Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Election matters – and why psephology is sexy

Parliament will be voting in the first week of April on whether to have another general election – only nine months after the last one. But some in Poland are starting to see the electoral system itself as one of the nation’s problems.

When Poles went to the polls in September last year to vote for a new government, most thought that two parties would end up holding the balance of power and would form a coalition government. Voters thought that because the two parties in question – the socially conservative but economically leftist, Law and Justice, and economic liberalizes, Civic Platform - told them that this would be so.

But after the election this coalition never materialized, and Law and Justice – the largest party in parliament – has tried to rule as a minority government ever since. This has meant that Law and Justice leaders, such as Jaroslaw Kaczynski, have spent more time trying to cobble together temporary coalitions than they have governing the country.

And so Law and Justice are trying to get parliament to dissolve itself and have another election.

To do this, however, they need a two-thirds majority in the Sejm, the Polish Lower House. This means the government needs the support of opposition parties, some of which have seen their support in the country shrink since September’s general election. Consequently, these parties like the parliament just the way it is now and don’t want an election, which would probably cut their number of seats.

Electoral turkeys, after all, do not often vote for Christmas.

Another objection to having an early election in late spring this year is the visit in the last week in May of Pope Benedict – his first to Poland since being elected Pontiff. The Polish church agrees.

Opposition Civic Platform - though now in the lead in the opinion polls - has also complained that the electoral system in Poland is to blame for the current stalemate and instability in parliament.

So what does the Polish proportional representative electoral system look like?

Let me take you, briefly, into the murky world of psephology – the study of elections and electoral systems.

Polish PR
The Polish administration's own web pages explain Polish PR as follows:

‘In proportional elections, the number of candidates representing the various parties returned to Sejm is proportional to the number of votes their respective parties receive…The number of successful candidates returned for each party in a given constituency is calculated after the final count of votes on the basis of the d'Hondt system.’

More of the d’Hondt system in a moment, but basically that means that if a party gets 35% of the vote throughout the country then they will end up receiving around 35% of the seats in parliament.

Which individuals take these seats depends on where they were on the list of candidates for their party on the local ballot paper. The higher the percentage of the vote the party receives the more individuals that party can send to the parliament.

Confused yet? You will be.

There are many different types of PR system – Poland’s works at the moment on the aforementioned d’Hondt system, named after a Belgium lawyer, who, way back in the 1870s came up with an amazingly complicated formula for matching popular aspiration with the number of seats in parliament.

I have looked at the D’Hondt system and guess what: I don’t understand a word of it.

What the PR system is good at is producing a parliament that reflects the proportion of votes. What it is bad at is producing governments with a working majority.

If you don’t believe me then look at the famously chaotic Italian system, which, until they reformed it a few years ago, had produced more governments since the war than Mama had produced plates of hot steaming pasta.

To remedy this Civic Platform mooted an idea last year that Poland should adopt the British, First Past the Post System. This system does have the advantage of being understandable by the electorate that has to take part in it.

Majority rules
Basically, parties put up individual candidates in the 646 constituencies in the UK. Whichever party gets the most votes in those constituencies gets a seat in parliament. So the UK system is actually made up of 646 individual elections. And the winner takes all.

It is that simple and it also tends to produce a two or three party system, and often creates one party with an overall majority in parliament.

What the British system is very bad at, though, is reflecting the popular vote within parliament. For instance, Tony Blair’s New Labour won about 38% of the vote in last year’s election but they have about 60% of the seats in parliament.

Unfair says voters for smaller parties which are disenfranchised by the bias towards the larger parties.

But this is what Civic Platform want for Poland. And many can see why. It would produce a two, maybe three party system which would be able to govern, uninterrupted by having to make deals in smoke filled rooms just so it could be agreed who is going to be ordering the coffee.

The chances for a spring election in Poland look slim, however. So politicians and the rest of us will have to wait till late autumn or a poll next year. And it the system the election will be fought under will probably be the same that produced the stalemate in parliament last time.

Until then the government will struggle on, intrigue upon intrigue and deal upon broken deal will emerge from those smoke filled rooms.

So much for psephology and electoral systems. Many normal people here argue, however, that it is not the system - with its PR, its d’Hondt, its First Past the Post - that is to blame for Poland’s political instability, but - and here’s a radical suggestion – it might just be something to do with the politicians that the system produces.

Now that’s an interesting thought.

D’Hondt system explained (sort of!)


eulogist said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
eulogist said...

The concept of the D'Hondt system can be explained much more simply as: "The party with the worst deal gets the next seat". What this means is that you allocate seats one at a time, each time by giving the seat to that party which (after receiving the seat) ends up with the highest number of votes per seat (i.e. the party with the unfairest deal).

I agree in part with your final conclusion - that it's the politicians themselves which are the problem in Poland. But I wouldn't be so sure it's the system that produced them. At all. Italy has had PR for a long time and it has bad politicians - yes. But since 1993, three quarters of its parliament has been elected through FPTP, and what did it produce? Berlusconi and his fine coalition partners...

Most countries with PR (Brits always point to Italy, for some reason, never to Scandinavia) would argue that PR, if anything, produces dull politicians. Because PR does not produce clear majorities, politicians have to form governing coalitions of some sort (inside or outside the cabinet). And in order to do so, they'll have to stay at least somewhat reasonable towards other parties, because they may be competitors, but you also may be future coalition partners. "Dull" or "unclear" may be one way to qualify the politics this leads to. "Realist" or "less ridiculously disputatious" another. Guess what my preference is ;-)

I do recognise that both list-PR as in Poland and (in the past) Italy, and FPTP as in Britain and (nowadays) Italy have their drawbacks. Which is why I regard STV (as practiced in Ireland, Australia and Northern Ireland, amongst others) as the best of both worlds.

beatroot said...

Thanks eulogist...informative a usual. Still can;t get me head around d-Hondt. I asked Poles yesterday to explain there system to me...most were just amused by the question. Nobody had heard of d'Hondt.

Persinally I am in favour of Poles using the British system and the Brits using the Polish one.

Polish political parties all new and have no roots in society. So maybe a two or three party system would be good for those parties to bed-down some social roots and give the country a little breather from this instability.

Whereas in Britain politics has turned into the living dead, with Zombie political parties fighting for a vacuous centre ground. The old is dead but the new cannot be born...So maybe a system that encouraged smaller parties would help give British politics - almost an oxymoron these days - a much needed kiss of life.

Pan Emigrant said...

Wow. 'Dullest blog 2006' hot entry. The article length is perfect. Lean more towards high victorian prose and you've clinched it. Sorry - this is arsey. But from the heart.

beatroot said...

No, it's just wank.

eulogist said...

Should have warned you that I'm a bit of an election system anorak. Still, I think I could agree with your conclusion, beatroot, that it would be good for both Britain and Poland to swap election systems for some time. There may not be a perfect system for all - sometimes it's just change itself that is good.

Wow, strong stuff, those Belgian beers...

georgesdelatour said...

I don't know if the UK system is right for Poland, but I think it has certain strengths. The voters get a clear sense that there is a government in power and an alternative government in waiting. Voters make a choice, rather than merely express an order of preference. But it's clearly not proportional in the PR sense.

The really important question to ask of any system is, will the voters more often get the laws and policies they want (or manage to avoid those they don't)? I'm not sure a strict proportional system delivers this any better than first-past-the-post. Even PR parliaments pass laws by a simple majority. Imagine a 101-seat parliament, elected by PR, in which the three parties have 50, 50 and 1 MPs. We can all see that the one MP for the third party will wield a massively disproportionate political influence, because he can make or break a majority. The other two parties will vie to betray their own electors to court his vote.

The logical corollary of proportional representation is mandatory all-party coalitions, in which cabinet posts are handed out strictly according to electoral support. I suspect government is unworkable under such a dispensation. It sounds dangerously close to the Polish Liberum Veto of old.

eulogist said...

Georgesdelatour: Imagine a 101-seat parliament...

Imagine, indeed ;-) The whole point is that the disproportionate power of the "kingmaker" minority party in a coalition is kept in check by the PR system, because:
- the constant need for coalition governments requires parties stay reasonable, as you never know where the balance of power lies after the next elections and who you'll need then to form a government;
- PR typically produces more than just two or three parliamentary parties, but rather 7 (Sweden), 11 (Denmark) or 12 (the Netherlands). In other words, there are always alternatives, unlike in FPTP.
- A typical "kingmaker", a party that is a feasible partner in more than one coalition combination, is politically centrist. You could argue that its influence actually makes decision-making more in line with what a majority of the voters want than it would be without the kingmaker (e.g. in a FPTP system where parliamentary majorities have only a minority of the voters behind them).

All of this is not to say that I do not realise this is all theory, and that actual politics is influenced by many more factors than just the election system. However, I do think that any system should seek to create a functioning electoral market by promoting choice and alternatives. E.g. in FPTP, the influence of each party's central command over individual MPs should be limited because alternatives have to emerge within parties, from the dissent of individual members with their own power base.

Pan Emigrant said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
georgesdelatour said...

Hi eulogist!

The point about the kingmaking is that it happens after the election - so the electors have no input. In Poland people voted for the Law And Justice Party believing it would form a certain kind of coalition which it then didn't. It reneged on its promises to the voters the morning after polling day.

I quite like the system of modified first-past-the-post they used to have in France. The idea is, in any constituency where the winning candidate gets more than 50% of votes cast, she's elected; but if no candidate reaches that threshold, there's a run-off one week later between the two most popular candidates. I like it because it forces the horse-trading to happen in front of the voters. They have at least some power to punish parties for doing deals they don't approve of.

I think the assumed "centrism" of smaller parties is questionable. Here's an example. In the UK we're very ambivalent about Europe and the EU. Why we feel that way is another debate. But I think the first-past-the-post system allows a full range of views to be aired, and keeps UK policy closer to the wishes of UK voters than would PR. This is because the UK's "centrist" party, the Lib-Dems, has historically been on the extreme federalist end of the eurosceptic-europhile continuum. If the UK been governed by PR coalitions involving the Lib-Dems, UK governments would have pushed much, much further with European Integration than voters wanted them to. If you like European Federalism you may like this byproduct of PR. But you can't really argue that it's fair to the voters.

Part of how people vote - maybe the most important part - is negative. "Whatever happens, I don't want those b******s in government." First-Past-The-Post is the best "exclusional" system ever invented. If enough people really hate a party, they can make sure it stays out of government. That's what the 1997 UK election was about. Under PR only zero MPs can keep a hated party out of government.

eulogist said...

Georges, I can only repeat my argument that you are talking about an imaginary situation. If the UK had PR, it would not have just the LibDems as an alternative to the Tories and Labour, but many more parties.

The fact that a party in power can carry out specific policies not supported by a majority of the population remains true in any representative democracy, regardless whether it is PR or not. If you want to avoid that, argue for Swiss-style semi-direct democracy (as I do) because it allows voters to correct choices made by parliament.

As for French-style two-rounds elections: you can't be serious. Remember the last presidential elections went between Chirac and Le Pen because the French left (which has more support than Le Pen) had put up too many candidates in the first round (and remember that putting up more than one candidate is the whole point of having that first round, so don't be smart and say that they shouldn't have). This is why I said STV (or instant run-off as it would be called in case of single seat elections) would be a more obvious choice because it allows *voters* to make the trade-off between candidates instead of leaving it to political parties.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
beatroot said...

Of course, there is a form of PR in Northern Ireland. That's because if there wasn't then the loyalists would win virtually every seat. So PR is necessary to maintain minority views within parliament (if the Northern Irish had a parliament, that is).

Poland has lots of minority interests...rural, urban working class, east, west, secular/religious, and a small minority of the middle class (10%?).

A first past the post system would probably favour rural/religious/eastern voters the most as they are in the majority.

But they have to do something. Horse trading is basically all the government has been doing for the past half year. And if they do have another election in a few weeks, or a few months, then the result will be the same - a dog's breakfast.

georgesdelatour said...

Hi eulogist

I don't think you've understood my point about the trade off. It's the trade off of policies I'm concerned about, not the trade off of politicians. Under STV you don't know which policies the candidate you voted for will abandon in order to get into the government mercedes.

In the 1988 Presidential election, the reason Mitterand defeated Chirac was that Chirac tried to woo voters from the Le Pen camp in the second round. This turned some of his own supporters off, so they voted for Mitterand.

georgesdelatour said...

Hi Beatroot

Northern Ireland is an exceptional case. It's been said that a NI election is really just a census. It tells you how many adult Protestants and Catholics there are, but not much else. Every election has one issue - the sovereign status of Northern Ireland - and, basically, no-one changes their mind from one election to the next. Okay, Catholics veer between Sinn Fein and SDLP, Protestants between different kinds of Unionists. But on the only issue that matters, there is absolute fixity of opinion, which only differetial birth rates can change - over the long term. Even with power sharing and PR it can't really be democracy like in the rest of the UK or Poland, because there's no equivalent of, "Oh, last time I voted Labour and they were rubbish, so next time I'm voting Conservative".

eulogist said...

Hi Georges,

I understood your point quite well. Your two-rounds suggestion is a different way of selecting candidates for single seat constituencies. For this, I suggested STV/Instant Run-Off instead of two-rounds or FPTP.

Plurality vs. PR is a separate discussion, which I covered extensively as well.

beatroot said...

George - NI is a special case in many ways. That's why they have PR and the rest of the UK doesn't (but it should). But voting in NI is more than a 'census'. If a protestant decides to vote for DUP then they know that the consequences are going to be that they will not be reopening Stormont. Which is a significant thing to do and affects the way the place is governed, possibly in a more significant way than if someone votes either Conservative, Lib Dem or New Labour - where, practically, there is no difference at all in the way Britain is governed.

PR in the UK would mak it slightly easier to break the tyrany is moderation in that country. It might even get the vote out a bit better.

Anonymous said...

Enfin un blog sur video de sexe qui a de la valeur. Beaucoup trop de sites sont mal fait ce qui n'est certainement pas le cas ici. Continuez dans cette voie!

Anonymous said...

Where did you find it? Interesting read »

Anonymous said...

BtfYql [url=http://www.bootsmegasyoppu.com/]アグ ブーツ[/url] CugHll FrkTmv http://www.bootsmegasyoppu.com/ JnbUzm WuzGhn [url=http://www.jp-boot.com/]UGG ブーツ[/url] ScpGrm YedLgz http://www.jp-boot.com/ NbvFwx FlqLby [url=http://www.bootskan.com/]UGG ブーツ[/url] CpxYev QovBbb http://www.bootskan.com/ WdoMyi EkrFfr [url=http://www.toryburchse-ru.com/]トリーバーチ バッグ[/url] CazBab IppYoz http://www.toryburchse-ru.com/ AklEuz MynTez [url=http://www.jpshoesbuy.com/]ugg ムートンブーツ[/url] WdfSiq QatWeg http://www.jpshoesbuy.com/ AovKrl JboDse [url=http://www.timberlandtop.com/]Timberland[/url] HjmCus IwwLyw http://www.timberlandtop.com/ GqwLdg

Anonymous said...

TbpCyc [url=http://canadagoosejacketsite.com/]canada goose jacket[/url] XxmQst AyzSgd http://canadagoosejacketsite.com/ TcsAcs UalGrr [url=http://canadagoosejacketclub.com/]canada goose[/url] JhyQhy QnmWbr http://canadagoosejacketclub.com/ MvtHzn VvyTrg [url=http://canadagooseoutlettoca.com/]canada goose[/url] ZdzEhp DpiAqw http://canadagooseoutlettoca.com/ YekUha DoqBle [url=http://canadagoosesalehome.com/] canada goose jackets[/url] CjqEcz MrxPxl http://canadagoosesalehome.com/ CbgFaw

Anonymous said...

AbaReb [url=http://cheapggboots.com/] cheap uggs[/url] VooFut VbjEle http://cheapggboots.com/ KhnTot ZjbXlm [url=http://parka2013.com/] canada goose jacket[/url] GwqNjr EzeUpm http://parka2013.com/ SvsXdv FteXtx [url=http://cagoosehome.com/]canada goose[/url] EucJfl ZfrEry http://cagoosehome.com/ DthErm SgiReq [url=http://jackets-2012.com/] Canada Goose Parka[/url] WhrRmq XbsDzk http://jackets-2012.com/ IkoNgj EgeNnj [url=http://gooseoutlet2013.com/] Canada Goose Parka[/url] PpuArf ZyvJum http://gooseoutlet2013.com/ XhtQkx IqvFgn [url=http://jacketsca.com/]canada goose jackets[/url] IofRwm PckXcq http://jacketsca.com/ RdlLqx

Anonymous said...

LqiBhb [url=http://www.mbtjpbuy.com/]MBT 靴[/url] LgkDmg AjsQcs http://www.mbtjpbuy.com/ UruXcv VnsYxs [url=http://www.snowbootbuy.com/]UGG ブーツ[/url] TvqNtg DoxFiz http://www.snowbootbuy.com/ PxeXgr FisPuz [url=http://www.monclerjyapann.com/]モンクレール[/url] PauRbq PcsYin http://www.monclerjyapann.com/ YieRqhNjaKcy [url=http://www.cheapbootjp.com/]UGG ムートンブーツ[/url] EcvUsd CgiLoy http://www.cheapbootjp.com/ OhyNqq YyaXjl [url=http://www.boot2013.com/]アグ クラシック ミニ[/url] XsyLhs CtuTbu http://www.boot2013.com/ CjvEpwXduHad [url=http://www.bootstogirl.com/]アグ[/url] RklStm JtnDwb http://www.bootstogirl.com/ AbzOon

Anonymous said...

IvuPeg [url=http://jakkerdk2013.com/]canada goose[/url] GmnZmf ZioJgq http://jakkerdk2013.com/ UldDof PpdBxy [url=http://goosejakkertono.com/] Canada Goose Parka[/url] WxvWra ZjeLmk http://goosejakkertono.com/ FlxVib GokBud [url=http://gooseoutletweb.com/] goose outlet[/url] RkpDgn NhuLds http://gooseoutletweb.com/ XcuJnz VkvFzk [url=http://jakkerparkadk.com/] canada goose parka[/url] VwaIme RiyGkg http://jakkerparkadk.com/ GtiZjb EcxAdm [url=http://canadagoosenorwayhome.com/] canada goose norge[/url] EjtWyq IugIkb http://canadagoosenorwayhome.com/ JeyPfk PylXib [url=http://gooseparkasite.com/] Canada Goose Jacket[/url] XwbNcx SpfNid http://gooseparkasite.com/ KxaNnw

Anonymous said...

WujTfq [url=http://ukbootshopon.com/]cheap ugg bailey button boots[/url] FbxBbj http://ukbootshopon.com/

Anonymous said...

ComYrz [url=http://ukbootshopon.com/]ugg boots outlet[/url] LnyElb http://ukbootshopon.com/

Anonymous said...

UosIlv [url=http://ukbootshopon.com/]ugg boots outlet[/url] XroSku http://ukbootshopon.com/

Anonymous said...

zbbjna [url=http://canada-goose-sales.ca]Canada Goose[/url] skihfr http://canada-goose-sales.ca rzeuug [url=http://canadagooseoutletss.com]Canada Goose Online[/url] qfmnzh http://canadagooseoutletss.com xbvifn [url=http://salecanadagooseoutlet.ca]Canada Goose Outlet[/url] fbghjy http://salecanadagooseoutlet.ca psmbqk [url=http://mycanadagoose-canada.com]Canada Goose Outlet[/url] cfembh http://mycanadagoose-canada.com qmbkzk [url=http://salecanadagoose-outlets.com]Canada Goose Outlet[/url] xbaggs http://salecanadagoose-outlets.com aifnfc [url=http://salecanaadagoosejackets.ca]Canada Goose Sale[/url] zfjtvq http://salecanaadagoosejackets.ca scscjs

Anonymous said...

zdanik [url=http://www.okmonclerjakker.eu]Moncler[/url] rpxcwv http://www.okmonclerjakker.eu ddbpmi [url=http://www.mincanadagoose.eu]Canada Goose Jakke[/url] glvklr http://www.mincanadagoose.eu aphygp [url=http://canadagoosesjackorr.com]Canada Goose[/url] pvifat http://canadagoosesjackorr.com fgmhut [url=http://myreplicahandbagsuk.com]Replica Handbags[/url] hhlucf http://myreplicahandbagsuk.com udfdje

Anonymous said...

uubm [url=http://okbeatsbydrecheap.com]Cheap Beats By Dre[/url] duuf http://okbeatsbydrecheap.com niex nqcg [url=http://beatsbydresalesok.com]Beats By Dre Sale[/url] bqah http://beatsbydresalesok.com kuoc ojxn [url=http://okbeatsbydreus.com]Cheap Beats By Dre[/url] oymt http://okbeatsbydreus.com ndlw grfd [url=http://salebeatsbydreoutlet.com]Cheap Beats By Dre[/url] azxd http://salebeatsbydreoutlet.com dtqh

Anonymous said...

SwyVhd [url=http://www.kutsuboot.com/]ugg ブーツ[/url] MliMnh EmpMtv [url=http://www.kutsuboot.com/]ugg ブーツ 激安[/url] YgkLrn VxmDzu [url=http://www.kutsuboot.com/]ugg ムートンブーツ[/url] AczPzb PhlObc http://www.kutsuboot.com/ LizSds

Anonymous said...

bottes ugg pas cher kitpkbgi bottes ugg zypyvhiv chaussures ugg gkqihrpa ugg australia genbbvfj ugg france ikzgtxnu ugg pas cher uubgkjrv ugg ggxjcogz