Category Archives: Election Preview
Legislative elections will be held in Italy on February 24 and 25, 2013. All 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and 315 members of the Senate (Senato della Repubblica) are up for reelection. In addition, there will be regional elections (direct election of the regional president and the regional legislautre) in Lazio (Latium), Lombardy and Molise.
Italy’s Electoral System
The Italian electoral system is the dictionary definition of convoluted and absurd. The current election law for the Parliament was adopted in 2005, sponsored by then-interior minister Roberto Calderoli, the law’s namesake. It is commonly known as the porcata (a ‘shitload’, which is how Calderoli described his own law) or the legge porcellum (piglet law). The Italian electoral system is based on closed party-list proportional representation, but it is a significantly altered form of PR which automatically guarantees the winning electoral coalition an absolute majority in the lower house, though not in the Senate.
The Chamber of Deputies has 630 seats. 617 of these seats are elected in 26 multi-member constituencies in Italy proper – these constituencies correspond to the administrative regions, although six of Italy’s regions (Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Lazio, Campania, and Sicily) have two or more (Lombardy has three) constituencies. 12 additional seats are elected by Italians living abroad in four international constituencies, and one member represents the autonomous region of the Aosta Valley. For the 617 seats, voters vote for closed party lists. These parties are allowed to form formal electoral coalitions with other parties whereby they still run separately but their votes will be counted together (for certain purposes). To be recognized as such, however, a coalition must win over 10% of the vote together; if a coalition does not win over 10% its constituent parties are treated as unaffiliated separate parties. Individual parties must win over 4% of the vote to qualify for seats; however, parties representing “linguistic minorities” (read: German-speakers in South Tyrol/Südtirol; the clause also applies in Friuli-Venezia Giulia) may win seat(s) if they win over 20% of the vote in one constituency.
The initial allocation of the 617 seats between qualified coalitions and parties is based on largest-remainder PR. However, the Italian electoral system for the Chamber has a big ‘majority bonus’ (similar to the one in Greece): if no coalition has won 340 seats (55%) on its own, the coalition is automatically awarded 340 seats – ensuring that it has a substantial absolute majority even on a weak mandate (say, 35% of the vote). From my understanding of the law, however, the majority bonus only applies to coalitions and not parties. If a party which is running individually were to out poll all coalitions on its own, it would not – as far as I know – receive the 340 seats bonus. The remaining 277 seats are apportioned to the other qualifying coalitions or individual parties with largest-remainder PR.
Within coalitions, the seats are allocated to the various component parties through the same method. Coalition parties must win at least 2% of the vote to qualify for seats – there is, however, an absurd twist: the largest coalition party below the 2% threshold also receives seats. The linguistic minority clause applies to coalition parties as well. The apportionment of seats between the 26 constituencies is weird and confusing, taking place later and sometimes resulting in a change in the number of seats in each constituency. These constituencies are also quite meaningless because candidates may run in more than one constituency. In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini topped their party’s lists in all constituencies.
The single deputy from the Aosta Valley is elected through FPTP. The 12 deputies representing Italian citizens abroad are elected through open-list PR in four multi-member constituencies (Europe with 6 seats, South America with 3 seats, Central and North America with 2 seats and the rest of the world with one seat).
The Senate has 315 directly-elected senators (there are a variable number of nominated senators-for-life), 309 of these seats are elected in Italy and 6 are elected abroad. The electoral system is basically the same as the one used for the lower house, with a few important modifications and some regional peculiarities. The major difference is that the allocation of seats and the majority bonus takes place at the regional, and not national, level. The majority bonus – all but three regions have a bonus accounting for roughly 55% of the seats – is allocated at the regional level, meaning that different coalitions will win the majority bonus in different regions. Therefore, unlike the Chamber where the winning coalition at the national level is ensured a comfortable majority, regardless of its margin of victory or popular vote total; in the Senate, there is no guarantee that a winning coalition will be able to gain an absolute majority – and if it does it will naturally be far more tenuous than its lower house majority.
The thresholds (applied at the regional level) for coalitions, component parties and individual parties are higher in the Senate. Coalitions must win 20% of the vote to qualify for seats, individual parties need 8% and parties within a coalition need 3%.
This system has regional peculiarities. While all regions are guaranteed a minimum of 7 seats, the small region of Molise elects only two senators and there is no majority bonus in the region. The region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol has seven seats, but six of these seats are elected in single-member constituencies with one final seat elected through compensatory PR. Like in the Chamber, the Aosta Valley’s single seat is elected by FPTP and the 6 members for Italians abroad are elected by open-list PR in four constituencies (Europe with 2 seats, South America with 2 seats, Central and North America and the rest of the world with 1 seat each).
This confusing electoral system has been the subject of controversy and political debate since the start. The focal point of much of the criticism is the majority bonus, and how it is applied differently in the two houses. In the Chamber, the huge majority bonus given the winning coalition tends to significantly overrepresent the winning coalition at the expense of the losing coalitions and parties. While in the two general elections fought under the law (2006 and 2008) the winning coalition won a large enough number of votes to prevent egregious distortions, at the local level (local elections are fought using a similar system) there have been many cases of lists winning huge majorities with a small number of votes. While the principle of regional representation in the Senate is a laudable idea in a relatively decentralized country like Italy, in practice the regional majority bonuses make the Senate a source of constant headaches for many government. The Italian parliamentary system is based on perfect bicameralism, where both houses have the same powers and the incumbent government requires the confidence of both houses to continue governing. The regional majority bonuses in a regionally polarized country such as Italy may, as in 2006, result in near-deadlock in the Senate – a major contributing factor to continued governmental instability and the difficulty of governing in Italy.
The electoral system also incites small parties – which would struggle to survive independently – to tie themselves to bigger coalitions in a bid to win seats in Parliament and have a chance to have leverage over the larger coalition. Especially in the Chamber, the law discriminates against small non-coalesced parties in favour of just as small (or even smaller) parties in coalition with larger parties.
There was, again, talk of changing the electoral law before the elections but it appears that it was another false alarm. This election will be fought under the 2005 law again, but as it becomes ever more unpopular – even with its former backers on the right – there is a chance that the law could be changed after the election.
The First Republic and its Demise (1946-1994)
There have been two clear eras in Italian politics since the country became a republic in 1946. The first era, widely known as the First Republic, lasted between 1946 and 1994. The second – and current (for now) – era, dubbed the Second Republic, began in 1994. There is little overlap between these two political eras; there was a major break between the two ‘republics’ in 1994. What makes this election particularly interesting, even more so than past elections, is that Italy might be standing at a turning point in its political history. There are some indications that we might be witnessing the end – or at the very least the beginning of the end – of the Second Republic and the rise of the ‘Third Republic’ in Italian politics.
The First Republic is commonly associated with extreme governmental instability, marked by cabinets coming and going and a rapid succession of Prime Minister (Presidents of the Council of Ministers, or Presidente del Consiglio dei ministri). Indeed, most cabinets were short-lived, lasting on average only 11 months. However, this instability was more apparent than real – it was ‘stable instability’ if you will. Italian governments between 1946/1948 and 1994 were dominated by the Christian Democracy party (Democrazia Cristiana), a big-tent anti-communist and centrist party which participated in all governments between 1946 and 1994 and held the office of Prime Minister for most of this period. The DC’s major rival was the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of the most powerful communist parties in Western Europe at the time though also one of the most moderate communist parties – the PCI broke with Moscow in the 1970s and shifted towards ‘Eurocommunism’. The PCI participated in the first governments after the war, but after being kicked out in 1947, it never participated in any other national governments. It retained a solid electoral base and was the major opposition to the DC-led cabinets, but it never stood a chance at forming a government on its own throughout this period.
The First Republic’s political system was dominated by political parties – the era is often called, derogatorily, a partitocrazia (particracy). The Prime Minister, in contrast to the theory of the Westminster system, was fairly ineffectual and could not act as a true executive himself. Instead, party leaders held considerable power. Political parties – especially the DC – were composed of various semi-official factions with their leaders, members, bases and sources of financing. The power struggles between warring partisan factions was the main reason for the apparent political instability: cabinets needed to be reshuffled regularly in accommodate various factions or other allied parties, on the basis of events which had indicated the power of one faction/party over another.
Italy has always been a multi-party system, and the First Republic’s closed-list PR system with a low threshold allowed for the proliferation of various parties. Besides the DC and the PCI, the other major force of Italian politics throughout this era was the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), which hovered between 9% and 14% during the First Republic. The PSI originally maintained close ties with the PCI; the two parties ran a common slate in the decisive 1948 election. However, the PSI broke with the PCI – the dominant force of the left after 1948 – over the Hungarian invasion in 1956 and by 1963 the PSI responded to the DC’s overtures and started participating in centre-left coalition governments with the DC and other parties. In the 1970s, under Bettino Craxi – who served as Prime Minister between 1983 and 1987 – the party moved further to the right and became an integral part of the political ‘system’ and establishment.
Three other parties were the mainstays of most DC governments during the First Republic: the Italian Liberal Party (PLI), the Italian Republican Party (PRI) and the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI). The PLI was a carryover from the inter-war era, when the party had represented the old right-wing (what would pass as conservative in the rest of Europe was known as ‘liberal’ in Italy after unification because of the circumstances of how unification came about) tradition. After the war, the PLI was displaced as the main right-wing force by the DC and managed to salvage support only in Southern Italy, where old Liberal oligarchic networks had been left relatively unscathed by the war. The party shifted to the right in the 1950s and 1960s before moving towards the centre in the 1970s, becoming a vaguely centre-right party which was an integral part of most DC-led governments.
The PRI predated the republic as well, having been the political avatar of the old democratic/republican movement under the monarchy (what would have been styled liberal in other European countries at the time). Its raison-d’être having been republicanism, the PRI’s influence declined somewhat until it regained support in the 1980s. It became a vaguely liberal centre-left party, and an integral part of almost all DC-led cabinets after the 1960s.
The Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) was founded in 1947 by the anti-communist wing of the PSI, led by Giuseppe Saragat, which opposed the PSI’s alliance with the PCI in the 1948 election (the two parties ran a common slate, the Popular Democratic Front, which was heavily dominated by the PCI). After winning 7% in 1948, the PSDI’s support stabilized at 3-4% until the late 1980s. Professing to be a modern social democratic party, the PSDI quickly became a venal party largely devoid of ideology and operating as a consistent junior partner in almost all DC-led cabinets after 1948.
Excluding smaller parties which won seats during this time period, the only two opposition parties throughout the era were the PCI and the Italian Social Movement (MSI). The MSI, a neo-fascist party, was formed in 1946 by fascist veterans and supporters of the former regime. As a political party which participated in elections, the MSI was forced to adapt itself to the constraints of the democratic environment and tended to downplay old-style fascist rhetoric. The party was divided between a northern-based radical and ideological neo-fascist wing and a southern-based authoritarian conservative wing which was less dogmatic and radical than the neo-fascist faction and tried to integrate the MSI into the mainstream right. The party oscillated between 5 and 6% support for most of its history, though it won up to 9% of the vote (in 1972). Most of its support came from southern Italy, where the fascist regime’s oligarchic conservative networks had been left unscathed by the war (the south had not suffered a bloody civil war after 1943).
The ‘stable instability’ of the First Republic created a corrupt and fossilized political system in which a few political parties and their powerful leaders entrenched themselves in power and shared the spoils of power amongst themselves. This system extended beyond cabinets and the civil service, state-owned conglomerates were controlled by prominent politicians or their friends. The different governing parties came to carve up their own personal preserves in government, claiming various ministries for themselves and awarding them to loyal – though often incompetent – party stalwarts. The politicians who partook in this system of entrenched corruption often became particularly rich. Political parties and their leaders were funded through bribes from contractors and entrepreneurs. In southern Italy, most governing parties were tied to the mafia.
Italy enjoyed a period of relatively strong economic growth between the 1960s and the late 1980s, despite a few troughs and unemployment problems. However, the Italian economy was undermined by the devaluation of the Italian lira and the issuing of excessive amounts of high-interest treasury bonds, which led to a ballooning deficit and public debt in the 1980s. By the late 1980s, economic growth slowed to a halt. Bettino Craxi (PSI Prime Minister between 1983 and 1987) was able to reduce the high inflation rate by eliminating a system by which wages had been automatically tied to inflation, but his government’s high spending policies (including very generous pensions for civil servants and tons of dirty public works projects) led to a worsening debt and deficit problem. By 1994, Italy’s public debt stood at 121% of the GDP.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 had a major effect on Italian politics, which had been marked by a Cold War confrontation of communists and non-communists since its foundation in 1946. For example, in the watershed 1948 election both major parties (the DC on the right and the PCI-PSI coalition on the left) were proxies for foreign powers – the DC was bankrolled by the CIA, the PCI was funded by Moscow. Even if the PCI under Enrico Berlinguer had broken with Moscow and tried to integrate the system (the ‘historical compromise’), the right continue to play up the ‘red threat’ and anti-communism remained a powerful force on the right. The PCI, at the forefront of the evolution of the European communist left once again, split up in 1991. The party’s leader, Achille Occhetto, founded the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) as a post-communist democratic socialist party. The hardline minority which disagreed with the PCI’s dissolution formed the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC). The fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the PCI reduced, for a time, the clear left-right polarization in Italian politics.
The First Republic political system collapsed between 1992 and 1994. The intricate web of corruption, graft and bribery at the highest levels of power – a system nicknamed tangentopoli (bribesville) – was revealed by the Mani pulite investigations (clean hands) which began in February 1992. Initially involving only a PSI stalwart quickly denounced by his nervous party superiors as a rogue element, the investigation eventually uncovered the entire system and caused the political system and the governing parties to collapse. Opposition parties like the PCI were not left untouched, but most of the investigation concerned the governing parties – particularly the DC, PSI, PLI and PSDI.
The explosive revelations of prominent politicians filling their pockets with taxpayers’ money and living on the public dime led to the collapse of the First Republic and the emergence of new political forces. The beginning of the end was apparent by the 1992 elections, in which the governing parties – particularly the DC – did rather poorly. While the PSI, PSDI, PLI and PRI managed to perform well, the DC fell to a record low 30% of the vote. 1992 saw the emergence of the Lega Nord, a northern-based regionalist party which exploited disgust with endemic corruption and the north’s (primarily fiscal) grievances with the central government and southern Italy. The new populist party won 9% of the vote and took votes away from all traditional parties in the north. However, by the time of the 1992 election, only the tip of the iceberg had been in sight. In 1992 and 1993, the investigations uncovered the rest of the iceberg. In 1993, the PSI Prime Minister Giuliano Amato’s government (a DC-PSI-PLI-PSDI coalition) was forced to resign and replaced with a technocratic government led by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose cabinet also received the support of the left (PDS and Greens). The traditional parties, which had formed the backbone of an exceptionally solid and stable (despite apparent instability) political system since 1948, all collapsed overnight. The DC dissolved in 1994 and split between its left-wing and right-wing factions. The PSI’s leader, Bettino Craxi (a central figure in the corrupt system) had resigned in 1993 and the party collapsed in 1994. The PLI disbanded in 1994. The PSDI and the PRI kept going, but they become very small parties.
Silvio Berlusconi and the Second Republic (1994-2011)
The 1994 elections saw unprecedented political change and turnover. To begin with, the parties which had dominated the First Republic either disappeared or fundamentally transformed themselves. Above all, however, the 1994 election saw the dramatic emergence of a new political actor and movement on the right which went on to define contemporary Italian politics. Worried by the prospect of a left-wing victory in the 1994 election, wealthy Milanese businessman Silvio Berlusconi – the owner of Fininvest, a financial holding company which controls a football club and a TV station among others – “entered the field” and created his own party, Forza Italia – a populist right-wing party which sought to appeal to disoriented anti-communist/right-wing voters left homeless by the collapse of the pentepartito coalitions. Running a shrewd, well-oiled and classically populist campaign, Berlusconi won the 1994 elections. His party, FI, had formed two coalitions in the run-up to the elections – with two separate parties who disliked one another. In the north, he allied with Umberto Bossi’s federalist/separatist Lega Nord (LN). In the south, he allied himself with Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance (AN). Fini, who became leader of the MSI in 1987, had actively tried to transform the neo-fascist party’s image by dropping its original fascist ideology and becoming a nationalist and conservative party instead. FI won the most votes of any party (21%) and the two right-wing coalitions won 366 seats in the Chamber against 213 seats for the left (an alliance of the PDS, PRC, Greens and other parties including a moribund PSI which won 2%).
Berlusconi formed a coalition government including FI, LN, AN and two right-wing ex-DC parties. This new coalition, however, proved unable to overcome its internal contradictions. Bossi’s Lega Nord advocated a very federalist and decentralist agenda, which clashed with Fini’s AN, which had not yet broken all bridges with neo-fascism and was a centralist and Italian nationalist party. The Lega, alleging that Berlusconi had broken his promises, left the government and the cabinet collapsed in January 1995. He was replaced by Lamberto Dini, a technocrat whose government received the support of the left and the Lega.
A centre-left coalition, L’Ulivo (The Olive Tree), composed of the PDS, the Italian People’s Party (PPI, the left-wing of the old DC), a party led by Dini and smaller parties won the 1996 elections. The centre-left, led by Romano Prodi, a former left-wing Christian democrat, won 285 seats in the Chamber, against 246 seats for Berlusconi’s FI-AN coalition. The Lega Nord’s decision to run separately doomed the right; on its own, the Lega won a record high 11% and 59 seats. The PRC, which had pledged to back a centre-left cabinet, won 35 seats.
Romano Prodi became Prime Minister, serving until the PRC withdrew its support in late 1998. Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist who some claimed engineered the collapse of Prodi’s government, replaced him as Prime Minister and served until 2000. Giuliano Amato returned to office and served a bit over a year until June 2001.
The three successive left-wing governments, especially Prodi’s government, continued Lamberto Dini’s economic policies aimed at restoring the sick country’s economic health to allow Italy to meet the strict parameters of the European Monetary System and eventually join the Euro. Italy’s economic situation in 1994 – a huge public debt, a very large government deficit (over 7% of the GDP) and over 11% unemployment – was catastrophic and most believed that the country would never meet Europe’s strict parameters. However, the government’s policies were quite successful. Italy quickly met the conditions required: its debt fell to 108% of GDP in 2001 and it came close to budgetary balance in 2000 (the deficit was only 0.8% of GDP in 2000). However, the right was able to retain momentum by focusing on the country’s high tax burden. Berlusconi promised tax cuts and a simplification of the tax brackets.
Berlusconi returned to power in 2001. Having patched up with the Lega, Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition (House of Freedoms) won 368 seats in the Chamber against 247 for the centre-left L’Ulivo, led by Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli. Berlusconi had signed a 5-point ‘contract’ which pledged to reduce the tax burden, reduce criminality, raise the minimum pension, reduce unemployment by 50% and make significant investments in public works. Unlike in 1994, Berlusconi was able to create a solid majority cabinet which lasted for the duration of the parliament’s 5-year term (a rarity in Italian politics). A more astute politician, he was able to keep the lid on internal tensions between his federalist, nationalist and centrist allies.
However, Berlusconi’s government eventually became rather unpopular. The country’s economy performed poorly during his term, with sluggish economic growth and a larger deficit than under the previous government. He was unable to deliver on most of his key promises, particularly tax cuts. He did manage to pass a pensions reform, a labour market reform, a judicial reform and an unsuccessful constitutional reform (rejected by voters in 2006). The weak economy and the widespread perception that he had not delivered on most (if any) of his 5 landmark promises hurt Berlusconi and his government. The left was victorious in the 2004 European and 2005 regional elections; all trends seemed to indicate that Romano Prodi, the top candidate of a broad left-wing coalition including the PRC, would win a comfortable majority in the 2006 elections.
Prodi and the left did win a majority in the 2006 elections, but Berlusconi made a remarkable comeback and ended up losing the election by a hair. The left won a strong majority in the Chamber thanks to the new electoral law, but it held a tiny 2-seat majority in the Senate – something which considering the very heterogeneous nature of Prodi’s coalition came back to haunt him shortly down the road. Prodi’s government led a reformist agenda, but it was constantly dogged and weakened by constant infighting between the plethora of parties which made up his big-tent coalition (from the far-left to centre-right). In 2007, the PRC almost brought down his government over foreign policy. In January 2008, a small right-wing ally of the government whose leader objected to same-sex civil unions and was being implicated in a corruption scandal pulled the plug on the government. It lost the confidence in the Senate and was forced to call early elections.
Berlusconi, like the proverbial phoenix, returned in force in the 2008 snap elections. His coalition won 46.8% against 37.5% for Walter Veltroni’s centre-left coalition. The elections did see a further polarization of public opinion, as the ex-DC centre-right (running independently from Berlusconi) did poorly and the communist coalition was crushed and shut out of Parliament (the first Italian legislature without any communist members since 1921).
Berlusconi’s third term in office was marked by the slow collapse of his government and the country’s economy. Politically, troubles began when Gianfranco Fini, who had been one Berlusconi’s closest allies in the past, started turning against him. Fini increasingly took positions opposed to il cavaliere on issues such as justice or immigration. Following months of conflict, Fini was kicked out of Berlusconi’s party in July 2010 and created his own party, followed by about 30 deputies and 10 senators. By December 2010, having lost its majority in the Chamber, Berlusconi’s government was on the verge on the collapse and was expected to lose a no-confidence vote. Against all odds, however, Berlusconi’s government survived – the motion failed by 3 votes – it was later shown that Berlusconi had bribed opposition MPs to back him in the vote.
Berlusconi remained relatively popular throughout the first two years of his government. The right performed quite well in the 2009 European and 2010 regional elections. However, as the economic crisis deteriorated further and the Prime Minister became embroiled in an even larger number of corruption/lifestyle scandals in 2011, his government’s popularity slowly declined. The beginning of the end came in May 2011, when the Berlusconian right was defeated in a series of local elections (including in Milan, the cavaliere’s political base). Then in June 2011, ‘abrogative referendums’ which sought to repeal controversial laws including a partial immunity for the Prime Minister were succesful, breaking the 50% turnout threshold required to be valid (similar referendums often fail in Italy because turnout is under 50%).
Italy was hit particularly badly by the European debt crisis and continues to suffer the aftereffects of the initial crisis. Italy’s economic troubles date back to the 1980s, when the post-war ‘Italian economic miracle’ ended and the country entered a long spell of low growth, high unemployment, rising deficits and a huge public debt. One of Italy’s main economic ills is its lack of competitiveness; unit labour costs in Italy since the birth of the euro in 1999 have risen must faster than in other EU countries (such as Germany) and productivity has declined.
The Euro debt crisis and Italy’s own economic crisis worsened in the final months of 2011. Berlusconi’s government had largely failed to tackle the crisis and, by November, Italy was said to be on the verge of default. Indeed, Berlusconi’s government since 2008 had seemingly been more preoccupied with il cavaliere‘s judicial travails than actually tackling the crisis; although his government did implement several (controversial) austerity measures between 2009 and 2011. By this point, investors, foreign markets and other European governments – particularly Berlin – felt that Berlusconi had lost all credibility and legitimacy. On November 8, an austerity plan was passed but a majority of deputies abstained (the bill passed with 308 votes, less than the absolute majority). It was clear that the government had finally lost its majority in the lower house, and Berlusconi officially resigned from office four days later.
Italy, by November 2011, was in crisis-mode as it teetered on the cliff. The country’s ceremonial President, Giorgio Napolitano, managed to get the main parties – including the left and right – to agree to a technocrat (or ‘technical’) government to be led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and a respected economist. The new government’s immediate task was to ‘save’ the Italian economy from collapse through urgent reforms. Monti immediately set to work on passing an emergency austerity package which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. His government also undertook several other major reforms aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy. His government passed measures aimed at introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and got serious on targetting the very high rates of tax evasion in Italy.
The results of Monti’s austerity policies have been a mixed bag. On the one hand, Monti definitely managed to save Italy from default and he took the first steps in righting the ship before it sank. His reformist policies have won him the plaudits of investors, foreign markets and his European partners (especially Angela Merkel). The deficit, which was never really catastrophic in Italy compared to other countries, was projected at 2.6% of the GDP in 2012 (5.4% in 2009). Italy’s public debt, however, remains high at 126% of GDP and is still growing. On the other hand, Monti’s austerity policies have prolonged the recession, the country’s economy shrank by 2.3% in 2012 and will shrink by 0.7% in 2013. Similarly, Monti’s reforms have led to a major increase in unemployment, from 8.4% in 2011 to around 11% today; youth unemployment is even higher at over 36%.
Monti’s government lost the support of Berlusconi’s party in December 2012, compelling Monti to announce his immediate resignation following the approval of the 2013 budget by Parliament. With the budget approved, the Parliament was dissolved and elections scheduled for February 24 and 25 2013.
Silvio Berlusconi has been the single most important figure of Italian politics since 1994. He has fundamentally transformed Italian politics and political culture, and it would not an overstatement to say that the Second Republic was structured around his personality and ideology. While Italian politics remain structured around a traditional left-right opposition, it often seems that the traditional left-right divide is secondary to the Berlusconi-not Berlusconi divide which played a key role in the 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2008 elections. Similarly, under Berlusconi, the Italian right has been transformed. The DC was a centre-right party and it appealed to conservative Catholic voters with its anti-communist and Christian democratic ideology. However, the DC – with some exceptions in the 1950s and 1960s – often preferred to govern from the centre-left in coalition with parties such as the PSI. Economically, the DC implemented fairly interventionist (statist) policies, including a generous welfare state.
However, the Berlusconian right has been significantly to the right of the old DC. Berlusconi rehabilitated and integrated Gianfranco Fini and his party, which most considered an unpalatable neo-fascist party in 1994. He developed, despite a few hitches over the years, a close alliance with Umberto Bossi’s populist and often controversial Lega Nord. Several prominent far-right figures, who were associated with neo-fascist or other far-right movements in the past, have played a major role within the Berlusconian right.
Politically, Berlusconi liked to view himself as the later Italian incarnation of the Reagan-Thatcher. His populist rhetoric and political style, based on a repudiation of the ‘elites’ and the ‘partitocrazia‘ of the First Republic, in addition to his virulent attacks on ‘left-liberal elites’ which he claimed dominated the judiciary (a haven of communists according to il cavaliere) and even the media, marked a sharp break from the centrist and consensual politics of the First Republic. Berlusconi’s rhetoric was close to that of the New Right of the 1980s – which sought to represent the ‘hardworkers’ over the professional political elites and ‘moochers’; which denounced government bureaucracy, wasteful spending, a heavy tax burden and endorsed a tough law-and-order approach to criminality and ‘family values’. This was, again, a departure from the post-war economic interventionism favoured by the DC and its allies. Most would see a fundamental contradiction between Berlusconi’s ostensible reformist neoliberalism and his own personal business interests which he often sought to protect and defend while in government. Berlusconi, however, never saw any conflict between his own personal business interests and that of the country as a whole.
Under Berlusconi, Italian politics have become very personalized and political parties have lost the power and influence they held under the First Republic. The electoral system has favoured this personalization of politics. Parties, not individuals or personalities, dominated under the First Republic. Since 1994, however, Italian politics have become very personalized. This personalization has become very apparent in all Italian elections since 1994/1996, where great emphasis has been placed on the various ‘candidates’ for Prime Minister on all sides of the aisle. Political parties have remained powerful, but they are no longer the powerful political machines they were during the First Republic – where parties had large memberships and maintained close links with organizations in civil society.
On the right, Berlusconi’s political parties have certainly been personal vehicles for his own political ambitions. On the left, opposition to Berlusconi has often been the glue which kept the warring factions and parties of heterogeneous left-wing coalitions since 1994 together. Politicians and parties who chose to stand outside this system, often trying to represent a centrist third-way, have been marginalized and all have failed to become credible alternatives.
2013: Coalitions, Parties, Contenders and Issues
Centre-right led by Silvio Berlusconi
The People of Freedom (Il Popolo della Libertà, PdL): The PdL, currently the largest party in both houses of Parliament, is the latest partisan incarnation of the Berlusconian right, centered and built around the charismatic and populist figure of Silvio Berlusconi.
Silvio Berlusconi is a billionaire businessman who made his fortune with Fininvest, a financial holding company which still controls a football club (AC Milan) and a powerful private media empire (Mediaset). A cloud of secrecy surrounds Berlusconi’s personal wealth and his business empire and his business and political career has been racked with controversy including numerous accusations of conflict of interest stemming from his failure to sell his personal share in his companies after entering politics in 1994. Over the years, Berlusconi has been accused and charged on numerous cases of corruption, bribery, tax fraud, mafia collusion, tax evasion and embezzlement. In October 2012, Berlusconi received his first conviction in a tax fraud involved Mediaset, he was sentenced to four years in jail; but he will ultimately never serve jail time thanks to an amnesty law and the statute of limitations. In all other cases, Berlusconi was either acquitted, saved by the statute of limitations or the trials archived.
Berlusconi is a controversial and colourful character. His extensive control over a large private media empire in Italy has been criticized by numerous analysts who claim that his control of a media empire has stifled freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Italy’s press freedom rankings are pretty atrocious for a western European nation – ranking 57th by Reporters Without Borders and classified as ‘partly free’ by Freedom House. He is also a colourful character with a well-known reputation for making gaffes or insensitive remarks: he compared German MEP Martin Schulz to a concentration camp guard, he complimented Barack Obama on his ‘tan’, said that it was better to ‘like girls than be gay’, made disparaging remarks about Finland and Finnish cuisine and famously annoyed Queen Elizabeth II by yelling at a G20 summit.
Berlusconi is a noted womanizer, something which has gotten him in trouble in recent years. Berlusconi has always made comments about his appreciation for ‘good-looking girls’ and he likes to have ‘good-looking girls’, even those without any political experience or talent, on his party’s electoral lists. However, since 2009 Berlusconi has been embroiled in a number of sex scandals. His second wife, Veronica Lario, filed for divorce in 2009 after he attended a girl’s 18th birthday party in Naples. In 2010, he was accused of having paid for sex with an underage Moroccan dancer (known as ‘Ruby’) and he is currently awaiting trial on charges of underage prostitution.
Berlusconi created his own political party, Forza Italia, only two months before the February 1994 elections. The First Republic system having collapsed with the Mani pulite investigations and all dominant parties of that era having either dissolved or fallen into disrepute because of their involvement in corruption scandals. There was a large electorate on the centre and centre-right which found itself disoriented and politically homeless following Mani pulite, a large electorate ready to be picked up by any ambitious politician. Berlusconi, a charismatic populist and astute politician, with a mastery of media, communications and marketing was that man.
The 1994 election was a success for Berlusconi, whose new party won 21% of the vote. The party and its leader was weakened by his ouster from government in 1995 and the right’s defeat in the 1996 elections, but Berlusconi survived his first dry spell. He slowly reemerged as the leader of the opposition and the Berlusconian right won the 2001 election, in which FI won a record 29% of the vote. In the 2006 elections, however, FI suffered the brunt of loses incurred by the governing right-wing coalition.
The idea of a merger between Berlusconi’s FI and Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance (AN) first came up at the time of the 2006 election. Berlusconi took the initiative by announcing the transformation of FI into a larger party in November 2007, although Fini opposed the idea at the time. Both leaders reconciled before the 2008 election and Berlusconi’s FI and Fini’s AN formed a common list – The People of Freedom (PdL) – the 2008 election. The PdL also included a plethora of small, irrelevant parties on the centre-right and the right including Alessandra Mussolini’s far-right Azione Sociale (AS). The PdL won a fairly impressive 37.4% of the vote on its own in the 2008 election, a hefty sum in Italy’s fragmented multi-party system. The party was officially founded in March 2009.
The alliance between Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini, once widely seen as Berlusconi’s anointed successor, was short-lived. As early as 2009, Fini – now the president of the Chamber of Deputies – became a vocal critic of Berlusconi’s policies and broke from the conservative party line on certain issues. The ambitious heir-presumptive, Fini also took issue with Berlusconi’s personalist and centralist leadership style. Fini supported a more structured party leadership which relied less on il cavaliere‘s charisma. In April 2010, Fini set up his own association within the party and by the end of July he was pushed out of the PdL and created his own group in Parliament.
There was increasing unease within the party after the disastrous showings in the May 2011 local elections, in which the PdL lost its Milanese bastion and failed epically in its quest to win Naples. In response to both of these factors, Berlusconi tried to refresh the party’s worsening image by appointing his justice minister, Angelino Alfano (a Christian Democrat from Sicily), as the party’s secretary and new heir-presumptive. He later announced that he would not seek reelection in 2013. However, as the economic crisis worsened, the PdL became increasingly divided as a number of parliamentarians broke with the party and called on Berlusconi to resign.
The formation of Monti’s technocratic government in November 2011 divided the party. An anti-Monti faction of the party wanted snap elections, but others supported the new government. Ultimately, the PdL opted – reluctantly – to support the Monti government, at the price of breaking the alliance with the Lega Nord and being forcibly associated to the new government. The PdL was a restless and often petulant reluctant ally of the government, which often prevented Monti from doing more on issues such as liberalization or corruption.
The PdL suffered a humiliating beating in the 2012 local elections. Throughout the summer, with polls showing the bloodless party agonizing in third place, it seemed as if the Berlusconian era was over. Even il cavaliere, depressed and demotivated by his resignation in November 2011 and pursued by the courts on various charges, seemed to have accepted that. In October, Berlusconi announced that he would not run in 2013 and set the stage for PdL primaries in December. But Berlusconi, playing a confusing but also rather amusing game of in-and-out, quickly had second thoughts and called off the primary at the end of November. In early December, Berlusconi announced that he would in fact run. On January 7, after a last-minute coalition deal with the Lega, Berlusconi announced that he would lead the party but that, if elected, he would not serve as Prime Minister but rather as finance minister under Angelino Alfano.
The PdL, like FI before it, is a diverse big-tent party which has often struggled to find internal coherence. FI included former members of the DC (Giuseppe Pisanu, Roberto Formigoni, Claudio Scajola), the PLI (Giancarlo Galan, Alfredo Biondi) and the PSI (Giulio Tremonti, Franco Frattini, Renato Brunetta; Berlusconi’s political mentor was Bettino Craxi); as such, it attempted to synthesize these divergent political cultures (christian democratic conservatism, liberalism, reformist social democracy). In good part, today’s PdL is more or less a renamed FI dominated by former FI cadres with conservative ex-AN members as an appendage. There is a regional dimension to the PdL’s internal ideological diversity. Northern members, most of whom came from FI, tend to be libertarians who support fiscal federalism (like the Lega), deregulation and lower taxes. Southern members, many of whom are from the old MSI and AN, tend to be socially conservative but also more statist and authoritarian.
Under Berlusconi, populism has often tended to be the glue which held the various factions together. Since his entry into politics in 1994, Berlusconi – in line with Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher – has sought to present himself as an ‘outsider’ who spoke and understood the language of the ‘common man’; in his first election in 1994 he ran as the right-wing populist outsider, vilifying the old partitocrazia and corrupt establishment politicians of the First Republic, a rhetoric which he has used on-and-off since then. Another aspect of Berlusconi’s populism is his demonization of magistrates (painted as communists) and the left-liberal elites which controlled the institutions and dominated the media (seriously). Under his leadership, there was clear symbolic shift in attitudes towards the Mani pulite investigations of the early 1990s as Berlusconi tried to rehabilitate the fallen political leaders and vilify those who had gone after them. Most of this anti-elitist rhetoric was a self-interested attempt by il cavaliere to rally support for himself against the magistrates who gone after him in various corruption scandals.
Berlusconi is a master populist who excels at electoral strategy, campaigning and political communication. He is not an ideologue, far from it. He has always tried to be all things to all people, in the hopes of building the broadest coalition possible. For the northern petite bourgeoisie, he promised lower taxes; for statist conservative southerners, he promised public works. Berlusconi is likely an asset for his party, given how central he is to the entire party. Forza Italia and even the PdL today function as a personal vehicle for Berlusconi’s political ambitions, he is the boss at the helm of the party and has free reign over a fairly decentralized and poorly structured party.
Geographically, one of Berlusconi’s strengths has been his appeal both in northern and southern Italy. Although the Lega Nord takes right-wing votes away from the Berlusconian right in the north, the PdL is nonetheless quite strong in northern regions such as Piedmont (34% in 2008), Lombardy (33.5%) and the Veneto (27.4%). In the 2008 election, the PdL did especially well in southern Italy; maximizing support from former MSI-AN voters but also unideological voters who had backed Prodi’s coalition in 2006. The party won a very impressive 49% in Campania, the region which includes Naples, and also took over 40% in Apulia, Calabria, Sicily (46.6%), Sardinia and the Latium (the region around Rome, 43.4%). The FI and later the PdL’s electorate has traditionally consisted of small businessman, entrepreneurs (especially prominent in the north), conservative Catholic voters (especially in the south but also in some northern regions), traditional right-wing demographics such as high income earners but also a strong base with manual workers. For example, in 2008, the PdL swept the working-class suburbs of Milan – the old Communist ‘Red Belt’ which surrounds the city.
Berlusconi has transformed himself into a right-wing populist with nationalist inklings for this election. After 1994, Berlusconi and FI had worked hard to gain acceptance as a mainstream European centre-right party and gaining acceptance into the EPP; today, he has reincarnated himself as the anti-system, anti-elitist right-wing outsider he was in 1994. He has railed against austerity, even if he implemented austerity measures as recently as 2011 when he was Prime Minister himself. Quite bitter with Angela Merkel who precipitated his resignation in November 2011, Berlusconi’s campaign has also adopted nationalist and Eurosceptic undertones. He is now a vocal critic of Angela Merkel and Berlin’s actions in Italy’s economic crisis, he has said that the European Fiscal Compact is hampering growth and that the ECB should only be a lender of last resort. Berlusconi’s anti-austerity platform includes a pledge to cut taxes. One of his most popular positions is his promise to abolish and refund the IMU, a very unpopular property tax (to be levied on all residents) recreated by Monti after Berlusconi’s government had abolished a similar property tax (the ICI) in 2008.
Northern League (Lega Nord, LN): The LN is one of Italy’s most famous but also controversial party. The Lega, founded in 1991, is a federalist and regionalist (formerly separatist) party in northern Italy which has played a major role in Second Republic politics, most significantly on the right.
The LN reflects the major regional schism which exists between northern Italy and southern Italy (the Mezzogiorno). Italy’s existence as a nation-state is fairly recent, the country only came to be in 1870; but even following Italian unification the new country struggled to find internal unity. Until fascism, Italian politics were largely dominated by the Piedmontese elites which had spearheaded Italian unification under the King of Piedmont, Victor Emmanuel I. Northern Italy quickly became a ‘European’ industrialized and affluent region. Southern Italy, on the other hand, afflicted by deep socio-economic liabilities, remained (and, to a certain extent, has remained) a poor, agrarian and underdeveloped region. Poverty, social inequality (powerful landowners owned large tracts of land and employed landless labourers) and opposition to Piedmontese centralism led to an upsurge in organized crime (either banditry or mafia activities) and emigration (many southerners moved to North and South America, or northern Italy). In southern Italy, the oligarchic power of powerful landowners and the emergence of the mafia as a potent force in the 1850s diluted any communitarian feelings and created a conservative, individualist and atomized society. Until 1946, southern Italy had been ruled almost exclusively by autocratic regimes who maintained formal feudal structures into the early nineteenth century and which subsequently based their power on support from the rural landowning elite. The relation of the average southern Italian with corruption and the mafia is different than in other places; and to a certain extent, corruption is accepted as part of the political process.
The regional divide was quite apparent in the 1946 referendum, when 54% of Italians voted in favour of the republic. In industrialized, affluent and slightly more progressive northern Italy, two-thirds voted for the republic. In rural, poor and conservative southern Italy, 64% voted for the monarchy. Under the First Republic, the government actively sought to industrialize the south through an ambitious program of land reform and public investments (60% of government investment would go to the south). These policies were largely unsuccessful, as the south became subsidized and dependent on the state while deep regional disparities remained. Unemployment is much higher in the south while average incomes and labour force participation remains lower in the south than in the north.
In northern Italy, particularly in Lombardy and Veneto, the view that “hard-working” northern taxpayers were subsidizing the corrupt and “backwards” south created widespread resentment starting in the mid-1980s. A number of regionalist, federalist or separatist “leagues” started to proliferate throughout northern Italy in the mid to late-1980s, the most prominent of which were Umberto Bossi’s Lega Lombarda and the Liga Veneta. In the 1983 and 1987 general elections, these ‘leagues’ enjoyed weak support. Their first breakthrough came in the 1990 regional elections, when the Lega Lombarda took 19% in Lombardy and the Liga Veneta won 7% in Veneto (leagues also did well in Piedmont and Liguria). The Lega Nord, created in 1991, merged these different regionalist leagues in a single federal structure.
The party’s national breakthrough came in the 1992 elections, when the LN won 9% nationally (56 deputies and 26 senators) and became the fourth largest party in Italy. The Lega was able to exploit the north’s regionalist grievances with the central government and southern Italy, but as a radical anti-system voice, it also benefited from growing disgust with the corrupt partitocrazia just as the tangentopoli system was revealed. The party’s support grew in 1993 (notably winning the local elections in Milan) and 1994, but Berlusconi’s FI cut the grass under its feet and seized some of the party’s anti-system, anti-establishment right-wing support. In the 1994 elections, the party, in coalition with FI, won 8.4% nationally – but thanks to its alliance with FI, it doubled its parliamentary representation and came out with 117 deputies and 56 senators. The Lega originally participated in Berlusconi’s short-lived government in 1994, but it was the party’s decision to pull the plug on il cavaliere within a few months which led to the government’s demise.
Between 1995 and 2000, the party operated independently, having broken off its alliance with the right. At the outset, this new positioning was politically lucrative. The Lega won 10.1% of the vote in the 1996 election (59 deputies, 27 senators), its best result. Buoyed by these results, the Lega adopted a hardline separatist line and unilaterally declared the independence of ‘Padania’ – its name for a sovereign state in northern Italy. However, by 1998 the party’s heyday passed because of internal divisions and damaging splits by prominent leaders. It took a beating in the 1999 European elections, with only 4.5% of the vote nationally. The poor results convinced Bossi that the Lega could only survive in the long term through an alliance with the Berlusconian right. The party de-emphasized separatism and focused on devolution, for a federal country in which the north would have fiscal autonomy.
The alliance with the right, patched up before the 2001 election, held for the 2006 and 2008 general elections as well. The Lega did poorly in the 2001 elections (3.9% nationally); but it held powerful positions in the new Berlusconi government and Bossi developed a close working relationship and alliance with Berlusconi, whose right-wing populism and anti-elitist discourse was quite similar to that of the Lega. The party did poorly in 2006 as well (4.1%). A few months after the 2006 election, Berlusconi’s controversial constitutional reform, supported by the Lega – which would have strengthened executive powers and granted fiscal autonomy to regions (in addition to more powers) – was rejected by the electorate with 61% against. There was a clear regional divide in the vote: northern Italy voted against with only 53% (and Lombardy and Veneto voted in favour with about 55%) while opposition in southern Italy was nearly 75%.
Lega substantially increased its support in the 2008 election (largely at the expense of the PdL), winning 8.3% nationally and emerging much stronger with 60 deputies and 26 senators. The party had gained even more leverage over the government, using its new pivotal position to claim key portfolios and extract policy concessions from Berlusconi. The party’s support kept growing in 2009 and 2010, winning 10.2% in the 2009 European elections and around 12% in the regional elections in 2010. In the 2010 regionals, the Lega compelled the PdL to concede two major regional presidencies to it, and both Lega candidates in those regions (Roberto Cota in the Piedmont and Luca Zaia in the Veneto) eventually won the regional presidency.
However, in 2011, as the government’s popularity fell, the Lega entered a downward spiral and was split by a brewing internal battle between the long-time boss, Umberto Bossi and his deputy, Roberto Maroni. Maroni was a ‘moderate’ within the party and had been quite critical of the Lega’s close alliance with Berlusconi; while Bossi (and Roberto Calderoli) supported the close alliance with the right. He slowly gained more and more power within the party hierarchy. The party did poorly in the 2011 local elections, except in Verona where the incumbent Lega mayor, Flavio Tosi, easily won reelection (but he was a prominent opponent of Bossi’s inner circle). When Berlusconi’s government fell, the Lega broke off its alliance with the PdL and became the leading opposition to the Monti government. It used its position as the opposition to Monti’s cabinet to regain lost support.
The party faced an existential crisis in 2012. In April 2012, it was revealed that Bossi and his inner circle had massively embezzled the party’s public financing funds and used this money to ‘remunerate’ Bossi’s sons, buying them diplomas in Albania and crazy stuff about links with the Calabrian mafia and trafficking in Tanzania. Bossi, the party’s founder and longtime leader, was finally forced to resign and replaced with Maroni.
The Lega’s raison-d’être and dominant ideology is northern Italian regionalism or nationalism. The party continues to use thinly-veiled separatist rhetoric and constantly talks about ‘Padania’, but in reality nobody takes the Lega’s separatist pretensions very seriously and it is widely understood to be a federalist party. It supports the devolution of more powers to the regions and, in particular, fiscal autonomy for regions. Fiscal federalism would allow the northern regions to collect and administer their own taxes, without the central government redistributing (‘stealing’ as the Lega would say) tax revenues to the south. The Lega’s fiscal federalist scheme would like cripple southern Italy, given its dependence on transfers from the central government. The Lega has always been quite successful at exploiting northern Italy’s particular regionalist grievances, presenting the hypothetical ‘Padania’ as an ideal state unencumbered with the rest of Italy, represented as either corrupt, inefficient or a burden on the north. The Lega, like Berlusconi, is populist and anti-elitist.
Outside of federalism, the Lega is more or less a right-wing party, although it has some more left-wing positions (the environment, welfare state, pensions). On economic issues, the party supports low-taxes, small government and small businesses/entrepreneurs. It is Eurosceptic and moderately isolationist. The party’s notoriety also comes from its tough line on immigration, being the most vocal anti-immigration party in Italy. The party has often been widely accused of using racist, hateful and xenephobic rhetoric. The party’s stance on immigration, to a certain extent, pushed Berlusconi on the right on the issue and forced Berlusconi’s last government to adopt tough measures against illegal immigration.
The Lega finally reached a coalition deal with Berlusconi and the centre-right in January. In return for Lega’s participation in his coalition, Berlusconi announced that Alfano would serve as Prime Minister if the coalition won and the PdL supported Roberto Maroni’s candidacy in the concurrent regional elections in Lombardy.
The party’s support, naturally, comes from northern Italy. The Lega has defined the north as everything to the north of the Latium – hence including Umbria, Marche, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna (which are all traditionally defined as being central Italy). The party’s support in those central regions has usually been limited, although the Lega scored impressive breakthroughs in all of those regions – especially Emilia-Romagna – in 2009 and 2010, the Lega won nearly 14% in Emilia-Romagna in 2010 and even won 6% in Tuscany and Marche. The party’s core northern strongholds are Lombardy and the Veneto, where the Lega won 26% and 35% respectively in 2010. In those regions, the Lega polls best in rural areas, especially in the Pedemontana, the northern region at the feet of the Prealps in the Padanian plain. The party has had more trouble in the Piedmont and Liguria, although it is a major political actor in both regions. At its creation, the Lega stole votes across the ideological spectrum (mostly from DC but also from the PCI, PSI, PLI etc) and the party’s leadership is ideologically diverse with various partisan backgrounds. The Lega Lombarda leadership, including Bossi and Maroni, have left-wing backgrounds; the Liga Veneta’s leadership tends to be right-wing with DC backgrounds. In northern Italy, there is significant ideological overlap between local PdL and Lega cadres.
Great South – Movement for Autonomies (Grande Sud-Movimento per le Autonomie, GS-MPA): Grande Sud-MPA is a southern regionalist alliance which will run in 14 constituencies for the Chambers and in six regions for the Senate. The list is a coalition of two groupings: Grande Sud (Great South) and the Movement for Autonomies (Movimento per le Autonomie, MPA). Grande Sud itself is a coalition of three regional parties; namely Gianfranco Micciché’s Sicilian Forza del Sud (Force of the South), Arturo Iannaccone’s Campanian Noi Sud - Libertà e Autonomia (We the South – Liberty and Autonomy) and Adriana Poli Bortone’s Apulian-based Io Sud (I the South).
There is a confusing array of vaguely regionalist parties in Southern Italy. It is certainly debatable to what extent these parties are actually fundamentally and genuinely ‘regionalist’ or autonomist or if they merely empty kleptocratic shells founded by regional political bosses to further their political interests or lobby for their constituencies. None of these parties are separatist and few (if any) may be considered as radical in their demands as the much more powerful and influential Lega Nord. To a certain extent, most Southern regionalist parties have tried to be counterweights to the Lega within the Berlusconian right. They mostly tend to lobby for Southern interests in government – either supporting further devolution of powers (Sicily already has special autonomy with full fiscal autonomy) or pushing for government investments, such as Berlusconi’s ambitious Strait of Messina Bridge between Calabria and Sicily.
The Movement for Autonomies (MPA) was founded in 2005 by Sicilian dissidents from various national centre-right parties and led by Raffaele Lombardo, a former Christian Democrat. The party allied with the Lega to form a common list in the 2006 election, but given the enmity between northern and southern regionalists, the alliance was shortlived. In 2008, the MPA – which had expanded outside of Sicily – ran separately in Berlusconi’s coalition. Winning 1% nationally, it won 8 deputies (and 2 senators) because of the ‘largest coalition party under the threshold’ clause of the electoral law. Lombardo was elected regional president of Sicily in regional elections that same day. The MPA’s political alliances have since been schizophrenic. In 2009, the MPA allied with the far-right but also other regionalist parties (including some in the north) for the Euros and won 2% nationally. In December 2009, Lombardo formed a new regional cabinet excluding members of the national PdL. The MPA’s slow breakup with the PdL and the Berlusconian coalition caused a rift in party ranks as 4 deputies were expelled for the party for supporting the alliance with the PdL. In November 2010, the MPA left the Berlusconi cabinet and announced that it would join the ‘Third Pole’ centrist coalition with Gianfranco Fini and the christian democratic UDC. Lombardo was forced to resign as president of Sicily in August 2012, precipitating early regional elections in which the MPA ran separately from the PdL, backing Gianfranco Micciché (a PdL dissident)’s presidential candidacy.
The Grande Sud is a coalition of the three aforementioned parties. The Forza del Sud was launched by Gianfranco Micciché in late 2010, the longtime regional leader of the FI and PdL in Sicily who wanted to build a broader southern regional parties. However, only a minority of the PdL’s Sicilian deputies followed Micciché in his adventures, and like most ambitious attempts at creating a new coalition/party the scheme has been an unmitigated disaster. Noi Sud was launched in January 2010 by those former MPA members expelled from Lombardo’s party for opposing the divorce with the PdL. The party attracted half of the MPA’s 8 deputies, and is led by Arturo Iannaccone, who represents Campania. Io Sud is an Apulian-based party led by Adriana Poli Bortone, a former AN MEP.
Gianfranco Micciché ran in the 2012 Sicilian regional elections, backed by the Grande Sud, MPA and Fini’s FLI. He won 15% of the vote, placing fourth. The MPA won 9.5% of the list vote, the Grande Sud won 6%. The MPA is in decline at this point, having been badly weakened by divisions and defections. It ultimately agreed to join Grande Sud and rejoin the Berlusconian coalition, although the MPA will run a separate list in Sicily for the Senate (in addition to a Grande Sud list). The MPA won up to 15% in Sicily (in 2009) and it had won 7% on the island in the 2008 general election, but its support will likely be marginal. Given the presence of two other small right-wing lists within the coalition, the Grande Sud-MPA are locked in a tough battle to either break 2% nationally (unlikely) or be the largest coalition party under the threshold.
The Right (La Destra, LD): The Right, or La Destra, is a far-right party which ran independently in the 2008 election (winning 2.4% nationally) but which is running as part of Berlusconi’s coalition this year.
The party was founded in July 2007 by Francesco Storace, a member of the AN. Storace had been the leader of the AN’s most right-wing and ‘unreconstructed’ wing, which was nostalgic of the MSI’s neo-fascist heritage and criticized Gianfranco Fini’s more moderate leadership of the AN. Storace had been critical of Fini’s visit to Israel in which he had described fascism as an absolute evil. Although many felt that Berlusconi had a hand in the creation of the party, to weaken his rival Fini, La Destra ran independently in the 2008 election. Its top candidate was Daniela Santanchè, another AN defector who is known for her controversial views on Islam. The party won only 2.4% nationally and won no seats. The poor result led to a leadership struggle between Storace and Santanchè, the latter supporting an alliance with Berlusconi. Santanchè left the party in September 2008.
La Destra, under Storace, started moving closer to the Berlusconian coalition starting in 2010. The party will run with the Berlusconian right this year, with Storace as the right-wing candidate in the concurrent regional elections in the Latium.
La Destra rejects the far-right or neo-fascist labels, although it allied with the openly neo-fascist Forza Nuova and Fiamma Tricolore in 2008. It is conservative and nationalist, with its economic program including both ‘statist’ planks (strong welfare state) and more libertarian planks (flat tax, fiscal federalism).
Brothers of Italy – National Centre-right (Fratelli d’Italia – Centrodestra Nazionale, FdI-CN): The ’Brothers of Italy – National Centre-right’ is a new national conservative party, founded in December 2012.
The party was launched by ex-AN members of the PdL (Ignazio La Russa, Giorgia Meloni; Guido Crosetto was not AN however). La Russa, within the AN, had represented the party’s moderate ‘liberal-conservative’ wing which was closest to Berlusconi and FI, and somewhat critical of Fini. Within the PdL, La Russa and the others remained loyal to Berlusconi throughout the Fini breakup. Like most of the PdL’s ex-AN members, the party’s founders opposed Monti’s government. The party’s creation was a calculated move by Berlusconi to create a spinoff for more nationalist and right-wing (anti-Monti) voters who somehow cannot bring themselves to vote for Berlusconi’s party but who nonetheless support Berlusconi’s candidacy.
The party has received little attention or support, and – alongside fellow coalition ‘allies’ GS-MPA and La Destra – it is locked in a tough battle to either win 2% themselves or be the the largest party in the coalition below the 2% threshold.
The party’s name is rather amusing: Fratelli d’Italia, or ‘brothers of Italy’, is the first line (and common unofficial name) of the Italian national anthem. I can’t wait for the O Canada Party or the Star Spangled Banner Party!
The centre-right coalition also includes the Italian Moderates in Revolution (Moderati Italiani in Rivoluzione), Popular Agreement (Intesa Popolare) and Pensioners’ Party (Partito Pensionati).
Italy. Common Good (Italia. Bene Commune) coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani
Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD): The PD is the main centre-left party in Italy and the dominant party of the centre-left coalition. The PD was founded in 2007 by the merger of the two largest parties of the post-1994 Italian centre-left – the Democrats of the Left (Democratici di Sinistra) and Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (Democrazia è Libertà – La Margherita) in addition to numerous smaller parties.
The social democratic Democrats of the Left (DS) was created in 1998 after the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) merged with smaller (irrelevant) parties. The PDS was created in 1991 by the transformation of the Communist Party (PCI) into a post-communist democratic socialist/social democratic party, led by the PCI’s last secretary-general Achille Occhetto. The PCI had been at the forefront of the evolutions of the western European communist left since the 1970s, having broken with Moscow’s autocratic rigidity and adopted a more consensual and moderate ‘Eurocommunist’ line. The PDS was confirmed as the main left-wing opposition force in the 1992 and 1994 elections, winning 16% and 20% nationally in those two elections respectively. In the 1996 election, the PDS, with 21% of the vote, was the largest force in the victorious centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi. After Prodi’s government fell, Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist, became Prime Minister. Under D’Alema’s leadership, the PDS became a mainstream European social democratic party. In 1998, after merging with smaller ex-PCI, PSI, PRI and DC micro-parties it became the DS. It won 16.6% in 2001 and 17.2% in 2006, remaining the largest party of the centre-left coalition. Despite a small left-wing socialist faction, the DS was firmly controlled by moderate/Third Way social democrats who were avidly pro-European and support orthodox fiscal policies.
Following the collapse of the First Republic system between 1992 and 1994, the DC (Italy’s natural governing party) and the wider centrist (from centre-left and centre-right) coalitions which had led Italy since 1947 were in decrepitude. The DC, a big tent party with a right-wing and a left-wing, split between left and right – more or less between those who backed Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition and those who backed the centre-left coalition. The left-wing of the DC founded the Italian People’s Party (PPI), envisioned to be the main successor party to the DC. The PPI formed its own centrist coalition in the 1994 election, running with DC maverick Mario Segni’s Patto Segni; the PPI won only 11%. The PPI itself split between leftist and rightists in the 1995, with pro-Berlusconi right-wingers going off to form their own party (United Christian Democrats) and the PPI remaining under the leadership of a centre-left majority. Allied with smaller party and supporting Prodi, it won about 7% in 1996. The Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (DL) was formed by the merger of the PPI, The Democrats (a party which included Romano Prodi) and Lamberto Dini’s Italian Renewal. Their common list did well in 2001, winning 14.5%. The DL gathered support from different ideological horizons, including social liberals (like party leader Francesco Rutelli, a former Radical), social conservatives, progressive left-wing Catholics (Christian left) and reformist liberals. The DL often compared itself to the US Democratic Party, an apt comparison.
Centre-left cooperation and electoral coalitions have existed since 1994. The most famous of these coalitions was The Olive Tree (L’Ulivo), founded by Prodi in 1995 and the centre-left coalition in the 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections (but also a common list in the 2004 Euros). Following the 2006 election, talk of a DS-DL merger increased. The creation of the PD was formalized in 2008, besides the DS and DL it also included six smaller parties (mostly moderate centre-left parties). Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a former DS leader, was an open primary in late 2007 with over 75% and became the first leader of the PD. Veltroni was competent albeit a bit boring and uncharismatic (although many liked to call him an ‘Italian Obama’), under his leadership he gave the PD a modern, reformist/Third Way and pro-market orientation. Veltroni, as the main opponent to Berlusconi in the 2008 election, won 37.5% while the PD itself won 33%. It was a very good result for the PD, which had succeeded in imposing itself as the major centre-left opposition force in an increasingly bipolarized system, but it was not enough.
The PD’s performance in opposition between 2008 and 2011 was fairly mediocre, hurt by uninspiring and stale leaders and internal divisions. The PD was defeated in regional elections in Abruzzo (2008) and Sardinia (2009), and its performance in the 2009 Euro and 2010 regional elections were disappointing at best. Veltroni quit following the bad defeat in the Sardinian elections in early 2009. He was replaced by Dario Franceschini (ex-DC unlike Veltroni, who was from the PCI), another stale and boring leader. Franceschini, however, lost the PD leadership during a leadership election in October 2009. He won 37% against 56% for Pier Luigi Bersani, a social democrat (ex-PCI) who had been a minister in past centre-left cabinets. PD moderates, led by former DL leader Francesco Rutelli, interpreted Bersani’s victory as a sign that the PD was being dominated by ex-DS/PCI cadres and moving into a left-wing direction. Rutelli and his allies quit the party in November 2009 to create the Alliance for Italy (ApI), which allied with the centre. The PD supported Monti’s government, although some on the party’s left often took issue with Monti’s austerity measures or economic liberalization reforms.
One of the PD’s problems since 2008 has been its internal diversity. The PD was meant to be a big-tent party which would move Italy towards a two-party system by uniting the various non-communist components of the anti-Berlusconi left and centre-left; including social democrats and ex-PCI left-wingers, social liberals, ex-DC progressives and liberal reformists. It has struggled to find a coherent ideology and identity besides ‘we hate Berlusconi’. Some, like Rutelli and Veltroni, wanted to model the PD on the US Democratic Party and differentiate it from the mainstream centre-left in the rest of Europe (SPD, PS, Labour, PSOE etc). Those who came from the PCI and the DS, however, wanted to integrate the PD with other European social democrats. The previous partisan allegiances of members (DC/PPI/DL, PCI/DS etc) are the main factional divides within the PD, although in recent years some factions and alliances within the PD have bridged old DC/PCI divides. In 2009, Bersani’s majority was backed by social democrats (around Massimo D’Alema) and most ex-DS members but also some moderates/centrists (Rosy Bindi, Enrico Letta). Franceschini was backed by most ex-DC moderates and centrists, social liberals but also by those like Veltroni or Rutelli who envisioned the PD as a big-tent American-like party. In 2010, Franceschini and former DS leader Piero Fassino joined Bersani’s majority, a move opposed by Veltroni and ex-DC/PPI moderates.
The domination of the party by an old guard of stale, boring and relatively uncharismatic leaders has been another of the PD’s main problems. Bersani, Franceschini, Rosy Bindi, Piero Fassino and above all Massimo D’Alema are widely seen as being stale ‘old guard’ leaders. In the open primary to determine the coalition’s top candidate for these elections, held in October 2012, there was a much-discussed contest between Bersani and the 38-year old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi. Renzi is a rising star and reformist ‘modernizer’ within the party. In addition to his anti-establishment creed, his support for economic liberalization, economic reforms, debt reduction and labour market flexibility make him a bit of a pariah for the PD’s left. Renzi won 35.5% in the first round of the primaries, and 39% in the runoff against Bersani.
Ideologically, the PD is close to mainstream European social democracy. Under D’Alema’s leadership, the DS firmly integrated the European centre-left mainstream and often edged close to Tony Blair’s Third Way reformism by supporting orthodox fiscal policies including debt reduction and a balanced budget. In government, the left has often being moderate and reformist. Even if Bersani is identified with the PD’s left (though there is a significant minority further to his left within the PD), as minister under Prodi’s second cabinet he was reformist, leading the liberalization of television broadcasting, local public services, and energy as well as cutting red tape. The PD supported, not without some reservations, Monti’s reformist policies.
Bersani’s platform in this election is a bit anti-austerity, though it agrees with the need for debt reduction and fiscal responsibility. It feels that the austerity policies are not healthy and not conducive to growth, instead it prefers more interventionist Keynesian policies. However, Bersani does not support major changes to European treaties such as the Fiscal Compact although he does support Eurobonds (but most Italian politicians advocate for Eurobonds). The left’s platform supports raising taxes on the rich while reducing them on low and middle earners. The PD also wants to do away with the IMU, replacing it instead with a ‘super tax’ targeting those persons with private residences whose value exceeds €1.2 million. It claims that such a super-tax would alleviate the tax burden on single home owners and middle-class families.
The left, the PCI in the past and the PD today, has found its strongest support in the ‘Red Quadrilateral’ of central Italy: Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Marche and Umbria. The PD won 46.8%, 45.7%, 41.4% and 44.4% respectively in those regions in 2008. These regions are wealthy and not industrial powerhouses (despite a few major industrial cities), but as former territories of the Papal States, there is a strong anti-clerical and republican/socialist tradition. The anti-fascist resistance movement was also very active in central Italy during World War II. The left is also strong in Basilicata (a poor and conservative southern region) and in major urban areas including Turin (Piedmont) and Venice or working-class regions in Liguria. It is weaker in Lombardy, Veneto, Sicily and other southern regions.
The PD’s lists for the Chamber of Deputies include members of the Socialist Party (PS), which will run independently for the Senate in Latium, Campania and Calabria. In the Aosta Valley, the PD is backing the local left-leaning local/regionalist coalition which won the Chamber seat in 2008 (but the right-leaning local/regionalist coalition won the Senate seat).
Left Ecology Freedom (Sinistra Ecologia Libertà, SEL): The SEL is a left-wing (democratic socialist/eco-socialist) party led by Nichi Vendola, it is the smaller (but still relevant) member of the centre-left coalition led by Bersani’s PD.
Nichi Vendola is the ‘gay (ex-)atheist communist’ who has been regional president of Apulia, a conservative and Catholic region of the Mezzogiorno, for two terms since 2005. Vendola was a member of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) until 2009. The PRC had been founded in 1991 by PCI hardliners led by Sergio Garavini who opposed the PCI’s evolution into the PDS. The PRC cooperated with the centre-left in the 1994 and 1996 elections, and joined Prodi’s coalition in 2006 but it remained a very unreliable ‘ally’ throughout, often breaking governments over disagreements on economic or foreign policy. In 2007, the PRC broke with the centre-left and formed a left-wing alliance with a smaller communist party (itself a PRC breakaway) and the very leftist Greens; in the 2008 election, this coalition ended in an unprecedented disaster for the ‘left of the left’ winning only 3% nationally and no seats whatsoever. The 2008 disaster led to an internal power struggle, with the party’s hard left defeating incumbent leader Fausto Bertinotti (who had tried to move the party away from doctrinaire communism towards a New Left, anti-globalization and eco-socialist line). Bertinotti silently encouraged PRC reformists/New Leftists around Vendola, on the losing side (but with 47.6%) of the leadership struggle in 2008, to leave the party. Vendola’s faction, the MpS, left in January 2009. Running separately from each other in the 2009 Euros, Vendola’s red-green alliance won 3.1% against 3.4% for the the ‘paleo-communist’ Anticapitalist List led by the PRC.
The Greens and the Socialist Party left Vendola’s coalition in 2009. The PD and SEL have formed electoral alliances in most elections since 2009, although in some cases they went separate ways. In 2010, Vendola won a second term as regional president of Apulia thanks to the divisions of the local right. In 2011, Giuliano Pisapia, an independent close to SEL, became mayor of Milan in a major victory for the centre-left. The SEL rode on a wave of momentum in 2011, often polling up to 8%. Vendola is a competent and intelligent politician, who is also particularly charismatic (in short supply on the left) and eloquent.
Vendola ran in the 2012 centre-left primaries, winning a fairly disappointing 15% in the first round (third place) although his support proved crucial to Bersani’s easy victory in the runoff. Vendola had been acquitted on corruption charges in November.
Ideologically, Vendola disagrees with Bersani and the PD on some economic and fiscal issues. From outside Parliament, he was a a vocal critic of Monti’s austerity policies, which he saw as strangling the working-classes while serving the elites which created the crisis. Vendola has also frequently attacked the global financial system. While he supports European federalism ‘as the only way out of the crisis’ and is open to debt reduction, he is anti-austerity and has opposed parts of the Fiscal Compact which he feels are limiting the decision-making powers of democratically-elected governments. Social issues also feature prominently on the SEL’s agenda. Vendola is a longtime supporter of feminist and LGBT causes, and his party supports gay marriage. A devout Catholic country with the Roman Catholic Church a powerful actor in civil society, Italy lags behind on gay rights – no same-sex unions are recognized in Italy, the centre-left’s attempts to introduce civil unions in 2007 failed. The right (PdL, LN) are pretty uniformly socially conservative (opposing civil unions, adoption or marriage); the PD, with a significant socially conservative wing, does not support gay marriage although it supports civil unions and stepchild adoption.
Democratic Centre (Centro Democratico, CD): The small and rather irrelevant CD is a small moderate party. But as it will be the largest coalition party under the threshold, it will win seats in Parliament.
The CD was founded in late 2012 by Bruno Tabacci (ex-UDC and ex-ApI) and Massimo Donaldi (ex-IdV). Tabacci is a former maverick member of Pier Fernando Casini’s centre-right UDC, who joined Francesco Rutelli’s bland centrist Alliance for Italy (ApI) outfit. Any momentum which the ApI had its foundation in 2009 quickly petered out as it became the irrelevant third component of the stillborn ‘Third Pole’ centrist coalition. In late 2012, the ApI moved back to the centre-left and Tabacci ran in the primaries and came last with 1.4%. Tabacci teamed up with Donaldi, a defector from Italy of Values (IdV) to create the CD. Rutelli is not running and keeps insisting that ApI is not dead. The moderate and centrist CD includes chunks of the ApI and most of Donaldi’s Rights and Freedom outfit.
South Tyrolean People’s Party (Südtiroler Volkspartei, SVP): The SVP is only a regionalist party active in one region, but it is worth profiling given that it will win seats in the new Parliament.
The Italian province of South Tyrol (Südtirol/Alto Adige), part of the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, was part of the Austrian Empire until it was annexed by Italy in 1919. Unlike the southern province of Trentino which has an Italian majority and had a significant Italian population even under Austrian rule, South Tyrol still has a German majority (64%). Under fascist rule, there was an aggressive campaign of Italianization and state-sanctioned discrimination against German-speakers in the province. South Tyrol was annexed by the Nazis in 1943, but it was returned to Italy in 1946 following an agreement with Austria in which Italy granted self-government to the region. However, Italian immigrantion into South Tyrol (which had begun under fascism) and the lack of specific self-government for South Tyrol itself made the region’s status an international issue in the 1960s. Trentino-Alto Adige now benefits from extensive autonomy, and keeps nearly 90% of tax revenues.
The SVP was founded in 1945 to represent German-speakers (but also a small Ladin minority) in South Tyrol. The party leans to the right, although it is a diverse party which includes a significant left-leaning faction. It has governed South Tyrol since 1948, although its support has declined in recent years – falling below 50% for the first time in a provincial election in 2008. At the national level, the SVP used to be allied with the DC, but under the Second Republic it has usually aligned with the centre-left coalition which tends to be more favourable to autonomy. The SVP won 2 deputies and 3 senators in the 2008 election. It won about 44% of the vote in South Tyrol. Most of its competition now comes from right-wing German parties, notably The Libertarians (right-wing separatist).
The SVP, in coalition with the Tyrolean Trentino Autonomist Party (PATT) in Trentino, is running for the Chamber in Trentino-Alto Adige.
The centre-left coalition also includes Moderates for Piedmont (Moderati per il Piemonte) running for the Senate in Piedmont and Rosario Crocetta’s The Megaphone (Il Megafono) running for the Senate in Sicily.
With Monti for Italy (Con Monti per l’Italia) coalition led by Mario Monti (not candidate)
The Monti coalition will run in separate lists for the Chamber of Deputies but will run a single, common list for the Senate. Mario Monti, who is a senator-for-life, is not a candidate in this election but supports the coalition.
Civic Choice (Scelta Civica, SC): The ‘Civic Choice’ is a new centrist party formed to support Mario Monti and his reformist agenda.
Mario Monti is an economist and former European Commissioner (1994-2009) who became Prime Minister of Italy in November 2011, at the helm of a technocratic cabinet. Monti became Prime Minister in a period of crisis, on the verge of default. Monti’s reformist agenda included an emergency austerity package in 2011-2012 which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. He has implemented various measures aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy, including introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and targeting fiscal evasion in Italy. Monti’s reforms have succeded in saving Italy from default and significantly reducing the country’s budget deficit; but his austerity policies have been criticized by the left and the Berlusconian right for having significantly increased unemployment and slowed economic growth in 2012 and 2013. Monti, as an individual, remains widely respected by the electorate, who view him as an honest man (a rarity in Italian politics at times) with a true desire to reform the Italian economy (despite disagreeing with his policy choices). His austerity policies, however, have become unpopular with most voters.
In the run-up to this year’s election, the recurring question was whether or not Monti would join the fray and run in the elections. Those who were the keenest on the idea where those who knew that they were destined to be an irrelevant sidenote in the election – namely the stillborn centrist ‘Third Pole’ with the UDC and FLI. These centrist parties were the most enthusiastic supporter of Monti’s government in Parliament and actively lobbied him to run. For those centrist parties, Monti was everything they could ever wish for: a centre-right leader who was not Berlusconi, and a leader with enough stature to take them places. After his government fell in December 2012, Monti announced just before New Year’s that he would be ‘supporting’ a coalition in the election (he cannot run himself).
The Civic Choice list for the Chamber of Deputies consists of various individuals, defectors and a small party. The party includes ‘Toward the Third Republic’ (VTR), a party which includes a group led by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the former chairman of Ferrari and president of Confindustria (the employer’s organization). Some of Monti’s ministers including Andrea Riccardi (international cooperation/integration) Renato Balduzzi (health) and Enzo Moavero Milanesi (European affairs) are running in the election on the party’s lists. It has welcomed dissidents from both the PdL (Franco Frattini, Berlusconi’s former foreign minister, is not running but supports the SC) and PD as well as smaller parties.
Monti’s coalition is also supported by the European People’s Party (of which the PdL is a member), The Economist (a longtime enemy of Berlusconi) and L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s unofficial voicepiece. The European Union and Angela Merkel have been very supportive of Monti’s policies.
Monti is running a Europhile, reformist and economically liberal campaign. It has claimed, disingenuously, that is neither left, right or centre but rather that it is a different reformist alternative. In reality, it is a centrist/centre-right and pro-European liberal coalition. Monti’s platform supports continued fiscal rigor and reforms to liberalize the economy and open up even more noncompetitive industries to competition. He also wishes to tackle corruption and increase labour force participation by the youth and women (Italy’s labour force participation rate for the young and women is very low). He is an ardent Europhile, supporting further European integration and he fully adheres to the European Fiscal Compact although he too would support Eurobonds.
The gist of Monti’s agenda is broadly captured by The Economist‘s op-ed piece on ‘True Progressivism’ from October 2012. The Economist‘s article presents ‘True Progressivism’ as the modern alternative to both Keynesian social democracy and raw right-wing capitalism (which has spawned too much social inequality). The premise of ’True Progressivism’ and Monti’s liberal reformist agenda is that excessive inequality, as it currently stands, hampers growth; hence the priority should be to attack monopolies and vested interests (which is what Monti has done with ‘closed’ industries in Italy), focus spending on the poor and the young rather than the elderly (raising the retirement age) and reforming taxes to eliminate deductions which benefit the wealthy and narrowing the gap between tax rates on wages and capital income (rather than the left’s ‘tax-the-rich’ planks). It is a broadly liberal platform, though with a twist – there is less emphasis on reducing the size of government or tax cuts across the board.
Union of the Centre (Unione di Centro, UDC): The UDC is the latest partisan embodiment of a plethora of various centrist (centre-right) parties, heirs of the right-wing of the former DC. The UDC is a coalition which includes a number of local and regional parties but whose hegemonic force is Pier Fernando Casini’s Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC).
Casini’s UDC (the party) was founded in 2002 by the merger of three parties; most significantly the Christian Democratic Centre (CCD), basically the right-wing of the DC which backed Berlusconi, and the United Christian Democrats (UCD), a pro-Berlusconi right-wing breakaway from the leftish PPI. CCD-UCD join lists in 1996 and 2001 had won 5.8% and 3.2% of the vote respectively. At its foundation, the UDC was the third largest party in Berlusconi’s coalition, surpassing the Lega. The UDC stuck with Berlusconi in the 2006 election (6.8%), but the party was sometimes a critical voice in cabinet. The CCD’s old leader and Berlusconi critic, Marco Follini, split from the UDC in 2006. Casini took an increasingly critical tone against Berlusconi after 2006.
For the 2008 elections, Casini’s UDC formed an independent list, the Union of the Centre which was basically the old UDC taking up a few random politicians and parties (including Bruno Tabacci’s White Rose) while the pro-Berlusconians joined the PdL. The centrist list won 5.6%, 36 deputies and 3 senators, a disappointing result for the party. After the election, Casini stayed in the centre. At the local and regional level, the UDC has allied both with the right and the left or gone their own way.
Casini was the driving force behind the creation, in 2010, of the ‘Third Pole’ (or New Pole), an attempt at a centrist alternative to both the left and the Berlusconian right. The Third Pole included Casini’s UDC, Fini’s FLI (see below), Rutelli’s ApI and Lombardo’s MPA. The longstanding pipe dream of the UDC and the post-DC centre has been to recreate the DC and regain its central, dominant role over politics. However, Italian politics under the Second Republic have become increasingly polarized between left and right and personalized around charismatic figures (Berlusconi mainly), Casini’s UDC lacked the clout and he lacked the charisma to take on the entrenched left and right. Furthermore, politics – both domestically and internationally – have changed since the First Republic’s heyday, and it is harder for a big tent centrist party (especially drawing its strength from its ties to the Catholic Church) like the DC to become the central force in politics. As such, the Third Pole quickly died out despite brief momentum in 2011. More or less, Monti’s coalition has replaced the Third Pole.
Ideologically, the UDC is a very socially conservative party (because of its close ties to the Church) but it has some interventionist economic positions because most of the UDC’s base consists of southerners, who tend to be more dependent on the central government. Indeed, as the First Republic faded away, the DC and its venal allies (particularly the PSI and PSDI) had seen their support shift to the south (while parties such as the Lega were taking their northern voters), where the networks of political patronage and clientelism had built a resilient electoral clientele which endured post-1994. The UDC’s support has been heavily southern and Sicilian. In 2008, the UDC won 9% in Sicily, 8% in Calabria and Apulia and 6.5% in Campania. Its best northern region was the Veneto (5.6%), it won only 4-5% in northern and central Italy.
Future and Freedom for Italy (Futuro e Libertà per l’Italia, FLI): The FLI is a centre-right party founded and led by Gianfranco Fini, the former leader of the neo-fascist MSI and later the national-conservative AN.
Gianfranco Fini, the dauphin of longtime Italian Social Movement (MSI) leader Giorgio Almirante, became leader of the MSI in 1987 and transformed the party, dropping its controversial neo-fascist past and shifting in a more palatable nationalist/conservative direction. The MSI, untainted by the First Republic’s scandals because of its exclusion from the system, came out strengthened from the system’s collapse. Fini launched the National Alliance (AN) to take the MSI’s place in 1994. Under Fini’s leadership, the AN became a close ally of Berlusconi’s coalition (despite disagreements with the Lega on federalism). It won 13.5%, 15.7%, 12% and 12.3% in the 1994, 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections respectively. Fini gradually kept moving the AN closer and closer to the mainstream right, leading some neo-fascists or other hardliners to leave the party. Fini became widely seen as Berlusconi’s heir-presumptive. The AN merged with the PdL in 2009.
However, Gianfranco Fini became increasingly critical of Berlusconi after the 2008 election. On the one hand, Fini had moved towards more liberal/progressive positions on some issues, including stem cell research, euthanasia, voting rights for foreigners and even immigration (even if Fini had authored a restrictive law on immigration under Berlusconi’s 2001-2006 government). There was also a power struggle at work between the two men. Fini disagreed with Berlusconi’s leadership style and particularly the organization of the PdL as a Berlusconian personality cult which ran on Berlusconi’s charisma and little (if anything) else. Fini wanted to prepare the right for the post-Berlusconi era and establish himself as the next leader of the right, he felt that the right needed to be renewed and moved closer to the European mainstream right a la Sarkozy and Cameron (Fini is a supporter of both).
In April 2010, Fini and his finiani supporters created an association within the PdL. The conflict between Berlusconi, backed by the PdL but also most ex-AN (who disagreed with Fini’s social liberal turn) and Fini kept increasing. At the end of July 2010, Fini’s supporters were excluded from the PdL. On July 30, 33 deputies and 10 senators split from the PdL to create the Future and Freedom (FLI) group in both houses. In November, it was transformed into a political party.
Fini’s FLI quickly joined the Third Pole with the UDC and other parties. However, the party’s initial momentum quickly died out. It has been severely weakened and politically marginalized by several divisions and defections. Some in the party, who were not too keen on burning all bridges with the PdL, have since rejoined the PdL and new defectors from the PdL have not compensated for their departure.
Ideologically, the FLI is on the centre-right. It is definitely very different from the the MSI or even the AN, even if it has retained its strong focus on national unity. In part, many of the FLI’s supporters are southern conservatives who are suspicious of the Lega and strongly support national unity. On economic issues, many of the FLI’s members are fairly interventionist and statist, in line with the MSI-AN’s more statist economic positions.
It is yet to be seen where the FLI’s electoral support will come from. If the MSI and the AN are any indication, the party will be strongest in the Latium region around Rome and in southern Italy. Indeed, the neo-fascist MSI found most of its support (during the First Republic) in southern Italy, where it was backed by shopkeepers, bureaucrats, some oligarchs and the ‘underclass’; but also in and around Rome, the capital city which had been promoted and developed by Mussolini’s fascist regime and where some bureaucrats or conservative shopkeepers remained nostalgic of the fascist regime. Rome’s current mayor, Gianni Alemanno (PdL), is a former fascist. The AN was the largest party in Rome and the Latium in the 1990s. In 1996, the AN won 29% in the Latium, 23% in Calabria, and 18% in Campania and Apulia. By 2006, the AN’s support in the far south had dropped off a bit, compensated by new voters in the north and centre (10-11% of the vote); but in remained strong in the Latium, as always (19%).
Five Star Movement (MoVimento 5 Stelle, M5S) led by Beppe Grillo (not candidate)
The M5S is the new movement which may shake up Italian politics, the party (or ‘movement’) which may achieve a significant electoral breakthrough this year. The party is fairly young, it was founded in 2009 by popular and successful comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo.
The M5S is a populist, anti-corruption, anti-establishment, anti-system and anti-elitist movement – basically a true populist ‘outsider’ party which wants to destroy the existing political system, which virulently attacks and opposes everything it sees. Besides this anti-system populism, the M5S is tough to place ideologically. The party’s ‘five stars’ stand for public water, public transportation, development, connectivity (internet freedom) and the environment – those are more or less the party’s main ideological orientations. At the outset, the M5S was classified as a left-wing or even far-left party. Indeed, the M5S is radical ecologist (of the ‘degrowth’ kind) and it has strongly supported maintaining public services and social justice.
At the core of the M5S is a vitriolic and foul-mouthed denunciation of the entire Italian political system. Italy’s political system is very flawed, with endemic political corruption being chief amongst Italy’s political problems. Many politicians, both left and right, have campaigned against corruption and been vocal critics of corrupt politicians or groups. What makes Grillo different is that he denounces the entire political system; for him, the system is rotten to its core and must be destroyed entirely. He represents career politicians as ‘parasites’ who live at the expense of taxpayers and bring nothing but ruin and corruption to the country, and voters must get rid of them. As such, the M5S feels that traditional representative democracy is dead, the party wants to replace it with direct democracy in which internet and new technologies would play a major part.
Beppe Grillo is not the formal leader of the party, and he is not a candidate in this election (because of a criminal conviction in the 1980s, apparently); but M5S is pretty clearly his party. Grillo, a former comedian, is a charismatic (others would say demagogic) populist leader, whose speeches consists of tirades and insults against the system and politicians. He also enjoys generating controversy by making bold pronouncements: politicians are worse than the mafia, and more recently a “call” on terrorists to blow up the Parliament.
‘Grillist’ lists started to flourish about a year before the M5S’ official creation; in the 2008 election, a ‘Grillist’ list had won 0.2% nationally. The party first gained notoriety in the 2010 regional elections when the party took 2-6% of the vote in some regions, enough to allow the right to win. In its early days, the M5S mostly attracted far-left voters, unhappy with the PD’s mediocre performance in opposition and left disoriented by the disarray of the communist left. It won 7% in Emilia-Romagna, a left-wing stronghold, and took 2 seats there. In the Piedmont, where it won 4%, it ‘stole’ votes from the left and allowed the Lega’s Roberta Cota to win the regional presidency. The party’s support may also have ‘spoiled’ the 2011 regional election in Molise, where the M5S won more votes than the right’s margin of victory over the left.
The party burst onto the scene in the May 2012 local elections, where it surprised almost everybody by performing extremely strongly in both major cities and smaller towns. While the PdL was annihilated at the polls, the M5S came out of nowhere to perform very strongly: it won 14% in Genoa (ahead of the PdL), 12% in Alessandria, 9% in Verona, and 10% in Monza and Piacenza. In the runoff, the biggest upset came from Parma, where the M5S’ Federico Pizzarotti had won 19.5% in the first round and qualified for the first round against the left (which came out far ahead of the pack with 39%). But in the runoff, Pizzarotti won 60.2% of the vote, trouncing the left. It owed its victory to the support of first round right-wing voters. But the victory in Parma and two smaller cities (Mira, Comacchio) put the party on the map. The M5S surged nationally, riding a wave of momentum. It regularly polled 15-20%, often second ahead of the PdL, throughout summer 2012.
In the October 2012 Sicilian regional elections, the party – despite a little-known candidate and a shoestring campaign dependent on Grillo’s antics (swimming across the Strait from the mainland) – won 18% in the presidential race and 15% in the list vote (becoming, in the process, the largest party in a divided landscape). The Sicilian elections confirmed that M5S was not merely a flavour of the month or a passing trend.
The M5S’ momentum has leveled off a bit during the actual campaign, but the party will nevertheless do very well on January 24-25. What explains the M5S’ surge to such heights?
The economic crisis and austerity has played a major role. The other side of Monti’s austerity measures have been a prolonged economic recession, increasing unemployment, particularly among the youth, lower pensions for retirees and even higher taxes for entrepreneurs or small businessmen (given that Italy’s tax burden is already very high). The austerity and the reforms (particularly tax increases, the IMU and pension reform) have created resentment and major social discontent. As in all economic crises, many Italians – especially the youth, the poor and low-income retirees – are suffering considerably.
What Grillo says about Italian politicians also resonates with many voters. There are many worthy politicians in Italy, but at the same time the observation that many (most?) Italian politicians are corrupt criminals, stale and boring party hacks, selfish career politicians, incompetent or self-absorbed egomaniacs holds some truth – Italy ranks as the third most corrupt country in the EU after Greece and Bulgaria and is rated as more corrupt than Brazil, South Africa, Romania and Turkey.
One of the main subjects of debate in Italian politics since Monti took over has been the privileges of la casta, a previleged caste of politicians, MPs, senior bureaucrats and public servants (who have lifelong pensions).
Corruption is nothing new in Italy, whose political system has long been riddled with political corruption, arch-corrupt politicians and links between organized crime and senior politicians (the DC, for example, had close ties to the mafia; the mafia is tied to both left and right-wing politicians in the south). But voters either accepted corruption as a part of life, sought to benefit themselves from political corruption or sighed powerless as corruption was something impossible to fully tackle. However, with the climate of austerity and a government demanding ‘sacrifices’ from all Italians, there has been a major upsurge in popular anger towards privileged political elites and those who abused the system and filled their pockets. Beppe Grillo’s virulent attacks on the entire political system and corrupt politicians everywhere has certainly resonated with many voters who want to express their frustration and anger.
The M5S benefited, especially in 2012, from the decrepitude of the Berlusconian right – the PdL was falling apart without Berlusconi there to hold together; the Lega lost all its credibility and its original anti-corruption populist appeal with the Bossi embezzlement shenanigans. In the 2012 local and regional elections, many right-wing voters abstained – turnout in the locals and especially in Sicily was abysmal by Italy’s high-turnout standards – but many right-wing voters also voted for the M5S, as the nature of the M5S’ victory in Parma shows. One must remember that the Lega, especially in its early days (1992) but even in later years, chased the anti-establishment protest vote which the M5S is now appealing to. Despite ideological disagreements between the Berlusconian right and Grillo – although both share a similar anti-tax rhetoric – the M5S has proven to be a good receptacle for angry right-wing voters, especially those who voted for the Lega in the past.
Grillo’s platform in this election is rather vague on some matters, but clearer on other issues. It is clearly anti-austerity, and also anti-Euro. The M5S opposes the common currency and is nostalgic of the “lovely old lira we could immediately devalue by 40% to 50%” which would make Italy, it claims, more competitive. Grillo promises to organize a referendum on exiting the Euro. He also opposes public funding for political parties and would naturally crack down on corruption and conflict of interest. On other issues, however, the manifesto is vaguer: to reduce the budget deficit, for example, Grillo’s party wants to ‘cut waste’ and introduce ‘new technologies’ to allow ‘public access to information and services without the need for intermediaries’.
Civil Revolution (Rivoluzione Civile, RC) led by Antonio Ingroia
The Civil Revolution is a left-wing anti-corruption list which includes Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori, IdV), the Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, PRC), the Party of Italian Communists (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, PdCI), the Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdi) and the Orange Movement (Movimento Arancione). All these parties form a single list for both the Chamber and Senate. The coalition was formed in January 2013.
The coalition is led by Antonio Ingroia, an anti-mafia magistrate with no prior political or electoral experience.
Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori, IdV): IdV, whose heyday of political relevance has seemingly passed, is a uniquely Italian party which reflects the oddities of the Italian political system, especially since 1994. IdV is a centre-left/left-wing party, but its raison-d’être is fighting political corruption and promoting honesty and integrity. Its law-and-order orientation would make it an odd fit for the left in any other western European country.
The party was founded in 1998 by Antonio Di Pietro, a famous Milanese anti-mafia/anti-corruption magistrate who spearheaded the mani pulite investigations which brought down the First Republic in 1994. Di Pietro had already served as a cabinet minister in the Prodi I cabinet in 1996, and as a novice politician he became known for his vocal opposition to Berlusconi, who had used the breakdown of the First Republic to launch his political career but who later vilified those who brought it down as ‘communists’. In its early years, IdV cooperated with Prodi’s party, the Democrats; IdV ran with the Democrats in the 1999 Euros and they won 7.7%. However, Di Pietro opposed Prime Minister Giuliano Amato’s centre-left cabinet (Amato, a former PSI stalwart, had been investigated by Di Pietro in the past) and IdV stood alone in the 2001 election, winning 3.9% and falling just short of the threshold for PR seats.
Between 2001 and 2006 it slowly walked out of its isolation and joined The Union, the left-wing coalition. It won 2.3% in the 2006 election, but because of its alignment with the centre-left coalition it won 17 deputies. The party did not join the PD, but it was part of Walter Veltroni’s coalition in the 2008 election. It made sizable gains, taking 4.4% of the vote and 29 deputies and 14 senators. With Di Pietro’s virulent opposition to Berlusconi and his tough, uncompromising style against the government, IdV benefited from the PD’s underwhelming performance in opposition and enjoyed high levels of support between 2009 and 2011. It won 8% of the vote in the 2009 European elections and in the 2011 local election in Naples, IdV candidate Luigi De Magistris eliminated the PD candidate by the first round and crushed the PdL in the runoff. In 2012, Leoluca Orlando, a longtime anti-mafia icon in Sicily and former mayor of Palermo in the 1990s, won the local election in Palermo. The party originally backed Monti but joined the ranks of the opposition after the first austerity decree.
Luigi De Magistris, a left-wing (ex-PCI) former prosecutor in Catanzaro, emerged as a forceful rival to Di Pietro’s leadership of the IdV. De Magistris wanted to move the party to the left, somewhat at odds with the party’s membership in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and its nature as a big-tent party uniting anti-corruption activists of various ideological backgrounds (many deputies had a DC background). De Magistris pushed Di Pietro to align with the left, alienating some IdV deputies in the process – two IdV deputies even voted for Berlusconi’s cabinet in December 2010 and proved crucial to his government’s survival in that vote. The party’s momentum ended abruptly in 2012 with M5S’ emergence on the scene. M5S is like a more radical version of IdV, which rejects traditional party politics and brands all politicians as crooks.
IdV’s strong anti-corruption, moralistic and law-and-order stances are somewhat odd for a left-liberal or left-wing party; although in the context of Italian politics since 1994, anti-corruption politics is often associated with the left because of Berlusconi. On other issues, the party may find common ground with the right (on federalism) but in most other aspects it aligns with the left.
Luigi De Magistris and other IdV left-wingers left the party in October 2012 and founded the Orange Movement (Movimento Arancione).
The Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, PRC) was, as related above, founded in December 1991 by PCI hardliners led by Sergio Garavini who opposed the PCI’s evolution into the PDS. Between 1992 and 2006, the PRC usually won in the vicinity of 5-6% nationally although it peaked at 8.6% in 1996. The PRC was unofficially allied to the centre-left coalitions in the 1994 and 1996 elections. The PRC propped up Prodi’s cabinet from the outside until 1998, when it withdrew its support and caused his government to collapse. Those PRC members, led by Armando Cossutta, who disagreed with the decision to withdraw from the government formed a new party, the Party of Italian Communists (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, PdCI) which continued the alliance with the centre-left but never achieved much success electorally in doing so (1-2%).
The PRC reunited with the centre-left coalition ahead of the 2006 general election. It joined Prodi’s cabinet, and although it disagreed with the government on some foreign policy matters it never went as far as bringing it down (that was done by a venal centre-right ally, Clemente Mastella).In 2007, the PRC broke with the centre-left and formed a left-wing alliance (The Left – The Rainbow) with the PdCI and the very leftist Greens; in the 2008 election, this coalition ended in an unprecedented disaster for the ‘left of the left’ winning only 3.1% nationally and no seats whatsoever (the first Parliament with no communists since 1921).
The 2008 disaster led to an internal power struggle, with the party’s hard left defeating incumbent leader Fausto Bertinotti (who had tried to move the party away from doctrinaire paleocommunism towards a New Left, anti-globalization and eco-socialist line). Bertinotti silently encouraged PRC reformists/New Leftists around Vendola, on the losing side (but with 47.6%) of the leadership struggle in 2008, to leave the party. After Vendola left the party, the PRC allied with the PdCI to form a Federation of the Left (FdS), which has had limited success – Vendola’s SEL was a much more attractive force on the left.
The Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdi) is Italy’s main green party. Green politics in Italy, in contrast to its neighbors, has been a miserable failure since they kicked off in the 1980s. Most of green politicians who would lead a green party in Germany or France are members of the PD, where they form a sizable faction. The Greens have never managed to win over 2% of the vote on their own in any election (they first ran in 1987). They did have, at their origins, considerable success in the Veneto region – winning up to 7% in the 1990 regional elections there.
The party shifted to the far-left in the twenty-first century, abandoning their ertswhile moderate left-wing orientation and firmly aligning with the PRC. After the 2008 disaster, the Greens briefly joined Vendola’s coalition for the 2009 European elections, but fearing that they would stop being a miserable failure, they quickly decided to tie its fortunes to the moribund FdS. To mimic the French greens (which is rarely a good idea), they recently founded some kind of green superstructure – the Ecologists and Civic Networks.
Outside these five major actors, the most relevant also-ran outfit – out of over a million – is Stop the Decline (Fare per Fermare il Declino), a neoliberal/libertarian party which supports major debt and deficit reductions, tax cuts, federalism, economic liberalization and privatization. It is led by Oscar Giannino, a journalist. The party only made headlines recently, but for the wrong reasons: Giannino fabricated his resume by falsely claiming he had an Italian law degree and a masters from the University of Chicago’s prestigious School of Business.
What to expect
This election hasn’t worked out like the pundits wanted it to. This election was supposed to be the ’1994 election’ all over again, the election which marked a clean break with a political era and ushered in a new political era – the Third Republic. Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011 and the subsequent unraveling of both his dominant right-wing coalition and his own party left many thinking that this election would mark the end of Berlusconi’s influence over Italian politics. The PdL and the Lega had basically been annihilated and left dying on the side of the road after the 2012 elections; as recently as October, the Sicilian elections had shown that the Berlusconian right was facing extinction.
The Italian political system since 1994 was rather unusual within western Europe. Most other western European countries have a traditional left-right political system, with relatively strong partisan and ideological traditions which have subsisted – albeit not unchallenged – for decades, despite trends towards ‘de-ideologization’ and greater convergence between the left and the right after the fall of communism. Even if charismatic politicians are powerful leaders in those countries, political legitimacy in those countries is based on ‘legal authority’ as described by Max Weber. Italy under the First Republic was even the epitome of such a system, given the strong power of political parties and the relative absence of dominant charismatic political leaders. And Italy, like western Europe, went through a clear process of ’de-ideologization’ following the end of the Cold War; the clear left-right division was blurred a bit by the dissolution of the PCI and the legitimization of previously marginalized or irrelevant political forces (right-wing populism and nationalism with the MSI-AN, regionalist populism with the Lega).
In Second Republic Italy, however, despite the presence and relevance of a left-right cleavage and past ideological traditions; politics have been heavily structured around one man, Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi revolutionized Italian politics; he personalized a political system which under the First Republic had been extremely impersonal and driven by parties, not individuals. Berlusconi imported American-style campaigning techniques (TV advertising, mass mailings, focus groups) in Italy, and he radically changed the structure, direction and style of the Italian centre-right. He structured his parties – personal vehicles – along the ‘business-firm party’ model and relied extensively on his own personal charisma to lead his parties. Political legitimacy under the Italian Second Republic has been based, not entirely but in good part, on ‘charismatic authority’ rather than traditional modern ‘legal authority’.
The 2013 election was seen by many as the election which would change Italian politics, as profoundly as the 1994 election had changed Italian politics then. Berlusconi had lost all credibility and legitimacy in government between 2008 and 2011; his poor record, his governance style, his incessant buffoonery and antics, his sexual travails and corruption scandals had alienated most voters as Italy teetered on the edge of the cliff. Even if he returned to take the helm of the PdL for a final time, he would no longer be an asset to his party. The right’s collapse in 2012, combined with the rise of an anti-system receptacle of protest votes (the M5S) which was similar to what the Lega Nord had been in 1992, seemed to confirm that 2013 would see a major political realignment and the birth of the Third Republic. At that point, the right would ‘de-Berlusconize’ and find new bases and styles, perhaps with the ‘Third Pole’ of 2010-2011.
But Berlusconi has already proven almost everybody wrong. When everybody thought he was going to retire, he came back with a splash, truly like the proverbial phoenix rising from the flames one last time (or the Titanic’s stern rising one last time?). When everybody dismissed him, judging by his party’s abysmal polling in 2012, he came back with a roar.
The main headlines of this election have been “Berlusconi’s comeback“, not unlike his comeback from the lows of 2004-2005 in the 2006 election. From around 23-25% support for his coalition in early January, Berlusconi has boosted his support to 27-30% today. The surge is slightly less impressive than often portrayed. Part of the surge illusion comes from comparing apples and oranges: the Lega’s decision to back the coalition added 4-6% to its totals; before the Lega rejoined him, the PdL alone was polling at 15-17% alone. Today, the PdL is polling about 19-22% or so, the Lega has 4-5% support and the other parties poll around 3% altogether. Nevertheless, it is clear that Berlusconi has boosted his support in polls.
Berlusconi remains a master at campaigning, probably the best campaigner in Italian politics today. Like in 1994, he is a master at political communication; television remains his medium and he knows how to work it and his speeches interlaced with jokes and snide remarks are still successful. Although Berlusconi is far more unpopular with the wider electorate than in 2008, his well-oiled and well-run populist campaign have reignited latent support for the old Berlusconian right and has regained some lost supporters, who fell out with him in 2012 and turned to abstention or other parties.
Berlusconi’s somewhat outlandish pledges have also resonated well with a part of the electorate. His big promise to abolish and refund the hated property tax (IMU) decreed by Monti’s cabinet is popular with voters who feel strangled by even higher taxes. Berlusconi also knows to milk the popularity of his IMU promise to its maximum; he didn’t only promise to abolish it, he then promised to refund it and he sent out a mass mailing to households detailing his plan to refund the IMU.
Monti was always going to have an uphill battle in his attempt to recreate the pre-1994 vaguely centre-right moderate coalitions of boring politicians. Since 1994, Italian politics (like those in other countries) have become heavily personalized and the personality of the ‘top candidates’ for Prime Minister have played a major role in every election. More or less, successful candidates need to be charismatic, telegenic leaders who are able to communicate.
Monti was not that kind of candidate. Even without taking into account the unpopularity of his policies with most voters, Monti is a competent technocrat but he is a terrible politician. He is uncharismatic and has a fairly stale and boring style and demeanor. He’s awkward on television and is bad at communicating his platform.
If only The Economist, The Financial Times and Angela Merkel’s cabinet could vote, then Monti would win a landslide. His close association with these various groups, his strongest supporters, don’t play well in Italy. A fairly horrible campaign, a stale and unexciting technocrat selling policies which are unpopular with most voters and a close association with foreign actors which are distrusted or disliked at home has made this campaign a tough one for Monti.
The left has been the favourite to win this election since 2011. While the right ripped itself apart and while the M5S surged out of nowhere, the left was comfortably riding atop it all. It is not to say that the left, the PD in particular, was doing all that well. It too failed to excite many voters, given its mediocre leadership and its poor performance in Parliament since the last election. Nichi Vendola was a brief exception to this, briefly riding a wave of momentum to around 6-8% support in polls until last year. But his momentum has since petered out and the SEL will come out with a paltry 3-4% of the vote when all is said and done.
In part, the left – if it wins – will have won a Pyrrhic victory, with lower support than in the 2008 election. Not, by any measure, an emphatic endorsement of either the PD or its broader coalition. It will have won partly by default, partly by managing to remain above the fray and not tear itself apart like the right. It will not have won by assembling a large coalition of new or first-time voters excited by the prospect of a centre-left government or a Prime Minister Bersani. What has changed since 2008 is that the ‘threshold’ for victory is much lower, because of the fragmentation of the political landscape in 2013.
Bersani, like Monti, is a boring and stale politician who delivers sleep-inducing stump speeches. He also has the damaging image of being one of the PD’s ‘old guard’ party bosses who have prevented renewal and change on the centre-left. If Matteo Renzi, the young reformist mayor of Florence who threatened the PD establishment and challenged party orthodoxy on major issues, had been the left’s candidate, many believe he would have done much better in this election and would be riding to victory.
But while the Italian left is good at governing, it is absolutely horrible at actually winning elections. It once again showed off its time-honoured ability to turn sure victories into elections which are far too close for its comfort. The left tried to take the easy way out throughout the campaign by remaining above the fray and hoping that it would not get pulled down by the actions of the other actors. This strategy hasn’t really worked out. Grillo’s support didn’t evaporate during the campaign and Berlusconi reignited the right and started pulling down the left.
This election has confirmed the personalization of Italian politics since 1994. The two men who came out stronger during the campaign were Berlusconi, the slick and wily old politico who worked the crowds; and Grillo, the brash and histrionic outsider who fired up new crowds. The two men who didn’t come out stronger during the campaign were Monti, the technocrat who isn’t a politician; and Bersani, the boring ‘old guard’ politician and unremarkable former cabinet minister.
It should be noted, however, that control of the television is not the only route to success. Grillo’s campaign deliberately avoided many TV appearances, instead focusing on the internet/social media and traditional rallies in town squares across Italy. Grillo, with his “mad-as-hell” style, has managed to turn out crowds of thousands. His final huge rally in Rome turned out thousands.
Polls and predictions
Italian law bans the official publication of polls in the last two weeks before the election. The average of the last polls by all pollsters, on Feb 6-8, was as follows:
IBC/Centre-left 34.3% (32.2%-37.2%)
Centre-right 28.9% (27.4%-32.7%)
M5S 15.6% (12.5%-18.8%)
Monti 13.4% (10.2%-14.8%)
RC 4.3% (3.5%-5.9%)
Others 3.4% (1.3%-8.4%)
All pollsters, throughout 2012 and the campaign, have shown the centre-left coalition leading. Only three pollsters (Euromedia, SpinCon, Piepoli) have had the centre-right coalition at over 30% in polls in 2013.
However, while the law bans the publication of polls, it does not ban polling and pollsters have continued polling in secret since February 8. These polls are disguised, dressed up and published ‘unofficially’ on various blogs or news outlets. One way, on NotaPolitica.it, has been to shift the focus from politics to “horse racing”; on YouTrend, the focus is now a running commentary on a Papal Conclave with a leftist cardinal from Piacenza (Bersani) and a conservative cardinal from Monza and Brianza (Berlusconi).
The horse race numbers on February 22 (by Piepoli) showed the ‘Bien Commun’ running on 36 minutes, ahead of the ‘Maison Liberté’ which is trailing on 30 minutes. Igor Brick (M5S) is up to 18.5 minutes, solidifying his advance on the Ipson team (Monti) which is down to 10.5; Galopin du Zacapa (RC) is disqualified, it only has 3.5 minutes. The papal conclave shows different results: the cardinal from Piacenza is at 33 supporters, his conservative rival from Monza and Brianza has 28 supporters (20 of which support him directly). The surprise in the conclave could be a strong showing by an exuberant chap from Genoa, denouncing the previliges of the clerical elites, he has 19 supporters; this places him well ahead of the icy cardinal from Milan who has only 14 supporters. The ‘inquisitor from Palermo’ has the backing of only 3 cardinals.
These conclaves and horses seem to confirm that Bersani’s centre-left has maintained its momentum and retains a lead over the right (but a poll has shown its lead down to only 1.5%), while Grillo is the late surger of this campaign and is heading to a strong third place showing with nearly 20% of the vote – well ahead of Monti, who will place a paltry fourth.
The expectation is that the centre-left coalition will come out victorious on Monday evening. The leaked polls still have it ahead. By nature of the electoral system, Bersani’s coalition – even on an underwhelming level of support – will win an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. The Piepoli poll leaked above, obviously, predicts 340 seats for the left (302 PD, 28 SEL, 10 CD) against 141 for the right (111 PdL, 23 LN, 7 others). Monti would win 49 seats (36 SC, 11 UDC, 2 FLI) and M5S would take 87 seats. If Berlusconi staged an upset and won the election, regardless of the margin, it would also win a majority (over 340 seats).
Within the respective coalitions, the PD has coalesced almost the entirety of the centre-left coalition’s votes around it. In 2008, the PD had won 33% of the vote, a very good result. This year it could win around 27-30% of the vote, while Vendola’s SEL will come out with only 3-4%. Vendola likely peaked way too soon, and some of his erstwhile likely preferred the more radical and uncompromising M5S and RC.
On the centre-right, Berlusconi’s own party – the PdL – is not polling particularly well despite his ‘surge’. Most polls peg him at around 18-21% support, with a chance that Grillo could beat him to become the second largest party. The Lega Nord is consistently polling around 4-6%, which would be down from its 2008 result. The other parties in the centre-right coalition, collectively, poll around 3% support – but for each one of them, the race will be tough to either break 2% or become the largest centre-right coalition party below the threshold.
The leaked polls in the final days have shown late momentum for Grillo’s party, which will almost certainly finish at least in third place and place comfortably ahead of Monti’s coalition. Grillo has about 17-21% support in the polls, and he could even become the second largest party.
Monti’s coalition will probably be in for bad news for Monday. While it should manage to break into double digits, polling around 10-13% together, it will be in a distant fourth. Monti’s SC has managed to coalesce almost the entirety of the coalition’s support behind it, and should emerge with 7-10% support, while Casini’s UDC and especially Fini’s FLI will be crushed. The UDC could poll about 2-3% at most, while the FLI should stay in the 1% range. However, by virtue of being in a coalition with only three parties, the FLI will manage to eek out a few seats in the Chamber – but it will still be a horrible showing by Fini’s party.
For Ingroia’s Civil Revolution, it will be touch and go. Most polls show him barely below the 4% threshold, stabilizing at around 3-3.5% support, but there is an outside chance that he could be pushed over 4%.
The race will be for the Senate, where the majority bonus works at the regional level. The leaked Piepoli poll for the Senate showed that the left would fall short of a majority there (it needs 158 seats to win a majority), even with a 7 point led nationally over Berlusconi. It would win 148 seats (141 PD, 7 SEL) against 89 for Berlusconi (71 PdL, 18 LN), 42 for Grillo and 22 for Monti. If the right won an upset victory, it would probably not win enough to win an absolute majority in the Senate either.
There are a few major battleground regions, closely watched like in American elections, which will decide the senatorial race. One of those regions is Lombardy, traditionally a right-wing stronghold which is highly competitive this year and a major trophy for whoever wins it. A leaked poll on February 22 had the right with 40.5% against 39% for the left (9% Monti, 7% M5S). A ‘papal conclave’ leaked poll also had the right ahead recently, up 3.5% on the left.
The right is said to hold a comfortable lead in the Veneto, one of the most conservative regions. The papal conclave poll had it up 4 points there. Friuli-Venezia Giulia is also a battleground region, likely with a narrow lean to the left. If Piedmont were to go for the right on election night, the left would be in major trouble.
In the south, Sicily – traditionally a right-wing stronghold – is the main battleground region. The papal conclave poll had the right up 3 points there. But the race in Campania and Apulia is also closely contested. The same leaked poll showed a tied race in Apulia, while the left had a statistically insignificant 1 point edge in Campania.
Scenaripolitici sums up the various options for the Senate in a handy chart here. If the right wins only Veneto and Lombardy, the left would hold a tiny majority on its own. If it added Sicily to that, the left would lack a majority but could govern with Monti’s support. A victory in FVG or Apulia, in addition to those three regions, would make a left+Monti upper house majority shakier. If the right, in an upset, were to sweep all uncertain regions, it would hold only a tiny plurality over the left according to these scenarios and would be unable to form an upper house majority.
Therefore, if Berlusconi won, he would have the confidence of the Chamber but he would certainly lack the Senate. It is very hard to see Berlusconi reaching a deal with either the left or Monti (M5S won’t deal with anybody) in the Senate, given how the left/Monti hate Berlusconi and how he hates them in return. Berlusconi’s victory on Monday would probably mean a snap election very quickly, unless he achieves the impossible in the Senate.
There will also be regional elections in Lombardy, Lazio (Latium) and Molise on Sunday and Monday. All three are snap elections in which the regional president will be directly elected alongside the regional legislature.
Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region and the economic powerhouse of northern Italy (Milan), will be the big prize of these regional elections. It has been a right-wing stronghold since 1948, it only had a single left-wing regional president (1992-1994). Roberto Formigoni, one of the leading ex-DC figures in Berlusconi’s party (FI and later PdL), has been the region’s president since 1995. He has always won comfortable majorities, in the 2010 regional elections he was reelected with 56.1% against 33.3% for the centre-left candidate. Even in the 2005 regional elections, a ‘red wave’ year throughout Italy, he beat the left by about 10 points.
Lombardy is also the birthplace of the Lega Lombarda, and while the Veneto has usually been the Lega’s strongest region, the Lega’s leadership (Bossi, Maroni) comes from Lombardy and the Lega is a very powerful force. In 2010, the Lega won 26.2% (second largest party behind the PdL) on the list vote and swept the mountainous provinces of Bergamo and Sondrio. The Lega briefly held the regional presidency, between 1994 and 1995.
The left has been weak in the region for decades, but the Second Republic proved especially tough for the centre-left. The left is strongest in the low-lying border provinces of Mantova, Cremona, Lodi and Pavia; it also has substantial support in Milan’s working-class suburbs (the old ‘Red Belt’ where the PCI was dominant) but Berlusconi and the Lega made major inroads in those areas since 1994.
Formigoni was forced to resign when one of his allies was arrested on accusations he bought votes from the ’Ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia) and extorted favours and public building contracts.
One of the points in the Berlusconi-Lega coalition deal in January was that the PdL would support Roberto Maroni’s candidacy for the regional presidency. If he wins, the Lega would control the regional presidencies of the three largest regions in northern Italy: Piedmont, Lombardy and the Veneto. Maroni’s left-wing rival (also supported by RC) is Umberto Ambrosoli, a lawyer. The Monti’s coalition candidate is Gabriele Albertini, a PdL MEP and the right-wing mayor of Milan between 1997 and 2006. Silvana Carcano is the M5S’ candidate.
The race is extremely competitive this year. The last official polls had Ambrosoli (PD) with a statistically insignificant 1 or 2 point edge over Maroni (LN-PdL) with Carcano (M5S) at around 10% and Albertini (Monti) with about 7% support. A final leaked poll showed Maroni’s horse a short distance behind Ambrosoli’s horse, 41-39. But another recent leaked poll had Maroni up 44.5 to 42 over the left.
Lazio (Latium) includes Rome and surrounding provinces and it is the third most populous region in Italy. Unlike Lombardy, the Lazio has been a hotly contested ‘swing’ region since 1948, with close DC-PCI contests under the First Republic and similarly close left-right battles since 1994. The right, with Renata Polverini (a trade unionist linked to a right-wing union, UGL), regained the region from the left in 2010. Polverini won 51.1% against 48.3% for Emma Bonino, a former European Commissioner and leader of the Italian Radicals. The left had won the region in 2005, defeating Francesco Storace (AN) who had himself defeated a left-wing incumbent in 2000.
The left enjoys strong support in the province of Rome, both in the capital itself and in industrial suburban towns surrounding the city to the north and east. The right is usually strongest in the Roman hinterland, particularly strong in the coastal Latina province – a province built and promoted by Mussolini. The fascist regime has had a strong influence over regional politics. Mussolini’s grandiose imperial dreams meant that he developed, modernized and promoted Rome and its hinterland and envisioned to turn a fairly marginal region into the lavish capital of a reborn Roman Empire. Even if Mussolini’s imperial projects failed, his regeneration of Rome and the Lazio were rather successful. Electorally, after the end of the war, fascist nostalgia was particularly strong in the region – the MSI was strong, and after 1994, the AN was the dominant right-wing party in Rome and the Lazio (with strong support, peaking at nearly 30% and rarely dipping below 20%).
Polverini was forced to resign amid a scandal over the alleged embezzlement of public funds by regional councillors who used those funds to buy cars, holidays, lavish dinners and even a bawdy masked ‘toga party’. This scandal came at a particularly inappropriate time, given the austerity and calls on ‘sacrifices’ by regular Italians. It reinforced views of politicians as corrupt and overpaid.
The left’s candidate is Nicola Zingaretti, the PD president of the province of Rome. The right’s candidate is former regional president Francesco Storace, leader of the hard-right La Destra. The centre is backing Giulia Bongiorno, a finiani FLI deputy; the M5S candidate is Davide Barillari. Zingaretti is the favourite to win, the last polls had him with about 45% against only 28% for Storace.
The tiny southern region of Molise is a rural, conservative and devout Catholic region. Under the First Republic, it was one of the DC’s best regions – the DC won an absolute majority in the regional council in every election between 1970 and 1990. Since then, the left has been stronger in the region – partly because Antonio Di Pietro’s IdV has been rather strong in his native region. The left won the regional presidency in 1995 and 2000, but the 2000 election was later invalidated and the right won the 2001 election. The right’s Angelo Michele Iorio (FI/PdL) was reelected in 2006 and 2011. In the 2011 election, Iorio won 46.9% against 46.2% for the left – a close election in which the M5S’ 5.6% likely allowed the right to win. The election was overturned in 2012.
Iorio is running again. The left’s candidate, backed by IdV, is Paolo Di Laura Frattura. While the UDC is backing Iorio, Massimo Romano seems to be a local centrist candidate. Polls are hard to come by, but Scenaripolitici’s poll showed Iorio running one point ahead of the left with Romano in third on 21%.
Italian politics are almost always a mess, this year they’re an even bigger mess (hence why this post is absurdly long!). The polls, the trends and common wisdom seem to indicate that Bersani and the left will pull out an underwhelming, Pyrrhic victory on Monday evening. But the left had been supposed to pull out a comfortable victory in the 2006 election, but Berlusconi ended up almost winning the election which was decided by less than one percentage point. The ‘Berlusconi comeback’ this year and the left’s shrinking lead in the last stretch of the campaign has left-wingers in Italy and abroad worried about the prospect of a Berlusconi upset, like in 2006. But the circumstances seem different this year, and even the leaked polls are not showing any last minute Berlusconi surge – if anybody is in a position to do extremely well and surprise everybody on Monday, it’s Grillo, not Berlusconi. Besides, even if Berlusconi was to win on Monday, he would lack a senatorial majority and would find it impossible to govern.
The Italian left in government has usually been moderate, reformist and hardly radical. What seems to worry foreign investors and Monti’s foreign fanclub is Vendola’s presence in the centre-left coalition. Few are worried about Bersani, who was a reformer while in Prodi’s second government and will likely govern in a way which will not ruffle feathers and upset his European partners or investors. However, they fear that Vendola, who is anti-austerity and unambiguously left-wing, could be in a strong position to influence the government and push it in a left-wing direction. Vendola, for example, supports a Hollande-like super tax on high-income earners, which is totally unpalatable for foreign investors and the markets.
Monti’s foreign fanclub is resigned to a left-wing victory, but their best-case scenario is one where Bersani lacks a majority in the Senate and is forced to come to an agreement with Monti. Monti doesn’t dislike the PD or the left, he just dislikes Vendola and some left-wingers in the PD who are closely tied to the left-wing trade union CGIL. A Bersani-Monti deal for a senatorial majority is not impossible, in fact it is probably even likely. But Vendola is opposed to any deal with Monti and could find it hard to go along with such a deal, which would likely mean that Monti would retain a certain degree of influence over economic policy and would pressure Bersani’s government into supporting further economic liberalization and austerity measures. Then again, with the PD coming out as the hegemonic force on the centre-left, he could afford – though it could prove costly later – to break off the alliance with the SEL altogether and team up with Monti.
Italy’s election on Sunday and Monday could prove of capital importance to the future of the country and its political system. Besides, Italian politics are always fun to follow.
A general election will be held in Israel on January 22, 2013. The Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature, has 120 seats.
The Knesset is elected by party-list proportional representation (d’Hondt) with the entire country serving as a single constituency. The threshold for parties to win seats is very low in Israel, currently standing at 2%. This 2% threshold is, in fact, higher than past thresholds – it was previously 1% and then 1.5%. The very low threshold has had several effects on Israeli politics. From a partisan standpoint, the low threshold makes it fairly easy for small parties to win at least one seat and gain some degree of influence in the legislature. This has favoured the growth and survival of small parties, the creation of new parties by dissidents from other parties and the birth of new small parties every election. The low threshold has also made governing difficult, because no party has ever won the 61 seats required to win an absolute majority (the closest that a party came was 56 seats, but this was back in 1969). In the past two elections, the party which won a plurality of seats won only 22% of the popular vote. As a result, the larger parties must necessarily form coalition governments with the smaller parties, many of which cater to sectional religious or ideological interests and have a tendency to abandon their senior coalition partners very quickly. This has resulted in short-lived governments, very heterogeneous coalition governments which often includes parties with differing interests or political bases and has made the life of Israeli Prime Ministers quite difficult.
Electoral and political reform has been a long-standing issue in Israel. One attempt was to directly elect the Prime Minister, alongside legislative elections (in 1996 and 1999). It had been hoped that by personalizing the system and directly electing the Prime Minister (all three times in two-way races), the winning candidate could lead his party to a strong showing. Voters did not behave that way, and in all three cases the Prime Minister-elect needed to form broad coalitions with smaller parties. The system was scrapped after the 2001 prime ministerial election and Israel returned to the old system. Others have proposed to modify the electoral system by raising the threshold, using the German MMP system or switching to FPTP in single-member constituencies. However, small parties, which are necessary for every governing coalition, have resisted any such changes which would likely hurt them or force them to merge with larger parties.
The Israeli ‘party system’ is very unstable, and marked by the proliferation of many small parties all across the spectrum. The parties are a reflection of the electoral system which has created an extreme case of multi-party system, but the many parties are also a reflection of Israel’s religious, ideological and ethnic diversity: parties representing the various strands of Zionism, parties representing the religious diversity within Judaism, parties representing the different Jewish immigrant or ethnic groups and the three parties for the Arab Israeli minority. Ideologically, Israel often speaks of the ‘right’, the ‘centre’ and the ‘left’ – with these ideological labels referring primarily to various positions in the Arab-Israeli conflict (hawks vs. doves) rather than differences over economic policy. The ‘right’ includes both a mainstream right, a religious right and a far-right (the religious right is often considered the far-right). The ‘centre’ is divided and its history has seen many parties come and go, many disappearing after one or two elections before being replaced by a new centrist party which often, invariably, suffers the same fate.
The party standings in the Knesset at the moment of dissolution were as follows:
Likud 27 seats
Kadima 21 seats
Yisrael Beiteinu 15 seats
Shas 11 seats
Labour (HaAvoda) 8 seats
Hatnuah 7 seats
Independence 5 seats
United Torah Judaism 5 seats
Hadash 4 seats
United Arab List-Ta’al 3 seats
Jewish Home 3 seats
New Movement-Meretz 3 seats
Balad 3 seats
National Union 2 seats
Otzma LeYisrael 2 seats
Am Shalem 2 seats
Arab Democratic Party 1 seat
Likud (The Consolidation) is the major right-wing party in Israel, and currently the largest governing party. The Israeli right and Likud were born from Revisionist Zionism, a conservative and nationalist variant of Zionism developed by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. It was distinguished from Ben Gurion’s Labour Zionism both for its conservative anti-socialist character but also its territorial maximalism/irredentism, claiming the entire British Mandate of Palestine, including modern-day Jordan, for an independent Jewish state. Jabotinsky and his successor, Menachem Begin (the leader of the Irgun militia and later the Herut party) refused to sacrifice part of the historical land of Israel to establish an Arab state. However, after the creation of the modern-day state of Israel, the Herut party, under Begin’s leadership, grew more moderate in their advocacy of Jewish sovereignty on both banks of the Jordan river. By the 1970s, irredentist sentiments had largely subsided and the legitimacy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was no longer questioned by the right. However, the Israeli right and Likud have always taken a harder stance (hawkish) on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the issue of a Palestinian state and negotiations with the Arabs and Palestinians.
Herut and its successors (the Gahal alliance with the liberals, then Likud in 1977) were out of power during the first 28 years of Israel’s existence. Begin’s Likud finally came to power in 1977, defeating the centre-left Alignment (Labour) which had been in power since the creation of the Israeli state in 1949. Menachem Begin’s historic victory in the 1977 election marked a major political realignment in Israel and the defeat of the Ashkenazi elite. The founder of Israel and the leaders of then-dominant Labour Zionism were all Ashkenazi, Jews of European (including eastern European) descent. Ashkenazi Jews became the political and economic elite of the new Israeli state, while Sephardic (Jews of Iberian descent) and Mizrahi (Jews from the Muslim Middle East and North Africa) Jews were largely poor, living in working-class neighborhoods of major cities or in peripheral cities. The Ashkenazi elite looked down on the poorer Sephardic and Mizrahi (nowadays, the two terms are interchangeable) communities. The growth of both of these communities in the first decades of Israel’s existence proved politically beneficial to Likud, whose more religious, conservative and hawkish/nationalist outlook appealed to these more religious (often called ‘traditionalist’ Jews in modern Israeli parlance) communities. To this day, the Likud performs best with lower-income and traditionalist Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, in lower-income urban or peripheral areas. It is also strong in the Negev development towns, and polls well in some of the larger West Bank settlements.
Despite the Likud’s historic hawkish positions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, their leaders have often proven more moderate and pragmatic than their parties. Menachem Begin negotiated the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to cede territory to the Palestinian Authority in 1998 with the Wye River Memorandum while Ariel Sharon, in 2006, evacuated all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip (the unilateral disengagement plan). The unilateral disengagement led to a major split in the Likud, which culminated in Sharon walking out to form the centrist Kadima. At the outset, Kadima’s creation and its victory in 2006 left Likud as a decimated right-wing rump, which polled very badly in 2006. However, after three years as the largest opposition party, Likud, led by Netanyahu, roared back in 2009.
The party’s current leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, is considered a moderate within his own party. He has often faced opposition from the party’s ‘hard-right’ which is strongly opposed to a two-state solution. In contrast, Netanyahu tepidly endorsed the two-state solution (under certain conditions) in 2009, though he has generally given the image, especially abroad, that he is sliding his feet on negotiations. At the same time, under his government, Israeli settlements in the West Bank have continued to expand. Governing has forced him to be more pragmatic and moderate than the Likud hardliners, but Netanyahu gives the impression that he has no great appetite for rapid negotiations. Netanyahu needs to be careful of not alienating his own party, which is generally to his right on the Palestinian issue.
The ‘hard right’ of the party performed very well in the recent Likud primaries, something which will shift the party further to the right, much to the chagrin of the ‘peaceniks’. Moshe Feiglin, who had won 23% in the January 2012 Likud leadership election as Netanyahu’s only opponent, did very well in the primaries and will finally enter the Knesset, placing 22nd on the list. Feiglin, a close ally of the hard-right settlers’ lobby, is a controversial politician who wants to encourage the Palestinians to emigrate, with financial incentives to push them in that direction. Other new Likud hawks are far more assertive against Israel’s traditional allies in Europe and in Washington, warning that Israel should ignore the West’s demands for a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. On the other hand, old timers and moderates – incumbent cabinet ministers Benny Begin (the son of the former Prime Minister) or the centrist Dan Meridor did not find enough support in the primaries to win a place on the party list.
The Likud is running a common list with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home). Lieberman, a Moldovan immigrant, created YB in 1999. By and large, the party’s support lies predominantly with Jewish immigrants who came from Russia and the former Soviet Union. It polls best in towns with large Russian Jewish immigrant populations: Ashdod but also Karmiel or Arad.
The party’s ideology reflects its largely Russian electorate: hawkish but secular. The party is characterized by the foreign media as far-right, hardline or ultra-nationalist. Lieberman has often taken hardline stances on Arab-Israeli relations and negotiations with the Palestinian, but he supports a two-state solution – with a major twist, which is the subject of much controversy. The Lieberman plan suggests a transfer of populated territories between the Jewish state and an Arab-Palestinian state which would see Israeli settlements in the West Bank transferred to the Jewish state and Arab regions within Israel transferred to a Palestinian state. Arab Israelis and many on the left have contended that this plan is racist, others have questioned the legality of such a plan (as it would likely involve the revocation of citizenship for many Arab Israelis). On domestic issues, YB is a secular party. It strongly supports civil marriages alongside religious marriages, and wants to end the ultra-orthodox’s exemption from military service (an issue which came up again in the past year). It is not, however, anti-clerical: it opposes the separation of religion and state.
Avigdor Lieberman is a love-or-hate figure. Many of his opponents have claimed that he is a virulent racist and a far-right nationalist demagogue. His ties with certain local and foreign entrepreneurs are the subject of controversy. The police has been investigating allegations that he received millions from an entrepreneur while serving in the Knesset, which is illegal in Israel. In December 2012, Lieberman was indicted for breach of trust and fraud (but not witness tampering or money laundering). He resigned as foreign minister and deputy Prime Minister the following day. Even if corruption only very rarely kills Israeli politicians, these latest corruption charges against him likely signal that his star power and political influence may be starting to wane, even with his Russian base.
The Israeli right’s traditional stance on negotiations with the Palestinians is ‘peace for peace’, indicating that it sets peace and the end of terrorism as a necessary precondition for any negotiation and the creation of a Palestinian state. In a 2009 speech, Netanyahu seemed to endorse the two-state solution, over the opposition of some Likud hawks. However, at the same time, the Likud strongly opposes evacuating West Bank settlements or a partition of Jerusalem (handing East Jerusalem over to the Arabs). The party has always tried to appeal to the settlers and placate them, while still maintaining an arm’s-length from them. This may prove harder as the Likud hawks and hard right has gained even more prominence within the party. Both Likud and YB support forceful military responses to any terrorist attacks against Israel. In November 2012, the IDF responded to Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Hamas’ stronghold in Gaza with air strikes against Hamas militants and leaders.
On economic issues, both Likud and YB support right-wing economic policies including privatization or lower taxes, though some within the Likud have tended to favour more interventionist policies. Netanyahu served as finance minister under Sharon between 2003 and 2005 and gained a reputation as one of the most free market liberal finance minister, backing free trade, privatization and criticizing the power of Israel’s largest trade union (Histadrut).
Israel is a religiously diverse society. A significant and rapidly growing Jewish demographic are Haredi Jews, the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism. Haredi Jews should segregate from non-Jewish culture, focus on Torah study and participate in modern society as little as possible. They are expected to abide to Jewish religious laws very closely, and enforce a strict gender segregation. Historically, the Haredi have been strongly opposed to Zionism, in large part because they felt that a Jewish state would only be established through divine intervention by the Messiah and that human attempts to establish the Jewish state equated to open rebellion. The Haredi also strongly disliked the secular and socialist Zionist elites which founded Israel. If certain Haredim sects still strongly oppose Zionism and even refuse to recognize Israel, most Haredim in Israel have accepted the Jewish state as a fait accompli and made their peace with the state in return for special advantages. They have focused their political efforts on certain religious issues such as religious education, military service exemption and strengthening the Jewish religious identity of the state. Sephardic Haredim is more supportive of Zionism and Israel than Ashkenazi Haredim are. There are two Haredim parties in Israel, forming the religious right. Both support the establishment of a theocratic state governed by Jewish religious laws.
The Shas were founded in 1984 to represent the Sephardic and Mizrahi Haredim communities who felt discriminated against or marginalized by the Ashkenazi Jewish elite. The Shas’ spiritual leader is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and its chairman is Eli Yishai. In this election, however, the Shas have no actual leader because Aryeh Deri, a former leader and cabinet minister who had been found guilty of bribery in 2000, wanted to return to politics and the Shas leadership needed to prevent him from creating his own party. The Shas are a small party, but they have a solid electoral clientele which has allowed them to be the eternal kingmaker in Israeli politics since the 1980s. The party has participated in every coalition government besides Sharon-Olmert’s coalition between 2003 and 2006.
Traditionally, the party did not place a heavy emphasis on the Palestinian question and maintained a pragmatic, ambiguous and moderate stance on the issue, preferring to focus on religious questions. In recent years, however, they have shifted heavily towards the right and adopted far more nationalist stances on the Palestinian question. In 2010, the Shas joined the World Zionist Organization, signaling their evolution from a religiously-focused pragmatic Haredi party to a Zionist-Haredi party. It now strongly opposes dismantling settlements in the West Bank. On religious issues, the Shas define Israel as a Jewish state which should abide by Jewish religious laws. While it has decried extremist attacks against women, it supports maintaining the gender segregation on public transit in predominantly Haredim areas. On economic issues, the Shas strongly oppose free market capitalism and tend to emphasize social justice, alleviating poverty, a strong social safety net and ‘social solidarity’.
The Shas are the Sephardic and Mizrahi Haredim party, but most of their votes, in reality, come from Modern Orthodox or traditionalist (non-Haredim) Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews.
The smaller United Torah Judaism (UTJ), founded in 1992, is an alliance of two ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi parties: Degel HaTorah and Agudat Israel. The Degel HaTorah (Banner of the Torah) represents the “Lithuanian” non-Hasidic Haredim Ashkenazi Jews, it was founded in 1988 from a split in Agudat Israel. Agudat Israel (Union of Israel) is the Hasidic (Hasidism is a variant of Haredi Judaism) party, which is also heavily Ashkenazi. The two parties often disagree with one another, largely over religious issues; this does not seem to matter as much as it would in other parties because the UTJ structure has little power, with MKs having individual autonomy and most important votes being decided by rabbis. The two parties did split in 2004 but reunited in 2005. While the Shas have shifted to the right on Arab-Israeli/Palestinian issues, UTJ has maintained a position of neutrality (status-quo) on the issue and it has retained its exclusive focus on religious issues. Like the Shas, UTJ defines Israel as a Jewish state, believes that religious law should take supremacy over democratic values, supports gender segregation in public transit, opposes opening businesses on the Sabbath and opposes any changes to the ultra-orthodox exemption from military service.
UTJ and Shas, evidently, are strongest in cities and towns with large Haredim populations. This is the case in Jerusalem, where UTJ topped the poll in 2006 and where they won 19% in 2009 (and the Shas won 15%). UTJ is very strong in Bnei Brak, a heavily Haredim town near Tel Aviv.
There is a new religious party in this election, Am Shalem, a Shas splinter led by ex-Shas MK Haim Amsalem. The party appears slightly less ultra-orthodox, supporting “religious-secular unity”. It says that it supports the ’separation of religion from politics’ and calls on all citizens to share the ‘national burden’ of serving in the IDF. It has maintained ambiguous silence on the Palestinian question, though Amsalem claimed that he was in the ‘middle’ on those issues but stressed that his emphasis was on religious and domestic issues. It has focused most of its attacks on the Shas, notably accusing it of corruption.
The Shas and UTJ are both identified as the ‘religious right’ parties in Israel. Given their very conservative positions on religious issues, they have often been lumped into the larger ‘far-right’ category by observers. However, given that Israel’s left-right spectrum is largely defined by the Palestinian question rather than economic or moral/religious issues, it might not be very accurate to consider these two parties, especially UTJ, as far-right. The Israeli far-right is formed by The Jewish Home and the National Union parties, which are running a common list in these elections, unlike in 2009.
The Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi) was founded in 2008 and it is the successor of the National Religious Party (NRP, Mafdal). The NRP was founded in 1956 and represented the Religious Zionist/National Religious movement, a conservative strand of Judaism (often similar in their faith to some orthodox Jews) which strongly supported Zionism. The movement’s founder, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, attempted to reconcile Zionism (a largely secular and socialist ideology) with religion. Kook argued that Zionism was also a tool of God to promote His divine scheme and to initiate the return of the Jews to the Promised Land. God wanted the Jews to return to Israel and establish a sovereign Jewish state where they could follow Jewish religious teachings. The NRP was born as a fairly moderate party interested in its religious issues, and its pragmatism on other issues allowed it to participate in every government between its foundation and 1992 (and between 1998 and 2005). However, after 1967, the NRP had a very marked shift to the right coinciding with a “messianic revival” spawned by Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. The NRP and Religious Zionism became very closely linked to the settlement movement in the West Bank, and the party was at times described as the political arm of the settlers’ movement.
The National Union, founded in 1999, is an alliance of four far-right parties: Moledet (supports a voluntary population transfer to establish Jordan as the Palestinian state, Israeli annexation of the territories), Hatikva (secular), Eretz Yisrael Shelanu (linked to the Kahanist movement) and Tkuma. The NU has always been a shaky political coalition, with parties coming and going (Lieberman’s YB was originally part of the NU). They have been held together by their vociferous opposition to any independent Palestinian state within the “Land of Israel” (Israel and the Palestinian territories), and their very strong support and links to the West Bank (and, formerly, Gaza) settlements. In 2008, the NU and NRP united to merge into a single party, Jewish Home. However, the new party was quickly dominated by the NRP, with most of the top spots on the party’s list going to the NRP. Moledet and Hatikva revived the NU, and were later joined by Eretz Yisrael Shelanu and MK Uri Ariel (ex-Tkuma). The NU, which is very closely tied with the settlements, won many settlements in the West Bank (which it calls Judea and Samaria) in 2009.
Naftali Bennett, the son of American Jewish immigrants and a former high-tech tycoon and entrepreneur, won the Jewish Home leadership primaries in November 2012 with 67% of the vote. Bennett served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff between 2006 and 2008, and between 2010 and 2012 he was the director general of the Yesha Council, an organization of municipal councils of West Bank settlements. In 2011, he founded, alongside Ayelet Shaked, the ‘My Israel’ organization, a right-wing organization aimed at fighting “left-wing elites” or “anti-Zionist” sentiment.
The JH is far less ambiguous than Netanyahu on the issue of Arab-Israeli relations or Palestinian negotiations. It naturally strongly opposes any evacuation or dismantlement of West Bank settlements or a partition of Jerusalem. But it is also unequivocally opposed to a Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Bennett supports the direct Israeli annexation of Area C of the West Bank (the zone under Israeli control according to Oslo-II, where most settlements are located). Palestinians could retain municipal autonomy under tight Israeli tutelage within their islands of control. This is more or less a “one-state solution”, but unlike one-staters on the left, the far-right’s one-state vision seeks to uphold Jewish hegemony and protect Israel as a Jewish state. According to the party, “Jordan, which accounts for 75% of the Palestinian population, is the Palestinian state”.
On religious issues, the Jewish Home (and the NRP before it) is generally conservative, though unlike the ultra-orthodox parties it does not support a theocratic state, instead supporting a “Jewish and democratic” state. The party’s platform says that it will “fight for the Jewish identity of the state on every level” and opposes any attempts to “damage religious legislation”. However, the party wants to name religious Zionist rabbis to the chief rabbinate, to take control of that institution from the ultra-orthodox. Bennett has appealed to religious communities, but Ayelet Shaked, the 36-year old co-founder of My Israel, is a secular young woman (a big deal in a party such as the JH/NRP) whose comments hinting in favour of civil marriage sparked a row with the ultra-orthodox parties (particularly Shas), which have violently denounced the party for its alleged secularism. The party also wants to simplify the conversion process. On economic issues, the JH is right-wing.
Otzma LeYisrael (Strong Israel) is a new far-right party, even further to the right than the JH. It was founded by two NU MKs, Aryeh Eldad (Hatikva) and Michael Ben-Ari (Eretz Yisrael Shelanu). Ben-Ari still openly defines himself as a Kahanist, the extremist movement which has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries. Like the JH, it strongly opposes any Palestinian state or settlement freeze or evacuation. The party has been accused of race-baiting against the Arab Israeli minorities. One of its billboard ads was banned by the Central Elections Committee on the ground thats it was racist, in a TV ad the party’s two leaders spoke in Arabic and warned that “without duties there are no rights”.
In the centre, Kadima (Forward) was founded by Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after his unilateral disengagement plan had created a major crisis within the Likud. Sharon had been something of a maverick within the Likud, because of his weak ties to the Revisionist Zionist ideology (he was originally a member of the left-wing Mapai) and his more moderate positions within the party. The party was launched by Sharon in November 2005, and was immediately joined by a good number of Sharon supporters within the Likud (Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert) but also Shimon Peres, a former Labour Prime Minister. However, Sharon suffered a stroke in December 2005 and another massive stroke in January 2006 which left him debilitated. It was Ehud Olmert who led the party to victory in the 2006 elections and became Prime Minister, the first non-Labour or non-Likud member to hold that office. Olmert was unpopular as Prime Minister, because of constant corruption allegations (he was finally indicted in 2009 and convicted of ‘breach of trust’ in 2012) and the summer 2006 war in southern Lebanon, described as disastrous in Israel. The right also opposed his peace talks with the Palestinians. He stepped down as leader in July 2008. Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, narrowly won the leadership battle against Shaul Mofaz, the defense minister and former IDF chief of staff. Livni’s Kadima actually won one more seat than the Likud in the 2009 elections, but Likud formed government because of its better relations with right-wing parties. Her mediocre performance as opposition leader led to a leadership challenge in March 2012, in which Shaul Mofaz handily defeated her.
Shaul Mofaz had pledged during the leadership campaign that he would not join a government headed by Netanyahu. In May 2012, as the country was set for new elections in September 2012, Kadima and Mofaz agreed to join the government and the elections were cancelled. The issue which precipitated Kadima’s surprise decision to join the coalition was the Tal Law (the law which allows Haredi to indefinitely defer their national service), Kadima (and YB) had attempted to amend the law. In July, however, Mofaz quit the coalition, citing the failure of the parties to reach a compromise on the Tal issue. Mofaz’s decision to join the government after being adamant a few months before that he would not seriously hurt his image and popularity. He has also been painted as something of a lightweight.
Sharon supported the old ‘Road Map for peace’ and Kadima supports a two-state solution, even if it supports maintaining large legal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and supports Israeli control over Jerusalem. The Israeli ‘centre’ has usually been more supportive than the right of an independent Palestinian state and the two-state solution, however, it has always taken a tough stance against Palestinian terrorism and insists that dismantling Palestinian militant/terrorist groups should be the first steps in negotiations towards a two-state solution. The party’s platform says it will ensure the safety of Israelis against terrorist organizations.
On domestic issues, Kadima has been concerned by the growing divide between the ultra-orthodox (Haredi) sector and other Israelis, and it has sought to bridge this gap. It is secular on religious questions, notably opposing the current military service exemption for ultra-orthodox Jews or supporting civil marriage. It has described its vision of Israel as being a “Jewish and democratic state”. On economic issues, the party is centrist: it supports the market economy but also wants to increase social security benefits, fix the public housing problem and raise taxes on the highest earners.
Hatnuah (The Movement) was created in late November 2012 by Tzipi Livni, the former Kadima leader defeated by Shaul Mofaz in the party’s March 2012 leadership election. 7 Kadima MKs, not including Livni who had resigned from the Knesset, joined the party. It was later joined by two Labour leaders: Amram Mitzna (2002-2003) and Amir Peretz (2005-2007), both of whom are known as ‘doves’ on the Palestinian question.
The party has placed a large emphasis on the Palestinian question in this election, Livni has stated that the existence of a “Jewish, democratic state” is threatened by the lack of progress on peace agreements with Palestinians and the Arab world. She has criticized Netanyahu’s record on the issue, attracting attention to his government’s inability to defeat Hamas and its international PR defeat in 2012 when Palestine was recognized by the UN as a non-member observer state. Hatnuah strongly supports a two-state solution and it is open to freezing construction of new West Bank settlements. Livni was one of the few non-Arab Israeli politicians who strongly opposed the government’s citizenship-loyalty law (requiring non-citizens to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state), passed in 2010. On religious matters, it is strongly secular.
To add to the pathological division of the centre, there is a new centrist party in 2013: Yesh Atid (There is a Future). Yesh Atid was founded in January 2012 by Yair Lapid, a popular journalist and the son of Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, the former leader of the extinct anti-clerical liberal Shinui party. Built on the ruins of the once-mighty Shinui, Yesh Atid has placed its emphasis on secularism (civil marriage, extending the draft to all Israelis, gender equality) and domestic priorities (economic growth, combating red tape, reducing cost of living and housing costs) rather than the Palestinian question. It has also adopted an anti-corruption agenda, including a smaller cabinet (18 members), protecting judicial powers and independence and protecting the rule of law.
The party has not placed much emphasis on the Palestinian question during the campaign. While Yesh Atid supports a two-state solution, it is strongly opposed evacuating settlements in exchange for peace and it has pledged to meet Palestinian militancy with a forceful military response. Recently, Lapid said that he did not think that Arabs wanted peace and that he wanted to “be rid of them” and “put a tall fence between us and them”, in order to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel.
The centrist parties have been stronger with secular and more middle-class Ashkenazi Jews, in central Israel. Kadima won 34% in Tel Aviv in 2009 against only 19% for Likud, performing well in affluent and secular north Tel Aviv.
The traditional party of the left in Israel is the Labour Party (HaAvoda). The current party was founded in 1968, but seen as the latest incarnation of the Labour Zionist movement, its power and influence predates the establishment of the state of Israel. At the outset, the Zionist movement was largely dominated by a secular and socialist Ashkenazi elite which placed great emphasis on Jews moving to Israel to become farmers, workers, and soldiers. They established cooperative agricultural communities, the kibbutzim. The early leaders of Israel, first and foremost David Ben-Gurion, all came from this Labour Zionist tradition. Some more left-wing and radical members of the movement were Marxist, but Ben-Gurion – representative of the ‘right-wing’ of the movement – was a non-Marxist socialist. Labour and its predecessors (most importantly the Mapai) were the dominant political party in the new Israeli state between 1949 and 1977, when Begin’s Likud defeated the Alignment (the coalition in which Labour was the largest bloc).
The party lost its dominant position in Israeli politics after its defeat in 1977 election, even though it returned to power in 1984 (a grand coalition with Likud), in 1992 under Yitzhak Rabin (until his assassination in 1995) and Shimon Peres and again between 1999 and 2001 with Ehud Barak. Barak won the 1999 prime ministerial election and formed a large coalition, including religious parties, which pushed a dovish agenda and supported peace talks with the Palestinians. However, the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit and the start of the Second Intifada in 2001 led Barak to call special prime ministerial elections in 2001, in which he was badly defeated by Likud’s Ariel Sharon. It remained in government because the divided Knesset forced Sharon to form a grand coalition. However, in the 2003 elections, Labor was routed, winning only 19 seats. It briefly joined Sharon’s coalition in 2005, to bolster support for his disengagement plan.
In 2005, Amir Peretz, a trade union leader identified with the dovish left-wing of the party became the party’s leader. Under Peretz’s leadership, which sought to move the party to the left and reemphasize its traditional socialist policies, the party had a brief upturn, winning 19 seats in the 2006 election. However, when Peretz and his party joined Olmert’s government, the party lost popularity. Peretz became defense minister and his handling of the Lebanon conflict in 2006 was criticized. On his left, his decision to take the defense portfolio rather than the finance portfolio (where he could have pushed for social policies) was criticized. In 2007, he placed third in a leadership election won by Ehud Barak, who had become more hawkish. The party was decimated again in 2009, winning fourth place and a mere 13 seats. Barak pushed Labor to remain in government under Netanyahu and Barak still claimed the defense portfolio. In 2011, internal opposition to Barak’s leadership led to Barak leaving the party with 4 other MKs to form the ‘Independence’ party, a ‘centrist and Zionist’ party. Independence (and Barak) is not running in this election.
Shelly Yachimovich, a former journalist, became leader of the party in 2011. Described as a staunch social democrat, she is on the left of the party and has placed emphasis on domestic policies. There were large ‘social justice’ protests in Israel in 2011 and 2012, a largely middle-class and urban movement which targeted the high cost of living (particularly housing), high prices, low wages and the deterioration of public services. Yachimovich moved the party in the direction of the protest movement, criticizing the government’s economic policies, accusing them of hurting the middle class.
Historically a more hawkish party, Labour has become a much more dovish party in the past decades. Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin actively pushed for a peace deal with the Palestinians, signing the Oslo Accords. While he was Prime Minister, Ehud Barak also unsuccessfully tried to revive the moribund peace process. It supports the two-state solution, a peace deal which it claims will ensure the safety of Israeli citizens. It supports Israeli sovereignty over large settlement blocs in the West Bank, but it would transfer settlements which are not part of large blocs to Palestine. The Israeli left has traditionally backed the ‘land for peace’ vision of negotiations. It supports the targeted killings of Palestinian terrorist leaders.
The Labour Zionist tradition is strongly secular. The Labour Party has retained this character, though it wishes to maintain (albeit limit) the current ultra-orthodox exemption from the draft and defines Israel as a Jewish state.
Over its history, the Labour Party played a large role in the establishment of a modern welfare state in Israel. However, the party nevertheless slowly drifted to the right in its economic policies in the 1980s, a shift which contributed to the party’s decline and current problems. Under Amir Peretz and, seemingly, now with Yachimovich, the party has sought to reclaim lost ground on the left by adopting more left-wing economic policies. It supports “renewing” the social welfare model, strengthening the public service, halting the privatization process and increasing taxes on high earners. It claims that reducing inequalities is its priority.
The founders of the Labour Zionist movement and the Labour Party were overwhelmingly Ashkenazi, and these Jews of European (including eastern European) origin formed the political and economic elite in Israel after 1949. The party never placed much effort in reaching out to lower-income and more religious immigrant groups (Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, later Russian Jews), in fact the Ashkenazi elite often discriminated against these new Jewish immigrant communities, creating a feeling of marginalization and exclusion against which the party has always struggled. Its weak support with these right-leaning demographics are a major problem, which led to its 1977 defeat and its subsequent decline. The party has not really been able to shake off its association with the Ashkenazi middle-classes, and its urban support remains strongest in middle-class (often Ashkenazi) areas, notably northern Tel Aviv. The Labour Party is also dominant in most non-religious kibbutzim, they won 31% in the kibbutzim in 2009, though this was a low figure in part because of left-wing tactical voting for Kadima (they won 31% on the kibbutz). In past years, the party had very strong support with Arab Israelis, but in recent years, it has lost most of its Arab vote to the Arab parties.
Meretz (Energy), founded in 1992, is the most left-wing Jewish party in Israel. It was originally a coalition between three parties, Ratz, Mapam and Shinui. The Mapam, founded in 1948, represented the Marxist current within Labour Zionism and originally had pro-Soviet positions. It was a member of the Alignment coalition between 1965 and 1984. Ratz was founded in 1973 by an Alignment MK who opposed the occupation of the Palestinian territories and called for a peace settlement with the PLO. The party won 12 seats in the 1992 election, and joined Rabin’s Labour-led coalition. The party’s strength has since declined considerably, falling from 10 seats in 1999 to 5 seats in 2003 (following the Second Intifada) and only 3 seats in the 2009 election (hurt by strategic voting on the left for Kadima against Likud). The party’s electoral weakness in the twenty-first century has been attributed to low and declining Jewish interest for the left-wing peace settlement in the face of renewed Palestinian violence and a further polarization of the conflict.
The party, naturally, supports a two-state solution. It has based its peace plan on the Geneva Accord, under which the Palestinian state’s borders would be close to that of the 1967 line and which would have East Jerusalem as its capital. Meretz supports an end to the Israeli occupation and an evacuation of the West Bank settlements and returning the Golan Heights to Syria. It recognizes that terrorism which harms innocents is an obstacle to the peace process, but does not wish for the political agenda to be dictated by terrorists. Meretz is closely associated with the Israeli peace movement and human rights groups. Alongside Labour and the Shas, Meretz is one of the few Jewish Israeli parties which has made a serious attempt to reach out to Arab Israeli voters. In the past, Meretz had Arab MKs and it has Arab candidates on its list.
On religious issues, the party is strongly secular and it is the most socially liberal party in Israel. It is closely associated with LGBT rights (it supports gay marriage) and women’s rights, and wants to enact a basic law on freedom of religion which will guarantee “freedom of religion and freedom from religion”. It also emphasizes a liberal and secular public education system. The party is quite left-wing on economic issues, supporting state intervention in the economy to ensure a social safety net or raising capital gains tax.
Meretz performs well in secular, young and artsy areas (downtown Tel Aviv) but is also quite strong in some secular kibbutzim, where they won 18% overall in 2009.
There are four major “Arab parties” which represents the Arab Israeli minority in Israel. The Arab minority accounts for 20% of the country’s population. They form a majority of the population in the Northern Region of Israel, there is also a substantial Bedouin population in the Negev and an Arab minority in Jaffa (Tel Aviv). Most Arab citizens of Israel will self-identify as Palestinians, though Negev Bedouins are more susceptible to define themselves as Israeli. Most Arab citizens of Israel are Muslim, but there is a substantial Arab Christian and Druze minority (around 9% of the Arab population each). Most Druze will not self-identify as Palestinian, and many Druze politicians are members of ‘Jewish’ parties, including right-wing parties such as Likud or YB. Arab Israelis are a growing minority, their high birth rates poses, according to the Jewish rate, a major demographic threat because they could form a majority of the population as early as 2035. Current statistics do not confirm this “demographic threat”. Most Arab Israelis support Palestinian nationalism, but it is questionable if they would move to Palestine if an independent state is created.
The Arab minority is a hot topic in Israel. Many Arab Israelis feel marginalized, sidelined or discriminated against by the Jewish majority in Israel, a sentiment which has increased considerably since the Al-Aqsa Intifada at the turn of the century. There are large disparities in general living standard and education between Israeli Arabs and the non-Arab Israeli population. In addition, more and more Arab Israelis are withdrawing from participating in Israeli politics, turnout dropped from 75% in 1999 to only 53% in 2009 and it may be even lower this year. In the past, a substantial number of Arab voters backed Jewish parties. In prime ministerial elections in the 1990s and 2001, they overwhelmingly backed the Labour candidates (Peres in 1996, Barak in 1999 and 2001 – despite very low turnout in 2001); Labour has traditionally performed well with Arab voters, though it has lost most of this support. There are currently 17 Arab members in the Knesset, including 6 Druze. 11 of these 17 members represent Arab Israeli parties.
There have been attempts to ban the Arab parties from participating in Israeli elections, most recently in 2009 when the electoral commission disqualified some of them (on the grounds that they did not recognize the State of Israel), but the courts overturned this decision.
The United Arab List (Ra’am), founded in 1996 and led by Ibrahim Sarsur, is running in coalition with Ahmed Tibi’s Ta’al (Arab Renewal Movement), as it has since 2006. The UAL split recently, when Taleb el-Sana of the Arab Democratic Party left the coalition. The dominant force in the UAL is Sarsur’s southern (less radical) branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, a conservative Islamist organization. While the other Arab parties are secular, the UAL is a fairly religious party. The party’s rhetoric includes numerous references to the need to establish an Islamic Caliphate over (seemingly) the whole of Israel. The UAL does not support the separation of religion and politics, in contrast to the other Arab parties, especially Hadash and Balad. In the short term, the party’s immediate goal is to “preserve the Arab existence in the country” (their national and religious identity) and “to protect the holy places”.
The party’s core base lies with Bedouins in the Negev. According to Ha’aretz, the UAL won 80% of Bedouin vote in the 2009 election. It is also strong in poorer Arab cities and town, including the impoverished city of Kafr Qasim.
The UAL has been allied with Ahmed Tibi’s Ta’al party since 2006, and they are forming a common slate again. The party is more secular than the UAL. One of the few major ideological differences that I can spot with Hadash and Balad is that Tibi objects to the redefinition of Israel as a state “for all its citizens” (it is currently defined as a “Jewish and democratic state”, which Tibi argues is a contradiction and that both cannot coexist), he would redefine it as a state “for all its nationalities” to protect the collective rights of the Arab minority and prevent a uniformization of the state along individual lines.
Hadash (The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality or New) is actually a bi-confessional left-wing alliance which has some Jewish voters and has a Jewish MK (Dov Khenin), but because most its voters and members are Arabs, it is labelled – somewhat erroneously – as an ‘Arab party’. The largest faction within the party is Maki, the Israeli Communist Party. The current Communist Party was founded in 1965 as Rakah, led by the pro-Palestinian and pro-Moscow faction of the old Maki. The party has always been non-Zionist, keeping in line with Marxism’s opposition to nationalism. However, the party has shifted towards Palestinian-Arab nationalism, leading some left-wing critics to say that it had lost its left-wing social agenda in favour of Palestinian nationalism.
Hadash is strongest in the largest Arab cities and with Arabs in northern Israel (perhaps because the northern Islamic Movement boycotts elections, unlike the southern wing which forms the UAL). It won 54% in Umm al-Fahm, the largest Arab city; and 52% in Nazareth, another large Arab city in the north with a large Christian majority (Jesus’ birthplace being a communist stronghold is quite amusing). Most Arab Christians seem to vote for Hadash.
Balad (National Democratic Assembly), the smallest Arab party, is hard to pin down. It is similar to Hadash, and generally leans to the left; but it is an Arab nationalist party which at one point was close to the Ba’athist ideology and Syria. It also openly expressed support for Hezbollah. Some years ago, Balad tried its hand at a short-lived reincarnation as a liberal party, it has since returned to a pan-Arabist and anti-Zionist orientation.
One Balad MK, Haneen Zoabi (the first Arab woman MK) is quite controversial; a Likud MK attempted to disqualify her from running for reelection this year. She participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and has been a very loud critic of the Israeli state, branding most Jewish Israeli politicians as ‘fascists’.
All Arab parties support Palestinian independence and the two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, the complete evacuation of all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian control over East Jerusalem and returning the Golan Heights to Syria. Hadash is usually moderate in its advocacy of the Palestinian cause, while Balad often tends to be considerably more radical in its support for Palestinian nationalism. The UAL couches its support for the Palestinian cause in religious language.
All the parties seek full equality for Israel’s Arab minority, and disagree with the definition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Arab parties been particularly critical of the Israeli state and successive governments; they have often criticized the human rights abuses in Israeli military actions against Gaza. The Arab parties have often branded Israel a ‘racist’ state and vocally criticized policies and laws which they viewed as blatantly discriminatory against Arabs. Balad and Hadash wish to redefine Israel as a state “for all its citizens”, irrespective of ethnic or national identity, with Balad supporting cultural autonomy for Arab Israelis while Hadash wants to eliminate all forms of ethnic discrimination. In addition, all Arab parties strongly oppose extending the military draft to Arab Israelis. As it currently stands, the Israeli government does not actively seek to draft Arab Israelis (besides the Druze and some Bedouins) into the IDF, more or less exempting them. The debate over the Tal Law, however, led to some on the right raising the question of extending the draft to Arabs as well.
Campaign, Polls and Cabinets
Final polls ranges from January 17-18 [current seats at dissolution].
Likud Yisrael Beiteinu 32-37 seats 
Labour (HaAvoda) 15-17 seats 
Jewish Home-National Union 12-15 seats 
Shas 10-12 seats 
Yesh Atid 8-13 seats 
Hatnuah 5-8 seats 
Meretz 5-7 seats 
United Torah Judaism 5-6 seats 
Hadash 4-5 seats 
United Arab List-Ta’al 3-4 seats 
Balad 3-4 seats 
Kadima 2-3 seats 
Otzma LeYisrael 0 or 2 seats 
Am Shalem 0 or 1 seat 
More likely than not, Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to form government and win another term as Prime Minister of Israeli. Right-wing, far-right and religious parties will run away with the election on Tuesday January 22.
However, Netanyahu’s Likud-YB coalition is unlikely to receive a very strong mandate or win an overwhelming victory. In fact, while it will certainly win some 32 to 35 seats, this result will be quite underwhelming considering the combined strength of the Netanyahu-Lieberman bloc at dissolution (they held 42 seats). By allying with Lieberman, Netanyahu had hoped to secure his right flank, after the success of Likud hardliners in his party’s internal primary. By allying with Netanyahu, Lieberman aimed to eventually succeed Netanyahu as the leader of the Israeli right and Prime Minister. It seems like neither Netanyahu or Lieberman will be successful in their objectives. Lieberman was indicted for breach of trust and fraud, which led to his resignation as deputy PM and foreign minister the next day. Additionally, it appears as if Lieberman might have cooled on the idea of working with Likud and an actual merger of the two parties seems to be off the table for now.
Lieberman’s political star rose during the 2009 election, and he gained significant political clout within Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition after the 2009 election. Now, deep in a major corruption scandal, his immediate political outlook is quite bleak. The hardline right in Israel no longer has Lieberman as its leader and icon. This means that he was unable to shore up Netanyahu’s right flank.
Netanyahu had hoped to win a strong mandate by fudging the hawk-dove/left-right divide, he was happier to talk about the economy. He argues that his economic policies have meant that Israel is in far better state than other OECD economies in the current global economic crisis. Labour’s leader, Shelly Yachimovich, was also quite happy with such a strategy. As Labour leader, she has placed a big emphasis on economic and social issues, trying to attach her party to the goals of the 2011 social justice protests and attacking Netanyahu primarily over his economic policies. She cautioned doves within her party to be too vocal in their positions or to speak ill of West Bank settlers, which she sought to appeal to. Her focus on economics and social matters rather than the old hawk-dove battle alienated prominent doves within her party, most notably two of her predecessors: Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna, who opted to join Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah because Yachimovich had not talked enough about peace (while Livni, positioning herself to the left of Labour on the peace issue, made peace one of the cornerstones of her campaign).
The idea, ostensibly supported by both Netanyahu and Yachimovich, was that Labour and Yachimovich would join a moderated and more centrist second Netanyahu cabinet after the elections, with Yachimovich as his finance minister or perhaps foreign minister or defense minister.
This strategy backfired on Netanyahu, who failed to dominate the Likud primaries and got overwhelmed by a right-wing tidal wive. As noted above, several prominent hardliners – most notably Netanyahu’s right-wing rival Moshe Feiglin – won high spots on the Likud-YB list and spoke openly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in rallies. But this right-wing tidal wave was not only confined to his party. It saw the rapid emergence of a new hardline right-wing icon, Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home.
Bennett’s position on the Palestinian question is unequivocal. He opposes any Palestinian state and he will fight to make sure that there is never a Palestinian state. He wants to unilaterally annex 60% of the West Bank and place the remaining Palestinian towns under Israeli military security. He openly says that there will never a peace deal with the Arabs. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s position is far more ambiguous. In 2009, at Bar-Ilan University, he ostensibly endorsed the two-state solution though he has done nothing to follow through. The Bar-Ilan speech was viewed as a betrayal by many hardliners on the right, including many within his own party. Bennett’s clear and unequivocal positions on the Palestinian question is very popular with hardliners on the right, be they secular and cosmopolitan or religious Zionist (like his party in the past) settlers in the West Bank.
Naftali Bennett’s profile and biography is very appealing to many right-wing voters, who have grown even more wary of any negotiated settlement with the Palestinian and whose opposition to a Palestinian state has been reinforced in recent years (in part because the chaotic post-Arab Spring situation in Egypt or the civil war in Syria). His cosmopolitan lifestyle and culture and his past as a start-up software entrepreneur and successful businessman appeals to more secular right-wing Jews living outside the settlements. At the same time, Bennett is also quite religious, lives on a settlement in the West Bank and wears a small knitted kippa (like most religious Zionists). He can also appeal quite successfully to the religious Zionist sector, who make up a large portion of the West Bank settlers.
His strategy is very ambitious. In the past, the Israeli hard right was left divided because of its internal squabbles and the longstanding enmity between very religious and more secular Jews. Bennett’s strategy is to build a broad right-wing nationalist (hardline) alliance, which goes beyond the old religious/non-religious divide on the far-right. Bennett’s appeal to the Haredim might be limited, but the rising force in Israeli politics and society are the religious Zionists, who dominate settler politics and are ambitiously trying to strengthen their role and voice in Israeli politics. To appeal to the religious sentiments on the Israeli hard right, there are several religious figures (tied to religious Zionism) on his lists. Religious Zionists still make up a large majority of the party’s electorate. On the other hand, Bennett is a new kind of leader for the hard right, with an unusual youthful cosmopolitanism and business profile which could appeal to more secular but still very right-wing Jews, in the coastal plain or outside the settlements. His close ally, who is fifth on the list, Ayelet Shaked, reflects this desire to appeal to a secular demographic.
Bennett’s rise scares Netanyahu, the Likud and even the Shas. Netanyahu stepped up his attacks on Bennett, but they do not seem to have worked. The Likud-YB bloc lost many of its more nationalist and right-wing voters to Bennett. The Shas recently lashed out at Bennett over religious matters, they might feel that the power and influence of the Haredi bloc might be weakened following the election. The religious Zionists’ goal since the the late 1980s has been to ‘penetrate’ the political and business world, Bennett’s religious platform seeks to strengthen the place of the religious Zionist movement within the Jewish religious hierarchy in Israel.
Bennett’s party could win between 12 and 15, likely closer to 14-15. It would be a very strong result for the party, obviously. This reflects the strength of the right in Israeli politics. While Israel, between 1949 and 1967, was dominated by a secular and socialist Zionist elite which cared little about religious matters (but, for political reasons, conceded religious matters to religious authorities); today, the religious sectors of Jewish Israeli society are gaining prominence, power and influence. The religious Zionists have been at the forefront of this power shift, which began with Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967 and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Netanyahu will win the next election, but with a disappointing result. He will have to deal with a much stronger hardline right, which will exert significant pressure on him to lead a more right-wing agenda. The Likud-YB’s caucus after the election will have been pushed further to the right, with the entrance of new (or the reelection of older) ‘hardliners’ and right-wingers,including Moshe Feiglin. Just like the Tea Party movement forced the GOP leadership in the United States to shift to the right, the hardliners within Likud-YB (and Bennett’s troops in the JH-NU) will insist that Netanyahy acknowledges their power and presence within the Israeli right.
Cabinet formation is a long, difficult and tortuous process in Israel. Small parties try to extract concessions from the largest party and impose their conditions on them. The next cabinet will most likely have a distinctively right-wing flavour to it. The old idea that Netanyahu would seek to bolster his moderate credentials by forming a coalition with Labour and Shelly Yachimovich has fallen through. The radicalization of the campaign on the hawk/dove battle forced her to come out tough saying she’d either be Prime Minister or in opposition. Given that Labour will not finish first, she will be in opposition.
A Likud-YB-Haredi coalition (more or less the outgoing coalition) on its own will probably come about 10 seats short of the 61 seats needed for a (bare) majority. Yeir Lapid, the leader of the secular centre-right Yesh Atid, has said that he would be open to participating in a Netanyahu cabinet to ‘moderate’ it and limit the influence of the religious parties. He is not as militantly secular/anti-clerical as Shinui was, so there appears to be little issue for him to be in coalition with the Shas and UTJ. A Likud-YB-Haredi-Lapid coalition would probably come out with a tiny majority. Hatnuah has not closed the door on participating in government either, but it could be hard for Netanyahu backed by a very right-wing caucus to find enough common ground with the increasingly dovish Livni (who was very critical of Netanyahu during the campaign, if such things matter) to form a government.
Could Bennett’s JH-NU enter government? The Jewish Home is currently a small junior partner in the Netanyahu coalition, but the JH-NU will be much different after January 22. Naftali Bennett (and Ayelet Shaked) both worked under Netanyahu when the Likud was in the opposition to Olmert, but they both suddenly resigned – most likely after a spat with Netanyahu’s powerful but unpopular wife Sara (described by some as similar to Mary Todd Lincoln and Nancy Reagan). Bennett nevertheless hopes to gain a spot in the leadership, it seems. This long article (a must read) on him and the Israeli right ended with a comment from Bennett: ” ‘The best analogy is that Bibi is the bus driver with two hands on the wheel,” Bennett said. “I want to put a third hand on the wheel.’ ” Such a coalition would certainly be very right-wing, and exert considerable pressure on Netanyahu to move further to the right on the Palestinian issue, even at risk of clashing with the US.
Israel is a major geopolitical hotspot, and it will always remain one. As such, the 2013 elections in Israel are quite important and may hold high stakes. A further shift to the right in Israel could have repercussions both inside and outside Israel’s borders.
Israeli politics is a very hot topic, which many feel quite passionately about. There is much sensationalism, knee-jerk responses, and misrepresentations on both sides of this inflammatory topic; it is an issue where it is quite hard to strike a neutral tone which tries to depict the various opinions of the various actors, Jewish or Muslim, fairly and accurately. I hope that this article provided a neutral, fair and accurate description of Israel’s various parties and complex politics, as well as the stakes of the 2013 election.
General elections were held in Catalonia on November 25, 2012. There are 135 seats in the Parliament of Catalonia (Parlament de Catalunya/Parlamento de Cataluña), elected by d’Hondt closed list proportional representation in the region’s four provinces. There is a 3% threshold in each province to win seats.
The province of Barcelona elects 85 deputies while the provinces of Girona, Lleida and Tarragona elect 17, 15 and 18 deputies respectively. The province of Barcelona, where some 73% of the region’s population lives, is underrepresented to the benefit of the three, smaller, provinces who hold 41% of the seats in the Parliament but only 27% of the region’s population. The Catalan Parliament elects the President of the Generalitat, the government of the autonomous community.
The last regional elections took place in fall 2010 and they resulted in the victory of the Convergence and Union (CiU), a centre-right Catalan nationalist party led by Artur Mas, who became President of the Generalitat. Mas’ CiU had won 62 seats and a healthy plurality of seats, but they fell short of the 68 seats required for an absolute majority.
My Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election offers some background on Catalonia and its history, of particular relevance to the current situation.
Catalonia is Spain’s second most populous community and has long been the industrial motor of Spain, to this day it accounts for 18.6% of the Spanish GDP. Catalonia, which has a strong national identity, is often portrayed as the “civilized” counterpart to Euskadi: Catalan nationalism is expressed peacefully and politically, while Basque nationalism is expressed (in part) through terror and violence. Catalan nationalism is one of the most enduring and potent political issues in Spain and Catalonia is a key piece in the economic, political and social makeup of Spain. The population of Catalonia is 7,535,251 (INE 2011). The capital of Catalonia is Barcelona and the community is composed of the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona.
Catalonia has never been a kingdom or a powerful empire of its own, but its language alongside a long history of cultural splendor, political power and prominent role in what became Spain has been a key element in the construction of a Catalan national identity, a national identity which is shared by the vast majority of Catalans to this day. As the Franks pushed the Muslims back in the 8th and 9th centuries, a plethora of vassal counties emerged in present-day Catalonia, with the county of Barcelona becoming the leading force of these increasingly independent counties. In 987, the Count of Barcelona’s refusal to swear loyalty to Hugh Capet of France sealed the division of Catalonia from the Frankish realms. Under the reign of Ramon Berenguer I, Barcelona rose to a position of economic and political prominence in the region. In 1137, the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV with Petronilla of Aragon (well, technically, she was one year old. Royals were sickos) united the crowns of Barcelona with that of Aragon. While the future ‘counts’ were known as kings of Aragon, Catalonia was very much the driving force. Catalonia’s rising embryo of a future urban bourgeoisie became a very potent political force, organized in parliament (the Corts, a kind of Estates-General) and a governing body, the Generalitat. Catalonia’s economic opulence and cultural influence during this era (13-14th century) was a contributing factor in the early development of a sort of proto-national identity. However, the accession to the Aragonese throne of a Castilian branch in 1410 led to the slow decline of Catalan influence and political power and most of the region’s initial rights were surrendered to the growing power of Castile – especially after the dynastic union of 1469. In 1652, a Catalan revolt aided by France was crushed. In the War of Spanish Succession, the Catalans sided with Archduke Charles, the Habsburg claimant, over the eventual winner, Philip V of Bourbon. Catalonia chose the wrong side and was totally destroyed. In 1716, the institutions of Catalan self-government were abolished. In the next hundred years and more, Catalans showed extraordinary resilience despite losing their particularities, power, influence and wealth. During the nineteenth century, Catalonia experienced rapid industrialization based around the textile industry. Textile production started inland in mills powered by mountain rivers, and later expanded into a large, sprawling textile empire in and around Barcelona. Until the development of Basque industry in the late nineteenth century, Catalonia was the only part of Spain which had entered the new world order of industrialization and even after Basque industrialization it remained an industrial powerhouse in a feudal country where most lived lives of misery in unprofitable and nonviable agriculture. Is it a surprise that Catalans increasingly started perceiving Madrid and the rest of Spain as an uncivilized feudal backwater which seemed to be controlled by creaking old nobles in cahoots with the landed class which profited from the super-protected nonviable feudal agrarian Spanish economy?
Influenced by European Romanticism, Catalonia underwent a cultural rebirth in the late nineteenth century – the Renaixença. The Renaixença represented the creation by the Catalan intelligentsia of a Catalan national identity distinct from Spain, which they viewed with much frustration. The Renaixença placed a role in the birth of Catalan nationalism (sometimes called ‘Catalanism’) as a political movement. The main actors of Catalan nationalism at the turn of the century were Catalonia’s middle-class industrialists, the Catalan elites who aspired to expand their industrial empire to the rest of Spain. Their goal was to increase the power and prestige of Catalonia and Catalan industry within Spain, eventually taking the reins of power in Madrid from the hands of the landed gentry whose interests laid primarily in the feudal agrarian system. Regionalism was used as political tool to gain power and extract concessions from the dominant interests. For obvious reasons, they were certainly not separatists and in fact the Lliga Regionalista used to talk in terms of a “greater Spain”. This moderate, pragmatic stream of Catalan nationalism which seeks power and influence for Catalonia, not separation, and values compromise and dialogue with Madrid exists to this day in the form of the Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition. However, this moderate “we only care about your cash”-type of nationalism did not appeal to the more radical intellectuals, who would slowly go on to form a far more radical, sometimes separatist or sometimes federalist, republican stream of Catalan nationalism which exists to this day in the form of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). The ERC was the driving force of Catalan nationalism during the Republic and Civil War, but the moderate stream emerged victorious as soon as 1977 under what would become the CiU, the heir to the Lliga.
Catalonia accounts for 18.7% of Spain’s GDP, making it the second largest economy in Spain after the Madrid region. Historically, of course, industry was the motor of the Catalan economy and by consequence a motor for a lot of the Spanish economy. Under the inspiration and leadership of Catalonia’s industrious middle-class, the region developed a booming secondary sector based around the production and entire industry of textile. The Catalan textile world used to be concentrated up in the valleys, far inland; but in the 1800s it took its present base in and around Barcelona along the Mediterranean coast. It later diversified beyond textiles into automobiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs or shipbuilding. While industry used to account for up to 40%, it accounts for only 18% of Catalonia’s GDP today. Like most western economies, services (72%) now concentrate most employment. Catalonia is a major financial and banking centre and it is a prized tourist destination (specifically the coasts). Catalonia has long turned industry into wealth, and it has historically been a “shining beacon” of prosperity within a feudal Spain. The region’s GDP per capita of €27,053 places it in fourth place.
As much as Catalonia was a “shining beacon” of prosperity in Spain for a very long time, that shouldn’t be tailored to mean that Catalonia enjoyed wonderful social peace. It didn’t. Influenced by Barcelona’s history of federalism, Barcelona and Catalonia was an anarchist bastion for most of the first half of the twentieth century and Catalonia was often at the heart of labour disputes, notably between 1916 and 1923. Socialism never really gained a foothold in Catalonia until the transition, in fact (when it gained a stronghold).
But to many poorer Spaniards, Catalonia was a ”shining beacon” of prosperity and hope. Its industrial sector needed cheap labour, so it attracted a lot of internal migrants mostly from Andalusia and the poor regions of southern Spain. Immigration from southern Spain to Catalonia was particularly important under Franco’s regime, at the end of which one could talk of Barcelona as “Andalusia’s ninth province”. The Andalusian Party (PA) ran in the 1980 Catalan elections and actually won two seats (and 3% of the vote in Barcelona province). Today, there is little immigration into Catalonia from within Spain. Rather, immigration to Catalonia these days is mostly foreign. Besides South American and Romanian immigration, Catalonia has a very large Muslim North African (Moroccan) community. Many Moroccan and North African youths are attracted to Barcelona by the fabled FC Barcelona (and also economic reasons, of course). 16% of the Catalan population is foreign-born. Today, most Catalans are born in Catalonia itself (77% in a 2010 study). But when Catalans are asked where their parents were born, that same study showed that only a minority – 44-45% – said that their parents were born in Catalonia. Up to 27% said that their parents were born in Andalusia. These people have integrated in Catalan society and culture remarkably well, but it is still common to speak of their parents as “other Catalans” – Catalans, yes, but different. Most of the “other Catalans” came to work in the industrial suburbs of Barcelona and settled in the industrial ‘C’ which surrounds Barcelona.
Catalanism as an ideology whose basis is the recognition and promotion of Catalan national ideology is embraced by a vast majority of Catalan voters and all but two of the current parties in the Catalan Parliament (PP and C’s). The Catalan Socialists (PSC) by far and large embrace the Catalan national identity and support a federal vision of Spain which includes national recognition for Catalonia and Senate reform. It was the PSC-led government of Pasqual Maragall who spearheaded the ambitious 2006 reform of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy. The PSC, however, is unambiguously against Catalan independence. The governing CiU is in practice a pragmatic, moderate nationalist party whose goal is to give Catalonia full fiscal autonomy (like Euskadi) and self-determination within Spain, not independence. Of the parliamentary parties, only the ERC and Joan Laporta’s SI support Catalan independence from Spain. In contrast to Euskadi, the expression of Catalan nationalism has rarely taken a violent form. The terrorist organization Terra Lliure dissolved itself in the early 1990s and it never carried out acts of violence equivalent to ETA’s actions. That is why Catalan nationalism is always described as a “civilized” thing, whose expression is democratic and political. One of the reasons for this is that the issue of nationalism (though obviously not the issue of independence) is not as polarizing in Catalan society as it is in Basque society. ‘Catalanism’ has long been supported by a huge majority of Catalans, and there is a long history of national identification in Catalonia – unlike in Euskadi.
The official languages of Catalonia are Catalan and Spanish. Catalan is, like Spanish, an Ibero-Romance language. It is easy to pick up for a Spanish-speaker and quite similar to Spanish overall. Catalan is close to Occitan, which was spoken in southern France, and as such it appears as an intermediate language between Ibero-Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese) and Gallo-Romance languages (Occitan, French). Roughly 95% of Catalans understand Catalan and around 75% of them can speak it (a lower percentage can write it too). However, Catalan is the primary language of identification for only 32% of Catalans: 50% identify with Spanish, 7% with both Catalan and Spanish and 9% with another language. The use of Spanish, understandably, remains pervasive in media and business. However, the Catalan government is extremely stringent on linguistic policy. Catalan is defined as the “preferred” language of administration, public business, education and cultural activities. All city names are official only in their Catalan forms (for example, Gerona become Girona and Lerida became Lleida). Public servants must speak Catalan and it is the preferred language of business in government. All students must be proficient in both Catalan and Spanish in order to graduate, and Catalan is by far the top language of education in Catalan schools. The government also spends large sums of money on promoting Catalan culture in movies, television, radio or print media. There is some opposition to the very stringent pro-Catalan policies of the Generalitat: the PP and C’s both oppose the current state of language legislation and instead lobby for ‘bilingualism’ which means full equality between both languages, as well as equal education in both Spanish and Catalan. The former leader of the PP in Catalonia and incumbent MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras described the linguistic policies as some sort of ‘apartheid’. On the other hand, Catalan nationalists claim that tough promotion of Catalan in the public sphere is necessary to preserve the language and prevent Spanish from gaining the upper-hand in everyday life. Spanish is already preferred over Catalan in everyday life situations. Some of the most radical nationalists are opposed to bilingualism. Rather, they would want to see Catalan recognized as the sole official language with the use of Spanish being a “right of individual citizens”.
It is important to note that this system of bilingualism is not universal in Catalonia. The mountainous northwestern territory of the Val d’Aran speaks Aranese, an variant of Occitan. The Val d’Aran has its own directly-elected legislature (general council) and a special status of autonomy. Aranese is co-official there with Catalan and Spanish.
Catalans are ticket-splitters. In general, municipal and European elections they are loyal to the Socialists (PSC). The PSC has been the largest party in all general elections, and has been the largest party in all but one municipal and European election (2011 and 1994 respectively). In 2008, the PSC won 46.1% of the vote against 21.26% for the CiU, 16.65% for the PP, 7.95% for the ERC and 5% for the ICV. The PSC’s landslide – beating even its previous high in 1982 – played a major role in the reelection of the Zapatero government in Madrid. Catalans, also worried in large part of the effects of a new PP government (the PSC did similarly and abnormally well in 1996), rewarded the Socialists for their role in the reform of the Statute in 2006. The CiU’s utter weakness and pitiful state in general elections is a new phenomenon, however. In 2004, the 5.4% margin between the PSC and CiU turned into 18.9% margin in the PSC’s favour and increased to a record-high 24.8% margin in 2008. Between 1986 and 2004, however, the CiU had a high stable vote ranging between 29% and 32%, with the margin between them and the PSC being between 5% and 9%. The PSC also has the edge in municipal and European elections. Most importantly, the PSC has controlled Barcelona’s city hall between 1979 and 2011. During the 1990s, the Socialist-controlled Barcelona was a major counterweight to Jordi Pujol’s control of the Generalitat. Pasqual Maragall was mayor of the Catalan capital between 1982 and 1997.
In elections to the Catalan Parliament, however, voters are far more likely to support the CiU (and to a lesser extent the ERC) at the expense of non-nationalist parties like the PSC or PP. In 1980, despite a poor performance in the 1977 and 1979, Jordi Pujol’s newly-founded nationalist coalition CiU emerged as the strongest force to the PSC’s dismay with 27% and 43 seats against 33 seats for the PSC and 25 seats for the communist PSUC. Pujol, an intelligent, charismatic, competent and shrewd politician would go on to become the embodiment of Catalonia and Catalan nationalism. In 1984, the CiU won 46.8% and an absolute majority in the Parliament which it held on to in 1988 and 1992. By 1995, Pujol’s star had begun fading and he was reduced to a minority. In 1999, Maragall’s PSC won slightly more votes (37.9% vs. 37.7%) though Pujol won more seats. Pujol held on for a final term with the votes of the PP. In 2003, support for both the CiU (now led by Artur Mas) and the PSC fell but Maragall took power from the CiU with an historic tripartite coalition with the ERC and ICV. This coalition was reelected in 2006, though the CiU won more votes and seats. In 2010, the PSC collapsed to a record-low 18.4% and 28 seats, while Artur Mas’ CiU won 62 seats – almost an absolute majority.
The PSC’s base in Catalonia is Barcelona province, which concentrates 73% of the region’s population (though only 63% of seats in the Catalan Parliament). Barcelona has the heaviest concentration of so-called “other Catalans” – Catalans whose parents (oftentimes) were born outside Catalonia and came to work in the industrial hinterland of Barcelona. These voters, though they may feel Catalan, do not identify with Catalan nationalism. Besides, most of them being poor and working-class do not naturally identify either with a right-wing party like the CiU. Industrial suburbs of Barcelona or old working-class towns like L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Badalona, Terrassa, Sabadell, Santa Coloma, El Prat or Manresa are some of Catalonia’s largest cities and strongholds of the PSC (over 50% in good years). The CiU’s vote is concentrated in rural areas, where Catalan remains the dominant language, and in affluent towns (most of the Catalan middle-class is nationalist) like Sant Cugat. The CiU was the largest party in general elections between 1986 and 2004 in the provinces of Girona and Lleida. Perhaps a trend which should worry the PSC (or is it an ephemeral fad linked to the poor state of the Socialists?) is the rise of the PP and the far-right in its working-class strongholds. Most PP gains in 2010 came from these type of areas, where the economic crisis has prompted anti-immigration feelings (immigrants to Catalonia being largely North African) which are exploited by the PP but also the PxC, a far-right party based in the old textile town of Vic (where it is the second largest party on council behind the CiU). In 2011, the PP won Badalona, the region’s third-largest city and a PSC stronghold.
Catalan politics have evolved rapidly and dramatically since this profile was written last summer. Catalan nationalism, which for decades had been seen as the “civilized” and consensual peripheral nationalism (the so-called seny catalá) in contrast to the Basque Country’s acrimonious, polarizing and violent brand of nationalism. Today, the situation has been reversed. Even as Euskadi elected a nationalist regional government last month, the new Basque government seems to prefer consensus and accommodation rather than confrontation with Madrid over a nationalist agenda. On the other hand, the Catalan government has moved towards is actively pushing a nationalist – many would say downright separatist – agenda, in the process creating a polarizing and divisive national debate within Catalonia and Spain as a whole.
The backdrop to the new crisis between the Generalitat and la Moncloa is the economic crisis, which has played a huge role in the revitalization of Catalan nationalism. Spain’s central government has a big public debt and deficit, but many of the country’s 17 autonomous communities – Catalonia included – have also contracted large debts through years of reckless and profligate spending by careless governments. Their huge debts are coming back to haunt them, and nowhere is this truer than in Catalonia; Spain’s economic powerhouse and traditionally the wealthiest region in Spain.
The central government has pressured regional governments to dramatically reduce their debts and deficits, given that the debt contracted by Spain’s regional governments is one of the major factors weighing on the country’s economic and fiscal situation. The regions, notably Catalonia and Andalusia, have argued that they cannot cut their debt to the threshold imposed by Madrid.
Catalonia’s debt was 21% of the GDP in the first quarter of 2012, up from 14% in the first quarter of 2010; this the largest debt both in raw and percentage terms for any region in Spain (the Valencian Community’s debt is 20.2%). In response, the Generalitat passed strict austerity measures, which aim at reducing the region’s deficit from 4.22% in 2010 to the 1.3% deficit threshold in 2012. These austerity measures have included deep spending cuts, major job cuts in the public sector (notably in education, healthcare or social services), a 5% pay cut for regional government employees, some tax hikes and a commitment to sell public assets. While the government has been fairly successful in its attempts to reduce the deficit, the region’s debt has kept growing because markets have lost trust in Catalonia (a credit rating agency recently downgraded the region’s credit rating). Asphyxiated by debt, the regional government was forced to seek a bailout from the autonomous liquidity fund to stay afloat. The CiU’s campaign promise to reduce unemployment has amounted to hot air, given that the region’s unemployment rate has increased from around 17.5% when the CiU was elected in 2010 to 22.56% today (still below the national average of 25%).
The economic crisis has reignited Catalan complaints about the “fiscal deficit” – the idea that Catalonia pays more to the central government (in taxes) than it gets back (in investments), which means that Catalan taxpayers are “subsidizing” the poorer regions of Spain. The central government has recognized the existence of the fiscal deficit and it has been evaluated at 6 to 9% of the region’s GDP.
Artur Mas’ austerity measures have been fairly unpopular, but they have not caused the same level of social unrest and discontent as the PP government’s similar measures in Madrid. Additionally, Mas’ popularity did not fall significantly, quite unlike Mariano Rajoy. There are two explanations for his party’s resilient support. The first explanation is used by most governments around the world these days: blame the bad stuff on the guys who were there before you. In Catalonia, the CiU government has claimed (with good reason – to an extent) that the tripartite PSC-ERC-ICV coalition which was in power between 2003 and 2010 was a disaster which left a huge deficit.
The other claim which the CiU has made in order to justify its policies is that, as noted above, the current financing of autonomous communities is unfair. The Catalan nationalists have been very good at exploiting the idea that Catalans are getting robbed by Spain (their tax money being used to “subsidize” the poorer regions in the south). These feelings were, of course, present long before the economic crisis but there has unarguably been a surge in nationalist sentiments in Catalonia. People have offered differing explanations to account for this surge, though most will agree that the economic crisis and the ‘fiscal deficit’ have played a major role.
Catalan nationalists, again, have been successful at presenting the situation in simple terms: Catalans are being robbed because of a broken and unfair regional financing model, and that Catalonia, one of Spain’s richest regions, could recover very quickly if its taxes weren’t being used by Madrid to subsidize poorer regions (and if it was an independent country within the EU). With the economic crisis, people have lost their bearings while a lot of Catalans – most of whom are very attached to their cultural identity and proud of it – are seeing Spain as a broken and decadent state. In this context, the offer of independence as an easy fix-all solution to Catalonia’s catastrophic economic situation has proven quite attractive.
The size of the pro-independence rally on the Diada (Catalonia’s national day on September 11, which commemorates the day in 1714 when the pro-Habsburg Catalan forces were defeated by the Spanish Bourbons during the Spanish War of Succession; a symbol for the loss of Catalan autonomy) this year surprised both the CiU and the opponents of Catalan independence. The organizers estimated that around 1.5 million turned out to march in support of Catalan independence, opponents said the number was below 1 million (but still quite high).
Whether or not Mas supports the independence of Catalonia as a nation-state is not entirely clear, because he has a noted aversion to the use of the word ‘independence’ but it is nonetheless quite clear that Mas’ tends towards full independence, or falling short of that, very extensive autonomy for Catalonia in Spain. The days when the CiU sought to extract advantages (some kind of “devo max” similar to what Alex Salmond’s SNP might be aiming for in Scotland) from Madrid while standing as a bulwark against the radical separatists are gone. Mas and the CiU argues that circumstances have changed because of the economic crisis and the Spanish government’s “recentralist” attitudes (for example, the courts striking down the controversial parts of the 2006 reform of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy).
The economic crisis has exposed flaws and cracks in the country’s 1978 constitution which had been the product of careful compromise between conflicting groups. Peripheral nationalists, primarily Catalan nationalists, have long been clamoring for extensive constitutional reforms. Now, several mainstream Spanish politicians on the left (notably the PSOE’s hapless boss, Alfredo Peréz Rubalcaba) have converted to federalism. On the other hand, any reform of the constitutional model remains unacceptable for the Spanish right. For them, the economic crisis has revealed that regional governments are careless toddlers who cannot be trusted with the purse.
Mas’ core demand is a new ”fiscal pact” which would allow Catalonia to raise and manage its own taxes (paying Madrid only for the services provided by the central government in the region), an arrangement which would be akin to that which Euskadi and Navarre currently have (the Concierto Económico). In Euskadi and Navarre, this constitutionally-entrenched concierto has allowed the regional government to keep more of its taxes and invest them in the region (they also do not participate in the Spanish form of equalization payments).
Negotiations between Rajoy and Mas on the fiscal pact foundered in September. The PP is ideologically inclined towards centralization rather than devolution, so it had no appetite for Mas’s schemes – which Rajoy rejected as being unconstitutional. Rajoy agreed to a renegotiation of the autonomous financing system, last negotiated in 2009, but he also vowed to oppose any moves contrary to the constitution or actions which would disturb the country’s political stability. Even if Rajoy has carefully eschewed provocative language, many in his entourage and his party have a knack for such language. Martin Prieto, in the very conservative La Razón newspaper, recently accused Mas of “high treason”.
Mas was surprised by the strength of the Diada rallies, and he chose to latch on to the nationalist train. He announced early elections September 25, and stated that he would hold a referendum within the term of the next legislature on Catalonia’s institutional future. Prior to its dissolution, the Catalan Parliament voted a motion calling for a consultation on Catalonia’s future. Mas said that he would seek to hold a referendum within the legal framework, but he would still hold a referendum even without legal backing. The referendum, he argued, should go forward regardless.
The Spanish constitution is not clear about many things when it comes to regional autonomy, but it does make clear that only the Spanish Parliament has the authority to organize a referendum (Article 149.1) and that sovereignty resides in the Spanish people (Article 1.2). Some feel that Mas could settle for a “devo max” arrangement with Madrid, because he has shied away from using the word independence. However, the way in which he talks about the referendum makes it is clear that his goal would be Catalan statehood. In this election, for example, Mas said that he was seeking a mandate to turn Catalonia into “a state within Europe”. Catalan nationalists have insisted that if all went well, the new Catalan state would automatically become a member-state within the EU. The reality is not as straightforward Most feel that Catalonia would not automatically retain EU membership if it became a “state”.
It is unclear whether Mas supports sovereignty in the traditional sense of the term, or if his scheme is closer to that proposed by Juan José Ibarretxe, the former Basque regional president, in 2003. Ibarretxe’s plan would have created a sort of confederal Spain in which Euskadi would hold a statute of free-association with Spain and would have very wide powers, including representation in EU institutions. He too had sought to hold a referendum on his plan, but the Spanish parliament rejected his demand as unconstitutional and the plan collapsed after he failed to win a popular mandate for it in snap regional elections. Ibarretxe’s plan represented an unusual and novel notion of “post-sovereignty” which sees many sources of sovereignty and authority rather than a single source, as in traditional definitions. By some of his statements, Mas has given hints that his project falls in this category. He noted that “independence” and “sovereignty” are outdated concepts, because of supranational structures such as the EU. Some in the CiU have also stated that their goal would be similar to that of the United States, with the EU being the US federal government and Catalonia being a state within the larger confederation. On the other hand, he has been much clearer than Ibarretxe was in some of his statements and it appears as if he favours independence.
In the short-term, both the CiU and the PP saw a debate over Catalonia’s institutional future as a politically lucrative solution. By placing the referendum and the issues it entails at the core of the campaign, the CiU (and the PP) could distract attention away from the economic crisis. The CiU could awake nationalist sentiments and ensure that voters were not reminded of its unpopular austerity measures. The PP could use the CiU’s nationalist campaigns to mobilize anti-nationalist energy against the CiU, while also ensuring that voters forgot about Mariano Rajoy in Madrid and the PP’s support for the Generalitat’s austerity policies in Barcelona.
The campaign turned into a polarized debate on Catalonia’s future, with the economy and the crisis being relegated to a secondary role. The polarization of the debate favoured the parties with strong and clear positions on the issue, while hurting those parties whose standing was more ambiguous. On the nationalist side of the equation, the CiU’s objective was to win an absolute majority in Parliament which would give it a strong mandate to hold a referendum, even over Madrid’s refusal (there is basically no chance that Rajoy would let a Catalan referendum go ahead). The party’s campaign took a clearly nationalist tone, with Mas’ messianic promise to lead Catalonia to the promised land of statehood within the EU. At his huge rallies, the senyera - the traditional Catalan flag which is the official flag of Catalonia – was replaced by the estelada - the senyera defaced with a star in a blue triangle, and a flag associated with separatism. At the outset, it appeared as if the CiU would be successful. It was helped out, unintentionally, by the Rajoy government. José Ignacio Wert, the PP education minister, said that he wanted to “hispanicize” (españolizar) Catalan children; a provocative statement which fanned the flames of Catalan nationalism.
The CiU is not the only avatar of Catalan nationalist. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which had experienced a huge surge in support in 2003-2004 but who had seen its support go down fairly dramatically since that high point (only 10 seats in 2010), openly supports independence. Under a new leader, Oriol Junqueras (a local mayor and former MEP), and an even more nationalist orientation, the ERC’s platform included a road map towards independence including a referendum on independence in 2014 to be followed by a ‘constituent phase’. On other issues, the ERC’s platform was social democratic and used keywords such as reindustralization, the knowledge economy and the green economy. During the campaign, Junqueras and the ERC avoided direct criticism of Mas.
The Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA), a permanent coalition of the smaller EUiA (which is the IU’s local branch) and the ecosocialist ICV (a successor of the old PSUC, refounded in the late 1990s as a New Left ecosocialist party), has often been considered as a nationalist party. The party supports “plurinational” federalism and rejects what it calls the PP’s “recentralization”, but it also strongly supports the Catalan people’s “right to decide” of their institutional future – including independence – in a referendum. It does not see independence and federalism as competing projects, because it views them as two models which recognize the right to self-determination. The common enemy is centralism. As such, ICV’s 10 deputies backed the CiU motion calling for the organization of a referendum. Agreement with the CiU, however, stops there. ICV, led by Joan Herrera, campaigned under the slogan “right to decide, yes; social rights too!”. It presented itself as the strongest left-wing opposition to the “right’s” (CiU and PP) austerity policies.
On the left, ERC and ICV faced competition from the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), an old medley of left and far-left nationalist independents. The CUP, which has no party hierarchy or leadership but is rather a broad assortment of local assemblies functioning on the base of participative democracy, has been around since the 1980s but it had never run in elections above the municipal level. In the May 2011 local election, the CUP did very well – taking over 2% of the vote and 104 seats. The CUP strongly supports the independence of the “Catalan Countries” and is far to the left on economic issues, supporting a “planned economy based on solidarity” and nationalization of public utilities, transportation and communication networks. The CUP’s candidate, David Fernández, said that he wanted a “Trojan horse for the lower classes” in Parliament.
At the other end of the spectrum, the PP and the Citizens (C’s) represented the staunch opponents of Mas’ nationalist gamble. The Catalan PP, led by Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, sought to benefit from a polarized campaign fought around the divisive idea of Catalan independence. The Rajoy government’s austerity policies are unpopular and the PP voted in favour of the CiU’s austerity policies at the regional level, so the PP ran a more low-key campaign which focused its attacks on Mas, whom they presented as a ‘coward’ who was dead-set on the divisive idea of separation and was unwilling to deal with urgent social and economic problems, including unemployment. Sánchez-Camacho presented her party as the only national party “which defends without shame that Catalonia is part of Spain”.
The Ciudadanos-Partido de la Ciudadanía (C’s) was founded in 2006 and it obtained only 3 seats in both the 2006 and 2010, with about 3% of the votes nationally. In the same ideological tradition as UPyD, the C’s are a centre-left liberal party viscerally opposed to further decentralization, let alone independence. In the liberal tradition, C’s places emphasis on individual rights and claims that only individuals have rights, not political territories. In the past, the C’s, led by Albert Rivera, had functioned as something of a one-issue for anti-nationalists, placing most emphasis on the government’s linguistic policies (active promotion of Catalan in the media, education, public sector etc) and called for ‘equal’ bilingualism. In this campaign, the C’s broadened their focused and discovered a new, more left-wing side. To differentiate themselves from the PP, with which they share their attachment to the current Spanish constitution and their opposition to Catalan nationalism, they took strong positions on corruption (Mas and Jordi Pujol have been accused of having Swiss bank accounts;the C’s criticized CiU the most while castigating the PSC and PP for their passivity) and launched attacks on banks and austerity measures. For example, the party’s program talked of “rescue the citizens, not the banks” or “healthcare, education and social services are right, not a business”.
Stuck between these two poles is the Socialist Party (PSC), traditionally Catalonia’s dominant non-nationalist party and one of the most powerful and important federations in the Spanish Socialist party (PSOE). In 2010, weakened by seven years in government (the tripartito), the PSC won only 18% and 28 seats – its worst result. Its troubles did not end there. The party has been divided between its federalist faction, which opposes independence but supports federalism; and the more nationalistically-inclined catalanista faction, which is sympathetic to some of the nationalist left’s (ERC and ICV) ideas. Pere Navarro, the mayor of Terrassa and a member of the ‘federalist’ faction, won the internal primary and was the PSC’s candidate. Navarro and the PSC platform defended a vague brand of federalism and opposed Mas’ referendum idea. The PSC’s federalist proposal is fairly vague, but it seems to propose some kind of symmetric federalism with a federal Senate which represents the constituent units of the federation. Notably, the party drew on Germany and Canada as examples (Canada is often used by both sides in Catalonia, with the nationalists drawing on the experience of the Canadian federal government recognizing the legitimacy of Quebec’s referendums on independence). However, with a vague and middle-of-the-road federalist proposal, the PSC tried to focus the campaign on economic and social issues – it has called Mas’ referendum gambit a smokescreen to hide its ‘failures’ on economic policies (austerity, unemployment etc).
Turnout was 69.56%, up over 10 points since 2010 (58.78%) and the highest turnout in Catalan regional elections since the advent of democracy. Voters were motivated and mobilized by the high stakes of the campaign, in which most parties – CiU and PP most notably – had stressed that these were the most important elections ever. The results were:
CiU 30.68% (-7.75%) winning 50 seats (-12)
ERC-Cat Sí 13.68% (+6.68%) winning 21 seats (+11)
PSC 14.43% (-3.95%) winning 20 seats (-8)
PP 12.99% (+0.62%) winning 19 seats (+1)
ICV-EUiA 9.89% (+2.52%) winning 13 seats (+3)
C’s 7.58% (+4.19%) winning 9 seats (+6)
CUP 3.48% (+3.48%) winning 3 seats (+3)
PxC 1.65% (-0.75%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SI 1.28% (-2.01%) winning 0 seats (-4)
Others 2.78% (-1.68%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CiU won the election on paper, but in reality it lost the election. This result is very far from the strong mandate which the CiU had set at its objective, but even when the CiU’s chances of obtaining an absolute majority looked dim in the last days of the campaign, most had predicted that the party would win a strong result – at least similar to or only minimally less than its 2010 result. Mas had sought a strong mandate from voters to push for his referendum, but he received a stark rebuke from voters. The CiU lost 12 seats and its vote share fell by nearly 8 points compared to the 2010 election, leaving the CiU far ahead of the pack but also with a much smaller and weakened minority in Parliament.
What happened? In the final days of the campaign, the CiU and Mas had been facing an onslaught of corruption allegations concerning secret offshore (Swiss) bank accounts held by Mas and Jordi Pujol, Mas’ political mentor. These allegations are linked to the old Palau case and the recent allegations were spearheaded by El Mundo, Spain’s main conservative newspaper. The newspaper cited a police report linking him and other high-ranking figures in his party (the CDC, which is the dominant component of the CiU) to secret offshore bank accounts where they received illegal funding from Catalan entrepreneurs and businessmen. The CDC has claimed that it is the victim of a dirty war led by its opponent, and Mas is suing El Mundo for libel. Did the controversy related to the case of the allegations of a ‘dirty war’ against the Catalan nationalists influence voters in the final days?
Did voters reject Mas’ nationalist/separatist schemes and his referendum agenda? While the CiU did badly, the broader nationalist constellation (CiU, ERC, ICV, CUP) nonetheless won the elections and together they still retain over three-fifths of the seats (87 seats, up 1 from 2010). The election can hardly be described as a rebuke of the broader Catalan nationalist agenda.
In the obligatory “where did we cock up?” article (see here), pollsters lay the blame on the unexpectedly huge increase in turnout (which favoured the anti-nationalists) and the buzz related to the offshore accounts scandal/anti-CiU ‘dirty war’.
The CiU suffered its heaviest loses in the greater Barcelona area – the city’s working-class and historically Socialist hinterland. Turnout was particularly strong in the area (over 10 points higher than in 2010), and CiU suffered some very heavy loses in the area (where it has historically been weak, outside a few cities) – between 10 and 14 points lower than in 2010. In L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, the second largest city in Catalonia, the CiU’s vote share fell by over ten points from 24.7% to only 14.3% while the PSC lost 5 points (from 29.6% to 24.8%). In Badalona, the CiU lost almost 12 points (31% to 19%) while the PSC lost about 3, down to 19.5% (regaining first place, but with an all-time low result). The PSC was able to hold up better in Terrassa, where Pere Navarro has been the mayor since 2002. The PSC vote increased by 3 points (to 23.5%) while the CiU lost nearly 13 points (down to 24.8%).
In the comarca of Baix Llobregat (Barcelona’s western working-class suburbs), the CiU vote fell 12 points to a mere 19.8%, collapsing to its lowest point since 1980 while the PSC lost about 3 points, falling to 20.1% (also an all-time low for the party, which had won 48% there in 1999…). Turnout increased by 11 points.
In all of these cases, the beneficiaries of the CiU (and, to a lesser extent, the PSC)’s collapse were the smaller parties – ERC, ICV and C’s – while the PP’s support remained stable at fairly high levels. The ERC gained, on average, a bit more than 5 points and was victorious in Sant Vicenç dels Horts (with 23.5%), the town where Oriol Junqueras is the mayor. The ICV, traditionally strong in Barcelona’s proletarian hinterland on the traces of the old PSUC, gaining about 2-4 points and winning 13% in Baix Llobregat, 12.3% in Barcelonès comarca and 11.6% in the Vallès Occidental. Undoubtedly, however, the most impressive gains were made by the vehemently anti-nationalist C’s, whose support increased from 4.9% to 10.8% in Baix Llobregat and from 4.2% to 9.8% in the Vallès Occidental. The C’s, likely feeding off the PSC’s decline (in part) and reaping the electoral benefits of their new left-wing political orientation, won strong support in Barcelona’s proletarian suburbs: 13.6% in Viladecans, 11.6% in Cornellà de Llobregat, 11.4% in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, 10.6% in L’Hospitalet and 10.1% in Badalona etc.
Outside of the greater Barcelona conurbation, the CiU’s loses are smaller. While it did lose a fairly substantial amount of support around the city of Tarragona, in the heavily nationalist rural areas of Lleida and Girona (the CiU vote fell by 3.9 and 2.1 points respectively in these provinces, against -7.6 in Tarragona and -8.7 in Barcelona). In some small and solidly nationalist comarcas, the CiU vote even increased by a tad. Throughout these rural and Catalonophone nationalist comarcas, the CiU and ERC took first and second while the PSC and PP placed distant thirds or fourths with single-digit results.
The ERC (and also ICV)’s gains in Barcelona’s working-class hinterland make it hard to attribute the CiU’s collapse to a broader collapse of the nationalist brand in regions which have been the most reticent towards Catalan nationalism in the past. The turnout surge in these places certainly benefited the anti-nationalists, but rather than a substantial collapse in the broader nationalist vote there was instead a strong mobilization and motivation of the anti-nationalist vote. The CiU’s collapse can be attributed to either unease with Mas’ referendum plan or discontent with the Generalitat’s austerity policies (these lower-income towns have been hit the hardest by the austerity policies) – though the latter option appears more likely.
The ERC was the biggest winner of the night. They won 21 seats, which far surpassed even their wildest expectations, and stole the symbolic second place from the PSC (but only due to malapportionment which favours the smallest provinces). The party had been fairly optimistic of its chances to regain the ground it had lost in 2010, which had marked the lowest ebb for the party since the 1980s; despite fears that Mas’ nationalist campaign could hurt them.
By playing up nationalist rhetoric, Mas had certainly hoped to capitalize on the nationalist mobilization which followed the Diada, in an attempt to win an absolute majority to pursue his own agenda (despite his weak economic record and the unpopularity of his austerity policies). It almost worked, but the ERC, by expanding its campaign to talk about social issues, was able to reach out to nationalist voters who flirted with Mas in the first days of the campaign but who remained uneasy with the Generalitat’s austerity policies. In the final stretch, the possible corruption cases surrounding the CiU likely also took their toll on the CiU and encouraged a large transfer of votes from the CiU to the ERC.
Oriol Junqueras, the new leader of the ERC, was able to inject new energy and hope in a party organization which had been demoralized by a series of electoral humiliations in 2010-2011 and internal squabbles between its hapless leadership. The ERC’s result this year is similar to what it had won in 2006 and a bit below its historic 2003 result, but nonetheless an excellent performance.
The PSC’s result cannot be described as anything other than catastrophic. In 2010, with only 18% and 28 seats, it had already won its worst result ever. This year, it managed to do even more pitifully than in 2010, with barely 14% and 20 seats. True enough, the election could have been even more disastrous for the PSC, which had polled as low at 16 or so seats during the course of this campaign. Strong turnout in its old strongholds and the successful motivation and mobilization of the anti-nationalist electorate probably allowed it to save face with the best possible performance, though it remains a catastrophe. In a polarized campaign which profited to the ‘extremes’ of both the nationalist and anti-nationalist coalitions, the PSC, with a vague and unappealing ‘federalist’ proposal, was squished in the middle and its voice muted by the confrontation between the nationalists and their most vocal opponents (PP, C’s). A vague and unappealing platform, a national party which is going down the drain, a party wracked by very public internal divisions as of late and a bad campaign led by a man with little charisma: all factors which sealed the PSC’s fate.
The PSC’s annihilation in its old strongholds – Barcelona’s working-class suburbs (a region with a large population of migrants from other regions of Spain or their descendants) – is quite something. In places such as L’Hospitalet, Badalona, Terrassa, or Sabadell, the PSC used to regularly win over 40-50% of the vote in most elections. Now, the PSC has now collapsed to the low 20s (or even lower in certain cases) in these towns. It placed second in Barcelona province but placed a distant third in Girona and fourth in Tarragona. In the city of Barcelona – which they governed for over 30 years until 2011 – the PSC placed fourth with 12.2%.
The PP added an extra seat to the 18 they held after the 2010 election, and although this is a good result for Alicia Sánchez-Camacho’s party, it falls below their expectations. The PP had hoped to capitalize on the polarization of the electorate in the wake of Mas’ new nationalist agenda, with the stated aim of becoming the second largest party in Parliament (to form the largest opposition party). Although the PP’s result is the party’s best result in a type of election which is usually the most difficult for the PP (it polls much better, up to 20%, in general elections), it had been hoping for a clearer success. The party was likely dragged down by the unpopularity of Mariano Rajoy’s austerity policies in Madrid. The C’s, with their similarly strong anti-nationalist message plus its leftist anti-austerity stance, profited the most from the polarization of the electorate.
The PP were nonetheless very pleased by Artur Mas’ major setback, who they accuse of having paralyzed and divided Catalonia with his nationalist agenda.
ICV-EUiA, like the PP, did quite well – taking 13 seats and nearly 9% of the vote, its best result since 1995 – but again, like the PP, it found its result slightly disappointing. Presenting itself as the strongest voice on the left against Mas’ economic policies, as the party which participated in every protest against cuts in social services or education, Joan Herrera’s party had hoped to capitalize on social discontent against Mas’ austerity policies. To a certain extent they did so, regaining votes from the PSC or other parties in Barcelona’s working-class suburb – the traditional base of the post-communist left in Catalonia. However, they had likely hoped for a slightly stronger performance.
The C’s, however, can hardly be disappointed by their tremendous performance. As noted above, the party, which in the past had focus its virulently anti-nationalist campaigns on narrow issues such as the government’s linguistic policies and the “positive discrimination” in favour of the Catalan language, expanded its message to talk about corruption (which the main parties – CiU, PSC and PP – were reluctant to mention) or the effects of the austerity policies implemented by the Generalitat and la Moncloa. Albert Rivera’s unambiguous anti-nationalist rhetoric, combined with his criticism of the banking system or the austerity policies, allowed him to make major inroads in the PSC’s old turf in suburban Barcelona. The C’s won 8.5% in the province of Barcelona (8 seats), up from 3.8% in 2010. However, the party, which in the past had been confined to the Barcelona metro area, expanded its support to Tarragona province, where it won one seat and 7.3% of the vote (up from 2.7%). In the traditionally anti-nationalist Tarragonès comarca, it won 11.6% of the vote, even reaching over 15% in Vila-seca.
The very left-wing and nationalist CUP, in its first regional electoral participation, broke the 3% barrier in seat-rich Barcelona province, which gave it 3 seats. With an unusual low-scale and grassroots-based campaign, it built on its fairly substantial base in some local councils and benefited from social discontent on the nationalist left.
Where does this result leave Catalonia? Artur Mas’ plan had been for him to win an absolute majority on the back of the post-Diada nationalist mobilization, and used his strong mandate from the Catalan electorate as a bargaining card against Rajoy to push for his referendum, on his own terms. Even as the CiU’s chances of conquering an absolute majority started dropping, they had hoped – and predicted – a fairly strong minority mandate which would still Mas with sufficient legitimacy to push his referendum on his terms. The whole thing backfired badly against him, leaving Mas with a smaller minority than in 2010 and a fairly uncertain mandate from voters. While voters returned a majority of deputies favourable to the “right to decide” (derecho a decidir), nationalist voters preferred “the original” (ERC) to “the copy” (CiU).
The CiU’s result was so bad for the party that there was some speculation that Mas could be compelled to step down. The PP and C’s both claimed that Mas had lost his legitimacy with the election results, Albert Rivera (the C’s leader) even called him to step down. Those rumours passed, and Mas will remain in power, but what seems to be clear is that Mas’ very disappointing showing on 25-N has reopened internal divisions in the CiU coalition between Mas/Pujol’s more nationalist CDC and Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida’s more pragmatic and right-leaning UDC. Duran’s smaller UDC had been quite uneasy with Mas’ bombastic nationalist rhetoric, when they have always favoured a ‘confederal’ Spain and have traditionally been very much against any rapprochement with the ERC (they would rather prefer to work with the PP). Duran was fairly silent during the campaign, but since 25-N he has publicly broken ranks with his senior partners in the CiU by expressing his concerns over Mas’ nationalist agenda and his desire to see better relations re-established with the PP.
Between his election in 2010 and this summer, Mas had enjoyed fairly cordial working relations with the PP. The two parties agreed to disagree on institutional issues, but the two parties share much common ground when it comes to economic policy. The PP voted in favour of the CiU’s austerity policies in Barcelona. However, the cordial relationship between the CiU and PP rapidly collapsed after Mas started taking a confrontational position against Madrid and pushing for his referendum. The PP focused most of its artillery fire on the CiU and Mas during the campaign, branding him as a divisive and polarizing “coward” who did not have the courage to take on ‘urgent’ issues (the economy, jobs) and preferred to take cover with his nationalist agenda. Following the elections, the PP expressed satisfaction at Mas’ setback. The CiU ruled out collaborating with the PP.
Will Mas’ plan go the way of the Ibarretxe election following Juan José Ibarretxe and the PNV’s failure to win a strong popular mandate to push for the Ibarretxe plan in the 2005 Basque elections? The situation is slightly different. Following the 2005 Basque elections, it was clear that the Basque nationalists had lost ground and that they had not received any mandate from the voters to push for the Ibarretxe plan, meaning that the elections dealt Ibarretxe’s ambitious plan a mortal blow. This year, the Catalan elections did not provide Mas and the CiU with a popular mandate for their agenda, but it would be wrong to claim that voters rejected the entire premises of the nationalist agenda (even if there was no substantial increase in nationalist support). The ERC, which ran on a platform calling for a referendum on Catalan separation as early as 2013, did very well.
Mas indicated that the ERC was his preferred coalition partner, even offering them to participate in his cabinet. Oriol Junqueras finally turned down Mas’ offer, but he did promise strong support for Mas (una solidez gigantesca to use his terms), including support for his government’s budgets. The basis for this tacit deal between Mas and the ERC is their common agreement on institutional issues. Mas’ post-electoral statements about the future of his referendum were a bit all over the place, but he said that the Parliament retained a strong majority of deputies in favour of the derecho a decidir (87/135 including ICV) and that the referendum remained on the table. It is a bit unclear what the ERC demanded in exchange for this legislative support, though it seems to be on some budgetary issues and on an agreement to keep pushing for a referendum.
With his government likely to be dependent on support from the left-leaning and strongly nationalist ERC, will Mas be pushed by the ERC to maintain confrontational and nationalist positions, including to keep pushing for a referendum? If he does continue pushing for a referendum but then finds himself blocked (as is certain to happen) by Madrid, will he do like Ibarretxe had done and quietly drop his plans, or will he push forward to organize an “illegal” referendum, not legitimized or recognized by Madrid? The results of these elections only provide more headaches for both Rajoy and Mas. Both may have reason to be satisfied by the results of 25-N, but in the long run the results do not satisfy either of their agendas.
Next: Canadian by-elections (Nov 26) and the disintegration of the French right (Nov 18 onward).
Provincial elections will be held in Quebec (Canada) on September 4, 2012. All 125 members of the provincial legislature, the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), are elected in single-member constituencies (often known as ridings in Canadian English, or comtés/circonscriptions in French). Quebec’s political system, like that of every other province in Canada, is built on the Westminster system. The Premier of Quebec (called Prime Minister in French) and his government are responsible to the National Assembly and must retain its confidence in order to govern. With only two exceptions since 1867, all provincial elections in Quebec have resulted in majority governments, allowing the leader of the largest party to form a stable government.
These elections will be disputed on a new map, following a provincial redistribution in 2011. While the National Assembly retained 125 seats, there were changes in the regional distribution of seats with the elimination of some seats in less populous regions (Gaspésie, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Chaudières-Appalaches and Centre-du-Québec) and the creation of new seats in demographically vibrant regions (the suburban regions of Montérégie, Laval and Lanaudière). Other constituencies saw their borders altered somewhat, but there were no major changes to the look and layout of the electoral map otherwise. The DGEQ has maps of the new districts here, and has a very handy historical atlas (in Google Earth format) which shows the constituency maps since 1965.
Political History of Quebec since 1867
Quebec’s political history since Canadian Confederation in 1867 has been significantly influenced by the province’s unique place in Canada and North America. In a country where only a quarter or so of the population is Francophone, around 85% of Quebec’s 7.9 million inhabitants are Francophones. The issue of Quebec’s place within confederation has been one of the most important political issues in Quebec and Canada, and since the 1970s provincial politics are driven by the so-called “national question” – simply put, whether or not Quebec should be a sovereign, independent nation-state.
Quebec nationalism is predominantly territorial or civic nationalism, even if the issue of language and Quebec’s ’difference’ from the rest of Canada is indisociable from the national question. Furthermore, by and large, the Quebec nationalist movement is a largely secular, left-wing and progressive movement. However, when Quebec joined confederation as one of the founding provinces in 1867, there was no notion of Quebec as a secular community. What defined Quebec in 1867 was its heavily Roman Catholic and French-speaking population, who identified not with their province bur rather with their correligionists and fellow Francophones, including large French-speaking Catholic minorities in the Maritimes, Ontario and especially Manitoba.
The idea that Quebec should separate from the rest of Canada was inexistent prior to the Conscription Crisis of 1917, and it would not be until the 1960s that separatism would find significant public support. The leaders of the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837-1838 was the work of liberal reformers and nationalists who defined themselves as Canadian (canadiens) in contrast to most English-Canadians who defined themselves as loyal British subjects – and would continue doing so until at least the 1930s. Progressively, the liberal civic (Canadian) nationalism in Quebec would be replaced by a far more conservative brand of nationalism, sometimes styled clerico-nationalism. Until the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church held tremendous religious but also social and political power in the province. Separation of church and state did not become a reality until the 1960s in Quebec.
Following confederation and until at least the 1880s, Quebec politics both federally and provincially were dominated by the Conservative Party, which had the favours of the powerful clergy and Montreal’s protectionist business interests. At the provincial levels, the Conseratives ruled the province until 1887 (with the exception of a short-lived Liberal (PLQ) government between 1878 and 1879). However, the Conservatives’ stranglehold on provincial politics weakened under the weight of their own internal divisions, between a moderate faction close to Georges-Étienne Cartier (John A. Macdonald’s Quebec partner and fellow ‘Father of Confederation’) and an ultramontane clerical faction. External factors also precipitated the Conservative Party’s decline in Quebec in the late nineteenth century. Cartier’s death in 1873 was not a mortal blow but with his passing, the party lost its dominant figure. In 1885, the execution of Métis rebellion leader Louis Riel by Macdonald’s federal Tory government was deeply unpopular in Quebec and contributed to the victory of the PLQ, led by Honoré Mercier, in the 1886 provincial election.
In contrast to the bland Conservative Premiers, Honoré Mercier was the first Premier of Quebec who had the stature of statesman. His government, although still close to the Catholic Church, represented the first expression of Quebecois demands for provincial autonomy. He was not alone in this movement for provincial autonomy. The terms of confederation in 1867 had created a very centralized federation, and several prominent Premiers including Oliver Mowat of Ontario demanded more provincial powers.
A railroad scandal brought down Mercier’s government in 1891 and returned the Conservatives to power in 1892, but it proved to be the Conservative Party’s last hurrah in Quebec. Once again, it was largely external factors which hastened the provincial Conservatives’ final downfall. Macdonald’s death in 1891 severely weakened the federal Conservatives, and the Manitoba Schools Question (1890-1896, dealing with the public funding of separate religious schools including French Catholic schools in Manitoba) would fatally divide the party. Given that the Quebecois still identified primarily with their faith and language rather than their province, the Manitoba Schools Question was perceived as an affront to French Catholics and severely hurt the Conservatives at both levels. Federally, the Liberals led by Quebec’s native son Wilfrid Laurier used the divisions of the federal Tories on the Manitoba Schools Question to win the 1896 federal election. In 1897, the provincial Liberals handily defeated a divided and severely wounded Conservative government.
After 1897, the PLQ would rule with only token opposition for the next 39 years, winning ample majorities in ten successive elections. In 1917, the federal Conservative government’s decision to implement conscription during World War I would be the fatal blow to whatever remained of the provincial Conservative Party. The Liberals abated their historical anti-clericalism and come to a silent agreement with the Catholic clergy, focusing rather on the economic development of Quebec and abandoning ambitious plans for education reform (education was heavily controlled by the Church). The two main avatars of the nearly four decades of Liberal dominance were Lomer Gouin (Premier, 1905-1920) and Louis-Alexandre Taschereau (Premier, 1920-1936). Both led laissez-faire policies favourable to businesses and particularly foreign investors (opponents accused the PLQ of selling the province to foreigners, mainly Americans), resulting in a strong economy and healthy finances in the years before 1929. Both Gouin and Taschereau toyed with the notions of provincial autonomy and would sometimes flex their muscle against Ottawa.
Taschereau’s response to the Great Depression was slow and tepid, and the economic crisis proved to be his government’s downfall. In 1934, a group of PLQ dissidents led by Paul Gouin formed the Action libérale nationale (ALN). The ALN, influenced by the conservative nationalism of Lionel Groulx, was a corporatist and fairly nationalist party which supported an interventionist response to the economic crisis including the nationalization of electricity. In the 1935 election, the ALN allied with the Conservatives, led by Trois-Rivières lawyer Maurice Duplessis, to form a coalition styled Union nationale (UN). With 48 seats against 26 for the ALN and 16 for the Conservatives, Taschereau’s Liberals came close to defeat.
Inevitable defeat was what awaited the PLQ government after Duplessis, a particularly cunning politician, revealed the extent of corruption in the government. Taschereau was forced to resign in June 1936 and replaced by Adélard Godbout, who was steamrolled by Duplessis’ UN in the August 1936 election (14 PLQ against 76 unionistes). Maurice Duplessis had won power by allying with the ambitious reformists of the ALN, and had adopted a similarly ambitious and reformist platform (fighting corruption and patronage, major economic reforms). However, as soon as he won power, the deceitful Duplessis quickly forgot any reformist drive he may have had, and in doing so dashed the hopes of most of his ephemeral reformist allies (most of the ALN’s leaders quickly left the UN).
Duplessis adopted a much more assertive position in federal-provincial relations, and became known as a forceful defender of provincial autonomy against federal encroachment. As World War II erupted in September 1939, Duplessis – who opposed the Canadian war effort – quickly called snap elections for October 1939, hoping to profit from Quebec’s opposition to the war. However, Mackenzie King’s federal Liberal government – led by his Quebec lieutenant Ernest Lapointe – directly intervened in the provincial campaign by playing a slick game of the carrot and the stick: Ottawa promised that it would not implement conscription, but warned that if voters reelected Duplessis, the province would risk major political isolation as the Quebec federal Liberal caucus would withdraw from cabinet. The game worked, and Godbout’s Liberals staged a major comeback, taking 69 seats against only 15 for the UN.
Godbout was a reformer who implemented a number of major reforms including giving women the right to vote (Quebec was the last province to do so, in 1940), making education for 6-14 years old mandatory and nationalizing a Montreal-area electricity firm to create Hydro-Québec. However, Godbout was much less vindicative than Duplessis in his relations with Ottawa. He did not oppose the federal government’s moves to take over provincial responsibilities (collecting the income tax) and he was hurt by the conscription crisis in 1944. Although they won the popular vote in the 1944 election, the PLQ lost the 1944 election to Duplessis and the UN, which won 48 out of 91 seats against 37 for the PLQ.
Maurice Duplessis would rule Quebec until his death in 1959, winning three successive majority governments in 1948, 1952 and 1956. Duplessis’ fifteen year rule is referred to as la grande noirceur (the ‘great darkness’). Even if Quebec slowly inched forward with urbanization, the development of urban middle-classes and the rise of a more liberal intelligentsia, Duplessis’ government remained obstinately traditionalist, conservative (if not reactionary), authoritarian and clerical. He built an extremely powerful political machine, which acted as a powerful vehicle of graft and patronage.
In the tradition of clerico-nationalism, his government took an assertive stance against the federal government, officially to defend provincial powers against federal centralization, in practice as a tool to consolidate his own political power. Duplessis is at the root of Quebec’s separate provincial income tax and the adoption of the current provincial flag.
On economic matters, Duplessis favoured a laissez-faire approach and opposed the Keynesian welfare states which were taking root in Europe. He had no interest in developing social programs, and was stridently opposed to trade unions, suspecting them of being communist (a big anti-communist, his government passed the famous padlock law to ‘counter communist influence’).
Somewhat in contradiction of his soft-nationalism against Ottawa, Duplessis aggressively developed the province through a close alliance with American investors (leading many to say that he was ‘selling the province’ to foreign investors). The provincial economy, especially in Montreal, was largely dominated by the powerful Anglophone minority, while the Francophone majority faced discrimination and socio-economic marginalization. Faced with mounting labour opposition to the alliance of local and American capital, the UN government broke up a number of strikes, the most memorable of which was the 1949 Asbestos Strike.
Duplessis ruled in tandem with an omnipotent clergy which controlled education and healthcare. Together, the church and the UN state formed a tremendous bulwark against any kind of political evolution or ‘liberalization’. Duplessis died in September 1959 and was succeeded by Paul Sauvé, who promised major reforms. However, Sauvé, a man of some stature who could have modernized Quebec on his own terms, died only a few months after taking office, in January 1960. The hapless Antonio Barrette replaced him and led a divided party into the 1960 election, in which he struggled to measure up to Jean Lesage’s Liberals, who vowed to dramatically change the province.
Even though the 1960 election was fairly close – the PLQ won 51 seats against 43 for the UN – Lesage had received a fairly clear mandate. The new Liberal governemnt was stacked with talented academics, intellectuals and reformers (including a young René Lévesque as public works, and later natural resources minister), and quickly set the tone for what would come. Lesage’s government passed a series of spectacular reforms including the creation of a modern public education system, the bases for Quebec’s public health insurance, and later the creation of the province’s distinct pension plan. The government grew as it assumed new roles such as education, healthcare but also the promotion of Quebec culture.
At the cultural level, Quebec experienced a revolution – the so-called Quiet Revolution – with the Catholic Church seeing its power and influence collapse overnight. The largely rural, marginalized and morally traditionalistic French Catholic society was replaced by a new secular civil society, more progressive but also much more confident than the Catholic society of yesteryears. Quebec’s new society largely embraced the moral and sexual liberalism of the 1960s, while at the same time began to affirm its distinctiveness more forcefully.
Indeed, Jean Lesage’s government was influenced by a strong nationalist tendency, which was not afraid of standing up to the federal government and enhancing Quebec’s image at the national and international level. The old tradition of provincial autonomy, defended by past PLQ and UN governments, was gradually transformed into a true nationalism. In retrospect, Lesage’s most nationalist action was certainly the nationalization of electricity. Godbout’s government had taken the first step in the 1940s with the creation of Hydro-Québec to replace a corrupt and inefficient private utilities company in the Montreal region. In 1962, René Lévesque urged an originally lukewarm Lesage to push through a full nationalization of Quebec’s hydro-electric resources, by consolidating all private electricity firms (a lot of them being owned by Anglophones) into a single public electricity monopoly (Hydro-Québec). Lesage called a snap election in 1962 on the issue, in which the Liberals ran on a clearly nationalist platform with the emblematic slogan, maîtres chez nous (masters in our own home). The PLQ received a decisive mandate from voters, with over 56% of the vote and 63 out of 95 seats.
Inadvertently, however, Lesage’s bold reforms and the transformation of Quebecois society would encourage the growth of a nascent movement which demanded the independence of Quebec from Canada. In 1960, a group of left-leaning sovereigntists led by André D’Allemagne and Pierre Bourgault founded the RIN (Rassemblement pour l’indépendance nationale), which would become a political party in 1963. That same year, a group of young radicals founded the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a revolutionary movement which sought to win the independence of Quebec through violent means.
The forces of nationalism unleased by Lesage during the Quiet Revolution are credited for the PLQ’s defeat in the 1966 election. Daniel Johnson Sr., the leader of the UN, adopted a very nationalist slogan during the 1966 election which seduced many nationalist voters: égalité ou indépendance (equality or independence). Even though the PLQ actually ran away with the popular vote in 1966 (47.3% against 40.8% for Johnson’s UN), the UN returned to power with 56 seats against 50 seats for the incumbent government. Bourgault’s RIN obtained 5.6% of the vote and a centre-right sovereigntist party (RN) won an additional 3.2%. Neither party won seats.
Johnson’s election did not usher in a return to the Duplessis-UN darkness. In fact, Johnson continued and built on Lesage’s reforms, and he further enhanced Quebec’s standing on the national and international scene. Relations with Ottawa became frosty, especially after the election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968 (the day after violent clashes between police and sovereigntist activists in Montreal, on June 24 – Quebec’s national day). It was during Johnson’s short two-year tenure that Montreal hosted the successful Expo ’67 and that French President Charles de Gaulle pronounced his famous Vive le Québec libre speech in Montreal. However, Johnson’s death in 1968 and his replacement by Jean-Jacques Bertrand, a far less nationalist leader, marked the end for the UN. Bertrand was not as bold or ambitious as his predecessor, and he faced dissent within his own party.
The 1970 elections were fought with the emergence of a new political party, the Parti québécois (PQ) founded by René Lévesque in 1968 after he had quit the PLQ in 1967, when they rejected his “sovereignty-association” project. Lévesque’s vision of independence (styled as sovereignty in traditional parlance) included a proposal for political and economic association with Canada, to create some sort of customs and possibly monetary union with the rest of Canada after the independence of Quebec. Following the party’s founding congress in 1968, Pierre Bourgault’s far more radical RIN gradually dissolved itself into the new party, providing the PQ with its ‘hardline’ wing (purs et durs).
The PQ won 23.1% of the vote in the 1970 election, but managed only 7 seats. The PLQ, led by the young Robert Bourassa, staged a comeback by winning a huge majority (72/108 seats, 45% of the vote) while the UN collapsed, winning only 17 seats and 19.7% of the vote. The social credit movement, on the heels of success in conservative rural Quebec at the federal level (SoCred won 26 seats in Quebec in the 1962 federal election), won 11% of the vote and 12 seats.
Months after his election, Bourassa was confronted with Quebec’s biggest political and institutional crisis in its history. On October 5, a FLQ cell kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and, five days later, another FLQ cell kidnapped Pierre Laporte, the labour minister and one of the new cabinet’s highest ranking members. Bourassa, an inexperienced rookie Premier in 1970, was in way over his head in the October Crisis, and it was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who would take the forefront of the reaction to the October Crisis. On October 16, Ottawa invoked the War Measures Act, which gave authorities exceptional powers to suspend habeas corpus and civil liberties and arrest suspected FLQ sympathizers. Though James Cross was released after 60 days in captivity, Pierre Laporte was executed by his captors a week after his kidnapping. Laporte’s execution would destroy any base of public support for the FLQ and seal the fate of the terrorist organziation. Some of its leaders were granted safe passage to Cuba, while Laporte’s captors were later found and arrested by authorities.
The development of hydro-electric resources in James Bay in northern Quebec was perhaps the most memorable achievement of Bourassa’s first government. His government kicked off the development of the province’s hydro-electric capacity in the north, through the construction of huge dams which remain the main source of electricity for the province to this day. In the social sphere, Bourassa’s government also passed Quebec’s current public health insurance law in 1970. Bourassa was reelected in 1973, winning all but 8 seats out of the 110 seats in the National Assembly. The PQ won 30.2%, but only 6 seats, though the UN’s collapse (the party lost all seats) allowed Lévesque’s party to form the official opposition (in the absence, however, of its leader, who did not win his riding).
However, Bourassa’s second term was marked by a declining economic situation, major labour unrest in the public sector, the beginnings of language discord (the loi 22, which made French the official language of Quebec, went too far for the tastes of Anglophones and allophones, but did not go far enough for Francophone nationalists) and the debacle of the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In opposition, the PQ had moderated its rhetoric. In 1974, the party had adopted a resolution which stated that independence would be declared only after a referendum, and not unilaterally by the government after a PQ electoral victory. Bourassa called a snap election for November 1976.
In one of the most famous provincial elections in Canadian history, René Lévesque’s PQ won a shockingly large majority. The PQ won 41.4% of the vote against 33.8% for the PLQ, but won a huge majority in the National Assembly with 71 out of 110 seats. The PLQ won only 26 seats. The UN made a modest recovery, winning 18% of the vote and 11 seats, and made major inroads with Anglophone voters. However, it would be the old beast’s last hurrah, like the Titanic’s stern sticking out of the water for a last time before plunging underwater.
Lévesque’s victory sent a shockwave across Canada, raising fears in the rest of Canada that Quebec would separate. However, the PQ’s strategy was to prove its worth as a government before going to the people with the question of separation. The PQ had won on a platform of “good government” and turned immediate attention to fulfilling this pledge, with the introduction of a new law on party financing, an anti-scab law and the introduction of car insurance. That being said, the new government’s most memorable legislative achievement was the famous loi 101, the Charter of the French Language. Bill 101 replaced Bourassa’s Bill 22, making French the sole official language of Quebec. French became the official language of work in the public and private sector, in education, in advertising and in courts. The new bill restricted access to English schools to those children whose father and/or mother had received instruction in English.
Federal-provincial relations in the 1970s and 1980s were marked by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s vision of federalism and his ambition to patriate the constitution (Canada’s founding document, the BNA Act, was British legislation). Pierre Trudeau was the most vocal opponent of the Quebec sovereigntist movement, and was a strong advocate of centralized federalism. He rejected the idea that Canada was the result of the union of two nations, the English nation and the French nation, instead viewing Canadian confederation as the federation of ten equal provinces. In Quebec City, Trudeau faced provincial governments which were strong advocates of provincial autonomy and, after 1976, Quebec’s outright independence. Already in 1971, Bourassa had rejected Trudeau’s first attempt to patriate the constitution.
Lévesque announced the organization of a referendum on his proposal for sovereignty-association in May 1980. While the YES had momentum at the campaign’s outset, the return of Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals to power in Ottawa following the 1980 election changed the cards. Trudeau took the lead of the NO campaign and promised Quebecois voters to reform the constitution if the NO won, an ambiguous message interpreted by some as a message that Ottawa was ready to satisfy Quebec’s demands. His promise certainly had some impact on the results, which saw the NO win handily with 59.6% of the vote.
Despite the loss of the referendum, Lévesque’s government remained popular and was reelected with a stronger majority in the 1981 election, in which the PQ increased its share of the vote to nearly 50%+1 (49.3%). In the aftermath, Trudeau did live up to his promise of renewing the constitution, but certainly not in the way which some soft-nationalists might have hoped for. Trudeau’s goal in the patriation of the constitution had always been to adopt an amending formula (the basis of patriation itself – to make the BNA Act amendable by Canada only) and the addition of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Eight provinces, including Quebec and Alberta, opposed the inclusion of a charter and wanted an “opt out” clause. Trudeau threatened to patriate the constitution unilaterally, over the heads of the provinces. The Supreme Court ruled, in two judgements, that unilateral patriation was legal but at the same time ruled unilateral patriation was not in accordance with constitutional convention.
The decision led to a conference of Premiers and Trudeau in November 1981. Trudeau, always the sly fox, broke up the so-called ‘gang of eight’ by luring Lévesque with an alternative proposal before the federal government reached an alternative compromise with all other provinces – except Quebec, which was kept (literally) in the dark – during the so-called “kitchen meeting” or “night of the long knives” (in Quebec). The other provinces agreed to a compromise which would take out their “opt out” clause in return for the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause in the Charter. Lévesque was not informed about this compromise until the next morning, and he refused to sign the deal. To this day, Quebec has not ratified the Canadian Constitution.
Constitutional issues remained at the forefront of Canadian federalism during the 1980s. In 1984, Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives came to power in Ottawa, after a landslide victory which had been built, in part, on huge Tory inroads in Quebec, a province where the federal Conservatives had been dead in the water since 1967 (with the exception of the 1958 Diefslide). Mulroney had built his winning coalition with an appeal to Quebec nationalists, by promising to renew the constitution to include Quebec. Following Mulroney’s victory in September 1984, Lévesque declared that he was ready to negotiate with the federal government and put independence on the backburner in the meantime. This strategy, the so-called beau risque, proved controversial within his own party, with a sizable base of PQ purs et durs refusing to endorse Lévesque’s beau risque. Several cabinet ministers resigned in disagreement with the Lévesque strategy.
In June 1985, crippled by the internal dissent in PQ ranks, an economic crisis and ongoing labour unrest in the public sector, Lévesque announced his resignation and was succeeded in September 1985 by Pierre-Marc Johnson, the son of the former UN Premier. A few weeks later, Johnson called an election. Even if the PQ dropped its focus on independence and shifted its campaign to economic issues, he was unable to salvage the sinking ship. Robert Bourassa, who had reclaimed the Liberal leadership in 1983, reclaimed his old office after a landslide victory in December 1985. The Liberals won 56% of the vote and 99 out of 122 seats – even though Bourassa was defeated his own riding (which he had won in a 1985 by-election).
Bourassa’s primary objective was economic growth and healthier finances, and he led a fairly liberal economic policy. However, his government soon found itself at the core of Mulroney’s constitutional negotiations. In 1987, a major constitutional reform – the Lake Meech Accord – was reached after the other provinces and the federal government accepted Bourassa’s 5 preconditions. Meech Lake recognized Quebec as a ‘distinct society’, gave Quebec and the other provinces a veto power over future constitutional amendments, allowed provinces to ”opt out” of federal programs, increased provincial powers over immigration and gave Quebec three judges on the Supreme Court who would have been chosen on the recommendation of the provincial government. The deal required the unanimous consent of all provinces within three years. The provincial legislature of Manitoba did not ratify Meech Lake, and Newfoundland subsequently receded its ratification.
In 1989, Bourassa’s PLQ won reelection with a reduced majority (92/125 seats against 29 for the PQ). The 1989 election was marked by the remarkable success of the Equality Party, which won only 3.7% but elected 4 members from Montreal’s largely Anglophone West Island. In 1987, the Bourassa government had angered the Liberal Party’s Anglophone base with Bill 178, which enforced French unilingual advertising outside private businesses. Three Anglophone PLQ cabinet ministers had resigned in protest against Bill 178.
Constitutional negotiations were given a second chance in 1992. The provinces came in agreement with the federal government in August 1992, signing the Charlottetown Accord. The Charlottetown Accord would have reinvented federal-provincial relations in Canada by reducing federal powers (most significantly, its spending power would have been limited and it would not have been able to attach conditions to fund transfers to provinces used for things such as education or health). The Senate would have been reformed to the West’s likings on a Triple-E model, but Quebec was compensated by a few goodies: distinct society, the 3 Supreme Court judges requirement and a clause which guaranteed Quebec a quarter of the seats in the House of Commons. The project was submitted to a nationwide referendum. In Quebec, sovereigntists such as PQ leader Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, the former Tory cabinet minister who had left the cabinet to form the federal sovereigntist Bloc québécois (BQ), opposed the deal. The Quebecois opponents of the Accord claimed that it had not gone far enough to address Quebec’s grievances against the 1982 Constitution and had taken the form of a grocery list to please all sectional interests. In Canada, 54% of voters rejected the deal. In Quebec, the NO won 56.7%. The rejection of Meech Lake in 1990 and the unpopularity of the Charlottetown Accord relit sovereigntist feelings, after having been considered dead in the early 1980s.
Bourassa became unpopular, and he announced his resignation in 1993, a short time after the BQ won a landslide in the province during the 1993 federal election. He was replaced by Daniel Johnson Jr., the son of the former UN Premier and the brother of the former PQ Premier. Quebec’s economic situation worsened in the early 1990s, and the province was faced with a large deficit which required the government to make major spending cuts and continue its privatization of state-owned companies.
The 1994 election was closely fought – less than one percentage point separated the PQ and the PLQ (44.8% vs. 44.4% for the PLQ), but Jacques Parizeau’s PQ won a majority of the seats – 77 out of 125 against 47 Liberals. A new party, the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), won 6.5% and one seat. The ADQ had been founded in March 1994 by Jean Allaire, the Liberal architect of the Allaire Report which proposed a very decentralized federal model. The PLQ had sidelined Allaire’s plan, leading Allaire and a few others to found the ADQ, which supported the “autonomy” of Quebec within Canada and had right-wing positions on economic issues (balanced budget, reducing the size of the state). Allaire stepped down from the ADQ’s leadership a few months before the September 1994 election and was replaced by the young (25-year old) Mario Dumont, the former leader of the Liberal Party’s youth wing. Dumont was the ADQ’s only MNA after the 1994 election.
Parizeau, a London-trained economist and passionate believer in the sovereigntist cause, had made no secret of his intention to organize a second referendum on independence if the PQ won. On October 30, 1995, the second referendum was held. Unlike in 1980, it was the NO which started out with the momentum, but the YES staged a major comeback, engineered in good part by Lucien Bouchard, who was a more popular campaigner than Parizeau. Support for independence surged to around 55% in the final week(s) before the vote, but the margin narrowed to a dead heat in the final days, including after a massive NO rally on October 27. In the end, the NO won – but by the skin of its teeth – with 50.6% of the vote. Parizeau resigned the next day, claiming that independence had been defeated only by “money and the ethnic vote”.
Parizeau was succeeded by Lucien Bouchard in January 1996. With independence on the backburner for a while, the objective of the new Bouchard PQ government became deficit reduction, with the aim of attaining the fabled balanced budget (déficit-zero) before 2000. Traditionally a social democratic party, the PQ took a major turn to the right under Bouchard’s leadership. The government made sharp budget cuts including deep cuts in healthcare and controversial education reforms. In 1998, the PQ government won reelection with 76 seats against 48 seats for the Liberals and one seat for the ADQ. In April 1998, Jean Charest, the former leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives (Charest had been a Mulroney-era cabinet minister and one of two PC MPs to win reelection in the 1993 disaster), became the leader of the provincial Liberals. The PLQ actually won the popular vote (43.6% vs. 42.9% for the PQ, the ADQ won 11.8%) in the 1998 election.
Bouchard’s government implemented very unpopular municipal amalgamations in 2000, which included the amalgamation of all muncipalities on the island of Montreal into a single municipality (the reforms also concerned, among others, Quebec City, Longueuil and Sherbrooke). Bouchard resigned in 2001 and was succeeded by Bernard Landry. Landry reoriented the PQ on a more social democratic course, notably with an anti-poverty law, and became a more vocal advocate of sovereignty than Bouchard had been. The government remained quite unpopular, but in 2001 and 2002, its unpopularity mostly benefited the ADQ, which won impressive victories in a string of by-elections in 2001 and allowed Mario Dumont to become a serious contender for Premier in 2002 and 2003.
In the 2003 election campaign, however, the ADQ’s support collapsed, with voters uncomfortable with Dumont’s conservatism and inexperience as they learned more about him (courtesy of the PQ and Liberals). Jean Charest campaigned on reducing wait times in healthcare, major income tax cuts, a reduction in the size of the state and a promise to hold referendums on deamalgamation. The PLQ won the election with 46% of the vote and 76 seats, against 33% and 45 seats for the PQ. Dumont’s party increased its support to 18.2%, a gain of over 6.4% on the 1998 election, but the ADQ elected only three additional members to the National Assembly (for a total of 4 seats).
Charest quickly became unpopular. His government did not follow suit on its promise to cut taxes, but the Charest government made major spending cuts, including controversial reductions in student loans and scholarships. The government also aimed to reduce the size of the state, by contracting out in the public sector and experimenting with public-private partnerships in areas such as healthcare. Charest faced the opposition of organized labour in the public sector, students, environmental groups and social movements. However, later in his term, Charest was able to benefit from the troubles of the new leader of the PQ, André Boisclair.
The 2007 election was a very closely fought affair, opposing a fairly unpopular incumbent government to a mediocre opposition leader. Immigration was a major issue in the 2007 campaign, with the controversy over so-called “reasonable accommodations”. It is likely that Mario Dumont’s ADQ benefited from voters’ concerns over immigration, given that the ADQ surged – almost out of nowhere – to win 31% of the vote and 41 seats, placing a close second behind a severely weakened PLQ (48 seats and 33%) but placing ahead of the PQ, which won a calamitous 28% of the vote and only 36 seats. Charest was reelected, but for the first time in over 100 years, the new government was a minority government.
Charest, a shrewd politician, was able to reinvent himself in a bit over a year. He improved his personal image, and his government finally passed those income tax cuts. Charest called a snap election for December 2008, arguing that he was best suited to govern the province during the economic crisis. Charest, proving his remarkable ability to bounce back from defeats, was reelected to a third term (unprecedented for any government since Duplessis) with a majority mandate. The Liberals won 42.1% and 66 seats against 35.2% for the PQ, which won 51 seats. The ADQ, propelled to official opposition with an untested team of paper candidates and rookies, performed badly in opposition – appearing as young amateurs – and it was badly defeated at the polls, winning only 16.4% and 7 seats. Québec solidaire (QS), a sovereigntist party to the PQ’s left, won its first seat with the election of the party’s spokesperson, Amir Khadir.
Recent Developments: Quebec since 2009
The economy, corruption, post-secondary education and northern economic development have been the top issues in Quebec politics.
Quebec has weathered the post-2008 economic crisis fairly well. The unemployment rate stood at 7.6% in July 2010, only 0.3% above the Canadian average. The government’s infrastructure projects, with much-needed work on roads and bridges, has helped to create jobs in the province and keep the provincial unemployment rate comparatively healthy (Quebec has historically tended to have higher unemployment than the rest of Canada).
The province has had budget deficits since 2009, but the Charest government targets a balanced budget by 2013-2014. In the latest budget, the provincial deficit sat, better than expected, at $3.3 billion, representing 1% of the GDP. Quebec could be one of the first provinces to eliminate the deficits which have raked up since 2009 if it balances its budget by 2013-2014. The Charest government’s deficit reduction efforts meant fiscal restraint - job cuts in the provincial public sector and spending cuts – but also some revenue raising measures, notably an increase in the provincial sales tax in 2011 and again in 2012. The tax burden in Quebec remains the highest in the country, proponents would argue that this high tax burden is needed to finance the province’s very generous social programs including subsidized $7-per-day daycare and drug insurance.
While Quebec’s deficit picture is better than that of other provinces – only Saskatchewan (which has a surplus) and Alberta had better government budget balances in 2010-2011 – the rising concern in Quebec is the provincial debt, which is the highest of all provinces (over 51% of the GDP). The Charest government created a “generations fund” to pay off the debt in the long term, and the last budget allocated some funds to this generations fund to help alleviate the provincial debt.
While Charest’s economic record might be one thing which he has going for him, his government has been crippled by an unending flow of corruption allegations. The major allegations began in 2009 and have continued since then. In 2010, Charest’s former justice minister Marc Bellemare came out with allegations that the judicial nomination process was rife with political interference from PLQ fundraisers and cadres. The government created a public inquiry into the judicial appointments process, which in 2011 concluded that Bellemare had not received “collosal pressures” in his nomination of judges, but warned that the appointment process remained permeable to political interference.
The government itself was rocked by the Tomassi scandal, after it was revealed that family minister Tony Tomassi had been granting permits for subsidized daycare places to PLQ donors and activists. Tomassi was expelled from cabinet and caucus in May 2010 before he was forced to resign from the National Assembly.
The main corruption cases, however, involve Quebec’s construction industry. The construction industry in Quebec has long been known to be corrupt and infiltrated by organized crime, and construction costs in Quebec are higher than in any other province. The industry is ridden with corruption, graft, juicy kickback schemes and collusion. The corruption has a major political twist, given the close links which seem to exist between major construction contractors, engineering firms and the PLQ. Contractors and private companies, through various means, have been contributing substantial sums of money to the PLQ’s warchest, a practice which is illegal under Quebec law. Politicians – at all levels of government (the municipal level is particularly corrupt) – take illegal donations from major construction contractors; while organized crime maintains links and contacts within the construction industry, notably the FTQ-Construction (the main union for construction employees). The opposition parties called for a public enquiry into the construction industry and illegal party financing for months, but Charest refused to heed to their demands and preferred alternative routes. The PQ accussed Charest of being unwilling to bite the hand which fed him. Finally, in October 2011, the government announced a public enquiry into the construction industry.
Since spring 2012, Quebec has been rocked by a major student strike which was sparked by the Liberal government’s decision to increase tuition fees by nearly 75% in five years. Tuition fees in Quebec were frozen at $1,668 between 1994 and 2007, at which point they grew by $100 per year to reach $2,168 in 2012. The government announced its intention to increase tuition costs by $256 per year over a five year period to reach $3,793 in 2017. Quebec currently has the lowest tuition fees of all provinces in Canada, and even after the planned fee hike, Quebec would still place in the lower tier of provinces in terms of tuition fees. The government claims that this tuition increase is required to alleviate the underfinancing of the province’s universities. However, student unions found the hike unacceptable, in part also because of serious concerns about the rising burden of student debt.
Student strikes and protests began in February and intensified throughout the spring, but have died down somewhat during the summer and the election campaign. In some cases, protests turned violent as demonstrators attacked private businesses or police forces. Some 20 or so individuals have been injured and over 2,500 persons have been arrested. Neither side have been able (or willing) to come to an agreement or even move past meeting each other, turning the student movement into a widespread political and social crisis. The government’s inability to deal with it and some apparent divisions in government ranks, as evidenced by the recent resignation of the education minister and deputy prime minister, likely forced Charest to call early elections. In May, the government adopted a controversial law – Bill 78 – which restricts freedom of assembly and protest without prior police approval. Some have questioned the constitutionality of the law.
One of the government’s most ambitious projects is the Plan Nord, a plan to develop the economy of northern Quebec and create jobs. This plan, presented by Charest as the “largest project in a generation” involves substantial public and private investments into the construction of mines, the development of renewable energy and the construction of new transportation infrastructures. The government claims that the plan would not only develop the economy of the largely barren but natural resource-rich northern regions of the province, but also created a large number of jobs. Opposition parties are concerned by the low royalties which the province would get from new mining companies, and there are concerns about “selling off” Quebec’s unexploited natural resources to foreign-owned mining companies.
At the partisan level, the PQ went through a major internal crisis in 2011 while the political right in Quebec got a face lift. The PQ has been led since 2007 by Pauline Marois, a long-time politician who has a record as a fairly technocratic cabinet minister (she has served in most high-profile cabinet portfolios). Marois is a strong-willed leader, but she is also a fairly divisive figure and has always faced some dissent from other péquistes. In June 2011, the PQ and her leadership were tested in a major internal crisis after four PQ MNAs quit the party to protest the party’s decision to support a government bill which immunized the controversial construction of a new hockey stadium in Quebec City from judicial proceedings. However, beyond this reason, these resignations also symbolized the unease of certain of the PQ’s purs et durs with Marois’ decision to put the national question on the backburner for a little while. The ranks of those who stepped down included Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe (the wife of former Premier Parizeau, himself a critic of Marois), two well-known hardline sovereigntists within the PQ. Jean-Martin Aussant, another of those who stepped down in June 2011, went on to create his own party – Option nationale (ON), a hardline sovereigntist party, in October 2011.
After its collapse in the 2008 election, the ADQ lost its leader, Mario Dumont. Dumont had been the face of the party since 2008 and remained, even after the ADQ’s surge in 2007, the only prominent member of the party. The leadership contest to succeed him turned into a farce, leading the losing candidate to leave the party and force the party to hold a second leadership contest. The party’s numbers recovered somewhat in 2010 and 2011, returning to their 2008 levels, due to the PLQ’s decling popularity and the PQ’s internal wranglings. However, the fate of the ADQ and Quebec’s political right in 2010 and 2011 rested on one man, François Legault. Legault was in charge of Air Transat, a major airline, until 1997. He was elected as a PQ MNA in the 1998 elected and served as education and later health minister in the Bouchard and Landry cabinets until 2003. Reelected in 2008, Legault resigned from office in 2009. He had progressively disattached himself from the PQ’s raison-d’être, sovereignty. In October 2011, Legault ended speculation and created his own party, the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ).
Parties and Campaigns
The Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) is Quebec’s oldest political party. In the polarized field of Quebec politics, the PLQ is a big-tent federalist party which has opposed the independence of Quebec and supports Quebec’s continued place in Canada. However, despite being a federalist party, the PLQ’s vision of federalism has always been quite distant from the Trudeau-era federal Liberal vision of federalism. Robert Bourassa was not a sovereigntist, but he was clearly a nationalist. During the constitutional debates of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bourassa defended the recognition of Quebec as a ‘distinct society’ and he generally agreed with Brian Mulroney’s vision of decentralized federalism. In his first term in office, Bourassa’s relations with Pierre Trudeau were acrimonious, with Trudeau patronizing Bourassa. Under Jean Charest’s leadership, the PLQ has been slightly less affirmative against Ottawa and the PQ has often accussed Charest of poorly defending Quebec’s interests against the federal government. It is true that there were no constitutional debates during Charest’s term, and neither Quebec nor Ottawa had any interest in opening the Pandora’s box which is the Canadian Constitution. However, Charest’s relations with Stephen Harper (since 2006) have been fairly friend but not particularly warm. Furthermore, the PLQ has made no efforts to loosen the province’s language laws, passed by the first PQ government. Charest is often boasting about how his government has enforced language laws, and Bourassa alienated Anglophones in 1989 with Bill 178.
As a big-tent party, the PLQ unites right and left-wing federalists who might support either the federal Liberals, Conservatives or even New Democrats at the federal level. However, ideologically, the PLQ has a slight lean to the centre-right, especially under Charest’s leadership. Bourassa’s government led a fairly liberal economic policy which included many privatizations and early spending cuts. Charest’s economic policies have been even more right-wing. He won the 2003 election on a platform of tax cuts for the middle-class (which he would not implement until his second term) and vowed to reduce the size of the state. In office, he experimented with private-public partnerships in healthcare and the private sector now plays a significant role in healthcare in the province. He also implemented some concepts of New Public Management in office. That being said, for many on the right, the PLQ is not a ‘truly’ right-wing party. It has not shied away from government intervention in the economy, and it has raised taxes in the past.
The PLQ’s core electorate are minorities – linguistic and ethnic minorities. It receives well over 60-65% of the vote from Quebec’s English-speaking minority and allophones (those whose mother tongue is a non-official language), both groups who strongly oppose Quebec independence. The PLQ’s margins in constituencies with a large percentage of Anglo- or allophones is huge, even if voter turnout in these constituencies is very low. The PLQ’s strong base with these voters has advantages and disadvantages for the party’s electoral performances. The Anglophone and allophone vote for the PLQ is almost a given, which provides the PLQ with a good floor both in the popular vote and the seat county. On the other hand, this rock-solid base of support means that the PLQ suffers from an inefficient vote distribution. It can rake up 65-80% of the vote in constituencies with a very large percentage of linguistic or ethnic minorities, but in the case of a tied popular vote - like in 1994 or 1998, the PLQ tends to be at a disadvantage, unless, of course, the Francophone vote is particularly divided, like in 2007. Besides this federalist base, the PLQ also polls better with wealthier and/or older Francophones who tend to be cooler towards the idea of independence.
Jean Charest is campaigning with a very tough record to defend. Even if he might have an advantage on the economy and jobs, his record on healthcare or education is mediocre and he carries around a huge weight with him – the lingering suspicions of deep corruption within the Liberal Party. The PLQ’s numbers have tanked since the 2008 election, polling third with the Francophone vote and coming dangerously close to hit its floor. The PLQ could have capitalized on the social disturbances linked to the student movement this spring, and it originally did, but the controversial Bill 78 and its incapacity to respond to the student strikes destroyed any chance it had of gaining political capital from the movement. Beyond all this is the fact that Charest has been in power for 9 years, and there is major voter fatigue with his government. Even if Charest is a strong debater and a tested politician who has a knack for miraculously rebounding from the depths of hell, this is certainly one of Charest’s toughest races in his career and one where a huge rebound seems almost impossible.
At the core of Charest’s campaign is the economy and the Plan Nord. Charest has hammered in his “strong management” of the economy, boasting his record – even if it is not all that great – on job creation and public finances. He wants to create 250,000 jobs and reduce unemployment to 6% if he wins reelection. Charest says that his Plan Nord is the biggest project in a generation and he wants it to be the cornerstone of his political legacy. He claims that some 20,000 jobs a year could come out of the plan.
The PLQ had trouble finding prominent candidates, given the low standings of the party in opinion polls. It did dig out a few 2007 ADQ rookies, including Linda Lapointe (Groulx) and Pascal Beaupré (Joliette), and a former federal Liberal MP, Eleni Bakopanos (Crémazie). The PLQ’s candidacy news were rather marked by retirements: Michelle Courchesne, the latest education minister and Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, in office since 1985 and incumbent minister of international relations.
The Parti Québécois (PQ) is the main political representative of the Quebec sovereigntist movement. The party’s raison-d’être has always been the independence of Quebec, and the province’s sovereignty remains its top priority. PQ governments since 1976 have held two referendums on the independence of Quebec, the first in 1980 and the second in 1995, but both were defeated (the last one by less than 1%). The Quebec sovereigntist movement is a civil territorial nationalist movement, which means that the PQ’s project for independence is not overtly ethnic or linguistic based (even if critics may claim that it is), unlike some past nationalist movements in Quebec. The PQ’s project is the independence of Quebec as a territorial entity, not the independence of a French-speaking state in North America which would include more than just Quebec. However, linguistic and ethnic issues and independence are all interconnected, to the point where one might go with the other. The PQ has presented itself as the best defender of Quebec’s distinct culture and the French language. One of its most famous legislative achievement was Bill 101 in 1976, the law which still regulates the use of French and other languages in the province. At various times in its history, the PQ has taken controversial stances on linguistic or cultural issues which have led critics to accuse it of fanning the flames of intolerance and xenophobia. Within the party, there have been some divisions, most famously in 1984 (and 2011?), over the prioritization of independence. The party includes a sizable pur et dur faction which has always placed independence as its top priority, regardless of circumstances, and has rejected any attempts to put sovereignty in the backrooms for a little while.
Ideologically, the PQ is a social democratic, centre-left party. PQ governments are behind some of the province’s generous social programs, including car insurance or $5 (now $7)-per-day daycares. The first PQ government under René Lévesque followed a fairly clear social democratic orientation, but the party shifted quite far to the right (on economic issues) under Premier Lucien Bouchard. After the defeat of the sovereigntist cause in 1995, the PQ government reoriented itself to balancing the budget, which it did by major spending cuts including unpopular cuts and layoffs in the healthcare system. Under his successor, Bernard Landry, the PQ shifted back towards its centre-left origins, but Landry’s hapless successor, André Boisclair (2005-2007) was less social democratic. The party’s current leader, Pauline Marois, appears to be close(r) to the PQ’s centre-left, social democratic roots.
The PQ’s main base is, of course, with francophone voters, though it does not command the level of support that the PLQ commands with Anglo/allophone voters. In regional terms, the sovereigntist movement has been strong in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region, in most of Gaspésie, Abitibi and large swathes of the north shore of the St. Lawrence (Laurenties, Lanaudière, Mauricie). In the 2007 election, one of the main factors behind the PQ’s spectacular collapse was its wipe out in the middle-class suburban and exurban commuter belt of the north shore of Montreal-Laval, where the ADQ swept nearly everything. The ADQ also made major gains in similar exurban middle-class commuter belt communities on the south shore of Montreal, where the PQ is traditionally strong. In the 2008 election, the PQ regained most of its old strongholds on the north and south shores. The PQ has traditionally been strong in heavily Francophone low-income urban areas.
As of today, there does not appear to be a realistic chance for Quebec to become an independent, sovereign country in the near future. Popular support for independence is low, at its floor (a bit over a third of voters), and there is certainly very little appetite for a third referendum in the foreseeable future. Voters are becoming increasingly tired of the old, divisive issues of independence/referendums/sovereignty, and while a large majority of Quebecois are keen on upholding their rights and values within Canada, comparatively few of them still actively support independence. The NDP’s sweep of Quebec in the 2011 federal election was indicative of this fairly widespread sentiment of soft-nationalism without accompanying sovereigntism. The 2011 federal campaign showed that the NDP started running away with the game in Quebec when the Bloc, desperate to turn a tilting ship around after the first signs of the Orange Crush, resorted to old sovereigntist rhetoric and in the process only sped up the NDP’s ascent.
The PQ is placed in a very fragile position with the declining appetite for sovereignty. It must satisfy the hardliners within the party and the sovereigntist movement who would not accept a péquiste campaign which places sovereignty on the shelves, but it must be careful not to overplay the old question of a referendum lest they fancy handing the Liberals a golden issue.
Marois’ campaign this year has been intentionally ambiguous and unclear on the issue of when a PQ government would hold a referendum. She officially states that she would hold one only when she would have “winning conditions”, a line already used by the PQ government after the 1995 defeat. On the other hand, to please the hardliners who threatened her leadership in 2011, she has promised an ambiguous “popular initiative referendum” which would allow for there to be a vote on the issue if 850,000 voters (15% of the electorate) signed a petition. The popular initiative referendum has turned into a nightmare for the PQ, with Marois hinting that there could be certain circumstances in which she would refuse to hold a popular initiative referendum even if 15% of voters asked for one.
In the meantime, the PQ has said that its strategy, if elected, would be to engage Ottawa in a game of tug-of-war. It wants to gain full control over programs such as employment insurance which are currently federal jurisdiction, and it would use a refusal on Harper’s behalf as a tool to boost support for sovereignty.
Language and identity have featured prominently in Marois’ campaign. The PQ wants to adopt a new, tougher Charter of the French Language which would subject businesses with over 10 employees (rather than 50 under the current law) to the law and which would bar Francophones and allophones from attending English-language CEGEPs. The PQ wants to adopt a charte de la laïcité which would ban the public display of any distinctive religious symbol by public employees, but Marois stepped into controversy when she said that she would not remove the crucifix from the National Assembly. Finally, her campaign created a firestorm when she said that she would prevent Anglophones and allophones who do not have an appropriate knowledge of French from running in elections. Critics have accused the PQ of playing on ethnonationalism and fanning the flames of intolerance.
The PQ’s economic platform includes the creation of 15,000 new places in daycares, a temporary freeze in tuition fees at their 2012 level and abolishing Charest’s controversial health tax. To compensate for these new expenses, the PQ wants to increase taxes on high incomes (over $130,000 per year) and limiting the growth in government expenditures to 2.4% a year.
The PQ attracted a number of star candidates this year including notably two journalists, Jean-François Lisée (Rosemont) and Pierre Duchesne (Borduas), and 2o-year old former student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin (Laval-des-Rapides).
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was created in 2011 by François Legault, a former businessman who served in PQ cabinets under Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry. Legault resigned from the National Assembly in 2009 and entertained suspense about his political ambitions for over a year afterwards, with much speculation as to whether or not he would create a new party. In February 2011, Legault laid the foundations for a new party, which was officially registered in November. Legault had distanced himself from sovereigntism, claiming that the national question had become outdated and archaic. The CAQ seeks a middle ground between doctrinaire federalism and sovereigntism, aiming to prioritize more urgent issues, such as the economy, while placing the national question on the shelves. The CAQ wants a ten-year moratorium on any referendum, and Legault recently said that he would vote NO in a future referendum (before backtracking and saying that he would vote NO but would not defend federalism). On economic matters, the CAQ generally lies on the centre-right.
The CAQ is in many aspects similar to Mario Dumont’s ADQ. The ADQ represented a similar ambiguity on the divisive national question, seeking an ‘autonomist’ or soft-nationalist middle ground between the PLQ’s doctrinaire federalism and the PQ’s doctrinaire sovereigntism. Both were populist and right-leaning on economic matters, the ADQ perhaps more so than Legault’s CAQ. The ADQ would have been squeezed out of existence by the CAQ, and there was little rationale for two ideologically similar parties to coexist separately. In January 2012, the ADQ officially merged with the CAQ. At dissolution, the CAQ held nine seats: the four remaining ADQ MNAs, two former ADQ MNAs sitting as independents and three former PQ members.
It is likely that most of the CAQ’s core electorate comes from the old ADQ, even though it is incorrect to assume that all 2008 ADQ voters are backing the CAQ. In terms of regional support, the ADQ was strongest in suburban Quebec City and the south shore of Quebec City, the Chaudières-Appalaches region. This conservative region, where the federal Conservatives have done well, has been described by one political scientist as the Québec mou (‘soft’ Quebec) or the Québec tranquille (the ‘quiet’ or ‘calm’ Quebec). It is a bit of an enigmatic region because it is one of the most heavily French-speaking regions in Canada, yet the sovereigntist cause has found only limited backing in this part of the province. The Beauce region, the most conservative part of Quebec , has a reputation for being an entrepreneurial and ‘pro-business’ right-wing region. Some have thought that this region’s sociological makeup – it is lily-white, older, more blue-collar, fairly poor and socio-politically marginalized from the rest of the province – might explain its voting patterns.
At the outset, the CAQ’s creation was greeted by a short-lived outburst of popular support, which was built on little else than a vague desire for “change” and a “third way” between two tired old parties. Leading the PLQ and PQ in the fall of 2011, the CAQ collapsed to third place as early as January 2012. Legault’s actual political platform, besides “change” and putting sovereignty on the shelves, was always very vague and proposed little of substance. His political opponents still accuse him of trying to play to all sides of the spectrum at the same time, and being intentionally vague about his policies. Despite proximity with some of the ADQ’s old proposals, many on the right still feel relatively uneasy about Legault.
Legault has led a “straight-talking” populist campaign, talking about the need to “clean up” politics. Voters have judged him to be the most competent leader on corruption and integrity issues, and he certainly made a splash when he managed to get the former Montreal police chief-turned-whistle blower Jacques Duchesneau to run for the CAQ (in Saint-Jérôme, a PQ seat). On economic issues, Legault strikes a more centre-right tone. He wants to devote 100% of the royalties from natural resources to pay off the province’s debt, he generally supported the government during the student strike on tuition fees, he has promised immediate tax cuts totaling $1,000 and supports private-public partnerships in healthcare. He has vowed time and time again that a CAQ government would “shake things up” and “clean up waste” by abolishing school boards , health centres and by cutting a lot of jobs in the public sector. His more confrontational attitude against trade unions have won him the ire of Quebec’s two main unions, the FTQ and CSN. He says that just as the PLQ is in cahoots with “corrupt business interests”, the PQ is tied to its “corrupt union” supporters.
Legault’s opponent, both Charest and his former cabinet colleague Pauline Marois, have accused him on several occasions of being an unreliable flip-flopper who besides seeking to pander to all ideologies has changed allegiances from sovereigntism to de facto federalism. To what extent, however, is Legault’s “big flip-flop” a negative for him? At its outsets, one of the CAQ’s main assets beyond being a vague vehicle for change, was that it represented a type of non-sovereigntist soft-nationalism which is quite attractive to a significant proportion of the Quebecois electorate which has grown tired of the divisive national question and the strict division between the doctrinaire federalism and sovereigntism of the PLQ and PQ. The federal NDP’s victory in Quebec in May 2011, as mentioned above, must be interpreted as being reflective of this state of mind rather than any huge NDP inroads with the core of the sovereigntist base.
Despite the original excitement which surrounded the creation of the CAQ, Legault had trouble attracting well-known candidates to his label. In the Argenteuil by-election, the CAQ had a star candidate with former Bloc MP Mario Laframboise. In this campaign, Legault boasts about his “trio” of incorruptibles candidates with a reputation for being anti-corruption crusaders: the whistleblower and former police boss Jacques Duchesneau (Saint-Jérôme), the former president of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec Maud Cohen (Laval-des-Rapides) and incumbent ADQ-CAQ MNA Sylvie Roy (Arthabaska). The other big CAQ star is Dr. Gaétan Barrette, the former president of the provincial specialist doctor’s union, running in Terrebonne. The party’s leader has chosen to run in L’Assomption, a traditionally péquiste seat in the growing exurbs on the north shore of Montreal.
Québec solidaire (QS) is a left-wing sovereigntist party founded in 2006 by the merger of two left-wing parties, including the UFP which was an electoral coalition made up of the remnants of the provincial NDP and the Communist Party. The party has no leader, but is defined by its two spokespersons, feminist activist Françoise David and Iranian-born Amir Khadir. Like the PQ, QS supports the independence of Quebec, which has opened QS to accusations of being a spoiler which divided the sovereigntist vote. However, while the PQ sees sovereignty as an end in itself, QS seems sovereignty as a mean to its ends. It believes that its platform of social justice, environmental protection, defense of women’s rights and upholding Quebec’s culture and language can only be achieved in an independent Quebec. QS also has a different method of reaching this ultimate goal. If elected, it would hold a constituent assembly, which would decide, among others, the political status of Quebec (while the QS would support independence, it would not necessarily result in independence). One or more proposals for a constitutional text for Quebec would then be submitted to the people in a referendum.
QS is the first major threat to the PQ from its left. While QS won a relatively modest 3.8% in the last provincial election in 2008, its profile received a major boost with Amir Khadir’s victory in the downtown Montreal constituency of Mercier. As a third party, QS has the benefit of having a part of its votes concentrated in two ridings – Mercier and Gouin – two gentrified bobo constituencies in downtown Montreal.
QS’ platform is clearly to the left of the PQ. It received attention during the student strikes, where it unambiguously supported the student movement and now supports free tuition. The party supports electoral reform (MMP), abolishing privatization in health care, reducing greenhouse gases by 40% by 2020, developing renewable energies and making income taxes more progressive. It is also concerned by issues such as the French language, Quebec culture, reducing poverty and women’s rights.
QS co-leader Françoise David participated in the main leaders’ debate, in which she performed very strongly. She was lauded for her clear, coherent and concise answers and for attempting to inject other issues, such as education and poverty, into the debate. The emergence of QS as a major political actor has worried the PQ, which has claimed that QS divides the sovereigntist vote.
Option nationale (ON) is a new party founded in 2011 by Jean-Martin Aussant, an ex-PQ MNA. Aussant left the PQ to sit as an independent in June 2011, contending that the PQ had abandoned the issue of sovereignty in favour of “electoralist groupthink”. ON places sovereignty as its first objective, and it considers that a ON government would be a mandate for Quebec to declare de facto sovereignty, at which point a constitution could be drafted and submitted to the people in a referendum to allow for formal, de jure sovereignty.
ON is not the first ‘hardline’ rival to the PQ which has criticized the PQ’s wait-and-see approach to independence, but it is the first of these ‘hardline’ groupings which has become a fairly significant minor threat to the PQ. Aussant received a major boost during the campaign when former Premier Jacques Parizeau, whose dislike for Marois is no secret, endorsed him. Parizeau’s wife, Lisette Lapointe, a retiring independent (ex-PQ) MNA, had already endorsed ON.
Besides independence, ON has a very left-wing platform. It wants to nationalize natural resources, free tuition (from preschool to the doctorate, with conditions) and supports limiting the role of the private sector in health care. To achieve the de facto sovereignty of Quebec, a ON government would seek to gain control over all taxes payed and all powers from Ottawa.
ON is ideologically similar to QS, despite certain differences between the two parties, notably on the prioritization of sovereignty. However, both parties agreed to a mini-deal for the elections. QS is not running a candidate against Aussant in his constituency of Nicolet-Bécancour, while ON is not running a candidate against David in Gouin. ON has managed to field 121 candidates (125 seats in total), a very impressive result for a young party with a limited organization.
The Green Party of Quebec (PVQ) is running only 66 candidates. The Greens were reborn in 2001 after a short-lived stint as a sovereigntist party in 1989 (2% of the vote). In 2007, the Greens ran 108 candidates and won 3.9% of the vote, but they ran only 80 candidates and won 2.2% in 2008. The Green Party’s position on the national question is very unclear. The PVQ’s potential electorate is naturally attracted to QS, meaning that the PVQ’s only real base is with Anglophone voters who do not vote Liberal. In 2007 and 2008, it placed a very distant second to the Liberals in a number of West Island Liberal citadels, winning about 15% of the vote in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
There are a handful of other parties, including a new Conservative Party led by former federal Conservative MP Luc Harvey. The PCQ is running only 27 candidates. The federal NDP does not have a provincial party in Quebec, though a provincial NDP with formal ties to the federal party existed between 1963 and 1989, at which point the NPDQ and the federal NDP broke all formal ties. The provincial NDP had become a left-wing sovereigntist party. However, after the success of the federal NDP in Quebec in May 2011, there has been some speculation about the recreation of a provincial party. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair recently announced that there would be a provincial party for the next provincial election. The left-federalist side of the spectrum is largely unrepresented in Quebec, given that the PLQ leans to the right. A new left-federalist party, the UCQ, is running 20 candidates this year.
Polling and Predictions
Polls in this campaign, thus far, have indicated a close three-way contest with the PQ maintaining a narrow but consistent advantage over its two major rivals.
The absence of consistent polling, most notably a daily tracking poll, is quite frustrating. We are dependent on three pollsters, of which only two are tested in the field of Quebec provincial elections. A poll from Léger, which has a long track record in the province, gave the PQ 33% support against 28% for the CAQ and 27% for the PLQ. QS received 7%, ON and the Greens were at 2% apiece. A new poll from CROP gave the PQ 33%, with the CAQ at 28% and the PLQ down to 26%. For comparison, in the 2008 election, the Liberals won 42.1% of the vote against 35.2% for the PQ and 16.4% for the ADQ.
On such a split of the vote, the PQ would be able to eek out a bare absolute majority in the National Assembly, but any margin smaller than 5% between the top two parties would likely result in a minority government. Too Close to Call’s projector, which can be modified, predicts 64 seats (majority: 63) for the PQ against 32 for the Liberals and 27 for the CAQ (+ 2 for QS) on the basis of the latest poll from Léger. Using the CROP data, the PQ would have 66 seats against 28 apiece for the CAQ and Liberals, with QS winning two seats and Aussant (ON) holding his seat.
Obviously the only thing which matters is the seat count, but an absolute majority on something like 33% of the vote would be a Pyrrhic victory for the PQ. While losing the 2008 election, the PQ had won 35% of the vote, which had been considered a strong showing. In the 2003 election, in which the Liberals won a convincing victory, the PQ won only 33% of the vote. In the 2007 disaster, the PQ was reduced to a mere 28% of the vote.
Pauline Marois is not an asset for the PQ. Even if she is a tough leader who managed to survive the onslaught of dissidence and polling disasters in the summer of 2011, she is not perceived favourably by most voters and she has failed to inspire many voters. Her campaign has been surprisingly weak and though she performed decently both in the all-leader debate and two individual “one-on-one” debates with Charest and Legault, she did not score any knockout punches. In the past week or so, the PQ campaign has gone from kerfuffle to kerfuffle: the “charter of laïcité“, the “popular initiative referendum”, the ban on Anglo/allophone candidates with poor French language skills or just recently with the mini-brouhaha about “conservative sovereigntists” (she told them to vote PLQ or CAQ, but later backtracked by saying that she misunderstood the question). She has been forced to clarify her positions, backtrack from previous statements, contradict things she said in the past or correct the pronouncements of other people in the PQ.
If Marois and the PQ wins, it will not only be with an unconvincing popular vote mandate but it will be in spite of Pauline Marois. Against Jean Charest, reviled by over 60% of voters, she weighs up as a good ‘least worst’ option, though Legault now poses a major threat to her for this dubious honour. A PQ government would not be a mandate for a third referendum within a short time frame, which is something which Marois understands quite well. Voters are more concerned about bread-and-butter issues in this election than they are with picking fights with Ottawa (even if Harper is hardly popular in the province) or talking about a third referendum.
Even if the PQ is performing quite poorly, the PLQ’s performance is set to be disastrous. In existence since confederation, the worst Liberal result was 33.1% of the vote in the 2007 election. It has never dropped below 30% of the vote, yet it is quite likely that the PLQ could be winning less than 30% of the vote on September 4. The Liberals are hitting their floor at a rapid pace.
Jean Charest’s extreme unpopularity is the top reason for the PLQ’s apparent decrepitude. Even if he is a good campaigner, a strong politician and winning debater, the lingering dark cloud of corruption which hovers over his head (added to his unpopular record in government and a botched response to the student crisis) have prevented him to bounce back for a final time. The race for first remains very close, and there is still a chance that if the PQ sheds support to its left and right, then the PLQ could stand a chance at bouncing back to win a minority government. The Liberals certainly hoped that the PQ’s decision to jump head first into the murky waters of linguistic issues and referendums would provide them with a golden opportunity to coalesce the federalist vote against the PQ, but thus far if there is any PLQ bump due to the PQ’s poor campaign, it has not been picked up by pollsters.
Even if the party places third in the popular vote, it could salvage official opposition status. At 27% or so support, the Liberals are very much relegated to their core non-Francophone/minority vote. Léger had the PLQ polling only 18% and distant third with Francophone voters, a number which would spell disaster for many PLQ incumbents in heavily Franco seats. With Anglo and allophone voters, the PLQ still retains over 65% support. The CAQ was making some inroads with this rock-solid Liberal electorate, and it now polls roughly 15-20% with these voters (clearly not insignificant) but the solid Liberal vote with this electorate is not in any sort of doubt or jeopardy. While in cases of a tied popular vote for first place, the PLQ’s vote distribution is inefficient, in the potential case of a tied popular vote for second-third place, the PLQ has an advantage over the CAQ because it can count on at least 20 seats off the bat from the West Island and the Outaouais. However, the PLQ would be swept out in most of central Quebec, the Eastern Townships, metro QC City and Abitibi.
Charest is seriously threatened in his own riding, Sherbrooke. His seat, which he has held since the 1998 election, is not a traditional Liberal stronghold and he has never won by fantastic margins. In 2007, the TV networks famously announced his defeat in Sherbrooke before doing a Florida 2000 and retracting the call. He won by 1,332 votes in 2007 (36.6% vs. 32.9% for the PQ) and increased his majority to 2,314 votes in 2008 (45.2% vs. 37.6% for the PQ). The PQ is running a strong and popular candidate against Charest, former Bloc MP Serge Cardin (defeated by a NDP rookie in 2009). Two riding polls in Sherbrooke have given Cardin a lead over 10% over Charest, with the anti-Charest vote apparently coalescing heavily behind Cardin.
Sherbrooke is notable for having the largest student population of any major city in Quebec, though with the election being held on September 4, student turnout across Quebec will likely be fairly low. Polls have shown that there is a strong generational cleavage in this election: the Liberals are still dominant with voters aged over 65, but their numbers with the youngest cohort have totally tanked (below 20%).
The major question mark in this election is the CAQ. To begin with, there is the unknown of to which extent the 2008 ADQ vote can be assumed to be a good predictor, universally, of the CAQ’s floor in this election. While polls have shown that most 2008 ADQ voters are backing the CAQ, the transfer between the two parties is not perfect at 100% and would be, at best, only 75%. That being said, the structure of the CAQ’s electorate seems similar to the ADQ/centre-right vote in Quebec. It has been strongest in metro Quebec City, where it is currently ahead of the PLQ and PQ, and it will likely perform as strongly as the ADQ in the Québec tranquille to the south of the capital.
There has been some disagreements as to where the CAQ’s “new voters” (besides 2008 ADQ voters) have come from. The June by-elections and polling trends would seem to indicate that the Liberals bled a considerable number of their 2008 voters to the CAQ, but others have contended that the CAQ has drawn more or less equally from the PQ and PLQ. I vaguely remember a second-choice poll not too long ago in which the CAQ’s voters split their second choices equally between the PQ and PLQ, while Forum Research (even though some of its number are often fishy…) told us that the CAQ drew 21% of 2008 PLQ voters and 15% of 2008 PQ voters, in addition to 58% of 2008 ADQ voters.
As mentioned above, public opinion greeted the CAQ’s creation last fall by placing it far ahead of the field with some 35% support, but the CAQ’s honeymoon with voters was short-lived. They dropped to the low 20s by the new year. However, Legault led a strong campaign, with his straight-talking populism and his tough talk of “shaking things up” and “cleaning up” likely striking a chord with many voters. The CAQ progressively started roaring back into serious contention, if not for power then at least for official opposition. Legault is the most popular of the three main leaders – though that only means that his approval and disapproval numbers are tied rather than being deeply in the red (like they are for Charest and Marois), and to most voters, the CAQ is the best representative of change and the best party to fight corruption.
While a week and a bit is definitely a short time frame for the CAQ to actually win the election, it is a real possibility. Quebec has a knack for surprising election results, with ADQ-2007 and NDP-2011 being the two most recent example. While at this juncture it would be very difficult for the CAQ to make further inroads with the Liberals, given how the Liberal vote is coming primarily from the Anglos and allophones, the CAQ can hope that QS grinds into PQ support to close the gap between first and second. Recently, the media narrative is that Legault is Marois’ main threat, and if this narrative holds on, it is not impossible to see the anti-PQ/anti-Marois/anti-independence vote coalesce behind Legault and the CAQ to defeat the PQ. That being said, the nature of PLQ support at this point means that it would require, on the CAQ’s behalf, major inroads with ethnic and linguistic minorities. Much ink has already been spilled on the CAQ’s potential with Anglophone voters and Legault has courted their votes somewhat, but Charest has been careful not to forget the PLQ base and reminded them of their beef with one of Legault’s top planks – abolishing school boards. Even if the CAQ can pull upwards of 20% with non-Francophones, it would probably not be enough to wrestle many seats away from the PLQ, especially on the West Island.
QS has been pulling 6-8% in this campaign, which despite being below the heights reached by the party during the pre-campaign (up to 10) are still excellent numbers. The party’s main objective in this election is to win a second seat. In Gouin, Françoise David is in her third attempt to take down PQ incumbent Nicolas Girard, who defeated her in 2008 by a 9.3% margin. QS’ changes in Gouin are on a knife’s edge, but with QS likely to score most of its gains on Montreal Island and David likely to receive a major boost from her strong performance in the leader’s debate, she might be the narrow favourite. Nicolas Girard is a fairly high-profile PQ incumbent, but David clearly built up her profile and notoriety tons with the debate.
While the road from one seat to two seats is fairly straightforward for QS, the road from a second seat to a third seat is quite difficult and would require a significant swing in QS’ favour, and 6-8% in the province would not be enough (unless the gains from 2008 are all on Montreal Island). QS’ third seat would probably be Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, where Manon Massé received 15.4% of the vote in 2008 (she had won 22% in a 2006 by-election). But the PQ won 46.6% in that seat, hence requiring QS to eat up a 31% PQ majority. Laurier-Dorion (13% QS, 30% winner-QS margin) and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (12.9% QS, 41% winner-QS margin) are the fourth and fifth strongest QS seats in the province, but even more out of reach for QS.
ON managed to field an impressive amount of candidates, nearly a full slate, but their only real objective in this election is likely to reelect their leader, Jean-Martin Aussant in his riding of Nicolet-Bécancour. When Aussant quit the PQ to create his new party, a majority of the local PQ riding association followed in his lead. There have already been two riding polls out of his riding (loads of salt and all that), one of them had him a close second behind the CAQ while the other had him leading the field. The unexpected public endorsement of Jacques Parizeau might boost Aussant’s chances to win reelection. Provincially, ON with 121 candidates will certainly easily beat the Greens and their 66 candidates.
This election is still very much up in the air because of the number of real three-way contests, and the high potential for many ‘fluke’ victories or holds because of the three-way tossups in some seats. The real battleground will likely be the 450 area code (the north and south shore suburbs of Montreal, excluding Laval) with a good number of three-way races, PQ-CAQ battles or PQ-PLQ contests.
The north shore (Laurentides and Lanaudière) will be make-or-break for the CAQ, which will need to match the ADQ’s impressive 2007 performance in these traditionally solidly PQ ridings if it wants to place second in the seat count or win the election altogether. The CAQ has three of its star candidates in these crucial ridings: Legault himself in L’Assomption, a PQ-held seat with a 28.6% margin in 2008 between the PQ and ADQ (on notional results) but which has no defending PQ incumbent; Dr. Barrette in Terrebonne, a seat with a defending PQ incumbent which had a 24% margin between PQ and ADQ in 2008; and Duchesneau in Saint-Jérôme, a seat with a defending PQ incumbent who had a 22% majority over the ADQ in 2008. The north shore also features two other key races for the CAQ in Blainville and Deux-Montagnes, where PQ-turned-CAQ MNAs Daniel Ratthé and Benoit Charette are seeking reelection for the CAQ.
The south shore is slightly less exciting in terms of close races, and the CAQ’s impact will be more limited. The Liberals will certainly hold La Pinière (Brossard, a seat with a very large non-Franco population) and might squeak through in Laporte (Saint-Lambert/Greenfield Park); the PQ is safe in Marie-Victorin, Taillon and Vachon. In the new constituency of Sanguinet, PQ-turned-CAQ incumbent François Rebello is running for reelection under the colours of Legault’s party, and the CAQ might have a shot in La Prairie as well.
In the exurban and rural reaches of south shore (Montérégie), the CAQ will definitely be a major threat to PQ incumbents in Iberville, Saint-Hyacinthe, Saint-Jean while it threatens the Liberals in Huntingdon.
CROP’s crosstabs showed a very close contest between the PQ and the CAQ in the 450, with the PQ (37%) leading Legault’s party by only two points (35%), with the Liberals out of the match entirely (21%). On these numbers, the PLQ would be dead in the water outside Brossard (La Pinière), Vaudreuil and probably Laporte; while a good number of both north and south shore suburban and exurban ridings would be on a knife’s edge between the PQ and CAQ, holding the keys to a PQ majority government or a CAQ official opposition/surprise victory.
Outside the suburban regions of the 450, the CAQ’s surge has likely placed the ridings of Joliette and Berthier (both in Lanaudière), previously assumed to be solidly péquiste, into serious contention between the PQ and the CAQ.
Laval could see some close (three-way) races in all but one of the island’s six ridings. Laval-des-Rapides is certainly the most closely fought battle, given that it pits a Liberal incumbent against PQ and CAQ star candidates. The seat has a thin 6.4% notional Liberal majority, but the CAQ’s Maud Cohen will certainly poll much better than the ADQ’s paltry 10% in 2008. Additionally, Fabre, Vimont, Sainte-Rose and Mille-Îles should all see some very closely disputed three-way battles, with PLQ incumbents in very tenuous positions.
Montreal itself is extremely polarized, meaning that despite the big number of seats up for grabs on the island, only a few (five at most) are even remotely competitive. Gouin, where the QS’ David faces the PQ incumbent for a third rematch, is the most closely disputed races in Montreal. The PQ has a shot at gaining Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne (8.8% PLQ majority), Laurier-Dorion (9.1% PLQ majority),Verdun (12.4% PLQ majority) or Anjou-Louis-Riel (16% PLQ majority) from the Liberals, but it is quite possible that the PLQ could still walk out with a win in these four seats even if it does poorly in the province as a whole. If the PLQ sinks below 30 seats, it is likely that a majority of the new Liberal caucus will hail from Montreal Island.
The CAQ, like the ADQ, has not made a breakthrough on the island. There are no ridings, as far as I know, on Montreal Island, where the CAQ holds a solid chance of winning or at least coming close to first place.
Central Quebec and the Eastern Townships will also be a key region with major contests to follow and three-way battles. Besides the Premier’s race in Sherbrooke, which will monopolize all attention on September 4, there is also Jean-Martin Aussant’s battle for reelection in Nicolet-Bécancour. For the CAQ, one of their top incumbents (and one of Legault’s trio of incorruptibles), Sylvie Roy, saw her constituency abolished by redistricting, forcing her to run in Arthabaska against Liberal incumbent Claude Bachand, who has a 14.3% majority over the ADQ on 2008 notional results. In the core of the Québec tranquille, the CAQ will be seeking to defeat two Liberal incumbents in Beauce-Sud and Bellechasse, two seats which the Liberals gained from the ADQ in 2008 with a thin majority.
Between the PQ and PLQ in the Eastern Townships, the contest in Richmond between the PQ’s Etienne-Alexis Boucher (the incumbent in the old seat of Johnson) and Karine Vallières, the daughter of retiring PLQ incumbent Yvon Vallières (Richmond) is getting some serious attention. The Liberals have a small 5% majority on notional results from 2008, but the PQ needs to make gains in the towns of Asbestos and Richmond which went heavily for the Liberals in 2008. The PQ is also a major threat to PLQ incumbents in Orford, Saint-François and Mégantic. The CAQ could be a major factor in Johnson, Drummond-Bois-Francs, Lotbinière-Frontenac and Nicolet-Bécancour, ridings where the ADQ was dominant in 2007 and strong in 2008.
In Mauricie, located on the north shore between Montreal and Quebec, the CAQ will be hoping to gain seats which the ADQ had won in 2007 but which the PQ or PLQ had regained in 2008. Trois-Rivières is a key three-way contest, the PLQ is defending with Danielle St-Amand (who won the seat, Premier Duplessis’ old political base, from the ADQ in 2008), and the PQ has a well-known candidate with Djemila Benhabib, famous for her activism in favour of secularism (and at the centre of a firestorm with the very traditionalist conservative mayor of Saguenay Jean Tremblay). A poll showed Benhabib up on the Liberals, but a more recent poll showed the PLQ ahead. The CAQ, furthermore, could very well creep up from behind in Trois-Rivières or other seats in the regions, including Maskinongé and Champlain.
In metro Quebec City, all polling has shown the CAQ with a strong advantage over the Liberals, who have maintained second place (but with their usual crummy numbers), with the PQ in a close third. If these numbers hold up for the CAQ, it would be a major upset if they did not gain ridings such as Lévis (where they appear to have a fairly prominent candidate), Vanier-Les Rivières, Montmorency, Charlesbourg or Portneuf. In Louis-Hébert, incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Sam Hamad is seriously threatened by the CAQ, leaving only health minister Yves Bolduc in a fairly good position in Jean-Talon. In Taschereau, the PQ’s only foothold in Quebec City, PQ incumbent Agnès Maltais faces Clément Gignac, the Liberal natural resources minister (who is an incumbent for a Montreal-area riding, but running in Quebec City this year), but she should have no trouble winning.
In the Bas-Saint-Laurent, the contests in Côte-du-Sud and Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata, two ridings whose boundaries changed considerably, are closely fought. The Liberals are the defending incumbents in both, but they face a strong challenge from the CAQ in Côte-du-Sud, which includes part of the old riding of Montmagny-L’Islet, which the ADQ won in 2007; and the PQ fancies its chances in Rivière-du-Loup-Témiscouata but there is an outside chance for a CAQ upset. In the Gaspésie region, the PQ has the ambition of taking out three PLQ incumbents. In Gaspé and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, this seems like a very reasonable proposition given the decrepitude of the Liberals. However, taking out the Liberals in Bonaventure will be more difficult. The PLQ held that seat without too much trouble in a by-election in November, and while the PLQ’s fortunes have only worsened since last fall, it still seems like Bonaventure would go down with the Liberal ship.
In the Saguenay, the PQ will regain Dubuc from the Liberals and hold all other seats. In Abitibi, the two PLQ incumbents in Abitibi-Est and Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue look like goners. The Outaouais region should prove one of the last Liberal holdouts, with the PQ requiring major swings to overturn the large Liberal majorities in a region where the PQ has been shut-out since 1981. However, with the state of the PLQ, the PQ has a fighting chance in two seats in the region: Hull and Papineau, two seats where the Liberals won over 50% of the vote in the last election.
Quebec’s election on September 4 promises a very closely fought contest between three parties, and the unpredictable nature of Quebec politics certainly promises us a good deal of surprises. But Quebec’s election will also hold consequences beyond the provincial border of Quebec. The election of a PQ government would change power relations between Quebec and Ottawa in a fairly dramatic way.
Federal general elections will be held in Mexico on July 1, 2012. Alongside the President of Mexico, the entirety of both houses of the General Congress will be up for election. Seven states will hold gubernatorial and local legislative elections simultaneously; another six states will be holding municipal and local legislative on the same day.
Quirks of Mexico’s Political System
The President of Mexico is elected by popular vote to a six-year term. The Mexican constitution of 1917 is largely modeled on the American constitution, thus the Mexican President has powers comparable to that of the American President. This has been the case since 1997 or 2000, when political reforms and a sea-change in the nature of Mexican politics rendered the President less hegemonic vis-à-vis Congress and other federal and state institutions.
One of the main principles of Mexican politics, inherited from the Mexican Revolution and enshrined in the 1917 constitution, is that of no reelection (no reelección), which prevents the President of Mexico from succeeding himself. The President may not even serve non-consecutive terms. There have been some major proposals to allow for presidential reelection, but by and large, the Mexican political class holds this principle as a sacrosanct one.
The second peculiarity of the Mexican presidency is that the president is elected by first-past-the-post, with no runoffs. In the 2006 election, the winning candidate won with only 35% of the vote, and the contested and feeble nature of this mandate has led to numerous proposals to switch to a system of runoff voting, though bills to change the electoral system in this regard have not been successful to date.
The General Congress of Mexico is composed of two houses: the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and the Senate (Senado). Both houses, which are directly elected, are equal in their legislative capacities. The principle of no reelection does not only apply to the President in Mexico: deputies and Senators may not seek immediate reelection, meaning that every legislature is entirely renewed compared to the last.
The Chamber of Deputies has 500 members elected for a three-year term. 300 of these members are ‘majority representatives’ elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies. The other 200 members are elected by party-list proportional representation in five super-constituencies which elect 40 members each. Since 1996, there is a rule which places a limit on the size of the majority a party can win: a party cannot get more seats than 8% above its popular vote (hence, a party can win an absolute majority with 42% of the vote) and it can win no more than 300 seats in the Chamber even if it has won over 52% of the vote. One of the Chamber’s main exclusive prerogatives is examining, reviewing and approving the federal revenue and budget.
The Senate has 128 members elected for a six-year term. 96 Senators are elected to represent Mexico’s 31 states and theFederal District, with each state and the DF returning three senators each. 64 of these senators – or two of the three seats in each state – are awarded to the party or coalition which has won the most votes in the state. The remaining 32 seats – the last seat out of the three seats in each state – are given to the party which has placed second in the state. An additional 32 Senators are elected by proportional representation. The Senate has some exclusive powers over foreign policy and diplomacy, and it also has a special responsibility as an agent of oversight on the executive.
Mexican Political History
The dominance of a single party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), for 71 years between 1929 and 2000 has left a profound mark on Mexican politics and has contributed, in large part, to shaping the Mexican party system and forming Mexican political traditions.
Mexico stands out in the post-Revolution era from other Latin American countries for its remarkable political or at least institutional stability in the hands of a single party. Unlike in other Latin American countries whose political history in the past hundred years have been marked by a succession of military coups, authoritarian military regimes, unstable democratic experiments and the general absence of a solid and stable party system, Mexico’s political history since the Revolution has been marked by a remarkable balance of power between civilians and the military, an absence of military coups against the established political order and the general lack of strong personalist leaders.
The PRI was founded in 1929 by President Plutarco Elías Calles (as the PRN, it became the PRM in 1938 and took its present name in 1946) as a means of entrenching the political power and dominance of the revolutionary elites and ‘institutionalizing’ the goals of the Revolution. What these revolutionary goals were in practice is another matter, given the complex web of factions which fought in the Revolution and the different interpretations of the Revolution’s actual goal. However, the Revolution’s general goal could be described as nationalist, anti-clerical and vaguely leftist (in a non-Marxist and probably non-socialist way). But assigning an ideology to the PRI, at any time in its history, is almost certainly a terrible idea. The PRI was born and remains a party of power, following an eclectic, opportunistic and pragmatic approach to governance and politics. The PRI has tended more to the left than to the right, and it is a member of the Socialist International, but the descriptors left or right do not do justice for a party of power such as the PRI.
The PRI must be understood first and foremost as a hegemonic all-encompassing political machine which, between 1929 and 2000, was interchangeable with the state. The PRI entrenched its political dominance of the country by playing the carrot and the stick, shrewdly balancing repression with concessions and enticements of various sorts to potential rivals and opponents. It built up its remarkable dominance through a corporatist alliance composed largely of the industrial working-class and the rural peasantry. But to cement its dominance, the PRI knew how to placate both sectors without conceding too much but also how to play both of them against one another, preventing an alliance between the urban worker and the rural peasant which, in Latin America, usually threatened the established ruling order. From this system, Mexico has retained a corporatist union structure, with unions historically tied to the PRI and historically dependent on it.
Politically, the PRI was a state-party like few if any other political parties in Latin America. Most parties in Latin Americahave tended to be the personal vehicles of a caudillo-politician or at best a small group of powerful personalities, which are shaped and driven by with their leaders and usually live and die with them. The PRI as an all-encompassing, hegemonic but non-personalist political party is thus quite unique inLatin America. The PRI has certainly had its powerful personalities, but the PRI cannot be said to have been shaped and driven by a particular one of these personalities.
Between 1929 and 1988, Mexico was practically a single-party state. But not quite: the PRI allowed for a semblance of democracy and electoral competition and did not ban outright all opposition parties. In practice, however, with its control of the state apparatus at all levels and through use of vote rigging, the PRI was the only relevant political force. It invariably controlled the presidency, held almost all seats in Congress, controlled all state governorships and governed almost all municipalities. The PRI paid lip service to democracy and turned federalism into a farce.
One of the things which set the PRI apart from all other political parties in Latin Americawas how it tended, as a party, to be above the change of leadership in the presidential palace. The President served his six-year term, and during this term he could count on the subservience and absolute loyalty of the entire PRI and its cohorts of elected officials. At the end of his term, the President, in conjunction with PRI bosses, handpicked his chosen successor (a process known as the dedazo) who went on to win the for-show-only election easily. It was then expected that the ex-President would bow out of politics and remain silent. Thus, the PRI proved above individuals who succeeded one another in power.
The PRI taken as a whole hardly had (or has) a solid, consistent ideology to speak of, but individual PRI presidents have shifted the pendulum from left to right and back again. In 1934, Calles placed a local governor, Lázaro Cárdenas, on the throne with the hopes of using him as his tool. Instead, Cárdenas turned out to become one of Mexico’s most well-known and popular leaders, in addition to being one of Mexico’s most left-wing rulers in its history. Cárdenas’ landmark measures – a major agrarian reform which distributed land to cooperative settlements and landless peasants, the nationalization of Mexican oil reserves and the creation of a public oil monopoly (Pemex) – turned him overnight into a nationalist and left-wing hero in Mexico.
But Cárdenas proved to be the exception rather than the rule for the PRI. His successors could be aptly described as conservative (if not reactionary) statist kleptocrats. The 1950s and 1960s were the PRI’s heyday. In these years, the import-substitution model allowed for the development of a strong domestic market, a growing economy, industrialization and social stability in the context of the all-encompassing priista leviathan. However, the first dents in the PRI’s machine were dealt in 1968, under the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. With the summer Olympics as a backdrop, the government faced major student protests, which it bloodily put down in the October 1968 Tlatelolco massacre.
The 1968 massacre could be considered as the first crack in a long and painful series of cracks which finally led to the crumbling of the PRI machine. His two successors – Luis Echevarría (the man behind Tlatelolco) and José López Portillo – could be considered as more or less left-leaning presidents, but in large part they continued the priista tradition of corruption, graft, patronage, wasteful binge spending and clumsy statist economic policies (fixed exchange rate, subsidies on food, state-owned monopolies, inflationary fiscal policies). All this meant that the Mexican economy would be quickly beset by a series of problems: rising inflation, ballooning deficits, a balance of payments deficit, shortfalls in the output of basic foodstuffs, an overvalued exchange rate (which the government was forced to devalue in 1976) and an economic dependence on oil. A mini-oil boom under López Portillo allowed for an artificial survival until 1982, when the economy collapsed under the weight of rising inflation, falling oil prices and high interests.
1982 marked a turning point for the PRI, which started turning away from its statist traditions and embraced economic liberalism (of sorts). In 1982, López Portillo was succeeded by an Harvard-trained technocrat, Miguel de la Madrid, who immediately implemented austerity measures (strings attached to an IMF bailout) and a program of economic liberalization (privatizations, knocking down old tariff walls). These policies did not succeed in getting Mexico out of the ditch; in fact they created a deep recession and burgeoning social discontent (albeit not on a mass scale).
In their use of the dedazo, successive PRI presidents had usually been careful in allowing the balance to swing back and forth between the PRI’s left and right, as to not alienate any particular constituency. However, in 1988, de la Madrid’s pick of Carlos Salinas, another unpopular right-wing technocrat, led to the first major crack in the PRI coalition and signaled the beginning of the end for the priista machine.
In the past, the PRI’s main also-ran partisan rival had been the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), a small right-wing and fairly clerical party which had been kicking since 1939, obviously without success. In the 1988 election, the PRI now faced serious competition to its left, in the person of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the son of Lázaro Cárdenas and the leader of the PRI’s left. Cárdenas ran an exceptionally strong campaign to the PRI’s left, posing the first real threat to the PRI’s hegemony over Mexican politics.
Ultimately, Salinaswon the 1988 election, though perhaps only because the government’s computer system used to count the votes mysteriously broke down (se cayó el sistema) and shockingly proclaimed the PRI candidate as the winner when it reopened.Salinas continued his predecessor’s policy of liberalization, with an aggressive privatization policy which lined the pockets of his friends, but most notably with Mexico’s integration into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992.
Salinaswas succeeded by Ernesto Zedillo, a more centrist figure, in 1994. Zedillo immediately faced a major economic collapse as investors fled the country, fearful of an overvalued peso. The new government was forced to devalue the peso and seek the United States’ financial assistance. At the same time, the country faced growing unrest. In January 1994, an uprising in the poor southern state of Chiapasled by Zapatistas shook the country’s stability (though the EZLN never threatened the government’s stability) and drug cartel violence in the north of the country became more preeminent.
Zedillo sped up and completed the slow democratization of the country. He created an electoral commission and electoral tribunal independent from the state (PRI) apparatus, a ground-breaking move which led to the PRI’s slow demise. In the 1997 midterm elections, the PRI lost its absolute majority in Congress. Ahead of the 2000 presidential election, Zedillo and the PRI did away with the dedazo and created an open primary contest between four candidates.
The 2000 election ushered in one of the most important political realignments in Mexican history. For the first time since its creation, the PRI lost the presidency to another party. The victor was Vicente Fox of the right-wing PAN. Fox’ election was accompanied by a wave of enthusiasm and optimism at home and abroad, hoping that the political sea change would lead to major changes and reforms in Mexico and finally assert Mexico as a twenty-first century liberal democracy.
Fox proved to be a fairly popular and mildly successful president, but his sexenio was not the success that he and others had hoped it would be. Economic growth during his six-year term was fairly slow, worn down by Chinese competition after Mexico joined the WTO. Mexicans faced the tough realities of democratic pluralism. The PAN’s efforts at reforms were held back, in part, by a divided Congress (the PAN, unlike the PRI between 1929 and 1997, lacked an absolute majority) and more powerful state governors who affirmed their power and influence.
In 2006, political cards were shifted around one more time. In the PAN primaries, it was an ‘old-timer’ (historic members of the party, as opposed to people like Fox who are more recent members), Felipe Calderón, who came out on top over Fox’s protégé, Santiago Creel. The PRI chose the worst candidate it possibly could: the unpopular party boss, Roberto Madrazo, who was despised by half the party (most significantly the very powerful boss of the teachers’ union) and a lot of voters. Madrazo’s campaign, never strong to begin with, collapsed into a distant third place as a lot of regional PRI bosses, most of whom loathed Madrazo, supported one of the other candidates: the PAN’s Calderón or the candidate of the left-wing PRD, Mexico Citymayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).
The 2006 election was extremely polarized between clear ideological opposites, left and right. AMLO led a rabble-rousing populist, nationalist and staunchly left-wing campaign which won him comparisons toBolivia’s Evo Morales andVenezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Some of his proposals worried Mexican middle-classes, but AMLO, a remarkable ‘messianic’ politician, carried a strong appeal to a lot of poorer, downtrodden voters in southern and central Mexico.
The result was extremely narrow: Calderón won with 35.9% in the end, but AMLO trailed him by a very tight margin, with 35.3% (Madrazo won 22.3%). AMLO subsequently refused to endorse the legitimacy of the election and took to calling himself the ‘legitimate’ president and blocked a major artery in Mexico Citywith humongous protests after the election. AMLO’s attitude after the election proved quite controversial and ended up being a political liability for him. His refusal to recognize what was deemed by all to be a fair election and the legitimacy of institutions scared off a lot of more middle-class voters, and his shenanigans eventually cost him a lot of public support and seriously weakened him.
Calderón’s sexenio will most likely be remembered for the war against the drug cartels, which has claimed upwards of 55,000 lives in 6 years and given Mexico (somewhat unfairly) a bad rap as a lawless war zone. Drug cartels are nothing new in Mexico, and lawlessness in certain parts of the country is not a recent development either. What is new is the dramatic increase in the murder rate in Mexico, which has nearly doubled under Calderón’s presidency; and the use of kidnappings, hangings, beheadings and mutilations of bodies by drug lords. Calderón, in part as a political ploy to give his presidency legitimacy after the 2006 election, deployed the army and declared all-out war on drug lords, the drug cartels and the drug trafficking empire in general. Crowned by some successes at first, Calderón’s war on drugs has grown increasingly unpopular. Voters are wary of bloodshed, they distrust the army and police (both institutions are somewhat corrupt and in parts infiltrated by the cartels, but the idea that the army and police are in cahoots with the cartels is a foreign fantasy) while the drug lords do not fear the army. Calderón’s efforts are, arguably, laudable and courageous, but he was attacking a problem which is way above the state’s head with limited means. The drug trafficking and the drug trade cannot, realistically, be eliminated. The drug cartels and the turf wars between cartels, similarly, are probably too big for the government to eliminate completely.
It must also be pointed out that there are wide regional disparities in the impact of the drug war in Mexico. The situation in the country as a whole is not quite as dramatic as foreign media would have us think: the country as a whole is not a huge war zone, and Mexico’s homicide rate is not (by any stretch) the highest in the world (Brazil and South Africahave higher homicide rates). The northern states, specifically Chihuahua and the border town of Ciudad Juárez, are lawless war zones with some of the highest homicide rates in the world. On the other hand, Mexico City and most of the south of the country and the Yucatan have been spared the worst of the violence and criminality.
Mexico’s economic outlook is not that bad when compared to some Eurozone countries, but there is frustration about the slow pace of economic growth since the 2009 recession and high levels of unemployment. Mexico’s economic growth recently slowed down to about 3.5% or so, and predictions portend similarly slow growth in the next few years.
Mexico faces a great many challenges, besides the drug cartel crisis and the international issues of economic growth and jobs. One of the key issues concerns the future of energy and the oil industry in Mexico, which remains in the hands of Pemex, the state-owned oil and gas monopoly. Pemex, through the royalties and taxes it pays to the federal government, is a major source of revenue for the government. However, these outflows of revenue have left Pemex saddled in heaps and heaps of debt, hence making it unable to invest in new technologies and further exploration (to speak nothing of the corruption in Pemex). Added to Pemex’s woes is the fact that Mexican oil production has declined quite dramatically in recent years, which in the long run could threaten to turn Mexico into an energy importer.
Pemex remains something of a sacred cow in Mexican politics, with a lot of constituencies in the PRD and PRI holding out attachment to Pemex as a public monopoly. However, the question of private investment in Pemex has become a major and pressing political issue. Calderón and Fox both tried and failed to make significant reforms in Pemex, blocked by the PRD and/or the PRI’s congressional opposition. Calderón was able to push through a mini-reform, which allows Pemex to hire private and foreign firms to explore and produce, but private investment remains forbidden.
Education is another key question in Mexican politics. The public education system in Mexico is largely acknowledged to be a complete and utter mess, in large part because of the muscle and influence of the main teachers’ union, the SNTE, a corrupt but extremely powerful union led by La Maestra – Elba Esther Gordillo. Most of the state spending on education goes towards paying teacher salaries – a lot of those salaries are paid, in reality, to union officials and their friends who aren’t teachers but still receive a teachers’ salary without working. Successive governments, most recently Calderón, have tried to put in place some quality measurements for teachers to help fix the problem, but in almost all cases they have found their efforts frustrated by the SNTE and forced to maintain a status-quo viciously defended by the SNTE and La Maestra.
The SNTE, formerly one of the unions allied to the PRI in the old corporatist structure, has deep political influence. It now controls a little political party and a wider caucus of congressmen are close to La Maestra. Politicians and presidents know better than to cross La Maestra (who holds grudges), preferring instead to keep her on their side and prevent a confrontation. The SNTE thus has the power to block almost all major attempts at education reform in Mexico.
The Mexican party system
The PAN is pretty clearly a right-wing, conservative party, especially in the Mexican context. The PAN is not really a clerical or religious party, though it has a clerical history and that tradition probably informs, in part, the PAN’s staunch social conservatism. In economic terms, while the PAN does have certain liberal leanings, certainly more than the two other parties, true-blue economic liberalism (or neoliberalism) is hard to find in Mexican politics. The PAN still has some Christian left influences which leads the party to have some sympathies towards more interventionist economic policies. In a way, the PAN could be described as being slightly Gaullist or Peronist in its attitude towards economic interventionism.
The PRI, now as in the past, cannot really be placed consistently at any point along the ideological spectrum. It is particularly amusing to see the foreign media’s attempts at assigning ideological labels to the PRI: some have described it as centre-right, others as centre-left, some as ‘pro-business’ and others as left-wing. The PRI’s political orientation, deep down, has not really changed since 2000. Its first goal remains political power, and to win it, the PRI is a master at pragmatism, opportunism, equivocation and speaking in platitudes. One could say that the PRI’s right-wing neoliberal phase of the 1980s and 1990s is definitely history, because the ‘technocrats’ and business have (in part) decamped to the PAN (as some had started doing by the 1970s), but the PRI still remains a fairly pro-business party (and its relations with business leaders are still quite good). If one insists on a label, I guess ‘centre-left’ might be the least worst guess, but assigning an ideology to the PRI is a foolish idea.
Mexico’s ‘third’ major party is the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD). The PRD was founded in 1989 by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (and others), the left-wing candidate in the 1988 presidential election. As a party, the PRD was an alliance of two factions. On the one hand, the priista left, whose ranks included Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas but also Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO); and the other hand a handful of small old left-wing parties (including the Communist Party) which sacrificed their electoral registration to the PRD. Between 1988 and 2006, the main figure of the PRD remained Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1994 and 2000 (winning 16.5% both years, placing third).
Internal divisions and power squabbles heightened after the 2006 election, with a fair number of the PRD’s cadres eventually disapproving of AMLO’s antics. The PRD was increasingly divided between pro and anti-lopezobradorista factions. The latter faction, led by Jesús Ortega, eventually won a very bloody and acrimonious internal contest in 2008. More recently, the most important schism of sorts within the PRD has been between AMLO and Marcelo Ebrard, the outgoing mayor of Mexico City who succeeded AMLO as mayor in 2006. Ebrard was fairly neutral or pro-AMLO in the 2008 battle, but, benefiting from his popularity in Mexico City, he has emerged as a major rival to AMLO’s leadership of the PRD. The two men represent two different visions of the PRD. AMLO remains an old style Latin American leftist, with nationalist and left-populist close to that of Morales or Chávez. Ebrard, on the other hand, certainly gives the image of a more ‘modern’ left-wing leader, more social democratic or at least closer to the ‘moderate’ leftists ofSouth America: Dilma, Lula or Cristina Kirchner. On social issues such as gay marriage or abortion, AMLO remains closer to the traditional social conservatism of Mexican politics on those issues while Ebrard is socially liberal – he legalized gay marriage in the DF as mayor.
There are four other registered political parties – three of which are basically affiliated with larger parties. Parties must win over 2% of the vote in an election to maintain their registration or else they lose all their registration (but they may reregister) and the financial advantages that come with it. Therefore, while small parties are useful commodities, they are tough to maintain so there is a very big incentive for the small parties to ally quasi-eternally with one of the big three in order to be kept on life support, vitam aeternam.
The only fairly independent minor party is the New Alliance (Nueva Alianza, PANAL), founded in 2005. PANAL is hard to define or pin down ideologically. On the one hand, it certainly does give the impression (superficially?) of being a centre-right liberal party, which is both liberal on social/moral issues (abortion, gay rights, drug legalization – which are all quite out of sync with the overwhelming social conservatism of Mexican politics) and on economic issues (favouring private investment in Pemex and energy). But on the other hand, the party was basically created in 2005 by La Maestra herself after her very public break with Madrazo and the PRI, and in the 2006 election she used PANAL as a front for her campaign of destruction against Madrazo. PANAL appears to have a liberal front, but in the shadows it seems like it is nothing more than a personal vehicle for La Maestra and the SNTE’s various vendettas against the politicians who have dared cross La Maestra.
The Mexican Greens (Partido Verde Ecologista de México, PVEM) are a bit of an oddball party. At the crux of it all, the PVEM is not a green party – it is a family business. The PVEM was founded in 1986 by Jorge González Torres, a former priista and a wealthy businessman. In 2001, he was succeeded by his son, Jorge Emilio González Martínez (el niño verde). The PVEM doesn’t seem to actually care about the environment or such matters, an attitude which, combined with its conservatism (it supports the death penalty), has won it the enmity of international green organizations (the Global Greens). The PVEM has also gotten mixed up in a few corruption scandals. Most significantly, el niño verde was shown being bribed by a developer in Cancún (a major tourist resort on the Riviera Maya). In 2000, the PVEM allied with the PAN, but it broke this alliance in 2003 and since then it has been a fairly loyal ally of the PRI (to the point where, 9 years later, the PVEM is indistinguishable from the PRI).
The two other small parties – the Labour Party (Partido del Trabajo, PT) and the Citizens’ Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano, MC) – are similarly so closely connected to the PRD that they are, in everyday practice, basically indistinguishable from the PRD. I don’t know much about both parties in detail. The PT appears to be a fairly far-left party, probably to the PRD’s left, while the MC – the old Convergencia – appears to be more social democratic. In almost all cases, the PT and MC are fairly solid allies of the PRD. In the 2008-2009 PRD civil war, both the PT and Convergencia were solidly lopezobradorista and AMLO backed PT and Convergencia candidates in the 2009 midterm elections.
The 2012 Election
The 2012 presidential contest is, after all, not that interesting. Unlike the very closely disputed and polarized 2006 election and the protracted mess which ensued, this year’s presidential election is almost won in advance.
The frontrunner, who has led in basically every poll for over a year, is the priista candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. After the priista rout in the 2006 election, Peña Nieto, the young and handsome governor of the state of México (Edomex, the most populated state in the country after the DF) between 2005 and 2011, became the figure of the PRI’s reconstruction. Peña Nieto is a wealthy career politician, whose father was a PRI stalwart for years and whose uncle was his predecessor as governor (Arturo Montiel, the leader of the anti-Madrazo faction in 2006). He does not appear to be a particularly talented politician and he has often been dismissed as an intellectual lightweight (but Mexican politicians have rarely been the sharpest knives), but he has proven to be a very successful campaigner and something of a Teflon politician.
Some people have compared him to Ken Barbie. In a way, I find that this is a fitting portrayal of Peña Nieto. In terms of personality, Peña Nieto is a fairly young, handsome and charismatic man with a womanizer macho style which isn’t entirely a disadvantage in Mexico. His first wife died in 2007 – he had already been cheating on her and fathered two children out of wedlock – but he married Angélica Rivera, a popular soap opera star in a flashy prince-and-princess Disney wedding in 2010. Mexico doesn’t have royalty, but its politicians often act as pop royalty. In this way, Peña Nieto has been something of a pop star since 2005 and the political impact of his good looks should not be laughed off.
His whole political career, including his tenure as Governor of Edomex, has been carefully staged and managed. In fact, nobody really knows who he is as a politician or statesman. His record in Edomex seems to be mixed, neither a disaster nor a great success; and how successful his tenure was is clouded by the fact that he has the media behemoth Televisa in his pocket and shockingly receives rave reviews and heaps of praise in Televisa’s political reporting. A good part of his governorship was spent performing staged photo-ops and fulfilling micro-promises (building a road here, doing something else there). At any rate, his chosen successor as governor in Edomex won a landslide in the state elections last year.
Peña Nieto faces three other rivals. The PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, is the first woman candidate for a major party in Mexico. She is not very well known when compared to her two major opponents. A PAN parliamentarian, she served as Secretary of Education between 2006 and 2009 under Calderón. Her confrontation with La Maestra and the SNTE probably cost her that job. Vázquez Mota won the PAN primary on February 5, taking 53% of the vote against 39% for Ernesto Cordero, the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit, backed by President Calderón and only 6% for Santiago Creel.
A retread from 2006, Andrés Manuel López Obrador – AMLO – is running for a second time for the PRD. The PRD’s nomination – which was decided by a series of opinion polls commissioned by the party – was closely disputed between Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City and the unofficial leader of the PRD’s more social democratic/social liberal factions, and AMLO. In the end, AMLO came out ahead of Ebrard, who graciously accepted his defeat. It may be that Ebrard is looking ahead to the next elections, in 2018, and understood that AMLO would probably have run any way (with the PT and MC) if he didn’t get the PRD’s nomination.
AMLO has expressed regrets for his post-electoral shenanigans six years ago, and has attempted to reinvent himself as a more moderate, centrist and consensual figure (he has said that he would not raise taxes or scrap existing private oil contracts). But despite attempts at rebranding himself, AMLO remains a controversial and polarizing love-or-hate figure. Critics contend that AMLO and his version of the Mexican left remain far too mired in the old nationalism and statism of the 1970s and have been unable to present themselves as an acceptable option for middle-class voters.
The fourth candidate is Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, an economist and environmentalist who was drafted by PANAL after the party broke off a short-lived alliance with the PRI. Quadri is running a right-wing campaign (by Mexican standards), proposing to privatize 49% of Pemex and favouring a trade deal withChina. On social issues – drugs, gay rights, abortion – he is very liberal (and left-wing) by Mexican standards, but economic matters usually trump moral questions in Mexican politics. I’m not sure what La Maestra is doing with him, or what she has planned, but it is quite possible that she, as always, is using Quadri’s liberal image as a vote-winning front to allow PANAL to keep its registration.
Peña Nieto might be an intellectual lightweight and a mediocre politician, but the reality is that he will likely win on July 1 by a comfortable margin. In part, the PRI’s resurgence after the 2006 rout speaks volumes about the weakness of the PAN and the PRD.
Vázquez Mota is a weak candidate and she ran a very poor campaign, hesitating between emphasizing the incumbent government’s successes or attempting to define herself as somehow different from her own party. She has chosen to emphasize herself as ‘different’ – in fact she made that word her campaign slogan – but it has not really worked. She is a fairly low-caliber candidate, and she doesn’t really stack up to charismatic giants like AMLO and Peña Nieto. The incumbent government and President Calderón are not extremely unpopular, but there is a general fatigue with the PAN after twelve years of rather uninspiring governance which failed to live up to the great hopes which accompanied the PAN’s original victory in 2000. The drug cartel war has claimed lots of lives and Mexicans are tired of so much bloodshed. Jobs are hard to come by and the economy remains fairly weak. There has not been a lot of progress in rooting out corruption since 2000. A lot of voters think the country is on the wrong track, and they are tired with PAN.
Vázquez Mota being forced to define herself as ‘different’ than her predecessors highlights the nature of the climate which the PAN faces this year. She has attempted to run as something of an anti-PRI candidate, both against Peña Nieto but also AMLO who is a former priista himself.
On the other hand, AMLO’s problem is not that he is a low caliber candidate or anything of that kind. He is a very strong campaigner and a charismatic – a lot have described him as messianic – rabble-rouser. His problem is that, despite a very strong base of support, he remains a controversial and polarizing figure with high negative ratings. His supporters would argue that AMLO is a forceful spokesperson for Mexico’s marginalized impoverished masses and a powerful opponent of the ‘neoliberal order’. His opponents would argue that AMLO is a dangerous radical, a sore loser who has little respect for democratic institutions and probably a grubby power-hungry leader. AMLO is a former priista and he is certainly not immune from using the PRI’s old tactics and for a lot of his critics, his real goal is the recreation of the PRI’s old semi-authoritarian political machine. After all, one of AMLO’s main allies and a PRD candidate for Senate this year is Manuel Bartlett, the former priista interior secretary who was behind the famous se cayó el sistema in the 1988 election.
AMLO is a love-hate figure, regardless of his slightly goofy attempts at a ‘peace ‘n love’ rebranding this year. Even though AMLO ran a strong campaign and his likely second-place finish will show how he has been able to lift the PRD back out of the abyss it was in back in 2009, I would contend that AMLO is probably unelectable in the wider realm of things. Even faced with the potential return of the priista dinosaurs, a lot of panistas will never vote for AMLO even as a devil you know or least worst option.
Faced with a PRI resurgence in a lot of state elections in 2009, 2010 and 2011; the PAN and PRD – ideological opposites – allied against the PRI in a lot of state elections and, in a few places, its alliances were pretty successful. Such an alliance at the top level would have been much more difficult, but it would have been the only way to stop the PRI. Marcelo Ebrard, despite a social liberalism which could cause the PAN’s Catholics to run away, would probably have been able to give Peña Nieto a race for his money. Ebrard is viewed by PAN voters as an acceptable anti-priista option, and if he had been nominated over AMLO, it is quite possible that a lot of panistas would have voted strategically for him to stop the PRI, even in the absence of a formal PAN-PRD deal.
But it would unfair to style the PRI’s likely victory as a win-by-default. Peña Nieto must certainly have done something correctly. As mentioned above, his image and personality works in his favour. He has good looks, a pop star wife and he is charismatic. His image has been carefully groomed and managed, and he has – with two exceptions – avoided major faux-pas. He ran into trouble only back in December at a book fair in Guadalajara (where he could not cite three books which had had the biggest influence on him), a PR disaster worsened by a tweet from his 15-year old daughter who branded those who criticized her father as jealous proletarian idiots; and more recently in May at a university in Mexico City when he was heckled by anti-PRI student (whom he branded as lopezobradorista left-wing stooges). Otherwise, he has been a great Ken Barbie candidate – image perfect, clean and brushed up.
His campaign has certainly not been big on the details of what he would do as President, meaning that we’re probably no closer to knowing what a Peña Nieto presidency would be like than we were six months ago. He has run on platitudes, vague catch phrases and open-ended promises. His main creed is an “efficient state”, which can mean just about anything. He has proposed a few things like a tax reform, mini political reforms to increase presidential powers, or universal social security. He would not do a full 360 from Calderón’s drug policy, but he would likely soften it a bit and shift gears to focus on reducing violence and kidnappings while being more lenient on drug cartel civil wars and the drug trade. He has, however, shown himself surprisingly keen on a major energy reform which would open Pemex to competition and partial private investment (in shale oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals).
The very high chance of a priista return to Los Pinos 12 years after its 71-year stranglehold on power ended has sparked major concerns and fears about the vitality of Mexican democracy in the future. A lot see Peña Nieto – the Ken Barbie candidate – as a little Barbie doll for the PRI’s infamous dinosaurs (old corrupt political bosses), who would return to power with a President Peña Nieto. Many fear that the old priista dinosaurs would come back, neuter democracy, and stifle the free press. I’m not sure, but fears of a major regression or anti-democratic reaction seem overblown. Mexico has changed a lot since the PRI lost power in 2000. Even though the PRI could very well hold a majority in Congress – it is likely to win one in the Senate and probably could win a majority in the Chamber too – and still controls the vast majority of Mexico’s 32 states, the political atmosphere is much more democratic. There is a very strong base of anti-priista sentiment in Mexico, which, even if it won’t prevail on July 1, is quite vocal. The #YoSoy132 student-led protests against the PRI and its cozy relations with Televisa are a good example of this. The judiciary is fairly powerful and certainly independent. Despite the allegations that Televisa and the PRI are in cahoots, the media is not entirely rigged in the PRI’s favour.
Peña Nieto’s links with Televisa and old priista dinosaurs, including his predecessor in Edomex, Arturo Montiel (the guy who owned an unexplained property empire abroad) worry. But Peña Nieto, for all his faults, still seems closer to the new(er) brand of priista politicos groomed to operate in a democratic political setting. Being surrounded by American-educated technocrats, Peña Nieto is similar to the last PRI president, Ernesto Zedillo, a centrist technocrat who reformed the system and opened Mexico to real democracy. Furthermore, even if the PRI does win an absolute majority, a lot of the major reforms which the PRI will/could want to pass would be constitutional amendments requiring a two-thirds majority – hence it will still need the support of other parties, probably the PAN which could have some political interest in working with the PRI.
In terms of polling, the last polls before the ‘reflection’ period which bans polls, gave Peña Nieto about 44-46% of the vote against 26-28% for AMLO and 22-25% for a hapless Vázquez Mota. Quadri performed well in the first televised debate, which boosted his numbers from irrelevance into 3-6% territory but he now polls 2-4%. The campaign was remarkably static. Peña Nieto maintained fairly large leads throughout, and despite a very slow downwards trend in the past few months, has always kept high polling numbers. AMLO moved ahead of Vázquez Mota, and the real fight here is probably for second place.
Gubernatorial elections will be held in Chiapas (PRD), Guanajuato (PAN), Jalisco (PAN), Morelos (PAN), Tabasco (PRI) and Yucatan (PRI). The Federal District will also renew its head of government (mayor) and its legislative assembly. The PRI will certainly hold Yucatanvery easily and will probably fend off a tough PRD challenge in Tabasco, which has yet to elect a non-PRI governor. It also likely to pick up Jalisco, a state which the PAN has governed since 1995 (Vicente Fox was the first PAN Governor there). The PRI candidate in Jalisco is Aristóteles Sandoval, the young priista mayor of Guadalajara and a Peña Nieto look-alike. While the PAN should hold on in Guanajuato, which it has governed since 1991, it will almost certainly lose Morelos, which it has governed since 2000. The PRI and the PRD are fighting for the win. In Chiapas, however, the PRD will probably lose this state which was first won by a PAN-PRD alliance in 2000 and held by the PRD in 2006. The incumbent governor is, in reality, a peredista in name only – he’s a former priista and in this election he is backing Manuel Velasco, a PVEM senator (backed by the PRI) and son of a former PRI governor. Velasco is probably the favourite.
In the DF, however, things are shaping up for a PRD landslide of epic proportions. The PRD has held the DF’s directly-elected head of government position since it was created in 1997 (Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas won in 1997, then AMLO in 2000 and Ebrard since 2006) but in 2006, Ebrard won with ‘only’ 46.4% of the vote. This year, the PRD’s candidate, Miguel Mancera, is polling nearly 60% in opinion polls. He will easily destroy Beatriz Paredes, the former secretary-general of the PRI who had placed third (21.6%) in the 2006 election in the DF.
There has always been a wide political gulf between the fairly well-off, cosmopolitan and left-liberal metropolis of Mexico Cityand the rest of the country, but this year the gulf could become an ocean. While the rest of Mexico ‘moves backwards’ with a PRI president, the DF will elect a PRD mayor with a phenomenal margin. What this could mean in political terms for a President Peña Nieto and the PRI, I’m not too sure, but it will be a fairly significant event.
These elections may not prove to be the most exciting elections in Mexican history, far from it, but they remain fairly significant elections in an important country. Their results may not surprise, but I feel as if this election will end up, when history is being written, as being fairly significant. Could these elections be the second alternance in a democratic Mexico since the PAN’s historic victory in 2000, or will they be the elections which set back the clock for Mexico?
The first round of legislative elections will be held in France on June 10, 2012; with a second round being held on June 17, 2012. All 577 seats in the French National Assembly (Assemblée nationale), the lower house of France’s Parliament, are up for reelection. These elections directly follow the presidential elections held on April 22 and May 6. Since the electoral calendar was shuffled up in 2000, the legislative elections have lost much of their importance and attractiveness as they are perceived as being mere confirmations by voters of their presidential vote a few weeks earlier. However, in constitutional terms, legislative elections remain extremely important for the President and his party, because, in the absence of a working majority for the president’s party, he is compelled to a cohabitation with the opposition, where the legislative majority and government is formed by the opposition.
The French National Assembly is composed of 577 members elected for five-year terms in 577 single-member constituencies. Somewhat at odds with the FPTP custom for legislative elections in countries with single-member constituencies, France has long used a modified form of runoff voting for legislative elections.
In each constituency, a candidate must win over 50% of valid votes cast (these are called suffrages exprimés) and over 25% of ‘potential votes’ or total registered voters (in French, we say 25% des inscrits) to win by the first round of voting. This means that is possible for a candidate to win over 50% of votes cast but not be deemed elected because he/she has not won over 25% of all potential votes due to high abstention. In 2007, an abnormally high number of deputies (110) won by the first round. Usually, only 10-20 deputies win by the first round.
In the event that no candidate has been elected by the first round, a runoff is held a week later opposing all candidates who won over 12.5% of registered voters (potential votes), or, in the case that only one or no candidate has won over 12.5% of registered voters, the top two candidates. In the second round, the candidate winning a plurality of the votes is elected. In case of a perfect tie, the oldest candidate is elected. Traditionally, runoffs usually oppose the top two contenders. The rising abstention in legislative elections, reaching 40% in 2007, means that it is increasingly hard for over two candidates to win over 12.5% of all registered voters. However, triangulaires opposing three candidates are quite possible. In 2007, there was only one triangulaire, largely because the far-right National Front (FN), usually the third party which partook in most triangulaires in the past, was crushed at the polls. In 2002, there were 10 triangulaires but in 1997, 79 of runoffs were triangulaires. It is possible and often quite common for potential triangulaires or even duels (normal runoffs) to feature either two or one candidate. This happens when dissident or allied candidates from either left or right qualify for the runoff, but choose to drop out of the runoff in favour of a stronger candidate from their political family.
This 12.5% threshold has been used since 1978. Since the 1978 elections, there have been no quadrangulaires (runoffs opposing four candidates). In 1958, when the legal threshold was only 5% of votes cast, only 20% of runoffs opposed two candidates – the rest involved three or more (up to six!) candidates.
It is important to point out that candidates in these legislative elections form a duo – there is the official candidate, but each candidate also has a suppléant (or substitute). A suppléant is a kind of alternate, elected alongside the candidate (in a sort of ‘ticket’), who will take up the deputy’s seat in the event that the deputy dies in office, is named to government (a member of cabinet cannot simultaneously be a lawmaker) or receives a public mission lasting over six months. In the case that a deputy resigns from office, for whatever reason, a by-election is held.
As per the constitution and Gaullist ideological tradition, the deputy is said to represent not his constituency or geographic region but rather “the nation” as a whole. In this vein, it is legal for a candidate to run for office in a constituency where he or she is not a registered voter. Voters might respond unfavourably to carpetbaggers, but no law prevents carpetbagging.
Redistricting remains a partisan government’s prerogative. Unlike in the United States, where redistricting is often done in a similarly partisan fashion, there is no law requiring redistricting to be done after a set amount of time or under a fixed schedule. Unlike in Canada or the United Kingdom, there is no independent electoral commission responsible for drawing constituencies. It is the prerogative of a political official – the Minister of the Interior – and of the government in power. The government decides whether there should be a redistricting or not. Since the single-member constituencies were first drawn up in 1958, there have been two rounds of redistricting: a nearly total revamp of the map in 1986, under right-wing Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, and a smaller but still significant redistricting in 2009, under Sarkozy’s then-secretary of state for territorial collectivities, Alain Marleix, who is, incidentally, the ‘electoral expert’ of the UMP. Hence, the map is a political creation of right-wing governments, who have not shied away from blatant gerrymandering to shore up their strongholds or limit opposition gains. The left can complain on some matters, but considering that no left-wing government has had the willpower to redistrict on its own terms, it should not complain too much.
Pasqua and Marleix’s redistrictings have been decried for the blatant gerrymandering. Not all departments are gerrymandered, but a good number of departments have constituencies which either poorly reflect geographic, social, economic and historical local realities or are blatant partisan gerrymanders. “Work of art” constituencies which are so common in the US are not very common in France, but Marleix drew a few ‘nice’ ones too in 2009.
A novelty in the 2009 Marleix redistricting was the creation of eleven constituencies for French citizens living abroad. In the past, French citizens living abroad could only vote in legislative elections if they maintained legal residence in French territory. The government opted to create eleven seats which would be elected directly by French citizens living abroad (who already have indirectly elected senators). There was a clear partisan motive behind this: French citizens living abroad are known for being (slightly) to the right of their compatriots in French territory. The right hoped that it could conquer about eight of the eleven new seats, crucial in the case of a tied game in France. In these elections, French citizens living abroad had the option of voting by internet – around 14% of registered voters did so. The election in these eleven seats plus the three constituencies in French Polynesia took place a week ahead of the rest: on June 2 or 3.
Context and Campaign
The presidential election on April 22 and May 6 resulted in the victory of the Socialist Party (PS)’s François Hollande, who defeated incumbent right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy. The left’s victory ended ten years of executive and legislative dominance of the right. However, Hollande and his presidential majority need to win the legislative elections – and control of the National Assembly – in order to “wrap up” the victory on May 6 and control an absolute majority in the legislature. A parliamentary majority is crucial for any president who wants to have the means to pass key pieces of legislation.
As per custom, the President-elected named a Prime Minister and government who, despite lacking the confidence of a parliamentary majority per se, act as the full government of the country in the timeframe between the election of the President and the new legislature. Hollande named Jean-Marc Ayrault, a close ally and former parliamentary leader of the PS in the National Assembly, as Prime Minister. Hollande seemingly preferred the close ally, also a calm, reserved and competent ‘bureaucrat’, to a rival like Martine Aubry, the first-secretary of the PS. Ayrault’s government was certainly meant to reassure financial markets and moderate voters. The choice of a moderate social democrat, Pierre Moscovici, as Finance Minister, and a budget hawk, Jérôme Cahuzac as junior minister for the budget, reassured many. This was, after all, in part an ‘electoral’ government whose composition and actions would have some impact on the campaign and result for the legislature.
Hollande and his government have erred safe in this second electoral period, keeping away from the touchy subjects (like the budget and future spending cuts which will be needed) and going to great lengths to not alienate anybody while motivating the left-wing base. The government is aware that it cannot really begin to govern, so its first acts of governance have been largely symbolic measures like a 30% reduction in the salaries of the President and his cabinet or photo-op type sorties like those made by the flamboyant “minister for productive recovery” (the French left loves to give fabulous names to cabinet departments!) Arnaud Montebourg.
The inversion of the electoral calendar, established in 2000, set in stone the political primacy of the presidential election while reducing the importance of the legislative election. Indeed, being held only a few short weeks after the presidential election, during the honeymoon period, the legislative elections became confirmations of the presidential election result. In 2002, fresh from Chirac’s victory, the newly united right – the UMP – won a very ample parliamentary majority, ousting the incumbent left-wing majority which had just suffered an historic defeat in the presidential elections. In 2007, on the heels of Sarkozy’s comfortable victory, the UMP retained a large majority though the second round saw a very strong left-wing resistance and even offense. The inversion of the electoral calendar, by setting in stone the primacy of the presidential election, reinforced executive authority and presidential powers, in part at the expense of the legislature and the government which is responsible to it. Its rationale for doing so was to render extremely unlikely any future cohabitations, by assuming that voters would use the legislative elections to confirm their verdict in the big contest a month earlier. Since 2002, they have proven their political leaders. While anything is possible in politics, it would be the epitome of voters’ irrationality if they elected a new president but, a month later, turned around and denied him a majority. Of course, turnout differentials from one election to another renders it less totally illogical, but it remains that, when a majority of voters have chosen the representative of one political family over another, it is not very rational or logical for them to elect a government from the opposite political family.
The Parties and Hot Seats
The new presidential majority goes into these elections as the favourite. Hollande’s victory was narrower than expected and this underperformance will have its effect. It might even have its effect on the legislative elections. But for the time being, the government has a mini-honeymoon (though not a very festive one), and the general mood is one of anticipation of a left-wing victory in the legislative elections. Saying that voters do not favour a cohabitation is not entirely correct; right-wing voters would still very much like to have a cohabitation. But centrist voters – those who voted for Bayrou (but not only them) – would prefer a left-wing victory, though not a blank cheque like that granted by voters to the PS in June 1981 after Mitterrand’s first election.
The right does not hold much illusion about its chances. Like in 1981, the mood is defensive at best and salvage-what-can-be-salvaged at worst. The narrative about the UMP has moved beyond June to the upcoming fight for the presidency of the party, later this year, and the announced showdown between incumbent secretary-general Jean-François Copé and outgoing Prime Minister François Fillon. There are extremely few left-wing held seats where the UMP is in a realistic position to win the seat, therefore its entire campaign has been defensive, defending even what are either traditional strongholds (Lozère) or seats held by high-profile incumbents (Copé, Morano, Courtial, Novelli, Joissains, Mariton, Rosso-Debord etc). The UMP averaged about 30-33% in national polls (which are almost entirely useless and are awful creations of a media incapable of understanding legislative elections), which is roughly what the PS averaged (albeit the PS narrowly led most polls).
However, the UMP and PS have an unequal relationship with the fronts to their right and left respectively.
The far-right National Front (FN), whose charismatic leader Marine Le Pen won a record high 17.9% on April 22, is certainly looking to the legislative elections as a chance to confirm its result. In June 2007, a month or so after Jean-Marie Le Pen won a disappointing 10.4% in the presidential election, the FN suffered from mass demobilization and its candidate won less than 5% on average – truly rock-bottom for the FN, used to 8-10% at minimum since 1984. The FN clearly hopes to to follow up on its success on April 22 with another success in the legislative elections. However, traditionally, legislative elections have tended to be unfavourable for the FN, which, being very much a family business, suffers from a lack of high-profile local candidates and strong local grassroots. There are a good number of voters who vote for the FN only in presidential elections – I guess that comes along with the type of party it is – but despite the FN’s low-key paper candidates and its lack of solid institutional roots outside all but a handful of areas, it has managed to retain, especially since 1997, a strong vote in legislative and local (cantonal) elections. That being said, in 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen won 17.8% in the runoff against Chirac but in the June legislative election, FN candidates won only 11.3% of the votes. In recent years, with abstention in these elections reaching new highs, a part of the FN’s wider base usually tends to abstain.
The FN cannot realistically hope to win more than 2 or 3 even in the best of scenarios, but it can certainly play a kingmakers’ role. The FN’s secret strategic objective is likely the defeat of the UMP, which it hopes to participate in by qualifying its candidates for as many triangulaires as possible. In 1997, when the party won a record 14.9% of the vote, 76 FN candidates qualified for three-way runoffs against left-wing and right-wing candidates, and in about six in ten of these cases, these triangulaires proved fatal for the right, and certainly contributed to the left’s victory. Therein lays the main threat of the FN in these elections, especially for the UMP.
The FN has taken on the etiquette “Rassemblement Bleu Marine” for these elections, a cheap rebranding effort (and play on their leader’s name) which officially aims to be a wider alliance of all nationalists but is in practice FN candidates with the addition of a few sidekicks. The FN is targeting a handful of constituencies with some high-profile star candidates, though it is an uphill battle for any of these star candidates. Besides Marine Le Pen in the 11th constituency of the Pas-de-Calais (Hénin-Beaumont), other star candidates include the former Eurosceptic MEP Paul-Marie Coûteaux in the Haute-Marne (2nd), Marine’s campaign director Florian Philippot in Moselle (6th), well-known lawyer Gilbert Collard in the Gard (2nd), Marine’s leadership rival and FN MEP Bruno Gollnisch in the Var (3rd), the former FN-turned-UMP mayor of Nice Jacques Peyrat in the Alpes-Maritimes (1st, though he is only supported by the FN and not a candidate of the RBM) and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s 22-year old grand-daughter Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the Vaucluse (3rd).
The FN’s aim would obviously be to win a single seat, and though it has a lot of targets and a handful of seats which it could potentially take, it is an uphill battle in practically every constituency. Very much disadvantaged by the electoral system, the FN won only a single seat in 1988 and in 1997. However, the FN’s secret objective, again, is probably the defeat of the UMP, hoping to cash in on the internal chaos a very bad result would create and slowly take up the role of main right-wing opposition (a goal which is much more difficult to attain, clearly). The mariniste FN is playing very much on the anti-system, neither-left-nor-right line rather than the older mégretiste line of technocratic alliances with the parliamentary right. It will have no reluctance in going out to defeat UMP incumbents, even if the left would be the sole beneficiary of that, because it brands the UMP and PS as one and the same in a homogeneous political establishment.
The FN’s nuisance power depends on the amount of loses it suffers to other parties vis-à-vis Marine’s April 22 performance, and also on the overall turnout level. The FN is currently polling 14 to 16%, but it is quite possible that it is suffering the heaviest loses compared to April 22 in the regions of the country where it is weak and where Marine was more likely to touch an ephemeral, non-partisan protest vote than an engrained traditionally frontiste vote. If this proved to be the case on June 10, the FN’s nuisance power would be fairly significant because the regions where it is most dangerous for the UMP are those regions where it is traditionally strong and well implanted. However, in order to stage the most three-way battles as possible, turnout must be fairly strong – at least over 60% (the 2007 level). In a 60% turnout hypothesis, the FN would need about 20% of votes cast in order to qualify for the runoff. If it polls only 14% nationally, it will be hard to attain this level in a large number of constituencies. 100 appears to be the maximum number of possible three-way runoffs with the FN, 50-70 appears like a reasonable estimate while 30 is likely the most conservative estimate for the number of three-way runoffs with the FN.
On the other hand, the other front – the Left Front (FG), whose fiery leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 11% in the presidential election – has a much calmer relationship with the PS. Even though the FG is running independent candidates in all but two metropolitan constituencies (after a potential deal on common PS-FG candidates in shaky constituencies collapsed), which has traditionally been the norm for the PCF, the unwritten tradition would call for the FG (or the PS, depending on the case) to drop out and/or endorse the first-placed left-wing candidate in each constituency. Mélenchon might play hardball way more than the PCF did in recent years, but when push comes to shove, he can be counted on being a good soldier and line up behind the wider presidential majority without too much trouble. Unlike the FN which, it believes, has something to gain from the defeat of the right; the FG certainly has nothing to gain at this point from a defeat of the left. FG candidates and their voters will line up behind the first-placed left-wing candidate in practically all cases, and triangulaires opposing a FG and presidential majority candidates are very unlikely. The FG is part of the wider plural left, the FN cannot even be counted as part of the wider parliamentary right with the UMP and its smaller allies.
Thus, while the UMP cannot count on a smooth transfer of FN vote even in traditional runoffs and must fear the prospect of three-way battles, the PS and its close allies can count on the smooth transfer of a vast majority of FG votes, quantified at 6-9% in most national polling, in almost all constituencies.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon became known during the presidential campaign for his frontal opposition to the FN and Marine Le Pen, and the two have developed mutual hatred (this is no exaggeration) of one another. In part to annoy her, in part to keep himself in the spotlight and in part to actually win, Mélenchon himself opted to run in the 11th constituency of the Pas-de-Calais, against Marine Le Pen in her own backyard. Though Mélenchon has no roots in the area, he aims to benefit from the local divisions of the PS in Hénin-Beaumont and the department in general. Indeed, despite the weak implantation of the PCF in this area, he could hardly have chosen a better place to land in. The local PS has been in shambles since 2009, and the PS nomination fight in the constituency was marked by intense divisions, personal feuds and much recriminations. The PS candidate, Philippe Kemel, won a contested primary, but his support from the old leadership and local base is limited at best. The retiring incumbent’s silence likely amounts to backhanded support for Mélenchon and the DVG mayor of Hénin-Beaumont is almost public in his support for Mélenchon. The bitter and nasty contest in the 11th constituency has been nationalized by the candidacy of the two fronts‘ respective leaders.
Outside Mélenchon’s race, the FG hopes to pick up a few seats in departments such as Seine-Maritime (6th), Ardèche (3rd), Bouches-du-Rhône (7th, 10th), Pas-de-Calais (7th), Nord (19th) or Jura (3rd).
The FG’s aim in this election is to win a significant number of seats (at least 20) in order to weigh more heavily on the wider parliamentary left. A 1988-like scenario where the PS, the Greens and its other allies and dissidents hold only a minority of seats (but a plurality over the right) would wet the FG’s appetite as they would be necessary legislative partners for the PS (especially with the upcoming annihilation of the MoDem) and could throw their weight around with much more impact than if the PS and its allies won an absolute majority on their own.
The FG will find itself divided after the elections over the question of potential cabinet participation. The present cabinet, besides two Greens and two Left Radicals, is a unicolour PS government. The PCF, whose leadership has since 1997 been keen on the plural left, is open to cabinet participation under certain conditions. On the other hand, Mélenchon and the PG are very hostile to any cabinet participation and much prefer to play the role of picky legislative ally for a PS (minority) government that the PCF played between 1988 and 1993 with the PS.
The PS’ goal is obviously to win an absolute majority alongside its closest allies, the PRG, the miscellaneous and dissident lefties and the Greens (EELV). This goal is quite attainable.
However, the PS has been marked by a very large number of dissidences throughout the country. The root of the problem is the November 2011 deal with EELV, in which the PS conceded (meaning that the PS officially backed a EELV candidate) about 63 constituencies, with 20 of them winnable, to EELV. This deal was often done over the heads of local PS federations and caused much controversy on the ground, given that a lot of the EELV candidates in these conceded constituencies had little to no local political implantation, while the local PS often had fairly strong benches of local mayors, general councillors and so forth. The fact that EELV gave almost nothing away in return – running candidates against official PS candidates in other seats – caused more controversy.
As a result, almost all constituencies given to EELV in the November deal have one or more PS dissident candidates, candidates who were promptly excluded from the party by the national leadership. The most high-profile dissidences include the 1st constituency of the Rhône (where the PRG’s Thierry Braillard, backed by Lyon PS mayor Gérard Collomb, is running against a EELV candidate backed by the PS), the Côtes-d’Armor (4th) and the Nord (8th, where the PS incumbent is running as a dissident against a EELV candidate endorsed by the PS). In Paris’ 6th constituency, the PS incumbent who got shafted by the deal ultimately bowed down to pressure and accepted to become the suppléant of the EELV candidate… Cécile Duflot, the party’s leader and cabinet minister (in the end, Duflot will win but her PS suppléant will ‘hold’ the seat…). The dissidents have a strong argument on their side: the deal in November was signed when EELV was polling 5-6%. On April 22, EELV won less than 2% of the vote.
EELV will still hope to get at least 15 seats this election, the minimum required to form a parliamentary group. But with the presence of stronger PS dissidents in almost all constituencies, it could end up winning as few as 10 seats. Still, it is hard to say whether voters will vote in a “legitimist” fashion and backed the EELV candidate who is officially backed by the PS (and this mention likely features prominently on their ballots…), or if they will prefer voting for a well-known locally based dissident. If EELV fails to win a parliamentary group even after a generous deal with the PS, it will be thrown back into its old state of utter dependence on the PS, making the 2009-2011 episode seem like a distant wet dream.
The PS dissidents, often way better locally implanted than the official EELV-PS candidate, will probably far outrun the EELV candidate. In the end, however, as always, the PS dissidents will soon find their way back to their native party and be active members of the presidential majority. There are other cases where a strong local PS dissident is running against a PS canddiate. Most notably, there is Olivier Falorni in La Rochelle, a local dissident against Ségolène Royal, the 2007 presidential candidate and open candidate for the presidency of the National Assembly, who was endorsed by the PS in the solidly left-wing constituency of La Rochelle, despite being from the neighboring Deux-Sèvres. The other main PS vs. PS fight is in the Aude (2nd), where the frêchiste Didier Codorniou, excluded from the PS since 2010, is running as a dissident against a candidate officially backed by the PS.
The traditional deal with the PRG created much less animosity. The PRG and PS have long been very close allies, to the point where the PRG has basically turned into an annex of the PS’ “right-wing”. The deal between the two gave 32 seats to the PRG, 20 of them deemed winnable. Few of these deals gave rise to major dissident candidacies, because the PRG’s candidates are often well implanted local officials (former deputies, local mayors, general councillors etc) unlike the majority of the EELV candidates backed by the PS (most of whom hold no other elective office). With this deal, which can secure an additional 5-10 seats for the PRG (which won 7 in 2007) the PRG can hope to form a parliamentary group on its own or with the possible addition of a few DVG and PS dissident candidates. Indeed, the PRG has often acted as a receptor for some wandering non-socialist leftists or unhappy ex-socialists.
The centre, as always since 2007, is a disunited mish-mash. François Bayrou’s MoDem is running candidates in a vast majority of constituencies, but under a new empty label, the Centre pour la France, which, like the FN’s RBM, is largely another label for what are, in large majority, MoDem candidates. However, the MoDem can hardly be playing offensive at this point in time (besides for a few strong high-profile candidates like Rodolphe Thomas or Gilles Artigues who are backed by the UMP in their respective PS-held constituencies) when their own leader, Bayrou, who personally endorsed Hollande between the two rounds, is facing his toughest race in years. Bayrou’s decision to back Hollande, like every other political decision he has made since 2007, has backfired badly on him. The UMP is angry with him, while the PS has taken to ignoring him by running a candidate against him in his constituency despite his endorsement of Hollande. Polls have shown that he is either neck-and-neck or narrowly trailing this PS candidate in his Pyrénées-Atlantiques (2nd). Bayrou had won only 19.9% and third place in his constituency on April 22, when he had taken over 39% in his home turf in the 2007 presidential election. His neighbor, the flamboyant Jean Lassalle, is also threatened by an aggressive local PS which fancies its chances of winning all constituencies in the increasingly pink Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
The MoDem’s candidates finds themselves marginalized in these elections, which have long been polarized betweeen left and right. A large number of Bayrou’s voters from April 22 prefer to vote either for the UMP or the PS, while the MoDem struggles to find a voice in this contest, not sure which way to play. It hesitates between the old neither-left-nor-right centrism which hasn’t worked and the vague indications of centre-leftist leanings which won’t work. Bayrou’s messy calls for some type of “constructive” force which is neither in the opposition nor in the majority have obviously been squashed in a polarized election.
On the centre-right, the NC has been compelled to its old state of unequal dependence on the UMP. All but two of its 20 something incumbents are unopposed by the UMP. While the situation is not as straightforward in all constituencies, for all intents and practices, the NC in this election is hardly distinguishable from its old big brother, the UMP. The NC is running just enough candidates of its own to save its public financing – a really big deal which is based on votes cast for your party in the legislative elections, but the NC will come out of these elections in its same state of subjection to the UMP’s diktat. With a sizable number of NC deputies in close races, there is a good chance that the party will emerge only marginalized and weakened from the elections. The fact that the NC’s parliamentarians (which are basically the only NC members of renown) will have been reelected or elected only thanks to the UMP’s support by the first round, will continue to complicate efforts at centrist re-foundation because NC deputies will be wary of cutting bridges with the party which allowed them to hold their seats!
Jean-Louis Borloo’s Radicals (PRV) are in a similar state, though showing more independence against the UMP. Though the PRV’s incumbents (including Borloo, himself in a marginal constituency in Valenciennes) are, in large part, unopposed by UMP candidates (a fact which explains why Borloo’s attempt at Radical independence were coolly received by a lot of PRV parliamentarians…); in a few constituencies it is running candidates against the UMP, candidates which are sometime clinging to the stillborn ‘ARES’ label. The most high-profile of these cases is in the Hauts-de-Seine (2nd) where Rama Yade, the former cabinet minister turned Borloo ally, is running against UMP incumbent Manuel Aeschlimann in a seat which will likely be won by the PS’ Sébastien Pietrasanta.
Legislative elections are big deals for all parties, because they decide the public funds each party receives. A party needs to run a set amount of candidates and receive a not-insignificant amount of votes to be eligible for public financing, so practically every party – ranging from the big ones to tiny ones you would never have known about – are running some candidates. In all but a few cases, only the major and ‘major minor’ parties will win seats or be remotely competitive in each constituency (in metropolitan France).
I don’t often – if ever – do predictions on this site, largely by fear of being humiliated at how bad my predictions were. Pushed by the incompetence of the media in covering these elections, I’ve decided to take a big risk this time and build my own predictions of the final winner, constituency by constituency. Before the first round, to err safe, I have only done predictions on the basis of “political families” (left, right, centre, far-right) rather than by political party. I have examined each constituency and built a prediction based on qualitative personal factors such as local candidates, grassroots strengths of the various candidates and any personal knowledge of politics in the constituency; quantitative political factors such as the impact of redistricting (if any), the results of the presidential election (first and second round) and the results of the 1997 and 2007 legislative elections (if applicable). I am quite partial to the American way of classifying constituencies as “safe”, “favoured”, “lean” or “tossup” and have used those classifications here.
Safe seats for the left or right are seats where the chances of another political family (like the right in a left-held seat) of winning the seat are extremely low, nil or downright impossible. ‘Favoured’ seats indicates seats where a political family is ‘favoured’ to win the seat, and where it is quite or very unlikely that another political family will win the seat. ‘Lean’ seats indicates seats where one family has an edge or significant advantage over another political family, though it is not unfathomable to see the other side winning.
I came up with two classification of “tossup” seats, which could go any way without much swing. There are ‘edge’ tossups where, though the seat remains very disputed, a political family (the left, right, centre and so forth) has a narrow or consistent advantage, a marginally better chance of winning in the end. Pure tossups are those few seats where it is very much impossible for me to decide on a side which holds even a marginal edge, even less a final winner. Some pure tossups are three-way races including the far-right.
For French Polynesia and French citizens abroad, the map and numbers depicts my final prediction based on first round results.
My predictions give the following numbers, as of today, for the wider political families:
Safe left: 210
Left favoured: 42
Lean left: 30
Tossup – left edge: 43
Parliamentary Left (FG+PS+DVG+PRG+MRC+EELV): 325
Left-right pure tossups: 12
Left-right-far right pure tossups: 3
Right-far right pure tossups: 2
Pure tossups: 16
Tossup – centre edge: 2
Safe right: 85
Right favoured: 67
Lean right: 41
Tossup – right edge: 40
Parliamentary Right (AC+NC+PRV+UMP+DVD+DLR): 233
My predictions would give about 55% of the seats to the left overall, with an outside chance that the PS, DVG, PRC and EELV could hold an absolute majority (289 seats) on their own without the need for the FG’s votes.
You will notice the disparity in safe seats between left and right. I have simply been very reluctant to classify seats currently held by the left as anything other than “safe” in this climate, and similarly reluctant to grade too many seats held by the right as being completely “safe”. In seats where the right is only favoured, I feel as if there is a very/extremely remote chance for there to be surprises or even an upset, though I certainly do not expect any. We can never be too safe, especially when we do not yet know (for sure at least) whether the left’s likely victory will be a tsunami or only a normal little tide.
Based on my predictions, all Ayrault cabinet ministers who are candidates in these elections would be reelected – including Marie-Arlette Carlotti who is running against a UMP incumbent in Marseille, who is certainly the cabinet minister with the toughest fight. There is a chance that junior minister Kader Arif could be defeated, but by fellow left-wing dissidents rather than by the right – he is running in the Haute-Garonne. Stéphane Le Foll, the new agriculture minister, should conquer François Fillon’s old seat in the Sarthe.
According to my predictions, I feel as if Frédéric Lefebvre, Chantal Brunel, Guillaume Peltier, Valérie Rosso-Debord, Hervé Novelli, Eric Raoult, Georges Tron, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, Laurent Hénart, André Santini, Hervé Mariton and Maire-Anne Montchamp would be defeated. I still give a narrow edge to other contenders in very tough races, including Nadine Morano, Christian Vanneste, Yves Jégo, David Douillet, Jean-Louis Borloo, NKM, Xavier Bertrand, Laurent Wauquiez, Michèle Alliot-Marie and Patrick Devedjian. François Bayrou’s seat is rated as a “pure tossup”, not a very dangerous call…
I do not predict any far-right winner, though I feel as there are a maximum of five seats where the FN could realistically win. However, I have classified the 11th constituency of the Pas-de-Calais, where Marine is running, as a “tossup – left edge”, with Mélenchon the likely winner. I think that Jacques Bompard, the ex-FN mayor of Orange, who is not actually a FN candidate, is the far-right candidate with the biggest chance of winning (in Vaucluse’s 4th), with Paul-Marie Coûteaux standing a fairly good chance in a “pure tossup” race in Haute-Marne’s 2nd.
Besides Mélenchon in the Pas-de-Calais, some other “big winners” based on my predictions include Jack Lang (in the Vosges now…), Patrick Mennucci, François Fillon (in Paris’ 2nd instead of Sarthe this year), Cécile Duflot (in Paris’ 6th) and potentially Ségolène Royal.
My predictions remain, of course, subjective and based only on limited knowledge. I am open to justifying my calls in all constituencies, explaining my predictions further or receiving comments and feedback based on my calls in such and such constituency.
A big question mark ahead of June 10, and a question mark which has a very big impact on these predictions, is the issue of triangulaires with the FN. Nobody knows how many there will be, and estimates range from lows of 30 to highs of 100-110. It is quite hard to predict how many there will be, it is even harder to predict with much certainty where they will be. At any rate, 100-110 seems high (though more reasonable than the media’s sensational headlines on April 23 about ‘over 300 triangulaires’!), considering that in 1997, with 14.9% nationally and 67.9% turnout (which will not happens this year), the FN qualified for 76 three-way runoffs.
For my analysis, I have worked on the assumption of a national FN result around 15% and 60-63% turnout, and used Marine’s first round results as the basis everywhere. Of course, this is far from a perfect strategy to approach this problem. UNS is a myth which doesn’t exist and will never exist, so assuming that you can just subtract 3-4% from Marine’s vote everywhere and get a solid prediction of the FN vote on June 10 is pretty stupid. If the FN vote drops the most in constituencies where the FN has not traditionally been very strong but where Marine was able to win some “new” voters, but stays at solid April 22 levels in core FN territory, then the FN will be in a good position to qualify for many triangulaires.
The second issue, which will need to be examined in the wake of first round results, is how the FN will perform on June 17 in those constituencies where it is qualified for either duels or triangulaires. In the past, especially in 1997, the FN had tended to lose a fairly significant percentage of its first round vote in triangulaire runoffs (I’m not aware of a statistical study on this phenomenon, but in 1997 it was almost universal in all 76 FN triangulaires).
There was a tendency for a sizable minority of FN voters to vote for the FN in the first round but to either sit out the runoff or switch their vote to the left or right-wing candidate who has a stronger chance of winning. FN voters are not necessarily locked into a “all the others suck” mindset themselves, and some use the FN as a first round protest vote, but pragmatically support an electable candidate from either left or right in the runoff. Just because their party is isolated behind an old cordon sanitaire doesn’t mean that FN voters don’t conform to the old rule of “in the first round, you choose; in the second round, you eliminate”… even when they could still “choose” rather than “eliminate” in triangulaires.
In the 2010 regional elections, however, the FN gained votes compared to the first round in (I think) every region where it qualified for the runoff (all were, obviously, triangulaires). There were only very few triangulaires in the 2011 cantonals, so it is hard to see if this trend was ephemeral or if it is going to stick. If on June 17, the FN tends to lose votes compared to the first round in the triangulaires where it is qualified, the UMP candidates stuck in these triangulaires de la mort could hold out hope that some first round FN voters will pragmatically vote for the UMP over the FN in a runoff situation favourable to the left.
We will also need to look at how the FN performs, compared to the first round, in those constituencies where it is alone against either the left or right in the runoff. The myth is that left-FN runoffs are way more favourable to the FN than right-FN runoffs are. Besides the fact that the two cantons the FN won in 2011 were held by the left, there is little proof that this is actually true. In the 2011 cantonals, the FN gained an average of 10.6 percentage points in left-FN runoffs, while in right-FN runoffs, the FN gained 10.5 percentage points on average.
The theory that mainstream right voters are more likely to vote for the FN in left-FN runoffs than left-wingers are in right-FN runoff makes a good deal of sense, but I’m not sure if it has been proven quantitatively. The 2011 cantonal elections and the 2012 presidential elections showed that the FN attracts a very ideologically, socially and geographically diverse electorate. The 2011 (and even 2004) cantonal elections further showed that the FN was an attractive option for a sizable minority of left-wing voters in right-FN runoffs. This, plus the interesting trends noted in 2010 triangulaires is part of wider phenomenon of destigmatization of a FN vote, what is described in France as a lepénisation des esprits (a ‘Lepenization’ of mainstream political thought). The FN, for a good deal of voters, is not as repulsive as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of voters might (secretly) agree with some of the FN’s rhetoric and ideology, given the general conservatism of the wider electorate on law-and-order and immigration issues. For opponents of the FN and its politics, this is a very worrying trend, but as far as we are concerned, it explains why the FN has tended, since 2007, to perform increasingly well in runoff scenarios, including triangulaires.
The results in the 11 new “foreign” seats have fallen, and they are very – surprisingly – favourable for the left. These elections, which included an option of voting through the internet, were marked by extremely low turnout – about 15-25% of registered voters turned out, a majority voting online. When turnout is this low, you open the door to weird results and very unpredictable elections. It appears as if demobilization was heavy on both sides, but right-wingers in these eleven ‘foreign’ seats were more demobilized than left-wingers. It is a logical pattern, which is nothing new (it happened in 1981), but it does not seem to have been picked up by pollsters in France, which do not report spectacular levels of right-wing demobilization. However, if these patterns of mobilization hold up in France on June 10, the PS and its allies can hope for a large victory – unless the runoff “corrects” the first round, like in 1967 or 2007.
In these seats, it appears as if the UMP’s tactic of ensuring itself at least 7-8 seats will backfire badly. Based on first round results and personal analysis, I predict that only three of the eleven constituencies will return UMP members – the rest will return left-wing members. The UMP suffered a lot from poor candidate selection, its preference of ‘metropolitan’ candidates perceived as carpetbaggers over locals (who often ran as dissidents) being a particularly poor strategic choice. This was the case in the first constituency, covering Canada and the United States. The UMP candidate, Frédéric Lefebvre, a Sarkozyst and former cabinet minister, found himself very contested on the right by high-profile dissident candidacies. In the end, Lefebvre, never a good candidate for anything, won 22.1% and distant second behind the PS candidate, Corinne Narassiguin, a strong local candidate, who won 39.7% in a seat usually favourable to the right. She is the likely winner in the runoff.
Another former cabinet minister running for the UMP, Marie-Anne Montchamp, will likely suffer a similar fate in another constituency which the right should have won easily (the Benelux, 4th). She won only 21.2%, distant second to the PS who won 30.4%. With transfers from the Greens, the PS will likely win this seat, again a seat which the UMP didn’t really have any business in losing. On the topic of this same constituency, Dominique Paillé, a former UMP deputy (defeated in 2007) who has since sided with Borloo’s PRV-ARES, ran in this seat and won… 2.79%. While Dodo has lost every election he has run in since 2007, this is a new low for him.
Most surprisingly, however, is the eight constituency, which covers Italy, Greece and Israel. Backed by over 90% in Israel, this constituency was Sarkozy’s best constituency out of these eleven new seats. Yet, due to very low turnout in Israel, the PS won first place with 30.5% against 22.5% for the UMP, in a very spot for the runoff. A likely left-wing victory in this constituency would be a perfect symbol for the right’s ghastly performance in these eleven new seats. Even stronger high-profile candidates for the UMP like former judge Alain Marsaud and former cabinet minister Thierry Mariani are not fully certain of winning their own seats.
For those looking for a guide of seats to follow when results flow in on June 10, I have prepared this little colourful guide of constituencies which will be of some interest on June 10 (omitting some, naturally).
Presidential elections will be held in France on April 22 and May 6, 2012. The President of France, who holds significant powers granted that he controls a parliamentary majority, is elected for a five-year term, renewable once. France uses a traditional runoff system, where a candidate must win 50%+1 of the votes in the first round to be elected outright, or else the top two candidates in the first round proceed to a runoff held two weeks later. France has held eight direct presidential elections since 1965, and in none of these eight contests has a candidate ever won an absolute majority of the votes cast in the first round.
Thanks to all readers for their interesting questions concerning the 2012 presidential election or the world of French politics in general. Without further a due, here come to answers to the questions which have been asked thus far. I’ll answer questions from readers until, well, the runoff or even further.
What explains Melenchon’s rather sudden surge in support?
This has been an issue which even French political scientists have struggled to answer. His surge was rather sudden, and took pollsters, observers and foreigners by surprise. His surge in support, alongside Nicolas Sarkozy’s gains since he announced his candidacy, are really the two main significant trends of this rather stale campaign.
I tried to answer, in detail, a similar question in this post on my blog dedicated to French elections. To summarize what I said in that post, I attribute the surge to these three factors: his personality, his rhetoric and outside factors.
Firstly, Mélenchon fits the qualities which all successful candidates usually tend to have: charisma, a talent for the oratory arts, dynamism and an ability to convey his message clearly and forcefully. In the French media, for example, Mélenchon is commonly referred to as a tribun de la gauche, tribun being a very good word to describe a charismatic political speaker like Mélenchon. In contrast, the Socialist candidate – François Hollande – has not really been able to shake off an image of him as “soft” or boring in a traditional, moderate style. A lot of left-wing voters may have shifted more to the left as a result of their hatred for Sarkozy, and they may tend to find Hollande’s moderate pragmatism a bit off-putting or ‘soft’ in a time of economic crisis which they believe warrants radical solutions comparable to the economic and fiscal measures proposed by Mélenchon.
Secondly, as touched upon above, Mélenchon’s rhetoric is appealing to anti-system/anti-establishment voters. Political scientists in France since the 2005 referendum on the European constitution have taken to speaking about a fundamental divide between the “elites” – urban, young and educated, socially liberal, tolerant, pro-European and the “people” – suburban-exurban or rural, older, less educated, poorer, more working-class and conservative on issues such as immigration and skeptical of European construction. Unsurprisingly, the FN has been the party of choice for most of the “people”, but in 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy had skillfully scripted a similar appeal to the “people” – or what a recent Ipsos study called “the weakened peripheral France”. Mélenchon’s “new” supporters – those who came around to him during the surge – are rather likely to fall in the latter category.
With the economic crisis, there is a certain demand in France – especially on the left – for a candidate who speaks in tough terms about the banks (or the ‘banksters’ as the Greek have taken to saying), high earners (perceived as not paying their fair share), tax evaders (a lot of wealthy French artists or singers tend to take their money abroad, as do a few high earners), austerity measures (unpopular because of their impact on wages or welfare) and defense of social policies or the welfare state. Mélenchon’s tough rhetoric – which includes concrete proposals including a 20% hike in the minimum wage, a ’100%’ tax bracket on revenues above €360,000 and a cap on maximum corporate earnings – tend to speak well to “the people”. It is fairly symbolic that Nicolas Sarkozy has felt the need to advocate a tax on ‘fiscal exiles’ or tax evaders, an idea originally proposed by Mélenchon.
As I noted in the aforementioned post, an Ipsos poll showed that 31% of Mélenchon’s voters cited “a desire to reflect my discontent” as one of their three reasons for voting for him – which is quite a bit higher than all voters combined (23%) but still way below the same number (46%) for Marine Le Pen’s voters. On top of that, Mélenchon’s voters rarely cited a rejection of other candidates as a motivator but were very likely to cite agreement with his ideas or proposals as a reason for leaning towards him. On a final note on this topic, Marine Le Pen remains the top candidate for those who fall in this “people” category popularized by researchers. The composition of Mélenchon’s base is far less proletarian than her base (it is also far less proletarian than the PCF’s electorate in, say, 1981, when the PCF polled 15%). In fact, Mélenchon’s core base has been with a type of fairly “well integrated” petite bourgeoisie made up of public servants and government/public employees (teachers, social workers etc). He has performed well both with ouvriers (manual workers), intermediate-grade folks and managerial-higher professional categories (granted that they are in the public sector).
Finally, in terms of “other factors”, we can cite the media narrative about this election (and its impact on voters) and an ability to unite the “left of the left”. The media narrative about this election is about how Hollande is the big favourite, not a sure winner but a likely winner at least, who will certainly place first or second in the first round and enter the runoff as the favourite given his sizable poll lead (if you believe polls, he could surpass Mitterrand’s 1988 margin against Jacques Chirac). I won’t touch on Hollande’s strong demographics, but rather his (few) weaknesses: on his left. He was not the “left-wing candidate” in the open primary, and there used to be some worries on the left of the PS about his commitment to “left-wing values” or something along those lines. Following the primary, some of the left-wingers lukewarm about Hollande may have come around to supporting him (party unity, ability to win). However, they may have been flirting with Mélenchon following Hollande’s fairly low-key and inaudible campaign as of late. The narrative and appearance of Hollande’s inevitability makes it “safe” for these voters to vote their heart (Mélenchon?) in the first round but back Hollande without too much reluctance in the runoff. Polls shows that about 85% of Mélenchon’s voters will vote for Hollande over Sarkozy in the runoff.
The other “other factor” is the new-found unity of the ‘left of the left’ behind Mélenchon. For sure, a few hardcore left-wing partisans dislike Mélenchon who they still see as a Jospin cabinet minister and a Socialist masquerading as a leftie. But he has managed to appeal to a majority of those who voted for Olivier Besancenot and perhaps even José Bové and Arlette Laguiller in 2007. As we will find out on April 22, a lot of the votes cast for Besancenot (like Arlette in the past) were not cast by hardcore partisan Trots but rather by left-wing and/or protest voters who voted for them based in good part on his personality. The ‘left of the left’ in France, since 2002 if not earlier, has been a chaotic mess. A mish-mash of obscure ideological battles, disagreements over the best direction for the movement and above all personality and ego clashes have made it divided, almost impossible to unite. The PCF-driven attempt to nominate a common “anti-liberal left” candidate in 2007 amounted to naught, as the far-left (old LCR and LO) felt that it was a PCF shenanigan and everybody else didn’t like the idea of losing a primary. The ‘left of the left’ had five candidates in 2007: Besancenot, Arlette, an obscure far-leftist from the PT (Schivardi), the PCF’s disastrous boss Buffet and Bové. This year, with the strong personalities of Besancenot and Arlette gone, it appears as if Mélenchon has achieved the impossible unity of the ‘left of the left’.
Mélenchon has also taken support which once flirted with Marine Le Pen, François Bayrou and probably Eva Joly. The aforementioned post explores all these issues in more detail, alongside the inter-connected old myth of PCF voters flowing to the FN.
According to the Guardian Le Pen’s FN is leading among young voters, but considering that most French Muslims would not be voting for her and among youths Muslims and other minorities is higher in proportion than among the population generally, how many “native” French youths are supporting Le Pen?
A poll by CSA showed Marine Le Pen leading the pack among voters aged 18 to 24 with 26% against 25% for Hollande, 17% for Sarkozy, 16% for Mélenchon and 11% for Bayrou. Compared to a previous poll they had done with the same voters back in late 2011, Marine gained 13 points while Hollande lost 14. Mélenchon gained 11. I will believe this poll when I see its finding corroborated by other polls and by the serious exit polls on April 22. CSA is not one of the best pollsters out there, and has a knack to come out with ‘shock’ polls or outlier numbers. Ifop’s rolling polls have not shown Marine particularly overperforming her national numbers (15-16%) with young voters. Exit polls in past elections have not shown that the FN does particularly strongly with young voters. Her father won 16% with them in 2002, against 14% apiece for Chirac and Jospin. In 2007, he took 7% and in 1995 he had won 17% with them. OpinionWay’s exit poll for the 2010 regional elections showed the FN getting 12% with them, only one point above its national average. Turnout is a big variable with young voters, who are some of the least prone to turn out. In the regional elections, only 33% of them voted. In 2002 – whose record low turnout overall (73%) might be where turnout will be this year (if not lower) – 37% of young voters (18-24) did not vote.
It is not totally unfathomable that Marine Le Pen could perform well with a certain category of young voters – those who are not university students or grads, but rather those who are unemployed youths living in low-income areas. If this category bothers voting at all, Marine Le Pen might carry a special appeal to them in a way which neither Hollande and Sarkozy can match (but which Mélenchon could). She is probably a more ‘appealing’ candidate to these voters because she is much younger and has a slightly less ‘harsh’ image than her father whose appeal to young voters might have been stymied by his age and ‘old ways’ of doing campaigns and politics. Yet, I still have a very hard time seeing her overperform her national average by 10 points or more with voters aged 18-24, when there is no indication that her support has collapsed with the FN’s traditionally strongest age groups: middle-aged voters.
It is true that French Muslims are overwhelmingly young and, in the general young population, do make up a larger percentage than they do in the wider total population. Yet, French Muslims are a smaller share of the total electorate and an even smaller part of the ‘regular’ electorate. A lot of them are not registered voters, either because they are not French nationals or because they have not signed up to vote. Voter turnout, furthermore, is often low – in some cases very low – within the French Muslim population. Those who do vote are overwhelmingly left-wing.
How are French Protestants voting in this election?
Protestants make up about 2.5% of the total French population and a similar share of the electorate. There are, basically, two significant geographical concentrations of Protestants in France: in Alsace (Bas-Rhin especially) where most are Lutherans and in the southwest (Lozère, Gard, Haute-Loire, Aveyron, Ardèche), where most are Calvinists. Despite their small size in the overall population, their voting patterns are far from homogeneous over the territory.
The differences between Protestant and Catholic voters are fairly easily perceptible in both of these regions, but in different ways. In Alsace, the denominational cleavage has become significantly weaker than it was in the 1950s (when it was very stark). However, it has been shown that Alsatian Protestants are more likely to vote for the FN and, in the past, for Gaullists than their Alsatian Catholic counterparts who were far more likely to vote for Christian democratic candidates (MRP, UDF) than Protestants were. This was particularly true in the 1950s up until the 1980s, but the cleavage is far less tenuous nowadays. Yet, Protestant areas in Alsace still tend to be marked by stronger results for the FN than demographically similar Catholic municipalities. In some cases, Protestants vote in slightly larger numbers for the left in Alsace than Catholics do, but they remain largely right-wing in their overall political orientation. Religion likely plays a role in explaining why Protestants are more inclined to vote for the far-right, but their demographic nature in rural areas obviously plays a major role in their voting behaviour: most tend to be working-class.
In sharp contrast, the Protestant regions of the Cévennes mountains in southwestern France are very solidly left-wing. Calvinists in these areas, historically a persecuted minority (revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the terreur blanche) sided very quickly with the Revolution and the creed of religious freedom and tolerance. They have remained, since then, very loyal to the left – the PS in particular, in rarer cases the Communists. The Protestant-Catholic divide remains very perceptible in departments such as Lozère.
An Ifop poll (though on a small sample of 410 Protestants) recently showed that Protestant voters would vote in larger numbers for Sarkozy than the overall population. With Protestants, Sarkozy scored 33.5% (+5 on the overall population) against 22.5% for Hollande, 16.5% for Bayrou (+4.5 on the total population) and 14% for Marine Le Pen. In the ‘east’, Protestants placed Sarkozy in first with 35% to Marine Le Pen’s 28%, with Bayrou in third at 19% and Hollande pulling only 13%. Yet with Protestants in the ‘south’, Hollande won 37% to Sarkozy’s 31% and Bayrou’s 13%. This poll seems a bit too slanted towards the right, especially in the case of the ‘southern’ subsample.
How are Harkis (Algerian native loyalists) voting?
The political preferences of Harkis tend to be lumped in with those of pieds-noirs, the European settlers in Algeria who were resettled in France fifty years ago. I wrote a piece on my other blog which included some reflections on the voting preferences of pieds-noirs 50 years later. A poll by Ifop for the Cevipof in January showed that Marine Le Pen narrowly led the field among those voters with 28% against 26% apiece for Hollande and Sarkozy. In 2007, the study found that 31% had voted for Sarkozy against 20.5% for Royal and 18% for Le Pen. The political preferences of pieds-noirs have often been stereotyped as being overwhelmingly lepeniste. From this stereotype, people also like to explain away the FN’s strength in PACA and the rest of the riviera by laying it all on the voting preferences of the pieds-noirs. This is not quite the case: pieds-noirs are not homogeneous in their voting preferences nor are they a significant enough share of the population in the lepeniste regions of the southeast to shape their political profiles single-handedly.
There have been no specific studies on the harkis, but it seems to be assumed that they vote similarly to the European pieds-noirs, which could make them the only significant French Arab group which votes in significant numbers for the far-right. For harki voters, the issue of ‘recognition’ (recognition by the state that France abandoned them in 1962) is a touchy but important political issue in every election. In 2007, Sarkozy had talked about compensation and a memorial law recognizing the state’s role in the ‘betrayal’ of the pieds-noirs and harkis. More recently, he once again mentioned similar issues.
In the political geography of France, we see that unlike in most English-speaking countries, you don’t have much of an urban-rural divide, rather both left and right have strongholds in both the city and the country. It is also my impression (unverified) that politics are a lot less regional than in other countries. Is this true, and if so why?
It is true that the urban-rural divide is not as important in France as it is in the United States, the United Kingdom or Canada. There has been an increasing divide between urban and rural areas in recent years, as urban areas tend to shift to the left (Paris is a great example) while a lot of rural areas (especially in eastern or northern France) shift to the right. However, some of the left’s strongholds are rural areas (the Limousin, Midi, parts of Aquitaine) while the right can still perform very well in core urban areas unlike the Republicans in the United States or even the Conservatives in other Anglophone countries.
The urban-rural cleavage has been a determinant of voter behaviour, but the fact is that it has never really been the key factor in shaping voter behaviour. Religion, land ownership, class and political traditions have traditionally been the top determinants of voter behaviour in (rural) France.
Religion – specifically the divide between clerical devout Catholics and secular voters – has played a major role in shaping some of the main trends in French electoral geography which persist to this day. ‘Clerical’ voters, be they rural or urban (most were rural), voted heavily for the right. ‘Anti-clerical’ voters formed the backbone of the republican parties and later the Radicals and subsequent left-wing parties. Voters with no religion are overwhelmingly left-wing to this day, church-going Catholics are still heavily slanted in favour of the right. The role of religion as a determinant of the vote has weakened in recent years with secularization since the 1970s, as the inner west and especially Brittany so eloquently shows. But a lot of the political traditions in rural regions remain shaped by religious traditions. The old Southwest has long been the hotbed of anti-clerical and Masonic political sentiments in France (alongside other political sentiments, including anti-establishment and anti-authoritarian streaks), and remains one of the most solidly left-wing regions in France. On the other hand, in the same region, the very religiously inclined herding plateaus of the Aveyron, Cantal or Lozère remain very conservative.
Land ownership has often gone hand-in-hand with class and religion, but has been the other main factor in shaping the political profiles of rural France. Smallholders – farmers who owned their land – were in general the biggest supporters of the republican cause, out of opposition to the aristocratic and authoritarian leanings of the old right. When they were outside clerical regions, sharecroppers or tenant farmers in large properties could be counted upon to harbour some socialist or communist tendencies. When they were in clerical regions, large property often went hand-in-hand with monarchist or conservative traditions. My political profile of the Vendée explores these issues in more details.
Class is not as important in France as it is in the UK or Scandinavian countries, but poverty and social standings has shaped and still shapes political cultures and opinions in France. Religion still trumped class – as Brittany or the inner west showed until recently – but when poverty was found in anti-clerical regions, socialism and later communism could be promised a fertile ground. Class became more important in the post-war era, as the political battle clearly became a fight between “Marxism” (PCF, Socialists) and non-Marxism (right, Radicals, centre). The first constitutional referendum in 1946 is often thought to be a major realigning vote. In this referendum, anti-clerical but fairly well-off rural and urban areas (Champagne or the Beauce) realigned with the right. Anti-clerical but poorer or more anti-system regions (the Southwest, Limousin, Berry, Bourbonnais, parts of Aquitaine) remained aligned with the left, the Socialists being the natural heirs of a left-wing Radical party.
Settlement patterns have also played their role in forging voting patterns. Areas of nucleated rural settlements were more favourable to the left, perhaps because the concentration of voters in a nucleated setting made the exchange of ideas easier. On the other hand, areas of dispersed settlement were more likely to favour the right, as voters remained geographically separated, making the exchange of ideas and views harder.
In the 1960s, the political leanings of urban areas could generally be summarized fairly easily: a bourgeois and right-leaning urban core surrounded by a proletarian hinterland, with solid Communist or left-wing leanings. The image is not so simple anymore. The inner suburbs of most large cities are no longer proletarian in the old sense, but either gentrifying or working poor (employees, low-paying jobs, public servant). Inner cities have shifted to the left as part of a mixed phenomenon of gentrification (eastern Paris or inner suburbs such as Montreuil are great examples) and boboïsation - young professionals who are not too badly off but hold left-libertarian political opinions. Even affluent inner suburbs have begun voting consistently for the left, while the right has made some inroads in some more working-class left-leaning suburban areas.
The divide between ‘rural’ and ‘urban’, furthermore, is no longer clear-cut. With exurban growth and rural decline, some rural-looking areas are actually suburban or exurban communities with residents fleeing high inner-city property prices and forced to drive long commutes to large urban areas for work. Agriculteurs - the socioprofessional category made up of farmers who work their own land – barely account for 1% of the French population. A lot of distant rural communities have a population made up of semi-rural low-income working-class employees or manual workers who work in small firms or companies in neighboring towns.
In the 2007 election, there was an unusually strong urban-rural divide. Ségolène Royal outperformed the traditional left in urban areas - notably Paris – while Nicolas Sarkozy outran the traditional right in a lot of rural areas in eastern France (taking a lot of FN votes). The 2007 election also showed a strengthening of the left in regions such as Brittany with a declining Catholic tradition.
Politics are indeed less regional in France than in other countries. Obviously, each regions have their own political history and traditions but France does not really have well-defined political cultures like that of the South in the United States, Bavaria in Germany or Alberta in Canada. France being the dictionary definition of a centralized nation-state likely plays a major role. ‘Peripheral’ ethnic groups (Alsatian, Breton, Occitan, Basque, Savoyard, Catalan) have been, through government policies since the 1870s, reduced to sad shadows of their former selves or totally eliminated beyond recognition. The lack of any major regional languages besides French (though Alsatian, Breton, Basque and Corsican retain a not-insignificant proportion of speakers) have stymied the growth of ‘regional identities’ comparable to those found in Spain, for example. In the media narrative, furthermore, all talk about elections – even regional elections – are run through ‘national’ lenses – which is not the case in the US, Canada or Spain.
Only Corsica and some overseas territories can be said to form fairly cohesive ‘regional identities’ with political traditions clearly separate from those of metropolitan France. But even in those cases, their regionalism does not measure up to the regionalism found in other countries. The closest we can find to regionalism might be the FN’s strong implantation east of the oft-discussed Le Havre-Valence-Perpignan.
If (and i realize it’s a HUGE if) Mélenchon manages to go to the runoff on April 22nd:
1. Can he win whether it’s against Sarkozy or Hollande?
2. What does that mean in connection to the Greek elections that are being held on May 6th (same day as French runoff)?
3. Is it possible to see a MLP vs. JLM on May 6th?
It is indeed a ‘huge if’ and it would prove an upset equal to or even bigger than Le Pen’s 2002 upset. It would require a lot of things to align for him in the next week, which is of course nearly impossible. Assuming, for a second now, that he does indeed make it as your question asks. I threw together a few simulations based on your questions, which you can see here (vs. Hollande), here (vs. Sarkozy)
If it is against Hollande, he would at best win something like 35% of the vote. Though a lot of right-wingers would not vote, Hollande would receive the bulk of Sarkozy, Bayrou and Marine voters who choose to vote in the runoff. Mélenchon would only win support from the far-left’s two candidates and a bit from Joly.
Against Sarkozy, Mélenchon would probably still lose but would easily clear 40% and win something similar to 44-46% of the vote against Sarkozy. Sarkozy is unpopular, and many Hollande voters would vote for Mélenchon over Sarkozy (as would Joly’s voters). However, it is unlikely that Bayrou’s voters would prove as ready to vote for Mélenchon then they are for Hollande. My scenario is fairly generous in assuming that 20% of Bayrou’s voters could vote for Mélenchon over Sarkozy. There is more uncertainty here, as Mélenchon’s surge has significantly improved his image in the wider realm of public opinion and might – I haven’t checked the numbers – be more popular than Sarkozy currently is. But could Mélenchon hold up his positive image in what would certainly be a very bloody runoff?
A runoff between Mélenchon and Marine is even harder to envision, as it would require both to surge further while Hollande and Sarkozy collapse, benefiting small candidates and Bayrou (but also Marine and Mélenchon). I ran a little scenario here which gives my opinion about how such a runoff would shape up to be. It would probably not result in excessively high turnout, as the far-right being qualified would boost centrist and left-wing turnout while Marine Le Pen’s voters would of course turn out in their quasi-entirety (unlike in a normal runoff where a third will likely not vote). The main uncertainty concerns the behaviour of Sarkozy’s voters. With him winning only 21% of the vote, he would be done to a core right-wing rump but would also have shed almost all FN-UMP swing voters and Le Pen 2002 voters which he had won in 2007. I believe about 55-60% of his voters in such a scenario would vote for Marine Le Pen, though Sarkozy himself would not give any endorsement. Marine Le Pen, however, cannot win a runoff election. She is too polarizing and her image is still too negative. However, a runoff against Mélenchon could be her best chance out of any runoff scenario. She could win anywhere between 40 and 45% of the vote in such a runoff against Mélenchon.
It is hard to see the elections in France having a major impact on the elections being held in Greece on the day of the runoff election. Could the sensation of a Mélenchon-x runoff on May 6 have a non-negligible impact on the Greek elections? It could minimally boost the chances of the anti-austerity left-wing parties there, but the Greek elections will first and foremost be fought around and decided by issues which are much closer to home. That being said, if Mélenchon does indeed qualify for the runoff, it could send shockwaves around Europe and indirectly impact the popular support of similar parties and candidates in other European countries, including Spain or Italy.
Translated from French: Can the FN place first in certain communes because of Marine Le Pen’s new base?)
There are 36,000 communes (municipalities) in France, and Marine Le Pen will win a lot of those – a lot of which tend to be very small villages with less than 1,000 voters. Her father had won communes – most of them tiny places – in 2007 despite his poor showing that year. He even won two cantons that year. The better question is whether or not she can win a legislative constituency and even a department. Her winning a department depends a lot on the gap which separates her from the first-placed candidate nationally, be it Hollande or Sarkozy. If she does well, with something over 16%, but the gap which separates her from a Sarkozy or Hollande is over 10 percentage points, then she could still not win a single department. If, on the other hand, she does well and the gap between her and first place is fairly small, then she could stand a chance in departments such as the Aisne or Haute-Marne. She will probably place first in her political home base, Hénin-Beaumont, and record a swing above the national average in the Pas-de-Calais and its general region.
Translated from French: In the next legislative elections, could there be surprises? Is a cohabitation possible?
Since the Jospin-Chirac tandem agreed to ‘realign’ the electoral calendar in 2000, legislative elections have become of much less importance and usually confirmations of the result of the presidential election held a month beforehand. The new electoral cycle, with a synchronized presidential and legislative term, has worked to reassert the predominance of the presidential election as the ‘top’ election in France. In this perspective, the next legislative elections should not see any surprises.
In the scenario that Hollande is elected, the PS allied with the left will not struggle too much to win an absolute majority. In the past, the only election held immediately after a presidential election in which the president’s party failed to win an absolute majority was 1988, when Mitterrand’s PS only won a plurality of seats despite Mitterrand’s landslide trouncing of Chirac.
If Sarkozy is reelected, however, there is an outside chance that there will be a cohabitation because of the circumstances in which Sarkozy would win reelection. However, it is still tough to see the electorate turning around in such a rapid fashion to hand somebody the elected a month ago such a stunning rebuke. The idea of cohabitation is fairly unpopular in France, and voters would be reminded of it during the course of the legislative elections’ campaign. Yet, if Sarkozy wins a magical underdog reelection, it probably won’t be through a miraculous improvement of his approval ratings to June 2007 stratospheric levels, meaning that there is a serious chance that legislative elections held in the wake of an underdog Sarkozy win could result in some surprises.
The main things to watch for in these legislative elections would be as follows:
Firstly, turnout. Turnout hit an all-time low in 2007 – 60% – which is not too surprising given the (eventually wrong) vague bleue narrative and the low stakes of the election. This year, following a presidential election which has struggled to motivate voters very much at all, how many voters will be bothered to go out to vote in an election which will, probably, be of very low stakes and even less interesting than the presidential election? It is possible that turnout could descend to catastrophic (for French legislative elections) levels nearing only 50%.
Secondly, in the most likely scenario of a Hollande victory, the overall performance of the left. Will the PS and its close allies win an absolute majority on their own, or will they be in a ‘minority’ situation dependent on either the centre or the Left Front (FG)?
Within the left, and in the context of government formation and relations during a Hollande presidency, the strength of the PS’ allies – notably the Greens – will be very important. In November 2011, the Greens and the PS signed a controversial electoral deal which gives the Greens (who currently hold only three seats) at least 15 seats if not nearer to 25-30 members (enough for a parliamentary group of their own). Some Greens are concerned about the PS’ goodwill in the wake of a humiliating result for their candidate, Eva Joly, on April 22. Some Socialists, including sitting PS deputies who got shafted by the deal, showed their displeasure with the deal (as did some Greens). Some incumbent PS deputies or dissident Socialists in a few constituencies are running against the Green candidate co-endorsed by the Socialists, the most high-profile of these cases being a Parisian constituency where Green leader Cécile Duflot (currently seatless) is running against the incumbent PS deputy who got dumped on the sidewalk by her party as part of the deal with the Greens.
In the broader context of the left, especially in the wake of the potential for a big success by Mélenchon on April 22, the FG will be very eager to try to convert its presidential success into a legislative success. The most recent case of a fairly surprising “presidential success” is that of Bayrou in 2007, and in his case, he totally failed in his attempt translate his presidential result into a strong result in the legislative elections. He failed because he totally misunderstood and misread the nature, makeup, attitude and politics of those who made his success on April 22, 2007. Mélenchon does not appear to be a Bayrou, that is one who overreacts to a presidential success by attempting to “transform” politics altogether. The FG will make the case to voters, especially those who voted for Mélenchon, for the necessity of a strong left-wing bench in the National Assembly to exert pressure on Hollande’s government from the left. I haven’t run through the FG’s candidates in its intricacies to assess their chances, so I cannot expand much on this point.
Assuming Hollande fails to win an absolute majority for the ‘close-knit’ left-wing parties (PS, PRG, Greens) and is dependent on the support of the FG or the centre in the National Assembly, then the old debate of whether or not the FG/PCF should cooperate with the PS and participate in a PS cabinet will come up again. The PCF’s leadership generally looks upon the idea of Communist participation in a PS government quite favourably, but Mélenchon has shown himself to be quite resistant to that possibility. The issue could prove a major source of tension between the PCF and Mélenchon’s friends (the PG), but it is unlikely the PG will emerge from the legislative elections with a significant caucus at all.
The third thing to look out for will be the FN, which will be aiming to regain a foothold in the legislative elections following the slap they received in the 2007 legislative elections which came on the heels of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s poor performance in the presidential election. The electoral system and high likelihood of low turnout all plays against the FN, which will struggle to win a single seat. However, if it is able to win strong results in constituencies through eastern and southeastern France, it could find itself in a make-or-break role for UMP deputies and candidates in the runoff. The probability of low turnout will reduce the number of three-way runoffs - triangulaires, thus removing the terrible shadow of 1997′s triangulaires de la mort for the right. However, the FN’s strong showing, if it is in the backdrop of something close to a vague rose will inject the old issue of right-FN electoral alliances or unofficial deals into debates on the right as it seeks to rebuild itself after a defeat.
[updated April 18] Could you give some information about the political or personal platforms of the lower tier of candidates?
Why are they standing and who votes for them?
I’m particularly interested in Jacques Cheminade as even detailed accounts of the candidates do not elaborate on him, or even (sometimes) mention him. I have heard he is the Lyndon LaRouche affiliated candidate but what does that mean in terms of French politics and demographics?
The “small candidates” as they are often called are Eva Joly (the Greens-EELV), Nathalie Arthaud (LO), Philippe Poutou (NPA), Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (DLR) and Jacques Cheminade (S&P). Presidential elections are the “big” elections, so it is necessary for all parties and movements to try to gain a presence and a voice in the presidential elections. They know they won’t win, but the equal airtime allows them a chance to voice their platforms and get free publicity for their parties or ideas.
Joly didn’t want to be a small candidate and she started off as a second-tier candidate, not a last-tier candidate. But, not being a traditional politician, she led a very poor campaign. Like most Green candidates in presidential elections, she found her base squeezed out by Hollande who appeals to ‘pragmatic’ Greens who vote more “strategically” (against Sarkozy) or by more ‘red’ Greens who have flowed to Mélenchon. She is left with the hardcore of the Greens, more left-leaning than their ‘wider’ electorate (2009 or 2010). As mentioned above, there is a fear that her poor showing will hinder her party vis-a-vis the PS, because EELV is hungry for a parliamentary group (20+ members in the lower house) and for cabinet positions. Her platform takes up the usual Green themes (no nuclear energy, green jobs, sustainability, social justice, democratic reform, decentralization, European federalism, left-libertarianism). She got into deep controversy when she suggested removing the traditional military parade on Bastille Day (July 14). She has been mocked for her Norwegian accent in French, by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld.
Nathalie Arthaud (LO) and Philippe Poutou (NPA) are usually grouped as the “far-left candidates”, which is fair enough given that there are few differences in the platforms of both candidates. Arthaud is the successor of LO’s popular six-time contender Arlette Laguiller, who stepped down from politics after the 2007 election. Traditionally, LO is the more ‘traditional’ of the two Trotskyist-leaning parties in France – it usually sticks to old-style Marxist rhetoric about the class struggle, the bourgeoisie, exploitation of the proletariat. It focuses quasi-exclusively on economic, fiscal, monetary or social issues and does not usually touch issues such as political reform, the environment, foreign policy and so forth. On the other hand, the NPA – which is the successor of the old LCR, and is often presented as “Olivier Besancenot’s party” – has abandoned old Marxist rhetoric in favour of a New Left orientation, though still clearly on the far-left. The LCR usually was the more hippie/modern party out of the two Trot parties. Up until 2007 at least, the LCR had more appeal to non-working class urban voters, young voters and students. The NPA’s policies vis-a-vis economic issues is very much like that of LO, but it mentions environmental issues and political reforms/institutions a bit more.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (NDA, as he says) is a right-wing ‘paleo-Gaullist’ candidate. Dupont-Aignan is a former UMP member who left the party before the 2007 election to form a new party, Arise the Republic (DLR). NDA is a deputy in the National Assembly and a very popular mayor of Yerres, a suburban town in the Essonne department. He did not run in the 2007 election but ran in the 2009 EU and 2010 regional elections, doing decently for a small party with little funds. NDA’s political views are similar to those of Charles de Gaulle, in that he is fairly Eurosceptic (against the 2005 EU Constitution, for a ‘Europe of nations’), supports an independent foreign policy (getting out of the joint command of NATO) and has a fairly statist/colbertiste economic agenda including re-nationalizing the formerly public electricity and gas companies (EDF/GDF). He supports protectionism to fight outsourcing to foreign countries. It is surprising his candidacy has not done any better, but he likely finds himself squeezed in this “big” contest between the “big” contenders he stands between: Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy, both of whom have of course flirted with populism and nationalism/thinly veiled nationalism.
Jacques Cheminade is the “surprise” candidate. Cheminade had already run in 1995, taking 0.3% of the vote. His movement and his ideas are indeed close to those of Lyndon LaRouche, which has led to some disagreements about how to classify him. Most sources classify him and his party on the far-right. Nobody has focused on his ideas, because they are so bizarre and unclear. Most people prefer to make his candidacy the butt of jokes, poking fun at his and LaRouchites obsession about conspiracy theories and their hatred of Elizabeth II, the “drug dealer”. He takes up a lot of LaRouche’s conspirationist views about “the world of finance” and big business, crying out against “the City” and “Wall Street” bankers or the financial oligarchy. He shares the LaRouche movement’s knack for “multinational” type technological programs through nuclear energy. For some reason, he also talks about going to outer space (he is probably concerned that aliens will take him away or something) and development in Africa. Overall, far-right seems like a fair classification but a weird type of technocratic far-right with a concern about New World Orders and black choppers. It is hard to say who are the people who vote for him, but we’ll soon find out, I guess. This post details Cheminade’s ideology and links to the LaRouche movement.
Thanks again to all readers for some great questions. In the lack of a proper preview post per se, I will be more than pleased to answer additional follow-up questions or any other questions from readers about French politics and/or the 2012 election(s) in particular.
Presidential elections will be held in France on April 22 and May 6, 2012. The President of France, who holds significant powers granted that he controls a parliamentary majority, is elected for a five-year term, renewable once. France uses a traditional runoff system, where a candidate must win 50%+1 of the votes in the first round to be elected outright, or else the top two candidates in the first round proceed to a runoff held two weeks later. France has held eight direct presidential elections since 1965, and in none of these eight contests has a candidate ever won an absolute majority of the votes cast in the first round.
In the runup to this election, World Elections opens to ground to any questions by interested readers on the topic of French politics and the 2012 elections. All types of questions, ranging from general questions about the candidates and their parties to more specific questions about the impact of this election, the polls, runoff prospects, the trends, the background, the political history of France, voting patterns and voter behaviour or electoral geography are acceptable. Please post your questions in the comments section below, tweet them to me (@welections) or email them to me. In due time – that is, before April 21 – all these questions will be answered in a thorough and accessible manner in this post.
In the meantime, you can read some background to this election by reading these posts on recent elections in France since 2009 or about French political history in general:
2011 Presidential primaries
- PS-PRG open primary second round results and analysis
- PS-PRG open primary first round results and analysis
- PS-PRG open primary election preview/who’s who
- PCF internal primary and EELV semi-open primary
2011 Senatorial elections
2011 cantonal elections
2010 Regional elections
- Second round results and analysis
- First round results and analysis
- The FN vote: a first round analysis at the cantonal level
- Pre-electoral commentary
2009 European elections
Political analysis and relevant history
- Glossary of French political terms(Mapping French Elections blog)
- 1962-2012: 50 years after the Évian accords (Mapping French Elections blog)
- 1995-2007: The changing face of the French left (Mapping French Elections blog)
- 2007: Jean-Marie Le Pen’s collapse (Mapping French Elections blog)
- 1984: Emergence of the FN in the European elections (Mapping French Elections blog)
- 1956: the Poujadist movement (Mapping French Elections blog)
- 1951: the Gaullist movement (Mapping French Elections blog)
- 1946: the MRP and PCF dominant (Mapping French Elections blog)
- 1936: Victory of the Popular Front
- Political Profile of the Vendée (Mapping French Elections blog)
- Political Profile of Savoie (Mapping French Elections blog)
Post all your questions below!
Federal elections will be held in Switzerland on October 23, 2011. Beyond Switzerland, October 23 will be a pretty fascinating superwahltag with some great elections in Tunisia, Argentina and Bulgaria. In Switzerland, all 200 members of the National Council (the lower house) and all 46 members of the Council of States (the upper house) are up for reelection.
The Swiss Federal Political System
Switzerland’s unique variant of representative liberal democracy sets it apart from its European neighbors and indeed in the entire world. Switzerland is a federal state modeled around the United States, but two elements make it unique: its form of semi-direct democracy in which voters play a much more influent and powerful role in everyday politics, and its consociational model of governance (shared with Northern Ireland these days). As a semi-direct democracy, Swiss voters can force a referendum on any legislation passed by a legislature and through popular initiatives can amend the constitution.
Federal legislative power in Switzerland is vested in the bicameral Federal Assembly, which is made up of two houses with equal powers. The National Council, like the U.S. House of Representatives represents cantons proportionally to their population (to a certain extent). The Council of States, like the U.S. Senate represents cantons equally (or close to it). In the National Council, each one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons is guaranteed at least one member and additional members based on its population. Like the American House, the number of members is now capped at 200. The most populated canton, Zurich, elects 34 member. There are, roughly 36,000 voters for each member. Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Glarus, Nidwald and Obwald elect only one member. In the Council of States, the 20 full cantons elects two members. The old half-cantons (usually cantons which have been split in half) of Obwald, Nidwal, Basel-Landschaft, Basel-Stadt, Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden elect only one councillor.
In the National Council, those small cantons electing only member use a pretty straight-forward FPTP (‘majoritarian’) system. In the cantons of Uri, Glarus and both Appenzells, the vote is open ended in that the voter may write in any candidate of his choice. In the other cantons electing only one members, there is a candidacy deadline. The other cantons which elect two or more members use proportional representation, which certainly isn’t as straightforward. In a typical ‘big’ canton, each party usually presents its list of candidates – usually one name for every seat, but some parties like to run the same person for more than one seat to capitalize on their chances of election (or not run candidates for every seat). But beyond that, in a lot of cases, the major parties usually have more than one list: for example, in a lot of cantons, you find a “Party X” list but also “Party X – Youth Section” list. Different party lists may then coalesce together (apparentements) to be counted as a single list when votes are counted. Within the apparentements, there can be sous-apparentements where the lists of the same party unite to increase their individual chances of obtaining seats within a wider coalesced list. The CiviCampus website, available in the four official languages, has an animation of how voting works in the proportional system.
Party lists are open lists. Prior to the election, each voter is sent pre-printed party lists with the names of all candidates on the party’s list. The voter has a whole array of possibilities. He/she can deposit this pre-printed ballot as is in the provided envelope, and each candidate on the list will receive one vote and the party as a whole will receive as many votes as there are open seats (example: in a 5-seat canton, there are 5 candidates: if the list is not modified, each candidate gets one 1 vote and the party overall gets a sum of 5 votes). The voter can also strike out a candidate’s name: the candidate will not receive an individual vote, but the party itself will receive an ‘at-large’ party vote. A voter can also strike out a candidate’s name on the list and replace that candidate with another of the candidates on the same list (cumuler in French): that candidate would thus get an extra vote out of that ballot while another candidate would receive no votes. A voter, however, may not make his ballot so that a candidate gets more than two individual votes. Panachage is also allowed, meaning that a voter can strike out a candidate and replace him/her with a candidate from another list: thus the candidate’s votes will be shared between two or more parties overall. A voter may also strike out names, panacher and cumuler all at once! Voters also receive, prior to the election, a blank ballot. The voter may write a party’s name and at least one candidate’s name on it (from any party) – if a voter has 5 votes in the 5-seat canton, he/she can write the names of, say, 3 candidates – each candidate will get one vote and the remaining two votes the voter has are given to the party at-large. If the voter writes only the names of candidates on the blank ballot but no party, if he/she does not use up all 5 votes then he/she would not use all votes. The website mentioned also explains how the elections officials may correct certain ballots with minor errors. Specific rules do vary from canton to canton.
The Council of States is generally elected alongside the National Council, and usually elected through majority votes. In general, a candidate needs an absolute majority to win or a runoff is organized 3-5 weeks later depending on cantonal law. The canton of Jura, and, starting this year, Neuchâtel, elect their members through proportional representation. The canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden elects its sole member in a popular assembly (the Landsgemeinde, one of the last remaining vestiges of direct democracy) prior to the election. This year, the canton of Nidwald elected its sole member unopposed. Specific electoral laws and regulations vary from canton to canton. Because of the different electoral system which favours parties with a larger ‘vote potential’, the Council of States has tended to see small parties (outside government) and the two most ‘extreme’ governing parties (SP and SVP) being weaker than in the National Council at the benefit of the centrist parties.
The federal executive is formed by the Federal Council. The Federal Council has seven members, elected individually by the Federal Assembly. Each member is responsible for a specific cabinet department dealing with a policy area which falls within the federal government’s jurisdiction. One member is also elected for the ceremonial revolving one-year office of President of the Confederation. The Federal Council is run by the principle of collegiality, thus besides the largely ceremonial President there is no “Prime Minister” or leading head of government. The other principle which has truly defined Swiss politics is the “magic formula”, in use since 1959 and modified in 2003. The “magic formula” guarantees for the proportional representation of the four main political forces in Switzerland. Between 1959 and 2003, the Socialists, Radicals and Christian Democrats held two seats each with the final seat going to the agrarians (SVP). In 2003, the Christian Democrats lost a seat to the SVP.
Unlike in other liberal democracies, majority rule is not the overarching principle here. Rather, the overarching principle in Swiss politics is concordance or compromise. The vast cultural, linguistic, religious and economic differences which exist in Switzerland have played a role in compelling political actors to adopt this style of consociationalism. All four “governing parties” seek common ground over some sort of compromise in all legislation, both to satisfy all political parties involved but also protect against potential popular rejection through referendum by satisfying social actors and wider networks. The “magic formula”, which, as we’ll explore is increasingly compromised these days, has nonetheless given Switzerland half a century of remarkable political stability, built national unity and protected Swiss democracy from the temporary irrationality of voters. However, the whole system being built on the bases of concordance has not encouraged vibrant political debate and turned most governing parties into boring centrist parties. Parties’ ideological markers are increasingly unclear, and Swiss politics is marked by remarkable political immobility. Furthermore, for all the talk of the “vibrancy” of Swiss democracy because of referendums and semi-direct democracy, Switzerland has some of the lowest voter turnouts in Europe. There is both an “election overload” and a general perception that nothing really changes and that voting is useless. Less than half of eligible voters actually consistently participate in Swiss democracy.
The powers of the legislature to pass laws is subject to popular control, a unique type of “checks and balances” with the people being a level of government to itself. 50,000 citizens or 8 cantons can force a referendum on any bill passed in the last 100 days. Between 1874 and 1997, only about 7% of the laws actually were subjected to a referendum, and about half of those where ratified by voters. The threat of a referendum has an indirect effect on the legislative process, pressuring the government and political actors to reach compromise to prevent a referendum. Conservatives also appreciate the referendum option as a bulwark against anything which goes to far in their eyes. 100,000 citizens may also draft a constitutional amendment (popular initiative) and force a referendum on it. Again, while only a tiny handful out of the hundreds of initiatives have been approved, they are also an indirect effect on the legislative process in that they bring to political limelight issues which were until then not in the realm of political debate.
Swiss Political Parties and Ideologies
Swiss political parties are organized firstly on a cantonal basis, an impact of Swiss federalism. Though parties have been increasingly centralized and homogenized in recent years, Swiss parties are both less centralized and less professionalized than other European party systems. Cantonal sections remain the bedrock of the parties themselves and the cantonal sections are independent entities. In the past, cantonal sections have taken positions or acted in a way which was rather out of sync with the federal party. Cantonal sections often take the role of factions in other European party systems: a certain cantonal section may be ideologically different from the federal party, and they often are the bases for party splits. For example, the Liberal Party and the Free Democrats (Radicals) merged in 2009, but the Liberals and Radicals in Geneva merged only in 2011 and in Basel-Stadt the two parties remain separate from one another. Because politics is really played at a cantonal level, there is no dominant party boss as in other countries and only a few party leaders have a national image, often because of their strong individual personality. Party leaders are, on the whole, pretty unimportant or certainly not as important as in other European countries.
Switzerland emerged as a federal country with a central government worthy of its name only in 1848. Besides an ill-fated attempt at centralization imposed by the French in the form of the Helvetic Republic, Switzerland until 1848 was a confederation of independent states (cantons) which were linked much more by individual treaties rather than by the very weak central government. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the European powers recognized Switzerland’s neutrality and encouraged the reconstruction of independent Switzerland upon confederal lines. The Federal Pact of 1815 did not create a state, but rather a confederation of cantons with their own laws, currencies, tariff systems, militias, policy spheres and political systems (Neuchâtel was a Prussian-ruled monarchy, a few cantons were direct democraties, others were limited democraties, others were aristocratic republics). Certainly the cantons didn’t kill each other anymore, but the central government had very little power – think Articles of Confederation in the United States. By the 1830s, the liberal ideas of political equality, universal suffrage, political and economic freedoms and anti-clericalism gained a foothold in the liberal Protestant cantons. Individual cantons, starting with Ticino (ironically a Catholic canton), “regenerated” their constitutions but attempts to reform the Federal Pact failed throughout the 1830s. Original attempts at reform had not been marked by sectarianism, but the anti-clerical mood of the 1840s fired up sectarian tensions between the Catholic and Protestant cantons. Liberals were progressively replaced by the more left-wing radicals, who were stridently anti-clerical and largely Protestant. In reaction to mounting tensions between radical Protestants and conservative Catholics, seven Catholic cantons (Lucerne, Uri, the two Unterwald half-cantons, Schwyz, Zug, Fribourg and Valais) formed the Sonderbund Pact in 1845 as a defensive pact against the mounting influence of the radicals.
By 1846, the radicals had gained power in a majority of cantons and through the Federal Diet they were in measure to pass a string of resolutions banning the Sonderbund pact, calling for a type of constituent assembly and expelling Jesuit orders from the country. In November 1847, tensions boiled over into civil war between the Catholic Sonderbund and the federal state. The Sonderbund rapidly defeated, and the radicals in full control, a new federal constitution was adopted in 1848, under radical guidance, creating the modern Swiss federal state. The cantons lost their autonomy in matters such as customs duties or external trade, while power was centralized (comparatively speaking) in the hands of the federal government. New constitutions were introduced in 1874 and 1999.
2007 election results
SVP-UDC 28.9% (+2.2%) winning 62 seats (+7) and 7 state councillors (-1)
SP-PS 19.5% (-3.8%) winning 43 seats (-9) and 9 state councillors (nc)
FDP-PRD 15.8% (-1.6%) winning 31 seats (-5) and 12 state councillors (-2)
CVP-PDC 14.5% (+0.1) winning 31 seats (+3) and 15 state councillors (nc)
GPS-PES 9.6% (+2.2%) winning 20 seats (+6) and 2 state councillors (+2)
PEV 2.4% (+0.2%) winning 2 seats (-1)
LPS-PLS 1.9% (-0.3%) winning 4 seats (nc)
glp-pel 1.4% (+1.4%) winning 2 seats (+2) and 1 state councillor (+1)
EDU-UDF 1.3% (nc) winning 1 seat (-1)
PST 0.7% (nc) winning 1 seat (-1)
Lega 0.6% (+0.2%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PCS-CSP 0.4% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (nc)
The Swiss People’s Party (SVP or UDC) is Switzerland’s largest party and also the most controversial party. The SVP finds its roots in the post-World War I agrarian movement in German Switzerland which split off from the Radicals in Bern in 1917 to create the first agrarian party, which became the Party of Farmers, Artisans and Independents in 1936. In 1971, the agrarian party merged with two cantonal sections of the small Democratic Party, a social-liberal party, to form the SVP. The Swiss agrarian movement has always been on the right of the Swiss political spectrum, having vocally expressed anti-socialist and nationalist sentiments since its foundation in 1917. A member of the bourgeois bloc, the SVP and its agrarian predecessor were the smallest member of this bloc and the smallest party in the Federal Council, with one member between 1930 and 2003. Between the mid-1930s and 1991, the SVP won roughly 11% of the vote. However, starting in the 1980s the SVP came under the influence of the Zurich section, led by the right-wing populist entrepreneur Christoph Blocher who moved the party to the right with emphasis on increasingly popular issues such as asylum, EU membership and Swiss neutrality. The impact of the SVP’s move to the right under the influence of the Zurich section was immediate and successful. In 1995, the party won 15%. In 1999, it became the largest party with 23% and scoring a record-high gain in vote. In 2003 and 2007, it again improved its showing to 27% and 29% – some of the strongest showings for a single party in the fragmented political landscape of Switzerland. The SVP’s first victims were smaller far-right parties such as the Swiss Democrats or the Freedom Party, but in recent years the traditional parties of the centre (Radicals and Christian Democrats) have both suffered. These parties centre-right voters punished them for their perceived shift to the left and their shift towards internationalist (pro-European integration) positions. The party has generally been at the centre of most political controversies in Switzerland. In 2007, its “kick out the black sheep” poster made international headlines. Its campaigns for the deportation of ‘foreign criminals’ and the ban on minarets opened it to accusations of racism and xenophobia. The SVP rather claims it fights for an independent and neutral Switzerland, against crime and against high taxes.
The SVP’s unchecked growth forced a revision of the “magic formula” in place since 1959 in 2003. The SVP’s Blocher, one of Switzerland’s most controversial politicians, was elected to the Federal Council in 2003 at the expense of the Christian Democrats. However, in 2007, the other parties in the Federal Assembly preferred to elect Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf of the moderate Grisons branch. When the SVP expelled the whole Grisons branch in 2008, a sign of the growing centralization of the SVP under the right-wing Zurich section and Blocher, the SVP was left with no seats in the Federal Council (the SVP’s other councillor, Samuel Schmid of the centrist Bern section, joined the dissidents). The SVP regained a seat on the Federal Council in 2009 when Schmid retired and was replaced by the SVP’s Ueli Maurer. The SVP claims that it is entitled to a second seat in government.
The agrarians were founded in German Switzerland and found most of its support in predominantly German Protestant cantons such as Bern. Traditionally weak in French Switzerland (Romandie), the SVP’s rapid growth since 1991 has also affected French Switzerland where the SVP (known in French as UDC) became the largest party in the cantons of Vaud and Geneva (but only with 22% or so). Only in Italophone Ticino has the SVP been unable to build a base – largely because of the competition of a quasi-identical regional party.
The SVP’s slogan this year is basically Swiss people vote SVP, a delightfully amusing statement which means that those who don’t vote SVP aren’t Swiss.
The Socialist Party (SP or PS) is Switzerland’s second largest party. The SP was founded in 1888 and has usually been Switzerland’s largest party, between the 1930s and the 1980s and for a stretch in the 1990s. Despite the SP’s growth in the interwar era, the fear of socialism in the wake of the 1918 general strike led the bourgeois parties to move closer together and exclude the SP from government until Ernst Nobs became the first SP federal councillor in 1943. During this time, the SP slowly abandoned its Marxist theses and progressively moderated its positions. Even when the party temporarily left government between 1955 and 1959, the SP kept its commitment to democratic ideals and its very anticommunist positions of the Cold War era. But the SP has struggled in the post-war era, split between a moderate (right-wing) faction and another pressuring the party to move closer to new social and political movements on the left. In the 1970s, a tack to the left (denouncing capitalism) helped it a bit but it fell badly in the 1980s. The relative proximity of the SP to new movements on its left or the desire to limit the growth of left-wing opponents such as the Greens might explain why the Socialists have taken a rather ‘green’ line on environmental issues or moved towards very pro-European positions. This hasn’t prevented internal dissensions and cantonal splits, or kept the party from falling into the contemporary trap of European social democratic parties, that is, a general lack of ideas besides being the largest anti-SVP party. Nonetheless, the SP has played a rather important role in the development of the Swiss welfare state and its political moderation guaranteed the success of the “magic formula” after 1959.
The SP has usually been stronger in French Switzerland than German Switzerland, and it performs best in Protestant areas – given that Catholic working-class voters have traditionally been well integrated into the Christian Democratic Party. But beyond this, the SP is a very urban party, in cities such as Zurich, Bern or Basel. The SP has been the largest party in all elections since 1919 in the canton of Neuchâtel, where the SP has a solid working-class base in the watchmaking centres of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle. Other bases outside urban areas include Solothurn, Schaffhausen and Glarus.
The SP’s slogan this year is something like for everyone, not for a few which is a boring empty political catchphrase which ought to be shunned.
The FDP.The Liberals (in French, PLR.Les Libéraux-Radicaux) is not Switzerland’s dominant party any longer, but it has had the most profound influence on Switzerland since 1848 of all parties. The Radicals, as they are known in French (they are rather known as ‘liberals’ in German), are the heirs of the political radicals of the 1830s who spearheaded the transformation of Switzerland from a confederation to a federal state by 1848. The Radicals drafted the 1848 and 1874 Constitutions, and, excluding their conservative Catholic rivals, they were the hegemonic party at all levels of the federal government during the nineteenth century (post-1848). Between 1848 and 1891, they held all seven seats in the Federal Council. They retained their majority in the Federal Council until 1943. Until the introduction of proportional representation in elections to the National Council in 1919, the Radicals were also the dominant party in the legislature. The radicals formed a political party in 1894, with the foundation of the FDP (PRD in French). The central role of the Radicals was somewhat lost with the introduction of PR in 1919 and the party’s place as a catch-all broker was weakened with the loss of the party’s left-wing working-class faction to the SP and the loss of the party’s right-wing rural faction to the agrarians. However, it remained one of Switzerland’s top two parties up until the SVP’s eruption into the political landscape in the 1990s; and the Radicals played a major role alongside the SP in the development of Switzerland’s post-war welfare state model and the success of the “magic formula”.
Ideologically, the growth of the SP in the interwar era pushed the Radicals closer to their former enemies (the conservatives) to form a bourgeois anti-socialist bloc which definitely aligned the Radicals with the centre-right. After taking a stridently neoliberal position starting in 1979, which temporarily stopped their decline, the Radicals have since moved back towards the centre though retaining economically liberal positions: tax cuts, deregulation, welfare reforms and a minimal state. Of the four major parties, the Radicals are pretty much the second most right-wing party after the SVP and they have tended to be the closest to the SVP of the three non-SVP governing parties. Yet, the Radicals are more internationalist and liberal than the isolationist conservative SVP.
In 2009, the FDP merged with the smaller Liberal Party (LPS). The Liberals, the right-wing faction of the broader Swiss radical-liberal movement, were founded in the 1890s and were a small liberal group to the right of the Radicals and generally dominant in French Protestant cantons such as Geneva or Vaud. The Liberals generally took more stridently free-market positions than the FDP while the FDP was embracing the social market economy, and in their early days they generally opposed the more radical ideas of the Radicals preferring, for example, limited censitary suffrage to universal suffrage. The Radicals were in turn opposed to their left by the social-liberal Democratic Party, more working-class rather than urban bourgeois in its support, and critical in the early days of the Radical’s machine control over politics. In the twenty-first century, the progressive weakening of both the Liberals and the FDP with the rapid growth of the SVP forced the two parties to move past historical differences to form a common party, known as the FDP.The Liberals in German and English. The Liberals won a record-low 1.8% in 2007, while the FDP has been in constant decline since 1979 from 24% to 16%.
The radical movement was born in the Protestant cantons of Switzerland the Protestant cantons, both German and French, have remained the base of the Radical Party for most of its existence – although this is certainly not a universal rule. For example, the Radicals have always held Uri’s sole seat in the National Council despite Uri being a Catholic Sonderbund canton.
The FDP’s slogan is out of love for Switzerland. How sweet.
The Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP or PDC) is the political heir of the old conservative Catholic movement in Switzerland, historically the arch-rivals of the radical (Protestant) movement. The conservatives defended a traditional vision of a conservative, rural and decentralized federal Switzerland with a strong role for the Catholic Church, in contrast to the radicals whose vision was that of a modern, democratic and secular centralized Switzerland with the ‘reactionary’ Catholic Church shunned and shut out of power. The radical vision carried the day over the Catholic minority, and the Catholic conservatives found themselves shut out from power starting in 1848 and until at least 1891. But they remained a powerful opposition to the radical hegemony, with their base in the Sonderbund cantons of central Switzerland. In 1891, Joseph Zemp became the first non-radical member of the Federal Council and the Popular Conservative Party (as it was then known) gained a second seat in government in 1919 following the first proportional elections to the National Council. With a steady electorate (because of the solidness of the Catholic bloc vote) oscillating between 21 and 23%, the CVP (the name adopted by 1970) has been in constant decline since 1979 – from 22% to 14%. The CVP’s decline forced it to abandon its second seat in the Federal Council to the SVP, a second seat which the CVP currently disputes with the FDP. The CVP has lost a lot of votes to the SVP, which has really broken religious divides to appeal to equally conservative, rural, German Catholic voters in old CVP strongholds such as Schwyz, Unterwald or Zug.
As a Catholic party, the CVP has its base in the old Sonderbund cantons – in central Switzerland (except Uri, at the federal level) but also Valais, Fribourg, Jura and Appenzell Innerrhoden. In the cantons with a strong Catholic minority – Solothurn, Aargau, Saint-Gallen and Grisons – the CVP has always had a smaller minority position with Catholic voters. The CVP tried to expand its base in the 1960s, but despite this the CVP map pretty closely follows the map of Catholics in Switzerland and it performs very poorly in cantons with few Catholics. Similar to other Catholic parties in Europe, the CVP was quite a mass-party with a wide base of Catholic farmers, traders and workers. Working-class Catholics have been well integrated into Catholic unions and the CVP, which has struggled with a long opposition between conservatives/centrists and the Christian-social movement, more left-wing on economic issues. The former has generally dominated, but the CVP retains a significant Christian-social base outside Jura and Fribourg. This explains the CVP’s more interventionist (or ‘humanist’) economic policies, favouring ‘pro-family’ policies and the social market welfare policies. It is also pro-environment.
The CVP’s slogans rock: Success. Switzerland. SVP or the best – No Switzerland without us.
The Green Party of Switzerland (GPS or PES) is Switzerland’s largest opposition party. The Greens appeared in the mid-to-late 1970s, and gradually united different cantonal sections to create a nationally structured party. Originally starting out on the gauche de la gauche, the Greens – especially in German Switzerland where their growth was slower – were hurt by competition from other parties such as the green/social-liberal Alliance of Independents (LdU) or the New Leftish Progressive Organizations of Switzerland (POCH). In 1987, the Greens, buoyed by events such as Chernobyl, won 9 seats and 5.2% of vote. After a trough in the 1990s, the Greens have started creeping up on the back of the ‘big four’ winning 9.6% in the 2007 elections. In the long term, the Greens could definitely threaten the hegemonic positions of the ‘big four’ governing parties. Their growth in recent years throws the long-term stability of the “magic formula” into doubt because, if they keep gaining strength, the Greens will have a very strong claim to a seat in the Federal Council especially if the old parties like the FDP or CVP keep falling apart.
The Swiss Greens are rather left-wing and ‘deep green’ in their political orientation. They want out of nuclear energy ASAP – Switzerland will be progressively withdrawing from nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima incident. It wants the country to cut its CO2 emissions by 30%, a “green economy” and it favours a very liberal immigration policy and a very pro-European internationalist foreign policy. In this regards, staunchly left-wing, environmentalist and socially liberal it is the arch-rival of the SVP – the two hate each other with a passion. The Greens, however, have had troubles hesitating between a centrist orientation and a very left-wing orientation. In some cantons such as Bern or Basel-Stadt, there are in fact two cantonal sections which each represent one of these factions. As we’ll see, the division of the Greens could put a stop to their ambitions to overtake one of the ‘big four’ parties.
The Greens are, shockingly, a urban party. It does very well in the liberal French cantons of Geneva (16.4%) and Vaud (14.3%). In Zug, the Greens’ local referent, the Alternative-The Greens Zug, also has a surprisingly strong base: 17% in 2007.
The Bourgeois Democratic Party (BDP or PBD) is a small party, but also a governing party with one seat in the Federal Council. The BDP, to put things succinctly, is a moderate split-off of the SVP. Even when the SVP was becoming apparently heavily dominated by Blocher’s right-wing populist faction operating out of Zurich, the agrarian-born party was pretty homogeneous and retained a strong centrist/agrarian wing especially in the canton of Bern and holding the SVP’s original seat in the Federal Council (since 1930). In the 2007 Federal Council election, the SP, CVP and Greens decided to unite to defeat the controversial Blocher and elected in his stead the SVP moderate Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. Widmer-Schlumpf accepted her election despite the SVP’s opposition. Her Grisons section unwilling to expel her, the SVP national leadership expelled the whole Grisons section which became the base of the new BDP. The SVP’s Bern section also defected in good part to the BDP, including the SVP’s other Federal Councillor, Samuel Schmid, meaning that the small BDP held two seats in the Federal Council between 2008 and 2009 – when Schmid retired and everybody agreed to elect the SVP’s Ueli Maurer.
The BDP opposes the SVP’s more right-wing positions on immigration and asylum. It is more internationalist (but anti-EU), more environmentally-friendly and more liberal on social issues. The BDP has ironically hurt the FDP and CVP more than the SVP. In cantonal elections in Bern, where the BDP emerged as the third-largest party with 16%, the SVP didn’t suffer a lot – rather the FDP lost votes. It remains to be seen if the BDP can really find a spot for itself outside the cantons of Bern, Glarus and Grisons where it has a strong institutional base. Electoral experience so far outside those three cantons don’t indicate that the BDP has managed to make itself a spot. The ability of Widmer-Schlumpf to win reelection in December to the Federal Council is one of the big questions of this election. It remains to be seen whether the centre-left parties and the CVP will prefer Widmer-Schlumpf or will privilege institutional stability and dump her in favour of a SVP candidate.
The Green Liberal Party (glp or pvl) is the other newcomer to the scene. The Greens, as we have seen, have been divided between centrists and left-wingers. In 2004, the Greens expelled one of their parliamentarians from Zurich. In 2007, the Green Liberals were founded, operating out of Zurich. It won 1.4% and 3 seats in the 2007 election, winning 7% in Zurich. Verena Diener won a seat in the Council of States representing Zurich, defeating a SVP candidate in the runoff. The glp’s ideology sets it apart from other green parties in Europe, the bulk of which are either markedly or rather left-leaning. The glp seeks to mix a free market economy and economic liberalism with a environmental sustainability. It support tax incentives and other free market incentives to sustainability rather than regulations, heavy taxation or bans. This generally aligns the glp with the centre-right and liberalism rather than the left or other European green parties. It could be similar, in some regards, to the Canadian Greens.
The glp is very strong in Zurich, where it won 10% in the last cantonal elections, and in other German-speaking cantons but it has had trouble setting up a base for itself in Romandie.
The Evangelical People’s Party (PEV) is one of the only small parties to not have been doomed with death: the PEV has always been a small party, never winning more than 2.5% in any election, but a political fixture since at least 1919. Originally, the PEV was, in Protestant cantons, the voice of the non-Radical socially conservative minority. The EVP is conservative on social hot-button issues such as abortion, but it is far more progressive on environmental and economic issues. It supports, for example, family-oriented policies, fair wages, solidarity with low-income people, high childcare benefits. It forms a common parliamentary group with the CVP and glp in the Federal Assembly. The PEV, however, has only a weak but rather stable base. It is really only present in German Protestant cantons, and is a major political force only in Bern, Aargau and Zurich (more or less).
The Federal Democratic Union (EDU or UDF) is another small, Protestant Christian conservative party. Founded in 1975, the EDU is, like the PEV, socially conservative but it gives much more emphasis to those kind of issues than the PEV. It describes itself as a party “defending the values of the Bible” and “judeo-Christian values”. It claims to be more left-wing on economic issues, though not as much as the PEV. The EDU is strong only in Bern, Thurgau and Zurich and Aargau to a lesser extent.
The Lega dei Ticinesi (LT, ‘League of Ticinians’) is a small regional party which operates only in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. The LT’s raison-d’etre is not any kind of separatism or regional nationalism, but rather as a regionalist anti-state protest party opposed to the ‘corrupt particracy’ of Ticino. Founded in 1991 by the local entrepreneur Giuliano Bignasca, it has built a populist rhetoric based around opposition to corrupt party establishments, clientelism, European integration, environmental protection, asylum policies, ‘foreigner’ welfare leeches and high taxes. The Lega did very well in its first years, winning 23.5% in Ticino during the 1991 federal elections but saw support fall to 8% in 2003 before increasing to 14% in 2007. The Lega is similar to and allied with the SVP, though the SVP operates in Ticino (but is weak: 9% in 2007, 5.5% in the 2011 cantonal elections). The Lega seems to be in an upsurge these days: it won a record-high 22.8% in the 2011 cantonal elections, only a few points behind the FDP.
The Christian Social Party (PCS or CSP) is a small party, founded only in 1997, but heir to a older Christian-social tradition within the Catholic movement and the CVP in Switzerland. The Christian-social movement has sought to apply the Christian values of solidarity and tolerance to the political sphere, favouring left-wing economic policies and vibrant welfare measures and social solidarity. The Christian-social tendency of the CVP had remained within the party despite being increasingly marginalized by the more right-wing faction of the CVP, but by 1997 the PCS was founded by the Christian-social faction of the CVP in Jura (more recently), Fribourg, Lucerne and Zurich. The PCS, which cooperates with the Greens and SP, is liberal on social issues, and left-wing on economic and environmental issues. It supports a liberal immigration policy and an internationalist foreign policy. However, the PCS is really only present in Jura and Fribourg with any significant strength.
The Swiss far-left is a bit confusing. The oldest party is the Swiss Party of Labour (PST/POP-PdAS), founded in 1944 as an alliance of the Communist Party, left-wing socialists and SP dissidents. After winning 5% in 1947, the PST entered a period of political isolation (in the Cold War context) and electoral decline from 5% to less than 1% (0.7%) in 2007. The PST, which is often understood as being Switzerland’s communist party, is really only strong in the watchmaking towns of Neuchâtel and parts of Vaud – two cantons were it known as the POP (alongside Bern and Jura). It is something allied to solidaritéS, a far-left anticapitalist party whose base seems to be Geneva. However, the new fad in the far-left seems to be The Left, a party founded in 2009 by various ‘alternative lists’, communists, three POP sections and three SolidaritéS sections. The party has also one seat in the National Council, elected for the PST in 2007.
The SVP’s growth has killed the previously vibrant Swiss far-right, which peaked at a combined 8% in 1991. The two biggest parties were the Swiss Democrats, founded in 1961 on an explicitly xenophobic platform about the “overpopulation” of the country due to immigration. The SD were behind some of the popular initiatives “against foreign overpopulation” in the 1960s and 1970s before taking a weird environmentalist position, but one backed by xenophobic theses (the foreigners are destroying our land, basically). The SD were killed by the growth of the SVP and lost its sole seat in 2007. The other main far-right movement was the Freedom Party, founded in 1985 as the “Motorists Party”. It was a right-wing populist movement against environmental protection, state interventionism and asylum policies. Again, it was killed by the SVP by 1999. The performance in Geneva of the Geneva Citizens Movement (MCG), which placed third with 14% in the 2009 cantonal elections in Geneva might be worth following. Geneva, despite its liberal reputation (which is still true), has a long little-known history of affection for populist right-wing parties, such as Vigilants in the 1960s-1980s and the MCG these days. Both these movements operate out of opposition to foreign (French and Italian) workers and residents in Geneva, claiming that their presence takes away Swiss jobs. They are also, similarly to the Lega, opponents of the so-called ‘particracy’.
Polling and the Federal Council
The last SSR barometre says:
The interactive prediction market (Wahlboerse) predicts a result of:
SVP-UDC 28.84% (-0.06%)
SP-PS 19.58% (+0.03%)
FDP-PLR 13.76% (-3.85%)
CVP-PDC 12.9% (-1.58%)
GPS-PES 9.54% (-0.05%)
glp-pel 5.55% (+4.12%)
BDP-PBD 4.31% (+4.31%)
The results, barring surprises, should be remarkably similar to those of 2007. The SVP is either going to fall back a bit or gain a bit, but it is unlikely that it will be scoring more huge gains as in 1999 or 2003. It is perhaps because the SVP has played it rather quiet this year: no big controversial ads out there about “black sheeps” and the like. The SP and the Greens are also both pretty stable, either a bit above or below their 2007 showings. The main shift is in the centre, where the main changes will be happening. The “old” parties – Radicals and CVP – will lose a small but significant part of their 2007 electorate to reach, in both cases, historic lows. The benefactors of these evolutions in the centre will, ironically, be new parties which do not have their roots in either party. The BDP and Green Liberals will be taking most of their new voters from these two centrist parties, from which they do not emanate but with which there is significant support and ideological overlap. In the BDP’s case, it will be interesting to measure its performance in both the three cantons where it holds its five seats (Bern, Grisons and Glarus) and where it has no apparent support or institutional base. In any case, the BDP’s relative success will not have any major impact on the SVP but rather on the old centrist parties. The ‘political centre’ (FDP-CVP-glp-BDP) will emerged stronger from this election, as will the ‘greens’ (GPS-glp) and the opposition parties.
A word on turnout: it was 48% in 2007. Turnout remains low by European standards but has increased constantly from a low of 42% in 1995 (SVP-effect?). With the election pretty boring and unlikely to produce major changes, will turnout fall back this year?
The more exciting election will be the December election of the Federal Council. The stability of Swiss politics because of the “magic formula” was challenged by the SVP’s eruption in the 1990s and 2000s, then by the success of the Greens in 2003 and 2007 and then by the growing dissonance between the SVP and its other three governing “partners” starting in 2007 with the election of Widmer-Schlumpf. This means that the SVP is now a bit of an “opposition” party within the government, and holds only one seat despite it weighing nearly 30% nationally (and the BDP, which also holds one seat, a mere 3-4%). The Greens are unlikely to succeed in their goal to enter government – they would need the support of the SP and CVP/glp/PEV groups to win, and that is unlikely as it would really screw up the balance of power. Then the other questions are whether or not the BDP’s Widmer-Schlumpf will win reelection and whether or not the FDP (after an historic low) will see its second seat threatened by either the SVP or CVP – both parties claiming a second seat. The fate of the BDP’s Widmer-Schlumpf depends on the behaviour of the SP and CVP, because it is likely that the FDP will back the SVP’s claim to a second seat (in return for SVP support for the FDP’s second seat?). The SP could back her over an SVP candidate, as could the Greens (who could also run one of their own). In a 2009 Federal Council by-election, the BDP had apparently talked about backing the CVP’s candidate for the FDP-held seat (the FDP’s Didier Burkhalter held the seat) in return for the CVP backing the BDP this year, but I don’t know what come out of that and where the CVP stands on allowing the BDP to hold its seat. I see it as unlikely that the BDP will hold on, given that it would be a major blow to the legitimacy of the government and to the stability of the “magic formula” to deny the SVP a seat which, from a neutral and totally objective perspective, it deserves given its weight and given the point of the “magic formula” – ignoring one’s view on the SVP. The CVP also wants to regain the seat it lost to the SVP in 2007, but I believe it understands that going against the SVP is not the way to go. If it wants a second seat, it needs to go against the FDP which will be the party which will probably lose the most this year. The fight between the CVP and FDP over which one of the two historic rival deserves a second seat will be the other question mark of this election, which, like every Federal Council renewal since 2003 promises to be remarkably fascinating!
Elections to the Folketing, the unicameral Danish Parliament, will be held on September 15. Denmark has been governed since 2001 by a centre-right coalition, which is famous for its dependence on a far-right party for parliamentary support. The current Prime Minister is Lars Løkke Rasmussen, in office since 2009 when his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the Secretary-General of NATO. Notably, the last name of the Danish Prime Minister since 1993 has been ‘Rasmussen’, though none of the three are related to each other.
How does it work?
The Folketing has 179 seats. There are 175 seats in Denmark, while the Danish dependencies of the Faroe Islands and Greenland are represented by two members each. The four ‘overseas’ seats are usually called the “North Atlantic mandates”. 135 of the 175 Danish seats are elected by a modified form of d’Hondt PR in ten multi-member constituencies where voters may vote for a party list, one of the candidates on a party list or (rarely) an independent candidate. The remaining 40 seats are compensatory mandates to equalize representation, and these are elected through Saint-Laguë PR. The threshold for the compensatory seats is 2%, making for a wide representation of parties in the Folketing. However, ballot access in laws in Denmark for non-parliamentary parties are quite tough: these parties must gather roughly 20,000 signatures in order to gain ballot access.
Danish parliamentary politics is unlike Westminster parliamentary politics. A government is not required to win a vote of confidence, and what matters is whether the legislature is against the government rather than for it. This means that minority governments are common and that governments must usually form majorities on a bill-by-bill basis.
Denmark, like Sweden or Norway, is a Scandinavian welfare state and historically a left-wing country dominated by the Social Democrats. In Denmark, the Social Democrats were the largest party in all elections between 1924 and 2001. Denmark is marked by its strong welfare state and its very high levels of taxation.
In Danish politics and everyday political lingo, each party is commonly referred to by a letter which it is assigned and which appears on ballots. A lot of these letters have little connection with the party’s actual name. I refer to both the party’s letter, its alternative abbreviation and its name in English (or Danish in some cases). For shorthand, I usually talk about parties using their letter or abbreviation.
Between 1924 and 2001, the largest party were the Social Democrats (A or S/SD) and the Social Democrats have governed between 1924 and 1926, 1929 and 1942, 1945, 1947 and 1950, 1953 and 1968, 1971 and 1973, 1975 and 1982 and most recently between 1993 and 2001. As such there are not quite as dominant as the Swedish Social Democratic Party which has governed for the bulk of the post-war era but they were close to being a dominant party. The Danish Social Democrats are more urban-based than their Swedish or Norwegian partners, in fact Copenhagen is a left-wing stronghold while Oslo and especially Stockholm are quite right-wing. Under the Poul Nyrup Rasmussen governments between 1993 and 2001, the Social Democrats experimented with a successful model of ‘flexicurity‘ which maintained the strong unemployment benefits with deregulation of labour laws. The shocking defeat of the Social Democrats in 2001 in which the party fell out of first place for the first time since 1924 was caused by an unpopular 1998 tax hike (to balance the books) but most importantly a post-9/11 mood swing against immigration. Since then, the Social Democrats have failed both to gain power or take back a symbolic first place. Instead, their results have progressively worsened: from 29% in 2001 to 25.5% in 2007. Like so many European social democratic parties these days, the Danish Social Democrats have been confused in their positions and failed to motivate the electorate. The current leader of the party, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, is generally regarded as hapless and uninspiring. The main Social Democratic strongholds are Copenhagen, the lower middle-class/working-class suburbs of western Copenhagen, large cities such as Aarhus, Odense and Aalborb and finally northeastern Jutland.
The main right-wing party in Denmark has traditionally been Venstre (V), which is technically translated into English as “Left”. Which does not mean that V is remotely left-wing: the name Venstre emerged in the late nineteenth-century when V was the main progressive opposition to the Right (the Social Democrats being far-left back then). It is more commonly referred to in both English and Danish as the “Liberal Party”. Venstre was founded in 1870 as a Nordic agrarian party, advocating free trade and low taxes. It is usually the largest right-wing party, though it is not always the case (for example in the 1980s). In 1998, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, author of a book well-acclaimed in libertarian circles for expousing a minimal state with low taxes, became party leader and then Prime Minister in 2001 when V outpolled S for the first time since 1924. In power, V and Rasmussen moved away from its original theses of classical liberalism and although the Danish government since 2001 has implemented some major tax cuts, it has maintained the welfare state intact and not exactly reduced the size of government. The Liberals are generally perceived as being more fiscally responsible than the left. All V governments since 2001 have depended on the support of the far-right Danish People’s Party, which has resulted in some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe. The main V strongholds are rural, conservative southern Jutland and generally other rural areas. It is quite weak in Copenhagen, which has historically been a very weak zone for the rural-oriented V.
The Danish People’s Party (O or DF) was founded in 1995 by Pia Kjærsgaard but the direct roots of DF lie in the Progress Party (Frp), a right-wing populist party founded in 1972 by crazy lawyer Morgens Glistrup who claimed that he paid no taxes. The Frp supported radical tax cuts (abolishing the income tax), huge spending cuts (disbanding the Defense Ministry entirely) and eventually doing away with public servants. Frp surged to massive popularity in the so-called “landslide election” of 1973 in which five new parties entered parliament and in which Frp became the second largest party with 16% of the vote and 28 seats. Gradually the Frp moved away from the more radical positions, began to defend the welfare state against those ‘undeserving’ of receiving welfare (as such, it stole many votes from the left) and positioned itself against Muslim immigration. While Glistrup was in jail, the “pragmatic” (and more anti-immigration, populist) faction led by Pia Kjærsgaard took control of the party against the “fundies” led by Glistrup who refused any cooperation with other parties. Tensions continued, however, and the pragmatists quit the party to found DF in 1995. It won 7% in the 1998 elections and has seen its support grow unabatted since. Since 2001, DF has become crucial to the right-wing government in that its parliamentary support provides it with a majority. DF is very much anti-immigration (especially Muslim, of course) and against multiculturalism. Through its control of the government since 2001, DF is perhaps one of the most politically powerful far-right parties in Europe. Indeed, the government implemented some of the toughest immigration laws in Europe since 2001, the most notable of which is the “24-year law” intended to crack down on arranged marriages and family reunification. DF combines these very right-wing positions on immigration with left-wing positions on the welfare state, being a big defender of the welfare state, high social spending (on stuff like pensions) though, like Frp, it is very much against the so-called “welfare scrouges” (a lot of whom happen to be immigrants). DF won 13.8% in the 2007 elections and a record 15% in the 2009 European elections. It has lost some popularity since 2010 after it supported an austerity budget presented by the government. Its longtime leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, is probably the most controversial politician in Denmark.
The Socialist People’s Party (F or SF) was founded in 1959 by a former Communist leader (and CIA agent) who had been expelled from the DKP for opposing Russian intervention in Hungary in 1956. SF’s ideology is Scandinavian “popular socialism”, a variant of democratic socialism which intends to be a centrist middle-ground between communism and social democracy. In recent years, it has moderated its traditional euroscepticism and left-wing positions in order to become both more “green” ideology-wise and “responsible” policy-wise. SF, for example, is not a member of the European Left group in the European Parliament, instead sitting in the Green-EFA group. The party has been led since 2005 by Villy Søvndal, who has led the party to major successes in both the 2007 general and 2009 EU elections (13% and 15.6%). In a bid to make SF appear as a responsible party, it voted in favour of the government’s 2008 budget. Villy Søvndal also took some marked positions against radical clerical Muslim clerics, a move applauded by the right. SF has never actually been in government when the Social Democrats have governed, but they have supported various Social Democratic governments from outside (similarly to how DF props up the current government), most recently the Nyrup Rasmussen government between 1993 and 2001. SF is very strong in downtown Copenhagen (it won the bulk of the downtown core of the city), popular in artsy-liberal intellectual milieus (called the ‘café latte’ crowd in Denmark, similar to the ‘bobos’ in France). It is strong in other urban areas, but in contrast to S it is rather weak in Copenhagen suburbia or northeastern Jutland.
The Conservative People’s Party (C) was founded in 1915. The Conservatives have traditionally been the second-largest right-wing force but in the 1980s, they outpaced V for that role and in fact the Conservative Poul Schlüter governed the country between 1982 and 1993 with V as a junior party. Since then, however, C has struggled and polled only 10% in 2007. Its electoral fortunes are quite closely reversely correlated with that of V: it does well when V does poorly. C is the traditional governing partner for V, and all right-wing governments since 1950 have included C alongside V, often with C as a junior partner. In contrast to V, which in government has moderated its economic liberalism, C remains somewhat more economically liberal, supporting further tax cuts and eventually a flat tax (albeit a rather high flat tax). Traditionally, C has tended to be more nationalist and interventionist than V, but few of those policy differences remain today. On moral issues, C is moderate or liberal. Since 2007, C has been wracked by a whole slew of problems. Bendt Bendtsen, leader since 2009, quit in 2008 and was replaced by Lene Espersen, who was forced out when she became perceived as incompetent. The current leader is Lars Barfoed. The starkest differences between C and V are in terms of voter base. C is much, much more urban. Most of its strength comes from the affluent northern suburbs of Copenhagen, most notably Gentofte which has been governed by the Conservatives since 1909 and which was the only district where C topped the poll in 2007. It is also dominant in Frederiksberg, a very affluent municipality enclaved within Copenhagen. It is also strong in Odense and northern Jutland. It is much weaker in rural conservative southern Jutland, where V performs best.
The Radikale Venstre (B or R/RV), which translates into English as ‘Radical Left’ but are more commonly called ‘Social Liberal Party’ or ‘Radicals’, was founded in 1905 by a left-wing anti-militarist split off from Venstre. The Radicals are a centre-left social liberal party, mixing deep social liberalism with a more centrist attitude on economic issues. In the social sphere, the Radicals are the most pro-immigration and pro-multiculturalism party there is out there and is also quite pro-European. Economically, RV’s urban intellectual electorate is enamored with social liberalism and environmentalism, but they’re not as enamored by high taxes or social programs such as early retirement for blue-collar workers (efterløn). Recently, RV sided with the government in reforming the efterløn system leading to its gradual abolition. In the Danish system of negative parliamentarianism, RV has traditionally sought and received much political influence though less so since 2001. Despite their differences with S and especially SF on economic issues, RV is a key member of the left-wing coalition (though also the most likely to switch sides). Though RV governed in a right-wing coalition between 1968 and 1971 and participated in the Schlüter III cabinet (1988-1990) with C and V, it participated in all Nyrup Rasmussen cabinets between 1993 and 2001. The party’s current leader, Margrethe Vestager, pledged support to S in case of victory in 2007 and again this year. RV is now very much a urban party, polling best in downtown Copenhagen and other large cities. Its electoral clientele are very much ‘café latte’ type folks: educated, urban, young and decently well-off.
The Liberal Alliance (I) is the newest of the parties, adopting its current name in 2008 after being founded in 2007 as the ‘New Alliance’ (Y). The New Alliance was founded by the right-wing of RV led by Naser Khader (a prominent leader of ‘moderate Muslims’) and the left-wing of C led by Gitte Seeberg. Y’s original strategy was to become a centrist liberal governing alternative (for V and C) in the hopes of reducing DF’s influence on the government – a tall order which it failed to realize. After Y did rather poorly in the 2007 elections (2.8%), the party neared collapse as both Khader and Seeberg left the party (Khader is now a Conservative). The party was taken over by Anders Samuelsen, took the name ‘Liberal Alliance’ and moved to the right. Under Samuelsen, the Liberal Alliance has taken up most of C’s unfulfilled classical liberal policies including tax cuts, a 40% flat tax and so forth. The Liberal Alliance is also very much socially liberal: pro-gay marriage, pro-immigration and pro-EU but not environmentalist – it supports nuclear power. The party is extensively funded by the Saxo Bank.
Finally, we have the Red-Green Alliance or Unity List (Ø) is the most left-wing party in the Folketing. It was founded in 1989 by an alliance of three (later four) left-wing parties including the DKP and a Trotskyist party. This very left-wing party has moved out of old archaic communism in favour of environmentalism, feminism and other similarly trendy left-wing ideologies. It wants to nationalize big private companies such as Maersk but also Lego (!). Its support has oscillated between 2% and 4% (4-6 seats). In 2007, the party’s nomination of Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Muslim who wears a hijab and holds some radical views (although she is not an Islamist, obviously), sparked much debate and controversy. Ø is led informally by the 27-year old Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, who is pretty popular with most people as a generally pleasant person.
There is also a non-parliamentary party which used to hold seats (up to 9 in fact), the Christian Democrats (K). The Christian Democrats are very right-wing on moral issues such as abortion or homosexuality, but generally centre-left on economic issues. While in parliament, they participated in both the first two Schlüter right-wing cabinets and the first Nyrup Rasmussen left-wing cabinet. It has been shut out since 2005 and it is unlikely that it will win seats in the near future.
In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, partisan politics are entirely different (in a Northern Ireland sense). In Greenland, the battle both for the Folketing and the local legislature is between the governing left-wing separatist Inuit Community and the social democratic (similar to S) Siumut (Forward), which governed Greenland between 1979 and 2009. Both those party won seats in 2007 and will do so again this year. In the Faroe Islands, the spectrum is more open-ended. The major parties are Republic, a left-wing separatist party and the Union Party, a right-wing (similar to V) unionist party. The Union Party picked up a seat from the right-wing separatist People’s Party in 2007. The Social Democratic Party, a left-wing unionist party, also polls well.
There are two rather solid (though perhaps not as coherent) governing coalitions in Denmark which are widely expected to form government if they win. The current coalition is called the ‘blue block’ or less often VCOI, the electoral letter of its four main components. V and C actually hold seats in cabinet, O/DF has supported it from the outside since 2001 and I (Liberal Alliance) has also informally propped the VC governnent up after it lost its majority due to a Conservative defection. On the left, the coalition is referred to as AFB (or AFBØ), also the electoral letter of its components. A/SD and B/RV can be expected to form a governing coalition, propped up formally by F/SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. Blocks are actually a very big deal, more so than the strength of individual parties.
V – Venstre/Liberals 26.2% (-2.8%) winning 46 seats (-6)
A – Social Democrats 25.5% (-0.4%) winning 45 seats (-2)
O – Danish People’s Party 13.9% (+0.7%) winning 25 seats (+1)
F – Socialist People’s Party 13% (+7%) winning 23 seats (+12)
C – Conservative People’s Party 10.4% (+0.1%) winning 18 seats (±0)
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 5.1% (-4.1%) winning 9 seats (-8)
Y – New Alliance 2.8% (+2.8%) winning 5 seats (+5)
Ø – Unity List 2.2% (-1.2%) winning 4 seats (-2)
K – Christian Democrats 0.9% (-0.8%) winning 0 seats (±0)
North Atlantic mandates 4 (3 left, 1 right)
Right (VCOY) 53.3% winning 94 seats (89 without Y, 95 with North Atlantic, 90 without Y with North Atlantic)
Left (AFBØ) 45.8% winning 81 seats (84 with North Atlantic)
The Campaign and the Issues
The election on September 15 will be very closely fought till the end and it will not be a landslide for anybody, but the left has a ‘decisive’ but narrow advantage going into tomorrow’s vote. The final polls give between 91 and 92 seats to the left block (excluding 3 likely red seats in the North Atlantic) and between 83 and 84 to the governing parties. This lead has been rather constant throughout the campaign and the summer.
The final polls (3 pollsters):
V – Venstre/Liberals 23.4%-24.1% winning 41-43 seats
A – Social Democrats 22.1%-25.3% winning 39-45 seats
O – Danish People’s Party 12-12.7% winning 21-23 seats
F – Socialist People’s Party 10.3%-10.8% winning 18-19 seats
B – Radical Left/Social Liberals 9.1%-11.7% winning 17-21 seats
Ø – Unity List 6.3%-7.4% winning 11-13 seats
C – Conservative People’s Party 5.6%-5.9% winning 10 seats
I – Liberal Alliance 5.3%-6% winning 10 seats
K – Christian Democrats 0.7%-1% winning 0 seats
(+4 North Atlantic mandates, likely split 3-1 left)
The economy has been the main issue in this campaign. Like in most of Europe, the Danish economy has been generally sluggish though not particularly badly off. Economic growth was slow in the first quarter of 2011 (0.1%) and is projected to be between 1.7% and 2% in 2011, weaker than in 2010. Unemployment is low by European standards, 4.5%, but it too has increased from an all-time low of 1.9% in 2008. Furthermore, as the opposition is keen on pointing out, the economic crisis has turned a surplus of 5% to a deficit of 4.6%. The incumbent government led by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has proposed what it calls “fiscal responsibility” and “sustainable growth”. This includes some social cuts, such as cuts in student grants or the reform of early retirement, and investments in infrastructure to the level of €1.4 billion. Economists judge that low household consumption, a dead real estate market and high salaries impede economic growth. The government accuses the left of being fiscally irresponsible: high taxes and uncontrolled debt (Denmark’s debt as % of GDP is a sustainable 45%, down from 58% when the right took power in 2001). Løkke Rasmussen has presented the economic battle as a choice between “uncontrolled debt or the upkeep of the welfare state”. The left wishes to fuel economic recovery through growth, including increasing working hours by 12 minutes per day and boosting public investment. The economic situation perhaps does not do any favours for the government, but the Liberals are generally perceived by voters as being the most fiscally responsible. What is, however, hurting the government is its long tenure. It has governed for nearly ten years, which is generally the upper-limit for governments in Denmark, which has been incumbent-friendly since the 1970s. The mood is for change, and the government is increasingly perceived as being grubby opportunists without any ideas who slide their feet on everything in order to gain power.
Within each of the main coalitions, the largest forces remain at their weak anemic 2007 levels and both are even expected to drop below that. That is particularly bad news for the Social Democrats, whose 2007 result was its worst result since 1909. The leader of the opposition and perhaps future Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is not particularly inspiring and has faced scandals of her own recently with questions over her British husband’s tax records in Denmark. Furthermore, she does poorly in polls about the ‘best leader’: she places third, with Lars Løkke Rasmussen placing first (though not with fantastic numbers: 20%). If she does win, it will be far more by default than anything else.
SF and DF could have been expected to gain even more this year following its record-high results in the 2009 elections. SF in particular was looking quite strong in the past few months (13-16% in polls) and its leader Villy Søvndal is very popular. At this point, both parties would lose support from their record-highs of 2007. This is a shaky conclusion in DF’s case, given its tendency to under poll by up to 1.5%. In SF’s case, its shedding of up to 3% is confirmed by most pollsters. SF’s problem is that it peaked too early, in 2008-2009, and has been unable to sustain those high levels of support. Its move to become more ‘responsible’ in fiscal issues has been coldly received by its more radical voters, while the party performed poorly in a debate over immigration reform recently (introducing a point-system) where its position was perceived to be close to the government’s position. It has lost its more radical voters to Ø, which is on track for its best result ever, and its more moderate ‘café latte’ voters to RV which has a charismatic leader and clear, well-articulated positions on major economic and social issues. These loses have not been compensated with minimal gains at S’ expense.
DF is unpredictable, because, as I said, they tend to under poll like most of the far-right. DF’s high standing might be wearing of some as immigration and Muslims are not as important in the economic-centered politics of today. It may also suffer a bit of old backlash from some of its working-class voters after it voted in favour of an austerity budget in 2010 (its poll ratings then slid to 11% or so). It is likely that DF, however, will end up doing roughly as well as they did in 2007.
C is going to suffer a major rout, losing about half of its seats. It was hurt significantly by the poor leadership of Lene Espersen (she resigned in January 2011), under whose leadership C’s numbers fell from 10% to 5%. It has yet to significantly recover most of its lost voters under the leadership of Lars Barfoed. One of C’s main problems is that it has lost a lot of its support (the bulk of it, in fact) to the Liberal Alliance, which, under the right-wing leadership of Anders Samuelsen has bounced up to 6% support on a platform which appeals to many affluent, professional suburban C voters (or young libertarians): major tax cuts with a dose of social liberalism and opposition to DF.
All polls in this campaign have given the left a lead in votes and seats. The last polls, as aforementioned, give it between 91 and 92 seats. The closest it has ever been is 89 seats to 86 in the left’s favour. The government would need 89 seats from the 175 Danish seats in order to be ensured victory with the likely 3-1 split in favour of the left in the North Atlantic. No poll has come close to giving it 89.
If the left wins, the most likely option is that Helle Thorning-Schmidt will form a ‘AB’ government with the Radicals, supported from the outside by SF and to a lesser extent by Ø. The ABFØ option is the most likely outcome of the election, but there is a possibility that negotiations will be rendered more difficult by major economic differences between the Radicals and SF. At the extreme, there is a small possibility that ABF negotiations will breakdown and the Radicals might be enticed by the right to join a centre-right coalition, perhaps even led by the Radicals like between 1968 and 1971. That is more of a threat used by the Radicals than anything serious, given how much DF and RV hate each other.
note: I will be blogging about Norwegian local elections shortly, and the Spanish elections guide will be updated in a few days time.