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Parties sometimes act like parties, Middle East edition


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.

Gender quotas and the status of women in the new Tunisia

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

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

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

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

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

Tunisia links

Unfortunately, coverage of Tunisia’s election seems to be sparse, so I wanted to share two links I’ve recently found that I beleive are helpful.


Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly Election

Tunisia will be holding its first ever democratic elections this week, where parties will run to fill the 217 seats of the country’s Constituent Assembly. This new body will be tasked with drafting the constitution for the country.

Seats will be allocated by closed-list proportional representation.   There are 27 domestic constituencies and six out-of-country constituencies.   Party lists are required to employ a gender “zipper” provision, where their lists alternate between male and female candidates. This closed-list, staggered format is considered to be the most beneficial system for women’s representation so Tunisia should be commended for taking such strong steps to ensure that women will be represented in the Constituent Assembly.  It seams that seats will be counted using a Hare quota; a largest remainders system that is the simplest to understand, and tends to favor smaller parties. The average district magnitude is around 6 1/2, but that’s including some of the out-of-country districts that have less seats; in-country constituencies usually have around eight or nine seats.  Those are mid-sized districts that should be fairly proportional.

The nascent political party system in Tunisia is extremely fractured; 110 political party lists had been approved by the new electoral management body, the Instance Supérieure Indépendante pour les Elections (ISIE). While this is a very high number of options, the vast majority of parties aren’t running a list in every district.  In reality, there are about eleven parties that even have a semblance of name recognition. It’s difficult to say how the election will go because polling has been banned since October 1st.  Survey blackouts may seem strange, but they are actually common in many countries, including consolidated democracies.  A blackout this early, however, is unusual. The blackout coincides with the official campaign period, October 1st through the 21st.  From September 12 to October 1st, any type of party advertising was banned by ISIE.  The relativity short campaign period, coupled with the survey blackout, probably makes it  difficult for the average Tunisian voter to cast a tactical vote.   In order to cast a tactical vote, a citizen must know the relative strength of each party.  This allows an individual to avoid wasting a vote on a party that has no chance of winning, while picking the best option that has a realistic shot at victory.  In Tunisia, the electoral viability of any given party or candidate in a district will be uncertain. Not only will most voters not know the strengths of parties, however, but they might not know who all the parties even are.

A potential result of this is that every district will elect a large number of parties, with very few getting more than one seat.  The polling that was done prior to the survey blackout showed that voters had little enthusiasm for any particular party. Enadha, a “moderate” Islamist party was receiving the most support, with around 20% of Tunisians planning on supporting them.  In contrast, one poll placed those who support no party at 40%.  I made a very crude estimate of a hypothetical vote distribution by taking the average of the two most recent polls (the only two I found that were conducted in September).  The problem with this is there are still a fair number of undecided that I can’t place anywhere.  While it’s very possible many of these undecideds will stay home on Election Day, many will probably vote for one of the main parties.  Having so little knowledge of where they will go means we have to take this for what it is.  The diagram below shows how each party would fair in a district with nine seats.  I used 100,000 voters and awarded seats based on party performance from the last two polls.

In this scenario, two parties win two seats, while the other winners only get one each. Obviously this is very hypothetical,  but it illustrates a situation – many parties getting few seats –  that may take place.  This isn’t a horrible scenario by itself, but it will mean that the country’s ostensibly very strong gender quota, may not be that effective.  Most party lists will have a man at the top.   This means that in our hypothetical district, only two lists would send their second candidate, and women would only receive two seats out of nine.

Low voter registration numbers in Tunisa

From al-Ahram:

Just over 3.7 million of an estimated seven million potential voters had added their names to the roll, a member of the independent election commission, Larbi Chouikha, told AFP ahead of the close of registration at midnight (2300 GMT).

The provisional figure, which does not include an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 Tunisians of voting age abroad, represented about 52 percent of potential voters still in the country.

The commission will release official figures on Tuesday. Registration opened on July 11 and was supposed to close on August 2, but was prolonged due to a slow turnout.

The October 23 election will be for a constituent assembly charged with drawing up a new constitution to replace that of the former dictatorial regime.

This is a pretty amazing, especially when you consider how many Tunisians expressed an intent to vote in initial surveys.  Probably partly due to response bias in those polls, but also to the disorganized nature of the interim government in managing elections.

Tunisian official proposes delaying elections to Oct 16

Not terribly surprising considering they haven’t worked out any details of the next election.


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