Monthly Archives: June 2010

Australian Labor leadership coup 2010

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was ousted from office by his own party on June 24, in a move which will likely surprise most foreign observers who aren’t used to seeing parties dump their leaders from office. Brian Mulroney wasn’t dumped by his party when his party sunk to utter lows in polls in Canada back in 1992, and Gordon Brown never faced a serious consistent challenge in the Labour Party, even at utter lows in summer 2009.

Kevin Rudd, leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) since 2006 and Prime Minister since the ‘Ruddslide’ of 2007, has gone from being a wildly popular Prime Minister with sky-high approvals to a disliked (some will say ‘hated’) and low-rating leader in the past months or so.

Firstly, as for the raw facts, talks of a leadership challenge to Rudd had been circling around in the ALP and its affiliated trade unions for a few weeks, or since polls have started showing a fall in the ALP’s primary vote. The government’s popularity suffered as a result of Rudd stalling a carbon-emissions trading scheme, despite Rudd having said in 2007 that climate change was practically the issue of the century. He has lost both credibility out of this PR-disaster, but also lost votes on his left to the Greens. A proposed resources tax which would have, after 2012, taxed mining profits at a rate of 40% after they reach a certain level. A counterattack in the form of ads by the mining companies has proved fruitful for them and negative for the ALP. Finally, more voters are concerned about illegal immigration arriving to Australia on boats, an issue which has seen some demanding a shift to the right by Rudd and has seen increased support for the opposition Coalition. The ALP powerbrokers, who are mostly little-known shadowy figures working from trade unions or backbenches (but hold power over the leadership), were worried about the next election – which could likely be held this fall – if Labor remained led by Rudd. They defected en masse to Julia Gillard, Rudd’s Deputy Prime Minister and a popular and charismatic figure. Though hesitant at first, Gillard agreed to ask Rudd for a challenge. At a press conference on June 23, Rudd said that he had agreed for a leadership vote. Yet, in a defiant speech, he hammered on his successes while in office and warned that his government would not, if he was re-elected, ‘lurch to the right on the question of asylum seekers’. Seeing support evaporate and being given only the support of only 30ish of the 115 Labor federal parliamentarians, he did not fight as earlier announced and backed off. Gillard was elected without opposition and became the 27th Prime Minister of Australia and the first female PM in Australia.

But for all the talk of Rudd’s fall being precipitated by low polling, one would think that he stood at 15% approval ratings. It was not. In fact, in the last Newspoll, Labor led the Coalition 52-48 on 2PP and only narrowly trailed the Liberals on first preference votes. However, Australian politics and ALP internal politics are particular are treacherous and an affair dominated by much back-stabbing. The ALP itself is factionalized, but unlike other factionalized parties on the left, the factions of the ALP – the right and the left – are fossilized in the structure of the party. Rudd, himself a member of the dominant right, won the leadership in 2006 from Beazley after an alliance with the left’s top contender, Julia Gillard. The fossilized nature of ALP factions means that powerbrokers, the infamous shadowy back-room people, hold considerable power within the party though they are not often seen in positions of power in the federal government itself. Rudd, although a member of the right, never enjoyed good relations with the powerbrokers of the ALP and they tolerated him between 2006 and 2010 because he brought the party success and support. Once the electorate stopped supporting him, his lack of genuine support within the caucus became sorely felt. Rudd’s authoritarian nature while governing, and his habit of centralizing decisions and leaving cabinet ministers in the dark about decisions further hurt his image. The ABC quoted an ALP powerbroker: “This crypto-fascist made no effort to build a base in the party. Now that his only faction, Newspoll, has deserted him he is gone.” The right abandoned him en masse, and it seems that the cards were reversed in the run-up to the caucus meeting when it appeared that only the left remained behind him while the right was united against him. Furthermore, the crucial states of Victoria and New South Wales abandoned Rudd, a Queenslander, in favour of Gillard, a Victorian.

Although Julia Gillard, 48-year old, has been associated closely with almost all of the government’s decisions, she appears to the electorate as a separate person, a fine speaker, and a less authoritarian person. She has already decided to drop government ads supporting the mining tax while mining companies while drop theirs, likely meaning that she’ll gently bow out of the issue which could have hurt the party electorally in Western Australia and Queensland where mining is important. She enters with a likely honeymoon period and she would be intelligent to call for a federal election for as soon as possible. She is a better leader for the ALP than Rudd in marginal seats in NSW and Victoria, and she appeals to women voters much more than the Liberals’ Tony Abbott, a social conservative and staunchly religious person. Gillard is likely the ALP’s short-term route to a second term which will likely be won this year.

Glace Bay and Yarmouth (Nova Scotia) by-elections 2010

By-elections for two seats in the Nova Scotia Legislature were held on June 22, 2010 after the sitting MLAs in Glace Bay and Yarmouth resigned in the wake of the Novs Scotian parliamentary expense scandals. The last general election was held on June 9, 2009 and government is formed by Darrell Dexter of the NDP. Though the next election is only due no later than June 9, 2014, Dexter’s NDP government has come out of its honeymoon with voters rather suddenly with the expenses scandal, which has affected MLAs from all parties. The latest poll had the NDP only 2% ahead of the Liberals, 37-35, while the PCs were in third with 24% support.

Glace Bay Liberal MLA Dave Wilson resigned suddenly, likely due to his implication in the expenses scandal. Glace Bay is the traditional heart of the Cape Breton coal mining region and has long been a working-class seat, and was most recently held by the NDP between 1998 and 1999. Dave Wilson, a former TV and radio host, won the seat -then known as Cape Breton East (he lobbied for a name change) in the 1999 election – and has held it in 2003, 2006 and most recently in 2009. The NDP should have been able to win the seat in more clement conditions, and they polled 39.9% in 2009 against 47.4% for Wilson. The PCs have never been a factor in this working-class stronghold.

Geoff MacLellan (Liberal) 53.91% (+6.47%)
Myrtle Campbell (NDP) 31.52% (-8.34%)
Michelle Wheelhouse (PC) 10.48% (-1.2%)
Edna Lee (Ind) 2.69% (+2.69%)
Dan Wilson (Atlantica) 0.77% (+0.77%)

The result is surprisingly good for the Liberals and rather poor for the NDP, who could have fancied a gain back during Dexter’s 2009 honeymoon period.

Yarmouth PC MLA and former cabinet minister Richard Hurlburt was the first victim of the expenses scandal, being the top-spender in the current legislature (and second place when including defeated MLAs elected in 2006). He had claimed $33,220.18 in expenses, and that he had spent his constituency allowance on a generator and a 42″ television, which together cost over $11,000. Yarmouth is a rural town located at the southern end of Nova Scotia. Fishing and agriculture is the main economic activity, though tourism and light manufacturing has developed in recent years. The seat is a traditional Tory stronghold, having been held since 1999 by Hurlburt. Though the NDP won it in a shocking victory in 1998, the seat had previously switched between Tories and Liberals.

Zach Churchill (Liberal) 50.65% (+36.58%)
Charles Crosby (PC) 33.41% (-27.93%)
Belle Hatfield (Ind) 8.56% (+8.56%)
John Deveau (NDP) 6.52% (-16.41%)
John Percy (Green) 0.62% (-1.04%)
Jonathan Dean (Atlantica) 0.24% (+0.24%)

The PCs were likely hurt by the bad press surrounding their resigning MLA, Richard Hurlburt and local discontent at such corruption in a rather small, rural, traditional and isolated community. However, it isn’t surprising that the Liberals are benefiting the most overall from the dip in Dexter’s popularity as a result of the expense scandals, given that the PCs remain without a permanent leader since their electoral defeat a bit more than a year ago and that they aren’t the official opposition.

Colombia 2010 (runoff)

The runoff ballot in the Colombian presidential election was held on Sunday, June 20. The first round, held on May 29, placed former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos far ahead of former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus. The first round had come as a shocker to many observers and pollsters who had all placed their bets on Mockus, who had enjoyed a upsurge in polls during the campaign and was even the favourite to win the presidency. Santos, the candidate of retiring President Álvaro Uribe, and the candidate most likely to continue Uribe’s very popular policy (both at home and in Washington) of ‘democratic security’, placed first with a surprisingly strong 46.6% while Mockus badly trailed with a mere 21.5%, much lower than the 35% results polls had predicted for him just days before the May 29 ballot. A lot of theories have been advanced to explain Mockus’ counter-performance on May 29, but the most likely one seems to be a series of dangerous gaffes made by Mockus including his avowed “admiration” for Chavez or his statement that he would consider extraditing Santos to face trial in Ecuador in the Ecuadorian case against Colombia’s military attacks on a FARC base in Ecuador which killed high-ranking FARC leader Raul Reyes. Mockus’ flamboyant and clownish personality could also have rebutted late deciders and even likely voters might have backed off from placing the X next to the Green Party’s candidate in the secrecy of the voting booth.

Quite obviously, as I said in my post covering the first round, Mockus was dead on arrival. Any quixotic hope that he might have rallied considerably amount of voters and made the race close were quashed by Mockus’ refusal to enter into any political deals with Colombia’s traditional parties, most notably the opposition Liberal Party (of which Uribe and Santos are former members of) or the left-wing PDA, which Mockus said was too close to the FARC for comfort. The Liberals, one of Colombia’s oldest parties (with the pro-Uribe Conservatives) and a patronage machine more than a party, quickly dropped their opposition banner and rallied Santos. Their candidate’s poor showing (4.38%) in the first round likely made the Liberals prone to ally with the likely winner, though Santos’ former affiliation with the party and Mockus’ anti-politician rhetoric didn’t make them fond of his style. Two other uribista candidates, Germán Vargas Lleras of the Radical Change party and Conservative Noemí Sanín also quickly endorsed Santos. Lleras had won a surprising 10.1% while Sanín did very badly, winning only 6.1%. Here are the results (blank, null and unmarked votes are counted in the official tally):

Juan Manuel Santos (Party of the U) 69.05%
Antanas Mockus (Green) 27.52%
Blank votes 3.41%
Null votes 1.49%
Unmarked votes 0.74%

turnout 44.48%

The runoff was indeed just a formality for Santos. Mockus rallied barely any additional voters, and they likely came mostly from Gustavo Petro’s voters, but then again, he was far from getting all of Petro’s 9%. His reluctance to accept the PDA as an ally further hurt his chances of even breaking the 30% line. Santos, on the other hand, rallied the vast majority of the remaining uribista voters – despite the lukewarm relations between Santos’ party and Noemí Sanín’s maverick status. Santos also benefited from a series of radio messages by President Uribe, who, officially barred from endorsing a candidate, gave his unofficial backing to Santos. Uribe retains a high approval rating in Colombia as he leaves office. Turnout fell a bit, from around 49% in the first round, likely a result of the FIFA World Cup taking up a lot of popular attention in South America, even though Colombia is not qualified.

Santos’ strongest showings came in areas with strong FARC activity, especially in the regions to the southeast and northeast of Bogota. Only the department of Putumayo, a rather isolated department out in the Amazonian rainforest, did not vote for Santos in either the first round or the runoff. I don’t know what makes Putumayo so special – it did vote for Uribe by small margins in both 2002 and 2006 after all, but if I remember correctly these areas, rather on the outskirts of FARC activity, saw negotiations between the FARC and the government prior to Uribe’s election in 2002.

Álvaro Uribe’s retirement from the Presidency is a major hallmark in this election which did not see the change many had hoped for, but Uribe has marked Colombian and South American politics since 2002 in a way similar to Chavez or Lula, the latter of which is also a goner in October. Yet, Uribe’s ‘democratic security’ policy will continue almost unchanged under Santos, the man who as defense minister between 2006 and 2009 coordinated major actions such as the killing of Raul Reyes or the liberation of high-profile FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt (but also a paramilitary scandal and other defense scandals). Santos’ victory is also a victory for Washington’s Latin American policy, while a President Mockus might have proved a thorn in Washington’s side. Santos, who comes from a wealthy family of newspaper magnates and whose great-uncle was President between 1938 and 1942, is not as much of a hard-liner as he is made out to me. He is in fact rather pragmatic, having supported negotiations with the FARCs until 2002 (though he staunchly opposes such talks nowadays) and having been in the cabinets of both liberal and conservative administrations.

In a grateful and unifying victory speech, Santos, hammered that it was the hour of national unity and national dialogue between Colombians. He also thanked Mockus and said that he too would fight for transparency and legality. Santos has a crushing mandate from voters and a strong majority in Congress, while Mockus and the Green Party could emerge as the opposition as he attempts to regain some of the momentum and enthusiasm he had generated early in the campaign.

Poland 2010

The first round of a presidential ballot in Poland was held on Sunday, June 20. This election, originally scheduled for October, was moved up to June following the death of President Lech Kaczyński in a plane crash on April 10. Kaczyński, a founding member of the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) had been elected President of Poland in 2005. His brother, Jarosław, served as Prime Minister between 2006 and 2007, but PiS was defeated in the 2007 legislative election. Kaczyński led a markedly eurosceptic policy, resisting pressure to sign the Lisbon Treaty, as well as a socially conservative policy. Indeed, PiS represents a socially conservative but more economically statist-populist current which is strong in rural Poland.

Political lines have moved extremely rapidly in Poland since 1989, with parties disappearing and parties suffering volatile swings back and forth. The post-communist left (the Democratic Left Alliance, SLD), led by President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, ruled Poland between 2001 and 2005 with control over both levels of government. Corruption claimed the life of the Polish left, which now struggles to break 15%, and led to the polarization of the political system, more so after the collapse of the far-right in 2007, between PiS and the Civic Platform, which represents a more liberal (economically) and more urban-bourgeois current. The left won 13.2% of the vote in 2007, an election which saw the collapse of the left-wing populist Samoobrona and socially conservative LPR. Seemingly, only the opportunistic agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL), which supports the party of power, has weathered the storms.

Following Lech Kaczyński’s death in a plane crash in April, a crash which claimed the lives of numerous Polish parliamentarians and high-ranking politicians as well, the cards for the presidential ballot scheduled for October were shuffled dramatically. Lech Kaczyński was widely expected to run for a second term, but also widely expected to face defeat at the hands of Donald Tusk, Prime Minister, leader of the ruling liberal Civic Platform (PO) and the man defeated by Kaczyński in the 2005 presidential ballot. First, Kaczyński’s tragic death left PiS without a clear candidate, and later Tusk backed out, claiming that he wished to continue as Prime Minister – a position, which, although less high-profile, controls most of the country’s day-to-day politics and policies. Bronisław Komorowski, Marshal of the Sejm and by consequence Acting President, became the PO’s front-runner and easily defeated Radosław Sikorski, Foreign Minister, in Poland’s first presidential primary. It didn’t come as much of a surprise when Jarosław Kaczyński, Lech’s brother, announced his candidacy, potentially hoping to benefit from the wave of grief following his brother’s death. The SLD’s pre-candidate, Jerzy Szmajdziński, was in the plane carrying Lech Kaczyński on April 10, and the SLD scrambled to find a new candidate. Names included former Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Kraków mayor Jacek Majchrowski, but Grzegorz Napieralski, the party’s leader, was nominated. Napieralski was a rather stale and uncharismatic figure, but a smart campaign helped him rise from 3% to 13% in polls. Other candidates included perennial candidate Janusz Korwin-Mikke of the libertarian conservative “Liberty and Rule of Law”, former PSL Prime Minister and incumbent Deputy PM Waldemar Pawlak, former Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski running as a centrist independent, perennial Samoobrona candidate Andrzej Lepper, former PiS member Marek Jurek for the far-right ‘Right of the Republic’, Bogusław Ziętek for the far-left Labor Party and Kornel Morawiecki.

Here are the results:

Bronisław Komorowski (PO) 41.54%
Jarosław Kaczyński (PiS) 36.46%
Grzegorz Napieralski (SLD) 13.68%
Janusz Korwin-Mikke (WiP) 2.48%
Waldemar Pawlak (PSL) 1.75%
Andrzej Olechowski (Ind) 1.44%
Andrzej Lepper (Samoobrona) 1.28%
Marek Jurek (PR) 1.06%
Bogusław Ziętek (PPP) 0.18%
Kornel Morawiecki (Ind) 0.13%

turnout 54.94% (+5.2%)

Komorowski could have performed a slight bit better. His 41.54% showing is only 0.03% better than the PO’s 41.51% showing in 2007. The tremendous popularity of Tusk and PO in 2008 seems to have eroded a bit with increasing scandals in government and the recession. But the runoff is still his race to lose. The Polish left having lost its appeal to the working-class, an electorate which largely shifted to PiS, its base is younger and more educated than the traditional European left-wing electorate. Napieralski’s voters will likely hold their noses and vote for Komorowski, whose pro-European and moderate line is the lesser evil to Kaczyński’s aggressive and hard-line conservative line. On the topic of Napieralski, his showing is a relief for the left which has performed respectably well – better than in 2007 and 2009 – despite having, at the outset, a sub-standard candidate. His campaign seems to have paid dividends to his showing, although increased name recognition likely helped. Jarosław Kaczyński’s showing is better than what his party had polled in 2007 -when he was the incumbent Prime Minister – showing either the increased polarization or the transfer of the vast majority of the PSL’s 9% (in 2007) to PiS, which is not surprising given the nature of both parties’ electorates. Perhaps Pawlak’s pathetic showing – 1.8% – will sign the death warrant of the PSL, but such has been predicted in the past and the PSL has stuck around. A presidential ballot is also a bad election for a party whose raison-d’être is more alliance with power than winning power. Lastly, Olechowski, despite being relatively high-profile, suffered from having no machine or media coverage.

Turnout was up around 5 points since 2005, and higher in cities though turnout in rural Galicia was high. Low turnout often helps PiS, whose voters, more elderly and rural, are more likely to turn out than PO’s urban electorate. The PO will hope that turnout will remain high on July 4, the day of the runoff, and that voters won’t suffer from summer fatigue with politics.

% vote for Komorowski by town

The electoral map still eerily resembles a certain historical map of Poland in 1914. Komorowski performed best in PO’s strongholds in formerly German territory in Poland, a victory owing more to the region’s general urbanization and economic modernization than to any historical patterns. He also won Warsaw with over 50% of the vote, though he lost the voivodeship containing it. Kaczyński performed best in the PiS’s strongholds in formerly Russian and Austro-Hungarian territory in Poland, including Galicia, areas which are far more rural and poorer than the west. PO won Gdansk and the Silesian coalfields by a large margin, but it is foolish to look for sense in Polish voting patterns given how many voters vote tactically in a polarized electoral system. The general pattern is more urban vs. rural than German vs. Russian, though of course the similarities are amusing. The Polish Electoral Commission, one of the best in the world, has an interactive results interface in English here and maps by town for each of the candidates are available. A map of Komorowski’s showing is presented on the left here.

Ahead of July 4, polls still show Komorowski as the run-away favourite and he should get the lion’s share of Napieralski’s voters. Kaczyński will be hoping for low turnout (his brother won the 2005 runoff with only 46% turnout) to deliver him a fluke victory. However, some think Kaczyński is using the presidential election to stage him up for a return to parliamentary politics in 2011, as party leader, and in an attempt to become Prime Minister once again. After a likely win by Komorowski, the PO, like the SLD between 2001 and 2005, will control both levers of power. Tusk will overpower Komorowski and could face a simpler route to pass reforms including constitutional reforms strengthening parliament at the expense of the presidency. However, the last time such a ‘full control’ happened, with the SLD between 2001 and 2005, the results were quite bad for the SLD. The PO should beware of history.

Penrith (NSW) by-election 2010

Map of Penrith electorate (source: ABC)

A by-election in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly division of Penrith was held on June 19, 2010 as a result of the resignation of Labor MP Karyn Paluzzano in May 2010. Penrith is located in the western suburbs of Sydney including the centre of the city of Penrith and parts of the lower Blue Mountains, as well as other suburbs. This seat is a traditionally middle-class seat, with a high household income, but contains few professionals but rather has a fair share of skilled manual workers, a sociological group which has aspirations to join the more professional higher middle-class. These voters provided Liberal Prime Minister John Howard with his winning electorate during his successive mandates in power federally, but these voters shifted back en-masse to Labor in 2007. At the state level, where Labor currently dominates, Penrith is held by Labor and has been Labor since its creation in 1973 with the exception of 1988-1991, when Penrith was held by the Liberals following a Liberal landslide in 1988. Paluzzano, who has held the seat for Labor since 2003, was forced to resign after a corruption scandal exploded and after she lied on the subject to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). New South Wales’ Labor government, led by Premier Kristina Keneally (or, known by her initials KKK), has been growing extremely unpopular and is embattled with voter discontent at tax hikes, corruption and financial troubles. Labor won 52 seats in the 2007 election against 35 for the Liberal and Nationals (plus 6 independents), though the numbers stood before the by-election at 50 for Labor and 36 for the coalition. In 2007, Labor won 48.7% of primary votes in Penrith against 32.6% for the Liberals, 6.2% for the Christian Democrats and 5.6% for the Greens. On 2PP, Labor won with 59.2% against 40.8% for the Liberals.

Labor nominated John Thain, the Liberals nominated Stuart Ayres and the Greens nominated Suzie Wright. Labor faced a very tough campaign, and, despite the personal likability of KKK, struggled to move away from the government’s unpopular policies. The ALP’s spin doctors tried to lower expectations considerably ahead of this by-election. Indeed, in 2008, Labor suffered a 22.7% swing in the Cabramatta by-election and a 23.1% swing in Ryde, which was gained by the Liberal Party. Here are the results in Penrith. If you support Labor, make sure there’s a Kleenex box next to you, and if you supports the Liberals, go buy champagne.

Stuart Ayres (Liberal) 50.9% (+18.3%)
John Thain (ALP) 24.4% (-24.2%)
Suzie Wright (Greens) 12.6% (+7.0%)
Andrew Green (CDP) 4.5% (-1.7%)
Noel Selby (Ind) 2.6%
Mick Saunders (Ind) 2.2%
David Leyonhjelm (Outdoor Recreation) 1.9%
Jose Sanz (Democrats) 0.9%

2PP result:

Stuart Ayres (Liberal) 66.3% (+25.5%)
John Thain (ALP) 33.7% (-25.5%)

There is absolutely no way to spin this for the ALP: it is an unmitigated disaster for NSW Labor. Not only has it lost a safe seat, it has suffered the largest swing in NSW history (25.5%), breaking the record in Ryde in 2008. This swing is unprecedented. These results provide proof that the ALP will be in deep trouble in 2011, and faces attacks on two fronts. The Coalition, which now holds 37 seats, needs ten more seats to win a majority and it is extremely unlikely that they won’t gain at least 10 seats in 2011 to give them a majority. Furthermore, a major boost in the Green vote here could spell danger for Labor in two inner-city Sydney seats – Balmain and Marrickville. Balmain only has a 3.7% Labor majority over the Greens on 2PP. On such a swing of 25.5%, Labor would be reduced to only 11 seats overall. Lastly, some Labor seats are won on Green preference transfers, and in Penrith the exhausted preferences rate according to ABC was 62%. A lot of extremely bad signs for Labor. However, people do tend to get over-excited with results in by-election and the media loves feeding these people with doomsday scenarios for so and so. Realistically, it is unlikely the swing will be this high in 2011, and while a Liberal majority in 2011 seems to be quasi-certain, such a massive defeat for Labor remains unlikely. A real electoral campaign could very well draw back some discontent Labor voters. The results are also bad for Kevin Rudd’s federal Labor cabinet, which could face elections as soon as this fall. Despite an unpopular federal Liberal leader, Labor under Kevin Rudd has seen its rating go in free-fall over rising anger with commodity costs and financial troubles. While Rudd has said that Penrith was mainly fought on state and local issues, he did admit that Labor faces trouble in west Sydney in any fall election.

Belgium 2010

Federal elections for the House of Representatives and 40 Senate seats were held in Belgium on Sunday, June 13. I had attempted to provide a brief analysis and overview of the problems and issues in one of Europe’s most divided countries in a preview post. This snap election had come as a result of the collapse of the Leterme II cabinet this year over a major dispute concerning the electoral constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV). Apart from the far-left, there are no ‘national’ parties in Belgium since the late 70s when the three main political families: socialists, liberals and Christian democrats each split up into a Dutch party and a French-Walloon party. Though most of the mainstream various parties maintain informal links with each other, some links are weak (as the quasi-inexistent links between Flemish CD&V and Walloon cdH) and all parties must negotiate to form a coalition, a coalition which always threatens to explode over linguistic issues and contentious border disputes (in the past, Voeren-Fourons and today BHV). The truth, however, is that the federal government has limited and declining authority in a country with six million institutional levels.

Voting is compulsory in Belgium, though abstention yesterday climbed up 2.3% to reach 15.9%. White or null votes climbed 0.7% to reach 5.8%. Here are the results. Please note that the CD&V and N-VA formed an electoral cartel in 2007 which gave 7 deputies and 1 elected senator to the N-VA. The CD&V’s results in 2010 are compared to that of the 2007 cartel. The Sp.a and Spirit formed an electoral cartel in 2007, but Spirit, renamed SLP, has disappeared. Lastly, some parties, such as the FN, ran lists in only a few electoral constituencies and not in all. No party except the PTB+ (Wallonia) and PvdA+ (Flanders) ran lists north and south.

Chamber of Deputies (national)

N-VA 17.40% (+17.40%) winning 27 seats (+20)
PS 13.70% (+2.84%) winning 26 seats (+6)
CD&V 10.85% (-7.66%) winning 17 seats (-6)
MR 9.28% (-3.24%) winning 18 seats (-5)
Sp.a 9.24% (-1.02%) winning 13 seats (-1)
Open VLD 8.64% (-3.19%) winning 13 seats (-5)
Vlaams Belang 7.76% (-4.23%) winning 12 seats (-5)
cdH 5.52% (-0.53%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Ecolo 4.8% (-0.31%) winning 8 seats (nc)
Groen! 4.38% (+0.40%) winning 5 seats (+1)
Lijst Dedecker 2.31% (-1.72%) winning 1 seat (-4)
PP 1.29% (+1.29%) winning 1 seats (+1)
PvdA+ 0.81% (+0.24%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB+ 0.6% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Wallonie d’abord 0.56% (+0.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RWF 0.55% (+0.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FN 0.51% (-1.45%) winning 0 seats (-1)

Dutch Voters: N-VA 27.8%, CD&V 17.3%, Sp.a 14.6%, Open VLD 13.6%, VB 12.3%, Groen 6.9%, LDD 3.7%, OTH 3.8%
French Voters: PS 37.6%, MR 22.2%, cdH 14.6%, Ecolo 12.3%, PP 3.1%, FN 1.4%, OTH 8.8%

Overall: ‘Anti-Belgian State’ and regionalists (Flemish nationalists, Walloon regionalists and rattachistes) 28.58%, Socialists 22.94%, Liberals 17.92%, Catholics 16.37%, Greens 9.18%, Far-left 1.41%, PP 1.29%, French far-right 0.51%
Overall Seats: Flemish Nationalists 40, Socialists 39, Liberals 31, Catholics 26, Greens 13, PP 1

Senate

Dutch-Flemish College

N-VA 31.69% (+31.69%) winning 9 seats (+8)
CD&V 16.15% (-15.26%) winning 4 seats (-4)
Sp.a 15.31% (-0.92%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Open VLD 13.32% (-6.74%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Vlaams Belang 12.28% (-6.94%) winning 3 seats (-2)
Groen! 6.28% (+0.40%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Lijst Dedecker 3.27% (-2.20%) winning 0 seats (-1)
PvdA+ 1.35% (+0.50%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Secessionist and Nationalist Parties 47.24% (35.96% in 2009)

French-Walloon College

PS 34.72% (+8.89%) winning 7 seats (+3)
MR 24.32% (-7.93%) winning 4 seats (-2)
Ecolo 14.32% (-0.92%) winning 2 seats (nc)
cdH 13.46% (-1.99%) winning 2 seats (nc)
PP 4.01% (+4.01%) winning 1 seats (+1)
Wallonie d’abord 2.52% (+2.52%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB+ 2.07% (+1.28%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RWF 1.64% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FN 0.00% (-5.95%) winning 0 seats (-1)

This is a rather marking election in Belgian history: for the first time ever, a party which is opposed to the existence of the Belgian state itself has topped the poll nationwide, and parties opposed to the current Belgian state – that is, either regionalists (Wallonie d’abord) or parties wishing the end of the Belgian state in some form or another, have nearly 30% of the nationwide vote. I don’t think there’s any other country where a party or parties whose ultimate goal is the destruction of said state as a sovereign entity can reach nearly 30% (Quebec doesn’t count as it isn’t a country).

In Flanders, the winner is the N-VA. Their electoral appeal shows that in the past support for Flemish autonomy or independence was not concentrated entirely in the controversial Vlaams Belang, but rather in all parties. In fact, all parties except Groen! saw their vote share fall as it was squeezed by Bart de Wever’s party. The N-VA has shown that despite a rocky start in 2003 (when it won only 1 seat, as Bart de Wever pointed out last night), it can be a party for a vast majority of Flemish nationalists because it both shares Flanders’ traditional conservatism but is not xenophobic or controversial like the VB. That is a very important point. In the Senatorial ballot, the N-VA won 31.7% – a result far superior to most polling and an excellent showing for any party in a very divided political system. Bart de Wever’s personality and popular appeal explains the difference between the showings of the N-VA in the lower and upper house. The N-VA also dominates largely throughout Flanders, proving that Flemish nationalism isn’t concentrated in one or two province. It is ahead in Antwerp, the VB’s old stronghold, as well in Ghent, Ostende, Bruges, Leuven and most of BHV’s Dutch areas. The only major city on the lower house ballot where it is not ahead is Kortrijk (Courtrai). Only what I assume are wealthy areas (for Open VLD) or deeply Catholic areas around Ypres (for the CD&V) didn’t place the N-VA on top in the Senate ballot. The only potential issue for the N-VA now is that its large electoral coalition from 2010 might unravel, especially if it enters government. The mainstream CD&V, Sp.a and VLD all fell to the N-VA, though the socialists resisted best while the CD&V totally unraveled after a poor campaign and the unpopularity of outgoing Prime Minister Yves Leterme. Open VLD, without Verhofstadt’s persona appeal this time, fell quite badly, especially in the Senate where Verhofstadt’s Senate candidacy in 2007 had helped it limit the unraveling in 2007. Vlaams Belang, traditionally the nationalist party, fell quite badly, also falling victim to the N-VA’s spectacular gains. Immigration and security were lesser issues in this campaign and the party couldn’t resist to a party which appeals to their traditional electorate especially well. Groen!’s performance is quite impressive, given that their vote wasn’t squeezed too much by the N-VA, even though overlap between both parties is scarce (although their MEPs sit in the same group, along with Ecolo MEPs). The Lijst Dedecker also fell victim to the N-VA’s success though the remnants of a favourite son vote for Dedecker himself in West Flanders has given them one lone seat in the lower house.

In Wallonia, the winner is the PS and all other parties are losers (except the far-left). The PS had suffered in 2007, especially in its traditional stronghold in Charleroi and Hainaut Province due to bad corruption scandals in Charleroi which were in the headlines in 2006 and 2007. Thanks to a popular government at the regional level as well as a campaign based around the defense of social spending in the wake of the recession, the PS vote was boosted by around the same amount as the MR vote receded, although, compared to pre-election polling, the MR did manage to hold tight. The PS returned to sky-high results in Charleroi, where its up around 20% since 2007, and throughout the mining regions of Hainaut and Liège. In  Liège, the well-known Michel Daerden won an historic result for himself despite being last placed on the party’s list after internal feuds. The MR, as mentioned earlier, did slightly better than expected and held up well in both BHV and the Brussels commuter land in the Walloon Brabant. The MR’s close links to Olivier Mangain’s FDF in the BHV area likely helped it, though the area is sociologically inclined to vote for them. Ecolo, riding high (17-18%) in polling, must be quite disappointed but if they learned anything from 2009, they should have been expecting it. They overpolled by roughly 4% in 2009 and they again overpolled by 4% in 2010. Quite surprisingly, Ecolo’s total vote share fell slightly in both the Chamber and Senate. Once again, people behind the curtain (or in front of the voting machine) likely thought twice about their vote and chose to go with what they know best or think will be most useful in government (in both cases, either the PS or MR). The cdH could also have expected to do quite a bit better given pre-election polling, so they too will be disappointed. Given the overlap between the cdH (which is more of a Christian social-humanist party than a CD&V-type Christiandem outfit) and the PS – both are in government at the regional level – the disappointing result isn’t very surprising. The right-wing populist Popular Party (PP) managed to squeak out a seat in Walloon Brabant where it polled 5.04%, right above the threshold. The FN, running for the Chamber only in Hainaut, Namur and BHV unsurprisingly lost all its seats with only 2.8% in Hainaut and Namur and a paltry 0.4% in BHV. It did not run for Senate. The far-right’s vote, which, in Wallonia was traditionally anti-immigrant (like in most European countries), seems to have shifted to the regionalist side like in Flanders. Wallonie d’abord, a far-right regionalist party similar to Alsace d’abord (they even stole their logo, like the FN had stolen the French FN’s logo), polled a surprising 2.5%. Is this a protest vote or does it perhaps highlight a growing regionalist current south of the border? If it does, Belgium is really screwed. The old rattachistes (RWF) polled 1.6%, increasing its vote share slightly. The far-left PTB+ also did well, reaching 9% in the mining community of Herstal in Liège.

The question on everybody’s mouth is “when will Belgium break up?” Giving a serious answer to such a question is quite difficult and it’s a very hard question. The country of Belgium as we know it will most probably still exist on June 14, 2011. It could still exist by the time the next EU ballot comes around in 2014. But in ten or twenty years? Who knows. The answer partly depends on what government is formed and how this government deals with two pressing issue: BHV and ‘state reform’.

The options for coalitions are quite open and the N-VA isn’t necessarily a necessity for a government, even though excluding them would be a bad idea (bolded for a reason). The PS, the Walloon winners, have not showed much triumphalism in their victory and they say that they’ll open talks with the N-VA. Bart de Wever, who met Albert II earlier today, has also stretched out his hand to the Francophone community as a whole, and said that it would be a mistake for anybody to work independently and aloofly. The N-VA does seem committed to maintaining, for now, stability and peace in Belgium. The coalition options – based on seats in the Chamber (given that indirectly elected seats for the Senate have yet to be chosen) are given below (a majority is 76).

  • ‘Regional coalition combo’ > CD&V/N-VA/Sp.a/PS/cdH/Ecolo: 105
  • PS/N-VA/CD&V/Sp.a/cdH: 92
  • ‘Double olive tree’ > PS/CD&V/Sp.a/cdH/Ecolo/Groen: 78

Under all of these options, the Walloon Socialist Elio di Rupo is favoured to be the next Prime Minister, as it is unlikely the PS or any Walloon party will accept having Bart de Wever on top, as it would be a hard sell for voters in the south. Such a coalition will most likely include the N-VA, given that the parties know that excluding the N-VA would likely result in further gains for the party while including it in government could both ‘tame’ the party and weaken its electoral appeal (as some of its voters would likely flow back to VB and other parties). However, a coalition with the PS and N-VA on top will likely be rather unstable and will have a hard time (as any government) solving the issues of BHV. Even though Vlaams Belang said it welcomed the N-VA as a partner for a progress on Flemish autonomy and independence, the VB will not be in government (obviously) and its radical program – it will propose a bill splitting BHV in two as soon as Parliament reconvenes – will be accepted by the N-VA. A coalition of good-will is likely to emerge, but it will be a coalition both of bickering and “small reforms” which won’t be good enough for Flemish nationalists.

Slovakia 2010

Slovakia’s 150-seat Národná rada or National Council was up for election on June 12. Following the last election in 2006, Smer led by Robert Fico formed a majority coalition government with the right and far-right.

Slovakia became independent on January 1, 1993 after the peaceful divorce with the Czech Republic. Nationalist feelings have always run high in Slovakia, despite their cultural affinities with Moravia. During the Czechoslovakian years, Slovaks felt that they were second-class citizens in a “Prago-centric” government dominated by Bohemia. Furthermore, an Hungarian minority (12%) living along the Hungarian border has often contributed to nationalist feelings, because Slovaks are wary about Hungary’s territorial or political pretensions in Slovakia (Hungary already annexed these ethnic Hungarian areas in 1938). When Slovakia became independent, it became politically dominated by a nationalist and conservative movement led by Vladimír Mečiar and his party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Mečiar’s party won the 1992 and 1994 elections and fell only two seats short of a majority in 1992. Under Mečiar, Slovakia became something of an international pariah and Mečiar was lauded by the west and Washington for his statist economic policies, his authoritarianism and growing corruption in his government. He also entered into open warfare with the President, Michal Kováč, to the point that the opposition alleged that Mečiar had organized for the kidnapping of Kováč’s son. Mečiar lost the 1998 elections despite the HZDS coming out in front of the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition led by Mikuláš Dzurinda. Dzurinda formed a government with the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP) and the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL). From that point on, Mečiar’s influence slowly diminished – he lost the 1999 presidential election 57-43. Dzurinda’s liberal economic policies as well as his efforts towards Slovakian integration into the OECD (in 2000), the EU and NATO won him much praise from the west and Washington who regarded Slovakia’s late liberalization with a positive eye. However, at home, Dzurinda’s government suffered allegations of corruption as well as attacks from the left that his policies were hurting poorer Slovakians. Dzurinda’s new party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and its coalition partners won the 2002 election, though the HZDS remained the largest party while the SDL collapsed to 1.4% to the benefit of Robert Fico’s Smer, which quickly gained popularity as the SDL’s popularity dwindled through its association with the government, unpopular on the left. Despite the apparent success of Dzurinda’s policies, Slovaks felt that the neoliberal reforms were hurting poorer people. Fico’s Smer won the 2006 election, winning 29% of the vote and 50 seats against 18.4% and 31 seats for Dzurinda’s SDKÚ-DS. The far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), founded in 1990 and led by the loudmouthed controversial Ján Slota returned to Parliament with an historic 11.7% and 20 seats. Slota’s SNS is best known for its extremely inflammatory anti-Hungarian (“the cancer on the Slovakian nation”) and anti-Roma (“the best strategy with them is a long whip in a small yard”) rhetoric. Fico formed a very controversial government with the SNS and Mečiar’s ĽS-HZDS (which won 8.8% and 15 seats). Some have argued that Fico’s coalition with the SNS is only an opportunistic move which does not reflect any fascistic desires on Fico’s part, but the Smer government thus far has proven that Fico has a penchant for saber-rattling nationalism. Fico’s economic policies have been described as populist, and, according to the right, unsustainable. He was also lauded for legislation aimed at curtailing press freedom as well as his nationalist policies which have stirred tensions with Hungary and significantly worsened inter-ethnic relations in Slovakia. The results have also been negative: in terms of corruption rankings, Slovakia fell from rank 49 to rank 56. While his economic policies were at first successful, boosting growth, his insistence on raising social spending during a bad economic crisis has led to a -4.7% growth rate in 2009 and the deficit now represents 6.8% of the GDP. Slovakia’s budget deficit may swell to 7.4% of its GDP this year.

The opposition has had a very hard time throughout Fico’s term as his government and party maintained high poll ratings. Dzurinda’s leadership was criticized within the SDKÚ-DS, and the party suffered from division as well as Fico’s government being more than happy to launch probes into corruption in Dzurinda’s government between 1998 and 2006. The MKP has also suffered recently from the creation of a new party, Most–Híd (the Slovakian and Hungarian words for ‘bridge’) which has criticized the MKP as a narrow-minded and single-issue party while it wishes to appeal to Slovakian voters and build strong inter-ethnic relations. On the positive side, Mečiar’s party continued its route down the drain and is now in terminal state. Ján Slota’s aggressive rhetoric as well as the general incompetence of SNS ministers has also hurt the SNS, though the SNS managed to win its first MEP in 2009 though on only 5.6% of the vote. Dzurinda recently resigned the leadership of the SDKÚ-DS and was succeeded by Iveta Radičová, the party’s 2009 presidential candidate but a low-key public speaker and authoritarian party figure. Out of this situation, a new and somewhat unusual party has emerged, led by Richard Sulík and named Freedom and Solidarity (SaS). SaS is a neoliberal/libertarian eurosceptic party which is also liberal on social issues – supporting marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. It has accused Fico of lying on the state of the country’s finances. SaS has significantly helped the opposition as it represents the type of “change” which voters want – that is, something that’s new and less corrupt than either Smer or SDKÚ-DS. Through an innovative internet and Facebook-based campaign, it has managed to lure young voters as well as Smer voters. Smer has had a harder time in this campaign than originally expected partly as a result of SaS, but also increased public blame laid on Fico for the pitiful state of finances.

Here are the results:

Smer 34.79% (+5.65%) winning 62 seats (+12)
SDKÚ-DS 15.42% (-2.93%) winning 28 seats (-3)
SaS 12.14% (+12.14%) winning 22 seats (+22)
KDH 8.52% (+0.21%) winning 15 seats (+1)
Most–Híd 8.12% (+8.12%) winning 14 seats (+14)
SNS 5.07% (-6.66%) winning 9 seats (-11)
MKP-SMK 4.33% (-7.35%) winning 0 seats (-20)
ĽS-HZDS 4.32% (-4.47%) winning 0 seats (-15)
SDL 2.41% winning 0 seats (±0)
turnout 58.53% (+3.86%)

On a geographical basis, Smer dominates in almost all of Slovakia and most particularly in ethnically Slovakian rural or small town land. Smer’s nationalist and populist rhetoric likely does very well in these parts, and has always been the base of either Smer or the ĽS-HZDS in the past. Smer is much weaker (20% wins) along the Hungarian border, which has large concentrations of Hungarians. Unsurprisingly, SDKÚ-DS did best in Bratislava and its suburbs, wealthier and more liberal. Bratislava was also the SaS’s best result, with around 18%. While the old MKP-SMK polled only 1% or so in Bratislava, Most–Híd did poll around 12% or so in Bratislava, maybe an encouraging sign for inter-ethnic relations and an inter-ethnic party in Slovakia. Outside of Bratislava and the Hungarian areas, Most–Híd did predictably poorly.

The incumbent Smer-SNS government (ĽS-HZDS is out) has only 71 seats out of 76 required for government. A ‘right-wing’ government comprised of SDKÚ-DS, SaS, KDH and Most–Híd has 79 seats, and given SaS leader Richard Sulik’s statement that his party would consider any option to unseat Fico, it seems likely that a centre-right government, likely led by Iveta Radičová will emerge from this election. The SDKÚ-DS campaigned on a platform to cut spending and to reduce to debt against Fico’s plan to increase social spending while not increasing taxes (while still promising to cut the budgetary deficit…).

Some people who like pointing out international electoral trends often know less than they actually know, but it is interesting to note (while not necessarily attempting to infer trends) that the last three European ballots (or four, if you include the UK) – Czech Republic, Netherlands and now Slovakia have been won by coalitions of or individual centre-right parties which aim to cut spending in order to cut the budgetary deficit. That being said, the PS’ likely big win in Wallonia on a platform of being “the best shield against the crisis” (aka, we won’t cut social spending) could contradict that.

Election Preview: Belgium 2010

Belgium votes in snap elections for the House of Representatives and part of the Senate on June 13. The election was called following the resignation of Prime Minister Yves Leterme over a constitutional-state crisis. His resignation was accepted by the King who called for elections on June 13 despite the Constitutional Court having previously ruled that such elections would be unconstitutional before a major constitutional issue concerning the constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV).

Electoral System and BHV

The House of Representatives has 150 seats elected in eleven multi-member constituencies. Nine of Belgium’s ten provinces are constituencies in their own right, while the constituencies of Leuven and Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde span the province of Flemish Brabant and the Brussels-Capital Region (an enclave in Flemish territory). The seats allocated to each province vary based on population, and seats are allocated by the d’Hondt method with a 5% threshold in each constituency. Parties may combine their lists for the distribution of seats in the constituencies of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, Leuven and Walloon Brabant, where the five percent threshold is not applied.

The Senate has 71 seats, of which 40 will be directly elected by voters on Sunday. A further 21 are appointed by the parliaments of the linguistic communities and ten are co-opted by the elected and community-appointed senators. The three final seats are held by the children of the reigning monarch. Of the 40 seats elected, 25 represent Flemish voters and 15 represent Walloon voters. Voters in bilingual Brussels can choose which linguistic elected Senators they wish to vote for. Seats in both colleges are allocated according to the d’Hondt method among lists polling at least 5% of the valid college vote.

Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) includes the bilingual region of Brussels and the unilingual Flemish canton of Halle-Vilvoorde in the Flemish provinces of Flemish Brabant. However, the French-speaking suburban population living in the officially unilingual canton of Halle-Vilvoorde has increased significantly. In the constituency of BHV, voters may vote for the party of their choice, be it Flemish or French. The Belgian Constitution forbids the existence of cross-linguistic electoral constituencies. Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde contains parts of officially unilingually Flemish Flanders as well as officially bilingual Brussels, making it unconstitutional. The Flemish nationalists and most Flemish parties support eliminating BHV (with the likely solution of making Flemish Brabant one constituency and Brussels another), but French voters in unilingual Flemish Brabant would not be able to vote for the party of their choice as a result. The Walloon solution appears to be annexing the predominatly French municipalities in the canton of Halle-Vilvoorde but the Flemish oppose such a solution because it would create geographic continuity between Wallonia and Brussels.

Political History and the Franco-Flemish conflict

Belgium gained its independence from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1831. Following the 1815 Congress of Vienna, Belgium, which was prior to the French Revolution a collection of independent states with their local specificities, was annexed by the largely Protestant Netherlands. Despite speaking almost the same language (though Flemish people didn’t like saying that), Flanders was deeply and extremely devoutly Catholic. Independence in 1830-1831 came not as a result of a war of independence which could have forged a national identity, but rather as a deal signed in distant London by which the British government forced the Dutch to accept to the independence of a neutral Belgium (as a British-supported buffer against French and Dutch ambitions), and the British chose a German prince, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to become King.

In 1831, Belgium was still largely Flemish-speaking but Flanders was a poor, rural and very religious area with little major industry. On the other hand, Wallonia was the second most industrialized area in Europe after the UK due to the abundance of coal and mining resources in its populated valleys. As a result, the French-speaking business elite came to dominate politics and business in the country and the Flemish upper-class, largely in Brussels (approximately 50-50 in terms of language even in 1910), became largely French-speaking. Wallonia was the economic heart and Flanders was the rural religious backcountry.

However, the linguistic division was not the deciding factor in the lack of national unity or national pride in Belgium. The example of Switzerland is a perfect counter-example to that. Firstly, the lack of a “unifying” independence war in 1830 contributed to the development of an artificial state, the Francophone hegemony heightened Flemish resistance and nationalism and the divisions of World War II (where Flanders largely collaborated with the Nazis while Wallonia was more resistant) only deepened the deepening gap. The sole unifying factor, Catholicism, declined early on in Wallonia with the rise of socialist thought in the coal mines and later declined, as in the Netherlands, after 1945.

The Socialists replaced the Liberals as the second party in the country after the Catholic Party, which dominated in Flanders (while Wallonia was an early Socialist stronghold). Proportional representation introduced in 1918 saved the Liberals from total extinction and allowed for Catholic-Liberal cabinets against the Socialists. Flemish nationalism pre-war was weak, except for the Flemish National Union (VNV), a quasi-fascist organization, which polled rather well between 1932 and 1939. The Catholic Party became the Social Christian Party/Christian People’s Party (PSC-CVP) after 1946. From 1947 to 1954 the PSC-CVP were part of every government, first in coalition with the Socialists until 1949, and then with the Liberals until 1950, when they won an absolute majority in the Chamber of Representatives and formed several single-party governments. However, in 1954, the Christians lost its Chamber majority, and the Socialists formed a coalition government with the Liberals that ruled the country until 1958, when the Christian Democrats returned to power, ruling in coalition with the Liberals until 1961, and then with the Socialist Party until 1965.

During this same period of time, linguistic and regional strife was growing. In 1950, in the so-called question royale referendum, 58% of voters voted in favour of keeping Leopold II, who had controversially stayed in Brussels during the war. However, while 72% of Flemish voters voted in his favour, he lost by a narrow margin in Wallonia and by a decisive margin in the mining belt in the provinces of Hainaut and Liège. In the winter of 1960-1961, Walloon workers went in a long strike against the financial austerity measures of the CVP-Liberal cabinet of Gaston Eyskens. This movement, which was extremely short-lived in Flanders, led to the growth of federalist or autonomist Walloon movements, most notably the Walloon Popular Movement (MPW). Electorally, the Flemish Volksunie (VU) movement, founded in 1954, made important gains in the 1968 election as did the Brussels-based Democratic Front of Francophones (FDF) and, after 1968, the Walloon Rally (RW), which supported federalism. Both RW and VU were big-tent parties representing the wide range of political opinions in the respective federalist movements, though both RW and VU were largely left-leaning though the VU’s base was largely right-leaning. In the case of the VU, this led to a 1978 split resulting in the creation of the right-wing anti-immigration Vlaams Blok (VB).

Economic patterns changed in the 1960s and 1970s with the decline of coal-mining as a major economic activity in Europe. Wallonia struggled with re-generation and industries shifted north to Flanders while Wallonia struggled with unemployment and became largely dependent on welfare provided, in part, by Flemish taxpayers. The idea of Flanders supporting Walloon unemployed workers has been a major vote-winner for the VB in an increasingly wealthy and economically vibrant Flanders. However, the conservative psyche of Flemings also provide a reason for both the rise of VB and the inability for Belgium to develop a strong national identity. In Wallonia, economic problems have also helped the National Front (FN) – a copy of the French FN – make small gains in elections (in 2007, 1 Senator and 1 deputy, but in 2009, no seats in Wallonia.

Federal reform came first in 1962 with four defined linguistic regions (Dutch, French, German and the bilingual Brussels-Capital region); in 1970 with the creation of three communities (Flemish, French, and German-speaking) and three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels); and in 1980 with the creation of legislative organs for both the French community and Wallonia while the Dutch community and the region of Flanders were merged with a single legislative organ.

In 1962 a crisis at the Catholic University of Leuven in which Flemish students expelled French students sped up the breakup of the unitary parties; in 1968 the PSC-CVP split between the Walloon PSC and the Flemish CVP, in 1972 the Liberals split between the Walloon PRL-PLP and the Flemish PVV and in 1978 the Socialists split between the Walloon PS and the Flemish SP. The split-up of the major parties and the continued growth of the RW and VU rendered elections and coalitions more difficult. From 1973 to 1981, Belgium had eleven cabinets and four general elections; though the Christian Democrats remained in most coalitions.

In 1981, the Flemish Christian Democrat Wilfried Martens formed a Catholic-Liberal coalition which held power for four years but Martens formed a Catholic-Socialist-VU coalition to secure support for major constitutional reform. Despite this, all major parties (except the PVV) suffered major loses in 1991, an election which saw major gains from the Greens (Ecolo in Wallonia and Agalev in Flanders) and the VB overtook the VU, which continued a slow decline. The following year, a Catholic-Socialist government led by Jean-Luc Dehaene (CVP) was formed and oversaw the passage of major federal reforms in 1993 which effectively made Belgium a very de-centralized federal state while the federal government’s powers declined further (the truth is that the federal government has comparatively little power in Belgium today).

Corruption scandals, the dioxin affair and the Marc Dutroux case led to the 1999 defeat of the Dehaene government. The Flemish Liberals (now known as the VLD), led by the popular young dynamic leader Guy Verhofstadt made history by outpolling the historically dominant CVP in Flanders, while the Flemish Socialists fell to fourth behind the VB. Verhofstadt formed a rainbow coalition with the French and Flemish liberals, socialists and greens (the latter had made strong gains both north and south). The Verhofstadt cabinet ushered in further decentralization on competences such as agriculture, foreign trade, development and cooperation, and local government which were transfered from Belgium to the regions.

The VU, which had won 8 seats in 1999, split up in 2001 between the conservative New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and the liberal Spirit, which formed in 2003 an electoral cartel with the Socialists, now known as the Socialist Party-different (Sp.a), probably the most cheesy name for a party in world history.

The Liberals and Socialists posted strong gains in the 2003 election, in which the CD&V (the renamed CVP) fell in third behind the Sp.a, which had an excellent election. The PS and Reformist Movement (MR) – the Walloon liberal party (or coalition, in fact it is a coalition of Walloon liberal parties and the FDF) made gains, at the expense of Ecolo (while Agalev lost all seats in Flanders). The VB continued gaining votes in Flanders. The Vlaams Blok was outlawed in 2004 for allegedly breaching anti-racism laws, but its leaders responded by creating the Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interests, VB) in 2004.

Flemish voters had had enough of Verhofstadt’s purple cabinet and voted for change by placing Yves Leterme’s CD&V/N-VA cartel far ahead of the VLD and Sp.a, which suffered major loses. The MR outpolled the PS by a narrow margin in Wallonia, while Greens on both sides of the divide made small gains. The VB won a disappointing result after nearly 24% in the 2004 regional elections and a strong showing in its Antwerp stronghold in 2006 local elections. After the election, Yves Leterme sought to form a new coalition government, but divides between Walloon and Flemish parties over devolution were too deep to overcome and gave up by December 2007. To prevent further crisis, the parties did agree to support an interim cabinet headed by Verhofstadt. Finally, in March 2008, Leterme formed a coalition government including French and Flemish Christian democrats, liberals and the PS was formed.

However, following allegations of political interference in the break-up of Fortis Bank, Leterme submitted his resignation in December 2008. King Albert II accepted Leterme’s resignation and appointed Chamber of Representatives Speaker Herman Van Rompuy as head of government. Van Rompuy remained in office until November 2009, when he was chosen president of the European Council and Leterme returned at the helm of a cabinet composed of the same parties. However, the VLD pulled out following the government’s inability to solve the BHV issue.

Parties and Issues

In the 2009 regional elections in Flanders, the major winner was the N-VA – which broke its alliance with the CD&V in 2008 – which won 13.1% of the vote while the CD&V managed only a paltry 22.9%. The N-VA took votes both from the CD&V but also from Vlaams Belang, which fell 8.9% from its 2004 results regionally. The Lijst Dedecker, a “Fortuynist” right-wing splitoff of the VLD led by Jean-Marie Dedecker, which had done surprisingly well in 2007, won 7.6% of the votes. Kris Peeters stayed in power at the helm of a CD&V-Sp.a-NVA coalition. In Wallonia, the PS and MR suffered loses compared to 2004 (and, for the MR, major loses compared to its 2007 results) in favour of Ecolo, which won 18.5% of the votes. Rudy Demotte stayed in power with the support of the PS, Ecolo and the Walloon Christian democrats (cdH).

The N-VA’s leader, Bart de Wever, a controversial figure to say the least, is very popular in Flanders and rising nationalist anger over BHV and other issues have helped the party. The N-VA also recruited a popular political commentator from the VRT, Siegfried Bracke, to join the party’s list. At the same time, the CD&V ousted Yves Leterme in favour of Marianne Thyssen. In Wallonia, Rudy Demotte’s PS remains popular while Ecolo is maintaining its 2009 gains. While the MR is struggling in Wallonia, its close links with the Brussels-based FDF has helped it maintain the upper-hand in BHV. Furthermore, the new Popular Party (PP), a right-wing populist outfit in Wallonia, could win seats and further weaken the MR.

Here are two polls:

La Libre Belgique (June 6)

Flanders

N-VA 26%
Sp.a 16.3%
CD&V 16.2%
VB 15%
Open VLD 13.6%
Groen! 6.8%
LDD 4.3%

Wallonia

PS 30%
MR 20.2%
Ecolo 18.9%
cdH 16.1%
FN 4.1%
PP 4.1%

French Brussels

MR 22.7%
PS 19.4%
Ecolo 13.9%
CDH 12.1%
PP 8.8%
FN 3.3%

Vers l’Avenir (June 10)

Flanders

N-VA 24.4%
CD&V 19.4%
Sp.a 15.5%
VB 13.9%
Open VLD 13.2%
Groen! 7.9%
LDD 3.2%

Wallonia

PS 34.2%
MR 20.4%
cdH 18.4%
Ecolo 17.3%
PP 2.6%

Bart de Wever’s aim is to immediately transform Belgium from a federal state into a confederal state. It is doubtful whether he could form a coalition – with French parties – with that platform. A coalition excluding the N-VA is more likely, and some are suggesting that the PS’s Elio di Rupo could become the first Walloon Prime Minister since 1976 based on the PS’ likely win in Wallonia. He could govern with the Sp.a, but also with the cdH, CD&V and Greens if possible. On the other hand, an “olive tree coalition” between socialists, Christian democrats and greens led by a person such as the popular former Flemish Vice-PM Frank Vandenbroucke could be formed.

The new government will face a tough road in a country which still threatens to break-up almost weekly. Solving the BHV issue is far from an easy task, as is the fabled ‘state reform’ most parties speak of. Secession, break-up remains unlikely in the short-term, but chances for a long-term situation leading to secession of Flanders increase with the formation of another government between the ‘mainstream’ parties (catholics, liberals and socialists/greens).

Netherlands 2010

As covered in a large preview post only a few days ago, the Netherlands went to the polls to elect the 150 members of the country’s lower house, the Tweede Kamer. The election was held as a result of the collapse of the fourth Balkenende cabinet over the Afghanistan issue. The Netherlands’ very proportional electoral system – which is in effect PR with a threshold of 0.67% for representation allows for the predictable dispersion of voters between a number of parties, sometimes in complete ideological opposition to each other, which tend to represent the various sociological groups present in what is in reality a very diverse society. As a result, the composition of the Dutch Parliament is extremely divided and leads to large and sometimes difficult coalitions.

During the campaign, Prime Minister Balkenende’s CDA, the largest party in 2006, had suffered a polling free fall due to the growing unpopularity of his government and his personal inability to keep it together. This benefited largely the liberal VVD, whose platform and record of being the “deficit cutters” struck a chord with Dutch voters in a campaign largely focused on the economy and the need for budget cuts, an integral part of the VVD’s platform. The CDA and the PvdA, the junior partner which brought government down, also suffered from the growth since 2009 of the populist far-right Freedom Party (PVV) led by Geert Wilders thanks to concern about growing Muslim immigration. While immigration was not the main focus of this election and the PVV wasn’t polling as spectacularly as it had been earlier, it remained a major issue. A rejuvenated PvdA under Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen enjoyed a boost in polls earlier this year, but Cohen’s poor debate performance and his economic inexperience saw the party’s fortunes go down a bit even though he did manage to squish the D66 and GreenLeft and stole their past thunder, that is, vocal opposition to Wilders. Here are the results:

VVD 20.45% (+5.78%) winning 31 seats (+9)
PvdA 19.60% (-1.60%) winning 30 seats (-3)
PVV 15.46% (+9.57%) winning 24 seats (+15)
CDA 13.69% (-12.82%) winning 21 seats (-20)
SP 9.87% (-6.71%) winning 15 seats (-10)
D66 6.89% (+4.93%) winning 10 seats (+7)
GroenLinks 6.63% (+2.03%) winning 10 seats (+3)
ChristianUnion 3.26% (-0.71%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SGP 1.75% (+0.19%) winning 2 seats (nc)
PvdD 1.29% (-0.53%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Trots op Nederland 0.56% winning 0 seats

The polls before the vote indicated around 33-34 seats for the VVD, “comfortably” ahead of the PvdA, predicted at 30, the CDA between 23-24 and the PVV with 17-18. What happened is what is locally called the “curtain effect” or the Dutch “Bradley effect”; that is, an underestimation of the PVV’s real strength by pollsters – similar to what had happened in 2009 or 2006 in the Netherlands or in 2002 in France. The PVV’s real strength came at the expense of the VVD, which saw itself practically tied with the PvdA, but also the CDA which fell even further into a pathetic fourth place.

The VVD is the winner of this election, but it is neither an historic victory nor is it a massive victory. In fact, it has only broken 20.4% (it had won 24.7% in 1998) and has only benefited of the division of the vote to come out a narrow first in a rather inconclusive election. The PvdA’s election result is far from surprising and could either be considered as good given that they largely held up despite being junior partners in an unpopular government (and being responsible for a snap election) or could be considered as poor given that this is their second straight election losing seats. Unlike in 2006, however, it did not lose seats to the SP, but rather to the PVV, which is not surprising both given the general likelihood of white working-class voters flirting with the far-right and the tough immigration line taken by both SP and PVV (though the PVV’s is harsher, obviously). Compared to pre-election polls, the PVV had a good election and shows that it can both hold up its 2009 vote and that immigration as a factor in protest voting remains important even in an election not entirely dominated by immigration (unlike 2009). Yet, talks of a “nationalist breakthrough” or whatever the media is saying today misses the point. The PVV’s result is inferior, albeit only slightly, to its 17% result in 2009; and any person who has tracked polling since then will know that the PVV enjoyed a massive upswing during an anti-immigration and anti-politician mood in 2009 and even earlier in 2010. All this isn’t to say that the PVV has reason to be disappointed, but rather that the PVV’s showing isn’t as great as the media would like it to be (perhaps because it wouldn’t fit in entirely with their general doom-and-gloom message). The real loser is obvious, it’s the CDA. A governing party dwindling to fourth is not entirely surprising in the Netherlands, but it remains a major story. The real story is that the CDA, with a ridiculous number of barely 13.7%, has done worse than all mainline “Christian” parties put together in the Netherlands since proportional representation was introduced in 1918 (remembering that the CDA is an amalgamation, created in 1977, of the Catholic KVP and Reformed ARP and CHU). The CDA’s previous absolute low was around 18% in 1998. The SP did respectably, given the low name recognition of their unknown new leader and how their 2006 result was something of an anomaly, and likely shows that the SP can establish itself as a major option for voters disappointed in the PvdA’s recent-ish move towards the centre. It could also benefit from any fall in the PVV’s electoral fortunes (as could the PvdA and VVD). D66 and the GroenLinks, while they have pleasing results, could have hoped for more given their success in 2009 (11.3% and 8.9% respectively), but Job Cohen’s ability to make the liberal voters totally allergic to Wilders – who voted massively for D66 and GL, both vocal opponents of the PVV in 2009 – come back to the PvdA which was able to make itself the largest anti-Wilders pole for the (relatively small) share of voters totally allergic to Wilders’ politics. No comment is necessary for the smaller testimonial parties, who deal with a very well-defined and generally stable electorate, or the Animals Party which lost some votes likely as a result of a minor boost in the GroenLink’s results. One final epic fail was Verdonk’s Trots op Nederlands outfit, which never materialized as the “new LPF” despite posting leads in polls back in 2007-2008. Wilders and the VVD did her in and has ridiculed her electorally.

The NRC has a fun interactive map to play around with here. Below the table of results in this post, you’ll find a simple map showing the largest party in each municipality. Apparently, the VVD has totally dominated in the more urban and wealthier Randstad in Holland. This area, which was split between the CDA (in rural areas) and PvdA (in the urban cores of Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht) in 2006 provided the VVD with its victory in 2010. This shows both a shift in the rural CDA vote to the VVD (also observed in North Brabant and North Holland) and a further boost in the VVD’s historic base in wealthy suburban towns. The PvdA managed to hold on in the more working-class cities of Rotterdam and the Hague despite good VVD results (likely boosted by areas such as Scheveningen in the Hague) and traditional PVV strength in these white working-class areas. The PVV polled 17.8% in the Hague, 19.4% in Rotterdam, 16.4% in Haarlemmermeer (which includes the working-class Amsterdam suburb of Hoofddorp) and 20.5% in Purmerend (another working-class suburb of Amsterdam). The PVV’s best result, though, comes from Wilders’ home province of Limburg: a strongly Catholic province where the CDA usually did very well. However, Limburg tends to favour home-born candidates. The PVV did especially well, often nearing 35%, in towns such as Brunssum in the coal mining towns of south Limburg where the SP won in 2006. Finally, the PVV did well in a traditional PvdA stronghold (and the old stronghold of the Communist Party or NCPN) in the Oldambt with results over 20% in most of this poor area bordering Germany. This poor area of northern Groningen, an old base of the left (and still a base of the left and the weakest region for the VVD), has good soil and has been the base of large farms and exploitation of small poor farmers by large landowners. Voters in this region often “vote with their middle-finger” (explaining the CPN’s, and, now, the PVV’s strength). The eastern Netherlands, which is usually poor (and devoutly religious) as well, but has less of a “big landowner exploiting small farmers” history has lower results for the PVV and VVD (which has little base in this region with few large conurbations and suburbs) and provides the CDA’s only provincial win (Overijssel) and strong area. The CDA’s annihilation by the VVD and CDA in its traditional Catholic bases of North Brabant and Limburg is especially striking. Shockingly, D66 and GroenLinks did best in wealthy liberal urban areas. However, Job Cohen’s popularity in Amsterdam kept the votes for both parties (which were over 20% in 2009) down because the PvdA managed to increase its vote share in the country’s largest city by 5% vis-a-vis 2006. The PvdA won 35% against 16.8% for the VVD, 12.5% for GroenLinks, 11.9% for D66, 9.4% for the PVV, 7.3% for the SP and a pitiful 3.3% for the CDA. Amsterdam’s results are always a stark contrast with the rest of the country, but slightly less so this year. The SGP, a perfect example of a fossilized party in a proportional system, managed to win a number of towns, showing how geographically concentrated its voters are. Its victories are either in orthodox Reformed enclaves (eg; Urk) or the Bible Belt.

The CDA’s weaker-than-expected showing reduced coalition possibilities. There are basically only four majority outcomes and two minority outcomes:

VVD/PvdA/CDA: 82
VVD/PvdA/D66/GL: 81
VVD/CDA/D66/GL/CU: 77
VVD/PVV/CDA: 76
VVD/CDA/D66/GL: 72
VVD/CDA: 52 (relying on support from the PVV, D66 or GL)

With the VVD’s platform including cuts in unemployment insurance, increasing tuition, slashing child care, slashing development aid and so forth, talks will be hard with the PvdA and the left. The PvdA would be indeed suicidal to enter government with a party which will likely take out the sword and cut on every side. A government with the CDA, which will be leaderless now that Balkenende has resigned, is more likely. This could either be a minority relying on support from its left (D66-GL) or the right (PVV). A government including the PVV is also a possibility, and is often played by the media as its scare-tactic. However, the PVV would likely be decimated quite badly in the next election if it does enter government (remember LPF in 2003, FPÖ in 2002) as its (protest) voters would associate it with government and the inevitable decline in said government’s popularity. At any rate, whichever government is formed, I’d place bets that the next election will be before 2014.

Slovenia border dispute referendum 2010

A map showing territorial waters and claims in the Bay of Piran (source: Wikipedia)

A binding referendum on approving an agreement which will bring a border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia to an international arbitration tribunal was held in Slovenia on June 6. Slovenia and Croatia have fought a diplomatic war since 1991 concerning land and water control in the small Bay of Piran, which is Slovenia’s only access to the sea. Slovenia’s current territorial waters are surrounded on all sides by other national waters – to the north, those of Italy and to the south, those of Croatia. Slovenian ships and fishermen thus have no access to the high seas through neutral international waters. Slovenia would like to expand its territorial waters to provide it a link to the high seas, something which Croatia opposes. Slovenia, an EU member since 2004, has used the dispute to veto Croatia’s bid to join the EU as the 28th member.

Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor, a Social Democrat, signed an agreement with Croatia in 2009 which would hand arbitration in the issue over to international arbitrators while Slovenia would stop blocking Croatia’s bid to enter the EU by 2012. The deal was ratified by both national parliaments but the right-wing opposition in Slovenia was able to force a binding referendum on the issue. The Slovenian right denounced the agreement as a pro-Croatian capitulation. As in most referendums, voters also tended to answer the person who asked the question rather than the question itself. The Slovenian government isn’t extremely popular right now, so it explains the relative closeness of this referendum which some would assume would be a slam-dunk for the YES side.

Do you support the implementation of the Law on the Ratification of the Arbitration Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of the Republic of Croatia, which was adopted by the Slovenian Parliament at its session of 19 April 2010, becoming valid?
Yes 51.49%
No 48.51%
turnout 42.36%

Support for the agreement was greatest in the area directly concerned, that is, the Bay of Piran and Slovenia’s sole major harbour in Koper. One would assume that these voters, directly concerned by this issue, are supportive of a rapid arbitration of this issue and the development of better business relations with Croatia, which remains a major business partner. However, voters in the more mountainous and rural areas of eastern Slovenia voted against the agreement by a large margin. Nationalist rhetoric and distance from the issue likely explains part of their opposition, as does the area’s conservatism (it voted for the right in 2008 while the area which includes the Bay voted for the left). Full results are available here.

The resolution of this issue comes as a relief for both Slovenia’s government – which has prevented an embarrassing defeat of its efforts of resolving bilateral disputes in the Balkans through compromise; and of Croatia’s government – which will now have a much easier road to EU membership which is likely to come as early as 2012. Slovenia seeks to make this agreement an example of conflict resolution in the historically tumultuous Balkans through peaceful compromise and agreement. Their optimistic hope is that it will influence relations between Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia.

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