Monthly Archives: September 2011

French Senate 2011

Indirect senatorial elections were held in France on September 25, 2011. 170 Senators of Series I were up for reelection for a six-year term. After this election, the French Senate will have 348 members, of which 326 represent metropolitan France and the DOM-TOMs. The Senate currently has 343 members: Isère, Maine-et-Loire, Oise, Réunion and New Caledonia all gained one seat. Though not directly elected, the Senate has similar powers to the National Assembly in terms of proposing, voting and ratifying laws although in cases where there is utter deadlock, the government can ultimately bypass the Senate and give the National Assembly the final word. The government is not responsible to the Senate.

Each department or collectivité territoriale elects between one and 12 (Paris) Senators. This election concerns all departments numbered 37 to 66, all departments in the Ile-de-France region, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and 6 of 12 Senators representing French citizens living outside of France. Those Senators in the departments 37-66 were elected in 2001, the rest were elected in 2004. Departments with 4 or more seats elect their Senators using party-list proportional representation. Departments with 3 or fewer seats elect theirs using the two-round system. The Senate is elected by an electoral college of roughly 150,000 grand electors. This electoral college is composed of all 577 deputies, regional councillors, general councillors and most importantly delegates from each municipal council (from France’s 36,000+ municipalities). The number of delegates each municipality sends to the electoral college depends on the municipality’s population. For example, those with 500 or less send only one. Those with 3,500 to 8,999 inhabitants send 15. Municipal councillors in cities with over 9,000 inhabitants are all delegates, and those cities with more than 30,000 inhabitants also send an extra delegate for each additional 1,000 people. This system over-represents the smallest municipalities because of the sheer number of tiny municipalities in France. Thus, even if municipalities with less than 3,500 people make up 34% or so of the population, they represent nearly half of the delegates!

Because of the Senate’s rural bias, the Senate has always been a “chamber of sober second thought”, and, by consequence, quite conservative. The Socialist left has never won a majority in the Senate. Rural municipalities in France, so important in the Senate, have traditionally been rather right-leaning but most of their elected officials are non-partisan with ambiguous ties to the large parties. The Senate’s electoral system has favoured those parties with strong grassroots bases in small-town France or alternatively parties with powerful local government machines (the former being more important). This favouritism for small-town grassroots parties or groupings of politicians has benefited the so-called ‘moderate’ parties of the centre (which were quite small-c conservative overall): the Christian democrats, the old Fourth Republic ‘moderates’ (right-wingers) and of course the Radicals. Those political forces are not major ideological “mass parties” like the Gaullists, socialists or communists, but they are rather partis de notables with large cohorts of small-town elected officials and the sort. During the Third Republic, the Senate was a Radical preserve. During the Fourth Republic and in fact a good part of the Fifth Republic, the Senate maintained large Radical and centrist caucuses – far larger than similar groups in the National Assembly. Even in 2001, the Radicals and centrist-liberal groups together held 35% of seats.

The brain-dead media usually says that “the Senate is right-wing since 1958″, assuming they don’t go sensational on us and say that it’s been right-wing since 1876. While a case could be made that, by modern definitions of left and right, the Senate has been more ‘right-wing’ for its history, it is not quite correct to say that the right has held the Senate. The Radicals were, in their senatorial heydays, not “right-wing” in that they allied themselves with the left rather than right. The Gaullist presidential majority never controlled the Senate under de Gaulle and Pompidou, and it was only in 1974 with the disappearance of the centrist opposition that the presidential majority gained a senatorial majority. The first President of the Senate under the Fifth Republic, the Radical Gaston Monnerville (1959-1968) was very much anti-Gaullist. Alain Poher, elected in 1968, was a centrist opponent of the Gaullist majority. The Gaullist right would need to wait until Christian Poncelet’s election to the presidency of the Senate in 1998 to really “control” the Senate. It is, however, correct to say that the socialists have never controlled the Senate. Whether or not the left has controlled it depends on your definition of such terms.

French politics are increasingly bipolarized, but Senate political groups (15 members required to form such groups) are remarkably cross-ideological to this day. There are two main so-called groupes charnières which lay in the middle of the upper house. The Centrist Union (UC), the remnants of the old Christian democratic groups, is a broad centrist group composed of centre-right/centrist senators from the New Centre (NC), Centrist Alliance (AC), MoDem and independent centrists. The NC and AC generally align with the presidential majority, but the MoDem can show its independence at times though in practice and despite François Bayrou’s posturing, it more often aligns with the right than with the left. Since the UMP lost its overall majority in the Senate in 2008, the UC has provided the right with an absolute majority. The second main centrist group is the European Democratic and Social Rally (RDSE), the modern incarnation of the time immemorial Radical (Democratic Left) parliamentary groups, once so powerful. The RDSE, in theory, includes members of the right-wing Radical Party (PR, led by Jean-Louis Borloo) and the left-wing Left Radicals (PRG, led by Jean-Michel Baylet), which makes it quite unique given that in the National Assembly, the Radicals and PRG have sat in separate groups since the 1970s. While until 2008 the RDSE was pretty evenly balanced between left and right, in recent years it has become quite heavily slanted towards the left. Only one right-wing Radical sits in the RDSE group (Aymeri de Montesquiou) and of the 18 RDSE members, only five are right-wing today. The Radical past of the RDSE is decaying slowly as the RDSE tries to save itself by becoming more and more a group for non-socialist left-wingers, most notably Jean-Pierre Chevènement of the MRC, whose party has little in common with the pro-European tradition of the Radicals.

These elections were important in that, seven months out from the “big election” (presidential elections), the PS was hoping to stage a symbolic coup by toppling decades of right-wing control of the Senate. Symbolic because it is unlikely to massively impede the right’s ability to pass legislation until the spring of 2012 (and after if it is reelected then). Given that half of seats were up for reelection rather than only a third like in previous years also increased the chances of alternance in the upper house. If the Senate was directly elected by voters, the Senate would already be controlled by the left, but given that the Senate’s composition is in the hands of local councillors, a lot of whom have no partisan ties (with either PS or UMP), there was uncertainty over the outcome. Another boost to the left’s chances came with the utter division of the right, which descended more than ever into personal squabbles and petty fights. In most elections with proportional elections, the right was divided between two or more lists. In Paris, the UMP split into an official list led by Chantal Jouanno, Sports Minister and a dissident list led by local councillor Pierre Charon. Add to that a centrist list led by sitting Senator Yves Pozzo di Borgo (NC), and the ground was rough for the right. In Nicolas Sarkozy’s native Hauts-de-Seine, the local UMP was divided between an official list led by Roger Karoutchi and a dissident list led by incumbent Senator Jacques Gautier. The centre was also divided, with Senator Denis Badré’s MoDem list and Meudon mayor Hervé Marseille’s NC list. In Seine-et-Marne, former cabinet minister Yves Jégo, now aligned with Borloo, ran his own list. In the Nord, the right had three major lists. The list of right-wing divisions is long: Isère, Essonne, Yvelines, Val-de-Marne, Val-d’Oise and so forth.

Here are the results, as I have calculated them. Other counts differ slightly from mine, but all is a question of how some senators are classified.

Left 177 seats (+25)
Right 171 seats (-18)

In terms of groups, my estimate is as follows – it will be incorrect as certain independents side with another group over the ones I’ve guessed for them:

Socialist and allies group 143 seats (+28)
UMP and allies group 136 seats (-11)
Centrist Union (UC) 25 seats (-4)
Communist and allies (CRC) group 21 seats (-3)
European Democratic and Social Rally (RDSE) 16 seats (-2)
Non-inscrits (RASNAG) group 7 seats (-1) [nb: all are right-wingers]

Overall numbers correct or not, the left has narrowly claimed control of the Senate and broken decades of right-wing dominance of the upper house in a symbolic blow to President Sarkozy seven months out from the big election. For the first time, the Socialists will control the Senate. That’s quite something.

It was theorized that if the elections ended in deadlock, with the left gaining but falling short of a 175-seat majority, that the centrist group, UC specifically, could hope to gain the Senate’s presidency as a compromise choice through backroom deals. Jean Arthuis (AC, Mayenne) had been cited as one of those potential moderate compromise choices between left and right. That amounts to naught basically, as the left can elect one of its own to the presidency now. The most logical choice to replace the incumbent Gérard Larcher (UMP, Yvelines) is the leader of the PS group since 2004, Jean-Pierre Bel (PS, Ariège). He is not too well known and is not an heavy-weight political, so pundits think that he might face some internal competition – the biggest name to emerge so far is that of former cabinet minister Catherine Tasca (PS, Yvelines). In terms of the PS primary on October 9 (more on that soon), Bel and the bulk of PS Senators back frontrunner François Hollande. Tasca backs Martine Aubry. The bigwig hollandistes in the Senate (Dijon mayor François Rebsamen, Lyon mayor Gérard Collomb) seem loyal to Bel.

You can view results on the Senate’s official website here or through the Interior Ministry. The left picked up seats almost across the board: they only lost seats in Moselle. The left also gained four of the five new seats created (all but New Caledonia’s new second seat). Some of the most shocking gains for the left came in the Morbihan, Lozère and Loir-et-Cher. Morbihan is, I think, the most shocking of all results – all other gains could have been seen beforehand, but not the game-changer in Morbihan. Morbihan had elected three senators through proportional representation in 2001, one of them was a Socialist (Odette Herviaux) and the other two were right-wingers. The right had hoped and many had thought that the Morbihan would be a good target for a grand-slam for the right, benefiting from the use of two-round voting rather than PR and the notoriety of its three main candidates: incumbent Senator Joseph Kerguéris (AC), deputy for the 6th constituency and Plouay mayor Jacques Le Nay (UMP) and the new president of the general council, deputy for the 1st constituency and former Vannes mayor François Goulard (RS, Villepin’s party). Not much ink was spilled about the left’s other two candidates: the PCF mayor of Auray Michel Le Scouarnec and the EELV general councillor Joël Labbé. The first shockwave was Herviaux’s reelection by the first round with 54.7%. The second was the fact that Le Scouarnec and Labbé placed second and third (47.5% and 47.9% respectively) – ahead of the right-wingers (Le Nay with 47.1%, Goulard and Kerguéris with 45.8%). Kerguéris’ withdrawal before the runoff didn’t help matters: the communist and the green won with 51.7% and 51% respectively. Le Nay and Goulard took 46% each. The left’s gain of two seats in the Morbihan, totally unexpected, was a big result.

In historically right-wing Lozère, UMP incumbent Jacques Blanc (a former regional president) was defeated in the second round by Alain Bertrand, the PS mayor of Mende. This is the first socialist to represent Lozère. In the first round, Blanc had 169 votes to Bertrand’s 168 (the FN won 1 vote). In the runoff, Bertrand won 173-169 against the longtime local strongman with no FN votes recorded. In the Loir-et-Cher, after MoDem incumbent Jacqueline Gourault’s easy reelection in the first round, the second round saw the defeat of sitting cabinet minister Maurice Leroy (NC) by Jeanny Lorgeoux (PS), the mayor of Romorantin-Lanthenay. In the Loiret, incumbent PS Senator Jean-Pierre Sueur had been thought to be vulnerable, but he was easily reelected as early as the first round. In the Manche, the very vulnerable PS incumbent Jean-Pierre Godefroy (elected through PR in 2001) was saved by the UMP’s division in the runoff. In the Pyrénées-Orientales, the surprise wasn’t as much the easy election of the regional president Christian Bourquin (DVG), bur rather the defeat of incumbent UMP Senator and Perpignan mayor Jean-Paul Alduy by the other UMP candidate, deputy François Calvet. In the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, former departmental president Jean-Jacques Lasserre (MoDem) was rather easily elected. The biggest (but not altogether surprising) defeat was that of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon senator Denis Detcheverry (DVD-RDSE) who won a grand total of zero votes in his reelection bid. In the tiny archipelago, the PS mayor of Saint-Pierre Karine Claireaux defeated former UMP deputy Gérard Grignon 20 votes to 17.

In most departments using list PR to elect their members, many grand electors shunned the official UMP list and generously gave their votes to the dissident lists. In Paris, Jouanno’s UMP list received only two seats and 22.9% while Charon’s dissident UMP list took 7.98% and the centrist list took 7.65%. In the Hauts-de-Seine, Roger Karoutchi’s official list took only 23.2% and two seats while Gautier’s dissident list won 19.4% and Marseille’s NC list won 13.8%. In Isère, Michel Savin’s dissident list took 16.7% – only a handful of votes behind Bernard Saugey’s official list which won 17.5%. In the Nord, the Lecerf-Létard duo won 18.3% and two seats against Jacques Legendre’s UMP list, which won 9.7%. In departments which pitted centrist lists against official UMP lists (Loire-Atlantique, Hauts-de-Seine, Val-de-Marne, Seine-Saint-Denis and so on), the results obtained by the centrist lists were strong in contrast to the UMP’s weak showings. In Loire-Atlantique, the NC list managed 18% against 25.5% for the UMP list. The divisions of the right did not cripple the senatorial majority, as the UMP would like to make us think, but it did hurt it more than just a bit. The poor showings of the official UMP lists imposed on the voters by the presidential party’s high command and, in contrast, the strong showings of both dissident UMP lists and of rival centrist (often NC-led) lists shows how the whole configuration of the UMP as the big tent ­”parti unique” of the right is showing its strains. The centralization of the UMP appartus, painfully evident in this election, has crippled the party on the ground. It seems as if, in the UMP and in the high echelons of power, there’s only one way or the highway. Those unhappy with this route are left out on their own. In the days of the dualistic RPR-UDF configuration of the right, there could be some sort of alternative for right-wingers who fell out with one of those parties. These days, there is no such strong alternative for right-wingers who, more often than not, turn to the FN or the left. The UMP’s days as the hegemonic party of the French right may be numbered. Nicolas Sarkozy’s insistence on there being only one right-wing candidate in 2012 is also practically dead as the presidential candidacy of Jean-Louis Borloo, who could potentially incarnate the centre-right alternative (a la UDF), is looking increasingly likely.

In detail by parties, my calculations still have the UMP as the largest single party with 125 seats against 121 for the PS. The Greens (EELV) emerged as the big winners of the senatorial elections, not through their own strong showings but rather through the PS’s generosity in their favour. The Greens, having a tiny base in local government, has usually been very weak in senate elections: they held only four seats before the election. The increasingly influential EELV apparatus demanded from the PS the concession of many seats, which the PS generally acquiesced to generously. The Greens now have 10 senators, up 6 from the last senate. This is not enough for them to create their own group as they demand, but if they can convince a few left-wing indies (DVG) to join up, they might have a team of their own. Or, alternatively, they could, with the PRG, turn the RDSE into something more akin to the diverse Radical-Citizen-Green (RCV) group of the 1997-2002 National Assembly. The RDSE, with 16 seats – a loss of two senators (Daniel Marsin in Guadeloupe and Denis Detcheverry in SPM), both of them right-wingers, is now more than ever a quasi-homogeneous left-wing caucus. Only three of the 16 Senators in the old RDSE group are now right-leaning. In the centre, the UC overall lost four seats. It could increase its ranks a bit if a few UMP dissidents join it. Within the diverse UC, the cards have been changed quite a bit. Jean Arthuis’ AC was the biggest party prior to the vote, now the NC is the biggest party with 12 (or 11, according to sources) members while the AC now has seven. The MoDem took a significant hit, losing all three of its seats in Ile-de-France and being left with a much reduced caucus of four senators. The Communist group is left with 21 members, down three. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s PG lost both its senators (both retired), while the PCF lost a seat in Seine-Saint-Denis and Essonne. The PCF scored a gain, as aforementioned, in Morbihan with the surprise election of Auray mayor Michel Le Scouarnec. One of the Communist seats is held by the Reunionese Communists (PCR), which won one member – Paul Vergès – who resigned his seat immediately after winning it (he is replaced by incumbent PCR senator Gélita Hoarau, who was second on his list).

In these elections, rural local councillors are the determinants (outside the urban departments which use PR) and they make or break majorities. They have no partisan ties, but traditionally they have been naturally conservative and right-leaning. However, in 2011 especially and in the last elections (2008) to a lesser extent, rural France’s local councillors showed their anger with the government and voted for the left. Rural anger with the government has only increased in the past year, with the main causes of this rural anger with local elected officials are things such as spending cuts, reductions in public services (local post offices, local hospitals, local schools), the abolition of the taxe professionelle (by which local government was financed), the 2010 territorial reform, local divisions and, in some regions (especially the old UDF strongholds), the elitist (bling-bling) and right-wing style of the government which breaks from the more consensual, moderate centre-right styles of governance which these rural centrists preferred. These local elected officials, in large part, express the ire of their constituents, and those constituents in rural France might show their discontent with the right in big, perhaps unexpected, ways in 2012.

Next stop on the road to 2012: the high-stakes left-wing open primary on October 9. A preview post with all the candidates will be up between now and then.

Berlin (Germany) 2011

Legislative elections were held in the German state of Berlin on September 18, 2011. All seats in Berlin’s state legislature, the Abgeordnetenhaus or House of Representatives were up for reelection. There are 78 members elected in single-member constituencies through what is called in Germany the ‘direct vote’ while the remaining are elected through party-list proportional representation with a 5% threshold for representation (this is called the ‘second vote’). If a party wins more constituency seats than its overall size of the vote, the size of the legislature increases from the minimum 130 because of these overhang mandates.

Berlin is and has traditionally been a left-wing stronghold. During the Weimar Republic, Berlin, the industrial and political centre of Germany, voted heavily for the Communists and SPD. West Berlin was governed by the SPD between 1957 and 1981. Today, Berlin’s economy is dominated by the service sector. The city has a diverse and vibrant cultural scene, it is ethnically diverse (27% have immigrant backgrounds) but also quite poor as it has the highest percentage of people living on social benefits in all 0f Germany. There remains a marked distinction both socially and politically between West Berlin and East Berlin. West Berlin is more affluent, while East Berlin remains largely poor and its skyline has a lot of East Germany’s stereotypical plattenbauten blocks (especially in Marzahn-Hellersdorf borough). Politically, West Berlin is still rather left-wing but the CDU is stronger, the Greens are stronger while Die Linke polls quite badly (though it won 11% in the 2009 federal elections, it polled only 4% in the last state elections). East Berlin is far more left-wing, and Die Linke is if not the first party then surely the second party. It has won direct seats in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf area (and beyond) in all federal elections since 1990 and won 34% of the vote in East Berlin in the 2009 federal elections. Between 1991 and 2001, the CDU was the largest party in the state legislature and the government was formed by a Grand Coalition led by the CDU’s Eberhard Diepgen. In 2001, a CDU scandal led to the collapse of the coalition and snap elections which saw a massive collapse of the CDU benefiting all other parties especially the SPD (29.7%) and the Left (22.6%). A rather rare red-red coalition of the SPD and Left was formed under the leadership of mayor Klaus Wowereit of the SPD. The coalition was reelected in 2006, with the SPD gaining marginally while the CDU collapsed to another low (21%). The Greens did well (13%) but the Left lost many votes (13.4%). Wowereit, who is gay, is a key figure in the national SPD and is generally seen as being on the party’s left. He is a potential candidate for the chancellorship in the next federal election.

Given Berlin’s left-wing nature and the Green surge of 2011 in all of Germany, Berlin’s election was expected to be a close battle between the SPD’s Wowereit and the Greens’ Renate Künast. Berlin is the strongest state for the Greens, who won 17% in the last federal election (and 11% federally). The Greens also hold their only direct seat in the Bundestag in Berlin, in the constituency taking in the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, a young, diverse and very hip district in downtown Berlin. Because the Greens polled up/are polling up to 18-20% in most polls, then it was normal to expect that they could be a very serious rival to Wowereit and be in good position to overtake the SPD for first place and form a green-red coalition (like that which won in Baden-Württemberg this spring). Polls between April and June showed the Greens either ahead, tied with or close behind the SPD in the race for first. However, Künast’s generally terrible campaign running to the right of the SPD did the Greens in and they gradually fell back from the highs of 27-31% to the low 20s and in the final days, down to 18-19%. In doing so, it collapsed into third place and generally at 2009 federal election levels – which is good, but considering that the Greens are not polling 11% federally but rather up to 20% is pretty poor for the Berlin Greens. Simply put, there is no excuse for the Greens to be placing third in Berlin when they’re on such an upswing everywhere. Final polling had the SPD comfortably ahead, with 30-32% while the CDU placed second with 21-22% and the Greens third with 18-20%. The Left polled poorly (11-12%) while the FDP, which won 7.6% in 2006, was barely registering – in line with the FDP’s total and utter pathetic collapse throughout Germany.

Turnout was 60%, marginally above 2006 levels (58%).

SPD 28.3% (-2.5%) winning 47 seats (-7)
CDU 23.4% (+2.1%) winning 39 seats (+2)
Greens 17.6% (+4.5%) winning 29 seats (+5)
Left 11.6% (-4.6%) winning 19 seats (-5)
Pirates 8.9% (+8.9%) winning 15 seats (+15)
NPD 2.1% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDP 1.8% (-5.8%) winning 0 seats (-13)
Animals 1.5% (+0.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.7% (-5.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)

  • West Berlin: CDU 29.5% (+1.8%), SPD 28% (-3.4%), Greens 20.4% (+5.6%), Pirates 8.1%, Left 4.3% (+0.1%), FDP 2.3% (-7%), NDP 1.6% (-0.1%)
  • East Berlin: SPD 28.8% (-1%), Left 22.6% (-5.5%), CDU 14.2% (+2.8%), Greens 13.5% (+3%), Pirates 10.1%, NPD 2.9% (-1.1%), Animals 1.5% (+0.5%), PROD 1.4%, FDP 1.2% (-3.7%)

I am too lazy to make a map, but the offical site has some Java maps which freeze old computers, election.de has maps down to the precinct level, Der Spiegel has its usual cool maps and there is a basic map of direct seat winners here and a good map of list votes by party here.

Wowereit’s SPD won the elections but did quite a bit worst than originally expected. This is Wowereit’s poorest result at the helm of the SPD in Berlin, and he himself lost his direct seat, though admittedly his direct seat is a right-leaning place. The overall discourse in the days leading up to the vote was that Wowereit’s SPD was basically undefeatable and that it was almost certain that whatever happened, he would remain mayor and the new coalition would be a left-leaning coalition though with the Greens replacing the Left. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the SPD ended up doing poorer than originally expected. There was little motivation for the SPD base to go out and vote given that the end result was basically a certainty. The SPD actually was defeated in West Berlin by the CDU, which scored minimal gains, which is nice for them but considering how low they were in 2006 and the FDP’s utter collapse is actually not all that impressive or surprising. In East Berlin, the SPD picked up six constituency seats from the Left, but otherwise they lost five to the Greens and six to the CDU.

The Greens did well when the result in set in a much broader perspective (it’s their best state election in Berlin ever, for example) but as aforementioned when you place their result in a narrower perspective and take in things such as the Green surge or the fantastic results won earlier this year in other state, their result is a bad result. They could have expected a much stronger result and at the very least second place. They did score five direct seat gains off of the SPD, the bulk of them in downtown West Berlin. They performed very well (30%) in their Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg stronghold (the CDU finished fifth there) and made gains across the board. But all things considered, it is a very disappointing result for them but one which they brought upon themselves with a poor campaign. They should, however, form a coalition with the SPD, a coalition which would have a tiny one-seat majority. It is unlikely that Wowereit will govern in a Grand Coalition and the incumbent red-red government has lost its majority.

The sensation here and the shot heard around the world was the shocking 9% for the Pirate Party. After the Pirate Party’s first shot in the 2009 EU elections in Sweden (7%), this is the second such Pirate victory in an election and the best result for a Pirate Party in any election. The Pirate’s strong showing was not entirely unexpected as some apparently think: the last polls had all shown strong support for them, with up to 9% depending on the poll. Their surge, however, was very late in the campaign. What caused the Pirates’ surge and who are “the Pirates” who voted for them?

Analysis of the Pirate Party's voters (source: ARD)

If one thing about the Pirates in Berlin is certain, it is that they are very much left-leaning and emphasized the ‘left’ part of their left-libertarian platform more (stuff such as free public transit). Another thing which is certain is that they are a youth party: 16% support from 18-24s, 17% support from first-time voters. The Pirates, to put it simply, did well because the Greens and the Left did poorly. The Greens’ poor campaign, attacking the SPD from the right, drove its young more left-wing and radical voters into the arms of the Pirates who are very much a young party – the average year of birth for their MPs in 1977, over ten years after the average year for the others. The Left, which in Berlin is still very much a neo-SED party rather than a New Left-type socialist alternative (most Left-voters in Berlin are old East Germans), was in a state of disrepair in Berlin this year and the Pirates became an attractive protest option. A vote transfer analysis from Infratest dimap gives us a good guess of who the Pirate voters actually are. Most of them (23,000, or a quarter of all) did not vote last time and nearly as many (22,000) voted for other parties in 2006 – most likely the WASG (now merged in the Left) or the far-right. The 55% or so of Pirate voters who voted for one of the big parties last time did so for the left: 17,000 voted Green, 14,000 voted SPD and 13,000 voted Left. Only 10% or so of all Pirate voters came from the right: 6,000 from the FDP and 4,000 from the CDU. It might surprise some to see the little overlap between the FDP and the Pirates because of the libertarian leanings of both (although one is right-libertarian, the other is left-libertarian, both rather strongly emphasizing the first part these days). But in terms of voter base, there is little overlap: FDP voters are predominantly affluent suburbanites and not young radicals or young libertarians. Of the FDP voters in 2006, according to the same exit polling, most either voted CDU this year (30,000) or did not vote (14,000).

In terms of electoral geography, the Pirates do not necessarily have the electoral geography we might assume for such a left-libertarian party. Whereas we might think they would be entirely an inner-city party in the trendy, bohemian, young and artsy neighborhoods; they have a more diverse base of support beyond that base (the same thing can be seen in Sweden 2009, though the Pirate vote was remarkably homogeneous nationally between 5-8%). In fact, in Berlin, the Pirates performed best in the East than in the West (10 vs. 8%). In both cases, they performed better in the inner-city areas of east and west (12.6 vs. 11.1%) than in the suburbs (7.9% in all Berlin suburbs, east or west). Generally, their support is tightly correlated with Green support (performing best with 14.7% in the Green stronghold of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg). In the eastern boroughs of Lichtenberg and Marzahn-Hellersdorf (edit: and Spandau, which is in the west), however, the Pirate vote has little correlation with the Green vote. While the Pirate voters can be stereotyped as young, left-wing, radical and artsy-bohemian types, some of their votes – especially in the East – are poorer unemployed youths who voted for the Pirates as a trendy, radical anti-system protest party. This type of protest voting from poorer, not too artsy youths is very similar to the broader European phenomenon of strong far-right support from younger voters. Exit polls show that 12% of the unemployed vote Pirate, as did 11% of those receiving many Hartz-IV social benefits (only 6.8% of those not receiving those benefits voted Pirate).

The Pirate phenomenon in Sweden proved to be a one-time fad (less than 1% in the 2010 elections), hardly surprising given that the 2009 EU elections took place right after the Pirate Bay website was shut down by the state. There is no such event this year, but it is hard to see the Pirates be able to become a parliamentary force outside Berlin. They might have a chance if the Greens weaken or lose some of their young, radical base by entering government federally; but for now it is hard to see them as anything else than a one-time fad or at best a protest party with a more stable base but not a true political force.

This election marks the end of a superwahljahr in Germany, which saw six state elections. The winner of these elections is the left, which is in good position to form a left-wing government excluding the CDU after the 2013 federal elections. The SPD governs five of the seven states which voted this year and is a member of the governing coalition in all seven state. Overall, in these seven elections, the SPD won 35.5% against 32.5% for the CDU. The SPD’s biggest success was the February 20 elections in Hamburg, where the SPD won an overall majority on its own and increased its vote share by 14% to win 48% in a left-wing stronghold that had been governed by the right since 2001. Results in both Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate weren’t as good: the party lost nearly 10% in the latter (that being said, it had performed abnormally well in 2006) and 2% in the former. Bremen and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania saw good results for the SPD, especially the latter where the party’s vote increased by over 5%.

The big winner, though, was the Green Party. Overall they won 18.7% in the seven states. They entered the legislatures of Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In all but Hamburg, they won their best results ever. In Bremen and Baden-Württemberg, they are now the second largest party ahead of either the CDU or SPD. In Hessian local elections also held this year, they became the largest party in Darmstadt. Baden-Württemberg was an historic election for the German Greens, Germany and the whole global green movement. With 24%, it was probably the best green result in any national or regional election anywhere in Europe/the world, and for the first time in Germany (and one of the first times in the world) the Greens took control of government. The performance of the historic green-red coalition in the state will be very important for the German Greens. Only Hamburg and Berlin are the disappointing results for the Greens this year.

The biggest loser was the FDP. Calling them “the losers” probably is an understatement. They took a massive thumping. They were dumped or kept out of the legislatures in all seven states but Hamburg and Baden-Württemberg. Only in Hamburg did they gain votes (+1.9%), enough to enter the legislature, but that was a byproduct of local circumstances and a CDU collapse (-20.7%). In all other states, they lost between 2.8% and 7% support. Federally, the FDP has been oscillating around the 5% threshold for representation in all polls for a year now. Their ability to win seats in a federal election if it was held soon is low at best after their thumpings. The FDP’s leadership is in perilous position. They won 5.04% in all seven states.

The Left won 7.45% overall. The results are mediocre. They held their ground (or lost or gained a tad) in Hamburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. They lost more significantly in Bremen and Berlin. This isn’t all that bad when you consider the Left now polls 8% federally rather than 11.9% in the 2009 elections. It is still quite a break from the Left’s 2007-2009 winning streak when the ex-East German communists “invaded” the west by entering the legislatures of Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Schleswig-Holstein, Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia (in 2010). They failed to enter any new western legislature this year.

If there are no snap federal elections in 2012 or any other early state elections, the only 2012 election in Germany will be a May state election in Schleswig-Holstein. Schleswig-Holstein voted on election day 2009, and thanks to CDU domination of constituency seats there was massive overhang (26 seats) in the CDU’s favour (despite it losing 8.6% support, it gained 4 seats). This overhang gave the CDU-FDP a tiny majority, 48/95, despite having lost the popular vote to the SPD/Greens/Left/SSW coalition. The Greens and SSW took the matter to court, which decided in favour of the plaintiffs and ordered new elections in 2012 with a new electoral law (cutting the direct seats from 40 to 35). The likely result seems to be SPD/Green/SSW majority with the Left hovering slightly below the threshold. The FDP, which won 15% in 2009, is polling at 4% and should probably receive another slap from voters. That should very well do in the CDU government.

It is a very, very dire time for the German right: current polls show that, in theory, left-wing coalitions including the SPD, Greens and Left would have enough support to form government in every state but Saxony and Bavaria if state elections were somehow held today. Even in Bavaria, the last poll shows that SPD/Green/FW could form a government!

Latvia 2011

General elections were held in Latvia on September 17, 2011. All 100 seats in Latvia’s unicameral legislature, the Saeima, were up for reelection. These 100 seats are split between five electoral districts (Riga, Vidzeme, Latgale, Zemgale, Kurzeme) which elect between 13 and 29 members through open party-list proportional representation with a 5% threshold.

These snap elections, held less than one year after the last elections in October 2010. These elections are the conclusion of a political crisis which began in May when then-President Valdis Zatlers dissolved the Saeima (a presidential prerogative which comes with significant political risks: a referendum is held confirming the dissolution, and if the referendum is defeated, the president resigns) after it had voted against removing the immunity of one of its members, Ainārs Šlesers, investigated on a number of counts of corruption. Days later, Zatlers was defeated for reelection when the members of the Saeima preferred Andris Bērziņš over Zatlers. However, on July 23 Latvian voters by a crushing margin (94%) endorsed Zatlers’ dissolution and set the stage for these snap elections. Valdis Zatlers did not let matters stay there, and turned his crusade against corruption and the oligarchs (which he claims are so prevalent in Latvian party politics) into his own political party, Zatlers Reform Party (ZRP).

In the last elections in October 2010, the centre-right Unity coalition (recently turned into a political party) led by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis was reelected and formed a coalition government with the agrarian populist Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS). The economy remains a major preoccupation for Latvians, after the country was saved from bankruptcy in 2008 only by a €7.05 billion loan from the IMF plus other loans from the EU, Nordic countries, the World Bank and the EBRD. In 2008, Latvia’s GDP receded by a full 18%. Upon taking office, Valdis Dombrovskis implemented severe austerity medicine to stabilize the banks and the deficit. He made severe budget cuts, job cuts in the public sector and major tax hikes. This year, Latvia’s GDP will grow by roughly 3% but unemployment remains very high at 17%.

The ZRP’s main raison-d’etre is Zatlers’ crusade against corruption and the oligarchs which he claim run Latvian politics. On economic issues, Zatlers’ platform is poorly developed but broadly similar to that of the governing Unity party. In his anti-oligarch crusade, he specifically targets three oligarchs: Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs of the ZZS; Ainārs Šlesers, the leader of the populist right-wing Latvia’s First Party/Latvian Way (LPP/LC) and former Prime Minister Andris Šķēle of the now-defunct right-wing People’s Party (TP). Zatlers has expressly refused to cooperate with either ZZS, LPP/LC or the TP and he refused to debate Aivars Lembergs. Corruption and party funding is a major issue in Latvia, and most Latvians deeply distrust the Saeima and its members which are generally viewed as being corrupt. One of the main causes for the pervasive corruption in Latvian politics and the prominent positions enjoyed by oligarchs and crooked businessmen like Lembergs and Šlesers is the lack of party subsidy legislation (the only such country in the EU). Though a recently-adopted law granting a €0.71-per-vote subsidy to all parties winning over 2% will hopefully change this, up until now the lack of party subsidies had meant that parties were bankrolled and controlled by wealthy oligarchs. The control exercised by these oligarchs on political parties has turned many of them into corrupt shells and has impeded the creation of independent, autonomous public institutions and a civil society.

Ethnic Russians accounts for 27% of the Latvian population, roughly 610,000 people. Most of them live in Riga and in the Latgale region in southeastern Latvia near the Russian and Belorussian border. Of these 610k people, it is estimated that up to 335,000 do not have Latvian citizenship and thus cannot vote in elections but can access social services. Russians made up roughly 8% of the Latvian population in 1935 but 34% in 1989. The fact that most Russians in Latvia moved to the country during the Soviet era has made their status so controversial and politically touchy. Latvians want the Russians to recognize the Soviet era as “the Soviet occupation” (which would, Russians claims, make them ‘illegal occupiers’ even today) and recognize Latvian as the sole official language. Russians claim access to full citizenship and political equality with other Latvian citizens. The main opposition party in the Saeima, the Harmony Centre (SC) does not expressly claim to be a Russian party, but it is in all effects the Russian party: its members and voters are practically all Russians, it is allegedly funded by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and its political positions represent the views and interests of ethnic Russians. It is led by Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs, a former journalist who has given the party a better image with some ethnic Latvians who are tempted by SC because of their disillusion with other parties. Economically, SC is quite left-wing: it supports increased social spending, pledges to negotiate the terms for reimbursing the IMF loan and would set the deficit goal at 5-6% of GDP rather than the 3% currently demanded by the EU and supported by Unity.

The other main party is the National Alliance, an alliance of the national conservative For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and the far-right All for Latvia!

Harmony Centre 28.37% (+2.33%) winning 31 seats (+2)
Zatlers Reform Party 20.82% (+20.82%) winning 22 seats (+22)
Unity 18.83% (-12.39%) winning 20 seats (-13)
National Alliance 13.88% (+6.21%) winning 14 seats (+6)
Union of Greens and Farmers 12.22% (-7.46%) winning 13 seats (-9)
Šlesers Reform Party-LPP/LC 2.42% (+5.23%) winning 0 seats (-25)
PCTVL 0.78% (-0.65%) winning 0 seats (nc)

If this election will be noted for one thing around the world, it is for the victory of the pro-Russian SC. It is the first time since the fall of the USSR that a pro-Russian party like SC has topped the poll in Latvia. But given how polarized Latvian politics remain around the ethnic issue, it seems as if SC may have reached its ceiling. Its vote share is almost identical to the percentage of Russians in Latvia, and SC’s victory is more the result of the split in the Latvian vote than any breakthrough by SC with ethnic Latvian voters. Yet, as the largest party, SC’s power and influence has increased. The ZRP placed second, interestingly performing best in those places where ZZS and LPP/LC had done well in 2010: a backlash against oligarchs where their parties are strongest?

The governing centre-right Unity party led by Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis did quite poorly. It is not a corrupt party, but lost a lot of support to the ideologically similar and trendy ZRP. Unity had a hard time dealing with the new ZRP: it lost some members to it, and was unsure whether it should oppose the ZRP or move closer to it as a potential governing partner.

The oligarch parties: ZZS and LPP/LC did poorly, but I am surprised at how strongly ZZS still managed to perform considering polling which had shown them collapsing down to only 4% support. I suppose that they managed to buy a bunch of votes, considering that they performed best in Ventspils, which is the fief of its boss, Aivars Lembergs. On the other hand, Ainārs Šlesers lost all support. He had been at the heart of the corruption probe which launched this whole political crisis, and his attempts to become the anti-Zatlers (he renamed his list the ‘Šlesers Reform Party’) and populist anti-austerity candidate (basically saying that they should spend like there’s no tomorrow) failed quite badly.

The hard part are the coalition negotiations. Given ZRP’s strong showing, a coalition of any party with ZZS is quite unlikely. SC aims to join government, which would be an historic feat for the party and Russian Latvians, but that seems a bit unlikely. Firstly, SC’s governmental participation is judged by the other parties, the EU and the US as being dangerous to Latvia’s economic recovery. Secondly, SC is unlikely to accept the main preconditions for joining government: recognizing the Soviet occupation, recognizing Latvian as the sole official language in the country and support for the economic reform agenda of the outgoing government. A coalition between SC, ZRP and Unity was mentioned often in the past but it seems like an unlikely option. The most likely option seems, again, the exclusion of SC and a three-party alliance of ZRP, Unity and the National Alliance. It would be a right-wing coalition, excluding the oligarchical ZZS but it is not known who would be Prime Minister. The ZRP’s prime ministerial candidate was apparently one Edmunds Sprudz, whose Google search reveals that he is a sailor.

Denmark 2011

Legislative elections were held in Denmark on September 15, 2011. All 179 members of Denmark’s unicameral parliament, the Folketing, were up for reelection. I previewed the contenders and issues at stake in this election in a preview post a few days ago. Denmark has been governed for the past ten-years by a centre-right coalition led by the Venstre (Liberal Party) and Conservatives and supported most controversially by the far-right Danish People’s Party and, to a lesser extent, by the Liberal Alliance. This coalition is led since 2009 by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

Turnout was 87.74%, slightly higher than in 2007. Denmark has very high turnout, even though it doesn’t have mandatory voting (I suppose its turnout is even higher than some places where they have loosely enforced mandatory voting!). The results are as follows:

V – Venstre/Liberals 26.73% (+0.47%) winning 47 seats (+1)
A – Social Democrats 24.81% (-0.66%) winning 44 seats (-1)
O – Danish People’s Party 12.32% (-1.54%) winning 22 seats (-3)
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 9.50% (+4.38%) winning 17 seats (+8)
F – Socialist People’s Party 9.20% (-3.84%) winning 16 seats (-7)
Ø – Unity List 6.68% (+4.51%) winning 12 seats (+8)
Y – Liberal Alliance 4.98% (+2.17%) winning 9 seats (+4)
C – Conservative People’s Party 4.94% (-5.45%) winning 8 seats (-10)
K – Christian Democrats 0.79% (-0.08%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Independent candidacies 0.05% (+0.03%) winning 0 seats (±0)
North Atlantic mandates 4 (3 left, 1 right)

Left (ABFØ) 50.19% (+4.40%) winning 89 seats (+8) [92 with North Atlantic]
Right (VOCIK) 49.76% (-4.43%) winning 86 seats (-8) [87 with North Atlantic]

The left has won Denmark. The right-wing VCO era, which began in 2001, has been closed. Those are the headlines of this election. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of the Social Democrats since 2005, will become Prime Minister at the helm of the first left-wing government since 2001. The election was very closely fought and it was mildly suspenseful even on election night, but in the end, a combination of voter fatigue with an old government, an economic crisis and the decrepitude of the government’s junior partner all came together to give victory to the left.

When you look at the results in more detail, last night’s victory is much more the victory of the Danish left than the victory of the Social Democrats – in Denmark as in the rest of Scandinavia very much a dominant party up until the 1990s. Indeed, this victory could be considered a pyrrhic victory as the main left-wing party won a very poor result. The Social Democrats continued their slow inexorable decline to win their worst result since 1903! A fact that is so significant that even the usually useless generalizations of the foreign mass media pointed it out. The poor showing of the Social Democrats reflects the general uninspirational/boring image it projects, a problem faced by most of its European counterparts. Helle Thorning-Schmidt is not particularly charismatic or wildly popular and ever since her 2005 election to SD’s leadership she has juggled with the discontent of SD’s left-wing which is hardly fond of the centrist Thorning-Schmidt, derogatorily nicknamed “Gucci Helle” for her apparent un-socialist taste in high fashion and her comfortable middle-class upbringing. The tax evasion case of her British husband, Neil Kinnock’s son, did not help matters much either. If the left won last night, it won because of the very strong showing of two of its components which rather ironically are located at the right and left extremities of this broad “ABFØ” coalition.

The Social Liberals (or Radicals) led by Margrethe Vestager was the first major winner of the elections. Her party won its best result since 1973 and emerges as the second-largest force behind the Social Democrats in the new left-wing governing coalition. The Radicals, who had done nearly as well in 2005, had done poorly in 2007 when a lot of their intellectual, urban clientele (the so-called ‘café latte’ electorate) defected to the Socialists (SF) who in 2007 did extremely well with that crowd and propelled them to a strong 13% showing. These bourgeois-bohemians are quite left-wing on issues such as morals, the environment, immigration and integration but they’re not as left-wing on issues such as taxation, maintaining the juicy advantages of the welfare state and most fiscal matters. The Radicals appealed to them with a clear and coherent program and record on those issues, and in doing so managed to win over the moderate wing of the 2007 SF electorate (well, most of it).

At the other end of the left-wing spectrum, the Unity List-Red Greens (Ø) have been kicking since the late 1980s but they had never won over 3.4% of the vote or 6 seats. In 2007, they did rather poorly winning only 2.2% and 4 seats. The Unity List had been formed in 1988 as an electoral alliance of the old communists (DKP), trots, Maoists and socialists. In recent years, they have moved far closer to environmentalism and similar hip left-wing issues (apparently enough for the clueless foreign media to call them “the Greens”) though still maintaining some rather dogmatic left-wing positions such as the nationalization of Lego and Maersk, alleged support for the FARC and PFLP and the goal of a utopic “communist society without classes”. Recently, the party has modernized without, it claims, moving right-wards: a little comment aimed at SF and SD. The charisma, likeability and thus popularity of Ø’s unofficial leader, 27-year old Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen has also helped matters quite a bit. She won the second-highest number of “personal votes” in the election after Lars Løkke. At the same time, SF’s shift towards the right and “responsibility” alienated some of SF’s more left-wing voters and drove them into the arms of Ø.

Within the left, SF was, as we’ve seen, the other major loser.  It had done very well in 2007 (13%) and its fantastic result in the 2009 European elections (15%) made another strong result this year very much a possibility. But SF peaked too early, failed to cash in on the popularity of its leader Villy Søvndal and alienated its left by moving more towards the right and general political moderation. Its legislative performance on topics such as immigration also left much to be desired and contributed to the alienation of its rather broad 2007 coalition which included, most remarkably in Copenhagen (SF had won most of the inner city in 2007), academics, artists, young professionals, Muslism and the rest of the ‘café latte’. Ironically, despite its poor showing, SF might now be more than ever in its history in a position of power and influence. Indeed, for the first time in its history, it will likely enter government with Søvndal a potential finance minister.

On the right, the governing Liberals (V) had a surprisingly good election for themselves. They will not be re-entering government, but they held their ground remarkably well and remained both the largest party in the Folkting and marginally increased its vote share (and won an additional seat) – despite the fact that their incumbent leader, Lars Løkke, does not have the charisma of his famous predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. V benefited from the collapse of its junior partner in government since 2001, the Conservatives. The gain of C’s voters about compensated for other loses by V, mostly to SD. V gained the most ground in Zealand around Copenhagen’s affluent northern suburbs where C traditionally does best. In contrast, in lost ground mostly to SD in Jutland, where the party system is less atomized than it is around Copenhagen.

What did in the right (in part) was the collapse of the Conservatives, who lost over half of their votes and seats and won their worst result in their history with only 4.9% and eight place overall (instead of fifth in 2007). The Conservatives performed badly in government and their cacophonous and incompetent leadership brought this electoral armageddon upon itself. Its new leader since January 2011, Lars Barfoed, failed to lift the party up from the ditch in which his hapless predecessor Lene Espersen had driven C into.

The Conservatives found their affluent anti-tax suburban base hijacked in sort by the Liberal Alliance, the old New Alliance, which under Anders Samuelsen drove to the right and adopted a very libertarian/classical liberal economic agenda and in doing so managed to appeal to part of C’s affluent base in addition to younger libertarian types. In contrast with the Naser Khader New Alliance in 2007 which had been a primarily inner-city liberal party concentrated in downtown Copenhagen, the more right-wing Liberal Alliance under Samuelsen became a suburban/north Copenhagen party. It indeed did best where C used to do best, winning, for example, its best result (10.2%) in Gentofte, a Conservative stronghold since the turn of the last century. C lost other voters to V and the Radicals.

For the first time since its foundation, the far-right Danish People’s Party (DF) which had been so influential and powerful since 2001 because of its parliamentary support for the VC government, lost votes. It lost only marginally, from 13.9% to 12.3%, but it still lost ground nonetheless. DF’s growth was checked in 2010 when it voted in favour of an austerity budget and, in doing so, reneged the party’s left-wing economic views (which are left-wing as long as you’re white). The left would say that it all shows how hollow and fake all of DF’s apparent left-wing economics really is, and for some of DF’s working-class base it did just that. There is also the matter that in an election fought almost entirely over economics and not over immigration (the last three elections, especially 2001, all saw immigration play a major role) is not favourable to a party like DF which takes most of its political capital from its anti-immigration positions. This should not be interpreted as meaning that there is a general move back towards pro-immigration and integration positions in the European country with some of the toughest immigration regulations. There isn’t. Helle Thorning-Schmidt pledged that her government would uphold or only slightly modify the bulk of the VC government’s tough immigration laws (passed with DF support, of course) most notably the famous (infamous?) 24-year rule.

The government’s majority of 3 out of the 175 Danish seats will be increased to a majority of 5 with the North Atlantic mandates from Greenland and the Faroe Island, the Danish self-governing territories in the North Atlantic Ocean. In Greenland, the governing socialist separatist Inuit Ataqatigiit won 42.28% against 36.67% for the social democratic Siumut. Both of these parties, Greenland’s two main parties, will hold their seats (one each). Compared to 2007, that is a major increase in the vote of the governing Inuit Ataqatigiit (+8.8%) but also Siumut (+5.3%). The agrarian Feeling of Community won 7.46%, down from 18.9%. The unionist Democrats won 12.5%, down from 16.2%. In the Faroe Islands, the governing Union Party (right-wing unionist) increased its vote share by 7% to win 30.8% and hold its seat. The separatist Republic Party, which had won 25% in 2007 and first place, lost 6% (winning 19.4%) and lost its seat to the unionist Social Democrats who won 21%, up marginally from 2007. The separatist People’s Party and Self-Government Party also lost support as did the unionist Centre Party. The overall distribution of mandates there thus remains 3-1 for the left, but rather 3-1 anti-independence instead of a 2-2 separatist/anti-independence split in 2007.

The dominant patterns of Danish electoral geography remained similar. V did best in rural southern Jutland, a conservative and religious area. It did, however, lose some support there to the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats in Jutland did best in the urban (and historically industrial) centres of Aalborg, Randers and Aarhus. It did, however, do rather poorly in its old strongholds in the Triangle area (Vejle-Kolding-Fredericia) in southeastern Jutland where it had been swept out of power in the 2009 local elections by V. On Fyn, the left’s base is traditionally the city of Odense. On Lolland (yes, that’s the name of the island: there is also a city on Fyn called Middelfart), SD gained back some ground lost to SF in 2007 thanks to a popular local SF candidate. Lolland is rural, but the sugar industry on the island is quite labour-intensive and has led to a more working-class feel than one could expect. The city of Nakskov is also a major harbour.

Copenhagen does contrast starkly with other Scandinavian capitals such as Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki because of its very stark lean to the left. It is perhaps because unlike those cities, Copenhagen has traditionally concentrated Danish industry and bee far more of an industrial city than a bourgeois city like Stockholm. In Copenhagen district this year, the Social Democrats emerged on top – relatively speaking – with 19% with the Radicals and Ø taking 16.7% and 16.6% respectively. V placed fourth with 15.2%, while SF lost a lot of ground (-8.5%) and won just 12.4%. You can find two great maps of Copenhagen here and here. In 2007, SF had dominated throughout the downtown core of the city (most of the -bro districts) while the Social Democrats (who lost 5% in Copenhagen this year) performed better in the more lower middle-class suburban areas outside the downtown core. That was normality, more or less, before this year’s massive atomization of the vote. The Social Democrats kept their hold on the working-class suburban districts on the outer edges of the city (where DF polls well), while V increased its support at C’s expense and did relatively well in the more old bourgeois areas of the city. The collapse of the S-SF vote benefited both the Radicals and Ø who took in various parts of the 2007 SF coalition in the city. The Radicals did best in the more upscale of these hip downtown districts, such as Indre By or Osterbro. In contrast, Ø did best in the less upscale and more ethnically diverse downtown districts. Most significantly, it absolutely dominated Nørrebro with 27.6% against 20% for RV. Nørrebro is a troubled and very ethnically diverse (a large Muslim population) district filled with artists and other intellectual hip types. Simply put, the epitome in sorts of the demographic which voted Ø this year. Ø  also did well in Christianshavn (26%), a gentrified bohemian neighborhood which most notably includes Freetown Christiania.

Copenhagen’s suburbs are equally as diverse. The western and southern suburbs are some of S’s strongest areas on the island of Zealand, and they are heavily left-wing. The southern suburban communities such as Brøndby, Hvidovre and Ishøj are poor, working-class areas while the western suburbs such as Gladsaxe, Ballerup and Herlev are more lower middle-class residential communities though equally as left-wing as the southern suburbs. DF performs strongly here, but the hip left-wing parties (SF, RV, Ø) don’t perform as strongly. The northern suburbs are the stereotypical affluent bourgeois residential suburbs, and traditionally most of the bourgeoisie in and around Copenhagen have voted Conservative. The collapse of C’s vote this year benefited both V, which increased its vote share by a bit in these areas, but also the Liberal Alliance which won its best results (8-10%) in these northern suburbs (in Copenhagen, the Liberal Alliance’s best districts are also more bourgeois and affluent than they are hip or café latte).

Helle Thorning-Schmidt will become the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark, and the election has been noted in Denmark as the “victory of the three women”: Thorning-Schmidt, Vestager (RV leader) and Schmidt-Nielsen (Ø’s top gun). While in the past left-wing governments in Denmark, the last of which governed between 1993 and 2001, had been formed solely by S and the centrist Radicals, it is quite likely that in a break from the past, SF will enter government for the first time while the Radical’s participation in government is not ensured. Thorning-Schmidt and Søvndal have both moved their respective parties closer together, a move which led to the gradual moderation (or rightwards shift) of SF to make it more acceptable to the broader public and financial milieus. With SF in government, and Søvndal the likely finance minister, it is not at all certain that the centrist Radicals, historically the kingmakers or hinge party of the Danish political system, will be entering government themselves. The Radicals could find themselves backing the government from the outside. Thorning-Schmidt will need to play a careful balancing act between the vastly different economic views of her three allies: the centrist Radicals, hardly fond of high taxation or the old welfare state model; Ø far more left-wing on economic matters. Ø will not (obviously) take seats in government, but could find itself playing the role that DF played for the VC governments: a more radical party pressuring the government to move in its direction. The risk for confrontation between these factions of the new governing coalition is high. The fear is that it could lead to snap elections before the end of Parliament’s four-year mandate. The Radicals and the Conservatives, in theory rivals, moved closer to a deal during the election campaign. SF and Radicals also don’t get along very well: during the campaign, SF warned that a vote for the Radicals is a vote for tax cuts on the wealthy and spending cuts. Interestingly, SF apparently seeks to counter this right-wing influence by working with DF on economic issues, on which the far-right is allegedly left-leaning.

Perhaps the risk for confrontation is much overstated. Ø will certainly be a pressure agent on the government to compel it to move left-wards, but besides them the other parties in the coalition are all rather moderate forces. Thorning-Schmidt won the leadership of the party in 2005 on a centrist platform and has moved S closer to the right on issues such as immigration and security. Her centrist policies, furthermore, have been accepted by SF without much resistance, in a bid by SF to appear more responsible especially on fiscal issues. She has pledged to keep the bulk of the outgoing government’s tough immigration policies (though the Radicals and SF are opposed), supports the government’s customs control and backs Danish military participation in Afghanistan and Libya. The main changes are to be expected in fiscal matters. Instead of austerity, the left prefers to increase spending on the welfare state and compensate those spending increases with tax hikes on the wealthiest or new environmental, health or traffic taxes. The right warned that such a policy would run up the deficit and ruin the country’s economic competitiveness. Higher taxation could face resistance from the Radicals, but it theoretically could receive cross-coalition support from DF.

Norway locals 2011

Municipal and county elections were held in Norway on September 12, 2011. All 430 municipalities and 21 county councils in Norway were up for reelection. Each municipality’s local legislature is elected through proportional representation, and in most cases and in the largest cities the mayor is not elected directly. There are 21 county councils in each of Norway’s 21 counties, with 727 county councillors overall. As in many countries, local elections in smaller municipalities tend to be influenced by local issues, local partisan patterns and above all personal votes or local parties.

These elections are significant for Norway in that they come only a few months after the July 22 Utøya-Oslo massacre in which 77 people were killed and 96 injured, most of them (69) killed on the island of Utøya where members of the governing Labour Party’s (Ap) youth wing (AUF) were meeting. The attacks were perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right activist who had previously been a member of the largest opposition party, the right-wing populist Progress Party (Frp).

The Progress Party, which won 22.9% in the 2009 legislative election, maintaining itself as the second largest party behind Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s governing Labour Party. The Frp’s status as the largest right-wing party has been a major headache from Norway’s divided right as it sought to regain power it last held between 2001 and 2005. The populist right-wing Frp is not shunned out entirely, but it is a controversial party and two small right-wing parties, the Christian Democrats (KrF) and the Liberals (V) have refused to participate in a government in which Frp also participates. Unlike between 2001 and 2005, when Frp propped up the right-wing Bondevik government from the outside, the party now refuses to support any government of which it is not itself party. Only the Conservatives, the second-largest right-wing party in the Storting with 30 seats to Frp’s 41, have been more amenable to the idea of Frp participation in government, if only because they realize that they would need the Frp’s support in order to govern themselves. However, since 2009, Frp has been increasingly shaken in its position as the main right-wing opposition. The Conservatives continued their little surge of sorts, moving from 17% in 2009 to 25-30%. At first this surge was mostly at the Ap’s expense, not at Frp’s expense as they maintained their strong 2009 levels (and beyond) in 2010. However, since the spring, the Frp has been significantly and negatively affected by a major sex scandal which has embroiled Frp rising star and Stavanger mayoral candidate Trond Birkedal. Birkedal has been accused of sexual relations with underage boys and filming sex scenes with young party members. Frp leader Siv Jensen’s response was tepid and weak. Then the July shootings threw a cold shower on the Frp, which, though it condemned Breivik, could not escape a sense of popular rejection of far-right and right-wing populist theses in general after Breivik’s atrocities. The attacks, well handled by the government, gave the Ap a significant boost in polls (up to 40% in polls for the next general election) though it has petered out somewhat since then.

Municipal elections

Labour Party (Ap) 31.7% (+2%) winning 3,381 seats (+85)
Conservative Party (H) 28% (+8.7%) winning 2,352 seats (+730)
Progress Party (Frp) 11.4% (-6.1%) winning 1,141 seats (-483)
Center Party (Sp) 6.8% (-1.2%) winning 1,419 seats (-171)
Liberal Party (V) 6.3% (+0.5%) winning 639 seats (+79)
Christian People’s Party (KrF) 5.6% (-0.7%) winning 652 seats (-125)
Socialist Left (SV) 4.1% (-2%) winning 361 seats (-193)
Red 1.5% (-0.2%) winning 57 seats (-9)
Others 4.8% (+0.9%)

County Council elections

Labour Party (Ap) 33.2% (+2.4%) winning 273 seats (+19)
Conservative Party (H) 27.6% (+8.9%) winning 210 seats (+74)
Progress Party (Frp) 11.8% (-6.8%) winning 96 seats (-54)
Center Party (Sp) 6.3% (-1.6%) winning 61 seats (-12)
Christian People’s Party (KrF) 5.8% (-0.9%) winning 47 seats (-9)
Liberal Party (V) 5.7% (+0.1%) winning 46 seats (+4)
Socialist Left (SV) 4.3% (-2.2%) winning 34 seats (-18)
Red 1.7% (-0.3%) winning 7 seats (-4)
Others 3.6% (+0.9%) winning 13 seats (nc) [3 Coast, 3 Pensioners, 3 Sunnmørslista, 2 Greens, 1 Democrat, 1 Sami]

The biggest loser in these election was the populist Progress Party (Frp), which lost nearly 7% of its vote compared to the last local elections in 2007 and over 11% to the 2009 parliamentary elections. The elections came at a very bad moment for Frp. The year started badly for them with the Birkedal sex scandal, worsened when Siv Jensen broke her back and was rushed to the hospital, became chaotic when Oslo mayoral candidate and former longtime Frp leader Carl I. Hagen clamored for a larger role in the campaign and was terribly capped off with the July 22 attacks. Things couldn’t have gone worse for the party, which was embroiled in scandal and whose cacophonous campaign projected a very bad image of the party. Frp won its worst result in a local election since 1995. Most of Frp’s voters went over to the Conservatives, who gained nearly 9% compared to 2007 (and 10% compared to 2010). The Conservatives were the big winners of the elections, winning their best local result since 1979. The results place the Conservatives in a strong position ahead of the 2013 general elections. Firstly, the overall right-wing parties (even if they don’t get along) outnumber the governing parties (Ap, Sp, SV) in votes and a Storting seat projection based on the county results. Secondly, with the Conservatives a clear second ahead of Frp, it renders the question of coalition formation easier. They now have a clear and unambiguous claim on the Prime Ministership, unlike in 2007. While Frp remains key to any right-wing government and Frp still says it will not support a government if it does not participate in it, the fact that they’re much weaker now makes the tortuous process of a potential right-wing coalition after 2013 slightly easier though obviously not a certainty – especially when you consider how centre-right parties like the Liberals are so dead-set against the Frp’s participation in anything. The Liberals did quite well, while the KrF’s performance was mediocre though still a bit over their 2009 results.

The governing Labour Party had been expected to lose steam in the local elections before the July attacks, but it improved its overall position by roughly 2%, which can likely be attributed to a boost in the popularity of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in the wake of his handling of the July 22 attack. While Ap’s showing in these elections is 2% below its 2009 result, the Ap tends to perform slightly better in Storting elections than in local elections. This is a very good mid-term election result for a governing party, and Ap’s best local showing since the 1987 local elections. It is a particularly strong result when one considers how the government had grown unpopular prior to July due to various blunders and unpopular policy decisions notably over local hospital closures and restructuring (a particularly important issue in local elections). What might be cause for concern for Ap, however, are the loses incurred by both of Labour’s governing partners: the agrarian Centrists (Sp) and the Socialist Left (SV). SV’s continued decrepitude is particularly noteworthy. It had done abnormally well in the 2003 local elections (13%), so its result in 2007 (6.5%) was more of a return to normality than anything else, but their slow decline continued this year and SV won its poorest results since 1979. SV might be suffering from a perceived ‘moderation’ of the party as it is perceived by its more left-wing members of having moved slightly to the right, notably supporting the Libyan intervention. It also suffered from Ap’s strong showing.

A Storting-2013 projection based on county council results give the right 88 seats to the government’s 81. Ap would win 63 (-1), the Conservatives 49 (+19), Frp 20 (-21), Sp 11, KrF 10, V 9 (+7) and SV 7 (-4).

Oslo municipal elections

Conservative Party (H) 35.8% (+10.5%) winning 22 seats (+6)
Labour Party (Ap) 33.2% (+3.4%) winning 20 seats (+2)
Liberal Party (V) 8.2% (-0.6%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Progress Party (Frp) 7% (-7.3%) winning 4 seats (-5)
Socialist Left (SV) 6.3% (-4.2%) winning 4 seats (-2)
Red 3.6% (-1.6%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Environment Party-The Greens 2.5% (+1.8%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Christian People’s Party (KrF) 2.4% (-0.6%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Center Party (Sp) 0.5% (-0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.5%

 

Oslo, the Norwegian capital, has been governed by the right since 1995 though Labour was the biggest party in the last two local elections. Though the former longtime leader of the Progress Party, Carl I. Hagen was the Frp’s mayoral candidate, Frp did extremely poorly winning its worst result since 1979 (when Frp was joke party). The Conservatives led by incumbent mayor Fabian Stang were reelected. SV did very poorly in Oslo as well, which is one of the party’s strongholds. Its result is indeed a far cry from 2003, when it won 20.3% to Labour’s 25%.

Other municipal and county results

 

 

  • Bergen: H 24 (+6), Ap 19 (+3), Frp 7 (-7), V 5 (+1), KrF 4 (nc), SV 3 (-2), R 2 (-1), Greens 1 (+1), Sp 1 (-1), BYLUFT 1 (+1)
  • Trondheim: Ap 27 (-10), H 18 (+5), Frp 6 (-7), V 4 (+1), SV 4 (-3), R 2 (-1), KrF 2 (-1), Greens 2 (nc), Sp 1 (-1)
  • Stavanger: H 23 (nc), Ap 19 (+4), Frp 9 (-2), V 5 (-1), KrF 4 (-1), SV 3 (-1), PP 1 (nc), Sp 1 (nc), R 1 (nc), Greens 1 (+1)
  • Bærum: H 27 (+6), Ap 11 (+1), V 5 (-1), Frp 4 (-4), SV 2 (-1), KrF 1 (nc), PP 1 (nc)
  • Kristiansand: H 14 (+3), Ap 14 (+3), KrF 9 (-1), Frp 6 (-3), V 3 (+1), DEM 2 (+2), PP 2 (-1), SV 1 (-1), Green 1 (nc), R 1 (nc)
  • Fredrikstad: Ap 26 (+8), H 11 (+4), Frp 7 (-10), KrF 2 (-1), SV 2 (nc), V 2 (nc), Sp 1 (nc), PP 1 (nc), BYMILJØ 1 (nc)
  • Tromsø: H 16 (+11), Ap 11 (-6), Frp 6 (-3), R 3 (-1), SV 2 (-1), V 2 (nc), KrF 1 (-1), Sp 1 (nc), Greens 1 (nc)

Outside Oslo, four of Norway’s five largest cities (excluding Oslo) will be governed by the Conservatives. In Bergen, where the incumbent mayor is Frp’s Gunnar Bakke, he will be replaced by a Conservative (Monica Mæland). In Norway’s second largest city, the Conservatives won 24 seats (up 6) and 35.2% of the vote, while Labour won 19 seats (up 3) and 28.7% of the vote. Mayor Bakke’s Frp won 10.3% and 7 seats. Bergen has been governed by the right since 2000.

In Trondheim, Labour lost 1o seats but with 27 seats and 39.5% it remains the largest party. The Conservatives picked up 5 seats and over 12% of the vote to win 18 seats and 27%. The Frp lost 7 seats, winning 6 and 8.9% of the vote. Trondheim has been governed by the left since 2003.

In Stavanger, the oil capital of Norway, the right held on but did surprisingly badly – probably some local factor at work. The Conservatives also lost 0.3% of the vote, while Labour increased its vote to 29%, up 7%. Frp won 13%, down only 2%.

Bærum, Norway’s fifth largest city and also the wealthiest municipality in Norway, was predictably a Conservative landslide. The Conservatives have held this posh Oslo suburb since the 1950s at least. They won 51%, up 11%.

The Conservatives also won in Kristiansand, the capital of Vest-Agder, Drammen and Asker. The largest city in Norway to actually change hands was Fredrikstad in Østfold, an old working-class city which was governed up to this point by the Progress Party which had benefited significantly from industrial decline to win 31% of the vote here in 2007. Labour won 49%, up a full 16%. Frp won only 13.9%, collapsing 17 points. I suppose Fredrikstad’s gain will compensate for a Labour defeat in Tromsø, where the Conservatives did very well – gaining a full 24% of the vote to win 36% and 16 seats (+11), while Labour lost 6 seats and 13%.

 

In county elections, it seems as if the overall right won 9 to the left’s 9 (10-9 for the right if you include Oslo, which is both a municipality and a county). The right emerged as the largest block in Troms, but lost that advantage in Østfold. The Conservatives are now the largest right-wing party in all counties, including the 9 where the right has a majority and could form government. In 2007, the Conservatives were the largest party in only four of the 9 right-wing counties (Frp in 4, KrF in one). Similarly, the Centre Party narrowly lost largest party status in its Sogn og Fjordane bastion.

Norwegian politics interest me a lot, but I cannot go on with details about such stuff. Keeping with the greatness of Scandinavia and Norway, the NRK election results website is absolutely stunning and fantastic. It also has an updated map of which party will hold which town halls.

 

Election Preview: Denmark 2011

Elections to the Folketing, the unicameral Danish Parliament, will be held on September 15. Denmark has been governed since 2001 by a centre-right coalition, which is famous for its dependence on a far-right party for parliamentary support. The current Prime Minister is Lars Løkke Rasmussen, in office since 2009 when his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the Secretary-General of NATO. Notably, the last name of the Danish Prime Minister since 1993 has been ‘Rasmussen’, though none of the three are related to each other.

How does it work?

The Folketing has 179 seats. There are 175 seats in Denmark, while the Danish dependencies of the Faroe Islands and Greenland are represented by two members each. The four ‘overseas’ seats are usually called the “North Atlantic mandates”. 135 of the 175 Danish seats are elected by a modified form of d’Hondt PR in ten multi-member constituencies where voters may vote for a party list, one of the candidates on a party list or (rarely) an independent candidate. The remaining 40 seats are compensatory mandates to equalize representation, and these are elected through Saint-Laguë PR. The threshold for the compensatory seats is 2%, making for a wide representation of parties in the Folketing. However, ballot access in laws in Denmark for non-parliamentary parties are quite tough: these parties must gather roughly 20,000 signatures in order to gain ballot access.

Danish parliamentary politics is unlike Westminster parliamentary politics. A government is not required to win a vote of confidence, and what matters is whether the legislature is against the government rather than for it. This means that minority governments are common and that governments must usually form majorities on a bill-by-bill basis.

The parties

Danish election results since 1901 (% vote)

Denmark, like Sweden or Norway, is a Scandinavian welfare state and historically a left-wing country dominated by the Social Democrats. In Denmark, the Social Democrats were the largest party in all elections between 1924 and 2001. Denmark is marked by its strong welfare state and its very high levels of taxation.

In Danish politics and everyday political lingo, each party is commonly referred to by a letter which it is assigned and which appears on ballots. A lot of these letters have little connection with the party’s actual name. I refer to both the party’s letter, its alternative abbreviation and its name in English (or Danish in some cases). For shorthand, I usually talk about parties using their letter or abbreviation.

Between 1924 and 2001, the largest party were the Social Democrats (A or S/SD) and the Social Democrats have governed between 1924 and 1926, 1929 and 1942, 1945, 1947 and 1950, 1953 and 1968, 1971 and 1973, 1975 and 1982 and most recently between 1993 and 2001. As such there are not quite as dominant as the Swedish Social Democratic Party which has governed for the bulk of the post-war era but they were close to being a dominant party. The Danish Social Democrats are more urban-based than their Swedish or Norwegian partners, in fact Copenhagen is a left-wing stronghold while Oslo and especially Stockholm are quite right-wing. Under the Poul Nyrup Rasmussen governments between 1993 and 2001, the Social Democrats experimented with a successful model of ‘flexicurity‘ which maintained the strong unemployment benefits with deregulation of labour laws. The shocking defeat of the Social Democrats in 2001 in which the party fell out of first place for the first time since 1924 was caused by an unpopular 1998 tax hike (to balance the books) but most importantly a post-9/11 mood swing against immigration. Since then, the Social Democrats have failed both to gain power or take back a symbolic first place. Instead, their results have progressively worsened: from 29% in 2001 to 25.5% in 2007. Like so many European social democratic parties these days, the Danish Social Democrats have been confused in their positions and failed to motivate the electorate. The current leader of the party, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, is generally regarded as hapless and uninspiring. The main Social Democratic strongholds are Copenhagen, the lower middle-class/working-class suburbs of western Copenhagen, large cities such as Aarhus, Odense and Aalborb and finally northeastern Jutland.

The main right-wing party in Denmark has traditionally been Venstre (V), which is technically translated into English as “Left”. Which does not mean that V is remotely left-wing: the name Venstre emerged in the late nineteenth-century when V was the main progressive opposition to the Right (the Social Democrats being far-left back then). It is more commonly referred to in both English and Danish as the “Liberal Party”. Venstre was founded in 1870 as a Nordic agrarian party, advocating free trade and low taxes. It is usually the largest right-wing party, though it is not always the case (for example in the 1980s). In 1998, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, author of a book well-acclaimed in libertarian circles for expousing a minimal state with low taxes, became party leader and then Prime Minister in 2001 when V outpolled S for the first time since 1924. In power, V and Rasmussen moved away from its original theses of classical liberalism and although the Danish government since 2001 has implemented some major tax cuts, it has maintained the welfare state intact and not exactly reduced the size of government. The Liberals are generally perceived as being more fiscally responsible than the left. All V governments since 2001 have depended on the support of the far-right Danish People’s Party, which has resulted in some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe. The main V strongholds are rural, conservative southern Jutland and generally other rural areas. It is quite weak in Copenhagen, which has historically been a very weak zone for the rural-oriented V.

The Danish People’s Party (O or DF) was founded in 1995 by Pia Kjærsgaard but the direct roots of DF lie in the Progress Party (Frp), a right-wing populist party founded in 1972 by crazy lawyer Morgens Glistrup who claimed that he paid no taxes. The Frp supported radical tax cuts (abolishing the income tax), huge spending cuts (disbanding the Defense Ministry entirely) and eventually doing away with public servants. Frp surged to massive popularity in the so-called “landslide election” of 1973 in which five new parties entered parliament and in which Frp became the second largest party with 16% of the vote and 28 seats. Gradually the Frp moved away from the more radical positions, began to defend the welfare state against those ‘undeserving’ of receiving welfare (as such, it stole many votes from the left) and positioned itself against Muslim immigration. While Glistrup was in jail, the “pragmatic” (and more anti-immigration, populist) faction led by Pia Kjærsgaard took control of the party against the “fundies” led by Glistrup who refused any cooperation with other parties. Tensions continued, however, and the pragmatists quit the party to found DF in 1995. It won 7% in the 1998 elections and has seen its support grow unabatted since. Since 2001, DF has become crucial to the right-wing government in that its parliamentary support provides it with a majority. DF is very much anti-immigration (especially Muslim, of course) and against multiculturalism. Through its control of the government since 2001, DF is perhaps one of the most politically powerful far-right parties in Europe. Indeed, the government implemented some of the toughest immigration laws in Europe since 2001, the most notable of which is the “24-year law” intended to crack down on arranged marriages and family reunification. DF combines these very right-wing positions on immigration with left-wing positions on the welfare state, being a big defender of the welfare state, high social spending (on stuff like pensions) though, like Frp, it is very much against the so-called “welfare scrouges” (a lot of whom happen to be immigrants). DF won 13.8% in the 2007 elections and a record 15% in the 2009 European elections. It has lost some popularity since 2010 after it supported an austerity budget presented by the government. Its longtime leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, is probably the most controversial politician in Denmark.

The Socialist People’s Party (F or SF) was founded in 1959 by a former Communist leader (and CIA agent) who had been expelled from the DKP for opposing Russian intervention in Hungary in 1956. SF’s ideology is Scandinavian “popular socialism”, a variant of democratic socialism which intends to be a centrist middle-ground between communism and social democracy. In recent years, it has moderated its traditional euroscepticism and left-wing positions in order to become both more “green” ideology-wise and “responsible” policy-wise. SF, for example, is not a member of the European Left group in the European Parliament, instead sitting in the Green-EFA group. The party has been led since 2005 by Villy Søvndal, who has led the party to major successes in both the 2007 general and 2009 EU elections (13% and 15.6%). In a bid to make SF appear as a responsible party, it voted in favour of the government’s 2008 budget. Villy Søvndal also took some marked positions against radical clerical Muslim clerics, a move applauded by the right. SF has never actually been in government when the Social Democrats have governed, but they have supported various Social Democratic governments from outside (similarly to how DF props up the current government), most recently the Nyrup Rasmussen government between 1993 and 2001. SF is very strong in downtown Copenhagen (it won the bulk of the downtown core of the city), popular in artsy-liberal intellectual milieus (called the ‘café latte’ crowd in Denmark, similar to the ‘bobos’ in France). It is strong in other urban areas, but in contrast to S it is rather weak in Copenhagen suburbia or northeastern Jutland.

The Conservative People’s Party (C) was founded in 1915. The Conservatives have traditionally been the second-largest right-wing force but in the 1980s, they outpaced V for that role and in fact the Conservative Poul Schlüter governed the country between 1982 and 1993 with V as a junior party. Since then, however, C has struggled and polled only 10% in 2007. Its electoral fortunes are quite closely reversely correlated with that of V: it does well when V does poorly. C is the traditional governing partner for V, and all right-wing governments since 1950 have included C alongside V, often with C as a junior partner. In contrast to V, which in government has moderated its economic liberalism, C remains somewhat more economically liberal, supporting further tax cuts and eventually a flat tax (albeit a rather high flat tax). Traditionally, C has tended to be more nationalist and interventionist than V, but few of those policy differences remain today. On moral issues, C is moderate or liberal. Since 2007, C has been wracked by a whole slew of problems. Bendt Bendtsen, leader since 2009, quit in 2008 and was replaced by Lene Espersen, who was forced out when she became perceived as incompetent. The current leader is Lars Barfoed. The starkest differences between C and V are in terms of voter base. C is much, much more urban. Most of its strength comes from the affluent northern suburbs of Copenhagen, most notably Gentofte which has been governed by the Conservatives since 1909 and which was the only district where C topped the poll in 2007. It is also dominant in Frederiksberg, a very affluent municipality enclaved within Copenhagen. It is also strong in Odense and northern Jutland. It is much weaker in rural conservative southern Jutland, where V performs best.

The Radikale Venstre (B or R/RV), which translates into English as ‘Radical Left’ but are more commonly called ‘Social Liberal Party’ or ‘Radicals’, was founded in 1905 by a left-wing anti-militarist split off from Venstre. The Radicals are a centre-left social liberal party, mixing deep social liberalism with a more centrist attitude on economic issues. In the social sphere, the Radicals are the most pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism party there is out there and is also quite pro-European. Economically, RV’s urban intellectual electorate is enamored with social liberalism and environmentalism, but they’re not as enamored by high taxes or social programs such as early retirement for blue-collar workers (efterløn). Recently, RV sided with the government in reforming the efterløn system leading to its gradual abolition. In the Danish system of negative parliamentarianism, RV has traditionally sought and received much political influence though less so since 2001. Despite their differences with S and especially SF on economic issues, RV is a key member of the left-wing coalition (though also the most likely to switch sides). Though RV governed in a right-wing coalition between 1968 and 1971 and participated in the Schlüter III cabinet (1988-1990) with C and V, it participated in all Nyrup Rasmussen cabinets between 1993 and 2001. The party’s current leader, Margrethe Vestager, pledged support to S in case of victory in 2007 and again this year. RV is now very much a urban party, polling best in downtown Copenhagen and other large cities. Its electoral clientele are very much ‘café latte’ type folks: educated, urban, young and decently well-off.

The Liberal Alliance (I) is the newest of the parties, adopting its current name in 2008 after being founded in 2007 as the ‘New Alliance’ (Y). The New Alliance was founded by the right-wing of RV led by Naser Khader (a prominent leader of ‘moderate Muslims’) and the left-wing of C led by Gitte Seeberg. Y’s original strategy was to become a centrist liberal governing alternative (for V and C) in the hopes of reducing DF’s influence on the government – a tall order which it failed to realize. After Y did rather poorly in the 2007 elections (2.8%), the party neared collapse as both Khader and Seeberg left the party (Khader is now a Conservative). The party was taken over by Anders Samuelsen, took the name ‘Liberal Alliance’ and moved to the right. Under Samuelsen, the Liberal Alliance has taken up most of C’s unfulfilled classical liberal policies including tax cuts, a 40% flat tax and so forth. The Liberal Alliance is also very much socially liberal: pro-gay marriage, pro-immigration and pro-EU but not environmentalist – it supports nuclear power. The party is extensively funded by the Saxo Bank.

Finally, we have the Red-Green Alliance or Unity List (Ø) is the most left-wing party in the Folketing. It was founded in 1989 by an alliance of three (later four) left-wing parties including the DKP and a Trotskyist party. This very left-wing party has moved out of old archaic communism in favour of environmentalism, feminism and other similarly trendy left-wing ideologies. It wants to nationalize big private companies such as Maersk but also Lego (!). Its support has oscillated between 2% and 4% (4-6 seats). In 2007, the party’s nomination of Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Muslim who wears a hijab and holds some radical views (although she is not an Islamist, obviously), sparked much debate and controversy. Ø is led informally by the 27-year old Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, who is pretty popular with most people as a generally pleasant person.

There is also a non-parliamentary party which used to hold seats (up to 9 in fact), the Christian Democrats (K). The Christian Democrats are very right-wing on moral issues such as abortion or homosexuality, but generally centre-left on economic issues. While in parliament, they participated in both the first two Schlüter right-wing cabinets and the first Nyrup Rasmussen left-wing cabinet. It has been shut out since 2005 and it is unlikely that it will win seats in the near future.

In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, partisan politics are entirely different (in a Northern Ireland sense). In Greenland, the battle both for the Folketing and the local legislature is between the governing left-wing separatist Inuit Community and the social democratic (similar to S) Siumut (Forward), which governed Greenland between 1979 and 2009. Both those party won seats in 2007 and will do so again this year. In the Faroe Islands, the spectrum is more open-ended. The major parties are Republic, a left-wing separatist party and the Union Party, a right-wing (similar to V) unionist party. The Union Party picked up a seat from the right-wing separatist People’s Party in 2007. The Social Democratic Party, a left-wing unionist party, also polls well.

There are two rather solid (though perhaps not as coherent) governing coalitions in Denmark which are widely expected to form government if they win. The current coalition is called the ‘blue block’ or less often VCOI, the electoral letter of its four main components. V and C actually hold seats in cabinet, O/DF has supported it from the outside since 2001 and I (Liberal Alliance) has also informally propped the VC governnent up after it lost its majority due to a Conservative defection. On the left, the coalition is referred to as AFB (or AFBØ), also the electoral letter of its components. A/SD and B/RV can be expected to form a governing coalition, propped up formally by F/SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. Blocks are actually a very big deal, more so than the strength of individual parties.

2007 results:

V – Venstre/Liberals 26.2% (-2.8%) winning 46 seats (-6)
A – Social Democrats 25.5% (-0.4%) winning 45 seats (-2)
O – Danish People’s Party 13.9% (+0.7%) winning 25 seats (+1)
F – Socialist People’s Party 13% (+7%) winning 23 seats (+12)
C – Conservative People’s Party 10.4% (+0.1%) winning 18 seats (±0)
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 5.1% (-4.1%) winning 9 seats (-8)
Y – New Alliance 2.8% (+2.8%) winning 5 seats (+5)
Ø – Unity List 2.2% (-1.2%) winning 4 seats (-2)
K – Christian Democrats 0.9% (-0.8%) winning 0 seats (±0)
North Atlantic mandates 4 (3 left, 1 right)

Right (VCOY) 53.3% winning 94 seats (89 without Y, 95 with North Atlantic, 90 without Y with North Atlantic)
Left (AFBØ) 45.8% winning 81 seats (84 with North Atlantic)

The Campaign and the Issues

The election on September 15 will be very closely fought till the end and it will not be a landslide for anybody, but the left has a ‘decisive’ but narrow advantage going into tomorrow’s vote. The final polls give between 91 and 92 seats to the left block (excluding 3 likely red seats in the North Atlantic) and between 83 and 84 to the governing parties. This lead has been rather constant throughout the campaign and the summer.

The final polls (3 pollsters):

V – Venstre/Liberals 23.4%-24.1% winning 41-43 seats
A – Social Democrats 22.1%-25.3% winning 39-45 seats
O – Danish People’s Party 12-12.7% winning 21-23 seats
F – Socialist People’s Party 10.3%-10.8% winning 18-19 seats
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 9.1%-11.7% winning 17-21 seats
Ø – Unity List 6.3%-7.4% winning 11-13 seats
C – Conservative People’s Party 5.6%-5.9% winning 10 seats
I – Liberal Alliance 5.3%-6% winning 10 seats
K – Christian Democrats 0.7%-1% winning 0 seats

(+4 North Atlantic mandates, likely split 3-1 left)

The economy has been the main issue in this campaign. Like in most of Europe, the Danish economy has been generally sluggish though not particularly badly off. Economic growth was slow in the first quarter of 2011 (0.1%) and is projected to be between 1.7% and 2% in 2011, weaker than in 2010. Unemployment is low by European standards, 4.5%, but it too has increased from an all-time low of 1.9% in 2008. Furthermore, as the opposition is keen on pointing out, the economic crisis has turned a surplus of 5% to a deficit of 4.6%. The incumbent government led by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has proposed what it calls “fiscal responsibility” and “sustainable growth”. This includes some social cuts, such as cuts in student grants or the reform of early retirement, and investments in infrastructure to the level of €1.4 billion. Economists judge that low household consumption, a dead real estate market and high salaries impede economic growth. The government accuses the left of being fiscally irresponsible: high taxes and uncontrolled debt (Denmark’s debt as % of GDP is a sustainable 45%, down from 58% when the right took power in 2001). Løkke Rasmussen has presented the economic battle as a choice between “uncontrolled debt or the upkeep of the welfare state”. The left wishes to fuel economic recovery through growth, including increasing working hours by 12 minutes per day and boosting public investment. The economic situation perhaps does not do any favours for the government, but the Liberals are generally perceived by voters as being the most fiscally responsible. What is, however, hurting the government is its long tenure. It has governed for nearly ten years, which is generally the upper-limit for governments in Denmark, which has been incumbent-friendly since the 1970s. The mood is for change, and the government is increasingly perceived as being grubby opportunists without any ideas who slide their feet on everything in order to gain power.

Within each of the main coalitions, the largest forces remain at their weak anemic 2007 levels and both are even expected to drop below that. That is particularly bad news for the Social Democrats, whose 2007 result was its worst result since 1909. The leader of the opposition and perhaps future Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is not particularly inspiring and has faced scandals of her own recently with questions over her British husband’s tax records in Denmark. Furthermore, she does poorly in polls about the ‘best leader': she places third, with Lars Løkke Rasmussen placing first (though not with fantastic numbers: 20%). If she does win, it will be far more by default than anything else.

SF and DF could have been expected to gain even more this year following its record-high results in the 2009 elections. SF in particular was looking quite strong in the past few months (13-16% in polls) and its leader Villy Søvndal is very popular. At this point, both parties would lose support from their record-highs of 2007. This is a shaky conclusion in DF’s case, given its tendency to under poll by up to 1.5%. In SF’s case, its shedding of up to 3% is confirmed by most pollsters. SF’s problem is that it peaked too early, in 2008-2009, and has been unable to sustain those high levels of support. Its move to become more ‘responsible’ in fiscal issues has been coldly received by its more radical voters, while the party performed poorly in a debate over immigration reform recently (introducing a point-system) where its position was perceived to be close to the government’s position. It has lost its more radical voters to Ø, which is on track for its best result ever, and its more moderate ‘café latte’ voters to RV which has a charismatic leader and clear, well-articulated positions on major economic and social issues. These loses have not been compensated with minimal gains at S’ expense.

DF is unpredictable, because, as I said, they tend to under poll like most of the far-right. DF’s high standing might be wearing of some as immigration and Muslims are not as important in the economic-centered politics of today. It may also suffer a bit of old backlash from some of its working-class voters after it voted in favour of an austerity budget in 2010 (its poll ratings then slid to 11% or so). It is likely that DF, however, will end up doing roughly as well as they did in 2007.

C is going to suffer a major rout, losing about half of its seats. It was hurt significantly by the poor leadership of Lene Espersen (she resigned in January 2011), under whose leadership C’s numbers fell from 10% to 5%. It has yet to significantly recover most of its lost voters under the leadership of Lars Barfoed. One of C’s main problems is that it has lost a lot of its support (the bulk of it, in fact) to the Liberal Alliance, which, under the right-wing leadership of Anders Samuelsen has bounced up to 6% support on a platform which appeals to many affluent, professional suburban C voters (or young libertarians): major tax cuts with a dose of social liberalism and opposition to DF.

All polls in this campaign have given the left a lead in votes and seats. The last polls, as aforementioned, give it between 91 and 92 seats. The closest it has ever been is 89 seats to 86 in the left’s favour. The government would need 89 seats from the 175 Danish seats in order to be ensured victory with the likely 3-1 split in favour of the left in the North Atlantic. No poll has come close to giving it 89.

If the left wins, the most likely option is that Helle Thorning-Schmidt will form a ‘AB’ government with the Radicals, supported from the outside by SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. The ABFØ option is the most likely outcome of the election, but there is a possibility that negotiations will be rendered more difficult by major economic differences between the Radicals and SF. At the extreme, there is a small possibility that ABF negotiations will breakdown and the Radicals might be enticed by the right to join a centre-right coalition, perhaps even led by the Radicals like between 1968 and 1971. That is more of a threat used by the Radicals than anything serious, given how much DF and RV hate each other.

note: I will be blogging about Norwegian local elections shortly, and the Spanish elections guide will be updated in a few days time.

Guatemala 2011

Presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections were held in Guatemala on September 11, 2011 with a presidential runoff scheduled for November 6. The President of Guatemala is elected for a four year term and is not eligible for reelection, and neither are his relatives. He serves with a Vice-President. The unicameral Congress has 158 deputies, of which 31 are elected through a national list and the rest in single-member districts of roughly 80,000 people. Also up were the country’s seat in the Central American Parliament and the control of the country’s 333 municipalities.

Guatemala is a poor and troubled country, marked by a long history of flagrant social and ethnic inequalities, poverty, military rule and political violence. Today, over half of Guatemalans live under the poverty line. As in the past, the dominant political and economic elites are almost exclusively well-off white landowners or businessmen. Whites or mestizos, descendants of European (Spanish) colonizers, make up roughly 60% of the country’s populations. 40% of the country’s population are natives, mostly Maya. The country’s large native population has traditionally been victims of discrimination and violence, and are largely absent from the country’s political and economic elites. For a long time, Guatemala was the perfect example of the ‘banana republic': the American-owned United Fruits Company (UFCO) owned tons of land in the country, most of which was not cultivated. The UFCO and Washington usually controlled the government of Guatemala, which oftentimes were led by right-wing military officers who were quite pliant. In 1954, the CIA and UFCO had the left-wing reformist president, Jacobo Arbenz, removed from power and replaced by a series of pro-American and anti-communist military rulers. Military rule lasted until 1986, and a civil war between the military and vicious paramilitaries against left-wing guerrillas lasted from 1960 till 1996. Today, Guatemala is wracked by violence and a Mexican-influence drug cartel war. Guatemala’s homicide rate, 42/100,000 is the fourth-highest in the world (in comparison, the Mexican homicide rate is 18 and the American homicide rate is 5).

The left, which had been largely shut out of power in Guatemala since 1954, took power in 2007 with the election of Álvaro Colom to the presidency against right-wing retired general Otto Pérez Molina. Colom defeated Pérez Molina with 52.8% against 47.2% even though most polls had showed the retired general in the lead. Since Álvaro Colom was not allowed to seek reelection, he and his party (the National Unity for Hope, UNE) supported his wife, Sandra Torres. Since relatives of the incumbent cannot seek election, the two filed for divorce in order for Torres to run. Her candidacy, however, was refused by the courts. This means that the incumbent left-wing government has no presidential candidate.

The front-runner was Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party (PP) and the 2007 runner-up. Pérez Molina is a retired military general and former head of military intelligence. Pérez Molina is perceived by critics as being an authoritarian hardliner, and some accuse him of torture and human rights abuses in the 90s though no cases of torture or abuse have ever been proven. Pérez Molina ran, like in 2007, as a hardline law-and-order (‘iron fist’) candidate, advocating the use of military force against drug cartels. He also promised more social spending, though that is probably a pledge which in practice would be much tempered because of his close association with big business and the Guatemalan economic elites.

In the absence of a left-wing candidate, it was Manuel Baldizón who emerged as the main runner-up. Baldizón is a very wealthy businessman and hotel tycoon, who is also right-wing. In 2006, he joined Colom’s UNE but in 2008 he led a large group of UNE dissidents to form a centrist party, LIDER. But his campaign has taken a very populist and slightly insane tone. He promises more social spending, social programs and fighting poverty. On the other hand, he is also very hardline on crime: he supports the use of the death penalty, in fact would like to see executions televised. In the insane repertoire, he said that if elected the national football team would somehow qualify for the World Cup (it has never qualified). It is likely he took up much of the fledgling left-wing vote, likely through the influence of his stashes and stashes of money.

Other candidates included 72-year old right-wing academic Eduardo Suger, Mario Estrada, Harold Caballeros and Nobel laureate and Mayan rights activist Rigoberta Menchú (perhaps the closest to a left-wing candidate).

With 98% reporting:

Otto Pérez Molina (PP) 36.06%
Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) 23.28%
Eduardo Suger (CREO) 16.26%
Mario Estrada (UCN) 8.62%
Harold Caballeros (VIVA-EG) 6.09%
Rigoberta Menchú (WINAQ-URNG-MAIZ-ANN) 3.28%
Others 6.41%

Otto Pérez Molina was widely expected to win, and he did, but he only took 36% and failed to win an absolute majority which is needed to win outright by the first round. This could reflect unease about his military past, but more likely it is the result of the success of right-populist businessman Manuel Baldizón who will face Pérez Molina in the November runoff. Yet, despite Pérez Molina’s poor showing, he remains the favourite. Votes cast for Eduardo Suger, who placed third, are said to be likely to be cast for Pérez Molina in November. His tough stance on crime is popular with voters in a country where criminality, drug wars and gang violence is the most important political issue even ahead of poverty and the economy.

Manuel Baldizón pretty obviously took the left-wing vote: in the south, he performed best in departments where Colom’s UNE had done well in 2007. In the legislative election, LIDER (the third force in the incumbent Congress) won only 8.87% against 22.63% for the governing centre-left UNE-GANA. The PP won the most votes with 26.67% (it won 15.9% in 2007) but will probably fall quite short of an overall majority though it won’t change that Congress is the preserve of the rather conservative economic elites of the country.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Germany) 2011

A state election was held in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in German) on September 4, 2011. The Landtag of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania currently has 71 members (72 after the election), of which 36 are elected through first-past-the-post in single-member districts and the rest of which are elected through party-list proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The direct and list votes in the Rügen-I constituency was delayed for two weeks after the death of the CDU candidate before the election.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is a large but very sparsely populated state on Germany’s Baltic seashore. This old East German region is composed of Mecklenburg, one of the few regions of northern Germany to never come under Prussian control; and Western Pomerania, the western region of the old Prussian Province of Pomerania most of which now lies in Poland. Mecklenburg and Pomerania were two predominantly rural and poor provinces. Following World War II, Western Pomerania was extensively re-settled by Germans who used to live in eastern Pomerania (which became Polish). Today, the region’s population is in decline and it is one of the poorest states in Germany. Politically, Mecklenburg and Pomerania are something of two distinct entities. Mecklenburg has a long left-wing history, being a strong SPD state since the Weimar era and maintaining that (more or less) since then, unlike Saxony for example. The shipbuilding city of Rostock has been a SPD stronghold since the Kaiserreich. Pomerania, in contrast, has long been a very conservative area. It was the land of the Prussian junkers, with little industry (except the navy in Stralsund). While Mecklenburg voted SPD during Weimar, Pomerania was a DNVP and later Nazi stronghold. To this day, western Pomerania remains a CDU stronghold at all levels, even though it is heavily Protestant. Angela Merkel has represented the Pomeranian constituency of Stralsund–Nordvorpommern–Rügen since 1990 even though she isn’t originally from the area. At the state level, the SPD has governed since 1998, first in a red-red coalition with the PDS until 2006 and since then in a Grand Coalition with the CDU. The Minister-President since 2008 is the SPD’s Erwin Sellering.

SPD 35.7% (+5.5%) winning 28 seats (+5)
CDU 23.1% (-5.7%) winning 18 seats (-4)
Linke 18.4% (+1.6%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Green 8.4% (+5%) winning 6 seats (+6)
NPD 6% (-1.3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
FDP 2.7% (-6.9%) winning 0 seats (-7)
Pirates 1.9% (+1.9%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Family 1.6% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.2% (±0%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The results proved an almost spotless success for the left. The SPD was reelected with an increased majority, and won its second best result in state elections since 1990. It is a pleasing success for the SPD, which after a very bad through in 2009 is starting to see its fortunes perk up slowly but surely despite the Green surge. A recent poll placed it at 30% federally, a level it has not seen since at least 2010 if not long before then. It finally seems to be able to profit from the federal government’s unpopularity. The Greens continued their string of success with their best result in any election in the state since 1990 and making their first entrance in the Landtag ever. The Greens are now represented in every Landtag. Even the Left, which is going through a bad stint right now with its share of internal divisions and the like, had a good night. In sharp contrast, the right was crushed. The CDU won by far its worst result in any state election, and lost nearly 6% of its vote share. More important and striking is the FDP’s utter and total collapse. The FDP had done very well in 2006 with over 9% in a state which is not particularly friendly to the FDP, so a setback was to be expected. But not only was the FDP thrown out of the Landtag, it collapsed to a mere 2.7% of the vote. The neo-Nazi NPD held all but one of its seats despite falling back slightly. Turnout fell to 51.4% from 59% in 2006.

The Spiegel has a nice interactive map of the result. The SPD won 23 direct seats against 12 for the CDU (in 2006, the CDU won 20, the SPD 15 and the Left 1). In the list vote, the CDU won only two constituencies. The bulk of the CDU’s direct seats are in western Pomerania.

The special election in Rügen-I is a funny situation now. The CDU’s candidate died, and its replacement candidate was dropped when it was revealed that he had been a member of the far-right DVU. He will remain on the ballot on the CDU line, but without the CDU’s support. In 2006, the CDU won the direct vote in Rügen-I with 31.6% to the SPD’s 25%. This year, the CDU held the Rügen-II seat with 29.8% against 27.6% for the SPD. It seems as if the most likely outcome is a SPD victory. The result will not change much: the Greens could gain a seat from the NPD if it won 18.5% of the vote.

Start reading my Guide to the 2011 Spanish Elections, all you’ve ever wanted to know and more about Spanish history, political issues, political parties, regions and more in one huge thing. Still under permanent construction.

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