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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Getting Hotter in Hungary

As we have noted on Afoe in recent weeks Hungarian society seems badly divided and faces daunting economic adjustments (and here). This weekend’s municipal elections seem to have resolved nothing, with both sides seeming effectively able to claim some sort of victory:

Preliminary results released by the election office, with some nearly all the votes counted, showed Fidesz winning the mayorships in 15 of Hungary’s 23 largest cities, as well majorities in 18 of 19 county councils.

The Socialists retained power in most of Budapest’s 23 districts and Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky — supported by the two-party governing coalition — won his fifth consecutive term since the 1990 return to democracy.

Not surprisingly under the circumstances the temperature is rising fairly rapidly. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany yesterday asked the Hungarian parliament to hold a vote of confidence in his government (and this will now take place on Friday). On Sunday night Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom called on Gyurcsany to step down.

With the outcome of Friday’s vote seeming to lean in Gyurcsany’s favour the opposition Fidesz party are getting frustrated and restless. Opposition leader Viktor Orban is already crying ‘foul’:

Opposition leader Viktor Orban of the Fidesz party said the confidence vote was a “deceitful and worthless trick.” He called instead for a constructive vote of no-confidence in parliament, in which the coalition would be forced to name a new prime ministerial candidate.

While Lajos Kosa, a Fidesz vice president, is being downright provocative:

The budget will come and further austerity measures worth 1,000 billion forints ($4.6 billion) will come too and then in the spring all of us will be chased out (from parliament), all of us, because a general uprising may break out in the country

Indeed the party is currently threatening to boycott the vote:

We will not be there… we won’t take part in this comedy,” Fidesz parliament faction leader Tibor Navracsics told a news conference.

Which all takes us back to that early guest post by P O’Neill where he perceptively warned:

But an older concern is working its way back onto the agenda: how to handle an economic crisis in a member country……However, the risk of the latter type of crisis in a member country is now quite high.”

The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
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Oh, yes, Macedonia

They had Parliamentary elections last week. Nobody much noticed, but,

1) The voting was conducted in good order and — according to international observers — was, for the most part, fair and without irregularities;

2) The opposition won a fairly clear victory; and,

3) The government promptly acknowledged the opposition victory, and is handing over power forthwith.

This is no small thing in Macedonia, an ethnically divided country with a long and miserable history of political violence. A bit more below the fold.
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Narinci?

Meanwhile on the borderlands, SueAndNotU sends a reminder that Azerbaijan will be holding parliamentary elections on November 6. The country’s current president, Ilham Aliyev, essentially inherited the job from his father, who had also been Azerbaijan’s communist boss before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Add oil, ubiquitous corruption, the loss of nearly a fifth of the country’s land in a dispute over an Armenian-settled area called Nagorno-Karabakh and something like half a million internally displaced persons resulting from this conflict, and you have a situation ripe for popular discontent. Which is indeed what we find.
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How do you say ‘corporate governance’ in German?

About the bombings in London I have nothing useful to say, beyond expressing my sympathies for the wounded and bereaved and my admiration of Londoners’ stoic resolve. And as others, here and elsewhere, are expressing those things better than I could, I shall leave it to them to do so.

Instead I shall turn to another topic, one that is admittedly less dramatic, but important for all that. That topic is corporate governance; specifically, corporate governance as it is (or is not) implemented in Germany. In recent days German headlines have been full of two particularly interesting items: a corporate governance scandal of colossal proportions at a major firm, and now a significant governance reform that is unlikely to make top German managers very happy.

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Immigration

Last week, the Swedish finance minister said that we should consider allowing immigration of labor. (Link in Swedish) This has long been demanded by the right-wing opposition, but the Social Democrats were against it, partly because of opposition from the unions. This is just a trial baloon, not a shift in policy, and is unlikely to lead to anything i the short run. In any event the opposition is favored to win the 2006 elections.

Sweden is very much the odd man out here, no?

Schr?der: early elections in Autumn.

I suppose German politics aren’t entirely predictable anymore. A few minutes ago, German Chancellor Schroeder confirmed earlier statements by Franz Muentefering, the SPD’s chairman, that the current red-green coalition will seek a – constitutionally problematic – vote of no-confidence to allow the early dissolution of the Bundestag and hold federal elections in autumn this year.
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The Warrior Audrey.


Yulia Tymoshenko
2004 may be well the year of Ukraine’s warrior princesses. First, singer Ruslana managed to put Ukraine on Europe’s musical map by winning the Eurovision song contest with her Wild Dances in May, and now, in early December, it doesn’t seem unlikely that the other warrior princess, Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the most mysterious political figures in Ukraine, will become Prime Minister.

The Guardian’s Nick Paton Walsh claims that, “while for the time being she is proving a great and popular rebel leader, no one really knows what she stands for,” and, on Neeka’s Backlog, Veronica Khokhlova confirms The Economist’s warning (via The Independent) that, “though she may look like Audrey Hepburn, anyone who has got this far in a country where politics often resembles a Jacobean revenge tragedy must have an edge” by wrinting about Mrs Tymoshenko that

“she’s an awesome politician – full of dignity, full of class, soft yet has some very deadly poison hidden underneath, very convincing when she speaks, prepared wonderfully to any kinds of questions, be it about the opposition’s plans, her own finances or her alleged radicalism. She’s beautiful, too, but her looks are as much of an asset as they are not.

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Dealing in Kyiv.

It looks like the legal stalemate in Ukraine could be a little closer to a solution. Possibly related to reports about the opposition offering immunity to incumbent President Kuchma in exchange for him no longer trying to factually or legally obstruct the preparations for the repeated presidential run-off election on December 26, at least most of the constitutional and procedural problems which led to parliamentary tensions last Saturday seem to have been resolved in a six hour round table talk with European mediators, including the EU’s Javier Solana and Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

While the parties seem to have finally agreed to the dismissal of the current Central Electoral Committee, the abolition of the problematic absentee ballots, extended checks of electoral registers to keep at least most of the dead from voting, and an end to the blockade of government buildings, it is unclear at this point to which extent the issue of pre-electoral constitutional change reducing the powers of the future UkrainianPresident in favor of the parliament has been settled.
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