Elections in Austria: Yuck

Short version: for the last two years, Austria has been run by a “grand coalition” government of the two largest parties, the Social Democrats and the center-right People’s Party. Everybody hated this arrangement, though, and it didn’t get much done. So they called new elections, which were held yesterday.

Result: both large parties got hammered badly. The Social Democrats seem to have dropped from about 36% to 30%, and the People’s Party from 35% to 26%. (Ironically, it was the People’s Party that pulled the plug on the coalition last month.) Continue reading

Blonde on blonde: State elections in Bavaria

So we have state elections here in Bavaria this week.

Yeah, I know. Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

There are political signs here and there around our small town, but not as many as you’d expect. A surprisingly high number are for the nationalist, anti-immigration Republican Party. I say “surprisingly” because the Republicans only got between 2% and 3% of the vote in the last election. On the other hand, that’s compared to less than 1% nationwide, so I guess they’re focussing their efforts in a state where they have some small chance.

I suppose I should talk about how the Landtag is dominated by the CSU, and has been forever, and about the internal power struggles there, and what it’s like living in a de facto one party state. But, eh, don’t feel like it. So instead I’m going to talk about blonde children in campaign ads. Continue reading

Italy’s upcoming election: another parliamentary stalemate in the making?

In less than a week Italy will be holding a general election three years ahead of schedule, but before I explain how the upcoming vote may lead to another gridlock, I believe an introduction is in order. My name is Manuel Alvarez-Rivera and I’m the webmaster of Election Resources on the Internet, where I cover elections and electoral systems around the world, mainly (but by no means exclusively) in Europe; I also write about the same topics at the Global Economy Matters (GEM) blog with fellow AFOE authors Edward Hugh and Claus Vistesen. I would like to take a moment to thank the AFOE team for inviting me as a guest poster, all the more so since the ocassion has a special significance to me: my collaboration on GEM with Edward was the outgrowth of his reply to an e-mail I sent to the editors of this blog two years ago, regarding Italy’s closely fought election.

As it happens, two years later Italy is back to the polls, following the collapse of Romano Prodi’s center-left coalition government earlier this year, and the last opinion polls published in March showed a consistent lead for the new, center-right People of Freedom Party (PdL) headed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which – in coalition with the Northern League (LN) and the Movement for Autonomy (MpA) – appeared set to capture an overall majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies under the country’s 2005 proportional representation with majority prize electoral law.

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Elections in Serbia, again

Serbia’s government seems to be collapsing.

The cause is, of course, Kosovo. Most of the EU countries have now recognized independent Kosovo, which pretty strongly implies that they won’t accept a Serbia that still claims Kosovo into the EU.

Last week, the nationalist Serbian Radical Party introduced a resolution in parliament calling on the EU to “clearly and unambiguously” confirm Serbia’s territorial integrity as a condition for further European integration. Since 16 of 27 EU members have now recognized Kosovo, this was not likely to happen. But PM Kostunica’s party went along with it. The other coalition partners in the government, the Democratic Party and G17 Plus, said that they wouldn’t support the resolution. (They said its aim was not the defense of Kosovo, but putting a halt to European integration.)

Kostunica then said that he “no longer had confidence in the sincerity of his coalition partners to fight for Kosovo,” and before anyone quite knew what was happening the government had collapsed.

It’s a bit of a surprise. I expected the government to survive, largely because almost everyone is afraid of new elections. But the Radicals seem to have decided that it’s worth rolling the dice; they seem to think they won’t lose seats and, in the general mood of national funk following the loss of Kosovo, may gain. They might be right. What’s less clear to me is why PM Kostunica went along with the Radical resolution. My best guess is that his nationalist rhetoric of the last few weeks has been so strong that he’s really painted himself into a corner.

Anyway, it looks like elections will be on May 11. More on this in a bit, I’m sure.

A quiet Sunday in Yerevan

Walked into central Yerevan today.

For those of you who haven’t been following this story: for the last two weeks, tens of thousands of Armenians have been turning out to protest the results of the recent Presidential election. The ruling party’s candidate supposedly won in a landslide, but there’s reason to think the elections were stolen. Yesterday morning, the government ran out of patience, declared a “state of emergency”, and sent a wave hundreds of police into the streets, followed by a second wave of soldiers. There are reliable reports of eight people dead and perhaps a hundred injured.

But that was yesterday. Last night Levon Ter-Petrosian, the losing presidential candidate, issued a statement asking his supporters to stand down. Today…
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Serbia, Round One

So Serbia held Round One of their presidential election yesterday.

A little background. It’s only three and a half years since the last election (June 2004), but the secession of Montenegro in May 2006 caused the Serbs to adopt a new constitution. That provided for a new Presidential term, which required a new election. But the constitution wasn’t very specific as to when. A long wrangle ensued, with Prime Minister Kostunica’s party trying to put the election off as long as possible, mostly because Kostunica has come to hate incumbent President Boris Tadic a lot, and he thought later elections would get caught up in the Kosovo wrangle, putting Tadic at a disadvantage. Which is pretty much what has happened.

Meanwhile, Kostunica is ostentatiously refusing to support Tadic. This is a pretty blatant violation of the coalition agreement Tadic’s party made with Kostunica last spring, but there it is: Kostunica doesn’t think he’s bound by that sort of thing.

(If I seem a little bit hard on Kostunica, well, he’s been rather a disappointment. He’s showing a long-term pattern of festering resentment towards rivals, especially rivals who are slicker, better-spoken, more popular and/or smarter. There’s no rule that politicians have to like each other, of course, but Kostunica is bending Serbian politics to serve his personal vendettas.)

So, the first round: Tadic got 35.4%, Radical Nikolic got 39.4%, and half a dozen minor candidates split the rest.

What does it mean? Continue reading

The Transition is Over

“Transition to democracy” was one of the European politics geek’s terms of art ever since 1989; there’s even an AFOE category devoted to transition and accession to the EU. According to Tim Garton Ash, one of his old dissident friends kept a large file of documents under the rubric “TD”; he suggested, wisely, that it ought to have been TC, for “Transition from Communism”. There’s even Transitions Online.

The transition is over. It’s now clear that even the aspiration for it in Russia is dead; the “administrative resources” are now aiming for a one-party Duma. TOL itself is more optimistic; they reckon there is a chance for a significant Communist revival, which would at least mean the opposition was a real, existing political party. However, who can do anything but laugh at the thought of e-voting in Russia? E-voting everywhere else in the world has been bad enough, and its well-publicised fiascos will deaden any criticism of Russia’s version.

It’s the end of an era. Earlier this week, I watched a BBC documentary about the shutdown of the BBC World Service’s programmes in Central and Eastern Europe; a whole microculture of Polish and Bulgarian broadcasters in West London signing off. They, of course, can claim that it’s mission accomplished, especially as the Kazcynski Kidz lost the elections.

The next point to watch here is the fate of the OSCE, and specifically its office of democratic institutions and human rights; Putin has promised to “reform” it. (As you know, Bob, AFOE hates the word “reform”.) It should be pretty clear what “reform” will consist of; a dictators’ club veto on publishing anything critical. This is something that badly wants watching, as I doubt there is much political will in the West to keep it going.

If we want to take the EU as a magnet for democracy, peace, and other good stuff – basic norms of civilised behaviour – ODIHR needs either support, or else to be transferred into the competence of the European Union, safe from post-Soviet vetoes or US fiddling.

Tidal Wave Fails to Devastate Rue de Solférino

Well, we shall wait to see the pundits explain exactly why the planned “vague bleue” for Nicolas Sarkozy failed to wipe out all traces of socialism in France as predicted. Leszek Kolakowski once described his Theory of the Infinite Cornucopia, which states that there exists an Infinite Cornucopia of reasons that can be invoked after the fact for whichever event actually happens. No doubt the cornucopia will be emptied and licked clean.

Le Monde reports – the PS has actually gained seats from last time, and the doomsodden predictions are exploded. Current forecasts put the UMP on 311-320 seats as against 359 in 2002, the PS on 210-212 compared with 149 last time out, the Communists on 17-18 (still in with a chance of saving their status as a parliamentary group), the Greens clinging on to four seats, the Nouveau Centre (the pro-Sarkozy UDFers) with 20 seats, and Francois Bayrou’s Mouvement Democrate with four seats. Le Pen gets zilch. Philippe de Villiers’ barking-right MPF gets anywhere between 2 and 6 seats.

It’s the leadership that suffered, though. Alain Juppé, the ex-prime minister and ex-con who was tapped to run a new, giant ministry of transport, infrastructure, energy and the environment, lost his seat in Bordeaux to the Socialist mayor. Arno Klarsfeld, one of the Right’s intellectuals, also got the order of the boot. Essentially everywhere, the MoDem voters swung to the Left.

So did François Hollande, although personally rather than politically. It emerged today that his partner, Ségoléne Royal, has thrown the First Secretary out of their home. Le Figaro found this such shattering news that they ran it on the front page lead, as a tiny news-in-brief ticker mentioned the insignificant detail that, well, the left got a majority of votes cast.

Laurent Fabius and Jean-Claude Cambadélis, who both rushed to the cameras with prepared doomsaying about how the PS must be “refounded” (translation = must be led by me), may be feeling a little stranded by the wave’s failure to arrive.

Président ou Présidente?

The French are still making up their mind [Update – they have made up their mind: Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected President – more soon]. Once again in record numbers – the only official figures released so far estimate the voter turnout at noon at 34,11%, the highest number since 1974, apparently. One winner of the Presidential race is therefore clearly institutional democracy – although burning cars is probably considered a way of political expression by some, not least, Ségolène Royal, who, earlier this week, warned that a Sarkozy victory could lead to violent protests in some Banlieues. While that is certainly not entirely out of the realm of the possible, and Sarkozy’s reaction was appropriately forceful, accusing her of fanning the (possible) flames, I doubt it was a particularly clever move on Royal’s behalf, to end her campaign by scaring voters. Apart from that, she’s probably also lost all votes of those about 3000 policemen who are now spending the evening in the suburbs to preempt any possible social unrest.
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On the back of the drag curve

Jean-Marie Le Pen has, as per tradition, called for mass abstention in the second round. He always does this, but it’s likely to be significant this time round—obviously, if he was obeyed, the loss of 10.44 per cent would be a significant change in the rapport des forces indeed.

And you have to wonder why anyone who votes for a party that is little else than a cult of personality around him would not follow his advice. Still, most people seem to think his votes will go to Nicolas Sarkozy. I’m not so sure.

After all, you can rat but you can’t re-rat. If the pessimistic case is true—the FN didn’t do badly, its voters were stolen by Sarko—then they are already gone, leaving only the stahlhelmfraktion of diehards behind. Who are by definition unlikely to shift.

On the optimistic side, as previously noted, the pollsters placed Le Pen at between 10 and 14 per cent at the beginning of the campaign, and depending where they started, at the same value at the finish. Seeing as the trends, or rather trendlessness, all agree, it looks like he started off with 10 per cent and neither gained nor lost votes through the campaign.

That’s pretty dire for a third- or fourth-party insurgent, who you’d expect to benefit from campaigning, more coverage, and especially the last few days’ mandatory equal access. Me, I reckon AFOE’s demographic hobbyhorse is to blame, or credit. Very simply, Le Pen voters are old, like the man himself, and they are dying out. To achieve a positive rate-of-climb, the FN has not only to recruit new voters faster than it loses codgers, it has to find them from new demographics. (This can of course be overstated. The biggest voting block in the first round was composed of candidates who found it necessary to explicitly address people who are still pissed off about withdrawal from Algeria in 1962. And people say Britain hasn’t come to terms with the imperial past.)

Hence, no doubt, Le Pen’s stumping of the ‘hoods. It’s interesting that he has considerable support among the immigrants he railed against at the start of his career, but it’s observable that the FN is struggling to get off the back of the demographic drag curve. Presumably, Le Pen’s active life represents the remaining length of the runway—

In the short term, of course, he has to fend off the danger of being “Marchaised” by Nicolas Sarkozy—in 1981, the Socialists invited Georges Marchais’ Communists into a coalition, where they proceeded to nab much of their support. In the longer term, the chief challenge is to replace enough codgers to ensure a presence.