Forty-two years after the introduction of the election law that is in force today, the Minister of the Interior and the Attorney General have decided to “clarify” the provision on parties and coalitions. We are unaware of the motives and the exact wording of the opinion, so we will look into the matter in the light of information published in the press. Three issues are raised in the opinion: The threshold of votes required for a party or a coalition to participate in the second distribution of seats, the name a party should use on the ballot paper and the emblem that a party can put on the ballot paper. According to the amendment of the law in 2015, the threshold for a party to take part in the second phase of allocation of seats is 3.6%, while a coalition of two parties needs to secure 10% of the valid votes, and for a coalition of three or more parties the threshold is raised to 20%. As a first step in our effort to understand what the relevant provision means in practice, we list below the percentage of valid votes required for a contestant to secure a seat in the first allocation of seats. This percentage is found by dividing 100 by the number of seats in a constituency.
Here is the table below:
Seats per constituency and votes required for one seat
We will apply the provision of article 33(2) of the law, in three scenarios, as follows:
In scenario 1, we consider three contenders, formation A, which is a party, formation B, which is a two-party coalition, and C, which is a three-party coalition. They got the following vote share:
A = 4%, B = 4%, C = 4%
We consider that the percentage of the three is below 5% in Nicosia, therefore no one secures a seat in the first distribution. While they have the same percentage, only the party, formation A participates in the second distribution, taking a seat, but it cannot participate in the third distribution (7.2% of the vote is required). In the end, we have three formations, with the same vote share, but only one takes a seat.
One seat corresponds to 1.8% of the total number of valid votes (1/56). Therefore, out of a total of 12% of votes secured by the three, 10.2% is “lost”. In fact, this vote is not lost, but the respective seats (which correspond to one tenth of the total of valid votes – approximately six out of 56 seats!) will be taken by other parties!
In scenario 2 we give the following percentages to each formation:
A = 8% B = 8% C = 8%
If the three formations have a balanced distribution of their vote, therefore about 8% in Nicosia, they can get one seat each in the first allocation, because 5% of the votes in Nicosia secures one seat. They can have no seats in other constituencies, because the least required is 8.33% in Limassol.
So we have, formation A = 1 seat B = 1 seat C = 1 seat
Formations B and C do not have the right to participate in the second distribution, while A, which is a party, participates in the second and third allocation of seats! Considering that each seat corresponds to 1/56 of the votes or 1.8%, and at the same time the remainder vote of the other two, of formations B and C remain unused, we can confidently say that the party, formation A, with 8% of the votes can secure a total of four or five seats (8 / 1.8%). Thus, the final result of the distribution of seats is,
A = 4 or 5 B = 1 C = 1
We see that with the same share of votes as party A, formations B and C remain with one seat each, while their unused votes, totalling 12.4% remain “unrepresented”. Eventually, seven (out of a total of 56) seats that should go to formations B and C, will be redeemed by other parties!
In scenario 3 we give the three formations the following share of votes:
Α = 9% Β = 11% Γ = 19%
If they have a balanced vote distribution in the constituencies, the three formations are expected to have seats from the first distribution as follows:
Formation A, one seat in Nicosia, one seat in Limassol, one seat in Famagusta, total = 3 seats
Formation B, two seats in Nicosia, one seat in Limassol, one seat in Famagusta, total = 4 seats
Formation C, three seats in Nicosia, one in Limassol, one in Famagusta, one in Larnaca, total = 6 seats
In total, they get: A = 3 seats B = 4 seats C = 6 seats
Formations A and B are eligible to participate in the second (and third) distribution of seats, with A expected to secure a total of five or six seats and B six or seven seats.
The final picture is, A = 5 or 6 seats B = 6 or 7 seats C = 6 seats
It turns out that A and B will probably have a very low number of unused votes, while formation C remains with 6 seats, which corresponds to about 10% of the votes. The “loss” of C is about 9%, i.e. five seats will go to other formations. While it has about twice the percentage of the vote of A and B, formation C will be given a number of seats equal to or less than the other two formations. When summarizing the results in the three scenarios, we have the following picture:
|Συνδυασμός||Ποσοστό||Έδρες 1η κατ.||Έδρες 2η κατ.||Σύνολο||Απώλεια %||Έδρες Χαμένες|
|Συνδυασμός||Ποσοστό||Έδρες 1η κατ.||Έδρες 2η κατ.||Σύνολο||Απώλεια %||Έδρες Χαμένες|
|Συνδυασμός Α||8%||1||3 ή 4||4 ή 5||0%||0|
|Σύνολο||24%||3||3 ή 4||6 ή 7||12,4%||7|
|Συνδυασμός||Ποσοστό||Έδρες 1η κατ.||Έδρες 2η 3η κατ.||Σύνολο||Απώλεια %||Έδρες Χαμένες|
|Συνδυασμός Α||9%||2||4 ή 5||6 ή 7||0%||0|
|Συνδυασμός Β||11%||4||2 ή 3||0||0%||0|
|Σύνολο||39%||12||6 ή 8||1||9%||5|
The results above raise serious questions about the impact from applying the provision about the thresholds for the participation of a formation in the second distribution of seats. The starting point is the question, why is there a distinction between parties and a coalition of parties, which leads to serious lossess for coalitions? Also, what is the logic and what purpose do these thresholds serve? How do they affect the electoral system and the principles on which it is founded? Generally, the quality of the electoral system is assessed on the basis of the following:
- The degree of representativeness, i.e. what is the correspondence between the vote received by a party and the seats won (proportionality)?
- The stability of the government a system can bring.
- The simplicity in the application, that is, how understandable it is to the voter.
We believe that in the presidential system of the Republic of Cyprus the composition of the parliament does not affect the stability of the government, while the electoral system is very simple.
The question of proportionality, is based on the principle “one citizen one vote”, which must lead to a correspondence between the percentage of votes and the share of seats that each formation receives. It emerges from the three scenarios, which are hypothetical, but can become a reality, a significant distortion of the popular will. It seems that the higher the thresholds set for coalitions, the more “lost” seats increase, and tens of thousands of voters are left without representation corresponding to their vote. Other formations are taking advantage of the seats that a coalition would normally take.
The relevant provision of the law was introduced in 1979 (with highest limits of the current ones) with one and sole goal: The exclusion of new formations, through an extremely high threshold for both new parties (8% or 10%) and coalitions (20% or 25%). It remains today (10% and 20%), and, if not abolished, it can lead to a blatant alteration of the popular will. The reason is simple: The provision links the distribution of seats to the contestants of the election, which is inconceivable, instead of votes, where the basic principle “one citizen one vote” results in a proportional correspondence of vote share and seats.
There is no doubt, the provision for different thresholds for participation in the second allocation should be abolished. It is a paradox, that the vote of a higher threshold, at 3.6% (doubling from 1/56), in 2015, which aimed at “limiting fragmentation of the political forces” was combined with this provision which punishes cooperation and alliances. It makes no sense to distinguish parties and coalitions, alter the proportionality of the electoral system and the will of the electoral body. This provision serves no democratic principle.
With the abolition of this provision it would naturally lead to allowing a party /contestant in the election to use on the ballot paper the name of his choice. I wonder why the use of “AKEL-Left-New Forces” should not be allowed if the party has adopted cooperation with non-party – affiliated candidates, who are not an organized group. The same happens with other parties, with the practice of “Aristindin” [the selection of candidates from the civil society). When the ballot paper includes non-partisan candidates, and when there is no attempt by a party to mislead as to the true identity of the ballot paper, why does it have to put on it the name deposed to the registrar of parties? The law itself does not require such a thing.
Based on the above, I also believe that the use of a symbol, other than the emblem of a party, cannot be restrictive. I do not understand what the opinion of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs aimed at. Instead of creating trouble and upsetting the climate, they could have immediately consulted with the parties to abolish the distinction between parties and coalitions. The non-enforcement of the relevant provision for 42 years indicates that its presence in the law was meaningless. or, rather, an an absurdity.