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>Bulgarian President pushes for electoral and party reform referendum


The Sofia Echo reports that, having come up with a package of proposed political reforms aimed at introducing some a new of Mixed Member Proportional electoral system and tougher registration requirements for parties, Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov is pushing for a Romanian (New Zealand?) style referendum to enact the proposals, although, unfortunately for him, referenda are not binding on legislators. Post-1989, the Bulgarians have never had a national referendum, however, so who knows what may happen, if the other politicos do accede to his wish.
The President is, of course, also consulting with party leaders and reportedly won the support of the Socialist Party (BSP), his former political home, but right-wing parties seem rather more leery. The proposals, which specify that to be legally registered parties must have branches in 2/3 of municipalities, seem directed at culling small, local grouping that have done increasingly well at local level in the last couple of years, prompting allegations of vote buying and other dubious practices. These seem to have been borne out by a series of court decisions annulling municipal elections. Critics suggest, however, that established parties, including big powerful groups like the BSP, have simply been caught napping, letting their grassroots organization wither, as attention shifted to elite-level politics in Sofia and the formulation of party lists central to the current system of PR. Rising political force, GERB, a sort of centre-right populist concoction riding very high in the national polls is, more understandably, also rather short of local organization.

The electoral reform element of sketchy overview of the presidential proposals are expertly dissected by Matthew Shugart at Fruits and Votes. Seems, however, that they are more about corralling powerful local politicians into established (big) parties than eliminating corrupt practices.

And as postscript I should note that a presidentially sponsored Round Table to seek consensus on changing the electoral system and party regulation regime is due to held on 7 July. Watch this space

>Bulgarian President wants strong, clean parties and mixed elctoral system


The Sofia Weekly carries the following report about the Bulgarian President’s plans for making the country’s democracy more effective and legitimate

“Bulgaria President Proposes New Political Model

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov presented Tuesday his proposal for the reform of the political model in Bulgaria, focusing on the three main points that could lead to real political results.

The three points included in the President’s proposal are: the necessity of legal and public guarantees for a national representation of the political parties, transparency regarding Party financing and regaining of voters’ trust through a reform of the election system.

Below is the proposals’ full text:

I. Legal and public guarantees for a national representation of the political parties:

  • In order to participate in elections, a Party must have registered structures in 2/3 of the municipalities.
  • If a Party could not reach 1% (2% for coalitions) from the vote in two consecutive elections, the Party would be stricken from the Party Register and would not participate in the next elections. If the Party wishes to continue its political existence, it would enter a new registration regime according to the Political Parties Law
  • Only parties who have received 1% (2% for coalitions) from the vote during the previous parliamentary elections would be able to participate in local elections. They would be the only ones to designate candidates for mayors and create election lists. Independent mayoral candidates and independent Councilmen would be acceptable, but not lists that are not clearly related to a political Party.

II. Transparent Party financing:

  • Discontinue financing of political parties by legal entities; increase State subsidy for parties receiving over 1% at the last parliamentary vote.
  • Public register of individual donors with a preset limit for the donation amount; public register for the Advertising and PR agencies serving particular parties.
  • For election participation, in addition to the requirement that the Party registers with the Central Election Commission, it must also register a public payment account where all donations would be deposited and all money to pay for election campaigning would come from.
  • Delegating rights, human resources and experts to the National Audit Office for control over Party finances, election campaigns and activity of the advertising and PR agencies.
  • Each election campaign would be subject of finance check-up by the National Audit Office. If the campaign has not been paid for from the payment account officially registered by the Party, the Party would be sanctioned.
  • The National Audit Office would have the right to check the Party accounting books.
  • Sanctions that could be imposed by the National Audit Office in case of finance violations include elections’ results cancellation, disallowing the Party participation in the next elections and others.
  • Discontinuation of the renting of Party club facilities to third parties either by directly forbidding the renting or by turning the rent into a public or State rent determined by the average market price for the region.

III. Regaining the voters’ trust through a reform of the election system:

  • Introduction of a proportional election system with a majority element:
  • Maintaining the proportional character of the election system in order to guarantee the leading political will and responsibility of the political Party.
  • Majority candidates would run in big single mandate election regions to contribute to their public recognition and allowing effective control over vote purchasing.
  • Clean the electiton lists from the so-called “ghosts”; introduction of active voters’ registration; unification of the rules for different”

>Romanian electoral reform: bitter fruit?


Alan Renwick posts the following explanation of the new Romanian electoral system as a ‘seed’ (comment) on the Fruits and Votes electoral systems blog, which has picked up the story. There is some very interesting clarification of the seat allocation mechanism for the PR stage:

“The new Romanian electoral system really lives up to the old cliché, ‘a complex form of PR’. Here is an attempt to make sense of it, for which Marina Popescu takes primary credit.
In autumn 2007, following years of popular pressure fomented by an NGO and the press for improving accountability and strengthening the linkages between citizens and elected representatives via the shift to a ‘uninominal’ (i.e., single-member-district) electoral system, the Romanian government proposed a mixed-member system. This would have been similar to the one used for the Italian Senate from 1993 to 2005, but would have ensured proportionality by having a variable number of at least 50 per cent of seats reserved for compensation, rather than just 25% as in Italy.
This bill passed through parliament, but the President did not sign it. Instead, he called a consultative referendum, which unexpectedly proposed introducing a French-style two-round majoritarian system. Following a campaign appealing to concerns with improving accountability and aversion to party lists, 83.4 per cent of the voters supported the initiative but the turnout (at 26.5 per cent) fell short of the 50 per cent quorum required. The President then appealed to the Constitutional Court, which annulled the government’s electoral reform legislation arguing that the anticipated use of a national list amounted to an indirect election and was thus anti-constitutional.
The current electoral system was adopted in February-March 2008 by parliament and is based on SMDs [Single Member Districts] only in the limited sense that the pre-1993 Italian Senate was. All 42 counties of Romania are divided into single-member districts and each citizen has a single vote to be cast for a candidate. Candidates win the seat automatically if they obtained over 50 per cent of the constituency vote. Nevertheless, the overall composition of parliament will be proportional: the two-tier seat allocation method used in the old closed-list system is retained, using the Hare quota at the county level, and then d’Hondt for nationally cumulated votes and seats remaining after the county-level allocation, with a five percent legal threshold applied throughout. Parliament can vary in size to guarantee each party the number of seats due to it proportionally. But parties may end up with more seats than that if they win enough seats with an absolute majority.
Now here’s the really complicated bit. Besides the SMD outright winners, a party’s seats are allocated to candidates in decreasing order of the ratio between the absolute number of votes they received and the quota in the county where they ran. However, the seat allocation mechanism assures that every SMD is assigned a representative who actually ran for election in that district, and this goal is consistently prioritized over rewarding the highest vote getters. How will all of that work in practice? We don’t have to wait too long to find out: elections are due by the end of November.
Seed planted by Alan Renwick — 16 April 2008 @
What I’m still left wondering about is a) whether – perhaps that should be, how in a Romanian context – SMD boundaries will be gerrymanded to maximise certain parties’ chances of winning seats straight off (thus presumably reducing those to be distributed by PR, although there seems to be some confusion of this – Alan Renwick’s explanation above clearly assumes this will not happen, but as other Fruits and Votes posters note, there is a constitutional stipulation abut population per depputy and not doing so would result in some SMDs having 2 representatives ; and b) whether the new system will create incentives for local notables to deploy heavy duty patronage and rule-bending.

>Romania’s election law: Everything you always wanted to know…


.… but couldn’t really be bothered to ask.

But if you, like me, have been kept awake at night wondering how Romania’s new variant of the first-past-the-post electoral system will work, help is at hand. SSEES PhD student Dan Brett has heroically trawled the Romanian press to come up with the following explanation of the new system. I have inserted a few comments of my own in square brackets

  • The elections take place in one round only.
  • The national territory is divided into 42 electoral districts, corresponding to the 41 counties plus Bucharest.
  • Each electoral district contains a number of single member districts (SMDs) corresponding to the number of deputy/ senator seats for that district. [The new system will be used for elections to both houses of parliament]. Up to 95% of the number of mandates will be the same as in the 2004 elections, thus there will be 330 uninominal colleges [which I think is Romania political-speak for single member district] for the House of Deputies and 135 for the Senate, the rate of representation being of one deputy to 70,000 citizens and a senator for 160,000 [a provision carried over from the previous electoral system, presumably because article 62.3 of the Constitution specifies that “The number of Deputies and Senators shall be established by the electoral law, in proportion to the population of Romania.”
  • The electoral threshold for the parties is 5% (nationwide); there is also an alternative threshold which entitles those parties to enter Parliament that did not reach the electoral threshold but have winning candidates in 6 single member districts for the House of Deputies and in 3 for the Senate.
  • In each SMD a political party has the right to sign up one candidate only; the elector votes by applying the stamp on one candidate for the House of Deputies and on one candidate for the Senate.
  • The candidates who obtain in an SMD 50% plus one vote become MPs.
  • If the party they belong to has not reached the electoral threshold, they do not become MPs.
  • All the votes obtained by the candidates are added to the county and national electoral subtotal [Rom. zestrea = the dowry] of the party they belong to.

  • The remaining seats will be distributed according to the following procedure follows:

(i) in the first stage it is calculated how many seats go to each party in each electoral district [presumably proportionally?]; from this you subtract (if there are any) those seats obtained directly by the parties in that particular county through winning a SMD by a qualified majority. [This is a fairly classic mechanism used in so-called Mixed Proportional electoral systems – where the PR element functions as a compensatory mechanism for parties which do badly in SMD contests. Elections to the Scottish Parliament use this mechanism, for example]

(ii) then at the level of each district they draw up a ‘party list’ which will contain all the candidates of the respective party in the descending order of the votes obtained. [This procedure of creating a ‘party list’ by ranking individual candidates from the same party is used in Finland, I believe]

(iii) At the district level, seats are distributed to the better positioned candidates of those parties entitled to seats, but only function of the electoral quota they obtained.

(iv) It is possible that after this stage not all seats will have been distributed. Those undistributed are redistributed, function of the percentage obtained at the national level by the parties, to the best rated candidates in their parties in the respective counties. It is not possible for a MP to ‘travel’ to another district. [This additional national tier .distributing unawarded seats loosely resembles what happens in Hungary, except that in Hungary unawarded seats from regional PR lists are awarded like this, as the Hungarians have a second run-off round to sort out who is elected in SMDs]

  • For the first time, Romanians residing abroad elect – from among themselves – four deputies and two senators. [A Croatian style ‘virtual constituency’ – I am not quite sure how this will square with the population requirement given the generally low turnout of ex pat voters]
  • The Presidents of the District Councils [regional authorities] are elected by a vote in one round, the winner being the one who obtains the simple majority. [This rather controversial provision seems to have been tacked on Social Democrat deputies, but doesn’t concern national elections, as far I can work out]

The 64, 000 dollar (lei?) question is, of course, what happens to the large number of SMDs likely to be unfilled because no candidate has 50%+ of the poll and those SMDs where a candidate does win with 50%+, but his or her party is debarred from representation because it doesn’t meet the national threshold. Presumably, they will be redistributed using (using a proportional mechanism?). If so, the whole system is in fact likely to be in effect a ‘mixed’ election system with Finnish style open PR ‘lists’ with the interesting variant that the precise balance between deputies elected by SMD and those elected by PR will not be clear beforehand.

The intention behind the new system apparently is to exclude ‘independent’ local political bosses dominating the system by having a party threshold and requiring a high (absolute) majority for SMDs. Personally, however I am still a little sceptical as it does not seem too hard for half a dozen dominant local independents to band together in a ‘party’. Indeed, the 50%+ requirement for elections in SMDs seems almost an incentive for heavy duty patronage and/or vote rigging on Russian lines. My colleague Prof Denis Deletant, who knows Romania and Romanian politics better than anyone at SSEES, also points that Romanian politicians have a habit of passing framework legislation and then filling in important details at the last minute, things may turn out differently anyway and we have all been losing sleep unnecessarily. So good night and good luck.

>Romanian electoral reform: from pillar to (first-past-the) post?


The Romanian parliament has, as expected, finally passed a new electoral law changing the country’s voting system from list proportional representation to what the Romanian are referring to as a ‘uninominal’ system – a single member district (SMD) first past the post system to be used for both Senate and National Assembly – oddly, the Romanian constitutional doctrine seems to be that to enjoy equal legitimacy both upper and lower house of parliament must be elected in the same way (exactly the opposite of how the Czech see things – the Czech constitution insists on different voting systems). The new ‘uninominal’ set up supersedes the mixed system previously legislated for but not signed into law by the President. Presumably, this one will meet with his approval.

Things are not, however, as straightforward as they seem – the new system seems to have some distinctly odd features. For example there are electoral thresholds (5% of the national vote or six members elected in SMDs for parties) and a mechanism for redistributing seats involving a list, which seems to suggest that there will be some ‘floating’ seat. Does this mean that if a party wins 1-5 SMDs its candidates will be debarred? Will the second place candidate ‘win’? Unfortunately, it’s hard, however, to find any coherent English language account of the exact workings of the new system. The clearest one I could find was offer by Radio Romania International and that still leaves me confused. As it correctly notes, whatever its finer points the new more majoritarian system is likely to be less a political ‘flat tax’ solution sweeping out party corruption, as many commentators and most of the Romanian public seem to believe, than a measure empowering local political bosses at the expense of higher level party and state structures.

A more detailed but still more baffling account of the new system is carried by Romania’s own electoral commission has a flashily designed website with an English version that boasts of its ‘young, dynamic and active team’ and even has a section on ‘electoral deontology’ (presumably a post-modern interpretation of elections?) but nothing in any language on the new system. Its most recent press release in Romanian is from 22 February.

The premier electoral systems blog, Matthew Shugart’s Fruits and Votes is currently obsessed with the US presidential race and has nothing on Romania’s very interesting moves toward majoritarianism.

>Electoral reform catching in SE Europe?


Plans to reform the electoral system along majoritarian (first-past-the-post) lines seem to be catching in South Eastern Europe – at least if you are incumbent President or an ex-communist Social Democrat whose reformist commitment was fairly recently acquired. Bulgaria’s head of state, President Georgi Purvanov is, it seems, basically both. So it comes as no surprise that – following the (as unyet unresolved) Romanian electoral reform imbroglio – he should be toying with electoral reform broadly in the direction of a move from PR to majoritarian electoral system. As in Romania centre-right parties (specifically the UDF, but also the newly ascendant GERB party and parliamentary defectors from the governing National Movement for Stability and Prosperity, whose have set up a New Democracy grouping) are also attracted by the idea, seemingly seeing its radicalism as an opportunity for some kind of broader clean break giving impetus for reform and an spur to centre-right party building, which is as problematic in Bulgaria as Romania, although I guess Serbs of liberal-right persuasion must look on in envy.

As my SSEES colleague Eric Gordy notes in a piece written after the first round of Serbia’s presidential elections “… the DSS [Serbian Democratic Party of just-about-re-elected incumbent Tadic] has not adopted a conservative profile but a contrarian one, and as a result there is no coherent conservative political force in the country but rather a motley collection of populist and ultra-right movements. The DS [Democratic Party] and the DSS are not liberal and conservative parties in the sense that these terms are understood in modern politics; rather, both are in the mould of the highly adaptable and utterly immovable ‘parties of power’ that characterized politics in the period between the two world wars throughout the region”. On the other hand, the situation I suspect is not that far removed enough for the Bulgarian or Romanian (would-be) centre-right to feel great satisfaction. If they do want a further does of interwar style clientelist transformismo with a dash of Putin thrown in, first-past-the-post would probably be just the ticket, however.