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In party-list proportional representation systems, an election threshold is a clause that stipulates that a party must receive a minimum percentage of votes, either nationally or within a particular district, to get any seats in the parliament. The effect of the threshold is to deny small parties the right of representation, or force them into coalitions. Many people hold that this makes an election system more stable by keeping out radical factions. It is also argued that in the absence of a preferential ballot system supporters of minor parties are effectly disenfranchised and denied the right of representation by someone of their choosing.

In Poland's Sejm and Germany's Bundestag (elected through the Additional member system), this threshold is 5% (or 3 constituency seats in the Bundestag, but directly won constituencies are kept, regardless). New Zealand's House of Representatives also has a 5% threshold, but if a party wins at least one electorate seat the threshold does not apply, see Electoral system of New Zealand. The threshold is 2% in Israel's Knesset (it was 1% before 1992 and 1.5% from 1992-2003), and 10% in the Turkish parliament. In Poland, ethnic minority parties do not have to reach the threshold level to get into the parliament, and so there is always a small German minority representation in the Sejm.

There are also countries – such as Portugal, South Africa, Finland, the Netherlands, and the Republic of Macedonia – that have proportional representation systems without a threshold, although the Netherlands has a rule that the first seat can never be a remainder seat, which means that there is an effective threshold of 100% divided by the total number of seats. In the Slovenian parliamentary elections of 1992 and 1996 the threshold was set at 3 parliamentary seats. This meant that the parties needed to win about 3.2% of the votes in order to pass the threshold. In 2000 the threshold was raised to 4% of the votes.

In Norway the nationwide electoral threshold of 4% applies only to levelling seats. A party with sufficient local support may still win the regular district seats, even if the party fails to meet the threshold. Following the 2009 election, the Liberal Party won two seats in this manner.

In Australia, which uses a single transferable vote proportional representation system, they avoided the need for an electoral threshold by establishing smaller electorates with each multi-member electorate returning fewer members of a Parliament and as such requiring a higher quota percentage in order to be elected. As Australia also uses a preferential voting system supporters of minor parties are not disenfranchised as their votes are redistributed to other candidates according to the voter's nominated order of preference which can then form part of another candidates winning quota.

Countries can have more than one threshold. Germany, as mentioned earlier, has a "regular" threshold of 5%, but a party winning three constituency seats in the Bundestag can gain additional representation even if it has achieved under 5% of the total vote. Most multiple-threshold systems are still in the proposal stage. For example, in Canada, one proposal to reform the electoral system would see a 5% national threshold, 1% of the vote and 1 seat in the House of Commons, or 2% nationally and 15% of the vote in any one province.

Election thresholds are often implemented with the intention of bringing stability to the political system.

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommends for parliamentary elections a threshold not higher than 3%.[1]

Contents

The amount of unrepresented vote

Election thresholds can sometimes seriously affect the relation between the percentage of the popular vote and seat distribution.

At the Russian parliamentary elections in 1995, with a threshold excluding parties under 5%, more than 45% of votes were unrepresented (in 1998, Russian Constitutional Court found the threshold legal, taking into account limits in its use[2]).

A similar problem happened in Turkey, mainly due to the 10% threshold of the Turkish system, an extremely high value that is unique. Such a system was established with the justification of preventing multi-party coalitions and put a stop to the endless fragmentation of political parties seen in '60s and '70s. However, coalitions ruled between 1991 and 2002, mainstream parties continued to be fragmented and as a serious side effect, the 2002 elections caused 45% of votes (cast for below-threshold parties) to be unrepresented in the parliament.[3].

In the Ukrainian elections of March 2006, for which there was a 3% threshold, 22% of voters were effectively disenfranchised, having voted for minor candidates – and the representation of parties exceeding the threshold was increased to a level 22% higher than that corresponding to their share of the voters' support. One party, People's Opposition Bloc of Natalia Vitrenko, received over 3% of the formal vote but failed to obtain 3% of the overall vote (which includes informal ballot papers, i.e. votes that are blank or incorrectly filled out). Likewise in 2007 the Socialist Party of Ukraine received only 2.86% of the national vote. Had they secured an additional 0.14% the overall results of the parliamentary election would have been more or less the same as the previous election. However as fewer voters supported minor parties the total percentage of disenfranchised voters in 2007 was less than the previous election in 2006.

For these reasons some people feel that the effects of election thresholds (including the effective disenfranchisement of anyone who supports a "fringe" party) are worse than the supposed problems they counter.

Election thresholds can produce a spoiler effect, similar to that in the First-past-the-post voting system, where minor parties unable to overcome thresholds take votes away from other parties with similar ideologies. Fledgling parties in these systems often find themselves in a vicious circle – if a party is perceived as having no chance of meeting the threshold, it often cannot gain popular support, and if the party cannot gain popular support, it will continue to have little or no chance of meeting the threshold.

By comparison, elections involving a Preferential voting system permit votes for candidates below the threshold to be redistributed according to the voter's indicated preference. This permits the continued participation in the election process of those whose votes would otherwise be "wasted" and minor vote candidates are able to indicate to their supporters before the vote how they would wish to see their votes transferred. Preferential voting is widely used in Australia and Ireland.

Notes

  1. ^ Resolution 1547 (2007), para. 58
  2. ^ Постановление Конституционного Суда РФ от 17 ноября 1998 г. № 26-П — см. пкт. 8(Russian)
  3. ^ In 2004 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared this threshold to be manifestly excessive and invited Turkey to lower it (Council of Europe Resolution 1380 (2004)). On 30 January 2007 the European Court of Human Rights ruled by five votes to two (and on 8 July 2008, its Grand Chamber by 13 votes to four) that the 10% threshold imposed in Turkey does not violate the right to free elections, guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights. It held, however, that this same threshold could violate the Convention if imposed in a different country. It was justified in the case of Turkey in order to stabilize the volatile political situation which has obtained in that country over recent decades. The case is Yumak and Sadak v. Turkey, no. 10226/03. See also B. Bowring Negating Pluralist Democracy: The European Court of Human Rights Forgets the Rights of the Electors // KHRP Legal Review 11 (2007)

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