EU 2014: Germany to Hungary


After France, this post looks at the EP election results in some of the most important member-states in EU affairs today – Germany and Greece (as well as Hungary, important in its own way).

These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.

Note to readers: I am aware of the terrible backlog, but covering the EP elections in 28 countries in detail takes quite some time. I promise to cover, with significant delay, the results of recent/upcoming elections in Colombia (May 25-June 15), Ontario (June 12), Canadian federal by-elections (June 30), Indonesia (July 9), Slovenia (July 13) and additional elections which may have been missed. I still welcome any guest posts with open arms :)


Turnout: 48.12% (+4.85%)
MEPs: 96 (-3)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (effectively 0.58%)

CDU (EPP) 30.02% (-0.7%) winning 29 seats (-5)
SPD (S&D) 27.27% (+6.5%) winning 27 seats (+4)
Greens (G-EFA) 10.7% (-1.4%) winning 11 seats (-3)
Die Linke (GUE/NGL) 7.39% (-0.1%) winning 7 seats (-1)
AfD (ECR) 7.04% (+7.04%) winning 7 seats (+7)
CSU (EPP) 5.34% (-1.9%) winning 5 seats (-3)
FDP (ALDE) 3.36% (-7.6%) winning 3 seats (-9)
FW (ALDE) 1.46% (-0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirates (G-EFA) 1.45% (+0.5%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Tierschutzpartei (GUE/NGL) 1.25% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NPD (NI) 1.03% (+1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Family (ECR) 0.69% (-0.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
ÖDP (G-EFA) 0.64% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Die PARTEI 0.63% (+0.6%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Others 1.76% winning 0 seats (nc)

Germany - EP 2014

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, Horst Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU), won the EP elections in Germany with 35.4% of the vote. Germany is widely seen as an ‘island of stability’ (and economic prosperity) in the midst of the EU, having managed to weather the economic doldrums which have hit most of the EU fairly well. With a population of nearly 82 million people, Germany is the most populous member-state of the EU and it has always been one of the key ‘engines’ of the EU, often in tandem with France. This has been particularly true in the last five or so years, for a variety of reasons. Politically, Germany’s leadership has been remarkable stable for nearly ten years – Angela Merkel, who took office as Chancellor in November 2005, is now the EU’s longest-serving head of government (after Estonia’s Andrus Ansip resigned early this year) and the country’s party system, despite minor but relevant shakeups since 2009, has not experienced the dramatic ups-and-downs, shifts or realignments seen in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Ireland and even the UK. Economically, Germany has the EU’s largest economy – and also one of the healthier economies in the EU. Since 2010, Germany’s unemployment rate has declined from 8% to 5.3% (a feat which many of Germany’s neighbors and partners, notably France and Italy, can only dream about). Although economic growth has been unremarkable, Germany has a balanced budget and its public debt (77%) is declining. As the economic and political powerhouse of the EU and Eurozone, therefore, Germany has come to assume a leading role in the Eurozone crisis.

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 Germany, Merkel’s Eurozone crisis policy has been relatively popular, despite substantial opposition to the idea of German taxpayers ‘bailing out’ countries such as Greece and Spain. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which allows for loans up to €500 billion for member states of the eurozone in financial difficulty and in which Germany is the single largest contributor (27.1%), recently survived a judicial challenge and was confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

Between the 2009 federal election, which saw Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU form a black-yellow coalition with the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP), and the 2013 federal election last September in which Merkel’s CDU/CSU won a landslide result (41.5%) and formed a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), Angela Merkel’s popularity increased dramatically while that of the FDP collapsed just as dramatically. In the 2013 election, polls showed that Germans were particularly optimistic and upbeat about their country’s economic future.

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). 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. 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. 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. In 2013, Merkel’s CDU played on her personal popularity, and ran a very ‘presidential’ campaign which heavily emphasized Merkel, and campaign posters drove the above ideas home: Merkel’s face with the words ‘stability’/’security’/’continuity’. Exit polls in 2013 showed that many of the Union’s voters said that their top motivator in voting for the CDU/CSU was Merkel alone (in contrast, only 8% of SPD voters said that their top motivator was the SPD’s disastrous top candidate in 2013, foot-in-mouth victim Peer Steinbrück).

Domestically, Merkel’s political longevity and her ability to destroy her junior coalition partners (the SPD from 2005 to 2009 and the FDP from 2009 to 2013) owes a lot to her local 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). In the 2013 election, there were few differences between the SPD and the CDU/CSU’s platforms, because the Union effectively blurred major policy differences between them on the SPD – the few differences concerned tax increases (the SPD and Greens supported tax increases for the wealthy, the Union rejected tax increases) and the universal minimum wage (the Union opposed it in the 2013 campaign, but didn’t care much about it in the end) – while they agreed on matters such as gender quotas in management positions, freezing rent, renewable energies and the bulk of EU policy (although Merkel reiterated her tough anti-Eurobond stance and strict application of the Fiscal Compact).

Already between 2005 and 2009, Merkel’s first Grand Coalition cabinet, the government’s policies had been quite moderate and even leaned towards the SPD on some issues (Keynesian-style deficit spending, healthcare reforms in a pro-public healthcare direction, VAT increase for infrastructure development, introducing legal minimum wages in some industries). The SPD 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. The SPD was badly hurt by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s highly controversial welfare reforms, and it has 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 after 2004. The SPD’s platform in 2013 was quite left-wing – emblematic of the SPD’s post-Schröder swing to the left, the party being pushed to left as Merkel successfully adopted SPD planks and a general shift of all parties (except the FDP) to more leftist positions since 2009 and especially 2005. In 2013, the SPD’s support increased to 25.7% of the vote, but it remained miles behind the CDU/CSU. The SPD was unable to sucessfully challenge Merkel, even on her government’s weak suit – social justice, a major concern for German voters these days (or rather, while the SPD’s social policies were more popular, the SPD lacked the CDU’s credibility on Eurozone and economic issues) – and shackled with a poor chancellor-candidate (Peer Steinbrück, the infamous ‘gaffe-machine’).

Between 2009 and 2013, the FDP, Merkel’s junior partner after the 2009 elections – in which the right-liberal FDP, on a platform of low taxes and surfing on right-wing unease with the fairly moderate record of the CDU-led government between 2005 and 2009, won an historic high of 14.6% – collapsed. The FDP’s performance in the black-yellow government was widely judged, even by its 2009 supporters, to be ineffective and incompetent and their actions reinforced the old image of the FDP as an exclusive club for special interests and high earners. Merkel steamrolled the FDP and by not lowering taxes, she effectively drained the FDP’s main plank of all meaning. In 2013, therefore, the FDP’s calls for tax cuts certainly rang hollow. The party, which had been in every Bundestag since the end of the War, suffered a defeat of epic and historic proportions: 4.8%, falling below the 5% threshold for seats in the Bundestag and finding itself without any MPs. In past (and recent – Lower Saxony in 2013) federal and state elections, the FDP had survived ‘close calls’ thanks to ‘loan votes’ – CDU supporters voting (on their second, PR, vote in Germany’s two-vote system for federal and most state elections) for the FDP to allow the party, the CDU’s preferred coalition partner, to retain seats. Loan votes and locally-focused FDP campaigns had allowed the FDP to survive in several state elections after 2009 (even as the federal party was in full collapse mode), but these dynamics were in-existent or insufficient in September 2013 – after the Lower Saxony election in 2013, which saw the black-yellow government lose to red-green despite the FDP’s success, there was a backlash against loan votes for the FDP, based on the erroneous claim that black-yellow would have been reelected without the loan votes (however, exit polls in September 2013 showed that a bit less than half of the FDP’s voters were tactical voters). The liberal 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 and the FDP’s right-wing supporters have in part shifted over to the new, anti-Euro Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The AfD was founded in February 2013, mostly by ex-CDU academics and private sector figures. The AfD’s unifying plank is opposition to the Euro (but not, it insists, the EU) – Bernd Lucke, the party’s leader, argued that the Euro was unsustainable and that it 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 AfD claims that is not against the EU, but the party wants to reduce the scope of the EU’s power and supranational aspects, opposes Turkish membership and is against taxpayer-funded bailouts. The AfD is a right-wing party, but it is not really clear what it really stands for. The party’s leadership is economically liberal (in the European sense), but the party’s membership is not quite as convinced by the leadership’s liberalism: members voted to oppose the EU-US free trade deal, despite support from the leadership. Some AfD members and candidates have shifted to the right and embraced social conservative and traditional Christian ‘moral values’, which has reportedly displeased some liberal supporters. The AfD has rejected claims that it is anti-immigration, but the AfD was the only major German party to praise the results of the recent Swiss referendum curbing freedom of movement. The party’s opponents on the left have accused it of pandering to anti-immigration and xenophobic sentiments. The AfD won 4.7% of the vote in the 2013 election, mostly protest votes which came, predominantly, from the FDP, other parties and Die Linke.

The AfD goes out of its way to promote a respectable and clean image of itself, rejecting ties and comparisons to right-wing populists and the far-right in other EU countries. Far-right parties such as the FN and Geert Wilders’ Dutch PVV tried to woo the AfD, but the Germans strongly rejected any cooperation with these less respectable, more extremist parties. It has even rejected overtures from UKIP, criticizing the British party’s anti-EU and anti-immigration stances; although it has been reported that some members of the AfD are supportive of an alliance with UKIP and its partners in the EFD group in the EP. Instead, the AfD has been trying very hard to be accepted as an ally of the British Conservative Party, to fit the general image of a respectable, rather moderate centre-right but Eurosceptic party (notwithstanding the Tories’ ECR ties to more inconvenient parties in Poland and the Baltics). The AfD’s campaign to woo the Tories, something welcomed by some Tory/ECR MEPs, to their side was complicated by Merkel and Berlin-London diplomatic channels. Merkel is said to have warned or pressured David Cameron against developing formal ties with the AfD. However, on June 12, the ECR group voted to accept the AfD, unofficially by a narrow vote of 29-26 in which 2 Tory MEPs defied Cameron’s wishes by voting in favour of the AfD. 10 Downing Street will hope that this embarrassing defeat for Cameron in ‘his’ EP group will not endanger his highly-important relationship with Merkel.

The AfD was joined by Hans-Olaf Henkel, a former president of the German employers’ federation (BDI) and manager at IBM Germany, in January 2014. An advocate for a division of the Euro between a stable northern zone and an unstable southern zone, Henkel was second on the AfD’s list for the EP behind party leader Bernd Lucke.

After the 2013 election, a Grand Coalition with the SPD was the only realistic option on the table. The only other coalition option was a black-green coalition, between the CDU/CSU and the Greens, but the federal Greens, who had ended up performing quite poorly in the election, had burned too many bridges with the CDU/CSU during their rather left-wing campaign. The Union and the SPD reached an initial agreement on a coalition program on November 27, but for the first time, one of the coalition parties – SPD – had taken the decision to submit any coalition agreement it would sign to ratification by its membership in an internal vote. On December 2014, with high turnout, 76% of SPD members voted in favour of the deal. The internal vote was a bit stacked in favour of the yes, because SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel put his job on the line and strongly promoted the terms of the Grand Coalition agreement. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that SPD rejected the agreement, there was the threat of snap elections (which the CDU/CSU would have won by a similar margin as in September 2013).

On the whole, the SPD got a fairly good deal out of the CDU/CSU, considering the weak bargaining position they were in. The new government’s policy program includes two of the SPD’s main promises from 2013: the introduction, from January 1 2015, of a universal minimum wage at €8.50 (with only minors, interns, trainees or long-term unemployed people for their first six months at work excluded; some companies will have until 2017 to phase in the new minimum wage) and allowing workers who have contributed for 45 years to retire early at 63 (currently 65). The SPD also won a liberalization of Germany’s dual citizenship laws, which will no longer require German born-children of non-EU/Swiss citizens to choose, at age 23 (provided they’ve lived in Germany for 8 years or graduated from a German school), between their parents’ and German citizenship. On economic matters, there will be no tax increases (a key CDU demand) but the government promises new investments worth €23 million in training, higher education, R&D and transport infrastructure among others. To please the CDU/CSU, the government’s pension reform also includes a measure to increase the pensions of older mothers who raised children before 1992. To please Bavaria’s CSU, the new government is supposed to implement a toll on foreigners using German autobahnen, but many doubt the controversial policy will go ahead given that Berlin needs to find a way to ensure that Germans don’t pay the toll and make it compatible with EU legislation. The new government is committed to the energy transition, to gradually wean Germany off of nuclear energy by 2022.

In the cabinet, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel is Vice-Chancellor and minister of the economy and energy – responsible for the energy transition. Andrea Nahles, a former SPD general secretary from the party’s left, became minister of labour and social affairs, pushing forth the pension reform. In the CDU, the promotion to the defense ministry of Ursula von der Leyen, who had been labour minister under black-yellow, was widely read as a sign that Merkel was grooming her as a potential successor. Wolfgang Schäuble, the CDU finance minister since 2009 associated with austerity policies and Germany’s ‘tough’ line, retained his job. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD’s 2009 chancellor-candidate who is perceived as being pro-Russian, returned to the foreign ministry – a job he had held under the first Merkel Grand Coalition.

The coalition’s platform was criticized by employers, who were particularly up in arms about the pension reform – both the SPD’s retirement age changes and the Union’s pension boost for older mothers, which they claim will cost Germany €130 million by 2030. The conservative newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the tabloid Bild were both critical of the coalition agreement. Abroad, The Economist has criticized Merkel’s temerity and the lack of structural reforms, arguing that the government’s various interventionist mini-reforms risks squandering the country’s past economic progress.

The new government has been fairly quiet. In February, it ran into a mini-cabinet crisis following the surprise resignation of a SPD MP (Sebastian Edathy) who later fled the country after police searched his house and claimed that he was the client of a Canadian-based international child pornography ring. The CSU agriculture minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, was forced to resign after it was revealed that, while interior minister in October 2013, he had informed Gabriel of an investigation against Edathy and in doing so likely breached an official secret. The SPD’s leadership is suspected of having tipped off Edathy (and prompting him to resign from the Bundestag before his parliamentary immunity was stripped), and the CSU demanded that the SPD’s parliamentary whip step down. Because of the CSU’s sabre-rattling, the Grand Coalition was briefly at risk of premature death, but the events in Ukraine in late February-early March 2014 meant that the scandal finally blew over. Federally, polling numbers have not budged much since September 2013: the CDU/CSU is down from 41.5% to about 39% in polls but still miles ahead of the SPD, which is stable at its 2013 levels. The Greens, who won only 8.4% in 2013, are now back up to 10-12%; Die Linke are in the 8-10% range, above their 2013 result (8.6%). The FDP is still dead, and the AfD would likely win seats in the Bundestag in the next election, because it’s now polling at 6-7%, above the 5% threshold in federal elections.

There was a major and significant change in the electoral system ahead of the EP elections: in February 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 3% threshold was unconstitutional and ordered for it to be scrapped entirely. In 2009 and prior EP elections, a 5% threshold had applied, but it had been lowered to 3% by the major parties after the Constitutional Court had struck down the 5% threshold in November 2011. The new rules were obviously a huge boon for small parties – a category which now includes the FDP.

Merkel’s CDU/CSU emerged victorious in the EP elections, and Merkel expressed satisfaction with the Union’s performance and its majority over the SPD. However, with only 35.4% for the CDU and CSU, it is a poor result for Germany’s senior governing parties, which is down both from Merkel’s own landslide result in September last year (41.5%) and the Union’s result in the 2009 EP election (37.9%) and past EP results (2004 – 44.5%, 1999 – 48.7%, 1994 – 38.8%). In 2013, Merkel’s own personal popularity had been the reason for the CDU’s success and the party had likely received votes which went more to support Merkel the Chancellor than to support the CDU/CSU the party. Therefore, in an election without Merkel on the ballot, some loses could be expected.

The main reason why the Union parties did poorly is because the CSU’s result in Bavaria was unexpectedly bad: the ruling hegemonic party in conservative Bavaria received only 40.5% of the vote in the Land, down 7.6% from 48% of the vote in 2009 (and 49% in the 2013 federal election and 47.7% in the 2013 state elections, held a week before the federal election). The result came as a surprise, because state-level polling in Bavaria for the EP had showed the CSU in its usual high-40s territory, and the CSU had done fairly well (by Bavarian standards, which means winning in the usual landslide) in local elections held in the state in March 2014. Over the past few months, the CSU has grumbled against some of the government’s policies – Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, the powerful boss of the CSU and the state, opposes the construction of high-voltage power lines which would transmit wind energy from the North Sea to southern Germany, and the CSU has continued playing its populist, regionalist messages (against EU and federal bureaucrats, against foreign drivers clogging up Bavaria’s autobahnen, against immigrants receiving welfare benefits).

One reason for the CSU’s poor turnout may have been the low turnout – only 40.9%, which is about 7% less than in the country and actually down 1.5% from the last EP election in Bavaria. In contrast, turnout in the rest of Germany increased by 4.9% from 2009. There was, as in 2009, a clear correlation between higher turnout and local elections being held the same day – turnout was highest in the Rhineland-Palatinate, reaching 56.9%; it was up 16.8% from 2009 to 46.7% in the Eastern state of Brandenburg, where there were no local elections alongside the EP election in 2009. However, turnout is not the only explanation, because the CSU’s raw vote did not hold stable – the party lost nearly 330,000 votes from 2009. The CDU’s support increased in Baden-Württemberg, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Merkel’s home state, where she did very well in 2013), Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. The CDU suffered substantial loses in Berlin (-4.2%, but turnout increased 11.5%), Hamburg (-5.1%), Hesse (-5.8%) and Schleswig-Holstein (-3.5%).

The SPD, in contrast, performed quite well – 27.3% is a significant improvement on the party’s last two disastrous performances in the EP elections (21.5% in 2004 and 20.8% in 2009, both of them historic lows for the SPD), and the SPD has increased its vote total from about 5.5 million to 8 million. Martin Schulz, the PES’ ‘presidential candidate’ and the SPD’s top candidate, likely accounts for (part of) this good result. An Infratest dimap exit poll showed that Schulz was the favourite EU Commission candidate in Germany over Juncker, 42% to 24%, and even received the preference of 23% of CDU/CSU voters. 76% of SPD voters said that Schulz was an important reason that they voted SPD, against only 55% of Union voters who said that Juncker was an important reason that they voted for the CDU/CSU. The SPD was criticized for an ad campaign which said that “only if you choose Martin Schulz and the SPD, can there be a German President of the European Commission”.

The SPD has also performed surprisingly well, so far, in the Grand Coalition (unlike in 2005-2009). So far, many of the new government’s popular policies – the minimum wage, the pension reform and the dual citizenship reform – all bear the SPD’s mark, a surprisingly good record for what is a weak junior governing partner. 59% of SPD voters were happy with the federal government’s performance, compared to 79% of CDU/CSU voters and 53% of all voters.

The Greens placed third, with 10.7% of the vote, which is down 1.4% on their record-high performance in 2009 (12.1%) but an improvement on the Greens’ poor result in last year’s federal election, when the party won only 8.4%. The Greens’ result in 2013 came as a shockingly bad underperformance by the party, which had been on an upswing since 2007 and especially since 2010-2011 (marked by the Greens’ victory in the 2011 Baden-Württemberg state elections, where the Greens overtook the SPD and the left won enough seats to form a green-red coalition with the Greens in the driver’s seat). The Greens ran a woefully bad campaign in 2013, unwisely seeking to put an emphasis on their left-wing (similar to the SPD, furthermore) position on economic/social issues (with tax increases which the Greens had lots of difficulty defending and framing correctly) rather than their niche environmental issues where the Greens are most popular and credible. The Greens’ left-wing oriented campaign, under Jürgen Trittin, aimed to deflect left-wing criticism that the Greens were just waiting to dive into a black-green coalition with the Union, but instead it just nudged the Greens way too close to the SPD in a position where they would not dare criticize the SPD’s failings (notably on hot-button transportation and infrastructure kerfuffles). The Greens were also hurt by controversies stemming from a terribly overblown faux-scandal about ‘veggie-days’ (allegedly a Green plan to ‘force’ meat-free days in public cafeterias, even though they already existed) and a difficult series of revelations from the Greens’ ties to the pedophile movement in their foundational years. Since the last election, the Greens have been rebuilding, but it’s been difficult. In the Infratest dimap exit poll, 81% of voters said the Greens lacked a strong leader and 70% said they had difficulty seeing what the Greens stood for.

Die Linke placed fourth, holding their ground from the last election and gaining votes thanks to the higher turnout. It was an average result for the party, a bit below its result from 2013 (8.6%). Die Linke had hoped to gain from the SPD’s participation in cabinet, and tried to target left-wing voters disappointed with the SPD’s participation or performance in the Grand Coalition government. However, unlike in 2009, Die Linke proved unable to benefit from the SPD’s government record, largely because the SPD has been performing reasonably well in government thus far. The party still has trouble breaking out of its peripheral role in the German political system: after the party effectively supported or accepted the Russian invasion of Crimea and opposed Ukraine’s “fascist” government, the prospect of participation in a leftist coalition with the SPD and the Greens distanced itself, because the SPD demand that Die Linke drops its most contentious foreign policy planks (opposition to NATO, Euroscepticism) in order to be accepted into government. Die Linke lost votes in its East German, ex-GDR strongholds – its support in the East fell from 23% to 20.6%, its worst result in the old GDR since the first post-reunification EP elections in 1994; but it gained support in the West, increasing from 3.9% to 4.5%. In 2013, the results had also shown a trend towards a more nationalized vote, with Die Linke slowly building a still very small but substantial electorate in the West while being on a net downwards trend in the East, where the party faces demographic problems (aging electorate, out-migration, more affluent East German cities and social changes in the old GDR) and intense competition for protest voters.

The AfD did well in East Germany (8.3%), better than in the West (6.8%). Overall, across the country, the AfD had an excellent result, with 7% of the vote and 2.070 million votes, up from 4.7% and 2.056 million votes in the 2013 federal election. The exit polls showed that the AfD’s electorate largely consisted of protest voters, with highly specific concerns – currency stability (a major issue for 41% of the AfD’s voters), social security and immigration (a major issue for 40% of AfD voters but only 13% of the broader electorate); the AfD’s voters also stand out of the German political mainstream by expressing negative views towards the EU, the Euro, the desirability of deeper European integration and being rather pessimistic about the economy. For example, while the electorate which voted on May 25 was by and large strongly pro-European (actually, even more-so than in the past), with only 16% saying that EU membership brought more disadvantages (compared to 44% who said it brought mostly advantages, up from 25% in 2010), 70% saying that EU countries should act together more often and only 20% saying that Germany should return to the Deutsche Mark; the AfD’s supporters took opposite views on these issues, with 44% (the highest of all parties, with Die Linke in second at 19%) of AfD voters saying that the EU brought more disadvantages, 67% saying that EU member-states should act more independently/alone, 52% saying the EU’s open borders are threatening German society, 39% wishing to return to the old currency (one will notice, however, that not even a majority of AfD supporters support dropping the euro) and 78% opposing bailouts for other EU member-states (compared to 41% of German voters). The AfD is already a very polarizing party: 47% of voters considered it a right-wing populist party, which is not a popular label to be identified with in Germany, and 41% said that while it did not solve problems “it called them by their names” (80% expressed similar views regarding Die Linke).

The AfD appears to be responsible for a good part of the CDU and CSU’s losses. Infratest dimap’s vote-transfer analysis has some suspect findings, but it reports that, compared to 2013, the AfD gained 510,000 more votes from the Union, 180,000 from the SPD and 110,000 from Die Linke; in 2013, the AfD had pulled a diverse electorate, although most of their voters came from the smoldering ruins of the FDP, Die Linke and other parties. According to the vote-transfer analysis from this year, the bleeding from the FDP to AfD was more limited (-60,000) – instead, we are told that the FDP lost a good number of votes to the SPD (60,000) and the Greens (40,000). The city of Munich (Bavaria) also conducted a vote-transfer analysis for the city, compared to the 2009 EP elections. In Munich, the CSU lost 21,100 votes – or 16% of its 2009 voters – to the AfD, providing the new party with its largest bulk of voters (smaller quantities came from the FDP – 2,200 votes; the FW – 2,400 votes; non-voters – 2,100 votes; and other parties – 1,800 votes). In Bavaria as a whole, the AfD did quite well, taking 8.1% of the vote, nearly doubling their percentage from 2013. It did best in Munich’s suburbs in Upper Bavaria and in Swabia. Interestingly, in Munich, the FDP lost most of its 2009 voters – 42% of them (or 22,500 votes) the SPD, which is more than a bit unusual given that, in 2013, the FDP had lost 38% of its voters to the Union and only 9% to the SPD.

The Infratest dimap vote-transfer analysis showed that the Union parties, compared to 2013, also lost heavily to the SPD (-340,000) and Greens (-270,000); the SPD suffered loses, from 2013, to the Greens (-110,000) and AfD, but made up for them by gaining from the Union and FDP; the Greens suffered minor loses (-30,000) to the AfD but gained 2013 votes from all parties, mostly the two largest ones; Die Linke lost substantially to the AfD but gained, weirdly, 100,000 from the Union and 50,000 from the SPD. The analysis reported by Infratest dimap on the ARD website (linked above) seems very suspect and incomplete, given that it makes no mention of 2013 voters who did not vote this time. The Munich analysis appears more reliable, and the comparison is being made to the same kind of election.

The new electoral rules allowed seven small parties to make their entrance into the EP. Besides the FDP, which won a disastrous 3.4% and lost 9 of its MEPs, the largest minor party to make it in were the Freie Wähler (Free Voters), a confederation of various community/local lists and independent candidates which are present throughout Germany but quite strong in Bavaria, especially in local elections. The FW are very hard to pin down ideologically, with an eclectic mix of socially liberal policies, conservative policies or economically liberal policies, and a heavy focus on issues such as direct democracy, local autonomy and local/parochial concerns. The FW have a soft Eurosceptic side. The FW have, as noted above, run in state elections across Germany, but the only region where they have achieved considerable success at the state level is in Bavaria, where the FW won 10% in 2008 and 9% in the 2013 state election. The party won 1.5% of the vote across Germany, and 4.3% in Bavaria (down from 6.7% in the 2009 EP election, where FW was led by ex-CSU maverick Gabriele Pauli). The FW broke 2% in BaWü and Rhineland-Palatinate, but were under 2% in every other state (they had some success in Thuringia and Saxony, but FW had next to zero support in the city-states, NRW, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein). The FW’s new MEP, Ulrike Müller (a Bavarian state MP), is individually affiliated with the small liberal European Democratic Party (EDP) and will sit in the ALDE group. A sign of how local and candidate-based the FW’s support is: the FW’s best result in Bavaria came from the Oberallgäu kreise in Swabia (13.7%), where Müller is from. In 2009, the FW had done best around Fürth in Middle Franconia (where Pauli is from), and poorly in Upper Bavaria and Swabia.

The Pirate Party won 1.5% of the vote and one seat; that vote is up a bit from 2009, when the Pirates were just getting started, but actually down from the party’s results in the 2009 and 2013 federal elections (2% and 2.2%). The Pirates famously rode a brief nationwide wave of momentum following the 2011 Berlin state elections, but that collapsed beginning in late 2012, under the weight 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 are nowhere close to regaining lost support: they have serious internal conflicts (largely between moderate left-libertarians and far-left anti-fascist movements), the party’s membership numbers have declined quite significantly,  As in past elections, the Pirates drew a disproportionately young, urban (and likely male) electorate: it did best in Berlin (3.2%) and its best results generally came from university towns, such as Darmstadt (Hesse), the district where the Pirates won their highest result this year (3.6%). Their sole MEP will join the G-EFA group, like the two outgoing Swedish Pirate MEPs.

The Tierschutzpartei (Animal Protection Party) is a small animal right’s party, founded in 1993, is fairly similar to the Greens but with the added weirdness and quirkiness which usually characterizes these specifically pro-animal parties. The party has no particular base in any state or region, and is generally a non-factor in elections (0.3% in 2013), but in low-stakes EP elections (it already won 1.1% in 2009), it appears to be able to gain a few extra votes across Germany because of its name (in these kind of elections, parties with non-controversial names or names like ‘family’ or ‘animal protection’ which are cute and friendly buzzwords, tend to have small boost which can bring them up over 1%). Indeed, the party’s support was evenly distributed throughout Germany, ranging from 1% to 1.8%. The party will join the GUE/NGL group.

The far-right neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), which did not run in 2009, won 1.3% and 1 vote (for Udo Voigt, the NPD’s crazy former leader who has praised Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess in the past). The NPD, which experienced a brief revival in the early 2000s which brought them into the state parliaments in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has been declining in recent elections. In 2013, the NPD fell to only 1.3%. The NPD, constantly under investigation by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (to the point where the common joke is that most NPD members are actually police informants) and facing renewed calls for its banning, is also weakened by financial problems and very negative media coverage of the far-right with the trial of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) Nazi terrorist group. Nevertheless, the NPD retains a small base in the most deprived regions of East Germany, where the NPD won 2.9% of the vote (and 3.6% in Saxony). The NPD, like the Greek and Hungarian Nazis, are untouchable parties – the EAF, for example, rejected the NPD. Udo Voigt will sit as a non-inscrit.

The Family Party, a minor socially conservative Christian democratic party with a small traditional base of support in the Saarland, won 0.7% (which is actually less than in 2009) and qualified for one MEP, who will sit with the AfD and the British Tories in the ECR group. Like with the Animal Protection Party, the Family Party likely benefits in these low-stakes elections from its name, a cute and friendly buzzword. The Ecological Democratic Party (ÖDP) is a Bavarian-based conservative green party (although it has shifted to the left recently, while retaining a ‘pro-family’ and socially conservative orientation unusual for the left-wing green movement), founded back in 1982 by right-wing socially conservative Green dissidents. The ÖDP has received a stable 1-2% of the vote in Bavarian state elections since the 1990s, but the party is largely absent from other states. In Bavaria, the ÖDP won 2.7% of the vote this year, up from 0.6% in 2009. It peaked at 6.7% in Memmingen. Outside Bavaria, the ÖDP’s best result seems to have come from BaWü (only 0.7%). The party’s new MEP will sit with the Greens. Finally, the last seat was won by an unusual party – Die PARTEI (literally The PARTY), a satirical protest party founded in 2004 by the editors of the satirical and provocative magazine Titanic. Die PARTEI often mocks the empty slogans and rhetoric of the major parties and calls major politicians ‘stupid’. The party’s most famous and long-lasting promise is to rebuild the Berlin Wall around East Berlin and the former GDR, a pledge which it has now amended to include building a wall around Switzerland (the party’s response to Switzerland’s recent referendum on freedom of movement). When the party is serious, its platform is usually quite left-wing. In this election, Die PARTEI also promised a ‘lazy rate’ (a quota for lazy people and loafers), redistributing all income over €1 million, abolishing DST, limiting executive pay to 25,000x that of the average worker, ‘fucking’ the US-EU FTA and changing the voting age so that only those between 12 and 52 can vote. Die PARTEI has small strongholds in left-wing inner city areas, those trendy and cosmopolitan urban areas where the Greens and Die Linke (in the West) do very well in. It won, for example, 3.8% in Berlin’s famous Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district and 4.2% in the inner-city Hamburg district of St. Pauli.

Die PARTEI has promised that its MEP will resign the seat monthly, so that every candidate on the list will get a chance to serve for 30 days in the EP. In between the satire, Die PARTEI has suggested that it may be looking into joining a group, perhaps the Greens-EFA.


Turnout: 59.97% (+7.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Open-list PR, 3% threshold; mandatory voting (unenforced)

SYRIZA (GUE/NGL) 26.57% (+21.87%) winning 6 seats (+5)
ND (EPP) 22.72% (-9.58%) winning 5 seats (-3)
XA (NI) 9.39% (+8.93%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Elia (S&D) 8.02% (-28.63%) winning 2 seats (-6)
To Potami (S&D) 6.6% (+6.6%) winning 2 seats (+2)
KKE (GUE/NGL > NI) 6.11% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (±0)
ANEL (ECR) 3.46% (+3.46%) winning 1 seat (nc)
LAOS (EFD) 2.69% (-4.46%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Greek European Citizens 1.44% (+1.44%) winning 0 seats (±0)
DIMAR (S&D) 1.20% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Union for the Homeland and the People 1.04% (+1%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Greek Hunters 1% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Bridges (ALDE) 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Greens-Pirates (G-EFA) 0.9% (-2.59%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Others 7.95% winning 0 seats (±0)

Greece 2014 - EP

Greece has been at the centre of EU politics over the last five years, as the country which has suffered the longest and the most from the Eurozone debt crisis. As a result thereof, no EU member-state has seen political changes as radical as those which have taken place in Greece since 2009. The Eurozone crisis which has the leading issue in European politics for the past 4/5 years began in Greece shortly after the October 2009 legislative election in the country.

The root causes of the Greek (and, to a lesser extent, European) crisis were the country’s excessively high budget deficits and public debt. Since joining the EU in 1981 and especially since the mid-1990s, successive Greek governments customarily ran increasingly large structural budget deficits which by extension meant that Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio increased to reach unsustainable level by the time the 2007-2008 global recession triggered the economic and debt crisis in Greece. The crisis, however, was not caused – as is widely believed – by huge government expenditure or even a particularly generous welfare state (the popular ideas of lavish social benefits, ‘lazy’ Greeks not working hard enough and long paid vacations were largely myths) but rather by problems in the revenue side of the equation – tax evasion has famously been described as a ‘national sport’ in Greece, and the government’s unwillingness and inefficiency at collecting taxes has meant that the state has lost billions of euros in revenue. Greece’s tax evasion problem was compounded by a very large black market (about a quarter of the economy). Other factors which contributed to make the Greek debt crisis particularly catastrophic were the country’s very high external debt, a large trade balance deficit, heavy government borrowing and political corruption (since the restoration of democracy in 1974, Greece’s political system has been notoriously clientelistic).

By the time of the October 2009 election, Greece had already been in recession since 2008, its shipping and tourism industries having been hit particularly hard by the recession. The ruling conservative New Democracy (ND) party called early elections, which it lost to the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) of George Papandreou, the third generation in a long political dynasty in post-war Greece (his predecessor, ND leader Kostas Karamanlis, was also the son of a former Greek Prime Minister). Upon taking office, the new PASOK government revealed that the country’s deficit and debt was much worse than previously thought, with the deficit revised to be an alarming 15.7% of GDP and the public debt at 129.7% of GDP – Greece now had the largest deficit and debt-to-GDP ratio in the EU. Events accelerated in early 2010, as it became apparent that Greece was unable to borrow on the markets and was forced to asked for a loan from the EU and the IMF to cover its costs. Credit rating agencies, in April 2010, downgraded Greece’s sovereign debt rating to ‘junk’ while speculation on a potential default and exit from the Eurozone (a ‘Grexit’) ran wild. In May 2010, Greece was granted an initial loan of €110 billion from the ECB, EU and the IMF (a powerful trio which has become known in Greece and other countries as the ‘Troika’) in exchange for the approval of an unpopular austerity package by the government. The Papandreou’s May 2010 austerity package, the third set of austerity measures in only four months, included further cuts in public sector salaries, limits on employee bonuses, cuts in pensions and tax increases across the board (the VAT, luxury taxes, property taxes, excise taxes). However, initial austerity measures only worsened the economic crisis, while Greece became dependent on bailout funds to foot its bills and was thus forced to adopt a fourth austerity package in June 2011 to access the next installment of bailout funds. Despite massive protests and a general strike, the Papandreou government passed the new austerity package which now included a plan for privatizations (with a target of €50 billion in revenue), more tax increases and pension cuts.

Austerity measures adopted to meet the Troika’s strict conditions for the bailout had a disastrous impact on Greece’s economy and society, while doing nothing to turn the ship around – in fact, fears of a Greek default and ‘Grexit’ only increased in 2011. Greece, in recession since 2008 with a GDP shrinkage of 3.1% in 2009 and 4.9% in 2010, saw its economy shrink by a full 7.1% in 2011 and 7% in 2012. Unemployment increased from 10.4% in the last quarter of 2009 to 20.8% in the last quarter of 2011, and reached a high of 27.8% in the last quarter of 2013. Unemployment has hit young people the hardest, with over 60% of them currently unemployed. Major spending cuts have crippled Greece’s healthcare system (while unemployment left many without access to public healthcare), with most hospitals and the clinics in precarious conditions; the suicide rate has increased while there have been reports of an increase in HIV infection rates and a malaria outbreak for the first time in four decades. Greece’s public debt reached 148.3% of GDP in 2010 and 170.3% in 2011, while the budget deficit fell to 10.9% in 2010 and 9.6% in 2011

In October 2011, when an agreement on a second multi-billion euro bailout including a debt restructuring (a haircut of 50% of debt owed to private creditors), Papandreou shocked and seriously angered the Troika and EU leaders by announcing a referendum on the deal. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to withhold payment of the next installment of bailout funds, and under intense EU, Troika and domestic opposition pressure, Papandreou was forced to renege on his idea and pushed out the door. A new national unity government led by an independent technocrat, Lucas Papademos, with ministers from ND, PASOK and the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). Increasingly exasperated with what they saw as Greek politicians unwilling to implement the required austerity measures or being woefully ineffective at putting them in practice (for example, the government has missed privatization targets by miles for several years), the Troika – especially the Eurozone and Germany – became even tougher in their demands for austerity and economic reforms in exchange for a second bailout. In February 2012, to access the second bailout from the EU-IMF, Papademos’ government passed a fifth austerity package including tough cuts in the minimum wage, pensions, spending, the definitive elimination of a paid ’13th month’ salary, job cuts in the public sector, more privatization and structural reforms to liberalize ‘closed professions’. Despite major opposition from the streets, LAOS (which left government as a result) and over 40 dissident MPs from ND and PASOK, the austerity package was passed by Parliament and Greece was cleared to receive a second bailout of €130 billion with a debt restructuring agreement (worth €107 billion) with private holders of Greek debt to accept a bond swap with a 53.5% nominal write-off. Greece’s ten-year government bond yields shot through the roof at the time of the second bailout and debt restructuring, reaching nearly 40%.

The economic crisis had huge repercussions on the Greek political system. Since 1981, Greece had a fairly stable party system dominated by two major parties – the conservative ND and the social democratic PASOK, although both were clientelistic patronage machines with a very strong dynastic tradition (both ND and PASOK were founded by prominent Greek dynastic politicians – Konstantinos Karamanlis for ND and Andreas Papandreou for PASOK) and rather different from the ‘average’ conservative and social democratic parties in Europe (if such a thing exists). PASOK, for example, lacks the trade union roots and ties or the Marxist background of many older social democratic parties in the EU. Although under Andreas Papandreou PASOK pursued a very left-wing re-distributive agenda and created Greece’s welfare state, PASOK can still be somewhat accurately described as the modern heir of Venizelism, a uniquely Greek liberal-nationalist ideology (it certainly inherited the Cretan stronghold of the Venizelists). After Andreas Papandreou’s death in 1996, PASOK progressively abandoned its early leftist, nationalist and Eurosceptic orientation, and both ND and PASOK became far closer ideologically than they would care to admit, although both remained bitter rivals because of tradition and political culture (with the exception of a brief period of instability and caretaker governments in 1989-1990, ND and PASOK had never governed together before 2011). At the helm of an increasingly unpopular government associated with austerity and the country’s economic collapse, the bottom fell out of PASOK progressively between 2010 and late 2011, and collapsed beginning in the fall of 2011, as Greece’s situation looked more desperate and catastrophic than ever before. ND’s support, in opposition under the leadership of senior politician Antonis Samaras, held up fairly well (albeit at historically low levels in the high 20s-low 30s) until early 2012. In opposition, ND hypocritically opposed the first three rescue packages in 2010 and 2011 (Dora Bakoyannis, a former foreign minister and Samaras’ rival for the ND leadership in 2009, was even expelled from the party in May 2010 for voting in favour of a EU-IMF loan; she went on to create her own pro-austerity liberal party, DISY); even under Papademos’ technocratic cabinet, ND tried to have the cake and eat it – Samaras promised to renegotiate the second bailout agreement after his party begrudgingly supported it, even if the Troika (exasperated by Samaras’ waffling and lack of commitment) made it clear that there could be renegotiation. In the Papademos government, both ND and PASOK (and LAOS, much to its chagrin) became associated with the unpopular austerity policies, which caused major internal dissent within party ranks.

The bankruptcy of the traditional political system allowed new parties – often quite radical – on the left and right to rise to prominence. On the left, the traditional third force in Greek politics has usually been the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the country’s oldest parliamentary party. While the KKE’s electoral base is larger than that of many communist parties in the EU today, it has a very low ceiling because the party basically operates in an alternate reality – after the fall of communism, instead of evolving the KKE doubled-down on arcane and archaic quasi-Stalinist Marxist/Soviet rhetoric from the 1950s about the revolution, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The KKE has successfully retained a loyal electorate, providing it with a fairly high floor but also a very low ceiling because the KKE’s rhetoric lacks credibility in practice (besides pretending that the Soviet Union and Joe Stalin are still alive and well). Although the KKE’s support rose to 12-14%, it never surged. Instead, the main beneficiary of PASOK’s collapse was the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), traditionally a rag-tag coalition of New Left parties and ideologies (eurocommunists from the KKE (Interior), a moderate 1968 splinter from the KKE; democratic socialists, eco-socialists, social democrats, left-wing Eurosceptics, Trotskyists) which enjoyed a late surge in early 2012 on the back of the popularity of the anti-austerity message of SYRIZA’s young leader, Alexis Tsipras. Although one might expect common ground, there is intense hatred between the KKE and SYRIZA (in fact, it often appears as if the KKE hates SYRIZA more than any other party, fascists included), with the former considering the latter as ‘opportunists’ and a ‘bourgeois front’ to trick ‘the proletariat’ into perpetuating capitalism (the KKE is anti-capitalist, anti-EU and anti-Euro). The Democratic Left (DIMAR), a moderate 2010 splinter from Synaspismós (the largest component in SYRIZA) with a nominally anti-austerity but pro-Euro platform, also tried to benefit from PASOK’s failings.

On the right and left, several parties led by anti-austerity dissidents from PASOK and ND emerged, although only one, the right-wing populist Independent Greeks (ANEL), a nationalist anti-austerity party led by ND dissident Panos Kammenos and created in February 2012, has been electorally successful. Kammenos is famous for his rabble-rousing nationalist (often anti-German) and anti-austerity rhetoric, with a certain penchant for tinfoil hat conspiracy theories and defamatory statements about his opponents (he has branded ND as ‘traitors’ for accepting the austerity memorandum and has been sued for libel/defamation several times).

On the far-right, the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) – a nationalistic, anti-EU and anti-immigrant party (one which also believed in 9/11 truther theories and was originally anti-Semitic) founded in 2000 – waffled over austerity, voting in favour in 2010 but against in 2011 before joining Papademos’ cabinet in late 2011 but leaving in 2012 by voting against the second bailout. LAOS’ indecision crippled the party, and provided a political void to be filled by Golden Dawn (XA). XA was founded by Nikolaos Michaloliakos in 1993, but until 2010, XA largely operated in the mysterious underworld of far-right/neo-Nazi activism and never won over 1% in any election, although XA’s violent street gangs were active and dangerous (in 1998, XA’s deputy leader killed a leftist student). XA’s first electoral success came in the 2010 local elections, in which the party won 5.3% of the vote and one seat (for Michaloliakos) in Athens. XA lies at the fringe of the far-right constellation in the EU: while it is an intellectually lazy trope to throw the word Nazi at all far-right parties, such a label is fully accurate for XA. Although the party has toned down the open Nazi fanboyism and admiration of the Third Reich which was a mainstay of XA in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Michaloliakos penned articles and essays which heaped praise on Adolf Hitler) and once in a while denies that it is Nazi, the party uses Nazi symbolism regularly (the party’s logo is similar to the Nazi Swastika, XA members have often given the Nazi salute, XA MPs wear Nazi symbols) and XA leaders and MPs continue to deny the Holocaust (Michaloliakos recently denied the existence of gas chambers and XA spokesperson Ilias Kasidiaris, who has a Swastika tattoo, denies the Holocaust and has quoted from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) or use explicitly racist and anti-Semitic language (describing immigrants as sub-humans). Nevertheless, X also draws inspiration and ideological references from Greek history:  Michaloliakos was briefly a member of EPEN, a far-right party founded by former dictator Colonel Georgios Papadopoulous (1967-1973), XA has praised the Colonel’s junta (the authoritarian military regime which ruled Greece from 1967 and 1974) and openly admires Ioannis Metaxas’ authoritarian-nationalist 4th of August Regime (1936-1940).

XA is radically anti-immigration – immigration has been an increasingly important phenomenon in Greece (and, nowadays, traditional Albanian immigration is slowly replaced by increased immigration from Pakistan and other Asian or African countries), and immigrants have been an easy scapegoat with the crisis (seen and depicted as stealing jobs from Greeks). XA called on the deportation of all immigrants from Greece while XA’s thugs have regularly beat up immigrants and non-whites. XA is also strongly anti-austerity, anti-bailout and anti-Euro; the party’s broader foreign policy expresses support for Greek irredentism and a very hardline stance on the Macedonian naming dispute. In a society marked by the breakdown of public services and increasing poverty, XA has built a strong grassroots support base by offering charitable and social services (food distribution, support for the elderly, protection for victims of crimes) explicitly reserved to Greek nationals or even XA members. In stark contrast to Golden Dawn’s “humanitarian” work, the party is distinguished from other far-right parties in Europe by its use of violence – XA’s blackshirt vigilantes and street gangs have regularly beaten up and assaulted immigrants and leftists (and often with the police’s silent acquiescence, given that the police is alleged to be tolerant or even supportive of XA) and Kasidiaris famously physically assaulted two left-wing MPs during a TV debate in 2012.

The May 2012 election was an ‘earthquake elections’ which saw the old political system destroyed and several new forces achieve remarkable success. ND won only 18.9% of the vote, the party’s worst result in its history, although it still topped the poll in an extremely exploded and fragmented political scene. On the left, PASOK collapsed into third place, winning only 13.2% of the vote – over 30% lower than in 2009. Left-wing (or far-left) anti-austerity SYRIZA replaced PASOK as the main party of the left, with 16.8% of the vote (a remarkable result for a party whose original ceiling was 5%); KKE, on the other hand, won a decent but comparatively paltry result of 8.5% (only a 1% improvement on its 2009 result and nowhere near the KKE’s historic highs). ANEL won 10.6%, making it the fourth largest party. XA surged to 7% of the vote and 20 seats, while LAOS’ support collapsed to 2.9% and it lost all 15 of its seats. DIMAR won 6.1% of the vote. In addition, the parties below the 3% threshold combined to win 19% of the vote (more than the largest party!), divided between greens (2.9%), three unambiguously pro-austerity and right-wing liberal parties (including DISY, 2.6%), far-left outfits and Greece’s hilariously fragmented communist parties. Even with Greece’s 50-seat majority bonus for the winning party (which historically provided one-party absolute majorities), no party or obvious coalition came close to commanding support of a majority of Parliament – Samaras, Tsipras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos (Papandreou’s former leadership rival and his last finance minister) all quickly failed in their bids to form governments and there was no solution but to call for new elections in June.

The June elections quickly polarized into a contest between ND and SYRIZA, erroneously simplified to a ‘referendum on the Euro’ (implying that a SYRIZA government would default and withdraw from the Eurozone, which may have been the case but SYRIZA claims to support Eurozone membership and the EU in the abstract) or perhaps more accurately a ‘referendum on austerity’ (although ND didn’t campaign on austerity per se, it was widely understood to be a vote ‘in favour’ of the memorandum conditions). EU leaders quickly made clear that Greece would either need to respect the second bailout deal and associated austerity or be compelled to default and withdraw from the Eurozone – therefore voting for SYRIZA became a double-edged sword: a vote against austerity (SYRIZA promised growth through consumption, tax increases on the rich and businesses, raising social benefits and wages and nationalization of banks and strategic sectors; it also said it would suspend loan repayments until growth returned and would renegotiate the interest due) but also a high likelihood of a messy default and ‘Grexit’ (which, most predicted, would have wreaked havoc and thrown Greece into an even deeper depression). In the high-stakes contest, both ND and SYRIZA saw their support increase: ND won the election with 29.7% and 129 seats against 26.9% and 71 seats for SYRIZA. All other parties except DIMAR lost votes: PASOK receded even further to 12.3%, ANEL lost over 3% and fell to 7.5% and the KKE collapsed, losing 4% and winning only 4.5%. XA’s support proved surprisingly resilient despite intense media focus on the party, holding 6.9% of the vote. DIMAR won 6.3%. Parties below the 3% threshold fell to only 6%, with severe loses for the liberal right (DISY allied with ND, a liberal DX-Drasi won only 1.6%), LAOS, the Greens and the far-left.

ND and Samaras were able to form a ‘pro-memorandum’ and ‘pro-Eurozone’ cabinet with the support of PASOK and DIMAR (the latter, a small centre-left party, criticized SYRIZA for not giving guarantees on continued Eurozone membership and sought a national unity coalition), although at the outset both PASOK and DIMAR declined to directly participate in the government itself and instead opted to propose independents and technocrats for their portfolios (in other words, let ND deal with most of the crap). The finance ministry went to Yannis Stournaras, an independent economist.

Samaras’ government came in facing a new crisis: the Troika was demanding that Greece find a further €13.5 billion worth of austerity savings (spending cuts and tax increases) for them to release the scheduled disbursement, while Athens asked for a two-year extension of the deadline for the country to be self-financed (out of the bailout). The Troika, especially the EU and ECB, were in little mood to be accommodating, judging that Greece had failed miserably at implementing past legislated reforms and often exasperated at Greek politicians’ behaviour. Within the government, Stournaras (and Samaras) found themselves somewhat undermined by PASOK and DIMAR, which at times were more interested by their own political calculations (in PASOK’s case, a desperate bid for survival) while DIMAR quickly became rather reluctant to support tough austerity measures. As in the last Parliament, the need for further austerity measures divided the major parties and have steadily reduced the sizes of the ND, PASOK and DIMAR from their election day levels. On November 7, the Parliament approved the sixth austerity package (despite protests, DIMAR’s abstention and some dissidents from ND and PASOK), with €13.5 billion in cuts and tax hikes between 2013 and 2016. The package included more cuts on pensions, salary cuts (for public servants, academics, judges, doctors), cutting 110,000 public sector jobs by 2016, an increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67 and capping earnings in parastatals. In exchange, the Troika agreed to reschedule Greece’s debt and grant Athens two more years to reach a primary budget surplus of 4.5% of GDP.

Some economic indicators showed a very minor improvement in 2013, although unemployment hit a record high of nearly 28% (up from 24% in May 2012) and the public debt further ballooned to 175.1% of GDP (but should now begin falling, to 154% of GDP in 2017). Nevertheless, the recession was ‘less severe’ as the economy shrank by ‘only’ 3.9% in 2013 compared to 7% in 2012. The budget balance was -12.7% in 2013, due to the one-off costs of bank recapitalization, but Greece posted its first structural budget surplus in 2013 (+2% of GDP). Tourism was good in 2013, and the economy is expected to grow for the first time since 2007 in 2014, with a 0.6% growth rate in 2014 and 2.9% in 2015 according to EC estimates. The government’s structural reforms and labour market reforms have been said to significantly improve the ‘ease of doing business’ in Greece, although foreign investors remain very slow to test the waters. Unemployment has declined slightly to 26.8% in March 2014 and the EC projects it will fall to 24% in 2015. Yields on ten-year bonds have fallen below 8%, from a peak of well over 40%. In April 2014, Greece returned to the international bond market after four years with a €3 billion issue of five-year bonds. Nevertheless, the recovery remains very slow and extremely fragile. Furthermore, when it comes, it will take years for Greece to recover fully from a six-year long recession – for example, Greece’s nominal GDP is now €181.9 billion compared to €233.2 billion pre-crisis, in 2008. The crisis and austerity have pauperized a very large share of the population, with estimates that about 35% of the population lives in poverty or a precarious situation. The recession has wiped out millions of jobs, shut down thousands of businesses, put over three-fifths of young Greeks out of work (and forced thousands to emigrate to Germany and other countries) and public services will likely be in ruins for years.

The Troika has warmed up to the Greek government and Samaras (whom they initially disliked for his behaviour while in opposition and his reckless talk of renegotiating the bailout), and, prodded by the IMF, has come around to accept that Greece will not be able to repay all the money it owes. However, the government has continued to be weakened by corruption/tax evasion cases and difficulties at implementing its reforms. Since 2012, the government – and PASOK – have been embroiled in a corruption/tax evasion case surrounding the handling of a list with the names of thousands of suspected tax evaders, which France had handed over to the PASOK government in 2010. Now, former PASOK finance minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou is alleged to have removed the names of three family members from the list before transferring its contents to a USB while the tax authorities never received instructions to further pursue the investigation. Papakonstantinou faces a parliamentary inquiry. Evangelos Venizelos, PASOK’s current leader (and foreign minister since June 2013), who was finance minister from 2011 to 2012, is said to have kept the USB in his drawer for more than a year before sending it to Samaras and Stournaras. The government’s privatization program has continuously failed to meet its targets. They managed to sell Opap, the state gambling monopoly, to a consortium of Greek and east European investors but a Russian Gazprom bid for DEPA, the natural gas monopoly, fell through. This means that Greece has failed to meet the original privatization target of €50 billion and has been forced to scale back its privatization goals repeatedly. Greece still faces funding gaps in 2014 and 2015, requiring more bailout funds. Since late 2013, there has been talks in high circles that Greece will need a third bailout.

In June 2013, Samaras unilaterally and peremptorily closed down ERT, the state broadcaster, and sacked its 2000+ employees; announcing that a much leaner organization will replace it. The government’s decision, likely made to impress Troika inspectors. Six days later, the Council of State suspended the government’s decision to interrupt broadcasting and shut down ERT’s frequencies while rebel journalists continued operating a rump channel on other frequencies. Although ERT was widely described as corrupt, mismanaged and politically subservient; Samaras’ unilateral decision, which was opposed by PASOK and DIMAR (in fact, only XA and LAOS supported the government’s shutdown of ERT), provoked a firestorm of opposition. DIMAR decided to withdraw from government in late June 2013, prompting a cabinet shuffle which saw PASOK politicians enter cabinet – with Evangelos Venizelos as deputy Prime Minister and foreign minister.

In late 2013, Parliament narrowly approved a 2014 budget with further austerity measures and a controversial new tax package and in March 2014, it approved structural reforms. In both cases, the government’s majority in Parliament was extremely narrow – at about 152 to 153 votes, just over the absolute majority threshold (151) and always vulnerable to more dissidents. SYRIZA has been clamoring for early elections for quite a while now, and may finally get its chance next year: in early 2015, the Parliament must elect a new President, a procedure which requires a three-fifths majority on the third ballot (two-thirds on the first two ballots), and if this majority is not met, mandatory new elections are held for Parliament. Together, ND and PASOK only have 152 seats left, in addition to 13 from friendly DIMAR and a large number of various dissidents sitting in a 17-strong independent caucus and 6 miscellaneous unattached independents. SYRIZA has said that it will not support any candidate for President, and if he and other parties (ANEL has never missed an opportunity to help SYRIZA undermine the coalition, while XA and the KKE would never offer support) and independents deny the government a 180-seat majority to elect a consensus president, new elections would be held by March 2015. The government insists that it will see Parliament to the conclusion of its constitutional term in 2016, but its majority is very shaky.

In a bid to increase its credibility and international support, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has attended several conferences and left-wing political rallies across the EU, becoming the posterchild for the EU’s fledgling anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal radical left. At home, SYRIZA has merged its many components in a single party (there was some question from the election law whether or not SYRIZA as a coalition rather than a united party would have been eligible for the 50-seat majority bonus at the polls) and broadened its base, welcoming ex-PASOK members or improving ties with Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church (still considered as the official religion and prominent in education). SYRIZA has not moderated its rhetoric, opposing austerity – promising to break ties with the Troika, audit Greece’s debt, undo many reforms and privatizations while still reassuring foreign audiences that SYRIZA does not want to leave the Eurozone. The KKE has continued to exist in its alternate reality, waging a war of words against SYRIZA (described as opportunists ‘making a systematic effort to rescue capitalism in the eyes of the working people’).

XA’s support has increased in polls since the last election, polling up to 15%. The party’s activities – charitable, violent and cultural (nationalist/fascist torch-lit rallies) – increased in 2012 and 2013, but the government, police, judiciary and Parliament dragged their feet on the question of XA – hesitating over which attitude to adopt against XA’s racist violence, hate speech (Holocaust denialism) and criminal activities. In September 2013, anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was murdered by an XA member in Athens, unleashing a wave of condemnation from all parties (XA included) and the government, and finally pushed Samaras to take stronger anti-fascist/anti-XA stances. A police crackdown led to the arrest of several XA members, including XA leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who remains in jail awaiting trial. Prosecutors are attempting to connect XA’s leadership to activities including murder, attempted murder, explosions, possessing explosives and robbery.

The EP elections were therefore fairly important in Greece, and they were tied to the runoffs in local and regional elections (the first round of those elections was held on May 18). SYRIZA topped the poll, as had been widely expected, with 26.6% of the vote, a result which is just below the party’s result in June 2012 (26.9%) and over 100,000 votes lower (turnout dropped from 62.5% to 60%, SYRIZA’s vote from 1.655 million to 1.518 million). While SYRIZA has been tied with ND or narrowly ahead in most polling for the next general election, the party has generally to consistently improve its predicted vote share on its June 2012 result. This may indicate that SYRIZA hit its new ceiling in June 2012, and now struggles to attract new voters from the rank of non-voters (the turnout in the EP election was high, but it was at an all-time low in June 2012) or other parties (the KKE has slightly improved on its disastrous 2012 result, to 6-8%, while DIMAR will likely fall below the 3% threshold in the next election). In the new open list system, SYRIZA’s most popular candidate (and MEP-elect) was 92-year-old war hero Manolis Glezos, who famously tore down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis in 1941 and then became a persecuted and later exiled icon of the Greek left. Since 1974, he has been a leftist writer and active in politics (for PASOK in the 1980s and Synaspismos/SYRIZA since the 2000s). He won more votes (448,971) than any other candidate.

ND, the senior governing party, did very poorly with only 22.7% and a bit less than 1.3 million votes, down from 29.7% and 1.825 million votes in June 2012. ND continues to poll much better – about at its 2012 levels or slightly below – in polling for the general election, but it may have done poorly at the EP and local elections as voters felt freer to oppose the government (without risking anything). Its coalition partner, PASOK, disguised itself as Elia (‘The Olive Tree’), an electoral alliance of PASOK and several new small parties (such as Agreement for a New Greece and Dynamic Greece, two small parties founded by former PASOK members). It won 8% and fourth place, down from 12.3% for PASOK in the last general election and a loss of nearly 300,000 votes. Nevertheless, 8% for Elia turned out to be a surprisingly strong performance from the moribund PASOK, which is polling at about 5-6% in national polls. Yet, a bad result is still a bad result, and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos’ hold on the fractious party was weakened by the weak result. Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, still a PASOK MP, seems to be organizing opposition to his old rival within PASOK, and Papandreou is said to have opposed PASOK’s transformation as Elia.

Some of PASOK’s lost support likely went to To Potami (The River), a new centre-left and pro-EU party founded in February 2014 by journalist and TV personality Stavros Theodorakis. The party can be placed on the centre-left of the spectrum (its MEPs have joined the S&D group, after hesitating with ALDE and the Greens) and it professes to be pro-European, but a lot about the new party is very vague – most of its talk revolves around meaningless buzzwords about reform, change and bland centrism/progressivism. Theodorakis toured the country with his backpack and gave low-key speeches on topics such as meritocracy and tax evasion. There have been claims that To Potami is financed by business interests to deny SYRIZA victory in the next elections, but Theodorakis denies such allegations. His party won 6.6% and two seats. The party did best in Crete (10.1%), an old Venizelist PASOK stronghold which has moved firmly into SYRIZA’s column since June 2012.

XA did very well, winning third place with a record 9.4% and 536,910 votes – in both cases, a marked improvement on its June 2012 result (6.92% and 426,025 votes). Although it no longer polls in the double-digits since the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and the crackdown on XA, the party has further expanded its base and retains a potential of up to 15-20% (based on polling regarding voters’ attitudes towards XA). Although the literature has often focused on XA’s activism in the populous central urban region of Attica (Athens-Piraeus), XA’s electorate is spread out across the country – it won 9.8% in the region of Attica (with results over 10% in all urban and suburban electoral districts of Athens and Piraeus) but its best prefecture was Laconia (15.5%), an old conservative stronghold in the southern Peloponnese, followed by the conservative Macedonian prefectures of Kilkis (13%) and Pella (12.8%).

The KKE expanded its support from 4.5% to 6.1% since the last election, which had been disastrous for the Communists, but 6.1% remains a weak result down on the KKE’s result in the pre-crisis 2009 EP election and on the low end of the Communist Party’s average range of support in the past. It has failed to regain a lot of the votes it had lost to SYRIZA in June 2012, when exit polls indicated that up to one-fifth of KKE’s May 2012 voters had voted for SYRIZA. In one of its terribly verbose and arcane Central Committee communiqués, the KKE announced that it would be leaving the GUE/NGL group (shared with SYRIZA) to sit as non-inscrits. It criticized the ‘altered nature’ of the group, which it claims has moved towards a single line (it blames Die Linke and, of course, SYRIZA for this development). The KKE had already been one of the least loyal members of the GUE/NGL, and the KKE’s 1950s-style Soviet-Stalinist silliness has been increasingly out of place in the GUE/NGL which has increasingly moved towards hip, New Left-style movements focused on immediate concerns (anti-austerity, anti-liberalism etc) and new ideologies (feminism, environmentalism).

ANEL did poorly, taking just 3.5% and narrowly clearing the threshold. This is down on 7.5% in the last general election (itself down on over 10% of the vote in May 2012) and a loss of nearly 265,000 votes. The party has been weakened by infighting and perhaps less interest in Panos Kammenos’ flamboyant antics; I presume that many of ANEL’s voters may have shifted to XA, although exit polls from June 2012 indicated that ANEL’s losses largely split between SYRIZA and ND with only limited loses to XA.

Several parties won significant support below the threshold. LAOS, defending two MEPs, won 2.7%, a weak result nonetheless up on the party’s June 2012 result (1.6%). ‘Greek European Citizens’ was a liberal list led by German FDP MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (German-born, but of Greek descent), whose Hellenophilia and opposition to Greek austerity had become a poor fit in Germany’s FDP. The right-wing liberal list (Bridges), an alliance of Drasi and Recreate Greece (DX), won only 0.9%. It won 1.4%, with very strong results in random prefectures (Grevena in West Macedonia – 12.5%, Lasithi and Heraklion in Crete – 14.4% and 7%). DIMAR won only 1.2%, a terrible result which is a poor sign for the party ahead of potential early elections in 2014/2015. The Union for the Homeland and the People (1%) is a new right-wing party led by former ND Minister of Public Order Vyron Polydoras (2006-2007), who voted against a tax bill in late 2013 and had previously called for ND to work with XA against the Troika, and ex-ND/ANEL MP Christos Zois. The Greens, defending one MEP, won only 0.9% of the vote.

One small party had tremendously local appeal: the Party of Friendship, Equality and Peace (KIEKF/ΚΙΕΦ), a small party representing the small Muslim minority in Thrace (Turkish and Pomak) and which had at least one MP in the Parliament between 1996 and 2012 in alliance with PASOK (or ND, in 2004) but lost its seats after supporting DISY in May 2012 and DIMAR in June 2012. The party won 0.75% nationally, but won 41.7% in Rhodope prefecture (which is majority Muslim) and 25.9% in Xanthi prefecture (which has a very large Muslim minority) in Thrace. Except limited support in Evros (1.5%), the party won only 172 votes (out of 42,627) outside of those three prefectures!

Local and regional elections were overwhelmingly (and, compared to 2010 result, unusually) dominated by local considerations with weaker results for SYRIZA but also ND, while independent candidates – often elected on PASOK’s ballot in 2010 – did well. The major races were the mayoral contests in Athens and Thessaloniki – both cities gained by PASOK-backed candidates against ND administrations in 2010, and the governorship of the region of Attica (won by PASOK in 2010, the first election for regional governments following a regional and municipal downsizing and restructuring plan passed by PASOK alongside austerity measures). In Athens, incumbent independent mayor Giorgios Kaminis – backed by PASOK and DIMAR – was reelected in a tight runoff ballot against SYRIZA candidate Gavriil Sakelaridis, winning 51.4% to 48.6%. In the first round, the incumbent won 21.1% against 20% for SYRIZA, 16.9% for ND, 16.7% for Ilias Kasidiaris (XA) and 7.4% for the KKE. However, SYRIZA narrowly won the Attica region, with 50.8% in the runoff against the independent (ex-PASOK) incumbent; in the first round, SYRIZA won 23.8% against 22.1% for the incumbent, with ND (14.1%), XA (11.1%) and the Communists (10.7%) trailing. With a population of 3.8 million and the largest GDP of all regions in the country, Attica is by far the most important of Greece’s 13 regions and the office of regional governor is one of the most important devolved government positions in Greece – therefore, it will be SYRIZA’s first chance to lead a government. In Thessaloniki, popular incumbent left-wing mayor Yiannis Boutaris was reelected with 58.1% in the runoff against a ND candidate (a former Minister for Macedonia and Thrace); in the first round, SYRIZA won only 10.6% against 36% for Boutaris (who was backed by PASOK, DIMAR and Drasi) and 26.2% for ND. XA won 7.7%. In the region of Central Macedonia, the second-largest region (1.87 million) in Greece, independent conservative governor Apóstolos Tzitzikó̱stas (backed by ANEL, LAOS and Vyron Polydoras’ Union for the Homeland and the People) was reelected over a ND candidate (a former Greek basketball player and coach turned politician), with 71% in the runoff; in the first round, Tzitzikó̱stas won 32.8% against 18.6% for ND and 11.7% for SYRIZA.

ND won seven regions, SYRIZA won two while the remaining four regions were won by independent candidates. Besides Attica, the only other region won by SYRIZA were the Ionian Islands, where the radical left took 59.9% in the runoff against the ND incumbent. ND held Thessaly, while ex-PASOK independents incumbent held Crete and Western Greece in runoff battles against ND (by a very tight margin in the latter, by a landslide in the former). In mayoral contests, the KKE gained Patras (Greece’s third largest city), an independent (an ally of shipping tycoon and Olympiakos football club owner Vangelis Marinakis) gained Piraeus from ND, SYRIZA gained Larissa from ND while ND-DIMAR gained Heraklion from a PASOK independent.

Overall, according to an estimate by the pollster Public Issue, ND won 26.3% of the national local election vote on May 18 followed by SYRIZA (17.7%) and PASOK (16.2%). Independents and other parties won 11.5%, the KKE won 8.8%, XA won 8.1%, DIMAR won 3.8%, ANEL took 3.2% and far-left ANTARSYA won 2.3%. Compared to the 2010 local elections, ND’s support is down 6.3% and PASOK lost 18.5%, while SYRIZA gained nearly 13%. Compared to the last legislative elections in 2012, SYRIZA and ND are both down (-9.2% and -3.2% respectively) while PASOK is up (+3.9%) – as well as KKE (+4.3%) and XA (+1.1%). PASOK resisted well at the local and regional level, while SYRIZA’s performance was considerably weaker locally, but expectations for the radical left were low because SYRIZA lacks the local grassroots base of ND and PASOK. Therefore, SYRIZA was still counted as one of the main winners, while ND and PASOK both did comparatively poor. XA also did well, especially Ilias Kasidiaris in Athens, XA’s main local government base.

On June 9, Samaras shuffled his cabinet, changing several ministers and portfolios. Yannis Stournaras was replaced in finance by another technocrat, Gikas Hardouvelis, whose work will focus on structural reforms (liberalization of ‘closed professions’) and continuing the Troika’s reforms. Otherwise, the promotion of the right within cabinet was noted, with a new hardline conservative – Sofia Voultepsi (who claimed that refugees were ‘unarmed invaders’ controlled by ‘the Turks’) as government spokesperson while Makis ‘The Hammer’ Voridis, an hammer-wielding fascist and anti-Semite in his youth, returned to cabinet as health minister (a former member of LAOS, he was already a minister under Papademos and joined ND after LAOS left the Papademos cabinet).


Turnout: 28.97% (-7.34%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (effectively 0.58%)

Fidesz-KDNP (EPP) 51.48% (-4.88%) winning 12 seats (-2)
Jobbik (NI) 14.67% (-0.1%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MSZP (S&D) 10.9% (-6.47%) winning 2 seats (-2)
DK (S&D) 9.75% (+9.75%) winning 2 seats (+2)
E2014-PM (G-EFA) 7.25% (+7.25%) winning 1 seat (+1)
LMP (G-EFA) 5.04% (+2.43%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Others 0.92% winning 0 seats (-1)

Hungary 2014 - EP

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s governing right-wing Fidesz won a landslide in the EP elections, a few months after Orbán was reelected to a second term in office in legislative elections back in April 2014. Orbán is a highly controversial leader in Europe, whose government and policies have been decried by foreign and local opponents as being dangerously autocratic and intolerant of criticism and democratic norms. Yet, fresh from a very comfortable victory to a second successive term in office back in April, Orbán is nevertheless still hugely popular at home and he is one of the EU’s strongest and most popular leaders. Orbán and his party have, since the fall of communism and the first free elections in 1990, evolved from an anti-communist and liberal/libertarian party of fiery student leaders to a conservative party with strong dirigiste inclinations on economic issues and a certain nationalist tint. Fidesz has been the strongest right-wing party in the country since 1998, traditionally the main rival to the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which grew out of the old communist party into a very centrist and pro-European party which has often been keener than Fidesz on neoliberal economics or austerity polices. Orbán already served as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2002, before losing the 2002 and 2006 elections to a Socialist-Liberal (SZDSZ) coalition. However, the last MSZP-SZDSZ government, led by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány (2004-2009), led to the near-total destruction of the MSZP as a major party. Shortly after a narrow victory in 2006, a secret speech given by Gyurcsány was leaked; in this expletive-filled speech, Gyurcsány said that the government had been lying since he took office and that it had done nothing it could be proud of. Despite mass protests, Gyurcsány did not leave office until early 2009. In April 2009, Gyurcsány resigned and was replaced by Gordon Bajnai. A little-known politician, Bajnai cobbled together a coalition with the SZDSZ, and took office on a program of major spending cuts. The Hungarian economy was badly in crisis in 2009, with growth falling by nearly 7% and the country struggling to cope with a high deficit and the largest debt in Eastern Europe (80%). In 2008, the IMF and the EU granted Budapest a $25 billion loan, but Hungary needed to cut spending and implement painful structural reforms (pensions, most notably) to keep up with IMF guidelines. The government, despite resistance from sectors of the MSZP, cut spending by nearly 4% of GDP, cut social spending and public sector wages and cut social security contributions (to increase Hungary’s low employment rate). The government won plaudits abroad for its orthodox fiscal management, but with high unemployment (7.5% in 2006 to 11% in 2010), high corruption, criminality problems and the legacy of 2006, the MSZP remained deeply unpopular at home. In 2008, Fidesz, leading a policy of obstinate opposition to the government, had successfully organized and passed a referendum in which voters abolished healthcare user fees, daily fees for hospital stays and tuition fees introduced by the MSZP. The MSZP was defeated by Fidesz by wide margins in the 2006 local elections and 2009 EP elections.

The 2009 EP elections saw the strong performance of Jobbik, a far-right party which won 14.8% of the vote and 3 MEPs. Nationalism has been a key issue in Hungarian politics since 1920, and Hungary’s contemporary politics and political culture cannot really be understood without understanding the legacy of the Treaty of Trianon (1920) on Hungary. Defeated in World War I, Hungary lost 72% of its pre-war territory and 64% of its pre-war population; it also lost access to the sea and the country’s industrial base was separated from its sources of raw materials. Although the territory which Hungary lost had a non-Hungarian majority, large ethnic Hungarians minorities now lived outside the country’s border, especially in Slovakia and Romania. Since 1990, Hungarian governments have not sought a revision of the borders, but it has, from time to time, advocated for the rights of Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries – there are substantial Hungarian minorities in neighboring EU member-states Slovakia (8.5%) and Romania (6.2%) and this has severely complicated and, at times, poisoned Hungary’s relations with its neighbors (especially Slovakia). The economic crisis led to an upsurge in nationalist and anti-Semitic sentiment in Hungary. Politicians on the right, including many in Fidesz, lashed out at ‘foreign speculators’ and foreigners (and Jews) who allegedly controlled Hungary’s wealth, and irredentist visions of Greater Hungary also increased. Anti-Roma views, a favourite of the far-right across Eastern Europe (and now Western Europe), also gained steam. The Romas numbered around 309,000 in 2011 (3-4% of the population). The Hungarian far-right depicts them as criminals, stealing Hungarian jobs and leeching on welfare money.

Jobbik is a far-right and ultra-nationalist party founded in 2003; it is one of the EU’s most distasteful far-right parties, in a league of its own with the likes of XA. In 2007, Jobbik founded its own civilian militia/paramilitary group, the Magyar Gardá, a charming collection of uniformed thugs and fruitcakes. The Magyar Gardá was ordered to be disbanded by a court order in 2008. Jobbik has the traditional populist, anti-establishment, anti-globalization, ethno-nationalist, socially conservative anti-European rhetoric of much of the far-right, but it adds irredentism and particularly virulent anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic ramblings (it denies claims that it is anti-Semitic, claiming to be anti-Zionist/anti-Israeli, but denunciations of Israel/Jews as ‘conquerors’ and greedy capitalists is commonplace; and many Jobbik politicians have said anti-Semitic things in the past, and in 2012 a Jobbik deputy leader famously asked for the Jews in Parliament and government to be ‘tallied up’).

Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz roared to a tremendous landslide victory in the 2010 legislative elections, ending up with 52.7% of the vote and 263 out of 386 seats while the MSZP was absolutely obliterated, being reduced to only 19% and 59 seats. Jobbik won 16.7% and 47 seats. With a two-thirds majority, Fidesz and the very strong-headed Orbán quickly moved to shore up their own power over Hungarian politics. The result has been extremely contentious, giving Orbán (to outsiders, and many Hungarians) all the trappings of a Vladimir Putin-like autocratic leader who crushes independent institutions. Orbán quickly moved to dismiss the heads of several government agencies and institutions while a Fidesz drone was elected to the presidency. The government confronted the Constitutional Court after the highest judicial body invalidated a law which would impose a 98% tax to all public sector severance payments over $10,000, backdated to January 2010. Fidesz reacted with legislation which removed the Court’s power over the state budget, taxes and other financial matters; a few months later, it was the independent budget watchdog (the Fiscal Council) which was axed in favour of a new council stacked with Orbán allies.

In 2010 and 2011, a new media law attracted significant controversy, especially as debate coincided with Hungary’s presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2011. The new law forced all media outlets (print, broadcast, online) to register with a new media authority, which can revoke licenses for infractions and a new media council, which can impose fines for violating some very vaguely defined content rules, allegedly to protect the people’s ‘dignity’ or for ‘inciting hatred’ against minorities, majorities and so forth. The members of these new bodies are all nominated by the ruling party. The furor it raised caused Fidesz to temporarily retreat. In 2011, the Constitutional Court excluded print and online media from the scope of the media authority’s sanctioning powers and struck down clauses which limited journalists’ ability to investigate (confidentiality of sources etc). However, in 2012, the EU still felt that amendments to the law had not addressed most of its problems with Hungary’s law. Fidesz and its allies control most of the domestic media, and government is the largest advertiser in the country. In 2011, the media council did not renew the license of an anti-Orbán radio station. Under new media rules, the funding for the public media is now centralized under one body, which had laid off over a thousand employees as part of a streamlining process. There have been major concerns with regards to self-censorship by journalists and the pro-government sycophancy of much of the media. In 2013, Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report rated Hungary as ‘partly free’.

In April 2011, the Parliament adopted a new constitution to replace one written by the communists in 1949 (but obviously heavily amended since 1989). The new constitution, described as socially and fiscally conservative, beginning with preamble references to the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen, God, Christianity, the fatherland and family values, a constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and a ‘golden rule’ limiting the public debt to 50% of GDP. Certain policy areas, such as family policy, taxation, pensions, public debt, morality, culture and religion were classified as areas of ‘cardinal law’ which may only be altered with a two-thirds majority. Clauses about ethnic Hungarians abroad, which opened the door to voting rights in Hungarian elections, irked Slovakia. The opposition MSZP and the green-liberal Politics Can Be Different (LMP) walked out of the drafting process, dominated by Fidesz, demanding a referendum on the matter and decrying the lack of consultation. However, with a two-thirds majority, Fidesz easily adopted the new constitution despite the opposition of the centre-left and far-right and protesters outside Parliament.

In 2013, new controversial amendments removed the Constitutional Court’s ability to refer to judicial precedent predating the January 2012 enactment of the constitution and may no longer reject constitutional amendments on matters of substance (only on procedural grounds). The amendments also included other laws struck down by courts in the past, including strict limits on advertising during election campaigns (a rule seen as favouring Fidesz).

A judicial reform placed significant power over the judiciary in the hands of the new National Judicial Authority, whose head is the wife of a Fidesz MEP who drafted most of the new constitution and whose powers include nominating many local and higher-court justices.

Upon taking office, the new government alarmed investors when some Fidesz leaders mentioned the word ‘default’ and warned that Hungary could become Greece. Foreign investors went into a frenzy, badly hurting confidence in the Hungarian economy even if its fundamentals were much stronger than those of Greece. Orbán quickly moved to smooth out the crisis by announcing new economic measures in June 2010: cuts in income and corporate taxes, the introduction of a 16% flat tax on incomes, a temporary windfall tax on banks, banning mortgages in foreign currencies and cuts in public spending. The government promised to reduce its budget deficit to 3.8% of GDP, a target agreed upon with the IMF and EU in 2008; its economic program aimed to reduce corruption, common petty scams and corrupt dealings in Hungarian businesses and create jobs.

The windfall tax on banks, aimed to raise 0.5% of GDP ($560 million), worried foreign banks in Hungary. In July 2010, the EU and IMF broke off talks with Budapest over the renewal of a $26 billion loan. The EU-IMF were worried about the windfall tax on banks, and demanded stronger commitments to spending cuts and structural reforms in state-owned enterprises. With talks broken off, Budapest announced new economic measures in October 2010: temporary ‘crisis taxes’ on largely foreign-owned telecommunication, energy and retail companies, renegotiation of public-private partnerships, a tax break for families with children and redirecting private pension fund contribution to the state. Orbán said that it was time for those with profits to ‘give more’. The main victims of the ‘crisis taxes’ on telecommunication, energy and retail were foreign companies. The government announced that those in the private pension system who didn’t opt back into the state pension fund would lose all rights to a state pension.

In 2011, the government detailed its spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit to a targeted 1.9% of GDP in 2014. These included an extension of the bank tax, but also cuts in state subsidies for disability pensions, drugs and public transportation and a postponement of corporate tax cuts (from 19% to 10%) until 2013. The government refused to call these measures ‘austerity’. In November 2011, after disappointing economic results, the government reopened talks for assistance (which it called ‘a safety net’) from the IMF. Although the government successfully cut the deficit in 2011, growth remained low, the forint fell and bond auctions failed. The government’s opponents gloated at the failure of Orbán’s ambitious gamble of ‘economic independence’ from the major global financial institutions. In December 2011, the EU and IMF once again broke off preliminary talks, over concerns over new legislation which weakened the powers of the governor of the central bank at the expense of the Prime Minister.

In early 2012, the European Commission launched legal action against Budapest on three issues (independence of the central bank, independence of a new data protection authority, the forced retirement of over 200 judges who were older than 62), a decision which led to more nationalist flourish from Fidesz but did force Orbán to be a bit more conciliatory.

Hungary’s economy faces challenges – the country slipped back into recession in 2012 and growth was only 1.1% in 2013 and Hungary remains Central/Eastern Europe’s most indebted country (79% of GDP) – but the deficit has fallen to only 2.2% of GDP and unemployment has recently declined below 10% (9.1%) and the overall economic performance has not been all negative. Furthermore, many aspects of Orbán’s populist and nationalist economic policies (denouncing the IMF/EU, high taxes on banks and largely foreign-owned companies, cuts in income taxes for families, a law allowing Hungarians to repay their mortgages in foreign currency at very good terms while banks are forced to swallow the difference) have been very popular with Hungarian voters. To the crowds, Fidesz plays very heavily on nationalist sentiments – with speeches from Orbán and his stooges decrying ‘colonization’, lashing out at foreign bankers, European bureaucrats and IMF technocrats, but is far more polished when actually working with said technocrats.

Fidesz’ case has also been helped by the centre-left’s increasing fragmentation and its troubles at picking up all the pieces from its historic defeat in 2010. The MSZP, led by the rather hapless Attila Mesterházy, has faced competition from two new parties led by former Prime Ministers: Ferenc Gyurcsány founded the Democratic Coalition (DK), a centre-left liberal party slightly to the right of the MSZP in 2011; Gordon Bajnai founded Together 2014 (E14) in collaboration with anti-Orbán civil society movements and later teamed up with Dialogue for Hungary (PM), a party founded by dissidents from the green LMP over the LMP’s refusal to ally itself with E14 and later the MSZP and DK. The MSZP, DK, E14-PM and a new Liberal Party formed a common front – Unity – for the April 2014 elections.

Despite a very anti-Orbán campaign from the centre-left, it was no match for Fidesz, which was easily reelected with a reduced majority. Fidesz won 44.9% against 25.6% for Unity and 20.2% for Jobbik; but thanks to Hungary’s mixed-member system (lacking a compensatory element) and Fidesz’s changes to it, Fidesz was able to narrowly retain its highly important two-thirds majority in Parliament. During the campaign, the ruling party was also unduly advantaged by “restrictive campaign regulations, biased media coverage and campaign activities that blurred the separation between political party and the State” (citing the OSCE’s report) which resulted in Fidesz’s domination of the airwaves. Nevertheless, the election was still won fair and square by Orbán, while the liberal and pro-European centre-left barely improved its result from 2010. Offering clear and tangible benefits to a large mass of voters and a simple populist-nationalist message, Fidesz blew the centre-left – mostly reliant on sophisticated attacks on Orbán’s autocratic tendencies and purported threats to democracy – out of the water. The far-right, which also has a clear and simple message (the vilification of enemies, real or imagined, the creation of scapegoats and a campaign more populist than extremist), also did well. Orbán, like Jobbik to a lesser extent, has created and mobilized a mass following for himself, with supporters who worship him as a nationalist icon fighting for freedom and national sovereignty.

Cultural arguments, as I had explained in my post on the Hungarian elections back in April (see link above), would posit that Orbán (and Jobbik’s) popularity in Hungary stems from the absence of a long experience with democracy (under Miklós Horthy in the interwar era and then under communist rule during the Cold War) and a tradition of strongmen who still retain some amount of goodwill (Miklós Horthy, who remains a controversial icon for nationalists, and communist-era dictator János Kádár), which has in turn created a yearning for ‘strong leaders’ (like Orbán) who embody national unity and express some sort of ‘siege mentality’ (particularly powerful in Hungary, which continues to struggle with the Trianon trauma/tragedy). Additionally, what experience Hungary has with democracy since 1989 has been tainted by corruption (although Orbán is no cleaner himself and a new camarilla of petty oligarchs dependent on Fidesz largess has replaced an old petty oligarchy who prospered under the MSZP) and unpopular neoliberal/capitalist policies. The economic reforms in the 1990s did not produce the sense that things are looking up, breeding a lingering current of negative views towards ‘capitalism’. The claim is that the neoliberal reforms resulted in foreign intrusion, the cheap selling out of Hungary’s wealth and businesses, unemployment, corruption, inefficient government and increased criminality. The left has accepted capitalism as the doxa or dominant paradigm, but to voters instinctively angry at the ‘capitalist’ system, only Jobbik and, to a lesser extent, Orbán present appealing alternatives. The left, in part due to its own failures and in part thanks to a pro-Fidesz media, has been associated with neoliberal reforms and corruption (indeed, during the April campaign, a MSZP stalwart was arrested for tax evasion – $1,000,000 in a secret account in Austria); it has additionally failed to renew its leadership (Gyurcsány is damaged goods, Mesterházy’s competence is limited and only Bajnai seems more solid) or its base (it has an aging electorate, while Jobbik eats up young anti-system voters).

In a very low turnout and low-stakes election, Fidesz performed very well, taking 51.5% of the vote. It was one of the largest victories for a ruling party in these EP elections (after Malta, which has a very stable two-party system), although the record low turnout means that Fidesz’s raw vote was quite poor (1.19 million, down from 2.26 million in April 2014 and the lowest vote for Fidesz in an EP election). For the centre-left, after uneasy unity in April, the EP election was to be a ‘safe’ chance for each party to measure its forces and prove itself independently. The result was an absolute disaster for the MSZP, which won 10.9%, the party’s lowest result in its history (with only 252,000 votes). It ended up in a terrible third place, placing behind Jobbik. While Jobbik’s second place showing, the first time it has come second in a national election, is highly symbolic and only intensifies the blow to the MSZP, the far-right’s result was fairly paltry: Jobbik’s popular vote share is down significantly on its historic 20.2% it took in April 2014 and down from its 2009 EP election result. I suppose, in a low turnout election, its poor showing can be attributed to Jobbik’s base of protest voters in low-income small town regions not showing up. Turnout was indeed below average in many of Jobbik’s strongholds in the east of the country, and significantly above average in Budapest (38.8%), where Jobbik has its worst results in the country.

Jobbik’s second place showing owes to the division of the left. The MSZP remained the largest centre-left party, but its three rivals had strong showings: Ferenc Gyurcsány’s DK won 9.8% and proved to be a strong challenge to the MSZP not only in urban Budapest but also in rural areas (12% in the metro districts and county towns, 9.3% in cities and 6.6% in villages; Gordon Bajnai’s E14-PM won 7.3% with a strong performance in the largest urban areas (10.5%) but poorer results in towns and villages (5.6% and 3.7% respectively) while the green-liberal LMP, which had saved its parliamentary presence by a hair in April (5.3%) barely passed the threshold this time again (5.04%). In Budapest, the traditional redoubt of the left (especially in this era of Fidesz hegemony), the MSZP placed fourth behind Fidesz (43.8%), DK (13.1%) and E14-PM (13.1%) with only 11.5%. Jobbik won only 9.9% in the Hungarian capital, and the LMP won 7.9%. The MSZP did best in Csongrád County (16.7%, including the university town of Szeged) and the poor eastern counties of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg (14.6%) and Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén (13.2%); the DK and E14-PM both had their best results in Budapest, although DK also did well in Komárom-Esztergom County (11.6%) and Baranya County (10.6%). The far-right’s best result came from Heves County (22.9%), a poor eastern county home to Jobbik leader Gábor Vona (he is from Gyöngyös). Jobbik also broke 20% in neighboring Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén and Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok counties.

Next: Italy – complex and confusing as always, but so fascinating every time, requires its own separate post to clearly break down a very significant EP election result.

EU 2014: France


The European Parliament elections were held in France on May 25, 2014. Its results, with the victory of the far-right National Front (FN), made headlines across the EU and became one of the top media stories out of the EP elections.

Electoral system and history

France returns 74 MEPs to the European Parliament, two more than in the 2009 election. Since the 2004 election, France’s MEPs are elected in eight multi-member inter-regional constituencies – special constituencies drawn for EP elections which follow the boundaries of France’s existing administrative regions. In each region, seats are distributed by closed party-list proportional representation (highest averages method) with a regional threshold of 5%. In practice, however, because of the low magnitude of a lot of the constituencies, the effective thresholds can be significantly higher. France’s eight EP constituencies are Nord-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Haute-Normandie and Basse-Normandie), Ouest (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Bretagne, Pays-de-la-Loire and Poitou-Charentes), Est (9 MEPs, composed of the regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Bourgogne, Franche-Comté, Lorraine and Alsace), Sud-Ouest (10 MEPs, composed of the regions of Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon), Sud-Est (13 MEPs, composed of the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and Corsica), Massif central-Centre (5 MEPs, composed of the regions of Centre, Limousin and Auvergne), Île-de-France (15 MEPs, composed of the region of Île-de-France and French citizens resident abroad) and Outre-Mer (3 MEPs, composed of all overseas regions and collectivities). The Outre-Mer constituency is further subdivided in three ‘sections’ with one seat each: Atlantic (Guadeloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon), Indian Ocean (Mayotte, La Réunion) and Pacific (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis-et-Futuna). The constituency’s three MEPs are allocated at the constituency-wide level, but the names of the MEPs to be elected for each list are determined by the results of their list in the sections. For example, a party which won one seat in the constituency and polled highest in the Pacific section would see the list’s Pacific section candidate elected.

From 1979 until 2004, French MEPs were elected in a single national constituency using proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The new electoral system was adopted by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2003, with the stated aim of fighting decreasing turnout and increasing ties between citizens and local MEPs. Smaller parties, which have been the losers of the new system, have supported the re-creation a single national constituency. In 2013, deputies from the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small centre-left party allied to President François Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS), tabled a bill to re-create a single national constituency. While the idea was supported by all small parties – from the FN to the Left Front (FG) – it died in first reading because both the PS and the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the main right-wing party, opposed it. However, in 2010, when the PS was in opposition, its senators had supported a bill to create a national constituency.

There has been a near-consistent decline in turnout in EP elections in France, like in most European countries, since the first elections in 1979. In 2009, turnout reached a record low of 40.6%, while thirty years prior, turnout in the first EP election was 60.7%. Like in other EU countries, EP elections in France have usually been seen as midterm elections fought around national political issues, often with the aim of punishing an incumbent government.

In European elections, the system of proportional representation (since 2003, the EP elections are the only French national elections fought under a pure PR system) and the low stakes of the election have led many of those who did vote to vote for smaller parties or protest parties rather than their traditional parties. As such, past EP elections have seen the success of a number of ‘small’ parties, results which were not replicated in subsequent high stakes national elections.

On the right, a lot of voters who backed the traditional mainstream right in national elections have voted for conservative Eurosceptic (non-FN) parties – the UDF dissident Majorité pour l’autre Europe list led by Philippe de Villiers in 1994 (12.3%), the Charles Pasqua-Philippe de Villiers alliance in 1999 (13.1%, placing second ahead of the mainstream RPR list led by Nicolas Sarkozy) or de Villiers’ Movement for France (MPF) in 2004 and 2009. These successes for Eurosceptic conservatives outside the mainstream parties of the right (Jacques Chirac’s neo-Gaullist RPR and the centre-right alliance UDF) failed to be replicated in the next presidential elections. In 1995, fresh from his success in the EP elections and having launched his own party (the MPF), Philippe de Villiers’ presidential candidacy won only 4.7%. In 2002, Charles Pasqua (a former leader of the hard-right and Eurosceptic wing of the RPR, who broke with Chirac in 1990) failed to win the signatures necessary to run for President (his alliance with de Villiers having already fallen apart, two years earlier).

Before 2004, other lists from the right have enjoyed some success as well. In 1989, a Christian democratic (CDS) list ran independently of the UDF, led by Simone Veil and the rénovateurs - a group of twelve young ambitious politicians from the RPR and UDF (including big names such as François Fillon, François Bayrou, Michel Barnier, Bernard Bosson, Philippe de Villiers, Jean-Louis Borloo etc…) who challenged the old guard’s (Jacques Chirac, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Raymond Barre) hold on the RPR-UDF machines after the 1988 defeat. It won 8.4%, a result which was disappointing at the time and led to the early demise of the rénovateurs challenge. Between 1989 and 1999, a right-wing rural hunters’ party (Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Traditions – CPNT) won significant support, culminating at 6.8% and the election of 6 MEPs in 1999. CPNT appealed to a very rural and culturally conservative electorate largely made up of hunters, largely but certainly not exclusively right-leaning in presidential elections (the far-right has won a large share of the CPNT vote, especially in the Somme estuary, CPNT’s strongest region).

On the left, the Greens have seen their support in EP elections fluctuate fairly dramatically, but they achieved very strong results in 1989 (10.6%), 1999 (9.7%) and of course 2009 (16.3%). In general, Green support in French EP elections have followed zig-zag patterns. In 1994, the Greens – divided between two lists (one by the Greens, the other by Génération écologie) – lost all their MEPs due to the deep infighting in the green movement after their underwhelming result in the 1993 elections and the questions over political alliances. In 2004, the Greens fell back to 7.4% and lost 3 seats, hurt by the new electoral system and the decision of their 1999 top candidate – Daniel Cohn-Bendit – to run in Germany instead.

The far-left has usually had limited success in EP elections, given that the French far-left usually does better in more personalized presidential elections provided that they have a telegenic and amiable face. However, in 1999, a common list between the two ‘fraternal enemies’ of the far-left (the traditional Trotskyist Workers’ Struggle, LO and the more May ’68-New Left Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) won 5.2% and 5 MEPs. In 2004, the LO-LCR common list collapsed to 2.6%. In 2009, the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) – the reformed LCR under Olivier Besancenot – won 4.9% but no seats; the NPA’s poor showing and the end of a brief popularity upsurge for Besancenot around that same time led to the NPA’s premature death.

The far-right FN has a mixed record in European elections. The party’s first national breakthrough came in the 1984 EP election, when the FN emerged from near-total obscurity to win a remarkable 11% of the vote – just a few points behind the Communists, whose support fell from 20.5% in 1979 to only 11.2% in 1984. In the 1980s, the FN’s support in EP elections (1989: 11.7%) was fairly close to its support in national elections – especially legislative elections (10% in 1986 and 1988). In 1994, however, the FN won ‘only’ 10.5% of the vote, while Le Pen took 15% in the 1995 presidential election. In the 1999 EP election, held in the wake of the painful and debilitating split between Jean-Marie Le Pen and his former ally Bruno Mégret in December 1998, the FN list won only 5.7% of the vote (and Mégret’s MNR list won 3.3%, falling short of the threshold in what would be the MNR’s best result before a slow death). However, only three years later, Le Pen famously qualified for the presidential runoff in 2002, taking 16.9% of the vote in the first round. In 1999, besides the split, a lot of FN supporters had also sat out the election – demotivated by the split on the far-right, they lost a major motivator to vote in an election which most ultimately cared or knew little about. In 2004, the FN increased its support to 9.8%, although that result too remained weak in comparison to the FN’s results in the 2004 regional elections held just a few months earlier. In 2009, the FN’s vote fell to 6.3% and the party saved just three MEPs. In 2007, Le Pen had been crippled by Nicolas Sarkozy’s candidacy, who stole first round FN supporters and left the FN in a chaotic and disorganized state. In 2009, the FN was still at a weak point: the leadership handover from the patriarch to his daughter would take place in 2011, Sarkozy’s popularity had declined but retained some degree of goodwill from far-right supporters, and the record-high abstention penalized the FN.

In contrast, the traditional forces of the left and right – the PS and RPR-UDF/UMP – have not done well in a lot of EP elections. In 1984, Lionel Jospin’s PS list suffered from the unpopularity of President François Mitterrand and won only 20.8%. In 1994, the PS list led by former Prime Minister Michel Rocard won a terrible 14.5%, putting an early end to Rocard’s presidential ambitions. Rocard faced the open enmity of his eternal enemy, President François Mitterrand, who offered a very thinly-veiled endorsement to controversial businessman and ephemeral politician Bernard Tapie’s Énergie radicale list, which ended up taking a remarkable 12%. In 1999, after Philippe Séguin withdrew his name due to Chirac’s weak support of his leadership and candidacy, the RPR-DL (Démocratie libérale, the split of the right-wing liberal wing of the UDF, led by Alain Madelin) list led by Sarkozy and Madelin fell to third place with only 12.8% against 13.1% for the Pasqua-Villiers list. In 2004, Chirac’s UMP was dragged deep down by his unpopularity, and won only 16.6% against 28.9% for the PS. In 2009, while the UMP did quite ‘well’ for a governing party in an EP election (27.9%), the PS won only 16.5%, saving second place by a hair against the Greens (Europe Écologie). The PS had been severely weakened by the leadership chaos and infighting at the Reims Congress in late 2008 (the infamous Martine Aubry-Ségolène Royal contest) and its subsequent difficulty at being a credible opposition.

The Communist Party (PCF) fell from low to low in EP elections between 1979 and 2009 – falling from 20.5% in 1979 to 5.9% in 2004, with nothing seemingly able to shift the tide – in 1999, for example, PCF leader Robert Hue’s Bouge l’Europe! list had expanded to social movements and non-communist leftist activists, but its support still fell from 1994. Only the creation of the Left Front (FG), in which the PCF added the institutional and grassroots structures to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s new Left Party (PG), shifted the tide somewhat. In 2009, the FG lists- with Mélenchon leading the list in the Southwest constituency – received 6.5%, which was far from spectacular but nevertheless allowed them five instead of three MEPs (in both 2004 and 2009, one MEP came from the Reunionese Communists).

Political context

These EP elections came only two months after municipal elections in March 2014 and come as President François Hollande has completed his first two years in office.

Hollande is now the most unpopular President in the history of the French Fifth Republic. Almost every single pollster which regularly measures the popularity of the President and Prime Minister have his approval rating below 20%. Ifop’s June 2014 barometer showed his approval rating at 18%, with 81% disapproving. Ipsos showed his approval rating at 19% in May 2014. TNS-Sofres has Hollande even lower: only 16% expressed ‘confidence’ in the President, with 81% expressing no confidence in him.

The results of the municipal elections in March, which I covered in very extensive detail here and here, were a bloodbath for the left, which had not expected such a phenomenal defeat. The right now controls 63.3% of all municipalities with over 30,000 inhabitants while the left holds only 35.5% – before the election, the left held 57.9% of these same municipalities. The right gained a number of large cities and towns from the left (Toulouse, Reims, Saint-Étienne, Angers, Limoges, Tours, Amiens, Caen, Argenteuil, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Pau, Ajaccio, Quimper, Valence, Chambéry, La Roche-sur-Yon and Belfort among hundreds), while the left only gained two towns from the right (Avignon and Douai). Slightly mitigating the intensity of the defeat, the PS managed to hold Paris and Lyon – two cities which the left had gained from the right in 2001. In Marseille, however, the PS, which was initially optimistic about its chances of gaining the city from the right, ended up a very distant second, tied with the far-right FN in the municipal council (after having placed third behind the FN in the first round) and losing three of the four municipal sectors it controlled prior to the election. The 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. Overall, the FN and similar far-right parties/candidate won 13 towns in France – with a major symbolic first round victory in Hénin-Beaumont, the depressed northern mining basin town which has been FN leader Marine Le Pen’s political base since 2007. The FN had strong results in these municipal elections, with results in a number of communes being higher than Marine Le Pen’s 2012 presidential result (a high-water mark for the FN) while the FN made strong gains in some places between both rounds (indicating the party’s ability to attract additional supporters in a runoff); however, the results also showed that there remains a clear limit to the FN’s growth. For example, all the FN’s victories in the second round except in one town came triangulaires/quadrangulaires – three or four-way runoffs in which the FN won with less than 50% of the vote and in other cities targeted by the FN, putative ‘republican fronts’ were actually successful at blocking the FN from winning the city hall.

Hollande’s unpopularity is largely due to the economic crisis, which has been fairly severe and difficult in France. Unemployment was 10.1% in the first trimester of 2014, which is up from around 9.5% when Hollande took office – although the current increase in unemployment began in 2011, under Sarkozy’s presidency. However, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the increase in unemployment when he took office in 2012, and it’s clear that on that commitment, the government has failed badly. In September 2012, for example, Hollande had promised to ‘reverse’ the trend within a year, and despite all indications to the contrary, the government and the President reiterated that promise for the first half of 2013, until September 2013 when it was clear that unemployment would not fall. Over 3.3 million people are unemployed, using the narrowest definition, up from 2.9 million in May 2012. Since then, the government has shifted its rhetorical techniques to emphasize a ‘stabilization’ of unemployment and watering down, delaying the reduction of unemployment. Economic growth has been flat or in recession since Hollande took office two years ago, with 0.3% growth in 2013 and 0% growth in the first trimester of 2014. The debt and deficit situation of the country is hardly better, and the government’s performance on those issues has been poor. Hollande failed to keep his electoral promise of reducing the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2013, but with weak growth, the budget deficit in 2013 was finally 4.2% of GDP – even breaking the government’s second target (3.7%). Now, the government insists that it will meet the EU Commission’s deadline to reduce the deficit to 3% in 2015, but already the Commission has projected that the deficit will be 3.8% in 2014 and 3.7% in 2015 (although the government’s numbers project a 2.8% deficit in 2015). While it would be unfair to blame Hollande for the entirety of the mess which France is in, the government has a large share of the responsibility in the worsening of the economic situation since 2012.

Under Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s often chaotic, cacophonic and incoherent cabinet, the government was often like a deer in the headlights – powerless, lost and incompetent in its handling of the economy. The policies adopted by the government to address unemployment, growth and the budget have all been inadequate and criticized on both the right and the left. For the right – but also a large majority of French voters – their main issue with Hollande’s economic policies have been the tax increases. 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% (to finance a €20 billion tax credit to employers to reduce unit labour costs), the intermediate rate from 7% to 10% and maintained the reduced rate at 5.5% (despite previously promising to bring it down to 5%). Although the government announced in early 2013 that there would no tax increases in 2013, it was quickly forced to backtrack and announce ‘small’ tax increases in 2014 and talk of ‘tax cuts’ after 2016.

In 2012, Hollande’s manifesto was filled with flowery but ultimately meaningless blabber about ‘growth’ and opposition to austerity policies. In power, Hollande has continued austerity policies – consisting of tax increases, spending cuts and public sector job cuts – which had begun under Sarkozy (although, in the French tradition, austerity is disguised as ‘efforts’). Hollande approved the European Fiscal Compact without any substantial changes, despite having pledged to renegotiate it. The pledge for Eurobonds has been buried, the government gave up a promise to legislate on ‘excessive pay’ in the private sector and Hollande’s ambitious promises to deepen European/Eurozone political integration have been abandoned. The Constitutional Council forced him to scrap his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over €1 million. The government reframed the 75% tax a temporary tax to be paid by employers on salaries over €1 million.

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 €30 billion in cuts to payroll taxes) in exchange for very vaguely defined (and probably minimal) 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.

Following the municipal elections, Hollande fired Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was seen as weak, indecisive, lacking authority and had been very effaced compared to the President. Manuel Valls, the popular Minister of the Interior under Ayrault, replaced him as Prime Minister. Valls, a fairly young Catalan-born ambitious politician perceived as being on the PS’ right, who, as interior minister, often ranked as one of the government’s most popular members because of his hardline policy on criminality and immigration. Although Valls himself had previously decried the Sarkozy administration’s controversial immigration policies, he effectively continued them – deporting undocumented migrants and dismantling Roma encampments. Valls ran into several controversies while he was interior minister, but none of them really hurt him. Last fall, he said that 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. 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 to Matignon as Prime Minister was, from the looks of it thus far, an attempt for Hollande to divest himself of some domestic political responsibilities and lay low for a while. The initial reaction from the opposition – left and right – was negative. The left, especially the left outside of the PS, is very critical and suspicious of Valls, who has a strong reputation as a ‘maverick’ and iconoclast challenging the left’s dogma, for example on the sanctity of the 35-hour work week introduced by Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government (1997-2002). The Greens (EELV, Europe Écologie-Les Verts), who had sat in the Ayrault government, faced a major test of credibility with Valls’ nomination and the issue of their continued participation in government. Already under Ayrault, EELV had been displeased with several of the government’s decisions, notably the unceremonious dismissal of the environment minister (Delphine Batho) who had lamented budget cuts at her ministry, and a left-wing anti-government minority within EELV challenged the pro-government leadership of the party at EELV’s federal congress in October 2013. With regards to valls, former EELV leader and housing minister Cécile Duflot had decried Valls’ comments on the Roma, and after his nomination to Matignon, EELV’s two ministers (including Duflot) announced that they would not join a Valls cabinet. Valls met with EELV and proposed the creation of large environment ministry, 3 portfolios and a dose of proportional representation, but EELV voted against participation in the Valls government. However, on April 8, 10 of EELV’s 17 deputies voted in favour of the government on the initial vote of confidence in the National Assembly.

Valls’ government included Ségolène Royal, the PS’ 2007 presidential candidate and François Hollande’s former girlfriend (and mother of their four children), as Minister of the Environment. To reassure the left, two of the Ayrault government’s members from the PS’ left, Benoît Hamon and Arnaud Montebourg, received promotions to Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research and Minister of the Economy respectively. Neither had been particularly impressive, especially Montebourg, ever the flamboyant one, in Ayrault’s government. 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 has continued his anti-austerity posturing, as he had in the old government, but he has been fairly quiet (uncommon coming from him) thus far.

In his speech to the National Assembly, Valls largely recycled existing pledges and promises made by Hollande – most notably confirming the pacte de responsabilité. On that topic, Valls announced several specific initiatives: removing employer contributions on minimum wage jobs, reducing employer contributions on low-wage jobs, reducing employee contributions and reducing the corporate tax by 2020. In mid-April 2014, Valls detailed the government’s plan to ‘save’ €50 million. The government called for €18 million in ‘savings’ from the state budget, €11 million from local governments, €10 million from health insurance and €11 million from other social security benefits. ‘Savings’ included a freeze in social security benefits, a deferment in the increase of several welfare benefits (including the RSA, a minimum income for unemployed, underemployed or low-wage workers) and a continued freeze of the ‘indexation point’ (used to calculate civil servants’ wages) until 2017 (the indexation point has not increased since 2010). The latter means that, with inflation and no concomitant increase in the base for calculating public sector pay, civil servants will suffer not only a pay freeze but a net loss in salary.

The €50 million savings plan, effectively an austerity program in all but name, was very controversial and provoked strong negative reactions from the PS’ left, which had already been suspicious of Valls’ intentions. The austerity plan was approved by the National Assembly on April 29, with 265 votes in favour, 232 against and 67 abstentions. What was historic, however, was the abstention of no less than 41 deputies of the Socialist group (SRC), the bulk of them from the PS’ left. 11 PS deputies, from the left of the party, had abstained on the vote of confidence in early April. On the austerity program, there were now 41 frondeurs within the ranks of the governing party. Only 3 green deputies voted in favour, with 12 of them voting against. The predominantly Communist GDR group voted against, while the centre-right UDI group largely abstained while only the Left Radicals (PRG) – very close allies and junior coalition partners of the PS – voted in favour.

Valls also announced plans to reduce the number of regions in metropolitan France from 22 to 14, abolishing general/departmental councils by 2021 (despite the fact that he had re-created them himself, as interior minister!) and abolishing the general power of competence (which was abolished by Sarkozy in 2010, re-instated by Valls in 2013…). Hollande presented a draft map of France’s 14 new regions, which the government (but no-one else) insists will result in cost savings, efficiency and competitive regions. The regional reform and the new map (which reduces regions by merging existing ones, instead of re-drawing new ones) has been poorly received.

French voters have been surprisingly kind on Valls so far, although the popularity trend is already looking south. His approval ranges between a high of 52% (in the latest Ifop, BVA) and 39% (CSA); in all cases, his popularity is declining, slowly but surely. Hollande has seen no improvement in his popularity since March, although he has hit a floor of 16-20% approval. At this point, a lot of voters have lost all faith in Hollande (or his policies) and that practically anything he says or does has no effect on his popularity. He has lost so much credibility that it would take a miraculous and huge improvement in the economy for Hollande’s popularity numbers to look north again. The situation for the PS is so bad that Hollande himself has already openly said that he may not seek reelection if unemployment does not decline before 2017.

The government has been further dragged down by a plethora of other issues: broken promises, promises delayed indefinitely (assisted reproductive technologies, law on families), corruption scandals (the Jérôme Cahuzac, the then-budget minister, and his secret offshore account in Switzerland), crises (the manif pour tous against same-sex marriage and adoption, the Leonarda affair).

Parties and lists

FG campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

FG campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

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. The municipal elections opened up very public and damaging divisions between Mélenchon’s small Left Party (PG), which is firmly anti-PS and the Communists (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. The FG is a contradictory alliance of people with similar ideologies but differing strategies. The PCF latched on to Mélenchon’s charisma and relative appeal to a left-wing electorate, and it initially served the PCF well in the 2012 presidential election. However, after the FG (PCF)’s unexpectedly horrendous performance in the 2012 legislative elections, there was some reticence within the PCF towards Mélenchon’s radical and dogmatic opposition to any kind of cooperation with the PS in elections. In the 2014 municipal elections, the PCF chose to ally by the first round with PS lists in major cities such as Paris, Toulouse, Rennes, Grenoble, Tours and Rouen. Mélenchon’s Left Party (PG) is largely an empty shell and, with the departure of Marc Dolez (the PG’s only deputy), Mélenchon is the only one in the PG who is actually elected to some kind of parliamentary institution (the EP). Given that it has nothing to lose from doing so, the PG has followed a strategy of total independence from the PS, refusing any first round alliances with the PS. In municipalities where the PCF allied with the PS in the first round of the local elections, the PG ran independent lists of its own, often alongside other components of the FG (Ensemble, a new movement uniting various small parties – old and new – ranging from dissident ‘reformist’ communists to dissident factions of the NPA which left the dogmatic far-left microparty disagreeing with its anti-FG stances). These PG lists did fairly poorly, although in Grenoble, where the PG allied with EELV against a PS-PCF list, the EELV-led list was victorious in the second round against the PS list backed by the retiring PS mayor.

The FG managed to hold together for the EP elections; although Gauche unitaire, an old far-left movement which emerged from a pro-FG faction of the old LCR (now NPA) in 2009, decided not to participate on FG lists. The FG was defending four incumbent MEPs in metropolitan France, in addition to one MEP from the Overseas constituency (Younous Omarjee, who replaced Reunionese Communist MEP Élie Hoarau in 2012).The FG incumbents were Patrick Le Hyaric (PCF-Île-de-France), the current director of the communist daily L’Humanité; Marie-Christine Vergiat (independent-Southeast), an independent left-wing activist; Jacky Hénin (PCF-Northwest), the former PCF mayor of Calais (2000-2008) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (PG-Southwest). Mélenchon has been one of the least active MEPs, participating in only 71% of roll-call votes. The PG held the top candidacy in the East and Centre, while former NPA spokesperson Myriam Martin (who joined the FG in 2012) led the list in the West. In the Overseas constituency, the FG supported the ‘Union for the Overseas’ list led by incumbent PCR MEP Younous Omarjee and supported by the Martinican Progressive Party (PPM), the largest party in the regional and general councils of Martinique. The FG campaigned against austerity (with the clear target being the French government, rather than the EU), for higher wages, against the proposed Transatlantic free trade agreement with the US and against NATO.

On the far-left, which is as divided as ever but also weaker than ever, there was no agreement on common lists between the NPA and Workers’ Struggle (Lutte ouvrière, LO) nor was such an hypothesis ever realistic. LO, led by the party’s leader and public face Nathalie Arthaud (candidate in Île-de-France) had lists in every region, including the Overseas. The NPA, which is increasingly divided, ran only 5 lists.

PS-PRG campaign literature in the Île-de-France constituency (own picture)

PS-PRG campaign literature in the Île-de-France constituency (own picture)

The Socialist Party (PS) had already performed very poorly in 2009, and was not expected to perform much better in 2014 given Hollande’s massive unpopularity. The only question, especially after the PS’ defeat in the municipal elections in March, was whether or not the PS would perform better or worse than its 2009 result (16.48%). At the end of the EP term, the PS was left with 12 MEPs (it had elected 13 in 2009). The PS formed common lists with the Left Radical Party (PRG), a small party ostensibly following in the radical-socialist (social liberal, pro-European) tradition but in reality known solely as being an annex of the PS. The PRG had not participated in 2009 and ran a few lists independent of the PS, with very weak results, in 2004. The PS’ top candidates were: incumbent MEP Gilles Pargneaux, an ally of Lille mayor Martine Aubry (Northwest); incumbent MEP Isabelle Thomas from the party’s left (West; Emmanuel Maurel, a regional councillor also on the left of the PS, was second); Édouard Martin, a CFDT trade unionist active in social movements against the closing of the last blast furnaces in Lorraine (East; Catherine Trautmann, a two-term MEP and former mayor of Strasbourg, was second on the list); Jean-Paul Denanot, the president of the regional council of the Limousin since 2004 (Massif central-Centre); Virginie Rozière, a little-known PRG member and deputy director of cabinet to Sylvia Pinel, a PRG cabinet minister (Southwest); former MEP Vincent Peillon, the former education minister who was not kept in the new Valls cabinet because of an unpopular education reform (Southeast); four-term MEP Pervenche Berès (Île-de-France) and Joseph-Louis Manscour, a former Martinican PS deputy (Overseas; Marie-Claude Tjibaou, the widow of assassinated New Caledonian Kanak nationalist leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, was the lead candidate for the Pacific section). Harlem Désir, an incumbent MEP and secretary-general of the PS from 2012 until March 2014, was due to run for reelection as the PS’ top candidate in Île-de-France, but after the PS defeat in the local elections (for which he was held responsible by many Socialists), he was quietly fired from the party leadership and became Secretary of State for European Affairs – even if some of his EP colleagues judged him to be a completely useless and inactive MEP.

Unsurprisingly, the PS’ campaign literature made no mention of the government and only included very small PS and PRG logos (all PS lists were named Choisir notre Europe - choosing our Europe). Instead, they very much emphasized Martin Schulz, the PES candidate for president of the Commission. Quite disingenuously (and dishonestly), the PS campaign attacked austerity policies and ‘social dumping’, calling for pro-growth job policies, fair trade and a tax on financial transactions (an issue which the PS government seems to have forgotten about). No mention was made, of course, that the Valls government is effectively carrying out austerity policies (although it denies it) rather than ‘growth-oriented’ policies.

There was a new movement/party on the left contesting the EP elections: Nouvelle Donne, or New Deal, a party founded in November 2013 by Pierre Larrouturou, a longtime but little-known activist on the left (who has come and gone from the PS several times) who has embraced causes such as a four-day workweek or, these days, an interventionist economic policy modeled on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies in the US. The party was joined by EELV deputy Isabelle Attard, EELV MEP Malika Benarab-Attou and PS MEP Françoise Castex. The party’s campaign was fairly Eurosceptic or EU-critical, attacking the EU from a left-wing angle – austerity policies, ‘fiscal dumping’, the need for a ‘social treaty’ and the democratic deficit (no new treaty without a referendum). It called for a €1,000 billion pact to save the climate, fighting layoffs and renegotiating working hours. Pierre Larrouturou, who is a regional councillor (elected for EELV, when he briefly joined that party between 2009 and 2012), was top candidate in Île-de-France.

Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) had nowhere else to go but down after the record-breaking and shocking performance by the Greens (Europe Écologie coalition) in the 2009 EP elections (16.28%). The 2009 success was the result of a perfect storm for EE: a divided and chaotic PS a few months after the Reims Congress, and the green movement’s remarkable ability to temporarily overcome the factional and strategic divisions which had weakened it for so long. EE was a coalition which extended from traditional Green politicians to non-partisan environmentalist activists in NGOs and anti-globalization movements – uniting people like José Bové, the peasant leader and anti-globalization leader; political newcomers from civil society like Eva Joly (the Norwegian-born magistrate, who went on to become EELV’s 2012 presidential candidate), Sandrine Bélier and Yannick Jadot and regionalist allies like François Alfonsi (from the PNC – Partitu di a Nazione Corsa, a moderate nationalist party from Corsica). The candidacy of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who had already led the French Greens’ list in 1999 but had run for the German Greens in 2004, also provided a charismatic and well-known leader to the movement. Some in the media have also speculated that the airing of Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s movie Home (on global biodiversity and environmental destruction) days before the vote may explain the very late surge for EE, undetected by most pollsters at the time. Although EE’s success prompted The Greens to transform the party into EELV in 2010, aiming to attract new members and activists who had not been members of the old green party, since 2009, the party’s star has faded. In 2012, after a very mediocre campaign, Eva Joly won only 2.3% of the presidential vote. In the legislative elections, EELV only elected 18 deputies thanks to an electoral alliance sealed with a magnanimous PS. In the Ayrault government, in which EELV had two minister (Cécile Duflot as housing minister and Pascal Canfin as junior minister for international development), the party faced internal and external criticism for largely bowing down to the PS and largely accepting several policies which they privately disagreed with. In 2013, there was major internal pressure within the party for it to leave the government or at least take a more assertive stance. Pascal Durand, the national secretary of EELV, was forced to retire after launching an ‘ultimatum’ to the government. At EELV’s federal congress in October 2013, a left-wing anti-government minority faction won about 40%. Several prominent members of EELV have since left the party: Cohn-Bendit in late 2012, and Noël Mamère in September 2013.

EELV campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

EELV campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

The EELV top candidates were: Karima Delli, a young MEP of Algerian descent (originally from the poor textile town of Tourcoing in the Nord) elected in Île-de-France in 2009 but running in the Northwest; Yannick Jadot, an incumbent MEP and former Greenpeace member (West); incumbent MEP Sandrine Bélier (East; Antoine Waechter, the old leader of the Independent Ecologist Movement, MEI, was ranked in second); Clarisse Heusquin (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MEP José Bové, the famous anti-globalization peasant leader (Southwest); incumbent MEP Michèle Rivasi, also a former Green deputy (1997-2002) (Southeast; incumbent MEP Karim Zéribi, a former Socialist, was second) and Pascal Durand (Île-de-France; Eva Joly was second). EELV also had a list in the Overseas. EELV supports a federal Europe, and its campaign focused on environmental priorities, promoting democracy, reducing the ‘power of the market’ (it opposes the FTA with the US) and ‘changing economic models’.

EELV lost the support of its minor regionalist partners, the Régions et peuples solidaires (R&PS) – an alliance of left-leaning autonomist parties from several regions (Brittany’s Breton Democratic Union, Corsica’s PNC, the Partit occitan, Basque and Catalan nationalists, the Mouvement région Savoie) affiliated with the EFA. R&PS ran lists in 6 regions (all except the East and Northwest), the most important being a Corsican one led by incumbent PNC MEP François Alfonsi in the Southeast, the Breton Democratic Union (Union démocratique bretonne / Unvaniezh Demokratel Breizh, UDB) list led by regional councillor Christian Guyonvarc’h in the West, a Basque list led by Jean Tellechea from the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNB) and an Overseas list led by incumbent EELV MEP Jean-Jacob Bicep. In the West, there was also a strong regionalist led led by Christian Troadec, the popular Breton nationalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) who was a key leader in the 2013 bonnets rouges protests against the application of the écotaxe, a proposed tax on heavy goods vehicles. Troadec’s list – Nous te ferons Europe ! - was backed by Troadec’s local left-wing Mouvement Bretagne et progrès and the moderate nationalist Breton Party (Strollad Breizh).

UDI-MoDem campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

UDI-MoDem campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

In the centre, François Bayrou’s Democratic Movement (MoDem) formed common lists with the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI).

The UDI, created in late 2012, is an alliance of several small centre-right pro-European parties which were allied with the UMP during Sarkozy’s presidency and continue to be closely identified with the UMP-led parliamentary right. The UDI included Jean-Louis Borloo’s Radical Party (PR, social liberal and pro-European), Senator Jean Arthuis’ Centrist Alliance (AC, largely an empty shell in the centrist tradition of partis de notables), the New Centre (NC, the original pro-Sarkozy dissidents from Bayrou’s UDF in 2007, which has a strong base of elected officials but little independent electoral support), the European Democratic Force (FED, founded by Jean-Christophe Lagarde and other anti-Hervé Morin dissidents of the NC in 2012), the Modern Left (LGM, a social liberal party founded by Jean-Marie Bockel, a Blairite ex-Socialist who joined the Fillon government in 2007), Territories in Movement (TEM, the personal machine of Jean-Christophe Fromantin, the maverick right-wing deputy and mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine), the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD, a tiny libertarian/right-wing liberal party), GayLib (the former gay rights lobby within the UMP) and two tiny shells. The UDI is often seen as a recreation of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), which was one of the two major components of the right-wing bloc in French politics between 1978 and 2002, and which was originally an alliance of several ideological families of the traditional non-Gaullist right (liberals, Christian democrats in the MRP tradition, anti-Programme Commun right-wing social democrats and the Radicals). The UDI won the support of former members of the UDF who had joined the UMP in 2002, like Pierre Méhaignerie or Louis Giscard d’Estaing (the son of the former President, who also supports the UDI). The UDI has a strong parliamentary caucus, with 28 deputies and 30 senators, but the party suffers – like a lot of non-Gaullist centre-right movements before it in French politics – from the lack of a strong leader in France’s presidential-centric system and the absence of a reliable electoral base. Jean-Louis Borloo, the UDI’s leader and one of its most most popular and well-known figures, has retired from politics for health reasons and the initial reaction was that his retirement will badly hurt the UDI. There are, nevertheless, a few other talented or promising politicians within the UDI.

The MoDem was crushed in the 2012 legislative elections, which followed Bayrou’s mediocre performance in the presidential race. Although Bayrou had personally endorsed Hollande in the 2012 runoff, since 2012, the party has generally moved towards the right-wing opposition. In the 2014 municipal elections, the MoDem supported the right (UMP-UDI) by the first round in a number of major cities including Paris, in return for the UMP begrudgingly endorsing Bayrou’s ultimately successful bid for mayor of Pau. Relations between the MoDem and the UDI (or its component parties prior to 2012) have generally been fairly acrimonious, but there has been a clear thaw since 2012. The alliance for the EP elections served both parties’ strategic objective: for the MoDem, to retain its base in the EP and prominence in French politics; for the UDI, a tailor-made opportunity for the party to prove that it is not a mere annex of the UMP and that it can run without UMP if it wishes too (a strategy the UDI tried in some towns, notably Caen, Strasbourg and Rouen in the locals). In 2009, the Radicals (which were still an affiliate of the UMP) had elected 4 MEPs, the NC 3 MEPs and the Modern Left 2 MEPs running on the UMP’s Presidential Majority lists.

The UDI-MoDem lists – known as L’Alternative or Les Européens – were led by: incumbent Radical MEP Dominique Riquet, a close ally of Borloo in Valenciennes (Northwest); Mayenne Senator Jean Arthuis from the AC (West); incumbent MoDem MEP Nathalie Griesbeck (East); incumbent FED MEP Sophie Auconie (Massif central-Centre); incumbent MoDem MEP Robert Rochefort (Southwest); incumbent MoDem MEP Sylvie Goulard (Southeast, elected in the West in 2009); incumbent MoDem MEP Marielle de Sarnez (Île-de-France, with incumbent UDI MEP Jean-Marie Cavada in second) and a list in the Overseas. The UDI and MoDem are two parties which come a very pro-European (federalist) tradition in French politics, and it ran a pro-European campaign although it did not use the word ‘federal’ unlike EELV. It called on the EU to strengthen and concentrate its powers in industrial policy, infrastructure, social and fiscal harmonization, small businesses, protection of European industry, foreign policy and a coherent immigration policy and border police. It also called on a more democratic EU, with a directly-elected European president and more direct democracy.

Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister under Chirac (1995-1997) and a centre-right green who ran for president in 2002 as candidate of her ‘blue green’ party (Cap21), had been elected MEP on a MoDem list in 2009, but Cap21 left the party a year later and Lepage unsuccessfully tried to run for President in 2012. She ran for reelection atop her own new lists – Europe Citoyenne – with Lepage as the movement’s candidate in Île-de-France. It claimed to be a non-political movement of normal citizens, emphasizing ethics and the creation of a ‘heart’ of the EU with 6-10 members acting as the lead forces for the EU.

Denis Payre, a businessman, launched an ‘independent citizens’ movement, Nous Citoyens (We citizens) in late 2013. With lists in all metropolitan constituencies, the list, despite being fairly vague on specifics and claiming to be ‘independent’ (with lists of non-politicians) leaned towards the liberal centre-right with pro-European positions.

UMP campaign literature - IdF constituency (own picture)

UMP campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

The Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) is the main opposition party to the PS government, and it has led an uncompromising opposition to the government’s policies on nearly every front and has been very virulent in its criticism of what it describes as the ‘socialist state’. However, the UMP has done a fairly mediocre job in opposition and the party faces nearly as many crises as 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. Fillon’s supporters later 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 (creating an unwieldy and tense leadership, described by critics as a ‘Mexican army’). 

Copé suffered from a very acute image problem: he is extremely unpopular with voters (Ipsos’ monthly barometer in March 2014 showed him with a 70% disapproval rating, Fillon had a 49% disapproval – both men’s ratings took a hit from the 2012 congress and civil war). Copé was 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, was hardly inspiring stuff. 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 once complained about how a children’s book on nudity was destroying the youth; the UMP, at the same time, briefly went nuts 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 final EP election ‘unity rally’, Fillon only came in for his speech and left as soon as Copé took the stage.

Copé has also been mixed up in several scandals. In late February 2014, Le Point revealed that an events organization firm (Bygmalion) owned by two friends of Copé received €8 million in UMP funds for organizing events in the 2012 campaign.

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 (his singer/songwriter wife, Carla Bruni, wrote a song, Le pingouin, which was widely assumed to be referring – negatively – to 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. 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.

Sarkozy published an op-ed in the right-wing Le Figaro only days before the first round of the municipal elections in March 2014. He claimed, disingenuously, that he 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.

The UMP’s preparation for the EP elections was hindered by the difficult balancing act between the Copé and Fillon factions of the UMP, and the wranglings of the UMP’s small but vocal Eurosceptic (often from the party’s hard right) faction. Henri Guaino, a UMP deputy from the ‘social Gaullist’ tradition, said that he could not support the UMP list in his region because of its pro-EU top candidate; Juppé issued a thinly-veiled rebuke telling him to leave the party if he was unhappy. The UMP’s campaign concealed all ties it had with the EPP or Jean-Claude Juncker, the federalist candidate of the EPP. Instead, it explicitly targeted Hollande and ran on the terribly vague slogans of ‘a more efficient Europe’ and ‘a Europe which works’ – mixing support for the EU with pablum about ‘a stronger France’ in Europe. It opposed enlargement and Turkish membership, called for a reduction in immigration and a stronger Europe in international negotiations. In another Sarkozy op-ed right before the vote, the former President called to suspend the Schengen agreements and replace it with new agreements conditional on a common immigration policy and a Europe of co-existing identities. Oftentimes, however, the EU-critical rhetoric coming out of the UMP (and PS) is mostly for show: for example, of 40 UMP parliamentarians who signed an op-ed penned by Laurent Wauquiez and Henri Guaino (criticizing the current form of European integration, ‘excessive’ freedom of movement, austerity, social and fiscal dumping), only 8 of the 33 deputies who signed the op-ed actually voted against the European Fiscal Compact (17 UMP deputies in total had voted against, along with 20 SRC deputies) and two of them had voted against Lisbon at the time (5 UMP deputies in 2008 had voted against Lisbon, against 206 who voted for it). Therefore, when it comes to a vote, a lot of the UMP and PS deputies who criticize the EU will actually vote for the EU treaty or policy in question.

The UMP lists largely included incumbent MEPs or former deputies defeated in 2012 – confirming the old adage about the EP being a repository for failed or defeated politicians. In the Northwest, the UMP list was led by Jérôme Lavrilleux, a general councillor in the Aisne who served on the Sarkozy 2012 campaign and is a close ally of Copé, for whom he’s served as chief of cabinet since 2004. Tokia Saïfi, an ex-Radical filloniste MEP (elected since 1999), was second on the list. In the West, the list was headed by Alain Cadec, an incumbent MEP and general councillor (Côtes-d’Armor), followed by Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, an incumbent MEP and former president of the regional council of Poitou-Charentes (2002-2004, succeeded her ally Jean-Pierre Raffarin, lost reelection to Ségolène Royal in 2004). Marc Joulaud, the mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe – the former stronghold of François Fillon – who lost his bid to succeed his mentor (Fillon) as deputy in Fillon’s old constituency in 2012, was third on the UMP list. Nadine Morano, a fairly unpleasant loudmouth copéiste and former junior minister who lost her seat in the National Assembly in 2012, led the UMP list in the East; Arnaud Danjean, a filloniste incumbent MEP, followed her on the list. In the Massif central-Centre, the UMP was once again led by Brice Hortefeux (incumbent MEP), a close friend of Sarkozy and former cabinet minister (immigration, then labour and finally interior between 2007 and 2011). Jean-Pierre Audy, France’s most active MEP, was third on the list. In the Southwest, the UMP list was led by Michèle Alliot-Marie, a political veteran who’s served in cabinets under Chirac and Sarkozy (in portfolios such as defense, justice, interior and foreign affairs) who lost reelection in her constituency (first elected in 1988) in June 2012; as foreign minister, until February 2011, she had gotten into hot water for vacationing with friends of Ben Ali during the Tunisian Revolution. In the Southeast, the UMP was led by Renaud Muselier, another deputy defeated in 2012, who likely got his MEP gig in exchange for not getting Marseille city hall with his rival, the patriarch Jean-Claude Gaudin (the UMP mayor since 1995) opting to run for reelection. The UMP list in Île-de-France was led by Alain Lamassoure, a strongly pro-European MEP in the EP since 1999. Lamassoure’s political base, however, is in the Basque Country, and he was elected from the Southwest in 2004 and 2009. Incumbent MEP and the mayor of Paris’ 7th arrondissement Rachida Dati was second, with two other incumbent MEPs placing third and fourth on the UMP list. In the Overseas constituency, the UMP was represented by their incumbent MEP, Maurice Ponga, from New Caledonia – although Ponga’s local party, the Rassemblement-UMP, is no longer the official UMP affiliate in New Caledonia.

Christine Boutin, a political gadfly and former cabinet minister known for her very socially conservative positions (and other controversial positions for which she is often the target of ridicule) ran socially conservative pro-life and anti-gay marriage lists in all 8 constituencies – Force Vie. Boutin had been fairly close to the UMP between 2007 and 2009, and served in Fillon’s government until she got fired in 2009, at which point her small Christian Democratic Party (PCD) took its independence from the UMP and Boutin gradually shifted away from the UMP, although she endorsed Sarkozy in 2012 after failing to run herself and the PCD’s elected officials all won as UMP-endorsed candidates. Since the 2012 election, Boutin has left the leadership of the PCD and somewhat acted as a loose cannon and was a major leader in the 2013 manif pour tous against same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, Boutin – who is a bit nuts – claimed that homosexuality was an abomination; her name has stuck in popular memory in France for allegedly waving her Bible during a 1998 debate on civil unions (legalized by the left-wing government at the time) and she has faced controversy and ridicule for having married her first cousin. Christine Boutin led the Force Vie list in Île-de-France, with the PCD mayor of Montfermeil Xavier Lemoine in second position. In the Southwest, the top candidate was Jean-Claude Martinez, a former FN MEP (1989-2009) who left the FN in 2008 because he strongly opposed Marine Le Pen. The list’s platform focused on opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, but had more Christian-social positions on economic issues (‘social market economy’, a European basic income). On the EU, it opposed Schengen, Turkish membership, EU ‘deepening’ and called on the affirmation of ‘Christian roots’ of Europe and an ‘alliance of civilizations’ with Latin America.

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan is the leader of Debout la République (DLR, Arise the Republic), a small right-wing paleo-Gaullist and Eurosceptic party founded in 1999 and an independent party since it broke with the UMP in 2007. NDA won 1.8% in the 2012 presidential election, and DLR’s media profile is very low – stuck in between the UMP to its left and the FN to its right (it claims to be a non-extremist anti-EU party; something of a FN-lite or ‘bridge’ between the UMP and FN, comparable to UKIP, the uniqueness of Gaullism notwithstanding). NDA did not run in the EP elections (a symbolic 29th place on the DLR list in IdF notwithstanding), but DLR put up lists in all 8 regions. Only Dominique Jamet, a right-wing journalist/writer, who was DLR’s top candidate in Île-de-France (the only region where DLR could win a seat, with the lowest effective threshold at 6% according to DLR’s campaign lit). With a slogan of ‘neither system nor extreme’, DLR proposed to drain the EU of 80% of its powers, end Schengen, adopt French protectionist policies, limit the number foreign workers in France and reducing bureaucracy and welfare dependency in France. Unlike UKIP and some other Eurosceptic parties on the right, DLR’s economic positions are more statist – in the traditional Gaullist tradition of dirigisme.

FN campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

FN campaign literature, IdF constituency (own picture)

The one party expected to profit the most was the far-right National Front (FN). Marine 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.f

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).

The FN did quite well in the municipal elections, although they did confirm that there are clear limits to the FN’s growth. The majority of polls during the EP campaign showed the FN as the single largest party, maintaining a small but consistent lead over the UMP while a limping PS languished in third place. The FN’s campaign was relatively undisturbed by the obligatory last-minute racist provocation from the patriarch, who suggested that the ebola virus could solve the ‘demographic explosion’ in the world within three months. The FN’s electorate, still largely made up of malcontents and protest voters rather than dogmatic fascists or far-rightists, seems to have accepted Jean-Marie Le Pen’s continued presence in the party as a strategic necessity but downplaying his influence as that of a senile old man. Nevertheless, there is a thinly-veiled conflict between Marine and her father within the FN. Marine Le Pen has made real efforts to ‘clean up’ the party – expelling the neo-Nazi nutcases (Alexandre Gabriac, a vile skinhead elected to a regional council in 2010 on a FN list got kicked out in 2011 after publication of pictures showing him doing the Hitler salute to a Nazi flag), drawing closer to the European radical right and dropping ties with the extremists (although Bruno Gollnisch nevertheless attended the rally of the quasi-Nazi Jobbik party in Hungary) and polishing the party’s public image and rhetoric. She has also shifted the FN’s policy and its thematic focus – a greater focus on economic issues (where she has taken a statist and interventionist tone – with protectionism and the préférence nationale, and strongly anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal angle; a major break with the FN’s original radical economic liberalism of 1984) and refocusing the immigration rhetoric around the popular ‘republican value’ of laïcité (and nothing about the ‘Christian roots’ or Catholic traditionalism, as existed in the past; the FN no longer supports repatriating all immigrants). She has been backed in her shift by a ‘new guard’ of young, polished and somewhat technocratic figures – Florian Philippot (the ‘teacher’s pet'; a polished technocrat strongly attached to the dédiabolisation and moderation), Louis Aliot (Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend), Steeve Briois (the new FN mayor of Hénin-Beaumont and Marine Le Pen’s local right-hand man in her stronghold) and more minor FN cadres such as Nicolas Bay, David Rachline and Julien Sanchez. On the other hand, her father has become identified with a traditionalist wing, which is suspicious of excessive dédiabolisation - which it sees as unacceptable moderation which is causing the FN to lose its specificity – and is silently critical of Marine Le Pen for ‘abandoning’ traditional issues such as immigration, security and same-sex marriage (Marine Le Pen and Philippot did not participate in the manif pour tous, but Gollnisch and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen – the young granddaughter of Jean-Marie and Marine’s niece who is now one of two FN deputies – did march in it). At times, Jean-Marie Le Pen has even been publicly critical, in a thinly-veiled manner, of his daughter’s leadership and he is especially irked by the influence of her young ‘clique’ led by Aliot and Philippot. In this, Jean-Marie has been joined by Marion, who has emerged as a major rival of Marine and provided a young face to Jean-Marie’s ‘faction’.

FN campaign literature - inside with details of platform (own picture)

FN campaign literature – inside with details of platform (own picture)

In 2009, the FN had elected only three MEPs – Le Pen father and daughter and Gollnisch. The FN was not hurt by the fact that its three incumbents MEPs were quite inactive in the last EP, with low attendance records and limited participation in the daily and ‘unglamorous’ parliamentary activities; some in the media attempted to question them on their records, but they disingeniously claimed that the VoteWatch website was unreliable and biased (Mélenchon, another top inactive MEP, made a similar claim) or avoided the issue. Marine Le Pen refused to participate in a French TV debate with Martin Schulz, the PES candidate, likely because she would have been asked by the President of the EP why she was so inactive in her job. In the end, she had the last laugh…

This year, with polls showing them in the lead and therefore heading for a record 20+ seats, the composition of the FN lists beyond top candidates mattered a lot more. However, besides a fairly small elite of party cadres and elected officials in regional and municipal councils, the FN lacks the UMP or the PS’ grassroots bases across the country – so a lot of their candidates beyond the first two or so names tend to be quite anonymous (with the danger, as they saw in the locals, that these nobodies turn out to be hidden neo-Nazi cranks or racist fruitcakes). The law requiring the lists to alternate men and women to ensure gender parity also annoys the FN, a largely male-dominated party which has publicly ranted against the need for gender parity on lists.

In the Northwest, Marine Le Pen led the FN list, followed by Steeve Briois. Nicolas Bay, a former mégretiste turned young Marine protégé and politburo member, was fourth on the list. In the West, a weak region for the FN, the list was led by Gilles Lebreton, a law professor aligned with the small SIEL party (an ideologically quasi-identical party besides a Gaullist identity, aligned with Marine’s Rassemblement Bleu Marine broad front-thing). In the East, the FN list was led by Florian Philippot, who is trying (with very mixed results) to set up a base in the depressed old coal mining basin of Moselle (he ran for mayor of Forbach but lost to the PS incumbent in March, victim of a number of right-wing voters flocking to the PS in the runoff to block the FN). Jean-François Jalkh, a quiet party vice-president, was third on the list behind Sophie Montel, a regional councillor and FN leader in Franche-Comté. In the Massif central-Centre, the FN list was led by Bernard Monot, a libertarian economist. In the Southwest, it was Louis Aliot, styled the ‘prince consort’ by an irritated Jean-Marie Le Pen, who led the FN list. In the Southeast, the other major FN stronghold, the FN list was led by Jean-Marie Le Pen (who is the FN’s ‘boss’ in the PACA region), followed by party vice-president Marie-Christine Arnautu (an ally of Jean-Marie) and Bruno Gollnisch (elected in the East in 2009, but whose historical base was in Rhône-Alpes although he seems to have shifted to the Var now). In Île-de-France, the FN’s list was led by Aymeric Chauprade, a souverainiste realist polisci academic known for his controversial work on ‘civilizations’ and pro-Russian viewpoints. The FN also had an Overseas list, but the FN is obviously weak there outside some regions (New Caledonia).

The FN’s campaign was quite simple and had a clear target: the EU – the ‘destroyer’ of the nation-state and the culprit for unemployment, deindustrialization, outsourcing, mass immigration, dilution of the French identity, criminality, ‘communitarianism’ and undemocratic supra-national governance. The FN called for border controls to stop anarchic immigration and free movement of Romas and criminals, opposed austerity policies (the tax increases and destruction of social services), relaunching growth and jobs by abandoning the Euro for the Franc, reindustrializing France through protectionism, ‘refounding’ democracy by ‘returning to the people its legislative sovereignty’, protecting the labour market (by abolishing the EU directive on posted workers which allows, the FN said, for the mass immigration of cheap foreign labour), defending French agriculture and industry, opposing the FTA with the US, defending public services and defending identity and traditions. The FN’s slogan was straightforward stuff: NON à Bruxelles / OUI à la France (also the official registered name of all FN lists).



An oddity in the French electoral system: the individual lists are responsible for the costs of printing their own ballots, which are sent to the city halls (for distribution at the polling station) and by mail to all voters (alongside their campaign literature, or profession de foi, which they must also print and cover the costs thereof). The government (often subcontracted out) is responsible for distributing ballots and campaign lit it has received from the lists to all voters, by mail. Parties with lists in five of the eight constituencies, however, have access to free campaign ads on TV. Lists which have received over 3% of the vote will have the costs of printing ballots, campaign ads and campaign lit refunded. Given that it is very easy to run in EP elections provided you have a complete list with an equal number of men and women, a huge number of small lists sign up to run. Given the costs of actually printing ballots and campaign material, a lot of these small makeshift lists or parties usually decide to either call on their voters to print out their ballot, distribute ballots in public the day before the vote or send a limited number of ballots to polling stations on election day. Therefore, in the mailers sent out by the government to voters, only the major lists and ‘major minor’ lists actually have included their ballot and/or campaign lit.

The picture shows sample ballots in the Île-de-France constituency – PS-PRG, FN, Force Vie and DLR.

Turnout: 42.43% (+1.8%)
Seats: 74 (nc, +2 on 2009 EP election)
Electoral system: Closed list proportional representation in 8 inter-regional constituencies, 5% threshold at the constituency level, highest averages method

The results were calculated by Laurent de Boissieu on his website, because the Interior Ministry are totally incompetent nincompoops when it comes to accurately representing nationwide results. Seat changes compared to the 74 French MEPs as they stood at the end of the term.

FN (EAF) 24.86% (+18.52%) winning 24 seats (+21)
UMP (EPP) 20.81% (-7.07%) winning 20 seats (-5)
PS-PRG (S&D) 13.98% (-2.5%) winning 13 seats (+1) [12 PS, 1 PRG]
UDI-MoDem (ALDE) 9.94% (+1.48%) winning 7 seats (-3) [4 MoDem, 1 UDI-NC, 1 UDI-RAD, 1 UDI-AC]
EELV (G-EFA) 8.95% (-7.33%) winning 6 seats (-6)
FG (GUE-NGL) 6.61% (+0.13%) winning 4 seats (-1) [1 FG-PCF, 1 FG-PG, 1 FG-Ind., 1 UOM-PCR]
DLR (EUDemocrats) 3.82% (+2.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nouvelle Donne 2.9% (+2.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Nous Citoyens 1.41% (+1.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
LO 1.17% (-0.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
AEI 1.12% (-2.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Force Vie – PCD 0.74% (+0.74%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europe Citoyenne 0.67% (+0.67%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Citoyens du Vote Blanc 0.58% (+0.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Nous te ferons Europe! – MBP – PB/SB 0.44% (+0.25%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPR 0.41% (+0.41%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NPA (EACL) 0.39% (-4.6%) winning 0 seats (nc)
R&PS (G-EFA) 0.34% (+0.34%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Pirate 0.21% (+0.21%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.61% (-5.8%) winning 0 seats (-1)

EU Parliament 2014 - Dept

The French results made headlines across Europe and much of the world, and it was the election – out of the ’28 elections’ – which retained the most attention, and became the main basis for (often flawed) media analysis of ‘pan-European’ trends in the results especially as it relates to the surge of (some) Eurosceptic/populist parties. The far-right FN topped the poll – a first for the party in any nationwide election in France – with its best percentage of the vote in its history. With 24 MEPs, the FN will not only be the single largest French party in France’s delegation to the EP (the second-largest) but it will also be one of the biggest individual national political parties in the new EP. It is a huge caucus for the FN, which will now have all their national leaders and several prominent local/regional leaders serving as European parliamentarians.


More sample ballots in the IdF constituency – UMP, FG, EELV and UDI-MoDem (own picture)

It is worth keeping in mind, before jumping to conclusions, that this was a low turnout election: 42.4%, although for the first time since 1994, turnout was actually slightly higher than in the last EP election – something which most people did not expect. The FN won about 25% of those who voted, but that’s only equivalent to 10.1% of the electorate. The FN lists won 4,712,461 votes – which is less votes than Marine Le Pen won in April 2012 (6,421,426) with 17.9% of the vote. This is not to say, however, that if turnout had been at presidential-levels the FN would not have done strikingly as well. An Ifop pre-election poll asked those who planned not to vote who they would vote for if they did actually vote showed the FN leading with 24% against 22% for the UMP, with the PS performing just as poorly (14%) and EELV quite a bit better (11%). The overall results were strikingly similar to the voting intentions of those who intended to vote and the final results. Therefore, if turnout had been considerably higher, it is likely that the FN would have performed as well as it actually did – likely with 23-25% of the vote.

Differential turnout played a key role in the FN’s success, but it is not the only factor explaining its victory. According to Ifop’s exit poll, 51% of Marine Le Pen’s 2012 voters turned out on May 25, compared to 42% of the wider electorate, 56% of Sarkozy’s first round voters, 57% of Bayrou’s voters but only 42% of Hollande’s first round voters and 34% of Mélenchon’s voters. Ipsos reported very similar numbers (except for Bayrou’s voters), with about half of Marine’s 2012 voters showing up but about 42% of Hollande’s first round voters doing likewise. An Ifop publication on the FN’s performance, based on analysis of the actual results, found that turnout increased the most in those places where the FN gained the most between 2009 and 2014.

It is quite a remarkable feat for the FN to achieve, however, considering how structurally ‘abstentionist’ its electorate is – manual workers (35% turnout per Ipsos), those without the Bac (41% turnout), low income households (30% turnout) and the anti-EU voters (according to OpinionWay, 66% of those who want to abandon the Euro and 72% of those who say that the EU should be abandoned did not vote) are all FN-leaning demographics which have below average turnout. In 2009, admittedly a low-point for the FN, about two-thirds of FN sympathizers had not voted. The FN overcame these major obstacles and motivated a core group of supporters to turn out. In a low turnout election decided by who turns out and mobilizes their base best, the FN did a significantly better job than the left. As in the municipal elections in March, most left-wing voters unhappy with the government or the partisan offer on the left largely stayed home rather than vote for another party.

Ifop/Paris Match daily tracking polls during the campaign (source:

However, it is important to point out that this result did not come as a surprise (although one could have assumed that it was a major surprise given the media’s usual sensationalism on election night). Polls since April 2014 have almost all had the FN in first place, stable between 21% and 24% of voting intentions since at least March, with the UMP in a consistent second with 21% to 23.5% of voting intentions. The PS, as in 2009, saw its support decline during the campaign from about 19-20% in April and declining to 16% by the end of the campaign. EELV increased its support, unsurprising given that it is a party which benefits from greater attention during an election campaign. From 7-8% at the outset, it increased to 9-10% at the end of the campaign. The FG, however, declined somewhat. Ifop had a daily tracking poll with Paris Match, and it last had the UMP ahead of the FN in late April.

The current political and socioeconomic situation in France has created a perfect storm for the FN, which has been the only major political party to benefit from the situation. It is useful to refer to Ipsos’ very informative study on French society from January 2014. According to that study, the main issues in France are unemployment (56%), taxes (43%, up 16 from 2013!), buying power (36%) followed by pensions (24%), safety (23%), social inequalities (21%) and immigration (21%). Ipsos’ exit poll found that immigration (31%), purchasing power (30%), the Eurozone crisis (27%), unemployment (27%) and peacekeeping in Europe (21%) were the most important issues on voters’ minds; for FN voters, immigration was one of the two main issues for 64% of them.

Immigration, unsurprisingly, has been the top issue for FN voters throughout the party’s history – one of the very few constants in the demographics of the FN’s electorate since 1984. Although a majority of voters still do not agree with the FN on immigration, a rising proportion do (42% according to an Ipsos study on the FN late last year). President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rhetoric on tough immigration, beginning in the 2007 campaign and reaching a climax with his (in)famous discours de Grenoble and the 2012 campaign (heavily influenced by Patrick Buisson, a political strategist with old ties to the far-right), arguably legitimized the FN’s positions on immigration and served to blur the differences between the FN and the ‘respectable’ parliamentary right. For years now, French voters have expressed support for tough policies against immigration and a large majority agree with the view that ‘there are too many foreigners in France’ (66% in Ipsos’ aforecited January 2014 poll). Manuel Valls was so popular as interior minister largely because he took hard stances against illegal immigration and Roma squatter camps, and his controversial measures (the Leonarda expulsion) and statements sparked an outcry on the left with a minority of pro-immigration activists and voters, but the electorate largely endorsed him on those statements and issues.

Most political institutions and office holders, except mayors, are poorly perceived according to data from Ipsos: a majority lack confidence in the justice system (54%), the EU (69%), the National Assembly (72%), deputies (77%) and political parties (92%). 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.

Opinions are split on the EU depending on the kind of question asked, but there is a general slant towards more Eurosceptic opinions. According to Ipsos’ exit poll, 41% feel that membership in the EU is a good thing while only 23% explicitly say that it is a bad thing (the rest saying that is neither good nor bad), and a large majority continue to reject the FN’s pet idea of returning to the Franc – that idea was supported by only 28% of respondents in Ipsos’ exit poll. At the same time, however, 64% said that national powers should be strengthened and 51% said that the EU worsened the impact of the economic crisis in France.

EP vote based on vote in the 2012 presidential elections (only voters who turned out, source: Délits d’opinion)

Politically, the government is – as explained above – extremely unpopular, and even if Valls remains popular at this early stage, there is little optimism that his polices will succeed. Obviously, given such a situation, the PS as the governing party has become terribly unpopular. Besides the unending succession of policy failures and bad results, the several major promises broken and the direction of the government’s policies have alienated, disappointed or angered a good number of voters on the left. The PS, like Hollande, lacks any credibility. However, neither the FG or EELV have been able to profit from the PS’ unpopularity. As in many other European countries, the crisis and the sad state of social democracy have not significantly strengthened the radical left. In France, the FG has been totally unable to benefit from Hollande’s unpopularity. The coalition has been divided, unable to overcome the strategical contradictions between its numerically dominant party (the PCF) and its charismatic heavyweight and public figure (Mélenchon); the latter has a clear interest in the FG being an independent force with a clear and coherent stance against the PS and the government, while the latter is still mostly concerned about saving its ass.  Yet, for all his charisma and appeal to certain left-wing voters, Mélenchon is a terrible spokesperson for the radical left. He is unpleasant, abrasive, rude, condescending and retains public attention only for his latest tirade against a journalist or Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, in contrast, is a far smarter political strategist: while the FN dislikes journalists and hates them questioning their policies or actions, Marine Le Pen appears calmer, measured, polished and relatively polite to the general public. The FG has received mostly negative coverage in the media for the last few months, stemming from the extremely public divisions between the PCF and PG factions and speculation about the ‘upcoming’ (?) death/explosion of the FG. FG supporters were worn down by these internal squabbles (in addition to squabbles within some of the parties making up the FG, like Gauche unitaire), general pessimism about the state of the FG/left and the direction of the country.

The UMP is in no better shape than the PS, and its performance as the largest opposition party to the government has been horrendous by most standards. In Ipsos’ exit poll, only 21% of voters said that the UMP-UDI would manage the economy better than the government (the same percentage thought the FN would manage the economy better). In a recent OpinionWay poll on the opposition, only 14% of voters – and 32% of Sarkozy’s first round voters from 2012 – identified the UMP as the party which was the best opposition to the government, against 40% who answered ‘none of the above’ and 34% who said that the FN was the strongest opposition. The UMP was badly hurt by the crisis which followed the 2012 congress, and the ensuing protracted factional conflict reduced the popularity of both Fillon and Copé. To make matters worse, Copé is one of the most unpopular politicians in France, and his stint as president of the UMP did not nothing to shake off the image of Copé as an opportunistic, double-faced, insincere, morally bankrupt and corrupt career politician. Copé’s hold on the party was not only weakened by the smoldering and lingering factional conflicts between copéistes and fillonistes, but also – especially in the past few months – by a series of scandals, most recent the Bygmalion scandal. Nicolas Sarkozy also continues to cast a long shadow over his party, and the constant speculation over his imminent (or not) ‘return’ to active politics has further weakened the hold of the leadership on the party and confirmed depictions of the UMP as being rudderless and leaderless in Sarkozy’s absence. The bulk of the UMP’s rank-and-file are praying for Sarkozy’s return, and the UMP base remains heavily sarkozyste; on the other hand, the fillonistes and juppéistes oppose Sarkozy’s return and there remains strong resistance from ambitious politicians in the UMP to the prospect of Sarkozy ‘usurping’ their spot in 2017. However, Sarkozy’s popularity with the broader electorate has not improved all that much: he remains very unpopular on the left – even with Hollande’s massive unpopularity, there is little convincing sign of buyer’s remorse. Ipsos’ exit poll found that only 38% of voters want Sarkozy to ‘return’ (86% of UMP sympathizers) and, on another question, 54% judge that he would not be a good candidate.

The UMP, since its defeat in 2012 and the rising strength of the FN, has been divided over which political direction it should move towards – to the right, to become a clearer direct competitor to the FN; or the centre, to reassure centrist voters about the UMP and build a winning coalition in 2017 by a ‘traditional’ moderate and pragmatic appeal to the centre (Mitterrand 1988, Chirac 2002). As a result, the UMP’s ‘policy’ direction has been totally incoherent and it has largely failed to appear as a credible alternative to the government on a good number of issues. As noted above, the UMP’s strategy to mitigate the internal incoherence and discordance over the policy line has been to virulently oppose the government at nearly every turn and latch on to the most ridiculous of ‘controversies’ and non-issues. This strategy, however, has often appeared to be desperate and unconvincing to most voters. In the EP elections, the UMP further proved its internal dissonance, in this case over its views on the EU. The party includes a broad range of views on the EU, from committed federalists to actual Eurosceptics and those pretending to be Eurosceptic if that’s what cool kids do. The PS is, of course, in a similar position, but this year the most public dissonances over the EU came from the UMP.

The UMP won the municipal elections because local dynamics are more favourable (even in the context of a national wave) to the UMP. It has a strong existing base (unlike the FN), with popular incumbent mayors or strong locally-implanted candidates (former mayors, parliamentarians, local star candidates) which parties such as the FN generally lack at the local level. In the second round, especially in closely-fought left-right battles in duels (two-way) or triangulaires (three-way, generally with the FN), there was a consolidation of the far-right vote behind the candidate of the parliamentary right to defeat the left. However, despite a strong numerical result in March, the UMP won the municipal elections ‘by default’. In contrast, in an EP elections, those local dynamics are no longer relevant and EP elections are, of all elections, the ones in which voters are the most likely to use their vote to ‘let off steam’ and punish the largest parties.

The end result was that the FN topped the poll with nearly 25% of the vote and elected 24 MEPs (23 – one of them, Joëlle Bergeron, a random nobody, got into trouble when they found out that she supports voting rights for foreigners, and faced leadership pressures to not take her seat – she will be taking it, but will sit in the EFD group alongside UKIP) – up from only three in the last session of the EP. The UMP, with 20.8% of the vote, saw its support fall by about 7.1% from the last EP election in 2009. The UMP – which ran in alliance with the NC and GM (which are now part of the UDI) at the time – had a fairly ‘good’ result for a governing in the 2009 election, although 27.9% against a combined 39.2% for the left (FG-PS-EELV) at the time was not a particularly stellar result. Nevertheless, the then-governing UMP’s fairly decent performance was the result of a minor uptick in Sarkozy’s popularity around the time of the election and differential turnout, with the participation of a slightly more right-leaning and pro-EU electorate than is usual.

The PS had its worst result in a EP election – falling below not only its 2009 results (16.5%) but also the record low of 1994 (14.5%). The PS lists received only 2,650,357 votes against over 10.2 million votes for Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election. According to Ifop, of the minority of Hollande’s first round electorate which actually voted on May 25, only 53% of those voters backed the PS (in contrast, of the first round Sarkozy 2012 voters who voted in the EP election, the UMP retained 62% of them; the FN won 86% of Marine’s 2012 supporters who turned out). Compared to 2012, the PS not only bled a whole ton of voters to abstention, a substantial percentage of those who did turn out voted for other parties on the left – EELV (14%), the FG (7%) and Nouvelle Donne (5%) while another 6% backed the FN. Ipsos and OpinionWay reported quasi-identical figures. Basically, only a small quarter of Hollande’s first round voters from 2012 remained loyal to the PS. Of course, given the very different nature of presidential and EP elections, it’s not a perfect comparison: even if the government was very popular, fairly substantial loses to abstention and other small parties of the left (such as EELV) would be expected. But it can serve to underline how horrible the PS’ performance was.

In contrast to 2009 and 1994, the two other EP elections in which the PS did terribly, there was no strong left-wing competition to the PS in this election. In 2009, a lot of the PS-leaning base – especially well-educated, white-collar and middle-class urban and suburban dwellers – switched to EE, which benefited from a perfect storm of favourable tailwinds in 2009. In 1994, the PS list led by Michel Rocard faced the quasi-public enmity of the Élysée Palace and President Mitterrand, who supported Bernard Tapie’s anti-establishment and anti-system Énergie Radicale list, which ended up with 12% of the vote. Although with EELV (9%), FG (6.6%) and Nouvelle Donne (2.9%) there was some left-wing competition to the PS, it was rather weak and amounted to only 32.5% of the vote.

The UDI-MoDem alliance, with 9.9%, slightly improved on the MoDem’s performance alone in 2009. The parties, to put it simply, largely retained a centrist and Christian democratic electorate which had largely voted for Bayrou in April 2012. There were, according to the several exit polls, significant voter ‘flows’ between 2012 and 2014: depending on the pollster you trust, the UDI-MoDem held between 48% and 59% of the Bayrou 2012 vote which turned out on May 25, with the rest going to the right (UMP) and some to the left (EELV); of the UDI and MoDem sympathizers which voted, about three-fifths to two-thirds of them backed their parties’ common lists, with the rest going to the UMP or other parties in smaller numbers.

Compared to its 2009 high, EELV suffered major loses – over 7% of its vote and a caucus cut down by over half from where it stood in 2009. A significant decline in support from its 2009 heights was to be expected, because 16.5% represents an abnormally high level of support for the green movement in France even in a European election. As explained above, EE(LV) in 2009 had cashed in on a perfect storm: a very rare moment of unity in green ranks, a unique cohesion between the political and non-political/civil society actors in the green movement, the candidacy of a popular and charismatic leader (Cohn-Bendit), a divided and weakened PS (very similar to the state in which the UMP is in today) and even the Home effect (although that theory has always appeared, personally, to be post hoc confabulation by a clueless media). In 2014, EELV lost most of that: the new party, although meant to unite old Greens with new members from social movements and civil society has largely turned out to be Les Verts 2.0 (a party of professional politicians out of touch or disconnected with the green movement in society), the absence of a leader like Cohn-Bendit and the loss of any particular advantage over the PS. On that last point, EELV has clearly been weakened by its participation in the unpopular Ayrault government and the perception that it compromised on a lot of its values and generally performed very poorly in cabinet. At the same time, however, 9% (or 8.95% to be exact) is not a bad result for EELV – it is a bit below the Green records of 1989 and 1999, but it is higher than the Greens’ result in 2004 (7.4%).

The FG, however, as mentioned briefly, performed poorly – with 6.6%, its support was basically equal to 2009, while the FG (PCF) lost one MEP (Jacky Hénin, a longtime incumbent, lost his seat in the Northwest constituency). The FG’s clear under-performance is a another hit for the very fragile alliance. Given Hollande’s unpopularity, the parallel unpopularity of the PS, the growing left-wing opposition to Valls and the government’s moderate policies and EELV’s weaknesses, the FG could stand to benefit from the current situation. But instead of gaining support from the left, it has been drawn down by its internal divisions and a very ‘clan’-like behaviour which has kept the FG from presenting a strong, credible and coherent left-wing alternative to the PS. This is not all that surprising, however, if you look at the history of the radical left and the PCF in France. The PCF since the 1980s is often ridiculed by critics as being the stupidest communist party in Europe, which is often not far from the truth given the PCF’s electoral strategies. The French radical left has and always will be an exploded nebula – a complex array of factions, movements, parties, social organizations and warring politicians who spend most of their time fighting one another. Mélenchon’s strength in 2012 came from his one-off ability to unite the radical left and part of the PS left behind a single candidate, drawing a diverse electorate which had supported the far-left or the PS in 2007 (but at the same time, not all those who backed far-left candidates in 2007 voted for Mélenchon in 2012, whose hold on the 2007 radical left (LO+LCR+PCF) base was very imperfect); that ability, which owed a lot to the particular dynamics of the campaign (Hollande’s persistent image, on the left of the left, as weak, indecisive and with questionable left-wing credentials; Mélenchon’s successful campaign and his personal charisma), was a one-off thing and it has since not transferred on the FG. The 2012 legislative election was the first cold shower for the FG, which unexpectedly suffered substantial loses to the PS. As long as France’s radical left remains so caught up in its arcane and silly squabbles and divided over what strategy to adapt, it cannot expect much success at the polls.

The smaller parties had mixed performances, although their cumulative result was, as would be expected in an EP election, very strong. DLR did very well for a party with relatively low notoriety and no clearly-defined base of support; it won 3.8% of the vote (but did not come close to a seat anywhere), up from an already fairly decent (for the times) result of 1.8% in the 2009 election. Nouvelle Donne, for a new party lacking strong leadership and resources, did well although it obviously failed in its wet dream of surpassing the PS. It won 2.9% of the vote, largely appealing to an urban, young, well-educated progressive electorate which had voted EELV, PS or FG in 2009. It remains to be seen if the party will go the way of so many other similar projects on the left or if it could manage to establish a tiny base for itself. Nous Citoyens won 1.4% of the vote – with the ideologically fluffiness and the vague slogans, it likely won protest votes and ‘NOTA votes’. The Independent Ecologist Alliance (AEI) first ran in 2009 as a coalition of three parties: Antoine Waechter’s MEI (founded as by Green dissidents in 1994 who rejected the Greens’ turn to the left and alliance with the PS-led left), Génération écologie (originally Brice Lalonde’s party, which lost all relevance and shifted right in the mid-1990s) and La France en action (a very vague and shady ‘green party’, allegedly used by religious sects such as the Scientologists and Raëlians to make money). It won 3.6% of the vote – thanks in good part to various star candidates in the regions including Antoine Waechter, former weather presenter Patrice Drevet and singer Francis Lalanne). However, it fell apart in 2010 as the MEI and GE left the AEI to pursue their own alliances (Waechter has finally made up with his old enemies and the MEI now regularly allies itself to EELV; GE briefly allied with the PRG in 2011-2012 and then dropped out of view again), leaving the AEI as La France en action. Given the loss of star candidates and support, the AEI ran only five lists and dropped to 1.1%.

Christine Boutin’s Force Vie did poorly, as expected; the market for a socially conservative and in-your-face religious right party in France is tiny (and the Catholic traditionalist minority was historically aligned with other parties, such as the FN) and Boutin is mostly known because she’s the target of so much parody and ridicule. Boutin’s list won 1.2% in Île-de-France, its second best result after the West (1.45%). Corinne Lepage lost reelection in her terribly ill-advised bid to run independently on her own platform. Europe Citoyenne‘s best result, by a mile, came in Île-de-France, where Lepage herself won 2.3%.

The Breton regionalist list (Nous te ferons Europe!) led by Christian Troadec in the West did surprisingly well – winning 3.05% in the region as a whole, 7.2% in the region of Brittany and 11.5% in Finistère. In Brittany, Troadec’s list easily outperformed the other regionalist list – led by the old UDB, which won only 2% of the vote in the region. In Corsica, nationalist MEP François Alfonsi’s list – which received only 0.75% in the Southeast region, won a solid third with 21.5% of the vote and placed second with 22.9% in Haute-Corse. In the Southwest, the Basque regionalist list won only 0.25%, but managed 3.3% in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques (which also includes non-Basque regions).

On the far-left, the NPA did horrendously. Granted, the NPA managed to put up against five lists while its fraternal enemy, LO, put up lists everywhere and held its vote share from 2009. In Île-de-France, where LO leader Nathalie Arthaud went up against Olivier Besancenot, the old face of the NPA, the LO list narrowly beat the NPA 0.85% to 0.84%. Even led by Besancenot, who in the past carried a personal vote, the NPA’s poor result shows how moribund the outfit really is and how totally irrelevant Besancenot has become. The French far-left is at its weakest level in years.

Demographic and geographic analysis

The trends in the ‘Marine era’ spatial and sociodemographic distribution of support for the FN noted in 2012 were confirmed this year. These trends included a ‘proletarianization’ of the party’s electorate, a strengthening of the ni-ni (alienated and dissatisfied voters identifying with neither the left or right) component of the FN at the expense of the ideologically far-right base, very high levels of support in the old industrial regions of the north, a slight fall-off (compared to 2002) in the southern bases, a stark urban-suburban/rural divide, very strong support in distant exurban areas (périurbain), a very strong negative correlation with higher levels of education, a reduced gender gap and finally a ‘nationalization’ of FN support with some strong gains (compared to 2002) in traditionally weak regions west of the famous Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis. The novelty of 2014 would be the nationwide gains made by the FN, which won incredible results in its strongholds and strong results in traditionally weak regions. However, the low turnout means that these gains are slightly less impressive in reality than on paper, but still…

Exit polls all confirmed that the FN won excellent results with voters in the lower social categories (CSP-) – employees and manual workers (ouvriers).

From the three main exit polls (Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay), the FN received 43 to 46% of the vote with ouvriers - well, the minority of them which actually voted. With employees, a largely feminine but broad sociological category (which has been generalized to lower-echelon employees and so forth; consisting of lower-level public servants, clerks, secretaries, administrative employees, cashiers, clerks, salesmen but also personal service workers), the FN won between 34% and 38% depending on the pollster. The UMP performed very poorly with ouvriers (10-11%, with Ipsos reporting a likely exaggerated 17%), and the PS support collapsed (8-12%). The FG won about 9% of ouvriers which turned out on May 25. EELV won about 6-9%, depending on the pollster, which is below average but a comparatively decent result for a party whose electorate is largely white-collar. With employees, the PS did slightly better, with support at 12% (Ifop) 0r 15-16% (Ipsos/OpinionWay); EELV and FG both did fairly well, with 8-10% and 7-10% respectively. The UMP won only 12% or 15% of employees.

Averaged exit poll results by socioprofessional category (source: Délits d’opinion)

Délits d’opinion averaged the numbers from all exit polls, and found the FN won about 45% with ouvriers against 13% for the UMP, 9% apiece for the FG and PS, 8% for EELV and only 5% for the centre. With employees, it averaged to 36% for the FN against 14% apiece for the UMP and PS, 9% for EELV, 8% for the FG and 6% for the centre. The strength of the FN with employees, three-quarters of which are women, shows the absence of a gender gap in the FN’s vote: Ifop did show a 5-point gap (but it was largely due to older women being significantly less FN than older men), OpinionWay and Ipsos both reported a statistically insignificant or nonexistent gender gap. In the past, the FN’s electorate had been a fairly significant gender gap and masculine bias in the FN electorate, which is the norm for a far-right party, but it has been reduced or eliminated with Marine Le Pen. The FN’s figures with workers and employees are both major gains on the FN’s 2012 results with these groups, but making comparisons is silly given the major differences in turnout between the two elections.

In the FN’s support, there remains a difference between those in the private and public sectors. Those employed in the private sector have a strong right-wing lean, and it’s with those in the private sector that the FN performed better. The private sector is marked by greater job insecurity, lower unionization rates, less generous social conditions and more concerns about unemployment, purchasing power and cost of living pressures (but with tough times befalling the public sector, the FN has been pulling strong numbers with public employees as well – likely expanding from its base with military personnel and policemen). In the sphere of workers and employees, the FN’s traditional demographics are cashiers, vendors, those employed in small industries/firms and construction sector workers. The left does far better with public employees. Additionally, the FN does better with non-unionized workers (34% vs 25% according to Ifop), but the FN support has increased with unionized workers – Ifop reported that, in the EP election, the FN won 33% with those close to Workers’ Force (FO), 27% with those close to Sud-Solidaires and 22% with those close to the largest union, the historically communist CGT (the FG won 30% support with those aligned with the CGT). Its support was lower, 17%, with those close to the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), a moderate union with roots in the 1960s New Left and Christian left tradition.

FN support tends to be middle-aged, and weakest with older voters (retirees were one of the FN’s weakest groups, with 18-19% support). According to OpinionWay and Ifop, which had detailed age breakdowns, the FN did best (32% average) with those 35 to 39 but did almost as well with those 18 to 24 (29% average), 50 to 64 (26%) and 25 to 34 (24%). With those over 65, the FN won 16% against 31% for the UMP. Worryingly for the PS, its support, like the UMP, increased with age (9% for the PS with those 18-24 and 17% with those 65+). Younger left-wing voters, like in other countries in the EU (Austria, most significantly) preferred the Greens (14-15% with those 18 to 34).

Traditionally and historically, ouvriers formed the backbone of the French left, which, in the glory days of the 50s and late 70s used to command the support of about seven in ten workers. A strong tradition of socialization in a Communist milieu in the immediate post-war era maintained strong familial links of left-wing (and oftentimes, Communist) political orientation. However, since Mitterrand’s election in 1981 and especially since the 1990s, the left has been alarmed at the pace at which their old backbone have been deserting them and flirting for anti-system options, be it the unconventional far-left of Arlette and Olivier or the far-right of Jean-Marie and his daughter. There is a feeling that the left has abandoned its working-class roots and has shifted its style, rhetoric and strategy towards gentrified middle-classes, salaried public employees and the bobos. Indeed, the PS’ style since 1983 has been edging towards either feel-good consensual, moderated toned-down centre-leftism or New Left rhetoric about social justice, equality or tolerance. The Marxist rhetoric about the class struggle, the proletariat and even the mitterrandien creed of changer la vie was left on the side of the road, ready to be picked up by parties to the left or right of the PS. That being said, unlike the PCF, the PS was never a ‘worker’s party’ (parti ouvrier) – even in the 1970s. The share of manual workers in the PS membership has always been very low – significantly lower than in the PCF; today, the vast majority of PS members are from the new middle-classes (teachers, public servants, intermediate-grade public/parastatal sector, social workers and white-collar professionals) and workers made up only 3% of the PS membership according to a 2011 study (down from 10% in 1985). The PCF, which had a real working-class membership in the better years, has seen a similar decline of its working-class component and a concomitant increase in the number of cadres and middle-classes; at the same time, most of the PCF’s remaining working-class members are unionized and work in the public sector or parastatals. The PS, meanwhile, has grown further disconnected from social movements and the unions.

Since the 1980s, the working-classes in Western Europe have suffered acute social dislocation. The working-classes have suffered from deindustrialization (factory closures), the fall of large industrial interests (shipbuilding, mining), a significant increase in unemployment, a marginalization of the secondary sector by the tertiarization of western economies and the loss of working-class identities and class consciousness as the ouvrier ceased to be the vanguard of societies. Simultaneously, the nature of French society – particularly the working-class and industry – was altered by a major increase in North African immigration. With the recent economic crisis (and yet more unemployment and even lower incomes), many have felt that yet another psychological ‘threshold’ of working-class resentment and alienation has been broken. Cautious optimism has been replaced by pessimism – pondering whether the crisis will ever end, feeling that politics is controlled by an international financial oligarchy. Recent studies have found that there was a deep-seated feeling of insecurity (physical but also economic and social) and injustice.

Naturally, immigration – and the ethnocentric sentiments it creates – is quite inseparable from socioeconomic explanations aforementioned. In situations of social dislocation, the victims seek a scapegoat who can be held responsible – either entirely or in large part – for their situation. The immigrant, who settled in the same industrial urban regions as the original working-class, is seen as responsible for the lack of jobs (since they took the jobs), the loss of social welfare protections (the immigrants and their often large families seen as leeching off welfare) and increased criminality. For such voters, the FN, which offers a simple solution to the ‘immigrant problem’ and quick fixes to their socioeconomic woes, is a very attractive option. The FN speaks directly to their feelings of exclusion, marginalization, alienation and demands for a ‘strong’ response to their problems. Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique convincingly showed, however, that the working-class vote for the FN only becomes significant on the condition that voters express authoritarian sentiments and hostility towards immigrants – regardless of socioeconomic anxiety, sense of insecurity or rejection of the political system. There is a strong correlation between ethnocentric attitudes and a high FN vote; but unlike with the left or the far-left, there’s no correlation between the FN and negative views towards economic liberalism and globalization. However, Michelat and Simon’s numbers did show that the FN vote still increased alongside the degree of identification with the working-class. While voters supportive of immigration will not vote for the FN regardless of socioeconomic woes or working-class ties, working-class voters opposed to immigration are more likely to vote for the far-right than non-working-class voters with similar views on immigration.

Guy Michelat and Michel Simon in Les ouvriers et la politique also established that the connection between the PCF’s loses with workers and the FN’s gains, which both began at the same time (1980s), was extremely tenuous and a fairly minor occurrence. There was very little direct transfers from the PCF to the FN – the PCF’s working-class electorate grew old and retired, voted to the far-left or joined the very large numbers of non-voters election after election. The FN’s gains with working-class voters came primarily from those who had voted for the right or the PS. The existence of a fairly substantial number of blue-collar voters who tend to support the FN in the first round but the left (PS) in a second round against the right, which first became a major phenomenon in 1995, has created an engaging academic debate on whether this should be called gaucho-lepénisme (PS-leaning voters who vote FN in the first round) or ninisme. The latter, to which I admittedly lean towards, argues that what is called gaucho-lepénisme should instead be seen as part of a wider phenomenon of political disengagement and working-class alienation from the traditional left. Nonna Mayer (Ces français qui votent Le Pen) claimed that while the FN’s working-class supporters have left-wing roots through their parents and may vote for the left against the moderate right in a two-way runoff scenario, they no longer identify with the left and exhibit signs of profound political apathy and general pessimism towards politics and partisanship in general. In short, while voters of left-wing tradition do make up a significant part of the FN vote, it is simplistic to assume that it’s as easy as PCF/PS voters just deciding to vote FN now.

Taxes on the wealthy: opinions of FN voters by region (source: Ifop)

Mayer’s arguments underline the common idea that there are two major ‘blocs’ of FN voters – to put it crudely, one is ideologically far-right and less blue-collar while the other is a traditional protest vote which is more blue-collar and not ideologically far-right. The idea has recently been picked up by the media, which has decided to dumb the picture down further (as usual), and linked the idea of these two blocs (which have become somewhat geographically defined) to the animosity between Marine Le Pen and Jean-Marie Le Pen/Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. In 2013, Ifop had an interesting study on the ‘FN du nord’ and the ‘FN du sud’ which found similarities and differences between the FN core geographic bases in the northeast (Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Haute-Normandie) and the south (PACA, Languedoc-Roussillon). They share isolationist/protectionist views, quasi-universal hostility to immigration and foreigners, feelings of insecurity but also fairly ‘hard’ stances on unemployment (agreement with the idea that unemployed people could find work ‘if they really wanted’); although the intensity of anti-immigrant sentiment is highest with the southern ‘ideological’ FN. There were more important differences of opinion regarding same-sex marriage (the south being about 10% more opposed, although all segments of FN voters rejected it by wide margins); but the widest differences of opinion came on economic issues – the south expressing right-wing views and the northeast more statist views. For example, Ifop’s study found that 60% of FN voters in the south said taxes were too high, compared with only 37% of FN voters in the northeast. Unsurprisingly, the southern and northeastern FN also reflected sociological differences: 50% of the FN voters in the northeast were workers/employees against 36% of those in the south. Retirees made up 24% of the southern electorate but only 16% of the northeastern one; CSP+ groups and self-employed made up 14% of the southern electorate and 7% of the northeastern one. Finally, the FN’s southern base, according to Ifop, split 59% to 15% in Sarkozy’s favour in the 2012 runoff (with the other 26% not voting or spoiling their vote) while those in the northeast only split 42-20 in Sarkozy’s favour with 38% not voting or spoiling their votes.

Exit polling on the vote by ideological self-definition in 2012 also confirmed the dual nature of the FN’s vote: Marine won 71% of those who were ‘very right-wing’ and 18% of those who were ‘right-wing, but took first place with 36% with the voters who identified as ni-ni (neither left nor right). Marine Le Pen won only 4% support with those who identified as left-wing, although that was a bit better than Sarkozy+NDA (1%). There was no such exit polling question this year, but the usual breakdown by partisan self-identification is still quite telling: Ifop, Ipsos and OpinionWay showed that the FN topped the poll with those who declared no partisan affiliation (although estimates of FN support ranged from 24% to 35%…); in addition to taking nearly every single voter who identified with the FN. In addition, the FN lists in 2014 also pulled a substantial number of support from voters who identified with the UMP/UDI: 11-16% of UMP supporters, 5-10% of UDI supporters. 4% of those identifying with the left voted for the FN, although the FN won up to 8% of Hollande’s first round voters (those who actually did vote) and, according to OpinionWay, 12% of his runoff electorate (only 32% of the minority of his 2012 runoff electorate which actually voted stayed with the PS). The FN also won 32% of the Sarkozy runoff electorate which turned out, against 45% for the UMP and 12% for the centre.

The FN’s strong numbers with working-class voters was seen geographically by the astronomical FN results in the northeast, especially departments in Picardie – Aisne (40%), Somme (37.2%), Oise (38.2%) – and the Pas-de-Calais (38.9%). These results were even higher than the equally as excellent FN numbers in its southern strongholds: Vaucluse (36.4%), Pyrénées-Orientales (35.2%), Gard (32.9%), Var (35%), Alpes-Maritimes (33.2%) and the Bouches-du-Rhône (32.5%). The FN also did well in other parts of the northeast – Ardennes (33.5%), Meuse (33.7%), Haute-Marne (33%) and Haute-Saône (34.2%). The FN’s huge numbers in Picardie and the Pas-de-Calais owe partly to a personal factor: Marine Le Pen led the FN list in those regions, and like in 2009, the FN did comparatively better in the Northwest constituency (as a whole: FN 33.6% and UMP 18.8%) thanks to Marine than in other strongholds (Southeast with daddy: 28.2%; East with Philippot: 29%; Southwest with the Prince Consort: 24.7%).

Results of the FN by canton (source: own map, created through

In the Pas-de-Calais, where Marine Le Pen and friends have made the old left-wing mining basin their top stronghold (expanding out of Hénin-Beaumont, as noted with some very strong FN local results in some other towns in the mining basin in March 2014), the FN utterly dominated the mining basin (despite generally lower-than-average turnout) – 53.5% in Hénin-Beaumont, 43.3% in Liévin (vs. 17.5% for the PS), 39.6% in Lens (18.1% PS), 42.2% in Carvin (15.2% PS), 43.3% in Bully-les-Mines (15.2% PS), 43% in Nœux-les-Mines (15.2% PS) and 43% in Bruay-la-Buissière (15.9% PS). It did equally as well in the few towns in the Pas-de-Calais mining basin, a Socialist stronghold, which were historically dominated by Communists – Auchel (45%, 12.9% FG), Divion (44.8%, 17% FG), Avion (40.7%, 27.9% FG) and Méricourt (45.3%, 19.7% FG). In the department, the FN also did very well in other traditionally solidly left-wing old industrial and working-class cities and towns – Arques (41.1%), Isbergues (36.5%), Lumbres (39.9%), Guînes (44.4%) and Marquise (34.7%) – or the industrial waterfront cities of Calais (31.8%, with a strong 22% for the FG list led by the former mayor, defeated in 2008 and 2014), Boulogne-sur-Mer (33.4%), Le Portel (42.6%) and Outreau (39.5%). Although the FN’s best results came from the old industrialized regions, it also posted strong results – over 30% – in the rural and historically conservative and religious Artois. Its worst results were in the affluent resort town of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage (18.3%, the UMP won 42.8%) and Arras, a more white-collar and middle-class city (23.5% vs 17.1% for the UDI-MoDem).

In the Nord, the FN’s strength extended into the mining basin, which in the Nord had historically been thoroughly dominated by the PCF. The FN won 43.5% in the canton of Denain (15.8% for the FG), 39.9% in the canton of Marchiennes, 37.2% in Douai-Sud, 41.2% in Anzin (where some of the earliest coal mines began operating in the 19th century) and 45% in Condé-sur-l’Escaut. The city of Valenciennes (the political stronghold of Jean-Louis Borloo), a city in the mining basin which has managed its post-industrial re-conversion better than most, the UDI-MoDem list led by Dominique Riquet, the former mayor of the city between 2002 and 2012, topped the poll with 35.5% against 24.2% for the FN. In the south of the department, a poor and economically depressed region formerly dominated by heavy industries (metallurgy in the Sambre valley) or small industrial towns, the FN also did strikingly well. In the metallurgical Sambre valley, centered around Maubeuge, the FN received 40.1% in Maubeuge-Sud, 40.2% in Berlaimont, 42.6% in Bavay and 43.1% in Hautmont. In the other old industrial centres in the south of the department, the FN won over 40% in the cantons of Clary, Carnières and Marcoing and about 39% in the cantons of Trelon and Solesmes. In the industrial waterfront areas along the English Channel, the FN won over 40% of the vote in the cantons of Graveline, Grande-Synthe and Dunkerque-Ouest. Once again, it was a matter of differential turnout – in the very poor industrial town of Grande-Synthe, a PS stronghold, turnout was as low as 28.3% – allowing the FN to win 40% over 17.9% for the PS.

In the Lille metropolis, the FN dominated – for different reasons and with different levels of support. It did very well in some old textile towns such as Haubourdin (37.9%), Seclin (31.2%), Armentières (30.5%), Halluin (36.7%, Tourcoing (30%) and Wattrelos (42.7%) – where turnout was low but still not extremely low; thanks to low turnout – likely especially pronounced in immigrant neighborhoods, which are strongly left-wing and anti-FN, the FN won 26.1% in Roubaix (the PS placed third with 14.1%!) but turnout there was 24.7%. On higher turnout (38%) in Lille, the FN won 18.9% against 18.2% for the PS and 16.3% for EELV; at the cantonal level, there was a clear divide between the city’s poor white proletarian faubourgs which went strongly for the far-right on low turnout (30.1% in Lomme, 24.7% in Lille-Est [Hellemmes]) and the poor immigrant neighborhoods (which narrowly went to the PS), the gentrified bobo/hip/artsy Wazemmes and downtown area (EELV narrowly won Lille-Centre) and the wealthy right-leaning neighborhoods (the UMP won Lille-Nord and suburban Lille-Ouest). In Lille’s most affluent suburbs – the canton of Marcq-en-Barœul – the UMP won 33.9% against only 14.9% for the FN. The far-right also won the most votes in the left-wing university new town of Villeneuve-d’Ascq, albeit with only 19%.

The Aisne, Oise and Somme are three historically industrial departments (with industry traditionally concentrated in smaller towns, although some of the cities were industrial centres too) which have seen industry decline, unemployment increase and the economic situation worsen considerably. Outside the Paris exurbia in the Oise and southern Aisne and the suburbs of the cities, which are more affluent, it is a very poor region with many old industrial cities suffering from high unemployment and demographic decline. When there are jobs for people in the ‘rural’ areas, they need to commute a long distance to reach them; geographically isolated and marginalized semi-rural areas of this type are top FN strongholds. The FN did very well in depressed ex-industrial/working-class towns – Flixecourt (Somme, 49%), Corbie (Somme, 39.4%), Friville-Escarbotin (Somme, 39.8%), Doullens (Somme, 41.9%), Gamaches (Somme, 32.9%), Ribécourt-Dreslincourt (Oise, 41%), Thourotte (Oise, 40.6%), Chauny (Aisne, 38.2%), Hirson (Aisne, 35.7%), Guise (Aisne, 39.5%) and Bohain-en-Vermandois (Aisne, 46.9%). It also performed strikingly well in the cités cheminotes (PCF strongholds) of Tergnier (Aisne, 41.1%) and Montataire (Oise, 36.4%). In the Creil-Montataire-Nogent urban area – an old industrial area (with a metallurgical industry in Creil) which is now one of the poorest urban areas in France and has a large immigrant population from North Africa – the FN did very well, perhaps due to very low turnout on the left and from immigrants (Creil 32.8%, Nogent-sur-Oise 35.8%; the PS won only 18.9% in Creil, where it usually does very well).

Bernard Schwengler, a specialist of the FN vote in Alsace, coined the term ouvrier caché to explain the strong FN vote in rural areas of Alsace, Lorraine and indeed most of the east. Although these very small villages and towns are rural, they are not agricultural but rather traditionally industrial (without precluding local workers also working their own fields as farmers), with a dense network of small businesses and local industries although with industrial decline, a lot of residents are forced to commute long distances to urban areas (or to Germany, in some regions). In regions such as l’Alsace bossue, southeastern Moselle and most of the Vosges and Haute-Marne, the rural blue-collar areas where the FN is doing very well have been hit the hardest by rural desertification (population decline, local shops closing, public services moving to larger towns) and they are marginalized and ‘enclaved’ areas with poor connections to major urban centres and they fall outside the wider urban areas of the cities (Strasbourg, Metz, Nancy etc).

While this region has a very low immigrant/foreign population, workers come in contact with immigrants at their place of work. Schwengler described how these voters felt that their work was no longer valued or recognized, and lamented the loss of reference points – the left no longer defends the working-classes, the lack of job opportunities and so forth. Sentiments of working-class alienation went hand in hand with an ethnocentric rejection of the immigrant as a scapegoat – the interviewees said that the foreigners did not want to work, and complained how they allegedly received undue material advantages (social benefits despite ‘never having worked’) and the sentiment that their advantages came on the back of the hard-working locals who had no social assistance and low wages. It is, in effect, a local version of the so-called ‘halo effect’, whereby the FN does best in areas located close to areas with a large immigrant population rather than in the area with the high immigrant population. In Alsace and Moselle, the FN’s working-class support came from the right.

The Bas-Rhin confirmed Schwengler’s theses – in the department, the FN and UMP were divided by only a handful of votes (25.2% to 24.9%) – and the map showed a rather neat polarization, like in 2009, between areas in the Strasbourg sphere of influence and those remote areas outside of it. The PS narrowly won Strasbourg proper (23.4% to 19.2% for the UMP, 14.6% for the FN and 12.8% for EELV), likely due to the presence of the former PS mayor and incumbent MEP Catherine Trautmann on the PS list in second place (she failed to be reelected, the PS taking only one seat in the East), while the UMP won the city’s affluent suburban cantons by solid margins – in the canton of Truchtersheim, for example, the UMP won 30.7% against only 21.8% for the FN. The FN’s results were lower (under 30%) and the UMP stronger in the fairly wealthy cantons of the Alsace viticole in the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. The FN also did poorly in cantons near the German and Swiss borders (Wissembourg and Lauterbourg in the Bas-Rhin, Huningue in the Haut-Rhin) where a large percentage commute to work in Germany or Switzerland.

On the other hand, the FN won over 35% in Sarre-Union and Drulingen, two cantons in the Alsace bossue and won 34% in the cantons of Saales and Schirmeck, culturally French cantons in the Vosges mountain with an old mining industry. In the Haut-Rhin, where the FN won 30.1% against 23.4% for the UMP, the FN’s best result came from the canton of Saint-Amarin (38%), an old small industrial centre iin the Vosges mountains. It also did very well in the potash basin to the north of Mulhouse (35.5% in the canton of Cernay, 34.9% in Wittenheim, 36.3% in Einsisheim) and in the Val d’Argent (an old silver mining area in the Haut-Rhin and Vosges) with 34.9% in the canton of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and 41.6% in the canton of Fraize (Vosges). These old industrial regions in Alsace, where the FN has always performed very well, are almost all economically depressed regions which have suffered from deindustrialization and a continued demographic decline which began in the 1970s or before.

In Moselle, the FN won 31.1% against 19.7% for the UMP. The FN performed very well in the former coal mining basin, with 35% in the canton of Forbach, 39.3% in the canton of Stiring-Wendel, 41.2% in Saint-Avold-2 and 40.7% in the canton of Freyming-Merlebach; it also swept the Fensch valley – a region of old iron works or defunct iron ore mines – with 35.5% in the canton of Hayange (the city of Hayange, where the FN won 37.7%, has a FN mayor now), 36.9% in the canton of Rombas, 33% in Marange-Silvange, 31% in the canton of Florange (in the depressed town of Florange, famous for the controversies surrounding the closure of the ArcelorMittal plant, the FN won 31.2%) and 35.4% in Moyeuvre-Grande. Across the border, in the Pays-Haut of Meurthe-et-Moselle, the FN still struggled in this region of the iron country dominated by the PCF. The FN won only 25% or so of the vote in the cantons of Villerupt and Herserange, 24% in Longwy, (and, in Moselle, it won only 26.8% in the canton of Fontoy); the FG still topped the polls in a few towns in the Pays-Haut including Villerupt and Hussigny-Godbrange. I speculate that the tradition and presence of Italian and Polish immigrants in this industrial region of Lorraine – in addition to the continued local strength of the PCF in the region – serves to weaken the FN in a region which would be assumed to be as solid for them as the Fensch valley or the coal mining basin of Moselle.

Another general region where the FN did quite well was the greater Paris basin – the far-right won some very strong numbers on the exurban outskirts of the Parisian metropolis, in the outer reaches of the Seine-et-Marne, Val-d’Oise, Essonne and extending into the Oise, Aisne, Eure, Yonne and Loiret. These are right-leaning lower middle-class exurban/outer suburban communities, which have grown rapidly in recent years as high property prices in the urban cores, urban decay in the old suburbs, white flight have forced people to live further and further away from their workplaces in the downtown cores. Those who have been ‘forced’ to move away from the downtown cores did not do so by choice, their low incomes and lower-paying jobs (there are, obviously, few young professionals or cadres sups in these exurbs, but lots of middle-aged employees) meant that they could not afford to live in increasingly costly downtowns and inner suburbs. Clearly, white flight and security concerns motivated some to ‘escape’ the old proletarian suburbs of the Seine-Saint-Denis, but they probably did not particularly wish to live where they may live today. The expression périurbain galère (the French idiom la galère refers to a particularly tough or unfavourable siutation) is a good expression of their lifestyle. By their lower education levels (most have the Bac or a trades certificate) they can only rarely aspire to higher paying jobs. They are forced to a long commute to work, and suffer from public transit strikes or traffic jams. A lot those who suffer the périurbain galère struggle to make ends meet: mortgage payments on their houses or car(s) and rising gas prices. These regions, where the left is weak, have tended to become the FN’s new strongholds in Île-de-France.

There is an important contrast between what can be described as the périurbain choisi and périurbain subi (basically, “chosen” exurbia and “suffered” exurbia). The first denotes more comfortable upper middle-class exurban areas, accessible and connected to large business and educational cities, populated by professionals and higher-income earners who have chosen to live in the suburbs. The latter denotes lower-income, though not “poor” people who have been compelled to move to less desirable, less accessible and semi-rural exurban municipalities because of rising property prices in the old inner city and the inner suburbs. In this case, the FN vote can express concerns about security and opposition to immigration – because despite living in “lily-white” areas, these inhabitants work and socialize alongside immigrants in more ethnically diverse urban conglomerations – but it also expresses the concerns of a lower middle-class electorate which is considered about social marginalization, their wages, their purchasing power and their economic future. Similar to the Poujadist vote in 1956, there is a certain fear of ‘proletarianization’ or déclassement (falling down the social ladder). Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the “invisible” rural and exurban France likely struck a chord and hit all the right notes for these voters. Their vote for the FN does not necessarily represent racism but rather fears about the future and frustration at their marginalization in the “invisible” peripheral regions of France.

The FN received over 30% of the vote in the exurban cantons of the Seine-et-Marne and Val-d’Oise, and reached over 40% of the vote in most of the Oise, a department which combines several favourable demographics for the far-right (a declining, depressed and aging old working-class/industrial base in small centres and marginalized semi-rural cantons; the périurbain subi exurban vote. The pattern can also be observed in the Eure and the Yonne (the regions of these departments closest to Paris).

Average FN results 1995-2014 relative to the distance from nearest city of 200,000+ inhabitants (source: Ifop)

Ifop has been looking at the FN’s vote share across France in relation to distance from urban centres for a few years now, and analyzed the EP results from that fascinating angle again this year. As in 2012, the FN’s support was weakest (19.5%) in communes which are located 0 to 10km from a urban centre of over 200,000 inhabitants and peaked at about 29% of the vote in communes falling between 30 and 60km of a large urban centre, before slowly declining as distance from the urban core increased further. As these numbers show, the exurban support for the FN is not only confined to the Parisian basin. It’s also a factor in Lyon (Rhône department), with the strong support for the FN in lower middle-class outer suburbs to the east of the city (canton of Meyzieu 31% FN, canton of Saint-Symphorien-d’Ozon 29.7% FN, canton of Décines-Charpieu 27.1% FN) contrasting with low support in the affluent suburbs (canton of Limonest 16.9% FN, canton of Caluire-et-Cuire 15% FN). Around Toulouse, the FN won about 28% in the cantons of Fronton and Grenade, which are exurban areas of the city, while it won only 15.3% in the affluent suburban canton of Castanet-Tolosan

In the 1995 presidential election, the FN’s support was highest (16-16.5%) in communes falling between 10 and 30km of a large centre, while in 2002, Le Pen’s support had been highest – at 18% – in areas between 20 and 50km of a large centre. Since 1984, there has been a particularly pronounced decline in the FN’s support in the urban cores – Paris being perhaps the best example (although many other large cities, notably Lyon, are also good examples); this has been compensated by a significant increase in the FN’s support in outer suburban, exurban and semi-rural areas. Compared to 2012, however, the FN gained in all communes, although the smallest gains (+5.2%) came in the urban cores and the strongest gains (+8%) from the strongholds 30-60km from them. Nevertheless, with the major differences in turnout level, it is unwise to compare both elections directly unless turnout is taken into account.

One of the strongest predictors of voting for the FN is the level of education. According to the average of four exit polls, the FN vote ranged from 36% to 10% depending on an individual’s education. With voters who had no diploma or certification lower than the Bac, the FN won 36% against a distant 19% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With voters who had the Bac, the FN won 28% against 22% for the UMP and 13% for the PS. With those voters who had the Bac and two years of post-secondary education (Bac +2), the UMP defeated the FN by 3 points (23% to 20%), with the PS increasing its support to 15% and EELV taking 13% of the vote. With the most educated voters – those with a Bac +3 or more (a Bac +3 is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, anything above that would be a masters or doctorate) – the FN was fifth (10%) behind the UMP (21%), PS (18%), UDI-MoDem (16%) and EELV (12%). In socioprofessional categories, the most educated voters tend to be cadres (managerial and professional positions, including lawyers, academics, doctors, journalists, artists). In this CSP+ category, the FN won only 12% (average) against 21% for the UMP, 16% for the UDI-MoDem, 16% for the PS, 12% for EELV and 6% for the FG. Therefore, the FN’s support decreased with higher levels of education, a higher socioprofessional status and higher incomes (Ipsos and OpinionWay asked for income, and found the lowest support for the FN and the highest support for the UMP, centre and PS [!] in the top income brackets; with the FN’s strongest results from the lowest income brackets, although still pulling a strong vote at or above national average in middle-income categories). In an enlightening tale of who stuck with the PS in 2014, the Socialists had their best result with the higher income, education and socioprofessional groups. As you could infer from the above results in industrial regions, not only did many of the left’s voters in those regions abstain, the voters who turned out punished the PS.

The strong link between education and FN support can be seen in the divide between some urban centres and the ‘rest of the country’. The so-called idéopôles – a term coined by researchers Fabien Escalona and Mathieu Vieria – are large urban centres with a strong, globalized economy and a strong cultural activity (often through the presence of universities or well-educated bobos (American readers will be familiar with the idea, given that it originated in the US). The term can be dangerously reductive in that it tends to assume that each idéopôle is just that, obscuring the social diversity within these cities. For example, while Lille is counted as an idéopôle, the city has a very large low-income population made up of immigrants and ‘poor whites'; other idéopôles such as Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier and Strasbourg all have significant low-income population living in zones urbaines sensibles (ZUS – the equivalent of ‘inner city neighborhoods’ in the US – although in France they tend to be geographically concentrated on the peripheries of cities). Yet, the term is still a useful notion. In this election, the FN performed below average in all the idéopôles identified by Escalona and Vieria: 9.3% in Paris, 13.6% in Lyon, 14.1% in Toulouse, 18% in Montpellier (first place, but only a few votes ahead of EELV – 17.7%), 14.6% in Strasbourg, 13.3% in Grenoble (where EELV won the most votes – 20.4% – ahead of 18.6% for the PS), 10.1% in Nantes, 18.9% in Lille (as noted above, due to a division of the left, and the FN was very weak in those areas of the city which really are idéopôles) and 20.5% in Aix-en-Provence. In the secondary ‘ideopoli’ of Bordeaux and Rennes, the FN won 11.5% and 9.4% respectively. In all idéopôles besides Aix, the PS and EELV vote was above average. In cities such as Rennes and Nantes, PS and EELV placed first and second, ahead of the UMP.

It is not quite a urban-rural divide, however, because the FN did very well in cities such as Marseille (30.3%), which are poorer and include very large concentrations of low-income areas, immigrant-heavy cités, lower middle-class banlieues pavillonnaires (residential suburbs with individual houses) and formerly working-class communities. In Marseille, the results were quite interesting: the FN, as expected, did best in the 13th and 14th arrondissements (the 7th sector, where it won the local sectoral city hall in March) with 39.3% and 42% respectively with some very strong results in the 10th and 11th arrondissements (37.7% and 38.9%). The UMP won the affluent neighborhoods and coastal suburbs (5th, 7th and 8th arrdt with over 35% in the 8th) and the PS was shut out. EELV topped the poll in the 1st arrdt, a very poor and immigrant-heavy downtown ‘inner city’ area, taking 18.7% against 17.8% for the PS. Amusingly, the PS did better in the affluent UMP stronghold of the 8th (11.2%) than the 15th, a very poor and immigrant-heavy area of the quartiers nords (10.9%, but turnout was only 25.6%) which has usually been a PS stronghold. Even in the very poor and solidly left-wing 2nd and 3rd arrdts, the PS won only 16% or so. In the Bouches-du-Rhône, the FN won shocking numbers in its strongholds – 49.3% in Marignane, 40.4% in Vitrolles, 46.1% in Berre-l’Étang, 43% in Miramas and 47.4% in Miramas.

The FN won its best southern results in the Rhône valley – 46.3% in the canton of Beaucaire (Gard), 44.6% in the canton of Saint-Gilles (Gard), 40.6% in the canton of Vauvert, 42.3% in Carpentras-Nord (Vaucluse), 40.9% in Carpentras-Sud (Vaucluse), 40.4% in the canton of Cavaillon (Vaucluse), 46.3% in the canton of Bédarrides (Vaucluse), 42.8% in Orange-Ouest (Vaucluse), 41.7% in Orange-Est (Vaucluse), 44.8% in Bollène (Vaucluse) and 40.2% in Pierrelatte (Drôme). This is a largely urbanized region, and the far-right has been present in one form or another since the 1960s in most of the area. It is often pinned down to the large population of pieds noirs – French settlers in Algeria who were resettled in chaotic and controversial conditions in France in 1962, largely settling in PACA and Languedoc-Roussillon – and an associated tradition of reactionary-nationalist/conservative politics with support for the OAS during the Algerian conflict. But it is not the only factor, and is merely a contributory factor. Agriculture is of lesser importance today, but the region’s strong fruit and vegetable industry has always required a large seasonal workforce. While these roles were often filled by Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese in the 1960s and 1970s, they were progressively replaced by Moroccan and other North African immigrants. By and large, this urbanized region is fairly poor – low incomes, low education levels and most jobs falling in the CSP- category – but not proletarian or working-class, rather predominantly lower middle-class and petit bourgeois (shopkeepers, small employees). This population (sometimes called petites gens) suffer or feel, directly or indirectly, problems such as high unemployment, poverty, cost of living pressures, immigration (there are large immigrant concentrations in cities or neighborhoods nearby) and criminality. The cities where the FN does very well – Béziers, Perpignan, Carpentras and Avignon (among others) – were not industrial centres, but they all have high levels of poverty and unemployment. In cities such as Béziers, Perpignan, Fréjus or many smaller towns inland in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes, the downtown cores have suffered from pauperization and desertification (shops closing down, poverty, criminality); these factors ranked high on the list of FN priorities in the municipal elections back in March, where they won city halls including that of Béziers, Beaucaire, Fréjus and Camaret-sur-Aigues.


The map above shows the results by canton, with the FN in a purple shade (please click the image for the full-size splendor). The map was coloured by Stéphane Guillerez, who kindly shared the data and maps with me. It can complete my commentary on the FN’s results and the showings of the other parties across France. In addition to the FN strongholds noted above, strong levels of support (above 30%) can be seen in the Nord-Isère, much of the Ain, the Garonne valley extending to the coastal regions of the Charente-Maritime, wide swathes of the Franche-Comté and Bourgogne and even many regions in the Basse-Normandie. Although we should keep in mind the matter of turnout and the nature of the EP election, the FN’s support has nationalized. The far-right party won cantons from Alsace all the way to the Finistère in Brittany; although the FN’s strongholds remained east of the imaginary Le Havre-Meaux-St. Etienne-Perpignan axis, it won very strong results in its weaker regions. Simplifying matters, across France, the FN’s support is highest outside of major urban areas in outer suburban, exurban or semi-rural areas – regions with lower incomes, lower educational levels and a population largely made up of CSP- workers and employees. In the Garonne valley (and adjacent regions such as the Blayais and l’Entre-Deux-Mers in the Gironde), the outline of which can be seen in the 30%-shaded FN cantons running from the Saintonge (Charente-Maritime) to Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne), there are a lot of low-income groups including shopkeepers, blue-collar workers in small industries (construction, small metal factories, agro-industry), lower middle-classes, pieds noirs, fruits and vegetable producers and less affluent small winemakers (whose wine is less prestigious than Saint-Émilion, Sauternes or Médoc).

The FN polled well in Nord-Isère, a region which has been favourable to the far-right for decades now. A predominantly urban and historically industrial region (with various industries in towns such as Vienne, Roussillon and Bourgoin-Jallieu, the Nord-Isère is now largely under the exurban influences of Lyon and Grenoble, and the decline of traditional industries in the major cities has led to urban decay and rising criminality. The FN polled up to 41% in the canton of Pont-de-Chéruy, an exurban canton of Lyon. In the south of the department, however, the far-right did quite poorly: in the very affluent suburban cantons of Meylan and Saint-Ismier (outside Grenoble), the FN polled only 17.2% and 12.3% respectively.

The FN performed well in the old industrial (predominantly mining, with smaller metallurgical and textile industries) valleys of the Gier and Ondaine in the south of the Loire department, from Firminy to Rive-de-Gier/Givors (Rhône); a region which was badly hit by deindustrialization in the 1980s and which – in parts – retains high levels of unemployment, pockets of severe deprivation and a largely blue-collar population. The FN won 22.2% in Saint-Étienne as a whole, 29.5% in the old mining basin canton of Firminy (traditionally favourable to the PCF), 30.1% in the old industrial (but right-leaning) city of Saint-Chamond, 30.8% in the canton of Rive-de-Gier, 32.7% in the canton of La-Grand-Croix and a peak at 36.6% in the old mining basin of Le-Chambon-Feugerolles. In the Rhône department, the FN won 30.9% against 19.5% to the FG in the old working-class Communist stronghold of Givors, although turnout was below 30%.

Some other old industrial basins – regions which tend to be more economically depressed, and retain a lower-income and less education population – offered strong results for the FN – in the Alpes-Maritimes, the FN’s strongest results came from the old industrial Vallée du Paillon (a former PCF stronghold, incidentally), where the party took 44% in the canton of L’Escarène and 41.4% in the canton of Contes. In the Haute-Savoie, the FN’s strongest results came from the industrial basin of Cluses-Scionzier with 36.3% in the canton of Scionzier and 31% in the canton of Cluses (in contrast, in the affluent lakeside suburban canton of Annecy-le-Vieux, the FN won 16.3% and in the affluent Geneva suburbs of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, the far-right polled 19.3%). In the Haute-Loire, the FN won over 30% of the vote in the old industrial cantons of Aurec-sur-Loire and Sainte-Sigolène (a Catholic working-class region which has always leaned to the right), but it won only 23.5% in the canton of Auzon, part of an old mining basin which is strongly left-wing. In the Tarn, the FN won 27.3% in the city of Mazamet, an old fellmongering industrial centre (which has, however, always leaned to the right) and narrowly topped the poll over the PS in Carmaux (24.6%), the old solidly left-wing mining town of Jean Jaurès. In the textile town of Lavelanet (Ariège), the FN won 33.4% against 19.4% for the PS. The FN did quite well in the industrial suburbs of Rouen in the Seine valley (topping the poll in nearly all of them), with 31.7% in the Communist cité cheminote of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, 32.3% in Le Grand-Quevilly, 33.5% in Petit-Couronne, 30.3% in Grand-Couronne and 33.3% in Elbeuf. However, the pattern is not universal: in other old industrial or mining basins, the FN did not do so well – for example, in the old coal mining town of Decazeville (Aveyron), the FG topped the poll with 22.1% and the FN was third with 17.7%. The FN performed below its national average in other old working-class/industrial towns such as Lacq (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique) and Decize (Nièvre).

The UMP was the largest party in three of the eight EP constituencies: Île-de-France, West and the Overseas.

Results of the UMP by canton

Although the FN did quite well in Île-de-France, a region where the general trends in the past few elections have generally been unfavourable to the FN, the UMP managed to retain first place thanks to the FN’s very weak support in Paris itself and the UMP’s dominance of its core clientele – the affluent suburban communities in the Hauts-de-Seine and Yvelines, two departments where the UMP topped the poll. In the Yvelines, a rather clear divide is visible between regions where the UMP did best and those where the FN did better. In the very affluent canton of Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, the UMP polled 31.7% (in similarly affluent cantons such as Le Vésinet, Poissy-Sud and Le Chesnay, the UMP won over 30% of the vote). In the canton of Bonnières-sur-Seine, the most distant and exurban canton in the northwest of the department, the UMP’s support fell to 20% while the FN won 33.2%. In the canton of Mantes-la-Ville, a low-income area whose chef-lieu is now ruled by the FN, the far-right polled over 30%. Similarly, in the Essonne, which the FN won, the UMP dominated the affluent suburbs of Bièvres and Limours (as well as Gif-sur-Yvette, an affluent community and major research centre; the PS won the affluent and highly-educated scientific research centre of Orsay (with 19.3%) but also the low-income banlieues of Les Ulis and Manuel Valls’ town of Évry. The FN did best in the exurban and distant southern half of the department, winning 36.4% in the canton of Méréville. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan’s DLR dominated around his political stronghold of Yerres, where the DLR list won 36.1% of the vote.

The FN won 20.7% in the Seine-Saint-Denis, a result largely due to the low turnout (31.2%), especially from the left. The FN has done quite poorly in the ’93’ in recent elections, even in low-income working-poor suburbs where the far-right had done quite well in the 1980s and 1990s. Thanks to low turnout and a division of the vote, however, the FN topped the poll, especially in the less inner suburban communes. The FG won Saint-Ouen, Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers and Bobigny (among others), while EELV narrowly topped the poll in Montreuil (with 20.2% against 17.9% for the FG) and placed second behind the PS in Pantin, Les Lilas and Le Pré-Saint-Gervais. The UMP won its best result, 26.6%, in the affluent town of Le Raincy. The FN was strongest in the canton of Montfermeil, where it won over 30% (it does best in white middle-income banlieues pavillonnaires).

In the West, the UMP won a large bloc of cantons, clearly visible on the map above, straddling the departments of Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Vendée and the Deux-Sèvres. With the exceptions of the urban cantons of La Roche-sur-Yon and the suburban cantons in the vignobles nantais, this corresponds to the traditionally conservative areas of the deeply Catholic inner west – the bocage vendéen and the Choletais. The FN has never broken through in these areas, which despite a major decline in religiosity and the active influence of the Church, remain steeped in a ‘zombie Catholic’ or Christian democratic tradition which is traditionally pro-European and humanist. OpinionWay polled by religion, and found only 10% support for the FN with regular church-goers compared to 34% with non-practicing Catholics. The UMP (38%) and centre (23%) heavily dominated the small devoutly Catholic minority vote. It’s interesting how the ‘zombie Catholic’ effect is clearly visible in the Maine-et-Loire – the UMP topped the poll in the choletais and bocage angevin, historically the most Catholic, clerical and conservative regions, while the FN was the largest party in most of the Beaugeois and Saumurois, where religiosity has always been lesser and social structures traditionally different (in the days of the great André Siegfried, the choletais and bocage angevin were the realms of powerful nobles and large landholdings while the Beaugeois was a region of poorer smallholdings, with an anti-clerical and republican tradition; the Saumurois had a ‘Bonapartist temperament’ because of the dominance of wealthier smallholders in vineyards). In the Mayenne, there was a very powerful favourite son effect for Jean Arthuis, the UDI-MoDem top candidate who as (ex-)senator and president of the general council is a powerful and influential political boss in the department. Arthuis’ list won 32.2% in Mayenne against 18.4% for the FN. In Château-Gontier, where Arthuis was mayor from 1971 to 2001, he won 48% of the vote. Some of this vote spilled over in the Segréen (Maine-et-Loire) and the very conservative and Catholic/clerical eastern half of Ille-et-Vilaine (although I suppose this is another favourite daughter effect, for Laurence Méhaignerie, second on the list and the daughter of the longtime Christian democratic-UDI mayor of Vitré Pierre Méhaignerie).

Results of the UDI-MoDem by canton

The UDI-MoDem’s support was quite odd: the vague outlines of the traditional Christian democratic map (which is that of historical religiosity/clericalism) are there, with the centre’s strength in the West, Alsace-Moselle, the southern Massif Central and the weakness in the Limousin and along the southern seaboard. But, in the details, there are several exceptions to that pattern and ‘oddities’ – in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the centre’s support came from Béarn rather than the Basque Country, the traditional Christian democratic/Catholic stronghold; support was weak and patchy in Lozère, Haute-Loire and Cantal, even the Catholic plateaus; support in the Nord was strong in Catholic Flanders but extended throughout most of the department, into the Valenciennois; and support in Moselle was strongest around the Metz-Thionville agglomeration rather than the Plateau Lorrain. Additionally, there were strong results in traditionally less religious regions: the Loir-et-Cher, the Eure-et-Loir, the Marne, the Puy-de-Dôme, the Artois (Pas-de-Calais), parts of the Somme, the Valenciennois (Nord) and the Hautes-Alpes.

Explaining the oddities, one notices the obvious favourite sons/daughters factors (Dominique Riquet in the Valenciennois, Nathalie Griesbeck in the Metz-Thionville area, Arthuis in the Mayenne) but also the clear influence of local UDI (less so MoDem) local barons (deputies, mayors). In the Loir-et-Cher, the strong centrist support in the west of the department (Vendôme) corresponds quasi-perfectly with the constituency of UDI deputy (and president of the general council) Maurice Leroy, while there was also solid numbers for the list in the Blois constituency, held until 2012 by Nicolas Perruchot (ex-NC, now UMP). In the Eure-et-Loir, the strongest numbers came from the constituency of UDI deputy Philippe Vigier. In the Somme, the list did well in the canton of Albert (14.3%) because the mayor of Albert is UDI deputy Stéphane Demilly and in Amiens (14.4%), governed by Brigitte Fouré (UDI) since March. In the Pas-de-Calais, the list did well in Arras, which is governed by the UDI. In the Drôme, the centrists did well in Montélimar (20.2%), whose mayor is UDI deputy Franck Reynier. In the Meurthe-et-Moselle, the centrists won 16.6% in Nancy, whose mayor is now former Radical deputy Laurent Hénart. In the Seine-et-Marne, the centrist list topped the poll in Montereau-Fault-Yonne, the city of UDI deputy Yves Jégo. In the Puy-de-Dôme, the centrist list won 21.4% (second place) in Chamalières, an affluent suburb of Clermont-Ferrand and stronghold of the Giscard dynasty (the current mayor is Louis Giscard d’Estaing, a former deputy and son of the former President) and the support extended in the surrounding area in a way which looks awfully similar to the pre-redistricting shape of Giscard’s old constituency. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the centrists did very well in Drancy (22.1%), governed by UDI deputy Jean-Christophe Lagarde, and also did quite well in Bobigny and Le Bourget, both of which have UDI mayors.

Therefore, the ‘added value’ of the UDI to the MoDem was in the form of local barons who brought along their regional strongholds/constituencies, which is very unsurprising considering that the UDI is very much a parti de notables in the long tradition of the non-Gaullist centre-right.

In Brittany, there was a particularly interesting favourite son and regionalist protest vote in the centre of the Armorican peninsula. Christian Troadec, the regionalist mayor of Carhaix (Finistère) led a Breton regionalist list which won over 11% of the vote in the Finistère and spilled over into the Côtes-d’Armor and Morbihan. Troadec is less of a politician than a ‘political entrepreneur’ who pays a lot of attention to Breton identity and culture (he famously created the popular music Festival des Vieilles Charrues in CarhaixOn the cantonal and communal map, an impressive bloc of support for Troadec’s list is visible in the centre-west of Brittany, expanding out of the canton of Carhaix-Plouguer, where Troadec won 39.7%. He won most communes in the Monts-d’Arée region of Finistère and the inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor. Troadec’s vote clearly has a strong favourite son tinge to it, given that a generic regionalist list does not perform that well (that being said, with its concentration in the Bretagne bretonnante, it superficially matches the traditional base of Breton nationalism). However, Troadec had run in the 2010 regionals and peaked at 6.8% in the Finistère, so his personal vote is not the only factor. A major reason for his strong result is likely due to his role as one of the major leaders of the bonnets rouges protest movement in Brittany, which began last fall out of opposition to an ‘ecotax’ on heavy goods transport vehicles, protesting the crisis in the agro-industry and expressing regionalist demands including the reunification of Brittany and increased decision-making powers for the region. The movement is led by the local left, but has been controversial because of how some sectors of the far-right and the employers in the polluting agro-industry have latched on to the movement. Troadec’s support corresponds to the poorest and socioeconomically depressed region of Brittany, isolated and distant from the well-off urban and suburban centres driving growth in a region usually seen as more well-off than most. It has an aging, blue-collar and less educated population with fewer job opportunities; but the FN has always performed very poorly in this region. It is also a solidly left-wing region – the Monts-d’Arée were described by Siegfried as a ‘radical democracy’ and have been the most left-wing region in Brittany for over a hundred years. The inland Cornouaille in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor is also a solidly left-wing region (a poor region of smallholdings, lesser religiosity and a tradition of radical democratic and anti-nobility sentiments), historically dominated by the PS and (less so nowadays) the PCF. Troadec likely won a lot of left-wing protest votes, from voters severely turned off from the government because of national and local issues (the ecotax/bonnets rouges issues, and perhaps its lip-service to regionalist demands such as reunification and the ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages).

Troadec’s support interested Ifop, which has produced an interesting analysis, showing the very localized friends-and-neighbors vote for his list, whose support declines as one gets further away from Carhaix. It also links his vote to support for the 1675 anti-tax révolte des bonnets rouges in western Brittany, the leftist tradition of the Monts-d’Arée/Haute-Cornouaille and the post-war rural communist tradition born out of the PCF-led resistance to the Nazi occupation. Ifop’s study also found that Troadec largely ate into PS support from 2009, but also dragged down EELV and UMP support and limited FN gains.

In the Ille-et-Vilaine, the FN’s strong support in exurban and remote ‘fragile’ regions is clearly visible. The left dominated Rennes (a ‘semi-idéopôle‘) and its middle-income suburbs (the right won the most affluent suburbs of Cesson-Sévigné, Saint-Grégoire and Pacé), the UMP won the affluent coastal towns of the Côte-d’Émeraude (Saint-Malo, Dinard, Cancale) while the right and centre were both strong in the solidly conservative and clerical regions of eastern Ille-et-Vilaine. The FN won a large swathes of communes lying to the southwest of Rennes – semi-rural and growing exurban areas within commuting distance of Rennes, but with a slightly less affluent population than the inner suburbs. It also did well in the Baie-du-Mont-Saint-Michel, a remote (it is not exurban) ‘socially fragile’ and low-income region. This Insée study on the social makeups of regions in the department can be compared to the map of the results – the high-income regions around Rennes and on the coast had low support for the FN, the low and middle-income regions had significantly higher results for the FN.

The UMP also dominated another very Catholic region – the southern Massif Central (Cantal, Lozère, Aveyron; especially the mountainous regions of the Aubrac, Margeride and Plateau of Saint-Flour). The UMP won over 30% – even 40% in some cantons – in these very rural, agricultural (herding) and deeply Catholic/clerical regions. In the Aveyron, EELV – led by local icon José Bové – was quite successful around Millau and in the Larzac while the three left-wing parties – EELV, FG and PS won the Protestant and solidly left-wing communes in the Cévennes (Gard/Lozère).

Results of the PS by canton

The PS won only two departments in metro France – the Corrèze (Hollande’s political stronghold) and the Haute-Vienne, both of them traditional strongholds of the left (ignoring the favourite son love affair for Jacques Chirac in the Corrèze from the 1980s to 2007). The PS won 33.7% in Hollande’s city of Tulle (Corrèze) and was also victorious in Limoges and Saint-Junien (Haute-Vienne). The Limousin’s socialist-communist tradition, a fascinating issue, owes to a wide variety of complex factors – to cite a few: smallholders, sharecroppers, rural poverty, strong anti-clericalism, workers’ activism, heavy toll of World War I and very active left-wing resistance to the Nazis. Traditions have not died out in this region: the FG still topped the poll in the canton of Bugeat (Corrèze), which had already been a PCF stronghold in the interwar era. Laird Boswell’s Rural Communism in France, 1920-1939 is an excellent read for anybody interested by the full roots of rural communism in this part of the world.

In urban areas, due to very low turnout from the Socialist base in low-income and multiethnic neighborhoods and cités, the PS largely held an older, more educated, more white-collar electorate (one which turns out in greater numbers structurally and may be expected to be slightly less anti-government). In the Hauts-de-Seine, for example, the PS only topped the poll in Clichy and Nanterre, two old working-class cities which while still fairly low-income have seen some significant social changes with the growth of a new middle-class with higher education and white-collar jobs (only 16% of the active labour force in Nanterre, for example, are ouvriers today); the FG won in Gennevilliers and Bagneux, which remain more heavily low-income and working-poor to this day, with the PS placing a terrible third behind the FN. In the Val-de-Marne, the FG and the FN won the poorest suburbs (28.1% for the FN in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, the FG won Valenton, Ivry-sur-Seine, Bonneuil-sur-Marne, Champigny-sur-Marne etc) while the PS did better in the old working-class suburbs which are now more socially diverse and somewhat gentrified (to a much lesser extent than other high-points of gentrification such as Montreuil) – Créteil, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Cachan and Fresnes. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, the FN – mostly due to turnout being so absurdly low – narrowly won the grimmest banlieues such as Clichy-sous-Bois (one of the poorest major towns in France, infamous since the 2005 riots; turnout was barely over 20%), La Courneuve, Stains (with 22% turnout), Sevran and Villepinte. The FG won the old Communist heartlands of Saint-Denis, Aubervilliers, Saint-Ouen, Bobigny and Bagnolet; the PS and EELV did best in the communes closest to Paris which have seen real gentrification (Montreuil, Les Lilas, Pantin to a much lesser extent). In the Val-d’Oise, the PS did win the tough low-income banlieue of Sarcelles, but it lost low-income suburbs such as Argenteuil, Gonesse, Villiers-le-Bel, Goussainville and Persan to the FN. The PS won Cergy, a predominantly administrative and academic middle-class ville nouvelle. In the Grande Couronne of Paris, the pattern was much the same: in the Essonne, although the PS saved faced by winning the Manuel Valls stronghold of Évry and also won the low-income suburb of Les Ulis, but the FN won Corbeil-Essonnes, Épinay-sous-Sénart, Fleury-Mérogis and Ris-Orangis (the FG won the Communist stronghold of Grigny, a very poor and multiethnic suburb home to the huge ZUS of La Grande Borne, a famous and disastrous post-war social housing project of huge proportions). The PS had more success in the highly-educated ‘knowledge corridor’ centered around the research town of Orsay, and was also victorious in Massy, a socially mixed but generally more middle-income academic and administrative suburban town. In the Yvelines, finally, the FN won the low-income banlieues of Trappes, Les Mureaux, Chanteloup-les-Vignes and Limay (with sub-30% turnout everywhere but Limay) while the UMP won the low-income and multiethnic banlieue of Mantes-la-Jolie (28% vs 19.2% for the FN) – although the city is solidly on the left nationally, the right is dominant in local politics since 1995 (with Pierre Bédier, a corrupt politician sentenced to a suspended jail sentence and political ineligibility for a kickback scandal, serving as mayor for most of the time from 1995 to 2005 and president of the general council from 2005 to 2009, who has since triumphantly returned to politics as president of the CG since April 2014) and the FN has done poorly in Mantes-la-Jolie from its heyday in 1995-7.

PS loses from the 2012 presidential election in the Paris region

Outside of Paris, the same pattern repeated itself in Marseille (see above), Lyon, Grenoble, Bordeaux, Rouen (see above) and Lille (see above). In Lyon, the PS remained the largest party in Villeurbanne – a longtime Socialist stronghold and historically working-class suburb of Lyon, which has seen significant gentrification and the growth of a middle-income population in recent years (while still retaining a large low-income and immigrant population). The PS won 19.8% in the city (where turnout was healthier, at 36.9%) against 18.8% for the FN. The FN, however, “swept” the low-income suburbs – the old PCF strongholds of Vaulx-en-Velin (28% vs. 19.4% for the PS and 13.2% for the FG on 21% turnout), Vénissieux (27.1% vs. 15.8% PS and 14.4% FG, on 28% turnout) and Pierre-Bénite (25.4%, the PS and FG in third and fourth), the lower-income blue-collar suburbs of Saint-Fons (29.8% FN on 25.7% turnout) and Feyzin (31.8% FN on 35.7% turnout). In suburban Grenoble, the FN won (but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout) but with mediocre percentages, even on low turnout)  the three major ‘Red Belt’ proletarian suburbs of Fontaine, Échirolles and Saint-Martin-d’Hères, as well as the poor suburban town of Pont-de-Claix (with a more substantial result of 29.2%, but on 31.1% turnout). In Bordeaux, the FN won its best results in the poorer suburbs of the Rive Droite of the Gironde (victorious in Floirac with 21.6%, second to the PS in Cenon with 21.5%, first in Lormont with 24.9% and strong first in Bassens with 27.7%); in the wealthier left-wing middle-income suburbs of Mérignac, Pessac and Talence the FN’s support ranged from 12.6% in Talence to 16.4% in Mérignac (and the PS won all of these three communes). Four parties were closely in Bègles, an old industrial and proletarian suburb just south of Bordeaux – which has been ruled by ex-EELV deputy Noël Mamère since 1989, but has a Communist tradition: EELV won 17.9%, followed by the PS (17.7%) and FG (17.4%) and the FN in fourth (16%).

Results of FG/UOM by canton

The FG did quite poorly in some traditional PCF strongholds. In the NPDC mining basin, the FG’s results fell from 22.9% to 15.8% in the canton of Denain, 22.1% to 14.1% in Marchiennes, 36.5% to 20.8% in Rouvroy and 31.9% to 18.4% in Divion. In the industrial Vimeu region of the Somme, the FG’s support fell from 16.4% to 13.3% in the canton of Friville-Escarbotin. In Tergnier (Aisne), FG support fell from 18.4% to 13.6%; FG support also fell in Tergnier (Aisne), the cité cheminote of Romilly-sur-Seine (Aube), the old PCF stronghold of Vierzon (Cher, an old industrial city), the rural communist country of the Bourbonnais (Allier) and Limousin, the Cévennes mining basin (Alès/La Grand-Combe/Bessèges), the Vallée du Paillon (Alpes-Maritimes), Marseille’s industrial hinterland (Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône – from 37.3% to 29.5%, Port-de-Bouc – from 45.6% to 37.2%, Martigues – from 21.6% to 20.5%) and the communist region in Basse-Bretagne. However, the FG made gains in much of the Pays-Haut iron and steel basin in Meurthe-et-Moselle, increasing support from 18.8% to 21.2% in the canton of Herserange, 17.4% to 18.9% in Villerupt, 17.7% to 19.2% in Homécourt and 11.9% to 13.2% in Fontoy (Moselle). The FG also made gains in the Decazeville-Aubin mining basin (Aveyron), Carmaux (Tarn) and the solidly left-wing rural and mountainous regions of the Southwest (12.2% in Hautes-Pyrénées – the FG’s best result; 11.9% in the Ariège; 9.1% in the Pyrénées-Orientales and even 8.4% in Lozère – where the FG did extremely well in the Protestant cantons of the Cévennes, with 20.4% in Saint-Germain-de-Calberte). I had already noted, in 2012, that Mélenchon’s support was comparatively poor in traditional industrial Communist strongholds (compared to the results of Robert Hue in 1995, who had nevertheless won less support than Mélenchon did) but unusually strong in rural regions, both of communist and socialist tradition. I am hesitant to state that this was the result of a direct transfer of PCF voters to the FN in working-class areas (notably the coal mining basin of the NPDC); while this was likely a small factor, I would tend to suppose that this is more the result of an erosion of Communist traditions as a result of generational change (the traditional cohorts of the working-class, which was raised and lived in a different era of relations between working-class identity and Communism, dying off) and the transformation of the meaning of  ‘working-class’ (more non-unionized jobs, atomization, unemployment, low-paying jobs in industry and services requiring longer commutes) in these regions over 20 years after the last mine closed.

The FG also had some poor performances in its urban strongholds: Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (Indre-et-Loire), where the FG topped the poll with only 21% (down from 43%); Allonnes (Sarthe), where FG support declined from 23.1% to 18.5% and the FN won nearly 30%; Dieppe (Seine-Maritime), Le Tréport (Seine-Maritime) and Gonfreville-l’Orcher (Seine-Maritime). The FG’s support showed greater resistance in the Parisian region.

Results of EELV by canton

EELV’s support was unusually rural in this election: its best departments were Aveyron (16.7% – holding its 2009 levels) and Drôme (14.4%), with Paris only in third (13.8%). EELV also did well in the Lot (13.7%), Haute-Garonne (13.4%), Loire-Atlantique (13%), Ille-et-Vilaine (12.6%), Hautes-Alpes (12.6%), Hérault (12.6%), Lozère (12.5%) and Isère (12.3%). While EELV won strong results in its traditional urban strongholds – Paris, Grenoble (20.4%), Rennes (18.9%), Nantes (17.7%), Montpellier (17.7%), Toulouse (16.9%), Lille (16.3%), Bordeaux (15.6%) and Lyon (13.3%, with 21.9% and first place in the bob0 1st arrondisement), Strasbourg (12.8%), it also did very well in rural cantons – particularly in the Larzac and Grands-Causses regions of the Aveyron and the Diois and Baronnies regions of the Drôme. The Greens have usually performed well in these regions, especially in the Drôme. The Diois and Baronnies are both old rural communist strongholds, a tradition built by the historic presence of Protestants in the region, the republican-leftist traditions of smallholders, poverty and active resistance in World War II; the region is now a popular tourist destination, and it has attracted a small influx of ‘neo-rural’ left-wing/countercultural (‘soixante-huitards‘) urban transplants seeking the mythical calm and quaintness of the unspoiled country. In these rural regions and others, EELV may also have attracted a left-wing, anti-PS protest vote.

In EELV’s results, the very marked cutoff between the Limousin/Auvergne regions and the Midi-Pyrénées/Languedoc-Roussillon lets me suppose that there may have been a personal vote of sorts for José Bové in his Southwest constituency, or that EELV’s vote in the Massif-Centre constituency may have been drawn down by its little-known top candidate (Clarisse Heusquin, a young lawyer who does not seem to hold any elected office).

Favourite sons and local political dynamics (notably the mayor’s partisan affiliation) were important in several regions. Some of the favourite son effects and local political dynamics have been noted above – Valenciennes for the UDI, Mayenne, Troadec in central Brittany and the comparatively stronger performance by Marine Le Pen in the Northwest and specifically in Hénin-Beaumont. Others include a likely a favourite daughter vote for Michèle Alliot-Marie in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, strong support for the UDI-MoDem in and around François Bayrou’s base in Pau and a bizarre favourite son for incumbent UMP MEP Arnaud Danjean in his native Louhans (Saône-et-Loire) with 43.6% for the UMP list (an oddity given that Danjean has no local political mandate and was only second on the UMP list).

Favourite sons and friends-and-neighbors are the main voting determinants in the Overseas constituency, where turnout is low (17.1%) and often results in very weird results. The prize for weirdest result is for French Guiana, with EELV taking 41% of the vote (as I figure, José Gaillou, second on the EELV list was from Guiana) on 10% turnout. The UOM-FG list won in La Réunion and Martinique, the two regions where it had local support (from the PCR in La Réunion and the PPM in Martinique); the PS won Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and Polynesia, the UMP won wealthy Saint-Barthélemy/Saint-Martin, Wallis-et-Futuna, Mayotte and New Caledonia (the PS and UOM-FG won most of the Kanak communes).


The FN’s remarkable victory, although predictable and unsurprising, still came a shock both in France and across the EU; the FN’s French success, even if it was not ‘replicated’ in the other EU member-states, became the main takeaway of the EP election in most initial media analyses and was used to feed the narrative of a generalized swing to Eurosceptic/far-right parties across the EU.

Despite the low turnout and the nature of an EP election, it remains a fantastic result for the FN and little indicates that the FN would not be able to replicate its EP results (23-25%) in a national, high-stakes election with much higher turnout. The FN has, by the looks of it, an increasingly loyal partisan base which is less ‘ashamed’ of admitting their support for the far-right party than in the past. Given the socioeconomic condition of France, an economic crisis which has only widened and deepened existing gaps in French society (between the minority who have ‘won’ from globalization and the new economy, and the increasingly invisible masses who felt as if they have ‘lost’ from globalization and economic transformations), the unpopularity of the left-wing government, the absence of a credible ‘radical’ alternative on the left (like in many EU countries…) and the pitiful state of the UMP torn apart by a continued low-scale civil war and waves of corruption scandals, it can appear ‘natural’ that the FN would be on such a strong footing today. As long as the economy does not show a major improvement, that the right unites around a leader who is popular (but it is doubtful whether Sarkozy fits that role) and that the government regains all its lost credibility, we can only presume that the FN will remain as strong. Even if the economy does improve, it will not change the roots of the FN’s success – which, unlike with that of the Greek or Hungarian far-right, predates the current economic crisis. Since the 1980s, Western society has been transformed by major economic transformations, changes in traditional value structures, the erosion of traditional ‘pillars’ of society, immigration, new technologies, increased education, new conceptions of gender roles and new attitudes which come into conflict with traditional ‘values’ and attitudes. Those who feel alienated, insecure, angry, concerned and worried as a result of these transformations – those less-educated individuals ‘left behind’ by the increased levels in educational achievement; groups of lower socioeconomic status who face unemployment, job insecurity and low wages as a result of the economic transformations; those forced to live outside the ‘cores’ in the ‘peripheries’ because of higher property prices, immigration-related fears and socioeconomic status – provide the FN with its base of support, although not all those who fit this ‘profile’ have shifted to the FN.

Unfortunately for the FN, there was little time to celebrate as the party soon ran into another major controversy which has divided the party. Jean-Marie Le Pen has a weekly Journal de bord (a sort of video blog) on the FN website, where he comments on current events in an ‘interview’ format with a FN member (usually, the one starring alongside the former leader of the FN is a little-known member from the party’s radical wing, but who is married to Frédéric Chatillon, a former member of the extremist far-right students union GUD who has the lucrative contract of printing FN materials and campaign lit). His weekly video blog episodes In an episode after the EP election, Le Pen was commenting on some left-wing/anti-FN celebrities and artists refusing to put on shows in FN municipalities and more particularly on the anti-FN comments of Patrick Bruel, a Jewish (Algerian-born) singer/poker player who has been a staunch opponent of the FN for decades (in 1995, he had cancelled his shows in municipalities such as Toulon which elected a FN mayor in the June 1995 municipal elections). In yet another case of Jean-Marie letting the inner racist and anti-Semite get the better of him, he commented on the topic of Bruel that “we’ll include him in the next batch” (fournée – batch of bread to be baked). It is not Jean-Marie’s first run-in with anti-Semitism: in 1987 he famously stated that he thought that gas chambers were a ‘detail’ of World War II (officially, he continues to claim, because the war is made up of a series of ‘details’ – even the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he claims, are ‘details’) and in 1988 he made a wordplay on the name of Michel Durafour, a centrist politician who had joined Michel Rocard’s PS-led gouvernement d’ouverture, calling him ‘Durafour-crématoire‘ (four crématoire means crematory oven in French).

Given that the comment went against Marine Le Pen’s smokescreen strategy and much-vaunted dédiabolisation, the comments became the centre of a firestorm within the FN. Louis Aliot said that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s comment was dismaying and politically stupid. Florian Philippot said that while the FN had no lessons to take from a wealthy guy like Bruel and, said that Jean-Marie Le Pen should have known what he was saying (but Philippot said the comments were not anti-Semitic). FN deputy Gilbert Collard, who is not from the FN per se and is a bit more FN-lite uncomfortable with racist/anti-Semitic throwbacks  (he’s mostly a colourful and slightly insane guy), went as far to suggest that Jean-Marie Le Pen should retire (he is currently ‘honourary president’ of the FN) because his comments hurt the FN and RBM. And finally, Marine herself said that her father made a political mistake and seemed quite naturally peeved at her father’s latest outburst. However, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who prizes his ‘liberty’ (which he interprets as the right to mouth off what he wants) and is, as noted previously, not the biggest fan of his daughter’s leadership, young clique and the process of dédiabolisation, is quite angry at how other FN leaders ‘ganged up’ on him. He said that those who misinterpreted his comments (Aliot) were ‘imbeciles’, disingenuously claimed that he didn’t know Bruel was Jewish (but admitted that he would have said what he said even if he ‘knew’), suggested that his daughter was being influenced by her young clique, that she was losing sight of the party’s history/specificity by cleaning it up and insinuated that Collard was just a random loser who should bugger off.

A civil war is unlikely, given that the FN is not stupid – it certainly knows that all splinter parties from the FN have ended up in the ditch, with only the FN remaining a major force. However, a cold war-like situation may arise, and Jean-Marie Le Pen remains a liability for Marine Le Pen as long as he’s alive. It remains to be seen, however, if this latest controversy will actually hurt the FN or if its base will remain resilient.

The UMP, after a bad result on May 25, went from bad to worse the next day, when MEP-elect Jérôme Lavrilleux, a close ally of Copé, reluctantly admitted cost overruns and that a share of the costs of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign had been billed to the UMP rather than the Sarkozy campaign to cover up the costs which were exceeding legal campaign spending limits. This was the latest twist in the Bygmalion affair: originally, we thought that the story was that the UMP had been overcharged by Bygmalion, owned by close friends of Copé, to the price of €8-12.7 million. The UMP was apparently charged for events which never actually took place. Now, the UMP is the one accused of forcing Bygmalion to issue false invoices addressed to the party rather than the campaign (about €11 million). Lavrilleux admitted this after Bygmalion’s lawyer had came out, hours earlier, with the claims of false invoices being demanded by the UMP to the event planning company. Lavrilleux, however, claimed that neither Copé nor Sarkozy were aware of the issue. Overall, Sarkozy’s campaign may have spent up to €39 million in 2012, far surpassing the legal spending limit of €22.5 million.

The pressure mounted on Copé, whose weak leadership had been weakened further by the first revelation of the Bygmalion affair in March and the defeat in the EP election, and he had no choice but to resign as UMP president after a political bureau met on May 27. According to official statements and leaked details, the meeting was quite heated – François Fillon, Copé’s sworn enemy, called on Copé to resign because the UMP was headed to disaster and that he had lost all confidence in Copé. Fillon’s demands were supported by the fillonistes and the ‘neutrals’ or ‘soft’ fillonistes – Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Xavier Bertrand. Copé resigned officially on June 15, handed power over to a ‘triumvirate’ (+ one) and a new congress to elect a president will be held in October 2014. The new triumvirate of the UMP is made up of Fillon (declared candidate for 2017), Alain Juppé (neutral in 2012, anti-Copé in 2014, likely has presidential ambitions in 2017) and Jean-Pierre Raffarin (copéiste in 2012, long-time poor relationship with Fillon) – three former Prime Ministers. On June 10, faced with pressure from the sarkozystes (mostly ex-copéistes), the leadership was widened to include Luc Chatel, a party vice-president and senior copéiste in 2012, who became secretary-general to support the three-man leadership. The copéistes-sarkozystes worried that the makeshift filloniste-juppéiste alliance of convenience was trying to sideline them and block Sarkozy from returning in 2017.

This hasn’t solved the mess: while everybody is claiming that all is well and that the focus is now on ‘unity’, the reality is one of deep disunity and cacophony. Every potential leader of the UMP is eager to make a mark for himself, either by publicizing their ambitions for the leadership in 2014 or presidency in 2017, or by calling for major ‘renovation’ of the party (NKM, for example, has proposed that the UMP should change its name). Two candidates have officially announced their candidacies for the congress: Hervé Mariton (a former villepiniste despite his pro-Iraq War and pro-NATO views in the past, who became a copéiste for 2012 and most recently led the UMP’s charge against same-sex marriage/adoption) and Bruno Le Maire (a young former villepiniste and fairly decent agriculture minister under Sarkozy from 2009 to 2012, who was neutral in 2012 and is a likely presidential hopeful for 2017). Christian Estrosi, a longtime sarkozyste-turned-senior filloniste in 2012 who has since left Fillon’s clan, is now officially a candidate for the presidency in 2017. For the 2014 congress, Fillon may yet run, while other ambitious leaders with eyes on 2017 – Xavier Bertrand (a soft filloniste in 2012, with a small group of allies), Laurent Wauquiez (a filloniste in 2012 and leader of the ‘social right’) – may also run. Juppé is widely seen as the only UMP leader who could potentially upset Sarkozy in 2017, and polls of UMP sympathizers always place him a distant second behind Sarkozy for a potential UMP primary in 2016. He has said that the new president elected in 2014 shouldn’t run in 2017, and he has a small group of loyal allies behind him. The old copéiste group is divided between a small circle still loyal to Copé and a larger clan of neo-sarkozystes (Nadine Morano, Brice Hortefeux, Guillaume Peltier, Claude Guéant, Henri Guiano, Patrick Balkany); it is unclear what they will do in 2014.

The left is in poor shape as well. The government will not be changing courses as a result of the EP election, largely because it already changed courses in March after the municipal elections and because Valls remains relatively popular (but carrying no impact on the government’s general perception, which is largely negative and tied to Hollande’s extreme unpopularity). The PS knew it would do horribly in the EP election, so the thumping came as less of a hit for them, although it doesn’t change the very dire state of the PS and the government.

Additional maps of interest

Nouvelle Donne support by canton

A predominantly urban and suburban party in affluent, white-collar and highly educated urban areas. The outlines of some urban areas are clear (Rennes, Nantes, Caen, Angers, La Rochelle, Montpellier, Lille, Grenoble, Dijon, Niort) on the map; the extensions outside of urban/suburban areas is close, in many regions, to traditional Green support (Rhône-Alpes). There is a relatively strong R² relationship between the ND and EELV vote in this election (0.42).

Change in FN support from 2012 to 2014

There was, as indicated in the analysis, a very clear personal vote for Marine Le Pen in her EP constituency (the Northwest), with a substantial increase (turnout decreases notwithstanding) in all departments of the Northwest EP constituency. In other regions, patterns were more patchy and difficult to generalize, although the FN’s support also increased (again, turnout decreases notwithstanding) from 2012 in the coastal departments of PACA (where Jean-Marie Le Pen was the FN’s top candidate). Around Perpignan, there may have been a larger increase due to Louis Aliot, the FN’s top candidate in the Southwest whose local base is Perpignan.

The FN’s support decreased from 2012 in Corsica: this is likely due to Corsican nationalist voters who had backed Marine Le Pen in 2012 (the support of some nationalist voters for the FN/her candidacy is documented and proven by local results), who instead voted for incumbent MEP François Alfonsi’s moderate nationalist list this year.

Change in UDI-MoDem support from 2012 (Bayrou) to 2014

A map showing the local factors and local barons (often UDI) who provided a boost (‘added value’) to the centrist vote in some regions.


Some odd and interesting patterns…

Guest Post: Newark by-election (United Kingdom) 2014

Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the Newark by-election in the UK, held on June 5. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Map of the Newark constituency (source: Ordinance Survey)

Following very quickly on from the European and local elections on the 22nd of May, the 5th of June saw a UK parliamentary by-election in the seat of Newark. For those who wish to read the wider UK political context, might I recommend my recent blog post about the local and European elections.

Newark covers part of rural Nottinghamshire, in the East Midlands. The largest settlement is the eponymous Newark-on-Trent, a market town in Nottinghamshire, with a population of around 26,000. Historically a local centre for the wool and cloth trade, Newark has transformed into a commuter belt town predominantly for Nottingham but also partially for urban behemoth London (which is a little more than an hour away by train). It is a prosperous town, and overwhelmingly white British town. The only other town in the constituency is Southwell, with a population of almost 7,000. The rest of the seat is very rural, with villages, farms and forest covering the bulk of the constituency.  Sherwood Forest, of Robin Food fame, is in the neighbouring Sherwood constituency.

Newark is a safe Conservative constituency. The seat was Labour held between 1950 (one of the few Labour gains that year) and 1979, but never with particularly sizeable majorities. Under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative governments the seat became a Tory safe seat and they won more than 50% of the vote between 1983 and 1992. The seat was lost to Labour, however, in the landslide defeat of 1997, a demonstration of the massive Labour wave of that year.

The new MP, Fiona Jones, became the first MP in British history to be disqualified from the House of Commons under the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883, after allegations of electoral fraud, her conviction was quickly overturned, but Newark was one of the nine Conservative gains in 2001, a generally appalling year for the party as it failed to unwind the Blair landslide of ’97. Jones later attempted to sue Nottinghamshire Police but her case failed, leaving her with legal bills of £45,000. She later claimed that a government minister had offered her sex in exchange for a promotion. Whatever the truth of these claims she was shunned by colleagues after her return to parliament and fell into alcoholism. She lost her seat in 2001. She was found dead in her home by her husband surrounded by 15 vodka bottles in 2007.

Since 2001, Newark’s MP had been Patrick Mercer, a former Army colonel who was given an OBE for his tour of duty in Yugoslavia. He briefly turned his hand to journalism after he left the military. Upon his election Mercer had experienced an initially dizzying rise through the Conservative Party ranks, serving as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Defence Secretary and, then, as Shadow Minister for Homeland Security soon after his election. Mercer was on the right of the Conservative Party, he backed right-wing candidates Iain Duncan Smith (who won in 2001) and David Davis (who lost in 2005) for leader of his party.

Mercer’s politics and brash style meant that he was not a particularly good match for the modernising wing of the party which took control under David Cameron from 2005. However he was allowed to keep his post in the Shadow frontbench until 2007 when he made public comments about ‘idle and useless’ ethnic minority soldiers who he said were using racism as a ‘cover’. While Cameron tries to run a party which includes those from across its length and breadth he is noticeably less forgiving to those outside his own modernising faction if he perceives that they have failed him, and Mercer was permanently relegated to the backbenches.

Relations no doubt soured further when, in November 2011, Mercer was taped making disparaging remarks about Cameron including referring to him as the “worst politician in British history since William Gladstone” and predicting that Cameron would be ousted by his own MPs in 2012.

Mercer was implicated in a scandal in May 2013. Mercer was investigated by the Daily Telegraph and the BBC’s Panorama series who demonstrated that he took payment of £4,000 from undercover reporters supposedly lobbying on behalf of the military regime of Fiji. He subsequently resigned from the Conservative Party and sat as an Independent. His motor mouth once again got him in trouble as he told a story about meeting a young Israeli soldier to whom he supposedly said “You don’t look like a soldier to me, you look like a bloody Jew.” His behaviour was investigated by the Commons Standards Committee.

The Standards Committee reported on the 1st of May this year. It found that he had deliberately avoided the rules, and failed to declare a relevant interest. Suspension from the Commons was recommended but with less than a year to an election which he was not planning on contesting anyway, Mercer decided to resign his seat, taking the position as Crown Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds (technically MPs cannot resign from the Commons, but a legal incompatibility exists between royal positions and being a member of parliament, hence giving meaningless royal positions to MPs is a time honoured way of facilitating resignation).

The by-election was scheduled too late for it to be held alongside Britain’s local and European elections, and so was scheduled for June the 5th, two weeks later.

The result in 2010 was:

Patrick Mercer (Conservative) 53.9%
Ian Campbell (Labour) 22.3%
Pauline Jenkins (Liberal Democrat) 20.0%
Rev Major Tom Irvine (UKIP) 3.8%

The Conservative majority was 16,152 (31.5%) and turnout was 71.4%, much higher than the nationwide turnout of 65.1%.

Under Mercer, the seat had become one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, the 55th safest seat for the party.

As has often been the case in recent by-elections in the UK, the big question of the campaign, nonetheless, was how UKIP would do. Despite conclusive evidence that UKIP’s base is predominantly made up of poorer ‘left behind’ voters which draws support from both Labour and the Conservatives, parts of the media insist on viewing it as the right-wing of the Conservative Party in rebellion. The announcement of the by-election resulted in a frenzy of speculation that the party’s leader, Nigel Farage would stand, with Farage quickly denying he had any plans to.

The party instead selected Roger Helmer, one of its East Midland MEPs. Helmer, a former business executive, was actually elected as a Conservative MEP at the 1999, 2004, and 2009 elections. Helmer had always been an outspoken Tory even as the party was at its most right-wing during its wilderness years between 1997 and 2005. In 2005 he was suspended from the Conservative group and the EPP-ED in the European Parliament after voting to censure the European Commission and criticising the party’s lead MEP, Timothy Kirkhope. He rejoined the Tories in 2006 but remained outside the EPP-ED group.

Helmer, is, naturally, extremely Eurosceptic, but also holds views extremely critical of anthropocentric climate change, which he refers to as ‘climate-alarmism’. He has also previously suggested that women had some responsibility if they were date raped and that homophobia “is merely a propaganda device” and does not exist. He opposed same-sex marriage, labelling it a “grotesque subversion of a universal human right”. However, Farage claims that Helmer has since “relaxed” his views about homosexuality.

Helmer has always claimed that his views are simply those of a typical Conservative Party activist.

Helmer announced his resignation from the European Parliament in 2011, citing disillusionment with the direction of his party under Cameron. Helmer expected to be succeeded by Rupert Matthews, who was next in line for a seat, but media reports about Matthews led to Helmer delaying his resignation. Media reports focused on Matthews career as an expert on the paranormal. He claims to have written over 200 books on the paranormal. Another book published by his company on political correctness appeared to feature golliwog dolls on the cover, widely considered to be racist in the UK. The party thus seemed to desire to avoid Matthews. Hence, Helmer defected to UKIP instead.

UKIP’s campaign was, as is becoming the norm, fairly professional. The party has very quickly gained a fairly complex understanding of the ground campaign. During the by-election an interview with Helmer was printed in the Mail on Sunday which purportedly stated that Helmer endorsed providing ‘gay cures’ on the NHS. Helmer accused the MoS of “deliberate, defamatory lies”, stating that he never said such things.

Speculation grew about UKIP’s chances when UKIP topped the poll in the Newark and Sherwood council area in the European elections, beating the Tories by almost 500 votes. Yet it should be remembered both that Newark and Sherwood covers a much wider area than just the Newark constituency and that there are different factors of a European Parliament election which tend to favour UKIP (higher turnout amongst UKIP’s base and strategic ‘single-issue’ defectors who vote for UKIP solely in European elections to register their opposition to the EU).

The Conservatives selected Robert Jenrick, a 32 year old former solicitor who was a manager at the world famous Christie’s auction house. He had contested Newcastle-under-Lyme for the Conservatives in 2010. Jenrick was attacked by Helmer on the campaign trail as an out of touch millionaire with multiple homes. Jenrick stated that having three homes “doesn’t mean that I don’t know about life on the breadline”, and the Conservatives sought to present Jenrick as a ‘self-made man’. Jenrick had no prior connection to the seat before his selection, though he is from the Midlands, coming from Wolverhampton. It should be noted that Helmer is not a Newark native either, though he lives nearby.

The Conservatives poured resources into Newark with cabinet ministers making frequent trips to the constituency and the party making the most of its new ‘Team 2015’ infrastructure. Losing Newark would be a great blow to the party especially coming off a respectable local and European election performance.

Labour selected Michael Payne, a Nottinghamshire councillor based in Gedling, to the West of Newark. While the party has held the seat before no one seriously expected Labour to win it this time around. Labour’s win of the seat in 1997 represents a high watermark of Labour Party fortunes, and even the most optimistic Labour supporter would agree that a 1997 election landslide is far from on the cards. Labour’s aim was predominantly to maintain a sense of momentum, therefore.

Former by-election masters, the Lib Dems, nominated David Watts, a councillor for Broxtowe on the other side of Nottinghamshire. While the party won 20% of the vote in 2010 this represents their height in the seat since 1983. The party has little infrastructure on the ground and only holds 3 councillors in the seat. Its aim, if any, was to hold its deposit (a party’s £500 deposit is returned if it wins more than 5% of the vote).

The Greens nominated David Kirwan. Two independents stood, Paul Baggaley, standing on a highly localist ‘save Newark hospital’ platform, and Andy Hayes, standing on a disabled rights platform. Reverend Dick Rodgers of the tiny Christian party The Common Good stood with the ballot descriptor ‘Stop Commercial Banks Owning Britain’s Money’.  The final serious candidate was Lee Woods of the ‘Patriotic Socialist Party’.

Two joke candidates stood. Nick the Flying Brick of the Official Monster Raving Looney Party is their Treasurer and their Shadow Minister for the Abolition of Gravity. His policies include making fishing a spectator sport by introducing piranhas into the local river, developing Newark castle into an intergalactic space port, and, naturally, abolition of the laws of gravity. Nick claims to have a ‘vendetta’ against gravity due to injury in a paragliding accident which he says was caused by gravity.

The other joke candidate was David Bishop, standing as ‘Bus Pass Elvis’. Bishop’s manifesto included a mix of joke and serious policies, including legalisation of brothels, with a discount for OAPs, students and the disabled, sending foreign pets back to their original country and environmentalist/animal rights policies such as stopping the importing of endangered species. Bus Pass Elvis also promised to “save the Antarctic, save the penguins and save Roger Helmer from being eaten by a polar bear”. Bishop has been a perennial candidate in British elections since standing against the disgraced former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton in 1997 under the name ‘Lord Biro vs. the Scallywag Tories’ but has received recent attention after he beat the Lib Dems in a council by-election.

Three polls were taken during the campaign, two by Survation, and one by former Tory treasurer turned quasi-professional psephologist, Lord Ashcroft. The first Survation poll was taken on the 27th-28th of May and showed Conservatives 36%, UKIP 28%, Labour 27% and Lib Dems 5%. Lord Ashcroft’s poll was taken between the 27th and the 1st of June. It had a larger sample (1,000 vs. 600) and showed Conservatives 42%, UKIP 27%, Labour 20%, Lib Dems 6%. The second Survation, and final poll full stop, was taken between the 2nd and 3rd of June, and showed 42% Conservative, 27% UKIP, 22% Labour, 4% Lib Dem.


Robert Jenrick (Conservative) 45.0% (-8.9%)
Roger Helmer (UKIP) 25.9%  (+22.1%)
Michael Payne (Labour) 17.7% (-4.7%)
Paul Baggaley (Independent) 4.9%
David Kirwan (Green Party) 2.7%
David Watts (Liberal Democrats) 2.6% (-17.4%)
Nick the Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony) 0.4%
Andy Hayes (Independent) 0.3%
David Bishop (Bus Pass Elvis) 0.2%
Reverend Dick Rodgers (Common Good) 0.2%
Lee Waters (Patriotic Socialist Party) 0.0%

The Conservative majority is 7,403 (19.1%) and turnout was a very high 52.8%, strong for a by-election, especially one held so close to the May election.

The by-election was a solid result for the Conservatives. Their candidate won a sizeable majority. While this is one of the party’s safest seats it is good for them to be seen to have performed strongly against UKIP in a straight fight.

The party has traditionally been very bad at by-election campaigns, and by-elections in the UK tend to be sombre affairs for governing parties. As the Conservatives point out, this is the first time they have won a by-election in government in 25 years. In fairness, that is largely out of luck. The party had been out of government for 13 years before 2010, and the period prior to 1997 had seen a long and drawn out series of by-election losses as the former Conservative government was extremely unpopular.

On the other hand, the party has had the fortune of seeing only one of its seats fall to a by-election since 2010 – Corby, a marginal seat which has tended to lean more Labour than Conservative and which had a thin majority of less than 2,000.

Nonetheless, the party was widely expected to lose more of the vote than it did, and a high turnout and a suggestion from the polls that it gained support closer to the election suggest that it ran a solid campaign.

UKIP performed less well than they hoped. The party did not appear to seriously expect to win Newark but it did expect to beat the record it set in Eastleigh in terms of a by-election performance. Instead, it will have to make do with second best at 25.9%. This has led some to conclude that UKIP has reached is ceiling, at least for the time being. Yet Newark is profoundly unfriendly ground for UKIP. Right-wing it may be, but it is very prosperous and does not have particularly high inward migration. Newark is not natural ground for UKIP, unlike the string of seats along the East Coast that UKIP ‘won’ in the local elections in 2013 and 2014 local elections.

It is hard to know whether the candidature of Helmer helped or hindered the party, in a sense it showed the public its most easily caricatured face. Yet, Helmer, as one of the more identifiably ‘Tory’ components of the UKIP machine may retain something of an appeal in the Conservative safe seat. In the absence of an exit poll it really is difficult to impossible to know.

Labour suffered a stinging rebuke. To lose support at this time is not something that should be happening to the party. The party ran a low-level campaign; understandably, as this was a seat it was unlikely to win. There may be an element of strategic voting at play (Labour/UKIP swing voters voting UKIP to keep the Tories out, and Labour/Tory vice versa?). Certainly the party’s stronger result in polls may suggest that the party was squeezed at the last minute. The party certainly cannot blame low turnout!

While the party never expected to win the seat, and almost everyone expected it to come third, no one really expected it to lose support from 2010. Still, it is difficult to translate a single by-election into national results and this may just be a freak occurrence. A negative sign it may be, but it is important not to over-read such things.

The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing rebuke at the ballot box. Winning just 2.6% of the vote the party went from third to sixth. It not only lost its deposit, but lost to an independent and the Greens (who did not stand a candidate in 2010!). 2.6% of the vote represents a record low for the Lib Dems in a post-war by-election. What must really hurt is that the party is not utterly without infrastructure and support in the seat, unlike, say, Barnsley Central or other constituencies where it has lost its deposit since 2010. The party has blamed tactical voting for its failure.

Anecdotal evidence from the ground does seem to suggest that some Lib Dem voters did indeed vote Conservative just to keep UKIP out. One of the effects of UKIP’s rise has been to make it more visible. Many voters see in UKIP a radical new saviour, and the party’s support has grown, but polls also show that UKIP has never been seen as negatively before. Around 40% of Brits see UKIP as racist. In addition to support, exposure has brought visceral dislike, and this may be the first sign of a UKIP backlash with liberally minded voters seeing the Tories as preferable and voting accordingly to keep them out.

For the Lib Dems it is also worth remembering that the party is polling around 10% at the moment. If it is collapsing from 20% to less than 3% in seats like Newark, that lays extra credibility to the claim that the party can rely on core areas to return MPs in 2015. That 10% of the vote must be somewhere and if it is geographically concentrated then hope remains for the party under Britain’s First Past the Post system.

EU 2014: Austria to Finland


In the next few posts, this blog will be covering the detailed results of the May 22-25 European Parliament (EP) election in the 28 member-states of the EU. As was argued in my introductory overview, the reality of EP elections is that they are largely fought and decided over national issues and the dynamics of EP elections are similar to those of midterm elections in the US. The results of this year’s EP elections, despite the EU’s attempts to create the narrative of a pan-European contest with ‘presidential candidates’ for the presidency of the Commission, confirmed that this is still the case. Turnout remained flat across the EU, and while some pan-European trends are discernible – largely an anti-incumbent swing which is nothing new or unusual in EP elections, with a secondary swing to anti-establishment Eurosceptic parties in most but not all member-states – the fact of the matter is that the changes in the makeup and strength of the parliamentary groups in the new EP owe to individual domestic political dynamics in the 28 member-states.

These posts will likely come in alphabetical order. Some countries will be covered by guest posters who have generously accepted to help out in this big task, contributing some local expertise.

These posts do not include, generally, descriptions of each party’s ideology and nature. For more information on parties, please refer to older posts I may have written on these countries on this blog or some excellent pre-election guides by Chris Terry on DemSoc.

In this first post, the results in countries from Austria to Finland.


Turnout: 45.39% (-0.58%)
MEPs: 18 (-1)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency)

ÖVP (EPP) 26.98% (-3%) winning 5 seats (-1)
SPÖ (S&D) 24.09% (+0.35%) winning 5 seats (nc)
FPÖ (NI/EAF) 19.72% (+7.01%) winning 4 seats (+2)
Greens (G-EFA) 14.52% (+4.59%) winning 2 seats (+1)
NEOS (ALDE) 8.14% (+8.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
EU-STOP 2.76% (+2.76%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Europa Anders (GUE-NGL) 2.14% (+2.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
REKOS (NI/MELD) 1.18% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
BZÖ (NI) 0.47% (-4.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)

Austria’s two traditional parties of government – the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) both performed relatively poorly, in line with the general long-term trend of Austrian politics since 2006 or the 1990s. The last national elections in September 2013 ultimately saw the reelection of Chancellor Werner Faymann’s SPÖ-ÖVP Grand Coalition, although both the SPÖ and ÖVP continued their downwards trend and suffered loses, hitting new all-time lows of 26.8% and 24% respectively. The SPÖ and ÖVP, having dominated and controlled Austrian politics for nearly the entire post-war period, have gradually seen their support diminish considerably from the days of the stable two-party system which existed until the late 1980s. The ‘Proporz’ power-sharing system – the division of posts in the public sector, parastatals and government between the two major parties in the context of a pillarized political system – eroded ideological differences and created a fairly corrupt and nepotistic system of patronage and political immobilism. Austria’s economy is doing fairly well and the country is a haven of stability, but there’s no great love for its government. The SPÖVP Grand Coalition, which has governed Austria since 2006, could perhaps best be described as ‘boring’ – a stable, consensual and moderate government which ‘stays the course’ with rather prudent economic policies (mixing austerity and Keynesian job-creation incentives) and a pro-European outlook.  There have been controversies and scandals to weaken the governing parties’ support and make them vulnerable to anti-corruption politics, but no crippling scandals. In turn, that means that it can be described by critics as ineffective, stale and unresponsive to voters’ concerns.

Vote flow analysis from 2009 to 2014 in Austria, according to SORA

Four parties benefited from the SPÖVP’s relative unpopularity in 2013. Two old ones: Heinz-Christian Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), a strongly Eurosceptic and anti-immigration populist party with a strong ‘social’ rhetoric advocating both interventionist and neoliberal economic policies (tax relief, rent reduction, higher minimum wage, millionaires’ tax, more generous pensions, tax breaks for SMEs, tax cuts for the poorest bracket, reducing bureaucracy);  and the Greens, a left-wing party focused on environmental questions and government ethics. Two new ones: NEOS, a new pro-European right-leaning liberal party founded by a former ÖVP member in 2012, which has taken strongly pro-European (federalist) views combined with fairly right-wing liberal economic stances (tax cuts, a flatter tax system, pension reform, reducing bureaucracy, macroeconomic stability); and Team Stronach, a populist Eurosceptic (anti-Euro) right-wing (liberal to libertarian economic views) party founded by Austrian-Canadian businessman Frank Stronach. The FPÖ won 20.5%, the Greens won 12.4%, Stronach won 5.7% and NEOS surprised everybody by winning 5% (taking 9 seats). The FPÖ was decimated by its participation in the controversial black-blue government with the ÖVP between 1998 and 2005, and further weakened by the FPÖ’s famous leader Jörg Haider walking out of the party to create the BZÖ in 2005. But since 2006, it has gradually recovered lost strength, regaining its traditional anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric and base of protest voters. In the 2013 election, the BZÖ lost all its seats, having been fatally wounded by Haider’s death in a car crash in 2008 (a short while after Haider’s BZÖ had won 11% at the polls in 2008) and infighting after his death. Since the 2013 election, Stronach’s party has, for all intents and purposes, died off: the party’s underwhelming showing at the polls in September 2013 led to internal dissent against the boss (Stronach) while Stronach lost interest in his pet project. Stronach has since gone back to Canada, leaving his party’s weak caucus to fend for itself without their boss and his money. The party barely polls 1% in the polls, and it decided not to run in the European elections or a state election in Vorarlberg later this year.

The SPÖ and ÖVP, under Chancellor Faymann and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, renewed their coalition for a third successive term with basically the same policy agenda and dropping the contentious points on their platforms which the other party disagreed with. This was greeted with disinterest or opposition by the public, and Strache’s FPÖ has continued climbing in polls. The far-right, ironically one might add, has seemingly cashed in on the Hypo Group Alpe Adria bank troubles. The bank, owned by Haider’s far-right Carinthian government until 2007, has been at the heart of a large scandal involving bad loans, kickbacks to politicians and a banking expansion gone terribly wrong. The bank was sold by the Carinthian government to a Bavarian bank in 2007, before the Austrian federal government nationalized it in 2009. The embattled lender has required the federal government to pump out large sums of bailout money (taxpayers’ money) to prop it up, and the situation has barely improved. In February 2014, the SPÖVP government decided to set up a bad bank, transferring €19 billion of troubled assets to wind it down fully. Austrians have already paid about €5 billion to help the bank, and the majority of voters want to bank to go bankrupt rather than footing the costs of winding it down (the government’s plan would increase, albeit temporarily, the debt and deficit). Although many agree that it was Carinthia’s FPÖ government which created the Hypo mess in the first place, the FPÖ’s support increased in the polls this spring when the bank was a top issue. The FPÖ is generally first or second in national opinion polls, polling up to 26-27% while the ÖVP and SPÖ are in the low 20s.

EP elections are, however, a different matter. In the last few elections, the ÖVP has generally done better than in national polls and the FPÖ hasn’t done as well. In 2004 and 2009, the FPÖ was weakened by competition from the Martin List – an ideologically undefined anti-corruption and soft Euro-critical movement led by ex-SPÖ MEP Hans-Peter Martin, who won 14% in 2004 and 17.7% in 2009 (electing 2 and 3 MEPs respectively). Since 2009, Martin lost his two other MEPs – one joined the ALDE and ran for reelection as the right-liberal BZÖ’s top-candidate while the other ran as the top candidate for the European Left-aligned Europa Anders alliance (made up of the Pirate Party and the Communist Party), and his personal transparency and probity has been called into question. Martin, polling only 3%, did not run for reelection. The FPÖ was drawn into a significant crisis when Andreas Mölzer, MEP and top candidate from the FPÖ’s traditionalist far-right and pan-German wing, commented at a round-table that the Nazi Third Reich was liberal and informal compared to the ‘EU dictatorship’ and called the EU a ‘negro/nigger conglomerate’ (negrokonglomerat). Mölzer apologized for the ‘nigger’ comments but did not back down on the Third Reich comparison, and Strache initially accepted his apology. But there was strong political pressure from other Austrian politicians and parts of the FPÖ for Mölzer to step down as FPÖ top candidate, which he did on April 8. Harald Vilimsky, an FPÖ MP close to Strache, replaced him. Ironically, on April 8, the BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider – the daughter of the late Carinthian governor – stepped down as the party’s top candidate. The FPÖ’s support in polls declined from 20-23% to 18-20% following the mini-scandal, before climbing back up to 20-21%.

Turnout by district, 2014 EP elections in Austria (source: ORF)

The ÖVP, led by incumbent MEP and EP vice-president Othmar Karas, topped the poll with 27% of the vote, a result down 3% on the ÖVP’s fairly strong showing in 2009 (30%) and costing the party one seat in the EP. The SPÖ, which had performed very poorly in 2009 with only 23.7% (a result down nearly 10 points from 2004), barely improved its totals, taking a paltry 24.1%. In all, both coalition parties performed poorly at the polls. For the ÖVP, however, it was a strong performance compared to what it’s been polling in national polls – it has gotten horrendous results, barely over 20% and down to 18% in some polls; its leader, Vice Chancellor and finance minister Michael Spindelegger, even manages the relatively rare feat of being more disliked than the far-right’s leader. The ÖVP has been bleeding support to NEOS, the new right-wing liberal party which is attractive to ÖVP voters in their leader’s home-state of Vorarlberg but also high-income, well-educated urban centre-right voters. From 5% in 2013, NEOS has been polling up to 13-14% – the same range as the Greens.

The ÖVP’s stronger performance in the EP elections likely owes mostly to turnout. The ÖVP’s increasingly elderly and fairly rural electorate is far more likely to turn out in the EP election than the FPÖ’s potentially large but also fickle electorate of anti-EU protest voters who have lower turnout in low-stakes elections such as EP elections (and there was not much to mobilize a protest electorate to vote in an EP election this year). The turnout map shows the heaviest turnout from the rural Catholic ÖVP strongholds in Lower Austria (the Waldviertel and Mostviertel regions of the state are some of the strongest ÖVP regions in Austria, with the conservative party taking about 40% there this year), although turnout was also high in the traditionally Socialist state of Burgenland and SPÖ-leaning areas in Lower Austria’s Industrieviertel. In Vienna, the conservative-leaning districts had higher turnout than the working-class SPÖ/FPÖ battleground boroughs (53.7% turnout in ÖVP-leaning Hietzing and 34.8% turnout in the working-class district of Simmering).

SORA’s exit poll/post-election analysis showed an electorate which was more pro-EU than non-voters: 35% of voters expressed ‘confidence’ in the EU while only 18% of non-voters did so; 28% of voters expressed ‘anger’ in the EU compared to 35% of non-voters while an additional 19% of non-voters were indifferent towards the EU. 15% of non-voters thought the country should leave the EU; only 9% of actual voters thought likewise. Consider, on top of that, that of voters opposed to the EU, a full 60% supported the FPÖ while only 4% of pro-EU voters backed the far-right party. The FPÖ’s electorate is quasi-exclusively anti-EU/Eurosceptical, but it is this electorate which had the lowest turnout on May 25. As such, it is hard to consider this EP election as being an accurate portrayal of where public opinion/voting intentions for the next election stands at the moment.

Results by district of the 2014 EP election in Austria (source: ORF)

Nevertheless, the FPÖ won a strong result, although it falls below the party’s 2013 result and falls far short of the FPÖ’s records in the 1996 and 1999 EP elections (27.5% and 23.4% respectively). The FPÖ gained about 7% from the 2009 election. According to SORA’s voter flow analysis, the FPÖ gained 26% of the 2009 Martin vote (130,000 votes), a quarter of the 2009 BZÖ vote (33,000) and 3% of 2009 non-voters (a still hefty 99,000 votes). It held 64% of its own vote from 2009, losing about 16% of its voters from five years ago to abstention and about 15k each to the ÖVP, SPÖ, Greens, NEOS and other parties. Geographically, the FPÖ performed best in Styria, placing a close second with 24.2% against 25.3% for the ÖVP – the FPÖ had won the state, where the state SPÖVP government is unpopular, in the 2013 elections. Unlike in the 2013 election, the FPÖ did fairly poorly in Graz (17.9%) but retained strong support in other regions of the state – both the conservative and rural southern half and the industrial SPÖ bastions of Upper Styria. In Carinthia, the FPÖ won 20.2%, gaining 13.5% since 2009, but not fully capitalizing on the BZÖ’s collapse in the old Haider stronghold – the BZÖ vote in the state fell by 19.6%, to a mere 1.4%. The SPÖ made strong gains in Carinthia, continuing the trend from the 2013 state and federal elections, winning 32.8% (+7.4%). In Vienna, the FPÖ won 18.2%, compared to 20.6% in 2013. Its best district remained the ethnically diverse and working-class Simmering, where the far-right party won 28.7% against 35.8% for the SPÖ.

The Greens performed surprisingly well, taking 14.5%, slightly better than the 12-13% they had received in EP polling. Since the 2009 election, the Greens have gained votes from non-voters (65k, 2%), Martin’s list (54k, 11%), the ÖVP (40k, 5% and the SPÖ (36k, 5%). These gains compensated for some fairly significant loses to NEOS, which took 12% of the Greens’ 2009 electorate (a trend observed in 2013) and to abstention, with 7% of the Greens’ 2009 supporters not turning out this year. The Greens performed best in Vorarlberg (23.3%, topping the polls in the districts of Feldkirch and Dornbirn) and Vienna (20.9%, topping the poll in their traditional strongholds in the central ‘bobo’ districts but also extending into gentrifying districts such as Hernals), and they were the largest party in the cities of Graz and Innsbruck.

Once again, the Greens’ support decreases with age (26% with those under 29, the SPÖ and ÖVP placed third and fifth respectively), increases with higher levels of education (31% with those with a university degree) and was at its highest with young females (32% with women under 29). There is a massive gender gap between young males and females; the former being the FPÖ’s prime clientele (33%) while the latter are left-leaning and liberal (only 16% for the FPÖ). The SPÖ and ÖVP, the two old parties, have been polling horribly with young voters, who prefer the fresher alternatives of the FPÖ (especially unemployed or blue-collar young males in demographically stagnant or declining areas, with low levels of qualification) or the Greens/NEOS (young, well-educated women and men with high qualifications in cosmopolitan urban areas and college towns). The SPÖ and ÖVP electorates are disproportionately made up of pensioners/seniors – the two parties won 34% and 35% of pensioners’ votes respectively.

NEOS, on the other hand, had a rather underwhelming performance: with 8.1% of the vote, the new liberal party on an upswing since 2013, only managed to win one MEP rather than the two they might have won if they matched their early polling numbers (12-14%). In the last stretch of the campaign, however, NEOS’ support fell to 10-11%, likely feeling the results of an ÖVP and Green offensive against the ‘NEOS threat’ – the Greens trying to depict NEOS as a right-wing liberal party. The party’s stances in favour of water privatization, waste management privatization and European federalism, which are unpopular topics in Austria, may have hurt them. Weak turnout with young voters, NEOS’ strongest electorate, may also have hurt them. NEOS polled best in Vorarlberg, where the party’s leader is from (14.9%) and Vienna (9.1%); in general, NEOS has urban support, largely from the same places where the Greens or the ÖVP find support (well-educated, younger, and middle-class professional inner cities). Demographically, NEOS’ support decreased with age (15% with those under 29) and generally increased with higher levels of education.

The BZÖ saw its support evaporate entirely, even in its former Carinthian stronghold. The party suffered from major infighting following Haider’s death, and the remnants of the party shifted to a right-wing liberal/libertarian and Eurosceptic platform which was a major flop in the 2013 elections. The BZÖ’s sole MEP, Ewald Stadler, from the far-right Haiderite/traditionalist wing of the party, was expelled from the party in 2013 after criticizing the right-liberal shift and the party’s 2013 campaign. He ran for reelection for The Reform Conservatives (REKOS), which won 1.2%. The BZÖ’s initial top candidate, Ulrike Haider, withdrew, and was replaced by Angelika Werthmann, an ex-Martin and ex-ALDE MEP. At this point, the BZÖ is likely to fully die off and disband.

On the left, the Austrian Pirates and Communists, which won only 0.8% and 1% in 2013, united to form an electoral coalition allied to the European Left, Europa Anders, led by Martin Ehrenhauser, an ex-Martin MEP. They managed a fairly respectable 2.1% of the vote.

Martin’s 2009 vote flowed mostly to the FPÖ (26%) and abstention (25%), but the SPÖ, ÖVP and Greens each received 11% of Martin’s 2009 vote and NEOS got 9% of them.


Turnout: 90.39% (+0.75%) – mandatory voting enforced
MEPs: 21 (-1) – 12 Dutch-speaking college (Flanders), 8 French-speaking college (Wallonia) and 1 German-speaking college (German Community); voters in Brussels-Capital and six municipalities with language facilities may choose between the Dutch and French colleges
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (no threshold) in 2 colleges, FPTP in the German-speaking college

Dutch-speaking college
N-VA (G-EFA > ?) 26.67% (+16.79%) winning 4 seats (+3)
Open Vld (ALDE) 20.4% (-0.16%) winning 3 seats (nc)
CD&V (EPP) 19.96% (-3.3%) winning 2 seats (-1)
sp.a (PES) 13.18% (-0.03%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Groen (G-EFA) 10.62% (+2.72%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Vlaams Belang (NI/EAF) 6.76% (-9.11%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PvdA+ 2.4% (+1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)

French-speaking college
PS (PES) 29.28% (+0.19%) winning 3 seats (nc)
MR (ALDE) 27.1% (+1.05%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 11.69% (-11.19%) winning 1 seat (-1)
cdH (EPP) 11.36% (-1.98%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PP 5.98% (+5.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB-GO! 5.48% (+4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FDF 3.39% (+3.39%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Debout les Belges! 2.98% (+2.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
La Droite 1.59% (+1.59%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.14% (-6.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)

German-speaking college

CSP (EPP) 30.36% (-1.89%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecolo (G-EFA) 16.66% (+1.08%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PFF (ALDE) 16.05% (-4.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SP (PES) 15.11% (+0.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ProDG (EFA) 13.22% (+3.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Vivant 8.61% (+2.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Belgium 2014 - EP

The Belgian EP, federal and regional elections will be covered in a dedicated guest post.


Turnout: 36.15% (-1.34%)
MEPs: 17 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, Hare quota threshold approx 5.9% (national constituency)

GERB (EPP) 30.4% (+6.04%) winning 6 seats (+1)
Coalition for Bulgaria-BSP (PES) 18.93% (+0.43%) winning 4 seats (nc)
DPS (ALDE) 17.27% (+3.13%) winning 4 seats (+1)
Bulgaria Without Censorship 10.66% (+10.66%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Reformist Bloc (EPP) 6.45% (-1.5%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Alternative for Bulgarian Revival 4.02% (+4.02%) winning 0 seats (nc)
National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria 3.05% (+3.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Attack 2.96% (-9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 6.26% winning 0 seats (-2)

Bulgaria 2014 - ep

In an election marked by low turnout – the norm for EP elections in the new member-states – the right-wing opposition party, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria), ‘won’ the election and gained another two seats in the EP. The political climate in Bulgaria is incredibly bleak, and the elections in May 2013 have changed little except the colour of the head of an increasingly discredited, corrupt, incredibly disconnected and largely incompetent political elite. In 2009, only a month after the EP elections, the GERB, a new right-wing anti-corruption and ostensibly pro-European party founded by Boyko Borisov, a flamboyant and burly wrestler/bodyguard/police chief-turned-politician (he was mayor of Sofia from 2005 to 2009), won the legislative elections in a landslide, handing the governing Socialist Party (BSP) a thumping (like all Bulgarian governments up to that point, it was defeated after one term in office). Borisov quickly became unpopular, for implementing harsh austerity measures which drastically cut the budget deficit but aggravated poverty in the EU’s poorest countries (it has the lowest HDI and the lowest average wage at €333), and for proving once again that Bulgarian politicians are all hopelessly corrupt whose electoral stances are gimmicks. Borisov had previously been accused of being directly linked to organized crime and major mobsters in Bulgaria; in government, he was accused of money laundering for criminal groups by way of his wife, who owns a large bank. His interior minister wiretapped political rivals, businessmen and journalists; the top anti-crime official, who was Borisov’s former campaign manager, was suspected of having received a bribe in 1999 in return for alerting mobsters of police interventions and having turned a blind eye to drug trafficking channels in the country. Borisov’s government fell following huge and violent protests (a few protesters self-immolated) in early 2013, sparked by popular anger at exorbitant utility prices (it was said that households would soon spend 100% of their monthly income on basic necessities) charged by corrupt monopolistic private firms; but they symbolized a wider lack of trust in politicians and institutions, exasperation at political corruption, the control of politics by corrupt oligarchs and mismanagement in both the public and private sectors. Borisov engineered his own resignation in pure populist fashion and called for snap elections, in which the GERB lost 19 seats and 9% but retained a plurality of seats. However, given a polarized and dirty political climate, Borisov was unable to form government.

The opposition BSP, which increased its support by about 9%, formed a minority government in coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), the party of the Turkish minority, and received conditional support from the far-right nationalist Attack party, notwithstanding the far-right’s traditional vicious anti-DPS and anti-Turkish rhetoric. Plamen Oresharski, a somewhat technocratic BSP figure (who had been a very right-wing finance minister under a past BSP government), became Prime Minister. But it was clear that the elections had changed little and that the new government was unfit to address the real challenges at hand: there remained a large discrepancy between the political elite and the citizenry, an ‘above’ vs. ‘below’ polarization rather than an ideological divide. The BSP is little different from the GERB; the left-wing rhetoric and orientation of the BSP is largely for show, because in power, from 2005 to 2009, the BSP government introduced a 10% flat tax (despite promising to amend it to make it progressive for some, the Oresharski government has keep it intact) and continued privatizations, while proving no less corrupt or incompetent than the right. Lo and behold, two weeks after Oresharski cobbled together his fragile government, major protests erupted in Sofia after the government nominated Delyan Peevski, a DPS MP and highly controversial and corrupt media mogul/oligarch, to head the secret service. Although officially owned by his mother, Peevski’s media group controls several high-circulation newspapers, TV channels and news websites which tend to be invariably pro-government while he is closely tied to Tsvetan Vassilev, the boss of a powerful bank which dispenses much of the investment for state-owned companies. Peevski is also a politician, having served as a deputy minister under a previous BSP government before he was fired and prosecuted (but later cleared) on extortion and corruption charges. The protests forced Oresharski to quickly revoke Peevski’s appointment, but the large protests, rallying tens of thousands of mostly young and/or middle-class protesters in Sofia organized through social media, continued in June and July. In late July, protesters laid siege to Parliament after MPs had approved a new debt emission without clarifying where 40% of the funds will go. Police brutally cracked down on protesters and bused the MPs out. The protests became a catch-all movement, calling for the resignation of the government, more transparency, less corruption, an end to the rule of oligarchs, cracking down on organized crime and more broadly rescuing Bulgaria from its dismal state. In late 2013, a report by the European Commission lamented the government’s inability to reform the slow and ineffective judiciary or fight corruption.

Protests have continued, but with lower turnout, marked by student sit-ins and campus occupations in October and January. Support for the protests apparently declined somewhat, with the BSP voicing concerns that the protests were partisan and that the GERB was seeking to seize control of the movement, although it does not appear that most protesters have been co-opted. Critics have attacked the middle-class background of the protesters, the strongly anti-communist and anti-leftist rhetoric of the protesters which has enabled the BSP to rally its supporters (in counter-protesters, allegedly paid) and perhaps some thinly-veiled anti-Turkish (DPS) sentiments. There has been some ‘protest fatigue’ setting in, with calls on the protesters to lay off and allow the government, although it may fall and be forced into snap elections at a moment’s notice, to prove itself. The government assures voters that it has a reformist platform, aimed at tackling corruption and improving living conditions and social benefits. However, at other times, the BSP has preferred to play political games, lashing out and pointing figures at the GERB, which retaliated with more politicking of its own.

A new party, Bulgaria Without Censorship (BBT), was founded in January 2014, led by former TV host Nikolay Barevok. BBT, which has allied with parties on the right and left, has a populist platform with promises to lock up corrupt politicians, work for ‘capitalism with a human face’ (Barekov has expressed nostalgia for the communist regime and criticized the effects of capitalism on the country) and an operation to audit the income and property of all Bulgarian politicians over the last 20 years. Barevok doesn’t come without baggage of his own – anti-corruption activists have asked questions about Barekov’s weight and there is the matter of his alleged connections to Peevski and Tsvetan Vassilev.

The GERB won the EP elections with a solid majority over the governing Coalition for Bulgaria, in which the BSP is the only relevant party. The party won 30.4%, very similar to its 2013 result, although its vote intake of 630.8k was far less than the 1.08 million votes the GERB won in 2013. The BSP coalition won 18.9%, a terrible showing similar to the 2009 EP election, when the BSP was also an unpopular governing party (then under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, who was soundly defeated a month later). From 942.5k votes in 2013, the BSP fell to only 424,000 votes this year.

The DPS, the party representing the Turkish minority, did very well with 17.3% of the vote, and the DPS’ vote intake was 97% of what it had won in 2013, the best hold of any major party. The DPS performs well in low-turnout elections, such as EP elections – in 2009, the DPS had won 14.1% and, most spectacularly, came close to topping the poll in the low-turnout 2007 EP by-election, winning 20.3% in an election with 29% turnout. Turnout tends to be higher in the Turkish areas of the country, where the DPS has a renowned ability to mobilize its Turkish electorate using various legal and extra-legal means (it is often accused of ‘electoral tourism’, which leads to Turkish voters voting at home in Bulgaria before turning up to vote ‘abroad’ at consulates in Turkey; plus the vote buying and intimidation techniques used by all parties); the division of the ethnic Bulgarian vote between different parties also helps the DPS top the poll even in Turkish-minority areas. For example, in this election, the division of the vote and turnout dynamics likely explain why the DPS polled the most votes in Smolyan and Pazardzhik province (which are 91% and 84% Bulgarian respectively, but the DPS has strong support with religious Muslim Pomaks – Bulgarian Muslims, who may identify as Turks – in the western Rhodope). In Kardzhali province, which is two-thirds Turkish, the DPS won 70.2% of the vote; it also topped the poll in four provinces with a significant Turkish minority (or majority, in Razgrad province) in northern Bulgaria. Peevski was the DPS’ top candidate, but he has declined to take his seat as a MEP.

The new BBT won 10.7% of the vote. It may have benefited from the collapse of the far-right Attack (Ataka), which had received about 12% in 2009 (and 7.3% in 2013), but won only 3% of the vote this year. The far-right has likely been hurt by its support for the government – the association with the DPS doesn’t seem to bother them too much, and Attack’s leader Volen Siderov spilled lots of vitriol on the protesters. The far-right’s support had previously collapsed between 2009 and 2013, when Attack had unofficially supported Borisov’s government, before it used the anti-Borisov protests to save its parliamentary seats in 2013. The Reformist Bloc, a right-wing coalition made up of the old Union of Democratic Forces (SDS, Bulgaria’s governing party between 1991 and 1992 and 1997 to 2001), former SDS Prime Minister Ivan Kostov’s fan club (the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria) and former EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva’s centre-right personal vehicle (Bulgaria for Citizens Movement, which failed to get into Parliament in 2013), held one of their seats with 6.5% of the vote. Kuneva was the alliance’s top candidate.


Turnout: 25.24% (+4.5%)
MEPs: 11 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)

HDZ-HSS-HSP AS-BUZ (EPP/ECR) 41.42% (+8.56%) winning 6 seats (nc) [4 HDZ-EPP, 1 HSS-EPP, 1 HSP AS-ECR]
Kukuriku coalition (S&D/ALDE) 29.93% (-5.98%) winning 4 seats (-1) [3 SDP-S&D, 1 HNS LD-ALDE]
ORaH (G-EFA) 9.42% (+9.42%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Alliance for Croatia/HDSSB-HSP 6.88% (-0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Labourists (GUE-NGL) 3.4% (-2.37%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Croatian Center/NF-HSLS-PGS 2.4% winning 0 seats
Others 6.55% winning 0 seats

Croatia 2014 - EP

Croatia is the EU’s newest member-state, having joined the Union on July 1 of last year – after two-thirds of voters had voted in favour of EU membership in January 2012 and three months after a by-election to elect Croatia’s 12 new MEPs (in which turnout was only 20%). Although there is no significant party which is openly anti-EU, there was little enthusiasm for joining the EU – certainly, joining the midst of the Eurozone crisis, there was none of that pomp which accompanied the EU’s Eastern enlargement in 2004. The Croatian economy has been performing poorly for nearly five years now – in fact, Croatia has been in recession for five years in a row, since the GDP plunged by nearly 7% in 2009. GDP growth is projected to remain negative in 2014, at -0.6%, although Croatia is expected to finally grow out of recession next year. Unemployment has soared from 9% when the recession began to about 17-20% today, with little relief expected in the next few years. The country’s public debt has increased from 36% to nearly 65% of the GDP. Croatia was initially hurt by the collapse of its exports to the rest of the EU with the global recession in 2009-2010, and many argue that the crisis has been so painful in Croatia because of the government’s reluctance to adopt structural reforms to reduce the country’s high tax rates, boost consumption, reducing tax revenues, downsize a large and costly public sector and restrictive monetary policies. Nevertheless, since 2009, two successive Croatian governments – from the right and left of the spectrum – have adopted similar austerity measures which have been deeply unpopular with voters and unconvincing for investors.

Between 2003 and 2011, Croatia was ruled by a centre-right coalition led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Franjo Tuđman’s old authoritarian-nationalist party which had transformed into a pro-European conservative party under Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (2003-2009). The HDZ government became deeply unpopular because of the economic crisis, austerity policies and corruption scandals which have landed Sanader in jail. Hit by the recession, the HDZ government under well-meaning but largely ineffective Prime Minister Jadranska Kosor introduced a new income ‘crisis’ tax and increased the VAT by 1%. More importantly, the HDZ soon became embroiled in a series of particularly egregious corruption cases involving Sanader himself. In December 2010, as the Parliament was about to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, Sanader tried to flee to Austria but was arrested on an Interpol warrant and later extradited to Croatia to face trial. In this context, an opposition coalition, Kukuriku, led by Zoran Milanović’s Social Democrats (SDP) in alliance with the left-liberal Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats (HNS-LD) and the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), won the December 2011 elections in a landslide with 40.7% against only 23.9% for the HDZ coalition.

In office, Milanović’s government has continued with similar austerity policies, which the centre-left government claims are tough measures necessary to make Croatia competitive in the EU and which any government would be forced to take. He has cut public spending, begun a wave of privatizations, reformed pensions, liberalized foreign investment and has talked of cutting 15,000 jobs from the public sector. Some of his controversial economic policies have been opposed by trade unions and employees, while the likes of The Economist dislike the government’s reluctance to cut taxes and public sector wages. The SDP-led government is widely viewed as being uninspiring, and some of Milanović’s decisions have baffled supporters – for example, Milanović barred (until January 2014) the extradition to Germany of former Yugoslav-era secret police chief Josip Perković, who is wanted for the murder of a Croatian defector in Germany in 1983. The opposition HDZ is hardly in better shape. Tomislav Karamarko, the HDZ leader since 2012, has not really improved the HDZ’s standing in opinion polls. In late 2012, the opposition leader was accused of creating a fake scandal to discredit the government (a right-wing paper had alleged that the interior minister had been tapping phones of intelligence operatives, before a left-wing paper countered by claiming that the intelligence operatives had suspected ties with the mafia). In December 2012, Ivo Sanader was found guilty in a first corruption trial and sentenced to 10 years in jail, for having accepted bribes from Austria’s Hypo Bank and an Hungarian oil company. In March 2014, Sanader received another 9 year prison sentence when he – and the HDZ – were found guilty of corruption, accusing Sanader of being behind a scheme to siphon off funds from state-run institutions for personal and partisan financial gain. There has, however, been a mobilization of socially conservative and nationalist opinion, buoyed by the successful initiative referendum last year which amended the constitution to ban gay marriage. The ban on same-sex marriage was approved by 65.9% of voters, despite the opposition of the Prime Minister.

The opposition coalition, made of the HDZ, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the national-conservative Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starčević (HSP-AS) and a pensioners party, won a strong victory – but with only a quarter of the electorate actually turning up. With 41% of the vote, the HDZ’s result is about 8.6 points better than what it had won in the by-election last year, when the right had defeated the SDP coalition by a small margin. The right-wing coalition won 381,844 votes, which is less than what the right received in the 2011 parliamentary elections (554,765), when it had won only 23.4%. Given the low turnout, it is likely a matter of differential mobilization – with opposition voters being more motivated to turn out than supporters of an unpopular and uninspiring government. Polls for the next general elections have showed the right to be tied with or leading the government, but more because the government’s numbers have collapsed to a low level than any major increase in the right’s support (which stands at 24-27%, with the gains from the HDZ’s result in 2011 coming from the addition of the party’s new allies, the HSS and HSP-AS). Turnout was slightly higher in some of the HDZ’s traditional strongholds in Dalmatia, but correlation between turnout and the right’s support was not apparent at the county level. As in 2013, the top vote-winning candidate on preferential votes was Ruža Tomašić, the MEP from the nationalist HSP-AS, who sits with the British Tories in the ECR group (the HDZ, and now the HSS, which won one of the coalition’s six MEPs, sits with the EPP). She won 107,206 votes, or 28.1% of votes cast for the list.

The SDP-led coalition expanded compared to the 2013 EP election, taking in the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), which had won 3.8% of the vote (and topped the poll in Istria, a traditional left-wing bastion), but despite this expansion, the Kukuriku list won 6% less than the SDP-IDS’ combined total from the 2013 by-election and the 275.9k votes it won represents a huge collapse from the 958,000 votes the left had won in 2011. Tonino Picula, an incumbent SDP MEP, received the most preferential votes (48.1%), while the Kukuriku coalition’s top candidate on the list, EU Commissioner Neven Mimica won only 8.1% of preferential votes cast for the list.

To a large extent, the other major winners of the election were smaller parties, although only one of them won seats. ORaH – Croatian Sustainable Development (although orah means nut or walnut in Croatian)- is a new green party founded by former SDP environment minister Mirela Holy, who resigned from cabinet in 2012 citing disagreements with the government’s policy. ORaH describes itself as a socially liberal, progressive green party of the centre-left, and is seeking association with the European Greens. The party’s support has soared in polls since its creation in October 2013, now averaging about 9-11% nationally. Likely pulling votes from the left – ORaH performed best in traditionally left-leaning counties such as the city and county of Zagreb, Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar – the party won 9.4% or 86.8 thousand votes, electing Mirela Holy to the EP.

On the right of the spectrum, the Alliance for Croatia, a new right-wing coalition made of the regionalist/conservative Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), the far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) and the new far-right Hrast movement, won 6.9% of the vote, but failed to win a seat. To a large extent, the alliance’s support remained concentrated in the HDSSB’s traditional stronghold in Osijek-Baranja county, where it won 16.4%, but it did win some significant support outside the poor conservative region of Slavonia, notably in Zagreb (7%) and Split-Dalmatia county (10.9%).

The Labourists, a left-wing anti-austerity party founded by HNS dissident Dragutin Lesar, which won 5% in 2011 and 5.8% in 2013, lost its only MEP. The party, which polled up to 10% in 2012, has seen its support declined to 7-8%. The Partnership of the Croatian Centre, a new centre-right alliance including ophthalmologist Nikica Gabrić’ National Forum, the centre-right Social Liberals (HSLS) and two small local parties, won 2.4% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, expelled from the HDZ in March 2013, was the alliance’s top preferential vote-winner, with 29.7% of the votes cast for the alliance in her name against 24.2% for Gabrić.

This EP election should probably not be taken as an accurate depiction of voters’ view, because turnout was just so low. Polls suggest that the next election, due by 2016, will result in an exploded political scene, with both the SDP and HDZ-led blocs polling below 30% with third parties such as ORaH, the Labourists, the HDSSB and the centrist alliance being all potential kingmakers in what may be a very divided Sabor.


Turnout: 43.97% (-15.43%) – mandatory voting unenforced
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR, 1.8% threshold (national constituency)

DISY (EPP) 37.75% (+1.76%) winning 2 seats (nc)
AKEL (GUE-NGL) 26.98% (-8.37%) winning 2 seats (nc)
DIKO (S&D) 10.83% (-1.48%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EDEK-Green (S&D) 7.68% (-3.76%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Citizen’s Alliance 6.78% winning 0 seats (nc)
Message of Hope 3.83% winning 0 seats (nc)
ELAM 2.69% (+2.48%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.42% winning 0 seats (nc)

Cyprus has been especially hard hit by the financial crisis. Cyprus’ huge offshore banking sector speculated on the Greek debt, and came under pressure beginning in 2008-2009 as bad debt ratios rose and they incurred major loses when Greece restructured its debt. The country’s economy collapsed after 2011: in 2013, the worst year of the crisis, the Cypriot GDP shrank by 6% and is projected to remain in recession in 2014 (-4.8%); the public debt has increased from 58.5% in 2009 to 121.5% in 2014, one of the highest public debts in the EU; unemployment has jumped from 5% in 2009 to 19% in 2014, the third highest in the EU. The Cypriot crisis was particularly complicated for EU policymakers and the IMF because the issue was the island’s gigantic and overextended banking sector – in 2011, its banking sector was said to be eight time as big as its GDP. To complicate matters further, a lot of banking deposits were held by wealthy Russians and Russians make up an important share of the local population.

Cyprus had been in trouble for quite some time before 2013, but the government of President Dimitris Christofias, from the communist Progressive Party of the Working People (AKEL), in office since 2008, initially resisted pressure to seek a bailout from the troika, downplayed the severity of the crisis and opposed implementing austerity and structural reforms. Christofias and the troika didn’t like one another; the latter didn’t trust him to implement structural reforms such as reductions in social spending and public sector wages (which is said to be overstaffed and generously paid compared to the private sector). As the crisis worsened and Cyprus’ credit rating was downgraded, the island was forced to ask for a European bailout in June 2012. Cyprus needed a €17 billion loan spread out over four years, a substantial sum of money representing one year’s worth of the Cypriot GDP; over half of that was needed to recapitalize its banks. In 2011, Cyprus also received a €2.5 billion loan from Russia, which is influential in Cyprus. President Christofias, however, balked at the terms of such deals: he opposed privatization of state assets and was a vocal critic of austerity policies. That being said, his government started introducing austerity policies in 2012 and early 2013: cuts in social spending, a VAT hike and the introduction of retirement contributions for civil servants. With a poor economic record, Christofias did not run for reelection to the presidency in February 2013, and the election was won in a landslide by Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of the conservative pro-EU, pro-bailout and pro-reunification Democratic Rally (DISY). With a more friendly and credible partner, the troika began negotiations for a bailout.

The first bailout agreement in March 2013 represented a major new step in the Eurozone crisis: it imposed a one-time levy on insured and uninsured bank deposits, at a 6.7% rate for deposits up to €100,000 and 9.9% on deposits above that rate. Designed to prevent the island’s banking sector from completely collapsing (but also because Germany didn’t want to loan the full €17 billion and only agreed to €10 billion), the ‘haircut’ on deposits was extremely unpopular and provoked a firestorm in Cyprus and across the EU. A few days later, with pressure from Russia (which was severely irked by the bailout terms) and local protesters, the Parliament rejected the deal. There were worries that Cyprus might be forced to pull out of the eurozone following a tense standoff with the ECB, but a second deal was reached: the Laiki Bank, the second largest bank, would be restructured in a bad bank, spared all insured deposits of €100,000 and less but levied uninsured deposits at the Laiki Bank and 40% of uninsured deposits in the Bank of Cyprus. In the final agreement, no bank levy was imposed, as the Laiki Bank would be directly closed, although uninsured deposits over €100,000 at the Laiki Bank would be lost and those over the same amount at the Bank of Cyprus would be frozen for a haircut if necessary. The Cypriot government also accepted implementation of an anti-money laundering framework, reducing the deficit, structural reforms and privatization. Cyprus also imposed capital controls. However, the first botched bailout was not forgotten in collective memories across Europe, with many fearing that there was now a precedent for ‘bail-ins’ and haircuts in the EU. It also soured Cypriots’ opinion of the EU, fueled by the view that they were the victims of the crisis and were unfairly blamed and punished for it.

With its business model destroyed, the country fell into a deep and painful recession, although the intensity of the recession did not turn out as bad as was predicted last spring and tourism didn’t perform nearly as bad as expected due to Russian tourists. In February 2014, the anti-reunification Democratic Rally (DIKO)’s cabinet ministers resigned and the Parliament did not pass a privatization program, which controversially privatized electricity, telecommunications and ports. A few days later, however, Parliament adopted a revised privatization program, which aims to raise €1.4 billion to pay back the next €156 million aid tranche. International creditors had threatened to withhold payments. The other part of the story behind DIKO’s resignation was its opposition to the reopening of talks with the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north (the TRNC); the issue has been at an impasse since Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the 2004 Annan Plan to reunify the island in a referendum right before it joined the EU, but Anastasiades and DISY were the only leading southern politicians to call for a yes vote in 2004 (Christofias and AKEL are pro-reunification, but Christofias had crucially failed to endorse the yes at the last moment).

The EP election saw extremely low turnout, by Cypriot standards. In 2004, turnout was 72.5%, but it fell to a low of 59.4% in 2009. For comparison, in the 2013 presidential election, over 80% of the electorate had turned out. This year, turnout collapsed below 50%, to 44% – an all-time low. The cause of the low turnout is likely political dissatisfaction and growing apathy – Cyprus hasn’t seen major social movements or protests against the austerity policies imposed, unlike Greece or Spain. As predicted by local pollsters, in a low turnout election, most voters were party loyalists who voted along the traditional party lines. The governing DISY won the election; Anastasiades has managed to shrug off the humiliation of March 2013. However, despite a strong victory, its actual number of voters – because of the low turnout – falls far short of what DISY won in 2009 or 2013. The major loser was the communist AKEL, the former ruling party, which suffered from the demobilization of its electorate, traditionally loyal, after the disastrous record of AKEL’s last term in government. AKEL’s anti-credibility also lacks in credibility. Cyprus stands out from the rest of Europe – and the world – for the strength of the communist movement on the island, which has been active since the 1920s and present in Parliament since independence. AKEL generally tended to support Archbishop Makarios’ government and oppose the enosist (union with Greece) far-right before 1974. DISY was founded as the most pro-Western and pro-NATO centre-right party in 1976 after the invasion, by Glafkos Clerides.

The two smaller parties, the anti-reunification DIKO and the social democratic EDEK (founded by Makarios’ physician and Greek nationalist Vassos Lyssarides in 1969; it ran in alliance with the Greens, KOP) lost votes. Smaller parties benefited from the political climate, but failed to win seats. The Citizen’s Alliance, an anti-corruption, Eurosceptic and anti-Turkish party, won 6.8% of the vote. Somewhat notable was the small success of ELAM (National Popular Front), a far-right/neo-Nazi party tied to Greece’s Golden Dawn (XA). It won 2.7%, a ‘major’ gain from 2009. With over 6,900 votes, ELAM actually won more votes than it did in 2013.

DISY won all districts. It won its biggest victory in the small Greek Cypriot portion of Ammochostos/Famagusta district, with 47.9%, but only 14,000 or so votes were cast. AKEL was defeated in Larnaca district, the traditional communist bastion on the island, with 33.7% to DISY’s 39.2%. In Pafos district, EDEK suffered major loses, losing 8% of the vote.

Czech Republic

Turnout: 18.20% (-15.43%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 5% threshold (national constituency)

ANO 2011 (ALDE) 16.13% (+16.13%) winning 4 seats (+4)
TOP 09-STAN (EPP) 15.95% (+15.95%) winning 4 seats (+4)
ČSSD (S&D) 14.17% (-8.21%) winning 4 seats (-3)
KSČM (GUE-NGL) 10.98% (-3.2%) winning 3 seats (-1)
KDU-ČSL (EPP) 9.95% (+2.31%) winning 3 seats (+1)
ODS (ECR) 7.67% (-23.78%) winning 2 seats (-7)
Svobodní (EFD) 5.24% (+3.98%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirate Party 4.78% (+4.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Green Party (G-EFA) 3.77% (+1.71%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Úsvit 3.12% (+3.12%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.24% (-12.79%) winning 0 seats (nc)

In the past five years, there have been huge changes in Czech politics, which may portend a realignment of the country’s partisan and political system, which is more unstable and exploded than ever before. For years, Czech politics were dominated by the centre-right and Eurosceptic Civic Democrats (ODS), close allies of the British Tories; and the centre-left Social Democrats (ČSSD); ideological differences became muted after the two rivals signed an ‘opposition agreement’ in 1998 in which the ODS agreed to tolerate a ČSSD minority government in return for government jobs and keeping access to the spoils. The 1998 agreement was immediately unpopular, and briefly boosted the prospects of the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSČM) and the centrists, led by the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). It is cited to this day as the moment at which the ODS and ČSSD agreed to share the spoils, betray the voters and allowed politics to become corrupted by a murky group of lobbyists and businessmen. Yet, the system did not collapsed: after both parties did poorly in 2002, they both gained votes after a very polarized and acrimonious closely-fought election in 2006. The ODS formed an unstable government reliant on the KDU-ČSL and the Greens, which fell in early 2009. The 2010 elections were the first sign of major cracks in the system: both the ODS and ČSSD, while still placing on top, won only 20% and 22% respectively, a major fall from 2006. Two new centre-right parties, the pro-European conservative TOP 09 and the ‘anti-corruption’ scam Public Affairs (VV), did very well, and entered government with the ODS, led by Petr Nečas.

Petr Nečas’ government agenda included fiscal responsibility, the fight against corruption and rule of law. It basically failed on all three counts, especially the last two. Rigid austerity policies – one-point increases in the VAT rates, a new higher tax on high incomes breaking the flat tax (introduced by a previous ODS cabinet), and allowed pensions savings to be diverted into a private fund – were unpopular, and some faced hostility from the right (President Václav Klaus, a controversial and brash Eurosceptic, opposed the VAT hike and disliked the pension reform).  The Czech Republic suffered a double-dip recession, and is projected to start growing again – but slowly – only this year. The government turned out to be awash with corrupt politicians – it was revealed that VV was actually part of a business plan for a security company owned by the party’s unofficial leader and cabinet minister Vit Bárta, who also bribed VV MPs in return for their loyalty. VV split and rapidly collapsed. In June 2013, Nečas’ chief of staff and mistress (the two have since married), was arrested along with military intelligence officials and ODS MPs; she was accused of asking military intelligence to spy on three civilians, including Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ then-wife; and brokering a bribery deal to convince three rebel ODS MPs to resign to save the government on the VAT hike vote in 2012. Nečas, who had been known as ‘Mr. Clean’, was forced to resign and the ODS’ support, which had already collapsed to only 12% in the 2012 regional elections, fell in the single digits. President Miloš Zeman, a brash and sharp-elbowed former ČSSD Prime Minister (who later left the party), who won the first direct presidential election in early 2013, controversially appointed a cabinet of friends and allies which did not receive the confidence of the Chamber and forced snap elections in October 2013.

The October 2013 elections saw major political changes. The ČSSD, torn apart by a feud between the anti-Zeman leadership (Bohuslav Sobotka) and a pro-Zeman rebel group (Michal Hašek) and weakened by corruption of its own, once again sabotaged its own campaign and won an all-time low of 20.5% – although they still placed first. The ODS, worn down by corruption and the economy, collapsed to fifth place with 7.7%. TOP 09, a pro-European party which otherwise shares much of the ODS’ low-tax, small government and pro-business agenda, surpassed the ODS, taking 12%, although it lost 4.7% of its vote from the 2010 election. TOP 09’s unofficial leader and popular mascot is Karel Schwarzenberg, the colourful and popular prince and former foreign minister; the party’s actual boss is the far less glamorous Miroslav Kalousek, a somewhat slimy politico who came from the KDU-ČSL. The KSČM placed third with 14.9%, a strong result but not the party’s best; the KSČM has a strong and loyal core of support and it has always done well when the ČSSD is unpopular or discredited (in 2002 and 2004, for example, or in 2012), but the party, despite some evolution, remains a controversial pariah which has not officially supported or participated in a national government (but governs regionally with the ČSSD). The sensation, however, came from ANO 2011 – a new populist party founded and led by Andrej Babiš, a billionaire businessman (owner of Agrofert, a large agricultural, agrifood and chemical company in the country) of Slovak origin. Babiš campaigned on an attractive anti-system, anti-corruption, anti-politician and pro-business centre-right platform which denounced professional politicians, corruption, government interference in the economy and promised low taxes. But Babiš is a controversial man – during the campaign, Slovak documents alleged that he was a collaborator and agent of the communist regime’s secret police; Babiš has been compared to Silvio Berlusconi, and raised eyebrows when he bought the country’s largest media group before the elections. ANO 2011 placed second with 18.7%. Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy), another new right-wing populist party founded by eccentric and idiosyncratic Czech-Japanese businessman and senator Tomio Okamura, won 6.9%. Described by opponents as ‘proto-fascist’, Úsvit, which called for direct democracy and a right-wing economic/fiscal agenda (low taxes, attacking people ‘a layer of people who do not like to work’), controversially called on ‘gypsies’ to be sent back to India. Úsvit’s anti-corruption outrage rings hollow, because one of its candidates (who lost) was Vit Bárta.

Government formation was complicated by tensions between the ČSSD and ANO, which had not had kind words for one another; and tensions within the ČSSD, where Hašek’s supporters, likely with Zeman’s underhanded support, unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to topple Sobotka. Despite Zeman’s obvious misgivings about Sobotka and his desire to continue influencing the government, in January 2014, he agreed to appoint Sobotka as Prime Minister at the helm of a coalition government with the ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL. Notwithstanding some very real policy differences and partisan tensions between the two main partners, the coalition has agreed to a moderate platform, which aims to keep the budget deficit below the EU’s 3% limit, eliminate healthcare user fees, raise pension payments and the minimum wage, lowering the VAT on some products, rolling back the ODS’ pension reforms, tax breaks for families with children and may lower compensation payments to churches (the ODS government controversially signed a deal to return real estate valued at 75 billion CZK to churches and offer financial compensation of 59 billion CZK). It will also take a more pro-EU direction than the ODS, having pledged to ratify the European Fiscal Compact. ANO sends mixed messages on Europe, trying to be both pro-EU and sufficiently Eurosceptic at the same time. Babiš is finance minister in the new government, and his continued ownership of Agrofert has led to accusations of conflict of interest.

The EP election saw extremely low turnout, down from 28.3% in 2004 and 28.2% in 2009 (which was already low, even for low-stakes elections in the country), reaching only 18.2% of the vote. With a fairly popular government still in honeymoon with little controversies yet, there was likely even less motivation to vote this year. As in the last two EP elections, it appears that the electorate which turns out is to the right of the average voter: compared to national polling, the ČSSD and KSČM did slightly worse (they’re currently polling 19-21% and 14-17% respectively) while TOP 09, polling 8-11%, did quite well. ANO, which is polling very well nationally (20-28%), did not do as well; while it pulls mostly from voters who had backed the right in 2010, it is a more rural and regional base lacking the Czech right’s traditional well-off urban component. Turnout figures regionally confirm pro-right differential turnout, with the highest turnout being recorded in Prague, the right’s (TOP 09) stronghold, at 25.8%, while turnout was below 20% in every other region and very low (15%) in Moravia-Silesia, the Social Democrats’ strongest region (and 13% in Karviná district, a coal mining area where the party had won 32% in 2013). In Prague, TOP 09 received 27% against 14.5% for ANO.

ANO topped the poll with 16.1%, just ahead of TOP 09, which won 16%. The left – ČSSD and KSČM – did poorly because of low leftist turnout, winning only 14.2% and 11% respectively, in both cases this represents a substantial loss from the last EP election in 2009 (where the ČSSD had done poorly as well). The KDU-ČSL did well, winning nearly 10% of the vote and topped the poll in Vysočina, South Moravia and Zlín regions, dominating their traditional rural clerical Moravian strongholds. A small anti-EU party, Svobodní (Party of Free Citizens) won 5.2% and one seat; the party, which is close to UKIP and whose new MEP (and leader) is a former adviser to Klaus, supports a small government, low taxes and abolishing subsidies and income taxes. The party is anti-EU, wishing to transform it into a voluntary free trade association or to leave the EU to join the EFTA; it opposed Lisbon and the euro, and now opposes the European Fiscal Compact. Having won less votes than in 2013 (when it won 2.5%), the party likely owes its entrance into the EP to the higher turnout in Prague, where it won over 7% of the vote.

Results by municipality of the 2014 EP election in the CR (source:

The map on the left shows the results by municipality. TOP 09 clearly dominated Prague, Brno and Plzeň; ANO was strongest, like in 2013, in right-leaning areas of Bohemia, outside the urban centres in towns and rural areas (and in places where Agrofert is a major employer); the ČSSD managed to top the poll in industrial Silesia but few other places; the KSČM was strongest in North Bohemia and other former Sudeten German territory (which was re-settled by Czechs post-1945); the KDU-ČSL dominated rural Moravia.

Ihned’s ever-useful data blog has a tool (in Czech, but Google Translate does fine) allowing you to see average results in towns based on certain sociodemographic filters. It confirms the link between turnout and stronger support for TOP 09: where turnout was above the national average, TOP 09’s vote share was 6.9% above its national average; the ODS, Svobodní, the Pirates and the Greens also performed better where turnout was higher, while ČSSD and KSČM clearly did poorer where turnout was higher. ANO did slightly better in areas with lower turnout. The other demographic filters give a good portrait of the voter base of each party. Unsurprisingly, the strongest correlation is between KDU-ČSL and religiosity in this very atheist country – in areas where the share of the faithful is above the national average (which appears to be 14%), the Christian Democrats placed first with 18.1%. The party’s support rise exponentially as the share of the faithful increase in any given area, taking 30% where it is above 28%, 36% where it is over 40% and 43.2% in the few municipalities where more than half of the population are religious. TOP 09’s traditional supporter was very urban, young, not married, very well educated (post-secondary), employed, living in a house and probably an entrepreneur or self-employed. The ČSSD and KSČM had a slightly older, less urban, less educated (especially the Communists) electorate which was also more likely to be unemployed (especially for the KSČM) and far more likely to be an employee. ANO’s support was fairly composite; with no clear core voter base: the party’s average voter is slightly more likely to be an entrepreneur or self-employed, a bit less likely to be unemployed but otherwise its support is less clear-cut than that of TOP 09, ODS and even Svobodní (the right-wing parties). Like in 2013, ANO likely attracted a very demographically and ideologically varied electorate.


Turnout: 56.32% (-1.38%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Preferential list PR (national constituency), seats distributed to alliances (separate lists with votes being pooled together) and then to independent lists (de jure 2% threshold)

O (DF) – Danish People’s Party (EFD > ECR) 26.61% (+11.33%) winning 4 seats (+2)
A (SD) – Social Democrats (S&D) 19.12% (-2.37%) winning 3 seats (-1)
V – Venstre (ALDE) 16.68% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (-1)
F (SF) – Socialist People’s Party (G-EFA) 10.95% (-4.92%) winning 1 seat (-1)
C – Conservative People’s Party (EPP) 9.15% (-3.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
N – People’s Movement against the EU (GUE-NGL) 8.07% (+0.87%) winning 1 seat (nc)
B (RV) – Social Liberals (ALDE) 6.54% (+2.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
I – Liberal Alliance 2.88% (+2.29%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Denmark - EP 2014

The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF, or by its ballot paper abbreviation, O) won a remarkable victory – its biggest electoral success, both in terms of percentage and number of votes – in the party’s history, confirming that the party, on the upswing since the 2011 legislative election, is stronger than ever before and is now in a position to compete with the traditional parties of the left (Social Democrats, A) and right (Venstre/Liberals, V) for power.

The left bloc – led by the Social Democrats and made of the green/left-wing Socialist People’s Party (SF), the left-liberal Social Liberals (RV) with external support from the far-left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten, Ø) – very narrowly won the 2011 elections, ending ten years of right bloc rule – by the centre-right Liberals (V) and Conservatives (C) with external support from the DF. It was already a somewhat Pyrrhic victory, because the SDs, led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, saw their support decline even further (to an historic low of 24.8%) while only RV – which gained 8 seats, to take 17 seats and Ø – which won an historic 6.7% ans 12 seats made gains (SF, which won an historic 13% in 2007, fell to 9%). The left’s victory owed mostly to the gains made its most right-wing and left-wing components, and general fatigue with a tired right-wing government. Helle Thorning-Schmidt (‘Gucci Helle’), the notoriously aloof and ‘snobby’ SD leader, was already fairly unpopular in 2011. Since then, the government, and the SDs in particular, has become badly unpopular.

The government, initially made up of ministers from the SDs, SF and RV, adopted a rather right-wing economic and fiscal policy which dismayed many of the left’s voters and led to major tensions with the Red-Greens, who provided outside support to the government. Soon after taking office, the new government was compelled to accept sharp cuts in the efterløn, a scheme which lets workers retire early on a reduced pension – the policy is popular with manual works in physically demanding jobs, but unpopular with white-collar workers and academics. The outgoing right-wing government, with the backing of the Social Liberals (whose economic and fiscal policy is fairly right-leaning and supportive of lower taxes and a slightly less generous welfare state), had passed a reduction in the efterløn and an increase in the retirement age; after coming into office, the SDs and SF accepted the new policy – after the SDs had vigorously campaigned against changes to the efterløn in the 2011 election. In June 2012, the government agreed to a tax reforms with the Liberals and Conservatives, which increased the top tax threshold (thus reducing taxes on the wealthy) and employment allowance (reducing the taxes on wages) and reduced state benefits (unemployment insurance, early retirement, child benefits); with the aim of increasing labour output, enticing Danes to work more and increasing the the economic benefit of working relative to receiving welfare. The government argued that it was taking difficult but necessary long-term measures to address demographic challenges to Denmark’s aging workforce, but the very neoliberal flavour of the tax reform infuriated the Red-Greens and threw SF, already criticized for having moved to the right to increase the party’s ‘respectability’, in a difficult position. Relations between the government and the Red-Greens were severely damaged; while an increasingly large number of SF voters (and some SD voters) defected to Ø, a process which actually begun in the 2011 election, when SF had lost a share of its most left-wing 2007 voters to Ø. At the same time, the right bloc took a decisive lead in polls; the SDs lost a number of working-class supporters to the DF and V, likely the result of voters disgruntled by the government’s shift on efterløn, a slight liberalization of tough immigration policies (under DF pressure, the previous VC government had adopted some of the EU’s strictest immigration laws, including the 24-year-rule, which imposes strict conditions on family reunification and spouses’ immigration; the left has largely kept these popular rules in place, while liberalizing the more contentious aspects, such as the heavily reduced social benefits for immigrants and detention centres for asylum seekers being processed), the mediocre economic situation, government scandals and mishaps and broken promises.

In September 2012, SF leader Villy Søvndal, who had led the party’s shift towards the centre and ‘respectability’ between 2007 and 2011 and supported close collaboration with the SDs in government, stepped down. In a high-stakes leadership race, Annette Vilhelmsen, a SF MP positioned on the party’s left, defeated health minister Astrid Krag, the candidate of the party’s ‘right’. Although Vilhelmsen dumped Thor Möger Pedersen, the young and unpopular (with the SF’s left) taxation minister and shifted rhetoric to the left, her election did not signal a major shift in the SF’s behaviour in government – it still played second-fiddle to the stronger SDs – nor did it turn around the SF’s sinking polling numbers (in 2013, SF’s numbers sank further, in the 3-5% range, while Ø polled up to 10-14%). The government – especially SD and SF – continued to be badly unpopular in 2013, with the right retaining a decisive lead (about 55-45 for the right bloc in total). A social assistance reform (which reduced benefits for young people and added more stringent eligibility rules; it was approved in August 2013 with the support of all four right-wing parties and the opposition of Ø) and the continued mediocrity of the economy (weak growth in 2013, unemployment at 7%) meant that the Social Democrats saw their support collapse even further, falling to 15-18% in early 2013 before edging back over 20% later in the year. V, which was still polling over 30%, DF and Ø all took their shares of SD voters. SF voters from 2011 divided between loyalty, moving to the left (Ø) or doing like some party members and parliamentarians did (move to the SDs).

In November 2013, the government passed its budget with support from V and C, after failing to bridge differences with Ø. The budget included millions in concessions to businesses and for higher job allowances. Although unpopular on the left, its effect was mitigated by V’s troubles, after the party’s leader and former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen was accused of spending over a million kroner on luxury flights and hotels in his capacity as chairman of the Global Green Growth Initiative – which is publicly funded by the Danish government. However, development minister Christian Friis Bach (RV) was forced to resign as well, after it turned out that he had lied about the government not approving the expensive travel rules).

In late January 2014, the government ran into yet another crisis with a deal to sell 19% of DONG Energy – Denmark’s largest energy company (of which the government owned 81%) – to the American investment bank Goldman Sachs. The deal attracted criticism from the left and DF because of Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis and their plan to buy the shares via tax havens to pay less taxes in Denmark. The issue reopened the question of SF’s participation in government, and led to internal chaos in the party: the SF executive narrowly voted to accept the sale, some opponents of the deal in SF resigned, Ø pushed a parliamentary motion to postpone the sell to force SF MPs to take a stance and finally it culminated with SF leader Vilhelmsen announcing her resignation and that SF was leaving the government (but would continue to support it). Thorning-Schmidt shuffled her cabinet, creating a new government with the SDs and RV. SF voted in favour of the sale in committee, honouring the executive committee’s decision. Supporters of the government within SF ranks – largely supporters of former SF leader Villy Søvndal from the pro-SD ‘workerite’ right of SF – defected to the SDs, including defeated leadership contender Astrid Krag (who nevertheless lost her health portfolio) and former Communist stalwart Ole Sohn. Pia Olsen Dyhr, a member of SF’s ‘green right-wing’, was acclaimed as SF’s new leader.

A month after this crisis, the government ran into another hot potato which stoked Eurosceptic sentiments ahead of the EP election. The old right-wing government tried to limit EU nationals’ ability to receive child benefits by requiring that they have lived or worked in Denmark for two of the last ten years. In 2013, the EU Commission notified Copenhagen that this was not in accordance with EU law (as it discriminated against other EU nationals), and the Danish government began administering according to EU law, which takes precedence, and in February 2014 it proposed a law to amend Danish legislation to make it consistent with EU law. The opposition (V, C, DF, Liberal Alliance) and Ø (which denounced ‘bowing down’ to the EU and called on the government to follow Danish law) supported a motion reaffirming the Danish law. To mitigate the boost which DF received, at the expense of both V (which had some reticence about taking such a tough anti-EU stance) and the SDs, the government proposed tougher controls of EU citizens’ access to welfare benefits. In early May, the government was voted down on the motion on child benefits – with the opposition parties, including the Liberals, and the Red-Greens voting in favour of the motion and the government and SF voting against. In practice, the government will keep administering the law according to EU directives.

In this context, DF won a crushing victory. The party received 26.6% of the vote, by far the party’s highest vote share ever (the previous record, set five years ago, was 15.3%); but it also received the highest raw vote in its history – 605,889 votes, easily surpassing the previous record, which was 479.5k votes in the 2007 legislative election. DF benefited from national dynamics in its favour, but also a personality factor. Nationally, DF has been on an upswing since it lost votes and seats for the first time in its history in the 2011 election. Cashing in on the feeling of betrayal by the left of working-class voters, DF has made inroads with workers and SD voters: according to a study in February, 12% of SD voters from the last election would now vote for DF, along with an estimated 9% of SF and V voters from 2011. In the last weeks drawing up to the EP election, DF additionally benefited from two events: firstly, the political debate on child benefits for EU nationals and the application of EU law over the Danish law and secondly, a new scandal about V leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen using his party’s purse to pay for his clothes and a family vacation down south. In both cases, these events reflected badly on the Liberals, whose support in national polling has declined significantly as a result. In the first case, the child benefits debate increased latent Eurosceptic feelings and allowed DF to attract V supporters for the EP elections. In the second case, V was the target of attacks from the media and the right-wing partners (C, DF, Liberal Alliance). Secondly, DF had the strongest top candidate of all parties in this open-list election. Incumbent DF MEP Morten Messerschmidt is quite popular and he’s the most well-known MEP: already in 2009 he had broken the Danish record for most personal preferential votes in an EP election (set by former SD PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in 2004). This year, he broke his own record for most preferential votes in an EP election in Denmark, winning 465,758 preferential votes or 20.5% of all votes cast. His closest competitor, SD MEP-elect Jeppe Kofod won only 170,739 preferential votes (7.5%).

DF will probably not perform as well in a national election, but it is clear that the party’s fortunes are clearly really looking up these days. More than a few recent national polls have indicated that DF may become the largest right-wing party, ahead of the Liberals – some polls have even placed them as the single largest party nationally; if replicated in an election, it would be a phenomenal success for the party and create a highly interesting situation for government-formation. Most recent polls have placed DF party at over 20% – for comparison’s sake, DF won 12.3% in 2011 and its record high in a national election is only 13.8% (2007). Over the past few years, DF has successfully managed its first leadership transition in its history (DF’s founder and polarizing, but highly successful, leader Pia Kjærsgaard retired in 2012 and was succeeded by her dauphin, Kristian Thulesen Dahl) and a bid to make the party more respectable. Kjærsgaard had fairly successfully built up the party and given it its distinctive anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-multiculturalism, Eurosceptic and pro-welfare state (DF has more interventionist economic policies, by far, than the traditional right, supporting the welfare state and strong social benefits for Danish citizens) image. She gained significant influence over Danish politics by way of her influence over the previous VC government and particularly its immigration policies. Kristian Thulesen Dahl must give the party further respectability, perhaps with the aim of establishing DF as a major and leading force of the Danish mainstream right. The party is already highly disciplined and mature; it is now moving to adopt less extreme and more ‘respectable’ policies, notably on immigration. DF’s trouble is that, in first place, it would have a hard time finding allies, although some low-ranking SD members have expressed sympathy for a SD-DF coalition (which seems to exist locally in the working-class suburb of Hvidovre since the 2013 locals). DF is careful of who it hangs out with: it considers the French and Austrian far-right to be far too extreme and disreputable, and it has instead sat with UKIP in the EFD group and has now successfully courted the British Conservative-led ECR group. In the new EP, DF’s 4 MEPs will sit with the ECR group. It’s a major boon for DF; allowing it to compare itself to the Tories rather than be compared to the FN or FPÖ.

DF swept most of Denmark outside of Copenhagen and the city of Aarhus (and the island of Bornholm, which recorded a weird large swing to the SDs) – it won areas which have traditionally leaned to both the Social Democrats and the Liberals. DF won phenomenal numbers in Copenhagen’s suburbs – particularly the working-class and SD-leaning suburbs, such as Tårnby (35%), Brøndby (35%) and Hvidovre (34%), which were already DF strongholds; but DF also topped the poll in more middle-class SD suburbs such as Ballerup (32%), Rødovre (29.6%) and even the fairly affluent Lyngby in the right-leaning northern suburbs (18%). In Zealand, DF also performed remarkably well, with results over 30% in most districts. It also did very well in Lolland district (35.5%), an area with a rural working-class (sugar beets) and shipbuilding (Nakskov) tradition where SF was quite strong until recently. DF performed quite well in Jutland, especially so in the old industrial towns of Fredericia (35%) and Frederikshavn (35.1%). DF’s traditional electorate is old, blue-collar (and probably retired blue-collar) and with lower levels of education.

The Social Democrats lost one of their seats, and their vote fell by 2.4% to only 19.1%; however, things could have been worse for them: they placed second, ahead of an embattled Liberal Party and SD has not usually performed well in Danish EP elections, where some of its voters have sometimes tended to support other left-wing parties or Eurosceptic/anti-EU lists unique to EP elections. The SDs suffered from the unpopularity of the government, and the party’s situation remains difficult, but there was no collapse as there could have been. The main loser was instead V, which won only 16.7% and lost one of their 3 seats – ending up with only 2. The Liberals, in addition to the challenges mentioned above and DF/Messerschmidt’s attraction for V supporters, also had a mediocre top candidate who did not draw many votes to her name. V’s top candidate, Ulla Tørnæs, who only 6% of votes cast, is a former cabinet minister with a mediocre electoral record and reputation; she was chosen to replace the party’s stronger initial candidate, who got pregnant and over MEP Jens Rohde, who was too pro-EU integration for the party’s tastes. V’s terrible result placed significant pressure on the party’s leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, to resign at a crisis meeting of the party’s central committee. Although he was expected to resign, Lars Løkke Rasmussen survived the party’s meeting on June 3. The EP disaster and the scandals have hit the Liberals very badly: one shock poll from June 2 showed V in third, with only 14.5% support, while the government – for the first time since the election – led the opposition, 51.5% to 48.5%.

SF’s support naturally fell back from the party’s record performance in 2009, but with 11% of the vote, it remains a surprisingly strong performance for the party. Since leaving government, SF has gradually dug itself out of the hole it dug itself into, likely regaining the support of voters who left it for Ø during its stint in government – indeed, polls have shown that SF’s small gains (up to about 6%, which is still pretty bad) have mostly come at the expense of Ø, which is now under 10% in most polls. In the EP election, SF, which was defending only one seat after its second MEP defected to the SDs, was helped by incumbent MEP Margrete Auken, who won 6.7% of the preferential votes. Additionally, because Ø does not run in EP elections – its electorate usually supports the anti-EU People’s Movement against the EU (N, FolkeB) – some ex-SF voters who would now vote Ø nationally chose to vote SF for the EP. SF placed first support in the very left-wing downtown Copenhagen, after the party suffered major loses in the city in last year’s local elections.

The Conservatives (C) did quite well, all things considered. The party suffered a huge swing in the 2011 elections, when the party’s vote collapsed to an historic low of 4.9% (from over 10% in 2007 and 2003) and lost 10 seats, left with only 8 MPs. The party has been shackled with very poor leadership since 2008, and the Conservatives have lost a lot of their natural bases and key distinctive themes to other parties of the right: current C leader Lars Barfoed has taken the party in a more anti-DF and centrist (and ‘humanist’, in touch with C’s claim to be more socially-concerned and humanitarian than V) direction. In 2011, a fairly meaningless pact with the RV to cooperate across the centre worried the party’s right-wingers that it was shifting away from its traditional place in the bourgeois right-wing bloc. The Liberal Alliance, under current leader Anders Samuelsen, has shifted to the right in a libertarian direction, stealing C’s traditional call for lower taxes and small government in 2011; C’s other old core issue – national defense and patriotism – is a lesser issue, and national conservatives have likely gone over to the DF. Since 2011, the party has not made a recovery – it remains at its low levels from the last election, and polls have indicate that it has suffered from continued bleeding to the Liberals and the Liberal Alliance, the beneficiaries of C’s collapse in 2011. In the EP election, the Liberal Alliance ran a little-known candidate and did not join the V-C ‘electoral alliance’ (which would have made it easier for them to win a seat), and the party’s list got only 2.9%, compared to the 5% it won in 2011 and what it polls today (5-6%). The Conservatives also had a good top candidate: former C leader Bendt Bendtsen, who could be seen as the party’s last somewhat successful leader. He won 6.6% of preferential votes.

The People’s Movement against the EU(N) is an old left-wing anti-EU (it still seeks to leave the EU) movement, which only runs in EP elections, and is sometimes – inaccurately – seen as the EP equivalent of Ø. Its emphasis is more anti-EU – albeit from a clear leftist perspective (social dumping) – than ideologically far-left/socialist, and it likely has a somewhat broader electorate than Ø’s very left-wing base (while not all Ø voters may support N). N actually won the first EP elections in 1979, but its support declined consistently in every election after that until 2004, when the party reached a low of 5.2%. Between 1994 and 2004, it suffered from the competition of the anti-Maastricht (but not anti-EU membership) June Movement, which peaked at 16% in 1999 and lost its last seat in 2009. In 2009, FolkeB increased its support; it managed to do so again this year, despite being led by a little-known new MEP, Rina Ronja Kari. It likely benefited a bit, but not fully, from Ø’s popularity.

The Social Liberals, running in alliance with SD and SF, regained the seat it had lost in 2009, taking 6.5% of the vote.

Turnout was down on 2009, but remained high – by Danish EP election standards (not by national election standards) – at 56.3%. Like in 2009, a referendum likely drew out some more voters. This year, voters were asked to ratify Denmark’s participation in the EU’s Unified Patent Court. 62.5% voted in favour. DF and Ø had pushed the government to hold a referendum.


Turnout: 36.52% (-7.36%)
MEPs: 6 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (national constituency), no threshold

Reform Party (ALDE) 24.3% (+9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Centre Party (ALDE) 22.4% (-3.7%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (EPP) 13.9% (+4.9%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Democratic Party (S&D) 13.6% (+4.5%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Independent – Indrek Tarand (G-EFA) 13.2% (-12.6%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Conservative People’s Party 4% (+1.8%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Tanel Talve 3.1% winning 0 seats (nc)
Independent – Silver Meikar 1.8% winning 0 seats (nc)
Estonian Independence Party 1.3% winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.5% winning 0 seats (nc)

Estonia - EP 2014


Estonia’s governing centre-right Reform Party won the EP elections and took two seats. The Baltic country’s economy is highly liberalized, something which has made it something of a ‘poster child’ for fiscal orthodoxy and economic liberalism on the right. Estonia introduced a flat tax in 1994, which remains in place at the rate of 21%, lowered from 26%. The country has been governed since 2005 by the Reform Party (RE), an economically liberal centre-right party which under Prime Minister Andrus Ansip (2005-2014) followed an orthodox fiscal policy which has paid off for the country – or at least in part. Estonia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is only 10%, the lowest in the EU, and it has only a tiny deficit of 0.4%. The country has a high rate of start-up businesses and a heavy use of new technologies (Estonia famously introduced e-voting, using a biometric ID card system, in 2007), and right-wing think tanks give the country splendid marks on rankings of ‘economic freedom’ or the ease of doing business. The economic stability allowed Estonia to become the first Baltic state to join the Eurozone, in January 2011. The country’s growth, nevertheless, has been patchy since the global recession hit: in 2009, the economy shrank by 14% due to a property bubble, after having solid growth between 6-10% between 2000 and 2007. In 2011, an export boom and the government’s fiscal policies allowed the country’s economy to recover, growing by 9.6%. But since then, growth has slowed to 0.8% last year and 2% projected for 2014. The country’s relatively strong economic performance has made it the focus of academic debates abroad: on the right, many hold it up as the success story of austerity policies (implemented in 2008-9) but others, notably Paul Krugman, pointed out Estonia’s ‘incomplete’ recovery (in Krugman’s case, it earned him a strong rebuke from the Estonian President)

The Reform Party was reelected in 2011, taking 33 seats in the 101-seat legislature (a small gain of three seats). Since then, however, the government and Ansip’s popularity tapered off, and RE’s polling numbers declined considerably in 2013, falling behind one or more of the three other important parties. A major cause of this rising unpopularity may have been ‘Silvergate’ – a former RE MP (Silver Meikar) alleged that the Reform Party received anonymous dubious donations. Although the government did its best to slide the issue under the rug, the justice minister was forced to resign in December 2012, having been accused of being aware and even involved in the illegal channeling of funds. It was the most important of several corruption scandals which weakened the government, along with rising voter fatigue in an increasingly arrogant government. In March 2014, Ansip resigned. It was expected that Siim Kallas, RE’s founding father and former Prime Minister (2002-2003) and EU Commissioner since 2004, would ‘swap jobs’ with Ansip, allowing Ansip to join the EU Commission while Kallas became Prime Minister. However, Kallas unexpectedly withdrew his names after negotiations with the Social Democrats (SDE) and instead Taavi Rõivas, who is only 34, became Prime Minister, in coalition with the SDE (replacing the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, IRL).

Ideological differences are fairly muted in a fairly enclosed and elitist political system: the SDE, the fourth largest party, and the Centre Party (KESK), the main opposition party, both favour a progressive income tax but in both cases these parties are moderate and not markedly different from the government. The right-wing IRL is similar to Reform, with an added populist bent and more traditionalist, conservative outlook than Reform (a party of young-ish technocrats and professionals). SDE is not descended from a communist party, unlike a lot of its Eastern European partners, and some of its founding components even have right-wing roots; its policies are very moderate and left-wing socialist politics are toxic in Estonia. All four parties have been in government with Reform at some time since 2005.

KESK, the main opposition party, is controversial and divisive. Although sometimes identified as a ‘social liberal’ or left-liberal party, KESK is primarily a populist party whose positions are oftentimes hardly ‘socially liberal’. It is also something of a personal machine, with a heavy-handed strongman as its leader since 1991: Edgar Savisaar, a former Prime Minister (1992-1993) and the mayor of Tallinn. Savisaar has run his party with an iron fist, throwing out party members who have questioned his leadership, and has a bad reputation for corruption, nepotism and authoritarianism as mayor of the capital. KESK’s strongest support comes from the country’s Russian minority, a fact which adds to the party’s divisiveness in the country. Russians make up 26.1% of the population, with a significant minority (37%) in Tallinn and a large majority (73%) in the easternmost county of Ida-Viru, which borders Russia. Although a small minority of Russian Old Believers (about 8% of the population in the 1930s) were present prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion and annexation, the bulk of the Russian minority moved forcibly or voluntarily to Estonia under Soviet rule, which has made them illegal immigrants in the eyes of the most radical Estonian nationalists. In 1992, Estonia, like Latvia, restored citizenship to those who had Estonian citizenship prior to the 1940 invasion and their descendants (on the basis of state continuity); this left most Russians without citizenship, and the option to choose between naturalization (requiring basic knowledge of Estonian, the constitution and the citizenship act), acquiring Russian citizenship or remaining ‘undetermined’. Most have opted for naturalization, but in 2014, 6.5% of residents remained with ‘undetermined citizenship’ and 9.2% were foreign nationals (mostly Russians). Relations with Russia and the issue of the Russian minority remains a highly contentious and divisive issue both diplomatically and domestically. Savisaar has been accused of ties to Russian politicians and KESK has received donations from Russian companies and is said to have close ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. In 2012, six MPs and the party’s two MEPs left the party, opposing Savisaar’s leadership.

The Reform Party, with EU Commission-hopeful Andrus Ansip as its top candidate, topped the poll, gaining 9% over its weak performance in 2009. Ansip was the most-voted individual candidates, receiving over 450,000 votes. Kaja Kallas, the daughter of Siim Kallas and a RE MP, won a second EP seat for the party, taking nearly 21,500 votes. The Centre Party was the only major party to suffer loses, losing nearly 4% of its support from 2009 and its second MEP seat. Notably, KESK leader Edgar Savisaar failed to win a seat: Yana Toom, a naturalized former Russian citizen, was elected as KESK’s only MEP, with 25,251 votes while Savisaar received only 18,516 votes. KESK’s support remained highly localized, topping the poll in only two locations: in Ida-Viru county, with 59.5% and in the city of Tallinn, with 31.6%. The two smaller parties, IRL and SDE, gained ground and held their single MEP mandate. Independent candidate Indrek Tarand, a colourful former civil servant, journalist and TV personality, was elected to the EP in 2009 on an anti-establishment protest vote, following the decision to switch to closed lists for the 2009 EP election. He won a remarkable 25.8% in 2009, and would have won a second seat if he had another candidate on his list (the seat instead went to SDE, which won only 8.7%); he drew votes across the board, except from KESK. Tarand joined the G-EFA group and has voted with his group colleagues the vast majority of the time. Tarand was reelected with 43,369 votes or 13.2% of the vote.


Turnout: 41% (+0.7%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Open list PR (votes for candidates only, not party lists; national constituency), possibility for alliances (see Denmark)

KOK (EPP) 22.6% (-0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
KESK (ALDE) 19.7% (+0.6%) winning 3 seats (nc)
PS (EFD > ECR) 12.9% (+3.1%) winning 2 seats (+1)
SDP (S&D) 12.3% (-5.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 9.3% (-3.1%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VAS (GUE-NGL) 9.3% (+3.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SFP-RKP (ALDE) 6.8% (+0.7%) winning 1 seat (nc)
KD (EPP) 5.2% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Pirates 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.2% (+0.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Finland - EP 2014

The senior governing party, the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party (KOK), topped the polls in the EP elections, while the right-populist and Eurosceptic Finns Party (PS) won a strong but unremarkable result.

Finnish politics were shaken up in the 2011 legislative elections by the remarkable performance of Timo Soini’s Finns Party (formerly known as the ‘True Finns’, until we figured out that we were translating the Swedish name of a party opposed to the active use of the Swedish language), a populist and Eurosceptic party which surged from 4% to 19% between the 2007 and 2011 elections. The Eurozone crisis provoked a surge in latent Eurosceptic sentiments in Finland – a fairly propserous state, but which had suffered from the recession in 2009 (Finnish economic growth fell by over 8.5% in 2009). Voters opposed the European bailouts to Greece and Ireland, with Soini’s PS seizing on the idea that Finnish taxpayers were unjustly burdened with the costs of bailing out reckless spenders in the EU; these bailouts were approved by the then-government, led by the Nordic agrarian Centre Party (KESK). A populist party, the Finns Party mixes social conservatism with economic interventionism and a strong defense of the Finnish welfare state; it is also nationalist and anti-establishment, strongly opposed to the EU and NATO, while critical of Finland’s traditional consensus-driven and coalition-based politics and tight-knit political elite. PS is opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration, and has proposed much stricter laws on asylum seekers, but unlike a lot of the parties it is compared to, immigration is not the focal point of PS campaigns (although it obviously plays an important role). Compared to the right-populist spectrum in Europe, PS is quite moderate. It claims to be a centrist party and indeed grew out of Finland’s strong Nordic agrarian centrist tradition (where ‘centrist’ does not have the same meaning as elsewhere in the EU), and by its policies and behaviour, it tends to align with other relatively moderate right-populist parties such as DF in Denmark. However, the PS caucus includes oddballs with a penchant for racist and xenophobic comments, so that aspect of right-populism is certainly absent from PS.

In the 2011 election, PS managed to ride a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the three leading parties (which had, in the recent past, all polled within a few percent of one another) – the urban centre-right KOK, the rural Nordic agrarian KESK and the centre-left Social Democrats (SDP) related to the Eurozone bailouts, economic worries at home and protest against Finnish consensual politics. The party drew a composite electorate: from the SDP, it gained traditional working-class voters in mill towns; it ate into KESK’s culturally conservative and isolationist rural base – after all, PS grew out of a rural protest party (SMP) which had peaked at 18 seats in the early 1970s. As a result of this shellshock election, in which the three major parties – but also minor parties such as the Greens (Vihr), the Left Alliance (VAS) and the Christian Democrats (KD) – lost votes, PS ended up a strong third (but only a bit over 1% away from first place) with a record 39 seats. The governing KESK suffered the most, losing 7% of its vote and winning a disastrous fourth place with 15.8%. Timo Soini’s non-negotiable opposition to the Portuguese bailout, however, meant that his party was not included in cabinet, which was led by KOK, the pro-European and pro-NATO party which placed first and which supported the bailouts.

The government formed in June 2011 was a very heterogeneous and broad-based coalition including no less than six parties: led by KOK and chaired by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, it included the SDP, Greens, VAS, the KD and the Swedish People’s Party (SFP-RKP, a liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish-speaking minority, a member of every government since 1972). The PS became the largest opposition party, while the KESK, which has historically been included in most government coalitions because of its place as a ‘hinge party’, joined the opposition. Although PS was not a member of the government, the meanings of its remarkable electoral success in 2011 was not lost on Katainen’s new government. Finland took a ‘hardline’ stance in the Eurozone on the issue of bailouts. It was the only country to demand collateral in exchange for agreeing to the second Greek loan and the Spanish bailout; the government submitted the Portuguese and Spanish bailouts to a parliamentary vote; it has favoured rigid requirements for the use of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and opposed using the ESM to purchase bonds on secondary markets. Within the government, finance minister Jutta Urpalainen, the leader of the traditionally pro-European SDP’s leader, took a tough stance on the euro and bailouts. In the opposition, KESK, which had approved the Greek and Irish bailouts while in power and had been broadly pro-European under centrist Prime Ministers Matti Vanhanen and Mari Kiviniemi, signaled a partial return to its historical Eurosceptic roots upon joining the opposition. KESK’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election – senior politician Paavo Väyrynen, a long-standing member of KESK’s Eurosceptic wing – ran a Euro-critical campaign, claiming that the Eurozone would dissolve and supporting a Finnish exit from the common currency. However, while PS’ success in 2011 signaled the existence of a strong Eurosceptic electorate, the 2012 presidential election showed that most Finnish voters remained pro-EU and pro-euro. Timo Soini won only 9.4% as PS’ presidential candidate; Väyrynen won 17.5% of the vote, failing to qualify for the runoff, which opposed eventual winner Sauli Niinistö (KOK) – a very popular pro-European leader – and Pekka Haavisto, the Greens’ progressive and pro-European candidate.

Finland remains a stable, prosperous country with famously high standards of living, a generous welfare system and an excellent educational system. It remains one of the select few countries in the world with an AAA credit rating, and it has jealously sought to protect it. However, Finland suffered from the recession in 2009, and recovery has been slow and difficult – slower than it has been in Sweden, whose economy has performed better (outside of the Eurozone) since the first recession. Finnish GDP contracted by 1% in 2012 and 1.4% in 2013. Finland’s economy has been negatively impacted by Finnish giant Nokia’s financial troubles, and it is burdened with urgent issues such as a rapidly aging population and a major increase in unit labour costs. The government implemented austerity policies, largely made up of spending cuts with some tax increases (the VAT); in 2013, it did cut corporate taxes by 4% to 20%, which was criticized by VAS, which also forced the government to re-evaluate changes to dividends taxation. The government is planning to advance a €9 billion plan to boost employment and productivity through structural reforms to tackle costs stemming from an aging population. These measures include a social and health reform which would place healthcare management in regional, rather than municipal hands; municipal mergers and incentives to extend careers (but under SDP pressure, raising the retirement age from 63 to 67 appears off the table).

In February 2014, amid austerity backlash due to the struggling economy and pressure from VAS, the government announced that it would drop a target to halt debt growth (spending cuts) – either walking back on some austerity measures, spreading cuts over a longer period or balance them between tax hikes and spending cuts. In late March 2014, VAS decided to leave the government, protesting a new austerity package of €2.3 billion worth of tax increases and spending cuts (including benefit payments to families with young children) to balance the books by 2018 and halt growing indebtedness (now over 60% of GDP). VAS had not performed too poorly in opposition, despite vocal opposition to its partaking in a right-leaning government from some far-left parties and party dissidents, but the government’s austerity measures had become too much for the party. The party which has been ruined by government participation is the SDP, the largest junior partner. SDP leader Jutta Urpalainen, was already a fairly mediocre leader before 2011, and the SDP has been in a sorry state for quite some time – its 2009 EP result (17.5%) was the worst SDP performance on record in a national election and in the 2011 it sunk to only 19.2% support. The SDP struggled in government, as Urpalainen implemented austerity policies and took a hard stance on Eurozone matters, somewhat at odds with the SDP’s base; the SDP’s polling declined from 19% in 2011 to 15-16%. This year, Urpalainen was challenged for the party’s leadership by Antti Rinne, a former trade union leader who engaged the SDP’s base with traditional left-wing rhetoric against austerity. Rinne defeated Urpalainen for the SDP leadership on May 9, 2014 and will replace Urpalainen as finance minister. Rinne favours interventionist pro-growth policies, and is critical of some of the government’s policies – he would like to expand a €600 million stimulus package announced a few months ago.

Jyrki Katainen is set to step down in June 2014, eyeing a EU or international job. Three KOK cabinet ministers have lined up to fight a leadership election in June 2014, which will determine Katainen’s successor as Prime Minister and leader of Finland’s largest party.

KOK remained the single largest party in the EP elections, taking just below 23% of the vote and holding its three seats in the EP. The pro-EU centre-right party’s vote is actually up 2.2% on its 2011 result, although because of low turnout it received over 200,000 votes less than it had in 2011. The ruling party received a strong boost in Finland’s candidate-centered electoral system from EU minister Alexander Stubb, a leading contender to succeed Katainen as Prime Minister. He won 148,190 votes, the most votes received by an individual candidate in this election. In 2009, the most popular candidate was Timo Soini, who had won over 130,000 votes. Stubb’s support was evenly distributed throughout southern Finland, the most urbanized and populated part of the country and KOK’s traditional base; he did particularly well in urban centres – Helsinki, Helsinki’s suburbs in Uusimaa region, Tampere, Lahti and suburban Turku. Other KOK MEPs had more localized support: transport minister and MEP-elect Henna Virkkunen dominated around her hometown of Jyväskylä in central Finland while incumbent MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen was strong around Hämeenlinna.

KESK placed second, with a performance similar to 2009 but recording a 3.9% improvement on KESK’s disastrous result in the 2011 election. The Centrists have likely recovered rural voters who had abandoned them for the PS in 2011. In this election, KESK, which includes both a more liberal pro-European wing and a traditionally Eurosceptic and isolationist wing, conciliated both factions in the party with its leading candidates. Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs (known as an advocate of austerity policies) won 70,398 votes – coming in as the third most voted candidate in Finland. Paavo Väyrynen, a former cabinet minister and 2012 presidential candidate from the party’s Eurosceptic wing, won 69,360 votes. Väyrynen boosted KESK’s support considerably in his native Lapland, where he won the most votes of any candidate and where KESK’s support increased by 9.6% since 2009 and 11.8% since 2011 to 44%. KESK also gained 6.4% from 2011 in Oulu region. Incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki was KESK’s third MEP, finding most of her support in and around her hometown of Lapua in Southern Ostrobothnia.

The Finns Party had, like in the 2012 municipal elections, a mixed result. With 13% of the vote, it is a distant third ahead of the SDP, and PS recorded the second strongest vote increase since 2009 of any party – a gain of 3.1%, and also a gain of a second seat in the EP. However, PS’ result is down 6.2% and over 337,000 votes lower than in the 2011 election, where PS won 19% of the vote. It is, in this sense, an unremarkable and underwhelming performance for the right-populist and Eurosceptic movement, which – unlike DF in Denmark – has not increased its support from the last election. At the same time, however, it still shows that PS has solidified itself as a major party in a system which now has four, instead of three, parties in competition for power. At the national level, PS is still polling strongly, generally in the 17-18% range. Its support has not collapsed as some had predicted in 2011. In the EP election, PS’ underperformance likely owes to lower turnout (some anti-EU protest voters may not have showed up, feeling disconnected from and not concerned by the distant issue) but also the lack of Timo Soini, who is a major boost for PS. PS’ top two candidates and MEPs-elect – Jussi Hallo-aho, a PS MP famous for his anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism positions; and Soini’s successor as MEP, Sampo Terho – lacked Soini’s profile, although the fairly prominent and controversial Hallo-aho did draw some strong support throughout Finland, likely with anti-immigration voters. He won over 80,700 votes nationally – the second most voted candidate. PS has been accepted into the more moderate ECR group, ditching UKIP’s EFD (like DF).

Results by municipality of the 2014 EP election in Finland (source: Wikipedia) – note: SFP in orange, PS in yellow

The main loser was the SDP, whose support fell by over 5% from 2009 and 6.8% from 2011 (both of which were already record-setting lows). It lost over 348,700 votes since the 2011 election. Although it saved its two MEPs, 12% of the vote remains an unmitigated disaster. Despite a tougher rhetoric to win back disoriented left-wingers and blue-collar males who have defected to PS, the SDP’s new leader Antti Rinne failed to make an impact and himself admitted that his party had taken a slap in the face. The SDP’s leadership contest likely hurt its campaigns: the SDP was deeply divided and its policies a complete mess, because Rinne attacked the fundamentals of the government which the SDP has been a part of since 2011. Worryingly for the party, the SDP’s support with young voters – already a weak demographic for a party with an aging electorate – and middle-class city dwellers has declined, shrinking the SDP to an increasingly old electorate. And with poor results being confirmed in successive elections of all types, this bad result is not a deviation – it’s part of a wider trend, which has seen the SDP’s support decline significantly in recent years. So far, Antti Rinne hasn’t been able to correct that. VAS, on the other hand, had a good election: with 9.3% of the vote, it regained a seat which it had lost in 2009, when the VAS vote declined to 5.9% (and had no alliance with another party to help it out). The party improved its support by 3.4% since 2009 (the most of any party) and by 1.2% from the 2011 election. VAS ‘ presence in government surprisingly turned out fairly well until the party left the government, which allowed it to gain even more support. Unlike the SDP, VAS has successfully communicated its message and renewed itself; distancing itself from its roots in Finland’s powerful pro-Moscow communist party of the Cold War years. It has renewed its electorate somewhat, with a young and urban electorate (students, low-wage employees, social workers) adding to a traditional base of working-class unionized workers. Unlike the SDP, which has failed to respond to change effectively. In this election, VAS overtook the SDP in Helsinki (12% vs 11.7%) and Turku (15.6% vs. 13%).

The Greens lost one seat and over 3% from 2009, which had been an exceptionally good year for the Greens (who took over 12% and gained a seat). The Greens’ result, however, is up 2% on what they polled in 2011, a disappointing year for the party. The SFP, the liberal party representing Finland’s Swedish minority (about 5% of the population), saved its single MEP. During the campaign, SFP was said to be at risk of losing its seat, which it had held since the first Finnish EP election in 1996. Instead, the SFP increased its support by 0.7% from 2009 (and over 2% from 2011). This is due to stronger turnout in Swedish municipalities in Ostrabothnia and the 90%-Swedish Åland archipelago; very likely motivated to save the SFP’s seat against the PS, which has strong anti-Swedish (against bilingualism) stances against which Finnish Swedes have mobilized. In the Åland archipelago, turnout increased from 48% to 57%, while the SFP won no less than 90.5% of the vote against 2.4% for the SDP.

The KDs lost their sole MEP, even if they ironically took their best result in an EP election. Incumbent KD MEP Sari Essayah won 61,264 votes – the fifth most voted candidate in Finland. However, in 2009, the KDs had salvaged their seat thanks to an electoral alliance with PS. This year, the small socially conservative party ran without an alliance with another party, and thus lost its seat.

YLE has a map showing the preferential votes for the candidates by municipality, while their results interface allows you to drill down to the municipal level for some party results (and also offers maps of party support and turnout). The patterns were nothing unusual. KESK won the vast majority of the land area, by virtue of the party’s solid base in the bulk of sparsely populated rural municipalities and small towns in Finland. KESK won its best results in the Finnish municipalities in rural Ostrobothnia (Oulu and Vaasa constituencies) – a religious and conservative rural region. However, KOK won nearly every major city in Finland except the northern city of Oulu (which went to KESK): Helsinki (28%), Espoo (a wealthy suburb of Helsinki, with 39.5% for KOK), Vantaa (a less affluent Helsinki suburb, 27%), Turku (26%), Tampere (27%), Jyväskylä (20.7%), Lahti (29%) and even topped the poll in some traditionally left-leaning industrial towns such as Pori, Rauma, Lapeenranta and Hämeenlinna. The largest city which the SDP won is Imatra, a mill town of some 28,000 people. It won 20.9% in Rauma, a major harbour and industrial city; but in Pori, a neighboring industrial city of over 83,000 people, the SDP placed third with 17.3% (PS won 18.7%, it had won the city in 2011). The SDP was also third in Kotka, a major harbour for the lumber industry (PS won 21%, in second behind KOK; the SDP won there in 2011); fourth in the railway town of Kouvola (14.3%, PS won 20% but was nearly 8% lower than in 2011); and third in Lapeenranta (with 15%, down over 10 points from 2011), an old mill town. In Joensuu, an old lumber town in Northern Karelia which is now a college town, the SDP placed second (behind KESK) with 19.3%, ahead of the Greens whose fell fell by 9 points to 15%. Overall, the SDP won 19%, its best result, in Northern Karelia. The Greens did very well (but less so than in 2009) in college towns and major cities: Helsinki on top with 19.8%, but also Tampere (16%) and Joensuu (15.4%). VAS did well in the cities, college towns too but also in industrial towns (13.7% in Pori) and northern Finland. The north of the country has a tradition of ‘backwoods communism’, with strong communist (now VAS) support from loggers and the rural working-classes. VAS placed second in Lapland and Oulu. In this election, VAS did very well around Suomussalmi (50.7%) and Kajaani (41%) in the northeastern region of Kainuu – this is a personal vote for VAS’ new MEP, Merja Kyllönen, a former transportation minister, MP and former municipal councillor from Suomussalmi. She dominated the field of candidates in the region.

Next: France

Later: Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy

Guest Post: Great Britain 2014


Chris Terry has contributed this excellent guest post on the recent local and European elections in Great Britain. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society and you can follow him on Twitter here.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland held local elections on the 22nd of May. As Northern Ireland has an entirely separate party and electoral system, it shall be dealt with separately.

Political Context

Since 2010 the UK has been ruled by its first coalition government since the end of World War II between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

The 2010 election put an end to thirteen years of Labour governance following the landslide of 1997. Thirteen years in government had taken their toll on the party, as had the financial crisis and strategic mistakes by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had taken over from Tony Blair in 2007.

However, the Conservative Party suffered from image as an out of touch party for the rich which did not understand the lives of ordinary Britons and toxicity amongst multiple demographics including ethnic minorities, public sector workers, the Scottish and the young. The party also suffered from the cruel effects of Britain’s First Past the Post system due to its highly inefficient vote spread.

The election had been seemingly blown open by the performance of the unknown leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, in the first Prime Ministerial debate in UK history. This unleashed ‘Cleggmania’ as the Lib Dems climbed to first in some polls. In reality Cleggmania was overblown and overstated, and mostly based on a large pool of don’t knows drifting into being very soft Lib Dems in polls. It began to dissipate by polling day and though the Lib Dems achieved 23.0% a vote, their best popular vote since 1983, they lost six seats.

The Conservatives gained almost 100 seats, but their 306 left them sort of the 326 needed for a majority in the UK. Britain was thus treated to the sight of coalition negotiations. While most of Britain’s European cousins view this as a norm post-election, this was entirely new to the British and journalists, politicians and academics rushed around trying to explain the phenomenon.

The final deal saw Clegg become Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition led by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron, an Eton educated former PR man and Treasury special adviser with aristocratic connections who many Brits view as the very personification of the British elite.

The new government had to deal with a yawning budget deficit of more than 10% of GDP, though Britain did not face the same problems as other Western nations regarding its ability to pay its debts. Nonetheless the government implemented an austerity agenda.

This pushed the Liberal Democrats into agreeing to some policies which they had specifically campaigned against in the 2010 election. Most infamously the party agreed to the trebling of the cap for university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year (the system acts something like a tax, however, with no payback before you earn above £21,000 pa, very low interest rates and debts written off 30 years after they are taken out if not fully repaid). Abolition of university tuition fees had long been one of the Lib Dems’ most recognisable policies, and the party’s MPs and candidates had signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students to vote against any rise in tuition fees.

During Labour’s years in opposition the Lib Dems had cultivated a young, academic, left-liberal  base based on their opposition to the war in Iraq and left-leaning policies under Charles Kennedy. While Clegg had always intended to take the party to the centre, the party retained a strong left-leaning vote which had, in many cases, rejected Labour on the basis of insufficient leftism. To such voters, the party’s coalition with the Conservatives was anathema.

The party also found its traditional campaign strategy somewhat blunted. Since the 1960s move to ‘community politics’ the Lib Dems have focused on a localist form of politics, with individual Lib Dem MPs pointing left or right depending on the constituency and adopting strongly localist campaigns. The Lib Dem mantra ‘where we work we win’ attests to a traditional belief in the party that there is no obstacle which can stop a determined local party as long as it pounds the pavements, leaflets relentlessly and provides excellent constituency service. Yet the party’s national exposure in government gave it a national profile and not a positive one, with Clegg moving from the most popular politician in the country to the least in less than a month.

The Lib Dems have been devastated in successive waves of poor election results, though the signs are that the party performs much better in areas where they have incumbent MPs, where the party’s traditional strengths of solid constituency representatives work in their favour.

Labour followed the election with a leadership race, which pitted two former ministers and brothers, David Miliband, the former foreign minister, and Ed Miliband, the former Energy and Climate Change minister against one another. The fight took on extra potency as David had been a key aide and ally of Tony Blair, and Ed had been one of a pair of Gordon Brown’s most trusted advisors with Ed Balls, another prominent minister. Hence the two had been on opposite sides in the often extremely volatile relationship between the two former Prime Ministers.

To the surprise of many, Ed narrowly won the leadership race albeit on the votes of the trade union section of Labour’s complex leadership election electoral college (with David winning MPs and party members).

Ed represented a clearer break with the past, wanting to take the party in a more clearly left-leaning direction. He almost immediately apologised for the Iraq War, for instance. The Conservatives quickly attempted to brand Ed as ‘Red Ed’. However research found that voters found Miliband not to be so much a scary 1970s socialist, as the Conservatives had hoped, but just rather ‘weird’, due to poor presentation on his part.

Ed, is the son of a famed Marxist academic, Ralph Miliband, and who therefore, grew up in a home which was at the very nexus of the British intellectual leftist elite, with frequent visitors such as the academic Tariq Aziz and the famed radical left Labour MP Tony Benn (who sadly passed away earlier this year). He took a sabbatical from politics to teach at Harvard in the early 2000s. He thus affects an academic, some critics say ‘geeky’ persona. He is unusually interested in ideas for a modern day politician, and is known for his series of ‘gurus’, often academics such as the American philosopher Michael Sandel, or the sociologist Maurice Glasman.

Miliband’s instincts tend towards a metropolitan kind of leftism, but he has also taken on some of the issues of Glasman’s ‘Blue Labour’ ideas which posits a more socially conservative Labourism which rejects the managerialism of traditional British Fabian socialism. Blue Labour embraces a more conservative stance on immigration, crime and Europe, but prefers a more continental style of corporatist economics to markets. It is localist and vaguely anti-statist.

Realising that his party would be forced into austerity measures in government, Miliband has come to embrace more state interference in markets, with policies such as the introduction of rent controls and a forced price freeze on energy prices to undercut what Miliband consistently refers to as a ‘cost of living crisis’.

Conditions since 2010 have provided perfect ground for the unleashing of a quietly rising tendency in Britain – right-wing populism. Right-wing populism and anti-immigration politics has been present in the UK for a while, but has been divided between multiple parties, predominantly the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the far-right British National Party (BNP). In many constituencies in 2010, especially in the North, these two parties and other minor right-of-conservative parties together won over 10% of the vote. This was largely unnoticed because it was split between multiple parties. After 2010 the BNP went into meltdown. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, specifically targeted them by his own admission, saying that most BNP voters are decent people simply angry about immigration. He even claimed responsibility for destroying the party.

The party has traditionally performed best in European elections. The political scientists Rob Ford and Matthew Elliott have compared UKIP’s previous pattern to being like a hibernating bear which emerged from its cave once every five years for European elections, would frighten the villages and then retire to its cave to sleep. As an illustration the party came second in the 2009 European election with 16.5% of the vote. It then fell to 3.1% in 2010 as it won strategic defectors from the main parties who opposed the EU. UKIP now polls between 10% and 20% of the vote in general election voting intention. The party has also won a string of second place finishes in by-elections, most notably in Eastleigh last year, and won an incredible victory in the 2013 local elections.

UKIP also benefitted from the coalition. Britain’s three main parties have now all been in power in the last five years. None thus provides a clear oppositional role. The Conservative Party has been unable to reduce immigration to the 10s of thousands as they promised a goal which always lacked credibility. In order to reduce immigration the Conservatives, unable to deal with ‘bad’ immigration, have restricted immigration which most Brits think is ‘good’ such as student visas.

The Lib Dems’ traditional role as a protest vote was also lost as the party entered government.

An additional boon to UKIP is that all three party leaders are from different wings of the British elite. Cameron originates in the traditional, aristocratic, upper class elite. Miliband originates in the academic, intellectual, left-wing elite. Clegg’s ancestry lies in the European aristocracy. A speaker of five languages he is a former MEP, and a former advisor to the ex-European Commissioner Leon Brittan. Clegg is thus of the Eurocrat elite.  All three are around the same age (Cameron and Clegg are 47, Miliband is 44). Both Clegg and Cameron were privately educated, while Miliband went to a state school, it is known as the ‘Eton of the left’ due to the large number of prominent left-wingers educated there. Miliband and Cameron both went to Oxford University, and studied PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). Clegg went to Cambridge. All three later worked as political advisors and critics allege they have never had a ‘real job’. In this respect all three have lived elite lives out of step with the lives of average Britons, leading to the impression of a ‘political class’ dominated by an increasingly narrow group of identikit politicians.

The famed UK expenses scandal of 2008-9 has also damaged the reputation of British politicians, and the public increasingly distrusts politicians on the issue of immigration.

Farage is part of the elite as well, a privately educated former metals trader from the London financial centre who has served as a MEP since 1999. Yet he successfully affects an authentic style, almost always being filmed drinking real ale in pubs up and down the land, or smoking a cigar, he dresses in a colourful, rural style, appears to speak his mind and goes on tirades against the political class. Under his leadership UKIP’s traditional Euroscepticism has been expanded. In particular the party has increasingly conflated the EU and immigration, stoking fears of renewed immigration from Bulgaria and Romania when the need for Bulgarians and Romanians to get work permits to work in the UK was lifted at the start of 2014 (initial figures suggest that the number of both groups working in the country has actually fallen since the 1st of January).

Britain has a long tradition of Euroscepticism, but for UKIP’s voters the EU has come to represent everything they hate about politics: an out-of-touch bureaucratic, dull elite (in a foreign country no less!) forcing open borders onto Britain.

Analysis of UKIP’s support base suggests it is composed overwhelmingly of older, poorly educated, male working class voters. These voters are deeply pessimistic about the direction Britain has been going in for decades. While Westminster journalists have often stereotyped UKIP as simply taking support from the Conservatives, the party takes around the same amount of support from Labour. The party is increasingly target traditional Labour party supporters. The recent book Revolt on the Right provides fascinating reading for anyone interested in UKIP’s rise.

UKIP’s support is predominantly English, and it is much weaker in Scotland, though it has some strength in Wales, especially in the North.

Like other right-wing populist parties, UKIP has had its fair share of controversy. A UKIP councillor received national attention and widespread mockery earlier this year when he claimed that flooding in the South West of England was the result of the legalisation of gay marriage. UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was forced to resign from the party after he drew attention away from Farage at the party’s 2013 conference for suggesting that women who did not clean behind the fridge were “sluts”, and then, as a journalist who questioned why UKIP’s conference brochure did not feature a single ethnic minority face, hitting said journalist over the head with a copy of said brochure.

Farage himself has received criticism, for instance, for saying that he felt uncomfortable when people spoke languages other than English on trains, or by saying he would feel uncomfortable if Romanians moved next door to him.

Scotland has seen the rise of a different type of populist outsider, as the Scottish parliament saw the Scottish National Party win a majority in 2011, which wasn’t supposed to be possible. The UK and Scottish governments have agreed to a binding referendum on Scottish independence to be held on the 19th of September. The SNP has a strong base in Scotland, and has appeared to be newly dominant in Scotland since 2011 due to a perennially weak and incompetent Scottish Labour Party.

Other parties of note are Plaid Cymru, the much weaker Welsh nationalist party, and the Greens, who in Britain are of a rather eco-socialist variety. They hold only one MP at Westminster, in the radical left wing seaside city of Brighton, known for its gay community and liberalism, but have strength in some regions of the country and do well in PR elections.

The Structure of British local government

British local government has a complex structure which differs widely between different regions due to both repeated reform attempts from central government and different histories.

The UK has a highly centralised political system and is often described as one of the most centralised countries in the world. Most of the local councils’ money has traditionally come from central government grants. The only tax that local government can levy in the UK is council tax, a property tax based on house prices, which is widely disliked as it is the only tax that comes in the form of a bill, and is perceived as regressive, hitting poor pensioners the hardest. Many would like to see a more devolved tax system, but Britain suffers from yawning regional disparities in wealth and hence a more localised tax system would tend to result in essentially taking money from poorer regions without a system of equalisation payments.

British local government has often been treated as little more than a delivery mechanism for central government policies. In the Labour years, when money was good, there was a tendency to create extra funds of central government money for local government but to ruthlessly ‘ring-fence’ it (make sure that the money could only be spent on that one area). The coalition substantially reduced ring-fencing in government and introduced a general power of competence which vastly expanded what councils could theoretically do but also substantially cut central government funding to councils (which was cut by 30%) meaning that councils could rarely afford to be more than managers of core services. No other government funding has been cut so radically. The Local Government and Communities minister, Eric Pickles, has also been fond of occasional diktat from Whitehall, trying to force local government into keeping weekly waste collections (some had gone to fortnightly as a cost-saving measure) and freezing their council tax rates. Under the coalition’s localism act councils must hold referendums if they raise council tax by more than a certain percentage. In response some councils have instead raised their council tax by 0.01% less than the limit to avoid a referendum. In theory, councils receive extra funds from central government for freezing their council tax but councils fear this money will evaporate with time putting them into further financial strain.

As local government is so anaemic in the UK turnouts have historically been low in UK local elections. Concern has been quite strong about turnout in local elections for a while, but in truth turnouts bottomed out in the period between 1998 and 2002 with a string of sub-30% scores and have now stabilising in the mid-30s. This is low compared to local elections in other countries but historically turnouts were not much higher than this in the 1970s. Turnout is very down when compared to the 1980s, but this was a period of extreme political polarisation in the UK which boosted turnouts and political engagement across the board.

Another aspect for the anaemic quality of local government is that local elections are most often used to comment on the performance of central government rather than to vote on genuinely local issues. Local elections in the UK are rarely truly ‘local’ as a result. In the vast majority of council areas traditional political parties vie for control, though the Liberal Democrats have often pursued a strategy of running much more heavily localised campaigns.

Local elections, as a result, suffer from a notable differential turnout effect whereby supporters of the opposition tend to tend out much more than supporters of the government (as in other mid-term elections internationally such as US mid-terms).

There are different types of councils in different parts of the UK with differing responsibilities and different systems of election.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, councils are single-tier and elected by the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation in all-at-once elections. The Scottish councils were last elected in 2012, whereas the Northern Irish councils are up for election this year (more on this in a forthcoming article).

In Wales, there is also a system of unitary councils elected all at once using a bloc voting system in multi-member wards.

In England the systems become much more complex.

By far and away Britain’s largest city, London is governed by 32 ‘borough councils’. London is a massive international city, with a population of 8.5 million – as much as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland put together. It represents 15% of the UK population. London’s boroughs are technically single-tier but since 2000 they share power with a directly elected Mayor of London, currently the Conservative Boris Johnson, famed for his eccentric, ‘upper class buffoon’ persona.

Nevertheless the vast majority of local services are provided by the boroughs, with the Mayoralty controlling economic structuring, transport and police across London.

The London Boroughs are all elected all-at-once on a four year cycle. The boroughs feature multi-member wards (the constituencies of local government) generally with 3 councillors each (though some 2 member wards have recently appeared).

18% of the population of the UK lives in the Metropolitan counties of the North of England. These six counties, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire are highly urbanised areas and essentially vast urban conurbations around the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Sunderland, Birmingham (Britain’s second largest city and the largest municipality in Europe), and Leeds.

The Mets used to be two-tier authorities, with the Metropolitan counties having their own higher level. This was abolished in the 1980s though there is some joint working at the county level. This collaboration has recently been increased as a way of reducing costs, with the most notable being the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

The Mets are elected by a system of election by thirds. All wards in the Metropolitan councils have three councillors. One of these is elected each year to a four year term with one ‘fallow’ year. This system is supposed to provide a regular injection of accountability and new blood, but is increasingly criticised as costly, reducing turnout due to electoral fatigue and causing poor governance as councillors are distracted by elections for multiple months most years.

The most common type of council in the UK is district councils. These are two-layer councils with a county council above them.  District councils handle housing, planning, leisure and recreation, waste collection, collection of council tax and environmental health. County councils handle local education authorities, transport, fire, social services, libraries and waste disposal.

Counties are elected in a four year cycle in the traditional first past the post single-member style. They were last up for election in 2013. Districts are allowed to choose between election by thirds (hence some wards have a local election literally every year as county councils are elected in the ‘fallow’ year), election by halves and election all at once. Most of those elected all at once were last elected in 2011 and will be next up in 2015.

Most of the district councils are rather small and rural.

In recent years there has been an increasing move towards the creation of unitary authorities, merging the responsibilities of districts and counties to reduce duplication and to create clearer lines of accountability. Unitaries come in two types. The first covers large towns or small cities outside the metropolitan areas which have been deemed large enough to support the necessary tax base to support one, such as Plymouth, Bristol, Peterborough or Portsmouth.

The other fashion has been to merge districts in large rural areas into one massive county council with the powers of the district councils in areas where district councils are deemed too small to support themselves. This has happened in areas such as Cornwall, Wiltshire, Northumberland and County Durham. These areas are typically largely rural or covered by small towns.

Most councils in Britain are governed by a fairly typical cabinet model, but since 2000 councils may introduce a directly-elected mayor with wide-ranging executive powers, usually this is done by referendum. Only fifteen councils have introduced the elected mayor model, four of which are London boroughs, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. A fifth elected mayor, in Watford, was up for election this year as well. Elected mayors are elected using a preferential system known as the Supplementary Vote system. SV features ballots laid out like a traditional British ballot paper except with a second column for a second preference. Voters may thus cast two preferences. A mayoral candidate who wins 50%+1 in the first round is deemed elected, if this does not happen then all but the top two are eliminated and second preferences redistributed. The plurality winner then wins. The system thus guarantees a wider mandate than First Past the Post but does not guarantee a majority as in AV or a two round system. SV means that voters must strategically vote for one of the top two candidates with their second vote. There is evidence that voters do not properly understand the system, with a significant minority of voters casting two preferences for one candidate (which obviously cannot transfer).

However, elected mayors themselves are widely seen as a success, improving governance, transparency and visibility for their communities. Polling suggests that 50% of the public in councils with an elected mayor can name their mayor, whereas only 10% of the public in councils with the usual model can name their council leader. Central government has often tried to push the elected mayoral model, especially in councils seen as poorly run and in big cities. Local government has often pushed back against the model, however. Councillors often fear losing power to elected mayors.  In 2012 the government held referendums on elected mayors in the 10 biggest cities in England outside London. In Liverpool and Salford the referendums were, in essence, pre-empted, but of the remaining 8 cities only Bristol chose the mayoral model.

Prior local elections held alongside EP elections have shown a noticeably stronger result for UKIP.

The seats up this year were last up in 2010 and held alongside the general election. This means that they represent the last set of good results for the Lib Dems since before coalition, but also that Labour performed well in 2010 due to the high turnout.

European Parliament Elections in the UK

Since 1999, European parliament elections in Great Britain take place in the framework of a closed-list proportional representation. Britain elects 70 MEPs (3 more are elected in Northern Ireland) in regions, with one region representing Scotland and one Wales, and England split into the nine regions of East of England, East Midlands London, North East England, North West England, South East England, South West England, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The regions range from 3 seats (North East England) to 10 seats (South East England) in size creating effective thresholds between 7% and 20%. This makes the UK system fairly disproportionate, but it does also mean that the SNP and Plaid can win seats in their regions which a single constituency with a national threshold would stop (neither party would be capable of winning more than 3% nationally).

The PR system has allowed for the entry of smaller parties into the European Parliament, most notably UKIP, but the Greens, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the far-right BNP also won seats in 2009.

Eurosceptic parties tend to perform better in EP elections. The prior success of UKIP in these elections is especially notable but the Conservatives also tend to perform better than in European elections on the same day.

The Campaign

The campaign was predominantly notable for an attempt by the Liberal Democrats and UKIP to polarise the election for their own interests.

In March Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to a televised debate about whether to stay in or get out of the European Union, an eternal British political debate which practically predates UK accession itself. Clegg’s challenge was issued on his LBC radio show. By sheer coincidence, Nigel Farage decided to accept his challenge the next day, on his LBC radio show. It may not surprise readers to learn that one of the debates was hosted by LBC.

Both leaders sought to portray the other parties as scared of participating in a debate on this subject. Clegg sought to portray the Conservatives as taking a confused position on Europe (the Conservatives, who have a softly Eurosceptic stance re pledged to support a referendum on the EU in 2017 if they are re-elected), and to portray Labour as having no position at all (Labour’s campaign was noticeably silent on EU issues). Farage merely hoped to present all three leaders as in hoc to an EU elite which ‘truly’ made the laws in the UK.

The first debate was widely seen as a victory for Clegg by the press, until the instant polls came out and revealed that voters saw Farage as the winner, a reminder of just how unpopular Clegg was (and some might argue, how out of touch London-based journalists are with the population at large).

Clegg was also deemed to have lost the second debate, by a more convincing margin. Clegg’s hope had not been, in truth, to convince a majority of the British public of his view, however. While a majority of Brits are Eurosceptic, the Lib Dems’ potential vote is highly Europhile and he hoped to galvanise this support. There was also a sense that with the party in for a poor result that Clegg was attempting to demonstrate that the party at least lost by standing up for what it believes in.

In the end the effect of the debates on the polls seemed to be to help UKIP while the Lib Dems did not move.

Labour fought a campaign entirely on national issues. Using the campaign to mercilessly attack Nick Clegg, hoping to lock down the defectors from the Lib Dem left it has won since 2010 and to gain further votes from 2010 Lib Dems who are now ‘Don’t Knows’, which represents as much as a third of their 2010 vote.

One of their party election broadcasts was named the ‘uncredible shrinking man’ and portrayed Nick Clegg giving up all his policies in government before literally shrinking in size until he reaches the point that a tiny naked Nick Clegg is chased across the cabinet table by the Downing Street cat.

Labour knew that much of its base was in both the Eurosceptic and Europhile camps and so avoided talking about Europe for this reason.

Labour hoped to win the election through a low profile campaign focused on winning through the momentum of being in opposition.

The Conservative campaign predominantly focused on its European referendum pledge and on its promise of EU renegotiation. The Conservative campaign claimed that UKIP “can’t” give you a referendum, that Labour and the Lib Dems “won’t” give you a referendum and only the Conservatives could.

The Scottish National Party focused on Scotland’s current obsession, the Independence referendum, hoping to use evidence of a strong result as a way to parle into the referendum. The SNP party election broadcast was entirely focused on the independence referendum.

The Greens were perhaps the only party to run a campaign based upon what they’d actually done in the European Parliament, with a well-crafted party election broadcast. The party complained of poor media attention compared to UKIP.

Polls generally showed a tight battle between Labour and UKIP for first place, with UKIP gaining throughout the campaign, opening up a wide lead over Labour. The party then fell back at the last minute, but remained ahead in polling intention. Polls showed that UKIP voters were, ironically, the most interested and engaged in the European election campaign.

Most polls showed the Conservatives in third, and the Lib Dems and Greens battling for fourth place.

Local Election Results and Analysis

Note: Vote share in the below is ‘Projected National Vote’. Due to the fragmented nature of UK electoral administration, and the variances in electoral system, it is impossible to get a total vote count for the UK on Election Day and this measure is based on sampling key indicator wards across the country to produce a figure of what the popular vote would have been if every single part of the country was voting at the same time.

The measure is obviously not perfect. I am cynical that it deals well with the rise of UKIP as it has nothing to compare against from previous results. Hence take the below figures with a pinch of salt.

Projected national vote share compared against 2013. Seat change compared against the last time this swathe of seats was up: in 2010. Councils are change in control from the day.

Labour 31% (+2%) winning 2121 councillors (+324), and winning control of 82 councils (+6)
Conservatives 29% (+4%) winning 1364 councillors (-236) and winning control of 41 councils (-11)
Liberal Democrats 13% (-1%) winning 427 councillors (-310) and winning control of 6 councils (-2)
UK Independence Party 17% (-5%) winning 166 councillors (+163)
Independents winning 89 seats (+36)
Residents Associations (local alliances of independents similar to the Free Voters in Germany) winning 53 seats  (+14)
Green Party winning 38 seats (+18)
Other parties winning 4 seats (-7)
32 councils (+8) now under No Overall Control.

This is a remarkable election result for UKIP, who, for the second year in a row, have made significant gains in the local elections. While the party’s PNV is down from 2013, I am cynical of PNV’s capability to properly measure UKIP as there is no previous record to go on with its support in local elections. This is also a very different set of councils to 2013. 2013 saw elections principally in the County Councils covering rural and small town England. 2014 sees elections predominantly in London and the metropolitan authorities of the North. In that regard UKIP’s success is all the more impressive.

Post-election council control in local authorities with elections in 2014 (source: Wikipedia)

UKIP won a decent number of seats for its strong popular vote, albeit not as many as other parties. UKIP suffers from a highly inefficient voter spread, spread across the country. Its principal demographics of the elderly, the working classes and the low educated rarely cluster together in a way which makes it the largest party, making the UK’s plurality voting systems a significant barrier to its electoral success.

Opponents of UKIP have pointed out that UKIP still does not control a single council. Yet due to the elections by thirds system used in almost every council outside London it is literally impossible to take control of councils. If a party wins every seat up in a council elected by thirds it will only control one third of seats on that council.

UKIP did, however, win the most seats and votes in Great Yarmouth, Thurrock and North East Lincolnshire. These are all depressed areas on the Eastern coast of England, which have recently experienced their first ever waves of immigration. They are white, working class and relatively elderly places. In winning these areas UKIP threw them into No Overall Control. Local politics is likely to be difficult in these areas – largely split between Labour, Conservatives and UKIP. These areas will undoubtedly form key UKIP target seats in 2015.

UKIP also won the most votes (but not the most seats) in Rotherham, an area of South Yorkshire which has been one of the most punished cities by the financial crisis and has one of the worst economies in the UK. UKIP performed well in a by-election there in 2012, winning what was then a record of 21.7% of the vote, due to a scandal hit Labour MP and another scandal regarding social workers removing three non-white children from the care of their foster parents on the basis that they were UKIP members and therefore they had ‘concerns’ about their views.

The party also won the popular vote in Dudley, a suburb of Birmingham.

The party did very well in Essex, the county directly East of London, long associated with the white working class. The party managed to surpass Labour on Basildon council, and now controls 12 seats to 17 for the Conservatives and 10 to Labour. The party took 5 seats from the Conservatives on Castle Point council, and is now looking to form a coalition with Castle Point’s only other party – the Canvey Island Independents Party. The party also threw Southend-on-Sea into NOC, taking 5 seats (though Labour also gained 3 to go to 9 and there is a big Independent group).

Essex is traditionally a very socially conservative white-working-class-done-good area, and ‘Essex Man’ was considered the key component of Margaret Thatcher’s winning coalition. Yet in areas like Rotherham and North East Lincolnshire, it demonstrated a capability to win in core Labour areas.

The exception to the UKIP surge was most noticeably London.

UKIP won 12 councillors in all of London in three boroughs, Bexley, Bromley and Havering. All three of these councils are located in the Eastern outskirts of the city. Bexley and Havering were formerly part of Essex, and Bromley was part of Kent. Havering, where UKIP won 7 seats, is often said to be ‘culturally Essex’, a predominantly white, upper working class area.

By contrast, Labour won its best successes in London. Probably its most vaunted success was taking Hammersmith and Fulham from the Tories. H&F has been nicknamed ‘David Cameron’s favourite council’ and was seen as an austerity success story. It actively cut council tax, when most councils suffered serious budgetary pressures. Yet controversy over a local hospital closure, and local concerns over housing seriously hurt the Conservatives. H&F has historically been viewed as a strongly Conservative area, Fulham, in particularly, is identified with wealthy Conservatives and the borough is in London’s more affluent West. Labour also took control of the South London borough of Croydon from the Conservatives. While the party controlled Croydon between 1994 and 2006 this was actually because of the inequities of plurality voting. 2014 represents the first time Labour has ever won the most votes in Croydon.

Croydon has become more and more ethnically mixed in recent years, aiding Labour’s victory. During the election campaign, UKIP, suffering from accusations of racism, held a carnival in Croydon, hiring a steel drum band. The event was widely seen to be a disaster and ended with Nigel Farage apparently cancelling his planned visit to the carnival as the steel drummers refused to play on realising that it was for UKIP and protesters and UKIP activists hurled abuse at one another. Winston McKenzie, a black UKIP council candidate who attended the event described Croydon as “a dump”.

Labour also took South London’s Merton and North East London’s Redbridge from NOC. This is the first time Labour will have control of Redbridge, which, like Croydon has become more ethnically mixed.

Labour also took back control of Harrow after a damaging internal split which had seen Labour councillors break away and form a coalition with the Conservatives.

Labour narrowly failed to take North West London’s Barnet, where a local programme titled ‘One Barnet’ has run into controversy. One Barnet is an attempt to outsource almost all elements of the council, essentially transforming the council into a commissioner of services rather than a provider of them. Labour won 27 seats to 32 for the Tories and 1 for the Lib Dems.

In its heartlands in London, Labour ran away with the election. Labour once again won every single seat on the East End’s Barking and Dagenham and Newham councils.

In the North West councils of Islington and Haringey the party has long been opposed by the Lib Dems with hardly a Conservative to be seen.  This was, in a sense, a battle of two lefts. Labour representing the working class and ethnic minorities and Lib Dems representing the left-liberal bohemian public sector professionals, academics, journalists and media types that live in that region of London. The Lib Dems had controlled Islington between 1998 and 2006 and ran a minority administration until 2010. The Lib Dems have now been totally wiped out on Islington council. Labour’s sole opposition will be a single Green Party councillor.

The Liberal Democrats managed to retain 9 seats on Haringey council however. Haringey has something of a reputation as a poorly run council, but the seats were more likely saved by the association with a strong local MP – Lynne Featherstone, who is currently serving as a junior minister in the Department for International Development. Featherstone is a left-leaning Lib Dem who is known for her local campaigns.

Central London’s Lambeth and Lewisham in South East London also saw their sizeable Lib Dem groups, both serving as official oppositions, totally wiped out. Once again, the Greens benefitted, with the sole opposition member on Lewisham being a Green and Lambeth gaining a single Green councillor to act as the only opposition.

The Greens also won the second largest number of votes in North East London’s Hackney. Hackney, once a synonym for crime, deprivation and poor governance is highly diverse borough which has been utterly transformed in the last 10 years as it has become synonymous was gentrification and London’s ‘hipster’ community of young professional bohemians which is based around the Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston areas of the borough. Hackney has benefitted from the leadership of its technocratic Labour mayor, Jules Pipe. Despite coming second in votes (as they did in the other boroughs already mentioned) the Greens failed to win any seats as they came second in almost every ward in the borough, as well as in the mayoral election.

The Green Party has long failed to do well in central London even though it would seem to be a perfect match for the area. This is probably because the Lib Dems, always successful at turning to face whichever direction is electorally convenient, have largely adopted the sort of green liberalism familiar to continental European Green parties. This has obviously been extremely mismatched with their participation in government with the Conservatives, however, causing left-liberals to flee to Labour and the Green Party.

The Green Party will now need to build on its high vote in this election and start targeting seats to build up a local infrastructure, but there is a lot of potential for the party in the North of London in particular, but also in central London and in Lewisham.

The biggest disappointment of the local elections for Labour was perhaps Tower Hamlets, an incredibly diverse borough which is 41.1% Asian (32% of which are Bangladeshi) to 45.2% White and 7.3% Black.

Tower Hamlets politics has long been strained by the importation of a certain style of tribal politics from the Indian subcontinent. The local branch of the Labour Party is under ‘special measures’, a 1980s invention designed to stop entryism by the Trotskyist grouping Militant Tendency. In Tower Hamlets Labour Party’s case special measures was imposed due to what is known in Australia as ‘branch stacking’ whereby members are recruited to a party for factional reasons. In Tower Hamlets selection meetings would often see the arrival of huge numbers of members who the party had never seen before. These members were, in reality, an attempt by Bengali community leaders of two rival factions to literally buy Labour Party selections. The party discovered that in many cases members did not even realise they were members of the party, or in fact admitted to usually voting for another party. The two factions are not ideologically different, in reality this is a battle along tribal lines.

Special measures essentially places the local party under the direct control of the central party, which has imposed its own selection of candidates upon the local party, balancing candidature along ethnic lines to stop any one group from gaining total control. The Labour Party is not the only party that has suffered from this in Tower Hamlets, but as the dominant party in the borough the party has perhaps suffered the most and perhaps has the most meaningful impact.

2005 saw the election of George Galloway, a former Labour MP who had opposed the Iraq War, on his far-left RESPECT ticket in one of the Tower Hamlets parliamentary constituencies. Galloway was accused of whipping up ethnic discord against his predecessor, Oona King, one of Britain’s few black woman MPs. Galloway had been elected almost entirely on votes from the Bengali community. While Galloway lost his seat in 2010, ethnic discord continued to build.

The elected mayoral model was adopted for Tower Hamlets in 2010. The elected mayoral was hoped to bring better governance to Tower Hamlets, which has been afflicted by serious amounts of infighting amongst the dominant Labour group. The elected mayoral model has, in neighbouring Labour dominated boroughs in Newham and Hackney served to unite the Labour group around the mayor.

The regional board decided that, for the mayoral election, the local Labour Party would be allowed to select its own candidate for the mayoralty rather than having one imposed.

The selection was won by Luftur Rahman, a Bengali former council leader who had been repeatedly judged unfit for selection for mayor by regional and national figures. Rahman was viewed as an ethnically divisive figure with low loyalty to the party (he failed to endorse the two Labour candidates for Westminster running in TH in 2010). Rahman had only gone through to selection after a series of legal challenges.

Post-selection other candidates complained of electoral fraud in the process, with evidence that very large numbers of people had voted who had not been resident in the borough. The party thus removed Rahman from the position and put into place Halal Abbas, another Bengali who had come third in the selection.

Rahman subsequently decided to run as an independent candidate. Despite the fact that Rahman had backed the ‘Blairite’ David Miliband for leadership of Labour Rahman received support from the left, gaining the endorsement of RESPECT and George Galloway, and support from left-wing factions of Labour such as the entryist Trotskyists of Socialist Action. Most damagingly, he received support from Ken Livingstone, the maverick former Mayor of London, and the candidate in 2012’s London mayoral race. Livingstone had formerly won the mayoralty as an independent himself after Blair had deemed him an unacceptable candidate in 2000. Livingstone later claimed he had only backed giving a second preference to Rahman.

Rahman won the mayoralty. As mayor of Tower Hamlets he has been deeply controversial. Rahman’s cabinet has been entirely made up of Bengalis. The Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan accused Rahman of links to the Islamic Forum of Europe, based in the East London mosque, which is itself accused of being a front for radical Islam. He has been accused of misusing public funds, and of consorting with criminals. In March 2014 the BBC documentary series Panorama alleged that the mayor had diverted £3.6m worth of grants to Bangladeshi and Somali community groups in exchange for political support. Tower Hamlets is now the only council in the country which publicly funds faith groups, with most money going to the Muslim community. Panorama also accused TH council of bribing journalists and Rahman of failing to answer questions at council meetings. In response, the Local Government and Communities Minister, Eric Pickles, sent fraud investigators to Tower Hamlets. Both TH and Rahman deny any wrongdoing. All in all, Rahman has been accused of basing his administration in the needs and desires of only one very narrow community.

Tower Hamlets politics has long been stained by accusations of electoral fraud. Fraud within the Labour Party has been covered above, but there are accusations of fraud in the electoral system itself.

Britain’s electoral system is surprisingly open to fraud. The electoral registration system is based upon a system of ‘household registration’ where a ‘head of household’ registers all names living in the house. No unique identifiers are required, and no ID is required at polling stations, it is possible to vote by just giving your name and address.

Since 2003 Britain also has postal voting on demand, an attempt to raise turnout. In 2005 in an electoral fraud case in Birmingham the presiding judge described the postal voting system as one which would disgrace a ‘banana republic’. The system has since been made much more secure, but allegations of fraud continue.  Britain is a country which has long run on a culture of trust. In part this has been deserved. Britain has never had a written constitution, in part, because Britain has never truly needed a written constitution. Britain is moving to a system of individual electoral registration by the 2015 general election, and the Electoral Commission has proposed a system of voter ID.

Accusations of postal voting fraud are common in TH, with activists claiming that some houses are registered for far more postal votes than could possibly live in the homes in question.

This year, in response to fraud allegations, police officers were stationed at polling stations in Tower Hamlets. Since 2010 Rahman has formed his own party, Tower Hamlets First, and the party was accused of fraud, voter intimidation and of illegally placing election posters in polling stations.

There have actually been very few investigations and arrests for fraud, and some argue that these allegations are overegged by political opponents seeking to delegitimise each other. In truth it is difficult to tell because Britain’s electoral system makes it difficult to detect and prove fraud.

The count in Tower Hamlets took 119 hours to count its ballots. No other council took more than a day to count its ballots. The extra level of security in Tower Hamlets was largely to blame. The count was widely derided as a ‘farce’, and the Electoral Commission is launching an inquiry into the count.

Rahman won 43.4% of the vote in the first round, largely believed to be almost entirely from the Bengali community. John Biggs, his Labour opponent, won 32.8% of the vote. In the second round Biggs won 6,500 second preferences compared to just 856 for Rahman, with Conservative and Lib Dem support flowing behind Biggs. However, despite receiving 88.4% of second preferences Biggs still lost to Rahman in the second round. Notably, 12,696 of the votes not cast for Rahman and Biggs in the first round did not contain a valid second preference, demonstrating the problems of the Supplementary Vote system.

Additionally, Labour lost control of TH council, winning just 20 seats to 18 for Tower Hamlets First and with 4 for the Conservatives. 3 seats lay vacant as in Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward the election was delayed due to the sad death of a THF candidate the day before the election. Hence there will be a by-election for these seats. It is likely that the Conservatives will team up with Labour during the next four years in an attempt to weaken Rahman as much as possible. Tower Hamlet’s divisive, ethnically polarised politics are likely to continue however.

Labour’s success in London extended to the London commuter belt, to cities and towns such as Reading, Basingstoke, Crawley and Milton Keynes.

The Conservatives perform better in the outer ring of London and in the West. The party’s strongest result was in Kensington and Chelsea, a central London borough synonymous with wealth, today known as the home of Russian oligarchs who treat London as their personal playground. The Conservatives held a reduced majority in Wandsworth in South London, well known as the council in the UK with the lowest council tax due to a long history of radical conservative rule. As mentioned above they barely held North London’s Barnet.

The party’s biggest success of the night was taking Kingston upon Thames council from the Liberal Democrats, a suburban council on the outskirts of South West London. The Lib Dems had ruled the council for 12 years, and rule of the council was largely perceived to have become dysfunctional. Last year the council leader stepped down after being arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. He subsequently pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. The council was also criticised for having the highest council tax in London. The Lib Dems cannot just blame the national swing here, therefore.

The Conservatives broadly performed well with the exception of Havering on London’s East end extreme. Formerly part of Essex, Havering has a skilled working class, white and socially conservative area of the type Margaret Thatcher won for the party. Internal turmoil over selections within the Conservative group had seen defections to UKIP and to independents on the council and the local Residents Association, one of the few in London, won 24 councillors, gaining 12, largely from the Tories. UKIP also won 7 councillors, surpassing Labour who actually lost councillors, going from 4 to 1 as the Residents Association and UKIP tsunami weakened them. It is likely that the Residents Assocation will take minority control, switching between Conservative and UKIP support for their proposals.

The Lib Dems were wiped out from large parts of central London, and, as mentioned above, lost Kingston. In the incredibly wealthy suburban borough of Richmond-upon-Thames in South London, where the party has traditionally been very strong, the Lib Dems lost 9 seats to the Conservatives.

However, the party did hold the last of its suburban South West London strongholds, Sutton, even increasing its seats by 2, though they lost votes, due to the effects of the bloc voting system.

Elsewhere in the UK the Lib Dems generally suffered in areas where they lacked council control or a MP. The traditional Lib Dem strategy of highly localist campaigns has allowed it to keep a hold in areas of strength. Incumbent MPs often remain popular in their areas, with popular incumbents providing a visible presence that is not Nick Clegg.

In addition to Kingston, the Lib Dems also lost control of Portsmouth city council. Portsmouth is a major naval city and port in the Southern coast. As with Kingston there had been local causes. The Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, was suspended from the party in January. Hancock also served as a councillor and was the only MP in Britain to simultaneously serve as part of his council’s cabinet. Hancock had long been a controversial MP, with a reputation as a womaniser and activist on behalf of the Russian government, had been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting constituents. Hancock’s suspension from the party was strongly opposed by the local party. He was suspended as a councillor and became an independent but the local party essentially formed a coalition with him so that he could remain part of the council cabinet before being booted out by the national party.

Hancock ran as an independent for the council this year. The local Lib Dems ran no candidate in opposition to him de facto supporting his candidature. Hancock’s bid for re-election failed, however, as he was defeated by UKIP. The Lib Dems had broadly maintained their strength in 2011 and 2012 in Portsmouth, but in response to the local scandal the party was dealt a massive blow. The party lost 5 seats and lost control of the council to No Overall Control. While the party remains the largest on the council with 19 seats to 12 for the Conservatives, 6 for UKIP (all newly elected), 4 for Labour and 1 Independent it appears that they will lose control of the council as Labour and UKIP, disgusted with the local Lib Dem group, are preparing to support a minority Conservative cabinet.

The Lib Dems held up well with their areas with MPs, outside London. For instance, winning the most votes in the Sheffield Hallam part of Sheffield, held by the party leader, Nick Clegg. The party regained a seat lost to an independent defection in Eastleigh, its stronghold. The party lost only one seat in South Lakeland, its other stronghold, where Tim Farron, the party president widely believed to be a future leadership contender has his seat. However there were exceptions, such as left-leaning, student city Cambridge, and the party was reduced to only 3 seats in Norwich where it holds the more Southern of the 2 constituencies.

The party was wiped out in Metropolitan boroughs. Manchester Withington MP John Leech, elected in 2005 on a student and anti-war vote can pretty much write off his chances of holding his seat in 2015 as there is not a single Lib Dem left on Manchester City Council.

The Conservatives held up well throughout that part of England outside London, whereas Labour performed badly. In the key Labour target of the South Western town of Swindon, for instance, the Tories actually increased their majority from 1 to 2 as they took a seat from Labour. Embarrassingly for Labour, Ed Miliband was asked about the party’s leader on the council he revealed that he didn’t know who he was and then assumed he was already council leader.

Labour performed well in the Metropolitan boroughs. They now hold every single seat on Manchester City Council, bar one, held by an independent who has defected from Labour. ‘Half an opposition councillor’ as some have joked.

The Greens also performed well in the Mets. They won the second largest number of votes in Manchester and with 4 seats are now the opposition in Liverpool. They increased their seats to six in the unitary council of Bristol, and to 9 in Solihull, an affluent suburb of Birmingham, making them the joint second largest party with the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt is another MP likely to lose her seat (her majority is a razor thin 175).

The only other Conservative held Met is Trafford, in Greater Manchester, where they continue to hold a majority of 3. The Mets, are, however, Labour strongholds anyway, with the exceptions of Trafford and Solihull. It does not help Labour to make gains in Liverpool, where it currently holds all six of the MPs, the elected mayoralty and an overwhelming majority on the council.

Fans of maps should see the interactive one of London local election results in 2014, 2010 and 2006 here.

Elections doyen Lewis Baston has also made some excellent maps with a map of UKIP performance here, a similar map with Green performance here and a map of second place finishes here.

European Election Results

UKIP (EFD) 27.5% (+11.0%) winning 24 seats (+11)
Labour (S&D) 25.4% (+9.7%) winning 20 seats (+7)
Conservatives (ECR) 23.9% (-3.8%) winning 19 seats (-7)
Green Party (G-EFA) 7.9% (-0.8%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Liberal Democrats (ALDE) 6.9% (-6.9%) winning 1 seat (-10)
Scottish National Party (G-EFA) 2.5% (+0.3%) winning 2 seats (NC)
Plaid Cymru (G-EFA) 0.7% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (NC)
An Independence from Europe 1.5% (-) winning 0 seats (-)
British National Party (NI) 1.1% (-5.1%) winning 0 seats (-2)

The 2014 European Parliament election provided a huge success to UKIP, who became the first party to win a national election in the UK besides the Labour and the Conservatives since the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s. For the first time, the Conservatives were pushed into third in a national election.

Regionally UKIP topped the poll in in the East Midlands, the East of England, South East England, South West England, the West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Labour topped the poll in London, North West and North East England, Scotland and Wales, its strongest regions.

EP 2014: Largest party in England by council area (source: Wikipedia)

UKIP’s strongest regions are the heavily Eurosceptic regions of the South West, South East and East, but the party gained strongly in the North of England, as a result of the party’s increasing inroads amongst Labour voters. The party’s biggest gains were in Wales (+17.1%) the North East (+17.0%), Yorkshire and Humber (+16.8), and the North West (+15.8%) all strongly Labour regions and it came second in North East England (by 7.3%), North West England (by 6.3%) and Wales (by an incredibly narrow 1.6% in the supposedly one party state.)

The exceptions to UKIP’s big gains were Scotland (where it gained just 3.8%) and London (where it gained just 4.6%). It also showed a weaker rise in the East Midlands (+6.8%) and the South West of England (+12.6%) largely because these areas were ‘early adopters’ of UKIP.

In Scotland UKIP succeeded in electing a MEP for the very first time, sending shockwaves through progressive opinion north of the border which had long claimed that Scotland was immune to UKIP. Nonetheless, UKIP only gained a single seat. David Coburn, the party’s new Scottish MEP is already a controversial figure in Scotland due to his being the London regional chair, with the widespread perception that he was ‘parachuted in’ into a divided Scottish party branch against its will.

Since being elected Coburn’s views on gay marriage (he is opposed, despite being gay himself) and on Scottish Independence (in the event of a yes vote he wants to hold another referendum to try and reverse the decision after the 2015 election) have also been controversial.

UKIP’s appeal in Scotland has been blunted by its English nationalism and the presence of the SNP as an alternative anti-establishment, nationalist (albeit left-wing nationalist) party.

The SNP had been aiming for a third seat, and its coming second to Labour is something of a blow to the party pre-referendum. Yet we should remember the low turnout and that Labour is both in opposition in the UK and Scottish parliaments to the SNP.

London was also an outlier from the UK wide trend. As in the local elections, Labour tore through London, winning half of London’s MEPs, 4, (an increase of 2) on 36.7% of the vote. UKIP managed only 16.9% of the vote and 1 seat, the only region of the country where it came third.

During the local elections count, UKIP’s communities spokeswoman commented that London was not good for UKIP because it is ‘young, cultured and educated’, leading to guffaws from UKIP’s opponents who derided her as saying that UKIP was the party of the old, the stupid and the backwards.

Yet, there is an element of truth to this. UKIP’s support is most strong amongst white, elderly, poorly educated voters. Multicultural, youthful, highly educated London is indeed bad ground for the party.

Labour’s performance around the rest of Britain was poorer, however, whereas the Conservative vote held up well. With Scotland and London removed, the Conservatives would have beaten Labour. This exposes the weak position Labour is now in less than a year from a general election.

The Greens fell back slightly, but increased their seats by 1 partially due to a Lib Dem collapse, winning an extra seat in the South West to go with their seat in the South East (where their stronghold of Brighton is and where there are the most seats and the lowest effective threshold)  and in London. The Greens may perhaps have had only 1 seat had it not been for ‘An Independence from Europe’. AIE is a breakaway party from UKIP formed by former UKIP MEP Mike Nattrass who was deselected by UKIP. The party appears to have acted as a spoiler on UKIP, with it going to the top of the ballot as Britain’s ballots are alphabetically ordered (hence UKIP was near the bottom), winning on average 2% of the vote in the regions it stood in (it missed Wales and Scotland). We can assume that the vast majority of AIE voters would have voted UKIP had the party not existed. As such UKIP would have taken the Green seats in London and the South West.

The Lib Dems lost 10 seats, reduced to only a single MEP, Catherine Bearder, elected in the South East, which has the lowest effective threshold. In fairness to the party they always perform badly in European elections where the party’s pro-Europeanism is unpopular and where elected representatives are too distant to use the Lib Dems usual tactics of building a popular local representative. The regional system also means that in many regions the party had won one of the last seats in 2009, just clearing the effective threshold for representation. With the party’s collapse, the party fell below the effective thresholds and lost seats almost everywhere, including influential MEPs such as former ALDE leader Graham Watson in the South West, and Vice-President of the European Parliament, and key Tory defector Edward McMillan-Scott.

EP 2014: Largest party in Scotland by council area (source: Wikipedia)

Excellent maps of the European election result can be found on the Election-Data blog here.

Overall, the elections expose a new division in the UK, between London and the rest of the country. Labour’s strength in London exposes an increasing divide between it and the rest of England. This is apparent in public opinion data. For instance, on immigration most of the country very much favours more stringent immigration policy, but London tends to slightly favour immigration. Labour policies on the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ predominantly appeal in London where prices are highest. For instance, rent controls have little resonance in rural areas and small towns where rents are relatively low and home ownership is more typically the norm. Labour’s London strength is also because it is younger and multicultural. We can also see the Greens beginning to break through in London.

Labour also has its best machines in London, with estimates suggesting that a quarter of Labour’s membership resides in the capital. Labour has become a party of urban England, but a majority is unlikely to be won on London and Northern cities alone.

UKIP poses the party a big threat in smaller towns. The elections have put paid to the often touted lie that UKIP’s voters are universally former Conservative voters disenchanted with the coalition. UKIP is the representative of a vast social shift in Britain. The party won more votes, but also has a much loyal base. While the party’s European result includes a large number of ‘strategic defectors’ using the EP elections to say ‘no three times’ – to Westminster, to immigration and to Brussels, there are less than in previous years. Polls suggest that around 60% of UKIP’s voters will support it at the general election.

The Conservatives are broadly happy with their performance. The party lost to Labour in both elections, but only thinly by a few points. Polls also suggest it is only slightly behind Labour. This is a year before a general election. Typically the last year before an election sees movement towards the governing party. Economic confidence is quickly rising as the recovery is under way. The party will aim to put a squeeze on UKIP voters, who tend to prefer Cameron as Prime Minister to Ed Miliband and who may be persuadable to voting Conservative strategically to stop Miliband becoming PM.

Yet the party retains significant weaknesses amongst key voting demographics and in key regions of the country.

The Lib Dems have suffered yet another punishing result. Yet, in the results is a glimmer of hope that it will outperform its national swing in 2015, holding the majority of its seats.

Nonetheless, the party experienced an attempted coup against Nick Clegg on beginning the weekend after the election. A shadowy group called ‘LibDems4Change’ launched an e-petition calling for a leadership contest, and on the Sunday an unnamed Lib Dem leaked a poll to The Observer newspaper supposedly demonstrating that key seats were in danger of being lost unless Nick Clegg was replaced by the more left-leaning Business Secretary Vince Cable. On being released publically it was demonstrated that the poll had methodological issues (a debunking by the pollster Survation can be read here which shows that under ICM’s usual methodology the seats would have been held.)

The poll was later revealed to have been commissioned by Lord Oakeshott, a former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman from the early days of the Treasury who is known to be one of Cable’s closest friends. Cable rapidly distanced himself from Oakeshott, and Oakeshott resigned from the party and took a leave of absence from the Lords. Oakeshott’s coup attempt was widely viewed as incompetent and in a sense it may have strengthened Clegg by acting as a lightning rod for discontent before being defeated.

This is the last test of British public opinion before the 2015 general election, and the Scottish Independence referendum this September.

However, there is a by-election this Thursday, in the Conservative safe seat of Newark. UKIP is polling well.

Malawi 2014

General elections for the President, the National Assembly and local government were held in Malawi on May 20, 2013. The President, who is head of state and government, is elected for a five-year term, renewable once, by FPTP. The 194 members of the National Assembly are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies.


Malawi, a small landlocked country in southeast Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 170th out of 187 countries on the HDI index, just above Sudan and Zimbabwe; it has one of the lowest GDPs per capita in the world; and about 90% of the population survives on less than 2% per day. Although it is a fairly small country by land area, Malawi has a largely rural and very young population of 16.4 million.

Malawi is a ‘partly free’ country according to Freedom House’s 2014 report and a ‘flawed democracy’ according to The Economist, ranking close to Senegal and a bit above Ghana. Malawi is an electoral democracy, political pluralism is respected, most institutions function with an acceptable degree of independence from government, civil liberties and press freedom is usually respected. However, corruption, police brutality and discrimination against women and LGBT are major issues.

Malawi, formerly known as Nyasaland, gained full independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. After having been directly ruled by the Colonial Office, Nyasaland was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, as the smallest component alongside Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Nyasaland had the smallest white population of the three entities, while its rapidly-growing African population was nearly as that in Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Federation was strongly opposed by African nationalists, while the ‘Winds of Change’ provided a further impetus for the breakup of the Federation in 1963, and decolonization under majority rule. In 1961, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), led by foreign-educated Hastings Banda, swept elections to the colony’s legislative council. In July 1964, Malawi formally gained independence, and two years later it became a Republic outside the Commonwealth. Hastings Banda quickly consolidated power in his hands, sidelining rival cabinet ministers in 1964 and formally establishing a single-party (MCP) dictatorship in the 1966 constitution. In 1971, Banda was proclaimed as President-for-Life. Banda held total power over the entire government, and filled the National Assembly with hand-picked candidates as he saw fit.

In Malawi, Banda imposed a rigid and repressive authoritarian regime which imposed strict conservative dress codes, instilled a cult of personality in the president, censored all forms of media and literature, brutally and bloodily cracked down on any kind of opposition. The MCP’s youth wing, the Young Pioneers, acted as a paramilitary force which created a climate of fear in the country. Economically, the government handled the development of the economy, but economic development was characterized and undermined by severe corruption, favouritism and nepotism by government-controlled parastatals. Diplomatically, Banda, an Anglophile who disliked speaking his native tongue (Chichewa) followed a controversial foreign policy. He was widely seen as one of apartheid South Africa’s strongest black ally in southern Africa, because the Malawian government recognized and established diplomatic relations with South Africa. He also had ties with the Portuguese colonial regime in Mozambique and opposed FRELIMO, although during the Mozambican civil war, Banda provided support to both the FRELIMO government and the guerrillas.

In 1993, bowing to foreign and domestic pressure, Banda allowed for a referendum on the introduction of multi-party democracy. The option for multi-party democracy triumphed with 64.7% of the vote. One year later, free elections held in May 1994 saw Banda’s defeat at the hands of Bakili Muluzi, the candidate of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), who won 47% against 33% for Banda. Muluzi’s term of office (1994-2004) saw greater civil and political freedoms, but it was marred by the government’s catastrophic handling of a famine in 2002, Muluzi’s attempts to get around the constitutional two-term limit and significant allegations of corruption which he personally benefited from. Nevertheless, in the 2004 elections, Muluzi managed to get his little-known handpicked successor, Bingu wa Mutharika, elected to the presidency although the MCP took a plurality of seats in the legislature.

Mutharika turned out to be more than a puppet, and quickly clashed with his predecessor, who remained the leader of the UDF. Within a year, Mutharika set up his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and had cut off Mulezi, who was promptly investigated on corruption-related charges unresolved to this day. Mutharika’s first term in office saw the country enjoy strong economic growth and his agricultural policy, although expensive, benefited poorer farmers. In 2009, Mutharika was reelected to a second term, winning 66% against 31% for John Tembo, a former close collaborator of Hastings Banda who was backed by the MCP and Muluzi’s UDF (Muluzi endorsed the MCP after he failed to receive clearance to run himself). Mutharika’s DPP won a parliamentary majority, with the MCP and UDF winning less seats than independent candidates put together.

Mutharika’s second term quickly took a turn for the worse. In 2010, Mutharika picked a fight with his Vice President, Joyce Banda, and tried to dismiss her from office (which is unconstitutional), allegedly to make way for his brother and anointed successor, Peter Mutharika. Banda refused to resign and was later expelled from the DPP, and create her own party, the People’s Party (PP). Mutharika’s government grew increasingly autocratic, corrupt and repressive and the country was set to descent into a spiral of corruption, nepotism, economic mismanagement and diplomatic isolation. Relations with the UK were strained after the publication of a British diplomatic cable which lamented that Mutharika was increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism. The economy, which had been Mutharika’s strong suit in the first term, took a turn for the worse because of inflation and fuel shortages. Public protests in July 2011 killed 19 people after the police shot at unarmed demonstrators. In the fall, as the President shuffled his cabinet to include his wife and brother, international donors suspended all aid and projects in Malawi. In March 2012, the President threatened journalists or organizations critical of him with arrest or fines. In April 2012, however, Mutharika died suddenly of a heart attack.

According to the constitution, Banda was his legal successor, but the DPP tried everything they could to stop or delay the handover of power, in a bid to install Mutharika’s brother instead. However, lacking support from the army, judiciary, civil society and the international community, Banda was formally sworn in as President.

Banda’s presidency received international support, and international donors returned to Malawi. She made tackling waste and corruption one of the key issues in her government, repealed restrictive media laws passed by her predecessor, restored academic freedom, respected freedom of assembly and she suspended application of Malawi’s controversial laws which ban homosexual activities. She implemented reforms demanded by the IMF, devaluing the currency by 49%, and in exchange the IMF restored a $157 million loan to Malawi, which relies on foreign donors for about 40% of its budget. The devaluation led to major inflation and popular unrest against skyrocketing prices. In October 2013, Banda’s standing ahead of this year’s election was damaged by the revelation that $250 million had been stolen from the government by mid-level officials and civil servants. Foreign donors, losing confidence in the government, withheld portions of a quarterly aid package. Banda faced protests and demands for her resignation, but she instead fired and later re-appointed her cabinet, although she fired two ministers held responsible for the scandal (and the justice minister was later arrested for the murder of a finance department official who had investigated corruption in the government). The opposition parties accused of her complicity in theft, while she later said the revelation of the scandal was ‘her greatest achievement’ because she told ‘bold’ actions afterwards and said that she had turned the economy around.

Candidates and results

Joyce Banda ran for reelection as the candidate of her People’s Party (PP), which she founded upon her 2010 expulsion from the DPP. The DPP nominated Peter Mutharika, the brother of the late President who had served as his brother’s foreign minister from 2011 to 2012. Mutharika remains controversial for his role in the 2011-2012 crackdown on demonstrators and an academic freedom standoff with a university lecturer (questioned by police and later fired) who linked Malawian grievances to the Arab Spring. In 2013, Mutharika and 11 other officials were arrested and charged with treason for their role in the aftermath of Bingu wa Mutharika’s death in April 2012, where they allegedly plotted to unconstitutionally take power. Released on bail, the defendants pleaded not guilty at a preliminary trial hearing in November 2013. The UDF nominated Atupele Muluzi, the son of former President Bakili Muluzi. Muluzi had served in Banda’s cabinet, after having been a vocal opponent of Mutharika’s government. The MCP nominated its leader, Lazarus Chakwera, a conservative evangelical pastor; he is the first MCP presidential candidate who has no history of involvement or working with former dictator Hastings Banda.

Voting took place on May 20, with some hiccups and areas delayed for up to two days; the elections were ruled to be generally free and fair despite many problems. Initial results made it clear that Banda would not win reelection, a prospect which she didn’t accept gracefully at first. Banda initially claimed, outlandishly, that the opposition had rigged the election. The electoral commission made it clear that they would not be rushed to release results. On May 24, Banda scrapped the elections and ordered a re-vote within 90 days, in which she would not take part. However, the High Court injuncted the electoral commission against following the order and the army sided with the electoral process over Banda. The electoral commission then decided to recount all the votes, giving themselves 30 days to do so. Two separate injunctions were issued to bar the electoral commission from holding a recount. It became a terrible mess as the commission itself was divided on the path to follow, and agreed with the DPP to limit the scope of the recount to problem areas. On May 30, the High Court ruled that one of the injunctions was invalid, but at the same time it ruled that the time to conduct the recounts has expired. The electoral commission said that they felt that they couldn’t release results, due to obvious anomalies in the data, but decided to abide by court orders. The MCP is set to challenge the results in court. On May 31, the electoral commission announced that Peter Mutharika was the president-elect. Joyce Banda congratulated him and conceded defeat.

Turnout was 70.8%

Peter Mutharika (DPP) 36.4%
Lazarus Chakwera (MCP) 27.8%
Joyce Banda (PP) 20.2%
Atupele Muluzi (UDF) 13.7%
Others 1.8%

Parliamentary results have yet to be released, but initial indications showed that the MCP would win a plurality with about 67 seats against 44 for the DPP, 35 for the UDF, 12 for Banda’s PP and 24 independents. With defections from independents and the PP, it is possible that the President-elect’s DPP will manage to built itself a legislative majority.

With the electoral kerfuffle now over, Mutharika takes the reins of power under the shadow of a treason charge. It is unclear what he intends to do as President, besides vague promises for bottom-up economics to reduce poverty. He may choose to turn the tables on his predecessor, who did everything she could to prevent her enemy from being elected. Having claimed that the millions stolen from government coffers were used to fund the PP’s election campaign, she may be the one who faces corruption charges courtesy of the new President. Meanwhile, since he now enjoys immunity from prosecution, the charges against him will likely be dismissed.

Banda did not expect such a humiliating defeat, placing third in the results. It was unclear how well she would do in the election, although some said that she was the candidate to beat in the race. Banda was likely hurt by the corruption scandal and unpopular austerity policies she put in place to comply with IMF demands, and perhaps by the weak local bases of her party. If regional results are released, they will shed further light on what her electoral base was, and may tell us why she lost.

Traditionally, Malawian elections have been divided along ethnic lines, similar to elections in other African countries. Alliances between parties, such as the MCP-UDF alliance in 2009, aim to merge two parties’ regional bases of support. The Mutharika family is from the southern district of Thyolo, where his brother received 91% of the vote in the 2009 election. Joyce Banda was born in Zomba district, which is also in the south; the Muluzi family is from Machinga district, a largely Muslim Yao (Muluzi is Muslim) district south of Lake Malawi, Muluzi won over 90% of the vote there in 1994 and 1999 and the MCP-UDF alliance took 60% of the vote against Mutharika in the 2009 presidential election. The MCP’s traditional strongholds are in central Malawi, including the very populated area around the political capital of Lilongwe. Central Malawi is the birthplace of most MCP leaders, including Hastings Banda and John Tembo. The region voted against democracy in the 1993 referendum and has backed MCP candidates with strong margins in all elections since then, although in 2009, Mutharika won Hastings Banda’s native district and drew strong results (30-54%) in most central Malawian districts. The north, sparsely populated, has tended to back its local candidates when they were in the race, but in the absence thereof, they have tended to support non-MCP candidates – Mutharika received over 90% in the northern districts in 2009 and it had overwhelmingly voted for democracy in 1993.

Posts on the results of the European elections in the 28 member-states will follow

Guest Post: Ireland 2014


David J. Barrett contributed this excellent guest post covering the results of the European and local elections in Ireland

The Irish European and Local elections, along with two parliamentary by-elections, took place on May 23rd. They were the first truly major nationwide polling test of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that took office in 2011, when the financial collapse and subsequent involvement of the IMF finally brought down the increasingly beleaguered Fianna Fáil-Green coalition.

Since the General Election

The new Fine Gael-Labour government, elected amidst a tidal wave of popular anger that brought Fianna Fáil, the largest party in the Irish state in every election from 1932, to third and behind both of the new coalition partners, had considerable good will towards it. Led by Enda Kenny, the long standing Fine Gael leader (since 2002) and a former Minister for Tourism, the government had a crushing parliamentary majority. There were indications that the government could prove fractious. Labour, a Social Democratic party, had largely campaigned against excessive cuts to public services, while Fine Gael, a Christian Democratic party, had made it very clear that they were in favour of implementing the proposed austerity budgets negotiated by their predecessors, even if they were not very happy with it. The final coalition agreement, while containing commitments to several socially liberal reforms that pleased Labour, largely followed the Fine Gael line on the economy.

The government has trumpeted its economic success. Unemployment has fallen steadily (but remains very high), Ireland has left the bailout program and its bonds are no longer rated as ‘junk’. However little of this has, or is expected to, reach the general public. Emigration, particularly to Britain and Australia, remains enormous. Taxes are now among Europe’s highest, public services are rated as mediocre at best compared to other European countries and, most importantly, there is absolutely no sign that anything other than tax increases and budget cuts will be on the cards at all for at least another ten years, making it hard for the public to feel optimistic for an economic recovery that is unlikely to benefit them at all.

Inevitably therefore, this enormous popularity was not to last, and the government as its term has gone on has suffered increasing domestic setbacks. They were most obviously felt by Labour, which began to suffer enormously from (effectively) conceding the economy to Fine Gael. While immediately following the General Election Labour won both the Presidential election and a by-election in Dublin West – the constituency held by the Labour Deputy Leader Joan Burton – the party has increasingly suffered from defections and resignations the longer it has been in government. In November 2011 – six months after taking office – popular junior minister Willie Penrose had resigned from the party over the relocation of an army barracks in his constituency. He was followed one month later by the resignations of two backbenchers over the austerity proposed in the budget, with one the resignations being Patrick Nulty – the newly elected deputy for Dublin West. In September 2012 another junior minister, Roisin Shortall, a senior party figure who was considered a strong contender for a cabinet post, resigned from the party and government over disagreements with the Fine Gael Minister for Health James Reilly following perceived favouritism of his constituency in health resource allocation. In December of that year another backbencher resigned over the budget, eventually joining Fianna Fáil, and in June 2013 MEP Nessa Childers resigned as well, saying that she “no longer wanted to support a Government that is actually hurting people”.  Throughout all of this time the party suffered the loss of a steady stream of local councillors, most of whom resigning from the party with issues of the support of the party leadership for austerity.

Labour’s poll rating fell steadily, from roughly the 19% it received in the general election of 2011 to 9-10% by 2014, and a clear fourth place in the polls, behind Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. In March 2013 the party suffered a crushing defeat in the Meath East by-election – a largely commuter belt constituency where the party had received 21% in 2011 – winning a mere 4.6% of the vote. In spite of all of this Labour’s woes were certainly not the biggest challenge facing the government.

Kenny, having survived a challenge to his leadership in 2010 by his Deputy Leader Richard Bruton, began to surround himself with those figures in Fine Gael who stood by him in that time, and appointed all of them to senior cabinet posts. Unfortunately, it was these figures that began to cause the government the most trouble. A referendum on Children’s Rights that passed in 2012 still has not been signed into law because the Minister for Children used departmental money to promote the referendum – which is unconstitutional in Ireland and resulted in a legal challenge to its validity. Environment Minister Phil Hogan was responsible for the implementation of water and property taxes nationwide, which has made him a lightning rod for public anger. Health Minister and Fine Gael Deputy Leader James Reilly, in addition to negative press over favouring his constituency, has been plagued by a series of news reports discussing cost overruns in his department and for his botched removal of certain medical cards (which provide free medical care to needy groups, such as pensioners, those in poverty and certain chronic illnesses), with his department supposedly taking cards away from individuals with terminal cancer and down syndrome on the basis that they were unneeded. Furthermore his flagship policy – free medical care for children under six, has proven surprisingly unpopular as people perceive the money for it to be taken off other aspects of the health service.

However it was Justice Minister Alan Shatter that caused the most problems. While widely respected as an excellent legislator and an advocate for liberal reforms such as the legalisation of divorce early on in his career, he is also regarded as arrogant and difficult to work with. A scandal erupted in February 2014 involving the bugging of the Gardai Siochana Ombudsman Commission, the body responsible for investigating claims of malpractice by members of the police service, with equipment sophisticated enough that they had to have come from another government agency. Following this and allegations made about police malpractice Shatter and the Garda (Police) Commissioner were forced to resign only a little over three weeks before the elections were due to take place.

However it was not only the government that was suffering problems. Both of the main opposition parties had issues going into the election campaign. On the 30th of April 2014 the leader of Sinn Féin (SF), a left wing and nationalist party with historic links to the IRA, was arrested for involvement with the murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, in Belfast in 1972. McConville was ‘disappeared’ by the IRA for being thought to be a British informer, but was subsequently posthumously acquitted. Adams has long been linked to the murder but has never been formally connected to it until new evidence emerged from an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict conducted in Boston College, Massachusetts. While he was released without charges brought against him three days later it was thought that this would remind people of SF’s past, and bring its association with conflict back into the minds of voters. However it did not notably impact on the polls.

Fianna Fáil (FF), a centrist party with populist leanings, also had problems with the past after it emerged that Mary Hanafin, a former Deputy Leader of the party and cabinet minister who was defeated in the 2011 election wipeout, had been nominated to contest the local elections in Blackrock, an affluent suburb in the south of Dublin. While the party initially denied it, and said that she was running on her own, it transpired that she had received the necessary paperwork from the party general secretary to be a party candidate. This caused quite a degree of anger, as Hanafin was strongly associated with the last FF government, which FF was trying to distance itself from. Eventually the party compromised by saying that they were only acknowledging the other candidate as an official candidate. It should be noted though that despite the huge news coverage this provoked, the party quite quietly ran several other former deputies defeated in 2011, such as Charlie O’Connor in Tallaght, a working-class Dublin suburb, and Margaret Conlon in Monaghan, a rural county on the border with Northern Ireland.

In addition to the regularly scheduled local and European elections two by-elections were also held. The first was held for the tragic death of Nicky McFadden, a Fine Gael deputy for the rural midlands constituency of Longford-Westmeath, of Motor Neuron disease. The second was held following the resignation of Patrick Nulty, elected as a Labour deputy but now an independent, in Dublin West, a working class commuter belt constituency. Nulty himself was elected in a by-election earlier on this parliamentary term, and resigned over inappropriate messages sent to constituents over Facebook.

The Campaign, candidates and elections in Ireland

Ireland uses PR-STV to count elections. This is a proportional system where voters rank candidates, and not parties, in the order of their preference – eliminating the bottom ranked candidates and distributing their preferences until all of the seats are filled (more details can be found on Wikipedia) . Ballot papers are often very long.


The Dublin ballot paper for the European parliament election

Election campaigns in Ireland are highly personalistic. The single best thing that politicians can do to win votes is regarded as knocking on people’s doors and personally meeting them (called canvassing). Parties put up posters, giving their candidates, and rarely their party, prominence on every lamppost (a selection are on the right and left).

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

For European elections profile is considered crucial however, as the constituencies are considered far too large for canvassing. The parties therefore place great care on who they nominate. There are three constituencies for the European Parliament – the three-seater Dublin, South, a four seater containing most areas south of the capital, including Ireland’s second city of Cork. Midlands-North West, another four-seater, contained the central rural counties, the border with Northern Ireland and most of the Western seaboard.

In Dublin Fine Gael nominated Brian Hayes, a prominent junior minister. Labour nominated their incumbent MEP Emer Costello, a replacement for the previous elected MEP, and Fianna Fáil nominated local councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who was well known for her acrimonious relationship with former Taoiseach Berie Ahern, and was widely regarded as having her election hopes in 2007 personally sabotaged by him in spite of them being on the same party ticket. FF evidently hoped that nominating someone with such a clear association against the old party leadership would stand to them. SF however nominated the almost completely unknown Lynn Boylan, an ecologist. For the minor parties the far-left Socialist Party nominated its sitting MEP Paul Murphy, who replaced party leader Joe Higgins upon his election to parliament. The Green Party nominated party leader Eamon Ryan, a former cabinet minister now without a seat in parliament following their collapse, and People Before Profit, a minor Trotskyist umbrella group, nominated local councillor Brid Smith. Among the more notable independent for the area was MEP Nessa Childers, formerly of Labour. Polls indicated that Boylan and Hayes would take the first two seats for Dublin, with the final seat competitive between all other candidates, with Fitzpatrick, Childers and Ryan being somewhat ahead of Costello, Murphy and Smith.

In South Fine Gael nominated outgoing MEP Sean Kelly, Senator Deirdre Clune, member of a political dynasty in Cork, and deputy Simon Harris, based just south of Dublin. Fianna Fáil nominated immensely popular incumbent Brian Crowley, a socially conservative figure, and Kieran Hartley, an anti-pylon campaigner. Labour nominated incumbent Phil Prendergast, who was expected to struggle, and SF nominated Liadh Ní Riada, the party’s Irish language officer, who has never previously run for office. The other candidates were the Green’s Grace O’Sullivan, a Greenpeace activist, and independent Diarmaid O’Flynn. Crowley was considered almost certain to be the biggest vote winner nationally, and Kelly and Ní Riada also considered certain to be elected. The last seat was considered to be an internal battle between Fine Gael’s Clune and Harris.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

In the sprawling Midlands-North West Fine Gael nominated their outgoing MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Jim Higgins, FF nominated outgoing MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher and Senator Thomas Byrne. SF nominated Monaghan councillor Matt Carthy, Labour ran long-shot candidate Senator Lorraine Higgins and the Greens ran former senator Mark Dearey. Additionally a number of independents ran in the region, ensuring a lively contest there. Outgoing independent MEP Marian Harkin, regarded as a centrist, ran to hold her seat. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (nicknamed such because of his supposed resemblance to supervillain Ming the Merciless), a deputy for Roscommon and an eccentric figure in Irish politics, ran on a Eurosceptic platform that criticised EU protection of bogs and marshes (as in rural Ireland they are often dug up for fuel). In Ireland however he is best known for his advocation of the legalisation of cannabis. Additionally independent Senator Ronan Mullen was a candidate. He is well known for his vociferous opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Most polls agreed that McGuinness and Carthy were certainties, and that Flanagan was polling competitively, and would be in the reckoning with Gallagher and Harkin for the final two seats.

In the Dublin West by-election most candidates were the same as the last by-election in the area, and were local councillors. The seat was regarded as competitive between FF and the minor Socialist Party, which has a strong base in the area. The Longford-Westmeath by-election had Fine Gael nominate the sister of the deceased deputy, and FF nominated the son of a former deputy for the area, both hoping to capitalise on dynastic goodwill in the area. The seat was regarded as competitive between the pair of them, with Labour and SF far behind.

While both Martin Schultz (the PES candidate for EU commission president) and Ska Keller (the Green candidate for the same post) did campaign in Dublin, Irish voters would be forgiven for not knowing this, seeing as it received no news coverage. The campaigns stayed remarkably parochial and focused on local concerns that had little to do with the European parliament, the most notable of which was the Socialist Party renaming itself as the ‘Stop the Water Tax-Socialist Party’ for the election (creating the amusing situation in Ireland of the far-left campaigning against water and property taxes which the right does not oppose), which is something that the European Parliament has no power over.

It was widely expected in the local elections that Labour would do very badly, although some of the worst damage might be mitigated due to local government reforms. Environment Minister Hogan stipulated that all local wards must have at least six seats, which meant that many wards were merged. He also tried to address the population imbalance of local councillors, which meant taking seats away from rural areas and giving them to urban ones, and particularly Dublin, where most of Labour’s seats are. He also increased the overall number of councillors in compensation for the abolition of town councils, a largely powerless layer of local government just below the county councils that the election was for.

For the local elections the ward of Ballybay-Clones, in Monaghan, has not voted yet owing to the death of one of the local councillors in the polling station, so there are six more seats to be filled.


European Parliament

Turnout: 52.44% (-6.2%)
MEPs: 11 (-1) in 3 multi-member constutiencies
Electoral system: STV

Fianna Fáil (ALDE) 22.3% (-1.8) – 1 (-2)
Fine Gael (EPP) 22.3% (-6.8) – 4 (nc)
Sinn Féin (GUE-NGL) 19.5% (+8.3) – 3 (+3)
Labour (PES) 5.3% (-8.6) – 0 (-3)
Green Party (G-EFA) 4.9% (+3) – 0 (nc)
Socialist Party (GUE-NGL) – 1.8% (-0.9) – 0 (-1)
People Before Profit – 1.5% (+1.5) – 0 (nc)
Independents and others – 22.4% (+10.9) – 3 (+2)

Full count details available at

Local elections

Fianna Fáil – 25.3% (-0.1) – 266 (+48)
Fine Gael – 24.0% (-8.2) – 232 (-108)
Sinn Féin – 15.2% (+7.8) – 157 (+103)
Labour – 7.2% (-7.5) – 51 (-81)
Green Party – 1.6% (-0.7) – 12 (+9)
People Before Profit – 1.7% (+0.8) – 14 (+9)
Socialist Party – 1.3% (+0.4) – 14 (+10)
Independents and Others – 23.7% (+7.4) – 198 (+69)

Newly elected Green councillor Claire Byrne made quite a good series of graphics for each local election result, helping to visualise the process of a PR-STV count for those who are not used to it.

The results of both the Local and European elections were catastrophic for the government. Both governmental parties performed worse than any poll predicted. Labour’s dreadful showing was both predicted and still shocking for the party. It was not even competitive for a European seat – with all three of their candidates going out of the count very early on. However it was in the local elections that Labour’s nightmare became clear.

Labour had long been relying on a local vote for its councillors – counting on its local members being much more popular than the party nationally and therefore able to withstand the pressure of the electorate, much like FF were hoping in the 2011 General Election. Like FF, they were bitterly disappointed. An initial early projection had the party winning as few as 39 seats nationally based on an exit poll, and early indications seemed to bear that out, with initial expectations suggesting that the party may elect as few as three members on Dublin City Council, where they had 18 outgoing councillors. The final results were somewhat better, as the party scraped through to hold a number of seats by narrow margins, with eight survivors in Dublin City. Nonetheless, their result was appalling. The party was reduced to only two seats from 86 in Cork City and county – an area where they have four parliamentary deputies – and were entirely eradicated in Cork City and Waterford City. In Wicklow, a commuter county south of Dublin that was a long-time stronghold for Labour, the party won no seats and only 3% of the vote. In working class Dublin the party was nearly totally obliterated. It returned only one councillor with a constituency average of 13% within Dublin South Central, a very deprived area where the party won 35% and two members of parliament in 2011. It went from 28% in the General Election to 11%, and no councillors, in Dublin Central – where the Minister for International Development has his seat.

The party held up somewhat better in middle class areas and in some of their more rural strongholds, although even here success could be measured in holding seats rather than gaining them. It still won 18% in the Dublin Bay South constituency, which contains mostly wealthy and well educated professionals and is a stronghold for socially liberal politics. The party sensationally held on to a seat in Clontarf – a middle class suburb without the more bohemian elements that characterise Dublin Bay South that the party has had difficulty winning even on good days. In the wealthy suburbs to the south of Dublin City, in Dun Laoighaire-Rathdown, the party only lost one seat on the whole council to leave them with seven. In their rural strongholds in the South-East of the country the party also had credible performances. In rural Carlow and Kilkenny, the party won 13% and 11% of the vote – more than sufficient to hold their parliamentary representation there, and the party clung to representation in rural Wexford and Waterford (where, as already mentioned, their heavy losses were actually in Waterford City, where they should do much better). The party is starting to resemble the Liberal Democrats in Britain – with strength in certain rural pockets and among the liberal middle class, and not among the working class that they claim to represent.

Fine Gael’s election was also awful – although somewhat disguised by how badly Labour did and the fact that they held all four of their European seats. No poll had the party coming in second, and the party’s losses in some areas were quite severe. The party failed to return representation in Dublin South Central (which may be becoming a government blackspot) and also suffered heavy losses in Donegal, a border county in the North that always feels as though the government is treating it badly, and Mayo, the constituency of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny – where his brother came extremely close to losing his council seat. What seems to have hurt the party most is extremely poor candidate strategies at local level. The party seemed to be planning on the basis that they would perform much better than polls predicted that they would – and not worse. Apparently the party was planning on an electoral bounce from leaving the bailout program that never actually materialised. In Bray for instance, a Dublin commuter town, the party ran three candidates and only had one electoral quota between them – almost causing the party return no representative there.

By contrast in Europe and the by-elections the party has reason to be pleased, in spite of the defeat of long-time MEP Jim Higgins. In spite of finishing about 400 votes behind FF in the national vote total it won four seats to the one won by its great rival. It achieved this by good vote management and candidate selection. Its lone candidate in Dublin, junior minister Brian Hayes, polled better than the party did in the local elections, and scraped in, probably on his high profile. While Jim Higgins was defeated in Midlands-North West Mairead McGuinness won quite easily there, and in South the party managed to get both Kelly and Clune elected with significantly fewer votes than FF – who only won one seat there. They managed this by having a fairly even split between their candidates, meaning that they tended to avoid being eliminated early in the count. Additionally the party held Longford-Westmeath fairly easily, making this the third time out of four the government has won a by-election (before this parliamentary term no government had won or held a seat in a by-election since 1982).

FF’s feelings about their result are probably mixed. On the one hand it is clearly the largest party in local government again. On the other hand the party has legitimate reason to be disappointed. It actually lost votes on its last, awful, local election performance and many of its gains could be attributed to how badly Fine Gael and Labour did than by a popular mandate for FF. What the party has most reason to be pleased about was its modest recovery in Dublin, where the party currently has no parliamentary representation and where its decline was starting to look terminal. It placed second in the Dublin West by-election – easily ahead of both government parties and it took nine seats on Dublin City Council and came second, and won a seat in all bar one ward on the City Council (which was more than either Fine Gael or Labour managed on either count). Both Hanafin and the ‘official’ party candidate won in Blackrock despite the controversy of her candidature, which clearly did not hurt the party, and is one more seat than the party had any reason to expect in the ward. It is the largest party on numerous councils that are very different from each other, from republican and border county Donegal to prosperous Dublin commuter belt in Kildare. More disappointingly, the party failed to win long-time strongholds like Kerry and Galway, and placed second in the Longford-Westmeath by-election – which is usually reasonable territory for them. Nonetheless, the party has, since the 2004 local elections, lost 164 county council seats, with 84 gone in 2009 alone. This gain of 48 seats in no way compensates for this loss. The party still has a long way to go towards complete recovery, but it may have stopped the rot.

In Europe however the party has most reason to be disappointed. In spite of actually winning the largest number of votes nationally, it only won a single seat – that of Brian Crowley in South. This places it behind both Fine Gael and SF. The reason for this can be seen in awful strategy and vote management. Their candidate in Dublin actually placed third on the first count, but was overtaken by both the Greens and independent MEP Nessa Childers as the count went on, and placed fifth. While certainly a credible performance that has placed their candidate well for a parliamentary seat when the next general election is called, they will still be disappointed with the result. In South Crowley seems to have refused to share his vote or engaged in any kind of disciplined constituency split that Fine Gael undertook, causing the party to lose a seat that, by all rights and even by vote share, they should have won. This is a problem the party has had before at parliamentary level, with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and cabinet minister Willie O’Dea running away with astronomical vote totals, only to leave the other party candidates in the dust with far too few votes to win a seat. However it is Midlands-North West that is most bitter for the party. In spite of polls always showing that it was possible and the insistence of the MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher that his seat was in no way secure, the party still seemed shocked when he lost the final seat by a mere 275 votes. While the constituency was undoubtedly crowded with lots of strong candidates, it seems to have been a huge error to run two candidates – allowing Marian Harkin to assemble a strong lead on early eliminations that transpired to be, just about, unassailable. The party needs to have a long, hard look at its strategy. It lost two seats which it had the votes for – one because it could not impose a constituency division or vote split on a sitting MEP, another because it could, but the ensuing vote split meant that their lead candidate had just too much ground to make up.

Sinn Féin is, understandably, delighted at its result and is certainly the clear winner of the election. All three of its European candidates won and won well, including coming first in Dublin. On Dublin City Council only two of its candidates failed to be elected. The party is now without seats in only four wards across the whole Dublin area – and it was unlucky to fail to win in Rathgar-Rathmines. The party finally achieved its breakthrough across middle class Dublin. It topped the poll in Dundrum, considered the epitome of prosperous south Dublin. It won a seat in Killiney, a haunt for old money where Bono lives. It won a seat too in Pembroke-South Dock in another poll-topping performance – the ward containing Ireland’s most expensive addresses and embassy row. In working class area its results were stunning even to the party itself, and it could have won several more seats if it had actually run more candidates in those areas. For instance in exurban and working class Tallaght South the party won over 50% of the vote – which could easily have it won it three or even four of the ward’s six seats, but it only ran two candidates. In Clondalkin, a similar ward, the party had more than three vote quotas between its two candidates. Very unexpectedly, the party placed first on the first count in the Dublin West by-election. Dublin West, in spite of it being largely working class, has always been considered a bad area for the party with the local strength of the Socialist Party, and while the party placed third in the by-election in the end, it is well placed for the future.

Outside of Dublin its performance could be considered good rather than spectacular. It placed a clear third in the Longford-Westmeath by-election, and failed to win the very republican counties of Kerry and Donegal, which on the back of such a strong showing it should have been more competitive in. Nonetheless the party had clear successes. It beat the Labour Party into fourth place in Galway City – where it had previously had no representation. The party placed second in Cork City, with eight seats and clearly ahead of Fine Gael. It won seats in every ward in rural Limerick – one of their worst areas nationally historically. On the back of this kind of performance there are very few areas where SF could fail to be at least competitive in a general election, and the other parties know it. Indeed their rhetoric towards the party has noticeably softened since the results, hinting that they would be willing to consider coalition with them.

It was a good election all round for the three main small parties – the Green Party, the Socialist Party and People Before Profit. The Greens only narrowly missed a European seat in Dublin, and its candidates in other regions performed credibly. While its vote in the local election fell this was because it ran much fewer candidates than last time, and it won twelve seats, a gain of nine. This included a poll-topping performance Rathgar-Rathmines in Dublin – the first time the party has headed any poll anywhere since 1999. It should be noted however that nine of the party’s seats are in the greater Dublin area, including Wicklow, and those that are not are personal fiefdoms in Dundalk and Kilkenny that the party had held even in 2009. It missed seats in Galway and Cork with good candidates, and it must be noted that even their Dublin seats tend to be in areas where the party had won before their collapse. The party seems to have bounced back to where it was before, and it would need to do quite a bit better than this local performance to win any parliamentary seats – but, like FF, it remains on track for recovery.

The Socialists had a mixed day. On the one hand they won the Dublin West by-election and took fourteen council seats, a real breakthrough. On the other hand they lost their European seat in Dublin fairly easily. Taking the by-election sets up their winning candidate Ruth Coppinger to succeed their long-time parliamentarian Joe Higgins, who is retiring, as the Socialist voice in Dublin West. It was always going to be difficult holding the European seat without Higgins as a candidate and, indeed, no poll had the co-opted MEP Paul Murphy as truly competitive for it. The local result was very good. In addition to its usual sweep of council seats in its Dublin West stronghold the party took a seat on Dublin City Council for the first time, and had a breakthrough outside of Dublin –winning three seats in Cork City and three in Limerick.

People Before Profit had similar reason to be pleased. Unlike the Socialists, it never expected to be competitive for Europe so polling well, even if not well enough for a seat, was a pleasant surprise. The party did quite well in the Dublin area – wiping Labour out in Dun Laoghaire ward, the personal base of de-facto party leader Richard Boyd-Barrett, and winning three seats in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council – and only very narrowly losing two other seats to Labour in the area. It also broke through on the other Dublin councils. In Dublin City Council it won five seats – including its first seats on the North side of the city that it usually unofficially ceded to the Socialists. It won fourteen seats overall. Like the Socialists this sets them up to have a full parliamentary delegation come the next general election.

One of the big news stories of the contest though was the success of independent candidates. In Europe their success was particularly high profile. Nessa Childers held her seat in the European Parliament, in spite of moving constituency to Dublin. Europe may too need to get used to Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who did very well in Midlands-North West and took the first seat, and Marian Harkin held off FF to win the last seat in the area. At local level too independents were successful, increasing their representation on virtually all councils. Many independents elected are associated with particular independent parliamentarians, and so resemble a kind of unofficial local party, with such organisations being quite prominent in Kerry, where there are two of them, in Kildare and in Waterford – all places with strong independent deputies. Additionally many councillors formerly members of Labour had spectacularly good elections, placing ahead of the official candidates of the party they left. In spite of the generally good results some of the more established local independents and minor parties did quite badly though. The ‘Lowry Group’ in Tipperary, associated with former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry who is under a seemingly never-ending corruption investigation – only returned three councillors. The long established ‘Gregory Group’ in Dublin’s North Inner City did not return any official group candidate – although a former group member was elected as an independent. United Left, a micro-left party associated with two far-left parliamentarians that were connected to the Socialists and People Before Profit before, only elected one councillor.

It is probably foolish to talk of independents as one group. Many of the rural independents are about as far removed from the left-wing urban independents as it is possible to be in the Irish political space – but many of these candidates will certainly poll well in a general election, and win seats.


The most immediate consequence of the election was the resignation of Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore, who resigned rather than be ousted by a group of panicked parliamentarians. Virtually every member of his parliamentary party has announced that they are running for either leader or deputy leader and, whoever wins, is likely to be much more combative than Gilmore over government economic policy. Depending on who it is and what they demand from Fine Gael, this could destabilise the government enough to cause it fall.

Fine Gael, too has been shaken. The party was under the illusion that FF was now so tainted that it could nearly win by default. That is clearly not the case. The party now knows that it will need to fight hard to win a second term in government – something never before achieved by the party. FF, for its part, knows that it may yet have a chance of re-entering government, stabilising nerves.

If SF remain coalition poison, which is becoming less likely but still present for the parties, and independents do as well as this, only a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is likely to be mathematically possible after the next election, something that is likely to finish the junior partner in that alliance utterly. It seems likely that Ireland is entering a period with no truly large parties, and no real political stability.

European Union 2014: Overview


Elections to the European Parliament (EP) were held in the 28 member-states of the European Union (EU) between May 22 and 25, 2014. All 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), elected from their individual member-states, were up for reelection. The EP serves a five-year term and cannot be dissolved.

Electoral systems and theory

The European Parliament has 751 seats distributed between the EU’s 28 member-states, according to ‘degressive proportionality’ which means that while the allocation of seats between the member-states is roughly proportional, the smaller member-states elect more seats than they normally would under a strictly proportional system. A member-state has at least 6 MEPs, and a maximum of 96 MEPs. Germany, the most populous country in the EU, elects 96 for a population of 80.5 million – electing one MEP for every 838,789 inhabitants. Malta, the smallest country, has 6 MEPs for a population of 420,000 – electing one MEP for every 70,227 inhabitants. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the Council of the European Union (‘Council of Ministers’), acting unanimously on the initiative of the EP, adopts a decision fixing the number of MEPs for each member-state.

European elections are subject to certain EU-wide common principles and rule. First and foremost among them is the requirement, instituted in 2002, that elections in each member-state must be based on some form of proportional representation (including STV). Secondly, under the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, every EU citizen residing in a member-state of which he/she is not a citizen has the right to vote and stand for election in the member-state of his/her residence under the same conditions as nationals. Member-states are free, while respecting these basic principles, to adopt their own laws regarding the electoral system, voter and candidate eligibility. For example, most countries elect their MEPs in a single national constituency but six member-states (Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland and the UK) are subdivided into regional constituencies which each elect a specific number of MEPs. Countries may set variable thresholds or no thresholds (if applicable) in the PR system, as long as it does not exceed 5%. Some countries allow voters to alter the list of candidates (open list PR), while others do not (closed list PR).

Rules on voter and candidate eligibility vary from country to country. The concept of ‘residence’ for EU citizens resident in another EU member-state varies – France, for example, requires EU citizens to be registered in their municipality of residence while the Czech Republic requires EU citizens to be listed on the population register. In some countries, a minimum period of residence is required. Rules on voting by non-resident nationals in their country of origin varies considerably – France now allows all French citizens living abroad and registered on the consular electoral lists (or in a municipality in France) to vote, Greeks residents abroad may only vote if they live in the EU and in Ireland only those resident in Ireland may vote. The age of eligibility to stand varies, although it generally set at 18; in some countries, such as Belgium, voting is mandatory.

The EU is something of a juggernaut, with complex institutions and procedures which are incomprehensible or off-putting to many. The EU Parliament is one of the two institutions of the EU which may be considered as being the EU’s legislative branch. The Parliament, however, lacks the power of legislative initiative – EU laws may only be drafted by the European Commission, the main executive and bureaucratic arm of the EU. The Parliament may suggest legislation, the European Council (the meeting of the 28 heads of state/government) often sets the EU’s policy agenda but only the Commission has the power to draft legislation. Most (and, with each new EU treaty, more) legislation proposed by the Commission falls under the ‘ordinary legislative procedure‘, meaning that it must be approved by both the Parliament and the Council of the European Union (Council), another ‘legislative’ organ representing national executives (composed of different configurations of cabinet ministers from the EU-28  based on the topic discussed; voting is carried out through qualified majority voting procedures or, less often, by unanimity). The text is first read by Parliament, adopting or amending the Commission’s proposal, before it is sent to the Council which adopts Parliament’s position or amends it. If it is amended, Parliament examines the Council’s text in a second reading, where it adopts it, amends or rejects it with an absolute majority. If the Parliament amends the text, the Council holds a second reading where it can either approve or reject all of the Parliament’s approval. In the latter case, a conciliation committee with an equal number of members from both organs seeks to adopt a compromise position (if it does not, the text fails). A compromise position must be approved by both Parliament and Council. On a minority of matters a ‘special legislative procedure’ is used – consultation (Council must consult Parliament, but Parliament’s position is nonbinding) or consent (Parliament must consent to Council adopting legislation proposed by the Commission, but cannot amend it).

The use of the ordinary legislative procedure has been constantly expanded under successive treaties, strengthening Parliament’s role from a powerless consultative and advisory body to a body with substantial legislative power (although still weak compared to national legislatures). In practice, policy-making in the EU is largely achieved through constant negotiations and consultations between different bodies – the Commission works with Parliament and Council throughout the process, and Parliament and Council work informally throughout the legislative process meaning that it is rare that a text is not approved after first or second reading. In the Council, most work is done by committees of high-level bureaucrats from the member-states and only contentious issues are decided at formal ministers’ meetings.

The Parliament, since the Lisbon Treaty, has power over the entire EU budget which is prepared by the Commission and examined by both ‘houses’ of the ‘legislature’. The Parliament adopts or amends the Council’s position on the budget; in the latter case, it is sent to a conciliation committee to reach agreement on a joint text, which must be approved by both Parliament and Council – but Parliament can adopt the budget even if the Council rejects the joint text.

The Parliament has oversight powers over other EU bodies. According to the Lisbon Treaty, after EP elections, the President of the Commission is proposed by the European Council on the basis of the election results. The Parliament approves or rejects the European Council’s candidate. National governments appoint one Commissioner (except for the member-states from which the President and High Commissioner for foreign policy are from), who individually appear before EP hearings. The Parliament approves or reject the Commission as a single body; it has never rejected it outright, but in the past, Parliament’s pressure has forced the names of proposed commissioners to be withdrawn. In theory, the Parliament can censure (vote of no confidence) in the entire Commission with a two-thirds majority; this has never been used formally, but in 1999, the Commission was forced to resign after Parliament rejected the budget over allegations of corruption in the Commission.

MEPs sit by political group, not by country. Today, EP political groups must be made up of at least 25 members representing at least 7 member-states, and groups receive funding and guarantee committee seats. Some MEPs are unaligned, formally known as non-inscrits, the French term for members not part of any group. The groups are different from European political parties – the former are created for parliamentary/institutional reasons, while parties are transnational alliances of parties which receive recognition from the EU if they meet certain rules (notably respect the founding principles of the EU, participation in EP elections, have received either minimum electoral support in EP elections or be represented by elected parliamentarians at the EU, national or subnational level in 25% of member-states). Europarties receive funding from the EU. The groups may coincide with Europarties – the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) is both a party and a homogeneous group; but not necessarily. The European Greens form a group with the regionalist European Free Alliance (EFA), known as the Green-EFA group. Some individual MEPs from parties which are not affiliated with Europarties often join one of the groups.

Relations between groups tend to be consensual, especially as far as the mainstream centre-right and centre-left (and liberal) groups are concerned. The presidency of the EP is traditionally split between the EPP and the Socialist group (S&D) during the five-year term of the EP. Some groups tend to be highly cohesive on votes in the EP – VoteWatch’s stats for the last term showed the G-EFA, EPP and S&D groups to be cohesive on over 90% of votes, while the heterogeneous eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group voted cohesively on less than 50% of matters. Agreement between ideological lines is commonplace for mainstream groups: VoteWatch shows that, for example, in the 2009-14 EP, the S&D group’s votes matched that of the EPP 73% of the time (it also matched that of G-EFA and the liberal ALDE very often).

Over time, the EP has been gradually strengthened, a way for EU policy-makers to alleviate the democratic deficit of the EU. In practice, attempts by the EU to promote the role of the EP, encourage participation in EP elections and promote voting on pan-European rather than national concerns have generally failed. Most citizens are unaware or uninformed of the role played by the EP, hardly surprising when you consider the complexity and – oftentimes – opaqueness – of the EU institutions; additionally, although the EU is (for good or bad) a major source of legislation and regulation binding on the EU-28, many citizens feel distant from the EU or don’t see how the EU impacts their daily lives. The mainstream media takes relatively little interest in the activities of the EP and the work done by MEPs, meaning that the EP remains widely viewed as a ‘Mickey Mouse Parliament’ and the bulk of MEPs remain out of the limelight. A lot of politicians treat the EP as an elected gig with a nice pay, providing a platform for them to (re)gain prominence in national politics; the EP welcomes politicians who lost their seats in the national legislature or parties which struggle to win seats in national legislatures (often far-right or far-left parties) but can win EP seats by virtue of PR. To be sure, most MEPs do work hard and pay attention to EP work, but it’s a relatively thankless job in that few ‘regular citizens’ notice or care about their work. Oftentimes, the MEPs who work the least in the EP are the loudmouths using the MEP as a platform in national politics (or who are in the EP because they need an elected gig they don’t have elsewhere). For example, retiring French MEP Philippe de Villiers (the least active of France’s MEPs) told voters that the EP is useless – but it did take him twenty years as an MEP to reach that conclusion!

Turnout in EP elections has declined constantly from the first direct elections in 1979, from 62% in 1979 to only 43% in 2009. In 2009, the lowest turnout came from the Eastern enlargement states of 2004 (a low of 19% turnout in Slovakia) and the UK, although the two key drivers of European integration – Germany and France – had turnout in the low 40s. Turnout in EP elections is slightly higher than in US midterm elections – which is unsurprising, because EP elections can easily be compared to US midterms. Research has consistently shown that voters who do vote in EP elections do so largely on the basis of national political considerations, and those motivated to vote in EP elections are often those who wish to use the elections to punish their national governments (‘voting with the middle finger’). European elections are also a chance for voters to cast protest votes for smaller parties or to vent their anger with domestic politics. European parliamentary history is filled with weird minor parties which enjoyed a flash-in-the-pan success in one country in one EP election before failing in the subsequent national elections. Who remembers the Agrupación Ruiz-Mateos, which won 2 MEPs in Spain in 1989? Or the election of 6 MEPs from Germany’s hard-right Die Republikaner in 1989, before falling back into irrelevance? Who will remember the election of Pirate Party MEPs from Sweden in 2009, twenty years from now?

When EP elections are remembered after the fact, it is usually for specific results in a given country. Many would be challenged to recall the pan-EU results of, say, the 1994 EP elections. In France, for example, the EP election of 1984 is remembered because it was the first electoral breakthrough of the far-right.

Efforts by the EU/EP to promote participation and engagement have basically been dismal failures – largely due to the perception that the EU remains unresponsive to citizens, that EP elections are useless (in that little changes as a result), lack of citizen interest in EU-wide issues, local media and political narratives focusing on national concerns (with many local opposition parties calling explicitly to vote against the national government).

In these elections, the major EU-wide parties each nominated their own ‘candidates’ for the President of the Commission, a ‘race’ made all the more interesting by the retirement of the incumbent President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso. The ‘nomination’ of these candidates reflected the different parties’ views on the EU and the internal dynamics of each of them as it relates to the EU – Eurosceptic groups and parties did not nominate candidates, while some leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel questioned the rationale of linking the EP election to the selection of the next President of the Commission.

The centre-right EPP showed perhaps the most reticence to this idea, but it ultimately nominated Jean-Claude Juncker, the former long-time Prime Minister of Luxembourg (1995-2013), a prominent EU-wide personality and committed supporter of deeper European integration. The centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) had a convoluted and open nominating process, but Martin Schulz, the German Social Democrat (SPD) president of the EP, was the only candidate. Like Juncker, Schulz is a major player in EU politics and a strong supporter of European integration.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) party selected former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, a strong supporter of a federal Europe. The European Democratic Party (EDP), which sit with the ALDE Party in the ALDE group, also supported Verhofstadt’s candidacy.

The European Greens had an open online primary with four candidates, which resulted in the nomination of two co-candidates – German MEP Ska Keller and French MEP José Bové. The Party of the European Left (EL), the Europarty made up of various communist, far-left, democratic socialist or ‘radical left’ parties, nominated Alexis Tsipras, the popular leader of Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), an historically minor radical left party which became the main opposition party in Greece in the historic 2012 elections. Tsipras became a popular icon for the anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal movements in Europe, which have often tried to imitate SYRIZA.

There was an active and concerted attempt to create a EU-wide horse-race between Juncker and Schulz. Several televised debates were held, but viewership was low and the whole race attracted little interest in the actual national campaigns. National parties which are members of the EPP, PES, ALDE, Greens and EL have reacted to the nomination of pan-EU ‘presidential candidates’ in different ways. In France, for example, the terribly unpopular Socialist Party (PS) focused heavily on Schulz and ‘electing a Socialist President of the Commission’ to ‘change politics’ while the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) made little to no mention of Juncker and tried to obscure Juncker’s federalist views which are out of place for a party which has been big on vaguely Euro-critical posturing. Many scoffed at the idea of a ‘presidential race’ which the EU promoted – understanding that Parliament does not actually ‘elect’ the President itself, and sensing that the choice of the President is still largely in the hands of national governments.


The 2014 EP elections came at a difficult time for the European Union. The EU has been badly hit by the economic crisis and/or the Eurozone crisis, some countries more than others and in different way, but nearly every single one of the EU’s 28 member-states have been impacted in one way or another by the economic crisis in Europe. The economic crisis and government policies responding to it has, in a lot of countries, led to a social crisis and major political upheavals.

The impact of the economic and social crises on the EU have been immense. For the EU as a political project, the last five years have been particularly challenging. With rising unemployment and major economic and fiscal problems, many politicians and parties have questioned and/or attacked the viability of the Eurozone or the desirability of further European integration. There has been a clear and marked rise in Eurosceptic sentiments across the board, even in traditionally Europhile countries (such as Italy); bred by frustration with the economic crisis, disillusion with the EU as a political project, discontent with the EU’s management of the economic crisis or nationalist sentiments against ‘bailouts’ for poorer member-states or against ‘bailout’ conditions imposed by countries such as Germany and institutions such as the EU and the IMF. Naturally, the rise of anti-establishment and oftentimes Eurosceptic movements or parties in many countries owes a lot to domestic political factors and conditions – but given that a lot of these factors are the result of the EU-wide economic and social crisis, there’s certainly a common trend to be found. We need to be careful about imagining pan-national trends in support for political movements: the ‘rise of the far-right’ which everybody talks about is often real, but it is not universal and it has come in different forms with parties of vastly different outlooks and levels of extremism (from neo-Nazis in Greece and Hungary to respectable and polished right-wing populists).

In individual member-states, the crisis and popular sentiments resulting from the crisis have led to substantial political changes compared to the political situation as it stood in 2009, when the EP was last elected. In Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic, realignments of the political systems in those countries may be taking place. In Spain, the hegemony of the two traditional parties of government in the country has been severely weakened by the economic crisis in the country. In countries such as France, Austria, Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Hungary, populist movements on both the left and right have emerged or gained strength, often adopting an anti-establishment outlook which is both critical of the domestic political elites and of the EU.

Since the last elections to the EP in 2009, a number of European governments and leaders have been defeated at the polls and replaced by new governments – in a lot of these cases, the defeats of the incumbents owed a lot to the economic crisis and the unpopularity of the government’s response to it. Ireland, the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Lithuania, Finland and Denmark (among others) have governments of a different political stripe than that which existed in 2009. The most recent national elections in Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic and Ireland (all held since 2009) saw historic results which may or may not portend some lasting political realignments.


The turnout across the EU was 43.09%, unchanged from 43% in the 2009 election. According to the EP’s official website, the distribution of new MEPs according to the groups which existed in the 2009-2014 EP is as follows (the recount of votes in some countries may change this distribution):

EPP – 214 seats (-60)
S&D – 191 seats (-5)
ALDE – 64 seats (-19)
G-EFA – 52 seats (-5)
ECR – 46 seats (-11)
GUE-NGL – 45 seats (+10)
EFD – 38 seats (+7)
NI – 41 seats (+8)
New parties (unaligned) – 60 seats (+60)

On these preliminary results, which will change with the creation of new groups and the affiliation of independent MEPs to existing groups, the centre-right EPP has retained its plurality in the EP, although it now controls only about 28-29% of the seats and suffered the sharpest loses of any group. EPP parties lost ground, sometimes substantially, in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Romania and Greece. The S&D failed in their attempt to replace the EPP as the largest group – the centre-right has held a plurality of seats in the EP since the 1999 EP elections.

Although it had been expected to come out strengthened from the election, the Socialist group is basically unchanged from the pre-election situation. Strong gains in Italy and Romania and a stronger performance in Germany did not cancel out major loses by S&D parties in France, Greece, Spain and the Czech Republic.

Simple map of largest existing group (number of seats) in each member-state (source: Wikipedia)

The liberal group, ALDE, was another of the major losers of the election – it could be ascribed to the unpopularity of the liberals’ European federalist traditions at the present time, but the culprits are the major loses suffered by large ALDE parties in the UK and Germany (and the loss of all seats in Italy, held by the moribund Italia dei Valori, which had done very well in 2009).

The Green-EFA group will likely come out a bit smaller from the election, after a fairly strong intake for the Greens back in 2009. The Greens lost ground in Germany and France (the two largest EU countries), but performed well in some smaller member-states such as Sweden and Austria. Especially in France but also in Germany, the Greens had performed extremely well (abnormally well in France) in the 2009 EP elections, but had since lost support in national elections. The G-EFA group is likely to amputated by four seats when the new groups are formed, as the right-wing Flemish nationalist N-VA is likely to be kicked out of the group or choose to join a more right-wing group, such as the Euro-critical ECR, on its own.

The European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR), the conservative anti-federalist and Eurosceptic group spearheaded by the British Conservatives, lost 11 seats – largely due to the major loses suffered by the UK Tories and the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS), which did not cancel out gains made by the ECR’s other main component, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party. The group appears bullish about its future, however, with the prospect of attracting the 7 new MEPs from the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the new anti-Euro party in Germany. However, there have been constant rumours that the AfD’s inclusion in the ECR may strain relations between David Cameron and Angela Merkel, with the latter pressuring the former to keep AfD away from the ECR. The potential inclusion of the nationalist N-VA might be at odds with the Tories’ opposition to Scottish independence in Scotland’s referendum this fall.

On the far-left, the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) has gained significant ground. Those who like imagining broad pan-national political trends which don’t exist will think that this is due to a generalized swing to anti-austerity and Eurosceptic parties in Europe. The reality is that such swings have taken place, but they’ve been far from pan-European. The GUE-NGL’s gains are due to major gains by member parties in Greece and Spain and smaller gains in Italy in Ireland. In countries such as Germany and France, there has been no such ‘swing to the hard left’.

The Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, the most hardline Eurosceptic/anti-EU group (and furthest to the right of all groups), also gained ground. Its main gains all came from the UK, where EFD’s main component, UKIP, gained 12 seats. The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF/O) also gained 2 seats in Denmark. In Italy and Greece, EFD parties suffered loses.

The campaign and now the post-election horsetrading has been marked by talk of the creation of a far-right group in the EP. During the campaign, some far-right parties, spearheaded by Marine Le Pen’s successful National Front (FN) in France, joined forces in the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF). The EAF was joined by the FN, Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ), the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the Lega Nord from Italy and the far-right Flemish separatist Vlaams Belang (VB); the youth wing of the far-right Swedish Democrats (SD) also collaborated with the EAF, but it now appears that the SD wants to keep out of the EAF. The EAF has over 25 seats now, after the FN’s huge success in France, but its MEPs only come from five countries. It would need to find MEPs from at least two more countries. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (XA, Greece), Jobbik (Hungary) and NPD (Germany) can’t and won’t be touched with a ten foot pole by any politician, including Le Pen, who is concerned about keeping up appearances. The AfD, UKIP, DF and True Finns (PS) do not want, in turn, to ally with the EAF, judging the FN to be too extremist and uneasy about the racist and xenophobic tendencies of these parties. The EAF will likely seek to seek out the support of the hard-right libertarian Polish Congress of the New Right (KNP – but the FPÖ finds them crazy) and two right-wing populist parties from Lithuania (TT, in the EFD group) and Latvia (NA, in the ECR group) to put a EAF group together.

In the past, the far-right had been unable to put coherent groups together due to the lack of numbers (in 2009), clashing nationalisms between the European far-right parties (especially in Eastern Europe, a lot of nationalist parties concentrate their fire on rival neighbors, such as the fight between the Hungarian and Slovakian far-right) or some rogue Western European MEP who makes some racist comment about Romanians or something. The future EAF group appears more coherent, given that all five current members meet up on anti-EU and anti-immigration/Islam views.

If any broad pan-European trends can be discerned, it is a fairly widespread swing against governing parties (either compared to the last EP election or national election) – certainly nothing unusual in a EP election. There were substantial swings against the governing part(y/ies) in France, the UK, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Bulgaria, Denmark, Slovakia, Croatia, Ireland and Slovenia. Only in Italy, Romania, Hungary and Latvia did the senior governing party win a clear victory at the polls. There was a secondary swing to anti-establishment, often Eurosceptic, movements in some EU countries – France, the UK, Spain, Austria and Denmark clearly stick out here; in Germany, the new Eurosceptic AfD performed well while in Italy the radical anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) won 17 seats in an underwhelming performance for the Beppe Grillo’s movement. But while there was a clear swing towards Eurosceptic and/or anti-establishment parties – some of them new (M5S, Spain’s Podemos) or old (FN, UKIP, FPÖ) – it is quite tough to notice a universal swing towards such parties. In the Netherlands or Bulgaria, for example, such parties actually lost ground. This further underlines the very national nature of EP elections – we definitely need to treat this election as 28 separate national elections largely driven and explainable by national political developments. Unfortunately, a lot of the media reporting on the elections have focused on the major countries, especially the more ‘sensational’ results in France or the UK, as to create some kind of narrative of universal anti-EU wave.

The EPP’s plurality likely means that a member of the EPP will be the next President of the Commission; if the EU’s act about ‘presidential candidates’ over the last few months had any truth in it, Juncker would be the natural and legitimate candidate for the job. He argues, backed by the PES, that he should get first job at cobbling together a majority to become President of the Commission. However, as per the EU treaties, the actual power of selecting the next President of the Commission effectively remains with the member-states meeting in the European Council. Therefore, it is far from certain that Juncker will be selected. British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Eurosceptic, has been trying to rally anti-Juncker colleagues – so far he’s been joined by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (whose nationalist and often autocratic EPP member-party is often at odds with the EPP’s mainstream moderate and pro-EU views). There is a widespread cynical view that the next President will be whoever Angela Merkel wants it to be. Merkel has been noncommittal on the question or tried to avoid it. There has been a lot of speculation about the EPP and PES coming together to form a Grand Coalition, with the agreement of dividing up the main EU jobs: President of the Commission, the presidency of the European Council (Herman Van Rompuy is retiring in December) and EU high representative on foreign policy.

In the coming posts, we will look at the detailed results in every one of the EU’s 28 member-states. These posts should generally come in alphabetical order, but there might be exceptions.

South Africa 2014

In the next three weeks, expect posts (time depending) on the EU, India, Colombia, Ukraine and Belgium. I am still welcoming any contributions from readers who wish to help out with the coverage of this avalanche of elections by submitting guest posts.

National and provincial legislative elections were held in South Africa on May 7, 2014. All 400 members of the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa, and all members of South Africa’s nine provincial legislatures (a total of 430 seats) were up for reelection.

This post on the South African election is my longest one yet – it is meant to complete the relevant sections of my incomplete pre-election Guide. Good reading!

Electoral system

I covered South Africa’s political system in extensive detail in the first section of my (unfortunately) incomplete Guide, with details on the electoral system and constitutional framework.

South Africa’s system of government may be defined as being a parliamentary system, but it has elements which make it a hybrid between a parliamentary and presidential system.

The National Assembly, the lower house, is made up of 400 directly-elected MPs who serve a five-year term and are elected by closed-list proportional representation. Voters cast a vote for a party in the national election, but the allocation process once votes have been cast is fairly complex. In theory, half of the seats are filled from regional lists and the other half is filled from a party’s national list, although parties are under no obligation to submit both regional lists and a national list. In the first stage of allocation, the seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region (province), a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the Electoral Commission determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region. To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level, to obtain the number of regional list seats allocated to each party.

The second stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the National Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is again determined by dividing the total number of votes cast across the nation by the number of seats in the National Assembly, plus one. The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of seats in the National Assembly, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.

The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party’s list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.

The upper house, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is made up of 90 members, with each of South Africa’s nine provinces sending a single delegation made up of ten members. Six of the ten delegates are ‘permanent delegates’, serving for the duration of the legislature and elected by the provincial legislatures, proportionally in accordance to the strength of the parties represented in the provincial legislature. The other four delegates are ‘special delegates’ – the provincial Premier, and three other special delegates elected by the provincial legislature, again proportionally to each party’s strength. The special delegates rotate based on the matter being discussed by the NCOP. According to the Constitution, while the National Assembly “is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people” (Section 42.3), the NCOP represents the provinces, “to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government” (Section 42.4).

Except where the Constitution provides otherwise, the NCOP’s members vote as delegations, with each province having one vote and the vote is carried with five provinces voting in favour. Legally, a delegation must vote in accordance with a mandate approved by the provincial legislature it represents. On ordinary bills not affecting the provinces, the NCOP votes individually, each delegate having one vote.

The National Assembly has full legislative powers on most matters, and its members as well as Ministers and Deputy Ministers, may introduce any piece of legislation. The NCOP considers ordinary bills not affecting the provinces and it may approve it, amend it or reject it but the National Assembly can pass the bill again with a regular majority. The NCOP has significant power on legislation affecting the provinces (Section 76 bills), with the power to introduce a certain category of such legislation (Section 76.3 bills) and it must approve all Section 76 bills. If there is a disagreement on a Section 76 bill, it is sent to a Mediation Committee which then produces a compromise bill which is sent to both houses; if that bill has originated in the National Assembly, the National Assembly has the power to override NCOP opposition and the Mediation Committee (but with a two-thirds majority). The NCOP must also approve some constitutional amendments (amendments to Chapter 1, the Bill of Rights or any amendment dealing with the NCOP or provinces), in such cases, the amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly (three-fourths for amendments to Chapter 1) and the support of six out of nine provinces in the NCOP.

The President of South Africa is the head of state and government and is elected by the members of the National Assembly at its first sitting. The President may not serve more than two terms, and he may be removed from office with a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly (for ‘a serious violation of the Constitution or the law’, ‘serious misconduct’ and ‘inability to perform the functions of office’). The National Assembly may pass, with a regular majority, a motion of no confidence in the President. If carried, the entire cabinet and the President must resign. The President assents to and signs bills, refers bills to the National Assembly for reconsideration (if he/she so chooses) and chooses members of the cabinet.

South Africa has nine provinces with significant devolved powers and their own provincial legislatures and Premier, a framework similar to that of the national government (except that legislatures are unicameral). The provincial legislatures, which consist of between 30 and 80 members – the exact number of seats, except for the Western Cape, is set by the IEC based on provincial populations, are elected by closed-list proportional representation (largest remainder method). The provincial Premier is elected by the provincial legislature, and appoints a cabinet (Executive Council). Concurrent powers shared between both levels of government include, among others, agriculture, environment, health services, housing, public transport, tourism and trade. Exclusive provincial powers include local archives, libraries, museums, provincial planning, provincial cultural matters and provincial roads and traffic. The provincial executives are responsible for implementing provincial and appropriate national legislation, administering national legislation, developing and implementing provincial policy and preparing and initiating provincial legislation. The national Parliament, may, however, under certain circumstances, intervene in exclusive provincial powers.

Registration and voting is voluntary. All South African citizens over the age of 16 with a valid identity document may register to vote, although only registered voters above the age of 18 are eligible to vote. Elections for all levels of government are managed by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), a chapter nine independent state institution.

20 years of democracy (and ANC rule)

South Africa’s 2014 general election, the fifth since 1994, is a landmark election in the country’s young democracy. 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of multi-racial democracy – the first free elections open to all races were held on April 27, 1994. 2014 is the first election in which the “born-free” generation – young South Africans born after the end of apartheid (1994) – are eligible to vote. 2014 is the first election to be held after the death, in December 2013, of South Africa’s first black President, the legendary Nelson Mandela.

Since 1994, South Africa has been a one-party dominant system ruled by the African National Congress (ANC), the historic liberation movement. The ANC has won every election since 1994 with over 62% of the vote, peaking at 69.7% in 2004 and winning 65.9% in the most recent election, in 2009. The ANC also governs eight of South Africa’s nine provinces and all of the country’s major cities, except for Cape Town.

Much can be said – good and bad – about the ANC’s record in the last twenty years, and a lot depends on one’s perspective. It is important to recognize both the good and the bad which has come with 20 years of ANC rule in South Africa.

South Africa is now a liberal democracy, with a constitution which is often said to be one of the most progressive constitutions in the world – especially thanks to its Bill of Rights. Although two decades of ANC rule have eroded the independence of independent institutions and has hampered Parliament’s constitutional mandate to hold the government accountable to the people, South Africa remains an electoral democracy with free and fair regular elections. Despite cases of judicial and political misconduct, South Africa’s judiciary remains independents and the courts have rendered judgements against the government or its policies. Even if impunity for corruption remains a huge problem, a number of politicians – including members of the ANC – have been convicted and served prison time for corruption. Since 1994, the courts’ interpretation of the Bill of Rights have resulted in landmark judicial decisions, which notably abolished capital punishment (1995), upheld the country’s liberal abortion laws (1998) and ordered the legalization of same-sex marriage (2005). The Constitution guarantees a wide range of freedoms, including the freedom of speech, assembly, freedom and security of the person and conscience; these rights are generally respected and protected in practice. Although the public broadcaster, the SABC, is often accussed of being biased in favour of the ANC, South Africa has a large array of private media sources which may often be critical of the government and investigate corruption scandals. The country has a vibrant civil society with a large number of NGOs and community organizations which can be influential on government policy.

Above all, institutionalized racism is a thing of the past. All South Africans – regardless of their race/ethnicity – have the right to vote, live and work wherever they wish, move freely across the country, love and marry who they want, engage in political activities unimpeded, protest the government within the limits of the law and are equal before and under the law. Races mix and intermingle freely, especially in the middle-class suburbs of urban centres.It is a lasting and significant achievement, whose importance should not be downplayed. Nevertheless, twenty years is a short period of time to erase the legacy of hundreds of years of segregation and racism from popular culture, individual mindsets, society, the economy and politics. Racial antagonisms, stereotypes or misconceptions remain deeply rooted in individual mindsets, meaning that the slogan of a ‘rainbow nation’ remains far more of a dream than a reality.

It is clear that poverty, inequality, unemployment and high criminality remain huge and daunting challenges for South Africa and it is also clear that the ANC has failed on a number of fronts in tackling these issues adequately. Nevertheless, it is necessary to recognize that there have been significant improvements in the standard of living of many South Africans. According to the World Bank, the percentage of the population living below the national poverty line declined from 31% in 1995 to 23% in 2006. According to a recent publication by Stats SA, the percentage of people living under the upper-bound poverty line declined from 57% to 45.5% between 2006 and 2011. Between 1996 and 2011, according to the respective censuses, the percentage of the population (20+) with no schooling declined from 19% to 8.6% while the population who had graduated Grade 12 and/or had higher education increased from 23.4% to 40.7%. The percentage of formal housing increased from 65% to 77.6% in the same time period, and more houses gained access to piped water (61% to 73%), flush toilets (49% to 57%), electricity for lighting (58% to 85%) and basic household amenities.

Since 1994, a black middle-class has emerged – a much larger number of black South Africans now attend universities alongside white students, live in historically lily-white middle-class suburbs and hold professional or managerial positions in the economy, although major racial inequalities remain in the makeup of the country’s moneyed elites and economic power-holders. Although blacks remain significantly poorer and more disadvantaged than whites and other racial minorities, many have nevertheless seen their standards of living improve in the past 20 years.

A reason for the increase in the standards of living and a decrease in the poverty of the South African population, especially the black majority, has been the social grants created by ANC governments. In 2011, about 15 million South Africans received social grants.

Homicide rates in the RSA  since 1995 (source: UNODC)

Homicide rates in the RSA since 1995 (source: UNODC)

South Africa remains one of the world’s most violent and crime-ridden societies, with a homicide rate of 31.1 in 2012/2013 according to police (SAPS) statistics – representing a total of over 16,000 murders in twelve months. Other crimes are extremely common as well – according to the SAPS’s latest crime statistics, the other most common types of crime included theft, burglaries in residential premises, drug-related crimes and assault. South Africa is tragically notorious for very high levels of sexual violence – the SAPS reported over 66,000 sexual offences in 2012/2013 (an extremely high rate, representing 127 per 100,000 inhabitants) and everything indicates that the actual rate may be much higher because only a minority of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the SAPS. Some surveys have found that about a quarter of men in two provinces admitted that they had raped someone. Thousands of children and newborn infants have been raped in the past decade (often by relatives or guardians), an horrendous phenomenon attributed to the ‘virgin cleansing myth’ which holds that someone may be ‘cured’ of HIV/AIDS if they sex with a virgin. Despite very progressive legislation on gay rights, homosexuals in South Africa face the threat of ‘corrective rape’ (to ‘convert’ them to heterosexuality). Crime-fighting efforts are hurt by the poor reputation of the SAPS, which has been hit by numerous cases of police corruption, incompetence and insensitivity up to the highest levels of the force.

Nevertheless, violence and murder in South Africa has declined since 1994 and the waning days of apartheid. In 1995, the homicide rate in the country stood at 64.9 and has fallen by 18% in the last ten years. According to SAPS statistics, most types of crime have also decreased in this period, except for robberies, drug-related crimes and commercial crime. Nevertheless, there was a slight increase in most crimes – included murder – between 2011/2012 and 2012/2013. During the negotiations to end apartheid and the pre-electoral period in 1994, several regions of South Africa were in a state of quasi-civil war due to political violence between warring parties (notably the ANC and the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, or IFP) and the serious threat of terrorism from white supremacist groups such as the AWB. Today, political violence between supporters of different parties has been nearly eliminated, with only limited incidents during election periods in a handful of hot zones. Similarly, white supremacist terrorist organizations have almost all faded from view and pose no threat to the state.

Economic policy and socioeconomic challenges

The ANC, in general, has often prided itself on its sound management of the economy. Indeed, existing (and mostly white-owned) businesses in the country and foreign investors were fairly enthusiastic or at least positive about the ANC’s management of the economy in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The ANC was born as a small, moderate black ‘bourgeois’ movement, but the radicalization of the movement after 1948, the influence of the alliance with the Communist Party (SACP), ties with the Eastern Bloc and the socioeconomic effects of segregation and apartheid on the black population meant that the ANC moved firmly to the left during the struggle against apartheid and found its allies mainly on the left. To this day, the ANC governs in a ‘Tripartite Alliance’ with the South African Communist Party (SACP) – an historic ally of the ANC and the liberation movement – and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest trade union federation founded in 1985 and a major player in the liberation movement in the late 1980s. The apartheid government, under PW Botha’s ‘total onslaught’ strategy, sold the notion of the ANC as a dangerous communist movement and the ‘red danger’ (rooi gevaar, combined with the old and explicitly racist black danger or swart gevaar) to the Western world and his white constituents in South Africa.

In the Freedom Charter, a landmark document adopted by the ANC and its Indian, Coloured and white communist allies in 1955, it is stated that subsoil minerals, banks and monopoly industry shall be owned by the people (state), that the wealth of the country be ‘restored to the people’ and that the land ‘redivided amongst those who work it’. The Charter’s vision was reiterated by the ANC during the duration of the struggle, by the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s and the ANC still refers to it as a foundational document. In documents issued by the ANC during the negotiations to end apartheid, the party enunciated a ‘developmentalist’ perspective arguing for a mixed economy with some state intervention in the economy with the aim of a more equal distribution of wealth, the development and reconstruction of the economy. In 1994, the ANC and its allies adopted the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which served as the basis for the ANC’s platform in the 1994 election. The RDP largely remained in the Charter’s tradition, aimed at the democratization of the economy, alleviating poverty, addressing the catastrophic state of social services and human development for the majority of South Africans, the broader development of the economy and economic growth. Although the RDP included some economically liberal measures, the gist of it still accorded a leading role to the state in restructuring the economy. Indeed, under the guises of the RDP, the ANC government spearheaded a major infrastructure program in the 1990s which built over a million cheap houses (so-called ‘RDP houses’, often criticized for being dreary and bleak pillbox-like mass building structures), a major expansion in access to piped water, electrification, the construction of 500 new clinics and a public works program.

When it took office the ANC quickly signaled that it would not take any revolutionary or radical decisions, and instead began arguing for a fairly liberal economic policy. In June 1996, the ANC’s new finance minister, Trevor Manuel, unveiled the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) plan as the government’s macroeconomic framework. GEAR aimed to achieve a ‘competitive fast-growing economy’ (at a rate of 6% by 2000) which would create 400,000 jobs by 2000; to reach these targets, GEAR called for the reduction of the budget deficit (to 3% by 2000), reducing inflation, a relaxation of exchange controls, a reduction in tariffs, policies to stimulate private and foreign investment, the acceleration of non-gold exports, privatization and labour market ‘flexibility’. Although GEAR still talked of income redistribution, poverty reduction and infrastructure development by the state, the general theme of the new government’s macro-economic framework was very clearly liberal and destined to please the business community and international financial institutions. The ANC – led by Trevor Manuel, labour minister Tito Mboweni (who later became Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, from 1999 to 2009), then-Deputy President (later President) Thabo Mbeki, trade and industry minister Alec Erwin and Mbeki’s right-hand man Essop Pahad – defended GEAR as necessary for sound economic growth and job creation while claiming that GEAR nevertheless remained in the tradition of the Charter and GEAR (although, in 2002, President Mbeki would claim that the ANC had never been and would never be a socialist party). The ANC, since 1994-5, had been preparing the ground for a shift away from its interventionist and ‘developmentalist’ orientations by arguing that the National Party (NP) government had left it with a huge debt and deficit – indeed, South Africa’s economy had gone down the drain due to a wide host of factors since the 1980s.

GEAR, however, was strongly criticized by the left of the movement – namely COSATU and the SACP – as being a betrayal of the Charter and RDP values and a home-grown version of the ‘structural adjustment programs’ which would be unable to address the issue of massive income inequality. In short, the left saw GEAR as ‘growth without development’, whereas the RDP sought ‘growth with/and development’.

GEAR was largely unsuccessful in meeting its targets. Economic growth never did hit 6%, and growth from 1995 to 2000 was generally weak. However, the early 2000s saw strong economic growth, under Mbeki’s cautious orthodox fiscal and monetary policies – South Africa’s economy reached growth rates over 5% between 2005 and 2007. Under Mbeki’s presidency, the domestic and foreign business community and international finance generally praised the ANC’s sound and competent handling of the economy. GEAR’s major failure, however, was jobs: the official unemployment rate grew from about 19% in 1996 to nearly 30% in 2002. Since then, unemployment and jobs has remained South Africa’s leading economic and social problem, remaining stuck at frustratingly high levels between 21% and 25% (at the official, and conservative, definition – under the expanded definition, over 35% of South Africans are unemployed). Instead of creating jobs, the policies of government and business following GEAR led to major job loses.

Official unemployment and absorption rates in South Africa since 2003 (source: Stats SA, own graph)

Official unemployment and absorption rates in South Africa since 2003 (source: Stats SA, own graph)

In Stats SA’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey for Q1 of 2014, the official unemployment rate stood at 25.2% – a 1.1% quarter-to-quarter increase and 0.2% year-to-year increase. Under the expanded definition of unemployment, the figure was 35%. Only 42.8% of the population aged 15 to 64 has a job. Unemployment, like almost all social and economic indicators, is conditioned by race. Under the expanded definition, 39.9% of blacks, 27.6% of Coloureds, 17.6% of Indians and 8% of whites were unemployed. There is also an even more extreme age factor: young South Africans, especially young blacks, face extremely high levels of unemployment – across all races and using the expanded definition, 66% of those 15-24 and 39% of those 25 to 34 were unemployed against 14.4% of those 55 to 64.

A 2006 study said that while the proximate cause of high unemployment was that “prevailing South African wages are too high compared to real wage levels that would clear labor markets at lower levels of unemployment”, the structural cause was the weakness of export-oriented manufacturing since the 1990s; the relative shrinkage of which led to a fall in demand for low-skilled or unskilled labour. In 2013, only 25.6% of employees in all industries were considered skilled, compared to 46.1% who were semi-skilled and 28% who were unskilled. Even in tertiary industries, only 29% were skilled and 43% had less than the Matric (South Africa’s high school graduation exam).

However, despite fairly neoliberal fiscal and monetary policies, the ANC also retains interventionist pulses – the public sector remains a major employer, the government still owns many industries and utilities, labour laws are criticized by some as being restrictive, some regulations and laws still deter private and foreign investors, employment equity laws impose increasingly strict guidelines on businesses and subject them to fines if they break them, corruption is a major problem and the new dispensation since 1994 has been used by a lot of ANC cadres to enrich themselves in business, creating a crony capitalist system.

It is also worth pointing out that despite an economic record which is very far removed from traditional socialism, the ANC ‘talks left, walks right’ with leftist rhetoric which still talks of the ANC as a ‘revolutionary liberation movement’, an ‘economic revolution’ and the ANC styles its ideology and policies as the ‘National Democratic Revolution’.(

For a party which had an ostensibly ‘radical’ economic platform prior to winning office, why did the ANC shift towards neoliberal policies? The negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa are sometimes referred to in the literature as an ‘elite pact’ – the elite of the old ruling party, the NP, reaching a compromise and agreement with the elites of the opposition liberation movement, the ANC. In these negotiations, the NP conceded a number of important issues to the ANC – it abandoned all previous demands for entrenched group rights, ‘minority vetoes’, consociational government, special legislative and executive representation for races and effectively accepted the ANC’s maximalist demands of majority rule, one man one vote, centralized devolved government and a Bill of Rights based on individual rather than group rights. In return, the ANC adopted a liberal democratic constitutional framework, the independence of the judiciary and some form of limited protections for linguistic and racial minorities. However, the most significant concession made by the ANC to the NP was its acceptance of a liberal, capitalist macroeconomic framework which guaranteed property rights, the continuation of orthodox fiscal and monetary policies and a general focus on growth and economic stability rather than redistribution.

The NP’s own evolution from defense of minority rights (and opposition to majority rule) to a more impassioned defense of the existing liberal capitalist economic model was a gradual process, whose roots were apparent beginning in the early 1970s. After HF Verwoerd’s assassination in 1966, the NP shifted from the Afrikaner nationalism of the 1940s – with its core tenets of republicanism, anti-imperialism, Calvinist mysticism and opposition to ‘English’ (or ‘Jewish’) monopoly capitalism – towards pan-white nationalism, which sought alliance and conciliation with the English-speaking whites (the traditional opponent of the Afrikaner) in the context of shared opposition to black majority rule, ‘communism’ and the defense of capitalism. This shift was facilitated by the settlement of the republican question in 1961 and the economic advance of the Afrikaner since 1948 as a result of NP policies; under the prime ministership of BJ Vorster (1966-1978), apartheid was increasingly subordinated to economic concerns when the two clashed (but, at the time, white supremacy remained beneficial to the South African capitalist economy). Radical white supremacists – such as Albert Hertzog and his followers, who were expelled from the NP in 1969 – challenged this new paradigm, defending a dogmatic and bygone vision of ‘Verwoerdian apartheid’, but the NP remained firmly in control. Within the NP, the verligte (enlightened) faction emerged, grouping well-connected economically liberal individuals in the party who placed capitalism above rigid defense of apartheid and were willing to compromise on some aspects of white supremacy in order to protect white minority rule. The verligte, in contrast to the conservative verkrampte, were pragmatic, flexible, open to compromise and eventually evolved towards neoliberal capitalism in the 1980s.

Under PW Botha (1978-1989), the priority of the NP government became the defense of white minority rule against an upswell of black resistance following the strikes in 1973 and the Soweto riots in 1976. To achieve this aim, Botha used several tactics – mixing reform with repression. Botha enjoyed close ties with the traditional Afrikaner business elites in the Cape Province, and Botha’s economic team – with Barend du Plessis, an admirer of Margaret Thatcher’s policies in Britain, serving as his finance minister after 1984 – was clearly neoliberal in orientation (although Botha had no clearly defined economic views himself). He came into office when the apartheid system had contributed to an economic deterioration – because of the rigidity of influx control, a severe skills shortage and an artificially limited domestic consumer market. Faced with growing demands from big business and Afrikaner capital, Botha’s government acceded to some of their requests to adapt apartheid to the capitalist economy.  For example, Botha’s government adopted the recommendations of the Wiehahn and Riekert commissions (appointed by Vorster), which had called for the legalization of black unionization within limits, the regularization of urban blacks by granting them property rights and the relaxation of influx control (all the while tightening the screws on blacks outside urban areas or illegal black migrants from the ‘homelands’) – in a nutshell, the NP finally admitted what had been obvious since the 1940s – black urbanization was a permanent reality (accepted by the United Party’s Fagan Commission in 1948, but rejected by the NP’s Sauer Commission). Under Botha, the aim of his ‘reforms’ were to coopt pliable non-white elites into the system in order to perpetuate white minority rule and domination. The business sector saw the lack of a black middle-class as an obstacle to the survival of capitalism, and the NP realized that it would need to find black allies in order to maintain power. Botha’s attempts at cooptation of blacks, Coloureds and Indians (the latter two groups with the Tricameral Parliament) failed horribly, and by the second half of Botha’s stint in office, the focus shifted to repression and the consolidation of the ‘securocracy’ at the helm of the state. The economy collapsed even further under the weight of international sanctions, capital flight, growing indebtedness and a rapid increase in the levels of violence and political instability throughout the country (with states of quasi-civil war building up in KwaZulu-Natal and the PWV). However, Botha’s eclectic strategy of reform through cooptation and ‘total onslaught’ repression under an opaque and often extrajudicial securocracy signaled a major shift in the NP’s identity and class basis. With the split of Andries Treurnicht’s hardline faction to form the Conservative Party (KP) in 1982, the NP moved from being a cross-class Afrikaner nationalist alliance to a white-dominate elite alliance of whites (Anglo and Afrikaner) and pliable non-white tools. With the economic crisis, Pretoria had also become increasingly dependent on loans from the IMF and private lenders, and it had adopted neoliberal IMF-dictated policies (notably privatization.

During the negotiations to end apartheid under FW de Klerk’s presidency, the verligte faction – now represented by Roelf Meyer, a young technocrat who went on to become the NP’s lead negotiator alongside the ANC’s lead negotiator, trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa – gained the upper hand over the verkramptes, who were determined to fight till the end to protect minority rights or gain a ‘white veto’ under the new constitutional arrangement. Seeing that minority/group rights were unpalatable to the ANC and even the West, the verligte leaders compromised with the ANC and their interest became clinching an elite compromise to secure conditions for continued capital accumulation. To prod the ANC away from its interventionist and socialist inklings, the NP led a concerted effort along with business leaders, foreign investors and international financial institutions to move the ANC in the direction of free-market capitalism. South African business leaders had began meeting with ANC leaders in exile as early as 1986, and as the negotiations on a new constitution moved forward, parallel meetings were being held between ANC leaders and business leaders. Derek Keys, a former mining executive who was brought in as FW de Klerk’s technocratic finance minister, played a major role in these talks with ANC leaders (people including Manuel, Mbeki, Mboweni etc) and bringing them towards ‘pro-business’ viewpoints with guarantees to protect property rights and abandon any serious intentions of nationalization. These negotiations not only included the ANC but also COSATU, who agreed to tariff reductions and GATT/WTO membership. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the rising tide in favour of free market solutions were further impetuses on the ANC to move away from interventionist and socialist ideas. Unlike other African liberation movements, the ANC gained power in an era where there was no ‘alternative’ economic model to capitalism as there had been during the Cold War.

In the end, therefore, the NP had successfully pushed the ANC towards accepting the core tenets of the free-market economy and capitalism. After taking office in 1994, the ANC therefore honoured its part of the ‘elite pact’ with the NP – Derek Keys was kept on for a few months after the 1994 election and the incoming ANC government revised the original RDP (drafted in collaboration with COSATU and the SACP) with a White Paper which effectively laid the ground for GEAR in 1996.

Perhaps the best example of ‘elite pacting’ came in 2005, when the remnants of the NP (rebranded as the New National Party) merged with the ANC. Since the NP’s ill-advised decision to quit the national unity cabinet with the ANC in 1996 and FW de Klerk’s later resignation from the leadership (and his replacement by the incompetent Martinhus van Schalkwyk, who is now the ANC Minister of Tourism), the NP had lost its white supporters (in 2004, the bulk of the NP’s vote came from Coloureds – a group which the NP had disenfranchised in the 1950s) and was unable to become an opposition party. It waffled between frontal opposition to the ANC or cooperation with the ANC government, finally settling in favour of the latter. The ANC-NP merger certainly does appear quite contradictory given the party’s history, but by 2005 the hardliners had decamped and the NP had long since given up being an ethnic party. Already during the transition, the verligte leaders had been able to safeguard the interests of (predominantly white) capital and expand the ranks of the property-owning middle-classes to blacks. Unable to deal with the loss of power, the NP found the only way out of the hole and the only chance to share the spoils again: merging with the ANC. The merger aroused some opposition within the ANC, notably from the SACP (though mostly because it feared the NP was a Trojan Horse which would turn the ANC into a right-wing party); but Mbeki’s allies had actively supported a merger which went down on terms extremely favourable to the much stronger ANC.

Affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment

Instead of nationalization, the ANC government has implemented affirmative action policies – known as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE, or officially Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment) and Employment Equity – to address apartheid’s economic legacies. The ‘designated groups’ who benefit from BEE and Employment Equity are blacks, Coloureds, Indians, women of all races and people with disabilities of all races.

Under Employment Equity, first adopted by law in 1998, all designated employers (firms with over 50 employees) are obliged to make their workforces racially representative through analysis of workforce demographics and employment practices and the yearly submission and implementation of an employment equity plan/report (including numerical goals to achieve equitable representation suitably qualified people from designated groups). In effect, employers must set and meet racial targets to make their workforce representative of the economically active population (so it must be 75% black), and they are subject to fines – made more onerous by a series of controversial amendments to the Act in 2013 – from the government if they fail to do so. The 2013 amendments also raised significant controversy and concerns over ‘racial quotas’ because it repealed provisions which forced the government to take into account skills shortage when evaluating employers’ compliance.

Although Coloureds and Indians are legally entitled to benefit from Employment Equity, the behaviour of the Department of Labour and the wording of proposed bills in recent years have raised controversy. The 2013 amendments ultimately retained the clause requiring the government to take into account national and regional workforce demographics when assessing employers, a prior 2010 bill had removed references to ‘regional’ demographics. Because the Coloured population are heavily concentrated in the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces, and Indians are largely concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), there was significant concerns that Coloureds and Indians would struggle to find employment in their home provinces. The Director-General of Labour added fuel to the fire by stating that Coloureds were ‘over-concentrated’ in the WC.

BEE’s aim is to make the economy more broadly representative of the demographic makeup of South Africa, by promoting meaningful black ownership, management, employment, training and skills development in South African companies. Each company (with a turnover over R10 million) is evaluated by the government on a BEE scorecard, under which they are required to meet minimum requirements in a number of different areas (ownership, management, employment equity, skills development, procurement from BEE firms, supplier/enterprise development etc). To achieve the requirements of BEE, companies undertake a number of BEE initiatives – policies, practices and business transactions (for example, selling shares in a company to a company owned by blacks). The company’s score on the BEE scorecard increases or decreases their chances of winning government procurement contracts and insufficiently ‘empowered’ companies in regulated sectors may see their licences revoked. Responding to criticism that the first BEE scheme was heavily focused on enriching a select few, the Mbeki government adopted ‘Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment’ (B-BBEE) in 2003, which aimed to distribute wealth across a broader spectrum.

This text from the Institute of Race Relations gives a good overview of the EE and BEE laws and codes as they stand after the 2013 amendments, and explain the costs of both policies on small businesses.

BEE has been a highly divisive issue in South African politics. There has been the common criticism leveled against affirmative action policies in general, but there is broader criticism of the results of BEE. Instead of redistributing wealth and jobs to the black majority, BEE has been perceived as having helped a well-connected few – ANC cadres, black entrepreneurs and other black middle-class individuals on good terms with the ANC – while leaving the bulk of the black majority in continued poverty. Indeed, a lot of the BEE deals – valued at R600 billion according to the Institute of Race Relations – have benefited a small closed circle of black entrepreneurs, many of them with close indirect or direct (serving on party executive) links with the ANC, COSATU and the SACP. The ANC has been accused of using BEE as a means of providing patronage, meting out punishment and co-opting potential rivals within the Alliance and allowing them to make a buck. A number of ANC leaders from the struggle era have benefited quite handsomely from BEE and the new economic policies, joining the ranks of an increasingly deracialized business elite – people such as Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jay Naidoo and Saki Macozoma have become wealthy businessmen, even while keeping a foothold in politics. Sexwale, a former provincial premier and the Minister of Human Settlements from 2009 to 2013, sat on the boards of several important corporations and founded Mvelaphanda Group, a large holding firm which had interests in diamond mining and oil and which made Sexwale one of the top beneficiaries of BEE. Although Sexwale officially gave up most of his business interests and chairmanships when reentering in 2009, a lot of business empire (especially as it relates to mining) remains clouded in secrecy – with unclear secret dealings over mining deals in Guinea, for example. Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist (in the National Union of Mineworkers, or NUM, one of the main unions in COSATU) who was touted as one of Mandela’s potential successors in 1998-9 before being sidelined in favour of Mbeki, left active politics and became a multi-millionaire with several investments in mining and seats on the boards of mining firms, including Lonmin, which owns the infamous Marikana platinum mine.

The new black business elite has been negatively perceived as a clique of ‘crony capitalists’ who have enriched themselves, joined the ranks of the elite but given little attention to the plight of the black majority.

Black, Coloured and Asian average income per capita as a % of white income (=100), 1917-2008

Black, Coloured and Asian average income per capita as a % of white income (=100), 1917-2008

In general, BEE’s success has been rather limited. While it has succeeded in broadening and deracializing the ranks of the elite, which had been the goal of the ANC-NP ‘elite pact’ in 1994, BEE has not really radically altered the ownership structure of the South African economy. A number of companies complied with BEE solely on paper (officially defined as ‘fronting practices’ by a 2013 amendment to the B-BBEE Act, and now punishable by potential jail time), but actually limiting blacks from participating in the management or granting associated economic benefits. In 2010, The Economist reported that blacks served as the CEOs/CFOs of only 2-4% of the 295 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; they are present in larger numbers (but still far below the actual demographic makeup of the broader population) on the boards. Most of the economy remains controlled by white South Africans.

Generally, the larger white-owned corporations and big businesses have generally adapted to the new constraints of BEE and the new post-apartheid dispensation quite well. The ANC has made friends with leading businessmen (Anton Rupert and Harry Oppenheimer, two of South Africa’s most well-known business magnates of the 20th century, became friendly allies of the ANC after apartheid – a system which they had generally opposed but still benefited from), regardless of race, a friendly association for which the ANC has often been criticized. A lot of the larger businesses have not criticized BEE: they know that the ANC and BEE are here to stay, many understand the rationales and aims of BEE and they have the resources to adapt to the system. The costs of BEE have generally been less onerous for the larger corporations than for smaller businesses, who have tended to suffer most from the high costs associated with BEE transformations. The amendments to the BEE codes in 2013, which set even stricter requirements for black ownership, management control and procurement and which made achieving strong results on the BEE scorecard considerably more difficult, will likely hurt small businesses and family-owned companies (who also have to comply with mandatory EE laws, made more stringent by 2013 amendments). Critics of the EE and BEE legislation say that small businesses bear the heavy costs of meeting ‘unrealistic’ EE racial targets and complying with BEE guidelines (especially if they seek to keep the government as a potential customer); the pressures may in turn force them out of business, adding to the crisis of unemployment.

Instead of alleviating the problem of income inequality in one of the world’s most unequal societies, BEE and other government policies may have instead aggravated the problem. South Africa’s Gini coefficient has actually increased since the fall of apartheid, and has stabilized at about 0.7 in the last decade, making South Africa one of the world’s most unequal countries. Existing income inequalities between the races have been worsened by growing income inequalities within racial groups: for black South Africans, the Gini coefficient increased from about 0.5 to over 0.6 since the fall of apartheid. Today, over half of the black population remains poor, while less than 1% of whites lives under under the upper-bound poverty line.

Land reform

Land reform has been another legacy of apartheid which the government has struggled to address. The years between 1870 and 1920, especially the post-Boer War years, saw the growth of commercial and capitalist (white) agriculture in South Africa (especially in the British colonies of Natal and the Cape), with the consolidation of land in the hands of powerful large landowners at the expense of poor white landless tenant farmers (bywoners) and black tenant farmers and squatters. This transformation was accompanied by a succession of legislation which aimed to disposes Africans peasants of their relative independence and/or their access to white-owned land, ultimately culminating in the 1913 Natives Land Act. The Natives Land Act confined black land ownership (in a communal framework) to the ‘native reserves’ – rural areas which made up 7% of the country’s territory (increased to 13.5% with the Native Trust and Land Act, 1936) and which would form the basis for the apartheid-era homelands or Bantustans. In ‘white South Africa’, blacks were banned from buying or hiring land.With the Land Act, blacks were ‘proletarianized’, being forced to become cheap migrant labour for the mines and cities or farm workers dependent on a white landlord. NP rule in the 1960s and 1970s boosted larger farms, leading to an increase in the size of farms and a decrease in the number of farmers. The white-owned farms became mechanized agri-businesses, and beneficiaries of generous agricultural subsidies from the NP government. When apartheid ended in 1994, about 87% of privately-owned commercial farmland was owned by whites.

The Constitution adopted in 1996 guarantees property rights, although a clause of the Bill of Rights allows for expropriation with compensation “for a public purpose or in the public interest”, a term which explicitly includes land reform. The Bill of Rights also grants persons or communities dispossessed of property by the Land Act or other racially discriminatory laws the right to restitution of property or equitable redress.  The ANC government passed as Restitution of Land Rights Act in 1994 to govern the process of restitution or equitable redress envisaged by the Constitution, setting December 31, 1998 as the deadline for applications for land claims. A commission was created to resolve restitution claims, through negotiated settlements rather than expropriation. Under restitution, most claimants have settled for financial ‘redress’, although 2.6 million hectares had been redistributed by 2009.

The window for claims closed in 1998, but in 2013, about a quarter of claims registered with the government were not yet finalized and about 50% of the land acquired for restitution had not yet been transferred. In 2013, the ANC government passed a Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, which reopened the window for restitution claims and extended the deadline to 2018. The law was criticized for undermining independent ownership rights in favour of traditional tribal leaders, the financial cost of reopening restitution (R129-R179 billion), limits on land restoration made dependent to ‘productivity’ and confusion around pre-1913 claims (for example, the Khoisan people dispossessed of their land prior to 1913).

On the separate issue of land reform (redistribution), the ANC adopted a policy of “willing buyer, willing seller” at market price, similar to the British-funded scheme in Zimbabwe between 1980 and 1992 and policies promoted by the World Bank, and set an initial target of redistribute 30% (26m ha) of land to black people by 2014. However, twenty years later, only 6-7% (less than 3m ha) of land has been redistributed – pushing the government to push back the ‘deadline’ to 2025, although it is estimated that if current performance continues, the likelihood of reaching that target by 2025 is low. Furthermore, a lot of the land which has been redistributed lies unused because of a lack of capital, skills shortage, the poor quality of a lot of the redistributed land (the high-quality land is often beyond the means of those black farmers who can acquire land), the government’s excessive focus on commercial agriculture and a lack of support services from the state. The land redistribution process has been hampered not only by intransigent white landowners as the ANC likes to claim, but also by insufficient budgets – it has already cost the government $6 billion, and the extension of the deadline to 2025 could cost it another $9.4 billion.

The ANC has been criticized for having chosen a very cautious and conservative path, and interpreting that property rights language of the Bill of Rights in a way which limits the government’s ability to intervene. The Minister of Agriculture and Land Reform between 1996 and 1999, Derek Hanekom, a white Afrikaner ANC member, took a fairly activist and pro-redistribution stance, but under Mbeki’s presidency, he was replaced by Thoko Didiza, whose ministry now tended to focus heavily on commercial farming by a new class of black commercial farmers rather than alleviating poverty.

Others, wary of radical land reform (such as the fast-track land reform/expropriation without compensation policies pushed forward, with disastrous results, by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe), have argued that the issue is one of land development and use rather than land tenure, and often warn that a Zimbabwe-like approach to land reform in South Africa would prove economically disastrous because a lot of white-owned farms are productive agri-businesses and major employers. Some point out that the government itself owns a lot of land which is currently unproductive. The general failure of land reform since 1994, the poor experience on redistributed land (for a variety of reasons) and tense relations between white owners and black farm workers or landless blacks has significantly heightened tensions in rural areas. Well publicized farm attacks – often by unemployment young black men against white farmers – have attracted a lot of attention in the West, although their numbers are hard to quantify and there have been numerous misconceptions or urban myths surrounding farm attacks (for example, there is little proof that the attacks are politically motivated).

Corruption and the arms deal

Corruption has been a major problem in post-apartheid South African politics, with a widespread perception both domestically and abroad that the government is extremely corrupt and ‘kleptocratic’. The reality isn’t that horrendous – while corruption is a reality, South Africa is actually one of Africa’s least corrupt countries – on the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, South Africa ranked 72nd in the world (placing it behind Botswana, Rwanda, Ghana and Lesotho) and actually is ranked as less corrupt than India, PR China and EU member-states Greece and Bulgaria. However, a lot of South Africans compare their country’s corruption problems with that of other G20 members, and, indeed, with such comparison, South Africa is considerably more corrupt. Two decades of ANC rule have worsened the problems of corruption and especially the impunity of politicians and public servants. The ANC has tended to fight tooth and nail to defend its corrupt MPs and cabinet ministers from prosecution, it has perverted independent state institutions (such as the SAPS, the Auditor General or the National Director of Public Prosecutions) to keep them from doing their constitutional job to investigate and punish corruption, and it has blocked Parliament and its own MPs therein from investigating corruption and holding the government to account as it is constitutionally mandated to. The electoral system contributes to the difficulty of Parliament to hold the ANC and government to account: all MPs are elected from a closed party list, and their ranking on the party list (and, hence, their chances of winning a seat) are determined solely by their party rather than by voters, so their actual accountability is with the party which got them there in the first place. It is no secret that an ANC MP (or an opposition MP) who has criticized the party’s leadership or acted contrary to leadership fiats are often forced to resign from office or are removed/downgraded from the list at the next election.

The largest scandal in post-apartheid South Africa – perhaps even in South African contemporary history – is the massive Arms Deal scandal which dates back to the last years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency but which continues to haunt the ANC to this day and his directly involved incumbent President Jacob Zuma and several ANC cabinet ministers past and present. In 1998-9, the ANC government announced its intention to modernize the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF)’s defense equipment with the purchase of frigates, marine helicopters, light fighter aircraft, submarines and battle tanks – the very idea of this deal was soon questioned, given the new government’s purported committment to reducing defense spending in favour of reducing poverty. The deal, finalized in 1999, involved about R50 billion (1999 rands) in purchase of new military equipment from German, British, Swedish and French arms firms. Beginning in 2000, the first allegations of corruption, bribery, gross conflicts of interest and fraud began to emerge, through the work of whistle-blower opposition MP Patricia de Lille and an investigation by the Auditor General. The first questions pertained to the decision to award the fighter jet contracts to BAe/SAAB – the costlier bid (in this big contract, the government decided to exclude cost as a criteria, despite a cheaper and technically equivalent bid by the Italians), the decision to grant the frigate deal to the German Frigate Consortium, the allocation of a naval sub-contract to a French company at substantial cost and inadequate offset guarantees from the successful bidders. The actual costs of the deal quickly ballooned out of proportion, far exceeding the government’s initial estimates.

The Minister of Defence at the time, former Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, the ANC’s armed wing during the struggle) commander Joe Modise, was alleged to have received R5 million from BAe to the MK Veterans Asssociations, R10-35 million in bribes from various bidders and shares in a defense company (Conlog) which benefited from the arms deal (Modise would later become chair of Conlog after leaving office). The Director of Procurement in the SANDF, ‘Chippy’ Shaik, was accused of favouring his brother, Schabir Shaik, who was director of a company (partly owned by Thomson-CSF, a French contractor chosen by the German Frigate Consortium to provide the combat suits for the ships) bidding for sub-contracts. That naval suit contract had gone to Thomson-CSF over a local contractor favoured by the Navy itself; it was no coincidence that Schabir Shaik’s company was owned by Thomson-CSF and that its board included people linked to Chippy and Joe Modise. Altough Chippy, in a parliamentary hearing, claimed to have recused himself from meetings where his brother’s interests were discussed, it soon became clear that he had lied – he had participated and intervened in government meetings, to promote his brother’s business.

As Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) began an investigation, under the leadership of IFP MP Gavin Woods and ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, further details of corruption in the arms deal began to be uncovered. Contractors who had not been selected alleged that Chippy Shaik and men linked to Modise were expecting bribes if their bids were to be seriously considered by the government or to give a ‘push’ to their bids.

The ANC leadership in government (Deputy President Jacob Zuma) and in Parliament (the Speaker), as well as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) initially assured Scopa of their full support for the arms deal investigation. But as Scopa, spearheaded by Woods and Feinstein, began digging too deeply and sought to involve the Special Investigating Unit (SIU, an anti-corruption authority with the power to recover money lost to corruption and crime) in a wider investigation, the ANC leadership in government (led by Essop Pahad, President Mbeki’s ruthless enforcer) quickly moved to rein in the investigation, brought the ANC’s parliamentary leadership under the whip, undermined Scopa’s work and made sure that the SIU was not part of any investigation. Mbeki resisted pressure from the media and civil society, and refused to sign a proclamation for SIU to participate in the investigation. Scopa’s ANC members were turned against Feinstein and the investigation, and obediently obeyed the party line. The Auditor General, who had originally independently pursued the case, was bullied by the Presidency and the government into submission. As Andrew Feinstein, the maverick ANC MP defied orders from above, he was relieved of his chairmanship of the ANC component of Scopa and was finally compelled to resign from Parliament in August 2001.

The Auditor General’s report into the deal, in November 2001, included several serious accusations or comments (Modise’s behaviour with Conlog, Chippy’s conflict of interest, non-compliance with procedures) but ultimately avoided the issue of cabinet’s honesty on the costs and exonerated cabinet of any wrongdoing. It was later revealed by the media that the report had been doctored by the concerned ministers, the President and Chippy before publication. The published report absolved the cabinet of wrongdoing, whereas the original wording had said that Ministers could have influenced decisions during the process to select the costlier BAe/SAAB bid. That aircraft had not been the preferred option of the Air Force (SAAF), it was not of much greater technical capacity than Italy’s Aeromacchi jet but it was selected after the cabinet subcommittee decided to remove cost as a criteria. Nevertheless, Parliament (=the ANC) accepted the doctored report and quickly moved to close down Scopa’s investigation into the matter, with a report which expressed satisfaction with cabinet’s answers.

Tony Yengeni, the ANC Chief Whip (who had chaired the defense committee at time of the arms deal), was arrested and charged with receiving a luxury Mercedes 4×4 at a substantial discount from one of the bidders (EADS), in October 2001. He was ultimately convicted of defrauding Parliament in 2004, sentenced to a four-year sentence in 2006 but released on parole in January 2007. A few months later, Yengeni was triumphantly elected to the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Throughout his ordeal, Yengeni was defended by the ANC, which resisted attempts to deepen the investigation into his case. Several politicians received discounted luxury cars from EADS. Yengeni’s prosecution was one of the few which the ANC accepted, to please the public, while still ensuring that Yengeni only got what amounted to a slap on the wrist.

In November 2001, Schabir Shaik was arrested. Schabir Shaik was Jacob Zuma’s business partner, giving him generous loans to pay for Zuma’s debts, expensive lifestyle and financial problems at the time. In return, Shaik was using the money to buy influence as Zuma rose through the ranks of the ANC after 1994. In March 2000, Shaik had met with French bidder Thomson-CSF and both agreed that Thomson would pay annual bribes of R500,000 to Zuma (who was having trouble covering the costs of the construction of his new residence/compound at Nkandla, in rural KZN); in return, Zuma would protect the French company from judicial investigations in South Africa and promote their interests on future bids. However, no money was forthcoming until February 2001, after Shaik had pressured Thomson-CSF into honouring their deal. The NPA charged Schabir Shaik with corruption (the payment of a R1 million bribe to Zuma, plus the solicitation of the Thomson bribe) and fraud, and in June 2005 a High Court in Durban sentenced Shaik to 15 years in jail for fraud and corruption (he was released in March 2009, on medical parole). Most significantly, the judge’s ruling described the relationship between Zuma and Shaik as one of ‘mutually beneficial symbiosis’.

That bombshell judgement had major political fallout, as the opposition and the media called on Zuma to resign as Deputy President. On June 14, only some two weeks after the Shaik judgement, President Mbeki dismissed Zuma as Deputy President. Zuma’s dismissal from government would mark the beginning of a bloody power struggle in the ANC between Zuma and Mbeki’s clans, and the beginning of long judicial procedures against Zuma which would last until 2009. The NPA wanted to and could have charged Zuma alongside Shaik in 2003, but Bulelani Ngcuka, the boss of the NPA, opted not to after the government (Mbeki’s Minister of Justice, Penuell Maduna, either as a favour to Zuma or to shield the whole cabinet and Mbeki). However, only six days after he was dismissed in June 2005, the NPA’s boss, Vusi Pikoli, charged Zuma with corruption. The details of Zuma’s trials are covered in a later section on the Zuma-Mbeki conflict.

Zuma was not the only top politician involved in the arms deal. Mbeki, who was Deputy President at the time of the deal and played a major role in guiding and supervising the deal, had also met with Thomson-CSF more than once. Although the ANC successfully stifled and politicized Scopa, foreign investigations into other aspects of the arms deal continued despite the ANC’s best attempts to shut them down by being uncooperative with foreign authorities. In Britain, the Serious Fraud Office unearthed a web of front companies which channeled over 100 million pounds to South African politicians, and looked into allegations that BAe had paid bribes to the ANC, Modise and Chippy. In Germany, prosecutors looked into millions of dollars in bribes paid by ThyssenKrupp (the main member of the winning German Frigate Consortium) to Chippy. The South African government – led by the Department of Justice – obstinately refused to cooperate with the British and German investigations, In 2007, a rogue ex-spy died in a mysterious car crash after he had leaked details of an alleged R30 million bribe to Mbeki himself from a submarine contractor.

Many questions remain unanswered, but the arms deal continues to haunt the ANC. Overall, Andrew Feinstein estimated the total costs of the deal to be in excess of R130 billion. His excellent book, After the Party, is a scathing account of the culture of corruption in the ANC and a detailed investigation into the huge scandal which is the arms deal. In August 2013, another investigation into the arms deal opened and has already face concerns of political meddling.

Mbeki’s presidency was marred by other scandals. These include ‘Cellgate’ – political meddling to ensure a Saudi cell company received a cellphone license amidst claims of massive contributions to ANC coffers; ‘Oilgate’ – a BEE company channeling millions of rands worth of public money to the state oil company to pay for the ANC’s 2004 electoral campaign; ‘Travelgate’ – MPs who misused or sold their parliamentary travel allowance for private ends and various other (uninvestigated, naturally) allegations of illegal party financing through BEE deals. The ANC has often cashed in on on BEE deals or public works contracts, ANC politicians have become increasingly disconnected from the plight of their poor constituents and taken to their new lavish lifestyles on the public purse or public officials being woefully incompetent or corrupt.

The best example of the latter comes with the Jackie Selebi/Vusi Pikoli scandal, at the end of Mbeki’s ill-fated second term. Jackie Selebi, the SAPS commissioner and Mbeki ally, was openly associated with Glenn Agliotti – one of South Africa’s biggest crime bosses, who was suspected of being behind the murder of controversial bankrupted businessman Brett Kebble, a generous contributor to various ANC factions including Zuma. In September 2007, the NPA issued a warrant for Selebi’s arrest, but Mbeki refused to dismiss him. Instead, Mbeki suspended Vusi Pikoli, the independent head of the NPA, for pursuing charges against Selebi. A compliant parliamentary inquiry led by former Speaker Frene Ginwala, controversial for having participated in the shut-down of meaningful independent thought at Scopa during the arms deal, exonerated Mbeki of any wrongdoing. Although Ginwala conceded that Pikoli was fit to lead the NPA, President Kgalema Motlanthe chose to dismiss Pikoli in December 2008. Selebi was arrested in early 2008, forcing Mbeki to give him an extended leave of absence – but he nevertheless renewed his contract a few months later. Selebi was finally replaced in July 2009, and went on trial in 2010. Selebi was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in jail (after appeal), after Agliotti had revealed that he had bribed Selebi and that the two had been close friends. In July 2012, Selebi was released on medical parole after serving only 200 or so days in jail.

Scandals under the current presidency, including Nkandlagate, are discussed further in the post.

HIV/AIDS policy

HIV/AIDS is the leading public health issue in South Africa. In 2011, the adult prevalence rate of HIV was estimated to be 17% – the fourth highest in the world behind the neighboring countries of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, but with over 5.6 million people living with HIV in the country, South Africa has the highest number of infected individuals. Stats SA in 2013 estimated that 16% of adults 15-49 are HIV-positive, continuing a slow increase in the infection rate from 15% in 2002. About 5.3 million people are HIV-positive, up from 4 million 12 years ago. AVERT has more detailed statistics, which show that women – especially young and middle-aged adult women – and blacks are the most affected by the tragedy. In Africa, the pandemic is characterized by heterosexual transmission and exacerbated by poverty and internal mobility (migrant labour).

HIV/AIDS began in the 1980s, under the apartheid government, which had little interest in black public health issues and chose to mostly ignore the question. The first ANC government with President Nelson Mandela took a much more assertive stance and active interest in the issue, which became one of the RDP’s lead projects, but initial optimism soon petered out as the government failed to take strong leadership on HIV. In the Sarafina II public awareness campaign, the government ended up wasting millions of rands into a bungled and mismanaged PR disaster. In 1997, the government took an active interest in Virodene, a local drug banned by the Medicines Control Council (MCC) for being based on a toxic industrial solvent; Mbeki, the Deputy President, was interested by the issue and unsuccessfully pressured the MCC into changing its policy. The ANC government rejected the distribution of AZT, an ARV drug, claiming that it was too expensive.

If Mandela’s response to HIV was underwhelming, Mbeki’s response – or lack thereof – to the crisis proved disastrous and fatal. Mbeki denied that HIV caused AIDS, arguing that socioeconomic factors such as poverty were behind it. Additionally, Mbeki, a paranoid person by nature, often alleged that the HIV/AIDS linked was a conspiracy concocted by international pharmaceutical companies to make profits by selling drugs to poor Africans. A big fan of calling anybody who disagreed with him a ‘racist’, Mbeki ranted that the disease was being used to smear black people as ‘promiscuous’ and ‘sex-crazy’.

In less conspiratorial moments, the ANC government – led by Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the Minister of Health, argued that ARVs were far too expensive and would bankrupt the country (a ridiculous assertion, especially if you consider the money the ANC wasted on the arms deal) or that they were toxic. The cost argument was only a respectable cover for Mbeki’s denialism, given that in 2000, the German manufacturer of Nevirapine offered to provide it for free but the Minister rejected the offer. In 2001, the government won a case against the international pharmaceutics producers who had challenged a 1997 decision to enable domestic production of generic drugs. The government then denied that its victory in court allowed it to introduce an ARV program.

The government’s policy was criticized by civil society, the media and sectors of the ruling coalitions. Zackie Achmat, a former ANC supporter who is HIV-positive, founded the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in 1998 to campaign for an ARV program and became the most active and vocal opponent of Mbeki and the ANC’s denialist stance on HIV/AIDS. Achmat refused to take ARVs until all who needed them gained access to them. Mandela, who regretted his government’s lack of leadership on the issue, was privately annoyed with Mbeki’s position and publicly called for action (and stated that HIV causes AIDS). Within the alliance, the SACP and COSATU registered their disapproval of Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang’s policies. Many within the ANC and cabinet, however, once again bowed to the party line and obediently endorsed Mbeki’s unorthodox positions. In 2002, the TAC won a court case against the government, which was ordered by the High Court to implement a Mother to Child Treatment Plan, but the government slid its feet. Tshabalala-Msimang instead preached the values of ‘natural’, ‘African’ treatments such as lemons, garlic and beetroots, a position for which she was rightly mocked.

Ultimately, economic pressures (Mbeki’s policies, criticized internationally, were seen as potentially unsettling foreign investors) and pressure from TAC led the government adopt a timid roll-out of treatment, including ARVs, just prior to the 2004 elections. By 2005, however, after a slow and piecemeal roll-out, the number of people on ARVs remained below target. The reason was that, despite the rhetoric, Mbeki and his Minister remained uncommitted to the new policy and had no actual plan to fully implement it. During this time, Mbeki remained a denialist and Tshabalala-Msimang was preaching for beetroots and lemons. The government publicly associated with fellow denialist ‘dissident scientists’ (most of them charlatans and frauds) such as Matthias Rath. In 2006, the Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, temporarily replaced Tshabalala-Msimang while she was ill in the hospital. Madlala-Routledge, who had been critical of Mbeki and the government’s denialism and handling of the pandemic, reversed course and adopted an ambitious plan working in tandem with civil society (including TAC) to coherently tackle AIDS. In August 2007, Mbeki fired Madlala-Routledge on flimsy grounds and Tshabalala-Msimang, the widely despised Minister, returned.

Life expectancy declined from 62 years in 1992 to 51 in 2006, with a particularly steep decline in the late 1990s and early 2000s corresponding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the government’s atrocious response thereto. Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, the other countries hit by the pandemic, also saw their life expectancy decline during this period. A Harvard study estimated that over 330,000 people died unnecessarily during Mbeki’s presidency as a result of his denialist policies.

When Mbeki was removed from office in September 2008, and replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe, Tshabalala-Msimang was demoted and Barbara Hogan, a ANC MP known for her independence, became health minister. This marked the final end of Mbeki and co’s denialism, and the adoption of a much more pro-active AIDS strategy focused on treatment with ARVs. In 2009, with Jacob Zuma’s election, the new Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi continued the government’s welcome shift in policy. Motsoaledi has presided over a successful ARV program, the biggest such program in the world providing treatment to over 2 million people.

Education, healthcare and service delivery

One of the biggest concerns for the majority of South Africans is ‘service delivery’ – the delivery, by the three levels of government, of basic services including housing, sanitation, water, waste removal, flush toilets, electricity, public education and healthcare. There has been a significant increase in ‘service delivery protests’ in recent years, caused by local residents – especially in informal settlements – who protest the poor record of service delivery, corruption and politicians’ little interest in their concerns. A lot of these protests, especially in recent years, have turned violent with allegations of police brutality and a total of 43 deaths in such protests between 2004 and 2014. A recent Mail & Guardian post had interesting data on protests.

When the ANC took office in 1994, it faced the challenge of building a single education and healthcare system. Under apartheid, education and healthcare had been segregated – for example, black education was adminstered by a separate government department. Black education was massively underfunded by the government, of terrible quality and with a poor curriculum. HF Verwoerd’s Bantu Education Act (1953) aimed to provide black education ‘in conformity with their own tradition and needs’ (read: to prepare them for the unskilled migrant labour market). Since 1994, public education and healthcare is desegregated. But major racial inequalities remain – traditional white public schools are of higher quality than black public schools, and whites have the resources to access higher-quality healthcare in the private sector.

Public schools are allowed to charge additional fees, although parents can apply for full or partial reduction of fees and public schools may not legally refuse admission to children living in the vicinity. South Africa spends a comparatively large share of its GDP on education, but it has poor results in global education rankings – notably with reports which have ranked math and science education as the second worst in the world. School infrastructure is bad, with some schools lacking electricity and water and most schools lacking a stocked library. Particularly in poorer, black areas, teachers are often unqualified or under-qualified – it is said that up to 20% of teachers are absent on Mondays and Fridays, yet the government has been reluctant or unable to hold teachers to stricter standards, in part because of unions.

The Department of Basic Education seeks to convey the idea of improvements in education and a high-performing system by reporting the Matric (high school graduation exam) pass rate. In 2014, the Matric pass rate was the highest ever at 78%, up from 61% in 2009. However, very few people take the Matric pass rate seriously (even the department’s website states that ‘the matric pass rate on its own is not a good measure of academic achievement in the schooling system’). To begin with, the standards for passing some subjects are extremely low – 30% in some classes. Secondly, between the time students enter school and the time that they sit from their Matric, it is estimated that about half of them will drop out before reaching Grade 12. The statistics obscure the fate of that half, which dropped out. Because few people take the Matric seriously, only about 15% of them have marks which allow them to enter universities (which are made even more restrictive by tuition fees), forcing them to join trade schools or – oftentimes – swell the ranks of the unemployed youths. Employers complain that universities do a poor job of training graduates and bemoan the lack of skilled manpower, yet they take little interest in taking on and training poor, young unskilled workers themselves.

In 2012, the Limpopo textbook crisis symbolized how under-funding, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption and entrenched regional inequalities combine to degrade the quality of education. In January 2012, as the school year began, schools in the poor northern province of Limpopo reported that textbooks had not been delivered. The provincial department of education, in a state of total disrepair and financial crisis, had been placed under the administration over the Department of Basic Education in late 2011. Several deadlines and a first court order (after Section 27, a civil rights group, took the government to court demanding urgent delivery of textbooks) were not respected by the government, with the end result that by late June 2012, a lot/most of schools had not received their textbooks and full delivery was only completed by October 2012. The textbook saga was marred by allegations of fraud and corruption in the textbook procurement process, government mismanagement and incompetence in the delivery of textbooks and an campaign of misinformation and denialism by the Department (with Angie Motshekga, the Minister, denying that there was a crisis in education in the face of such damning evidence).

Healthcare remains marked by similar inequalities. Under the two-tiered healthcare system, the poorest 84% of the population relies on public healthcare while about 16% of South Africans have the financial resources necessary to attract a high-end, high quality private healthcare system. Although the private system covers only a small advantaged minority, it accounts for half of health expenditure in the country. The public system, for which most users pay user fees, faces issues including the lack of physicians, shortages of supplies and drugs and poor management between different administrative levels. Poorer South Africans, who rely on the public healthcare system which even the government admits works poorly, are also those most at risk for HIV, TB and infant mortality.

Foreign policy

South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy was to be based on the promotion of human rights, democracy, regional cooperation, poverty reduction in Africa and peacekeeping. While South Africa is no longer a pariah of international diplomacy and an increasingly major player on the global scene – with participation in the BRICS, the G20 and two terms as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the actual direction of Pretoria’s diplomacy has often fallen far short of rhetoric.

President Thabo Mbeki eloquently expressed grand dreams for the ‘African Renaissance’ and took an active interest in the promotion of continental cooperation based on the values of democracy, rule of law, justice, human rights and socioeconomic development. Along with the presidents of Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal, Mbeki launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as a policy framework positing the need for good governance, robust economic management, regional integration and the development of social infrastructure with the aim of reducing poverty. However, NEPAD quickly ran into criticism that it achieved nothing while the local South African left criticized it as a neoliberal ‘GEAR for Africa’ scheme. Mbeki’s dreams of African Renaissance and his general pan-Africanist demeanour raised eyebrows in South Africa, with some critics viewing the new direction as contrary to the ANC’s traditional values of non-racialism and Mandela’s goal of national reconciliation across racial lines.

The grand rhetoric of African Renaissance was mostly fluff, it turned out, when South Africa was confronted with neighboring Zimbabwe’s descent into chaos under Mugabe after 2000. Throughout his presidency, Mbeki stuck to a controversial policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ with Zimbabwe, consisting of friendly engagements with Mugabe and tame ‘commitments’ which Mugabe almost never respected. Mbeki resisted international criticism of his ineffective policy, and refused to condemn Mugabe’s authoritarian rule despite the economic collapse of the country, the collapse of democratic institutions, rigged elections, intimidation of the opposition and the plight of the thousands who suffered at the hangs of Mugabe’s regime. After the 2008 elections, which Mugabe actually lost, South Africa and the SADC negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and the opposition, with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai serving as Prime Minister of a national unity cabinet. But when it became evident that Mugabe was reneging on his end of the deal and effectively using the power-sharing agreement to undermine Tsvangirai, South Africa did nothing.

Mbeki and South Africa’s attitude towards Zimbabwe stemmed from their determination to ensure regional stability. About two million Zimbabweans immigrated to South Africa, joining the ranks of thousands of other African immigrants, placing strains on service delivery and creating major tensions with black South Africans. The end of Mbeki’s presidency, in 2008, was marred by violent xenophobic riots in the black townships in urban South Africa. Within the alliance, COSATU and the SACP were very critical of Mbeki’s position and advocated for a tougher stance. While Mbeki denounced the Zimbabwean opposition, the MDC, as being in the hands of the CIA, COSATU leaders met with MDC leaders on several occasions. Some have speculated that Mbeki’s anti-MDC and pro-Mugabe position stemmed from domestic strategic calculations – given that the MDC grew out of the Zimbabwean union movement, Mbeki might have believed that success for the MDC might embolden COSATU to follow a similar partisan route and break its alliance with the ANC.

Although Jacob Zuma was more critical of Mugabe, under his presidency since 2009, South Africa’s position towards Mugabe hardly changed. In 2013, South Africa was quick to congratulate Mugabe on his reelection and recognize the results of the vote.

Polokwane: Jacob Zuma vs. Thabo Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki, a Xhosa from the Transkei like Nelson Mandela, was the son of ANC-SACP activist Govan Mbeki, one of the Rivonia Trialists who spent 24 years imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. Thabo spent most of the struggle years in exile, after receiving his post-secondary degrees in Britain, and by the late 1980s he was one of the leading ANC negotiators who met with officials of the apartheid regime in secret meetings. After 1994, Mbeki, the leading Deputy President in Mandela’s cabinet, slowly imposed himself as the technocratic administrator of the country (Mandela taking a more symbolic role as the national re-conciliator) and later as Mandela’s heir apparent within the ANC – sidelining rivals such as Cyril Ramaphosa and Matthews Phosa (the Premier of Mpumalanga), both of whom would latter become leading opponents of Mbeki. In 1997, Mbeki was elected ANC President at the Mafikeng Conference of the ANC and in 1999, with the ANC’s landslide victory in the second democratic elections, Mbeki became President of the Republic.

Mbeki is a complex man – fairly cold, distant, aloof, suspicious, insecure and even paranoid. His presidency was marked by the centralization of powers in the office of the President, the rigid enforcement of party dogma and the party line in the ANC parliamentary caucus and a much weakened Parliament which lost most of its independence. Mbeki largely surrounded himself with nonthreatening yes-men, people like Essop Pahad, Mbeki’s top right-hand man and ‘enforcer’ in the office of the presidency. Mbeki, a fairly well-read and intelligent man (notwithstanding his AIDS denialism and tendency for paranoid rants), was uncomfortable in public setting – his image is that of a tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking Anglophile intellectual, but with ideological sympathies for pan-Africanism which differentiated him from the ANC’s Freedom Charter tradition of non-racialism. Clearly insecure and even paranoid, Mbeki saw plots all around him – he became famous for his diatribes and rants against white racists or other shady groups who conspired against South African democracy. Mbeki had little tolerance for dissent within the party, and as the episode of the arms deal inquiry reveals, any hint of dissent from party/cabinet dogma was quickly and ruthlessly dealt with. Ultimately, Mbeki’s policies (on AIDS, Zimbabwe, GEAR etc) style of governance alienated a large section of the ANC top brass and the party membership. COSATU and SACP, alienated from Mbeki due to disagreements over GEAR, AIDS and Zimbabwe, rallied against Mbeki, as did the traditionally radical ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

Jacob Zuma is an opposite personality from Mbeki. A Zulu from rural KZN (Nkandla), Zuma received no formal education – unlike Mbeki, the British-educated academic – and joined the ANC in his teens. Zuma, active in MK (the ANC’s armed wing), spent ten years on Robben Island in the 1960s, continuing the armed struggle from exile in neighboring countries or underground in South Africa. After 1994, Zuma served as a provincial cabinet minister (MEC) in KZN but rose through the ranks of the national leadership to become ANC Deputy President in 1997 and Deputy President of South Africa in 1999.

Zuma is a friendlier and jovial man, who appears less insecure and paranoid than Mbeki and certainly far more at ease in public settings. Zuma is a chameleon, in that he can be different things to different audiences – donning a suit and tie and a more polished speech for a crowd of businessmen or white South Africans, or appearing either in traditional Zulu garb or in t-shirts preaching a more radical for a crowd of ANC supporters. In his personal life, Zuma is a polygamist who has been married six times and currently has four wives. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s second wife (divorced since 1998), is a prominent ANC politician who served as health minister under Mandela, foreign minister under Mbeki and home affairs minister until 2012 in her ex-husband’s cabinet. She is currently the chairperson of the African Union Commission. He married his most recent wife in 2012. Zuma has had at least 20 children with his wives, with rumours of more kids born out of wedlock. In 2010, when Zuma was President, the revelation that one of Zuma’s mistresses had given birth to a daughter caused a political scandal in South Africa.

Zuma is rather keen on his Zulu cultural heritage, appearing dressed in traditional Zulu attire for traditional dances or marriages. In his campaign for the leadership of the ANC, Zuma’s opponents drew attention to the heavy use of ethnic and ‘tribal’ rhetoric by Zuma’s supporters (Zuma as the ‘100% Zulu boy’), in contradiction with the ANC’s traditions.

Between 2005 and 2007, the height of the Mbeki-Zuma civil war, the battle was often presented in ideological terms as a battle between the centre/right of the party under Mbeki and the left of the party, under a populist Zuma who had the backing of COSATU, the SACP and the fiery and controversial radical future head of the ANCYL, Julius Malema. Malema famously told supporters that he was ‘ready to kill’ for Zuma, and he was a fan of the controversial struggle song ‘Kill the Boer’. Zuma was, rhetorically, to the left of Mbeki and his style definitely made him the more populist leader of the two. However, a lot of the civil war boiled down to a complex clash of factions and personalities in a party which has always been a delicate coalition of different and unstable factions, provincial sections and personalities (in a way, not too dissimilar from the NP!). In 2007, there was also an ethnic element in the battle. One one of the ANC’s main achievements has been its ability to draw and hold together a coalition made up of different, distinct and sometime rival linguistic/ethnic groups (‘tribes’), something which has a lot to do with popular black rejection of the NP’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of emphasizing ‘tribalism’ and the ‘nations’ of the wider black population. Nevertheless, the ANC under Mandela and Mbeki, two Xhosa from the Eastern Cape (and the former Transkei homeland), sometimes irked non-Xhosa blacks – the ANC received the moniker ‘Xhosa Nostra’ to denote frustration with the EC/Xhosa’s extended hold on power and office. Zuma’s main power base was his native KZN, traditionally the black province which had been the ANC’s weakest link, but to style his coalition an ‘ethnic’ one, despite the ethnically-charged rhetoric of his supporters, would be wrong. He was supported by a majority of provincial branches at the 2007 Conference. Mbeki’s style had alienated a good deal of the ANC’s members and leaders from him, allowing Zuma to put together a strong coalition of the malcontents.

Mbeki’s decision (see above) to fire Jacob Zuma from his office as Deputy President of the country days after Zuma’s corrupt business partner, Schabir Shaik, had been convicted of taking bribes for Zuma from a French weapons firm, began a deep internal crisis within the ANC which led to Zuma’s election to the ANC presidency in 2007 and Mbeki’s removal from office by the ANC in September 2008. Although Mbeki was constitutionally ineligible for a third term as President in 2009, he fully intended to succeed himself as ANC President to ensure that he could pick a loyal ally to replace him as President in 2009.

Zapiro cartoon of Jacob Zuma and his showerhead

Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption by the NPA in June 2005. In December 2005, Zuma faced another scandal – he was charged with raping a 31-year old woman, the daughter of a deceased ANC comrade, at Zuma’s home in the Johannesburg area. Zuma admitted that he had had sex with her, but claimed that it was consensual. Zuma’s supporters claimed that their man was victim of a judicial persecution organized by Mbeki, a claim lent some credence when the young woman’s credibility was called into question during the trial. Nevertheless, Zuma and his supporters drew controversy to themselves. Zuma, who had unprotected sex with the woman, claimed that he had protected himself from contracting HIV by ‘vigorously showering’ afterwards, a comment which drew both criticism and derision. Zapiro, one of South Africa’s leading cartoonists, continues to depict Zuma with a shower attached to his head. Zuma’s supporters strongly defended his innocence, using disturbing rhetoric which was often misogynistic, vilifying Zuma’s accuser, burning effigies of her and shouting abuse. Zuma aptly made use of Zulu traditions to add an element of cultural sensitivity to the trial, which was presided by a white judge. Zuma claimed that he knew she wanted to have sex because she wore only a wrap and allowed Zuma to massage her, and concluded by saying that, in Zulu culture, it is not acceptable to leave a woman aroused without having sex with her. During the trial, Zuma spoke in his native isiZulu and addressed his supporters in isiZulu, and excited them with his rendition of the struggle song Umshini wami (bring me my machine gun). In May 2006, Zuma was found not guilty in a controversial trial.

Zuma’s corruption-arms deal trial was a roller-coaster ride. In September 2006, a High Court struck the NPA’s case against Zuma from the roll, after the NPA had asked for more time to prepare their case (after years of preparation). Zuma proclaimed himself an innocent man, and suddenly found new appreciation for the judiciary, after accusing it of being part of a witch-hunt against him.

In December 2007, at a tense ANC Conference in Polokwane, Jacob Zuma was elected President of the ANC, winning 60.2% of the vote against 39.3% for Mbeki. Zuma’s list swept the races for the four other executive positions – Kgalema Motlanthe became ANC Deputy President, Baleka Mbete became ANC National Chairperson, Gwede Mantashe became ANC Secretary-General (defeating Mbeki ally and defence minister, Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota), Thandi Modise became ANC Deputy Secretary-General and Matthews Phosa became ANC Treasurer (defeating Deputy President of South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka). The Mbeki camarilla was trounced in elections for the ANC’s National Executive Council (NEC), which was topped by Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. From the Mbeki list for the NEC, only Ramaphosa (not clear why he was on the Mbeki list, given his 1997 and 2001 conflicts with him), Trevor Manuel and three other names were elected to the NEC. Essop Pahad, Alec Erwin, Jabu Moleketi and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang were defeated. Zuma supporters such as Jeff Radebe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Tokyo Sexwale, Blade Nzimande (from the SACP), Ace Magashule, Valli Moosa, Tony Yengeni, Siphiwe Nyanda (like Yengeni, a beneficiary of EADS bribes), Derek Hanekom and Bheki Cele (later appointed as police commissioner) were all elected.

The national battle at Polokwane also unfolded at the provincial level, with ugly battles for control of the provincial branches of the ANC in nearly every province. The conflict was particularly brutal in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, two provinces whose delegates to Polokwane had backed Mbeki. In the EC, the pro-Mbeki Premier, Nosimo Balindlela, was ousted from office thanks to pressures from COSATU and the SACP, although she was replaced by another Mbeki supporter, suggesting other issues were important. In the WC, the pro-Mbeki Premier, Ebrahim Rasool, who had already struggled with a local ANC divided between blacks and Coloureds, was removed from office by the NEC in July 2008. In most other provinces, there were factional conflicts for the control of the provincial executive.

Mbeki remained President of South Africa, but as even more of a lame-duck, having lost control of the party and being placed under very close watch by the Zuma-led ANC NEC. Mbeki lost interest in leading the country, devoting himself to the foreign trips he so enjoyed and the protection of Jackie Selebi (see above). In early 2008, South Africa was hit by power cuts which seriously weakened Mbeki’s image as the successful economic manager/technocrat. The power shortages owed to a major increase in the demand for electricity while the government refused to invest in expanding electricity infrastructure and corruption in Eskom, the state-owned electricity company. In May 2008, xenophobic riots against black African immigrants killed over 40 people, putting a terrible black eye on South Africa’s notion as the ‘rainbow nation’. Mbeki’s handling of the riots – he went off to a conference in Japan during the riots, and he dithered about calling in the army.

In late December 2007, only a week after Polokwane, the NPA recharged Zuma with fraud, corruption, racketeering and money laundering. As he had done in 2006, between 2007 and 2008, Zuma’s legal team did all it could to ensure that their client never appeared before a court and to prevent the NPA from gaining access to compromising evidence (centered around a fax in which Thomson agreed to the bribery deal with Shaik and Zuma). In September 2008, Judge Chris Nicholson ruled Zuma’s recharging to be null and void because the NPA had broken the constitution by denying Zuma the right to make representation. What retained attention, however, was Nicholson’s controversial statement that there had been political interference (by Mbeki) in the case against Zuma, alleging that Mbeki’s Ministers of Justice had influenced the independent NPA (citing the suspension of Pikoli and the timing of the new charges against Zuma, right on the heels of Polokwane). Nicholson did not rule Zuma to be guilty or innocent, and even called for a commission of inquiry into the arms deal. Mbeki applied to appeal the ruling, decrying the ‘improper, vexatious, scandalous and prejudicial findings’ against him.

For the ANC, the Nicholson ruling was too much. On September 19-20, days after Nicholson’s ruling on September 12, the ANC NEC met and voted to impeach Mbeki. Mbeki was under no constitutional obligation to resign, given that the President may only be removed from office by Parliament, but, as a loyal ANC member and committed to the country’s stability, Mbeki obediently bowed to the NEC’s decision to remove him from office – and very speedily at that – by September 21, he was announcing his resignation in a TV address and by September 25, Mbeki was out of office. The Parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe, the generally respected ANC Deputy President and ‘soft’ Zuma supporter, to the Presidency. It was understood that Motlanthe’s presidency would hold the chair warm for Zuma until the 2009 elections. He retained ministers like Trevor Manuel from Mbeki’s cabinet, while hardened Mbeki loyalists such as Pahad, Erwin, Moleketi (and his wife), Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Lekota left government.

In January 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Nicholson had incorrectly interpreted the constitution in faulting the NPA for not allowing Zuma the right to make representation, and ruled that Nicholson’s allegations against Mbeki overstepped the limits of his authority. However, on April 6, 2009, less than a month before the 2009 election, the NPA announced that it was dropping all charges, after new revelations confirming political interference by then-NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka to favour Mbeki. However, the NPA reiterated that it felt that it had a strong case against Zuma and praised the behaviour of the prosecuting team.

President Jacob Zuma

In April 2009, the ANC was reelected in a landslide (with 65.9%), albeit the ANC’s vote share declined for the first time (down by about 4%). Zuma was elected President by Parliament in May. Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC’s Deputy President, became Deputy President of South Africa. Pravin Gordhan replaced Manuel as Minister of Finance, although Manuel was placed as Minister in charge of the National Planning Commission and Gordhan had similar macroeconomic views to his predecessor. Jeff Radebe became Minister of Justice, Siphiwe Nyanda obtained communications, Tokyo Sexwale became Minister of Human Settlements and the SACP’s Secretary-General Blade Nzimande became Minister of Higher Education and Training.

Zuma’s presidency began relatively well. Before his election, there had been major concerns that Zuma’s presidency would mean a further swing towards authoritarianism while the h0t-headed declarations of some ANC, SACP and ANCYL stalwarts about the judiciary led to concerns about the independence of the judiciary under a Zuma presidency. Although the new government quickly abolished the Scorpions, the investigative arm of the NPA which had played a major role in prosecuting Zuma, Yengeni and Shaik (the ANC members at Polokwane had adopted a plank calling for the Scorpions to be abolished), the worst fears about an authoritarian lurch did not really come true. For example, the controversial judge and Zuma ally John Hlophe (who had received payments from a firm while ruling on a case pertaining to said firm) was not placed on the President’s list of nominees for the Constitutional Court. Instead, Sandile Ngcobo, an independent justice, became Chief Justice. In 2011, however, the nomination of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice sparked controversy, mainly because of Mogoeng’s reputation as a Christian conservative. Zuma’s other appointments, for example to head the Reserve Bank, were also praised. On the other hand, Mo Shaik, the other brother of Chippy and Schabir, was named to head the secret service.

The incoming government also promised to be tough on corruption, but it quickly turned out that that was for show. S’bu Ndebele, a former Premier of KZN and the new Minister of Transport, was soon accused of having accepted bribes, gifts and trinklets from a group of road building contractors. In 2010, the wife of the Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, was arrested and charged with drug-trafficking. The heads of parastatals such as Armscor (the arms procurement agency, which already has a bad rap from the arms deal) and Transnet (a large rail, port and pipeline management company) were sacked or suspended in corruption cases. Beginning in the summer of 2011, Bheki Cele, the National Commissioner of the SAPS, was accused by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of unlawful conduct in a multi-million dollar deal with a business tycoon (and friend of Zuma) over lease deals and police stations. In December 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled invalid Zuma’s appointment of Menzi Simelane, a former Department of Justice top bureaucrat who had scuttled the arms deal investigations and was later humiliated in the Ginwala inquiry into the Pikoli dismissal (Ginwala’s report blamed him for misleading the Minister), to be National Director of Public Prosecutions (the NPA). In October 2012, the Constitutional Court upheld the lower court’s decision. In 2011, Sicelo Shiceka, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, was finally fired after Madonsela had found him guilty of spending over R1 million of public money on private first-class air travel and luxury hotel, reportedly visiting a convicted drug-dealing girlfriend in jail in Switzerland. In October 2011, Cele was suspended (and the Minister of Public Works, also involved in the lease scandal, was fired) and finally fired in June 2012 by President Zuma. Mac Maharaj, an ANC struggle veteran who fell into disgrace under Mbeki but returned as Zuma’s official spokesperson, has faced allegations that he and his wife took kickbacks from Schabir Shaik on a drivers’ license deal when he was Minister of Transport under Mandela. In 2012, Maharaj threatened Mail & Guardian journalists with criminal charges when they sought to publish details of a confidential interview which the Maharaj spouses gave to the Scorpions in 2003; in 2013, the same newspaper published details obtained from Maharaj’s estranged sister-in-law which added new evidence to confirm allegations that the two had received kickbacks from Shaik in 1996.

Special Investigation Unit (SIU) probes into corruption in the public sector uncovered a pitiful scene. The Social Security Agency, which handles the millions of grant payments, was found to be riddled with fraud. Top bureaucrats in the Passenger Rail Agency, the language board, the state communications regulator, the SAPS’s crime intelligence division and the postal service were suspended over allegations of corruption. The SIU estimated that about 30 billion rands are wasted annually through overpayment and corruption. Other investigations reported billions of rands’ worth of improperly awarded tenders, often awarded to friends and families.

Jacob Zuma has been in hot water over his ties to the Gupta brothers, three Indian businessmen who have built close ties with Zuma and his family (his son is in business with them). In April 2013, the Gupta controversy became ‘Guptagate’ when a plane filled with Gupta family friends and guests to a wedding (being held at Sun City, South Africa’s famous gaudy casino resort) landed at Waterkloof air force base, sparing them from customs and immigration but raising huge security risks. Officials and police officers were axed during investigations. Zuma did not personally authorize the landing, but a military officer under investigation claimed she facilitated the landing believing instructions allegedly emanating from Zuma and/or his office.

The Protection of State Information Bill, aka the secrecy bill, has been the subject of political controversy since 2010. The bill replaces a 1982 act on information protection, and controversially proposes to impose tough 25-year jail terms for leaking of classified documents and stiff penalties including jail terms for disclosure of other classified information. The bill defines ‘national interest’ very broadly and vaguely, although amendments by the NCOP in 2012 narrowed the definition and made other changes to protect with exemptions for the public interest and limited the bill’s scope. The lower house passed an amended bill in April 2013, but Zuma sent the bill back for reconsideration by the National Assembly in September 2013, which sent it back to Zuma in November 2013. The bill has been criticized by the opposition parties, COSATU and a wide range of civil society organizations. Since 2010, the bill has been vastly improved to respond to criticism, with a more limited scope (no longer covers commercial information, no longer overrides the Access to Information Act, limited to cabinet and security agencies) and narrower definitions of key terms (national security, national interest), but remains controversial with still open-ended definitions of national security, vague wording of ‘economic and technological secrets’ and major concerns over penalties for possession and disclosure of classified information. The bill is likely to end up in front of the Constitutional Court.

The economy and the NDP

Zuma’s election did not see a significant shift to the left in economic policy. When Zuma took power, South Africa’s robust economic growth were a thing of the past and the country was hit by the global recession in 2009, unlike most of Africa. South Africa’s economy, based partly on struggling manufacturing (notably cars) and mining sectors, is more closely connected to the global economy and is vulnerable to fluctuations in the European and North American economies. Once in office, much to the COSATU and SACP’s chagrin, Zuma did not signal any shift away from the pragmatic and orthodox policies followed by his predecessor. In the first budget in 2010, Gordhan resisted pressure from the left to drop inflation-targeting in favour of an economic policy based on growth and job creation. That budget’s only concession to COSATU was the extension of the age limit for child-support grants from 15 to 18, an ANC election promise in 2009.

COSATU’s recriminations against Zuma began as early in 2009, with an unsuccessful court challenge to an agreement to sell 15% of a subsidiary of the parastatal telecom operator Telkom to Vodafone. COSATU threatened strikes over wages and interest rates; in 2009 and 2010, the country was rocked by strikes in factories and the public sector demanding wage increases. In September 2010, the country was paralyzed by public sector strikes from employees, backed by COSATU, demanding higher wages.

While Mbeki had been autocratic in his management of government business, Zuma has largely tried to avoid confrontation and taking big decisions (or delaying them as long as possible). In doing so, Zuma has been accused of being vacillating, indecisive and certainly very un-innovative in his handling of the country.

Because of the economic crisis and wildcat strikes in many economic sectors, Zuma’s presidency has been marked by a deteriorating job situation, with an increase in the official unemployment numbers from 4.2 million in 2009 to over 5 million, or 24.4% to 25.2%. As noted above, the job situation is particularly catastrophic for young South Africans, well over half of whom are unemployed or discouraged. The government was widely accused of lacking a coherent plan to create jobs, until it gave in to the opposition’s demands in late 2013 and passed a bill creating a ‘youth wage subsidy’, which went into effect for New Year’s 2014 after being a issue of hot political debate between the ANC, COSATU and the opposition for over three years. The youth wage subsidy is, in essence, a tax break for employers to encourage them to take on young workers. The new law allows employers to claim back half the salary of a young employee (18-29) earning at least R2000 a month. COSATU has been strongly opposed to the youth wage subsidy; while its opposition may stem from grubby attempts to keep their older members from losing their jobs to young recruits, there is a strong case made against the new law which does not address the core issues of youth unemployment – the lack of training, and, arguably, the absence of flexible labour legislation.

At the end of the term, two bills dealing with mining and private security industries were criticized. A mining bill would allow the state to take a 20% stake in any new petroleum venture, and allows for the state to purchase a larger stake with an output sharing deal. The security bill would limit foreign ownership in private security firms to 49%, worrying two British security firms with large investment in what is a growing and profitable sector in South Africa. Taken with the 2013 amendments to the EE and BEE laws, detailed above, the government is accused of weakening property rights, reducing private sector autonomy, threatening businesses with draconian penalties and deterring foreign investment.

Led by Trevor Manuel, the National Planning Commission drafted a National Development Plan (NDP), a sort of roadmap for South Africa’s next 20 years until 2030 which has been championed by Zuma, the ANC, the SACP and some opposition parties. The NDP’s two main objectives are to reduce the number people living under the lower-bound poverty line (R419 per month, per person) from 39% to 0% and to reduce the Gini coefficient from 0.69 to 0.6. Other goals to be achieved by 2030 include reducing unemployment to 6%; increasing employment from 13 million to 24 million in 2030; raising per capita income from R50,000 to R120,000 by 2030; increasing the share of national income of the bottom 40% from 6% to 10%; ensuring that skilled, technical, professional and managerial posts better reflect the country’s demographic makeup; broadening ownership of assets to historically disadvantaged groups; increasing the quality of education; affordable access to quality health care; universal access to running water at home and a social security system covering all working people. It calls for annual GDP growth of 5.4%, and a particular emphasis is placed on education with calls for improved standards, universal access to education, measures to allow employers to recruit young labour market entrants and expanding youth services programs. Largely, the NDP reads a wishlist of laudable goals, but the actions proposed to reach these goals are poorly detailed and the NDP serves mostly as a vague policy proposal or blueprint for more coherent action.

However, the NDP has divided the alliance. Parts of COSATU have criticized the NDP, drawing comparisons to the (in)famous GEAR and saying that the document reeks of neoliberalism and ‘right-wing’ thinking. It drew attention to the unambitious targets for reducing inequality, which would remain extremely high by world standards in 2030 (the NDP’s definition of poverty is also very conservative) under the NDP’s scenario; this contrasts with perhaps overly ambitious job creation targets, which the left fears would just create low-quality jobs in small businesses and the private sector. The NDP’s proposed actions are vague, and generally reflect a mix of interventionist government actions and neoliberal measures with limited government intervention, but on the issue of jobs, it takes a liberal stance with a clear focus on private sector/small business job creation (tax incentives, like the youth wage subsidy), export-led growth and a clear call for deregulation and economic liberalization. COSATU criticized the NDP for the focus on a job strategy which would create low-wage, unproductive jobs in the service sector rather than manufacturing, and the export-driven strategy which it claims exposes the country to competition, force a focus on ‘niche exports’ rather than industrial policy and attraction to the NEPAD (allegedly neoliberal) model of regional development. The NDP reiterates GEAR’s macroeconomic prescriptions, arguing for the need to reduce ‘consumption spending’ in favour of ‘investment spending’ and a quasi-exclusive focus on economic growth rather than development. COSATU was critical of the NDP’s stances on the labour market, which called for the youth wage subsidy, flexible labour laws, reducing entry-level wages (the NDP admits that the initial wages in the new jobs to be created will be low), linking wage growth to productivity growth, reducing the cost of doing business and calls for public sector reforms. Supporters of the plan have said that, while imperfect, the NDP nevertheless offers a clear image of where the country should be in 2030, and stressed the NDP’s inclusive character. The NDP has been pushed by the ANC, but nevertheless not much has been done to move it forward, perhaps because of resistance from ‘statist’ Ministers such as Ebrahim Patel and Rob Davies.

An IMF report in late 2013 predicted continued sluggish economic growth and higher current account deficits, leaving the economy exposed to both internal and external shocks. It called for quicker structural reforms to promote competition, trade liberalization, limiting the practice of extending collective bargaining outcomes to firms that did not participate in the bargaining and improved education outcomes.

Labour disputes, Marikana and the fate of COSATU

In August 2012, miners at a platinum mine owned by Lonmin in Marikana (North West province), in the platinum belt centered around Rustenburg, began wildcat strikes demanding a wage increase (tripling their monthly salaries to R12,500 per month)  and denouncing unsafe mining conditions, squalid living conditions and a lack of opportunities. Protests in early August were fairly non-violent, although about 10 people died in various clashes and incidents before August 16. On August 16, a SAPS contingent opened fire on a group of striking miners, killing 34 and wounding at least 78 – the shocking and horrendous incident, the Marikana Massacre, was the single most lethal use of force against civilians committed by the police since the infamous Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. It is unclear what happened: the SAPS said that the miners were armed and refused to disarm, instead attacking police. The SAPS defended itself saying it had tried its best to deescalate the crisis and control the crowd, but the protests turned violent and the strikers attacked police. The protesters were armed, but it is murky whether they attacked/shot first and if the SAPS was indeed only acting in self-defense; there a number of signs indicating a disproportionate police response and that some protesters were brutally and deliberately shot and killed by police instead of being arrested. At the Farlam Commission, appointed by Zuma to investigate Marikana, victims’ families and supporters have decried a police cover-up of its actions while others have dismissed the whole commission as a calculated attempt by the government to whitewash its role.

There was massive outrage when 270 miners were charged with the murder of their 34 comrades killed by SAPS, using an apartheid-era law (which allows for anybody associated with criminal condct by one member of a crowd to be charged, even when not involved in the crime – the NP regime used it to prosecute MK fighters). After major outcry at home and abroad, the NPA ‘provisionally’ dropped the charges three days later.

On September 18, the striking miners reached an agreement to return to work, with a pay raise between 11% and 22% and a one-time bonus of R2,000.

In the background to the violent social conflict in the platinum belt was union rivalry, between the COSATU affiliate National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – historically the dominant union in mines, and one of COSATU’s largest unions; and the independent Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), a union recognized in 2001 formed by NUM dissidents which had begun organizing in the platinum belt in 2011. The NUM/COSATU has been criticized by workers on the ground for losing touch with the demands and harsh conditions of mineworkers on the ground and of being associated with an increasingly unpopular and discredited government held responsible for the failure of service delivry and high unemployment. The NUM’s leadership is conservative and tame, while COSATU’s broader membership is aging and it struggling to attract younger workers. In Marikana, NUM members broke with their unions to join the strike, while the NUM/COSATU leadership (along with the SACP) opposed the strike and accused AMCU’s members of violence and sided with the SAPS’ reading of the events of the massacre. Early in the strike, before the massacre, NUM leaders allegedly opened fire on a group of NUM dissident members who had joined AMCU. As a result of the strike, AMCU saw its membership numbers explode, from less than 9,500 in 2011 to over 42,000 in 2012 – and probably more, given that company and chamber of mines reports show that AMCU had about 88,000 members in the platinum and gold mines by the end of 2013. In 2013 AMCU was recognized as the majority union, displacing the NUM, at South Africa’s three big platinum producers (Anglo-American, Implats, Lonmin). By the end of 2013, it was reported that AMCU was now expanding to gold mines in Gauteng province – where it now represents about 20% of unionized workers (against 61% for NUM) and is the majority union in three gold mines in the Carletonville area in Gauteng.

The (sometimes violent) battle for union supremacy between AMCU and the NUM in the platinum belt reflects COSATU’s bigger troubles. Although it remains South Africa’s largest union confederation and a crucial mobilizer of support for the ANC, with over 2 million members, COSATU (and the SACP) has lost a good deal of its credibility and legitimacy on the left as it is accused of being more interested by the spoils of power and jealously protecting their advantages rather than caring about workers’ rights and conditions. It is increasingly turning into an aristocratic and bureaucratic ‘labour elite’ and a union of skilled, white-collar government workers and civil servants, leaving an ever-larger number of dissatisfied workers turning to independent and radical unions such as AMCU. COSATU’s leaders have enriched themselves, many have been co-opted into the ANC leadership (Ramaphosa in the past, and now Gwede Mantashe, a former NUM leader) or into plush government jobs. In an increasingly hierarchic organization, COSATU’s shop stewards or shaft stewards have become full-time union bureaucrats who lose touch with the members they are supposed to represent The conditions are similar to those which, in the late 1940s, allowed the Afrikaner nationalists to seize control of the white mine workers’ union from a discredited, corrupt, tame and aristocratic leadership neglectful of their members – with the notable difference that the Christian National Afrikaner unions in the 1940s were conservatives funded by the nationalist petty bourgeoisie, while AMCU is a more radical movement.

COSATU’s decling influence is certainly one of the factors playing informing the political-strategic internal conflicts in the confederation. The internal warfare certainly has a lot to do with personality clashes and other internal calculations, but can be fairly accurately summarized as a conflict between those who think that COSATU should be more independent of the ANC leadership and not be afraid to come out against the ANC, and those who support COSATU’s close alliance with the ANC. COSATU’s secretary-general, Zwelinzima Vavi, gained prominence after 2005 and in the run-up to Polokwane as one of Zuma’s key backers in the conflict against Mbeki. Vavi, critical of corruption and of Mbeki’s policies on Zimbabwe or HIV/AIDS, quickly turned critical of Zuma, beginning with claims that the government was soft on corruption and warning that South Africa was becoming a ‘predatory state’. Those criticisms, which came as early as June 2010, led to the ANC threatening disciplinary action. Vavi continued to criticize ANC policy, notably on issues such as the NDP (which he considers to be neoliberal), corruption, government intervention in the economy, nationalization, land expropriation and redistribution of wealth. Vavi affirmed his right to be critical of ANC policy, but his behaviour clearly irked the ANC leadership and the more pro-ANC sections of COSATU were not as keen on criticizing the ANC. In the turf wars within COSATU, the union’s president, Sdumo Dlamini, opposed Vavi and became identified with a pro-Zuma and pro-ANC tendency within the union confederation. COSATU affiliates such as the NUM, the teacher’s unions (SADTU), the police union, the transport union SATAWU, and the health workers’ union (NEHAWU) have sided with Dlamini and found Vavi too critical of the ANC, while Vavi was backed by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the other major union in COSATU besides the NUM, which has been critical of the government.

But while Vavi called on COSATU to take heed of what Marikana symbolized for the movement’s future, he has been accused of corruption in relation to the sale of COSATU’s old buildings at half their price. In 2013, Vavi faced a COSATU investigation into this scandal, an investigation which was used by his opponents in the leadership and large unions such as the NUM and SADTU to castigate him and it became clear that they were seeking to oust him, less than a year after Vavi was reelected as COSATU secretary-general despite attempts by pro-Zuma groups to defeat him. In May 2013, Vavi survived an executive commitee vote to remove him but continued the investigations. In July-August 2013, the internal fighting re-intensified as Vavi faced rape charges from a former aide. Vavi admitted that he had sex with her and apologized for the extra-marital affair, but denied charges of rape and claimed that the woman was trying to blackmail him; a fewv days later, she withdrew rape charges. Given the anti-Vavi movement in COSATU, Vavi’s allies suspected that the woman had been ‘planted’ (it was alleged that the NUM boss might have been behind it) and that he was being attacked for ‘standing up for the working-class’. Despite the charges being dropped, Vavi’s opponents opted to charge him with misconduct and bringing the movement into disrepute for having sex with her at the office. In mid-August, Vavi’s opponents managed to get him suspended awaiting a complete investigation. Vavi’s allies, NUMSA and the farm workers’ union (FAWU), were furious, decrying a witch-hunt against Vavi because he was a revolutionary socialist critical of Dlamini’s pro-ANC leadership and pressuring Dlamini to convene a special congress. In November, it was announced that a special congress would be held, but Dlamini’s clan has been delaying it until a report on Vavi’s corruption case (in relation to the sale of buildings) comes out.

The COSATU crisis got worse in December 2013, at a NUMSA congress. NUMSA, which presents itself as ‘revolutionary, socialist, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist’, is the largest pro-Vavi and Zuma-critical affiliate in COSATU, which has been locked in a protracted conflict with the pro-ANC majority in COSATU. At its special congress, NUMSA took the decision that it would not support or campaign for the ANC in 2014, arguing that neither the ANC or SACP represented the working-class and that the ANC government was following neoliberal policies and failed to create ‘decent work’ as had been promised at Polokwane. It also took steps which confirm that NUMSA is seeking both to expand its reach (into the mining sector, to take on its top rival, the NUM) and to create a united front-embryo of a future left-wing political party to run against the ANC in future elections.

Vavi was charged by COSATU with serious misconduct, on various cases relating to the irregular hire, employment and supervision of the female employee he had sex with, as well as his use of Twitter to attack COSATU ‘comrades’. In April, the High Court in Johannesburg ruled Vavi’s suspension to be invalid. ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa allegedly mediated a deal, shortly afterwards, to reinstate Vavi and keep NUMSA within COSATU – but all indicates it’s very much a temporary deal, given that Vavi’s opponents are still plotting to remove him while NUMSA is increasingly more anti-ANC and anti-COSATU.

The Malema dilemma

Zuma faced trouble from another prominent supporter at Polokwane – Julius Malema, the fiery former leader of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Traditionally the radical and more leftist faction within the ANC coalition, the ANCYL was – like COSATU and the SACP – drawn to Zuma in the hopes that he would shift away from Mbeki’s neoliberal policies, towards left-wing ‘pro-poor’ and ‘labour-friendly’ policies. As expounded above, there has been no such shift under the Zuma administration, creating dissatisfaction with Zuma’s radical erstwhile allies in the ANCYL. Adding to ideological factors, the ANCYL’s president, Malema, who is now 33, was an ambitious politician who clearly did not intend to play second-fiddle to Zuma within the ANC. Malema drew widespread controversy, at home and abroad, for his fiery rhetoric and his foul-mouthed tirades against his opponents (or opponents of his allies). When Malema supported Zuma, he famously said that he was ready to kill for Zuma and during the Zuma rape trial, he said that his accuser must have had a ‘nice time’ because she stayed for breakfast (a comment which earned him a conviction for hate speech). He called the leading opposition party’s leader a ‘racist’ and ‘cockroach’. In 2010, Malema drew controversy for a visit to Zimbabwe where he met with ZANU-PF officials and criticized the opposition MDC, a tirade against a BBC journalist who accused Malema of hypocrisy for lashing out at the MDC for having offices in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Sandton when Malema himself lived in Sandton, and insensitive comments about white South Africans. Zuma was irked by Malema’s visit to Zimbabwer, which came as Pretoria was trying to broker an agreement between the two rival parties. Malema sung the highly controversial ‘shoot the Boer’ song at several political rallies, earning him a rebuke from the courts, which found the song ‘unconstitutional and unlawful’ (for inciting violence against whites) and banned him from singing the song. Nevertheless, Malema openly flouted the ruling. In May 2010, Malema survived an ANC disciplinary hearing for ‘bringing the organization into disrepute'; he narrowly escaped suspension by apologizing, pledging to take anger management classes and taking a fine (R10,000).

Malema and the ANCYL publicly called for the nationalization of mines and land expropriation without compensation, causing troubles for the ANC government in its dealings with investors. Although the ANC quickly moved to say that it was not government policy, the ANC was nevertheless compelled to give in to the powerful ANCYL by calling an ‘investigation’ into the question of nationalization in 2010. In 2011, Malema continued undermining Zuma’s authority in the ANC and was a source of embarrassment for the ANC, which often found itself doing damage control after an outburst by Malema. For example, Malema criticized Zuma’s controversial association with the Indian Gupta brothers, charging that they were ‘colonizing’ the country. The ANC leadership, especially Zuma, became increasingly annoyed and worried by Malema’s unruly behaviour. In August 2011, Malema’s declaration that he wanted to set up a ‘command team’ in Botswana to unite the opposition to the Botswana government was the straw which broke the camel’s back. The ANC charged Malema with bringing the organization into disrepute and sowing divisions. In November 2011, Malema was found guilty and suspended from the party for five years. In April 2012, Malema was expelled from the ANC.

Malema’s expulsion didn’t end the Malema dilemma for the ANC, it merely displaced it. Malema strongly supported the striking miners at Marikana in August 2012, and was extremely critical of the government’s behaviour during the crisis. He encouraged workers to continue their strike, and used the social crisis which followed Marikana as a platform for jabs against Zuma. In doing so, Malema aptly seized on an opening on the left – the SACP, which is hardly communist by this point, effectively sided with the government (against the strikers) in the aftermath of Marikana while most of COSATU was either too busy fighting their own internal squabbles or utterly discredited by the NUM’s rout at Marikana to actually do anything. Malema’s calls for ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’ struck a chord with the discontented.

Malema is not controversial only because of his provocative statements – there’s been a lot of questions about how a young guy, born and raised in poverty, managed to become so rich – designer clothes, luxury cars, an unfinished (now auctioned off) home in Johannesburg’s affluent northern suburbs. In 2012, a report by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, found that Malema (his trust) benefited from a fraudulent tender in his home province of Limpopo. A firm, in which Malema’s family trust is one of two shareholders, fraudulently obtained a government tender (by allegedly making false claims about its experience, qualifications and tax status) from the provincial government and Malema’s family trust benefited improperly by means of the payment of dividends or kickbacks by the firm. He was charged on 16 counts of money laundering, amounting to R4.58 million, on September 26 2013 by a court in Polokwane (Limpopo) and released on bail. The NPA’s argument is that Malema received and accepted the proceeds of crime, and that he should have known that he was benefiting from unlawful activities. According to Madonsela’s report, Malema is a ‘tenderpreneur’ – a well-connected individual who benefits improperly from government tenders. In April 2013, Malema’s trial was postponed to June. It has since been postponed to September 2014. Malema’s lawyers argued that the NPA ‘fabricated’ evidence against Malema in the case, while Malema has repeatedly vowed to fight the charges or that he is the victim of political persecution by the ANC.

Malema is also fighting tax evasion charges, with the revenue service saying that he owes R16 million in unpaid taxes. The asset forfeiture unit seized a farm owned by Malema and his unfinished mansion in Sandown, Johannesburg. In February 2014, a court placed him under provisional sequestration.


The endless corruption scandals, the weak economy, the strikes which had paralyzed the economy, the Marikana Massacre, Zuma’s weakness as a leader, the Malema dilemma, alliance divisions, local squabbles, personality clashes and the ANC’s recent Polokwane-induced tendency to air its dirty laundry in public all meant that Zuma would likely face a strong challenge to his hold on the ANC’s leadership at the party’s regular elective conference, in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) in December 2012. ANC leadership conferences from 1949 (when Mandela and his allies’ radical ANCYL faction toppled the moderate and bourgeois old guard) and 2008 were decided behind closed doors, and the choice for president was merely confirmed unanimously at the conference. For example, in the run-up to the 2002 conference, Mbeki’s security minister in 2001 had released a controversial report alleging a ‘plot’ against Mbeki by his rivals Matthews Phosa, Ramaphosa and Sexwale; as a result, Mbeki was reelected unopposed.

In the run-up to Mangaung, a vaguely defined and extremely heterogeneous grouping of ‘pro-change’ (anti-Zuma) malcontents rallied around Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, a mild-mannered and fairly respectable party stalwart although fairly risk-averse and cautious. The pro-change faction included the bulk of the Gauteng ANC, led by culture minister and former Premier Paul Mashatile (2008-2009); the Limpopo ANC, led by Premier Cassel Mathale, an ally of Julius Malema; and ambitious ANC senior politicians such as Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa (two Mbeki rivals who had backed Zuma at Polokwane, after failing to launch their own presidential bids). The ANCYL, first under Malema and then under a rebellious leadership which originally defended Malema (and refused to replace him) opposed Zuma, but acting ANCYL boss Ronald Lamola and Malema had a very public and foul-mouthed falling out in November 2012, after Lamola ordered the ANCYL to stop defending Malema in his corruption trial and rumours that Lamola was engaged in back-doors negotiations with Zuma’s faction. Other provinces were divided on the issue: in the North West, Premier Thandi Modise and the ANC provincial secretary backed Motlanthe while ANC chairperson Supra Mahumapelo firmly backed Zuma; in the Free State, Zuma ally and Premier Ace Magashule, a powerful political operator in the province, faced dissent from a pro-change minority; in KZN, the province largely remained loyal to native son Jacob Zuma and his ally Premier Zweli Mkhize, but axed SAPS chief Bheki Cele unsuccessfully tried to mobilize anti-Zuma opinion. In the Free State, Zuma opponents tried to take the pro-Zuma leadership to court over irregularities in the provincial delegate selection process; only days before the conference opened, the Constitutional Court ruled the Free State’s provincial elective conference invalid. In a confusing last-minute situation, Zuma’s allies nevertheless managed to allow the province’s largely pro-Zuma delegates to vote. The Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape were also divided, but party branches in the first two provinces eventually broke heavily for Zuma while the WC went to Motlanthe.

Zuma received the support of a majority of party branches – the single largest ANC local branch in eThekwini (Durban) metro and the Mpumalanga ANC (with Premier David Mabuza), but also from strong minorities in pro-Motlanthe provinces (such as Gauteng, where some factions backed Zuma and Premier Nomvula Mokonyane was said to be supporting Zuma), the majority of a divided COSATU (with Sdumo Dlamini, who was elected to the ANC NEC), Blade Nzimande and the co-opted SACP, police minister Nathi Mthethwa, education minister Angie Motshekga (and her husband, the ANC chief whip), and the MK Veterans associations, who had been promoted to higher ranks in party hierarchy and benefited from a generous donation from the Gupta brothers. Zuma also attracted the support of former opponents, including one-time Malema ally and suspended ANCYL treasurer Pule Mabe.

In a lot of nomination battles, like in the Free State, there were widespread allegations of vote-rigging and ghost delegates.

Kgalema Motlanthe accepted the nominations he received for various offices, including ANC President, and at the conference he went all in by announcing that he would only stand for ANC President and would not concurrently stand for reelection as ANC Deputy President. Zuma was reelected with 75.1% against 24.9% of the vote for Motlanthe in the presidential race.

In the race for ANC Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, the trade unionist-turned-businessman, was elected with the backing of Zuma’s slate. He won 76.4% against 11.9% for Matthews Phosa (supported by the ANCYL) and 11.7% for Tokyo Sexwale, the two candidates standing for the pro-Motlanthe faction. Ramaphosa return to high-level politics with the number two spot in the ANC was rather controversial, with concerns over potential conflicts of interest but also questions about his behaviour at Marikana (he’s a shareholder in Lonmin, which owns the mine at Marikana). Emails obtained by the Farlam commission on Marikana showed Ramaphosa, the day before the massacre, urging on the police minister to intervene and describing the miners as ‘dastardly criminal’. The anti-Zuma forces on the left, notably the ANCYL, were predictably livid about this. Ramaphosa, who became very rich by entering the private sector, also carries the baggage of being one of the big ‘BEE fat cats’ – black ANC leaders who benefited from the elite pact of 1994 and got rich with BEE deals. Ramaphosa’s selection by the Zuma camp to be number 2 in the ANC was perceived as a positive signal given to business who had been worried by the ANC’s talk of nationalization, fast-track land reform, secrecy bills and taxes. It also created major buzz about Ramaphosa being next-in-line for the ANC and South Africa’s presidency in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

The conference also saw a confirmation of the government’s moderate economic policies, ruling out nationalization (in favour of ‘increasing state ownership in strategic sectors if necessary’) and land expropriation without compensation. It reaffirmed a inflation-targeting monetary policy, orthodox fiscal policies, promised to take on corruption and adopted the NDP as ANC policy. Ramaphosa, who had been deputy chair of the National Planning Commission, was expected to become the leader on the implementation of the NDP, with the political retirement of Trevor Manuel.

Zuma’s supporters swept the four other executive positions – Baleka Mbete was reelected as National Chairperson with 76.2% against 23.8% for Thandi Modise, Gwede Mantashe was reelected as Secretary-General with 77.2% against 22.8% for former ANCYL president and sports minister Fikile Mbalula, Jessie Duarte was elected as Deputy Secretary-General unopposed and KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize succeeded Matthews Phosa as Treasurer General with 75.7% against 24.3% for Paul Mashatile.

Zuma owed his victory to his team’s superior organization and coherence, in contrast with the divided pro-change camp. Zuma counted on strong support from key cabinet ministers, several provincial strongmen, minorities in pro-change provinces and his team was active in the run-up to the conference spreading messages that the pro-change team was ill disciplined and ‘un-ANC’. In contrast, Motlanthe himself largely lacked enthusiasm and willingness to campaign for the leadership (but at the same time, Ramaphosa barely campaigned for his new spot as ANC Deputy President).

In March 2013, after Mangaung, the ANC NEC disbanded the ANCYL’s NEC and the Limpopo ANC’s provincial executive. Limpopo, under Premier Cassel Mathale (a one-time Malema ally), had opposed Zuma’s reelection at Mangaung; Mathale was removed from office in July 2013 and replaced by uncontroversial Stan Mathabatha (Dickson Masemola, a Zuma ally who as MEC for education presided over the textbook debacle, was skipped over). Both decisions were seen as ‘purges’ directed against the anti-Zuma factions in the ANC. In January, the ANCYL leadership had pledged to toe the line but there had been strong pressure from Zuma and his allies in the ANC leadership to take tough actions against the ANCYL, which had backed Motlanthe at Mangaung.


The last stretch of Zuma’s first term in office has been hurt by Nkandlagate, one of the biggest corruption scandals in South Africa since the arms deal. Nkandla, as noted above, is Zuma’s traditional homestead in his native rural KZN, a house which he started building thanks to arms deal kickbacks. The scandal broke in November 2011 as the Mail & Guardian reported on the construction of underground bunkers at Nkandla, by a contractor which employs Zuma’s niece and at the cost of the state. The weekly newspaper claimed that the state was paying for lavish upgrades at Nkandla, with new living quarters, a clinic, gymnasium , parking, a helipad, a playground and new houses for security guard and visitors. In 2009, the newspaper had already reported about government-paid upgrades to the presidential homestead. In November 2012, the scandal broke again when Zuma addressed Parliament on Nkandla for the first time, claiming that his family had paid for the construction. The Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, launched a probe into the emerging scandal in late 2012. The ANC’s initial response into the scandal was uncoordinated and jumbled.

In January 2013, the ‘security cluster’ of ministers involved in Nkandlagate, led by Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi, released a classified report which recognized the state had spent, altogether, over R200 million on security upgrades at Nkandla and admitted irregularities in the choice of service providers, but the report defended the necessity for ‘security upgrades’ and – most importantly – cleared Zuma of any wrongdoing. The Department of Public Works took the blame for ‘systemic weaknesses’ (‘inadequate management capacity and poor financial controls’) in the department. The full report was finally released in December 2013.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s investigation into Nkandla clearly panicked the ruling party. In November 2013, the ‘security cluster’ ministers went to court to try to interdict the release of her report, claiming it needed more time to respond to her provisional report and to vet ‘national security breaches’ in the report. Two weeks later, in the face of controversy, they dropped their request. A few days later, Madonsela stated that she would have final say over what the report said and that she would not allow ‘security cluster’ ministers to dictate to her. She regretted having shown the ministers her provisional report in the first place, given that they abused her trust by taking the issue to court. In late November, a controversial leak of the provisional report by the Mail & Guardian‘s investigative journalists said that Madonsela’s report had found that Zuma derived ‘substantial personal benefit’ from the Nkandla upgrades.

Madonsela’s final report was released in March 2014. On the whole, it was a damning report both for the government and for Zuma himself. Implementation of the security measures (which she judged to be necessary) failed to comply with parameters set out in legislation and cabinet directives on the matter. The government ‘failed dismally’ to follow supply chain management prescripts, with the absence of demand management, the lack of open tenders and the employment of Zuma’s principal architect as the government’s ‘principal agent’ (creating a conflicting situation) – all of which resulted in ‘scope creep’ leading to ‘exponential scope and cost escalations’. The scope of the project far exceeded what was required for the President’s security – notably the construction of a visitors’ centre, a new cattle kraal with a chicken run, a swimming pool, an amphitheatre, extensive paving and the relocation of neighbours; these measures, she said, involved ‘unlawful action and constitutes improper conduct and maladministration’. The ministerial task team report had defended even these lavish expenditures as security upgrades, presenting the swimming pool as a ‘fire pool’ and the amphitheatre as a ‘retaining wall’. Madonsela further faulted the government for building these new amenities in the compound, rather than in a location accessible to the local public where it could have benefited the local population of Nkandla. She found that the costs incurred by the state – including for buildings which went beyond what was required for security – was ‘unconscionable, excessive, and caused a misappropriation of public funds’. Madonsela found that Zuma and his family improperly benefited from upgrades (because of ‘substantial value being unduly added to the President’s private property’ and the installation of non-security essential upgrades).

Madonsela’s findings dinged the Department of Public Works for failing to resolve the issue of items earmarked for the owners’ cost transparently. Officials in the Departments of Public Works, Defence and the SAPS ‘failed to acquaint themselves with the authorizing instruments’, acts constituting ‘improper conduct and maladministration’. The employment of Zuma’s principal architect as the government’s principal agent created a major conflict of interest and allowed for ‘scope creep’, cost escalation and poor performance by contractors. Madonsela found that “the President tacitly accepted the implementation of all measures at his residence and has unduly benefited from the enormous capital investment from the non-security installations at his private residence, a reasonable part of the expenditure towards the installations that were not identified as security measures in the list compiled by security experts in pursuit of the security evaluation, should be borne by him and his family”. Zuma should therefore repay the cost of ‘items that can’t be conscionably accepted as security measures’. She did not find Zuma guilty of misleading Parliament in November 2012, however, Zuma failed to ask questions about the ‘scale, cost and affordability’ of Nkandla. His failure to ‘act in protection of state resources’ constitutes a breach of the executive ethics code and amounts to unconstitutional behaviour. Instead of raising red flags about the costs, Zuma instead complained that the upgrades weren’t happening fast enough. Madonsela estimated the total cost of the project at R246 million, far exceeding the costs of security upgrades to former President’s houses in the past, the highest of which was a R32 million project at Mandela’s house.

Her report spoke of ‘administrative deficiencies’ and ‘systemic policy gaps’ which led to the inflation of costs. Her final report did not include substantial changes from the provisional report leaked by the M&G. Her report said that she had resisted countless attempts by the government to interfere in her investigation, to limit its scope or even shut it down. The M&G’s journalists had, at the time, estimated the costs of the non-security essential upgrades at R20 million and that the state had paid Zuma’s team of contractors over R90 million.

The government accepted that Zuma would need to repay the state, but reiterated their view that all measures, including the pool, cattle kraal and additional structures were “necessary for the security of the president”. Zuma himself tried to distance himself from government decision-making, having previously insisted that he had no say in how the government handles his personal security. However, Madonsela’s report and other documents obtained showed that Zuma was consulted on the upgrades on several occasions, may have pressed for his personal architect to be employed by the state, that said architect acted as a go-between Zuma and government officials and that Zuma intervened to press the state to keep contractors of his choosing.

Parties and Issues

African National Congress (ANC)

The ANC is South Africa’s dominant party. Founded in 1912 (as the South African Native National Congress, SANNC), two years before the NP, it is one of the oldest political parties in Africa. One of the ANC’s founders and early leading figure was Sol Plaatje, a widely recognized black intellectual and luminary of early twentieth-century South Africa. From its foundations until the late 1940s, the ANC was a relatively minor player in the opposition to the whites-only regime. It was a predominantly bourgeois middle-class and intellectual moderate movement, which sought to redress the black’s situation through civic means – including appealing to the colonial power, Britain. The SANNC/ANC was only one part of the black movement, one which respected and emphasized imperial ties and looked to Britain to support its claims. However, since the peace of Vereeniging in 1902, Britain was more interested in an ‘elite compromise’ with their former white Afrikaner enemies than with the politically weaker and ineffective black majority.

In 1948, when the NP took power, the ANC’s leadership was ineffectual, passive and inactive although the ANC had by then adopted a stronger set of demands – an end to racial domination and white trusteeship, a common citizenship and political equality. The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) – whose ranks included Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo (among others) – felt that the ANC’s old leaders were too complacent and attached to British ‘gentlemen politics’. In 1949, the younger generation defeated the ANC leadership at the party congress and adopted a markedly more radical and militant attitude against the NP regime including strikes and boycotts. However, until 1961, the ANC’s used peaceful means (civil disobedience) to the protest the regime, organizing boycotts or strikes – often alongside trade unions, Indian and coloured groups or the Communist Party.

The 1952 Defiance Campaign marked the ANC’s emergence as a major political force, but at the same time it also showed the futility of civil disobedience and mass protests in the face of NP intransigence as the state stuck to its policies and the campaign petered out. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the first major incidence of state-sanctioned mass violence, led the ANC to the realization that there was no constitutional, non-violent path to change in South Africa. In 1961, Mandela created Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC’s armed wing. The MK, from foreign bases in sympathetic states (such as Angola and Mozambique after 1976), launched attacks (bombings, assassinations, car bombings) against military, governmental or civilian (white) targets in South Africa.

The South African Communist Party (SACP), refounded in 1953 after the original Communist Party had been banned in 1950, became the ANC’s closest ally in the early 1950s and had a major influence on the ANC’s ideological direction. The SACP had first gained prominence during the Rand Rebellion (1922), when it had supported the labour demands of the white workers but rejected the racist backdrop to them (workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa). The SACP’s ideological position was that a ‘native republic’, to be built in cooperation with the black nationalist movements, was a necessary transitional step before the creation of a socialist state in South Africa. In the 1950s, the SACP successfully prodded the ANC towards a non-racial platform, which stipulated that all ethnic groups – including whites – had equal rights to the country, a position which alienated the more radical and nationalist ‘Africanist’ faction of the ANC. In 1955, the Congress of the People – which brought together the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the white anti-apartheid leftist Congress of Democrats and other organizations – adopted the Freedom Charter, which became the ANC’s purported ideological declaration. The Freedom Charter was a non-racial document which called for democracy (full voting rights for all races), human rights, labour rights but also supported land redistribution and the nationalization of mines and other industries.

The SACP’s influence within the ANC increased during the 1970s as the organization became increasingly dependent (for funding and weapons) on the support of the Soviet Union and other African communist/socialist liberation movements (FRELIMO, MPLA, SWAPO). With the Sino-Soviet split, the ANC/SACP firmly sided with Moscow, and tended to dogmatically follow Moscow’s positions. Nevertheless, the ANC/SACP alliance was never a smooth affair: within the ANC, which had a long tradition of anti-Marxism dating to the 1920s, a substantial number of activists rejected or were reluctant to ally with the SACP.

The classic ANC slogan – “A better life for all” (source: UNISA)

Despite NP propaganda which depicted the ANC as a communist terrorist organization which posed a serious threat to the government of ‘white South Africa’, the ANC in the 1970s and early 1980s was weakened and divided by the imprisonment or exile of many of its most prominent leaders, notably Nelson Mandela. The MK’s armed campaign was foundering, as the state’s repression was taking its toll on the organization. The 1976 Soweto Uprising was a spontaneous, grassroots uprising over which the ANC had no control or say; nevertheless, the ANC successfully exploited the Soweto uprising and the revival of African resistance it brought upon. The ANC gained greater interest in the mass struggle, better re-conciliating it with the MK’s armed struggle, and it slowly built a stronger organization inside of South Africa. The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s allowed for a rebirth of ANC militant action inside South Africa, through the mobilization of a large array of local organizations and civil society movements in favour of the ANC’s struggle. During the violence (1985-1994), the ANC was one of the major players in the African resistance; in the context of the breakdown of law and order in South Africa, ANC-linked groups (vigilantes, thugs) committed gross human rights abuses (notably ‘necklacing’), while in the MK’s guerrilla camps, the strains of the armed struggle and exile led to a climate of suspicion and allowed for major human rights abuses (torture, assassinations) in MK camps. Following the legalization of the ANC and SACP in February 1990, the MK ended its armed campaign in August 1990 and the ANC under Nelson Mandela (who replaced Oliver Tambo as ANC President in 1991) played the leading role in the negotiations to end apartheid.

The modern ANC forms the core of the so-called ‘Tripartite alliance’ which currently governs South Africa. This three-party alliance includes the ANC, the SACP and COSATU. The ANC has been the dominant party in South Africa since 1994, always holding a three-fifths majority (and a two-thirds majority, with the ability to amend the constitution freely, between 2004 and 2009). It won 62.7% in 1994, 66.4% in 1999, 69.7% in 2004 and 65.9% in 2009 (the first time that the ANC lost votes). The ANC is also dominant in provincial and local government, governing all but one of South Africa’s nine provinces and the large majority of municipalities.

The ANC must be understood as a factionalized and heterogeneous party rife with factionalism and internal squabbles. In many regards, this goes back to the days of apartheid, when the strains of exile, imprisonment or militant/military action in South Africa caused divisions within the party. Those who had stayed ‘behind’ and led direct actions (violent or nonviolent) against the regime at home chafed at the the autocratic and centralist style of the party’s exiled leadership. Among activists who stayed at home, organizing actions under the auspices of the UDF, there had been a strong tradition of bottom-up organization, open debate and discussion, consultation and consensual decision-making. They often resented the top-down and centralist leadership of the party’s exiled leaderships.

Since 1994, the ANC has had three presidents (and South Africa has had four). Nelson Mandela, the hero and icon of the struggle served as ANC President between 1991 and 1997, when he was succeeded by the Deputy President (of the ANC and South Africa), Thabo Mbeki, an English-educated technocrat who had been one of the ANC’s exiled cadres during apartheid. Under Mbeki’s controversial leadership, the old ANC traditions of open internal debate, consultation and consensual decision-making were lost and replaced by autocratic, top-down leadership in which those who questioned the ANC government’s behaviour or that of its leaders were crushed by the weight of the party machinery. The electoral system of closed-list proportional representation gives more powers to party leaderships, given that they are able to ‘make or break’ any incumbent parliamentarian’s future career by deciding to exclude him/her from the party’s list for the next elections.

Since Mbeki, the leader’s power over the party (and, by consequence, the legislature and executive) has been strengthened. However, this has not changed the factional nature of the ANC. Mbeki made lots of enemies within the ANC during his presidency and his autocratic style allowed diverse factions within the party to organize against him and deny him a third term as ANC President at the party’s 2007 National Conference in Polokwane. Jacob Zuma, who had served as Deputy President of the ANC and South Africa (until 2005), trounced Mbeki and his allies at the 2007 conference. Zuma, who has no formal education and stayed ‘inside’ the country under apartheid, is a more approachable and down-to-earth populist figure the elitist and aloof Mbeki could ever be; but he has proceeded to take control of the party machinery like Mbeki had before him. The pro-Zuma leadership of the ANC recalled Mbeki as President in 2008. In 2012, at the Mangaung National Conference, Zuma and his allies easily defeated Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, the candidate backed by the anti-Zuma factions.

Ideology has played a role in some of the ANC’s recent divisions, most recently at Polokwane in 2007. The ANC’s shift from left-wing (socialist) economics towards neoliberal capitalism after 1994 caused some strains within the governing alliance, as noted above. However, most of the current internal divisions within the ANC are the result of personal animosities. Mbeki had managed to make a lot of enemies and alienate large swathes of the party’s rank-and-file, and even with the strong ideological undertones to the Mbeki-Zuma civil war between 2005 and 2008, much of that civil war was due to personal clashes. This was even more the case in 2012, when opposition to Zuma was united by little else than distaste for Zuma by ambitious politicos who felt sidelined within the party organization. Internal divisions within the modern ANC are a battle for the spoils of power and partaking in the lucrative system of government rather than any ideological or principled battle.

ANC manifesto 2014 (source: ANC

In the absence of a credible and serious challenge to the ANC’s power, the party – which can still claim the mantle of national liberation and the legitimacy stemming from the fight against apartheid – remains the dominant party in South African politics. The party retains very strong support from black voters – almost regardless of tribe, language or ethnicity. The ANC has long been a non-tribal or anti-tribal party, which emphasized black brotherhood or unity above trial ties, although under Mandela and Mbeki, the Xhosa (the second largest black ethnic group in South Africa) dominated much of the ANC. One of the ANC’s major successes in its history has been its ability to transcend tribal or ethnic boundaries within the larger black population – even as the NP tried to play on ethnicity to divide the black population. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the strongest black challenger to the ANC, failed to break its own ethnic Zulu boundaries and it has since been progressively crushed by the ANC. Jacob Zuma, who actively marketed himself as the “100% Zulu boy” and enjoys partaking in Zulu tribal customs, destroyed the IFP in KZN in 2009. While the ANC lost support nationally, the party gained nearly 16% in KZN. Outside the former KwaZulu homeland and Umtata (the former capital of Transkei), the ANC usually wins 85 to 95% of black votes. The party has not really needed to actively reach out to Coloured, Indian and white voters given their small(er) demographic weight. It attracted about half of Indian voters in 1999 and 2004. The ANC made inroads with coloured voters in 1999 and 2004; generally polling better with middle-class or rural coloureds. The ANC barely attracts more than 1 or 2% support from white voters.

Similarly, the ANC’s leadership is largely black. The ANC opened its membership to non-blacks in 1969, although the NEC remained off limits to non-blacks until the 1980s. Since 1994, some non-blacks have occupied fairly prominent (and sometimes powerful) positions within cabinet or the ANC leadership. Trevor Manuel, the long-standing finance minister between 1996 and 2009, is Coloured. Essop Pahad, Mbeki’s right-hand man and chief enforcer, was Indian; as was Kader Asmal, a former education minister and ANC MP. Pravin Gordhan, the current finance minister, is also Indian. Derek Hanekom (former agriculture minister, current minister of science and technology), Barbara Hogan (a former health minister) and Andrew Feinstein (a former ANC MP turned ‘rogue’ by denouncing a major scandal in the 1990s) are white.

The ANC entered the 2014 elections facing many challenges. Zuma’s presidency has been controversial and his record is, at best, mediocre. The government and the presidency have been hit by a series of scandals, the most important of which is Nkandlagate; the country’s economy is struggling and unemployment remains a huge challenge which the ANC government has been unsuccessful in tackling adequately; the ANC has run into a number of controversies since 2009, both in forms of scandals and controversial policies or events such as the secrecy bill and Marikana; the ANC’s Tripartite alliance is showing strains, with an utterly discredited SACP being no more than an irrelevant annex of the ANC and a deeply divided COSATU which has found itself struggling for its legitimacy since 2009; Zuma’s leadership in the ANC was confirmed with a huge win at Mangaung but faces back-room divisions within the ANC and his popularity has declined, as evidenced by his booing at Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony in December 2013. Some in the ANC blamed the ‘booer war’ against Zuma on rogue anti-Zuma elements in the Gauteng ANC, a party branch which was at the helm of the anti-Zuma movement at Mangaung and which is suspected of still harbouring anti-Zuma sentiments. There were media reports in late January 2014 that even in KZN, Zuma’s stronghold, some regions were allegedly turning against Zuma.

The ANC resolved itself to fighting 2014 with Zuma at the helm, through the influence of pro-Zuma hardliners in the NEC. The ANC’s damage control strategy for Nkandla has been to pretend that Madonsela’s report largely reiterated the findings of the ministerial task team’s 2013 report (despite some substantial differences in findings), to separate the party from the government and the President (to absolve the ANC as a party of any blame), to prevent the issue to be taken up by Parliament (the ANC closed a parliamentary committee on Nkandla and referred it to the next Parliament, citing insufficient time before May 7), to insist that corrective action is already being taken and, as per a Mail & Guardian report in March 2014, to offer up scapegoats as sacrifice.

The ANC’s manifesto seized on the historic nature of the 2014 election and on sympathy for the late Mandela, by trying to convey a ‘good story’ about South Africa since 1994 and playing up the ANC’s (real) achievements in transforming the country since 1994. Its manifesto opens with a memorial picture of ‘Madiba’, and the first sections emphasize ’20 years of freedom and democracy’, listing the ANC’s achievements in democratization, nation-building, reconstruction, gender equality and peace (along with more ‘questionable’ achievements in development, growth and workers’ rights). On every main theme developed in the manifesto, a text box lists the ANC’s achievements on those themes since 1994 and 2009. The ever-useful Africa Check fact-checking website has reported that some of the ANC’s ‘good story’ is based on misleading, cherry-picked or incorrect statistics. In the more substantive portion of the ANC’s manifesto, the promises are, in ANC tradition, deliberately vague and open-ended. However, Zuma nevertheless laid down the line to be followed by clearly stating that the NDP will be adhered to as core ANC policy; to the chagrin of the left, although the pro-Zuma president of COSATU, Sdumo Dlamini, changed course when he announced his support for the manifesto which includes the NDP.

On economic and employment issues, the ANC posited that the expansion of infrastructure and a new industrial policy will create jobs. It promised that the state would buy 75% of its goods and services from local companies, strengthen the state mining company, increase beneficiation for industrialization and mining, work for regional industrialization, invest in infrastructure to create jobs and support mining beneficiation, produce more and cleaner energy (larger power stations, safe nuclear energy, solar and wind power, more hydroelectricity), improve the rail system, expand broadband access to cover 90% of communities by 2020 and expand access to water. To tackle youth unemployment, the ANC proposed to provide job placements and internship schemes for the youth, ‘massively expand’ post-secondary training opportunities and education, ensure youth employment in the public sector and public works and work with the private sector through the youth wage subsidy (while placating COSATU with a promise that no older workers would be displaced as a result). Overall, the ANC promised to create 6 million new jobs in a public works program by 2019, with 80% of them for the youth. On macroeconomic policy, the ANC reiterated the government’s prudent and orthodox policies, claiming that this policy provides the ‘foundation’ for improvements in the lives of all South Africans. The manifesto reiterated the ANC’s commitment to B-BBEE and EE, in the name of promoting equity and workers’ rights.

The ANC admitted that the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ policy has failed on land reform, and has moved to ‘just and equitable compensation’, but the ANC manifesto on land reform was extremely vague. On housing, the ANC promised one million new ‘housing opportunities’ by 2019 and pledged to expand and accelerate the provision of basic services. The ANC’s platform on education gave little indication of the major problems faced by education, and limited itself to vague promises or policies or the goal of expanding further education and training enrollment. On healthcare, the ANC’s flagship policy is the National Health Insurance (NHI) program of universal, taxpayer-funded healthcare which the ANC originally promised in 2009 (but made little progress on since then) and which has been criticized by some as being an unrealistic goal. In the meantime, the ANC promised to expand free primary healthcare  and improving the quality of public healthcare.

The ANC promised to take on corruption and crime, a commitment which can often ring hollow coming from the ANC. On corruption, the manifesto promised to ban public servants from doing business with the state, a more transparent process to adjudicate tenders and a pledge that any ANC members found guilty by a court will be forced to step down from party or governmental leadership positions. The party pledged to reduce criminality, although it proposed no new policies.

Analysts said that the ANC’s manifesto failed to address the loss of trust in Zuma and the government, and many questioned the sincerity and commitment of the ANC on the matter of corruption given the number of discredited corrupt MPs and leaders being renominated on the ANC’s list.

The ANC list included old names accused of corruption, with disgraced former SAPS commissioner Bheki Cele returning as the top candidate on the regional list in KZN; ex-Malema ally and former ANCYL treasurer Pule Mabe, arrested for fraud, appeared 53rd on the ANC’s national list; former communications minister Dina Pule, found guilty by Parliament of extending spousal benefits to her lover and by Madonsela on other charges, appeared 70th on the national list; and agriculture and fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, 37th on the list, had been found guilty by the Public Protector of maladministration in the irregular awarding of a tender to manage the government’s fisheries vessels. Comeback kids also appeared on the list: two former Mbeki cabinet ministers – Thoko Didiza (agriculture, later public works) and Charles Nqakula (safety) were on the list, former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni came 41st on the national list and former acting president of the ANCYL (when the NEC disbanded its executive in 2013) Ronald Lamola came 175th on the list. Otherwise, however, the list largely included Zuma loyalists, with Zuma and Ramaphosa in the first two places on the national list; with pro-Zuma ministers such as Malusi Gigaba, Jeff Radebe, Grace Pandor and Blade Nzimande all coming in with good positions at the top of the national list. Fikile Mbalula, the sports minister who opposed Zuma, was the exception, placing a strong 6th on the list.

A sign of the ANC’s growing troubles within its own ranks, Ronnie Kasrils, MK’s former intelligence chief and the SACP/ANC intelligence minister from 2004 to 2008, flanked by former Deputy Minister of Health Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, called on voters to ‘vote no’ (spoil their ballots) rather than vote for the ANC. Kasrils warned of the ‘rot’ inside the ANC and fumed at Marikana (a premeditated murder, in his eyes), but said he couldn’t identify with the other parties – criticizing Malema’s EFF for corruption and the opposition DA for its pro-business policies.

Democratic Alliance (DA)

The DA is South Africa’s official opposition. It took its current name in June 2000, but the DA can trace its roots to the white liberal anti-apartheid parties which formed the only parliamentary opposition to the NP’s apartheid policies. The first of these parties was the Progressive Party, whose sole MP between 1961 and 1974, Helen Suzman, was the only voice of dissent within the whites-only Parliament. After Suzman’s Progressive Party merged with Harry Schwarz’s Reform Party to become the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) in 1977, the white liberal movement garnered more support and formed the official opposition between 1977 and 1987. In 1988, following the PFP’s alliance with two NP dissidents (Denis Worall and Wynand Malan), it adopted the name Democratic Party (DP). Throughout its existence, the white liberal movement opposed apartheid policies and supported a negotiated settlement with blacks – some kind of power-sharing or consociational government with a bill of rights, decentralization, an independent judiciary and ‘one man-one vote’. It was also a strong supporter of free market economics, foreshadowing the NP’s later adoption of individualism and free market economics in the 1990s during the transition; one could point out the irony of the end-result of the negotiated ANC-NP settlement as being similar to DP policies, after decades of the NP lashing out at ‘Prog policy’ (PFP/DP power-sharing proposals).

In the first free elections in 1994, the DP performed very poorly with 1.7% of the vote and 7 seats. It had won even less votes than it had in the last whites-only election in 1989, indicating that some of its past supporters had voted for De Klerk’s NP or another party. In 1994, the DP had been unable to move past its apartheid-era support base: affluent liberal English whites. Despite it holding only 7 seats – even less than Constand Viljoen’s Afrikaner conservative FF – it was able to become the most vocal and visible opposition to the young ANC government.

At the same time, the NP, which had won 82 seats in 1994, was clearly disoriented, hesitating between cooperation with the ANC in the government of national unity or cooperation with other parties (such as the DP) to oppose the ANC government. The question divided the party and eventually caused a major internal crisis in the NP. In June 1996, the hardliners (Tertius Delport, Hernus Kriel) and young conservatives (Marthinus van Schalkwyk) successfully pushed the NP out of the coalition government and into the opposition. In 1997, FW de Klerk, a key asset for the NP, resigned and was replaced as NP leader by Van Schalkwyk, a young lightweight. Van Schalkwyk had been able to play on verkrampte fears about the rising influence and power of Roelf Meyer, the NP negotiator in the transition, inside the party after 1994. Meyer had been pushing for major renewal and change in the party, including actively seeking black leaders and changing the party’s name. For Van Schalkwyk, however, change did not go beyond adding ‘New’ in front of the NP’s name in 1998.

In the 1999 election, the NNP ran a confusing and unappealing campaign in which it painted itself as the ‘constructive opposition’ party which opposed the ANC’s failures but at the same time was reluctant to strongly oppose the ANC and insisted that it could deliver to voters by cooperating with the government. In stark contrast, Tony Leon’s DP ran a negative campaign with the slogan ‘Slaan terug’ (fight back). The DP’s platform painted a very bleak image of the ANC’s record in 1999: crumbling moral values and discipline, hundreds of thousands of rapes/murders, millions lost to corruption and 500k jobs lost. The DP targeted the gatvol (upset/angry) vote/‘angry white man’. The NNP hoped that its campaign would hold its 1994 white and Coloured votes and appeal to black voters; it did neither – the party lost three-fourths of its 1994 support, winning only 6.9% and 28 seats. The DP won 9.6% and 38 seats, forming the official opposition to the dominant ANC.

However, by insinuating that black ANC rule equalled chaos, incompetence and a collapsing society; the DP alienated black voters and opened itself to accusations of racism by ANC leaders. By 2000, the DP dropped the very right-wing and gatvol platform, but the accusation of racism stuck.

The DA was born in June 2000 from an alliance between the DP and the NNP, an alliance to “prevent a one-party state”. The DP had already been attracting NP dissidents for some time, and there has been pressure on both parties to cooperate in the white media. In 2000, the NNP chose cooperation with the DP against the ANC, in part to save its head in the Western Cape and keep WC from falling to the ANC. For the DP, cooperation with the NNP allowed the party to focus its energies on the ANC. Merger allowed the new DA to win 22% of the vote in the 2000 local elections and a majority in Cape Town. However, both parties in the DA were suspicious of the other party’s motives. The NNP wanted to rebrand itself and download its debts onto the new party; the DP wanted the NNP’s Coloured voters and the NNP’s old networks and infrastructure. Both Tony Leon and Marthinus van Schalkwyk were using one another to further their own partisan interests. It was a recipe for disaster, which ended with the NNP leaving the DA in November 2001. The NNP had come to the belated realization that it was not fit to be in opposition and, after that point; Van Schalkwyk pursued a policy of rapprochement with the ANC. However, some Nats opposed van Schalkwyk’s strategy and opted to stay in the DA – among them Gerald Morkel, the Premier of the WC who became Mayor of Cape Town after the NNP quit the DA. Tertius Delport (the hardliner), Sheila Camerer (an Anglo verligte) and Kraai van Niekerk (former NP agriculture minister) all joined the DA.

To disentangle the NNP from the DA, the NNP and DA teamed up with the ANC to pass a highly controversial ‘floor-crossing legislation’ which would allow legislators (elected by party-list PR) to cross the floor to join another party, provided they brought with them 10% of their caucus (a rule which meant that ANC defectors could not do so given the ANC’s gigantic caucus, but which allowed individual MPs in parties with less than 10 MPs to defect – in most cases, to the ANC). This floor crossing legislation was a perversion of South Africa’s party-list PR system, given that legislators are elected on a partisan rather than individual basis. But the legislation was beneficial to the ANC, which was the main benefactor of floor crossing (from the NNP or small parties) – there were so many floor crossers from the DA to the NNP/NNP to the ANC in 2002 that the ANC gained a majority on Cape Town city council and toppled the DA mayor (Morkel).

The brief DP-NNP alliance further destroyed the NNP and allowed the DA to break through the wall and gain a significant share of the NNP’s Coloured voters. In the runup to the 2004 campaign, the DA ran a slightly less ‘angry white man’ campaign, with a tamer slogan (South Africa deserves better) and a more social democratic orientation (supporting a basic income grant and free distribution of ARVs). It won 12.4% and 50 seats, solidifying itself as the main opposition to the ANC (the NNP won 1.7% of the vote after a campaign consisting of kissing the ANC’s posterior profusely) – especially in the WC where it won 27% to the ANC’s 45.3% and the NNP’s 10.9%. In coalition with the NNP, the ANC was finally able to take the premiership in the WC.

White and Coloured voters by and large did not follow the NNP in merging with the ANC. In the 2006 locals, the DA increased its support to 16% and was able to narrowly reclaim power in Cape Town with a strenuous multi-party coalition led by Helen Zille. In 2007, Tony Leon, the DA’s leader, stepped down and was replaced by Helen Zille. The DA, under Zille, tried to break with Leon’s more confrontational and controversial style and the rebranded itself with a new logo and ‘multi-racial’ identity. In 2009, the DA won 16.7% and 67 seats and did particularly well in the WC where it increased its support by 24.4% to 51.5%. Helen Zille became Premier of the WC. In the 2011 local elections, the DA won 24% of the vote – a record high for a single opposition party since 1994.

Helen Zille, a white woman, is a former anti-apartheid activist who was a political journalist for the liberal Rand Daily Mail in the 1970s. She authored a major article in which she established that the death in prison of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko was not due to a hunger strike as NP minister Jimmy Kruger had announced; an inquiry later found the cause of Biko’s death to be brain damage due to a head injury. After resigning from the paper after its owner, the Oppenheimer’s Anglo American asked it tone down the anti-NP rhetoric, Zille was active in white anti-apartheid movements (Black Sash movement, End Conscription Campaign).

The DA’s ideology is fairly hard to pin down, given that it has often supported an eclectic mix of liberal and social democratic policies. It has been described both as centre-right and centre-left, the truth probably lies in the middle somewhere (or maybe closer to the centre-right). DA voters place crime and corruption as their top concerns, almost the reverse order as ANC voters who traditionally cite unemployment, social policies or other economic issues as their main concerns. The DA’s former leader, Tony Leon, controversially supported reintroducing the death penalty to deal with crime. Today, the DA’s platform does not make mention of it, instead talking about hiring more police officers (the DA wants up to 250,000 SAPS members) and various other vague things including a mix of rehabilitation and tougher sentencing laws.

The general orientation of the DA’s current economic and social policy is liberal (classical liberal, in the European sense) and generally right-of-centre. The DA’s platform says that their policies will “seek to give citizens control over their own lives, and not allow the state to dictate the course of their daily lives or the direction of their ambitions” and “expand choice, not contract it”. This is a clearly liberal-individualist direction in line with the party and its predecessors’ classical liberalism. At the same time, however, the platform also stresses that the state should not neglect those without the resources to “direct their own lives” – a slightly more social liberal stance. In practice, the DA’s economic and fiscal policy does not differ all that much from the ANC’s economic and fiscal policies since 1994. The main difference is that the ANC has retained an interventionist and social democratic approach, while the DA has criticized excessive state intervention and says that the state should ‘facilitate’ and not ‘direct’ the economy.

In practice, however, the DA has tended to place emphasis on efficient ‘service delivery’ (one of the key failures of the ANC), change or searing criticism of ANC corruption and the erosion of the powers of independent institutions or parliament.

The DA does not have the shake off the ‘party of apartheid’ label, but the ANC has not hesitated to use the race card to counter the DA and keep blacks from ever voting from the DA. The ANC has often denounced the DA as a racist party, brushed off criticism of its record as the racist rantings of bitter whites and blamed shortcomings in its own actions on the damaging legacy of apartheid. In the days of the whites-only democracy, playing on latent racism in the white electorate was often a rather lucrative path for the parties. Since 1994, playing up on anti-racism and reminding black voters of apartheid has been quite lucrative for the ANC and damaging for any opposition party such as the DA.

The DA has struggled to shake off the ‘white party’ label which has stuck to it throughout its history. Since 2004, the DA has been trying to woo black voters to its fold. But it has discovered that consolidating its minority base while trying to win black votes at the same time is a very daunting challenge in modern South Africa. The two electorates which the DA is trying to bridge are on different pages. Black voters are cautiously optimistic about the future, and despite their disillusion with the promise of liberation, they are still ready to give the ANC another chance. And certainly almost no blacks long for the days before 1994. Black voters have also been instinctively suspicious of very harsh and negative criticism of the ANC’s record coming from a party labelled as the ‘whites’ party’. On the other hand, whites (but also Coloureds and Indians) are very likely to be pessimistic about the country’s future, lamenting corruption, a weak economy and high criminality. With these voters, the DA’s focus on crime and corruption has struck a chord, while not as many black voters or ANC supporters care all that much about such issues. Between the white voters it has and the black voters it wants, there are two different social realities. Most whites lead a Western middle-class life unencumbered by making ends meet, finding food to feed their family or having a roof to sleep under. These are everyday problems for many black voters.

To make matters worse, at times, the DA has also done everything it could to deserve its reputation as a white party with its often patent inability to understand the black electorate.

Another factor which explains why the DA has not been able to shake off the ‘white party’ label is because there is some truth to that label. The party’s current leader is a white woman, who is certainly not a racist but whose abrasive personality tends to be off-putting for black voters who would see her as an Afrikaner madam baas. Zille is famously feisty on Twitter, engaging in nasty spats with journalists and critics and often using racially insensitive language (earlier this year, she got into a nasty fight with journalist Carien du Plessis, and insinuated that the journalist wrote left-leaning articles because she is an ashamed white Afrikaner who needs to bend over to win the favour of the black community; she also previously tweeted about ‘education refugees’ from predominantly black Eastern Cape to her province of the WC, and many couldn’t help but be reminded of the NP’s old crass rhetoric on ‘EC blacks invading’ the WC, where blacks are a minority). Zille’s feisty, abrasive behaviour is often a problem for the DA, in that it can often undermine the DA’s message of non-racialism.

Most of the party’s MPs are whites or Coloured. Since 1994, the NP and now the DA have tried to wash off the damaging ‘white party’ label by seeking to recruit black members into the party and eagerly pushing their black members to the forefront in a rather crude attempt to play up its multi-racial credentials. The ‘white parties’ are often so pleased to have a black figure in the party that the new black member is touted as a talented rising star and rapidly propelled to impressive leadership positions within the party. Being black has certainly helped the political careers of many black DA politicians. However, given these parties’ heavily white or Coloured membership base, the rapid accession of some black members embittered certain whites who wanted to make sure that the blacks didn’t get too powerful.

The black members whom the NP recruited in the 1990s all tended to be political opportunists (who decamped to the ANC at the first opportunity) or nobodies who turned out to be crooks. In recent years, the DA has had a bit more luck at recruiting black members to the party. The party’s parliamentary leader in the last Parliament (the leader of the opposition), Lindiwe Mazibuko, is a 34-year old woman from KZN who defeated DA veteran Athol Trollip (an Anglo white) to become parliamentary leader in 2011. Unlike past black recruits who turned out to be disastrous embarrassments, Lindiwe Mazibuko has proven to be a very strong performer in the National Assembly. She is not the only black figure actively pushed to the forefront by the DA. The DA’s national spokesperson, Mmusi Maimane (a 32-year old black man from Soweto) rose quickly within the party, becoming one of its top national figures a bit over a year after having been the DA’s mayoral candidate in Johannesburg in 2011.

Vote DA campaign poster (from left to right: Patricia de Lille, ex-ID mayor of Cape Town; Helen Zille, DA leader and Premier of the WC; Lindiwe Mazibuko, DA parliamentary leader)

The DA’s recent vacillations on the EE Amendment Bill, passed in Parliament late last year, show how the DA is struggling to overcome its contradictions on racial policy and how race continues to divide the DA caucus. In November 2013, the DA originally voted in favour of the EE Amendment Bill, a vote which sparked major internal debate within the DA with former leader Tony Leon and former DA stalwart Gareth van Onselen strongly criticizing the DA and forcing Zille to take responsibility, claiming the DA had made a mistake and blaming it on committee members being ‘inadequately prepared’. Under Zille’s orders, the DA backtracked and voted against the bill in the final reading at the end of November.

However, the DA’s bungled handling of the EE bill set off a major debate on affirmative action within the DA. The DA’s policy on affirmative action is ‘equal opportunities’, a vague notion which is often unappealing to black voters; in 1998, Leon had famously called the EE bill ‘a pernicious piece of social engineering’. A group of black MPs and MPLs within the DA, the so-called black caucus, have been pushing the DA to change its policy on race, away from the much-criticized nonracialism of the conservative old guard and the ambiguity of the DA’s slogans. Lindiwe Mazibuko allegedly supported a shift to new policies on affirmative action – in an interview with the M&G, she said that ‘inequality is racialized’ and that they needed to accept that South Africa isn’t a non-racial society yet and gave her vision of EE as, with candidates of equal qualifications competing for one job, choosing the black candidate over the white candidate. Mazibuko downplayed any internal divisions on the issues, although she conceded that there had been debate (but not on racial lines, she claimed), but many felt that Zille undermined her position by announcing the DA’s backtracking on the EE bill. Mmusi Maimane, said to be Zille’s new black favourite, did not take a clear position on the issue.

The DA wins the bulk of its support from non-blacks: whites, Coloureds and Indians. Since 1999, the DA has been able to consolidate white support to the point where it now enjoys near-unanimous support with white voters (around 85-95% in 2011), the only challenge on this front coming from the ever-smaller conservative VF+. The DA’s ability to win almost every white voter – English and Afrikaners alike – makes sense in the current context, but it remains a fairly remarkable achievement given how the linguistic cleavage had played a key role in the whites-only elections up until the very last one (in 1989). It has broken out of the PFP’s traditional base with urban/suburban affluent English liberals and attracted almost all whites, regardless of language, class or even ideology.

The DA has also fortified its hold on Coloured voters since 2000-2001. In 1994, a solid majority of Coloured voters voted for De Klerk’s NP, something which often appears contradictory given the NP’s past as the party which had oppressed Coloureds and forcibly relocated many of them to slums. But at the same time, the Coloureds in the Cape Province had been treated considerably better than blacks by the apartheid government, with job reservation for Coloureds in most of the Cape Province. Many Coloureds, who spoke Afrikaans as their mother tongue and had historically been more integrated with ‘white South Africa’ than blacks, also resented the ANC’s attempts to lump them together with the black majority – there exists a long history of mutual distrust between the two racial groups. The saying emerged that the Coloureds were “too black under apartheid, too white after apartheid.” As the right-wing DP ate into the NP’s white vote bank, the coloureds became the NNP’s last solid electorate. However, the short-lived alliance with the NNP did allow the DA to finally breakthrough with Coloured voters, though it came in stages. In 2004, the ANC evidently performed well with Coloured voters, even in the WC. Many Coloured voters were also attracted to the Independent Democrats (ID), a new anti-corruption party led by former PAC MP Patricia de Lille, a prominent whistle-blower into corruption cases. The IDs won 1.7% nationally in 2004, taking over 7% in the WC and Northern Cape. By 2009, however, the DA started eating into the ID’s Coloured electorate in Cape Town and the WC. In 2010, the IDs bowed to the pressure of bipolarization in South African politics and merged with the DA. Their emblematic leader, Patricia de Lille, became the DA mayor of Cape Town in 2011. In the 2011 local elections, the DA won roughly 70-85% of the urban coloured vote in Cape Town, and performed well with rural Coloured voters in the WC but also the NC and Eastern Cape. The DA also wins a majority of the Indian vote, particularly outside Durban. The ANC does retain substantial support with Indian voters.

According to the DA’s analysis, the party took around 5-6% of the black vote in the 2011 local elections. Even in 2011, the party performed very poorly (1-2% on average) in the densely populated impoverished black townships – even black townships in Cape Town. Its black support must come from new middle-class blacks, many of whom live in increasingly multi-racial neighborhoods – such as Johannesburg’s upscale northern suburbs which now have a fairly substantial black minority. The DA claims that 20% of its voters are black, making it the most ‘diverse party in South Africa.’

On January 28 2014, the DA announced that Mamphela Ramphele, the leader of Agang SA, would be the DA’s presidential candidate. Mamphela Ramphele was a prominent anti-apartheid activist, as a member of the Black Consciousness Movement, where she met the movement’s famous and iconic leader, Steve Biko. Ramphele was one of Biko’s lovers and the couple had two kids together. After 1994, Ramphele, by now a prominent academic and researcher, became one of the four Managing Directors at the World Bank (in 2000). Ramphele returned to South African politics in 2013, with the creation of Agang (which means ‘build’ or ‘let us build’ in Northern Sotho) as a political party in February 2013. Agang positioned itself against corruption and for political reform, but from the outset, Agang was criticized as being very much of an empty suit based on vague feel-good platitudes and with little substantive policy of its own. Nevertheless, there was significant media buzz and interest about Agang, which did peter out rather quickly. The Agang-DA merger/alliance was played up by Zille and the DA as a move towards non-racial politics and remove ‘the race card’ from politics. But what Ramphele announced as ‘visionary leadership’ soon turned out to be a massive disaster.

No sooner had the news come out that members in both the DA and Agang began airing their misgivings. Agang and Ramphele’s handling of the announcement was horrible, with a statement denying an alliance with the DA being contradicted within hours by the announcement of a merger/alliance. Agang members said that they had not been consulted on the issue, and party leaders openly called out Ramphele for failing to talk with them; a lot of members were dismayed that their party was being turned into an annex of the DA without them ever being consulted on the matter. An Agang leader said that the party would still contest the election. In the DA, Ramphele’s rapid arrival and promotion to top ranks in the party rankled the party’s aspiring leadership. The DA’s young black caucus warned that she would have to compete for leadership spots like any other members, while others expressed worries that Ramphele would dump them.

Just five days after the announcement, the deal was off. Zille said that Ramphele had reneged on her agreement and was very critical of her behaviour. Ramphele was displeased with how the DA, in her eyes, jumped the gun in announcing the merger and talking of her DA membership; she later said people were trapped in race-based politics. The ANC was all giddy, with the weird marriage of inconvenience seemingly confirming Gwede Mantashe’s comment that Ramphele’s alliance with the DA was a ‘rent-a-black’ affair from the DA. Ramphele’s credibility took a major hit from the weird affair, and many questions were left unanswered – why the DA and Agang rush into announcing a decision, without considering pretty important details? It led to allegations that the botched marriage was forced on the DA and Agang by mysterious funders (the provenance of party funding is always a mysterious issue in South Africa).

Agang SA fought the election with Ramphele and a vague manifesto of platitudes, with words such as ‘hope, dignity and freedom’ and appeals to ‘change’ and a ‘united South Africa’. The party’s platform criticized BEE for creating inequalities, called on the government to transfer half the land it owns to satisfy property development, talked of ‘meaningful land reform’ by transferring state-owned land and promoting the use of modern technologies, improving education through stricter standards for students and teachers, encouraging entrepreneurship by cutting red tape, creating jobs by emphasizing skills training and vocational education and cracking down on corruption with a minimum sentence of 15 years for corruption.

The DA’s manifesto revolved around the twin clarion calls of ‘together for change’ and ‘together for jobs’ – respectively aimed at reducing corruption and creating jobs, the two main aims of the DA’s 2014 campaign. The DA said it could save R30 billion annually by preventing public servants from doing business with the state, banning anybody convicted of corruption, fraud, theft and violent crime from doing business with the state and stopping ministers from abusing public money. The DA also promised to strengthen Parliament, by introducing a mixed electoral system and restoring Parliament’s independence.

DA poster in isiZulu

Fighting corruption, the DA claimed, would allow for the creation of 6 million ‘real’ jobs and another 7 million public works job opportunities. The DA’s economic policies were a mixed bag, reflecting the DA’s liberal values mixed with more interventionist measures. The DA’s measures included the roll-out of a youth wage subsidy; apprenticeship and internship programs; a reform in labour laws to reduce the power of ‘big unions’ but also ‘big business’ and ‘democratize labour relations’; support for small businesses by reducing red tape and making it easier for them to win government contracts; keeping corporate and individual tax rates low; counteracting anticompetitive behaviour; ‘exploring privatization’; investing 10% of the GDP in infrastructure; investing in R&D and encouraging trade. On affirmative action, the DA’s policy reflected continued ambiguity on the issue: it supports BEE that ‘creates jobs, not just billionnaires’, opposes racial quotas (but support black advancement by ‘extending opportunities’), supports incentives rather than punitive measures for EE, reducing the EE/BEE regulatory burden on small businesses and mining and envisions BEE/EE as transitional measures. The DA is similarly vague on land reform; its manifesto talks in length about it but ultimately offers little clarification as to the DA’s stance. The manifesto supported land reform but opposed the government’s policies, instead advancing ‘effective land reform’ (likely collaborative reform models, such as farm equity schemes) and more training for new landowners.

On education, the DA proposed to hire and train 15,000 new teachers, better manage schools, provide schools with more resources, focusing on accountability and increase financial aid for students to R16 billion per year. The DA was noncommittal on the ANC’s NHI scheme for universal healthcare, but stated that universal healthcare would only be realized through effective public-private partnerships. The DA supports the social grants system, seeing it as a means to help people out of poverty.

The DA manifesto took a tough line on criminality – it proposed to expand the police force on the streets to 250,000, reinstate specific police units to target specific crimes, establish a judicial commission to look into police brutality, give the SAPS all the tools they need, strengthen community policing, make better use of technology and employ more detectives.

The DA’s campaign also focused on their ‘good story to tell’ – the manifesto includes a whole slew of factoids, under the heading ‘the DA delivers’, to showcase the DA’s performance in government in the WC and Cape Town. The WC, South Africa’s most developed and affluent province alongside Gauteng, has indeed been found by independent audits to be the best-managed province in the country – on that front, a lot of the DA’s claims that it is a competent manager are founded; however, the DA also seems to be taking credit for the WC’s structural advantages over other provinces on a lot of socioeconomic indicators and claiming credit for things which the DA did not deliver by its own governance or did not deliver on its own.

Helen Zille led the DA’s national list (and the WC provincial list), followed by parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko in third place. Former NPA prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, who was accused of fraud and corruption (soliciting a loan from the complainant in two cases she was investigating) and suspended from the NPA, was 33rd on the DA national list. The DA’s rising star and national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane was the DA’s top candidate for the provincial elections in Gauteng, where the DA hoped to topple the ANC’s provincial government, and also placed third on the regional list for Parliament in Gauteng.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

EFF is a new left-wing party founded by expelled ANCYL leader Julius Malema. As explained above, Malema, a fiery and radical populist, was expelled from the ANC in 2012 after he turned into a harsh critic of Zuma’s leadership. Following his expulsion, Malema became even more vocal in his criticism of Zuma and used the Marikana massacre and its aftermath (in August 2012) as a platform from which to publicize his radical platform of nationalization and land expropriation without compensation. Malema announced the creation of his new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in July 2013 and launched EFF at a kick-off event at Marikana in October 2013.

Malema is an extremely polarizing leader. On the one hand, Malema has a strong and loyal band of young followers, predominantly unemployed black youths in urban areas (townships) and, since 2012, miners in the platinum belt around Rustenburg and Marikana. For poor, young blacks, the ANC holds increasingly little appeal: they are those who suffer the brunt of the unemployment crisis in South Africa, the poor service delivery, live with the deficient education and public healthcare system, witness the corruption of ANC officials – all the while they are unlikely to have lingering sympathy or high regard for the ANC as the ‘party of liberation’. They see him as a bold and refreshing radical alternative, which challenges an increasingly discredited and unpopular ANC government and the perceived dominance of a neoliberal capitalist economic agenda. Malema is also a powerful public speaker; a ‘rabble-rousing orator’ for the Mail & Guardian, which contrasts with Zuma (a notoriously terrible public speaker, at least in English) and the unremarkable Zille, Mazibuko and Ramphele.

On the other hand, Malema is strongly disliked by much of the local and foreign media and South Africa’s moderate political establishment, either because he threatens their power (ANC) or because they see him as a opportunist demagogue exploiting the real concerns of the poor and dis-empowered for his own personal gain. Mamphela Ramphele even went as far as likening him to Hitler and Mussolini, warning that he was an embryonic form of fascism. As explained above, Malema is not only controversial because of his big mouth and penchant from provocative, oftentimes controversial and racially insensitive, language. There are real concerns about how a the son of poor black parents from Limpopo got so rich and bought his lavish lifestyle; Malema is awaiting trial on charges of money laundering on a government tender in Limpopo and is fighting charges of tax evasion by the revenue service. Both supporters and opponents have drawn comparisons between Malema’s EFF and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF – for his supporters, this is a positive link, as Mugabe is fairly well regarded by some Africans as an anti-imperialist ‘revolutionary’ leader who did not fall into ‘neoliberal capitalism’ like the ANC did; for his detractors, it’s obviously a negative link because of Mugabe’s association with Zimbabwe’s post-2000 economic collapse, authoritarian regime and the highly contentious expropriation of white farmers.

Malema has retained his penchant from provocation, although he has toned down the raw ad hominem attacks on his political opponents with slightly more sophisticated or less derogatory language. He has tried, at times, to appear conciliatory with whites – saying that whites are welcome to join EFF and the fight for land redistribution and nationalization, that nobody will be ‘pushed into the ocean’ (the old apartheid image of oorstroming), that whites are ‘brothers’ who must simply ‘share’ with the original owners of Africa and mustn’t be ‘greedy brothers’ and expressing ‘disappointment’ at racist placards at EFF rallies (with slogans such as ‘honeymoon is over for whites’). EFF has some white members. At the same time, he still plays on racial tensions himself; he claimed the tax charges against him were due to ‘Indians in bed with Afrikaners’, warning that whites’ safety was in the hands of the black majority or that ‘failure to share’ would mean that they’d be ‘forced to share’. Malema focused much of his bile for Zuma and the ANC – with snappy statements about the ANC government being worse than apartheid, ‘the black Boers’ (after Cyril Ramaphosa warned that if the ANC didn’t win, ‘the Boers’ would return), calling on Zuma to resign over Nkandla (this from the man who said he was prepared to kill/die for Zuma).

EFF was not the first anti-capitalist, far-left radical party to be formed. Several small socialist and far-left Africanist parties with platforms very similar to that of the EFF have existed for years, but cooperation between these groups and the EFF has been difficult. In October 2013, the small far-left Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) – the party formed by the DSM, an old Trotskyist party, refused an alliance with Malema after EFF demanded that WASP dissolves itself. Malema praised, at times, the left-wing anti-Zuma secretary-general of COSATU Zwelinzima Vavi and the major COSATU affiliate NUMSA, which announced in December 2013 that it would not campaign for the ANC in 2014. There were rumours, expressed by the ANC’s Tito Mboweni in a Twitter spat with Vavi in January 2014, that there were talks to form an EFF/NUMSA coalition with Vavi and Malema at the helm, which Vavi and Malema both denied. There was strong suspicion of Malema and the EFF on the left, which feared that the EFF would come from scrap and try to co-opt them and their groundwork. EFF is also not a working-class movement and has weak ties with the unions, although it became uncritical of AMCU in hopes of gaining their support. On the other hand, Malema has had better ties with Bantu Holomisa, the leader of the small UDM, and even made up with the IFP’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi (in the past, both Malema and Buthelezi had been very critical of one another).

Malema’s critics have accused him of flip-flopping, not only for his transformation from motormouth Zuma attack dog in 2009 to fiery anti-Zuma campaigner in 2014, but also for his stances on issues. His critics, and a lot of existing social movements, feel that Malema is an opportunist who has stepped into existing social struggles to gain publicity and a platform (which the media is sure to cover), and co-opting their causes. As ‘commander-in-chief’ of the EFF, Malema has embraced progressive causes such as feminism and gay rights, calling on supporters to ‘love gay people’ and to ‘love people with HIV/AIDS’ or recalling Zuma’s rape trial and the infamous Zuma ‘shower comments’, even if Malema was himself convicted by a court after commenting that Zuma’s accuser in the rape trial must have had a ‘nice time’. Although rape is a huge issue in South Africa, few politicians have paid more than lip service to gender issues and feminism.

Malema and his followers became distinctive during the campaign because of their red berets and red tracksuits/jumpsuits.

EFF adopted a radical, extremely ambitious (therefore, in reality, highly unrealistic), anti-capitalist and ‘anti-imperialist’ manifesto most famous for its top two promises: the expropriation of land without compensation to achieve fair redistribution, and the nationalization of mines, banks and other strategic sectors in the economy. Under the EFF’s manifesto, land would be transferred to the state and would abolish foreign land ownership; those who use the land would apply for licenses to use the land. Under an EFF government, nationalization would mean ‘socialized ownership and control of the means of production by the workers’ and that the state must own a minimum of 60% of mines. The EFF promised to use the money generated by nationalization to provide ‘free quality education, healthcare, housing and sanitation’ – education would be free and of high quality from early childhood to post-secondary qualification, the government would create a state pharmaceutical company to produce generics (without regard to intellectual property rights), healthcare would be public and universal and service delivery would be vastly improved. The EFF manifesto promised “massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor”; it also supported doubling the value of all social grants (old age grants, child support grants, war veterans, disability grant etc); promote youth development by forcing government to employ at least 40% of their workforce aged 18-35 and increasing minimum wages for all sectors (in line with union demands); increasing public servants’ salaries by 50%. The EFF promised to build state/government capacity by abolishing tenders (no outsourcing to the private sector) and fight corruption by imposing a 20-year minimum sentence for all public representatives and public servants convicted of corruption.

The EFF’s manifesto, analysed in a thoughtful piece in the M&G, expressed a vision for a radically different and transformed South Africa, but it’s up for discussion whether or not its promises were/are realistic or if they’re outlandish wet dreams.

The EFF national list was headed by Julius Malema, and most of his colleagues atop the list also came from the ANC or ANCYL. Floyd Shivambu, a former ANCYL colleague of Malema and the EFF ‘commissar’ and chief of staff, placed fourth. The EFF’s candidate for provincial premier in Gauteng was Dali Mpofu, a former longtime ANC member who served as the legal representative for the Marikana miners. As an ANC stalwart, Mpofu had an affair, in 1992, with Winnie Mandela and attracted controversy for ANC bias when he was CEO of the SABC, the public broadcaster often accused (again this year by the DA and EFF) of being biased in favour of the ANC.

Congress of the People (COPE)

COPE was the second largest opposition party in the National Assembly and formed the official opposition in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and North West provinces.

COPE’s creation can be traced back to the ANC’s 2007 National Conference in Polokwane, where Mbeki and his loyalists were soundly defeated by Jacob Zuma and his supporters. Polokwane was the culmination of a bitter civil war in the ANC which had begun in earnest in 2005; but Polokwane was not the end of all infighting in the ANC and in government between President Mbeki’s allies and those loyal to his former Deputy President. After Polokwane, Mbeki found himself thrust into a difficult and very precarious situation where he and his troops retained control of the national government (the Mbeki cabinet consisted mostly of his supporters) but their rivals held absolute control over the governing party, making him a lame-duck president who did not control his own party. The power struggle between the new pro-Zuma ANC leadership and incumbent pro-Mbeki incumbents continued, and spilled over to the provinces. In the WC, the pro-Mbeki Premier was recalled by the ANC and replaced by a pro-Zuma opponent.

In September 2008, judge Chris Nicholson dismissed the NPA’s decision to recharge Zuma. In the ruling, the judge alleged that Mbeki had interfered in the court proceedings. The landmark decision triggered a coup against Mbeki. The ANC NEC voted to “recall” Mbeki, forcing him to resign the presidency only 9 days after the court ruling. His resignation was followed by that of his closest allies – right-hand man Essop Pahad, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and defense minister Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota.

Lekota, Mbeki’s loyal defense minister since 1999 and the ANC National Chairperson between 1997 and 2007 publicly criticized the decision to axe Mbeki. Lekota announced in early October 2008 that he was leaving the ANC to create a new party. He was joined a week later by Mbhazima Shilowa, a former COSATU leader and the Premier of Gauteng, who had also backed Mbeki. Lekota and other close allies of the deposed President had denounced Zuma’s close alliance with the party’s populist left and criticized the increasingly racial and tribal character of the ANC under Zuma, who played up his Zulu identity and liked to sing controversial songs such as ‘Shoot the Boer’.

Lekota and Shilowa’s new party, COPE was launched in December 2008. The party purported to be moderate centrist alternative to the ANC, which they saw as being increasingly left-wing and populist. Its vague platform supported macroeconomic stability, job creation, reducing the role and influence of trade unions, community policing and socioeconomic equality – more or less the centrist agenda of Mbeki’s presidency. COPE endorsed the direct election of top officeholders (president, premiers, and mayors) and electoral reform (a dose of FPTP).

Somewhat disingenuously, COPE placed emphasis on democracy and fighting corruption – it decried the undemocratic nature of the NEC’s decision to topple Mbeki and made a big deal of Jacob Zuma’s persistent judicial troubles. Coming from the likes of Lekota or other embittered members of the deposed President’s old inner circle, this was quite rich. As National Chairperson, Lekota had rigorously enforced the party line and party loyalty within the ANC and offered full support to Mbeki’s autocratic leadership and his questionable policy decisions (on HIV/AIDS or Zimbabwe). As defense minister, Lekota had played a big role in covering up the arms deal in Parliament. Many of COPE’s members are tainted by their past as loyal Mbeki stalwarts and their criticism of corruption in the new Zuma-led ANC rang quite hollow. This is not to say, however, that the party has no ‘clean’ figures – Shilowa’s tenure as Premier of Gauteng was rather successful and he flouted Mbeki’s AIDS denialism.

The first signs of internal disunity in the new party came up in the run-up to the 2009 elections. COPE chose Mvume Dandala, a former Methodist bishop from the EC as its presidential candidate, apparently over Lekota’s opposition. Nonetheless, COPE was rather successful in the 2009 election, considering how new it was. It won 7.4% and 30 seats, and managed to win seats in all 9 provincial legislatures (even becoming the second largest party in 4 of them). Its support was spread rather evenly throughout the country, with stronger support in the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. Most of its votes came from predominantly black areas – especially more middle-class black areas – but it likely won some Coloured support, particularly in Cape Town or the NC.

COPE’s leaders, on the losing end of the power struggle at Polokwane, agreed that they hated Zuma – but they soon found that they agreed on little else. The party more or less split before the 2011 local elections, with the Shilowa faction deciding that it would not contest the elections. The Lekota faction of COPE won only 2% of the vote. Lekota later expelled Shilowa from the party, citing an internal investigation which had found Shilowa guilty of mismanaging parliamentary funds. Shilowa opposed the expulsion, denying any wrongdoing, and took the matter to court (he lost). In October 2013, a court declared Lekota to be the rightful leader of the party.

The DA and other opposition parties had originally welcomed the creation of COPE and the DA hoped that COPE would siphon votes away from the ANC, and allow for the formation of DA-COPE coalitions (in those places where the ANC dropped below 50%). This was the DA’s objective, for example, in the 2011 local elections. While a few DA-COPE coalitions managed to wrestle control of some local councils away from the ANC, COPE’s utter weakness in 2011 meant that not few such coalitions actually materialized.

Since 2010-2011, COPE haemorrhaged support and leaders rapidly, crippled by the infighting. Like a few parties before it, COPE originally excited observers who were readily writing grand tales of the ANC’s impending demise; but like those parties before it, COPE has turned out to be a flash in the pan, originally causing great excitement before rapidly falling back to obscurity.

Shilowa’s supporters were purged from COPE before the elections, with Shilowa himself moving to support Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement (UDM). No less than 19 COPE MPs and MPLs defected to the ANC. Victorious in the leadership battle, Lekota, standing as COPE’s presidential candidate, tried to give the party a new start and was publicly upbeat about the party’s chances – promising to eat his hat if COPE didn’t improve on its 2009 results.

COPE’s manifesto explicitly reiterated what it had said in 2009 – the need for a ‘better government’ and a ‘government of the people’. For COPE, this meant the direct election of the President, Premiers and mayors, a vague promise for honest leaders and downsizing government. There were a number of pledges for transparent government, accountability and citizen empowerment; and calls for more efficient service delivery through a system to report failures, higher benchmarks and enhancing the budgetary capacities of local municipalities. On economic issues, COPE supported the NDP and talked of making it easier to create small businesses, strengthening agriculture and manufacturing, using un-utilized state-owned land for housing and land reform. With calls for ‘world-class education’, COPE proposed to raise the pass rate for Matric subjects (currently 30%), exclude unions from the appointment and supervision of teachers and paying teachers on basis of performance. COPE’s manifesto supported universal healthcare, improving the quality and affordability of public healthcare and improving accessibility to healthcare in communities by opening some clinics 24/7. To fight crime, COPE emphasized a transparent, depoliticized and accountable police force.

Lekota was COPE’s top candidate, followed by the party’s deputy president, Willie Madisha, a former president of COSATU who was unceremoniously removed by the union for supporting Mbeki at Polokwane.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)

The IFP, a fixture of South African politics since the mid-1970s, has seen its influence diminished considerably since 1994 and especially in recent years. The IFP is a regional (ethnic) party and 90% of its votes in 2009 came from a single province, namely KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)

The IFP was founded by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a Zulu tribal leader, in 1975. Buthelezi had been a member of the ANCYL in his youth and the IFP initially received the blessing and support of the ANC. However, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the situation in South Africa turned even more explosive and the ANC resorted to violence to render the apartheid state ‘ungovernable’, the IFP started clashing with the ANC and collaborating with the white regime. The ANC had long opposed tribalism and ethnicism, warning against the NP regime’s attempts to divide-and-conquer the black majority by fuelling animosities between the various ethno-linguistic groups (Zulus and Xhosas, for example). On the other hand, Buthelezi was a Zulu tribal leader who encouraged attempts to revive the traditional Zulu culture and preached respect for tribal traditions and the Zulu monarchy.

Buthelezi and the IFP are/were, however, complicated and complex. It would be inaccurate to consider Buthelezi (and the IFP) as collaborators of the apartheid regime or as a covert ‘third force’ at the pay of Pretoria; just as it would be inaccurate to consider Buthelezi as an upstanding and uncompromised leader of the liberation struggle. Inkatha had two faces: for its core ethnic Zulu audience, it emphasized Zulu tradition and ethnicity; but it also sold itself as a national liberation movement, claiming that it strove for justice.The reality is more complicated, less black-and-white.

Buthelezi worked within the apartheid framework of homelands, becoming the chief minister of the autonomous KwaZulu homeland in 1976 (he had been the administrator of a Zulu territorial authority since 1970), and KwaZulu became an authoritarian one-party state entirely dominated by the IFP. The ANC accused him of collaborating with the apartheid regime and shunned him. Indeed, by organizing on tribal grounds and endorsing federalism/self-determination for the various ethnic groups, Buthelezi was effectively playing the NP’s game. Yet, Buthelezi wasn’t entirely a ‘useful tool’ in the hands of the NP. He tried to play to both sides – while partaking in the NP’s ‘separate development’ scheme, preaching non-violence, federalism and rejecting the armed struggle and international boycotts; he also rejected ‘independence’ for KwaZulu and gave his backing to various reformist initiatives (Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith with Harry Schwarz in 1974, rejected PW Botha’s president’s council opening, opposed the 1983 constitution, proposed consociational government, opposed homelands and supported a united, federal South Africa).

Buthelezi felt increasingly insecure in the mid-1980s, as violence between the IFP and the ANC in KZN increased dramatically. As a homeland leader, he was effectively dependent on Pretoria for his homeland’s economy and his own personal security (naturally, he was more preoccupied with the latter). Buthelezi received covert, underhanded support from the regime – which wanted to use the IFP as a conservative black ally against the ‘communist terrorist’ ANC. Between 1986 and 1988, at Buthelezi’s request, the SADF Special Forces in the Caprivi Strip trained IFP militias and hitsquads (Operation Marion) and received weapons and backing from the regime or, later, sections of the regime’s Byzantine security structure.

The IFP played a huge role in the ‘black-on-black’ violence in KZN and the urbanized PWV in the transition era, partaking in several bloody massacres of black civilians and ANC sympathizers. The massacre of innocent civilians, ANC supporters, by IFP militias at KwaMakhutha (January 1987) and Boipatong (June 1992) were allegedly the results of conspiracies hatched by the IFP and the regime’s security forces. The IFP and the ANC were locked into a bloody conflict for political control in KZN and the townships/migrant hostels of the PWV (Gauteng).

During the transition process, the IFP and Buthelezi were mainly interested by safeguarding their ethnic and political interests. This involved a rejection of centralized government, and support for a federal regime. At first, the NP and the IFP enjoyed a fairly solid working relationship, as the NP was still trying to extract minority rights concessions from the ANC and still saw the IFP as a conservative black partner (in Botha’s footsteps). However, when Roelf Meyer took over the NP’s negotiating team and the NP signed the Record of Understanding with the ANC in September 1992, relations between the government and the IFP quickly soured. The IFP felt betrayed by the NP and marginalized in the bilateral ANC-NP negotiation channels; the NP had abandoned the IFP in favour of an ‘elite pact’ with the ANC.

The IFP walked out of the 1993 multi-party forum, where the NP and ANC often teamed up to overrule the objections of the other parties. Buthelezi threatened to boycott the 1994 elections – hoping to sabotage the process. During this brief time period, the IFP found common ground with the white right/far-right, particularly the Conservative Party (which also rejected the process), and some homeland leaders (who feared their upcoming loss of power). At the last minute, the ANC agreed to recognize traditional leaders (such as Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelethini kaBhekuzulu) and made gestures in favour of self-determination/decentralization. The IFP finally decided to partake in the 1994 elections, only days before the vote.

The IFP won 10.5% and 43 seats in 1994. The race was particularly contentious in KZN, the focal point for much of the IFP-ANC violence since the 1980s. Through vote rigging, the IFP was able to win the controversial poll with over 48.5% of the vote in KZN. On the provincial ballot, NP ticket-splitters allowed the IFP to win over 50%. The IFP joined Mandela’s coalition government and Buthelezi served as minister of home affairs, a position he held until the IFP finally quit the government in 2004.

The IFP’s support has been in steep decline since the first election. In 1999, the IFP won a bit over 40% of the vote in KZN, only narrowly retaining the premiership. Nationally, it won 8.6% and 34 seats. In 2004, the IFP won 7% nationally and 28 seats. In KZN, it won only 35% of the vote – over ten points behind the ANC which finally gained the premiership. The 2009 election was an unmitigated disaster for the IFP, winning only 4.6% nationally (18 seats) and 20.5% in KZN.

The IFP has never really had any ideology beyond an increasingly meaningless chauvinistic Zulu nationalism, and its main interest has always been the protection of the traditional Zulu identity and promoting Zulu ethnic interests. It has attempted to reinvent itself into a non-tribal federalist party, supporting ethnic federalism and self-determination for all ethno-linguistic groups. However, this reinvention was only half-hearted and nobody fell for it. The IFP has no discernible coherent platform, ideology, vision or mission and its sole ambitions are winning/maintaining power for itself KZN.

Whatever it has in way of a platform mostly consists of fluff or vague blabber. The IFP is traditionally seen as a conservative party, which supports the free-market and conservative economic policies. Besides that, most of its other positions are populistic in tone. It does seem a bit more coherent on AIDS, preaching a more militant treatment policy while supporting an abstinence-based education campaign. Buthelezi lost two of his children to AIDS.

The party basically revolves around its strongman, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has ruled over the IFP with an iron hand since 1970s. Buthelezi is a political opportunist who has a long-standing reputation of changing his ‘positions’ willy-nilly and lacking any ideological depth. He is extremely sensitive to criticism of his leadership and has ruthlessly quashed internal criticism. A few years ago, he chased Gavin Woods – one of the IFP’s few respected MPs and a white man – out of the party after Woods had published a scathing attack on Buthelezi’s leadership.

Jacob Zuma is an ethnic Zulu; his two predecessors at the helm of the ANC where Xhosa (the second biggest black ethnic group). Zuma, a very lively and flamboyant leader, has actively played up his own Zulu ethnicity. Zuma is a polygamist (illegal in South Africa but recognized by customary law) and he often partakes in traditional ceremonies, wearing leopard skins or other traditional attire. Politically, Zuma has shifted away from the ANC’s traditional non-tribalism and placed his ethnicity at the core of his new ANC (showing off as a ‘100% Zulu boy’) and preaching respect for elders and traditional (tribal) customs. In doing so, Zuma stole the last thing the IFP had left for itself – Zulu nationalism. In the 2009 election, the ANC made major gains in KZN, recouping some loses in other provinces. In the 2011 local elections, the ANC also made gains in KZN. It is now unquestionably the dominant party in KZN as well.

The IFP has been further weakened since 2011 by the creation of the National Freedom Party (NFP), a new party formed by IFP dissidents and led by the IFP’s former chairperson, Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi. After the 2009 rout, younger IFP cadres and ambitious figures like Magwaza-Msibi clamoured for leadership change. Buthelezi quashed the simmering rebellion and expelled leaders like Magwaza-Msibi. The NFP does not really have any ideology itself, except perhaps being less dogmatic than the IFP. In the 2011 local elections, the IFP won 15.8% in KZN against 10.4% for the NFP (the IFP-NFP total was greater than what the IFP alone had won in 2009). The IFP held an absolute majority on only two local councils after the vote, while the NFP gained control of a single municipality. However, the NFP allied with the ANC (or vice-versa) to isolate the IFP. They formed coalitions in 22 district and local councils. Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi became mayor of the Zululand District Municipality.

The IFP is a regional party. In 2009, 90% of its votes came from a single province (KZN); in previous years it was roughly the same percentage. The only other province where the IFP has attracted non-derisory support is Gauteng, where it won 1.5% in 2009 (and won one seat in the provincial legislature) and 4% in 1994. An urbanized and industrialized region, Gauteng has attracted Zulu migrant workers for a number of years. 20% of the province’s population is Zulu, and 6% of its residents were actually born in KZN; the IFP’s base lies with Zulu migrant workers living in hostels near the townships (almost all precincts won by the IFP in 2009 in Gauteng were hostels).

In KZN, the IFP has been disproportionately strongest in rural areas and the former territory of the KwaZulu homeland, reflecting the IFP’s base with Zulu traditionalists – tribal leaders and their circles, former KwaZulu public servants. In 1999, the IFP is estimated to have received 64% of the vote in the former homeland but only 17% in the rest of the province (against 50% for the ANC). The IFP, for example, has usually been weak at Durban – its peak was 25% on the provincial ballot in 1994. In 2009, the IFP took only 6.8% in eThekwini (Durban). Younger urbanized Zulus usually preferred the ANC’s more militant and non-tribal socialism over the IFP’s traditionalist conservatism. The IFP’s strongest region in KZN is the area around Ulundi, the former capital of the KwaZulu homeland (and capital of KZN until 2004). Even in 2009, the IFP won no less than 83.6% in Ulundi. It also won 81.6% in Nongoma, the base of the traditional Zulu monarchy. The IFP still holds an outright majority in Ulundi’s local council – but it lost Nongoma to a NFP-ANC coalition in 2011.

Almost all IFP voters are Zulus, but naturally not all Zulus are IFP voters. For example, in Mpumalanga, where Zulus make up 25% of the population, the IFP won only 0.5% in 2009. The IFP never gained a foothold or built up any infrastructure in that province. Outside KZN and Gauteng, the party’s support is basically non-existent in other provinces (0.06% in the WC…).

The IFP manifesto focused on service delivery, quality education, tackling corruption, job creation (calling for flexible labour laws, special economic zones in rural areas with low taxes), improving healthcare, land reform (favouring traditional leaders), crime and respecting traditional leaders (who, the IFP claimed, have had their authority eroded since 2014).

The NFP presents itself as a national social democratic party, retaining the Inkatha-influenced emphasis on strong devolved local government. The NFP’s platform focused on improving education (higher Matric pass rate, compulsory and free basic education till the age of 18, free higher education for students meeting entry standards, reducing the scope of student loans), service delivery, land reform (using a moderate approach), healthcare, economic development (aiming to go beyond the narrow view of ‘business opportunity’ in favour of ‘development, supporting protectionist measures), tackling crime, participation of traditional leaders in local governance, social development (with a promise to increase child support grants) and corruption.

Minor parties

United Democratic Movement (UDM)

The UDM is a small party, which first ran in 1999 and has since seen its support declined. It held only 4 seats in the National Assembly.

The UDM was founded in 1997 by Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer. Bantu Holomisa is the former military ruler of the ‘independent’ Transkei homeland. As commander of the homeland’s armed forces, he deposed Prime Minister Stella Sigcau in a coup in 1987 and seized power. Unlike Lucas Mangope in Bophuthatswana or Oupa Gqozo in Ciskei, Holomisa and Transkei enjoyed an uneasy alliance with the ANC and provided the ANC with a safe haven. Even if Holomisa was not quite a puppet for apartheid, he was not really an exemplary leader either: his military junta often executed its opponents without any sort of trial; and corruption flourished under his rule. Holomisa did not oppose Transkei’s reintegration into South Africa in 1994. In fact, he joined the ANC and joined cabinet as a deputy minister. In September 1996, he was unceremoniously expelled from cabinet and the ANC after alleging that Stella Sigcau, who had become Minister of Public Enterprises in Mandela’s cabinet, had received a bribe from a shady casino magnate in the 1980s.

As it happens, another prominent member of a major party was pushed out from his party around the same time: Roelf Meyer. Meyer, the lead NP negotiator during the second half of the transition process, was widely seen as de Klerk’s dauphin within the NP after the 1994 election. Meyer, a young reformist verligte, wanted to transform the NP by changing the party’s name and actively recruiting black members for the party. His rapid ascension within the party worried the party’s hardliners and other ambitious younger members (notably Marthinus van Schalkwyk). The hardliners were able to force the NP out of the national unity cabinet in 1996, and Meyer was eventually forced to leave the NP with some of his lesser-known allies in May 1997.

Holomisa and Meyer created the UDM in September 1997. The party intended to be a non-racial and non-regionalist national alternative to the ANC, so it naturally got a few people excited. In the 1999 elections, the UDM won 3.4% of the vote and 14 seats. Half of the UDM’s support came from the Eastern Cape, in particular the former Transkei homeland. It did win some white and non-Xhosa black support outside the EC as well.

Meyer quit politics in 2000 (and went on to join the ANC in 2006). The party was decimated in the first floor-crossing window in 2003, when it lost 10 of its 14 seats – most of them to the ANC. In the 2004 elections, the UDM saw its support reduced to 2.3% and 9 seats (it lost 3 seats in the 2005 floor-crossing window). In 2009, the UDM won only 0.9% and 4 seats.

The UDM has basically morphed into a regionalist/personalist party which is a powerful actor only around Umtata (now known as Mthatha), Holomisa’s home turf and the former capital of Transkei. In 2009, 61% of its support came from a single province (the Eastern Cape, where it won 4%); most of that support in turn came from King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality, which includes Umtata and Holomisa’s hometown (Mqanduli). The UDM won 24% of the vote in the municipality in 2009, doing best in rural areas south of Mqanduli where it won over 45-50% in some wards. In 1999, the UDM had won over 50% of the vote in Umtata and 77% in Mqanduli. The UDM’s support reflects tribal support for Holomisa is his native region. In the 1999 election, the UDM took 21% in those parts of the EC which had been part of either Ciskei or Transkei and 4% in the rest of the province; given the low support in the Ciskei, the party’s result in the former Transkei alone was probably much stronger. Outside the EC, the UDM has very weak support. Its best other province was WC, with 0.8%, reflective of the large Xhosa migrant population which lives in Cape Town.

Bantu Holomisa regained a profile in national politics (he’s usually absent from the media outside elections) following the 2012 Marikana massacre, becoming one of the more popular opposition politicians (along with Julius Malema) to speak at miners’ rallies – likely due to the fact that a lot of the miners in the Marikana area are isiXhosa-speakers originally from the EC and Holomisa’s strong advocacy for their 22% wage increase. Holomisa’s rallies, for example, drew far larger crowds than the non-Malema far-left’s much smaller rallies. Holomisa also cozied up with Malema, attending the EFF’s launch in Marikana in October 2013. There was, however, no formal electoral coalition between the UDM and EFF.

The UDM appears vaguely centre-rightish, though its policies usually consists of platitudes and feel-good but rather meaningless principles (job creation, national unity, economic growth). It has often placed considerable emphasis on fighting corruption. This year, the UDM’s manifesto focused heavily on corruption – it was even titled ‘Corruption destroys the gains of our freedom’ – and, to fight corruption, the UDM notably promised reducing political interference in government and independent institutions, introducing courts charged explicitly with tackling corruption and reviewing the tender system. On economic issues, the UDM said its philosophy was ‘government must do more’ – calling for government to create a stable policy environment, promote youth and women empowerment, invest in infrastructure development, help small business development, facilitate access to market, provide tax incentives for businesses to create jobs, protect local industries and do more to promote industrialization. The UDM proposed an ‘economic indaba’ to discuss land and mineral ownership and workers’ conditions. Overall, the UDM’s platform (like that of the EFF) presented a very gloomy view of South Africa’s progress since 1994.

Freedom Front Plus/Vryheidsfront Plus (FF+/VF+)

The VF+ is the only purely ‘white’ party in South Africa. The party aims to defend Afrikaner interests.

The VF+ was founded as the Freedom Front (Vryheidsfront) in 1994, only a month prior to the first free elections. The white right/far-right was hostile to the transition to majority rule, but they were divided in their strategies. More moderate Afrikaner nationalists whose main goal was Afrikaner self-determination and the creation of a sovereign/autonomous volkstaat for Afrikaners were organized under the auspices of the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), led by Constand Viljoen, a retired SADF commander. In contrast to Eugène Terre’Blanche’s extremist and arch-racist thugs, the AVF was a more respectable force which had fairly close ties with parts of the security forces. Following the Bophuthatswana disaster just before the 1994 elections, the AVF and Viljoen were convinced that electoral participation was preferable to armed opposition. In return for their participation in the electoral process, the Afrikaner nationalists had received assurances from Mandela and the ANC that Afrikaner self-determination would be considered if there was substantial support for the idea.

The VF won 2.2% and 9 seats in the first elections in 1994. However, the party has since been hurt by the consolidation of the white vote – including the Afrikaner conservative/nationalist vote – behind a single party. By 1999, the party fell to 0.8% and a mere 3 seats. In that election, the party was hurt by competition from the Federal Alliance, a white party led by corrupt business magnate Louis Luyt (2 seats) and the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging (1 seat). In 2004, its support increased marginally, to 0.9%, and it gained a single seat. In 2009, it won 0.8% and held its 4 seats.

Viljoen retired in 2001, pushed out because some in the party felt he was cooperating too much with the ANC. The party became the VF+ before the 2004 election when it integrated the remnants of the moribund Conservative Party (which had only run in the 1995/1996 local elections) and the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging. Luyt’s party later folded into the VF+ as well.

The current leader of the VF+ is Pieter Mulder, the son of Connie Mulder – the apartheid-era hardline cabinet minister behind the Infogate scandal. His brother, Corné Mulder, is also a VF+ MP.

The party has never attempted to widen its electorate and has instead focused its efforts on promoting Afrikaner interests and white minority rights – including through cooperation with the governing party. Pieter Mulder, for example, is actually a member of cabinet as deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In 2008, the VF+ managed to get the Afrikaners recognized by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

The VF+’s original raison-d’etre – the volkstaat – is dead; it was a very unrealistic idea to begin with, and never received much support besides a handful of passionate and dogmatic white Afrikaner nationalists. The VF+ might bring up the volkstaat idea (and even draw a map of it) from time to time, but it too has recognized the futility of the idea and it doesn’t feature much (if at all) in the manifestos. As aforementioned, it now defends white minority rights, being one of the top advocates for white minority rights alongside the Solidarity trade union and the AfriForum, a white civil rights organization tied to Solidarity. Sometimes, defending white minority rights entails Mulder or somebody in his party saying a stupid thing which reeks of the apartheid era. For example, VF+ once got in the news by criticizing a DA municipality’s decision to rename a school which had been named after HF Verwoerd (when everybody else should be asking why things are still named after him in 2014).

VF+’s voters are conservative white Afrikaners. Its support patterns are a bit different from the DA’s support – firstly because basically no non-whites vote for VF+ and because only very, very few white Anglos vote for the VF+. For example, in KZN and the EC, where the whites are mostly Anglo, VF+ won only 0.2% in 2009. Its best provinces were the Free State (1.6%), NW (1.4%) and Gauteng (1.4%). It wins its best results in isolated Afrikaans-speaking white villages/towns in the old Transvaal, Orange Free State, or northern Cape Province – regions where the Conservative Party was strongest in the late 1980s. In 2009, it did particularly well (around 15%) in the white wards in Potchefstroom, a mecca of Afrikaner nationalism and academia in the Transvaal. However, the party’s most famous stronghold is Orania, a small town in the Northern Cape established by Afrikaner nationalists in 1990 to form the ‘embryo’ for a future volkstaat. The Orania movement’s leader, Carel Boshoff, was the son-in-law of HF Verwoerd and the provincial leader of the VF+ until his death in 2011. In the 2009 elections, the VF+ won 87.4% of the vote in Orania.

Defending minority rights, VF+ is highly critical of affirmative action – in its 2014 manifesto, it says that South Africa has gone stale since 1994 notably because of “affirmative action, job-losses as a result of transformation, marginalisation of minorities […] farm murders”. The party, reiterating the old Afrikaner nationalist emphasis on communities and the volk as the necessary element of human existence, laments the lack of ‘freedom to communities’. Unlike other parties, the VF+, fulfilling its role as a niche party, had a manifesto focused heavily on minority rights (specifically Afrikaners), the feared loss of minority rights and cultural diversity (the ANC controversially renamed provinces, cities and public places – most contentiously, changing the city of Pretoria’s name to ‘Tshwane’, creating a lot of controversy). The party proposed the creation of a National Afrikaner Council, which it fails to describe; the protection of Afrikaner settlements such as Orania; a quota-free zone for three Coloured/Afrikaans-majority district municipalities in the NC to be exempted from affirmative action laws; upholding language rights (South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is the overwhelmingly dominant public language in government, business, education, the media and so forth); scrapping racially-based affirmative action and BEE; devolution of powers to provincial and local governments; and using unused state land for redistribution in priority. On other issues, the party is very conservative – it proposed to restrict the right to strike, strongly supports the right to bear arms, the use of private security and criticized the over-regulation of private health schemes. The VF+ calls for a state which ‘maintains Christian values’ and its manifesto was founded on the idea that “believers want to acknowledge the supremacy of the Trinity God and obey Him. In humble recognition of human imperfections, a constitutional dispensation is pursued which builds on this foundation”.

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP)

The ACDP is a Christian fundamentalist social conservative party. The party, led by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, was established a bit before the 1994 elections. It peaked at 1.6% and 7 seats in 2004, after winning 0.5% (2 seats) in 1994 and 1.4% (6 seats) in 1999. It lost most of its seats in 2009, taking only 3 seats and 0.8% of the vote.

The ACDP’s platform is based on strict Christian and biblical norms and the party has usually been seen as focusing its energies on moral issues (which are not major issues in South African politics). The ACDP was the only party to vote against South Africa’s very socially progressive constitution in 1996 because it banned discrimination based on sexual orientation (a clause whose wording led to a 2006 court decision which legalized gay marriage) and legalized abortion. The party is opposed to abortion, prostitution and homosexuality. It also promotes an abstinence-only policy and opposes the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission, although it supports ARVs. The ACDP has dismissed criticism that it is a single-issue party focused solely on cultural/moral issues (where it gets most of its publicity from), and presented a manifesto with proposals on the main issues of jobs, welfare, safety, integrity, education, health, housing and family. On economic issues, the ACDP is clearly on the right, seeking to reduce government intervention in the economy and emphasizing traditional right-wing values/idea (competitive advantage, eliminating wasteful spending, review labour laws to remove obstacles to growth, free trade); but it supports an increased social wage to reduce poverty and the implementation of the NHI. The ACDP’s pet values, listed above, did not even feature prominently in the party’s manifesto in 2014.

Interestingly, the party’s electorate seems fairly multi-racial. The party is strongest in the WC, where it won 1.6% in 2009. It briefly participated in the DA-led municipal coalition in Cape Town between 2006 and 2009.

United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP)

The UCDP is a small regional party founded in 1997. The party’s founder was Lucas Mangope, the president of the ‘independent’ homeland of Bophuthatswana between 1977 and 1994. Mangope was Pretoria’s dream conservative black puppet leader. He was a Tswana ethnic nationalist who defended an ethnically exclusive vision for his homeland, he collaborated actively with the apartheid regime (to the point where the SADF intervened to protect him against a coup) and he was strongly opposed to the ANC. Along with Oupa Gqozo’s Ciskei, he was one of the homeland leaders who resisted reintegration into South Africa and threatened to sabotage the transition process. On this front, Bop and Ciskei found common ground with Buthelezi’s IFP and the white far-right including the KP. However, this alliance of odd bedfellows quickly foundered. Mangope was unable to resist to a general strike in March 1994 and his military soon deserted him, the AVF/AWB intervention ended as an embarrassment for all involved.

Mangope did not participate in the first elections in 1994. He created the UCDP in 1997. It won 0.8% and only 3 seats in 1999, with 78% of its vote coming from the North West province – where it won 9.6% in the provincial elections and formed the small official opposition to the hegemonic ANC. In 2004, the party won 0.75% and held its 3 seats; it also managed to hold on to second in the NW (with 8.5%). In 2009, however, the party fell to 0.4% and won only 2 seats; in the NW province it was surpassed by COPE and the DA, managing fourth place with only 5.3% (2 seats out of 33) in the provincial election.

The UCDP is a right-wing party with fairly conservative positions on economic matters. It also claims to be inspired by conservative Christian principles. Not sure, however, if any actual ideology should be ascribed to the party given how it has functioned as a Mangope’s personal political vehicle and how it plays on some weird kind of homeland/Bophuthatswana nostalgic-nationalism.

Interestingly, however, Mangope was expelled from his own party in 2011 and the party’s leader is now a nobody.

As mentioned above, the UCDP is a more or less regional party. In 2009, 66% of the party’s votes came from a single province, the NW, which includes most of the former Bophuthatswana. The UCDP took 4% in the province in the general election; the only other province where it got more than crumbs was the Northern Cape (1%) – which includes one of the seven old enclaves of the former Bop. The party differs from the two other regional parties – the UDM and the IFP – in two senses: its support does not correlate very closely with the boundaries of the former homeland, and it never gained the IFP or the UDM’s level of support in the former homeland. In 1999, the UCDP got 10% in the homeland and 7% in the NW province outside the homeland. Bop’s makeshift borders had been quite fluid and the Tswana population it was envisioned to be the homeland of continued living on both sides of the border in the present-day NW province. At that point, it won 33% of the vote in Mafikeng, which included the former Bop capital of Mmabatho. The UCDP, which peaked at around 10% in the NW, never got the IFP or even the UDM’s level of support in either Bop or the province as a whole. This is largely because Mangope left office in 1994 with no legitimacy whatsoever (unlike Holomisa, who was not a useless tool like him; or Buthelezi, who was much more effective at gaining actual support than any other puppet leader) and with only limited popular support in the former Bop (Mangope never really enjoyed widespread support, unlike Buthelezi).

Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC)

The PAC is a small far-left party which has been reduced to a one of many also-ran parties in South African politics; but at one time, the PAC was a powerful force and the ANC’s main rival for mass support and mobilization against the apartheid regime.

In the 1950s, the broader anti-apartheid movement was divided into two main factions. On the one hand, the majority of the ANC, influenced by the Communist Party (SACP), endorsed a multiracial society with equal franchise. The Congress of the People and what came out of it – the Freedom Charter (1955) – represented this multiracial/non-racial tradition, with the famous line that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. The ‘black’ ANC was only one actor in the Congress of the People, alongside rather influential anti-apartheid white left-wingers (mostly white Communists), Indians and Coloureds. On the other hand, the ‘Africanists’ within the ANC – influenced by Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-Africanist ideology – opposed the ANC-SACP’s multiracialism and the active participation of whites in the struggle. Driven by the view that all white South Africans – and not just the white government – were the oppressors – they saw the presence of whites in the movement as a sign that the ANC had been co-opted by the white ruling class. They recognized that individual whites could play a role in the struggle, but they could not hold leadership in the movement. The Africanists supported African continental unity, represented by the slogan ‘Africa for the Africans’. The PAC’s founder, Robert Subokwe, felt that even anti-apartheid whites could not identify fully with the cause because of their material advantages (therefore, only black Africans could lead the liberation movement), but he said that once oppression was removed, there would be no discrimination against whites on racial grounds. Radicals felt that the whites needed to be expelled from Africa.

The PAC was founded in April 1959 by the ANC’s Africanist faction, led by Robert Subokwe and Potlako Leballo. At the outset, the PAC posed a strong challenge to the ANC for the control of the anti-apartheid movement and the support of the country’s black masses. The PAC, like the ANC, had its own armed movement, the APLA (originally Poqo), which targeted white civilians – especially in the waning days of the apartheid regime. The PAC spearheaded the peaceful anti-pass campaign which led to the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, when 69 unarmed black civilians were mowed down by the apartheid regime. Following the Sharpeville massacre, Sobukwe was arrested. He was finally released in 1969, but remained under house arrest until his death in 1978.

Sobukwe’s death and the exile of many of the PAC’s major leaders weakened the organization. Infighting between the PAC, its armed wing and the various factions in both erupted after Sobukwe’s death in 1978. Opposition to the SACP’s influence over the ANC had been one of the causes behind the PAC split in 1959, but the PAC itself moved towards Maoism in the 1970s – and the PAC sided with China in the Sino-Soviet split, while the ANC/SACP sided with the USSR. The intense infighting, the lack of any solid leadership and the absence of any real organization weakened the PAC in the 1980s. The PAC’s focus on abstract ‘grand ideas’ and dogmatism also kept the PAC from gaining mass support, unlike the ANC which also focused on local bread-and-butter concerns.

The PAC was unbanned in 1990. The party boycotted the transition process and APLA attacked white civilian targets, the bloodiest of which was the St. James Church bombing in Cape Town (in 1993), which killed 11. The PAC was divided on whether or not it should contest the 1994 election, given its opposition to the negotiated transition and the continuing armed struggle (placed on hold for the election, however). In the end, most of the PAC agreed to contest the poll. The 1994 election was a disaster for the PAC, which won only 1.3% of the vote and a mere 5 seats. The PAC’s radical and racial rhetoric (‘one settler, one bullet’) alienated many black voters who were eager for peace and reconciliation. The party was unable to improve its standing after 1994, in fact it has lost votes in every election since. In 1999, it won 0.8% and 3 seats. In 2004, it won 0.7% and 3 seats. In 2009, weakened by the split of the African’s People Convention, it won only 0.3% and held a single seat. Infighting continues to plague the party – in 2013, the PAC’s NEC expelled its president.

The PAC, once a powerful rival to the ANC, has become an extremely marginal force which poses no real threat to the ANC. The PAC has a far-left program, supporting nationalization and land redistribution. When Malema created the EFF, the PAC complained that Malema was stealing what the PAC stood for, but in March 2014, the PAC attended Malema’s manifesto launched and the PAC’s leader talk of a post-election merger.

Minority Front (MF)

The Minority Front is a small ethnic regional (KZN/Durban) party. The MF claims to represent all ethnic minorities in South Africa, in reality its support stems almost exclusively from the Indian minority in Durban, which has the largest Indian population of any major city in South Africa – making up roughly 18% of the city’s population, forming a large majority in Chatsworth and Phoenix.

The party functioned as a vehicle for its leader, Amichand Rajbansi, until his death in 2011. Rajbansi was an Indian community leader in Durban who was coopted by the NP regime in the 1970s and 1980s and played along with Botha’s tricameral scheme. He formed the National People’s Party (NPP) in 1981, and the NPP competed in the 1984 and 1989 elections for the Indian House of Delegates – elections which were, by and large, boycotted by the Indian population. The NPP won a majority in the 1984 election and Rajbansi served on Botha’s cabinet (minister of Indian affairs) and chaired the ‘Indian cabinet’. However, his rule was controversial. In the late 1980s, he was found guilty of various charges of bribery and glaring misadministration by parliamentary commissions and was subsequently dumped by Botha in 1988. Andrew Feinstein described Rajbansi as a “prominently bewigged gentleman with a charming lack of self-irony.”

The MF was founded in 1994 as a successor to the NP. It won only 0.07% in the first free elections in 1994, but with 1.3% in the provincial election in KZN it did qualify for a seat. Its national support increased to 0.3% in 1999 and 0.35% in 2004, winning one seat in the National Assembly in 1999 and gaining a second one in 2004. In 2009, the party’s support declined to 0.25% and it lost its second seat. The MF is a regional party which does not run in provincial or local elections outside KZN. In the 2009 GE, 89.6% of its votes came from a single province (KZN), where it won 2.05% in the provincial election (2 seats) and 1.1% in the general election. The few votes it won outside KZN came mostly from Indian neighborhoods such as Lenasia in Johannesburg. Its support in KZN provincial ballots has oscillated between 2.9% (1999) and 2% (2009). In 2009 (GE), the MF won 2.5% in eThekwini (Durban) and 3.5% in uMdoni (Scottburgh), located south of Durban and 14% Indian. In the 2011 local elections, the MF won 5.3% in Durban, and won 11 seats including 6 wards. It won 6.5% in uMdoni and one ward. There is increasing overlap between MF and DA support, with the MF losing a number of its voters to the DA. In direct races between the ANC and the DA, the MF’s supporters tend to back the DA by large margins.

Having been a personal vehicle for Rajbansi until 2011, the MF has no real ideology besides vague ethnic nationalism/Indian minority rights. Rajbansi’s widow took the party leadership after his death in 2011. The MF had an extremely short manifesto, mostly made up of a postmortem personality cult for Rajbansi (the ‘Bengal Tiger’, his wife, rest assured, is a ‘tigress’) and extremely empty blabber about minorities (part of which is probably ripped off from Wikipedia explaining what minorities are).

Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO)

AZAPO is a small black far-left party, similar to the PAC. AZAPO is the main political front of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).

The Black Consciousness Movement was founded by Steve Biko, a black student leader, in the mid-1960s, following the marginalization and weakening of the ANC and PAC following the Sharpeville massacre and the arrest or forced exile of most of the ANC and PAC leadership. Like the Africanists, Biko’s BCM rejected the ANC’s moderate multiracial approach and its focus on extending civil rights to the entire South African population. Biko resented the strong influence of white liberals/left-wingers in the anti-apartheid movement, particularly in the student movement (the NUSAS). He attacked what he saw as traditional white values especially the ‘condescending’ values white liberals and the ‘white monopoly on truth’. The BCM wanted blacks to find their own way out of apartheid, a uniquely ‘African’ way; developing their own identity and institutions to gain psychological strength (because blacks had become alienated from themselves). He charged that whites of perpetuating a ‘super-race image’ through the use of force, which created and reinforced fears. The BCM wanted a unitary state ruled by blacks, with whites living on terms laid down by blacks. Biko disliked white communists and liberals, dismissed the SACP’s Marxist class analysis and felt that liberals had a paternalistic ‘do-gooder’ attitude towards blacks.

The BCM was the catalysing force behind the Soweto uprising in 1976. Steve Biko was arrested in Port Elizabeth in 1977 and murdered by his captors, probably in the back of a pickup truck while he was transferred from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria. Biko’s death weakened the BCM, especially as the ANC regained its leadership of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s with the organization of various domestic civil society organizations – including some close to the BCM – under the UDF. During the 1980s, AZAPO was a minor force in the liberation movement, clashing with the ANC and taking a far-left stance against imperialism and capitalism

AZAPO did not participate in the first free elections in 1994. In 1999, the party won 0.2% and a single seat. It increased its support to 0.25% in 2004 and fell back to 0.22% in 2009, holding its single seat in both those elections.

AZAPO is a scientific socialist/far-left party. It defines itself as anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist and has focused its campaigns mostly on increasing black economic power. It sees the class struggle as being expressed in racial terms.

African People’s Convention (APC)

The APC is a small black far-left party founded by a split in the PAC in 2007. The party was founded during the third and last floor-crossing period in 2007 by Themba Godi, a PAC MP and the party’s deputy leader. The split must have been the result of a personality clash incomprehensible to outsiders. Indeed, the APC’s ideology is basically the same as the PAC: pan-Africanism, continental unity, socialism.

The APC won 0.2% in the 2009 election, enough for a single seat. Incidentally, it was the smallest party (in terms of votes) to win seats in 2009.

Results and analysis

Turnout was 73.43%, down from 77.3% in the 2009 election. This is the lowest turnout since 1999 (there was no voter registration in 1994, so it’s more difficult to make comparisons), when it stood at 89%. About 1.4% of votes were spoilt, basically unchanged since 2009, although the number increased from about 239,000 to a bit less than 252,000.

However, as I’ll explain later, the turnout data – based on registered voters – can be quite misleading. The results, based on valid votes, were as follows:

ANC 62.15% (-3.75%) winning 249 seats (-15)
DA 22.33% (+4.65%) winning 89 seats (+18)
EFF 6.35% (+6.35%) winning 25 seats (+25)
IFP 2.4% (-2.15%) winning 10 seats (-8)
NFP 1.57% (+1.57%) winning 6 seats (+6)
UDM 1.00% (+0.16%) winning 4 seats (nc)
VF+ 0.9% (+0.07%) winning 4 seats (nc)
COPE 0.67% (-6.75%) winning 3 seats (-27)
ACDP 0.57% (-0.24%) winning 3 seats (nc)
AIC 0.53% (+0.53%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Agang SA 0.28% (+0.28%) winning 2 seats (+2)
PAC 0.21% (-0.07%) winning 1 seat (nc)
APC 0.17% (-0.04%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Al Jama-ah 0.14% (-0.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
MF 0.12% (-0.12%) winning 0 seats (-1)
UCDP 0.12% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (-2)
AZAPO 0.11% (-0.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)
All others (below 0.1%) 0.47% winning 0 seats (nc)

The ANC was unsurprisingly reelected, keeping its large majority in the National Assembly with a resounding three-fifths majority (although it once again fell short of the two-thirds majority, which it held between 2004 and 2009, and which would have allowed the ANC to amend the constitution on its own). The ANC remains South Africa’s dominant party, and the 2014 results marked relatively change from the 2009 election, only with another decline for the ANC and an uptick for the opposition.

It often seems as if a lot of Western observers can’t quite comprehend why the ANC remains so popular and dominant – despite a widely-assailed President and a record which is very mediocre at best with very high unemployment, widespread corruption, incompetent ministers, major challenges in education and healthcare, service delivery protests and so forth. That incomprehension often breeds silly analysis on ‘liberation parties’ or downright paternalistic and patronizing ‘analysis’ which seem to insinuate that the ANC’s black voters don’t know what’s good for them and/or that they’re voting against their interests.

The ANC remains a genuinely popular party after 20 years in power, despite many failures which even ANC voters would recognize. The ANC isn’t popular because its voters don’t know what’s good for them; it’s popular because the ANC does retain a positive legacy and record since 1994 which its supporters still embrace. Despite a lot of undeniable failures about the state of South Africa since 1994 and the country has fallen short of the high hopes of 1994, it’s important to remember how far the country has come since those dark days. There have been real and tangible improvements in the livelihood of the black majority – and that’s hardly a subjective viewpoint, because the DA and most opposition parties recognize that. Besides the obvious – that they are now treated as equals and have political rights – millions of black South Africans have received (or are receiving) generous government grants, RDP housing or have gained access to basic necessities (running water, electricity, toilet facilities) which they previously lacked. Perhaps for people who have come to expect such amenities regardless of the party in power that might not seem like much, it certainly is a lot for people who previously lacked access to such amenities/services and faced repression at the hands of a racist regime.

ANC supporters often cite these factors – the major improvements which have taken place in their lives since 1994 – when explaining why they remain loyal to the ANC. That continued loyalty, however, does not stop them from being quite lucid of the challenges faced and the past failures of the ANC. Loyalty to the ANC should not be seen as blind loyalty to the ANC, nor should it be understood as mindless tribal/racial voting (although that likely plays a role too).

As Khaya Dlanga, an ANC-critical columnist who voted ANC, wrote: “The party has made some mistakes but it has got many things right, as proven by the visible and tangible change in many people’s lives.”

The ANC retains its aura as the liberation party, the party of Mandela and other great freedom fighters, and a lot of its supporters remain enormously proud of the ANC and the work that it has done. Cognizant of that fact, the ANC’s campaign this year placed a lot of emphasis on ‘the good story to tell’ and played on Mandela’s legacy. From that legacy, the ANC continues to draw on a base of enthusiastic and upbeat activists who provide the ANC with a tremendous nation-wide grassroots base which always shows its muscle, despite challenges, at election time.

The ANC is a smart party when it comes to elections, and it goes into elections with advantages which the other parties don’t have. Although Jacob Zuma remained the face of the ANC campaign, the ANC’s subliminal message was to ‘vote for the party, not an individual’ – playing on the real popularity of the ANC brand, to avoid excessive association from the more unpopular and somewhat toxic Zuma brand following Nkandlagate and similar scandals. The ANC’s strong result proved that it can still sell itself successfully regardless of who leads it, and the ANC brand is stronger than Zuma. The ANC successfully managed to convince loyal voters to separate Zuma, the government and the ANC. Although the reality isn’t that simple, ANC supporters who feel queasy about the ANC may take solace in the fact that the ANC is far from a monolith or personal machine, and that it has the ability to change – most recently witnessed at Polokwane (for better or worse), most famously in 1949 when a young guard around Mandela orchestrated the removal of AB Xuma, the ANC president accused of being too moderate and apologetic for the times.

For some ANC voters, scandals such as Nkandla may not have been major issues. Zuma said that only ‘bright/clever people’ cared about Nkandla and that it was not an issue, although he still defended himself saying that Madonsela hadn’t found him guilty and that it was unfair that he was being singled out for criticism (besides, he claimed the upgrades were necessary after criminals broke into his house to rape his wife).

The ANC has the strongest electoral machine of any party: a dedicated and committed army of supporters and hardened partisans, a presence throughout the country, a grassroots base in urban and rural black communities (in the townships and the former homelands alike), certainly a hefty war chest larger than that of the opposition and the covert use of state resources in its favour. It doesn’t hurt, for example, that the SABC – which is the main source of news for a lot of voters – is biased in the ANC’s favour or at the very least quite tame in its reporting on the ANC. Patronage remains an important factors, especially in rural areas, with several businesspeople who have made their fortunes on the back of the ANC or party supporters who have drawn on their ties to the party to obtain advantages or access to public services.

In 2009 and again in 2014, the ANC proved that, with its advantages and fairly strong campaign, it could prove skeptics wrong and defy very real challenges to its hegemony. In 2009, the ANC successfully undercut COPE’s appeal to its base and mobilized support for Zuma and the ANC. In 2014, despite threats from the fallout of Nkandla, Marikana, high unemployment and the poor economy, the ANC once again mobilized its support quite well.

For a lot of black voters, there is also a dearth of options – quite ironic given South Africa’s very proportional voting system and the wide choice of parties on the ballot. However, the main opposition, the DA remains perceived – fairly or unfairly – as the ‘white’s party’, and the ANC certainly loves playing on resentments, fears and myths to drum up support. The DA has increased its support, some of it coming from black voters, and under Helen Zille the DA has taken real steps – some of them successful – to change the party and improve its image. More and more, the DA has black members and leaders who aren’t total duds and don’t merely serve as window-dressing. However, the image remains stubborn and the DA often fails at messaging – they bash the ANC too much for their own good, leaving traditional ANC supporters wondering if they were downplaying or denying the ANC’s achievements or looking down on them or attacking them for voting ANC in the past. The DA also has the unfortunate tendency to be incredibly tin-eared or amateurish when it comes to messaging what black voters care about. The DA’s policies on affirmative action, ‘the elephant in the room’ in the words of Christi van der Westhuizen, have been a tough sell to black voters, more attracted by the ANC’s EE/BEE policies than the DA’s vague and unappealing stuff on ‘equal opportunities’, non-racialism or the ‘open opportunity society for all’. Thankfully for them, the DA is making progress on this issue, recognizing that class and race are correlated and that appealing to black voters requires more than lip-service and sloganeering on EE. Yet, the DA still has issues to remedy. Helen Zille is a competent administrator but not a particularly good party leader; her image as a madam baas and her enraged rants on Twitter are liabilities. She also needs to shake off the image (which seems to be rooted in reality) that Zille has a smug view towards black leaders in the DA – picking and choosing her favourites and treating them as her proteges who she expects to be loyal-or-else. It is the kind of attitude which underlines the impression that the DA takes a very simplistic view of race relations and racial dynamics, failing to grasp the complexity of racial relations and dynamics in 21st century South Africa.

As was noted after Nkandla, the opposition parties need to be careful about going after Nkandla and similar scandals. Overdoing it may make the average black voter feel under attack for voting ANC, while making hesitant past ANC voters feel stupid about voting ANC in the past. In the past, some of the opposition’s violent attacks on Zuma inadvertently built sympathy for him.

Julius Malema’s EFF performed relatively well for a new party, winning 6.4% – slightly less than what COPE, another brand-new party born out of the ANC, had won in 2009. But it’s clear that the EFF hasn’t (yet?) had the impact which Malema proclaimed it would – it certainly didn’t take half of the ANC’s votes and/or win over 50% of the vote (as Malema said it would). Malema has a strong and dedicated base of supporters and activists, who give the party a clear visibility on the ground and online, but it’s also clear that Malema has many detractors – and they’re not only white. For a lot of black ANC supporters, Malema and the EFF is seen as too young, too radical and too hotheaded to be taken seriously. Others may be rightly skeptical of Malema’s aggressive left-populism given his own lavish lifestyle and the tender deals he has allegedly cashed in on in Limpopo. The EFF, as the geographical analysis will show and per Malema’s own admission, had trouble breaking through in rural areas. Malema’s message of radical redistributionism and racially-tinged nationalism was more accessible to voters in urban areas, where awareness for the ANC’s failures and scandals is likely highest. For example, and this is an important point which would deserve further investigation, an M&G report in the rural Eastern Cape (EC) found that a lot of voters were unaware of the details of what had gone down at Marikana (and may have been unaware of the details of Nkandla, given the complexity of the case and the question marks surrounding it).

The other parties are unappealing as well. The IFP and now the NFP are both regional and ethnic-based party which little to no appeal outside KZN and specific sectors of the Zulu community. The UDM is not quite as regionally-concentrated but its geography indicates that it has become a Transkei regional party. COPE, which people were so excited about (the Western media does seem to love COPE/Agang-like black-led moderate and liberal parties which they think/hope would appeal to black voters while still not being scary like Malema), has been a remarkable case study into political failure. COPE had potential, but during the 2009 campaign it was already clear that it had lost its initial fire and was marginalized by the ANC and the DA. And despite ending up with a quite good result, it then proceeded to spend five years doing little more (as far as what the public is aware of – that’s basically all that COPE did which got into the news) than bicker internally and cripple the party. As somebody put it, it seems as if COPE didn’t get that being an opposition party means opposing the government rather than itself! The other parties (PAC, ACDP, AZAPO…) on offer are all tiny, anonymous and irrelevant outfits which are often too cranky and crazy to have mass-appeal beyond a small circle of hardened followers.

This long-winded discussion is my attempt to explain why the ANC won 11.4 million votes and remains dominant. But there is an extremely important point, which almost all analysis misses out on, which gives a completely different image of the reality of South African politics than the one commonly understood. Voter registration is voluntary (non-automatic) and, as I understand it, there is no election-day registration and the registration window closes quite a while before the election. This means that, like in the United States, it’s important to look not only at statistics on the basis of registered voters but also on the basis of eligible voters (voting-age population, VAP).

The IEC reported registered voters vs. the VAP in November 2013, before the IEC’s registration drive for the 2014 elections, so only 24.1 million were registered against 25.3 who were registered on election day. The IEC also maintains an updated tally of registered voters.

If we take Statistics SA’s numbers on the VAP (reported by the IEC) in October 2014, there were 31,434,035 South Africans eligible to vote. 25,381,293 registered to vote, or 80.7% of the VAP, and 18,654,457 actually cast ballots on May 7. Turnout as a percentage of the VAP was therefore 59.34%, which is actually up from 59.29% in 2009 and 55.77% in 2004.

The IEC’s November 2013 report on the matter was highly instructive. Only 23% of eligible voters aged 18 and 19 – the ‘born free’ generation which everybody was going on about – were registered to vote, although the registration drive was most successful with these voters given that, only a month before, only 8.8% were registered to vote. As we speak, only 33% of them are registered. About two-thirds of the born free generation, therefore, didn’t even register to vote. Voter registration increased with age, peaking at 105% with those over 80 – indicating that there are probably quite a few dead voters on the lists. Over 95% of those over 50 were registered, and over 85% of those over 30. However, with voters aged 20 to 29, registration was only 54.5% in November 2013 and seems to be roughly at 60.6%, significantly lower than all other age groups.

If the results per party are calculated on the basis of VAP, the image we get of the past 20 years becomes completely different. 1994 is the ANC’s highest ebb, both in terms of raw votes and percentage of the vote (% of VAP) – they won about 12.2 million votes or 53% of the eligible voting population (62.7% of valid votes). Since then, the ANC’s share of the vote has declined in every successive election - 41.7% in 1999, 38.9% in 2004, 38.6% in 2009 and 36.7% in 2014. Their raw vote has decreased in all but one election – 10.6 million in 1999, 10.88 million in 2004, 11.65 million in 2009 and 11.43 million in 2014. When we look at the ‘actual’ results as reported in relation to valid votes, the ANC’s vote share increased in the 1999 (66.4%) and 2004 (69.7%) elections, declining since 2009 (65.9%) to their lowest percentage this year (62.2%). Therefore, although the VAP increased from 23 million in 1994 to 31.4 million in 2014, a 36.3% increase; the ANC’s vote has decreased by 6.5% since 1994. The ANC has not had the support of a ‘majority of voters’ in the last four elections.

The main opposition party’s support has declined from 17.3% of the VAP (NP in 1994) to 13% of the VAP (DA in 2014), although the DA’s result in 2014 – the best result for any opposition party since 1994 – is higher both in terms of percentage and in raw vote to that of the NP in 1994, which held the ‘record’ for strongest opposition performance. The DA won 4.09 million votes in 2014.

Of course, this isn’t to say that if every non-voter (unregistered or registered) did vote, he/she would vote for an opposition party. Furthermore, non-registration and non-voting may not necessarily mean dissatisfaction or disinterest with the political system, it could be ‘positive apathy’ – passive satisfaction for the status-quo; but given the state of South Africa, it is far more likely that those who don’t register to vote are doing so because of dissatisfaction. The point is that, contrary to perceptions, the ANC has suffered a real decline in popularity since 1994 – although it has largely benefited apathy and abstention rather than the opposition parties. It is quite telling that the vast majority of ‘born free’ voters did not vote and a large majority did not even register to vote. A growing share of the adult, especially young adult, population has become alienated from the political system. Young voters – those with the highest levels of apathy towards democracy in South Africa – suffer the brunt of unemployment in South Africa. It is with the ‘born free’ generation, which could vote but largely didn’t in 2014, that the ANC has the least ‘struggle credibility/legacy’ and who have no direct personal memory of apartheid. Of course, youth apathy is far from being uniquely South African, but the phenomenon appears to be particularly pronounced in South Africa. For these voters, especially poor, young blacks, no party holds any appeal, all politicians are corrupt and there is no point in voting.

Unsurprisingly, few – if any – politicians have noted this problem, a worrying trend for a young democracy. Instead, after every election, the ANC engages in the usual self-congratulation and claims that it represents the will of ‘the people’. The EFF admittedly did explicitly target non-registered young voters, but it appears that even Malema’s youthful radicalism and anti-system rhetoric didn’t do much for them.

The ANC comes out of this election with 62.15%, its lowest result  – even as a percentage of valid votes – in any post-apartheid election. Zuma has the dubious honour of being the ANC leader who has seen the ANC’s support fall in three successive elections – 2009, 2011 (locals) and 2014 – although given that the usual reaction to the results in those past three elections has been ‘the ANC did well for itself considering it could have done far worse’, there’s been no introspection (publicly) from the ANC.

The DA is strengthened with 22.3% and 90 seats, the highest result – in terms of raw votes, percentage of valid votes and seat total – for any single opposition party since the fall of apartheid. It beat the previous record, held by the NP in 1994. This is the culmination of the consolidation of bipolar system, with a dominant ANC (but increasingly less so) and a main opposition party coalescing most of the anti-ANC support at the expense of smaller opposition parties. For the DA, it is also the result of a consolidation of the vast majority of the non-black, minority vote around it – the DA commands the support not only of an overwhelming majority of whites, but also the large majority of Coloureds and Indians. The merger of Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats (IDs), whose best results came from Coloured regions in the Cape region in 2004 and 2009, has allowed the DA to further consolidate its hold on the Coloured vote. The DA has also made small but significant gains with black voters. In 2009, the DA is reported to have taken only 0.8% of the black vote in the country, an observation borne out by actual analysis of the results at a micro level. This year, the DA has reported that it won 6% of the black vote, like in 2011. According to the DA, 20% of its electorate is black (making it the most ‘racially diverse’ electorate).

The DA successfully held and expanded its majority in the Western Cape, the opposition’s main base since 1994. It has made significant inroads in Gauteng, South Africa’s major economic centre and most populous province. The DA faces, as will be discussed in the conclusion, the challenge of expanding its base to blacks. It has made strong gains with black voters since 2009, but obviously it will never win a national election if it wins in the whereabouts of 6% with black voters. Increasingly, if the DA fails to increase its black support, it will be hitting a ceiling.

The major loser of these elections is undoubtedly the IFP, the old Zulu nationalist party. The IFP won 2.4% of the vote, down from an all-time low of 4.6% in 2009. In KZN, the IFP’s stronghold, it was a bloodbath and embarrassment for the IFP: on the national ballot, the IFP won 10.2% of the vote against 65.3% for the ANC and 13.4% for the DA; on the provincial ballot, the IFP fell into third place, winning 10.9% against 12.8% for the DA and 64.5% for the ANC. The DA becomes the official opposition party in KZN’s provincial legislature, marking the first time that the IFP is neither in government or in the official opposition in the province. In 2009, when the IFP had suffered a brutal loss of 14.4% in its KZN stronghold from the 2004 election, the IFP had won 20.5% (and 22.4% on the provincial ballot). Since 2007, the IFP has been crippled by two major factors. Firstly, under Jacob Zuma, the ANC is no longer ‘Xhosa Nostra’ but rather a Zulu-led party in which KZN and the Zulus have gained significant power thanks to Zuma. Under Zuma, the ANC government has also promoted conservative values – with Zuma emphasizing his Zulu tribal roots on repeated occasions and the government favouring the rights of traditional leaders (notably when it comes to land issues). As a result of the ANC’s new direction under Zuma, the traditional Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelethini, a traditionally ally of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the IFP, has gotten along quite well with the ANC, causing major strains with the IFP. Secondly, the IFP has been hurt by the creation of the NFP, led by former IFP chairwoman (and 2009 KZN Premier candidate) Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi. The NFP won 6.4% in the national election in KZN this year, and 7.3% in the provincial ballot, coming in behind the IFP and its 2011 local election result (10.2%). The NFP is estimated to have taken about half of the IFP vote, notably in the old IFP heartlands of the old KwaZulu homeland.

The IFP’s support has been on a constant downwards trend since 1994 – in provincial elections in KZN, the IFP’s support has declined from 50.3% (1994) to 41.9% (1999), falling behind the ANC in 2004 (36.8%) and seeing the bottom fall out in 2009 (22.4%) as the ANC’s vote in the province jumped nearly 16% (the only province where the ANC’s support increased in 2009, providing a huge cushion for other – often substantial loses – for the ANC outside KZN in 2009). The IFP’s recent troubles owe a lot to Zuma’s leadership of the ANC, but the decline predates the Zuma ANC. It is due to the improvement of the security situation in KZN since 1994, from quasi-war zone in 1994 where several IFP heartlands were totally off-limits to the ANC (resulting in 90%+ support for the IFP), to a politically violent and turbulent (partisan killings and assassinations, between the IFP, ANC and now NFP, remain common in KZN) but generally safer province. The IFP has also lost much of its raison-d’etre since 1994.

Another major loser, of course, was COPE – which was annihilated, collapsing to only 0.7% and 3 seats (it had won 30 in 2009…). That result owes a lot to the fact that COPE spent the good part of the last five years fighting amongst itself. As the geographic analysis will show, COPE’s collapse benefited both the ANC and the DA. In any case, COPE has entered South African political lingo to refer to ephemeral flash-in-the-pan parties – there are already people asking if EFF will ‘be another COPE’. For anybody wondering, COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota did indeed eat his hat:

The UDM and VF+ were the only existing small parties to see their support increase. The UDM increased its support from the last election for the first time, its support having declined in every election since its first election in 1999, although with 1% of the vote, it is only a marginal gain of 0.2%. The VF+, whose supports has fallen since 2004, remained stable with a very small gain, reaching 0.9% of the vote.

All other existing minor parties suffered loses, further confirmation of the two-party polarization around the ANC and the DA at the top. The two parties which lost their leaders to death or expulsion since 2009 – the MF and the UCDP – both collapsed and lost their seats. Neither party filled any purpose, and the removal of their leaders has killed them off. In Durban, the MF won 2.4% in the provincial elections, down from 4.8% and 6.4% in 2009 and 2004 respectively. The MF’s vote has largely flowed to the DA. In the process, the MF, UCPD and AZAPO fell behind Al Jama-ah, an Islamist party which has fairly substantial support in Muslim Coloured and Asian precincts in the WC and Gauteng.

The ACDP and the PAC saw their support decline as well. The South African left, EFF excluded, performed dismally.

One remarkable failure was that of Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang, which got a lot of people excited at the time (again, mostly because of a weird infatuation with that kind of outfit) but which ended up as a dud. The aborted DA-Agang deal looked extremely bad on Ramphele, who had never consulted on her own party and acted totally unilaterally in a deal which she scuttled herself within days (if not hours). After the botched deal, and Agang’s decision to run alone with Ramphele at its head, the media largely ignored the party and it received very little attention. But Agang’s trouble predated the DA-Agang deal of doom; before the deal, Agang’s finances were already down the drain, the party was allegedly in tatters and its membership was low. Agang entered politics with grand principles and visions, but it failed to target a specific niche clientele – the mystical ‘black middle-class’ which everybody talks about, the voter who doesn’t like the ANC but can’t bring him/herself to vote DA. Its vague platitudes and principles appealed to few voters.

One interesting result came from the African Independent Congress (AIC), which ran in the national elections for the first time (it had ran provincially in the EC in 2009, winning 0.8% and 1 seat). Out of nowhere, surprising everybody, the small party won 0.5% of the vote and 3 seats. The AIC is a small rural, local and conservative party whose pet cause seems to be opposition to the inclusion of Matatiele Local Municipality in the EC rather than KZN, but from its website’s charming introduction, it has recycled itself into gathering signatures to call a referendum opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage (which happened in 2006, so they aren’t up with the times). The AIC won about 13% and 7 seats in the last local elections in Matatiele LM in 2011, and it remains the party’s base. However, its random success nationally did not owe to that – the AIC won only 0.78% in the EC, which is what it won in 2009, and only 3.8% in Matatiele LM. The reason for its success seems to be a perfect storm of ‘coincidences’ – the party was placed right above the ANC on the ballot, it has a very similar name to the ANC and its logo (printed on the ballot) is also green, yellow/gold and black. The ANC and most people believe that people voted AIC by mistake, thinking that they were voting ANC. The AIC naturally denies that possibility, but is at a loss when it comes to explaining how a regional party which nobody knows about managed to get a relatively homogeneous vote distribution across South Africa.

Geographical analysis

Results by Local Municipality in South Africa (source:

Voting patterns in South Africa remain predominantly determined by race. It is hardly surprising. As I explained in this post on race, ethnicity and language in South Africa, race remains a central concept in South African society – residential segregation, although less extreme than under apartheid, remains a reality; class is racialized, with the black majority being significantly poorer than the whites but also Coloureds and Indians, and with relatively little improvements in their share of the national income since 1994; poverty remains similarly conditioned by race in large part, with the overwhelming majority of the poor – and everything which poverty entails – being black, with only a tiny minority of ‘poor whites’ (despite so much ink being wasted on that pet topic of some commentators…); economic control and land ownership remains unequally distributed in favour of the white minority and racial issues remain at the heart of political debate. The ANC retains the support of a vast majority of the black majority – in this election, despite sharp loses in some regions to the EFF and the DA, I would wager that the ANC still won well over 80% of the black vote. The ANC commits only limited efforts to appealing to non-black voters (largely because it has no need to and it is often futile), and when it does talk directly to, say, white voters, it is more to reassure them that nothing bad will happen rather than to convince them to vote for the ANC. Nevertheless, the ANC does retain a small but significant minority of Coloured and Indian support; in the case of the Coloured vote, the ANC must pull a significant amount in rural and homogeneously Coloured regions of the remote Northern Cape.

The vast majority of whites, Coloureds and Indians now support the DA – especially as the VF+ has been severely weakened from its heyday in 1994, and the niche parties for Coloureds (the ID, which didn’t present itself as such but effectively had a heavily Coloured electorate) and Indians (the MF) have kicked the bucket (or, with the ID, merged with the DA). The Coloured vote is an interesting question, which has raised a lot of questions (but little academic analysis of much worth, sadly) and may often appear contradictory to outsiders. In the 1994 election, a majority of Coloureds, especially those in Cape Town and the Western Cape, voted for the NP over the ANC. It is surprising and may appear very contradictory, given that it was the same party which, in the 1950s, had fought a long and extremely contentious fight to remove Coloured voters (a minority who had the franchise) from the voter rolls in the Cape Province.

The Coloured identity is a complicated and ambiguous concept. Traditionally described as a ‘mixed-race’ group, most Coloureds have Khoisan ancestry – related to the lighter-skinned San and Khoi people which inhabited the present-day Cape region when Dutch settlers landed at the Cape – but early intermarriage with Dutch settlers, the assimilation of a section of the colonial black society in the Cape and the importation, by the Dutch, of slaves from the Dutch East Indies created a highly diverse population, with an ambiguous and complicated identity. The vast majority of Coloureds ‘integrated’ European society, adopting a Christian faith (except for the Cape Malays, who remain Muslim) and mostly speaking Afrikaans as their first language (a significant minority speaks English). Until apartheid, because many Coloureds and ‘poor whites’ lived interspersed, which blurred racial lines and allowed many Coloureds to ‘pass for white’ to escape discrimination. Under apartheid, Coloureds were described ‘negatively’ – in opposition to blacks and whites, as people who were neither white nor black; at an individual level, this allowed for significant confusion. Coloured identity has usually been associated with negative connotations – both whites and blacks have sometimes seen them as a ‘leftover’ group lacking a nation; during apartheid, whites associated Colouredness with racial intermarriage and hybridity, and Afrikaner nationalists were embarrassed by the reminder of their past ‘promiscuity’ and ‘moral lapses’ which had created a race of ‘half-breeds’ which was extremely negatively perceived by the racist regime. Some blacks have equally looked down on the Coloureds, given rise to the post-apartheid idea that Coloureds were ‘not white enough’ under apartheid but ‘not black enough’ since 1994.

Given this history, Coloureds’ political demands have oscillated between efforts for assimilation into white society, inspired by Cape liberalism; others took more radical stances, the Black Consciousness Movement had some appeal to Coloureds in the 1970s. Under apartheid, Coloureds, while facing severe discrimination, enjoyed an intermediate status in apartheid society – above the blacks in the racist hierarchy – and in the Coloured Labour Preference Area (CLPA), a region encompassing all of the WC, most of the NC and a section of the EC, Coloureds enjoyed employment preference over blacks and the NP regime strictly enforced influx control in the CLPA to expel ‘illegal’ black migrants to the ‘homelands’.

In 1994, a majority of the Coloured vote went to the NP, allowing the NP to win an absolute majority in the WC. The ANC’s defeat in the WC in 1994 was a major blow to the party, which had seriously expected to win, counting on the legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, which had enjoyed strong support in Coloured communities in Cape Town. However, the NP managed to win Coloured voters mixing old and new rhetoric. The NP’s FW de Klerk was very popular with Coloured voters (the NP downplayed Hernus Kriel, the verkrampte minister who would become NP Premier of the province), and the ‘new’ NP asked for forgiveness while focusing on minority rights and emphasizing the shared Christian and Afrikaans heritage of the Coloured people. But the NP also ran a thinly veiled and often crass racially divisive, if not racist, campaign, playing on voters’ fears that an ANC government and the ‘black hordes’ – migrants from the Eastern Cape, which had begun flowing into Cape Town after the CLPA was dismantled – would take their homes and jobs, and lead to chaos and destruction. Ironically, as the NP lost the white vote to the DP/DP with the DP’s slaan terug campaign in 1999, the party’s electorate became even more Coloured. In 2004, the NNP’s last election before it folded into the ANC, the NNP’s best results came from Coloured voters – for example, the NNP won about 30% of the vote in the poor Coloured township of Atlantis in Cape Town, but only 10-14% in the predominantly white Afrikaner suburb of Bellville.

The DA reported that it won 6% of the black vote, or about 760,000 votes, contributing 20% of the DA’s vote. This is equal to the DA’s share of the black vote which it reported in 2011, but up from less than 1% in 2009. Ipsos’ profile of the supporters of each party, right before the election, confirmed that blacks made up 20% of the DA’s electorate against 27% for Coloureds, 3% for Indians and 50% for whites. 50% of the DA’s supporters, Ipsos reported, speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue and 32% speak English. In contrast, 96% of ANC supporters and 99% of EFF supporters were black.

Unsurprisingly, Ipsos’ data found that DA voters are far wealthier, far more likely to have a full-time job and older than the broader South African electorate.

Ipsos’ profile also portrayed the EFF electorate: it is a disproportionately male (67%), young (49% are 24 and under) and quasi-homogeneously black (99%) electorate. 45% of the EFF’s electorate is unemployed, and another 20% are students. The results of the election showed that the EFF was the second largest party behind the ANC with black voters, likely ahead of the DA nationally. But the EFF’s appeal was unequal: in some townships, the EFF won in the double-digits and even broke 20% in some areas, reducing the ANC’s sky high levels of support rather significantly in some places. In other townships, for example in the Western Cape or KZN, the EFF, while generally a distant second to the ANC, remained in the single-digits with support at or barely above its national average. In a lot of black rural areas, for example in the densely populated former homelands of the Transkei and Ciskei in the EC, the EFF failed to break through. The EFF generally did best wih Sepedi and Setswana-speakers, while doing quite poorly with isiZulu and isiXhosa-speakers.

The DA also reported that it grew its support with minority communities – from 83.9% to 92.8% of the white vote, from 55.5% to 67.7% of the Coloured vote and from 53.7% to 61% of the Indian vote.

In this election, the ANC suffered major losses in some of South Africa’s largest cities (Metropolitan Municipalities) in Gauteng. Its support fell from 63.3% to 53.6% in Johannesburg, from about 61% to 51% in Tshwane (Pretoria) and from 67.5% to 56.4% in Ekurhuleni (East Rand). In Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth, EC), the ANC won 49.2% compared to 50.1% in 2009. The ANC’s sharp losses in some MMs may spell trouble for the party ahead of the 2016 local elections, in which the DA has a very good chance to gain Nelson Mandela Bay MM and may fancy its chances in both Johannesburg and Pretoria.

You can explore national and provincial results from 2014 and 2009 at all levels, down to the voting district (precinct) level, on this fabulous map. A handy racial, linguistic and income dot map to a micro level is a useful companion.

Provincial election results

EC 70.09% (45) 16.2% (10) 3.48% (2) 0.06% 0.16% 6.16% (4) 0.31% 1.2% (1) 0.33% 0.77% (1)
FS 69.85% (22) 16.23% (5) 8.15% (2) 0.11% 0.11% 0.21% 2.1% (1) 1.63% 0.51%
GP 53.59% (40) 30.78% (23) 10.3% (8) 0.78% (1) 0.47% 0.44% 1.2% (1) 0.49% 0.62% 0.07%
KZN 64.52% (52) 12.76% (10) 1.85% (2) 10.86% (9) 7.31% (6) 0.17% 0.2% 0.16% 0.44% 1.02% (1)
LP 78.6% (39) 6.48% (3) 10.74% (6) 0.08% 0.04% 0.27% 0.69% 0.86% (1) 0.48%
MP 78.23% (24) 10.4% (3) 6.26% (2) 0.26% 0.75% 0.13% 0.82% 0.32% 0.4% 1.15% (1)
NW 67.39% (23)
12.73% (4) 13.21% (5)
0.14% 0.15% 0.88% 1.72% (1) 0.8% 0.53%
NC 64.4% (20) 23.89% (7) 4.96% (2) 0.06% 0.03% 0.09% 1.09% 3.6% (1) 0.57%
WC 32.89% (14) 59.38% (26) 2.11% (1) 0.05% 0.04% 0.48% 0.55% 0.59% 1.02% (1) 0.31%


Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province – home to the sprawling metropolises of Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Rand area – and economic powerhouse, was one of the most closely disputed provinces. Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s new black hopeful, ran a strong DA campaign to topple the ANC provincial government – the ANC has governed Gauteng since 1994.

Results by precinct (VD) in Johannesburg and the East Rand (source:

The ANC suffered its steepest losses in Gauteng, falling from 64.8% to 54.9% on the national ballot and from 64% to 53.6% in the provincial election. In 1994, the ANC’s previous low in the province, it had won 57.6%. The DA and the EFF both cashed in on the ANC’s bad performance – on the national ballot, the DA won 28.5% (up from 21.3% in 2009 and compared to 23.9% for the NP in 1994, although in 1994 the NP+VF+DP vote stood at over 35%) and the EFF won 10.3%. In the provincial election, likely boosted by ballot splitting in favour of Maimane, the DA won 30.8%. It likely was a major beneficiary of the COPE’s 2009 votes – the party had won 7.8% in the province at the time.

But the ANC’s fairly spectacular fall in Gauteng – which spells trouble for the ANC in 2016 and 2019 – isn’t only the result of the COPE vote likely shifting to the DA, the DA consolidating the non-black vote and winning some black support. The ANC in Gauteng, as explained above, has been wracked by internal tensions and divisions for a number of years, and the provincial party endorsed Motlanthe over Zuma at Mangaung in 2012. The province has been led by independent mavericks for quite some time – first Tokyo Sexwale (Premier from 1994 to 1998), who had/has presidential ambitions; then Mbhazima Shilowa (Premier from 1999 to 2008), who defected to COPE; then Paul Mashatile (Premier from 2008 to 2009), who was unaligned with either Zuma or Mbeki and became an anti-Zuma leader. Mashatile was not retained as Premier by the ANC NEC, which preferred to pick the pro-Zuma Nomvula Mokonyane, but he kept the provincial leadership (defeating Mokonyane in 2010) and a bitter rivalry between the ‘two centres of power’ crippled her administration and led to infighting in the ANC.

Gauteng has long been a magnet for migrant workers, ever since the early days of industrial South Africa, and now attracts a large number of black immigrants from poorer countries in Africa. This has created real challenges for service delivery and employment in the province, which, despite being – with the WC – one of South Africa’s wealthiest provinces, has a high unemployment rate at 30% (expanded). High criminality, joblessness and service delivery failures by incompetent or overburdened governments in Gauteng have led to explosive social tensions, in the form of bloody xenophobic riots and often-violent service delivery protests.

Discontent was locally exacerbated by the ANC’s unpopular e-tolls – the installation of gantries on Gauteng highways to act as an electronically-operated toll road. The e-tolls were more or less unilaterally imposed by the ANC without prior consultation, ostensibly to pay for highway renovation. They faced the opposition of the opposition parties, part of the business community, most motorists and COSATU. The DA’s provincial campaign promised to organize a referendum on e-tolls if it had won.

Voting remain polarized along racial lines to a large extent, but it was not a ‘racial census’ election. The biggest shifts happened in black areas. In Soweto, the ANC had won (on average) over 85% of the vote throughout the large township’s wards in 2009, with the main challenge coming from COPE and, in some voting districts (VDs) from the IFP. The DA won only 1% or so of the vote. This year, the ANC remained dominant, but saw a significant loss of support – down to mid-to-high 70s (a guesstimate from ward results), with no wards registering over 90% of the vote but a fairly substantial number of VDs with the ANC falling below 70%. The EFF and the DA were the beneficiaries of the ANC’s losses, with the EFF generally coming in second behind the ANC with about 10-12% on average and the DA placing third with 4-8% of the vote. The IFP, which won 0.8% in the provincial election – down 0.7% from 2009, but still saving its one seat in the provincial legislature, won a few VDs in Soweto, all of them hostels (for male migrant workers from KZN, the IFP’s traditional base in the PWV). The ANC, however, won its best results in the heavily Zulu neighborhoods of Soweto – in Zola, which is 77% isiZulu-speaking, the ANC won about 84%.

In other townships in Gauteng, the ANC suffered substantial losses as well. In Alexandra, a much poorer township in Joburg, the ANC’s support fell from the 85% range to about 68-72% of the vote. The EFF won about 15-20% support in Alexandra, and even won 40% in a small VD covering a large informal settlement outside the township. In Diepsloot, another poor Joburg (north) township with large informal settlements, the ANC fell from over 85% of the vote in 2009 to 70%, with the EFF winning about 22% of the vote. In two VDs covering a plurality-Sepedi (the main language in Limpopo and Malema’s native tongue) informal settlement, the EFF won about 30%.

Results by precinct (VD) in Tshwane (Pretoria) (source:

The EFF also had very strong support in wealthier black areas – take, for example, the more middle-class parts of Cosmo City, a new 97% black suburb (mostly RDP housing, but with some wealthier areas), the EFF took over 20% and the ANC won only 56-60% of the vote (the DA, with support over 10%, also did well – and Agang got over 1%!). The ANC’s support remained over 70% in the poorer half of Cosmo City.
In some of the new affluent suburbs and gated communities in Midrand – areas such as Noordwyk (which is 62% black) and Vorna Valley (53% black) – the ANC won about 45%, while the DA won about 25% and the EFF did well with roughly 15% or so. These areas are quite racially mixed, with significant Asian and white populations, so the DA vote likely came from minorities but it is certain that the DA won a significant percentage of the black vote.

The DA likely won a significant (double digit) percentage of the black vote in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs; these places are seen as lily white affluent suburbs, as they were under apartheid, but there is a significant black minority. For example, Randburg and Sandton are both around 35% black. The ANC vote in the northern suburbs was lower – significantly so – than the black percentage. Take, for example, the very affluent leafy suburb of Northcliff, which is 22.8% black. The ANC vote was only 10-12%, with the DA winning in the high 70s. In Dainfern, a new affluent suburban subdivision in the northern suburbs of Joburg which is 25% black, the ANC won 17% to the DA’s 75.8%.

The EFF did particularly well in Tembisa, a large 98% black township in Ekurhuleni (East Rand). In the northern half of the township, which is both heavily Sepedi and is largely made up of informal settlements or makeshift houses, the EFF won well over 35% and broke over 40% in some VDs, coming within a handful of votes of the ANC, whose support totally collapsed from over 90% in 2009 to the low 50s. The ANC retained stronger support – in the high 60s to low 70s (down from about 90% in 2009) – in other parts of Tembisa, where the Sepedi language is less predominant. The EFF still did very well, polling over 20% in most wards in Tembisa.

The ANC’s strongest results in Gauteng generally came from predominantly Zulu townships – in Tsakane and Langaville (Ekurhuleni), the ANC won over 80% of the vote was below 10% in most wards. In the large township of Kathelong, which is 37% isiZulu-speaking, the ANC remained in the high 70s-low 80s. The ruling party remained well over 80% in Evaton and Sebokeng.

In the city of Tshwane (Pretoria), the EFF raked in strong support in some townships – in Atteridgeville and Saulsville, both of which are plurality Sepedi-speaking, the EFF won over 20% in all but one ward; the EFF also did quite well in some peripheral townships (Ga-Rankuwa, which is Tswana) and some parts of Mamelodi, winning over 30% in some of the VDs covering the shantytowns.

Racial polarization remained, of course, the order of the day in Gauteng like in every other province. The DA won one local municipality in Gauteng – Midvaal, which is 58.4% black and 38.7% white, and which is also the only municipality in the province to have a DA mayor. In the municipality, the DA won nearly 90% of the vote in the white suburb of Meyerton. In Joburg, Pretoria, the East Rand and the rest of Gauteng, the DA swept the predominantly white and affluent suburbs – Centurion, Waterkloof, Sandton, Randburg, Roodepoort, Benoni, Boksburg, Alberton, Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark (the significant non-white populations in these formerly exclusive suburbs makes it difficult to estimate what percentage of the white vote the DA received, but the DA generally won 70-85% of the vote in majority-white wards). The VF+ retained a small but not insignificant base of support in Pretoria, winning 2.5% in the metro – taking up to 10% in some lower middle-class white Afrikaner suburbs in northern Pretoria and roughly 4-6% in Centurion, a wealthier Afrikaner suburban town. The DA consolidated its vote in Coloured neighborhoods – for example, in Eldorado Park (85% Coloured) in Joburg, the DA won over 80% of the vote, up from about 55% in 2009 (the IDs had performed well). The ANC retained stronger support with Indian voters, but the DA won the Indian/Asian precincts in Joburg and Pretoria. In Joburg’s Ward 9, a plurality Asian ward covering part of the old Indian township of Lenasia, the DA won 47.5% to the ANC’s 34.3% – with Al Jama-ah, the Islamist party, taking 7.8%.


Results by precinct (VD) in the Durban-Pietermaritzburg area (source:

Formerly one of the provinces where the ANC struggled, KZN is establishing itself as one of the ANC’s main bases in South Africa – not only in terms of the growing influence held by KZN in internal politics in the ANC, but also the contribution of KZN to the ANC’s nationwide support. The ANC won 65.3% of the national vote, with the DA beating the IFP for second place with 13.4% against 10.2%. The NFP received 6.4% of the vote and the EFF failed to breakthrough in KZN, winning only 2%. In the provincial election, the ANC won 64.5% against 12.8% for the DA, 10.9% for the IFP, 7.3% for the NFP, 1.9% for the EFF and 1% for the MF. The ANC’s support is marginally higher than in 2009, when the party had won 64% of the vote on the national ballot in KZN and 63% in the provincial election. The DA also increased its support, from 10% in 2009. In contrast, the IFP’s vote collapsed by 11.5% in the provincial election – although, unlike in 2009, the IFP bled heavily to the new ‘dissident’ NFP. The Minority Front retained a single seat in the provincial legislature, despite losing about half of its support since the last election.

In eThekwini (Durban) metro, the ANC won 65.4% (national vote), down from about 67.7% in 2009. The DA placed second with 23%, with the IFP taking only 3.2% in the province’s largest metro. The MF won 2.4% in the provincial election in Durban metro, down from 4.8% in the last election. The results by ward and VD indicate that the MF’s support in Durban’s Indian suburbs – Chatsworth, Queensburgh and Phoenix – shifted heavily to the DA. In two heavily Indian wards of Chatsworth – wards 70 and 72 (over 90% Indian) – the DA won 74.5% and 76.1% respectively (on the national ballot), against 6.6% and 10.4% for the MF. In the provincial race, the DA won 66.7% and 64.3% respectively, with the MF – which had topped the poll in Chatsworth in the 2009 provincial election – taking 15.6% and 23.6%. In Phoenix, the patterns were similar, with the DA taking 74% of the vote across the two most heavily Indian wards in the national election, and about 65% in the provincial poll. The MF won between 15 to 25% in the provincial election in Phoenix. The ANC received very weak support; hurt by the comments of Indian ANC leader Visvin Reddy who opined that Indians who complained about the ANC should go back to India. Obviously, the DA won the white vote in Durban by huge margins, winning 84.6% in Ward 10, a 78% white which includes the affluent white suburb of Kloof. The DA won over 90% in some VDs in the affluent white suburbs of Kloof, Forest Hills and Hillcrest and won over 85% in the coastal towns of Durban North and Umhlanga.

The ANC won between 85% and 90% of the vote in the densely populated black (Zulu, naturally) townships of Umlazi, Clermont, Inanda and KwaMashu. The ANC narrowly won Ward 39, an often violent area of KwaMashu disputed between the ANC, IFP and NFP. The ANC won 44.2% against 39% for the IFP. In Durban, the IFP’s support is very marginal in most townships, but retains a few isolated outposts of support in hostels for migrant rural workers.

The IFP’s support in KZN is down to the party’s traditional areas of strength – certain rural areas, formerly part of the KwaZulu homeland, where support for Zulu traditionalism as expressed by the IFP remains high. The IFP won Ulundi, the former capital of KwaZulu and a longtime IFP bastion, with 54.1% against 25.5% for the NFP and 17.4% for the ANC. In 2009, the IFP had won 83.6% in Ulundi and it had taken 92.5% there in 2004. The IFP, however, was defeated in Nongoma, the traditional seat of the Zulu monarchy where the IFP had received 81.6% in 2009. The NFP won 38.8% against 30.2% for the IFP; the NFP had already defeated the IFP in Nongoma in the 2011 local elections. The NFP also won Edumbe, an old IFP stronghold on the border with Mpumalanga, winning 44.5% to the ANC’s 39.9%. The ANC, historically a non-factor in the traditionalist heartland, made significant gains in rural KZN in 2009 – evidenced by Jacob Zuma’s native Nkandla, where the ANC surged from 7.9% in 2004 to 51.7% in 2009 and increased its support to 53.9% this year (the IFP won 37.9%). In a lot of municipalities where, 10 years ago, the IFP dominated with large margins, the ANC now wins between 40% and 55% of the vote.

The ANC performed best in the south of the province, in heavily black and poor rural areas which used to be outside of the KwaZulu homeland, or in non-Zulu black areas – in Umzimkhulu, a former exclave of the Xhosa homeland of Transkei, the ANC won 91% of the vote.

Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is another ANC citadel, in which the ANC received 70.8% of the vote this year, up from 69.7% in 2009. The DA won 15.9%, up from about 10% of the vote in 2009, while Bantu Holomisa’s UDM placed third with 5.3% (and 6.2% in the provincial election) – up from 4% in 2009. COPE, which had placed second and formed the official opposition to the ANC in 2009, collapsed from 13.3% to only 1.2%. The ANC, UDM and the DA all appear to have benefited from COPE’s collapse.

Results by precinct (VD) in Nelson Mandela Bay MM (Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage) (source:

The ANC draws a very large number of votes from the densely populated rural areas which made up the former Xhosa homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei during apartheid, in the east of the province. Both of these regions remain very heavily populated – just look at the population density map, and notice how easy it is to spot the former limits of these two homelands (and practically all other homelands in the country) by the high density; they are also rural and poor communities, with very high levels of poverty, joblessness and very incomplete access to basic household necessities and amenities (electricity, water etc). In the EC, about 61% of the population live in poverty – the second highest in the country – and unemployment stands at 44% – the highest in the country – under the expanded definition.

In the Transkei, the ANC faces very localized competition from the UDM, but Holomisa’s support is heavily concentrated in King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality – that is to say, the former Transkeian capital of Mthatha and surrounding rural areas and communities. The UDM won 29.5% in the municipality, against 24% in 2009; the ANC received 59.6%, while the DA increased its support from less than 1% to 4.5%. The UDM won, as in 2009, a handful of wards to the south of Mqanduli (Holomisa’s birthplace) and closer to the coast. Although the UDM placed a very distant second to the ANC in a lot of municipalities and wards in the Transkei, the ANC won over 80% – oftentimes over 85%, if not even 90% – in the former homeland. The DA did manage to increase its support from total irrelevance (less than 1%, if not less than 0.5%) in 2009 to the brink of relevancy, with some results over 3-4% in certain municipalities; needless to say, if the DA is actually serious about winning the EC in the future (as it sometimes seems to say), it will need much stronger support. Similarly, in the old Ciskei, the ANC won between 80% and 93% of the vote in almost every single ward in the borders of the former homeland. The EFF generally placed a distant second to the ANC, although it won very weak support in general (3-5%).

The ANC narrowly won Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage) metro, with 49.2% to the DA’s 40.2% in the national election. The ANC vote fell below 50%, while the DA’s support increased significantly, up from 28.2% in 2009. The DA was likely the beneficiary of most COPE votes from 2009; that party had taken third with 17% five years ago, but COPE collapsed to fourth place with only 1.8% in this election. In a racially polarized contest, the ANC won about 75-85% of the vote in the metro area’s main townships (iBhayi, KwaNobhule, Gqebera, Motherwell), with the EFF taking a distant second with support in the high single digits. COPE had performed well in the townships and even better in some new, slightly ‘middle-class’ black areas; their collapse did increase the ANC’s support somewhat.

The DA held the white vote and consolidated its hold on the Coloured vote, to a point where Coloured areas are nearly electorally indistinguishable from white areas – proving, again, that race definitely trumps income or class as a voting determinant. The DA won over 90% or came close to it in a lot of VDs in the white southern suburbs, but it also took roughly 85% of the vote in Coloured areas in Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage. Back in 2009, while the DA had captured roughly the same proportion of the vote in white areas such as Walmer and Despatch in 2009, the DA’s support in Coloured areas of the metro increased significantly – in 2009, the DA had received between 50% and 65% of the vote in most Coloured-dominated VDs, with strong support for COPE (in the double digits, sometimes over 20%) and the IDs, as well as slightly higher support for the ANC than this year.

The DA won a single local municipality in the EC – Kouga, which is 42.6% Coloured and 38.8% black, with a small white minority (17.6%). The main settlements are Humansdorp, which is heavily Coloured, and the coastal resort town of Jeffrey’s Bay with a mixed white, black and Coloured population. Overall, the DA won 49.9% to the ANC’s 44.2%; in further detail, the DA received just below 90% of the vote  in the affluent white areas of Jeffrey’s Bay (with the VF+ placing a distant second, with about 7-8%) and St. Francis Bay, while it won around 60% of the vote in predominantly Coloured areas – the ANC’s support in rural Coloured areas, outside major urban centres, is significantly higher.

Western Cape

The DA retained control of the Western Cape, the only province not held by the ANC and governed by the DA since 2009. In the national election, the DA won 57.3% against 34% for the ANC and 2.3% for the EFF (at 1.2%, it was also the ACDP’s best province). In the provincial election, the DA won 59.4% against 32.9% for the ANC and 2.1% for the EFF. In both cases, the DA and the ANC both increased their support from the last election, where the DA had won an absolute majority on its own in the provincial legislature with 51.5% of the vote (and 48.8% in the national election), while the ANC won only 31.6%. COPE had placed third with 9.1% on the national ballot in the 2009 election.

The Western Cape stands apart from the rest of South Africa because blacks, at 32.9% of the population, constitute only a minority of the province’s population, which is predominantly Coloured (48.8%) with a significant white minority (15.7%). The unique racial demographics are, you might have guessed, really not foreign to the reasons why the ANC has struggled in the province since 1994. The NP won the 1994 elections in the WC with a margin similar to the 2009 and 2014 margins, but the ANC, thanks to inroads with Coloured voters, won 42% of the vote in 1999 and 46% in 2004. The ANC has since been hurt by a loss of Coloured support, as well as intense and crippling divisions between warring factions in the provincial party (a struggle which does not seem to have been resolved since the days of Polokwane). In 2009, the DA consolidated its Coloured support, winning voters who had formerly voted for the NNP or IDs in 2004, while in the 2011 local elections and again in 2014, the disappearance of the IDs – which received 8% in 2004 and 4.5% in 2009 – allowed the DA to finalize consolidation of its Coloured support.

Results by precinct (VD) in Cape Town, Paarl and Stellenbosch (source:

The DA won 59.3% of the national vote in Cape Town, up from a bit over 50% in 2009, while the ANC’s support remained stable at 32.4%. Cape Town is very racially polarized city, often lacking the racial heterogeneity found in some of Gauteng’s suburbs. Once again, the results of the election painted this picture of a racially divided city: the ANC won a bit over 85% of the vote across the large townships of Khayelitsha, Langa, Gugulethu and the huge informal settlement of Philippi, with the EFF placing a very distant second with about 6-8% and the DA performing poorly with only 1-2% of the vote and third/fourth place. These numbers are similar or slightly up from 2009, thanks to COPE’s elimination and a return of some of their voters to the ANC.

In stark contrast, the DA dominated the white and Coloured areas of the city, to the point where they are more or less electorally indistinguishable. The DA swept the large Coloured township of Mitchell’s Plain with over 85%, breaking 90% in some VDs. The DA won similar amount of the votes in other low-income Coloured townships and neighborhoods such as Elsie’s River, Belhar, Bontheuwel, Bridgetown, Delft (the non-black parts thereof; with a highly striking polarization), Kraaifontein; it received similar or slightly less in some more affluent Coloured neighborhoods in the Southern Suburbs. The main change from 2009 came from the consolidation of the non-ANC vote behind the DA, rather than an actual shift of Coloured voters from the ANC to the DA – the ANC had already polled poorly with Cape Town’s Coloured population in 2009.

Cape Town’s affluent white suburbs tend to be more racially homogeneous than Joburg’s northern suburbs, meaning that the DA vote is even higher. In the very affluent white Anglo Southern Suburbs, the DA won over 90% or came close to it, with Agang performing ‘well’ with about 1-2% of the vote. In the high-end small coastal and oceanview communities on the Cape, the DA won over 90%; it also swept the white upper middle-class suburbs in Durbanville, Bellville, Milnerton and Bloubergstrand.

Outside Cape Town, the patterns were fairly similar. In the white parts of the coastal communities such as Hermanus, Mossel Bay, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, the DA won roughly 90% of the vote. In cities such as Paarl, Stellenbosch, George, Malmesbury, Wellington and Worcester which exhibit a similar racial polarization between affluent white areas, very poor black townships/informal settlements and poor Coloured areas, the patterns were broadly similar – the DA won about 90% of the vote in the white areas, the ANC received a very similar amount in the black areas while the Coloured areas generally gave about 75-85% of the vote to the DA. However, in other towns and rural areas, the predominant Coloured vote split far more equally. In Beaufort West, a town in the Karoo, for example, the DA won only about 40% of the vote in the poorer Coloured neighborhoods (slightly better in the slightly wealthier parts) and ended up tied or behind the ANC.


Limpopo, a vast, very poor and highly geographically and linguistically diverse province in the north of the country, is 97% black and usually the ANC’s strongest province (along with Mpumalanga) in the country – with support since 1994 oscillating between 85% and 90%. With expanded unemployment at 39% and with 64% of the population living in poverty, Limpopo is the country’s poorest province.

This year, the ANC suffered substantial loses in the province – where the local ANC government has been at the heart of both controversy (the textbook debacle) and internal power struggles (the former Premier opposed Zuma and the ANC NEC dumped him and disbanded the provincial executive) – falling to 79% of the vote on the national ballot (and 78.6% in the provincial contest), down from about 85% in 2009. The EFF, whose leader was born and raised in Limpopo and retains a strong footing in the province, placed second with 10.3% of the vote. The DA nevertheless increased its support in the province, from a paltry 3.7% to 6.6%. COPE, which formed the official opposition to the ANC (with all of 7% in 2009…), collapsed to merely 0.8%.

The province of Limpopo is largely rural, with the black population still largely concentrated in densely populated rural and small-town areas corresponding to the former apartheid-era homelands: Lebowa (Sepedi/Northern Sotho), Venda and Gazankulu (Tsonga). Malema himself is a Northern Sotho, Sepedi-speaker from the Polokwane area, specifically the township of Seshego – the former capital of Lebowa. The EFF received about 20% of the vote in Seshego and surrounding areas, and the EFF won in the whereabouts of 15% of the vote in other Sepedi-speaking regions of Limpopo. Overall, the EFF won 16.3% in the municipality of Polokwane, its best result in the province. It brought the ANC’s vote down to about 75-85%. The EFF’s support was weaker in the Venda and Xitsonga-speaking regions of the province, where the ANC’s vote held up better, taking 85-90%.

The EFF also performed very well in Thabazimbi Local Municipality, taking 13.8% of the vote (the UDM won 6.2%), while the ANC’s support took a major hit – falling from 74.3% to only 57.2%. Located in the south of the province, a sparsely populated area outside the former homelands, the area includes a part of the restive platinum belt – and that’s where EFF (and the UDM) did best. In the platinum belt area, the EFF vote ranged between 15% and 20%, peaking at 43% in a hostel located adjacent to a mine while the UDM polled up to 35% in a mining area with Xhosa migrant workers.

The DA’s weak support in the province is largely limited to Afrikaner neighborhoods in the major urban centres and white farms outside the old homelands; the VF+ also has a small base in these rural Afrikaner areas, polling in the double-digits behind the DA in some white precincts. In the white precincts in the cities, the VF+ won about 6%.


Mpumalanga is similar to Limpopo – a heavily black (90.7%), very poor, vast, geographically and linguistically diverse province which has also been one of the ANC’s strongest provinces in the country. In 2009, the ANC had won 85.8% of the vote in the province, its best result in South Africa. That has generally been the range of support for the ANC since 1999. The province’s Premier, David Mabuza, is one of the powerful men in the national ANC – as a loyal ally of Zuma – and a strongman in his province, as a dispenser of patronage who takes his share on government tenders. This year, the ANC’s support fell below 80% for the first time, to 78.8% while the DA’s vote increased from 7.6% to 10%. The EFF won 6.2% of the vote, and a small residents’ association from the municipality of Bushbuckridge won 0.9% – and actually won a seat in the provincial legislature, thanks to their 1.2% on the provincial ballot.

The EFF did best in Emalahleni (9.2%), Thembisile (8.9%) and Dr. JS Moroka municipalities (10.1%), all of them bordering Gauteng and with a significant Sepedi-speaking population in parts. In the urban municipality of Emalahleni, for example, the EFF won over 25% in two precincts a large predominantly Sepedi informal settlement. The ANC won about 90% of the vote in the siSwati (Swazi)-speaking areas, formerly part of the KaNgwane (Swazi) homeland; and roughly 85% of the vote in the isiZulu-speaking areas, largely rural villages and townships scattered throughout the province close to small regional towns. The EFF largely failed to make much of an impact in either areas, winning only 3-4% of the vote.

The DA’s small base in the province remains in the white Afrikaner areas of the urban centres (Emalahleni, Middleburg, Nelspruit) and regional towns (Secunda, Ermelo, Standerton, White River, Lydenburg).

North West

The results in the North West proved highly interesting. With 67.8% of the vote, the ANC’s support fell by over 6% from the last election, while the DA and the EFF more or less tied for second – in the national election, the DA (12.6%, up nearly 4%) narrowly pipped the EFF (12.5%) for second, while in the provincial election, the EFF placed second with 13.2% against 12.6% for the DA. The ANC had fallen below 80% for the first time in the 2009 election (73.8%) and now it falls below 70% for the first time.

Survey of EFF and ANC voters in the platinum belt (source: Mail & Guardian, May 16 2014)

The ANC suffered some of its worst loses in the entire country in the municipality of Rustenburg, where the ANC’s support fell over 16.5% from 73.9% to 57.4%. The ANC’s support also fell by over 10% in neighboring Madibeng, where the ANC took 66.1%. Both of these municipalities form the core of South Africa’s restive platinum belt, the core of internationally-famous labour disputes and violence in the past years – Marikana, the site of the infamous massacre of 34 miners in 2012, is a mining town located in Rustenburg municipality. The EFF won 20.2% of the vote in Rustenburg, its best result in the country. It won 12.8% in Madibeng, 16.2% in Moses Katane (in a remote area outside the platinum belt) and 14.4% in Mafikeng. In Marikana itself, the EFF received about 28% of the vote and the UDM made a strong showing as well, coming in third with results up to 38%. In Ward 31, which covers most of Marikana, the ANC won 38.5% against 29.2% for the EFF and 25.2% for the UDM (as previously noted, Holomisa was popular with the Xhosa migrant workers in the region). The EFF won two wards, with over 50% of the vote, located near a mine; the party also won nearly 30% in other wards in the mining region of Rustenburg. In Wonderkop (Madibeng), a small mining community located next to Marikana, the EFF won 43% of the vote. Throughout the broader mining belt, the EFF’s result did not fall below 12.5% of the vote in any ward (except white ones in Rustenburg proper).

The M&G reported a survey of ANC and EFF voters in the platinum belt. According to the study, the EFF’s supporters were more likely to be male, Xhosa (hence migrant workers), not beneficiaries of social grants and participants in a community and/or workers’ protest. The ANC retained the votes of women, those who receive social grants and those who did not partake in protests. Gender, social grants and participation in a protest seem to be the key determinants in the ANC/EFF split.

Outside the platinum belt, the EFF also made an impact in Mafikeng – specifically in the sprawling townships and informal settlements which surround the city’s core – with results between 13% and high teens. The UCDP, previously a party with a significant presence in the province (even in 2009, it had won in the double digits in the settlements outside Mafikeng, in the former homeland of Bophuthatswana), collapsed to only 0.9% in the province – from a low of 3.9% in 2009 and a high of 7.5% in its first election in 1999. In Mafikeng, the UCDP won 2.7%, down 10.7% from the last election – some of its lost support flowed back to the ANC, allowing the ruling party to increase its support in Mafikeng municipality by 3.2% to 68.3%.

The DA made strong gains in Tlokwe (Potchefstroom), a municipality at the heart of a local political dispute in 2013 which saw the DA briefly take control of the local government when ANC defectors allowed the DA to unseat a corrupt ANC mayor but the ANC regained control in December 2013 after sweeping the seats held by the expelled ANC councillors in by-elections. The ANC’s vote in Tlokwe fell from 56.7% to 52.6% while the DA’s support increased from 24% to 31%. The DA made some gains in the white Afrikaner areas, thanks to a small erosion in the VF+ vote, which stood at over 15% in 2009; made major gains in a Coloured township (Promosa), where it won over 55% (up from 11%) and the ANC suffered some loses to the EFF in the black townships, where the ANC took a bit over 80% and the EFF took over 15% in some precincts.

Free State

The ANC’s support fell by 2.2%, down to 69.7%, in the Free State, falling below 70% for the first time ever. The DA gained about 4.1%, winning 16.2% while the EFF won 7.9%. COPE, the official opposition, lost 9.7% of its vote from 2009 and took only 1.4% in the province. With 1.9% of the vote, the Free State was the VF+’s best province. The province is a heartland for both the ANC and Afrikaner nationalism – the ANC was founded in the Free State in 1912, while the original founder of the NP, JBM Hertzog, hailed from the Orange Free State and the heavily Afrikaner (as far as whites concerned) was a conservative NP stronghold for decades after 1948. For the contemporary ANC, the Free State is the fiefdom of Premier Ace Magashule, a powerful and controversial local strongman who is one of Zuma’s strongest allies. The provincial government has been plagued by service delivery protests and mismanagement. Poverty is estimated at 41% in the Free State, but over 41% of the labour force is unemployed.

Results by precinct (VD) in the Mangaung metro (Bloemfontein) (source:

Voting patterns in the Free State are quite predictable. The ANC receives its highest levels of support in the homogeneously black townships or former homelands – QwaQwa (which is today part of Maluti a Phofung municipality, where the ANC won 80.9%, its best result in the FS) and an exclave of Bophuthatswana located east of Bloemfontein, today in Mangaung metro. The DA made some fairly significant inroads in some black townships across the province, taking between 2% and 6% of the vote, while the EFF also had some good performances in black townships – in Selosesha in the Mangaung metro, the EFF received about 15% of the vote and also won results in the low double digits in other townships across the province. The DA and the VF+’s bases remain, however, in the white Afrikaner neighborhoods of major cities and towns across the province – Bloemfontein, Welkom, Parys, Kroonstad, Sasolburg and Bethlehem. The VF+ received support in the low double digits/low teens in most white Afrikaner neighborhoods in the cities, placing a distant second or third behind the DA.

Northern Cape

The Northern Cape, South Africa’s smallest province in terms of population but a very large and sparsely populated arid province in terms of land area, is an interesting beast. The province’s population is racially divided between blacks and Coloureds. Blacks, who now make up 50.4% of the population, are heavily concentrated in the more populated and mineral-rich eastern end of the province, in cities such as Kimberley and rural areas which formed part of the old homeland of Bophuthatswana. Coloureds make up 40.3% of the population, heavily concentrated in the very sparsely populated and arid stretches of desert in the western half of the province; the division between blacks and Coloureds still reflect the old limits of the CLPA during apartheid. The large Coloured population means that the NC is a likely target for the DA. After all, in 1994, the ANC had won the province with only 49.8% of the vote against 41.9% for the NP, with the NP sweeping the Coloured regions. The ANC has since increased its support (the black population has also increased significantly since 1996, reducing the share of the Coloured population to a minority), to a peak of 68.8% in 2004 and a low of 61.1% in 2009. This year, the ANC’s support increased marginally to 63.9%. The DA received 23.4% in the province, up over 10 points from 2009, when the DA had placed third with only 13.1% while COPE, which did well both in black areas and Coloured regions, won second with 15.9%, its best showing in South Africa. This year, COPE collapsed to 3.3%, while the IDs, which had won 4.7%, shifted to the DA.

The ANC retains very strong support in the black areas of the NC – for example, in John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality, which is 84% black, the ANC won 73.2% against 10.6% for the DA and 10% for the EFF. The ANC won about 68% of the vote in Magareng and Phokwane local municipalities, which are both around 80% black, while the DA won 15% and the EFF 10%. In Sol Plaatije municipality, the most populated municipality in the province (Kimberley), the ANC won 61% of the vote (and the municipality is 61% black) against 28.4% for the DA and only 4.9% for the EFF. The ANC took about 80% of the vote in Galeshewe, a 92% black township, while the DA won the white and Coloured suburbs by wide margins.

The ANC has considerable, majority, support in Coloured areas across most of the province. For example, in Nama Khoi municipality, which is 88% Coloured, the ANC won 54.9% against 34.6% for the DA. In Kamiesberg, which is 85% Coloured, the ANC won 66.9% against 26.2% for the DA. In the inland regional centre of Upington, which is heavily Coloured, the ANC won the Coloured areas of the city with about 55% of the vote. Overall, the DA won 101,882 votes in the province – it still falls far short of the nearly 170,000 votes received by the NP in 1994.

The VF+ won 1.3% of the vote, although that still wasn’t enough for a seat in the small provincial legislature. The VF+, as always, won a landslide in the Afrikaner community of Orania, the famous small town created by Afrikaner nationalists (later tied to the VF+) as the embryo for a volkstaat and to preserve the Afrikaans language and culture. The party won 77% of the vote, down from 87% in 2009, against 15% for the DA – the ANC, with 5 votes (1.7%) placed fourth behind the ACDP.


The election was predictable and offers little changes in the short-term situation. President Jacob Zuma was reelected and inaugurated for a second term in office as South Africa’s President, and the ANC retains control of everything it had prior to the election, despite reduced majorities in the National Assembly and some provinces – most significantly Gauteng.

However, the next five years in South African politics are shaping up to be crucial and highly important. Jacob Zuma was reelected, but he is term-limited and will not be able to serve a third term as President of the country after 2019. Term-limited, Zuma may wish to make his mark on the country or ensure his legacy after a difficult first term. Unlike in 2009, Zuma doesn’t owe as much to many people, and it is possible that he will have more leeway in making coherent and decisive policy-decisions which he failed to make in his first term as to not offend anybody. The makeup of his cabinet, which was an ideology-free zone and often incoherent in his first term, was said to be a signal about the direction (if any) that Zuma wishes to take in his second term. The ANC’s manifesto signaled that the party is committed to the NDP, and that the NDP is now non-negotiable despite COSATU’s misgivings about it. On May 25, Zuma announced his cabinet, and it is hard to say if there’s any clear ideological or policy orientation coming out of it. The left received some concessions – Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, was demoted to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, being replaced by the Deputy Minister for Finance, Nhlanhla Nene; former NUM man Senzeni Zokwana got Agriculture; Ebrahim Patel retained Economic Development and the SACP’s Blade Nzimande retained Higher Education. The ‘security cluster’ was shuffled after criticisms by Madonsela and the presidency over its handling of Nkandlagate; the police minister Nathi Mthethwa was demoted to Arts and Culture and state security minister Siyabonga Cwele got moved to a new telecommunications superministry. Tito Mboweni, the former Reserve Bank governor, surprised his party when he said that he would not take his seat in Parliament.

The next five years will also be crucial in deciding where South Africa goes from here. Analysts have drawn up various scenarioes, optimistic and pessimistic, about potential paths for the country – scenarios include the ANC reforming itself and taking important decisions which will improve the country’s economy, the ANC becoming even more intolerant and authoritarian, the ANC and the country limping forward with much politicking but little results, the ANC moving to the right with a splinter on the left from NUMSA or even a scenario where the ANC loses the 2024 elections to an opposition party or coalition. Zuma now has the chance to gain control of the Constitutional Court, with the retirement of three judges (including the Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, who has been critical of the ANC) giving Zuma the opportunity to appoint three new names and likely tilt the top judicial organ in a pro-government and culturally conservative direction. In the past, Zuma and the ANC have made comments critical of the judiciary and its independence, claiming that unelected judges could not change an elected government’s policies. The likely changes to the Court’s composition may either be seen as simply the equivalent of American presidents appointing judges sharing their ideological outlook, or as an attack on the judiciary’s independence. With the Court likely to rule on the secrecy bill and the spy tapes, ANC critics are worried.

In the National Assembly, the ANC has replaced outgoing speaker Max Sisulu, who irked Zuma and the ANC for not being a total tool and allowing debate on the Gupta landing at Waterkloof AFB and creating an ad hoc committee to investigation Madonsela’s report on Nkandla. He was replaced by Baleka Mbete, a Zuma ally and senior ANC stalwart, whose reputation is less than stellar. The ANC expects her to play a ‘gatekeeping’ role in Parliament for the ANC. Mbete was rumoured to be in line to be Second Deputy President, but creating that position would have required a constitutional amendment whic the ANC could not have passed alone.

However, at the same time, Zuma’s last term in office might make him something of a lame-duck, as the ANC’s attention turns to his succession. To begin with, Zuma is not a solid leader and many are those who think that the ANC did well on May 7 despite Zuma. Nkandla will be continue to be an idling engine in the background, dogging the President, although the ANC will probably try to scuttle any meaningful parliamentary or independent inquiry into Nkandlagate like it did with the arms deal. Zuma has other controversies circling over his head – the ‘spy tapes’ (tapes which reveal why the NPA dropped corruption charges against him in 2009, reopening the possibility that Zuma’s decade-old corruption trial may not be over yet), the secrecy bill and so forth. In 2017, the ANC will renew its leadership and executive at its national conference, and Zuma is not expected to seek a third term as the ANC’s President – but it is also clear that he wishes to influence the choice of his successor, who will more likely than not succeed him as President of South Africa after 2019.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as the ANC’s Deputy President at Mangaung led to speculation that he was the heir apparent to Zuma, and he has been appointed as Deputy President of South Africa and he will chair the National Planning Commission (he was deputy-chair, but the chair, Trevor Manuel, is retired). However, Ramaphosa did not gain control over government evaluation and monitoring, a role which was instead given to Jeff Radebe, who was moved from justice to Minister in the Presidency. It is far from clear if Ramaphosa remains the ANC’s favourite candidate to succeed Zuma as ANC President in 2017.

There have been reports that the KZN ANC has a secret ‘plan’ to take control of the ANC leadership in 2017, and they are against Ramaphosa as Zuma’s successor. Instead, Zuma’s supporters in the KZN ANC (and, allegedly, Zuma himself – who recently stated that the country is ready for a woman President) would like for Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (the current AU Commission president), the new speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete, ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize or the new home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba to succeed Zuma in 2017-2019. Ramaphosa has allegedly fallen out of favour with Zuma’s supporters, fearing he is too independent and don’t trust him to defend Zuma from future judicial prosecutions.

Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s secretary-general and one of the powerful players in the ANC party apparatus, is said to be looking for a promotion come 2017, although it’s unclear if by that he intends to run for ANC President or if he may be instead for ANC Deputy President. Mantashe has drifted away from Zuma, having been very critical of the Gupta landing.

The selection of the new Premiers after the elections also signaled, for some commentators, that Zuma was losing his grip. In Gauteng, incumbent pro-Zuma Premier Nomvula Mokonyane was ultimately removed despite pressure from the Zuma circles in the national party on the provincial party to place her on their shortlist of names (from which the ANC NEC selects one name). Instead, Mokonyane’s rival and ANC provincial secretary David Makhura, who is not a Zuma ally, was selected as Premier of Gauteng. Even in KZN, the retention of new Premier Senzo Mchunu as Premier was seen as a blow to the Zuma circle, who had been pushing for a more trusted ally to take his place.

The DA’s support increased to unprecedented heights in this election, secured its base (despite potential white misgivings over the DA’s equivocation on EE), continue to eat into small parties’ support and it successfully improved its black support from quasi-nil to roughly 6%. However, if the DA fails to make major gains with black voters, it is running up against a wall in the near future and will have no chance of winning power nationally. Right after the election, the DA was rocked by the surprise departure of parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who resigned her seat to study at Harvard. Mazibuko had fallen out with Zille after the DA’s internal crisis on the EE bill last November, and it was likely that Mazibuko would be challenged for the parliamentary leadership by Mmusi Maimane, who is seen as Zille’s new black favourite. Mazibuko would likely have lost, but it could have opened a bruising internal battle.

Yet, her departure still created a huge firestorm in the DA after a newspaper leaked that Zille had privately lashed out at Mazibuko – the Sunday Times reported that Zille privately stated that she had ‘made’ Mazibuko and ‘saved’ her several times. Zille denied she had attacked Mazibuko, but in yet another case of DA own goals and tone-deafness, she released a statement in which she said that she had repeatedly taken responsibility for mistakes made in Parliament to protect her and claimed that Mazibuko had put up a ‘Berlin Wall’ between her office and Zille’s. Most damagingly, Zille admitted that she backed Mazibuko for parliamentary leader against the white incumbent, Athol Trollip, only to racially diversify the party. Her statement once again confirmed the ANC’s constant claims that the DA is smug, paternalist (in Cape liberal tradition) and has a ‘rent-a-black’ attitude towards blacks, taking them as yes-men or women or token blacks. It is basically a fact that Zille exerts significant power over the DA caucus in Parliament, effectively imposing her favourites on the still-inexperienced caucus and going after DA MPs if they prove to be too independent from her leadership, as Mazibuko did after the EE debacle. It underlines Zille’s increasing liability as a ‘madam baas’ figure and shows the DA’s major problems with the issue of black leadership.

Mmusi Maimane has confirmed that he will stand for parliamentary leader, and has Zille’s backing. Makashule Gana, another young (30) black MP from the DA’s new ‘black caucus’ (which emerged during the EE debacle as being critical of Zille and the DA’s policies on racial issues), did not stand for the position as the media had speculated. Zille has insisted that the new leader must work with her, warning that it would be a disaster if he didn’t. This seems to indicate that Zille has not really grasped the gist of the last week of debate. Many commentators have said that Zille’s alleged authoritarian personality is increasingly turning her into a liability for the DA, which appears to be increasingly torn apart by factional battles and is insure of how to reconciliate a growing and assertive black membership with the party’s white roots in the Cape liberal tradition of the Progressive Party and the ex-Nats.

Zille is expected to retire within a few years, likely before 2019, opening the door for a black leader for the DA. Maimane is already cited as a potential leadership contender. On the one hand, Maimane is smart, young, likeable, warm and managed well despite his inexperienced. On the other hand, Maimane is still very inexperienced and he often comes off as an empty suit or cheap marketing product (branded as a local Obama). The DA must also review its policies, offering something bold and new which truly breaks from the ANC’s policies repackaged in nicer and less corrupt terms.

Julius Malema is another man to watch. Will the EFF indeed ‘be another COPE’ and join the corpses of other coalition of disaffecteds in South Africa’s political graveyard, or will the EFF survive as a major party and