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Europe Majoritarian Systems Show Cracks As Right Rejects Center

Analysis: Once hailed as paragons of stability and moderation, the majoritarian systems of France and the UK are creaking.
By Dr. Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/2/2012, 5:37 PM

UKIP's Nigel Farage
UKIP's Nigel Farage
Reuters

Political scientist Dr. Amiel Ungar is Arutz Sheva's political analyst.

Proportional representation, as practiced in Israel and other countries, has frequently been denigrated as a recipe for paralyzed coalition governments subject to blackmail from minor parties. The single member parliamentary and congressional system was seen as the better recipe for stability and keeping out minor parties. In Israel, especially now during the election season, when new parties are sprouting like mushrooms, a day does not pass without someone bemoaning the fact that Israel does not have a two-party system.

However, this debate always had a chicken or the egg dilemma. Was the voting system responsible for moderate politics or was moderate politics responsible for the voting system? If we watch Western Europe, then we can see the single member system becoming increasingly problematic in countries such as the United Kingdom and France.

In both Britain and France, parties to the right of the main center right party are refusing to abide by the centripetal logic of the system that says parties must move to the center in order to maximize the electoral chances against the dominant party of the left.

Ideological parties are essentially excluded by the system, because they cannot command enough votes to capture a head-to-head contest. Now the ideological parties are flouting that logic by saying that they will not support the major center-right parties if ithey will not stick to principles.

In three by-elections last week, all won by the British Labour Party, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) finished either second or third, strongly eating into the Conservative Party's electoral base. The UKIP's leader Nigel Farage, following last week's results, claims that his party is the real third party in Britain, rather than the Liberal-Democrats.

UKIP's major issue is the demand for a referendum on pulling out of the European Union in the belief that Britain, and particularly England, is losing its identity and freedom of action as part of Europe. As opposed to the trading advantages of Europe, UKIP touts Britain's history as a trading nation open to competition with the entire world.

The election calendar favors UKIP, as before Britain next goes to general elections there will be elections for the European Parliament in 2014. Ironically, UKIP - that wants out of Europe - has a major chance for success there. Members of the European Parliament are elected via proportional representation and the elections focus on UKIP's major issue.

The Conservatives have sought to ignore or belittle UKIP, but this is going to become increasingly costly. Not only have rank and file moved on to the stronger message of UKIP, but so have members of the elite. Now for the first time we are hearing whispers of electoral pacts. Another reaction is a call to realign the Conservative Party closer to the positions of UKIP.

The French UMP has fissured essentially over the issue of relations with the National Front. The Front has thwarted the French majoritarian system by simply refusing to endorse the UMP on the second round of either the presidential or the parliamentary elections.

In the recent leadership contest, the party was sharply divided between backers of Francois Fillon who wanted to move to the center and the supporters of Jean-Francois Cope, who wanted a party of the right without complexes.

It thus emerges that the majoritarian systems have problems and, paradoxically, the one way that the Conservatives and the UMP can avoid being pressured by parties to their right is to move to proportional representation. This would allow them to ally with centrist parties after the elections in a coalition. The French Socialists, who were being blackmailed by the Communists in the 1980s after the French governments under President Francois Mitterand were forced to change course to greater austerity, briefly reinstituted proportional representation (PR).

It is easier for France that is used to coalitions and PR to do this than Britain, where a referendum on the issue was soundly defeated thanks to the combined opposition of the Conservatives and Labour.

PR also is foreign to the British political tradition. As societies become more polarized and "extremist" views begin to encompass 10% or more of the electorate, the current majoritarian electoral system may be in need of a revamp.