• martes, noviembre 26, 2013

    Michelle Bachelet’s Legislative Majority

    Published in Warscapes

    On November 17, 2013 Chile held its sixth presidential election and seventh legislative election since the return of democracy in 1989.

    The first four presidential elections were won by a coalition made up of socialists and Christian democrats (Nueva Mayoría). Initially founded as an opposition front to the authoritarian government, Nueva Mayoría evolved into a powerful center-left electoral machine. Under its umbrella, Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei, Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet were each elected to govern for one term.

    Things changed with the fifth presidential election—held in 2009—which marked the demise of the coalition. After twenty years of opposition, the right wing Alianza coalition took power by sweeping into the presidency. Two decades after the transition to democracy, Sebastián Piñera became the first right-winger to be democratically elected since Jorge Alessandri in 1958.

    Piñera’s first couple years did not go smoothly. One issue had to do with the fact that the coalition which endorsed his candidacy had little to no experience in the executive branch. Most cabinet ministers appointed to the first cabinet were independents or businessmen from the private sector. This was bound to be a liability if political affairs took a downturn, which they eventually did.

    In the midst of the massive student protests of 2011-2012 popular opinion held that Piñera’s   government simply could not solve pressing political. According to the well-known polling firm Adimark, the great majority of people did not approve of the president or of his cabinet. In fact, during the turmoil, Piñera plummeted to the lowest approval ratings since the transition to democracy.

    Government response was swift. In early 2011, Piñera nominated four incumbent Alianza senators to key cabinet posts. This gave his administration an important boost in political dexterity. Among other things, the new cabinet ministers disembarked with the mission to maintain power past the end of the term. A mean to that objective inevitably involved toppling Bachelet’s potential reelection prospective.

    After leaving office in 2010, Bachelet had accepted a post at the United Nations as the Executive Director of UN Women. Based out of New York, she was only able to travel to Santiago a few times in her two-and-a-half year tenure at the UN. Nevertheless, Bachelet maintained the high approval ratings she enjoyed at the end of her presidential term even while she was gone. Her popularity approached an unprecedented 70 percent during  her absence.

    The government’s electoral strategy suffered its first major setback in the mid-term local elections of 2012. The symbolic win of the center-left coalition paved the way for a safe return of Bachelet from New York. A new and powerful coalition, in comparison to the old and fatigued coalition that lost the 2009 election, would be her vehicle back in to national politics.

    In early 2013 Bachelet accepted to compete in the state-funded primaries scheduled for June that year. As an ex president, and the main alternative to Piñera’s unpopular administration, she hardly needed to campaign against her fellow coalition candidates. She won the primary election with an astonishing 73 percent of the vote. On the first day of July she officially accepted the nomination to be Nueva Mayoría’s presidential hopeful.

    Beyond Bachelet’s remarkable return, the 2013 presidential election has been unusual for a number of reasons. Most obviously, this year’s contest marks the first time since Chile’s transition to democracy that the incumbent Alianza will be forced to defend the presidency. The election is also unusual because it will be the first time that nine candidates will compete against each other. In previous elections the number of candidates fluctuated between three (in 1989) and six (in 1999). Interestingly, this election represents the first time that voting will be voluntary. In previous elections it was compulsory. Taken together, the number of candidates and the new voting scheme are bound to add uncertainty to the result.

    Still, every indication that Bachelet would regain office proved accurate.  National polls showed Bachelet a majority of support, with a comfortable margin of 20 percent over her closest contender, Alianza’s Evelyn Matthei. What remained unclear is where whether Bachelet will win in the first or in the second round of voting. That was cleared up this past week—with 47 percent of the vote to Matthei’s 25 percent, Bachelet was unable to clear the necessary threshold to avoid a second round.

    One explanation for Bachelet’s commanding lead in the polls can be found not just in her high approval ratings, but also in the public’s dissatisfaction with Piñera. The messy nomination processthat Alianza undertook to nominate their candidate is also to blame. The center right coalition nominated three candidates in less than a year before finally settling with Matthei, who until recently served as Piñera’s Minister of Labor and Social Security.

    In the first six months of 2013, the Alianza saw three former cabinet ministers rise as presidential hopefuls: Laurence Golborne, Andrés Allamand and Pablo Longueira. While Golborne was removed early on in the race, Allamand and Longueira battled it out in the June primaries. Shortly after Longueira beat Allamand, he stepped down claiming health issues. Longueira’s party reluctantly nominated Matthei.

    Since it is increasingly likely that Bachelet win the presidential battle against Matthei, the focus of the election has shifted from the final results to Bachelet’s presidential agenda after she wins the presidency. Political analysts’ in the country have focused particularly on whether she will be able to accomplish three major reforms that have driven her campaign: tax reform, education reform and constitutional reform.

    The sticking point for each of these reforms is found in the constitutional quorums required to pass them. With respect to tax reform, Chilean law requires only a simple majority of the chamber of deputies and the senate.  It gets quite a bit more complicated in the other two areas.  In order to reform the education system, 4/7 or 3/5 of the chamber of deputies must support the move, and constitutional reform is more difficult still, demanding quorums of 3/5 or 2/3 of the chamber of deputies and senate.

    The latter two majorities have never been met. Those that designed the legislative electoral system purposely engineered a confusing and counterintuitive institution in which parties form coalitions, and coalitions tie in Congress. Despite the fact that though one coalition might win a substantial amount of votes, those votes do not translate directly into seats. Thus, the winning coalition’s ability to govern is blocked by an intentional subvention on behalf of the coalition that fails to win a majority

    This intentional distortion makes it highly unlikely that any coalition will account for more than 4/7 of the senators and deputies during the next presidential term (2014-2018). This has particularly harsh implications for Bachelet’s agenda, given that keeping her promises depends directly on reaching the extraordinarily high constitutional quorums. The results could be dire, for Bachelet and her ruling coalition.

    Bachelet would be well advised to heed the lessons learned by the current government. Piñera’s abysmal support derives from the high expectations of an electorate that was promised substantial benefits under a conservative government. Piñera’s failure to provide solutions to the problems of  middle and lower class Chileans have led once hopeful voters to side with the opposition. This is a situation that is likely to repeat itself, if Bachelet’s coalition does not win the legislative election with a majority large enough to help the president-elect keep her promises.

    2013 Chile pre-election report: Bachelet will likely win, but watch the legislative results

    Published in The Monkey Cage
    The upcoming 2013 Chilean presidential election will be the sixth since the return of democracy in 1989. The first four elections (1989, 1993, 1999 and 2005) were won by the Concertación coalition, made up by center-left Christian Democrats and Socialists. The last election (2009) was won by the Alianza coalition, made up by two right-wing parties. At the time of the next election, the Concertación will have governed a combined 20 years while the incumbent Alianza will have governed four years. As in all previous elections, the Concertación and the Alianza will have the highest odds of electing the president.
    The incumbent Alianza coalition, led by former senator and entrepreneur Sebastián Piñera, approaches the election with an extremely low chance of remaining in power. Piñera’s presidential approval ratings are the lowest any president has had since the transition to democracy. Figure 1 shows that Piñera’s popularity is significantly lower than any of the four preceding presidents’ ratings. The massive protests that lasted nearly two straight years (from 2011 to 2012) — demanding a new Constitution, among other things — have been signaled as the major factor behind his unpopularity.
    Figure: Kenneth Bunker/The Monkey Cage
    The main adversity that the Alianza faces, however, is the extremely low vote intention that it obtains in pre-election polls. Part of the reason is the dramatic process that the coalition undertook to nominate its candidate. In November 2012, former cabinet minister Laurence Golborne was nominated as the coalition hopeful. Yet, six months into his campaign, party members decided to discard his candidacy. In June 2013, his successor, Pablo Longueira, won the coalition’s primary election against Andrés Allamand, but resigned two weeks in. In July 2013, the third and final nomination went to Evelyn Matthei.
    When compared to the Concertación candidate, ex-president Michelle Bachelet, Matthei is hardly competitive. In the most recent poll released to the media conducted by the prestigious think tank CEP, Bachelet topples Matthei by 44 percent to 12 percent. Bachelet’s lead is said to be a result of the high approval ratings that she obtained towards the end of her administration. But it is clearly a factor of the low approval ratings for Piñera and the dramatic nomination process his coalition went through to nominate its candidate. Figure 2 shows Bachelet’s margin of favoritism in all of the polls conducted since 2011.
    Figure: Kenneth Bunker/The Monkey Cage
    At this point, everything seems to indicate that Bachelet will be returned to the presidency. The large and consistent lead she has enjoyed in pre-election polls makes it reasonable to assume that if she does not win in the first round (in which an absolute majority of the vote is required), she will win in the runoff. It is precisely for that reason that the spotlight of the upcoming election will not be the result of the presidential election. In contrast to previous elections, the spotlight will be on the result of the concurrent legislative election, in which half of the senators (20) and all of the congressmen (120) are to be elected.
    The legislative election is important for Bachelet’s presidential agenda. The highlight of her candidacy has been the promise to change the current Constitution (put in place by the military dictatorship, 1973-1990). To follow through, however, she must garner a legislative majority large enough to meet the extraordinarily high quorum required in Congress to pass that type of legislation. Bachelet needs at least two-thirds, three-fifths or four-sevenths (depending on the magnitude of the reform) of both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to conduct constitutional reform.
    The problem is that while Bachelet’s legislative list may reach any of the given thresholds in the percentage of votes cast the in the election, the current electoral system does not translate voter preferences into an equal percentage of seats. The binomial electoral system (coined because of its two-seat across-the-board proportional representation arrangement for both Senate and lower chamber elections) only allows the most popular list in each district to take both seats available if it doubles the vote of the second most popular list. This has only happened five times in races for the Senate (of 132 possible) and 47 times in races for the lower chamber (of 360 possible).
    For Bachelet to obtain a significant majority, her coalition needs to double the second most-voted list in four to seven senatorial districts and in nine to 20 lower chamber districts (depending on the quorum). Though the electoral force of the Alianza is at its lowest popularity levels since 1989 and Bachelet’s popularity is likely to generate a coattail effect and optimize the result of her legislative list, it is still an unlikely result. Even considering the new voluntary voting scheme (adopted in 2012), which works against unpopular incumbents, evidence stemming from previous elections indicates that the electoral system will work against overly large majorities.
    The forthcoming presidential and legislative election will naturally frame the next government. But they will do more than just decide who will be the future president: The concurrent election will go a long way in forecasting the governability of the country during the next four-year term. If Bachelet is elected to the presidency with the legislative majority to undertake constitutional reform, voters will feel paid back insofar as changes are implemented. However, if Bachelet is elected without any of the aforementioned majorities, it is likely that she will face turmoil similar to the one Piñera has endured in the past three years.

    jueves, noviembre 03, 2011


    Tras 7 años escribiendo en este sitio, me mudo. Al menos parcialmente.

    Temas relevantes a Chile estarán desde ahora en tresquintos, un sitio web chileno sobre análisis político y pronósticos electorales. El sitio se dedica a (1) monitorear la selección y nominación de candidatos locales (alcaldes), legislativos (diputados y senadores) y presidenciales; (2) analizar encuestas de opinión pública; (3) pronosticar el resultado de elecciones.

    Ver tresquintos: http://www.tresquintos.com.

    Este sitio quedará para publicaciones sobre temas de Latinoamérica. Estarán relacionadas a mis temas de investigación académica, como la 'formación de coaliciones' y 'presidencialismo'. Subiré columnas de opinión publicados en medios de la región, de Estados Unidos y de Reino Unido--tanto en inglés como en español. Las columnas de 2005-2011 permanecerán archivadas.


    miércoles, mayo 04, 2011

    UK Referendum: Why Electoral Systems Persist

    On May 5th, the UK will face a referendum to change the electoral system. The question on the ballot (yes/no answer) will ask the following:

    At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?

    The incumbent system, First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), is part of the Plurality family. Under this system the candidate with most votes is elected to office.

    The challenger system, the Alternative Vote (AV), is part of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) family. Under this system a candidate requires 50% of the votes to be elected to office. Instead of casting one vote for one candidate, each person order-ranks the candidates. If no one reaches the 50% threshold with the sum of the first preferences, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that candidate's votes are transferred. This process is repeated until a candidate reaches 50%.

    (To see YES campaign, click here; to see NO campaign, click here).

    Although the challenger system is an interesting one, it is likely that it will lose in the referendum (see here and here).

    To understand why it will lose, it is useful to look at evidence from Latin America. In a very interesting paper Laura Willis-Otero argues that three elements were crucial in determining the change/no change of electoral systems during the 20th century in Latin America:

    (1) the entrance of a substantial number of voters made the incumbent party more likely to change the electoral system,

    (2) the emergence of new parties "stole" votes from the older parties, and then pressured them to change the electoral system,


    (3) when the incumbent party was strong enough to gain a plurality of the votes and remain the absolute winner, they decided to retain the electoral system.

    In the UK there are no new voters or new parties to fuel the motion. The Liberal Democrats are the only ones comiited too see the motion through. But as the third party, little can they do.

    The impressive deployment that the incumbent Conservative party has made to retain the FTPT system, is hands down a safeguard for status quo.

    Not even Labour will be able to stop the Tories. Though leader Ed Milliband has asked voters to cast a YES, everything seems to indicate that the party is divided enough to alienate voters into not registering for the referendum, or simply casting a NO.

    Though the change of the electoral system in the UK depends on the people (registered to vote in the referendum), rather than on the legislative body (as was the case in Latin America), the mass mobilization of the major parties against the new proposal has worked as an effective deterrent of change

    The bottom line is that when the parties in power do not want to change the system, the system cannot be changed--even though it comes down to the people.

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    viernes, abril 15, 2011

    Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe al Congreso

    La simple posibilidad de que Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe podría llegar a reemplazar a Juan Lobos en el parlamento desnuda una de las prácticas políticas más antidemocráticas del sistema político chileno. Si bien es improbable que la ex-Intendente del Bio-Bio llegue al congreso como diputada designada—al menos mientras no se aclare el estado de su acusación constitucional—no detiene a muchos de hacerse ilusiones. Solo semanas después de renunciar a su despacho regional, su coalición esta pensando en la forma más rápida de reintegrarla al sistema político. Carlos Larraín (Senador designado) y otros personeros de la Alianza se han mostrado a favor de su designación.





    lunes, marzo 21, 2011

    Obama Visit, a Boost for Piñera

    President Obama’s visit to Chile coincides with President Piñera’s completion of the first year of his four-year term. Although his administration has been highly effective at rebuilding the massive damage of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami, Piñera’s approval ratings are at their lowest level yet. Almost immediately after being sworn in, Piñera took a hit in the polls. The unnecessary delay in selling two of his most emblematic companies (a television station, CHV, and LAN Airlines) sparked debate on potential conflicts of interest. Although he was able to regain some support after the successful rescue of the trapped miners, a popular revolt triggered by the decision to raise natural gas prices in the south sent approval ratings in a downward trajectory.


    THE REST HERE: http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2338


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