[EM] Fixed Terms

Blake Cretney bcretney at postmark.net
Wed Aug 25 19:51:53 PDT 1999

David Catchpole wrote:

> Most of the following responses are not completely connected to PR or to
> concepts of stability, but I hope they address them.
> > * Fixed terms
> Fixed terms are weird ****, 

I assumed that the **** was a key to a footnote that would be found
below justifying this statement.  Couldn't find one though.

> and the concept is mooted often for non-PR
> legislatures. 

I'm not sure what you mean by this, but it obviously has no relevance
for PR legislatures.

> Often tied to any campaign for them is an extension of the
> maximum term of the legislature. 

That shouldn't in itself be an argument against fixed terms.  Also, I
wonder if it's true.  Canada has maximum terms of 5 1/2 years.  I
think it much more likely that they would be fixed at 4 than extended
to 6.

>  I personally have problems with fixed
> terms for any legislature, because I believe they have no effect 

Certainly not a major complaint, but I disagree.  In a country, like
Israel, with frequent elections, fixing terms to 4 years would
obviously have an effect, if only resulting in fewer elections.  The
only question is, would this create an impasse situation in the
legislature, to a greater extent than already exists.  I think the
answer is no, and this answer is suggested by those jurisdictions that
use fixed terms.

> and take
> no account of the contemporary situation of constitutional and political
> crises, or of the pursuit of mandates for specific policies (-this is not 
> a particularly bad thing).

My experience is that governments tend to call an election when they
are popular, but sometimes justify this on the basis that they need a
"mandate" for specific policies.  Governments never seem to require
new mandates when they're low in the poles.  If the government really
wants a mandate for a specific policy, they can hold a referendum (as
was done in Canada on the issue of conscription for WWII).  If the
government just wants to know what people think, they can commission a
pole, as they do frequently.

> Unfixed terms allow a government/opposition to attempt to take its bat and
> ball and go home, but they don't actually allow it to succeed. The real
> risk is pissing off the electorate with too many elections.

There is a risk for the government.  However, the government will
only call an election if it feels that this backlash will be offset by
its current political advantage.  If the population is hostile enough
to early elections, this will never happen.  That puts the public in a
nasty position, however, of having to either vote for policies they
like less in parties they don't hold responsible for the election, or
voting for ones they like more, but leaving the government unpunished.

Dear Markus,
Markus Schulze wrote:
> Dear Blake,
> you wrote (22 Aug 1999):
> > Election dates should be fixed and outside the control of the
> > legislature.  Often it is suggested that the legislature or cabinet
> > needs to be able to call an early election to resolve an impasse in
> > the legislature.  My response is that such a rule has the opposite
> > effect to that intended.  In general, as the opinions of voters
> > change, it will frequently occur that a majority, or near majority in
> > the legislature see a new election as likely to increase their
> > standing.  If an impasse triggers an election, they have good reason
> > to create an impasse.  If cabinet must be defeated on a major bill,
> > they will seek an opportunity.  Also, if an early election does occur,
> > it is not guaranteed to remedy the situation, and frequently doesn't.
> > Furthermore, fixed terms have been used in PR municipalities, and some
> > PR countries, such as Norway, without any obvious increase in
> > governmental ineffectiveness over other PR jurisdictions.
> I prefer the Swedish Method. The Swedish Method says that there are
> ordinary elections on fixed days (e.g. on the first Thursday of
> October of every year with a date dividable by five). Extraordinary
> elections are possible. But the term of the then elected parliament
> ends with the next ordinary elections.
> The Swedish Method guarantees that the possibility to dissolve
> the parliament cannot be misused to "corriger la fortune."

In a later post Markus states:
> There have been extraordinary elections in Sweden
> in 1887, in 1914, in 1958, and in 1970.

Interesting.  I find it rather frustrating that references seem never to
properly explain the rules for when an election may be called in various
countries.  Do you know of any other jurisdictions that use the Swedish system
(besides Scotland)?

It's pretty clear that Sweden has not had an excessive number of mid-term
elections.  It would be interesting to know the reason for these elections,
whether they seemed justified, and whether they were used to break an impasse,
or to seek a special mandate.

I am concerned that in a country that is used to frequent elections, this
would not be a deterrent, as legislators would reason that a two (or even one)
year term was well worth the election.


Herman Beun wrote:

> Markus Schulze wrote:
> > The Swedish Method guarantees that the possibility to dissolve
> > the parliament cannot be misused to "corriger la fortune."
> Therefore, probably, the Swedish parliament (Riksdagen) has never in 
> history been dissolved before the end of its regular mandate period. 
> Coalitions just postpone difficult decisions and stumble on until the 
> end, sometimes with minority support because one party leaves the 
> coalition, rather than investing in costly extraordinary elections 
> (extra val) for a mandate that is going to last only 1 or 2 years.

If there really is majority support behind a particular proposal, then those
in the majority would have a strong incentive to get together and pass it. 
It's important not to confuse lack of action with stumbling.  It may be that
there is simply no majority behind any major change.  This is hardly
surprising if there hasn't been a major change of government for a while.


DEMOREP1 at aol.com wrote:

> * Fixed terms
> Recall elections should exist to be able to get rid of/change idiot 
> legislative bodies or executive / judicial officers anytime.

Do citizens in PR countries talk as much about recall as those in countries
like Canada and the US?  It seems to me that if the public elects a
legislature using a reasonable method, then the public is unlikely to want to
throw them out before the next election.  Any comments from people who
actually live in PR countries?  Am I being overly optimistic about either PR
or human nature?


Tom Round wrote:
> I note also that the new Scottish Parliament has a fixed four-year election
> cycle with the Swedish option -- ie, an early election (allowed only if the
> Assembly (a) votes by 2/3 for one, or (b) fails to elect a new chief
> minister by majority after 28 days) does not cancel the regular scheduled
> election unless the latter would be less than 6 months after the former.

Part (b) indeed sounds like the Swedish system.  Part (a) sounds a little
naive.  Since a simple majority can easily prevent a chief minister from being
elected, it will never be necessary to use the 2/3 vote.  It would be more in
keeping with the intent, I believe, to elect a chief minister using a method
that does not require a majority of first-preferences, preferably one that
selects the Condorcet winner.  I also like the German system that says that a
Chancellor cannot be removed except by the selection of a new one.

Blake Cretney
See the EM Resource:  http://www.fortunecity.com/meltingpot/harrow/124
My Path voting Site:  http://www.fortunecity.com/meltingpot/harrow/124/path

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list