Tentative conclusions on democracy & governance
My colleague David Jandura, a current student in the Georgetown DG program
, has a good post at Democracy & Society about electoral system choices in emerging democracies. He argues that broad categorizations like “mixed system” and “proportional representation” belie – perhaps deliberately – our expectations of those systems’ fairness.
In Sudan, low district magnitudes make proportional representation operate more like a party block vote system. In the Philippines, a maximum three-seat-by-party allowance vitiates that country’s reserve PR seats.
According to the report, these 34 items are “the major points of consensus among Afghan civil society organizations, international observer missions, assistance organizations, and independent election experts.” Notable actors included various UN bodies, ANFEL, the local AREU, various EU groups, IFES, NDI, the OSCE, and so forth. If you want to see all 437 recommendations that those groups made, visit DI’s Afghanistan website
Recommendation number one:
The use of the SNTV system should be reconsidered: There is broad agreement that the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system impedes the development of political parties and prevents fair and accurate representation of Afghanistan’s diverse population. A public consultative process should take place to solicit the opinions of relevant Afghan actors and international election experts to determine the best alternative system for Afghanistan. One alternative which has been consistently presented is a mixed SNTV-proportional system.
Afghanistan clearly does not host a model party system. Yet I wonder whether the ‘strong’ parties that might result from more party-centric electoral rules would be all that great. If, for example, closed-list PR turns divided societies’ elections into “national identity referenda,”
would programmatic coherence and party discipline be such great ideas?
It’s nice to see consensus emerging on some form of system that retains a role for the personal vote, whether through an SNTV tier as alluded to above, or maybe through OLPR, as belatedly used in Iraq. This is because I believe that most voters prefer moderates to extremists. Therefore, when a country’s best organized political leaders are extremists, institutions should be used to diminish their control over ballot access and rank.
The verdict on this theory, of course, is still out, but I’m working on it.
Tom Friedman thinks “the oligopoly of our two-party system” is keeping sensible policies like fiscal responsibility, education reform, and incentives for invention off the Congressional agenda. His remedy? Adopt independent redistricting to bust gerrymandering and instant runoff voting1
to empower independents.
My response, posted at 12:39 AM last night:
You could even combine “alternative voting” and independent redistricting into one easy-to-swallow reform. By adopting a modest form of proportional representation (PR), we could obviate gerrymandering and open politics to independent voices. A candidate-based PR system in three-to-five-seat districts would also preserve voters’ ease of use, individual legislators’ accountability, and a largely two-party system.
The moderators have not approved my comment for public view.
The moderators approved my comment at 9:40 AM. Maybe Tom will use it
in his next column.
Which he calls “alternative voting,” likely having read about goings-on in the UK
The British House of Commons yesterday approved
a bill authorizing an electoral reform referendum by 365 to 187 votes. That bill now must pass the House of Lords before the present parliament expires. If the Lords do as the Commons have, a referendum on the alternative vote (AV, also known to Americans as instant runoff voting
, or IRV) will be due by October 2011.
Institutionalist observers have speculated a lot on Labor’s self-interested reasons for finally pursuing electoral system reform in the United Kingdom. See, for example, Fruits and Votes once again on earlier, broken promises to do the same. One line of thinking holds AV is a compromise that Labour can use to buy Liberal Democrat support for a minority government after elections this year, which are expected to go badly for Gordon Brown’s government. Another line of thinking sees the potential for preference-trading among LDP and Labor supporters to boost the parties’ shared seat total.1
ERS’ official position can be summarized thus: it’s not proportional representation, but AV is a step in the right direction.
to the BBC, Parliament rejected 476-69 a LDP proposal for an earlier referendum
on proportional representation
by the single transferable vote.
Note, however, that some British observers have projected AV to benefit the Tories instead. What’s more, any such effect would be moot, as electoral system change would come long after this spring’s elections.
The US Institute of Peace will be holding an event on February 1 from 10 am to 12 pm (Eastern) entitled “A Revolution Undone?: Regime and Opposition in Iran. “ It will explore how the evolving clash between regime and opposition affects the stability of the Islamic Republic, on the one hand, and its foreign relations, on the other. It will feature former Iranian parliament member, Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, as well as scholars such as Georgetown’s own Daniel Brumberg (Acting Director of USIP’s Muslim World Initiative) and Robin Wright (prominent journalist and author on Iran and the Middle East), among others.
USIP will be webcasting the event while maintaining live chat and Twitter discussions during the webcast. (Twitter hashtag: #usipiran). It promises to be an exciting talk. I’ll be moderating the online discussion and putting questions from the online audience to the panel.
You can find information about the event at: http://www.usip.org/events/revolution-undone
Reporting on Google’s response
to a Chinese government attack on Gmail-using democracy activists, the New York Times reported
It is also likely to enrage the Chinese authorities, who deny that they censor the Internet and are accustomed to having major foreign companies adapt their practices to Chinese norms.
Sorry, but censorship is not a “Chinese norm.” It is a strategy that authoritarian regimes deliberately use to impede collective action for political change. The slippery use of “norm” smacks of a common problem in sloppy cultural argumentation. Sure, culture matters. Culture is useful, for example, when categorizing actors’ exogenous preferences without time to probe them more deeply. Sometimes culture manifests as a norm, or an ‘informal’ rule of interaction (i.e. an institution). Used in this way, “norm” implies that the rule is highly particular – that it has characteristics identifying it with one or another society. But, in China, we are dealing with neither culture nor norm. Plenty of actors in plenty of societies have used censorship and control: President Tandja
in Niger, Stalin
in Russia, and Woodrow Wilson
in our own country.
Hats off to Google for dumping its search query censorship, which the company began in 2006 to curry business favor with the regime. (H/T to the UN Wire.)
Omar al-Bashir’s government has whipped
a 16-year old Christian girl 50 times for wearing a skirt that stopped at her knees.
Make of it what you will, but I am reminded of the effort to hold elections
in Sudan. This juxtaposition recalls that liberal democratic institutions are entirely compatible with theocratic tyranny over the human spirit. Just ask Rebecca Nurse
and Hester Prynne
. Like we did 300 years ago, Sudan has a very long way to go.
Iraqi politics is still a zero-sum game, and one in which the Sunni Arabs feel themselves doomed to be the losers.
Iraq’s Sunni vice president vetoed the hard-won electoral law this week. More about that from Barak Hoffman
and Matthew Shugart
. The current impasse boils down to the apportionment formula. Sunni and Kurdish politicians think the deck is stacked against them.
So is Iraqi consociationalism coming apart, or is this mundane sectarian brinksmanship?
Iraq is our latest experiment in exporting consociationalism. The Iraqi state is built on explicit recognition and institutionalization of combatant ethnic and sectarian groupings. A closed-list PR system funnels these groups into their respective political parties, and, as we saw this week, governing requires the consent of a member of every ethnic group. Now, Iraq’s constitution is not explicit about this. Articles 66-75 set up a semi-presidential system with a unitary executive whose job is to sign legislation. Then there are the so-called “transitional provisions,” which basically divide the presidency among three people elected by 2/3 vote of the legislature. This all but guarantees that the Presidency Council will include one Shiite, one Sunni, and one Kurd, as it does now.
The problem with consociationalism is that, for it to work, elite politicians have to (1) control the combatant groups they represent and (2) desire compromise. The US constitution’s Framers approached institutional design from the safe assumption that politicians are nihilistic power maximizers. This led them to emphasize checks and balances and to riddle the American political system with veto points. Consociationalism, on the other hand, began as a category of observed behavior.1
It was not the result of a deductive exercise. If game theory is good for anything, it’s good for designing institutions. We begin with an assumption about the preferences of key players (dictatorship by one’s ethnic group > killing each other > dictatorship of the other ethnic group
), we choose a desired goal (violence prevention
), and we proceed accordingly. Modeling a situation in this way certainly does not lead us to institutions that depend on mutual good will.
The veto of the new electoral law is entirely consistent with the institutional context. That is, we expect outcomes like this one when we run Iraq’s social profile through the consociational machinery of its democracy. I don’t think we are witnessing a constitutional crisis, at least in as much as “crisis” implies an extraordinarily stressful event. From another perspective, Iraq is in a perpetual state of constitutional crisis.
Let me go out on a limb with some predictions.
First, the election will happen, even if a little bit late. Hashemi’s veto is just another round in the ongoing game of chicken that defines constitutional decision-making in Iraq. Brinksmanship and eleventh-hourism have characterized most moments of important political choice since 2003. Why would preparing for the next national election be any different?
Second, there is nothing “transitional” about the “transitional Presidency Council.” What rational group would agree to give up its veto?
Third, Iraqi democracy will not consolidate any time soon. Recall that a car wreck is one solution to a game of chicken. We are more likely to see a dictatorship or civil war in Iraq than we are a stable, electoral democracy.
Ian Lustick has a good article about this.
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