Thresholds and other features of electoral systems which have an impact on representativity of parliaments in Council of Europe member states
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 27 January 2010 (6th Sitting) (see Doc. 12107, report
of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur: Mr Daems). Text
adopted by the Assembly on 27 January 2010 (6th Sitting).
See also Recommendation 1898 (2010).
The Parliamentary Assembly refers
to its previous work relating to the electoral process, and in particular to Resolutions 1546 (2007)
the code of good practice for political parties; 1591 (2007)
voting; 1590 (2007)
secret ballot – European code of conduct on secret balloting, including
guidelines for politicians, observers and voters; 1547 (2007)
state of human rights and democracy in Europe; 1617 (2008)
on the state of democracy
in Europe – Specific challenges facing European democracies: the
case of diversity and migration; 1653 (2009)
on electronic democracy,
as well as Doc. 11628
the state of democracy in Europe: functioning of democratic institutions
in Europe and progress of the Assembly’s monitoring procedure.
2. Furthermore, the Assembly welcomes the acquis of
other Council of Europe sectors in the electoral field, in particular
the work of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice
Commission), including its Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters.
3. The Assembly commends the outcome of the 2009 Council of Europe
Forum for the Future of Democracy, devoted to electoral systems,
which was held in Kiev (Ukraine).
4. The right of all citizens to be represented in the political
decision-making process and the representativity of elected bodies
are core principles of contemporary democracies. An elected assembly
should reflect the political composition of the electorate as well
as other important aspects like geographic distribution, gender, ethnicity
or other group identities, including age or specific vulnerability.
The legitimacy of a democratic system largely depends upon the conviction
of all sectors of society that they have adequate access to the
5. Free and fair elections constitute a necessary precondition
for representative democracy, and are decisive for ensuring that
the will of the people is respected in the shaping of the legislature
and government at all levels.
6. The choice of electoral system is one of the most important
institutional decisions for any democracy. This system has an obvious
impact on representativity and a profound effect on the whole political
life of the country concerned. Different voting systems may give
very different results. The voting system determines to a great
extent a number of administrative issues, including the forming
of a government.
7. There is a variety of types of electoral systems throughout
Council of Europe member states, and each of them has advantages
and disadvantages. There is no unique model which could be recommended
to all countries as the best one. The choice depends on a number
of factors including historical background and political and party
8. The Assembly’s objective is to establish a common understanding
of principles which qualify elections as “free and fair” in compliance
with democratic standards irrespective of the type of electoral
system, and to ensure their implementation in all elections throughout
the Council of Europe area, thus establishing the world’s largest
“free and fair election zone”.
9. A precondition for any free and fair election is a healthy
democratic environment, including respect for basic freedoms such
as the freedom of association, freedom of expression, free press,
etc. Criteria for assessing whether the elections are free and fair
have been set out by the Assembly in its numerous reports on the
observation of elections in Council of Europe member and non-member
10. In all democracies it should be possible to express a maximum
number of opinions. Excluding sections of the population from the
right to be represented is detrimental to a democratic system.
11. Gender equality in decision-making processes is an important
aspect of fair representation. The Assembly stresses the importance
of guaranteeing women equal access to elected bodies. This may require the
introduction of some transitory measures, including quotas.
12. All other forms of discrimination in the electoral process
– be it towards persons belonging to minority groups or other vulnerable
categories – is similarly detrimental to democracy.
13. Internal party democracy and procedures which lead to the
pre-selection 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 one country.
14. The voter’s choice of a person to represent him or her from
the list of candidates proposed by a party must have a real impact
on the final outcome. This is a matter of concern particularly when
it comes to the succession of a vacant seat. According to some parties’
procedures, a successor is not necessarily the first runner-up who
has received the most votes. Internal party procedures for succession
should take into account individual voters’ choice.
The Assembly recalls its Resolution 1546 (2007)
on the code
of good practice in the field of political parties, and calls on
political parties in Council of Europe member states to endorse
its principles, in particular concerning intra-party transparency
for the nomination of candidates, clear and fair rules for campaign financing,
and for the replacement of vacant seats.
16. Rules governing electoral campaigns, in particular funding,
financial disclosure by parties and candidates, free media, access
to media and information, and a complaints and appeals system which
provides a speedy procedure to resolve disputes, should comply with
17. Voting procedures should be reviewed and improved in many
Council of Europe member states. The use of information and communication
technology (ICT) tools and the introduction of different forms of
e-voting, including remote e-voting, should be considered.
18. Transparent and coherent rules governing the work of electoral
commissions, appointment procedures for their members, the requirement
of balanced and impartial composition and the training of officials,
should guarantee a high degree of impartiality, independence and
19. Observation of elections is one of the most important ways
of building confidence in an electoral system. Rules governing the
observation process and the status of domestic and international
observers, as well as an effective appeals procedure, should be
based on the United Nations Declaration of Principles for International Election
Observation and on the Code of Conduct for International Election
20. Increased trust and confidence in an electoral system may
largely contribute to an enhanced interest of citizens in the political
process as a whole and, as a consequence, to overcoming the feeling
of political discontent and disaffection among them.
21. The Assembly is of the opinion that the Council of Europe
can considerably contribute to this objective and to the further
promotion and implementation of these principles in its member states.
Further regulatory action, sharing of good practices, improved monitoring
and follow-up is needed.
Therefore the Assembly calls on the Council of Europe member
22.1 contribute to the
establishment of a common understanding of principles which qualify
elections as “free and fair” in compliance with democratic standards,
irrespective of the type of electoral system, and to ensure their
22.2 ensure a healthy democratic environment including full
respect for basic freedoms such as freedom of association, of expression
and of the press, in compliance with the criteria for the assessment as
to whether the elections are free and fair;
22.3 consider decreasing legal thresholds that are higher than
3%, and removing other obstacles, including high financial deposits,
which bar minor parties or independent candidates from being represented
in elected bodies;
22.4 strengthen national mechanisms to promote balanced access
to elected bodies for women and men, and to consider the introduction
of transitory measures such as quotas;
22.5 eliminate obsolete provisions disenfranchising certain
categories of population (such as certain categories of detainees);
22.6 consider, if it has not yet been done, granting the right
to vote in regional and local elections to immigrants who are lawfully
resident in the country in question;
22.7 ensure that the legislative framework promotes the implementation
by political parties of internal party democracy principles;
22.8 ensure that the rules governing electoral campaigns –
and in particular funding, financial disclosure by parties and candidates
– access to media and information, and a complaints and appeals system
which provides a speedy procedure to resolve disputes, all comply
with democratic standards;
22.9 keep under review different forms of voting procedures
with a view to improving them, and to consider the use of ICT tools
and the introduction of different forms of e-voting, including remote
e-voting, if this has not yet been done;
22.10 examine whether national procedures for replacing legislative
positions remain democratically appropriate;
22.11 ensure that the rules governing the work of electoral
commissions, the method of their appointment, and their balanced
and impartial composition comply with democratic standards;
22.12 implement the provisions of the United Nations Declaration
of Principles for International Election Observation.
It also calls on political parties in Council of Europe member
23.1 comply with the
principles of the Code of Good Practice in the Field of Political
Parties, in particular those referring to intra-party democracy,
transparency and accountability;
23.2 adopt fair and transparent rules for the selection and
nomination of candidates for elected bodies, and in particular encourage
the nomination of members from under-represented groups such as
young people, persons belonging to minorities, immigrants or the
23.3 establish a long-term strategy, including special projects
and training, aimed at increasing assertiveness, knowledge and experience
of under-represented groups;
23.4 examine the experience of political parties that have
introduced quotas for the selection and nomination of candidates
for elections and consider such a possibility in their own practice;
23.5 establish fair and transparent rules for campaign financing
in compliance with relevant domestic law; develop internal rules
which would complete and strengthen national legislation in particular regarding
transparency and accountability;
23.6 establish clear and fair rules for replacing vacant seats
in elected bodies;
23.7 observe the principles of fair play and set general standards
of conduct during electoral campaigns.
It invites members of parliamentary delegations to the Assembly
24.1 introduce the question
of standards in different stages of the electoral process into the
work of their national parliaments;
24.2 initiate a reflection on internal party procedures in
the electoral field in their respective political parties;
24.3 promote the Assembly’s work and documents in the area
of electoral matters, and in particular the outcome of the Forum
for the Future of Democracy.
25. The Assembly supports the Venice Commission in continuing
its valuable work in the field of the electoral process.
26. The Assembly calls on the stakeholders of the Forum for the
Future of Democracy to take into account and translate into specific
action the general conclusions of the forum.
27. The Assembly resolves to follow the question of electoral
systems in its different aspects, and to promote appropriate solutions
at the parliamentary level in Council of Europe member states.