Monthly Archives: March 2011

French Cantonals 2011

The second round of French cantonal elections were held on March 27. I had talked about the first round in this post last week.

Each canton has one councillor which is elected to a six-year term (sometimes extended to seven) through two-round first past the post. Candidates are deemed elected in the first round if they have won over 50% of votes cast and 25% of registered voters. Candidates are qualified for the runoff if they have won at least 12.5% of registered voters or placed second if they don’t meet the first condition. The threshold for the runoff was raised from 10% to 12.5% of registered voters last year, making these elections identical to legislative elections.

The left hoped to pick between five and ten departments to add to its already long list of general councils it holds. It has come short in this goal, but the left will now control at least 60 departments and the right roughly 38.

Given that national results of the second gives a very rough picture of the situation, don’t place too much into these numbers since they hide reality.

Left 49.9% winning 1169 seats
Right 35.87% winning 731 seats
FN 11.73% winning 2 seats

In more detail, the PS took 808 seats total and 35.8% overall. The UMP took 20.2% and 356 seats, with DVDs taking 9.4% and 258 seats. DVGs have 4.8% and 164 seats. The FG took a national average of 5.1% and secured 119 seats, all but five of which are Communists. EELV took 32 seats with a national average of 2.8%. The MoDem won 16 seats overall, others took 29, regionalists took two (Christian Troadec in Carhaix isn’t counted as such), ecologists took two and there is one miscellaneous far-right. The FN took 2 seats and 11.73%. Sigh of relief? Not really. These results don’t deal only with the 300-400 out of roughly 1000 cantons where the FN had runoff candidates, but all cantons.

Ifop has calculated the average change in FN votes between both rounds here. As in 2004, the FN gained 10.6% in left-FN duels and 10.5% in right-FN duels. In PCF-FN contests, the FN gained 11.1%. The picture in detail is still very favourable to the FN, although minimally less than it was last week. An Ipsos poll which came out last night still shows Marine Le Pen taking out Sarkozy by the first round in all scenarios except if Ségolène Royal is the PS candidate, where Royal would miss out on the runoff.

The left has gained control of the Jura and Pyrénées-Atlantiques, both of which had been tied in 2008 but won by the right because of the age bonus. They had a net gain of two in the Jura and a net gain of one in Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The Loire is on a knife’s edge, but the left is favoured with MoDem votes. The Savoie was the sleeper department of 2011 which nobody saw coming. The left is one vote from winning and could win support from the three independent ‘others’ elected. These are, surprisingly, the only metropolitan departments to switch to the left. The Charente-Maritime held with right-wing gains in three cantons cancelled out three left-wing gains and held the general council tight. The right made small gains in the Côte-d’Or, Hautes-Alpes and Vienne. In the Aveyron, two leftie losses cancelled out two gains and the right held on. The Rhône held as the right had hoped. Finally, left-wing gains in the Sarthe were too minimal to overcome the UMP’s edge in Prime Minister Fillon’s stronghold.

The PCF’s hold on both departments is solid, and the PRG has a shot at taking back the Hautes-Pyrénées. François Hollande narrowly improved his tight majority in Corrèze and will thus soon officialize his candidacy for 2012.

The right’s mood perked up with the Val-d’Oise, which was gained by the right on the back of four gains which overcame two left-wing gains. But it might not be over. Two right-wing gains were very small – 37 and 22 votes – and could be overturned in court. The left gained in Herblay and the Vallée du Sausseron, but the right gained both of Argenteuil’s canton in addition to Franconville and Sannois. Former UMP Argenteuil mayor Georges Mothron won with 55% in Argenteuil-Nord.

Overseas, the new department of Mayotte has been gained by the left. The Réunion is actually governed by a weird centre-left coalition composed of the PCR, PS, MoDem and two UMPers but is presided by Nassimah Dindar (UMP). The true left has enough seats to dump her, but it seems unlikely. Counting it as a left-wing gain would be false at any rate. Martinique will see an interesting fight between the RDM of current president of the CG Claude Lise and the PPM which holds the regional presidency. Supporters of regional president Victorin Lurel (PS) did badly in Guadeloupe, but the left has a huge majority on the general council at any rate.

Without further adue, here is the revised version of my now famous cantonal map.

The map is huge, so open at your own risk. Certain computers will throw a hissy fit if you try opening it.

There isn’t much change to the previous map, most changes are minor and are probably at too small a scale to be seen on this very minimized preview. I need not explain the patterns which are already very clear and which were clear on the original map. I regret the “others” category, but it’s very hard to figure out some of the affiliations of these candidates sometimes. On the same topic, errors are possible if not likely, and the map will be updated if errors are fixed. La Croix still has its nice map of results.

The FN won the cantons of Carpentras-Nord and Brignoles. Brignoles was held by the PCF, and likely saw very good right-wing to FN vote transfers. Carpentras-Nord was PS held, and likely saw the same phenomenon. The disfavourable nature of cantonals struck again and prevented the FN from winning anything more than very little seats.

A word on the interesting races profiled last week. In Neuilly-Nord, Fromantin won a 70-30 landslide. Patrick Devedjian (UMP)’s hold on the presidency is stabler with his 51.2-48.8 win in Bourg-la-Reine. It is further helped by the 56-44 defeat of rival Isabelle Balkany (UMP) in Levallois-Sud to a DVD candidate who took all anti-Balkany votes in a major setback for the Balkany clique in Levallois.

In Porto-Vecchio (Corse-du-Sud), Angelini (PNC) defeated UMP deputy Camille de Rocca Serra 53.7-46.3 in the second straight local defeat for the Rocca Serra dynasty in their stronghold. Christian Troadec (dvg regionalist) ended up being elected unopposed in Carhaix-Plouguer after the PS candidate dropped out. In Sarre-Union, Unser Land autonomist David Heckel was elected 55-45 against the UMP candidate, benefiting from the support of the retiring DVD-regionalist incumbent.

In Vannes-Centre, François Goulard (UMP) won surprisingly easily 55.4-44.6 against the left, a big margin for a candidate who obviously did very well with FN voters or who added new voters.

In Amiens-4 Est, insane orthodox PCF deputy Maxime Gremetz lost 61-39 to the PS incumbent.

The right gained two seats in Nice. In Nice-14, mayor Estrosi’s wife was elected 54.5-45.5 against the PS incumbent Paul Cuturello. The FN came close to taking a PCF-held seat in Nice-3, losing 51-49. The FN also came close in a number of PS-held cantons in Marseille (Guérini’s mafia only lost one seat overall, to the right) and other places throughout the south. In Perpignan-9, however, Louis Aliot (FN) lost 54-46 to a Socialist candidate who had trailed him badly in the first round. He threw a hissy fit after losing. In Montigny-en-Gohelle, Steeve Briois (FN) lost 55-45.

The Greens kept their candidates in a number of PS-EELV runoffs. It seems to have paid off in three cantons. In Strasbourg-2, the EELV candidate won 53-47 against the PS incumbent. In Lyon-III and Villeurbanne-Centre, EELV candidates won narrowly but still quite comfortably against PS incumbents. Right-wing voters were likely important in these matchups for the Greenies. The Greenies, however, did lose Montreuil-Ouest 51.9-48.1 to the PCF. This might be interpreted as a negative mid-term result for the city’s Green mayor, Dominique Voynet. Overall, most of EELV’s 30-few wins came directly from deals with the left/PS.

The Left Front, more specifically the PCF, maintained its strong territorial grassroots base almost entirely intact. Though Communist positions continued to dwindle away in the old Red Belt of the Côtes-d’Armor and Morbihan (the PCF lost one seat in both departments), the PCF maintained and slightly increased its domination of the old coal basin of the Nord, held its ground by the first round in the industrial-mining basin of northern Lorraine, held its ground in the Rural Communist territories of the Allier and, most interestingly, did especially well in the Haute-Vienne where it ended up gaining three seats. An old PCF stronghold, the PCF had dwindled locally following the reformist split of Marcel Rigout whose local eurocommunist outfit, the ADS, was especially strong in the Haute-Vienne.

The 2011 series included all cantons renewed in 2004, already a pink wave. The left’s rather weak performance – it did not gain a whole lot of seats – tells us two things. Firstly, the pro-incumbent nature of cantonal elections confirms itself. Even in cantons which might have voted solidly against the right in the 2010 regional elections – a very nationalized fight – a right-wing incumbent could have been easily reelected. This is, of course, truer in rural cantons where most incumbents often tend to be well-known local mayors or notables and often do not carry the weight of a party etiquette such as “UMP” (the Ministry’s little games also helped, by classifying as few candidates as possible as UMP). Given that cantons badly overrepresent rural areas, the general trend in this election is a victoire des sortants despite the sortez les sortants rhetoric of the FN which is particularly fruitful in this climate. Secondly, this might tell us that while the left undoubtedly did a strong game of defense even in cantons which aren’t traditionally leftist,  the left might have approached a ceiling. This is not to say that the left will gain nothing else, rather it would need another huge wave or particularly favourable turnout to do so. In close departments like the Vienne where the left failed to break through to gain overall control, the ceiling may have been reached. In other departments, perhaps not.

The right can take solace in the fact that it didn’t suffer a 2004-like wave defeat and merely suffered a small tide against it. It won back a department, which it managed to do in the unfavourable climate of 2004 (Corse-du-Sud) and 2008 (Hautes-Alpes) as well. But the overall picture is bleak. The right itself managed only 36% or so in the first round, a good share of that for DVD candidates whose voters are not all fond of Sarkozy. Though transfers from the FN to the right were much better than expected and helped it, it remains to be seen if those were based on local factors more than anything else. It is still very doubtful that FN voters would transfers very well to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 – if he is even in the runoff.

Next stop is 2012. Polling is very disfavourable to Nic0las Sarkozy. Before anybody counts him dead, though, remember that he’s a very good campaigner and also try recalling who led in polls in 1980, 1987, 1994, 2001 and 2006 (hint: none of them actually won the election). But you can’t hide from the fact that Sarkozy is in worst shape than any other President. Unlike Mitterrand and Chirac, he can’t be saved by a cohabitation. Giscard, who ended up being the only one-termer, was not as unpopular as Sarkozy one year out from the election despite the 1977 thumping he had gotten. Nicolas Sarkozy is in a trap whereby attempts to woo back FN voters with tough-on-crime-and-immigrants stuff isn’t getting them any longer, and is losing him the moderates and centrists; but where attempts to moderate rhetoric loses him votes on the right to the FN. There is rising discontent within the UMP, very bad news for Sarkozy. But on the other hand, it is possible that Marine has peaked too early and her star will come down as people start assessing the credibility or experience of candidates and look beyond rhetoric. It is very possible that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Joan of Arc saviour-of-France aura will come down if he comes back from DC to run. The PS has a secret ability to shoot itself in the foot and could very well do so again if primaries become an egocontest.

Technically, there are Senate elections – indirect – in September of this year. The left may very well gain control of the Senate for the first time since 1958. But nobody actually cares about that in practice.

Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany) 2011

The state elections we were all waiting for in Germany were held on March 27 in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Baden-Württemberg made history by electing the first Green head of government in Germany.

Baden-Württemberg

The southern German state of Baden-Württemberg is a traditional stronghold of the centre-right: the CDU has always been the strongest party, was held under 40% in only five elections, has held the top office in the state since 1953 and has governed in a traditional black-yellow coalition with the liberal FDP since 1996. The FDP has traditionally been quite strong in Baden-Württemberg, taking nearly 19% in the 2008 federal election and nearly 11% in the 2006 state election. It used to be much stronger at the state level in the 50s and 60s (when the party had a strong Protestant base). On the left, the SPD is generally weak but the Greenies have been quite strong in Baden-Württemberg, taking 14% in the 2008 federal election and 12% in the 2006 state election. The university and green city of Freiburg has been one of the Greens’ strongest spots anywhere in Germany.

Incumbent CDU Minister-President Stefan Mappus has been rather unpopular. The Stuttgart 21 project which aims to completely revamp Stuttgart’s central railway station through demolition of some old buildings has been very controversial and the Green’s opposition to it has helped them significantly. In late 2010, the Greens were polling extremely high (peaking at 36%) but their votes came down and risked falling back to third behind the SPD. But as the Greens were fading away and risked falling back into third, their second boost came from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Nuclear power is very controversial in Germany and a major issue particularly in Baden-Württemberg which has a number of nuclear power plants. Exploiting the issue, the Greens shot back ahead of the SPD. The federal government’s attempt to open the nuclear debate was seen as an electoral ploy and FDP Economics Minister Rainer Brüderle was dumb enough to admit it in public. Green-SPD relations are very good in Baden-Württemberg, and the SPD had already agreed to an unprecedented Green-Red coalition if the Greenies pipped them for second (the CDU was taking first in all polls). And they did, and broke all records. Turnout was 66%, up from 53% in 2006.

CDU 39% (-5.2%) winning 60 seats (-9)
Greens 24.2% (+12.5%) winning 36 seats (+19)
SPD 23.1% (-2.1%) winning 35 seats (-3)
FDP 5.3% (-5.4%) winning 7 seats (-8)
Linke 2.8% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.1% (+2.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 3.5% (-1.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)

With 24.2%, the Greens won their best result in any German state election and probably one of their best if not their best in any regional or national election anywhere in the world (I believe the previous record was 22% or so for the Flemish Groen! in 1999). In doing so, they became the second largest party and because the left took 71 seats to the right’s 67, it will be able to form the first green-red coalition in Germany with Green leader Winfried Kretschmann as Minister-President. This isn’t the first Green head of regional government, the French Greens, for example, held that spot in Nord-Pas-de-Calais between 1992 and 1998; but it is probably the first Green head of government who has won that office by being the biggest party on the left or overall (the Green presidency in 1992 in NPDC was a compromise between left and right to solve a deadlocked legislature).

The Greens took nine direct seats. It won three seats in Stuttgart, two in Freiburg and one in Mannheim, Heidelberg, Konstanz and Tübingen. All of these places have universities of some kind. The SPD won one seat in Mannheim, seemingly in the most working-class part of the city.

A victory for the left is a major setback for both the local and national CDU and the black-yellow CDU-FDP federal coalition led by Angela Merkel. The FDP won its worst result ever (as did the SPD). The Left might have been a victim of the Green surge, as it failed to make any impact.

Rhineland-Palatinate

The vote in Rhineland-Palatinate wasn’t as much of a big deal. The SPD has been in office in 1991, and has governed alone since 2006 under Kurt Beck who has been holding the top spot since 1994. The state CDU seems particularly inept despite the state’s traditional conservatism. Kurt Beck is popular and is a potential contender for the federal Chancellorship in the next federal election.

SPD 35.7% (-9.9%) winning 42 seats (-11)
CDU 35.2% (+2.4%) winning 41 seats (+3)
Greens 15.4% (+10.8%) winning 18 seats (+18)
FDP 4.2% (-3.8%) winning 0 seats (-8)
Linke 3% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FW 2.3% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.1% (-0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The Green surge even touched down big in Rhineland-Palatinate, where the Greens have always been weak. They broke through to win 15%, their best ever in the state (obviously) but also up there with the best Green performances anywhere in Germany. Aside from them being the clear winners, the CDU got a positive record out of this one but the SPD and especially the FDP are the clear loses. Kurt Beck, however, will still have a comfortable majority with a red-green coalition.

Religion seems to be an important divide on the map here. The Catholic areas went for the CDU, while the Protestant areas (and urban areas) went for the SPD.

Next stop is Bremen, the previous record holder for best Green state election performance in 2007. It votes on May 22.

Q&A: Canada 2011

As part of my election preview for Canada’s federal election on May 22, I’m taking questions from readers which are pertinent to the broad topic of Canadian politics, history or current events and giving some answers.

It always strikes me that there is a fairly clear territorial cleavage in Canadian politics (East/West/Quebec) but what other important divisions are there? Clearly the NDP has traditionally been the party of blue-collar workers, and is now moving into the culturally liberal intelligentsia, but what is the class orientation of other parties? Is there a notable difference in religious adherence, or in ethnic adherence (aside from Quebecois)?

Class politics don’t play well in Ontario and most of central Canada, although the west and British Columbia in particular has electoral patterns which are more class-based than Ontario or the centre. The NDP’s traditional clientele is broad, but it can be summed up to include white Anglo-Saxon often unionized working-class voters, some non-whites (especially in BC, not in Ontario) and young hipster professionals/bobo types in gentrified districts. The Liberal Party especially and the Tories to a lesser extent are referred to in literature as ‘parties of accommodation’ or brokerage parties which means that they don’t generally have well-defined support from one election to another based upon long-term loyalties of voters and social groups and rather seek to create and re-create coalitions at each election. Yet, there are some basic bedrock Liberal and Tory groups. Immigrants and visible minorities, especially in Ontario, tend to be solidly Liberal although Harper made major inroads with Chinese voters (who tend to be small-c conservative and affluent) in BC back in 2008 (Chinese areas in Ontario – Markham and Agincourt – remain Liberal). Ethnic Europeans – Italians, Portuguese, East Europeans have tended to be reliably Liberal. Both immigrants and ethnic whites, however, have been moving away from the Liberals in recent years. Harper’s strategy includes, in large part, appealing to visible minorities in GTA areas such as Brampton or Mississauga. This strategy has been partly successful. Jews tended to be solidly Liberal in the past, but swung hard towards the Tories – at least in Ontario – in 2008, with the Tory gain of Thornhill being the best example (Thornhill is the only plurality Jewish constituency).

I’ve heard that somebody said that religion remained a remarkably good predictor of voting in Canada. I don’t disagree, though it’s less through these days. Catholics have traditionally tended to be solidly Liberal, while Anglicans especially and Protestants in general tended to be more Conservative. Not all Protestants are Tories, though – the original Liberal base in Ontario lied in the rural areas of southwest Ontario which was largely Methodist. United Empire Loyalists and high church Anglicans, however, are solidly Conservative since Confederation. Religious affiliation is an underlying voting determinant, and it is most important in the Atlantic provinces. Ironically, in the province where religion is most important – Newfoundland – the patterns are inversed. Catholics are Tories and Protestants are Liberal. The roots of this weird situation lay in the Catholics voting against confederation in 1948 while Protestants voted in favour. Liberals, and their provincial boss Joey Smallwood (an Orangemen), supported Confederation while Tories were either opposed or cooler on the idea.

French-speakers outside Quebec were solidly very solidly Liberal – just look at some of the Liberal margins in the Prescott-Russell area in Ontario or the Acadian areas of New Brunswick in the past – but Francophones, especially in rural areas, showed significant moves towards the Tories in 2006. In places such as Orleans in Ottawa, suburbanization (which brings in Anglos) has also sped up the move away from the Liberal Party.

Class is not a voting determinant in Quebec. Although French working-class voters in places such as Hochelaga are solidly Bloquiste and despite the Bloc/PQ’s affiliation to social democracy, the fact that the “national question” is the major voting determinant makes the Bloc Québécois a big tent party. It draws from working-class voters to rural conservative voters to well-off middle-class suburban folks. Though the poorest are more likely to vote Bloc/PQ than the richest, the Bloc is clearly a big-tent party. The provincial ADQ made gains with rural conservative and Francophone suburban voters in 2007, and Harper hoped to make inroads there in 2008 before the arts cut phenomena. This isn’t universal, because you have some very French-speaking areas which are quite federalist (Beauce is the best example). English Quebeckers and non-whites in Quebec tend to be solidly Liberal (especially provincially) for rather obvious reasons. The predominantly Anglophone and affluent West Island of Montreal is solidly Liberal, although slightly less so these days.

Region does remain one of the dominant cleavages overall. Parties have specific messages tailored to different regions, and strategies will often focus on regions rather than demographic groups or linguistic/religious groups (Harper’s appeal to minorities is an exception).

Also, what kind of factions exist within the parties, and are these divided down territorial lines as most other politics is?

The Liberals are probably the most factionalized, with a whole slew of various axes of division. There is a generally Left Liberals and Right Liberals division, with people such as Paul Martin Jr. being clearly on the right and Pierre Trudeau being clearly on the left. There is/was an important division within the Liberal Party being “One Canada” Liberals and “community” Liberals (as I call them) with the former supporting Trudeau’s centralist vision of a united, equal Canada of 10 equal provinces and others more open to the idea of “distinct society” Quebec and a more “communities” version of Canada. John Turner, a rival of Trudeau, was certainly in the latter category. Lester Pearson was also perhaps more of the “community Liberal” type than Trudeau. The most recent civil war in the party was probably Chrétien (a Trudeau, centre-left Liberal)-Martin (a more decentralist, centre-right Liberal) which degenerated quite badly and which erupts from time to time to this day.Chrétien apparently dislikes Ignatieff, who seems to straddling a middle-way between the Trudeau centralism and the two communities side. There is a sizable socially conservative Liberal caucus. All these factional fights stem from the fact that the Liberal Party has always been a big-tent party drawing from a whole bunch of different voters.

Harper’s Conservative government is well known for being something close to a one-man show with little to no dissension from the party line and basically no public factional fight. The major division within the party seems to be between western-based Reform-Alliance types who are more socially and fiscally conservative and the more eastern-based PCs/remaining Red Tories. The Reformists hold the upper hand, with the more moderate former PCers being weaker. Harper’s most prominent potential rival was Jim Prentice, who recently retired to take up a job for the CIBC bank. Prentice is a moderate ex-PC (albeit from Alberta) and ran for the PC leadership in 2003 as the pro-merger candidate. The winner of that race, Peter MacKay is undoubtedly a major contender if/when Harper goes.

The NDP doesn’t have prominent factional fights these days, but the major division is probably between the urban liberal-left libertarian and the party’s traditionally populist Prairie Christian left/socialist grassroots. Layton does a good job at working both, but he’s more closely associated to the former. There is a small radical left Socialist Caucus within the NDP.

How come some leaders aren’t MPs before they become leader? In the UK it would be considered shocking if a major party selected someone from outside the Commons as its leader. I mean Layton was just a mayor wasn’t he? Albeit, of Toronto.

Yes, this is an interesting phenomenon. On one hand you do have some leaders who win the leadership without being MPs although they were politically active in the past or previously held a seat. Chrétien and Turner are good example. I can’t directly explain this phenomenon, but certain parties – the Liberals in particular – have a knack to choose leaders who aren’t incumbent politicians or non-traditional politicians (eg, Trudeau or Ignatieff).

There is also a higher than average number of PMs losing their seats. The sitting Prime Minister lost his seat in the 1921, 1925 and 1926 elections (three in a row!), for example. Although the tradition of “safe seats for the PM” wasn’t as important then as now.

If the Liberals and the NDP had a majority of seats do you think they would form a majority, and if not, why not?

This is a very slippery question, as the Liberals know. Liberals and NDP have cooperated in the past, but never in a formal coalition agreement. Nobody will admit that they’re forming a coalition, especially not one supported from the outside by the Bloc, but Ignatieff’s statement considering coalitions as a “legitimate option” didn’t shut the door on the option entirely. Both Liberals and NDP do seem to be very peeved with the Tories right now, which makes the option more likely. Harper will campaign hard on the coalition issue, because it paid off for him in 2008-2009, but with the news of Harper having proposed a sort of Tory-NDP-Bloc coalition in 2004 it might backfire on him. And it’d be hard for the Liberals to handle the issue of coalition worse than Dion did in 2008. All in all, it’s tough to say.

I’m interested in knowing why the attempt to from a NDP-Lib-BQ coalition failed a couple of years ago. It seemed that Harper was gone at the time, yet he survived.

It failed, to sum it up, because of Harper’s superior political skills and Stéphane Dion’s utter lack of political skills. In 2008, Dion was on his way out and then half-came back to form a coalition which he jumbled up extremely badly, most notably by responding to Harper’s speech with an amateur raw video which cut his chin off the picture. Ignatieff wasn’t hot on the coalition idea and wanted to let it die off, which Harper did by proroguing Parliament and killing any chance of the opposition moving to put a motion of non-confidence on the table.

Will Canadians be able to realize that if Harper doesn’t get majority then a seperatist party will be partially in charge ?

This is Harper’s campaign line. As aforementioned, it could backfire especially with Duceppe going out of his way to show that Harper wanted a coalition with the “separatists” in 2004. The Liberals are skating some very thin ice here, as is the NDP to a lesser extent. What’s interesting about this Harper rhetoric is that it shows his strategy is majority-without-Quebec which has been achieved extremely rarely. The coalition pitch sales better in Quebec and going all out to call the Bloc “separatist” doesn’t work too well with swing Quebec voters. It is possible, but no party has won a majority without taking at least 30% of the popular vote in Quebec. Chrétien did come close to that in 1993, but he did that because he took 99% of Ontario’s seats which Harper can’t do.

The one thing I still don’t understand is the social cleavage between the Liberal Party and the NDP. I “get” who votes Conservative – all the Anglosphere countries have a party that takes a low-tax, vaguely-moralistic line – but I don’t “get” who votes for the other parties.

As mentioned above, the voting coalitions change faster than in other countries. The NDP used to be stronger in the Prairies and weaker in Ontario. A long time ago, Ontario was the Conservative stronghold (especially provincially) with Toronto being a real Tory stronghold. In the early twentieth century, the Prairies used to be quite Liberal. The NDP, and its predecessor the CCF’s base was in the Prairies where the CCF emerged as a populist western protest-party with roots in Christian left gospel. As such, the CCF was one of the many western populist parties whose ranks included the Social Credit, the Progressives or more recently Reform. The Liberal base used to be Quebec and Catholics and various other election-to-election brokerage coalitions. The NDP has links to organized labour and finds its base with unionized working-class voters (in addition to other voters mentioned above). The Liberals are more of a middle-class old big tent party whose coalition shifts rapidly.

I know the Wildrose Alliance has taken seats in the Albertan general assembly, will they contest this election and if so what are their prospects?

The WRA is a provincial party. Aside from provincial NDPs and some provincial Liberals, provincial parties are a whole different ballgame. The lack of links between provincial and federal parties is rather unique. Some provincial parties such as the BC Liberals, for example, have very little in common with their federal namesakes. The WRA’s voters are strongly Conservative federally.

And lastly, but not least, who will you be voting for? ;)

A political party :)

I welcome all other questions from readers on the broad topic of Canadian politics, history, electoral geography, current events and the like. I’ll also welcome questions on this election specifically or on key ridings or regions.

New South Wales (Australia) 2011

A general election was held in New South Wales, Australia on March 26, 2011. If you’re a left-winger of any shade or a supporter of the Australian Labor Party, you are not recommended to read this post as it may harm your emotional health.

NSW Labor has been in power since 1995, and the state has seen four Labor Premiers since then. The incumbent Premier is Kristina Keneally, in office since 2009. Being in power since 1995 brings the usual slew of unpopularity for a government, with a share of scandal, unpopular decisions and a general mood for change. This is especially true in NSW, where the Labor Party is known for its intense factionalism and a whole lot of backroom dealings and shady faction bosses. The Labor Right is the dominant faction of the NSW ALP, and seemingly Kristina Keneally, albeit personally competent and talented, was in power as their puppet. Her other claim to fame is that her initials are KKK.

In this context, the opposition Coalition led by Barry O’Farrell didn’t need to do much to sweep into office. Polls have showed the Coalition ahead on 2PP since 2008 and Labor has been under 40% of the 2PP since early 2010 and going down as low as 23% of primary votes. Results are still provisional, but given tomorrow’s interesting elections I didn’t feel like waiting a month.

Liberals 38.9% (+11.9%) winning 51 seats (+29)
Labor 25.5% (-13.5%) winning 22 seats (-30)
Nationals 12.3% (+2.2%) winning 17 seats (+4)
Independents 13.1% (-2%) winning 3 seats (-6)
Greens 10.3% (+1.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The Coalition has roughly 68 seats. Here are shaded maps of Sydney, the Central Coast, Illawarra and rural NSW.

Labor’s defeat is about on par with what was predicted and there little to no underpolling for Labor which can be expected from unpopular governing parties. Labor held on to its safest seats in South Sydney (and did spectacularly badly in North Sydney, often finishing third behind the Greenies while the Libs won huge 2PP majorities) and a few other assorted safe seats in the Central Coast and Illawarra region. Still, some strongholds which should never have fallen such as Smithfield ended up falling. The Greens underperformed – again – and ended up winning no seats and polling only slightly better than last time.

This historic landslide defeat of the NSW ALP means that they really have work to do and must rebuild if not regenerate the party. However, O’Farrell must also understand that a lot of this huge victory for him comes from protest anti-government voting and perhaps not a vote for his party’s platform, and as such he must deliver. Though he’s undoubtedly in for a long honeymoon as a factionalized backroom deals party such as the ALP tries to regenerate itself – which is something they should have done ages ago.

In the upper house, the Legislative Council, it seems like the Coalition will get 19 seats (+4), Labor 14 (-5), the Greens 5 (+1), the CDP 2 (+1) and the Shooters and Fishers 2 (nc). Family First has lost its seat in the LC.

Canada: An election will be held in Canada on May 2 after the Harper government fell on an opposition motion of no confidence finding it in contempt of Parliament, unprecedented in Canadian history. As a sort of preview post, I intend to answer various questions regarding Canadian politics, political history, parties, electoral geography and current political events. As such, if you have any questions concerning these topics, please post them as comments on this blog, email them to me or tweet them @welections.

Egypt Referendum 2011

A referendum was held in Egypt on March 19 following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. This referendum ratified a series of constitutional changes, or patching, to the old authoritarian 1971 Constitution to make it more democratic and slightly weaken the powers of the president and strengthen independent judicial mechanisms. Notably, the changes include limiting the President to two consecutive terms of four years; judicial oversight of elections; require the new parliament to write a new constitution and reformed the presidential nominating process. Ratifying these amendments speeds up the process towards the end of military rule, given that parliamentary elections would be held in September and presidential elections in November. Following that, a constituent assembly would be elected in March 2012, a new constitution adopted in 2012 and a full democratic state by early 2013. Opponents said that these changes didn’t go far enough and wanted to elect a constituent assembly to scrap this one entirely as soon as possible which would lead to a democratic state by early 2012.

The supporters of this constitution included the old NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood, who would benefit from holding quick elections thanks to their grassroots network and strong organization which can afford quick elections. The Muslim Brotherhood claims that it won’t run a presidential candidate (the NDP will) but probably seek to gain its political foothold and influence from a strong parliamentary caucus. Opponents included the youth movement which led the revolution, Arab League boss Amr Mousa, Mohamed El Baradei and most of the revolutionary movements.

Turnout was 41%

Yes 77.27%
No 22.73%

Welcoming the first election map of Egypt… in, well, first time ever? Surprisingly, pulling out an analysis of the map wasn’t that hard. Support was lowest in Cairo, where 59.9% voted in favour. It isn’t a stretch to assume, obviously, that Cairo is the centre of the more or less secular and “liberal” opposition revolutionaries. The Red Sea Governorate, which includes the resort town of Hurghada, saw 62% support. South Sinai, which includes the resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh voted 66% in favour while Alexandria was 67% in favour. Giza and Minya saw support below 70% – Minya has a large Coptic population. Support in Port Said, Helwan, Aysut, Gharbia and Ismailia had support below average as well. Aysut has the largest Coptic population, Helwan and Gharbia seem to be small industrial towns which have universities. Port Said and Ismailia are major cities. Support was highest in remote and sparsely populated, breaking 90% in the two Libyan Desert governorates and being generally above average in other predominantly rural areas.

France Cantonals 2011

The first round of cantonal elections for half of France’s 4000-some cantons were held on Sunday, March 20. Around 2,023 cantons or so were up. Cantons are single-member constituencies which serve to elect member of the General Council, which is the legislative organ of each department. Cantons, created in 1795, and general councils, created in 1800 (which are elected since 1833) are among the oldest institutions in France. Their powers are relatively limited, being most notably responsible for social services and local development. Cantons can thus be seen as wards or districts which are the constituencies electing members of local authorities in Great Britain and other countries. Cantons are seldom redistricted, and rural areas are woefully overrepresented overall. You can find out more on cantons in an old post of mine, which explained the details of cantons and the current cantonal map.

Each canton has one councillor which is elected to a six-year term (sometimes extended to seven) through two-round first past the post. Candidates are deemed elected in the first round if they have won over 50% of votes cast and 25% of registered voters. Candidates are qualified for the runoff if they have won at least 12.5% of registered voters or placed second if they don’t meet the first condition. The threshold for the runoff was raised from 10% to 12.5% of registered voters last year, making these elections identical to legislative elections.

These are, possibly, the last cantonal elections. Sarkozy’s territorial reform will merge, by 2014, regional and general councils into a single territorial council whose members, however, will still be elected in cantons which are to be redistricted and redistributed significantly. These are also, and perhaps more importantly, the last elections before the big election in 2012. These elections were either under-the-radar or excessively nationalized.

Turnout in cantonal elections is usually quite healthy, which is because the department benefits from some sense of popular attachment (which is slightly ironic considering how they’re artificial entities) and because they’re most often held along with another election which boosts turnout (often municipal elections, as in 2008 or 2001). 2011 is the first cantonal to be held individually since 1994. Abstention reached a peak at 51-53% in 1988, when it came after a presidential and legislative election.

Turnout reached an historic low, at only 44.3%. Polls show that perhaps up to a plurality of voters voted based on national concerns, which is another way of saying that they voted to kick Nicolas Sarkozy. Here are the results, in metropolitan France, of the first round using the Ministry’s latest inventions in terms of partisan etiquettes. The Ministry of the Interior, which runs elections (incompetently), is in charge of classifying candidates, and it likes to play around with stupid labels. Have a look for yourself:

PS 25.22%
UMP 16.99%
FN 15.66%
Miscellaneous Right (DVD) 9.24%
Europe-Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) 8.42%
PCF 7.71%
Miscellaneous Left (DVG) 4.8%
Majority-New Centre (M-NC) 3.23%
Presidential Majority (M) 2.32%
Left Radicals (PRG) 1.53%
MoDem 1.21%
Others 1.18%
Left Party (PG) 1.03%
Far-Left 0.60%
Regionalists 0.44%
Ecologists 0.38%
Far-Right 0.15%

To make these meaningless numbers mean something, it is more useful to group ‘em up into more tangible categories. The parliamentary left has 48.71% of the votes. The Presidential Majority and centre-right has 31.78%. Aside from the fact that I like to hit on the Ministry for their incompetence, their results are meaningless in that no parties ran candidates everywhere. The UMP, for example, ran 1134 candidates – 56% of cantons up.  The MoDem ran in 239 cantons, or only 12% of the cantons up. The FN, for its part, ran 1440 candidates which is 406 fewer than in 2004, but still covering 71% of cantons (Le Monde estimates the FN won an average of 19% where it ran). Somebody better in math than I am would be able to work out, for example, the percentage of the UMP only in the 1134 cantons it ran in. Another comment can be made about the Ministry’s foolish division of the PCF and PG, whose candidates run as part of a wider Left Front (FG) which polled 8.74% overall. Its excuse was that it didn’t want to kill off the very old PCF label. Those wishing to compare should compare to the 2004 results, not 2008 – because these cantons were last elected in 2004.

Now that I’ve vented about the Ministry’s gnomes, some sort of analysis can happen. The election was excessively nationalized, and it resulted in an epic rout for the right which gives its third cantonal rout in a row. It is a rout which is on the verge of making 2004 seem like a good year for the right (it wasn’t), considering the right polled 37.1% back then whereas today it barely scrapes by 30%. It is most definitely a victory for the far-right in an election which isn’t favourable to it, and the FN wins its strongest cantonal election result ever with nearly 16% of the vote. The FN’s rebirth which began in 2010 is certainly an ongoing process.

The left has a nice victory, again, which is something they’re used to in local or regional elections, though its size may be somewhat abated by all the talk of the FN’s strong showing. Both FG and EELV had pleasing performances, which will allow the PCF to maintain its sizable and influential network of local officials and officeholders and allow EELV to gain a stronger foothold in these assemblies where it is traditionally very weak. In the smaller context of its 16% in 2009 and 12% in 2010, its showing may be somewhat disappointing but we must remember that cantonal elections are biased towards rural areas and local candidates or parties with a strong grassroots network (which EELV doesn’t have – yet). The bottom line for EELV is that while these elections weren’t great they weren’t bad or mediocre either.

The MoDem’s 1% showing is certainly worth a chuckle, and shows how far it has fallen since the grand rhetoric of 2007. But it must be noted that they ran in only 12% of cantons, and ended up getting some decent results were it did run. Some of its candidates were further counted as DVD or Majority candidates (or DVG, perhaps). It has a very weak base of local elected officials, which stems in large part from Bayrou’s ability to piss off people and send his few members into other groupings. In general councils, they can’t often get away with Bayrou’s mindless centrist-independent posturing and must either go left or right (often the latter). The few local grassroots it is left with is still able to poll relatively strongly, as is the case with Hérouville-Saint-Clair mayor Rodolphe Thomas (in Calvados) who seems to have built up a personality cult looking at the MoDem’s strong showing in and around Caen.

Finally, all eyes on the FN. The party led by Marine Le Pen enters presidential election 2012 buoyed by a string of shock polls showing her either leading the field or placing a very strong second or third with often over 20% of voting intentions. Remains to be seen, of course, it that lives on for a whole year (you know, a week is a long time in politics and yaddi-yadda). But, however, as of now, the FN is certainly in a very strong position. Working-class voters, lower middle-class suburban/exurban and employees were crucial to Sarkozy’s populist-right winning coalition in 2007. With the recession, scandals and unpopular reforms they’ve found themselves hating Sarkozy. His attempts to go immigrant-baiting or tough on crime haven’t worked, because it doesn’t seem like these voters wish to be fooled again. At the same time, he alienates moderates with such rhetoric. Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric, mixing left-wing economic populism with nationalism and republicanism (which includes defense of laicism and subtle opposition to Islam), is very popular with both working-class voters as well as rural and suburban voters who are traditionally right-wing but deeply alienated from Sarkozy’s style of governance.

Local Results

I’ll post an updated version of my massive cantonal map shortly after the runoff. For now, you can enjoy some interactive maps of the results on La Croix (if you’re a Catholic) or Le Nouvel Observateur (if you’re left-wing). Actually, both sites use the same applet.

The right currently controls about 40% of general councils. It is likely that it will control considerably less than that after the second round. In 2008, the right added only Hautes-Alpes while losing eight departments to the left. The Hautes-Alpes seem safe enough, given that two right-wing gains there by the first round will probably insulate it from any loses in the runoff. The left governs but is in minority in Val-d’Oise, which is probably the right’s best chance to win – but that is a stretch. First round results indicate that while the right will probably gain one, probably two seats it is on track to lose three and possibly four seats. The right may have hoped to gain Corrèze, Chirac’s old stronghold, from its current owner – former PS boss and 2012 candidate François Hollande (who holds a one-seat edge since 2008), but despite a gain in Ussel the right is on track to lose at least two seats which will compensate the left for a first round right-wing pickup in that Ussel canton. The Rural Communist Allier, which was at risk both from the right (which lost it in 2008) and from the PS seems safe for the PCF.

In case of a tie in the election of the president of the general council, the oldest candidate wins. That’s how the right holds the Jura and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Both of them are likely to go, the Pyrénées-Atlantiques especially. Despite a loss in Auxonne, the PS is slightly favoured in the Côte-d’Or (right wing majority 1) where at least two other seats could compensate for Auxonne. The Aveyron has a one-seat right edge, which got a bit safer with a first round EELV loss in Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance. The left should gain seats in the runoff, but they face a tough fight to wrestle control. The Vienne, which has a one-seat edge for the right as well, should be held especially with a PS seat in Civray looking vulnerable. Justice minister Michel Mercier (centrist) is defending a one-seat majority in the Rhône, where PS hopes for a pickup got a bit tougher with a defeat in Meyzieu (a PS-held seat, going to a UMP-FN runoff) but there should be at least two other seats which could compensate for Meyzieu. The Rhône will be one of the departments to watch. The Loire also seems vulnerable, with the left probably capable of overturning a three-seat majority. However, Dominique Bussereau (UMP)’s hold on the Charente-Maritime will likely be gone with the PS being on a good track in more than enough cantons to squash the right’s two-seat edge. Morbihan is a potential sleeper despite a 10-seat right-wing edge: the left has edged closer with a first-round gain in Gourin and five additional cantons look vulnerable. Maybe not a 50-50 chance, but for a 10-seat majority, it’s damn close. In the Sarthe, finally, the left is looking set to gain control of Fillon’s department.

The PCF should hold Allier, but the PS could very well take the Val-de-Marne away from the PCF after having taken the Seine-Saint-Denis in 2008. The PRG (or, newspaper baron Baylet)’s hold on the Tarn-et-Garonne is safe, as is the PRG hold in Haute-Corse but the PRG has a real chance to take back control of the Hautes-Pyrénées, lost to the PS in 2008.

In a lot of cantons, the behaviour of FN voters where the FN is not qualified will prove crucial. If FN voters largely stay home on Sunday, the game changes to a contest of the better GOTV operation for left or right, and probably means that, overall, the right is slightly less screwed. If the FN voters, however, decide to turn out and vote in significant numbers for the left, then the right is really screwed. Given how 2011 is another “give Sarkozy the boot” year and that FN voters are disproportionately voting on national issues, it is very much possible that FN voters who vote on Sunday will give the left an edge.

The FN has never won more than three seats in a cantonal election. The electoral system, the nature of cantonal elections and other factors all work against it and usually prevent it from winning anything more than a handful of seats. In 2004, the FN only won one seat – in Orange-Est, whose councillor Marie-Claude Bompard has since defected (and is favoured to win reelection). This year, the FN will probably win one or more seats, which will make this a rather successful year for them. The FN is qualified for 264 PS-FN contests, 89 UMP-FN contests, a few three-ways and even some rather epic PCF-FN duels. An Ifop study shows that in 2004, the FN gained on average 10% from one round to another in both PS-FN and UMP-FN duels (while losing 1.7% or so in three-ways). The FN has its eyes on roughly ten seats, almost all of them being PS-FN contests. In Nice, Christian Estrosi’s UMP voters might very well stomach voting for the FN – especially against the FN in Nice-3. In Marseille, the UMP might be going for the FN in two PS-held cantons seeing PS-FN runoffs where the corruption of the local PS administration of Jean-Noël Guérini is a major issue. One of the major FN hopes is in Perpignan-9, where the FN’s Louis Aliot has 34% against a distant 18% for the PS while the UMP has 16%. Bouilly, Aube which had three candidates in the first round – all qualified – the FN came out ahead with 34.6% followed by 33.6% for the PS and 31.9% for the UMP. Le Monde looks at some of the cantons where the FN has a fighting chance.

The FN is strongest in eastern France, a fact as old as the world. The FN came out ahead of all other parties or groupings in the Aisne, Bouches-du-Rhône, Loiret, Marne, Haute-Marne, Oise, Vaucluse and Yonne. The FN takes in a working-class (or urban deprived, populaire areas) electorate as well as a very important lower middle-class, often exurban, electorate. These two groups were crucial components of Sarkozy’s populist-right winning coalition in 2007 and they have deserted the UMP in masse (though that is not new). The lower middle-class electorate, which is touched hard by the economic crisis and the subsequent hit on their incomes and ability to consume, is not necessarily new to the FN’s coalition but it comes and go. It was for Marine’s father in 2002, but not in 2007. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, the corrupt administration of Jean-Noël Guérini (PS) has been a great boost for the FN. The FN is also strong all along the Mediterranean coast (most often not as strong in the uber-wealthy spots, but rather in less wealthy and more traditionally working-class or small business environments), which is an old trend. The FN has also polled well in old working-class areas which are in and out of major economic declines. Steeve Briois, Marine’s right-hand man, polled 35% in Montigny-en-Gohelle which covers part of Hénin-Beaumont. The FN did very well, in the upper 20s/low 30s range in old working-class locales in Moselle most notably Forbach, Stiring-Wendel and Freyming-Merlebach. Vis-a-vis other good years, the FN’s vote in rural conservative areas such as Alsace, Ain or Savoie have declined somewhat. Presumably these voters, concerned but not touched by immigration and criminality, are more supportive of Sarkozy’s policies on those issues.

The FN has broken out to the west of the old Caen-Perpignan line which defines the map of the FN. The aforementioned lower middle-class electorate in the Centre and in the Loire valley up to Nantes came out for the FN here. But the FN has managed to qualify for three runoffs in Bretagne (Pleine-Fougères, Rennes-Le Blosne, Lorient-Nord) and did well in Vendée (Philippe de Villiers’ retirement seems to have helped) and especially Charente-Maritime where the FN’s strong 20% showing in Royan means that Dominique Bussereau (UMP) will face a runoff in Royan-Est.

To be fair, however, in places such as Rennes-Le Blosne the FN is inadvertently the beneficiary of the new election law. The law was designed to cut down on the number of triangulaires (the right has a bad memory of those going back to 1997). But in places such as Le Blosne, where low turnout (and EELV) kept a strong PS from winning outright, a distant second-placed FN inadvertently qualified by merely placing second without necessarily getting 12.5% of registered voters. The right’s structural weakness in a lot of those areas also contributed. But it isn’t to say that the FN’s results there – between 10 and 18% in a lot of the few Breton cantons they ran in – are excellent for them in a region where they often poll like the plague.

EELV polled, in my opinion, rather well in an election where they faced an uphill fight given their lack of strong local networks, local barons and grassroots activism. Sure, they’ve been helped by deals with the PS in a few departments where they’ll get one or two seats out of that. It performed well even against PS opposition in urban areas such as Rennes, Lyon or Grenoble. It has taken the risk of breaking the time-honoured unwritten left-wing custom of republican discipline (second, third placed qualified lefties drop out in favour of the best-placed lefty). It will be interesting to see how they perform in the PS-EELV runoff cantons where EELV is hanging around. Such behaviour might not win Cécile Duflot many friends on the left, but it could help build an image for EELV as an independent party and not a PRG-like useless sidekick to the PS which will drop out for the PS at any rate.

In results of interest, Bernadette Chirac (UMP) won a sixth and final term in the canton of Corrèze but only by a 5% margin and saved herself from a runoff by one vote or so. Michel Mercier, Hervé Morin, Jean-Michel Baylet all won outright. Dominque Bussereau and Dominique Perben will win in the runoff without much trouble.

Looking at interesting results, the first one might surprise – Neuilly-sur-Seine-Nord – the old canton of Sarkozy himself. When he became President in 2007, he was replaced by Marie-Cécile Ménard (UMP) who this year found maverick Neuilly mayor (a thorn in Sarkozy’s side) Jean-Christophe Fromantin on her way. Fromantin won 51.6% against 25.2% for the incumbent endorsed by Sarkozy père et fils. He’ll win by a landslide in the runoff. Down the road from there, in Bourg-la-Reine, the incumbent UMP President of the Hauts-de-Seine CG Patrick Devedjian faces a tough runoff. Devedjian, who is currently in a sort of mini-feud with former ally Sarkozy won 37.3% against 27.7% for the PS who can count on 13% for EELV and 5% for the PCF. Same department, again, Isabelle Balkany (UMP) – the wife of Levallois mayor and Sarko confidante Patrick Balkany – was elected in 2004 in Levallois-Nord but decided to run in the much safer Sud canton of Levallois (chasing out the UMP incumbent and forcing a by-election) yet she might well lose to a DVD there.

Outside the small UMP clique of Sarkoland, another race to watch is Porto-Vecchio (Corse-du-Sud) where regionalist leader Jean-Christophe Angelini – with 45.7% – finds himself the favourite against UMP deputy Camille de Rocca Serra (40%) – in the Rocca Serra clan fiefdom since 1815 no less. Regionalists should also look at Christian Troadec in Carhaix-Plouguer where the regionalist mayor of Carhaix (Troadec) is favoured with 43% against 22% for the PS. Same region, in Vannes-Centre the UMP (and hardcore anti-Sarkozy Villepiniste) mayor of the city, François Goulard is in a tough race to win a cantonal presence (eying the departmental presidency). He took 38.7% against 23.9% for the PS. A Green candidate taking nearly 15% edges the left closer, with DVD (6.9%) and FN (10.7%) votes making the balance. In Amiens-4 Est, orthodox PCF deputy Maxime Gremetz (who is slightly mad to say the least) is in a tough position in a runoff against an incumbent Socialist who won 36.4% against his 26.8%. The official PCF candidate (the moderate PCF Politburo hates Stalinist Gremetz) won 18%. In Nice-14, mayor Christian Estrosi’s wife is in good shape to defeat PS incumbent Paul Cuturello. She took 34% against 29.3% for Cuturello. Former mayor Jacques Peyrat (DVD, ex-FN) won 21.4% but not enough to make the runoff. Peyrat clearly took FN votes, they won only 12%.

Often times, cantonal elections – this series in particular – are interpreted in municipalities as a sort of mid-term election for the incumbent mayors. In 2004, the right had done badly in Nice because then-mayor Jacques Peyrat (ex-FN, now DVD) was unpopular. Now, Estrosi’s UMP is in good shape to reclaim at least two seats (hopes for more got dashed by the FN pipping the UMP for the runoff spot). In Argenteuil, the incumbent PS administration is unpopular – and leaves the UMP on track to win back both of the cantons up this year in town. In the Nord canton, former UMP mayor Georges Mothron (a tough on crime guy) has 35.9% against 19.6% for the EELV candidate with the FN’s 16.7% deciding the race (probably for Mothron). In Metz, incumbent PS mayor Dominique Gros got a narrow second place behind the FN in his Metz-1 canton.

Arguably, the big day – runoffs – are on March 27. Stuff to look for in these runoffs are, first and foremost, the FN’s best hope cantons and whether they can win any of them and if so, how many of them they can win. Looking at these same cantons, track how the first round eliminated vote – be it UMP or leftie – goes and if the UMP>FN vote is particularly important. Secondly, in cantons where the FN is out but strong, absolutely look at how their vote goes – does it have an effect, does it help the left or right? That should tell us lots of interesting things looking ahead to 2012. A few cantons will see civil war runoffs between PS and a Communist or Green. In the latter cases, look at how the right-wing vote might help elect a Green as it happened in Grenoble in 2004 (and almost in Villeurbanne-Centre’s recent by-election). In terms of departments, all eyes on the Rhône and Aveyron which I deem too close to call. The aforementioned interesting cantons will of course be worth watching. Later, the so-called “third round” election of departmental executives can and will see surprises and random rural independents or centrists voting weirdly and throwing all our neat calculations flying out the window. There is also, perhaps, a sleeper department, which nobody really sees switching – which will switch. The Ain was perhaps that sleeper in 2008. Following the runoff, I’ll update my massive cantonal maps (and fix errors on it) and post the updated version to give an overall view of the new picture.

Saxony-Anhalt (Germany) 2011

A general election for the 105-seat Landtag of the east German state of Saxony-Anhalt was held on March 20. These elections were rather under the radar and not too suspenseful, because all eyes are set on Baden-Württemberg which votes next Sunday, March 27, in a very important state election.

Saxony-Anhalt is a rather artificial state with little historical tradition, being composed of parts of various traditional states, and people in the state feel little attachment to the actual state. All in all, the state shares the poverty and social problems of all other ex-GDR states, but is more diverse than we’d like to think. The north of the state is covered by very fertile land, whereas the southern Saal and Elbe valley with the old GDR chemical industry centered in Halle, Merseburg and Bitterfeld and mining areas is far more industrial. The CDU has been in power in the state since 2002, in power with the FDP until 2006 and since then as part of a Grand Coalition. A SPD minority administration tolerated by Die Linke, a setup styled the Magdeburg Model, governed between 1994 and 2002. Aside from 1998, the CDU has always been the strongest party in the state while Die Linke has placed second since 2002. The far-right DVU won a shocking 13% in 1998, but the far-right has lacked representation since 2002.

Turnout went up to 51.2%, which is roughly 6.7% over the historically low 44% turnout in 2006.

CDU 32.5% (-3.7%) winning 41 seats (+1)
Die Linke 23.7% (-0.4%) winning 29 seats (+3)
SPD 21.5% (+0.1%) winning 26 seats (+2)
Green 7.1% (+3.6%) winning 9 seats (+9)
NPD 4.6% (+4.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 3.8% (-2.8%) winning 0 seats (-7)

The result will likely be a continuation of the old CDU-SPD coalition which seems to please both parties, even though there are the seats for a left-wing majority red-red-green, but again, the timeless issue of whether or not the Linke should be allowed to get their hands on the office of Minister-President.

The results are pretty mediocre for all three major parties, which have all either lost votes or stagnated. The results for the FDP are disastrous, and unlike in Hamburg they are in line with the FDP’s dire straits nationally. In reality, only the Greens can unambiguously be said to have come out of the election better than it entered it. Its 7% showing is its best showing ever in one of the party’s weakest states (poor, east German and industrial do not breed well for the Greens, normally). Given that the Greens polling well nationally is nothing new, it’s been visible since 2010, it is hard to say how much of this result is due to national circumstances and how much is due to the “Fukushima nuclear effect” in the wake of the potential nuclear disaster in Japan and the disastrous tsunami there. Certainly Fukushima has reignited the nuclear debate in Germany, where nuclear power is very unpopular, and where the Greens poll very well on the nuclear issue.

Baden-Württemberg (and Rhineland-Palatinate) votes next week in an election which is the highlight of German elections this year. The two questions in Baden-Württemberg are, first whether or not the CDU-FDP government will lose its majority and second which of the Greens or SPD will top the left-wing vote. If the right loses its majority in a traditionally conservative state and CDU stronghold (of sorts), it will be bad news for Merkel. Further, if the Greens top the left-wing vote (as polls indicate) and the right loses its majority, the Greens will have a shot at an historic Green-SPD coalition. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the SPD will lose its overall majority but a SPD-Green coalition is very likely to come out victorious.

Estonia 2011

A general election to Estonia’s unicameral legislature, the 101-seat Riigikogu, was held on March 6. Estonia uses a modified form of d’Hondt in twelve multi-member districts across the country as well as a national level where all votes are averaged. The threshold for representation is 5%. Estonia is the only country in the world to use full online e-voting, and around 15% of voters cast their votes online before election day. E-voters tend to be significantly to the right of the broader electorate.

Estonia is also perhaps notable for the fact that the two largest party are both members of the same European political grouping, the liberal ELDR. The current government, led by Andrus Ansip, is led by the larger and more right-wing of the two, the Reform Party. Under Reform, Estonia has one of the most economically liberal (in the European sense of the term) governments in Europe. The Reform Party supports Estonia’s current flat tax and wants to further cut the flat tax below the 20% line (it is currently 21%, after plans to cut it to 18% were put on hold during the recession). It also supported cutting the VAT, but ended up raising it slightly during the recession. Estonia weathered the recession better than its Baltic cousins and though it isn’t a particularly wealthy country by EU standards it does have one of the EU’s lowest deficits and has one of the EU’s best GDP growth rates as of late. Unemployment, roughly 10%, is high. The government’s fiscal prudence allowed Estonia to become the first of the three Baltic countries to adopt the Euro, doing so on January 1 of this year. Adoption of the Euro required some significant fiscal measures which have been criticized.

Further to the left but still a broadly “liberal” party is the Centre Party (KESK) which emanated from the Popular Front of Estonia, the leading force in the 1990 Estonian independence movement. Led by Tallinn mayor and former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar, KESK is widely disliked by all the other parties. It isn’t because of its platform, which is largely non-offensive vaguely centre-left stuff: progressive income tax and the like. It’s rather because of Savisaar’s reputation for being a corrupt political boss running a municipal administration rife with cronyism and nepotism and most importantly for KESK’s close ties with the Russian community. Estonia has a Russian minority which accounts for roughly 25-30% of the population (it is higher in Tallinn and in the northeast near Russia), but roughly 30% of them don’t have Estonian citizenship and thus don’t vote in national elections. Estonia having been a hotbed of resistance to Soviet domination, the Russian issue has been a permanent issue and Estonia has gotten scolded by the EU in the past for its minority policy though it’s nowhere as bad as it used to be. Most Russians vote heavily for KESK. However, to make matters worse, Savisaar is widely accused on playing up ethnic tensions to win Russian votes and has a more or less well-known alliance with Putin’s United Russia. Last year, KESK got rattled for having asked for campaign contributions from a Russian company, an incident which further isolated it politically. If Savisaar is dumped – and there is an anti-Savisaar faction in KESK, then perhaps KESK will become more acceptable.

Reform’s current coalition partner is the Union of Pro-Patria and Res Publica (IRL), a right-wing party founded by the 2006 merger of Pro Patria Union and Res Publica. It took a significant drubbing in the 2007 elections, fall out from the unpopular Res Publica government of Juhan Parts in office between 2003 and 2005. It is a broadly right-wing party mixing neoliberalism (balanced budget, low taxation and the like) with weird populism such as increased retirement pensions for widows and mothers.

The only left-wing force are the Social Democrats (SDE) who are not of a very left-wing type. During the 1990s they cooperated easily with the right, running common slates with right-wingers between 1992 and 2003 before finally adopting a social democratic identity in 2004, although SDE was in Ansip’s coalition between 2007 and 2009. Their new leader, Sven Mikser, is from the Centre Party and despite some opposition to Reform’s economic policies it would quite like to govern with them again. The left is permanently weak in Estonia, due in no small part to its communist history which has led to a widespread repulsion of anything openly left-wing as a foreign occupier.

The two smaller parties are the agrarian right-wing People’s Union of Estonia (ERL) who are the only ones to tolerate KESK, and the ephemeral Greens (of a centre-right variety). Here are the results:

Reform 28.6% (+0.8%) winning 33 seats (+3)
KESK 23.3% (-2.8%) winning 26 seats (-3)
IRL 20.5% (+2.6%) winning 23 seats (+4)
SDE 17.1% (+6.5%) winning 19 seats (+9)
Greens 3.8% (-3.3%) winning 0 seats (-6)
ERL 2.1% (-5%) winning 0 seats (-6)

Results by district (source: Eesti Erakonnad)

Buoyed by Ansip’s popularity, Reform gained votes as did IRL and SDE while the Centre lost seats and the Greens and ERL were thrown out of parliament. IRL has seemingly moped up the ERL’s old base in Jõgeva County. KESK managed to dominate, basically, only in Tallinn and in Russian-majority Ida-Viru County where it 55% of the vote (a Russian party took only 4%).

The current Reform-IRL government wins a majority, with 56 seats (it had 50 seats, so it was a technical minority) and a Reform-SDE also has a majority with 52 seats. The Social Democrats noted that differences between Reform’s prudent fiscal policy and the IRL’s more populist policy on issues such as pensions could mean that Ansip will be looking for a new partner, and the SDE seems ready to fill that role again. No matter what, though, Andrus Ansip will remain as Prime Minister and Savisaar could find himself on the way out after a rather poor showing, KESK’s worse in some years. These results could be interpreted to mean that Estonia’s political system is stabilizing, as no party saw spectacular gains or loses and no new party emerged for the first time since independence. Furthermore, perhaps SDE’s historic high result means that a left-wing party of significant power could be a possibility in the long run.

Welsh referendum and Barnsley Central by-election

A devolution referendum was held in Wales on March 3, along with a Westminster by-election in Barnsley Central.

Wales has a devolved assembly since 1997, but unlike Scotland is does not have tax-levying powers nor does it have broad legislative powers. As part of the 2007 One Wales coalition agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh devolved government engaged itself to hold a referendum which would give full legislative powers to the Assembly in the twenty fields of competence established in the Government of Wales Act 2006. As of now, the Assembly’s legislation in these matters needed to be confirmed by Westminster whereas under the new system, it won’t need to seek Westminster approval. All parties in the Assembly supported the deal, but the Tories and LibDems wanted to hold it in March rather than with the Assembly elections on May 5, probably so it didn’t conflict with the AV referendum that day.

Turnout was 35.2%. Turnout was highest in Welsh-speaking areas, which also voted the most heavily in favour (along with the South Wales valley) Overall, 63.49% voted in favour while 36.51% voted against. Monmouthshire, probably the ‘least Welsh’ local government authority, was the only one to vote against though it did still give 49.4% of its votes in favour of further devolution after having voted heavily against the original devolution deal in 1997.

A by-election was held in the Westminster constituency of Barnsley Central on the same day following the resignation of incumbent Labour MP Eric Illsley for false accounting in connection with his expenses. Barnsley Central covers basically the town of Barnsley and nearby villages in the larger local authority. Barnsley itself is a working-class industrial town developed around coal and glassmaking, while the constituency also includes some pit villages. As such, it is heavily Labour and the area has voted Labour since 1922 (except for 1931) and prior to that voted Liberal, so no Tory has represented Barnsley since it got a constituency of its own. Eric Illsley has represented Barnsley Central, which was created in 1983 (though boundaries have moved around since), since 1987. From a huge 67% majority for Illsley in 1997, his majority fell to a mere 30% in 2010 and his vote that year was only 47.3% against 61% in 2005. Labour did badly in Yorkshire in 2010, and Illsley’s dodgy accounting was known by then.

Turnout was 36.5%, down from 56.5% in 2010.

Dan Jarvis (Labour) 60.80% (+13.53%)
Jane Collins (UKIP) 12.19% (+7.53%)
James Hockney (Conservative) 8.25% (-9.01%)
Enis Dalton (BNP) 6.04% (-2.90%)
Tony Devoy (Independent [Labour]) 5.63% (+3.58%)
Dominic Carman (Liberal Democrat) 4.18% (-13.10%)
Kevin Riddiough (English Democrats) 2.25%
Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 0.82%
Michael Val Davies (Independent) 0.25%

Not a huge majority of the yesteryears for Labour, but still a huge majority and a solid win. The Tories did badly, falling to third but the sixth, yes, sixth place finish for the LibDems is especially bad (or great, depending on your perspective) for them. UKIP likely took some angry Tories, and got a nice result in a place which isn’t naturally good for them. The BNP, who polled 9% in 2010, is the other major loser after an already poor showing in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Netherlands Provincial 2011

Provincial elections were held in the Netherlands on March 2. As an intermediary level between the state and the municipalities, the twelve Dutch provinces have limited powers and largely carry out minor administrative duties and serve as links between the top and lower echelons of government. Yet, the provincial legislatures are responsible for electing the Senate or Eerste Kamer, which unlike other indirectly elected upper houses, has the power to veto legislation. The current Rutte coalition (VVD/CDA with PVV support) lacks a majority in the Senate, with 35 out of 75 seats. Provincial elections thus carry a much more important national message despite the strength of some local regionalist parties in certain provinces.

Turnout was 56%, up from 46% in 2007 and the highest turnout since 1995. Here are the results:

VVD 19.57% (+1.48%) winning 113 seats (+12)
PvdA 17.29% (-0.64%) winning 108 seats (-6)
CDA 14.18% (-10.8%) winning 86 seats (-65)
PVV 12.42% winning 69 seats
SP 10.15% (-4.67%) winning 57 seats (-26)
D66 8.33% (+5.77%) winning 42 seats (+33)
GroenLinks 6.29% (+0.14%) winning 33 seats (+1)
CU 3.32% (-2.15%) winning 23 seats (-12)
50+ 2.36% winning 9 seats
SGP 2.19% (-0.2%) winning 12 seats (-2)
PvdD 1.87% (-0.68%) winning 6 seats (-3)
Regionalists and others 1.14% (-2.54%) winning 4 seats (-3)
CU/SGP 0.5% (-0.38%) winning 1 seat (-2)
Frisian Nationalist Party 0.39% (-0.11%) winning 4 seats (-1)

And the distribution of seats by province:

Groningen: PvdA 12 (nc), VVD 6 (+1), SP 6 (-1), CDA 5 (-4), D66 3 (+2), PVV 3, GL 3 (nc), Regionalist 1 (nc), PvdD 1 (nc)
Friesland: PvdA 11 (-1), CDA 8 (-4), VVD 6 (+1), FNP 4 (-1), PVV 4, SP 3 (-1), CU 3 (nc), GL 2 (nc), D66 2 (+2)
Drenthe: PvdA 12 (-1), VVD 9 (+1), CDA 6 (-4), PVV 4, SP 4 (-1), GL 2 (+2), CU 2 (-1), GL 2 (nc)
Overijssel: CDA 11 (-6), PvdA 9 (nc), VVD 8 (+2), PVV 4, SP 4 (-2), D66 3 (+3), CU 3 (-2), GL 2 (nc), SGP 2 (nc), 50+ 1
Flevoland: VVD 10 (+1), PvdA 6 (-1), PVV 6, CDA 4 (-4), SP 3 (-3), D66 3 (+3), CU 3 (-2), GL 2 (nc), SGP 1 (nc), 50+ 1
Gelderland: VVD 11 (+2), PvdA 10 (nc), CDA 9 (-6), PVV 6, SP 6 (-1), D66 4 (+3), GL 3 (nc), CU 2 (-2), SGP 2 (-1), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Utrecht: VVD 11 (+1), PvdA 7 (-1), CDA 6 (-5), PVV 5, D66 5 (+3), GL 4 (nc), SP 4 (-1), CU 2 (-2), SGP 1 (nc), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Noord-Holland: VVD 13 (nc), PvdA 11 (nc), PVV 6, D66 6 (+4), SP 5 (-4), CDA 5 (-5), GL 5 (nc), PvdD 1 (-1), Regionalist 1 (nc), 50+ 1, CU/SGP 1 (-1)
Zuid-Holland: VVD 12 (nc), PvdA 10 (nc), PVV 8, CDA 6 (-7), SP 5 (-3), D66 5 (+4), GL 3 (nc), CU 2 (-2), SGP 2 (nc), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Zeeland: VVD 7 (+1), PvdA 7 (+1), CDA 6 (-4), PVV 5, SGP 4 (-1), SP 3 (-2), Regionalist 2 (nc), CU 2 (-1), D66 2 (+2), GL 1 (-1)
Noord-Brabant: VVD 12 (+1), CDA 10 (-8), PVV 8, SP 8 (-4), PvdA 7 (-1), D66 5 (+4), GL 3 (+1), 50+ 1, PvdD 1 (nc)
Limburg: PVV 10, CDA 10 (-8), VVD 8 (+1), PvdA 6 (-2), SP 6 (-3), GL 3 (+1), D66 2 (+1), 50+ 2

results missing in Uden (North-Brabant) – you don’t have all year, folks

The results were largely similar to the 2010 results. The CDA performed poorly, but on the good side they didn’t do as badly as predicted and slightly improved on their pathetic 2010 showing (13.6%). Yet, the party is still in a very dire state as it lacks a leader and is still split 50/50 over participation in the government. In this context, the CDA’s result isn’t as bad as it could be made out but it certainly is a terrible showing compared to 2007 or past elections. The CDA is the largest party only in Overijssel whereas it had been the largest party in 8 provinces in 2007. Its Catholic strongholds of North-Brabant and Limburg haven’t come back.

The VVD’s vote fell slightly since 2010 (20.5% to 19.6%) and is the de-facto but not overwhelming winner of these elections. The VVD will be able to control many provinces, but apart from that its results are not all that great.

PvdA (Labour), the main opposition party, did poorly falling over 2 points on 2010 (19.6% to 17.3%) which reflects the poor job its done in opposition and its not too popular leader, Job Cohen. With 12% and 69 seats, establishing for itself a local base, the PVV is the big winner but its result is slightly below that set by the polls and 3 points lower than its record 15.4% in 2009. The party held its ground in its northern strongholds and has probably gained Friesland from the CDA.

The PVV’s vote has receded somewhat in Wilder’s native Limburg where it won only 20% where it had previously won 27% (in 2010). It seems to have fallen back considerably in the north (Groningen) since 2009. Yet, the PVV hasn’t – yet – suffered the potential wrath of its voters for supporting a government. Perhaps the government’s decent popularity explains why the PVV is still doing well. If it can maintain such results, the PVV could be on its way to forging itself a stable place in Dutch politics hovering between 10 and 15% similar to the FN in France between 1986 and 2007. But I wager that government backing will prevent the PVV from doing that just now (the FN never supported from the outside any government).

The Socialists performed poorly (10.2%, 9.8% in 2010), continuing to suffer from an evaporation of support (a good share to the PVV) since the retirement of its popular leader Jan Marijnissen who attracted a lot of voters prior to the PVV’s rise with anti-immigration rhetoric. The SP municipalities in North-Brabant and Limburg are around Boxmeer, the hometown of SP leader Emile Roemer.

D66 had good results, improving by 1.3% on its 7% showing in 2010 and by nearly 6% since 2007. The 2007 elections were held in the wake of the D66′s traditional slump following its being in government (it was in the CDA-led cabinet until 2006) and now as the D66 is out of government they’re on an upswing. D66 is particularly successful in positioning itself as a strongly anti-PVV party, so watch for its polling to improve further as/if the government gets more unpopular and if Labour is unable to capitalize on that. D66 won two municipalities, Delft and Leiden, both of which are uni towns.

The GroenLinks were remarkably stable, polling slightly under its 6.7% 2010 showing and a bit over its 6.1% showing in 2007. The party has suffered a bit from its support of legislation to send police officers to Afghanistan to train the Afghan police. It shed one seat in Zeeland, where it was in the outgoing provincial coalition government. It also lost votes in urban areas in North and South Holland as well as Utretch, Groningen and Arnhem.

CU fell back considerably after a strong showing in 2007 but its result is slightly over its 2.9% 2010 result. It may have been hurt from participation in a large number of provincial governments. The SGP, which has a very stable fossilized electorate, held up more or less well and again managed to top the poll in a number of municipalities in the Bible Belt including its orthodox Reformist stronghold of Urk in Flevoland (46% for the SGP, 10.1% for ‘non-Christian’ [CDA, CU, SGP] parties). The CU and SGP ran a common list in North-Brabant and North-Holland.

50+ is a new senior’s interest party founded by maverick former PvdA member Jan Nagel. Provincial parties largely fell back, with regionalist or local parties losing their seats in Limburg, Brabant, South-Holland and Utretch. The FNP fell back a bit in Friesland, while the Party for the North (Groningen), Party for Zeeland (Zeeland) and the Elderly Party (North Holland) held their seats. The PvZ even managed to win one town in Zeeland.

These provincial States-General will elect a new Senate in May. Though provincial MPs may vote for parties other than their own in Senate elections, it is estimated that the new Senate will look as such:

VVD 16 seats (+2)
PvdA 14 seats (nc)
CDA 11 seats (-10)
PVV 10 seats (+10)
SP 8 seats (-4)
D66 6 seats (+4)
GroenLinks 5 seats (+1)
CU 2 seats (-2)
50+ 1 seat (+1)
SGP 1 seat (-)
PvdD 1 seat (nc)
Regionalists and others 0 seats (-1)

If the new Senate does indeed look like this, the government and PVV will have 37 seats (+2) but will fall one short of an overall majority. It is very much possible, however, that the SGP and CU could provide the government with a de-facto majority through its support. D66 has already expressed concern over the SGP’s potential support for the government in the Senate.

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