Category Archives: Electoral Systems

Jordan’s 2013 Parliamentary Election

JordanIEC

Jordan’s Independent Electoral Commission.

This Wednesday, Jordanians will vote in a parliamentary elections to determine the composition of their 150-member Chamber of Deputies.  A number of significant reforms to the electoral law have taken place since the last election, including changes to the institution managing the election, voting procedures, and the electoral system.

The most high profile debate over the past year has been over reforms to Jordan’s electoral system. Reform advocates have achieved some success, though the system still doesn’t reflect all of their demands. Gone are the Virtual – or “Ghost” – districts from the previous election. The system now more closely resembles what was in place from 1993 to 2007, in that most seats will be elected via Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV). That means that every voter will cast one vote in a multi-member district with N seats, with the top N vote getters winning the open seats. This implications for SNTV are fairly well established. The system makes it very difficult for political parties to form as parties would essentially have to run their own candidates against each other. It also increases the incentive for corruption, as the marginal value of every vote is very high.  This is because SNTV systems often result in the winning candidates capturing their seats with a very small percent of the vote. In general, SNTV is viewed as favoring Jordan’s tribes while hurting organized political parties. Most changes to Jordan’s election law throughout the years have been viewed as finding ways to help tribal elites as much as possible, while making life more difficult for anybody wanting to form a political party.

The system isn’t quite normal SNTV, however, as there is a very low average district magnitude (seats per district). In fact, 18 out of the 45 districts have only one seat, making them First Past The Post (FPTP) races. The average district magnitude of all the districts is only 2.37.

JordanDistrictsDM

As with previous elections, the electoral law has provisions to ensure a certain level of ethnic minority representation. Nine seats are reserved for Christians across eight districts, while three seats are reserved for Chechens/Circassians across three different districts. For example, Balqaa’s First District has seven seats, five for Muslims and two for Christians. In this district, the top five Muslim candidates will win and the top two Christen candidates will take seats.  Any voter can vote for a Muslim, Christen, or Chechen/Circassian candidate if they are running. So in this sense, a Muslim can vote for  a Christian “seat” and vice versa.  This is similar to the consociational system that Lebanon uses, though in Lebanon, voters get as many votes as their are seats in a district.

In addition to districts based on the 12  governorates, nine seats will be reserved for Bedouins across three districts.  Participation in these districts, whether as a candidate or voter, is reserved for members of certain families who are listed as belonging to the respective locations. A breakdown of all the districts and  governorates is below.

DistrictsJordan

Gender Quota

There is also a gender quota component in the electoral law, which will guarantee at least 15 women are elected to parliament. For each of the 12 governorates, the female candidate who receives the highest percentage of votes in their district will be elected, regardless of their vote total compared to their male counterparts. This also applies to the three Bedouin districts.  This is the same way Afghanistan implements its gender quota, and it’s probably the most intuitive way if you are using an SNTV system.  Afghanistan, however, mandates the top two females from each province are elected, which guarantees that the Wolesi Jirga will be 27% female. Jordan’s minimum, will only be 10%.

Proportional Representation Seats

In addition to the 108 SNTV/SMD seats, 27 seats will be allocated using a closed-list proportional representation system. Opposition members from all political stripes have long advocated for a PR system or tier, which benefits political parties. Although the 27 seats are a small concession, most opposition members still seem to feel that it is inadequate. The PR tier will be comprised of one nationwide district, and seats will be tabulated using the Hare Quota.

Ballots and Other Reforms

Jordan has made several administrative reforms for this election, which will hopefully result in a better run poll. The first is the establishment of an independent Electoral Management Body (EMB), the Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC replaces the Ministry of Interior, which previously ran elections. Now, of course, having the word “Independent” in your name isn’t  a sufficient condition to meet the requirements of being independent. The IEC commissioners are still appointed by the Monarch, so there are still some issues of influence here. With that being said, a separate body is probably preferable to the Ministry of Interior in terms of administration and legitimacy.

The other issue is with regards to ballot paper. For the 2013 election, voters will receive two pre-printed ballot sheets, one for the PR tier and one for the SNTV tier. In past elections, voters were given a blank sheet in which they had to write the name of their candidate. Aside from potentially disenfranchising illiterate voters, blank ballots greatly influenced the power of elites as it increased the marginal cost of casting a vote. Seeing a list of candidates in front of you is much easier than needing to memorize one beforehand; especially when there are so many candidates. For this reason, blank ballots benefit candidates with the highest name recognition and result in less informed decision making.

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.

The First Round of Egypt’s Presidential Election: What Actually Happened?

A little late to this, but I wanted to look at the first round of Egypt’s presidential election and evaluate what happened.

I only partially get to claim predicting this outcome. After noting that Moussa’s support was probably very overstated, I still went ahead and predicted “Shafiq and Moussa win the first round, although a strong possibility that it will be Shafiq and Morsy.” With that in the past, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on what happened. There are obviously many people qualified to provide more detailed analysis in a way that I can’t, but I hope this provides some original insight for others to mull over.

Moussa didn’t collapse, his support never existed

One of the most shocking things for many was that after leading every survey for the past year, Amr Moussa finished in a distant fifth place. I think the real reason Moussa lost is the people who would have voted for him didn’t vote. As I discussed before the election, Moussa was doing far better in those surveys which had a lower level of “undecided” voters. Many of these surveys also had turnout models of around 70-80 percent. Actual turnout, however, was around 40 percent. This is probably where to look when trying to explain the massive failure of those polling the election and I think it can explain where Moussa’s support went as well. Moussa’s support was among the undecided voters who are typically the least engaged and least informed. The most partisan supporters are going to be the mostly likely to vote on Election Day in any country. The ones less attached to any candidate are going to be the least. The causality of the relationship is that the most active and informed citizens will develop the most interest in candidates and issues. If Moussa’s advisers were smart, they would have told him he was going to lose early on May 23 when the initial turnout estimates started to come out.

Moussa was a consensus option. This may sound like a good place to be in, but consensus options are your second choice, not your first. In other words, Moussa was the guy everybody would have voted for in round two.

Aboul Fotouh’s benefited from Salafi support

It’s hard to pin down Aboul-Fotouh’s base of support. He seemed at times to enjoy popularity among liberals and Salafists.  The latter, we know, did endorse his candidacy (at least several leading figures). While it’s true that the Salafis don’t have the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, there is a decent correlation between Al-Nour party vote percentage in 2011 (the Salafi poliitcal party) and About-Fotouh vote percentage in 2012.

The relationship is robust, and Nour Party vote totals can explain 44 percent of the variation in Aboul Fotouh support.  One notable outlier is the governorate of Kafr el-Sheikh, where Aboul Fotouh did far worse than we would have expected given Nour’s performance in 2011. Two explanations for this are 1) Kafr el-Sheikh is the home governorate of Hamdeen Shabhi and 2) prominent Salafi cleric Abu Ishak was in Germany having his leg amputated,  severely hurting the Salafi network in the region.

Ahmed Shafiq’s support

The brief surge of Omar Suleiman in the polls, before he was disqualified, showed that there was a large constituency for a return to the Mubarak era. You can think of this what you will, but it’s the truth. Shafiq clearly understood this and tapped into this sentiment. There have been two things said about Shafiq’s support. That it is 1) based solely in the Delta, and 2) based primarily on Coptic Christians. These not only contradict themselves slightly (there aren’t a lot of Christians in the Delta) but the latter charge has a danergous ethnic element to it. I’ve heard that the MB played up this story to their own benefit, but I’ve also seen some on the left make the same charge.

Let’s first look at the Christian accusation. It’s obviously impossible to tell the religion of the person who cast each vote and the government has always refused to reveal religious demographic data by governorates.  But we do have a nice proxy for Coptic voters via the last parliamentary elections: the Free Egyptians Party. Although it presents itself as a secular party representing all Egyptians, The Free Egyptians’ base is well-known to consist almost entirely of Coptic Christians. So what happens when we look for correlations between Free Egyptians votes in 2011 and Shafiq votes in 2012? Well, it turns out there is nothing there. Does this mean no Copts voted for Shafiq? Of course not, many clearly did. But many Muslims voted for him as well.

The other charge is that Shafiq only did well because of the Delta region. This is partially true; thirty-three percent of Shafiq’s votes came from the governorates of Minoufiya, Sharqyia and Gharbiya. But the charge that this somehow undermines his legitimacy seems odd. Saying that Shafiq’s support is only a Delta thing is like saying his support is only a “half of the country” thing. Forty-four percent of Sabahi’s came from the two large cities of Alexandria and Cairo/Giza, but we don’t hear any complaints about that.

The Egyptian left failed to coordinate

Two-round presidential electoral systems are pretty common. The requirement to ensure a candidate receives an absolute majority of voters creates a level of legitimacy that a plurality winner would not have. It also reduces the need for voters and candidates to act strategically. There is more room for a voter to cast a ballot for their first choice, even if they don’t think they will likely win. It’s not wasting a ballot if they can assume their second choice (the consensus candidate) makes it into the second round.

This assumes, however, a consolidated political spectrum that has a clear line between the left and the right. It also assumes voters have some concept of the relative strength of the candidates (ideally they would be supported by a party, which would have a clear level of support). Egyptian voters didn’t have these options. Many on the left voted for Aboul Fotouh, thinking he was the least bad option that also had the most realistic chance of winning. Others choose Sahbahi, while some went for Shafiq. I’m hearing a lot of, admittedly anecdotal, stories of voters wishing they knew beforehand that Sahbahi would perform so well. This is understandable. Despite his late surge, a rational, secular Egyptian voter could have felt that voting for Sahbahi was a wasted vote.

It’s not just the lack of information about relative candidate strength that hurt the left, however; it was the lack of a defined left-right spectrum that made it difficult to coordinate. In Germany you could vote for the Greens in the first round, then the Social Democrats in the runoff.  This would be the logical shift in preference based on your options. What would have been the similar path for a liberal? Who would have come before Sahbahi? How would one even begin to place candidates like Aboul-Fotouh on any spectrum?

Greece, bonus seats, and PR

Greece held parliamentary elections on Sunday in which the two historic largest parties were battered at the polls while parties on the extreme right and left performed disturbingly well. The top party, New Democracy (ND) received less votes than it did in the previous election (19 percent compared to 33 percent) yet actually finished with 17 more seats than before.  How did this happen?

Greece has a strange system where the party that receives the most votes gets an additional 50 seats (up from 40 during the last election) in parliament. So while there are 300 seats in the Vouli ton Ellinon, parties only really compete for 250 while the last 50 are allocated separately. The point of this, I’m assuming, is to ensure that one party or coalition has a governing majority.  It obviously failed in this election as even with the bonus, ND will still just get 36 percent of all seats.[1]

Greece’s system is a great example of how an ostensibly proportional system can perform very unproportionally. Small degrees of over-representation are consistent with most nationwide PR systems but Greece’s tends to highly exaggerate the top party while mitigating the natural bonus that we would see for the other parties. The 50 bonus seats are calculated based on the national vote total. Invalid votes are disregarded for seat allocation purposes as are votes for parties that fall below the 3 percent threshold.  Therefore, we should normally expect to see most parties that enter parliament get a slightly higher percentage of seats than their raw vote total would suggest.  For example, in this election, it seems all parties that entered parliament would have been over represented if you did not factor in the bonus seats (so a parliament of 250).  Syriza would have received nearly 21 percent of seats for getting only 17 percent of the vote and New Democracy would have still received 23 percent for getting only 19 percent of the vote. (Figure 1)  All parties, however, would have done better than their percent of the popular vote would indicate.

Figure 1 (Click to enlarge)

With the bonus, however, ND received a 17 percent boost from their raw vote total (36 percent of all seats with only 19 percent of the popular vote), while Syriza stayed at basically the same level. The other parties, however, got around a fraction of a percent less of the seat total than their popular vote would have indicated. This somewhat has the effect of awarding all wasted votes to New Democracy. That last column in Figure 1 shows how the bonus affected that party’s seat total compared to a parliament without the 50 bonus seats.

Attempting to create a governing majority has some understandable justifications, but what happens when no party can get that majority anyway? Now Greece’s system just gave a massive boost to one party, without anything to really show for it.  In order for a party to win a majority of seats it would have to win approximately 39 percent of the vote, at a minimum. This was a number that was calculated prior to the election, so maybe it could be possible to stipulate that no party wins the bonus unless it reaches that level? Comments or corrections welcome.


[1] I was unaware of any other country that has a bonus system until a friend pointed me towards Italy, which guarantees 340 seats to the top-performing party. (This is somewhat unsettling, as I have already heard some people compare the performance of the extreme right and left in this election to famous elections in Italy and Germany. I don’t think we need to fret about fascism coming to Greece but it never hurts to reread Giovanni Sartori.)

Egypt’s election law favors small parties, fractured parliament

Although it’s difficult to predict many aspects of Egypt’s upcoming election, most observers assume that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will win a plurality of seats, while the smaller, divided liberal parties will perform poorly.  This is most likely true.  What is not true, however, is the often-stated proposition that this is partially because the country’s electoral system works to the Brotherhood’s advantage.   There are some good reasons people have said this.  Under previous versions of the electoral law, I’ve made the same argument.   As the rules stand now, however, this is not completely true.   The details of the new electoral system, specifically the seat allocation method in the proportional tier, will give actually give a boost to the fractured liberal parties, while depriving the Brotherhood of a majority they would obtain in more commonly used electoral systems.  The reason for this is due to the formula used to calculate who wins the two-thirds of seats in the proportional representation tier.

No proportional representation system can perfectly award seats in one-to-one relation to vote shares. There are various systems for allocating seats proportionally but broadly speaking, they all fall into two categories: the largest remainder method (which Egypt uses), and the highest average method.  For the largest remainder method, each seat in a legislature corresponds to a raw number of votes, equal to a quota, and a party’s seat share depends on the number of quotas it wins in an election.  How that quota is calculated varies based on the system, but under the simplest method, the Hare quota,  total votes are divided by N (total) seats to create a quota used for allocation.  After this number is calculated, parties are awarded seats for every time they reach that quota.  However, after the quota is reached a certain number of times, there are bound to be some seats left over, as well as remainder votes that didn’t contribute to a full quota. Parties’ remainder votes are then tallied and used to determine who will get the remaining seats.

For the upcoming elections, it appears Egypt will use a Hare quota.  Despite its recent use in Tunisia, the Hare quota is a somewhat unpopular method. Figure one shows that the largest remainder method, and the Hare quota specifically, isn’t nearly as common as the highest average method of seat allocation.  I bring this up because it’s notable the government chose a less common system.

Figure one

Hare quotas may be less popular because, while being easier to understand, they are slightly less proportional than other systems. In general, Hare quota’s favor smaller parties, and produce more fractured parliaments.  In the case of Egypt, it will benefit smaller parties.  To illustrate this, let’s look at how the Hare quota will play out.  In Figure two, I made a very crude estimate of a hypothetical vote distribution in one of Cairo’s four districts (with a district magnitude of ten). For vote totals, I divided how well each party was doing in the most recent public opinion survey by the total voters.  My total voters was calculated by taking how many Cairo voters participated in the March referendum and dividing by four (the number of districts in Cairo).  The problem with this, of course, is that I’m using a national poll and placing it at a district level. Unless somebody is willing to provide me with crosstabs, however, this is the best I can do.  First the Hare quota is calculated (576,640/N (10)), which equals 57,664.  This is the number of votes a party needs to get one seat in the first distribution. After this, however, we still have five more seats to allocate.  So the remainders are then ordered from highest to lowest, and the five parties with the highest remainders are given one extra seat.

Figure two (Click to enlarge)

Freedom and Justice gets four seats, Al-Wafd gets two, and the remaining four seats go to the next four parties. Note that in this scenario, Freedom and Justice isn’t being specifically disadvantaged; they are actually receiving the number of seats they deserve. It’s just that smaller parties, are getting more seats than we would expect if the system was perfectly proportional.

Now let’s look at how the exact same scenario would turn out if we used the much more common, highest average method.  Specifically, the D’Hondt system, which is the most common method used across the world.  Figure three below shows how this works.  Party votes are first divided by 1, then 2, then 3, and so on until they reach N number of seats in the district.  So in our Cairo district, they would keep dividing untill they reached ten.  This produces the chart we see below. After this, the N (in this case, ten) highest distributions are found, and each one awards that party a seat.   As we can see below, this method give Freedom and Justice six seats in total, Al-Wafd three, and Al-Nour one.  In this case, Freedom and Justice overperforms, while the other parties generally get what should be expected.

Figure three (Click to enlarge)

It should also be noted that this method would favor Freedom and Justice even more in smaller Egyptian districts.  Under the D’Hondt method, a decrease in districts magnitude can decrease the number of parties who win a seat.  If, for example, this was a rural district in Masa Matruh Governorate, with four seats, then Freedom and Justice would get three seats and Wafd one.

There are several interpretations of why the SCAF would choose the largest remainder method.  The first is that they were simply using the system closest to what was used the last time Egypt had PR elections, in the 1980s. (1) This would seem plausible.  A second interpretation is that this is an attempt to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood, whom they knew would be the largest party.  (Perhaps the Tunisian transitional authority made the same calculation with regards to weakening Enahda’s seat total).  A third interpretation is that the SCAF wants to reduce the number of wasted votes (votes cast for a party that doesn’t enter parliament).  A high number of wasted votes could jeopardize the legitimacy of the election in the eyes of many Egyptians.  A fourth, very cynically theory that I don’t actually believe, is that the SCAF is intentionally trying to create a parliament that is as fractured and weak as possible.  The SCAF’s reluctance to abolish the nominal tier of seats, which most people predict will be won predominately by independents; the low .5% threshold for entering parliament; and the Hare quota, are all rules that will favor a greater quantity of small parties, and MPs with no party affiliation.   This could create a parliament that is weak and ineffective, either creating a strong president, or  weakening the public’s trust in democratic institutions.  An extreme cynic could argue that both of these would benefit the SCAF.

I’m more inclined to believe in the first explanation, and think that a large number of wasted votes is greater threat to the legitimacy of the election than a fractured parliament. Regardless of why these rules were chosen, however, it’s important to realize the implications they will have.

(1) In 1984 and 1987, Egypt used a modified Hare Quota, where seats that could not be awarded on the basis of full quotas were awarded to whichever party had at least half a quota. When no party achieved this cutoff, such seats were awarded to the nationally most popular party. This was a very unproportional way to allocate remainders, and served to boost the seat total of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

Gender quotas and the status of women in the new Tunisia

The Democratic Modernist Pole. (Pôle Démocratique Moderniste – القطب الديمقراطي الحداثي) The only party in the upcoming election to have women lead half of their lists.

Bloomberg has a good article about some of the difficulties women are facing in Tunisia’s new political climate. I wanted to highlight a point made by one Tunisian candidate:

“We shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” said Ahmed Brahim, who runs the PDM or Modernist Democratic Pole, the only party where women head half the lists. Women’s rights in Tunisia “are fragile because they are associated with an authoritarian state.”

I think this is an important point.  We (the development community) often push for gender quotas in less-than-democratic countries.  While I’m for these efforts, I think we need to do a better job of not just acknowledging their limitations, but potential drawbacks as well.  The main goal of more female representation in parliament is to obviously have women included in the decision-making process. This isn’t really relevant in non-democracies, however, as parliament isn’t deciding very much.  One of the justifications used then, is that the presence of female legislatures will provide positive images of women performing competently in important positions.  This should have a positive impact on the populations’ general image of women. I agree with this intention, but what if something else could happen as well?

Parliaments in authoritarian, or semi-authoritarian states aren’t viewed with much confidence. (Really, legislative bodies in democracies often suffer from low approval as well) Could it be possible then, that gender quotas actually decrease the perception of women’s capabilities?  If the average citizens sees parliament as corrupt of just part of the regime, I don’t see how women parliamentarians will bolster their standing in society.

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.

Egypt, list PR, and largest remainders

Eric Trager has a new article out for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

I genuinely appreciate the research Trager does, though I often disagree with his analysis, but I wanted to highlight a major problem I read in his article:

The official election bylaws have yet to be released, but reports suggest that the party-list elections will be based on district-wide voting, with winners determined using the “largest remainder system.” According to this method, only those parties that meet or exceed the quota of votes for a given district will be able to win seats. For example, in a district with five seats, a party must win at least 20 percent of the vote to gain a seat; even if a party finishes within the top five, none of its candidates will be seated if it does not cross the 20 percent threshold.

If this system is enacted, it will significantly hamper newer parties in the next parliamentary elections. The local nature of these party-list elections — as opposed to the nationwide systems in other democracies — makes it unlikely that small and still-forming parties will be able to compete effectively. Even in those districts where they might field multiple candidates, they would have trouble surpassing the relatively high thresholds that the largest remainder system implies.

This is simply untrue about largest remainder systems; largest remainders do not make it necessary to reach a quota.  This should be somewhat intuitive if you think about.  If this were really the case, then what if many parties ran and nobody reached that number?  All PR systems, broadly speaking, rely on quotas to allocate seats; the largest remainder system is not exceptional.  In fact, it is actually more favorable to smaller parties than the highest average method.  To illustrate this, lets compare several scenarios using three different methods.  The first is the standard highest average method of allocation seats, the D’hondt method.  For the largest remainder system, we will use a Droop quota as examples.  For each example, I’ll have one party receive 60,000 votes (60% in our district), while the next two only get 20,000 and 10,000 respectively.  The other parties only get 1,000 each.  This is an extremely fractured party system, but it will help demonstrate what could happen in many Egyptian districts.

In the D’Hondt method, the total votes cast for every party (100,000) is divided, first by 1, then by 2, then 3,  up to the total number of seats to be allocated (six for our example).  Then the N highest entries (six in our example) are counted and awarded to those parties.

So in this example, Party A wins five seats, while Party B wins one.

Largest remaineder methods, however, work a bit differently.  Instead, total votes are divided by N seats to create a quota used for allocation.  Parties are awarded seats for every time they reach that quota.  However, after the quota is reached a certain number of times, there are bound to be remainders.  The remainders are then used to determine who will get the remaining seats.  So using a Droop quota below, we can use the same election scenario and see how things would play out.

First the Droop quota is calculated (100,000/(N+1))+1, which equals 14,286.  This is the number of votes a party needs to get one seat in the first distribution. After this, however, we still have one more seat to allocate.  Party C has only 10,000 votes, much less than the Droop quota, but they have the largest remainder votes after their initial tally was divided by the quota.  Because of this, they get the remaining seat, which makes this a more equal allocation method than highest averages.

Lebanese Christian leaders debate changes to electoral system

Current district boundaries in Lebanon

Via The Daily Star, (which has really improved its website recently), comes more news about proposed electoral system reform in Lebanon.

One participant, who did not wish to be identified because of a secrecy agreement struck at the meeting, told The Daily Star that some parties were seeking to block proportional representation.

“I hope this isn’t true, but my impression is that many wouldn’t want to see proportional representation adopted and may use various means and tricks to avoid it,” the participant said. “Major political groups wouldn’t want to see it jeopardizing results in their constituencies. You will not hear anyone saying they are against proportional representation, because it is an international trend. But at the same time they are trying to build on a system of each community electing its members of Parliament.”

The bluntness in these talks is strangely refreshing to me.  Given the nature of politics in Lebanon, and the potential ramifications of changing their infamous model, I guess this make sense.

Latvian minority party wins most seats in parliamentary election

Harmony Center

Harmony Center, a left-leaning, pro-Russian party, won the most votes in Latvia’s parliamentary elections last week. The party, which caters to the country’s Russian minority, captured around 28 percent of the vote, while a new party formed by former President Valdis Zatlers came in second place with nearly 21 percent. Unity, the largest member in the current ruling coalition, fell to third place with 18 percent. Then-President Valdis Zatlers forced the early elections by calling a special referendum in May to dissolve parliament.

Latvia has a lot of strange rules in its electoral system.  The president can call for a referendum to dissolve parliament, but if it fails, he or she must resign.  Also, parliament elects the president for a two year term.  Zatlers called the referendum a few days before his term expired and parliament rewarded his move by voting for somebody else instead of renewing his term.

I don’t know of any other time when a minority party won the most seats in an election.  This isn’t to say that Harmony Center “won the election” as they still have to form a coalition, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

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