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Saturday, September 22, 2007

MMP: The Belgium Connection

 
I've encountered many critics of the Mixed Member Proportional system who are uttering the same mantra. It includes the phrase "Belgium has 33 parties." I think this is meant to be a criticism of the MMP system. Those who mention the mantra often associate it with the fact that Belgian politicans have had trouble forming an effective government since the June 10, 2007 election.

I suspect there's a common source for this Belgian story. Does anyone know where it comes from?

Here are the facts as I know them. True, there were 33 parties contesting the last election in Belgium. But only 11 of them won seats in parliament (see below). In Canada there were 5 parties with seats in parliament for most of the 1990's and that was with a First-Past-the-Post system. In the last federal election in Canada there were 21 parties seeking election [Canadian Political Parties]. This includes my favorite, the Rhinoceros Party of Canada. The Green Party didn't win a single seat in spite of the fact that it got 4.5% of the vote. The Bloc got 51 seats with 10.5% of the vote. We have a minority government in Ottawa.

Belgium has a full Proportional Representation system. In Ontario we're being asked to consider a Mixed Member Proportional system. They aren't the same thing. The Belgian example doesn't seem to be particularly relevant to the Ontario debate.

16 comments :

  1. If a country as small as plucky little Belgium can have three official languages, I don't see why she shouldn't also have 33 political parties.

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  2. After seeing this comment about Belgium a couple of times, I went and read a bit about their electoral system. I don't see that the outcomes of that system (good or bad) have any relevance at all for either Ontario or all of Canada.

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  3. Heaven forfend that our political system should allow for a diversity of views.

    Watching the US system, it looks just like the Futurama parody: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_hCdW627eQ

    Two politicians debating the issues. "I say your 3 cent titanium tax goes too far," says one. "I say your 3 cent titanium tax doesn't go too far enough," says the other. The more politicians try to vie for the centre, this simplistic debate is all we'll ever see.

    So yeah, let's get some genuine representation!

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  4. It would appear that the problem with the constituency Parliamentary system as implemented in most of the former British colonies (and in Great Britain) is that the party bosses choose the candidates to run in each district (riding in Canada). It would appear that one possible solution to this problem is to require the parties to choose their candidate in a primary. In this way, at least in theory, the registered party members have a say in who represents their party in their district in the general election.

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  5. the party bosses choose the candidates to run in each district (riding in Canada).

    No, that's generally not true. Different parties do it differently, but candidates "imposed from party HQ" are not all that common, and it often causes some negative publicity. Example - more than one leader has been criticized for "imposing" female or minority candidates on local ridings.

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  6. slc says,

    It would appear that one possible solution to this problem is to require the parties to choose their candidate in a primary. In this way, at least in theory, the registered party members have a say in who represents their party in their district in the general election.

    This system seems to be peculiar to the USA. I don't know of any other country that uses it. Does anyone?

    The result in the USA is that incumbents are not only re-nominated but they are re-elected about 90% of the time. This doesn't sound like a system that anyone else should be copying.

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  7. Living as I do a half hour's drive from Belgium, the problems there get covered a lot in the newspapers. Certainly the problems there are far more fundamental than the particular electoral system in use - in fact some of them go back to before Belgium existed as an inependent country.

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  8. "It would appear that the problem with the constituency Parliamentary system as implemented in most of the former British colonies (and in Great Britain) is that the party bosses choose the candidates to run in each district (riding in Canada). It would appear that one possible solution to this problem is to require the parties to choose their candidate in a primary. In this way, at least in theory, the registered party members have a say in who represents their party in their district in the general election."

    In the UK it is the case that the party members in each constituancy get to choose who will stand for them.

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  9. Re Matt Penfold

    Is Mr. Penfold saying that there is already a primary system in Great Britain? Or is there some sort of convention type system?

    Re Larry Moran

    What percentage of incumbents for each party in Canada are displaced before each election?

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  10. slc asks,

    In the last Federal election 22% of incumbents were not re-elected.

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  11. Obviously, I didn't make my question clear. The question was how many party incumbents were replaced as party candidates before the election. For example, how many Liberal Party incumbents were replaced as Liberal Party candidates before the general election?

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  12. slc asks,

    Obviously, I didn't make my question clear. The question was how many party incumbents were replaced as party candidates before the election. For example, how many Liberal Party incumbents were replaced as Liberal Party candidates before the general election?

    I don't know. I suspect it was very few although I do know of two examples in my region.

    When you said,

    It would appear that the problem with the constituency Parliamentary system as implemented in most of the former British colonies (and in Great Britain) is that the party bosses choose the candidates to run in each district (riding in Canada). It would appear that one possible solution to this problem is to require the parties to choose their candidate in a primary. In this way, at least in theory, the registered party members have a say in who represents their party in their district in the general election.

    I assumed that it was because you knew for a fact that the primary system in the USA does a better job of selecting candidates than the constituency meetings we have where the people in attendance vote for the candidate. Since the primary system returns the incumbent >90% of the time, you presumably know that the system in Canada does worse or you wouldn't have made the statement you did. Right?

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  13. Belgium has 11 political parties in the federal parlement. Note that voting is split between Flanders and Wallonia: so there is a Flemish socialist parti and a Walloon socialist parti. Within Flanders / Wallonia some five parties are in parlement. The present day lack of a federal Belgian government is due to deadlock between Flanders and Wallonia. Both Flanders and Wallonia have their own separate governments, and their own prime minister, and government proceeds very well.

    Basically there is a diversity of views:
    green
    socialist
    social democrat
    liberal
    conservative
    nationalist.
    That gives a nice range to chose from.
    The US political system seems about the most outdated of any democracy.

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  14. Anyway, Germany has some form of MMP, a vote for a local candidate and a country wide vote on a party. I don't know how it works in detail. Proportional representation is the only sensible system, as far as I'm concerned. Everything with districts is up for gerrymandering

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  15. Re Larry Moran

    I don't know know if the percent of incumbents ousted in a primary in the US is less then or greater then the number of incumbents removed by their parties in Canada. However, I would point out that even an unsuccessful primary challenge in the US can send the incumbent a message. As an example, my Congressman, one James Moran, was challenged in a primary several years ago over antisemitic comments he had made. His opponent, who was poorly financed, managed to get 41% of the vote. Congressman Moran got the message.

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  16. Larry Moran:

    I assumed that it was because you knew for a fact that the primary system in the USA does a better job of selecting candidates than the constituency meetings we have where the people in attendance vote for the candidate. Since the primary system returns the incumbent >90% of the time, you presumably know that the system in Canada does worse or you wouldn't have made the statement you did. Right?

    I'm not sure that it is a fact. I wonder about the number/% of US senators and members of the house who have been there for donkey's years compared to their rough equivalents in Canada.

    I might be proved wrong, but I doubt that this is an area where the US is "better off" than Canada.

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