Browsing articles from "July, 2011"
Jul 28, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Media Accountability & Political Tensions

A recent Ghana News Agency article on media responsibility and political tension touched on several issues that seem to trouble stable democracies every bit as much as those still developing.   The role of media in governance is a subject often argued over to no firm conclusion, with the focus on accountability clashing sharply with concepts of press freedom. Regardless of the system or quality of governance, news media’s approach to informing the public has great impact on public discourse and ultimately the outcomes of elections.
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Jul 24, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Egyptian SCAF unveils new electoral system

Egyptian Army council General Mamdouh Shahin announced on Wednesday final amendments to the country’s electoral law. The new system has a lot in common with what I previously wrote about, with some key changes. Under the new system, fifty percent of seats in the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, will be awarded through closed-list proportional representation, while the other half will be awarded in two-seat districts.  This is a change from the draft law the SCAF put out where only one third of seats would be PR.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the extremely low threshold for entering parliament, which was placed at 1/2 of all national votes.

The new law also abolishes the 64 seats reserved for women, which was instituted before the last election in 2010. In its place is a provision that mandates every party list must include at least one female. Other changes in the law include lowering the age for candidate eligibility from 30 to 25, and stipulating that elections take place in three stages.

I can think of three major implications of the new laws.  Let’s start with the new PR tier.  The ordinal tier of seats will be divided into 58 constituencies, which for 252 seats (half of the 504 elected members) will create an average district magnitude of 4.3  That’s not very proportional; combined with the two seat districts this system still looks very majoritarian.   This makes the .5% threshold all the more bizarre.  As far as I know this would make Egypt’s threshold the lowest in the world, even more so than neighboring Israel.  While Israel’s one nationwide district allows for extreme party fragmentation, however, I don’t think Egypt’s threshold will have much impact.  Maybe Egypt’s planners read Carey and Hix’s recent paper, The Electoral Sweet Spot: Low-Magnitude Proportional Electoral Systems.  In the paper, the authors,  find an optimal district magnitude – around three to eight seats – which produces low party fragmentation while still retaining a level of proportionality associated with higher seats per district.  This sort of assumes, however, that the other half of seats aren’t awarded in the strange two-seat districts that Egypt’s will be.

The second, somewhat related point, is the impact this system will have on women’s representation.  Mandating one candidate per list be female is a weak stipulation.  With no requirement for where on the list the women has to be, it will be easy for a party to bury women at the bottom of their lists.  This incentive will only increase in small magnitude districts as it will become more likely that only the top one or two candidates will be elected.

As far as the three stages for elections go, I think this is also a bad idea.  The fear I have with this is it will give parties an incentive to call for a boycott after the first stage if they don’t like the results.  This could have the effect of delegitimizing an otherwise well-conducted election.  (I’m not assuming it will be of course).

Cross posted at Ahwa Talk.

Jul 23, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Propaganda and the Power of Words

One thing I might never have expected to be reinforced by my travels across China was my understanding of the importance of language and definitions.  Particularly in propaganda or other materials meant to motivate and influence the tides of public discourse.  Visiting varied museums on China’s modern history I found myself surprised time and again to see references to democracy among the praises of what the CCP brought to the populace.
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Jul 22, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Thoughts on Oslo

I’m not a terrorism or Norway expert, so I’m not going to try to make any policy point about the horrible events that took place today.  I will just say that during my recent trip, I was  stunned by the noticeable amount of trust Norwegian society and institutions placed in one another.   I actually didn’t realize I passed the parliament the first time I did on account of the fact that there were no visible security measures; you could simply walk right up to the walls.  The same could be said about the royal palace, which was guarded only by a friendly military officer.

It wasn’t just protection of key buildings were I sensed a great deal of trust, however.  Security at the airport was a remarkable contrast to the United States.  I never went through customs and felt almost as if I walked off the airplane out of the airport.  There was also no ticket booth on public transport; buying tickets was by and large done on the honor system.  This contrast was really made evident coming back to the US, when I had to fill out my customary form declaring I didn’t touch any livestock or bring home any soil, only to wait in the long security line.

To be sure there are reasons for these differences.  But regardless of whether more security is the correct policy response or not, I found the level of trust in Norway to be beautiful and it would be upsetting if that changed.

Royal Palace (Photo property of David Jandura)

The Norwegian Parliament (Storting) Photo property of David Jandura

Jul 20, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Governance & Economics in Political Change

Image courtesy of the Business Age

In the wake of this year’s political upheaval and economic hardship, nations around the world continue to struggle with issues of self-determination, governance and economics.  These issues so regularly tangle that there are a host of differing opinions on what is the ideal balance for any given nation and how best to pursue that balance.  Amid the sea of experts pushing one model or another, there are those caught in the middle, whose lives and futures may be shaped by the decisions their governments make in the months and years ahead.
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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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