Let us suppose that a state is transitioning to a democracy from an autocracy.

We have an unicameral legislature, where the members do not have a single vote each, instead they vote with a number of votes equal to their two-party-preferred majority in their seat. Elections are held each five years on a fixed date.

Overt political parties are outlawed; each candidate must campaign in isolation from other candidates, and may not mention any current or previous candidate by name while campaigning.


Some questions have been asked about this system:

"Two-party preferred majority" means that in each seat, voters number boxes corresponding to candidate names in order of preference. The ballot papers for the two candidates with the greatest number of "1"s in their box are placed in separate piles, and every other ballot paper is placed in one pile or the other according to whether candidate A or candidate B has the lower number. Once all ballot papers are distributed to A or B, whichever candidate has the most votes wins the seat. However, in parliament, the candidate does not typically get just one vote, but votes with the number of votes by which they won the seat.

Each ballot paper also ends in a "None of the Above" candidate, and if this non-candidate wins, the election for that seat must be held again with all the candidates on the previous ballot paper disqualified from candidacy until the next election date, meaning that new candidates must be nominated or the seat left vacant. "None of the Above" is also a dummy candidate against which a single candidate for a seat must compete.

E.g. if A gets 1987 two-party-preferred votes and B gets 1763, A wins, and gets 224 votes in parliament. This obviously favours very popular representatives over those who just squeak in by a handful of votes.

There are a number of seats in parliament, each representing a geographical area containing roughly equal numbers of voting constituents. Every citizen considered adult (i.e. 18 or over and not mentally incapacitated) gets to vote, and indeed must vote unless absent during an election - we'll have no idiots (in the Athenian sense) here if we can help it.

Elections are on a fixed date: Day x of Month Y every fifth year. This means that the incumbent representatives cannot wait to call an election until their popularity is high as happens in some electoral systems. When the election is due, it happens, even if it isn't in the best interests of the government's members chances for re-election.

As for political parties, alliances can and will happen, this is expected. However, it is illegal to give these alliances a corporate name (such as "Party X") and it is illegal for the candidates to associate themselves with, against, or even mention any other candidates by name when campaigning for an election. This is intended to bring the focus onto the candidate's platform (or lack thereof), and not campaign on the basis that "I'm a member of popular group X" or "Group/member Y is lousy, pick me instead."

Candidates can campaign that "Policy Q is a bad idea, it would be better to have Policy R", and by implication identify another candidate (as the originator of Policy Q).

Since representatives should not be placed in ministerial positions that do not fit their skill sets, they must nominate themselves and campaign for said positions. The minister for X is in charge of X, even if they are a member of a minority alliance, and only they can originate bills concerning the X portfolio.

As a bit of background, this is a city state with an unpopular non-hereditary and effectively immortal lord whom no-one had been able to remove until now, and the person who removed the lord knows about democracy and decided to give rule to the people rather than rule themselves as was their right by mandate of conquest, in order to permanently eliminate the highly unsavoury custom that was the lord's traditional prerogative and effective source of immortality.

[End Edit]

The Question:

Would this system work? How could - and would - it be abused? What would its strengths be?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 1st: I completely did not understand the rules of your "democracy". And second, being from country which had totalitarian regime, that's not what would happen if you shift to democracy $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2015 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ Your rules preclude any party-based system, sooner or later there will be established alliances that will pop up regardless of the rules. $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2015 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ You can look out at Kuwait; they have free elections but have no legal political parties. Of course, that means that far-reaching reforms will be stalled, because there is no platform to support them as a whole, and that those with access to the public are those with the means to do so (rich people, clan sheiks, etc...) $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Jan 20, 2015 at 11:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Monty can you elaborate on the first bit, where the members do not have a single vote each, instead they vote with a number of votes equal to their two-party-preferred majority in their seat. Elections are held each five years on a fixed date. I am not sure what this means, what is a two party preferred majority (you mention there are no parties) and what elections are held every five years? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Jan 20, 2015 at 14:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek, have a look at my edit. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 20, 2015 at 22:09

2 Answers 2


So Many Problems

only they can originate bills concerning the X portfolio.

This is (almost) effectively impossible. Things are interconnected. Give me an example, and I can find another portfolio that can [fubar] with X.

eg: Guns == Child safety == Interstate commerce == whatever.

Even mention any other candidates by name when campaigning for an election. This is intended to bring the focus onto the candidate's platform (or lack thereof)

You can indicate people without using their names ("Unlike those candidates with hair...", "Unlike the former representative / holder of this office..." ).

You can also indicate a class of people "All of my opponents...", "All men..." (Do women get to vote? (ie: considered citizens, considered competent?)).

So many ways to break this:

Does anything restrict these rules from being changed? If not, the first thing you do is outlaw your opponents/change the rules... Allowing political parties. Or just vote George the III for King by Divine Right!

Or, gerrymander the districts, pack your opponents into one district with none of your supporters, spread the rest out so that you have 55% in every other district... then:

Assassinate any of your opponents (Since elections are not held in the election interim (for any reason?)) who don't vote your way? What prevents you from voting your party immunity to prosecution for murder? Or grant them clemency, or pack the judiciary, or give them pardons?

What prevents you from having a secret prison, and/or waylaying your opponent's voters during voting season, preventing them voting (and maybe getting them a prison term - for not showing up at the polls - too)?

Start changing who is a citizen (are criminals still citizens?) slowly. Disenfranchise any of your opponents that you can. Imprison the rest. Lose the prison votes, or change them (How will the prisoners know?). Etc.

Import an underclass. Make them citizens. Or don't, and tax them to death, while citizens sit on their asses.

Does anything prevent voter fraud, buying votes (eg: "Free beer for anyone who brings proof that they voted for Big-Business-Guy!"), mob checking of who voted which way? See Chicago machine and Tammany Hall (under Tweed, esp.) for how that might work.

Patronage for entrenched bureaucracies? Graft? Corruption?

Can the representatives vote themselves golden parachutes? Then promise anything you need to get the office, then pimp yourself out for the most money to special interests.

Any reason for the populace not to vote themselves bread and circuses (are there any outside threats?)

What prevents coups? If you've got military or police, they may decide that those stupid politicians are dumb, we should take over (eg: 2014 coup against caretaker government of Thailand, following six months of political crisis). What prevents riots, lawlessness, or anarchy from breaking out?

You've outlawed party names, but you've not put any controls on the media. How do you prevent yellow journalism, or a cabal of business men from running the media to support their candidates, or their party? If you regulate the media, how're you going to handle underground media? If you outlaw (or don't have the tech for reproducing broadsheets), how're you going to combat paid whisperers, who go and advocate on the street-corner or bars, for the candidates with the most money? And nothing prevents those guys from lying or slandering candidates by name. Or, you're going to have a huge secret police budget.

Nothing in here prevents lots of third parties from forming. Yes, they've got to take a district in order to get a vote, but that's it. And there's more than one way to get a district, threaten enough people that none of the above doesn't win - and kill/scare off any other candidates.

How do you get on the ballot? That will come under fire, and have more hurdles to jump through.

The less a candidate promises, the better off he'll be. Come around and try to say a lot of nothing with as much style as you can. And kiss babies. :)

No seniority system. That might be both good and bad. When do ministries come up for bid? Every election? Or once a representative loses an election? ie: if a representative keeps getting re-elected he keeps his ministry job? That would be a reason (eg: Ted Kennedy) for a district to keep holding its nose and re-electing a guy, who they don't particularly like - but who brings home the bacon. Bad part about that, is no experience dealing with the bureaucracy, assuming you don't patronage your whole bureaucracy.

What happens if the people get fed up with being forced to vote, and consistently choose the none-of-the-above candidate, as a way to dead-lock government?

Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum alternate elections, and those are the only two candidates that the people in power offer (or who made it through the hoops to be on the ballot). Keep choosing none-of-the-above.

When does the legislature sit? When the elections are all finished? If so, you can prevent everyone else from sitting by keeping one district on the NotA treadmill, and keep the former office holders in power - or nobody running the government (or the cops/military or the un-elected bureaucrats).

Since people who don't vote for the majority party don't get any representation in this system, there's no reason for them not to ally with other 3rd parties, and keep the majority party from seating (at all, or just that district). Doing so will weaken the majority party, since they won't have that guy's votes in any seated legislature. If you're strong in other districts, it may be worth it to spike it in a couple.

Assuming you get this - with no political tradition, I'm not sure how you're going to keep it. But, it might squeak by. If it makes it long enough that the old generation that remembers anything different dies off, you might get to keep it - until someone steals it. Russian Communism mostly made it that far, but still failed (and their transition to Democracy... well, they've elected a KGB man to run their country, so there's that. The Russians also had plenty of successful examples and plenty of help/advice when they were doing it - sounds like your guy just read a book/crazy political tract/heard about it third-hand). I think you're not going to be able to have this at all without political speech / printing presses. Unless your total populace is small enough to do direct democracy (Athenian style). Without the Fourth Estate... it's going to be difficult for the man in the street to get informed enough politically to make any type of reasonable decision.

  • $\begingroup$ The problems with one powerful group changing the rules could conceivably happen in any democratic system. A lot of your other criticisms are apparently based on pointing out that the OP didn't mention a certain area of laws, and then assuming it doesn't exist. Do you think that people can get away with killing their opponents just because it isn't prohibited in the election rules? $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Jan 22, 2015 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ Good thing there aren't any currently "working" democratic systems with corruption, politicians voting out of self-interest, gerrymandering, ballot eligibility restrictions, or businessmen running media to support their political views. That would make it look like those are problems common to any democratic government, not just the proposed one. $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Jan 22, 2015 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ re: killing opponents: 1930s Germany. I'm just saying that those problems are going to come up more often in a new democracy / populace w/o a democratic tradition. If the population has bought the idea of Democracy, they'll overcome those things - and they'll fight against them - instead of roll-over when some group tries them. But a brand-new to democracy population has no buy-in. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Jan 23, 2015 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ Those things are common to badly run democracies. The question is, are the parasites enough to kill the beast? And a newly formed beast is much more susceptible to parasites than an older one. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Jan 23, 2015 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that gerrymandering would really help with the proposed election system here – the opposite candidate in the district with none of your supporters would have many more votes than your candidates with their 55% majority. (Though this supposes a two-party system, not a no-party system.) $\endgroup$ May 10, 2015 at 7:22

One of the few examples I know of where a partyless Democracy was formed was the the Confederate States of America. Everyone was experienced in Democratic processes, had worked in a more or less identical system for decades. In addition, they had the fact that they were at war to survive as a nation to focus their efforts. These members were all from the Democratic Party, and from the pro-slavery wing at that.

Nevertheless, within a few years they were having knife fights between members in Congress. When you ban parties, you only have personalities to contend with, which is an even more poisonous situation by far.

Your restrictions on political speech, if honestly adhered to, cripple any means to tie an incumbent to his record. The system rewards the creation of a few safe seats to dominate the legislature far, far worse than any seniority system. At least the entrenched fat cat in current systems has one vote, not a quarter million.

My country has had a democracy for 200 years and more and I think your voting system is bizzarely complicated. In a state where there are no parties at all, and no voting tradition, and no legal public dissent setting up a few big winners in districts as the arbiters of the country is asking for trouble.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how this system has no voting tradition and no legal public dissent. I agree that "no political parties" creates a whole different set of problems than the existence of political parties, however, I don't know if "young" governments are fair examples. I've heard that the table in the center of the British House of Lords is the width that it is so that members from opposite sides can't have sword fights during sessions. $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Jan 22, 2015 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ The OP's assumption is that this state is transitioning from an authoritarian regime, so it has no tradition of democracy. Thus, a complex voting system like this would be hard for these novice voters to understand. The CSA was a young state, but its organs were copied lock stock and barrel from the USA and its politicians were veterans from the US, so cautions about young states don't apply there. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jan 22, 2015 at 21:06

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