Monthly Archives: October 2012

Euskadi and Galicia 2012

Early regional elections in the Basque Country (Euskadi or CAPV) and Galicia were held on October 21, 2012. The Basque Country and Galicia are autonomous communities of Spain. My famous Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election includes tons of details about regional autonomy in Spain, the roots of the current regional structure and other issues related to autonomous communities.

Euskadi (Basque Country)

The Basque Parliament (Eusko Legebiltzarra/Parlamento Vasco) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 3% threshold by province. Each province (Álava/Araba, Guipúzcoa/Gipuzkoa and Vizcaya/Bizkaia) elects 25 members. The lehendakari, the head of the Basque government, is elected by the Parliament.

Provinces have played a major role in Basque history; until the 19th century most Basques identified with their province rather than a broader Basque nation. The Basque provinces, unlike all other Spanish provinces, retain elected government (diputaciones) which, under the Basque Country’s special fiscal status (the concierto económico), have the power to collect and distribute taxes. However, the three Basque provinces do not have similar populations. The southern province of Álava has a population just under 320,000 while Biscay has a population over 1.1 million. The equal distribution of seats between the provinces was meant to be a means of ensuring Álava’s support for Basque autonomy and as a means of enticing Navarra from joining the CAPV (which has never happened). If seats were to be distributed equally, Biscay would elect 38 member to Álava’s 13.

My Guide, noted above, included a profile of the Basque Country:

Euskadi is the most well known of Spain’s regions to the casual observers, if only because of the existence of an armed terrorist movement seeking independence. It is also a matter of political debate where nobody can ever agree on anything. Basque nationalism is, alongside Catalan nationalism, of the two main peripheral nationalisms in Spain which drive and influence Spanish politics so much. The existence of a terrorist movement seeking Basque independence has given the region and Basque nationalism as a whole a bad name, which it does not deserve. The population of Euskadi is 2,183,615 (INE 2011). The capital of Euskadi is Vitoria-Gasteiz but the largest city is Bilbao. The community is composed of the provinces (called ‘historical territories’) of Biscay (Bizkaia or Vizcaya), Gipuzkoa (in Spanish, Guipúzcoa), Álava (in Basque, Araba). Basque provinces, unlike all other provinces, have a directly elected legislature (Juntas Generales) and are responsible for raising taxes. The region is known as Euskadi or the Basque Country (in Spanish, País Vasco). I prefer the term ‘Euskadi’ because it is both shorter and commonly used to refer to the political ‘Basque Country’ which excludes Navarre and the three French Basque provinces. The Basque term ‘Euskal Herria’ (which means ‘land of Basques’ or close to that) is used to refer the greater Basque region including both the autonomous community of the three provinces (often referred to in short as ‘CAPV’ or Euskadi), Navarre and the three French Basque provinces (Iparralde).

Basque history is long, fascinating and very controversial as it is inherently political given the founding tenets of Basque nationalism. The Basques speak a language known as Euskara or Basque, which is famous for being a language isolate. It is one of the few languages in Europe which is not Indo-European and the origins of either Euskara or the Basque people are not known for certain. The mainstream view are that the Basques are the last remaining ancestors of the pre-Indo-European peoples of Europe and have lived in the region since the prehistoric Aurignacian period. That is the most commonly accepted view, though it is by no means universal nor is it a proven ‘fact’. Original Basque nationalist theses claim that the extraordinary resistance of the Basque people to outside influences and conquest is a sign of the racial superiority of the Basque race above all others, though this is, of course, false. The Basque people are a very strong-willed people, extremely proud of their identity, lifestyle and ancestors. Furthermore, it also helps that the Basque terrain is quite harsh and unfavourable to foreign domination. The valleys and mountains of northern Euskadi and Navarre are very wooded and patchy, making it perfect for locals to hide and hardly appealing to foreign invaders. Basques have long defended themselves against any foreign invaders, most notably when Basque hordes massacred Charlemagne’s Frankish troops at Roncesvaux in 778. The Franks, Visigoths and later Muslims never managed to exercise full control over the Basque lands and Navarre. A Basque kingdom, which later became the Kingdom of Navarre, emerged in 824. Under Sancho III the Great (1000-1035), the Kingdom of Navarre reached its peak of influence through Sancho’s marriages and alliances which expanded the Navarrese realm westwards into present-day Old Castile. The coastal areas of the kingdom had come under Castilian control in 1199, though the Castilians had promised to recognize and uphold the special charters (fueros) of the Basque provinces. Civil war in Navarre allowed the Castilians to conquer Navarre between 1512 and 1524, although, again, by promising to recognize and uphold the Navarrese fueros. These fueros granted the provinces fiscal, legal and political autonomy, various exemptions from trade regulations, exemption from military service outside their province and so forth. To speak of a “Basque people”, united with a strong national conscience like the Catalans is, however, totally misleading. Basques were strongly attached to their families, community and at most to their province but there was no common identification as “Basques” above all. The family, village and province were their markers of identification, not an artificial “Basque nation”. Attached to their home turf, traditions and legal advantages, the Basques strongly identified with the ultra-conservative Carlist movement during the First Carlist War. Even after the Carlist defeat in 1839, the fueros were maintained and Euskadi remained a Carlist stronghold until at least the Second Republic. The Basque fueros were abolished in 1876.

The loss of the fueros in 1876 and Euskadi’s integration in the Spanish market proved beneficial to Basque economy, especially in the province of Biscay. In the late nineteenth century, large-scale mining of rich iron ore deposits in western Biscay led to emergence of Euskadi as Spain’s second main industrial and trading hub (after Catalonia). Originally exported to Britain for processing, Bilbao and western Biscay went on to acquire their own blast furnaces to process the iron ore into steel. While Basque steel production – the main economic activity in Euskadi until the 1970s – was concentrated around the Bilbao estuary and the city’s left bank, it was by no means just a local industry: metallic transformation, siderurgy and related industry was a major industry in the rest of northern Euskadi. The steel industry in Euskadi made the region one of the country’s wealthiest regions, and, as such, attracted much internal migrants starting in the late nineteenth century and picking up again during the Francoist era especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Most immigrants to Euskadi came from the neighboring (and poorer) regions of Old Castile, La Rioja, Navarre or the more distant but very poor Galicia. Unlike in Catalonia, there was not much immigration from southern Spain. According to a 2010 study, while 74% of Basques were born in the autonomous community, only 51-53% saw their parents were born in Euskadi as well. 16% said their parents were born in Castile and León, 6% in Extremadura and Galicia and 3% said their parents were born in Andalusia. Galicia and Old Castile are very conservative regions (although poor), but that did not prevent visceral opposition to non-Basques and general xenophobia from being a founding tenet of Basque nationalism.

The founding father of Basque nationalism is Sabino Arana, who was by all accounts a rather insane man with a weird mish-mash of reactionary, racist, xenophobic and ethnocentrist ideals and myths. In his seminal work on the issue, Bizkaia por su independencia, Arana’s thesis is the stark separation between a pure, devoutly Catholic, superior, manly and intelligent Basque race and a impure, atheist/socialist/liberal (Arana hated all three), feminine and inferior Spanish race. Arana considered the immigration of non-Basques, maketos or ‘Koreans’, to Euskadi to be a danger to the moral fabric of Basque society and a threat to all that is Basque (Catholicism, racial superiority, Euskara). Those maketos, with their new-fanged ideas of socialism and atheism were clear dangers to Basque society and they should be run out of town with stones and sticks, in order to defend the traditional, Catholic Basque society. The original ideology of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), founded by Arana in 1895, can be summarized in the party’s motto: Jaungoikoa eta Lagi-zaŕa (God and the ‘old laws’ [fueros]). Arana, despite his faults, had a huge influence on Basque nationalism and the whole Basque society. He ‘created’ a history for Euskadi, based partly on facts and a lot on myths; he designed the Basque flag; invented a Euskara vocabulary of political neologisms; he wrote the anthem; he even came up with the term ‘Euskadi’ itself. Arana was a separatist for most of his life, but he had a strange and unexplained change of heart a year before his death, when he became an autonomist. Since then, the PNV has found itself oscillating between autonomy and independence, usually leaning for the first option. The PNV grew in the 1910s to emerge as the largest Basque nationalist force during the Second Republic, where it sided with the republicans in exchange for the formation of the first autonomous Basque government excluding Navarre in 1936.

The Basque economy has historically been based around heavy industry: iron ore mining in western Biscay, steel works and siderurgy in the rest of northern Euskadi but particularly around Bilbao, the economic capital of Euskadi. Industry still accounts for 22.5% of the region’s GDP despite the steel crisis in the 1970s-1980s which forced industrial reconversion in much of Euskadi. Industry and since the 1980s the success of industrial reconversion in favour of services, finance and tourism has made the Basque country a small motor for the whole Spanish economy (6.2% of Spain’s GDP) and also the wealthiest region in all of Spain – even ahead of Catalonia. Euskadi’s GDP per capita of €31,314 is the highest in Spain and is much above the EU and Spanish average. Its unemployment rate, 12.17%, is the second lowest in the country. Euskadi suffered heavily from the steel crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to a decline in the region’s population and high unemployment as most steel plants and shipyards closed their doors. Bilbao and its industrial left bank was touched especially hard, but Bilbao has since bounced back with a vengeance with a spectacularly successful program of industrial reconversion and urban renewal, pushed initially by the Guggenheim Museum and since then by urban development, tourism and a growth in the upper-end service and technology sector (BBVA bank, Iberdrola). Euskadi is also known for the largest workers cooperative in the world, Mondragon, which is based in the small working-class Gipuzkoan town of Arraste-Mondragón. The Basque economy has significantly benefited from the region’s ability to raise taxes on its own account (like Navarre), instead of being heavily dependent on tax transfers from Madrid.

Basque politics and nationalist competition has been influenced so much by ETA, the separatist terrorist organization which has killed over 800 in Euskadi and across Spain since its foundation in 1959. ETA has been successful in driving a wedge through Basque society, rendering the issue of Basque nationhood and self-determination extremely divisive and problematic. Unlike ‘Catalanism’ and Catalan nationalism which is far less problematic, Basque nationalism is not backed up by a century-long history of cohesive, broad ‘national identity’ as in Catalonia which had a very precocious notion of its own ‘nationhood’. Euskara or Basque nationalism has not historically had a broad intellectual and cultural base like Catalan nationalism, which had a strong cultural background and intellectual contingent backing it up. These factors, plus ETA’s existence, have made politics in Euskadi very polarized. ETA’s violence was not and will not be successful in forcing Madrid to give it all it wants, but it has been successful in restricting the political debate (until recently). Up until the 1990s or early 2000s, ETA’s indiscriminate terror created a climate of fear which discouraged extensive political dialogue, participation or activism from those who were not Basque nationalists or even those who were moderate nationalists. That changed in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the emergence of virulently anti-nationalist and anti-ETA civic organizations such as ¡Basta Ya! which form the roots of the UPyD, which has a small but loyal base with non-nationalist Basques.

ETA has also split Basque nationalism into two streams: the ‘moderate’ or ‘democratic’ stream, more centrist or centre-right, dominated by the PNV, Euskadi’s natural governing party; and the left-abertzale stream, left-wing, more radical and in general more favourable of ETA’s actions as a necessary evil on the path to independence (but increasingly critical since 2006). To think of “Basque nationalism” a common, all-encompassing movement is very misleading. Basque nationalism is marked as much by the ideological struggle of nationalism carried out against the ‘Spanish parties’ (PSE, PP) as by the internal competition for the nationalist capital. The PNV is the largest Basque nationalist party, but its position in the centre of the political spectrum in Euskadi has opened it to virulent criticism from theabertzale parties (either as too conservative, too soft on nationalism or ‘traitors’ to the national cause). In the 1980s, the main abertzale forces were Herri Batasuna (HB), ETA’s political front; Euskadiko Ezkerra (EE), a non-violent left-nationalist party formed out of ETA’s moderate ETA-pm wing in the 1970s and after 1986 Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), a non-violent left-nationalist party led by former PNV regional president (lehendakari) Carlos Garaikoetxea. Most of EE merged with the PSE in 1993, reducing the field to the violent pro-ETA HB and the non-violent left-wing EA which increasingly became the PNV’s junior partner after 1998. HB and its subsequent incarnations (EH, Batasuna, EAE-ANV, EHAK-PCTV, SA, Sortu, the list goes on) were banned beginning in 2002. Since 2011, the main abertzale force is Bildu, whose trajectory and controversial nature is discussed in the section on political parties.

The official languages of Euskadi are Spanish and Euskara (Basque). Basque is a language isolate and one of the handful of non-Indo-European languages in Europe. It is entirely different from Spanish or any other widely-used European language, meaning that is much harder to learn from a Spanish-speaker (or anybody else) than Catalan or Galician would be. If you don’t believe me; ‘Sartaldeko oihanetan gatibaturik‘ means ‘Captive in the rainforests of the West’. The survival of the Basque language is proof of the tremendously resilient, strong-willed nature of Basques, proud of their heritage like none other. 76% of Basques identify Spanish as their mother tongue, 18.7% identify Euskara as their mother tongue while 5% identify both as their mother tongues. The most Basque-speaking province is and has always been Gipuzkoa (35.8% Basque mother tongue), while Álava has always been the least Basque-speaking province (93.6% Spanish mother tongue). Euskara has come back from the brink of extinction in the 1950s when its use was banned and repressed. Basque is now something of the ‘preferred’ language in Euskadi like Catalan in Catalonia (though not as strictly and universally enforced), and its use is especially prevalent in education. In Basque schools, there are three models to choose from: A is Spanish with Basque language courses, B is bilingual and D is Basque with Spanish language courses. D is the preferred option at all levels, from 71% in child education to 52% in post-secondary. Generally, lower-level education is heavily ‘D’ while higher-level education and especially post-secondary studies are more balanced though option D now outweighs A. Overall, 62% of students of all levels are in option D, 12.7% are in option A and 24.7% in option B. The level of D education ranges from 76.5% in Gipuzkoa to 42% in Álava.

A 2006 study showed the payoff of Basque-intensive education: 57.5% of those 16-24 are full bilinguals compared to 30.1% in the wider population. Only 17.6% of those 16-24 do not speak Basque compared to 51.5% of the wider population. Overall, 51.5% of Basques are thus Spanish-uni-lingual, 30.1% are bilingual and 18.3% are ‘passive bilinguals’. Gipuzkoa has the highest percentage of full bilinguals: 49%. But 65.8% in Álava and 57.7% in Biscay do not speak Basque. Generally, the youngest Basques are in majority bilingual, those between 35 and 64 are in majority uni-lingual and those over 65 are more bilingual. Proficiency in Basque has kept growing at a rapid and encouraging pace since the 1980s, and most of those who lose Basque language skills are old. Yet, Basque still faces challenges in society. 70% use Spanish only, only 12.5% use Basque more than Spanish. Full bilinguals of course tend to speak in Basque as much as or more often than they do in Spanish, but even with full bilinguals the use of Spanish is preferred in social situation such as work, outside or in social situations.

The PNV plays a central role in Basque politics and government. It is something of a ‘natural governing party’ or a ‘perennial winner’ in Euskadi though it is not by any means the ‘dominant’ political force. It faces competition within the nationalist arena to its left and competition outside the nationalist arena from both left (Socialists) and right (PP). In 43 electoral events since 1977, the PNV has been the largest party in Euskadi in 40 of those (the PSE in 2, HB in 1). The PNV’s domination of Basque electoral politics is helped by its position in the centre of the political spectrum. Its moderate nationalist tone appeals to the bulk of Basques who are proud of their identity although not necessarily separatist or fluent in Euskara. It is nationalist enough to appeal to the more nationalist of Basque nationalists, but moderate enough as to not alienate moderate nationalists/regionalists. The PNV has been the largest party in all general elections except for 1993 and 2008, with support between 23% and 34% in general elections.

Crucial to the PNV’s institutional dominance of Euskadi is its control of the Basque regional government and the regional presidency, lehendakari, between its 1980 creation and 2011. The PNV won the first regional elections in 1980 and won all other regional elections since then (though it did not win the most seats in 1986). Its hegemony was first challenged in 1986 when the then-lehendakari, Carlos Garaikoetxea quit the party and created his left-wing splinter, EA, which won 15.8% and 13 seats in 1986, while the PNV suffered a rout with merely 23.6% against 22% for the PSE. But the PNV’s José Antonio Ardanza was able to create a stable governing coalition with the Socialists until 1998 while EA (and HB)’s support gradually weakened. In 2001, an anti-nationalist front of the PP and PSE fell flat on its face as Juan José Ibarretxe’s PNV-EA won record-high levels of support (42.4%). It was only in 2009, with a stronger-than-ever Socialist party against a very divisive Ibarretxe PNV government that the non-nationalists finally broke through. Though the PNV’s support held tight, the PSE won a record-high 30.7% and 25 seats, which, alongside 13 PP deputies, allowed the PSE’s Patxi López to become the first non-nationalist lehendakari in Basque history. His days may be counted, however, given the collapse in support for both PSE and PP in the 2011 elections. The non-nationalists were helped in 2009 by two factors: firstly, for the first time in Basque regional elections, there was no abertzale list linked to Batasuna therefore Batasuna called on its supporter to cast blank ballots (9% of voters did so) but blank votes are not counted in seat allocation. Secondly, each of the three provinces in the Parliament are represented by 25 members, regardless of population. This equal representation serves to massively overrepresent (by over 10 seats) the strongly non-nationalist province of Álava-Araba at the expense mainly of the PNV stronghold of Biscay. In 2009, if the provinces had seats based on population, Ibarretxe could have won reelection with the support of PNV, Aralar, EA and EBB deputies.

Because of its thirty-one year stint in power in Vitoria, the PNV has tended to confuse government institutions with party institutions. It has shaped Basque politics and institutions to its liking, for example with control over the Basque media (the EITB). Beyond that, the PNV is more than a regular party. Especially in smaller towns, it is also something of a social organization and its local offices, batzokis, serve as bars or hang-outs for party members. In rural areas, PNV members are a tightly-knit family with a sense of community unusual in most parties.

PNV support is highest in Biscay, the birthplace of the party and the province where it has exercised full institutional control since the transition (control of Bilbao and the provincial government since 1979). Its support in rural, Basque-speaking villages in eastern Biscay often reaches upwards of 60% and up and beyond 70% in good years. It is traditionally weak, however, in the working-class industrial hinterland of Bilbao’s left bank in large towns such as Barakaldo, Portugalete or Santurtzi. Language is a major determining factor in making one a Basque nationalist or not, but it is by no means the only indicator nor is it perfect. A number of prominent PNV members and leaders either speak poor Basque or learned it only later in life. The PNV has high support even in those Biscayan and Alavan municipalities where few people speak Basque. The abertzale left is strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist and most Basque-speaking province. The province has kept an industrial base of small or medium-sized businesses or family industries, and communities in the valleys are tightly knit together and have often provided a back base of support for ETA (especially during the dictatorship, when local priests – the Basque Church is nationalist – opened their doors to ETA fighters). Parties such as EA, HB or Bildu have been strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa. The provincial capital of Donostia-San Sebastián has been a battleground between PSE-EE, HB, EA and since recently Bildu. The southern province of Álava-Araba has long been the least nationalist, partly because the southern edges of the province in the Ebro valley have spoken Spanish since the Middle Ages and feel little if any connection to the Basque nationalist. The PNV can be the largest party in the province, but the largest city and Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz is usually fought between PSE and PP, while the PP dominates in most of the Ebro valley in the south of the province. Between 1990 and 2001, Alavan opposition to Basque nationalism was notably expressed by the Unidad Alavesa (UA) party, similar to the Navarrese UPN: conservative, localist in an old Carlist way and anti-nationalist. UA won 18.5% of the votes in the province back in the 1994 elections, winning 5 seats in the Basque Parliament.

Lehendakari Patxi López called for early elections in August after PP leader Antonio Basagoiti decided to withdraw his support from the government. Patxi López, the first non-nationalist and non-peneuvista head of the Basque government, has been quite unpopular in the Basque Country. The main cause of his unpopularity seems to be his controversial deal with the PP, which came after he had promised that he would not sign such a deal. He is certainly reviled by almost all Basque nationalists (and others) after his counter-nature alliance of convenience with the PP. In Euskadi, the PP carries tons of negative baggage, not least the perception shared by most nationalists that it is the anti-Basque and ultra-centralist heir of the Franco regime.

On matters of governance, Patxi López has a fairly mixed record. The Basque economy itself is doing quite well compared to other regions in Spain (notably Catalonia), but mainly because of structural reasons unrelated to the government’s policies. The region’s economy, historically based around industry and manufacturing, suffered from particularly violent de-industrialization in the 1980s; but it has managed relatively well in the current Spanish economic crisis, a crisis wrought in large part by the utter collapse of the construction industry. Because the construction industry has never been as large in Euskadi as in other regions, particularly the coastal regions, the economic collapse post-2008 has been slightly less violent in the Basque Country. The local unemployment rate was 15.5% in the third quarter of 2012, which is the second lowest in the country (and 10% below the national rate). The fact that Euskadi, along with Navarra, benefits from an unusual fiscal arrangement (concierto económico) whereby it is the three provinces rather than the central administration which collects the taxes gives the region more control over its own fiscal policy and makes it less tied up to the economy of the other regions.

Despite a jobs market which is slightly less horrible than the rest of the country, the region’s debt has grown exponentially since 2009. The debt/GDP ratio stood at 2.2% when Patxi López took office in 2009, it has grown to 10.2% in the first quarter of 2012. This debt load, however, is still inferior to the national average of 13.5% (the combined debt of Spain’s 17 regions is equivalent to 13.5% of the Spanish GDP). The Basque government made some spending cuts, notably in health, education and public safety.

The Basque terrorist organization ETA announced a “definitive cessation of armed activity” in October 2011, an historic event which likely signals the end of the armed conflict in the Basque country. Nonetheless, the issue of ETA – particularly the fate of ETA’s prisoners in Spanish jails – remains a very controversial issue in Spain. With the end of the armed conflict, the Basque nationalist left – the abertzale left – has been allowed to enter the political arena once again. The Spanish law on political parties in 2002 had allowed Madrid to ban the various abertzale parties accused of having links to ETA or being pro-ETA. In 2011, however, the courts allowed the abertzale left to participate in the May local and then the November general elections. The coalitions of the abertzale left (Bildu in May, Amaiur in November) won 26% and 24% in the two elections in 2011. For these elections, the abertzale coalition – which includes EA, Alternatiba, Sortu (widely considered as Batasuna’s political front) – took the label Euskal Herria Bildu (Basque Country Together). Its candidate for lehendakari was Laura Mintegi, a Basque nationalist author and university professor.

On the left, the local United Left (IU) suffered a major split in March 2012. Up until that point, IU (which is experiencing a huge upswing in support in Spain) was known locally as EB-B (Ezker Batua-Berdeak, United Left-Greens), and it had some success in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, EB-B was hurt badly by the legalization of the abertzale left, which took a lot of its support. In the 2009 Basque elections, EB-B had already lost two of its three seats in the Basque Parliament. The split is due largely to an internal conflict between two leaders, Mikel Arana on one side and Javier Madrazo on the other. The latter, favouring a more independent relationship with the IU, regained control of EB-B and broke ties with the IU. The former, favouring closer ties with IU, created Ezker Anitza (EA), which has become the local federation of the IU.

Patxi López’s top rival during the campaign and the favourite in all polls was the PNV, and its candidate for lehendakari, Iñigo Urkullu. Urkullu is the leader of the PNV, and his nomination as candidate for head of the regional government breaks with established historical tradition in the PNV which has always had a fairly strict separation between party leadership and the regional presidency. In contrast to his predecessor as the PNV’s candidate for lehendakari, former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe (1999-2009), Urkullu strikes a markedly more moderate and less divisive tone. Ibarretxe, especially after his controversial “Ibarretxe Plan” for reforming the statute of autonomy, was a very divisive and somewhat confrontational figure who alienated many non-nationalists which clearly nationalistic and identity-based rhetoric. Urkullu, who is slightly to the right of Ibarretxe, also tacks back to the PNV’s more moderate brand of nationalism.

In this campaign, even if the PSE-EE and especially the PP’s campaigns warned against the PNV’s alleged “hidden agenda” about sovereignty, Urkullu seemed to put the issue on the backburner. The PNV campaign was focused heavily on the economy and job creation, citing the economic crisis as its top priority. It did not completely sideline the issues of independence, but was infinitely vague about what it entailed. Urkullu has set 2015 as the date for the definition of a new statute of autonomy, although it is unclear whether he intends a piecemeal reform of the 1979 statute based on “bilateral relations” or some ambitious sovereignist scheme akin to Ibarretxe’s Plan. He has used language such as “21st century independence” and the PNV’s manifesto hinted at some kind of “devo-max”, vowing to fight for the devolution of more and more powers from Madrid.

In contrast, Patxi López focused his campaign on defending self-government within Spain against Mariano Rajoy’s austerity policies and upholding the welfare state. The Socialists attempted to paint Urkullu and the PNV (a centre-right party) as right-wingers who would implement austerity similar to Rajoy’s very unpopular austerity policies.

Turnout was 63.73%, down from 64.68%. The (slight) decrease in turnout is rather interesting, given that the legalization of the abertzale left had led to a fairly significant increase in turnout in 2011 (when it decreased slightly nationwide). Turnout did nonetheless increase, albeit marginally, in Gipuzkoa, the abertzale stronghold. It must be said, however, that in the 2009 election, a lot of abertzale supporters had actually turned out to vote: since their party was banned, they accounted for the 101 thousand (nearly 9%) of “votos nulos” (null/invalid votes). Results were as follows:

EAJ-PNV 34.63% (-3.93%) winning 27 seats (-3)
EH Bildu 25% (+15.28%) winning 21 seats (+16)
PSE-EE 19.13% (-11.57%) winning 16 seats (-9)
PP 11.73% (-2.37%) winning 10 seats (-3)
IU-LV (EA) 2.72% (+2.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPyD 1.94% (-0.21%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EB-B 1.56% (-1.95%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Equo 1.05% (+0.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.03% (+1.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.21% (+0.5%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The PNV, as widely expected, emerged as the winner. With 34% of the vote, it held its ground fairly well, considering the circumstances. On these results, Iñigo Urkullu will be the next lehendakari. It is quite unlikely that he will create a formal coalition with any party: a deal with the PSE would have been possible in the 1990s, but relations between the two parties have become quite acrimonious in recent years; a deal with EH Bildu would prove controversial and probably too difficult and unworkable for both involved. Instead, Urkullu has indicated that he will form a minority government which will seek support from other parties on a case-by-case basis. He has made conciliatory gestures towards all parties, and has touted the possibility of an legislative agreement (like the 2009 PSE-PP deal) with some parties (maybe EH Bildu). He seeks broad agreements and consensus on some major issues, and has already arranged to meet other parties to work out some kind of economic pact to deal with the crisis.

The PSE-EE suffered a very bad defeat. Not quite a record-breaking crushing defeat, but nevertheless a very damaging result for a party which had been rather successful, between 2004 and 2009, in increasing its level of support in Euskadi. It was a combination of different factors which sunk the Socialist vessel in Euskadi: Patxi López’s unpopularity, the controversial deal with the PP in 2009 and the nationwide collapse of the Socialist brand with the economic crisis. Patxi López’s record in government was judged, by most Basque voters, to be fairly mediocre and unspectacular.

The collapse of the national PSOE into a hapless state of disrepair since 2010/2011 likely played a role in this election. After losing the 2011 general election in a landslide to Rajoy’s PP, the PSOE strategy was apparently to bet everything on the rapid collapse of the PP’s popularity (with the economic crisis/depression and the austerity policies) in the hope that the PSOE would quickly regain those voters it had lost in 2011 (as they punished the PSOE for Zapatero’s economic policies during the early crisis). One could say it was a fairly sound strategy, given that such scenarios often happen, and certainly the first part of their calculation did happen very quickly – Rajoy’s government is extremely unpopular, and large majorities of voters reject his stringent austerity measures.

However, the PSOE failed to take into account that it has a huge credibility problem with the wider electorate. Voters seem particularly unforgiving, and they haven’t forgotten that the PSOE, in power, implemented many of the same kind of austerity policies which it now fights tooth-and-nail against. The PSOE’s message in opposition has been anti-austerity, but voters still associate the PSOE with austerity and the PSOE’s leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, doesn’t really help matters for them considering he was a top bigwig in Zapatero’s old cabinet.

As for Patxi López, his political career is probably not over just yet. While he is unpopular, right now, in Euskadi; his image in the rest of Spain still seems to be quite positive. He has been talked about as a potential candidate for Prime Minister for the PSOE in the next general election, and it is unlikely that this defeat will put a full stop to that speculation. He has already indicated that he will not be stepping down as the leader of the PSE-EE.

The PSE-EE lost votes to other parties, but also a good number of its voters to abstention (the first explanation for the small decrease in turnout). It likely lost some votes to the PP and PNV, some voters might have voted strategically for the moderate PNV to keep out the more radical EH Bildu. However, it probably lost a good number of supporters to abstention. It is hard to quantify how many they might have lost, but there seems to have been a two-way street: some nationalists who did not vote in 2009 turned out this year and swelled EH Bildu’s ranks; while some PSE and PP voters from 2009 abandoned their parties in favour of abstention.

The PSE’s collapse was such that the PNV placed ahead of the PSE in some of the party’s traditional bases, including Bilbao’s working-class Left Bank (Barakaldo,  Sestao, Trapagarán, Basauri); although in these cases it was due to the PSE’s collapse since 2009 rather than any PNV inroads.

EH Bildu, like Bildu in May 2011 and Amaiur in November 2011, is the big winner of this election. 25% (and 21 seats) places its performance about on par with that of the abertzale coalitions last year, but it is far superior to any of the results won by the political arm of ETA (HB) in yesteryears. HB peaked at roughly 18-20% in its best years, it won 17.9% and 14 seats in the 1998 regional elections (right after an ETA ceasefire) and 18% in the 1990 regional elections. Once again, it is clear that the abertzale has expanded its appeal beyond the traditional its pro-etarra base to non-violent left-nationalists. As the 1998 and 2001 regional elections proved, the abertzale‘s electoral appeal is greater in peacetime conditions when ETA is silent (in the 2001 elections, after ETA had broken its 1998 ceasefire, Batasuna collapsed to 10%). This year seems no different. The silencing of ETA in 2010, followed by the permanent ceasefire in 2011, has significantly expanded the appeal of the newly legalized abertzale left.

Results by municipality (source: uselectionatlas.org)

This year, EH Bildu’s campaign hit all the right notes for the present context. It has distanced itself from ETA and violence, even if ETA victims decry their “blank slate” attitude (how can the former supporters and enablers of violence be receiving so much support and heaps of praise?, they ask) and the abertzale‘s hurry to shut the door on the past. Regardless, the end of political violence in Euskadi and the slow creation a freer political climate where fear and the risk of intimidation is much lesser, has opened up a wide door for the abertzale left. Left-wingers, left-nationalists and other leftists who had in the past rejected ETA’s violence have jumped onto the abertzale‘s bandwagon. In this campaign, EH Bildu de-emphasized, to a certain extent, the issue of separatism/independence in favour of a bread-and-butter discourse tailored to the contemporary socio-economic context. Observers noted how EH Bildu’s electoral meetings were closer to anti-capitalist rallies than traditional separatist rallies. The party talked about social policies, the economy, food sovereignty and other issues of particular relevance to a region with over 15% unemployment.

There has been, in some ways, an increase in Basque nationalism in Euskadi in recent years, though still nothing compared to what’s going on in Catalonia now. The idea that Euskadi would be better off without Madrid given how badly the rest of Spain is doing is gaining supporters. Nevertheless, the percentage of Basques who actually support the independence of a Basque nation-state is fairly low, certainly much lower than the 60% polled by the PNV and EH Bildu.

In the 2009 elections, Aralar and EA, two component parties of EH Bildu, won 6.03% and 3.69% respectively. However, an additional 100,939 votes were considered “invalid”, around 95-96k of them were cast for Batasuna’s illegal political front (D3M). Taking these invalid votes into account, the abertzale left (plus EA and Aralar) won in the vicinity of 17-17.5% of the vote in the 2009 election. Therefore, assuming that all Aralar, EA and Batasuna voters from 2009 voted from EH Bildu this year, you still have a very significant gain for the abertzale coalition since 2009, at least +8%. EH Bildu gained some votes from other parties and non-voters. It took some votes from PNV in all three provinces and probably took a few votes from PSE, considering the (limited) coincidence between the two parties in some cases.

EH Bildu’s performance in the abertzale stronghold of Gipuzkoa was quite underwhelming. It won 32.2%, basically tied with the PNV (32%), when it had won 35% (against 22% for the PNV) last November in the general elections. Many have ascribed EH Bildu’s poor result in the province to the party’s unpopular administration of the province (it controls the provincial government/legislature, the Juntas Generales). In Donostia-San Sebastián, one of the abertzale coalition’s major gains in May 2011, EH Bildu placed third (with 22%) behind the PNV and the PSE.

The PP suffered a pretty bad result, its worst result in a regional election since 1990. It is clearly a disappointing result for the Basque PP’s leader, Antonio Basagoiti, who was likely hoping for a slightly better performance by his party. This poor result might weaken his hold on the party’s leadership, some of the most right-wing figures of the local PP, such as former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, had already showed their displeasure with some of his more moderate positions. The local PP bore the brunt of Rajoy’s unpopularity. It appears as if the PP lost middle and working-class votes to abstention, but maintained its strong results in Euskadi’s wealthiest neighborhoods and municipalities. On the other hand, the PP might have regained at least some of the votes it lost to the PSE and UPyD in the 2009 election.

What does the future hold for Euskadi? Urkullu gives signs that he will be a fairly pragmatic and moderate lehendakari, especially when it comes to the issue of independence. It is fairly ironic that Catalan nationalism, usually noted for its moderation in contrast to Euskadi’s more radical (and violent) brand of nationalism, is now taking the more “radical” path following the huge Diada on September 11 and with Mas’ bid to force a referendum after the 26-N regional elections. Dealing with Catalonia, where nationalism is clearly on an upswing because of the region’s precarious fiscal and economic position and its battle with the central government, will probably be Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headache. The Basque situation seems rather calmer. Urkullu has noted that the situation between Catalonia and Euskadi is different, despite the Basque PP’s insistence that there was a “secret pact” between the PNV and CiU. He is unlikely to make much waves, and even his reform of the statute planned for 2015 seems fairly moderate, in sharp contrast to Ibarretxe’s confrontational and divisive Plan. It does remain to be seen what Urkullu entails when he talks about “21st century independence”, but the PNV has never really sought traditional independence as a nation-state but rather some kind of quite novel “multi-layered sovereignty”.

On economic issues, the PNV has indicated that some cuts will need to be made. Urkullu proved quite lucid by saying that cuts and “efforts” will be necessary, but at the same time he talks about “defending the welfare state” and other vague rhetoric, similar to the one used by Rajoy in 2011 (we all know how far that went).

Galicia

The Parliament of Galicia (Parlamento de Galicia) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 5% threshold by province. A Coruña elects 24 members, Pontevedra elects 22, Lugo elects 15 and Ourense elects 14. The two smallest provinces are slightly over-represented at the expense of the two most populous provinces. The PP regional government backtracked on a controversial electoral reform before the election.

My Guide, noted above, included a profile of Galicia as well:

Galicia is one of the country’s most geographically isolated regions, located north of Portugal in northwestern Spain. It is notably the only region where a majority of the population usually speaks another language than Spanish. Galicia has a population of 2,794,516 (INE 2011). The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela but the largest cities are Vigo and A Coruña. The community is composed of the provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra.

Galicia is the mythical home of Breogán, a Celtic king and Galicia’s first inhabitants were Celtic (Gallaeci people). That is why Galicia is sometimes considered to be part of a broader alliance of Celtic nations, though the Gallaeci and their language have long since disappeared and the current Galician language is certainly not a Celtic language. In 411, Galicia fell to the Suevis who established their own state, independent of the Visigoths (until 584) even after the Visigothic conquest of Iberia in 416. Galicia was invaded by the Moors during the Muslim conquest, but never came under permanent Muslim control and was rather a thorny backwoods for the Muslims who made armed incursions into Galicia every few hundred years. In the confusing dynastic games of Christian Spain during the early Reconquista, the Kingdom of Galicia alternated between independence, Asturo-Leonese control or Castilian hegemony. Unlike Euskadi or Catalonia, Galicia’s two “sister nationalities” in Spanish political-lingo, Galicia is marked by an early and complete integration into the Castilian realm though its integration was originally a bit problematic (revolts and so forth). Galicia became a poor and isolated region in Spain, distant and poorly connected to the centres of industry or power. The mountains of eastern Galicia, poor communications, small landholdings and the power of the Catholic Church made economic development difficult and also prevented the development of a common “national myth” or “national ideal”. Poor and isolated, Galicia became a land of emigration. Starting in the nineteenth century, Galicia’s share of the Spanish population would decline from 12% to just 6% today. Some Galicians left to find jobs within Spain such as in the steel plants of Bilbao, but most emigrated to South America (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have large Galician communities) or western Europe. The Galician diaspora can vote in Galician regional elections and their votes, roughly 12% of voters (in 2005) can be crucial in closely-fought elections. In the last elections, the diaspora vote gave the Socialists an additional seat at the right’s expense.

Galicia was a heavily agricultural region until the 1970s and still accounts for 6.7% of the region’s GDP today. Galicia has traditionally had some of the smallest landholdings (minifundios) in all of Spain. The minifundio agrarian system has impeded on the competitivity of Galician agriculture, and as such most agriculture in Galicia has historically barely been enough for a family’s subsistence. The small size of land has contributed to the region’s poverty and sub-development. Politically, poor communications and the small size of landholdings were favourable to the hegemony of the Catholic Church and to a general lack of political mobilization (Galicia is known for its low turnout levels). Livestock is the main agricultural activity in the region. Along the region’s rugged (but beautiful) coastline, fishing is the main employer. Galicia has the largest fishing fleet in Spain (over 50% in fact) and perhaps the largest fleet in Europe as well. Despite the historical dominance of agriculture, industry is strong in Galicia as well since the 1970s: it currently accounts for 16.4% of the region’s GDP. Shipbuilding is important in Ferrol (an old naval base and Franco’s home town) and Vigo. Textiles are the main industry around A Coruña and Arteixo, which is home to Inditex, the second largest textile company in Europe and owner of the world-famous Zara brand. Automobile manufacturing is important in Vigo, which has a large Peugeot-PSA plant. In recent years, banking and especially tourism have become major employers as well. Galicia remains rather poor, with a below-average GDP per capita of €20,343. Unemployment is 17.25%.

Galician nationalism emerged out of a cultural movement of artists and intellectuals in the late nineteenth century who re-discovered and popularized the Galician language, Galician culture and literature. Alfonso Castelao is perhaps the most famous of these intellectuals, and the most popular of them (also because of his republican political activities). During the Second Republic, a Galician nationalist party – the Partido Galeguista (PG) was founded though it never achieved much support, electing three members as part of the Popular Front in the 1936 elections. It was successful, however, in passing a Statute of Autonomy in June 1936 which proved stillborn a month later with the success of the coup in Galicia. After the Francoist regime, during which the use and expression of Galician culture and language was frowned upon, the Galician nationalist movement was divided into a plethora of feuding parties ranging from communists in the UPG-BNPG to centrist liberals in the refounded PG. A centrist liberal party created out of the remnants of the UCD in Galicia, the Coalición Galega, achieved some success in the 1980s peaking at 13% in the 1985 Galician elections. It was soon eclipsed by the BNG, the left-wing nationalist coalition which was at its roots a radical communist party led by the communist UPG but which ‘deradicalized’ upon absorption of smaller left-wing parties. The BNG is by far the largest Galician nationalist party, and the only nationalist party with representation in the regional legislature. A smaller centre-right coalition, Terra Galega (TEGA) won 1% in the 2009 elections but governs the city of Narón – the eight largest city in the region.

Galicia is the only region of Spain where a majority of the population usually speaks a language other than Spanish as their mother tongue. That language is Galician, a language separate from Portuguese since 1500 which is closer to Portuguese than Spanish but has been influenced rather considerably by Spanish through centuries of Castilian domination of Galicia. Galician is co-official alongside Spanish in Galicia. According to 2008 statistics, 89.15% of Galicians can speak Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante) and 57.84% can write Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante). Furthermore, 56.4% of Galicians usually speak only in Galician or more in Galician than in Spanish. The use and knowledge of the language is higher in rural coastal areas and inland but is much lower in urban areas and with younger Galicians. The proximity of the language to Portuguese is a point of political debate. Galicia’s political elites and the PP defends the idea of Galician as an independent language, while nationalists are more ‘reintegrationist’ and see Galician as a regional variant of Portuguese and not as a separate language. The Galician government has traditionally been far less ‘activist’ or aggressive in its promotion of the Galician language in public administration or education (though education is bilingual) than the Basque or Catalan governments.

Poverty, isolation and in majority non-Spanish by mother tongue, Galicia could appear to be a Socialist or nationalist stronghold. In fact, Galicia is a conservative stronghold and the only region in Spain in which the PSOE (known here as the PSdeG) has never been the largest party in any election. Despite the fact that most in the region speak Galician more often than Spanish, a nationalist ideology which requires a broad social base believing in their separate ‘national identity’ and a ‘national myth’ has never been capable of being more than a second party. The division of Galicia into tiny, poor and unproductive smallholdings has discouraged the growth of social movements such as nationalism (but also socialism and communism), while being quite favourable to domination by the Catholic Church, which, unlike in Euskadi and Catalonia (to a lesser extent), has never had any nationalist ideals. Unlike in Catalonia, the industrial bourgeoisie in Galicia is pro-Spanish and backed Franco’s regime. As for socialism or communism, smallholders in Spain (unlike in France, where they are long marked by anti-clericalism and republicanism) have always been devoutly Catholic and traditionally scared of the threat of ‘socialist collectivism’. As such, nationalism is strong in Galicia but has never been a dominant political ideology as in Euskadi and Catalonia; while socialism has never taken root in rural areas though urban workers are left-wing. The PCE has never been relevant, the best they’ve ever done is 4.7%.

The UCD won three elections, and the PP has won all other elections in Galicia since then. The PSdeG has never been the largest party in Galicia and has only been the largest party in the province of A Coruña a handful of times. Galicia has also produced some pretty famous Spanish conservative leaders: Franco (of course) but also Manuel Fraga, the founder of AP; and Mariano Rajoy. In Galicia, even the PP has taken on some nationalist symbolism. Fraga campaigned in Galician and emerged as a forceful voice for a strong, autonomous Galicia within a united Spain. There are signs, however, that urban growth (cities being quite left-wing) is favourable in the long-term to Socialists. They came within 3.25% of winning the region in 2008, the closest they’ve ever been to the right in a general election (the PSOE was 10 points behind the PP in 2004). In 2008, the PP won 44.32% against 41.07% for the PSdeG-PSOE, 11.63% for the BNG and 1.39% for the IU. Rural, sparsely populated inland or coastal areas are the main bases of the right in Galicia. The left is strongest in urban areas, most notably in A Coruña, Ferrol, Vigo, Arteixo, Lugo, Ourense or Pontevedra. Santiago de Compostela is more right-leaning, though it was governed by the PSdeG for 24 years between 1987 and 2011. A Coruña was governed by the Socialists between 1983 and 2011.

The AP won the first regional elections in 1981 with 26 seats against 24 for the UCD. The first two legislatures were marked by infighting within the AP and political divisions on the right, which allowed the Socialists to take power mid-stream in 1987. In this context of division on the right, Manuel Fraga, the founder of the AP and by now the driving force in the refoundation of the Spanish right as the PP, decided to abandon his political ambitions in Madrid in favour of his native homeland. As the PP’s candidate in the 1989 Galician elections, Fraga won an absolute majority and defeated the incumbent centre-left coalition. In 1993 he increased his majority and the PP held on to its absolute majority in the 1993, 1997 and 2001 elections while the PSdeG was in state of disrepair after falling behind the BNG in 1997 and again in 2005. However, Fraga’s leadership was criticized in 2002 during the Prestige oil spill during which he and Aznar sat on their hands doing little in response. In 2005, the PP fell to 37 seats – one less than the absolute majority while the PSdeG increased its support considerably from 17 to 25 seats while the BNG fell from 17 to 13 seats. The Socialist Emilio Pérez Touriño formed a coalition government with the BNG, led by the more radical Anxo Quintana. In 2009, however, the PP, now led by Rajoy ally Alberto Núñez Feijoo won an extra seat (at the BNG’s expense, the Socialists held all their seats) and thus reconquered its historic stronghold. The Galician legislature over-represents the sparsely populated and more conservative inland provinces of Lugo and Ourense at the expense of Pontevedra and A Coruña which concentrate the vast majority of the Galician population. In the 2011 local elections, the PP showed its strength in the province of A Coruña with its historic conquests of A Coruña, Ferrol and Santiago. But in Vigo, Pontevedra, Lugo and Ourense it proved unable to topple Socialist-BNG (or, in Pontevedra, BNG-Socialist) coalitions. In fact, in all those cities, the governing party be it the PSdeG or BNG all increased their support. A sign of a slow evolution of the impenetrable stronghold of Spanish conservatism towards the left?

Alberto Núñez Feijóo called for early elections. Feijóo faced fairly tough circumstances: an unpopular national PP government and the terrible economic situation, while he himself was defending a very narrow absolute majority in the Galician legislature. This was a very high-stakes deal for the national PP, which had suffered an unwelcome cold shower in regional elections in Andalusia in the spring, elections which were hailed as the first sign that the PP’s post-election honeymoon was already falling apart. The PP wanted and needed to retain its hold on its traditional Galician stronghold, and this likely explains why Feijóo called for a snap election: he felt confident that the PP could take advantage of nationalist disunity and the local Socialists’ (PSdeG) corruption problems.

Feijóo is a key ally of Mariano Rajoy, and the austerity policies which the Xunta has implemented in Galicia since 2009/2010 have served as a “model” for Rajoy’s austerity measures. In Galicia, Feijóo has a somewhat “strong” record to stand on – again, compared to other regions. The region’s debt is high, at 12.8% of GDP, but is below the national average (13.5%) and while it has gone up since 2009, it has not increased as quickly as in other regions. Unemployment is 20.1% in Galicia, below the national rate of 25%, and it decreased in the third quarter of 2012 (from 21.1% in the second quarter). While the Xunta was dinged by El País for allegedly dressing up its debt level (a favourite activity for many regional governments in Spain), the PP received a major boost late in the campaign when Mexico’s oil monopoly PEMEX kind of confirmed that it would invest 247 million euros in the construction of an industrial complex in Galicia (Vigo and Ferrol) for storage, shipment and deliveries of oil industry liquids. The PP claims that this investment, which it has welcome in grandiose manner, will create over 2,500 jobs in Galicia.

Aware of the unpopularity of the central government and the national PP, Feijóo distanced himself somewhat from the national party during the campaign. His party notably released posters which minimized the PP’s logo, he campaigned on a Galicia Primeiro (Galicia First) slogan.

The opposition, which governed between 2005 and 2009, was going through dire straits when Feijóo called the election to take advantage of their problems. The Socialists (PSdeG) were divided and hit hard by a corruption probe (Operación Pokémon) which notably forced the resignation of the PSdeG mayor of Ourense.

The main Galician nationalist party, the left-wing BNG, was hit even harder by internal divisions. Trouble had been brewing in the fractious and heterogeneous coalition of parties which is the BNG, particularly between the current leadership formed and backed by the post-communist nationalist UPG and the old leader of the BNG, Xosé Manuel Beiras and his faction (Encontro Irmandiño). In the 1990s, Beiras, a famous Galician author, had led the BNG out of electoral oblivion to a high of 18 seats (and second place) in the 1998 regional elections. After his departure from the BNG’s leadership, the party’s electoral fortunes took a slow downwards trend: 17 seats in 2001, 13 in 2005 and 12 in 2009.

At a BNG congress earlier this year, the UPG coalition led by Guillerme Vázquez and Francisco Jorquera narrowly defeated an opposition slate led by Beiras and other factions. Following this congress, Beiras’ faction walked out and created a new political party, ANOVA. Other factions, largely the centrist factions, joined other smaller groupings in creating a more centrist nationalist coalition, Compromiso por Galicia (CxG). Ahead of the elections, Beiras’ bunch, ANOVA, joined up with the local IU (EU), led by Yolanda Díaz, to form a common list: Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (AGE, Galician Left Alternative). The EU has always been an also-ran in very conservative Galicia, it peaked at 2.9% in the 1981 regional elections and won only 1% in the last elections in 2009.

Turnout was 63.8%, down from 64.43% in 2009. There was a surprisingly high level of invalid votes (2.55%) and blank votes (2.69%). The results were as follows:

PPdeG 45.72% (-0.96%) winning 41 seats (+3)
PSdeG 20.53% (-10.49%) winning 18 seats (-7)
AGE (EU-ANOVA) 13.99% (+13.02%) winning 9 seats (+9)
BNG 10.16% (-5.85%) winning 7 seats (-5)
UPyD 1.48% (+0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.19% (+1.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SCD 1.1% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CxG 1.01% (-0.10%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.02% (+0.89%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Feijóo’s PP defied expectations and was reelected, not only securing its thin absolute majority won in 2009 but expanding its majority by picking up three extra seats. The PP did lose nearly 1% off of its 2009 result, equivalent to 135,493 votes. Feijóo’s victory is a significant victory for the national PP and the Rajoy cabinet, given how crucial these elections turned out to be for the national PP. In his victory speech, Feijóo even mentioned Rajoy – saying that his victory would have been impossible if voters had not felt that Rajoy was “governing responsibly” and that the “efforts” and “difficulties” it demanded were not for a “good cause”. That being said, Feijóo’s big victory owes a lot to the division and shabby state of his two traditional opponents (the PSdeG and the BNG) and his management of the region rather than to any Galician plebiscite in favour of Rajoy’s austerity measures. Nevertheless, as the centre-left daily El País argued, the results in Galicia will serve as an “encouragement” to Rajoy’s austerity policies.

The Galician PP was able to motivate its electorate to turn out, and the PP’s rural base stuck with Feijóo; compensating for fairly significant PP loses in some urban areas – A Coruña, Vigo, Pontevedra and Ourense. It was able to stave off a minor threat in the SCD, a new centre-right party led by Mario Conde, a former banker who recently got out of jail for embezzlement.

Results by municipality (source: uselectionatlas.org)

The real winner of these elections was Xosé Manuel Beiras’ new left-nationalist coalition, AGE, which defied all expectations and won a spectacular result, placing third – ahead of the BNG – and taking nearly 14% of the vote. The new left-nationalist coalition, which has been styled the “Galician Syriza” (a reference to Greece’s left-wing anti-austerity coalition which is now the embattled country’s largest opposition party), seized on the climate of social and economic discontent prevalent in Spain. Beiras’ coalition placed emphasis on socio-economic rather than traditional nationalist themes, taking clear anti-capitalist tones and calling for the reconstruction of society. In doing so, it not only seized a sizable part of the traditional BNG nationalist electorate, but also fed off the PSdeG’s collapse. The PSdeG’s collapse was particularly big in Galicia’s major cities, where AGE performed best: 20.6% and second place in A Coruña, 21.8% and second place in Santiago de Compostela, 20.2% in Ferrol and 19.5% in Vigo.

AGE was helped by Beiras’ well-known charismatic figure, which transformed him into Feijóo’s most vocal opponent. His success should be a major cause for concern for the PSdeG, which was the clear loser of the elections. The party, which had maintained its high level of support (from the 2005 election) in the 2009 ballot, lost over a third of its 2009 votes and collapsed to only 20.5% and 18 seats. The PSdeG was clearly affected by Operación Pokémon, but also by internal divisions and uncertain leadership in a party which is used to fractious relations and internal divisions. Again, Feijóo’s decision to call a snap election in October rather than next spring (as scheduled) was clearly calculated and he wanted to seize on the PSdeG’s troubles. The early election caught the Socialists off guard, and even if they managed to patch their lists together and unite behind its leader, Pachi Vázquez, it was not without some trouble. The PSdeG’s campaign, which wanted to turn the Galician election into a referendum over Rajoy’s policies, was not up to par with Feijóo and Beiras’ campaigns. Even Rubalcaba admitted after the fact that the reason why the PSdeG did so badly is that they failed to present a strong “alternative” to the PP. Again, the hapless Pachi Vázquez certainly did not measure up to either Feijóo or Beiras. The PSdeG’s decrepitude plunges the party into uncertain waters, not unlike the terrible situation the party went through in the late 1990s.

The AGE’s success has also plunged the BNG into uncertain waters. The BNG’s leadership has resigned, and it has called for “unity”, “reflection” and “change”. It is likely too early to say what is the future of the Galician nationalist movement after this election, especially given the BNG’s paltry fourth place showing behind the new coalition of its former leader.

The AGE’s result is quite interesting. It was boosted by local factors, first and foremost Beiras’ charisma and the troubles of both the PSdeG and BNG, but it is undeniable that AGE’s success could have national implications, primarily for the PSOE. Once again, with this result and the PSE’s result in Euskadi, the Socialists are the clear losers of these two elections. The party must wake up to the fact that it faces a clear credibility crisis, and its old voters are not buying into the party’s new-found distaste for austerity. Spanish politics as a whole have been shaken up by the economic crisis, both the PP and PSOE are increasingly discredited in the eyes of voters, and the succession of unpopular austerity measures have created a profound social malaise in the country. Voters are losing trust in traditional parties, and are turning to the IU, UPyD, regional parties or minor parties (notice the success in both regions of Escaños en blanco, which wants a recognition of invalid votes in the form of vacant seats); they are also losing trust in the country’s democratic institution. Both the PP and PSOE seem rather oblivious to this situation, or they are at the very least very much unable to confront it (certainly the PP has its hands tied up with the crisis and the wider Eurozone crisis).

Rubalcaba’s leadership of the PSOE will be shaken up a bit by these defeats, probably even more if the PSC does very poorly in Catalonia on 26-N. He has already said that he would go if the party told him to go, though he is not resigning just yet. The PSOE has been unable to profit at all from the PP’s collapse.

All eyes in Spanish politics are set on Catalonia, which holds a snap election November 26. Very interesting things are going on in Catalonia, and it is aligning to become one of Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headaches in the future. The regional president, Artur Mas, has taken a surprisingly confrontational and nationalist attitude, no doubt because of the difficult economic situation in which Catalonia finds itself. He wants to call a referendum of some kind, and he hopes to receive a strong popular mandate for his nationalist agenda from the voters on November 26. Polls indicate that Mas’ centre-right CiU will make gains, though it is uncertain whether he will be able to win an absolute majority in Parliament.

Montenegro 2012

General elections were held in Montenegro on October 14, 2012. The country’s unicameral legislature, the Assembly of Montenegro (Skupština Crne Gore) has 81 members, of which 76 are elected by party-list proportional representation with a 3% threshold and the five remaining seats are directly elected seats reserved for “national minorities” (in the past, only Albanians, but now open to all minorities such as Bosniaks).

Montenegro won independence from Serbia in 2006, following a referendum in which over 55% of voters voted in favour of separation (the threshold for independence to pass had been 55% of the votes, rather than the usual 50%+1). Since 1991, Montenegrin politics have been dominated by the figure of Milo Đukanović, who has served as both Prime Minister and President, most recently as Prime Minister between 2008 and 2010. In 1989, as part of the “anti-bureaucratic revolution” in Serbia, Đukanović was one of three young communist apparatchiks (closely allied to  Slobodan Milošević) who toppled the old guard and seized control of the local communist branch. Đukanović became Prime Minister in 1991, a close ally of President Momir Bulatović and Milošević. The Montenegrin leadership actively supported Serbia during the Balkan wars and partook in the armed conflict in Croatia alongside Milošević’s forces. Under Đukanović and Bulatović, the local communist party became the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).

However, with Serbia (and Montenegro)’s increasing isolation from the rest of the world in 1996-1997, Đukanović broke with Bulatović and Milošević. Ahead of the 1997 presidential election, Đukanović wrestled control of the DPS away from Bulatović and effectively purged Bulatović’s supporters from the DPS, leading Bulatović to form a new party, the Socialist People’s Party (SNP). In that year’s presidential election, Đukanović narrowly defeated Bulatović in a disputed runoff. Having squeezed Bulatović out of power, Đukanović made his mark on the country. He distanced himself from Milošević’s regime and aligned with the West, while remaining notionally loyal to the idea of Yugoslavia.

By 2001-2002, Đukanović started openly pushing for independence. The country had been an independent kingdom until it was forcibly annexed by the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918. Montenegrin national identity and its status as an ethnic group and language separate from Serbian is a touchy topic, a lot of Serbs considered Montenegrins as ethnic Serbs.

Đukanović resigned the presidency to become Prime Minister again in 2002. His pro-independence coalition won the 2002 legislative elections over the anti-independence moderate coalition, led by the SNS (Bulatović lost the party’s leadership in 2001 following Milošević’s ouster, and formed his own party). As Prime Minister, Đukanović emerged as a forceful advocate of Montenegrin independence, which was finally achieved in May 2006. He resigned as Prime Minister in November 2006, and was succeeded by Željko Šturanović. Two months before, Đukanović’s coalition emerged victorious in the first legislative elections after independence.

Šturanović stepped down in 2008, ushering in Đukanović’s return to the office of Prime Minister. His government was handily reelected in 2009, winning over 50% of the vote. Đukanović has emerged as a strong proponent of European integration, and his government’s policies have largely revolved around EU membership. Montenegro became a candidate country in December 2010, and negotiations with the EU began earlier this year. After the country became a candidate for EU membership, he stepped down as Prime Minister and was replaced by his close ally, finance minister Igor Lukšić.

The opposition to the DPS (and its smaller sidekick/ally, the SDP) is fairly heterogeneous. The bulk of the opposition are pro-Serbian parties which opposed independence in 2006 and find their strongest support with the country’s Serbian minority (a bit less than 30% of the population). A bunch of these parties merged in 2009 under the label “New Serb Democracy” (NOVA), led by Andrija Mandić – the former leader of the right-wing Serbian People’s Party. In 2009, the SNP, now led by Srđan Milić and leading a pro-European line, was the strongest of the opposition parties. The SNP had opposed independence in 2006.

Ahead of this year’s election, NOVA joined forces with the liberal Movement for Changes (PZP), a “Montenegrin” (by that, I mean that it finds most support with Montenegrins rather than Serbs) party. The PZP, which strongly supports European integration and campaigns against corruption (Đukanović and his government are often suspected of corruption, Đukanović himself was allegedly involved in tobacco smugling in the 1990s), won 6% in 2009. The two parties formed a coalition known as the Democratic Front. There was also a new party contesting, the centre-left Positive Montenegro; while the new rules on minority seats allowed small ethnic parties (for example, the Bosniak Party) which had been allied to the DPS in 2009 to run on their own.

Turnout was 70.3%. The results were as follows:

European Montenegro (DPS-SDP-LPCG) 45.6% (-6.3%) winning 39 seats (-5)
Democratic Front (NOVA-PZP) 23.7% (+8.5%) winning 20 seats (+7)
SNP 10.6% (-6.2%) winning 9 seats (-7)
Positive CG 8.9% (+8.9%) winning 7 seats (+7)
Bosniak Party 4.4% (+4.4%) winning 3 seats (nc)
FORCA (Albanian) 1.4% (-0.5%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Serbian Unity 1.4% winning 0 seats
Albanian Coalition 1.1% (+0.3%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Serbian National Federation 0.9% winning 0 seats
Democratic Union of Albanians 0.9% (-0.6%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Croatian Civic Initiative 0.5% winning 1 seat (nc)
Others 0.5%

The governing coalition was easily reelected, though by a reduced margin. There is now some question over whether or not Milo Đukanović, the grand old man of Montenegrin politics who has remained as the DPS leader, will become Prime Minister again (or if he will run for President next year). After all, even out of office he has remained the real strongman in the country, and he was the top candidate on his coalition’s list again this year.

The opposition came out strengthened from the election. The new Democratic Front alliance has easily beaten out Srđan Milić’s SNP to become the strongest opposition party. The SNP had been invited to join the new opposition coalition, but Milić refused. However, some members of the SNP apparently backed the new opposition coalition anyway.

The DPS now falls just short of an absolute majority. It is likely that it will be able to form a government with the support of the Bosniak Party and some of the other smaller minority parties out there.

A really random note on the elections in the Azores on October 14. They were uneventful, the governing Socialists (PS) retained an absolute majority in the regional legislature, the centre-right PSD (in power in Lisbon) gained some ground while the right-wing CDS-PP and the left (BE and CDU) lost ground.

Next elections are the Basque Country and Galicia on October 21. Unfortunately, I won’t have a post up on that for quite some time until after the elections.

Czech Republic (regional and Senate) 2012

Regional elections and the first round of senatorial elections were held in the Czech Republic on October 12-13, 2012. The Czech Republic is divided into thirteen regions in addition to Prague. These regions (kraje) were created in 2000 as second-level administrative divisions to replace the old 73 districts. Each region has a regional legislature elected directly through PR with a 5% thresholds, these legislatures in turn elect a regional president. Since their creation in 2000, there have been efforts at devolution to these regional governments, envisioned as better able to handle local government responsibilities than small municipalities. While it has been said that these regions have a great array of powers at their disposal, they have not used them much and regional government remains pretty weak. Voters, furthermore, have not identified much with these new regions, they preferred the old districts.

The Czech Senate, meanwhile, has 81 members elected by thirds every two years for six year terms. They are elected in single-member constituencies through the two round system. The Senate is a toothless body, which can delay laws passed by the lower house but its veto may be overridden by the lower house with only an absolute majority. Because of its redundancy and weak powers, there have been many calls to abolish the Senate. As a result of the 2008 and 2010 renewals, the opposition social democrats (ČSSD) now have a narrow absolute majority in the Senate.

The last general election, held in 2010, resulted in a centre-right government led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS). He leads a coalition including the ODS, traditionally the major right-wing party in the country and the newer right-wing and more pro-European TOP09 led by Karel Schwarzenberg. Until April 2012, the anti-corruption gadfly Public Affairs (VV) party led by former TV journalist Radek John participated in the coalition, until the party was forced out because of disagreements with the government’s austerity policies. VV, which had broken through in the 2010 general election, collapsed almost as quickly as it had emerged. Like most of these populistic “anti-corruption” outfits, VV wasn’t too clean either: one of its cabinet ministers was accused of taking a bribe. In April 2012, VV was kicked out due to disagreements with the austerity policies, but a split occured when some deputies – led by another cabinet minister, Karolína Peake – wanted to stay in the coalition and formed their own party, LIDEM. VV’s expulsion means that the cabinet is now only a minority government.

Since 2010, the Nečas cabinet has implemented stringent austerity measures, including cutting investment, public spending and raising taxes. The country’s economy shrank by 4.7% in 2009, and it may have be in a double-dip recession now: GDP is projected to shrink by 1% in 2012, down from +1.7% last year. However, the country’s deficit has been getting smaller: 3.2% of the GDP in 2011, down from 5.8% of the GDP in 2009. The cabinet is dead-set on getting the deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, it has recently introduced a bill to raise the VAT by 1% and raise taxes for high earners. These policies have largely been unpopular with voters. But voters are also angry over corruption scandals, which have also touched the inept opposition (ČSSD, social democrats). A prominent ČSSD old-timer (a former minister and current regional president  of Central Bohemia), David Rath, got canned for taking bribes and kickbacks.

Turnout was 36.89% in the regional elections, down from 40.3% in 2008. In the 27 senate districts up for reelection, turnout was 34.9%, down from 42.09% in 2006 (the last time they were up). Results for the regional elections overall were as follows, compared to the 2008 regional elections:

ČSSD 23.58% (-12.27%) winning 205 seats (-75)
KSČM 20.43% (+5.4%) winning 182 seats (+68)
ODS 12.28% (-11.29%) winning 102 seats (-78)
KDU-ČSL and allies 9.87% (0.42%) winning 73 seats (+11)
TOP09 + STAN 6.63% (+6.63%) winning 44 seats (+44)
SPOZ 4.16% (+4.16%) winning 7 seats (+7)
Green Party and allies 2.83% (-0.32%) winning 10 seats (+10)
Pirate 2.19% (+2.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NEZ 1.68% (+1%) winning 5 seats (+5) winning 5 seats (+5)
SNK ED 1.02% (-0.24%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Regional parties and others 15.33% (+4.32%) winning 44 seats (+8)

In the first round of senatorial elections, no candidate was elected by the first round. 23 ČSSD candidates qualified for the runoff, as did 12 KSČM candidates, 10 ODS candidates, 2 KDU-ČSL candidates, 2 STAN (TOP09 allies) candidates, 1 Pirate, 1 Green and 3 others (2 indies, 1 Ostrava local party). In terms of first place showings, the ČSSD placed first in 11 of the 27 constituencies, the ODS placed first in 5, the KSČM in 4, the KDU-ČSL in two, the Greens in one, the Pirates in one and all three other candidates also placed first.

On these numbers, the ODS has already lost seven of the seats that it had won in 2006 (that year, it won 14 to the ČSSD’s 6) – which means that the party, at most, will hold only 18 seats in the Senate (down from 25) after this election. The KDU-ČSL will also hold fewer seats, it has failed to qualify for the runoffs in two seats they currently hold, meaning that, at most, they will hold four seats in the Senate (down from 6).

Updated with full results:

ČSSD winning 13 seats (+7) > 48 seats (+7)
ODS winning 4 seats (-10) > 15 seats (-10)
KDU-ČSL winning 2 seats (-2) > 4 seats (-2)
Independents winning 2 seats (+2) > 3 seats (+1)
STAN winning 2 seats (+1) > 2 seats (+1)
KSČM winning 1 seat (nc) > 2 seats (nc)
Green Party (SZ) winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Pirate winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
Ostravak winning 1 seat (+1) > 1 seat (+1)
S.cz winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)
TOP09 winning 0 seats > 2 seats (nc)

The results are a major defeat for the governing parties. The 2008 regional elections, which had been held under similar political circumstances (a ODS government) were a landslide victory for the opposition ČSSD. This year, however, the ODS’ results were even worse, winning only 12.3% of the vote. Such a drubbing was not too surprising, the ODS had been expected to lose badly at the polls. The Prime Minister tried to downplay the results, noting that voters usually express discontent with the central government during regional elections. He has nonetheless pledged to continue deficit cuts, remaining set on bringing it down the EU’s 3% limit.

As results of various “midterm” elections in the Czech Republic (most notably the last few regional elections) show, these kind of midterm elections do indeed often produce rather bad results for the party in power. However, that explanation may only go so far. The ODS’ mauling (and that of the government in general, with 6.6% it is not like TOP09 did too great either) is not only midterm protest voting, it is also discontent with the austerity policies, the bad economic conditions in the country and the stench of corruption which permeates both the ODS and the ČSSD.

The ODS did top the poll in one region, Plzeň, but Nečas cannot even take solace in that result. In that region, the ODS list was headed by Jiří Pospíšil, a young former justice minister who was fired by Nečas in June 2012. Officially, he was removed from cabinet for opposing the austerity measures. In reality, Pospíšil’s attempts to fight corruption effectively likely rattled a few feathers.

The government is currently facing a backbench rebellion over its new tax plan which would increase the sales tax by 1% and raise taxes on high earners. With an uncertain parliamentary majority, some right-wing backbenchers are threatening to bring down the government on this matter of confidence as soon as next week (October 23). They would need three-fifths of the lower house to force snap elections, which the ČSSD are calling for. The election results will boost the standing of the rebels and put even more pressure on Nečas. The rebels had already received a major boost when President Václav Klaus criticized the tax pan.

The ODS would likely lose badly if a general election were held, but not as badly as in these elections. Turnout was very low in these elections, especially on the right. In a general election, turnout would be above 60% and the centre-right coalition would perform slightly better, but would still enter as the heavy underdog against the ČSSD (and no, being an underdog isn’t necessarily something to be happy about).

The ČSSD emerged as the largest party in these elections, but the party’s results are rather disastrous, especially after the landslide victory it had won in the last regional elections in 2008. Corruption scandals have significantly weakened the party’s standing in public opinion. The ČSSD still topped the poll in nine of the 13 regions, and the senate elections will likely allow them to expand their large (but fairly useless) majority in the upper house.

This means that, on the left and overall, the main winner of these elections are the Communists (KSČM). The KSČM is a controversial party in Czech politics, because it is one of the few (the only?) unreformed communist parties in eastern Europe to still enjoy significant popular support, mostly from a core of devoted activists and voters who turned out heavily in these regional elections. The KSČM has been shunned by the other parties, with the ČSSD expressly refusing to collaborate with them at the national level. This has meant that the KSČM has remained in opposition, vitam aeternam, being able to freely oppose any policies without being held responsible itself.

Much has been made of the KSČM’s result this year, and it is true that it did impressively well. However, it isn’t the party’s first spectacular result in midterm elections of this type. It has never won over 18% of the vote in general elections, but in the 2000 regional elections it won 21.2% and in the 2004 European elections it won 20.3%. The 2000 regionals were held two years after the 1998 elections, in which the ODS agreed to support a ČSSD minority cabinet in exchange for a portion of power. This agreement is remembered as the moment when the two major parties began “cooperating in unfair practices” (cite). In 2004, the ČSSD government was extremely unpopular. The KSČM’s successes in 2000, 2004 and again this year are not emblematic of a revolutionary fervour or a fundamental shift to the far-left, but rather the result of the KSČM raking up protest votes, dissatisfied at the economic situation, rampant corruption in both major parties and the rather thin policy differences between the ODS and ČSSD. With the economic crisis and major discontent at the traditional order of things (politically, but also economically), the KSČM’s vague message of egalitarianism and more jobs struck a chord with many voters.

The Communists have topped the poll in two regions, Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem – both in northern Bohemia, an industrial and mining heartland which has been the KSČM’s main stronghold in the past. Some have expressed satisfaction at the prospect of the KSČM governing two regions, it will give them a chance to prove themselves and will force them to take up actual responsibilities.

The KSČM’s success has had its influence on the ČSSD, whose leader Bohuslav Sobotka has publicly said that he would be open to a ČSSD minority government backed by the KSČM. This is a major change in policy for the ČSSD at the national level. In the past, the virulently anti-communist ČSSD has been hostile to any national government even backed by the Communists (although there has been cooperation at a regional level).

The KDU-ČSL, a right-wing christian democratic party which was thrown out of the lower house in the 2010 elections, did surprisingly well. In coalition with local independents and other assorted local parties, the party did quite well, especially in its Moravian heartlands. It was likely an attractive option for right-wing voters. The party’s success could allow it to return to

As is the case with Czech regional and local elections, in some regions local and regional parties performed well – though in some cases even better than usual. In Liberec region, the Mayors for Liberec Region (SLK – it seems vaguely right of centre and sometimes allied with TOP09), topped the poll with 22% and 13 seats. In that same region, another local party – allied with the Greens it seems – “Change for Liberec” – won 16.9% and 10 seats. In Ústí nad Labem (North Bohemia), the vaguely regionalist Severočeši.cz (NorthBohemians.cz) – a party with two senators from 2010 – won 12% and 9 seats. Local parties also won seats in South Bohemia, Karlovy Vary (in this case, two local parties won seats) and in Hradec-Králové.

The second round of the senate elections will probably confirm the first round. These elections will have a major impact on the embattled Czech government, which could collapse as early as next week if the backbench ODS rebels are successful. Even if Nečas seeks to downplay these results as the product of cyclical midterm disappointment with incumbents, these elections will have severely weakened him and his government. A snap election is not yet a certainty, even if the cabinet collapses, as it requires a three-fifths majority in the lower house to call a snap election. However, the results of this election will increase the pressure on Nečas, run up the internal tension in the ODS and might lead the ODS’ partners to reconsider their participation- for example, TOP09’s leader Karel Schwarzenberg has said that the government’s economic measures should be reevaluated as to mitigate their social impact. All these factors mean that the government will probably not survive until 2014, and that an early election will come sooner than later. In these elections, the ODS risks a debacle, but the ČSSD is only in a marginally better position overall.

Updated October 27: In the second round of senatorial elections on October 19 and 20, the ČSSD increased its absolute majority in the Senate. With 48 seats, it now holds nearly three-fifths of the seats on its own. The ODS lost ten seats, leaving it with only 15 seats in the upper house. The two-round system once again worked against the KSČM, despite qualifying for runoffs in 12 constituencies, they won (rather, held) only a single seat (constituency 5 – Chomutov).

The most important result in these elections was probably turnout – or the lack thereof. Only 18.6% of voters turned up to the polls in the 27 constituencies up for grabs, down massively from 34.9% in the first round. Turnout was down across the board.

Belgium 2012

Municipal and provincial elections were held in Belgium on October 14. All municipal councils, provincial councils but also district councils (in Antwerp) and OCMW/CPAS councils (social services) in some bilingual municipalities were up.

Belgium last held a federal election in June 2010, but it did not get a federal government until December 2011 (541 days after the original election). For the past few years, Belgium’s “existential crisis” had been deepening with Flanders drifting further and further away from Wallonia, with the question of the “breakup of Belgium” becoming increasingly relevant. The June 2010 federal elections just rendered turned the problem into a major political crisis. In Flanders, the right-wing nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) – which seeks the independence of Flanders – won over 28% of the vote and became the largest party both in Flanders and in the country as a whole. The N-VA’s dramatic entrance onto the Belgian political scene in 2010 was a political earthquake which had major repercussions. The various other parties were unable to reach an agreement to form a government, the main blockage points being a constitutional reform (entailing further devolution of power from the federal government) which most Flemish politicians demanded.

Finally, a new government was formed in December 2011, led by Elio Di Rupo, the leader of the Francophone Socialists (PS), with the participation of the Francophone and Flemish Socialist, Liberal and Catholic parties (PS, sp.a; MR, Open VLD; CD&V, cdH respectively). The parties had reached an agreement on economic/fiscal policy (spending cut and tax hikes – economic growth has slowed and the country’s debt is up to 99% of GDP) and constitutional reforms which includes splitting up the controversial BHV electoral district, replacing the elected Senate with an unelected one representing region sand communities  and devolving more powers (including employment) to the regions and communities. A few months in, the new government has faced some social unrest in the form of strikes and movements against some controversial austerity measures and a pension reform.

These municipal and provincial elections come six years after the last ones, a period in which Belgian – especially Flemish – politics have seen huge changes. The eruption of the N-VA in 2010 and its subsequent establishment as the hegemonic party in Flanders (it is polling in the mid to high-30s in Flanders, and the CD&V is seemingly locked in a death spiral) have obviously changed Flemish politics a whole lot. The far-right Vlaams Belang (VB), previously the dominant force of radical Flemish nationalism, has collapsed, collateral victim of the N-VA. The Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), the dominant party in Flanders for most of the past century, has also been severely hit by the N-VA’s success. At the turn of the new century, the Flemish Christian Democrats had adopted a more nationalist tone and it had been somewhat successful in building up a nationalist/regionalist appeal. However, the N-VA has been siphoning off nationalist voters away from the CD&V.

These local elections were crucial for the N-VA to assert its new political hegemony, at all levels of government in Flanders. However, local elections follow a different dynamic. Rural Flanders is the powerbase of the CD&V and it still controls a lot of municipalites there, which have traditionally been the backbone and source of the party’s strength. The situation is further muddled by the dominance of local parties and coalitions of various sizes in a number of municipalities in Flanders (and Wallonia), including a large number of places where the CD&V and N-VA still rule together. These factors made these elections more challenging and slightly more difficult for the N-VA.

The major race in Flanders and in Belgium as a whole was in Antwerp. The largest city in Belgium, governed by the Socialists since 1944 (with the exception of a few months in 1976), had been in yesteryears the scene of high-profile battles between the Flemish Socialists (and their coalition partners, usually the Christian Democrats and Liberals) and the VB. In 2006, sp.a mayor Patrick Janssens (in power since 2003) managed to defeat the VB’s leader, Filip Dewinter. The VB’s result in 2006 – 20 seats and 33.5% (against 22 for the sp.a) – was seen, back then, as underwhelming and eventually precipitated the VB’s downfall.

This year, the contest opposed Bart de Wever, the leader of the N-VA, to mayor Patrick Janssens (sp.a). Bart de Wever’s decision to try to wrestle control of the country’s largest cith away from the sp.a and their allies (the CD&V and Open VLD) effectively nationalized the race. To counter the N-VA, Janssens’ sp.a formed a common list with the CD&V, which has been the sp.a’s main coalition partner in Antwerp in the past few decades. The result in Antwerp were as follows:

N-VA 37.73% winning 23 seats
sp.a-CD&V 28.58% winning 17 seats
VB 10.21% (-23.3%) winning 5 seats (-15)
PVDA+ 7.97% (+6.12%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Groen! 7.95% (+3.24%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Open VLD 5.54% (-4.16%) winning 2 seats (-3)

The result was an historic and significant victory which turned the night, regardless of the N-VA’s performance elsewhere, into a major success (and breakthrough) for the N-VA. With 37% of the vote, the N-VA ate up the majority of the VB’s old base (Filip Dewinter said that the VB had sown the seeds for this event and that the N-VA was the one who was reaping their fruits) but also made significant inroads with the electorate of the other parties, first and foremost the CD&V (in coalition with the N-VA in 2006, it had won 11.2%). This is the new state of affairs in Flanders: the N-VA has become what the VB was never able to become – the hegemonic party of Flemish nationalism which has attracted the support of more nationalist supporters of the other parties. This has hurt the CD&V, which had adopted a significant nationalist/regionalist/confederalist attitude in the past decade, the most; but it has not been without its effects on the Open VLD and the sp.a. For the Open VLD, justice minister Annemie Turtelboom (their top candidate) was unable to stop the bleeding. Only the Greens, for understandable reasons, have been spared by the N-VA’s irresistable rise to the top.

Bart de Wever will become mayor of Antwerp, most likely in coalition with the sp.a (though without Janssens, who reiterated that he would not serve in a coalition under de Wever, and will probably retire). He has not ruled out talking with the VB, but it is unlikely that he will form a coalition with them – too controversial (unlike the VB, the N-VA has a more respectable aura and it tries to maintain this) and probably too unstable. Bart de Wever has pledged, I believe, to serve out his six year term. With his election, this most likely means that the N-VA will need to choose a new leader, a tricky process given that its bench seems pretty thin on leadership material. However, de Wever is not out of national politics – he can use this new position to further boost his national standing. Indeed, in his victory speech, he made clear references to the federal government and the national scene. This victory allowed him to reiterate his claim that the government – which he styles the “tax government” (a reference to a traditional complaint on Flemish nationalists, that Flanders subsidizes Wallonia and pays more in taxes than it receives) – does not enjoy the support of a majority of Flemish voters.

The other success of the night was the PVDA+, a small far-left party active on both sides of the linguistic border which did very well in both regions. The PVDA+ (known as the PTB+ in Wallonia) had hitherto been one of those negligible far-left groupings which have had no success at the national level. While local ballots are usually kind to those type of parties, their emergence is quite interesting. It likely drained more votes away from the sp.a, likely left-wing supporters unhappy with the party’s participation in a government oriented towards budget cuts and austerity-type policies.

In Ghent, the sp.a was comforted by the easy reelection of mayor Daniël Termont (sp.a), his party won an absolute majority in the council with 45.5% against 17.1% for the N-VA.

In Bruges, the sp.a will take the leadership of a coalition with the CD&V with Renaat Landuyt as mayor. The Socialists won the most seats (14, gaining 2, and 26.8%) against 13 (26.6%) for the CD&V, allowing the sp.a to become the senior rather than junior partners. The N-VA won 19.8% and 10 seats.

The sp.a held on in Leuven/Louvain, despite losing 3 seats (they now hold 16). The N-VA placed second with 19% and 9 seats. The coalition between the sp.a and CD&V has been renewed.

The N-VA became the largest party in Aalst, with 31% and 15 seats against 17.3% and 8 seats for the CD&V led by the incumbent mayor. The VB, which had placed first in this former textile town in 2006, collapsed from 22.8% to 10.8%. The Liberals and Socialists also suffered smaller loses. The N-VA also won in Sint-Niklaas, taking 28.5% and 13 seats against 12 seats for the sp.a, the largest party in 2006. The VB, again, was the main victim, falling from 26.6% to 11.7%.

In Kortrijk/Courtrai, however, the CD&V held its ground pretty well, winning 33% and 15 seats. The N-VA only placed third with 16.3% and 7 seats. However, the Open VLD – second with 21% and 9 seats – has announced that it will form a coalition with the sp.a and N-VA to topple the CD&V, which have governed the city for 150 years. The CD&V is livid, denouncing an “anti-democratic” coalition.

The sp.a was shaken up in Oostende, where the party had won over 45% and 20 seats in 2006. This year, the Socialists are down 13.5%, to only 32% and 15 seats. The N-VA, with 22.7% and 10 seats placed second, benefiting from a major dip in the VB vote. The incumbent three party red/blue/orange majority should, however, hold on.

The mayor’s list, composed of the sp.a, Groen! and independents in Hasselt has held on, with 33% and 15 seats and will govern with the CD&V, which came third. With 25.5% and 11 seats, the N-VA was a good second.

Finally, in Ypres, the CD&V-N-VA cartel led by former Prime Minister Yves Leterme won 52.8% and 21 seats.

In the provincial councils in Flanders, the N-VA was quite successful. The CD&V held on to a tight plurality in Limburg and West Flanders, but the N-VA became the largest party in all other provinces. In Antwerp, the N-VA won 36% and elected 27 councillors, up from the 30.7% it had won in the province in the 2010 federal elections. In the Flemish Brabant, the nationalist party took 26% and 19 seats against 19.5% for the CD&V. In East Flanders, with 26% and 21 seats, the N-VA fall a bit below what they won in 2010 but they are far ahead of the CD&V (19.8%) and Open VLD (19.3%). Only in Limburg and West Flanders did the CD&V outpace the N-VA, but only with a one seat edge over them.

Wallonia and Bruxelles-Capitale

Wallonia and the capital region were not as interesting, but did feature a few noteworthy contests. In Brussels, first and foremost, the PS has maintained its hold, with 29% and 18 seats against 18% and 17.9% for the cdH and MR-Open VLD respectively. However, the cdH, despite a strong result (2006 was an exceptional result, largely maintaining it this year is excellent), will be out of the new coalition and be replaced by the MR. The N-VA won 4.3% and 1 seat. The FDF (Fédéralistes Démocrates Francophonesa former member of the MR which quit in 2011 after the MR accepted splitting up BHV) won 7.6% and 3 seats.

In the capital region, Schaerbeek mayor Bernard Clerfayt (FDF) won a third term, but with a reduced majority, shedding four seats. The PS, led by Laurette Onkelinx, maintained itself at its 2006 level, which had been an historic result for the PS in a town where it had been weak. In Anderlecht, meanwhile, the PS gained four seats to win 21, placing comfortably ahead of the liberal mayor’s list. An “Islam” list won 4% and 1 seat in the town, it also took a seat in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, where the MR has ended 20 years of PS rule. While the PS mayor’s list placed first with 16 seats, down 3; the liberals (15 seats) have formed a coalition with the cdH and Ecolo. Controversy, meanwhile, in Watermael-Boitsfort, where the co-president of Ecolo Olivier Deleuze will become mayor after a deal with the MR and cdH which will topple mayor Martine Payfa (FDF), whose list topped the poll. The leader of FDF, Olivier Maingain, has retained his seat in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert with over 55% of the vote and an absolute majority.

In Wallonia, the PS has roared back in its Charleroi stronghold, where the party had taken a mighty tumble in 2006 in the wake of major scandals. The PS, led by Paul Magnette, won 47.7% and 30 seats, giving it an absolute majority. The MR and the far-right (the FN) were the main victims, though cdH and Ecolo suffered loses as well. The far-left PTB+ won 3.4%, enough for one seat.

In Mons, another working-class PS stronghold in Hainaut, the PS list – led locally by Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo – won 55.2% and 29 seats. In Tournai, the PS has maintained its hold and will continue its coalition with the MR, which gained 2 seats.

In Liège, the PS retained its 2006 level (38%, 22 seats – up 1) while the MR lost 3 seats. The PTB+, particularly strong in Liège and its old mining hinterland, took 6.4% and 2 seats. Indeed, in Herstal, an old industrial town and PS stronghold, the PTB+ won 14% and 4 seats (up 2), a distant second behind the PS which held its huge absolute majority (51% and 20 seats), led by Frédéric Daerden, the son of the late Michel Daerden (known for showing up drunk to an interview with his son on the night of the 2006 local elections). Very similar deal in nearby Seraing.

In Namur, cdH mayor Maxime Prevot is happy, the cdH have won an extra 3 seats, seemingly at the expense of Ecolo who lost 4.

Not any interesting stuff in the provincial councils, all parties largely won what they had won back in 2006.

For those looking for more results, La Libre Belgique has an interactive map which includes the entirety of Belgium.

While south of the linguistic border these elections viewed a whole reserved only few surprises and saw no major change compared to 2010 or 2006, the results in Flanders carried more weight. For the N-VA, the local elections were always going to be tougher because of the special realities and the difficulties associated with implanting a brand new political force in smaller towns whose local government has long been dominated by an established party. However, while the N-VA did not win the tsunami some had predicted – which is not very surprising – it can be said that it has achieved, more or less, what it wanted. Undeniably, Antwerp is the crown and the N-VA won it, making all other results moot. But in the provincial councils, the N-VA was quite successful and even in larger municipalities it had some successes, taking into consideration local factors. It remains to be seen what the implications of having Bart de Wever as mayor will be, both on Belgian politics and the N-VA in particular. Will Bart de Wever focus on governance at the local level or will he retain his strong presence in federal politics? If he does not, can the N-VA continue to grow as ensure its status as Flanders’ new hegemonic party, under a new leader, whoever it might be?

In the next post, I will cover the Czech regional and senatorial (first round) elections. Time permitting, I might include a quick summary of the regional elections in the Azores. I will also try to have something on Montenegro, but Lithuania will likely be covered following the second round of its election at the end of the month.

Brazil 2012

The first round of municipal elections were held in Brazil on October 7, 2012 with a runoff to be held on October 28, 2012. Mayors, deputy mayors and local councillors in all 5,568 municipalities in Brazil. Runoffs are held in direct mayoral elections where no candidate has won 50%+1 of the votes, but runoffs are only held in municipalities with over 200,000 voters. Municipal city councils (câmaras municipais) are elected through an open list system similar to that use for elections to the federal Chamber of Deputies.

Municipal elections in Brazil are the country’s “midterm elections”, they are the only elections held in between presidential elections and they are held halfway in the President’s four-year term. While on the surface the sheer amount of parties, contradictory coalitions from city to city and the vast array of personalities make the water fairly murky, and it is true that these elections are very personalized and that local political machines play a large role. However, these “midterm” local elections are nonetheless marked by complex political calculations which are tied to national and state politics. Their results have major repercussions on national and state politics, for example playing a role in boosting (or weakening) the standings of potential presidential candidates and informing the ever changing game of Brazilian coalition politics at the federal level.

It has been two years since Dilma Rousseff was elected President in 2010, riding the popularity of her predecessor and mentor, Lula. A year and nine months down the road, Dilma maintains very strong approval ratings (with less than 10% judging her performance to be downright bad, and nearly 60% judging it to be excellent or good). Economic growth remains fairly strong, but slowed down to 2.7% in 2011 and is projected to grow by only 1.5% this year. Slower economic growth has forced the government to be surprisingly defiant to the demands of federal government employees, including teachers and federal police, who had been on strike since earlier this year demanding higher salary increases (they were granted an inflation-only offer of 15.8% over three years). This is surprising coming from a party, the PT, whose roots lay in the unions, but Dilma has continued to move the PT away from its historical socialist roots towards third-way politics.

She has favoured private sector growth and promised to reduce the high cost of doing business in Brazil, for example by extending payroll-tax cuts to more industries or cutting the very high electricity tariffs in the country. While  Dilma and the PT remain instinctively hostile to privatization, she has made it clear that she supports more private investment in infrastructure. The government has already auctioned off contracts to run three airports, and it plans to auction road and railway concessions to the private sector to invite investors to build, upgrade and operate toll roads and railways.

The entire Brazilian political class has been rocked by some major corruption cases in recent months, most significantly the big Cachoeira scandal (Carlinhos Cachoeira is a businessman behind a big gambling racket, currently investigated for money laundering and running an illegal gambling network), which has implicated a number of senators, federal deputies and two governors. The impact of the Cachoeira scandal has been felt across party lines, but it has mainly hurt the opposition: a prominent opposition senator, Demóstenes Torres (DEM-GO), is one of the major politicians cited in the case, as is the embattled PSDB governor of Goiás, Marconi Perillo.

However, corruption cases have not left the government unscathed. Dilma’s cabinet has had lots of turnover in recent months, as she was forced to fire one cabinet minister after another as they got knee-deep into various cases of corruption, graft, influence-peddling, bribery or misuse of public funds. Some of those cabinet ministers, such as her former Chief of Staff Antonio Palocci (PT-SP), had been close allies of her predecessor and mentor, Lula. Others had been members of her venal allies, who have discovered the political (and financial) value of getting their own ministries. With various corruption cases, she lost her transportation minister Alfredo Nascimento (PR-AM), the agriculture minister Wagner Rossi (PMDB-SP), tourism minister Pedro Novais (PMDB-MA), sports minister Orlando Silva (PCdoB-BA), labour minister Carlos Lupi (PDT-RJ) and cities minister Mário Negromonte (PP-BA). Dilma’s tough stance against corrupt ministers in her entourage has allowed her to score points with public opinion, and it has allowed her to slowly but surely lay her personal mark on the government and differentiate it from Lula.

However, the PT is likely worried about what effects the current Supreme Court case surrounding the old mensalão scandal from 2005 (when the PT bribed congressional partners for their votes) could have on them. It apparently tried to push back the case until after the local elections; it came out that Lula had tried to blackmail a judge – Gilmar Mendes – by threatening to reveal Mendes’ links to the Cachoeira scheme. Just a few days ago, the court found Lula’s former Chief of Staff José Dirceu and former PT president José Genoino guilty on counts of bribery in the mensalão, though their sentences will not come down until later. This landmark case, among others, will at least contribute to breaking the culture of impunity which has permeated the Brazilian political elite for so long. It is unlikely to hurt or help any particular party; no major Brazilian party has a clean record, and voters recognize this.

Brazilian party and coalition politics is very complex business. Party loyalty is very weak, what matters are personalities and their individual ambitions. Nonetheless, even if most parties are venal self-interested actors with no ideologies, a few parties are major players in their own right. The Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), the ultimate big tent party which seeks only to maximize its power, is a key ally of the Dilma government but some local and state bigwigs are showing their discontent with the federal government and their coalition with the PT. Another smaller venal ally of the government, the Republic Party (PR) broke away from the government shortly after Nascimento was dumped and joined the ranks of the opposition.

The Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), led by the very popular and ambitious governor of Pernambuco Eduardo Campos, is quite tired of being the second fiddle to the PT and is slowly drifting away from the PT and turning into more of a traditional big tent, ideologically diverse or undefined party. Eduardo Campos is a potential candidate for President in 2014 or 2018.

The opposition is also being moved around. The traditional party of the centre-right, the PSDB, risks losing even more feathers as it continues to be unable to renew itself and move past its old leadership disputes. However, its main ally, the Democrats (the former PFL, the remnants of the conservative pork-barreling party of the old military dictatorship), are collapsing even more rapidly. The big news in Brazilian politics in 2011 was the maverick DEM mayor of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, splitting off to form his own party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which positions itself slightly to the left of the DEMs, closer to the centre and to the Dilma government (while not being a ‘government party’). The PSD has attracted a good number of defectors from the DEMs (but also other parties) and it has grown to 47 federal deputies, much more than the DEMs (left with 28). These defections have left the Democrats virtually on life support.

Municipal elections

The table below gives the number of mayors elected by party in the first round, compared to the 2008 municipal elections (first round); as well as the number of councillors.

PMDB 1,018 mayors (-175) and 7,963 councillors (-512)
PSDB 692 mayors (-95) and 5,255 councillors (-641)
PT 627 mayors (+77) and 5,181 councillors (+1,013)
PSD 495 mayors (+495) and 4,662 councillors (+4,662)
PP 466 mayors (-83) and 4,932 councillors (-197)
PSB 434 mayors (+126) and 3,555 councillors (+599)
PDT 309 mayors (-42) and 3,660 councillors (+135)
PTB 295 mayors (-115) and 3,571 councillors (-363)
DEM 276 mayors (-219) and 3,272 councillors (-1,529)
PR 273 mayors (-111) and 3,190 councillors (-344)
PPS 120 mayors (-9) and 1,861 councillors (-298)
PV 96 mayors (+21) and 1,584 councillors (+347)
PSC 83 mayors (+26) and 1,468 councillors (+322)
PRB 77 mayors (+23) and 1,204 councillors (+423)
PCdoB 53 mayors (+12) and 976 councillors (+364)
PMN 42 mayors (+1) and 605 councillors (+15)
PTdoB 26 mayors (+18) and 534 councillors (+205)
PRP 24 mayors (+6) and 581 councillors (+177)
PSL 23 mayors (+8) and 761 councillors (+241)
PTC 18 mayors (+5) and 484 councillors (+153)
PHS 17 mayors (+4) and 544 councillors (+193)
PRTB 16 mayors (+5) and 418 councillors (+157)
PPL 12 mayors (+12) and 176 councillors (+176)
PTN 12 mayors (-4) and 429 councillors (+29)
PSDC 9 mayors (+1) and 446 councillors (+95)
PSOL/PCB/PSTU 1 mayor (+1) and 56 councillors (+16) incl. 49 PSOL, 5 PCB, 2 PSTU
Others 240 mayors (-2)

The results did not indicate any major changes, besides a strengthening of the PT and the success of both the PSD and the PSB. The PT’s gains seem heaviest in small and medium-sized towns, with the clear influence of some strong state governments (notably Bahia) helping the PT to create a strong base at the municipal level. The results of the other parties reveal the importance of state governments as well; the PSD was rather strong in Santa Catarina because of governor Raimundo Colombo (former DEM, now PSD), the PSDB performed well in its historical base of São Paulo but also Minas Gerais, Paraná or Pará where they control the governorship and the PSB clearly dominates in Pernambuco and is in a strong position in the Northeast as a whole (notably Piauí, where it now controls the state government).

The Democrats were obliterated, the creation of the PSD sorely hurt them in Santa Catarina, Bahia but also Minas Gerais and São Paulo. At it currently stands, the DEMs are basically on life support and their continued existence as an independent political party is called into question. Would they be better off merging with the PSDB to create larger centre-right opposition party?

The PMDB, by and large, remained predominant in a lot of towns throughout the country and by coalitions and alliances it will probably partake in the governance of over half – if not more – of Brazilian municipalities. The loss of state government in Paraná and its disaffiliation with the PT machine in Bahia resulted in significant loses for the party in those states, but it made major gains in São Paulo.

São Paulo

São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and economic capital, is the big prize in all municipal elections – especially this year. Being mayor of São Paulo has often been a trampoline to seek higher office, such as the state’s governorship or the presidency. Politically, as a predominantly white and middle-class business city, São Paulo has leaned to the right – centre-right opposition candidate José Serra won 54% in São Paulo in the 2010 runoff against Dilma.

The incumbent mayor of São Paulo since 2006 is Gilberto Kassab (PSD, ex-DEM). Kassab is retiring this year, but there are rumours that he is eyeing a run for governor in 2014 – even though governor Alckmin (PSDB) is quite popular.

The first mayor directly elected after the restoration of direct elections and multiparty democracy was none other than former President Jânio Quadros (who served as president a few months in 1961 before suddenly resigning, probably on a drunken fit), a literally insane populist clown figure. In that 1985 election, Quadros defeated Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a prominent academic who would later become President, after a campaign during which Quadros described FHC as a “pot-smoking atheist” and alleged that Cardoso would force the inclusion of marijuana into school lunches.

Following Quadros’ uneventful term, he was succeeded by Luiza Erudina of the PT – the PT had been founded in the city’s industrial hinterland (the ABC cities). She was succeeded in 1992 by former military-era appointed mayor and later governor Paulo Maluf, a corrupt conservative populist and one of Brazil’s most controversial political figures (he is currently on Interpol’s wanted list, for money-laundering and other accusations in the US). His right-hand man Celso Pitta replaced him in 1996. Seeking to return to office in 2000, Maluf was defeated by the PT’s Marta Suplicy in the runoff with over 58% for Suplicy. However, she was defeated in her reelection bid by PSDB candidate José Serra (the 2002 PSDB presidential candidate and former health minister), who won 55% in the runoff. Serra stepped down in 2006 in order to run for governor that same year, he was succeeded by his deputy mayor, Gilberto Kassab, who won a full term in his own right in 2008 with over 60% of the vote. This year, Kassab leaves office with mediocre approval ratings.

The PSDB candidate this year was José Serra – former mayor, governor and unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2002 and 2010. Serra had originally said that he would not run, but a few months later he backtracked on his statement and won a PSDB primary against two rivals, including an ally of the state governor, Geraldo Alckmin. Serra would like to run for president for a third time in 2014, but few in his party are keen on that terrible idea, first and foremost governor Alckmin and Senator Aécio Neves, the current PSDB favourite for 2014. Serra, however, can still count on the strong backing of his friend and ally Kassab, and his party (the PSD).

The PT has a long history in the state and city of São Paulo but has had limited success at both the state and municipal level in recent years. The field of potential PT candidates included former mayor and current senator Marta Suplicy, her ex-husband senator Eduardo Suplicy, science minister Aloizio Mercadante and education minister Fernando Haddad.

Since 2011, former President Lula has become the de facto leader of the party and its top power broker. While there have been no public disagreements between Lula and his protégé, Dilma, some have wondered if Lula could run for president again in 2014. In São Paulo, fully utilizing his power at the unofficial party boss, Lula moved to sideline Marta Suplicy and others in favour of education minister Fernando Haddad, who he felt could have a stronger appeal to middle-class voters (unlike Suplicy, whose base lies with poorer voters in the city’s outskirts). Haddad was very much promoted as Lula’s candidate, and Dilma publicly campaigned for him only very late in the campaign.

Haddad’s candidacy ran into problems when Interpol Most Wanted (and former mayor) Paulo Maluf and his party (the PP) endorsed Haddad. This embarrassing alliance with the arch-corrupt party boss led Haddad’s original ‘running mate’, former mayor Luiza Erudina (now affiliated with the PSB) to step down.

However, the frontrunner during a good part of the campaign – and especially for the final stretch – was Celso Russomano, a former federal deputy and popular consumers advocate. Russomano is now a member of the small Brazilian Republican Party (PRB), a non-ideological party closely linked to the evangelical United Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG).

Russomano ran a populist campaign, especially popular with poorer, traditionally petista voters but also middle-class voters tired of the PSDB/PT back and forths in the city. He took the lead from Serra in late August and led by a solid margin until the end of September, when an onslaught from Serra and Haddad brought him back down. The last polls showed a three way tie. Serra’s candidacy was dogged by how he had ended his first stint as mayor: after being elected by saying that he would serve out the full four years, he quit 15 months in to run for governor. There is that underlying ‘fear’ that he might run for something else if he won.

Other candidates included Gabriel Chalita (PMDB), an ally of governor Alckmin and a close Serra ally, Soninha (PPS), who ran a social liberal campaign.

José Serra (PSDB) 30.75%
Fernando Haddad (PT) 28.98%
Celso Russomano (PRB) 21.6%
Gabriel Chalita (PMDB) 13.6%
Soninha (PPS) 2.65%
Others 2.41%

A map of the results is available here. The results of the first round were very surprising, with Serra and Haddad both doing well (especially Haddad) and qualifying for the runoff while Russomano placed a paltry distant third with only 22%. There was a really last minute shift away from Russomano, due to a variety of factors including revelation of personal scandals and questions about his links to the UCKG. The last polls had shown that he had been shedding support from traditionally petista lower-income voters but also middle-class voters, the bleeding continued into election day. The map shows that Russomano got the bulk of his support in the lower-income/working-class peripheral neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, where the PT is strongest, though he did do fairly well in some more middle-class areas in the north of the city where the PT is weaker.

Fernando Haddad’s remarkable result is a success for his top backer, Lula. He started out running at 3% in the polls (like Dilma in 2009/early 2010) but has ended up qualifying for the runoff. In the runoff, furthermore, he is the favourite. Two polls have already shown him up by 10 over Serra, and he has the backing of Gabriel Chalita (even if the SP PMDB is right-wing, Chalita dislikes Serra) and will probably win most of Russomano’s voters. Serra has high negative ratings, and he is a poor candidate. He is more and more a tired politician who doesn’t seem to understand when to stop. He will try to use the mensalão scandal and some anti-homophobia school kit against Haddad, but for the moment it looks as if the PT could win an historic victory in the city.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio, Brazil’s other big city and host of the 2016 Olympics, did not have a very contested race this year. In 2008, the PMDB’s Eduardo Paes had won a very narrow victory against the Green Party’s Fernando Gabeira, replacing term-limited DEM incumbent Cesar Maia (who served as mayor between 1993 and 1997 and 2001 and 2009). Paes has been a very popular mayor, in part due to the 2016 Olympics and 2014 FIFA World Cup, which has boosted investment and economic development in the city. He ran for reelection, benefiting from the backing of the PT. His two main opponents were state deputy Marcelo Freixo (PSOL), a prominent opponent of the drug cartels and federal deputy Rodrigo Maia (DEM), the son of Cesar Maia (who failed to win a senate seat in 2010 and was running for city council this year).

Eduardo Paes (PMDB) 64.6%
Marcelo Freixo (PSOL) 28.15%
Rodrigo Maia (DEM) 2.94%
Otavio Leite (PSDB) 2.47%
Others 1.84%

A map of the results is available here. Paes won reelection by the first round in a landslide, and while Freixo did relatively decently, Rodrigo Maia (and what he represented as the scion of a prominent local political dynasty) was utterly humiliated. The map is fairly interesting, especially in relation to Marcelo Freixo’s support. Freixo is a state deputy for the small far-left PSOL, formed by PT dissidents during Lula’s first term, and he has built his political career on a courageous crusade against the powerful drug cartels which remain powerful in many favelas in the city. Ironically, however, Freixo received his strongest support in the city’s upper middle-class coastal and central neighborhoods (Botafogo but also the emblematic Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Gávea), usually right-leaning areas. His crusade against the drug cartels has made him the favourite of a good part of the city’s upper middle-classes, but did poorly in the lower-income northern neighborhoods.

Other Cities

In Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), the incumbent PSB mayor Márcio Lacerda, elected in 2008 with left-wing support, was reelected this year with right-wing support (the PSDB, DEMs and PSD notably). He won 52.69% against 40.8% for former cabinet minister Patrus Ananias (PT). Lacerda has always been a close ally of PSDB senator Aécio Neves, the former governor (until 2010) and likely presidential candidate in 2014. Hence, Lacerda’s victory is a major boost for Aécio’s presidential ambitions but is also good news for another potential 2014 candidate, governor Eduardo Campos (PSB-PE).

In Salvador (Bahia), the fight to replace term-limited unpopular incumbent João Henrique (PP) is going to be very close between federal deputy ACM Neto (DEM) and Nelson Pelegrino (PT). ACM Neto, who is the grandson of the late Antonio Carlos Magalhães, a prominent conservative baron in Bahia, won 40.17% against 39.73% for Pelegrino. Former mayor Mário Kertész (PMDB) won 9.43% and Márcio Marinho (PRB) took 6.51%, and both candidates have endorsed Pelegrino (although some sections of the PMDB are backing ACM Neto). These results are fairly mediocre, in my eyes, for the PT, but its support has likely been hurt by the state government’s (led by PT governor Jaques Wagner) fight against two public sector strikes. The runoff will be closely fought, but Pelegrino probably has a tiny edge.

In Recife (Pernambuco), incumbent mayor João da Costa (PT) was retiring (pressured into doing so), leaving the field wide open for the very popular state governor, Eduardo Campos (PSB) to anoint his candidate. He did so, in the form of little-known Geraldo Júlio (PSB, allied, amusingly, with the PMDB). Geraldo Júlio started out with 5% in July, but the support from the governor and the state government propelled him into the lead, ahead of Senator Humberto Costa (PT) and former governor Mendonça Filho (DEM). Júlio won 51.15%, against 27.65% for Daniel Coelho (PSDB) ans 17.43% for Humberto Costa (PT). In yet another blow to the influence of the formerly dominant Democrats/PFL, Mendonça Filho took only 2.25% of the vote. Júlio’s landslide is a major victory for Campos, an ambitious politician with his eyes on the presidency in 2014 or 2018.

Curitiba (Paraná) was quite interesting, and surprising. Mayor Beto Richa (PSDB) stepped down in 2010 to run for governor (he won), leaving Luciano Ducci (PSB – the local PSB is right-wing) in the mayor’s chair. Ducci, backed by the centre-right, was running for reelection, and seemed in a decent position to at least qualify for the second round. However, with 26.77%, he placed only a close third in the first round and is out of the runoff. The runoff will oppose Ratinho Jr. (PSC), the son of a popular talk show host and TV personality, who took 34.09% on a populist independent platform, and Gustavo Fruet (PDT), backed by the PT (Fruet had run for senate for the PSDB in 2010 but lost narrowly) who took 27.22%. Ratinho Jr is probably the favourite in the runoff. Mayor Ducci’s defeat is a major blow for the state governor, Beto Richa, who is nonetheless fairly popular, and Eduardo Campos.

In Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul), incumbent mayor José Fortunati (PDT, centre-right) won reelection with 65.22% against 17.76% for federal deputy Manuela d’Ávila (PCdoB) and 9.64% for Adão Villaverde (PT). Fortunati showed some signs of vulnerability earlier on, but through a shrewd campaign he strengthened his appeal to a large number of voters. Manuela, a prominent federal deputy and former student leader, was the de facto candidate of the left, given that Villaverde got only limited support from the national PT.

In Manaus (Amazonas), where mayor Amazonino Mendes (PDT) is retiring, the leader coming out of the first round is former senator Arthur Virgílio Neto (PSDB), who was defeated for reelection to the Senate in 2010. Surprisingly, he came out far ahead of the pack in the first round with 40.55% against 19.95% for Senator Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB), backed by the PT and the PMDB. Henrique Oliveira (PR) placed third with 16.46%, while former mayor Serafim Corrêa (PSB) won 11.64%.  Sabino Castelo Branco (PTB), a federal deputy and popular TV personality, won 7.3%. Grazziotin having been expected to have been stronger in the first round, the value of runoff polls which showed her narrowly ahead of Arthur Neto seem a bit off. However, it seems as if Dilma will campaign for her and that the PT is putting some attention into this race.

In Fortaleza (Ceará), incumbent mayor Luizianne Lins (PT) is term-limited. After the first round, Elmano de Freitas (PT), backed by the outgoing mayor, has 25.44% against 23.32% for the president of the state legislature, Roberto Cláudio (PSB), a close ally of governor Cid Gomes (PSB) and his brother Ciro Gomes (PSB). Heitor Ferrer (PDT), a state deputy, won 20.97% and former federal deputy Moroni Torgan (DEM) took a paltry 13.75%. The PSOL candidate somehow won 11.84%.

In Belém (Pará), incumbent mayor Duciomar Costa (PTB) is term-limited. This is another city where the runoff remains up in the air, after a close first round. Popular state deputy and former mayor Edmilson Rodrigues (PSOL) won 32.58% but federal deputy Zenaldo Countinho (PSDB) was close on his heels with 30.67% after receiving a late endorsement from governor Simão Jatene (PSDB). Jefferson Lima (PP), a radio personality, took 12.89% and federal deputy José Priante (PMDB) won 8.79%. The PT, whose candidate won 3.06%, is backing Edmilson. The PSOL, pushed by the candidacy of former senator Marinor Brito, also managed 4 seats on city council.

In Cuiabá (Mato Grosso), the very unpopular incumbent Chico Galindo (PTB) is retiring. Mauro Mendes (PSB), backed by “soy king” senator Blairo Maggi (PR) and senator Pedro Tasques (PDT), took 43.96% against 42.27% for Lúdio (PT), backed by the incumbent PMDB governor. The PSOL won 5.42% and the PSDB candidate won 4.59%. This race looks like a tossup, but a PSB victory here would be another strong result for the party.

Goiânia (Goiás) mayor Paulo Garcia (PT), in office since 2010, won a first term outright with 57.68% in the first round. Jovair Arantes (PTB), backed by the PSDB, took 14.25%. Ex-senator Demóstenes Torres (DEM-GO), before getting knee deep into the Cachoeira scandal, had indicated his intention to run for mayor here.

In Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), incumbent mayor Micarla de Sousa (PV) is extremely unpopular and is not running for reelection. The favourite is former mayor Carlos Eduardo Alves (PDT), who served right before Micarla (and Micarla was his deputy mayor), who took 40.42% in the first round. Carlos Eduardo is the nephew of former mayor, governor, senator and current cabinet minister Garibaldi Alves Filho (PMDB) and the nephew of former governor Aluísio Alves; his running mate is Wilma de Faria (PSB), a former governor and mayor. The clan was disunited, because PMDB’s house leader Henrique Eduardo Alves backed Hermano Moraes (PMDB), who placed second with 23.01%. Fernando Mineiro, a longtime PT activist, took 22.63% and federal deputy Rogério Marinho (PSDB) won 10.16%.

Teresina (Piauí) mayor Elmano Férrer (PTB), backed the PMDB, placed second in the first round with 33.14% against 38.77% for former mayor and state deputy Firmino Filho (PSDB). Former governor and incumbent senator Wellington Dias (PT) placed third with 14.18%, Beto Rego (PSB) won 10.69%.

The mayor of São Luis (Maranhão), João Castelo (PSDB), is in a tough race for a second term. With 30.60%, he trails Edivaldo Holanda Jr. (PTC) who won 36.44%. State deputy Eliziane Gama (PPS) won 13.81% while vice-governor Washington Oliveira (PT), the candidate of the Sarney clan, won only 11.02%.

In Campinas (São Paulo), Jonas Donizette (PSB, ex-PSDB), backed by the PSDB and the DEMs, is the big favourite in the state’s third largest city. He took 47.6% in the first round. The municipality has been rocked by scandals since 2011, which forced the PDT mayor and then his PT deputy to resign and left the president of the chamber, Pedro Serafim (PDT) in charge. The incumbent mayor, Pedro Serafim, was a distant third with 18.47% while economics prof Marcio Pochmann (PT) won 28.56%. In Ribeirão Preto (São Paulo), meanwhile, incumbent centrist mayor Dárcy Vera (PSD), supported by the PMDB and former cabinet minister Wagner Rossi (PMDB), is the favourite after winning 46.34% in the first round. The PSDB’s Darcy Nogueira took 30.38% while the PT, hurt by the stench of corruption surrounding former mayor Antonio Palocci won only 15.o6%. The PSD also has a strong chance in Florianópolis (Santa Catarina) where its candidate, state deputy César Souza Jr., backed by governor Raimundo Colombo (PSD) but also the PSDB and PSB, won 31.68% against 27.37% for Gean Loureiro (PMDB), the candidate backed by senator and former governor Luiz Henrique da Silveira (PMDB). The PCdoB-PT candidate won 25.03%, the PSOL took 14.42%. Senator Luiz Henrique da Silveira would also like to reconquer the state’s largest city, Joinville, the PMDB candidate placed second with 35.52% against 41.42% for the PSD. 

The PT and PSDB are also facing off directly in runoffs in Guarulhos (SP) where the PT is the big favourite and Rio Branco (Acre) where 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tião Bocalom (PSDB) is not far behind Marcus Alexandre (PT) with 43.9% against 48.3% for the petista backed by the Viana siblings (the PT governor and senator from the state).

The results of the second round will be closely followed in a lot of these cities and a few others (for more results, O Globo has them in a text format and Veja has a map) because of the regional and national implications they will carry for the main parties, their ambitious leaders and for the state of Brazil’s notoriously complex and unstable coalitions.

After the first round, two likely 2014 presidential candidates are strengthened. In Minas Gerais, Senator Aécio Neves got his candidate reelected in Belo Horizonte and the PSDB held up fairly well in his state, which would be a key swing state if Aécio is the tucano candidate. Governor Eduardo Campos (PSB-PE) was successful, especially with the phenomenal landslide for his candidate in Recife, and with his party’s strong showing in the whole of the Northeast. For now, the PSB governor of Pernambuco has reiterated that his party remains a supporter of Dilma’s government (where it has cabinet positions) and that it is too early to talk about 2014. But this election showed that the division between the PT and PSB, traditional partners for over 20 years, has grown quite deep as the PT pursues alliances for allegedly opportunistic and selfish reasons with other parties (firstly the PMDB) while the PSB is eager to mark its independence from the PT.

Eduardo Campos’ candidacy is still not a certainty, as there is a chance he might prefer to wait until 2018 where there is a chance that he could be endorsed by the PT. After all, Dilma is not dead in the water – far from it – she has strong approvals and it is unlikely that Lula would directly challenge her for the PT nomination (though if he did, he would be the favourite). Her policies have carried a particularly strong appeal to middle-classes which have traditionally been cooler towards the PT, and it is not clear if discontent on her left would express itself electorally. However, 2018 could be too late for Campos and he might see 2014 as an opportunity to build up his name and image ahead of a winning run in 2018, similar to what Ciro Gomes had tried to do in 1998 and 2002. On top of that, there are now rumours of a sort of “super-ticket” between Campos and Aécio for 2014, an idea which has been endorsed by FHC.

I hope that this post provided some interesting information and details about Brazil’s complex local politics to those interested.

Venezuela 2012

Presidential elections were held in Venezuela on October 7, 2012. The President of Venezuela is now elected for a six-year term with no term limits.

Understanding the Context

Venezuelan politics since 1998 have revolved around the figure of President Hugo Chávez, a controversial love-or-hate figure who has left few Venezuelans and indeed many foreigners indifferent. Chávez is a former military officer, born in a lower middle-class mestizo family in a rural region of Venezuela known as los llanos. He gained national prominence in 1992, when he was the leader of an unsuccessful coup attempt against then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Released from prison in 1994, he used his grassroots popularity with the country’s disillusioned and socially marginalized impoverished masses to win the presidency in the 1998 election. He was reelected under a new constitution in 2000 and once again in 2006. He survived a 2002 coup attempt and a 2004 recall referendum initiated by the opposition.

Chávez is an extremely polarizing figure. His opponents argue that he is a populist autocrat who has eroded democratic institutions, stifled opposition and centralized political and economic power in his hands. His supporters view him as the hero of Venezuela’s poor, behind dramatic improvements in their standard of living and a major decline in social inequality and poverty. They admire him for standing up to “imperialist” elites who had controlled Latin America for far too long, and brand the opposition as a ragtag band of privileged selfish elites in bed with the “neoliberal” financial elites embodied by the IMF or the World Bank.

To better understand Chávez’s policies and behaviour, it is important to understand the context in which he originally came to power. Up until the 1980s, Venezuela was a political and economic model for other Latin American countries. Economically, profits from oil – the country’s top export – allowed for major state-led investment into infrastructure, natural resources and nascent social programs. The oil industry was nationalized in 1975, but governments prior to that point had already supported policies which had given the state a hefty share of profits from oil, leading to oil-induced development policies. Politically, a stable democratic systems with free elections and orderly transitions of power flourished. Two major parties, the centre-left Democratic Action (AD) and the centre-right COPEI alternated in power. The country played a major role in the regional and international arena. President Rómulo Betancourt, during his second term in power (1959-1964), sought to oppose any undemocratic regime – left or right – which had come to power by a military coup.

However, this model collapsed in the 1980s with the major fall in the price of oil which drained the country of its main source of revenue. It hardly helped, moreover, that previous oil profits had been woefully mismanaged by governments which were all too happy to spend it away. The government was forced to devalue the currency and resort to price controls, but corruption was rampant and unchecked in all echelons of power. In 1988, Carlos Andrés Pérez of the AD, who had previously served as President during the plentiful 1970s (but whose irresponsible and reckless economic policies proved disastrous and under whom corruption became ingrained), was returned to power. Pérez had campaigned on a populist and anti-“neoliberal” platform which denounced the IMF and the Washington consensus, but upon assuming power – in pure Latin American tradition – he quickly set upon doing the exact opposite of what he had promised. The poor economic outlook forced him to accept the IMF’s (in)famous structural reforms, including a liberalization of oil prices.

These neoliberal reforms came at the price of major social unrest. In 1989, a huge popular protest movement erupted in the capital (the Caracazo), a protest which was followed by a massacre in which up to 3000 may have died at the hands of the national guard. In 1992, Pérez faced two unsuccessful coup attempts, including one in February led by then-Lt. Colonel Hugo Chávez and like-minded supporters in the military. Chávez’s coup attempt failed and he was arrested and imprisoned, but he gained national prominence and for many poorer Venezuelans, he became a hero for standing up to the discredited and corrupt (Pérez would be impeached in 1993 on corruption charges) regime. He was released in 1994 when Rafael Caldera, another former President elected on a fairly left-wing platform with left-wing backers, won the presidency in 1993.

Caldera, facing a major financial crisis, was forced to rescind his vow not to accept IMF help and implement more structural reforms, including privatization and a devaluation of the currency. Out of prison, Chávez used his notoriety from 1992 to build up a strong grassroots base of support from poorer Venezuelans, who had been marginalized by the regime and disillusioned with the turno pacífico style of politics between the AD and COPEI, which had become two corrupt shells by that point. The social situation was explosive, the 1990s having resulted in dramatic increases in poverty and a decline in the per capita income. Within Chávez’s “Bolivarian” movement, the view that they should seek power through electoral rather than military means won out and Chávez ran in the 1998 elections. His support increased as the campaign went along, and he won the election with 56.2% of the vote.

Having been elected on a promise to get rid of the country’s corrupt and discredited political system, he quickly set about working for a new constitution. A constituent assembly was elected in 1999 and drafted a constitution which was then ratified by voters in a referendum. The new constitution enshrined the rights of women and indigenous groups and established the rights of the public to education, housing, healthcare and food. Institutionally, the constitution replaced the old bicameral legislature with a single, unicameral, legislature (the National Assembly) and increased the powers of the executive.

Under the new constitution, Chávez was reelected in 2000 with 59.8% of the vote. While in his first mini-term (1999-2000), Chávez had actually led fairly moderate and ‘prudent’ fiscal policies, his policies moved sharply to the left during his second term. He started major social programs (Bolivarian Missions) which aimed at alleviating poverty in the country, but at the same time he adopted a more confrontational attitude vis-a-vis the United States, private businesses and foreign investors (especially in the oil industry and the state-owned oil monopoly, PDVSA).

An opposition movement coalesced in response to Chávez’s policies, which they decried as authoritarian and populist. The opposition coalition was predominantly formed by the country’s upper middle-classes and had the strong backing of the traditional elites: the media, the employers’ federation, the business community and the old parties with the tacit support of the Bush administration in the United States. In April 2002, Chávez’s opponent attempted to depose him in a coup led by the anti-Chávez sectors of the military, but the coup collapsed within a few days. Following the failure of the coup, Chávez’s opponents attempted to destabilize his regime through a two-month management strike at PDVSA.  Chávez responded by firing striking employees, eventually succeeding in quashing the strike and placing chavistas in command of PDVSA, depriving the opposition of a key base of support.

Following the failure of the military option, the opposition tried to overthrow Chávez by using the recall mechanism embedded in the 1999 constitution. A recall referendum was held in 2004, and Chávez handily survived the recall attempt with over 70% turnout and 59% of voters against the recall. The opposition’s shenanigans in 2002 seriously damaged its credibility, giving much credence to Chávez’s claims that the opposition were the pawns of the global imperialist and “neoliberal” elites.

Chávez won a third term in office with 63% of the vote in the 2006 election, which was judged to be free and fair by international observers. In December 2007, however, he suffered his first electoral rebuke. He had proposed a series of amendments to the 1999 constitution, which included removing term limits on the President (but not any other office) but also a number of proposals aimed either at increasing executive power or, according to Chávez, implementing his socialist agenda. By a narrow margin (51% again), these changes were rejected. In 2009, however, voters approved (with 54% in favour) an amendment which removed term limits on all office holders. During his third term, Chávez clearly sought to consolidate his power, not only by changing the rules of the game to allow him another term (or terms) in office, but also by uniting his fairly fractious coalition of supporters into a single party, the PSUV.

The Incumbent

Chávez’s main achievement during his years in office have been his social programs. He launched his first social programs, which have been styled ‘Bolivarian Missions’ by his government (always keen on utilizing revolutionary or ‘Bolivarian’ rhetoric), during his first years in office, and stepped them up during his second term. Venezuela’s oil wealth – and the rise in the price of oil throughout his presidency (with the exception of a sharp dip during the 2008 economic crisis) – have financed most of Chávez’s social programs.

He can claim credit for significantly reducing poverty in Venezuela. Poverty has declined sharply from 59% of the population in 1999 to only 28% in 2008, while extreme poverty from 22% to just under 10% in the same period. The Gini index, which measures income inequality, declined during his presidency, indicating a trend towards greater income equality.

Some of his government’s most famous Bolivarian Missions have included Mission Barrio Adentro, which aims to provide local healthcare to impoverished barrios; Mission Robinson, a literacy campaign and Mission Hábitat, a project to build new housing units for the poor. Some of these projects, notably Barrio Adentro, have been developed with foreign assistance and participation, notably from Cuba – Cuban doctors staff and run the local clinics which are part of the Barrio Adentro program.

It is clear that these programs have been at least somewhat successful, and it would be tough to deny Chávez any credit for the decline in poverty. However, some of these programs have become mismanaged and inefficient; the opposition claims they are also corrupt and clientelistic. For example, the number of houses built by the government have fallen short of its target. The government has also struggled to achieve food sovereignty, originally one of Chávez’s key targets. The government has stuck to its policy of price controls and has set up discounted, subsidized supermarkets. However, the country remains dependent on imported foodstuffs and it continues facing chronic food shortages. Opponents have pointed to Chávez’s actions (including expropriations and nationalizations) against private food producers as a reason for these shortages.

While most agree that these social programs have been successful, some critics worry that these programs are not sustainable in the long term. The government has funded its programs and other activities by borrowing, in the process piling up the debt. The country’s public debt has been increasing very rapidly, from 26% of the GDP in 2008 to over 50% in 2012 (and it is projected to keep rising quickly).

Related to concerns about Venezuela’s rapidly increasing public debt, many of Chávez’s critics worry about his perceived hollowing out of the private sector in the country. Indeed, during his second term, Chávez stepped up nationalizations and expropriations, including key nationalizations of (often foreign-owned) food, steel, gold and cement companies. As part of a program of agrarian reform, his government also expropriated large landowners, who had often owned huge tracts of idle and unproductive land. While Chávez insists that he supports private property, according to The Economist (obviously not too keen on Chávez) this seems to mean that “he believes individuals should be entitled to their personal belongings, but not control of the means of production.”

Under his presidency, the size of the state has grown enormously, and a good part of the country’s oil revenues have been placed under the President’s discretion, often to fund lavish campaign promises. PDVSA has become somewhat of an all-purpose development agency under the state’s control. The main employers federation, which has long been a base of opposition strength, has said that the President’s goal is the destruction of private enterprise. This is exaggerated, because regardless of the extent of state control in the economy, the private sector has not been hollowed out entirely and it retains dominance in some sectors, such as the media – although its political activism has largely been tamed since 2002-2004.

One point on which both supporters and opponents of Chávez will agree upon is that his foreign policy has placed Venezuela as a major actor on the world stage. The agreement, however stops there. Chávez, who sometimes seems to act controversial and provocative on purpose, has led a very controversial foreign policy, tied in closely to his ideology of “socialism in the 21st century.” He has made himself into one of the most prominent critics of American foreign and economic policy, and he has allied himself with other opponents or rivals of the United States including Iran, Russia, China, Cuba, Syria and Libya (until 2011).

At the regional level, he has promoted Latin American integration. While Chávez’s election in 1998 was identified as the first victory in a series of electoral victories for the Latin American left in the late 20th and early 21st century, not all left-wing heads of states elected in his footsteps in the region have aligned with his model of socialism or adhered to his policy. Chile, but also Argentina and Brazil have tended to steer towards a more moderate brand of leftism, reminiscent of social democracy rather than chavismo. However, Chávez has found strong allies in Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba. Venezuela has used its oil wealth to promote its foreign policy and partake in development efforts in other countries, most significantly through the Petrocaribe program which offers Venezuelan oil to countries such as Cuba and Nicaragua at discounted prices.

Chávez has received extensive criticism, both at home and abroad, for his record on human rights and democracy. There is a lot of dishonesty in these arguments, both those which seek to portray him as a tyrannical monster and those who seek to paint him as a democrat who happens to go against an established norm. He is neither of those things. However, Venezuela has been dinged by several institutions – Amnesty International, the UN, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders for its record on human rights, civil liberties, political freedoms and press freedom. Reports have criticized his administration’s tendency to discriminate on political grounds; erode judicial independence and undercut journalistic independence.

There is no proof, however, that Chávez rigged the polls in recent elections. The 2007 (obviously!) and 2009 referendums, 2006 presidential election and 2010 legislative elections were accepted by almost all players as being free, if not entirely fair. Through tight control of the media and state institutions, Chávez has been able to create a political playing field which is biased towards him and works against the opposition. For example, the opposition and the PSUV ended up roughly tied in the popular vote in the 2010 legislative election, but the PSUV retained a comfortable majority thanks to gerrymandering. Opposition access to the media is tightly controlled and limited, while the government and Chávez have free access to the media.

After Chávez’s close call in the 2010 elections, he stepped up his plan to reorganize local government institutions in the country through the creation of “socialist communes”, presenting them as a grassroots way of devolving more power to the people (and curbing the power of municipal governments, some of which are controlled by the opposition).

One of Chávez’s main weaknesses in his third term has been criminality. The homicide rate in Venezuela has increased at a dizzying pace since the 1990s, making it one of the most violent countries in the world. The homicide rate increased from 25 in 1999 to 67 in 2011, and many have been critical of Chávez’s record in reducing crime, some accusing him of sliding his feet on the issue. Drug trafficking and cross border activity with Colombia seems to be one of the main causes of the recent jump in crime in the country. It would be fair to identify crime as one of the main reason for the dip(s) in Chávez’ popularity since 2006.

Hugo Chávez was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011, and since then he has been in and out of the country receiving treatment and subsequent convalescence in Cuba. Few details have been leaked about his cancer or its gravity, which has allowed for a whole slew of rumours on Chávez’s actual health.

By all measures, Chávez entered this fight for a fourth term in office in a more precarious position than in his past reelection campaigns. His popularity took hits under accusations of corruption and mismanagement while frustration over food shortages, housing policy, rising inflation and criminality, deteriorating infrastructure and power outages have also hurt Chávez’s popularity. However, even a fragilized and frailer Chávez remains a truly formidable campaigner, a master communicator and a talented politician. He is very charismatic, with a remarkable ability to draw huge crowds and an ability to connect with poorer Venezuelans.

The Opponent

As in most countries where recent politics have been dominated by one man, the opposition in Venezuela has taken the form of a fractious and heterogeneous coalition of politicians and parties of all stripes who oppose Chávez. The opposition has been united under the umbrella of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) since 2009. The MUD is a very heterogeneous bunch, uniting centrist reformers, more liberal right-wingers, former leftist allies of Chávez and the remnants of the old decrepit parties (AD and COPEI). The main forces in the MUD are the centre-right Primero Justicia (PJ), the more centre-left Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) and whatever remains of the two old behemoths – AD and COPEI – which is to say, not much. It also includes some more clearly left-wing oriented parties, some of which are former Chávez allies, such as the MAS and the Radical Causa (La Causa R).

The MUD held an open primary election to nominate its presidential candidate in February 2012. There were five candidates in the MUD’s primary, but the top two contenders were Henrique Capriles Radonski (HCR), the governor of the state of Miranda (in suburban Caracas) and Pablo Pérez, the governor of the state of Zulia in the far-west. The ideological differences between the two candidates were fairly thin, though Pérez – a member of the UNT party – was judged as being slightly more to the left of Capriles, more centrist and linked to PJ. Pablo Pérez was notably supported by the two old parties, AD and COPEI, something which allowed Capriles to depict himself as being outside Venezuela’s old party machine politics. The MUD primary was a phenomenal success for the opposition, attracting over 3 million voters (roughly 17% of the total electorate). Capriles won easily with 64%.

Capriles proved to be a strong candidate, even up against Chávez, and certainly a much more capable opponent that Chávez’s 2006 opponent, the hapless Manuel Rosales. Capriles is charismatic, energetic and young and while his family background might indicate a middle-class upbringing and style, he was fairly successful in broadening his appeal. He crisscrossed the country, even campaigning in chavista bastions.

Capriles presented himself as a “modern” social democrat, in the style of Brazil’s Lula – though unfortunately for him, Lula endorsed Chávez wholeheartedly. He vowed to maintain (and expand) Chávez’s main social programs, while targeting mismanagement, clientelism and corruption in them. Otherwise, Capriles also focused his message on some of Chávez’s core weaknesses: deteriorating infrastructure, crime or power outages.

However, Capriles was very much the underdog throughout the campaign. While Venezuelan pollsters are notoriously partisan (and hence often inaccurate), most established pollsters had him trailing Chávez by some 10 points, though Capriles’ team held out hope that the high level of undecided voters and Chávez’s standing below 50% would give them a shot.

Turnout was 80.72%, a record high turnout – likely the highest in a presidential election since 1988. The results are as follows, with the CNE stuck at 98.4% reporting:

Hugo Chávez (PSUV) 55.25%
Henrique Capriles Radonski (MUD) 44.14%
Reina Sequera (Poder Laboral) 0.47%
Luis Reyes Castillo (ORA) 0.05%
María Bolívar (PDUP) 0.04%
Orlando Chirino (PSL) 0.02%

The above map was drawn by Shilly, on the US Election Atlas Forum.

Chávez won by 11 points, a solid margin. His victory was never really in doubt, I would say, even though some flawed pollsters with an “hidden agenda” led us to believe that Capriles was ahead of Chávez. Capriles likely had the momentum in the final stretch, though given the wide differences between each pollsters’, it is hard to quantify.

However, Chávez certainly was the main benefactor of the unexpectedly high turnout. High turnout usually favours the chavistas, who have traditionally been very efficient at driving out their voters and maximizing support from their core constituencies (the poor, the working-class and the public sector) in such circumstances. It is true that Chávez was probably unfairly advantaged by his control of institutions – the opposition has often decried during this campaign his tendency to plunge into the country’s oil wealth to finance his campaign and his pre-electoral “spending sprees” – but it is clear that Chávez remains the choice of a majority of Venezuelans, and he remains a formidable candidate.

Though Chávez’s margin of victory this year is much less impressive than his 20+ point squashing of the hapless Manuel Rosales in 2006, this is still a significant and comfortable victory after a six-year term which was fairly difficult. Regardless of what Chávez might have failed to deliver on (crime, food sovereignty, housing, infrastructure, allegations of corruption), his electoral base still trust him and are willing to forgive him for his “imperfections”. He has a great ability to connect with low-income voters, who see in him somebody who has their best interests at heart and their first leader who uses the state apparatus for the country’s benefit rather than personal gain. Fears of an uncertain future if Capriles had won – the army had made some fairly ambiguous (and contradictory) statements as to what they would do if Capriles won and Chávez repeatedly said civil war would ensue if the opposition won – likely played a role in moving undecided voters.

Chávez also benefited from his “lock” on the vote of public sector employees. While the opposition claimed it had a hidden vote with public sector employees, the government had a lock on this vote. There were rumours of intimidation, with public sector employees allegedly threatened to be fired if they voted against and others compelled to sign a pledge that they would vote for Chávez. However, even if Chávez probably have an unfair advantage in the campaign and the process, the vote was free. The new electronic voting system was regarded by almost all actors as being tamper-proof.

The opposition was graceful in defeat, it did not cry fraud as Chávez claimed they would. Capriles quickly conceded defeat and congratulated Chávez on his victory, while noting the importance of the 6 million votes he had won and the need for Chávez to heed the opinion of those 44% who voted against him. The opposition’s result is not excellent, but it is a rather good result. It would have profited more from lower turnout, as in 2007 or 2010, but with nearly 6.5 million votes, it has won the most raw votes in any Chávez-era electoral event. Holding the MUD together for some time might prove difficult, but it can be pleased by its relatively strong performance, even if ultimately insufficient and slightly underwhelming.

Even Chávez, who had styled his opponent as a “mediocrity” at best or a “pig” and “fascist” at worst, was quite conciliatory in victory. While reaffirming his commitment to his platform of “socialism in the 21st century”, he gave signs of reaching out to the opposition. He has an historic opportunity at this point to bridge the gap between the government and its opponents and put an end to the bitter and acrimonious politics which have marked the country since 2002.

This election shows that while Chávez remains strong, he is not as unassailable as he was in the past. Rising concerns about crime, inflation, infrastructure, food, housing and corruption have damaged his standing, but as long as Chávez is able to maintain his standing and credibility with his base of lower-income voters, he will remain in a strong position – after all, he wants to remain in power until 2031.

However, Chávez’s new four-year term is very uncertain. There is, to begin with, the fundamental question of his health. He has gone through a few operations for his cancer since last June, and while he insists that he is better now, some noted that he was slower and slightly less energetic on the campaign trail. Some have asked, legitimately, if he will survive the entirety of his six-year term.

There would be much uncertainty, likely chaos, if he died in office. The law seems to requires a new election within 30 days (!) if he dies in the next four years, and in the meantime the Vice President – appointed by the President – would take power. But the current Vice President, Elías Jaua, seems on his way out and he is not a high-profile figure within chavista circles. In the pre-electoral talk about the eventuality of Chávez not surviving until the election, the names of Diosdado Cabello (the president of the National Assembly) and foreign minister Nicolás Maduro (apparently favoured by Cuba) were mentioned – but the probability of the army moving in to fill the void or even Chávez’s relatives (his brother, governor of Barinas, and his two eldest daughters) making their moves should not be discarded.

Questions may also be asked about the survival of chavismo without Chávez. There is no natural heir to Chávez, certainly not one with his charisma and formidable ability to connect to poorer Venezuelans.

Regardless, he also faces growing economic problems. While Venezuela’s oil wealth remains solid, rising inflation and the ever-increasing debt are causes for concern. Economists seem to predict that the country will inevitably need to devalue its currency soon. Others naturally worry about the government’s dependence on a single source of income (oil), one which is particularly prone to wild fluctuations and volatility (though the future for the country seems bright with oil prices remaining high).

The map was a blowout for Chávez, Capriles won only two states (and not the ones you would have expected) – Táchira and Mérida. Capriles won 56.3% in Táchira and 51.1% in Mérida, he came close in his homestate of Miranda (49.5% against 50%) and Lara (48.5% against 51%). Most surprising was Zulia, where Chávez won 53.3% against 44.1% for Capriles, which is better than what he had won there in 2006 (51%), and he had lost the state in 2000. It is understandable in part given that Chávez’s 2000 and 2006 opponents were both former governors of Zulia, but the state has generally tended to be an opposition stronghold even in the absence of a local favourite son (such as the 2009 referendum).

Táchira and Mérida have also been traditional bastions of opposition strength, Chávez had already won them by tight margins in 2006 and both states had voted No in 2009 (with Zulia, Miranda and Nueva Esparta). In these states, Capriles and the opposition found their core strength in the respective state capitals (64% in Libertador, the city of Mérida; 68% in San Cristobal in Táchira). These cities specifically have very low levels of poverty and they have an economy apparently based around small and medium businesses, the state of Táchira seems notably reliant on cross-border business with Colombia. Affluence is of course a major factor, for example, in Miranda, most of the opposition’s strength revolves around the wealthy suburban communities of Caracas, notably Chacao (81.3% for Capriles).

A surprising underperformance for Chávez is Amazonas, usually one of his strongest states, but he won only 53.5% in the remote jungle state this year. Otherwise, however, Chávez found strong support in rural regions (including los llanos) and lower-income areas in major cities – Chávez won 54.9% in the capital district after all. The opposition needs to break into these chavista citadels if they are to win.

Chavismo, for good or bad and for better or worse, remains dominant in Venezuelan politics, but it is no longer the unshakable force it used to be. The opposition found itself a strong candidate this year, who led a strong campaign, and while they fell short by quite a bit, they seem to have entrenched themselves as a solid and, for many, credible, opposition to Chávez. With Chávez’s health problems and other factors, however, the country’s political future is uncertain.

Georgia 2012

Legislative elections were held in Georgia (the country – not the state) on October 1, 2012. All 150 members of Georgia’s unicameral Parliament were up for reelection. This election follows some major amendments to the Georgian constitution and a change in the electoral system. According to amendments passed in 2010, the President of Georgia will eventually – by the beginning of the next term (due after the October 2013 presidential election) – be reduced to a ceremonial role while the Prime Minister and Parliament will assume more powers, seemingly with the obvious aim of transforming Georgia into a parliamentary republic.

The new electoral system has 77 seats elected by proportional representation (with a 5% threshold) and 73 seats elected by first-past-the-post. The 73 district seats seem to correspond to the second-tier administrative divisions (the districts), which would explain the huge malapportionment (the cities being badly underrepresented, as this map shows).

Since 2004, Georgia has been governed by Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power shortly after the 2003 Rose Revolution removed Eduard Shevardnadze from office. Saakashvili, a young anti-corruption reformist, had briefly served in Shevardnadze’s cabinet before becoming one of the major leaders of the opposition in 2001. By 2003, Shevardnadze’s government, in power since 1995, had become extremely corrupt and had clear authoritarian inklings. The 2003 legislative election, allegedly rigged to allow Shevardnadze’s party to narrowly defeated Saakashvili’s opposition party sparked the Rose Revolution.

In 2004, Saakashvili was elected President with 96% of the vote. Saakashvili, which has sought to cultivate the image of a young pro-Western (which entails, in this case, pro-American, pro-European and pro-NATO) anti-corruption reformer, has a mixed and controversial record in power. On the overarching issue of corruption, a problem which every Georgian government has faced, while some of Saakashvili’s efforts to curb corruptions were lauded by the international community, at the same time he has been accused of corruption by opponents and foreign observers. His economic policies have freed the business climate in Georgia and have received warm acclaim abroad, but at homes critics point to the high unemployment (16%) and deep poverty in rural Georgia, which has not benefited from his modernization program.

Saakashvili placed his country on the map in 2008 when the Georgian military invaded the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Since independence, Georgia has had only incomplete control over its territory, with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – two regions home to ethnic minority groups – causing headaches for every Georgian government. Both of these internationally unrecognized republics are described as Russian puppets (especially South Ossetia); indeed Russia is the sole major international power which has granted recognition to those countries and Moscow has clear interests in both: Abkhazia for its access to the Black Sea and South Ossetia because gas and oil pipelines transit through it.

Saakashvili had already faced a potentially explosive situation in 2004 when Aslan Abashidze, the local pro-Russian strongman of  the autonomous region of Adjara in southwestern Georgia, refused to submit to the new Georgian government. He avoided armed confrontation and was able to lead the issue to a peaceful resolution with Abashidze’s resignation. In dealing with the breakaway republics, he had favoured diplomacy until 2008, when he ordered the invasion of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia following border clashes. Georgia’s military was no match for Russia’s military, which quickly pushed back the Georgians. The war ended as a disaster for Saakashvili, with the peace deal signed in August 2008, Georgia lost control of parts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which had remained under its control.

Saakashvili has faced an often divided but very feisty opposition, which has often resorted to street demonstrations after failing to defeat Saakashvili at the ballot box. While international observers regarded the 2008 presidential and legislative elections as acceptably free and fair, the opposition has accused Saakashvili – perhaps not entirely unjustly – of abuse of power and authoritarianism. It is true that Saakashvili is known for his arrogant, vindictive, erratic and slightly autocratic tendencies and he has not quite transformed his country into a “Western democracy” since 2004 – it still has “partly free” ratings on press freedom, political and civil liberties and the Democracy Index rates it as a “hybrid regime”. His regime faced large protests organized by the opposition in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

The opposition to Saakashvili is extremely heterogeneous and generally noted for its internal squabbling. It unites a wide range of personalities, ranging from supporters of the former regime to right-wingers to left-wingers to nationalists to former allies of Saakashvili (including Nino Burjanadze). A lot of politicians in Georgia have been business tycoons. The 2007 protests were led and organized by Badri Patarkatsishvili and the runner-up in the 2008 election was Levan Gachechiladze, two business tycoons who had large stashes of cash backing them.

The new opposition coalition this year, Georgian Dream, was no different. Georgian Dream is a coalition of different parties, but it is steer-headed by a billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is a French citizen (he recently relinquished a Russian passport) after being stripped of his Georgian citizenship in 2011, allegedly for breaking dual citizenship laws but probably because he was entering politics. Ivanishvili made most of his money working in Russia, in a wide variety of sectors during the lucrative privatization era in the 1990s.

Georgian Dream is a heterogeneous movement. The Economist noted that “Mr Ivanishvili’s ragtag coalition is united mainly by his own largesse. Its ranks include xenophobes, chauvinists and those nostalgic for the old days, partly constrained by some distinguished pro-Western liberals who fell out with Mr Saakashvili.” The coalition’s platform was terribly vague, Ivanishvili said his sole priority is “happiness for all” and he has promised a wide range of goodies: more jobs, medical coverage, more schools, better pensions and a freer press and judiciary. The governing party – the United National Movement (UNM) – was similarly vague in its policy orientations. Its economic policies do not seem vastly different from those of Ivanishvili’s coalition, which is hardly surprising given that what divides the two parties are personality and power struggles rather than ideological disagreement. On foreign policy, the government promotes itself as pro-Western and pro-NATO, but Ivanishvili similarly supports NATO membership and closer ties with the west – all while also wanting closer ties with Moscow (which has led to Saakashvili accusing him of being a Russian stooge).

The campaign, as all electoral campaigns in Georgia, was very bloody. The two sides lobbed insults at one another, the opposition apparently refers to Saakashvili as “the rat” and has branded him a fascistic tyrant. The turning point during the campaign was the revelation of a video which showed prisoners being tortured and beaten up by prison wardens, the outrage forced a cabinet minister to resign and analysts have said that the outrage allowed Ivanishvili’s opposition coalition to take the lead.

The results were as follows, for the PR and the FPTP seats. Turnout was 59.76%.

Georgian Dream 54.85% PR / 53.42% FPTP winning 83 seats (44 PR, 39 districts)
UNM 40.43% PR / 46.58% FPTP winning 67 seats (33 PR, 34 districts)
Christian Democratic Union 2.05% PR winning 0 seats
Labour 1.24% PR winning 0 seats
New Rights 0.43% PR winning 0 seats
Free Georgia 0.27% PR winning 0 seats
Others 0.72% PR winning 0 seats

The election, largely free and fair, resulted in the defeat of Saakashvili’s party and the historic victory of the opposition. Though Saakashvili originally held out hope that the UNM would be able to win by virtue of the district seats, but he quickly gracefully conceded defeat to the opposition. The opposition was not as gracious in victory, Ivanishvili originally called on Saakashvili to resign before quickly backtracking on that statement. The country enters a funny transition period, Saakashvili will remain President until the October 2013 presidential election while Ivanishvili will become Prime Minister. The new parliamentary-type regime is due to take effect following the October 2013 election, between now and then Ivanishvili and Saakashvili will need to learn to work together. Ivanishvili will also need to learn to accept a strong parliamentary opposition, something which the UNM lacked in the last parliament.

Ivanishvili likely has a tough road ahead of him. His rag-tag coalition is held together in large part by his cash and a mutual hatred of Saakashvili, but they might find it very hard to stick together once in power, similarly to how Saakashvili lost a lot of his original 2004 allies during his presidency. Some will justifiably worry about the type of leader Ivanishvili will turn out to be. Will he continue the imperfect reformist path of Saakashvili or will he go down the road to crony capitalism, entrenching a regime of oligarchs? His platform was unbelievably vague, which means that few know exactly what he wants – besides happiness, a fairer society and a pro-Western foreign policy (all while being more pro-Russian than Saakashvili).

Results of the PR (top) and FPTP (bottom) vote by district (source: Bacon King, US Election Atlas)

The maps to the right, drawn up by a friend of mine, show the results of the PR and FPTP votes by district. The opposition’s stronghold was the capital, Tbilisi, where it won upwards of 70% of the vote. Tbilisi has traditionally been a stronghold of the anti-Saakashvili opposition, for example in the 2008 election, the capital was one of the three districts which he lost. The opposition is also traditionally strong in a few districts bordering South Ossetia (some of these districts are only partly under Georgian sovereignty).

The UNM’s strongholds correspond to those districts where Saakashvili polled best in the 2008 elections. These include a large block of districts south of Abkhazia, a region with a large Mingrelian (and Svan) population (a Georgian subethnic group); and border regions in the south of the country, including a few districts with Armenian and Azeri majorities.

Regardless of the nature of this election or the country’s future, it is refreshing to see democratic elections of this kind in the former Soviet Union which result in the peaceful transfer of power. At least the voters had a choice, even if this choice is perhaps was not what some would wish it was.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 545 other followers