Monthly Archives: January 2011

That’s the way it was… in 1936.

A fascinating thing in electoral geography and the study of voting patterns is to take the study back in time, to look at wider trends and evolutions in a nation’s voting patterns. What better time than right before World War II, in an era where democracies fell and those who stood on faced serious threats from both left and right? What better place than France in 1936, the historic election which saw the victory of the Popular Front, the historic alliance of the left from the Communists to the Radicals?

France is a third-world country when it comes to making old election returns easily accessible to the wider public through the magic of the interwebs. As a result, getting your hands on election results from those days requires friends and lots of wily hunting around. Through help of Alain Lancelot’s old Atlas des circonscriptions électorales en France depuis 1875 and the online database of parliamentarian from the National Assembly, I’ve managed to put together a map which shows the winning party in each constituency in the French legislative election of 1936. The map certainly isn’t perfect, and more likely than not contains more than one mistake. Yet, this map, probably the first of the type on the magnificent series of tubes called the internet, reveals fascinating things about how French politics were shaped back then and how voting patterns have changed since then.

Explanation of this map requires a few comments about the nature of French parliamentary politics during the Third Republic and other general comments about the political forces of the era and how they operated.

The basic thing to remember about French parliament during the Third Republic was that, unlike in some other countries, individual parliamentarians retained considerable autonomy while there were few organizations which could really be qualified as ‘political parties’ in our modern conception of the term. Especially on the right, parties were loosely structured and often nothing more than a coalition of different local elected officials and local committees. Though both the Republican Federation (FR) and Democratic Alliance (AD) adopted some form of structure in the interwar years, they remained the epitome of the partis de notables for which the Third Republic is famous for. In reality, only the PCF and the SFIO were structured party with a membership and caucus which largely adhered to the party’s platform, the PCF of course being centralized along Moscow’s democratic centralist lines. The Radicals had a national structure as well, and held yearly congresses where resolutions expressing the party’s mood of the day were passed, but in reality the party remained dominated by local committees and local elected officials (the famous Radical notables or barons in the small towns of rural France). And despite adhering to the party, a number of Radicals in reality ran against the party’s electoral platform. Once elected, a number of parliamentarians elected under one theoretical label ended up joining the parliamentary group of another faction or party. Often times, they joined a group which was more left-wing than they were, in the process hijacking the group and slowly transforming it into a more right-wing outfit.

The transformation of the notions of left and right are another key point in understanding the politics of the era. Known as sinistrisme, political forces evolved from the left to the right. Parties which emerged on the far-left (such as the Radicals) ended up on the centre or centre-right in 1940. Yet, the parties which were in reality right-wing by 1936 did not actually claim the label ‘conservative’ or ‘right’. The reluctance by the right to assume its conservative ideology is another aspect of sinistrisme. As a result, members of parties such as the centre-right AD sat in groups often known as ‘Left Republicans’. The FR’s members were originally known as progressives, when in reality they were everything but progressive. The reason for this reluctance of the right to identify themselves as such is that conservatism and the right in France have been associated, perhaps forever, with the ‘far-right’ legitimists and ultramontane Catholics.  As a result, the right of the 1930s, which had its roots in early republicanism, did not identify as right-wing. But even the Ralliés, those Catholics who rallied the Republic, shrieked away from the appellation and became known as the Popular Liberal Action, when in reality they represented anything but economic liberalism. The fascinating concept of sinistrisme didn’t die with the Third Republic, and it was carried through to the Fourth Republic (with the right-wing Rally of the Republican Lefts) and even to the Fifth Republic where modern right-wing politicians, while identifying with the right, rarely use the term ‘conservative’ and instead use terms such as Gaullism, radicalism, liberalism or Christian democracy.

As a result of the above comments, one will understand the difficulty of placing deputies, especially those on the right, into a particular party. For purposes of this map, I have privileged parliamentary group affiliation over partisan affiliation. Thankfully, by 1936, partisan affiliation lined up a bit more closely with parliamentary group membership than it had in the early years of the century. Indeed, the Radicals sat, after 1914, in a unique group. The members of the FR often sat in one group clearly identified with the party. However, there are still a good number of blank spots when it comes to partisan affiliation and all that. A brief review of the various parliamentary group is thus indispensable.

The PCF, SFIO and Radicals are clearly defined groups which merit no explanation or clarification. That being said, there were a small number of members of the Radical Party who did not join the party’s group after the election, joining another, often more right-wing, group.

Starting from the farthest left, the first party we fall on is the Party of Proletarian Unity (PUP, or Parti d’unité prolétarienne), a party founded in 1930 as a slightly right-wing split of the PCF. It had an ambivalent ideology, mixing some sort of early reformist communism with international pacifism. In reality, it was a representation of local French communism which didn’t appreciate the fact that they were supposed to be sheep controlled by Stalin in Moscow.

The Socialist Republican Union (USR, Union socialiste républicaine) was a heterogeneous political coalition composed of a plethora of small, new and old left-wing parties which supported the Popular Front. The biggest component of the USR was the old Republican-Socialist Party (PSR) which was formed by those independent socialists who refused to join the SFIO (and thus its internal party discipline) in 1905 and who represented a moderate, reformist socialism in opposition to the SFIO’s original Marxism. Though largely a minor party with a loose structure and independent parliamentarians, it did include some famous figures of the contemporary left, notably Aristide Briand or René Viviani (France’s first Labour Minister in 1906). The two other components of the USR were two small right-wing splits of the SFIO, the French Socialist Party and the Socialist Party of France-Jean Jaurès Union (PSdF). The latter was a 1933 split of the SFIO’s right-wing, represented by the neosocialist tendancy of Marcel Déat (whose name will live in infamy, for his active collaboration with Vichy). Déat believed that the revolution would not happen, and thus socialists should use the state to control capitalism. From this basic idea, close to fascist corporatism, Déat later morphed into a full-blown fascist with his slogan ‘order, authority and nation’. That being said, the PSdF also included a moderate wing, led by Paul Ramadier, who was one of the Vichy 80. The smaller and older French Socialist Party was also a right-wing splitoff, though amusingly it included at the outset in the early 20s Marceau Pivert, later the leader of the SFIO’s revolutionary left-wing.

The Frontiste Party was a small fringe party on the left known only by its two members. Seine-et-Oise deputy Gaston Bergery was a former Radical, a member of the party’s small left-wing fringe (he was known as a ‘radical-Bolshevik’), later evolved towards the right and hard-core collaboration with Vichy. Its other deputy, Georges Izard (Meurthe-et-Moselle), was a Christian leftist and close to Emmanuel Mounier’s non-conformist personalist theory of the 1930s. Izard later became a resistant.

The Radical-Socialist Party Camille Pelletan (PRCP, or Parti radical-socialiste Camille Pelletan) was a 1934 left-wing split of the Radical Party at the party’s Clermont-Ferrand Congress. Led by Gabriel Cudenet, it opposed the Radical Party’s participation in Gaston Doumergue’s centre-right ‘national union’ cabinet in 1934 following Daladier’s fall after the February 6, 1934 riots. The party’s name was a reference to early Radical thinker Camille Pelletan, the main leader of the early party’s most leftist wing (known as the radicaux avancés) in the early twentieth century.

The Independent Left or gauche indépendante was a parliamentary group including a plethora of pro-Popular Front left-wing independents and the members of a few fringe left-wing one-man parties. Though represented on the map as separate, the Frontistes, PRCP and PJR all sat in this group. The group had existed under the same name in the 1932 legislature, but it is not to be confused with the Independents of the Left group in the 1932-1936 legislature which was one of the centre-right’s groups.

The Party of the Young Republic (PJR or Parti de la jeune république) was a small Christian left party originally founded in 1912 as a continuation of Marc Sangnier’s progressive Catholic/social Christian Le Sillon movement which had been disavowed by the Pope. The PJR supported a ‘personalist socialism’ along the line of Emmanuel Mounier’s aforementioned theory of personalism which sought a humanist third way between Marxism and capitalism. The PJR stayed around in the post-war era, but remained a fringe party squeezed by the larger right (MRP) and left (SFIO, PCF). In 1957, the PJR merged with two small groups to form the Union of the Socialist Left which later evolved into the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), a party which despite its perpetual weakness in the 60s had a profound effect on France’s electoral geography and party structure.

At this point, we cross the line into the right-wing. The Independents of Popular Action group (IAP, or Indépendants d’action populaire). The IAP was a largely centre-right group made up of Alsatian and Mosellan deputies. Following the war, Alsace and Moselle rejoined France with the specific particularity that the 1905 law did not apply to it (in fact, it still doesn’t). Despite this, interwar politics in Alsace and eastern Moselle were dominated by largely centre-right regionalists who sought to defend the region’s particularism (the Radicals wanted to remove the special status and extend the 1905 law into the region) and win some sort of political autonomy. In Alsace, the strongest regional party was the Popular Republican Union (UPR) while in Moselle the Lorrain Republican Union (URL) was the main part of the regionalist right. The UPR and URL were both clerical, largely Catholic That being said, Alsatian regionalism also included a strong communist contingent. The PCF did well in Alsace in both 1924 and 1928, but most of the party’s organization was expelled in 1929 following a broad alliance with the regionalist right in Strasbourg against the centralist SFIO incumbent. Most of the PCF’s organization evolved into the Alsatian Workers’ and Peasants Party (often known as the Communist Party of Alsace-Lorraine, PCAL). Jean-Pierre Mourer and Charles Hueber, former members of the PCF, were the PCAL’s two main deputies and they sat in the IAP group following the 1936 election. Mourer and Hueber both evolved towards the far-right and became stalwarts of the Nazis following Alsace-Lorraine’s annexation by Nazi Germany. Alsatian regionalism largely died out post-war, from its association with Nazism and the decline of the Alsatian language, which had played a major role in defining the regionalist movement.

The GDRI, or Democratic and Independent Radical Left (Gauche démocratique et radicale indépendante) was a group which stood largely on the centre-right and was composed largely of the old independent Radical nebula. Independent Radicals had been around since 1914, originally composed of largely ‘opportunist’ Radicals who refused the party’s semblance of structure but which expanded in 1926 to include those right-wing Radicals who opposed the alliance with the left, then as part of the Cartel (which the Radicals ran into the ground, for a change) and in 1936 as part of the Popular Front. In reality, the GDRI tended to be a group of swing ‘opportunist’ parliamentarians who liked to whore themselves to governments who needed their votes.

The Democratic Popular Party (PDP, Parti démocrate populaire) was the predecessor of the post-war Christian democratic MRP. Founded in 1924, the PDP was to the right of the post-war MRP. The PDP, which was rather weak and nothing more than a collection of various local notables, faced opposition from the FR, which had integrated in 1919 the Popular Liberal Action (ALP), the pre-war electoral machine of the Catholic Ralliés. Generally speaking, the PDP was slightly more moderate than the FR, whose Catholic base represented the most traditionalist and conservative faction of the clerical electorate.

The Alliance of Republicans of the Left and Independent Radicals (ARGRI, Alliance des républicains de gauche et des radicaux indépendants) was in practice the group which included most of the Democratic Alliance’s parliamentarians. The AD’s parliamentarians had historically been divided between three or four groups, indeed in the 1932 legislature the AD had three groups each representing one faction of the very factionalized AD. That being said, the ARGRI did not include all AD deputies (other continued to sit in the GDRI group, the Independent Left or groups further right) and not all members of ARGRI were members of the AD, far from it in fact. The ARGRI was born out of Pierre-Étienne Flandin (the AD’s president since 1933, and leader of the majority right-wing pacifist faction)’s desire to unite the AD deputies and the plethora of centre-right independent deputies (especially independent Radicals) in one group. This attempt failed, as the AD remained divided and right-wing independents and independent Radicals continued to sit in other groups.

For purposes of this map, I’ve identified members of three right-wing groups under the etiquette ‘FR’. This is not to mean that all those coloured as such were members of the Republican Federation (FR) but it is largely accurate that way. The three groups are the FR’s central group, which took the party’s name and caucused with the small Independents of National and Republican Union (IURN); the Independent Republicans and the Independent Republicans of Social Action (RIAS). The RIAS group tended to be the most ‘left-wing’ of these three groups in that it condemned the FR’s move to the right after February 6 1934. The RIAS also had a corporatist and social-nationalist undertone. The Independent Republicans was a broad group of right-wing nationalist and borderline far-right deputies, which included the likes of Jean Ybarnegaray, George Mandel and Henry de Kérillis. A lot of its members joined La Rocque’s French Social Party (PSF) in 1938. The FR group also included far-right figures, including the infamous Philippe Henriot (Vichy’s propagandist) and Xavier Vallat (the antisemite General Commissar on the Jewish Question under Vichy).

The Agrarians denote the agraire indépendant group, which caucused with the RIAS but whose members largely came from a small agrarian part, the French Agrarian and Peasant Party (PAPF). The PAPF was close to Henri Dorgères’ rural ‘green shirts’ quasi-fascist league and was largely a hard-right party.

The non-inscrits have been divided for purpose of this map as ‘DVD’ or ‘DVG’. The only which I haven’t classified as such is Jacques Doriot, elected in Saint-Denis (Seine), the former PCF member who evolved into fascist anti-communism through his French Popular Party (PPF, which became one of the two main parties of the Vichy era).

Now that these essential comments are made, some comments can be made on the map itself.

The most striking thing on the map is how the right, in general, is relegated to the fringes of the country; that is Brittany, Alsace-Lorraine, the inner west, Normandy, the Basque Country and Flanders. All these regions have in common a strong history of clericalism, and the conservatism and traditionalism which it insinuates. In fact, the patterns of clericalism and Church attendance seem to correlate almost perfectly with the bases of the right on the map. The regions of the southern Massif Central; that is parts of Aveyron, Lozère, Haute-Loire and Ardèche; are all strongly right-wing and traditional clerical areas. The ‘fringes’ of France, aforementioned, were similarly strongly Catholic and conservative. A lot of these patterns can still be seen to this day, but the secularization of society has turned the old right-wing fortresses such as Brittany into either swing or left-wing regions. In urban areas, the stability of the right’s base between 1936 and 2011 is fascinating. Then and now, the right’s strongholds are in the bourgeois areas of the major cities. In Marseille, the right’s base has always been the wealthy 8th arrondissement (Le Roucas Blanc-Les Goudes) though the right’s hold on the downtown core has become more strenuous in recent years (a trend observed in most of the formerly very right-wing bourgeois downtowns). In Lyon, then and now, the traditional right’s base are the 2nd and 6th arrondissements, the wealthiest parts of the city. In Paris, fairly unsurprisingly, the division of the city between left and right was largely similar to what it is today. Even in the Parisian suburbs, Neuilly (represented by nationalist Henry de Kérillis, the only right-winger to vote against the Munich Accord), Vincennes and Versailles were the right’s base when the rest of the Seine and Seine-et-Oise formed a solid Red Belt. In Lille, the downtown areas and the north were on the right in a city which was, like today, a Socialist stronghold. In Bordeaux, the FR’s Philippe Henriot represented the northern bourgeois suburbs of the city.

The other aspect of interest in this era is the left’s base, which formed a string stretching from north to south and including, crucially, Champagne and Bourgogne which are regions thought of as right-wing in today’s context.  Here again clericalism and anti-clericalism is a major point, given that the aforementioned region as well as the Centre are traditionally republican anti-clerical regions. All these regions are largely dominated by small landowners and small town middle-classes, key republican constituencies since the 1870s. These small landowners, not extremely wealthy but averagely well off, in addition to the notables and middle-classes of small provincial towns were key components of the Radical electorate. However, hit hard by the Depression, the 1936 election saw the SFIO make important gains with these voters (in the process becoming the largest party, for the first time). Certainly these folks who had voted Radical in 1932 were disillusioned with the party’s orthodox economic policies when it held power between 1932 and 1934. The Radicals also suffered loses in Lyon, whose large middle-class petit bourgeois electorate made it one of the party’s electoral bases. In 1932, they held all but two of the city’s nine seats. In 1936, the party ended up holding only two. It suffered loses in the wealthiest areas (the 6th) to the right and loses in working-class areas to the SFIO and the PCF.

The realignment of Champagne and Bourgogne (outside the Nièvre) with the right is often dated to May 1946, when these regions voted against the constitutional project largely supported by the left and opposed by the right. Other realignments occurred later on, most notably the realignment of the Côte d’Azur on the right, which started only in the late 70s.

The 1936 election is also notable for the PCF’s strong showing. The party won 15.3% and 72 seats, when it had won 8.3% and 10 seats in 1932. Part of that comes from the party’s new strategy adopted in 1934. Indeed, the party’s volte-face from the old “class against class” strategy of the pre-Hitler years to the “popular front” strategy of the post-Hitler years played a major role in allowing for the creation of the Popular Front. The strategy of confrontation with the “social-traitors” of the SFIO and of electoral isolation had resulted in the party winning only a handful of seats between 1924 and 1932. Following February 6, 1934 and prior to that, Hitler’s seizure of power in Berlin, Stalin ordered the Comintern’s member parties to create an alliance with the bourgeois parties it had previously targeted with all its venom. The PCF had been a precursor in this regard, as it started overtures to the Socialists and Radicals by February 1934 when Moscow changed its strategy only in May 1934. Certainly the events of February 6 and the real threat of a fascist coup in France hastened the alliance between the PCF and SFIO through a general anti-fascist strike linking PCF and SFIO on February 12, 1934. The PCF and L’Humanité operated a stunning about-face, with grand demonstrations of patriotism unusual for the PCF and later with tons upon tons of flowery rhetoric directed at the Radicals. Maurice Thorez, the Stalinist hack, turned into the defender of democracy from fascism. The electoral alliance with the SFIO and Radicals as part of the Popular Front – whereby all parties could field candidates against one another in the first round, but would drop out to endorse the best placed Popular Front candidate in the runoff – worked wonders for the PCF. One the one hand, SFIO and left-wing Radical votes flowed to it in runoffs, even where it had trailed in the first round, and allowed it to win some spectacular victories. On the other hand, a very good transfer of votes from the PCF to other left-wing parties in the other constituencies allowed the Popular Front to win a major victory.

The PCF made most of its gains, which came largely at the SFIO’s expense, in working-class areas. Workers had been hit hard by the Depression as well. The PCF thus made gains which would stay with it until now (or if not today, until not long ago). The northern suburbs of Marseille elected their first PCF deputies in 1936 (the PCF lost its last seat in Marseille only in 2007). The party made some strong gains in rural areas as well, notably in the Lot-et-Garonne where it had been strong since the Tours Congress thanks to the local leadership of Renaud Jean, a peasant organizer. The PCF’s base in the Limousin (totally destroyed in the 80s by the Marcel Rigout split) is more post-war, but the party did well there by 1936. It won the Cévennol mining basin around Alès, a region which remains one of the party’s strongest areas to this day. Later PCF strongholds in the Lorrain metallurgical basin around Longwy are not yet visible, and in fact they only started voting for the left in 1936. Most workers in these areas were Italian immigrants, and they only got naturalized in the late 30s. The Communists made further gains in the northern mining basin, but again the PCF’s strength in the mining basin was limited to those parts of it in the Nord department while it remained weak in the Pas-de-Calais. The causes for this perpetual weakness of the PCF in the Pas-de-Calais seem to stem from the reformist, rather than Marxist, faction prevalent there, both politically and within the union movement.

However, the PCF’s most striking gains came in the Seine and Seine-et-Oise. The 1936 election is indeed considered the peak of the PCF’s strength in the world famous Red Belt. It would never be that strong in that region as in 1936. All but five seats in the outer Seine department escaped the PCF’s reach (Doriot’s seat was later gained by the PCF in a by-election during the legislature). Communist strength also extended to much of the outer suburbs in the Seine-et-Oise. Unlike today, the Red Belt in 1936 meant something. It was a true working-class faubourg almost all around (except for islands of wealth in Neuilly and Vincennes). Its population had grown rapidly during the First World War, and was largely composed of migrants from other regions of France. Migrant workers from the province, both in Paris and in other parts of France (such as the Loire), voted Communist early on. A mix of poor living and working conditions added on to the stress and awkwardness of adapting to a new environment made these voters particularly open to the PCF’s themes. It is also worth noting that in 1889, Boulanger had done best in those parts of Paris where the population had immigrated to the city recently. Within Paris itself in 1936, the PCF built themselves a quasi-continuous block of support in eastern Paris (the most working-class parts of Paris, then and now) stretching from the 17th to the 15th arrondissements.

The inner west forms a solid right-wing fortress. The left is shut out of Lower Normandy altogether and holds basically nothing in Maine and Anjou. It does perform a bit better in parts of Poitou, notably around Melle and Niort (which correspond to Ségolène’s electoral base) but also Fontenay-le-Comte in conservative Vendée. Part of the plaine poitevine, an anti-clerical small holder’s territory, these areas have been republican strongholds in contrast to the conservative bocage. In Brittany, the left has always enjoyed isolated islands of strength: Saint-Nazaire, Nantes in Loire-Atlantique, the working-class cities of Brest and Lorient (Brest having voted socialist very early on, and being isolated right smack middle of ultraconservative Léon) and the Trégor/eastern Léon around Morlaix and Lannion. François Tanguy-Prigent was first elected in 1936 in the Morlaix area, which has always been (along with the radical republican Monts d’Arée) an anti-clerical republican stronghold. Also noteworthy is Radical strength, with Albert Le Bail and Jean Perrot, in the Cap Sizun/Pays Bigouden area of Cornouaille. Cornouaille is often wrongly tossed with the Léon as a right-wing stronghold, when it fact it isn’t so. The Cornouaille has actually been traditionally republican, and also an area of small property. It has certainly voted for the right, but it doesn’t make it a right-wing stronghold.

In the right’s other fortress, the southern Massif Central (which remains right-wing to this day), the left breaks through only in predictable areas. In the Haute-Loire, around the Brioude basin (industrial and anti-clerical). In Lozère, where voting patterns haven’t changed since, what, the Middle Ages, the left was and remains very strong in the Protestant and anti-clerical Cévennes while the right won huge majorities in the Catholic plateaus. In the Aveyron, the anti-clerical and industrial (Descazeville, a mining town) areas elected Paul Ramadier while the rest voted for the right. In the Ardèche, the right, which included Xavier Vallat, won solidly in the mountainous and more Catholic parts of the department, confining the left to more industrial and more Protestant areas in the Loire valley. The Cantal, especially the election of a left-leaning independent in the traditionally hardcore clerical Saint-Flour plateau is a bit puzzling, but I think this result shows that a lot of emphasis should be placed on the identities of candidates. In legislative elections, then and now, the notability of candidates and they weight they can carry around as a local mayor, councillor or even public servant, lawyer or provincial town doctor were worth a lot. This is of course especially true in rural areas, and it remains true to this day.

Somewhat surprisingly for a region which is now the most solidly blue region, the Socialists and Communists were particularly strong in Alsace during the interwar period. In 1919, the SFIO won some of its best results in the country in Alsace, with a largely Protestant and working-class base and benefiting from the strong pre-war organization of the SPD in Alsace (which dominated urban areas such as Mulhouse, Strasbourg and Colmar). The 1929 split destroyed the PCF, which nonetheless managed to elect one deputy, Alfred Daul, in Strasbourg’s industrial suburbs around Schiltigheim. The PCAL’s deputies represented downtown Strasbourg, while Camille Dahlet, leader of the liberal secular Fortschrittspartei (similar to the Radical Party, of which Dahlet had been a member), represented the largely Protestant Saverne region. In the Haut-Rhin, only Mulhouse, an historically Protestant city (though largely Francophone and Catholic by 1936), was represented by a member who did not sit with the IAP.

This map probably isn’t fully accurate, but it offers a fascinating peek into the details of electoral politics and political behaviour of the era. And, from another vintage point, it’s one of the first online maps, to my knowledge, showing the results of the 1936 French elections in such a way.

Portugal (President) 2011

Portugal held a presidential election on January 23, 2011. Portugal’s President, despite having theoretically wide powers, has been a ceremonial position following the precedents set by the inaugural President of democratic Portugal, António Ramalho Eanes, who served between 1976 and 1986. Portugal’s President is elected using the traditional two-round system (only one election, in 1986, went to a runoff), and candidates must gather the signatures of between 7,500 and 15,000 citizens in order to be eligible to run.

The incumbent President, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, is a member of the centre-right opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) and served as Prime Minister between 1986 and 1996, pursuing a right-wing liberal agenda while in office. Despite serving alongside José Socrates’ Socialist government, relations between the government and the President have been rather smooth. Notably, Cavaco Silva, despite being a practicing Catholic, signed into law legislation which legalized abortion and same-sex marriage in Portugal. In line with his predecessors in the office, he ranks as one of the country’s most popular politicians.

Elected to the office in 2006 by the first round, Cavaco Silva was eligible to run for reelection. He was supported by the PSD in addition to the right-wing CDS-PP and the smaller Hope for Portugal Movement. He was opposed by Manuel Alegre, nominated by the PS and supported by the Left Bloc and two smaller parties. A poet, Manuel Alegre had run as a PS dissident in 2006, coming in second ahead of the PS’ official candidate, former President and Prime Minister Mário Soares. The third major candidate was Fernando Nobre, a well-known and respected NGO worker and doctor (and a man with a weird political trajectory, being a member in the past of the PS, PSD and even the BE). The Communist-led CDU coalition nominated Francisco Lopes. Defensor de Moura, a PS dissident, ran as an independent while Madeira regional parliamentarian José Manuel Coelho, an erratic and outburst-prone politician, ran for the New Democracy Party (a small right-wing party which holds one seat in Madeira). Coelho likes calling members of the Madeiran PSD ‘fascists’ and got thrown out of Parliament in Madeira for showing a Nazi flag to members of the PSD.

Turnout was a low 46.63%. Here are the results:

Aníbal Cavaco Silva (PSD, CDS-PP, MEP) 52.94%
Manuel Alegre (PS, BE, PDA, PCTP) 19.75%
Fernando Nobre (Ind) 14.1%
Francisco Lopes (PCP, PEV) 7.14%
José Manuel Coelho (PND) 4.5%
Defensor de Moura (PS dissident) 1.57%

In 2006, Cavaco Silva had won all districts except for Beja, a traditional Communist stronghold, which went for the PCP’s candidate. This year, Cavaco Silva won all districts. He won his strongest results in the traditionally conservative and Catholic north, where the PSD does best in national elections. He won his weakest results, as expected, in the southern region of the Alentejo, a stronghold of the left (specifically the PCP). In Beja, he won 33.3% against Lopes (PCP)’s 26.4%. In Évora, he won 37.6% against 24.7% for Alegre and 21.7% for Lopes. In Madeira, a traditional stronghold of the PSD, he won 44% with local candidate José Manuel Coelho taking 39% of the vote. That might be a good sign for his party going into regional elections in Madeira later this year.

It would be hard to take out much of a low-turnout and rather useless election which reelected a popular politician whose popularity by far surpasses that of his party. Though the PSD has an edge over the governing Socialists in case of an early election brought about by the economic crisis, talks of a snap election are probably over-hyped though Socrates’ government is in a minority situation.

Welcoming the 194th

So, by July of this year we’ll probably be welcoming the 194th (or 195th, or even 204th) independent state on the planet to the concert of nations. South Sudan held an independence referendum between January 9 and 15. The results will come out, officially, in a bit less than a month. But already we have the one number which allows us to declare the results without having any official results: turnout was 83%, up and above the 60% turnout threshold required for validation. Based on early rumours, as expected, the secession option will gather roughly 90% or so of the votes.

Explaining what led to South Sudan’s independence entails explaining the confusing and intricate Sudanese Civil War(s) as well as much of recent Sudanese history. Briefly, and perhaps far too briefly to offer a fully correct explanation, the referendum is a direct result of the 2005 peace talks which came as the resolution to Sudan’s main conflict in the last decade of the twentieth century.

South Sudan is ethnically different from northern Sudan, which dominates the politics of the country. In contrast to the arid deserts of the north, inhabited by Muslims and paler-skinned Arabs, South Sudan is, to put it briefly, largely Christian/animist as well as largely ethnically African. It is also not as desertic as the north, being dominated largely by grasslands and thus by settled populations rather than nomads and pastoralists. The civil war, the second in Sudanese history, started around in 1983 and picked up steam in 1989 after an Islamist-instigated and supported military coup led by Omar Al-Bashir, who serves to this date as Sudan’s President. The conflict opposed the north and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and led to one of the bloodiest wars since World War II. Summarizing it to a conflict between the Khartoum state and the SPLA would miss the point, as this “civil war” very much involved neighboring nations who all pretty much hate Bashir. Uganda, Chad, the CAR have had or still have internal conflict bordering on civil wars involving rebels groups such as the Ugandan LRA which were actively backed by Sudan (while Uganda, Chad and other countries backed the SPLA). Bashir, in addition to funding and harbouring various foreign rebel groups, also used (and uses, in the case of Darfur) paramilitary forces of which the Janjaweed are the most infamous.

The Civil War also took place in Darfur, but it is best thought of as a separate conflict ran concurrently with the war in the South. The Darfur case is extremely complex, and was not covered in this referendum. Officially, there is to be a referendum in 2011 in Darfur to choose between centralism and some sort of autonomy with a regional government dominated by Darfur’s two largest rebel groups (JEM and SLM). However, the referendum is in reality infinitely delayed because talks between the rebels and the government are stalled.

It might surprise that a pariah president like Bashir is being so smooth and conciliatory in the run-up to the vote as well as in the consequences of the vote. This surprisingly conciliatory attitude from a dictator likely stems from a lucid recognition of both the inevitability of secession and that not all that much will change. In the 2005 peace deal, the SPLA, the most powerful of all rebel forces in the country and basking in abundance of weapons and machinery, accepted the northern institutions while Bashir accepted the southern institutions which the SPLA had setup during the war, during which the SPLA controlled most of the south. Since then, the reality has been that the SPLA has let Bashir run the north according to his will while Bashir has let the south run its affairs quasi-independently under the auspices of the SPLA. After July, it will largely stay this way. Bashir and the NCP will still have control over the north, and the SPLA will continue running the south as they have since the peace deal. Except that the south will be independent. Another reason for Bashir’s conciliatory is that he may be seeing a smooth and peaceful transition to independence in the south as a way to bail himself out of isolation. Already the Americans have thanked him for his attitude by dropping sanctions and the bellicose tone about human rights and the Darfur genocide.

There are two iffy regions not covered in the vote. The first is Abyei, a buffer zone between north and south, which held a vote at the same time on whether it wanted to define itself as southern or northern. Not all of Abyei voted, and the north has been assured control over the part of Abyei which has oil. The other regions are the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which held rigged popular consultations which will award these regions to the north. These regions sided with the south in the war but have in effect been ceded to the north, and thus could be a headache in the future for both countries.

The next step will be to strike a deal between north and south on the sharing of oil revenues. Most Sudanese oil comes from the south, but it is refined in Khartoum and exported from Port Sudan. Oil fields also straddle the border between north and south.

The next question, also, will be the fate of the north. Freed of the south, will the north’s government close in and return to the dark Islamic days of the 1990s with Sharia law? Or has the NCP been discredited in the north for the secession of the south and will its hold on power be strenuous? There is a mix of fear and apprehension in the international community in regards to the north’s future.

As for the south, which might adopt a new name (such as Equatoria), it won’t satisfy the desires of those who wish to see more democracies spring up in Africa. The SPLA has total and dictatorial control over the south and its rule over the south will continue unabated following independence. Former southern rebel groups who were once funded by Khartoum have since joined in with the SPLA with the lure of rewards and jobs for its supporters. The new South Sudan will be a one-party authoritarian regime where the SPLA and the government will be intricately linked (if not formally connected).


Oldham East & Saddleworth (UK) by-election

Map of Oldham East and Saddleworth

The first by-election of the British Parliament since the May 2010 general election took place yesterday, January 13, in Oldham East and Saddleworth. This by-election came in somewhat unique circumstances, after an election court voided the result of the original vote in May 2010 after LibDem candidate Elwyn Watkins, who lost by 103 votes in May, petitioned for the result to be voided based on the nasty campaigning between former Labour MP Phil Woolas and Elwyn Watkins back in May. Attacks on Watkins by Woolas apparently breached the terms of the Representation of the People Act 1983 by making false statements about his personal character. Woolas, known not only for his controversial statements on Islam, also has a long history of making contests very nasty since 1995.

Oldham East and Saddleworth, which basically covers the eastern part of the largely working-class town of Oldham in addition to the middle-class commuter town of Saddleworth was created in 1997. Prior to that, most of it had been in Littleborough & Saddleworth, a traditionally Conservative seat where the Liberals, not Labour, were the main rivals. The area’s history of nasty contests began with the 1995 election in the old Littleborough & Saddleworth, held at the peak of John Major’s unpopularity. The Tories’ vote collapsed by 21 points, to the benefit of the LibDems’ Chris Davies, who gained the seat with a 4.7% majority over Labour’s Phil Woolas. The by-election campaign was particularly nasty, with Woolas accusing Davis of being “high on tax and soft on drugs”. The inclusion of more working-class parts of the old Oldham Central & Royton were unfavourable to Davies, who lost to Woolas by a 6% margin in the 1997 election in the new seat. Woolas’ majority reached 8% in 2005, but the seat has never been particularly safe for Labour, unlike Oldham West and Royton. In 2010, Woolas, who experimented with some particularly nasty methods again, held on by a hair against LibDem opponent Elwyn Watkins. The Conservatives, which lack a good organization and local government base in the constituency, recovered from their 1995 drubbing only in 2010, when Kashif Ali managed to increase the Tory vote by 8.7% to win 26.4%. The BNP, which had won 11% here in 2001 in the aftermath of race riots, won 5.7% in 2010. There had been rumours that BNP leader Nick Griffin might stand in the by-election, but did not in the end. The BNP’s organization in the area collapsed after their 2001 boom, and the party has been going through internal feuds since their disappointing 2010 showing.

Aside from the unique circumstances of this election, and the unique fact that the LibDems were the ones with the power to move the writ for the by-election (instead of the incumbent party, as is usually the case); this by-election was all the more interesting because it is the first one since the formation of the ConDem coalition in May. Both parties stood candidates after all, but all eyes were on the LibDem vote. Their vote here is probably largely centre-right, being concentrated in the middle-class areas of the seat such as Saddleworth, of a type which might be amenable to voting Tory in other, more “traditional” constituencies. Yet, polls have been showing that the LibDems have suffered a lot from going into coalition with Cameron’s Tories and that they were leaking lots of vote from their left to Labour. The results of the by-election provide an interesting look at the LibDem’s vote:

Debbie Abrahams (Labour) 42.14% (+10.27%)
Elwyn Watkins (Liberal Democrat) 31.95% (+0.32%)
Kashif Ali (Conservative) 12.83% (-13.62%)
Paul Nuttall (UKIP) 5.81% (+1.95%)
Derek Adams (BNP) 4.47% (-1.25%)
Peter Allen (Green) 1.52%
The Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony Party) 0.42%
Stephen Morris (English Democrats) 0.41%
Loz Kaye (Pirate Party) 0.27%
David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis Party) 0.19%

Labour holds the seat with a majority of 10.2%, which means a majority and a popular vote share higher than 2005 and 1997 (the Labour majority in 2005 was actually higher than that of 1997, which is not all that mind-boggling given that Labour was on the offensive against a non-Tory incumbent in 1997). Its vote share is up 10.3%, a figure similar to its vote increase back in the 1995 by-election. Yet, the LibDem vote is also marginally up. The headline figures thus hide something. The Liberal Democrats picked up tactical votes from the Tories who voted LibDem to throw Labour out. This resulted in the Conservative vote collapsing to an all-time low, lower than even 1997. The Liberal Democrats picking up votes from their right was at the same neutralized by what was probably a pretty important leak of votes from its left to Labour. Labour’s vote, after all, went up quite dramatically and it can really only be at the expense of the LibDems. Turnout was 48%, which is good for a winter by-election, and this definitely helped Labour. The LibDems moving the writ for an election in early January was deliberate to minimize Labour turnout, but a Labour GOTV campaign proved quite effective. Paul Nuttall, a UKIP MEP, won a good result – polling ahead of the BNP here of all places, and likely picked up a few Tory votes. The BNP might have suffered from its internal divisions, a higher than expected turnout or its inexistent local organization in Oldham.

Extrapolating the world from a by-election is always a dreadfully bad idea, but doing so from the first by-election in a Parliament is even worse. Yet, the results of the by-election here are unambiguously favourable to Labour. On balance, they are unfavourable to the Liberal Democrats given that they benefited from Tory tactical voting which compensated for a big leakage to Labour. In other constituencies, where the LibDems don’t have a strong base and are on the long-shot offensive from third or distant second, they will not benefit from such tactical voting. In fact, they’ll suffer from it. The image is bleak for the Tories, but I wouldn’t take too much out from this by-election. A by-election in a seat where contests are usually Labour vs. Conservative with the LibDems a non-threatening third would perhaps be more interesting and more informative.


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