[EM] Electing Cabinets

Blake Cretney bcretney at postmark.net
Tue Aug 31 15:01:24 PDT 1999

David Catchpole wrote:

> On Thu, 26 Aug 1999, Blake Cretney wrote:
> > David Catchpole wrote:
> > > > * 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.
> Maybe you've never been involved in student politics... as a hanger on
> to one of the factions of the (A)NUS Tom Round described recently, I know
> quite well that the direct election by an assembly of an executive,
> whether they be members of the assembly or no, involves ****-loads
> (there's that non-existent footnote again) of deals and plots to-
> - agree on the balance of political representation in the executive
> - agree on the policies and the plans of the executive
> - work out where the hell preferences are going to head and try to either
> head them off at the pass or coalesce with other factions to ensure you
> don't get an executive you don't like.

Two questions.  1) Are you actually remembering a case involving an
election where members of the assembly were not candidates?  2) What
was the electoral method used?  Obviously, plurality would give strong
incentive to form coalitions.

Also, I do claim that election by assembly of candidates without
strong party affiliation will lessen the importance of coalitions. 
This is because one situation that would have necessitated coalitions
has been removed.  However coalitions will likely still exist, to the
extent encouraged by other laws and traditions.  My main goal in
suggesting this kind of election was not to deal a death blow to
coalitions, but to allow stable government to proceed in the case that
they proved difficult to form.  In the above example, the students
were able to form coalitions, but if they had found it impossible to
form a majority coalition, they would still have ended up with an

> One might say that voters at large do not form coalitions but sure as hell
> in preferential elections ["How to vote" and preference deals] and in
> parliamentary systems the parties they vote for do... and it's not a bad
> thing.

Well, I don't want to give the impression that anytime two parties
discuss and come out with a common proposal some kind of injustice has
been done.  We also have to differentiate between a temporary deal
around some issue, and a long term coalition around government as a
whole.  I am interested in hearing you articulate the valuable
functions of coalitions, though, to see where I agree and disagree.

Let me give an example of where I think the use of coalitions has
gone too far.  Consider a parliament with three parties, Left, Right,
and Centre.  Now, let's imagine the following votes by the public,
resulting in a legislature of the same makeup.

41% Left
20% Centre
39% Right

Now, various bills are suggested to parliament.  If a bill is too far
left, only Left will vote for it.  If it is too far right, only Right
will vote for it.  Bills which are appealing to both the Centre and
one extreme will pass.

The result is that Centre gets its way almost all the time.  In one
sense this is stable; there is no coalition to split up, and since
Centre always has the deciding vote the legislature is steering a
course which is ideologically consistent.  On the other hand,
different people are on the winning side in different votes, sometimes
the Left, sometimes the Right.

Note however, that no majority coalition exists.  So, what happens if
it is necessary, either by law or tradition?

Well, Left-Right is impossible, so we either have Left-Centre or
Right-Centre.  Lets say arbitrarily that Right-Centre is formed. 
Right-Centre agrees on a common set of policies for governance.  I
think we can assume two things,
1.  The policies of Right-Centre will be to the right of Centre,
probably more representative of Right than of Centre. 
2.  Right will complain bitterly of any concessions made to Centre,
saying that the "tail is wagging the dog"

So, the direction of government has changed, and this has been
accomplished by Centre agreeing to vote against its true preference. 
This is a less stable situation, because Centre is bound to be
displeased, and always threatening to break out of the coalition,
possibly to form a new alliance with Left.  

I find this interesting because there seems to be a paradox involved.
 Normally, one would say that the fewer other voters there are, the
more the power of one voter.  So, we might think that Centre will
become stronger by forming a caucus with Right, and thereby excluding
the Left voters from government.  This is faulty logic though, and
actually results in Centre getting its way less.

> Another comment is that with parliamentary government (with the exception
> of Israel?), if it doesn't actually involve the election of the executive
> by a house of parliament then it does through a kind of "phantom
> election-" if an election (vote of confidence?) were held today would the
> government win? 

In many countries, the Prime Minister has to achieve majority support
in parliament.  If no one person can do this, parliament is dissolved.
 But if the Prime Minister is elected by parliament, someone will
always be elected.  The majority coalition system sometimes doesn't
give a result, but an election always will.  I suggest that its result
will also be closer to the median position of the legislature (where
one exists).

> It's clear to see that more often than not coalition
> building is the hallmark of a parliamentary, rather than a presidential
> system.

Just to make sure we understand each other, I define a presidential
system as one in which the executive branch is independently elected
from the legislative (as in the US), and parliamentary as one in which
the executive branch is somehow chosen or accepted by parliament. 
Often commentators describe the diminished importance of legislature
and Cabinet in modern Westminster-model countries as a presidential
system, but this is not how I am using the term.

Returning to your point.  If it is true that coalitions are more
important in parliamentary than presidential systems, why is that?  I
conclude that in a presidential system, it is not necessary to form
coalitions to create an executive, as they are elected separately.  If
we want to be able to accomplish the same thing from a parliament, an
elected executive seems the best hope.

> I hope all this illustrates why I think "election by assembly equals
> coalitions are not a key feature" is such an absurd equation. 

Some people may find the kind of changes I suggest too drastic. 
Here's my suggestion for accomplishing the same kind of thing without
making such drastic changes, possibly as an interim solution:

Form a broad coalition.  The coalition should encompass as many
parties as possible, and should have little in the way of common
goals, except good stable government.

Form a cabinet with representation proportional to this coalition. 
All cabinet members should agree to act in accordance with the will of
the legislature.  The importance of cabinet should be reduced.  In
particular, cabinet should have no power to call an election.  Parties
should find it easier to influence the course of government by votes
in the legislature and on committee than by representation in cabinet.

A powerful set of committees should be formed on the basis of PR,
with the most influential being the "Central Committee".  This
committee would formulate policy much as cabinet did at one time.

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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