Sierra Leone 2018

[See caveat in comments about the electoral rules of the earlier elections. For now, I am not changing the post, even though I should re-do it with averages only from the FPTP elections.]

On Sunday, Sierra Leone held its presidential runoff. Sierra Leone is one of those examples of a relatively rare combination: presidentialism with an assembly elected by plurality in single-seat districts. Some of the other examples of this combo are also found in West Africa, including Ghana and Liberia. In this entry, I will consider the effects of Sierra Leone’s institutions on the party system, applying some of the logical models of Votes from Seats.

The runoff rule used for the presidency is even rarer (unique?). A second round is required if the leading candidate in the first round does not reach 55% of the valid votes (Art. 42.2.e of the constitution of 1991).

Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) won 43.3% in the first round on 7 March. The runner up was Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC), with 42.7%. This was the country’s closest contest thus far since the current democratic institutions were inaugurated in 1996.

Sierra Leone has had one president during this time period who was elected with less than 55%. In 2007, Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC won with just 54.62%. However, this was in the runoff. He had 44.3% (to 38.3% for the runner up) in the first round. And herein lies the real oddity: One might wonder why it is OK to elect a president with just half of the votes, plus one, in a two-candidate runoff, but a total falling between 50% (plus one) and (one vote under) 55% would not be sufficient to win in a single round.

So far Sierra Leone has not had an election in which the first-round leader was in that 50-55% grey zone. Dating to 1996, first-round leaders’ vote percentages have been 35.8, 70.1, 44.3, 58.7, and 43.3

Sunday’s runoff (results for which will not be known for about a week) is to replace outgoing President Koroma, who was elected in 2007 and reelected in 2012.

In the assembly elections, concurrent with the first round of the presidential election, only 90 of the 132 constituencies have been declared so far. (There are also 12 seats reserved for tribal chiefs.) The SLPP has won 47 seats to the APS’s 32. The Coalition for Change has eight, despite its presidential candidate having placed fourth with only 3.5% of the vote. Obviously the Coalition for Change has a regional base, and parties with regional strength can win under FPTP despite having a low nationwide vote total. (National vote totals for assembly are not yet available.) The party of the third-place presidential candidate, who won 6.9%, is called the National Grand Coalition, but evidently it is not. On the other hand, it also is apparently not regional, having won no assembly seats (at least among those declared).

The assembly has been increased in size from the last election, when there were 112 elected seats. This remains slightly undersized for a country with a population around seven million. The Cube Root Law would imply an assembly of around 192.

As for the assembly party system, the current assembly size, S=132 (ignoring the indirectly elected chiefs), and the use of FPTP (M=1) implies an effective number of seat-winning parties, NS=(MS)1/6=2.26. On currently declared seats, we have NS=2.45 (counting each of three independents elected thus far as a “party”). That is only a very minor deviation from expectation.

The combination of FPTP for assembly and a two-round presidential election might be expected to inflate NS due to the expected (and observed) proliferation of presidential candidates seeking votes in the first round. At least it would be so expected if one believes in coattail effects. There were sixteen presidential candidates contesting the first round, and seventeen parties with assembly candidates in at least some districts.

While the effect of the first-round threshold of 55% is not clear, we might expect it to enhance fragmenting effects, relative to a standard majority runoff. Candidates who are unlikely to win might enter anyway, hoping to deny even a strong leading candidate an outright win. Given that an outright win is more difficult in Sierra Leone than in other two-round systems, the effect might be to enhance first-round fragmentation. Under a “coattails” expectation, that fragmentation would carry over into the assembly elections, even with the use of FPTP for those elections, held concurrent with the first round of the presidential contest.

In Votes from Seats, Taagepera and I express some skepticism about coattail effects, at least in terms of their impact on the effective number of parties. In fact, we go so far as to claim that one can deduce the effective number of presidential candidates (NP) from the assembly electoral system. A more direct logical expectation, developed in the book, goes from the assembly voting party system to NP; to the extent that the voting fragmentation (measured by the effective number of vote-earning parties, NV) is over-fragmented, relative to the electoral system expectation, then NP will be inflated as well.

Sierra Leone is thus a good test case for the logical models of Votes from Seats. First of all, it has changed its assembly size twice now, while retaining FPTP. Second, as noted already, it combines the FPTP assembly electoral system with a two-round presidential formula that might tend to increase fragmentation of the presidential contest. If it does so, it may also tend to increase NS and NV, if coattails explain assembly party-system fragmentation. In a table below are the results, showing all three actually observed effective numbers (NSNVNP), where available, and the expected values. The expectations are derived from the seat product (MS) in the case of NS, but for NV, we should use the derivation from observed NS, because if the latter is over expectation, for sure NV will be, too. For NP, the table reports the expectation from NV, which is the more direct route. Again, if NV, is higher than expected (perhaps because so is NS), then NP will be, as well. However, we can also compare the institutionally grounded expectation, derived from MS only.

What we see is that NV was far “too high” in the initial election under the current constitution, given the quite low assembly size. So was NP, and thus it looks like a “win” for the coattails expectation, perhaps because as an initial election before the civil war (starting 1991) was fully settled, many candidates may have entered unsure of who would be viable. The 2002 election, following the settlement of the war, also looks like a case of coattails, as the winner easily dominated the field, leading to very low values of all three effective numbers.

Nonetheless, on average, the institutionally derived expectations perform well. Even with the first election being well off the expectation (and the second, too, albeit less so and in the opposite direction), overall, the ratio of observed NS to actual has been only a little above 1.00; the ratio of expected to observed is 1.153, shown in the bottom line. (If we ignore the anomalously fragmented 1996 election, the mean NS is 2.175, or slightly below the expectation from the assembly sizes used in 2002-2018.)

Given actual NS, the observed NV has been almost exactly as expected, on average, with a ratio of 1.025. And while the slight over-fragmentation of the average assembly election result in Sierra Leone gets magnified when we look at expected NP from MS (i.e., from the assembly electoral system only, for which the ratio is 1.225), the expected NP from observed NV is not too far off, with a ratio of 1.16. Note that the ratio for NP from observed NV is almost the same as the ratio for NS from the assembly seat product.

Thus, even with a presidential electoral formula (super-majority runoff) that theoretically promotes more fragmentation than the assembly electoral system (FPTP), there is scant evidence–beyond 1996–that we are unable to predict the assembly party system from the assembly electoral system. There is also scant evidence that we can’t predict voting fragmentation for both assembly and presidency from the assembly party system. The small over-fragmentation of the assembly party system, on average, gets carried through to the other measures. This over-fragmentation might be due to the fragmenting incentives of the presidential electoral formula, but only in 1996 is the evidence for such an explanation, based on candidate entry and their coattails, compelling. Otherwise, it seems the assembly seat product allows us to get a pretty good handle on the output indices of Sierra Leone’s elections.

The seat product model, based on the assembly electoral system, performs well, even in a new post-war democracy like Sierra Leone, and even given the country’s somewhat unusual combination of institutions.