Pre-electoral coalitions can prevent absolute majorities from forming in municipal councils
A recent study shows that pre-electoral coalitions (PEC) do not seem to have a large impact on coalescing parties’ seat shares. However, PECs can prevent large parties from receiving an absolute majority of seats. Additionally, PECs are common between parties of equal size and similar ideology, and when elections are disproportional or involve several parties.
In Finland, municipal elections use an open-list at-large proportional representation election system. A voter votes for a single individual candidate instead of voting directly for a party and the seats in the municipal council are distributed by using the D’Hondt method. The Finnish municipal election system allows parties to form pre-electoral coalitions (PEC) by running joint lists with a hope for a better electoral outcome. In fact, the electoral system encourages parties to form PECs: it favors large parties by giving them relatively more seats than their vote share would.
A new study by Jaakko Meriläinen (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México), Rafael Hortala-Vallve (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Janne Tukiainen (University of Turku, VATT Institute for Economic Research) shows that PECs do not have a large impact on parties’ seat shares in municipal councils, because voters tend to punish coalescing parties.
Instead, PECs affect the overall distribution of power and, most importantly, can prevent absolute majorities from forming in close elections. Thus, PECs are not formed by purely seat-seeking motivations but instead to prevent the victory of a rival larger party.
- In Finnish municipalities, obtaining an absolute majority is critical since councils make decisions based on a simple majority vote. Therefore, PECs are especially common in close elections when absolute majorities might form, Janne Tukiainen tells.
- About one-third of the municipalities are governed by single-party absolute majorities in Finland. For instance, the Center Party usually holds the absolute majority in small rural municipalities, while the Swedish People’s Party holds an absolute majority of seats in many coastal regions where most of the Swedish speakers live, Jaakko Meriläinen adds.
The study also finds that parties are more likely to coalesce when elections are disproportional or involve more parties. Moreover, PECs are common between parties of equal size and similar ideology. PECs are also favorable and beneficial to such coalescing parties.
The study used data of election results for all Finnish local elections held between 1996 and 2012 and the public broadcasting company YLE’s voting aid application for measuring party ideology.
Jaakko Meriläinen, Assistant professor, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. Tel. +52 55 8232 7639. jaakko.merilainen(@)itam.mx.
Janne Tukiainen, Professor, University of Turku; Associate Research Professor, VATT. Tel. +358 50 308 3620. janne.tukiainen(@)utu.fi.