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.
In my last post I went over the basics of Egypt’s new district boundaries. Now I would like to delve into the some of their potential implications.
The most noticeable aspect of the districts are their size: only four or six seats for each one. The reason for the only even numbers confused me at first, until I realized this must be to accommodate the constitutional requirement that half of all MPs be workers or farmers. The nominal tier of seats is already a convoluted mess because of this strange requirement, so I guess it makes sense for the ordinal tier to suffer from it too. Why is this the case? Well in order to guarantee that half the representatives are workers and farmers, every district will need to send half of its delegation from that class. This means that every party list will have to employ what is commonly known as a zipper provision. That is, every other list member must be a worker or farmer. This also explains why Egypt is proposing a closed-list system. Open-lists would allow voters to cast preference votes, which could place non workers or farmers at the top of the lists. Because of this rule, the small size of districts could result in a PR tier where almost only worker or farmers are elected. In the standard district with four seats, for example, we might expect that one party would capture two seats, and two other parties would split the remaining half. This would mean that three of the four delegates would be from the reserved class, with only the second list member of the largest party not belonging to that group. With the fractionalized nature of Egypt’s current party system, few parties getting more than one seat per district is not unlikely.
This requirement will also place party leaders in a bit of a bind. Normally a party leader would run at the top of their respective list. Most party leaders, I assume, would not like to risk being second place on a list in a four seat district. This will probably cause party leaders to 1) run in extremely favorable districts (if they exist), or 2) run in the nominal tier of seats. The thing is, I’m not sure how many party leaders could win in the nominal tier of seats.
The other major implication I can think of is the impact this will have on women’s representation. The NDP did institute a gender quota in the previous election, which was a special tier of 64 SMD seats. It wasn’t too popular, and the current gender quota is for every party to include at least one women on every party list. Originally, the placement had to be on the top half of the list, but this was changed to the weak requirement that they could be placed anywhere. The small districts will make list placement even more important for candidates, which means that there is a less likely chance women will get winnable slot.
Egyptian Army council General Mamdouh Shahin announced on Wednesday final amendments to the country’s electoral law. The new system has a lot in common with what I previously wrote about, with some key changes. Under the new system, fifty percent of seats in the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, will be awarded through closed-list proportional representation, while the other half will be awarded in two-seat districts. This is a change from the draft law the SCAF put out where only one third of seats would be PR. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the extremely low threshold for entering parliament, which was placed at 1/2 of all national votes.
The new law also abolishes the 64 seats reserved for women, which was instituted before the last election in 2010. In its place is a provision that mandates every party list must include at least one female. Other changes in the law include lowering the age for candidate eligibility from 30 to 25, and stipulating that elections take place in three stages.
I can think of three major implications of the new laws. Let’s start with the new PR tier. The ordinal tier of seats will be divided into 58 constituencies, which for 252 seats (half of the 504 elected members) will create an average district magnitude of 4.3 That’s not very proportional; combined with the two seat districts this system still looks very majoritarian. This makes the .5% threshold all the more bizarre. As far as I know this would make Egypt’s threshold the lowest in the world, even more so than neighboring Israel. While Israel’s one nationwide district allows for extreme party fragmentation, however, I don’t think Egypt’s threshold will have much impact. Maybe Egypt’s planners read Carey and Hix’s recent paper, The Electoral Sweet Spot: Low-Magnitude Proportional Electoral Systems. In the paper, the authors, find an optimal district magnitude – around three to eight seats – which produces low party fragmentation while still retaining a level of proportionality associated with higher seats per district. This sort of assumes, however, that the other half of seats aren’t awarded in the strange two-seat districts that Egypt’s will be.
The second, somewhat related point, is the impact this system will have on women’s representation. Mandating one candidate per list be female is a weak stipulation. With no requirement for where on the list the women has to be, it will be easy for a party to bury women at the bottom of their lists. This incentive will only increase in small magnitude districts as it will become more likely that only the top one or two candidates will be elected.
As far as the three stages for elections go, I think this is also a bad idea. The fear I have with this is it will give parties an incentive to call for a boycott after the first stage if they don’t like the results. This could have the effect of delegitimizing an otherwise well-conducted election. (I’m not assuming it will be of course).