Sometimes it’s who you don’t vote for that counts

As many Fistful readers will be aware, it’s widely expected that there’ll be a General Election in the UK this May. Of course, because of the way our system works, no one can say for definite when it will be until the Prime Minister actually goes to the Queen and requests that she dissolve Parliament but all the signs on the Magic Political 8-Ball point to an election on 05/05/05 (for once, a date we can all agree on regardless of how you order days, months and years).

The UK remains the only country in the EU to use the First Past The Post electoral system which means that, thanks to the vagaries of the system, we can have electoral results that seem somewhat odd to an external observer. Since 1945, no party has won more than 50% of the national vote (the Conservatives came closest in 1955 and 1959) but only one election – in the February election of 1974 – has seen neither of the two main parties (Conservatives and Labour) achieve a majority of the seats in Parliament.
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The morning after

Well, it’s been another quiet night in Ukraine, but the demonstrations have continued again today – the live feed shows that Independence Square is full of people again with hundreds of orange flags flying.

There have been a lot of updates on Maidan overnight, mainly of protests and rallies around the world, and still the rumours about Russian troops continue. The main news there, and at the Kyiv Post are of the call for a general strike by Yuschenko.
Louise Ferguson has an email from a Ukrainian academic that’s being forwarded around the world which makes for interesting reading. The key line, when talking about the election fraud is ‘I couldn’t remember such things even during the period of Soviet regime.‘ (the full text is below the fold)
BBC News has a short rundown of the faults with the election process identified by the election observers.
Elsewhere the EU/Russia summit will go on today with Ukraine on the agenda – it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of there, and I suspect much will remain on hold until that is over. However, the EU’s mediators should be in Kiev by now, which means things will be going on behind the scenes that we won’t notice.
On the ground, there are blog updates from Neeka, Obdymok, several from Le Sabot, Foreign Notes and continuing posts from Victor at the Periscope.

I’ll try and update the news as often as I can today, but I’m a lot busier today than I was yesterday, so hopefully some of my Fistful colleagues will take up some of the slack. I think it will be quieter today – though rumours will still fly – mainly because all the action will be taking place behind the scenes either in The Hague or Kiev.

Update: A couple of peope have asked for background information on the ethnic and nationalistic divisions in Ukraine. Well, like many issues of national identity in Europe, the answer is ‘do you want the long story, or the really long story?’ but for an overview there’s good article in today’s Independent and Wikipedia is a good web source – you can start with their Ukraine page and follow links from there.
In my roundup earlier, I also forgot to mention that Harry’s Place has links to articles on attempts by the current Ukrainian administration to get support in Washington. Harry also links to a good Timothy Garton Ash article in The Guardian.
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Little Brown Spots

The Frankfurter Allgemeine, whose web site could generally be better organized, gets it right in their main comments on the election of extreme right candidates to state legislatures in Saarland, Brandenburg and Saxony:

We hope the debate that the two big parties were at each other’s throats about after the election in Saarland will not be revived: Who strengthened the extreme right? The SPD, with its program of socio-political insecurity, or the Union [CDU-CSU], which withdrew when things got serious? This debate leads nowhere, because the truth is that voters strengthened the NPD – primarily notorious usual non-voters – and voters will make them weak again, when the profiteers of popular anger have made sufficient fools of themselves

(Rough and ready translation, original is below the fold.)
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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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How Spain voted

Both Chris Brooke and Matthew Turner have raised the suggestion that the Socialist victory in Spain may not have been caused by an actual swing in the electorate from the Popular Party (PP) to the Socialists (PSOE) after Thursday, but rather by the attacks in Madrid inspiring more people to go out and vote. With the majority of these new voters trending towards the left and the PSOE, the argument goes, this meant that they can attribute their victory to these new voters, rather than voters who switched from the PP to the PSOE.

Curious about whether or not this is true, I took a look at the actual election results and there is evidence there to support this view. However, any conclusions from this evidence are necessarily tentative and speculative, as the evidence could be interpreted many ways.
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France and the Headscarf: Now the real fighting starts

Yesterday, the French National Assembly voted for a ban on “conspicuous religious symbols” in public schools by a majority of 494 in favour to 36 against. With the bill polling at 70% favourable among the French public, neither major political formation saw any gain in opposition.

Votes against came from several quarters. Alain Madelin – the sole serious Thatcherite in the French government – voted against, as did Christiane Taubira – the first black woman candidate for the French presidency and the first candidate from an overseas department. The biggest block to vote against came from the French Communist Party where 14 members voted against, 7 for, and 3 abstained. The Communists are the only party whose leadership has consistently opposed this law. Back in November the PCF leadership concluded that: “Nous sommes contre une loi qui, sous couvert de la?cit?, aurait comme cons?quence de stigmatiser une population.” We are against a law that, under the cover of secularism, would have as its consequence the stigmatisation of a population.

Normally, I would say that any bill that is opposed by both Alain Madelin and the PCF has to be a good idea. But this time, the fringe politicians are right, and the mainstream is wrong.
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