Category Archives: Middle East

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.


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.

Open question

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

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.

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.

Egypt’s potential district boundaries

The new districts for Egypt’s parliamentary election were leaked the other day. You can find the links for the the nominal and list tier respectively, here and here. It appears that the districts will be based around Egypt’s 27 governorates, which makes some sense, but will also reduce proportionality. The allocation of PR districts is strange; district size is either four or six seats, regardless of governorate size.  So Cairo, with 28 seats, is divided into seven districts of four seats.   Not surprisingly, most parties are upset about the new boundaries, although the Muslim Brotherhood – to my knowledge – hasn’t really commented on them.

While there are limitations on what we can analyze (and I welcome comments from those more knowledgeable) we can examine many aspects of the new boundaries.  The first, and perhaps most important, question to ask is if the boundaries are relativity fair, or malapportioned.  This is easy to examine as population statistics are available. (One important note, for population I added the populations of Helwan to Cairo and 6th of October to Giza, as those two governorates were recently reintegrated into their old territories.)

Figure one shows that the population of a governorate and the number of PR seats it was awarded are largely related.  The regression has an R squared score of .9178.

Figure one

Figure two (click to enlarge) does a better job of showing which governorates received more or less seats than they would have if seats were perfectly distributed.   Giza comes out pretty poorly, being underrepresented  by almost six seats, followed by Qalyubia and Shariqia.  At first glance this looks like a wide disparity, but in reality I think this isn’t too bad.  The fact that the chart is compressed (so it was easier to read) gives the impression that there is a lot of range, but most governorates fall between one and two seats outside of their expected level. It is notable, however, that with few exceptions, higher population areas do worse than low ones. The governorates in the chart are ordered from highest population to lowest, so we can see a pretty obvious bias towards the right side.

Figure two

Next, we can look at how proportional each governorate is.  I’m aware of some proportionality indices, but they only work if we have party votes.  (If anybody knows a good way to measure without this information, please let me know).  So absent this information, I tried another idea. I took the the percentage difference between district magnitude if the 252 PR seats were perfectly distributed, and the actual average district magnitude in each governorate. So, for example, if seats were distributed perfectly by population, Cairo would receive 29 seats.  Then the most proportional distribution would be for all of it’s 8,968,694 residents to vote in one district with 29 seats.  In reality, however, the average district magnitude is 4, with each one having 2,242,181 residents in it. Comparing the percentage difference of these numbers across governorates should allow us to view how proportional each region is in comparison to each other. Figure three shows there is once again a pattern; large population governorates are the least proportional while small ones are more so.  Lines in red have an actual district magnitude lower than the expected value, while blue lines have a DM that is actually higher than we would expect.  This pattern isn’t terribly surprising and should be expected when you hold the district magnitude constant across all regions, regardless of population.

Figure three

Cairo stands out as the least proportional governorate; its average DM of four means there are 1,933,549 more people per district than there would be if the governorate had a district magnitude of 29. (A 152% difference in actual district magnitude). Figure four shows the relationship between population and this measure of disproportionality.

Figure four

So the largest governorates enjoy a small, but real benefit as far as overall representation, but suffer with regards to proportionality.  Overall, however, nothing seems too off with these boundaries.

So what are people saying about the boundaries? Well, mostly bad things.  Some of the complaints, however, seem unfair:

Mohamed Farag, assistant secretary-general of Al-Tagammu Party, said that the distribution of constituencies was “illogical”.

“Giza governorate for example is divided into three constituencies … north, middle and south,” Farag explained, adding that the north combines villages with more developed districts.

“The needs and types of people in each area are different … and impossible to include in one constituency,” he added.

Heaven forbid an MP would have to represent more than one type of person.  However, others are complaining that the large sizes of the territories will favor candidates with more money, as it costs more to run a campaign in larger areas.  This probably has some merit with regards to the nominal tier of seats, but shouldn’t matter for the list tier.  It is somewhat ironic, however, that this is a result of complaints by these same actors.  The allocation of seats was originally planned with the nominal tier accounting for 2/3 of all seats.  Parties, however, argued for the PR tier to count for more.  They got their wish (the tiers are now split 50/50) but the decrease in nominal seats invariably means they will need to be larger.

Update: A recent discussion with an Egyptian friend of mine shed light on some of the complaints people are making with the district boundaries, especially those in the nominal tier.  Districts, like they were in the past, are based around the presence of  police stations.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Needles to say, this means that many districts aren’t exactly drawn in a manner most optimal to creating fair representation.

Update 2: Changes made in second graph after reading comments.

50,650,00 eligible voters in upcoming parliamentary elections

Refat Qomsan, Assistant Interior Minister for Administrative Affairs, stated during a seminar yesterday that around 50,650,000 citizens will be eligible to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections.  Qomsan also restated that every polling station will have no more than1,000 voters in an effort to keep polling station congestion at a minimum. My rough calculation of the number of registered voters form the March referendum was 44,995,034 voters, which is not an insignificant difference from the new number.

The voter registry is based off the national ID card, which everybody should have (and which have recently been updated with electronic chips) so the government shouldn’t have that hard a time getting the number right.  I don’t really know of any stories of people being turned away from polling stations from the recent referendum, so the systems has seemed to work alright for now.

Diaa Rashwan, political analyst at the ACPSS, said that dividing voters according to their residential area is a major step, however, the Ministry of Interior also has to coordinate with the Ministry of Health in order to eliminate those who have passed away from the database, referring to the scheme used by the National Democratic Party in previous elections where they used dead citizens’ IDs to vote.

This is encouraging. Sharing lists of citizen data between an EMB and other parts of the government can have many administrative advantages.  Often times, however, the agency in charge of the voter registry is underfunded compared to other ministries and has little clout.  This makes it hard for them to get access to information that would be useful in constructing and maintaining an accurate and up-to-date voter roll.   Seeing as Egypt’s new EMB is essentially controlled by the Interior Ministry, this probably won’t be an issue.

Jordan’s strange electoral system will be changed to something that is, hopefully, less strange

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.

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