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Can anyone win an election outright anymore?

Last weekend's inconclusive Australian election has produced the country's first hung parliament in 70 years. But as Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics points out, the Australian result also marks another, albeit wonkier, milestone:

For the first time in history, the Australian outcome means that every key ‘Westminster model’ country in the world now has a hung Parliament. These are the former British empire countries that according to decades of political science orthodoxy are supposed to produce strong, single party government.

Besides Australia, the "Westminster model" countries Dunleavy refers to are India (governed by a Congress-led 18 party coalition), Britain (governmed by an unlikely Conservative-Liberal partnership), New Zealand (where no party has held a majority in parliament since 1996), and Canada (ruled by a minority government.)

Thanks to its "first-past-the-post" voting rules, where the largest vote-getter in each district picks up its seat, the Westminster System traditionally favors larger parties and majority governments, unlike, say, Germany where coalition governments are the norm. 

So why has it become so hard for parties to produce majority governments, even in electoral systems specifically designed to encourage them? I would suspect it has something to do with the shrinking ideological differences between the parties in these systems -- India being an obvious exception -- but it's certainly a quesiton worth pondering. 

Though before reform efforts get too rash, citizens of parliamentary democracies should keep in mind that there's plenty of potential for obstructionism and dysfuntction in a government with only two parties as well.  

Hat tip: The Monkey Cage

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Nigeria's oil spill whodunnnit

A big brouhaha erupted yesterday when an official from the United Nations Environment Program claimed that 90 percent of the oil spills in the Ogoniland region of Nigeria's Niger Delta were caused by oil bunkering and theft; a mere 10 percent were attributed to Shell, the company that worked there for decades. That would be a complete coup d'etat for the oil company, if true; they were kicked out of Ogoniland for a poor environmental record and alleged cooperation with the Nigerian government in the killing of environmental activists back in the early 1990s.

Turns out, that 90 percent was in fact the government's figure, not that of the United Nations. The U.N. Environment Program is currently undertaking its own assesment of who-spilled-how-much, the agency clarified in a press release today. The goal is to eventually assess the damage in the region and finds ways to clean it up. (For more on ongoing ecological disasters, check out our list.)

So what would more likely stats look like? A press release from Amnesty International offers some interesting guidance, noting that "Between 1989 and 1994 Shell itself estimated that only 28 percent of oil spilt in the Niger Delta was caused by sabotage." Now, Amnesty says, Shell puts that number at 90 percent, like the government -- which is interesting, since they haven't operated in Ogoniland since 1993.

This is all a nice preview of just how contentious an issue the finger pointing will become. The issue is vital to determining who is liable to clean up the spills -- not least because Shell may soon return to Ogoniland. No matter what conclusion the authorities reach, rest assured that Shell will remain -- to the community -- a persona non grata.

PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images