Author Archives: David
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.
- A 21st Century Social Contract is a good blog covering post-revolutionary Tunisia
- Tunisia Live is an English language news site that has lots of up-to-date news about the election.
Democracy in Libya
While watching Al Jazeera today, I became annoyed that so many experts and analysts kept referring to this mythical Libyan election that will somehow take place in 8-9 months. I don’t expect an election administration expert on every TV panel but I wish somebody asked if this was a realistic timetable (spoiler: it’s not). Libya isn’t the first post-conflict country to deal with the difficult decision of an election timetable. The optimal time to hold a first election is different from country to country, and the tradeoffs are important. The earlier the election, the harder it is to run a good one. The longer you wait, the less legitimacy the interim government will have. Libya will probably have the benefit of massive amounts of foreign funding and expertise, but that still doesn’t guarantee a well run election. One only has to look at Kosovo to see that unlimited resources, although helpful, are far from sufficient for avoiding major pitfalls in an election.
Another troubling thing I’ve heard on more than one occasion is the notion that institution building in Libya will be like working on a “blank slate.” I’ve also heard this used to describe South Sudan and in both cases, they aren’t completely true. When it comes to governance, there is not such thing as a black slate. Governing has been taking place in some way. There may be a lack of formal democratic institutions, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t doing things before we got there. It’s true that in terms of elections and governing institutions, Libya is much more of a blank state than most countries, but that doesn’t mean informal methods of governance, even at the local level, won’t influence the institutions that are eventually developed.
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.
The other election in Africa this week
Most media attention has been focused on Liberia’s election this week, and with good reason. Also in Africa, however, Cameroon recently held presidential elections on Sunday. Opposition leaders demanded the election be nullified, after Paul Biya was reelected to a sixth term. Biya has ruled Cameroon for 29 years. In 2008, he passed a constitutional amendment, which abolished term limits.
Cameroon’s election wasn’t exactly fair, but what I found interesting was the assessment of what I would have thought to be a legitimate Election Observation Mission (EOM):
But France, which was Cameroon’s former colonial power and played a significant part in Biya’s rise to the helm in 1982, saw no egregious violation in the poll.
“According to the International Organisation of the Francophonie and the Commonwealth, who followed the development of these elections, we can consider that they took place in acceptable conditions,” Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.
If you haven’t already, read Judith Kelley’s great paper, Election Observers and their Biases. It does a great job of exploring the behavior and incentives of EOMs based on a number of criteria. Her main argument is that the assessment of elections is influenced by the mission’s organization, the source of funding, and the host country.
She also discusses the problem that occurs when observers want to reward progress made in a country, but the environment does not warrant a positive assessment. It is in addressing this phenomenon that Kelley notices certain peculiarities in her data. The most striking is the fact that the more violent a pre-election environment is, the more likely observation missions will endorse an otherwise flawed poll. Kelley also touches upon some issues that have been addressed in previous writings, such as the phenomenon where pre-election irregularities are more likely to be ignored by an assessment team than those that occur during the polling process.
I really don’t know Cameroon, or France’s current interest in it, so I’m unsure of if any of these particular findings would explain this strange assessment. But this does fit Susan Hyde’s theory, which concludes that regimes have made the calculation that the presence of election observers has become a signal of democratizing, while the risks of a negative election observation report outweighs the benefits of not inviting any foreign observers. I would say that Paul Biya benefited from allowing an election observation mission, especially one from France.
I’m a bit confused as to what seems like contradictory aspects of Egypt’s election law. Article 37 states that the High Election Commission must publish results three days after the election or referendum. However, for elections that take place in stages, as the People’s Assembly does, results only have to be announced after the final stage. This seems like a strange requirement as the PA elections also contain two rounds. The decision to hold a second round, and which candidates would participate, would inherently require results from the first round to be published. Am I reading this wrong?
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
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.
Latvian minority party wins most seats in parliamentary election
Harmony Center, a left-leaning, pro-Russian party, won the most votes in Latvia’s parliamentary elections last week. The party, which caters to the country’s Russian minority, captured around 28 percent of the vote, while a new party formed by former President Valdis Zatlers came in second place with nearly 21 percent. Unity, the largest member in the current ruling coalition, fell to third place with 18 percent. Then-President Valdis Zatlers forced the early elections by calling a special referendum in May to dissolve parliament.
Latvia has a lot of strange rules in its electoral system. The president can call for a referendum to dissolve parliament, but if it fails, he or she must resign. Also, parliament elects the president for a two year term. Zatlers called the referendum a few days before his term expired and parliament rewarded his move by voting for somebody else instead of renewing his term.
I don’t know of any other time when a minority party won the most seats in an election. This isn’t to say that Harmony Center “won the election” as they still have to form a coalition, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Recent election stories around the world
- Saudi Arabia will allow women to vote and run in the next municipal elections. They are sham elections, and no word yet if women will be able to drive to the polls, but…baby steps.
- Zambia averted a potentially horrible outcome in its presidential election when it looked liked post-election violence would escalate. The violence was a result of a slow counting process, which demonstrates how important effective election management can be in preventing conflict. Luckly the worst was avoided when President Rupiah Banda conceded to challenger Micheal Sata. The election was a rematch of the 2008 presidential poll. In that race, Banda narrowly defeated Sata by a margin of 40 to 38 percent.
- Russia will have elections next year but…
- Bahrain held the first round of legislative elections to fill the 18 seats that were vacated by the Shia Wefaq Party. Turnout was, not surprisingly, very low.
- The UAE also held local elections defined by low turnout. The government approves the list of eligible voters in the UAE, so its really more of an electoral college than a popular vote.
- Norwegians went to the polls last Monday to vote for county and municipal councils. This was the first election in Norway since the July 22 terrorist attack that killed 77 people. During the election, voters in ten pilot municipalities had the option of voting via the internet.
Egypt’s potential district boundaries, Ctd. Workers and farmers
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.