Category Archives: Democracy

Libya’s Electoral System

Against all odds, Libya is still planning on holding an election on July 7. This is a remarkable timetable for a country – especially one with no past electoral experience – to hold an election in. There are a lot of problems in the country, for sure, but Libyans should take pride in what they’ve done to get here.

Libyans will be electing a 200-member General People’s Congress, a body responsible for appointing a 60-member body to draft the Constitution. Following the example of some of their regional neighbors, Libya has opted for one of the most confusing systems around. The system basically incorporates every major system into one. Forty members will be elected by plurality vote in single-member constituencies (SMD), 80 members will be elected by plurality vote in multi-member constituencies (commonly known as Single, Non-Transferable Vote or SNTV) and 80 members will be elected through a closed-list proportional representation (CLPR) system.

Depending on where one lives, they will vote in either one or two of these tiers. Most voters will cast ballots for two tiers (either SMD and SNTV or SMD and PR) while the others will vote in only a SMD, SNTV, or CLPR tier. Fifty of the 73 constituencies will be parallel, while 19 will have only a SMD or SNTV district and four will only have a PR district. (Figure one shows the breakdown by region of PR versus majoritarian districts.) Most districts obviously have more majoritarian seats than PR ones, although we can see that the cap between them is not consistent. Gheryen, for example, has no PR seats at all.

Figure One

I’ve never heard of such a breakdown and I imagine that such differences makes voter education and election administration a nightmare. The High National Election Commission (HNEC) – the body responsible for running the election – will have to print out many different forms of ballots and ensures the right ones get to the right areas. Moreover, some voters will have to be taught how PR works, while others will have to be told about SNTV or SMD, and others both. To make things easier for voters, SMD and SNTV ballots will be orange and proportional ballots will be blue. I’m unsure of the thought process behind so many different types of voting systems. I’m guessing it was less a grand plan than a set of many compromises. (If anybody has any insight into the process I would love to hear it.)

The electoral system makes it difficult to predict optimal candidate or party strategies. The 80 SNTV seats, in particular, will make any form of coordination very difficult. SNTV makes effective coordination for political parties nearly impossible, as organizations would have to essentially run their own candidates against each other in every district. It’s probably no surprise then, that it’s used in the countries that its in (Afghanistan and to some extend, Jordan). SNTV will be bad for party formation in Libya, but will greatly benefit local tribal elites. On top of that, candidates running in any of the 120 majoritarian seats will not be allowed to run with a party label.

Gender Quota

Over 80 women have registered as individual candidates, which is only a small percent of the 2,501 independent candidates registered overall. The best opportunity for women being elected, however, comes in the 80 seats elected by closed-list PR. Article 15 of the election law mandates that candidates should alternate genders on the lists and that half of all a party’s list must have a female at the top. The vertical aspect of this rule is commonly known as a zipper quota. The zipper, closed-list format is considered to be the most advantageous to female candidates (assuming the population is unlikely to vote for women otherwise, of course) but it it can’t always guarantee high female representation by itself. In Tunisia, for example, extreme party fragmentation, combined with medium district magnitude (average DM of 8) meant that many parties won only one seat per district. This had the effect of only placing the top candidate on most lists (usually a man) into parliament. In Libya, that average district magnitude will be only four (although Benghazi is an outlier with a DM of 11), which severely reduces the proportionality of the eighty seats and makes it less likely that many parties will win more than one or two seats per district. This is why, the “horizontal quota” of requiring parties to place women at the top of half of their lists, is such an important aspect.

This gender quota is pretty strong, and Libya should be commended for it. Of course there is the issue that parties could place women at the top of lists in districts where they know they will fare poorly. I doubt this will be much of an issue, however, as I could not imagine any party would have a realistic idea of their strength in each area. Districts are newly created, party ID is extremely low, and I’m guessing parties have little resources to conduct meaningful surveys. Some party elites may think they know their area, but there were plenty of NDP elites in Egypt who thought they “knew” their district, only to get beaten in the first fair election.

Additionally, SNTV, in theory, could be beneficial to women. I doubt this will happen, but I believe that SNTV can reduce the collective action problem that female voters looking to elect a female candidate would have. For example, in a single-member district, I may want to vote for a woman, but I know that they don’t have a shot, so will vote for a strong male candidate that I like the most. In a multi-member district, however, a female doesn’t need to be anywhere near the strongest. In fact, if a strong female candidate can muster even around 10% of the vote, they could gain a seat. One only has to look at election returns in Afghanistan to see how fractured SNTV districts can be. Usually, voter knowledge of candidates is low (the lack of party ID will only exacerbate this) resulting in many candidates getting a very small percentage of the vote. In Afghanistan, results can be so fractured that it is not uncommon for a candidate to win a seat with less than five percent of the vote! Of course we don’t know how this will play out in Libya, but it still holds that a credible female candidate attempting to build support would need to convince far less people to support her. The average district magnitude for SNTV districts is 2.58, which will mitigate this advantage (most districts only have two seats) but there are a few with more seats. Benghazi’s SNTV distrait has nine seats, and many others have four, such as Misurata, Zawia, Friday Market district in Tripoli, Misurata, Sabha and Ajdabiya.

Predictions: Egyptian presidential election

The first round of Egypt’s presidential election is tomorrow, which means it’s time for everybody to make their predictions. I think the biggest story of late has been the surprise surge of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. I say surprise, although an Egyptian friend has been predicting his success for some time now. It’s difficult to get a handle on the race because the polling has been rather erratic.  With that being said, I think it’s possible to analyze some of the polls and make some comments.

I created a poll of polls, using Al Masry Al Youm’s and Al-Ahram’s weekly surveys. I chose these two because they were the only ones to be released at nearly identical times for seven weeks.

A couple thoughts and random speculations on these numbers:

The two sets of surveys had some notable differences. Al Masry Al Youm’s had a far higher number of undecided voters (It would have been nice to know how the questions were worded). Al-Ahram, on the other hand, gave a slight edge to several candidates, most notably, Amr Moussa. In fact, Moussa polled on average 23 points higher in Al-Ahram polls than Masry’s. It looks like Al-Ahram was pushing respondents harder to make a decision, as its lower undecided number produced higher numbers for every major candidate.  The fact that Moussa gained so much from this group, could indicate that a lot of the support we see for him in these surveys is not solidified, or even committed to voting. This would support the narrative that from the beginning, Moussa was largely running so strong due to name recognition.

People aren’t that undecided.  One of the most notable aspects of these polls is the high number of undecideds in the race. Al-Masry Al-Youm even has 33 percent of all voters listed as undecided in their last poll. The thing is, the surveys also have a very high number of people claiming they will vote. In fact, the last poll shows that 87 percent of all registered voters will turn out. Voter turnout models are hard, US pollsters still struggle with it, but these firms still need a better screen. Turnout in the recent parliamentary polls was around 54 percent. The difference between those two numbers (87 and 54) is roughly the number of undecideds in their poll. I’m definitely not claiming that all the undecideds did not vote in the last election, and will not vote in this one.  But I do think it’s safe to assume that opinions are a bit more solidified at this stage in the race.  We probably shouldn’t speculate about where this mass number of undecideds will go.  They might not go anywhere.

Shafiq’s surge is real. According the poll of polls, Shafiq is in second place with 21 percent of the vote.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsy and Hamdeen Sabahi are also enjoying small surges, although remain far behind.  Shafiq was smart in having a strong ground operation and playing to his base.  He probably also took note of the brief surge of Omr Suleiman, which showed that their was a constituency for a law and order candidate. Shafiq didn’t try to straddle several social cleavages (like Moussa and Fotouh), he just built a base within one group and developed a clear message.

We get to see if in Egypt, the Party decides. Morsy is enjoying a late surge but still looks like he will fall short of the top two. This seems like a great opportunity to really see the strength of the Brotherhood’s ground operation.  Morsy doesn’t have the personal popularity of other candidates. If he alone polls far better than the surveys indicated, we can probably infer a lot about the MB’s grassroots strength.

Final Predictions: Shafiq and Moussa win the first round, although a strong possibility that it will be Shafiq and Morsy.

Cameras in Russian polling stations

From the WSJ comes this story about Russia’s plan to install web cameras in polling stations for the March presidential election.

Russia Friday launched the presidential election website, www.webvybory2012.ru, that will allow web users to access video recorded at any of the approximately 92,000 polling stations across the country. One camera will give a full panorama view of each polling station and a second camera will be directed at the ballot box.

[...]

The website allows users to select as many polling stations for monitoring as they wish, although only until Election Day. Users will be able to monitor the election from 12 a.m. to 8 p.m. Moscow time. For an hour, recording will continue but nothing will be shown to observe the secrecy of the ballot. Starting at 9 p.m., when voting closes in Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost province, the service will show ballot counting and viewers will be able to see video from 8 p.m. local time.

Webcams in polling stations aren’t a bad idea by themselves, but I have a lot of problems with the way this is being implemented. My first concern is that it may contribute to the common development practitioner practice of assuming impact from an output. As with all transparency initiatives (making public records available, etc..) it’s not enough to simply produce the information and assume civil society will use it.  Often times they won’t. There are many similar “citizen monitoring” projects being done through the Ushahidi platform, which produce neat maps. Often the assumption is that people will actually do something with that map. I don’t want to bash Ushahidi too hard as I think it can do interesting things, but producing data should not be viewed as a behavior-changing impact of an intervention. It’s just an output that we hope will lead to the behavior change.

The webcams do, however, remind me of an innovative experiment done in Afghanistan: In 2010, local election monitors took photographs of the final tally sheets in local Afghan polling stations, which was shown to reduce fraud by 60%. The Afghanistan experiment was done through a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), which brings me to my next problem with this experiment.

It’s always difficult to determine if election monitoring actually reduces fraud (although Susan Hyde has done great work showing that it can). This is for the simple reason that we don’t know the counterfactual level of fraud if the observation wasn’t there. Because of this, I think it would be much smarter if  – instead of trying to put webcams in nearly every polling station – they randomly assigned the web cameras to certain stations. This would  allow us to measure if the intevention was actually effective or not. Aside from the fact that so many webcams will make monitoring of any of them less effective, not randomizing the cameras will make it impossible to actually determine impact.  Of course this assumes the actual goal of the project is to reduce fraud and not just give the appearance of transparency.

Who owns a seat in the Greek Parliament?

It appears that in Greece, parties can expel MPs for not voting with the party:

Twenty two PASOK MPs and 21 New Democracy deputies voted against the bill. In both cases, those lawmakers were expelled from their parties. 

Former Transport Minister Makis Voridis and Deputy Mercant Marine Minister Adonis Georgiadis went against the line of their party, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), by voting for the bill. Both were expelled.

It was the first time in Greek parliamentary history that so many lawmakers were ousted from their parties on the same night.

Certainly a dramatic situation, but party ownership of seats seems like a legitimate rule, given the fact that Greece uses a closed-list proportional representation system.  When voters cast a ballot, they are clearly making a choice for a party, and not an individual candidate. If Greece used Open List PR, then a case could be made that the individual was driving the party’s capture of that seat, and such a rule would seem less democratic. Some countries with majoritarian systems, such as Kenya and India, do have rules that prevent floor-crossing.  In most of these cases, however, the seat is vacated and a by-election is held. The party can not just fill the vacant seat with its next in line candidate. In Lesotho, which has both PR and single- member districts, the PR MPs are prevented from switching parties but the SMD candidates are free to do so.

Parties sometimes act like parties, Middle East edition

Ennahda

In his paper, Candidate Recruitment and Former Rebel Parties, John Ishiyama examined the transformation of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from rebel group to political party.  Ishiyama argued while those who study post-conflict environments view rebel-to-party organizations as distinct from traditional parties, they should actually act the same when they try to enter parliament.  His research showed that the UCPN (Maoist) ran its most loyal candidates in safe districts while it ran more mainstream candidates in tougher districts.  Ishiyama’s methodology was interesting, but it’s still unclear if his relationship is endogenous.  As he only has one election to base data off of, we do not know that his independent variable (margin of victory per district) was driving his dependent variable (candidate ran) or vice versa.  While still in progress, Ishiyama’s paper is a novel contribution to the literature examining the behavior of rebel movements as they transition to political parties.

Ishiyama’s paper is important, however, because it argues that the internal structure of an organization can be less important than the institutional rules it feels it has to play by.   Both of these things, of course, are important, but I’m sympathetic to the idea that we don’t pay enough attention the latter, especially with regards to political party activity.  I believe that with regards to studying political parties, “party” should be a verb as well as a noun.   Organizations choose to “party” when they want certain benefits from the government.  This is an important way to look at things because it could have implications for how we expect parties to behave.  Several months ago, Eric Trager wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, that effectively argued the hierarchical structure of the Muslim Brotherhood would prevent it from moderating in a way we should expect from a political party.  This isn’t a bad prediction, but I don’t think we can assume this will happen.  Buried in this France 24 story about Ennahda, is a tidbit that the Islamist party had very different campaign messages depending on what part of the country it was running in.  While this probably seems banal to an American citizen, this behavior for a party shouldn’t be common if we assume a party’s internal structure and ideology are the most important predictors of how they will act. (Not sure of Ennahda’s structure but its ideology could suggest low flexibly).

I wonder if anybody who was on the ground in Egypt could provide insight into differing campaign messages with regards to the FJP.   It would also be interesting to see if FJP MPs who were elected in the nominal tier of seats behave differently than those elected on the list tier.  It would be nice if such votes are recorded and somebody would be able to collect this data.

Bad election managment

From Al Masry Al Youm:

Disabled citizens faced difficulties while voting in this week’s round of parliamentary elections, a number of rights groups have said.

There were no sign language interpreters to help the deaf and the majority of polling stations were located on upper floors, making it difficult for voters in wheelchairs, the Egyptian Coalition for the Disabled in Alexandria said.

[...]Heba Hagras, an Egyptian Bloc candidate who has a disability, also said no facilities were available for those with special needs. Hagras said she found it difficult to go up to the polling stations in her wheelchair. She said one supervising judge refused to leave the voting station to help her.

Mohamed Mokhtar, who also uses a wheelchair, said his polling station was on the third floor and the scrambling of voters made it even more difficult to reach the ballot box.

There are a lot of people with disabilities in Egypt.  This is embarrassing.

Compulsory voting in Egypt

Something I’ve heard surprisingly little about with all the election coverage is how Egyptians are responding to the High Election Commission’s (HEC) announcement  that the government fully plans on enforcing the country’s mandatory voting requirements. I did find this from the Daily News Egypt.

“We do not have a polling station specifically for senior citizens so we have to take permission from other voters in the queue to go to the front because we cannot stand for too long,” said a voter who preferred to remain anonymous at one of Tora’s polling stations.

Some of those senior citizens came to vote because they are afraid of the LE 500 fine if they fail to vote,” Fathy said, adding that they do not even know the candidates they will vote for and are asking others about their selected candidates.

The law requiring eligible voters to participate existed in the past, but was never enforced.   The HEC, however, has publicly stated that it intends to levy a LE 500 (Approximately 83 USD) fine on any eligible voter who does not cast a ballot.  (I can’t find out if this applies to both the first and second round). While LE 500 could be easily paid by richer Egyptians, it is the equivalent of many months’ salary for the large lower class. This raises serious concerns over the ethicacy of such a law that will disproportionately hurt lower economic classes.   Given the unconsolidated nature of the political party system, it seems unfair to force voters to choose somebody, when it is more than possible that nobody represents their views.   Turnout for the March referendum was only 41 percent of eligible voters, indicating a large number of Egyptians are not political engaged.

I could speculate on the effects of compulsorily voting in Egypt, but it wouldn’t be much more than that.  I do think the greatest threat it could pose to the election process would be dramatically increasing the number of invalid ballots.  From what I’ve gathered, both the ballots for the nominal and list tier of seats need to be filled out correctly for an elector’s votes to count.  Given the high illiteracy rate, confusing ballot design, and the fact that mandatory voting is most likely to bring out apathetic voters, I could see how this would cause problems.  Of course a well organized party could take advantage of this by providing voters with information on how to cast a ballot.  Anthony Downs’ model is put to the test.

Hopefully somebody did an exit poll and asked how big of a factor this was in turning out voters.  Until we have final turnout numbers, however, there isn’t much we can go on.

Direct democracy returns to Greece

It appears that Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has decided to call a referendum on the European debt plan as opposed to working a solution through parliament.  The politics of referendums aren’t discussed enough in my opinion but luckily, political science can help us predict voting behavior in direct democracy.

Vote choice in referendums is unique in advanced democracies because it allows voters to weigh an issue directly, sometimes without concern for party loyalties.  The model of political parties described by Bawn et al. shows that voters primarily take cues on most issues from elite signalling within political parties. So should this method of issue support carry over into plebiscites?  In Referendums on European Integration, Simon Hug and Pascal Sciarini, discuss how different variables about a referendum affect vote choice. Examining data from fourteen European integration referendums, the authors claim that issue saliency determines voting behavior.  In important “first-tier” elections, voters make a decision by weighing the actual issue.  On less important “second-tier” elections, voters may base their decision on their assessment of the ruling party.  This comes in the form of voting against the wishes of the government if one is dissatisfied, and voting in favor if one is supportive. I think Hug and Sciarini would agree the Greek vote represents a “first-tier issue.” We should expect then, that confidence in the government should have minimal impact on voter preference.

Hug and Sciarini’s model has been tested recently, when Iceland faced a somewhat similar situation, twice in the past two years.  You can read the details here, but the basic story is that twice the Icelandic government attempted to push a loan repayment deal through plebiscite, and twice voters rejected the deal, known as the “Icesave Bill.”  In that situation, the ruling coalition of the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Left-Green Movement came to power after Iceland’s financial collapse that triggered the need for the referendum. While most voters approved of the new government, the public push by the SDA was not enough to convince voters to cast “yes” ballots.

Democracy in Libya

While watching Al Jazeera today, I became annoyed that so many experts and analysts kept referring to this mythical Libyan election that will somehow take place in 8-9 months.  I don’t expect an election administration expert on every TV panel but I wish somebody asked  if this was a realistic timetable (spoiler: it’s not).  Libya isn’t the first post-conflict country to deal with the difficult decision of an election timetable.  The optimal time to hold a first election is different from country to country, and the tradeoffs are important.  The earlier the election, the harder it is to run a good one.  The longer you wait, the less legitimacy the interim government will have.  Libya will probably have the benefit of massive amounts of foreign funding and expertise, but that still doesn’t guarantee a well run election.  One only has to look at Kosovo to see that unlimited resources, although helpful, are far from sufficient for avoiding major pitfalls in an election.

Another troubling thing I’ve heard on more than one occasion is the notion that institution building in Libya will be like working on a “blank slate.”  I’ve also heard this used to describe South Sudan and in both cases, they aren’t completely true.  When it comes to governance, there is not such thing as a black slate.  Governing has been taking place in some way.  There may be a lack of formal democratic institutions, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t doing things before we got there.  It’s true that in terms of elections and governing institutions, Libya is much more of a blank state than most countries,  but that doesn’t mean informal methods of governance, even at the local level, won’t influence the institutions that are eventually developed.

Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly Election

Tunisia will be holding its first ever democratic elections this week, where parties will run to fill the 217 seats of the country’s Constituent Assembly. This new body will be tasked with drafting the constitution for the country.

Seats will be allocated by closed-list proportional representation.   There are 27 domestic constituencies and six out-of-country constituencies.   Party lists are required to employ a gender “zipper” provision, where their lists alternate between male and female candidates. This closed-list, staggered format is considered to be the most beneficial system for women’s representation so Tunisia should be commended for taking such strong steps to ensure that women will be represented in the Constituent Assembly.  It seams that seats will be counted using a Hare quota; a largest remainders system that is the simplest to understand, and tends to favor smaller parties. The average district magnitude is around 6 1/2, but that’s including some of the out-of-country districts that have less seats; in-country constituencies usually have around eight or nine seats.  Those are mid-sized districts that should be fairly proportional.

The nascent political party system in Tunisia is extremely fractured; 110 political party lists had been approved by the new electoral management body, the Instance Supérieure Indépendante pour les Elections (ISIE). While this is a very high number of options, the vast majority of parties aren’t running a list in every district.  In reality, there are about eleven parties that even have a semblance of name recognition. It’s difficult to say how the election will go because polling has been banned since October 1st.  Survey blackouts may seem strange, but they are actually common in many countries, including consolidated democracies.  A blackout this early, however, is unusual. The blackout coincides with the official campaign period, October 1st through the 21st.  From September 12 to October 1st, any type of party advertising was banned by ISIE.  The relativity short campaign period, coupled with the survey blackout, probably makes it  difficult for the average Tunisian voter to cast a tactical vote.   In order to cast a tactical vote, a citizen must know the relative strength of each party.  This allows an individual to avoid wasting a vote on a party that has no chance of winning, while picking the best option that has a realistic shot at victory.  In Tunisia, the electoral viability of any given party or candidate in a district will be uncertain. Not only will most voters not know the strengths of parties, however, but they might not know who all the parties even are.

A potential result of this is that every district will elect a large number of parties, with very few getting more than one seat.  The polling that was done prior to the survey blackout showed that voters had little enthusiasm for any particular party. Enadha, a “moderate” Islamist party was receiving the most support, with around 20% of Tunisians planning on supporting them.  In contrast, one poll placed those who support no party at 40%.  I made a very crude estimate of a hypothetical vote distribution by taking the average of the two most recent polls (the only two I found that were conducted in September).  The problem with this is there are still a fair number of undecided that I can’t place anywhere.  While it’s very possible many of these undecideds will stay home on Election Day, many will probably vote for one of the main parties.  Having so little knowledge of where they will go means we have to take this for what it is.  The diagram below shows how each party would fair in a district with nine seats.  I used 100,000 voters and awarded seats based on party performance from the last two polls.

In this scenario, two parties win two seats, while the other winners only get one each. Obviously this is very hypothetical,  but it illustrates a situation – many parties getting few seats –  that may take place.  This isn’t a horrible scenario by itself, but it will mean that the country’s ostensibly very strong gender quota, may not be that effective.  Most party lists will have a man at the top.   This means that in our hypothetical district, only two lists would send their second candidate, and women would only receive two seats out of nine.

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