Monday, 16 January 2012

Political Parties and Electoral Systems

A ballot box for an election in Cambodia

A political campaign for parliamentary election in Cambodia in 1993

Democracy is generally seen through free and fair elections in a country to select parliamentarians or the President. Usually, political parties are established to participate in elections and to win seats in the lower house. Elections and political parties are common in a democratic country whether it is president or parliamentary democracy. A successful free and fair election that results in the establishment of a new government could be regarded as a success of bringing the will of a people into political actions which, in turn, serve for the common good. Furthermore, election and political parties provide opportunity to all citizens of a nation to show their voice or to stand as candidates in competition for the top jobs in government’s office. There are different electoral systems which can result in two-party system or multiparty system. For example, the United States has a two-party system consisting of Democratic Party and Republican Party while Cambodia can be a good example of multiparty system with several parties running in general elections. The importance of political parties are reflected in the election since an individual who wish to be the Prime Minister or President must join a political party or create his or her own party to run in the election. Currently, the issues of mass voting, the designing of the electoral systems, and the importance of political parties are raised by some scholars such as Gary Cox, Jonh Aldrich, and Donald Horowitz. Since Cambodia is running close to senate election on 29 January 2012, I feel the need for this article so that Cambodian people and other domestic and international stakeholders could have a good understanding of democratic election and electoral systems. 

I. Issues of elections and political parties  

  1.                    The importance of political parties (why parties?)
  2.                    Electoral systems and its goals
  3.                    Strategic voting and its coordination
  4.                    Duverger’s law and proposition

II. Literature review
1.      Jonh Aldrich. “Why Parties?”
-   Jonh Aldrich made a good beginning by referring to the argument of Schattschneider (1942) that “political parties lie at the heart of American politics.” Another interesting argument of Schattschneider is “democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties.” By thinking that this argument may be overstated, Aldrich fairly paraphrased this argument into “democracy is unworkable save in terms of parties.”
-        By basing on major American political parties and the two-party system, his basic argument is that the major political party is the creature of the politicians, the ambitious office seeker and office holder. They have created and maintained, used or abuse, reformed or ignored the political party when doing so has furthered their goals and ambitions. Thus, the political party is an “endogenous” institution – an institution shaped by these political actors.  
-      Party is the only instrument for achieving politicians’ goals as they have more fundamental goals, rather than parties’ goals. Basically, those goals include most of the desire to have a long and successful career in political office, but they also encompass the desire to achieve policy ends and to attain power and prestige in government. So, these goals have to be sought in government, not in parties.
-     The importance of competition for office in election is also a major reason to form parties. Referring to Schlesinger’s argument (1991), the hallmark of a party is its ability to channel the competing career ambitions of its potential and actual officeholders, forming them into an effective electoral machine.  Thus, each office and its partisan seekers serve as one “nucleus” of a party. So, a strong party is one that has many strong nuclei connected to each other in supporting its ambitious politicians. In this view, it is the genius of democracy which is like economist Adam Smith found the “invisible hand” in the free market. So, ambitious politician are all led by the necessity of winning broad support in a stiff electoral competition to reflect the desires of those citizens who support them. Therefore, without competition for office and strong parties, career ambition is not necessarily harnessed to reflect the desire of the public.  So, the nation gets better-off from competition for offices by ambitious politicians.        
2.      Donald Horowitz. “Electoral Systems”
-   The best electoral system is the one that straightforwardly and most accurately reflects the preferences of voters. The nature of an electoral system is to aggregate preferences and to convert them into electoral results, and no system can do this as a passive translation of individual wishes into collective choice.
-        Electoral system contains a different array of biases in which one must decide to choose in order to manipulate those biases. Hence one can speak of the goals of the system, even though the choice of bias is not always consciously made. It follows from this that there are as many potential goals of electoral-system choice as there are combination of biases and systems. The following are the six possible goals of electoral systems:
1)     Proportionality of seats to votes: the allocation of seats in according to the percentage of votes that political parties receive in election. For example, a political party that gains 20 percent of the total vote should win 20 percent of the total seats. There are several ways to produce more or less proportional results, including list-system proportional representation (PR) and the single transferable vote (STV).
2)  Accountability to constituents: elections to representative bodies assume some degree of accountability of legislators to those who elect them. Generally it is thought that electoral systems which limit the power of central party leaders to choose candidates who produce more responsive representatives. The domination of the process by central party leaders under list PR is mitigated. In this way, voters are allowed to alter the order of candidates on the list.
3)   Durable Governments: where the legislature is deeply fragmented, it may be difficult to put together durable coalitions. Some electoral systems may force parties to aggregate the diverse opinions in a society for the sake of electoral success. So, the reduction in the number of parties makes it more likely that durable government can be formed.
4)     Victory of the Condorcet winner:  the Condorcet winner is the candidate who would receive a majority of the vote in a paired or head-to-head contest with each and other candidates. He or she is obviously the more popular candidate whose victory ought to be preferred. However, there are obstacles (first-past- the post) to this outcome. Sometimes, the electoral systems that can disfavor the Condorcet winner who are thought to be wanted. But there are systems that do a good job at picking the Condorcet winner, namely the alternative vote and the Coombs rule which are good at the eliciting second preferences that suppressed by first-past-the-post systems.    
5)    Interethnic and interreligious conciliation: The good way to think about electoral systems and interethnic conciliation is to ask whether a given system provides politicians with electoral inducements for moderate behavior in order to compromises with members of other ethnic groups for the sake of electoral success. There is an electoral system originally devised in Lebanon (with ethnic reserved seats, multi-seat constituencies, and common-roll elections) can do this. The pooling of vote in exchange of support is used in this system.
6)    Minority Officeholding: In this system, group proportionality is thought that it ought to be a goal of electoral system. The (debatable) assumption is that if group A comprises 10 percent of the population, it ought to comprise 10 percent of members of legislature. Many electoral systems produce results that under-represent members of minority groups in legislatures, if by represent we mean produce a share of electoral victors that is proportionate to the minority share of the population.     
-      However, many decision makers try to design the electoral system to maximize more than one goal. Currently, there is an increasing trend toward adopting hybrid systems to achieve multiple goals, as New Zealand, Italy, and Japan all have done. Some hybrid systems operate with plurality elections but a guarantee of proportional representation in the legislature based on the overall distribution of votes, while others utilize completely separate constituency elections and list-system PR elections. Japan is in the latter category (parliamentary election and mayor election).  
-       Electoral outcomes are produced not just by the systems, but by the preexisting pattern of social cleavages, whether single or multiple, bipolar or multipolar.

3.      Gary W. Cox. “Making Votes Count”

-      His work is mainly about a broadly conceived strategic coordination, covering both legislative and executive elections, both strategic entry and strategic voting. The consequences of strategic coordination and those structural features that determine the nature of coordination problems is investigated. Thus, successful electoral coordination reduces the number of electoral competitors. To put the point more clearly: successful electoral coordination necessarily involves a reduction in the number of competitors; but such a reduction just as necessarily entails a selection of which competitors will survive, and this selection has important policy effects.

-    To explain strategic coordination, three independent variables were introduced, namely electoral institutions, political motivations, and public expectations. Electoral institutions determine how votes translate into seats. If political actors care mostly about winning seats in the current election, then the influence of electoral institutions on their goal is direct. In addition, if actors’ expectations about each other’s vote share are precise and consensual, then a well-structured coordination game emerges in which the prospects for successful coordination are good.

-    The Duvergerian model of strategic coordination was formally generalized – both the level of citizens coordinating votes and elites coordinating endorsements and entry.  Duverger’s Law states that “the simple-majority single-ballot system favors the two-party system”. Duverger’s Hypothesis states that “the simple-majority system with second ballot and proportional representation favors multipartyism”.  Although Duverger has been quite clear in saying that plurality rule leads to bipartism, the only valid conclusion is that the number of viable party cannot exceed two. More generally, in any electoral system the necessity of electoral coordination only implies an upper bound on the number of competitors. The appropriate upper bounds imposed by strategic voting in a range of different electoral systems are single-member simple plurality (SMSP), single nontransferable vote (SNTV), proportional representation (PR), and others.

-        Turning to the aspects of electoral coordination that depend on the executive choice procedure, he referred to Duverger’s argument that the desire of voters in single-member simple plurality elections to avoid wasting their votes mean only that there would be pressure toward local bipartism in each legislative district.  

-          Based on the institutionalist model, he argued that the number of parties in a system ought to be an interactive function of electoral and social structure.  

III. Conclusion
-     Jonh Aldrich: a good contribution on political parties and its reasoning, but focused only on the party politics in US which is a presidential democracy with two-party system. Hence, the political life in US may not the same as those in other countries, especially parliamentary democracy with multiparty system and different pattern of social cleavage. Furthermore, he did not provide an analysis that links electoral reasoning to party system and pattern of social cleavages. His argument that “political party is endogenous institution which is shaped by political actors” is correct. However, from my own view, it can also be shaped by external environment such as local and international political situation and also by external actors. For example, in Cambodia, Cambodia People Party, the ruling party, is influenced by China, while Sam Rainsy Party, the opposition party, is influenced by US.             

-     Donald Horowitz: provided guidelines or goals for choosing an electoral system or a hybrid system. He discussed advantages and disadvantages of each electoral system for the sake of choosing best one to use in a particular country. Furthermore, he indicated that each electoral system has its biases and it is up to decision maker to choose which kind of biases they want to make for their advantage. However, he should tell us what goals should be fostered and which goals should be preferred by others. From my own view, the relationship between social condition or cleavage and each electoral system should also be considered to analyze its strength and weakness so that the unwanted outcomes of an electoral system could be detected and prevented.  

-       Gary Cox: made a detailed explanation on strategic voting and electoral coordination based on two theoretical traditions (one based on mathematic economics and philosophy and another is based on the domain of political scientists and sociologists such as Duverger). Strategic voting and coordination is very important in election process and significantly contribute to electoral success which can reduce wasted votes. However, it would be better if he could explain more specifically on strategic voting and coordination in various political institutions of democracy such as parliamentary, presidential, semi-presidential, and president parliamentary. I think he has paid little study or research on Asian countries, except Japan and the Philippines.      

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