Did Greece just have a normal election?

The Greek general election of July, 2019, may have been about as “normal” as they get. After the country’s period of crisis–economic and political–things seem to have settled down. The incumbent party, Syriza (“Radical Left”), which saw the country through the crisis got booted out, and the old conservative New Democracy got voted in.

Of course, around here when we refer to an election as “normal” it means it conforms to the Seat Product Model (SPM). Applying the SPM to an electoral system as complex as that of Greece is not straightforward. However, based on some calculations I did from breaking the system down to its component parts (an approach I always advocate in the face of complexity), it seems we have a result that conforms to a plausible interpretation of its “expectation”.

The basics of the electoral system are as follows: there are 300 seats, of which 50 are an automatic bonus to the party with a plurality of the vote, while the remainder are allocated as if there were one nationwide district. The “as if” is key here. In fact, there are 59 districts. In other words, the district magnitudes in which the election plays out for voters and candidates are quite small. There are 12 seats in a nationwide compensatory tier [EDIT: see below], so we have 288 basic-tier seats for a mean district magnitude of around 4. (I am not going to go into all the further details of this very complex system, as these will suffice for present purposes; Election Resources has a great detailed summary of the oft-changed Greek electoral system.)

To check my understanding that the system is as if nationwide PR for 250 seats, plus 50 for the plurality party, I offer the following table based on the official results. Note that there are two columns for percent of seats, one based on 250 and the other based on the full 300. For the largest party, ND, the “% seats out of 250” is based on 108 seats, because we are not including the 50 bonus seats in this column.

Party % votes seats % seats out of 250 % seats out of 300
Nea Dimokratia 39.9 158 43.2 52.7
Syriza 31.5 86 34.4 28.7
Kin.Al 8.1 22 8.8 7.3
KKE 5.3 15 6.0 5.0
Elliniki Lysi 3.7 10 4.0 3.6
Mera25 3.4 9 3.6 3.0
14 others 8.1 0 0.0 0.0

We can see that the seat percentages out of 250 are close to the vote percentages, as we would expect if the system acts as if it were nationwide PR (not counting the bonus). More to the point, we would expect all parties, even the smallest that win seats, to be over-represented somewhat, due to the nationwide threshold. That is indeed what we see. Over 8% of the votes were wasted on parties that failed to clear the threshold. The largest of these, Laikos Syndesmos, had 2.93%. The threshold is 3%. No other party had even 1.5%.

It is clear that the system has worked in this election exactly as intended. The largest party has a majority of seats, due to the bonus, but even the percentages out of 300 are close to proportionality–far more than they would be if Greece tried to “manufacture” majorities via FPTP or two-round majority instead of “bonus-adjusted PR”.

The effective number of seat-winning parties (NS) is 2.70. It would have been 3.13 based on the indicated parties’ percentages of seats out of 250. So the bonus provision has reduced NS by 13.7%. (The effective number of vote-earning parties, NV, is 3.68, calculated on all the separate parties’ actual vote shares.)

But what about the SPM? With 288 seats in districts and 12 nationwide, we technically have a basic-tier seat product of 288 x 4 (total seats in the basic tier, times the mean magnitude). However, this includes the 50 bonus seats, which are actually assigned to districts, but clearly not allocated according to the rules that the SPM works on: they are just cream on top, not a product of seat allocation rules in the basic tier and certainly not due to compensation. So, what percentage of seats, excluding the bonus, are allocated in districts? That would be 288/300=0.96, which out of 250 yields a “shadow” basic-tier size of 240 (96% of 250). So our adjusted basic-tier seat product is 240 x 4=960.

In a “simple” system (no compensatory tier as well as no bonus), we would expect, based on the Seat Product Model formula, that the effective number of seat-winning parties would be NS=9601/6=3.14. We would expect the size of the largest party to be s1=960–1/8=0.424. Note that these are already really close to the values we see in the table for the 250-seats, pre-bonus, allocation, which are 3.13 and 0.432. I mean, really, we could hardly get more “normal”.

[Added, 14 July: The following paragraph and calculations are based on a misunderstanding. However, they do not greatly affect the substantive conclusions, as best I can tell. The system is two-tier PR, of the “remainder-pooling” variety. However, the 12 seats referred to as a nationwide tier are not the full number of compensatory seats. With remainder-pooling systems it is not always straightforward to know the precise number of seats that were allocated above the level of the basic tier. Nonetheless, the definition here of the basic tier seems correct to me, even if I got the nationwide portion wrong. Thanks to comments by JD and Manuel for calling my attention to this.]

Nonetheless, there is a nationwide compensation tier, and if we take that into account through the “extended” SPM, we would multiply the above expected values by 2.50.04=1.037, according to the formula explained in Votes from Seats. (The 0.04 is the share of seats in the upper, compensatory, tier; 100–0.96). This is obviously a minor detail in this system, because the upper tier is so small (again, not yet counting the bonus seats). Anyway, with this we get expected values of NS=1.037 x 3.14=3.26. We do not have a formula for the largest seat winning party (s1) in two-tier PR, but one can be determined arithmetically to lead to the following adjustment: s1=0.973 x 0.424=0.413. (This is based on applying to the extended SPM for Nthe formula, s1=NS–3/4, as documented in Votes from Seats [and its online appendix] as well as Taagepera (2007).) I believe these are the “right” figures for what we should expect the outputs of this system to be, on average and without taking election-specific politics into account, given this is not a “simple” (single-tier PR) system even before the bonus seats are taken into account.

Out of 250 seats, 41.3% is 103. The ND actually won 108 pre-bonus seats. The 50 bonus seats then would get the party to an expected 153, which would be 51.0%. It actually got 52.7%.

So, as we deconstruct the electoral system into its relatively simpler components, we get an impact on the party system that is expected to result in a bare-majority party. As for NS, values are generally around s1–4/3, which with s1=0.51, would be 2.45, which is somewhat lower than the actually observed 2.70. But perhaps the actual relationship of s1 to NS should be something between a “typical” party system with a largest party on 51% of the seats (2.45) and the party system we expect from 250 seats with Greece’s pre-bonus two-tier PR system (3.26). The geometric average of these two figures would be 2.82. The actual election yielded NS=2.70, which is pretty close. OK, so maybe the similarly of this value of NS to our “expectation” came out via luck. But it sure looks like as normal a result as we could expect from this electoral system.

Of course, in 2015, when there were two elections, the country was in crisis and the outcome was rather more fragmented than this. I am not sure when the 50-seat bonus was implemented; it used to be 40. So I am reluctant to go back to the pre-crisis elections and see if outcomes were “normal” before, or if this 2019 result is just a one-off.

For the record, in September, 2015, the largest party had 48.3% and NS=3.24; in January, 2015, the figures were 49.7% and 3.09. These are hardly dramatic differences from the expectations I derived above (51.0% and 2.82), but they are more fragmented (particularly in terms of higher NS albeit only marginally in terms of a lower s1). So, all in all, maybe the Greek electoral system is not as complex as I think it is, and all its elections fall within the range of normal for such a system. But this 2019 election seems normaler than most.

Greek constitutional and electoral reform update

Constitution Net has a valuable update on proposals for reforms to the constitution and electoral system of Greece.

Alexis Tsipras and his coalition have proposed

The possibility of direct election and the reinforcement of the competences of the President of the Republic, the proliferation of constitutional referendums, the introduction of the constructive vote of no-confidence, and steps towards the separation of the church and state.

These measures have stalled. However, electoral reform is still advancing.

The SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government did, however, submit a bill on the introduction of proportional representation in Greek election law, which was approved by the Greek parliament on 18 July 2016.

The main change appears to be the elimination of the bonus adjustment. Under the Greek constitution, the law would not take effect at the next election, but only at the one after that. Unless, that is, the government calls a referendum, a path that is apparently inconsistent with constitutional provisions.

 

Greece to abolish bonus adjustment (maybe)

A law to change Greek electoral system has passed, according to Ekathimerini. The law removes the provision that awards the plurality party 50 bonus seats in the 300-seat parliament.

This complies with a manifesto commitment of the party that leads the current governing coalition, SYRIZA.

The cynical interpretation, of course, is that they must not be very confident of remaining the largest party. Indeed, polling shows New Democracy (the prior ruling party, of the center-right) ahead. By a lot, though only around 30%, with SYRIZA in something of a free fall.

Nonetheless, the removal of the bonus adjustment will not take place in time for the next election, but rather would start with the one after that. Greece is one of the few (only?) democracies to mandate that an electoral system change can take effect immediately only if it obtains a super-majority.

As things stand, apart from the 144 SYRIZA and nine Independent Greeks lawmakers, the only other members of the House that intend to vote for the draft legislation are 15 from the Communist Party and nine from the Centrists’ Union, as well as two independent deputies. (Ekathimerini)

This left the law short of the required two thirds.

Of course, if the next government is made up of a party or coalition that likes the bonus, the reform law could be repealed. Hence the “maybe” in the title of this post.

(A later WSJ report–behind a pay wall–confirms that the bill passed, with well under 2/3.)

2015b: Greece and Turkey back to the polls

Both Greece and Turkey had notable elections earlier in 2015: Greece in January, when SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) came to power; Turkey in June, when the AKP (Justice and Development Party) fell short of a majority and the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic party, which has much Kurdish support) cleared the country’s 10% threshold for the first time.

Now, both are going back to the polls before the year is out, meaning we will have elections “2015a” and “2015b” for both countries. Greece is no stranger to early elections, but I believe this will be a first for Turkey.

In Greece, once PM Alexis Tsipras completed the passage of the measures required to secure new EU loan guarantees (the third “bailout”), he resigned, triggering early elections. He passed the measures with the help of the opposition parties, given the negative votes from within SYRIZA. The drachma nostalgist splinter from SYRIZA will contest the 20 September election as Popular Unity.

In Turkey, no agreement was reached on any of the possible coalition (or minority government) options, and so an election was called. The new election will be 1 November.

The nature of the countries’ electoral laws will make these worth watching.* Under Greek law, a second election within 18 months of an earlier one is under a different list format. Normally, Greek party lists are mostly open (there are provisions to ensure safe seats for party leaders). In case of a new election within a year and half, the lists are closed.

Greece has been through this process of closed lists in a second election already, as recently as 2012. In that case, most closed lists were ranked by parties–at least in the range of positions in which candidates are viable–in a manner highly consistent with how they had been ranked by voters’ preference votes on the earlier, open lists. In this case, obviously, SYRIZA will have many list ranks vacated by defectors. It will be interesting to see how much the SYRIZA leadership reorders the lists, given this opportunity. (In 2012, SYRIZA changed the ranks of none of its open-list winners.)

Despite polls showing a close race, I find it difficult to imagine that SYRIZA would not again be the plurality party. It may not even face a “setback” despite its own splinter, as 29% in a context of 25% undecided (according to one poll) would translate into a greater share of the decided vote than it had in the election January, which was 36%. The Greek system gives the plurality party an automatic bonus, and as we saw in the earlier election, 36% can give a party right around half the seats.  [See Henry’s comment. I may have that point about undecided voters wrong, and SYRIZA could be in trouble in the polls after all.]

In the Turkish case, the Kurdish political organizations prior to 2015 had avoided the risk that the high nationwide threshold would exclude them entirely (were they to run lists) by running their candidates as independents. They actually became quite good at it–sometimes even electing two or more candidates per district through effective vote-management strategies. In other words, to the Kurdish political forces, the system was effectively single non-transferable vote: elect individuals by ensuring your votes are efficiently divided. For an example, see Van in 2011, with a district magnitude of 7: Three seats for the AKP on 40% of the vote, and four independents with individual vote totals ranging from 9.7% to 15.4% (48.7% combined).

In the June election, the HDP, consolidating Kurdish and left-liberal opposition forces, won 13.1% of the vote. It thus cleared the threshold fairly easily. If they break 10% again, it is hard to see how the government-formation process will be any easier. Or perhaps the AKP counting on its recent resumption of its crackdown on Kurdish separatism attracting hardline votes that will get it back over half of parliament.

________
* I know, I know. I always say that.

** SYRIZA’s coalition partner, Independent Greeks, is polling very close to the 3% threshold. It won 4.75% in January.

The dismantling of SYRIZA?

The deal struck in marathon talks between Greece and its Eurozone partners (is that word still appropriate?) requires the Greek parliament to take further action–some as soon as this Wednesday, 15 July.

The parliamentary vote last Friday, which I understand as simply a broad authorization to conduct negotiations around the government’s official opening proposal for the weekend talks, is revealing. While it passed overwhelmingly, with 250 votes in the 300-seat parliament, the government was unable to deliver a majority. SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) and its coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL, a right-wing party that agrees with Syriza only on confronting the creditors) control 162 seats. However, only 145 members of the governing coalition supported the authorizing bill.

It is in the context of that vote–and the tougher ones to follow–that we see the importance of the accord PM Alexis Tsipras of Syriza struck with the opposition immediately after the nationwide NO to the creditors’ terms on 5 July. Without the support for the center-right New Democracy (ND) and other parties, the cave-in by Tsipras could not have passed.

It seems that Tsipras’s 5 July plebiscite on his government did indeed strengthen Tsipras’s bargaining position, but with the traditional Greek right, rather than with the EU as he had promised. It is as if Tsipras said to ND: “The voters are with me; back me up so I can implement your policy instead of the one I sold to the voters”. This is why I am calling it a “plebiscite”, not a “referendum”; I understand the latter term to mean a vote on specific proposed laws, whereas a vote re-delegating authority to the government to make decisions on the electorate’s behalf is classic plebiscitarianism.

It is unclear to me how much tougher the conditions agreed this weekend are, relative to the proposals of last week, which, in turn, were roughly as tough as what Greek voters supposedly rejected the weekend before. It is clear, however, that they include some very strict monitoring requirements that are not going down well in Athens.

Can the Tsipras government can survive the stress of all that is being required of it? Already SYRIZA–which is a “party” only due to requirements of the election law, but is really (as its name implies) a coalition of various tendencies–is experiencing divisions. Tsipras has begun to expel several rebels. The party’s rules require dissidents to resign their seats, although the party can’t compel them to leave parliament; they can become independent MP instead. The coalition partner, ANEL, has said it can’t support the new terms, although it will remain in Tsipras’s cabinet.

This would be a less than opportune time for an early election, so any new government may have to be constituted from within this parliament. The Greek constitutional provisions on the cabinet’s confidence (Art. 84) require an absolute majority of MPs present (“which however cannot be less than the two-fifths of the total number of the members”) to remove a PM, which would be hard to reach as long as a rump SYRIZA and ANEL remain together, unless some of the far-left fracture from SYRIZA were to vote with the right. If a new government needs to be formed, the provisions on government formation (Art. 37, in the chapter on the president’s role) provide clear priority to the largest party in parliament, which, thanks to the disproportionality of the Greek electoral system, would remain Tsipras’s unless 74 of its MPs (just short of half) bolt. That seems highly unlikely. Thus it would seem Tsipras can survive, but may end up heading a radically different government from the one that so resoundingly won its plebiscite just over a week ago.

Caving in Greece

No, this is not a travel-adventure post.

It looks like Greece’s governing Syriza Party has caved. Accepting €13bn of fresh austerity.

A note from the Guardian’s live blog at 13:29:

Syriza MPs have been telling our Helena Smith that the big no received in the referendum on Sunday was a “confidence vote” in Tsipras who like no other prime minister before now has the popular support to enforce such punitive measures.

In other words, what occurred last Sunday in Greece was not a policy referendum, nor was it a tool to give Greece more bargaining leverage to reject the European measures to which the voters thought they were voting a loud NO. Rather it was a plebiscite to bolster a weak domestic position. Which would have become far weaker, given the preferences of Greek voters had Tsipras led Greece out of the euro.