It is difficult to deny the need for electoral reform in states that only have single member, constituency seats (SM) based on geographic representation. The purpose behind the mixed member system (MM) is to have the best of both electoral worlds: the geographic closeness of the single member system and the ideological representation that derives from proportional representation (PR). In the former case, the individual is the center of the campaign, in the latter, the party and ideological platform. Both systems by themselves have substantial problems.
PR systems have the problem of accountability, since party lists are drawn up by party elites and are loyal to the party system. On the other hand, with SM the problem lies in the overall vote and the makeup of parties in the assembly. In other words, when the SM system rules completely (such as in the US), the percentage of nationwide votes cast in Congressional elections is not reflected in the makeup of the two houses, since the votes are only tallied in the district, hence not representing the country’s vote as a whole. These two problems led to the creation of the MM.
With the MM system of voting, normally a voter will cast two ballots. The first will be for the constituency and based on geographical representation. The second will be for the party. Generally, the first vote is non partisan, while the latter is purely partisan and based on ideological motives. Therefore, both worlds are captured: the accountability of the geographic system is maintained while the ideological preferences of the voters nationwide are represented in the party vote. On the surface, this system seems to solve many of the problems in the two forms of democratic elections.
Usually, one who is elected to the constituency seat is ineligible to take a PR seat. In Russia, for example, as in Japan, the two ways to gain a seat are totally independent of each other. But no one can win two seats. Generally, one who is elected to a constituency seat is crossed off the party list for the PR seat. It is the usual practice for the constituency seats to be tallied first, while the PR seats are essentially a “second tier” form of representation. Though practices vary. This seems to be the best form of representation.
The following theoretical reasons should be considered: • The pure PR system is too problematic. It creates many parties, and can be confusing to voters. This can be a good thing in ideologically diverse societies and is generally more democratic and representative than the SM system. However, there is no geographic integrity, and everything electorally is controlled by a party. The party itself may work in non-democratic ways, that is, according to major party leaders. There is no obvious incentive for the necessary constituency work. • The pure SM system is a highly problematic idea.
Politicians in the United States attempt to be all things to all people. While there is a high incentive for constituency work (the great advantage of SM), political principle has a tendency to get lost in the mix, and political alliances are based on district favors and constituency work rather than principle. • Mixing both seems to fix the problem. Mixing means that the principle of political ideology still exists and is important through the PR system, while maintaining a strong incentive for district (i. e. geographical) attention. Russia adopted the MM system between 1993 and 1995.
This was forced through the legislature during the standoff with the communist dominated Parliament, yet, in 1995, eventually voted on by the existing parties. President Yeltsin rammed this system through for several reasons: • He wanted to increase the number of parties, but not create a morass of parties. The party system in the early 1990s in Russia was disastrous. In general, membership in these parties was unsure. In other words, the old SM system in Russia promoted wealthy and well connected people, rather than parties with a strong ideological agenda.
Russian parties before this date were basically vehicles for elites. It is the same situation in Ukraine as of this writing. • He wanted to create strong parties that would eventually promote his agenda. But since many had criticized the creation of a pure PR system on the grounds that Yeltsin would control the party lists from Moscow, he decided on an MM system. What is significant about the Russian case is that while the first motive worked to a great extent, the second motive failed. In other words, the MM system ultimately worked against the Yeltsin government.
MM made certain that those who opposed the failed and discredited “shock therapy” of economic reform were not elected. Ideology and statism became the true preference of the voters, and the list system made certain that this could be registered. However, the extreme economic problems of Russia in the 1990s could be alleviated at the district level through the existence of the constituency principle. The Russian system works by each voter casting two ballots, like nearly all MM systems. There is a box on the Russian ballot that states the voter is “against all,” which itself is an attractive feature.
225 representatives are elected from lists, 225 are elected in the SM system. Each party must gain 200,000 signatures, with not more than 7% deriving from any district in the country. Of course, the purpose here is to create parties with national appeal, rather than being the mere reflections of local elites. Needless to say, it was the regional elites who most violently opposed the introduction of MM. Breaking the power of regional oligarchs was one victory of this system that cannot be ignored when evaluating it. In Russia, MM satisfied nearly all existing parties.
MM was the ultimate compromise that created a national political culture, eliminated regionalism as a political force (but not an economic one) and successfully combined both SM and PR in a way that reflects the voting preferences of the population: most are anti-reform, and therefore, nationalist and statist parties consistently do well. MM made certain that the disastrous reforms of the early 1990s under Yeltsin would never happen again. That alone recommends this system. The Russian case is particularly interesting because this was the compromise agreed to among parties just getting their feet wet in electoral politics.
The SM system had failed because it promoted the political domination of regional oligarchs without an ideological agenda other than enriching themselves. MM has helped to break this type of rule. Therefore, in this case, it was a success and truly represents voters rather than regional economic interests. MM was a way of bringing factions together on a single electoral project. Small parties developed, but not an exceptional amount. But the most interesting part of it is that it failed for Yeltsin’s agenda: MM returned huge majorities at all levels rejecting his “reformist” ideology, straight up to the present day.
Therefore, while created by Yeltsin, it ultimately rejected him,which, by itself, suggests it is truly representative of the national mood. Ukraine, on the other hand, does not have this system in place, and its political system is stagnant, parties basically non-existence and the country is in the throes of a severe economic tailspin without any political relief on the horizon. This comparison alone should provide some food for thought. Hence, in the post-Soviet experience, MM has proven itself.