Earlier this week, in trying to understand the Angolan electoral system, I was unsure whether the allocation of the national list seats was compensatory, or in parallel to the provincial district results. In the comments, Miguel was kind enough to quote the relevant sections of the electoral law, confirming that allocation is parallel.

The results show the ruling MPLA won 51% of the vote and the main opposition UNITA 44%. I will take these as given, and not speculate on whether they are the “real” vote totals or a product of “electoral alchemy.” Rather, I am interested in whether the translation of these votes into seats suggests the MPLA chose a system that would benefit it considerably, or not.

The MPLA has won 124 of the 220 seats. That is 56.3% of the seats, for an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.10. How does this compare with an “average” electoral system? I checked my dataset, restricting it to “simple” systems, even though Angola’s is not simple, and to those that are not FPTP or other M=1. The average across 377 such elections is… 1.12.

In other words, if the MPLA was trying to give itself a considerable seat advantage from this electoral system design, it kind of failed.

There is certainly one aspect of the electoral system design that looks like “rigging” via the rules: The provincial tier is highly malapportioned. The 18 provinces vary widely in population, yet each elects five members. See the images with preliminary vote totals in another comment from Miguel or see the CNE site, which also includes seats now. Given the use of D’Hondt at this level and the ample margins in rural provinces, the MPLA won 4-1 in several districts (and 5-0 in one)^{1} and 3-2 in all others aside from the three where UNITA was ahead. (UNITA won 4-1 in Cabinda.)

What undermines the MPLA’s own advantage considerably is the nationwide list component, which constitutes just under three fifths of all the seats (and uses Hare quota and largest remainders). If the MPLA had really wanted to create a system to advantage itself, it could have done so by making this tier smaller, or by various other designs.

I do note that UNITA is somewhat underrepresented. Its 90 seats is 40.9%. Given 44% of the votes, its advantage ratio is 0.928. Across a subset of electoral systems fitting the criteria I referred to above, this is quite low. In fact, the average for second parties is 1.075. (Subset because my dataset does not currently have second party shares for all elections; there are 147 elections here.)

In this sense, the electoral system’s design did indeed punish the main opposition. So if this was the MPLA goal, mission accomplished. The malapportionment must be a main cause of this, combined with the parallel (non-compensatory) allocation of the national seats. It should be noted as well, however, that with only two big parties, if one is overrepresented even a little bit (as the MPLA was), the second will probably be more underrepresented than would be the case in a multiparty system more typical of PR electoral systems.

Interestingly, much of the disadvantage to UNITA went to the advantage of smaller parties instead of to MPLA. There were three other parties, each of which won 2 seats. Two seats is 0.91% of the assembly; these parties had from 1.14% to 1.02% of the votes apiece. These small parties won only in the national district, where the only threshold was that a party could not win a seat by remainder unless it had already won a seat.^{2} Given that the national district is 130 seats, it could easily have supported even more parties than the five that won at least 2 seats. The largest party to win no seats had 0.75%. A simple quota for this district would be 0.769%, so this party was below the weak threshold anyway.

The effective numbers of parties were 2.20 by votes and 2.06 by seats–note not much difference there.^{3} The deviation from proportionality (Gallagher’s “least squares index”) was 4.44%. The latter figure, using again my set of simple non-FPTP systems, is not much different from average (4.87%). So all in all, despite the unusual electoral system, it is not a terribly remarkable result in terms of election indices.

As far as the effective seat product is concerned, for a parallel system I have found the satisfactory method is to take the geometric mean of what we would get if the basic tier were the entire system and what we would get if the system were compensatory. The seat product of the basic tier of this system is straightforward: district magnitude of 5, times tier size of 90 gives us 450. The formula for compensatory based on these parameters (an update and slight modification of a method I have shown here before) would yield an effective seat product of 3844. But because it is actually parallel, we take the geometric average of these values, which is 1315.

An effective seat product of 1315 is in the general range of the simple seat product Norway had (1297) before it adopted a small compensatory tier after 1985, or Peru’s in 1980 or 1985 (1296), and also not much smaller than Switzerland’s (1540).^{4}

The disproportionality we should expect from an effective seat product of of 1315 would be around three percent; the actual 4.4% is thus not too much higher. The seat share of the largest party in this election is about 1.4 times expectation^{5} from such a seat product and the effective number of seat-winning parties is about 0.62 the expectation. Obviously, this is due to MPLA political dominance. Or perhaps due to unfair vote reporting. That I can’t say. What I can say is that, despite a fairly unusual combination of extreme malapportionment in one tier and a greater than 50% parallel national tier, the impact this electoral system had on the seat allocation and disproportionality was not anything too out of the ordinary.

Finally, an interesting question but one I will not attempt to answer is whether, had UNITA won a narrow plurality of the nationwide vote, could the MPLA have retained a plurality or even majority of the assembly seats? Given the malapportionment and parallel allocation, I will say *maybe*. However, once again, I will point out that if they had wanted to ensure they could “win by losing,” the design they came up with was perhaps a little too “fair” to really be in their best (presumed to be anti-democratic) interest. On the other hand, if they are open to a gradual transition to democracy, and perhaps losing a fair election in five or ten years’ time, the system isn’t too bad. It plays to the MPLA’s regional strength yet does not overrepresent it greatly, and it creates space for the opposition, both UNITA and other parties, to operate.

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Notes

- MPLA won 4-1 in Cuanza Sul, Moxico, Namibe, Huíla, and Cuando Cubango. It won 5-0 in Cunene (where the votes split 82.9%–14.4%). It is really striking that most of these strong MPLA districts are in the south, where UNITA was most present in the civil war. Meanwhile, the UNITA pluralities are Luanda (the capital and largest by far), Cabinda (the non-contiguous oil-rich enclave in the far north which has had a separatist movement) and Zaire (also in the northwest).
- It is not clear to me if this means a party could have won a provincial seat and thus been eligible for a remainder seat in the national district, or it had to have won a quota of nationwide votes. In any case, as all provincial seats were won by MPLA or UNITA, this detail would not have affected the results of this election.
- If I knew nothing other than that the effective number of vote-earning parties in some election was 2.2, I would expect the effective number of seat-winning parties to be around 1.72, based on logically derived, and empirically supported, formulas in
*Votes from Seats*. - By comparison, if we used the “as if compensatory” estimate of 3844, we would be in roughly the range of single-tier systems like Finland (3076 in 2019) or another former Portuguese colony, East Timor (4225). Indonesia is also in this seat-product neighborhood (4134), as was the French PR system of 1986 (3174).
- A ratio of actual to expected of 1.38 is near the 90th percentile for over a thousand elections, simple and complex, in the dataset (and would be about the same if I looked at just the simple non-FPTP subset).