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Jordan’s 2013 Parliamentary Election


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Lebanon debating new electoral system

Lebanon’s been debating a new electoral system for some time now, but it seems these recent debates are actually a little more serious.  The talk is mostly about moving to some sort of PR system, which would be far more fair than what they have now.

Of course there is a reason that a fairer system hasn’t been implemented, and that’s because it would severely reduce the influence of a number of ethnic confessions.  It’s no shock, for example, that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt wants the current rules that have allowed him to be the “last man in” every coalition for his entire career.

Proportional representation was first proposed by my father the late Kamal Jumblatt when he was the head of the national front with the purpose of eliminating sectarianism . But since the ‘leftists’ are now politically weak… it is better to postpone the discussion about an electoral law [based on proportional representation], and maintain the status quo in order to preserve diversity,” National News Agency quoted him as saying.

It’s always great when you can just openly admit you don’t want a system because it will hurt you personally.

Egyptian SCAF unveils new electoral system

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).

The importance of individuals in open list PR. Ctd.

Over at Fruits and Votes, MSS addresses my post on Hong Kong’s new method of filling vacant seats through OLPR.  He adds:

A potential benefit of the proposal, however, is that it should reduce the incentive of parties to rotate some of their legislators between elections. Doing so is common in OLPR systems–elsewhere (I do not know about Hong Kong)–and undermines the connection of elected legislators to the electorate. Under the Hong Kong proposal, a party would often forfeit the seat if it sought to swap out a member.

I was unaware of this phenomenon, but that makes sense.  I think this point really illustrates how unique this method is.  I typically associate PR parliamentary systems as being ones where the party owns the seat, not the individual.  As seat allocation is first determined by a party’s share of the vote, this is still somewhat true.  The new rule, however, would give an individual MP far greater ownership over their seat. MSS continues:

As for the Carey-Shugart (1995, Electoral Studies) we only claim that low-M OLPR places less premium on cultivating a personal reputation than does higher-M OLPR. The story is seen from the competing candidates’ point of view. From the voters’ point of view, however, smaller magnitudes and shorter lists undoubtedly increase the visibility of those who are elected, who win with greater shares of their party’s votes. I actually think this method for filling vacancies makes more sense for smaller district magnitudes than it would for larger. Whether it makes more sense than the usual party-centric way is an open question, and one that might not have a clear answer.


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