memorandum by Mr Daems, rapporteur
1. Representative democracy is a core principle of a
democratic system. It is preconditioned by free and fair elections.
The right of all citizens to be represented as well as the representativity
of elected bodies are major challenges for the whole democratic
2. Elections lie at the heart of representative democracy, and
they constitute the ultimate symbol and act of modern democratic
3. The choice of electoral system is one of the most important
institutional decisions for any democracy. The electoral system
has an obvious impact on representativity and, indeed, a profound
effect on the whole political life of a country concerned. Different
voting systems may give very different results. They determine to a
great extent a number of administrative issues including the creation
of a government.
4. This report examines different features of electoral systems
for legislative bodies used in Council of Europe member states.
It tries to evaluate their impact on the representativity of parliaments
and, more generally, on the functioning of democratic institutions.
5. The aim behind this report is to create a comparative approach
to this subject in order to enable further assessments, which would
ideally lead to the potential elaboration of common standards in
this area within the framework of the Council of Europe.
6. The first version of this report was conceived as the Parliamentary
Assembly’s contribution to the last session of the Forum for the
Future of Democracy entitled “Electoral systems”, which was held
in Kyiv from 21 to 23 October 2009. As one of the three general
rapporteurs of the forum, I have used its discussions and conclusions
to enrich and develop the present report and to draw up a draft
resolution and a draft recommendation which will be debated in the
In my work I have focused on the electoral system itself rather
than on the conditions in which it operates. Needless to say, a
precondition for any free and fair election is a healthy democratic
environment including respect for basic freedoms like freedom of
association, freedom of expression, free press, etc. My report is based
on the assumption that these conditions are met. Those interested
in criteria for the assessment as to whether the elections are free
and fair should refer to the relevant work of the Parliamentary
Assembly, and its numerous reports following the observation of
elections in Council of Europe member and non-member states.Note
Similarly, I have not dwelled on the important problem of
lack of equal opportunities for different vulnerable categories
in the society (youth, elderly people, handicapped people, migrants)
to be fairly represented in elected bodies. The same goes for the
question of women’s representation in elected bodies. I draw your
attention to the work of relevant committees and, in particular,
to the report adopted recently in the Committee on Equal Opportunities
for Women and MenNote
on "Increasing women's representation
in politics through the electoral system", which will be the subject
of a joint debate with this report.
9. Moreover, this report should be seen in the context of a broader,
ongoing reflection in the Parliamentary Assembly on democracy and
the functioning of democratic institutions in Council of Europe
member states. I refer to the debates on the state of democracy
in Europe held every two years, as well as to the Assembly’s active
involvement in all sessions of the Forum for the Future of Democracy.
Furthermore, a great deal of the work of the Political Affairs Committee
has been devoted to different aspects of democracy, like the establishment
of criteria to measure its quality, internal democracy in political
parties, among others.
10. At this juncture, it is important to underline the fruitful
co-operation between the Parliamentary Assembly and the European
Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission). The Assembly systematically
takes advantage of the commission’s expertise in legal questions
concerning the rule of law and the functioning of democratic institutions.
11. The present report is based, inter
alia, on the information included in the comparative
report on thresholds and other features of electoral systems that
bar parties from access to parliament, which was prepared by the
Council for Democratic Elections of the Venice Commission, as well
as other documents elaborated by the Council. I also used an excellent
comparative study prepared by the International Institute for Democracy
and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
12. In my view, this report should be considered as an invitation
to engage in a broad debate and reflection on different elements
having an impact on the representativity of our elected bodies,
rather than as a set of ready-made conclusions. Indeed, I believe
that this is a good opportunity to launch a much-needed exchange of
views on the experiences, examples and practices in our respective
of electoral systems
2.1 Type of electoral
system and method of counting votes at the constituency level
13. A voting system specifies the form of the ballot,
the set of allowable votes and the tallying method, as well as the
way of determining how voting power is distributed among the voters,
and how voters are divided into constituencies whose votes are counted
independently. Different voting systems may give very different results,
particularly in cases where there is no clear majority preference.
14. Majority and plurality electoral systems,historically the oldest ones,are based on the principle that
the winner is a candidate who receives the most votes in a constituency.
In the majority electoral system, the representative is voted with
50% +1 vote, whereas, in the plurality system, a candidate may be
elected with less than a majority of the vote. Indeed, the winning
percentage can be quite low, depending on the number of candidates
15. In the majority system, further stipulations are often established,
aimed at avoiding a situation where there would be no winner, which
may happen if there are more than two candidates running for the
election. Thus the two-round systemmay
be used. If the first election does not produce a winner with the
absolute majority of the vote, a second round can decide between
the competitors. The second round of voting will occur on a separate
day, often a week or so apart.
16. Under a majority run-off system, if no candidate receives
a majority in the first ballot, a second election is held; only
the two candidates who received the highest number of votes in the
first round are allowed to present themselves again in the second
round. The winner is the one who gets the most votes in the second round.
17. Under the plurality system, there is no such reduction of
the number of candidates. The winner of the second ballot is the
one who receives the most votes, irrespective of whether a majority
is obtained or not. In some applications of this system, though,
thresholds are imposed for the candidates in order to be allowed
to stand in the second round.
18. Under the alternative vote, the voters indicate their order
of preference for the different candidates. To win, a candidate
must obtain a majority of the votes. If no candidate receives the
majority at first, the candidate with the fewest first preference
votes is eliminated, and the second choice of these electors is
taken into consideration. Their votes are distributed among the
other candidates, and so on until one candidate obtains the majority.
19. In the plurality vote, the voters just have to place a mark
next to their favourite candidate. The result is given by the number
of votes: the candidate with the highest number of votes is the
winner (first past the post rule).
20. In the single-member district,each
constituency elects a representative, which creates a strong link between
them; the representative is beholden to a specific geographically
defined constituency. In the multi-member district,two solutions are possible – block
vote: this system gives each elector as many votes as there are
seats to be filled. The candidates who receive the highest number
of votes win. The problem can be that this system allows the party
with the majority of the votes to win all the seats in a district,
which can lead to a distortion of seats in relation to the number
of votes. Limited vote: in this system, each elector is given fewer votes
than the number of seats, so that the majority will not be able
to carry all of the seats in an electoral district.
21. The majority/plurality electoral system is one of the most
frequently used voting systems, usually in combination with single-member
districts. As this voting system tends to produce a disproportionately
large number of seats for the majority party, the result is a strong
single-party government which contributes to a stable political
system and which does not need to appeal to coalition governments.
22. Both majority and plurality systems have all the advantages
of simplicity, stability and constituency representation. They are
easy for the voter to understand. They tend to produce strong and
23. As each territorial constituency is represented by its own,
single legislator, the majority and plurality systems embrace the
idea that each representative has the support of a majority of his
or her constituents. There is also a strong relationship between
a representative and his or her constituency as a whole.
24. The fact that smaller groups are not effectively represented
in majority and plurality systems can be seen to have some advantages,
as it encourages minority groups to integrate into the larger groups,
which is desirable both for the minority group, which can gain political
support for some or all of its interests, and for the larger group,
which thus gains the electoral support of the minority.
25. On the other hand, these systems may encourage citizens to
“vote tactically”, which means support for a party which does not
necessarily correspond exactly to voters’ expectations but has better
chances of acceding to an elected body than their favourite party.
26. It is also sometimes argued that these systems narrow the
political choice: minor parties are not a real option as in any
case they have no chance to get into parliament.
27. Some critics argue that a strong executive is not necessarily
an asset, as it gives the government such a comfortable majority
that it does not feel obliged to make compromises or engage in a
debate on important issues.
28. These systems may also produce undesirable results. In the
United Kingdom, twice since the Second World War, in 1951 and 1974,
the party with fewest popular votes actually came out with the largest
number of seats. One reason is that if there are several parties,
which is the case in Britain, it is possible to win an individual
constituency with less than 50% due to the opposition votes being
divided. Another reason is the unequal number of voters in different
29. The delimitation of the electoral district plays an important
part here as its partisan, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic
composition may influence the election. It must be redrawn periodically
to remain relatively equal in terms of the population.
30. Proportional systems are currently the most widely used in
Europe. Their focus is on the creation of a parliamentary chamber
which accurately reflects the diverse composition of an electorate.
The size of the constituencies is decisive, as the greater the number
of constituencies, the harder it is to ensure complete proportionality.
31. Here again, differentspecific
solutions are envisaged – party list system: proportional representation ensures
that political parties gain representation in proportion to their
share of the vote. To be elected, a party must obtain a quota of
the votes. The quota is obtained by dividing the total number of
formal votes by one more than the number of candidates to be elected,
and adding one to the result. Only the prescribed number of candidates
to be elected can reach the quota. If a party has been elected,
it can send its candidates to the parliament following the list
determined beforehand, in descending order. This system does not
need a delimitation of electoral districts. Mostly, they are relatively
large multi-member districts whose boundaries generally correspond
to administrative delimitations.
32. Preferential party list system: in this system, the voter
has the ability to influence the party list. Preferential voting
permits voters to decide their own order of priority, which may
be different from the one indicated by the party.
33. Single transferable vote: for this type of electoral system,
small multi-member districts are delimited. Therefore, electoral
district boundaries must be redrawn regularly. The electors rank
the candidates in their order of preference. The votes given to
the last candidate are transferred to the other candidates, according
to the second preference of these electors, so that their votes
will not be wasted.
34. Under mixed/combined electoral systemsthe
number of seats allocated is calculated on the basis of different
formulas. The elector casts two votes, one for a candidate and one
for a party. There are variations between different mixed electoral
systems, as the voting schemes, the proportion of seats elected
by district representative and by party lists have a great influence
on the result of the election. Furthermore, the relationship between
the district seats and the party list seats is essential and differs
between mixed electoral systems.
35. Mixed member proportional systems: here the final seat number
is calculated by subtracting the number of district seats that each
party wins from the total number of party list seats to which it
is entitled. The party list seats are used therefore to correct
any disproportionality. The results are indeed proportional, provided
that a party surpasses any threshold vote percentage that may have
36. Parallel systems: in this system, the two sets of seats are
rather added one to another. Both lists are independent, so that
the party list seats do not correct any disproportionalities caused
by the single-member district seats. These systems are called parallel
37. In conclusion, we can point out that, whereas the majority/plurality
system privileges party dualism and elimination of minor parties,
proportional representation tends to encourage multi-partyism and
benefits small parties. In other words, party systems will be more
competitive and fragmented in proportional systems.
38. Proportional systems often produce coalition governments,
and even if, as a result of legal thresholds, they may be quite
stable, they may not be able to deliver the electoral promises,
because there has to be consensus on policy with other coalition
39. Furthermore, coalitions could give small parties a disproportionate
amount of power. This is a question of concern, particularly in
light of the rise of extremism.
40. Another criticism relates to the generally weaker link between
an elected representative and his constituency.
41. It is important to stress that sometimes, significant disparities
exist within one and the same system family. Nonetheless, the choice
of a type of electoral system (majority/plurality, combined, proportional)
is an important general threshold; it is itself a mechanism with
an important general impact on minor party exclusion/inclusion and,
consequently, party fragmentation.
2.2 Legal thresholds
42. No electoral system, be it majority, proportional
or combined – whatever the manner of calculation of votes – can
ensure that all candidates who have received votes will be elected.
In other words, there is no system perfectly proportional in practice.
Thus, a certain minimum of votes will always be necessary to qualify a
candidate (a party) for representation in parliament (allocation
of a seat). The minimum percentage of votes needed for election
is called the threshold of exclusion. Natural thresholds exist in
every electoral system.
43. However, some states particularly those which have a proportional
or combined system have established thresholds artificially by law.
Candidates (parties) who do not obtain the legally prescribed minimum
number of votes do not get any seats in the parliament.
44. The percentage of the threshold differs from one country to
another. It may be very low (as for example 0.67% in the Netherlands)
or very high (10% in Turkey, 8% in Georgia, 7% in Russia, 6% in
Moldova). The majority of the Council of Europe member states with
combined systems have a legal threshold between 4% and 5%, whereas
countries using the proportional system have one between 3% and
45. A number of Council of Europe member states which have a proportional
electoral system, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Iceland,
Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland and “the former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia”, do not apply any legal threshold.
46. Any comparison of thresholds between countries requires utmost
caution. Some states apply a threshold at the constituency/district
level (for example, Spain), some do so only at the national level
(for example, Poland), whereas others apply it at both levels (for
example, Sweden). Furthermore, there are differences as to the stage
of the electoral process at which thresholds are applied, be it
the first, second, or any subsequent rounds of seat allocation.
Another element to be taken into account is whether thresholds apply
to parties or party coalitions. Last but not least, the magnitude
of the districts and other features of the electoral system may have
an important impact on the degree of inclusiveness of the system.
The Parliamentary Assembly has on several occasions expressed
its position on the question of legal thresholds. In Resolution 1547 (2007)
on the state of human rights and democracy in Europe,
it stated that, in well-established democracies, thresholds higher
than 3% during the parliamentary elections have no justification.
In a democracy, it should be possible to express a maximum number
of opinions. Excluding numerous groups of people from the right
to be represented is detrimental to a democratic system. In consequence,
in Resolution 1547 (2007)
, it called on the member states to consider decreasing
thresholds higher than 3% for parliamentary elections. The Monitoring
Committee, in its progress report for 2008, also made specific recommendations
for some countries to lower the legal threshold.Note
2.3 Natural thresholds
48. The so-called natural (or hidden, or effective, or
informal) threshold is present in all electoral systems, regardless
of whether there is or is not any legal threshold. This is reflected
by the percentage of votes needed to get one seat at a district
49. The natural threshold is mainly dependent on the average number
of elected representatives per constituency, but there are other
factors which affect it like the seat allocation formula (d’Hondt,
Saint-Laguë, Hare), the number of political parties competing against
each other and the size of the assembly. In general, a constituency
with a small number of seats to be filled requires a relatively
high percentage of votes per constituency to elect a representative.
On the contrary, the more seats there are to fill in the constituency,
the lower the natural threshold is.
50. Although there is no universal formula enabling an exact assessment
of the natural threshold in each electoral system, it is possible
to estimate it if one knows the number of seats per constituency.
51. According to these estimates, natural thresholds in majority/plurality
systems may be as high as 50% (France) or 35% (UK). They are lower
in combined systems (11.3% in Hungary), and even more so in proportional
systems (Finland 5%, Belgium 9.2%, Iceland 10.8%, Ireland 15%, Luxembourg
4.8%, Portugal 6.7%, Spain 9.7%, Switzerland 9%).
52. While the natural threshold may be an important general factor
of the threshold at the district level, it cannot be equated with
a nationwide natural threshold, or the nationwide legal threshold.
53. However, natural thresholds deprive minor/new parties of accurate
or any representation just as effectively as legal thresholds.
54. Moreover, if there is a legal threshold, for example of 5%,
it can be quite irrelevant; indeed, a party with fewer votes than
5% cannot get a seat regardless of whether or not there is a legal
55. The level of the natural threshold depends heavily upon the
particular distribution of party support, the size and number of
districts, as well as the number of legislators returned with each
56. Whereas natural thresholds tend to widen the proportionality
gap between the share of votes and seats, which obviously benefits
the biggest parts, the legal threshold tends to lean to a more proportional
distribution of seats among the different parties that manage to
2.4 Thresholds in a
57. There exist other mechanisms preventing small parties
from being on an equal footing with bigger parties. This set of
mechanisms flows from statutory or constitutional provisions designed
to limit or prevent parties from either registering, nominating
candidates for office, or otherwise gaining official ballot access,
as well as to unequally restrict access to campaign funds and media
airtime. On the one hand, minor parties seeking to break into office
are generally expected to perform well in political systems which
facilitate more egalitarian conditions of party competition, that
is to say, systems in which all parties are equally entitled to ballot
access, free campaign media, direct public funds and indirect state
subsidies. On the other hand, minor parties face a harsher environment
where such public resources are allocated in a “cartel” arrangement
biased towards established parties already in the legislature, thereby
protecting incumbent politicians.
58. Minor challengers face even more serious limitations in regimes
holding manipulated elections, where the rules for the allocation
of public resources are grossly biased towards the ruling party.
59. Many electoral systems foresee different forms of restriction
on ballot. These may take the form of anelectoral
deposit – seen mostly in African countries such as Senegal and Mali,
but also in European states, as for example in Slovakia (at least
for the elections to the European Parliament in 2009).
60. Another barrier can be related to the registration: the deposit
of the candidature can sometimes be disproportionately expensive,
and it may bar minor parties or individual candidates from access
to elected bodies.
61. Signatures: in some countries one needs to obtain a certain
amount of signatures to be able to present oneself. These signatures
can stem either from “normal” electors (in Finland, the candidate
needs 100 signatures of electors in order to be able to present
himself/herself at the election), or from elected persons (as in
France, grands électeurs),
or a mixed system can be applied (as in Austria, where the signature
of three members of the parliament replace hundreds of votes from
62. Furthermore, funding constitutes another element which has
an impact on the final outcome of the elections. In particular,
public funding including direct public funding and indirect public
63. Fair media access is another precondition for fair and free
2.5 Case law of the
European Court of Human Rights: judgment of 8 July 2008, Yumak and
Sadak v. Turkey
64. In the aforementioned case, the applicant complained
about the legal threshold of 10% in the Turkish electoral law which,
in 2002, prevented him from being elected to the National Assembly.
As a result of the threshold, approximately 45% of the voters’ voted
for the candidates who did not pass the threshold.
65. The Court considered that the electoral threshold of 10% imposed
nationally for the representation of political parties in parliament
constituted interference with the applicants’ electoral rights.
The legal threshold pursued, however, a legitimate aim of avoiding
excessive and debilitating parliamentary fragmentation and thus
of strengthening governmental stability.
66. The Court observed that the national 10% threshold was the
highest of all the thresholds applied in the member states of the
Council of Europe. Only three other member states had opted for
high thresholds (7% or 8%). A third of the states imposed a 5% threshold
and 13 of them had chosen a lower figure.
67. However, the Court considered that, in the present case, having
regard to the specific political context of those particular elections
and to the correctives and other safeguards which had limited its
effects in practice, the impugned 10% threshold had not had the
effect of impairing the essence of the applicants’ rights under Article
3 of Protocol No. 1. Therefore, this legal threshold of 10% was
thus not in violation of the electoral rights.
2.6 General remarks
68. The content of Chapter II entitled “Features of electoral
systems” is meant to provide readers with information on which further
reflection may be based. It is by no means my intention to draw
any kind of conclusions or decide which system is “better” or “worse”.
69. Indeed, there is no unique system which could be recommended
to all countries as the best one. Each of them has got its advantages
and disadvantages and they are all dependent to a large extent on
historical background as well as political and party systems.
70. The electoral system is a fundamentally political process,
rather than a question to which independent technical experts can
produce a single “correct” answer. Indeed, the political context
is one of the most important criteria for the evaluation of the
71. What is important is to make sure that the different stages
of the electoral system, irrespective of its type, are based on
democratic principles and comply with democratic standards and here
I can see an important role for the Council of Europe, and for the
Parliamentary Assembly. I will expand on it in a further part of
3 Internal party
procedure for selection and nomination of candidates
72. Nomination of candidates for elections is of crucial
importance for the credibility and legitimacy of the electoral process,
and, indeed, for the whole political system. It has an obvious impact
on the representativity of an elected body.
73. Modern democracies rely on political parties as one of the
principal means of channelling different views and securing a variety
of interests in political decision making. Political parties have
the ability to integrate and mobilise citizens, aggregate and articulate
interests and demands, facilitate compromise, offer a programme proposing
answers to those demands, recruit political leaders and candidates
for elected offices, formulate policies and implement them or control
their implementation and organise parliament and government.
74. In the national legislation of democratic countries, parties
are regarded as private associations which should freely determine
their own internal rules, procedures, and structures, much like
other interest groups in civil society. Excessive intervention or
regulation by the state in this respect might be perceived as threatening the
basic principles of civil liberties.
75. Internal party democracy and procedures which lead to the
preselection of candidates for the elections have a fundamental
impact on the representativity of elected bodies and, consequently,
on the legitimacy of the entire political system. These internal
procedures vary considerably between parties even within a single country.
76. The Parliamentary Assembly has shown interest in this important
question. In his report on “The code of good practice for political
parties”, Mr Van der Brande has stressed that good practices in
selecting and nominating candidates should promote democratic principles
at all levels, including national, regional and local. The process
should be initiated from the bottom-up with great respect for the
local party level. The specific problem of one national list for
the parliamentary elections and the threat of abuse of power by
party leaders should be addressed. This implies full transparency
77. There is a variety of intra-party candidate selection procedures
in European countries. This can be explained by the complex interactions
between national law, intra-party decision making, as well as the historical
context. However, one can observe a tendency according to which
the more parties are weakened by the loss of members and/or votes,
the more ready they are to open up the process of candidate election. The
recent debate in the French Socialist Party on the introduction
of primaries in the presidential election constitutes a good illustration
of the question.
78. Primaries have traditionally been more important in English-speaking
countries than in western Europe as a whole. But since the 1990s,
it has been an increasingly visible feature of western European
party politics (see the examples of Denmark, Finland and Belgium).
Furthermore, numerous parties have also voluntarily undertaken important
reforms to promote internal democracy (for example, in Germany,
Norway and the United Kingdom).
79. It is clear that the electoral system itself exercises an
influence on the party’s role in the selection and nomination of
candidates. For example, a candidate-based, “first past the post”
electoral system hardly requires any party involvement in any other
issues than the candidate’s political backing and contribution to
the campaign financing. On the contrary, in proportional systems
with closed party lists, a party has very important prerogatives
in defining, among other issues, the place of each candidate on
80. Another important question concerns the succession of elected
candidates. It happens quite often that a person who takes up a
vacant seat has no electoral legitimacy. National legislation does
not often regulate this question in a satisfactory way, yet, it
is of the utmost importance for the legitimacy and representativity
of elected bodies. It would be interesting to exchange information
and share practices in our Council of Europe member states on this
81. The final point I want to raise in this section concerns the
consequences of internal democratisation for the overall functioning
of political parties. There are many different forms of democratising
candidate selection. The moderate forms tend to have beneficial
effects on party organisations (for example, higher levels of membership
participation), but this effect is not certain. Radical forms, on
the other hand, are more likely to distort party cohesiveness and
weaken the quality of representative democracy. Moreover, this may
lead to undermining the loyalty of candidates to a party, as they
become more and more independent.
82. All these questions are extremely important for the representativity
of parliaments and for the democratic legitimacy of the political
system as a whole. I have no doubt that they deserve careful examination
and detailed analysis based on examples and good practices from
our member countries. I hope that I will provoke an interesting
discussion and I count on the members of the committee to share
their experiences and thoughts during the discussion on this paper
with a view to formulating recommendations and proposals.
4 Electoral systems
and their impact on the creation of the executive
83. The prospects for a stable and efficient government
are not determined by the electoral system alone, but the choice
of an electoral system has an important impact on the creation of
84. As I have already stated, as a general rule, plurality/majority
systems are more likely to produce legislatures where one party
can create an executive and outvote a combined opposition, whereas
proportional systems are more likely to produce a coalition government.
However, it is possible that proportional systems can produce a
one party majority, and plurality/majority systems can leave no
one party with a working majority. Much depends on other elements
like the structure of the party system, historical context and the
nature of the society itself.
85. Practice shows, however, that proportional systems result
in parliaments which are more fragmented. Governments may often
be coalition governments and sometimes minority governments. This
is often seen as a disadvantage. However, in countries used to such
a situation, the proportional system may already have induced parties
to compromises during the electoral campaign, and this is often
perceived as an advantage.
5 Electoral systems
and representativity of elected bodies
86. As I have shown above, there are a variety of electoral
systems throughout Council of Europe member states, and each of
them has got its advantages and disadvantages. Indeed, it would
be difficult or even impossible to choose one of them as a perfect
model to be recommended to the others. They are usually the result
of historical and political events, and are highly dependent on
the political and party system and culture.
87. The question which remains essential to the whole debate on
electoral systems is the representativity of the elected body, and
what follows logically – its legitimacy. In other terms, a party
running in an election should get a number of seats in the elected
body which corresponds approximately to its proportional share of
88. An elected assembly should reflect, in the first place, the
political composition of the electorate. It should also guarantee,
however, that it takes into account other important aspects like
geography, gender, ethnicity or other group identities (age, particular
89. The representativity of elected bodies is a necessary condition
for their legitimacy and the consequent confidence of citizens in
the political process. Indeed, the only way to overcome the growing
indifference of citizens towards politics, which may be observed
in some countries in recent years, and which is reflected, inter alia, by a low turnout in
the elections, is to increase citizens’ trust in the role they may
play in the political decision-making process.
90. Thresholds, both legal and natural, as well as thresholds
in a broader sense, have a significant impact on the representativity
of an elected body. This question of utmost importance has already
been discussed in the Assembly on several occasions and the Assembly’s
position is clear: in stable democracies legal thresholds over 3%
are hardly justifiable. There is no reason to bar certain groups
of citizens (minor parties) from access to parliaments. There are
many countries among Council of Europe member states which have
different kinds of thresholds largely exceeding 3% and they should
be invited to review their regulations with a view to better comply
with democratic standards.
91. A flagrant example of another form of barrier having an impact
on access of candidates to elected bodies are the deposits required
of candidates. Whereas nobody questions their utility, in some countries
they are unjustifiably disproportionate and should be reviewed.
92. As I mentioned in my introduction, I left it to my colleague
from the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men to look
closer at the impact of the electoral system on women’s access to
elected bodies. I have to stress, however, that women continue to
be under-represented at all stages of the electoral process, and
measures aimed at remedying this situation should be taken at different
levels including national legislation and party level. Transitory
measures like the introduction of quotas should be considered.
93. The same goes for persons from other under-represented groups
such as young people, persons from minorities, migrants or the disabled.
The electoral process should be inclusive, and if it is not always
possible to impose certain rules at the level of national legislation
(for example, as regards the selection and nomination of candidates),
the principle of inclusiveness should be promoted, and parties should
be encouraged to introduce such rules voluntarily.
94. This is also the right moment to recall previous Assembly’s
recommendations concerning the participation of foreigners in the
political decision-making process. The Assembly has always been
in favour of granting lawfully resident foreigners voting rights,
at least at the local/regional level.
95. Here, we come to another crucial question which has a very
important impact on the final composition, and what follows, representativity
of elected bodies, namely intra-party procedures. I have elaborated
on one aspect of this subject, selection and nomination of candidates,
but there are other key issues which need to be addressed: transparency
at all stages of the electoral process, clear and fair rules for
campaign financing, replacement of vacant seats.
96. Intra-party democracy is only to a certain extent an internal
party affair and the state can and should ensure that national legislation
imposes certain intra-party regulations. This is particularly important
when it comes to funding electoral campaigns. Rules and regulations
governing transparency, accountability, financing and financial
disclosure should be particularly clear and accurate.
97. Here again, I refer to the code of good practice for political
parties adopted by the Assembly. The members of the Parliamentary
Assembly should contribute to the promotion of the principles of
this code by initiating debates in their respective parties on different
aspects of their functioning.
98. Fairness in the electoral campaign is an important factor
establishing citizens’ confidence in the electoral process. Equitable
access by all competing political forces to the media, balanced
coverage of electoral campaigns, non-interference of public authorities
in the activities of journalists, their access to information, independence
and impartiality – all these principles should be reflected in an
appropriate regulatory framework.
99. Voting procedures are never perfect and they should be kept
under continuous review with a view to improving and adapting them
to new technological possibilities. The use of ICT, different forms
of distance voting including e-voting – these are some of the challenges
with which electoral systems are faced today. The Council of Europe
is a good platform for sharing practices and exchanging information.
Its work in the field of e-democracy, including the outcome of the
Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy held in 2008 in
Madrid and devoted to this subject, is a good example of the role
that our Organisation can play.
100. An effective appeals system is fundamental for the establishment
of confidence in the electoral system.
101. The compliance of the electoral process with democratic standards
should be ensured by electoral commissions. In order to play their
role properly, they should be impartial, independent and competent. Therefore,
coherent and clear rules governing the method of appointment of
their members, and balanced composition are of crucial importance
for the fairness of the electoral process.
102. Observers, both domestic and international, play an important
role in monitoring the fairness of the process. Regrettably, in
some countries, regulations governing the status and ensuring the
rights of observers are unsatisfactory. This situation should be
103. On 27 October 2005, in New York, over 20 international organisations
and institutions, including the Council of Europe, approved the
Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation
and the Code of Conduct for International Observers. Both these
documents should be fully promoted and implemented.
104. As I have already said, there is no perfect electoral
system which could be recommended to the others. But what needs
to be done is to establish a common understanding about all the
principles which qualify elections as being “free and fair” in compliance
with democratic standards.
105. If these principles were to be fully implemented in all elections
throughout the Council of Europe space and in those states aspiring
to join the Organisation or engage in a privileged relationship,
the Council of Europe space would become the world’s largest “free
and fair” election zone. This target must be achieved in the near
106. Numerous Council of Europe core activities such as monitoring
the commitments entered into by member states upon their accession
to the Council of Europe, or parliamentary observation of elections,
have obviously contributed and will continue to contribute to this
107. The last session of the Forum for the Future of Democracy
held in Kyiv between 21 and 23 October 2009, and devoted to electoral
systems, is an excellent example of the Council’s contribution to
the reflection on this important question. Discussions were extremely
interesting, and the general conclusions set out pointers for the
issues which should be pursued.
108. It is now of the utmost importance that all stakeholders of
the forum – the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Minsters,
the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of
Europe and civil society – follow up and translate into concrete
action the recommendations included in these conclusions.
109. For my part, I have already undertaken a commitment to introduce
the conclusions into the work of my parliament, and I call on all
other members of the Assembly to follow my example if the rules
of procedure of their respective assemblies provide for such a possibility.
110. The Parliamentary Assembly is also a perfect forum for further
political reflection on different aspects and concerns of the electoral
process which have been raised in this report and in the conclusions,
such as funding of political campaigns, or selection and nomination
of candidates, as well as their succession. These questions should
be dealt with in accordance with our rules of procedure by means
of tabled motions for a recommendation.
111. The Committee of Ministers, taking advantage of its unique
position as a forum for pan-European co-operation, should also contribute
to the establishment of the common understanding of principles which
qualify elections to be “fair and free”. In particular, it should
be invited to initiate further reflection and work on the regulatory
framework and specific regulations governing the electoral process
in Council of Europe member states, in particular in respect to
the aspects which raise some concerns.
112. This reflection might result perhaps in the elaboration of
guidelines on the principles governing the electoral process, which
could be recommended to all our member states.
113. The Venice Commission, which has so far done excellent work
in this field, should be encouraged to continue.
114. In conclusion, it is clear that the work and the reflection
on the impact of electoral systems on the representativity of parliaments
is far from being accomplished and much has still to be done. I
hope that this report will contribute to raising awareness on the
Reporting committee: Political
Reference to committee: Doc. 11481, Reference 3432 of 14 April 2008
Draft resolution and draft recommendation unanimously
adopted by the committee on 15 December 2009
Members of the committee: Mr Göran Lindblad (Chairman),
Mr David Wilshire (Vice-Chairman),
Mr Björn Von Sydow (Vice-Chairman) (alternate: Mrs Kerstin Lundgren), Mrs Fátima Aburto Baselga,
Mr Francis Agius (alternate: Mr Joseph Debono
Grech), Mr Alexander Babakov (alternate: Mr Sergey Markov), Mr Viorel Badea, Mr Denis Badré, Mr Andris Bērzinš, Mr Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Mr Lorenzo Cesa, Mr
Titus Corlăţean, Ms Anna Čurdová, Mr Rick Daems, Mrs Maria Damanaki (alternate:
Mr Konstantinos Vrettos),
Mr Dumitru Diacov, Mr Pol van den Driessche, Ms Josette Durrieu,
Mr Frank Fahey, Mr Piero Fassino,
Mr György Frunda, Mr Jean-Charles
Gardetto, Mr Marco Gatti, Mr Andreas Gross,
Mr Michael Hancock, Mr Davit Harutyunyan, Mr Norbert Haupert, Mr Joachim Hörster, Mrs
Sinikka Hurskainen, Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Mr Bakir Izetbegović (alternate:
Mr Mladen Ivanić), Mr Michael
Aastrup Jensen, Mr Miloš
Jevtić, Mrs Birgen Keleş,
Mr Victor Kolesnikov (alternate: Mrs Olha Herasym’yuk),
Mr Konstantin Kosachev, Mr Jean-Pierre Kucheida,
Ms Darja Lavtižar-Bebler, Mr René van der Linden, Mr Dariusz Lipiński,
Mr Gennaro Malgieri, Mr Dick Marty,
Mr Frano Matušić, Mr Silver Meikar,
Mr Evangelos Meimarakis,
Mr Dragoljub Mićunović, Mr Jean-Claude Mignon, Mr Aydin Mirzazada,
Mr Juan Moscoso del Prado Hernández, Ms Lilja Mósesdóttir, Mr João
Bosco Mota Amaral, Mrs Olga
Nachtmannová, Mr Gebhard Negele, Mrs Miroslava Nemcová, Mr Zsolt Németh, Mr Fritz Neugebauer
(alternate: Mr Franz Eduard Kühnel),
Mr Aleksandar Nikoloski, Mr Hryhoriy Omelchenko,
Mr Maciej Orzechowski, Mr Ivan Popescu,
Mr Christos Pourgourides, Mr John Prescott (alternate: Mr John Austin), Mr Gabino Puche, Mr Amadeu Rossell Tarradellas,
Mr Ilir Rusmali, Mr Ingo Schmitt (alternate: Mr Eduard Lintner), Mr Predrag Sekulić, Mr
Samad Seyidov, Mr Leonid Slutsky,
Mr Rainder Steenblock, Mr Zoltán Szabó (alternate: Mr Mátyás Eörsi), Mr Mehmet Tekelioğlu, Mr Han Ten Broeke,
Mr Zhivko Todorov, Lord Tomlinson (alternate: Mr Rudi Vis), Mr Latchezar Toshev, Mr Petré Tsiskarishvili, Mr Mihai Tudose,
Mr Ilyas Umakhanov, Mr José Vera Jardim, Mr Luigi Vitali, Mr Wolfgang
Wodarg, Mrs Karin S. Woldseth, Ms Gisela Wurm,
Mr Emanuelis Zingeris
Ex-officio: Mr Tiny
NB: The names of the members who took part in the meeting
are printed in bold
Secretariat of the committee:
Mrs Nachilo, Mr Chevtchenko, Mrs Sirtori-Milner