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#18 - JRL 8453 - JRL Home
From: John Wilhelm <jhw@ams.org>
Subject: Political Reform in Russia -- An Alternative
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004

David, I would like to comment on the following with some comments below. I hope that you might share them on your list as I believe that there are some issues concerning political reform in Russia that I do not see getting the discussion which I believe they ought to get.


Johnson's Russia List
November 10, 2004
Russian administration to set up three-party political system The two-party system, the US model, is considered the best and most efficient political structure of the society


Given the inability of our two parties in the US to deal with very pressing problems facing the country, e.g., run away budget deficits, much needed entitlement reforms, the upcoming energy crunch due to the imminent peaking of world wide petroleum production, etc., it's beyond my comprehension that anybody can consider the US two-party system the most efficient political structure for society.

It surely is true, as I believe Putin recognizes, that a plethora of parties is not conducive to an effective political system. Part of his solution to the problem is to go to a system of proportional representation. But there are some problems with this. One cannot have a really true system of proportional representations if one excludes smaller parties. Obviously setting the barriers to the number of parties low enough to do that results in very dysfunctional and really unrepresentative legislation, one can cite countries like The Netherlands or Israel as examples. However, even with a limit on the number of parties allowed in, you inevitably get a strong tendency toward parties becoming bureaucratic and rigid due to the inevitable consequences of the necessity of having to rely on party lists for elections. It is not so clear to me in post-Soviet Russia that building such structures into your political parties is desirable given the extent to which bureaucratization infests the society and culture in general.

To date Tony Blair has been very chary about accepting any of the late Lord Roy Jenkins's suggestions for political reform because they involve the modification of the British system of single district constituencies which he considers it desirable to maintain. It would be my contention that for large countries like either the US or Russia that Blair's position is eminently sensible. A proportional representative system will inevitably work against the expression of regional considerations which surely need to have an outlet in the national political arena for large political entities.

It is my contention that reform of our dysfunctional American political system requires among other things opening up our system to responsible third parties. In thinking about this, I have become an advocate of instituting approval voting in US federal election with a limit on the number of political parties on the federal ballot. Under such a reform, every voter can give one vote each to that candidate or candidates he/she approves of with the candidate having the most votes winning. In addition, I favor limiting the number of political parties on the ballot to five, with four positions reserved automatically to the four parties garnering the largest number of votes for their candidates and the fifth position reserved for other parties to compete for through a process of petitioning.

I initially came across the idea of approval voting in thinking about political reform in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. I got the idea from a book by Professor Brams and Fishburn on approval voting. I advocated in a talk I gave in Moscow in the summer of 1991 to an advisory group in the energy sector of the Academy of Sciences using such a system to elect a constituent assembly to sort out the country's political system.

It seems to me that such a system might be a better one to institute to sort out the country's political system than what Putin has been proposing. If the political structure in terms of elections were set up so that it was much easier to run for office as a party candidate than as an independent, I would think that that would give one a structure that would strongly promote the emergence of real rather than virtual political parties. In addition, I believe multi-ethnic entities, and the Russian Federation, despite the predominance of ethnic Russians in its population, is such an entity, would be much better served by a system of approval voting. Late last spring, I know that Professor Brams was in Moscow lecturing amongst other things on voting systems. Before making the changes in their current political system that clearly are sorely needed, it would surely be important to have a real debate on alternative political/election systems and I would hope that this note might raise some issues in a direction that does not seem to be considered right now.