Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today I'll follow up on my previous post about election systems. The upshot of the last post was that switching to a (partial) first-past-the-post (FPTP) regional voting method will result in two major parties (and possibly one or two minor parties with regional appeal).

In this post, I'll explain the overall advantages and disadvantages of such a system as compared to the current proportional system.

In an excellent article in Azure, Amotz Asa-el outlines the failures of Israel's proportional representation system. He identifies the crucial issues as:
1. A plethora of small parties representing special interests. Since such parties are necessary for forming coalitions, they have power that is incommensurate both with their limited size and with their limited sense of national responsibility.
2. Greater accountability of MKs to their parties than to their constituents. This leads to all manner of irresponsible and even corrupt behavior, as predicted in a brilliant paper by Ferdinand Hermens, cited at length by Asa-el.

So will FPTP solve these problems?

With regard to the first issue, as discussed in my previous post, there is no doubt that most small parties will be eliminated. But then there are two possibilities. The less likely one is that neither major party will have an absolute majority and will need to form a coalition with some minor regional party. In this case, the problem of disproportional power is not diminished but rather greatly exacerbated, since the minor partner is likely to be the sole coalition option and hence will have the same voting power as the major partner. The more likely possibility is that one party will have an absolute majority. This is a scary proposition, unless Israel's major political parties become significantly more responsible than they are now.

Which leads to the question of accountability to the voters as opposed to party interests. Clearly the need for MKs to please the voters leads inevitably to a weakening of the parties. Just as clearly, as voters abandon small parties in regions where those parties have no chance, the larger parties will be incentivized to run candidates in those regions who are attractive to the floating voters. In the long run, this will lead to great improvements. Unfortunately, it will take a fair amount of time until 1) voters learn to abandon parties with no chance and 2) parties learn to run attractive candidates rather than ones that are loyal to the party line. Until that happens, matters will be worse rather than better.

As a result, we are better off if, during a transition period, we adopt a system that combines direct election of MKs with proportional results (and I don't mean half this and half that). There are a number of ways to do this. One is to use single transferable vote, in which elections are regional but more than one candidate is elected in each region in such manner that each party receives a number of seats proportional to the number of overall votes it received. The other is to use a system as in Belgium in which elections are national and proportional, as they are now, but in which a voter specifies preferred candidates within the party he has selected.

Both these systems encourage personal accountability while preserving proportionality. Once Israel's parties have learned the principle of accountability, we can take the next step and move to ordinary regional elections. Once we do, I hope we use something a bit more sophisticated than FPTP. As I did in my previous post, I once again promise to explain the alternatives in my next post.


Blogger Ben Bayit said...

Amotz Asa El is such a tzaddik. When the Penshioners party renegades break off he calls it thievry. But when Sharon/Olmert/Livni/et al broke off he called it statesmanship. When he does his mea culpa and admits that SHaron and Co. engaged in outright thievery I may once again become convinced that the Shalem Center is still a neo-conservatice think tank.

Regarding your suggestion of an "interim" solution. I find it difficult to accept any proposition for a constitutional system that is predicated on the fact that the voters are stupid and politicians are crooked. At a certain point one just has to throw up their hands and say, as Dr. Haim Shine expressed recently, that the nation gets the leadership it deserves. Tinkering with the system on the assumption that voters are stupid and politicians are crooked is just pointless. Yes, I know that these ideas appear in the papers surrounding the American constitutional discussions. But still, mankind has progressed somewhat in 250 years, no?

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Ben-David said...

Yes, I know that these ideas appear in the papers surrounding the American constitutional discussions. But still, mankind has progressed somewhat in 250 years, no?
- - - - - - - -

Please cite evidence that the lust for power has diminished, or that people are less stupid/apathetic.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

If one is to set about creating a system (even an interim one) that is predicated upon the fact that the voters are stupid/apathetic and that the politicians are stupid/corrupt then you ultimately will be replacing one oligarchy with another - and Israel most of the current oligarchs will happily find their place in the new oligarchy. So we may as well keep what we have for now.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous SteveFromCleve said...

Regarding implementing single transferable vote, I don't think it will work here. It fails the elevator test (*) and hence will be unexplainable to the general populous.

(*)If you can't sell it in the time it takes the elevator to traverse the building, the idea is too complicated.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I agree that is a major weakness.

5:21 PM  

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