Electoral Systems Experimentation in the New Eastern Europe: The Single Transferable Vote and the Additional Member System in Estonia and Hungary

By Ishiyama, John T. | East European Quarterly, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Electoral Systems Experimentation in the New Eastern Europe: The Single Transferable Vote and the Additional Member System in Estonia and Hungary


Ishiyama, John T., East European Quarterly


In recent years there has emerged a renewed interest in the effects of electoral systems on politics in new democracies. Many of these recent works have been based on earlier monographs which examined such issues as the effects of electoral rules on the characteristics of party systems and governmental and political stability,(1) on party organization,(2) the "nationalization" of politics,(3) and the potential for the reduction of ethnic political conflict.(4) Part of the reason for this resurgence in interest lies in the fact that electoral rules are within the grasp of politicians to manipulate - far more so than the overhaul of entire political systems.(5) Although many of the issues involved in designing electoral arrangements may seem minor when compared to the "big questions" involved in democratization, they are, in fact, essential to an understanding of politics in new democracies. Indeed, as O'Donnell, Schmitter and Whitehead (1986) note:

Democracy itself may itself be a matter of principles, but democratization involves putting them into practice through specific and detailed rules and procedures, which quite often have effects far beyond their seemingly microscopic significance.(6)

Despite these tantalizing opportunities to apply existing models, the new democracies of Eastern Europe provide a special set of circumstances. In particular, the problem of ethnic conflict and disintegrative trends toward regionalism plague many of the societies of this region, a situation which presents a relatively difficult problem for electoral systems engineers. On the one hand, an electoral systems such as proportional representation, which rewards minority groups, may have the following implications within an ethnically-cleaved society: first, it may keep one political bloc from becoming monolithic and thus running roughshod over the views of others; second, it may provide representation, and thereby perhaps a stake in the current political system, for minority groups. On the other hand, it may not provide enough incentive for such groups to moderate the demands they make, and may make government less stable and less effective due tot he need for coalition government.

An electoral system such as a single member plurality or majority system, on the other hand, may lead to the establishment of a stable and effective government, and the reduction of the danger of party systems "hyper-fractionalization," but it may also lead to the dominance of a single political bloc and the disaffection of minority groups from the political system. As a result, and especially in ethnically-divided societies, "first-past-the-post" systems may in fact strengthen the lines of polarized political conflict, although it may lead to a reduction of the number of political parties.

Despite the seeming intractability of this tradeoff, there are a number of promising "mixed" systems which theoretically combine the advantages of PR and Plurality/Majority. Examples of such "hybrid" systems include the Additional-Member system (currently used in the Federal Republic of Germany) and the Single Transferable Vote (STV - currently used in the Republic of Ireland and Malta). These two models of "mixed" systems were employed to govern the initial legislative elections in three East European cases - a variation of the Additional Member system in Hungary and Bulgaria and the Single Transferable Vote in Estonia.

One promising opportunity to test the utility of these East European hybrids is presented by the newly democratizing nations of East Central Europe and the Republics of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, the fluidity and relative malleability of these new institutional arrangements make for tantalizing opportunities for the application-minded systems engineer. Furthermore, the common economic and social problems these countries face following the collapse of communist rule make these countries prime candidates for a comparative investigation of the political effects of different constitutional experiments now taking place.

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