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.
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.
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.
Jordan’s king (and fellow Hoya) Abdullah II, has thrown his support behind proposed changes to the country’s constitution the other day. The proposal is the latest change in a series of reforms that have yet to become law. In May, the government announced plans to do away with it’s current mess of an electoral system and move to one that uses some sort of party lists. Most sources I’ve talked to say that the plan is indeed to move to party list PR, although the details haven’t been worked out yet. Whatever the details are, however, it would be hard to not improve the system Jordan has now.
Jordan currently uses a variant of a Single non-Transferable Voting (SNTV) system, which is generally known as the worst electoral system out there. Abandoned by Japan, and currently used in Afghanistan, SNTV has candidates running as individuals (not party lists) in multi-member districts. Unlike Block voting, however, voters only get one vote. So, for example, in a district with ten open seats, I get to vote for one person. The top ten candidates with the most votes would then fill the seats. One of the most salient effects of these rules is to weaken political parties (although it theoretically is fairly proportional). This is because SNTV makes effective coordination nearly impossible, as parties would have to essentially run their own candidates against each other in every district.
SNTV is odd enough as it is, but Jordan decided to go a step further in the strange rules department when they instituted their new laws for the 2010 election. The system remained SNTV (divided into 45 single- and multi-member constituencies) with the added confusion that these districts would be now further divided into virtual or “ghost districts.” What is a ghost district you ask? Well it’s simply a district that only the candidate can see…..Maybe that requires more explanation.
When registering for the election, candidates must declare which virutal district they want to run in. So, for example, if there are ten open seats (all representing the exact same people mind you), a candidate must choose to run in seat… lets say 7. That candidate will now be running only against every other candidate who chose the same district. So now we have ten separate, First Past the Post, winner-take-all seats, all representing the same constituents. The voter, however, still only gets to vote for one candidate. This creates another coordination problem, as naturally, any candidate only wants to run in the easiest virtual district (the one with the least and weakest opponents). Which district is the easiest, however, completely depends on the decisions of every other candidate, all of whom are also attempting to achieve the same outcome, and all also with the same lack of information necessary to do so.
If that isn’t clear, lets use the US as an example. Lets say you live, like me, in northern Virginia. Instead of being only able to vote in CD-8, you can choose to cast one vote for any candidate running for US House in the entire state. They will all be representing you anyway. The candidates, though, still have to choose which Congressional district they want to run in. Sound like a good idea?
I never really figured out what the intentions for the virtual districts were, but my guess is it was a way for the King to throw coordination issues down to the local tribes, while keeping them happy by weakening political parties. A system like this would have forced local elites to make pre-election bargains with one another so they could work out who ran in each district.
Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m pretty confident the virtual districts weren’t designed with the intention of making the country more democratic. Hopefully the new reforms will create conditions more conducive to the forming of legitimate political parties that provide some sort of democratic accountability to the Jordanian people.