Monthly Archives: November 2011

Morocco 2011

Legislative elections were held in Morocco on November 25. All 395 seats in the country’s lower house, the Assembly of Representatives, were up for reelection. 305 members were elected through closed-list PR in 92 multi-member electoral districts (with a 6% threshold) while 90 seats were elected on a national list where 60 spots were for women and 30 spots for candidates under 40.

Following constitutional reforms announced by King Mohammed VI in the wake of the February protests in the country, the Parliament will have increased law-making powers and the Prime Minister will now be chosen by the King within the ranks of the party holding the most seats in Parliament. Prior to these reforms, Morocco had been one of the most ‘democratic’ regimes in North Africa (and the Arab world), with a multi-party parliament (although one with limited powers) elected democratically and some kind of government. Democratization had begun between 1992 and 1996 under the reign of Hassan II and reached a climax in 1998 when Hassan II named one of his longtime opponents as Prime Minister.

Moroccan political parties, however, it must be said, are all pretty pro-regime. Since 1998, the government coalition has been formed primarily by the Koutla, an alliance of the old nationalist conservative Istiqlal Party (PI), the left-wing Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) and the ex-communist Popular Socialist Party (PPS). Since 2007, the government has been formed by Abbas El Fassi of the PI, which won the most seats in the 2007 elections. Alongside the Koutla are three other important liberal-conservative parties, two of which participate in the El Fassi cabinet. They are the pro-government liberal National Rally of Independents (RNI), the liberal-conservative Popular Movement (MP) and the conservative opposition Constitutional Union (UC). The largest opposition party is the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), founded in 1996 and led by Abdelillah Benkirane. Finally, the newcomer to the scene in 2008 was the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), a conservative opposition founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, a former cabinet minister and close friend of the King. It won 21% in the 2009 local elections and is perceived to be an attempt by the King to create a strong party of close allies.

Prior to the election, the three liberal parties (RNI, MP, UC) in addition to the PAM and four other parties (2 left-wing, 1 green, 1 Islamist) founded an eight-party Alliance for Democracy aimed at rivaling the governing Koutla coalition and the PJD, which has been perceived as having gained the most from the February protests.

Turnout in the 2007 elections hit rock-bottom: only 37% of voters bothered to vote, which was the lowest turnout ever and a record low in the string of ever-decreasing turnouts started back in 1984 and unchecked since. Many voters – a majority of them in fact – are disillusioned with the parties and parliamentary politics, judging all politicians as venal crooks who only care about their votes every election year. Few voters seem to view parties as actual aggregator of political interests and coherent ideologies. Turnout in this summer’s constitutional referendum, ratified by 98% of voters, reached 75% which throws into doubt the legitimacy of the vote. The 20 February protest movement called on voters to abstain.

Turnout, however, increased, reaching 45%. I can’t help but think that the state might have toyed around a bit with the turnout numbers as anything at or below 37% would have been a crushing blow to the regime and would have played right into the hands of the 20-F protest movement.

PJD 107 seats (+61)
PI 60 seats (+8)
RNI 52 seats (+13)
PAM 47 seats (+48)
USFP 39 seats (+1)
MP 32 seats (-9)
UC 23 seats (-4)
PPS 18 seats (+1)
Labour 4 seats (-1)
Others 13 seats (-26)

As was widely expected, the PJD topped the poll with its best result and taking nearly 30% of the seats. It seems to have scored most of its gains on the back of smaller parties, who suffered the heaviest loses, while all the main parties besides the MP and UC gained seats as well. As a result of the election, the King named Abdelillah Benkirane as Prime Minister. It seems likely that the Benkirane coalition will be composed of the PJD and the old Koutla parties, with the RNI and PAM announcing they would not join the government. The MP and UC still seem to be debating the future of the eight-party coalition and perhaps their participation in cabinet.

A lot is made of the PJD’s victory, which, it is true, is pretty significant. It is the first time that an Islamist party wins legislative elections in Morocco and it is an historic success for the PJD itself. But the election and the results are nowhere near as significant as those in Tunisia or those of the ongoing elections in Egypt. For starters, these are not ‘regime-change’ elections: the King retains the real power, and his regime is not under any serious threat. Furthemore, the PJD is, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderated legal party which has accepted the regime in its current form.

New Zealand 2011

General elections were held in New Zealand on November 26, 2011. The unicameral Parliament of New Zealand has 120 members, sometimes more due to overhang seats. Since 1994, New Zealand has used mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) in which 70 members are elected in single-member constituencies (the electorate seats) through FPTP and at least 50 members are elected through party-list proportional representation in a national constituency with a 5% threshold (parties winning one electorate seat can be exempted from the threshold). Of the 70 electorate seats, 63 members are elected in general constituencies were all voters are assigned to by default, while 7 members are elected in Māori electorates (created in 1868) where the only eligible voters are those citizens of Māori ethnicity who ask to be placed on the Māori electoral list. Not all Māori voters vote in these Māori electorates: a small minority of them preferred to be enrolled on the general electoral list and vote in the 63 general constituencies. The Māori electorates have long been a source of political controversy and the current government wishes to abolish them by 2014. Elections are held every three-years in New Zealand.

New Zealand has been governed since 2008 by John Key of the centre-right National Party, who defeated incumbent Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark who was first elected in 1999. The National Party was formed in 1936 by the two old rival parties of the centre and the right: the United Party (the old Liberals) and the Reform Party – to counteract the rise of the Labour Party which won power for the first time in 1935 following the defeat of the United-Reform coalition government. The Nationals first won power in 1949 and governed until 1957, returned to power in 1960 and ruled until 1972, returned to power in 1975 and ruled until 1984, won back power in 1990 and lost power to Labour in 1999. Traditionally, like all centre-right parties, National has usually favoured liberal economic policies and pro-business policies. But the experience of the Robert Muldoon government (1975-1984) sets it apart a bit: Muldoon, a populist autocrat, favoured heavily interventionist economic policies such as price freezes to control inflation or the “Think Big” energy initiatives. In contrast, the Labour government originally led by David Lange was by most regards far to the right on economic issues. Lange’s finance minister between 1984 and 1988 was the emblematic Roger Douglas, architect of neoliberal “Rogernomics” which included monetarist inflation control, cutting the tariff and farming subsidies, privatizations and tax cuts. This was a departure both from traditional social democratic policies but also Labour’s own traditional policies. Indeed, past Labour governments prior to 1984 had followed far more progressive and interventionist policies. Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labour Prime Minister, became something of a left-wing icon for his creation of the country’s welfare state. The second Labour government between 1957 and 1960 was defeated following a “Black Budget” in 1958 which had significantly raised taxes. Douglas was eventually forced out in late 1988, and Lange himself resigned in 1989 but it was not enough to save Labour from a landslide defeat in 1990 at the hands of Jim Bolger’s Nationals. Rogernomics had divided National, which had a history of economic interventionism and statist conservatism going back to Muldoon’s days. However, Bolger’s finance minister, Ruth Richardson, was a fan of Rogernomics and in fact believed they had not gone far enough: she implemented even more radical Ruthanasia – major spending cuts in social welfare and unemployment benefits. These policies almost cost it victory in 1993, in which third parties did well. Bolger was pushed out by Jenny Shipley in 1997 but she lost the 1999 election to Helen Clark, who abandoned the Rogernomics era in favour of Blairite Third Way policies. Presiding over economic growth and a progressive decline in unemployment, she held office until 2008.

New Zealand adopted MMP in 1993, the result of a series of disproportional elections under FPTP in which parties such as Social Credit won nearly 20% of the vote but only one or two seats. MMP encouraged the growth of third parties, but New Zealand has retained a stable two-party system despite the adoption of MMP. It might be a result of the continued impact of the two-party system bred by FPTP or of the failure of third parties to appeal to a wide base, often because of their more ‘radical’ nature in the political spectrum. The most important of these third parties has been the populist New Zealand First (NZF), led by former National MP Winston Peters. NZF is a bit hard to pin down politically, but it is similar to other right-populist parties by its social conservatism, its anti-corporate rhetoric coupled with a low taxes and reduced spending agenda. Peters’ NZF, which won 13.4% in 1996 and held the balance of power formed a coalition with the Nationals which lasted until 1998. Between 2005 and 2008, NZF had a confidence-and-supply deal with Clark and Peters served as foreign minister. In the 2008 election, NZF was shut out as it fell to an all-time low of 4.1%.

Recently the Greens have grown in strength, polling 7% in 2002 and 6.7% in 2008. The Greens, who are pretty left-wing (they were a part of the left-wing Alliance in the 1993 and 1996 elections, winning 18% in 1993 and 10% in 1996), have a close working relationship with Labour but they have never signed formal coalition or confidence and supply deals with them, in part due to the hostility towards the Greens on the behalf of NZF and United Future. Other parties with a presence or foothold in recent years include United Future, ACT and the Progressives. United Future was founded as a merger of a secular centrist party and a right-wing Christian democratic party in 2000, and won 6.7%. United Future has been something of a weird beast, with a more moderate centre-right wing including Peter Dunne, the party’s leader and sole MP, with a more right-wing socially conservative ‘Christian right’ faction which has recently been eliminated. Today, United Future appears to be an empty shell and nothing more than a personal vehicle for Dunne, an extra-cabinet minister who has served under the last two governments. ACT is a free-market right-wing liberal party founded in 1994, advocating a flat tax, welfare reform, controlling government spending and debt, tough-on-crime policies and other right-wing positions on defense and the environment. It won between 6 and 7% of the vote between 1996 and 2002, but only 1.5% in 2005. It managed to win 5 seats in 2008, entering government. ACT’s leader until this election was Don Brash, the former leader of the National Party who had narrowly lost the 2005 election. Brash, on the National Party’s right, was progressively forced out after the election and resigned in 2006, at which point John Key, more centrist, won the National Party’s leadership. Until he retired this year, the other main actor was Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party. Anderton had split from the Labour Party in 1989 over Rogernomics and then played a key role as leader of the Alliance in the 1990s, a party which formed a coalition with Labour after 1999. But Anderton split from the Alliance, part of which thought he was moving too close to Labour. He held his electorate of Wigram in 2002, 2005 and 2008 but especially after 2008 the party became an empty shell. Anderton’s retirement this year killed the party. In the Māori electorates, the Māori Party, a splitoff from Labour founded in 2004. It won 5 Māori seats in 2008 and it has members outside cabinet since then.

John Key has been a fairly popular Prime Minister, and at any rate, New Zealand rarely turfs out first-term governments unless they’ve done something quite disagreeable or have been terrible. The country has been affected by the recession, and its unemployment rate is now 6%, but GDP growth is strong at 2% and projected to reach 3.8% in 2012. The government cut taxes, but increased the GST and minimum wage. Above all, Key is seen as a pleasant “Kiwi bloke” as opposed to Labour leader Phil Goff, seen as incompetent and desperate. The government was handed a nice boost by the All Blacks’ win in the Rugby World Cup earlier this year. Alongside the election, National also followed through with its election promise to hold a referendum on keeping or changing MMP. FPTP, STV, SM and preferential voting were the four proposed options in case voters voted to change MMP. Like most similar referendums, few voters seemed to care very much about the topic.

Turnout seems to be quite a bit lower than in 2008. Here are the results:

National 47.99% (+3.06%) winning 60 seats (+2) [41 E, 19 L]
Labour 27.13% (-6.86%) winning 34 seats (-9) [22 E, 12 L]
Greens 10.62% (+3.9%) winning 13 seats (+4) [13 L]
NZF 6.81% (+2.74%) winning 8 seats (+8) [8 L]
Māori 1.35% (-1.04%) winning 3 seats (-2) [3 E]
ACT 1.07% (-2.58%) winning 1 seat (-4) [1 E]
Mana 1% (+1%) winning 1 seat (+1) [1 E]
United Future 0.61% (-0.26%) winning 1 seat (+1) [1 E]
Conservative 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Results by electorate, constituency vote (source: Wikipedia)

Without any suspense, John Key’s popular incumbent National Party was reelected to a second term but, it was the surprise of the night perhaps, failed to win a majority and remains in a hung parliament albeit it’s almost a majority. The Nationals breaking the magic 50% line, as a lot of polls had predicted (less so in the final days), would have been pretty historic given that it’s not been broken by any party since National’s landslide in 1951. Labour, meanwhile, suffered a pretty significant defeat. Labour had never really stood a chance against a popular one-term government, and by all means its gadfly leader Phil Goff (from the party’s right-wing) was nothing more than a stopgap leader who would lose in 2011 while Labour’s more popular leadership contenders would wait until the 2014 election, which was the earliest National could be defeated. Goff led a pretty desperate campaign on stuff like the “cost of living” or removing from the GST from groceries. In contrast to Key, a popular and generally competent leader who is personally popular with voters and who has been able to wash off potential scandals, Goff and Labour never really stood a chance. 27% is a poor showing, but by no means a landslide defeat really. In terms of electorates, it seems as if Labour had it its core seats by 2008: it only lost Waimakariri while gaining West Coast-Tasman and the Māori seat of Te Tai Tonga.

In a pretty rare but how so amusing result, the vote in Christchurch Central ended up as a perfect tie between Labour MP Brendon Burns and National candidate Nicky Wagner at 10,493 votes apiece. The result will be determined by special votes. If National wins the seat, it would lose its last list seat without affecting the overall result. Similarly, if Labour wins the seat it would lose its last list seat without again affecting the final result. You thus have a situation where the last elected individual on each party’s list is wishing that their party doesn’t win Christchurch Central – if they did, they’d lose their seat.

The Greens had a good night, winning their best result ever. They likely took a lot of soft-left votes from Labour, especially in the final days of the campaign when they experienced their surge. I wonder how much the Tauranga oil spill on October 5 might have affected Green support: their real upsurge in support came after the spill.

The major surprise of the night was Winston Peters, NZF’s leader who had been thrown out of Parliament in 2008. He was not expected to reenter Parliament this year, and even in the final days as NZF picked up steam few people predicted it would win seats. With 6.8% and 8 seats, its success was the main surprise of the election. Its success, spectacular in some regards, is attributed to the Tea Tape scandals which taped a compromising conversation between Key and ACT candidate John Banks. NZF had taken the forefront in leaking the tapes, and Peters, whose party receives many votes from the elderly, claimed that Key insulted the elderly in the tapes.

nz

Results of the first question by electorate

ACT, which has suffered from poor performance in cabinet and leadership disputes which claimed Rodney Hide’s leadership, suffered its worst electoral result since its foundation. The party is basically in terminal state right now. Its chances hinged on its pivotal electorate seat of Epsom, a very affluent suburb of Auckland which it has held since 2005. Rodney Hide, who had been ACT’s Epsom MP since 2005, was deselected in favour of John Banks, the former mayor of Auckland defeated last year. In some regards, the Nationals might have seen it in their interests to use ACT’s terminal condition to unplug it and rid itself from a controversial ally. But in other regards, Nationals need ACT as one of their only sure bases of coalition support. The Nationals stood a candidate in Epsom, Paul Goldsmith, but in an amusing situation Goldsmith – who led most polls for the seat – campaigned telling voters not to vote for him and instead give their electorate vote to ACT (Banks) and its list vote to the Nationals. ACT’s John Banks finally won Epsom with 45% against 37% for Goldsmith, while the list vote in the electorate split 65% in National’s favour (ACT taking a pathetic 2.6%). The Nationals winning Epsom would have been rather amusing and an embarrassing situation for themselves, but it can breath a sigh of relief as it has saved ACT for a bit longer keeping it plugged in and providing Key with a coalition partner. United Future, which is now more than ever a personality cult for Peter Dunne and which will die off like the Progressives once Dunne retires, is also seen as a likely coalition partner. The Māori Party, which lost two seats this year (one to Labour, another one – Te Tai Tokerau was held by dissident MP Hone Harawira of the Mana Party), could also continue backing the government. I wonder to what extent the Māori Party’s poor showing this year can be attributed to it propping up a National government given that Māori voters are pretty starkly anti-National in their voting and have been so for years. On a final note, a new right-wing party, the Conservatives, did fairly well for a newbie party with 2.7%. Its leader Colin Craig, helped by his personal wealth, won 21% standing in the National stronghold of Rodney north of Auckland. It will be interesting to see how the Conservatives carry on after a fairly strong showing in their first outing.

In the referendum on the voting system, MMP prevailed with 53.74% opposing the change and 42.62% supporting a change. 3.64% of ballots were marked ‘informal’ or invalid. In the follow-up question (ultimately useless because MMP won) on which alternative system to adopt, FPTP logically came out on top with 31.89%, followed by 14.53% for SM, 11.24% for STV and 8.19% for PV. But 34.15% of ballots were ‘informal’ or invalid. The map of the result shows strong support for MMP in core urban areas, especially lower-income or trendy neighborhoods (much less support, in fact, in the wealthier suburbs). Opposition to MMP was heavier in rural areas, though some rural areas – I don’t know why – tended to support MMP as well. Māori voters were strongly behind MMP with over 70% support for the country’s current electoral system. The referendum in Northland ended as another perfect tie!

Spain 2011

Legislative elections were held in Spain on November 20, 2011. All 350 members of the Congress of Deputies and 208 out of 266 members of the Senate were up for reelection in these snap elections. I had covered the details of this election, but also some very extensive details about Spanish history since the Restoration, the political parties in contention, the political issues and the regions of Spain in some 100 pages (!) in my Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election. I wish to apologize to those who had hoped to follow my liveblog. Apparently it never worked for the readers, and I didn’t find that out until it was all said and done. Technology never works these days.

Spain has been one of the European countries hit the hardest by the European debt crisis and the world recession. Its unemployment rate, 21.5%, is the highest in the EU, and 4.9 million people are out of work. Nearly half of those under 30 are unemployed. The logistics of the debt crisis in Spain are made all the more difficult in a decentralized country like Spain, where seventeen autonomous communities account for 40% of total spending and have run up some huge debts (€121.4 billion in total) and whose combined deficit rose to 2.8% of the country’s GDP last year (while the central government’s deficit fell from 11 to 9% of the GDP). Spain is widely considered as one of the most vulnerable countries in this European debt crisis, alongside Greece and Italy, and could be one of the next “dominoes” to fall in case things get even worse. Spain’s Socialist government, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero since 2004, has taken lots of heat over its initially sluggish response to the growing crisis and then suffered the brunt of popular discontent when it was compelled to implement very tough austerity deals including wage freezes for public employees and massive spending cuts. In the May 2011 regional elections, Zapatero’s governing Socialists (PSOE) suffered an historic trouncing at the expense of the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP). Zapatero himself was not running for reelection as President of the Government this year, being succeeded by his right-hand man and former Vice-President of the Government Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. Rubalcaba faced Mariano Rajoy, the leader and candidate of the PP since 2004, when Rajoy failed in his bid to succeed his predecessor José María Aznar as President of the Government.

The Guide covers the details of Spain’s electoral system in more breadth. The 350 members of the lower house, the Congreso de los Diputados, are elected through d’Hondt closed list party-list proportional representation in Spain’s 50 provinces which have have between 2 (constitutionally-set minimum) and 36 seats. Theoretically, the threshold in each constituency is 3% but in practice in all but the largest constituencies (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia etc) the threshold is much higher - up to 25% in three-member constituencies. Furthermore, the electoral system over-represents smaller provinces: there were only 38,685 voters per deputy in Soria back in 2008, but in Barcelona there were 128,392 voters per deputy that same year. The high threshold in most provinces penalizes national third-parties whose base is more homogeneously spread throughout the country, and has resulted in a two-party system around the PSOE and PP where regionalist parties in Euskadi and Catalonia are also advantaged by the electoral system. The 208 elected members of the upper house, the Senado, are elected through partial block voting in each province in peninsular Spain, which elects four senators. Ceuta and Melilla elect two members, the larger islands in the insular communities (Mallorca in the Balearics and Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canaries) elect three senators each while the smaller islands in the insular communities elect a single member each. In provinces with four senators, voters may vote up to three candidates. In those with two or three, for up to two. In those with one, for a single candidate. Voters vote for individual candidates (each party slate has three names in four-seaters) and those four winning the most votes are elected. This usually means that seats are split 3-1 between the winning slate and the runners-up. The remainder of seats are elected indirectly by the legislatures of the autonomous communities. Each autonomous community is entitled to one member plus one additional member for every million inhabitants. The electoral system and the Senate are both major political questions, and movements such as the indignados have demanded electoral reform with ideas such as open lists, regional constituencies, a single national constituency or a mixed German-type system (so, with an FPTP component) being some of the commonly proposed alternatives to the current system.

You can find more about the electoral campaign in the Guide, but the result of a low-intensity campaign which ultimately never impassioned voters and which was marked throughout by certainty over the result was a dip in turnout from 73.85% to 71.69%. Blank votes increased from 1.11% to 1.37% and null votes from 0.69% to 1.29%.

PP 44.62% (+4.68%) winning 186 seats (+32)*
PSOE 28.73% (-15.14%) winning 110 seats (-59)
CiU 4.17% (+1.14%) winning 16 seats (+6)
IU-LV 6.92% (+3.15%) winning 11 seats (+9)*
Amaiur 1.37% (+1.37%) winning 7 seats (+7)*
UPyD 4.69% (+3.5%) winning 5 seats (+4)
EAJ-PNV 1.33% (+0.14%) winning 5 seats (-1)
ERC 1.05% (-0.11%) winning 3 seats (nc)
BNG 0.75% (-0.08%) winning 2 seats (nc)
CC-NCa-PNC 0.59% (-0.09%) winning 2 seats (nc)*
Compromís 0.51% (+0.39%) winning 1 seat (+1)
FAC 0.4% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Geroa Bai 0.17% (-0.07%) winning 1 seat (nc)

In the Senate:

PP 136 seats (+35)*
PSOE 48 seats (-40)
CiU 9 seats (+5)
PSC-ICV-EUiA 7 seats (-5)*
EAJ-PNV 4 seats (+2)
Amaiur 3 seats (+3)
CC 1 seat (nc)

* PP includes 1 UPN deputy; 3 PAR senators 2 UPN senators
* IU includes 2 ICV, 1 CHA and 1 EUiA
* Amaiur includes independents (5 deputies and 2 senators), EA (1 deputy and 1 senator) and Aralar (1 deputy)
* CC-NCa includes CC (1 deputy), NCa (1 deputy) and AHI (1 senator)

Please note that results are calculated by the Spanish government based on valid votes, which includes blank votes – envelopes containing no party ballot. In my Guide, I calculated results based on the total number of candidate votes, including solely votes cast directly for a party list. I have not calculated results on this basis for this election.

Without any surprise, the PP has won an historic majority. It has won its highest vote share and seat count in its history. The PP’s absolute majority provides Spain and the tumultuous financial markets with the ‘stable government’ they had longed for. Mariano Rajoy, in good part by chance, will finally become President of the Government. For the PP and Rajoy, now comes the hard part. It inherits a very bleak economic record: record-high unemployment, youth disillusion with the lack of job opportunities, popular discontent over austerity measures and the political system, a big deficit and rising debt, autonomous communities up in debt to their necks and some autonomous communities unwilling to cut as much as the central government would like them to do. During the campaign, the PP promised basically nothing and in fact Rajoy declined to reveal his full programme during a televised debate with Rubalcaba. The PP talked in some very broad terms about fighting the crisis, fighting unemployment and summed up its policies to catchphrases like ­”modernization”, “growth”, “competitiveness”, “opportunities”, “reform” and above all the good ol’ c-word: change. Its slogan was “súmate al cambio” (join the change). Despite its sixth plank saying “we will carry out an austerity plan that will commit all the levels of government” this did not keep the PP, during the campaign, from attacking the PSOE on the front of spending cuts.

Whatever the PP said during the campaign, it is quite certain that they will undertake a program of austerity – they have said so themselves – but what form it will take remains to be seen. If you believe their program, it will mostly be in the form of labour market liberalization, business tax cuts, and public sector reform on the bases of rationalization, transparency and efficiency. They have, in their program, promised to uphold the welfare state and have said that health and education are their ‘priorities’. They have also promised tax cuts and other tax-incentive/goodies as some sort of counterbalance to austerity. Whether they follow through on this in practice remains to be seen, but given what austerity means in practice and the realities of the Spanish economy, I wouldn’t hold out hope.

While the PP’s victory is quite phenomenal in most regards, the election was more of a defeat of the PSOE than a victory of the PP. Certainly in terms of governance, the PP now has a commanding majority in Parliament and quasi-universal control over local government in most regions (only 5 out of 17 regions are not governed by the PP or its allies, and it controls the vast majority of provincial capitals) - an ideal situation similar to that of the PSOE in 1982-1983. But despite the PP’s landslide this year, its vote share actually only increased by 4.7% while the PSOE’s vote declined by a full 15 percentage points. Something which indicates the polarized nature of Spanish politics (especially given how the PP is the most polarizing party), but also the comparatively little embrace the PP received. Its victory this year is more a win by default, as the main opposition party which has played its cards pretty well and was reassuring during the campaign, than any widespread popular movement or embrace of the PP’s policies. The dip in turnout this year is indicative of this feeling of political apathy, and it serves to set it apart from the PSOE’s landslide defeat of an incumbent government in 1982 where there was a real popular embrace of the party as an inspiring vehicle of change and behind a charismatic young leader. No such emotions this year – voters were not very interested by the campaign, and Rajoy as a person retains the image of uncharismatic politico/Galician tax collector. It is almost resignation to a result known long in advance and behind a party which isn’t that bad but which isn’t inspiring any political mania.

The election is really a defeat for the PSOE more than anything. The governing party has suffered an unprecedented thumping, losing 15% and nearly 60 seats in Congress. With such a result, the PSOE has won the worst result in its recent history – falling below the 125 seats of the 2000 Aznarslide and the 118 seats it had won in the first free elections in 1977. In 1977, Spain’s political system was not yet constructed along stable lines and you had a lot of lingering left-wing votes in parties such as the PSP which would be eaten up by the PSOE. There is little way to spin it: it was a catastrophically bad result for the PSOE. In large part, the PSOE was the victim of the economic crisis. It had been criticized for its sluggish handling of the crisis when it first hit in late 2008 and then received the bulk of popular discontent over tough austerity measures it had been compelled to implement. These austerity measures included public sector wage freezes, a VAT hike, cuts in public spending, cuts in welfare allocations, pension reform and labour law liberalization. These measures, implemented by a left-wing party, really hit the core of the PSOE’s traditional electorate. A lot of traditional Socialist voters found themselves alienated from their traditional party and, in this election like in May, either did not turn out or voted for other parties either on the left (IU), centre (UPyD and regionalists) or the right (PP). On 20-N, the PSOE was really shrunk to its rock-solid core electorate. The party’s attempts to distance the campaign from the crisis and unemployment to issues where it is nominally stronger: social spending, welfare and so forth, failed. There was certainly no escaping the crisis this year and the PSOE’s desperate attempts to run on a traditional left-wing platform concerned with social issues could not work out. Rubalcaba put up a good fight, but ultimately he was doomed before it even started. It was not as much a defeat for him as a person rather than a defeat for the PSOE as a whole. Perhaps if the PSOE had been perceived as a “strong” government with a more concerted approach to the economic crisis (analysts have described Artur Mas’ Generalitat as a ‘strong government’, for example) rather than perceived as being wobbling all over the place it could have done a bit better. In a normal election, all things equal, it would probably not have been all that hard for Rubalcaba to defeat Rajoy, but this was not a normal election.

What was surprising was that there was not even a dead cat bounce for the PSOE in the results. A lot of people, myself included, had thought that the PSOE could slightly overperform expectations and receive a tiny boost from last-minute strategic voting for people wary of a PP majority or hesitating left-wingers who, in the past, had often tended to break at the last minute for the PSOE. No such thing this year. In fact, as the PP majority was pretty much a certainty, it could have depressed some PSOE voters from voting and allowed other voters to vote more “freely” – the small parties and regionalists: IU, UPyD, CiU, PNV and Amaiur all did a bit or quite a bit better than what was expected. Even some soft right-wingers might have taken the freedom to vote for parties such as UPyD as the PP’s majority looked so set in stone before the vote.

Only the provinces of Sevilla and Barcelona have remained loyal to the PSOE. In Sevilla, Felipe González’s former cabinet minister Alfonso Guerra won another successive victory at the helm of the PSOE’s list, constantly reelected since the first elections in 1977. But Jaén broke its unbroken streak of voting PSOE in every single election since democracy and voted PP. Even Huelva, another solidly loyal Socialist province, narrowly voted PP.

The PSOE must now reconstruct itself. A regular congress will be held in February, in which Zapatero will step down as official leader of the party. Who will replace him, and whether Rubalcaba will replace him, remains up in the air. The names of Defense Minister Carme Chacón, the President of the Congress José Bono, MEP Juan Fernándo López Aguilar, the secretary-general of the congressional caucus Eduardo Madina and Basque lehendakari Patxi López are commonly cited as potential successors. The PSOE starts from far, but perhaps its fight back will be easier than the one it faced in 2000. It is the opposition – the largest opposition force by far – to a government which faces an extremely tough economic situation and which will need to implement sour-tasting medicine quickly. In 2000, it faced a popular government which rode the wave of economic prosperity and growth with only little bumps until the Madrid bombings. No such luck for the PP government this year. The PSOE is discredited for the time being, but it is hard to see the discredit lasting very long when the government starts being compelled to introduce sour-tasting economic medicine. We are already seeing the PS in next-door Portugal start fighting back after losing this summer’s elections in a landslide to the opposition conservatives. More than any “right-wing shift” in Europe with the economic crisis (a flawed theory brought up by the Canadian paper The Globe and Mail) there is pretty much a strong anti-incumbent mood in those countries which are suffering from the economic crisis or whose governments have implemented unpopular policies in relation to the economic crisis (Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, the UK etc). I expect a similar situation to emerge in Spain. Therein lies the silver lining for PSOE supporters.

IU and UPyD, Spain’s two main national-level third parties, had a good night. IU won its best result since 1996 and really its first truly good results in a long time. With 11 seats and 7%, it roars back from the brink of extinction where it laid after the 2008 election (where it won only 2 seats). It performed strongly in its traditional strongholds of Madrid (8%), Catalonia (8.1%), Andalusia (8.3%) and Asturias (13.3%) but also Aragon where, in coalition with the left-nationalist CHA, it won 10.5% and one seat (for CHA). There is, however, the very serious risk that, like in the 1990s, IU’s new voters are left-wing voters parking their votes with IU in protest against the PSOE and who will be ready to bolt from IU whenever the PSOE appears viable again – that what was happened in 2000 and 2004. UPyD also did surprisingly well, winning a very strong 4.7% and 5 seats – up from just 1.2% and 1 seat in 2008. It has been an unexpectedly major beneficiary of the PSOE’s collapse, but also popularity with some centre-right voters. It won its best result (10.3% and 4 seats) in Madrid but also won one seat in Valencia in the person of Toni Cantó, a popular actor.

In Catalonia, CiU defied all expectations and shocked observers by outpolling the traditionally hegemonic PSC for the first time in a general election. The CiU, which had not been expected to perform particularly spectacularly, did quite spectacularly with 29.4% and 16 seats – the best showing since 1996 – against 26.6% and 14 seats for the PSC. Consider that only three years ago the PSC had won 46%… Outpolling the PSC in a domain (general elections) where it has usually been the dominant party is quite a feat for the party and a major boost for the governing party in Catalonia. It is also a particularly big blow to Carme Chacón, who was a bit the PSC’s top candidate as the PSC top candidate in Barcelona. We are quite a way away from the 38% the CiU won in last year’s regional elections but the CiU always performs way better in regional elections anyhow. The ERC, the other main referent of Catalan nationalism, won 7.1% (down a bit from 7.8%) but managed to keep its 3 seats. It could be in the process of slowing down its pretty bad decline started around the time of the Catalan statute’s ratification in 2006. Its leaders have patted themselves on the back for the success of the party’s rebuilding process which began following the quasi-rout of the 2010 regional election.

The PP will be a bit let down by its ultimately unimpressive performance in Catalonia. Sure, 20.7% and 11 seats is above their 2008 results (16.4% and 8 seats) and it is their second best result after 2000 (23%). The PPC was probably hoping to place second ahead of CiU as some polls had indicated, and such a result would have been an historic success for the españolista right in Catalonia. Ultimately, it will need to settle for a somewhat distant third. As in 2010 and May 2011, the PPC’s success came on the heels not of fellow right-wingers who would otherwise vote CiU but rather non-Catalanist discontent PSC voters. Again, as in 2010 and May, the PPC won its best results and most impressive gains in the traditionally heavily Socialist working-class hinterland of Barcelona: Badalona, L’Hospitalet and so forth. In 2010, a campaign particularly focused on criminality and immigration had been behind the PPC’s success in those historic strongholds of the PSC. Indeed, the PPC, unlike any other regional branch of the PP, is particularly concerned about checking the rise of the only viable far-right movement in the country, the PxC – which won 1.7% of the vote in Catalonia.

The other major news of this election was Amaiur’s success. Amaiur is the abertzale left (Basque nationalist left) coalition founded in succession of Bildu, a similar coalition which had done well in May’s local elections. Amaiur includes EA, abertzale independents and Aralar. With 7 seats, it is the biggest party in “Euskal Herria” (CAPV+Navarre). While in Euskadi, in terms of votes, it is behind the PNV (24.1% vs. 27.4%), by the workings of the electoral system it won 6 seats in Euskadi to the PNV’s 5. In Navarre, with 14.9%, Amaiur won one seat. But what was more surprising in Navarre was Geroa Bai’s ability to hold it seat with 12.8% of the vote. Geroa Bai is the makeshift electoral alliance backed by the PNV (locally worthless in Navarre) and led around Uxue Barkos, the independent moderate deputy elected for the nationalist coalition NaBai in 2008. The combined 27.7% of the two Basque nationalist forces in Navarre is far superior to NaBai’s 18.4% and is certainly a record high for Basque nationalists in general elections in Navarre.

The results in Euskadi are at odds with those in the rest of Spain. The PNV, with 27.42% and 5 seats, a result slightly above its 27.11% result in 2008 (but one seat less) emerged on top, followed by Amaiur with 24.12% and 6 seats. The PSE-EE, which had won a crucial victory in 2008 with 38%, collapsed to a mere 21.5%. The PP was equally shunned: it held its 3 seats, but won 17.8% – less than the already poor 18.5% it had won in 2008. A far cry from the PP’s record of 29% in 2000. The real victor in Euskadi is Basque nationalism, with a combined strength of 51.5% – a record high since the late 80s.

Just like in the 1998 Basque regional elections, the abertzale left has benefited from the final cessation of ‘hostilities’ with ETA. Amaiur, with ETA dead, has become an even less polarizing and even more attractive political option for nationalists and other left-wingers. But the rebirth of Basque nationalism, which had been quite seriously shaken in 2008 and 2009 (when the PNV lost control of the CAPV’s regional government for the first time in history), is more than just that. Part of it probably comes from a rebuke of the PSE-PP pact which gave Patxi López the Ajuria Enea in 2009, but as some Spanish analysts have suggested, it could be a rebirth of nationalism as an attractive political and institutional option in one of Spain’s most affluent regions during one of the worst economic crises in recent Spanish history. Amaiur’s result is another big success for the abertzale left, which comes on the heels of Bildu’s success in May.

In detail, the Basque vote was a different story depending on the province. In Biscay, the birthplace and impregnable fiefdom of the PNV, the jeltzales won 32.62% (31% in 2008) against 21.4% for the PSE and 19.2% for Amaiur. In Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist and traditional base of the abertzale, Amaiur dominated the field with 34.8% against 22.4% (1 seat) for the PNV (down from 23.8% and 2 seats in 2008) and 21% for the PSE (39% in 2008). In Álava, the least Basque of the Basque provinces, the PP won 27.2% (up from 26.5%) against 23% for the PSE and some 19% apiece for the PNV and Amaiur. In terms of party politics, the PNV’s strong showing in Biscay strengthens the position of the moderate Josu Erkoreka for lehendakari in 2013, while the anemic showings in both Gipuzkoa and Álava weakens the weight of these federations but most notably that of Joseba Egibar, the more radical PNV leader in Gipuzkoa. In the long term, it will be worth watching whether the PNV continues its worrying (for them) isolation back into Biscay while losing Gipuzkoa and Álava – a trend seen back in May as well.

Amaiur polled its new votes from non-voters: logically, turnout increased in Euskadi (another break from the rest of Spain) from 64% to 69.2% this year (and up 10% in the abertzale stronghold of Gipuzkoa). A good number of solid more radical abertzale or Batasuna voters had not voted in 2008 for lack of such an option. Similarly, blank votes (envelopes deposited in the ballot box without any party ballot inside) fell from 1.8% to 1.1%. It also won, logically, some votes from EB-B (the local IU) which, in Euskadi unlike in the rest of Spain, fell back from 4.5% to 3.7%. EB-B has always acted as some sort of prop-up for nationalists in Basque governments without being fully nationalist itself. But Amaiur’s success did not have all that much of a detrimental effect on the PNV. It certainly did pull some votes away from the PNV in those places, like Gipuzkoa and eastern Biscay, which are the most rural and ethnically Basque areas, but on the overall raw numbers both throughout the CAPV and the constituent provinces don’t show a strong link between Amaiur and the PNV’s results. Instead there seems to have been a significant growth in support for Basque nationalism which ended up being positive to both parties.

Certainly some PNV voters might have voted Amaiur in bigger numbers than raw data makes us presumes, because those loses were compensated for gains with more moderate 2008 Socialist voters. It happened, but to what extent it is hard to judge. Amaiur seems to have grown quite a bit on the heels of the PSE’s collapse. It makes sense: in 2008, the PSE, which has always had (especially after its defeat in the 2001 regional elections) some elements of soft-regionalism, was an attractive option for some left-wing nationalist voters either through anti-PP strategical considerations or approval of Zapatero’s softer policy (in the first term, initially) with ETA. It had won 39% in Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist province, and had performed quite well in places like Arrasate/Mondragón which are otherwise abertzale strongholds. This year, a combination of national conditions (the PSOE’s unpopularity, the certainty of a PP majority) and local conditions (the PSE’s pact with the PP in 2009) probably doomed any chances for PSE resistance with more nationalist Basque voters.

Amaiur as a major political actor (with its own parliamentary group: parties need 5 members to form a unique group) and one of the largest political forces in Euskal Herria, alongside Euskadi’s unique set of results (with the nationalist landslide) makes the next four years interesting in Euskadi – both in terms of regional politics looking to the 2013 regional elections – but also in terms of the PP’s interaction with Euskadi and the PNV-Amaiur. Amaiur will be shunned and stigmatized by the PP, and there is fear that, like in 2000-2004, there could be a fistfight between the central PP government and the nationalists – especially if the nationalists reconquer the Ajuria Enea in 2013. Rajoy has already made public his intention to repeal the fourth transitory clause from the Constitution (the clause which sets the procedure for the union of the CAPV and Navarre) and this symbolic move could be symbolic for a tense relationship between the Basque nationalists/PNV, which is increasingly nationalist in its rhetoric again, and the PP. In the same context, the relationship between the CiU government in Barcelona, which is taking some more stridently nationalist tones at time, and the new PP government in Madrid will be interesting to follow. It is unlikely to be as bad as any relationship between a Basque nationalist government in Euskadi and Rajoy, but with questions of spending cuts on both sides and Catalan demands for fiscal autonomy, things can be interesting.

Third parties in general now form the biggest caucus since the early 90s – a clear break away from the pattern of increased polarization, unchecked ever since 1996. Beyond the aforementioned ‘biggies’, the BNG and CC both held their two seats. In the BNG’s case, with 11.25%, it won about 0.25% less than what it had won in 2008. In CC, the big loses in Santa Cruz de Tenerife (from 29.2% and 2 seats to 19.8% and 1 seat) were compensated by gains in Las Palmas (from 6.1% to 11.3% and 1 seat) – gains made possible by the alliance with NCa, the left regionalist party which had crippled CC in Las Palmas. In the Valencian Community, the coalition of the left-nationalist CC with the greens (Equo) won 4.8% and 1 seat – from Valencia where it won 6%. In the Balearic Islands, a similar coalition between the local left-nationalists (PSM-EN) and Equo won 7.2% but could not conquer a seat. In Cantabria, Miguel Ángel Revilla’s attempt to win a seat for his PRC fell quite a bit short with only 12.5%, victim of a PP campaign linking him closely to Zapatero. In Asturias, however, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos’ governing FAC (a right-wing party founded by former Aznar cabinet minister Álvarez-Cascos for the purposes of his fistfight with the local PP), won 14.75% and one seat. It is a pretty nice result for them, though in Madrid the FAC won only 0.2% and totally failed to catch any voters from the PP’s hard-right. In Asturias, it cost the PP some 5-6% (it fell from 41.6% to 35.4%).

Equo, Spain’s nascent green party, ultimately failed to elect anyone on its one. In Madrid, where all of Equo’s chances laid, it managed a pretty poor 1.92% and fell short of a single seat. Nationally, it won just 0.88%. Equo had never been widely predicted to do well on its own outside the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands where it benefited from its alliance with the much stronger local nationalists, but it is still a pretty significant setback for the country’s nascent green movement and shows that there is still much work to be done on their behalf if Spain is ever to have a strong green party. The first task would be to find unity, given that even with Equo some local green movements supported IU, notably in the Valencian Community.

There was also a less noticed good night for the tiny parties. The green/animal rights PACMA won 0.4%, double what it had won in 2008. A party calling for the recognition of blank votes in the seat allocation won 0.4%. Some small parties on the hard-left did well, by their standards.

El Mundo has a nice interactive map of the results by municipality, and allows for comparison with demographic and economic variables pretty nicely. The most striking aspect is of the course the blue wave, which is really massive and only leaves out Euskadi, Catalonia and the remnants of the Spanish “Solid South”. The PSOE is basically relegated to a handful of its strongholds: the poor inland rural areas of Andalusia especially in the provinces of Huelva and Sevilla, a remaining handful of towns in Extremadura and Aragon, the rump of the old working-class mining areas in León (interestingly, the PSOE vote dropped by only a bit more than average – 16% in Zapatero’s native province) and Asturias (inflated because of the division of the right-wing vote), and the Socialist fief of La Gomera in the Canaries (by a small margin at that). The PP dominated by wide margins in the conservative strongholds of the Castiles, the Levante, Cantabria and Galicia but even Extremadura and the Canaries. It won its best results in its history in Andalusia (45.6%!), the Canaries (a huge 48%), Castile-La Mancha (55.8%), Extremadura (over 50% for the first time ever, a decimated PSOE at 37 %), Murcia (64.3% against 21% for the PSOE…), La Rioja, Ceuta, Melilla (66% in both North African enclaves) but also the Valencian Community (53%) despite the Caso Gürtel. In Galicia, the long-term trend away from the PP is likely to continue: with 52.5%, the PP’s performance is quite a bit below the 54% won in 2000.

Outside Euskal Herria and Asturias, the swing to the PP was really quite universal despite a few under-performances here and there, so finding links between unemployment rates and stronger PP performances is a bit tough – but all these regions save La Rioja which saw the best PP performances are those regions were unemployment is above the national average of 21.5%. The shocking victories in Andalusia but also the Canaries have something to do with the 30% unemployment rate in those regions. But conversely, voters in those regions with lower unemployment were not more ready to support the PSOE – proof that economic pessimism is not regionally concentrated. I wouldn’t necessarily link the two, but it is interesting that coincidentally (?) the two regions where the PP vote dropped since 2008 for ‘normal’ reasons (aka, not because of vote-splitting like in Asturias) – Euskadi and Navarre – have the two lowest unemployment rates in Spain (12.2% and 11.7%).

The victory in Andalusia was one of the most notable aspects of the PP’s electoral results. Andalusia is really the bedrock of the PSOE, where a lot of its national leaders hail from, where it has built up full institutional control and where it has maintained a loyal electoral clientele in ways, some say, reminiscent of patronage or clientelism. In this regards, the PP’s victory there on 20-N and earlier in May was really a major blow to the PSOE. Because of this, the March 2012 regional elections in Andalusia will be crucial for both the PP and PSOE. If the PP, despite having the weight of having been in government for a few months, wins the elections (even moreso if it wins a majority, like it would on present numbers) then it will be a crippling blow for the PSOE made all the more crippling by it being out of government nationally. If the PSOE manages to hold on, it would mean a general sigh of relief for the PSOE and a very encouraging boost for it. Nonetheless, José Antonio Griñán’s PSOE trailed Javier Arenas’ PP by nearly 15% (49-35) in the last poll for the regional elections.

In the Senatorial contests, the PP won a huge majority (65% of seats) – the largest majority ever achieved in fact (bigger even than the PSOE’s senate majority in 1982). No province voted differently in the Senate elections, and only one province – Tarragona – resulted in a 2-2 split between the top two parties rather than the usual 3-1 split. The PP won seats in all provinces but the 4 Catalan provinces and the two coastal Basque provinces, and won the three seats in all other provinces but Sevilla. In turn, the PSOE won only 48 seats – one in every four-seat province besides Gipuzkoa where it won none and Sevilla where it won three. The Senate-level only coalition in Catalonia between the PSC, ICV and EUiA (ERC left this year) won three seats in Barcelona, two in Tarragona and only one seat in Girona and Lleida. On the islands, the PSOE won its impregnable kingdom of La Gomera 44-36, but besides that it was limited to no seats in the other small islands and one seat in the three-seat islands. In El Hierro, the incumbent senator from AHI (an insular regionalist party allied with CC) was reelected.

The Guide will likely be updated, sometime, with this analysis, full results and perhaps further analysis if time permits.

US 2011: Quick Overview

State elections for gubernatorial, legislative, down-ballot and mayoral offices were held in various states in the United States on November 8, 2011. The main elections were gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Mississippi, major state initiatives on the ballots in Ohio and Mississippi and state legislative elections in Virginia, New Jersey, Kentucky, Mississippi and I believe runoffs in Louisiana. I won’t cover all races, but here’s a synopsis of the races I found interesting.

Gubernatorial elections were a snooze. Governor Bobby Jindal (R) had already won a landslide reelection in Louisiana’s jungle primary in October, taking nearly 66% of the vote against some 18% for Tara Hollis, a teacher which was the best Democrats could settle on to oppose a very popular governor in a very conservative state where the Democratic Party is a dying breed as the last specimens of conservative Dixiecrats who are still Democrats join the Republicans. Only West Virginia’s special election on October 4 was remotely interesting, with incumbent Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D), a conservative Democrat, winning a surprisingly close race 50-47 against Republican businessman Bill Maloney. Tomblin, a favourite of the WVDP establishment and of businesses, had succeeded Joe Manchin when Manchin won the Senate contest in 2010.

In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear (D) had defeated corruption scared Governor Ernie Fletcher (R) in 2007 by a big landslide (59-41). A conservative Democrat, he fits his state well and has remained popular. The Republican candidate, David Williams was definitely underwhelming and didn’t stand a chance. Gatewood Galbraith, a civil liberties activist and cannabis-legalization supporter, ran as an independent and surprisingly picked up the endorsement of the powerful UMW.

In Mississippi, high-profile Governor Haley Barbour (R) was term-limited. His successor was Lt. Governor Phil Bryant. Democrats picked Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree (an African-American) in a divided primary to be their sacrificial lamb. Here’s a roundup of the gubernatorial results:

State Rep % Dem % Ind %
KY 35.29% 55.72% 8.99%
MS 61.07% 38.93% -

Dave’s Election Atlas has the map up for Kentucky and Mississippi should be coming up soon. I won’t comment much on the Kentucky map, as it is the usual pattern for a Democratic landslide in the state, but the surprising aspect to me was Beshear’s pretty underwhelming performance in the Democratic bastions of the coal country where he had performed very strongly (60-70%) in 2007 but did pretty poorly this year. Galbraith, being endorsed by the UMW and being from the broader region (though not directly coal country) is part of it, but in places such as Floyd or Pike, Williams did quite a bit better than Fletcher had done in 2007 despite doing some 5% worse than Fletcher state-wide. I wonder if Obama has a particularly rancid effect on those kind of ancestrally Democratic conservative areas which pulls down even a fairly non-controversial conservative like Beshear. In Mississippi, I was a bit surprised by Bryant’s big win, given that even Barbour hadn’t done that well in 2007, though granted maybe Barbour’s opponent being a white good ol’ boy played a role in retrospect.

Democrats won all downballot offices in Kentucky except GOP-held AgCommish, where the wonderfully name Bob Farmer (D) did very badly. Besides that, only the Treasurer contest was narrow. In Mississippi, Democrats held their AG office but lost all others handily to Republicans.

State legislative elections took place in Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey. In Mississippi, it appears as if Republicans have narrowly gained control of the House with 62 against 60 Democrats, making Arkansas’ State House the last remaining Democratic-controlled lower house in the Confederacy. The MS GOP also held their narrow hold on the Senate. In New Jersey, Democrats held their 24-16 Senate majority and gained a seat from the Republicans (effect of redistricting) in the General Assembly. This is a bit of a blow for Governor Chris Christie (R) who had campaigned for some GOP candidates. In Virginia, the GOP held the House but it seems as if the Democratic-controlled Senate will be going to a 20-20 tie broken by a GOP Lt. Governor but with committees split equally. In Iowa, Democrats easily held SD-18 in a special election which maintains their narrow 26-24 edge in the chamber. In Arizona and Michigan, two incumbent GOP legislators were yanked out of office by recalls.

Initiatives were the interesting things this year.

In Ohio, the big thing was Issue 2 which was about a Republican bill which limited collective bargaining for public employees. The issue, opposed by various unions, went down big. 61.3% voted no, repealing the bill. It is a particularly bad defeat for Ohio Governor John Kasich (R), and judging from the map a lot of Republicans in rural old working-class areas in the Ohio Valley voted with Democrats against Issue 2.

In Mississippi, I was particularly interested by Initiative 26, which would have defined the term ‘person’ as including “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof”, or in other words a measure which would render abortion illegal given that the USSC in Roe vs. Wade had ruled against Wade because they found that Wade’s definition of a fetus as a person lacked the constitutional and judicial precedent, failing to establish that personhood applied to the unborn. What Mississippi’s law would have done is unclear, as state law cannot overrule federal law. Civil liberty groups such as the ACLU had already prepared to take the matter to court. I expected the issue to carry the day pretty easily: this is Mississippi, a conservative and religious state, not Vermont or Oregon. Apparently, the No on 26 campaign was far more successful than expected and the implications of a yes vote on 26 cooled some voters away from supporting the bill. The issue was rejected 58-42, a margin far bigger than expected even in the last days (a PPP poll gave it as yes +1 in the final days). Apparently, the No on 26 benefited from some much heavier than expected black opposition to the issue – the No vote was by far highest in black counties but carried the day in more racially mixed central Mississippi and only passed in northeastern Mississippi (Appalachian Foothills), a more heavily white and Evangelical area. If such an issue can’t pass in Mississippi, where can it pass?

In Maine, something restoring same-day voter registration also passed.

Overall, stability prevailed and voters played it very moderate and cautious. Too radical measures like Issue 2 or Initiative 26 were rejected. Popular incumbents were returned, regardless of partisan affiliation. Democrats might have pulled out the strongest of the night, with only VA-Sen as a major black eye but a string of victories in KY-Gov, OH-Issue 2, NJ-Leg and IA-SD18. That being said, Republicans could claim victory as well with their victories in Virginia. Once again, who won depends on who you ask.

Saskatchewan (Canada) 2011

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan on November 7, 2011. All 58 members of the province’s unicameral legislature, the Legislative Assembly, were up for reelection. Saskatchewan is a landlocked prairie province in western Canada, a traditionally agrarian province which has closed the door on population decline and emigration in recent years with the commodities/natural resources boom.

Politically, Saskatchewan is the birthplace of the NDP. The province elected the first socialist government in North America in 1944 with Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare, and the CCF – the NDP’s predecessor. An agrarian socialist movement rooted in the Canadian prairies’ interwar agrarian progressive movement which was particularly strong in Saskatchewan. However, unlike in Alberta or Manitoba, it did not result in the election of a farmers’ party to power – the Saskatchewan Liberals successfully co-opted a farmers movement which was, ultimately, not very interested by political action at a provincial level until the Depression. In 1929, the decision of the small farmers’ caucus (5 members) in the legislature to form a coalition government with the nativist Conservatives (24 members) destroyed what there was of independent farmers political action (the Tory government, which lasted until 1934, was destroyed by the Depression and Dust Bowl). This finally motivated the local farmers lobby – the UFC (SS) to enter provincial politics in 1934. In 1944, the CCF won a landslide victory over the governing Liberal with 47 out of 52 seats for Tommy Douglas’ party. Douglas, who has become a political hero for most Canadians and the founding figure of the NDP, served until 1961 and won easy reelections between then. However, the CCF government’s decision to implement universal health care in the early 1960s led to a 23-day doctors’ strike in the province in 1962 and played a part in the CCF’s defeat by the right-wing Liberals in 1964. The NDP, led by the moderate Allan Blakeney, was returned to power in 1971. In 1982, the Tories, dead since 1934 but slowly resuscitating on the ruins of Liberal decrepitude, won a landslide victory over the tired NDP government in 1982 with Grant Devine. Devine was unpopular and a victim of the economic downturn in the province which affected crop prices, the budget deficit and economic growth. Devine’s PCs were defeated by the NDP’s Roy Romanow in 1991. Romanow, to the frustration of some left-wingers, led a very moderate Third Way type policy with spending cuts, program cuts and privatizations to balance the budget. In the meantime, the opposition fell into disarray as the Saskatchewan PCs totally collapsed over a pretty huge corruption/fraud scandal from Devine’s last term. At the outset, the Liberals benefited from it and became the official opposition in 1995 as the PCs collapsed into third. Ultimately, the Liberal resurgence proved to be a fluke as the anti-NDP vote in this bipolarized province united behind the new Saskatchewan Party, a right-wing party formed by PC and Liberal MLAs but traditionally dominated by the Conservatives – hence the nickname ‘SaskaTories’. Romanow was reelected in 1999 thanks to a coalition with the four remaining Liberal MLAs, and his successor Lorne Calvert was reelected in a closely fought election in 2003 when the SaskParty fell into trouble over their leader Elwin Hermanson’s alleged policies to privatize crown corporations. The SaskParty’s defeat in 2003, or defeat pulled from the jaws of victory, reoriented the party towards the centre with the election of the younger moderate Brad Wall to the party’s leadership. Voter fatigue more than anything else claimed the life of the NDP’s government in 2007 and the election of the first SaskParty government under Brad Wall.

Brad Wall has been a phenomenally popular Premier, with most polls placing him as the most popular Premier in the country or close to that. In fact, his net approval rating in 2010 was higher than God’s net approval rating (according to a PPP poll on God’s approval rating). The SaskParty has been helped by circumstances: Saskatchewan is Canada’s booming province these days with the natural resources boom. The province’s potash industry has been behind this boom, which has boosted the province’s revenues (the province has a balanced budget) and allowed the government to cut taxes without major spending cuts (but the 2011 budget saw some pretty significant budget cuts as well as tax cuts). The RBC projects the province’s growth rate at 4.3% in 2011 – the highest in the country, even ahead of Alberta. Wall’s popularity also benefited from the provincial government’s fight with the Conservative federal government in the summer of 2010 over a hostile foreign takeover of Potash Corp, the local private potash corporation, the potential takeover by an Australian firm finally collapsed. This incident reveals that despite’s Saskatchewan conservatism, interventionism and lite social democracy is pretty popular in the province. The NDP did well in the 2003 election when it presented the election as a referendum over crown corporations. The government still owns all utility companies, the phone company and the mandatory auto-insurance business.

Wall’s reelection was never in jeopardy. His government has never trailed the NDP in any poll since 2007, and as I said, the guy’s apparently more popular than God. The NDP also chose a pretty weak leader: Dwain Lingenfelter, who is uninspiring and unpopular. Running on an agenda of fiscal prudence, tax cuts and economic growth the SaskParty was never in much trouble. The Liberals, who had again failed to win seats in the 2007 election when they won 9% of the vote, were taken over in an amusing case of entryism by classical liberals/libertarians. The Liberals attacked the SaskParty from its right: their platform talked about ‘rein in Regina’s spending spree’, ‘pay off the debt’ and to ‘open up the crowns’. In all, the decrepit Liberals ran only 9 candidates, compared to a full slate for the Greens.

SaskParty 64.21% (+13.29%) winning 49 seats (+11)
NDP 31.99% (-5.25%) winning 9 seats (-11)
Greens 2.89% (+0.88%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Liberal 0.55% (-8.85%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PC 0.33% (+0.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.03% (-0.11%) winning 0 seats (nc)

What a landslide it was. Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party won 64%, by far the highest vote share won by any party in Saskatchewan’s electoral history. It did not win a grand sweep victory (such support would give a party in the less polarized Maritimes), but it did reduce the NDP to its core seats. In rural areas, the SaskParty won margins upwards of 40% in most seats and well over 70% in a lot of seats there (Wall won 80.7% in Cypress Hills). It is ironic that the NDP, a party born out of agrarian socialism and rooted for most of its history in the rural areas is now massively trounced in rural areas and concentrated in urban areas and in sparsely populated northern Saskatchewan. This phenomenon is not new, given that in 2003 the NDP won very few seats outside the province’s two main cities and smaller urban areas. But it is still rather recent, given that the NDP still did pretty well in rural areas in the Prince Albert area and eastern Saskatchewan as recently as 1995.

The SaskParty was hurt in 2003 by its inability to break through in urban Saskatoon and Regina (1 seat out of 23). In 2007, it did better in urban areas and won 5/12 seats in Saskatoon and 3/11 seats in Regina. This year, the Wallslide carried a majority of seats in both urban areas – limiting the NDP to 3/11 seats in its old Regina stronghold and 4/12 seats in Saskatoon. The SaskParty even won 74.6% in Saskatoon Silver Springs, admittedly the most conservative of all seats in the city and an affluent suburban constituency won in 2003, but still impressive. The NDP has been relegated to a rump of support in Saskatoon’s working-class low income southwest, the artsy-trendy downtown Nutana (University of Saskatchewan) and the low income neighborhoods of north central Regina.

The NDP’s case, however, is not all that dire. It was the victim of an unpopular government, not of its unpopularity or any problems for which it is entirely responsible for. The limited success of the Greens, who would have done well if the NDP had major problems of its own making, indicates that. It is possible that Wall and the SaskParty will win a third term if they remain as popular and the economy keeps doing well (it is predicted to slow down a bit, but still do well). But the NDP isn’t in bad shape. Its lack of support in rural areas is not a big deal as it can still win government by winning back urban areas and small town seats (Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, The Battlefords).

The Liberals, or rather the Liberaltarians, did very poorly. They only ran in 9 seats against 58 for the Greens, so it was to be expected that they would be outpolled pretty big by the Greens. But I think the Liberal vote in the ridings they ran in is still lower than the Green vote, and I also think it’s actually smaller than the PC vote in the ridings those guys ran in even though the PC’s only purpose nowadays is to get money and annoy the SaskParty by remaining alive. Liberal leader Ryan Bater won 11.8% in The Battlefords, which is not all that bad but probably pretty bad if you assume that the Liberal campaign was basically focused entirely on their leader’s seat. The Liberal Party is, of course, very much dead in Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan is not the place where a classical liberal-oriented Liberal Party has any chance.

Nicaragua and Guatemala 2011

Nicaragua held a general election on November 6 while Guatemala held a presidential runoff on the same day. I had covered the first round of the Guatemalan elections, held on September 11, in this post.

Nicaragua

The President of Nicaragua and the unicameral National Assembly were up for reelection. The President is elected to a five-year term, technically not renewable immediately. A candidate must win 40% of the vote in the first round or 35% if he/she is 5% ahead of the closest rival. The National Assembly has 90 elected members: 20 through party-list PR in a national constituency and 70 through party-list PR in the country’s departments and autonomous regions. The last President and the runner-up in the presidential election also serve.

Nicaragua is a poor Central American country (in fact one of the poorest), with a troubled past but a future which is perhaps not so bleak. Its crime rate is in fact pretty low by the admittedly low standards of the region (it is still below Mexico’s crime rate and is the second lowest in Central America). Nicaragua became, during the 1980s, the stereotype for Central American civil wars fought between a left-wing group and some sort of shady right-wing group bankrolled by the Americans. Nicaragua has a troubled relationship with the US which dates back to the bizarre and fascinating American adventurer William Walker in the 1850s, and then the American occupation of the country between 1909 and 1933. In 1937, an American-installed civilian President was toppled by an American-trained military officer (the head of the powerful American-trained National Guard) named Anastasio Somoza. Somoza, like all other Latin American dictators of the time, drew his support from the landowning elite, the military and the United States. Somoza was shot in 1956 and despite Eisenhower’s valiant efforts to save his life, he succumbed. But his rule (or that of the Somoza clan’s various tools) didn’t: his son Luis took over in 1956 and when he died in 1967 it was Luis’ son Antonio Somoza Debayle who took over. By all standards, Somoza was a pretty venal, corrupt, ruthless and self-seeking guy.

The opposition to Somoza’s regime took the name of Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1961. The FSLN’s name refers to left-wing Liberal rebel Augusto Sandino who, in the 1920s, had become a figure of nationalist popular resistance to the American occupier and the various American puppets before being shot in 1934. Just like Batista had fled Havana overnight, so did Somoza in 1979, allowing the FSLN to take over in a junta with other opposition forces. At the outset, the FSLN followed a rather moderate line: a mixed economy, an independent foreign policy, cautious agrarian reform (the fact that Somoza owned 20% of the land helped) and social reform (literacy, health, education). The FSLN, which after 1981 ruled alone and grew somewhat more authoritarian and took control of the country’s media and institutions, was originally helped by both Cuba, Europe and the Carter administration. But after Reagan’s election in 1980, the US took a hard line against the ‘Marxist’ Sandinistas and bankrolled the Contras, which were by any standards a bunch of crypto-fascist criminals. The FSLN-Contra civil war ruined the country’s economy. In 1990, however, the FSLN’s incumbent President Daniel Ortega was surprisingly defeated in free elections by the right’s Violeta Chamorro. Ortega was subsequently defeated by the right in all other presidential elections until 2006. In power, the right improved the country’s economy somewhat but had a harder time dealing with continued violence and especially corruption: Arnoldo Alemán, the Liberal who ruled between 1997 and 2002, was woefully incompetent and also a crook.

Ortega was elected President in 2006 with 39% and a 10% margin separating him from his closest Liberal rival. Though Ortega’s FSLN lacked a majority in the National Assembly, he allied with Alemán’s Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) in return for getting the FSLN-controlled Supreme Court to pardon Alemán. While Ortega has struck a very left-wing line as President, allying himself closely with Chávez whose cash has funded generous social programs which have succeeded in alleviating poverty but also some surprisingly pro-business, market liberal policies. Indeed, Ortega is, unlike Chávez, on pretty good terms with the IMF, and this has helped the local economy: the country’s 4% was the second fastest growth in Central America after Panama. In 2008, controversial local elections were allegedly marked by widespread fraud and intimidation and led to the suspension of a European aid package. Domestically, however, Ortega has lost some his revolutionary feel and he has lost the support of some liberal intellectuals who had backed the FSLN in the 1980s. In fact, Ortega has transformed himself into some born-again Christian socialist, who has notably implemented a very strict ban on abortions in the country.

There was little question about Ortega’s reelection chances once the Supreme Court, conveniently cleared of dissident voices, overruled the constitution’s immediate reelection ban by allowing Ortega to run again. The FSLN has taken back control over most of the country’s media and institutions, it is on good terms with businesses (who had, as recently as 2006, backed the opposition) and thus has lots of cash to spend in contrast to the opposition which is basically broke. The main opposition contender was 80-year old radio journalist Fabio Gadea. Discredited former President Arnoldo Alemán of the PLC, which has been a close ally of the FSLN, also ran. The results were:

Daniel Ortega (FSLN) 62.66%
Fabio Gadea (PLI) 31.13%
Arnoldo Alemán (PLC) 5.76%
2 others under 0.5%

There were some reported irregularities, some cases of intimidation and frustrated foreign observers but so far there has not been the outcry over the results as there was in the 2008 locals. Ortega is helped by the FSLN’s control of institutions, the media and its stashes of cash. But he is also popular with low-income voters on his own terms, who have seen their living standards improve pretty significantly with the FSLN’s generous social spending programs since 2006.

In legislative elections, the FSLN won about 60.6% against 31% for the PLI and 6.5% for the PLC. This gives the FSLN a three-fifths majority, which gives it the power to change the constitution which it had written back in 1987.

Guatemala

A presidential runoff was held in Guatemala on November 6. In the first round in September, the conservative former military officer Otto Pérez Molina (who had lost the 2007 election) came out on top with 36.1% against 23.3% for Manuel Baldizón, a populist hotel tycoon and wealthy businessman who had emerged as the “left-wing candidate” in an election without a real left-wing candidate after the governing left-wing President Álvaro Colom was unable to have his wife run to succeed him. In a country with a huge crime rate and a very big drug cartel problem, crime was the top issue. Pérez Molina ran a very hard-line law and order campaign with promises to crack down on crime using the military. Baldizón said he wants televised executions. Pérez Molina, who narrowly lost the 2007 runoff to President Colom, was the favourite.

Otto Pérez Molina (PP) 53.74%
Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) 46.26%

Unsurprisingly, the retired general and former head of military intelligence Otto Pérez Molina won by a fairly comfortable margin. Baldizón did pretty well, which reflects the guy’s pretty big appeal to traditional left-wing voters: the 2011 map with Baldizón winning the east and the north is pretty similar to the 2007 map where Colom won in generally the same areas and lost in Guatemala City.

A former socialist revolutionary in Nicaragua and a right-wing military officer in Guatemala. It could be as if we were in the 1980s. Is Pérez Molina’s election a step backwards for Guatemala? Probably not. His party does not have a majority and Pérez Molina does not entirely fit the mold of “1980s war criminal who killed thousands and now repents”. Though accused of war crimes, none have been proven and he played a big part in peace talks in 1996. But fears remain. The militaristic mano dura which Pérez Molina promises could be a step backwards to authoritarian military regimes and the military is not a saint either: elements are suspected of ties to cartels and crime. The level of violence in Guatemala, which is astronomical, and institutional corruption is probably the biggest threat to democracy in Guatemala and Central America right now. Needless to say, Guatemala’s future is bleaker than Nicaragua’s.

Tomorrow: Details about Premier Brad Wall’s landslide victory in Saskatchewan (Canada).

Electoral Digest: October 24-30 2011

The Electoral Digest covers some elections around the world which were not covered in larger, individual posts due to lack of time, lack of broader knowledge or because the election was of lesser importance or general interest. These posts are short and pretty basic, but aim to give a really brief overview of what happened.

Ireland held a presidential election on October 27. Ireland’s President is a largely ceremonial role, though it is elected for a seven-year term directly through the single-member variant of Irish STV. Since 1997, Ireland’s President has been Mary McAleese, originally elected as a member of Ireland’s former natural governing party, Fianna Fáil (FF). She was reelected unopposed in 2004. FF has won all but one presidential election – that of 1990, won by Mary Robinson of the Labour Party. McAleese’s two-terms came to an end this year, leaving the presidency wide open and resulting ultimately in the most crowded field ever – seven candidates in total.

Fine Gael (FG), traditionally the perennial second-largest party behind FF before emerging as the big winner in this year’s earth-shattering general election, has never won a presidential election before and it was apparently eager to build on its success in March to win the presidency. Apparently the party members didn’t agree, because they chose MEP Gay Mitchell, widely derided as a phenomenally awful candidate. FG’s junior ally and Ireland’s second largest party, Labour, was apparently more serious. It nominated former TD Michael D. Higgins, a 70-year old man who is a rather good embodiment of Ireland’s symbolic presidency. Meanwhile, FF did not field a candidate of its own nor did it officially endorse any candidate, a good sign of the party’s calamitous state following its Epic Fáil result in March. Seán Gallagher, a businessman and former FF member, emerged as the candidate closest to FF though with no official links – at least not right now. The race became particularly interesting when Sinn Féin nominated Northern Irish Deputy FM Martin McGuinness as its candidate, a surprise move which shows SF’s desire to durably implant itself south of the border as the main left-wing opposition force to Labour and the FG-Labour government. Earlier in the race, the frontrunner had been Senator David Norris, a well-known liberal campaigner for gay rights (he is gay himself) and other civil liberties. However, he dropped out after it had been publicized that he had wrote letters seeking clemency for his former lover accused of rape in Israel. He did a Ross Perot and came back into the race and received nominations from four county councils. The other candidates, far more minor but not any less interesting, were former Special Olympics activist Mary Davis and former presidential contender and weird social conservative Dana Rosemary Scallon.

Seán Gallagher emerged as the other man in the race besides Higgins in the final weeks, and he took a comfortable lead in most polls. However, Gallagher’s momentum was derailed at a final debate where McGuinness crippled him with an accusation that he had fundraised money for FF including from some shady people despite Gallagher’s earlier claims that he had never fundraised for FF. Judging from the results, it pretty much killed Gallagher’s campaign.

Higgins (Labour) won 39.6% of FPVs against 28.5% for Gallagher and 13.7% for McGuinness. McGuinness’ result is above SF’s good 9.9% result in March, but it’s a bit underwhelming and shows that his campaign was unable to surmount his past affiliation with the IRA. His candidacy was still a net positive for SF, however. Unsurprisingly, Mitchell won the worst FG result in a presidential race with only 6.4% – only a bit ahead of Norris who got an equally disappointing 6.2%. Dana took 2.9% and Davis really sucked with only 2.7%. In the final count, Higgins beat Gallagher decisively with 61.6% against 38.4%. The beautiful blog Irish Political Maps reviews the election and has a nice map of who won where on first counts, as well as links to maps of all candidates. Higgins performed best in his native Galway and in Dublin, while Gallagher did best in rural areas (45% in his native Cavan-Monaghan) and in lower middle-class suburban areas. McGuinness won Donegal North East, that isolated and heavily republican part of Ulster which has become an SF stronghold as of late.

There were also two referendums held alongside this vote: one allowing the government to intervene in judicial pay and another granting the Parliament (Oireachtas) more powers of inquiry in to “matters of public importance”. While the judges’ pay was not controversial, as most agreed that in times of recession the government should be allowed to lower judges’ pay (something banned by the Constitution), the Oireachtas inquiries was more controversial as civil liberty groups said that it threatened civil liberties and gave too much power to the Oireachtas. The judges pay passed easily with 79.7%, but the Oireachtas inquiries failed with 53.3% against. It only passed in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s constituency of Mayo and in Wexford.

A Dáil by-election was held in Dublin West due to death of former FF finance minister Brian Lenihan Jr. Lenihan had only narrowly survived in 2011, and he had been the only FF member to be returned in metro Dublin. Dublin West is largely a working-class commuter belt constituency with a strong far-left base, this being Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins’ constituency. Labour nominated Patrick Nulty, who had lost to Lenihan in the final count in March while FF nominated David McGuinness, who had won 1.5% in March as FF’s second candidate. Nulty polled 24.3%, down from 29% for Labour in March. Surprisingly, FF did quite well with 21.7% – up from 16.6% in March. FG placed fourth with a terrible 14.7%, when it had won 27% in March. The Socialists did really well, with 21%, which is higher than the 19% share of first prefs won by Higgins in March. SF (9%, up from 6%) and the Greens (5%, up from 1%) also did well. Nulty won pretty easily in the sixth count against David McGuinness. Irish by-elections are very much anti-incumbent as no governing party has won one since 1982 and no governing party has gained a seat in a by-election since 1975. On this front, Labour’s victory as a governing party is pretty big. But it speaks more to the terrible state of Ireland’s opposition – FF is crippled and has little to no legitimacy left as a governing party and SF has trouble breaking past its IRA past to establish itself as a major alternative – than to the strength of the government – FG had a terrible day on October 27 and Labour is not reaching new heights.

Kyrgyzstan held presidential elections on October 30. In April 2010, protests had ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who had grown too authoritarian despite himself having been the victor of a revolution in 2005 which had ousted another authoritarian ruler. The provisional government soon faced ethnic riots between ethnic Kyrgyz and and ethnic Uzbek in Bakiyev’s native south (around Osh) and the October 2010 legislative elections were won by the southern-based pro-Bakiyev nationalist Ata-Zhurt party won 28 seats against 26 seats for the centre-left moderate Social Democrats (SDPK) who dominate the provisional government and favour a parliamentary system. This election was to replace interim President Roza Otunbayeva (SDPK). The government’s candidate was Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, who is seen as the man behind the reforms and new constitution. The main opposition candidates were Adakhan Madumarov and Ata-Zhurt’s Kamchybek Tashiev, both from the nationalist and ethnically unstable south. Atambayev was the runaway favourite and had the most funds, and indeed he won easily: 63% against 15% for Madumarov and 14% for Tashiev. The opposition has called foul, but it is hard to say whether there were real frauds or this is more the case of grubby opponents who are unhappy they lost in a landslide and thus call out for fraud. The OSCE noted a few irregularities but no independent observers, as far as I know, have claimed massive frauds.

Bulgaria held presidential elections on October 23 and 30. This is a largely ceremonial office as well, and has been held since 2001 by Georgi Parvanov, elected as a Socialist. The last elections in 2006 had seen low turnout (42%) and Parvanov face far-right leader Volen Siderov in a runoff, which Parvanov won with 76%. Parvanov was not eligible for reelection this year. The governing right-wing GERB party nominated Rosen Plevneliev, the former popular Minister of Regional Development and a rival of sorts to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The Socialists, who lost the 2009 elections to GERB in a landslide, nominated former foreign minister Ivaylo Kalfin. Former EU commissioner Meglena Kuneva, formerly a member of the liberal NDSV, ran as an independent. In the first round, Plevneliev won 40% against 29% for Kalfin and 14% for Kuneva. Siderov won just 3.6% of the vote. Plevneliev won on Sunday with 52.6% against 47.4% for Kalfin, a very strong showing for Kalfin and the BSP. Turnout was 51% in the first round but only 48% in the runoff. Local elections were also held on both days, but the electoral commission doesn’t have an English webpage, so I didn’t find out a lot about those. Apparently GERB held Sofia and Burgas easily by the first round, and it won Varna in the runoff.

These elections were marred by some irregularities in the vote count process, leading 6% of first round votes to be disqualified – apparently at a whim by GERB observers. GERB has also been accused of controlling the media while there are the eternal problems with vote-buying and voter rolls which have way too many voters on them.

 

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