[EM] Electing Cabinets

Blake Cretney bcretney at postmark.net
Wed Aug 25 19:55:25 PDT 1999

David Catchpole wrote:

> I can give examples of a house of an upper house (the Australian Senate),
> a unicameral legislature (New Zealand) and the cumulative experience of
> continental Europe. None of these really have a homogeneous majority
> faction (notwithstanding one could argue that no democratic legislature
> ever has such a thing) 
> but there do emerge identifiable patterns of
> operation and coalition. All hell does not break loose in a PR
> legislature- why should it if it's representative of a tolerant society?

I never said that all hell necessarily breaks loose in PR
legislatures.  Remember, I support them.  On the other hand, I think
that government is much simpler when the Prime Minister makes all the
decisions.  It's also clear that a few PR legislatures do not work
well, Italy and Israel being the usual examples.  I don't conclude
that PR is doomed to failure, after all it seems to work well in most
jurisdictions.  I do, however, conclude that it requires some
different procedures and expectations than SMP.

> > * Condorcet methods
> > 
> > * Elections for Ministers, Prime Minister
> > 
> > If cabinet positions, including Prime Minister are elected by the
> > legislature, it is not necessary to rely on coalitions to form
> > governments
> [whoah, Nelly- how do you mean?]

If cabinet is elected by the legislature, then the positions will be
filled regardless of what parties and coalitions exist.  In the same
way, it is not necessary for voters to form coalitions to determine
their MP's.  The existence of MP's is guaranteed by the electoral
process.  I was referring to cabinet as "the government", which may be
misleading for the kind of government I describe.

> > if all these positions were filled by members of the legislature, the
> > result would be tremendous jealousy as parties counted the number of
> > their members in cabinet, and expressed outrage at the perceived
> > over-representation of small central parties.  I suggest, therefore,
> > that all cabinet positions be filled by people outside the
> > legislature, who would be able to act in a less partisan way.  These
> > cabinet members could be replaced by the legislature, and would act on
> > its behalf.
> Partisan behaviour is politics is partisan behaviour. It doesn't behove me
> to identify parliamentary or presidential election as the better system,

The issue of parliamentary vs presidential is whether the highest
executive office should be directly and seperately elected by the
people.  I think this is a bad idea, mostly because it often results
in an executive and legislative branch that are hostile to each other,
as in the United States.  However, the presidential system works just
as well from the perspective of providing a stable cabinet with a PR
legislature.  I certainly don't view PR and the presidential system to
be in conflict.

> but I rather like parliamentary government and the creation of cabinets
> from legislatures made up of mass political parties which actually
> represent policies and win their seats and cabinet on the basis of them.
> This is in part due to my own partisanism- but I rather like the idea of
> politics standing for something other than aspirations for public office.

I am not against parties or partisanship in general.  I think they
are very useful to voters.  Individualistic politics, like in the US,
which requires voters to learn about the stands of their particular
local representative has some important defects:
1.  It costs more money for campaigning.  The expense of explaining a
particular local candidate to each area is always going to be much
greater than the expense of describing a party to the nation or state
as a whole.
2.  It results in campaigns more about personality than issues.
3.  It results in more power for incumbents.  This is because the
cost of explaining a new candidate to the public is so high,
incumbents, who have more money, and are already known, have a big
4.  It probably guarantees a two-party system, as a third candidate
will rarely be able to raise enough money to get his or her message
5.  It makes PR more difficult.

However, I don't think partisanship is always useful.  Certainly, it
doesn't make sense in the judiciary or civil service.  If each
minister in cabinet is to represent the legislature as a whole, surely
this is best done by people who are not prominant as members of one
particular political party.  As well, legislative factions will have
less interest in trying to remove such people.

> Cabinet election systems are something we should have a closer look into,
> because they're a juggling act between many different principles and I
> don't think anybody's really ever developed one. Something for the <10
> active members of this list to look into?

An alternative is to elect only the Prime Minister, and have him
appoint the rest of cabinet.  This is consistent with my basic plan,
as long as he and his appointees are not members of the legislature. 
In municipalities, this is called the Council/Manager style of

> > * Proportional committees
> Proportional committees are basically THE major modus operandi of the
> Australian Senate, which as the "House of Review" (and the dwelling place
> of those lovey dovey corporatists, the Australian Democrats) spends most
> of its time off in other rooms investigating stuff. Most committees in
> Australian parliamentary practice are appointed on a principle of PR-
> though whether or not they're actually *elected* by PR, I don't know.

The reason I suggested "elected" was so that the members of various
parties would have some independance from their leaders.  After all,
they will be allowed to vote independently when the bill gets before
the legislature.  What I don't suggest is that it be determined that
the Australian Democrats get four seats on committee, and they are
filled directly by the Australian Democrat leader.  Although, if
strict party discipline exists, this will make little difference.

> > * Restrictions on benefits
> > 
> > Proportionality should be the governing principle of the legislature
> > in all respects.  There should be no "Governing Party" or "Official
> > Opposition" with special benefits, money, or time allotment.
> ...which takes no account of the realities of the Government/Opposition
> relationship...

I'm not sure whether your statement is a reiteration or a criticism
of my point.  However, I will point out that I'm not suggesting this
because I haven't considered that it might damage the
Government/Opposition structure in the house.  I just view damaging
this structure as a goal.

In the Westminster model, government is essentially the
responsibility of the Prime Minister.  The legislature provides a
useful function in giving the government an opportunity to defend its
conduct, and the opposition an opportunity to criticise it.  No one,
however, expects that the legislature will have any more role in
deciding the course of government than does the Queen.

What I am suggesting, however, is government BY legislature.  Such an
institution would make decisions that tended to represent the median
view, as long as Condorcet-type methods are used.  Legislators and
parties would sometimes find themselves with the majority and
sometimes against it.  They would all be part of the government. 
Since there would be no "Government" caucas pledged to support
cabinet, or an "Opposition", pledged to fight it, the
Government/Opposition model would make no sense.


David Catchpole wrote:

> An interesting subject... A cabinet election system would need the
> following features-
> Represents only "one side of the room" (this is the most contentious
> feature, so it goes first...)
> Proportionately represents that one side of the room
> Incorporates these concepts of at-large (at-half?) proportionality while
> having different selections for different portfolios (and incorporating
> ministers'-to-be preferences).
> It might be easier to begin the exposition with a "caucus" election system
> (that used by a party caucus to select a cabinet) which would not
> incorporate the minority exclusion feature.
> Any ideas?

I dislike the idea of a proportional cabinet, because it seems likely to
bring ministers into conflict with each other, since they represent different
factions.  Also, a cabinet representing only one side of the house will come
into conflict with free votes by the legislature as a whole.  Since
individuals and parties don't like to have to vote against their conscience,
this situation is more unstable.


ECOLING at aol.com wrote:

> On stable PR and coalition goverments,
> recent discussion:
> Isn't the problem created by the way in which
> coalitions are created, and this true also of systems
> like the US Congress?
> The major near-center parties
> tend to exclude the other nearest competitor,
> form coalitions with the more extreme parties
> on their own areas of the political spectrum?

Precisely.  Furthermore, such a coalition is more likely to represent the
median position of the coalition than that of the legislature.

> Instead of SOME members of each of the near-center
> parties combining together to form a stable governing
> coalition, 

Because of this tendency, I have suggested changes which reduce the
importance of coalitions.  My changes make coalitions more difficult, by
ensuring that offers of perks and cabinet posts cannot be used to sustain
them.  At the same time, by suggesting cabinet elections, I suggest that
government can proceed without them.  Of course, I don't want to ban
coalitions, just decrease reliance on them.

> STABLE in the sense that it avoids wild swings
> of policy depending on a fraction of a percentage change
> in popular votes for parties,
> STABLE in the sense that because it is the real center,
> a few individuals dropping out of the coalition or adding
> to it will be random, and all the margins of the center,
> and will not affect it?

> Lloyd Anderson

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

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