In our first topic, we explored how election systems and rules are organized in each of our course countries. Now our job is to explain how election rules accomplish ☑️ different regime objectives regarding ballot access, election wins, and constituency accountability. In order to do this, we need to start by reviewing proportional vs. first-past-the-post election structures as well as single-member vs. multi-member districts.
Proportional elections or representation is an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them. First-past-the-post systems are a “plurality” voting system, in other words, the candidate who wins the most votes in each constituency is elected.
Our next set of terms to explore are single-member and multi-member districts. In single-member districts, one person represents the constituency. In multi-member districts, individuals vote for a party, and multiple members of that party are elected to represent that constituency. Our job now is to look at how these electoral systems or rules help to promote democratization 🗳️
Democratization, discussed in topic 1.4
, is the process that aims to provide the characteristics found in democracy. Those characteristics include:
- more competition, fairness, and transparency in elections 🥛⚖️
- universal suffrage for adults ☑️💬
- increased participation in policy-making 🙋♀️🙋♂️
Proportional representation 🗺️ can result in an increase in the number of political parties represented in national legislatures, as well as an increase in the election of minority and women candidates, all characteristics necessary for democracy. Single-member district plurality systems tend to promote two-party systems. They provide voters with strong constituency service and accountability because there is a single representative per district, and they ensure geographic representation.
If we look at our course countries, we see elements of democratization, even in our authoritarian countries in regard to election rules. Let us put our counties in a quick table so we can talk about this more clearly:
Regime Objectives with Electoral Rules
|Country||Electoral System/Rules||Regime Objectives|
|UK||Directly elected under single member district, first-past-the-post rules. Voters 18 years oldmen and women (16 in Scottish local elections; 16 in Welsh local elections)||This is an established or substantive democracy and as you can see there is universal suffrage, access to the ballot for the legislative branch (focus of this part of the course)and because of the single-member districts a strong commitment to constituency services and accountability because there is a single representative per district and the constituency is more connected to that single representative.|
|Mexico||Directly elected under single-member districts, first-past-the-post and proportional representation for the lower house of the legislative branch. For the upper house it is 3 seat constituencies and then a small number by proportional representation. Political parties have also instilled gender quotas in the party lists for the proportional parts of the system. Voters 18 years old, men and women||This is an authoritarian nation that has been democratizing, and is considered an emerging democracy or procedural democracy. There are direct elections for the legislative branch (focus of this part of the course).There is universal suffrage we have proportional and first-past-the-post this encourages multiple political parties, single-member districts allow for a strong commitment to constituency services and accountability because there is a single representative per district and the constituency is more connected to that single representative. Gender quotas within the party lists have allowed for more women to participate in politics.|
|Nigeria||Directly elected under single-member districts, first-past-the-post based on population for the lower house of the legislative branch. For the upper house it is 3 seat constituencies for each state. Voters 18 years old, men and women||This is an authoritarian nation that has been democratizing, and is considered an emerging democracy or procedural democracy. There are direct elections for the legislative branch (focus of this part of the course).There is universal suffrage we have first-past-the-post this encourages multiple political parties, single-member districts allow for a strong commitment to constituency services and accountability because there is a single representative per district and the constituency is more connected to that single representative. The upper house is single-member districts as there are 3 single-member districts in each state that are first-past-the-post.|
|Russia||State Duma elections in Russia have returned it to a system in which half of the representatives are directly elected from single-member districts and the other half are chosen through elections that use proportional representation with a threshold. Voters 18 years old, men and women||Hybrid Regime (Authoritarian with elements of democratization/under Putin moving back towards Authoritarianism). Unlike the other single-member districts and proportional representation studied in the UK, Mexico, or Nigeria the Communist Party controls the presidency and the parliament and rarely do other parties get more than 5-15% of the vote. In other words there are questions about free and fair elections and the possibility of minor parties' ability to win an election.|
|China||The National People’s Congress of China selects members indirectly through a series of local and regional elections.||Authoritarian. Local elections are the only elections that are direct in China. Offices that are directly elected are mayors, heads of counties, and the local legislature. After the local elections the people of China have no direct say in elections. Even the local elections provide candidates approved by the Communist Party of China. Individuals have little say on policy making and the party selects representatives in the hierarchy of legislatures so there are few services provided at that national level as there is little contact between the upper legislators and the constituencies. This is a one party system with no competition.|
|Iran||Iran’s Majles members are directly elected in single-member and multi-member districts, which sometimes requires a second round of voting; candidates are vetted by the Guardian Council, and the legislative body lacks formal political party structures; a small number of the 290 seats in the Majles are reserved for non-Muslim minorities, such as Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. Voters 18 years old, men and women||Authoritarian and although there are single-member and multi-member districts that are directly elected, candidates must be vetted by the Guardian Council which means that the theocracy controls who runs for office. The legislature has little say in policy making and there are no formal party structures so multiple parties are not formally organized like in democratic course countries. However, much like Mexico quotas are involved and a small number of seats are maintained for religious minorities in the Majles.|
At this point, you should be able to not only identify the electoral systems/rules of each course country but also recognize how those systems/rules are impacted by whether or not the regime is authoritarian or democratic.
However, we need to take a moment to explore some of the specific impacts 👁️🗨️ singled out in the course and exam description. Let's start with how different political systems use electoral regulatory organizations to set various rules about ballot access and competition.
Three countries in particular need to be focused on in this regard. In Iran, as we discussed in our chart above, the Guardian Council must approve inclusion on a ballot. This means that there is a severe restriction to ballot access, unlike the UK 🇬🇧, for instance. As part of their democratic transition, Mexico 🇲🇽 and Nigeria 🇳🇬 have created independent election commissions that attempt to reduce voter fraud and manipulation and enhance electoral competition 💰 Compare this to Russia 🇷🇺, which is another hybrid regime, which has no such mechanism in place. In 2011, there was an outcry both inside and outside of Russia in regard to the election results and possible voter fraud 🗳️
Not all of our course countries have elections. Some regimes use an appointment system for membership in legislative bodies to promote a diversity of viewpoints, while other regimes 🆚 use it to advance the political agenda of governing elites. Here are three examples of regimes, both democratic and authoritarian, that use appointment systems to promote diversity and maintain the agenda of governing elites.
- UK—Appointments for the United Kingdom’s House of Lords are approved by the monarch with recommendations made by the prime minister and an independent commission. This system is used to promote diversity, as there are now more of these appointments then hereditary appointments. This promotes diversity in the House of Lords, which is not directly elected because the majority of seats are no longer simply passed down within a family.
- Iran—Half of Iran’s Guardian Council members are selected by the Supreme Leader, and half are nominees from the judiciary with Majles approval. This allows for more diversity in that you have more voices appointing nominees, but all appointed officials must follow sharia law and the Supreme Leader is ultimately able to have the final say in all decisions.
- Russia—The appointment process for positions in Russia’s Federation Council is done by regional governors and the regional legislature. The creation of nine federal districts (with the annexation of Crimea) has reasserted federal power under the Russian president by allowing him to appoint presidential envoys to the districts and allowing regional legislatures to forgo elections and appoint a governor from a list of candidates approved by the president. This is a way for an authoritarian regime to control the political agenda as only political elites within the Communist Party will be selected.
We need to discuss another key concept in this topic, presidential elections, as we have simply focused on legislatures so far. Different presidential election systems have different rules for determining election winners; some systems employ second-round or runoff elections to obtain a majority vote, while others decide elections based on a plurality of most votes cast among candidates in the race. We are going to examine each country individually.
When you see FRQs on this topic, they fall under the "Describe" task verb which means to discuss relevant characteristics of each county's points. We will not be discussing the UK (no executive) and China (not directly elected by the people, party selects).
- Mexico—The president is elected by a plurality of the national popular vote, not an absolute majority. Here is a simple example to help you understand this concept. Gabriel won the plurality for school vice president with 40 percent of votes while Kiara came in with 35 percent and Carl with 25 percent. If Gabriel had received 54%, he would have received both the majority and plurality.
- Nigeria—Presidential candidates must win the most votes and secure at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s states, reflecting the federal characteristic of this regime. Notice that the candidate must win the most votes (not an absolute majority) with the specifics listed in the previous sentence.
- Russia—Presidential candidates must win an absolute majority of the popular vote in either the first or second round of national voting. If no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round, the second round is conducted between the top two vote earners from the first round. In other words, the winner must win more than half of the total votes that are cast in the election.
- Iran—Presidential candidates must win an absolute majority of the popular vote in either the first or second round of national voting. If no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round, the second round is conducted between the top two vote earners in the first round. In other words, the winner must win more than half of the total votes that are cast in the election.
One thing to keep in mind in regards to Iran, Nigeria, and Russia is that the 'majoritarian' rules provide winners with a national mandate. In other words, if they win a majority of the vote, it is viewed as having the support of the people to pass policies they see fit because the majority of citizens voted for the candidate and their platform.
This topic also asks us to discuss two other key concepts before we move onto Topic 4.3, so let us quickly examine them 👀
- Election rule changes affect the representation of different religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. In this regard we can use Iran as an example. Iran ensures that minority religious groups are represented in the Majles, reserving a few seats for non-muslim candidates. However, this is an extremely small number with limited influence.
- The timing of legislative elections across the six countries can vary among systems based on term-limit policies. You should be able to identify if there are or are not term limits and the length of those limits in each of the course countries.
Highlighting Differences in Term Limits
|Country||Executive Term Limits||Legislative Term Limits|
|UK||N/A||Prime Minister selected by Parliament/can be removed by noconfidence vote.Parliaments Act of 2011 introduced fixed terms for parliament of 5 years; no confidence vote can change legislature too. An early election can be called if 23 of the MPs vote to do so|
|Mexico||1-6 Year Term (No re-election)||Senators-6 Year Term. After 2018 eligible to run for a consecutive 2nd Term.Chamber of Deputies-3 Year Term. After 2018 eligible to run for a consecutive 2nd Term|
|Nigeria||President. 4 Year Term (2 Term Limit)||Senate-4 Year Term. Unlimited Terms.House of Representatives-4 Year Term|
|Russia||President. 6 Year Term (2 Consecutive Term Limit, Putin is now serving as President for a second time after his first two terms and a stint as Prime Minister)||Federal Assembly- 4 Year Term or can be replaced because of changes in governorshipDuma-Initially 2 Year Term. Then 4 Year Ters. Sine 2011 5 Year Term|
|China||President- 5 Year Term (2 Term Limit). 2018 2 Term Limit was removed||5 Year Term.|
|Iran||Supreme Leader-No set term limit can be removed by Assembly, have never used this power President- 4 Year Term Limit (2 Term Limit)||Majles- 4 Year Term.|
Topic 4.2 is a perfect topic for the argumentative FRQ. For instance, you might be asked to assess the relationship between democratization and political stability via election systems. In this case, it would be a good idea to choose two countries to support any claim you make.