B Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Hendrik Daems, rapporteur
1. In May 2016, I tabled a motion
for a resolution on “Setting minimal standards for electoral systems
in order to offer the basis for free and fair elections” which the
Assembly referred to our committee for report.
2. The motion recalls that building, protecting and strengthening
democracy is core business for the Council of Europe, and that electoral
systems are essential tools for practicing representative democracy.
It calls for a structured comparative overview of different electoral
systems in Europe which would allow the establishment of basic Council
of Europe standards in this area.
3. Ms Elena Centemero (Italy, EPP/CD) was appointed as rapporteur
in October 2016. Under her auspices, the committee held several
exchanges of views on the matter and organised two hearings with experts.
In January 2017, Mr Gianni Buquicchio, President of the European
Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), briefed
the committee on its activities on electoral matters. Unfortunately, Dr
Michael Krennerich, a widely recognised international expert in
electoral field, had to cancel participation, but provided us with
a valuable written contribution. In April 2017, we held a joint
hearing with the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, with
the participation of Mr Florian Grotz, Chair of Comparative Politics, Institute
of Political Science, Helmut Schmidt University of Hamburg, Ms Marilisa
D'Amico, Professor of constitutional law, University of Milan, and
Ms Ana Rusu, Senior Election Adviser, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions
and Human Rights (ODIHR).
4. However, Ms Centemero lost her parliamentary seat in the general
elections in Italy held on 4 March 2018 and could not finalise her
report. Nevertheless, in order not to waste the work done by the
committee and the rapporteur, the chairperson of the committee presented
on 26 June 2018, on her own behalf, the introductory memorandum
prepared by Ms Centemero.
5. On 11 September 2018, the committee appointed me to complete
6. In my view, the introductory memorandum prepared by Ms Centemero
provides useful background information on the matter, including
a comparative analysis of various electoral systems in Europe and
an overview of problems which may have an impact on the proper functioning
of an electoral system. I therefore keep these useful elements in
my final report.
7. However, I am afraid I am not able to agree with one key statement
quoted in Ms Centemero’s report with reference to the Venice Commission
findings, namely, that “…none of the electoral systems in use in Council
of Europe member States is undemocratic by itself…”.
8. In my view, various electoral systems are not equally democratic.
Some systems, more than others, provide for a better correlation
between the will of voters and the result of the vote translated
into the composition of an elected body. While the constitutional
and legal mechanisms of electoral systems may be consistent with
democratic standards, the results are often not, as voters do not
obtain the election of persons they had voted for. This is one of
the reasons why populism and extremism are gaining ground.
9. I shared these concerns with the committee on 11 April 2019.
Some colleagues agreed that, while elections provided legitimacy
to democracy, some electoral systems, and indeed basic elements
of representative democracy, were challenged in a number of countries.
10. On this occasion, one of our colleagues, Lord George Foulkes
(United Kingdom, SOC), wondered if I could present the modelling
of the different outcomes which would be possible when using different
systems in a given country.
11. On 14 November 2019, I presented to the committee the results
of a study comparing the actual outcome of the last elections to
the Flemish Parliament (June 2019) with the outcomes that would
have been obtained if seats were distributed in accordance with
different electoral systems (see appendix). Earlier, on 30 September,
I shared the results of this study with Mr Gianni Buquicchio, President
of the Venice Commission, at a meeting in Strasbourg. The study
clearly shows that the choice of an electoral system has a strong
impact on the distribution of seats and, consequently, on the representativity
of an elected body, which in turn may raise questions on the fairness
of elections and, more generally, weaken public confidence in the democratic
2 The Council of Europe’s activities
in the field of elections
Both the Assembly and the Venice
Commission have attached great importance to the issues related
to elections. I refer, inter alia
to Assembly Resolution
“Ensuring greater democracy in elections”, Resolution 1826 (2011)
“Expansion of democracy by lowering the voting age to
16”, Resolution 1705
“Thresholds and other features of electoral systems
which have an impact on representativity of parliaments in Council
of Europe members States”, Resolution
“Secret ballot – European code of conduct on secret
balloting, including guidelines for politicians, observers and voters”,
and Resolution 1320 (2003)
“Code of good practice in electoral matters”. More recently,
the Assembly adopted Resolution
“Updating guidelines to ensure fair referendums in Council
of Europe member States”.
As regards the work of the Venice Commission, it is worth
mentioning two reference documents: the Code of good practice in
electoral matters (2002) and the Code of good practice for referendums
(2007). The former is of particular relevance for this report. It
was prepared by the Venice Commission in close co-operation with
the Assembly and received its approval in the above-mentioned Resolution 1320 (2003)
. It was also supported by a solemn declaration of the
Committee of Ministers in May 2004, and therefore enjoys a particularly
14. Other relevant Venice Commission studies include the reports
on electoral systems: overview of available solutions and selection
criteria (2003), on electoral law and electoral administration in
Europe: Synthesis study on recurrent challenges and problematic
issues (2006), on thresholds and other features of electoral systems
which bar parties from access to parliament (2008 and 2010), on
the impact of electoral systems on women’s representation in politics
(2009), and on proportional electoral systems: the allocation of seats
inside the lists (open/closed lists) (2015) and on constituency
delineation and seat allocation (2017). In addition, the Venice
Commission has produced, often jointly with OSCE ODIHR, dozens of
country-focused studies and opinions on electoral legislation and
15. The Assembly resolutions and the reports by the Venice Commission
mentioned above provide detailed comparative analysis of various
electoral systems and define the set of common Council of Europe
standards in electoral matters. However, these standards fail to
address the fact mentioned in paragraph 8 above, namely, that some
systems do not adequately translate the will of voters into the
composition of an elected body. Moreover, the key standard-setting
document, namely the Code of good practice in electoral matters, was
drafted more than 17 years ago, and might thus need to be updated,
so as to take into account the latest developments in an ever-evolving
European electoral practice.
16. Accordingly, I see this report as an opportunity, on the one
hand, to recall the variety of electoral systems existing in Europe
and sum up, without going too deep into detail, their respective
advantages and weaknesses, and on the other hand, to make a case
for setting minimum standards for electoral systems in order to
offer the basis for free and fair elections. Additionally, I intend
to focus on some other features which must be borne in mind for
a proper functioning of an electoral system. In fact, I believe
that there are many elements within some electoral systems which
can be considered as non-democratic given the fact that they prevent
a level playing field amongst candidates.
It is important to stress, at the outset, that the choice
of a specific type of electoral system is a matter of sovereign
decision by the political community of a given country. To quote
Assembly Resolution 1705
, “[…] 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
systems.” (para. 7). Therefore, the task of defining common minimal
standards for electoral systems has its limits and should not be
interpreted as an attempt to declare a given system as the best
one or to impose it on a given country.
systems as the core element of representative democracy
electoral votes into political mandates and parliamentary seats
18. Representative democracy is
a system of government in which citizens exercise power by electing representatives
from among themselves to form governing bodies. Thus, elections
constitute the very foundation of democratic government. That is
why it is widely recognised that the electoral system, as the set of
rules designed to organise elections and to transform the votes
cast into political mandates and seats in parliament, is one of
the most fundamental elements of representative democracy.
19. Electoral systems consist of sets of rules that govern all
aspects of the voting process: the timing of elections, the conditions
to be able to vote and to stand as a candidate, the modus of casting
and counting the ballots, limits on campaign spending, and other
factors that can affect the outcome. Political electoral systems are
defined by constitutions and electoral laws, are typically conducted
by election commissions, and can use multiple types of elections
for different offices.
requirements for electoral systems: guaranteeing democracy, representativeness
In order to provide the framework
for genuinely democratic elections, electoral systems must guarantee the
respect of five fundamental principles: suffrage must be universal,
equal, free, secret and directNote
Elections must be held at regular intervalsNote
Furthermore, truly democratic elections can only be held if basic
conditions of a democratic State based on the rule of law, such
as fundamental rights, stability of electoral law and effective
procedural guarantees, are metNote
The Venice Commission states that “Within
the respect of the above-mentioned principles, any electoral system
may be chosen
. This may be interpreted as an assertion
that none of the electoral systems in use in Council of Europe member
States is undemocratic by itself insofar as it guarantees the respect
of above-mentioned principles, and as far as a level playing field
between candidates, between parties, and within parties, is sufficiently
guaranteed. As a consequence, none of these systems can be recommended
as the best model for every country. However, I believe that the
systems which fail to translate in a fair manner the will of voters
into the composition of an elected body cannot be considered as
fully democratic if democracy still means “government of the people,
by the people, for the people”.
22. Beyond this general democratic prerequisite, electoral systems
must provide for the formation of democratic political institutions
which meet two fundamental criteria: representativeness and governability.
On the one hand, democratic institutions should be inclusive and
provide citizens with differentiated options to participate and
to be represented in the political process. On the other hand, they
should allow for efficient policy-making, so that authoritative
decisions are taken and implemented within a reasonable timeframe.
23. Although both criteria are crucially important for the proper
functioning of democratic institutions, there is a trade-off between
them: more inclusiveness usually results in less efficiency, and vice versa. Different electoral
systems bring about different results: whereas some favour more
representativeness by ensuring seats for a greater number of parties
and, as a result, more fragmented institutions, others ensure better governability
by providing strong majorities for big parties by excluding smaller
ones. I strongly believe that a fair representation of the will
of voters, i.e. representativeness, must be given priority over
governability if the latter comes at the expense of the former.
electoral systems to improve democracy and shape political systems
24. Electoral systems have a strong
reciprocal influence on the political structure of a country, including
the number of parties represented in parliament and the relative
size of party representation, and as a consequence, on the formation
of government and the choice of public policies.
Stability of electoral law is recognised as one of the basic
principles of the European electoral heritage, as mentioned above.
However, since democracy is in permanent evolution and has to face
new challenges, it is only natural that electoral systems, too,
may need to be updated. Reforming the electoral system of a given country
will inevitably reshape its political landscape and may contribute
to consolidating democracy. According to the Venice Commission:
“A successful electoral reform
is built on at least the following three elements: 1) clear and comprehensive
legislation that meets international standards and addresses prior
recommendations; 2) adoption of legislation by broad consensus after
extensive public consultations with all the stakeholders; 3) political
commitment to fully implement the electoral legislation in good
26. If electoral systems are to be reformed, this should be done
in such a way as to guarantee the interests of all relevant stakeholders.
Electoral reforms implemented unilaterally by the ruling forces
may affect the long-term stability of the electoral system and thus
undermine its legitimacy.
categories of electoral systems with respective advantages and weaknessesNote
of electoral systems
27. In this section, I will mainly
focus on elections to multi-seat representative bodies, i.e. parliaments, regional
and local assemblies.
28. There is an immense variety of electoral systems in Europe,
and it would probably be impossible to find exactly the same system
in two different countries. Moreover, in some cases, there are different
electoral systems at national and sub-national levels in the same
country (e.g. in Germany and in the United Kingdom). Each system
is a result of the political consensus in the country and reflects
its own political history and other peculiarities.
29. However, it is possible to categorise this diversity into
several generic types, based on underlying principles and their
translation into practical political results.
On one extreme side of the spectrum, electoral systems designed
on the majority or plurality principle tend to enhance the concentration
of the party system and thus ensure better governability. The most characteristic
example of this type is the British plurality system in single-member
constituencies (SMCs), also known as “first-past-the-post” or “winner-takes-all”.
The candidate obtaining more votes than the others is elected in
the single roundNote
31. Another system based on this principle is the French two-round
majority vote: the candidate winning an absolute majority (50% plus
one vote) is elected in the first round; otherwise, there is a run-off
in which the plurality rule is applied.
32. On the opposite side, there are electoral systems based on
the principle of proportional representation (PR): these seek to
ensure the best possible correlation between the share of votes
cast in favour of a given party and the number of seats it obtains,
and thus foster the representativeness of the elected body.
The “purest” example of this electoral system may be found
in the Netherlands, but it is also practiced, with some variations
(e.g. national PRNote
, constituency PR in multi-member districtsNote
, multi-tier PRNote
), in most Council of Europe member States.
Finally, there are mixed or hybrid electoral systems which
attempt to combine the benefits of non-proportional and proportional
systems and include the elements of plurality in SMCs and the PR
at national levelNote
and mixed member proportional systemsNote
When it comes to direct elections to a unique position (e.g.
president, governor, mayor), there are two systems based respectively
on majority run-off and plurality. The latter, where the candidate
with more votes than the others is elected, is rather a rare caseNote
since it may result
in bringing to office of a candidate opposed by the majority of
voters. Most countries use the majority system: in order to win
in the first round, the candidate must obtain the absolute majority
(50% plus one vote); if there is no winner, the two strongest candidates compete
in the second round.
and cons of various types of electoral systems
36. As mentioned above, different
types of electoral systems produce different results and the choice
of a certain type of system plays a crucial role in shaping the
political landscape of a country.
37. The plurality system favours strong political parties and
often produces single-party majorities in parliament and single-party
governments. It allows for a stable government able to implement
clear and uncompromised policies (efficient governability). The
dominant position of the winning party is obtained at the expense
of smaller parties and seriously impairs the representation of the
diversity of political views and, as a consequence, the representativeness
of the elected body.
38. The majority system partly compensates this disadvantage as
smaller parties can form electoral alliances before the second round
and obtain seats in the elected body. The representation of the
diversity of political views and the representativeness of the institution
is thus increased at the expense of governability since there is
a need to secure both pre-electoral and post-electoral compromises.
39. The pure PR system ensures a maximum of proportionality and
the representation of the widest possible range of political opinions,
in particular if combined with a low threshold (e.g. in the Netherlands,
the threshold is 1/150 of the total number of valid votes, i.e.
0.67%; a party obtaining this result receives one seat in Parliament).
Resulting from this diversity are very fragmented elected bodies.
As no one party is in a position to secure an overall majority of
votes, several parties must co-operate to form a coalition government,
whose capacity to work out strong policies is diminished by necessary
compromises and whose stability is at risk in case of disagreements
40. Most electoral systems in Europe tend to strike a balance
between representativeness and governability to a certain extent
but cannot maximise both criteria at the same time. The systems
which are designed to foster governability by providing bonus seats
for stronger parties in order to facilitate the formation of government
inevitably affect the representation of smaller parties. As a result,
more or less sizeable parts of constituents are not represented.
41. Other more or less technical aspects of the electoral machinery
(e.g. thresholds, size of electoral constituencies, personalisation
of votes, etc.) have an impact on the functioning of electoral systems
and the extent to which they accomplish their raison
d’être: transforming with a maximum possible precision
the ballots cast into seats in elected institutions while ensuring
the functionality of the latter.
42. Last but not least, the functioning of an electoral system
and the results which it produces not only depend on its institutional
design, but also on the political context in which it operates.
favouring one system over another
43. The proportional representation
systems appear to produce better results in terms of the degree
of correlation between the expression of the will of the constituents
and the composition of an elected body, but it takes some political
courage to qualify these systems as more democratic than any others.
As mentioned above (para. 21 above), the Venice Commission
does not favour one particular system over any other and finds them
all equally democratic (subject to respect for the basic principles).
At the hearing in the committee, Mr Gianni Buquicchio, President
of the Venice Commission, was reluctant to make a qualitative assessment.
Both experts who have contributed to the report, Messrs Krennerich
and Grotz, also shared this position. In particular, Professor Grotz
stated that “Setting uniform standards for electoral systems beyond
very general guidelines (as outlined in the Code of Good Practice
in Electoral Matters and other documents prepared by the Venice
Commission) is extremely difficult, if possible at all.”Note
45. One reason for this is the fact that electoral systems are
part and parcel of a broader political landscape of respective countries
which result from national political history, culture and traditions,
and are a product of a consensus among political actors and constituents.
In order to genuinely judge the functioning of the political machinery
of a given country, one must wholly belong to it. External views
may be useful to critically assess, and make proposals to improve,
some specific aspects of the functioning of the political system,
but changing it must belong to its actors who see and feel it in
its entirety, and pass through a broad national consensus.
46. It is understandable that an expert body like the Venice Commission
has difficulties making political statements. This is exactly the
role of our Assembly, as a political organ, to state clearly that
electoral systems which fail to translate in a fair manner the will
of voters into the composition of an elected body cannot be considered
as fully democratic. We should give a political impetus to the Venice
Commission to reconsider its position on the issue, and invite it
to elaborate, in co-ordination with the Assembly, the minimum standards
for electoral systems to be considered as democratic.
elements to ensure the proper functioning of an electoral systemNote
47. Electoral systems have a degree
of influence on the electoral competition and, more broadly, on
the functioning of the political system. Some specific elements
of electoral systems may create additional difficulties for the
organisation of democratic elections and should be borne in mind
and addressed if the normative documents on electoral matters are
to be updated.
and clear regulation of electoral systems
48. The stability of electoral
law is crucial to the credibility of the electoral process. Irrespective
of the type of electoral system, it should therefore be avoided
that electoral systems are changed too often and just before elections.
Furthermore, there is a need for clear and comprehensive legislative
regulation of electoral systems.
49. The apportionment of legislative
seats over a given territory and the drawing of boundaries are central to
competitive elections. Issues of reapportionment and boundary readjustments
are therefore important for all electoral systems that provide for
single-member constituencies or multi-member districts.
50. In order to guarantee equal voting rights, seats must be evenly
distributed among the constituencies on the basis of the number
of citizens or registered voters. In some of Council of Europe member
States, a highly uneven distribution between citizens among electoral
districts may be inconsistent with the principle of equality of
51. Moreover, in all electoral systems that provide for constituencies,
there is an inherent danger that constituency boundaries are drawn
in favour of particular parties or candidates. Even if independent
and impartial bodies (e.g. Boundary Commissions) are responsible
for boundary reviews, boundary changes always have partisan effects
that are hotly debated.
52. While single-member constituencies
may be important to ensure a close relationship between voters and
constituency representatives, they are prone to corruption and fraud
in those countries where a democratic political culture is not sufficiently
established. This is due to the fact that it easier to manipulate
elections at the constituency level than at the regional or national
level. The majoritarian components of the mixed (parallel) electoral
systems in a number of “new democracies” have been criticised as
being particularly vulnerable to fraud.
rights for citizens abroad
53. There is a growing tendency
to allow citizens abroad to vote in national elections. As for PR
systems at the national level, voting for citizens residing abroad
is easy to manage since there is only one nation-wide constituency.
If electoral systems provide for single- or multi-member constituencies,
however, it will be necessary to assign external voters to constituencies
or create specific constituencies for out-of-country voters. There
should be clear and comprehensible criteria to do this.
54. In Germany, for instance, voters abroad are assigned to the
constituency of their last residency. In a number of other countries,
voters residing abroad have their own out-of-country districts.
In order to ensure the principle of equal suffrage, however, special
attention must be paid to an even distribution of voters between in-country
and out-of-country constituencies.
55. With proportional representation
systems at the national or even constituency level, sometimes only political
parties or electoral alliances are allowed to stand for elections,
but not independent candidates. Even with proportional representation
systems, however, allowing independent candidates to stand for elections should
order of party lists
56. For all proportional list systems,
parties must be prohibited from changing the order of candidates
within an electoral list after the ballot has taken place. The voter
must know who he or she is voting for, and the voter decision must
be respected. The opposite situation offers too much power to party
staff and results in bringing to elected office candidates for whom
the voters did not vote. The concentration of political power within
a narrow circle of party officials, including decision-making on
the order of candidates on party lists, creates the risk of turning
democracy into “partocracy”.
57. In some countries, the Electoral
Law contains a requirement for a minimum turnout for the election
to be valid. In case the turnout threshold has not been reached,
the election has to be considered as not having taken place – and
a repeat election would be useless since it would normally lead
to an even lower turnout. This would prevent the very establishment
of the body to be elected and therefore lead to an institutional
crisis. Furthermore, since turnout rates remain arbitrary without
the existence of accurate voter registration, such a requirement
might be problematic in some countries, and it might provoke attempts
to fraudulently inflate turnout rates.
58. There is a controversial debate
on legal thresholds of representation. It refers to the legally
established minimum share of valid votes that parties must obtain
in order to participate in the distribution of seats. The principal
aim of such thresholds is to avoid party fragmentation and to enable
stable governments by excluding minor parties when translating votes
into seats. This is a legitimate aim. From the perspective of inclusiveness, however,
high legal thresholds, especially at the national level, might be
problematic. For instance, the national threshold of 10% valid votes
cast in Turkey – which is the highest in all Council of Europe member
States – has been widely criticised, including by the Assembly.
However, the general recommendation of the Assembly to decrease
legal thresholds that are higher than 3%Note
needs further discussion.
In Europe, thresholds of 5% are most common. Furthermore, the effects of
the threshold depend not only on the percentage, but also on the
level and stage of application. Moreover, in PR systems with small
and medium-sized constituencies the “natural” thresholds are much
higher than 3% at the constituency level.
60. Open to discussion is whether one should apply different legal
thresholds to parties and electoral alliances. In addition, it seems
to be appropriate that legal thresholds are calculated based on
the valid votes cast (and not of the total votes cast).
participation of women and men and equal representation of women
61. There is a broad consensus
that women’s parliamentary representation should be increased. Democracy
is incomplete if one half of the population is not appropriately
62. Mandatory or voluntary gender quotas for parties presenting
candidates or candidates’ lists can be considered as a “fast track”
to an increased women’s representation in parliament, if they provide
not only for a high proportion of female candidates, but also for
strict rank-order rules and effective sanctions for non-compliance.
Another avenue worth considering could be increased public funding
of political parties which encourage women’s participation as candidates.
63. As for the type of electoral system, generally, with proportional
representation systems it is easier for women to get access to parliament
than with other types. Especially in large or even nation-wide districts,
PR systems appear to be advantageous for women’s nomination and
representation. The more MPs that are elected per district (district
magnitude) and the greater the number of seats a party expects to
win (party magnitude), the more meaningful are ticket balancing
strategies to include women.
64. For the same reason, legal threshold may surprisingly work
in favour of an increased women’s representation. Although they
exclude small parties (which may represent women’s interests), they
allow those parties which pass the threshold to gain enough seats
in order to make ticket-balancing in favour of women meaningful.
65. As for the PR list form, general recommendations can hardly
be made. Depending on the respective conditions, closed or open
party lists may work to the advantage or disadvantage of women.
66. Finally, it should be clear that the electoral system alone
does not ensure an increased women’s representation in political
and public life. Additional measures are needed.
of national minorities
67. In many countries, there is
a strong political demand for a better representation of national
minorities in parliament. In such cases, the electoral system may
facilitate minority representation. In the case of nationally dispersed
national minorities without regional strongholds, proportional representation
systems in nation-wide or in large districts might be appropriate,
especially if party lists presenting national minorities are excluded from
threshold requirements. In the case of regionally concentrated national
minorities, however, PR systems in small districts or even plurality
systems in single-member constituencies may also ensure minority representation.
68. Alternatively, or additionally, there are sometimes provisions
for reserved seats separately allocated to national minorities.
If special rules are applied to national minorities, however, there
must be clear criteria in the law to determine which minorities
should be entitled to have related privileges such as threshold exemptions
or reserved seats.
elements raised in the committee
69. During the discussion in the
committee, a number of colleagues raised some additional issues
which have emerged over the last few years and may affect the functioning
of electoral systems and, in fine,
the quality of the democratic process. These include the transition
to an information society and an unprecedented role and influence
of social media; the misuse of both traditional and social media
for spreading biased information and “fake news”; the fluidity of
national political landscapes with swift emergence of new faces
and new actors (e.g. political parties and movements) at the expense
of “traditional” ones; the growing influence of party bureaucracies
tending to overrun the choice of voters; potential margins for abuse
in the use of political advertising, etc. The list is far from being
While these issues must be borne in mind, I wonder to what
extent they may be subject to be addressed by uniform regulations
at the European level. Many colleagues agreed that the general political
culture constitutes a necessary condition for the proper functioning
of any electoral system. It certainly can be promoted but it is
rather difficult to imagine how it can be codified. In any event,
it is worth drawing attention to a joint report which the Venice
Commission prepared with the Council of Europe Directorate of information society
and action against crime on Digital technologies
, adopted in June 2019.Note
The Venice Commission
also decided to prepare a list of principles for the use of digital
technologies in a human rights compliant manner, in relation to
71. There is a vast variety of
electoral systems in Europe, both in terms of legislation and its
practical implementation. This variety, resulting from different
political histories, cultures and traditions, and based in every
country on a consensus among political actors and societies at large,
forms a European electoral heritage.
72. The fundamental principles of democratic elections are summed
up and explained in the 2002 Code of good practice in electoral
matters drafted by the Venice Commission in co-operation with the
Parliamentary Assembly and widely recognised as a key Council of
Europe document aimed at promoting the harmonisation of electoral
standards and at serving as a reference for evaluating elections.
73. Electoral systems in different countries are founded on different
political principles and produce different results in terms of representativeness
and governability. In particular, different electoral systems do
not provide an equal degree of fairness when it comes to translating
the votes cast into political mandates and seats in parliament.
Under some electoral systems, even if the legal rules are observed,
substantial parts of constituents are not represented in elected
institutions, or do not see in parliament the candidates which they voted
for. Inversely, some systems provide the winning parties with parliamentary
majorities which largely exceed the real support they enjoy among
74. This inconsistency between legality and legitimacy undermines
public trust in the democratic process and creates a fertile ground
for populism and extremism. Failure of an electoral system to prevent
a large discrepancy between the political choices of the constituents
as expressed in elections and the composition of elected institutions
is a sign of democratic deficit and puts its fairness in doubt.
75. The 2002 Code does not contain any specific criteria which
an electoral system must respect in order to be deemed fair and
democratic. This lacuna must be filled in. Accordingly, the Venice
Commission should be invited to reflect on the problem of the systemic
incapacity of some electoral systems to transfer votes to seats in
a fair manner and to consider ways to set up minimum standards with
which electoral systems must comply in order to be deemed as guaranteeing
not only free elections but also fair results thereof.
76. Moreover, democracy is a living process. The guidelines on
elections may need to be updated in order to keep pace with the
evolving political realities observed in our societies and to face
new challenges. My main proposal is therefore to consider whether
the 2002 Code should be updated, also to take into account, to the extent
of possible, relevant Assembly resolutions and the work of the Venice
Commission on some specific issues related to the conduct of elections.
77. Furthermore, country-specific reports and opinions produced
by the Venice Commission contain a wealth of analytical information
on the variety of legal frameworks and real-life political practice
observed in elections in many Council of Europe member States, and
concrete proposals on the ways of addressing systemic shortcomings
and practical dysfunctions. These may also be taken into account
when considering the need to update and fine-tune the Code.