That Political Psyche

The Times of Malta is running a poll. It asks “Should the electoral system be changed so that smaller parties have a better chance of being elected?” Don’t worry. J’accuse is not about to exhort you to go and vote in some online poll. No, what we do find interesting is the wording of the poll by the Timesters. They ask us whether the electoral system should be tampered with (guess who will do the tampering for which we will all be so grateful)  so that the teeny parties which currently have no life (not MLPN of course) will be given a CHANCE to get elected. I’m sure it was not intended, but only in this country would we automatically type the phrase in that manner.

How about:

1. Do you agree that the country should wake up and smell the coffee and introduce proportional representation nationwide so that all the citizens’ choices will be adequately represented in parliament?

or

2. Do you think that a party that get’s between 7% and 10% of the national vote should have its place guaranteed in parliament?

or if you prefer the other perspective:

3. Would you like the MLPN to go on tampering with the electoral system in order to ensure that parties that get above 7% of the national votes will stay out of parliament while MLPN keep enjoying their hegemony?

You see what I mean. It’s not about any pompous asses giving a smaller party a CHANCE. It’s about a basic democratic right of representation being guaranteed. Utilitarian formulae and other similar circum tauri equating the good of “the two parties” with the good of the common people is rubbish. Even more rubbish is the assertion that until now the smaller parties have not garnered enough votes for the threshold. It fails to consider that the voter kept being faced with the “wasted vote” (twisted as it may be) excuse. Look at what happened in the EU elections. Now if the MLPN stopped feeling so pompously self-righteous about their presence in parliament it need not be a case of magnanimity that does the trick… but a double dose of guts and realism.

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8 responses to “That Political Psyche

  1. It fails to consider that the voter kept being faced with the “wasted vote” (twisted as it may be) excuse.

    So, let’s say a voter thinks “I’d like to vote Green but under current rules they don’t stand a chance”. And so instead of staying at home or explaining on the ballot paper how he wants the electoral system refromed he goes out and votes blue/red which, by some sort of twisted mathematics increases the chances of the Greens.

    Look at what happened in the EU elections.

    As if the outcome of friendly matches was ever an indication of who’ll win the World Cup.

  2. This doesn’t make any sense at all to me, but I’m not a star mathematician so perhaps I may be enlightened:

    ‘As regards an election threshold, which the two major parties had discussed with Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) at an early stage of the process leading to the constitutional amendments, Mr Saliba said that had a threshold been adopted, proportionality would not have been possible.’

    from: http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=58085

  3. JBB, a threshold introduces distortion because the votes of the parties which do not reach the threshold are wasted while the parties who do go on to share all of the parliamentary seats between them.

    E.g.
    Votes: Party A 49%, Party B 47%, Party C 4%, Threshold 5%
    Seats: Party A 51%, Party B 49%
    Party A gets an absolute Parliamentary majority without having an absolute majority of votes.

    The distortion increases if there are more wasted votes which goes to other Parties which do not reach the threshold.

    In 1995 the discussions on electoral reform floundered because the Nationalist Party proposed to have votes of Parties that do not reach the threshold to Parties that do. Labour did not accept.

  4. Fausto, without the threshold those votes are wasted anyway. In our present two-party system, a relative majority gives an absolute majority in Parliament so your hypothetical scenario would pan out in precisely the same way. Without a threshold it is actually worse, however. It is more distorted: a party could theoretically have 16% of the national vote and still not be represented in Parliament.

    Consider this:

    Party A: 42.5% votes; 51% seats
    Party B: 41.5%; 49% seats
    Party c: 16%; 0 seats

    Is this proportionality? Is this what we call an undistorted democratic process? I do think that there are limits to strict proportionality for the sake of governability, but is 16% of the electorate disposable in theory? 5% disposable votes seems like more than enough to me.

  5. I did not say that no votes were wasted under the present system. There is wastage. But you should also note that the 16% you mention are transferable votes under the current electoral rules which would not be the case in a proportional system based on first preferences.

    Ought to be said: that a party gets 16% nationalwide and is not represented is close to being a mathematical impossibility. Which is why it is not accurate to speak of the present system as having a 16% threshold.

  6. Fausto, I think that your first statement is incorrect. You could have an STV system with a national quota. You could keep the exact same system we have today and still have a national quota. This is in fact what the new half-assed amendments to the constitution do to some extent.

    Re 16% – fair enough, although theoretically we do have a 16% quota in every district. Let’s be genertous and say that we have a circa 10% threshold in each district. But if we are going to be completely frank, you must concede that you have been selective with your factoids. You cannot compare the big party candidate who inherits votes and is elected without a quota, to the third party candidate who inherits far fewer votes from the larger parties. Sure it could happen identically, but the fact is that cross-party transfers are very very rare. The system is structurally weighted against appropriate representation of minority parties. You may be happy with that situation as you are entitled to be, but facts are facts.

  7. Fausto, I think that your first statement is incorrect. You could have an STV system with a national quota. You could keep the exact same system we have today and still have a national quota. This is in fact what the new half-assed amendments to the constitution do to some extent.

    That’s not what I said. What I said was that you cannot have STV (which would allow cross-party voting) and proportional representation based on first preference votes. Imagine vote which in the first count goes into calculating the seat allocation of Party A and then, somewhere down the process, gets transferred to Party B going to elect a candidate for that Party.

    A mathematically consistent system is one which gives proportional representation on a national basis and STV with no cross-party transfers. Actually, an Open List Proportional Representation system.

    You cannot compare the big party candidate who inherits votes and is elected without a quota, to the third party candidate who inherits far fewer votes from the larger parties. Sure it could happen identically, but the fact is that cross-party transfers are very very rare.

    And why are cross-party transfers “very very rare”? Because Maltese voters tend to vote for all candidates contesting on their preferred party’s ticket and stop there. It’s not the system; it’s the voters who chose to utilise the system in that manner and I’d be ready to argue with anyone but not with voters. It’s their choice.

    Had Nationalist voters voted for all Nationalist candidates and continued on Arnold Cassola at the last EP election, Cassola would have overtaken Louis Grech and he’d have been the sixth MEP. But the way these voters voted said that they cared only about Nationalist candidates and they did not care if, Nationalist candidates were all elected or eliminated, the remaining seats were filled by a red, green or whatever candidate.

    You may be happy with that situation as you are entitled to be, but facts are facts.

    Even though the blog owner claims otherwise, I’m not. Sadly, on this blog my good faith has often been questioned (not to forget that it was also implied that a senior post I held with the Maltese public service was only because I’m some government lapdog).

    I’m for the implementation of a national PR system. In that way the Greens will not have the system to blame for being electorally marginal.

    Finally, my original challenge stands: can anyone explain how smaller parties have been put at a greater disadvantage by last week’s amendments?

  8. Smaller parties have not been put at a greater disadvantage. The amendments simply smack of hypocrisy because proportionality is only guaranteed between the two parties. The principle of proportionality is accepted, but only as between two parties. The flaws of having 13 districts are only corrected insofar as those flaws harm the interests of the powers that be.

    You are right to say that one should not argue with the voters’ choice to vote only for one party. However, it is also a fact that 13 districts make it far more difficult for a third party candidate to garner the critical mass of inherited votes to surpass a quota. With that in mind, it’s good to read that you support a national PR system, whatever your motivations may be.

    I hope you don’t mind if I add the following: I got the impression that you’re happy with the system from what you have written, not from the bad press you have had. Of course I may have missed some of your posts. To be honest, sometimes you give the impression that you are willing to argue untenable points simply because the opposing argument is not flawless. That’s a shame because you also give me the impression that you are well aware of the various shades of an argument.

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