Category Archives: Party Systems

Who owns a seat in the Greek Parliament?

It appears that in Greece, parties can expel MPs for not voting with the party:

Twenty two PASOK MPs and 21 New Democracy deputies voted against the bill. In both cases, those lawmakers were expelled from their parties. 

Former Transport Minister Makis Voridis and Deputy Mercant Marine Minister Adonis Georgiadis went against the line of their party, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), by voting for the bill. Both were expelled.

It was the first time in Greek parliamentary history that so many lawmakers were ousted from their parties on the same night.

Certainly a dramatic situation, but party ownership of seats seems like a legitimate rule, given the fact that Greece uses a closed-list proportional representation system.  When voters cast a ballot, they are clearly making a choice for a party, and not an individual candidate. If Greece used Open List PR, then a case could be made that the individual was driving the party’s capture of that seat, and such a rule would seem less democratic. Some countries with majoritarian systems, such as Kenya and India, do have rules that prevent floor-crossing.  In most of these cases, however, the seat is vacated and a by-election is held. The party can not just fill the vacant seat with its next in line candidate. In Lesotho, which has both PR and single- member districts, the PR MPs are prevented from switching parties but the SMD candidates are free to do so.

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.

Institutions still matter

I try not to stray too much in US politics on this blog, only because that information is so easily obtained elsewhere.  With that being said, party and electoral systems are well within the scope here so please read Hans Noel and Seth Masket’s new article in the Los Angeles Times.  The arguments shouldn’t be novel to readers of this blog but apparently it’s possible to be very successful while making the opposite points, so it’ s good to get this out there.

I think the key parts here aren’t the explanation for why we only have two major parties, but the defense against those who see parties as the problem.

All of this seems unfair. Why should these two parties have such an advantage? That’s the wrong way to look at it. The Democrats and the Republicans are not our overlords. They are us. They are the natural creations of politically concerned citizens who want to make a difference. And because in a democracy, the more people you have, the more chance you have of making a difference, parties organize together to have strength in numbers.

That is democracy: people joining together, compromising among themselves to arrive at policies, and trying to get those policies enacted.

If you’re not content with the way this country is being governed, one of the best ways to change it is to get involved with one of the existing parties and work to nominate and elect candidates at all levels of government who will fight for the things you care about. Odds are, one of the parties will want much of what you want. Pining for an independent, third-party dictator is not only a waste of your time, but if you somehow got what you wanted, you’d quickly find it wasn’t what you wanted at all.

Pretty much my thoughts. Organized people, elected by citizens, debating policy in deliberative bodies is a wonderful thing.    People who like democracy should not get so upset when they see it in action.

The Party Still Decides

The Party Decides

Walter Shapiro has an article in the New Republic about the overhyping of the Iowa Straw Polls.

Over the years, I have reached a different conclusion: The Iowa Straw Poll is one of the most insidious events in politics. Even though the straw poll is about as scientific as sorcery, political reporters over-hype the results and pretend that they mean something.

I’m normally very sympathetic to these arguments, and I get what Shapiro is getting at.  Unfortunately, I have to disagree with his premise, and I wonder if he secretly does too.   Shapiro starts by noting how unrepresentative of the larger Republican party the  Straw Poll is:

 In November 2008, 682,000 Iowa voters cast their ballots for McCain. The 119,000 Republicans who participated in the 2008 caucuses were the party stalwarts. But the 14,000 Republicans who voted in the 2007 straw poll were a microcosm of that microcosm—just 12 percent of the caucus attendees and a microscopic 2 percent of McCain voters. N

Yes, the event may only be made up of the most hardcore Republicans, but who does Shapiro thinks decide primaries?  I’ll again encourage people to read my professor, Hans Noel’s book, The Party Decides, to get an idea of how modern presidential primaries really work.  Events like the Straw Poll are a good way for party elites to test the loyalty of candidates to their policy preferences, while simultaneously examining their electablity.  These events may play a large roll in the “invisible primary” that is actually quite crucial in determining who winds up getting the party’s nomination.

But my problem with Shapiro’s argument is not  just that these elite events matter, it’s that he himself seems to admit that in his piece, which at times almost contradicts itself. As an example, Shapiro states:

Given the skewed nature of the event, you might think journalists would ignore the results. But, on the contrary, too many of my colleagues in the press inflate the straw poll’s significance, because they are desperate for any tangible numbers to enliven the long wait until convention delegates are actually selected.

Then, in the very next sentence!

And so the consequences of failure at the straw poll can be dramatic. In 1999, a disappointing sixth-place finish at Ames forced Lamar Alexander out of the race immediately after the results were in. The poll also fatally damaged the campaign of Elizabeth Dole, who dropped out two months later.

Ending the campaigns of two candidates doesn’t sound like an insignificant event. I sympathize with Shapiro’s frustration over something that’s important only because we say it’s important (cable news with its small audience comes to mind), but that doesn’t mean it’s not important!  One could make the same argument about overstating importance to a wide number of things such as the Iowa Caucus itself.  After all, it’s only so many delegates, but we make it out to be a big deal! For better or worse, it is a big deal and I think it would be wise to pay attention to what happens there.

Latvia referendum will result in snap election

Unity (Vienotība) Party

Latvian voters on July 23 overwhelmingly voted to dissolve parliament in a special referendum. The referendum was called by then-President Valdis Zatlers in May after their parliament, the Saeima, blocked an anti-corruption investigation against a prominent politician. The results set the stage for snap parliamentary elections on September 17.

Latvia has a unique provision where the president, who is elected indirectly by the Saeima, can call for a special referendum to dissolve the body.  If the referendum fails, however, the president must step down.   This became a mute point for Zatlers as the Saeima voted him out of office in response to the referendum.  Zatlers called the poll just days before the Saeima was scheduled to hold its vote on the next president, and they apparently didn’t respond very well to his move.

Zatlers has already formed a new political party, The Zatlers Reform Party, which is apparently doing quite well in initial polling.   A party this large emerging in a few months is likely to shake up the country’s party system, which has already undergone some major shifts in the past few weeks.

In a direct reference to the country’s most popular political force, meanwhile, LPP/LC — also center-right — has officially renamed itself Slesers’ Reform Party. Ainars Slesers, widely known as one of the country’s three “oligarchs”, is also the party’s candidate for prime minister. The ruling Unity political coalition, meanwhile, has officially declared itself a single party and re-nominated current Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis as their candidate for the next head of government.

Other parties and alliances in Lativa include Harmony Centre, which mostly represents ethnic Russians, and The Union of Greens and Farmers, who are a rare alliance between a Green movement and populist agrarians that actually place them on the right of the political spectrum.

Wafd and Brotherhood form electoral alliance

From my friend Heba Fahmy, comes this story of the neo-liberal al-Wafd Party forming an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.  Naturally, this has drawn some heavy criticism.

The FEP, headed by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said it didn’t want to turn the upcoming People’s Assembly elections into “second class” elections, where political powers force their guardianship over the people through a unified list, instead of having free direct elections.

Al-Wafd and the MB have actually formed an alliance before, in the 1984 parliamentary elections.  At that time, Egypt used a Closed-list PR system with an extremely high threshold; a party or alliance needed eight percent of the national vote in order to enter parliament.   This caused all non-NDP parties to form strange alliances in an effort to simply meet that number and gain any seats at all.   At that time, Wafd was mostly free-riding off of the MB’s grassroots support and the Brotherhood was willing to tell its supporters to cast votes for a disproportionate amount of Wafd candidates.  Given that they were formally banned as a party, I guess they felt this was their best option.

Present day, however, the MB is running under their newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, and will have considerably more leverage in the relationship.   For the life of me, I can’t understand why Wafd would do this.  They are technically one of the most popular parties, but that’s only because support for parties is so low.  (The recent IRI survey placed Wafd in first place with just six percent of respondents claiming it’s their preferred organization) This certainly isn’t the action of a party that, as its leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawy claimed, are the most powerful in the country.   Wafd had already damaged its creditably with its willingness to serve as the NDP’s chosen opposition in the 2010 election.  I’m guessing this will not win them many more supporters.

The Party Decides

Republicans held their first official debate last night, which I missed because I was watching the hockey game.   Just because I didn’t feel like watching, however, shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning I don’t think the debate was important.  In fact, I think it may be one of the most consequential debates of the year.

My professor, Hans Noel, is coauthor of a great book, The Party Decides, which contends that post McGovern-Fraser reforms, party elites still essentially control the nominating process.   According to the book’s model, modern parties should be viewed as a coalition of intense policy demanders with their own pet interests.  The role of the party leaders is to manage and placate each group so they stay in the coalition. This is somewhat similar to Seth Masket’s model, which states that Informal Party Organizations, or IPOs, determine the winners of primary elections, and thus, control party agendas.

I think this model of party structure is far more convincing than Aldrich’s model, laid out in Why Parties? (although otherwise a great book!) and certainly better than the very outdated bimodal model created by Anthony Downs so many years ago.  What’s especially great about the model, though, is we can actually test it during the current primary campaign! According to Hans and his coauthors, we are in the middle of the invisible primary, where the party, defined here as a wide assortment of elites, are making their decisions.  These elites will then signal primary and caucus voters on who to support.  That’s why these early debates are so important.  The Republican Party is made up of a many interested groups; all of whom are looking at how to best maximize their influence in the coalition.  Each elite then is evaluating candidates based on policy compatibly and electablity.  That’s why this early period is so important. While it’s difficult to quantify an inherently closed-door phenomenon, I think we should still be looking for elite signals in the next few months.  The average primary voter may not necessarily be watching these debates, but the party elites certainly are.  What they think may be all that matters.

Egypt’s proposed electoral system

I’m about a week late to this but Egypt’s transitional military government has released a draft law of the country’s new electoral system.  The draft is somewhat short on details, such as minimum thresholds, but the basic thrust is that 1/3 of seats would be allocated through closed-list PR and the rest would use the individual candidacy system that is currently in place.  This means that each district has two candidates and each elector gets two votes.  If no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round, a second round is held one week later.

Photo property of David Jandura

A rough translation of this from the draft law:

The individual candidate shall be elected by the absolute majority of valid votes cast in the election. If the two candidates who gained the absolute majority were not workers and peasants, the one with the largest number of votes shall be declared elected, and a re-election in the constituency shall be conducted between the candidates from workers and peasants who obtained the largest number of votes. In this case, the one with the largest number of votes shall be declared elected.

If there was no absolute majority for one of the candidates in the constituency, a re-election shall be conducted among the four candidates who obtained the largest number of votes, provided at least half of them are workers and peasants. In this case, the two candidates who got the highest number of votes shall be declared elected.

I will have more to say on this, but my main point is the individual tier, as it exists, is highly candidate-centric and will greatly weaken political parties.  In particular, the two-round, two-seat system creates an incentive for local elites to make grand bargains that further undermine an already weak party system.  Two elites, for example, can make a bargain where they tell their supporters to cast their two votes for each of them – a de facto joint ticket.   Those same elites could then make separate deals with weaker candidates.  This would entail a  promise to support the weaker candidate in the second round (should they make it) in exchange for first-round support for themselves.

The nascent party system in Egypt is very weak.  A recent IRI poll shows that of all existing parties, Al Wafd garners the most support with a paltry six percent.   Parties as institutions also suffer from worse approval ratings than state-owned media and the hated business community.  Creating even a small PR tier is a welcome move but I certainly hope the final law will make it much larger than 1/3 of all seats.

Ethnic party formation in Estonia

The Estonian Centre Party (Eesti Keskerakond)

The OSCE/ODIHR has just released its assessment of February’s Riigikogu elections. The report devotes considerable discussion to Estonia’s internet voting system, which I’ve previously talked about. Also in the report is a discussion of the state of minority Russians in Estonia. Although technically twenty-six percent of the population, Russians are underrepresented in politial life. In fact, only ten percent of the previous parliaments’ MPs belonged to any minority at all. Furthermore, strict citizenship laws that requre Estonian lanaguage skills mean a large portion of Russians are not even allowed to vote.

Political parties made varying degrees of effort to include persons belonging to national minorities on their candidate lists and to reach out to Russian-speaking voters. One party that explicitly identified itself along ethnic lines did not meet the five per cent threshold. Estonia’s public broadcaster aired some election debates in Russian on TV and radio, while political parties and some individual candidates issued campaign materials in both Estonian and Russian. Issues related to national minorities did not feature prominently in the campaign.

Prior to the elections, the Estonian Cooperation Assembly/Roundtable of Nationalities, a network of civil society organizations, issued an appeal to election contestants and the public to take a more constructive approach to Estonia’s ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Estonia’s party system has been extremely unstable since its independence. Russians initially formed ethnic parties such as the Estonian United People’s Party and managed to gain some representation in parliament.   In the last decade, however, ethnic Russian voters started to move their support to non-ethnic, mainstream parties such as the Centre Party and Reform Party.  While the latter two haven’t made their platforms extremely Russian friendly – Reform favors stricter citizenship laws than exist now – they have both included significantly more ethnic Russians on their party lists.  It’s interesting that mainstream elites have wanted, and been able, to recruit ethnic Russians into their parties.  I’m guessing – although open to being corrected – that poor organization and performance of the ethnic parties allowed this to happen.  It probably also doesn’t hurt that there are so many ethnic Russians in the country (lots of votes!).  It’s my general observation that once ethnic parties become institutionalized, it’s rare for their voters to move to a different party.  Estonia might provide a great research design for anybody looking at the impact of strong ethnic parties as the country now has a time series change regarding their salience.

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