How big is the majority?
The clock is ticking and decision time is only two weeks away. The electoral campaign has now taken a negative twist. Parties’ future policies have been put aside as the mud-slinging campaign took centre stage.
I have been following elections since 1981 and the pattern has always been the same: after exhausting policies, parties resort to dish out the dirt. History has shown us that elections could be swayed by such tactics. So 2013, as expected, is no exception.
The parties know that scandals sell more than boring policies. Parties perfectly know that the feeling of exacting revenge on your adversary is savoured by many a voter. As the vote pressure mounts, we should expect more skeletons to fall out of the cupboard with the risk, perhaps, of alienating the people rather than winning them in.
Maximisation of the national vote tally is what the parties are after and the end seems to be justifying the means.
Winning the election is the parties’ main goal but the margin of victory is of equal importance. This is what ultimately determines the composition of the House of Representatives.
As we have all witnessed during the legislature, which is coming to an end, a one-seat majority may be problematic for a Prime Minister. The Premier’s nightmare is not only the likelihood of having to deal with a dissenting MP but facing the constant call of the Whip on EU travel commitments. A three-seat majority would give the Prime Minister more breathing space during his tenure in office. But how many votes do parties require to secure a three-seat majority in Parliament?
Following the constitutional amendments adopted prior to the 2008 general election, the electoral system guarantees strict proportionality between votes and seats in the House. This applies only as long as two parties are represented in Parliament. In the unlikely event that a third party wins a parliamentary seat, the proportionality clause does not come into effect.
There is a formula how seats are adjusted after the initial result for the 65 seats is known. Technicalities apart, the formula is based on the number of first preferences the winning party receives. Since the turnouts and the amount of first preferences are still unknown quantities, an estimate of how big a majority is required to ensure a three-seat cushion in the House cannot be established as yet.
But for the purpose of this exercise I can use the data from the 2008 election. If the turnout in this election will be in the same percentage region, then the numbers will only be slightly higher.
In 2008, the Nationalist Party won by a majority of about 1,500 votes. The election saw Labour prevailing by 34 seats to 31. Since no other party won a parliamentary seat, the Constitutional amendment was triggered and seats adjustment was required.
With a majority of 1,500, the PN was entitled to a one-seat majority, so they were awarded four seats that were filled by the best runner-up candidates. Had the PN lost that election by the same margin it would have still been awarded two seats so that the popular vote is reflected in the composition of the House.
To ensure a three-seat majority in 2008, the PN required a majority of about 8,000 votes. A five-seat majority would have required a majority of about 15,000 votes.
In next month’s election, the numbers required will probably not be far off this mark. Turnout is the key issue here. In percentage terms, assuming that Alternattiva Demokratika wins about two per cent of the popular vote, the winning party would have to win an absolute majority to ensure a three-seat majority. Just over 50 per cent would be enough to avoid a one-seat parliamentary majority.
A five-seat majority (assuming again that AD wins two per cent) requires a difference between the two major parties of about six percentage points, which is 52 per cent for the winning party and 46 per cent for the loser.
These are obviously hypothetical numbers and scenarios. Although the opinion polls, at least those which are published, are suggesting that the Labour Party is comfortable leading this race, the finishing line is still more than two weeks away. A week in politics is eternity and anything can happen until then. The best poll and which counts is that to be taken on polling day.
Attention will turn to the counting hall on Sunday, the day after we cast our vote. The sorting of votes is scheduled to start at noon. The sorting process is when the ballot paper is turned face up and the first preference allocated to a candidate. That is the moment when the result will start to unfold. Samples will be transmitted to the parties’ desks and within minutes they will have the first indication. Within an hour they will be almost certain of the result.
If the margin between the parties is wide, we should expect an announcement by 2pm.
It all boils down to how big the majority is.
Hermann Schiavone is an elections analyst.