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Tentative conclusions on democracy & governance

The devil is in the electoral system design
Posted on May 4th, 2010 Jack No comments Print This Post
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.
Give it a read.
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authoritarian upgrading, electoral systems
Donor consensus: SNTV bad for Afghanistan
Posted on May 4th, 2010 Jack 1 comment Print This Post
This is cross-posted at Fruits and Votes.
Democracy International, a DC-area contractor that implements democracy assistance programs around the world, late last month released 34 “Consensus Recommendations for Electoral Reform in Afghanistan.”
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.
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Afghanistan, electoral engineering, personal vote, SNTV
NY Times to Jack: “Let’s not get too crazy here.”
Posted on March 24th, 2010 Jack No comments Print This Post
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
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Alternative Vote, independent redistricting, proportional representation
Guest-blogging in the orchard
Posted on February 22nd, 2010 Jack No comments Print This Post
Following an invitation from Head Orchardist Matthew Shugart, I am guest-blogging on occasion at Fruits & Votes. Stop by for a visit.
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blogs
IRV for the United Kingdom?
Posted on February 10th, 2010 Jack 1 comment Print This Post
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.
More from the UK Electoral Reform Society; ERS’ Twitter feed; the Twitter feed of FairVote, ERS’ sister organization in the US; a FairVote blog post; and a spirited discussion in the comments of Fruits and Votes on the merits of AV for minor parties.
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.
Notably, according 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.
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Alternative Vote, electoral reform, instant runoff, United Kingdom
US Institute of Peace event on Iran’s Regime and Opposition Movement
Posted on January 25th, 2010 Anand No comments Print This Post
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
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Iran
Google and “Chinese norms”
Posted on January 13th, 2010 Jack 3 comments Print This Post
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.)
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authoritarianism, China, Google, media
Sudanese liberalism
Posted on November 28th, 2009 Jack 2 comments Print This Post
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.
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democratization, liberalism, Sharia, Sudan, women
One way to model dictatorship
Posted on November 24th, 2009 Jack No comments Print This Post
Says the BBC:
Iraqi politics is still a zero-sum game, and one in which the Sunni Arabs feel themselves doomed to be the losers.
Last week I analogized the situation to repeated games of Chicken.
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backslide, consociationalism, Game Theory, Iraq
Iraqi consociationalism woes
Posted on November 20th, 2009 Jack 6 comments Print This Post
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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consociationalism, Iraq
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The devil is in the electoral system design
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