The Moorish Wanderer

PJD’s “Pocket Landslide”

Posted in Flash News, Intikhabates-Elections, Morocco, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 8, 2012

A little over one year after PJD‘s victory, it would be interesting to look at what is already their electoral legacy, or indeed the lack of real appreciation of how important it is. Not matter how past electoral results come under criticism, they have been de facto the law of the land – whatever the real results following the 2002 elections, all parties agreed to the official results, and these have been validated as such. And it would be better, I think, if this criticism was laid aside, especially since the 2002 election did give PJD a clear win, were it not for the diluting proportional ballot.

Majorities are 'easier' to form when the ballot system weighs in pluralities in districts

Majorities are ‘easier’ to form when the ballot system weighs in pluralities in districts

In general terms, I describe a method that points to majority-based ballot system as a good indicator of how political parties can improve their probabilities of forming a government by themselves, thus delivering stable governments and even more stable parliamentary majorities.

PJD’s victory in 2011 was a pocket landslide because the party was 65 seats short of an absolute majority – even if it was well ahead of its nearest competitor. A majority-based ballot system could have delivered the absolute majority they needed. Their feat was only matched by the joint USFP-PI 1993 campaign. Unfortunately for PJD, they are in a coalition with parties directly (and adversely) affected by any re-districting, or majority-based ballot system. (read here the theoretical argument against coordinated effort among political parties)

This is how I compute these majorities: for a particular district, all of the seats are allocated to the party with a plurality of votes. The simplest, crudest rule of politics – and poker: winner takes all. On the basis of this principle, the electoral map since 1963 is radically changed. I further consolidated party performances by aggregating split-offs – which leads to 13 big ‘partisan conglomerates’ – and these results tell a story: a consolidated political competition over parliamentary control allows for larger probabilities of reaching an absolute majority (in the cases of seats open for local ballot) and these contradict the final outcomes observed over the past couple of elections; for one, the 1997 Alternance would have been led by Istiqlal instead of USFP, and 2002, not 2011 would have been PJD’s coronation. But then again, efficiency is not Morocco’s forte.

These results can then be compared against the probabilities of each party to get a majority of the votes. These probabilities are computed on the basis of past electoral results – with increasing weightings for more recent electoral campaigns. And I am pleased that up to 92% of the historical results are explained by the following, rather simple linear model: V(\max_{i,j})=\sum\limits_{p_{k,i,j}}^n\alpha_k \mathbb{E} \left[V(P_{k,i,j})\right]+\epsilon_{k,i,j}

where \alpha_k the estimated probability for a party k to get the plurality in a district i. These parameters need not sum over 1, because there are a lot of cross-party historical votes. This confirm my earlier claim about PJD’s robust position on its 2016 prospects, as well as the need to go for a majority-based system – some parties have clearly more chances to get the majority, while others do not (those have been taken out of the fitting because of the statistical insignificant results)

      Source |       SS       df       MS              Number of obs =     153
-------------+------------------------------           F(  6,   147) =  292.75
       Model |  5.1894e+10     6  8.6491e+09           Prob > F      =  0.0000
    Residual |  4.3430e+09   147  29544400.6           R-squared     =  0.9228
-------------+------------------------------           Adj R-squared =  0.9196
       Total |  5.6237e+10   153   367564886           Root MSE      =  5435.5
         max |      Coef.   Std. Err.      t    P>|t|     [95% Conf. Interval]
     pnd_pam |   .2806256   .0863479     3.25   0.001      .109982    .4512693
     rni_ind |   .4540341   .1007729     4.51   0.000     .2548834    .6531848
    mpdc_pjd |   .5029201   .0445715    11.28   0.000     .4148364    .5910038
          pi |   .3938989   .0974869     4.04   0.000      .201242    .5865558
     fdic_mp |   .2368222   .0761314     3.11   0.002     .0863687    .3872757
   unfp_usfp |   .3958337   .0742675     5.33   0.000     .2490639    .5426035

As one can see, the next elections tend to favour PJD (with an estimated 50.2% chance of getting a vote majority on all seats – quite different from getting a majority of seats) although there are a couple of contenders, and an even stiffer competition between say RNI vs USFP, RNI vs PI, and finally, USFP vs PI. As for PAM, my estimate is they are not likely to get anywhere close to a serious contender for governing party.

In essence, PJD’s electoral legacy would be that of ‘breaking the mould’ of opposition parties: strong enough to have a large caucus, but too weak to force censure motions, and definitely unable to form a government on their own right. It would be a breakthrough legacy if PJD could force through an electoral reform that seeks to improve the chances of a one-party government. True, this would mean PJD is most likely to stay in office for the next decade, but this is about representative democracy.

Data description: seats are allocated to each district per each electoral districting. All of the seats are allocated to the party with a plurality of votes. Parties are merged afterwards when applicable.


Across Partisan Lines: Redistricting in Morocco

I apologise in advance to the excessive level of abstract models used in this post, but there is only so much I can take in the current, mainstream political science discourse in Morocco. I mean, I am a great fan of Wijhat Nadar (the review) and writings of heavyweights like Abdellah Laroui, but it would be fun to explore other alternatives, possibly using teachings from game theory. Plus this is High School-level math, so no harm done.

A quick look at a relatively unearthed matter in Moroccan politics can always tell when a consensus crosses party lines, and in this case, it is about the number of seats allocated to each district. Traditionally each and every party vent their respective grievances as to the incumbent districting: smaller parties vehemently oppose high thresholds (PSU found an eloquent advocate against it back in 2007 in one of its prominent leaders, Mohamed Sassi) and larger parties tend to believe their strongholds are undervalued: back then it was USFP in Rabat or Casablanca, nowadays it is PJD in Tangier, Casablanca or Salé. Every election is the same, parties complain to the media, but cannot agree on anything.

In fairness, districting is always a zero-sum game, even if the number of seats in parliament is expanded: a large district benefits some type of parties, and harms others. Better still, some parties have contradicting interests on similar constituencies; for instance, the 2011 general elections pitted Istiqlal and USFP (in Fez), PJD and UC (Marrakesh) RNI and Istiqlal (Southern seats) among others. A slight change in the number of seats, or inter-province districting can tip the balance one way or the other. Political parties in Morocco do look (and act) disorganised and utterly incompetent, but this belies their inner rationality as to their political survival.

Consider a simple model to capture the perverse effect that compels political parties to defer to a benevolent actor e.g. the Interior Ministry. It is the rational course of action for every political party in Morocco: abdicate the possibility of a contentious (but ultimately more democratic) battle over the optimal number of allocated seats per district, for a more peaceful, consensual redistricting under the auspices of a mechanism-designer with endogenous preferences, ultimately the perpetual weakening of that very same political spectrum.

Consider a number of n political parties competing for a fixed (but undefined) number of seats. Each party i derives some utility from contesting elections and having members of parliament elected; three layers of benefits can be listed: first, merely electing a member of parliament, second, electing a caucus with at least 6% of nationwide popular votes, and finally, a benefit from coming on top, or very close. The utility function is thus:

U(h_i) = \mathbf{1}_{v(h_{i,6})}\{\pi(h_i)+\phi h_i - \max\{h_{-i}\}\}+\frac{v(h_i)}{v(n)} -c_0

As each party prepares to contest elections, they face a certain fixed cost (typically the deposit required from each and every party candidate/list) but on the other hand, there are benefits attached to large caucuses, either in form of increased monetary compensation, or some utility derived from participating in a government. A simple differentiation pinpoints exactly the conflict of interest:

\dfrac{\partial U(h_i)}{\partial h_i}=\pi'(h_i)+\phi-\max{h_i}=0

that is:


As one can see, the benefit from one additional seat for a particular party stems from the performance of other parties (a primary evidence of the zero-sum aspect of game elections) and most importantly, is negatively linked to this term \phi. In this particular setting, it refers to a ‘premium’ put on the seat(s) won by that particular party. As it shall be proven later, each and every party has a particular incentive at keeping that parameter exogenous – in this case, defer to a higher authority.

Suppose the premium is set by the final outcome, i.e. suppose the present electoral result decides the next performance and the size of the district. This means:



\pi'(h_i)=\max{h_i}-[\phi'(h_i) + \phi(i)]

Now, there are a couple of cases where the last term might differ from the first case to the second. And there comes the Interior Ministry (the shiny knight cloaked in white, one might say) in providing an arbitrage that benefits individual parties, but ultimately harm their collective chances in getting large, stable government coalitions. In this setting, individual parties are better off when the premium is low, in fact when it is lower than the fixed, exogenous term \phi, that is:


Because of the higher competition (captured by a competitive districting) between parties mean the overall benefit from seats won by a particular party is diminished, and coming on top is not worth much.

As the same reasoning is applied to the entire caucus carried by party i, we get:

\int \phi'(h_i)+\phi(h_i)d h_i \geq \phi \int h_i d h_i

and there is your proof: on average, a caucus is better off when the districting is exogenous: \mathbb{E}(\phi(h_i))\geq\phi\mathbb{E}(h_i) this is possible because each district is treated the same; the intuition behind it is, preferential treatment for one district cannot be achieved because every other district will have to be treated similarly, and that takes us back to square one. The best response for each political party is thus to support uniform treatment, and as a result their respective caucuses are weakly better of with an exogenous districting.

Suppose we also look at the dispersion of caucuses as well: a larger expectation in caucus size does not mean both cases exhibit equal dispersion around it; in fact, since h_i denotes dispersion around the mean, and since: 2 h_i \phi'(h_i)+ h_i^2\phi(h_i)\geq \phi'(h_i)+\phi(h_i) then \mathbb{V}[\phi(h_i)]\geq\phi^2 \mathbb{V}(h_i)

This is an important result, because individual party interest trumps the collective likelihood of having a strong parliamentary majority (due to competitive districting) and the benevolent designer can only minimise the volatility – if it is indeed in their interest.

A candid observer cannot but wonder how Makhzen and Nihilist parties seem to agree on  a status-quo that harms representative democracy: true, smaller parties (including PSU) are most likely to be wiped out of the political map if they do not merge or join larger parties, but on the other hand, larger parties also seem to know they are next in line, because the bulk of their seats can be lost if a competitive system were to be introduced, be it an alternative ballot system, or an unfavourable (but impartial) districting.

Authorities on the other hand seem to have some incentive in keeping volatility high enough, so as to deny any potentially rebellious party the possibility of commanding an absolute majority, and hence forming an independent-minded government. It seems political rationality in this setting trumps every possible narrative about ideology, or political history.

“Marginals” and “Safes” – Post Game Analysis

This is not about the election itself, but rather how each caucus holds on to their seats, and more importantly, how strong is the PJD conference. I suggest that their now nationwide appeal is not as strong as it seems, and though they remain by and large the leading political party in parliament, many of their seats are ‘marginals’ and could be turned by PJD’s competitors in 2016 – if they do not perform well. Trouble is, they perform far far better than their competitors; so their apparent weaknesses are of no immediate worry to them.

But PJD’s seats are not the only marginals around: other parties have had a hard time snatching their owns, and in the end, every mainstream party (that ranges from PJD to PPS) have some relatively safe seats, and others their representatives must work hard to retain their constituencies. The very existence of PJD marginals, in my opinion, shows that these elections have been, on the whole pretty open, transparent and ‘clean’: under different circumstances, gerrymandering and other nasty ballot-stuffing manoeuvres (from pro-regime candidates, for instance) would have deprived PJD from a dozen seats we shall have a look at later on. I may be at odds with many who disparaged these elections as non-representative and organized within an undemocratic constitution, but I feel the topic at hand is a very good start of mainstream parliamentary democracies: where are the strengths and weakness of various political forces, and how much does it take to unseat them, as part of the dynamic, democratic renewal of governments.

First off, the present ballot system still handicaps rising challengers; it was, it seems, the only viable compromise between a homogeneous parliament house with large party caucuses, and the possibility for smaller parties with regional appeal to gain representation. We cannot also rule out the need for the Interior Ministry to maintain their grip on various constituencies, and thus predict (if not force some of them) results fitting their own agenda. Once data relative to each seat’s votes are released, we can even dive into interesting simulation of other ballot systems; yes, PJD could significantly improve or downgrade their performance, depending on the selected ballot system; Is there an ideal system that would promote democracy and government accountability? Political scientists tend to think not. But nonetheless, public debate and collective involvement with the decision-making process can insure the selected ballot system would fit the citizen’s needs.

But let us consider the existing ballot used in Morocco – it is proportional with a 6% threshold, and is defined by the Interior Ministry as follows:

Le scrutin a lieu à la représentation proportionnelle suivant la règle du plus fort reste sans panachage ni vote préférentiel.
Toutefois, en cas d’élection partielle, celle-ci a lieu au scrutin universel à la majorité relative à un tour lorsqu’il s’agit d’élire un seul membre.

computed as follows: There are 3 seats in a particular district, and 5 parties are competing for these; they have carried the following votes:

Party A: ……………………….3.000

Party B: ……………………….2.400

Party C: ……………………….1.400

Party D: ………………………….500

Party E: ………………………….120

The electoral coefficient is thus: (3.000+2.400+1.400+500+120)/3=2.473

Party A gets the first seat, and retains 3.000-2.473= 527 votes.

Party B gets the second seat, and retains 2.400-2.473 = 73 votes.

Party A carries the third seat because its residual votes outmatch Party C’s 500 votes (by 27); the district allocates therefore two seats to A and one to B. If Party C had managed to get a dozen more votes, it could have well carried that last seat – their own, marginal seat so to speak.

What’s a marginal in Moroccan parliamentary politics? Let us consider the example of a large district – i.e. with many opened slots for candidates: the newly unified Meknes district has 6 seats, and these have been filled as shown on the picture.

In absolute terms, all parties but PJD are marginals; but because of the proportional ballot system, only MP is.

Now, following the existing ballot system, PJD has most votes, but not enough to capture all available slots, though enough to gain 2 out of 6, a rather strong showing considering how large the district is, and the stiff competition around it (there were 150 candidates competing for 25 parties) MP, on the other hand, has barely got enough votes (just above the electoral coefficient computed to get a shot) Representative Abdelkrim Labrigui (MP – Meknès) holds therefore a marginal seat – the likelihood of losing his seat next election is contingent on a small number of votes; by contrast, outgoing finance minister and maiden representative, Salaheddine Mezouar, has managed to scrap enough votes to elect himself, and it will take more votes to unseat him; the same can be said of Representative Abdellah Bouanou, whose votes have been large enough to get him and his n°2 elected; in that respect, Bouanou holds a relatively ‘safe’ seat – relative to what PJD managed to carry in other constituencies, as we shall see later on.

Fortunately, there are other districts that can illustrate the concept of ‘safe seats’: basically, these are districts where one party has enough votes to carry their entire list on all opened slots, or a significant majority on these seats; PAM and PJD have their safe seats: PJD has carried all 3 seats allocated to Mohammedia and Sidi Bernoussi. In seven districts, PJD collected 2 seats out of three (in Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakesh)

PAM, on the other hand, has relatively weaker safe seats: 2 seats out of 3 in Rhamna (obviously) and the others are all two-seats openings (Bodjour, Jerada, Mdiq-Fnideq, Mediouna and Zag) and remains perhaps the only party with a regional stronghold. Istiqlal has Laayoune (2 out of 3) and that’s about it. USFP, RNI and MP do not get more than one seat per district, and more often than not, they do not get the n°1 seat.

PJD have their own, marginal seats as well: Chefchaouen, Kalaat Sraghna, Khemisset-Oulmes, Laayoune and Nouaceur representatives have had just enough votes to put them in the ballot and carry the last opened seat.

Speaking of marginals, there are three parties, whose caucus is made up of a significant number of highly-fought for seats on local ballot: Istiqlal has 16 marginals (out of its 47) USFP and PAM have each 11 marginals -out of respectively 30 and 35 seats. As far as USFP and Istiqlal are concerned, these are tale-telling sings of weak national parties, in a complete contrast with PJD’s vitality and aggressiveness.

The true landslide: 43% of all 92 districs are headed by PJD candidates

But what would it be if Morocco had a different ballot system? What if we had First Past the Post for instance? This ballot system, used in the United Kingdom, allows for strong parliamentary majorities, but does not help smaller organizations and communities to carry their voice to parliament house. But nonetheless, let us consider the implications of such a system:

– There are 92 districts (divided into 305 seats) on local ballot; national ballot just mirrors the results to provide representation for women and the youth.

– A district is carried only by the leading party, regardless of how many seats it has carried

– We then replicate the percentages commensurate to the 305 opened seats

Results are astonishing: almost half of all 92 districts are led by PJD candidates (now Representatives) and other parties see their parliamentary caucuses go through some dramatic changes; for one, First Past The Post does not reward mediocrity: it is alright to get candidates elected on the second or third opened slot, but it is a bit worrying not to manage to get the lead seat.

These results, I hope will be further vindicated once detailed figures are released, but it is clear PJD is, by far, an underestimated winner. Other parties, if anything, barely held to their seats, and to the seemingly other winners, their marginals -the surest sign of weakening popularity- make up a worrying percentage of their caucus’ seats.