Psephology Rocks: All Right, It's The Greatest Show On Earth

I haven't really been all that inspired to nerd out over an election for a few months now. I was toying with the idea of doing a deep dive on Israeli elections and how they work, but I figured the results would be too depressing to really get excited about (turns out, that assessment was right) but then a flurry of news hit: Algeria got rid of it's old President (a bigger deal than people think) and is getting a new President. Sudan is getting new military leaders and perhaps a new President. Israel had it's elections and The Greatest Show on Earth is getting underway as we speak as India starts it's amazing exercise in month long electioneering.

So, there's a lot of things to talk about all of a sudden, so I figured, why not hop back on the Psephology Train and here we are. Let's start with Israel and the nuts and bolts of how it all works.

Israel has always been kind of a fascinating country from a political science viewpoint: it's got a unicameral legislature- so the Knesset is a one stop shop for passing legislation- there's no upper chamber to worry about. It's only got 120 members, which seems like a low number for a national legislature until you look up Israel's population and realize that it's only got 8 million people in it, which puts it as about the same as Virginia- which has two chambers and 140 totals seats in their legislature- so it's not that crazy. It just seems low.

However, 120 wasn't just a random number they landed on. They took it from the 'Great Assembly' of Jewish tradition, which was an assembly of scribes, sages and prophets in Biblical times- and there were, of course, 120 of them. The Great Assembly wasn't elected and was a completely religious body, but it's a nice bit of- I don't want to say continuity because that's not quite right either- but it's a nice nod to tradition anyway.

Another thing I didn't know: Israel doesn't have a formal constitution. They've got the Basic Laws of Israel- but the Knesset can pass any law by a simple majority, including ones that might conflict with the Basic Laws of Israel. They've also got not statute which grants a power of judicial review to the judiciary which seems... unusual to me. (The Supreme Court of Israel has been asserting itself a little bit of late and doing that, but there's no formal law about it.)

What I do know about the Knesset is that there are a crazy number of parties in there: Likud, Blue and White, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Hadash-Ta'al, Labor, Yisrael Beitenu, United Right, Meretz, Kulanu, Ra-am-Balad, New Right- and those are just the ones listed on the Wikipedia page. With only 120 seats to go around, it's been Coalition building since the very beginning for Israeli- and no party or single faction has ever won 61 seats for a majority. (Closest was the 56 seats won by the Alignment- an admittedly cool sounding party name- in the 1969 Elections.)

Members are elected from a single nationwide district (so no Single Member District issues to deal with here) and they use the D'Hondt method of proportional representation with a 3.25% election threshold for parties to clear before they can get a seat in the Knesset.

So, what went down with this year's elections over there? Well, Israel is pretty much All Right now- as in, 'all the parties are on the right'. The Left has been pretty moribund in Israel for over a decade now and they didn't show any signs of life this time around either. The Labor Party which was a dominant force in Israeli politics for the first few decades of it's existence ended up with a grand total of six seats- which isn't great. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secured a record fifth term as Prime Minister- despite the possibility of corruption charges hanging above his head. Despite promises to start annexing parts of the West Bank. His Likud Party tied with the Blue and White Alliance of Benny Gantz- who admittedly gave Netanyahu a strong challenge- but Israeli politics is all about coalitions, so with an alliance of right-wing parties, Netanyahu ended up with 65 seats to the center left bloc's total of 55 seats. What does it mean for the peace process- or what's left of it? Probably nothing good. But we'll see.

Israel is all said and done, but India is just getting started.* With 900 million eligible voters, it takes a month to get done and one my all time political science nerd dreams is just to go over there and spend a month jetting around all over India just to watch it. Americans get really full of themselves about Star Spangled Awesome were allegedly are, but India's elections are damn near inspirational. 900 million people are gonna spend the next month voting. It really is the Greatest Show on Earth.

So how does it all work in India? Well, for the Lok Sabha, which is the lower house of India's Parliament has 545 members that are all elected using single member district, first past the post elections. So no proportional representation either... the upper house, the Rajya Sabha is indirectly elected by the members of the state and territorial legislatures. The President of India can appoint 12 members for contributions to art, literature, science and social services. The two houses are on equal footing legislatively despite the Lok Sabha having twice as many members- and the Lok Sabha can override the Rajya Sabha in areas of supply- which is admittedly an obscure parliamentary thing I haven't heard of, but TL;DR the upper house can't refuse to pass legislation to force the lower house to do something. (I think that's how it works?)

The elections are a whole other thing entirely: voter rolls have increased by 84.3 million since the last election, which  means that the largest ever election in the world. 15 million voters who are 18-19 years old get to cast their votes for the very first time. Counting the votes won't even start until 23rd of May- which is over a month away. (Glancing over the news- it seems like things went fairly well, despite some reported problems and sporadic violence. A lot of states in the northeast and the southeast/south central coast were up today. Parts of Bihar, Uttah Pradesh and West Bengal will be voting in all seven phases and it looks like Jammu and Kashmir is going to be split up as well.) 

I'll have to do some more reading and research to get a sense of how things are going to go. Regional parties are increasingly powerful players in India's elections, so the Congress Party might be able to stitch together enough of anti-Modi coalition to force the BJP out- that simultaneously gives them more options to build a coalition to oust Modi and makes it more of a challenge to hold a coalition together. I feel like (again: I need to read more) there are some issues that the voters aren't very happy with the BJP about, but Modi's government is coming off of a dust-up with Pakistan and looked pretty muscular and powerful doing it and Hindu nationalism is kind of the BJP's thing.

The biggest election in the world is happening right now. That's kind of awesome.

*Do I wish that America had a news network that gave a shit about any of this? I desperately do. CNN is continuing flog their increasingly dead Trump Trump Trump Russia Russia Russia Mueller Mueller Mueller bullshit and not actually paying attention to the goddamn news. Shit's going on out in the world, kids. If only people had news networks dedicated to bringing us that... oh, what's the word? Oh, that's right- the news.


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