Too late to change the election model

Gjorgji Spasov

In its 2016 election programme, SDSM has written: “We will propose that the MPs be elected on the principle of open lists, and that the Republic of Macedonia be one constituency. In this way, each vote will be equally important, and citizens will directly elect their representatives.”
The basic idea for this promise, which is contained in the recent proposal of President Stevo Pendarovski, is to change the election model to: 1. Fair distribution of parliamentary seats according to the votes won and the possibility for small parties with independent participation in the elections to win parliamentary seats. And that means higher representativeness of the Parliament; 2. Removing privileges from the major political parties in the distribution of parliamentary mandates and making the possibility of concentrating power in the hands of one or a few parties harder to obtain; 3. Giving citizens the opportunity to vote not just for the party, but for their favorite candidates as well, which could change the order of the candidates that would get seats in the Parliament from the list of the party for which they vote, and thus reduce the influence of the party leaders on the final election of MPs in Parliament.

All of this sounds nice, but its realization is facing several essential problems.
The first is that SDSM cannot impose an electoral model of its choice even when it has the best intentions, because it doesn’t have the two-thirds majority in the Parliament, which is necessary for changing the Electoral Code.

Second. It is now clear that the opposition VMRO-DPMNE prefers the replacement of the proportional with the majority electoral model, according to which 120 MPs would be elected in 120 constituencies, and in just one election round, that is, the elected candidate would be the candidate of the party that has won the majority of the voters’ votes already in the first round, regardless of their turnout. According to that model, the candidate who won at least one vote more than the other candidates in each of the election constituencies gets the mandate in that constituency. And that means that with a turnout of 66%, one party with 25% to 30% of the votes, if evenly distributed throughout the territory of Macedonia, will be able to win all the seats in North Macedonia’s Parliament.

That certainly did not happen in 1990, in the first parliamentary elections, when we had a majority model in two rounds. But these were the first parliamentary elections, the citizens did not know the parties and candidates well enough, they had the opportunity to group their votes before the second round and the electoral units were constructed according to clues about the clear political determination of the citizens even before the elections. This is how it happened for VMRO-DPMNE, with about 30% of the votes won, to receive 38 MP seats in these elections, SKM-PDP (SDSM) – with 28% of the votes to get 31 seats, the Union of Reform Forces with the Youth Democratic Party with 20 percent of votes to get 23 seats, while the Party for Democratic Prosperity and the People’s Democratic Party, with about 21 percent of the votes, receive 22 parliamentary seats. This year’s election model actually gave similar results to a pure proportional model, although parties such as MAAK, for example, who won more than 40,000 votes in the first round and others whose candidates won over 20,000 votes in the first round of the country did not win a single term in Parliament. Their candidates in none of the constituencies did not pass the threshold for entering the second round, so if the model was in only one of the election rounds, they would have been left without MPs. If the elections were in only one election round, SKM-PDP, which won over 70 votes more than VMRO-DPMNE, in the first round would have won a huge victory in the first round of those elections.

Already in 1994, this election model, after VMRO-DPMNE’s boycott of these elections before the second round, led practically to a Parliament dominated by only one party, that is, a coalition. Now that VMRO-DPMNE believes that in each of these constituencies it would win a little more votes than SDSM, it initiates such an electoral model that would provide it with an eventually disproportionately larger number of parliamentary mandates than the percentage of votes won, or full domination in the Parliament.

On the other hand, DUI does not prefer a proportional model and for Macedonia to be just one constituency. Due to the average lower turnout of Albanians compared to the turnout of Macedonians, the parties who consider only the ethnic Albanian votes are aware that in such a model, even with a low election threshold in the Assembly, a smaller number of Albanians would be elected than now. Therefore, they suggest that they would find the current electoral model acceptable, with just reducing the number of electoral units from six to three, in which 40 MPs would be elected, possibly from open lists. But that change would not bring anything new, as the natural election threshold for the election of an MP would double, and if the calculation of the mandates according to the D’Hondt method remains, main parties will again receive more mandates at the expense of those who will not pass the election threshold.

Hence, even if SDSM proposes to change the election model, in accordance with its programme, in conditions of such a contradiction of the attitudes and interests of the political parties, it is difficult to believe that it will pass for several reasons:
First, it would be a good idea for the Electoral Code to be adopted by consensus of political parties. Second, amendments to it are possible only by securing a two-thirds majority, which is almost impossible to achieve in the present conditions. Third, because the change of the electoral model means changing the rules of the game, it is always recommended that the new election model be valid for one of the next elections and not for the first ones, in order to give the parties the opportunity to prepare themselves and the voters to explaining the new election model.

What is possible in such conditions for achieving the desired goal is the proposal of MP Ivana Tufegdzic from 2015 for accepting the proposal for Macedonia to be just one constituency, for voting according to the proportional model with an election threshold of one percent at most (as in the Netherlands) and replace the D’Hondt method when converting the votes of the parties into mandates with the Sainte-Laguë method. (go to http://respublica.edu.mk/blog/2015-11-03-12-22-58). In that model, instead of divisors in the 1.2.3.4 series, a system of divisors of odd numbers is used, that is, 1.3.5.7.9, which reduces the space for the main parties to get more seats, ensures a fairer fair distribution of mandates and a chance for the smaller parties to get seats in Parliament, while at the same time does not prevent forming of stable governments that is no less important than the representation of small political parties.

Open lists can only be introduced with the current election model with six constituencies, but one must take one major danger under consideration.

Closed lists ensure gender equality and the involvement of smaller ethnic communities with prior management by the political parties according to the system: One in three candidates on the list should be a woman, and the demands of the coalition candidates for the number of their MPs are also respected.

Open lists create an opportunity for candidates from the bottom of the list to become Members of Parliament, but also by instructed voting (or voting burdened with prejudice) to disrupt gender equality or eliminate candidates from smaller political parties to whom their seats have been guaranteed with coalition deals when creating these closed lists.

All in all, it should be well thought out whether it is worth spending a huge political energy on something that can lead to new political divisions and whether the debate over changes to the electoral model will not calm down if the parties would know that that electoral model would be valid for the next parliamentary elections after the 2020 elections. Considering the possibility of holding extraordinary parliamentary elections in June next year, it is now quite late for a thorough change of the election model.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik