Elections: Bulgaria

Bulgaria has a Presidential election this weekend. There’s no question who’s going to win, but there’s still some nail-biting suspense.

Why? Well, the current President is former Socialist Georgi Parvanov. (“Former” Socialist because the Bulgarian President must not be affiliated with any political party.) He seems to be a decent enough fellow. The Bulgarian Presidency doesn’t have a lot of power, but Parvanov looks good, says all the right things, and has generally acted Presidential. Earlier this year, he acknowledged that he’d “cooperated” with the State Security Service back in the days of Communism; perhaps because he was quick to admit it, nobody seems to hold it much against him.

Parvanov is reasonably popular. He’s not considered brilliant, but he’s energetic, peripatetic, and constantly in the public eye. (There’s a joke that if you want to see him, build a doghouse, and he’ll show up to cut the ribbon.) So, he will almost certainly win the election this Tuesday.

But. Under Bulgaria’s election law, Presidential elections go to a second round if (1) nobody wins 50% of the votes cast, or (2) 50% of eligible voters don’t turn out. Parvanov will probably get well past 50%, but low turnout seems likely — in the last national election, only 42% of the voters showed up. So there will probably be a second round.

This raises the interesting question of who’ll come in second.
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1..2..3..And They’re Off!!

Well, with the summer party universités d’été done and everyone going back to work, the run-in begins in earnest to the French presidential election. This shows every sign of being very interesting indeed. After all, it’s the biggest direct mandate for any politician in Europe and the second-biggest in the whole democratic world (I exclude Russia because whatever it is, it ain’t democracy), so it ought to be worth watching anyway. This one is especially interesting, though, as everyone has a lot to prove.

The Socialists are desperate to recover from the disaster of 2002 and regain some power. Whether they can do this, and how they do it, is going to be a bellwether for the Left throughout the world. Inside the party, there is a whole world of bitter conflict to work out. The extreme-left is desperately trying to unite, in the hope of capitalising on the victory against the CPE and eventually getting some tangible results from their combined 12-15 per cent of the first round vote. After all, whatever they hoped to achieve, you can be sure that a Chirac-Le Pen runoff wasn’t it.

On the Right, there is an even more savage internal struggle in progress. The blue-eyed boy, Nicolas Sarkozy, is lining up for the final straight with his bid to bring something eerily like Tony Blair to France – free markets and mass surveillance – whilst Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin still hopes to seize the succession to Jacques Chirac. This overlays the old distinction between the Gaullists and the “classical right”. But what’s this?
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Sarkozy to the rescue?

The prospect of Sarkozy replacing Villepin as French Prime Minister has apparently been given a significant boost today, with a close aide of Sarkozy saying his boss could accept such an offer, provided he is allowed to carry out his (and not Chirac’s) political agenda.

Now, maybe this won’t come to pass (and I’ll argue below that it probably won’t). But it is worth recalling some recent history to show how extraordinary such a move would be.

It is not just that Chirac had considered Sarkozy a traitor since he chose to support the presidential bid of (then Prime minister) Edouard Balladur in the presidential elections of 1995. It is also that Chirac has done everything in his power to impede Sarkozy’s rise to power since 2002. In 2004, Chirac battled behind the scenes to try to foil the takeover of his own UMP party by Sarkozy, then the popular Minister of the Interior. When that didn’t work, he ordered him to leave the government, on the theory that having the head of the main party of the parliamentary majority in the cabinet would sap the authority of the Prime Minister (conveniently forgetting that Alain Juppé, a long-time Chirac protégé, was at the same time president of the RPR and Foreign Minister from November 1994 to May 1995).

That theory did last less than a year, since Sarko was back in the government after the failed referendum on the EU constitution in late May 2005. But Chirac ignored the calls of his parliamentary majority to name Sarko Prime Minister and went for Villepin instead, with the hope of making the latter a rival to the former for the next presidential elections. Asking now Sarko to replace Villepin would then be tantamount to a declaration of surrender on Chirac’s part.
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Germany’s American Campaign

Well, it seems my guest stint is going to be along the lines of “All German Election, All The Time”, but some more things have come up! In last night’s TV debate between Schröder and Merkel, it seems, the CDU leader used some words that weren’t entirely her own. According to Der Standard (or should that be “the Austrian newspaper whose website could be better organised”?), her peroration was very similar to another peroration delivered in the same sort of circumstances. Not Bismarck this time…but Ronald Reagan, in his debate with Jimmy Carter on the 28th of October 1980. (You can compare the texts at the link above.) Now, that is of minor interest in itself, but it does point up a curious feature of modern German politics.

It’s all so American.

As I pointed out in my last AFOE contribution, Germany has a curious combination of a parliamentary constitution and a presidential political culture, which gives rise to the notion of a Spitzenkandidat separate from the party leader. Not only that, but yesterday saw all national TV networks cleared for a one-to-one debate between the top two candidates…something that doesn’t happen even in supposedly presidential Britain. Slogans have something oddly transatlantic about them, too – Edmund Stoiber ran last time under the line “Kantig. Echt. Erfolgreich.”, which reminded me at least far more of “A Reformer With Results” than anything European.

It’s always said that TV is crucial in Britain, but there is so little political coverage that I’ve always doubted its importance relative to the press, which covers elections exhaustively and addresses a readership more likely than the average to vote. But German elections seem far more televisual…

Just as in last year’s US presidential election, the whole debate was accompanied by a spin storm whipped up by both sides’ pet bloggers (the CDU cunningly grabbed the domain name wahlfakten.de for theirs whilst the SPD had to content themselves with roteblogs). However, wahlblog05.de seems to be channelling the spirit of our dear departed generalelection05, scrupulously balanced and perhaps even a tad too serious.

WB05 informs us that another US political tradition has even taken hold, too – destroying your opponents’ campaign materials. What on earth is going on?

Marching in Blue & White?

Significantly trailing in the polls for the repeated Presidential election on December 26, the Ukrainian “establishment candidate” Victor Yanukovych, declared today that reports about his urging the use of violence are wrong. According to the BBC

Mr Yanukovych says he merely urged Mr Kuchma to restore order according to the constitution. ‘This information is false. There was no talk of bringing in troops,’ Mr Yanukovych said, according to the Interfax news agency. ‘It was about ensuring order properly and observing the Ukrainian constitution,’ he said.

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Behind the scenes

The Financial Times has an interesting article about how the Ukrainian government did consider the use of force against the protestors, but eventually backed down, mainly because President Kuchma blocked it.

Those lobbying for the use of force included senior officials, among them Viktor Medvedchuk, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration and Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister.

According to people inside and outside Mr Kuchma’s administration, the president resisted the pressure and the danger passed.

“The key moment came on Sunday, November 28 (a week after crowds took to Kiev streets), when soldiers were given bullets. Then they were going around not with empty machine guns, but already fully armed. I think that was the peak of the whole conflict,” Mr Yushchenko said.

Vasyl Baziv, the deputy head of the presidential administration, told the FT: “I know that many representatives of the [state] apparatus lobbied the president to impose a state of emergency. They said it is time to use state power. The president, from the first moment, was consistently against the use of force.”

I suspect that there’ll be quite a few stories like this over the coming weeks – and if Yushchenko does win on December 26, as everyone assumes, the trickle will become a flood as everyone starts trying to blame everyone else for all that went wrong. One can read this report as being Kuchma trying to get his story into the arena first – as part of his ongoing attempt to get amnesty after he leaves office – by portraying himself as the man who didn’t want to “leave office with blood on his hands.”

However, it is interesting to note how the reports match up with some of the rumours that were going about at the time of the crisis, particularly the idea that the clampdown would begin after the CEC announced Yanukovich as the victor of the election:

Tensions rose sharply on Wednesday, November 24, when the Central Election Commission officially confirmed Mr Yanukovich’s victory. Mr Yushchenko responded by urging protesters to blockade public buildings, including the cabinet office and the presidential administration.

With Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and other mediators due in Kiev for conciliation talks on Friday November 26, the authorities considered using force to clear the blockade surrounding the presidential buildings. About 2,000 anti-riot police were deployed in the area. But, with the mediators urging restraint, the Ukrainian authorities backed off.

The talks on November 26 failed to break the deadlock. The following day, the pro-Yushchenko crowds in Kiev swelled to an estimated 500,000, with smaller demonstrations in some other cities.

The critical moments came on Sunday November 28. Mr Yanukovich’s supporters in eastern Ukraine raised thestakes by making separatist threats.

Mr Kuchma chaired a meeting of the key National Security Council which discussed plans for armed action. Western diplomats say intelligence reports showed interior ministry troop movements around Kiev. One senior western diplomat says: “There were credible reports that troops were moving on Kiev.”

Ukraine, developing…

Update: (Nick – 1730CET) The official announcement has been made, declaring Yanukovich the victor. More ASAP when I’ve rounded up the reactions.

Maidan are reporting preparations for a state of emergency are being made at Yanukovich headquarters. Victor reports official results are 49.5% to Yanukovich, 45.5% to Yeschenko, though he already has reports of fraud. At the moment, I’m crossing fingers and everything else and hoping. Kwasniewkski and a Dutch representative (I don’t know who) are still reported to be on their way to Kiev.

The IHT reports the Ukrainian defence minister telling the Army to ‘remain calm’. Two members of the Election Commission refused to endorse the result. The Periscope’s latest update includes details of actions being considered by the European Commission and Parliament and Schroeder has talked with Putin urging that the situation be resolved lawfully (translated out of diplomatese, that would seem to mean ‘don’t do anything with your troops, Vladimir’)

Neeka has a new post on the Elections Commission meeting.

Update: (David.)

Hopeful news (for real)

NYT reports:

Shortly after his rival’s offer, Yanukovich also hinted at compromise by saying that he was not interested in a “fictitious” victory and that “no position of authority, no matter how important, is worth a single human life.”

Yushchenko’s comments provided outgoing President Leonid Kuchma with a way to defuse a crisis that has convulsed the ex-Soviet state of 47 million after it became obvious early on Monday that Yanukovich would be declared the winner.

Update: (David.) I just made a highly embarrasing goof. I thought a ten days old report was new. Ignore my last (deleted) post.

Update: (Nick) I don’t want to draw too many conclusions, as I’ve not quite sure the evidence supports them, but the Kyiv Post reports that Yuschenko has called on soldiers and police to defy orders to take action against the people and Maidan – who earlier reported that Ukrainian special forces were willing to intervene on the side of the protestors – are reporting that the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Marine Forces has acknowledged Yuschenko as President. Pure conjecture here, but I have a feeling that the reports of Russian troops being deployed within Ukraine has backfired and driven the armed forces into the opposition camp, as they don’t want to end up in a position where they’re firing on their own people.

5 pm CET:

Maidan claims that Today the President of Poland Kwasnewski arrives as representative of EU to Ukraine. and that Maidan receives more and more confirmation about presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.

Russia refuses to confirm or deny its troops’ presence.

Europe stepped up pressure on Ukraine officials Wednesday to review the results of the disputed presidential poll, following a similar statement of support from the White House. Meanwhile, Russian authorities continued to support Ukraine officials.

Still nothing from the electoral commisssion, which was supposed to announce the final results two hours ago.

Update:

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) — Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko, who accuses the government of rigging the Nov. 21 presidential elections, said he would agree to holding another second-round vote if the government is willing.

(Original post starts here)

There have been reports (Maidan, Scott Clark, Periscope commenters) that Russian Spetnaz are in Ukraine. Now, via Nosemonkey Maidan says: Ukranian special police will defend the people if Russian troops attack

Worst case scenario is dire indeed.

Prelude to crackdown? Postmodernclog.com wrrote two hour ago:

Authorities have begun violent action against peaceful protesters near the Presidential Admin building. 2 buses of special ops police units drove up and have moved on the demonstrators.

The periscope commenters reports

According to Korrespondent.net, Lviv Regional Council dismissed its Head and elected an Executive Committee, headed by the opposition MP Petro Oliynyk. Oliynyk sworn the oath to the People’s President Yuschenko.
This has been the third Oblast Council to acknowledge Yuchenko’s victory, along with Volyn and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts.
A number of city councils also either expressed support for Yuschenko or claimed the results of the second round of elections invalid, among them Kyiv, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Vinnytsya, Ternopil, Stryi, Sambor, Khmelnytsk, Lutsk, Chernivtsi, Zhytomyr.
Some of the Eastern oblasts, on the other hand, issued statements claiming Yanukovich the elected President: Kharkiv (despite numerous pro-Yuschenko demonstrations), Odessa and Donetsk.

They also have a transcript of Yushchenko’s speech in Independence Square.

Blogs reporting from the ground: Scott Clark, Neeka, Victor Katolyk (in comments), Postmodern Clog.

Other blogs covering Ukraine: Europhobia, Voldmyr Campaign, Tulip Girl

Ukrainian news sites: Brama, Maidan, the Pora campaign..

More from Ukraine

I’m starting a new post for the latest information as the old one was starting to get a bit long. The session in Parliament has broken up as there were 191 deputies there, but 226 (50%+1) were required for a quorum, so no action could be taken. However, the Kyiv Post reports that Yushchenko has taken a ‘symbolic’ oath of office as President:

After the session ended, Yushchenko swore an oath on a 300-year-old Bible. The Ukrainian constitution, however, stipulates that the president swears allegiance on a copy of the constitution. Lawmakers chanted “Bravo, Mr. President!”

There’s other interesting information in the story as well, such as how a no confidence vote would also be symbolic rather than binding:

“All political forces should negotiate and solve the situation without blood,” said parliament speaker Volodymyr Litvyn.

“The activities of politicians and the government … have divided society and brought people into to the streets,” Litvyn said. “Today there is a danger of activities moving beyond control.”

A no-confidence vote in parliament would have carried political significance, but it would not have been binding. According to the Ukrainian constitution, a no-confidence vote must be initiated by the president – and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has staunchly backed Yanukovych.

Opposition leader and Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko, wearing an orange ribbon around her neck, called on lawmakers “not to go to into any negotiations” with the government. Instead, Tymoshenko said, they should “announce a new government, a new president, a new Ukraine.”

However, there are welcome signs that direct confrontations are being avoided:

Mykola Tomenko, a lawmaker and Yushchenko ally, said some police had joined the opposition, although the claim was impossible to independently verify. One police officer, wearing an orange ribbon in his uniform, ordered a group of police outside a government building to retreat inside, defusing tension between them and Yushchenko supporters.

Kyiv’s city council and the administrations of four other sizable cities – Lviv, Ternopil, Vinnytsia and Ivano-Frankivsk – have refused to recognize the official results and they back Yushchenko.

Elsewhere, idiotprogrammer discusses (the lack of) American coverage of what’s going on (though we have now been mentioned on Instapundit).

Update: BBC News 24 reports (from the AFP wire) that Yushchenko has called on the police and army to come out and support him while miners are threatening to march on Kiev in support of Yanukovich. AFP also reports that Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende – the Netherlands currently holds the EU presidency – has informed Ukrainian President Kuchma that the EU has doubts about the result of the election.

Update 2: The Periscope has lots of information, including translations of what’s being broadcast on Ukrainian radio right now. They also report that Javier Solana will be addressing the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs tomorrow focusing on events in Ukraine.
Latest breaking news from the Kyiv Post reports Putin saying that “criticism of the Ukrainian election by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is “inadmissible” because there are no official results.”
More blogging from Kiev at Le Sabot Post-Moderne.
Interesting BBC News article on some of the background to the protests. It mentions a Ukrainian student group – Pora – who have connections with Georgia’s Kmara and Serbia’s Otpor movements, both of whom were at the forefront of the protests in their countries that overthrew governments. As several people have noted, Georgian flags are being displayed quite prominently amidst the protests.
There’s a good Financial Times article on the processes going on behind the scenes:

Although Mr Kuchma has spent a decade building an authoritarian regime, he has not established complete control – unlike President Vladimir Putin in neighbouring Russia – and it is unclear whether he can assure victory for his prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich.

In particular, he does not control parliament or the Supreme Court, both of which could play a vital role in determining the victor.

The core of Mr Kuchma’s power is his dominance of the bureaucracy, law-enforcement and state security structures inherited from Communist times. Even before Mr Putin made similar moves in Russia, Mr Kuchma established presidential control over regional governments and placed close allies to oversee the news on the main state and private television channels. […]

Critically, the president has failed to establish a reliable majority among parliament’s 450 members. Recently, Volodymyr Lytvyn, the speaker, and more than 30 deputies deserted the pro-presidential bloc, creating a stalemate in which neither Mr Yushchenko nor Mr Kuchma have a majority.

Mr Kuchma cannot take the support of domestic institutions for granted, especially the Supreme Court, where judges enjoy independence thanks to lifetime appointments. Before the polls, the court acted in Mr Yushchenko’s favour by ordering the Central Election Commission to exclude 41 extra polling stations in Russia for the numerous Ukrainian citizens there amid concerns that they might be used for ballot fraud. After the first round, the court ordered the Central Election Commission to reverse a decision to exclude votes from a pro-Yushchenko district.

As the widespread allegations of second-round fraud have shown, the government has attempted another challenge to institutions Mr Kuchma does not fully control.

The authorities successfully ordered and bullied civil servants to co-operate in ballot-stuffing operations – ranging from university professors who applied unfair pressure on students to police officers who were paid to tour polling stations and vote more than once. But the machine did its job too well. The sheer scale of fraud required to swing the official results in Mr Yanukovich’s favour has provoked huge protests and international criticism.

Update 3: Victor Katolyk’s live reports from Ukraine are in this Periscope thread. BBC News 24 just had live pictures from outside the Presidential offices where police are present in full riot gear and standing about 10-15 deep, completely blocking access to what appeared to be a large crowd of protestors. However, despite all that, things still seemed peaceful – the crowd was quite orderly and there was a gap between them and the police, with no signs of imminent trouble. At times like this, though, it only takes one hothead to spark a flame.
There’s a brief post on Siberian Light that makes an interesting couple of points:

* Putin seems to have made a major error of judgement in backing Mr Yanukovych. If the election result is overturned, he will have made an enemy of Yushchenko.
* And if Yushchenko does win the Presidency he won’t have such a strong mandate from the people as Saakashvilli did in Georgia’s Rose Revolution (which, by the way, is celebrating its 1st anniversary today). Even if the election had been free and fair, I doubt Yushchenko would have won by more than a few points. There are deep East-West divisions in Ukraine which have bubbled to the surface this week. They won’t just go away.

BBC News reports that Yushchenko has asked former Polish President Walesa to mediate in the crisis. Walesa is reported as saying he will if Ukrainian President Kuchma asks him to.
Update 4: Right, one last set of updates then I need to get some sleep. Things seem to have quietened down now – it’s 2am in Ukraine right now (for reference, it’s GMT+2, CET+1, EST+7). Victor has continued to updates at The Periscope– the general trend seems to be reports of public and international support for Yuschenko, coupled with rumours of potential trouble from forces allied with Yanukovich tomorrow. There’s nothing we can do but sit and wait to see how those pan out.
Yuschenko’s website in English (click on ‘ENG’ at the top of the screen) has lots of news, including a story that Mikhail Gorbachev has backed Yushchenko.
Interesting posts from
Daniel Brett and Coming Anarchy.
There are many reports of international demonstrations and protests for Yushchenko tomorrow – I’ll add those to the thread above.
Two more sites gathering and reporting news from Ukraine in English – Maidan and Brama.

A Brief American Interlude

The front page of today’s Washington Post has a none-too-flattering analysis of Gov. Howard Dean, the man most likely to challenge GW Bush for the White House in 2004. It starts:

“Former Vermont governor Howard Dean stands on the brink of a remarkable achievement in American politics, having transformed himself from rank obscurity to clear favorite for his party’s presidential nomination. But rarely has a front-runner begun an election year with as many questions swirling around him as the man who rewrote the rules in presidential politics the past 12 months.”

Coming from someone whose profession is supposed to be reporting on American politics, the second sentence is rankest stupidity.
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