Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

So Serbia had parliamentary elections yesterday.

Short version: could have been better, could have been much worse. There will be a new government, but probably not much will change.

A bit more below the flip.
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Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

The 2006 parliamentary elections in The Netherlands have produced some interesting results. Another centre-right coalition of CDA, VVD and D66 (before the latter blew up that very same coalition, see comments) seems to be off the table and the formation of a new coalition will prove to be very difficult what with the votes spread out more evenly over the main parties. There are now four major contenders instead of three. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who will probably continue to be Prime Minister, will now have to consider forming either a left-leaning coalition or risk an unworkable monster coalition. From The Guardian:

The Netherlands is facing political deadlock after the governing Christian Democrats scraped an unconvincing win in yesterday’s election and parties on the hard left and right performed well enough to impede their ability to form a government. As political leaders braced themselves for weeks of horse-trading to form a coalition, the outgoing finance minister delivered a blunt assessment of the result.

“It’s chaos,” Gerrit Zalm, a member of the Liberal (VVD) party was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The real winner is the only party that actually did not participate, which is the party of the anarchists.”

A summary round-up of the results can be found below the fold.
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Slovakia swings left

Slovakia had elections this weekend. They don’t seem to have attracted much attention, but I think they’re worth a quick look.

Short version: a center-right government that was committed to controversial social and economic reforms got thrown out in favor of a left-wing populist.

Now, depending on what corner of the political spectrum you come from, your reaction to this may be, “Aw, shucks” or “At last!” What makes it interesting, I think, is that this is Eastern Europe, where everything is a bit rawer and the safety catches are off. PM Mikulas Dzurinda and his SDKU party, in power for the last eight years, had an economic program that would have made Margaret Thatcher go dizzy and weak in the knees. Privatization, a flat tax, brisk reorganization of social programs… it was quite something.

Especially since Dzurinda came into office after Vladimir Meciar. Remember him? An obnoxious Communist-turned-Nationalist of the Milosevic-Lukashenko sort, but without even the modest redeeming qualities (i.e., intelligence and a grasp of basic economics) of a Lukashenko. Meciar was a buffoon, a demagogue, and an incompetent; whether you like Dzurinda or not, there’s little doubt that he was the best choice available back in ’98.

Anyway. Dzurinda’s policies saw some results. Slovakia got hothouse economic growth and a surge of foreign investment that has turned it, against all expectations, into the automotive manufacturing center of Eastern Europe. But it also saw sharply increased inequality in income and wealth; and while unemployment went down, the jobs created were mostly available to the young, the urban, and those willing and able to pick up stakes. Jobs may be going begging in the capital, but a few hours west, on the Ukrainian border, the unemployment rate is over 25%.

Without getting into a debate over the merits of SDKU’s policies (though that’s very interesting in its own right), it’s clear that the Slovakian electorate has decided to swing left for a while.

Numbers below the fold.
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Changing Colors

The CDU in Baden-Wuerttemberg is conducting negotiations with the Greens in that state to decide if the two parties should form a coalition government. If they do, it will be the first “black-green” coalition at the state level, and another sign of fluidity in Germany’s post-reunification party politics.

Update: Maybe next time. The CDU and FDP will, according to reports today, continue the coalition that has run the southwest for the last 10 years. Germany changes slowly.
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Hungary: New President & Debt Downgrade

This week Hungary has a new President. The election of Laszlo Solyom as Hungary’s new President was a major setback for the governing Socialist Party (MSZP), at the same time as it was widely lauded as a victory by the right wing opposition Fidesz party. The outcome was largely the result of the behaviour of the MSZP?s junior coalition partner, the liberal leaning Free Democrats, who abstained. Katalin Szili, the MSZP choice, was regarded by Free Democrats as being far too involved with the MSZP. Only 3 votes separated the two candidates, and this reflects the current balance within the Hungarian parliament between Fidesz and MSZP ? a handful of independents and the Free Democrats in fact have the deciding votes.
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Elections in Albania (I)

So Albania is having a general election. The voters will go to the polls on July 4, in a little over three weeks.

The Albanian electoral system is rather interesting IMO. The Parliament has 140 members. 100 members are elected in “zones”, one-member districts with a first-past-the-post system, rather like Britain. But 40 members are elected at large, using party lists. All the parties that get more than 2.5% of the vote will divide these 40 seats among them, proportionately.

I don’t know anyone else who uses this mixed system, though I’m sure it can’t be unique to Albania.
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The Greens and Die Gr?nen

Via Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber, an interesting article by Matthew Tempest in Spiegel Online (in English) comparing the rather contrasting fortunes of the German and British Green Parties. Both were founded at around the same time (the article does make an error in saying the Ecology Party renamed itself as the Green Party in the 70s – the change didn’t take place until the 80s, partly to link in with the increased use of the name Green across Europe and the rest of the world) but while the German party is now part of the Government with a number of representatives in the Bundestag, the British Party (or parties, given that the Scottish and Northern Ireland Green Parties now organise separately from the England and Wales Party) still seems some way from a breakthrough into Parliament, let alone government.

The article highlights two main reasons for the different levels of success achieved by the two parties – firstly, and most obviously, the different electoral systems in Britain and Germany and secondly, the way internal divisions were resolved in the two parties. Where the realists (‘realos’) won the internal party debates in Germany, the fundamentalists (‘fundis’) won in Britain, preventing the move towards mainstream politics that benefited the German party.
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But they’re kind to dogs and children, I hear

Some nazis won elections yesterday, and nobody in Germany is quite sure what to do about it. Should one adopt a tone of moral outrage? Or would it be better to make reassuring noises? (‘Germany is not moving towards extemism. This was merely a protest vote’. Repeat till you feel better.)

In the elections to the Landtage (state parliaments) of Brandenburg and Saxony, two eastern German states, the established parties took a bad beating1. The SPD in Brandenburg and the conservative CDU in Saxony remain the largest single parties in the parliaments of their respective L?nder, but saw an exodus of voters. The Saxon CDU was particularly hard-hit, losing 20 seats and their absolute majority.

Looking distinctly happy, by contrast, was the PDS, the successor party to the gang that ran East Germany in the old days. They’re now the second-largest party in both states, and in Brandenburg have only four seats fewer than the SPD.

But of course it’s the nazis who get the headlines. The NPD (‘National Democrats’) took 9.2% of the vote in Saxony, easily leaping the 5% hurdle that the Greens and Free Democrats barely managed to get past. In all, the NPD got only 0.5% less of the vote than did the SPD. In Brandenburg the browns’ success wasn’t quite so dramatic; the DVU (‘German People’s Union’), one of the NPD’s rival outfits, reentered the Landtag with 6.1%.

How could this happen? Well, if you’ve been following reports out of Germany at all, you’ll have heard that many Germans are scared and angered that the government, through the so-called Hartz IV reforms, is going to make it less attractive to be unemployed. The unemployed are not amused. On Friday Chancellor Schr?der called them ‘parasites’.2 On Sunday the parasites struck back. In Saxony, 18% of the jobless voted nazi (as compared with 13% of blue-collar workers and 6% of white-collar workers and civil servants).

So what is to be done? The very first thing, I should think, is for Wessis to carefully avoid congratulating themselves for being different to those awful nazi-electing Ossis. The prosperous burghers of Baden-W?rttemberg, for example, have put nazis in their state parliament more than once.

Guido Westerwelle, chief of the Free Democrats, put on his earnest frown and said the mainstream parties should deal with the extremists of both right and left in a constructive, rational manner. He’s wrong, I think, at least with regard to the nazis.3

So long as today’s nazi parties are careful not to cross the line that would allow them to be banned, those voters who wish to vote for them must be allowed to do so. That’s all they should be allowed, though. As after every election, spokespeople from all the parties were in the television studios last night for a round of questions. When an NPD man started to speak in Dresden, the representatives of all the other parties left the room. And they did the same thing when the DVU’s top candidate began to speak in Potsdam. Here, I think is the proper response to the presence of nazis in a democracy’s parliament. Let no one speak to them; let no one acknowledge them. Somebody will have to register their votes or abstentions, I suppose, but nobody need otherwise interact with them. Democrats of every stripe should make it plain to nazi voters that they have effectively spoilt their ballots.
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The Lafontaine Factor.

In a state election (Landtagswahl) in the Saarland that was widely considered another benchmark for the approval of the German federal government’s reform efforts, particularly of the labour market deregulation programme known as “Hartz IV” – these elections are, often to a significant extent, second order national contests – the Social Democrats have been dealt the predicted crushing defeat, gaining likely just under 30% of the vote, losing about 15% compared to their 1999 result, according to early, but usually very reliable exit poll data from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, broadcast by ZDF television (German labelled graphics here).

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Detente with Czech Communists?

I’m mighty flattered that I’ve been promoted to “guest blogger extraordinaire” even though I’ve been silent the whole of this year so far (due mainly to illness). Sorry about that!

Well, here goes.

Take a look at this Czech press review from today, in which Prague daily Lidove Noviny reports that Miroslav Grebenicek, the Communist Party for over a decade, narrowly missed getting ousted from his position. (He was apparently told he could run for European Parliament if he stepped down.) This might sound like small beans to outsiders, and truth be told, viewed by itself, it is. But it’s one small piece of a much largers story…
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