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Study Notes

Party List System

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

The Party list system is a proportional election system in which the proportion of seats won is as close to the proportion of votes won as is possible. Voters vote for a party, not a candidate, and the party gets roughly the same proportion of seats as votes.

Who gets the seats is decided by the party ‘list’. There are two types of party list system, an open list system where voters have at least some influence on the order in which a party’s candidates are elected, which is rare but used in Chile and Colombia. This is as opposed to the closed list system, which allows only active members, party officials, or consultants to determine the order of its candidates. This is more frequent and used in Israel and the UK European Parliament elections.

Party list systems can be national or regional. National lists are simple, with very precise proportionality, but leave no link between MP and area. Israel, Turkey, Portugal and Norway use this. Regional lists partly preserve the link between MP and area, but are not so exact proportionally. Belgium uses such lists, and the UK has used them since 1999 for European Parliament elections outside Northern Ireland. Scotland is a single region, Wales another, and England is divided into 9 regions. Each has 4-10 MEPs. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh assembly also use lists to allocate some seats.

Note that the Party list Systems give much power to parties, and especially to the central party leadership which selects the candidates. Local party members have no say in selection, and voters may be stuck with an unpopular candidate. This may explain why Mr Blair decided to use list systems for the EP elections and partly for the devolved assemblies. If you are near the top of the list, you can remain in Parliament for many years – this has in other countries led to corruption.

Also, there is little room for the dissenting MP in Parliament - unlike under FPTP, he can't claim a personal mandate, so he has no authority to rebel against party policy. This means you are successful in politics if you are on the right side of the person deciding on the list.

2014 European Parliament elections result

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