2012/08/15

An election system for more accurate representation

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Germany is bound to get a new law regulating its federal elections, as mentioned before. I would accept almost any bet on it not going to be a big leap forward, but some minor mathematical compromise.

That's sad, for the old mode was already a nice leap forward from the more primitive election systems of earlier times (and of other countries which stick to older systems).

We have a federal parliament with both representatives from voting district and from party lists, so neither the disadvantage of a primitive majority "winner takes it all, loser votes are negated" plurality voting system nor a detached party lists-only proportional representation with no anchoring of representatives in regions. To get this combination right mathematically isn't that difficult, but it was apparently too difficult for our politicians so far.

The existing election law has been criticised for major deficiencies, but it hasn't been criticised to much public effect for a more general problem: The voters have horrible choices, for the voting system is still too primitive.
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Let me explain with a simplified model:

There are two issues, Economy and Defence.
There are two parties, Whites and Purples.
A voter trusts Whites on Economy and Purples on Defence.
The same voter thinks Whites' defence policy is evil and Purples' economic policy will ruin the country.
He goes to the voting booth, looks at the lists and has the choice between voting for a Whites candidate or a Purples candidate.

There's no way how he could actually lend his authorisation, his democratic bit of legitimation to the White on economic policy and to the Purples on defence policy.
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This does probably not look like a real-world problem to people who are ideology-driven partisans and happen to favour one party in all policy fields, but I assure you I'm living proof that other people are indeed in this model's dilemma.

This systemic inaccuracy is a major deficiency of our political system, one that will probably (hopefully) be looked down at in the future as we look down at non-universal suffrage systems today.


It would actually be possible to split the parliament into several specialised parliaments and one larger general (conciliation) parliament.

The general parliament would be responsible for the budget (not necessarily for revenues) and conciliation of conflicting decisions of the specialised parliaments. It would be the biggest parliament (maybe 100-200 representatives) and would be based on the plurality voting system.

The specialised parliaments would be smaller (more akin to modern parliamentary committees, maybe about 30-50 representatives). They would each be responsible for oversight over the respective member of cabinet (defence parliament overseeing the minister of defence, for example) a and their field of policy. A natural consequence of their specialisation would be an increased expectation of actual competence in the specialisation. The specialised parliaments would employ proportional representation.


This way we could finally resolve the permanent dilemma of liking some political ideas of certain parties, but not trusting any single party all-round.

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The conciliation of conflicting decisions of different specialised parliaments will probably appear unsolvable to some readers, but such conflicts already exist between the existing ministries and parliamentary committees. The existing social policy committee and minister for social and family affairs are rarely in full agreement with the constraints imposed by financial affairs committee and minister of finance, for example.

The conflicts between different entities would not be changed much, but the accuracy of representation could be improved a lot.

Some obstructions against progress that are being caused by party lines could be overcome when the constituents could actually get their way when there's a strong popular majority* in conflict with the coalition line of all feasible party coalitions. We could have gotten out of Afghanistan long ago, for example.


There is a snowball's chance in hell that this is going to happen. I will be stuck in the dilemma.


*: In case you don't think popular majorities should have it their way within a constitutional framework:  You're mistrusting the masses and no supporter of democracy at heart, period. Democracy means exactly that; rule of the majority with constitutional protection of the minority.

P.S.:
Satisfied, Tim? ;)

edit:
By the way; the impression of one single parliament could be maintained if the parliamentary committees were equipped with the powers described here by the constitution and the election of their members would be done like this.
Small, specialised parties could rise more easily and address specific issues without a need to evolve into an all-round party with a 360° manifesto. They could even gain an absolute majority and dominate their speciality field of politics only while otherwise being unable to get more than a few per cent votes in a normal system. Policy would truly have to follow the missions it received from the electorate.
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5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post, i've been busy lately so didn't get to check the blog until now.

    Who picks the minister of defence, the defence parliament?

    "This does probably not look like a real-world problem to people who are ideology-driven partisans and happen to favour one party in all policy fields, but I assure you I'm living proof that other people are indeed in this model's dilemma."
    I've had the same problem, so that makes two.

    Tim

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  2. Who picks the minister of defence, the defence parliament?

    That's a technicality, but I'd favour election by the respective parliament. The majority of the people expressed their confidence through the respective parliament, so they should get the matching minister.

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  3. For the specialised parliaments how did you arrive at 30-50, could MPs sit on more than one specialised parliament? Example MP Doe might sit in the Defence and Economy special parliaments.


    Tim

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  4. 40 is a figure often heard when discussions are about the optimal size of a team. The need for communication increases too much with bigger teams.
    40 is also close to many committee and city council sizes.
    http://www.bundestag.de/bundestag/ausschuesse17/index.html

    I wouldn't care about your MP Doe, parties' internal mechanisms would lead to almost all MPs being specialised on one field anyway. The parties would have a drive towards supplying as many of their partisans with offices as possible.
    Only top politicians would be reasonable exceptions imho, especially those who failed to secure a seat in the general parliament or even cabinet. Even then a spot on the finance parliament list might look like a more natural choice.
    Just don't pay the MPs for more than one office at a time. This, btw, should be a general rule for all public offices. Only the best-paid office should count.

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  5. Elect a parliamentary oversight for each ministry and a chancellor who organises the ministries and is under the overall parliamentary control? To enact you can not only elect parties, but give a party or a candidate a rating for partaking in the oversight of one or more ministries. That would solve a lot of problems.

    ReplyDelete

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