‘MP not 4 sale’

I am looking through my photo archives to see if I have anything that would be good for a book cover. The one below is a favorite, although not likely to make the grade as a cover image. It is the office front of the campaign of Tamsin Osmond in the constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn, UK, just before the 2010 election. The office was located on Finchley Rd. at Frognal. Across the street was a billboard for David Cameron and the Conservative Party, reflected in the office window.

Tamsin Omond for MP_1.JPG

The posters on the door are interesting. One refers to Osmond as “The election’s most enthusiastic candidate” and the other says “party politics is dead.”

The constituency was a three-way marginal in 2010. In fact, that was one of the reasons for choosing to stay there. We rented an apartment (at the Langorf–Frognal spelled backwards). An advantage of staying in a short-term rental rather than a hotel during an election campaign is you get campaign flyers through the mail slot! Such as this one:
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We also obtained this very optimistic one.
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Optimistic, but not absurdly so, at the time. The weeks we spent in the UK were the height of “Cleggmania” and if the LibDems were going to make the breakthrough that some polls hinted could be coming, Hampstead & Kilburn was the sort of place in which they were likely to be winning. And the Conservatives were worried. Note how Philp’s flyer points out how far behind the LibDems were in the local elections (upper right of front) and thus they “can’t win”; thus only the Conservatives can beat Labour in this constituency. On the lower right of the flip side, “vote LibDem, get Gordon” Brown (the Labour leader and incumbent PM).

In the election, Osmond won 123 (presumably most enthusiastic) votes. The incumbent MP, Glenda Jackson (the actress) was reelected with 32.8% of the vote and a margin of 42 votes (yes, forty two) over Philp. The margin over the third place candidate, the LibDem, was 841 votes. A Green Party candidate had 759 votes, just short of the total votes separating first from third. In addition to Osmond, there three other candidates (including one each from the BNP and UKIP) combining for 827 votes. It was quite an interesting constituency!

Other reasons for staying there: It was close to a stop on the express bus to Luton, where we were catching our El Al flight to Israel a few days after the election. It was also walking distance to a fascinating synagogue* (which we attended for Shabbat), which also happened to serve as the local polling station.

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Sign to the polling station in front of the church on Belsize Square. The synagogue where the polling took place (and which I was able to spend a few minutes in on election day) is just past the church.

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* Note that “helping out on Mitzvah Day 2009” is among Chris Philp’s demonstrations of his local leadership. The constituency includes one of London’s major Jewish communities.

Divided government in Ecuador?

Ecuador held elections to the Presidency and National Assembly (the unicameral legislature) on 19 February. Conveniently-named leftist Lenin Moreno received 39.4% of the vote for the Presidency, comfortably ahead of centre-right rival Guillermo Lasso, who received 28.1%. However, victory in the first round of presidential elections in Ecuador requires a candidate to be ten points ahead of their nearest rival, and to receive 40% of the vote: obviously, Moreno did not meet the latter condition. A runoff will therefore be held on April 2.

The second round looks to be a relatively close contest, on account of third-placing centre-right candidate Cynthia Viteri (who won 16.3%) endorsing Mr Lasso and fourth-placing candidate Paco Moncayo (who won 6.7%) declaring his opposition to Mr Moreno. One poll shows Mr Lasso with a four-point lead.

However, there is no second round for the Assembly, which, as far as I can tell, is elected through party-list proportional representation with an average district magnitude of 4.2. Members are mostly elected using provinces as districts, though some large provinces are divided into multiple districts.

The Assembly elections resulted in an absolute majority for Mr Moreno’s party, the PAIS Alliance, securing 73 seats to 32 for Mr Lasso’s party (Creating Opportunities, or CREO) and 15 for Ms Viteri’s (the Social Christian Party, or PSC) out of a total of 137. In terms of votes, the PAIS Alliance won slightly less than they managed for the Presidency (39.1%), while the opposition was more divided (CREO 20.0%, PSC 15.9%).*

ecuador-chart

If Mr Lasso wins the runoff, the story will largely resemble that of Peru, and to a lesser extent Argentina; candidate wins narrow victory in second round after trailing in the first, but is in a weak position in the assembly, with the first round ‘winner’ having a majority.

Mr Lasso will be in a substantially different position to the Peruvian president, Mr Kuczynski, whose ministers are subject to the confidence of the assembly: rejection of the cabinet three times allows him to dissolve the assembly. The Ecuadorian constitution requires a two-thirds vote to impeach Ministers (Art. 131); CREO on its own would be unable to defeat such a motion.

One option that Mr Lasso has available to him is dissolution of the assembly. Article 148 provides for dissolution by the President if “in his/her opinion, it has taken up duties that do not pertain to it under the Constitution, upon prior favorable ruling by the Constitutional Court; or if it repeatedly without justification obstructs implementation of the National Development Plan or because a severe political crisis and domestic unrest.”

The National Development Plan is written by the National Planning Council, apparently headed by the President. It thus seems plausible that the President could write such a plan for his agenda, and then argue for dissolution on the basis of the opposition failing to pass bills on that agenda.

Regardless of whether Mr Moreno or Mr Lasso wins, the two results (Ecuador and Peru) would seem to call into question the logic of combining an electoral system for the assembly that can very easily give a majority to a party with less than 40% of the vote against a divided opposition with an electoral system for the presidency that could deny that party the presidency.

*The vote totals here are those for the twelve ‘national’ members of the Assembly, elected by all voters. ‘Provincial’ members, those chosen by party-list within provinces, are elected on a separate ballot. The National Election Council does not furnish overall totals for the provincial ballot, and a cursory examination shows no substantial difference between provincial and national votes.

Olives


By JD Mussel

img_20161102_173530The olive is one of the Biblical Seven Species (shiv’at haminim – שבעת המינים) of the Land of Israel. Growing up in the Lower Galilee, picking olives from our backyard tree was a yearly affair I enjoyed helping my parents out with from a young age. Although, once, we took some of our olives to an olive press in a nearby Arab village, my father would usually cure them in salt water with garlic, lemons, bay leaves and chili peppers. We’d pretty much have a year-round supply of olives at the dinner table, of which I was an avid consumer by the time we left Israel when I was 12.img_20161105_170610

Like Israel, most of California has a Mediterranean climate, and it so happens that UC Davis has many olive trees around campus. Having seen these soon after arriving in September I soon noticed that they still went unpicked in October. I called up the university grounds department, and was told I could take as many as I wanted. Naturally, I leaped at the opportunity…img_20161112_010736

 

 

And so, last month, after twelve weeks of waiting, they were ready.

 

img_20170205_142157I am very grateful to my parents for the inspiration and, of course, for the recipe.

 

New Brunswick electoral reform proposal (yes, again)

The New Brunswick Commission on Electoral Reform has issued its report, “A pathway to an inclusive democracy”.

There are many recommendations regarding changes to voting procedures in the proposal, but those that focus directly on the electoral system are as follows (quoting form p. 19):

The government enhance the voting system by moving to Preferential Ballots.
Š Consideration be given to some form of Proportional Representation during the process of considering the redistribution of electoral boundaries.

While preferential ballots could mean STV, from the overall context of the report, it is clear that “Preferential Ballots” is a term limited in application to the alternative vote (instant runoff), in other words keeping single-seat ridings (districts). The weak “consideration” for “some form of” PR follows an indication earlier in the report that exploration of proportionality was “not within the mandate of the commission”, but that the commission would be “remiss” not to address the issue.

New Brunswick once had an electoral commission report in favor of a mixed-member proportional system. The recommendation was never put to a vote–notwithstanding that the decision to shelve the proposal came after yet another anomalous outcome in a provincial election. And that anomaly was not the last, so far, even if the latest election was somewhat “normal” (by FPTP standards).

Given its record, New Brunswick has an “objective” need for electoral reform if any democratic jurisdiction does. I doubt the alternative vote really is the answer to its electoral needs. And, given the recent past in the province and elsewhere in Canada, including at the federal level, it might be getting ahead of the story to expect even such a tepid reform to happen. But there the issue is, again, in a nice independent report.

Spain: not a federation, but not strictly unitary – video

VanDeGraph of youtube recently put up an excellent video explaining Spain’s autonomous regions.

He does a very good job of explaining the crucial distinctions between between federal and unitary states[1], and why Spain, despite its very high degree of decentralization, is not (strictly speaking) federal – and, by implication, why some countries which do not actually call themselves federal probably are (e.g. South Africa).


[1] I do, however, disagree with VanDeGraph’s distinction between federations and confederations as hinging on the right to secede, or that federalism necessarily excludes this right.

France: Outsider vs. outsider?

The rise of Emmanuel Macron in polls for the French election has been impressive.

France is likely to get a president who is an “outsider”. But not the ultra-nationalist norm-trashing outsider. France has a sensible electoral system for choosing presidents that will prevent such a disastrous travesty of democracy–unlike the United States.

Sometimes the news media gloss over the important detail of the runoff. For instance, although a CNBC story mentions that there are two rounds of voting for president, it still gives a false, context-free impression: That Marine Le Pen’s recent decline in the polls, relative to Macron, means that her chances of becoming president are “slipping”.

No, there was never a realistic threat of her winning, because of that second round. A French president must win over half the votes. Unlike the US, where you don’t even need the highest vote total.

It seems almost certain now that the top two will be Le Pen and Macron. There is even some chance that Macron will win the first-round plurality (aided by the recent withdrawal of Francoios Bayrou from the race), although it does not matter which is first and which is second.

Unless Francois Fillon recovers–which seems unlikely–neither of the mainstays of the established French party system, the Republicans (as the main center-right force now calls itself) nor the Socialists, will be in the runoff.

The candidate of the incumbent Socialist party, Benoit Hamon, has almost no chance of making it. The recent backing of Yannick Jadot, a former Greenpeace director who had been running, is hardly going to do the trick. And he has apparently failed to make a deal with the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. (The combined support of these two maybe would be enough to squeak into the top two–if Hamon did not bleed support by linking up with Mélenchon, as almost surely would be the case.)

Thus the contest will be between two “outsiders”, by which I mean candidates having no ties to major parties represented in the National Assembly. Of course, Le Pen has a party, the Front National, that gets substantial votes, but is unable to win many districts under the two-round (majority-plurality) assembly electoral system.

Macron, on the other hand, has no existing party–just a “movement”, En Marche! With assembly elections coming up very soon after the presidential elections, “he is recruiting candidates from all backgrounds to stand at parliamentary elections in June” (Economist article, second link above).

We normally expect a large boost for the president’s party when elections are held very early in the term–a honeymoon election. He has to make a party fast, if he is to take advantage.

The DNC is not the party leadership (in any meaningful sense)

Quick political science lesson. Political parties in the US are non-hierarchical.* That’s a fancy way of saying neither their candidates for office nor their platforms are determined by a central authority.
In other words, the DNC chair is not worth getting all worked up over. If you want to change the party, get some candidates who can win primaries for state legislative and congressional races. Oh, and make sure that said candidates also could realistically win the general election. That is all.

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* As explained in Chapter 6 of A Different Democracy.