Dear friends and colleagues,
I thought you might be interested in my recent op-ed published in the
Hartford Courant, Prague Post (Czech Republic) and elsewhere that makes the
overlooked point that Hamas actually did not win a majority of votes in the
recent Palestinian elections -- yet they won nearly a super-majority of
seats. What happened is that the U.S.-style winner-take-all electoral system
used in the elections broke down, installing into power a party that did not
have majority support. If the Palestinians had used a proportional
representation electoral system like that used by most of the established
democracies in the world, they would have ended up with no party winning a
legislative majority, and a coalition government forming (probably a grand
coalition between Hamas and Fatah) that would have been more stable for the
peace process there.
It's important to understand these dynamics, because at the very least it
shows that there is not overwhelming support (though there is strong
support) among Palestinians for Hamas' point of view. But that perspective
is being lost right now in the post-election analysis as the world wrings
its hands over election results that have derailed a fragile peace process
and that could have been avoided by a better electoral system. Also, it
illustrates the importance of electoral systems -- unfortunately, when you
are trying to jumpstart democracy, the devil is in the details.
forward to your own email lists, if you are so inclined.
Vote System Gave Hamas Huge Victory
By Steven Hill
February 8, 2006
The Prague Post
February 15, 2006
Much hand-wringing has resulted since Hamas, a group on the Bush
administration's terrorist list, won a sizable majority of legislative seats
in the recent Palestinian elections. But the planners of the elections could
learn a thing or two from the recent Iraqi elections.
The problem is that the electoral system used for the Palestinian elections
gave grossly unrepresentative results in which Hamas won nearly a
super-majority of seats even though they did not win even a majority of
votes. If the Palestinians had employed the electoral methods used in Iraq
and in many other democracies around the world, the story would have turned
out very differently.
The Palestinian elections used a combination of a U.S.-style winner-take-all
electoral system and a more European-style proportional voting system.
Palestinian voters had a vote for their favorite political party (the
proportional vote) and votes for individual candidates (the winner-take-all
vote). Unfortunately, the winner-take-all part broke down, and Hamas won way
more seats than their votes should have given them.
Look at the actual results. In the proportional vote, which is a national
vote and therefore the best measure of the overall support for each
political party, Hamas won about 45 percent of the popular vote and about
the same percentage of seats - 30 of 66, no majority there. The incumbent
party, Fatah, won 41 percent of the popular vote and 27 of 66 seats, only
three behind Hamas.
So the election was actually quite close, and if those were the only
election results, Hamas would not have won a majority of seats and would
have needed to form a coalition with other political parties. A likely
possibility is Hamas would have formed a grand coalition with Fatah, which
would have provided a stable transition.
Instead, the winner-take-all seats, which are allocated by local districts,
completely threw the election to Hamas. Though Hamas and Fatah had nearly
equal support nationwide, Hamas won 46 of 66 seats, 70 percent in the
winner-take-all districts and Fatah won only 16 district seats.
Overall, Hamas won a stunning 58 percent of legislative seats even though
their national support was only around 45 percent. It was a tragic breakdown
of the electoral system. Instead of talking about negotiating a coalition
government for the Palestinians, the talk now is about picking through the
shards, figuring how to salvage the road map to peace.
It didn't have to be this way. The designers of democracy in Palestine had
only to look to neighboring Iraq to figure out how to design a better method
that would have produced more representative results and provided more
stability for the peace process.
On Dec. 15, Iraq held its second election, with Iraq's 18 provinces electing
275 members of parliament using a proportional voting method. Each political
party was awarded legislative seats in direct proportion to their vote in
each province. Because of Iraq's proportional method, when the dominant
Shiite party failed to win a majority of the popular vote, they also failed
to win a majority of legislative seats. Surely if they had used a
winner-take-all method like that used in the Palestinian elections, the
Shiite bloc would have won a strong legislative majority even though they
lacked a popular majority.
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