Monday, September 01, 2014

First Past The Post: Election of mayors

One of the first acts that Pedro Sánchez, the new leader of PSOE, undertook was to let Mariano Rajoy know that he was far from pleased with an electoral reform which the PP plans to push through in time for the municipal elections next spring. This reform would result in the candidate for mayor whose party polls the most votes being pretty much assured of becoming mayor. It is a reform which is being pushed through without the PP having sought cross-party consensus, which would make it the first reform to electoral laws (since democracy) to have been implemented without agreement. It is also a reform which contradicts what Rajoy said in 2013; that the PP would not use its parliamentary majority to change electoral legislation.

PSOE and other parties are claiming that the PP is doing exactly this and that the use of the parliamentary majority amounts to an abuse. Moreover, it is argued that the reform is all about seeking to ensure that the PP keeps hold of power in municipalities. With support having ebbed away, the PP is accused of manipulating the system in order to try and shore up its municipal positions.

At present, the electoral system does permit the selection of a mayor from a party which doesn't poll the highest. It is a system which might appear odd, but it reflects the nature of proportional representation and it gives rise to the types of coalition administrations which are far from uncommon or to what potentially could seem unjust. To give an example, consider the situation in Alcúdia at the 2011 elections. The PP polled 39.25% of the vote, 16 percentage points more than the second placed Convergencia (as then was). This gave the PP eight councillors, one short of a majority in a council of seventeen. Had Carme Garcia, who turned her back on her PSM Mallorcan socialists party, sided with opposition parties, the PP would not have become the ruling administration and Coloma Terrasa would not have become mayor. Whatever the arguments about Carme Garcia, had the PP and Terrasa been denied by a coalition of other parties, there would have been nothing electorally wrong, but morally there almost certainly would have been. 

The Rajoy reform proposal has yet to really be made clear - it is not due to go to Congress for approval until October - but it can count on the support of the PP in the  Balearics. Its secretary-general, Miquel Vidal, firmly believes that the reform should be effected and that it is one which carries the support of 90% of the electorate. It is not logical, he has said, that a gold medal winner should hand the medal over to the person in third place. The reform will give greater stability, he has suggested. But then, as a good PP man, you would expect him to say this.

What the reform is understood to entail is that a mayor would automatically be elected if his or her party polls 40% of the vote. There is also a stipulation for a lead of seven percentage points over the next party (though this is unclear as it has also been said that it would be five per cent). Reporting is therefore confused. It is being stated as 40% and a seven percentage point lead, when it is surely "or" not "and". This being so, a calculation has been made, based on 2011 results in the Balearics, which suggests that there wouldn't have been any substantial difference had this reformed system applied then. The PP would have gained the same number of mayors. The only advantage would have been that it would not have had to seek support from other parties in certain towns in order for its mayoral candidate to be selected.

In fact, 40% of the vote almost invariably means that a party gains a majority and so doesn't need to seek other parties' support. In this regard, the reform wouldn't make any difference. A seven percentage point lead stipulation might guarantee the selection of a mayor but it would not remove the need for a council to be made up of representatives of different parties. In Pollensa its mayor, Tomeu Cifre, would still have been mayor in 2011, but the PP didn't even manage 25% of the vote. In order to get a majority administration, it would still have had to have indulged in horse-trading with other parties.

And what would happen if there were no 40% and no clear lead? In this instance, apparently, there would be a run-off between the main candidates. Meaning what precisely?

The reform would almost certainly be prejudicial to smaller parties for which aspirations of getting a mayor into power would be dashed. But morally is it wrong to deny a candidate whose party polls the most votes? Perhaps so, but then such is the nature of proportional representation.

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