Ukraine will have an early election

Well, it did not take long to learn the answer to my question. Yes, Ukraine will have an early election, as President Volodomyr Zelenskyy announced on 19 May in his inaugural address. And thus, no, the current electoral system will not be replaced just yet.

The election is expected to be in July, a scenario I already discussed in the earlier post.

In the context of all this, today (20 May) the Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, announced his resignation.

There had been a report last week that a dissolution of the coalition in the assembly would prevent the new president from calling an early election (because it would buy the assembly time to attempt to find, under terms of the constitution, an alternative premier they can agree on). But evidently not.

Ukraine: Possible early election and electoral reform (again?)

According to Hromadske (15 May), newly elected Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy is considering dissolving parliament. Moreover, there is also consideration of electoral reform in a country that seems almost never to hold more than an election or two under the same rules.

Currently, an election to the national assembly is scheduled for 27 October. At about six months out from the presidential election, that timing is clearly a “honeymoon” election, and we know the impact those have. But waiting that long is not ideal for Zelenskyy, given he has almost no partisan support in the current assembly, having cobbled together his own campaign vehicle for his presidential run. His newly formed party is named after the TV show that made him famous, Servant of the People.

In the first round of the presidential election, on 31 March, Zelenskyy placed first with 30.2%, nearly doubling the runner-up, incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. In third place was perennial candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, with 13.4%. Four others had between 5% and 12%. There were thirty nine candidates in total! In the second round (21 April), Zelenskyy crushed Poroshenko, with nearly 75% of the valid votes cast. (I wonder if it would have been closer if Tymoshenko had made the runoff, or more competitive if ranked-choice voting had moved her or another candidate up into the final two.)

If the election goes ahead in late October as planned, it would be held with about 10% of the presidential inter-electoral period elapsed. The equation reported in Votes from Seats would imply that the Servant of the People party could expect around a third of the vote. (See my entry immediately after Macron’s win in France for the equation, graph of data from many countries, and discussion; note that our equation is based on first-round votes, and any fit to actual data would be much worse if runoff votes were used.)

One might understand why he thinks that is not enough. It is not clear to me what the date of the election might be if it is moved up. But let’s say it was 28 July instead. That would mean about 5% of the inter-electoral period elapsed, which would lead to an estimated vote share for the president’s party of… 34.5%. In other words, it is hardly worth the trouble!

Of course, the actual figure could be above these estimates–or below. One poll alluded to in Hromadske said that Servant of the People was the choice of only 25% of the people, a figure that would be a pretty disappointing honeymoon result. The more important point is that a three-month difference in timing does not really matter much for the honeymoon effect. Further, with no existing party to speak of, it might even be smart to allow more time to build the party and recruit candidates. And here is where the question of electoral system choice comes in.

Some electoral systems would be more demanding for candidate recruitment by a fledgling party than others. The current system is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) and consists of 225 single-seat districts (plurality) and 225 closed-list seats (single nationwide district). Finding viable candidates to be personal representatives of the party in 225 districts is more of a challenge than filling out a closed list.

In fact, this challenge is mentioned in the Hromadske article, which states, correctly in my view, that “Returning to the closed list proportional electoral system would be most beneficial to the president-elect and his team.”  The “return” referred to here would be to the system used in 2006 and 2007 that used a single nationwide district for all 450 seats, and a closed list.

Other systems that are under consideration in the current parliament are a regionalization of the list component, and an “open list”. (I am not sure they really mean an open list, as that term has been applied misleadingly to a current local electoral system that is more along the lines of district-ordered list.) Regarding the latter option, Hromadske notes, “For Zelenskyy, it is easier to handpick a list of candidates [for a closed list], than to look for people, known locally in the regions, who could potentially win in an open list system.”

If the election is called early, of course the current system will prevail. Whether Zelenskyy can get the election earlier depended on precisely when he would be inaugurated (Hromadske explains). The date for the inauguration was just set in a vote on 16 May to take place on 20 May. This seems to allow time for an early dissolution, as the Hromadske article states that Zelenskyy and his team figured the last date for making such a decision was 27 May (though one loophole could allow that to be extended into June, perhaps).

Ukraine has developed a record of consistent changes of government and legislative majorities through elections, yet it has been anything but consistent with its electoral rules, or election timing.

France 2017: Round 4 (honeymoon elections and presidentialization matter!)

Today is the fourth round of the French 2017 election process–that is, the runoffs of the honeymoon assembly election.

Following round 1 (the first round of the presidential election), I used a formula (from Shugart and Taagepera, 2017, Votes from Seats) to “predict” what the round 3 (first round, assembly election) vote percentage would be for the party of first-round leader Emmanuel Macron (on the safe assumption he would win the second round). I pegged it at 29%, based only on Macron’s first-round vote and the elapsed time between then and the scheduled date of the assembly first round.

In the actual voting, La Republique En Marche! (LREM) got around 32%, although I believe that also includes some small vote share for MoDem (which was part of a pre-election coalition). In any case, I won’t quibble about an error of ±3 percentage points. At the time, various commentators were fretting over how “weak” EM would be, what with an untested party and Macon’s having come from seemingly nowhere. Some folks even were wringing their hands over possible cohabitation. It did not take long for polls to catch up with the institutional reality, which is that honeymoon elections matter. The voting result was highly predictable.

Where I went well off the rails was in questioning whether a plurality of votes of around 30% in the first round could translate into an assembly majority. I noted that similar percentages of the vote in previous first rounds in France had translated into around half the seats, but that a safer prediction might be for Macron’s party to be just short. I was not worried about a “weak” presidency, but I thought some degree of post-electoral bargaining would be necessary.

Well, that was silly. I somehow forgot that our assumptions about how votes translate into seats in France are based on the “textbook” French V party system, whereby there are many parties, but two dominant blocs. In such a setting, a leading party (such as a just-elected president’s) with around 30% of the vote would be just far enough ahead of both its allies and the leading party of the opposing bloc so as to translate into a solid majority of seats for the alliance, but not necessarily for the leading party itself. The bloc of the loser of the second round, in the “textbook” party system, is not so far behind the president’s bloc. Therefore, you get a clear pro-presidential majority, but not a knock-out.

Two things should have given me pause. First of all, that the second round presidential candidate was of the National Front, so 2002 would be a better guide than, say, 2012. In 2002, the party of the second major bloc (i.e., the Socialists, whose presidential candidate had finished third) suffered terribly from the honeymoon cycle, and of course, the FN assembly candidates did poorly for lack of allies. This allowed just 33% of the first-round votes for the newly elected president’s party to translate into more than 62% of the seats.

Second, and more to the point, the party system of France 2017 has collapsed badly. Thus being at only 30% of the votes makes you a dominant player in what is, for the time being, a one-bloc system. If you are the centrist party in a two-round system, it does not matter that you lack allied parties in a bloc; what matters is that you have no opposing parties that combine for a coherent bloc against you. Seat projections, issued on the day of the first round of the assembly election, suggested that LREM could get over 400 seats. Some even say 475 (out of 577). LREM candidates will win by default, because in relatively few districts will there be active coordination against them. Moreover, turnout is (predictably) low today.

The following screen shot from Henry Schlechta on Twitter, shows just how dominant the LREM is in today’s runoffs. In other words, don’t let 32% of the first-round votes fool you (as it did me). With different opponents in different districts, from different political camps, there is no reason not to expect a massive majority.

Now that everyone seems to accept that LREM will have a big majority, the concerns (expressed in various news media stories) has shifted to how difficult it may be to govern with a party full of novices. Such concerns are also misplaced. That the party is full of novice politicians makes it more, not less, likely that it will stick to Macron even when times get tough. They have nowhere else to go. They owe their nominations and assembly seats to Macron. France 2017 is presidentialization on steroids!. And, remember, honeymoon elections matter.