Browsing articles from "May, 2011"
May 31, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

The importance of individuals in open list PR

Hong Kong's Legislative Council Building. Photo property of Baycrest

Cross Posted at Ahwa Talk.

The Hong Kong government recently announced a proposal to change the way they fill vacant seats in the Legislative Council. Hong Kong elects its MPs through open list proportional representation,and the current method of filling a vacant seat is through a special election.  While this seems somewhat intuitive, a special election is actually inconsistent with the values of a PR system.  Awarding seats proportionally only really works if you have multiple seats up for grabs at once; otherwise, it just becomes a standard SMD race where the two largest parties will dominate.

Most countries fill empty seats by picking the next in line candidate on the previous office holder’s party list. The new Hong Kong proposal, however, is to replace the vacant seat with the first unelected candidate on the party list that had highest number of remainder votes in the previous election. What does this mean?  Proportional representation systems rely on quotas to evenly allocate seats to each party. This works by using as system where each seat in a legislature corresponds to a raw number of votes, equal to a quota.  A party’s total seat total then, depends on the number of quotas it wins in an election. Although there are various ways to allocate seats (largest remainder or highest average method) no PR system can perfectly award seats in one-to-one relation to vote shares as leftover votes are bound to exist.  Giving the seat to the first candidate on the list with the largest remainder then, is essentially giving it to the first candidate who did not win a seat in the last election.

A Government spokesman said, “A vacancy arising mid-term in the geographical constituencies (GCs) or the newly established District Council (second) functional constituency (DC (second) FC) seats will be filled by reference to the election result of the preceding general election.  The first candidate who has not yet been elected in the list with the largest number of remainder votes in the preceding general election will be returned.  These constituencies adopt the proportional representation list voting system.  The proposed replacement mechanism is consistent with the proportional representation electoral system and reflects the overall will of the electors expressed through the general election.”

This is interesting because it assumes that individual candidates are driving vote choice more than party label.  There are five constituencies in Hong Kong, so the average district magnitude any party list competes on is around five or six.  I’m guessing this small district magnitude is what’s leading them to conclude that personalities matter.   Hong Kong uses the Hare quota to allocate seats, the simplest method of seat allocation and one that generally favors smaller parties.  As Hong Kong seems to return several small parties to parliament with one seat each, maybe they assume that the individual candidate who captured that seat was a big reason for the party’s success.

To me this is contrary to what the literature would suggest. According to Carey and Shugart, low district magnitude in open list PR decreases the incentive for a candidate to cultivate a personal vote.  In contrast, it is in high magnitude, open list PR where candidate preference matters more.  This is because in a larger list, candidates have a stronger incentive to distinguish themselves from their fellow list members.  Ultimately, we don’t really know why any individual is voting the way they are, but I think Hong Kong’s assumption requires more explanation.


May 31, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Institutional Change in the Arab Spring

Recently I read an interesting Bloomberg article from Amity Shales discussing the role of economics and institutions in the Arab world. Among all the promise offered by the Arab Spring, there loom a host of pitfalls and potential disasters which might prevent progress in the region while keeping resources just as concentrated as they ever have been, if not more so.  The dangers of suddenly liberalizing markets in resource rich areas are nothing to take lightly, and in any period of change and transition opportunities to abuse and manipulate institutions for personal gain are at their most plentiful.  In this uplifting period it is thus critical not to overlook the importance of institutional development amid excited cries of freedom.

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May 29, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Patronage, District Creation and Reform in Uganda

Uganda's Districts, 2010

In Patronage, District Creation and Reform in Uganda, Elliot Green argues that Ugandan Yoweri President Museveni has used the creation of new subnational district boundaries as a way of consolidating power through traditional patronage means. Looking at several African nations, Green notices that new boundary creation tends to increase as presidents’ margin of electoral victory diminishes.  By creating new districts, he argues, regimes are able to offer better services to targeted segments of the population.

I think the main takeaway from this paper is that like the structural adjustment programs before them, autocrats have managed to manipulate decentralization efforts in an effort to maintain traditional vertical power relationships.  It’s just sort of a given in development that decentralization is a good thing. The theory behind this is sound but there is lots of evidence that it doesn’t really work.  To be fair, this isn’t the most egregious form of corruption; new boundaries don’t have the deleterious effect of useless ministries.  Still, it’s worth keeping in mind the next time somebody you here somebody spouse the unchallenged benefits of decentralization.

Cross Posted at Ahwa Talk.

May 26, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Egypt will not use automated voting system for next election

Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, which is apparently in Smart Village, a PPP town on the outskirts of Cairo.

Al Ahram is now reporting that Egypt will not use an electronic voting system for the upcoming elections.

Egypt’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Maged Othman announced in a press conference today that Egypt will not use electronic voting in the next presidential election.

Othman said electronic voting is currently too costly and requires extensive preparation to ensure the voting process is transparent and everyone is able to vote.

Othman also said Egypt will begin manufacturing the machines needed for electronic voting instead of importing them from overseas.

He added that currently the ministry is preparing the voting lists for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The minister also said that Egyptians will be able to vote using their national ID cards both in Egypt and overseas and that Egyptian embassies will oversee the voting process outside of Egypt.

This seems like pretty good news all around.  The ability for expats to vote, in particular is more than feasible and there was no great reason not to do it. I previously expressed my doubts about an electronic election process, but that was mainly when I was unsure of whether internet voting was a potential.   I think Egypt is more than capable of a well-done automated election, but it takes time – more than a few months – to choose a system, ensure it works, train poll workers how to use, etc.

I’ve stated before that the debate over the merits of election technology is largely unimportant. Technology is a tool, not an independent actor. In most cases it amplifies intent; both deficiencies and capabilities become more apparent.  Whether Egypt ultimately decides to use automated machines or paper ballots is less important than how they decide to structure their Election Management Body, and how well they administer their elections.


Cross posted at Ahwa Talk

May 24, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Democracy Building in Europe?

Kirsty Wigglesworth, File/AP Photo

During the 2008 elections here in the US, there was much clamor over the inexperience of candidates in dealing with international affairs.  In particular President Obama’s election was often heralded as the doom of US power abroad and likely first step toward some manner or another of international disaster.  Now as Obama’s term in office nears, it seems such predictions could not have been further from the case.  These last years have been full of challenges on the international scene, yet one after another those challenges appear to have been resolved artfully with US interests in mind.  Now with the President’s trip to Europe, though as always there are naysayers it appears the trip is not only being taken well but is presenting another stage for democracy promotion in a place where it might not have been expected.
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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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