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Robin Hood seat distribution method

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Igor Botan / November 10, 2010
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Why the d’Hondt seat distribution method was given up?

Majority of amendments to the June 18, 2010 Law No.119 envisaged the Council of Europe and OSCE recommendations. Approximately 40 percent of articles of the electoral law were improved much, so that it became very permissive. Concomitantly, the electoral law underwent a series of unexpected changes which spurred adverse interpretations. The most contested modification regards the distribution of seats among political parties which cross the 4-percent electoral threshold.

This amendment came after the d’Hondt method of seat distribution was applied in six parliamentary elections, starting with the 1994 elections. This method aimed to respect the proportionality in distributing seats, favouring big parties. Following are the statistics of the six parliamentary elections:

These statistics reveal that after joining the parliamentary race in 1998, the PCRM has constantly got a surplus of seats of at least 1/5 just through redistribution, and in 2001 it got a surplus of more than 40%(!) of seats. A number of minuscule parties decided not to run in the elections on July 29, 2009, contributing this way to the redistribution of only 4 supplementary seats. In fact, this was a key factor to turn the PCRM into opposition.

In conditions of the 2009 political crisis generated by post-electoral youth riots, leaders of liberal parties, particularly of the Liberal Party (PL) and Moldova Noastra (Our Moldova) Alliance (AMN) disagreed with the d’Hondt method. They raised strange arguments, invoking violation of Article 38 (1) of Constitution concerning the right to elect and the right to be elected, which stipulates the equality of vote inclusively. According to liberals, because of the d’Hondt method the weight of a seat got by PCRM is constantly lower than a seat got by other parties, and this breaches the constitutional regulation invoked above. In this respect, liberal leaders called upon academic scientists who confirmed some evident facts. Therefore, liberal representatives appealed to legal bodies, including Constitutional Court.

Law bodies did not give green light to complaints of liberals, declining competence, an absolutely right thing. In fact, the problem does not reside in violation of the vote equality principle, but in the consent of legislators with the method of seats distribution after the introduction of electoral threshold. In this context, the liberals did not care of the share of votes for parties which did not cross the electoral threshold, and did not ask the cancellation of electoral threshold in their fight for the equality of vote, as they should logically do.

The just formula chosen by liberals is related to the principle of equal distribution of seats which should belong to electoral candidates incapable to cross the electoral threshold among those which will succeed. Under Article 87 (5) of Electoral Code, the “number of undistributed parliamentary seats is distributed successively, by one to each party, … from electoral contestant which won most of seats, in a decreasing order.” This method was pejoratively called “Robin Hood formula” for the egalitarian redistribution of supplementary seats. But the problem is that given the initial argument of liberals regarding the equality of vote, it may bring more distortion in terms of the weight of a seat got by one or another party.

One may prove how fair is the new method if applying it on results of the 2001 parliamentary elections. Only three parties crossed the electoral threshold then, with PCRM winning 50% of seats, Braghis Alliance (AB) — 13%, and Christian Democratic People’s Party (PPCD) — 9%. As the Parliament has 101 seats, the percent garnered by parties would coincide with the number of seats they got, without any redistribution. If the 28 remaining seats are redistributed in accordance with the new method, PCRM would get 10 more seats while the two other parties would get nine more seats each. In particular, the PCRM would have got 60 seats and it would have had neither a constitutional majority of 2/3, nor a qualified majority of 3/5 to elect the chief of state. On the other hand, the PPCD would have doubled its number of seats, adding nine more to the nine it won! Would this be an example of equality of vote of citizen?!

How upright is the egalitarian method for seat distribution?

Competent international institutions do not advise countries in choosing the electoral system. One or another system is chosen by every country on own criteria. These criteria seek to establish an equilibrium between two essential elements, which are rather in a conflicting condition. Above all, elections must allow the nomination of a government capable of cohesion, in charge with promoting national interests. Second, the identified electoral system and holding of elections on basis of this system must guarantee the representation of political forces at national level and reproduce an accurate image of their authority in Parliament. In 1993, when the electoral system was chosen, Moldovan parliamentarians started off a stringent necessity — to ensure the right to vote to citizens from Transnistria and to prevent the division of country into electoral constituencies in the region controlled by Tiraspol regime. That’s why they chose the full proportional electoral system: a country — one electoral constituency.

It was noted above that a new method of seat distribution does not settle the initially invoked problem — ensuring the equality of vote, but contrariwise aggravates it. However, besides the quasi-moral justification — votes and seats given to the leftwing not to go to the rightwing and vice versa — there is a political-legal explanation to adopt the new method. It envisages both the problem of governmental stability after elections, and the issue of developing democracy in the Republic of Moldova. The fact that the PCRM became dominant after the 2001 parliamentary elections that means a party with a rating of over 40% and majority representation in Parliament developed a sort of authoritarianism expressed into the functioning of the so-called vertical of the state authority. In consequence, almost all known opposition political leaders were harassed through various methods, inclusively criminal charges.

The advantaging of PCRM through d’Hondt method imprinted an arrogant style of its leaders, who did not hesitate to give up the duties they rarely assumed in front of the opposition, as it happened in 2007. Finally, the very high score of PCRM in the April 5, 2009 elections amplified by distribution of seats under d’Hondt method motivated PCRM leader Vladimir Voronin to publicly refuse the next day after elections any dialogue with opposition parties whose leaders faced penal and media harassment. These facts altogether prove that the d’Hondt method had a reverse effect — the revolt and dramatic, extremely dangerous destabilisation of entire political system, rather than stability of governance.

On the other hand, the formation of the Alliance for European Integration (AIE) of four de facto incompatible elements though did not bring a long-term political stability, but at least helped maintaining the Republic of Moldova on waterline, mostly due to credibility and support from foreign development partners. On the other hand, turning into opposition after the July 29, 2009 new elections, the PCRM boycotted the election of chief of state, thus deepening the political crisis, and boycotted any others initiatives. AIE really provided occasions for these situations by committing actions unrelated to democratic approach of legislative process and adoption of decisions in very sensitive areas for Moldovan society. Howbeit, a coalition governance made of four incompatible and relatively antagonist elements ensured a certain stability of the Republic of Moldova, maintaining the country on waterline in economic and social areas, making a great progress in relations with the European Union and building opportunities to resume the Transnistrian settlement negotiation process. It could do more, but the country at least was brought to parliamentary elections expected to give fully legitimacy to the future governance.

In this respect, the AIE components agreed that the PCRM behaviour aimed to revenge at any price should be discouraged by changing the seat redistribution method, trying this way to prevent the PCRM from profiting again from distribution of seats in accordance with the d’Hondt formula. The statistics above indicate that the PCRM was usually winning about 3/4 of the mandates redistributed accordingly to the d’Hondt method. The Robin Hood method inverts the proportion to advantage AIE members just because at least three of its components will overcome the 4% threshold. That’s why Article 87 of Electoral Code was modified, not with the purpose to ensure the equality of vote.

Conclusions

For many are called, but few are chosen… BPO findings on the eve of parliamentary elections