Political Party Recruitment

Pippa Norris. Handbook of Party Politics. Editor: Richard S Katz & William Crotty. Sage Publications, 2006.

One classic function of political parties concerns their gatekeeping role in nominating candidates for office at all levels of government. Political recruitment is not just a matter of nominating elected representatives at local, regional, national, and subnational levels, the core focus of this chapter, but also of filling a wide range of patronage appointments to public office. This is exemplified by party nominations to the proliferation of non-governmental organizations in Britain, the thousands of positions in various government branches and federal agencies allocated by the patronage of the incoming American president, and the depth of patron-client relations in Brazil. The process of recruitment to elected and appointed office is widely regarded as one of the most important residual functions for parties, with potential consequences for the degree of intra-party conflict, the composition of parliaments and governments, and the accountability of elected members.

The opening section considers ‘Who is eligible?’ by outlining an analytical model of candidate selection, identifying the key steps in this process, and considering the ‘certification’ stage of recruitment. The second section considers ‘Who nominates?’ The core issue surrounds identifying the location and scope of decision-making by different party agencies and organizational bodies, and whether many established democracies have gradually decentralized the nomination process by shifting power from a small group of local party activists toward the grassroots membership. The third section examines ‘Who is nominated?’, in particular, whether parties have adapted in recent decades to pressures to diversify the candidacy pool and the composition of parliamentary elites, through the use of positive action strategies designed to include more women and ethnic minorities, and whether these strategies have succeeded. The final section considers the consequences of recruitment, particularly how party nomination processes interact with the electoral system in generating the chain of democratic accountability linking citizens and elected representatives.

Who is Eligible?

The schematic model illustrated in Figure 9.1 identifies the main factors influencing the candidate recruitment process. This model suggests that three successive stages operate in this process: certification, involving electoral law, party rules, and informal social norms defining the criteria for eligible candidacy; nomination, involving the supply of eligibles seeking office and the demand from selectors when deciding who is nominated; and election, the final step determining which nominees win legislative office. Each of these stages can be seen as a progressive game of ‘musical chairs’: many are eligible, few are nominated, and even fewer succeed.

The certification process, defining who is eligible to pursue candidacies for elected office, is shaped by a number of factors. The most comprehensive and detailed analysis of the formal legal requirements for candidacy has been carried out based on constitutional documents and electoral laws in 63 democracies by Massicotte, Blais and Yoshinaka. Some legal restrictions on eligibility prove fairly universal and uncontro-versial, such as age and citizenship requirements, while others are more exceptional, such as educational or literacy qualification. The main legal regulations include those relating to age, citizenship, residence, incompatibilities, monetary deposits, and the need to gather supporting signatures.

Figure 9.1 Model of the candidate selection process

The minimum age for candidates is sometimes the same as that established to qualify for the voting franchise, but slightly higher age requirements are also used for legislative bodies, on the basis that a certain level of maturity and experience is desirable for public leaders. All the countries under comparison demanded citizenship for presidential elections and almost all followed similar requirements for legislative office. The more restrictive systems require citizenship by birth, for example in Brazil and the Philippines, although others allow naturalized citizens also to run for office. The majority of democracies do not impose any local district residency requirements for nomination, so that candidates can fight any seat, on the grounds that it is desirable that elected members should represent national as well as local interests. But nine countries, including Chile, Panama, and Taiwan, impose some conditions of residency in the electoral district, to prevent ‘carpet-baggers’ with weak constituency ties or knowledge of the local area. The main category of incompatibility concerns holding public office, such as civil servants, judges, and holders of elected office at other local or regional levels, since these are thought to create a conflict of interest. There are also legal restrictions associated with holding a criminal record, convicted felons, and bankrupts. But many democracies also require a financial deposit designed to screen out frivolous candidacies, with most refundable depending upon winning a minimum share of the vote. Another less common screening device includes requiring a certain number of signatures to be collected. In short, all countries impose some minimal legal restrictions on who is qualified to run for legislative office but most are not very stringent, and the majority of citizens would qualify according to these conditions.

In addition to the legal requirements, other certification requirements are set by parties through their internal rules, constitutions, and by-laws. Most commonly these stipulate that party membership is required for a specified period prior to candidacy, to ensure party loyalty and familiarity with party policies. Some are more restrictive. For example, in earlier decades eligible nominees had to meet a range of criteria in the Belgian Socialist party: ‘(1) have been a member at least five years prior to the primary; (2) have made annual minimum purchases from the Socialist co-op; (3) have been a regular subscriber to the party’s newspaper; (4) have sent his children to state rather than Catholic schools; and (5) have his wife and children enrolled in the appropriate women’s and youth organizations’. The certification process is also influenced more generally by the informal social norms and cultural values in each country shaping perceptions of appropriate nominees, such as what sort of experience and background is most suitable for legislative careers. For example, people are more likely to consider running for parliament if they have professional legal training, experience of policy-oriented think-tanks, or careers in journalism and local government, all occupational channels providing skills and experiences valuable for higher office, reflecting the current typical composition of legislative elites. Although informal eligibility perceptions are most difficult to establish with any systematic evidence, they probably shape who comes forward, and who is deterred, from pursuit of a legislative career.

Independent candidates who meet the certification requirements are entitled to stand for elected office without any party backing. Independents can succeed in countries with exceptionally weak party organizations and with some single-member districts; for example, non-partisans have formed at times about one-quarter of the Ukrainian parliament and one-sixth of the Russian Duma. In a few countries such as Uganda party labels are legally banned and members are either elected from single-member districts or from special interest groups such as trade unions, the army, and young people. But in most democracies independents usually have a minimal realistic chance of electoral success at national level without the official endorsement, financial assistance, and organizational resources that parties provide. The US House of Representatives, for example, currently contains only one independent (Bernie Sanders, Vermont). As discussed below, political parties play the central role in nominating legislative candidates and they also shape the recruitment ‘supply’ of potential candidates by providing social networks, training, civic skills, and organizational experiences that are valuable in the pursuit of elected office.

Once nominated, as discussed in the conclusion, the role of the electoral system becomes critical in determining the final stage of entry into parliament. The electoral success of candidates is also shaped by non-partisan gatekeepers, including the type of coverage, publicity and endorsement provided by the news media, the financial backing of any donor organizations, and campaign support such as volunteers and office facilities provided by affiliated trade union, business, professional and community groups. These forms of support are particularly important in contexts where parties provide weak organizational structures and minimal institutional resources, exemplified by primary elections in the United States.

Who Nominates?

Despite the acknowledged importance of the candidate nomination process, and although there are many descriptive case studies of the candidate recruitment process within specific parties, and some documentation of the formal party rules, relatively little is known about the structure and dynamics of the process in practice, or how and why this varies among parties and countries. For those interested primarily in the internal life of parties as organizations, the nomination process is regarded as the dependent variable which serves as a prism for understanding the distribution of intra-party power among different organs and factions. In Schattschneider’s words: ‘The nominating process has become the crucial process of the party. He who can make the nominations is the owner of the party.’ In a few countries certain aspects of the nomination process are governed by law; for example, in Germany and Finland there are broad requirements for parties to adopt democratic processes in candidate selection. In most, however, parties are entitled to decide their own processes and internal regulations. The key question is ‘who decides?’ The key dimensions of internal party democracy here are: (i) the degree of centralization, namely how far nominations are either determined mainly by the national party leadership or devolved downward to regional, district or local bodies; (ii) the breadth of participation, a related but distinct matter concerning whether just a few selectors pick candidates or whether many people are involved in this process; and (iii) the scope of decision-making, concerning whether there is a choice of one, a few, or multiple contenders vying for nomination.

In centralized organizations, exemplified by the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, PASOK in Greece, or the Christian Democrats in the Netherlands, party leaders have considerable powers of patronage, enabling them to place ‘their’ chosen candidates into electorally favorable districts, seats, ridings, or constituencies, or in high-ranked positions on party lists. Most European parties, however, have greater internal democracy, so that although national leaders can sometimes exercise a veto, the key decisions determining who is nominated are made by officials, delegates, and activists at regional or local levels. In the most decentralized processes, nomination decisions in each local area rest in the hands of all grassroots party members who cast votes in closed primaries, or even the mass public in open primaries.

The locus of decision-making has been studied most commonly by classifying the legal regulations, party constitutions; and formal party rules which govern selection; for example, studies have developed typologies based on the Western European data set collected by Katz and Mair. Based on this source, a recent comparison of nomination rules in Western Europe by Lars Bille classified the final level of decision-making regarding candidate selection into six categories ranging from the most centralized (national organs control completely) to the most localized (using ballots among all party members). As shown in Table 9.1, the most common process (in eight out of ten European parties) is one where subnational party organs either decide subject to leadership approval, or else they control the process completely.

Much of the debate in the literature has sought to determine whether parties have been actively democratizing the selection process, transferring decisions downwards from local office-holders and local activists to ordinary grassroots party members, and, if so, what consequences this process might have for the balance of power within the party. Table 9.1 compares the level of decision-making in the nomination process according to the formal rules in 1960 and 1989. Bille concluded on this basis that most parties had experienced little change in the levels of decision-making in the candidate selection process during this era. Nevertheless some democratization had occurred involving a modest shift from decision-making by local officials and activists within subnational bodies down towards the engagement of all party members through the use of individual membership ballots, often by post.

Table 9.1 The degree of centralization of the nomination process
1960 1989
No. % No. %
National leadership controls completely 2 4 3 4
National leadership nominates from list provided by subnational organs 5 9 10 14
Subnational organs nominate from list provided by national leadership 3 5 1 1
Subnational organs nominate subject to approval by national leadership 22 39 23 32
Subnational organs control completely 25 44 34 48
Ballot applied to all party members 9 16 16 23
Total 57 100% 71 100%
Note: The ‘final’ level of decision-making in party nomination processes for candidacies for the lower house of the national legislature in 11 Western European countries.

Source: summarized from Table 1 in Lars Bille (2001) ‘Democratizing a democratic procedure: Myth or reality? Candidate selection in Western European parties, 1960-1990; Party Politics, 7: 363-80.

Other studies also report that political parties have democratized their candidate selection processes during the post-war period, thereby widening participation among the selectorate. During recent decades these changes are evident in the British Labour party, the ÖVP and SPÖ in Austria, the CDU and SPD in Germany, and by Fine Gael in Ireland. The main reason for this trend, commentators suggest, is an attempt to attract new members, or at least to staunch membership losses, by offering engagement in the candidate nomination process as a selective benefit. Nevertheless Scarrow, Webb and Farrell point out that despite these patterns, there have not been parallel moves to weaken or even eliminate the vetoes over this process held by central party elites, ensuring that the leadership retains the ability to exclude unwanted nominees. Why should the location of nomination decision-making vary from one party to another? Krister Lundell sought to explain the degree of centralization of nomination decision-making in parties in 21 established democracies. The study concluded that the nomination process was usually more decentralized in smaller parties (defined by their share of the vote), in far right and far left parties, and among parties within the Nordic region compared with Mediterranean Europe. Many other common assumptions about the primary drivers in this process did not prove important, however, including the territorial organization of parties, their age and the mean district magnitude.

Yet the attempt to determine the ‘main’ location of decision-making in the nomination process typically encounters a number of limitations, so we need to be cautious about these conclusions. As with any study of written constitutions, there are often significant differences between the de jure and de facto decision-making bodies, especially in poorly institutionalized parties where democratic rulebooks and procedures exist on paper but are widely flouted in practice. The nomination process often involves a complex sequence of steps from the initial decision to consider running for office through a winnowing process with veto points that operates at multiple national, regional, local, or factional levels until the formal nomination or adoption meeting. In the British Conservative party, for example, there are a series of at least eight distinct stages from the submission of the formal application form to Central Office, an interview with party officials, a ‘weekend’ selection board, entry into the national list of approved candidates, application to particular constituencies, the short-listing and interview process by local constituency parties, and the final nomination meeting among party members. Some steps may prove to be mere rubber-stamp formalities. Others may involve competition among hundreds of applicants, uncertain outcomes, and heated internal battles, especially for ‘safe’ party seats where the incumbent is retiring. Classifications of the degree of centralization or participation which attempt to reduce all this complicated multi-stage process with multiple actors into a single ‘final decision’ or ‘cut-off point may prove arbitrary and unreliable.

Moreover, just like the studies of community power in the 1960s, any focus on ‘who nominates’ inevitably neglects the prior question of what Bacharatz and Baratz termed ‘non-decisions’, for example if certain groups such as ethnic minorities are discouraged by the formal or informal rules of the game and never even come forward to pursue elected office. The focus on ‘who nominates’ also neglects the logically prior question ‘what choices are available?’. Even with the same formal rules, some contexts present selectors with a wide range of choices among multiple contenders facing selectors, while in others, such as where an incumbent is automatically returned, there is none. For example, if we compare the way the presidential primary process worked in the United States during the 2004 contest, Democrats involved in the Iowa caucus and the subsequent New Hampshire primary in mid-to-late January faced a broad range of contenders, and caucus and primary participants played a decisive role in winnowing this field down. Once the Democratic race had been decided in favor of John Kerry in mid-March, however, subsequent primaries were merely a ritual endorsement of the outcome. In the Republican camp, President Bush faced no challengers so there was no contest. Therefore although grassroots Democrats and Republicans had the formal power to become engaged in the search for their presidential nominee through state caucuses and primary elections, in practice the real power of participants was determined by the electoral timetable. In the broader context, the range of choices facing selectors varies substantially in legislative seats where there is already an unchallenged incumbent, one or two rivals, or a multiple set of contenders. Any analysis of decision-making processes according to the formal rules ideally needs to be supplemented by a labor-intensive program mixing participant observation, qualitative interviews, and/or survey-based studies of the informal social norms among eligible candidates and party selectors that determine the outcome of this process. Detailed multi-method case studies remain relatively uncommon and, moreover, it becomes difficult to generalize across parties within and between nations on this basis.

We can conclude that the evidence suggests that a slight democratization of the nomination process has occurred within European parties, with the circle of decision-making widened slightly from local activists and office-holders downward to grassroots party members using ballots. Nevertheless, although the potential number of participants has increased slightly, at the same time the choice of nominees has been more greatly constrained by the adoption of rules designed to generate more inclusive legislatures. The most important of these concerns positive action strategies for women which have been implemented through reserved seats, statutory gender quotas and voluntary gender quotas. How do these affect both the process and the outcome?

Who is Nominated?

Rather than focusing upon the internal life of parties, other scholars of legislative elites, gender and racial politics are often more interested primarily in understanding the outcome of the nomination process. In this perspective, these processes are regarded as the independent variable which, in turn, can throw light upon who enters legislative elites and what consequences this has for the broader political system. The nomination process is the central mechanism for electing delegates to parliament and for holding them accountable. This perspective emphasizes that the type of candidate nominated by parties has the capacity to influence the quality of the members of the legislature, and ultimately the composition of government as well. For example, it is likely to have consequences for the legislative, policy-making, and scrutiny capacity of parliaments if parties decide to select professional lawyers or local constituency activists, minor celebrities or ambitious political entrepreneurs, seasoned party officials or inexperienced opportunists. The sociological study of political elites has long been concerned to document the composition of parliaments, the gradual transformation of legislative elites in terms of their occupational class, age, education, gender, and ethnic background, and the consequences for representative democracy that flow from these patterns. Building upon this older tradition, in recent decades an extensive body of literature has sought to understand the barriers facing women and ethnic minority candidates, and which structural reforms prove most effective in widening opportunities for underrepre-sented groups.

During the last decade many policy initiatives have attempted to increase the number of women in elected and appointed office. As shown in Figure 9.2, the most common strategies fall into three main categories.

The issue of the basic electoral system has moved up the agenda in many established democracies, as exemplified by major electoral reforms introduced during the last decade in New Zealand, Italy, and Britain. The establishment of the basic electoral system is also obviously a critical issue that needs to be determined in transitional and consolidating democracies, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. This issue affects the nomination process since it is now widely understood that more women usually are elected under proportional than majoritarian electoral systems. This thesis has been confirmed in a series of studies since the mid-1980s, based on research comparing both established democracies and also a broader range of developing societies worldwide. Within proportional electoral systems, district magnitude has commonly been regarded as a particularly important factor, with more women usually elected from large multimember constituencies. A worldwide comparison of the proportion of women in parliament confirms how women are far more successful under proportional representation (PR) list systems. As a simple rule, women proved almost twice as likely to be elected under proportional than under majoritarian electoral systems. Accordingly where women are mobilized around the debates about electoral reform they have often fought to achieve PR systems.

Figure 9.2 Gender equality strategies

Equal opportunity policies are designed to provide a level playing field so that women can pursue political careers on the same basis as men. Common examples include programs of financial aid to assist with electoral expenses, candidate training in the skills of communication, public speaking, networking, campaigning, and news management, and the provision of créches and childcare facilities within legislative assemblies. Equal opportunity strategies can be gender-neutral in design, for example opportunities for training can be offered to both female and male parliamentary candidates, and childcare can be used by both parents, although their effects may be beneficial primarily to women. Equal opportunity policies are valuable in the long term, especially when used in conjunction with other strategies, but, by themselves, they often prove to have little impact in boosting women’s representation.

Positive action strategies, by contrast, are explicitly designed to benefit women as a temporary stage until such time as gender parity is achieved in legislative and elected bodies. Positive action includes three main strategies:

  • the use of reserved seats for women established in electoral law;
  • statutory gender quotas controlling the composition of candidate lists for all parties in each country;
  • voluntary gender quotas used in the regulations and rules governing the candidate selection procedures within particular parties.

Positive action has become increasingly popular in recent decades, as one of the most effective policy options for achieving short-term change, although the use of these policies remains a matter of controversy within and outside of the women’s movement.

By electoral law, some countries have stipulated a certain number of reserved seats that are only open to women or ethnic minority candidates. This policy has been adopted to boost women’s representation under majoritarian electoral systems in developing nations in Africa and South Asia, particularly those with a Muslim culture (see Table 9.2). Reserved seats have been used for the lower house in Morocco (elected from a national list of 30 women members out of 325 representatives), Bangladesh (30/300), Pakistan (60/357), Botswana (2 women appointed by the president out of 44 members), Taiwan (elected), Lesotho (3 women appointed out of 80 seats), and Tanzania (37 women out of 274 members, distributed according to parties’ share of seats in the House of Representatives). This mechanism guarantees a minimum number of women in elected office, although some have argued that it may be a way to appease, and ultimately sideline, women. Being elected does not necessarily mean that women are given substantive decision-making power, especially given the weakness of many of these legislative bodies. An important distinction needs to be drawn between those filled by direct election and those filled by appointment. Where women have an electoral base they can be more independent of the party leadership and they gain legitimacy derived from the democratic process. In India, for example, reserved seats have also been used at local level with considerable success. One-third of the seats on local municipal elections are reserved for directly elected women, empowering thousands of women. By contrast, where appointed by the president or another body, if lacking an independent electoral or organizational base, women may be marginalized from any real decision-making responsibility, and their appointment can reinforce control of parliament by the majority party. In Uganda, for example, 53 parliamentary seats out of 292 are reserved for women (18%), who are indirectly elected, along with seats set aside for representatives drawn from groups such as the army, youth, the disabled, and trade unions, despite a ban on opposition parties standing for election. Reserved seats based on regional, linguistic, ethnic, or religious ethnopolitical cleavages have also been used, for example for the Maoris in New Zealand, although their effects depend upon the size and spatial concentration of minority populations.

Table 9.2 Reserved seats for women used by the lower house of parliament worldwide
Election Selection method Total number of MPs in the lower house Number of seats reserved for women % of seats reserved for women
Appointed by another body
Tanzania 2000 Appointed 295 48 16.2
Zimbabwe 2000 Appointed 274 37 13.5
Botswana 1999 Appointed 44 2 4.5
Jordan 2003 Appointed 120 6 5.5
Lesotho 1998 Appointed 80 3 3.8
Bangladesh 2001 Appointed 300 30 10.0
Uganda 2001 Appointed 292 56 19.1
Direct election
Pakistan 2002 FPTPa 357 60 16.8
Sudan 2000 FPTPa 360 35 9.7
Morocco 2002 FPTPa 325 30 9.2
Taiwan 1996 Combined-independent (SNTV and closed PR list)b 334 Varies Varies
Djibouti 2003 Party Blockc 65 7 10.7

Notes: Reserved seats in the lower house of the national parliament are defined as those seats that by law can only be filled by women, either by appointment, indirect election, or direct election.

a FPTP First-past-the-post (with single-member districts and plurality election).

b The combined-independent electoral system uses both single non-transferable vote and PR party list in parallel. This policy is currently being considered for elections in Afghanistan and Iraq.

c The party block electoral system uses plurality elections in multimember districts.

Sources: The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (http://www.eisa.org.za); Elections around the World (http://www.electionworld.org); International IDEA (http://www.IDEA.int); Pippa Norris (2004) Electoral Engineering (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Legal Gender Quotas

Positive action strategies also include gender quotas applied by law to all political parties, specifying that women must constitute a minimal proportion of parliamentary candidates or elected representatives within each party. Quotas represent an instrument that introduces specific formal selection criteria, in the form of minimal or maximal thresholds for a given group, into selections procedures, whether for elected or appointed office in the public sphere or for personnel recruitment in the private sector, such as for trade union office. There is an important distinction drawn between statutory gender quotas introduced by law, and thereby applying to all parties within a country, and voluntary gender quotas implemented by internal regulations and rule books within each party. Quotas can be specified for women and men, or for other relevant selection criteria, such as ethnicity, language, social sector, or religion. Statutory gender quota laws have been applied to elections in Belgium, France, and Italy, to many nations in Latin America (see Table 9.3), as well as to appointments to public bodies and consultative committees in many countries such as Finland and Norway.

As shown by the last column in Table 9.3, in some countries and in some elections, legal gender quotas appear to have worked far more effectively than in other cases. Hence the substantial rise in women in parliament found in Argentina, the modest growth in Peru and Belgium, but minimal progress evident in France, Mexico, or Brazil. Why is this? The effective implementation of legal gender quotas depends upon multiple factors, including most importantly how the statutory mechanisms are put into practice, the level of the gender quota specified by law, whether the rules for party lists regulate the rank order of female and male candidates, whether party lists are open or closed, and also the penalties associated with any failure to comply with the law. Positive action policies alter the balance of incentives for the party selectorate. Where these laws are implemented, then selectors need to weigh the potential penalties and benefits if they do or do not comply. Selectors may still prefer the default option of nominating a male candidate under certain circumstances, for example if the laws are designed as symbolic window-dressing more than as de facto regulations; if the regulation specifies that a certain proportion of women have to be selected for party lists but fails to specify their rank order so that female candidates cluster in unwinnable positions at the bottom of the list; or if the sanctions for non-compliance are weak or non-existent. As in many attempts to alter the incentive structure, the devil lies in the details, so apparently similar legislative policies turn out to have different consequences in different nations.

Table 9.3 Statutory gender quotas in use worldwide
Country Date of law Gender quota % Legislative Body Electoral system List open or closed % Women MPs before law (i) % Women MPs after law (ii) Change(i)-(ii)
Argentina 1991 30 Lower house Proportional Closed 6 27 +21
Armenia 1999 5 Lower house Combined Closed 3.1
Belgium 1994 33 Lower house Proportional Open 18 23 +5
Bolivia 1997 30 Lower house Combined Closed 11 12 +1
Bolivia 1997 30 Senate Combined Closed 4 4 0
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2001 33 Lower house Proportional Open 14.3
Brazil 1997 30 Lower house Proportional Open 7 6 −1
Costa Rica 1997 40 Unicameral Proportional Closed 14 19 +5
Dominican Republic 1997 25 Lower house Proportional Closed 12 16 +4
Ecuador 1997 20 Unicameral Combined Open 4 15 +11
France 1999 50 Lower house Majoritarian 11 12 +1
Indonesia 2003 30 Lower house Proportional Open 9 N/A N/A
Korea, North 20 Lower house Majoritarian 20.1
Macedonia 2001 30 Lower house Combined Closed 17.5
Mexico 1996 30 Senate Combined Closed 15 16 +1
Mexico 1996 30 Lower house Combined Closed 17 16 −1
Nepal 1990 5 Lower house Majoritarian 5.9
Panama 1997 30 Unicameral Combined Closed 8 10 +2
Paraguay 1996 20 Senate Proportional Closed 11 18 +7
Paraguay 1996 20 Lower house Proportional Closed 3 3 0
Peru 1997 30 Unicameral Proportional Open 11 18 +7
Philippines 1995 20 Lower house Combined Closed 17.8
Serbia 2002 30 Lower house Proportional Open 7.5 N/A N/A
Venezuela 1998 30 Lower house Combined Closed 6 13 +7
Venezuela 1998 30 Senate Combined Closed 8 9 +2
Average 30 10 14 4

Note: Legal gender quotas for the lower house of national parliaments are defined as laws which specify that each party must include a minimum proportion of women on party lists of candidates. Change is estimated based on the percentage of women MPs in the parliamentary election held immediately before and after implementation of the gender quota law.

Sources: Mala Htun (2001) ‘Electoral rules, parties, and the election of women in Latin America,’ paper for the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco; Mala Htun and Mark Jones (2002) ‘Engendering the Right to Participate in Decision-making: Electoral quotas and women’s leadership in Latin America’, in Nikki Craske and Maxine Molyneux (eds), Gender and the Politics of Rights and Democracy in Latin America (London: Palgrave); International IDEA, Global Database of Quotas for Women (http://www.idea.int).

In Belgium the Electoral Act of 24 May 1994 specified that no more than two-thirds of the candidates on any party electoral list may be of the same sex. The minimum representation requirement is thus exactly the same for men and women. It applies to the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, and also to regional, community, provincial and municipal councils, as well as elections to the European Parliament. If this requirement is not respected, the list candidacies that would otherwise have been held by women have to be left blank or the whole list is declared invalid. The Act was first fully enforced in the 1999 European elections that saw the proportion of Belgian women MEPs rise from 18.5% to 23.3%. However, the power of incumbency means that it will take many successive elections under the new rules before women become a third or more of Belgian parliamentarians.

In 1999 France passed the parity law, a constitutional amendment requiring parties to include 50% representation of women in their party lists for election, with financial penalties attached for failure to do so. The gender parity law passed in June 2000 specified that for elections to the National Assembly between 48% and 52% of all candidates presented nation-wide by any given political party must be women. If this percentage is higher or lower, the state will cut its financial contribution. The results of the first elections held in March 2001 under the new rules indicate a substantial impact at municipal level, almost doubling the number of women in local office from 25% to 47%. Nevertheless in the first elections to the French National Assembly held under the parity rules, in June 2002, the proportion of elected women rose by only 1.4 percentage points, from 10.9% to 12.3%. Only eight more women entered the Assembly, dashing the hopes of the reformers. The main reasons were that the parity law failed to specify the selection of women for particular types of single-member seats, so that women nominees could be concentrated in unwinnable constituencies. Moreover, the major parties decided to favor incumbents and largely ignored the financial penalty of reduced party funding associated with imbalanced party lists. The sanction is a reduction in the public funding received for each party’s campaign on a sliding scale of 5% for a gender difference of 10% on party lists of candidates, 30% for a difference of 60%, and a maximum 50% for a difference of 100%. Hence an all-male list would still get half the public funding. Despite the parity law, the proportion of women in the Chamber of Deputies means that France is ranked 61st worldwide after reform, compared with 59th before parity was introduced.

Another parallel European case concerns Italy, where a quota system was introduced in 1993 into the legislation governing municipal, provincial, and national elections. These laws asserted that a minimum of 30% of both sexes had to be present in electoral lists. In 1995, however, the Italian Constitutional Tribunal repealed these regulations, considering that they were contrary to the principle of equality. Some parties have introduced voluntary gender quotas into their party rules, set at 50% for Verdi, 40% for DS, 40% for the PRC, and 20% for the PPI. Yet in the 2001 election women accounted for only 9.8% of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, ranking Italy 77th worldwide. In Armenia, the 1999 Electoral Code states that the voting lists of the parties involved in the proportional parliamentary electoral system should contain not less than 5% female candidates, but the low level and poor implementation meant that women in the June 1999 elections were only 3.1% of the national parliament.

During the early 1990s, with the expansion of democracy, the popularity of statutory gender quotas spread rapidly in Latin America. The first and most effective law (the Ley de Cupos) was passed in Argentina in 1991, introducing an obligatory quota system for all parties contesting national elections to the Chamber of Deputies – ‘lists must have, as a minimum, 30% of women candidates and in proportions with possibilities of being elected. Any list not complying with these requisites shall not be approved’. Most importantly, the law stipulates that women must be ranked throughout party lists, not consigned to the end where they face no realistic chance of election. Party lists failing to comply with the law are rejected. If a rejected list is not corrected so as to bring it into compliance with the law, the party in question cannot compete in that district’s congressional election. The provincial branches of the political parties create the closed party lists from which the Argentine deputies are elected, although at times the national party intervenes to impose a list. Following the implementation of the law, in the 1993 Chamber election, 21.3% (27 of 127) of the deputies elected were women, compared to only 4.6% (6 of 130) in the election of 1991. A decade after passage, the proportion of women in the Chamber of Deputies had risen to 30.7% (79 out of 257), ranking Argentina ninth from the top worldwide in the representation of women. In total 11, Latin American countries have now adopted national laws establishing a minimum percentage for women’s participation as candidates in national elections and a twelfth – Colombia – had approved a quota of 30% for women in senior positions in the executive branch. Although their impact has been varied, in these countries a comparison of the elections held immediately before and after passage of these laws suggests that legislative quotas generated on average an eight percentage point gain in women’s election to congress. Variation in the effectiveness of the quotas can be explained by whether the PR list is open or closed (with the latter most effective), the existence of placement mandates (requiring parties to rank women candidates in high positions on closed party lists), district magnitude (the higher the number of candidates in a district, the more likely quotas are to work), and good-faith party compliance.

Statutory gender quotas have also been applied to local, municipal, and regional contests. In South Africa the Municipal Structures Act states that political parties must seek to ensure that women comprise 50% of lists submitted for election at the local level. Following the municipal elections in 2000, 28.2% of local councilors were women. In the Namibian local authority elections in 1992 and 1998, the law required political parties to include at least 30% women on their party candidate lists.

The comparison of legal gender quotas suggests grounds for caution for those who hope that these strategies will automatically produce an immediate short-term rise in women legislators. The French case, in particular, illustrates the way the detailed aspects of how such quotas are implemented, and the sanctions for non-compliance, can generate very different results even for municipal and national elections within the same country. The variations in the results across Latin America confirm these observations.

Voluntary Gender Quotas in Party Rules

Most commonly, however, voluntary gender quotas have been introduced within specific parties, particularly those of the left, rather than being implemented by electoral law. Rules, constitutions, and internal regulations determined within each party are distinct from electoral statutes enforceable by the courts. Parties in Scandinavia, Western Europe, and Latin America often have used voluntary gender quotas, and Communist parties in Central and Eastern Europe employed them in the past. It is difficult to provide systematic and comprehensive analysis of party rules worldwide, but in spring 2003 International IDEA’s Global Database of Quotas for Women estimated that 181 parties in 58 countries used gender quotas for electoral candidates for national parliaments. The effects of these measures can be analyzed by focusing on their use within the European Union, since this allows us to compare a range of representative democracies at similar levels of socioeconomic development. Table 9.4 compares the use of gender quotas for the candidate selection process in national elections in the 15 EU member states. By 2000, among 76 relevant European parties (with at least ten members in the lower house), almost half (35 parties) used gender quotas, and two dozen of these had achieved levels of female representation in the lower house of parliament over 24%. Among the European parties using gender quotas, on average one-third (33%) of their elected representatives were women. By contrast, in the European parties without gender quotas, only 18% of their members of parliament were women. Of course it might be misleading to assume any simple ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ at work here, since parties more sympathetic towards women in public office are also more likely to introduce gender quotas. European parties of the left commonly introduced voluntary gender quotas during the 1980s, including Social Democratic, Labour, Communist, Socialist and Green parties, before the practice eventually spread to other parties. Nevertheless the ‘before’ and ‘after’ test, exemplified by cases such as their deployment by parties in Scandinavia, in Germany, and in the British Labour party, suggests that the effect of voluntary gender quotas within parties also varies substantially.

Table 9.4 Voluntary gender quotas in party rules, used in the EU-15, 1996-2000
Party Country Election year Total number of party MPs % Women Gender quota
1. VIHR Finland 1999 11 81.8
2. PDS Germany 1998 36 58.3
3. B90/Grüne Germany 1998 47 57.4
4. Centerpartiet Sweden 1998 18 55.6
5. GroenLinks Netherlands 1998 11 54.5
6. Miljöpartiet de Grona Sweden 1998 16 50.0
7. Social Democrats Sweden 1998 131 49.6
8. PvdA Netherlands 1998 45 48.9
9. Ecolo Belgium 1999 11 45.5
10. SDP Finland 1999 51 43.1
11. D’66 Netherlands 1998 14 42.9
12. Vänsterpartiet Sweden 1998 43 41.9
13. Christian Democrats Sweden 1998 42 40.5
14. SKL Finland 1999 10 40.0
15. Socialistisk Folkeparti Denmark 1998 13 38.5
16. Venstre Liberale Parti Denmark 1998 42 38.1
17. KOK Finland 1999 46 37.0
18. Social Democrats Denmark 1998 63 36.5
19. SPÖ Austria 1999 65 35.5
20. Folkpartiet Liberelna Sweden 1998 17 35.3
21. Social Democrats Germany 1998 298 35.2
22. IU Spain 1996 21 33.3
23. KF Denmark 1998 16 31.3
24. Christian Democrats Netherlands 1998 29 31.0
25. Dansk Folkeparti Denmark 1998 13 30.8
26. Moderata Samlings Sweden 1998 82 30.5
27. VAS Finland 1999 20 30.0
28. PCP Portugal 1999 17 29.4
29. ÖVP Austria 1999 52 28.4
30. PSOE Spain 1996 141 27.7
31. KESK Finland 1999 48 27.1
32. VVD Netherlands 1998 39 25.6
33. SFP/RKP Finland 1999 12 25.0
34. Rifond. Communista Italy 1996 32 25.0
35. C.I.U Spain 1996 16 25.0 ?
36. Labour UK 1997 418 24.2
37. POSL/LSAP Luxembourg 1999 13 23.1
38. PRL-FDF Belgium 1999 18 22.2
39. FDP Germany 1998 43 20.9
40. Socialist Party Portugal 1999 115 20.0
41. PD Luxembourg 1999 15 20.0
42. CDU Germany 1998 200 19.5
43. PDS Italy 1996 156 19.2
44. CVP Belgium 1999 22 18.2
45. KKE Greece 2000 11 18.2 ?
46. VLD Belgium 1999 23 17.4
47. FPÖ Austria 1999 52 17.3
48. Partie Socialiste France 1997 251 16.7
49. PCS/CSV Luxembourg 1999 19 15.8
50. Popular Party Spain 1996 156 14.1 ?
51. PSD Portugal 1999 81 13.6
52. CSU Germany 1998 45 13.3
53. Labour Ireland 1997 17 11.8
54. PCF France 1997 36 11.1
55. Fine Gael Ireland 1997 54 11.1
56. PASOK Greece 2000 158 10.8
57. Socialist Party Belgium 1999 19 10.5
58. Fianna Fáil Ireland 1997 77 10.4
59. Lega Nord Italy 1996 59 10.2
60. PSC Belgium 1999 10 10.0
61. Verdi (Greens) Italy 1996 21 9.5
62. Forza Italia Italy 1996 123 8.1
63. New Democrats Greece 2000 125 8.0
64. Conservative UK 1997 165 7.9
65. P-S-P-U-P Italy 1996 67 7.5
66. CDS-PP Portugal 1999 15 6.7
67. Vlaams Blok Belgium 1999 15 6.7
68. Liberal Democrats UK 1997 45 6.5
69. RCV France 1997 33 6.1
70. UDF France 1997 113 5.3
71. Alleanza Nazionale Italy 1996 93 4.3
72. Lista Dini Italy 1996 25 4.0
73. RPR France 1997 140 3.6
74. CCD-CDU Italy 1996 30 3.3
75. UUP UK 1997 10 0.0
76. SP Belgium 1999 14 0.0
Notes: Voluntary gender quotas are defined as internal party rules, regulations, or constitutions specifying that the party should include a minimum proportion of women as candidates for elected office. The table only includes relevant parties (i.e. those with at least ten seats in the lower house of the national parliament). The data, derived originally from the Council of Europe database, has some important limitations. It should be noted that the definition and meaning of ‘quota’ can differ among parties, and some may use this only for internal organizational posts rather than for candidate nomination. Parties without a formal quota may instead apply a ‘gender target’, adhered to more or less rigidly in candidate selection. Parties in bold are in countries using majoritarian electoral systems.
✓ Gender quota is currently used by this party for parliamentary nominations.
✗ Gender quota is not currently used by this party for parliamentary nominations.
♭ Information on gender quotas is not available from this source.
Source: Pippa Norris (2004) Electoral Engineering (New York: Cambridge University Press).

Many of the parties ranking at or near the top of the proportion of women MPs in Table 9.4 are in Scandinavia. The Norwegian Labor Party was the first in this region to implement a 40% gender quota for all elections in 1983, although this did not specify the location of women candidates within their lists. Other Norwegian parties followed suit, including the Social Left, the Center Party, and the Christian Democrats. This was followed by Denmark where the Social Democratic Party introduced a 50% quota for elections in 1988. Because the rank position of candidates on the party list is critical to their success in being elected, in 1994 the Swedish Social Democratic Party introduced the principle of including a woman as every second name on the list – the ‘zipper’ or ‘zebra’ principle. In Sweden, since the general election in 1994, the largest political party, the Social Democrats, and later the Greens and the Christian Democrats, have systematically alternated women’s and men’s names in their lists of the constituency candidates for parliamentary, local, regional, and the EU Parliament elections. If we compare the Swedish parties ranked high in Table 9.4, it is apparent that gender quotas are used by some such as the Social Democrats and the Vänsterpartiet, although not all the credit should go to the use of positive action, as other Swedish parties including the Centerpartiet, also have a substantial number of female members of parliament despite not using any gender quotas.

Elsewhere in Western Europe, as shown in Table 9.4, formal practices vary among countries and parties. In Germany, for example, three of the five major political parties have a 40-50% quota system in their party rules. In 1980, when the Greens turned from a social movement into a political party, they instilled gender balance by including a strict 50% quota combined with a zipper system in their statutes. Except for the very top positions in government, the Greens have been more or less able to meet their requirements. In 1988 the Social Democrats followed suit by stipulating in party rules that in all internal party elections at least one third of candidates must be female. Since 1994, 40% of all party positions must be held by women. For election lists, parliamentary mandates, and public office a transition period with lower percentages was agreed. It started with one-quarter in 1988, required one-third in 1994, and reached 40% in 1998. The SPD met the targets within the party but fell slightly short for seats in parliaments and in governments. In 1996 the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) introduced the so-called ‘quorum’ requiring 30% female representation in both party functions and election lists, but so far these targets have not been met. After German unification the Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (PDS, former East German Communist party) introduced a strict 50% quota in combination with a zipper system. In many elections the PDS has outperformed its own targets. Currently only the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU) and the Liberals (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) refuse to introduce voluntary gender quotas.

It is often easier to implement positive action in proportional elections using party lists, but these strategies can also be used under majoritarian rules. In Britain, the Labour party first agreed the principle of quotas to promote women’s representation in internal party positions in the late 1980s. In 1988 a minimalist measure was agreed for candidate selection for Westminster, so that if a local branch proposed a woman, at least one woman should be included on the constituency shortlist. In 1993, following an electoral defeat where the party failed to attract sufficient support amongst women voters, it was decided that more radical measures were necessary. Consequently the Labour party’s annual conference agreed that in half the seats where Labour MPs were retiring, and in half the Party’s key target marginal seats, local party members would be required to select their parliamentary candidate from an all-women shortlist. Other seats would be open to both women and men. Although this policy was subsequently dropped under legal challenge, it still proved highly effective, contributing to a doubling of the number of women in the UK House of Commons between 1992 and 1997. Despite abandoning the original policy, low levels of incumbency turnover maintained most of these gains in the subsequent general election in 2001. For the first elections to the new Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Greater London Assembly, Labour adopted a ‘twinning’ policy. The system ‘twinned’ neighboring seats, taking into account their ‘winnabil-ity’, so that each pair would select one man and one woman. This opportunity was uniquely available, given that there were no incumbent members. Under this system, local party selectors in the two constituencies would come together to pick candidates, and each would have two votes – one for a woman and one for a man.

Gender quotas are by no means limited to established democracies. In South Africa, for example, in 1994 the African National Congress introduced a 33.3% gender quota, while in Mozambique in 1999 the Frelimo Party introduced a 30% quota on electoral lists. This policy has been particularly common among parties of the left, and Socialist International Women lists 57 socialist parties using gender quotas in April 2002, ranging from 20% to 50%, including the Israeli Meretz (40%), the Mali Adema-Pasj (30%), the Nicaraguan FSLN (30%), and the Turkish CHP (25%). Gathering systematic and reliable data on the use of such strategies worldwide is difficult, but a global review of practices by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1993 found that 22 parties employed gender quotas for legislative elections, while 51 parties used them for elections to internal party posts. By contrast, in the first democratic elections following the fall of the Berlin Wall, parties within Central and Eastern Europe often moved in the opposite direction, abandoning gender quotas for parliament and local government that were regarded as part of the old Communist state, although occasionally later reinstating this practice, as in the case of the Czech SDP (25%), the Bosnian SDP (30%) and the Lithuanian SDP (30%).









Figure 9.3 The interaction of selection rules and ballot structures

What are the Consequences for Democratic Accountability?

What are the consequences of party recruitment processes for power and decision-making within political parties, for the inclusiveness of legislative bodies, and for the chain of accountability in representative democracies? Underlying studies of both the process and the outcome of candidate nomination are a set of broader normative values about how recruitment should work ideally in any representative democracy. Most commonly, evaluations of the process are framed against the standards of internal party democracy, as well as in terms of its procedural ‘fairness’, ‘simplicity’, and/or ‘transparency’. The outcome is usually judged by the inclusiveness of all major social sectors in the electorate, and also by the ways in which the process is thought to influence the role of elected members.

Figure 9.3 illustrates schematically how the chain of accountability linking citizens and elected representatives is thought to work. The vertical axis distinguishes the location of the decisions about candidate nomination, whether centralized among the party leadership or alternatively devolved downwards to grassroots level in each area. Ballot structures can be classified into the following categories based on the choices facing electors when they enter the voting booth:

  • Candidate ballots. In single-member districts, citizens in each constituency cast a single ballot for an individual candidate. The candidate winning either a plurality or majority of votes in each district is elected. Through casting a ballot, electors indirectly express support for parties, but they have to vote directly for a particular candidate. In this context, politicians have a strong incentive to offer particularistic benefits, exemplified by casework helping individual constituents and by the delivery of local services (‘pork’), designed to strengthen their personal support within local communities. This inducement is particularly powerful in marginal seats where a handful of additional votes may make all the difference between victory and defeat.
  • Preference ballots. In open-list multimember districts electors cast a ballot for a party, but they can express their preference for a particular candidate or candidates within a party list. Where citizens exercise a preference vote, this strengthens the chances that particular candidates from the list will be elected and therefore changes their rank. Under these rules, politicians have a moderately strong incentive to offer particularistic benefits, to stand out from rivals within their own party. In most nations the choice of exercising one or more preferential votes is optional, and the practical effect of preference ballots is contingent upon how many citizens choose to ‘vote the party ticket’ without expressing a preferential vote. If most people decide to vote for the party list, then the effects are similar to party ballots, whereas if most choose to exercise a preferential vote for an individual on the list, then the effects are similar to candidate ballots.

Preference ballots are employed in party list PR used in 27 electoral systems worldwide, including Belgium and the Czech Republic, as well as in single transferable vote elections in Ireland. This ballot is also used in plurality and majoritarian electoral systems, such as in the single non-transferable vote that has been used in the Republic of Korea, Japan and Taiwan. The majoritarian block vote, used in Bermuda, the Philippines and Mauritius, also allows citizens to vote for individual candidates in multimember districts with party lists of candidates. There are some variants to these rules. In Finland, people must vote for individual candidates, and the number of votes won by candidates determines their party’s share of seats. The panachage system used in Luxembourg and Switzerland gives each elector as many votes as there are seats to be filled, and electors can distribute them either within or across different party lists.

  • Dual ballots. In ‘combined’ (or ‘mixed’) electoral systems voters can cast separate ballots in both single-member and multimember districts, as exemplified by elections in Italy, Germany and New Zealand. This category can be divided into either combined-independent (where the votes in both types of seats determine the results independently of each other) or combined-proportional where the share of the vote cast for the party list determines the final allocation of seats). Where combined systems operate, most use closed-list multimember districts, so that citizens can cast a ballot for a candidate in their single-member districts as well as for a party in their multimember districts. The effects of dual ballot elections depend upon what proportion of seats are allocated through single-member or multimember districts: where most seats are single-member then the effects will be closer to candidate ballots, and where most are multimember then the effects will be closer to party ballots.
  • Party ballots. In closed-list multimember districts, citizens cast a single ballot for a party. Each party ranks the order of the candidates to be elected within their list, based on the decisions of the party selectorate, and the public cannot express a preference for any particular candidate within each list. Closed-list multimember districts, where voters can only ‘vote the ticket’ rather than supporting a particular candidate, are expected to encourage politicians to offer programmatic benefits, focused on the collective record and program of their party, and to strengthen cohesive and disciplined parliamentary parties.

This system is used in party list PR in 35 electoral systems worldwide, such as Norway and Romania. It also operates in the party block vote system, where electors can cast a ballot for the party list, and the party with a simple plurality of votes in each district is duly elected, as in Singapore, Ecuador and Senegal.

While there are many reasons to believe that the ballot structure is important for the chain of accountability from legislators to voters and parties, nevertheless it is only one factor at work here. A related arrangement is the mean district magnitude (referring to the number of seats per district). Extremely large multimember districts are likely to weaken the incentive to cultivate a personal vote in preference ballot elections, as it will be difficult for any individual candidate to stand out from the throng; alternatively, they may encourage candidates to develop local bailiwicks, effectively dividing the large district into personal ‘subdistricts’. Moderate or small multimember districts, on the other hand, are expected to have the opposite tendency, for example where four or five candidates are rivals in STV seats in Ireland.

The nomination process within parties is therefore expected to interact with the electoral system, determining the final stage of recruitment. Members are expected to be most accountable to both local parties and local citizens in systems where the powers of nomination rest in the hands of the local party selectorate, such as grassroots members in each seat, and where the electoral system uses candidate ballots, typified by single-member districts. Such a context is thought to encourage members to focus on delivering particularistic benefits to their district, exemplified by constituency casework and the provision of pork. By contrast, a combination of centralized party selection and the use of party ballots is thought to generate cohesive and disciplined parliamentary parties, with members focused on the provision of collective programmatic benefits. Rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, the most suitable nomination processes therefore depend upon their interaction with the ballot structures, and whether it is thought to be more important in any political system to prioritize local accountability or cohesive and disciplined parliamentary parties.

There are also certain non-congruent cases. Although it is often assumed that party nomination rules will tend to reflect the structure of the electoral system, in fact, as Lundell observed, the degree of centralization of the candidate nomination process is quite complex and diverse among parties, depending upon their structure and organization. In mass-branch parties with a tradition of internal democracy, for example many Scandinavian parties, we have already seen that candidate selection decisions are localized even within party ballot elections. At the same time, the party leadership can play an important role in internal party decisions about nominations, for example vetoing unacceptable nominees, even in candidate ballot elections. In non-congruent cases, it remains to be seen whether elected representatives regard themselves as more accountable to the party selectorate or to the electorate.


Overall the evidence therefore suggests that grassroots members in many European parties have gradually been given greater opportunities to nominate candidates. At the same time selectors are operating within a more constrained scope of decision-making, due to the simultaneous adoption of rules implementing positive action strategies. A wider number of members are therefore able to engage in selection decisions, but they face a more restricted range of choices. We can conclude that the recruitment process to elected office may appear to be one of the more hidden and technical aspects of party politics, but this process has many consequences for the division of power within party organizations, the barriers and opportunities facing women and ethnic minority candidates, and also for the accountability of elected representatives.