism avoids ‘perils’

Add Tunisia to the list of countries with events that likely qualify as an autogolpe. The elected president, Kais Saied, has undertaken a power grab in which he “froze” parliament, dismissed the prime minister, and announced he would rule by decree.

Tunisia’s system of government, since the emergence of democracy following the fall of the dictatorship in 2011, is premier-presidential. This is the subtype of semi-presidential regime that is generally thought to have good institutional safeguards against presidential over-reach. The elected presidency of Tunisia has constitutionally limited power. It is worth quoting some of the constitution’s provisions that pertain to presidential authority. For instance, Article 70:

In the event of the dissolution of the Assembly, the President of the Republic may, with the agreement of the Head of Government, issue decree-laws which shall be submitted for ratification to the Assembly of the Representatives of the People during its next ordinary session.

The Assembly of the Representatives of the People may, with the agreement of three-fifths of its members, authorize by law for a limited period not exceeding two months, and for a specific purpose, the Head of Government to issue decree-laws of a legislative character, to be submitted for ratification to the Assembly immediately after the end of the period of authorization.

The electoral system might not be amended by decree-laws.

Note that the Head of Government (prime minister) must agree to decrees that occur during dissolution, which in any case must be submitted to the assembly. However, in the current case, the president has already dismissed the PM and dissolved (“suspended”) the assembly. The second paragraph allows for delegated degree powers, but not to the president, and only by a super-majority.

What about dissolution power? Article 77 includes within its list of presidential powers:

Dissolving the Assembly of the Representatives of the People in accordance with provisions of the Constitution. The Assembly shall not be dissolved during the six months following granting confidence to the government, or the six months following legislative elections, or during the last six months of the presidential or parliamentary terms.

The dismissed PM had been appointed in February, 2020, so more than six months ago. Thus perhaps a dissolution could be permissible. However, does the president have authority to dismiss the PM? Articles 97 and 98 govern the process of government termination, and do not give the presidency any unilateral dismissal authority. The government depends on the exclusive confidence of the assembly majority. This is why I class it as a premier-presidential system. Moreover, per Article 89, the president has almost no discretion in who will be appointed prime minister. The process is quite “parliamentary” in that the leader of the largest party must be tasked first, and if that leader fails, then the “person judged most capable to form a government.” If after four months there is no government approved by the assembly majority, then there may be a dissolution and call for early elections. In other words, the president has no unilateral parliamentary dissolution power just as he has no government dismissal authority.

What about emergency power? Article 80 allows for a state of emergency “In the event of imminent danger threatening the nation’s institutions or the security or independence of the country, and hampering the normal functioning of the state… after consultation with the Head of Government and the Speaker of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People and informing the President of the Constitutional Court.” The article goes on to restrict the president’s powers under a state of emergency, including that “The Assembly of the Representatives of the People shall be deemed to be in a state of continuous session throughout such a period.” Obviously, this article has not been followed.

The president claimed he was acting within the constitution. I am not a constitutional lawyer nor any sort of authority on Tunisia. But as I read the constitution, he is lying about respecting institutional order, and has carried out a coup against the government and legislature.

In many of my own writings I have been quite favorable to premier-presidential constitution designs, on the grounds that they provide clear restrictions on the powers of the president, and give presidential aspirants strong incentives to build parties or links to parties in order to sustain an allied government in office. Tunisia now is an example that strains this argument. This president is an independent, elected with 72.7% in the second round on 13 October, 2019, after having secured only 18.4% in the first round on 15 September (his nearest opponent had 15.6% and the third candidate 12.9%–both runners-up were party-backed).

The last assembly election was on 6 October, 2019. Aside: Is this only case ever in which an assembly election has been between rounds of a presidential election? In the assembly election, the largest party was the Islamist party, Ennahda, on only 19.6%. (Their candidate finished third in the presidential first round.) Ennahda won 52 of the 217 seats (24.0%). The second largest party, Heart of Tunisia, won 14.6% and 38 seats; this was the party of the other presidential runoff contender. No other party broke 7% of the vote. The effective number of seat-winning parties is presumably in excess of 8.0.*

Thus we have here a case of extremely high party-system fragmentation, combined with a president lacking party ties. This is the classic Linzian “perils of presidentialism” combination. However, premier-presidential systems are supposed to overcome these perils (although Linz himself had his doubts). One case does not disprove a thesis, and maybe Tunisian democracy would have broken down even if there were no directly elected presidency. Nonetheless, the precise means of breakdown–an autogolpe carried out by an outsider nonparty president–should give us pause about the claim that premier-presidentialism is an antidote to the perils of presidentialism.

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* I can’t say precisely because the source I am using–Wikipedia–groups 12 seats under “independent lists” which obviously should not be treated as a single party; if it were a single party, the effective N would be 7.85.

No confidence vote succeeds against Swedish government

The government of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was ousted in a no confidence vote with 181 votes against it in the 349-seat Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, on 21 June. The prime minister has a week to decide whether to go to a snap election or resign to allow the speaker of parliament to facilitate the negotiation of a new government. According to Reuters, this makes Lofven “the first Swedish prime minister to be ousted by a no-confidence motion put forward by the opposition.” If there is a snap election, it would be the first since 1958.

The government is a minority government of the Social Democrats and Greens, with a policy-based agreement to allow it to govern signed with the Centre and Liberal parties. It also has had tacit support from the Left Party, but the agreement with the two center-right parties calls for the Left to have no policy influence. This is where things got delicate, as a policy of easing rent controls prompted the Left to vote against the government. Reuters notes:

“Rental reform is part of a platform agreed between the government and the Centre and Liberal parties and is not a policy the Social Democratic party is keen on.”

The Left leader, Nooshi Dadgostar, says that, despite voting with the right against the government, it would never help “a right-wing nationalist government” take power. The mention of “nationalist” refers to the Sweden Democrats, the third largest party, whose gains in the 2018 election greatly complicated building governments and parliamentary support. See the comment thread on the 2018 election for an interesting discussion of Sweden’s fraying ideological blocs and the challenges of building cross-bloc support. It was the Sweden Democrats who proposed the no-confidence motion.

An election would not otherwise be due till September, 2022, and recent opinion polls do not suggest that an early election held in the very near future would produce a result much different from that of 2018. So maybe the parties in the current government, its support parties, and the Left will somehow come to an agreement to reconstitute an arrangement, minus the specific policy measure that ruptured parliament’s fragile tolerance for this government.

Small parties heading government: What are the costs and what can we learn ahead of possible Bennett-Lapid rotation in Israel?

The following is a post by Or Tuttnauer, based on a thread on Twitter. I asked Or if I could turn it into a F&V post, and he kindly agreed.

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In Israel, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Naftali Bennett (Yamina) are trying now to form a cabinet, with Bennett the first prime minister in a rotation between the two. One problem (among others) – Bennett’s party commands only 6% of the parliament. Critics say he will lose even that at next election if he takes a turn as PM. Will he?  

I looked at  http://Parlgov.org  data of 474 PM-parties in 29 countries over 70 years (1945-2015) and how they fared in the next elections.

As the scatter plot shows, the vast majority of these parties lose votes in subsequent elections. Governing has its costs. But most PM parties are much larger than Bennett’s.

To figure out how change in vote share depends on vote share, I ran a regression with the former as DV, and the latter as well as its square value to allow for non-linearity. Turns out most parties lose votes, but not the small ones – below 30%. These are parties smaller than the average or median PM-party in the data (37% and 36%, respectively). For these smaller ruling party, the predicted gain or loss is indistinguishable from zero. Compared to the fortunes of the larger ruling parties, not losing, and not gaining votes is good news. Lucky for Bennett! 

But wait! what about ideology? Bennett’s party is also far from the centre, isn’t that a precarious position for a ruling party? Well, if we add an interaction with extremity, we see that at the very low end, extreme parties of up to 15% vote share seem to actually gain votes. This is intriguing. Perhaps (as suggested to me by Matthew Shugart), these extreme parties gain credibility after heading a government and are therefore perceived in the next elections as more moderate or mainstream than their ideology would otherwise suggest, leading to a wider electoral support. However, it may also be that there are too few cases in this range to make a meaningful inference.

So, should Bennett risk it and be PM? I say yes. First, if you follow Israeli politics, you know this is better than the alternative (if you don’t, trust me). Also, you don’t get many chances to become PM. And political narratives – like history – are written by the winner.

Appendix

Below is the list of past cases of small PM parties, their extremity, and their vote share change at the next election.

CountryPartyCabinet start dateCabinet nameExtremityvote share (t)Vote share change
BELPVVVLD12-Jul-99Verhofstadt I2.005314.31.06
NORKrF17-Oct-97Bondevik I0.851613.7-1.2
SVNNSI16-May-90Peterle2.9345131.51
ISLA28-Jun-59Jonsson II0.555612.52.7
NORKrF19-Oct-01Bondevik II0.851612.5-5.7
DNKV19-Dec-73Hartling2.29212.311
BELPVVVLD10-Jun-07Verhofstadt III2.005311.83-3.19
FRARPR20-Mar-86Chirac II2.499711.57.7
ITAPSI4-Aug-83Craxi I1.227811.42.9
BELCVP13-Jun-10Leterme III0.766710.850.76
NORSp12-Oct-65Borten I0.34359.8-0.8
NORSp7-Sep-69Borten II0.343592.03
POLPC23-Dec-91Olszewski0.55568.7-4.28
NLDARP7-Jun-71Biesheuvel I0.80678.590.25
FINRKP-SFP5-May-54Torngren1.39066.8-0.3

Candidacy for prime minister

In presidential systems, it is clear who is a candidate for the position of heading government–anyone who enters the election as a formal candidate for president. What about in a parliamentary system? This seems like a trick question. I assume it is straightforward: A person who is the leader of a party can be assumed to be a candidate for prime minister.

We might qualify that definition of candidacy for prime minister by saying it only applies to the leaders of parties expected to be among the largest in the election. Perhaps leaders of clearly minor or sectarian parties can be dismissed as candidates for the post as they are deemed as highly unlikely to claim the post. However, in presidential systems, we would not define someone on the ballot as “not a candidate” just because he or she was considered unlikely to win the job. Is the standard different in parliamentary systems?

As a starting point, I do not really think it should be. “Candidates” who finish second, third, or even lower in votes in parliamentary elections occasionally do end up as prime minister, whereas only in very rare cases can anyone lower than second in votes become president (and being second in a final or sole round of voting can be sufficient currently only in the USA.*)

Our default, then, should be that, absent a good reason to believe some party is uninterested in heading the government, or no parties would ever let it do so, or that someone other than whoever is the formal party leader is likely to be prime minister should the party be able to fill the post, any party leader is a candidate for prime minister. However, this default may be incorrect, at least in the political discourse of any given parliamentary system.

Take the case of Israel 2021(a?). Twice during the campaign, statements about candidacy for prime minister have entered the media and inter-party conversation. In early March, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett made a statement that he was indeed a candidate for prime minister. At the time, my reaction was basically, no kidding. While his party would likely be too small for its leader to be PM, it does sometimes happen that some party within a coalition other than the largest provides the PM, and Bennett is his party’s leader and top-ranked candidate. Therefore, he is a candidate. Yet he felt there was political advantage in asserting so. In other words, what I called the “default” evidently is not.

Then more recently, Benjamin Netanyahu (the incumbent PM, leader of Likud, and most definitely a candidate for the top post in this election) said he would not debate opposition leader Yair Lapid unless the latter declares he is a candidate for prime minister. I do not think anyone doubts that Lapid is a candidate for the post, but somehow he has to utter the words in order for the incumbent to debate him. The back-story here is that Lapid has been trying to avoid a head-to-head fight and simply position himself as part of a broad replace-Bibi block, and not appear too ambitious to get the job himself. He has implied that he would accept not being PM even if his party, Yesh Atid, were to be the biggest party in the anti-Likud bloc. All polls for many weeks have said the party will be the largest such party, but Lapid is not ruling out allowing someone else–presumably either New Hope leader Gideon Saar or even Bennett–to take the post if that is what is needed to replace Netanyahu. Regardless of declarations, isn’t Lapid clearly a PM candidate? Yes!

So I am genuinely puzzled by contention over which party leaders formally declare themselves to be candidate for prime minister and which ones do not. I wonder if questions of this sort come up often in other parliamentary campaigns.

(Note: I hope to get a pre-election preview post up as I have done for Israeli elections back to 2006 or so. The election is this coming Tuesday, so time is getting short. Anyway, for now, I guess this is the pre-election post. But watch for another possible one.)

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* Bolivia once had a president who had finished third in the sole round of popular voting. This was possible because the rule at the time was the congress selected from the top three if none had a majority. Later the rule was changed to two-round popular majority.

The Canadian parliamentary vote on using the term, genocide

On 22 February, the House of Commons of Canada voted to label persecution of the Uighur people by the Chinese authorities a genocide. I am not interested for purposes of this blog post in whether that is the right label or not (that’s way beyond my competence or the focus of this blog). I am interested in the unusual nature of the vote.

It was unanimous among those voting, 266-0. However, the government did not take part in the vote. The governing Liberal Party currently has 154 of the House’s 338 seats. Thus as a minority government (see 2019 election result), the possibility of a measure passing over its abstention (or outright objection) is always a possibility even if the party itself votes with the government. In this case, obviously, some Liberals voted for the measure, but most were absent. Only two MPs were present but formally registered an abstention, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who declared he was abstaining “on behalf of the Government of Canada.”

I am not sure how frequently votes pass in this manner, especially on sensitive diplomatic matters, either in Canada or in other parliamentary systems. I am also not sure what the practical (as opposed to symbolic) meaning of such a vote is when the government is not on board with it.

Term limits for a prime minister?

Lots of presidents have term limits–either one term or two, typically (and with variations in whether an interim out of office permits a later return). But terms limits on prime ministers are rare. The only cases that come to mind are Botswana and South Africa. Just to confuse things, those countries call their chief executive “president”; however, they (together with their cabinets) are responsible to the majority in the assembly, and thus these are prime ministers in the sense of heads of government whose political survival depends on parliamentary confidence.

Given the small number of cases, there may not be much of a literature in political science or law about term-limiting prime ministers. I am wondering if readers are aware of anything that one should read to understand the implications and possible motivations for term limits on assembly-responsible executives.

The question of term-limiting the prime minister comes up now and then in Israel, including in the current campaign, where New Hope Party leader Gideon Saar has said the first bill he would advance if he becomes Prime Minister would set a term limit of eight years. The idea has come up also in the past. Once upon a time, apparently even none other than Benjamin Netanyahu thought it was a good idea; this was, of course, before serving 2009–21 (and perhaps beyond) in the position. The issue comes up at times elsewhere as well (such as Grenada and St. Kitts and such a measure was passed, controversially, in Iraq). (Edit: in a comment, JD notes that Belize and Thailand have term limits in their prime ministers.)

I would generally suspect that the logic of term limits (prevent one person from monopolizing power) fits poorly with the logic of parliamentarism (the head of government serves at the pleasure of the assembly majority). But apparently any such poor fit does not prevent the idea surfacing here and there. It would be especially challenging to formulate a workable term-limit provision in a country that often has early elections–sometimes very early and frequent ones–like Israel.

Presidentialization is still a thing

With the second impeachment of Donald Trump, we can say that one piece of good news is that Samuels and Shugart (2010) are still right. In our book, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, one of our claims is that parties in presidential systems face a severe dilemma: On the one hand, they need leaders who can win a separate popular election. On the other hand, the leaders selected for that purpose may not always share the goals of the party, but the party is basically stuck with the president, given the fixed term. While impeachment and removal are usually available under constitutional provisions, it is almost an iron law that parties do not vote to impeach their own president.

On 13 January, and in the wake of the insurrection of 6 Jan., this theory was put to a severe stress test. In fact, the day before the impeachment vote, it looked like the dam had broken and there would be many defectors from the Republican Party, who would join with Democrats and vote to impeach. The biggest blow was Liz Cheney, with the no. 3 position in the GOP House leadership, announcing she would vote to impeach. That seemed like it could give cover to others who wanted to break with the president after his reprehensible actions the week before. The New York Times reported that Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, “and other party leaders have decided not to formally lobby Republicans to vote “no”.” Moreover, according to the same report, the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell believed Trump had committed impeachable offenses.

Yet, in the end, there were only ten defectors. While this is the highest number of Representatives from a president’s own party to have joined an impeachment vote in US history (all four such votes), it is only about 5% of the total number of party members in the House. Normally, we would think of 95% unity as pretty high, and thus the case of Trump’s impeachment conforms, so far, to the theory: the president’s party does not vote in favor of a process that could lead to removal of its own leader, the president.

By contrast, the book shows that for about a third of prime ministers in parliamentary systems the manner in which they leave office is due to their own party replacing them between elections. Fundamentally, prime ministers do not have fixed terms and are agents of their own parties. Presidents, on the other hand, typically cease to be agents of their parties upon being nominated and especially upon winning the presidential election. This is the key argument of the book: “Presidentialization” effectively reverses the principal–agent relationship, as party members have strong electoral and other incentives to follow the lead of the president whose term does not depend on their ongoing support.

Presidents’ parties may not always support the president’s legislative initiatives (although in most cases, they follow the big ones, even when such initiatives deviate from normal party priorities–see Chapter 8 of the book), but they do usually hold the ranks together when it comes to a co-partisan president’s continued tenure in office. Apparently, even after incitement to insurrection over refusal to accept a lost reelection bid, and even with only a week to go in the term.

In connection with the above argument, some have asked what about Richard Nixon? Had he not resigned, it would have been a bipartisan impeachment and removal. This is probably correct. We also have other cases in our dataset of presidents who resigned for one reason or another. Obviously, in these cases, we are unable to observe an impeachment vote, so they are outside our theory. We can thank Nixon and others for sparing their parties the need to violate an iron law!

More seriously, there is probably, theoretically, some floor of presidential approval below which the dynamic changes. I do not claim to know where that floor is, but Nixon probably breached it when his approval hovered near 20% at the end. Given the small N problem, this remains entirely speculative. The logic might be something about tipping points of support in the party member’s own constituencies, as opposed to a parliamentary party, which typically has a more collective leadership that looks out for swing voters who determine its ability to retain executive control in future elections. And in multiparty systems, this modelling would get even more complex. Lots of PMs lose office due to coalition collapse. Presidents rarely go out that way. There is the case of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil (2016), but it conforms to the theory: her party voted 0-10 in the Senate against conviction. Ultimately, her problem was that her party had only 10 of the 81 seats! (They had also voted 0-60 against impeachment in the Chamber of 513 total members.) There was also the case of Park Geun-hye in South Korea in 2016, where some unknown number of members of her party may have voted to impeach. The reason it is unknown is the vote is secret. If the logic of members not dumping a co-partisan president is tied to electoral incentives (fates of legislators tied to that of the president), then a secret vote would break that. In the book we also mention the case of Raúl Cubas Grau in Paraguay (1999), forced out during an impeachment vote by his own Colorado Party. In this case, the party held a super-majority, and could do it alone without fear of electoral blowback. We discuss some other cases with splits in a party. The bottom line is that there is nothing routine about impeachment, and the calculation of president’s co-partisans is usually that it is unwise to break with the leader who won your own voters’ support in the most recent election. Trump’s case would be the only one I am aware of in which the most recent presidential election was one he had lost, but we still saw a very high degree of overlap between vote for House GOP winners and votes for the president, meaning that a break is essentially saying to voters, sorry, you voted for a crook, so let us set things straight for you.

So 13 January may not have been a good day for American democracy, but it was a good day for comparative institutional political science.

Republic of Barbados?

Barbados may begin a process of transition to a republic. The representative of Queen Elizabeth II, Governor General Sandra Mason, announced such a plan in her throne speech in September. Of course, that means it is the government’s program to abolish the monarchy.

An article about this in The Economist mentioned that such plans do not always go smoothly. It cites the case of Trinidad and Tobago, already a republic since 1976, where the head of state (a president selected by parliament) got to “pick the winner” in a situation (1997) that saw two parties tied for the plurality of seats. The author concludes that “fears of a similar confrontation [between president and sitting prime minister] may have led some Caribbean leaders to reconsider their support for republicanism.”

However, there is no necessary reason why the roles of head of state and head of government need to be separate. Nor must it be left to discretion by the head of state when there is an unclear result of the election. These states could adopt something like the Botswana and South Africa models: The parliamentary majority elects a single individual to serve in both roles. Call the person the “president” or the “prime minister” as you wish. But as long as he or she, and the cabinet collectively, depend on confidence of the majority, it is still a parliamentary democracy (albeit maybe not a Westminster system).

In the most recent election (2018) the Barbados Labour Party won all 30 seats. It was a huge win in votes, too, with 72.8%. (In only two of the single-seat districts did Labour win less than 60%.) Still, it would seem that perhaps a more pressing matter might be not the head of state but electoral reform to avoid total sweeps like this.

Attorneys General–institutions matter

Now that indictments have been announced against the (outgoing–dare I say?) Prime Minister of Israel, it is worth reviewing the institutional basis of the office of Attorney General in Israel.

I am seeing some casual takes on Twitter about why the US doesn’t have an Attorney General who takes a tougher line against law-breaking at the top of government. But the offices could hardly be more different. The US Attorney General is a cabinet appointee. The President picks who holds that position, subject only to Senate majority confirmation. Of course, Trump has had a highly compliant Senate majority throughout his presidency.

Trump could not have had occupants of the office that have been as awful for the rule of law as they have been, if the office were structured like Israel’s. So it is worth sketching how the process of appointing the Israeli Attorney General works. My source for this is Aviad Bakshi, Legal Advisers and the Government: Analysis and Recommendations, Kohelet Policy Forum, Policy Paper No. 10, February 2016.

a. There shall be formed a permanent selection committee that shall screen suitable candidates, one of which shall be appointed to the position by the government. The term of each committee shall be four years. 

b. The chairman shall be a retired justice of the Supreme Court who shall be appointed by the President (Chief Justice) of the Supreme Court upon the approval of the Minister of Justice, and the other members shall be: a retired Minister of Justice or retired Attorney General appointed by the government; a Knesset Member elected by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset; a scholar elected by a forum comprising deans of law schools; an attorney elected by the Israel Bar Association. 

c. The AGI term duration shall be six years, with no extension, irrespective of the term of the government. 

d. The government may remove the AGI from his position due to specific reasons.… These reasons include, in addition to personal circumstances of the AGI, disagreements between the AGI and the government that prevent efficient cooperation. In such an event the selection committee shall convene to discuss the subject and shall submit its opinion to the government, in writing. However, the opinion of the committee is not binding, and the government may decide to remove the AGI contrary to the recommendation of the committee. The AGI shall have the right to a hearing before the government and before the committee. 

All of this makes for a reasonably independent office. Even if appointment and dismissal are still in the hands of the government, the screening and term provisions make it an arms-length relationship. The occupant of the post is obviously not a cabinet minister, as in the US, and is not a direct appointee of the head of government or the cabinet.

Worlds apart, institutionally.

And this is even before we get into the parliamentary vs. presidential distinction. A president is–for better or worse–meant to be hard to indict, let alone remove. That’s why the main tool against a potentially criminal executive in the US and many other presidential systems is lodged in the congress, through impeachment, and not in a state attorney. A prime minister in a parliamentary system, on the other hand, by definition has no presumption of a fixed term.

The normal way to get rid of a PM is, of course, a vote of no-confidence or the PM’s own party or coalition partners withdrawing support. But that’s the point–they are constitutionally not protected when the political winds, let alone the legals ones, turn against them.

In the broader institutional context of a parliamentary system, it is presumably much easier to take the step of also designing an independent Attorney General’s office that has the ability to indict a sitting head of government.

On the other hand, there is still no obvious way to remove Netanyahu from office any time soon, unless his own party rebels against him. Even though Trump’s own party will probably block the super-majority in the Senate needed to remove him from office*, the resolution of the case against Trump might happen considerably sooner than any resolution of Netanyahu’s case. Barring a rebellion by his current allies, Netanyahu may remain PM fore another 4-5 months, through a now-likely third election (since last April) and the post-election coalition bargaining process.

* Assuming the House majority impeaches him, which now looks all but inevitable.