Monday, May 23, 2016

Scotland and Wales-some simulations

For those that didn't notice, elections to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales's devolved Parliaments, as well as to various local authorities in England and the mayoralty and assembly of Greater London, took place on May 5.

In 1997, referendums took place in Scotland and Wales on whether country-wide Parliaments should be introduced to govern the two regions. In both cases, the proposal was successful. Further referendums were held in Northern Ireland (where the assembly was part of a comprehensive peace deal) and London in 1998, where devolved assemblies were introduced.

In order to gain cross-party support for these assemblies, the Blair Labour government decided against using a single-member plurality electoral system to elect members of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. Instead, it was decided to use a mixed-member proportional representation system.

In London, there are fourteen members elected in single-member districts, and eleven members elected from closed party lists. Voters have two votes; one for their single-member district candidate, and one for a party list. In the districts, the candidate with the most votes is elected. Following this, all the list votes are tallied up, and the eleven party list seats are allocated using the D'Hondt method of party list proportional representation.

However, it is modified somewhat. The number that the party's vote is divided by is increased by the number of single-member districts the party has won. So, if a party wins five single-member districts, its vote will be divided by six at the beginning of the D'Hondt count. A party needs to win 5% of the vote to win any party-list seats.

A very similar electoral system is used for Scotland and Wales. Scotland is divided into eight districts. In each of these, eight to ten members are elected in single-member districts, and seven members are elected using party-lists. An identical system to the one used in London is used to allocate the party-list seats: however, there is no threshold. This is made up for by the substantially reduced number of seats to be elected in these districts. If we add all the seats in a district together, we get an effective threshold of about 4.4%; however, this is probably lower in practice, and may depend on the results of the single-member districts.

Wales is identical, except the districts are somewhat smaller. Each district elects between seven to nine members in single-member districts, and four members in the party-list system. This makes it very much less proportional

Scottish results

A couple of months ago, I wrote this blog post on decoy lists in Scotland. As it turns out, Nicola Sturgeon does not read my blog, and as a result no party in Scotland tried the decoy list strategy. While the Greens only ran district candidates in a small number of districts, this was more so that they could focus their efforts on winning list votes.

However, what if the parties had used decoy lists? The below chart shows what would have happened if only the SNP had used decoy lists; that is, their list candidates and district candidates were not affiliated to each other. 

Compared to the actual results, the SNP would gain thirty seats. The Conservatives would lose thirteen seats, Labour eleven, the Greens five, and the Liberal Democrats one. Rather than their current position of governing in minority, with support from one of the opposition parties needed to back legislation, the SNP would have a comfortable majority. 

But what if other parties had followed the SNP's strategy? This would make Scotland effectively mixed-member majoritarian, an electoral system where the aim is to add some proportionality onto a majoritarian system. The goal of mixed-member proportional representation is to make the entire result proportional.

The SNP would only gain twenty-four seats this time, with their list gains balanced out by the ability of the Conservative and Labour parties to make the same sort of gains. However, Labour would lose ten seats and the Conservatives would win nine; Labour's substantial weakness in the constituencies would be exaggerated. The Liberal Democrats would win the same number of seats, as most of their seats were won in constituencies. The Greens would be, proportionally, the biggest losers; they would lose all but one of their seats.

Following the election, and the SNP's failure to win a majority, Alex Salmond stated on his weekly radio show that the electoral system used in Scotland was responsible for the result. In an interview that appears fairly incoherent, Salmond claimed that the 'variations' that led to the SNP not winning a majority were the fault of the regional list system.

But is this the case? Well, we can test this. The below charts show the results of the election using a national list system; to be precise, such a system would allocate all the list seats in one district, covering the entirety of Scotland. As such a system would be very proportional, there are two simulations; one with a 5% threshold, and one without.

It's quite clear that Salmond is wrong, at least in that sense. The national list system would not have given the SNP a majority; in fact, in both simulations they would be in an even weaker position. They would have won only the 59 seats they won in the constituencies. As you can see, there are few other differences; the Liberal Democrats and Greens would both gain a couple of seats, as they were disadvantaged by having their vote spread out in the districts, while UKIP, which won only 2% of the nationwide constituency vote, would win two seats without a threshold, and none with one.

In the same article, Salmond also supports the introduction of a single-vote MMP system. Under such a system, voters would have one vote, for a constituency candidate. That vote, however, would count as a party vote for the party that constituency candidate was affiliated to.

Were such a system implemented in Scotland, it would have a number of effects. For a start, it would be bad news for the Green Party. The Greens only ran a few constituency candidates, and focused their efforts on the list. In most constituencies, the Greens have little chance of election, and Green voters would be pushed towards tactically voting for a more competitive contender. This would mean the Greens would win fewer party votes, and thus substantially fewer seats.

At the same time, tactical voting in the constituencies would go down somewhat. Despite the above, some people would still vote Green in the constituencies, but they would obviously vote for someone else if there was no Green candidate, which is the case in most places. Abolishing the list ballot would mean the Greens would be forced to run a candidate in every seat. The same would go for weak Liberal Democrats, Conservative and Labour candidates; partisans for these parties would be less likely to switch to more viable constituency candidates closer to their party affiliation if that meant that they could not vote in any way for the party of their first choice.


The results of the Welsh elections were, on the face of it, rather unusual. Labour's vote in the constituencies dropped by 7.6% and their regional vote dropped by about 5%, but they only lost one seat. So, how did this happen?

Well, there are a number of reasons for this. First of all, the big gainer in these Welsh elections was UKIP. This Eurosceptic party has gained substantial support in recent years, and while it failed to make much of a mark in Scotland, at the 2015 general election the party polled 13.6% in Wales. 

Rather than focusing their attention on the party-list seats, like the Scottish Greens, UKIP ran constituency candidates in all but two constituencies. This meant that the opposition vote became more split. Labour also had an efficient vote spread; only 16% of the vote for Labour was cast in the constituencies that they did not win (which constituted 26% of the electorate).

This on its own does not cause disproportionality. For example, in Scotland, the Scottish National Party received 80% of the district seats, off only 46.5% of the vote. Wales had a similar imbalance, with 67% of the seats for Labour for 35% of the vote. However, Wales was twice as disproportional as Scotland, using the Gallagher Index.

The key issue causing disproportionality in Wales is the very low number of party-list seats. In Wales, the percentage of list seats is very low for an MMP jurisdiction.

What if Wales had a similar amount of proportional seats to Scotland? I have simulated this by adding three seats to each region, thus making the percentage of list seats 46.67% (compared to 45.74% for Scotland).
Labour would be the main loser, falling from one seat short of a majority to just 40% of the Assembly. Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP would be slightly better off. The Liberal Democrats would be the big gainer, winning four seats, up from just one. 

Overall, the Gallagher Index of disproportionality for Wales would decrease from 13.03 to 7.25, closer to Scotland's 5.6. In an area like Wales, where one party is dominant and the opposition is heavily split, increasing the number of party-list compensatory seats would be a sensible step to ensure an accountable regional government.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Has the migrant crisis really impacted Austria's politics?

Austria, a small country in Europe's south-east, has been quite substantially impacted by the large numbers of Syrian immigrants travelling towards Western Europe. Like all countries in Europe, Austria's government services have been placed under strain by the large number of people moving through and into the country.

It is not unusual for immigration of this sort to lead to political change in a country. Sweden, for example, has seen substantial gains in recent years for the right-wing anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, which has been linked to concern over increases in immigration. In Germany, Angela Merkel's liberal policy towards Syrian refugees has led to a polling surge for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.

There is something in common between these two countries. In Sweden, asylum seeker policy has generally been fairly liberal under both the centre-left and centre-right, while in Germany, the liberal asylum seeker policy has been led by centre-right Merkel. Centre-right voters are less likely to support such an immigration policy, leading them to seek alternatives to the right.

At the moment, Austria is governed by a 'grand coalition' of the centre-left Social Democrats and the centre-right People's Party. A government of this sort presiding over high immigration would be likely to alienate People's Party voters concerned about immigration, and cause them to move towards right-wing alternatives. The largest and most prominent of these is the Austrian Freedom Party (FPO).

This party has a long history in Austria. They were formed in 1949 as the Party of Independents, and won 10% of the vote at their electoral debut. For its early years, it was a more liberal party, which had only a small number of seats. Oddly for a country with a very proportional electoral system, at this time Austria had a very strong two-party system, with the Social Democrats and People's Party often being able to form majority governments.

However, the party began to gain traction under the leadership of Jorg Haider. Haider was a more right-wing figure, and led the party in a Eurosceptic direction. This turned out to be electorally profitable; at the party's first election under Haider's leadership (in 1986), the party increased its vote by 4.7%, and by 6.9% in 1990 (probably related to the previous government being a grand coalition. The continuance of the grand coalition up to the 1994 election meant that their vote went up by 5.9% to 22.5%, despite the liberal wing of the party leaving to form the new Liberal Forum. This result meant that they were close to the centre-right.

The 1999 election was the apex of the Freedom Party's support. The party recieved 26.91% of the vote, the same percentage to two decimal places as the People's Party. However, the Freedom Party recieved 417 votes more than the People's Party, making them narrowly the second largest party. Rather than continuing the grand coalition, the People's Party decided to form a government coalition with the Freedom Party. People's Party leader Wolfgang Schlussel became Chancellor, since the parties had an equal number of seats and the Freedom Party were considered to be too extreme to run the government.

The Freedom Party, as the less visible coalition partner, lost a large portion of its support as a result of the coalition. At the 2002 election, the Freedom Party vote went down to just 10%, with the People's Party's vote going up by 15%.

Nonetheless, the coalition of the People's and Freedom parties continued after the election. However, the Freedom Party split in 2005, with Haider forming the new Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO). This party stayed in the coalition with the People's Party, while the Freedom Party left government.

Internal strife of this sort led to both parties faring poorly at the 2006 election. The Freedom Party won only slightly more votes than their dismal 2002 performance, and polled below the Greens for the first time in their history (only by 538 votes, though), while the BZO only just crossed the 4% threshold under Austria's multi-tier method of party-list proportional representation. It is also worth noting that 2.8% of the vote at this election was taken by the list of Hans-Peter Martin, a Member of the European Parliament who had been prominent in attacking other MEPs for misuse of travel expenses; a populist figure of this nature could be expected to attract the support of Eurosceptic voters who might otherwise be attracted to the Freedom or BZO parties.

However, better days were to come for these two parties. Following the 2006 election, another 'grand coalition' was formed between the two main parties. As has been stated above, such 'grand coalitions' have lead to voter dissatisfaction with the two major parties. The 2006-2008 period also saw the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, which expanded the powers of the European Union somewhat, without a referendum. In the early 2008 election, both the Freedom and People's parties gained support, at the expense of both major parties.
Following this election, there was little option other than a grand coalition of the Social Democrats and People's Party. However, this coalition was extraordinary weak for a grand coalition in Austria; the two major parties had only 55% of the vote between them.

The BZO suffered a substantial setback following the election, when leader Jorg Haider died in a car accident. This meant that the gains from the weakening of the grand coalition parties, which continued, went heavily to the Freedom Party. The 2008-2013 grand coalition government served its full term, but, as usual, the following election saw a decline in support for the grand coalition parties.

This loss did not only advantage the Freedom Party, but also a new party that had been formed recently. Canadian-Austrian businessman Frank Stronach formed a party, with the support of a number of existing Members of Parliament, called Team Stronach. It was opposed to the European Union, and supportive of economic liberalism. Stronach's strong financial support for the party propelled it to a fairly strong performance at the election. The other new party, The New Austria, was a liberal, pro-European group, which won a small number of seats.

The expected result of the election was a grand coalition government, as before, but with only a small parliamentary majority (with 92 seats needed, the Social Democrats and People's Party had only 99 seats). 

So, how are the FPO doing?

Since the 2015 election, the events of the migrant crisis have taken place. Certain international media reports have suggested that there has been a surge in far-right support. Now, if we look at FPO votes over time, that certainly does seem to be the case.

2016 vote share from this poll.

It's not hard to see why that would be viewed as a surge. However, that's not the whole story. As I've said above, the Austrian far-right has two other parties in it; Team Stronach and the Alliance for the Future of Austria. If we add these two onto our graph, we get a somewhat different one.
This certainly looks a lot less impressive. The increase from 2013 is only 3% if you factor in the Stronach and Alliance votes, which is hardly a party-system shaking change, and certainly not a 'surge'.  Even if we consider that the Stronach Team may not be as anti-immigration as the Freedom Party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria+Freedom Party (with both parties being fairly anti-immigration, and likely to enter coalition with each other if they had a majority) vote share in 2008 was 28%, which makes the increase only 4%.

But what about the presidentials?

One of the other events that has happened in Austria recently was the presidential elections. In these elections, the Freedom candidate Norbert Hofer came first, with Alexander van der Bellen, the Independent Green, in a poor second.

As you can see, the Freedom Party was comfortably ahead; Hofer is not yet President, as he has to contest a second round against van der Bellen, as no candidate won a majority in the first round. Polls for the second round show both candidates at a dead heat; however, since Hofer was substantially underpolled in the first round, it appears likely that he will be elected President.

So, does this mean that there is a massive surge in support for the Freedom Party? Well, that's uncertain. For a start, the presidential race is highly personalistic, as can be seen by the small votes for the Social Democratic and People's candidates compared to their party polling (and as can also be seen by the posters, which do not show party affiliation for certain candidates), and the large number of votes taken by the independent Griss. The results of the presidential election will not necessarily be borne out in the legislative election.

Second, Hofer has the advantage of running against van der Bellen, who has mostly left-wing support. Had Griss, who had more right-wing support, been in the second round, she could have been more competitive, as she would have been able to mobilise both left-wing (in opposition to Hofer) and right-wing support.

While the underpolling for the presidential elections suggests that there could be underlying support not detected in the polls, the polls for the legislative and European elections were quite close to the actual support for the party.

The increase in support for the Freedom Party should not be seen as a massive upsurge in support for them. Instead, it represents consolidation of the voters sympathetic to the right-wing populist policies espoused by them. The party remains short of a majority; however, if Hofer is elected President (by means that, as stated above, do not necessarily suggest a surge in support either), he will be able to appoint the Prime Minister, and dissolve the legislature. This represents the most substantial challenge for the non-Freedom parties, and suggests potential for a constitutional crisis.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Elected prime ministerial government in Kiribati

This post was also posted at Fruits and Votes

One of the rarer forms of government in the world is elected prime ministerial government. Under this system of government, a head of government is directly elected by the voters, but can be removed from office by a majority of members of the legislature. If the elected Prime Minister is removed from office, new elections are held to choose a new Prime Minister and (in some cases) legislature.

The system was most notably used in Israel from 1996 to 2001. It was criticised there for leading to party fragmentation in the legislature (by disconnecting the office of Prime Minister from the legislative elections, while still making the Prime Minister have a majority in said legislature), and leading to more elections and less stable government. As you can see, it was quickly removed, and most publications state it is not used anywhere else in the world. However, it still exists; in the small Pacific nation and former British colony of Kiribati.

Under the Kiribati Constitution, the office of Beretiteni (President) is directly elected, using first-past-the-post. The President appoints ministers from the unicameral legislature (elected using the two-round system), which does not require parliamentary approval. Not unusually for the Pacific Islands, the Attorney-General has a specifically defined role in the Constitution, and I believe holds a legislative seat automatically because of his office.

However, section 2 of article 33 states 

(2) The Beretitenti shall cease to be Beretitenti-

(a) if he resigns his office, by notice in writing addressed to the Speaker; 

(b) if a motion of no confidence in the Beretitenti or the Government is supported in the Maneaba ni Maungatabu by the votes of a majority of all the members of the Maneaba; 

(c) if, in respect of any matter before the Maneaba, the Beretitenti notifies the Speaker that a vote on that matter raises an issue of confidence, and in a subsequent vote on that matter it is rejected by a majority of all the members of the Maneaba;

 (d) if he ceases to be a member of the Maneaba otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Maneaba

If, under the provisions of 2a, the Beretiteni is removed from office, the Council of State (a body consisting of the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Speaker of the legislature, and the Chief Justice) takes office. 

This is where article 78 kicks in.

78. (1) The Maneaba ni Maungatabu (legislature) shall stand dissolved- 

(a) if a motion of no confidence in the Beretitenti or the Government is supported in the Maneaba by the votes of a majority of all the members of the Maneaba; or

(b) if, in respect of any matter before the Maneaba, the Beretitenti notifies the Speaker that a vote on that matter raises an issue of confidence, and in a subsequent vote on that matter it is rejected by a majority of all the members of the Maneaba. 

As I read it, this would rule out a change in government as a result of a no-confidence vote, as such a vote would automatically dissolve the legislature.

Following a general election, a ballot for Beretiteni is automatically scheduled. The Constitution stipulates that

The Maneaba (legislature) shall after the election of the Speaker nominate, from among members of the Maneaba, not less than 3 nor more than 4 candidates for election as Beretitenti, and no other person may be a candidate

Ordinary legislation is used to govern this election. As far as I can tell, the Borda count was used up to 2002, with voters being allowed to number only four candidates. However, in 2002, the legislation was amended (due to Borda being "complicated" and easy to manipulate)  to have a rather unusual variant of the two-round system. In the first round, the two candidates with the most votes are declared nominated for the Presidency, while in the second round all other candidates are voted on; the top two of these are declared nominated.

Kiribati is unusually stable for a Pacific Island country. Since independence in 1979, there have been only five Beretitenis (excluding leaders of the Council of State who took an interim role in government) compared to eleven Prime Ministers of Vanuatu since 1980 and eight Prime Ministers of Fiji since 1983.

It also has a party system, though it is fairly weak. The Elections Ordinance makes no mention of political parties (except in a section prohibiting advertising from parties in a perimeter around the polling station); however, election results suggest that a substantial number of MPs are affiliated with political parties, as are Presidential candidates. What is confusing about the parties is that the literature I have read suggests that they nominated multiple candidates for the Presidency, which seems like very odd behaviour for a political party.

The first President to lose the confidence of the legislature was Ieremia Tabai. He was re-elected as President in 1982, but without a legislative majority aligned to him. By making a minor bill a matter of confidence, he was able to dissolve the legislature, with opposition MPs apparently going along unsure of the consequences. The result was Tabai's re-election, and a much more compliant legislature.

Tabai's successors, Teato Teannaki, was removed by a vote of no-confidence, and did not run in the 1994 election. His successor, Teburoto Tito, lasted longer, winning three elections, but a poor result by his party in the legislative elections of 2002 meant that his narrow 2003 victory was swiftly followed by a no-confidence vote. In the elections held later in 2003, the Pillars of Truth party won 16 out of 41 seats, to 14 for the Protect the Maneaba. The remaining seats were won by candidates not affiliated to one of the parties. The following Presidential elections saw Pillars of Truth candidate Anote Tong win, narrowly.

Tong was elected two more times, serving his full term both times. His Pillars of Truth party was the largest party in both elections, though without a majority. However, the fairly fluid party system meant that he was able to avoid no-confidence votes.

At the last election, Tong was term-limited (only three terms are allowed), and he was replaced by Taneti Maamau. He is a member of the Tobwaan Kiribati Party. I am not sure how the legislative seats were distributed; IPU gives this group 19 seats to 26 for Pillars of Truth; however, this figure looks like it redistributed independents to the two parties. Either way, the figure suggests that Maamau does not have especially strong support in the legislature.

So, where does this odd constitutional arrangement come from? Well, in preparation for independence, the colonial governor of Kiribati arranged a Constitutional Convention, comprised of 165 members from different parts of the county which he appointed, in order to design a more appropriate constitution. While this was met with protest within certain circles of the British colonial administration, most of the decisions of the convention were adapted in the constitution.

The goal of having an elected President appears to have been to create a figure above parochial local politics, a worthy aim, especially in the Pacific. No-confidence votes leading to elections also might give MPs pause for thought, and lead them to consider negotiation before toppling the President. While I am unsure to what extent Kiribati's constitutional model has led to its relative stability, it is certainly worth a look for other Pacific states.

Note: Information for this post was sourced from the second volume of Nohlen's Elections in Asia and the Pacific as well as Atoll Politics: The Republic of Kiribati edited by Howard Van Trease and Politics in Kiribati edited by Taomati Iuta