Posted by Dan O’Brien
Electoral systems are like exchange rate regimes – none is perfect and all have downsides. I have not suggested that changing Ireland’s system is a panacea, but rather that it, and the making more normal the way the executive is formed, would be the two biggest steps in improving the effectiveness of government in Ireland.
Mixed member proportional systems, such as those in Germany and New Zealand, have single seat constituencies (elected on a FPTP basis) and (closed) national lists which ensure proportionality. I am not suggesting the first part.
I propose keeping multimember constituencies and keeping STV for them (which would not mean all these seats going to FF and FG or a number of other consequences you suggest). The only change in this aspect would be that the constituencies would be roughly twice the size, as they would return, in total, only 83 TDs. This would have the additional benefit of further reducing excessive localism as each TD would need a higher quota and would therefore need to appeal to a larger number of voters (let me be clear here: it is all about trying to get a balance between local and national focus, and not about being hostile to local focus).
As for the national list, I would suggest a closed list. I don’t see the need for this to be linked to the other half, to ensure perfect proportionality, although it could be.
Parties would have an incentive to make the list as attractive as possible and to avoid putting cronies on it. Neither Germany nor New Zealand has any real problem with parliaments packed with cronies. In addition, Ireland’s political parties appear to be trusted by voters – their pecking order in seat numbers hasn’t changed since the1930s, the longest such period of stability in any democracy – so why should there be such fear of trusting them with lists?
There is the wider issue of the relationship between political institutions and government effectiveness. As readers of this site know, there is a vast body of literature on this (as it happens UCD’s Sebastian Dellepiane-Avellaneda, has a nice review article of the literature in the January issue of the British Journal of Political Science). But the literature has focused on differences between developed and developing countries rather than the smaller differences among developed countries. There is an absence of comparative work on the relationship between electoral systems on the one hand and, on the other, parliamentarians’ calibre, how they use their time and legislative output. Despite this, it seems as if political scientists in Ireland mostly support retaining the STV because they believe it to be at least as good as other systems. If this is the case why have the dozens of countries that have considered its merits over decades not opted for it?