Voting Systems

I have always felt that the first-past-the-post (or plularity) voting system as practised in the US (except the Louisiana senate seat) and the UK is flawed since a house elected using this system does not reflect the will of the voters. A political party can easily get a two-thirds majority in parliament with only a third of the vote if there are more than two parties running for election. However, a pure proportional representation system has its own flaws. It gives more power to the fringe elements and makes the system somewhat unstable. A lot of countries therefore follow some sort of a hybrid system. For example, Turkey uses proportional representation with a minimum of 10% votes required to be represented. This resulted in 363 out of 550 seats in parliament for the AKP in recent elections even though they got only 34% of the vote. In fact, the elected parliament there represents only less than 54% of the electorate (I am talking of the people who voted; in such discussions, I don’t care about those who did not bother to vote.) Just a few more seats for the AKP would have given them the power to amend the constitution with a two-thirds majority. What’s more, they did not even need more votes to do that: if the share of the opposition party (CHP) had been a bit smaller than the 19% they got, it would have given AKP 367 seats.

The flaws of the above systems then are obvious. However, studies of voting systems have shown that all systems can give bizarre results under some conditions. Consider an instant-runoff system with three candidates. If 35% of the voters prefer A first and B second, 33% B first and C second, and 32% C first and A second, then the votes of the last-placed C go to A resulting in a win for A. However, if A does something great during the campaign and increases his support at the expense of B, then B places last in the election. So, B’s votes are assigned to C and C wins the election.

Another problem with all voting systems other than the plurality vote and proportional representation is that they are more complex for the voters. I guess they can’t be used in Florida then.

In my opinion, the following characteristics are required for a good voting system:

1. It should reflect voter opinion somewhat accurately.
2. Fringe parties/candidates should not have much influence. This can probably be accomplished by instituting a minimum threshold of votes required for seats in the parliament. However, this threshold should not be too high, a la Turkey, to undermine #1.
3. Usually two-third majorities in parliament have a lot of power, including the power to amend the constitution. Therefore, two-third majority should be very difficult to achieve without a mandate from the electorate.
4. The system should encourage a smaller number of parties (preferably 2) without making it impossible for new parties to break through.

I know most Americans are not interested in changes in the voting system. However, being the oldest demoracy, we are working with an old system while there are better alternatives available.

Website: Proportional Representation Library

Iraqi No Fly Zone

Jim of Objectionable Content writes well-argued and thought-provoking posts. Yesterday, he took on the no fly zones in Iraq:

As policy, the no-fly zones appear both poorly conceived and executed… The no-fly zones have been a mixed bag at best when it comes to their stated purpose of protecting dissidents… The no-fly zones make normalization of relations with Iraq nearly impossible. Enforcement of the no-fly zones constitutes an undeclared air war against Iraq, and it has since the policy began in 1991… Though they serve almost no justifiable military purpose and are untried as a negotiating lever, the no-fly zones make it practically certain that no rapproachement with Iraq will occur. Enforcing the no-fly zones is effectively a commitment not to make peace with the current Iraqi regime. How can we, when we are bombing them?

Go read the whole post.


Unqualified Offerings is surprised to hear about Syrian Kurds. In fact, Kurds are mainly divided in four countries: 13 million in Turkey, 4.6 million in Iran, 4.2 million in Iraq, and up to 1.6 million in Syria. In addition, there are around 65,000 Kurds in Armenia. There might even be a small number in Azerbaijan. Who drew those boundaries? Were they crazy?

Free Trade But Only If It Helps Us

According to AP,

The Bush administration, trying to energize flagging global trade talks, announced Tuesday that it will seek the total elimination of all tariffs on manufactured goods [emphasis mine] over the next 13 years.

When I read this news, the words “manufactured goods” jumped out at me. I would guess that this proposal will basically help the industrialized countries. How about reducing the tariffs on agricultural products to help the developing world?

UPDATE: CalPundit has also blogged on this story, linking it to terrorism.

UPDATE II: To be fair, according to the NY Times:

The White House came up with a similar plan last summer to reduce agricultural tariffs and subsidies. That plan called for reducing tariffs from an average of 62 percent to 15 percent over five years. But the plan calls for the deepest tariff cuts by countries with the highest duties, and it has been greeted coldly by the European Union.

WSJ Editorial: The Non-Taxpaying Class

E.J. Dionne, Tim Noah and Josh Marshall are making fun of the Wall Street Journal editorial last week which basically says:

[A]s fewer and fewer people are responsible for paying more and more of all taxes, the constituency for tax cutting, much less for tax reform, is eroding. Workers who pay little or no taxes can hardly be expected to care about tax relief for everybody else. They are also that much more detached from recognizing the costs of government.

And WSJ’s example: people earning $12,000 a year! The quotes from the above sites make the editorial look like it was published by The Onion. I couldn’t find the editorial online as I don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, so I can’t say if these characterisations are correct.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has some ideas from the Dead Kennedys to accomplish what WSJ wants.

UPDATE II: The editorial can be found here. (Via CalPundit who has a good post on this topic.)

Frontline “In Search of Al Qaeda”

I just watched the PBS show online. It’s interesting. The complete show in available online in Media Player and Real media formats. There is also some material on the website that wasn’t on the show itself. The Al Qaeda supporting woman, from Yemen I believe, near the end of the program spooked me:

“I love him too much, and also my son loves him, 7 years old. He wants to become like Osama Bin Laden. He wants to kill the Israelis and kill any Americans who support Israel. We hate war. If there are American people who want to live in peace, may be also I want to live in peace. [If they don’t,] I must [take] revenge.”

More comments later.


Here are the movies we are planning to see over the thanksgiving weekend:

Die Another Day: I have always been a fan of James Bond movies. They are basically mindless fun.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: My wife likes Harry Potter.