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Closed Party List System

Updated on April 26, 2014

Closed List System

The closed list system is the most proportional electoral system used in any form of UK election. It is used within Britain to elect the European Members of Parliament from each region. At its most simplistic level, the closed party list system can be described as operating in the following manner: Each party presents a list of ranked candidates, of up to and including the number of seats being contested in the constituency. Each voter gets one vote, and they select a party (differentiating from open list) for whom to vote, not an individual person. Seats are subsequently awarded according to the proportion of votes the parties gain.

An example Closed List ballot, as used in Cambodia
An example Closed List ballot, as used in Cambodia

Use of Closed List System in UK

Results from the 2009 MEP Election for London
Results from the 2009 MEP Election for London

Analysis of Results

From the data above the results for the London multimember constituency can be seen for the 2009 election of Members of European Parliament (MEPs). Turnout was 33.3% for this election, down 4% on the previous election. There was little change on the 2004 election, most notably the loss of a conservative seat to UKIP, to give them thier first seat in the London constituency.


The advantages of the closed list system is principally that a high degree of proportionality can be obtained, justifying all parties and not favouring larger parties such as in majoritarian systems, for example First Past the Post. Although there is a discrepancy between percentage vote and percentage seats in the above statistics, it is partly down to lack of seats available. With every increasing seat, the seat to votes would become fairer. Furthermore had the parties who failed to gain a seat (i.e. British National Party (BNP) and all parties who received fewer votes than them) not received any votes, then the overall percentages would change from 27.4%, 21.3%, 13.7%, 10.9% and 10.8%; to 32.6%, 25.3%, 16.3%, 13.0% and 12.8% respectively. This would equate to 3, 2, 1, 1 and 1 seats respectively. This highlights a great accuracy of proportioanlity, particularly within Labour (25.3% vote = 25% seats) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) (12.8% vote = 12.5% seats), both of whom only deviated by 0.3% from the expected value.

Every vote has equal worth and it is more simple for the voter to understand than other systems, therefore not causing distortion of the result. There is a greater oppourtunity for women and ethnic minority representation in this system, as it is difficult for voters to discriminate if they no little of the candidates on the party list.


However there are many drawbacks, which is perhaps why this system has not been used in any forms of election. It is considered to be impersonal, due to little member to constituent link, or even awareness of who is elected; turning out to vote for Labour, for example, many voters would have no idea who they are voting for. It is very difficult for independent candidates to stand and to win. Additionally, parties draw up lists, so have greater power over who is to be elected and are likely to back loyal members, those who think less independantly and toe the party line. This also generates the problem that accountability is lost, from the electorate to the selectorate, raising scope for corruption.

Coalitions are often produced due to lots of small parties being voted in. For example if the London 2009 statistics (above) were used as an overall Westminster government, then the Conservatives, with the most seats still failed to gain an overall majority. They would need to form a coalition with at least two more seats. For example, if they chose to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, then they would have a majority of five seats. Although there are arguably benefits of coalitions, with countries such as Germany being very politically strong possessing coalitions, principally that the legitimacy of the government is higher since the mandate is greater. In the Conservative, Lib Dem and UKIP hypothetical coalition, collectively held 51.9% of the vote, whereas in First Past the Post (FPTP), the majortiarian system currently used in British general elections, government majorities have been derived from as few votes as 35.3% in 2001. Despite these two key features, it can be argued conversely that none of the 51.9% of voters, chose to vote for the coalition formed, and coalitions are less democratic, since the power mainly lies with the third party (in this case the Liberal Democrats, who only earned 1 in 7 votes). Coalitions are often associated with unstable and inefficient governments.


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      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for this very elucidating explanation and analysis of the UK's closed party list voting system. It certainly allows smaller parties to exist and exert influence but you are right that it tends to limit individualism within a party and is more impersonal. Excellent Hub, Daniel.

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      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      What an interesting look at the eletoral system. Thanks for the background information.

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