Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A simple guide to electoral systems-Semi-proportional systems

There are a number of electoral systems that do not comfortably fit into either the proportional or majoritarian classes. This post is intended to tie up these loose ends, and fully explain any unexplained systems.

Limited Vote/Single Non-Transferable Vote

The Limited Vote is a relatively simple electoral system. It is similar to the multiple non-transferable vote, except voters have less votes than the number of seats to be filled. The number of votes is not fixed, but there must be more than one and less than the number of seats to be filled. The candidates with the most votes are elected. This system is used for the Spanish Senate election.

The Single Non-Transferable Vote is similar, except voters have only one vote, and multiple seats are to be elected. The highest polling candidates are elected.

Mixed-member systems

Mixed-member systems are systems that combine elements of party-list and majoritarian systems. There are two types of mixed-member systems: mixed member proportional (MMP) and mixed member majoritarian (MMM)

Under mixed-member proportional, voters usually have two votes; one for a political party and one for a local candidate. The nation or region is divided into a number of single-member constituencies, but this number is less than the number of members to be elected to the legislature. In the local constituencies, the candidate with the most votes wins. With the party vote, all the votes are counted up nationwide and the seats in parliament are distributed proportionally (see previous post) amongst all the parties. These seats are first filled by elected candidates from constituencies. If further seats are to be filled, these are filled from a party list. This system is used in Germany and New Zealand.

Under mixed-member majoritarian, voters usually have two votes; one for a political party, and one for a local candidate. Usually, the local candidate with the most votes is elected. The party votes are all counted up, and a specified amount of seats in the legislature are distributed amongst parties depending on these votes. This system is used in Japan and South Korea.

Majority bonus systems

These systems should really belong in the majoritatian section. But, for the sake of simplicity, I will put it here.

Under a majority bonus system, voters vote for a party, and possibly for one or more candidates. Under one method, the party with the most votes automatically wins a percentage of seats ,usually above 50%, while the other seats are proportionally distributed amongst the parties. Another method uses normal proportional representation, but the largest party wins a set amount of seats on top of their proportional share. These systems are used in Greece and Italy.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A simple guide to electoral systems-Proportional systems

The second main type of electoral system is proportional systems. Proportional representation systems are designed to provide a close match between votes cast and seats won. Proportional representation systems are only used for legislatures, as a single office cannot be divided proportionally.

There are two types of proportional representation. There are party list systems, which work by dividing seats between parties based on their vote shares and then electing members from lists of candidates, and the single transferable vote. The single transferable vote is slightly harder to explain, but it will be explained below.

Party list systems

There are two basic elements to party list systems. The first is what sort of system is used to divide seats between lists (the method of seat apportionment) , and the second is how the party lists are composed.

Seat apportionment

Largest remainder methods

Largest remainder methods are one of two ways of distributing seats to parties. Under largest remainder methods, voters vote for a party list. The first step in seat allocation is to calculate a quota. There are a number of quotas. The Hare quota, invented by Thomas Hare, is total votes/seats. The Droop quota, invented by Henry Droop, is total votes/(seats+1) or total votes/(seats+1)+1. The Imperiali quota is total votes/(seats+2), and a quota used for Italian elections during the 1950s is total votes/(seats+3).

The votes for each party are divided by this quota. A party receives one seat for each filled quota. If there are still unfilled seats, the party with the highest remainder is given one seat. This process continues, with no party being allocated more than one seat by highest remainders.

The table below shows how the system works. In the election below, 5 seats are at stake, and 4 parties are competing.
As you can see, three seats are allocated on full quotas: one each to parties A, B, and C. This leaves 2 seats unallocated. These are filled by parties A and B, as they have the 2 highest remainders.

This system can be modified to only allocate seats on full quotas. Under this system, known as the remainder-transfer system, seats are allocated to parties for each quota that they win. Unused votes are transferred to a higher tier multi-member constituency, where all seats are allocated using quotas and largest remainders.

Highest averages method

The highest averages method is somewhat different. However, voters still cast votes for a party. These votes are tallied up. Under highest averages, a numerical sequence is decided on before the election. There are a number of different numerical sequences. There is the D'Hondt method, invented by Belgian mathematician Victor D'Hondt. This sequence starts at 1 and increased by 1 at each increase; it goes 1,2,3,4 and so on. The second system is the Sainte-Lague method. Invented by a French mathematician, this sequence consists of all positive odd numbers, starting at 1: it goes 1, 3, 5, 7 and so on. This system can be modified to increase the barrier for a first seat by changing the first divisor to 1.4. There is the Imperiali method, which starts at 2, goes up by 1 each time. There is also the Danish method, which goes 1,4,7,9 and so on.

So, how do these systems translate votes to seats? Well, at the start, all votes are divided by the first number in the sequence. The party with the highest number is then awarded one seat, and their vote is divided by the next number in the sequence. At this point, the party with the highest vote wins a seat, and has their vote divided by the next number. This process repeats until all seats are filled.

The table below shows a sample election, the same sample election as above. The D'Hondt method is used.

As you can see, Party A has the highest vote, and it receives the first seat. Party A's vote is divided by 2 (the next number in the D'Hondt sequence). Because of this division, Party B wins the next seat. Party B's vote is then divided by 2 as well. Party C then wins a seat, and has their vote divided by 2. At this point. Party A has the highest vote, and they win another seat. Their vote is then divided by 3 (the next number in the sequence). This division makes Party B the largest, and they win the fifth and final seat.

Composition of party lists

In order to fill these seats, parties need to create ranked lists of candidates. There are different ways of creating these lists.

Closed list system

Under a closed list system, parties draw up a ranked list before an election. Voters vote only for a party, and the candidates on the list are elected in list order.

Flexible list system

Under a flexible list system, voters may vote for a candidate within a party. This vote counts as a vote for the party. If the vote for a candidate excludes a certain threshold, that candidate is elected. After all candidates with a personal vote over the threshold are elected, remaining seats are filled in party list order. This system is used in Sweden and the Netherlands.

Open list 

Under an open list system, voters may vote for one or more candidates within a party. This vote counts as a vote for the party. Seats are filled by the candidates with the highest votes. This system is used in Finland and Brazil

Free list

Under a free list system, voters have as many votes as there are candidates to be elected. Voters may cast multiple votes for a single candidate, or cast votes for candidates of different parties. Each vote for a candidate counts as a vote for the party that they are running with. Within parties, seats are filled by the candidates with the most votes. This system is used in Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Single Transferable Vote

Australian Capital Territory single transferable vote ballot paper. (Credit:Elections ACT)
The Single Transferable Vote (STV) is one of the rarer voting systems. It is used only in Australia (for upper house elections in New South Wales, Victoria, South and Western Australia, for lower house elections in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, and for the Federal Senate), Ireland (for all elections), Scotland (for local elections), India (for indirect federal upper house elections), and Malta (for all elections).

Under the Single Transferable Vote, voters vote for candidates, not parties. Voters vote by numbering boxes next to candidates: a voter's most preferred candidate gets a 1, second most preferred a 2, and so on. 

At the start of the count, all number 1 votes are counted, and votes are tallied for each candidate. Following this, a quota is calculated. Under the first STV elections, the quota was the Hare quota (votes/seats), but this was abandoned, as this quota tends to increase the value of tactical voting (don't ask).  Usually this quota is the Droop quota (votes/(seats+1)+1).

Any candidate with more than the quota, or the same number of votes as the quota, is elected. If a candidate has the same number of votes as the quota, they are elected, and nothing needs to be done. However, if a candidate has more votes than the quota, then they have a surplus. Different STV methods differ on how to deal with this surplus; the Tasmanian STV system gives each surplus vote a value (number of surplus votes/total votes for elected candidate with further preferences), and distributes the votes at that value, while other systems take a random sample of surplus votes. Under most STV systems in use, all ballot papers are now treated as if that candidate never stood for election.

If no candidate has a surplus, the lowest polling candidate is excluded. Their ballot papers are examined for further preferences: ballot papers are transferred to the next available preferences. If there are no further preferences on a ballot paper, that paper is marked 'exhausted', and is ignored for the remainder of the count. Again, all ballot papers are now treated as if the excluded candidate had never stood for election.

This process repeats until all seats are filled. If, at the final stage, the number of candidates still in the count is equal to the number of seats unfilled, those candidates are elected, even if they have not reached the quota.

Formerly for the Australian senate and for the Victorian, Western Australian, and South Australian upper houses, a modification is added. Parties have the option of lodging 'party voting tickets'. A party voting ticket is a list of candidates in an election ranked by a party. Under group ticket elections, voters either number every box for every candidate (only five in Victoria), or vote for a party ticket. Party tickets have been controversial for taking preference power out of the hands of the voters; this has resulted in anomalous results, like Ricky Muir getting elected to 1 of 6 Victorian Senate seats with 0.5% of the vote.

In 2016, the Turnbull Liberal government made changes to the electoral law for the Senate. Group voting tickets were abolished. Ballot papers look the same, with voters having the option to vote for a parties above the line or individual candidates below the line. However, an above-the-line vote for a party has ceased to become an acceptance of a group voting ticket; it counts as a vote for the party's candidates in order of preference.

For example, a person voting 1 above the line for the Labor Party (3 candidates) and 2 for the Greens (2 candidates) would have their vote go 1 to the first Labor candidate, 2 to the second, 3 to the third, then fourth to the first Green candidate, and fifth to the second. Onc but it would only go to Labor candidates. Voters can number multiple boxes above the line, and are told by the AEC to number six (though one is formal) but a vote exhausts when there is no remaining preference.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A simple guide to electoral systems-Majoritarian systems

In my writing, I use terms that not all of my readers will understand. While I use them habitually, some of the people who read this may not have the grasp on electoral systems required to get a full understanding of the point I am trying to make. This post, which hopefully will be followed up with one on proportional systems, will attempt to rectify this.

What are majoritarian systems?

Electoral systems can mostly be divided into two families, although there are a number of systems that cannot be easily divided into these groups that I will cover in a later post. There are the majoritarian systems, which tend to be designed to give parliamentary governments stable majorities, and the proportional systems, which tend to be designed to closely match seat and vote shares. Majoritarian single-seat systems are exclusively used for presidential election.

Majoritarian systems are the oldest type of electoral system. They were used to elect the first parliaments. Proportional systems were only invented around the 1900s, and only came into common use after World War 1.

The main systems

First past the post/single member plurality

The first past the post (hereafter referred to as the single-member plurality system) electoral system is the oldest electoral system. It is very simple. Areas are divided into constituencies or electorates, each electing one member of Parliament. Voters vote for one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes win. The system is also used for presidential elections, where the whole country is treated as one constituency. 

The system can be modified to elect more than one member. Under this system, known as the 'block vote' or 'multiple non-transferable vote', voters have as many votes as members of parliament to be elected. The candidates with the most votes are elected.

Another modification, known as the 'party block vote', also elects more than one member. Under this system, parties put up list of candidates, and voters vote for a list. The list with the most votes elects all of the candidates on that list as members of parliament. This system, considered fairly undemocratic, is used in (surprise!) Singapore.

These systems tend to favour parties that have popularity nationwide, or high popularity in a certain area. Duverger's Law, a series of 'rules' written by political scientist Maurice Duverger, states that single-member plurality tends to create a two-party system.  The system is used in many countries, most of which use it due to British colonial practice. Single-member plurality used in the United Kingdom for national and local elections, India for all direct elections, the United States, and Canada.

Two-round system

The two-round system is another majoritarian electoral system with some variations. Under the two-round system, one election is held, in which any candidate may participate. If any candidate wins a majority, the election is over. Otherwise, another round is held. The criteria for entering this round differs amongst systems; some only permit the top two finishers in the second round, others set a numerical threshold, and others allow any candidate to compete in the second round. At the second round, the highest polling candidate wins.

This system can be modified to elect multiple members. In one method, used in French local government, voters have as many votes as there are seats. Any candidates with 50% of the votes cast (not ballot paper votes) are elected. A second round is held, at which twice the candidates left to be elected are permitted to participate. In this election, the number of candidates not elected in the first round are elected as the highest polling candidates.

Another method is basically the party block vote, except if no list wins 50% in the first round, a second round is held, in which the highest polling list wins, and the list candidates are elected.

The basic system is used in France to elect the President and National Assembly, as well as in many French colonies. It is used more commonly for Presidential elections than to elect parliaments. Duverger's Law states that the two-round system will tend to lead to two broad coalitions of parties opposing each other. The system tends to be very majoritarian, and it is often used to remove representation from unpopular parties, such as the National Front in France.

Alternative vote/Instant runoff voting/Preferential voting

This electoral system, known mainly by three names, but which I will refer to as instant runoff voting, is a preferential system of voting. Voters use a preferential ballot (example below).

Australian ballot paper. Credit:Antony Green

Under this system, voters vote 1 for their most preferred candidate, 2 for their next most preferred, and so on. Under some systems, voters must number every box, while some systems require just a 1.

At the start of the count, all the 1 votes are counted up. Any candidate with 50% of the 1 votes is elected. If no candidate has 50%+1, the candidate with the fewest 1 votes is excluded. Their preferences (next numbers) are distributed to candidates still in the count. If any candidate now has a majority, they are elected. If not, the lowest polling candidate has their preferences distributed. This process is repeated until one candidate gets 50%+1.

This system is relatively rare. It is used for all elections in single-member electorates in Australia, for all elections in Papua New Guinea, and for by- and presidential elections in the Republic of Ireland. It is also used for presidential elections in Sri Lanka.

A modification of this system,, called the 'supplementary vote' is used for English mayoral elections. Under the supplementary vote, voters may give a first preference to one candidate, and a second preference to another. No further preferences may be given. At the first count, all first preferences are counted. If no candidate wins a majority, all candidates but the top two are excluded, and any of their second preferences that were cast for the top two are transferred to the second preference. The candidate with the most votes in the top two after preferences is elected.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Is Europe's far-right heading for power? Part 3-France

France's European elections produced some of the most astonishing results in Europe. A first-place result for the National Front was picked up by many news sources as evidence of a huge far-right and Eurosceptic surge across Europe. However, it is questionable whether this result represents a swinging of opinion against the EU, or simply the swinging of people who were already Eurosceptics against the EU.

What were the results?

At the last European elections in France, the National Front won the most votes. They won 24.85% of the vote, and 24 seats out of 74. The centre-right Union for a Popular Movement won 20.8% and 20 seats, a loss of 7% from the last elections. The big losers were the Socialists, the governing party, who won just 14% of the vote and 13 seats. The Greens (or as they are known in France, Europe-Ecology) won 9% and 6 seats, down from a record-breaking 16% at the last election (a result that owed more to the utter ineptness of the Socialists than a positive result for them). A centrist pro-euro coalition of the Democratic Movement and Union of Democrats and Independents won 10% and 7 seats.

The result was certainly poor for the Socialists, and no amount of positive analysis can change that. The Socialists have never done well in European elections, but this is below their previous nadir of 14.5% in 1994 (and that was with a Radical list to split the Socialist vote and an unpopular president).

The UMP, too, have suffered. A divisive leadership contest between  Francois Fillon and Jean-Francois Cope reduced support for the party. The party was unpopular in 2009, and the centre-right have always done poorly in European elections, but 20.8% is a bad result for an opposition party (the party has has one poorer result in 2004, with 16%, and that was with the centre-right Union for French Democracy running an independent list).

The National Front can celebrate. 24.9% of the vote is not especially strong, but it is the best result that the party has got, and the best result for an openly Eurosceptic party in any European election. But does this mean that Eurosceptic support has significantly increased?

The Eurosceptic vote in France

France has had a long string of Eurosceptic parties. However, most of the early right-wing Eurosceptic parties merged into the UMP at its formation. The graph below shows the results for Eurosceptic parties at each European election year.

The following parties are coded as Eurosceptic: Rally for France, Movement for France, French Communist Party, National Front, Hunting Fishing Nature Tradition, National Republican Movement, Workers Struggle, Revolutionary Communist League, LIBERTAS, Arise the Republic, New Anticapitalist Party.

As you can see, the recent high point of the Eurosceptic vote was in 1999. At this election, the right-wing Rally for France-Movement for France list came second, beating the centre-right Rally for the Republic  list (led by a young Nicholas Sarkozy). The  Communists and National Front also did well. The Eurosceptic vote dropped dramatically in 2004, perhaps influenced by the slight rightward shift of the new UMP and the collapse of the Rally for France.

In 2009, President Sarkozy was in power. Sarkozy is on the right of the UMP, and he captured a large share of the National Front vote at his first presidential election. The French Communists were slowly but surely collapsing, and the LIBERTAS party was not strong enough to provide a coherent alternative. As a result, the openly Eurosceptic vote dropped again.

In 2014, the landscape was very different. The UMP were unpopular and divided, which turned off Eurosceptic voters. The Communists slighly increased their vote, but they were not attractive to the right-wing. The only moderate Eurosceptics, Arise the Republic, were too small and irrelevant to have any impact.

The fact is that a moderate Eurosceptic party, such as UKIP, could probably soak up a large share of the National Front vote. And National Front leader Marine Le Pen knows this. She has made tough decisions to clean out her party, expelling some avowedly Nazi members.

But what does this all mean?

The National Front tend to do better at European elections in terms of seats. This is because European elections take place using proportional representation, In National Assembly elections, a different method is used- the two-round system. Under the two-round system, there are two elections. At the first election, all candidates may participate. If no candidate wins a majority in the first round, a second round is held, where the top two, as well as any candidates above 12.5% compete. A plurality is needed to win in this round.

This system tends to encourage centrists and moderates, and to discourage extremist or divisive candidates. For example, at the 1958 election, the French Communist Party won 18.9% in the first round and 20% in the second round, but only 10 seats out of 546. However, this quality makes it extremely disproportional.

The two-round system has severely limited the National Front's parliamentary representation. Despite winning 13.6% in the first round in the 2012 legislative elections, the party won only two seats out of 577, while the smaller moderate Radical Party of the Left, in alliance with the Socialists, received 12 seats on 1.65% of the first-round vote.

It is therefore unlikely that the National Front will win a large share of seats in the next National Assembly elections. Certainly, they will win more. Right-wing UMP candidates may endorse National Front candidates over Socialists, and there will almost certainly be a significant number of National Front deputies in the next National Assembly. However, it will be a minority, and the Socialist group will almost certainly be larger.

Presidential elections-could Marine Le Pen win?

Another oft-repeated scenario was the possibility of Marine Le Pen winning the presidential election. Some polls show Le Pen beating Hollande in a runoff. However, there is a serious problem with this idea. For a start, every candidate from the UMP would beat Le Pen, as left voters are more likely to vote for the right to beat the National Front than the reverse. Second of all, the UMP's support is low, but the UMP candidate would almost certainly run in a second round against Le Pen, and the only scenario in which a Hollande-Le Pen runoff would happen is if there was an independent centre-right candidate. 

In short, while the National Front have the ability to be a larger and more relevant party, due to the charactaristics of France's electoral system, it is unlikely that they will win any political power.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is Europe's far-right heading for power? Part 2-Greece

Following the most recent elections for the European parliament, many stories have been written about a 'far-right surge' in Europe. However, many of these claims appear to have been overstated, and some of the parties that have been alleged to have put in a good performance actually did not poll especially well, or poll in a way that stands to affect the long-term future of Europe or its countries.


Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party first entered parliament in the May 2012 national elections, after spending many years on the political sidelines. I am not here to dispute the status of this party as far-right, and it is probably second only to the German National Democrats as the most far-right party in the European Parliament. Members of the party have made many controversial statemnents in the past surrounding Nazi Germany, and the group's logo, well, resembles a swatstika.
The party's entry to the European Parliament was certainly noticed by the international media. However, the party's result (9.5% of the vote) was consistent with what opinion polls had been showing the party at.

In fact, the Greek European elections were very significant, but not really for Golden Dawn. The main contest of the election was between the governing centre-right New Democracy party, and the radical left-wing SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left). The election was widely regarded as a test of public confidence in the Greek recovery and economic direction.

The collapse of Greece's financial system during the Global Financial Crisis sent an earthquake through the nation's political system. At the first post-crisis election in 2012, the two traditional parties of Greek government, New Democracy and the Panhellinic Socialist Movement (PASOK) , won just 32% of the vote combined, down from 77% of the vote at the last election. PASOK fell the furthest, from 43% of the vote in 2009 to just 13% in May 2012.

Most of the PASOK vote was taken up by SYRIZA, a coalition of radical-leftist parties formed in 2004. The predecessor party Synaspism├│s (Coalition of the Progressive Left) was formed in the late 1980s. The group was marginalised in the 2000s, winning an average of 4% of the vote, and coming behind the far-right LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) and the KKE (Communist Party of Greece)

Interestingly, neither the KKE or LAOS benefited much in July 2012. LAOS had become discredited after it voted with PASOK in favour of the bailout. Much of the LAOS electorate moved to Golden Dawn. The KKE are still irrelevant. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the majority of ex-communist parties opted to modernise, accept the world order, and move on. KKE didn't do that, instead opting to hide under some coats and pretend that Joseph Stalin was still in control and that the Soviet Union was alive and well. They hate SYRIZA almost as much as they hate PASOK or New Democracy, they produce long and rambling communiques about topics that nobody cares about (in English!), and they refuse to participate in government. All in all, they aren't worth listening to.

Three new parties benefited from the collapse of the majors. The largest was Independent Greeks (ANEL), a split-off from New Democracy. They are a conservative, soft-nationalist, soft-Eurosceptic, anti-austerity party: sort of Golden Dawn Lite. A smaller group, Democratic Left (DIMAR), which split off from SYRIZA, is a centre-left pro-European party. Democratic Left claim to represent the centre-left ground between PASOK and SYRIZA. They are mildly anti-austerity, but they participate in a pro-austerity government, unlike SYRIZA. And then, there is Golden Dawn.

Golden Dawn are by no means new. The foundations were laid by the early 1980s, and the group stayed as an alliance of far-right thugs until 1993, when it was formally registered as a political party. It first ran in an election in 1994, winning 0.1% of the votes for the European Parliament. The party won 0.07% in the 1996 general election. The group put in a decent performance in the European elections in 1999, winning 0.75% in alliance with the far-right First Line party. The party won 0.3% in the 2009 election; at that point, they were still irrelevant.

However, the financial crisis breathed new life into the party. The party's relations with radical street gangs turned out to be an advantage, as these gangs were able to peform a kind of 'Robin Hood' role in standing up for the 'underdog' (as long as the underdog isn't a socialist, homosexual, an immigrant, or someone whose great-great-great-great grandfather wasn't authentically Greek). This positioning is in line with most other European far-right parties (socially conservative, but economically leftist). The party's lack of participation in govenment meant that they were a 'fresh face' for Greece, and their previous irrelevance fit in with Greece's anti-politican mood.

This positioning allowed Golden Dawn to enter parliament in July 2012. They won 7% of the vote, and 21 seats in the 300 member Greek Parliament. Their strong result, as well as strong results for other anti-austerity parties, meant that another election had to take place in June.

In the June elections, held after no government could be formed, the results were quite different. New Democracy won 29.7% of the vote, a gain of about 10%. SYRIZA won 27% of the vote: again, a gain of about 10%. PASOK fell to 12%, while ANEL's vote dropped 3% to 7%. Golden Dawn lost 0.05% of the vote and 3 seats, while DIMAR's vote went up fractionally (0.14%) but the party actually lost two seats. The Communists lost 4% of the vote and 14 seats. The extra-parliamentary parties generally lost votes, with the liberal Bridges alliance (a coalition of the centrist Action, Liberal Alliance and Recreate Greece parties), the Ecologist Greens, and the Popular Orthodox Rally, which all came close to the 3% threshold in May, losing votes.

The results were roughly in line with what had been expected. The election became polarised around the contest between SYRIZA and New Democracy, with all other parties losing out. However, the performances by Golden Dawn and DIMAR were unexpected. Golden Dawn might have been expected to lose out, given the increased profile given to its more extreme members (in one unfortunate incident, a Golden Dawn spokesperson physically assualted a leftist politician on live television.) However, they did okay. DIMAR, too, might have been expected to be squeezed by the New Democracy-SYRIZA contest, but they held their ground, and entered government.

The Actual European Election

The European election, held in May 2014 in conjunction with some local elections, saw a similar cast of parties. There were only two differences. PASOK had teamed up with a number of tiny irrelevant centre-left parties to form Elia (The Olive Tree). This appears to be more of a disguise for PASOK than an actual coalition of equals. However, this did not stop the party arguing over it, with former Prime Minister George Papendreou criticising the alliance (Admittedly, this criticism did come from a man who presided over the most disastrous election in the party's history).

The other new party was formed just before the European elections. It is called The River, and was founded by journalist Stavros Theodokrais. The party is socially liberal and socially democratic, but has vague policies, and trades heavily off the popularity of its leader. It is a member of the centre-left European Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Along with this, there was the usual cast of irrelevant single-issue parties that come out at the European election.

Other then that, one might expect the election to result in a higher vote for protest parties, given that there was no need to elect a government. Adding to this, opinion polling had consistently shown that Golden Dawn was going to be Greece's third party.

So, what did the results look like? Well, they were good for SYRIZA, although somewhat underwhelming, as some within the party expected that the party would win 30% (which some polls had shown them at). Instead, they won 26.6%, about 4 points ahead of New Democracy. Golden Dawn managed 9.4% and third place, while Elia came fourth, with 8%. The River came fifth, with 6.6% of the vote. The Communists got 6.1%, while ANEL got just 3.5%.

The result was okay for Elia/PASOK. While 8% is by no means good, it is above the dismal polls for the party. Golden Dawn performed more or less about their polled numbers, while ND polled slightly below (Bear in mind that these are general election polls). DIMAR collapsed, with just 1.2% of the vote and no Members of the European Parliament.

But what does this mean for the governability of Greece? Well, in Greece, the electoral system is nationwide proportional representation, but with a 50 seat bonus for the largest party. Taking that into account, the results would be as below.
So, what would this mean for the future of Greece? Well, the current New Democracy-PASOK government would have only 113 seats, 38 seats short of a majority. SYRIZA would have to become part of government, as SYRIZA+Golden Dawn+KKE is equal to a majority. A SYRIZA-PASOK government would have a narrow majority of 154, while a SYRIZA-River coalition would have exactly 150 seats. Not an ideal scenario for stable government. However, the dreaded 'negative majority', where the two parties that will not participate in government (Golden Dawn and the Communists) win 151 seats, would not happen.

In fact, Golden Dawn has burned too many bridges to enter government. The closest party in terms of ideology is ANEL, and they are a party in decline. The chances of Golden Dawn having any serious input on government is highly unlikely, and the boost they have recieved by the recession is likely to disappear in any serious recovery, leaving them where they started.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

French Senate elections:more bad news for the left

Recently, half of the French Senate (the indirectly elected upper house of the French parliament) went up for election. The Senate receives little media attention, but election results can be a useful gauge for party support.

At the last Senate election in 2011, the centre-left won control of the body for the first time. The Socialist Party-led Union of the Left, an alliance between the Socialists, the Communists, the Greens, and a Senate-only group called the Europe Democratic Social Rally won 177 seats in the 348 member body. The right-wing alliance of the Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) and the Centrist Union (UC) won 163 seats, and 7 seats were won by independents.

However, the times are very different now. Socialist President Fran├žois Hollande is historically unpopular, with an approval rating hovering around 20%. His party managed their worst result ever in the European parliament elections, winning only 14% of the vote and coming third behind the UMP and the far-right National Front (FN). The party has also had multiple dismal results in the municipalities.

The results in the Senate, which is elected by an 'electoral college' of 1,800 local and federal officials, is elected by a two-round system in departments that elect 3 or fewer senators, and proportional representation in departments that elect more than 4 senators.

The Senate tends to over-represent rural areas, as do most federal bodies of that sort. This automatically gives the right an advantage. However, the relative success of the left in the 2011 election (these Senators are not up for election), and the fact that the right already has a significant number of seats mean that the result will probably not be a landslide of any sort.

While results will not formally be out until Saturday (in France), the results of the Senate election are expected to be a majority of 10-20 for the UMP-led alliance. This is a significant loss for the Socialists, given that the Socialists actually had their best results amongst the Senators elected in 2011 (although I'm not totally sure about the breakdown of senators by party by election. If anyone knows, please comment!).

The win of two seats by the National Front is the most surprising result. The FN has never before held representation in the Senate before, as they have been unsuccessful at the local level. The result is only a token win, but it is a significant token for the party.

So, what does this mean for the government? Well, the Senate is not very powerful. It can block a bill and suggest amendments, but the National Assembly (the upper house) has the final say. It will be a pain for the Socialist majority in the Assembly, but it will not be a huge setback. It is bad news, however, for a party reeling from constant defeats.

The UMP has been falling apart. Damaging feuds in party leadership elections have kept the party far from popular, and the lack of an alternative presidential candidate to run against Hollande means that the party is forced to run only off Hollande's unpopularity. There was no surprise about this result; the Socialists are too unpopular and the FN are too marginalised amongst the electoral collage for either to come close to victory.

The FN will be cheered by this result. However, it does show that they have a large mountain to climb before they become a significant force in the National Assembly. The two-round system's high thresholds, and the fact that the FN is outside both the centre-left and right alliances means that they will struggle to win majorities, as both alliances have demonstrated that they will withdraw from an election to prevent FN candidates from winning.

It remains to be seen how well the FN will do in the next parliamentary election in 2017. There are many unanswered questions. Will the Socialists revitalize their party? Will the UMP be able to get anywhere? Will UMP or Socialist voters disobey the instructions of their parties and vote for FN candidates in the second round? Whatever happens, French politics is changing fast.