Category Archives: Regional and local elections

France 2014 (R2)

The second round of municipal elections were held in France on March 30, 2014. The second round of voting concerned all communes whose municipal councils were not elected by the first round. According to Le Monde, of the 9,734 communes (out of 36,681 in France) with over 1,000 inhabitants (all those communes voting using semi-proportional representation), 7,606 elected their council and mayor by the first round. I covered the complex structure, workings, powers and responsibilities of French municipal government as well as the details on the electoral systems in a first preview post. In a second preview post, I listed the major races in the main towns.

In the second round in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants, a plurality suffices to win. All lists which won over 10% of the vote in the first round are qualified, although they may choose to withdraw and/or merge with another qualified list. Lists which won under 10% but over 5% may merge with a qualified list. The list which wins is allocated half the seats in the municipal council. The other half is distributed proportionally to all lists, including the winning list, which have won over 5% of the vote. In Paris, Lyon and Marseille the electoral system is different. Although the above rules are in place, the election is not fought city-wide: instead, it is fought individually in arrondissements/sectors (20 in Paris, 9 in Lyon and 8 in Marseille).

I covered, in extensive detail, the results of the first round here.

Overview: Results

The second round confirmed, even amplified, the results of the first round: a landslide victory for the right-wing opposition, a defeat of monumental and historic proportions for the left and the strong result of the far-right.

According to preliminary results released by the Ministry of the Interior, turnout was 62.13%, down from 63.55% in the first round. It is, again, an historically low turnout for a municipal ballot since World War II, once again continuing the trend of declining turnout which began in 1983. I stick to what I said about the implications and explanations of lower turnout in my post on the first round: it is not catastrophic (it remains higher than in the last legislative, regional, cantonal and EU elections) and it owes a lot to the rise of ‘sporadic participation’ rather than a deep civic crisis.

Libération‘s excellent number-crunching is back, and as far as turnout is concerned, the trends are similar to the first round. Turnout was highest in Corsica and Le Réunion, which, partly because of their insular nature, have a close connection to local politics (and in both cases they are also very clan-based, especially in Corsica) and higher interest for local elections than national elections. Turnout was also rather high in smaller communes where the far-right had qualified for the runoff and was seen as having a serious chance of winning. According to Libé’s list of the top 10 communes (with over 10,000 inhabitants) with the highest turnout, two communes in the Gard where the FN was the favourite to win saw low abstention – 23.7% in Beaucaire (which the FN won) and 24.1% in Saint-Gilles (which it lost). In contrast, turnout remained the lowest in low-income communes – 61% abstention in Villiers-le-Bel, 58.7% in Evry, 56.7% in Vaulx-en-Velin or 55.6% in Roubaix.

Libération reports that turnout increased, on average, from the first round in the 540 towns with over 10,000 inhabitants which voted on March 30. Abstention had been 43.6% on March 23 in those communes, and was 41.1% on March 30. Turnout also increased in nearly all cities where the FN had placed first on March 23: +14.8% in Avignon, the most publicized city; +14.6% in Mantes-la-Ville (Yvelines); +12.2% in Hayange; +12.1% in Forbach; +9.86% in Cluses (Haute-Savoie); +7.12% in Béziers or +4.36% in Perpignan. But there is no correlation between increased turnout and FN defeats – the FN won Mantes-la-Ville, Hayange and Béziers. Turnout also increased in other high-stakes races: Marseille-7, Grenoble, Villejuif, Le Blanc-Mesnil or Ajaccio. This seems to further confirm that idea of ‘sporadic participation’ tied to interest in the stakes of the election rather than civic duty to vote regardless.

The left – and the government, by extension – suffered an historic and monumental defeat in the second round. A few numbers explain the situation. I have focused my analysis, because I’m an individual and not working for a newspaper which pays me or hires me assistants, on the 259 communes with a population over 30,000 inhabitants (ideally, 10,000+ would be an even better threshold, but that’d be 946 communes).

Table 1: Results in communes with over 30,000 inhabitants (France + DOM)

Party Inc. Hold Lost Gain Final Net +/-
FG 34 20 14 2 22 -12
PS 99 50 49 6 56 -43
DVG 12 6 6 6 12 nc
EELV 2 1 1 1 2 nc
PRG 3 0 3 0 0 -3
Regionalist 0 0 0 1 1 +1
MoDem 5 5 0 1 6 +1
UDI 23 20 3 9 29 +6
UMP 71 66 5 44 110 +39
DVD 10 9 1 10 19 +9
FN/EXD 0 0 0 2 2 +2
Source: own work

Overall, the right (and MoDem, since all but one of their mayors were elected as right-wing candidates) now controls 164 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants – 63.3% – while the left (FG-PS-DVG-EELV) – now controls 92 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants – 35.5%. Two are governed by the far-right and one by a regionalist. Before the election, the tables were reversed: the left held 150 and the right held 109 – 57.9% to 42.1%. Using the data (1959 to 1995) from Pierre Martin’s Les élections municipales en France, which tracked the % of cities with over 30,000 inhabitants (at the time of the election – so there were far less communes with over 30,000 people in 1959 than in 2014), I have drawn up a graph showing the evolution of partisan control of communes which had over 30,000 at the time of the election2014 marks the widest victory for the right since my data begins (probably the biggest since 1947): the previous record is 2001 (a very similar sample in terms of actual communes, 245 in total), when the right controlled 55.5% of towns. It falls short of the left’s landslide in 1977, when it held 72% of the 221 communes with over 30,000 people back then. The right’s gains in 2014 totally erase (and expand beyond) the right’s loses in 2008, when the governing UMP-led right suffered a major defeat at the hands of the PS-led opposition. The right’s gains in 2014 are also bigger than the right’s gains in 1983, the other major ‘blue wave’ election in which the right gained 35 of the 220 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants from the left (which fell from controlling 67.7% of these towns to controlling 51.8%; -15.9%). Overall, it is the right’s biggest victory in any municipal election under the Fifth Republic.

% of cities of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election) controlled by each party, 1959-2014

% of cities of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election) controlled by each party, 1959-2014

On the right, the UMP, as the largest party, enjoyed the most substantial gains – a net gain of 39 cities, losing five cities (2 to the PS, 1 to the FN; the other 2 were ‘lost’ to other right-wing candidates) and gaining 44 others, including 42 from the left (32 of them from the PS). The UMP controls 42.5% of cities with over 30,000 people. The UDI also enjoyed some major gains, a net gain of 6 with a loss of 3 cities (all of them to other right-wing candidates) and gaining 9 others. Additionally, ten cities were gained by DVD candidates (right-wing independents, dissidents) with only one loss (Fréjus, to the FN). The MoDem gained one city – and not the least of them – MoDem leader François Bayrou was elected in Pau, winning the seat from the PS.

On the left, the PS suffered major loses – it held only 50 of its 99 incumbents, lost 49 and gained only 6 cities (and only 2 from the right – Avignon and Douai). Overall, the PS now controls only 21.6% of cities with over 30,000 people – that’s its lowest result since 1971, when the PS won only 20.7% of cities which had 30,000 people back then.

The FG (mostly PCF, all but two of the FG cities are held by the PCF, and the other two are held by PCF dissidents who are now members of the small Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique/Ensemble) also suffered major loses, making this the worst municipal election for the PCF. It held 20 cities, but lost 14 and gained only 2. The PCF lost two cities to the PS – Bagnolet and Vaulx-en-Velin – and regained one from the PS – Aubervilliers – and one from EELV – Montreuil. The PCF lost towns such as Saint-Ouen, Le Blanc-Meslin, Villepinte and Bobigny to the right; places which it has no business losing. In La Réunion, the Reunionese Communist Party (PCR) was absolutely crushed, losing all 5 of the Reunionese cities which it controlled. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s PG lost the only city it held, Viry-Châtillon, to the UDI.

The PRG lost all 3 cities which it held, it is now left without any city with over 30,000 inhabitants. Its largest city appears to be Saumur (pop. 27,093) in the Maine-et-Loire, which was gained by the PRG (a former mayor and deputy) from the UMP incumbent. DVG (left-wing independents, PS dissidents) candidates had a better time; but their gains only came from within the left (PS dissidents winning La Rochelle, Dunkerque, Montpellier and a left-right alliance led by a DVG candidate winning Nevers from the PS; PCR loses to DVG candidates in two places in La Réunion). EELV, ultimately, was the only party which can be pleased with its performance – although it lost Montreuil, the big story of the night was the victory in Grenoble, defeating the PS. In Villejuif, a UMP-led alliance including the right and EELV defeated a PCF incumbent (it is counted as a UMP gain).

In terms of the most important cities – the 41 cities with over 100,000 people – the left controlled 29 and the right had 12 prior to the election; now the right controls 22 against 19 for the left.

The right gained many important cities from the left: Toulouse, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Angers, Limoges, Tours, Amiens, Caen, Argenteuil, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Colombes, Asnières-sur-Seine, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Pau, Ajaccio, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, La Roche-sur-Yon and Belfort (among hundreds of others). In the first round, the right had already gained a few mid-sized towns from the left – Niort, Clamart and Chalon-sur-Saône (among others). The left, in contrast, had very little success – even those cities where, after the first round, it still held a good chance of winning (Bourges, Calais) it lost; it only gained two towns with over 30,000 people – Avignon and Douai. Some smaller towns gained by the left include Verdun, Longwy, Lourdes, Saumur, Dourdan and Mamoudzou (the largest city in Mayotte). This is to say nothing of the places where the PS was optimistic prior to March 23 but where it was actually crushed – Marseille remaining the classic example.

The FN/far-right gained two towns with over 30,000 people – Béziers and Fréjus. It also won the 7th sector of Marseille, which has a population of 150,326. The far-right’s other victories are Cogolin (Var), Beaucaire (Gard), Bollène (Vaucluse) Villers-Côterets (Aisne), Le Pontet (Vaucluse), Le Luc (Var), Camaret-sur-Aigues (Vaucluse), Hayange (Moselle) and Mantes-la-Ville (Yvelines). In the first round, the far-right had gained Hénin-Beaumont (Pas-de-Calais) and held Orange (Vaucluse). The cities of Orange, Bollène and Camaret-sur-Aigues in the Vaucluse are held by the Ligue du Sud, a small local far-right party led by Jacques Bompard, the député maire of Orange since 1995 and a former member of the FN. The FN was defeated in other of its high-profile target cities – Avignon, Perpignan, Forbach, Brignoles, Saint-Gilles and Tarascon.

The runoff confirmed the undeniable success of the FN in these elections. For example, in 1995, the FN’s previous municipal success, the FN had won four towns (including Toulon), all in the southeast. Now the FN controls ten towns and one sector of Marseille (with over 150,000 people no less), four of which are outside the old far-right bases of the southeast.

There will be a lot of focus on how the FN manages the towns it now controls. The far-right’s record in city halls between 1995 and 2001, most significantly in Toulon and Vitrolles, is widely seen as very negative – famous for defunding some community organizations, censorship in the municipal libraries and financial mismanagement. Marine Le Pen admitted that mistakes were made in the past by FN administrations, and promised that errors would not be repeated. FN municipalities, she says, will not be ideological laboratories, seek to implement the more ‘radical’ aspects of the platform or disobey republican law (for example, FN mayors celebrating gay marriages despite the FN’s opposition to the law). A lot of the new FN mayors’ platforms focused on similar issues: security (increasing the size and power of the municipal police), lowering taxes and favouring the return of small businesses to pauperized downtown areas. Marine Le Pen has said that FN mayors will ban menus offering religious alternatives (to pork) in school cafeterias.

However, it is important to relativize the FN’s success. The runoff results showed, once again, the limits to the FN’s growth and all underline that the FN is not going to win power nationally anytime soon. The FN’s results in many municipalities, including a lot where it had no-name paper candidates, were better than Marine Le Pen’s 2012 result, something of a high-water mark for the FN. In those municipalities where the FN is well rooted thanks to local candidates, star candidates or something in the form of a serious party organization, the FN’s results in the first and second round beat the FN’s results in those same places from the 2012 presidential and legislative election. In the second round in those towns, the FN made further gains – improving on its first round result by about 8 to 14% – for example, a +14.1% gain in one week in Cogolin (Var) or +10.7% in Perpignan.

According to an Ifop study, the FN vote increased by 9.3% in duel (two-way) runoffs and by 2.5% in triangulaires against a divided right or left (2 leftist or 2 rightist lists). In 1995, the FN had gained 4.1% between the two rounds in two-way runoffs.

However, the FN’s victories (outside Orange and Bollène, already held by far-right mayors; and Hénin-Beaumont’s victory in the first round) in every town except Cogolin came in triangulaires/quadrangulaires - three or four-way runoffs in which the FN won with less than 50% of the vote, in some cases less than 40% (Hayange, Beaucaire). In other cases, the putative ‘republican fronts’ in Saint-Gilles, Brignoles and Perpignan (PS candidates withdrawing from the race to block the FN) were successful – the UMP candidates, who in all cases had placed second in the first round, won. In Fréjus, the PS candidate did withdraw, but the division of the right between the UMP and the incumbent DVD mayor (expelled from the UMP due to indictment in a corruption scandal) played a large role in allowing the FN to win. In Forbach, there was a strong increase in turnout and an unofficial ‘republican front’ by DVD/UMP voters from the first round voting for the PS incumbent to block the FN’s Florian Philippot. In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges (Val-de-Marne), a strong increase in turnout and perhaps imperfect transfers allowed the PCF incumbent to narrowly win reelection against a merged UMP/FN list (the UMP disendorsed its list after its alliance with the FN). Together, in the first round, the UMP and FN lists accounted for 57.8% of the vote, but won 49.8% in the runoff (although it won more raw votes than the raw votes won by the UMP and FN lists in the first round).

Finally, in many triangulaire runoffs where the FN qualified as a very distant third (with about 10-15%) and no chances to win, the FN vote – as has been the case historically – declined from the first round. First round FN voters, when the FN has no chance in the second round, prefer to vote for a viable list/candidate (often the right) or ‘return to the fold’ after having protested in the first round by voting FN. According to Ifop, the FN vote fell by 2.5% in classic triangulaires and by 1% in quadrangulaires/quinquangulaires (4 and 5-way runoffs). There was a clear strategic dimension in the FN’s decline in 3-way runoffs: according to Ifop, in triangulaires which saw the commune switch from left to right, the FN vote fell by 4.8% on average whereas in communes which switched from right to left, the FN vote in the triangulaire rose by 0.4%. Individual cases confirm this: in cities which switched to the right, such as Aubagne, Marmande, Maubeuge and Soissons, the FN vote fell significantly in the second round.

There are, therefore, clear limits to the FN’s growth. It is clearly on the upswing, it has a much larger electoral potential than in the past and the climate is favourable to the FN. But the FN is not going to win a presidential election anytime soon.

Finally, as many have pointed out, the FN’s ‘landslide’ netted 12 communes – out of 36,681. Of course, the FN ‘only’ ran 585 or so lists. It won 4.76% in the first round, but taking only those places which had a FN list, it won about 16.5% on average. Secondly, it is extremely tough for the FN – moreso than any other major party – to win elections – it remains repulsive to a majority of voters who say that they would never vote for the FN; and it has no alliances with other parties, meaning that it isolated. In complete isolation in the French electoral system, parties have trouble winning elections outside their strongholds – this was the case for the PCF in 1958.

The FG has argued that, with 22 cities with over 30,000 people, it is a far more relevant and powerful party than the FN despite the media’s heavy focus and interest with the FN. There is a dose of truth to that comment. As far as institutional control, political representation in law-making or deliberative assemblies and influence over policy is concerned, the FG is indeed more powerful than the FN. Despite major loses this year, the PCF retains significant strength in municipal government and it has far more municipal councillors than the FN/far-right does. However, as far as real electoral support is concerned, the FN is more powerful than the FG.

Le Monde‘s excellent new fact-checking blog has a post detailing the performance of 618 lists marked as FG, PCF or PG by the interior ministry (this excludes dissident lists, lists including FG members led by other parties and FG-led lists like those of some PCF incumbents supported by the PS in the first round). They obtained an average of 10.7% where they ran- although PCF lists won 25% on average, while FG and PG lists won 9% and 6% on average. In 214 towns where both FG and FN lists were in direct competition, the FN placed ahead in 177 cases.

The Interior Ministry has also published nationwide results (list vote) here and here. Handling that data is very tricky, because of the ambiguous nature of the labels assigned to each list, the unequal presence of each ‘label’ across the territory and the arbitrary and silly way in which these labels are crafted and assigned (often with partisan spin/political communication aims) by the interior ministry. They make it impossible to accurately track an individual party’s performance, because said party will often have had different strategies from place to place – first round alliances with others here, autonomous list here, another type of alliance there and no list in some places. Nevertheless, if we ignored the individual labels and group them in broader categories, an imperfect but somewhat instructive image can be drawn. The first round offers the most accurate image, because all communes voted – in the second round, only a small number of communes actually voted. In the first round, the left (PS, DVG, union of the left, Greens) won 35.1% against 43.1% for the right (UMP, DVD, union of the right). The far-left and FG won 3.7%, the centre (MoDem, UDI, union of the centre) won 3.3% and the far-right/FN won 4.9%. The other 10% went to divers (miscellaneous), a horrendous label which designates the non-partisan/independent lists which often dominate the smaller communes now voting under the list system (which used to vote under the majority system until the 2013 reforms).

Distribution of seats in municipal councils by bloc, communes over 1,000 ppl (own work, data collated from MoI)

Distribution of seats in municipal councils by bloc, communes over 1,000 ppl (own work, data collated from MoI)

Overall, in terms of councillors, the right won 46% of the seats (48% including the UDI and union of the centre lists, excluding the MoDem) against 33% for the left, with 16% for ‘miscellaneous’ lists, 3% for the centre, 1% for the far-left/FG and less than 1% for the far-right. That is 99,151 seats for the right throughout all communes with over 1,000 inhabitants against 70,126 for the left, 34,703 for others, 7,014 for the centre, 2,905 for the far-left/FG and 1,646 for the far-right/FN. The ‘miscellaneous’ seats disproportionately come from smaller communes: 80% were elected in communes with less than 3,500 people, the old cutoff between majority and list voting prior to 2013. Nevertheless, likely due to changes in definitions of labels by the interior ministry since 2008, in communes with over 3,500 people, then number of miscellaneous councillors has increased by 4,920 (from 1,270 to 6,190).

Within both left and right, most seats were won by DVD and DVG list – a broad label used for major party dissidents but also independent lists with a general ideological orientation (there are also reports of some lists labelled as DVD/DVG etc against their wishes) – DVD lists won 76,344 seats and DVG lists won 44,260 seats. Again, most of the DVD and DVG lists came from smaller communes – 66% of DVG and 62% of DVD councillors from communes with a population inferior to 3,500. In larger cities, the largest lists on the left and right are the union lists, referring to composite lists supported by the major parties of both sides (PS, PRG, Greens and PCF for the left; UMP, UDI for the right).

1,646 seats for the far-right – 1,544 of which are from the FN – may not seem particularly impressive, in that it’s only 0.7% of all seats. But it is impressive if you consider that the FN only ran in a minority of communes and if you compare 2014 to 2008. In communes with over 3,500 people in 2008, the FN’s lowest ebb, the party (and additional far-right lists) won only 71 seats. In 2014, in communes with over 3,500 people, the FN and the far-right won 1,582 seats – a gain of 1,511 seats (which isn’t much if you consider the right gained 7,035 seats and the left lost 9,436 seats; but still impressive once you keep in mind the FN’s limited presence and the electoral system which grants only very limited representation to losing parties).

Aftermath: Valls Government

After the left’s defeat in the first round, the political buzz in France was that a cabinet shuffle – including, most likely, a change of Prime Ministers – would take place after the second round. Originally, the government had likely thought that it could delay a shuffle until after the European elections in May, which will be bloodier for the PS. But the PS and the left’s poorer than expected performance on March 23 forced Hollande to anticipate the cabinet shuffle.

On March 31, the day after the second round, Hollande addressed the nation in a televised statement in which he said that he had ‘understood’ the message which voters had sent him. A few hours before his speech, it was announced and confirmed that Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had resigned and that Hollande had nominated Manuel Valls, the Minister of the Interior, to replace him. Hollande confirmed in his televised message that he had asked Valls to lead a gouvernement de combat (combative government). In his speech, Hollande recognized the ‘difficult choices’ he had made, reiterated his government’s commitment to job creation (through private businesses: expressly saying that companies create jobs), his ‘pact of responsibility’ (lower payroll taxes for businesses in exchange for jobs created) and pressing forward with spending cuts. He mentioned a new ‘pact of solidarity’, which he says is aimed at education, social security and purchasing power but which also seems to be the latest way of disguising spending cuts.

Manuel Valls is a 51-year old Spanish (Catalan)-born rising star in the PS, widely seen as belonging to the party’s right. He entered party politics at a very young age, first as a supporter of Prime Minister Michel Rocard (the leader of a reformist and modernist social democratic wing, at odds with Rocard’s sworn enemy, President François Mitterrand) and later, in the 1990s, as a supporter of Lionel Jospin. In 2001, he was elected mayor of the low-income suburban banlieue town of Évry in the Essonne, and won the corresponding constituency in 2002. Within the party, Valls gained a reputation as a maverick iconoclast who challenged the party orthodoxy from a Blairite/Third Way angle. In 2009, he proposed changing the party’s name to modernize its ideological orientation. As mayor of a banlieue with criminality problems and fears of ‘ghettoisation’ (social segregation), Valls has also had a strong reputation as a tough-on-crime and ‘security’-oriented politician. In 2009, he controversially lamented the lack of social diversity in Évry by regretting the lack of whites.

Valls has clear presidential ambitions and despite his youth, low profile and iconoclastic positions in the PS, he ran in the 2011 open primaries. He strongly criticized the other candidates for not telling the truth and being honest about their policies, criticized them as demagogues and presented himself as a straight-talker who wasn’t afraid to challenge dogma. In early 2011, he caused a ruckus by calling to ‘unlock’ the 35-hour workweek (brought in by labour minister Martine Aubry during the Jospin government, considered sacrosanct by most of the PS) and increasing working hours by 2-3 hours. He otherwise took fairly fiscally orthodox policies on spending and budget, proposed an increase in the VAT to create jobs and had positions similar to those taken up by Hollande’s responsibility pact in 2014. Valls won 5.7% in the primaries, a weak result but he achieved his goal – gain standing and prominence in the PS, impose himself as a key figure in the PS.

Valls became interior minister in the Ayrault government and quickly became one of the government’s most popular cabinet ministers – maintaining approval ratings in the 50-60% range, including solid numbers with right-wing sympathizers. Valls’ ministry continued to deport undocumented migrants, dismantle Roma encampments, preached a hardline policy against crime and violence (extremist, criminal or otherwise – he intervened to ban an event by anti-Semitic ‘comedian’ Dieudonné and dissolved right-wing extremist movements); at times, it’s hard to spot obvious differences between Valls and his right-wing predecessors, whom the PS had criticized. Before becoming cabinet minister, Valls had come out in favour of immigration quotas.

In September 2013, Valls said that, with few exceptions, it was ‘impossible’ to integrate the Roma population into French society (because of ‘different lifestyles’) and that the only solution was to dismantle the camps and return occupants to their country of origin. A few months prior, Valls had said that the Roma were intended to stay in Romania or return there. Valls’ comments sparked outrage on the left, including within the government and from the Greens. In October 2013, Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year old undocumented immigrant from Kosovo attending a French school, was arrested during a school field trip and deported to Kosovo. Valls’ behaviour as responsible minister once again raised debate and criticism on the left. Hollande was forced to intervene, and he haplessly proposed a compromise: while supporting the decision, he proposed that Leonarda be allowed to return, alone, to complete her studies (she refused). On the left, the decision was criticized (even the leader of the PS, Harlem Désir, signaled his disapproval) on humanitarian grounds. The right attacked Hollande’s “indecision”, denounced a terrible blow to the authority of the State and Marine Le Pen called on him to resign for humiliating France. The UMP proposed abolishing jus soli, Valls talked of reforming asylum policy.

Valls’ nomination can be interpreted in different ways. Firstly, it may mark a clear shift in government style. Ayrault was a close ally of Hollande, more akin to a collaborator than a head of government, and was widely seen as sorely lacking leadership and the government as lacking coherence and solidarity. Valls is more of a rival to Hollande (although not publicly) and he is unlikely to settle down as a collaborator; he likely intends to be more offensive and assertive both within cabinet and in public opinion. He has already laid out six principles: clarity, collegiality, efficiency, legal soundness, coordinated communication and better relations with Parliament (denouncing legislative inflation).

Another interpretation, more Machiavellian, is that the Prime Ministerial position will act a major check (probably temporary, given his relatively young age) on his presidential ambitions. It is no secret that the job of Prime Minister is traditionally a thankless one, especially when times are bad. No sitting Prime Minister under the Fifth Republic has ever been elected President (Chirac lost in 1988, Balladur lost in 1995 and Jospin lost in 2002; Pierre Messmer’s potential candidacy didn’t come to fruition in 1974) and former Prime Ministers have generally had it though too (Chaban-Delmas was defeated in 1974, Barre was defeated in 1988). Prior to 2002/2007, the Prime Minister, especially in times of cohabitation, was on the frontline of politics and received the blame for unpopular policy, government mishaps and the general climate. Since 2002, in the absence of cohabitation and the trend towards a more assertive presidency under Sarkozy and Hollande, the Prime Minister hasn’t been on the frontlines as much but nevertheless still became relatively/very unpopular (Raffarin and Villepin under Chirac both become very unpopular, largely for their own mistakes and unpopular policies; Fillon was more effaced and had a better image than Sarkozy and maintained higher ratings, though still fell in popularity; Ayrault was very effaced but his popularity collapse along that of Hollande). The Machiavellian could be that Hollande pulled a François Mitterrand and named a key political rival to Matignon to kill him off – like Mitterrand had done with Rocard, although Rocard was still popular when he was fired in 1991 and Mitterrand needed to go all-out to finish him off in the 1994 European elections. But Hollande, like Chirac, doesn’t seem to think in such Machiavellian terms. Indeed, there are reports that Hollande tried every possible option to avoid having to nominate Valls – he proposed the office to defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, an ally of the President.

Ideologically, Valls’ nomination may be seen as a shift to the right by the government. Indeed, many on the left remain suspicious of Valls and the government’s opponents on the left (led by Mélenchon’s PG) have been very critical of Valls’ nomination – Mélenchon said that Hollande didn’t understand the message of the election and confirmed his alliance with the Medef (the employers’ association). EELV had already been rather critical of Valls – Cécile Duflot, Ayrault’s housing minister and former EELV leader, had strongly criticized Valls’ comments on the Roma – and after his nomination, the two EELV ministers (Duflot and Pascal Canfin) announced that they would not join Valls’ cabinet. There was some discussion about other Green ministers, and Valls met with EELV and proposed the creation of large environment ministry, 3 portfolios and a dose of proportional representation (promised by Hollande in 2012, mysteriously forgotten…). EELV’s executive voted against participation in the Valls government on April 1, preferring ‘critical support without participation’. The right, perhaps a bit worried in private, publicly acted unimpressed with Valls’ nomination, pointing out his record as interior minister and generally noting that his nomination did not signal a shift in policy. Copé called for a break with the ‘socialist model’.

A cabinet of 16 members, with 8 men and 8 women, was announced on April 2. What retained attention across the world was Ségolène Royal, the PS’ 2007 presidential candidate and François Hollande’s former girlfriend (and mother of their four children), who returned to government as Minister of the Environment (an office she had held from 1992 to 1993 under Pierre Bérégovoy) and ranking second behind Laurent Fabius, confirmed as foreign minister, in the official protocol. Royal was defeated by a PS dissident candidate in the 2012 legislative elections, seeing her dream of becoming president of the National Assembly shut down. Since then, she has lobbied publicly and privately to regain national political prominence, never missing a media appearance or a chance to comment on her ex-boyfriend’s performance. After Hollande broke up with his girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler, who had tweeted her support for Royal’s PS rival (whilst the PS, hence Hollande, were supporting Royal) in the 2012 legislative election, there were several reports that Hollande met with Royal more often.

The new cabinet also saw the promotion of a number of cabinet ministers. Benoît Hamon, a young member of the PS’ left-wing, who was only junior minister for the social economy and consumption in the Ayrault government, was promoted to Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research – replacing Vincent Peillon, who had implemented a controversial reform of the school-week (increasing it from 4 days to 4.5 days) and confronted some teachers in 2013 over a reform of their status. Arnaud Montebourg, who had placed third in the 2011 PS primaries with 17.2% on a left-wing platform preaching ‘deglobalization’ and had served as industry minister (officially ‘Minister for Productive Recovery’) under Ayrault, became Minister of the Economy. Montebourg did not impress much as industry minister, besides various stunts (‘Made in France’), embarrassing fumbles (proposing the nationalization of ArcelorMittal’s steel mill in Florange before being shot down by Ayrault) and his usual flamboyant behaviour. He has remained critical of austerity while in cabinet (but the PS continues to be rhetorically anti-austerity but implementing austerity policies at the same time), although he supported the Gallois report in 2012, which foreshadowed Hollande’s responsibility pact by calling to lower costs on employers (payroll taxes, social security payments) by raising some taxes (VAT) and cutting spending. Montebourg and Hamon, although both rhetorically on the left of the PS, found common ground with Valls in being the leading opponents of Ayrault in the old government. Montebourg famously confronted Ayrault (in private, but revealed by a book) by telling him that he ran France like the municipal council of Nantes and that he was “pissing off the entire earth” (tu fais chier la terre entière) with the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport.

Montebourg will share office with Michel Sapin, an ally of Hollande and outgoing labour minister (who presided over worsening unemployment), who becomes Minister of Finance. The old economy and finance portfolio, held by Pierre Moscovici, who is removed from cabinet with the promise of being European Commissioner, is therefore split – like in Germany – between economy and finance. Sapin will be in charge of fiscal policy and the budget. Montebourg retains his industry portfolio, the ‘digital economy’, crafts and small businesses, the social economy and consumption. He’ll notably oversee the ‘responsibility pact’. Montebourg’s ministry is currently fighting with Fabius’ ministry for international trade, which was a separate formal cabinet position in the old government. Sapin and Montebourg promise concertation and a collegial decisions, but many are worried over the high likelihood of dissonance and clashes, especially because Montebourg is a hothead who loves himself very dearly.

Christiane Taubira was retained as Minister of Justice, despite public disagreements with Valls on her judicial reform (considered as lax and weak by Valls and the right) and a kerfuffle over the Sarkozy wiretaps right before the municipal elections. Jean-Yves Le Drian, close to Hollande, kept his defense portfolio where he has been quite popular. Following a disagreement between Hollande and Valls on the interior ministry – with Hollande favouring his friend, François Rebsamen (the mayor of Dijon and the president of the PS group in the Senate) and Valls favouring Jean-Jacques Urvoas (a Finistère deputy known for his focus on security issues) – the portfolio was given to Bernard Cazeneuve, an ally of Hollande who was the junior minister for the budget in the old government. Rebsamen instead joined government as labour minister. Marisol Touraine, the health minister, was returned as Minister of Social Affairs, but people have pointed out that the word ‘health’ no longer appears in her (or any other) title!

Aurélie Filippetti kept her job as Minister of Culture and Communication, where she did a relatively good job. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the young (36) women’s rights minister saw her job upgraded to the convoluted and messy ‘Minister of Women’s Right, the City, Youth and Sports’, although she relinquished her government spokesperson position to Stéphane Le Foll, a loyal hollandiste who kept his job as agriculture minister. Marylise Lebranchu was retained as Minister of Decentralization, State Reform and the Civil Service. Victorin Lurel, the overseas minister from Guadeloupe, was replaced by Georges Pau-Langevin (born in Guadeloupe but a metropolitan politician), who previously held the chair-warming job of junior minister for educational success. Sylvia Pinel, the Minister for Crafts, Commerce and Tourism in the old government replaced Duflot as Minister of Housing and Territorial Equality, despite a very unimpressive record as crafts/artisans minister – it’s almost certainly because Pinel is from the PRG, which needed a spot (Taubira is also affiliated with the PRG).

On April 9, 14 secretaries of state (who only sit on the council of ministers when their portfolio is being discussed) were named. Notably, Harlem Désir, the first secretary of the PS since 2012, whose leadership was criticized and faced some demands for his resignation following the municipal defeat, was named Secretary of State for European Affairs. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who was the other candidate in line for the party leadership at the 2012 Toulouse Congress, will likely replace him as PS leader.

There have been a lot of comments – mostly negative or underwhelmed – about the government, concerned about the high potential for continued dissonance, incoherence, turf wars and unilateralism from the hotheads (Royal, Montebourg).

Results: Main cities

Paris

Arr. PS-EELV-PCF-PRG^ UMP-UDI-MD DVD PG
2 58.24 (2) 41.76
3 60.44 (2) 39.55 (1)
4 50.26 (2) 49.73
5 48.7 (1) 51.29 (3)
7 20.33 55.46 (4) 24.3
8 19.35 56.44 (3) 24.2
9 49.63 (1) 50.36 (3)
10 66.04 (6) 33.95 (1)
11 64.37 (9) 35.62 (2)
12 53.04 (8) 46.95 (2)
13 62.42 (11) 37.57 (2)
14 53.08 (8) 46.91 (2)
15 36.62 (3) 63.37 (15)
18 62.42 (12) 37.57 (3)
19 64.45 (12) 35.54 (2)
20 55.07 (11) 31.26 (2) 13.66 (1)
Paris 53.33 (91) 44.06 (71) 1.26 1.35 (1)

In one of the rare successes for the left on March 30, they successfully held Paris, allowing the PS’ Anne Hidalgo to be elected as the first woman mayor of Paris and to succeed her mentor, retiring PS mayor Bertrand Delanoë (2001-2014). Overall, the left has 92 seats (one for the PG, which won one seat running independently in the 20th arrdt) against 71 for the right, a relatively minor change from 2008 when the left won 98 seats to the right/MoDem’s 65 seats. The left is advantaged not only by the city’s shift to the left in the past decades, but also by the US Electoral College-like electoral system which gives the left a clear advantage in a close contest such as this one because the left’s strongholds (especially the 11th, 13th, 18th, 19th and 20th arrdt) are far more populous (and hence elect more seats to the council) than the right’s strongholds (6th, 7th, 8th, 16th).

The outcome of the election hinged on two arrondissements, both must-wins for the right: the 12th and 14th arrondissements, two historically right-leaning sectors which were held by the right until the PS’ victory in 2001 and have swung to the left in national elections, with Hollande winning 58.9% and 60.3% in those two arrondissements in 2012. UMP mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM) was the UMP’s top candidate in the 14th arrondissement, while the young sitting municipal councillor Valérie Montandon was the UMP’s top candidate in the 12th. The 12th is, like Paris, predominantly middle-class with a mix of young, highly-educated professionals (leaning left) and an older, more established bourgeoisie on the right; although there’s also a significant number of residents in low-rent housing (HLM). The 14th is rather similar, although with a slightly larger share of the population lives in HLM. In the first round, the PS had already placed ahead of the UMP in both arrondissements, and the added support of EELV lists (10.1% and 8.8% in those two arrondissements respectively) gave the left a clear advantage over the left, although in the 14th, NKM’s list merged with a dissident list led by local candidate Marie-Claire Carrère-Gée (5.7%, backed by Charles Beigbeder’s Paris libéré coalition of right-wing dissidents).

It was therefore not a huge surprise when the PS held both arrondissements with a much reduced but comfortable majority – and nearly identical ones in both (53.04% and 53.08% for the PS-EELV lists respectively). With the loss of those two critical arrondissements, the right’s fate was definitely sealed. This link shows results by precincts for the second round. In the 14th, the UMP won a number of precincts in the north of the arrondissement, relatively wealthier and more bourgeois.

The UMP did regain one arrondissement from the left – the 9th (with 50.4%) – and came within 55 votes of gaining another, the 4th arrondissement, from the PS. But victory in either (or both) arrondissement was insufficient – against the 12th and 14th which elect 1o councillors, the 9th returns only 4 and the even smaller 4th (in downtown Paris) has only 2 councillors now. In the 4th, the UMP won well over 60% of the vote on the two precincts covering L’Île de la Cité and L’Île Saint-Louis, the two natural islands in the Seine which attract only a select few because of the exorbitant housing prices. In the 9th, another ‘border’ arrondissement between the leftist east and rightist west, there is a clear divide between the east and west within the arrondissement. In the bourgeois western neighborhoods of the 9th, bordering the bourgeois hotbed of the 8th, the UMP list did very well – peaking at nearly 70% in one precinct; in the east, demographically similar to the relatively poorer and ‘bobo’ areas of the 10th, the left won.

In the 7th and 8th, two of Paris’ wealthiest arrondissements and conservative strongholds of the bourgeoisie for over a hundred years, the UMP won easily but their main opposition came from right-wing dissidents. In the 7th, incumbent UMP mayor Rachida Dati, who has been criticized for absenteeism and not giving much to her office, had faced no less than four DVD lists in the first round. Only one remained standing, that led by former maire adjoint Christian Le Roux, who won 17.8% in the first round and increased his support to 24.3% in the runoff. Across the Seine, in the 8th, the UMP won 56.4%, but Charles Beigbeder’s Paris libéré list (which merged with another dissident list which had won 5.2% in the first round) placed second with 24.2%. In both cases, the left, extremely weak in both these right-wing strongholds, placed third with about 20%.

In the 20th arrondissement, the city’s most left-wing arrondissement, the left was divided. The 20th was the only arrondissement where, after the first round, the PG list (led locally by the PG’s mayoral candidate Danielle Simonnet) could maintain itself. With the PS seemingly uninterested by an alliance with the PG, there was no agreement reached and Simonnet’s list maintained itself (like in the 7th and 8th for the right, the 20th is so left-wing that there was no risk whatsoever that a divided left in the second round could lose to a united right). Simonnet won 13.7%, up from 10.4% in the first round – enough for her to win a single seat for herself in the city council (the PG list needed 12.5% of the vote to qualify for a seat on council).

With the addition of the four arrondissements held by the UMP in the first round (1, 6, 16, 17), Anne Hidalgo’s PS-EELV-PCF-PRG majority finds itself with 91 seats against 71 for the UMP-UDI-MoDem and 1 for the PG. Within the left, the PS-PCF has 75 seats, down from 87 for the PS-PCF-PRG in 2008, while EELV increases its caucus from 11 seats to 16. On the right, the UMP has 55 seats – up 3 – while the UDI-MoDem has 16 – up 5.

The overall result in the 16 out of 20 arrondissements which had a second round was 53.3% for Hidalgo against 44.1% for NKM. But those numbers are meaningless; the four arrondissements elected in the first round all went heavily for the right. This article from Slate asks if the left won the popular vote across the city. CSA, a pollster, estimated that the overall vote in the ‘decisive round’ (so the first round for arrondissements 1, 6, 16 and 17) was 48.8% for Hidalgo against 46.2% for NKM, with the remainder for the non-UMP/PS lists in the second round and ‘small’ lists (EELV, DVD, PG) in the first round in the four arrondissements. Calculating an hypothetical second round in the four arrondissements, based on the right’s gains from the first to second round in the 16 other arrondissements, the left would likely have won between 49.7% and 50.2% city-wide.

The right lost because it remained unable to expand its support into the decisive swing arrondissements. Its support remains too heavily concentrated in its western strongholds, which contribute relatively few seats whereas the left’s eastern strongholds contribute enough seat to give the left a clear edge over the right in a close contest such as this one. The right effectively needs far more than 50% of the city-wide vote to win. The right nevertheless made substantial gains, in the popular vote, from 2008, a landslide reelection for Delanoë and the Parisian right’s lowest ebb. Still, it fell about 3 points short of victory in the decisive 12th and 14th arrondissements – it did perform far better than Sarkozy had in May 2012, but likely ran into a structural wall at this point: the left is now too strong in these arrondissements.

NKM, despite the hot mess of dissident candidates left, right and centre and several gaffes and faux-pas during the campaign, ran a generally decent campaign and strengthened the right in Paris, which has been divided and electorally weakened in the last few years. Her own political career is hardly over: she remains deputy for the Essonne, but more importantly, she may be the favourite for the presidency of the Grand Paris, a metropolitan structure to be created in 2016 uniting Paris and the three bordering departments of the petite couronne. In the future Grand Paris, the left’s worst nightmare came true: having suffered major loses in all three suburban departments, especially in the Seine-Saint-Denis and Hauts-de-Seine, the right would hold 190 out of 337 seats against 145 for the left, according to Cadre de Ville.

Marseille

Sector UMP-UDI-MoDem-PRG* PS-EELV-FG FN
1 44.89 (9) 40.50 (2) 14.61
2 47.7 (6) 32.64 (1) 19.66 (1)
3 47.75 (8) 33.89 (2) 18.86 (1)
5 51.45 (12) 22.2 (1) 26.35 (2)
6 46.69 (10) 23.36 (1) 29.95 (2)
7 32.15 (2) 32.52 (3) 35.54 (11)
8 23.83 (1) 45.54 (9) 30.63 (2)
Marseille 42.39 (61) 31.09 (20) 26.51 (20)

After the shocking results of the first round in Marseille, which saw Patrick Mennucci’s PS-EELV list place a very distant third with just a bit under 21%, against 37.6% for UMP mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin and 23.2% for FN lists led by Stéphane Ravier, it became clear that the left’s high hopes of victory in Marseille were dead. The local repeat of ‘April 21 2002′ came to symbolize the PS’ rout, in a city which the PS – backed up by polling up until the very end – had high hopes of victory no less. To make matters worse for the PS, Gaudin sealed a controversial alliance with an ally of the controversial and highly corrupt PS president of the general council, Jean-Noël Guérini, who had been working against Mennucci (a one-time part of Guérini’s system turned into a very vocal opponent) since the local PS open primaries in 2013. In the 2nd sector, a left-wing stronghold which happens to be Guérini’s home turf, a guériniste (PRG) list led by the incumbent PRG (ex-PS) mayor of the sector, Lisette Narducci, placed second ahead of the PS list with 23.8% against 17.5%. Gaudin announced the merger of Narducci’s list with the local UMP list, led by UMP general councillor Solange Biaggi; the PS was outraged at the alliance and tried a last-minute remobilization of its electorate by denouncing the ‘Gaudin-Guérini system’.

It amounted to nothing. Gaudin was easily reelected (for a fourth and likely final term in office, given his age), winning a large majority on the city council – with a total of 61 out of 101 seats, a gain of 10 seats from 2008, when Gaudin had been reelected with only 51 seats against 49 for the PS lists (then led by Guérini) and 1 for the FN. The FN and left both won 20 seats – respectively the best and worst performances for those parties in Marseille’s history.

The city as a whole saw significantly stronger turnout than in the first round – increasing from 53.5% to 57.3% across the seven sectors which voted in the runoff. It was up 4.4% in the 1st, up 4% in the 2nd, up 2.4% in the 3rd, up 2.8% in the 5th and 6th, up 7.6% in the 7th and up 6.1% in the 8th. Turnout in the first round had been particularly low in areas where Hollande had done best in April/May 2012, indicating that a very large portion of the left’s potential base stayed home. In the second round, increased turnout across the board does not seem to have advantaged one party over another. The FN, despite lacking reserves, increased its raw vote from the first round in every sector and its share of the PV in all but one sector (the 1st); the PS generally won more raw votes the combined first round totals of the PS-EELV and FG (the FG’s lists, which won 7.1%, merged with the PS-EELV lists) and sometimes even more than the combined totals of the PS-EELV, FG and Pape Diouf’s centre-left civic lists (Diouf’s lists, anti-establishment but largely drawn from the centre-left in terms of candidates and voters, won 5.6% in the first round with a peak at 8% for Diouf in the 7th; Diouf refused any merger with Mennucci); the right also increased its raw vote in all but one sector (the 6th, where a DVD/dissident list by the incumbent mayor, Robert Assante, won 13.4% in the first round and merged with the UMP list of Roland Blum and Valérie Boyer).

In the 1st sector, which was a key sector gained by the PS’ Patrick Mennucci in 2008 from the UMP, Mennucci was defeated by UMP deputy Dominique Tian in the second-closest race in the city. Tian won 44.9% against 40.5% for Mennucci. The 1st sector is a key swing area of Marseille, bridging the left-wing stronghold of the 1st arrondissement (a poor and multiethnic inner-city area, with 72% for Hollande in May 2012) and the right-leaning 7th arrondissement (which includes solidly conservative affluent seaside neighborhoods). The 2nd sector, which includes Marseille’s two poorest arrondissement, is usually a left-wing stronghold (67.9% for Hollande, his best result in the city in May 2012) but this year, it was won by the Gaudin-Guérini alliance. In the first round, the UMP list in the sector had placed first with 24.2% and Narducci’s PRG/Guérini list in a close second with 23.8%. Despite the unusual combination, transfers appeared to be fairly good, and the UMP-PRG list won 47.7% against 32.6% for the PS list, led by Eugène Caselli, the outgoing president of the urban community (Marseille Métropole Provence, MPM). The FN’s support increased from 16.5% to 19.7%.

The 3rd sector was supposed to be the one swing race which would determine the election – with a left-wing victory (back when we assumed that the left would hold all its sectors from 2008!) allowing it to win the mayor’s chair. After the first round, it became obvious that the left stood no chance and that the election in the 3rd was already decided in favour the UMP incumbent, Bruno Gilles. The UMP won 47.8% against 33.4% for the PS list, led by Marie-Arlette Carlotti, who was junior minister for disabled persons in the Ayrault cabinet. Carlotti was able to do little more than win the support of first round FG voters.

The UMP held the 5th and 6th sectors easily, with the FN placing ahead of the left in both. In the 5th, UMP incumbent Guy Teissier was reelected with 51.5% against 26.4% for the FN, which gained an additional 1,000 or so votes from the first round. The left won 22.2%, its worst result in the city. In the 6th, the UMP list was victorious, with 46.7%, although it failed to match the combined first round raw vote or PV of the UMP list and Assante’s DVD list. The FN gained an extra 2,247 votes, placing second with 30%.

The most important race was the 7th sector, which covers northeastern Marseille’s 13th and 14th arrondissements. Like most of the places where the FN tends to do well in Marseille, it is a relatively ‘settled’ (low mobility) lower middle-class area which is rather low-income, has low levels of education and CSP- employment (workers, employees); in the case of the 7th sector specifically, the FN does very well in residential suburban neighborhoods – banlieues pavillonnaires (residential suburbs with individual houses) and not as well in the cités. In the first round, the FN list by Stéphane Ravier, the FN’s mayoral candidate and local leader, placed first with 32.9%, the FN’s best result in Marseille. The incumbent PS mayor of the sector since 2001, Garo Hovsepian, an ally of Samia Ghali and local corrupt ex-PS deputy Sylvie Andrieux, placed third with 21.7%. The left refused to withdraw to ‘block the FN’, arguing that it had the best chance to defeat the FN because of the likely support of those who had backed Diouf (8.1%) and the FG (6.4%) in the first round. While Hovsepian finished second in the runoff, with 32.5%, the FN won the sector – the first time the FN wins a sector in Marseille – with 35.3%. Ravier’s raw vote increased by 3,114 from the first round, a gain of 2.4%. As mayor of the sector, Ravier has relatively little powers – more or less, it boils down to managing a few public spaces and parks in the borders of the sector and other irrelevant responsibilities. But the victory is a major symbolic victory for the FN; it also likely gives the FN in Marseille a great opportunity to build up their networks.

The 8th sector, a low-income and working-class area in the heart of Marseille’s quartiers nord, was the only sector retained by the left. Incumbent PS mayor Samia Ghali, who has a strong electoral machine in the sector, won reelection with 45.5% against 30.6% for the FN and 23.8% for the right. The FN gained a bit less than 1,500 votes between the two rounds. The end result of the PS’ rout in Marseille is that the only survivor of the bloody episode is Samia Ghali, the only prominent PS leader who wasn’t defeated (Mennucci, Carlotti lost but also Caselli and Christophe Masse) and who remains in a relatively solid position. To seal a great election for Guérini, it also happens that Ghali is far more supportive of Guérini than either Mennucci or Carlotti are. For example, while Mennucci and Carlotti’s reaction to defeat was to demand Guérini’s exclusion from the PS at long last and the dissolution of the PS structures in the city to allow for reconstruction; Ghali has made very little public comments on Guérini (downplaying his influence and role) and expressing skepticism at Mennucci/Carlotti’s calls to reconstruct the PS from the ground up.

With a landslide victory in Marseille proper, the UMP has also gained a solid majority in both the current council of the urban community (MPM) and the future council of the broader Marseille-Aix metropolis which will be created by decree in 2016. In 2008, the right had a paper-tight majority in the MPM on paper, but due to dissidents in their ranks, the PS candidate Eugène Caselli was elected. The MPM’s presidency should go to Guy Teissier (UMP), while the right is estimated to hold a huge 96-39 advantage in the future Marseille-Aix metropolis, with 14 seats for the FN.

Lyon

Arr. PS-EELV-PCF-PRG* UMP-UDI-MD FN FG
1 31.34 (1) 24.12 44.52 (3)
2 36.71 (1) 52.98 (4) 10.29
3 53.81 (10) 35.04 (2) 11.13
4 47.03 (4) 37.46 (1) 15.50
5 48.46 (6) 42.61 (2) 8.91
7 58.08 (8) 29.36 (1) 12.55
8 53.30 (9) 28.57 (2) 18.12 (1)
9 59.58 (8) 26.85 (1) 13.55
Lyon 50.64 (48) 34.24 (21) 10.34 (1) 4.78 (3)

Unsurprisingly, in Lyon, incumbent PS mayor Gérard Collomb was easily reelected to a third term in office, with only a slightly reduced majority. Across the city, Collomb’s lists won 48 seats – down from 54 in 2008, when Collomb had won a massive landslide by the first round – against 21 for the right, which gains only 3 seats. The FN returns to the municipal council for the first time since 1995, when it had won 2 seats.

Collomb’s lists were victorious in six out of nine sectors. In the first round, the right held the 6th arrondissement, the city’s most bourgeois arrondissement. In the second round, the right easily held the 2nd, an affluent downtown arrondissement on the Presqu’île. However, the right failed to regain either the 3rd or 5th arrondissements, lost in 2008 and 2001 respectively. In the 5th, the UMP’s mayoral candidate Michel Havard, a former deputy from the party’s moderate wing, narrowly lost to the PS’ Thomas Rudigoz, 42.6% to 48.5%. On the west of the city, the 5th includes the Vieux-Lyon (the city’s historic core), the Fourvière hill and church but also residential suburbs – both middle-class and lower-income HLMs. It voted for Sarkozy in 2012, with a distinctive split between the suburban outskirts (for Sarkozy, minus the lower-income HLMs for Hollande) and the urban area (for Hollande).  There was little contest in the 3rd arrondissement, which the UMP lost to the PS in 2008. The PS list won 53.8% against 35% for the right, with the FN taking 11.1%.

Collomb’s lists won the 7th, 8th and 9th arrondissements – held by the left since 2001 (7) and 1995 (8, 9) respectively – with huge margins. All three arrondissements include lower-income quartiers populaires (La Guillotière, Mermoz, États-Unis, La Duchère) and the 8th and 9th, on the outskirts of the city, both include poorer peripheral neighborhoods. The 9th arrondissement is Collomb’s electoral base, and the list which he personally led won 59.6% of the vote, the highest result for his lists in the city. The FN also won its best results in these arrondissements, peaking at 18% for the list led by FN mayoral candidate Christophe Boudot in the 8th. However, in all arrondissements where the FN qualified for the runoff, they won a (marginally) lower share of the vote than in the first round and lost actual votes in all but the 7th and 8th arrondissements.

A key race was in the 1st arrondissement, a left-wing stronghold centered on the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse (les Pentes), a formerly poor working-class area (famous particularly for its silk workers) which has since been extensively gentrified and is now a bustling cosmopolitan, young, professional (many journalists, artists, academics, young cadres etc) and highly-educated ‘bobo’ area. The incumbent ex-PS mayor Nathalie Perrin-Gilbert, who left the PS in 2013, ran for reelection in alliance with the FG and placed first in the first round with 33.5% against 25.9% for the PS. The FG and PS found no agreement in Lyon, so the FG lists which qualified in the 1st but also the 4th (the 4th includes the similarly bobo Croix Rousse, but the right is stronger because it includes some wealthier and older areas in the west) maintained themselves in the runoff. In the 1st, the FG list won easily, with 44.5% against 31.3% for the PS-EELV. The PS list, led by EELV’s first round candidate (11.3%) failed to win all those who had voted for the PS and EELV in the first round, falling over 500 votes short of the combined PS-EELV vote in the first round while the FG list gained over 1,000 votes from the first round. In the 4th, the FG list gained over 600 votes to win 15.5%.

Although Collomb retains his seat for a third term, it is unclear whether he will retain the presidency of the Grand Lyon, an urban community which will be of even greater political importance come January 2015, when it will be transformed into a metropolis with the full powers of a department on its territory. According to Cadre de Ville, after substantial loses for the left in suburban communes of the Grand Lyon, the left and right find themselves with 77 seats apiece in the new metro council; with the remaining 8 seats split between independents (6) and the FN (2). Michel Havard and the local right claimed victory in the Grand Lyon, while Collomb has said that he will make sure that the left retains the control of the Grand Lyon. Collomb, a centrist and moderate Socialist, has good relations with some independent centre-right mayors in the Grand Lyon and could probably manage to narrowly hold the presidency with the backing of some suburban independent mayors.

Toulouse

Jean-Luc Moudenc (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 52.06% – 53 seats
Pierre Cohen (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-MRC)* 47.93% – 16 seats

In a rematch of the 2008 election, Jean-Luc Moudenc, a UMP deputy and former mayor who lost reelection in 2008 to the PS’ Pierre Cohen, took his revenge on March 30 with a comfortable victory over the incumbent. Moudenc won 52.1% against 47.9% for Cohen, who had already trailed the UMP by nearly 6 points in the first round although his list did merge with Antoine Maurice’s EELV list, which had won 7% on March 23. Toulouse generally leans to the left – Hollande won 62.5% in the city in May 2012, although the right retains substantial support in some affluent bourgeois neighborhoods in the downtown core. However, the right governed the city between 1971 and 2008.

With gains in suburban communities of Toulouse, the right has also gained control of the urban community (soon to be metropolis) of Toulouse; with 72 seats against 59 for the left.

Nice

Christian Estrosi (UMP-UDI)* 48.61% – 52 seats
Marie-Christine Arnautu (FN) 21.1% – 7 seats
Patrick Allemand (PS-EELV-MRC) 17.84% – 6 seats
Olivier Bettati (DVD) 12.42% – 4 seats

No surprise whatsoever in Nice, with the comfortable reelection for a second term of the UMP incumbent, Christian Estrosi. Nice, which gave over 60% to Sarkozy in May 2012, is a right-wing stronghold, and Estrosi, the leading political boss of the UMP in Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes, is a popular mayor with a focus on criminality and security issues which is a good fit for the city’s predominantly older, middle-class electorate concerned about such issues. Estrosi faced a quadrangulaire with the FN, the left and a UMP dissident (Olivier Bettati, a UMP general councillor and former adjoint au maire, whose relations with Estrosi have always been quite cool). That means that Estrosi didn’t gain much votes from the first round, when he won 45%. The FN increased its support from 15.6% to 21%, although it still remained below Marine Le Pen’s 23% in 2012, and gained over 5,700 votes (likely from Philippe Vardon, a local extremist and neo-fascist candidate, who won 4.4% and former FN-turned-RPR/UMP mayor Jacques Peyrat, who won 3.7%). Patrick Allemand (PS) suffered from poor transfers from the FG, which had won 5.4% in the first round. Bettati gained about 2,300 votes.

The right holds its huge majority in the council of the metropolis of Nice (Métropole Nice Côte-d’Azur) with 87 seats against 28 independents, 8 for the FN and a puny 6 for the left.

Nantes

Johanna Rolland (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-UDB)^ 56.21% – 51 seats
Laurence Garnier (UMP-UDI-PCD) 43.78% – 14 seats

The PS had no trouble whatsoever holding Nantes, which was ruled between 1989 and 2012 by Jean-Marc Ayrault. PS candidate Johanna Rolland, a young (34-year old) première adjointe and protege of Ayrault, placed first in the first round with 34.5% and over ten points ahead of the right’s candidate, Laurence Garnier, a UMP municipal councillor who is also 34. The PS merged with the EELV list, which won 14.6%, and transfers from EELV to the PS-EELV list in the second round appear to have been good – despite local tensions between both parties on the issue of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes international airport, which the PS (and Ayrault) strongly supports (except for the PS’ left) and which EELV strongly opposes. Both parties agreed to disagree on the airport. The left won 56.2%, down from Hollande’s 61.5% in May 2012, but nevertheless a strong showing.

The PS also retains control of the urban community of Nantes, with an estimated 66 seats against 31 for the right.

Strasbourg

Roland Ries (PS-EELV)* 46.96% – 48 seats
Fabienne Keller (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 45.02% – 15 seats
Jean-Luc Schaffhauser (FN) 8.00% – 2 seats

The reelection of the one-term mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, was one of the few bits of good news for the PS on an otherwise horrendous night for them. The city was held by the PS between 1989 and 2001 before switching to the right with the election of Fabienne Keller (UDF) in 2001, and switching back to the left with Ries’ landslide victory over Keller in 2008. It was one of the UMP’s main targets, and although the city is often a ‘pink spot’ in otherwise rock-solid conservative Alsace, the UMP was confident that with the national climate, a strong candidate and a candidate who is a moderate centrist they could regain Strasbourg. As predicted, the second round was very tight, with Ries winning reelection with 47%. Although the PS obviously insists that Ries was reelected because of his record, it seems very likely that he owes his victory to the triangulaire with the FN, which had barely qualified with 10.9% in the first round. Although there was clear strategic voting or ‘return to the fold’ by first round FN voters – the FN vote fell by nearly 3% and lost over 1,500 votes – it was not enough for the right. Increased turnout – from 49.7% to 54.7% – does not seem to have clearly benefited any candidate.

Rue89 Strasbourg has a map of the results of the second round by precinct. It shows little differences in the broader patterns from the first round, with the PS dominant in the young, well-educated and white-collar bobo areas downtown, gentrified areas (Gare, Esplanade, Krutenau) and the low-income and ethnically diverse peripheral cités (Neuhof, Meinau, Hautepierrre, Cronenburg Ouest, Koenigshoffen and Elsau); the right polling best in the affluent central neighborhoods of L’Orangerie and Contades and the comfortable middle-class suburban neighborhood of Robertsau (north), while also pulling good numbers in the lower middle-class residential suburban areas in the Neuhof, Meinau and Montagne Verte.

The left narrowly saved its majority in the urban community. The PS lost Schiltigheim, the second largest city in the CU, to the UDI but PS incumbents were reelected in Illkirch-Graffenstaden and Ostwald. According to Cadre de Ville, the left holds about 48 seats to the right’s 38, with 3 independents and 1 FN.

Montpellier

Philippe Saurel (DVG-PS diss) 37.54% – 45 seats
Jean-Pierre Moure (PS-EELV-PRG-MRC)^ 27.39% – 9 seats
Jacques Domergue (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 25.87% – 8 seats
France Jamet (FN) 9.18% – 3 seats

In Montpellier, Philippe Saurel, a PS dissident candidate emerged victorious by over 10 points over Jean-Pierre Moure, the president of the agglomeration community and the official candidate of the PS. Saurel, who is said to be close to Valls, is a dentist and former adjoint to retiring PS mayor Hélène Mandroux, refused to participate in primaries (alleging that they would be rigged) and ran as a dissident candidate against Moure, the influential and powerful president of the CA and mayor of a suburban commune, who had been imposed as the PS’ candidate by the local PS establishment and then-Prime Minister Ayrault. Moure was supported by the still influential supporters of late former mayor (1977-2004) and regional presidential (2004-2010) Georges Frêche; Julie Frêche, his daughter, was second on Moure’s list. Also backed by EELV, which is quite strong in Montpellier, and most of the local business community, Moure was seen as the favourite and placed first on March 23, albeit with a mediocre result of 25.3% against 22.9% for Saurel, who presented himself as the ‘anti-system’ candidate. On March 27, Saurel received the endorsement of outgoing PS mayor Hélène Mandroux, who had supported Moure in the first round. Mandroux took her revenge on the party establishment, the PS in the Hérault and on Matignon who had eliminated her from the race and intervened to block her candidacy for another term.

A poll by Ifop had shown Saurel leading Moure by 1 point, 31 to 30, for the second round; but nobody really saw his 10-point victory coming. Saurel, whose support rose by 13,000 votes from the first round, seems to have benefited from increased turnout – which rose from 52.1% to 56.6%, support from FG voters (7.6% in the first round) and perhaps some strategic voting from the right to defeat the PS. The UMP candidate improved his result from 22.7% to 25.9%, representing a gain of about 4,000 votes; the FN, which is weak in Montpellier (unlike in the rest of the department), saw a major decrease in support from the first round, where it had won 13.8% (it lost about 2,800 votes). The result is a major hit to the PS, which suffers the consequences of a badly handled mayoral succession (forcing the incumbent to retire against her will, imposing a candidate, unable to prevent dissidence).

The left is confirmed to hold a solid majority in the future metropolis of Montpellier, which will be created in January 2015.

Lille

Martine Aubry (PS-EELV-PRG-MRC)* 52.05% – 47 seats
Jean-René Lecerf (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 29.71% – 9 seats
Éric Dillies (FN) 18.22% – 5 seats

Martine Aubry, the PS mayor of Lille, was handily reelected to a third term in office at the helm of France’s 10th largest city and a Socialist stronghold since 1919 (except for the German occupation and an ephemeral right-wing Gaullist mayor from 1947 to 1955). Aubry won 52%, up from 34.9% in the first round, an increase of about 9,700 votes; indicating that she had little trouble winning the support of those who had backed EELV (11.1%) or the FG (6.2%) in the first round. In contrast, with no reserves, the UMP’s support increased only marginally, from 22.7% to 29.7% (+3,959). The FN, which had won an exceptionally strong 17.2% in the first round, further increased its support by about 600 votes to 18.2%. The FN won 28.4% in the associated commune of Lomme, a working-class neighborbood in western Lille.

Lille proper, however, was only a silver lining for the PS in the Nord after a fairly horrendous night. The UMP gained Roubaix and Tourcoing, the second and third largest cities in Lille Métropole with populations over 90,000. Both are poor working-class cities which were once major centres for the textile industry, but which have struggled with deindustrialization and now have very high levels of unemployment and poverty (Roubaix is the poorest major city in France). In Roubaix, the PS mayor Pierre Dubois paid the price of a divided left – in the second round, he won 33.2% against 34.8% for the UMP. André Renard, a PS dissident, won 15% of the vote, up from 10% in the first round (he had merged his list with another dissident list, led by former adjoint Richard Olszewski, which took 8% in the first round). The FN placed third with 17%, down from 19% although significantly higher turnout (44.4%, up from 38.4%) meant that it largely held all its votes from the first round. The city had been governed by the left since 1996, after the unusual episode of André Diligent (a UDF mayor from 1983 to 1993, from a Christian left tradition, which is very powerful and influential in the region). In Tourcoing, the young UMP deputy Gérald Darmanin, elected to the National Assembly in 2012, was elected mayor, defeating PS incumbent Michel-François Delannoy, first elected (by the first round) in 2008. Darmanin took 45.6% against 43.4% for the left, seemingly benefiting from rather pronounced FN strategic voting in his favour (he’s on the right of the party) – the FN’s vote fell from 17.5% to 11%, shedding over 1,480 ballots. The gains of Roubaix and Tourcoing are said to give the right a clear majority in the urban community, with about 95 members against 70 for the left, with 9 independents and 5 frontistes according to Cadre de Ville. However, some uncertainty remains, given some division on the right between the UMP and smaller independent right-wing groups; Aubry, on election night, did not concede the control of the urban community, controlled by the left since its creation in 1967 (despite right-wing assaults in 1983, 1995, 2001 and 2008).

Rennes

Nathalie Appéré (PS-EELV-PG-PCF-UDB-PRG)^ 55.83% – 48 seats
Bruno Chavanat (UDI-UMP-MoDem-PCD-PB) 44.16% – 13 seats

Similarly, there was no surprise from Rennes, a left-wing stronghold which has been governed without interruption by the PS since 1977. Nathalie Appéré, the 38-year old deputy for the 2nd constituency since 2012 and the PS candidate, was elected with a wide majority (55.8%) against the UDI’s Bruno Chavanat, a municipal and regional councillor. However, it is the closest fought runoff battle in Rennes since 1983, when first-term PS mayor Edmond Hervé, who went on to hold the office until 2008, was reelected with only 52.8%. It is also down fairly substantially from Hollande’s incredible two-thirds majority in Rennes two years ago. Rennes Open Data has some fabulous interactive maps, for both rounds, with results by precinct which may be of interest to some.

Given that, by itself, Rennes makes up half the population of the Rennes Métropole urban community, the left has retained a comfortable majority in the CU despite the right picking up Bruz and Cesson-Sévigné, the second and third largest towns in Rennes Métropole. Cadre de Ville estimates that the left holds 75 seats to the right’s 27, with 20 independents.

Reims

Arnaud Robinet (UMP-UDI) 46.19% – 44 seats
Adeline Hazan (PS-PCF-EELV)* 42.75% – 12 seats
Roger Paris (FN) 11.04% – 3 seats

The right regained Reims, a city it held between 1983 and 2008 before losing it to the PS, largely because of deep divisions in the UMP back in 2008 which proved very difficult to plaster over in the second round. Adeline Hazan, the one-term PS mayor victorious in 2008, was defeated by about 3 points by her UMP rival, deputy Arnaud Robinet (who ran in alliance with 2008 candidate and fellow deputy Catherine Vautrin). The PS likely hoped that the triangulaire with the FN, which won 16% on March 23, would be enough to save them. But the FN lost over 2,000 votes from the first round, falling 5% to 11%. Given that the right lacked any reserves from first round candidates, the explanation for its victory (and the gain of 5,100 votes) is increased turnout (51.9% to 55.8%) and support from many first round FN supporters. The result in Reims, but also Saint-Étienne, shows that the left can no longer assume that close triangulaires with a weak FN will necessarily be fatal for the right: in an unfavourable national context for the left and given substantial FN loses from the first round, the right is far from out.

Saint-Étienne

Gaël Perdriau (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 47.7% – 44 seats
Maurice Vincent (PS-PCF-PRG)* 40.5% – 12 seats
Gabriel de Peyrecave (FN) 11.79% – 3 seats

Similar to Reims, Saint-Étienne, governed by the right between 1983 and 2008, had been gained by the PS in 2008, due largely to a triangulaire between the incumbent UMP mayor and MoDem candidate Gilles Artigues. The right successfully united its disparate and divided forces, and its candidate, Gaël Perdriau (UMP) ranked ahead of incumbent PS senator-mayor Maurice Vincent, 36.7% to 31.3%. He won the runoff with a solid 7 point majority, 47.7% to 40.5%. Between both rounds, the right increased its support by over 7,700 votes – in the form of first round non-voters (turnout increased by 4.6%) but also, as in Reims, strategic voting from first round FN voters. On March 23, the FN, usually strong in Saint-Étienne, an old industrial city which is struggling with deindustrialization since the 1970s, placed a solid third with over 18%. A week later, the FN won a mediocre 11.8%, losing over 2,500 votes.

The right also regained Saint-Chamond, an industrial town in the Gier valley held by the PS since 1989. The victorious DVD candidate won 50.4% against 39.7% for the PS.

Grenoble

Éric Piolle (EELV-PG-Alternatifs) 40.02% – 42 seats
Jérôme Safar (PS-PCF-PRG-MRC-Cap21)^ 27.45% – 8 seats
Matthieu Chamussy (UMP-UDI-AEI) 23.99% – 7 seats
Mireille d’Ornano (FN) 8.52% – 2 seats

Grenoble was one of the more symbolic and highly contentious races. It began in the first round when, against all predictions, the EELV-PG candidate, EELV regional councillor Éric Piolle, placed ahead of Jérôme Safar, the heir-apparent of retiring PS mayor Michel Dstot (in office since 1995), 29.4% to 25.3%. Against the unwritten rule of the French left which holds that a left-wing candidate placed second or worst withdraws in favour of the strongest left-wing candidate, the PS candidate Jérôme Safar refused to withdraw, citing policy disagreements (related to infrastructure and transportation), although the national PS disendorsed him after pressures from EELV. In the second round, Piolle won very easily, with 40% against 27.5% for Safar. The high interest from the local and national media in the contest led to significantly higher turnout in the second round – 59%, against 52.4% in the first round. Piolle increased his vote count by some 6,900; while Safar gained just over 2,500 votes, the UMP won a bit over 2,700 extra votes and the FN lost over 1,200 votes. Some right-wing supporters likely supported Piolle to defeat the PS, given the right’s poor showing in the second round (24% is barely up on the UMP’s 20.9% in the first round). With only 7 seats for the UMP list, this result also means that former RPR mayor Alain Carignon (1983-1995), whose corruption-marred tenure continues to haunt the weak right, will not be in the new municipal council – he was placed ninth on the UMP list.

The left retains a very wide majority on the council of the future Métropole de Grenoble, with an estimated 72 seats against only 27 for the right. However, the EELV victory in Grenoble and the defeat (by a PS dissident) of the incumbent PS president of the urban community in the suburban commune of Eybens renders the construction of a new left-wing majority in the metro council a daunting task.

Other major races

Angers

Christophe Béchu (UMP) 54.36% – 43 seats
Frédéric Béatse (PS-PCF-EELV)* 45.64% – 12 seats

The right’s victory in Angers closes 37 years of left-wing rule. Christophe Béchu, the UMP president of the general council and senator, was successful on his second attempt to win the city of Angers (he lost to the PS incumbent in an extremely close race in 2008). He benefited from the national climate, but also from the divisions of the left – the incumbent PS mayor, Frédéric Béatse, took office midterm in 2012 and faced a dissident candidacy from Jean-Luc Rotureau, a PS councillor. Rotureau placed third with 16.2% in the first round, before opting to withdraw his list without endorsing anybody. Béatse nevertheless likely won the lion’s share of the dissident’s support, ending up with 1,100 more votes than the combined first round total of the PS and dissident; but beyond raw numbers, it is likely that transfers were still far from perfect and may have dragged the left down.

Aix-en-Provence

Maryse Joissains-Masini (UMP)* 52.61% – 42 seats
Édouard Baldo (PS) 36.49% – 10 seats
Catherine Rouvier (FN) 10.89% – 3 seats

UMP mayor Maryse Joissains-Masini was easily reelected to a third term in office, with 52.6% against 36.5% for her PS opponent. She weathered a series of controversies, a judicial investigation against her in late 2013 and a divided majority. She increased her vote count by 7,292 votes from the first round, likely taking the lion’s share of Bruno Genanza (UDI)’s 11.3% in the first round (about 5,80o v0tes). Genanza is a former ally of the mayor, who ran a list with UMP dissidents, before withdrawing from the second round without endorsing any candidate. On the left, the PS candidate had trouble winning over the votes of all non-qualified left-wing candidates from the first round: François-Xavier de Peretti, the son of a former UDF mayor and a former MoDem member/candidate himself, ran a list with PS dissidents with Guérini’s support, taking 8.1% in the first round but did not merge with the PS list. EELV won 4.9% and the FG won 4.8% as well. Together, these left-wing candidacies accounted for 37.4% in the first round.

Brest

François Cuillandre (PS-PCF-EELV)* 52.71% – 42 seats
Bernadette Malgorn (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 47.28% – 13 seats

A surprisingly narrow reelection for the incumbent PS mayor of Brest, François Cuillandre, who was widely expected to win by a wide margin. Brest is a largely working-class city, with a socialist tradition dating back to the early twentieth century. In May 2012, Hollande won 63% of the vote in the city, winning especially strong results in the post-war cités and grands ensembles, home to a lower-income populations. The PS has governed the city since 1989, and Cuillandre won reelection six years ago with 60.7% in the second round, after having won 45.8% in the first round. This year, the UMP was divided and they chose not to choose between their two candidates – Laurent Prunier, the 2008 candidate and the leader of the UMP in the Finistère, and Bernadette Malgorn, a former regional prefect who has been regional councillor since 2010. Malgorn won 27.7% in the first round, a distant second behind Cuillandre (42.5%) but far ahead of Prunier (10%) and the FN (9.8%). Malgorn, by the looks of it, successfully won the bulk of Prunier and the FN’s vote, which amounted to roughly 47% in the first round. The left retains a large 46-24 majority in Brest Métropole Océane.

Limoges

Émile-Roger Lombertie (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 45.07% – 40 seats
Alain Rodet (PS-FG-PRG-ADS-EELV)* 43.81% – 12 seats
Vincent Gérard (FN) 11.1% – 3 seats

Limoges was perhaps the most surprising result of the night. The city has been a hotbed of socialism for over a hundred years, and Limoges has a very symbolic place in French socialist mythology. Historically an industrial city (porcelain, enamel, textile), Limoges was the birthplace of the CGT trade union in 1895 and was marked by a significant and violent workers’ strike in 1905. During World War II, Limoges, like most of the Limousin, was a hotbed of resistance to the Nazi occupation, and Georges Guingouin, the leader of the communist maquis, served as mayor of the city between 1945 and 1947. The city has been governed by the left since 1912, specifically by Socialists between 1912 and 1941 and since 1947. The current mayor, Alain Rodet, took office in 1990, succeeding Louis Longequeue, who had been mayor since 1956. 1989 was the closest the right ever came to challenging the PS’ hegemony in Limoges – Longequeue was forced into a second round with the right and the Greens, and only won by 1.2% (40.9% to 39.7%). Since then, however, Rodet has been reelected by the first round; in 2008, he was reelected with 56.5% in the first round against 20.8% for the right. In May 2012, Hollande won 64.9% of the vote in the second round. This year, in the first round, Rodet won a very mediocre 30.1% in the first round, against 23.8% for the right’s candidate, a little-known psychiatrist named Émile-Roger Lombertie. The surprise came from the FN, which won nearly 17% of the vote in a city where the far-right has usually been weak (and absent from municipal elections, except for 1995 and 2001) and which only gave 14.8% to Marine Le Pen two years ago. The FG won 14.2%, and a UDI list took 12.3%. The FG list merged with Rodet’s PS list, while the UDI list merged with the UMP list.

In the second round, shocking almost everybody, the UMP narrowly won, with 45.1% against 43.8% for the left. Lombertie increased his first round vote by over 10,500 ballots – certainly drawing most of the UDI’s 5,451 votes but also benefiting from strategic voting from some FN supporters – the FN lost over 2,300 votes, dropping from 17% to 11% of the vote; some first round protest voters opting to vote strategically or ‘traditionally’ (for their preferred party) in the second round. Turnout also increased by about 4%. Besides the national climate, Rodet suffered from voter weariness and the lack of renewal in the outgoing majority. He is a long-time politician, having held elected office since 1977 (deputy since 1981). Small policy mishaps and small communication mistakes further accumulated to create trouble for the governing majority.

France3 Limousin has graphics showing the results of the first and second round by neighborhood. The right performed best in downtown Limoges, traditionally the most bourgeois (and hence right-leaning) area, with a peak at 68% of the vote in the Émailleurs neighborhood, Limoges’ traditional bourgeois neighborhood. The left still performed best in the quartiers populaires on the outskirts of the city – although it faced tough competition from the FN, especially in the first round: the FN won nearly 32% in La Bastide, a low-income neighborhood. The left’s support in these peripheral lower-income areas was nevertheless down very significantly from 2012: Hollande had won over 65%, often over 70%, in most of these neighborhoods. This year, the left peaked at just over 50% in the best of cases.

Tours

Serge Babary (UMP-UDI) 49.75% – 42 seats
Jean Germain (PS-EELV-PCF-MoDem)* 41.65% – 11 seats
Gilles Godefroy (FN) 8.56% – 2 seats

After 19 years in power, the incumbent PS senator-mayor of Tours, Jean Germain, lost reelection to UMP businessman Serge Babary. Germain, who had himself defeated another longtime mayor back in 1995 (Jean Royer, who ruled from 1959 to 1995), had been a generally popular mayor until now, but the right had criticized him for a lack of ambitious projects and a lack of transparency. Germain was likely weakened by the national climate but also by weariness after three terms in office and his indictment for embezzlement in a corruption case in 2013. Germain trailed the right by about 9 points in the first round, but he could count on the backing of EELV’s 11.3% in the first round. Judging from the result, if EELV’s votes transferred reasonably well, the 8.4% who had voted for a PG-NPA list transferred rather messily. Germain fell about 1,500 votes short of the first round total of PS+EELV+PG-NPA. On the right, Serge Babary also benefited from higher turnout (+3.5%) the FN’s losses in a triangulaire (-4.3%, lost over 1,500 votes).

Amiens

Brigitte Fouré (UDI-UMP-MoDem) 50.38% – 42 seats 
Thierry Bonté (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-MRC)^ 33.8% – 9 seats
Yves Dupille (FN) 15.8% – 4 seats

After the first round, in which UDI candidate Brigitte Fouré (a general councillor and former mayor) led the PS candidate by 20 points, it made little doubt that the right would easily regain Amiens, lost to the left in 2008 (after 19 years in right-wing hands). PS candidate Thierry Bonté, a vice-president of the agglomeration community, managed to do little more than win the bulk of the FG’s first round support (8.9%), but seemingly failed to win much of the far-left and DVG votes from the first round; that brought him to only 33.8%, over 16 points behind Fouré who increased her own support from 44.8% to 50.4%. The FN gained some 242 votes from the first round, increasing their vote a few decimals to 15.8%.

Metz

Dominique Gros (PS-PRG-EELV)* 43.22% – 40 seats
Marie-Jo Zimmermann (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 41.14% – 11 seats
Françoise Grolet (FN) 15.63% – 4 seats

Metz was a very rare piece of good news for the left on March 30. The left had gained the city, for the first time in at least 100 years, in 2008 thanks to a divided right (4 in the first round, 2 in the runoff). In the first round, PS mayor Dominique Gros, who had culture minister Aurélie Filippetti in second on his list, placed first with 35.7% against 34.2% for a reunited right, led by UMP deputy Marie-Jo Zimmermann. The FN, led by regional councillor Françoise Grolet, performed very well, winning 21.3% – a result substantially better than Marine Le Pen’s 17.3% and past FN results in municipal elections. In the second round, the FN lost 5.7% and over 1,600 votes, largely to the benefit of the UMP (+3,299 votes) but perhaps some to the left as well. Dominique Gros also benefited from good transfers from the FG (3.6%) and the NPA-FASE (3.3%).

Perpignan

Jean-Marc Pujol (UMP-UDI)* 55.11% – 43 seats
Louis Aliot (FN) 44.88% – 12 seats

Perpignan was the largest city in which the FN stood a fighting chance, and it had some optimism after its well-implanted local candidate, Louis Aliot (a party vice-president and the boyfriend of FN leader Marine Le Pen), placed first with 34.2% against 30.7% for UMP mayor Jean-Marc Pujol. To prevent a FN victory, the PS candidate, deputy Jacques Cresta, who won only 11.9% in the first round, withdrew. With the left withdrawing, the UMP’s victory made little doubt. On paper, the FN had no obvious reserves from any of the other first round candidates (besides the PS, a centrist candidate won 9.6% and EELV won 5.7%), but it nevertheless increased its support by nearly 11 points and about 4,800 votes. The FN’s additional support came from non-voters – turnout increased from 57% to 62.8% – but it is also clear that, in Perpignan and across the country, the FN now has the ability to substantially increase its support in two-way runoffs against the traditional left or right.

Rouen

Yvon Robert (PS-EELV-PCF)* 46.8% – 41 seats
Jean-François Bures (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 41.48% – 11 seats
Guillaume Pennelle (FN) 11.71% – 3 seats

A rare incidence in recent local politics in Rouen – a sitting mayor won reelection (it hadn’t happened since 1989) and a rare victory for the left on March 30. Incumbent PS mayor Yvon Robert, who had previously held the office from 1995 to 2001 before regaining it in 2012 after Valérie Fourneyron, the PS mayor elected in 2008, was named to Ayrault’s government (she still placed second on his list this year), was reelected with 46.8% against 41.5% for the right. Transfers from EELV, which took 11.1% in the first round before merging with the PS’ lists, were quite good and transfers from the PG appeared to be reasonably good as well. On the right, the UDI list, which won 13.6% before merging with the UMP, transferred well. The FN’s vote fell by about 400 votes and 1.7%; it was insufficient to allow the right to make up the distance which separated it from the left. As in Metz, the PS owes a lot to a triangulaire with the FN.

Mulhouse

Jean Rottner (UMP-UDI)* 45.77% – 41 seats
Pierre Freyburger (PS-EELV-PRG-MoDem) 36.67% – 10 seats
Martine Binder (FN) 17.55% – 4 seats

In a better year for the left, the PS would certainly have stood a very good chance of gaining Mulhouse, which it held from 1989 to 2007 (the PS mayor, Jean-Marie Bockel, defected to the right after Sarkozy’s victory, joining the Fillon cabinet) and which it came extremely close to winning in 2008. However, in the current climate, UMP mayor Jean Rottner was easily reelected with a 9 point majority over PS candidate Pierre Freyburger. The PS had woefully insufficient reserves, 3.1% from the FG and 1.5% from LO, which it likely won over in the second round, but it had nothing else. The UMP increased its vote by 1,765, likely drawing a lot of strategic or ‘traditional’ votes back from the FN, whose support fell from a very strong 21.9% on March 23 to 17.6% in the runoff (a loss of over 700 votes).

Caen

Joël Bruneau (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 57.03% – 43 seats
Philippe Duron (PS-EELV-PCF-PRG-MRC)* 42.96% – 12 seats

After decades of coming up short, the left gained Caen in 2008 – ending the right’s hold on the city, which had endured since 1945; but six years later, the UMP easily regained Caen, defeating first-term PS mayor Philippe Duron. After the first round, Duron already trailed UMP regional councillor Joël Bruneau, 26.2% to 30.8%, and the right could count on much heftier reserves – UDI candidate Sonia de la Provôté, a municipal and general councillor who was one of the UDI’s highest hopes in its ‘primaries’ with the UMP, won 18%, much less than the UDI might have hoped for but nevertheless a strong reserve for the right (the UDI list merged without a hitch into the UMP list). The PS needed to look to EELV, which performed well with 10.2% in the first round, for potential reserves. The right drew the UDI’s support, but also most of the FN’s vote (7.3%), giving it 57% of the vote. On the left, PS mayor Philippe Duron likely drew EELV and PG-NPA (5.8%) votes. But it was very clear from the first round that the left stood little chance of victory.

Saint-Denis (93)

Didier Paillard (FG-EELV-MRC)* 50.49% – 42 seats
Mathieu Hanotin (PS) 49.50% – 13 seats

A working-class and heavily industrialized town in Paris’ suburban Red Belt, Saint-Denis has been a PCF stronghold since 1922 and, more broadly, a left-wing stronghold (77.8% for Hollande in May 2012, Sarkozy only won 12% in the first round). It remains a low-income suburb, with a very high immigrant population, high unemployment and a very young population. The PCF’s all-around dominance in Saint-Denis and the whole department has been challenged by the PS and, in most national elections, the PCF is no longer the largest party in Saint-Denis. In 2012, in a major blow, the PS gained Saint-Denis’ constituency from the FG. This year, that new PS deputy, Mathieu Hanotin, sought to topple what is the largest city in France governed by the PCF and one of the longest-standing PCF bastions in the country. In the first round, PCF mayor Didier Paillard placed first with 40.2% against 34.3% for Hanotin. The UMP-UDI candidate, who won only 8.8% on March 23, did not qualify but the right’s minimal support could be expected to prefer the PS over the PCF (as it has in similar situations elsewhere); there was, however, a PS dissident on the left, Georges Sali, who won 7.7% and formally merged his list with the FG. Predicted to be close, the second round lived up to expectations. Paillard was reelected with a tiny majority of 181 votes.

Next door, in Aubervilliers, in one of the rare good results for the PCF/FG on March 30, former PCF mayor Pascal Beaudet, defeated by the PS in 2008, won his rematch with PS mayor Jacques Salvator, winning 45.7% to 38.9% for the PS, with the right taking 15.4%.

Nancy

Laurent Hénart (UDI-UMP-MoDem)^ 52.91% – 42 seats
Mathieu Klein (PS-PCF-EELV-PRG) 47.08% – 13 seats

Nancy, governed by the right since 1945, was one of the great disappointments for the left. Prior to the first round, with longtime UDI mayor André Rossinot stepping down in favour of his dauphin, former deputy Laurent Hénart, the PS felt that it could gain Nancy from the right (with a strong candidate, Mathieu Klein, a VP of the general council). Polls gave it even more reason to be optimistic. But, in the first round, Hénart placed first with 40.5%, with a substantial edge over the PS (35.8%) – which had no reserves except the PG (5.4%). The left, given first round results, did rather well in the second round – it won about 1,700 votes more than the first round PS+PG total, despite little change in turnout. The right seemingly had some trouble winning the bulk of the FN vote (6.9%), falling about 1,300 votes short of the right+DVD+FN total in the first round. Laurent Hénart’s centrist and moderate profile on the right may have had a negative effect on transfers from the far-right. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and this is a victory which comes in a city in which the PS had such high hopes.

Montreuil

Patrice Bessac (FG-EELV-PS)  37.06% – 38 seats
Jean-Pierre Brard (CAP) 35.39% – 10 seats
Manon Laporte (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 18.14% – 5 seats
Mouna Viprey (DVG) 9.39% – 2 seats

Montreuil, an historically working-class Red Belt suburb which has seen major gentrification in the Bas-Montreuil in the past decades, was one of the most closely-watched left-wing civil wars. In the first round, former mayor Jean-Pierre Brard (mayor from 1984 to 2008, a former Communist) led with a mediocre result of 25.5%, with FG candidate Patrice Bessac (PCF), a regional councillor, placing second with 18.8%. Ibrahim Dufriche-Soilihi (EELV), the candidate backed by retiring EELV mayor Dominique Voynet, elected over Brard in 2008 but whose term was a trainwreck marred by the defection of PS dissidents who had backed her over Brard in 2008, placed fourth with 15.3%. One of those PS dissidents who later broke with Voynet was Mouna Viprey (DVG), who won 11% in the first round. The most humiliating result was that of Razzy Hammadi, the local PS deputy who won Montreuil’s constituency in 2012 by defeating Brard. Backed by the PS boss of the department, Claude Bartolone, Hammadi won only 9.8% – the worst result of the five main leftist candidates. Brard’s age and his autocratic tendencies make him a polarizing figure, and he faced a united front of the FG, EELV and PS (Hammadi did not take a spot on the merged list, preferring to focus on his job as deputy) in the second round. This united front won the second round, but with a small majority of only 494 votes. The FG-EELV-PS alliance fell far short of its potential (43.9%, about 12.5k votes; it won 10,990 votes and 37.1%); a lot of their potential supporters likely backed Brard, a well-known figure in Montreuil who retains a very strong base in the low-income and far less gentrified cités of the Haut-Montreuil.

Avignon

Cécile Helle (PS-FG-EELV) 47.47% – 40 seats
Philippe Lottiaux (FN) 35.02% – 9 seats
Bernard Chaussegros (UMP)^ 17.5% – 4 seats

Avignon attracted the interest of the national and foreign media after the first round, when FN candidate Philippe Lottiaux placed first with 29.6% of the vote, although only 27 votes ahead of Cécile Helle, a PS regional councillor. Judging from the media’s concern trolling and silly overreactions, one would certainly have thought that the FN was the favourite in the second round. Olivier Py, the director of the Avignon festival, a popular theater festival held in the city’s historic heart during the summer months, warned after the first round that he would ask for the festival to be moved if the FN won. However, there was little chance of a FN victory. Helle turned to André Castelli, a FG general councillor whose list won 12.5% in the first round and merged with the PS-EELV list. The far-right had no obvious reserves. Cécile Helle was easily elected, with 47.5% against 35% for the FN. The city had been held since 1995 by RPR/UMP mayor Marie-Josée Roig, who retired this year after corruption and nepotism allegations. Her preferred successor, a little-known businessman who moved back from Paris recently, won only 20.9% in the first round. In the second round, the UMP lost about 250 votes, falling to only 17.5%. While in the traditional left-right-FN triangulaires, the trend is for the FN vote to decline somewhat due to strategic voting largely in the right’s favour, in Avignon there must have been some strategic voting from the right (a UDI candidate also won 4.8%) for the FN, to block the left. Lottiaux won an additional 3,200 votes – increasing his support to 35%. Turnout increased from 57.2% to 65.4%, as was the case in other cities which saw the FN perform very well in the first round. Increased turnout did not only come in the form of anti-FN mobilization from non-voters, it must also have come from the mobilization of potential far-right supporters who hadn’t voted on March 23.

Pau

François Bayrou (MoDem-UMP-UDI) 62.95%
David Habib (PS)^ 37.04%

Three-time presidential candidate and the leader of the MoDem, François Bayrou, was elected mayor of Pau in a landslide – six years after coming very close but ultimately losing to the PS. Although he had personally endorsed Hollande over Sarkozy in 2012, Bayrou successfully lobbied for the support of the UMP (notably through the support of Bayrou’s friend and ally, Alain Juppé, the UMP mayor of Bordeaux), which begrudgingly endorsed him (in return for the MoDem’s support for the UMP in many other cities, notably Paris). Given the national climate and the prospect of ending 43 years of left-wing control in Pau, the right largely united behind Bayrou, who won a very strong 41.9% in the first round against only 25.8% for David Habib, a PS deputy and suburban mayor, the left’s candidate to succeed retiring PS mayor Martine Lignières-Cassou (the fact that her preferred candidate wasn’t selected and that Habib sidelined many of her allies was further help for Bayrou). Bayrou also ran a very locally-oriented campaign, deliberately sidestepping national political issues and national media crews. Yves Urieta, a former PS-turned-centre right mayor (from 2006 t0 2008), won 13.2% running as a DVD independent, but did not maintain his list in the runoff. Bayrou predictably won, winning the vast majority of Urieta’s support and a reasonable number of votes from the FN (6.7%). With this victory and the recent political retirement of UDI leader Jean-Louis Borloo for health reasons, Bayrou is suddenly on a much stronger political footing than he was after the humiliating loss of his own seat in the National Assembly in June 2012.

La Rochelle

Jean-François Fountaine (DVG-PS diss-PRG) 43.68% -35 seats 
Anne-Laure Jaumouillié (PS)^ 40.1% – 10 seats
Dominique Morvant (UMP-UDI) 16.21% – 4 seats

Jean-François Fountaine, a vice-president of the agglomeration community, was elected mayor of La Rochelle as a PS dissident. The candidacy and subsequent defeat of Ségolène Royal by a local PS dissident in the 2012 legislative elections has left major cracks in the PS machine of retiring mayor Maxime Bono (in office since 1999), who had endorsed Royal. The candidate backed by the mayor, Anne-Laure Jaumouillié, a 34-year old teacher who was a municipal councillor since 2008, won the PS primaries by 34 votes over Jean-François Fountaine, a veteran 62-year old politician who is vice-president of the CA La Rochelle. Fountaine, who was a regional councillor between 1992 and 2010, and had a very public spat with Ségolène in 2008 and strongly supported Falorni in 2012 (which led to his falling out with Bono). Alleging irregularities, he refused to withdraw and ran as a dissident candidate. In the first round, the two PS candidates ended up with similar results: 30.2% for Jaumouillié against 28.8% for Fountaine. Like in 2012, the left-wing civil war also drew down the UMP vote – the UMP’s candidate won 24.5% in 2008 (Bono was reelected by the first round) and Sarkozy won 24.2% in April 2012. A small but significant number of right-wingers likely voted for Fountaine by the first round. In the second round, some of the right’s first round voters defected to vote strategically for Fountaine against the PS; the UMP vote fell by 646 votes to 16.2%. A good number of FN voters may also have backed Fountaine, who picked up over 4,100 votes between both rounds. Jaumouillié only won an additional 2,800 votes.

Béziers

Robert Ménard (FN-DLR-MPF-RPF) 46.98% – 37 seats
Élie Aboud (UMP)^ 34.62% – 8 seats
Jean-Michel Du Plaa (PS-EELV) 18.38% – 4 seats

Béziers was the largest town to be won by the far-right, with the election of Robert Ménard, the former boss of Reporters Without Borders who ran as an ‘independent’ with the support of the FN and three smaller right-wing parties (Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s DLR and the moribund MPF and RPF). The surprise came from the first round, where Ménard placed a comfortable first with 44.9% against 30.2% for UMP deputy Élie Aboud, the candidate of retiring three-term mayor Raymond Couderc (UMP); polls had picked up a late swing to Ménard, but they hadn’t foreseen such a decisive lead in the first round. The left’s candidate, Jean-Michel Du Plaa, who won a very distant third place with only 18.7%, did not withdraw, making Ménard’s election something of a mere formality. Without surprises, Ménard was elected mayor with nearly 47% against 34.6% for the UMP. Ménard gained about 1,800 more votes from the first round, partly benefiting from higher turnout (63.3% to 68.5%). The right gained 2,174 votes and the left won only 386 more votes. The left’s argument for staying in was that it could hope to gain from the support of FG voters, whose list had won 6.3% in the first round. However, squeezed and with no chance of victory, some voters on the left either stayed home, spoiled their ballot, voted strategically for the UMP against the far-right or voted Ménard.

Ajaccio

Laurent Marcangeli (UMP-UDI-Bonapartist) 47.10% – 37 seats
Simon Renucci (CSD)* 46.03% – 11 seats
Joseph Filippi (Aiacciu Cità Nova-Nationalist) 6.86% – 1 seat

The two-term centre-left mayor of Ajaccio, Simon Renucci, was defeated by UMP defeated Laurent Marcangeli, who had defeated Renucci two years ago in the legislative elections. Renucci had placed narrowly ahead in the first round, but Marcangeli took advantage of better reserves (the FN, with 8.3%, a DVD with 2.8%). Joseph Filippi, the common candidate of both major nationalist parties in Corsica (Femu a Corsica and Corsica Libera), saw his support decline in the second round – he won 6.9%, down from 10.8%, losing about 730 votes.

Quimper

Ludovic Jolivet (UMP-UDI-MoDem) 56.65% – 39 seats
Bernard Poignant (PS-EELV-PCF)* 43.34% – 10 seats

The right gained Quimper, a pleasant town of some 63,000 people in western Brittany (Finistère) which has leaned to the left in the past presidential elections (63.5% for Hollande) but which is more unstable at the local level – the PS, led by Bernard Poignant, a former mayor (1989-2001) and close ally of President Hollande, gained the city from the right in 2008. Poignant, who may have paid the price of his well-known proximity with the President and perhaps the effects of the bonnets rouges protests in Brittany last year, already trailed Ludovic Jolivet, a former adjoint au maire under UMP mayor Alain Gérard (2001-2008), in the first round – 29.3% to 27.9%. Isabelle le Bal, a MoDem municipal councillor, won 14.9% but merged her list with the right. The mayor’s reserve were smaller – 7.6% for EELV, which merged, 6.1% for a regionalist leftist list and 5.8% for the PG – and also less reliable. With good transfers from the MoDem and probably the FN (8.4%), the right easily regained Quimper with 56.7%.

Villejuif

Franck Le Bohellec (UMP-UDI-DVG-EELV) 48.69% – 34 seats
Claudine Cordillot (FG-PS-MRC)* 43.52% – 10 seats
Alexandre Gaborit (FN) 7.78% – 1 seat

Villejuif is an old working-class Red Belt suburb in the Val-de-Marne, governed by the PCF since 1925. PCF mayor Claudine Cordillot (in office since 1999) has been criticized, even on the left, for her urban densification policies, tax increases, insecurity problems and inefficient public services. In the first round, supported by the PS, her list won only 32.7%, down from over 45% in 2008. A PS dissident list led by former adjoint Philippe Vidal placed fifth with 10.6%, and an EELV list (with former MEP Alain Lipietz in second) won 10.4%. In second place, a UMP list led by Franck Le Bohellec won 17.2%, a UDI list won 15.8% and the FN won 11.2%. The very bad relations between the mayor’s PCF-PS majority and left-wing rivals (EELV had already run independently in 2008) allowed for the creation of an unusual anti-communist alliance with the merger of the UMP, UDI, PS dissident and EELV lists. The national leadership of EELV decried the ‘counter-natural’ alliance of the local EELV with the right, suspended the candidate from the party and allowed the PCF-PS to use EELV’s logo. Such unusual alliances are not totally uncommon in cases where the incumbent is heavily criticized within his own majority, allowing for dissidents and rivals to ally with the other side to topple him/her.

The alliance’s total vote fell short of its theoretical total from the first round (54%), although with increased turnout (+6.4%) it did win more raw votes than the combined first round total of the first round (7,581 vs 7,422). Some of the DVG and EELV’s lists supporters likely voted for the incumbent instead, not recognizing themselves in a right-wing led alliance, but transfers on the whole were still rather good (and good enough to win!). The FN’s support also dipped somewhat, falling from 11.2% to 7.8% (-330 votes). The new majority, given how heterogeneous it is and why it came together, will probably not survive its entire term. The winning list’s 34 seats include 11 UMP, 10 UDI, 7 DVG and 6 EELV; the actual left, with the 13 seats allied with the right and the FG-PS-MRC’s 10 seats, retain a majority.

Fréjus

David Rachline (FN) 45.55% – 33 seats
Philippe Mougin (UMP-UDI) 30.43% – 7 seats
Élie Brun (DVD-UMP diss)* 24.01% – 5 seat

Fréjus, a town on the Mediterranean coast in the Var, was the second largest town conquered by the FN. On the Mediterranean Riviera, tourism is a key industry in Fréjus, but with the exception of one part of the town (Saint-Aygulf), Fréjus – unlike its neighbor Saint-Raphaël, isn’t a resort town and it is significantly poorer than tourist resort towns in the Var (Saint-Raphaël, Sainte-Maxime, Saint-Tropez). Instead, it is a lower middle-class town with a large population of employees and artisans/shopkeepers. Like other southeastern towns where the FN did well this year, Fréjus has problems with desertification and pauperization of the old downtown and concerns with criminality. In 2012, Marine Le Pen won 26% in Fréjus; in the 2002 runoff, her father won 31.9% against Chirac. The city is otherwise a right-wing stronghold, with 67% for Sarkozy in the runoff in 2012. This year, the problem was that the right was badly divided. Incumbent mayor Élie Brun (ex-UMP), who has been mayor since 1997, when he succeeded François Léotard, the UDF mayor between 1977 and 1997, was sentenced in January 2014 to a 20,000 euro and five ineligibility from public office in a conflict of interest case. The UMP refused to endorse him, and instead backed Philippe Mougin, a former adjoint to Brun. In the first round, the FN candidate, David Rachline, a former FN youth leader elected to the municipal council in 2008 (12.5% of the vote) and to the PACA regional council in 2010, won 40.3%. Mougin trailed in a very distant second with 18.85%, with 17.6% for Brun and 15.58% for PS candidate Elsa di Méo. The PS candidate withdrew to block the FN, but the two right-wing candidates failed to reach an agreement. The divisions of the right made it a near-certainty that the FN would emerge victorious, and it did. Rachline’s support increased by 1,348 votes; the UMP gained 2,804 votes and the mayor gained 1,569 votes.

Corbeil-Essonnes

Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP-UDI)* 56.52% – 34 seats
Bruno Piriou (FG) 43.47% – 9 seats

Corbeil-Essonnes is a low-income, working-class suburban town in the Essonne department which is solidly left-wing at the national level (63% for Hollande) but which has been governed by the right since 1995, after 36 years of Communist rule. The local right is led by UMP senator Serge Dassault, a businessman who remains owner of Le Figaro and leading player in the family enterprise, the aeronautics and weaponry giant Dassault. Dassault was mayor until 2009, when he was declared ineligible for public office in a vote buying case from the 2008 election (when he defeated the PCF 50.7% to 49.3%). His protege, Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP), won a 2009 by-election and another by-election in 2010, has also been indicted for benefiting from vote buying and electoral corruption organized by Dassault in the last 3 elections. In the first round, Bechter placed first with 45.5%. The left remains very divided: the FG candidate, PCF general councillor Bruno Piriou, narrowly defeated his PS rival, deputy and general councillor Carlos da Silva, 22.3% to 21.1%. Both lists merged, but vote transfers from the PS and smaller left-wing lists (2 DVG, 1 far-left) proved very poor, given that, in the first round, the left held a theoretical majority but only won 43.5% in the second round. Bechter won an additional 1,607 votes – either from left-wing voters who didn’t ‘follow orders’ or first round non-voters (turnout increased from 48.7% to 52.3%)

Bastia

Gilles Simeoni (Inseme per Bastia-DVG-PRG diss-EELV-UMP) 55.4% – 34 seats
Jean Zuccarelli (PRG-PCF)^ 44.59% – 9 seats

A political sea-change in Bastia: the Zuccarelli clan, which has governed the city since 1888, was ousted from office. The root of the dynastic overthrow is a failed dynastic succession: the incumbent mayor of Bastia (since 1989), Émile Zuccarelli (PRG), retired and anointed his rather hapless son Jean as his successor, in the process alienating a former ally who saw himself as Zuccarelli’s dauphin, François Tatti. Tatti ran a dissident list with the backing of local PS politician Emmanuelle de Gentili and EELV. Zuccarelli’s strongest competition came from Gilles Simeoni, a prominent moderate nationalist leader on the island who is the son of nationalist icon Edmond Simeoni. In the first round, Zuccarelli Jr came in first, with 32.5%, but only 29 votes ahead of Simeoni. In a distant third, Tatti won 14.6% and the UMP list won 9.7%. Simeoni, Tatti and the UMP merged lists to create a united anti-Zuccarelli front. Although transfers were far from perfect (Simeoni fell 181 votes short of the first round total of Simeoni+Tatti+UMP), the result was still a very comfortable victory for Simeoni. Bastia becomes the largest city in France to be governed by a regionalist/nationalist.

Forbach

Laurent Kalinowski (PS)* 47.73% – 27 seats
Florian Philippot (FN) 35.17% – 6 seats
Éric Diligent (DVD) 11.87% – 2 seats
Alexandre Cassaro (UMP) 5.22% – 0 seats

In eastern Moselle’s old coal mining basin, another FN leader – vice-president Florian Philippot – sought to establish his own local roots. Forbach, the largest city in the Moselle’s coal basin, is a working-class and economically depressed (14% unemployment, declining population since 1982) town. The right governed the city between 1953 and 2008, and generally held the corresponding canton for most of that time as well. The incumbent PS mayor, Laurent Kalinowski gained the city in 2008 because of a very divided right. In 2012, Kalinowski was elected deputy, narrowly defeated Philippot in a two-way runoff – the UMP deputy was eliminated by the first round. Although local left-wingers are quick to point out that Philippot is a carpetbagger with little local knowledge of the place (Philippot is a well-educated and polished technocrat) and only plays on residents’ fears, he has nonetheless managed to establish a strong base for himself. In the first round, Philippot placed first with 35.7% against 33% for the PS mayor. The right paid the price of its divisions and performed poorly: centre-right independent Éric Diligent won 19%, while official UMP candidate Alexandre Cassaro won a terrible 12.3%. The right-wing candidates found no agreement amongst themselves and did not withdraw to form a ‘republican front’ against the FN. However, given the very real threat of a FN victory, some on the right advocated for strategic voting for the PS – UMP deputy Céleste Lett, the mayor of Sarreguemines, endorsed Kalinowski. In the second round, there was a significant increase in voter mobilization: turnout increased from 56% to 62.5%. The result was a surprisingly comfortable reelection for the PS incumbent, with 47.7% against 35.2% for the FN. Philippot only won an additional 290 votes. The two right-wing candidates saw their support dry up: Diligent lost 450 votes, the UMP guy lost 507 votes and fell to only 5.2% of the vote. Seemingly, the public endorsement of the PS incumbent by a locally prominent UMP personality had a major impact on a lot of right-wing supporters who chose to vote strategically for the PS to defeat the FN.

Other results

An incomplete summary: for results from every place in France, check out Le Point’s interactive map.

In Dijon, the two-term PS mayor François Rebsamen was reelected with 52.8% against 34% for the UMP and 13.1% for the FN. Rebsamen, who was first elected in 2001, will not be serving out his third term given that he was named to the new Valls government.

In the Lyon suburban municipality of Villeurbanne, a PS stronghold, PS incumbent Jean-Paul Bret was reelected with 45.5% against 25% for the UMP, 15.9% for the FN and 13.7% for EELV. The PCF narrowly lost the old Communist stronghold of Vaulx-en-Velin, a working-class Lyon suburb held by the party since 1929. The PS won 41.7% against 39.2% for the FG/PCF incumbent and 19.1% for the UMP.

The PS held Le Mans, with PS incumbent Jean-Claude Boulard winning narrowly with 45.7% against 42.7% for the UMP and 11.5% for the FN. In the neighboring department of the Mayenne, the UDI gained Laval, gained by the PS in 2008. UDI senator François Zocchetto, an ally of the UDI senator/president of the general council Jean Arthuis, was elected with 51.6% against 41.1% for PS mayor Jean-Christophe Boyer, a little-known new incumbent who took the office in 2012 when the PS député-maire Guillaume Garot, an ally of Ségolène Royal, was named to Ayrault’s government.

Jean-Paul Fournier, the UMP mayor of Nîmes, won reelection with no trouble taking 46.8% against 24.4% for the FN, 14.8% for the FG and a horrible 13.9% for the PS.

In Clermont-Ferrand, PS candidate Olivier Bianchi successfully held the open seat in a city governed by the PS since 1945. He won 47.8% against 41.3% for the UMP and 10.9% for the FN. Bianchi’s PS list had merged with a FG/far-left list led by Alain Laffont, which took 11.5% in the first round. The UMP did not find an agreement with Michel Fanget, a former UDF deputy whose MoDem list won 8% in the first round. Another solid PS stronghold, Besançon, in Socialist hands since 1953, saw the reelection of PS mayor Jean-Louis Fousseret with 47.4% against 44.4% for the UMP and 8.2% for the FN. As in Brest, Le Mans and Clermont, there was a trend of PS incumbents or candidates in Socialist strongholds winning reelection but with surprisingly narrow margins against a weak right-wing opposition which we didn’t think much of.

The PS easily held Poitiers, with the reelection of mayor Alain Claeys, with 41.1% against 34.2% for the UMP, 15.1% for EELV and 9.7% for the FN.

In Dunkerque, the incumbent PS mayor Michel Delebarre (in office since 1989) went down to defeat against a DVG dissident list led by Patrice Vergriete, a former adjoint. Vergriete won 55.5% against 26.3% for Delebarre, and the FN won 18.2%. In Calais, incumbent UMP senator-mayor Natacha Bouchart, who gained this old PCF stronghold thanks to the FN’s withdrawal from the runoff in 2008, was reelected without any trouble this year. She won 52.1% against 39.3% for Jacky Hénin, a PCF MEP and the former mayor who was defeated in 2008. The FN won 8.6%. Transfers from the PS list which won 19.7% in the first round to the PCF were bad, while the FN’s support dropped from 12.5%, helping out the incumbent. In Béthune, an industrial town in the Pas-de-Calais’ mining basin (although Béthune, traditionally more bourgeois, was not a mining town itself), the UDI’s Olivier Gacquerre was elected with 33.6% of the votes against 28.4% for the incumbent député-maire Stéphane Saint-André (PRG) and 28.1% for (corrupt) former PS mayor Jacques Mellick (mayor from 1977 to 1996 and 2002 to 2008, defeated in 2008). The city had been governed by the PS/PRG since 1977.

Douai was one of the few significant gains for the left. Located in the mining basin in the Nord, Douai includes closed-down pits and old miners’ neighborhoods, but as it was a major regional centre, it also has a bourgeois aspect. The right held the city since 1983, with Jacques Vernier (RPR/UMP), who retired this year. The city leans to the left, and with a popular incumbent retiring, the PS was able to gain Douai with 45.9% against 35.8% for the right and 18.2% for the FN.

The freshman PCF mayor of Dieppe, Sébastien Jumel, was reelected handily with 50.4% against 35.1% for the UMP and 14.6% for a DVG list, unofficially supported by most local Socialists.

The right gained Charleville-Mézières, an industrial in the Meuse valley, which had been controlled by Socialists since 1944. Boris Ravignon (UMP), a general and municipal councillor and former adviser to Sarkozy, was easily elected with 54.9% against 33.9% for incumbent PS mayor Philippe Pailla, who didn’t have enough time to lay his bases since taking office in 2013 from Claudine Ledoux (PS). The FN won 11.2%, down from 15.9% in the first round. Ravignon had already taken a wide lead in the first round, with 46.7%.

The PS narrowly saved Auxerre, with the reelection of PS mayor Guy Férez against the young UMP deputy Guillaume Larrivé, a young sarkozyste technocrat-turned-politician (in 2012). The PS won 51.1% against 48.9% for Larrivé.

A major blow for the PS came from Bourges, one of the few towns where the left still had reason to be optimistic about a gain from the right after the first round. However, Pascal Blanc (UDI), the preferred candidate of retiring UDI mayor Serge Lepeltier, was elected with 53.6% against 46.4% for the left. In the first round, both left and right had been split between PS and FG (24.4% and 17.6% respectively), UMP and UDI (21.6% and 24.2%); the FG list merged with the PS, the UMP list merged with the UDI. Although a left-wing victory was no mathematical certainty based on the first round results – the right polled a majority of the votes – the city had been one of the left’s few brightspots.

The PS narrowly survived in Cherbourg, winning 51.8%, and Alençon, winning 50.5%

The right gained La Roche-sur-Yon, traditionally a republican/left-wing island in the middle of solidly conservative Vendée, from the PS which had held the city since 1977. Incumbent PS mayor Pierre Regnault, in office since 2004, was defeated by UMP candidate Luc Bouard, 53.9% to 46.1%. The left had been in trouble after the first round, given that the UMP had more ample reserves from a DVD list led by local councillor Raoul Mestre (9.7%) and the FN (8.5%).

The right regained Angoulême, lost to the PS in 2008. UMP candidate Xavier Bonnefont easily defeated freshman PS mayor Philippe Lavaud, 60.1% to 39.9%. In Corrèze, the UMP regained Brive-la-Gaillarde, lost in 2008, with former UMP deputy Frédéric Soulier (2002-2007) winning 58.8% against incumbent PS député-maire Philippe Nauche who took 41.2%. Brive was a Gaullist stronghold between 1966 and 2008, with left-wing Gaullist Jean Charbonnel as mayor between 1966 and 1995.

The PS mayor of Lorient since 1998, Norbert Métairie was easily reelected with 42.7% against 34% for the UMP, 13.8% for the FN and 9.5% for the FG. The PCF lost Hennebont, an old working-class (ironworks) town on the outskirts of Lorient which had been held by the PCF since 1959. A DVG candidate won 47.7% against 26.6% for the FG-PS list. In Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine), incumbent mayor René Couanau (DVD, ex-UMP) was defeated in his bid for a fifth term, losing to his former adjoint Claude Renoult (DVD), who won 41.3% in the second round against 30.6% for the left and 28.1% for Couanau.

The right gained Chambéry, with the victory of UMP MEP Michel Dantin with 54.7% against 45.3% for incumbent PS député-maire Bernadette Laclais. The city, a predominantly white-collar college town, had been governed by the PS since 1989 and trending to the left in national elections (nearly 57% for Hollande in May 2012).

The right gained Valence in the Drôme. UMP general councillor Nicolas Daragon winning 53.5% against 40.4% for PS mayor Alain Maurice and 6.1% for the FN. The right had held the city between 1995 and 2008 before the left gained it six years ago.

Marc Vuillemot, the PS mayor of La Seyne-sur-Mer, formerly a shipbuilding centre on the outskirts of Toulon, was reelected with 40.1% against 30.4% for the FN and 29.5% for Philippe Vitel, a UMP deputy. The FN won two towns in the Var: the fairly small towns of Le Luc and Cogolin, the first in the interior and the second on the coast (though the population of the town is inland) near Saint-Tropez. In Le Luc, the FN won 42% against 40.9% for the right. In Cogolin, the only town in which the FN won an absolute majority in the second round, the FN won 53.1% against 46.9% for the incumbent DVD mayor. However, the FN was defeated in Brignoles, where it was victorious in a cantonal by-election last year. FN general councillor Laurent Lopez was defeated by UMP deputy Josette Pons, 59.9% to 40.1%. The left, which held city hall, won 27.4% in the first round but chose to withdraw in favour of the UMP to block the FN.

In the Vaucluse, the FN narrowly failed in its bid to take Carpentras from the PS. The incumbent mayor was reelected with 44.5% against 42.1% for Hervé de Lepinau, the suppléant of FN deputy Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. UMP deputy Julien Aubert saw his first round support (16.6%) fall to 13.4%, likely the victim of strategic voting on the right for both the left (against the FN) and FN (against the left). In Cavaillon, UMP député-maire Jean-Claude Bouchet successfully resisted a FN assault led by Thibaut de la Tocnaye, winning easily 50.6% to 36.5%. The left won 12.9%, down from 17.6% on March 23, clearly suffering from strategic voting to block the FN. However, the FN was victorious in Le Pontet, a lower middle-class suburb of Avignon, winning by a hair – 42.6% against 42.5% from the UMP, a DVD list winning 14.8%. And in Camaret-sur-Aigues, a town which neighbors Orange, governed since 1995 by far-right deputy Jacques Bompard, a candidate from Bompard’s party, the Ligue du Sud, was elected with 36.6% of the vote.

In Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône), the FN narrowly lost to the right, 47.3% to 52.7%.

FN deputy Gilbert Collard was narrowly defeated in Saint-Gilles (Gard), winning 48.5% against 51.5% for the right. The incumbent PS mayor, who placed third with 23.1% in the first round, withdrew from the race to defeat the FN. However, in Beaucaire, young FN candidate Julien Sanchez was elected mayor with 39.8% against 29% for the DVD incumbent.

After losing it in a 2009 by-election, the right regained Carcassonne from the PS. Former mayor Gérard Larrat (DVD), who was in office between 2005 and 2009 before losing to PS candidate Jean-Claude Perez in 2009, returned to his old seat with 40.4% against 39.2% for the Perez, the incumbent PS député-maire. The FN won 20.3%. Larrat, who was third in the first round with 18.9%, had merged his list with that of Isabella Chesa (UMP), the daughter of a former mayor, whose list took 18.1% in the first round. The right also regained Narbonne, an old Socialist stronghold which switched to the right in 1971 before the PS won it in 2008. Incumbent PS député-maire Jacques Bascou lost reelection to Didier Mouly (DVD).

The UMP mayor of Montauban since 2001, Brigitte Barèges, was reelected without any trouble despite countless controversies (voting a major increase in her salary, comments on gay marriage – asking if polygamy and bestiality would be next, and some allegedly racist comments). She won 51.3% against 37.8% for Roland Garrigues, a former PS député-maire (1994-2001).

The PS held Villeneuve-sur-Lot, with the reelection of Patrick Cassany, who has been mayor since 2012, with 42.9%. The city, historically on the right, had been won by the (in)famous ‘Mr. Swiss Bank Account’ Jérôme Cahuzac (PS) in 2001. Étienne Bousquet-Cassagne (FN), a young FN cadre in the Lot-et-Garonne whose profile received a major boost with the June 2013 legislative by-election in the Lot-et-Garonne’s 3rd constituency (vacated by Cahuzac’s resignation after the tax fraud scandal), in which he won 46.2% in a runoff against the UMP, won 30.4%. Paul Caubet, leading a composite DVG-UMP-DVD alliance uniting three lists from the first round, won 26.7, falling far short of the three list’s combined total of 40% in the first round.

The PS fell just short of gaining Bayonne, taking 45.2% against 45.4% for Jean-René Etchegaray (UDI); the spoiler being Jean-Claude Iriart, a Basque abertzale (left-wing nationalist) candidate, whose list won 9.4%. The city leans to the left, having given Hollande 59% in May 2012, but it has been held by the Grenet family (right) since 1959 – since 1995 by Jean Grenet (UDI), whose retirement this year led to a succession battle on the right and left-wing hopes to gain the city. However, the right resolved its divisions before the second round, while the PS suffered from the decision of the Basque nationalists to maintain their list, and the merger of the FG list with the abertzale left. In the wealthy coastal resort town of Biarritz, Michel Veunac (MoDem), a regional councillor backed by retiring mayor Didier Borotra (MoDem), was narrowly elected with 51.6% against 48.4% for a UMP-UDI list led by Max Brison, a former premier adjoint to Borotra. Veunac’s list, which placed second with 17.4%, had merged with the PS (16.9%) and an independent (7.3%), while the UMP list had merged with a DVD list (14.1%) and another independent (10.7%).

Former député-maire Daniel Garrigue (DVD) regained his old seat, lost in 2008, as mayor of Bergerac (Dordogne), winning 46.1% in a rematch against the freshman PS mayor (41.3%). The right also regained Périgueux, the capital of the department, with the narrow victory of the UMP candidate with 50.7% against freshman PS mayor Michel Moyrand (49.3%). An old Gaullist stronghold (with Gaullist baron Yves Guéna as mayor between 1971 and 1997), the PS won the town by a hair in 2008, defeating incumbent UMP mayor Xavier Darcos, who was also education minister at the time.

The UMP held Châteauroux, with the easy victory of Gil Avérous, the candidate backed by retiring senator-mayor Jean-François Mayet (UMP). The UMP won 49% against 26.3% for Mark Bottemine, the first round PS candidate who led an unusual and controversial alliance with two DVD lists from the first round (17.3% and 7.3%). This composite alliance fell far short of its potential (42%), probably being hurt by perceptions of it as a grubby alliance of ambitious politicians and, on the left, by the controversial nature of an alliance between the PS-EELV and two lists, very much on the right and opposed to gay marriage. The national PS leadership reiterated its support for the list, but EELV silently withdrew its backing. The FG increased its vote to 13.4%, while the FN won 11.3%.

The FN won one town in the Greater Paris - Mantes-la-Ville (Yvelines). FN candidate Cyril Nauth, a nobody who barely campaign, was elected with 30.3% against 29.4% for PS incumbent Monique Brochot. Former PS mayor Annette Peulvast-Bergeal (1995-2008) ran as a dissident, winning 28.3%.

The PS suffered major loses in the Hauts-de-Seine, already losing Clamart by the first round. In Asnières-sur-Seine, former mayor Manuel Aeschlimann (UMP), who was defeated by a composite PS-Green-MoDem-DVD coalition led by Sébastien Pietrasanta (PS) in 2008, regained his old job, with 50.1% against 49.9% for Pietrasanta. Aeschlimann, who was sentenced in a corruption scandal in 2009, had been particularly controversial as mayor, for his very authoritarian and nepotistic management of the city. This year, ironically, Aeschlimann’s list merged with a DVD list led by Josiane Fischer, who had joined forces with the PS to defeat him six years ago. In Colombes, former UMP mayor Nicole Goueta, defeated in 2008, was also successful in a rematch against freshman PS mayor Philippe Sarre. She was elected with 52.4% against 47.6% for the PS. The only remaining PS mayor in the Hauts-de-Seine is Gilles Catoire in Clichy, who survived an extremely heated race thanks to the divisions of the right. He won 32.7% against 31.1% for the UMP, with Didier Schuller (UDI), a former RPR general councillor attempting to restart his political career after a corruption scandal in the 1990s forced him into exile in the Caribbean, placing third with 24.8%. EELV, which has bad relations with the PS mayor, won 11.4%.

The left – both PS and PCF – was badly defeated in Seine-Saint-Denis, a left-wing stronghold. Certainly the most shocking result came from Bobigny, a poor working-class Red Belt suburb which the PCF had held since the 1920s. Incumbent PCF mayor Catherine Peyge was defeated 46% to 54% by Stéphane De Paoli (UDI), a protege of Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the UDI député-maire of neighboring Drancy. De Paoli largely downplayed his partisan ties, with a very locally-oriented campaign which attracted support from some left-leaning individuals and organizations, and had some ties with Muslim community associations, giving him a base in the cités. The PCF also lost Villepinte, Le Blanc-Mesnil (held by the PCF since 1935) and Saint-Ouen to the right. In May 2012, Hollande won 65% in Villepinte, 66% in Le Blanc-Mesnil and over 70% in Bobigny and Saint-Ouen! In Bagnolet, another Red Belt suburb held by the PCF since 1935, the PS, with 35.6%, narrowly defeated the FG (31.4%). EELV won 20.3% and the right took 12.8%. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, a city gained from the right in 2008, PS mayor Gérard Ségura was defeated in a landslide by Bruno Beschizza (UMP), a former policeman and young copéiste (60.7% to 39.3%). In Le Raincy, the wealthiest town in the department, UMP mayor Éric Raoult, in office since 1995, was soundly defeated by a DVD candidate. Firmly on the right of the UMP, Raoult found himself accused of sexual harassment (sexting) during the campaign.

In the wealthy suburban town of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, the incumbent UDI mayor Henri Plagnol, who faced much controversy for the city’s highly indebted position and divisions in his majority, was defeated by UMP deputy Sylvain Berrios (who had defeated Plagnol, then the incumbent deputy, in a 2012 by-election), 32% to 28%.

Frédéric Valletoux, the filloniste mayor who was not endorsed by UMP (the Seine-et-Marne is Copé’s personal fiefdom; Valletoux nevertheless received public support from Fillon and Valérie Pécresse), was reelected with 45.8% against 39.9% for the copéiste UMP candidate. The other high profile filloniste-copéiste battle was in Cannes, and ended with the easy victory of David Lisnard, the filloniste dauphin of the retiring mayor, against Philippe Tabarot, the brother of the copéiste UMP general-secretary Michèle Tabarot; Lisnard won 59% to 26%.

Sorry for the delayed publication of this post. Hungary and Québec up next.

Election Preview: France Municipal Elections 2014 – Part II

In the first part of this election preview, I explained how local government works in France and the context to these municipal elections. Focus now shifts to the major contests which are worth following. Please note that this is a hurried and basic guide, with only basic details for each race. It is also far from a thorough guide: I have likely forgotten many interesting races, and omitted races which I feel are less interested (but results may prove me wrong!).

Follow @welections on Twitter on March 23 and 30 for major results.

Overview: lists and party strategies

One of the major issues attracting interest in this election was the ability of the FN to run a large number of lists in a major cities, and their ability to win municipalities. The FN has usually struggled in municipal elections, more so than in other elections. The focus on local issues and local dynamics (the popularity of sitting mayors, local political machines) has usually hurt the FN, a protest party par excellence which has a weak local organization in many places. Secondly, electoral rules has also hurt the FN. In order to run, all parties must submit a complete list (and, since 2001, those lists must include an equal number of men and women) of candidates. For the FN, which has very few municipal councillors across France and relatively few elected officials compared to all other parties, it struggles to put up complete lists. Putting up complete lists requires recruiting and finding a large number of willing candidates, of both genders (the FN is a largely male-dominated party, in terms of cadres and candidates); lacking a local organization in many places, it also has difficulties in recruiting candidates for those lists, given that there’s generally been some reluctance by individuals in cities (especially in less populated towns where people are more likely to know one another) to take a spot on a FN list, fearing consequences it might have for them for employment and in their social circles. The result has been that when the FN does put up lists, a lot of its candidates, who can’t be properly vetted, turn out to be cranks and fruitcakes. Embarrassment ensues when the media digs up a picture of them posing in front of a Nazi flag, posting some racist nonsense on social media, praising some fascist lunatics on the internet or saying something beyond the pale. For example, the FN was forced to drop one of its candidate in the Ardennes after it was revealed that she compared justice minister Christiane Taubira (who is black, from French Guiana) to a monkey. In Nevers, however, it came too late for the FN: one of their candidates on the list has pictures of herself with Nazi flags or with Nazi/SS memorabilia on Facebook. According to media reports this year, the FN may also turn to unorthodox tactics to fill up its lists: by tricking random citizens into signing up for their lists (under guises of ‘signing a petition’) or putting up dead people; Le Monde reports the cases of senior residents protesting their appearance on FN lists against their will.

The FN’s best performance in municipal elections came in 1995, when the FN ran 444 lists in communes with over 9,000 people and won 505 seats. That year, the FN also won several major towns: Toulon, Orange, Marignane – with a later by-election victory in Vitrolles. In other towns throughout France, the FN won significant results: Perpignan (32.7%), Marseille (22%), Saint-Priest (34.5%), Vénissieux (27.5%), Vaulx-en-Velin (31%), Villefranche sur Saône (35.2%), Mulhouse (30.5%), Dreux (35.2%), Mantes-la-Jolie (25.6%), Noyon (44%), Roubaix (24.4%) and Tourcoing (32.5%). In 2001, the FN was badly hurt by the 1999 split by Bruno Mégret (whose wife was mayor of Vitrolles) to create the National Republican Movement (MNR). On the ground, a lot of FN elected officials – like Toulon mayor Jean-Marie Le Chevallier – left the FN for Mégret’s MNR (Le Chevallier remained neutral) and many FN sections in departments defected. Therefore, only 184 lists ran in communes with over 9,000 inhabitants. If Jacques Bompard, the well-entrenched mayor of Orange was reelected handsomely, he had already taken his distances with the FN and would later leave the party entirely (he briefly joined Philippe de Villiers’ MPF before creating, in 2010, his own party, the Ligue du Sud). In Marseille, where Mégret ran for the MNR, the MNR placed ahead of the FN. In Toulon, the ex-FN mayor, running against an official FN candidate, failed to even qualify for the runoff. In 2008, one year after Sarkozy crippled the FN electorally, the FN was in an even more difficult position and only managed to put up 106 lists; the silver lining was a decent showing for Marine Le Pen in Hénin-Beaumont, her adopted electoral home base, and the election of one municipal councillor in Marseille. Elsewhere, the FN was crushed.

After the FN’s 2012 successes and the feeling of the wind being in its sails, Le Pen was determined to put up as many lists as possibles. Invariably, the FN ran in the aforementioned problems, but it has put up 422 lists in communes with over 9,000 people. A handy Ifop study shows the presence of FN lists on the territory compared to 1995. It has managed to significantly expand its territorial footing, putting up FN lists in western and southwestern cities generally unfavourable to the FN. In the Pas-de-Calais, Marine Le Pen’s stomping ground, the FN ran 7 lists in 1995; today, it’s putting up 16 lists. Compared to 1995, however, there is a clear decline of the FN’s presence in the Parisian region: it ran 30 lists in the Seine-Saint-Denis, 23 in the Hauts-de-Seine and 25 in the Val-de-Marne in 1995 – this year, the FN has only 2, 8 and 10 lists in those departments. Similarly, the FN’s presence in Lyon’s suburbs is weaker than it was in 1995.

On the left, a major issue was the strategy of the Left Front (FG) and specifically the PCF, which is the only FG party with a significant municipal base. As mentioned in the last post, since 1977, there’s a powerful strategy of first round left-wing unity (union de la gauche) behind a single candidate. Through that strategy, the PCF has managed to save for itself a few seats in municipal councillors and the administration of left-wing controlled communes. It has not staved off the PCF’s inexorable decline, although the PCF still controls a sizable number of towns and the tradition of municipal communism remains a reality in some places. The PCF’s presence in municipal councils is especially important for the PCF because municipal councillors form the bulk of the electoral college which elects senators; hence, having many municipal councillors allows the PCF to defend its senatorial caucus. Therefore, the imperatives for the PCF to ally, by the first round, with the PS was and remains strong. That, however, displeases the PCF’s allies in the FG, especially Mélenchon’s PG. Mélenchon, whose party is so tiny it has nothing to lose by going it alone, has been on a firm anti-PS stance when it comes to first round alliances with the PS (since the 2010 regional elections, which already split the FG in some regions).

Mélenchon insisted on autonomous first round FG lists in as many towns as possible. The PCF’s incumbent councillors and leadership saw it otherwise. In a number of major cities, the PCF decided to ally with the PS by the first round. Paris caused a massive firestorm in the FG, endangering the future of the alliance and poisoning PG-PCF relations with the European elections coming up in June. In Paris, the local PCF voted 57-43 to participate in the PS lists by the first round, as the national leadership, backed by Paris senator Pierre Laurent (whose seat in the Senate depends on the PCF having seats in Paris), had wanted it. In other cities, such as Lyon, Brest, Caen, Grenoble, Nancy, Nantes, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Saint-Étienne, Toulouse and Tours, the PCF is also backing the PS by the first round. In all those cases, the PG and smaller components of the FG (Ensemble etc) with a similar anti-PS stance, opted to form autonomous lists anyways. In some towns, such as Rennes and Grenoble, they allied with the Greens (EELV). In a handful of towns, the PG’s lists allied with the far-left New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), which is otherwise marginalized and isolated.

EELV chose autonomous lists in many cases, although in place such as Amiens, Angers, Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Le Mans, Limoges, Marseille, Metz, Montpellier, Nice and Reims it allied with the PS by the first round. In Paris and Lyon, EELV has autonomous lists; although EELV is part of the governing majority in Paris, it has run independently of the PS there in the past municipal elections, while in Lyon the Greens had allied with the PS by the first round since 1995.

On the right, the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) – a centre-right coalition of small parties led by Jean-Louis Borloo – has generally chosen alliances with the UMP, but it has also been wanting to show that it can exist autonomously of the UMP. In the European elections, the UDI will run a common list with François Bayrou’s MoDem. In Strasbourg, Rouen, Caen and Aix the UDI is running independently of the UMP in the first round, sometimes with the MoDem’s support. Otherwise, the UDI is generally on UMP-led lists, while the UMP supports UDI-led lists in Amiens, Nancy and Rennes. The MoDem has more or less firmly aligned with the right, even if Bayrou endorsed Hollande over Sarkozy in 2012. The MoDem’s claims of being ‘beyond left and right’ and aiming to fill the centre ran into the reality of left-right politics in municipal elections as early as 2008. That year, the MoDem followed a confusing strategy: autonomy here and there, allied with the UMP there, allied with the PS here and so forth. Its incumbent mayors, elected for the centre-right UDF in 2001, won reelection with the right’s support. In a strategy which has left many confused, the MoDem supports many UMP-UDI lists by the first round, most notably in Paris. The cause of the MoDem’s alliance with the UMP-UDI seems to be in return for the UMP and UDI endorsing Bayrou’s mayoral candidacy in Pau. In Tours and Dijon, two towns where the MoDem has been in the PS-led governing majority since 2008, the MoDem is allied with the PS incumbents by the first round. In Marseille, the MoDem’s candidate, Jean-Luc Bennahmias, a MEP who joined the MoDem from the Greens (and is on the MoDem’s left) endorsed the PS-EELV list, but Bayrou’s national leadership disavowed him to officially back the UMP incumbent.

Major contests: France’s largest cities

Paris

Paris is always one of the most closely followed races in all municipal elections; sometimes frustratingly because many other races are actually far more interesting. Nevertheless, the capital, political centre and largest city in France is always the ultimate crown. Paris, however, has had an elected mayor with actual powers for only a short while: after the 1871 commune de Paris, municipal government (and the office of mayor) was abolished in favour of direct rule by the prefect (although a city council with a president of the council retained very symbolic powers), and it was only restored in 1977. That year, Paris was the major prize and all parties wanted it: the RPR’s leader Jacques Chirac, who had just broken with President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, threw his hat into the race; he went up against a patchy PS-PCF alliance marred by PS-PCF infighting and a centre-right led by Michel d’Ornano backed by the Prime Minister and (unofficially) by Giscard. Chirac’s lists defeated d’Ornano in the first round, with about 26% to 22% city-wide, and the RPR went on to a narrow victory over the left in the second round. Chirac proceeded to establish Paris’ city hall as his political base (alongside his seat as deputy in rural Corrèze in central France). He became very popular with consensual policies, and when he won reelected in 1983 and 1989, Chirac’s lists swept all 20 arrondissements in Paris – a huge feat given the political polarization of the city.

With Chirac elected to the presidency a month prior, he was succeeded in 1995 by his local ally, Jean Tiberi (RPR). Although Tiberi’s lists held a large majority on the Conseil de Paris, with 98 out of 163 seats, the left made major gains – winning 62 seats on council, and gaining no less than six arrondissements from the right, all in the historically left-leaning eastern half of the city. It was under Tiberi’s administration that the whole RPR machine built by Chirac since 1977 began to unravel, with the first revelations of corruption – kickbacks and corruption in the construction of social housing, the ‘faux emplois‘ (fake jobs) with salaries paid by the city to RPR cadres who didn’t work for the city and so forth. Tiberi was targeted by a judicial investigation opened in 1999 about his role in the corruption in the social housing (HLM) office. By the time of the 2001 elections, the right refused to endorse Tiberi, instead backing Philippe Séguin (RPR), who became the official candidate of the right (RPR-UDF-DL). Tiberi and his supporters ran dissidents lists in every arrondissement. On the evening of the first round, Séguin’s lists won 25.7% and placed on top of the right in 14 out of 20 arrondissements, while the tibéristes won 13.9% and topped the right in 4 arrondissements, including the Tiberi stronghold of the 5th arrondissement. The PS-PCF, led by PS senator Bertrand Delanoë, won 31.3% and negotiated a second round alliance with the Greens, who won a solid 12.4%. Although the right united for the runoff in all but three safely right-wing arrondissements, the divisions haunted and crippled the right in the runoff: vote transfers were imperfect, allowing the PS-Green alliance to win 12 out of 20 arrondissements and a solid majority (92 seats) on the city council. City-wide, Delanoë won on a minority of the vote (49.6%), with the combined total of the right over 50%.

Delanoë’s victory in 2001 owed a lot to the divisions of the right, but it also signaled a political shift in Parisian politics. Gentrification and the political shift of well-educated, middle-class urban professionals towards the PS (and Greens) is the other explanation for Delanoë’s initial victory – and why Paris is increasingly safe for the left. Delanoë became very popular during his first term, with landmark projects including Paris Plages (summer recreational activities and beaches on the banks of the Seine), the Vélib’ (a bicycle sharing system), an expansion in social housing and promotion of cultural activities. With high popularity and weak opposition, Delanoë was easily reelected in 2008, with about 41% of the city-wide vote in the first round. The Greens suffered major loses, winning only 6.8% in the first round, weakening their position against the PS. The right, united behind UMP deputy Françoise de Panafieu, won only 27.9%. In the second round, the left won a slightly expanded majority, but in a confirmation of the city’s political polarization, the left did not gain any arrondissements from the left. One of the closest contests was in the 5th arrondissement, where Jean Tiberi (UMP) ran for a fifth term as mayor of the arrondissement. Although polls had placed the left ahead, Tiberi won 45% against 44.1% for the PS in the runoff.

Strengthened by his victory, Delanoë took an increasingly prominent role in national politics and he was considered the early favourite to win the PS leadership at the 2008 Reims Congress. But after a poor campaign, Delanoë’s motion performed poorly and he ultimately withdrew from the leadership ballot, endorsing Martine Aubry. Refocusing his attention to municipal politics, Delanoë declined to run for reelection this year.

The PS candidate is Anne Hidalgo, who has served as Delanoë’s première adjointe (top deputy) since 2001 and could be seen as Delanoë’s heir-apparent. Behind her, Hidalgo has united the PCF and Left Radicals (PRG). EELV, a critical member of the governing left-wing majority since 2001, once again opted to run independently in the first round (the Greens have run alone in the first round ever since 1977) before allying with the PS lists in the second round. As in 2001 and 2008, EELV’s hope is for the strongest possible showing in the first round to gain a stronger bargaining position against the PS in the runoff and obtain a number of seats in the executive. EELV nominated Christophe Najdovski, an adjoint au maire. The PCF’s decision to ally with the PS, as noted above, created a national firestorm in the FG, prompting the PG and other small FG components to run their own autonomous list, led by incumbent city councillor Danielle Simonnet (PG).

The right was far more confident of its chances at victory in Paris this year, and the UMP sought to attract a top-rate star candidate (after de Panafieu, a mediocre candidate with a bourgeois image). Originally, speculation centered on Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon (who abandoned his seat in the Sarthe to run for a seat in Paris in the 2012 legislative elections) and Rachida Dati, the copéiste UMP mayor of the 7th arrondissement since 2008 (she’s also a MEP and was justice minister under Sarkozy’s first years). Fillon, who saw that victory would nevertheless be an uphill battle, did not run and Dati’s polling numbers were very poor. In a February 2013 open primary, the UMP nominated Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (widely known as NKM). NKM, who is députée-maire of the suburban town of Longjumeau in the Essonne, served as environment minister under Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012. Her moderate (unlike the vast majority of the UMP, she abstained rather than vote against same-sex marriage/adoption) and ‘green’ profile is a fairly good fit for a left-leaning and socially liberal city like Paris. NKM defeated second-tier opposition handily, with 58% by the first round. If she successfully managed to forge a first round alliance with the UDI and the MoDem (which ran autonomously in 2008), she has been less successful at holding her campaign together. For the past few months, NKM’s campaign has been dogged by awkward moments by the candidate (struggling to shake off a bit of a bourgeois image) and, more importantly, dissident after dissident.

There are right-wing dissidents running against the official UMP-UDI-MoDem lists in all but two arrondissements. The Parisian right has been in poor shape since the 2001 defeat, and the severe divisions in UMP ranks during the 2011 senatorial elections and the 2012 congress worsened matters even further. A number of dissidents have pooled together around Charles Beigbeder, a copéiste businessman and brother of the crazy writer-philosopher Frédéric Beigbeder, who announced a dissident candidacy in the solidly right-wing bourgeois 8th arrondissement in December 2013, after a disagreement with NKM on his place on the official list. Beigbeder has federated some right-wing dissidents around his Paris libéré makeshift label, although besides him none of his candidates have much notoriety.

But, to complicate things further, there are stronger local UMP (and some UDI and MoDem) dissidents in other arrondissements. In the 5th arrondissement, the UMP incumbent Jean Tiberi was sentenced to 3 years electoral ineligibility (in addition to a fine and suspended jail sentence) for the ‘faux électeurs‘ (fake voters; Tiberi and his wife Xavière were accused of voter fraud by registering fictional names in the arrondissement; the common joke is that Tiberi’s strongest demographic was the cemetery) affair in 2013 and the UMP refused to support his son Dominique, who is running as a dissident. Polling has shown that Dominique Tiberi, whose family still controls a powerful machine in the arrondissement, may pull up to 20%, qualifying for the runoff. A triangulaire with the official UMP-UDI-MoDem candidate, Florence Berthout, and the PS candidate would be deadly for the right, especially given that the arrondissement has been moving left rapidly: Hollande won 56% in the 5th in 2012. In the solidly right-wing bourgeois 7th arrondissement (71% Sarkozy), the incumbent mayor Rachida Dati (UMP) is facing stiff competition on the right, with two prominent dissidents: Michel Dumont, the former mayor of the arrondissement (2002-2008) and Christian Le Roux, a former premier adjoint. Dati, as her opponents point out, seems to have little interest in either of her gigs (MEP and mayor).

NKM has chosen to run in the 14th arrondissement, which has been held by the PS since 2001 and gave Hollande over 60% in May 2012. Similar to the 12th arrondissement, it is one which is a must-win for the right if it is to win city-wide, but it is a huge uphill battle for her. Polls show that Carine Petit, the PS top candidate in the 14th, has a wide lead over NKM and the left would easily retain the arrondissement in the second round.

Paris was one of the far-right’s earliest strongholds: in 1983, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s list in the 20th arrondissement (eastern Paris) won 11.3% in the first round and 8.5% in the runoff – it was one of the FN’s first electoral successes, a year before its national breakthrough. In 1989, the FN won over 10% in four arrondissements, including 15.6% in the 20th for Le Pen. In 1995, the FN broke 10% in 9 arrondissements and obtained its only city councillor to date. However, the FN-MNR split crippled the Parisian far-right, which has also been one of the big losers of the demographic shifts in the city: less blue-collar, with the arrival of ‘new middle-classes’ with high cultural capital and also high repulsion towards the FN. The FN won 3.2% in 2008 and Marine Le Pen won only 6.2% of the vote in Paris in April 2012. The FN candidate is Wallerand de Saint-Just, a far-right lawyer from the FN’s traditionalist Catholic wing. With about 8-9% in citywide polls, there is an outside chance that the FN may win over 10% of the vote in some arrondissements, qualifying for the runoff.

Anne Hidalgo is the favourite in Paris. She has several advantages going for her: structurally, the electoral system in Paris tends to favour the left, whose strongholds are worth more seats on council than the right’s western strongholds. This means that the left would likely win even if it won a minority of the vote across the city. Secondly, Paris has shifted towards the left in recent years, culminating in no less than 55.6% for Hollande in May 2012.  The electorate in the key swing arrondissements is increasingly allergic to the UMP in its current shape: the Sarkozy and post-Sarkozy rhetoric of the right is a very poor fit for Paris, especially the swing arrondissements. The UMP’s constant vilification of the Parisian ‘bobo’ (bourgeois bohemian; a term which most on the right use without actually knowing what it means or who it refers to) does it no favours. Nevertheless, given the national climate far more favourable to the UMP than 2008, NKM should manage a more respectable performance for the right – but a personal defeat in the 14th and a potential gain by the PS in the 5th would be major blows to the right. Citywide polling is rather useless, but Hidalgo is stable at 52-53% in all runoff scenarios while both her and NKM poll roughly 35-39% in the first round. EELV, desperate for a good result given the party’s troubles, is between 5 and 7% in the polls, which would be mediocre.

Marseille

The most interesting major city to watch on both March 23 and 30 is Marseille: the largest city in the south of France is well worth following in every municipal elections because Marseille politics is so… fascinating, but this year the contest in Marseille could go both ways. All will be decided by the results in one, maybe two, key sectors. The mayor of Marseille since 1995 is Jean-Claude Gaudin (UMP).

Between 1953 and 1986, Marseille was the fiefdom of Gaston Defferre. In a city with a very strong PCF base – the PCF dominated politics in the working-class northern neighborhoods of the city (the present-day 8th sector), Defferre, a Socialist, governed with a coalition uniting Socialists, centrists, Radicals and non-Gaullist right – a coalition reminiscent of the anti-communist and anti-Gaullist Third Force coalitions so popular under the Fourth Republic. Defferre’s main opposition was the PCF, while the Gaullists, outside his majority, were a rather weak force in the city. The 1960s was the heyday of Defferre’s socialocentriste coalition; in 1977, Defferre was reelected without the PCF but his right-wing supporters had left and, finally, in 1983, Defferre’s final victory was with the PCF. That same year, Defferre was reelected despite losing the popular vote to Jean-Claude Gaudin (UDF), who had been an adjoint in Defferre’s previous administrations. The reason? As interior minister, Defferre had gerrymandered the sectoral map to benefit the left; a gerrymandering undone by Chirac’s government in 1986. Under Defferre’s administration, Marseille saw several major social and economic transformations: the fall of the French colonial empire, which had fueled Marseille’s industrial economy, led to an influx of white pied-noirs settlers from North Africa in the 1960s, followed by waves of mass immigration from North Africa. Defferre, as mayor, built a clientelist system which governed through corrupt agreement with the unions and the mafia – Marseille, as a major harbour, was and is a major transit point in drug trafficking from Asia to North America.

Defferre failed to groom an heir-apparent, and his succession opened a crisis in the Marseille PS which lasted for at least ten years. In 1986, after his death, Defferre was replaced by Robert Vigouroux, a PS senator backed by municipal councillors and due to be a ‘transition’ mayor until the 1989 elections. In 1989, the lingering crisis exploded: the PS-PCF officially nominated Michel Pezet, a PS deputy who had the support of the PS membership. Vigouroux ran for reelection as a dissident, rallying PS and PCF dissidents to his lists. The conflict on the left took a national dimension, because Michel Pezet was a close ally of Prime Minister Michel Rocard, while Rocard’s sworn enemy, President François Mitterrand the Élysée Palace gave covert support to Vigouroux, in a move to deny Rocard and Lionel Jospin the control of the Bouches-du-Rhône PS federation (the most important PS federation) ahead of the 1990 Rennes Congress. Vigouroux, who attracted significant crossover support from the right to his side, was elected in a landslide – sweeping all 8 sectors, taking about 42% to Pezet’s 15% and the UDF-RPR’s 24%. The Vigouroux episode proved to be a flash in the pan: the local PS dumped him, favouring instead local businessman and aspiring politician Bernard Tapie, leading Vigouroux to ally with the right (and endorsed Balladur in 1995), but the right lost interest in him after Tapie was eliminated from politics due to his corruption scandals. Vigouroux retired, leaving a few hardened supporters to back centre-right senator Jacques Rocca-Serra. The PS-PCF nominated Lucien Weygand, president of the general council, but this time Pezet, with Rocard’s blessing, ran as a PS dissident. Gaudin, leading a united right, won 36% in the first round against 28.7% for Weygand, 22% for the FN, 6% for Pezet and 4.8% for Rocca Serra. In the second round, Gaudin took five out of eight sectors, winning a solid majority on the council – 55 seats against 37 for the right and 9 for the FN.

Gaudin had little trouble winning reelection in 2001, against weak opposition from the left and a far-right weakened by its division between the FN and Mégret’s MNR. 2008, however, was won by a hair. Jean-Noël Guérini, the local big boss of the PS and president of the general council, gave Gaudin a run for his money. The left was able to pick up the first sector, in downtown Marseille, from the UMP, but the result hinged on the race in the third sector, where Guérini ultimately lost to the UMP by 2.8%. Gaudin was reelected, but he held only 51 out of 101 seats on the municipal council, against 49 for the left and 1 for the FN, which had taken a seat in the 8th sector in the first round.

At 74 years old, many felt that Gaudin would not run for reelection. The prospect of an open seat whet the appetite of many UMP parliamentarians: Renaud Muselier, the mayor of the third sector, was once perceived as Gaudin’s successors, but relations between the old patriarch and the younger initial heir-apparent broke down after 2008 and Gaudin likely clapped his hands at Muselier’s defeat in the 2012 legislative elections against Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the PS junior minister for the disabled. Other potential successors included Dominique Tian, Guy Teissier and Valérie Boyer, all three sitting deputies. Gaudin announced he would seek reelection in November 2013.

The PS is eager to regain Marseille. The PS in the Bouches-du-Rhône has been wracked by internal divisions and corruption scandals, all revolving around Guérini. Guérini, who hails from the same Corsican village as two of France’s most famous gangsters (but denies any family connection), has been embroiled in a major scandal since 2009. Guérini’s brother runs waste management companies suspected of ties to organized crime, and Guérini is said to have intervened to favour his brother’s businesses. In September 2011, Guérini was indicted on several charges, including conspiracy and influence peddling. The scandal proved a headache for the national PS, which dragged its feet in disciplining Guérini and rooting out corruption; only suspending him once he was indicted. Guérini was indicted in two new scandals in 2013. Nevertheless, Guérini remains senator and president of the general council. While many of those who were originally under his wings have transformed themselves into upstanding moral opponents of his corruption, Guérini retains significant influence over the PS in Marseille and the department and the local PRG is, for all intents and purposes, a guériniste front.

The PS held an open primary in October 2013, which attracted six candidates, including five heavy-weights: Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the junior minister and perceived as the establishment/government candidate; Patrick Mennucci, mayor of the 1st sector and deputy since 2012; Samia Ghali, senator and mayor of the 8th sector; Eugène Caselli, president of the urban community and Christophe Masse, vice-president of the general council. All candidates had, at one time or another, supported Guérini. But Mennucci and Carlotti have since clearly broken with Guérini, and Guérini seems to dislike both pretty strongly, having encouraged one of his stooges (Lisette Narducci, the PRG mayor of the 2nd sector) to run against Mennucci in the 2012 legislative elections. Mennucci focused his attacks on Force ouvrière (FO), a union accused of ‘co-governing’ the city with Gaudin and the CU with Caselli. FO is extraordinarily powerful in the local and metropolitan administration, it has its word to say in promotions, demotions and hiring while the mayor of the president of the CU both favour FO over other unions. Samia Ghali, who became senator thanks to Guérini’s backing, was considered by her opponents as Guérini’s candidate.

In the first round, Ghali won 25.3% against 20.7% for Mennucci, while Carlotti won 19.5%. Caselli took 16.6%, Masse won 14.3% while Henri Jibrayel, a deputy and Ghali’s rival in the 8th sector, won 3.7%. Ghali received very strong support in her strongholds of the quartiers nord, where she has a strong machine and GOTV operation. Overall, it was very much a friends-and-neighbors primary, each candidate (except Jibrayel) dominating their home turf. In the second round, Menucci was endorsed by Carlotti, Jibrayel (who hates Ghali) and Caselli while Masse (on bad terms with Mennucci) remained neutral. Somewhat disingenuously, Ghali presented herself as the ‘anti-system’ candidate and decried that her opponent was the candidate of the Parisian establishment, the Élysée and Matignon. Mennucci won the runoff with 57.2%. Ghali’s ‘concession’ was extremely ungrateful, whining that she had been up against 5 candidates and the government and, upon mentioning Ayrault and Hollande, the crowd booed. The ambiance was so terrible that talk of dissident lists ran wild, while her supporters swore not to back Mennucci. Ultimately, knowing what’s best for her, she made her peace with Mennucci. Mennucci’s lists have united all his primary opponents (except Jibrayel, who was never interested in municipal politics anyways): Mennucci in the 1st sector, Caselli in the 2nd sector, Carlotti in the 3rd sector, Masse in the 6th sector and Ghali in the 8th sector.

EELV, led by Karim Zéribi, a MEP (ex-PS), originally envisioned to run its own autonomous lists, but given the party’s weak base in the city, it rallied Mennucci’s PS lists in January. Zéribi is the top candidate in the 5th sector, which is safely UMP. Mennucci was also joined by the MoDem’s local leader and 2008 candidate, MEP Jean-Luc Bennahmias, a former Green. Bennahmias and some of his friends joined Mennucci’s lists in February 2014, but the national MoDem leadership (= Bayrou) disavowed him and are backing Gaudin.

For the first time since 1977, the PCF won’t be running with the PS in the first round. Jean-Marc Coppola (PCF), a regional vice-president, is the top candidate for the FG. Mélenchon won 13.8% in Marseille, and the PCF retains some level of support, especially in their old strongholds in the north of the city. But the PCF lost the mayoralty of the 8th sector in 2008; the PCF had controlled Marseille’s northern neighborhoods since World War II.

Guérini is behind a PRG list in five sectors. The only one which has a presence and nuisance power on the PS is that of Lisette Narducci, the loyal guériniste incumbent in the 2nd sector. In the 2012 legislative elections, Narducci won about 22% of the vote in the 2nd sector. However, the 2nd sector is firmly on the left; there is no chance of the right winning it.

Marseille has long been a strong spot for the FN: Marine Le Pen won 21.2% in April 2012 in Marseille, even placing first of all candidates in two arrondissements. In 2008, the election of one FN municipal councillor was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrible season for the FN. The FN’s lists are led by Stéphane Ravier, a regional councillor and the FN’s 2008 candidate. Ravier is leading the FN list in the 7th sector, located in northeastern Marseille – a low-income white working-class area with large immigrant pockets, it is one of the strongest regions in the city for the FN (Le Pen won 25% in 2012). Across the city, with the FN polling between 16% and 21%, the FN will likely qualify for the second round in every sector (unless some are won by the first round) and have a clear nuisance power for the UMP. Indeed, Mennucci’s hope of defeating Gaudin are hugely dependent on the FN’s numbers: a strong FN will create difficult triangulaires across Marseille, drawing votes from the UMP and allowing the PS to win with a plurality.

The race will be decided in one key sector: the 3rd sector, the same where Guérini’s mayoral ambitions hit a wall in 2008. Marie-Arlette Carlotti, one of two cabinet ministers who is a top candidate this year, is the PS top candidate in the 3rd sector, against Bruno Gilles, the UMP incumbent. The sector is a mix of right and left-leaning areas; poorer areas, middle-class neighborhoods and left-voting gentrified and educated downtown neighborhoods. Overall, Hollande won it with 52.9% in May 2012. The control of Marseille will be decided there: a UMP hold more likely than not reelects Gaudin, a PS win would probably be enough for them to win Marseille. It will be a contest to watch: polling shows that the runoff is well within the margin of error, with a 1-2% lead for Carlotti.

Lyon

There is much less media interest in Lyon, the third largest city in France. The city, a fairly bourgeois place, has a long tradition of centrist or moderate mayors: Édouard Herriot, the Radical grandee, served as mayor of Lyon between 1908 and 1957 (with the exception of the war years). He was replaced by Louis Pradel, a centre-right independent who preached local interests, uniting a broad array of politicians from the centre to Jacques Soustelle’s French Algeria friends. He was the target of major Gaullist assaults in both 1959 and 1965, but both times Pradel was reelected and in 1971, the Gaullists now backed Pradel. He was replaced after his death by Francisque Collomb (UDF), who was badly defeated in 1989 by Michel Noir, a young ambitious RPR leader whose rising star was shot down by a corruption scandal involving Noir and his father-in-law (a corrupt businessman). In 1995, Noir, indicted for corruption, retired but supported dissident lists around Henry Chabert, his adjoint. The UDF-RPR nominated former Prime Minister Raymond Barre (UDF), who narrowly outpolled the noiristes in the first round (29% to 26%) and defeated the PS-Greens and FN in the runoff. Barre’s retirement after one term reopened the civil war on the right, now divided between an official RPR-UDF list led by Michel Mercier (UDF) and Jean-Michel Dubernard (RPR) and lists led by Charles Millon (DLC), a former regional president. The division of the right, as in Paris, allowed Gérard Collomb, a PS senator backed by the Greens, to win the second round. In the city council, the left took 42 seats against 21 for the millonistes and 10 for the official right.

In tune with Lyon’s political moderation and benefiting from a shift to the left of the city’s well-educated and urban middle-class milieus, Collomb has been very popular. Governing very much as a centrist, Collomb was reelected in a landslide in 2008: his lists won 6 out of 9 arrondissements in the first round, while the UMP only won (in the runoff) the very affluent 2nd and 6th arrondissements, rock-ribbed strongholds of the right. Collomb has not been afraid of going against his party: in the 2012 legislative elections, Collomb backed Thierry Braillard (PRG), a dissident, against a EELV candidate endorsed by the PS; Collomb has also signaled that he is less than enamoured with Hollande’s record thus far. Collomb’s relations with the president of the general council, Michel Mercier (UDI), are also solid: it is thanks to an understanding between both men that the transformation of the CU of Lyon into a de facto department is going ahead.

Running for a third term, there is nothing which can stop him. He is weakened by a more fragmented left: EELV is running autonomously, with Étienne Tête as top candidate; the FG lists include Nathalie Perrin-Gilbert, the ex-PS dissident mayor of the 1st arrondissement. The UMP has likely chosen the best possible candidate. In a primary, local members chose Michel Havard, a former deputy and a moderate. He defeated Georges Fenech, a deputy for a suburban constituency known for his more right-wing positions.

Other cities

Toulouse: In 2008, the PS, led by Pierre Cohen, finally regained Toulouse, a left-leaning city which it had lost back in 1971. Since 1971, the city, which voted for the left in national elections, was governed by the right: Pierre Baudis (1971-1983), succeeded by his son Dominique Baudis (1983-2001), followed by Philippe Douste-Blazy (2001-2004) and ultimately Jean-Luc Moudenc (2004-2008). Despite the national climate, Moudenc, a rather well-liked consensual moderate, put up a solid fight. In the first round, Moudenc came out ahead (42.6%) of the PS (39%) and he lost the runoff by a tiny margin (49.6% to 50.4%). This year’s election is a rematch of the 2008 election: Jean-Luc Moudenc, who was elected to the National Assembly in the 3rd constituency in 2012, is backed the UMP, UDI and MoDem (Christine de Veyrac, a UDI MEP, has maintained her dissident candidacy but she’s not a factor) while incumbent mayor Pierre Cohen is backed by the PS, PCF and PRG. Unlike in 2008, the Greens (EELV) are running autonomously behind Antoine Maurice, a sitting municipal councillor. There is a PG list led by sitting municipal councillor Jean-Christophe Sellin. Polls indicate a very close battle, especially in the first round. However, it appears that with good transfers from EELV and the PG, Cohen is the favourite in the second round. The last poll showed Cohen leading the second round 52-48, but trailing the first round by 1.5.

Nice: Christian Estrosi (UMP) won the 2008 election, comfortably defeating Patrick Allemand (PS) and incumbent mayor Jacques Peyrat. Peyrat is a Algérie française type, ex-FN (FN deputy in 1986) who was close to Jean-Marie Le Pen but, having been defeated by a hair in several close races, quit the FN in 1994 to move closer to the right while still publicly supporting much of the FN’s policies. He was elected mayor in 1995, defeating incumbent RPR mayor Jean-Paul Baréty (1993-1995) by over 10 points in a quadrangulaire with the left and the FN.

Peyrat was also close, however, to the Médecin clan – he was first elected to the municipal council in 1965 when mayor Jean Médecin (1928-1944, 1947-1965) took him under his wing. Médecin the elder, a right-wing nationalist (but, formally, close to the Radicals), was an enthusiastic Pétainiste in 1940 and until the Italian occupation in 1942, and viscerally anti-Gaullist. Médecin successfully set up a ‘système Médecin‘ – a clientelistic network, a distributor of patronage, a local lobby, the expression of a local ‘notable’ who refused all ties with national parties – a right-winger who could be called a fascist without exaggeration who was on good terms with the local PCF deputy, Virgile Barel; nationalistic but more pro-European and pro-American/NATO than most Gaullists. He was deputy from 1932 to 1962, of some relevance nationally but ultimately not very interested by national politics and, because of his independence and localism, kept away from most Parisian cabinets. Jacques Médecin succeeded his father in 1965. He was less anti-Gaullist than his father, being instead very much anticommunist; he was still very right-wing (if not far-right; he said he shared 99.9% of the FN’s idea) and racist. Very crooked, he resigned and fled to Uruguay in 1990, before being extradited to France in 1994 and sentenced in four separate trials but somehow fled back to Uruguay and escaped jail in 1996. While Peyrat wasn’t an ally of Jacques Médecin, there was a rather friendly entente between the two men, whose political differences didn’t go much beyond the fact that one was open about being in the FN and the other was too closely tied to the dynastic family history to do so. Indeed, in 1995, Peyrat visited Médecin in jail and presented himself as his natural successor. Peyrat, however, didn’t set up a ‘système’ of his own, and joined the RPR in 1996, serving as deputy (1997-1998) and senator (1998-2008).

His time was up in 2008, when the now Sarkozyst UMP had little interest in the old man and was, locally, led by Christian Estrosi – who in those years was known as one of Sarkozy’s most loyal footsoldiers. Estrosi is very much on the right: his main image is that of a law-and-order guy who recently prided himself on his administration’s ‘dealing’ with the Roma (and proposed to help other mayors with tips on how to do so). Estrosi is the leading baron of the UMP in the Alpes-Maritimes, his support for Fillon was enough for Fillon to carry the department in the 2012 congress. Estrosi’s reelection, perhaps by the first round, makes no doubt. The city is firmly on the right. The FN’s campaign, led by party vice-president Marie-Christine Arnautu (supported by Jean-Marie Le Pen, over the opposition of his daughter; the FN patriarch is given free rein by her daughter over FN affairs in PACA), has foundered. It is likely that many FN voters have flocked to Estrosi, whose campaign has focused on highlighting his record on criminality.

Estrosi’s non-FN right-wing dissidents are no threat. Jacques Peyrat wants his old job back, but he lacks partisan support (he floated back to the FN, running for them in 2011 and 2012). Olivier Bettati, a UMP general councillor and former ‘adjoint au maire‘ who has always distrusted Estrosi. Bettati, a copéiste, defeated Estrosi in a cantonal election back in 1994. The PS-EELV list is led by local opposition leader (and perennial candidate) Patrick Allemand.

Strasbourg: Governed by centrists (notably Pierre Pfimlin, from the MRP, between 1959 and 1983), Strasbourg was gained by the left, namely Catherine Trautmann (PS) in 1989. She was reelected by the first round in 1995, but she resigned her job in 1997 to become culture minister in Jospin’s government. Her return to municipal politics upon her departure from the government in 2000 created a crisis within the PS majority: she wanted her jobs as mayor and president of the CU, whereas Roland Ries, who had held both offices since 1997, had been previously set to retain the presidency of the CU. Although an agreement was found to allow Trautmann to retake both jobs, the episode profoundly divided the left in Strasbourg. In 2001, Trautmann’s PS-Green list faced a dissident list led by Jean-Claude Petitdemange, a member of the municipal majority and leader of the PS federation in the Bas-Rhin. In the first round, Trautmann won 29.1%, a few decimals behind Fabienne Keller (UDF), while Petitdemange won 12.1%. The latter’s decision to maintain his list in the runoff, sparking a triangulaire, proved fatal for the PS: Keller won with 50.9%, against 40.4% for Trautmann and 8.7% for Petitdemange. In 2008, buoyed by a helpful national climate, Roland Ries (PS) regained control of Strasbourg for the left. Fabienne Keller’s administration had been marred by complaints of authoritarianism by some of councillors in the right-wing majority, as well as a conflict with Robert Grossmann, the president of the CU. In the first round, Ries led Keller by over 10 points – 43.9% to 33.9% – and, with the backing of the Greens (6.4%), Ries won the runoff in a landslide with no less than 58.3%.

This year is another rematch between Keller and Ries, and the UMP is far more confident of its chances of victory. Going for the UMP is the national climate and the right’s greater mobilization in times of lower turnout; going for the PS is the popularity of the incumbent and the city’s lean to the left (Hollande won 54.7%, the culmination of a strengthening of the left since the 1990s in gentrified neighborhoods and the downtown core). Both sides face significant, but not damaging, challenges from their own sides: EELV is running autonomously, like in 2008, with Alain Jund; the UDI is trying its luck with an independent candidacy by François Loos, a former deputy and industry minister under Chirac. The race, originally looking good for the left, has tightened significantly. The last two polls showed that, in the case of a straight PS-UMP runoff, both candidates are tied at 50% apiece. A lot hinges on whether or not the FN, weak in Strasbourg, will qualify for the runoff. If it does, a triangulaire would favour the left, which holds a lead of a few points over the UMP in those scenarios. The UMP is heavily targeting the city, which may be the biggest city which it may gain: the enemies of the party, Copé and Fillon, were brought to a ‘unity’ rally with Keller a week or so ago.

Montpellier: Montpellier has been governed by the PS since 1977, and now leans solidly towards the left – Hollande won 62.4% in the city back in May 2012. Governed by Georges Frêche between 1977 and 2004, he was replaced by Hélène Mandroux. Mandroux originally governed in the shadow of her controversial but masterful predecessor, who remained president of the CA while he served as president of the regional council after 2004. She was easily reelected in 2008, with 47.1% in the first round against 26.1% for UMP deputy Jacques Domergue and 11.1% for the Greens. In the second round, she won 51.9% against 29.5% for the UMP and 18.6% for the Greens. Mandroux, however, saw her relationship with Frêche deteriorate. She was called upon to lead an official PS list against Frêche in the 2010 regional elections (Frêche had been excluded from the PS for anti-Semitic comments), and her result in the first round – 7.7% – was an unmitigated disaster which weakened her leadership. She was left further weakened by conflicts in her majority, still divided between frêchistes and anti-frêchistes. Mandroux was unable to take control of the CA after Frêche’s death in 2010; it went to Jean-Pierre Moure, who allied himself with the frêchistes. In the PS, she gradually lost her influence. Despite these challenges, Mandroux insisted on running for reelection, but in a convoluted process, she was convinced by Ayrault to withdraw her candidacy in favour of Jean-Pierre Moure. However, Moure’s nomination, confirmed in a primary, has divided the PS. Philippe Saurel, a member of the governing majority considered close to interior minister Manuel Valls, is running as a dissident after having refused to participate in primaries (claiming they were manipulated). Saurel’s support in polls has increased exponentially over the campaign, and the last poll placed him at 21%, only 3 points behind UMP-UDI-MoDem candidate Jacques Domergue and 7 points behind Moure, who has won the support of EELV (slightly surprising, given EELV’s longstanding opposition to the Frêche system and the party’s ability to poll well if it ran independently, as in 2008). Saurel has seemingly little intention of withdrawing from the runoff. To jumble things up further, the FN, led by regional councillor France Jamet, has been consistently polling over 10%. A four-way runoff, even maybe a five-way runoff with the FG, is a real possibility. However, despite UMP wet dreams of winning thanks to PS divisions, polls show that Moure retains a strong advantage in all runoff scenarios.

Bordeaux: Hollande won 57% in Bordeaux in 2012 and the city is firmly on the left politically, but there’s no chance that the PS will win it this year. Since 1947, the city has been governed by Gaullists: Jacques Chaban-Delmas was elected for the first time in the Gaullist RPF wave of 1947 and governed the city until his retirement in 1995. Chaban-Delmas, a leading ‘baron of Gaullism’, was reelected year after year with huge majorities by the first round, even in unfavourable climate like 1977. In 1995, he supported Alain Juppé, an ally of Chirac and the new Prime Minister, who won 50.3% in the first round. Juppé, forced out of politics by his sentencing in a corruption scandal (where he is seen as having taken the fall for Chirac), returned as mayor in 2006 following a by-election. His defeat in the 2007 legislative elections to a little-known PS candidate caused undue optimism on the left, which nominated a heavyweight candidate to challenge Juppé in 2008: regional president Alain Rousset. But it wasn’t to be: Juppé won 56.6% by the first round, against 34.1% for the left. The PS, however, won control of the CU of Bordeaux. This year, Juppé is nearly ensured another term by the first round. His PS opponent is Vincent Feltesse, the president of the urban community of Bordeaux.

Lille: Incumbent PS mayor Martine Aubry (since 2001) is a lock to win a third term in a city governed by Socialists with uninterrupted since 1955. The UMP candidate is senator Jean-René Lecerf and the FN, led by Éric Dillies, will likely qualify for the runoff as it had in 2001 and 1995.

Reims: In 2008, the PS (Adeline Hazan) gained Reims, governed by the right since 1983, thanks to the divisions of the right between Renaud Dutreil (UMP, 23% in the first round) and Catherine Vautrin (UMP dissident-MoDem, backed by the retiring DVD mayor, 25.2%). With bad transfers between the two right-wing lists, Hazan defeated Vautrin with 56.1%. This year, the city is a key target for the UMP, which is led by young deputy Arnaud Robinet and supported by Catherine Vautrin, who is also a deputy. Polls indicate a very tight race, with the FN likely to qualify for the runoff.

Le Havre: A major industrial centre and Communist stronghold (it had a PCF mayor between 1965 and 1995, most famously André Duroméa), Le Havre was gained by the RPR in 1995, and the right has twice frustrated Communist attempts to regain its former stronghold. In 2008, incumbent mayor Antoine Rufenacht (UMP) defeated PCF deputy Daniel Paul with 54.7% in the runoff. In the first round, the PCF list, with 29.2%, had outpolled a PS-Green list (13.9%). Rufenacht retired in favour of Édouard Philippe, who was elected deputy in June 2012. With no polling in the race, there’s an element of added suspense: can the left finally regain a city which gave Hollande 58.6% of the vote? Which of the PS and FG will come out ahead on the left? Can the FN, which won 20.8% in 1995 but has performed poorly since then, qualify for the second round?

Saint-Étienne: With the exception of a PCF mayor between 1977 and 1983, Saint-Étienne, despite being a rather blue-collar and industrial city, had been governed by the centre-right for most of its history. In 2008, incumbent mayor Michel Thiollière (Radical-UMP) was seen as the favourite, but he was badly hurt by Gilles Artigues (MoDem), a former UDF deputy who won 20.2% in the first round against 37.9% for Thiollière and 33.7% for Maurice Vincent (PS-PCF-PRG-MRC). In a fatal triangulaire with the centre, Thiollière was narrowly defeated, 41.6% against 46.1% for Vincent. Vincent, now a senator, is credited for cleaning up the city’s finance, after his predecessors had signed up for ‘toxic debts’. Nevertheless, and despite Hollande’s strong result in the city in 2012 (58.3%), Vincent is very vulnerable. Gaël Perdriau (UMP, leader of the opposition) has managed the feat of uniting a very fractious and divided right, including supporters of the former mayor and Gilles Artigues (UDI, third on the list). The first round promises to be closely fought, while the second round will almost certainly be a triangulaire with the FN (Marine won 17.6% in the city, and the FN qualified for the runoff in 1989, 1995 and 2001) in which the incumbent has a small, but weak, lead.

Grenoble: Governed by the PS since Michel Destot (PS) won the city in 1995, the incumbent is now retiring. The city is firmly on the left, with 64.3% for Hollande, and the FN is weak (10.9% in 2012); nevertheless, the left is traditionally divided between the PS and the Greens. There is a strong New Left/environmentalist tradition in Grenoble, most famously channeled by former mayor Hubert Dubedout (1965-1983) and the local Groupe d’action municipale (GAM). More recently, the Greens won 12% in 1995, 19.8% in 2001 and 22.5% in the 2008 (runoff, after 15.6% in the first round). The PS candidate, backed by the PCF, is Jérôme Safar, an ally of the outgoing mayor. He faces a strong challenge from Eric Piolle, a EELV regional councillor who is supported by the PG. The right in Grenoble continues to traumatized and divided by the tenure of Alain Carignon (RPR, 1983-1995), once a rising star of the right before his career was compromised by two corruption scandals (for which he actually served jail time). Carignon, who is unpopular with the wider electorate and divides within his own party, wanted to run this year. The UMP, however, endorsed opposition leader Matthieu Chamussy, who placed Carignon further down on his list (eligible for a seat only if the list won); Carignon refused and convinced Copé to withdraw the UMP endorsement from Chamussy in October. Facing pushback from Chamussy and the Fillon camp, the UMP backtracked and Chamussy was re-endorsed, while Carignon took the 9th spot on the UMP list. Polls show that Grenoble will stay on the left, but there is an interesting battle between Safar (PS-PCF) and Piolle (EELV-PG): polls have shown Piolle to be in second, about 10 points behind Safar, but ahead of the UMP. Even in the case of a triangulaire with EELV, the PS should likely win (a normal two-way battle would result in a left-wing landslide).

Angers: Angers has been governed by the left since 1977, but fittingly for a Christian democratic department, the PS has been centrist: Jean Monnier, the mayor between 1977 and 1998, was excluded from the PS in 1983 for refusing to ally with the PCF and forming a coalition with the centrist CDS. Reelected handily with centrist crossover support, Monnier’s successor, Jean-Claude Antonini has somewhat followed in his footsteps (but no formal alliances with the centre-right) and his relations with the PCF and far-left were tense. Antonini, reelected by a wide margin in 2001, survived a very hot race in 2008, which pitted him against Christophe Béchu, the young UMP president of the general council and the ‘rising star’ of the local right (he’s been a UMP candidate in municipal, cantonal, regional, European and senatorial elections!). Antonini resigned in 2012, and was replaced by Frédéric Béatse (PS), who defeated Jean-Luc Rotureau (PS) in an internal vote. The succession has been badly handled: Rotureau, whose demand for open primaries was rejected, is running as a dissident against the incumbent mayor. With polls indicating that the dissident is taking up to 17%, the situation looks perfect for a UMP gain: Christophe Béchu, now a senator and president of the general council after having been a regional councillor and MEP, is the favourite and polls show that he would win the runoff by a comfortable margin (and will likely dominate the first round).

Aix-en-Provence: Incumbent UMP mayor Maryse Joissains-Masini, in office since 2001, is facing a tough reelection – but she’s used to winning very narrowly. But this year, two years after losing her seat in the National Assembly, she is weakened by a divided right and a judicial investigation against her for a case of emplois fictifs. Her municipal majority is divided, with Bruno Genzana (UDI), a former member of her majority, leading a UDI list backed by Jean Chorro (UMP), a former premier adjoint to the mayor. Attempts at mediation and compromise have failed; the mayor is dead-set on running for reelection and grooming her daughter, UDI Sophie Joissains, to succeed her. However, the left is also divided in its own right: the PS candidate is Edouard Baldo, but there is an independent centre-left list (backed by Guérini) led by François-Xavier de Peretti (ex-MoDem, son of a former UDF mayor) and Alexandre Medvedowsky (PS, candidate in 2008 and 2009). Maryse won her first term in 2001 with 50.7%, and won reelection in 2008 with 44.3% against 42.9% for Medvedowsky (PS) and 12.8% for de Peretti (MoDem). Invalidated, she won a 2009 by-election with 50.2% against 49.8% for Medvedowsky (PS-MoDem-Greens). One poll shows Maryse as the favourite, but if de Peretti’s list joins that of the PS and the FN qualifies for the runoff, she could be in mortal danger.

Amiens: The PS scored a surprise victory in Amiens over incumbent mayor Gilles de Robien (NC) in 2008, with Gilles Demailly (PS) winning 56.2% in the runoff. Demailly is not seeking reelection, and the PS-PCF-EELV list is led by Thierry Bonté, vice-president of the CA. The right is led by Brigitte Fouré (UDI), a general councillor and former mayor (2002-2007, while Robien was in cabinet); she’s running in tandem with Alain Gest (UMP), deputy and a former president of the general council who would be president of the CA in the case of victory. The FN has a strong enough base – over 16% for Le Pen in 2012 – to qualify for the runoff. The last poll showed the right leading by 10 in the first round, but a perfect tie in the runoff.

Metz: For the first time since 1848, as the media reported, the PS gained Metz in 2008. Dominique Gros profited from the division of the right, whose legendarily ugly divisions in Metz and Moselle finally hurt them. Metz had been governed since 1971 by Jean-Marie Rausch, a centrist (CDS) who had joined the PS government in 1988. Rausch was reelected with PS support in 1989, and his last two victories – in 1995 and 2001 – came despite RPR and PS opposition. In 2008, the right and centre was a huge mess: Rausch, running out of steam, piled on for another term; the UMP endorsed Marie-Jo Zimmermann, a UMP deputy; Nathalie Griesbeck, a MoDem MEP and general councillor ran and there was one smaller DVD list. In the first round, Gros (PS) won 34% against 24.2% for Rausch, 16.9% for Zimmermann, 14.7% for Griesbeck and 5.6% for the other right-winger. The UMP HQs instructed Zimmermann to withdraw in Rausch’s favour, but she refused and merged her list with that of the MoDem and the DVD. In retaliation, the UMP withdrew their support from her list to support Rausch. In the runoff, Gros won 48.3% against 27.4% for the incumbent and 24.3% for Zimmermann. The contest this year is cleaner and competitive: Gros (backed by the PRG and EELV) faces Zimmermann, who leads a united right and centre (UMP-UDI-MoDem). The outcome hinges on the FN: if the list led by regional councillor Françoise Grolet qualifies, a triangulaire would likely favour Gros; a two-way runoff, according to polls, would be open-ended but the one poll showed the UMP ahead by 2 in a PS-UMP runoff scenario.

Perpignan: Located in southwestern France, Perpignan, where Le Pen won 22.5% in 2012, is a major FN target. The city has been governed by the right since the 1970s, when Socialist mayor Paul Alduy (1959-1993) was excluded from the PS in 1976 for opposing the alliance with the PCF. He was succeeded by his son, Jean-Paul Alduy (UDF, UMP), reelected in contentious conditions in 2008 and reelected in a 2009 by-election. He has since retired, and Jean-Marc Pujol (UMP) replaced him and is now running for a first full term. The FN candidate is Louis Aliot, a regional councillor and party vice-president who is also Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend. Aliot has built a strong base for himself in Perpignan, a city with high security and immigration concerns favourable to a strong FN vote; even in 2008, a terrible year for the FN, Aliot’s list won 12.3% in the first round (but only 9.4% in 2009). The left is divided, between Jacques Cresta, a newly-elected PS deputy and Jean Codognès, a former PS deputy and candidate in both 2008 and 2009 who’s new atop a EELV list. While Aliot is polling nearly 30%, he is nowhere near striking distance of first. The UMP incumbent should hold his seat without much of a sweat.

Boulogne-Billancourt: Suburban, affluent (but it hasn’t always been so: it used to be a fairly leftist industrial place) and in the Hauts-de-Seine, Boulogne-Billancourt is a right-wing stronghold (63% Sarkozy in 2012) and the right has been in charge since 1971. However, the right is very divided, split by complex personal animosities and complicated by shifting alliances. As in 2008, the right is very divided: incumbent mayor Pierre-Christophe Baguet (UMP, UDF until 2006) won the seat in 2008, defeating senator Jean-Pierre Fourcade (UMP dissident), who had been mayor between 1995 and 2007, when he had resigned in favour of Pierre-Mathieu Duhamel (UMP), in order to block Baguet from being mayor. Duhamel betrayed Fourcade by not running in 2008 and allowing Baguet, endorsed by the UMP, to run unencumbered; that forced Fourcade to run. In the 2008 runoff, Baguet won 44.3% against 34.9% for Fourcade and 20.8% for the left. This year, Pierre-Mathieu Duhamel is running against incumbent mayor Pierre-Christophe Baguet. Baguet is the official UMP candidate, but Duhamel is backed by Alain Juppé, Fourcade and sitting deputy Thierre Solère (app. UMP), who was elected in 2012 as a dissident candidate (backed by Duhamel) against the official UMP candidate, Claude Guéant.

Caen: In 2008, the PS finally gained Caen: for years, the PS, led by Louis Mexandeau (a PS deputy between 1973 and 2002), had tried for thirty years – each time in vain – to wrestle control of city hall from the hands of Jean-Marie Girault (UDF, mayor 1971-2001) and his successor, Brigitte Le Brethon (UDF, UMP). Finally making good on the city’s shift to the left – Hollande won about 61% in 2012 – the PS, led by Philippe Duron, the president of the regional council, defeated incumbent UMP mayor Brigitte Le Brethon, who had already lost her seat in the National Assembly to Duron in 2007. In the runoff, Duron won 56.3%. This year, the PS may fall victim to the national mood. But first, the right will need to figure out who will lead it in the runoff: in one of the most competitive ‘primaries’ between UMP and UDI, the UMP’s regional councillor Joël Bruneau faces UDI general councillor Sonia de la Provôté (a strong candidate, having gained, despite very unfavourable tail winds, a Caen canton from the PS in 2011). A poll in late February showed the UMP with 26% against 20% for the UDI (and 28% for the PS mayor, who faces a EELV and PG-NPA list, both standing at 9% in that poll). That same poll showed that, regardless of the candidate, the right leads the mayor in the runoff: 51-49 if it’s the UMP, 53-47 if it’s the UDI.

Saint-Denis (93): Saint-Denis, a proletarian suburb in Paris’ famous Red Belt, has been held by the PCF since 1945, and before that since 1922 (save for the Doriot episode in the mid-1930s). Up until recently, the PS had not challenged the PCF’s hegemony over the city; however, the decline of the PCF in national elections has whet the PS’ appetite and the PS ran a candidate against PCF mayor Didier Paillard in 2008; the PCF held on rather easily, with 51.1% in the runoff but the PS took 30.6% in the runoff. In 2012, in a major shock, FG incumbent Patrick Braouezec was defeated by PS candidate Mathieu Hanotin, a young ally of the department’s powerful PS president of the general council, Claude Bartolone (whose ambition is to further cripple the PCF). This year, competition is even more ferocious: Paillard, backed by EELV, faces Hanotin, the new PS deputy. A poll gave the FG a 10 point lead over the PS in the first round, with the UMP on 10%. A runoff with the UMP would help the FG; a two-way battle between the FG and PS in the runoff may play more to the PS’ advantage, given that UMP voters would likely back Hanotin to defeat the PCF.

Nancy: The PS has never held Nancy, which has been ruled by centre-right or Gaullist mayors (albeit sometimes in socialocentriste coalitions with the Socialists) since at least 1945. The incumbent mayor, André Rossinot (UDI), in office since 1983, is retiring (but still running for reelection to the municipal council) in favour of Laurent Hénart (UDI), a young deputy defeated in 2012. The city is one of the left’s best hopes for a pickup: the PS-PCF-EELV candidate, Mathieu Klein, a young vice-president of the general council, is a strong candidate and the city has shifted left (55% for Hollande). Two polls have both shown Klein as the narrow favourite, but nothing is decided yet.

Argenteuil: The RPR, led by Georges Mothron and by focusing heavily on security issues, picked up Argenteuil, a working-class suburb in the Val-d’Oise which had been ruled by the PCF since 1945. In 2008, he was defeated by Philippe Doucet (PS-PCF), although very narrowly (50.6% for the left in the second round). This year, Mothron, who lost his seat in the National Assembly to Doucet in 2012, is running against Doucet, who has lost the support of the PCF, running autonomously on a FG list. One poll back in 2013 showed Doucet in the lead, but that was a while ago and it’s very unclear how things will shape up.

Montreuil: In the Seine-Saint-Denis, Montreuil is another solidly left-wing and historically very proletarian suburban commune, governed by the PCF since 1945. In 2008, incumbent mayor Jean-Pierre Brard, in office since 1984 (originally PCF, he left the party in 1996 for the CAP), faced a strong challenge from the Greens, who had already placed a distant second in 2001. The Greens have been increasingly strong in Montreuil, a result of gentrification in parts of the city which has seen educated and professional ‘bobos’ replace older working-class residents. In 2008, the Green candidate was Dominique Voynet, a two-time Green presidential candidate and senator; although Brard was still endorsed by the PS, Voynet was supported by many local PS dissidents. In the first round, Brard won 39.4% against 32.5% for Voynet; in the runoff, benefiting from the absence of the right, she won with 54.2%. Her administration, however, has been a mess, wracked by numerous divisions in her majority. Knowing that she would lose reelection badly, she will not be running again. The result is a very divided left. Brard, who lost his seat in the National Assembly in 2012, is running again and is the man to beat; but he doesn’t have the FG’s support (unlike in 2012) and his age and autocratic tendency make him a polarizing figure on the left. The FG candidate is PCF regional councillor Patrice Bessac. The PS is behind Razzy Hammadi, a former PS youth leader who had difficulty getting elected before emerging victorious in the constituency covering Montreuil in June 2012. Hammadi, however, is rather unpopular on the left and even within his own party, and faces a PS dissident, incumbent (pro-Voynet) municipal councillor Mouna Viprey. While EELV is in poor shape here, their candidate, Ibrahim Dufriche-Soilihi, backed by Voynet, is still worth noting. The UMP’s candidate is Manon Laporte, the wife of former rugby coach and junior minister for sports (2007-2009) Bernard Laporte. Polls show a real mess: Brard is ahead, with a substantial lead in the first round, but all other leftist candidates are in contention: the FG’s Patrice Bessac appears to be in second, while Hammadi (PS), Dufriche (EELV) and Laporte (UMP) fight for third. Viprey, with 9-10%, may qualify for the runoff. The first round is so messy that the runoff has not been polled: because nobody knows what it’ll look like!

Nouméa: Politics in New Caledonia are complicated and worlds apart from metro France, but the contest in the capital of the territory – Nouméa – is very interesting. A white city, Nouméa is strongly on the right (with the anti-independence parties) while the pro-independence left is a non-factor. As in 2008, therefore, the battle is fought on the right. The city has been controlled since 1977 by the RPCR/Rassemblement-UMP, the leading right-wing party whose leadership of the right has been challenged in the past decade and which is very divided. Incumbent R-UMP mayor Jean Lèques is retiring in favour of Jean-Claude Briault. Briault is backed by senator Pierre Frogier’s R-UMP and president of the government Harold Martin’s centre-right Avenir ensemble. But in 2013, the R-UMP split, with right-wingers opposed to Frogier’s conciliatory policy towards the nationalists walking out of the party to create a new party, led by Gaël Yanno, a municipal councillor and deputy for Nouméa until his defeat by Calédonie ensemble‘s Sonia Lagarde in 2012. Gaël Yanno’s supporters have split the governing majority down the middle, with 20 councillors against 22 for Lèques -Briault-Frogier. Yanno is running, with the endorsement of the national UMP; Sonia Lagarde, Calédonie ensemble (UDI) deputy since 2012 and runner-up in 2008, is also running. With little coverage in the French metropolitan media, I can’t say I have any idea how this right-wing civil war, which sets the ground for a major showdown in the May 2014 provincial election, will shape up.

Avignon: The RPR, with Marie-Josée Roig, gained Avignon in 1995 and successfully defended it against a high-profile PS assault in 2001 (led by then-cabinet minister Elisabeth Guigou) and narrowly held it again in 2008. Roig, embroiled in corruption allegations and accused of employing her son as her parliamentary assistant, is retiring and supporting Bernard Chaussegros, a low-profile UMP businessman, to succeed her. With a weak UMP candidate, Avignon is the most likely PS pickup. Cécile Helle, a PS regional councillor, has a wide lead in polls. In the first round, the last poll showed her with 29% against 27% for the FN, 23% for the UMP and 16% for the FG (led by PCF general councillor André Castelli, who won over 14% in 2008); in the runoff, she leads the UMP by 15.

Pau: The race in Pau drew nationwide attention in 2008: François Bayrou, the leader of the MoDem, tried to conquer a city governed by the PS since 1971 (with local icon André Labarrère until his death in 2006). The incumbent PS mayor, Yves Urieta, had switched sides to support Sarkozy’s government (like the PS mayor of Mulhouse, Jean-Marie Bockel) and was seeking reelection with the UMP’s endorsement. Bayrou faced Martine Lignières-Cassou, a somewhat anonymous PS deputy. The first round saw the PS pull ahead with 33.9% against 32.6% for Bayrou and 27.8% for Urieta. In the runoff, the PS won 39.8% against 38.8% for Bayrou and 21.4% for Urieta. It was a major defeat for Bayrou. He’s trying again this year, after losing his seat in the National Assembly to the PS in June 2012. This year, Bayrou, despite having endorsed Hollande in the 2012 runoff, has ensured for himself the backing of the UMP. It’s a marriage of convenience, which annoys the right of the UMP and the local party, but which allows the UMP to count on Bayrou’s support in places such as Paris. The PS mayor retiring, the PS candidate is David Habib, a PS deputy since 2002. Urieta, who now lacks UMP backing, is running as an independent. Polling have shown a growing lead for Bayrou, who is uniting the right without hassles; in the latest poll, Bayrou leads Habib by 14 in the first round and would win a triangulaire (with Urieta, polling in the low 10s), by 8.

Aubervilliers: Aubervilliers, an historic PCF stronghold (held since 1945), was the only Seine-Saint-Denis city with a ‘PS-PCF primary’ in 2008 to fall to the PS. This year, incumbent PS mayor Jacques Salvator faces a rematch against former PCF mayor Pascal Beaudet (FG). Beaudet was defeated by 3 points in a four-way runoff in 2008, but he successfully picked up an Aubervilliers canton from the PS (held by Salvator’s wife) in 2011, which may indicate that this rematch will be rather close. There has been no polling that I know of.

La Rochelle: In 2012, La Rochelle made national headlines because of the left-wing civil war in the legislative election between Ségolène Royal (2007 presidential candidate and Hollande’s ex girlfriend) backed by the PS mayor Maxime Bono, and local PS dissident Oliver Falorni, who emerged victorious by a wide margin. The painful civil war in La Rochelle, a left-wing stronghold governed by the left since 1971, isn’t over yet. Bono, who took office at the death of his predecessor Michel Crépeau (PRG, mayor 1971-1999), is retiring but is supporting Anne-Laure Jaumouillié, a 34-year old teacher who has been a municipal councillor since 2008. She won a primary (by 34 votes, out of 3.6k votes) over Jean-François Fountaine, a veteran 62-year old politician who is vice-president of the CA La Rochelle. Fountaine, a former member of the PRG, was regional councillor between 1992 and 2010, and had a very public spat with Ségolène in 2008 and strongly supported Falorni in 2012 (which led to his falling out with Bono). Fountaine, alleging irregularities, refused to withdraw and is standing as a dissident with PRG support against the PS candidate. A poll in late February found the PS candidate leading Fountaine by 2 in the first round, with the UMP, as in 2012, suffering from a left-wing civil war which draws some right-wingers to vote strategically (for Fountaine, who is drawing UMP-UDI votes). However, unlike in 2012, the UMP will qualify for the runoff, which changes matters because Falorni’s victory owed a lot (but not entirely, unlike Bono/Royal pretended) to right-wing support in both rounds.

Cannes: On the sunny Côte-d’Azur, Cannes is a right-wing stronghold and sees a civil war on the right, as in 2008. Incumbent UMP mayor Bernard Brochand, in office since 2001, is retiring in favour of his young dauphin, general councillor David Lisnard, who is a filloniste like his mentor. Lisnard faces a challenge from Philippe Tabarot, a general councillor and leader of the municipal opposition since 2008 – he is also the brother of Michèle Tabarot, the mayor of Le Cannet and the copéiste general-secretary of the UMP. Tabarot lost to Brochand by a bit over 1,000 votes in 2008. The national UMP, divided between supporters of both candidates, has chosen not to choose any candidate: no official endorsement, so both are UMP members and candidates. Polls show that Lisnard, endorsed by Sarkozy, is the favourite, with a 7 point lead in the first round over Tabarot and consistent and significant leads over Tabarot in the second round. The left and FN may both qualify for the runoff, but are non-factors.

Béziers: This is the largest city in which the FN has a fighting chance of winning. The UMP incumbent, Raymond Couderc, is retiring this year in favour of UMP deputy Élie Aboud. The FN, along with Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s Arise the Republic (DLR) and small right-wing parties (RPF, MPF), is backing Robert Ménard, a pied-noir journalist and former president of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Ménard was more on the left in the past, but has moved towards the far-right, without joining or voting for (he claims) the FN although he has openly said that he shares most of the FN’s positions. The race, which has attracted national attention, has seen a clear tightening in Ménard’s favour: he now leads the field in the first round, while he trails Aboud in the runoff by only 1 or 2 points.

Ajaccio: A very close and interesting battle in Napoleon Bonaparte’s hometown. The incumbent mayor, Simon Renucci (CSD/DVG), has held office since 2001, when he ended 54 years of Bonapartist (yes, for real) rule – in all, the local Bonapartist party, the CCB, ruled Ajaccio for 109 of the 117 years between 1884 and 2001. Handily reelected in 2008, Renucci was defeated in the 2012 legislative elections by Laurent Marcangeli (UMP), who is now his top rival. Polls have shown that Renucci remains the favourite, with a substantial lead over Marcangeli (who is endorsed by the CCB). The nationalists are united (between autonomists and separatists) here, but while they may be kingmakers in a runoff, they are not in contention (15% in polls).

Corbeil-Essonnes: The town is a low-income suburb which leans solidly left in national elections (63% for Hollande) and was ruled by the PCF between 1959 and 1995, when Serge Dassault (RPR), a businessman who remains owner of Le Figaro and leading player in the family enterprise, the aeronautics and weaponry giant Dassault. Reelected in 2008, with 50.7% against 49.4% for the PCF, his PCF rival accused him of vote buying and the election was invalidated, and Dassault declared ineligible to hold municipal office for one year. In a 2009 by-election, Dassault’s protege Jean-Pierre Bechter (UMP) was reelected by a 27 vote margin against the PCF. Bechter was reelected with a wider majority against a common PCF-PS candidate in a 2010 by-election. Dassault, who remains in the Senate, is now facing another scandal: he’s alleged of paying millions of euros to ensure Bechter’s victory. His senatorial immunity was lifted in February 2014. This year, Bechter is running for reelection, facing a divided left: the PS is supporting Carlos da Silva, a deputy and close ally of Manuel Valls (who was mayor of neighboring Évry until 2012); the FG candidate is Bruno Piriou (PCF), a general councillor. The outcome of the PS-PCF battle is very unclear; regardless of who wins that, the runoff is a pure tossup.

Bastia: Incumbent mayor Émile Zuccarelli (PRG), in office since he replaced his father in 1989, is retiring and wants his son, Jean Zuccarelli, to succeed him. Traditionally hegemonic in the city, the family took a hit with Émile Zuccarelli’s defeat at the hands of the UMP in the 2007 legislative elections (nationalists, who loathe the stridently anti-nationalist and Jacobin Zuccarelli, vowed to have him defeated) although the divisions of the opposition allowed him to win reelection without too much trouble in 2008. But in 2012, Jean too fell victim to nationalist backlash and failed to reconquer his father’s seat in the National Assembly. The succession has been handled poorly: a frustrated former ally of the mayor who saw himself as his heir-apparent, François Tatti, is running as a dissident. The moderate nationalist candidate is Gilles Simeoni, the son of nationalist icon Edmond Simeoni. The race promises to be a nail-biter: polls show Simeoni and Zuccarelli nearly tied in the first round, with the runoff hinging on the alliances forged: if Tatti joins forces with Simeoni, then the nationalists would be the favourites; if Tatti does not withdraw, the runoff remains very close with no clear favourite.

Hénin-Beaumont: Hénin-Beaumont, an impoverished former mining town in the Pas-de-Calais’ mining basin, is Marine Le Pen’s political homebase since 2007. In addition to the social reality of the depressed post-industrial town, the division, troubles and discredit of the local PS (former mayor Gérard Dalongeville was arrested in 2009 for embezzlement) has been a godsend for the FN. In addition, locally led by Le Pen’s lieutenant Steeve Briois, the FN has done a great job at setting up a powerful machine on the ground – to the point where the FN speaks openly of its aims to recreate a tradition akin to ‘municipal communism’, providing services to its constituents. Although Briois/Le Pen’s list did poorly in the 2008 election, the 2009 by-election which followed Dalongeville’s removal from office, the FN won 47.6% in the second round. In the 2012 legislative elections, Marine Le Pen won a majority of the vote in Hénin-Beaumont in the runoff (she lost the constituency because her PS rival, Philippe Kemel, did well in his town of Carvin). This year, incumbent PS mayor Eugène Binaisse is seeking reelection, going up against Steeve Briois. Dalongeville, despite having been sentenced to prison last year, is running as a left-wing independent. Polls have shown that Briois may win the runoff.

Forbach: Forbach is one of the FN’s main targets. It is the largest city in Moselle’s coal mining basin, and as such it is working-class and economically depressed (14% unemployment, declining population since 1982) town. Despite being very working-class, like most of the coal basin in Moselle, it is historically right-wing (51.5% for Sarko in 2012). The right governed the city between 1953 and 2008, and generally held the corresponding canton for most of that time as well. The incumbent PS mayor, Laurent Kalinowski gained the city in 2008 because of a very divided right. Kalinowski had been general councillor since 2004 and was elected deputy for the 6th constituency in 2012, defeating Le Pen’s campaign director and FN vice-president Florian Philippot in a PS-FN runoff (with only 53.7%: transfers from the UMP incumbent, defeated by the first round, to the FN were very high). Philippot, an ENA/HEC technocrat has set up shop in the depressed post-industrial Moselle coal basin, which is one of the FN’s strongest regions. The right is divided, between the official UMP candidate Alexandre Cassaro, the leader of the Jeunes Pop and very close ideologically to the far-right; and the local dissident, Eric Diligent, who is more centrist. One poll has shown a very close race between the PS and the FN, with both candidates tied in the second round.

Other races to follow:

  • Right hoping for a gain from the left: Auxerre, Laval, Belfort, La Seyne-sur-Mer, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Brive-la-Gaillarde, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, Albertville, Briançon, Bourgoin-Jallieu, Clamart
  • Left hoping for a gain from the right: Nîmes, Bourges, Mulhouse, Calais, Biarritz, Bayonne, Montauban, Vienne
  • Left-wing solid or likely: Nantes, Rennes, Brest, Dijon, Besançon, Clermont-Ferrand, Limoges, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Dunkerque, Tours, Créteil, Villeurbanne Istres, Poitiers, Dieppe, Le Mans
  • Right-wing solid or likely: Toulon, Orléans, Saint-Quentin, Chartres
  • PS-PCF primaries in many towns in the Seine-Saint-Denis: Bagnolet, Saint-Ouen, Sevran, Villepinte, Villetaneuse
  • Right-wing divisions: Saint-Maur-des-Fossés
  • FN targets: Sorgues (Marion-Maréchal Le Pen in second on the list), Carpentras, Brignoles (after a FN gain in a cantonal by-election in 2013, the new FN general councillor takes on the incumbent left and a UMP deputy), Saint-Gilles (FN deputy Gilbert Collard running for mayor in the first town won by the FN), Fréjus (a divided right with the ex-UMP mayor running as a dissident may help the FN win)
  • Crazy: Noyon (two brothers, one UMP and one PS, fighting it out with the FN on a strong footing), Propriano

Follow @welections on Twitter on March 23 and 30 for major results.

Election Preview: France Municipal Elections 2014 – Part I

Municipal elections will be held in France on March 23 and 30, 2014. The municipal councils of all 36,681 communes in France will be up for reelection.

How it works: French municipal government

La commune in France

Communes of France

The commune is the lowest echelon of government in France, below the State, the regions and the departments. France has 36,681 communes – 36,552 in metropolitan France and Corsica and 129 in overseas departments and regions. Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, French Polynesia and New Caledonia (overseas collectivities) are also divided into communes, like the rest of France, and they vote at the same time in municipal elections. Only Saint-Martin, Saint-Barthélemy, Wallis-et-Futuna and uninhabited territories (French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Clipperton Island).

France has, by far, the most communes of any EU country: Germany has about 12,000 municipalities, the UK has about 10,5000 civil parishes, Spain and Italy have about 8,100 municipalities. Most French communes are very sparsely populated: 54.3% have less than 500 inhabitants, 73.4% have less than 1,000 inhabitants. Yet, only 14.6% of the French population lives in communes with less than 100,000 people; about half of the population lives in 946 communes (2.6% of all communes). The smallest populated commune, Rochefourchat, has a legal population of one; there are six communes in the Meuse which have no inhabitants: they were destroyed during the Battle of Verdun (1916) and never rebuilt. They have retained a status as communes (officially, communes mortes pour la France), but they are totally uninhabited and administered by a mayor and two deputies nominated by the prefect.

Communes are a Revolutionary creation, dating back to 1789 when the new Revolutionary authorities established about 40,000 communes, largely corresponding to religious parishes. Indeed, almost every single commune in France has a Church (in addition, nowadays, to the obligatory local monument aux morts for the war dead). Until 1870, the State’s policy was to abolish communes with excessively low populations which were no longer viable and creating communes in areas where the original map was problematic (large territory, hamlets blocked by physical features). By the waning days of the Second Empire, municipal mergers (fusions) were unpopular with the local populations, and the Republican opposition promised emancipation for communes. An 1884 law established the main structures of local government, the broad principles of which have remained unchanged to this day. Each commune has a municipal council directly elected by the population and a mayor elected by the municipal council. The 1884 law also established the clause de compétence générale (a legal clause which has allowed communes/departments/regions to intervene in all matters which they can argue to be in the local public interest).

In part because of their long history and Revolutionary heritage, communes are still largely perceived as the base of local democracy and decision-making – a core “republican value”. Citizens, especially in small villages, are very attached to their commune and they have tended to care a great deal about local politics and local democracy (again, particularly in rural areas), much more so than in other countries. Turnout in French municipal elections has been above 60% in every election since World War II; in fact, it was over 70% in every election before 1995 and while 2008 marked an all-time low, turnout was still 65%. Turnout increases linearly as the population of the commune decreases.

The extremely large number of communes in France, combined to successive rural exoduses since the Industrial Revolution which have reduced the populations of thousands of small rural communes, has made local governance problematic. Successive governments since the 1890s, and particularly since 1945, have struggled to come up with solutions to this fundamental challenge to local democracy. Given that communes, by and large, are hostile to mergers with larger (more viable) communes; most governments since the 1890s have usually shied away from promoting ambitious municipal merger schemes. The main exception to that tradition came in 1971, with the Marcellin law (after interior minister Raymond Marcellin), which sought to promote municipal mergers. Individual prefects were instructed to come up with merger plans, which were to be approved by municipal councils. These could either be full mergers, in which one commune would disappear entirely within another, or retain some individual autonomy (for example, a delegated mayor and a decentralized town hall providing vital records) as a commune associée (associated commune). The Marcellin law was a failure: individual prefects acted differently (either proposing vast mergers, or limited and partial mergers depending on the region) and created a mess, and the associated commune status was unattractive. Between 1971 and 2009, only 1,100 communes effectively disappeared (most in the 1970s). There are currently 712 associated communes. A good number of the original mergers and associations were later dissolved, with old communes regaining their independence.

The 2010 Sarkozy reform tried to encourage municipal mergers and effectively replaced the moribund Marcellin law’s associated communes with the status of commune nouvelle (new communes) which is pretty much the same thing as associated communes (although slightly closer to a full merger) with the guidelines for their creations not all that different from the ones in the Marcellin law. Its application has been very limited: there are only 17 fewer communes in 2014 than in 2008.

The intercommunalité (EPCI)

Map of EPCI in France as of Jan. 1, 2014 (source: collectivites-locales.gouv.fr)

Given the failure of the amalgamation schemes and the general impracticality of merging communes, governments have been forced to consider other structures to make local governance viable. The solution has been intercommunal cooperation, which began taking its current form rapid post-war urban/suburban expansion and rural depopulation in the 1960s. Intercommunal cooperation takes two distinct, but overlapping and co-existing, forms: loose “associative” cooperation to provide certain public services or utilities (water, electricity, waste management, school transportation) or more cohesive “federative” cooperation which has more powers, responsibilities and more ambitious aims including economic development.

The structure of intercommunal cooperation is thus complex, but at the same time increasingly important. Intercommunal structures have gained more and more powers and financial resources, at the expense of communes but also from departments, regions and the State. Intercommunal cooperation structures are known as établissements publics de coopération intercommunale (EPCI) or intercommunalité.

Communes or EPCI are responsible for: elementary schools (buildings, equipment), culture (shared power with the State and departments/regions), youth (nurseries, recreation centres), sports (equipment and subsidies), tourism, local urban policy/planning, advice and approval for territorial planning, environment (shared power over water, protected zones; waste management, water sanitation and distribution), local marinas, communal roads, urban transportation/public transit, school transportation, management of local public/social housing, municipal police forces (except Paris), traffic and parking.

The oldest form of intercommunal cooperation is the very loose “associative” form whereby communes – but also other territorial collectivities (departments, regions) – join together to provide one or more public services or utilities. The first such form of intercommunal cooperation was created in 1890, expanded in 1935 and 1959. These EPCI lacking fiscal autonomy (they rely on financial contributions from members) include 8,979 Syndicat intercommunal à vocation unique (Sivu, providing only one service), 3,187 Syndicats mixtes (associating different territorial collectivities, intended as a forum for different territorial collectivities and actors to cooperate amongst themselves), 1,233 Syndicat intercommunal à vocations multiples (Sivom, providing more than one service) and 9 Pôles métropolitains (a 2010 creation to encourage cooperation between different agglomerations). These types of EPCI are losing their attractiveness; the number of syndicates has declined from about 15,300 in 2010 to 13,400 in 2014.

Of far greater importance are the EPCI with fiscal autonomy, the most common, widespread and important form of intercommunal cooperation in France. In 2014, there are 2,145 such EPCI grouping 36,614 communes in metro France and the four DOMs (excluding Mayotte). 49 communes outside Paris and Mayotte remain ‘isolated’ – that is, not a member of any EPCI, but of those, 41 are in the petite couronne outside Paris (where a major reform of intercommunal government is in the works) and four are islands with no legal obligation to join an EPCI. Straightforward so far? It isn’t supposed to be – there are many different types of EPCI with fiscal autonomy in France.

The first intercommunalité structure was the district, created in 1959 (abolished in 1999 and phased out by 2002), followed by the more ambitious communautés urbaines (urban communities, CU) in 1966. In 1992, a law created the communautés de communes (community of communes, CC). The 1999 Chevènement law beefed up the responsibilities of urban communities and the CC, abolished the failed structures, and created a new kind of structure: communautés d’agglomeration (agglomeration communities, CA). The 2010 Sarkozy reform set out to clean up and rationalize the intercommunal structure – forcing all communes in metro France (with Parisian and insular exceptions) to join an EPCI, created a fifth structure: the metropolis (métropole), for very large urban areas.

The métropole (metropolis) - only one exists thus far (Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur) – is limited to large urban areas; legally, it is reserved for territories with a population of over 500,000 and/or the four original urban communities created in 1966. This meant that seven current urban communities are eligible to gain the metropolis status. The component communes transfer some of their powers to the metropolis. These responsibilities include social, cultural and economic development; urban planning and policy; management of local social housing plans; management of public services (sanitation, water, cemeteries, slaughterhouses); environmental policies including recycling and air pollution reduction. The department transfers responsibilities such as departmental roads and school transportation, with the possibility of the metropolis gaining full powers over social action, middle schools and other services from the department. The region and the State may also devolve powers to the metropolis.

A January 2014 law (the loi du 27 janvier 2014 de modernisation de l’action publique territoriale et d’affirmation des métropoles) will significantly expand and transform the metropolis status. On January 1, 2015; all EPCI with a population over 400,000 inhabitants in an urban area of over 650,000 people will be transformed by decree into metropolises (Bordeaux, Grenoble, Lille, Nantes, Nice, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg, Toulouse). That same day, the CU of Lyon will be transformed into the Métropole de Lyon, which will replace the department of the Rhône (and assume all departmental powers) in its territory. In 2016, the Métropole d’Aix-Marseille-Provence will be created (in the face of local opposition), uniting 92 communes representing 93% of the Bouches-du-Rhône’s population. In 2016, the Métropole du Grand Paris, uniting Paris and the three departments of the petite couronne, will be created; its legal responsibilities will be similar to that of a CU (spatial planning, housing, urban policy, economic/social/cultural development, environment, quality of life).

There are 15 Urban Communities (Communauté urbaine, CU). The urban communities were created in 1966, meant to cover the largest urban areas. Four CU were created by the law in 1966 (Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg), today there are 15 CUs in France (Lyon, Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, Strasbourg, Nancy, Brest, Dunkerque, Le Mans, Arras, Creusot-Montceau, Cherbourg, Alençon). Although the 1999 Chevènement law reserved the CU status to territories with a population over 500,000; urban communities created before that date have been allowed to retain their status, so 9 of the 15 CUs have a population under 500,000 – the smallest CU, Alençon, has only 48.7k people. The 2010 reform, creating the metropolis, lowered the threshold for the creation of new CUs to 450,000.

Every CU has mandatory powers, transferred from the component communes. These powers are: social, cultural and economic development; urban planning and policies; public transit; management of social housing; management of public services (sanitation, water, cemeteries, slaughterhouses); and environmental policies including recycling and air pollution reduction. Communes may devolve further powers to the CUs, while they may gain some power over social action from the department.

The Agglomeration Communities (Communauté d’agglomération, CA) - of which there are 222 in 2014 - were created by the Chevènement law in 1999 for urban areas including medium or large cities. According to the law, CAs must have a population of over 50,000 with at least one commune of at least 15,000 inhabitants (unless the CA includes the capital and/or largest city of a department). However, the law allowed for the transformation of districts, communauté de villes (a failed scheme introduced in 1992, abolished in 1999) or CCs into CAs even if they did not meet the population requirements. Since 2010, the threshold for the creation of a CA, if it includes the department’s capital (chef-lieu) was reduced to 30,000. The CA scheme has proven to be extremely popular, from 50 CAs in 2000 there are now 222.

Every CA has powers, transferred from the communes, over social, cultural and economic development; urban planning and policies; social housing; and public transit. Each CA must also choose 3 of 6 additional powers from the following powers: road maintenance, sanitation, water, environmental protection, social action in the community’s interest, and cultural/sports equipment. Communes may decide to devolve other powers to the CA. Furthermore, the CA may decide to define additional powers which it judges to be in the community’s interest.

The Community of Communes (Communautés de communes, CC), created in 1992 for rural areas, are the loosest type of EPCI with fiscal autonomy. The CC has been extremely popular and they have, slowly and incompletely, replaced Sivu or Sivom structures; although since 2010, the number of CC has declined significantly (from 2,409 to 1,903) as a result of the mergers of some smaller CCs by prefectural decree or their transformation into CAs. CCs have two main advantages for small rural communes, which remain very closely attached to the “republican traditions” of communal independence and local democracy. Firstly, they allow them to provide local services in cooperation with neighboring communes. Secondly, the CCs are a form of territorial organization which allows them to maintain their independence vis-à-vis larger urban areas (CAs) which would like to gobble them up. There are 1,903 CCs currently.

The CCs have two mandatory powers transferred from the communes: economic development and spatial planning. They must also choose one power from the following six ‘options’: environmental protection, housing policy, road maintenance, construction and management of preschools, elementary school, cultural and sport equipment, social action in the community’s interest, and sanitation.

There are four Syndicates of New Agglomerations (Syndicat d’agglomération nouvelle, SAN), created in 1983 but being phased out. The SAN were meant to cover specifically new towns (villes nouvelles) such as Cergy-Pontoise, Marne-la-Vallée, Sénart or Ouest Provence (Rives de l’Étang de Berre). The 1999 law gradually phased them out, from a maximum of 9 SAN in 2000 there are now only four left, 3 of them in the Paris region. Many former SAN have become CAs, the remaining 4 SAN are expected to do likewise.

Although the State and prefects in each department have often played a large role in spearheading the EPCI, they cannot usually unilaterally force any commune to join an EPCI. With some exceptions, the final decision for joining an EPCI rests with individual communes. Mayors, especially those from thinly populated rural communes, remain closely attached to the notion of communal independence and many respond unfavourably to decisions and instructions from above. In urban areas, political and parochial disputes have traditionally tended to hamper the development of cohesive and rational EPCI – suburban communes suspicious of domination of the larger urban commune, urban communes not wanting to subsidize suburban communes and political disputes (left-wing mayors not wanting to be in an EPCI with right-wing mayors, and vice-versa).

EPCI financing

Communes and intercommunalities have three main sources of funding: taxes (about the three-fifths of their revenues), unconditional transfers and grants from the State and loans.

The main local direct taxes are the housing tax (taxe d’habitation), the land value taxes (taxe sur le foncier bâtitaxe sur le foncier non bâti) and the cotisation foncière des entreprises (CFE). Communes and the five types of EPCI outlined above are said to be fiscally autonomous. While they are not allowed to create or levy taxes on their own (the taxes are created and collected by the State) they have the power to set the rates for local taxes. Fiscal autonomy, however, is conditioned by the State which has set various guidelines, limits or rules for local taxation.

The 2010 reform introduced a major, and rather controversial, change to local finances. The professional or business tax (taxe professionnelle, TP) was abolished and replaced, partially, by the Territorial Economic Contribution (contribution économique territoriale, CET). The TP was a tax paid by every business/corporation and was the largest single source of revenue for all territorial collectivities, which set the local rate. Arguing that the TP was hindering the country’s economic competitiveness, Sarkozy abolished the TP. It was replaced, but only partially, by the new CET.

The CET is the sum of two taxes paid by businesses/corporations: the cotisation foncière des entreprises (CFE) which is a land value tax (taxe foncière) and the cotisation sur la valeur ajoutée des entreprises (CVAE) which is a value added tax based on a businesses’ annual turnover. The entirety of the CFE is directed by the communes and EPCIs, who have retained the right to set the local rate. The CVAE, whose rate is set by the State, and is distributed between the region (25%), department (48.5%) and communes/EPCI (26.5%). The replacement of the TP by the CET meant that territorial collectivities not only lost a major source of revenue but also a good deal of their fiscal autonomy. Nevertheless, the State promised to fully compensate territorial collectivities for any loses incurred by the transition. Since the CET rakes in less revenue than the TP, new taxes or fiscal transfers (from the State or between territorial collectivities) have been created to make up the difference. One of those new taxes is the imposition forfaitaire sur les entreprises de réseaux (IFER), a tax on energy equipments (wind turbines, electricity generating plants, electrical transformers etc). The IFER is split between all territorial collectivities.

There are two (and a half) kinds of financing/funding for EPCIs with fiscal autonomy. The ‘Additional taxation’ (régime de la fiscalité additionnelle) is the initial and basic system, which applies for 855 CCs and 2 CUs created before 1999 which haven’t switched to the other system. The EPCI here has the power to set intercommunal tax rates (for the four local taxes: housing tax, land value taxes, CFE) but these tax rates are ‘additional’ to the local tax rates set by the component communes. The intercommunal tax rate in effect sets a ‘ceiling’ on the tax rate for each commune, but this system allows for variations in the tax rates (especially the CFE) between communes in the same EPCI. The communal fraction of the CVAE is divided between the intercommunality and the communes. Some CCs may choose a  Fiscalité professionnelle de zone (FPZ) scheme, which creates economic activity zones (ZAE) within the territory of the EPCI which will have a single, uniform intercommunal CFE rate (all transferred to the EPCI). Businesses located within the ZAE will pay the intercommunal CFE, but business located outside a ZAE will pay different tax rates depending on the commune.

The other system is the ‘Unique professional taxation’ (régime de la fiscalité professionnelle unique, FPU), which is mandatory since 1999 for all CAs, SAN and since 2010 for the new metropolises. The FPU is also mandatory for all CUs created after 1999 and is automatically granted to those created before 1999 unless they decide otherwise. 13 of the 15 CUs have chose the FPU system, as have 1,048 CCs. Under the FPU system, only the intercommunality decides on the CFE rate and it receives the entirety of the CFE’s revenues (and all of the communal fraction of the CVAE). Therefore, communes member of an EPCI which has opted for the FPU do not receive any part of the CFE or CVAE. The EPCI still sets ‘additional’ tax rates on the three other taxes.

EPCI governance

Each EPCI with fiscal autonomy (metropolis, CU, CA, CC, SAN) has a deliberative assembly, the Conseil communautaire or community council, which has a similar role to a municipal council. Each member-commune is represented in the community council proportionally to its population, with each commune holding at least one seat. In addition, no single commune may hold over half of the seats in the community council. All community councillors are municipal councillors or mayors.

Each community council elects a president (in addition to vice-presidents) which has a role similar to a mayor, except for the whole EPCI. EPCI executives form a “loophole” in the current regulations concerning the cumul des mandats, which means that most presidents of EPCIs tend to be the mayor of the largest commune in the EPCI (or another large town in the same EPCI), provided that the largest commune and the EPCI are of the same political ‘colour’.

In the past, all community councillors were elected by the respective municipal councils – which meant that the opposition group(s) in any commune were almost always excluded from the community council and whole delegations from a commune represented the governing majority. Given the significant and ever-increasing powers of EPCIs, their management by unelected bodies was often criticized and weakened their democratic legitimacy.

In 2014, community councillors will be elected semi-directly in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants. The full workings will be addressed in the next section.

Municipal elections: Electoral systems

Municipal councils are elected for a six-year term.

All French and EU citizens, aged over 18 with full civic and political rights, may register to vote. Since 2001, EU citizens are allowed to vote granted that they have resided in the commune for the past six months and/or pay local taxes. Although EU citizens are allowed to run for office and serve as municipal councillors, they are constitutionally banned from becoming mayors or assistants to the mayor/deputy mayors (adjoints au maire).

Unlike in some other EU countries (Scandinavia, Ireland, Benelux etc), resident non-EU foreigners are not allowed to vote in local elections in France. The extension of voting rights in local elections to non-EU foreign citizens has been a matter of hot political debate for years, and it returned to the spotlight during and after the 2012 presidential campaign. François Hollande promised to extend voting rights to foreigners in his presidential campaign, but since the left lacks the required majority in both houses of Parliament to affect such constitutional change, it has been dropped from the government’s agenda for constitutional reform.

Each commune is governed by a directly-elected municipal council, whose size varies in proportion to the population of the commune.

Population Seats
1-99 7
100-499 11
500-1,499 15
1,500-2,499 19
2,500-3,499 23
3,500-4,999 27
5,000-9,999 29
10,000-19,999 33
20,000-29,999 35
30,000-39,999 39
40,000-49,999 43
50,000-59,999 45
60,000-79,999 49
80,000-99,999 53
100,000-149,999 55
150,000-199,999 59
200,000-249,999 61
250,000-299,999 65
300,000+ 69
Lyon 73
Marseille 101
Paris 163

The mayor is elected by the municipal council. In the first and second rounds, a mayoral candidate must win an absolute majority of valid votes. In the third round, a plurality is sufficient. In all communes, a mayor also has one or more adjoints (deputies).

Electoral system in communes with over 1,000 inhabitants except Paris, Lyon and Marseille

Municipal councillors are elected by a two-round semi-proportional system with closed lists. The commune forms a single ‘constituency’, it is not further subdivided into any sections. Since 2000, lists must respect gender parity – this means that lists must alternate between men and women. This system, between 1983 and 2013, applied to communes with a population over 3,500; it was extended by the 2013 Valls law to all communes with over 1,000 inhabitants.

A list must obtain an absolute majority of valid votes (50%+1) and 25% of registered voters to win by the first round. If no list meets this requirement, a second round is organized one week later. All lists which have won over 10% of valid votes are qualified for the runoff. Lists which have obtained between 5% and 10% of the valid votes are allowed to merge (fusionner) with a qualified list for the runoff, which will change the ordering of candidates on that qualified list. A list which is qualified for the runoff may nevertheless choose to drop out or merge with another list. In the second round, a plurality of the votes is enough to win.

The list winning the most vote automatically wins half of all seats in the municipal council, rounded up to the nearest whole number if necessary. The remaining half of the seats are attributed proportionally to all lists which have won over 5% of valid votes using the highest averages method. Therefore, the winning list not only receives a huge majority bonus, it also receives a good share of the other half of the seats (proportional to its vote share).

Obviously, the result is that whichever list wins the election – even if it is by a single vote and/or with something like 35% of the vote – will have a huge super-majority in the municipal council. For example, in Pau in 2008, the winning list won 39% of the vote and 71% of the seats.

The mayor often tends to be the top candidate of the winning list.

Electoral system in communes with less than 1,000 inhabitants

Municipal councillors are elected by majority at-large voting (also called bloc voting or multiple non-transferable vote, MNTV). Gender parity laws do not apply.

These elections still feature lists of candidates, although lists are not mandatory. However, unlike in larger communes where the lists are closed, in these communes voters will vote for individuals (they have as many votes as there are seats) and panachage is allowed – voters may strike off the name of a candidate on a list, or they may reorder candidates on a list. Until 2013, write-ins for other citizens who were not candidates were valid, and the vote remains valid even if there are more or less names on the ballot than there are seats in the municipal council. Votes are then counted by each individual candidate rather than by lists.

Since 2013, candidates must declare their candidacy to the préfecture two weeks and a half before the election. If the number of candidates declared for the first round is less than the number of seats to be filled, new candidacies may be declared on the Tuesday before the second round.

Candidates are elected in the first round if they have won an absolute majority of valid votes (50%+1) and 25% of registered voters. If not all seats are filled by the first round, the remaining seats are filled in a second round a week later. In the second round, a plurality suffices. Studies have shown that the actual use of ‘panachage’ by voters is extremely limited.

Paris, Lyon and Marseille

Arrondissements of Paris (source: Wikipedia)

The three largest cities in France have a special electoral system, adopted in 1982 with the so-called ‘PLM law’. Unlike other communes with over 1,000 inhabitants, the commune as a whole does not form a single ‘constituency’. Rather, these cities are subdivided into de facto constituencies. Paris has 20 arrondissements, Lyon has 9 arrondissements while Marseille has 8 sectors each made up of two arrondissements.

The election is played in each individual arrondissement/sector, with the same system as in other communes with over 1,000 inhabitants.

Each arrondissement or sector has a local council with a variable number of seats. In turn, the municipal council is composed of representatives from each arrondissement/sector, whose number of seats on the municipal council is roughly half the seats in their arrondissement/sector council. The first name(s) elected on each list in each arrondissement/sector will sit in the municipal council.

Each arrondissement or sector also has a mayor (maire d’arrondissement/secteur), and the arrondissements/sectors have limited autonomy and manage a small budget given by the city-wide municipal government.

In Paris, there are a total of 354 conseillers d’arrondissement, with a minimum of 10 seats in each arrondissement’s council. The 2013 Valls law redistributed the number of conseillers de Paris between each arrondissement, with the overrepresented arrondissements with a small population losing seats while the underrepresented arrondissements gained seats. The overall relation between the population and the number of councillors for each arrondissement is now far more equal.

Arrondissements of Lyon (source: Wikipedia)

In Lyon, there are a total of 148 conseillers d’arrondissement, again with a minimum of 10 seats for the least populated arrondissements (arrdt. 1, 2, 4). The municipal council has 73 seats, with the least populated arrondissement (arrdt. 1) holding four seats and the two most populated (arrdt. 3 and 8) with 12 seats.

Marseille has 16 municipal arrondissements, but unlike in Lyon or Paris they serve no administrative role. Elections, instead, are held in eight sectors which are made up of two arrondissements each. Each sector has a local council, for a total of 202 sectoral councillors in the entire city. The city council has 101 seats.

Therefore, to summarize, there are no city-wide municipal elections with a single list in Paris, Lyon or Marseille. There are, instead, elections in each arrondissements/sector which decide the city council. You could compare this system to the electoral college in the United States, with some differences.

Unlike the electoral college, the individual elections in each administrative division does not give a WTA result, although each arrondissement/sector’s delegation to the city council will be heavily dominated by whichever list won the election in that arrondissement/sector. If a list was to win every single arrondissement or sector, it would have a governing majority comparable to governing majorities in other French cities. However, because of the PLM law, there is a small chance that no single list could win an absolute majority. Furthermore, if the election is close and the main rivals each win roughly the same number of arrondissements/sectors, it is quite likely that whoever wins will have only a thin absolute majority on the council (this is currently the case in Marseille, with 51 seats for the mayor’s majority against 49 for the left and one for the FN).

Sectors of Marseille (source: Wikipedia)

Like in the United States, the PLM system means that one party’s lists may win the most votes in the city as a whole but still win less seats than some other list on the city council. This has happened in the past, most famously in Marseille in 1983 when Gaston Defferre lost the popular vote but held a majority on city council because he had, as interior minister, gerrymandered the sectors in such a way to win reelection. The right-wing government under Jacques Chirac changed the sector map in Marseille to what it currently is in 1987.

Electoral system for intercommunal councillors

For the first time this year, some intercommunal councillors who sit in the Conseil communautaire will be elected semi-directly by voters. In communes with more than 1,000 inhabitants, those who will serve on community councils will be elected from party lists based on the result of the party lists in the decisive round (where one list wins) in the commune. Ballots (for each individual list) will include, on the right hand side, a list of candidates for the community council which are drawn from the list of candidates for the municipal council. There are as many candidates are there are seats – with one additional candidate if there are less than five seats, and two additional candidates if there are more than five seats. All candidates in the first quarter of the list for the municipal council must be on the list for the community council, in the same order; all candidates for community council must be included in the first three-fifths of the list for the municipal council. Seats are distributed based on the results of the election, using the electoral system for communes with over 1,000 inhabitants.

In communes with less than 1,000 inhabitants, intercommunal councillors will still be elected indirectly with seats being attributed to the mayor, and, if more seats are to be filled to his/her adjoints.

This year, due to legal changes complicating matters in small towns, 64 communes – all but one with less than 1,000 inhabitants – have no declared candidates for the first round.

Local and national dynamics in municipal elections

Municipal elections in France obey both local and national dynamics.

In small towns – certainly all those who will still vote under the majority at-large system this year but many of the towns with over 1,000 inhabitants which used to vote under that system – local politics is local, with little to no national influence. One author, using an American term, used the idea of ‘ambiguous consensus’ to describe the form which local politics take in those communities – indeed, governance there is consensual, pragmatic and non-partisan. Most mayors in those communes do not have a political etiquette, and if they do, it hardly means anything: their governing team may include people with opposite political sympathies. Because governing those small towns does not require full-time politicians, a lot of small town mayors and councillors are ‘regular’ citizens working another job, in addition to their local political responsibilities. In many cases, there is no opposition to the incumbent mayor and his/her list; certainly the electoral system in small towns makes the vote very personal and not remotely political. But even in a lot of the small towns with over 1,000 inhabitants which will vote for party lists this year, there is little to no partisan competition: lists – assuming there is more than one (which is not always the case) – are non-partisan and focus solely on local issues and it’s foolish to assign partisan labels to them. But that hasn’t stopped the Ministry of the Interior, in its infinite wisdom.

Therefore, for the sake of political analysis, when reading municipal elections, attention generally focuses on the 260 or so communes with a population with over 30,000 – with attention given to smaller communes if they have major candidates, symbolic importance to national politics or are of human interest. In those major towns and cities, municipal elections follow local and national dynamics, as research has shown.

Local factors

Firstly, local issues – and local factors, such as the personality and popularity of individual candidates or the local partisan/political climate (if distinct from the national climate) – play a major role in municipal elections, even in these larger communes.

In general, mayors tend to be fairly well regarded by the majority of the population and optimism in the direction of the town/city is generally far higher than optimism (or lack thereof) for the direction of the country. According to an Ipsos poll in late February 2014 in communes with a population over 25,000; 71% of respondents, on average, declared that they were satisfied with their mayor. Another Ipsos poll just out on March 20 shows that 64% of voters say that their municipal government has done a good or excellent job. Unless they’re caught with the hands in the marmalade or are particularly incompetent, it’s harder for a mayor to be widely disliked (like many national politicians are) because they have less powers, their actions generally receive less media attention (outside their town) and mayors often strive to be consensual rather than polarizing. Furthermore, given the tradition of the cumul des mandats in France, a lot of mayors are also parliamentarians, so they have the chance to favour their hometown and shower it with national funding and favours.

It is also quite telling that in polls, this year like in 2008, voters tell pollsters that they will vote firstly based on local issues. According to an Ifop poll recently released, 69% will vote mainly based on local considerations. 20% will vote primarily to punish the government, and only 7% will vote primarily to support the government. A CSA poll reported quasi-identical numbers: 65%, 19% and 5% respectively.

This year, according to polls, the most important issues for voters are local taxes (cited by about 50%), environment/quality of life, criminality/safety, economic development/jobs and transportation. According to CSA’s poll, issues such as criminality, parking, immigration, housing and pollution are far more important in large towns (pop 30,000+) than in small towns; in the smallest towns (pop <1000), those issues hardly figure at all while connectivity/broadband access is rather significant. At the same time, issues such as taxes, transparency and economic development are relevant across the board. There are also clear partisan dimensions in those issues, obviously; criminality, immigration are priorities for right-wing and far-right voters, but are of lesser importance for left-wing voters, who tend to be more concerned with issues such as housing and transportation.

In Les élections municipales en France (2001, published by La documentation française), Pierre Martin showed that, with national and partisan trends controlled, there existed a clear advantage for an incumbent mayor at the end of his/her first term in office. This is similar to the ‘sophomore surge’ for one-term US congressmen seeking reelection for the first time. The advantage after two or more terms in office is progressively eliminated, and after several terms in office, many mayors are threatened by weariness of voters and their own teams. However, while almost all ‘freshmen’ mayors receive a boost at their first reelection, the phenomenon of weariness does not effect them all in the same way: different mayors and administrations may tire far more quickly than others, some mayors – even in large cities – can manage to build very solid bases which resist well to weariness. 

Local factors also explain individual results when the election is analyzed through national lenses. They explain, for example, why a certain town – based on presidential results – which is quantitatively more likely to switch sides didn’t do so, while another town, quantitatively less likely to switch sides, did so. They also explain why some towns went against the national trend in a given year. Finally, they explain why towns generally unfavourable to one political side in national elections may be governed – for quite some time – by that same political side. For example, the city of Bordeaux has leaned to the left in the most recent nationwide elections, but it has been a municipal right-wing stronghold since 1947. Toulouse, governed by the right between 1971 and 2008 despite voting for the left in nationwide elections for most of the time, is also often cited as an example of such a phenomenon.

National factors

Municipal elections in France since 1959: party control of communes of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election, in %)

Municipal elections in France since 1959: party control of communes of over 30,000 inhabitants (at time of election, in %)

It’s also clear that local factors can’t explain everything. Municipal elections in France, unlike in many other countries, are organized on the same day across the entire territory of the republic, which make them a particularly good occasion for voters less interested by local issues to show their opposition (more often than not, because dissatisfaction is a better mobilizer than satisfaction) to the national government. In a way, municipal elections may be interpreted like midterm elections – generally more difficult for the governing party, even if it is not overly unpopular, and with a potential to be particularly bloody for the governing party if it is clearly unpopular. That being said, regional, European and cantonal elections in France are also similar to midterm elections, and in the case of regional and European elections perhaps even more so than les municipales since a lot of voters in those elections aren’t aware of regional/European issues and vote primarily based on national issues.

The idea of municipal elections being midterms holds true since 1947 when the results are taken only through national lenses (in the detail, looking at individual towns, it is less useful). In 1977, the incumbent right-wing government of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Prime Minister Raymond Barre was unpopular and the economy in bad shape. The left swept municipal elections that year, gaining 57 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants. In 1983, the economy was still in the dump, cards were reversed: the left was now in power, with President François Mitterrand and Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy. The right swept municipal elections in 1983, gaining 35 communes with over 30,000 inhabitants. The most recent municipal elections, in 2008, also saw a significant swing to the left, one year after Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory. After 2008, the left controlled 57.7% of communes with over 30,000 inhabitants, up from 44.5% in 2001.

These were the most extreme cases of major nationwide waves against the governing party in municipal elections. In 1959, 1965, 1971, 1989 and 1995, the incumbent government was less unpopular and therefore the results were more mixed; although on the whole, the governing party didn’t do as well as in the last national elections – 1959, for example, saw a strong performance by the Communists (PCF) just one year after the PCF was badly trounced in the first elections of the Fifth Republic.

Historically, turnout also shifted depending on the national mood. Until turnout began declining, seemingly irreversibly, after 1989, turnout in municipal elections varied based on the unpopularity of the government. In 1977 and 1983, the two classic anti-government waves, turnout was very high: 78.9% and 78.4% – compared to 75.2% in 1971 and 72.8% in 1989. In those cases, the unpopularity of the government strongly mobilized the opposition electorate to vote against the government. In 1971 and 1989, when the government parties did fairly well, the opposition’s voters were less motivated to turn out. Since 1989, however, municipal turnout has declined one election after another. Even 2001 and 2008, which saw significant anti-government movements, saw turnout decline from the previous municipal election.

Dynamics of municipal elections

National factors cannot explain everything in French municipal politics. There are particular political and partisan dynamics or phenomenons in municipal elections which are fairly unique to municipal elections themselves. These include: the tradition of municipal communism, the survival of anti-communist socialist-centrist alliances until 1977, the dynamics of first round left-wing unity since 1977 and the weakness of Gaullism in local politics until 1971/1983.

Municipal government in several communes in France, especially Paris’ working-class suburbs in the petite couronne but also many other towns throughout the country, has been marked since 1935 (or 1945) by the tradition of ‘municipal communism’ (le communisme municipal). Indeed, in those solidly left-wing and historically proletarian communes, the PCF established itself as the dominant party in local government in 1935 or 1945 (in isolated cases, such as Bobigny or Saint-Denis, in 1925). From the standpoint of urban politics and social policy, municipal communism is a rather important historical phenomenon. In power, communist municipalities implemented social policies aimed at the general welfare (especially that of the working-class) and the promotion of social, cultural and recreational infrastructure. Communist municipal governments in suburban Paris built social housing, theaters, summer camps, pools, recreation centres or local health dispensaries. Communist mayors were also local administrators faced with numerous contradictions stemming from the PCF’s theoretical positions, notably opposition to a ‘bourgeois state’. On the ground, with their powers constrained at the outset by hostility from the State, they were forced to be pragmatic. For example, in his study of rural communism in the interwar Limousin, Laird Boswell found that nascent PCF administrations in those cash-strapped villages were often quite conservative fiscally, much to the dismay of revolutionaries in their ranks. With limited resources and government hostility, they were forced to govern very pragmatically.

After 1945, 1977 was the high point of municipal communism, as this interactive feature in Le Monde shows. In the petite couronne, the PCF was dominant. In la province, the PCF held the town halls of Reims, Le Havre, Saint-Étienne, Le Mans, Nîmes and Amiens. Today, it retains control of a significant number of communes in the petite couronne, but faces an increasingly hungry Socialist Party (PS), which in 2008 and again in 2014 ran candidates against PCF incumbents. The PCF controls no major city (100,000+ inhabitants) outside the Parisian suburbs; Le Havre was lost in 1995 and Nîmes lost in 2001 (after gaining it back in 1995).

Against the Communist threat, local Socialists in the past responded by forming anti-communist coalitions with centrist and non-Gaullist right-wing parties. The most famous of these socialo-centriste coalition was Gaston Defferre, the Socialist mayor of Marseille (1953-1986) who governed against the PCF until his last term (1983-1986). But while Defferre is the most emblematic of such Socialist-centrist coalitions, it was not unique to Marseille: such coalitions existed at one time or another in Lille, Toulouse, Roubaix, Limoges, Arras and Besançon. These municipal alliances managed to survive after the 1960s, running in contradiction to the national Socialist Party’s strategy of national alliances with the left. In fact, socialist-centrist coalitions, while increasingly less commonplace, remained fairly widespread up until 1977 – even if the PS and PCF had signed a programme commun in 1972. Now, such alliances are a thing of the past; but the tradition may still rear its head: in 1989, the PS mayor of Angers was excluded from the PS for sealing a formal alliance with the opposition centrist CDS while in 2008, a number of PS mayors (notably François Rebsamen in Dijon) were supported by François Bayrou’s MoDem by the first round.

Since 1977, on the left, the tradition has been first round unity – l’union de la gauche (union of the left). Although the electoral system in place since 1983 makes it possible for smaller parties to safely run a list in the first round in the expectation of merging with a larger list for the runoff to obtain seats on council, there is a strong tradition of first round unity – the PS, PCF and small left-wing parties including the Greens and Left Radicals (MRG/PRG). Since 1977, in most towns, the PS and PCF (and smaller parties, oftentimes) have run a common list by the first round. The PRG, which learned a few times (most recently in 1995) that it is worthless without stronger allies, almost always invariably allies with the PS by the first round. Outside of a few cities where relations between the PS and PCF may be poor, the PCF has traditionally allied with the PS by the first round. For example, the PCF ran allied with the PS by the first round in Marseille in every election since 1983. In Paris, the PS and PCF have been united in the first round since 1977. The Greens may sometimes want to show independence from the PS, knowing that they can scare the PS a bit in some towns, but in a lot of cases, again, the Greens join l’union de la gauche in the first round.

On the right, there has been a similar tradition of first round unity, although it is sometimes not as strict and generally more prone to dissidence. Prior to the creation of the single party of the right, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) in 2002, the two main parties of the right – the Rally for the Republic (RPR) and Union for French Democracy (UDF) – usually ran common lists by the first round, with a few cases of so-called ‘primaries’ (first round competition between RPR and UDF) – for example, Lyon in 1995.

Another historical factor worth noting is the weakness of Gaullism in local politics after 1958. Although Charles de Gaulle’s parties, the UNR/UDR, became dominant in national politics (and hegemonic on the right) after 1962, the UNR/UDR was quite weak in local government until 1971, if not 1983. For example, in 1959, one year after de Gaulle’s triumphant return, the UNR’s assault on ‘traditional’ parties of the right (moderates, CNI) and centre (MRP) failed badly, with the UNR holding only 15% of communes with a population of over 30,000 inhabitants in 1959. Similarly, a UNR assault in 1965 had little success. Only with Georges Pompidou’s election in 1969 did the UDR begin making its peace with ‘traditional’ parties of the right, running with them instead of against them. In 1971, the UDR’s share of communes with over 30,000 people increased to 18.1%, if only to fall to 7% in the left-wing wave election of 1977. In 1983, the RPR for the first time became more powerful than the UDF in municipal government.

A French political tradition of great importance to local government is the cumul des mandats. A large majority of senators and deputies hold at least one other elected office – often, serving as mayor. For example, the mayors of Lyon and Marseille are both senators. Some of the more extreme examples of this French quirkiness: two Prime Ministers, Pierre Mauroy (1981-1984) and Jacques Chirac (1986-1988) concurrently served as mayors of Lille and Paris respectively; more recently, Alain Juppé served as foreign minister and mayor of Bordeaux at the same time. There has been increased public attention on the issue in recent years. Upon taking office, the current government barred all cabinet ministers from being mayor at the same time. After originally delaying it indefinitely, the government made good on one of its campaign promises in January 2014. According to a new law, deputies and senators will no longer be able to be parliamentarians and mayors (or head of a local executive: EPCI, general council, regional council etc) at the same time. This law will only be applied following the 2017 election. Banning (excessive) cumul des mandats is popular with voters, but it is, as could be expected, a tough issue for legislators themselves. In the Senate, members of both the opposition and government parties sought, unsuccessfully, to oppose the law or create a loophole for themselves. Their main argument was that the cumul des mandats gives them a strong local footing.

In the aftermath of the law’s approval, some interest in this year’s municipal election was paid to the issue of candidates who already held another elective office. Le Monde drew up an interactive map compiling the names of all candidates in municipal elections who are already deputy/senator etc.

2014: Context

These municipal elections are widely watched as the first nationwide test for President François Hollande, the PS president elected in 2012 against UMP incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. After nearly two years in office, Hollande is deeply unpopular. TNS-Sofres’ monthly tracker poll in March had Hollande’s approval rating standing at a puny 17%, nearly an all-time low for a French President. Every pollster has his disapproval rating over 70%, in many cases over 75%. That being said, two recent trackers – from Ifop and Ipsos – have shown a tiny uptick (+1 to 22% for Ipsos, +3 to 23% for Ifop), although at this level it’s almost a dead cat bounce. In summary, the incumbent President is more unpopular than nearly every single one of his predecessors – including Giscard in 1977 and Mitterrand in 1983.

As I noted in my analysis of the runoff in 2012, “the fact that the election was more Sarkozy’s defeat than Hollande’s victory and that Hollande owes his victory to anti-Sarkozysm will certainly come back to haunt the PS and Hollande in the near future, once voters forget Sarkozy and shift their judgement to the new incumbent.”

The causes of Hollande’s unpopularity are plentiful and beyond the scope of this post. At the roots of it all, however, is France’s bad economic situation. While not at ‘Greece’ or ‘Spain’ levels, France is clearly hit very badly by the ongoing European economic crisis. Unemployment stood at 10.2% in the last trimester of 2012, and it has increased from about 9.5% since Hollande took office in May 2012. Economic growth was flat in 2012 and barely positive in 2013. The country’s public debt is over 93% of GDP, and it missed its 2013 budget deficit target (3.9% of GDP, was 4.1%). It is clear that, if we’re honest, Hollande isn’t to blame for the roots of the crisis. Voters will invariably blame their government for their economic woes. However, at the same time, Hollande’s economic policies – rightly – got him a lot of flack, left and right.

At times, the government has been a bit like a deer in the headlights when it comes to dealing with the economic crisis. It has been seen as powerless, lost and incompetent in its handling of the economy. The right has criticized the ‘amateurism’ and jumbled response of the government and denounced high taxes. The outcry against the heavy burden of taxes, part of a government effort to reduce the deficit, has been particularly pronounced. The government increased the top bracket on the income tax (incomes over 150,000 euros) from 41% to 45%, the wealth tax (ISF) was toughened up, family tax benefits were cut, a pension reform increased employees and employers’ contributions (the same reform also increased the contributory period to 43 years, after the right’s 2010 reform, opposed by the PS, had raised it to 41 and increased the legal retirement age to 62). The government also increased the VAT’s standard rate from 19.6% to 20%, the intermediate rate from 7% to 10% and maintained the reduced rate at 5.5% (despite previously promising to bring it down to 5%.

The VAT increase, voted in 2012 and taking effect in 2014, was to finance a 20 billion euro tax credit to employers to reduce unit labour costs.

Many on the left, however, also dislike the government’s economic policies. Hollande and the PS won the 2012 election on a fairly anti-austerity platform complete with flowery rhetoric about ‘growth’ and such niceties, but once in power it has largely continued Sarkozy’s austerity policies (disguised as ‘efforts’ because austerity is unpronounceable by governments since the 1980s). Hollande approved the European Fiscal Compact without any substantial changes, despite having pledged to renegotiate it. His government has implemented harsh austerity measures, including tax increases and spending/job cuts in the public sector. The Constitutional Council has also forced him to scrap his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over a million euros. The government reframed the 75% tax a temporary tax to be paid by employers on salaries over 1 million euros. With good reason, many on the left feel that Hollande’s policies are no different than his predecessor’s policies.

In 2014, Hollande announced a pacte de responsabilité with employers, proposing to reduce payroll taxes paid out by employers if they took on new, especially young, workers. The announcement, which led to significant talk of Hollande shifting to the right, was met with skepticism in France. Regular citizens, who have seen Hollande’s record of failure since 2012, have little optimism in his proposal. The left and unions were skeptic or hostile towards the idea of dropping costs on employers (up to 10 billion euros in cuts in payroll taxes) in exchange for very vaguely defined (and probably minor) job creations. On the left, the rumour that Germany’s Peter Hartz would come to advise Hollande led to fears of a ‘neoliberal’ economic agenda. The government’s latest idea will need to be financed by more painful cuts in the public sector.

There has been a groundswell of popular opposition to the government, fueled by widespread pessimism in the country’s future and disillusion/dissatisfaction with the government’s policy. In Brittany, beginning in October 2013, an heterogeneous popular protest movement (led mostly by farmers or agrifood workers) attacked the government’s so-called écotaxe, a proposed tax on heavy goods vehicles (actually decided on by the right in 2009). The movement, styled the bonnets rouges after an 1675 anti-tax revolt in Brittany, brought together an heterogeneous bunch: employers in agri-food, rural communities and leaders, Breton autonomists/nationalists, the far-left and some of the far-right. The heterogeneity of the movement and the self-serving motivations of some (particularly employers, held responsible by some for an outdated and polluting agrifood industry) led some on the left, notably José Bové and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to criticize the movement. Nevertheless, the ‘wind of revolt’ in Brittany, traditionally a politically moderate region, forced the government to back down on the écotaxe and announce several measures to help the Breton economy and please the demands of some autonomists (notably promises to finally ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages).

Electoral promises of ‘reindustralization’ and government talk of ‘made in France’, a project spearheaded by Arnaud Montebourg, industry minister and former leader of the PS’ left-wing, have run into the reality of globalization, economic crisis and the workings of the global economy. There has been little to no reindustralization worth speaking off. Montebourg’s grandstanding in late 2012 on the issue of an ArcelorMittal steel plant at Florange (Moselle), when he threatened to nationalize the site, won him a rebuke from the government (which refused to hear of nationalization), personal embarrassment and criticism from unions.

The government and Hollande have continued to run into embarrassing issues, gaffes or crises since taking office. The law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption, promulgated in May 2013, mobilized a large segment of right-wing socially conservative opinion against the government and the law, with thousands taking to the streets in November-December 2012. There were more protests after the adoption of the law in 2013 and 2014. Members of the UMP and the far-right National Front (FN) joined the ranks of the protests, which brought together an heterogeneous coalition of opponents: social conservatives, traditionalist Catholics, integrist Catholics, neo-fascists and far-right politicians from France and other European countries (controversially, the BNP’s Nick Griffin, alongside FN parliamentarians). The UMP claimed that the “socialist power” (they often tend to present the PS government as some kind of East German authoritarian regime) was intervening in the private lives of citizens. The movement brought out fairly repugnant groups: homophobes, neo-fascists, skinheads, anti-Semites and assorted cranks. In April 2013, an homosexual couple was attacked and beaten up. In June 2013, far-left activist Clément Méric was killed by far-right skinheads. In January 2014, a jour de colère protest was organized by far-right groups, including monarchists, traditionalists, neo-fascists and anti-Semites; more moderate supporters of the anti-gay marriage movement (La manif pour tous) condemned the jour de colère protests.

While the government moved forward despite opposition on same-sex marriage, in January 2014, the government backtracked on a proposed bill on the family. The anti-gay marriage movement had raised concerns, many of them invented wholesale or badly twisted, that the government sought to legalize assisted reproductive technologies (the bill would not have legalized it, even if Hollande said he was personally in favour, and many PS deputies supported it) and surrogacy (which the government never supported, let alone intend to legalize it). Backtracking in the face of popular opposition is a specialty of French governments left and right, hoping that it will kill the issue and diffuse tensions. But it is never a good PR strategy for the government: in backtracking, it alienates those who backed the government on the specific issue while those who opposed the issue are no more likely to start liking the government.

The government’s image has been hurt further by public divisions, contradictions or gaffes by individual cabinet ministers. The government, which is rather inexperienced and lacks internal cohesion, has seen several cabinet ministers contradict one another or announce policy which isn’t actually government policy. The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is frustrated by the lack of cabinet solidarity and has been forced to put ministers back in their place, but at the same time he’s quickly turning into a non-entity which is nearly forgotten by the media and seemingly plays little role in public government policy and communication. His approval ratings are in the trash, like Hollande.

In March 2013, the government was rocked by a huge scandal: Jérôme Cahuzac, the junior Minister of the Budget, had been revealed to have had a secret offshore account in Switzerland. After vehemently denying the accusations, he was forced to resign from cabinet in March after a court opened a preliminary inquiry and after a court indicted him for tax fraud in April, he admitted that he had a Swiss bank account. There were questions over what Hollande, Ayrault and the government knew of the affair before its media revelation in December 2012.

The Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, whose presidential ambitions are no secret (he ran in the PS primaries in 2011) and who is often seen as a maverick (on the right of the PS, and challenging sacrosanct policies of the left such as the 35 hour workweek), has gained significant popularity (ironically, perhaps more so on the right than on the left) for his tough-on-crime and immigration policies. Valls’ ministry has continued to deport undocumented migrants, dismantle Roma encampments, preached a hardline policy against crime and violence (extremist, criminal or otherwise); at times, it’s hard to spot obvious differences between Valls and his right-wing predecessors, whom the PS had criticized. In September 2013, Valls said that, with few exceptions, it was ‘impossible’ to integrate the Roma population into French society (because of ‘different lifestyles’) and that the only solution was to dismantle the camps and return occupants to their country of origin. A few months prior, Valls had said that the Roma were intended to stay in Romania or return there. Valls’ comments sparked outrage on the left, including within the government, from Montebourg (it’s no secret that Montebourg dislikes Valls and Ayrault) and the Greens. His comments did not outrage public opinion, because it is favourable to tough anti-immigration policies (a poll showed that most French approved of his comments); several mayors, especially on the right, have been outspoken on difficulties posed by Roma encampments (one mayor, Gilles Bourdouleix, the mayor of Cholet, suggested that Hitler perhaps hadn’t killed enough gypsies…). But they further hurt the government with a small but vocal minority of pro-immigration/multiculturalism activists on the left, who have already been very much at odds with Valls’ policy.

In October 2013, immigration caused another major uproar: Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year old undocumented immigrant attending a French school, was arrested during a school field trip and deported to Kosovo. Valls’ behaviour as responsible minister once again raised debate and criticism on the left. Hollande was forced to intervene, and he haplessly proposed a compromise: while supporting the decision, he proposed that Leonarda be allowed to return, alone, to complete her studies (she refused). On the left, the decision was criticized (even the leader of the PS, Harlem Désir, signaled his disapproval) on humanitarian grounds. The right attacked Hollande’s “indecision”, denounced a terrible blow to the authority of the State and the far-right’s Marine Le Pen called on him to resign for humiliating France. The UMP proposed abolishing jus soli, Valls talked of reforming asylum policy.

Valls remains one of the most popular ministers, but his widespread support has dropped in recent months. He is the third most popular politician in France according to Ipsos’ March 2014 barometer, but with a polarized 46 positive, 42 negative split. In Ifop’s poll of cabinet ministers in March 2014, he ranked fifth, with a 53% approval.

In July 2013, the environment minister, Delphine Batho, was fired after having publicly deplored the budget cuts which her ministry suffered in the latest round of austerity cuts. Batho later criticized the government’s environmental policies (specifically, its lack of interest in environmental and energy transformations) and the influence of energy and resource companies. Batho’s firing was probably an attempt by Hollande and co. to appear ‘tough’ on cabinet dissonance after the Cahuzac scandal; it happened that a minor figure in a lesser ministry was the scapegoat for that.

Batho’s resignation placed some attention on the government’s environmental policy, and raised new questions on the presence of Green (Europe Écologie-Les Verts, EELV) ministers in government. EELV owes much of its 17-member caucus in the National Assembly to an electoral agreement with the PS in the 2012 legislative elections, and the personal/financial benefits of holding a cabinet portfolio (a ‘strapontin ministériel‘ – a cabinet jump seat) have turned EELV’s ministers (led by Cécile Duflot, former EELV leader and the poorly-regarded housing minister) into leaders of a pro-government branch, which criticizes the government on some issues but when push comes to shove always sides with the government. A significant left-wing minority inside the party, which won nearly 40% support at EELV’s federal congress in October 2013, is very critical of Hollande and would like for EELV to leave cabinet. Several EELV parliamentarians have signaled their opposition; Noël Mamère, one of the Greens’ most visible and well-known deputies, left EELV in September 2013, decrying EELV’s complacency, support for the government and its transformation into a party of stale self-interested, self-serving elected officials.

On the left of the PS, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the Left Front (FG)’s presidential candidate in 2012, has been extremely critical of the government’s austerity policies. However, despite incessant and violent attacks by Mélenchon and the FG on the government’s policies, they have largely been unable (thus far) to profit from the government’s unpopularity with left-wing voters. Mélenchon is a polarizing figure; his abrasive, in-your-face and often unpleasant public person is off-putting to many voters and the FG generally appears to lack credibility as a credible leftist alternative to the PS. Furthermore, as will be touched upon later, the municipal elections opened up very public and damaging divisions between Mélenchon’s small Left Party (PG), which is firmly anti-PS and the PCF, the largest party in the FG, which still retains some attachment (mostly for strategic and self-serving electoral reasons) to the old alliances with the PS.

Sarkozy’s defeat in May 2012 traumatized the UMP, which, for the first time since its creation in 2002 was now an opposition party. In November 2012, a UMP congress to elect a permanent president for the party turned into a nearly fatal civil war between the two candidates, the incumbent secretary-general Jean-François Copé and Sarkozy’s Prime Minister François Fillon. In an election marred by fraud and vote rigging by both sides, Copé was initially proclaimed the winner by 98 votes by an internal party commission. Two days later, Fillon’s supporters challenged the results, claiming that Fillon won by 26 votes because the party commission ‘forgot’ to include 1,304 votes cast in three overseas federations. This opened a civil war between both men; mediation by party elder and the popular moderate mayor of Bordeaux (and former Prime Minister) Alain Juppé failed, an appeals commission (led by a man who had backed Copé) ruled on a challenge lodged by Copé against filloniste fraud in the Alpes-Maritimes – it proclaimed Copé as the winner nationally, now with 952 votes (they cancelled the results, very selectively, in pro-Fillon Alpes-Maritimes and New Caledonia), and Fillon created a dissident parliamentary group in the National Assembly (R-UMP). Facing the very real threat of a split in the UMP, which would cripple the financially strapped party, the two enemies agreed to a temporary compromise in January 2013: Fillon’s R-UMP would dissolve, Copé would remain president while all other leadership positions in the party would be ‘doubled’ – one filloniste, one copéiste. Originally, a new congress should have been held in the fall of 2013, but fearing another crisis before the 2014 elections, the UMP decided to postpone the congress until 2015.

Copé suffers from a very acute image problem: he’s extremely unpopular with voters; for example, Ipsos’ monthly barometer in March 2014 showed him with a 70% disapproval rating (18% approval). Fillon, in contrast, has a 39% approval (49% disapproval); both men’s ratings took a hit from the 2012 congress and civil war. Copé is perceived as too right-wing, too economically liberal, too rash and the story of the 2012 congress (and how, if he won, it owes a lot to organized fraud and vote rigging by Copé’s men) further hurt his image. His leadership, by all accounts, has hardly been inspiring. The UMP has been desperate to oppose the government at every turn, in the process latching on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues – for example, Copé recently complained about how a children’s book on nudity was destroying the youth (or something); the UMP, at the same time, was going insane with faux outrage over ‘gender theory’ education in public schools (the government has a program to promote and teach gender equality in primary school). In the meantime, the UMP is not considered to be a credible alternative to the government – it lacks coherent policy (except being anti-government), its fire is often stolen by the far more popular far-right FN and the division between Copé and Fillon remains very clear (quite tellingly, at a recent electoral rally in Strasbourg attended by both, Fillon and Copé were never side by side!).

Copé has also been mixed up in several scandals. Most recently, in late February 2014, Le Point revealed that an events organization firm (Bygmalion) owned by two friends of Copé received 8 million euros in UMP funds for organizing events in the 2012 campaign. After the revelation of the scandal, Copé’s ratings in the aforecited Ipsos tracker fell 4%.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the defeated President, has never been far behind in all this. It is known that he took his defeat in 2012 pretty badly, and holds a deep grudge against Hollande. The UMP’s rank-and-file remains, by and large, solidly sarkozyste and would love to see him return in 2017. For UMP sympathizers and many on the right in general, Hollande’s disastrous presidency only vindicates Sarkozy and reinforces their burning desire to see Sarkozy return to the presidency in 2017. That Sarkozy himself is very much planning for a return in 2017 is probably the worst keep secret in French politics right now. If he were to do so, polls show that Sarkozy would win the UMP’s 2016 primaries in a landslide. But Sarkozy, since 2012, has been dogged by several scandals.

In December 2012, the campaign finance and public financing commission rejected Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign finance report. The issue plunged the financially troubled party further in debt, but an appeal by Sarkozy to UMP members to contribute to the party allowed the UMP to raise over 11 million euros in just two months, which is equivalent to the sum lost by the party in public financing after Sarkozy’s campaign finances were invalidated. Sarkozy has faced other scandals. In March 2013, Sarkozy was indicted in the Bettencourt affair (illegal payments from L’Oréal shareholder Liliane Bettencourt to UMP members, part of a wider tax fraud case involving Bettencourt and her family) but charges against him were dropped in June 2013. Sarkozy, as explained in this article, is also involved in other scandals.

One of the most important ones is the Sarkozy-Gaddafi scandal: in April 2012, Mediapart published documents which indicated that the former Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi may have given 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. During the Libyan Civil War, officials in Gaddafi’s regime, including his son Saif al-Islam had said that Libya had funded Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign. In April 2013, a Parisian court opened a judicial investigation (citing no names) in the Gaddafi case. On March 7, 2014, Le Monde revealed that Sarkozy (and two former interior ministers Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, close allies of Sarkozy cited in the Gaddafi case) had their phones bugged as part of the judicial investigation, beginning in September 2013. The transcripts of the wiretaps had found that Sarkozy and his lawyers were benefiting from insider information on the judicial process from judges and law enforcement sources – Sarkozy was appealing to the Court of Cassation the decision a judge in the Bernard Tapie scandal to send Sarkozy’s personal agenda to the judge in charge of the Bettencourt case.

The wiretap case shifted against the government, when the UMP successful changed the angle of media focus in the case to whether or not Christiane Taubira, the Minister of Justice, had been aware of the wiretaps. Taubira claimed that she had not been aware until the media revealed it; the following evening, Ayrault said that the government had indeed been aware. Taubira later showed two documents which she claimed proved that she was not aware, but those documents in fact did state that the minister was kept aware. The UMP claimed that Taubira lied and called on her resignation, but it may now appear that Taubira was not lying – her chief of staff was aware, but had not shared the information with Taubira. Since then, new revelations by Mediapart, on how Sarkozy was suspicious of the wiretaps and bought a phone under a ‘fake name’ to talk with his lawyer

Yesterday, on March 20, Sarkozy published an op-ed in the right-wing Le Figaro. He claims, disingenuously, that he has remained silent and ‘in retreat’ since 2012 and that he has no desire for revenge or ill-feelings against anyone. He continues by saying that ‘sacred principles of our Republic are being trampled unprecedented violence and unscrupulousness’ and even denounced Stasi-like techniques.

One person who has clearly benefited from the political climate is Marine Le Pen, the charismatic and increasingly popular leader of the far-right National Front (FN). Le Pen won a record high 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election, and after Sarkozy nearly killed the FN in 2007, the FN under Marine Le Pen’s leadership has roared back. Marine Le Pen benefits from a better image than that of her father and FN patriarch, Jean-Marie Le Pen. If most academics agree that under the veil of dédiabolisation, not much has changed in reality and policy; she does a much better job at appearances and communication than her father, who has a knack for provocative, racist and outrageous statements, lacked. She appears, in the eyes of part of the public, as cleaner, more acceptable, more credible and more moderate. Marine Le Pen has been quite careful at ensuring that the cranks and neo-fascist loons in the FN are kept quiet and has moved quickly, as much as she could without alienating her father and the more radical factions of the FN (who have been suspicious of her), to remove from public spotlight anybody who was inconvenient for the FN’s rebranding efforts. Marine Le Pen has surrounded herself with a new generation of FN leaders who are more polished and presentable to the media than some of the old guard (men like Bruno Gollnisch, who have said crazy things in the past); they include men like Florian Philippot, a technocrat who is now a FN vice-president.

An Ipsos poll in November 2013 showed that a majority of respondents still think the FN is a far-right party, dangerous for democracy and would never vote the FN and most don’t think that the FN is a credible alternative. The FN’s positions, the poll showed, are not endorsed by a plurality (with one exception, on maintaining local services) although very substantial minorities (up to 46%) agree with the FN on immigration and immigration. However, the results did show favourable trends for the FN: a 9% drop since 2003 in those believing the FN is dangerous for democracy, a 13% drop since 2003 in those who say the FN is a far-right party (most notably with FN voters themselves, 57% in 2003 said the party was far-right but only 34% think so nowadays, a confirmation of the shifts in the FN’s electorate) and an overall ‘potential’ support of 35% (combining those who have already voted FN and those who say they may potentially do so). These results should temper some of the mass panic and concern trolling of some who seem to think that Le Pen will win in 2017…

It is useful to close this explanation of the political climate in France with a look at Ipsos’ very informative poll on French society. In 2014, the main issues are unemployment (56%), taxes (43%, up 16 from 2013!), buying power (36%) followed by pensions (24%), safety (23%), social inequalities (21%) and immigration (21%). Most political institutions and office holders, except mayors, are poorly perceived: a majority lack confidence in the justice system (54%), the EU (69%), the National Assembly (72%), deputies (77%) and political parties (92%). Even less people have confidence in the PS (18%) than in the FN (22%) or UMP (24%). Pessimism is widespread: 90% say France’s economic power has declined in the past ten years although 65% still think that decline is not irreversible. There remains a strong demand for the notion of ‘authority’, with 87% feeling that authority is too often criticized and 84% saying that France needs a ‘real leader’ to ‘restore order’. A majority (about 60%) expressed protectionist views. A large majority expressed dissatisfaction with politics: 65% feeling that most politicians are corrupt, 78% saying that the democratic system is not working well, 84% who think politicians act primarily for their own interests and 88% decrying that politicians don’t preoccupy themselves with what people like them think. Voters are split on issues of government intervention in the economy. A large majority of voters are skeptical of further European integration, with 70% saying that national powers should be reinforced – but at the same time, returning to the franc is still a minority view (33%, but growing) and there’s no clear consensus in the electorate on whether the EU has been a good or a bad thing. 66% think there are too many foreigners in France.

Before the results start coming out on Sunday (20:00 Paris time), expect another post detailing the main contests to follow.

Ecuador 2014

Local elections were held in Ecuador on February 23, 2014. 23 provincial prefects and vice-prefects (all provinces except the Gálapagos), 221 mayors in every canton (the equivalent of municipalities), a total of 1,305 members of cantonal/municipal councils across the country and the 4,079 members of the parish councils (juntas parroquiales) in 412 urban and 816 rural parishes (the lowest-level administrative divisions, below cantons). Prefects and mayors are directly elected by FPTP, while the members of cantonal and parish councils are elected by open lists. Prefects and mayors have been limited to two consecutive terms in office since the 2008 Constitution, but because these term-limits are not retroactive, some incumbents seeking reelection ran for their third, fourth or even fifth terms in office.

The prefects preside over an unelected provincial council made up of the prefect, vice-prefect and all mayors in the province. Prefects have little power: legally responsible for spatial planning, roads, water management, nature protection and promotion of agriculture and the economy, these tasks are handled by mayors in urban areas. Furthermore, they have little fiscal and financial powers, given that provinces rely on the central government for its resources. However, prefects do hold a good deal of influence because they control public procurement and the hiring of civil servants in the provincial administration – breeding favouritism, nepotism and corruption. Each province, except the province of Pichincha (which includes Quito), has a governor appointed by the President who is charged with coordinating the national civil service in the province. The mayor is the head of the canton and presides over the municipal council. They have similar powers to prefects, but they also have tax-raising powers.

Context

President Rafael Correa was reelected to a third term in office in February 2013 with about 57% of the votes in the first round. Correa’s party, the Alianza PAIS, won 100 out of 137 seats in Congress. Correa, a left-winger, has been President of Ecuador since 2006 and he has since then imposed himself as the hegemonic figure in Ecuadorian politics and taken a fairly prominent position on the international stage. In office, Correa spearheaded the adoption of a new constitution in 2008 and has strengthened the power of the executive branch. Correa’s government has gained strong popular support through generous social welfare grants, micro-loans to small businesses and farmers and ensuring universal access to healthcare and education. Correa’s hostility to the Ecuadorian private media has attracted significant attention around the world. Correa, who never minces his words, considers much of the private media (generally hostile to the government) to be in the hands of corrupt businessmen. Since 2006, Correa has sought to increase state control of the media, either by creating new state-owned media sources or seizing or shutting down privately-owned media. Constitutional amendments in 2011 created a government-controlled media oversight body and reformed the judiciary; the opposition strongly criticized the move as a power grab by Correa.

Correa is often compared to Evo Morales or other Latin American leftist leaders – indeed, like much of the Latin American ‘radical left’ originally inspired by Chávez, Correa is hostile to foreign capital, capitalism, vaguely defined ‘imperialism’ and domestic opposition (branded as ‘reactionaries’) and has built up popular support through social programs to alleviate poverty while shoring up presidential powers. However, unlike Evo Morales, who is an indigenous Bolivian with close ties and roots in grassroots indigenous and coca-growers movements, Correa, a US-educated technocrat, has relatively little ties to social movements and has in fact been rather hostile to critical indigenous groups or social movements (even on the left). Electorally, Correa has often fared worse in the heavily indigenous areas of the Amazonian rainforest (the Oriente) – in the 2013 election, Correa won less than 50% of the vote in every province in the Amazon, while winning over 55-60% in much of the Costa and Sierra (western coastal and central mountainous regions), where the population is predominantly mestizo or Afro-Ecuadorian. Indigenous groups, led by the influential Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and Pachakutik, CONAIE’s political party, have confronted Correa on a number of issues, especially the highly contentious question of oil drilling and mining concessions in the Amazon.

With his huge legislative majority and popular mandate, Correa has pushed forward with a number of controversial projects since 2013 and has picked fights with his opponents. Economically, Correa, with his ‘change of the productive matrix’ agenda, has been trying to diversify Ecuador’s oil-based economy into an ‘industrial and knowledge-based economy’, notably with the active promotion of new infrastructure projects and the development of new industries (oil refining, petrochemical, steel etc). The government passed a law making mining investments by foreign investors easier and more attractive; many mining projects face strong local opposition. However, struggling to attract foreign investment since it defaulted on its foreign debt in 2008, Ecuador has been forced to turn to China, becoming dependent on oil exports to China and Chinese loans in exchange.

In August 2013, Correa dropped his landmark Yasuní-ITT initiative (a commitment to refrain from exploiting oil reserves in the biologically diverse Yasuní National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves from the international community). The government blamed the lack of international support, but critics charge that Quito bowed to Chinese pressures and the government’s desperate thirst for cash. Correa has argued that oil development will be controlled and limited to 1% of the park, that no roads would be built and that oil extraction will help reduce poverty. Despite that, opponents of the measure, led by indigenous organizations and environmentalists, marched on Quito (but failed to gather large crowds) and faced police paint guns. After the protest, anarchist singer Jaime Guevara gave Correa, in a presidential motorcade, the middle finger. Correa, a very confrontational person, personally threatened him and called him a drunk drug-addict (repeated in one of his national TV broadcasts, which Correa uses to castigate opposition and indigenous leaders) – even if Guevara is epileptic and a teetotaler. Correa was later forced to apologize.

Opponents of oil drilling in the Yasuní – students, some opposition politicians, environmentalists and CONAIE – are currently seeking to gather signatures (600,000 required) to hold a referendum on the issue. Correa, as is usual, has denounced Yasuní’s opponents as naive and irresponsible leftists (he usually calls them the ‘infantile left’), and has been able to count on the backing of mayors in the Yasuní National Park region, eager for their share of revenues. At the same time as he promotes oil drilling domestically, Correa’s government has been locked in a judicial battle with US oil giant Chevron, sued by victims of heavy oil pollution in the Amazon in the 1980s.

Oil drilling in the Yasuní has raised significant concerns for the survival of indigenous groups, including two uncontacted peoples living in voluntary isolation (the Taromenane and Tagaeri) and the impact of oil drilling the lifestyle and culture of indigenous groups.

In June 2013, the parliament passed a new communications law which guarantees a right to ‘verified, contrasted, precise, and contextualized information’ and prohibits ‘media lynching’, vaguely defined as the publication of information ‘undermining the prestige or credibility of a person or legal entity’. A new presidential-appointed officer, the Superintendent of Information and Communication, will be charged with enforcing the law and handling ‘media lynching’ cases. Critics have said the law grants too much power to the new non-independent body and raised concerns about the implications for journalists’ investigations into corruption and internet anonymity. In December 2013, police raided the homes of an anti-corruption journalist and Pachakutik deputy, seizing computers and phones and accused the two men of hacking Correa’s email account. A cartoonist in the anti-government El Universo newspaper who published a cartoon critical of the raid was sued by the Superintendent. The newspaper was charged a hefty fine and forced to publish a ‘correction’ to the cartoon; the ‘corrected’ cartoon sarcastically poked fun at the raid. Later, in another case, a government-owned newspaper published information, allegedly stolen through hacking an opposition leader’s email account, about a project to create a news agency investigating corruption.

The government has also attacked independent NGOs critical of its policies. Using a 2013 presidential decree which create a state body to regulate, monitor and even dissolve NGOs, a environmental and indigenous rights organization was dissolved in December for participating in a violent protest in which foreign representatives (Chilean and Belorussian) were attacked. Correa also picked a fight with doctors over a poorly written criminal code article which allows judges to sentence doctors for ‘criminal medical malpractice’ – if a patient dies as a result of ‘dangerous, unnecessary and illegitimate actions’ by the doctor. Doctors protested, Correa threatened to hire Cuban doctors and resign if the law was changed (apparently, Correa has threatened to resign no less than 13 times since 2007).

Results

In a presentation released by the government’s online publication El Ciudadano, Alianza PAIS is said to have won 10 out of 23 prefects and 68 out of 221 mayors, a gain of 2 and loss of 4 respectively from the 2009 local elections. The same document says that Alianza PAIS won 50% of the vote in prefectural elections, 34% of the vote in mayoral contests and 37.5% in municipal council elections. However, most attention was given to individual races.

One of the most important contests was in the capital, Quito, held since 2009 by Alianza PAIS’ Augusto Barrera, whose tenure has been marked by the inauguration of a new international airport and the beginning of construction on a subway system for Quito. Barrera, who was elected in 2009 with 43.1% of the vote, faced 2013 presidential candidate Mauricio Rodas, the leader of his own-man centre-right United Society for More Action (SUMA) party. Rodas, who is 38 years old, is a lawyer and former president of the youth wing of the right-wing Social Christian Party (PSC). Rodas’ 2013 presidential candidacy, vaguely centre-right and ostensibly ‘progressive centrist’, was backed by a few small parties and politicians, including the Evangelical Indigenous Federation (a conservative evangelical movement at odds with Correa and CONAIE). Rodas’ mayoral candidacy was backed by Antonio Ricaurte, a centre-left (ostensibly pro-Correa but anti-Barrera) candidate who placed second behind Barrera in 2009. Rodas’ campaign focused on lower taxes, lower traffic fines and good government; faced with the eventuality of defeat, Barrera lowered traffic fines after having previously denounced such a move as ‘demagoguery’.

Mauricio Rodas (SUMA/VIVE) 58.66%
Augusto Barrera (Alianza PAIS) 37.94%
Others 3.39%

In a major defeat overshadowing better results elsewhere, Correa’s party lost Quito’s city hall by a wide margin. The defeat is particularly bad because Correa campaigned heavily for Barrera in the final days. However, the defeat seems to owe a lot to local factors, given that Alianza PAIS’ incumbent simultaneously won Quito in the prefectural election (with 59.6%) and PAIS won more votes than Rodas’ SUMA alliance in the municipal council election (this outdated article, based on 61% of precincts reporting, said PAIS won won 41.5% against 39.9% for SUMA).

President Correa has said that he doesn’t know who Rodas is personally, but that he ‘knows’ that the people behind him want his government to fall and have contacts with the ‘fascist right’ in Venezuela.

Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and economic capital, has been – municipally – a right-wing PSC stronghold since 1992. In 1992, former President León Febres-Cordero (1984-1988), a local businessman connected to the city’s powerful business establishment and a fairly disastrous president, was elected mayor of Guayaquil. His successful management of the city, after decades of rule by populist lunatics (notably Abdalá Bucaram) who looted the city’s coffers, turned the city into a PSC stronghold at the municipal level. In 2000, LFC was succeeded by Jaime Nebot, a Lebanese businessman (a former governor and deputy of Guayas closely connected to Guayaquil’s business establishment, he was also LFC’s protégé) who had run for President in 1992 and 1996, both times losing in the runoff. Nebot has proven to be a popular mayor, with local infrastructure and modernization projects as well as anti-poverty social programs. Nationally, Nebot has some prominence as one of the leading figures of the anti-Correa opposition – Nebot led the unsuccessful no campaign against Correa’s 2008 constitution, which was rejected by guayaquileño voters. Nebot was reelected with 56.8% in 2004 and 68.4% in 2009. Nebot was backed by his own personalist party, Madera de Guerrero, and the PSC; his PAIS opponent was Viviana Bonilla, a young former governor of Guayas province (2012-2013).

Jaime Nebot (PSC/Madera de Guerrero) 59.50%
Viviana Bonilla (Alianza PAIS) 39.11%
Others 1.39%

In an unsurprising result, the popular centre-right mayor of Guayaquil was reelected with a large majority, albeit significantly reduced from 2009. The PSC has also maintained its large absolute majority in the cantonal council, estimated to have won 10 out of 15 seats, with the other seats going to Alianza PAIS.

In Cuenca, a former centre-left mayor defeated by Alianza PAIS in 2009, Marcelo Cabrera, won a rematch against the PAIS incumbent, Paúl Granda. At the same time, however, PAIS appears to have held a large majority in the cantonal council. The anti-Correa centre-left prefect of Azuay province (Paúl Carrasco), where Cuenca is located, was also reelected against a PAIS candidate. Carrasco had been elected in 2009 with Correa’s support, but he has since turned into a strong opponent of the president.

In Esmeraldas province, according to incomplete results, incumbent prefect Lucia Sosa, the candidate of the ostensibly far-leftist MPD, has been very narrowly reelected with 39.8% against 38.6% for the PAIS candidate, former soccer player Iván Hurtado. The MPD, however, was unable to hold the canton of Esmeraldas, gained by former justice minister Lenín Lara (PAIS).

Another bad result for Correa’s party came, surprisingly, from El Oro province, where incumbent prefect Montgomery Sánchez (a local political boss who is now pro-Correa), in office since 1996 and reelected with over 80% in 2009, was defeated by PSC/SUMA candidate Esteban Quirola, 41.6% to 50.9%. In the provincial capital of Machala, the son of the incumbent mayor and other local strongman Carlos Falquez (PSC), was elected to succeed his father, barred from running because as a radio owner he doesn’t conform to a new communications law.

On the other hand, PAIS was able to hold the prefects of the three major provinces: Guayas, Pichincha and Manabí. In Guayas province, incumbent prefect Jimmy Jairala, a former opponent of Correa (he used to be a member of Abdalá Bucaram’s arch-corrupt personalist populist Roldosist Party, PRE) who has turned into an ally of the President, was reelected with PAIS’ support against the PSC candidate. Jairala won 52.8% of the vote. In Pichincha province (Quito), PAIS incumbent Gustavo Baroja was reelected with about 61%. In Manabí province, finally, incumbent prefect Mariano Zambrano Segovia, elected for a local party in 2009, was handily reelected with PAIS’ support, taking 56.2% of the vote. However, PAIS candidates, including one incumbent, were defeated in Portoviejo and Manta cantons, the two largest cities in the province. In a number of other prefectures, a similar pattern occurred: PAIS held the prefecture, but its candidates – including incumbents – lost in the largest cantons, notably in the provinces of Los Ríos, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Santa Elena and Santo Domingo.

The governing party did badly in the Amazon, winning only one province – Napo – where incumbent prefect Sergio Chacon Padilla, elected for former President Lucio Gutiérrez’s populist PSP, ran and won (narrowly, against the PSP) reelection for Correa’s party. Incumbent Pachakutik prefects, strong opponents of Correa, in the Amazonian provinces of Zamora Chinchipe, Morona Santiago and Orellana were all reelected. The PSP gained the province of Sucumbíos while SUMA won Pastaza province; Pachakutik also held the province of Cotopaxi, in the Sierra.

Although PAIS remains Ecuador’s largest party and seemingly the only party with nationwide influence over a provincially fragmented and ideologically disparate opposition, it is generally considered to have lost this year’s local elections – the first electoral setback for Correa since taking office in 2007. The defeats in Quito and Cuenca – among other defeats for PAIS – have contributed to shaping this narrative. It is true that local government remains more challenging for PAIS, a new political force, which has run into well-entrenched provincial and local political machines and powerful local caciques. PAIS’ showing in 2009, when local elections were held alongside presidential and legislative elections handily won by Correa’s party, was less impressive. But at the same time, PAIS has managed to build up a strong base in local government, either through elections or oftentimes through defections from venal, populist and corrupt local political bosses (such as Jimmy Jairala in Guayas province).

Correa has blamed his party’s poor showing this year on ‘sectarianism’ – what he sees as PAIS’ refusal to ally with local parties (which is a bit silly given how many old politicians and local bosses PAIS has recycled). However, he has denied that his party lost the elections, saying it only suffered local setbacks. In the meantime, however, Correa – who had until now denied interest in running for another term in 2017 (the 2008 constitution limits him to two terms under the present constitution, so he is not eligible to run for a fourth term – or third under the 2008 document – in 2017) – has now publicly said that he has a ‘duty’ to ‘revise’ his ‘sincere decision not to run for reelection’ because of ‘the clouds’ which are stalking his Revolución Ciudadana (a thinly veiled reference to the opposition’s successes in these elections).

Tokyo (Japan) 2014

Gubernatorial elections were held in Tokyo (Japan) on February 9, 2014. Tokyo Prefecture (officially designated as the Tokyo Metropolis) has a population of over 13.1 million, spread out over the 23 ‘special wards’ of the former core city of Tokyo, 26 suburban cities, one rural district and four sub-prefectures including outlying islands in the Pacific (the Izu and Ogasawara Islands). The Tokyo Metropolitan area includes only part of the Greater Tokyo metropolis, which has a population of over 35 million people spread out over many prefectures, making it the largest metropolitan area in the world.

Tokyo is a prefecture with special powers. Unlike all other prefectures in Japan, Tokyo is administered by single-tier unitary government which combines the powers of Japanese prefectures with powers traditionally devolved to municipal governments. For example, in the 23 special wards, the metro government exercises traditionally municipal powers (waste management, water, fire prevention). Like in other prefectures, the government is built as a presidential system with a directly-elected Governor and directly-elected legislature. The Governor of Tokyo is elected to a four-year term by FPTP, although a new election takes place if the incumbent governor resigns or is forced from office: this gubernatorial election, like the last one in 2013, is a special election. The Governor is the head of the executive branch, which includes government departments and autonomous commissions. The Metropolitan Assembly is made up of 127 members elected to four-year terms, separately from the Governor, by SNTV (the last election was in 2013). The Assembly prepares and votes on legislation and decrees (the governor may also initiate legislation), sets the budget and confirms and oversees gubernatorial appointments. The Assembly, with a three-fourths majority and two-thirds quorum, may vote a motion of no confidence in the governor; in which case the governor then has ten days to dissolve the assembly or he will automatically be removed from office. If a newly-elected assembly after a gubernatorial dissolution again votes a motion of no confidence, the governor is removed from office. One third of registered voters may also initiate a recall vote against the governor, assembly (to dissolve it) and prefectural councillors, they may also initiate a popular initiative to pass or repeal an ordinance. Because of the special powers and expanded autonomy of the metro government, the Governor of Tokyo is considered as one of the most powerful politicians in Japan.

National Context

Japan’s natural governing party, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Shinzō Abe, returned to power in December 2012 with a supermajority only three years after suffering a historic defeat at the hands of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). After years of a revolving-door prime ministership (six PMs came and went between 2006 and 2012, after LDP Prime Minister Jun’ichirō Koizumi - who had held the office since 2001 – resigned in 2006), politicians’ promises invariably amounting to little and a low-growth deflationary economy, Shinzō Abe’s government has been proving to be quite a change. Although Shinzō Abe’s first term as Prime Minister (2006-2007) is widely regarded as a failure, because he preferred to engage in nationalist sabre-rattling with China, since taking office in 2012, he has been surprising observers and proving uncannily popular.

Abe came out with a bold economic agenda – “Abenomics” – to finally turn Japan’s sluggish economy around. The first two ‘arrows’ of his Abenomics policy included a fiscal stimulus (¥10.3 trillion stimulus package, mostly on infrastructure and public works, to please the LDP’s powerful vested interests in construction) and a shift in monetary policy. In April 2013, the Bank of Japan set a 2% inflation target and launched a program of quantitative easing to reach it. The initial response was quite positive, both from voters and business: consumer and investor confidence is high, the Nikkei stock exchange reached its highest level since 2008, consumer prices increased, the yen depreciated (boosting exports) and economic growth reached impressive levels of 3-4% in the first two quarters of 2013. In July 2013, the LDP (and its traditional ally, the conservative Buddhist New Komeito Party, NKP) won the upper house elections, regaining an absolute majority in the House of Councillors and winning, along with the NKP, 49% of the vote overall. The DPJ, which has been in a state of decrepitude since getting trounced in December 2012, won only 13% of the vote.

After the upper house elections, there was major anticipation for the third ‘arrow’ of Abenomics: structural reforms. The Japanese economy has been bogged down by an aging population requiring ever-higher spending on social security and pensions; protected and uncompetitive economic sectors (agriculture, pharmaceuticals etc); and a tightly regulated labour market (with chaffing rules on staff dismissal, a very high corporate tax). The reforms announced by Abe in June 2013 fell short of expectations, proposing to create deregulated and low-tax zones, allowing the sale of drugs online and creating a third category of contract workers. However, in March 2013, Japan entered negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact which would require Japan to slash its high import tariffs on farm produce and opening up other protected industries. Although there has been significant opposition within the LDP and from its vested interests in agricultural cooperatives to the TPP, the party has been moving along with it and Japanese negotiators have said that they would consider lowering tariffs. The government wishes to check the power of powerful agricultural cooperatives which kept out new farmers, reviewing an old policy on rice cultivation (the gentan policy from 1969, which limits the number of acres devoted to rice, so domestic prices are kept high to benefit farmers and cooperatives; scrapping the policy would make prices fall and compete more effectively at home) and extending the length of part-time contracts. But there has been significant resistance or reluctance to move forward with the reforms: the health ministry and pharmacists blocked the government’s promise to lift the ban on online sales of over-the-counter medicines. In cabinet, several ministers are resistant to change and others disagree among one another over the next steps of Abenomics.

Economic growth slowed to 1.9% (annualized) in the third quarter of 2013 and was low in the fourth quarter as well (1%). Small businesses have been less optimistic than big businesses about Abenomics, and inflation appears to have risen because the depreciated yen makes fuel imports more expensive. To his credit, Abe gathered up the political willpower to move ahead with a planned increase in the consumption tax (loathed in Japan), from 5% to 8% (with plans to raise it to 10% in October 2015). The consumption tax hike, which is seen by the IMF and OECD to be necessary, was decided by Abe’s predecessor, the DPJ’s Yoshihiko Noda in December 2012 right before snap elections took place (at the time, the LDP backed the tax hike in return for a snap election); however, there was some skepticism about whether the LDP would actually do so because Abe had been sending conflicting signals. The last time Japan’s unpopular consumption tax was increased, in 1997, the economy floundered into recession (although the Asian financial crisis in 1997 was as much to blame) and LDP Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was soon ousted. The issue of increasing the consumption tax, floated by Abe’s two DPJ predecessors, badly hurt the DPJ’s popularity and led to several splits in the party. In October, Abe announced that the tax hike would go ahead, mitigated by a temporary stimulus of ¥6 trillion to offset the tax increase. However, Abe’s calls on businesses to increase employee wages to support consumption fell on deaf hears.

Abe’s plans to turn Japan’s economy around have gone hand-in-hand with a nationalist foreign policy, seeking to reassert Japanese power in the region and challenge China’s rising might (China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy in 2010). Abe has made a number of controversial statements about Japan’s past: his government includes many nationalists critical of Japan’s “apology diplomacy”; in April 2013, Abe questioned whether Japan’s wars in China and Asia from 1931 to 1945 could be defined as “aggression”; in May, a LDP boss said that Abe rejected the verdict of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. In late December 2013, Abe became the first Prime Minister since Koizumi in 2006 to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the spirits of 14 convicted war criminals are enshrined alongside other Japanese war dead. As was to be expected, China and South Korea strongly condemned the visit and the US expressed ‘disappointment’. The LDP wants to amend the constitution’s Article 9, which outlaws war, to allow for collective self-defense; for the time being, however, the LDP seemingly lacks the parliamentary two-thirds supermajorities in both houses to amend the constitution (which would then be put to a referendum). The LDP’s junior partner, the pacifist NKP, is thought to oppose amending Article 9. Indeed, the NKP’s leader criticized Abe for visiting Yasukuni Shrine, and relations between the NKP and LDP have been pretty bad.

Abe’s government ran into its first major challenge in November 2013, when the Diet passed an unpopular secrecy law which increases penalties for leaking widely defined ‘state secrets’ (presented by the LDP as necessary to strengthen national security, just as China declared a new air-defense zone in the East China Sea overlapping with Japan’s own zone). Under the new law, leaking state secrets will be punishable with ten years in jail, up from one year imprisonment. The LDP’s unpopular legislation sparked protests (orderly and very tame, in Japanese style) against the bill and a coalition of opponents including conservative groups (doctors, dentists), academics and filmmakers. LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba added to the controversy when he compared the protesters to ‘terrorists’, leading the opposition to believe that the LDP will use broadly-defined ‘terrorism’ and ‘state secrets’ to crack down on anti-nuclear protesters opposing the LDP’s plans to reopen nuclear power plants closed down after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. After the secrecy bill controversy, Abe’s approval ratings fell below 50% (to 49%) for the first time since taking office and his disapproval ratings have increased to 30-35%. Nevertheless, these are still excellent approval ratings and the LDP’s hold on power is still unchallenged.

The Tokyo governorship

Tokyo’s governorship has attracted colourful personalities. Between 1947 and 1967, the office was held by conservative politicians backed by the LDP. However, in 1967, in the wake of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (and issues related to that) and local corruption scandals, Ryokichi Minobe, backed by the Socialist Party (JSP) and Communist Party (JCP), won the governorship from the LDP-backed candidate. Serving until 1979, Minobe’s administration was interventionist, providing free medical care to the elderly and implementing anti-pollution and pro-pedestrian policies. Upon his retirement, he was succeeded by former Vice Governor Shunichi Suzuki, the candidate backed by the LDP. Suzuki held the office until 1995. In 1991, however, Suzuki was reelected as an independent after the national LDP, led by secretary-general Ichirō Ozawa, refused to endorse Suzuki’s bid for reelection. Suzuki was able to win reelection with the backing of local LDP leaders and the construction industry, which liked Suzuki’s lavish and wasteful spending on large infrastructure (one of the main issues was the construction of a huge new building for the administration in Shinjuku at the cost of over a billion dollars). When he retired, in 1995, he was succeeded by another independent, Yukio Aoshima (a former actor, novelist, screenwriter, songwriter and film director), who ran a low-key populist campaign against a candidate backed the LDP, NKP and JSP. Aoshima won in the context of great political dissatisfaction following the political scandals of the 1980s, the bad economy bred by the collapse of the speculative bubble in 1989 and the LDP’s brief fall from power in 1993. Since then, urban voters, particularly in Tokyo, have become extraordinarily fickle in their vote choice, with no loyalty for any major party and often preferring local independent candidates.

Aoshima, worn down by a poor economic situation in Tokyo and controversies surrounding his handling of homeless persons, retired in 1999. In a very open race, Shintarō Ishihara, a right-wing novelist and former LDP parliamentarian, was elected governor as an independent with 30.5% of the votes. Ishihara defeated Kunio Hatoyama, the grandson of the LDP’s founder and the brother of future DPJ Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who was backed by the DPJ; Yōichi Masuzoe, an academic and TV personality running as an independent (refusing LDP support); and LDP-NKP candidate Yasushi Akashi. Ishihara held the office until his resignation in October 2012 – he was reelected in 2001 (with LDP support, winning 70%), 2007 (with LDP-NKP support, winning 51% against 30.8% for former Miyagi Prefecture governor Shirō Asano, backed the DPJ) and 2011 (with LDP-NKP support, winning 43% against 28% for former Miyazaki Prefecture governor Hideo Higashikokubaru and the rest for DPJ and JCP candidates). Ishihara, a nationalist known for his inflammatory rhetoric, remained relatively popular as governor and his policies were rather pragmatic. He cut spending and cancelled projects in his first term, but he also created a new 3% local tax on banks’ gross (rather than net) profits, supported Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics (the latter of which was successful) and implemented a groundbreaking cap-and-trade scheme in 2010. But Ishihara mostly drew attention to himself for his nationalist positions and controversial statements. Ishihara opposes Article 9 and has a history of being aggressively anti-Chinese and Korean. In the early 2000s, he drew controversy by talking of ‘foreigners’ being responsible for crimes in Tokyo and using the derogatory term sangokujin in his speech. He visited Yasukuni Shrine on the emblematic date of August 15 several times. In 2011, he said that the tsunami/earthquake which hit Japan that year was ‘divine punishment’ for Japanese people’s ‘greed’. In 2012, Ishihara sought to buy the disputed Senkaku Islands (claimed by China) from their private owners, before the DPJ government did so itself in September 2012. At one point, Ishihara controversially said that women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are “useless” and “committing a sin”. Ishihara resigned as governor in October 2012 to enter national politics as the co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party (JRP), a marriage of convenience between Ishihara and his nationalist colleague, Osaka mayor Tōru Hashimoto. The JRP became the third largest party in the House of Representatives in the December 2012, winning over 20% of the vote in Japan and Tokyo. In 2013, however, the JRP performed very poorly in the Tokyo prefectural elections (8% and 2 seats) and poorly in the upper house elections in July (12% and 8 seats).

A gubernatorial election was held in December 2012 alongside the general election. Vice Governor Naoki Inose, an author and a former adviser to Koizumi known for his economically liberal and reformist views, ran with the backing of outgoing governor Ishihara and the JRP, the LDP, the NKP and the liberal Your Party (YP). Inose promised continuity with Ishihara’s record, focusing on energy (as Vice Governor, he had led the charge to reduce electricity prices by making the metro government the main shareholder in embattled TEPCO) and social projects (proposing to build nursing homes for the elderly). Facing weak opposition, Inose was elected governor with 67.4% against 15% for his main opponent, the president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations Kenji Utsunomiya, backed the Social Democratic Party (SDPJ), the JCP, small left-wing and anti-nuclear parties. Inose’s main achievement was being in office when Tokyo was selected as the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics in September 2013. But in November 2013, Inose was put in the hot seat with accusations that he had received an illegal (undeclared) loan (interest and collateral-free) in cash from a hospital group during his 2012 campaign. Under pressure from the Metropolitan Assembly, Ishihara and Prime Minister Abe, Inose resigned on December 19.

The frontrunner and consistent favourite in this election was Yōichi Masuzoe. Masuzoe, who is 65, began his career as a prominent and acclaimed academic, expert and later popular TV personality. Masuzoe speaks seven languages (Japanese, English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian). In 1998, Masuzoe wrote a book about how he cared for his sick mother for several years, criticizing Japan’s system of social security and senior care. The book turned him into a go-to reference on issues of social security, welfare and social assistance – very important in a rapidly aging society like Japan. He ran for governor of Tokyo as an independent in 1999, placing third with 15.3%. With the backing of the LDP’s reformist leader Jun’ichirō Koizumi, he was elected to the upper house (the House of Councillors) in 2001, with LDP support. Like Koizumi, Masuzoe was (is?) something of a maverick, known as an honest and competent expert. He was a strong critic of Prime Minister Abe in his first (disastrous) term, but when Abe was forced to open his cabinet to his rivals in August 2007, Masuzoe became Minister of Health and Welfare. His nomination came on the heels of the LDP’s defeat in the 2007 upper house election, which owed a lot to the health ministry’s admission that it had lost pensioners’ records. His handling of the aftermath of the scandal was hardly a success, given that his ministry failed to match millions of records with their owners, leading the DPJ to demand his resignation.

Masuzoe nevertheless remained one of Japan’s most popular politicians, and in 2010 his name topped the polls on best alternative Prime Ministers. At the time, the LDP was still reeling from its 2009 defeat and had trouble adapting itself to the new job of opposition rather than governing party. In April 2010, Masuzoe left the LDP to join and take the leadership of the New Renaissance Party (NRP), a right-wing party with neoliberal and reformist positions on economic issues. The NRP and its ideological twin (YP)’s aim to become a possible centre-right counterweight to the LDP fell through; in the July 2010 upper house elections, the NRP won only one seat. Following the NRP’s defeat, Masuzoe dropped off the political radar, trying out various alliances.

Masuzoe was approached by both the LDP and DPJ as a potential candidate for the gubernatorial election. Some in the LDP were critical of Masuzoe, not having totally digested Masuzoe’s 2010 defection from the LDP. But the LDP, always looking for a winner, did see in him an electable candidate with both experience and name recognition (the requirements of the local and national LDP respectively), and ultimately supported him in return for Masuzoe resigning from the NRP. He was also backed by the NKP, some individuals in the DPJ and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (RENGO), Japan’s largest trade union confederation and a traditional supporter of the DPJ. Masuzoe’s campaign focused on local social welfare issues and hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics (like the LDP, he is an avid supporter of the Olympics).

Some of Masuzoe’s old comments were exhumed during the campaign. In 1989, he told a magazine that women were unfit for politics because they menstruate and lacked the physical strength to work 24 hours a day (because obviously male politicians do work 24 hours a day!). Tokyo women on Twitter called for a ‘sex strike’ against men voting for Masuzoe.

Kenji Utsunomiya, an attorney and distant runnerup in the 2012 gubernatorial election, supported by left-wing parties – the Communist Party (JCP), the Social Democratic Party (SDPJ) as well as the smaller Greens Japan and the New Socialist Party. Utsunomiya had run in the 2012 election, on a left-wing platform very critical of Ishihara’s record (particularly on poverty and social issues, but also in his strong support for the Olympics and his attempt to buy the Senkaku Islands). He won only 14.6%, a very distant second place behind conservative candidate Naoki Inose. In this election, Utsunomiya took a strongly anti-Abe stance (he’s notably critical of Abe on the Article 9/militarization issue). His campaign focused on local issues as well, particularly the growing wealth gap, the lack of affordable earthquake and earthquake safety. He remained critical of the 2020 Olympics, opposing the projects to expand the National Olympic Stadium, which had served for the 1964 Olympics. Utsunomiya is strongly anti-nuclear, wishing to decommission all nuclear power plants, but he did not actually make it the core focus of his campaign.

The surprise of the campaign was the candidacy of Morihiro Hosokawa, a 76-year old former Prime Minister. Hosokawa was one of several LDP MPs who defected from the embattled LDP in the early 1990s to form small rival opposition parties (in his case, the small Japan New Party). After the July 1993 election, in which the LDP lost its absolute majority in the lower house for the first time ever, Hosokawa became Prime Minister of a seven-party (anti-LDP) coalition government with his party, other LDP dissidents, the Socialists and the Komeito. Hosokawa’s coalition government had little ideas or visions besides shared opposition to the LDP, as evidenced by a squabble over a discussion of an increase in the consumption tax. It had accomplished little when Hosokawa was forced to resign in April 1994 after it came to light that he had accepted a 100 million yen loan from a trucking company tied to organized crime. Afterwards, Hosokawa faded from the political spotlight and retired in 1998 to take up pottery. He was approached by the DPJ to run in the gubernatorial election, and his candidacy was backed by the DPJ, the sulfurous Ichirō Ozawa’s personality cult (the People’s Life Party) and Kenji Eda’s Unity Party (born in 2013 from a split in the YP).

Above all, Hosokawa’s candidacy drew attention because he was endorsed by another political retiree, former LDP Prime Minister Jun’ichirō Koizumi, who made his political comeback to support Hosokawa and opposed his successor Shinzō Abe’s pro-nuclear stance. Koizumi, since the Fukushima disaster, has adopted anti-nuclear positions (which do appear genuine) but is also said to hold resentment from Abe’s reintegration into the LDP of LDP rebels who had opposed Koizumi’s big postal privatization drive in 2005. Hosokawa’s campaign had a heavy focus on the nuclear issue. Masuzoe’s position on the nuclear issue seems vague (although he was clearly pro-nuclear prior to 2011); outright pro-nuclear positions are fairly rare in Japan these days, although the Abe government supports reopening a nuclear reactor or two (suspended since Fukushima). Hosokawa’s candidacy, perceived as being strong because of DPJ and Koizumi support, led to pressures from the DPJ on Utsunomiya to withdraw from the resign so as to not split the anti-nuclear vote. Utsunomiya declined and faulted Hosokawa’s campaign for obscuring local issues such as poverty.

The fourth major candidate was Toshio Tamogami, the former Chief of Staff of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force between March 2007 and October 2008. He was fired from his military command in 2008 after authoring an essay in which he said that Japan had been drawn into World War II by Franklin D. Roosevelt (manipulated by the communists) and Chiang Kai-Shek. In the same essay, he also asserted that the war brought prosperity to China and Korea and implied that Japanese war crimes were fabricated or at least not such a big deal. After his dismissal, he told a British journalist that, had had he been general in a nuclear-capable Japan in 1945, he would have considered using nuclear weapons against the US. Since 2008, Tamogami has been involved in far-right nationalist groups which advocate that Japan should have the right to collective self-defense and should acquire nuclear weapons. During the campaign, one of Tamogami’s supporters, Naoki Hyakuta, a member of the board of the public broadcaster NHK, declared that the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 never happened (a fairly widespread view in far-right circles). Tamogami was endorsed by the obscure far-right Ishin Seito Shimpu but also benefited from the support of former governor Ishihara (who also ‘doubts’ the Nanjing Massacre occurred) – although the JRP did not officially support Tamogami.

Turnout was low, at 46.1%, due to a snow storm on February 9. It was 16.5% lower than the 2012 election (held alongside the general election, though) and down from the 58% turnout in the 2011 race (which was held on its own).

Yōichi Masuzoe (Independent/LDP-NKP) 42.86%
Kenji Utsunomiya (Independent/JCP-SDPJ-Greens-NSP) 19.93%
Morihiro Hosokawa (Independent/DPJ-PLP-UP) 19.39%
Toshio Tamogami (Independent) 12.39%
Kazuma Ieiri (Independent) 1.8%
Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Independent) 1.31%
Mac Akasaka (Smile Party) 0.31%
Others 0.78%

Ultimately, nobody proved strong enough to challenge and defeat Masuzoe, the early frontrunner whose candidacy benefited from the support of the popular central government and crossover support from some opposition DPJ supporters. Much ado about nothing for the candidacy of Morihiro Hosokawa, despite the heavyweight backing of Koizumi. Hosokawa’s old age, his little contact with Tokyo and his nuclear/national-focused campaign all hurt him in an election which was ultimately mostly fought and decided on local issues. The anti-nuclear vote is quite strong in Tokyo, but it is not an issue which can mobilize a winning crowd in a local election.

Masuzoe’s term, which runs until 2018, will be heavily focused on the preparations for the 2020 Olympics. The LDP government will be able to count on an avid supporter of its lavish and grandiose plans for the Olympics in the metro government. Nationally, while the race was again mostly local, the victory is nevertheless another sign that popular support for the LDP and Abe is holding up fairly well over one year in. For the time being, no party is even close to challenging the LDP’s renewed monopoly on power in Japan. This election saw Koizumi’s return to the forefront of national politics with an anti-nuclear campaign which is also targeted against Abe. It is worth watching what Koizumi intends to do to pursue his anti-nuclear battle further.

Quebec (municipal) 2013

Map of Quebec (source: Atlas of Canada, Natural Resources Canada)

Municipal elections were held in the province of Quebec (Canada) on November 3, 2013.

The mayors and municipal councils of 1,111 local municipalities, directly elected for four year terms, were up for reelection. The mayor is directly and separately elected by FPTP, while municipal councillors (a minimum of 6 per municipality) are either elected in single-member wards/districts (in municipalities with a population over 20,000, electing at least 8 councillors) or at-large by the entire municipality (in such cases, the seats are numbered and candidates may only stand for one seat), again by FPTP. Some municipalities, such as Montreal, elected other offices (borough mayors, borough council etc) while 13 Regional County Municipalities (see below) directly elected their prefects.

Canadian local politics stand out from local politics in the United States or most European countries because of the absence of national or state/provincial political parties. Rather, local politics are either non-partisan or feature a number of municipal political parties (in the larger towns). In Quebec, unlike in Ontario, most large cities have municipal parties (often alongside independent candidates). However, these municipal parties are oftentimes little more than empty personal vehicles for a leading mayoral candidate or other local politician, and they come and go with their leaders. Furthermore, while ideology and federal/provincial partisan ties do play a role in Quebec local politics, they are not central to local politics – candidate quality and personality, personal ties, local issues and parochialism play larger roles.

Why care about all this? These elections were made all the more interesting and important by the recent developments in Quebec local politics with regards to high-level political corruption and collusion in the administration of major cities in Quebec. This blog post explains in thorough detail all the background to these elections and the corruption in Quebec local politics.

Municipal government

Quebec is divided into 1,111 local municipalities (municipalités locales) in addition to Indian reserves, northern (Inuit) villages, Cree and Naskapi villages/lands and unorganized territories administered by a supralocal body. Of these 1,111 local municipalities (map and list), 637 are designated as municipalities (municipalités), 223 as towns (villes), 161 as parishes (paroisses), 44 as villages, 44 as townships (cantons) and two as united cantons (cantons unis). These designations do not impact their powers, although the towns (and four municipalities and one village) are governed under the Law on Cities and Towns while the rest are governed under the Municipal Code.

Municipal governments are solely responsible for fire protection, water and water treatment and waste management. They share responsibility with the provincial government over housing, roads (the local level being responsible for streets and local roads), public transportation, policing, recreation and culture, parks and green spaces and land use/spatial planning policies.

Local government in Quebec also includes supralocal structures which share some powers with or have been delegated powers from municipalities. There are eleven agglomerations (agglomérations) grouping 41 municipalities, which have a council made up of delegates from the municipalities. Their powers may include real estate appraisal, policing, fire protection, public transit, water management, waste management, tourism and economic development. Most municipalities (1,067 municipalities and 94 territories) are covered by 87 Regional County Municipalities (Municipalités régionales de comtés, MRC) which have a council made up of the municipalities’ mayors and led by a prefect who is, in thirteen cases, elected directly by voters. The MRC has powers over land use, planning for waste management and fire protection, preparation of evaluation rolls, creation and funding of local development centres. There are fourteen structures holding powers of an MRC: four agglomerations and nine cities. The Greater Montreal and Greater Quebec City areas also form metropolitan communities, with a council responsible for planning and coordination on select issues.

Eight municipalities, including Montreal and Quebec City, are further subdivided into boroughs (arrondissements) aiming to provide localized services to citizens including (in Montreal) fire protection, parks and recreation, maintaining local roads, land use and waste management.

In Canada, like in other federal states, municipal governments are the creation of the provincial governments and while they have administrative autonomy, they are limited by provincial legislation and regulation in their behaviour. Municipal by-laws must be cleared by the provincial government, and the organization of municipalities (their powers, their structure and their boundaries) are determined by the provincial government.

For example, in 2002, the provincial Parti Québécois (PQ) government proceeded to the forced amalgamation of a large number of municipalities – most significantly, merging all municipalities on the island of Montreal into a single city and amalgamating the suburban municipalities of Quebec City, Gatineau, Lévis, Longueuil or Saguenay into a single city. The government was following in the footsteps of major municipal amalgamations in Ontario in the 90s. A number of former municipalities opposed these amalgamations. After 2003, a new provincial Liberal government carried out its promise of holding referendums on municipal de-amalgamations in those former municipalities where 10% of residents signed a petition asking for such a vote. 89 referendums were held in June 2004, resulting in the successful re-creation of 32 former municipalities in January 2006.

Background: Corruption and collusion in Quebec municipal politics

Municipal politics in Quebec have been shaken up in the past year by the Charbonneau Commission on the awarding and management of public construction contracts (at the municipal and provincial level), which has revealed deep and ingrained corruption in municipal politics – notably in Montreal and Laval, Quebec’s largest and third largest cities respectively. As a result of revelations and allegations, a number of mayors (including the mayors of Montreal and Laval) were forced to resign.

Corruption allegations had been swirling around the world of municipal politics, especially in Montreal, since 2009 with concerns over the high prices charged for construction contracts, rumours of illegal party financing by entrepreneurs and collusion between municipal politicians and shady entrepreneurs. Right before the 2009 elections, Benoit Labonté, the former leader of the main municipal opposition party in Montreal, was forced to admit his links with corrupt developer Tony Accurso from whom he had allegedly solicited and received money. In an interview which shook the political milieu, Labonté said that illegal financing of municipal and provincial parties was the norm and that a cartel in cahoots with the mafia ruled public works contracts in Montreal.

In late September and early October 2012, Lino Zambito, a former construction contractor, testified before the commission and spilled the beans about an organized system of collusion in the construction industry which controlled access to public construction contracts, and the role played by engineering firms and the mafia in the illegal financing of political parties/candidates at the municipal level.

Zambito claimed that his (bankrupt) construction company was one of ten companies in Montreal (all or most of which were formed by natives of the Sicilian village of Cattolica Eraclea) which formed a cartel controlling and dividing (amongst themselves) public contracts in Montreal. The cost of contracts were inflated by up to 25-30%, and the cartel – in tandem with the mafia – used intimidation to prevent other construction firms from bidding for or obtaining a contract from city hall. It was clear that the tendering process for public works contracts was rigged in favour of the cartel, and those companies which tried to ‘enter’ the closed world were unceremoniously told off by the cartel’s members – or their allies in the mafia.

In return for membership in this cartel, Zambito said that he needed to pay 2.5% of the contracts’ values to Nicolo Milioto, a middleman who gave the funds to the Rizzuto mafia clan (the Sicilian-led clan which controlled the Montreal underworld from the 1980s to 2006-2007). Video footage from a social club run by the Rizzuto family showed Zambito and other contractors handing over money, in cash, to Milioto.

In Montreal, unlike at the provincial level or in suburban municipalities, engineers employed by the city were responsible for designing plans, specifications and tenders for contracts and, later, for supervising the work. Zambito claimed that several engineers employed by the city were involved in this close cartel, being corrupted by developers (through bribes, hockey tickets, paid trips to Mexico, dinners etc) to approve fake cost overruns (faux extras) which further inflated costs. Zambito revealed that he paid 1% of the value of his contracts to Gilles Suprenant, a city engineer responsible for designing projects.

Other municipal employees also received their ‘share’ of money from contracts. He later claimed that two high ranking members in Tremblay’s administration – the former director general of the city of Montreal and the former president of the executive council, Frank Zampino – intervened in the awarding of contracts for personal gain or to favour certain firms. Elio Pagliarulo, a businessman who was once business partner with Paolo Catania, the boss of a major construction firm (with ties to the mafia), claimed that Zampino – Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay’s erstwhile right-hand man (and perhaps éminence grise) – had received $550,000 in bribes from Catania during the construction-ridden Faubourg Contrecoeur housing project. Zampino had intervened to ensure that Catania would receive the contract for the Faubourg Contrecoeur project.

Surprenant, in his own testimony, admitted that he collaborated with the cartel to inflate contract costs and received $700,000 in bribes. He also admitted to having played golf with Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal Sicilian mafia, at the invitation of Tony Conte, a construction contractor. Luc Leclerc him to admitted to having received bribes, totaling $500,000. Both men said that they were able to partake in the cartel’s games through the ‘tactic complicity’ of site supervisors and their superiors. These men denied these allegations.

Beginning in 2005-2006, Zambito claimed that he also paid out 3% to Union Montréal (UM), the municipal party of then-mayor Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012). Other entrepreneurs confirmed these claims, and said that it was understood that payment of these ‘contributions’ to the mayoral party was the sine qua non to participate in the construction industry in Montreal.

Zambito also commented on the system in place in Laval and Montreal’s North Shore suburbs. Concerning Laval, Zambito claimed that a similar sum of 2.5% of the contracts’ value was to be paid to mayor Gilles Vaillancourt. A similar closed cartel of entrepreneurs ruled supreme in Laval when it came to awarding contracts; furthermore, the mayor was quite aware of this state of things – Zambito said that Vaillancourt had told him that ‘his turn’ would come and that he would get ‘his job’ soon. In November, an anonymous contractor claimed that he paid $15,000 a year to Vaillancourt, twice directly to the mayor himself. Vaillancourt was forced to resign one day later. A police raid later found $110,000 in the mayor’s safety deposit boxes.

On the North Shore suburbs of Montreal, private engineering firms were in charge of preparing plans, tenders and subsequently supervising works. Zambito talked of a complex system of collusion and corruption where engineering and law firms associated to ‘find’ potential mayoral candidates, run and finance their campaigns using cost overruns paid out by cities to construction contractors. Construction firms which wanted to obtain contracts in these municipalities needed to have connections to private engineering firms which had ties to the municipal councils, and partake in the financing of candidates and parties. These existence of these so-called ‘élections clés en main’ were confirmed by other witnesses.

Zambito’s shocking testimony was followed, in late October 2012, by the bizarre (and somewhat discredited) testimony of Martin Dumont, a former political organizer for UM and aide to mayor Tremblay. Dumont claimed that Milioto threatened his life in 2007 when he questioned the nature of the inflated costs. His most shocking claims, however, was that Tremblay himself had closed his eyes on an unofficial, parallel campaign budget funded with dirty money during a 2004 by-election campaign. Dumont had been told that there were two campaign budgets: an official budget, and a much larger unofficial budget fed with illegal money. His second extraordinary revelation was that he had seen Bernard Trépanier, UM’s financing guru, unable to close a safe stuffed with cash. Dumont also claimed that, during a fundraising event for UM, he received a brown enveloppe with $10,000 in cash from Milioto – in the bathroom! The veracity of Dumont’s testimony was later called into question when he was cross-investigated and information about the conditions in which he lost his job at city hall (and stories involving him looking at porn on his work computer).

In late November, Érick Roy, an investigator for the commission, exposed the results of his research into the clients of the ’357c’ private club in Montreal. Lists of clients and guests at the private club between 2005 and 2012 showed that several high-ranking municipal and provincial politicians and businessmen had been invited to exclusive events or dinners at the club. Two former cabinet minister in then-Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government were found to have met entrepreneurs tied to the cartels, having been invited by Frank and Paolo Catania, whose company is linked to the Rizzuto mafia clan. Other municipal politicians including Frank Zampino, Tremblay’s former chief of staff Martial Fillion, Bernard Trépanier or other city councillors and borough mayors were among the guests. The private club apparently served as a meeting place for politicians, city employees, construction contractors and engineering firms.

In January 2013, Michel Lalonde, the president of an engineering firm, confirmed the deep entrenchment of corruption and collusion in Montreal and the North Shore suburbs. Lalonde said that, in 2004, Trépanier had sought $100,000 or $200,000 in contributions from engineering firms to finance the 2005 electoral campaign. The 2009 campaign, instead, was financed by the aforementioned 3% ‘contribution’ by contractors from the cost of the contracts. Lalonde said that engineering firms made these payments thanks to the faux extras which were granted to the construction contractors – who paid a sum, in cash, equivalent to 20-25% of these faux extras to engineering firms. Clearly, obtaining contracts and jobs in Montreal was conditioned to generous illegal contributions to the ruling party. Successive witnesses confirmed this state of fact, most of them naming Trépanier as the guy behind the whole scheme.

Construction contractors contributed generously to all provincial and municipal parties. To circumvent the electoral law, a number of firms have made (illegal) use of ‘figureheads’ – employees who contribute financially to political parties, and are reimbursed by their employer. At the municipal level in Montreal, both UM and the main opposition party, Vision Montréal (VM), received illegal campaign contributions of this type. Provincially, developers (and their ‘figurehead’ employees) gave to both the Liberals and the PQ (and the former ADQ in lesser amounts).

In a bizarre and outlandish testimony (March 2013) filled with holes, Trépanier admitted that he knew of and participated in a system of collusion; he was informed of the results of tenders in advanced and used this information to solicit contributions from the firms which had been awarded the contract. Trépanier, however, had trouble explaining the the origin of some $900,000 he or his company (‘Bermax’) received from engineering-construction firm Dessau between 2002 and 2010, allegedly in return for lobbying work Trépanier had done to allow Dessau to obtain contracts from Montreal airports. The commission, through phone records, proved Trépanier’s strong personal ties with Zampino and major construction contractors including Paolo Catania and Tony Accurso (whose yacht hosted numerous politicians).

Trépanier worked as UM’s chief financier between 2004 and 2006, when he was fired by mayor Tremblay, but other witnesses all confirmed that Trépanier continued his activities for UM until 2009 in full sight of all, the mayor included.

Appearing before the commission in mid-April, Frank Zampino categorically denied all accusations against him and said that he had been unaware of collusion. However, the commission was able to prove Zampino’s close ties to contractors such as Catania and Accurso – having been on trips with both of them, often paid by the contractors themselves, while contracts were being awarded. Zampino, the commission also showed, had attended the marriage of Frank Cotroni’s son with the daughter of another notorious mafia lord. Frank Cotroni’s brother, Vic Cotroni, had been one of the godfathers of the Calabrian mafia in Montreal, dominant in the 1970s until the Sicilians took over.

In May 2013, after the shocking arrest of the former mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt, the commission shifted attention to Laval. Witnesses confirmed the existence of a large system of collusion in the suburban city. The city decided who would be awarded contracts before the period for bidding was over. In return, the lucky contractor would ‘pay back’ with cash contributions to the mayor’s party, the PRO des Lavallois. Once again, contributing to the mayoral party was necessary for any contractor wishing to do business in Laval.

A construction engineer collected, between 2003 and 2009, the equivalent of 2% of each contract’s value and gave the money to the PRO – over the years, he collected $2.7 million. Unlike in Montreal, where it may appear that the mayor was not directly involved in the dirty financing of his party, Vaillancourt was at the centre of the whole scheme in Laval – which he coordinated himself.

In June 2013, Jean Bertrand, the official agent for the PRO between 1984 and 2013, declared before the commission that the quasi-entirety of PRO municipal councillors had served as ‘figureheads’ for engineering consulting firms which were contributing to the party. Bertrand said that he gave the illegal money he received to the municipal councillors, who provided him with an official cheque in return. Therefore, municipal councillors participated in money laundering – and also claimed their tax credits for their ‘clean official’ donation. Bertrand said that he told the councillors that the money was illegal, an allegation denied by the councillors later called to testify (although they confirmed Bertrand’s other revelations).

The Charbonneau Commission continues to reveal high-level corruption in municipal politics, provincial politics and major trade unions.

Political fallout

Many of the witnesses’ allegations directly mentioned high-ranking municipal (and provincial) politicians and political parties.

Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, in office since 2001, was not cited in name by many witnesses – the real power in city hall and at UM, it appears, laid with Frank Zampino (mayor of Saint-Léonard from 1990 to 2008, president of the executive council until 2008) and Bernard Trépanier (for the financial aspects). However, what is unclear is to what extent Tremblay was aware of the corruption which surrounded him and what he did (if anything) to address that issue. Tremblay, to the point of ridicule, has constantly denied all accusations and insisted that he was not informed of the situation.

However, several witnesses and investigators confirmed that city hall had been aware of collusion and corruption – perhaps as early as 1997 (it is clear that corruption predated Tremblay’s election). Two reports drafted by city hall employees in 2004 and 2006 attempted to draw attention to the situation, but it appears that Zampino and his allies successfully covered up these reports and shut down any attempts to change the system. The 2004 report had found that, for the same type of works, the city of Montreal was paying 35-50% more than other cities in the province. The 2006 report showed that four construction groups had obtained 56% of public contracts in 2006 and that 96% of the contracts were awarded to local firms.

Tremblay’s defense that he was unaware of the corrupt games at city hall found itself shot to pieces when Martin Dumont, the former UM organizer, alleged that Tremblay was in the room when illegal money was being discussed (to which he closed his eyes). That day, Tremblay announced that he was taking a few days off. When he returned on November 5, he announced his resignation as mayor. However, in his speech, he posed as the wronged victim and the lone foot-soldier in the fight against corruption.

While Tremblay was probably not personally corrupt, it is likely that he was aware of the corruption and deliberately decided that he did not want to know (rather than not knowing altogether, as he claims). If indeed he did not know anything, wouldn’t that by extension mean that the city was governed by a gullible fool?

UM began collapsing in mid to late October 2012, when councillors started leaving the party to sit as independents – first a small trickle, quickly transformed into an avalanche after the Dumont allegations and Tremblay’s resignation. UM quickly lost its majority on city council.

On November 9, Michael Applebaum, the president of the executive council and borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, resigned from the presidency of the executive council – infuriated that UM was, he said, trying to cover up the 2004 report. Applebaum was passed over by the UM’s caucus in an internal vote to nominate the collapsing party’s candidate for interim mayor, which would be elected by city hall. He left UM to stand as an independent, arguing that the city needed an independent interim mayor who would not run in 2013 and promised to form a ‘Grand Coalition’ with independent councillors and the three parties. On November 16, Applebaum narrowly defeated UM candidate Richard Deschamps (the UM nominee) by 31 votes to 29. He became Montreal’s first Jewish mayor and the first Anglophone mayor since 1912 (an anonymous Deschamps supporter had previously said that Applebaum’s French skills were not good enough).

Applebaum presented himself as some kind of anti-corruption outsider who would fix the city, despite having been at the core of municipal politics as borough mayor since 2002 and president of the executive council since 2011. As it turns out, Applebaum’s image was an act. He was arrested by the anti-corruption unit UPAC on June 17, 2013 and charged on 14 counts, including fraud, breach of trust and corruption. Having spent a day in detention, the “anti-corruption” mayor resigned the next day. Court documents released last month show that Applebaum is suspected of having been a key player in a real estate and zoning-linked system of corruption in his borough. The UPAC believes that Applebaum asked real estate developers for cash in return for zoning changing.

He was replaced by Laurent Blanchard, the president of the executive committee under Applebaum and a former member of the opposition party, VM.

Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, the strongman of Laval politics and incumbent mayor since 1989, saw his unshakable hegemony collapse in a matter of days with the Charbonneau Commission. Vaillancourt had previously been accused of corruption, most notably in 2010 when Bloc Québécois MP Serge Ménard claimed that the mayor had offered him $10,000 in cash in 1993, when Ménard first ran for office for the PQ. A provincial Liberal MNA also claimed to have been offered cash by Vaillancourt. But none of those cases really stuck to him. In October 2012, the UPAC searched the mayor’s house, city hall and other administrative buildings. The next day, police searched a condo which belonged to his family. During this raid, it was later revealed, Vaillancourt’s cousin threw stacks of banknotes into the toilet (but the new polymer notes floated and blocked the toilet).

Vaillancourt was forced to resign on November 9, but he too claimed he was innocent and attempted to draw attention to his record as mayor of the city, the third most populous in Quebec. He was replaced by Alexandre Duplessis, a PRO councillor.

On May 9, 2013, Vaillancourt was arrested by the UPAC following a massive raid which led to the arrest of the former mayor, the former city manager and 35 other people including Tony Accurso (arrested thrice in 2013 alone). They were charged on various counts including fraud, breach of trust, corruption, conspiracy and – most importantly – the rare charge of ‘gangsterism’. Vaillancourt and others were released on bail the next day.

Laval’s interim mayor Duplessis saw his office searched by UPAC and police in December 2012. In June 2013, he was hit by Bertrand’s accusations that, as city councillor, he partook in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO; in addition to allegations that he had solicited prostitutes (after he himself filed a complaint claiming that two women, including a prostitute, had attempted to extort money from him). He resigned on June 28. Martine Beaugrand, a former PRO councillor (the party dissolved on November 19, 2012) who had been one of two councillor not alleged to have been involved in the corruption scandal, replaced him. The city was placed under trusteeship by the provincial government.

The mayor of the North Shore suburban municipality of Mascouche, Richard Marcotte, was targetted by an arrest warrant in April 2012 while vacationing in Cuba; he was alleged to have vacationed on Tony Accurso’s yacht in exchange for giving Accurso’s companies favourable business dealings with the city and local water treatment agencies. Arrested upon his return to Canada, he was charged with corruption, fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust. He did not resign until November 30, 2012. Altough Marcotte said his resignation was due to family issues, many felt it was linked to a new bill introduced by the PQ provincial government which allows court to provisionally remove mayors and councillors from office if they are charged during their terms. Marcotte had previously criticized the law.

Montreal

Montreal, Quebec’s largest city (and Canada’s second largest city), is a diverse metropolis: a mix of rich and poor; Anglophone, Francophone and allophone; urban and suburban.

Montreal City Council is composed of 64 councillors and the mayor (a fairly large body for a local council in Canada). The makeup of the city council is rather confusing to understand at first. 18 of 19 boroughs (arrondissements) have a directly elected mayor who sits on the city council and their borough council; the downtown borough of Ville-Marie has no directly elected mayor, rather the mayor of Montreal is ex officio borough mayor. All but two of the 19 boroughs (Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève) additionally elect one or more city councillors in single-member districts (Anjou and Lachine elect only one, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce elects the most, 5). The borough mayors of Outremont and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève serve as members of the city council. Some borough councils have additional members (city councillors and the borough mayor already serve on borough councils as well), who do not serve on city council.

Montreal, since 1914, has generally been ruled by a small number of long-serving mayors: Médéric Martin (1914-1924, 1926-1928), Camillien Houde (1928-1932, 1934-1936, 1938-1940, 1944-1954), Jean Drapeau (1954-1957, 1960-1986), Jean Doré (1986-1994), Pierre Bourque (1994-2001) and finally Gérald Tremblay (2001-2012).

Of the pre-war era mayors, Houde is the most famous. He was a Canadien nationalist (as opposed to a French Canadian nationalist) and populist, he led the provincial Conservatives between 1929 and 1932, before Maurice Duplessis – who would become his enemy – ousted him. As a Canadien nationalist, he was strongly anti-militarist and opposed national registration/conscription in World War II. His call to oppose compulsory national registration in 1940 led to his arrest and internment (without trial) in concentration camps (in Ontario and New Brunswick) until 1944. His internment by the federal government for his opposition to conscription in controversial circumstances made him an hero in Quebec, but he was widely despised in English Canada. As mayor, in the pre-war era, he supported government intervention to help low-income families and homebuyers, oppose large corporations (notably in electricity) and protect the urban environment.

Reelected in 1944, the post-war era saw a moralizing campaign, backed by the Catholic Church, which sought to crack down on organized crime and ‘immorality’ (gambling, prostitution). Houde retired in 1954, and was succeeded by Jean Drapeau, a lawyer very active in the moralizing campaigns (and, prior to that, in the anti-conscription movement and the Asbestos Strikes of 1949) whose Civic Action League campaigned for good government, integrity and public morality.

Opposed by unions and Duplessis, Drapeau was defeated in the 1957 election by Sarto Fournier, a federal Liberal senator backed by Duplessis’ conservative machine. However, a reenergized and reorganized Drapeau, at the helm of the Civic Party, won the 1960 election and would remain in office until his retirement in 1986. Drapeau remains one of Montreal’s most memorable mayors, for his visionary vision – which some would say was perhaps a bit megalomaniac. Under his rule, which coincided with the rapid modernization and secularization of the province as a whole, Montreal developed and gained international notoriety. He spearheaded the construction of the Montreal subway, the Place des Arts and managed the extremely successful Expo 67. However, the 1976 Olympic Games were a disastrous flub, marred by embarassing delays and huge cost overruns which indebted the city for decades after his rule.

Drapeau’s Civic Party ruled with little opposition until 1974 – Drapeau won reelection with over 90% in 1966 and 1970. However, in the waning days of his rule, Drapeau began facing criticism for his authoritarianism, his costly projects, his little interest in environmental issues and his alleged biased in favour of ‘previleged classes’ and homeowners. A centre-left party, the Rassemblement des citoyens de Montréal (RCM), emerged in the 1970s and became Drapeau’s main opposition. In 1982, following the 1980 report of a commission of inquiry into the 1976 Olympics which blamed the Drapeau administration for cost overruns, Drapeau was reelected over the RCM’s Jean Doré with 48% against 36%. Drapeau’s retirement in 1986, with no apparent successor, led to Doré’s landslide victory with 68% of the vote. The Civic Party collapsed quickly thereafter, in 1994.

Doré’s administration saw the redevelopment of the Old Port as well as parks and beaches on Île Sainte-Hélène. However, Doré’s popularity was eroded from the right by criticisms of ineffective management and laxness towards city employees, while the left broke with him in the wake of the Overdale fiasco (the expulsion of low-income tenants to clear land for a condo project which was never built). He was reelected with a reduced majority in 1990 over a divided centre-right opposition and weak left-wing/green opposition.

Doré lost reelection to Vision Montréal (VM) candidate Pierre Bourque in 1994. Bourque won 47.6% against 32.3% for Doré, with Jérôme Choquette (a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister) winning 13.1% on a centre-right pro-cars platform. Bourque became known for his pro-environment and greenspace policies, supporting the creation of parks, tree-planting initiatives, recycling and the reopening of the Lachine Canal. However, his passionate support for municipal mergers – under the slogan of ‘Une île, une ville‘ or one island, one city – proved to be his undoing. Backed by PQ provincial cabinet minister Louise Harel, the mergers were through for January 1, 2002. The forced mergers proved to be unpopular in many suburban municipalities of the island of Montreal, particularly the affluent and English-speaking municipalities of the West Island.

The merger controversy was the major issue in the 2001 campaign. Gérald Tremblay, a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister in Premier Robert Bourassa’s government, founded the Montreal Island Citizens Union (MICU/UCIM), which ran on a platform promising to reevaluate the mergers (which was done by Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government after 2003) and decentralize power to the boroughs. Tremblay was elected with a narrow margin over Bourque, 50.4% to 45.1%. Tremblay’s MICU won by crushing margins in the former municipalities of the West Island, a protest vote against the Bourque-led merger.

Tremblay won reelection in a low-key and boring race in 2005, once again defeating Bourque – 53.7% to 36.3%, with environmentalist candidate Richard Bergeron (candidate of Projet Montréal, PM) winning 8.5%. The MICU won a massive majority on City Council. Going into the 2009 election, however, Tremblay was weakened by the first rumours of corruption (water meters scandal) and was expected to lose reelection. He went up against Louise Harel (VM), a former PQ MNA and cabinet minister (known for her hardline separatist views), who was criticized for her poor English skills. Richard Bergeron, the leader of the left-wing environmentalist PM party, surged during the campaign, benefiting from dissatisfaction with both major candidates (especially after Harel’s lieutenant, Labonté, was forced to resign for his corrupt ties) and anti-corruption image. Tremblay was reelected with 37.9% against 32.7% for Harel and 25.5% for Bergeron. Tremblay’s UM held its absolute majority on City Council.

We all know by now what ensued.

For quite some time – before Tremblay’s resignation, the open secret was that federal Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who had represented the northern Montreal riding of Bourassa in the House of Commons since 1997, would resign from Parliament and throw his hat into the race. Coderre served as Minister of Immigration and Citizenship between 2002 and 2003 and as President of the Privy Council between 2003 and 2004, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, but was forced to resign from cabinet when his name was cited in the sponsorship scandal. Reelected in 2006, when the Liberals lost, he nevertheless remained a prominent figure in the reduced Quebec Liberal caucus and was briefly touted as leadership material. Known for his straight-talking and rather flamboyant style, Coderre resigned as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s Quebec lieutenant in September 2009, criticizing the control of the party apparatus by the Liberal Party elites in Toronto. The cause of the dispute was Ignatieff’s decision to appoint former justice minister Martin Cauchon as the Liberal star candidate in the NDP-held riding of Outremont, over Coderre’s objections. Having broken all bridges with the Liberal leadership, Coderre was marginalized within the Liberal Party, even if he remained as one of the party’s most senior MPs after the 2011 rout. Coderre announced his candidacy for mayor on May 17, and resigned from the House shortly thereafter.

Coderre founded his own personal machine, Équipe Denis Coderre (EDC), to run in the election. Simplistically, the EDC – like UM before it – could be considered as centrist parties close (but not tied) to the provincial/federal Liberal parties, often winning over the same kind of voters (Anglophones, ethnic minorities, more affluent voters and homeowners). There are, of course, no formal ties between any municipal parties and provincial or federal parties, but provincial politics and parties have influenced Montreal politics in the past. Camillien Houde was opposed by Liberal-backed candidates in the 1930s and by Duplessis-backed conservatives until 1947. Pierre Bourque was seen as close to the PQ, although he ran for the centre-right autonomist ADQ in the 2003 provincial elections. Gérald Tremblay was a former provincial Liberal MNA and cabinet minister. His main opponent in 2009, Harel, was, of course, a longtime supporter of the PQ.

Coderre had been joined by 17 incumbent city councillors prior to the election. Most of them came from UM, including Michel Bissonnet (borough mayor of Saint-Léonard), Helen Fotopulos (councillor, Côte-des-Neiges) and Alan DeSousa (borough mayor of Saint-Laurent). EDC also recruited Pierre Gagnier, the ex-PM borough mayor of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Anie Samson, the ex-VM borough mayor of  Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

Coderre’s platform was rather vague. His biggest policy proposal was to create an Inspector General at city hall with powers to investigate and fight corruption, including investigation of all events before, during and after the awarding of public contracts. He faced some criticism over allegations that the Bourassa Liberal association had received donations from individuals and companies cited by the commission, and in September 2013 two former union leaders revealed that Coderre had met Eddy Brandone, close to the Montreal mafia, to facilitate a meeting with a union leader (currently the subject of controversy and allegations at the commission). The rest of his platform was mostly vague pablum: more reserved bus lanes, increase safety on streets and bike paths, invest in infrastructure upkeep, true pay equity for city employees, ‘state-of-the-art’ communication systems (WiFi in public spaces, GPS on buses, 3G in the subway), stimulate public housing construction or a program to buy abandoned land and buildings to use for community housing projects.

Coderre very much played on his notoriety, wit and populist demeanor – and to maintain his early lead, he laid low and avoided getting caught in the crossfire.

Vision Montréal (VM), a vaguely centre-left party which served as the main opposition to Tremblay since 2001, was led by Louise Harel since the 2009 election. She served as the leader of the official opposition to Tremblay, but given her failure to make inroads with ethnic minorities and English voters, she understood that she stood little chance of becoming mayor, especially against Coderre. In July 2013, Harel announced that she would not run and Marcel Côté, an economist and founding partner in a strategic management consulting firm. Politically, Côté ran for the conservative Union nationale (UN) in the 1973 election and later worked for provincial Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa and federal Tory Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Therefore, Côté had little political experience and his name recognition was very low.

VM rebranded itself as ‘Coalition Montréal’ (CM), expanded to independents and ex-UM members. On corruption, CM proposed to create an ethics commissioner which would report directly to the audit committee; it also proposed to make all members of the executive council subject to police screening, promote openness and transparency and reviewing the way in which contracts are awarded. Otherwise, again, it was a lot of fluff or local issues: more bike lanes, extending the blue line of the subway to Anjou, more funding for public transit, reduce layers of bureaucracy that have built up, modernize city manage, restructure the executive council, promote ecoroofs and urban agriculture, accelerate organic waste collection, help 5,000 families buy property and build 15,000 social and community housing units over five years.

Côté ran into trouble when he was forced to admit that he was behind anti-PM/Bergeron robocalls. This kerfuffle added to an already disastrous and chaotic campaign. He lagged far behind the other candidates because of his low name recognition, his lack of charisma and his difficulty to connect with voters like a ‘polished politician’ (which he is not). He was also a last minute choice by a makeshift party which had been unsuccessful in its attempts to recruit a star candidate. His campaign, in which he spoke of his work for the federalist campaigns in the 1980 and 1995 referendums, was thrown into chaos when Harel proposed to create a linguistic watchdog on Montreal executive council – something much feared by English-speaking Montrealers.

Richard Bergeron was the only candidate in the race who had already run for mayor in the past – in 2005 and 2009. Bergeron leads a left-wing and environmentalist party, Projet Montréal (PM), which has traditionally emphasized issues such as sustainable development, development of green spaces or promotion of cycling and high-end public transit. With the corruption scandals, in which both UM and VM have been involved, PM has also played a lot on ethics, integrity and presents itself as the only clean party. PM’s green policies are not out of the mainstream in Montreal, where municipal politics generally skew to the left, especially in comparison to Toronto. All other parties have fairly green policies as well, favouring bike paths, green spaces, noise/pollution reduction or recycling.

Bergeron, however, is a controversial character and might be a net drag on his party. His personality (autocratic) tends to be off-putting for some voters, worsened by his image as far-left, anti-car dogmatist. Bergeron also made controversial and strange comments in the past; he once said that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer (although he might have walked that one back) and, most famously, alleged that George W. Bush might have been behind 9/11 (specifically the plane which hit the Pentagon and UA93 which crashed in Pennsylvania). He recently said that his 9/11 comments in a book were made in a previous life outside politics and were meant to shock, although I don’t think he has publicly recanted his 9/11 truther stuff.

PM’s platform emphasized its traditional green issues: reduce car traffic downtown by 50% in 20 years, extend three subway lines, build an electric tramway, demolish Bonaventure Expressway to build affordable housing, urban noise reduction policies, reducing the use of concrete in construction, promoting artistic and cultural activities, creating new parks and playgrounds and emphasizing urban development in areas close to public transit hubs. On corruption issues, Bergeron wanted to reduce the powers of the executive committee and boost transparency/openness. Again, Bergeron played on PM’s integrity and cleanliness, but he did draw some flack for his alliance with Applebaum in return for executive committee seats and tax concessions. He also said that the corruption problem had mostly been resolved.

The surprise of the campaign was the outsider candidate, Mélanie Joly, a 34 year old lawyer and PR professional. Earlier this year, Joly worked on current federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s leadership campaign, and she was endorsed by Trudeau’s brother Sacha. Joly’s outsider campaign generally leaned left, with an emphasis on improved public transit and keeping the city’s cultural identity. Her main proposal was to build a 130km rapid service/express bus system with reserved lanes, which she said would be less expensive than subway expansion or a tramway. Other policy proposals included a Charter of Nightlife, extending weekend business hours on busy commercial arteries to 9pm, greening the city with 300k new trees, encouraging entrepreneurship by simplifying business creation and a fight against social exclusion.

Integrity and transparency were also highlights of her platform, with proposals for an ethics code or abandoning the practice of awarding contracts to lowest bidders. However, The Gazette, Montreal’s English daily, said that Joly had “the most soft-on-crime platform” of the main mayoral candidates. She proposed to offer an amnesty to contractors that have committed acts of corruption and collusion if they compensate Montreal for the amount their illegal acts cost the city. That proposal, however, did not outrage any of her opponents.

Joly saw her support increase rapidly in the polls. However, she was forced to dump one of her candidates, Bibiane Bovet, a former escort, who was under investigation by the financial market authority. One candidate in Saint-Léonard had a history of domestic violence. These candidate kerfuffles, by no means limited to Joly’s party, did however highlight her inexperience and perhaps unpreparedness. Her makeshift party, Vrai changement pour Montréal (Real change for Montreal, VCM), ran only 26 candidates for City Council against a full slate for CM and PM and all but one candidate for EDC.

Turnout was 43.3%, which is up from 39.4% in the last election.

Denis Coderre (EDC) 32.15% winning 27 seats
Mélanie Joly (VCM-GMJ) 26.47% winning 4 seats
Richard Bergeron (PM-EB) 25.52% winning 20 seats
Marcel Côté (CM-EC) 12.79% winning 6 seats
Michel Brûlé (Integrity Montreal) 1.36% winning 0 seats
All others under 1% winning 0 seats
Borough parties winning 7 seats
Independents winning 1 seat

Denis Coderre was elected mayor of Montreal, which was quite predictable given that he had been the runaway favourite for over a year and at times his victory was taken as a near-certainty, reducing the stakes (and probably turnout) and making for a rather stale and boring predetermined campaign. However, there was nothing spectacular about his victory, especially if you consider him to be the strongest in a fairly weak field and take into account how he had been running for mayor, at least unofficially, for so long. Coderre won only 32% of the vote, which is even less than Tremblay’s anemic 38% in 2009. If there had been a second round or if the race had been fought with a preferential voting IRV system, it is quite likely that Coderre could have lost if the other candidates’ supporters coalesced behind Joly.

There were only two polls conducted with the actual candidates: Coderre led both by wide margins, with 39% support on October 5 and 41% on October 15. Joly placed second, with 24%, on October 15, with Bergeron in third at 21% and Côté at 11%. Of course, polling a municipal campaign – where parties are empty shells, voters extremely fickle with little ties to candidates and races based heavily on personality and candidate quality – is very difficult. Nevertheless, the polls badly overestimated Coderre and slightly underestimated Bergeron and Joly. Why? Might the apparent certainty of Coderre’s victory have depressed turnout amongst his potential supporters?

Furthermore, while Coderre is a strong candidate, he is not a fantastic candidate. A lot of voters know him, but I doubt very many are all enthused about him (and others dislike him outright). His campaign, finally, was rather low-key and failed to excite voters (who had very little to be excited about on the whole). It was boring, un-innovative and stale. Voters were likely looking for big ideas, a candidate with stances on issues which mattered most (corruption and infrastructure degradation) and an ability to channel voters’ feelings (a mix of anger, despair, resignation, stress). However, no candidate really stood out – their positions on most issues, including the most important ones, were very similar and all offered pablum and fluff rather than actual coherent policies.

Mélanie Joly, the surprise of the race, was perhaps the real winner (although her showing at the polls was not, in the end, a surprise – many felt she would do well, with the slightly overblown talk of Jolymania in the waning days). She was a political outsider and rookie like Côté, but what did she offer that he didn’t? For starters, her youthfulness and relative charisma. Her inexperience may have been a bit of an asset given the disrepute of municipal politicians with corruption: she stood out in a field with a longtime parliamentarian (Coderre), an increasingly worn-out old municipal politician with political baggage (Bergeron) and a no-namer possibly perceived as too close to big business (Côté). To a certain extent, she was seemingly able to capitalize on voters’ mood for change and something ‘different’, even if it was ultimately with a tagline like “real change” and through a general image of young (and thus less corrupt/not in the old guard.

Bergeron performed well, like in 2009, but he was unable to breakthrough. The party has potential, because it can benefit from CM/VM’s collapse and the high likelihood that Joly’s empty party of no-namers may deflate quickly. However, Bergeron, again, might be a drag on his party, keeping PM from appealing to a wider electorate and breaking the image of leftist and green dogmatists. Bergeron has announced that he will retire within two years. Bergeron’s departure gives PM a chance to detach himself from his ideological baggage and controversial past. But beware – one of the frontrunners to succeed him is Luc Ferrandez, the borough mayor of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, a controversial figure with an image as leftist/green dogmatist (anti-car, ‘anti-business’).

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

Results of the mayoral vote by borough

The geography of Montreal municipal elections is interesting in that they show the interplay of candidate, parochialism, traditional demographic factors (language, wealth, tenure etc) and federal/provincial partisan affinities. In 2009, the latter two proved rather important; this year, the first two might have proved more important.

Denis Coderre’s support did not quite reflect traditional provincial or federal Liberal support. His best performances came from his home turf in particular and ethnic suburbs in general. He won 66.7% in the multicultural (largest Haitian population in Canada) and low-income borough of Montréal-Nord (which has a bad reputation for crime and drugs, known for riots in 2008 and sometimes referred to as ‘the Bronx’), which also happens to be entirely covered by his former federal riding of Bourassa. Coderre also did very well in neighbouring boroughs: 55.2% in Saint-Léonard, another multicultural (a large Italian population with more recent Haitian, Arab and Latin American immigrants) borough which is rock-ribbed Liberal country; and 48.9% in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, a suburban borough which includes Rivière-des-Prairies, a largely Italian suburban community (Pointe-aux-Trembles is heavily Francophone, I would think that Coderre did not do as well there). However, Coderre also did very well in Anjou (45.3%), a largely Francophone (71%) and 60s suburban borough. Anjou had voted in favour of demerger in 2004, but the vote did not meet turnout requirements; UM was dominant in the borough until 2013. All of these boroughs have a common trait: they’re all located in northeastern suburban Montreal, close to Coderre’s home turf.

Coderre also performed well in Saint-Laurent (41.3%) and LaSalle (39.1%); both are former suburban municipalities which vote to deamalgamate in 2004 but fell short on turnout. Saint-Laurent is majority-minority (50%), it is known for its very large Arab and Muslim population (17% Muslim) – the largest in Quebec and probably in the country. LaSalle is 34% Anglophone and 37% non-white. Coderre narrowly won Ahuntsic-Cartierville, with 32.9% against 25.6% for Bergeron; almost certainly due to heavy support in Bordeaux-Cartierville, a multicultural district (44% visible minorities).

With the exception of Anjou and the parts of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles which aren’t Rivière-des-Prairies, Coderre’s strongest areas are Liberal strongholds, federally and provincially (although LaSalle voted NDP in 2011).

Mélanie Joly drew supports from all parts of the city, giving a map which transcended partisan leanings and demographic factors. She did best, by far, in the western suburban borough of L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where Joly won no less than 45.6%. Demographically, the borough, which has a small population, is largely Francophone (55%) with an Anglophone minority (30%) and predominantly upper middle-class, although mansions on L’Île-Bizard contrast with trailer parks. But it would seem that the main reason behind Joly’s success is that her party recruited former mayor Normand Marinacci (mayor of the island between 1999 and 2002), who was elected borough mayor on the VCM banner with 42.1% against the ex-UM incumbent, Richard Bélanger.

Joly also did well in Pierrefonds-Roxboro, which was her second best borough with 35%. Located on the West Island, the middle-class suburban borough has an Anglophone plurality (42%) and sizable visible minority population (38%). Joly performed well in the southwestern boroughs of Lachine (33.4%), LaSalle (33.6%) and Le Sud-Ouest (30.3%). The first two are largely suburban, with Lachine being a largely Francophone (57%) lower middle-class/working-class area. The latter is a more central area, historically working-class and ethnically diverse (Francophone, black, Irish, European, English etc) area which has seen gentrification in recent years, with condos and cheaper housing attracting young professionals – although pockets of severe deprivation remain, notably in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

So, Joly did rather well in western and southwestern suburban bedroom communities, both French-speaking and English-speaking. Perhaps her proposal for an express bus system to reduce commute times was attractive to those voters? L’Île-Bizard complains that it is linked by only one bridge to the island of Montreal, while the long commute times in Lachine or LaSalle are major local issues.

However, Joly also did quite well in less suburban areas. She won 31.3% in Ville-Marie, which covers Montreal’s revitalized and bustling downtown core from the Gay Village to McGill University on the slopes of Mont Royal. She narrowly topped the poll in her home borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (28.8%), a large and contrasted borough which includes low-income and immigrant-heavy Côte-des-Neiges, young student areas around the Université de Montréal and the trendy gentrified neighborhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG, where Joly lives). On the other hand, Joly didn’t do so well in the Francophone trendy bobo areas of Le Plateau (23.8%) or Rosemont (22.9%).

Most of the areas where Joly did well tend to vote Liberal provincially and NDP or Liberal federally. This is rather unsurprising: Joly appealed to federal NDP and Liberal supporters, but had less appeal to left-wing souverainiste voters.

Richard Bergeron’s best results, very unsurprisingly, came from the boroughs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal (43.3%) and Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie (41.3%), in central Montreal. Le Plateau is Montreal’s stereotypical downtown artsy/trendy/bobo neighborhood, historically working-class (Jewish and Francophone), but today extensively gentrified. It has a large population of young adults (28% are 25-34, against 18% for the whole city), many singles (53.5% one-person households vs. 41% city-wide), very highly educated (50% with a university degree, against 28% in the whole city) and low religious practice (40% with no religious affiliation, against 18% for the city of Montreal). The borough of Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie is more diverse, but the western end of the borough (La Petite-Patrie) is very similar to the Plateau. Directly north of that, Bergeron won the very diverse borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension by a hair, 32% against 31.7% for Coderre. I would easily wager that Bergeron did best, by a mile, in Villeray, a predominantly white Francophone area which, through gentrification, has become the latest trendy/hip neighborhood for highly educated young professionals in Montreal. In contrast, Coderre probably did much better in Parc-Extension, a low-income immigrant neighborhood (57.6% non-white, formerly Greek, now with a large South Asian population) and Saint-Michel, a similar minority-majority neighborhood at the other end of the borough (63% non-white).

Bergeron also won Outremont (28.7%), a predominantly Francophone upper middle-class neighborhood which attracts highly educated young families (53% have a university degree) because of the quality of life and vibrant cultural scene (theaters etc). At the other end of the income scale, Bergeron won Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve by a hair with 27.2% (the borough was split three ways). The borough was historically known as Montreal’s Francophone working-class ghetto, and the borough as a whole remains rather poor (only 20% have a university degree, 9% less than the city-wide average) and very much Francophone (81%) and white (17.6% visible minorities). However, the western end of the district – by its proximity to downtown Montreal – has seen gentrification, although the growth of condos and influx of wealthier young residents ‘pushing out’ poorer residents has not been without controversy. Indeed, Hochelaga still has numerous low-income areas, which now contrast with rapidly growing gentrified parts.

CM’s goal was to transcend the east-west (and municipally, old city vs. post-2002 city) divide in Montreal politics which had sunk VM in 2009 (Harel, like Bourque in 2001, would have won on the pre-amalgamation boundaries – ironic!). The distribution of Côté’s support shows that he was somewhat successful in doing this, but obviously with his disastrous result he didn’t even come close to putting together a winning coalition. Côté’s best result was 21.6% in Outremont, good enough for third place (behind Bergeron and Coderre, ahead of Joly). He also performed well in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (19.3%), Verdun (15.1%), Le Plateau (15.3%), Ville-Marie (14.9%) and the old VM stronghold of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (14.6%).

QC - Montreal council 2013

Results of the city council and borough mayor elections

On city council, Coderre’s EDC will not have an absolute majority (33 seats required), having only 27 seats. Although Coderre has spoken about the need for unity and working together, I have little doubt he will be able to patch together a solid working majority with some of the seven councillors representing borough parties, all of them led by ex-UM members. The proliferation of so many borough-specific parties, largely concerned with decentralizing powers to boroughs and lobbying for their borough’s interests, made these elections far more confusing than the 2009 election, which had almost everywhere featured only the three city-wide parties. A lot of the races were decided by tiny margins.

EDC won eight borough mayoral races, against two for PM, three for CM, one for VCM/Joly and the remaining four by borough-specific parties. Joly’s party, which did not have a full slate and few well-known candidates, did poorly in city council races – winning only 11-12% overall. Joly’s slate, VCM, won only four seats.

EDC’s support in city council races largely reflected Coderre’s results in the mayoral race, with the exception of those places where borough parties (notably in Anjou) were dominant. It did best in the northeastern suburban and ethnic boroughs where Coderre’s support was strongest.

In Montréal-Nord, incumbent borough mayor Gilles Deguire (EDC, ex-UM) was reelected with 65% of the vote. CM had hoped that their candidate, Guy Ryan, the son of Yves Ryan – the pre-merger mayor of the city for 38 years, would do well on some kind of dynastic vote but he only won 20.8%. In the district of Ovide-Clermont, Coderre’s ‘co-candidate’ (running mate whose victory in a city council race gives a defeated mayoral candidate a seat on council) and ex-UM incumbent Jean-Marc Gibeau won no less than 72.2% of the vote. In Saint-Léonard, the incumbent UM-turned-EDC borough mayor Michel Bissonnet, a former Liberal MNA and President of the National Assembly from 2003 to 2008, was easily reelected with 65.7% of the vote. However, in the race for city council in Saint-Léonard-Est, EDC incumbent (ex-UM) Robert Zambito was forced to withdraw from the race when he was accussed of having offered a bribe, in 2010, to another UM councillor to get a good price on land. In a CM-PM contest, CM candidate Domenico Moschella won with an 82 vote majority, although there were more invalid votes (3,039) than votes in his favour (2,468)! In the other seat in the borough, EDC (ex-UM) incumbent Dominic Perri, who has sat on city council since 1982 (in Saint-Léonard prior to 2001), was reelected with 67.8%.

Coderre’s party did extremely well in Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, very much transcending that borough’s deep political divide between Rivière-des-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles. The incumbent borough mayor, Chantal Rouleau (who had denounced the system of collusion in 2011), elected in a 2010 by-election for VM before switching to Coderre’s party, was reelected with 65.9% of the vote. EDC candidates, including one incumbent (ex-VM), won the predominantly Francophones districts of La Pointe-aux-Prairies and Pointe-aux-Trembles with over 50% of the vote; in the former, VM/CM incumbent Caroline Bourgeois was defeated by her EDC opponents 50.9% to 28.6%.

In Saint-Laurent, incumbent borough mayor Alan DeSousa, an important player in the Tremblay era for UM, was handily reelected with 53.5% of the vote against 28.6% for VCM candidate François Ghali, a pre-merger councillor.

The three other wins for EDC in the boroughs were far narrower. In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, incumbent borough mayor Pierre Gagnier, originally elected for PM in 2010, won reelection for Coderre’s team with 30.4% against 27% for the PM candidate. EDC won two races for city council in the borough; in immigrant-heavy Bordeaux-Cartierville, ex-UM EDC incumbent Harout Chitilian was easily reelected with 48.9%. In Saint-Sulpice district, the EDC candidate won by only 9 votes over PM. PM incumbent Émilie Thuillier was reelected in Ahuntsic, a middle-class and well educated neighborhood, with 39.8% of the vote. Mélanie Joly’s mother, Laurette Racine, placed third with 20.9%. In the district of Sault-au-Récollet, however, VCM’s ‘star candidate’, Lorraine Pagé (a former union leader), won by 8 votes against EDC.

In Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, borough mayor Anie Samson, originally elected for VM, was reelected for Coderre’s party with a 730 vote majority over PM, 35.6% to 33.5%. CM held a seat in Villeray, where incumbent councillor and former PQ MNA Elsie Lefebvre held her seat quite easily with 45.6% against 36.9% for PM. Two EDC ex-UM incumbents held their seats in Parc-Extension and Saint-Michel by wide margins, while PM narrowly won an open seat in François-Perrault by a margin of only 11 votes over EDC.

In the southern borough of Verdun, EDC real estate agent Jean-François Parenteau won an open seat for borough mayor with a tight 553 vote majority over PM, in a very contested race which featured two borough parties, each led by ex-UM incumbent borough councillors. Parenteau won 24.8% against 22.4% for PM. ex-UM city councillor Alain Tassé, running for CM, won fourth with 14%. André Savard, one of the ex-UM borough councillors running for ‘Équipe Savard – option Verdun / Montréal’ placed fifth with 12.9% while Andrée Champoux, running for ‘Équipe Andrée Champoux pour Verdun’ won 7.5%. For city council, EDC triumphed in Champlain–L’Île-des-Sœurs by 329 votes, or 26.3% in a 6-candidate race. In Desmarchais-Crawford, a PM candidate won by 211 votes (only 24.8%) against Sébastien Dhavernas (EDC), a comedian and federal Liberal candidate in Outremont in 2008.

In Pierrefonds-Roxboro, EDC borough councillor (ex-UM) Dimitrios ‘Jim’ Beis was elected mayor with a 557 vote majority, with a VCM candidate placing second. CM’s candidate, ex-UM city councillor Christian Dubois placed last with only 13.6%. Joly’s party won the city councillor and borough councillor races in the district of Bois-de-Liesse (eastern Pierrefonds and Roxboro). Catherine Clément-Talbot, an incumbent borough councillor, won the other city council race.

As aforementioned, Joly’s major success in the city council race was in L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, where VCM candidate Normand Marinacci won with 42.1% against 34% for incumbent mayor Richard Bélanger, formerly UM running for his own thing, ‘Équipe Richard Bélanger’. Marinacci had been mayor of L’Île-Bizard between 1999 and 2002. VCM candidates won two of the three races for borough council, the last one being one by one of Bélanger’s candidates.

One of the most closely watched races was in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, where incumbent PM mayor Luc Ferrandez drew controversy and much ire from shopkeepers and business owners with his ‘anti-car’ policies (higher parking metre fees, more one-way streets, removed parking places, expanded bike lanes). It would appear his critics are only a minority in his borough and he has a strong following of silent supporters: Ferrandez was reelected in a landslide, with 51.3% against 30.7% for CM candidate Danièle Lorain, an actress. In 2009, Ferrandez had won 44.8%. PM held all city and borough council seats with wide majorities.

In Rosemont–La-Petite-Patrie, PM mayor François Croteau, who switched from VM in 2011, won by an even larger margin: 59.5% and an 18.1k vote majority. Croteau implemented “green revolution” policies similar to Ferrandez, but they proved far less controversial. PM candidates swept all four city council seats.

Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the most populous borough, had a number of closely watched races. In the race for borough mayor (held by the disgraced Michael Applebaum between 2002 and 2012), CM candidate Russell Copeman, the provincial Liberal MNA for NDG between 1994 and 2008, narrowly won the open seat with a 1,134 vote edge – or 29.4% of the vote (a fairly mediocre result considering Copeman was a ‘star candidate’ for CM) – against PM candidate Michael Simkin, who won 26.2%. Joly and Coderre’s candidate placed third and forth respectively, with about 22% each.

One very contested race for city council was in Côte-des-Neiges district, a district mixing university students, well-educated academics and a substantial number of ethnic minorities (40%). The incumbent councillor since 2009 was Helen Fotopoulos, a senior city councillor who was mayor of Le Plateau until 2009 and a close ally of former mayor Tremblay. Fotopoulos ran for reelection, this time under the EDC banner. She faced Magda Popeanu (PM), who had placed second in 2009, and Marcel Côté’s co-candidate, Albert Perez. Popeanu won by 77 votes, taking 30.9% against 29.7% for Fotopoulos. Côté/Perez placed fourth with only 18.7%.

In the district of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, held by PM’s Peter McQueen, a former provincial Green candidate, McQueen went up against Mélanie Joly’s co-candidate, Marie-Claude Johnson – the daughter of former Quebec Premier Pierre-Marc Johnson (PQ). However, McQueen was reelected by 649 votes, taking 38.3% against 31.4% for Joly/Johnson. Mélanie Joly has said that she would run in a by-election to win a seat on city council, although I’m not sure if she intends to get one of her four members to step down for her or wait for a genuine vacancy to arise.

In Loyola, a predominantly Anglophone and allophone district with a large immigrant population, an independent candidate, former councillor Jeremy Searle, won by 354 votes although with only 23.4% of the vote. The seat was open with the retirement of the independent ex-UM incumbent.

Marvin Rotrand, a member of city council since 1982 and UM-turned-CM councillor, was reelected for CM with 48.2% in Snowdon, a majority-minority district with a large Jewish population. In immigrant-heavy Darlington district, ex-UM incumbent Lionel Perez, who had been borough mayor since Applebaum’s election to the mayor’s chair in 2012, was reelected with 35.7% against 30% for a CM candidate.

Ville-Marie doesn’t elect a borough mayor, but all three races for city council were highly disputed. In Saint-Jacques district, a lively area which includes the Old Port, Old Montreal, the hip Quartier Latin, the Gay Village and the new entertainment district; Richard Bergeron ran, represented by his co-candidate Janine Krieber, who is former federal Liberal leader (and current MP) Stéphane Dion’s wife. He faced VM/CM incumbent François Robillard and a star candidate from EDC, former Radio-Canada journalist Philippe Schnobb. Bergeron/Krieber won by only 81 votes (36 votes after recount), taking 29.2% against 28.2% for Schnobb. The incumbent member placed fourth, behind VCM, with 16.7%.

In Sainte-Marie district, covering the poorer eastern extremity of Ville-Marie borough (old French working-class neighborhood), Louise Harel (VM/CM), elected in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in 2009, ran for a seat on city council – held by Pierre Mainville, elected for PM in 2009 but sitting as an independent since last year. Harel lost, effectively ending her long political career. PM’s Valérie Plante won by 263 votes, taking 33% against 29.5% for Harel and 21.2% for the indie incumbent.

VCM won Peter-McGill district, a multicultural and predominantly Anglophone district which includes McGill University and some of downtown Montreal’s skyscrapers.

Coalition Montréal was decimated in Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, the old VM stronghold. Only the incumbent borough mayor, former Bloc Québécois MP Réal Ménard (VM/CM) was reelected, with 36.3% against 31.1% for a PM candidate. In Hochelaga district, outgoing interim mayor Laurent Blanchard (CM) lost by 669 votes to a PM candidate. PM also won Harel’s old district, Maisonneuve–Longue-Pointe, while EDC won Tétrautville and Louis-Riel.

It was a similar story in Le Sud-Ouest, where CM held all but one seat (a borough councillor seat held by PM). Only the incumbent VM/CM borough mayor, Benoit Dorais, was victorious: by 115 votes over PM, taking 27.5% of the vote against 27% for PM. PM won all other races – the two city council districts and the two additional borough councillor races.

In the former municipalities of Anjou, Lachine, LaSalle and Outremont, borough parties were successful. In Anjou, the incumbent mayor, Luis Miranda, was reelected for his Équipe Anjou party with 56.5%. Miranda, a proponent of decentralization and, formerly, de-amalgamation (in 2004), has been mayor of Anjou since 1997. He was reelected for Tremblay’s MICU in 2001, but perceiving Tremblay’s administration as insufficiently bold on decentralization, he was reelected for  Équipe Anjou in 2005 – before switching back to UM for the 2009 election. He left the party to recreate Équipe Anjou in 2012, followed by the city councillor and the three borough councillors. Équipe Anjou candidates swept all other races with comfortable majorities.

In Lachine, Claude Dauphin, a former president of the executive committee under Tremblay and one of Paolo Catania’s guests at the ’357c’ private club, was reelected with 54% as the candidate of the Équipe Dauphin Lachine. His party also won the borough’s one city council seat and all 3 borough councillor seats, although with much narrower majorities.

LaSalle borough mayor Manon Barbe, another ex-UM member who founded her own party, Pro action LaSalle, upon quitting UM, was reelected with 36.6% and a 2,901 vote majority. While EDC won one of the two districts for city council, Barbe’s party won all other races.

Outremont mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, a former UM member who now leads the ‘Équipe conservons Outremont’ whose main cause is keeping the small borough from being merged into an adjacent borough, won reelection with a small majority of 390 votes against PM – with 39.1%. There was a close race for borough council in Claude-Ryan district, which has a large Jewish community (45% of residents are Jewish). Mindy Pollak, a Hasidic Jewish woman running for PM, won by 168 votes (35.3%) against Pierre Lacerte, an independent candidate who is very critical of Hasidic Jews in the area. Pollak said that she wanted to bridge community divides.

Quebec City

Quebec City, the provincial capital, is Quebec’s second largest city. Since 2007, the city has been governed by the very popular Régis Labeaume.

Between 1989 and 2005, the capital was governed by mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier, a cabinet minister in Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa’s first government in the 1970s. L’Allier’s party, the Renouveau municipal de Québec (RMQ), leaned to the left. After presiding over the forced mergers which saw suburban municipalities such as Sainte-Foy, Beauport, Charlesbourg, Sillery or Vanier merged into a new Quebec City, he retired in 2005. He was suceeded by the very colourful Andrée Boucher, an anti-merger crusader who had been mayor of Sainte-Foy between 1985 and 2001. Boucher ran a shoestring campaign, almost invisible, but won handily with 46% against 33.5% for the RMQ candidate and 10.5% for Marc Bellemare, who had briefly been justice minister in Liberal Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet. Lacking a majority on city council as she was an independent, Boucher’s tenure was fairly unstable and her mercurial behaviour annoyed some who worried about how she would manage to successfully organize the huge celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Quebec City’s foundation in 2008.

Boucher died in 2007, precipitating a mayoral by-election. Régis Labeaume, a businessman running as an independent, surged from 5% in September to 59% on election day in December 2007. He handily defeated Ann Bourget, a RMQ city councillor, who placed second with 33%. The celebrations for Quebec City’s 400th anniversary were a huge success, bringing worldwide acclaim to the city. In 2009, Labeaume was reelected in a landslide with 80% of the vote, his only semi-relevant opposition coming from controversial (but popular) right-wing talk radio host Jeff Fillion (8.5%) and Yonnel Bonaventure, leader of a local Green party (8.1%). His party, Équipe Labeaume, won 25 out of 27 seats.

Régis Labeaume remains very popular. He is a rather populist right-leaning mayor, known for his ‘straight-talking’ style – often lashing out at ‘incompetents’ and criticizing municipal employees. The city has been doing well economically, and many credit Labeaume from injecting dynamism and pride to the provincial capital.

His populist, pro-business and entrepreneurial style is a good fit for Quebec City, which despite being a capital city with a large civil servant population, is known for being one of the most right-wing regions in the province. In his first full term in office, Labeaume’s landmark initiative has been the construction of a new amphitheatre/indoor arena, part of a popular bid to bring back the Québec Nordiques, the city’s old NHL (hockey) team which left for Colorado in 1995. Work has begun on the new arena, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. The construction of the amphitheatre stirred much controversy and political debate in the province in 2011 and 2012, after Labeaume announced that Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s media empire, Québecor, would have management rights over the arena. L’Allier’s former city manager, Denis de Belleval, took the decision to court, arguing the deal was illegal. Labeaume successfully lobbied the then-Liberal provincial government and the then-opposition PQ to pass a law, law 204, which banned judicial challenges to the Québecor deal, although de Belleval’s case continued. The passage of law 204 notably led to a crisis in the PQ, with a number of PQ MNAs quitting the party and throwing Pauline Marois’ leadership of the party into chaos for a while. In June 2012, the Superior Court found in favour of Quebec City in de Belleval’s case. In June 2013, a strike paralyzed work until the PQ government passed a back-to-work law in July 2013, ending the strike.

Labeaume faced more serious opposition this year, from a new centre-left party, Démocratie Québec, whose mayoral candidate was David Lemelin. DQ also included the two independents elected in 2009 and two dissident councillors from Labeaume’s team. David Lemelin was shaken when it was revealed that he had been convicted for domestic violence 20 years ago.

Labeaume’s crusade in this election was against municipal employees and public sector unions. With the municipal employees’ pension fund in deficit, he was to get municipal employees and their union – rather than taxpayers – to foot part of the bill. He also wants to increase their working hours to 37.5/week (currently 35) and cut employee costs by 5%. Labeaume spoke of the need for a “strong mandate” for him to do this, because he wants the provincial government to change collective bargaining laws to give the city additional powers against unions in negotiations, perhaps forcing them to accept the city’s conditions if there is no agreement after one year. DQ’s platform focused on direct democracy and sustainable democracy, but talked about the need for healthier and normal relations with city employees and limiting subcontracting.

Turnout was 54.9%, up from 49% in 2009.

Régis Labeaume (EL) 74.07% winning 19 seats
David Lemelin (DQ) 24.03% winning 3 seats
Others 1.90%

Labeaume obtained the “strong mandate” he was looking for from voters. With turnout well over 50% and up from 2009, and Labeaume himself winning nearly 75% of the vote (despite much stronger and organized opposition than in 2009), there’s no question that he has his mandate. In his victory speech, the reelected mayor pressed the provincial government to take heed of his landslide – saying that the population wanted ‘change’ – and called on the PQ government, notably labour minister and downtown Quebec City MNA Agnès Maltais to “make heard their opinions on our proposals” (on pension reform). He also called on the unions to negotiate, “in a calm and civilized manner” with his administration. However, the PQ minister of municipal affairs, Sylvain Gaudreault, has already commented that he does not feel that Labeaume’s mandate rests solely on this one issue.

In a reduced city council shrunk from 27 to 21 members, Labeaume’s candidates won 18 out of 21 districts (the additional seat always being the mayor’s seat) while the opposition DQ won three districts. DQ incumbents Yvon Bussières and Anne Guérette, the two independents elected in the Labeaume tsunami in 2009, were reelected in their districts in La Cité-Limoilou borough. Their districts, Montcalm-Saint-Sacrement and Cap-aux-Diamants respectively, cover downtown Quebec City – including the beautiful Vieux-Québec, which is the most left-wing part of the city. Both won over 55% of the vote. However, in Maizerets-Lairet, the ‘turncoat’ EL-turned-DQ incumbent was defeated, winning only 31.6% of the vote. In the district of Saint-Louis-Sillery, which includes the very affluent old suburb of Sillery, DQ candidate Paul Shoiry – a pre-merger mayor of Sillery – was elected by an even wider margin an EL-held open seat, winning 60.6% of the vote. However, in Cap-Rouge-Laurentien, DQ mayoral candidate David Lemelin (represented by his co-candidate) was defeating, taking only 27.1% against 53.1% for Laurent Proulx (EL), a 26-year old candidate known for his opposition to the 2012 student strikes in the province (he was a ‘carré vert’ – supporter of the tuition fee increases). In suburban and right-leaning boroughs like Les Rivières, Charlesbourg, Beauport and La Haute-Saint-Charles, EL candidates and incumbents won all seats, often with upwards of 70% of the vote.

Laval

Laval, a suburban island located north of the island of Montreal, is Quebec’s third largest city (pop. 401,553). Unlike the other large cities in Quebec, Laval was not concerned by the difficult forced mergers over ten years ago – fourteen municipalities (Chomedey, Duvernay, Laval-des-Rapides etc) were amalgamated to form the city of Laval, which covers the whole island, in 1965. Since amalgamation in the 1960s, Laval has been a growing suburban community, which has attracted new businesses (high-tech, services, pharmaceuticals) and new residents (including upwardly-mobile immigrants); suburban growth led to the expansion of the Montreal subway across the river to Laval, with three new stations opening (after massive cost overruns) in 2007. As in a lot of suburban municipalities, local politics have usually been dominated by pro-business politicians and/or businessmen keen on rapid development, but not as active on environmental or sustainability issues. Although the city’s economy has been diversified, it remains very much a suburban community, lacking a true downtown.

Laval has had few mayors since 1965, a lot of the city’s mayors staying in office for a long time. Lucien Paiement, who is said to have brought in the system of organized corruption which was blown up to pieces last year, served between 1973 and 1981. In 1989, Gilles Vaillancourt, the candidate of outgoing mayor Claude Ulysse Lefebvre’s party (the Parti du ralliement officiel des Lavallois, PRO), was first elected. Vaillancourt, as noted above, stayed in office until the revelations of the Charbonneau Commission and his frontline role in the corruption system forced him to resign in November 2012. Vaillancourt was reelected comfortably in every election thereafter, and after 2001, he ruled without opposition on city council – basically making Laval a single-party state.

The city’s rapid development under his rule, which saw – among others – the expansion of the Montreal subway to Laval and the inauguration of a new bridge linking Laval and Montreal on highway 25, was one of the factors in his political longevity. However, Vaillancourt and the PRO’s control of resources and access to illegal campaign funds from developers and engineering firms made the PRO a well-oiled electoral machine which would attract the strongest candidate and discourage opponents. In 2005, for example, Vaillancourt’s strongest opponent (who won 16% to the mayor’s 74.6%) was a 18-year old student! In 2009, Vaillancourt, facing slightly more serious but still badly disorganized, divided and underfunded opposition, was reelected with 61% against 22.6% for his closest opponent.

One witness at the Charbonneau Commission testified how Vaillancourt, in 1997, had intervened to neutralize a potentially strong rival (the son of his predecessor), a business partner of the witness. Vaillancourt allegedly told him that if he dissociated himself from his friend, he would get more contracts and tripling the engineering fees he was getting from the city. Refusing to do so, Vallée’s firm became persona non grata in Laval and the city apparently told North Shore municipalities to boycott his firm.

This election marked the beginning of a new era for the city. Only three incumbent municipal councillors ran for reelection, most of the councillors having been cited as accomplices in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. The PRO, the dominant party of Laval politics since 1980, dissolved last year and a number of its leaders are officials are under investigation.

There were four major candidates in the race, each running under their own party banners.

Marc Demers, a retired police officer and PQ candidate in Laval-des-Rapides in the 2007 and 2008 provincial elections, ran for the Mouvement lavallois, whose candidate had placed second with 22.6% in the last election. In 1982, Demers, as a police officer, had investigated Vaillancourt (then a PRO municipal councillor) and his family (his brother, arrested in May 2013, owned a furniture store) for fraud but he was transferred to another service quickly thereafter and that case was later closed. Corruption, ethics and integrity formed the cornerstones of his campaign: he proposed to review the rules for awarding contracts, more transparency (open data initiative) and taking judicial action to recovery money stolen by corruption and collusion. His platform also emphasized environmental issues (a moratorium on the destruction of wetlands until 2020, reducing greenhouse gas emissions), direct democracy and a property tax freeze in 2004.

The legality of Demers’ candidacy was questioned by his opponents because he did not live in Laval between July 2012 and January 2013, while the law requires a candidate to have lived in the municipality for at least one year before the election – but at the same time, the law is vague over whether this means one full year, uninterrupted, from the election or not. Demers’ lawyer argued that his client fulfilled this requirement given that he had resided for years in the city before summer 2012. His opponents, however, argued that his candidacy was not legal and they may still take the issue to court. They accused Demers of using his ties to the PQ to ask the provincial government to change the law to accommodate him, a claim which he denies.

Jean-Claude Gobé, the candidate of a new party called Action Laval, a provincial Liberal MNA for LaFontaine (Rivière-des-Prairies in NE Montreal) between 1985 and 2003 (but he left the party to sit as an independent in 2003) and a federal Liberal candidate in 2006 (Alfred-Pellan riding in eastern Laval). His tenure as MNA must have been fairly unremarkable given the absence of a Wikipedia article on the guy! Naturally, Gobé’s campaign focused on change as well, and emphasized much of the same things: direct democracy, proximity to citizens, annual investments of $350 million in infrastructure, decontamination of industrial lands, security cameras, a property tax freeze for at least two years, spending increases under 2.5% a year and a symphony house. Gobé was very critical of the fact that the city is under the trusteeship of the provincial government

Claire Le Bel, an incumbent one-term city councillor elected for the PRO in 2009, ran for a new party called Option Laval. As one of the new councillors elected in 2009, Le Bel (along with the outgoing mayor) had not been involved in the laundering of illegal donations to the PRO. Her campaign received much attention after she accepted to meet with Vaillancourt. She smartly taped the whole meeting, in which the former mayor offered her his very discreet help. In the meeting, Vaillancourt said that he could gets “his guys” (sounds legit!) to help her out a bit. Le Bel, who found the whole thing disgusting, understood that the disgraced former mayor was offering her money (he also talked about other things in the taped meeting, and it’s rather interesting). However, any good press her actions in that episode that might have gotten her were eclipsed when her campaign manager, a Bloc Québécois candidate in the 2008 federal election, shortly thereafter alleged that he had been assaulted on the highway. It later turned out that he had made the story up, and he faces charges of public mischief under the Canadian Criminal Code. He stepped down as campaign manager. Many believe he made this story up to boost Le Bel’s campaign (but probably without her knowing he made it all up), but you kind of need to an idiot to do such a thing.

Robert Bordeleau, who had run for mayor in 2009 for the Parti au service du citoyen (PSC) and won 14.9% of the vote, ran again this year. I don’t know much about the guy or his campaign, but he apparently owes the provincial revenue agency $120,000 in taxes and Demers accused him of leading a mudslinging campaign.

Turnout was 41.1%, up from 35.7% in 2009.

Marc Demers (ML) 44.19% winning 18 seats
Jean-Claude Gobé (AL) 24.3% winning 2 seats
Claire Le Bel (OL) 12.4%
Robert Bordeleau (PSC) 10.86%
Jacques Foucher (Ind) 3.18%
Others 5.08%
Independents winning 2 seats

Marc Demers, who was kind of the favourite, won by a wide margin. Demers was likely helped by his strong campaign focus on integrity and probity, and his own image as a police officer, longstanding opponent of corruption (and Vaillancourt) and as a man of integrity; this probably made him the most credible and appealing candidate in a field without any ‘star candidates’ and generally low-calibre candidates. Demers’ priority will be getting the city back on track, by fighting corruption and ending the provincial government’s trusteeship of the city (he says he wants to keep the trustees as advisers for a few months).

Demers will have a strong majority on city council. His candidates won 17 out of 21 districts, with two seats going to Gobé’s Action Laval and two seats to independents (one of whom is an ex-PRO incumbent; the two other incumbents seeking reelection lost). Gobé’s party won the districts of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Chomedey; in the mayoral race, Chomedey, a very multicultural neighborhood.

Other cities

The election in Gatineau, Quebec’s fourth largest city located across the river from Ottawa, was quite a surprise. The incumbent mayor, Marc Bureau (independent), elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009, lost reelection by a wide margin to Buckingham city councillor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, the candidate of a new left-leaning party, Action Gatineau, which had three incumbents. Bureau won just 36.2% of the vote, against 52.6% for Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. Bureau had a solid lead in one poll taken, and was not considered as being endangered, making his defeat somewhat puzzling. But a lot of results in the smaller cities and towns in Quebec local elections often are just that – puzzling and surprising. Turnout was 41.9%, up from 2009.

Bureau never was a wildly popular mayor (he won reelection with only 44% over a divided field in 2009), but he did not face any major scandals or popular protest. On the other hand, his name was not attached with any big projects and a lot of campaign promises went unfulfilled. In his last term, he promoted ‘Destination Gatineau’, a new tourist project on the Ottawa River which is projected to cost $137 million (with federal and provincial funding and the private sector for most of it) and open in 2017 for the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Pedneaud-Jobin did not hide his lukewarm feelings for the project, which he says focuses too much on tourists (and besides, he says it’s the wrong way to attract tourists to stay in the region) and he wants to revitalize other ‘downtowns’ of the spread out and amalgamated city (Aylmer, Old Hull, Gatineau, Buckingham). Jacques Lemay, a former fire chief running as an independent, proposed to attract tourists with a rollercoaster and big wheel, a covered dome for year-round cross-country skiing and a large park with fountains.

Bureau received some criticism after the mid-October roll-out of Rapibus, a new bus rapid transit system (similar to Ottawa’s Transitway) ran into problems and users complained of longer daily commute times. The Rapibus project also had cost overruns. Pedneaud-Jobin cited the Rapibus ‘flop’ as one of the factors contributing to his victory.

A desire for change, the mayor’s unfulfilled promises and his mediocre record likely explain Bureau’s defeat. It was, however, an ambiguous result: Pedneaud-Jobin won by a large margin, but only four of Action Gatineau’s candidate for the 18 city council seats were elected – and two AG incumbents, in Aylmer and Lucerne, lost reelection.

In Longueuil, a South Shore suburb of Montreal which is Quebec’s fifth largest city, incumbent mayor Caroline St-Hilaire, a former Bloc MP, was reelected to a second term in office with 87.3% of the vote against 12.7% for a little-known independent candidate. St-Hilaire was first elected in 2009, ending 27 years of rule by the Municipal Party of Longueuil (PML). She won 52.9% against PML candidate Jacques Goyette, who took 47.1%. Goyette was backed by outgoing mayor Claude Gladu, the PML mayor between 1994 and 2001 and 2005 and 2009. Already in 2009, the PML candidate suffered from accusation of impropriety and talk of illegal financing of the party and cost inflation in public contracts. Since then, the PML, which had won 15 seats against 12 seats for the mayor-elect’s Action Longueuil party, has collapsed. Witnesses at the Charbonneau Commission confirmed that a similar system of collusion to that in Laval and Montreal existed in Longueuil, with firms obtaining contracts in returning for donations to the PML. PML councillors either switched to Action Longueuil or became independents. St-Hilaire’s campaign and party played a lot on the issue of integrity and transparency, and warned voters of not going back to the past. And they didn’t: St-Hilaire won reelection with only token opposition from a last-minute and little-known independent, Pardo Chiocchio, who apparently has ties to the old PML. For city council, St-Hilaire’s Action Longueuil won 13 out of 15 districts, giving then a large majority. 3 AL candidates had already been acclaimed. One independent incumbent (ex-PML) won reelection in the Laflèche district of Saint-Hubert borough, and another independent (ex-PML) incumbent in Greenfield Park, a borough with a substantial Anglophone minority, was reelected for a local party, Option Greenfield Park. However, two prominent figures of the old PML, Claude and Robert Gladu – the son and nephew of former mayor Claude Gladu – lost reelection in their Vieux-Longueuil districts to AL candidates.

Sherbrooke mayor Bernard Sévigny, elected for a first term in 2009, won reelection to a second term with 73.4% of the vote in a four-candidate field. His closest rival won 14.3%. It’s a much more comfortable victory than his initial win in 2009, when he had won by only 122 votes. However, Sévigny will still face trouble on the municipal council: his party won nine out of 19 districts, against 10 seats for independents.

The mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, won reelection to a fourth term with 63% of the vote – a disappointing result after he won 78% in 2009. Tremblay, first elected in 2001, something of a YouTube star for his folksy and wacky way of talking. But he is also a controversial character, for his Catholic traditionalist and conservative views. He was criticized for reciting a prayer at the start of every session of the municipal council, and despite a 2008 decision of the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission which found that the prayer infringed on freedom of conscience and religion, continued the practice. In 2011, the Tribunal des droits de la personne ordered the mayor and the city to stop reciting the prayer, remove religious symbols from public buildings and pay $30,000 in damages to the complainant. The city appealed the judgement to the Quebec Court of Appeals found in favour of the mayor in May 2013, but that decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In August 2012, during the provincial electoral campaign, Tremblay criticized PQ candidate Djemila Benhabib, a feminist and anti-fundamentalist writer of Algerian descent, who had criticized the presence of the crucifix in the National Assembly. Tremblay said that French Canadians were ‘soft’ and were being told how to behave by a person from Algeria, “and we aren’t even able to pronounce her name.” He said that he didn’t like that “those people” (immigrants) come to Quebec and establish “their rules.” His remarks were denounced as xenophobic and created an uproar, but a majority of his constituents sided with him.

Tremblay remains very popular, despite some accusations of mismanagement and mishandling of public contracts. He won 63% of the vote against 37% for Paul Grimard, who campaigned on the topic of integrity. Tremblay is an independent, and independents hold 17 of the city’s 19 districts. Grimard’s party won two seats.

Additional results for other cities are available here. Maps of the results in all cities explored above are available on the Canadian Election Atlas blog.

Nova Scotia (Canada) 2013

Provincial elections were held in Nova Scotia (Canada) on October 7, 2013. All 51 members of the unicameral provincial legislature, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, elected by FPTP in single-member districts, were up for reelection.

The electoral map was significantly redistributed last year, resulting in the net loss of one district: rural Nova Scotia lost three seats, while the Halifax Metro gained two seats. The abolition of four specially designated ‘minority’ ridings – three Acadian seats and one black seat (all of which had smaller populations than the provincial average) – caused a small uproar. The net political effect of the new map favoured the governing New Democrats (NDP), who would have won won two more seats than they actually did in the last election, while the Liberals would have won two fewer seats and the Progressive Conservative (PCs) would have won one seat fewer.

Presentation

Nova Scotia is Canada’s seventh most populous province, with a population just under one million (921,727) in 2011, and is the most populous province out of the four Atlantic provinces. In economic terms, Nova Scotia has the highest GDP of all four Atlantic provinces, although it only accounts for 2.1% of the country’s GDP.

Canada’s Atlantic provinces have tended to be significantly poorer and more economically depressed than the rest of Canada, and all of them were known as ‘have-not’ provinces until recently. Although Nova Scotia is by no means wealthy compared to the rest of Canada, it has historically been better off than other Atlantic provinces, although recent oil-fueled prosperity and growth in Newfoundland has very much altered that. For example, Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate (8.6%) is high compared to the rest of Canada, but it is still the lowest of the four Atlantic provinces. However, Nova Scotia’s GDP per capita is the second lowest of all provinces, and 17.4% of the population were low income after-tax (compared to 14.9% across Canada).

Nova Scotia’s economy is in good part reliant on federal equalization payments, to the amount of $1.458 billion in 2013-14.

The province’s contemporary economy is largely driven by the tertiary sector. The largest industries (NAICS classifications) in 2011 were retail trade (12.6% of the labour force), health care and social assistance (12.3%), public administration (9.7%), education (8%), manufacturing (7%) and construction (6.7%). Traditional industries such as agriculture, fishing and forestry employed only 3.8% of the labour force and mining an infinitely small share (0.8%).

Nova Scotia’s traditional primary and secondary sectors have declined in the last decades. Fisheries once formed an integral part of the provincial economy, due to the proximity of rich offshore (and inshore) stocks, but overfishing in the late 20th century led to the collapse of cod stocks and resulted in major jobs loses and drastic federal quotas on catches. Mining (largely coal) also played a considerable role in the province’s economy, especially on Cape Breton Island (Sydney) although there were fields in Pictou and Cumberland counties on the mainland. Mine closures, in addition to the loss of other major industries (a large steel mill in Sydney) have left Cape Breton Island significantly economically deprived.

Manufacturing and other industries include or have included steel (Sydney – closed down, Trenton), pulp and paper (Liverpool/Brooklyn – closed in 2012, Port Hawkesbury etc), frozen food/fish and agricultural processing (Lunenburg, Oxford, Canso), petroleum refining (Dartmouth), Michelin tires (Bridgewater, Granton, Cambridge) and power generation (Dartmouth, Trenton, Industrial Cape Breton). Shipbuilding in towns such as Pictou or Shelburne used to be major industries (the famous Bluenose schooner, which appears on the Canadian dime, was built in Lunenburg in the 1920s, but declined after the advent of steam and steel.

The Halifax metro has performed better than the rest of the province, benefiting from the concentration of more stable employment in the public sector (including defence – Halifax is home to the large HQs of the CF’s Maritime Command), finance, services, healthcare and education. Halifax’s unemployment rate in September 2013 was 6%, significantly below the provincial but also national average. Halifax is a ‘college town’ home to Dalhousie University, St. Mary’s and the University of King’s College. Antigonish (St. FX) and Wolfville (Acadia) are also major college towns.

Halifax saw the highest population growth between 2006 and 2011 (+4.7%), most other counties lost population. Cape Breton Island has been particularly afflicted by depopulation, having regularly lost population in almost all recent censuses.

Nova Scotia is more ethnically diverse than other Atlantic provinces, although by national standards it is heavily white and native-born. 95% of the population is white, three-quarters of the population was born in the province and 91.8% have English as their mother tongue (French: 3.4%). These statistics hide some interesting tidbits and greater ethnic diversity within the ‘white Anglo’ population.

Blacks constitute 2.3% (about 20,000 people) of the provincial population and form, by far, the largest visible minority in the province. While most black Canadians immigrated to Canada in the more recent past, Nova Scotia’s substantial black population has far deeper roots. Most came as free ‘black Loyalists’ after the American Revolution or as ‘black refugees’ during the War of 1812, and settled in the Halifax area. Many black Nova Scotians faced racism and discrimination, and lived in deplorable conditions. The town of Preston, outside Dartmouth, has a large black majority (69%).

39% of the population reported their ancestry (multiple response) as ‘Canadian’, a term which seems to indicate a long-time, settled Anglo-Protestant population which has lived in Canada for hundreds of years. Some 73% reported European ancestries, the largest being Scottish (31.2%), English (30.8%), Irish (22.3%), French (17%) and German (10.8%). This gives Nova Scotia the second highest proportion of persons claiming Scottish and Irish ancestries and the third highest proportion claiming English ancestry of all provinces or territories.

Like in New Brunswick, many English Nova Scotians are of United Empire Loyalist descent and settled in the province following the American Revolution. Cumberland County, Shelburne County and the Annapolis Valley have the largest English populations. Most Scots settled on Cape Breton Island or Pictou County; over 50% of the population in Pictou, Inverness and Victoria counties (the last two are on Cape Breton) and Gaelic was widely spoken in northern Nova Scotia and parts of PEI until the late 19th century. Most Irish are found in Antigonish County.

Nova Scotia remains a small French/Acadian minority, and an even smaller French-speaking minority. Those claiming French ancestry are concentrated in Yarmouth and Digby counties in southern NS or in Richmond County (Cape Breton Island), with some sizable numbers in Inverness and Antigonish counties. 30.5% of the population of Digby County claim French as their mother tongue, and Francophones constitute about three-fifths of the population in Clare municipal district. There are isolated French-speaking communities in Yarmouth County (20.3%), Richmond County (Isle Madame, 22.8%) and Inverness County (Chéticamp, 13.1%). Acadians in other parts of the province, notably Antigonish or Guysborough County, have been Anglicized.

Nova Scotia has the largest German (and Dutch, 3.6%) population of the Atlantic provinces. A significant German Protestant population settled in Nova Scotia, particularly Lunenburg County, during early British colonial rule – they were brought in as ‘Foreign Protestants’ by the British to counterbalance the Acadian and native (Mi’kmaq) populations after Britain acquired Nova Scotia from the French. Lunenburg County, by far, still has the largest German population in the province; 32.1% claimed German ancestry in 2011.

76% of the Nova Scotian population is Christian and 21.8% have no religious affiliation. In more detailed terms, 33% of the population is Catholic, 12.1% are adherents of the United Church of Canada, 11% are Anglican and 8.9% are Baptist. The relatively large Anglican population and the large Baptist population (second largest, proportionally, after New Brunswick) is a sign of the province’s large stock of descendants of the United Empire Loyalists. Catholics constitute a large majority of the population on Cape Breton Island, with the exception of Victoria County, which saw more English settlement; and also in Antigonish County. Pictou County, Guysborough County, Halifax County and the Acadian counties of Digby and Yarmouth also have sizable Catholic populations; in contrast, the Catholic population in the Anglo/German counties is quite small. The contentious issue of religious schools, which has been a hot topic of religious (and linguistic) strife in Canadian history, was settled prior to Confederation in Nova Scotia (in 1865) with the adoption of non-denominational schools and allowed after-school Catholic religious education in schools.

Political culture

Nova Scotian political culture is both similar to and dissimilar to the general political culture of the Atlantic provinces. As in other provinces, provincial politics have been highly influenced by parochialism, tradition, conservatism, pragmatism and a dose of cynicism and caution. However, unlike in the other provinces, the traditional Liberal/Conservative duopoly in provincial politics has been successfully challenged by the NDP.

Ideology and issues have played a relatively minor role in Nova Scotian politics, historically. Since pre-Confederation days, observers have pointed out that few if any meaningful issues or ideologies divided the Liberals and the Conservatives. Both parties reached their positions more on grounds of political expediency rather than principles; for example, the early Liberals opposed expanding the franchise and fought against abolishing the upper house. To this day, both the Liberal and Conservative (PC) parties are moderate, pragmatic and ideologically similar parties while the incumbent NDP government adapted itself to the terrain and governed in a similarly moderate and fairly non-ideological fashion.

No great ethnic, religious, class or ideological antagonisms have had a strong, lasting influence in Nova Scotian elections. Some ethnic and religious voting patterns have been evident, notably with Acadians in particular and Catholics in general tending to lean towards the Liberals. However, unlike in many other Canadian province, the religious cleavage in vote choice at the provincial level has been far less pronounced. Religion and religious conflict has played a role in Nova Scotian politics, notably in pre-Confederation days or in 1954, but the ‘schools question’ was never a major political issue in the province and both parties effectively catered to both Protestants and Catholics. The provincial Conservatives have been considerably less hostile towards Catholics than their counterparts in other provinces and, as a result, they have at times managed to appeal strongly to Catholic voters.

Class politics and the union movement (with industrial workers in steel mills and coal mines) have been more prominent in Nova Scotia than in the other Atlantic provinces, explaining the strength of the CCF/NDP compared to other Atlantic provinces. Class politics and unionization ran highest on Cape Breton Island, historically more influenced by post-Confederation immigration and the tenets of British trade unionism, and Cape Breton Island is where the labour movement found most of their support. However, with that exception, class consciousness has never been particularly high in the province.

Family ties, traditional loyalty, local caution and conservatism as well as patronage sustained the Liberal/Conservative duopoly for well over a hundred years. Patronage in the public sector subsisted well into the 1950s, and pork-and-barrel ‘highway politics’ or the granting of government contracts to party friends continued to be the rule well beyond that. Today, while partisan loyalties are much less solidly entrenched, personality and local party organization plays a large role.

Political history

Nova Scotia had a long and rich political history prior to it joining Canadian Confederation in 1848. The House of Assembly was the first legislature in Canada, created in 1758, and Nova Scotia was the first British colony to gain ‘responsible government’ (government responsible to the elected legislature) in 1848, under the leadership of Joseph Howe – who had already led to the creation of the Liberal/Conservative party system in 1836. When Nova Scotia joined Confederation, it did so under the leadership of the pro-Confederation Conservative Premier Charles Tupper (1864-1867).

However, the majority of Charles Tupper’s constituent did not follow him into embracing Confederation with the Canadas in 1867. When Nova Scotia joined Confederation, it was still experiencing a ‘golden age’ because of reciprocity, shipbuilding, lucrative custom duties and international trade; the conservative and cautious people of Nova Scotia, fearing the loss of self-government and the imposition of direct taxation (a major issue in early provincial politics), resisted Confederation.

You think that Quebec was the first Canadian province to elect an outright separatist government in 1976? Think again. Nova Scotia, in 1867, spearheaded by anti-Confederation leader Joseph Howe, elected an overwhelmingly anti-Confederate majority both to the House of Commons in Ottawa (17 of the province’s 18 seats) and to the House of Assembly in Halifax (36 anti-Confederation Liberals against 2 pro-Confederation Conservatives). Joseph Howe immediately went to London to attempt to “repeal” Confederation, but the British refused and Howe quietly accepted the resolution, as did most of his partisans (although the Liberal/anti-Confederation Premier of Nova Scotia, William Annand, proved more radical, but he was a non-entity and was pushed out in 1875). In a sign of the legendary pragmatism of Nova Scotia’s politicians, Howe and most of his followers decided to seek “better terms”for Nova Scotia within Canada – he went as far as joining Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s cabinet as President of the Privy Council (1869-1873) and Secretary of State for the Provinces (1869-1873). Likewise, 10 Anti-Confederation MPs in Ottawa joined Macdonald’s very pro-Confederation Conservatives. However, the anti-Confederation party in provincial politics evolved to become the provincial Liberal Party.

Between 1867 and 1956, Nova Scotia had a one-party (Liberal) dominant system – the NS Liberals governed between 1867 and 1878, between 1882 and 1925 and again between 1933 and 1956. The Liberals’ 43-year old on power between 1882 and 1925 remains, to date, the longest unbroken one-party hold on power in Canada, although the Alberta PCs will break that record in September 2014. The Conservatives won the 1878 election because of a recession, but the Liberals regained power in 1882 and entrenched themselves.

The long era of provincial Liberal dominance, not replicated in federal elections, owed a lot to strong organization (the Liberals built a strong, cohesive province-wide organization, while the Conservatives did not organize province-wide until 1896 and had weak local branches until the 1950s) and able leadership. Indeed, the provincial Conservatives lacked strong leaders: able Tory leaders made their mark in federal, not provincial, politics until the 1960s: Nova Scotians John Thompson, Charles Tupper and Robert Borden all served as federal Tory leaders and Prime Minister of Canada, years later Robert Stanfield took the leadership of the federal PCs during the Trudeau era. In contrast, provincial Tory leaders usually served short periods of times, many failed to win their seats and none of them left a mark on provincial politics unlike the succession of long-serving Liberal Premiers until 1954.

FPTP magnified and exaggerated the winning party’s majority in the legislature, but the popular vote was often far tighter than the seat count. Between 1871 and 1945, the Conservatives dropped below 40% of the vote only once (1920); the Liberals’ best PV result was 56.7% and dropped below 40% only once between 1867 and 1963.

William Stevens Fielding, the Liberal Premier between 1884 and 1896, was the province’s first major Premier. In the 1886 election, angered by Macdonald’s treatment of NS and opposing the Conservatives’ fiscal and tariff policies, Fielding ran on a separatist platform calling for repeal of Confederation. He handily won that election, but he was unable to do that and he quickly became a pragmatist in the line of Joseph Howe. Fielding was the first Premier who took a more active interest in the workings of government, with projects such as building roads and inducing outside interest in developing the province’s coal reserves. Along with Ontario Liberal Premier Oliver Mowat, he became a powerful advocate for provincial rights and in 1896, after helping Wilfrid Laurier’s federal Liberal electoral campaign in NS, resigned to join the federal cabinet where he had a long and illustrious career as Minister of Finance between 1896 and 1911 and again between 1921 and 1925.

His successor as Premier, George Murray, ruled the province for 27 years between 1896 and 1923. This is the longest unbroken tenure for a Canadian head of government, but Murray made no mark on Canadian history and is not as prominent in provincial history as his predecessor and some of his successor. Murray was an affable, moderate and pragmatic leader who was a master of patronage and brokerage politics, carefully balancing labour and capital interests. He was, however, not an innovator – he admitted as much himself, saying he did not want to be a vanguard of public opinion. He refused any initiative which had not proven successful in Ontario.

The 1920 election represented a short-lived deviation from the established political order. United Farmers and Labour candidates won 30.9% of the vote against 24.7% for the Conservatives, forming the Official Opposition with 11 members to the Tories’ 3. The industrial working-class had been hit by the post-war slump, increased freight rates, lower demand for steel, the steep rise in the cost of mining coal and the long, expensive haul to central and western Canadian markets. The Independent Labour Party was formed on Cape Breton in 1917 and on the mainland in 1917. Farmers had widely divergent interests but the economic difficulties, dissatisfaction with the political order and a wage-price squeeze briefly allowed them to federate as their brethren did, with even more success, in Ontario and the Prairies. The United Farmers of Nova Scotia were born in 1919. Murray aptly called an election before either new group could get organized and the press widely denounced them as socialists and Bolsheviks. Once elected, the Farmer-Labour group made a poor impression and the Conservatives quickly recovered.

Indeed, the Conservatives won the 1925 and 1928 elections by attaching themselves to the Maritime Rights movement, active in the 1920s, and effectively serving as the spokesman for discontented Nova Scotians prior to the Great Depression. The Conservatives won 40 out of 43 seats in 1925, and the new Premier, Edgar N. Rhodes, demanded genuine financial concessions from Ottawa in terms of trade, taxation, fisheries and freight rates. Other achievements included abolishing the upper house, administrative reform, teachers’ pensions and allowances for widowed mothers. However, having been reelected by a tight margin in 1928, the Conservatives were in office when the Great Depression struck and where thrown back out of office by the Liberals in 1933.

Angus L. Macdonald, the Liberal Premier between 1933 and 1940 and again between 1945 and 1954, became one of Nova Scotia’s most famous Premier. Macdonald was an impressive orator, a master of new means of communication, had an engaging personality and an attractive biography – a man who rose from humble Catholic Gaelic origins on Cape Breton Island to become a leading law professor. Macdonald perpetuated old Nova Scotian political traditions of patronage, pork-and-barrel road construction (highway politics) and rewarding party friends with jobs and contracts; but Macdonald favoured a more interventionist and activist government, both provincially and federally, than Murray had. His government introduced old age pensions, passed modern labour/union legislation, paved roads and promoted rural electrification. Macdonald, like many of his predecessors, was a vocal advocate of the province’s interests in federal-provincial relations. He argued in favour of federal aid to provinces based on province’s needs, and that Ottawa should assume full responsibility and exclusive jurisdiction over unemployment insurance, old-age pensions and mothers’ allowances.

With the outbreak of war and the 1940 federal election, Macdonald became Minister of Defence in Mackenzie King’s federal Liberal wartime government in Ottawa between 1940 and 1945. He was replaced as Premier by his Highway Minister, A.S. MacMillan, whose five-year tenure was relatively unremarkable but gave the Liberals a third term in office in the 1941 election, which was the first election in which the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), today’s NDP, won seats (it had won its first seat in a 1939 by-election), taking three seats – all from Cape Breton, where the CCF had been endorsed by District 26 of the UMW.

Macdonald returned home in 1945 and took his old job back. Less than two months later, he led the Liberals to a landslide victory in which the Conservative vote fell by 13% to 33.5% and were completely shut out of the legislature, leaving the CCF’s caucus of two (both from Cape Breton) to assume the role of Official Opposition. However, as in 1920, the Conservatives had a phoenix-like rising from the ashes, under a young Robert Stanfield, who became the PC leader in 1948.

Macdonald continued his advocacy for provincial rights in his second term and invested heavily in education, although his second term – from 1945 to his death in 1954 – was not as successful as his first term. The Liberals won reduced, albeit comfortable, majorities in 1949 and 1953. The PCs were reborn, while the CCF maintained a small and very regionalized (Cape Breton) presence in the legislature until they lost their last Cape Breton seat in 1963.

When Macdonald died in 1954, the Liberal Party split along confessional lines, with the Liberals ousting Macdonald’s successor as (interim) Premier, the Catholic Harold Connolly, in favour of the Protestant Henry Hicks. Hicks took the ill-advised decision of raising taxes to finance the provincial education system. This, combined with the loss of Catholic support due to the 1954 confessional split, led to the Liberals’ defeat against Stanfield’s PCs in the 1956 election. It was very close contest, one of the few which didn’t result in an awfully disproportional seat count, but 1956 – or perhaps Stanfield’s landslide third term reelection in 1963 (56% and 39/43 seats) – marked the definitive end of Nova Scotia’s one-party dominant era and the long period of Liberal rule broken by short-lived and forgettable Tory administrations.

Stanfield came from a rather different social milieu than Macdonald – part of a wealthy Truro WASP textile family, but he was a hard-working, honest, and humble man and gained the same slightly paternalistic, elitist ‘father figure’ image that Macdonald had. Stanfield, who was Premier of Nova Scotia until he won the federal PC leadership in 1967, was the quintessential Red Tory – centrist, pragmatic, supportive of government intervention, moderate if not progressive. Under his premiership, the provincial government played an active role in the province’s economic development. Some of his government’s policies included increased funding for education, comprehensive secondary schools, removing the worst aspects of party patronage (creating a professional bureaucracy and respecting the Civil Service Commission, set up in 1935 but used by the Liberals as a shield for their patronage) and setting up a hospital insurance scheme. More famously, he created a Crown corporation to attract private investment to the province – including a heavy water factory, a colour TV factory and auto assembly plants.

Stanfield was replaced by G.I. “Ike” Smith, whose term was plagued by economic problems. The owner of the Cape Breton coal mines and steel mills had announced in 1965 its intention to close its mines on the island within 15 years, which led the federal Liberal government, in 1967, to nationalize the mines in a new Crown corporation which would focus on operating and phasing out the mines and developing new economic opportunities. In 1967, that same company announced the closure of its Sydney steel plant, leading Smith’s government to nationalize Sydney Steel. The province was also forced to take ownership of the colour TV factory and a heavy water plant. Smith’s tenure was not without its achievements, but the PCs narrowly lost the 1970 election to Gerald Regan’s Liberals, with a minority government. The NDP won two seats, again on Cape Breton, the first seats in seven years.

During the campaign, Regan had said that he found Smith too socialistic, but that didn’t keep the Liberals from favouring government intervention just as much. To be sure, Regan’s election ushered in a more businesslike and technocratic style, but the government played a large role in promoting offshore oil and gas exploration on Sable Island and created a new publicly-owned power system (Nova Scotia Power) by taking over a privately-owned company. The Liberal government provided free drugs for pensioners, free dental care for schoolchildren, formulated Canada’s first freedom of information act and introduced collective bargaining for fishermen and public servants. Regan’s Liberals were reelected in 1974, defeating the PCs, led by the more populistic John Buchanan since 1971.

However, voters punished the Liberals for high utility prices, a poor economy and unfulfilled promises in the 1978 election, in which the PCs won 31 seats to the Grits’ 17 and a record 4 seats for the NDP (again, all from Cape Breton). The NDP’s difficulty to win seats on the mainland upset the party’s Haligonian party establishment and led to internal battles. The middle-class and ‘urban progressive’ Haligonian win won out, with Alexa McDonough, but a rogue Cape Breton MLA, Paul MacEwan, was expelled from the NDP in 1980 and founded the Cape Breton Labour Party in 1982, which emphasized working-class issues more than the new Haligonian NDP leadership.

Premier John Buchanan’s PCs were reelected in 1981, in which the Liberals won only 33% of vote and in which the NDP won its first seat on the mainland (MacEwan was reelected on Cape Breton). Buchanan’s government negotiated an offshore development agreement with Ottawa and reorganized the fisheries sector; on the other hand, he faced a number of economic and political problems. The man who would later become known as ‘Teflon John’, however, remained very popular with voters, who liked his ‘down-to-earth’ populist style. He was reelected with an increased majority in 1984, while the Liberals won only 31% and 6 seats – their leader not among them. The NDP, criticizing the government’s cuts in social services, won three seats – all on the mainland this time.

Buchanan’s third term proved difficult. Oil and gas exploration gradually stopped after an underwater gas well exploded and federal oil grants were phased out. The industrial town of Glace Bay (Cape Breton) was hit hard by a mine fire, a fisheries plant burning down and the closure of the two heavy water plants by Ottawa – while Sydney Steel continued to face a host of problems. Other parts of the province, however, saw greater economic success.

The PCs were plagued by a variety of scandals involving many cabinet ministers and PC MLAs. For example, the Deputy Premier was forced to resign after revelations that he had pressured banks to write off some $140,000 in personal loans in 1980 and the attorney general’s office had later interefered with an RCMP criminal investigation into the matter. The government was also hurt by a judicial inquiry into the case of a Mi’kmaq man convicted to 11 years in jail for a murder he did not commit; the investigation revealed incompetence, racism and coverups from police, the judicial system and attorney generals since 1970.

Despite these scandals, “Teflon John” managed to win a fourth term in office in 1988, although with a significantly reduced majority: the PCs won 28 seats to the Liberals’ 21 and the NDP’s 2 seats. The fourth term is a classic example of “one term too much” – it was a real trainwreck for the PCs, and led to a Liberal landslide in the 1993 election. Nova Scotia and most of Atlantic Canada’s economies suffered in the 1990s, and NS was badly hit by the fisheries crisis which meant a major decline in the fishing industry and job loses in the fish processing industries. If that was not bad enough, the wave of scandals which had begun hitting the PCs before 1988 became a tsunami which went up to the Premier himself. A former cabinet minister implicated Buchanan in cases of corruption and nepotism; it came out after he resigned from office that Buchanan had received about $1 million in PC party funds while he was Premier, including $40,000 annually to supplement his salary.

Buchanan resigned in September 1990 and was named to the Senate by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. His successor, after a PC convention, was Donald Cameron, who was left with the unenviable job of picking up the pieces. Cameron tried to clean up government and passed landmark conflict of interest, party financing and human rights legislation. The 1991 budget froze public sector wages and cut 300 jobs in the governments, and in 1992 he privatized Nova Scotia Power. His efforts to rebuild were hurt by the revelations of Buchanan’s finances, and by a 1992 mine disaster which killed 26.

John Savage’s Liberals won a landslide in the 1993 elections, taking 40 seats out of 52 and reducing the PCs to only 9 MLAs. Savage was confronted with a terrible economic situation, which forced the Liberals to introduce a string of unpopular austerity budgets. Savage raised the sales tax, imposed a surtax on high incomes, curbed public sector wages, cuts jobs in the public sector and made major spending cuts in education and healthcare. Influenced by New Public Management tenets including ‘efficiency’, ‘privatization’ and ‘downsizing’, Savage at first cut back on patronage appointments and reformed the public sector, but Liberal pressure forced him to loosen his stance on patronage appointments. Savage was compelled to resign in 1997, and was replaced by Russell MacLellan.

The 1998 election was a turning point in NS history. Although the Liberals won the most votes and 19 seats, the NDP made major gains and formed the Official Opposition, with 19 seats (up from 3), leaving the PCs with 14 seats. A year earlier, in the federal election, the NDP had won 6 seats in the province while the federal Liberals were shut out entirely due to Prime Minister Chrétien’s unpopular cuts to unemployment insurance and other programs. MacLellan remained in office for a bit over a year, forming a minority government with PC support. In July 1999, John Hamm’s PCs won a majority government with 30 seats against 11 apiece for the NDP and Liberals.

Under Hamm’s first term, Cape Breton Island’s remaining steel mills and coal mines shut down entirely (in 2001). The PC government sold off Sydney Still Corporation, the provincially-owned operator of the Sydney steel mill. The federal Crown corporation in charge of the coal mines, DEVCO, sold all surface assets in December 2001. Otherwise, the PC government balanced public finances and cut taxes. Hamm’s PC government was reduced to a minority in the 2003 election, winning 25 seats to the NDP’s 15 and the Liberals’ 12.

Hamm stepped down in late 2005 and was replaced by Rodney MacDonald, who sought a mandate of his own in June 2006. The PCs gained 3% in the popular vote, but suffered a net loss of 2 seats, being reduced to 23 seats against 20 for the NDP and a pitiful 9 for the Liberals, who, with only 23% of the vote, won their worst result ever.

MacDonald’s government, worn down by some scandals, lost a confidence vote and was defeated by Darrell Dexter’s NDP in the June 2009 election. The NDP made major gains in both the popular vote and seat count, winning 45% of the vote and a majority government with 31 seats. The Liberals made smaller gains, winning 27% of the vote and 11 seats, but this was enough to place them in second. The governing PCs fell to third place with only 24.5% of the vote and 10 seats.

Campaign and issues

Dexter, forming the first NDP government anywhere in the Atlantic provinces, governed in a very moderate fashion, going out of his way to appear as a centrist and ‘reasonable’ leader; something which has worked well for the NDP in Manitoba or Saskatchewan but didn’t prove successful for Dexter in NS. His government’s record was mixed, hardly a disaster but failing to live up to the high expectations voters had set in the NDP in 2009.

Dexter’s backers point to his government’s fairly solid economic record. The province is projected to post a $18.3 million surplus (0.04% of GDP) in FY 2013-14 – one of only four provinces to do (BC, SK, QC, NS) and real GDP growth for 2013 is expected to be 1.7%. It had balanced the budget in 2010-11 but posted a small deficit since then. Credit rating agencies gave the province high ratings.

His critics on the left, however, accuse him of doing so by embracing austerity (while the right criticized him for raising taxes). Dexter’s government made substantial funding cuts to education, health care and post-secondary education over a four-year period estimated at $772 million. It lifted the freeze on tuition fee increases, and undergrad tuition fees in the province have increased to an average of $5,934/student in 2012-13, one of the highest in the country. With unions, Dexter’s government proved only marginally more friendly than his predecessors’ governments, making some fairly limited changes to trade union legislation, although critics claimed that his changes were still too friendly to unions. The NDP was called out by left-leaning think-tanks such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) for doing little to improve labour standards. The left also criticized Dexter for abandoning rent control, a measure which was welcomed by landlords and business.

Above all, perhaps, Dexter got lots of flack from the left for ‘corporate welfare’, ostensibly to create jobs. The government gave millions of dollars in loans or tax breaks to business including shipyards, an aquaculture firm and Imperial Oil. Were these wise investments which will create jobs in the long-term? Time will tell, but the NDP’s left-wing base didn’t like the optics of it much.

By his first year in office, Dexter was hit by the MLAs expenses scandal, in which the Auditor General reported that many MLAs – from all parties, and incidents predating the 2009 election – had filled excessive or inappropriate expense claims. The scandal, again, hit all three parties – two Liberal, one PC and one ex-NDP MLAs were all forced to resign – and Dexter himself had questionable expense claims of his own. Dexter’s government did a poor job of handling the scandal, in the process voters – who a few months earlier had seen the NDP as something new and a breath of fresh air – got angry at the government and disillusion set in.

A major factor which has been cited to explain the NDP government’s unpopularity was that the party quickly lost touch with rural Nova Scotia, where the NDP had done tremendously well in 2009. The province’s economy has not been too shabby, but Halifax is one of the few regions which has actually prospered since the NDP came to power, while rural NS declined. To add to this perception of rural/urban disparities in growth, the NDP fumbled a number of rural issues, the most noteworthy of which was the December 2009 cancellation of the Yarmouth Ferry, which connected the southern municipality of Yarmouth with Maine; to make matters worse, the government announced and handled this decision in a aloof, disconnected manner which gave a strong impression that the NDP just “didn’t get” rural NS.

The government, as aforementioned, was far from being a total disaster. On healthcare, the NDP was able to find a strong middle ground between closing rural ERs and keeping them open, in the form of Collaborative Emergency Care Centres (miniature ERs in small communities with paramedics and nurses). Although the cuts to education were criticized by some, others welcomed Dexter’s trimming of the education budget, arguing that the government was challenging school boards to identify savings and tackle the decline in elementary and secondary school enrollment. On environmental issues, the NDP government took a fairly strong stance on climate change and especially wilderness protection. The government’s energy policy hasn’t been well received by voters (disliking an increase in power rates), the opposition) and some industries (natural gas and wind power), but Dexter’s ‘Maritime Link’ scheme to to receive electricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador has generated some positive responses. The project would diversify NS’s energy sources and reduce its historical dependence on fossil fuels.

The NDP platform’s main planks included continuing to deliver balanced budgets (and decrying the ‘financial recklessness’ of the Liberals and PCs), reducing the harmonized sales tax (HST) by 1% a year in 2014 and 2015 to reduce it to 13%, taking the HST off ‘family essentials’ (strollers, children’s car seats) and keeping it off home energy, capping elementary school class sizes at 25 students, defending the Maritime Link project, adding five new Collaborative Emergency Centres and open clinics staffed by nurse practitioners.

The Liberal platform did not delve deep into specifics and was filled with flowery language and pablum. The main planks emphasized by the Liberals included “standing up to Nova Scotia Power” by breaking Nova Scotia Power’s private monopoly and creating a regulated, competitive energy market; job creation (focusing on small businesses); balanced budgets (and criticism of the NDP’s corporate ‘handouts’); reinvesting in education after NDP cuts; healthcare and seniors. Deregulation of the energy market is a fairly right-wing plank, and the Liberal platform used populist rhetoric on the matter (‘enough is enough’, ‘standing up to Nova Scotia Power’ etc). The Liberals pledged to reduce the HST, but only when the province reaches a sufficient budget surplus. On healthcare, the Liberals proposed to cut provincial health boards from 10 to 2 and use savings to pay for more family doctors and reduce hip/knee replacement time. On education, the Liberals platform called for capping KG-Grade 2 classes to 20 students and Grades 3-6 classes to 25 students. On issues such as education, the Yarmouth Ferry or community services it does seem like the Liberals took populistic stances challenging the NDP on issues where its performance was criticized.

In one of the ironies of Atlantic Canadian politics, the PCs might have been to the left of the Liberals in this campaign (although it’s a rather pointless point to argue), especially as the Liberals came to be defined with their ‘standing up to Nova Scotia Power’ stuff. On the issue of energy, for example, the PCs proposed to freeze electricity rates for five years (magically?) and lower renewable energy targets. Other PC platform planks included cutting the HST to 13%, creating 20k jobs (again critical of the NDP’s corporate welfare), reducing school boards from 10 to 4, cutting the number of district health authorities from 10 to 3 and a derided goal to increase the provincial population to 1 million by 2025.

The Greens, who ran a full slate in 2009, only nominated 16 (/51) candidates this year. Their platform, for what it’s worth, included funding public rail transit across the province, mandating Nova Scotia Power to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, introduce a guaranteed annual income and removing parental income as a factor in student loan system.

Results

Turnout was 59.08%, virtually unchanged from last time (58%). This is, by recent historical standards, very low. Changes compared to the 2009 election.

Liberal 45.71% (+18.51%) winning 33 seats (+22)
PC 26.31% (+1.77%) winning 10 seats (+1)
NDP 26.84% (-18.4%) winning 7 seats (-24)
Greens 0.85% (-1.49%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.3% (-0.38%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Canada - Nova Scotia 2013

For once, the pollsters were right. Canadian pollsters have had a tough time, for some reason, calling provincial elections; the most recent and memorable case being that of the BC provincial election in May; the BC NDP was widely expected to defeat the incumbent BC Liberal government, but the Liberals were reelected with a substantial margin of victory over the NDP. Some believed that the same thing could happen in Nova Scotia, although the NS Liberals’ lead in polls in the final stretch was far larger than any lead the BC NDP (or Alberta Wildrose in 2012) held in the final stretch; the NS Liberals led the NDP by about 20 points in all the final polls.

The pollsters generally correctly predicted the Liberals and NDP’s share of the vote, perhaps slightly overestimating the Liberals (but by 1-2% at most) and NDP (again by 1-2% at most). In turn, they underestimated the PCs by about 1-3%.

What was most surprising about the results was how poorly the NDP ended up doing: not only did they get trounced for reelection (unsurprisingly) but they placed third in the seat count, meaning that Jamie Baillie’s PCs will form the Official Opposition to the Liberal government; the first time the NDP has failed to place first or second since 1993 (which predates the emergence of the NDP as a potent force in NS politics) and the worst NDP result (in seat and % terms) since that same date. The NDP did place second ahead of the PCs on the popular vote by a few decimal points, but they won 3 seats less than the PCs did; mostly, I think, because the NDP got screwed over in Halifax, which was also rather surprising. Premier Darrell Dexter lost his own seat by 31 votes to the Liberals – one of those surprising Liberal gains in the HRM.

I haven’t analyzed the NDP’s vote distribution at all, but I have a hunch that its vote was more evenly distributed than the PC vote and, hence, ended up losing a number of tight races to the Liberals/PCs. What is also remarkable, by glancing at my map’s shading above, is how tight almost all of the NDP seats ended up being. The NDP did not win any seat with a margin over 10%; in fact their biggest victory was a 5.8% margin in Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River and a 5.6% margin in Sydney-Whitney Pier (a 573 vote majority). About 2,100 less votes for the NDP would have wiped them out and 2,100 votes extra would allow them to have 15 seats.

In any case, Stephen McNeil’s Liberals won a large majority government, basically as impressive as Dexter’s NDP majority government in 2009. Unlike Dexter, McNeil was not able to thoroughly sweep rural areas – but he won his majority government by nearly sweeping the HRM (Halifax metro) and performing fairly well in rural parts of the province outside the old Grit stronghold in the Annapolis Valley and the Acadian counties.

I explained some of the reasons for the NDP’s unpopularity above. A large part of the explanation can be summarized as being that the NDP failed to live up to the unreasonably high expectations that voters had placed in them in 2009, failed to create the “new politics” which everybody promises but which no politician actually delivers (of course) and forgot about its core electorate in going out of its way to appear as a centrist, fiscally responsible governing party. When you had these explanations to Nova Scotia’s contemporary political culture: low polarization, a very fickle electorate and three parties which run around in a circle ideologically; and the NDP’s defeat makes sense.

The NDP had a decent run in office, but it failed to cater to its base and its attempts to break old stereotypes of the NDP as ‘anti-business’, socialist or ‘pro-union’ did not help it maintain its exceptional 2009 levels of support. The NDP, likely out of cabinet inexperience, mishandled a number of important events or issues (HST hike, expenses scandal, energy, Yarmouth Ferry, the case surrounding the tragic suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, corporate welfare etc) and that hurt their credibility and support in voters’ eyes.

In contrast, the NS Liberals were reinvigorated after a tough stretch in the wilderness since 1999. At least part of that likely comes as a ‘trickle down effect’ of federal political trends (the NS Liberals are still officially tied to the federal Libs) – a look at the polls over the NDP’s government shows you, for example, that the Liberals fell back into third place in polling for a while after the federal Liberals were decimated in May 2011. Now, the new Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, is still rather popular across the country and the federal Liberals have posted massive leads over the NDP and Stephen Harper’s unpopular Conservative government in the Atlantic region since Trudeau won the Liberal leadership contest earlier this year. After all, Stephen McNeil tried to harness some of Trudeau’s support – Trudeau campaigned for McNeil at least once. Similarly, the PCs, held down by the unpopular MacDonald and Hamm governments, were likely further hurt by the unpopularity of Harper’s Tories in the region at the moment.

Electoral geography

The most surprising aspect of the result was the large swing against the NDP government in the HRM. Heavy swings were expected (and did materialize) in rural Nova Scotia, but most had expected that the NDP would manage to resist fairly well in the HRM, which is a traditionally Dipper region both provincially and federally. However, the heaviest swing against the NDP came in the HRM, the NDP’s vote share fell by about 23 points to 31%, a distant second behind the Liberals (49%). The NDP won only 2 seats against 18 for the Liberals in this seat-rich region of Nova Scotia. One of the seats which the NDP lost was Premier Dexter’s own seat, Cole Harbour-Portland Valley.

The NDP only managed to narrowly save two of its seats in the HRM: Halifax Needham (with a 3.5% majority) and Sackville-Cobequid (with a 1.1% majority). Halifax Needham covers the city’s North End, a traditionally deprived working-class neighborhood which is also popular with students and other urban progressives. Maureen MacDonald, the NDP MLA since 1998 and outgoing finance minister, won reelection. Sackville-Cobequid is centered around the working-class suburb of Lower Sackville, an area which has been represented by the provincial NDP since 1993. That was it, however, for the NDP.

The party was shut out of Dartmouth, even ridings like low-income Dartmouth North (lost by 14 – likely hurt by the stench of the former NDP MLA, forced to resign for the expense scandal) or blue-collar Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage (lost by 2). In Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, Premier Dexter likely lost because redistribution tacked on the Liberal/PC-leaning affluent neighborhood of Portland Valley to complement traditionally NDP blue-collar suburban neighborhoods such as Woodlawn and Forest Hills. The Liberals picked up Dartmouth South, a more middle-class seat which includes downtown Dartmouth, by 13 points. Liberal MLA Andrew Younger, a popular councillor who had gained Darthmouth East from the NDP in 2009, was reelected with 64% of the vote.

In Timberlea-Prospect, a suburban/exurban seat west of Halifax, the NDP was hurt by the retirement of their wildly popular MLA Bill Estabrooks (70% of the vote in 2009) and the Liberals won the seat with 51.9% to the NDP’s 26%. The Liberals picked up other NDP ridings in the HRM including Halifax Atlantic, Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, Halifax Armdale and Halifax Chebucto. Halifax Chebucto has been held by the NDP since 1981 for all but one term, including by former NDP leader Alexa McDonough, although it is probably more middle-class (= more Liberal) and has different boundaries than in the 80s. The Liberals held the rather affluent middle-class suburban ridings of Bedford and Clayton Park West by huge margins, and picked up other exurban/suburban ridings (Sackville-Beaver Bank, Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, Hammond Plains-Lucasville, Fairview-Clayton Park) from the NDP.

In rural Nova Scotia, candidate personality/quality still plays a large role. For example, Colchester North MLA Karen Casey, elected as a Tory in 2009, was reelected as a Liberal with 61% to the PCs’ 26.4%. Yarmouth Liberal MLA Zach Churchill, who had picked up the seat from the PCs in a 2010 by-election, was reelected with 82% of the vote (the NDP won only 2.6% in the riding hit hard by the cancellation of the ferry). In Glace Bay, the depressed post-industrial (mining) riding on Cape Breton, Liberal MLA Geoff MacLellan was reelected with 80.4%. The Liberals’ hold on the Annapolis Valley is also due in part to personality, popular incumbents Stephen McNeil and Leo Glavine both won reelection with about 75% of the vote. On the other hand, in the redistributed (partly) Acadian riding of Clary-Digby, the Liberal majority was sharply reduced by the retirement of both of the new seat’s incumbents and the presence of a Francophone PC candidate: the Liberals won 54.7% to the PCs 31.1%. Acadians lean heavily Liberal, but they can easily vote for an Acadian Tory – Acadian Tory MLA Chris d’Entremont was reelected in Argyle-Barrington with 54.6%.

A very disappointing results for the PCs was their failure to retake Cumberland North, a Tory stronghold which fell to the Dippers in 2009 on the back of a split in the Tory vote; the NDP lost the seat but the Liberals won with a majority of nearly 10% on the Tories. In Cumberland South, PC leader Jamie Baillie was reelected with 51%. On the other hand, the PCs retook all three of Pictou County’s ridings from the NDP, the Liberals are very weak (for some reason) in Pictou County and were not a factor; probably the only part of the province where the Liberals weren’t even in contention.

On Cape Breton Island, the PCs lost one seat – Victoria-The Lakes – to the Liberals; their candidate, Pam Eyking, was the wife of federal Liberal MP Mark Eyking. Another federal Liberal MP’s wife, Kelly Regan, was reelected in Bedford (her husband is Halifax West MP Geoff Regan, himself the son of former Liberal Premier Gerald Regan). The NDP held its two industrial Cape Breton ridings with significantly reduced majorities.

Conclusion

In good part, it seems that the government lost reelection more than the opposition won the election, although McNeil was a strong candidate in his own right and the Liberals ran a strong campaign. Regardless of the NDP’s successes in governing the province, their mistakes and gaffes hurt them badly and created a certain malaise within the electorate. Their defeat leaves them in a weak position, a third party in the legislature for the first time in over a decade, and leaderless for the time being. The Tories did not prove much stronger, despite placing second.

The Liberals now face the tough time of governing. Just like the Liberals successfully attacked the NDP on energy and electricity rates, the Liberal government will likely be defined by its handling of one of its cornerstone proposals – breaking Nova Scotia Power’s private monopoly and the effect thereof on utility prices (an issue which contributed to the defeat of a few NS Premiers in the past…). However, the Liberals likely come in with much lower (realistic) expectations than the NDP came in with in 2009.

Germany 2013

Federal elections were held in Germany on September 22, 2013. All members of the Bundestag were up for reelection. Federal legislative power in Germany is shared between two legislative assemblies – of which the Bundestag is the most important and the only one which is directly elected – but it is not considered a bicameral parliament. A de facto upper house, the Bundesrat, serves as a legislative body representing Germany’s 16 Länder (federal states) which must approve any law affecting policy areas in which the Länder have concurrent powers as per the Basic Law. Their suspensive veto on other pieces of legislation can be overriden by the Bundestag.

Be warned: this post is extremely long, but divided by section headers – so that you can read what you want.

Germany’s electoral system

The Bundestag is made up of at least 598 members, elected for a four-year term by mixed-member proportional representation (MMP). 299 members are elected in single-member constituencies (wahlkreise), while the remaining seats (variable number) are list mandates elected by proportional representation (Saint-Laguë). The number of wahlkreise varies from state to state based on the state’s voting-age (18+) population, with the city-state of Bremen having two wahlkreise and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) having a hefty 64 districts.

German voters have two votes. The first vote (erststimme) is for an individual candidate in their single-member district; the winning candidate in each district is the candidate receiving the most votes (FPTP). Every single candidate who wins a district mandate is entitled to a seat – this may seem obvious for those used to FPTP systems, but the workings of MMP in Germany makes that point fairly important and relevant.

The second vote (zweitstimme) is for a state-wide closed party list. Only parties receiving over 5% of the vote nationwide (although there are no national lists) or who have won at least three district mandates qualify for list mandates. For example, in 1994, the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) won 4.4% of the vote, but because it won three districts, it managed to elect a 30-member caucus. All regular seats are distributed proportionally at the state level. However, if a party has won more seats (through district mandates) than it is entitled to (i.e. party x wins 8 district seats, but its second votes only entitle it to 6 seats), it is entitled to keep those seats – this creates an ‘overhang’. Overhang seats expand the size of the Bundestag, in the last election (2009), there were 24 overhang seats, expanding the legislature’s size to 622 members.

Until this election, disproportionality in the results due to overhang seats was not compensated. In 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the electoral system was unconstitutional because the overhang seats could, in theory, create a ‘negative vote weight’ (losing seats due to more votes, such as in 2009) and gave legislators three years to fix the issue.  A new electoral reform was approved earlier this year, which will compensate overhang seats by distributing additional leveling seats so that each party gets at least its minimum seat number when proportionally distributing the federal vote. This can, of course, expand the size of the Bundestag – potentially up to 700 or 800 seats. As a result of this election, there will now be 630 members of the Bundestag.

The seat distribution process is notoriously complicated and I can’t pretend to understand much of it. This link, in German, should explain the full details for those particularly interested by the electoral system and the changes carried out since the last election.

Germany’s party system and the party platforms

Post-war Germany’s political and partisan system has been marked by remarkable stability, which is of course a sharp contrast with the fragmented and unstable party-political landscape of the Weimar Republic but also with a good number of other Western European countries which experienced significant institutional, political and/or partisan changes since 1945 (most notably Italy, France, Belgium or the Netherlands). Between 1961 and 1983, West Germany had a two-and-a-half party system, with two large parties – the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) – with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), as a smaller third party, playing kingmaker and forming a governing coalition with either the CDU/CSU (1961-1966) or the SPD (1969-1982). The emergence of the Greens in the 1983 federal election, followed by the gradual growth of the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS)/The Left (Die Linke) following German reunification in 1990 have altered this system. That being said, since 1990 (or later, arguably), the party system has stabilized again around the two major parties, now joined by three smaller parties – with two of them (the FDP and the Greens) being potential coalition partners. The progressive trend, however, has been the weakening of the two main parties – in the 2009 federal election, the CDU/CSU won its worst result since the first election (1949, an early ‘transitional election’ towards the post-1961 2.5 party system) and the SPD won its worst result in the entire post-war era. In contrast, all three ‘third parties’ won their best results ever.

The Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU) form the Union (or CDU/CSU). The CDU was founded in 1945, with the intention of acting as a pan-confessional big-tent centre-right party – a goal which it has achieved. In large part, the CDU was built on the ruins of the powerful pre-war Zentrum (or Centre Party), a centrist/centre-right party which had represented German Catholics during the the Kaiserreich and the Weimar Republic. The CDU’s founder and first leader, Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor of Germany between 1949 and 1963), was a prominent Centre Party politician during the Weimar Republic. Although Adenauer, a Rhineland Catholic, was hostile towards Protestant ‘Prussianism’, he was eager to create a broad anti-communist right-wing party which would break through confessional boundaries and integrate those Protestant conservatives who had fallen prey to National Socialism in the 1930s to the new democratic system. In this sense, while the CDU could be construed as the Zentrum‘s successor party, its base has been far less exclusively Catholic than the Centre Party. In addition to Centre Party politicians, the nascent CDU also integrated politicians from predominantly Protestant liberal (DDP, DVP) and conservative (DNVP) parties from the Weimar era. More controversially, a number of Nazi Party members or collaborators (including Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, 1966-1969; Hans Globke etc) joined the CDU after the war.

Results of German federal elections, 1949-2009 (source: Wikipedia)

The CDU governed West Germany continuously between the first post-war election (1949) and 1969, with Konrad Adenauer serving as Germany’s first post-war Chancellor for nearly fifteen years between 1949 and 1963. Under this period, the CDU established itself as the sole conservative party, eventually killing off (by 1961, at the latest) other small right-wing parties (either regional or national in scope) such as the German Party (DP, based in Lower Saxony), a party for Heimatvertriebene (post-war German refugees/expellees from eastern Europe) or the remnants of the old Zentrum. Under Adenauer and his successors, the CDU strongly defended European/Western integration (alliance with the United States, NATO membership in 1955, German rearmament) and opposed reunification if it meant German neutrality or giving in to Moscow’s conditions. Domestically, this was also an era of rapid economic growth (Wirtschaftswunder). The CDU, under Adenauer and his finance minister/eventual successor Ludwig Erhard, promoted the ‘social market economy’ – capitalism with social policies (collective bargaining, social insurance, pensions etc). The CDU lost power to a SPD-FDP coalition led by SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt following the 1969 election, and only returned to power in 1982, when the FDP withdrew from its coalition with the SPD and allied with the CDU, allowing CDU leader Helmut Kohl to become Chancellor, an office he held until 1998. The most marking moment of Kohl’s sixteen years in power was German reunification in 1990.

The CDU was defeated in the 1998 federal elections and remained in opposition to a SPD-Green (rot-grüne) government until 2005. Following Kohl’s defeat in 1998, he was succeeded by Wolfgang Schäuble, viewed as Kohl’s preferred successor. However, a major party financing scandal in 2000, which implicated Kohl and other prominent CDU leaders, forced Schäuble to resign in February 2000. He was replaced, in April 2000, by Angela Merkel, an East German (Protestant, furthermore, in a largely Catholic party) who was originally seen as Kohl’s protege. Merkel had turned against her former mentor during the party financing scandal.

Angela Merkel was the CDU/CSU’s Chancellor-candidate in the 2005 federal election, facing off against incumbent SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The CDU, fresh from a landmark victory in a state election in NRW, a SPD stronghold, was due to defeat Schröder’s worn-out and unpopular government by a large margin. However, a poorly run campaign and a fairly unpopular economic agenda (calls for deregulation, increasing the VAT, floating the idea of a flat tax) significantly eroded the Union’s lead in poll and the CDU/CSU won by a hair: a 1% edge over the SPD in the second votes, and a four-seat plurality (226 vs 222). Angela Merkel became Chancellor, but at the helm of a ‘Grand Coalition’ with the SPD, the second such coalition since Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s cabinet (1966-1969).

Domestically, the Grand Coalition’s record was fairly moderate – in contrast with Merkel’s quasi-Thatcherian platform during the election. The VAT was increased to fund infrastructure development, the income tax was largely left untouched (no flat tax, no hikes for higher income groups, a court-enforced tax cut for lower earners), Keynesian-style deficit spending during the early economic crisis (2008-2009), introducing legal minimum wages in some industries (Germany has no universal minimum wage, some industries have legal minimum wages, the courts often set de-facto minimum wages and some are set through collective bargaining) and healthcare reforms going in the SPD’s direction (raising income threshold to opt-out of the mandatory public system, abolishing the privileges of most private insurers etc) rather than the CDU/CSU’s (who had campaigned on a platform of uniform insurance payments).

Although the CDU/CSU lost support in 2009 (33.8%), Merkel was able to form a new coalition, this time with the CDU/CSU’s preferred coalition partner, the free-market liberal FDP, a ‘black-yellow’ coalition (schwarz-gelb).

Abroad, Merkel, with the Eurozone debt crisis, has gained an image as a tough and inflexible advocate of austerity policies, debt/deficit reduction in Europe’s most heavily indebted countries (Greece, Italy, Spain etc), enforcing strict fiscal rules in the EU (the European Fiscal Compact) and steadfast opposition to the idea of ‘Eurobonds’. Germany has been at the forefront, furthermore, of negotiations related to bailout packages for Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. As a result, Merkel has become perhaps the most important European head of government – though also one of the most divisive/polarizing. In countries such as Greece and Italy, Merkel and Germany have become associated with harsh and unpopular externally-imposed austerity policies. In Germany, however, her Euro crisis policy is generally quite popular. There is significant domestic hostility to the idea of German taxpayers ‘bailing out’ countries such as Greece or Italy, but by and large, voters side with her government’s “tough line” (austerity) over other (‘pro-growth’ or Keynesian) approaches, traditionally advocated by southern European countries or France.

A large part of Merkel’s personal popularity stems from the solid health of the German economy, which is escaping Europe’s economic doldrums fairly well. Unemployment dropped almost without interruption between 2010 and 2012, from 8% to around 5.5%; rich southern states (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg) basically have ‘full employment’. In 2012, for the first time in five years, the federal government posted a small budget surplus (0.2% of GDP). Germany has escaped recession since 2009, although growth fell from around 4% in 2010 to only 0.9% in 2012 – but growth projections remain fairly healthy. Some analysts worry that Germany’s current economic climate is not sustainable in the long term and warn that certain reforms must be undertaken if Germany’s economic health is to remain so strong in the next years. For example, Germany has a very low birthrate and skills shortage is a particularly big issue. The OECD has said that Germany will need to recruit 5.4 million qualified immigrants between now and 2025, and in August the government published a list of skilled job positions to recruit non-EU foreign labour. With the economic crisis, Germany has already welcomed thousands of southern European immigrants, particularly younger and educated citizens, fleeing huge levels of youth unemployment in Spain, Italy, Greece and so forth.

In contrast with its European neighbours, still facing uncertain growth prospects and struggling with high unemployment/debt/deficit, Germans are particularly optimistic and upbeat about their country’s economic future. A majority of respondents in polls feel that Germany’s economy is on the ‘right track’ and large percentages are satisfied about their personal economic condition.

Germany’s strong economic conditions are a result of structural factors (strong export market in Asia for German cars, machinery and equipment; specific demographic factors; Germany’s geographic location etc) and, Merkel’s critics point out, economic reforms undertaken by the red-green cabinet before 2005 (labour market reforms with Agenda 2010, cuts in welfare/unemployment benefits with Hartz IV). Regardless, in the eyes of most voters, Merkel (and, by extension, her party) have come to stand for economic stability and growth in chaotic and uncertain times; a steady and reliable hand at the helm.

Voters, however, are increasingly concerned about social justice. Low unemployment hides the fact that many Germans – up to a quarter of the labour force – hold low-paid, insecure and part-time jobs, called ‘mini-jobs’ or McJobs. The lack of a universal minimum wage in Germany adds to this situation.

CDU campaign poster: ‘Chancellor for Germany’ (source: Le Monde.fr)

The CDU/CSU’s campaign this year was very much of a ‘presidential’ campaign, heavily reliant on the image of their popular leader, Angela Merkel, who, with approvals above 70%, is much more popular than her party (as shown, for example, by the CDU’s mediocre results in some state elections recently). The CDU’s main campaign poster featured Merkel, often with the tagline ‘Kanzlerin für Deutschland‘ (Chancellor for Germany); small placards waved around at rallies simply read ‘Angie’ and the CDU popularized Merkel’s signature hand gesture, the Merkel-Raute or diamond-shaped hand gesture. Merkel, furthermore, has become known in Germany as mutti or mother. Critics contend that the CDU ran an empty campaign of platitudes and focused entirely on the personality of their leader, which might be true, but that’s also a proven way of winning elections.

While Merkel is seen as a tough and unflappable leader outside Germany for role in the Eurozone crisis, in Germany she has a reputation for legendary fence-sitting and pragmatism. Merkel has often been perceived as lacking any ideological direction of her own, instead she has run things on the basis of shifting her policies and adapting herself to what was popular. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, which reopened Germany’s very contentious nuclear energy debate, Merkel made a monumental U-turn and announced that Germany would shut down all nuclear reactors by 2022. Just a year before, her government had overturned a red-green decision to shut all reactors down by 2022. Strongly anti-nuclear public opinion, which threatened the CDU’s standings in crucial state elections in 2011, strongly pushed Merkel to do a 180 on the issue. Since then, Merkel and the CDU have promoted renewable energy, which is off to a tough start. A government renewable energy surcharge, which will increase electricity bills by about 20%, is unpopular (see this article in Der Spiegel for more on Germany’s energy transformation).

Many analysts noted how the CDU/CSU’s platform effectively blurred major policy differences between the Union parties and their main rival, the SPD. The parties do differ on the issues, but the differences are fairly minimal. The CDU rejects a universal minimum wage, saying it would hinder Germany’s economic competitiveness. Instead, they want negotiable minimum wages, set by unions and employers. The CDU and SPD agree on issues such as the retirement age (67), introducing a gender quota to increase women’s presence in management positions (just disagreeing on the quota itself), freezing rent, equalizing the pay of temporary employees with that of permanent employees, developing renewable energy, expanding internet access, more daycare places, supporting families with children (slight disagreement over policies, tax credits and so forth), a European financial transactions tax and EU banking supervision by the ECB.

One of the main differences between the CDU and the SPD is that the CDU’s platform explicitly rejected any tax increases, unlike the SPD and the Greens which proposed increasing the tax rate for the top income bracket. The CDU claimed that the red-greens’ tax hike would be a burden on families and businesses. On fiscal policy, the CDU takes a more conservative tone. It wishes to start paying off Germany’s debt (81% of GDP) and not create any more debt after 2015. On European fiscal policy, the CDU’s platform reiterated the black-yellow coalition’s agenda over the past years – no Eurobonds (the CDU says each state should be liable for its own debt), strict application of the EU Fiscal Compact with penalties for transgressors and help conditional to adoption of structural reforms. Merkel criticized Schröder’s government for allowing Greece to join the Eurozone. The CDU continues to strongly support European integration, which has remained a key element of the party’s policy since 1949. However, the CDU opposes EU membership for Turkey.

In Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, CSU) is the local version of the CDU. The CSU is a separate party from the CDU, but they have always formed a single fraction in the Bundestag (the ‘Union’) and they do not run candidates against one another. The CSU’s origins are often traced back to the Bavarian People’s Party (BVP), a regionalist conservative party during the Weimar Republic which dominated Bavarian politics (though it never did match the level of total hegemony later set by the CSU) and was something of a Bavarian Zentrum (during the Kaiserreich, there was also a separate Catholic/Centre party in Bavaria). However, the BVP was in numerous aspects different from the CSU: it was significantly more conservative than the CSU, oftentimes bordering on reactionary. Between 1920 and 1921, under Minister-President Gustav von Kahr (although he was not a member of the BVP), Bavaria became something of a conservative/far-right ‘rogue state’ within the tumultuous nascent republic; in 1923, von Kahr was involved in the preparations of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, although his designs were different than the NSDAP’s. Additionally, relations between the BVP and the Zentrum were more uncertain than CDU-CSU relations – the BVP, far more to the right than the Centre, rarely sat in governments with the Centre and in the 1925 presidential election the BVP endorsed right-winger Paul von Hindenburg in the second ballot over Wilhelm Marx, the Centre Party candidate backed by the democratic parties of the ‘Weimar Coalition’. Finally, the CSU which was born in 1945, came to represent a far larger segment of the Bavarian electorate than the exclusively Catholic and fairly bourgeois BVP – the CSU was joined by Protestants, former supporters of the pan-German right (DNVP) and a Bavarian farmers’ party (BBB).

The CSU represents a certain Bavarian conservative particularism/regionalism, which has been clearly visible in German politics ever since German unification – the state has always been, by far, the one state where regionalist (at times even separatist) feelings ran the highest. The conservative and predominantly Catholic state of Bavaria has long resented Prussian/Protestant domination, and almost always fought for federalism and devolution for Bavaria.

Relations between the CDU and CSU have almost always been good, with the exception of a brief period of discord in 1976 and the early 1980s between CSU leader Franz Josef Strauß and CDU leader Helmut Kohl. Two CSU leaders have been the Union’s ‘Chancellor-candidates’ – Strauss in 1980, and Edmund Stoiber in 2002. Both lost, partially as a result of their difficulty breaking through – as Bavarian Catholics – with Protestant voters in Northern Germany.

The CSU has achieved an extraordinary level of political domination in Bavaria. The party has governed the state since 1946, except for 1954-1957, and it won an absolute majority in the Bavarian Landtag between 1962 and 2008. In its first years, the CSU successfully crushed the Bayernpartei (BP), a conservative and originally separatist party which was represented in the Landtag between 1950 and 1966 and had won 20% of the vote in Bavaria in the 1949 federal election. Unlike the BVP, the CSU was successfully able to break through confessional boundaries and develop a more significant appeal to Protestant voters in Franconia.

The CSU is generally seen as being more conservative than the CDU, particularly on moral (social) issues such as same-sex marriage. On economic issues, however, the CSU retains a bit of its interventionist and Keynesian leanings from early days. The CSU is pro-EU, but it is slightly more skeptical of European integration than the CDU is.

The Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) is the only major party in modern-day Germany which survived the two world wars and the different regimes which have ruled Germany since unification. The SPD was founded in 1875 (and adopted its current name in 1890) by the merger of two socialist parties, both founded in the 1860s. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Laws in the late nineteenth century (1878-1890) proved unable to check the rise of the SPD, which, by World War I, had become one of the strongest and largest socialist parties in Europe. In 1912 – the last elections under the Kaiserreich – the SPD won 35% of the vote and, despite an unfavourable electoral system, emerged as the largest single party with 110 seats.

Until 1959, the SPD constantly juggled with its ideological direction (revolutionary Marxism vs reformist/revisionist social democracy) and the difficulty of reconciling fairly ‘tough’ Marxist rhetoric with a very moderate, pragmatic and reformist realpolitik – especially after 1918. The SPD, one of Europe’s most important social democratic parties throughout its history, has been on the forefront of the gradual evolution of the European left from revolutionary Marxism to reformist social democracy. The father of Marxist ‘revisionism’ and evolutionary socialism was Eduard Bernstein, was an early and prominent member of the SPD (who, ironically, quit the party to join a more leftist splinter, the USPD).

Despite continuing to play with Marxist rhetoric and identifying as a working-class party, in practice the SPD moderated rapidly, becoming a pragmatic and reformist (rather than doctrinaire revolutionary) party. In 1914, the SPD voted in favour of war credits and the SPD’s leadership and a majority of its caucus supported the German war effort in World War I until the last years of the war; although enthusiasm dissipated quickly and internal dissent increased significantly. In July 1917, for example, the SPD voted in favour of a Reichstag Peace Resolution, alongside the Zentrum and the left-liberals. The SPD’s moderate and fairly pro-war course under the moderate leadership of Friedrich Ebert finally led to a split in party ranks in 1917, with anti-war pacifists and the party’s Marxist left-wing (Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxembourg of the Spartakusbund, which became the Communist Party – KPD – in 1918) founding the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD).

Following the armistice, the November Revolution and and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication in November 1918, (majority-)SPD leader Friedrich Ebert became Chancellor, forming a leftist provisional government composed of the SPD and USPD. This government enacted several major social, economic and labour reforms. However, the two parties quickly split paths over the tumultuous revolutionary situation in Germany. The SPD turned against the revolution, fearing radicalization and the collapse of the state, and made its peace with the strongly anti-revolutionary military High Command. In January 1919, Ebert and SPD defense minister Gustav Noske turned to the right-wing/anti-communist paramilitary Freikorps to put down the Spartacist Uprising; a decision which continues to spark controversy to this day and was a major factor in the irreconcilability of the SPD and KPD.

After the elections to the National Assembly in January 1919, the SPD allied with the Zentrum and left-liberal German Democratic Party (DDP), forming the Weimar Coalition – a coalition of democratic parties (as opposed to the anti-regime USPD or right-wing DNVP) favouring a pragmatic and moderate political course. The SPD thus became an integral part of most Weimar Republic governments – Ebert served as Reich President from 1919 till 1925, and the SPD participated in several cabinets until 1930. However, its association with the Weimar Republic weakened the party, which never came close to regaining its 1919 heights in popular support (37.9%). On the right, the SPD was seen as the main culprit in the popular ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth/the “November criminals”, while the KPD saw the SPD as ‘social-fascists’ or ‘social-traitors’ for their 1918-1919 actions.

With the onset of the Great Depression, the rise of the Nazis on the right and the KPD on the left and the collapse of German parliamentary democracy after 1930, the SPD’s popular support declined significantly (from 29.8% in 1928 to 20.4% in Nov. 1932) and it was absent from the three ‘presidential cabinets’ which ruled between 1930 and January 1933 (although it was forced to tolerate Brüning’s cabinet and the SPD voted for President Hindenburg over Adolf Hitler in the 1932 presidential runoff ballot). The left’s ability to resist the Nazi threat was significantly hindered by the deep-seated mutual hostility between the SPD and KPD, which were unable to form an anti-Nazi bloc (though even if they did, an alliance between the democratic and reformist SPD and the Stalinist KPD would hardly have been coherent).

The SPD was the only party whose members were able to vote against Hitler’s Enabling Act in 1933, and it was subsequently banned by the Nazi regime and its members persecuted by the Nazis.

After the war, the West German SPD was led by Kurt Schumacher, a concentration camp inmate. In the Soviet occupation zone, the SPD was forcibly merged with the KPD to form the SED, East Germany’s ruling party. During the early years of the Federal Republic, the SPD pursued a fairly leftist agenda, for example supporting the nationalization of all industries. It was critical of Adenauer on European/NATO integration and German rearmament; the SPD was much more interested than the CDU in reunification, and it saw German neutrality outside NATO and the nascent European superstructures as the best way to reunify the country. In sharp contrast, Adenauer’s policies firmly aligned West Germany with the Western bloc and western Europe, while being considerably less concerned by the increasingly unrealistic idea of reunification. Although the SPD was strongly anti-communist, in the eyes of many voters, the SPD’s leftist and neutralist policies were somewhat indifferenciable from East German state socialism.

Germany’s post-war economic boom, the SPD’s narrow appeal as a left-wing arbeiterpartei (workers’ party – a class party), the strong appeal of anti-communism (and general hostility to anything too leftist which such an ideology traditionally entails) and the loss of historical SPD strongholds (notably Saxony, Thuringia or Berlin) to the Soviet zone meant that the SPD was no match to the CDU/CSU in the early years of the Federal Republic. It won 29% in 1949 and 1953, and 32% in 1957. In the 1957 election, the CDU won an absolute majority on its own.

1959 was a watershed year for German social democracy and even for social democracy as a whole. The SPD, feeling the need to reinvent itself after three electoral loses in a row, adopted the Bad Godesberg Program. In this platform, the SPD abandoned all references to Marxism and declared itself a volkspartei (people’s party) instead of the arbeiterpartei it had been since its creation. Ideologically, Bad Godesberg marked the SPD’s official acceptance of the free market economy, although calling for Keynesian economic policies and state intervention in the economy. Once again, the SPD was at the forefront of the social democratic movement in dropping all references to Marxism and officially making its peace with capitalism – other European social democratic parties, although significantly moderated and non-revolutionary in practice by that point, would have ‘their’ Bad Godesberg ‘moment’ only years later.

In the 1961 and 1965 elections, the SPD made significant gains – reaching 32% and 39% of the vote respectively. In 1966, the SPD entered government (for the first time since 1928), as junior partner in a Grand Coalition with CDU Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger. The SPD’s participation in government led to more Keynesian economic policies. In the 1969 election, the SPD won 43% of the vote, and it formed a red-yellow (social liberal) coalition with the FDP. Willy Brandt, the leader of the SPD since 1964, became Chancellor. Following the Guillaume affair (a GDR spy in his cabinet), Brandt resigned and was succeeded by Helmut Schmidt, who remained Chancellor until the FDP broke off the social liberal coalition in 1982.

Brandt’s chancellorship was, at home, marked by an expansion of the German welfare state, several major societal reforms (legalization of homosexuality). Economic policies during the SPD-FDP governments where, however, very moderate (to the disappointment of many on the left). Brandt’s foreign policy – the Ostpolitik - has become one of the more famous aspects of his time in office. The Ostpolitik was period of detente and normalization of relations with East Germany and the Soviet Union, with the two Germanies mutually recognizing one another, de facto. In the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties, the West German government recognized Germany’s post-war eastern border with Poland at the Oder-Neisse Line. The Ostpolitik was extremely controversial and matters such as the Basic Treaty with the GDR or the recognition of the Oder-Neisse Line raised much opposition from the CDU/CSU as well as post-war German refugees from Eastern Europe. In 1972, for example, Brandt was nearly removed from office by a confidence vote which would have given the chancellorship to the CDU, but narrowly survived by two votes – it later turned out that the Stasi had bribed two CDU members to save Brandt.

Schmidt’s government, less famous although longer than Brandt’s, was in a more difficult context: economic turmoil (oil crises), domestic terrorism with the Red Army Faction and tensions (both at home at abroad) related to the NATO Double-Track decision. The SPD, which won a record-high 46% of the vote in 1972, saw its support ebb in the next two elections. The social liberal coalition won reelection in 1976 and 1980, but in 1982, with the FDP moving from social liberalism to neoliberalism, it broke up the coalition and formed a black-yellow coalition with the CDU’s Helmut Kohl. The SPD considered the FDP’s decision a betrayal and an act of grubby political opportunism.

Internal divisions and other troubles, and later the short-lived windfalls of German reunification in 1990 meant that the SPD went through a long period of poor results and opposition (federally) throughout the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s. The emergence of the Greens reduced the SPD’s support throughout this period, but the SPD found a new governing partner in the Greens – the first red-green coalition at a state level was formed in Hesse in 1985. The SPD found more success at the state level: Johannes Rau, later President of Germany, served as Minister-President of NRW between 1978 and 1998 (often with an absolute majority), Hesse (governed continuously by the SPD between 1946 and 1987) or Oskar Lafontaine, Minister-President of Saarland between 1985 and 1998.

The SPD was able to regain power in the 1998 election, with Helmut Kohl’s long-time CDU/CSU government being worn down by a poor economy and the shine of reunification seriously starting to wear off. The SPD, with the popular Minister-President of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schröder, as its chancellor candidate, won 41% of the vote against 35% for the Union parties. Like in his home state of Lower Saxony (which he had governed since 1990), Schröder formed a red-green federal coalition with the Greens. In the 2002 elections, the SPD-Green coalition was reelected by a tiny margin.

Although Schröder’s government introduced a number of more left-wing progressive policies (phasing out nuclear power, green taxation, funding for renewable energies, civil unions, naturalization law liberalization, increased child and housing allowances, improved parental leave scheme and restoring full wage replacement for sick pay), his government – both at home and abroad – remains closely associated with economically liberal policies such as Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV. In 2000, the government passed a major tax reform which significantly lowered both income taxes across the board (the lowest tax rate was cut from 26% to 15%, and the top tax rate from 53% to 42%), reduce corporate taxation and increased the basic allowance.

To counter high unemployment and stagnant economic growth, Schröder’s second cabinet introduced Agenda 2010, a series of policies intended to reform the labour market and social security, in the form of substantial cuts to unemployment benefits.

Although Agenda 2010 included a number of reforms in education, healthcare, vocational training, pensions and economy (notably reducing wage costs and employment protection), it has been closely associated with labour market reform. Labour market reform came in the form of the Hartz reforms (Hartz I-IV) between 2003 and 2004, formulated on the basis of recommendations from a 2002 commission – the Hartz commission.

Hartz IV (the last but most significant and controversial of the reforms) merged long-term unemployment benefits and social assistance into Arbeitslosengeld II, effectively leaving those dependent on such payments worse off (as of 2013, the standard rate for an individual is €382 plus the cost of ‘adequate housing’ and health insurance). Following the reforms, full employment benefits (Arbeitslosengeld I) were paid out for 12 months instead of 32 months previously. Following that period, it is replaced by the much lower Arbeitslosengeld II (widely known as Hartz IV) benefits. Hartz IV also introduced sanctions (benefits cuts) for those who did not accept job offers below their skill levels.

Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV’s wide-reaching reforms of the German labour market and welfare state were in line with liberal economic reforms similar to those promoted by right-wing leaders such as Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. Unsurprisingly, Agenda 2010 created significant unrest within the SPD, to the point that Schröder threatened to resign if his party did not back his reforms. Already in 1999, Schröder’s finance minister and SPD rival, former Saarland Minister-President Oskar Lafontaine, resigned from government and the Bundestag, citing disagreements with Schröder’s economic policies. The Hartz reforms were met by large protests, opposition from unions (traditionally close to the SPD) and even led to a 2005 split in SPD ranks, with leftist dissidents participating in the creation of WASG (Labour and Social Justice Electoral Alternative).

The SPD’s electorate responded unfavourably to Schröder’s reforms, and the SPD suffered an historic drubbing in the 2004 European elections (only 21.7% of the vote) and, in 2005, the SPD lost the state elections in the old Social Democratic stronghold of NRW to the CDU-FDP. The SPD’s defeat in NRW led Schröder to call snap elections. However, because of Angela Merkel’s poor campaign and Schröder’s political acumen, the SPD only barely lost the 2005 federal elections.

After talks for other coalition options failed, the SPD formed a Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, with SPD secretary-general Franz Müntefering becoming labour minister and vice-chancellor (until 2007). The SPD’s troubles did not stop with its defeat in the 2005 elections. It did very poorly in the 2009 European elections, and a few months later it won a record low 23% of the vote in the 2009 federal elections. The SPD was unable to campaign on its significant achievements in influencing policy and tempering the CDU/CSU’s more right-wing policies while in the Grand Coalition; it bled votes to all sides (non-voters, Greens and the Linke being the top beneficiaries) as a result of strong voter discontent with Agenda 2010/Hartz IV.

SPD campaign poster: ‘It’s the WE that counts’ (source: designtagebuch.de)

The SPD’s chancellor-candidate this year was Peer Steinbrück, a former Minister-President of NRW (2002-2005) and the Grand Coalition’s finance minister (2005-2009). Steinbrück was chosen by the SPD as their chancellor-candidate because of his rather moderate positions on economic/fiscal policy, as well as his ‘straight-talking’ style. However, Steinbrück quickly turned out to be a liability for the party, in good part because he seems to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease. He made a number of gaffes, perhaps blown out of proportions by an hostile media, but certainly not things which politicians should say: his most famous gaffes include comments on Merkel’s “women bonus”, lamenting the low salary of the German Chancellor, saying that Merkel’s attitude towards the EU/Eurocrisis was influenced by her GDR/Ossie upbringing and most famously, his “two clowns” comments following the February 2013 Italian elections.

The SPD was been torn between a desire to continue appealing to the centre as Schröder successfully did in 1998 and 2002 and an urge to move back towards the left following left-wing backlash to Agenda 2010/Hartz IV after 2004. The SPD’s platform this year was quite left-wing – emblematic of the SPD’s post-Schröder swing to the left, the party being pushed to left as Merkel successfuly adopts SPD planks and a general shift of all parties (except the FDP) to more leftist positions since 2009 and especially 2005 (see Der Spiegel).

The SPD emphasized social justice heavily in its platform. The party’s landmark proposal was creating a universal minimum wage, set at €8.50. It also proposed to increase taxes on those earning over €100,000 from 42% to 49%. Other economic and social proposals included a full pension at age 63 (instead of 67) for those who have contributed for 45 years or more, creating a minimum ‘solidarity pension’ of €850, replacing Germany’s two-tiered multi-payer healthcare system with single-payer universal healthcare, more places in daycare and schools, fighting tax evasion and allowing double citizenship (currently strictly limited).

The SPD, along with every other party (FDP included) clashes with the CDU/CSU on the issue of the Betreuungsgeld (child care benefit), a monthly payment of €150 to parents with children between 1 and 3 who do not place their children in a daycare (Kindertagesstätte or Kita). The measure is strongly supported by the Bavarian CSU, and by extension the CDU although some CDU members are more reticent. Critics argue that the Betreuungsgeld will encourage mothers to stay at home to take care of their young children, which would weigh heavily on the labour market and Germany’s workforce shortage. Some SPD leaders, such as NRW Minister-President Hannelore Kraft, would like to make Kita mandatory (mandatory schooling only begins at age 6 in Germany). SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel says that the money should be spent on daycare, where there are not enough spaces. Others also criticize the Betreuungsgeld for the traditionalist, conservative ‘stay-at-home mom’ image it promotes. Conservatives, however, feel that parents should be free to choose where to send their children to school and many on the right see mandatory public daycare as socialism.

On European policies, the SPD platform criticized austerity and Angela Merkel’s hardline approach in the Eurozone crisis. It supports Eurobonds and a more ‘pro-growth’ orientation (while still supporting ‘fiscal consolidation’). It supports stricter regulation of financial institutions and banks, a European ratings agency and coordination of fiscal and economic policies in the Eurozone. It wants to create a European monetary fund from the European Stability Mechanism.

The SPD has struggled to motivate and mobilize voters with its campaign. Merkel, as noted above, adopted a number of SPD proposals as her own; as one observer put it, the CDU’s platform was that of the SPD’s without the tax increases. The SPD failed to present itself as a solid alternative to a very popular Chancellor.

In contrast with the CDU’s very presidential and personalist campaign, the SPD campaign was the complete opposition: its chancellor-candidate was notoriously absent from most campaign lit, and the SPD’s slogan was Das WIR Entscheidet (It’s the WE that counts) – hardly an embrace of its candidate!

The Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) is a liberal party, founded in 1948, which has a long history of playing kingmaker in German politics.

The FDP was formed after the war in continuation of Germany’s (predominantly Protestant) liberal tradition. The party represented a novel attempt to reconcile the two historic traditions of German liberalism – left-liberalism (social liberalism) associated with Weimar’s German Democratic Party (DDP) and national-liberalism or right-liberalism, a more conservative liberal tradition with historic ties to Protestant industrialists and embodied by the Kaiserreich’s National Liberal Party or Weimar’s German People’s Party (DVP). Throughout its history, the FDP has oscillated between left-liberalism and right-liberalism; today, the FDP is firmly in the right-liberal camp.

The FDP won 12% of the vote in the 1949 federal elections. Its support has, with some exceptions at both extremes, ranged from a low of 6% to highs of 10%. Between 1961 and 1983, the FDP was the only party other than the Union and the SPD to be represented in the Bundestag. Given that neither of the two major parties won an absolute majority in that era, the FDP was the all-important kingmaker which made and broke governments. It governed with the CDU between 1949 and 1966, with the SPD between 1969 and 1982 and with the CDU between 1982 and 1998.

In its early years, the FDP acted as centre-right secular party for Protestant voters; contrasting itself to the CDU by its secularism, mild anti-clericalism and opposition to religious schools (it was also more economically liberal than the CDU).

In 1982, the FDP broke up its social liberal coalition with the SPD, citing policy differences and divisions within the SPD over the NATO Double-Track. The FDP had also begun shifting to the right, under the influence of Otto Graf Lambsdorff, the FDP economics minister who drafted a policy paper promoting neoliberal economic ideas. The decision was controversial inside and outside the party, with the FDP’s support falling from 10.6% to 7% in the 1983 election. From that point forward, the FDP became a pro-business right-liberal party. Social liberal coalitions became increasingly rare at the state level (the last one was in Rhineland-Palatinate, between 1994 and 2006) and the FDP’s preference was clearly for black-yellow (schwarz-gelb) coalitions. When the CDU and FDP hold a majority to themselves, a schwarz-gelb coalition is almost always a certainty (just like a rot-grüne coalition is a certainty when the SPD and Greens hold a majority).

The FDP went through tough times between 1994 and 1999: it failed to reach the 5% threshold in a series of state elections between 1994 and 2000, it fell below 5% in the 1999 European elections and it barely survived the 5% threshold federally in the 1998 elections (6.2%).

Under Guido Westerwelle’s more populist but still clearly right-liberal leadership, FDP support increased in the 2002, 2005 and especially 2009 elections. In the 2009 elections, the FDP won 14.6% – an historic high – on a platform calling for lower taxes. The FDP profited from right-wing unease with the fairly moderate record of the CDU-led government between 2005 and 2009. After the 2009 election, with the CDU/CSU and FDP holding an absolute majority (unlike in 2005), they formed a schwarz-gelb coalition.

A black-yellow coalition was seen as being more in touch with Merkel’s preferences and easier to manage. The coalition turned out to be a disaster for the FDP, which was widely seen as ineffective and incompetent as governing partners and their image as an exclusive club for special interests and high earners was reinforced by certain boneheaded moves by FDP leaders. Merkel, the master politician, steamrolled the FDP.

The FDP’s main campaign promise in 2009 had been to lower taxes. Despite having been in government for four years, it was unable to do so. In fact, while in government, the FDP was even forced to agree to things such as raising the public health insurance premiums by 0.5% after having run a 2009 campaign on the slogan “more net from gross [income]“.

The FDP’s decline began in January 2010 with the “hotel affair”, when it was revealed that the FDP received a huge €1.1 million donation from August Baron von Finck, who owns the Mövenpick hotel group; his company later benefited from a major reduction in the VAT on hotel bills, one of the black-yellow government’s first decisions. The “hotel affair” reinforced widely-held stereotypes of the FDP as an exclusive party for special interests and lobbyists. On the same line, the FDP (which held the health ministry) was also criticized by the red-greens for failing to liberalize the pharmacy sector (which would reduce the costs of pharmaceutical distribution), given that self-employed pharmacists are a solidly FDP electorate.

The FDP’s support in opinion polling federally quickly collapsed below 5%. The FDP was thrown out of the state legislatures in Berlin, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt in the most recent state elections. It was, however, able to survive in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW, Hamburg and Lower Saxony; mostly through popular local leaders who ran away from the federal leadership and often contradicting the FDP’s federal policy direction (for example, the Schleswig-Holstein FDP ran on a platform of shutting down dangerous nuclear reactors).

It was also helped by “loan votes”, where CDU-leaning voters ‘loan’ their second vote (PR) to the FDP to allow the FDP to surpass the threshold (and give the CDU a coalition partner). The Lower Saxony state election earlier this year was the most extreme example of the old “loan vote” phenomenon in German politics – widely thought to have little luck of winning over 5%, the state FDP increased its support to 9.9% – exit polling showed that a huge majority of FDP ‘voters’ in that election were ‘loaned voters’.

FDP leader Guido Westerwelle was replaced as FDP leader and Vice-Chancellor by the younger and initially more popular Philipp Rösler. This leadership shuffle amounted to little, as Rösler became just as unpopular as Westerwelle had been. The FDP’s chancellor-candidate was Rainer Brüderle, the chairman of the FDP’s parliamentary group and, prior to that, minister of economics and technology between 2009 and 2011. In January 2013, Brüderle was accused of sexism by a journalist who alleged that he had made advances on her.

The FDP’s platform hit the party’s traditional core themes: lower debt, sound currency, lower taxes, civil rights and support for small businesses. Like the CDU, it opposes a universal minimum wage, tax increases and Eurobonds/debt pooling. It goes further than the CDU on taxation, calling for tax cuts when possible, reducing the fiscal drag (‘disguised progression’), reducing the energy tax (to reduce electricity costs) and simplifying tax laws. It also wishes to allow the solidarity tax (Solidaritätszuschlag), a tax which covers the costs of German reunification, to expire in 2019 (Merkel has proposed extending it). However, the FDP’s tax proposals likely ring a bit hollow after four years in government. It seemed to focus a lot of its campaign on attacking the three left-wing parties (SPD, Greens, Linke) for wanting to increase taxes, run up government spending and turn Europe into a “debt union”.

On social issues, the FDP supports less government intervention. In this campaign, the party proposed to lump Hartz IV benefits, basic security, social assistance, housing benefits and child benefits into a single ‘citizen’s income’. It differs from the CDU on the issue of the Betreuungsgeld, mentioned above. In healthcare, the FDP supports the current healthcare system and wants to allow for more competition.

The FDP’s platform emphasized the importance of cutting government debt and securing the currency. It wants to have a balanced budget in 2015, start repaying the debt in 2016, cutting red tape and limiting public sector growth to economic growth.

The FDP has always attached strong importance to civil rights and individual liberties. Its image as the party defending individual rights took a hit in 1995, when it agreed to wiretapping (Großer Lauschangriff, or eavesdropping). Many left-liberal voters have abandoned the party for the Greens, who place more emphasis on such issues than the modern FDP. The FDP’s platform opposed data retention and protecting data privacy, but in government it was fairly mum during the PRISM scandal and after revelations that the German military knew of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program.

The FDP still finds common ground with the left on issues such as same-sex marriage (the CDU is the only party which still opposes same-sex marriage, although a court decision earlier this year forced the government to grant homosexual couples the same benefits and rights as heterosexual couples), dual citizenship and opposition to data retention without cause.

The FDP supports European integration (although it wanted a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty), but it has a small national-liberal minority which is more Eurosceptic.

The Left (Die Linke) is a democratic socialist party founded in 2007 by the merger of the East German Left Party.PDS (Linkspartei.PDS) and the West German WASG (a group of SPD dissidents). Die Linke is widely associated with the former East Germany (where the vast majority of its support is) and, for some, with the former communist regime of the GDR.

The  Left Party.PDS, known as the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) until 2005, was the successor party of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), the governing party of the GDR between 1949 and 1989. The October-November 1989 mass protests against the East German regime led the SED Politburo to dismiss longtime strongman Erich Honecker, empowering a new generation of reformist politicians in the SED including Hans Modrow and Gregor Gysi. In late 1989 and early 1990, the SED gave up its monopoly on power, abandoned Marxism-Leninism and allowed for the first and only free elections in East Germany in March 1990. The SED, renamed the PDS in February 1990 under Gysi’s leadership, was soundly defeated in the East German elections in 1990, winning only 16% of the vote against some 48% for the pro-reunification Alliance for Germany, led by the CDU.

Following German reunification, the PDS retained a strong presence in East Germany – particularly in low-income areas of East Berlin, where the PDS was able to win direct seats beginning in 1990. The PDS’ strength increased following the 1990 reunification election, when it won only 11% of the vote in the East. With the shine of reunification wearing off, the PDS was able to successfully appeal to older East German voters who felt that they were on the losing side of reunification (total economic collapse and deindustrialization, high unemployment, poverty, low development) or who harboured Ostalgie for the former GDR. To this day, the former East Germany remains significantly poorer than the West, with the highest unemployment figures (still over 10% today in some rural parts of the east) found in the ex-GDR. The PDS won 20% of the vote in the ex-GDR in 1994, 21.6% in 1998, 17% in 2002 (the SPD lost votes in the West, but gained in the East in that election – perhaps due to the Bavarian Stoiber having poor appeal to easterners) and 25% in 2005. In West Germany, however, the PDS won only 1% of the vote prior to 2005.

The PDS was below the 5% national threshold in 1990 and 1994, but because it won direct seats, it was able to qualify for list seats. In 2002, however, the PDS won only two direct seats, less than the three required to qualify for list seats, so it was returned to the Bundestag with only two seats.

The Left Party.PDS ran a common list with the WASG, a West German group of SPD dissidents and leftists including former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine. Their 2005 campaign was strong, with the popular and charismatic Gysi and Lafontaine sharing the spotlight. The party ended up with 8.7% of the vote and 54 seats. Not only did it do exceptionally well in the East, it also had a mini-breakthrough in the West, taking nearly 5% of the West German vote, mostly in Lafontaine’s home state of Saarland (18.5%).

The Left Party.PDS and WASG merged to form Die Linke in 2007, and the party enjoyed an upswing in West Germany: between 2007 and 2009, Die Linke entered the state legislatures of Bremen, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland (where it won 21% with Lafontaine as the top candidate). In the 2009 federal election, Die Linke won a record high 11.9% of the vote, including 28.5% in the East and 8.3% in the West. The party benefited from the SPD’s unpopularity, a strong leftist protest against SPD policies such as Hartz IV (especially in the East) and opposition to German participation in the war in Afghanistan.

Die Linke is a controversial and polarizing party. Its most virulent opponents often style it as ‘the SED’ or the ‘Stasi Party’, references to its connections to the former communist dictatorship in East Germany and the suspected/proven participation of some of its members, including former PDS leader Lothar Bisky, in the Stasi, East Germany’s infamous secret police. The party includes more extremist and radical factions who have a tendency to say things which embarrasses the moderate leadership: praising the GDR or praise for communist/leftist leaders around the world, such as Fidel Castro. Some members of the party remain under observation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, the federal agency for the protection of the constitution (which observes or bans extremist parties on the far-right and far-left). That being said, only a minority of the party’s leaders/MPs were members of the SED prior to reunification. Besides, a lot of the ex-SED/PDS members tend to be comparatively moderate and pragmatic.

Die Linke causes headaches for the SPD and the Greens, who have not yet resolved themselves to accept Die Linke as a governing partner either at the federal level or the state level in West Germany. In East Germany, where ex-SED/PDS members tend to be more pragmatic and moderate than West Germany’s more radical and dogmatic ex-SPD/leftist members, coalitions with Die Linke are more palatable to the SPD and the Greens.

The PDS supported a SPD/Green government in Saxony-Anhalt between 1994 and 2002 without participating in it; SPD-led coalitions with Die Linke’s external support are called the Magdeburg Model, and the Magdeburg Model was successfully repeated in Berlin (2001-2002) and NRW (2010-2012). However, after the Hessian state elections in 2008 which gave a theoretical red-red-green coalition a majority, the SPD’s Andrea Ypsilanti was unable to form a SPD/Green minority government with Die Linke’s support, after four SPD MPs defected and led to snap elections in January 2009 (which saw an SPD collapse and black-yellow majority).

Die Linke currently governs in coalition with the SPD in the state of Brandenburg since 2009 and red-red (SPD-Die Linke) coalitions were in power in Berlin between 2002 and 2011 and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania between 1998 and 2006.

To date, no red-red-green coalition has been formed at the state level. There were negotiations for such a coalition in Thuringia in 2009, but the SPD finally opted for a Grand Coalition with the CDU, being opposed to Die Linke (as the largest left-wing party) holding the state premiership. In Saarland, that same year, the Greens preferred to support a CDU-FDP government (forming a so-called Jamaica Coalition) rather than a SPD government dependent on Die Linke’s support. In West Germany, the SPD is still fairly allergic to the red-red-green option, partly because of lingering bad blood between Die Linke’s ex-SPD members (first and foremost Lafontaine) and the more dogmatic positions of the party’s western leadership.

Die Linke went through internal divisions following the 2009 election, mostly boiling down to a conflict between the party’s pragmatic ex-PDS eastern members and more dogmatic western members. In 2012, a party congress resulted in the division of the party’s co-presidential positions between these two wings: the young eastern and pragmatic Katja Kipping alongside the and more leftist westerner Bernd Riexinger (close to Lafontaine). The 2009-2013 period has been, therefore, a fairly tough period for the party in terms of electoral support. Die Linke lost its western footholds in Schleswig-Holstein (2012), NRW (2012) and Lower Saxony (2013); it suffered loses in the 2011 state elections in Saarland and was unable to enter the Landtag in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in 2011.

Die Linke presented itself in this election as “100% social”. Its main socioeconomic proposals included a €10 minimum wage (to be increased to €12 in 2017), a €1,050 minimum pension, increasing Hartz-IV benefits to €500 (and later replaced by a €1,050 guaranteed minimum income), abolishing ein Euro jobs (15-30 hour jobs paid about €1/hour, while still receiving Hartz-IV benefits) and other temporary contracts, reducing working hours to 30 hours per week on full pay, lowering the retirement age from 67 to 65 and introduction of single-payer universal healthcare.

On taxation, Die Linke proposed to increase the basic allowance to €9,300, linear progression up to €65,000 and increasing taxes on those earning over €65,000 from 42% to 53%. It wants to create a ‘wealth tax’ of 75% for incomes over €1 million. Additional revenues from taxation would be used to fund higher social benefits and to increase spending in education, healthcare and subsidized housing (the party also supports a ceiling on rents).

The party is the most Eurosceptic of the parties represented in the Bundestag, having opposed the Lisbon Treaty, the European Stabilization Mechanism and the Fiscal Compact. Nevertheless, the party supports EU membership and the official line is in favour of the Euro, although Oskar Lafontaine recently said that the Euro should be ditched entirely. In the Eurozone crisis, Die Linke supports Eurobonds, an exceptional pan-European levy on properties worth over €1 million and introducing a tax on financial transactions.

Die Linke is famous for pacifist and anti-militarist positions. It wants to withdraw from NATO, a major point of disagreement with the SPD and the Greens and certainly a major roadblock to a federal red-red-green coalition. The party opposed the war in Afghanistan, intervention in Syria, ban weapons exports and wishes to recall the German army (Bundeswehr) from all foreign engagements. The party’s hostility to Israeli actions in Palestine and controversial statements by some leaders, interpreted as anti-Semitic, have caused controversy and forced the party to officially announce that it supported Israel’s right to exist. The public pronouncements of some of the party’s leaders praising Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez also sparked controversy and negative media attention for the party.

Die Linke has fairly ‘green’ positions on environmental issues, more so than the SPD and similar to the Greens. It opposes fracking, CO2 capture-and-storage, the construction of more coal-fired power plants and took an anti-nuclear stance in the past.

Alliance ’90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), widely known as the Greens or Grünen (singular: Grüne), are Germany’s green party. Founded in 1979, it is one of the oldest green parties and because it has consistently maintained significant levels of popular support (unlike more flash-in-the-pan green parties in Italy or France), the German Greens are also one of the most famous green parties in Europe and the world.

The Greens were founded in 1979 by environmentalists and pacifists, united by opposition to pollution, nuclear power, NATO military action and certain aspects of the industrialized society. The early German Greens attracted a wide range of members, from left to right. After the party’s right-wing split in 1982 to create the Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP), the Greens became a more left-wing party. The party was the logical conclusion of the growth of new social movements after the May ’68 student protests and, in Germany, the development of an extra-parliamentary left-wing opposition critical of the SPD ever since it entered a Grand Coalition with the CDU in 1966. Student movements, academics and other left-wing activists were particularly critical of the SPD on matters such as the perceived failure of denazification, the adoption of the emergency acts (1968), the ‘radicals decree’ (Radikalenerlass) which made ‘loyalty’ to the Basic Law a prerequisite for public sector employment (a decree effectively aimed at banning communists from the public sector), the SPD’s acceptance of NATO and the SPD’s support for the NATO Double-Track decision. In fact, a number of extra-parliamentary left-wing activists who had joined the communist ‘K-Groups’ after 1968 went on to join the Greens: most famously, incumbent Baden-Württemberg Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann and 2009/2013 Green chancellor-candidate Jürgen Trittin.

The Greens won their first seat in a state legislature in Bremen in 1979, but they failed to enter the Bundestag in their first federal electoral participation in 1980, taking only 1.5%. In 1983, in the wake of debate over the NATO Double-Track and the installation of IRBMs and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in West Germany, the Greens won 5.6% and entered the Bundestag with 27 seats. In the 1987 election, following the Chernobyl disaster and awareness of acid rain and pollution, the Greens increased their support to 8.3% and 42 seats. At the state level, the Greens entered the first red-green coalition with the SPD in Hesse in 1985, marking a victory for Green moderates (realos) over the radical ecosocialists and ‘deep greens’ (fundis) who opposed government participation.

In the 1990 federal election, the West German Greens allied with the East German Alliance ’90 (Bündnis 90), an alliance of three civil rights associations in the GDR. Federally, the two groups won 5.1% – in the East, Alliance 90 won 6% while the West German Greens fell below the 5% threshold and lost all seats. However, a special derogation in the electoral law in 1990 applied the 5% threshold separately in the two Germanies, so the East Germans won 8 seats in the Bundestag. Alliance 90 and the Greens merged in 1993 and the Greens regained lost support in 1994 (7.3%).

The Greens lost votes in the 1998 election (6.7%) but, for the first time, they entered federal government in coalition with the SPD. Green leader Joschka Fischer became Vice-Chancellor and foreign minister, and Schröder’s government included two other Green cabinet ministers. The Greens had by that point participated in red-green coalitions with the SPD in Berlin, Lower Saxony (with Schröder and Trittin), Hesse, Saxony-Anhalt, NRW, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg.

Government participation moderated the Greens’ positions, transforming the Greens into a New Left movement of young radicals, students and activists into a pragmatic, reformist and centre-left party. For example, the Greens effectively abandoned their earlier pacifist and anti-militarist sentiments, accepting NATO and approving German military intervention in Kosovo (1999) and Afghanistan (2001), although the issue created major strains within the party. In Schröder’s second term, the Greens were compelled to acquiesce to Schröder’s welfare and labour reforms. Green achievements while in government include the phase-out of nuclear energy (2000), promotion of renewable energies and the legalization of civil unions (2001).

In 2005, the Greens lost some votes (from 8.6% to 8.1%). Between the 2005 election and 2013, the Greens raked up electoral successes. It won a record high 16% in Bremen in 2007, leading to the first red-green election since Schröder’s defeat in 2005. In the 2009 federal elections, the Greens won their best federal electoral result to date, taking 10.7% of the vote and 68 seats. Green support surged following the 2009 election, polling over 20% in late 2010. In 2011, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the anti-nuclear movement in Germany grew in strength and the Greens achieved their most remarkable result ever in the Baden-Württemberg state elections, winning 24% of the vote and surpassing the SPD. BaWü Green leader Winfried Kretschmann formed the first ‘green-red’ coalition with the SPD as a junior partner. In 2012, the Greens won the mayoralty in Stuttgart (BaWü). The Greens were able to enter the Landtag of every single German state during this period, even in East German states where Green support is the lowest.

Green support peaked at over 25% federally following the BaWü state elections, but their support fell sharply afterwards and the Greens suffered from the ephemeral Pirate surge in German politics following the Berlin state elections in September 2011. The Greens had hoped to replicate the BaWü election in Berlin, a Green stronghold, but a poor campaign by their top candidate and the Pirate surge led to a disappointing result for the Greens.

The Greens held the first nationwide primary to determine their two chancellor-candidates in October 2012. Similarly to the Green Party’s leadership, the chancellor-candidate spots are split between one man and one woman. Jürgen Trittin, the former federal minister for the environment and the co-leader of the Greens Bundestag caucus won 71.9% of the vote. More surprising was the race between three women for the second spot: Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the deputy speaker of the Bundestag, won 47.3%, defeating Renate Künast, the co-leader of the caucus and a former federal minister (38.6%) and Claudia Roth, the co-chairwoman of the party (26.2%). Trittin is considered on the party’s left, while Göring-Eckardt is considered on the party’s right.

While the Greens almost always, when possible, form red-green coalitions with the SPD, there have been two recent exceptions. In 2008, the Greens formed the first black-green coalition with the CDU in Hamburg, largely due to the liberal image of CDU mayor Ole von Beust. In 2009, the Saarland Greens, unwilling to accept a SPD government tolerated by Die Linke, supported a CDU-FDP coalition (a so-called Jamaica Coalition). The Saarland Jamaica coalition collapsed in 2011 and the Greens suffered loses in the snap election. Angela Merkel recently said that her party’s relationship with the Greens had improved significantly since 2005, raising more questions about a black-green coalition.

The perception on the left that the Greens would happily accept a black-green coalition with the CDU apparently worried the Green leadership significantly, and their platform in this election was fairly leftist – and also placing greater emphasis on social and economic questions instead of the Greens’ pet issue (the environment and energy). Trittin also excluded the possibility of a black-green coalition.

Their economic and tax proposals were quite similar to the SPD. The Greens proposed increasing the basic allowance to €8,712, and increasing taxes on higher incomes (45% for income over €60,000 and 49% for incomes over €80,000). Like the two other left-wing parties, the Greens support a wealth tax, beginning with a 1% levy on incomes over €1 million. Like the SPD, the Greens support a €8.50 universal minimum wage, a minimum pension of €850 (while maintaining the retirement age at 67) and single-payer universal healthcare. The Greens’ platform also talked about increasing Hartz-IV benefits to €420/month. They share similar positions to the SPD on issues such as child care/daycare, the Betreuungsgeld and controlling rent increases.

On environmental issues, the landmark Green proposal was to have 100% of power from renewable sources by 2030 (and, by 2040, transport and heating). The Greens also proposed to introduce fuel consumption limits on vehicles, extending the truck toll and introducing a speed limit on Germany’s famous autobahn.Merkel’s 180 on nuclear power in 2011, however, cut the grass from under their feet. Additionally, the Greens have suffered from the unpopular and messy energy policies, some of which is rooted in red-green legislation from the Schröder era. During the campaign, the Greens were unwilling or unable to exploit unpopular and costly infrastructure projects – notably Stuttgart 21 (a controversial project to rebuild the railway network in and around Stuttgart, dogged by huge cost overruns) and the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (due in late 2011, it will now be open only in 2014 and the costs are much higher than originally predicted). The SPD, along with the CDU, is supportive of such major infrastructure projects; the Greens were probably unwilling to endanger their relationship with the SPD over the issue.

The Greens ran into controversy with their proposal for ‘veggie-days’ – meat-free days in public cafeterias, an issue which was spun out of proportion (and misinterpreted) to paint the Greens as intolerant radicals who want to ‘force’ their views on others and tell others how to live their lives. However, the German agriculture ministry (held by the CSU) already supports and funds ‘veggie-days’.

Since the 1990s, the Greens have claimed the mantle of civil rights/individual liberties for themselves, at the expense of the FDP. The rise of the Pirate Party in 2011 endangered their ‘hold’ on that issue, but the Pirates have since petered out and the Greens have more or less reestablished their advantage on the issue. The party wants to loosen anti-terror laws, abolish the military counterintelligence, stop the use of undercover agents by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, opposes video surveillance in public spaces and is opposed to data retention. The FDP still shares similar positions, but the Greens are seen as more credible on such issues. However, during the campaign, the Greens were not extremely vocal about the NSA PRISM scandal, again because of their ties to the SPD (which is more supportive of surveillance).

The Greens are pro-European and share similar positions to the SPD on those questions, including the Eurozone crisis.

The Greens were haunted this year by their former ties (in the late 1970s and early 1980s) to the pedophile movement. Old controversies were reopened after Franco-German Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who said in a 1975 autobiography that he had sexually intimate relations with children while working in a Frankfurt kindergarten, was due to receive a major prize. Old documents from the early days of the Green movement were unearthed, hurting the Greens. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the nascent Green party included members (rallied in the Arbeitsgemeinschaft “Schwule, Päderasten und Transsexuelle”) who supported the decriminalization of non-violent and non-incestual sexual relations between adults and minors. It is clear that the early Greens supported and were supported by pedophile activists. This was a result of the late 1960s counter-cultural generation, who wanted to free society from the shackles of sexual repression – in good ways (women’s sexual autonomy, LGBT liberation) but also bad ways (legalizing pedophilia). The pro-pedophilia section of the Greens quit the party in 1987, and today’s Green leaders have all vigorously denounced past pedophile ties to the party, and the party is paying a hefty sum for a study into pedophile activists’ involvement in the party. Cohn-Bendit has repeatedly said that his book passage was meant as a fictional provocation.

A few days before the election, it was revealed that Jürgen Trittin – the Green top candidate – had signed a 1981 platform which supported the decriminalization of sex between adults and minors. Trittin admitted responsibility and said that he regretted his mistake. However, the Greens’ opponents played on the scandal – the CSU called on Trittin to withdraw from his position as top candidate. Many feel that the Greens were unfairly targeted by a smear campaign playing on controversies from nearly 30 years ago, on a subject which was already public knowledge beforehand and which the Greens have since denounced. However, it’s obviously very tough for anybody to do adequate damage control on an issue as damning as pedophilia.

The newcomer of this election, which received significant media attention, was the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD), a right-wing eurosceptic party founded in February 2013.

Germany has lacked a strong and viable Eurosceptic party on the centre/right. Die Linke is Eurosceptic, but its criticism of the EU is not its top issue – the party is associated with left-wing economic policies and carries around baggage as an East German ex-communist party which makes it tough for it to appeal to a wide coalition of anti-European voters. On the right, both the CDU/CSU and FDP are pro-European although the CSU and FDP include some Euro-critical minorities. The far-right parties, notably the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), are usually associated with issues such as immigration and their association with neo-Nazism and/or right-wing extremism means that they have no chance of becoming respected and viable Eurosceptic parties. Despite this lack of political options, there is a fairly substantial minority of voters (25-30% or so) who are Eurosceptic.

The AfD was founded largely by former CDU members, led by economist Bernd Lucke. Lucke argued that the Euro was unsustainable, and said that the currency should be scrapped. Economically troubled southern European countries should abandon the Euro while northern European countries including Germany and Austria could form a smaller Eurozone in the north.

The main theme in the AfD’s campaign was opposition to the Euro – the southern European countries withdrawing, the other countries either readopting their former national currencies or creating smaller monetary unions. It also supports cutting off aid to Eurozone countries who have not made ‘efforts’ to sanitize their public finances. While the AfD is not against German membership in the EU, it advocates for a “Europe of sovereign states” and generally has European policies similar to those of the British Conservative Party.

On economic issues, the AfD is conservative: no minimum wage, simplification of the tax law and debt reduction. It is critical of Angela Merkel’s energy transition project. The AfD claims it is not anti-immigration and wishes to promote skilled immigration, praising the Canadian model. However, some on the left have accused the AfD of pandering to xenophobic or nationalist sentiments.

The Pirate Party (Piratenpartei) experienced a short-lived surge in popular support after the Berlin state elections in September 2011, in which the Pirates won 8.9% and 15 seats. The party’s support surged over 5%, and peaked at over 10%, in polls nationally. The Pirates entered the state parliaments in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and NRW in 2012. However, the Pirates saw their support collapse in late 2012, falling back under the 5% threshold and remaining there ever since. After an initial wave of support, Pirate support fell as a result of controversies, small scandals, public scrutiny into the party and a perception of the party as a single-issue party with no positions on major issues. The Pirates have a left-libertarian platform, centered around their pet themes of copyright reform, internet freedom. individual liberties and government transparency. The Pirates also support free public transit, re-nationalizing the water, gas and electricity networks, 15 students per class, the voting age at 14 and an unconditional basic income for all.

Results

Turnout was 71.5%, up 0.8% from the 2009 federal election.  The results presented below use the second vote (Zweitstimmen) – the most important vote – for the percentage figures.

CDU/CSU 41.5% (+7.8%) winning 311 seats (+72) incl. 235 district, 76 list
SPD 25.7% (+2.7%) winning 192 seats (+46) incl. 59 district, 133 list
Die Linke 8.6% (-3.3%) winning 64 seats (-12) incl. 4 district, 60 list
Greens 8.4% (-2.3%) winning 63 seats (-5) incl. 1 district, 62 list
FDP 4.8% (-9.8%) winning 0 seats (-93)
AfD 4.7% (+4.7%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Pirates 2.2% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
NPD 1.3% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
FW 1% (+1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Others 1.7% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Germany 2013

The German federal elections were a major triumph for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her party, the CDU/CSU Union. Together, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, won 41.5% of the vote – the party’s best result since the 1990 reunification election in which the Union won 44% of the vote. Furthermore, with 311 seats, the CDU/CSU fell only five seats short of winning an absolute majority on their own – something which no German party has done since Konrad Adenauer won an absolute majority in 1957.

The triumph is first and foremost a triumph for Merkel herself, rather than her party. The CDU’s campaign was centered on Merkel and her perceived leadership abilities, contrasting them with that of her main rival, the SPD’s Peer Steinbrück.

If you read the description of the parties and their campaigns above, it should hardly be surprising that Merkel was reelected in a landslide. The German economy has performed well – remarkably well if you consider the poor economies of many of its neighbours and other EU nations – since 2009, with a major decrease in unemployment since 2010 and fairly solid economic growth. Critics either point out that Merkel was only reaping the benefits of the major policy changes enacted by her SPD predecessor or emphasize that Germany’s robust economy is undermined by the large number of underemployed people, low-paying ‘mini-jobs’ and increased wealth inequalities. However, fairly or unfairly, the widespread perception in Germany is that Merkel is a strong and capable leader who has been a steady hand in turbulent waters, who has successfully protected Germany from European economic turmoils. The CDU’s campaign posters drove this idea home: Merkel’s face with the words ‘stability’/’security’/’continuity’.

The exit polls (I am using Infratest dimap, not FG Wahlen) confirm these observations. In a head-to-head ‘direct vote’, Merkel would have defeated Steinbrück 58% to 34%. Merkel has a 71% approval rating – Steinbrück’s approval is 44%, lower than both CSU leader Horst Seehofer and Linke bigwing Gregor Gysi’s approval ratings.

Angela Merkel is an able politician, whose main strength has been her ability to adopt (almost wholesale) the popular policies of other parties (mainly the SPD) to fit with public opinion. In doing so, she was able to deny both the SPD and the Greens issues around which they could have motivated voters (on certain aspects of economic policy or nuclear energy). It also forced the SPD, which had picked a fairly right-leaning candidate, to tack further left to differentiate itself from the CDU and prevent bleeding to Die Linke or the Greens. The SPD, burdened with an unpopular and poor top candidate in Peer Steinbrück, was never able to present itself as a concrete alternative to Merkel or convince voters that it could manage the economy and the Eurocrisis better than Merkel.

She handily defeated Steinbrück on almost all personality traits. 70%, against only 22% for Steinbrück , saw her as the ‘strongest leader’. 57% saw her as most competent, 57% as the most sympathetic and 53% as the most credible. Only on the question of ‘awareness of problems’ did she lose to Steinbrück, 40 to 41. On the top two most important issues of the campaign – the Eurocrisis and the economy, Merkel trounced Steinbrück: 52% (against 25% for her rival) saw her as the best candidate on the Eurocrisis, and 43% (against 38%) saw her as strongest on the economy. Steinbrück retained the SPD’s traditional edge on social issues, 51% to 33%.

When asked whether their top motivator in voting for the Union or SPD was the top candidate, the party’s political platform or both, the results are very stark. 46% of CDU/CSU voters said Angela Merkel was their (sole) top motivator in voting the way they did, 45% said both Merkel and the CDU/CSU’s platform were important. Only 8% of SPD voters said Peer Steinbrück was their (sole) top motivator in voting SPD, against 55% who said the SPD’s platform was their top motivator and 32% who said both the candidate and platform were important. In line with their campaigns, the CDU’s vote included a very strong personalist element for Angela Merkel, while the SPD’s vote was a loyal SPD/left-wing vote driven by the party’s platform and not its candidate.

Angela Merkel is far more popular than her party. The federal government’s approval rating was 51% – much lower than Merkel’s approvals, but still the strongest approval rating for a government in an election since at least 1998. Voters, however, were not particularly pleased with a black-yellow government: only 37% of voters said the CDU/CSU-FDP should continue to govern and only 41% said a black-yellow coalition was good for the country. In contrast, a large majority (57%) said a Grand Coalition would be good for Germany.

The CDU/CSU was seen as the most competent party on the major issues – on the economy, a full 58% said the Union was the most competent, up 11% since 2009. 51% said the party was also the most competent on jobs, up 14% from 2009. As in 2009, only 22% of voters said the SPD was the most competent party on economic issues – it is absolutely imperative that the SPD regain lost ground on that issue if it wishes to win the next election. 46% of voters said the CDU/CSU was the most competent on the Eurocrisis, against 20% for the SPD.

What is more, despite a campaign heavily focused on social justice, only 43% of voters (down 1% from 2009) said the SPD was the most competent party on that issue, against 24% for the Union (which gained 5 points on that issue since 2009). The SPD had a 3-point edge over the CDU on family policies, and a 20-point advantage on salaries.

However, the exit polling found that voters agreed with the SPD/left’s positions on major issues such as the universal minimum wage (83% agree according to FG Wahlen, and Infratest dimap says 74% of CDU voters and 61% of FDP voters also want a universal minimum wage), increasing the top tax rate (56% agree) or state intervention for affordable housing (86% agree). The SPD was unable to exploit the fairly leftist tint of the voters this year, who largely agreed with the SPD’s core platform planks.

The other main result of this election was the FDP’s collapse and elimination from the Bundestag. The FDP, which had been represented in every Bundestag since the first federal election in 1949 and had won a record high 14.6% in 2009, was wiped out. It lost nearly 10% of its 2009 support. It is the second largest collapse for a single party from one election to the next since the SPD’s 2005-2009 collapse. The FDP, the CDU’s coalition partner since 2009, won only 4.8% of the vote, falling below the 5% threshold for list seats. The FDP has not won a direct seat since 1990 (and before that since 1957), and it had no chance of winning any direct seats in 2013, so it could not qualify for seats by winning at least three district mandates.

The FDP’s defeat is a major event in German politics, given that the party had been represented in the Bundestag since 1949. Four years after winning its best result ever, what went wrong for the FDP? If you read my profile of the parties above, I pointed out a few of the factors which had hurt the FDP’s standing in the polls since 2009: its inability to cut taxes (despite being in government) after promising to do so in 2009, the ‘hotel affair’ which reinforced negative stereotypes of the FDP and the party’s general ineffectiveness if not outright incompetence in the federal government. Only 12% of voters said they were satisfied with the FDP’s performance in government – compared to 57% who were satisfied with the CDU’s performance. In 2009, 51% of voters had said they would find it good if the FDP were in government; only 28% of voters still held that view this year.

The ARD exit poll asked 2009 FDP voters who did not vote FDP voters this year for their views on the FDP. 90% of them said that the FDP had promised a lot but hardly delivered anything, 82% said that their former party cared too much for specific interest groups and 74% said that in the last four years, the FDP had not moved anything. The wider electorate largely agreed with these statements. The FDP had been seen, in 2009, as particularly competent on fiscal policy (19% of 2009 voters said the FDP was the most competent on fiscal policy) and economic policy (14%). This year, only 6% of voters rated the FDP as the most competent party on fiscal policies and even less voters – 3% – said the FDP was the best on economic policy. 36% of voters this year rated the CDU/CSU as the most competent on fiscal policies, up 8% from 2013.

The FDP’s most visible leaders – Philipp Rösler and Rainer Brüderle – both had very low approval ratings: 17% and 27% respectively. Former FDP leader and outgoing foreign minister Guido Westerwelle had a 48% approval ratings, much higher than where it was when he was FDP leader, but that’s only because the foreign ministry is a generally non-controversial position and the minister is almost always well perceived.

Many believed that although the FDP was undeniably in dire straits, it would manage to eek out a save-face (and save-seat) performance and win over 5% of the vote. Despite predictions of doom, the FDP had managed to perform strongly in the most recent state elections in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW, Hamburg and most spectacularly Lower Saxony earlier this year. In Lower Saxony, there was a huge ‘loan vote’ effect which depressed the CDU vote considerably and allowed the FDP to not only save its seat but also increase its overall vote share out of the blue. The CDU leader in Lower Saxony, former Minister-President David McAllister, had endorsed the loan vote strategy in a bid to save his black-yellow government. Although the strong loan vote effect in Lower Saxony does not explain the black-yellow state government’s defeat, as was originally assumed, there was some sort of backlash against such loan vote deals after the election. Merkel and the federal CDU leadership did not, as far as I know, publicly endorse a loan vote strategy to save the FDP and she kept things to a minimum by saying that she would regret it if the FDP did not pass the threshold.

Yet, even in the absence of official directions from the top, many thought that – as in past elections – enough CDU voters would give their second vote to the FDP to allow the FDP to win over 5%. That was not the case. There were many loan votes from CDU voters to the FDP, but not enough to save the FDP. The ARD exit polling showed that a full 47% of FDP voters said that they had voted tactically for the party, against a mere 50% who said the FDP was their preferred party. This is the highest share of tactical voters for any of the five parties, by far (the party with the second largest number of tactical voters, Die Linke, had only 19% tactical voters…). 63% of FDP voters voted CDU on the first vote – although this is not entirely unusual (in 2009, the FDP won only 9% of the first vote against nearly 15% of the second vote).

In the exit polling, 51% of German voters said that the FDP was no longer needed. This strikes at a core issue in the FDP’s collapse and its future – the party has lost its raison-d’être in the eyes of many voters. In the past two decades or so, the FDP’s niche had been lower taxes. Having been utterly unable to deliver on the one issue which defined it and which attracted so many voters in 2009, the FDP lost all credibility and effectively a good chunk of its raison-d’être. The FDP effectively dropped/lost the issue of civil rights/individual liberties to the Greens (and now, the Pirates) in the 1990s after approving wiretaps and voting against civil unions, there is now a serious risk that the FDP has lost the taxation/small government/economic liberalism issue to the CDU.

Basically, social liberal and left-liberal voters have their party in the Greens and/or Pirates; there is little reason why right-liberals or ‘business liberals’ cannot vote for the CDU which is similar to the FDP on most issues and, right now, far more credible.

It must further be pointed out that the FDP’s electorate is rather fickle – there is a lot of overlap between the CDU and the FDP in terms of electorates; certainly much more overlap than there is between the SPD and the Greens (similar ideologically, but far more dissimilar electorally). A fickle electorate which overlaps with that of a larger party can be both good and bad. When the CDU is unpopular with right-wing voters, as in 2009, the FDP comes in and wins those votes (at limited cost, in the end, to the CDU); when the CDU is popular and/or the FDP is unpopular, the CDU easily gobbles up those FDP votes (this is obviously what happened in 2013).

Will the FDP survive this electoral annihilation? As aforementioned, with the FDP having lost its niche, there is little reason why the FDP’s traditional electorate cannot become more or less reliable CDU voters. The emergence of the AfD also hurts the FDP, which had in the past likely appealed to ‘national-liberal’ anti-EU voters and wonkish libertarian types. There are many good reasons to believe that the FDP could die off. However, I would be careful about writing the FDP’s obituary just yet.

Firstly, the next government will likely be a Grand Coalition led by the CDU, which means that there will be at least a small shift to the left in government policies compared to the black-yellow government (but not much, considering how black-yellow proved surprisingly moderate for a right-wing coalition). The FDP could be in a position to appeal to any CDU voters disappointed by their party’s performance in government. The FDP would have had a much tougher time doing so if the CDU/CSU had won an absolute majority on their own.

Secondly, in some recent state elections, the FDP showed that it was able to overcome unfavourable national trends because of popular local leadership, local CDU troubles or more appealing platforms. In fact, the next leader of the FDP is likely to be Christian Lindner, a popular 34-year old who led the FDP in the 2012 state elections in NRW – an election in which the FDP increased its support by nearly 2% to 8.6%.

The SPD did, on the whole, poorly, although it improved on its disastrous 2009 result by nearly 3 points. Yet, with less than 26%, this is still the SDP’s second worst result since the Second World War (2009 being the worst). In good part, this was a result brought upon by Merkel’s spectacular popularity, Steinbrück’s unpopularity, internal divisions in the SPD (unease and doubts about Steinbrück’s candidacy), Merkel’s ability to ‘poach’ major issues from the SPD and a poor campaign. Steinbrück was undeniably a net liability to the SPD, as evidenced (for example) by the party’s rather clunky slogan (It’s the WE that counts). Initially chosen because of his moderate views and straight-talker style, both of those backfired against him: the CDU just moved in on the centre and nullified Steinbrück’s centrist positions – and forced Steinbrück and the SPD to adopt more left-wing positions; Steinbrück became associated with gaffes and foot-in-mouth disease, rather than being seen as some down-to-earth straight-talker.

To be sure, the SPD also faces demographic issues – an aging electorate, loss of support with working-class voters and so forth – but this result, like 2009, is mostly the product of unfavourable circumstances rather than some kind of heavy, irreversible trend (although the trend since reunification has been a general weakening of both major parties).

The SPD’s loses since 2005 are reversible (to a certain extent; the SPD isn’t on track to win 40% of the vote anytime soon) if the party manages to get its act together and find itself a credible alternative to Merkel. Hannelore Kraft, the popular Minister-President of NRW, is oft-cited as the frontrunner for the SPD’s candidacy in the next federal election in 2017. She did not run this year because it would still have been an uphill battle for her against Merkel. However, 2017 should be more favourable to the SPD: Merkel might not seek a fourth term, and the CDU’s popularity might have eroded some over four years.

The Greens were the other major losers of this election. They lost 2% of their 2009 vote share, winning 8.4% – basically what they won in 2002 and 2005. In historical perspective, this isn’t a bad result – it shows that the Greens have solidified a solid 7-9% base of support nationally, which is good news for them given the traditional fickleness of Green support in other countries (see: France and Italy!). However, since 2009, the Greens were on an upswing and basically went from one success to another, first and foremost among them being their remarkable triumph in the BaWü state elections in 2011. Although the Greens had since fallen from their post-BaWü heights in 2011, they stabilized at 12-15% support nationally between early 2012 and mid-August 2013. Starting in mid-August 2013, Green support in polls collapsed below their 2009 result (10.7%), most of those lost potential voters switching to the SPD or Die Linke. What went wrong?

Most agree that the Greens led a very poor campaign, further complicated by the pedophilia case. Seeking to solidify their left-wing credentials, the Greens chose to focus their campaign on unfamiliar socioeconomic issues rather than nice environmental/energy issues. In doing so, they emulated the SPD too much for their own good. They lost a bit of what could set them apart from the SPD, and became associated with the SPD/Steinbrück. The exit polls showed that this emphasis shift was unsuccessful, the Greens were still identified by voters as being most competent on environmental policies (56%) or affordable energy (27%). Voters who liked the Greens’ platform might as well vote SPD, those who found it insufficiently leftist could vote for Die Linke. Because of their close ties to the SPD, the Greens were unable or unwilling to exploit lucrative issues such as unpopular infrastructure projects (Stuttgart 21, approved in a local referendum in 2012 but opinion has shifted against it again; Berlin-Brandenburg Airport; etc), the NSA PRISM scandal or energy reform.

In election dynamics, a 1998-2005 red-green coalition was still a possibility in the spring; by election day, the alternative coalition options were a Grand Coalition or red-red-green. Those favouring a Grand Coalition would be best to vote SPD to strengthen the SPD against the CDU; those supporting red-red-green would likely support Die Linke to shore up a strong leftist counter-power to the hegemonic SPD. A black-green coalition was killed by the Green leadership before the election.

As first noted in the 2011 Berlin state elections, the Greens are having trouble to renew their leadership. The Green electorate has aged since the 1980s, becoming more balanced and middle-aged rather than disproportionately early 20s youths. The top Green leaders are all fairly old – Trittin is 59, Claudia Roth and Renate Künast are close to 50 and Winfried Kretschmann is 65. Katrin Göring-Eckhard, 47, is younger, but despite being co-candidate, she was sidelined in the media by Trittin. Rebellious, dissatisfied and apathetic young voters are more likely to see the Pirates or fringe/protest parties as more attractive options to vent their frustration at Germany’s stale political system than the Greens.

The ARD exit polling offers further insights into the Greens’ problem. 68% of respondents said that the Greens scared off voters with their tax plan, 59% said that they lost sight of their voters’ interests during the campaign and 50% felt that the Greens want to dictate to people how to live their lives (see ‘veggie-day’). This confirms that the Greens had trouble properly framing their tax plan, being unable to avoid the inevitable negativity associated with ‘tax increases’, even if studies showed that the Greens’ tax plan would have led to tax cuts for 90% of the voters.

Although many say that the Greens made a mistake by focusing on social justice in their campaign, others feel that a traditional campaign focused on environmental issues might not necessarily have been any more successful. Nuclear energy is no longer a mobilizing issue (unlike in 2009-2011) because of Merkel’s phase-out. Similarly, because of rising energy costs partly due to the government’s renewable energy policy, there has been something of a backlash against Green policies on energy issues.

The Greens also struggled to effectively mitigate the effects of the pedophilia accusations and downplay the ‘veggie-day’ “scandal”, although it is likely that those who were scared by ‘veggie-days’ or really up in arms about the pedophilia case don’t vote Green anyway.

Die Linke lost votes compared to their very strong 2009 showing, ending up with 8.6% of the vote, basically what they won in 2005. Considering that Die Linke went through a difficult trough in the last four years, which resulted in them losing almost all of their recent footholds in West Germany, this is a pretty good showing for the party. Certainly, from Gregor Gysi’s speech on election night (gloating about Die Linke ranking third), they seem – in public at least – pretty pleased with their performance.

A certain decline after their exceptional 2009 result was to be expected. The political and economic context in 2009 was far more prone to protest votes – a more pessimistic view of the economy, higher unemployment and a Grand Coalition in which the SPD’s performance was not perceived all that well by voters. Die Linke had done well in 2009 partly because they won a lot of ex-SPD protest voters in both Germanies, a left-wing protest vote against the SPD’s Hartz-IV/Agenda 2010 reforms and German participation in the war in Afghanistan. Neither of those were hot issues this year, although social justice and decent wages were still at the top of most voters’ agenda (particularly on the left).

In East Germany, the AfD, and to a lesser extent the Pirates and the far-right (NPD) provided alternative outlets for protest voters (East German voters are less ideological than West Germans, and Die Linke’s Ostalgie vote is not necessarily an ideological vote of attachment to socialism/communism).

Again in East Germany, Die Linke does face a demographic problem. Not only are old voters, who remember pre-reunification society and are more likely to harbour nostalgia for the former GDR, gradually dying away; the former GDR is changing. Unemployment has declined since 2010 as a result of job creation but also out-migration (the East’s population is declining by about 1%/year), and major East German cities are increasingly affluent as they become more attractive poles for economic and social development.

Die Linke has also suffered from fairly public internal divisions, mainly between the pragmatic easterners and the dogmatic westerners. They also have difficulty escaping the view that they’re a protest party which is against a lot of things but unclear about what they want. In the ARD exit poll, 72% of voters agreed with the statement that Die Linke’s policies were unrealistic and costly.

The exit polls also reveal another interesting tidbit about Die Linke’s electorate. In 2009, 60% of Die Linke’s voters said their vote expressed dissatisfaction against only 39% who said it expressed conviction (positiveness). This year, 51% of Die Linke’s voters described their vote as one of conviction against 43% who said it was a vote of dissatisfaction.

Die Linke won 22.6% of the vote in East Germany, down nearly 6% from their strong 2009 result. In West Germany vote, Die Linke’s vote fell from 8.3% to 5.6% (-2.7%). While Die Linke started from a much lower base in West Germany and therefore lost less heavily, 5.6% is a fairly good result for Die Linke. Compared to the 2005 election, when Die Linke won basically the same percentage federally, it has lost votes in the East (-2.7%) while gaining votes in the West (+0.7%). Similarly, in West Berlin, Die Linke’s vote has increased from 7.2% to 10.8% since 2005 while falling 0.5% in East Berlin. While Die Linke might gradually be losing its edge as a regional protest party/receptacle for post-GDR Ostalgie in the former GDR, it is slowly (but with much difficulty) building up a small but not insignificant base of support as a left-of-the-left party in West Germany.

AfD, the newcomers on the scene, took 4.7%, a strong result for a party which did not even exist a year ago. While polling shows that a majority of Germans feel that the Euro has been a net positive for Germany, there is a significant minority of public opinion which is anti-Euro and an even larger portion of the electorate (probably a majority) which opposes “German taxpayer-funded” bailouts for Greece and other troubled economies. There is demand for a party like the AfD, filing a void which no party has been able to fill. Until the AfD’s creation, this demand was not met by offer (besides the far-right and Die Linke, but as mentioned above, neither of them could fill the void).

AfD’s support increased late in the campaign, likely a backlash to CDU finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble saying, a few days before the election, that Greece would need another bailout in 2014.

ARD exit polling confirms that AfD was largely a protest party. 57% of their voters said their vote expressed dissatisfaction, by far the the highest of the six largest parties.

AfD has strong potential for growth in the future. While it will not be represented in the Bundestag, which makes it tougher for their views to be heard, its first election was a success and it has gained a profile as a potential choice for German voters opposed to the Euros or critical of the CDU’s European and Eurocrisis policies. It could potentially become an attractive option for right-wing voters dissatisfied with Merkel or the CDU/CSU in general; something which would be bad news for the FDP as they try to rebuild themselves after 2013. Nevertheless, the AfD is probably nowhere near becoming a serious alternative or potential governing party. Both the CDU and FDP leaderships have ruled out coalitions with the AfD, although some CDU and FDP members had more positive comments about the AfD at its birth. In the ARD exit polls, 56% of respondents said that the AfD was not a serious party.

The Pirates had a very disappointing election, basically winning what they won in 2009. After the 2011 Berlin Pirate-wave and the Pirate-momentum which swept through a few German states in early-to-mid 2012, it’s really back to square one for the Pirates. Their brief period in the limelight, were young voters saw them as an attractive protest option, are gone. The Pirates, most significantly, totally failed to capitalize on the NSA PRISM scandal and its German repercussions. They were hurt by the perception that they had no platform other than internet freedom (which is false, although their positions on a lot of important issues are vague or fluffy), internal divisions and other controversies. For the wider public, they have failed to outgrow their stereotypes as young nerdy males who watch My Little Pony. In the exit poll, 73% of voters said the Pirates were not a serious party.

The far-right/neo-Nazi NPD lost a bit of their support, winning 1.3% of the vote. The better economic situation as well as very negative media coverage of the far-right with the trial of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) Nazi terrorist group likely explains the NPD’s poor result. It remains a small and largely irrelevant protest party for the most economically deprived voters in rural and remote East Germany.

Vote transfer analysis

Die Zeit has an awesome graphic detailing vote transfers from the 2009 election, based on ARD exit poll data (and a 2005-2009 transfer analysis, with the same graphics, here).

The CDU held 78% (11.44 million) of their 2009 voters. It lost few voters to other parties, the largest loses being 710,000 votes (4.8% of the 2009 vote) lost to the SPD; otherwise they lost 290,000 votes to AfD, 350,000 votes to the FDP (!), 140,000 to the Greens, 110,000 to Die Linke and 180,000 to other parties. 390,000 (or 2.7%) of the CDU’s 2009 voters did not turn out this year – and over one million (7.2%) of their voters are said to have died since 2009!

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Vote transfer analysis (source: ARD, Zeit.de)

These minor loses were more than compensated by substantial gains from the FDP and non-voters, as well as a few SPD voters. The FDP lost 2.46 million (38.9%) of their 2009 votes to the CDU/CSU, which is less than what they held from 2009 (1.44 million voters, or 22.8% of the FDP’s 2009 electorate, voted FDP again in 2013). 1.52 million voters, who made up 8.1% of the non-voters in 2009, voted CDU/CSU – likely right-wing voters who had not voted in 2009, dissatisfied with the Grand Coalition or Merkel’s performance. The CDU/CSU this year also gained about 920,000 SPD voters from 2009, or 9.2% of the SPD’s 2009 electorate. 12% of 2009 Green voters (560,000) voted CDU/CSU this year; the Greens’ tax planks might have really hurt them with these “black-green” voters who are likely rather wealthy. They also gained 380,000 votes from other parties, 230,000 from Die Linke and 560,000 of their voters this year were first time voters.

The ARD exit poll showed that 30% of first time voters voted CDU/CSU, 24% voted SPD, 12% voted Green, 7% voted Die Linke and 4% voted FDP. The Pirates likely received a significant chunk of first time voters.

The SPD held 67.3% of their 2009 voters, about 6.72 million votes. As noted above, 9% of their 2009 voters voted CDU/CSU this year; 3.1% (310,000) voted Die Linke, 440,000 (4.4%) voted Green, 510,000 (5.1%) did not vote and 680,000 (6.8%) of their 2009 voters are said to have died in the past four years. The SPD gained 710,000 votes from the CDU, 990,000 votes from the Greens, 680,000 from Die Linke, 580,000 from the FDP and 200,000 from other parties. In good part, the SPD’s gains came from 2009 Green and Linke voters, some of those likely protest votes against the 2009 SPD. The SPD also recovered 870,000 votes from voters who had not voted in 2009 (4.6% of the overall 09 non-voters) and 470,000 first time voters.

As noted above, the FDP held only 23% (or 1.44 million) of their 2009 votes: 39% went CDU/CSU, 9.2% voted SPD, 8.9% did not vote altogether, 6.8% voted AfD, 5.1% died, about 3% went for the Greens or others and 1.7% voted Die Linke (I want to meet these people). According to ARD, the FDP somehow won votes from people who hadn’t voted FDP in 2009: 350,000 from the CDU/CSU, 100,000 from non-voters, 50,000 from the SPD and so forth (20,000 Linke voters apparently voted FDP this year).

Die Linke held only 49.3% (2.55 million) of their 2009 votes. They lost 13.2% to the SPD, 10.8% to abstention, 6.6% (340,000) to AfD, 5.4% to others (Pirates or NPD, mostly), 5.2% (270,000) died and 4.6% voted Green. These were partially compensated by some gains from the SPD (310,000 votes or 3.1% of the SPD’s 2009 vote), 200,000 from the Greens and 240,000 from non-voters.

The Greens held 47.6% (2.2 million) of their 2009 voters. It bled a significant amount of voters to the SPD (21% of its 2009 vote) and the CDU/CSU (12.1%). They also suffered some loses to abstention (5.2%, 240,000), Die Linke (4.3%), the underworld of death (3.3%) and other parties (3.7%).

Where did the AfD’s voters come from? The largest numerical proportions came from the FDP (430,000), other parties (410,000), Die Linke (340,000), the CDU/CSU (290,000) and non-voters (210,000). Not many of their votes came from the SPD or the Greens. Nothing too surprising in these numbers. The AfD peeled off a lot of unhappy right-wing voters from the FDP, who lost trust in the FDP but perhaps disliked Merkel for her fence-sitting reputation or her Eurocrisis bailout policies. It also appealed to protest voters who had voted for other parties (probably the NPD) or Die Linke in 2009, most of those voters being in East Germany.

Finally, 77.4% of those who had not voted in 2009 (14.56 million) did not do so either this year. This reflects a solid core of apathetic voters who do not care about politics and/or voting (or are totally fed up with politics), and who never vote in elections. Non-voters who did vote in 2013 had not voted in 2009 largely because of dissatisfaction with their usual party. Unsurprisingly, 1.14 million first time voters (38.8%) did not vote this year.

Exit poll voter demographics

The ARD exit polls asked some basic sociodemographic questions, which are fairly interesting.

There was a gender gap in the CDU/CSU’s vote, with 37% of men but 44% of women voting for Merkel’s party. This is, I believe, a bigger gender gap than in past elections (the CDU did 5% better with women in 09). Obviously, it is in good part explained away by Angela Merkel herself. However – without any data to back me up here – it is possible that German women are a few points to the right of their male counterpart, because women (especially Catholics) have historically tended to be more religious than males. That being, everybody over-analyses gender gaps. None of the other parties showed a strong gender gap; the SPD, Linke and FDP did better with males (by 2 and 1 point respectively), the Greens did one point better with women.

Unemployed voters split their votes three ways: 26% for the SPD, 24% for the CDU/CSU and 23% for Die Linke. These numbers obviously betray the fact that unemployment is disproportionately East German.

Workers (arbeiter) voted 35% CDU/CSU, 27% SPD, 13% Linke and 4% Green. The SPD likely used to poll much stronger with blue-collar workers in the past, the erosion of working-class support for the SPD is one of the party’s main demographic problems.

The CDU/CSU performed best with pensioners (49%), self-employed workers (49%), civil servants (45%) and white-collar employees (39%). It performed worst with unemployed voters (24%).

The SPD performed best with pensioners (28%), blue-collar workers (27%), civil servants (27%), white-collar employees (26%) and unemployed voters (26%). Unsurprisingly, it only won 14% support with self-employed workers, a core conservative constituency in practically any country.

Die Linke, besides a 23% result with unemployed voters, won 13% with blue-collar workers, 8% with pensioners and 8% with white-collar employees. It won 6% with self-employed workers, better than one might expect – this might reflect the fairly non-ideological nature of its Ostalgie vote in the GDR. It did very poorly with civil servants (4%)

The Greens did best with civil servants (12%), self-employed workers (11%) and white-collar employees (11%). It won 8% with unemployed voters. It did significantly worse with blue-collar workers (4%) and pensioners (4%), which reflects low support for the Greens with senior citizens and lower-income, less educated blue-collar working-class voters.

The FDP, unsurprisingly, did best with self-employed workers (10%), and performed roughly on par with its national result with other categories, doing worse with blue-collar workers (3%) and civil servants (3%).

The AfD’s support was socially balanced, doing best with blue-collar workers (6%), white-collar employees (5%) and self-employed workers (5%).

The Pirates did best with the unemployed (5%) and blue-collar workers (4%). Although there is overlap between the Greens and the Pirates in that they both tend to do well with younger voters in bohemian urban cores, the 2011 Berlin elections also showed that the Pirates appealed to economically deprived, lower-income younger voters – a demographic which the Greens do not do as well with.

The CDU/CSU did much better with older voters than younger voters. It won 54% with those aged 70 and over and 45% with those over 60. Its support with middle-aged voters, between 25 and 59, was slightly below average (37-40%) while it did significantly worst with the youngest cohort, the 18-24s, winning only 30% of their vote. The SPD’s vote was slightly more balanced throughout the age groups, although they too did best with older voters: 29% with those 60-69, 28% with those over 70 and 27% with those between 45 and 59. It won 22-24% with younger voters.

The Greens have a younger electorate, although unlike the Pirates, they do not disproportionately better with the youngest crowd (18-24). The Green electorate has aged since the 1980s, the Greens now poll just as well with young adults and middle-aged voters: 11% with those 18-24, but also 11% with those between 35 and 44, and 10% with those 25 to 34 and 45 to 59. Unsurprisingly, the Greens do poorly with older voters: 3% with those over 70, 6% with those 60-69. The AfD also attracted younger voters, winning 6% with those between 18 and 44, 5% with voters 45-59, 4% with those over 60 and 3% with those over 70.

Die Linke’s support is fairly balanced, winning between 8 and 10% with all voters below 70, and 6% with those over 70. FDP support was also balanced, between 4 and 5%.

The city of Frankfurt, in 24 precincts (out of 365), broke down the votes cast by age and gender. The results largely conform to the exit polling shown above. Unsurprisingly, older voters (although it dropped off some with voters over 70) showed the highest turnout: only 57.5% of voters aged 18-24 turned out, down 3.6% from 2009. 75.2% of voters aged over 60 turned out, up 1.7% since 2009. Turnout increased with age, with all voters over 35 having extremely similar turnout numbers (75%). Turnout decreased from 2009 with younger voters, including those 35 to 44. Might this also explain the Greens’ poor results? Both men and women turned out in similar numbers.

The sample in question voted 32% CDU, 27% SPD, 15% Green, 10% Linke, 6% FDP and 5% AfD – very close to city-wide average.

The Frankfurt sample confirmed a gender gap in the CDU’s vote, with the women voting 34.9% for the CDU and men only 29.1% for the party. The SPD showed no gender gap whatsoever, but other parties did show small gender gaps. The FDP did better with men (6.8%) than women (4.7%), as did Die Linke (11% vs. 9.1%). The Greens, unsurprisingly, did better with women (16.9%) than men (13.7%). The AfD, unsurprisingly, did significantly better with men (6.8%) than with women (3.5%), which is again not all that surprising considering that right-populist protest parties tend to do better with males. Most of those who voted for other parties, largely the Pirates, were men (5.2%, 3.5% for women).

The age breakdown is very interesting. The CDU did best with older voters (50.4% with those 70+, 34.1% with those 60-69); they were below their city-wide average with all other age groups, and did worse (only 20.9%) with voters 18 to 24. The SPD vote, however, showed little correlation with age: 30.6% with those 18-24, 29.8% with those over 60 and in between that for the other age groups – although strong Green support with those 35 to 44 depresses the SPD vote there to 23.6%. The FDP did best with voters between 25 and 44 (7%) and those over 70 (6.3%), not so well with other age groups. The Greens show an interesting pattern: Green support is at its highest (20.1%) with those aged 35 to 44. If graphed, Green support would create a nice reverse parabolic curve: consistently increased as voters under 35 get older (17.7% with those 18-24, 18.4% 25-34) and dropping off after 45 (18.5% 45-59, 11.6% 60-69, 3.6% 70+). Die Linke did best with the youngest voters (13.6%) but also those 45-59 (12.4%), and worse with the oldest voters and those 35 to 44 (8.5%). The AfD drew the most support from middle-aged voters – 6% with those 35-44, 5.6% with those 45 to 59. Other parties (read, mostly: Pirates) did best with those 18 to 24 (10%) and their support declined consistently with age. Nothing too shocking: the Pirates have the youngest electorate of all parties.

There was a steep drop off in the Green vote with voters 18 to 24 since 2009 in Frankfurt: down 5.2%, the steepest decline (with voters below 60, the Green vote fell by 3-4% and did not change with those over 60).

Electoral geography

The differences between the two Germanies remain visible politically, especially when it comes to the SPD and Die Linke. In West Germany, the CDU/CSU won 42.2% (+7.6%), the SPD 27.4% (+3.3%), the Greens 9.1% (-2.4%), Die Linke 5.6% (-2.7%), the FDP 5.2% (-10.2%) and the AfD 4.7%. Turnout was 72.5% (+0.3%). In East Germany, the CDU took 38.4% (+8.6%), Die Linke 22.6% (-5.9%), the SPD 18% (+0.1%), the AfD 5.8%, the Greens 5.2% (-1.6%), the NPD 2.8% (-0.3%) and the FDP collapsed to 2.6% (-8%). Turnout was 67.6% (+2.9%).

% second votes for the CDU/CSU by wahlkreise, shading in 5% increments from <35% to >50% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

% second votes for the CDU/CSU by wahlkreise, shading in 5% increments from <35% to >50% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

The CDU and CSU did best, as usual in Catholic regions. Although the CDU/CSU is a pan-confessional party (currently led by an East German Protestant) which enjoys far more support with Protestant and non-religious voters than the Zentrum had in the past, the CDU/CSU remain at their core Catholic parties which have almost always been led by Catholics (as far as I know, almost all previous CDU leaders were Catholic) and have a disproportionately Catholic membership (53% of CDU/CSU members in 2012 were Catholic, against 31% of the German population). The CDU/CSU, as in the past, performed noticeably better in Catholic than in Protestant areas. The CDU’s best constituency was Cloppenburg-Vechta (63%), a heavily Catholic rural area in the Oldenburg Münsterland. In Bavaria, although the divide between Catholic areas and Protestant areas in Franconia is blurred (unlike during the Weimar Republic), the CSU still wins its best result in rural, clerical Catholic Altbayern (Old Bavaria), which includes Upper and Lower Bavaria and Upper Palatinate. It also polls strongly in Catholic Lower Franconia. The CDU polled over 50% of the votes in other Catholic areas including Fulda (Hesse), Emsland (Lower Saxony), the Sauerland (NRW), the Münsterland (NRW), the Eifel (NRW/Rhineland-Palatinate) and Catholic regions of Baden and Württemberg. The CDU’s results are also markedly higher than in surrounding areas in the Catholic enclave of the Eichsfeld (Thuringia), the only district in the former GDR which does not have a non religious majority. In the district which includes the Eichsfeld, the CDU won 44.8% – its best result in Thuringia (the CDU won 53.6% in Landkreis Eichsfeld).

It is worth reiterating that while the confessional divide remains an important determinant of vote choice in West Germany and Catholicism a strong predictor of higher support for the CDU, the CDU – unlike the Zentrum - is not an exclusively Catholic party – 38% of its members are Protestant, and the party polls strongly in rural Protestant areas. The FDP’s collapse in those areas since 2009 has further boosted the CDU’s voteshare, while Merkel has somewhat reduced the intensity of the religious cleavage because of her Ossie roots and Protestant faith (certainly, the confessional divide was much stronger in 2002, when the Bavarian Catholic Stoiber was the Union’s chancellor-candidate). The CDU polled over 40% in much of rural northern Lower Saxony, outside the SPD strongholds of East Frisia and southern Lower Saxony, as well as rural and suburban Schleswig-Holstein. In both of these regions, an historically large proportion of Heimatvertriebene - post-WWII German refugees from lost eastern territories – has contributed to the CDU’s strength. The CDU inherited those voters in the late 1950s and early 1960s after ephemeral right-wing (and largely Protestant) parties such as the DP or the GB/BHE (Gesamtdeutscher Block/Bund der Heimatvertriebenen und Entrechteten) folded and their voters flowed to the CDU, although some passed through the far-right NPD which was strong in rural Protestant Lower Saxony in the 1960s and 1970s. Hesse and Bavaria also had large population of post-war eastern refugees. The impact of these voters should not over overstated, especially in 2013, but I do think that it does help explain some voting patterns.

The CDU/CSU performed better in rural areas than in urban or even suburban areas, but the urban-rural divide is not as stark as in certain countries (the US). In urban and suburban areas, the CDU/CSU polled quite well in affluent urban neighborhoods or affluent suburbs. The FDP’s collapse in those areas significantly increased the CDU’s vote share quite consequentially, for example from 33.9% to 46.9% in Böblingen (BaWü), where the FDP had won 21% of the vote in 2009. The CDU/CSU also won 46.9% in München-Land (Bavaria), 51.5% in Starnberg (Bavaria), 43.8% in Main-Taunus (Hesse – although the CDU vote did not increase by a lot – it was 37% in 2009) and so forth.

Voting patterns in East Germany are far less ideological, and owe far more to personality or the relative strength/organization of the respective parties in each state in the years following reunification. Years of Nazi and later communist dictatorial rule effectively killed off pre-war political traditions and party organization, and communist rule destroyed organized religious in the East, so the confessional divide – a major voting determinant in the West – is not a factor outside the Eichsfeld region.

For historical comparison: the 1912 Reichstag election (source: Wikipedia.de)

Saxony is perhaps the best example. Before Hitler took power in 1933, Saxony – and parts of what is today Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt – had been socialist/communist strongholds. Saxony was where the SPD first found support, and by 1912 Saxony was known as ‘Red Saxony’ or the ‘Red Kingdom’ because almost all of its seats in the Reichstag were held by the SPD. The KPD and SPD were strong in Saxony and Thuringia in the interwar years, although the Nazis obtained very strong results in parts of Saxony (notably the Vogtland and Erzgebirge) in the 1930s. Leftist support in Saxony was strongest in the heavily unionized cities (Leipzig and Dresden) and in a diverse web of smaller industrial towns (mining, but largely textile) in the Vogtland and Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains). Saxony developed its own leftist subculture, in which the SPD was not only a political organization but also a social organization, especially in the cities, running its own de facto welfare state and playing a key part in social and cultural life. While very marked social antagonisms and a vociferously anti-socialist bourgeoisie contributed to leftist strength in Red Saxony, socialist support in the region also expressed local opposition to Prussian hegemony. While the SPD enjoyed strong support through a remarkable organization in Leipzig or Dresden (and central Saxony), its support was more fragile in places such as the Vogtland and Erzgebirge; hence, the Nazis were able to poll very well in the depression years (Saxony hit extremely hard) in those places where the SPD’s organization was less solid. Whatever socialist tradition survived the Nazi years was crushed by over four decades of communist rule.

Following reunification, Saxon politics came to be thoroughly dominated by the state CDU, under the leadership of Kurt Biedenkopf, the very popular Minister-President of the state between 1990 and 2002. The CDU won absolute majorities in three state elections in the 1990s, it only lost its absolute majority in 2004. Today, Saxony is the last state in Germany still ruled by a black-yellow coalition. In contrast, the state SPD – ironically if you keep in mind its history – is extremely weak, and the state Die Linke does not seem particularly vibrant either. While the CDU tradition might also owe to Saxon opposition to the GDR, which was perceived by many as a ‘Prussian’ state, it seems that a lot of the state’s CDU tradition is due to its complete dominance of state politics since reunification. Interestingly, the CDU polled rather poorly federally in Saxony in 1998, 2002 and 2005; since the last election, the CDU’s result in federal elections have caught up with its strong results in state elections (still 40% in the 2009 state election). This year, the CDU won 42.6% (+8%) to Die Linke’s 20% (down 4.5%) and the SPD’s 14.6% (stagnant). Unsurprisingly, the CDU’s support is lower in the major cities (Leipzig, Dresden and Chemnitz) and very strong (over 45%) in rural Middle Saxony, the Erzgebirge or Sächsische Schweiz.

The CDU also polled very well in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which is Angela Merkel’s home state (she holds a direct seat in the northeast corner of the state). It won 42.5% of the vote, up nearly 10 points from 33% in 2009. Die Linke’s vote fell from 29% to 21.5% and the SPD won 17.8%. Certainly, a lot of this strong support is a personal/favourite daughter vote for Merkel, given that the CDU has not achieved a ‘Saxony’ level of dominance in state politics since reunification (in fact, it is currently the junior partner in a Grand Coalition led by the SPD). Merkel has been ‘good’ for her state, in the form of showering goodies on her home turf or promoting the state. For example, her government has been a big promoter of wind energy as part of its renewable energy push, and wind energy has become a major employer in the state.

In the East, one of the CDU’s most remarkable performances came from the state of Brandenburg. The CDU, which had placed third in the state in 2009 (with 23.6%) increased its support by over 10 points to 34.8%, while Die Linke’s vote fell from 28.5% to 22.4% and the SPD vote, countercyclical to the rest of the country, also fell (by 2% to 23.1%). While Saxony has been a CDU stronghold since reunification, Brandenburg has been a SPD/Linke stronghold since reunification. The SPD has held the state premiership since 1990, with Manfred Stolpe as Minister-President between 1990 and 2002. The state CDU has been weak, polling only 20% in the last state election – held on the same day as the 2009 federal election. The CDU’s weakness in 2009 might have been due to the state election being held on the same day, and the state SPD/Linke appear stronger at the state than federal level, but the CDU’s support was even lower in the state in 2005. The CDU’s strong performance this year might instead be due to the potential unpopularity of the state red-red government (which just changed premiers) or perhaps booming suburban growth around Berlin.

% second votes for the SPD by wahlkreise, shading in 5% increments from <18% to >33% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

% second votes for the SPD by wahlkreise, shading in 5% increments from <18% to >33% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

The SPD‘s core strongholds are urban, industrial and historically working-class areas (in West Germany). Given the wide margin between first and second, the overall results map (showing the largest party) has the SPD reduced to its core strongholds: the mining basin of the Ruhr, which remains one of the most economically deprived areas in West Germany; poor, Protestant and oftentimes old industrial regions such as northern Hesse, southern Lower Saxony, Lippe (NRW) and East Frisia; and working-class cities (or parts thereof) such as Bremen and Hamburg.

The SPD’s strongest constituency was Gelsenkirchen (44%), an impoverished (and ethnically diverse) former coal mining centre and depressed post-industrial city in the Ruhr conurbation. The SPD won over 40% of the second vote in other similar constituencies in the Ruhr: 43.9% in Herne-Bochum II (right next door to Gelsenkirchen), 43% in Duisburg II (the poorest northern half of Duisburg, a depressed industrial city known for its iron works and huge inland harbour), 41.3% in Oberhausen-Wessel III (another old coal mining area), 41.7% in Essen II (the most working-class neighborhoods of Essen, an industrial city formerly dominated by steel, iron works and mining)40.9% in Dortmund II (the poorest parts of Dortmund, an old coal and steel city).

The SPD’s strongest result outside the Ruhr was Aurich-Emden, an East Frisian constituency where the SPD took 43.8% of the vote. The city of Emden is a significant industrial harbour, shipbuilding centre and the site of a Volkswagen plant; East Frisia as a whole is a traditionally poor, underdeveloped and heavily Protestant area with limited industry outside urban areas. The SPD also did well (36.3%) in the other Frisian constituency, Friesland-Wilhelmshaven-Wittmund.

In the same state, the southern Lower Saxony – notably Hanover, Peine, Salzgitter and Wolfsburg – is another major SPD stronghold. This region, heavily Protestant, includes a number of major industrial cities. The SPD won 39.3% in Salzgitter-Wolfenbüttel (Salzgitter is a former iron ore mining community, which currently has a large steel plant), 36.1% in Gifhorn-Peine, doing best in Peine (a city also known for its steel industry), and 38% in Goslar-Northeim-Osterode. Overall, this is a fairly industrialized region, with a patchwork of smaller and larger industrial centres. It is rather poor as well, although Wolfsburg – Volkswagen’s HQs – has low unemployment (about 5%) because of Volkswagen.

Northern Hesse, around Kassel, is another SPD stronghold. It is not unlike southern Lower Saxony or NRW, but the area’s Social Democratic tradition is both more recent than the Ruhr’s and owes less to an industrial proletariat (although Kassel was a major industrial centre in the past, and Borken was the centre of a large mining area). The SPD won 34% in Kassel, 36.9% in Werra-Meiβner-Herseld-Rotenburg, 36.5% in Schwalm-Eder and 36% in Waldeck.

In NRW, the SPD is also relatively strong in the Protestant regions of Lippe, Herford, Bielefeld and the Siegerland. All of these regions are historically industrial, with textile and cigar making in Lippe and northeastern NRW and iron/steel works in the Siegerland.

The only two states won by the SPD this year were the traditional SPD strongholds of Bremen and Hamburg, two major industrial cities in northern Germany which have been fairly solid SPD strongholds for years. In Hamburg, the SPD performed best, unsurprisingly, in the most traditionally working-class neighborhoods of the city. In Bremen, the SPD’s best results were in the industrial and low-income city of Bremerhaven and lower-income blue-collar areas located outside the posh centre of the city of Bremen proper.

As is usual, the SPD did poorly in southern Germany, running up against a wall in Catholic regions – the SPD’s difficulty to breakthrough in Catholic regions, even more blue-collar areas, dates back to the party’s origins in the pre-1914 era, when the SPD did very poorly with Catholic voters and won most of its support from Protestant (even if in name only) voters. Today, the SPD also suffers from stiff competition from the Greens in many university towns in Bavaria and BaWü. In Bavaria, the remnants of a strong SPD tradition in the Protestant regions of Franconia (Hof, Erlengen, Fürth, Coburg and Nuremberg). Most of these have a strong industrial history (Hof’s textile industry, Erlangen with Siemens etc), and a fairly strong socialist history. The SPD won 28.5% in Nuremerg-South, 27.8% in Coburg and 26.7% in Hof. In BaWü, the SPD’s best result was, naturally, Mannheim (27.5%), a fairly important industrial city. The SPD also performed strongly in industrial and Protestant towns in Rhineland-Palatinate: 32.7% in Kaiserslautern, 29.8% in Worms and 29.5% in Ludwigshafen/Frankenthal.

The SPD did strongly in the Saarland, an industrial and old mining basin, increasing its vote share from 24.7% to 31%, likely benefiting from an 11% fall in Die Linke’s vote from the 2009 election.

The SPD still performs poorly in East Germany, except for Brandenburg (yet even there it only won 23% of the vote). In aging and socioeconomically depressed areas outside major Eastern cities, the SPD still has a very weak infrastructure and Die Linke rakes up whatever ideologically left-wing vote might exist. The SPD’s best Eastern results come from the cities: around 18.5% in Leipzing, 17.6% in Erfurt-Weimar, 20.9% in Magdeburg and a bit less than 15% in Dresden. The SPD’s worst result in Germany was 10.9% in remote Sächsische Schweiz (Saxony).

Not all of the SPD’s strongest regions have a longstanding (read: pre-1945) socialist history. While Hamburg, Bremen, Kiel and Lübeck were electing SPD members to the Reichstag in 1912, the SPD’s breakthrough in the Ruhr was slower because of difficulty in breaking through with Protestant and Catholic voters (Protestant workers in the Ruhr seem to have voted for the liberals until the 1890s) and the SPD’s support in what is today modern-day southern Lower Saxony was limited to the more industrial centres. Northern Hesse, the Saarland, the Siegerland, most of Lippe and most of East Frisia outside Emden were not SPD strongholds prior to 1945. Northern Hesse and the Siegerland were hotbeds of anti-Semitic Protestant politics in the Kaiserreich and northern Hesse was one of the Nazi’s strongest regions; the SPD achieved some success in Bielefeld but Lippe was never strongly leftist under the Kaiserreich or Weimar; finally, the SPD’s support in East Frisia was limited to Emden, its support in Aurich district was mediocre (and Nazi support was high: Hitler won the district in the 1932 presidential runoff ballot). In contrast, the SPD is notably weaker in Franconia, where it was quite strong in the late Kaiserreich and early Weimar Republic. Needless to say, almost nothing remains of the SPD’s pre-Nazi strongholds in the ex-GDR.

% second votes for Die Linke by wahlkreise, shading 28% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

% second votes for Die Linke by wahlkreise, shading <7%, <15%, <22%, <28%, >28% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

Die Linke‘s support is, obviously, disproportionately East German: its weakest showing in the ex-GDR is 17.1%, its strongest showing in the West (excluding West Berlin) is 11.7% in Saarbrücken. In the East, the party polled best in Thuringia (23.4%), Saxony-Anhalt (23.9%) and Brandenburg (22.4%); it was weakest in the CDU bastion of Saxony (20%) and Merkel’s home turf of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (21.5%). By far, however, its best Eastern results come from East Berlin – 29% in the parts of the German capital which were on the ‘other side’ of the Wall. East Berlin is also where Die Linke won its four district mandates, and where it has held at least one district seat since 1990. In 2009, Die Linke had managed to win a number of district seats outside East Berlin, but with the CDU’s success in the East, it lost them all and only held on to its four East Berlin seats.

Die Linke’s best second vote was result 34.6% in Berlin-Lichtenberg – a constituency with a large concentrations of Plattenbauten (prefabricated concrete slab state-housing from the GDR). It won 32.9% in neighboring Berlin-Marzahn-Hellersdorf (again, Marzahn has large Plattenbauten low-income housing estates) and 29.5% in Berlin-Treptow-Köpenick.

In general, Die Linke’s strongest results in East Germany tend to come from towns or areas which were developed as semi-new towns under the GDR, have large Plattenbauten estates or are otherwise influenced by ‘socialist architecture’. Die Linke performs very well, indeed, in ‘new towns’ which were built or more often extensively developed under communist rule: 26.7% in Hoyerswerda (Saxony, also a lignite mining area), 26.4% in Eisenhüttenstadt (Brandenburg), 30.3% in Suhl (Thuringia), 29.5% in Gera (Thuringia) and 25.8% in Neubrandenburg (MVP). Similarly, zooming down to a more micro level, Die Linke’s best precincts in, for example, Dresden came from the Plattenbauten neighborhoods of Gorlitz (over 25%) and Prohlis (up to 28.5%). Die Linke also polls quite well in industrial cities such as Rostock, MVP (24.8%) and economically depressed places such as Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg (27.2%).

To be fair, looking over local-level results maps, Die Linke also polls well in some less urban areas: 26.8% in the Mansfeld-Südharz landkreise in Saxony-Anhalt, 25.6% in the Salzlandkreis and 24.7% in Stendal landkreise in the same state. These areas have high unemployment (which hasn’t changed much: decline has been due to continue depopulation) and old populations.

Die Linke’s results in the growing parts of East Germany were poor – first and foremost Berlin’s growing suburbs in Brandenburg (below 20% in a lot of suburban towns just outside Berlin) or the university town of Weimar in Thuringia (21.1%).

Die Linke’s support fell off in West Germany: although, as noted above, its percentage of the vote fell by less in the West than in the East, it held a larger percentage of its 2009 vote in the East. The most dramatic fall for Die Linke in the West came from Saarland, where the party’s fell from 21% to 10% (and even much below its 2005 result: 18.5%). The cause is a ‘reverse’ Lafontaine effect: the removal of Oskar Lafontaine’s favourite son vote in his home state, which was very strong in 2009 and even 2005. Lafontaine remains an eminence grise in the Linke, but he played a smaller role in the 2013 campaign than the 2005 or 2009 campaigns, where he co-led the party’s campaign.

Outside Saarland, the Linke’s best Western results came from urban areas and the Ruhr (I realize the Ruhr is extremely urban). It won about 7-9% in Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Essen and Duisburg. Its other urban performances reveal strong support in both blue-collar places such as Mannheim (7.5%), Bremen II-Bremerhaven (10%) and Hamburg-Bergedorf-Harburg (8.4%); but also more hipster young support in gentrified bohemian areas: Sternschanze (24.4%), St. Pauli (23.8%) and Altona-Altstadt (18.8%) in Hamburg, or some of Berlin’s trendy/bohemian areas (Die Linke won a number of precincts in Neukölln, a mixed neighborhood in West Berlin with a large bohemian population in parts). However, in Hamburg, for example (but also, I believe Frankfurt and other Western cities), Die Linke polls quite well in poorer blue-collar areas too (where the Greens do not poll so well).

% second votes for the Greens by wahlkreise, shading in 3% increments from 16% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

% second votes for the Greens by wahlkreise, shading in 3% increments from <7% to >16% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

The Greens are, very unsurprisingly, a predominantly urban party. Its best result was pretty obviously Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Prenzlauer Berg East constituency (20.8%), the hub of the Berlin counterculture and covering the capital’s most bohemian neighborhoods. The constituency is also famous for being the Greens’ first and to date only district seat – the very colourful Hans-Christian Ströbele won the seat for the Greens in 2002 and has been reelected ever since then. He won reelection this year with a 21.9% margin, down from 29% in 2009. The Greens’ list vote, however, took quite a tumble: from 27.4% to 20.8%, falling into third behind Die Linke and the SPD who both gained from 2009. The Greens also did well in Berlin-Mitte (16.7%) and Berlin-Tempelhof-Schöneberg (15.4%).

Outside Berlin, the next strongest Green performance was in Freiburg (19.8%, down from 22.8%) in BaWü. Freiburg is a major university city, and an old hotbed of Green support and anti-nuclear activism. The city has a Green mayor since 2002. The Greens receive strong support in other university towns across Germany: 14.8% in Tübingen (BaWü), 15% in Karlsruhe (BaWü), 14.8% in Heidelberg (BaWü), 14.2% in Darmstadt (Hesse), 12.2% in Göttingen (Lower Saxony), 13.7% in Bonn (NRW), 15.6% in Cologne-II (NRW), 15.2% in Münster (NRW) and 13.1% in Aachen (NRW). The Greens won 9.3% in Freising (Bavaria), but their result in the city of Freising – an old Green stronghold with an agricultural/technical college (and NIMBY opposition to Munich airport expansion) – is likely much stronger.

In urban areas, the Greens’ support is generally rather different from the SPD’s core bases of support – while the SPD polls better in blue-collar areas, neighborhoods with a large immigrant population or social housing precincts; the Greens naturally do better in the inner-cities – boroughs with a younger population, often at the core of the counterculture/student movement in the 1970s, oftentimes gentrified old working-class neighborhoods and cosmopolitan, lively areas with large LGBT, student, yuppie/aged ’70s hippies populations. They are not particularly affluent (and some areas retain pockets of deprivation), but gentrification has pushed property prices up significantly, In Frankfurt, the Greens won 23.7% in Nordend-Ost, 19.6% in Nordend-West and 18.9% in Bornheim. It won only 12.8%, for example, in the low-income Gallus borough. In Hamburg, the Greens won 27.1% in Sternschanze, 25% in Ottensen, 24.2% in Altona-Nord and 23% in St. Pauli – again, gentrified trendy/bohemian neighborhoods.

In Berlin, the Greens’ best neighborhoods are Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Kreuzburg, parts of Neukölln (the trendy Reuterkiez, the Greens are not as strong in the low-income parts of Neukölln), and Schöneberg. Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzburg are multicultural, cosmopolitan and bohemian inner-city areas which have seen major gentrification since the fall of the Wall and they are Berlin’s most famous hip/countercultural/alternative neighborhoods. The Greens’ best state district (Abgeordnetenhauswahlkreise) was Friedrichshain-Kreuzburg II (29.7%) followed by Friedrichshain-Kreuzburg I (27.8%), Pankow 6 (26.8%), Neukölln 1 (25.7%) and Tempelhof-Schöneberg (25.3%).

The Greens won 17.5% in Stuttgart I, which includes the downtown core, the trendy spots and student neighborhoods of Stuttgart. Green co-leader Cem Özdemir won 27.5% of the first vote in the district, placing a distant second to the CDU (42%).

In Munich, the Greens’ best results came from – no surprise here again - Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt and Schwanthalerhöhe (22.9%), an historically working-class and low income neighborhood which has gentrified considerably and is now the city’s top bohemian/alternative neighborhood.

One will notice the Green outcrop in northern Lower Saxony – 14.3% in Lüchow-Dannenberg-Lüneburg. Without knowing much about this district, I believe it is largely due to heavy Green support in the university town of Lüneburg but also fairly high Green votes in the countryside (Lüchow-Dannenberg county) due to anti-nuclear sentiments created by the proposed Gorleben nuclear waste dump.

The Greens are weak in rural areas and heavily industrialized areas such as the Ruhr (outside the city cores of places such as Dortmund); they have also had, outside BaWü, trouble breaking through in rural Catholic areas – notice the very low levels of support in Cloppenburg-Vechta or in the rural parts of Altbayern. Unsurprisingly, much of East Germany is a dead-zone for the Greens: an old population, very few students or other core Green voters outside the cities and a declining post-industrial economy. The Greens polled below 5% in every ex-GDR state outside East Berlin, a very disappointing result for the Greens who had managed to win seats in each Eastern state legislatures in the last state elections. Their best GDR result, outside East Berlin, was Leipzig II (11.2%, this district includes the young and trendy neighborhood of Südvorstadt, a Green stronghold), followed by Dresden II-Bautzen II (9.5%) and suburban Potsdam (9%). The Greens performed best in Eastern university towns: 11.6% in Jena (Thuringia), 11.1% in Weimar (Thuringia) and 7.8% in Halle (Saxony-Anhalt).

It is worth reiterating how disappointing these results all are for the Greens. Unlike in 2009, they did not top the poll in most of their traditional inner-city strongholds. The Green vote fell by about 7 points in Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Prenzlauer Berg East, an extremely substantial loss which caused them to drop from first to third. They placed fourth in Berlin-Mitte, the other district where they had topped the second vote in 2009. In Frankfurt, the Greens did not place first in any of their top boroughs. In Hamburg, the Greens narrowly topped the poll only in Sternschanze. In Munich, the Greens fell from first to third in Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt and Schwanthalerhöhe.

Even in the East, where growth in urban areas provides the Greens with long-term potential, the Green vote fell from 2009 – although by smaller amounts than it did in their western strongholds.

% second votes for the FDP by wahlkreise, shading in 1% increments from <5% to >8% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

% second votes for the FDP by wahlkreise, shading in 1% increments from <5% to >8% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

The FDP‘s map does not seem to have changed much from 2009, with the exception that the party’s results are way, way lower than they were four years ago. Contemporary FDP support close resembles the distribution of wealth, with the FDP’s strongholds being the most affluent regions of Germany while its worst regions – both urban and rural – tend to be poorer. German liberal parties have always attracted support from the secular Protestant middle-classes and the urban bourgeoisie/industrialists. However, little – if anything – is left of liberal traditions in rural Protestant regions.

The FDP’s best results came from affluent areas. The FDP’s best constituency was Düsseldorf II (NRW) with 9.2%, followed by Main-Taunus (Heese) at 8.6%. The FDP also did quite ‘well’ in München-Land (Bavaria) with 8.5%, Bonn (NRW) with 8.3%, Stuttgart II (BaWü) with 8.3% and Köln II (NRW) with 8.1%. I believe there may have been local ‘loan vote’ deals between the CDU and the FDP in some constituencies in NRW (Bonn, I think).

The aforementioned constituencies and other places where the FDP did ‘well’ in 2013 (and much, much better in 2009 obviously) all include affluent urban neighborhoods or suburban communities. Düsseldorf II includes some very affluent suburban neighborhoods in the north of the city, including Carlstadt (19% FDP – 27.5% in 2009), Niederkassel (15.5%, 30.7% in 2009), Oberkassel (18%) and Wittlaer (13.8%). Main-Taunus, located north of Frankfurt, includes some of the city’s most affluent suburbs in the Taunus hills. München-Land, similarly, covers affluent suburbs south of Munich (the FDP won 7.4% in Starnberg, a very affluent area surrounding Lake Starnberg south of Munich). Köln II includes the exclusive community of Hahnwald (23.5% FDP, over 40% in 2009!) and other affluent suburban neighborhoods such as Marienburg (17.2%) and Müngersdorf (13.7%). At the other extreme, in Cologne’s working-class and low-income neighborhoods such as Vingst and Kalk, the party barely won 3%.

Inside the cities themselves, FDP support is strongest in pricey affluent core neighborhoods. For example, the FDP won 15.6% in Westend-Süd and 12.5% in Westend-Nord, Frankfurt’s two most affluent core neighborhoods. In Munich, the FDP won 13.5% in Altstadt-Lehel, a similar downtown area with very high property prices and – as a result – a high-income population. It also won 10.8% in Bogenhausen, more socially diverse but with some very affluent areas (Herzogpark/Oberföhring) where the FDP won up to 22% in some precincts.

The states where the FDP won over 5% of the vote were BaWü (6.2%), Hesse (5.6%), Schleswig-Holstein (5.6%), Rhineland-Palatinate (5.5%), NRW (5.2%) and Bavaria (5.1%). Its worst states were all in East Germany, where overall the FDP’s results were hilariously bad – oftentimes in seventh or so place behind the AfD and the Nazis. Naturally, the FDP’s worst result was 1.6% in Berlin-Lichtenberg (East Berlin).

BaWü (more accurately Württemberg proper) has a long tradition of liberal support, it was a liberal stronghold under the Kaiserreich and liberals continued to poll well in Württemberg during Weimar. The FDP has inherited some of the DDP/DVP’s former Protestant strongholds in Württemberg (further boosted by the fact that BaWü is one of Germany’s most affluent states), including some less suburban areas. Interestingly, however, liberals enjoyed some more Catholic support in southern Germany (notably Baden and the Palatinate) during the Kaiserreich (because of an anti-clerical tradition and a more enlightened Catholic Church) – and the FDP still polls better in Catholic areas of Baden and Rhineland-Palatinate than in other Catholic areas, although both of these regions are also wealthy.

Schleswig-Holstein also has a longstanding liberal tradition, though the FDP’s support in that state seems largely the result of Hamburg suburbia and other local factors. The FDP vote might have held up better, comparatively, in Schleswig-Holstein and NRW this year because both state FDPs are led by relatively popular ‘maverick’-ish politicians.

% second votes for the AfD by wahlkreise, shading in 1% increments from <4% to >7% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

% second votes for the AfD by wahlkreise, shading in 1% increments from <4% to >7% (source: Wahlatlas 2013)

The AfD had interesting patterns of support, although not unusual if we treat the AfD’s electorate as a protest vote (which it largely is, certainly much moreso than any of the other parties’ electorates). As the vote transfer analysis showed, the AfD’s votes came largely from the FDP, Die Linke and other parties with the CDU/CSU and 2009 non-voters contributing a smaller but not insignificant share.

The AfD did best in East Germany, where it won over 6% in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg and over 5% in MVP (for some reason, the AfD only won 4% in Saxony-Anhalt). The party’s best constituency was Görlitz (Saxony) with 8.2% followed by the Sächsische Schweiz (7.9%). It also polled well in all of eastern Saxony outside of Dresden, the Erzgebirge and other similarly rural, poor and remote regions in MVP (the far east of the state) and Thuringia (outside the main urban areas). These low-income, economically depressed (very high unemployment) and remote regions often show strong support for other similar protest parties: Die Linke, of course, but also the NPD (the AfD’s map is very similar to the NPD in the East). Given Saxony-Anhalt’s low levels of AfD support and the relative ‘peripheral’/’borderlands’ support for the AfD in the other ex-GDR states, I am left wondering if those state’s foreign neighbors – Poland and the Czech Republic – might influence a nationalistic, Eurosceptic and perhaps xenophobic vote. Or is it due to local economic circumstances, naturally breeding discontent and making the AfD’s message attractive?

It might surprise some that the AfD, a right-leaning party, pulled so much support from Die Linke, the most far left of Germany’s major parties. In East Germany, however, Die Linke’s vote does not seem to be all that ideological. Their electorate – older, technocratic and probably educated (under the GDR) – does not seem particularly eager for radical change and appears, on the whole, more conservative and interested in short/medium-term improvements in their financial and social statuses.

In the West, the AfD’s support is a bit weird. There are some clear FDP patterns on the map – Hamburg’s suburbs (Harburg in Lower Saxony: 6%), Pforzheim in BaWü (7.2%), Main-Taunus in Hesse (6.9%), Munich’s suburbs (extended into Swabia). In northern Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, the AfD’s support is fairly close correlated to that of post-war German refugees; in other regions, the AfD’s support appears to be more rural and Protestant than Catholic. The AfD appears to have pulled an ideologically diverse electorate (with a lot from the FDP, though), concentrated in small towns and exurbs/suburbs. Not too unusual – lower middle-class outer suburban areas tend to be poorer and have strong feelings of alienation/dissatisfaction from politics and the major political parties.

In the cities, I haven’t done much analysis of the AfD’s support, but it seems to have drawn a socially diverse bunch of precincts: both affluent FDP strongholds and poorer, more left-wing (SPD/Linke, not Green). In Berlin, the AfD’s top 10 precincts were mostly in East Berlin and almost all of them – East or West – from fairly low-income areas (strong results in the Plattenbauten areas of East Berlin).

Pirate support was heavily skewed towards the inner-cities, oftentimes the same districts where the Greens did best. Their best result was 5.8% in Berlin-Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Prenzlauer Berg East; doing best in eastern Friedrichshain. They also won 4.7% in Berlin-Mitte and 4.1% in Berlin-Neukölln. Outside Berlin, their best results were Dresden II-Bautzen II (4.4%), Karlsruhe (4%) and Hamburg-Mitte (3.1%). Compared to the Greens, the Pirate electorate is younger and probably poorer as well.

The Berliner Morgenpost published a fantastic shaded, interactive map of the precinct results in Berlin. Naturally, the most striking thing about Berlin is the East-West division; in other words, how the Berlin Wall still influences voting patterns.

Results by precinct in Berlin (source: Berliner Morgenpost)

Results by precinct in Berlin (source: Berliner Morgenpost)

Die Linke’s best performances in Berlin – and in other East German cities (I looked at Leipzig and Dresden) – came from densely populated areas with high-rise Plattenbauten; for example the neighborhoods of Marzahn (the party’s best result, over 37%), Hellersdorf, Neu-Hohenschönhausen, Friedrichsfelde, Lichtenburg, parts of Pankow, western Friedrichshain, Mitte (that part which was in the GDR, in downtown East Berlin) and so forth. In East Berlin, Die Linke did not do as well in more suburban areas – with little high-rise apartment blocks and more single houses – notice the solid CDU area in Marzahn-Hellersdorf (Mahlsdorf, Kaulsdorf, Biesdorf), East Berlin’s most affluent suburban area, in the state district containing that area, Die Linke won only 24.6% (and the CDU won 35%). Similarly, the CDU did quite well in the more suburban parts of Pankow and Treptow-Köpenick.

The other exception is the extensively gentrified inner-city bohemian Green/Pirate strongholds of eastern Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg. The Greens lost a lot of precincts in eastern Friedrichshain, the most gentrified part of the neighborhood, but still won a good number of precincts in Prenzlauer Berg. Green support, unlike Die Linke, SPD, FDP and even CDU support ignores the Wall. Its inner-city strongholds are on both sides of the Wall. The Greens won a number of precincts in Kreuzberg, a very multicultural and countercultural neighborhood; the Greens did well both in the ethnically diverse and more economically deprived countercultural stronghold around Schlesisches Tor/SO36 and in more affluent areas further west. The Greens poll strongly in most other central core neighborhoods, including the fairly middle-class and white-collar yuppie Schöneberg/Friedenau (Schöneberg also has a large LGBT population) and Moabit, and ethnically diverse and economically deprived precincts in Wedding, Gesundbrunnen and Neukölln (some of the Greens’ best results came from the trendy and gentrifying Reuterkiez; Die Linke and the SPD picked up a lot of precincts in the lower-income parts of the socially troubled neighborhood).

SPD support, heavily West Berlin-based, forms a sort of C-shape around downtown Berlin (the CDU won the extremely expensive parts of the downtown core) – picking up some Green support in Neukölln, Kreuzberg, Tempelhof, Schöneberg, parts of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Moabit, Wedding and Gesundbrunnen. In other words, a mix of both Green strongholds and multicultural lower-income areas such as ‘Red Wedding’, Gesundbrunnen, and Charlottenburg North. Outside these areas, the SPD only managed to win a bunch of precincts, a lot in the working-class parts of Spandau – almost all covering densely populated precincts with high-rise apartments and/or social housing.

The CDU did best in all of the outlying, more suburban areas of West Berlin; with strongest results in the most affluent neighborhoods such as those facing the Grunewald.

Some other cities have interactive maps of their results at the precinct level; Dresden and Munich have particularly well-done apps which allow you to compare two maps, and it automatically generates a correlation graph and correlation coefficients/R2 stats for you. For example, in Munich, there’s a 0.61 correlation between the Green vote and the population aged 35-44; and a 0.55 correlation between the SPD vote and the population with a ‘migration background’ (immigrants).

Coalition formation

There are two potential coalitions on these results. The most likely coalition is a Grand Coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD. Angela Merkel has little qualms with such an option, she didn’t suffer too much from the 2005-2009 Grand Coalition, she will have the upper hand over her potential junior partner in any new Grand Coalition and she is flexible enough as a leader to alter the more controversial parts of her platform to meet halfway with the SPD (although, with the CDU/CSU in such strong footing, the SPD will be doing much of the concessions). Talks between the CDU/CSU and SPD kicked off on October 4.

The CDU/CSU and SPD already agree on a number of policy items, including important topics such as foreign/European policy (even Eurozone policy, in the end…), retirement or housing. The main disagreements are on taxes, the minimum wage, healthcare and family policy. The CDU/CSU is opposed to any tax increases, despite earlier rumours that it might moderate its stance. Now, the SPD’s leader, Sigmar Gabriel, has made signs that he is ready to meet Merkel halfway on the issue, saying that tax increases are not an end in themselves. Merkel moved towards the SPD in announcing that investing in education/research, another SPD priority, would be a priority for the next Bundestag. The SPD might force Merkel to compromise on the minimum wage, which is something that she is probably willing to do.

However, the SPD is not as keen on the idea of a Grand Coalition. The last Grand Coalition was disastrous for the SPD, and they probably can’t help but wonder if Merkel will effectively do to the SPD what she did to the FDP (steamroll them). The SPD’s leadership, led by Sigmar Gabriel, seem pro-Grand Coalition, fearing for new elections if Merkel is unable to form a government (if she lacks SPD support). The SPD’s base, however, is lukewarm at best. Apparently, the SPD wants to consult its membership sometime in October or November. A recent ARD poll shows a majority of SPD members support a Grand Coalition.

Merkel could perhaps form a minority government composed only of the CDU/CSU, but this appears unlikely. Germany is not accustomed to minority governments, partly because of a lingering memory of the Weimar Republic’s unstable minority governments. However, Merkel could probably last a full term with a minority government, given that a Chancellor can only be removed by a vote of no-confidence if the opposition has agreed on its own alternative chancellor candidate (constructive motion of confidence). That being said, a minority government is uncharted waters and could potentially create an unstable political situation in which the three  opposition parties can ‘gang up’ and pass their own agenda and in which Merkel is left weakened. Merkel wants a strong government, so a minority government is unlikely.

The other option is a black-green coalition between Merkel and the Greens. Merkel seems to be the most interested in this option; the Greens appear fairly hostile although they have sat down with the CDU/CSU. The Bavarian CSU, finally, is opposed to a coalition with the Greens, both the Greens and CSU share mutual hatred for one another. The Greens demand more investments in education/research, a plan for renewable energy, a minimum wage and healthcare reform (single-payer). Given the Greens’ left-wing campaign and the CDU/CSU’s fairly anti-Green campaign (playing on the pedophilia scandal), such an option appears unlikely. Furthermore, the Greens’ four negotiators are due to be replaced (Trittin and co-leader Claudia Roth), so the Greens are going through a period of leadership change and renewal, therefore probably even less willing to be serious about a coalition.

Besides, the Greens know that their base would not easily accept a coalition with the CDU/CSU, and they would likely lose significant support in an election after a black-green coalition.

Theoretically, a red-red-green coalition has a majority of seats (but not of the vote). Yet, this option is not even being considered. First and foremost, a coalition which would remove Merkel from the chancellorship after her spectacular victory would be a PR disaster for the three parties, most particularly the SPD. Public opinion is opposed to a red-red-green coalition to begin with, forming on in these circumstances would be a recipe for unmitigated disaster. Even a ‘Magdeburg Model’ coalition with external Die Linke support would not work out and would be very unpopular. Second, neither the SPD or the Greens are ready for a red-red-green coalition at the federal level. Foreign policy differences (NATO, EU) between the SPD/Greens and Die Linke are a major obstacle; among other factors. The SPD is probably worried about what effects such a coalition could have on its support in West Germany.

Merkel talked to the SPD last week, she talked with the Greens on October 10 and she will be meeting with both SPD and Green leaders again next week (October 14 for the SPD, October 15 for the Greens). She should announce by the end of next week, certainly before the Bundestag reconvenes on October 22, with which party she intends to open formal talks to negotiate a coalition agreement.

Addendum: Bavarian and Hessian state elections 2013

Bavaria

State elections were held in Bavaria back on September 15, a week before the federal elections. The Bavarian Landtag (Bayerischer Landtag), which will now have 187 seats, is elected by MMP but using a peculiar electoral system different from the one used in federal and most state elections. 90 seats are single-member district seats, elected by FPTP. However, the proportional representation aspect of the vote (the second vote) is different in that there are no statewide lists, but rather seven regional lists (seven regional constituencies corresponding to Bavaria’s seven districts) and these lists are open lists – voters vote for the list candidate of their choice. However, voters may not vote for a candidate who stood in their district on their second vote.

The distribution of seats (5% threshold, Hare/Niemeyer method) is determined by the gesamtstimmen (total votes) – the sum of first and second votes. If a candidate from a party which won less than 5% of the votes in Bavaria wins the most votes in a district seat, he/she is not elected because their party won less than 5%, the runner-up from a party which won over 5% in elected in their stead.

Even those who know little about Germany probably know that Bavaria often stands out from the rest of Germany, as one of the states with the strongest local identity. Conservative, predominantly Catholic and historically rural, many (especially those on the left) view Bavaria as an austere, clerical and arch-conservative bulwark in Germany – sometimes known as the “little Texas”. Bavarians tend to be fiercely proud of their cultures and traditions, and might identify as ‘Bavarians’ first rather than Germans. Germans from other regions, particularly northern Germany, tend to stereotype Bavarians as ‘weird’ – wearing dirndl and lederhosen, speaking ‘funny’ (Bavarian language, Upper German dialects) or the Oktoberfest.

Bavarian politics certainly reflects Bavaria’s more unique place in Germany. It is a conservative stronghold like no other German state, and it is also often a strong advocate for federalism and states’ rights. Bavaria resisted German unification – it allied with Catholic Austria in the 1866 war against the Protestant hegemon of northern Germany, Prussia. After German unification, the Kingdom of Bavaria retained the right to maintain its own standing army, conduct its own foreign policy and other small advantages. Under the Weimar Republic, Bavarian politics were largely dominated by the conservative, Catholic and regionalist Bavarian People’s Party (BVP), a vocal advocate and fierce defender of federalism and states’ rights. Although Bavaria is closely associated with Nazism because of Munich and Nuremberg’s prominent place in Nazi lore and propaganda, Catholic Bavaria was one of the toughest nuts to crack for the Nazis in the 1930s. Much like the other Catholic regions of Germany (the Rhineland, for example), the Nazis did not poll as well in Catholic Bavaria when it came to national prominence after 1930; its Bavarian support was largely from Protestant voters in Middle and Upper Franconia – from voters who had supported pan-German conservative or liberal parties in the past (Kaiserreich Conservatives, the DNVP or the liberal parties).

Under the Federal Republic, Bavarian politics have been dominated by a single party, a feat which no other party has achieved in any other state except perhaps neighboring BaWü. The Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, has governed the state since 1946 (except for 1954-1957) and it held an absolute majority in the Bavarian Landtag between 1962 and 2008.

A number of factors explain the CSU’s remarkable endurance. First and foremost, its conservative and Bavarian regionalist orientation is a good fit for the Bavarian electorate, which, outside of major urban centres, is very conservative. The SPD has long struggled to break through with Catholic voters, and in many parts of rural Altbayern (the most solidly Catholic and clerical region of Bavaria), the SPD is often seen as a foreign creature (associated with ‘godless’ socialism and anti-clericalism). In contrast, the CSU has built a solid base with small business owners, farmers, retirees, post-war German refugees and rural/small town voters in general. The CSU also won significant blue-collar/working-class support, because of the state’s low rates of unionization. Unlike the BVP, which was very much the heir to the Bavarian Zentrum from pre-war days, the CSU has also been able to break the confessional divide which was a defining element in Bavarian politics for years.

Secondly, the CSU, through its relative independence from the CDU and its nature as a Bavaria-only party, has successfully been able to ‘lobby’ for Bavarian interests in Berlin, or when the CDU/CSU is in the opposition federally, defend Bavarian interests against the intrusive federal government.

Thirdly, by controlling the state apparatus consistently since 1957, the CSU has come to control patronage networks and it has made efficient use of such networks to build up its political support. The CSU has been involved in a number of scandals over its history, none of these scandals have really hurt the party’s standing.

Last but not least, Bavaria has become one of Germany’s wealthiest states, as a prominent and well-off centre for manufacturing, IT, tourism and other tertiary industries. Most of Bavaria has extremely low unemployment rates today.

The CSU won the first two post-war elections in 1946 with over 50% of the vote. In the 1950 election, however, CSU support fell to 27.4% – down nearly 25 points – because of the emergence of two new parties which ate into the CSU’s conservative base: the separatist Bavaria Party (BP), which won 18% of the vote (mostly from Catholic Lower Bavaria) and the refugees’ party (BHE-DG), which won 12% (Bavaria received a large number of German refugees from former German territory in the east). A very divided Landtag allowed the SPD, in 1954, to form a coalition with the BP, BHE-DG and FDP, excluding the CSU. The CSU regained lost support in the 1954 election (38% of the vote, BP down to 13%) and returned to government, in coalition with the BHE-DG and FDP, which remained the CSU’s junior allies until 1962. The BP gradually died off after it lost its seats in the Bundestag in 1953 and following the ‘casino scandal’ in 1959, it lost all seats in 1966 and became an irrelevant minor party thereafter. Between 1978 and 1988, Bavaria was ruled by the colourful and controversial Franz Josef Strauß.

After winning 62% of the vote in 1974, the CSU’s vote gradually declined to 52% by 1994-1998. In the 2003 election, however, the CSU, led by Edmund Stoiber (Minister-President between 1993 and 2007), the CSU won 61% of the vote and upgraded its absolute majority to a two-thirds majority, the first time in the history of the Federal Republic. Five years later, however, the CSU suffered one of its worst defeats in decades, tumbling down 17% to ‘only’ 43% and losing its absolute majority, which it had held without interruption since 1962. In 2007, Stoiber, facing internal turmoil, had stepped down and was replaced by Günther Beckstein, a poor and uncharismatic leader. The CSU lost a lot of their support to the FDP, which won 8% and went on to be the CSU’s junior ally in the first coalition government in Bavaria since 1966; but it also lost much votes to the Free Voters (Freie Wähler, FW), an association of community/local lists and independent candidates which are present throughout Germany but quite strong in Bavaria, especially in local elections. In 2008, the FW owed much of their success to Gabriele Pauli, a CSU leader who criticized the CSU establishment and shocked the mainstream by proposing that marriages be turned into renewable seven-year contracts.

Beckstein stepped down after the election ‘defeat’ and was replaced by the much more charismatic Horst Seehofer, who is Bavaria’s Minister-President today. Seehofer has conservative views on immigrant, energy policy and same-sex marriage (the CSU’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage is one of the main reasons why it is not yet legal in Germany).

The FW are more or less centrist or centre-right, with an eclectic mix of socially liberal policies, conservative policies or economically liberal policies. Its main concern, however, is increasing local autonomy, more funding for communities, strengthening direct democracy and oftentimes opposition to specific infrastructure or investment projects in a given community. Their platform positions were fairly similar to the CSU’s this year.

The SPD, whose support in state elections has declined from a high of 36% in 1966 to an all-time low of 18.6% in 2009, had a strong top candidate this year: Munich mayor Christian Ude (since 1993), a popular mayor who was reelected with two-thirds of the vote in the 2008 election.

Turnout was 63.7%, up 6 points from 2008. The results were:

CSU 47.7% (+4.3%) winning 101 seats (+9)
SPD 20.6% (+2%) winning 42 seats (+3)
FW 9% (-1.2%) winning 19 seats (-2)
Greens 8.6% (-0.8%) winning 18 seats (-1)
FDP 3.3% (-4.7%) winning 0 seats (-16)
Die Linke 2.1% (-2.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
BP 2.1% (+1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
ÖDP 2% (±0%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Pirates 2% (+2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
REP 1% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Others 1.5% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Results of the 2013 Bavarian election by district (first vote constituency winner; source: Landeswahlleiter des Freistaates Bayern)

Unsurprisingly, Horst Seehofer’s CSU government, popular and buoyed by an exceptionally strong local economy, was handily reelected and regained the absolute majority it had lost in the 2008 election. The main things which played in the CSU’s favour, according to the exit poll (ARD), was a very strong economy (71% said Bavaria has done well in the past decade, 84% said the Bavarian economy was good, +16 on 2008), a strong candidate (Seehofer led Ude 55-36 in a direct matchup, 74% saw him as the strongest leader and 72% said he would best defend Bavarian interests) and perceived competence on economic issues (69% said they were the most competent on economic policy, vs. 13% for the SPD). The SPD dominated on its niche issues (wages, social policy).

65% of voters approved of the government, up 17% from 2008. As it did federally, the government’s popularity did not help the FDP – 78% of voters were unhappy with the FDP’s performance in government. Again, Bavarian voters said that they felt that the FDP had been unremarkable and pretty useless in government. The unpopularity of the federal FDP brand likely played a major role as well, in the absence of a local FDP leader like Christian Lindner (NRW) to boost their chances, and with the CSU not campaigning for any ‘loan votes’ in favour of the FDP.

The CSU regained support from voters who had backed the FDP in 2009 (120,000 2009 FDP voters voted CSU this year) and non-voters (320,000 2009 non-voters voted CSU in 2013), with minor gains (20,000 votes) from Die Linke and the Greens, and minor loses (20,000) votes to ‘other parties’ (for some boneheaded reason, these vote transfer analyses ignore the FW!). The FDP lost about 50,000 to all other parties combined. The SPD gained votes from non-voters (110,00 of them), the Greens (20,000) and Die Linke (40,000). I don’t like these figures much, in good part because ignoring the FW is stupid.

The CSU won 89 direct seats, the SPD won only a single district mandate – Munich-Milbertshofen, which they had also won in 2009. This district includes inter-war social housing, cooperative housing (Neuhausen), partially gentrified inner-city areas in Neuhausen, the trendy and gentrified bohemian district of Schwabing-West and post-war social housing projects in Milbertshofen-Am Hart. The SPD won 34% of the first votes against 32% for the CSU. The SPD came close in Munich-Schwabing, an inner-city district which includes both SPD/Green inner-city trendy/hip areas such as Isarvorstadt (a gentrified area which includes the gay neighborhood; a Green stronghold), Maxvorstadt (a large student/academic population due to the universities) but also the expensive posh inner-city residential area of Lehel, where the SPD is weak (but the Greens pretty strong). Vote splitting hurt the SPD and/or the Greens here; the CSU won only 31.6% of the first votes, against 29% for the SPD and 17.7% for the Greens (their candidate was their Bavarian top candidate). The SPD won a narrow plurality of the gesamtstimmen. The SPD won almost all of its best results in Munich. Not only is Munich an urban area which naturally votes to the left of its surroundings, the SPD received a clear ‘Ude effect’ in Munich and Upper Bavaria.

% change in the Bavarian Green vote since 2008 (source: Landeswahlleiter des Freistaates Bayern)

One of the main reasons the Greens lost votes is because they suffered the most from a the Ude-induced boost in SPD showings in Upper Bavaria – keep in mind that with Bavaria’s electoral systems, a voter could only vote for Ude (standing on the SPD list in Upper Bavaria) in Upper Bavaria; Ude was not on the ballot as a list candidate outside of that district. The map on the left shows the percentage change in the Green vote since the 2008 election: the Greens lost 3% of the gesamtstimmen in Upper Bavaria (and the SPD gained 2.8%…); they gained votes (albeit only marginally in a lot of cases) in the six other districts – most notably, the Greens gained further in Nuremberg and Augsburg. Their loses in Upper Bavaria were perhaps further explained by the loss of Sepp Daxenberger, a very popular Green leader and mayor in southeastern Bavaria who passed away in 2010.

The increase in the CSU vote since 2008 (map here) largely came from Catholic Altbayern, the CSU actually lost support in Protestant areas in Franconia, particularly in the Nuremberg/Fürth metro. 2008 CSU leader Beckstein was a Protestant from Nuremberg. In contrast, CSU gains were quite heavy around Ingolstadt and Neuburg-Schrobenhausen, Seehofer’s native town and his constituency. In the Munich metro area, the CSU also cashed in on the FDP’s major loses.

Here is an electoral atlas of the results. The CSU did best in rural Bavaria, particularly Catholic regions of Altbayern, most notably Seehofer’s home turf. The SPD’s best results came from Munich, but the party also did well in working-class Protestant areas in Franconia such as Hof (29.7%), Coburg (27.6%) or Wunsiedel-Kulmbach (28%); in addition to urban areas such as Nuremberg (30.7% in the city’s lower-income southern end), Regensburg, Augsburg and Würzburg. The Greens, outside of Munich, did best in Freising (18.9%), an old Green stronghold and university town; parts of Nuremberg (about 14%) or the university town of Würzburg (15.8%). The FW did best in rural ares, particularly conservative and Catholic Lower Bavaria, which was a stronghold for a farmers’ party during the Kaiserreich and much of Weimar, and also where the FW’s current leader is from (the FW vote share was higher than in 2013 in Lower Bavaria). The FDP did best in affluent areas, peaking at 9.1% in Starnberg.

Hesse

State elections were held concurrently with the federal elections in Hesse on September 22. The 110 seats in the Landtag are elected by a MMP (closed lists) system very similar to that used federally and in most other states. 55 members are elected in single-member districts by FPTP, the rest (plus compensation for overhang) are elected by closed lists, seats distributed to parties winning over 5% of the vote using the Hare/Niemeyer system.

Hesse as a single political entity is a post-war creation. Prior to World War II, modern-day Hessian territory was divided between a handful of small states. In 1866, Prussia annexed Hesse-Kassel, Frankfurt and Nassau, forming the province of Hesse-Nassau. Hesse-Darmstadt retained its independence as the Grand Duchy of Hesse, most of its territory was located south of the Main river and included Rhenish Hesse (Mainz/Worms), which is currently part of the Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1946, the Americans created the state of Hesse from the bulk of Hesse-Darmstadt and the former Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau, as part of the dismemberment of Prussia.

Between 1946 and 1987, Hesse was governed by the SPD, which held an absolute majority between 1950 and 1954 and between 1962 and 1970. The SPD governed with the CDU between 1946 and 1950, with the GB-BHE between 1954 and 1966 and with the FDP between 1970 and 1982. Following an inconclusive election in 1982, a new election was held in 1983, which led to a SPD government with external Green support; and, in 1985, the first red-green government in Germany was formed – before collapsing two years later over disagreements on nuclear policy. The CDU won the 1987 elections, and formed a black-yellow coalition, which failed to win reelection in 1991. The SPD and the Greens won the 1991 and 1995 elections.

The 1999 election was fought over federal politics; CDU leader Roland Koch made opposition to the red-green federal government’s proposal to allow dual citizenship for foreign immigrants the top issue in his campaign. The CDU and the FDP won a bare majority of seats and Roland Koch, a prominent leader of the CDU’s right-wing, became Minister-President. He was reelected with an expanded majority in 2003, with the SPD’s vote share collapsing by some 10 points. However, by the time of the 2008 election, his government had lost in popularity and his tough campaign on immigration and crime – largely focused on foreign youth criminality, proved extremely controversial – Koch’s critics accused him of xenophobia and racism. The CDU lost 12% of the vote, and the black-yellow government lost its majority. However, with Die Linke entering the Landtag for the first time with 5.1% and 6 seats, the red-greens had no majority on their own and would require the support or participation of Die Linke to form government. Given Koch’s right-wing nature and the controversial red baiting in his campaign, a Grand Coalition proved impossible. SPD leader Andrea Ypsilanti tried to form a red-green government with Die Linke support – the Magdeburg Model – but failed on two attempts. After a year of political instability, a new election was held in 2009.

In the 2009 election, the SPD was badly hurt by the chaos which had followed the last election, and the SPD’s vote collapsed by 12 points to an all-time low of 23.7%. The CDU did not profit from the SPD’s troubles, winning roughly what it won a year prior. The Greens and the FDP registered the strongest gains, both gaining over 6 points – the FDP won 16.2% of the vote, the Greens won 13.7% of the vote. In any case, the black-yellow coalition regained an absolute majority and Koch returned as Minister-President. Koch stepped down in 2010, partly because of disagreements with Merkel. He was replaced by Volker Bouffier, a Koch ally who had served as his state minister of the interior.

Bouffier’s SPD opponent was Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, who had already been the SPD’s top candidate in the 2009 election.

Turnout was 73.2%, up 12.2% from the 2009 election. Tying the election to the federal election likely boosted turnout significantly.

CDU 38.3% (+1.1%) winning 47 seats (+1)
SPD 30.7% (+7%) winning 37 seats (+8)
Greens 11.1% (-2.6%) winning 14 seats (-3)
Die Linke 5.2% (-0.2%) winning 6 seats (±0)
FDP 5.0% (-11.2%) winning 6 seats (-14)
AfD 4.1% (+4.1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Pirates 1.9% (+1.4%) winning 0 seats (±0)
FW 1.2% (-0.4%) winning 0 seats (±0)
NPD 1.1% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Others 1.3% (+0.5%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Der Spiegel has a map of the results here.

The Hessian elections ended inconclusively, as in 2008. The incumbent black-yellow government lost its absolute majority, while only a red-red-green/Magdeburg Model government can be formed by the left.

Exit polls confirm that voters were closely divided. In a direct vote for Minister-President, Bouffier held a two-point lead (44-42) over his SPD opponent, Schäfer-Gümbel. 51% of voters approved of the government, and 55% of respondents said a red-green coalition would be good for Hesse (but only 21% said the same for a red-red-green government). Asked which party should form the next government, 48% said the SPD against 47% who said the CDU. Although voters were optimistic about the economy (77% said the economy was good, up from 36% in the January 2009 election), and voters overwhelmingly sided with the CDU on economic issues (55% said the CDU was the most competent party on economic issues), the CDU was unable to translate that into additional support.

According to the vote transfer analysis, the CDU suffered fairly significant loses to the SPD (29,000 voters) and AfD (15,000), which were cancelled out by the influx of 75,000 votes from voters who had backed the FDP in 2009. The SPD’s gains came at the expense of the Greens (47,000 votes), the FDP (48,000), the CDU and Die Linke (18,000).

Compared to the federal election held at the same time, the CDU underperformed Merkel’s result by about 1%, while the SPD did about 2% better than in the federal election. The Greens did about 1% better in the state election, Die Linke about 1% worse, the FDP about 0.5% worse and the AfD did 1.5% worse (it won 5.6% in the federal election).

The FDP’s result was perhaps the only good thing of the night for them. Early exit polling and early preliminary results had shown them under the 5% threshold in the state election, in the end they managed to save their parliamentary caucus – winning 5.03% of the votes, 920 more votes than they needed.

Government formation will take a long time. There are a number of potential options which are all feasible, but all of them have serious challenges. A red-red-green government, or a Magdeburg Model government, is theoretically possible on these results and it seems to be considered as a serious possibility. However, after what happened in 2008 and the unpopularity of such an option in public opinion, it will be tough to form such a government. A Grand Coalition with the SPD and CDU is one of the likeliest options, but as 2008 showed, a Grand Coalition with the Hessian CDU (and its rather conservative leadership) is not less problematic than a red-red-green government. A black-green government seems to be on the table as well, and the federal CDU is, if rumours are to be trusted, prodding the Hessian CDU towards a coalition with the Greens, as some kind of experiment for a future federal-level black-green government. In Hesse, CDU-Green governments already exist at the local level. However, the Greens would likely agree to such a coalition if it was led by somebody other than Bouffier. If all of these options fail, then Hesse could face new elections, as in 2009. However, there is no deadline on government formation at the state level in Hesse (unlike federally), so these talks could very well draw out for months.

Conclusion

Angela Merkel was reelected to a third term, winning a very impressive result and falling only a few seats short of an absolute majority. Although this election is unlikely to lead to major or fundamental changes in German domestic, European and foreign policy in the next four years, these elections will have some political significance. The SPD remain weak, and with much work to do on their end if they are to regain power federally in 2017. The Greens weakened and facing problems of their own, a surprising and very disappointing result after a spectacular four years for the German Greens. Die Linke, despite falling from their 2009 heights, confirmed that they remain a major political force, mostly in the East but with some significant support in the West as well. In the long-term, with Die Linke shaping up to establish itself as a permanent force on the German left, the SPD and the Greens will be forced to make their peace with Die Linke and accept them as a coalition partner if they want form a left-wing coalition at the federal or even state level.

The FDP thrown out of the Bundestag for the first time in their history; an historic defeat for the FDP and the long liberal tradition it has embodied in the post-war era. Will the FDP be able to reemerge as a major player in federal politics, or will they die out and their remaining votes squeezed by parties such as the CDU or the AfD? The emergence of a new Eurosceptic force (AfD) in German politics, the first such party which seems to be credible enough and with sufficient potential support to become a major player in German politics. Will the AfD be a flash in the pan, similar to parties such as The Republicans in the early 1990s or the NPD in the mid-1960s; or will they be the force that is able to shake up Germany’ stable political/partisan system?

Angela Merkel, by 2017, will have been in power for 12 years. This is a long time, but not unusually long for CDU Chancellors – Kohl governed Germany for 16 years, Adenauer for 14 years. Undoubtedly, she will go down in history as one of Germany’s most significant and important Chancellors, and not only because of her key role in the Euro crisis. After 12 years in office, will Merkel seek a fourth term in office in 2017, and seek to match Kohl’s 16-year tenure at the helm of Germany? It is unclear as of now what Merkel intends to do, with many believing she will retire, others thinking she will be back for a fourth term.

The CDU seems to lack a clear ‘crown prince’ to succeed Merkel. Potential rivals/successors such as Christian Wulff or Roland Koch have already been pushed out, and other potential successors such as David McAllister or Norbert Röttgen, two former Minister-Presidents (Lower Saxony and NRW) failed to win reelection in their last state elections. The federal minister of labour and social affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, is a major contender for Merkel’s succession, but she might have fallen out of favor by criticizing the CDU’s family policies as too conservative. The young federal minister of family affairs, women and youth Kristina Schröder, is a rising star in the CDU but she has not made a major mark in her ministry after four years.

Thank you for reading this long post, either entirely or in parts. I apologize for the long time it took to write this up, but hopefully it was worth it. Stay tuned: Austria (Sept. 29) and Nova Scotia (Oct. 8) are next on the list, before major elections in the Czech Republic and Luxembourg later this month.

Mexican state elections 2013

State and local elections were held in fourteen Mexican states on July 7, 2013. Elections were held in the states of Aguascalientes, Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz and Zacatecas. There were local elections for each municipal government (ayuntamiento) and municipal president (presidente municipal, mayor) in all states except Hidalgo. Every state except Coahuila held state congressional elections, with the entirety of the State Congress (Congreso del Estado) being renewed. One state, Baja California, held gubernatorial elections. In total, 1,348 municipal presidents and 432 state deputies were elected.

Mayors, local councillors and state deputies are elected to serve three-year terms, while state governors serve six-year terms. Like the federal Congress, each state congress is composed of deputies elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (diputados de mayoría relativa) and deputies elected by party-list proportional representation (diputados de representación proporcional). The number of deputies elected by FPTP and PR varies from state to state.

In line with the Mexican revolutionary tradition of no reelección, no officeholder – either executives or legislator – may seek immediate reelection. The constitutionally entrenched principle of no reelección, one of the legacies of the Mexican Revolution, is viewed as sacrosanct, but there is increased support for the idea of legislative reelection both federally and in the states.

Political context

In federal elections a year ago, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI), which had ruled Mexico as a quasi-single party state between 1929 and 2000, returned to power with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) to the presidency.

EPN, like his party, polarizes public opinion in Mexico. The PRI, as the former natural governing party, retains the strongest grassroots networks of any of Mexico’s political parties, and it continues to hold a dominant role in state and local governments across the country – it governs 18 states out of Mexico’s 32 federal entities. The PRI’s rule rested on its ability to placate different sectors, playing the carrot and the stick and a strong corporatist alliance. While unions once controlled by the PRI are more independent nowadays, the PRI still retains close ties and links to powerful unions – notably the oil workers’ union. However, things have changed since the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, it could get away with corruption, complacency, woeful mismanagement and even overt electoral fraud (like in 1988). Today, while it remains powerful, a new generation of younger educated and urbanized Mexicans are no longer willing to give the PRI a blank cheque. These voters, powerful in urban areas such as Mexico City (the DF) and strong supporters of the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD), are instinctively anti-priista - they view the PRI as an extremely corrupt and autocratic party which should have died off years ago, and they tend to look down on PRI voters and supporters. The 2012 election showed the growing divide between urban and rural Mexico, with EPN doing well in the rural areas but very poorly in Mexico City, a PRD stronghold.

EPN is a controversial figure for a variety of reasons. To begin with, he is a product of the Grupo Atlacomulco, a secretive and corrupt political group within the PRI in Edomex (the state of México, of which EPN was governor between 2005 and 2011) which included, at one time, Carlos Hank González and Arturo Montiel (a notoriously corrupt former governor and PRI powerbroker considered to be EPN’s political godfather). Therefore, even if EPN could – with some degree of truth – be considered one of the PRI’s younger and less autocratic members, his political rise was made possible by key members of the PRI’s old guard. Secondly, while EPN is charismatic, handsome, a smooth talker and an able politician; he is seen by his detractors as an uncultured idiot and the tool of powerful and corrupt vested interests in the PRI or strong monopolies/duopolies in the Mexican economy (his campaign was closely backed by the powerful TV giant, Televisa). The #YoSoy132 movement, which began during the 2012 campaign, is reflective of this urban left-wing opposition to EPN, viewed as a corrupt “Ken Barbie” tool of corrupt PRI elites, and the existing economic power structures in Mexico.

Given his background and a presidential campaign low on substance, many – myself included – held out little hope that EPN’s promises for economic and social reforms would go beyond words. He may have surprised everybody in his willingness to translate words (which every Mexican president is really strong on) into substantive actions and useful reforms (which few presidents are able to deliver). In his inaugural speech to the Congress, EPN promised key educational, telecommunication, financial/fiscal, labour and political reforms. Mexican presidents attempt to make their mark on their country in some way or another. EPN’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, made his mark with his militaristic response to Mexico’s increasingly bloody drug war(s); EPN wants to focus on social and economic reforms which, he argues, target the social roots of Mexico’s narcotrafficking crisis.

In December 2012, Mexico’s three main parties – the PRI, the left-wing PRD and former President Calderón’s right-wing PAN (National Action Party) – signed the Pacto por México, a list of 95 loosely defined reforms and promises which the three parties have committed themselves to. Education, telecommunication and financial reform have been the top three priorities of the Pacto por México. The Pacto is one of EPN’s crown jewels in his young administration, given that it gives him the tools to do what Calderón failed to do – forge congressional consensus to push through major reforms. The PRI had blocked many of Calderón’s reform efforts during his sexenio.

Mexico has the potential to have a strong and robust public education system, but decades of mismanagement, corruption and nepotism in the system turned public education into a complete mess. Until now, education has been controlled by the powerful teachers’ union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE), a corrupt entity led between 1989 and 2013 by Elba Esther Gordillo, La Maestra. The SNTE effectively controlled teacher hiring, promotion, evaluation and dismissals meaning. As a result, most state spending on education (Mexico is the OECD country spending the most on education, but its educational performance is one of the worst in the OECD) went to paying salaries to ‘ghosts’ who weren’t teachers, while many teaching jobs are inherited – passed on from one generation to another within the same family – or sold (one case of a teacher ‘buying’ her job for $20,000!). The SNTE and La Maestra were extraordinarily powerful actors. The SNTE was one of the PRI’s corporatist allies, but La Maestra was an extremely adroit political player who managed to ally herself with all Presidents since Carlos Salinas (1988), including the two PAN president – Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. In 2005, she split from the PRI to form her own party, the New Alliance Party (Partido Nueva Alianza, PANAL), an ostensibly liberal party which is in reality a front for the SNTE which sells itself to the highest bidder (the PANAL backed 16 of Mexico’s 32 incumbent governors). PANAL helped the PAN in 2006, therefore Calderón never really dared to cross her. In 2012, a potential deal with the PRI fell through at the last minute.

In late February 2013, EPN officially promulgated a constitutional education reform, which had been approved by Congress in December 2012 and ratified by the states. The reform will wrestle control for teacher evaluation, promotion, hiring and so forth from the SNTE and place it with a centralized independent public body. Promotions will be on the basis of merit only; as a result, teaching positions should no longer be inherited or sold. In addition, the reform grants some decision-making autonomy to local schools and mandates a comprehensive census of teachers, schools and pupils in Mexico. The very next day, on February 26, authorities arrested SNTE leader Elba Esther Gordillo. The attorney general (the PGR) charged her for embezzling $2 billion pesos (US$156 million) from the SNTE; he detailed how she had lived and spent lavishly on union funds, with purchases in high-end department stores in California, secret bank accounts in Switzerland, amasisng a total of 10 properties and plastic surgery in California. La Maestra‘s arrest was widely approved by the Mexican electorate, which has long known her to be extremely corrupt. For EPN, it was a show of authority – similar to how Carlos Salinas arrested a powerful oil workers’ union boss in 1989 shortly after taking office, to assert his authority after a disputed election (EPN’s election was not as disputed as 1988, of course, but he still faced protests on his inauguration day from #YoSoy132).

In more ways than one, however, EPN was not the most likely candidate to take on La Maestra like no president had ever done since she took the reins of the SNTE in 1989. However, he quickly showed that he had no great affection for her – his secretary of basic education is a longtime opponent of hers – and with the wide-reaching reform, he took her on. Of course, a cynic would be right to contend that he moved against her because he didn’t owe her anything (although many in the PRI do). In contrast, his government hasn’t been investigating other union bosses known to be just as corrupt as she was. Romero Deschamps, the leader of the powerful oil workers’ union (STPRM), is widely suspected of corruption and embezzlement of Pemex/union funds, but he is a leading PRI senator and a loyal ally of EPN – an especially important one as EPN moves to significantly (and controversially) reform Pemex, Mexico’s sacrosanct publicly-owned oil monopoly.

La Maestra would have become a powerful anti-reform voice if she had not been arrested, so with her arrest, EPN thought he had rid himself of the strongest bulwark to the reform. However, EPN and the Tripartite Pacto faced their first major challenge in April, when rogue teachers (most unaffiliated with the SNTE, now in a bit of a power vacuum) in the southwestern state of Guerrero staged large violent protests which blockaded a road from Mexico City to Acapulco and attacked local offices of the three major parties. They have allied themselves with local armed vigilante groups and some far-left agrarian movements, still powerful in the poor and indigenous states of southwestern Mexico. Proponents of the reform claim that these teachers are only selfishly protecting the old system, their job security and the old advantages. The rogue teacher claim that they oppose the reforms because it thretens job security and they view it as the first step towards the ‘privatization’ of education and the centralization of education decision-making in the hands of the state. However, some of their concerns are quite legitimate. For example, they are critical of the centralized evaluation procedures which would be make-or-break from now on for teachers. They claim that teachers in rural areas, like impoverished southwestern Mexico, face much different realities and must adapt to local circumstances in different ways than teachers in the DF. Therefore, what ‘works’ in the DF might not work in Oaxaca or Guerrero.

EPN and the Tripartite Pacto’s second objective was telecommunication reforms. Monopolies or duopolies in Mexican telephony and media have dragged down the Mexican economy (costing it $25 billion a year) and effectively closed these key sectors to . They have worked to the advantage of a small group of wealthy oligarchs – Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, owes his wealth in large part to the fact that his companies (Telcel, the local subsidiary of América Móvil; and Telmex) control respectively 80% of cellphone services and 95% of landlines respectively. Mexico’s television is dominated by two powerful media behemoths: TV Azteca (38%) and the (in)famous Televisa (56%). Monopolistic actors jealously guard their turf, often through very close ties to politicians (Televisa was accused, rightly, of media bias in the PRI and EPN’s favour in 2012; Televisa’s former attorney went on to become a federal deputy for Mexico’s ‘Green’ Party, PVEM) which allows them to lobby parliamentarians and influence legislation (see the 2006 Ley Televisa, rammed through by the PAN and PRI, under the influence of Televisa – it was invalidated). EPN taking on Televisa is even more surprising, given how Televisa basically served as his mouthpiece in 2012 and his close ties to Televisa – his wife, Angélica Rivera, was an actress in some of Televisa’s telenovelas.

The constitutional reform for telecommunications was promulgated on June 10 by the President. The new reform strengthens freedom of speech and access to information, guarantees access to information and communication technologies (including broadband internet) and telecommunications/broadcasting as a constitutional right. To regulate telecommunications, a new autonomous public body will be created (Ifetel); the Ifetel will be the sole body with the power to grant and revoke licenses – this will, hopefully, allow for technical rather than political decisions. The Ifetel will also have the power to subject dominant actors to asymmetric regulations, break up monopolies and impose limits on concentration of market shares. Two new television channels will be created and auctioned off, and neither Televisa nor TV Azteca will be allowed to bid. The reform opens up telecommunications and broadcasting to sizable foreign investment: allowing majority holdings in telecommunications via satellite, and a minority share (up to 49%) in broadcasting. The reform institutes must-carry, must-offer rules; this could force, for example, Televisa to sell its content to rivals and carry competitors’ signals.

The reform has been hailed as “very good on paper”. Like the education reform, however, it also requires additional implementation legislation and more details will need to be hashed out. There are fears that, like in the past, the dominant economic actors will put pressure on the new regulatory bodies and limit their wiggle room. However, EPN recently signed a ley de amparo, which, among others, should curtail the use of legal injunctions by corporations. There are risks that the dominant economic players will use this reform to expand their interests into other areas – Carlos Slim is eager to enter the television market, and could participate in the bidding for the two new national networks; Televisa also fancies entering Slim’s landline and cellphone markets.

The education and telecom reforms have formed the hallmark of EPN’s tenure thus far. However, his government and the Tripartite Pacto has other major reforms in mind – and these will be more controversial than the first two reforms. There is a fiscal reform in the works, which could come up this fall. Mexico’s taxation system is inefficient and filled with loopholes – tax revenue is only about 20% of the GDP, one of the lowest in the OECD. Problems in the tax system include tax avoidance (particularly the income tax), state and local governments’ incompetence at collecting taxes, the huge informal economy and tax loopholes which allow corporations to evade taxation. The reform will aim at significantly increasing non-oil tax revenue, by at least 6% of GDP. It is unclear which route the PRI and the Pacto will take on this issue. Recently, the PRI amended its statutes to allow the expansion of the VAT to cover foodstuffs and medicine, currently exempt from taxation. Consumer subsidies, including for fuel, could be phased out. This article (in English) presents various routes and explains the political horsetrading behind the reform. Fiscal reform will prove more controversial, especially for the PRD, which will likely oppose expanding the VAT to foodstuffs and medicine – an idea which is also unpopular with most voters. The PRI will likely need to give in to some of the PRD’s demands or give concessions to the PRD (and the PAN) on other reforms.

One of the most controversial reforms will certainly be the energy reform. Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, and what it symbolizes – Mexican control of its most cherished natural resource, is a source of national pride for Mexico and a sacrosanct institution. Few major politicians in Mexico would ever dare to explictly call on its privatization or the deregulation of the energy market. Besides, Pemex, through the royalties and taxes it pays to the federal government is its main source of revenue. However, the exorbitantly high taxes paid out by Pemex have left it saddled with debts and unable to invest in new technologies and further exploration – notably new underwater oil reserves. There seems to be a majority consensus among leading politicians for energy reform; the Tripartite Pacto explicitly called for an energy reform but also excluded privatization of Pemex, to the chagrin of some foreign investors. It is unclear how far EPN is willing to go with energy reform, and how far his ‘allies’ in the Tripartite Pacto (especially the left-wing PRD) are willing to go on their end.

Earlier in June, celebrating Pemex’s 75th anniversary, EPN talked of transforming it into a “world-class enterprise” and presented six main objectives – all fairly vague – including converting Pemex into a ‘model of efficiency, transparency and accountability’, ‘unlocking its potential to invest and innovate’ and establishing Pemex as an ‘industry generating other industries’. A reform will likely allow for regulated private and foreign investment (likely in in shale oil and gas, refining and petrochemicals). The Pacto mentioned allowing for ‘competition in the refining, petrochemicals and transportation of hydrocarbons without privatizing Pemex’.

However, even with these vague declarations on all sides, the reform is already sparking considerable political debate, especially within the PRD. The PRD’s 2012 presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is sidelined by the PRD’s current leadership and has created his own movement (Morena), has said that Pemex does not need reform. The patriarchal figure and founder of the PRD, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (the son of PRI President Lázaro Cárdenas, who nationalized oil and created Pemex in 1938), says that reform should be limited to reducing Pemex’s tax burden. The former PRD head of government of the DF and likely 2018 presidential candidate, Marcelo Ebrard, has said that it would be a catastrophic strategic mistake for the PRD to back EPN’s energy reforms. The PRD’s president, Jesús Zambrano, appears more pragmatic but is also quite adamant that nothing is sealed. The PRD in general seems to oppose any constitutional reform on the subject; private investment would necessitate amending the constitution’s article 27.

On the issue of security and the drug cartels, which is likely EPN’s weakest suits (and he is well aware of that), the federal government can temporarily pride itself on a slowly declining death tolls – deaths from drug-related violence or organized crimes are down from the highs of 2011, but they are still much higher than they were pre-2006 and many Mexicans are still murdered, kidnapped or extorted on a daily basis. EPN’s main proposal on the security front in 2012 was to shift focus from battling and “winning the war” against the cartels (a daunting task which Mexico cannot accomplish on its on) to reducing violence and deaths, as well as creating a new police force – the Gendarmería Nacional. But it remains unclear what role this Gendarmería will assume, where its role will stop vis-a-vis the Federal Police and whether the government intends to continue Calderón’s military-led war strategy.

EPN’s ambitious reformist agenda has won him plaudits from foreign observers and journalists, who have praised his reformism and perhaps gone a bit overboard in the hype and their newfound admiration for him. For example, some right-leaning American commentators tried spinning the arrest of La Maestra as a sign that Americans should get tough on “corrupt teachers’ unions” just like EPN was apparently doing – omitting to mention her backstory, the nature of education in Mexico (compared to the US) and how her arrest served EPN’s domestic political agenda. In Mexico, by contrast, public opinion seems far more divided on the new President and certainly not as wildly enthusiastic as some foreigners might assume. His approval ratings remain positive and in the range most European leaders could only dream of these days – about 50 to 60% – but compared to his predecessors, that is on the low side of things.

Left-wing criticism – and that is from where most criticism of EPN seems to come from – decry EPN’s agenda as a broadly neoliberal one which serves the interests of the main parties, the elites and big business (domestic and international).

Electoral context

EPN’s reform, if successful and if he is sincere about them (and those are two big ifs), represent major changes for the PRI – akin to the transformation of the PRI under Miguel de la Madrid/Carlos Salinas after 1982. However, the PRI is a party with a chameleonic ability to adapt itself to changing times and circumstances.

All the while EPN’s federal government is moving an ambitious reformist agenda, some in the PRI continue to engage in the party’s darker time-honoured traditions – corruption, vote buying and manipulation of government resources for political/electoral ends. The PRI’s old autocratic tradition, in some states, is alive and well. Some might even argue that it is alive and well in the priista-controlled executive branch federally. One such case of corruption earlier this year threatened to dismantle the whole Tripartite Pacto. In April, PAN leader Gustavo Madero accused the PRI governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, and the Secretary of Social Development (Sedesol) Rosario Robles (a former national leader of the PRD and a one-time PRD head of government of the DF) of conditioning government social programs to votes for the PRI in these elections. The PAN and PRD claimed that this was all part of a wider abuse of government resources and social programs to buy votes for the PRI. Following these accussations, the PAN and PRD suspended their participation in the Pacto and threatened to pull out of the Pacto entirely unless EPN fired Robles and Duarte resigned. In any event, nobody resigned and the PAN or PRD didn’t pull out of the coalition. Despite initially washing off the allegations against his Sedesol and rushing to her defense, EPN later managed to save the Pacto from an early death by signining, in May, an addendum to the Pacto with the PAN and PRD.

Nevertheless, throughout the campaign, the PRI and PAN have traded accusations of abusing government resources. The PAN has detailed numerous allegations of misuse of government resources for electoral ends by PRI state governments, the PRI has countered with allegations that the PAN did likewise when it held the federal government (until 2012) and in the states it governs, including Baja California.

There appears, at least with the educated middle-classes, to be much less tolerance for corruption, nepotism and abuse of powers by elected officials or government officials. The former PRI governor of Tabasco, Andrés Granier (2007-2012), was arrested on charges of corruption and embezzlement of public funds in late June – his PRD successor discovered that $190 million in state funds had gone missing. Several former governors – from the PRI and other parties – are being investigated for corruption or other charges.

In May 2013, the government dismissed Humberto Benítez Treviño, the head of the federal consumer protection agency (Profeco) after her daughter, styled #LadyProfeco, caused an uproar when she had Profeco close down a restaurant where she felt she had not been served quickly enough. That same month, a PRD senator, who became known as #LadySenadora, was caught on video blowing a fuse with an airline employee who had kept her from boarding a flight after the doors had closed.

The right-wing National Action Party (PAN), which lost the presidency in 2012, has been rocked by an internal crisis in its senatorial caucus and national leadership. In May, the PAN’s national leader, Gustavo Madero, dismissed the party’s Senate coordinator, Ernesto Cordero, a former finance secretary under President Felipe Calderón and a close ally and friend of the former President. Cordero, who, as the calderonista candidate, placed second in the PAN’s presidential primaries last year, had previously criticized the Pacto, lamenting how it was built behind closed doors without input from legislators. His comment irked Madero, who dismissed him as the PAN’s senatorial coordinator (caucus leader) and replaced him with a more conciliatory Senator. However, Cordero’s dismissal created a rift within the party’s caucus – 23 of the PAN’s 38 senators signed a letter calling on Madero to reinstate Cordero. Former President Calderón criticized Madero for hanging the dirty laundry in public, saying it hurt the party.

Opposition to the Tripartite Pacto has been strongest within the left-wing PRD. It may appear odd that the PRD, whose 2012 presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) refused to recognize EPN’s victory, would sign on to a deal with EPN and the PRI. The PRD, however, is controlled since 2008 by the so-called Chuchos faction, whose hostility towards AMLO is no secret. The PRD’s current leader, since 2011, is Jesús Zambrano Grijalva, is a prominent leader of the chuchos although he is not the chucho himself – that was his predecessor, Jesús Ortega. The chuchos tend to be far more pragmatic and open to working with the PAN (and, to a lesser extent, the PRI) than AMLO is. Nevertheless, the strongest opposition to the Pacto from its three component parties comes from the PRD. Although AMLO has left the party and founded his own movement, Morena, he retains a significant minority of support within the PRD, and he may also count on the strong support of the smaller leftist Workers’ Party (PT) and Citizens’ Movement (MC). For example, while no PAN or PRI deputies voted against the telecom reform, 26 PRD deputies voted against (56 voted in favour).

Major races

By far, the most important race in these fairly low-key elections was Baja California. Not only was it the only state with a gubernatorial contest, but the state is an important symbol in Mexican politics. In 1989, it was the first state to elect a non-PRI governor, in the form of Ernesto Ruffo, the panista who had previously conquered the municipality of Ensenada from the PRI in 1986. At the time, President Carlos Salinas, a year after his ‘victory’ in an election marred by overt fraud, was quite pleased by the PAN’s victory in Baja California – it pleased the PAN, and more importantly give his presidency a crucial veneer of democratic legitimacy, no matter how shallow. Since 1989, the PAN has held the state in three successive gubernatorial elections, making it one of the toughest anti-priista strongholds.

Baja California, the northernmost and westernmost state of Mexico, covers the northern half of the Baja California peninsula. It is a fairly populous state (3.3 million), and one of Mexico’s most affluent states – it has the fourth highest HDI of Mexico’s 32 federal entities. The bulk of the population is concentrated along the coast and/or along the American border – urbanized and industrialized areas with a strong agricultural backbone, and also (in the case of the coast), one of the few regions in the state with a Mediterranean rather than arid climate. With the exception of the Mexicali Valley in the northeast or the wineries of the Guadalupe Valley (in the northwest, near Ensenada), most of the state’s interior is covered by arid deserts or inhospitable mountain ranges.

All of Mexico has been influenced by proximity to the United States, but that influence is even stronger in Baja California. Tijuana is the Mexican extension of the San Diego metropolitan area in California, and there are close ties between both cities. Mexicali, the state capital, was developed at the turn of the last century by American industrialists. The adjacent Mexicali Valley, an irrigated agricultural area surrounded by arid desert, is a continuation of the Imperial Valley in California (Imperial County). The state’s industry is driven by maquiladoras in Tijuana and Mexicali, foreign-owned factories in free trade zones. Perhaps less so than Baja California Sur (Los Cabos) or Jalisco (Puerto Vallarta), the state nevertheless attracts many tourists (or longer-term residents) from the western United States. By virtue of its border with the United States, immigrants seeking to cross the border into California will do so from Baja California. However, Baja California is a receptable for immigrants in its own right. As a prosperous and industrialized state, a large part of the state’s population was born in other (poorer) states or immigrated to work in factories or agriculture. Since statehood in 1952, none of the state’s thirteen governors have been born in the state itself – ten were born in other states of Mexico and three, including Ernesto Ruffo, were born in California.

The PAN’s José Guadalupe Osuna Millán won 50.4% of the vote in the 2007 election, against 44% for the PRI’s Jorge Hank Rhon. The PRD, which won 2.3% in 2007, has always been very weak at the state and local level in Baja California, where the contest is always between PAN and PRI. Nevertheless, the PRD’s AMLO placed second in both the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections, and the PAN took a monumental thumping in 2012 in the state, placing a disastrous third in the presidential race with 27.7% against 37.7% for EPN and 31.8% for AMLO. The PAN had already suffered a fairly significant defeat at the hands of the PRI in local and state legislative elections in 2010 – the PRI won all five municipalities in the state, and 14 state deputies to the PAN’s 8.

This hotly contested race had three candidates.

The PRI, in coalition with the PVEM, PT and a small local party (PES), nominated Fernando Castro Trenti, a former senator (2006-2012). Castro Trenti defeated a controversial figure of local politics, Jorge Hank Rhon, in the PRI’s internal primaries. Jorge Hank Rhon, the son of former Edomex governor Carlos Hank González (and former leader of the Grupo Atlacomulco), is a businessman and former municipal president of Tijuana between 2004 and 2006. Hank Rhon remains closely tied to the Grupo Caliente, a powerful economic conglamerate which owns the local stadium in Tijuana, horse racetracks, a hotel and casinos; additionally, the group is intimately tied to three local trade unions which strongly support Hank Rhon. Like his father before him, Hank Rhon is suspected by the United States of ties to narcotrafficking – particularly the Tijuana cartel – and he has been tied up in a number of murky dealings. Most recently, in 2011, Hank Rhon was arrested by the military for illegal ownership of several weapons.

Castro Trenti served as a state deputy between 2001 and 2004, during which time he gained considerable influence as a local powerbroker. Even while serving as federal senator, he retained influence and became the de facto leader and kingmaker of the local PRI, replacing Hank Rhon who neglected politics after 2007. Castro Trenti is a close friend and ally Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a former governor of Sonora (1991-1997) who is currently the PRI’s coordinator (caucus leader) in the Chamber of Deputies. More importantly, however, there are strong indications that he was EPN’s favourite candidate – the President was unwilling to go with Hank Rhon, because of his judicial problems and needed a ‘cleaner’ figure to live up to his much-heralded nuevo PRI image.

There is a lot of bad blood between Castro Trenti and Hank Rhon, the culmination of an early alliance turned awry after 2007. Castro Trenti served as Hank Rhon’s secretario de gobierno while the latter was mayor of Tijuana between 2004 and 2006 and he was Hank Rhon’s campaign manager in the 2007 gubernatorial contest. In this contest, Hank Rhon’s supporters claimed that their candidate was betrayed by Castro Trenti, who deliberately failed to mobilize the priista electorate and stood idly by as La Maestra had the SNTE intervene in the PAN’s favour, to get back at her sworn enemy within the PRI, Roberto Madrazo (a former leader of the PRI and the party’s disastrous 2006 presidential candidate, a close ally of Hank Rhon). There are also rumours that Castro Trenti had sealed a deal with the PAN’s José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, who defeated Hank Rhon. Regardless, Castro Trenti’s campaign was silently undermined by Hank Rhon’s supporters, who sat on their hands. A union boss allied with Hank Rhon said that they had orders to work on the campaign of the PRI’s candidate for mayor of Tijuana (Jorge Astiazarán, a close ally of Hank Rhon), but they received no such orders for the gubernatorial campaign. The only public appearance of both PRI rivals together came at the end of the campaign, with Castro Trenti’s final rally alongside Hank Rhon in the estadio Caliente in Tijuana, the stadium owned by Hank Rhon. However, at the same time, there were reports that one of Hank Rhon’s son attended the PAN candidate’s rally.

The PAN candidate was Francisco “Kiko” Vega de la Madrid, a former mayor of Tijuana (1998-2001) and former federal deputy (2009-2012) who had already sought (and lost) the PAN’s nomination for governor in 2001 and 2007. Third time was the charm for him, defeating Héctor Osuna Jaime, another former PAN mayor of Tijuana (in the 1990s) who was backed by incumbent senator and former governor Ernesto Ruffo. “Kiko” Vega was backed by the PRD, the PANAL and a regional party (PEBC). PAN-PRD alliances, increasingly common, may appear rather contradictory for foreign observers used to a strict left-right spectrum, but Mexican politics is rather different. The PAN and PRD are rivals, but they are also united by their common opposition to the PRI, which they both incessantly denounce. Under the leadership of the chuchos, the PRD’s leadership has favoured anti-priista alliances with the PAN, beginning in 2010. They successfully conquered the states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa from the PRI in 2010. In Baja California, a PAN-PRD was made even easier by the fact that the local PRD is extremely weak.

The MC nominated Felipe Ruanova Zárate. Ruanova Zárate is not a member of the MC, rather he is a priista and on good terms with the PRI’s candidate, Castro Trenti. He had already run for small left-wing parties in state and local elections in the past. In debates, he attacked “Kiko” Vega but said nothing of the priista candidate, claiming that he knew nothing reproachable about Castro Trenti. Reading his answers to various questions here, it mostly consisted of ad hominem attacks on “Kiko” Vega and nothing but praise and admiration for the PRI’s candidate. He was described by at least one journalist as a PRI plant to draw votes away from the PAN-PRD alliance.

The campaign was extremely dirty on both sides. The ideological differences between both candidates are fairly minute – their answers here consisted mostly of platitudes (for the PRI about ‘change’, the PAN about how good they’ve been since 1989) or attacking one another – so the attacks were quite personal. The PRI accused the incumbent PAN governor of embezzling 103 million US dollars, both candidates owned a large number of properties in Mexico and the US and various other attacks of that kind.

States holding elections this year (source: Red Politica.mx)

The other races were all local and state legislative elections, of lesser importance and symbolic value, but still quite important in their own right. All of these state legislative elections (except for Baja) were ‘midterm’ elections for their governors, and some state congressional elections were rather important: Veracruz, not only because it was the biggest state to vote but most importantly because of the recent scandals surrounding Governor Javier Duarte (PRI); Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, midterm elections three years after PAN-PRD alliances defeated the PRI in gubernatorial races; and Tamaulipas, a border state on the frontline of the war on drugs where the PAN did well in 2012 because of security concerns and the unpopularity of the PRI governor. In mayoral races, the biggest races were Puebla (PAN incumbent), Ciudad Juárez (PRI incumbent), Tijuana (PRI incumbent), Aguascalientes (PRI incumbent), Oaxaca (PAN incumbent) and Cancún (PRD incumbent).

Results and analysis

Preliminary results from the PREP – these are not final certified results, and they do not account for 100% of precincts.

Baja California

(97.85% reporting, PREP)

Francisco “Kiko” Vega de la Madrid (PAN-PRD-PANAL-PEBC) 47.17%
Fernando Castro Trenti (PRI-PVEM-PT-PES) 44.12%
Felipe Ruanova Zárate (MC) 5.11%
Write-ins 0.42%
Invalid votes 3.18%

Turnout: 39.43%

Mayoral races

PRI+ PAN PRD PT MC Others Nulos
Puebla, PU (PAN) 40.31% 49.36% PAN 3.06% 1.53% 0.78% 4.79%
Ciudad Juárez, CH (PRI) 52.91% 37.78% 2.89% 2.06% 1.09% 0.14% 3.13%
Tijuana, BC (PRI) 49.3% 43.39% PAN PRI 4.28% 0.34% 2.68%
Chihuahua, CH (PRI) 50.10% 41.58% 2.12% 2.53% 0.28% 3.4%
Aguascalientes, AG (PRI) 35.04% 40.29% PAN 1.9% 12.89% 5.38% 4.5%
Saltillo, CO (PRI) 40.66% 48.08%  2.03% 1.5% 4.45% 3.28%
Mexicali, BC (PRI) 41.04% 49.06% PAN PRI 6.58% 0.32% 3.01%
Culiacán, SI (PRI) 57.83% 24.52% PAN PAN 2.36% 12.10% 3.2%
Cancún, QR (PRD) 50.68% 21.79% 13.8% 7.2% 1.69% 4.85%
Torreón, CO (PRI) 45.53% 43.8% 2.65% 0.77% 3.48% 0.33% 3.44%
Reynosa, TM (PRI) 57.12% 31.27% 4.03% 1.49% 2.36% 1.26% 2.48%
Durango, DG (PRI) 44.26% 36.6% 3.06% 11.78% 0.02% 4.01%
Xalapa, VE (PRI) 38.74% 23.02% 5.66% 2.1% 18.04% 7.53% 4.91%
Veracruz, VE (PRI) 43.05% 26.74% 22.19% 0.77% 1.26% 2.18% 3.81%
Oaxaca, OA (PAN) 39.65% 38.61% PAN PAN 5.44% 12.54% 3.76%

State congress (districts only)

(2010 results for FPTP districts in parenthesis)

PRI+ PAN-PRD PAN PRD PANAL MC Others PR seats
Aguascalientes (18) 10 (16) 7 (2)   1 9
Baja California (17) 7 (13) 10 (3) 9
Chihuahua (22) 18 (19) 4 (2) (1) 11
Durango (17) 17 (13) (4) 13
Hidalgo (18) 18 (12) (1) (2) (3) 12
Oaxaca (25) 11 (9) 14 (16) 17
Puebla (26) 3 (12) 23 (14) 15
Quintana Roo (15) 14 (12) (1) 1 (1) (1) 10
Sinaloa (24) 21 (15) 3 (9) 16
Tamaulipas (22) 16 (18) 6 (4) 14
Tlaxcala (19) 10 (10) 3 (8) 3 (1) 1 1 1 13
Veracruz (30) 27 (20) 3 (3) (3) 20
Zacatecas (18) 18 (13) 5 (2) (1) (2) 12

The PAN-PRD ultimately won in Baja California, the biggest prize of the night. By winning an unprecedented fifth successive mandate in Baja California, the PAN managed to save face and prevent an embarrassing defeat. The race was always going to go down to the wire, but if polls are to be trusted, the PRI held a narrow advantage over the PAN in the early stretch of the race, but the PAN closed the gap by the end of the race. One analyst explained the PRI’s decline in polls by its overly negative campaign, in so doing, Castro Trenti almost turned his panista opponent into a victim.

The PAN maintained a fairly consistent 3-4% lead throughout the night, although both candidates claimed victory when polls closed. The PREP’s result are only preliminary results published on election night which make vote rigging much harder and provide transparency in the electoral process; the PREP is never a final result, the final result comes from a conteo distrital which begins on Wednesday and must end, by law, on the Sunday. Generally, a sizable lead – like Kiko Vega’s lead – in the PREP is enough to be certain that a candidate has won, although defeated candidates do not need to concede defeat on the basis of the PREP’s result.

In this case, while Kiko Vega’s lead is sizable and should hold up in the conteo distrital, the incompetence of the state electoral institute (IEPC-BC) and their apparent inability to do basic math has cast a cloud over the result. During election night, the PREP consistently showed the wrong percentages for the candidates until 21:54 PST, when the results disappeared and reappeared, at 22:27 PST – but still with incorrect percentages. Only at 2:32 PST did the correct percentages finally appear. This article details the PREP’s kerfuffle. Conspiracy theorists and partisan hacks (for the PRI this time) will be coming up with their own conspiracy theories, about how this election was rigged and so on and so forth. However, rather than any sinister at work, it appears as if there was a mistake – some idiots apparently unable to calculate percentages on a computer. The PREP publishes precinct-by-precinct results, and the conteo distrital refers to the actual official counting and certification of all precinct results. Unless there was more than a math error here, the precinct results show the PAN ahead. No party is claiming fraud, but the PRI has not conceded the race (although it now says it didn’t win, but didn’t lose either) and will wait for the conteo distrital, saying they will respect that final result barring exceptional circumstances in which case they threaten to drag this to court. However, this whole silliness reflects quite poorly on state electoral institutes – while most worked smoothly, Veracruz and Tlaxcala’s PREP crashed several times, and the IEPC-BC apparently didn’t bother checking that somebody knew how to calculate percentages on Excel. This adds to calls for the creation of a single, national electoral institute (a National Electoral Institute, INE) responsible for federal and state/local elections – the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which is far more competent than its state counterparts, is only responsible for federal elections.

Results of the 2013 gubernatorial and state congressional elections in Baja California, by state electoral district (own map)

Results of the 2013 gubernatorial and state congressional elections in Baja California, by state electoral district (own map)

A look at the results might point to another factor to explain the PRI’s defeat: Hank Rhon’s Tijuana machine turned out for the PRI’s mayoral candidate, but the machine sat on its hands in the gubernatorial race. The ‘hankist’ PRI candidate for mayor of Tijuana won his race with 49% to the PAN-PRD’s 43.4%, but Castro Trenti lost all but one of the state electoral districts located in Tijuana. PRI mayoral candidates were equally successful in the two other municipalities which Castro Trenti did win: Tecate and Ensenada.

These elections were quite important for federal politics, particularly the Tripartite Pacto. The gubernatorial election was important for both the PAN and the PRI, but particularly the PAN because of the state’s high symbolic value as the ultimate panista stronghold since 1989. This led some to come up with their conspiracy theories – that it was actually in the PRI’s interest to let the PAN win in Baja California, given that a defeat would destabilize Gustavo Madero’s leadership and further legitimize calderonista voices critical of the Pacto within the party. However, there seems to be little substantiated proof for those conspiracies – the PRI did not run a nobody and the PRI ran an active campaign with their top brass campaigning for Castro Trenti throughout. Could EPN be relieved, however, that the PAN won? Perhaps. EPN seems to be extremely dedicated to making the Pacto work, he’s certainly one of its most enthusiastic proponents given how everybody has been hailing the Pacto as one of his top achievements. A PAN defeat would have been very bad news for Gustavo Madero, whose leadership came under fire after the PAN’s disastrous showings in 2012 (losing the presidency, among others) and had recently come under fire again from Ernesto Cordero’s calderonistas. Most agree that the PAN’s victory allows Madero to breath a sigh of relief, as it strengthens his hold on the party.

However, the PAN and PRD have publicized accusations of fraud and attempted vote rigging in some states, and they are accusing the PRI of being behind it. These accusations include stealing ballots and vote buying. The PRI responded by accusing the PAN of intimidation of some voters in Baja California, and pointed out that the house of one of its candidates in that state had been attacked with Molotov cocktails. It is unclear to what extent these accusations are ‘normal’ and localized incidents (rather than part of a larger conspiracy). Nevertheless, the PAN and PRD have both warned that these irregularities might put the Pacto into jeopardy.

Outside of Baja California, the PRI and the PAN mostly split the difference. The PAN held the highest prize, Puebla’s mayoralty, with ease, and gained Aguascalientes, Saltillo, Mexicali and a few other towns (the most important of which is perhaps Boca del Río, a suburb of Veracruz) from the PRI. In contrast, the PRI held the vast majority of the other towns it was defending, and gained Oaxaca from the PAN-PRD and Cancún from the PRD. In state congressional elections, the PAN seems to have regained a majority (unclear if it will be an absolute majority or not once PR seats get allocated) in Baja California, gained significantly in Aguascalientes (governed by the PAN until 2010, although the former PAN governor if accused of corruption) while the PAN-PRD alliance did well in both Oaxaca and Puebla, which they had wrestled from the PRI in 2010. Overall, governors generally saw their parties/alliances do well; the only exception to that might be Sinaloa, a traditional priista bastion which elected a PAN-PRD governor in 2010. There, the PRI swept almost everything, the only major exception being Mazatlán’s mayoralty.

Even in Veracruz, despite the recent allegations against the PRI governor which almost sunk the Pacto, the PRI did very well. They held their absolute majority in the state congress, and now govern 96 out of the state’s 212 municipalities, compared to 81 municipalities in 2010. In contrast, the PAN which had won 90 municipalities in 2010 now holds 44, while the PRD fell from 37 to 29. The PRI’s victory in the state can be attributed to the division of the opposition.

Another state where the PRI was extremely successful was the tourism-driven state of Quintana Roo, which has always had a priista governor but voted for the PRD’s AMLO in both 2006 and 2012. The PRD did extremely poorly in the state, losing the resort town of Cancún in a landslide to the PRI, which won all 10 municipalities and all but one of the 15 FPTP districts, ensuring it that it will hold an absolute majority in the state congress.

While both the PAN and the PRI have good reasons to be pleased by the outcome, the PRD came out as a clear loser. To be fair, few – if any – of these states could be considered PRD strongholds (although the party is generally strong in Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla and, until 2010, Zacatecas) and the widespread PAN-PRD alliances blur things up a bit; but in those places where the PRD competed alone – notably in Veracruz – its results fell far short of what it might have hoped for.

The clear winner overall was voter apathy. Turnout was very low in almost every state, particularly the most important ones: 39% in Baja (which usually has some of the lowest turnouts anyway), apparently in the low 40s in Veracruz or 53% in Oaxaca. Turnout usually tends to be lowest in the most violent states (such as Veracruz, Chihuahua or Baja), where the persistent criminal/narco-violence has created a sense of fear and insecurity which discourages voters from actually voting. However, more than insecurity, low turnout also reflects dissatisfaction with all political parties. The number of PAN-PRD deals has further blurred already scarcely visible ideological divisions between parties, and little seems to separate the three main parties (especially when you consider they’re all part of the Pacto). Politics, especially at the state and local level, has become increasingly personalized rather than ideological/partisan.

Furthermore, Mexico has some of the most corrupt political parties in the world – the recent slew of corruption scandals has hurt not only the PRI (which has always been dirty) but also the PAN and the PRD, therefore the recent corruption scandals, rather than helping one party has only fueled voter apathy and reduced turnout. The smaller parties are hardly more enticing alternatives – especially when you consider that the PANAL and PVEM (‘Greens’) are run more like for-profit corporations (the PVEM could easily be considered a family business) than actual political parties. On the bright side, independent candidacies are now allowed in some states, and an independent candidate managed to win a PRI-held municipality in Zacatecas.

What are the national implications of these results? The PAN’s victory in Baja California, as aforementioned, shores up the generally pro-Pacto leadership of the party. As a result, the PAN is generally happy with the results and will probably continue backing the Pacto, although it will simultaneously continue to attack the PRI for being the PRI. Some have read the results as boosting the chances for the fiscal and energy reforms this year, which while somewhat true, is actually much more complicated than that. The election results haven’t made any of those two reforms sure things, especially given that the difficulty for the reforms (as EPN envisions them) will come from the PRD rather than the PAN.

Mexican politics is entering an exciting period, with a President who intends to leave his mark on the country – for better or for worse.

500th post!

British Columbia (Canada) 2013

A provincial election was held in British Columbia (Canada) on May 14, 2013. The 85 seats in the provincial Legislative Assembly are elected to four-year terms (fixed election dates) by FPTP in single-member constituencies.

A distinct political culture

British Columbia is a Western province, but it is distinct from the other three ‘landlocked’ Western provinces and forms a fairly unique entity unto itself. The politics of the three other Western provinces were marked, in the early twentieth century, by agrarianism and Prairie populism in the form of the Progressive or United Farmers parties; years later, despite major political and social changes in these provinces, the political culture still bears the stamp of agrarianism and Prairie populism. British Columbia, however, was never marked by such agrarianism. Instead, BC has been defined as a “company province” by some, referring to the province’s historical dependence on the extraction of natural resources (forestry, fishing, farming, mining/minerals including coal). The fortunes of the different industries have risen and fallen (fishing and farming are much less important, while natural gas, mining, lumber or oil pipelines are more important), but the general structure of the economy – tied to the extraction of primary resources – has not changed much, notwithstanding the contemporary tertiarization of the economy (services, tourism, financial industry etc).

BC’s political culture has been shaped by its history as a company province. One particular element, tied to its economic structure, which has coloured BC’s political culture is a strong, militant and politically active organized labour movement. The British and American working-class immigrants who came to work in BC’s coal and metal mining industries at the turn of the last centuries brought with them ‘radical’ ideologies (such as socialism) and militant trade unionism. The outlook of the employers, the poor and harsh working conditions of the working-class, insecurities linked to Asian immigration and the nature of provincial politics post-Confederation create a strong class cleavage and led workers to organize politically to remedy problems which they felt could not be remedied by union activism alone. Farmers, however, never developed a class consciousness as in the other Western provinces. They were a fairly comfortable social group (hence more favourable to traditional conservative politics) which did not share the economic and political grievances of Albertan or Saskatchewan farmers. Secondly, BC’s physical characteristics (geographic features which long inhibited communication and promoted isolation) and the diversity of its agriculture (grain in the Peace River basin, fruits in the Okanagan, vegetables in the Lower Fraser Valley etc) hindered the formation of a farmers’ class consciousness and agrarian ideology.

As a result of these social conditions, socialism quickly became a potent political force in BC (unlike in the other provinces, despite the social radicalism of some Gingers in the Progressive or United Farmers parties) while agrarianism and rural populism never found significant support in the province. By way of example, BC elected Socialist MLAs as early as 1903 (Labour candidates had won seats since the 1890s) but the federal Progressive Party only won 12% and 3 seats in the 1921 federal election.

Class and regional antagonisms have defined BC politics for most of its history. The strong class cleavage has created (starting in the 1940s) a two-party system between the social democratic New Democrats (NDP) and a “free-market party” (currently the BC Liberals, formerly the BC Social Credit Party, SoCreds). Reinforcing the class cleavage is the fact that, historically, BC has also attracted entrepreneurial capitalists and rags-to-riches self-made capitalists. Corporate business has a long history of directly intervening in provincial politics, to guard off  “socialist collectivism” or to ensure favourable (preferential) treatment for businesses and individuals by the government.

Regional antagonisms have not created political parties, but they have played a large role in electoral behaviour and partisan strategies. About three-fifths of the province’s population lives in the Lower Mainland, an extensively urbanized metropolitan conglomeration driven by the city of Vancouver. There has always been a distinct divide between the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island (which includes the capital city, Victoria) and the BC Interior. In recent years, BC has seen a massive influx of immigration – 27% of the province’s population are visible minorities (non-white) – most either Chinese or South Asian (predominantly Punjabi).

Reinforcing this internal regional divide is a lingering sentiment of Western alienation shared with the Prairie provinces and Alberta.

Political history

Between 1871 (when BC joined Confederation) and 1903, provincial politics were non-partisan, with no officially recognized factions although candidates and MLAs tended to align with either the ‘government’ or ‘opposition’. Provincial governments busied themselves at extracting concessions from the federal government (such as railways) or distributing railway charters and timber/mining rights to friends. As such, they often sought to be on the good side of the federal government, and since the federal government during this era was almost away Conservative, most provincial cabinet ministers tended to be de facto Conservatives although this was by no means absolute – Tories and Liberals were to be found on both sides of the aisle. By the turn of the century, non-partisan government became an unstable mess of bickering parochial interests – this not only made stable government hard, it also inhibited economic growth and allowed organized labour to flourish in a context of a fluid legislature. Partisan politics, divided along traditional pan-Canadian lines of Liberal and Conservative, were adopted in 1903.

The Conservatives won the first election, beginning an era of Tory ascendancy which lasted until 1916. At the outset, the Conservative government encouraged railway development, resource extraction, Asian exclusion and ‘better terms’ for the province through a ‘Fight Ottawa’ agenda. The Tories were therefore rewarded with ever-larger majorities in the 1907, 1909 and 1912 elections – to the point where, in 1912, the Liberal Party won no seats and two Socialist MLAs formed the official opposition to the Conservative government. This era, however, was suddenly halted in the 1916 election. After Premier Richard McBride’s resignation, the Tory government was hurt by a wartime recession in the province and a resurgent Liberal Party which appealed to the new progressive reform movement (which supported women’s suffrage, prohibition, honest government). The Liberals struck back, taking 36 seats to the Conservatives’ 9 seats in the 1916 election.

The Liberals remained in power until 1928. Successive Liberal Premiers pursued a cautious pro-business agenda all the while trying to channel the new progressive wave, in the form of women’s suffrage, alcohol prohibition or attempts to fight patronage. Unlike the Tories before 1916, the Liberal majority in the legislature shrank in both the 1920 and 1924 elections. In 1924, the Liberals lost their majority in the face of an ephemeral ‘Provincial Party’, a curious alliance of dissident Tories (Alexander McRae) and elements of the weak local branch of the United Farmers. The Provincial Party, which denounced corruption and the existing party system, won 24% of the popular vote (but only three seats) while the left (Labour) took roughly 12%. Liberal Premier John Oliver, in office since 1918, lost his seat, as did Conservative leader (and former Premier) William J. Bowser. The high ‘protest’ vote in this election testified to the electoral strength of populism or cynicism in BC politics.

An appearance of normality was restored in 1928, when the Conservatives, now led by the inoffensive Simon Fraser Tolmie, swept to victory with 35 seats against only 12 for the incumbent Liberal government. The Conservative victory in 1928 was, ultimately, a godsend for the Liberals because the Tories were the ones in charge when the Depression hit. The Conservatives were both unwilling and unable to counter the Great Depression forcefully, as demanded by most voters, and the Conservatives disintegrated by the time of the 1933 election.

Indeed, things had gotten to the point where the Conservative association did not even bother nominating candidates in 1933, leaving incumbents – including Tolmie – to run as independents or under odd labels. In any case, the divided Tories were swept out and the Liberals, led by the reformist Thomas Dufferin Pattullo, returned to power with a large majority government. However, the 1933 election was a watershed because the socialist Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) became the official opposition, with over 30% of the vote – although only 7 out of 47 seats. With the exception of the 1937 election, the CCF and later the NDP have always formed either the government or the official opposition in the provincial legislature. The emergence of a ‘socialist’ party as the main opposition went on to structure BC politics along the contemporary NDP vs. ‘free-market party’ lines we know today.

Pattullo, elected on a platform of “practical idealism” which promised wide-ranging social reforms (new labour laws, welfare, health insurance etc), remained in office until 1941, although his reformist ardour cooled with years in office. He was returned in the 1937 election, which saw the Conservatives reclaim second place for one last time. In large part, this was due to a schism in CCF ranks between Robert Connell, the party’s first leader, and a more radical ‘Marxist’ faction which took control of the CCF in 1936. Robert Connell came from the League for Social Reconstruction, a middle-class group influenced by the social gospel and wary of socialist politics. However, he was toppled by ‘radicals’ with roots in the Socialist Party, which had been strong in BC (but in no other province). The CCF, now led by the more ‘radical’ Harold Winch, reclaimed Official Opposition in the 1941 election.

With Pattullo’s Liberal reformism dead on the side of the road (relief payments abandoned, failure to implement medical insurance) and the CCF ascendant, the idea of a Liberal-Conservative coalition to face the ‘socialist threat’ became popular. Pattullo opposed the idea, but he lost that fight to pro-coalitionist Liberals at a 1941 party convention and was replaced by John Hart, who quickly welcomed the Conservatives in his government. The impetus behind the formation of the Coalition was, naturally, the ‘CCF threat’, which was becoming ever more potent. In the 1941 election, the CCF had won the most votes (33.4%) and doubled its seat count from 7 to 14. The Liberals and Conservatives had ended almost evenly matched in the popular vote (32.9% and 30.9% respectively), although the Liberals won 21 seats to the Tories’ 12. However, if the anti-socialist vote remained split, an ever-stronger CCF might realistically be able to win the 1945 election.

The LibCon Coalition worked admirably in the 1945 and 1949 elections. In 1945, the CCF increased its support to 37.6%, but because of the coalition arrangement (which won 55.8%), it took only 10 seats against 37 for the coalition. In 1949, the coalition won an even larger majority (39-7) with 61.4% of the vote. Under Hart’s premiership, the province undertook an ambitious program of rural electrification, hydroelectric and highway construction. He was succeeded, in 1947, by Byron Johnson, who instituted a health insurance scheme which quickly fell apart.

However, the coalition was undermined by incessant bickering between Liberals and Conservatives after Hart’s retirement in 1947 (and, in 1946, the death of the pro-coalition Tory leader RJ Maitland). Conservative leader Herbert Anscomb favoured the coalition, but he insisted on becoming Premier after Hart’s retirement. The coalition question started dividing the Conservatives, and the Liberals had grown cocky after the success of the coalition in 1945 and 1949. To aggravate matters further, neither the federal Conservatives or Liberals were all that keen on the coalition between their two provincial branches. In early 1952, Johnson fired Anscomb from cabinet, effectively breaking up the coalition.

However, to counter the ‘CCF threat’ and ensure that the CCF remained out of power despite the division of the two ‘anti-socialist’ parties, the two parties agreed to a new electoral system – the alternative vote (AV/IRV) – whereby Liberal voters would, the idea held, give their second preferences to a Conservative (and vice-versa) to ensure that the CCF could not win a majority of seats. In a great episode of ‘electoral reform backfiring on the politicians’, the new system allowed a third party – the BC Social Credit League (SoCred) to sneak up the middle, rake up first or second preferences from anti-socialist voters and emerge as the winner. The CCF won the most vote (30.8%) and took 18 seats, while the SoCreds took 27.2% and 19 seats. The Liberals and Conservatives were crushed, with only 6 and 4 seats respectively (on 23.5% and 16.8% support respectively).

The BC SoCred, prior to 1952, was a tiny inconsequential movement effectively controlled by the Alberta’s SoCred government. Starting in 1950, the party elected a new leader who purged the troublemakers and cranks, and seized a golden opportunity as the LibCon coalition floundered. The party welcomed two dissident MLAs, including W.A.C. Bennett, a former Conservative MLA who had quit the party in 1951 after two unsuccessful runs for the party’s leadership. After the SoCred victory in 1952, W.A.C. Bennett – who had absolutely no interest (or even knowledge) of original social credit monetary theories – became Premier. The party’s victorious 1952 campaign, however, was controlled by the Alberta SoCred and led by a federal MP from Alberta, Ernest Hansell.

The Albertan SoCred movement (elected in 1935) was born out of the social dislocation bred by the Great Depression and represented a populist protest movement (in that it actually believed in the social credit theories it campaigned on in 1935), infused with Christian evangelical and moralistic values. In contrast, the BC SoCreds came to power in a time of relative economic prosperity and it did not promise a radical, Utopist renovation of the whole financial system. After all, the Alberta SoCreds had tried and failed to implement actual social credit policies. Finally, the Alberta SoCreds always retained a strong Christian evangelical/fundamentalist element. While the BC SoCreds had a similar evangelical strain and campaigned using Christian/moralistic rhetoric, it was much less accented than in the Alberta party. The party did, however, perform strongly in regions like Chilliwack, Langley and the Cariboo which have a high percentage of Christian evangelicals.

The BC SoCreds exploited widespread disillusionment and resentment with the existing party system, particularly the incessant bickering between Liberals and Conservatives, the corruption in both parties and the generally mediocre record of the coalition governments. In 1952, SoCred had even been able to gain votes from CCF voters, whose distaste of the LibCon coalition exceeded any mistrust of the new right-wing party.

Although the BC SoCreds claimed to be a broad, cross-class alliance which was equally as opposed to the “forces of monopoly” than to socialism, the SoCreds quickly became the right-wing ‘free-market’ and anti-CCF/NDP party, albeit one with a more rural and slightly populist electorate. Up until the 1970s, the SoCred received its strongest levels of support in rural areas, while being weaker in (under-represented) urban areas, notably Vancouver or Victoria.

After his tiny minority win in 1952, Bennett quickly dissolved the legislature and called an election to win a majority government. Campaigning on the need for a ‘strong government’ and promising only ‘good government’, Bennett’s gamble worked and the SoCreds won a majority with 28 (out of 48) seats and 37.8% support. The Liberals won only 4 seats, the Tories were reduced to a mere MLA. The AV system was quickly abandoned and replaced, again, by FPTP.

The realignment of BC politics, with the SoCreds replacing the Liberals and Conservatives as the ‘free-market’ (anti-CCF) party was complete. Bennett’s SoCreds won another five successive election, each time with a large majority in the legislature with the CCF, later NDP, as the official opposition. While the Liberals held on to a rump of support (20% and 2-5 seats in each election), the Conservatives won no seats after 1953 and were dead by the 1960s.

Bennett’s twenty-year reign saw a sustained economic boom in the forestry, mining, and energy sectors. The SoCred government maintained good relations with its base – farmers, ranchers, traders, small businessmen and sectors of the middle-classes. On the other hand, his government was an unwavering foe of the unions, and it passed strict labour laws which weakened the power of unions and curtailed union activism (banning secondary boycotts, compulsory arbitration in essential industries). The union movement moved even closer to the NDP and minced no words in denouncing the government’s labour policies, but for the most part, the SoCred government maintained relative social peace in the province, buoyed by prosperity.

Notwithstanding its free-market orientation, the SoCred government pursued a fairly interventionist economic agenda. Bennett created a number of important Crown corporations (BC Ferries, BC Hydro), finally finished the BC Rail network, invested significantly in infrastructure (highways, roads), launched major hydroelectric dam projects and advocated for universal healthcare. The government’s policies were popular throughout the BC Interior, where infrastructure development made good politics and created a loyal electoral clientele for the government. Many working-class voters, provided with jobs in a period of economic growth, turned away from the NDP and backed the SoCreds.

Meanwhile, the SoCreds did what was expected of them by big business: create a climate favourable to investment, and defend the province from the socialist bogey. Although the relations between business and the SoCreds were not as smooth and amiable as relations between the Liberals/Conservatives and business had been in the past, the anti-NDP business community saw in Bennett and his government the sole alternative to the NDP, and accordingly directed its funds to the SoCreds – in the process, draining both the Liberals and Conservatives of funds.

The Bennett government created a myth of ‘fiscal responsibility’ and a ‘debt-free province’, which appealed to right-wing voters. In reality, the ‘debt-free province’ claims were belied by the existence of “two sets of books” whereby the Premier classified the debts of government agencies as “contingent liabilities”.

The W.A.C. Bennett era ended in 1972, with the victory of Dave Barrett’s NDP. The NDP won 38 seats (out of 55) and 39.6%, while SoCred support fell over 15 points and left the government with only 10 seats. In large part, the SoCred defeat was due to a sudden resurgence in Conservative support – out of almost nowhere, the PCs took 12.7% and won 2 seats, while the Liberals held their 5 seats.

Barrett was an ambitious Premier, whose brief three-year premiership saw a spurt of legislative election unseen since the 1930s. The NDP government expanded the public sector, reformed the welfare system (Pharmacare, minimum income), established a provincial Labour Relations Board, implemented public auto insurance (ICBC, still in place today) and created a land commission to regulate the use and sale of farmland. Barrett’s government was hurt by an economic slump and he was criticized for taking the province from surplus to debt. The NDP’s policies antagonized powerful business groups (insurance, mining companies) and led to a re-polarization of the electorate when the government faced the people in 1975.

Although the NDP’s support held steady in the election, winning 39.2% of the vote, the government was defeated as the right-of-centre vote coalesced around the SoCreds, now led by W.A.C. Bennett’s son, Bill Bennett. The SoCreds had been able to attract Liberal and Conservative dissidents to the party, and in the election, the Liberals and Conservatives both saw their support collapse by about 9% each and they were both left with only a single seat. The SoCreds won 49.3% and 35 seats, against only 18 for the NDP. Hence began the second era of SoCred governance in BC.

In contrast to his father’s more interventionist policies, Bennett Jr began with a policy of “restraint” which slashed social services, reviewed labour laws, cut spending on education and privatized certain Crown assets. Nevertheless, near the end of his tenure (1986), Bennett oversaw the completion of several megaprojects meant to stimulate the economy – Vancouver Expo86, the Coquihalla Highway and the Vancouver SkyTrain. Bennett was reelected in 1979 and 1983. When he retired in 1986, he was replaced by Bill Vander Zalm, a charismatic but eccentric MLA from the party’s social conservative wing. After 1975, the BC SoCreds’ dominance rested on a tenuous alliance of social and fiscal conservatives, with fiscal conservatives like Bennett dominating the party. Bill Vander Zalm won another term in office for SoCred in the 1986 election, with 49% against 42.6% for the NDP (47 seats to 22).

Bill Vander Zalm’s government was quickly embroiled in a number of scandals which badly tarnished his party’s image and led to the collapse of the SoCreds. He was involved in a conflict of interest scandal after he sold his Fantasy Gardens theme park to Tan Yu, Filipino Chinese gambling kingpin. A Chinese-Canadian entrepreneur involved in the deal leaked lurid details of parties and bags of money from Yu to Vander Zalm. The scandal forced Vander Zalm to resign in disgrace in 1991. Unfortunately for the SoCreds’ fate, he was succeeded by Rita Johnston, who was closely associated with the scandal-plagued Premier.

The 1991 election marked another realignment in BC politics. The NDP, led by Mike Harcourt, won a large majority with 51 seats (40.7% of the vote). The SoCreds were decimated, losing half of their vote and falling into third place with a rump caucus of 7 MLAs. In the process, the BC Liberals – which had won all of 6.7% in 1986 and had not won a single seat since 1975 – soared to win 33.3% and 17 seats. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson received a major boost after a strong performance in a debate against Harcourt and Johnston. Unlike the Alberta SoCreds who had taken some time to die off completely after their electoral defeat, the BC SoCreds disintegrated and basically died right after the 1991 election.

A splutterign economy in the early 1990s forced Harcourt’s NDP government to move to the right, with the Premier lashing out at “welfare cheats” in a televised address and major cutbacks in welfare. The government also clashed with environmental groups, and, later, a rogue aboriginal group which occupied farmland in the Cariboo (Gustafsen Lake siege). Mike Harcourt was forced to resign in February 1996 after the “Bingogate” scandal, in which an NDP MLA had use charity bingo money for party funding. Harcourt was not implicated and later exonerated, but chose to take full political responsibility. Months before the June 1996 election, Glen Clark replaced Harcourt as Premier.

The Liberals, led by Gordon Wilson, proved fairly ineffective as the official opposition after the 1991 election. After revelations that he was having an affair with another Liberal MLA, Wilson was forced to call a leadership convention in 1993. Gordon Campbell, the mayor of Vancouver since 1986, easily won the party leadership while Wilson, who finished a distant third, later quit the Liberals to create the centrist Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA). Under Gordon Campbell, the party shifted to the right and established itself as the sole centre-right alternative to the NDP.

The BC Liberals (as they became known, to further distinguish them from the federal party) actually won the popular vote in the 1996 election, with 41.8% against 39.5% for the NDP. However, the Liberals performed poorly in metro Vancouver and lost some close races in the BC Interior (where they were hurt by Campbell’s promise to sell BC Rail), meaning that they ended up with 33 seats to the NDP’s 39. The Liberals were also hurt by the division of the non-NDP vote: to their right, the Reform Party won 9.3% and 2 seats, while Wilson’s PDA took 5.7% and one seat.

The NDP’s second term in office proved to be a disaster which continues to haunt the NDP to this day. Glen Clark’s premiership was marred by a number of major scandals or fiascos. Most prominent among them were the Fast Ferry Scandal and Casinogate.

In an effort to revitalize a shipbuilding industry, Clark’s NDP government undertook a fast ferry initiative to upgrade BC Ferries’ fleet with high-speed ferries which would be built locally. The whole affair quickly turned into a mismanaged fiasco, with massive cost overruns, delivery delays and many malfunctioning vessels. In 1999, the RCMP searched the Premier’s house (televised live) in what became ‘Casinogate’ – the Premier was later found guilty (in 2002) of accepting favours (free house renovations) in return for approving a casino application.

Following these allegations, Clark resigned in August 1999 and was succeeded, following an acrimonious three-way leadership race, by former Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh (who had generally been critical of Clark). Ujjal Dosanjh himself was personally popular and the province’s economy was doing well, but he was unable to save the NDP from oblivion (although he did increase its polling numbers from 15% to 21%).

In May 2001, the BC NDP suffered one of the worst defeats for any incumbent government in Canadian history, winning only two seats (not including Dosanjh’s seat) and a paltry 21.6% of the vote. Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals swept to power in a massive landslide, taking 77 seats and a massive 57.6% of the vote. The Green Party, previously marginal, took 12.4% of the vote but it failed to win any seats. Even the Marijuana Party managed to win 3.2% by running a full slate of candidates (cue the BC weed jokes).

Gordon Campbell generally governed from the right during his years in office. Upon taking office, he cut the personal income tax by 25% across the board, cut the corporate income tax and eliminated the NDP’s corporate capital tax. To finance tax cuts and balance the books, the Liberal government implemented austerity measures which included reductions in social services and welfare rolls, deregulation, the sale of government assets (the Fast Ferry fleet was auctioned off), reducing the size of the civil service and closing some government offices. One of his most controversial decisions came in 2003, when he reneged on an electoral promise not to sell BC Rail. BC Rail was eventually sold to Canadian National (CN) in November 2003. BC Rail would become a bit like the BC Liberals’ equivalent of Fast Ferry (though far less damaging). Law enforcement quickly uncovered evidence of illegal or improper conduct of various government officials, consultants and BC Liberal insiders. In 2009, it was revealed that a BC Liberal insider had received nearly $300,000 from BC Rail between 2002 and 2004.

During his first term, Gordon Campbell suffered a personal embarrassment and a stain on his image when he was arrested for DUI while on vacation in Hawaii. His mugshot was published by the Hawaiian police and he was fined US$913.

However, BC’s economy remained strong and the government could boast the best job creation record in Canada. In 2005, the BC Liberals won a second term with a reduced (more ‘normal’) majority, taking 45.8% and 46 seats against 41.5% and 33 seats for the NDP. The Green vote fell to 9.2%.

Although some of his environmental policies during his first term were criticized by environmental groups, Campbell’s Liberal government implemented a carbon tax, which is now set at a final price of $30 per tonne of CO2e emissions. Although some on the right opposed the new at the outset, a movement which contributed to the revitalization of the moribund BC Conservatives in the 2009 election, the carbon tax was generally well accepted as the government used revenues to lower corporate and income taxes.

Campbell’s Liberals won a third term in 2009, with basically the same results as in 2005: 49 seats to the NDP’s 35, 45.8% to the NDP’s 42.2%. The Greens won 8.2%, while the BC Conservatives put forward a slate of 24 candidates and won 2.1%, doing quite well in conservative ridings in the BC Interior (5-10%, 20.2% in Boundary-Similkameen).

Gordon Campbell’s popularity tanked shortly thereafter, when his government announced that it would introduce a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), a 12% sales tax which would replace the 5% federal GST and the 7% Provincial Sales Tax. Three Atlantic provinces had already introduced the HST in the 1990s, and BC joined Ontario in moving towards the HST in 2010. While the introduction of the HST was met with strong popular opposition in both provinces (because it increased taxes on some items, including gas), BC showed its populist and contrarian streak by rallying behind a petition to repeal the tax, spearheaded by former SoCred Premier Bill Vander Zalm. In Ontario, meanwhile, voters bided their time when the tax was installed.

In November 2010, Campbell, facing an imminent caucus revolt over his style and the political backlash from the HST, announced his resignation. In a leadership contest in February 2011, he was succeeded by Christy Clark, a Deputy Premier under Campbell’s first term who became a radio talk show host in 2005. Clark ran as the outsider and populist “families first” candidate, and supported the initiative referendum on abolishing the HST. Clark’s victory was not met with great enthusiasm within her caucus – only one sitting Liberal MLA had supported her; most Liberal MLAs had backed either finance minister Kevin Falcon (the more right-wing candidate) or George Abbott (the more left-wing and rural candidate).

In a mail-in referendum in the summer of 2011, BC voters rejected the HST, with 54.7% of voters voting in favour of abolishing the HST and replacing it with the old GST/PST system.

Contending forces

BC Liberals

Christy Clark enjoyed a short-lived honeymoon with voters in the spring of 2011, leading to speculation that she might call an early election in the summer or fall of 2011 to win a mandate for herself. However, the defeat of the HST in the summer led her to scrap those plans and indefinitely postponed an election call. Liberal support collapsed to the mid-to-low 20s in late 2011 and 2012 as she became widely perceived as an ineffective, even downright incompetent Premier.

Clark has been dogged by continuing fallout from the BC Rail scandal, due to her cabinet position at the time and her family connections to people commonly mentioned in the investigations and search warrants at the time. She has suffered from allegations that she participated in the scandal by providing government information to a lobbyist (and Liberal strategist). Her brother was also the subject of one of the warrants, although no charges were laid against him.

Having won the Liberal leadership as the outsider against two incumbent cabinet ministers backed by the quasi-entirety of the Liberal caucus, she was never very popular with her caucus and she was constantly at risk of being toppled by a caucus revolt.

As it appeared that Christy Clark was a dead woman walking and the Liberals facing oblivion in the 2013 election, leadership rivals Kevin Falcon and George Abbott – respectively finance and education ministers in her cabinet – announced in the summer of 2012 that they would retire at the next election.

In March 2013, only a few months before the election, Christy Clark was nearly removed from office by a caucus revolt which followed an ‘ethnic vote’ scandal. Liberal strategy documents detailing the party’s attempts to woo visible minority (Chinese, South Asian) voters, notably by chasing down “historical wrongs” to apologize for (the Chinese head tax, for example), tailoring government policy to “resonate” with the target groups; and “developing a stable” of Liberal loyalists willing to write letters to the ethnic media to peddle the government line. The ‘ethnic vote’ scandal was widely criticized as being extremely insulting and patronizing to ethnic minorities.

Under Christy Clark, the BC Liberals have been slightly more centrist, while still continuing to be a coalition of federal Conservatives and some federal Liberals. Clark herself is a federal Liberal, but she has associated with several federal Conservatives and supporters of Stephen Harper. Former federal Tory MPs Chuck Strahl and Stockwell Day publicly endorsed the BC Liberals.

The BC Liberal platform said a vote for them was “choosing a balanced budget, a growing economy, small government and low taxes”. The Liberals emphasized ‘controlling spending, balancing the budget and a debt-free BC’, notably through capping spending increases, a debt paydown plan but also a small increase in the tax rate for those earning over $100,000 and raising the corporate tax rate. In the latest budget, the government projected a surplus in 2013/2014, the first since 2008/2009.

One of the major issues in BC politics these days is natural resources, notably with the much debated plan to build the Northern Gateway pipeline to transport Alberta’s oil to the port of Kitimat in northern BC, where supertankers would transport the oil to Asian markets. First Nations communities and environmentalists strongly oppose the plan, but the federal government strongly supports it. Clark has been mixed on the issue, demanding an agreement on revenue sharing with Alberta. The Liberal platform supports oil pipelines on condition that they go through the full environmental review process, have a “world-leading” oil spill response plan, meets legal requirements regarding Aboriginal treaty rights (and that First Nations are provided with opportunities) and that BC receives a “fair share” of the economic benefits.

However, the Liberal government has been a very strong proponent of fracking for liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Liberals claim that promoting LNG will make the province debt-free and create thousands of jobs. The NDP and some experts think that it is all wishful thinking, contending that LNG won’t generate the estimated windfall and that the Liberals, as they have tended to do in the past, are hyping up the benefits of natural gas.

BC NDP

The BC NDP, in opposition since the 2001 election, were the favourites for the entire campaign and most of the run-up to the campaign itself. However, there was generally not a whole lot of popular enthusiasm for either the NDP or its leader, Adrian Dix. Dix became party leader in 2011 after Carole James, the NDP leader since 2003 who had led the party in the 2005 and 2009 elections, was pushed out of the position by a caucus revolt in late 2010/early 2011. Adrian Dix, Glen Clark’s former Chief of Staff and MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway since 2005, defeated three other candidates for the BC NDP leadership. He was considered as being the most left-wing candidate in the field.

In his leadership bid, Dix supported eliminating the HST, rolling back reductions in the corporate tax rate, supporting the redirection of carbon tax revenue to pay for public transit, increasing the minimum wage to $10 (which has since been done by the Liberal government), creating a provincial child care system, restoring grants to the post-secondary students, reducing interest on student loans and restoring the corporation capital tax on financial institutions.

The BC NDP’s platform focused on the notion of “change for the better”. It emphasized, besides obligatory job creation, reducing child poverty and inequalities, improving care for seniors and fighting climate change. It promised a $210 million BC Family Bonus to help over 300k low and medium-income families with children and to increase welfare payments (an increase of $20 a month). Claiming that the Liberals have rolled back basic employment rights, the NDP promised to “strengthen and enforce employment standards” – notably by indexing the minimum wage to inflation. The NDP also supported lowering tuition fees, while the Liberal government only promised to limit tuition fees increase to a maximum of 2%.

The BC NDP opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline, as well as Kinder-Morgan’s plan to twin its existing Edmonton-Burnaby Trans Mountain pipeline. It supported a ‘made-in-BC’ environmental review process, a strategy for sustainable energy and more action on climate change.

The NDP remains a polarizing party, which has a strong base of support but also a motivated opposition. The BC NDP has struggled to fully dissociate itself from the NDP governments in the 1990s and the corruption scandals (Fast Ferry and Casinogate) from that era, and it also has always received a bad rap as being in cahoots with labour unions. The Liberals constantly criticize the NDP for being unable to “stand up” to its “friends” in labour, and its “reckless spending” policies.

In an attempt to appeal to middle-ground swing voters, Adrian Dix tried to lead a campaign which was widely described as “boring” and vaguely centrist. He refused to go negative on the Liberals and ran a ‘positive campaign’, which critics claim didn’t do a good job of holding the Liberals to account for their record and failures in office.

BC Greens

The Greens have been a strong third party in BC politics since they won 12% in the 2001 election, although their support has fallen off since that high (returning to more ‘normal’ levels after the 2001 aberration). However, the Greens have never won a seat in the legislature.

Unlike, say, the Ontario Greens, the BC Greens are a left-wing party, leading many Dippers say that they don’t serve much of a purpose because of their ideological proximity to the NDP. While it is true that the Greens and NDP are rather similar ideologically, and most Green voters would probably prefer an NDP government in Victoria to a Liberal government, there are some differences. The Greens tend to place more emphasis on green issues, notably a ‘sustainable economy. The Greens support a balanced budget, achieved by “ending corporate welfare, eliminating subsidies to polluting industries and fair taxation policies”, while supporting tax credits or tax cuts for green business practices or green industries. Like the federal party, the Greens want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below their 1990 level by 2040. It should come as no surprise that the Greens strongly oppose Northern Gateway and Kinder-Morgan.

The Greens got some attention for unambiguously supporting decriminalization of marijuana.

While the Greens managed to run full slates in the last elections, they only ran 61 candidates (for 85 seats) this year. Like the federal Greens did in the 2011 federal election (with the success that we know of), the BC Greens seemingly decided to concentrate their rather sparse resources on a few ‘winnable’ ridings (most on Vancouver Island, around Victoria and Elizabeth May’s Saanich-Gulf Islands federal seat) while forgoing weaker regions (notably the Interior or northern BC). Green leader Jane Sterk stood against NDP MLA Carole James in Victoria-Beacon Hill, but the Greens focused a lot of their resources on Oak Bay-Gordon Head, a Liberal-held riding in suburban Victoria where their candidate was Andrew Weaver, a prominent climate modeler at UVic and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

BC Conservatives

The BC Conservatives have basically been either totally irrelevant or on life support since the 1952 election, despite short-lived revivals in the 1963 and 1972 elections. The Conservatives lost their last seat in the Legislative Assembly in the 1979 election, and while they have run the bare minimum of candidates in every election since then to maintain their registration, they polled less than 1% in every election between 1983 and 2009. Most federal Conservative voters are quite content with supporting the BC Liberals provincially, leaving the BC Conservatives with only a tiny base of supporters – mostly very right-wing voters in the BC Interior who haven’t liked the Liberals for things like the carbon tax, or, more recently, the HST.

The Conservatives managed to run 24 candidates in 2009, and took 2.1% province-wide. The Conservatives were left leaderless until May 2011, when former federal Tory MP John Cummins won the party’s leadership. With the HST furor, the HST’s debacle and the collapse of Christy Clark’s short-lived honeymoon, the BC Conservatives surged in polls – reaching heights of 20-23% and often lingering in the high teens. In early 2012, the BC Conservatives came threateningly close to the BC Liberals – either just behind or tied with them. As Christy Clark was seen as a dead woman walking, many started talking about a potential 1952/1991-like realignment of BC politics with the Conservatives potentially displacing the Liberals as the “free-market” and anti-NDP party. A Liberal MLA and former cabinet minister, John Van Dongen, joined the Conservatives in March 2012.

Unfortunately for the Conservatives, Cummins alienated several members of the party and the party was crippled by infighting and legal problems in mid-to-late 2012. John Van Dongen left the party to sit as an independent in September, other members left the party and the party’s polling plunged to the low 10s or even high single digits (benefiting the Liberals).

The BC Conservative platform – “we believe in BC” (I would love to see a campaign focusing on “we really don’t believe in [our country]“) – was vague, aimed mostly at appealing to conservative voters in the BC Interior – it lamented rural depopulation, immigration to urban areas and lashed out at the carbon tax (they’re the only party which supports abolishing it). The Conservative platform talked a lot about a balanced budget, and its platform included promises for lowering corporate and income taxes. But in general, a lot of its ‘plan’ was vague and focused on criticizing the Liberals and NDP for budget woes. Kyle Hutton from Blunt Objects (who did a great guest post for me on Labrador) talked about the Conservative platform here. He described it as terribly boring, with most of it consisting of blurbs which read like Wikipedia articles.

The Conservatives nominated 56 candidates. They lost a few candidates, notably in Boundary-Similkameen (where they won over 20% in 2009), because of moronic comments they made. John Cummins ran in Langley, a conservative suburban riding in the Lower Mainland with a strong Christian evangelical base. The party didn’t really recruit star candidates, except maybe one or two former federal Tory MPs (which most people wouldn’t actually know/remember, I’d wager).

The results – what on earth was that?

Turnout was 52.3%, down slightly from 52.5% in the 2009 election. This is, again, one of the lowest turnouts in BC history. The results were:

BC Liberals 44.37% (-1.45%) winning 49 seats (nc)
BC NDP 39.56% (-2.59%) winning 34 seats (-1)
Green Party 8.03% (-0.18%) winning 1 seat (+1)
BC Conservatives 4.76% (+2.66%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others and independents 3.28% (+1.56%) winning 1 seat (nc)

Canada - British Columbia 2013

NB: Coquitlam-Maillardville is wrong, after a final count the NDP won the seat by 5 votes.

The BC election on May 14 was one of the most shocking upsets in recent Canadian political history (up there, of course, with Alberta’s 2012 election) – and perhaps even the whole world. The BC Liberals hadn’t led in any opinion poll for two years (since May 2011), and the BC NDP led in all polls during the campaign.

The last polls before the election had placed the BC NDP at 45%, with its lead generally ranging from 6% to 14%. The only poll which showed a close race, a Forum Research poll released on May 8, showed the BC NDP holding a two-point lead over the Liberals, 43% to 41%. The BC NDP’s lead over the Liberals had shrunk over the course of the campaign, coming out the gates holding a nearly 20 point lead (with the NDP nearing 50% and the Liberals lingering below 30%). During the course of the campaign, the BC Liberals had managed to move out of the high 20s into the 30s, but they never came within striking distance of first place in any poll besides Forum Research’s May 8 poll. On average, according to the final polls, the NDP was between 44% and 46%, while the BC Liberals were between 36% and 38%. The Greens, on average, at their 2009 levels (7-9%) although some polls had them higher (13-14%). The Conservatives, finally, saw their support in the final days range between 5 and 8%.

Based on these polls and the NDP’s consistent and comfortable lead therein, everybody predicted that the NDP would win a solid majority.

Instead, the Liberals won the election by 4.9% and won the same number of seats as in 2009. A major upset which, in many aspects, appears quite similar to the Albertan provincial election last year, in which the incumbent PCs won by 9% after the polls and everybody had predicted that the upstart Wildrose Party would win a solid victory. In both cases, the polls ended up dead wrong – nobody predicted the correct winner. That makes for a pretty bad record for Canadian pollsters in the past years. In the 2011 federal election, almost all of them failed to predict that the Conservatives would win a majority government rather than a minority. In Alberta, no pollster correctly predicted the outcome of the election and they all showed the Wildrose ahead (Forum Research, again, came closest, when they showed the Wildrose up only 2 points, rather than 5-10). In Quebec’s provincial election last September, while the pollsters were not wrong on the outcome (PQ victory) they basically all failed to foresee the incumbent Liberals, widely seen to be at risk of falling into third place, coming so close to eking out an upset victory. And now, in BC, no pollster correctly predicted the outcome. In general, the BC NDP was overestimated by 3.5 to 5.5%, while the Liberals were underestimated by about 7-8% on average (except Forum).

There are a number of factors and reasons which explain why the Liberals were able to pull of such a shocking upset, but few of those reasons explain why the pollsters failed so badly.

The BC Liberals ran the best campaign, and the the NDP ran a mediocre campaign at best. Adrian Dix’s decision to run a ‘positive’ campaign, refusing to engage in negative tactics against the Liberal government, made the NDP campaign a boring affair. Dix went out of his way to reassure swing voters that the BC NDP was a moderate, centre-left party which stood for the vague notion of “change for the better”; rather than something similar to the NDP of the 1990s, associated with corruption and mismanagement by a lot of BC voters. When he wasn’t doing that, he was running a policy wonk campaign which tried to explain the intricacies of his party’s long and detailed platform to voters. In the process, he managed to lose everybody’s attention.

In contrast, the Liberals successfully went on the offensive against the NDP, painting them either as “reckless spenders” who would throw the province into debts and deficits like in the 1990s or a party in cahoots with “big labour” and “environmental lobbies” who would oppose natural resource development (hence, opposing ‘job creation’). The Liberals doubled down on the province’s robust economy and the job opportunities which could be created by promoting resource development (first and foremost, LNG). They promised “strong leadership”, in opposition to Adrian Dix who became perceived as either too weak or an unknown quantity. Ironically, the NDP allowed their opponents to gain the edge on leadership when Dix, during the campaign, came out against the Kinder-Morgan expansion, after having held ambiguous positions on it beforehand. Many voters, especially in the Interior, extrapolated from this that the NDP would block resource development of any kind and would oppose ‘job creation’ if environmental groups opposed it.

Another factor which contributed to the BC Liberal victory was the low support for the BC Conservatives. They won 4.8%, which is the best result for the Conservative Party since the 1970s, but well below what even the final polls had predicted (6-8%). Some right-leaning voters likely hesitated between the Liberals and Conservatives until the last minute.

The BC NDP wins when the right is divided, and it loses when the right is united. In 1972, the PCs went from 0.1% to 12.7%, stealing a substantial amount from the SoCreds and allowing the NDP to win. In 1975, when the Conservative and Liberal vote collapsed, the NDP lost. In 1991, the anti-NDP vote was split between the Liberals (33.3%) and the SoCreds (24.1%), allowing the NDP to win – incidentally, the NDP did worse in 1991 than in 1986 (a two-party contest which they lost). In 1996, although the BC Liberals established themselves as the sole ‘free market’/anti-NDP alternative, the right-wing Reform Party won 9.3% and Gordon Wilson’s centrist PDA (5.7%) likely took some votes which would otherwise have gone to the Liberals. This year was no different. If the Conservatives had won over 10% of the vote, then the NDP would have won in a landslide. If they had done only a bit better, polling in the 7-9% range, the NDP would probably have managed to win a narrow majority. However, the Conservatives ended up being inconsequential.

The Liberals are lucky that the BC Conservatives had their 15 minutes of fame in 2011 rather than in 2013. They are also lucky that the Conservatives were unable to capitalize on their brief surge in 2011/early 2012. Instead of recruiting prominent candidates in every riding and developing a coherent set of policies which would appeal to BC Liberal voters, the Conservatives were caught up in leadership woes with a leader who alienated several members of the party; they also failed to recruit good candidates and they failed to put up a full slate, they mostly recruited the usual motley of cranks and nobodies.

Ipsos-Reid released an ‘exit poll’ which had correctly predicted the result on election day (see press release, or full doc with crosstabs), which gives some interesting insights into the reasons for the BC Liberal’s victory.

51% of voters decided during the course of the campaign, including 23% who decided on the day of (11%) or during the last week (12%). The Liberals won those voters who decided during the course of campaign: 9% of their voters decided to vote for them on election day, and overall 55% of their voters decided during the campaign. In contrast, 58% of the BC NDP’s voters had made up their mind before the campaign. The BC Liberals ran the best campaign, the one which convinced the most late-deciders.

The BC NDP’s campaign was all about “change”, but only 40% of voters said that “a desire for change” was a ‘very important’ factor in their vote. 41% of voters said it was not an important factor. NDP voters embraced the change message by a wide margin (74%) over other parties, but it did not translate amongst other voters.

Instead, voters said their top issues were an ‘open and honest government’ (71% rated as ‘very important’), the economy (65%), healthcare (60%), trust in a leader/party (58%), government spending (56%) and leadership (56%). The BC Liberals had a huge advantage among voters who rated the economy and government spending as ‘very important’ – a 24 point margin over the NDP on the economy, and a 20 point margin on government spending. During the campaign, Ipsos-Reid’s polls had found that the governing party only had a small edge on those issues (+7 and +2 respectively).

Premier Christy Clark had a 10 point margin over Adrian Dix on the ‘best Premier’ ratings, reversing Dix’s 13 point lead before the election.

The NDP won voters whose top issues were healthcare, trust or an ‘open and honest government’. However, on the issue of trust – which the BC NDP had tried to push during the campaign – the NDP only had a 5 point margin over the Liberals.

The exit poll also shows that the BC Liberals were smart to focus on the province’s current economy, because BC voters are optimistic about the province’s direction. 51% of all voters, and 84% of Liberal voters, said that BC was on the ‘right track’ against only 32% who thought the opposite. By playing on voters’ satisfaction with the state of their province’s economy, the Liberals found a successful vote-winner.

One extremely relevant point in this discussion, which also relates to the pollsters’ failure, is the composition of the electorate – particularly as it relates to age. Turnout was 52%, but low turnout does not explain why the polls sucked – turnout was the same in 2009, but the polls had that election correct.

Ipsos-Reid’s exit poll was weighted from turnout by age group in 2009. 49% of voters were aged 55 or over, 35% were between 35 and 54 and only 16% were between 18 and 24. In contrast, Ipsos-Reid’s final poll during the campaign had the oldest age group making up only 35% of voters, against 29% for the 18-24 crowd. Older voters tend to vote Liberal by a large margin – this year, the Liberals won voters 55+ by 9 points (48-39); the younger voters tend to vote NDP, this year they backed the NDP by 6 points (43-37). Furthermore, the BC Liberals also improved their standings with all age groups from the final Ipsos-Reid pre-election poll

The electorate which turned out to vote on May 14 was older, whiter and more small-c conservative than the actual electorate. For example, the exit poll’s sample had voted 50% Liberal and 32% NDP in the 2009 election (and 43% Conservative, 25% NDP and 20% Liberal in the 2011 federal election) – a considerably more conservative electorate than the actual 2009 or 2011 electorate.

BC NDP voters, particularly their oft-unreliable younger supporters, were likely complacent and felt so certain that the NDP would win that many did not bother voting. According to the exit poll, 48% of voters expected that the election would result in a NDP majority (75% of NDP voters thought their party would win a majority) and only 11% said that the BC Liberals would win a majority (only 23% of Liberal voters thought their party would win as they did). The ‘certainty’ of the BC NDP’s ‘victory’ demotivated NDP voters, but it also – and this could arguably be quite surprising (‘why vote for a lost cause?’) – motivated Liberal voters to turn out, perhaps in the hopes of saving a local MLA or ensuring that the Liberal defeat was not too severe.

One of the main explanations (but not the only one) for the pollsters’ failure is that they did not correctly predict the composition of the electorate. However, Ipsos-Reid’s poll show that there was some late shift with a significant part of the electorate which no pollster was able to pick up. The BC Liberals, as mentioned above, increased their support among all age groups compared to Ipsos-Reid’s last poll.

It is quite possible that polls were underestimating the Liberal vote, either because of a shy Liberal effect or the more widespread “unpopular governments underpolling” effect which comes up in all elections with a long-time and/or unpopular incumbent government facing reelection. But that can only be a small part of the explanation – unless the shy Liberal/unpopular government effect was huge, which is unlikely. The Liberals did not overperform their polling numbers by 1-3 points, but by a much larger amount.

Electoral geography

The broad contours of BC’s provincial electoral geography remained largely the same. The BC Liberals were strongest in the rural and conservative regions of the BC Interior and northern BC, the conservative suburban Fraser Valley, the affluent parts of the Greater Vancouver area, the heavily Chinese suburban city of Richmond and the affluent retirement-oriented communities on Vancouver Island or Okanagan (Kelowna and surroundings). The BC NDP were strongest in Vancouver’s deprived Downtown Eastside or the city’s more trendy neighborhoods, parts of the lower-middle or working-class suburbs of Greater Vancouver (Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam), the heavily South Asian (Punjabi) parts of Surrey, Victoria, most of Vancouver Island, the remote ‘left coast’ of mainland BC and parts of the Kootenays in the Interior (a mix of old unionized small working-class towns, hippie/countercultural areas around Nelson and a pacifist religious influence in the past from the Dhukobor).

The BC NDP performed relatively well in Vancouver (city proper), which is the only region in the province where they did better than in 2009. Most strikingly, NDP candidate David Eby defeated Premier Christy Clark in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding, with 47.3% against 43.7% for Clark. Vancouver-Point Grey had been former Premier Gordon Campbell’s riding between 1996 and his resignation in 2011, and Christy Clark (originally elected in the Port Moody/Coquitlam area) returned to the legislature as Premier following a by-election in Vancouver-Point Grey in May 2011. Campbell had won his seat by ten points over the NDP in 2009, but Clark had won the by-election by only 3.5% in May 2011 – an embarrassingly close result. Vancouver-Point Grey includes part of the federal riding of Vancouver-Quadra, which is held by the federal Liberals. Provincially, the BC NDP tends to be quite strong in the Kitsilano portion of the riding, a fairly trendy neighborhood. The very affluent West Point Grey portion of the riding is solid Liberal turf provincially.

The NDP also gained the riding of Vancouver-Fairview, defeating incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Margaret MacDiarmid. The riding is socially mixed area, combining NDP-leaning lower-income areas with solidly Liberal affluent neighborhoods (Shaughnessy). The Liberals, however, held Vancouver-Fraserview, a marginal riding in southeastern Vancouver with a mixed Chinese and South Asian population.

The Liberals resisted pretty strongly in Vancouver’s suburbs. The NDP gained Burnaby-Lougheed, meaning that the NDP now holds all but one seat in the Burnaby/New Westmister area, a largely middle-class suburban area. However, the NDP largely held what it already had in the area – it failed to pick up low hanging fruit like Burnaby North. The NDP has ultimately managed to hold Coquitlam-Maillardville, winning the seat by a mere five votes after the final count including absentees. The BC Liberals regained Port Moody-Coquitlam, which it had lost to the NDP in a 2012 by-election. In Vancouver’s affluent northern suburbs, the Liberals comfortably held all their seats (albeit with reduced margins), even the most marginal of them, North Vancouver-Lonsdale.

The Liberals held all three seats in the heavily Chinese suburb of Richmond, although the Conservatives did relatively well in two of three seats. In Delta, independent MLA Vicki Huntington, who had won the seat by a hair in 2009 against the unpopular Liberal Attorney General Wally Oppal was reelected by a much stronger margin, over 10 points. The Liberals picked up Delta North, one of the biggest swings of the election – the NDP had won the seat by 9 points in 2009.

The results in Delta North are similar to those in Surrey, a suburban area with a large South Asian population, which had one of the biggest swings against the NDP. The Liberals picked up, surprising everybody, Surrey-Fleetwood, a safe NDP seat which the NDP had won by 11 points in 2009. The Liberal vote share increased pretty significantly in the heavily South Asian NDP seats in central Surrey: +4% in Whalley, +11 in Green Timbers (the NDP vote fell by almost 15%!) and +12 in Newton. In the whiter affluent parts of Surrey, traditionally Liberal seats, the Liberal and NDP votes barely budged from 2009. These results (along with Delta North, which has a large South Asian population) indicates that the South Asian vote, which had been solidly Dipper in 2009, swung pretty significantly towards the Liberals. A fairly puzzling shift, especially taking into account the outrage surrounding the Liberals’ ‘ethnic vote’ blunder earlier this year.

The Liberals swept the Fraser Valley, a conservative suburban/exurban region with a strong Christian evangelical base (especially around Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack). The Liberals held their safe seats in Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack – notably defeating Conservative leader John Cummins in Langley, where he won only 11.8%. Conservative candidates in the other Fraser Valley ridings won about 8-9% on average. The Liberals picked up Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows from the NDP, and regained Chilliwack-Hope, a seat they lost to the NDP in a 2012 by-election (in good part because the Conservatives had won 25%, they won only 10.9% this year).

The BC Interior is a traditionally conservative region, politically influenced and driven by alienation to the dominant Lower Mainland/Greater Vancouver. However, the NDP has always had a fairly significant base of support in certain parts of the Interior – old unionized resource-based working-class towns (old mining communities, mill towns) or, more recently, hippie or countercultural settlements (oftentimes in the mountains, see the Slocan Valley). This year, there was a significant swing against the BC NDP in the Interior, and the Liberals did very well, especially taking into account Conservative competition.

The Liberals gained Fraser-Nicola from the NDP, taking the seat with a hefty 6% margin over the NDP incumbent. In Cariboo North, the Liberals defeated the NDP-turned-independent incumbent, largely due to a vote split between the ex-NDP incumbent (37.3%) and the NDP candidate (21.5%) which allowed the Liberals to sneak up the middle and win. The Liberals held all their vulnerable seats, such as Kamloops-North Thompson, Vernon-Monashee, Boundary-Similkameen and Penticton.

Theoretically, the BC Conservatives should have been at their strongest here (they were, in comparison to other regions) but even here they remained inconsequential in the broader scheme of things. Conservative candidates in the Kelowna/Vernon area in the Okanagan barely improved (if at all) on the Conservative results in 2009 (10-12%). In Boundary-Similkameen, their strongest result in 2009, they did not even run a candidate (their original candidate, Mischa Popoff was dropped when he turned out to be a crazy misogynist).

Overall, the Conservatives were nothing more than an inconsequential irrelevance this year. They did not split the vote and allow the BC NDP to win many seats from the Liberals, and they had only a limited impact – at best – in regions where they should poll well (Fraser Valley and the Interior). The Conservatives are stronger today than at any point since the 1970s, but they still have a lot of work to do before they become a force to be reckoned with. They need to win a strong leader, preferably somebody who is quite well known, but besides retired Reform and Tory MPs, it is hard to see who could fill that role. They need to develop policies which don’t read like a Wikipedia article, and which seek to appeal to a broader electorate than just angry right-wingers in the BC Interior. Finally, they need a strong organization which can actually vet candidates properly (something which they absolutely did not do this year) and run a full slate. These things are tough to do, and even if you do them, you’re not guaranteed success – ask the Greens. For the time being, the Conservatives will not be a realistic alternative on the right to the Liberals.

Nothing really changed in northern BC, except a small drop in the NDP vote from 2009. The Conservatives had their best result in Peace River South, where they placed second behind the Liberals with 27.3%.

In Vancouver Island, the main story was the success of the Green Party – throughout the island, the Greens took about 17% of the vote, most of that coming from the Greater Victoria area, where the Greens won about 27% and won their first ever seat in the BC legislature – Andrew Weaver, the climate scientist, won Oak Bay-Gordon Head with a 10 point margin over Liberal incumbent Ida Chong.

The BC Liberals held their two other seats on the island, Comox Valley and Parksville-Qualicum with little trouble. Both of these seats include affluent seafront communities, which are particularly attractive to retirees (notably Qualicum Beach). The Liberals came close to a win in the Cowichan Valley.

The Green Party performed extremely well in the whole Victoria and Gulf Islands region. In Oak Bay-Gordon Head, a well-educated and fairly affluent riding in suburban Victoria, Green candidate Andrew Weaver won 40.1% against 29.7% for Liberal incumbent Ida Chong and 28.3% for the NDP. Like federal Green leader Elizabeth May did in Saanich-Gulf Islands in the 2011 federal election, the BC Greens heavily targeted the riding and invested a lot of their resources into it. In the process, they managed to coalesce a broader coalition of voters which took votes away from both the Liberals and NDP (in roughly equal amounts). The Greens came close to winning a second seat in Saanich North and the Islands, a Liberal-held seat which ended up as a three-way race. The NDP won 33.2% against 33% for the Liberals and 31.9% for the Greens. The Liberals tend to perform well in Sidney and the mainland, a fairly affluent region home to a large senior population. The Gulf Islands, however, are a major artsy/hip/countercultural (Vietnam draft dodgers) hotspot and are solidly left-wing – in 2013, they likely split their votes between the Greens and the NDP.

The Greens also did well in other seats in the Victoria region: 33.7% for Green leader Jane Sterk in Victoria-Beacon Hill, 22.6% in Victoria-Swan Lake, 21.6% in Esquimalt-Royal Roads, 15.2% in Saanich South, 15.5% in Juan de Fuca and 18.8% in the Cowichan Valley. In all cases, the Greens seemingly took an equal amount of votes from the NDP and the Liberals, perhaps taking a bit more from the NDP in some ridings (in Victoria).

It is interesting to point out that the Greens’ strongest performances came in ridings which are part of the federal ridings of Saanich-Gulf Islands or Victoria at the federal level – the former is Elizabeth May’s stronghold, the latter had the federal Greens winning 34.3% and coming within 3 of gaining the seat (from the NDP) in a federal by-election in November 2012. Has the federal Greens’ strong infrastructure and organization efforts in those two federal ridings transferred over to the provincial level? It is quite likely, especially given that the provincial and federal Green parties tend to cooperate closely with one another.

Throughout the province, the Greens won 8%, which is down a bit on their 2009 results (which weren’t that great compared to 2001 or 2005). A lot of those 8% came from Vancouver Island and Victoria. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the Greens only ran 61 candidates, instead of a full slate like in 2005 and 2009. In some seats in the Kelowna region where the Greens had done quite well in 2009, they had no candidates this year. If we were to take only seats where the Greens ran candidates in both 2009 and 2013, the Greens likely performed slightly better this year than in 2009. There are, of course, a few exceptions – the Green vote dropped from 22.2% to 11% in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, a riding which includes the Green-friendly ski resort of Whistler and the trendy Bowen Island. On the other hand, the Greens managed to win 20.8% in Nelson-Creston, a safe NDP seat in the Kootenays.

Conclusions

What a fascinating, surprising and eventful election. There are so many things to take out of the results.

Pollsters will have work to do, after totally missing the train with the Alberta and BC elections (and Quebec, to a lesser extent). Where their weightings flawed? Did they incorrectly model the election day electorate? Was there a last minute swing against the NDP and/or to the Liberals? Did expectations of an NDP victory depress NDP turnout and boost Liberal turnout? Did undecideds break heavily for the Liberals? Was it a shy Liberal effect, or the usual case of an unpopular government outperforming polling numbers? Is it a question of methodology (phone vs IVR vs online)? On that last point, while phone pollsters did ‘best’ in BC, online panels should not be dismissed out of hand. Some online pollsters like Angus-Reid have a good track record – they totally nailed some recent provincial elections.

Pollsters will need to answer these questions and adjust their work accordingly. The next election in Nova Scotia will see less polling than BC, meaning that the major pollsters will have until a 2014-2015 election in Ontario, an early election in Quebec or the 2015 federal election to fix their methods.

The BC NDP will be trying to find out what went wrong for them, how they managed to pull defeat from the jaws of victory. By the time the next BC election comes in 2017, the NDP will have been in opposition for 16 years. Their vote share has decreased in every election since 2005, and they have basically held the same number of seats since then.

Adrian Dix is staying on for now, but I have little doubt that he won’t lost for very long – he certainly won’t live to fight another election as NDP leader, after this disastrous election. This election loss isn’t entirely his fault, but he is definitely responsible for a good part of what happened. He led a boring and uninspiring campaign running on a vague and empty promise of “change for the better” which did not motivate anybody besides NDP voters.

Surprisingly, Christy Clark, who had been – at best – out of her depth as Premier since 2010 (only a few months ago, she had approval ratings in the mid 20s and disapprovals well over 60), turned out to be a strong and effective campaigner who put the NDP on the defensive (when it should have been on the offensive against a longtime unpopular government). Voters began to appreciate her in comparison to her rivals and a lot ultimately preferred “the devil they knew” against what the Liberals had managed to paint as a risky alternative – reckless tax-and-spenders who opposed ‘job creation’ (without forgetting the NDP’s toxic record from 1991 to 2001). On the right, the substantial number of right-wingers who weren’t too hot on the Clark Liberals and who had flirted with the Conservatives in 2011-2012, ultimately decided to go with the devil they knew. John Cummins turned out to be irrelevant at best. As such, this election could be seen more as a rejection of the NDP (and Conservatives, I guess) and less as a mandate for the Liberals’ governing agenda. The exit poll showed that a majority of voters (58% if I remember correctly) felt that the BC Liberals did not deserve to be reelected.

This election proved that negative campaigning does work. “Staying positive” and taking the high road is admirable and it’s all really nice, but it has been shown time and time again that negative campaigning does work, even if voters insist that they don’t want it. The Liberals ran a negative campaign, targeting the NDP. It worked. The NDP and Dix took the high road, stayed positive and found themselves unable to counter the Liberals’ attacks. It didn’t work. It might be a sad reflection on our politics that negative rather than positive campaigning works, but that’s reality. In politics, reality is rarely pretty.

On the policy front finally, this election provides an unexpected boost for energy/natural resource companies. Business, particularly energy/natural resources companies with a stake in natural resource development in BC (Enbride and Kinder-Morgan) welcomed the BC Liberals’ reelection. An NDP victory would have meant a much tougher time for pipelines and natural resource development in the province. Business will find it much easier to deal with a Liberal government. Christy Clark is a strong proponent of LNG development, which the Liberals – rightly or wrongly – presented as the solution to the province’s debt and a magic job creator. She is a bit more resistant on pipelines, having set five immovable conditions (see the section on the BC Liberal platform), but she will certainly be much easier to convince (and work with?) than Adrian Dix. The very controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project, for example, cleared an hurdle here.

At the very least, the BC election showed us that elections can still be exciting – even when all seems set in stone. I hope this long post was well worth the long wait.

Next: I want to include something on the midterm elections in the Philippines held earlier in May, time permitting. 

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