Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Electoral Systems of the World-France (extended) (Part 2 of 3)

Previous post-Electoral Systems of the World-France (Part 1 of 2)

Note: This post has turned out to be a bit longer than expected, and so I'm splitting it up into three.

Following the end of the Nazi occupation of France, an election took place in October 1945 for the National Assembly. Alongside this election, a referendum took place. This referendum asked voters whether they approved the National Assembly writing a new constitution, and whether they approved the application of an interim constitution.

Voters overwhelmingly endorsed both proposals; 96% approved the National Assembly writing a new constitution, while 66.5% voted in favour of the interim constitution. This result reflected dissatisfaction with the institutions of the Third Republic, as had the majority voted No in the first referendum, France would revert to the institutions of the Third Republic.

The results of the legislative elections were fairly fragmented. The electoral system used was party-list proportional representation. 522 members, including 62 from the substantial French colonies, would be elected. Each department would receive one Member of the National Assembly for every 100,000 inhabitants, and an extra MNA for every 25,000 after that. The minimum number of members for each department was two, and if a department had more than nine seats, it was divided into multiple constituencies with fewer than nine seats each.

Departments of France (Wikimedia)
Parties submitted closed lists, with a number of candidates equal to the number of seats to be distributed. Seats were distributed between the parties by first dividing the number of votes by the number of seats to be distributed (the Hare quota) and giving lists a seat for each quota they had. Remaining seats were distributed using the D'Hondt system.

This system provided fairly proportional representation, although the low number of members in each constituency meant that proportionality would be somewhat limited. The formula for the effective threshold (share of the vote needed for a party to win a seat) is defined by The Politics of Electoral Systems as t=0.75*(1/m+1), where t=effective threshold and m=district magnitude (number of seats in each district).

In the smallest possible constituency, electing two members, the effective threshold would be 25%, while the largest possible constituency would have an effective threshold of 7.5%. This is a fairly high threshold for nationwide niche parties to surmount, although it would not be so hard for local parties to win seats. As French electoral record-keeping is fairly patchy, I cannot figure out the average district magnitude, and so I can't tell the average nationwide effective threshold. However, I assume that it would be relatively high.

The system did not prevent fragmentation, however, as the election result was fairly fragmented.

The result meant that not only the major forces of the Third Republic (the Radical Socialists and Conservatives) were defeated, but that no party was even close to a majority. This created significant problems for future writing of the constitution, as the parties had differing views on what system of Government France should have.

Following the election, General Charles de Gaulle, a leader of the resistance against the German occupation, remained as Prime Minister, with the support of the Communists, Popular Republicans, and Socialists. However, he was dissatisfied with the need to include opposition parties in his cabinet, and in January 1946, he resigned. He was replaced by another member of the effective 'three-party alliance', Socialist Felix Gouin.

While this was all happening, the Constitutional Assembly was writing a new constitution. This was a point of serious difference between the parties. The Socialists and Communists favoured a parliamentary system of government, with a unicameral parliament; as they held the majority, it was this proposal that was to be presented to the voters to be approved in a referendum. The proposal was opposed by the Radicals, Conservatives, and Popular Republicans. The Popular Republicans favoured a presidential system, while the position of the Radicals and Conservatives were less clear, although one could assume they would support a return to the Third Republic's political system of parliamentary bicameralism.

The referendum saw the proposal defeated, with 52.8% voting No. This was a serious challenge to the Communists and Socialists, as the result made it clear that they were going to need to compromise with the other parties in order to pass a constitution.

One month after the referendum, another election was held to the Constitutional Assembly. The electoral system was the same. Voters elected a fairly similar assembly, although the Socialist-Communist alliance in favour of a unicameral parliamentary system lost their majority.

As a result of this loss, the Socialists and Communists realised that they would have to compromise with one of the other parties in order to present another constitution to the electorate. Over the next few months, a new constitution was written.

This called for a parliamentary system of government, which was the general consensus amongst France's political parties. However, the unicameral parliament was abandoned, and instead a bicameral parliament was decided upon. The Senate, the upper house, would be re-introduced, although it would be called the Council of the Republic. It would have 320 members, elected by electoral colleges (groups of local councillors) based on department boundaries. It would only be able to delay legislation, and the National Assembly was clearly the most important house.

The lower house, the National Assembly, would have 618 members. They would be elected through a party-list system of proportional representation similar to the one used for the Constitutional Assembly. 

Sizes of constituencies would still be determined by departments, and large departments would be broken up into multiple constituency sizes; the largest constituency size increased to eleven, which is still fairly small. Certain overseas constituencies only elected a single member; these constituencies used the single-member plurality system.

Voters voted for candidates within parties by ranking them in the order of their preferences, and they voted for one party only. 

After the votes were counted, the seats were distributed to the parties using the D'Hondt system, with no threshold except the effective one created by the low district magnitude. Seats would then be allocated to candidates by examining the rankings.

If a majority of voters for a party had not expressed preferences, the party's list ranking would be used to determine the allocation of seats to parties. If a majority of voters for a party expressed preferences, then these rankings were used to determine who filled the seats. This was done by first counting up the ballots, and determining the candidate with the most first-ranks. This candidate would be the first elected. Then, all first and second ballots were counted up, and the candidate with the most of these who was not already ranked would be second. This process would continue until all the list rankings had been filled.

The nation would still be a Republic, and, as such, it was the duty of both houses of parliament to elect a mainly ceremonial president. His job was to propose a government.

The constitution was approved by referendum in October, when 53% voted Yes. This was a fairly narrow result, and indicated that the constitution did not have such strong support and was still fairly controversial.

The first election to the new National Assembly took place in November 1946. The results were fairly similar to the previous Constitutional Assembly, although, as you will see, there were a few new entrants.

The results saw the Communists become the largest party, and the Socialists take a back-seat in the three-party alliance that had governed France since the end of the war. The supporters of General Charles de Gaulle, who supported the introduction of a presidential government, won a small foothold in the Assembly. The Communist-Popular Republican-Socialist alliance continued in government.

The new government faced a wide variety of problems. France was in ruins after the Second World War, and the new government needed to start the tough job of national reconstruction. Inflation was also high. France was also still a colonial power, with many land holdings in Africa and Asia. With the weakness of the French central government, some of these colonies began revolting against the central government.

The inclusion of the Communists in government did not go unnoticed in the United States, who were concerned about the spread of Communism. Shortly after the election, the Communist Party were thrown out of government, in response to their support for the Communist insurgency in Vietnam.

In their place, a coalition government was formed called the Third Force. This was a coalition of the Socialists, the Popular Republican Movement, the Conservatives, and the Radical Socialists. The coalition was intended to be centrist, and to oppose the Communists from the left and the supporters of Charles de Gaulle (Gaullists) on the right.

The coalition started off well, but any French government at the time was going to struggle. As the 1951 election approached, the Third Force parties decided to implement a change in the electoral system, to give themselves a better chance at power.

The new system would still be based off party-list proportional representation. However, a number of changes were made.

Parties could now ally with each other, and, if a group of allied parties won a majority of the votes in a district, they would win all the seats in that district. If no party or group of parties won a majority, the seats would be distributed under the normal system. Only minor changes were made to district magnitude.

The system was clearly designed to advantage the Third Force parties, as they could form alliances with each other and win the majority in districts, thus winning all the seats. The Gaullists and Communists, both ideologically extreme parties, would struggle to form alliances with allies, and would thus do worse in terms of seats.

An exception to this law, however, existed; two inner Paris districts, as well as three overseas districts, would continue to use proportional representation, without the majority clause. This was because the inner Paris districts were both very large, and strongly Communist. The government wanted to deprive the Communists of this source of seats.

The Third Force government, however, did not do very well at the next election, despite this system.
Overall, the parties of the Third Force won 50.5% of the vote and 62.6% of the seats; a victory, but a far cry from 1946, when the parties (at that point not in coalition) had won 69.4% of the vote. The electoral system's effects were obvious; the Gaullists and Communists were both under-represented, while all of the Third Force parties were over-represented.

The political system was extremely fragmented, seeing as the largest party in terms of seats (the Gaullists) held less than 20% of the seats. This would make the formation of any government difficult, but the tight left-right balance within the Third Front would make this even more difficult; the broad left (Socialists+Radical Socialists) had 31.5% of the seats, while the right (Popular Republicans+Conservatives) had 31.1%.

Over the next few years, France was ruled by a series of short-lived governments. The Third Force coalition broke up, and governments became single-party affairs, lasting for a year at the most. The French governments were mired in colonial wars, which caused social discord and significant expense.

In June of 1954, the French forces were defeated by the Vietnamese communists at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This defeat showed that France continuing to try to hold on to Vietnam would be a waste of time, and so Radical Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France decided to negotiate with Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The decision was made to withdraw French forces from Vietnam, and to divide the country in two, so that Ho Chi Minh and the Communists would control the North, and Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai would control a new state in the South.

This decision did not endear him to French nationalists, and proved to be very controversial. Despite this, Pierre-France then decided to negotiate with leaders in Morocco and Tunisia to make those two territories independent, but was unable to do anything about Algeria, which was becoming the big issue in French politics. In the end, he resigned, and was replaced by another Radical politician.

The election in 1956 resulted in another heavily fragmented parliament. The Communists retained their status as the largest party.

The election also saw the entry into parliament of the far-right Poujadist movement, which had risen in support at least partially in response to the loss of France's colonial territories. While the Gaullist result seems small, it seems that Gaullist politicians had left the official Gaullist party, and had spread amongst the other Conservatives.

A coalition of the centre was once again formed, comprising the Socialists, Popular Republicans, and Radical Socialists. This coalition was led by Socialist Guy Mollet, who had the awful task of balancing the unpopularity and controversy of continuing military action in Algeria with the unpopularity and controversy of abandoning the French settlers in the country, all with only vague control over the Parliament.

Mollet's term did not last, as he erred in favour of a pro-settler position in the Algerian conflict, and thus lost his support from the Radicals after a year. His Radical successors, Radical Maurice Bourges-Maunory and Felix Gaillard, only lasted months, as the Algerian situation slowly disintegrated.

Following Gaillard's defeat in Parliament, Pierre Pfemlin, a Popular Republican, was elected Prime Minister. Pfemlin was in favour of negotiating with the Algerian separatists.

This was the last straw for the Algerian settlers. The Governor of Algeria refused to recognise Pfemlin as their leader, and launched a military coup in order to overthrow the Fourth Republic.
The coup leaders demanded Charles de Gaulle be installed as Prime Minister.

Algerian French forces invaded Tunisia, and it became clear that the weak Paris government would not survive such a coup. On the first of June, 1958, de Gaulle became Prime Minister of France, and set about introducing a new constitution.

The Fifth Republic

De Gaulle had made no secret of his dislike for parliamentary government, and the collapse of the Fourth Republic had discredited the system entirely in the eyes of the French Populace; it had done what Napoleon the Third's dictatorship and Patrice MacMahon's dismissal of a Republican Prime Minister had done for presidentialism.

But now, these events were far behind, and seemed petty and irrelevant compared to the obvious failure of the Fourth Republic. As a result, it was decided to have a presidential constitution. 

The first part of the new Constitution established clearly the President as head of government, a rarity in Europe. He would appoint the Prime Minister, who would choose a Cabinet. He would not, however, have a veto over legislation; he would only have the power to ask for more debate to be held on legislation by the National Assembly. He could dissolve the National Assembly once a year with consultation with the Prime Minister.

Bicameralism would be retained in France, with the National Assembly (the lower house) being directly elected, while the Senate (the upper house) being indirectly elected by representatives of the local councils. The houses would have maximum sizes of 577 and 348 respectively. Both houses would have equal power, though the National Assembly would become the prominent house.

Importantly, the National Assembly would still have some control over the Government. For a start, the government does have the option to have a motion of confidence on itself. If 10% of members signed a petition calling for one, a confidence vote can also take place in the Government. This confidence vote could not affect the President, who would remain in office despite this. However, if a majority of members of the National Assembly voted for a no-confidence motion, the Prime Minister and Cabinet would either resign, or the President would request a dissolution.

One of the important aspects of the new republic would be the electoral system. Charles de Gaulle was strongly opposed to proportional representation, and the (not especially) proportional electoral system of the Fourth Republic was blamed for its weak and ineffective governments. It was decided that a two-round system would be used.

A two-round system would have a number of advantages for the government. It would mean that the right would be able to stay united, as the more moderate Christian Democrats and the Gaullists could compete against each other in the first round, and the most popular could run in the second round. The system would also mean that if an extremist from the right or the left (at this point, usually from the left) won the most votes, he would be defeated by a more moderate candidate, as the moderates from both sides of the political spectrum would oppose him.

One choice was left to be made, then. The government had the option of using single-member districts, or multi-member districts. If the latter was chosen, the system would be that parties would put up a list of candidates in a district, and the party that won the majority (using the two-round system) would win all the seats.

Now, at first glance, you might think that de Gaulle would have naturally supported this system. After all, with the left being weak, it would give the right a landslide majority in the new assembly. However, there was one serious disadvantage. De Gaulle felt that the massive right backbench that would result from this electoral system would be in favour of Algeria remaining French, which would tie his hands in negotiations with Algeria.

So, it was decided that France would have a single-member two-round system. Voters would vote for one candidate, and if no candidate won a majority of the votes and one-quarter of the enrolled voters in the district, a second round would take place. Any candidate who won 5% of the votes in the first round could move on to the second round, and the candidate who won the most votes in the second round would be elected, regardless of if they won a majority.

The first election to take place under the new system took place later that year. The results were, as predicted, a comfortable win for the forces of the right.

No doubt you will notice something of a disproportionality in the above results. The Communists won 20.7% of the second round vote, but only 2.15% of the seats. This was the electoral system working its magic. As the Communists were something of a 'pariah party', other parties teamed up against them.

The other effects of the system were clear too. 42.2% of voters voted in the second round for the leftist parties, but the left only won 18% of the seats. The majoritarianism of the new electoral system was to heavily influence the progress of the new republic.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Greferendum 2015-a fairly questionable choice

Previous posts on Greece

The Greek economy, a consistent issue over the last five years, has experienced dramatic change through the past few months. Since the ascension of SYRIZA to government in 2015, the policy of Greece in relation to Europe has changed dramatically.

The lack of money not earmarked for debt payments has meant that SYRIZA, a radical-left party, has been unable to fulfil its promises to increase public spending. Despite this, the new government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has adopted a more confrontational attitude to the European authorities, and has requested that the terms of the bailouts be loosened.

This attitude meant that a new bailout settlement, which would be required before June 30, 2015, would be harder to get. A bailout would be necessary by this time in order to allow Greece to pay their € 1.5 billion (AUD $2.2 billion) repayment to the International Monetary Fund: failing to pay back this would put Greece significantly in arrears with the IMF, a first for a developed country. It would also mean that it would be hard for Greece to stay in the Eurozone.

In the months before the deadlines, multiple summits of European and Greek politicians failed to meet an agreement, with Tsipras and Greek Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis wanting no cuts to Greece, and European politicians wanting more cuts.

On June 25, the European Union offered a proposal to the Greek government. In exchange for an extension of the bailout, and the guarantee of the IMF payment, Greece would broaden their value-added tax (Goods and Services Tax, to Australians) top rate of 23% to increase restaurants, hotels, and catering. A limited set of goods would be covered by a 13% rate, such as water, electricity and basic foods, and a super-reduced rate of 6% would be introduced for books, theatre performances, and medical supplies. 

Pension contributions would also be increased, and grants designed to increase government funds to less well-off pensioners would be phased out. The full text of the proposal can be found here.

This deal offered a dilemma to Tsipras. On the one hand, if he accepted it, he would be accused of selling out to the EU. On the other, if he did not, he would be acccused of unilaterally pulling Greece out of the Eurozone, a fairly unpopular move.

So, what was the solution? On June 27th, a mere three days before the payment was due, Tsipras announced the solution: a referendum on the proposal. The next day, Parliament passed the referendum law; it received support from the far-right Golden Dawn party, as well as the governing parties of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks. However, it was opposed by the Communist Party, the liberal To Potami (The River) party, the centre-right New Democracy party, and the centre-left Panhellinic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party.

The date for the referendum was set for the fifth of July, only seven days after the bill was passed. The intention of this was apparently so the European Union could extend their bailout to cover the repayment due on the 30th.

So, what are Greeks being asked?

The referendum ballot paper. (Source-Greek government website)
The exact question, as translated by the BBC, is this.

Should the plan of agreement be accepted, which was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund in the Eurogroup (meeting of European finance ministers) of 25/06/2015, and comprises of two parts, which constitutes their unified proposal.

I can only assume it sounds better in Greek.

Now, this is quite a long question for the proposal on offer. Those who have read the documents will know when they were presented and who presented them, and those who haven't won't know about the referendum anyway.

The question seems unnecessarily detailed, and I can't see that asking whether voters simply approve of the documents in question would be any less helpful.

This seems somewhat suspicious. The ideal outcome for SYRIZA, who wrote the question, is a no vote. If voters don't understand the question, they are likely to vote 'No', as they quite reasonably don't want to vote for something they don't understand. 

Issues with the ballot paper

Other than the overly long question, another issue with the referendum is the placing of the Yes and No boxes. For those who can't read Greek, the box for No is placed above the box for Yes.

Now, Greece's last referendum was in 1974, on whether Greece should be a republic or a monarchy. As far as I can tell, this referendum used a system where voters were given an envelope, and then went into the voting booth, where there were a stack of cards reading 'Yes', and a stack of cards reading 'No'. They took one card, put it in the envelope, and put the envelope in the ballot box.

So, there seems to be no Greek practice for how referendums are held. However, on a ballot paper designed by a government interested in a certain outcome, it certainly seems suspicious that the outcome the government wants is on top.

It seems especially suspicious considering that standard practice in referendums is usually to have 'Yes' first.
Not an exact copy of the Scottish independence referendum ballot, but certainly the yes and no were in that order (Source: Scottish Government)
Irish marriage equality referendum ballot paper (Source: The Journal.ie)
Now, this doesn't have to be attributable to malice. But it certainly seems rather odd, and it certainly has attracted attention.

The time period

The referendum is being held at fairly short notice. While it seems possible that Tsipras is being reasonable by not asking the European Union to extend the bailout over a long campaign period, the fact is that the European Union did refuse to extend the bailout at all. This means that a long campaign period, in order to discuss the issues more thoroughly, would be more popular.

Now, some might say that Tsipras isn't to blame here. After all, he might have thought that the European Union would offer an extension, and they wouldn't want too long an extension. However, it is surely a dramatic breakdown in communication when Tsipras is unable to run the concept of a referendum past the European authorities.

The government has provided a website, with details of the agreements. However, simply looking at the front page, it's clearly slanted in favour of the No campaign, with Prime Minister Tsipras , a supporter of the No campaign, receiving multiple slots with which to make his statements.

Is a referendum a good idea?

In theory, allowing Greek voters to choose their future, and whether they support the bailout, isn't a bad idea. However, this referendum has not provided enough time for voters to properly scrutinise it,  and the government seems to have slanted the playing field in favour of their preferred option.