Category Archives: Middle East

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.

Libyan Election Posters

Though it’s been over two months since I returned form a work trip to Libya, I thought I would finally get around to posting some election-related photos I took. Luckily for me, people seem to leave their campaign posters up well after the election, which gives me a random, non representative sample of the type of campaigning done before the GNC election in July. If anybody can add any context to these pictures, or wants to make any corrections, please do so in the comments section. They would be much appreciated.

Most of these pictures were taking in the Hay Andalus district of Tripoli.  An upper class neighborhood, Hay Andalus, like most constituencies, had an individual and proportional tier. The proportional tier was given three seats, though shared with several other areas. Hay Andalus also had it’s own Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV) tier, of three seats. SNTV systems are notorious for creating weak parties, as well as creating the highest incentive for candidates to cultivate a personal vote. This is in part because the margin of victory needed for a seat is usually very small. In this district, there were 136 candidates competing for three seats. The three top candidates ended up receiving 12,099, 8851, and 6,807 votes respectively.

This pillar was covered with mostly individual candidates, though the purple poster in the middle is for the Salafi’s Al Watan Party. Despite high expectations, Al-Watan won no seats nationally, and came in fifth place in this district (only 3,992 votes, while as a comparison, the National Forces Alliance took just over 30,000).

It wasn’t uncommon to see candidate posters with faces scrapped off, like those below. I’m guessing this was either vandalism from individual Salafis (note above, that the main Salafi party still used a female face in one of it’s own ads), or just someone expressing dissatisfaction with politicians in general. Or I’m reading too much into this and it was simply some punk kids.

The next two photos are ads for the Union For Homeland Party (الاتحاد من اجل الوطن).  The Union won two seats overall and came in seventh place in Hay Andalus, with 2,703 votes. The slogan used in these posters says “New Libya, new faces” which matches the imagery used in the posters. The Union’s leader, Abdul Rahman Swehli from Misrata, was a dissident during Qaddafi’s rule, and advocates and entirely new system that is purged of officials from the old regime. This is relevant as many current figures, even liberal ones such as Mohamed Jibril and Ali Zeidan, have served in Qaddafi’s government at some point in their careers (even though they became opponents).

A billboard for the Justice and Construction Party (حزب العدالة والبناء), which is the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing in Libya. The party finished with the second most party list seats, though significantly less than the secular National Forces Alliance.  Justice and Construction (abbreviated by their Arabic acronym, AB) used the horse imagery in most advertisements I saw.

This was a small sticker for the National Forces Alliance (تحالف القوى الوطنية), of Mohamed Jibril, which won the most party list seats out of any organization.  I actually saw more billboards and signs for them around Martyrs’ Square and on a few highways, but never in a situation where I could take a photo. 

I saw several posters, such as this one for Wafa Al-Sharif, that displayed affiliation with the National Party for Development and Welfare, led by now-Prime Minster Ali Zeidan. (Zedian was elected as an independent in Jufra). This appears to be a party-list poster as there is no mention of candidate number and I couldn’t find Al-Sharif’s name in the district results. It is interesting to see the party emphasizing candidates on their closed party list ads, whereas the Justice and Construction Party took the opposite approach. The party managed to get one party list seat nationally while finishing in 17th place where this picture was taken. The poster was on a main highway, however, so it was likely to have targeted voters throughout Tripoli.

Sign for a candidate running in the SNTV tier.

Here are two signs for the National Movement for Justice and Development. Another party-list ad, these two signs indicate that the party chose to have a women lead their list in this district. There were only three open seats in this district and parties were forced to stagger their lists by gender, as well as placing women at the top of half of their lists nationally.

People in Misrata were unfortunately better at taking their campaign posters down after the election, but I did manage to get this of a candidate, who finished in 63rd out of 117 candidates. Misrata also used SNTV for it’s candidate-based tier, though with a district magnitude of four.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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