How competitive are indirect presidential elections in Europe? Part 2

In a recent article, I presented figures for the competitiveness of direct presidential elections in democracies around the world.[1] In a contribution to a new volume, I report figures for the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in Europe.[2] The editor of the volume, Professor José M. Magone, has allowed me to build on the information in a couple of Tables in the book prior to publication. I am very grateful to him.

In the previous post I looked at the competitiveness of indirect presidential elections in terms of the number of ballots it took to elect the president and the time taken to do so. In this post, I look at the number of candidates at the election.

Unlike direct presidential elections, one of the characteristics of indirect presidential elections in many countries is that new candidates can enter the contest after the first ballot. So, just as the share of the vote in direct presidential elections is reported on the basis of the first ballot, here I am reporting figures for the number of candidates at the first ballot of indirect presidential elections. Obviously, this can be misleading. For example, if a candidate is sure that a successful election will not take place at the first or subsequent ballots, s/he can wait until a later ballot to stand in the hope of being able to portray himself/herself as a unifying figure. While this scenario is possible, it is difficult to capture in cross-national comparisons. So, I report the figures the number of candidates at the first ballot in the Tables below. (The range of elections covered is reported in the previous post).

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Albania 1.3 2 1 2
Estonia 2.8 4 1 1
Germany 3.3 8 1 1
Greece 2 6 1 4
Hungary 2.25 3 1 1
Italy 11.5 18 5 0
Kosovo 1.5 1 1 1
Latvia 2.2 4 1 2

Notes: No systematic information is available for Malta. The figures for Hungary are from 2000 (inclusive). The figures for Italy exclude so-called ‘voti dispersi’.

Here are figures for countries that used to hold indirect presidential elections, but that have since shifted to direct elections.

Country Average no. of candidates Highest no. of candidates Lowest no. of candidates No. of elections with only one candidate on the first ballot
Czech Rep. 3 4 3 0
France 5 8 3 0
Slovakia 3.5 4 3 0

The most striking finding is that, with the exception of Italy, the average number of candidates at the first ballot is relatively low. Indeed, relative to direct presidential elections (see figures below), the number is much smaller. This is obviously the result of ballot rules, the nature of party discipline in the legislature, and relatively small number of parliamentary groups. By contrast, in direct presidential elections there is usually some way that non-party or dissident party candidates can find their way on to the ballot.

In addition, whereas Iceland and Ireland are the only countries with directly elected presidents that have some tradition of uncontested elections, we find that in parliamentary republics uncontested elections have occurred in a higher proportion of countries. It should be remembered, though, that in parliamentary republics an uncontested election does not necessary mean a successful election. Sometimes opposition parties will refuse to stand a candidate, leaving the candidate of the largest party as the sole candidate but one who does not necessarily have a large enough majority for election, especially if there is a super-majority requirement. So, uncontested elections do not necessarily signify low political stakes in parliamentary republics.

If there is variation in the average number of candidates across indirect and direct presidential elections in Europe, the figures are fairly similar if we compare the average number of candidates at indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections. This calculation adjusts for the candidates at the first-round of direct presidential elections who compete but who only win a small fraction of the vote. Are there only a small number of candidates who realistically stand a chance of winning, or are votes dispersed relatively equally across a lot of candidates? Arguably, this is a better comparison because it controls for the very different type of ballot rules in the two systems. There are figures for the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections in the previously cited article.[1] Here, I report figures by country for the average number of candidates with the average effective number of candidates in brackets:

Austria 3.1 (2.1); Bulgaria 13 (3.1), Croatia 11.3 (4.2), Cyprus 5.3 (2.3), Czech Rep. 9 (5.7), Finland 7.2 (3.7), France 10.6 (5), Iceland 1.9 (1.5), Ireland 2.3 (1.9), Lithuania 7.6 (3.4), Macedonia 4.5 (3.5), Montenegro 4 (2.9), Poland 11.8 (3.4), Portugal 4.6 (2.4), Romania 13 (3.9), Serbia 10.5 (4.8), Slovakia 9.7 (3.3), Slovenia 7 (3).

So, from these two posts what could we conclude?

In terms of differences, I think we can say that there is the potential for indirect presidential elections to take a very long time and for them to result in stalemate. This is rare, but it has happened.

In terms of similarities, I think we can say that even if there is the potential for stalemate, in most cases the process of electing the president in parliamentary republics takes around the same amount of time as the process of voting at two-ballot direct presidential elections. I think we can also say that the number of candidates is relatively similar if we compare the average number of candidates in indirect presidential elections with the average effective number of candidates at direct presidential elections.

Overall, perhaps what this suggests is that the difference between the two systems lies predominantly in the manner of elections and their effects – the length of campaigning, the degree of television coverage, the involvement of citizens, the presidentialization of parties – rather than their competitiveness in terms of the average number of ballots, time, or candidates.

[1] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.[1] Robert Elgie, ‘The President of Ireland in comparative perspective’, in Irish Political Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 502-521, December 2012. A slightly revised version was also published in John Coakley and Kevin Rafter (eds.), The Irish Presidency: Power, Ceremony and Politics, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2013, pp. 17-39.Next week, I will look at competitiveness in terms of candidates.

[2] Robert Elgie, ‘Types of Heads of State in European Politics’, in José M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics, London: Routledge, to appear in November 2014.

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