A by-election was held in Ireland on March 27. One of this blog’s reader, EPG, posted this summary of the by-election in the comments section for another post, I have re-posted it here in a guest post for everybody to enjoy.
A legislative by-election was held in the Meath East constituency of Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s lower house, on March 27. The by-election was caused by the death of Shane McEntee, a Fine Gael TD (member of the Dáil) and the Junior Minister for Food.
Meath East is located to the north-west of Dublin. The south of the constituency is dominated by Dublin commuter towns, such as Ashbourne, Ratoath and Dunboyne. This is the heartland of an archetypical symbol of the Irish economic collapse called the “negative equity generation”: first-time house-buyers who purchased homes with large mortgage in the mid-2000s, and who now owe far more than their houses are worth. Many (probably most) are not originally from the county in which they now live, an important cultural marker in small and localistic Ireland. Meath East is more rural and settled in the northern part of the county, while the north-west end includes Kells, the largest town in northern Meath. The constituency’s somewhat bizarre, salamander-like shape is due to the exclusion of Meath’s largest town, Navan, and the inclusion of Kells, on population ratio equalisation grounds. Ironically, Meath was the home of James Tully, the Labour TD who oversaw a gerrymander that backfired in the 1970s (the Tullymander). To compound his misfortune, he then suffered shrapnel damage at the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat after Labour’s return to power in the 1980s.
The coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour has fallen sharply in popularity since their election in 2011, while the opposition parties of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have risen, as have independents and other candidates. This was probably predictable, since the government has continued most of the last (Fianna Fáil-Green) government’s policies, especially on economic issues, due to its support of the EU-ECB-IMF “troika” programme of financial support for the Irish State. This by-election was therefore considered a contest between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties. Meath East is mainly “exurban”, especially in the southern end of the constituency, but also small town and rural. This means the Labour Party was not considered a contender; their support is mainly in cities and important towns with local industry, and their current popularity is low in any case. It was enough to win one out of three seats in Meath East in 2011 under the STV proportional representation system, but it wouldn’t be enough to win an instant run-off by-election, even if they had held up their popularity. As for Sinn Féin, they did well at the by-election in Donegal South-West in 2010, which is also a rural area. But despite the despair of the negative equity generation, Meath is still a relatively prosperous part of Ireland, with big farms and many professionals who commute to jobs in Dublin. It’s a much higher-income area than Donegal, and that’s bad for Sinn Féin. Fine Gael outpolled Fianna Fáil hard in Meath East at the 2011 general election, and the big question was whether Fianna Fáil’s image-improvement since then would close enough of the gap to let them win.
Fine Gael fielded Helen McEntee, daughter of Shane McEntee, who worked on his political and ministerial teams. Family candidates are popular in Irish elections, especially by-elections, and form the “dynasties” that have provided many Taoisigh (heads of government), including the current Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his predecessor Brian Cowen, who both won by-elections to succeed their fathers. She primarily campaigned for a “sympathy vote” rather than seeking a mandate for a pretty unpopular government (). Labour chose Eoin Holmes, a county councillor and film producer who talked a lot about entrepreneurship. Fianna Fáil chose Thomas Byrne, the former TD who lost his seat at the 2011 epic fail but got a Senate seat as a consolation prize. Sinn Féin’s candidate was Darren O’Rourke, who works as an assistant to Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the party’s former parliamentary party leader in the Dáil (back when Gerry Adams was an MP in Northern Ireland). The Greens chose their former candidate, but they are now considered a minor party compared to the big four, with no Oireachtas representation. Independents and others included a Workers’ Party candidate and Ben Gilroy, a Direct Democracy Ireland activist who is popular among the crazy “Freeman on the Land” movement.
Helen McEntee (FG) 38.49% (-2.38%)
Thomas Byrne (FF) 32.92% (+13.31%)
Darren O’Rourke (SF) 13.02% (+4.14%)
Ben Gilroy (DDI) 6.45% (+6.45%)
Eoin Holmes (Lab) 4.57% (-16.46%)
Seán Ó Buachalla (GP) 1.74% (+0.66%)
Seamus McDonagh (WP) 1.08% (+1.08%)
Independent candidates 1.73% (-6.80%)
The huge story from this by-election has been the collapse of Labour’s vote, which was far bigger than national opinion polls would have suggested. Polls suggest that Labour has lost 6 to 10 points nationally compared to 2011. However, other stories are worth noting. Fine Gael’s vote held up much better than its partner, and much better than national polls would suggest. McEntee held onto her strong support base in the north of the constituency, as well as probably getting a sympathy vote (common for family members in Irish by-elections, though Fine Gael will deny this and claim that her success is a mandate for the party nationally). Interestingly, after 29 years when governments never won by-elections, this is the second government victory out of two by-elections in this Dáil. Labour won the first of these in late 2011, though their successful candidate left the parliamentary party about five weeks later. The last time Fine Gael won a by-election while in government was in 1975, when their candidate was a young Enda Kenny.
Fianna Fáil has recovered strongly, though they still can’t outpoll government candidates in actual elections. It seems that Fianna Fáil, not Sinn Féin, is enjoying the surge of anti-government feeling in relatively prosperous areas like Meath East (and the Dublin commuter belt more generally), though nobody would deny that Sinn Féin is the main beneficiary in deprived urban and rural areas. Among other opposition groups, Direct Democracy Ireland’s performance is striking. Small parties and independents rarely do very well at Irish by-elections. Gilroy ran a campaign strongly focussed on opposing repossessions of houses by banks, in tune with his support among the fringe, legal conspiracy theorists of the “Freeman on the Land” movement. This is at a time when the Irish government is openly discussing policies to make repossessions easier, due to the abnormally low rate compared to other countries with property price ex-bubbles like the USA, the UK or Spain. Gilroy caught a zeitgeist for what is basically a one-man party (though the Irish party registration requirements are reasonably strict, so he must have lots of supporters).
I now have details of the second and third counts, after which McEntee was elected. The second count excluded all but the top five candidates and Gilroy (DDI) won more of their transfers than any of the remaining five. This is less surprising than it may seem for a fourth-place candidate, as many independents tend to be fringe candidates themselves. They would be close to Gilroy’s anti-system and anti-party profile, which is even more anti-system than Sinn Féin. Independents in Ireland often seem to fill the “anti” role played by right-wing populists in other European countries, but with a local twist, and they have a similar support base of broadly non-left people with middling incomes. Fianna Fáil won fewest transfers, even fewer than Labour, which may suggest that the public is polarised by its recent rebirth. The third count was a run-off between McEntee (FG) and Byrne (FF). McEntee won 54.5% of the two-party vote after getting far more transfers than Byrne. A lot of SF or DDI voters must have given a higher preference to McEntee than to Byrne, their fellow opposition candidate, as McEntee’s third-count transfers (1,900) were much larger than Labour’s final vote total on the second round (1,200). Even if we assume that any remaining Labour supporters are firmly pro-coalition and sympathetic to Fine Gael, that still leaves about 800-900 of McEntee’s transfers that must have come from SF or DDI, after accounting for the usual transfer attrition. But she didn’t even need to do that well with opposition voters on these counts; she was safely ahead of Byrne from the outset. McEntee is now the youngest woman in the current Dáil.
The broader, national consequences are still unclear, though they can’t be good for Labour. Each of the opposition parties would have hoped to do better. Fianna Fáil wanted to win and Sinn Féin wanted to win votes in line with national polling (i.e. about 8% higher than in 2011). Fine Gael is glad to win and to have lost few votes, but the party was shaken by the sad death of Shane McEntee and would have preferred if this by-election had never happened.
A legislative by-election was held in the Oise’s second constituency in France on March 17 and 24, 2013. The results of the June 2012 legislative election in the constituency were declared invalid by the Constitutional Council, for reasons related to false statements in the incumbent deputy’s campaign propaganda. A by-election was held on the same day in Wallis-et-Futuna’s at-large constituency; these were the fourth and fifth legislative by-elections since the June 2012 elections: by-elections were held in Hérault (6), Hauts-de-Seine (13) and Val-de-Marne (1) in December after the initial results of the June 2012 elections were invalidated in these three constituencies. There are two pending by-elections in the constituencies for French citizens abroad (constituencies 1 and 8), the results of the June 2012 election in those two seats were also recently invalidated by the Constitutional Council but a date has not yet been set for the by-elections.
French legislative elections or by-elections are fought on a two-round system. A candidate must win over 50% of valid votes representing at least 25% of registered voters to win outright by the first round. If a second round is organized, all candidates who have won over 12.5% of registered voters are qualified for the runoff; or, if no candidates meet this requirement, the top two candidates in the first round. In by-elections were turnout is almost always lows, this means that only the top two candidates will qualify.
The incumbent deputy in Oise’s 2nd constituency, reelected in June, was Jean-François Mancel of the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The incumbent deputy in Wallis-et-Futuna, elected in June, was David Vergé, classified as a right-winger but who sat with the Socialist (PS) group. In Wallis-et-Futuna, the ConCon also declared Vergé and some other candidates from the June 2012 to be ineligible for any elected office for a period of one year.
These by-elections come at a bad time for the incumbent centre-left government. Less than a year after he defeated incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande is nearing record levels of unpopularity, his approval ratings having sunk faster than any other President under the Fifth Republic. His approval rating currently stands at about 31%, the lowest for any President after ten months in office and approaching the record lows set by Jacques Chirac in his second term (mid to low 20s). Part of this unpopularity stems from the particular politcal and economic conjuncture. The French economy, like that of most of its neighbors, remains weak with high unemployment, low economic growth and a large public debt. The situation, naturally, was never going to brighten up miraculously with the election of a new head of state. Secondly, Hollande’s victory in May 2012 owed a lot to the ephemeral appeal of anti-Sarkozysm on the left and parts of the centre. As I noted in my analysis of the runoff last year, “the fact that the election was more Sarkozy’s defeat than Hollande’s victory and that Hollande owes his victory to anti-Sarkozysm will certainly come back to haunt the PS and Hollande in the near future, once voters forget Sarkozy and shift their judgement to the new incumbent.” While the economic context has further aggravated matters, a good part of the government’s unpopularity is of their own making.
Faced with an ever bleaker economic picture – unemployment at 10% and up nearly 1% on the previous years, flat economic growth in 2012 and a high public debt (90%) – the government has suffered heavily from the perception that it is slow to react and that it has found itself completely lost and powerless against the economic crisis. The right, which disliked Hollande from the get-go, has criticized the ‘amateurism’ and jumbled response of the government and decried its economic policies (the UMP has placed particular emphasis on higher taxes). But many on the left have felt let down by the government on the economic front. It was fairly clear that for all of the PS’s flowery rhetoric about growth, it would be forced to implement austerity measures including spending cuts in the public sector (the public sector is a PS stronghold); and it has done so, although it has disguised it as ‘efforts’. Hollande had promised to renegotiate the European Fiscal Compact to give it a more ‘pro-growth’ orientation, but he and his governing majority ultimately approved it without any major changes. The Constitutional Council has also forced him to scrap, entirely, his much-publicized 75% tax on incomes over a million euros. For many voters on the left, very little positive change is perceptible and many voters feel that Hollande’s policies are no different than his predecessor’s policies.
On a whole slew of other issues and campaign promises, the government has either ‘delayed’ reforms or watered them down fairly significantly. For example, because it lacks a three-fifths majority to pass major constitutional changes, a number of promised constitutional reforms have been have been written off the agenda. Faced with major internal unease within its own majority, the government has ‘delayed’ – probably indefinitely - a major reform to crack down on dual office holding (cumul des mandats). Proportional representations seems, once agian, to have been lost somewhere along the road. The latest round of ‘decentralization reforms’ which seem to be obligatory for every President has been delayed, held up in the Senate and met with the wrath of some local officials. While the government will likely be able to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption rights eventually, it has mobilized social conservative groups and is widely rejected by the quasi-entirety of the opposition.
On the symbolic aspect of things, Hollande had made a big deal of Sarkozy’s centralizing, autocratic and flashy (bling-bling) presidential system and he famously presented himself as the ‘normal President’ in contrast to the ‘hyper-President’ Sarkozy. Yet, the symbolic changes at that level have been slow to come. The ‘normal president’ mantra was quickly dropped. By choosing his close ally Jean-Marc Ayrault as Prime Minister (rather than party rival Martine Aubry, for example) Hollande signaled that he was continuing in Sarkozy’s, rather than Mitterrand’s, footsteps by choosing a close ally and partner as Prime Minister. While the left criticized Sarkozy for sidelining the Prime Minister and concentrating powers in the executive branch, Hollande has done largely the same. Ayrault, ten months down the road, appears effaced and a mere ‘sidekick’ in comparison to his President.
Having been in opposition for ten years upon taking office last spring, the PS and the wider ‘presidential majority’ has had some trouble adapting to the rigours of governing. Cabinet ministers, from early on, have contradicted each other or diverged from the government line publicly, and Ayrault has often appeared powerless or unable to put his ministers back in place. And the government has been hit by its first ethics scandal: the budget minister, Jérôme Cahuzac, a respected figure, was forced to resign on March 19 after facing allegations of tax fraud and a secret bank account in Switzerland. Meanwhile, some signs of internal disagreements between the PS and its minor allies (particularly the Greens/EELV) have appeared on some issues, while the Left Front (FG) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Communist Party (PCF) have been vocal critics of government policies.
A few government ministers have been able to escape the government’s unpopularity. Top amongst them is Manuel Valls, the Interior minister, who is the most popular in France at the moment with wide support on the left and right. He has largely continued his right-wing predecessors’ tough crime and immigration policies, notably by continuing the expulsion of the Roma and dismantling illegal ‘squatter settlements’. Valls’ tough policies on crime, security and immigration has the right worried that the PS might be succeeding at ‘reappropriating’ the security issue from them.
Despite the government’s unpopularity, the right-wing opposition has had trouble appearing as a better alternative. Sarkozy’s right-wing party, the UMP, was almost torn apart in November at the party congress meant to choose Sarkozy’s successor as the head of the party. Although both warring sides in the UMP’s civil war have since come to an agreement (a new congress in the fall, in the meantime the leadership is made up of an equal number of members from both sides), it is an uneasy truce between the two rival camps united only by their common opposition to the government. The few major UMP politicians who are very popular with the electorate at this point in time are those who are out of the limelight and the intrigues at the Parisian headquarters (Christine Lagarde as IMF managing director, Alain Juppé as mayor of Bordeaux and respected ‘party elder’). Finally, Nicolas Sarkozy’s potential ambitions for a rematch against Hollande in 2017 might be complicated by his recent indictment in an old corruption/party financing scandal.
Oise’s second constituency includes the west of the Oise department and the southwest canton of Beauvais, the main urban centre in the region. The constituency, whose borders have remained the same since 1986, is made up of the cantons of Auneuil, Beauvais Sud-Ouest, Chaumont-en-Vexin, Le Coudray-Saint-Germer, Fromerie, Grandvilliers, Noailles and Songeons. This constituency includes parts of four traditional natural regions: the Plateau Picard in the north; the Bray in the centre; the Thelle/Thérain valley running towards the south; and the Vexin français in the southwestern end of the constituency.
The common way of describing constituencies similar to this one is ‘rural’. Indeed, Beauvais is the only large city in the constituency where no other commune has over 3,000 inhabitants. However, the ‘rural’ descriptor is both deceptive and simplistic; the second constituency is much more of an exurban/small town constituency rather than a purely rural area. With the exception of the two northernmost cantons, most of the constituency is a patchwork of villages and small towns economically and socially tied to Beauvais and/or Paris. Beauvais is the only commune in the canton where over half of the economically active population are employed in the town where they live. Historically, this is also a working-class area with small industrial centres or small industries (glass-making, sugar beets, metallurgy, railway classification yards in cités cheminotes).
Politically, alongside the rest of the department and most of the region, the constituency has shifted heavily to the right and far-right over the course of the past decades. Socialist President François Hollande won 43.9% in the constituency in May 2012; about 4% worse than Lionel Jospin (PS) had done in the constituency in 1995 (remembering that Hollande did about 4% better nationally). For an even starker contrast, 31 years ago, François Mitterrand won the constituency with 51.5% in the 1981 election – nationally, Hollande and Mitterrand (1981) won by almost the exact same margin, in this constituency Hollande performed nearly 8 points worse than Mitterrand in 1981.
Nevertheless, this constituency has never really been markedly left-leaning. Less industrialized and urbanized than other parts of the department, the French Communist Party (PCF) was never as strong here than in other parts of the department, and there was some subsisting Radical strength in the more agricultural parts of the constituency (Bray) in the 1950s.
Nicolas Sarkozy won the constituency with 60.7% in 2007 and held it with 56.1% last May. In the second round, Sarkozy was victorious in every canton in the constituency with the exception of Beauvais Sud-Ouest, where Hollande won 53.4% thanks to his strength in Beauvais itself (the part of the city contained in the constituency includes a large zone urbaine sensible, a low-income urban neighborhood). Sarkozy thoroughly dominated the near totality of the ‘rural’ part of the constituency, with results above 58% in most cantons. The sole remnants of left-wing strength outside Beauvais subsist only in Sérifontaine (canton of Le Coudray-Saint-Germer, an old PCF stronghold with a large metal industry) and Feuquières, a glass-working town in the north of the constituency (canton of Grandvilliers), an extension of the ‘Glass valley’ region along the Bresle river. But whereas Lionel Jospin had won nearly 60% in both those towns in 1995, Hollande won only 53.6% in the former and 55.8% in the latter. Some isolated remnants of left-wing dominance from another era may still prop up, however, in towns such as Hermes, an old cité cheminote where Hollande won 48.7%. For the sake of comparison, Mitterrand had won majorities in six of the seat’s eight cantons in the 1981 runoff and over 54% in Beauvais SO (54.4%) and Coudray-Saint-Germer (54.4%).
Marine Le Pen did extremely well in the constituency, placing first in the first round with 27.9% against 27.6% for Sarkozy and only 22.1% for Hollande. Compared to her father’s performance in 2002 and 1995, she posted some very impressive results in constituencies just like this one across eastern and northern France. The FN has always been rather strong in this constituency, but Marine Le Pen was stronger than her father had ever been in the constituency.
The seat is an interesting mix of two distinct FN electorates: the area around Beauvais and the south of the constituency, in the Thelle/Thérain valley and the Vexin, are exurban areas drawn to Paris or smaller regional centres (Beauvais, Creil etc). The FN’s electorate there is relatively blue-collar as well, but it is of a more ideologically right-wing and périurbain subi variety. Even though the local foreign population is low (3%), because many of the inhabitants in the region tend to commute to large cities and interact/confront large immigrant populations there, the FN’s rhetoric on immigration is a powerful influence. The FN’s original support in the region came largely from these kind of areas – for example, in the 1984 Euro elections, the FN did better in the exurban-type cantons (Auneuil, Chaumont-en-Vexin, Beauvais SO) than in the industrial-type cantons (Formerie, Grandvilliers, Coudray-Saint-Germer). This is also a type of FN electorate which embraced Nicolas Sarkozy by the first round in 2007: Sarkozy won 33.4% in the first round in 2007, against only 23-24% for the mainstream right in 2002 (Chirac, Madelin, Boutin). His gains – and Le Pen’s loses – were heavier in the southern part of the constituency, the most suburban/exurban part.
However, the two northernmost cantons (Formerie and Grandvilliers) are less suburban/exurban. Demographically, they are the most working-class parts of the seat and also the most economically deprived (highest unemployment, lowest incomes); but most of the old industries are dead, and most people work outside their town/village of residence. The FN vote is more recent, and the FN support tends to be a ‘pure’ protest vote which rejects the main parties and expresses discontent but also concerns and fears with the economic situation. These voters are described as ninistes in that they identify as ‘neither left nor right’, rather than very right-wing like their counterparts in other parts of the country. Marine Le Pen performed best in these two northern cantons, winning 32% and 34% respectively. In 2007, they also showed themselves to be more resistant to ‘electoral Sarkozysm’ – Le Pen’s loses were significantly lower in Formerie and Grandvilliers than in the other cantons.
Marine Le Pen also won 31% in the cantons of Coudray-Saint-Germer and Noailles – including 38% in Hermes. Her worst results were in Beauvais SO (20.7%) and the canton of Chaumont-en-Vexin (24%), which includes more affluent and well-educated Parisian outer suburbs.
The constituency has been held by the right since it took its current shape, with the exception of 1997 when the PS’ Béatrice Marre defeated the right thanks to a triangulaire with the FN. Logically, the UMP regained the seat in 2002 with 55% in the runoff and held it in 2007 with a reduced majority (52.8%). The UMP won the 2012 triangulaire by only 63 votes.
The UMP (RPR before that) incumbent since 1978 (with the exception of 1981-1986 and 1997-2002) is Jean-François Mancel, who is also the general councillor for the canton of Noailles and was president of the Oise general council between 1985 and 2004. Fitting in with his environment, Mancel is broadly on the right of the UMP (he is a copéiste); in fact, in 1998, he negotiated electoral alliances at the cantonal and regional level with the FN. Mancel is not a particularly strong incumbent and is not very influential within the ranks of his party, he has been weakened by a number of corruption allegations.
The main candidates were the same as in the June 2012 election: Mancel for the UMP, Beauvais SO general councillor Sylvie Houssin for the PS and Florence Italiani for the FN.
The results of the first round (March 17)
Jean-François Mancel (UMP) 40.61% (+7.25%)
Florence Italiani (FN) 26.58% (+3.35%)
Sylvie Houssin (PS) 21.37% (-9.13%)
Pierre Ripart (FG) 6.64% (+1.39%)
Clément Lesaege (Pirate) 1.97%
Renée Potchtovik (LO) 1.57% (+0.84%)
Michel Ramel (DVD) 1.25%
Turnout 32.79% (blank and invalid votes: 2.76%)
The results of the runoff (March 23)
Jean-François Mancel (UMP) 51.41%
Florence Italiani (FN) 48.59%
Turnout 35.3% (blank and invalid votes: 10.09%)
The first round was a major defeat for the PS. Sylvie Houssin, the PS candidate, was eliminated from the runoff by the first round, having won only 21.4% of the vote – over 9% less than in June. The local PS candidate was badly hurt by the government’s unpopularity. As is usually the case, a large part of the left-wing/PS electorate which had voted for the PS in June 2012 did not turn out in this by-election. This had already been the case for the PS in the 3 by-elections in December (which had ended in three bad defeats for the PS, including the loss of one seat to the UMP); but it worked the other way around in 2010 or 2011, when the UMP lost a good number of its voters to abstention. The results at the communal level, turnout in the first round was clearly lower in left-wing precincts, and higher in those precincts where the FN or UMP performed better.
The two main winners of the first round were the UMP and the FN. Mancel nearly came back to his level in the “blue wave” first round of the 2007 legislative election (41.9% against 21.1% for the PS); although basically all candidates won less raw votes than in June, Mancel only lost about 5,500 votes while Houssin shed a full 9,300 votes.
The FN had a strong performance in the first round, in addition to qualifying for the runoff by finishing ahead of the PS. This is a bit different from what happened in the December by-elections, particularly the one in the Hérault where the FN had fancied its chances. In December, the FN had fallen flat on its face in the Hérault’s 6th constituency; their intakes in the two petite couronne seats where they were weak was also unimpressive. What is the difference between the two by-elections? The FN’s underwhelming result in the Hérault in December may, in part, have something to do with the local FN electorate: a clearly ideologically right-wing electorate, which has shown itself to be more susceptible to the UMP’s consistent attempts (since 2007) to woo them over. In the Hérault, many either did not turn out or supported the UMP candidate, who was the former UMP deputy (defeated by the PS in June) who himself was on the party’s right. In the Oise, however, the FN electorate is sociologically different and slightly more resistant to the UMP’s strategy. Furthermore, Mancel is not greatly appealing to many ‘soft’ FN voters.
The FG’s candidate won 6.6%, better than he had performed in June 2012 but not a remarkable gain. The FG has been attempting to profit from the government’s unpopularity on the left, and it has been a very vocal critic of Hollande and his government’s policies from the get-go. However, in both the December by-elections and this by-election, the FG’s performance – decent, but not anything to write home about – has likely been below their expectations. The PCF had similarly tried to benefit from the PS’ unpopularity at the end of Mitterrand’s second term, but its electoral performance in 1992 and 1993 showed that it had not really been able to turn the PS’ unpopularity into electoral success. Time will tell if the FG will profit from the government’s unpopularity – particularly with a sizable number of left-wing voters – in upcoming nationwide elections where turnout will be higher.
If the first round had been a major blow for the PS, the runoff was a major blow for the UMP. The boomerang came back and hit the UMP in its face. Mancel was reelected with a majority of only 768 votes against the FN candidate, with 51.4% of the vote. The FN came within a whisker of a major upset victory.
The FN’s strong performance begs one big question: where did its new voters, nearly 6000 additional votes, come from? There are, two main theories on this question: the ‘transfer’ theory and the ‘substitution’ theory. According to the ‘transfer’ theory, the FN gained votes from those who had voted for the PS (or FG) in the first round. This theory is not as crazy as it may seem. To begin with, past elections have shown that a good number of left-wing voters from the first round will vote for the FN against the mainstream rights in runoff elections where the left’s candidate was eliminated by the first round. In both right/FN and left/FN runoffs in the 2011 cantonal elections, the FN gained about 10 points from their first round result; in both right/FN and left/FN runoffs in June 2012, the FN gained about 16% from their first round result. Secondly, the left-wing base in the constituency (outside Beauvais) tends to be white working-class voters, who may realistically prefer the FN over the UMP.
There are also local circumstances at play which may explain PS/FN transfers. Although the national PS leadership de facto endorsed Mancel against the FN, the local PS candidate did not endorse any candidate. She stated that voters were faced with a choice between the extrême droite and droite extrême; two sides of the same coin. Left-wing voters had no reason to show up and ‘save’ Mancel against the FN: there were no national issues at stake, and Mancel is unpopular on the left because of his 1998 deals with the FN and various corruption clouds which have hung over his head for years.
While left>FN tranfers undeniably exist, the June 2012 legislative election showed that they were far less significant than right>FN transfers. In 9 right/FN runoffs in the last legislative election, there was only a weak correlation (0.21) between left-wing strength in the first round and FN gains between both rounds; there was, however, a 0.64 correlation between left-wing strength and a decline in voter turnout between between both rounds. Turnout declined by an average of 8% in the 9 right/FN battles in June, it only increased by 1.2% in left/FN battles. The percentage of voters who turned out in the runoff but cast blank or invalid votes was also very high (over 10%) in right/FN runoffs.
This by-election, however, is an outlier in this case. Turnout increased in the runoff, by about 2%. However, there was a major increase in blank and invalid votes, from 2.8% to 10% (about 2000 ‘new’ blank or invalid votes); the number of valid votes was actually slightly lower in the runoff than in the first round.
The ‘substitution’ theory would hold that while a larger number of left-wing voters did not turn out or cast invalid votes, that decline was compensated by the stronger mobilization of FN voters. Florence Italiani did indeed have a bigger reservoir to build on; Marine Le Pen won over 19,000 votes in the constituency in April 2012, Italiani only won 7.2k in the first round and 13,190 in the runoff. Her strong result in the first round might have allowed FN voters who had not turned out on March 17 to mobilize in her favour for the second round.
The national context during the week between both rounds might have further boosted the FN. It was, really, the dream scenario for the FN: a PS cabinet minister forced to resign in an alleged tax fraud scandal, followed by the former UMP President indicted by the courts for a campaign financing scandal; the current economic situation in Cyprus; and the Court of Cassation’s controversial decision to annul a lower court decision which had confirmed the lay-off, in 2008, of a daycare employee who had refused to remove her hijab.
The data from the 9 right/FN runoffs in June 2012 would tend to confirm that the ‘substitution’ theory is a better explanation than the ‘transfer’ electorate, although both are relatively valid. The results from this by-election, however, troubles the substitution theory a bit. That being said, we are dealing with a case unlike the 9 constituencies from June. This was a by-election, with structurally low turnout which will always tend to messy things up a bit. The low turnout levels in both rounds makes it harder for us to draw clear conclusions from the results, and makes it tough to prove either theory.
Joël Gombin did an ecological inference analysis on the runoff at the precinct level for the runoff. He found that 43% of Houssin’s voters from March 17 voted for the FN in the runoff, while remaining 57% split fairly equally (19%, 18%, 20%) between abstention, blank/invalid votes and the UMP. The 43% seems like a reasonable estimate, although it should still be taken with a grain of salt given the difficulties of analysis in low-turnout by-elections.
Indeed, at the communal level, the FN won most of the traditionally left-leaning towns in the constituency (Sérifontaine, Feuquières, Hermes, Formerie; but not Beauvais) and often by quite strong margins. And even in those towns, while turnout remained very low in both rounds, it did not decline by much (if at all) between both rounds. In some low-income precincts in Beauvais, where the left had been strongest in the first round, the FN generally did quite well in the second round despite being well below average in the first round. Yet, we should still be careful about assuming that all FN ‘extra’ votes came from the left. Nothing can prove that the same 30% turned out in both rounds, though it does appear quite unlikely that the runoff electorate would be an entirely different bunch of people than first round voters.
Gombin’s data revealed a few oddities. There is the matter that Italiani would have kept ‘only’ 62% of her first round voters and lost a quarter of them to Mancel. While it is clear that there a number of FN voters who vote for the FN in the first round as a protest vote or to send a message but who will vote for the right or left in the runoff; it is tough to see why a quarter (!) of first round FN voters would prefer to vote UMP in the runoff against the FN. Granted, some right-wingers might have been tempted to send a message by voting FN in the first round but ‘played it safe’ in the runoff, but can they account for some 25% of Italiani’s 7.2 thousand voters from the first round?
His results also indicated that about 19% of Mancel’s first round voters went to the FN in the runoff; he kept 74% of his first round intake. There has been no research, as far as I know, on the behaviour of first round mainstream right voters in right/FN runoff situations, but it can be a bit puzzling as well. One explanation which Gombin tentatively suggested was Nicolas Sarkozy’s indictment in the Bettencourt affair in the week between the first and second round, and the negative effect it might have had on some UMP supporters.
The ‘substitution’ theory has been taken up by the local PS in Beauvais, which obviously has political interest in writing off the FN’s strong performance as a result of the mobilization of the electorate rather than the result of left>FN transfers, which would discredit its ‘two sides of the same coin’ strategy. Again, however, it is foolish and overly partisan to write off any kind of left>FN transfers. Both theories are valid, although in this particular case it would seem that evidence leans towards the ‘transfer’ theory
What lessons can be taken out of this by-election? Firstly, it shows that, on the ground, the traditional ‘republican front’ strategy is basically dead and whatever kind of cordon sanitaire which might have existed on the ground in the past between the FN and the other parties is long gone. We should stop treating voters as mathematical, rational and predictable individuals who can be expected to follow the directions given by their party of choice. Despite the strong enmity between national PS and FN leadership, there is some overlap between both parties. Some left-wing voters will prefer the FN over the right when faced with that choice.
While this by-election risks re-opening the old myth that there is a massive reservoir of voters who hesitate between the PS/FG and the FN, it is nevertheless clear that a certain part of the left-wing electorate flirts the FN and is open to voting for the FN in particular circumstances. In this sense, the PS should stop treating the FN issue as something which only concerns the right, because the FN is a potential danger to the left as well (though perhaps not as much of a problem as it is for the right).
The current political situation in France is ideal for the FN. The left-wing government is unpopular, including with a good part of its historical and/or current electoral clientele; but the main right-wing opposition is struggling to keep the lid on a simmering internal civil war and it has generally failed to present itself as the sole credible alternative to the left for the moment. With a morose economic and social situation, and a political climate in which both traditional parties are unpopular; the FN has almost everything going for it as things stand. Furthermore, as this by-election further confirmed, the FN is becoming less and less ‘toxic’ and repulsive to voters and its electoral potential in the runoff – while still far, far away from the 50%+1 it will need to win power – is clearly far wider under Marine Le Pen’s leadership.
Nevertheless, we should be careful about reading too much into low-turnout by-elections and we would do well to steer away from the inevitable mass panic and pandemonium which ensues whenever the FN does well somewhere.
The by-election in Wallis-et-Futuna received next to no attention from the national media, largely because politics on those remote islands of the French Pacific are disconnected from metropolitan politics and are heavily based on local factors. Even if the national parties exist on the islands, these partisan labels are meaningless. Insular politics revolve around local personalities – especially the endorsements of various traditional rulers – and campaigns have no ideological overtones. Voters often vote for the candidate based on family ties or the endorsement of their local ruler. National political trends don’t impact local politics at all. The seat was held by Benjamin Brial, a local Gaullist baron, between 1967 and 1988; and later by his son, Victor Brial, between 1997 and 2007. Albert Likuvalu, affiliated with the Left Radicals (PRG) at the national level, defeated Brial in 2007 but went down to defeat in 2012 – he placed third with barely 17% in June. David Vergé, the victor of the June 2012 election, was aligned with the vaguely centre-right opposition in the local legislature, but he joined the PS group in the National Assembly in July.
The candidate endorsed by the UMP, Napole Polutele, faced two centre-left candidates: Mikaele Kulimoetoke (the runner-up in June 2012) and Lauriane Tialetagi Vergé (PS, the wife of David Vergé, the deputy elected in June 2012 and ineligible for elected office for one year). In the first round, he won 37.4% against 33.1% for Kulimoetoke and 29.5% for Tialetagi Vergé. In the runoff, which featured the same candidates, Polutele won with 37.5% against 32.4% for Kulimoetoke and 30.2% for Tialetagi Vergé. Turnout was 75.7% in the first round and 79.7% in the runoff.
There are, as aforementioned, two pending legislative by-elections will be called in the 1st (North America) and 8th (Israel, Greece, Turkey, Italy) constituencies for French citizens abroad. Both seats were held by PS deputies whose elections were invalidated; both were also declared ineligible for elected office for a period of one year due to irregularities in their campaign’s financing. The PS is extremely vulnerable in both constituencies, both of which favoured Sarkozy over Hollande on May 6 – in fact, Sarkozy won 63% in the eight constituency! Nevertheless, both are unpredictable because turnout will be extremely low (in June 2012, turnout was 20% in the first and 13% in the eight!) and the local right, as in June, is badly divided in both constituencies.
Parliamentary elections were held in Greenland on March 12, 2013. All 31 members of Greenlandic Parliament (Inatsisartut/Landsting), elected for four year terms by proportional representation were up for reelection. Greenland is a constituent country within Denmark. It was granted home rule in 1979, and was granted extensive autonomy and self-rule in 2009 following a referendum in 2008. Denmark retains control of foreign affairs, national defense, the police force, the judiciary and monetary policy (Denmark provides a block grant which still accounts for over half of public spending by the regional government). Greenlandic is now the sole official language, and the regional government has full control over the island’s rich subsoil resources. Despite being part of Denmark, Greenland is not part of the EU – it withdrew from the EEC in 1985.
The vast majority (85-88%) of Greenland’s population are Inuits, who speak Greenlandic, an Eskimo-Aleut language. The remaining 12% or so are European Danish immigrants. Huge swathes of Greenland are covered by a vast ice sheet, although climate change is slowly reducing the size of the ice sheet. All settlements are concentrated along the ice-free coast, and almost all of these settlements are located along the western coast. Most of remote northeastern Greenland is unincorporated, forming the Northeast Greenland National Park.
Greenland was colonized by Denmark beginning in the 1700s, and was ruled by Danish colonial administrators until 1953 (it was occupied by the US during World War II). During this time, Danish was the language of the colonial administrators and a small local elite (Danes born in Greenland or assimilated Inuits), while Greenlandic remained widely used in small Inuit hamlets and was taught in schools and used in churches. After Greenland was integrated into Denmark as a county in 1953, a modernization campaign was launched resulting in major migration, often only semi-voluntary, from hamlets to larger urban centres. The government also promoted the Danish language, pushing an aggressive ‘danishification’ campaign which saw Danish rather than Greenlandic taught in schools. Greenland finally gained home rule in 1973. The new regional government reversed the linguistic policies, instead driving a Greenlandization/inuitization campaign which replaced Danish with Greenlandic in schools. In 1994, Danish was relegated to a foreign language in all schools outside the capital, Nuuk, which has a large Danish minority.
Most Greenlanders speak both Greenlandic and Danish, some Inuits even speak only Greenlandic. Nevertheless, Danish is still widely used in business and administration and it remains associated with the upper social strata in local society. Unilingual Greenlandic speakers are often at the lowest level, with poor education and either unemployed or with a low-paying job. Bilinguals and unilingual Danes tend to form the business, political, social and cultural elites. The local population faces challenges such as low education, a lack of opportunities, low wages, unemployment and crime.
Greenland’s natural governing party between 1979 and 2009 was Siumut (Forward), a left-wing social democratic party which had led the charge for home rule in the 1970s. Being in government so long, it was accussed of corruption and nepotism in administration. Such issues contributed to its defeat in the 2009 election, won by Inuit Ataqatigiit (Inuit Community/Community of the People), a socialist and separatist which was founded in 1976. The IA’s leader, Kuupik Kleist, became Prime Minister.
The Democrats (Demokraatit) and Atassut (Feeling of Community) both lost heavily in the 2009 election, losing about 10% of the vote apiece from the 2005 elections. The social liberal Democrats are a predominantly Danish party which oppose independence, most of its leaders are Danes but it does not receive homogeneous support from Danish expats in Greenland. It won 16% in 2002 and then placed second, with 22.8% in 2005, but its support fell to 12.7%. Atassut, a right-wing and agrarian party which is similarly opposed to independence, used to be the main centre-right rival to Siumut in the 1980s, winning over 40% of the vote. But since the 1990s the party has been in free fall, having seen its support shrink from 30% in 1991-1995 to barely 11% and 3 seats in 2009. The smaller Kattusseqatigiit (Association of Candidates, K) has been represented in Parliament since 1995, peaking at 4 seats in 1999 and one seat since then. It is primarily a personalist party led by Anthon Frederiksen, the former mayor of Ilulissat. IA formed a coalition with the Democrats and K after the last election.
Greenland has rich and, to a certain extent, untapped mineral riches – both onshore and offshore. Oil companies have already spent billions exploring for large reserves of offshore oil. On land, mining companies are clamoring for access to gold and iron ore deposits; but also large and unexploited ‘rare earth’ elements which are key ingredients in modern smartphones or weapons. The IA government has stuck to its zero-tolerance policy on uranium mining, which bans the mining or sell of radioactive resources such as uranium. For a remote and sparsely populated country economically dependent on fishing and its former colonial master, Greenland is now swept up by the winds of change as it finds itself at the heart of a mineral boom with major geopolitical ramifications. Foreign mining companies, including giants such as Alcoa, London Mining PLC, are battling for mining concessions. China has taken a particular interest in Greenland, especially in its rare earth reserves. Although China currently has 90% of the world’s rare earth elements, they will not be able to keep up with Chinese, let alone global, demand in the long-term. The EU and Denmark are concerned by China’s efforts to gain a foothold in Greenland’s economy and the Arctic, and have pressured – unsuccessfully – the Greenlandic government to block Chinese access to rare earth elements, some of which are currently explored by an Australian-based mining company.
The Greenlandic Parliament approved the so-called ‘big-scale law’ on mining a few weeks ago. The law makes it easier and cheaper for foreign mining companies to start large projects in Greenland. Under the new law, any project worth over 5 billion Danish kroner would require a license from the regional government and would need to undertake an environmental and social impact inquiry. The most controversial aspect of the new law is that it allows foreign companies to contract cheaper foreign workers. The law requires that the foreign workers be paid at the local minimum wage and would be entitled to local labour rights (right to strike, collective bargaining), but because the law also allows employers to deduct costs such as insurance and food from their wages, they would likely end up being paid less than local workers. That part of the law, however, is in limbo as it will require approval from the Danish Parliament, which retains control over immigration policy. Proponents of the law argue that the law and the new mineral boom will significantly reduce Greenland’s dependence on Danish grants and diversify the country’s economy. Opponents are concerned about the environmental and social impacts of mining development and control by foreign mining giants, but also criticize the speed at which the law was pushed through. The ‘importation’ of 500-700 foreign workers in a country of 57,000 has also raised concerns amongst the local population.
Turnout was 74.2%, up 2.9% since 2009.
Siumut (S) 42.8% (+16.3%) winning 14 seats (+5)
Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) 34.4% (-9.3%) winning 11 seats (-3)
Atassut (A) 8.1% (-2.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Partii Inuit (PI) 6.4% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Democrats (D) 6.2% (-6.5%) winning 2 seats (-2)
Association of Candidates (K) 1.1% (-2.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Others 0% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Four years after being kicked out of office in monumental fashion, Siumut, led by Aleqa Hammond, roared back to power in Greenland. The party increased its vote share by 16%, taking 43% of the vote and 14 seats while the incumbent IA won only 34%, down over 9 points, and 11 seats. The governing IA-D-K coalition also lots its majority, with both of its coalition partners losing votes and seats.
Mining and the prospect of foreign workers were major issues in this elections and they contributed to Siumut’s victory. Most politicians agree on the exploration of mineral resources, but the big-scale law has stirred controversy. Siumut argued that there was too much secrecy about the various mining projects and found the government too eager to push through the law and too soft on foreign companies. Siumut ran on a populist platform which promised to demand more royalties on resources and forcing tougher rules on potential foreign investors. It also tapped into concerns that the new law was giving too much powers to foreign companies.
Inuit fishermen and seal hunters, the traditional backbone of the old economy, feel increasingly marginalized and forgotten with all these new developments. They oppose new fishing quotas, poor market access for seal skins and restrictions over harpoon guns for whale hunting. IA was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to take heed of their concerns; while Siumut promised that it would work to make economic development ‘fairer’ for all, city dwellers and villagers alike. Siumut, however, does not share IA’s steadfast opposition to uranium mining and has said that it would be open to allowing uranium mining if the ore contains a maximum 0.1% uranium oxide..
Cultural concerns also played a role in the vote. The potential ‘massive’ influx of foreign, predominantly Chinese, workers as part of new contracts (including a concession to London Mining PLC which would supply iron ore to China and employ Chinese foreign workers). In a small and largely ethnically homogeneous country, the prospect of 500-700 cheap foreign workers moving in – even on a temporary basis – scared many, who feared that they will take jobs away from locals and undermine Greenland’s ancient hunting and fishing tradition.
IA likely lost some votes to a new party, Partii Inuit, a very left-wing and separatist party formed recently by IA dissidents. The Inuit Party were the most vocal in their opposition to the big-scale law, calling for a referendum on the issue.
On the map, Siumut won every ‘city’ (the second level divisions behind the 3 municipalities) with the exception of Aasiaat (the fifth largest city), Illoqqortoormiut on the east coast (where Atassut won) and Nuuk (the largest city and capital). Siumut swept every other part of the country, likely benefiting from fishermen and hunters’ opposition to the big-scale law. Interestingly, IA did not lose as much in Nuuk – it won first place by a mile and its vote only fell by 5%. The capital city is booming and rapidly changing, benefiting from the mineral boom. Perhaps urban voters in Greenland’s largest city (over 15,000 people) were more favourable to the incumbent government’s mining policies, which has brought them tangible benefits?
Northeastern Greenland, in blue on the map, is covered by the world’s largest national park and has no permanent inhabitants. Unfortunately, polar bears and seals can’t vote. The small blue dot on the northwestern coast is Thule Air Base, a US Air Force base.
Greenland is changing extremely rapidly now, and its economy and society will likely be transformed by the mineral boom. The new status in 2009 brought the island ever closer to full independence, and many have argued that the mining boom will allow Greenland to become more autonomous from Denmark and move towards full independence. Yet, the transition to either full political independence or economic diversification is problematic. The current mining boom could allow Greenland to become a functioning independent state, but many Greenlanders are asking – at what price? There is much reluctance to sacrifice traditions or the old economy in favour of sovereignty, and many fear that Greenland could be exchanging Danish rule for rule by the special interests.
Legislative elections were held in Malta on March 9, 2013. All seats in Malta’s unicameral legislature, the House of Representatives (Kamra tad-Deputati) were up for reelection. The House consists of at least 65 members elected by single transferable vote (STV) in 13 constituencies which return five members each. However, the STV system is modified to ensure that the party which wins the most votes also receives the most seats. In the last election, for example, the party which placed second in the popular vote actually won more seats than the party which won the election, so four additional seats were given to the first-placed party to ensure that it also had the most seats. A 2007 amendment added another modification to the STV system, to ensure proportionality is respected in the case that a party wins an absolute majority of votes and seats. The amendments award additional seats to the second-placed party if their seat count is disproportionate to their popular vote result.
Although Malta uses STV, it has a very rigid two-party system since 1971. Partisanship is very high in Malta and voters remain impressively loyal to their party. As a result, Maltese elections tend to have some of the highest turnout levels in the world (outside countries with mandatory voting): turnout was 93% in the last general election (and that was the lowest since 1971!). Elections are always closely fought between the two major parties; the 2008 election was won by about 1000 votes out of nearly 300,000 votes, and the losing party rarely wins less than 47% of the vote.
The two dominant parties of Maltese politics are the governing Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista, PN) and the opposition Maltese Labour Party (Partit Laburista, MLP/PL). Both parties were founded when Malta was still under British rule.
The PN was originally founded in 1880 and adopted its current name in 1926. The PN was founded by Maltese Italians who opposed Britain’s efforts to Anglicize the educational and judicial system; at the time the PN was founded, Italian was widely spoken on the island and was the language of the local Maltese elite. After Malta was granted responsible government in 1921, the PN emerged victorious in the 1921, 1924 and 1927 elections. At this time, the PN represented the pro-Italian (often pro-fascist) faction in Maltese colonial politics; it was also closely tied to and supported by the Roman Catholic Church, which was (and to a degree still is) extremely powerful in Malta, a very religious and conservative country. The British, fearing the pro-Italian and pro-fascist sympathies of the Maltese elites and the PN, stepped in and suspended self-rule in 1933. Responsible government was restored only in 1947.
The Labour Party was founded in 1921, closely tied to the General Workers Union (GWU). The party was the junior party in a progressive ‘Compact’ government with the stridently pro-British Constitutional Party between 1927 and 1932, a government marked by a bitter dispute with the Catholic Church which resulted in the Church issuing an interdict against both parties. The MLP became dominant only in the post-war era, emerging with a large majority in the 1947 election just as the PN was still licking its wounds from the damage the war had inflicted on it. However, the MLP – led by Prime Minister Paul Boffa – went through a major split in 1950, with Boffa leaving the MLP after a dispute with his Deputy Prime Minister, the fiery Dom Mintoff. In these conditions, the PN returned to power in 1950 and was reelected by tiny margins in 1951 and 1953.
Dom Mintoff’s Labour Party won the 1955 elections on a platform of ‘integration’ into the United Kingdom, whereby Malta would be granted a devolved status similar to that of the United Kingdom but elect MPs to Westminster and have access to economic aid and social benefits. The United Kingdom was originally open to the idea, but it either soured on it or lost interest as the process dragged on. Although Maltese voters actually endorsed integration in a 1956 referendum, a Nationalist boycott and low turnout (59%) rendered the result inconclusive. Now, faced with opposition from London, the PN and the Church, Mintoff changed course and swore to fight for Malta’s full independence and neutrality. Following dismissals at the Admiralty dockyards, Mintoff and the GWU’s power base, Mintoff resigned in 1958 and called for protests. Britain responded by suspending self-rule again, restoring it in 1962.
The Catholic Church’s opposition to Mintoff and Labour – the party was interdicted between 1961 and 1964 and reading or selling party newspapers was deemed a mortal sin – allowed the PN to win the 1962 and 1966 elections. During this period, Malta signed a military agreement with Britain and became a NATO base. In 1964, the PN negotiated independence for Malta – as a member of the Commonwealth retaining the Queen as head of state and a British Governor General. Despite formal independence, British influence remained pervasive in banking, communications, the military and government.
Having patched up ties – for the time being – with the Catholic Church, Mintoff returned to power in 1971 with a bare one-seat edge over the PN (28 vs 27 seats). Mintoff was a fiery, pugnacious and strong-willed leader who was able to play off world powers against one another to ensure the independence and neutrality of his small island nation. He quickly scrapped the defense agreement, expelled the NATO commander and charged the British and Americans for the use of military facilities in Malta. Mintoff also courted Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and communist China, but also allowed the Soviet Union to store naval fuel in Malta and he received aid from Italy. He was able to play to all sides in the Cold War, in return for recognition of Maltese neutrality.
Domestically, Mintoff transformed Malta into a moden and advanced welfare state – imitating the British model. He declared Malta a republic within the Commonwealth in 1974, nationalized a number of key enterprises, expanded the public sector and implemented major social reforms including gender equality, civil marriage and the decriminalization of homosexuality and adultery. Mintoff was reelected in 1976 and in 1981 (despite the PN winning the popular vote in 1981), but characteristically for Maltese politics, he never had a solid parliamentary majority. His opponents claimed that he was an autocratic strongman who stayed in power through gerrymandering, bullying opponents, patronage and even physical bullying at the polls by his supporters.
In his last term in office, Mintoff picked a fight with the Catholic Church – aiming to wrestle control of education and healthcare away from the Church. He closed down two religious private hospitals and threatened to close down the Church’s 70 or so private schools if they did not abolish tuition fees. Mintoff resigned in 1984, and the PN returned to power in the 1987 election.
The PN government under Edward Fenech Adami, which ruled between 1987 and 1992, liberalized the economy, led a pro-European and pro-Western policy and advocated Maltese membership in the European Union. Labour opposed EU membership. When Labour’s Alfred Sant won the 1996 elections, it froze Malta’s EU application. But Sant’s government, which held a one-seat majority in Parliament, only lasted 22 months. In 1998, Mintoff – still an influential backbencher who was scheming behind Sant’s back – voted against the government on a matter of confidence and eventually brought down the short-lived Labour government. The PN returned to power in 1998 and reopened EU membership talks.
In March 2003, a referendum on EU membership was held. Of all EU membership referendums held in 2003 before the big enlargement in 2004, the Maltese vote was the only one which wasn’t a slam dunk for the pro-EU option. The Labour Party and Mintoff actively campaigned against membership, and only 54% voted in favour of membership. Because less than half of eligible voters had actually voted in favour, Labour compelled the PN to seek a mandate from voters in a snap election. The PN was returned with 35 seats against 30 for Labour, a comfortable majority by local standards. Adami was replaced by Lawrence Gonzi in 2004. In the last election in 2008, Gonzi and the PN were reelected but by a margin of only 1,580 votes.
Gonzi’s government was brought down in December 2012 when a PN dissident broke ranks and voted against the government’s budget, which meant that the government lost confidence and was forced to resign.
The PN and Labour have some ideological differences – on issues such as taxation or government intervention – but they tend to be broadly similar. While it was Eurosceptic until 2004, Labour has since made its peace with the European Union and does not advocate any Eurosceptic positions. Malta as a whole is one of the most socially conservative countries in Europe – divorce was officially illegal until 2011 and abortion remains illegal in all cases (one of the strictest abortion laws in the world) – and the PN has usually tended to be to the right of Labour on social/moral issues (Gonzi opposed the new law on divorce, supported by 53% of voters in a 2011 referendum), but even that might be changing given that both parties openly support civil unions for same-sex couples and anti-discrimination legislation.
Prime Minister Gonzi is running on his economic record, stating that he has ensured economic stability and job creation in Malta despite the global economic crisis. Indeed, Malta is performing well within the EU. Its deficit is now under the EU’s 3% limit, unemployment is low at 6% and the economy is projected to grow by 2% in 2013 (it grew by 1.2% in 2012). The only potential issues are the high public debt (71% of GDP) and a recent downgrade in its credit rating (from A- to BBB+ by Standard and Poor’s). Gonzi’s government lowered taxes, and campaigns on more tax cuts (including the income tax and property tax). Labour, led since 2008 by the 39-year old Joseph Muscat, does not have markedly different policies; it focuses on increasing women’s participation in the labour force and reducing electricity costs by 25% by building a new power station. It also promises to cut taxes and reduces ‘wasteful’ public spending.
The traditional third party is the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which has generally won about 1% in general elections although it managed a spectacular 9% in the 2004 European elections. It supports a higher minimum wage, gay marriage, drug legalization and campaign finance legislation (Malta is one of the few EU countries with no campaign finance laws).
Turnout was about 93%, sky high in any other country but fairly low by Maltese standards. The results were as follows:
Labour 54.83% (+6.04%) winning 39 seats (+5)
PN 43.34% (-6.00%) winning 30 seats (-5)
AD 1.8% (+0.49%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.03% (-0.53%) winning 0 seats (nc)
It was a massive landslide for the opposition Labour Party, which won the popular vote by 11.5% and with a 35,000 vote margin over the governing PN. Maltese elections, since the 1970s, have always been closely fought battles – the 1992 election, in which Labour won 46.5% of the vote, was considered as a PN landslide by Maltese standards. Both parties usually have a loyal, highly motivated and reliable electorate which provides them with a very high floor (but also limits them to a low ceiling); there are few voters, and elections are determined by who drives out their voters the best or manages transfers in STV most efficiently. This year, however, was different. This was the largest victory for any single party since the 1955 election – when Malta was still a British colony and at a time when the party system fluctuated more. In 1955, Labour won 56.7% against 40% for the PN. The 6% swing against the governing party this year was huge. It was not just a case of Labour holding its vote, because its raw vote total increased from 141.8k in 2008 to 167.5k this year, while the PN fell from 143.4k votes in 2008 to 132.4k this year. Polls before the election had showed that at least 8-10% of the PN’s 2008 voters were planning to vote Labour, with an additional 12-15% still undecided at the time. Labour also had a comfortable lead with first-time voters.
Malta’s economy, by EU standards, is doing fairly well and the issues which feature prominently in elections in all other EU countries today (austerity, debts and deficits, unemployment) did not really play a large role in this campaign. The PN was the victim, first and foremost, of voter fatigue. The party has been in power uninterrupted since 1998 (15 years) and for 24 years in the past 26 years since 1987. In that time, especially since 2008, there was a perception that the PN had grown complacent, disconnected/out of touch and even corrupt because of all those years in powers. The government’s decision to raise its own salaries was unpopular, as it came in the middle of the economic crisis. There have also been a number of corruption cases, including a major case involving oil procurement. The government’s recent attempt to hand over management of the island’s public transport system to a German operator was very unpopular, in fact it was the factor which caused the PN rebel to vote against the budget and bring down the government in December. High utility prices, particularly for electricity, also hurt the government.
Labour, under its young leader Joseph Muscat, has become far more appealing and less polarizing than it had been in the past. It dropped one of its major disagreements with the PN (European integration) by shifting away from its past Euroscepticism; it has also reached out to Malta’s business community. Muscat also campaigned on a relatively centrist platform, which hit all the right notes for the electorate: fighting corruption, cutting electricity prices by 25%, lowering income taxes, controlling government spending and reducing the deficit. Given the broad similarities with the PN (which focused primarily on tax cuts), it is not hard to see why a substantial number of PN supporters voted Labour this year.
In the 13 STV districts, Labour won 39 seats to the PN’s 26 seats. The PN was hurt by its terrible job at transfer management, given that Labour won the most seats (3 vs 2) in two districts – 8 (Birkirkara) and 13 (Gozo) – where the PN actually won the most votes. The 2007 amendment to ensure proportionality kicked in, as this article explains. Because Labour’s 39 members were elected with an average of 4,295 votes when the PN’s 26 members were elected with an average of 5,093 votes; the PN found itself entitled to receive four additional seats (the formula used is dividing the PN’s total first preference votes by the lowest average – Labour’s 4,295 – to get 30.8, or an additional 4.8 seats from the PN’s 26 – rounded down because the constitution says the Parliament must have a odd number of seats). The perennially unsuccessful third party, AD, has complained about the ‘perversion’ of this system because their vote count (5,506) is much higher average worked out to ensure proportionality for the two big parties – yet they will have no seats. A Labour MP now supports a constitutional amendment to grant AD parliamentary representation.
Here is a map of Labour and PN’s first pref results by district (see also: first pref winner by district, STV seats by party). There is a clean and clear geographic divide. Labour won 71% in District 2, and over 66% in the three other southern districts – Districts 3, 4 and 5. The second district covers Labour’s birthplace and heartland on the docklands south of Valletta, the capital. The south of the island also seems to be working-class areas. The PN’s best district was District 10, an affluent and residential/touristy area north of Valletta.
Malta’s election signals a major change in leadership, with Labour winning power for the first time since Malta joined the EU and later the Eurozone. As a small country in the wider EU, it is not a particularly significant election; and even domestically, given Labour’s platform and its ideological proximity with the PN, it will not signal a major departure from the former government.
Presidential, legislative and regional elections were held in Kenya on March 4, 2013. These are the first general elections under a new constitution adopted in 2010.
The President of Kenya is the head of state and government and serves a five-year term, renewable once. The Vice President is the running mate of the winning presidential candidate. In the past, the President was elected by first past the post in a single-round election with no runoff. Under the new constitution, a runoff is held if no candidate has won over 50% of the vote in the first round and at least 24% in half (24) of Kenya’s 47 counties. The office of Prime Minister, created in 2008 as part of a power sharing agreement following the 2007-2008 crisis, will be abolished and the President will regain his traditional powers as head of state and government.
However, the new constitution granted wider powers to the Parliament, which will now be composed of two houses: the National Assembly (previously the unicameral legislature) and a new Senate. The National Assembly, formerly consisting of 224 members, will now have 350 members – 290 of these will be elected by FPTP in single-member districts (whose boundaries were established by a new boundary and electoral commission, the IEBC). 47 seats will be reserved for women, with each county electing one woman. The remaining seats are reserved for special interest groups, such as young voters or people with disabilities (they will be nominated).
The Senate will consist of 68 members, 47 of which will be elected by FPTP in Kenya’s 47 counties. 16 seats are reserved for women, and it seems as if they be elected in proportion to the share of seats held by each political party in the 47 districts. Four seats are reserved for young people (2 seats) and people with disabilities (2 seats).
For the first time since independence, the new constitution devolves significant powers to 47 counties, although Kenya remains a centralized rather than federal state. Voters in each county will directly elect a governor and a county assembly (elected in single-member wards by FPTP).
The usual meme about Kenya is that it is a model of democracy, rule of law and political stability in turbulent East Africa. That is not the case, nor has it ever been the case. This idyllic image of Kenya was dealt a big blow following the contested 2007 presidential election, when supporters of the defeated candidate clashed with supporters of the incumbent president, killing up to 1,500 people and displacing up to 300,000 others. The 2007-2008 post-election violence was not an unprecedented violent outburst of ethnic violence, it was the culmination of decades and decades of ethnic politics and government-sanctioned ethnic favoritism and oppression.
Kenya gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1963 and became a republic in 1964. Kenya’s first President, who ruled the country until 1978, was Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta had been one of the main leaders of the struggle for independence against Great Britain, a movement which began in earnest following World War II. The nationalist movement was spearheaded by Kenyatta’s Kikuyu people, a tribe which lives in the interior central highlands. Under colonial rule, Britain encouraged white immigration and allowed for the growth of a white planter/grower elite in the Rift Valley and the surrounding central highlands. These large-scale coffee plantations were dependent on Kikuyu labour, the Kikuyu were subjected to the most pressure from settlers. The Kikuyu, but also the Luo, formed the bulk of the Kenyan African National Union (KANU), Kenyatta’s party and the ruling party until 2002.
After independence, Kenyatta’s policies largely favoured the Kikuyu (and their allies, the Embu and Meru). For example, white plantations were mostly broken up and given to black farmers – mostly Kikuyu – forming a black/Kikuyu elite with economic and political power. The unequal distribution of land between the various tribes, and the tradition of the ruling tribe using political/state power to further their interests at the expense of their rivals has created the current climate of ethnic animosities and resentment. In power, Kenyatta largely adhered to a conservative and pro-Western policy, in contrast to other African liberation leaders who turned to the Soviet Union and experimented with socialism or statist policies. After 1969, after Kenyatta banned the Luo-based opposition KPU, Kenya became a de facto one-party state under the KANU.
After Kenyatta’s death in 1978, he was succeeded by his Vice President, Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin. By the mid-1980s, Moi had turned Kenya into a de jure authoritarian one-party state and had concentrated power in the hands of the Kalenjin (while cooperating with the Kikuyu). Moi remained in power by exploiting ethnic tensions, political violence, inciting ethnic violence and repression of opposition. Under international pressure, Moi was forced to liberalize the country in the 1990s and open up to multi-party politics and elections. He was, however, able to win the 1992 and 1997 elections – generally free but not fair elections.
Barred from running again in 2002, Moi tried to manage the presidential succession in his favour by promoting the candidacy of Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first President, against that of Mwai Kibaki, Moi’s former Vice President, who assembled a multiethnic opposition coalition (the National Rainbow Coalition). Moi’s strategy backfired and resulted in a humiliating defeat for Kenyatta. Kibaki won the 2002 election with 62% of the vote.
Under Kibaki’s first term, Kenya enjoyed consistently strong economic growth, up to 7% growth in 2007, but inequalities increased and corruption remained widespread and ingrained in politics. The multiethnic coalition, the National Rainbow Coalition, did not last long. In a 2005 referendum on a proposed constitution, certain members of the ruling coalition – notably Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo, joined with KANU to successfully campaign for a NO vote.
Raila Odinga was Mwai Kibaki’s main opponent in the 2007 presidential election. Initial results indicated that Odinga had won, but the final results released by the government proclaimed Kibaki as the victor with 47% against 44% for Odinga. The election was marred by serious allegations of fraud and vote rigging, and it is indeed quite likely that Odinga actually won the election.
The election was followed by a wave of bloodshed, ethnic/tribal violence and rioting. Odinga’s Luo and Kalenjin supporters targeted Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group, followed by Kikuyu retaliation. The 2007-2008 crisis claimed up to 1,500 lives and displaced 300,000 people from their homes. The violence petered out as Odinga and Kibaki shared a power-sharing agreement at the end of February 2008 and formed a coalition government in April 2008, with Odinga as Prime Minister and Kibaki as President.
The power-sharing period since 2008 has been described by most as chaotic, but it was at least successful in restoring order (and economic growth) to the country. Kibaki and Odinga both backed the 2010 constitution, ratified by voters in a referendum. The power-sharing government finally got to work on land reform issues, creating (after much wrangling) an independent National Land Commission which has the power settle land disputes and recommend land policies.
Kenyan politics is still all about ethnicity, tribes and complex (and often short-lived) ethnic/tribal alliances. Ideology is barely a factor in electoral campaigns, and none of the leading political parties and coalitions can be said to have a coherent ideology – in fact, a lot of those parties and coalitions tend to be tribal personal vehicles for a leading politician.
Two-thirds of Kenyans are ‘Bantu’, deriving from people who came to eastern and southern Africa over 2000 years ago from western and central Africa during the Bantu Migration. The other third of Kenyans are ‘Nilotic’ people, who originally came from present-day South Sudan and speak Nilo-Saharan (rather than Niger-Congo) languages. The Bantu/Nilotic distinction has little to do with the current ethnic politics; the main ethnic groups in Kenyan politics are the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin and Kamba.
The Kikuyu (Bantu), the ruling elite under Kenyatta and arguably under Kibaki’s first term, make up about 17-20% of the population (more if their traditional Embu and Meru allies are included) and live in the central highlands. The Luo (Nilotic), make up about 10-14% of the population, reside on the shores of Lake Victoria in Nyanza Province. Barack Obama’s father was a Luo. The Luhya (Bantu) make up about 13% of the population and live in the highlands in the Western Province, north of Lake Victoria and east of Uganda. The Kalenjin (Nilotic), make up 11-13% of the population, mostly in the highlands of the Rift Valley. The Kamba (Bantu), finally, make up 10-11% of the population, found largely in areas to the east of Nairobi. Smaller groups include the Kisii in Nyanza Province, the Mijikenda along the coast, the well-known semi-nomadic Maasai near the Tanzanian border and Somalis in the arid desert areas bordering Somalia.
Elections in Kenya are about forging alliances between various rival ethnic groups against other rival ethnic groups. These alliances never last very long, and most opponents in a presidential election used to be allies in past contests against another candidate or party.
The semi-incumbent in this race is the outgoing Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who is running under the banner of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) which includes his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Raila Odinga is the son of Oginga Odinga, a Luo who briefly served as the country’s first Vice President under Jomo Kenyatta until 1965. Oginga Odinga later founded the Kenyan People’s Union (KPU), a Luo-based opposition party, banned in 1969. Oginga and Raila were opponents of Moi’s regime, and the father ran in the 1992 elections and Raila ran in the 1997 elections. Raila Odinga briefly reconciled with Moi after the 1997 election and served in his cabinet between 2001 and 2002. He joined forces with Mwai Kibaki in the 2002 election, but he broke with Kibaki shortly thereafter and opposed the 2005 constitutional draft. Odinga’s core base of support resides, naturally, with the Luo.
His running mate this year is incumbent Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, a Kamba who is the current leader of the hilariously named ‘Wiper Democratic Movement’. Kalonzo Musyoka ran for president in his own right in 2007, as an ODM dissident, but took only 9% of the vote. The CORD is largely a Luo/Kamba alliance, but it has a base of Luhya support as well.
His main opponent is Uhuru Kenyatta, and his running mate William Ruto – together they form the Jubilee Coalition. Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta (1964-1978). His political career began, humiliatingly, in 2002 when he was promoted by Moi as his hand-picked successor but lost the 2002 election to Kibaki by a huge margin. He allied with Odinga and other politicians during the 2005 referendum. Uhuru Kenyatta served as finance minister between 2008 and 2012 and is also a Deputy Prime Minister. Kenyatta founded his own personal vehicle, The National Alliance (TNA). His running mate is William Ruto, a Kalenjin, and former agriculture and later higher education minister. He is the leader of the United Republican Party (URP).
Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are infinitely controversial politicians, given that both have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in inciting and perpetrating ethnic violence during the 2007-2008 crisis. Kenyatta is accused of having organized a Kikuyu militia, the Mungiki, during the violence. Ironically, Kenyatta – a Kikuyu – and Ruto – a Kalenjin – found themselves on opposite sides of the violence in 2007-2008 but they seem to have found common ground with the ICC indictments. Their ICC indictments were not a huge factor in the campaign, given that a lot of politicians in Kenya – even Odinga – want Kenyan courts rather than the ICC to settle the post-election violence from 2007-2008. The main controversy surrounding Uhuru Kenyatta at home might be the allegations that by way of his powerful family, he owns vast tracts of land in central Kenya. His rivals attacked him on this topic during debates, but he denies that he owns large expanses of land.
Kenyatta and Odinga are the two top candidates, but there is a third contender: deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi, a Luhya. Mudavadi, who was Kenyatta’s running mate in 2002 and Odinga’s running mate in 2007, is the leader of the Amani coalition which includes Mudavadi’s United Democratic Forum (UDF) but also the remnants of KANU, controlled by Daniel arap Moi’s son Gideon Moi. Mudavadi was initially promoted by Kenyatta and Ruto in the case that the courts did not approve their candidacies, but when it became clear that Kenyatta and Ruto would be cleared to run, Mudavadi broke with them and decided to run on his own. Mudavadi’s candidacy is supported by former Daniel arap Moi, leading some of his opponents to deride Mudavadi as Moi’s play thing and latest tool.
Ideological factors, naturally, were not a major issue in this campaign. Each candidate clearly targets particular tribes, even if they do not really use openly chauvinistic rhetoric. If there are ideological difference, Uhuru Kenyatta likely leans to the right while Raila Odinga leans more to the left – but those differences are minute and should not be taken seriously.
Turnout was 86% in the presidential election. The IEBC’s online reporting system with a map of the results for all races as results flowed in proved too good to be true, it broke down halfway through the count and threw the reporting process into the dark as the IEBC was forced to count the remaining presidential ballots manually and announce results through clunky PDF files. The results for other races (Parliament, county governors and assembly) appear incomplete and fragmentary as of now.
The results of the presidential election, as reported by the IEBC, was as follows:
Uhuru Kenyatta / William Ruto (Jubilee – TNA/URP) 50.07%
Raila Odinga / Kalonzo Musyoka (CORD – ODM/WDM) 43.31%
Musalia Mudavadi / Jeremiah Ngayu Kioni (Amani – UDF) 3.93%
Rejected ballots 0.88%
Peter Kenneth / Ronald Osumba (Eagle) 0.59%
Mohammed Abduba Dida / Joshua Odongo Onono (ARC) 0.43%
Martha Karua / Augustine Lotodo (NARC-Kenya) 0.36%
James ole Kiyiapi / Winnie Kaburu (RBK) 0.33%
Paul Muite / Shem Ochuodho (Safina) 0.1%
The IEBC has declared Uhuru Kenyatta as the president-elect, having won over 50% by the first round and taking over 25% of the vote in well over half of Kenya’s 47 counties (in 42 of them). Outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his main rival, has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the result citing fraud and mass tampering with the results, and will challenge the result in the country’s Supreme Court. The courts may decide to overturn the result, but most seem to assume that it will not do so. The outgoing President, Mwai Kibaki, has recognized Kenyatta’s victory.
With such a narrow victory for Uhuru Kenyatta in a country where elections are ‘ethnic censuses’ and Raila Odinga challenging the results, there is some reason to fear for a repeat of the ethnic violence and bloodshed which followed the controversial 2007 election. Odinga’s Luo supporters find themselves shut out from political power yet again, while Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kikuyu ethnic group retains political power in Kenya (in an alliance with their erstwhile enemies the Kalenjin). Kenyatta’s victory will not please everybody, and with such a narrow mandate his legitimacy might be challenged. Kenya clearly remains split along ethnic lines, and this remains a major danger for democracy in the country.
However, Odinga, while challenging the result in court, has urged his supporters to remain peaceful. It seems rather unlikely that Kenya will suffer a repeat of the 2007-2008 crisis. Both men, despite playing on ethnic resentment and tensions for political gain, understand that the 2007-2008 crisis was utterly disastrous for Kenya’s economy and its image abroad. Furthermore, the 2010 constitutional reforms have reduced the potency of the issues which catalyzed the 2007-2008 crisis: devolution, which will allow Odinga’s supporters and minority groups to retain power at the county level; and the first steps on land reform issues which will hopefully resolve contentious land issues (naturally tied to ethnic tensions).
Kenyatta and William Ruto face major domestic challenges including a relatively sluggish economy, high unemployment (especially amongst younger Kenyans) and endemic corruption. They will also need to adapt to a new constitutional framework which has introduced major changes to governance in Kenya, most importantly devolution to county governments and a Parliament which will now include a second, upper, chamber (the Senate).
However, most interest in the new tandem which will govern the country comes from their indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly inciting and perpetrating ethnic violence during the 2007-2008 crisis. To gain an idea of how rapidly political allegiances and coalitions may change in Kenya, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides of the violence in 2007-2008: Kenyatta supported a Kikuyu militia which notably targeted the Kalenjin in the Rift Valley, while Ruto supported Kalenjin groups who targeted the Kikuyu. Grudges or at least erstwhile political rivalries don’t last for long in Kenyan politics, and both men appear to have found some common ground in their ICC indictments. Ruto’s trial is due to begin in late May, and Kenyatta’s trial in early July.
Kenyatta/Ruto’s victory places both men and their country in an awkward and unprecedented situation. The election was a success for democracy, especially if it is not followed by violence. Kenyatta was elected in an election which foreign observers confirmed was free and fair, and can thus claim democratic legitimacy despite a weak mandate and Odinga’s court challenge. However, the winners of this election are indicted by the ICC on several counts of crimes against humanity and have been summoned by the ICC. Unless charges are dropped soon, Kenyatta and his running-mate will join Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in the unsavoury club of heads of states who have been indicted by the ICC.
Sudan is widely seen in the West as a ‘rogue state’ and has long been diplomatically isolated and shunned by the international community (notably the EU and the US) under al-Bashir’s authoritarian regime. However, Kenya is a key longtime regional ally for the West located in a strategic hotspot (bordering Somalia), an economic power in the region and a democracy (albeit a troubled and imperfect one). The West cannot afford to treat Kenya as a rogue state, and it will need to find a way to adapt and work with Kenyatta’s government. Nevertheless, foreign diplomats have issued some harsh statements about Kenya. The British High Commissioner said that Britain would maintain only “essential contact” (limited and minimal diplomatic interaction) with Nairobi in the case Kenyatta won, just like Britain does with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson warned, before the vote, that “choices have consequences”. China, on the other hand, welcomed Kenyatta’s victory – unsurprisingly as China has long has its eyes set on Kenya and the African continent as a whole as the traditional European powers struggle to retain their foothold in Africa.
But many feel that the ICC’s case against the new governing tandem in Nairobi is weak. The ICC might be brought to drop charges altogether in the next few months.
It is quite possible that Kenyatta/Ruto were actually helped by the ICC indictment. Although the ICC originally enjoyed strong support when it took over the Kenyan case after Kenya itself proved unwilling to seriously prosecute those behind the post-electoral violence; the ICC has quickly lost legitimacy in Kenya. Most politicians, including Raila Odinga, now want Kenyan courts rather than the ICC handling the case. For Kenyatta and Ruto’s Kikuyu and Kalenjin supporters, the ICC indictments were perceived as attacks on their entire communities rather than just those individuals. The Jubilee alliance capitalized on such sentiments and drummed up ethnic support for their ticket, presenting themselves as victims and martyrs.
The Jubilee coalition also played on lingering anti-colonial and somewhat anti-Western sentiment with some Kenyans, who dislike being lectured on democracy by former colonial masters and resent foreign intervention into their domestic politics. The British High Commissioner’s remarks before the vote caused offense to many voters, others – including some foreign observers – criticized the West for its thinly veiled implicit backing of Odinga. Kenyans also took negatively to foreign media coverage of the election. Indeed, the dominant theme in the foreign media’s coverage of the run-up to the election was reminding viewers of the post-electoral violence in 2007-2008 and pondering whether this year’s election would be followed by a repeat of the 2007-2008 ethnic violence. In many cases, Kenyans felt that the foreign media were running with their own pre-conceptions and narratives about the election and what would come out of it. Kenyatta/Ruto’s campaign used nationalistic and anti-colonial rhetoric and voiced concern over the ‘shadowy’ involvement of foreign powers (notably Britain) in the vote.
Kenyatta struck a conciliatory note in his victory speech, promising national unity, working with opponents and the usual good stuff associated with victory speeches. But he also issued a stern warning to the international community, saying that they must respect the country’s sovereignty and the democratic will of its people. While Kenyatta and Ruto have both said that they will continue cooperating with international institutions and will attend their trial in The Hague, they have also made clear that their public duties in office would take priority and prevent them from being in The Hague continually. But despite this nationalistic rhetoric, it is still tough to see Kenyatta transforming into a ‘pariah’ leader. He has the upper hand (and democratic legitimacy) in his dealings with the international community now, but he too will need to work with foreign partners.
Obviously, the presidential results revealed that Kenyan elections and politics remain very much divided by ethnicity. This election, like others in the past, was a traditional “ethnic census” election. Tribal loyalties remain key in Kenyan elections.
Kenyatta/Ruto’s Jubilee coalition united the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups of the central highlands and the Rift Valley. The Kikuyu, like Kenyatta, had backed President Kibaki over Odinga in the 2007 election; but the Kalenjin – former President Daniel arap Moi’s ethnic group – supported Odinga back in 2007. As a result, the ticket won huge margins the Kikuyu and Kalenjin heartlands – about 90 to 95% of the vote. In the counties which make up the old Central Region, the Kikuyu heartland, Kenyatta won 93.9% of the vote. In the predominantly Kalenjin Rift Valley Region, he won 72% of the vote – and well over 85 or 90% in the Kalenjin counties in that region. It appears that Kenyatta also did well with the Maasai in Kajiado County. Not quite sure what was going on in Mandera County, that deep red (92% county) in the country’s arid and desertic northeastern corner bordering Somalia. It is a largely Somali area, but Kenyatta did not sweep Somali voters.
What might have been crucial in Kenyatta’s victory was that he, unlike Odinga, managed a respectable and substantial minority share in those counties where he lost. Perhaps a sign of the dispersion of the Kikuyu throughout southern and central Kenya? Or the divided loyalties of ‘other’ ethnic groups (like the Somali) who were not integrated into either ethnic political alliance this year?
Odinga/Musyoka’s CORD united the Luo and Kamba ethnic groups, who live along Lake Victoria and in parts of the Eastern Region respectively. The Luo are Odinga’s core supporters, and he won 98-99% in Homa Bay, Siaya and Kisumu Counties along Lake Victoria, where the Luo population is concentrated. In 2007, the Kamba had backed Musyoka’s independent candidacy (a distant third); this year they supported Musyoka on the CORD ticket. Odinga won 90.7% in Makueni County, 85.9% in Machakos County and 79.5% in Kitui County – three counties with a predominantly Kamba population. Although they were not “represented” on the ticket, Odinga also found very strong support in the Coast Region, where the Mijkenda and Swahili Muslim merchants have long been clamoring for autonomy and opposed the Kikuyu ruling elites in Nairobi. A secessionist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, tried – without much success – to disturb the election in the coastal region. Odinga won 69.8% in Mombasa and 74.9% in the Coast Region as a whole. From the map, it also appears that the smaller Kisii, Turkana, Samburu and Borana Oromo ethnic groups supported Odinga.
Odinga was victorious by a small margin in Nairobi, with 49% against 46.8% for Kenyatta.
The Luhya, concentrated in the Western Region north of Lake Victoria and on the border with Uganda, were split in this election. On the one hand, they had voted in droves for Odinga in 2007 and some Luhya leaders backed him again this year. On the other hand, there was a Luhya candidate this year - Musalia Mudavadi, Odinga’s 2007 running-mate, now running independently with the backing of former President Moi. As expected, Mudavadi did not sweep Luhya votes but they were his only substantial support base. He took 29% (against Odinga’s 62%) in the Western Region, and won a single county (Vihiga, with 49.2%) in Luhya country. He did not do nearly as well in neighboring counties, and it does not seem as if Moi’s backing brought him any substantial Kalenjin support in the Rift Valley.
I have managed to patch together incomplete results for the other elections (source):
Jubilee 135 FPTP seats + 23 women seats > at least 158 seats
CORD 117 FPTP seats + 21 women seats > at least 138 seats
Amani (Mudavidi) 18 FPTP seats
Eagle Coalition (Kenneth) 2 FPTP seats
Others/independents 18 FPTP seats
Jubilee 21 counties
CORD 20 counties
Amani 4 counties
Others/independents 2 counties
CORD 22 governors
Jubilee 17 governors
Amani 3 governors
Others 3 governors
These results are still incomplete (they do not include the nominated seats or all of the women seats in the National Assembly). But they show that while Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance has won a plurality of seats in both houses, it will likely fall short of an absolute majority even when all the nominated seats are accounted for. The article linked to above notes that, with appointed seats in the National Assembly, Jubilee would end up with 163 seats, short of an absolute majority (176/350). In the Senate, the Jubilee alliance will also fall short of an absolute majority. All this, of course, assumes that nobody switches sides, either to the government or to the opposition – an impossible proposition in Kenyan politics!
Within the new governing alliance, the TNA and URP won roughly the same number of seats with a slight edge to the TNA. The division between the two allies of convenience followed ethnic lines; Kenyatta’s TNA was strongest in the Kikuyu counties, Ruto’s URP was strongest in the Kalenjin counties. Within CORD, Raila Odinga’s ODM was the dominant force but Musyoka’s WDM-K was dominant in Musyoka’s Kamba strongholds and in the Coast Region.
The Senate will play a key role in the devolution process: it determines and oversees the allocation of revenue to counties, considers and votes on bills pertaining to counties and it must also the annual budgets for the new counties.
Assuming the results and the fragile post-electoral peace holds, Kenya will have succeeded in holding a democratic and relatively peaceful election. But what came out of that election – Kenyatta’s victory – is unlikely to please Western governments or foreign onlookers. The election was a major defeat for the ICC. Voters, who had once embraced the ICC, have now rejected it – raising major questions for the ICC’s legitimacy and support with the broader African population, but also the chances for real justice in post-conflict situations in Africa.
State elections were held in the Austrian states of Carinthia (Kärnten) and Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) were held on March 3, 2013.
The Carinthian state legislature (Landtag) has 36 members elected to five-year terms in four constituencies through proportional representation with a 5% threshold. The Lower Austrian landtag has 56 members elected to five-year terms in 21 constituencies corresponding to the state’s district and cities, the threshold is 4%.
In Carinthia and Lower Austria (along with Burgenland, Styria and Upper Austria), the state government is formed on the basis of the Austrian proporz principle, where each party which won over 10% of the vote receives seat(s) in the state government in proportion to their share of the vote. Although all major parties govern in coalition and hold seats in the state government, there may be unofficial working agreements/unofficial coalitions between parties in the state government to form an absolute majority in the legislature and government, leaving a smaller government party as a de facto ‘opposition’. The state governor (Landeshauptmann) is elected by the state legislature, and often comes from the largest party in the legislature and government.
Carinthia is a largely alpine state in southern Austria, the state capital is Klagenfurt. Historically, the state’s main industries included agriculture, forestry, manufacturing and mining. Today, the state’s economy is more reliant on tourism, electronics (Philips and Seimens have large operations in the state) and engineering. Carinthia has the second largest Protestant population in Austria after Burgenland, representing 10% of the population. Some rural areas in the state resisted the Counter-Reformation which nearly wiped out Protestantism in modern-day Austria.
Of lesser demographic significance but of far more political significance is a small Slovene minority in Carinthia, concentrated in the south of the state between the Karavanke mountain range (the modern border between Austria and Slovenia) and the Drava river. In the nineteenth century, about a third of the Carinthian population was Slovene; in the 2001 census, the official figure was 3% (Slovene minority groups claim that the data is flawed and underestimates the minority). Events which took place in Carinthia immediately after the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918 have had a major effect on the state’s contemporary political tradition. In 1918, Yugoslavian troops invaded the predominantly Slovene region between the Karavanke and the Drava river, forcing the German-Austrian state government to flee Klagenfurt. After armed clashes between both sides, the Entente powers stepped in to arbitrate a ceasefire. The parties involved agreed to hold a plebiscite in the predominantly Slovene region of the state to resolve the issue. In a 1920 plebiscite in the majority-Slovene ‘Zone A’, 59% of voters chose to remain part of Austria – a significant number of Slovenes, particularly those in the Klagenfurt basin, voted to remain with Austria rather than join the new Yugoslav state.
Despite the resolution of the issue, the armed conflict between Carinthia and Yugoslavia in 1920 (Kärntner Abwehrkampf) has played a major role in forming the state’s contemporary political traditions, by breeding pan-German nationalism and anti-Slavic/anti-Yugoslavian sentiment. Since the days of the Austrian First Republic in the interwar period, Carinthia has been a hotbed of (pan-German) nationalism. During the interwar years, the pan-German national liberal Landbund, which had a strong base with Protestant farmers, often placed second with decent results.
However, during the interwar era and during most of the post-war era, Carinthian politics were dominated by the Social Democrats (SPÖ), strong in the state partly because of its industrial and blue-collar nature. The SPÖ won the most votes in every state election between 1945 and 1999, and even won over 50% of the vote between 1970 and 1984. The longtime SPÖ Governor, Leopold Wagner (1974-1988), was very popular with Carinthian voters because of his populist and nationalist (often anti-Slovene) positions, which often put him at odds with the federal leadership of the SPÖ. However, throughout the post-war era, the Freedom Party (FPÖ) – an erstwhile national liberal party (which welcomed a lot of former Nazis) which has since become Austria’s leading far-right party – was much stronger in Carinthia than in the rest of the country. It always won double digits (in the low 10s between the mid-1960s and 1984).
Since the 1980s, Carinthia has gained national and even international prominence as the stronghold of the Austrian far-right. Jörg Haider, associated with the FPÖ’s right-wing/pan-German camp, gained control of the Carinthian FPÖ in 1983 and went on to gain control of the federal FPÖ in 1986 (defeating Norbert Steger, who had been the party’s unsuccessful liberal leader since 1980). Under Haider’s leadership, the FPÖ shifted rightwards, away from its erstwhile classical liberalism and emphasizing nationalist, Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant positions. This new rhetoric propelled the FPÖ to new heights, beginning in Carinthia. Under Haider, the party increased its support from 11.7% to 16% in the 1984 state election. In the 1989 election, the FPÖ won 29% in Carinthia and became the second largest party ahead of the conservative ÖVP. Haider was able to become governor of Carinthia through a deal with the ÖVP. He was, however, forced to resign in 1991 after his controversial appraisal of the Third Reich’s “employment policies”. In 1994, the Carinthian FPÖ increased its support to 33%. In 1999, the party placed first with 42% (against 33% for the SPÖ) and Jörg Haider became governor again.
At the same time, the FPÖ reached its peak federally (second placing with 27% in the 1999 federal election) and entered the federal government in a coalition with the centre-right ÖVP. Federally, cabinet participation proved unpopular with the FPÖ’s party and caused great strains on the party. In the 2002 federal election, its support dropped to 10% although it remained in government thereafter.
In 2004, Jörg Haider won another term as governor in his Carinthian stronghold, with the FPÖ winning 42.5% against 38% for the SPÖ (the ÖVP’s support collapsed to barely 11.6%). However, in 2005, after an internal row in the FPÖ, Haider left the party and founded his own party – the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), as an ostensibly more moderate version of the FPÖ. The FPÖ, now led by Heinz-Christian Strache, won the battle for control of the far-right against the BZÖ – the former won 11% against only 4% for the latter in the 2006 federal election. However, in the 2008 federal election, Haider took the helm of the BZÖ’s federal list and led the party to 11% nationally (the FPÖ won 17.5%) – and 39% in Carinthia.
Haider was killed in a car accident 13 days after the election, in October 2008. Running on a platform of upholding Haider’s legacy, his successor as governor, Gerhard Dörfler, won an unprecedented landslide victory for the BZÖ in the 2009 state election. The BZÖ won 44.9% against 28.7% for the SPÖ.
In December 2009, as the federal BZÖ under Josef Bucher took a ‘hard liberal’ turn and adopted very liberal on economic and fiscal issues (while remaining Eurosceptic), the state BZÖ under governor Dörfler and state leader Uwe Scheuch split from the federal BZÖ and formed an alliance with the federal FPÖ. The state BZÖ became the Freedom Party in Carinthia (FPK), associated to the FPÖ as a ‘sister party’ like the CDU/CSU relationship in Germany. The federal BZÖ under Bucher later refounded their own state branch, led by Bucher.
Two events marked Austrian (and Carinthian) politics in 2012: corruption scandals and the emergence of a new political party. At the federal level, all major parties – the governing SPÖ and ÖVP but also FPÖ – have been hit by corruption scandals which have eroded their support and credibility. The FPÖ’s support declined from about 27% in spring 2012 to 20-23% today, in part because of corruption scandals involving party members (Martin Graf, a president of the federal legislature, allegedly swindled an old woman). These corruption scandals, some of which date back to the ÖVP-FPÖ government, include cases of bribery, kickbacks, money laundering and trading insider information. In Carinthia, corruption scandals led to early elections this year. Senior FPK, ÖVP and SPÖ state politicians – including Governor Dörfler, former FPK leader Uwe Scheuch and a former ÖVP leader – were named in various corruption cases. Scheuch was forced to resign as FPK leader in August 2012 following revelations that he had partook in a kickback scheme to profit from the sale of state-owned bank Hypo Alpe Adria in 2007. Dörfler is cited in a case involving the use of public funds by the BZÖ state government to send out a large mailer to all Carinthian households during the 2009 election
These corruption scandals have facilitated the rise of a new party in Austrian politics. Frank Stronach, an Austrian-born businessman who moved to Canada when he was only 18 and later founded Magna International, a hugely successful Canadian auto parts company. Stronach ran for the Canadian Liberal Party in the 1988 federal election (but was defeated) and his daughter Belinda served as a Conservative (later Liberal) MP in the Canadian House of Commons. Frank Stronach returned to Austria in 2011-2012 (where he always maintained a foothold and local notoriety) and entered politics last year with the creation of a new party, ‘Team Stronach’. Stronach’s new party has a right-wing, pro-business platform – it supports a 25% flat tax and other pro-business policies (critics contend he wishes to dismantle Austria’s popular welfare state). Stronach wants Austria to leave the Euro and return to the schilling, but on other European issues it tends to be more favourable to European integration. Unlike the far-right, Stronach is not anti-immigration. However, with his right-wing, mildly Eurosceptic and anti-corruption image, Stronach has been able to eat into the far-right’s reservoir of protest voters, left a bit disillusioned following FPÖ/FPK corruption scandals. Stronach’s party recruited cadres from the BZÖ, SPÖ and ÖVP. Team Stronach’s top candidate in Carinthia was Gerhard Köfer, a former SPÖ MP.
These two state elections were Stronach’s first electoral test before the federal elections in the fall.
The Carinthian electoral campaign was marked by the corruption scandals which hurt the FPK but also the SPÖ and ÖVP – the only party with seats in the legislature who were ‘spared’ were the Greens. The campaign also saw a bitter battle between the FPK and Bucher’s BZÖ. The BZÖ ran a notably overwrought and overdramatic campaign, likening FPK governor Dörfler to past dictators (Ceausescu, Ben Ali, Mubarak) calling on voters to “liberate” Carinthia from the corrupt (and awfully dictatorial?!) FPK. The ad concludes in style with the famous image of US soliders raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II – except that they’re raising the Carinthian flag in the ad.
Turnout was 75.15%, down 6.6% since the 2009 election. The final results are as follows:
SPÖ 37.13% (+8.39%) winning 14 seats (+3) > 3 ministers
FPK 16.85% (-28.04%) winning 6 seats (-11) > 1 minister
ÖVP 14.40% (-2.43%) winning 5 seats (-1) > 1 minister
Greens 12.10% (+6.95%) winning 5 seats (+2) > 1 minister
Team Stronach 11.18% (+11.18%) winning 4 seats (+4) > 1 minister
BZÖ 6.40% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
Pirates 0.99% (+0.99%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 0.95% (-3.44%) winning 0 seats (nc)
It was a monumental for the entire far-right edifice and the powerful FPÖ/BZÖ/FPK machine which Jörg Haider had masterfully built since 1983. The FPK, heir to the state BZÖ which had won a big landslide (with 45%) in the 2009 election running on Haider’s legacy, was trounced at the polls and won only 16.9% of the vote. The 2009 election had come as a major surprise since all polling had shown a close race between the BZÖ and the SPÖ; many felt that the polls would be wrong again this year and that the FPK could place first again – the last batch of polls had shown the SPÖ ahead (31-32%) but the FPK not very far behind (25-26%). The polls were indeed wrong again. Except that they were wrong in the other direction: badly overestimating the FPK at the SPÖ’s expense.
The SPÖ came out much stronger than originally predicted, with 37% of the vote – up over 8 points on its disastrous 2009 result – and, for the moment, regaining political domiance in its old Carinthian stronghold. Furthermore, with the addition of the Greens’ 5 seats, the left (SPÖ-Greens) have an absolute majority (19 seats). They will likely form an unofficial coalition with the ÖVP, which would give them a two-thirds majority and the ability to do away with the Proporz system.
It was an unmitigated and unprecedented disaster for the FPK and the whole Austrian far-right. The FPÖ’s national troubles were, it is true, were worsened in the state by the corruption scandal which has badly hurt the FPK. The result was a shellacking for the FPK, which lost 28 points – the largest loss for the far-right in any Austrian election – compared to the BZÖ’s 2009 landslide victory.
Corruption was one of the biggest issues in the campaign. Indeed, according to SORA’s exit poll, 73% of voters said that ‘fighting corruption’ was very important, making it the second most important issue behind jobs. The Greens – the only party in the old legislature which did not get tied up with the corruption scandals – and Stronach were those who gained the most from the focus on corruption. The BZÖ’s hilariously overdramatic campaign focusing on corruption likely helped them save face, taking 6% and 2 seats (they missed out on a third seat, which went to the Greens, by one vote on the final count).
The ÖVP did not do all that well, but it was a decent result for the party. The ÖVP had been hit particularly badly by the corruption scandal, to the point that the ÖVP’s leader in the state was forced to resign and was replaced by a new leadership which managed to clean up the ÖVP’s image a bit before the elections.
Stronach won 11.2%, more or less in line with what the polls had predicted. Should this be considered a good start for a new party, or should it be seen as a sign that Stronach will not be more than a footnote in Austrian politics? The question seems to have divided observers and commentators. It is clear that Stronach will not win a national breakthrough this year, unless something important happens; if Stronach was expecting to revolutionize the country’s politics and score a phenomenal breakthrough, he was clearly wrong. Austrian politics are relatively stable, political ascension take place over time and not overnight, and even if there’s much discontent in Austrian politics the country is not in a state of crisis which would favour the phenomenal emergence of a brand new party (unlike in Italy). Similarly, if observers and commentators were looking on Stronach to be a top contender in this year’s federal election with a strong chance at actually winning, they were mistaken – it was clear from the beginning that while Stronach had (and still has) much potential, he would not be able to rival the dominant ‘SPÖVP’ this year. Therefore, there would be reason for Stronach and his supporters to be pleased: 11% is a good result for a new party.
SORA’s exit poll revealed interesting information. Only 29% of the BZÖ’s 2009 voters backed the FPK this year, with 23% not voting at all (explaining the huge decrease in turnout) and 22% voting for the SPÖ – not all that surprising in Austrian politics given how the SPÖ and far-right fight for the same blue-collar electorate. 11% of the BZÖ’s 2009 voters turned to Stronach this year; about half of Stronach’s voters voted for the BZÖ in 2009. The Stronach party also gained some substantial support from non-voters (21% of its voters did not vote in 2009) and the SPÖ (18% of its voters supported the SPÖ in 2009).
The Greens, according to SORA, gained ground by taking votes from basically every corner. Only 29% of its voters this year had voted for them in 2009 – 19% had supported the BZÖ in 2009, 18% had backed the ÖVP and 16% voted for the SPÖ. These gains compensated for fairly substantial loses to other parties – while 62% of those who voted Green in 2009 did so again this year, SORA reports that 19% voted for the SPÖ instead, another 19% did not vote this year and 10% (?!) even voted for the FPK on Sunday.
According to the exit polling, the average Stronach voters seems to be a young (under 30) or middle-aged male, who probably voted for the far-right parties in the last state election. For a party led by an 80 year old man, Stronach has turned out surprisingly popular with younger males: he won 20% of the under 30 vote, and with males under 30 he was only one point behind the SPÖ for first place (at 23%). Stronach’s support declined with age: 11% with those aged 30 to 59, only 6% with those over 60. This demographic profile is not dissimilar to that of the far-right: the FPÖ has tended to do very well with younger males, and less so with women or seniors. The major difference between Stronach and the far-right seems to be that while the far-right does very well with blue-collar workers (32% for the FPK vs 36% for the SPÖ) and poorly with pensioners or white-collar employees, Stronach’s support is not markedly stronger with any social category (although he does not do well with pensioners) – he polled 13% with blue and white-collar voters alike. It can be inferred that Stronach gained a lot of votes from young voters (primarily males) who had flirted with or voted for the far-right in the past. Unsurprisingly, younger voters are always more likely to form the ‘protest vote’ element of any far-right party than the ‘ideological hardcore’ element.
‘Control of maladministration’ was the most common reason given by Green and Stronach voters to explain their vote. 59% of Green voters and 69% of Stronach voters said that controlling maladministration (a reference to corruption, obviously) was a factor in their vote; in both cases, this reason placed far ahead of all other explanations and it also placed much higher than with other parties’ voters.
You can explore the results by municipality on a map here. The SPÖ did well in Klagenfurt, Villach and Wolfsberg – the state’s largest cities – although it did not do as well in Spittal. The FPK did very poorly in both Klagenfurt and Villach, falling third behind the Greens in both cities. In general, the SPÖ did best in the south and east of the state, particularly in towns with a large Slovene minority population or in old blue-collar towns. The FPK and the far-right performs best in small mountainous communities in the north and west.
Lower Austria is a large state located in northeastern Austria. It is the second most populous state in the country after Vienna, a city-state which is entirely surrounded by Lower Austria. The state is economically and politically diverse; Vienna’s influence is very perceptible in the areas surrounding the city, and the region located directly south of the capital, the Industrieviertel, is an urbanized and industrialized region. One of the largest cities in that region is Wiener Neustadt. The area around the state’s administrative capital, Sankt Pölten, is also rather industrial. Outside a few isolated industrial centres, the rest of the state has historically been a predominantly agricultural region – with a large wine growing industry.
At the federal level, Lower Austria tends to be a closely disputed between the SPÖ – which does very well in the Industrieviertel, Wiener Neustadt, Viennese commuterland to the northeast of the city and Sankt Pölten – and the conservative ÖVP – which polls extremely well in the more rural Catholic areas in the western half of the state. However, at the state level, Lower Austria has been thoroughly dominated by the ÖVP since 1945 – it has won the most votes in every state election and has always held the governor’s office. Its worst result in a state election was 44% (in 1993). Since 1992, the governor of Lower Austria has been the ÖVP’s Erwin Pröll. Pröll has governed with an ÖVP absolute majority since the 2003. In the 2008 election, the ÖVP won 54% against 25.5% for the SPÖ, marking the worst result for the SPÖ.
Erwin Pröll has remained exceptionally popular throughout his 20 years in office, and is rather influential at the national level. His nephew Josef Pröll was the leader of the national ÖVP and Vice-Chancellor between 2008 and 2011. By virtue of his absolute majorities, Erwin Pröll is also a very powerful governor who has managed to run Lower Austria as his own personal fiefdom, the detriment of his ‘allies’ in the state’s Proporz government. His opponents claim that he is a quasi-dictator and intolerant of criticism.
A fifth successive term in office for Erwin Pröll was never in jeopardy in this election. The SPÖ is weak and increasingly irrelevant. The FPÖ had a prominent but poor top candidate, 2010 presidential candidate Barbara Rosenkranz. Team Stronach’s top candidate was Frank Stronach himself.
Turnout was 70.75%, down 3.76%.
ÖVP 50.80% (-3.59%) winning 30 seats (-1) > 6 ministers
SPÖ 21.59% (-3.92%) winning 13 seats (-2) > 2 ministers
Team Stronach 9.83% (+9.83%) winning 5 seats (+5) > 1 minister
FPÖ 8.21% (-2.26%) winning 4 seats (-2)
Greens 8.04% (+1.13%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Others 1.53% (-1.20%) winning 0 seats (nc)
In contrast to Carinthia, Lower Austria’s election was unremarkable and boring. It was the customary landslide for Governor Erwin Pröll’s ÖVP and the increasingly customary shellacking for the SPÖ (which won its worst result ever again). The FPÖ, hurt by its poor standing nationally and its poor local candidate, lost fairly substantially. In the 2008 election, it had recovered a bit (10.5%) from the drubbing it suffered in the 2003 state election (4.5%) but still fell short of its record, 16.1% of the vote in the 1999 state election. The Greens, meanwhile, won their best result to date.
Team Stronach did not do as well in Lower Austria as it did in Carinthia (this was not a surprise), likely because it was not boosted by corruption scandals like those which had destroyed the credibility of the Carinthian far-right.
The exit polls were rather boring as well. In Lower Austria, most of Stronach’s vote came from those who had not voted in 2008 (39% of his 2013 electorate) but also from the FPÖ (21% of his electorate), ÖVP (18%) and SPÖ (14%). The FPÖ held only 43% of its 2009 voters, 21% voted ÖVP and 19% went to Stronach. The drop in turnout seems, mostly, due to 2008 SPÖ and Green voters not showing up.
Unlike in Carinthia, the Stronach vote did not show any correlation with youth; but it did show a very strong gender gap: 14% with men and only 5% with women. It performed best with young males but also males over 60.
You can explore the results by municipality here. The SPÖ only won a handful of towns, and the ÖVP basically won every major city in the state – even traditional left-wing strongholds such as Sankt Pölten or Wiener Neustadt. Stronach did particularly in Viennese commuterland, which is where he lives.
The next elections in Austria, before the federal elections on September 29, will be early state elections in Salzburg (in May).
Legislative elections were held in Italy on February 24 and 25, 2013. All 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and 315 members of the Senate (Senato della Repubblica) were up for reelection. There were also regional elections (direct election of the regional president and the regional legislature) in Lazio (Latium), Lombardy and Molise.
I explained Italy’s confusing electoral system, its unique political history since 1946 and the plethora of parties and coalitions competing in this year’s election in a long preview post here.
Italy is a rare example of ‘perfect bicameralism’, where both houses of the legislature hold equal powers and a government needs the confidence of both houses and legislation needs to pass in both houses. The electoral system in use since the 2006 election, however, has created an opening for political instability since both houses are elected using a different system. In the lower house (the Chamber of Deputies) the coalition (but not party) which wins the most votes nationally automatically receives a majority bonus of 340 seats, corresponding to 54% of the seats in the Chamber (hence, a solid absolute majority). The remainder of the seats (besides one FPTP member for the Aosta Valley and 12 separate seats for Italians abroad) are allocated by proportional representation. In the Senate, however, the ‘majority bonus’ applies separately at the regional level, so that different coalitions end up winning the regional majority bonuses in different regions. This can mean that no single coalition will emerge with a working majority in the Senate.
There were five major contenders in this election. Pier Luigi Bersani led the centre-left coalition, which is spearheaded by Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD). Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (1994-1995, 2001-2006, 2008-2011) led the centre-right coalition, which notably includes Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party and Roberto Maroni’s regionalist Northern League (LN). Outgoing technocratic Prime Minister Mario Monti led a centrist coalition which was backed by two established centre-right parties. Sharp-tongued populist comedian Beppe Grillo led the 5 Star Movement (M5S), a new anti-establishment and anti-system populist party which became popular in 2012.
The last polls, including ‘leaked’ polls which could not be legally published in the last two weeks, showed Bersani’s centre-left coalition with a consistent lead between 3 and 5 points or so over Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition. The main changes compared to the last legally published polls came with the two smaller groupings: Beppe Grillo’s support increased from about 15-16% in the last polls to 20-21% in the ‘leaked’ polls while Monti’s support fell from about 13% to 9-11%.
Turnout was 75.19% for the Chamber of Deputies and 75.21% for the Senate, down 5.31% and 5.25% from the last election in 2008 respectively. Italy’s political elite has long been perceived as corrupt, self-interested career politicians or hopelessly out of touch with their constituents. In the past, these feelings had often proven secondary for many voters. However, the economic crisis – austerity and prolonged recession – has significantly heightened feelings of alienation or resentment towards the political elites. Given how these same politicians are asking their constituents to ‘sacrifice’ themselves for the sake of economic recovery (when many have already suffered heavily from the crisis with job losses, pension cuts, lower wages and so forth), endemic political corruption and self-serving politicians filling their pockets are less easily accepted. Like in Greece, one of the first political effects of the economic crisis has been to alienate a substantial number of voters from the political system in general, leading to a significant decrease in turnout. Turnout is historically extremely high in Italy, always over 80% (often over 85%) and it used to be over 90% in the 1970s. Therefore, 75% is the lowest turnout in a legislative election since the end of the war – and by quite a distance. Turnout in the two Greek elections in 2012 had also been the lowest in that country’s democratic history.
Bad weather – including snow in the north – may also have dragged down turnout.
Chamber of Deputies
|Party / Coalition||% vote (excl. Aosta, abroad)||Change||Seats (+abroad)||Change (dissolution)|
|PD||25.42%||-7.76%||292 (+5) – 297||+94|
|Centre-left (Bersani)||29.54%||-4.05%||340 (+5) - 345||+131|
|PdL||21.56%||-15.82%||97 (+1) – 98||-111|
|Centre-right (Berlusconi)||29.18%||-20.06%||124 (+1) - 125||-158|
|M5S (Beppe Grillo)||25.55%||new||108 (+1) - 109||+109|
|SC||8.30%||new||37 (+2) – 39||+39|
|With Monti for Italy (Monti)||10.56%||+4.94%||45 (+2) - 47||-13|
|Fermare il Declino (Giannino)||1.12%||new||0||nc|
|All others||1.8%||-2.3%||4 (1 Aosta, 3 South America)||-56|
|Party / Coalition||% vote (excl. Aosta, TAA abroad)||Change||Seats (+Aosta, TAA, abr.)||Change (dissolution)|
|PD||27.43%||-6.26%||105 (+4) – 109||+5|
|Centre-left (Bersani)||31.63%||-2.93%||113 (+10) - 123||+16|
|PdL||22.30%||-15.87%||98 (+1) – 99||-14|
|Centre-right (Berlusconi)||30.72%||-18.69%||116 (+1) - 117||-45|
|M5S (Beppe Grillo)||23.79%||new||54||+54|
|With Monti for Italy (Monti)||9.13%||+3.44%||18 (+1) - 19||+3|
|Fermare il Declino (Giannino)||0.9%||new||0||nc|
|All others||2.04%||-0.76%||2 (1 Aosta, 1 South America)||-16|
Italy’s much anticipated election on February 24-25 ended with no clear winner, a potentially ungovernable country and results filled with surprises after a tense and nail-bitingly close night. Bersani’s centre-left bloc, led by the PD, emerged as the single largest coalition in both houses – with an absolute majority in the Chamber (naturally) but only a thin plurality in the Senate where it is a long way from the 158 seats needed for a majority. Berlusconi’s centre-right performed better than expected and came closer to winning than anyone had imagined – in fact, for a while it looked like Berlusconi could actually pull off a win in both houses. The only clear winner of the night, however, was Beppe Grillo’s upstart M5S, which won about a quarter of the vote nationally.
The first exit polls at 15:00 on Monday afternoon corroborated the last (leaked) polling numbers, with the centre-left coming ahead of the right by about 3-5 points. As in 2006, however, the exit polls were off. TV channels released ‘projections’ based on the trends emerging from the votes actually being counted, and these projections (for the Senate) gave the lead to Berlusconi‘s coalition rather than Bersani. Grillo’s M5S was also performing much better than in the first exit polls. Updated projections maintained this state of affairs for quite some time, and the left’s lead in the actual vote count (first in the Senate – which was counted first, then in the Chamber) shrank consistently and by a considerable amount throughout the night. The final vote ‘projections’, however, showed that the left would be able to eek out a tiny win (in the popular vote) in both houses.
On the final count, the centre-left won the Chamber of Deputies (and the 340 seats ‘bonus’) by 0.36% (124,494 votes) and the Senate by a slightly wider margin of 0.91% (281,004 votes). This is a very tight margin, but the 2006 election was even closer: the left won the Chamber by only 0.11% and actually lost the national popular vote for the Senate (but the crucial popular vote is in the Chamber). The votes received by the centre-right regionalist South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP) in the Chamber (146,804) are greater than the left’s winning margin. If the SVP had run independently, for example, Berlusconi would have won the 340 seat bonus instead.
The left ‘won’ in the technical sense, but it didn’t really win. It was very much a Pyrrhic victory for the left, with a very underwhelming result which is almost as bad as a defeat.
The Berlusconian right didn’t win, because in losing over half of its support from the last election it is definitely one of the biggest losers in this election. But it can pride itself in having lost the election by an unexpectedly tiny margin when almost everybody had bet that they would lose by a significantly larger margin.
The real winner of the election was Beppe Grillo, whose party did not even exist in the last election five years ago and which came out of nowhere in about a year to elect 163 parliamentarians and win about 25% of the vote.
The clearest loser in all this was the outgoing technocrat Prime Minister, Mario Monti, whose first (and likely only) political foray ended in disaster for nearly everybody involved. His pro-European reformist agenda which had excited his European colleagues, The Economist and the Financial Times didn’t excite anybody in his home country, where his tough medicine (austerity) for economic growth was unquestionably rejected by voters.
What happened? The final official polls, the “horse race” and “conclave” leaked polls and the exit polls on the day of had all shown Bersani’s centre-left leading by at least 3 to 5 percentage points over the centre-right.
La Repubblica still has (for now) the results of the first exit polls (in this case for the Chamber) online here. Compared to the actual results, the exit polls (which were basically identical to the final leaked polls) overestimated the centre-left coalition by at least 4.5 points. The Sky-Tecnè exit poll predicted that Bersani would win 34% of the vote, the Rai-Piepoli had given the left between 34 and 38% of the vote.
While the margin between the left and the Berlusconian right was overestimated in the left’s favour by exit polls, it was not because Berlusconi did better than what the exit polls or the final polls had indicated. The right won 29.2% of the Chamber vote and the Sky exit poll gave him 29% (Rai’s fork was 28-32%). In most of the last leaked polls, the right stood between 28 and 30% as well. It would be tempting to explain the surprising result away by saying that a “shy Berlusconi” vote, which nobody could pick up, came out. Except that it’s not what really happened. Berlusconi did not overperform his polling average, rather the left woefully underperformed its polling average.
Compared to the exit polls and final leaked polls, the biggest overperformer was Beppe Grillo’s M5S. The first exit polls had given him 19% (or 19-21%), underestimating the M5S by about 5 points. I can only guess at the various reasons for why even the exit polls proved terrible and badly underestimated M5S while overestimating the left. Perhaps there is some major flaw in the various pollsters’ methodology which made it hard for them to accurately capture the full scale of the M5S tide. Grillo appealed to a younger net-generation which distrusts traditional media sources and established institutions in civil society. It would not be unreasonable to guess that some of these voters might either choose not to respond to pollsters.
This election also had a huge number of last minute deciders. According to Demopolis, even if 52% decided over a month ago, 25% decided in the last 15 days (including 11% in the last 2-3 days). According to a similar poll by ISPO, 35% of voters decided at the last moment (only 20% did so in 2008) and 35% (rather than 53% in 2008) decided over 2 months.
The defeat of the traditional coalitions
The immediate explanation for the left’s near-defeat is that the pollsters are horrible (like they were in 2006) and that we should learn to take them for what they’re worth. But the centre-left needs to shoulder a heavy part of the blame for their horrible result. Once again, the Italian left proved how utterly inept it is at winning elections and how it almost always manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. An election which could have been theirs by a landslide turned out to be a near-loss, a narrow victory that it was practically a defeat.
Even before the election results brought even more bad news to the centre-left, it was clear that the centre-left would win by default rather than by having successfully built a wider coalition behind an popular leader and platform.
The centre-left’s leader, chosen by centre-left voters in an open primary late last year, was a poor choice. Pier Luigi Bersani is probably, at the least, a mildly competent administrator, but he is a poor politician and a low calibre leader who is a poor fit for the post-1994 ultra-personalized politics. Bersani is one of those sleep-inducing stale ‘old guard’ career politicians which the PD has a lot of (too much); a reasonably competent administrator who barely excites anybody beyond his core supporter and who find himself completely crushed by charismatic politicians like Berlusconi or Grillo. The centre-left voters last year made a poor choice with Bersani and many are likely regretting it now; his main rival in that primary, the young mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi is probably tempted to say “told you so”. It is hard to know these things for certain and we can’t change the past, but Renzi with his reformist energy and more centrist (liberal) image would probably have won this election in a much more convincing way than Bersani.
Not only did the centre-left choose the wrong candidate, the PD also led a horrible campaign after the primary. Bersani won the primary and his party dropped out of sight for a while after that, seemingly thinking that if it stayed above the fray it could glide to an easy victory. When Bersani did campaign, he unsurprisingly failed to excite anybody. Against similarly stale and unexciting opponents, this strategy would probably have worked. But again Berlusconi and Grillo, masters at their trade? It was a strategy destined to fail. Despite carrying around heavy baggage and a controversial record (to say the least), Berlusconi proved that he had remained a shrewd politician and that he still mastered television unlike anybody else. Like in the past, Berlusconi quickly seized the initiative from the left and made himself the central figure of the campaign. His simple solutions to Italy’s profound economic woes did not convince everybody, but it allowed him to reignite the Berlusconian right; his much trumpeted promise to abolish and refund Monti’s unpopular new property tax (IMU) was one of his most popular planks and he knew how to make good use of that promise. Grillo has an aversion towards television, but he knows – unlike any other politician in Italy – how to make good use of social media and new technologies to mobilize large crowds and how to seize the spotlight from his rivals. His unorthodox campaign, mixing new technologies and old electioneering (mass popular rallies in the piazzas), turned out to be a success.
Indeed, according to a post-election poll by Demopolis, only 12% of voters felt that Bersani had run the most convincing campaign (against 19% for Berlusconi and 34% for Grillo). The result of a poor candidate, a terribly-run campaign and a boring moderate platform (in sharp contrast to Berlusconi and Grillo’s outlandish promises) was that the left’s support gradually declined from about 40% following the centre-left primary late last year (when the PdL, left without il cavaliere for while, was at rock-bottom) to the low thirties in the last polls. It then severely underperformed its polling numbers on February 24-25.
The ISPO post-election poll showed that the PD had held 61% of its 2008 voters (it lost 4% of its 2008 voters to the SEL or CD). 16% voted for Grillo, 8% voted for Monti and 1% voted for Ingroia’s RC. Only 9% of 2008 PD voters did not vote in 2013.
Within the left, the PD received about 86-87% of the votes which went to the centre-left coalition. Nichi Vendola’s SEL won only 3% of the vote, and a lot of those came in the form of personal votes for Vendola is his political base of Apulia (and surrounding regions). Despite a poor showing, the SEL’s alliance with the centre-left has allowed the ‘radical left’ (ex-communist) to regain a foothold in Parliament, after the Left-Rainbow’s 2008 disaster. Within the governing centre-left coalition, Vendola is also in a fairly strong position to influence government policy, pressure the PD into adopting a more left-wing agenda or extracting (limited) concessions from the PD. However, the SEL might have suffered electorally from its alliance with the moderate centre-left, especially given the constant talk that it would probably form a post-electoral alliance with Mario Monti’s centrist block in order to govern. ‘Radical left’ and far-left voters had little interest in Bersani and his generally moderate centre-left rhetoric. The M5S attracted a lot of radical left and far-left voters who had voted PD or for the Rainbow in 2008; Antonio Ingroia’s Civil Revolution (RC) ended in a trainwreck but it too attracted some radical left voters who cared little for Bersani or the SEL.
The tiny centrist Democratic Centre (CD), allied with the centre-left, was intelligent enough to calculate that it would only survive in a coalition and, indeed, it managed to survive with a handful of seats by virtue of being the largest coalition party below the 2% threshold. Most of its support came from southern Italy. On the other hand, the rump PSI proved how utterly irrelevant it was. The Megaphone, Sicilian regional president Rosario Crocetta’s personal list which ran for the Senate in Sicily, managed to win a single seat. Crocetta’s list won 6.2% of the vote in Sicily.
Berlusconi’s result is rather spectacular, no doubt about it. But making it seem as if he was the big winner of the election and that his story is that of yet another remarkable comeback by a man who has often been presumed politically dead by his opponents is an exaggeration. His result can only be considered to be a victory when compared to the lows where his party and the broader right stood only a few months back in the summer and fall of 2012. In November and December, the PdL sat at lows of only 14-16% in polls (the PdL+Lega together polled between 20 and 25%). About two months later, he won 29.2% (and 30.7%) of the vote with 21.6% (and 22.3%) for the PdL itself. Berlusconi made a comeback during the campaign, but his gains are not as phenomenal and unprecedented as they have been made out to be. His main victory in this election was that he proved that the Berlusconian right remained a relevant actor and that it was not dead in the water, contrarily to what many might have thought (and wished) last year after the right’s abysmal results in the local and regional elections.
That being said, the Berlusconian right still lost heavily – it lost about half of its 2008 support – which makes it hard to read his result as some unquestionable victory. The established parties, both on the right and the left, lost considerable support in this election and were both victims of the Grillist surge. Berlusconi’s only success was that he beat expectations (which he is quite skilled at doing, electorally), polling better than most had thought he would and remaining a relevant and influential political actor. But he still lost over half of his support from the last election and the PdL’s result – only 22% – was a long way from the results of its predecessor parties in any election between 1994 and 2008. The Italian political system no longer revolves entirely around him, and he has lost a significant part of the electoral base which had backed him since 1994.
ISPO’s post-election study showed that Berlusconi held 49% of 2008 PdL voters (only 1% switched to the Lega). About 3% voted for the left instead, 13% voted M5S and 7% voted Monti. Compared to the PD, it is interesting that a lot more 2008 PdL voters did not vote this year (23%).
Within the right-wing coalition, one of the major losers was the Lega Nord. The northern regionalist party won only 4.1% (4.3% in the Senate), losing over half of its votes since the last election. This is the Lega’s second worst result in a general election – only the 2001 election in which it won a bit less 4% The Lega was crippled by the explosive embezzlement scandal which forced the party’s iconic and controversial boss, Umberto Bossi, to resign in April 2012. Prior to the scandal, a year ago, the Lega was riding high – polling about 8-10% in most polls, benefiting from its opposition to the increasingly unpopular Monti cabinet and its austerity measures. However, the Lega fell abruptly (down to 4-6%) following revelations that Bossi and his inner circle had massively embezzled the party’s public financing funds and used them for personal and illicit ends. This scandal was so massive that Bossi, who had been thought to be firmly entrenched as the Lega Nord’s lider maximo and was oftentimes the most prominent ‘face’ of the party, was forced to resign. Roberto Maroni, Bossi’s rival for the party’s leadership, taking the reins did not help the party overcome its abrupt fall from grace in the eyes of the electorate. The scandal destroyed the party’s image. The Lega Nord, like the M5S today, first burst onto the scene in the early 1990s as an anti-system populist party which virulent denounced the moral bankruptcy of the First Republic’s governing elites and the corruption at the highest echelons of powers. Since then, the Lega has continued to benefit from its positioning as a populist, somewhat anti-system force and often got away with consistently trying to have the cake and eat it (acting as a critic of Berlusconi while remaining in his government). The scandal hence destroyed the Lega’s image as the ‘clean’ anti-corruption, anti-system populist force. When any politician or party which presented itself as ‘anti-corruption’ is mixed up in a major corruption scandal, the stench sticks and it really hurts.
Since 1992, the Lega had also served as a receptacle for protest votes in northern Italy. It benefited from popular regional grievances against Rome and the Mezzogiorno, but also attracted protest or anti-system votes on the right (in the north). The emergence of M5S was the first major challenge to the Lega’s hegemony on the protest vote/anti-system playing field and, as a result, it is no longer the natural home for many anti-system ‘protest voters’.
Paradoxically, however, the Lega – regionally – is stronger than ever. Roberto Maroni, supported by the PdL, won the regional elections in Lombardy. With Maroni’s victory, the Lega now controls the regional presidencies of the three most important regions in northern Italy – Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont. As the Lega tries to heal its wounds and rebuild itself, its strong base at the regional level will come in handy.
Despite its horrible performance this year, writing the Lega’s obituary would be premature. The party has already faced such lows, although the presence of M5S as a powerful and more credible competitor for anti-system votes is new and could significantly hinder the Lega’s ability to rebuild. The regional grievances expressed by the Lega since the 1980s remain a potent political factor in northern Italy.
For the time being, the coalition with the PdL will probably stick. The alliance between the PdL and the Lega is a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. For the PdL, without an alliance with the Lega it would face a tougher time in the politically decisive powerhouse regions of Lombardy and Veneto. For the Lega, without the alliance with Berlusconi it would be much less influential in national politics and its representation in institutions at all levels of government would be significantly reduced. For example, in this election, without the last-minute deal with Maroni, Berlusconi would not have come close to winning a majority in the lower house and his political future would be much bleaker. For the Lega, with an alliance with Berlusconi this year, Maroni would not be president of Lombardy and the Lega would have come out even more marginalized and weakened from the election. Both parties would face a much tougher time in the case of a lasting divorce.
ISPO’s post-election study showed that the Lega retained only 42% of its 2008 voters. 14% switched to the PdL instead and 3% went for other parties in the centre-right coalition; 19% did not this year, 11% backed the M5S, 8% voted for Monti and only 3% switched to the centre-left this year (most for the SEL apparently!).
There was a tough three-way contest on the right to be the largest coalition party under the threshold. Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), a new party created by ex-AN members of the PdL with Berlusconi’s blessing, won less than 2% but it held on to a handful of seats (a bit less than it had just before the election) thanks to the ‘largest coalition party below the threshold’ clause. Not a bad result for a brand new party with less a dozen sitting parliamentarians; but the FdI-CN is less an attempt to recreate the AN of yesteryear than a political calculation by Berlusconi to shore up his support on the right.
La Destra – Francesco Storace’s right-wing nationalist party – and Grande Sud – a vaguely regionalist party in the south – did poorly; winning 0.6% and 0.4% respectively. La Destra had actually won 2.4% of the vote in the 2008 election, it likely lost some of that support to FdI (whose geographical patterns were rather similar). Grande Sud managed to win a single senator (in Calabria, with 3.2%) but the party, which – as an alliance of various regionalist parties from the southern and southern dissidents from major parties (Gianfranco Micciché) – had held a sizable number of seats in the legislature at dissolution, was swept out. In the Chamber, the GS did best in Calabria (with about 3%) but in Sicily, it won only 1.9%. Running separately for the Senate, former Sicilian regional president Raffaele Lombardo’s MPA took only 2.2% of the votes on the island, an unmitigated disaster which shows how thin support for Lombardo’s ostensibly regionalist party was.
The Grillo Phenomenon
The big winner of the election was Beppe Grillo’s upstart Five Star Movement (M5S), which was founded less than four years ago (in 2009) and which only started to receive substantial support barely a year ago (in the May 2012 local elections). Even if the M5S lacked the resources of the major parties and even if it was derided by political leaders and established media sources alike; it managed to achieve a phenomenal result – 25.6% in the Chamber of Deputies and electing a total of 163 parliamentarians. The M5S’ dramatic emergence onto the Italian political scene is comparable to Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to political power in the 1994 election, in which his new party – Forza Italia – came out of nowhere to win the most votes (21%). But Grillo’s success is even more remarkable than Berlusconi’s first success in 1994. Berlusconi was already a wealthy businessman backed by an influential media (TV) empire and he built ties with old political actors; in contrast, Grillo was ‘only’ a popular activist blogger who used his popular blog to launch his party. He could only count on the support of dedicated online and offline activists, he received no support from established politicians and did not even have any ‘star candidates’.
Grillo’s rise from blogger/activist to the leader of the single most voted party in the lower house, which happened in less than a year (in February 2012, the M5S polled about 3-6%), is the result of Italy’s contemporary socio-economic condition and the expression of deep-seated popular anger at the political class and the Italian political system in general.
The economic crisis, the tough austerity measures and reforms supported by Mario Monti’s cabinet, a prolonged recession and record-high unemployment created a climate of social frustration and anger. The impact of austerity (which included tax increases in a country with a very heavy tax burden or major cuts in pensions) on the middle-classes, low income earners, retirees and small business owners alike has been particularly tough and caused major social discontent. Austerity was resented as a diktat imposed by the country’s political elites (the casta) and foreign decision-makers (the ECB, IMF, Germany).
Like in Greece or in Spain, the political effect of austerity and its social effects was that the established political parties, which had predominated the political system for decades beforehand, lost most of their credibility in the eyes of the electorate. They are considered as the culprits for the economic mess, and their response to the crisis was deeply unpopular with the electorate.
The economic crisis and austerity in these countries, Italy included, has also led to a significant decline in public trust of democracy, political institutions and politicians. Anti-system, anti-establishment and ‘anti-politician’ sentiments which had been dormant in the past are being expressed politically through different means in different countries.
Italy’s political problems and flawed political system predate the economic crisis and denunciations of corrupt politicians, the political elites and the political system is nothing new in Italian politics – in fact Silvio Berlusconi used that rhetoric in his initial rise to power in 1994. However, the economic crisis has created new deep-seated popular anger at the political elites (la casta) who are seen as ‘parasites’ who do no good and serve their own personal interests on the back of the people. The economic crisis and the resulting credibility crisis faced by all established politicians have allowed for these sentiments to burst onto the scene.
Grillo’s campaign spewed vitriol on the entire Italian political system and its entire political leadership. Grillo does not differentiate between the left and the right because he insists that the entire Italian political system and constitutional model is rotten to its core and that the only solution to these problems would be to get rid of all these ‘parasites’ and replace the system with bottom-up direct democracy. In a climate of social anger, frustration and resentment directed towards la casta, that privileged caste of political and administrative elites which have ridiculously generous conditions and benefits while many voters suffer the weight of austerity measures and economic reforms. These same politicians ask their constituents for ‘sacrifices’ in order to restore economic stability, but at the same time political parties still receive public funding, la casta benefits from lifelong pensions and corrupt politicians continue to run wild. Grillo’s populist anti-system and anti-politician rhetoric, combined with a radically anti-austerity platform – cutting waste, giving monthly stipends to the unemployed, shortening the workweek to 20 hours, a referendum on the euro and debt renegotiation – hit the right notes with voters, both on the left and the right.
Grillo’s surge fed thus fed on three key factors: unpopular austerity, an economic crisis which has bred popular anger against privileged political elites and the discredit of traditional parties on both the left (PD) and right (PdL, Lega). Voters are tired of austerity, high taxes, endemic corruption and the widening disconnect between politicians and the electorate.
The post-election poll by Demopolis reflected that Italians, in large majority, voted for change – oftentimes drastic change. 42% said that the need for a radical renewal of the political leadership was the main influence on their vote, another 31% said that it was the need for different economic, fiscal and labour policies. Only 24% said that the top candidate or party leader was the main influence on their vote, and 9% said that local candidates were the main influence on their vote.
Grillo’s success also shows the growing political power and influence of the internet, more specifically social media. At the heart of the Grillo phenomenon is Grillo’s very popular blog and his own mobilizing power on the internet (when few Italian politicians have embraced social media) has played a key role in the Grillist surge and whirlwind success. The internet forms the backbone of the M5S, whose actual ‘headquarters’ are Grillo’s blog. The party selected its candidate through an open online primary, and Grillo has used his strong presence on social media platforms such as Facebook to mobilize dedicate activists and rally large crowds to his rallies and to his causes. Without such a strong web presence and an ability to organize support through social media platforms, the M5S would likely have had a tougher time organizing itself into a relevant and influential political actor.
The internet is no substitute for traditional political action and electioneering, however. That being said, Grillo also showed that controlling or having a strong presence on television – like Berlusconi has consistently enjoyed since 1994 – is not a necessity. Grillo bans his party’s members from appearing on television, effectively boycotting all political shows or talkshow programs on TV. In late 2012, a Bologna municipal councillor was expelled from the party after appearing on a talkshow on TV. Instead, Grillo’s offline political action and campaigning has come in the form of large rallies in the piazzas. These rallies, often organized online, predate the M5S: Grillo first organized vaffanculo days (fuck off days, rallies for political reform and opposition to the system) in 2007 and 2008. These V-days allowed Grillo’s movement to reach a much wider (offline) audience. During the campaign, Grillo managed to rally thousands to hear his speeches – loud and angry tirades against politicians, the system and the socio-economic situation – throughout Italy. A huge crowd turned out for his final rally on a packed public place in Rome on February 22.
What is the nature of the Grillo phenomenon? Who are the people behind the Grillist surge and who voted for Grillo on February 24-25? Unfortunately, there is only limited information on the demographic or even political background of Grillist voters; research on electoral sociology and related matters seems very sparse in Italy compared to other countries.
A study (done in August 2012) on Grillist supporters on Facebook by UK-based think tank ‘Demos’ offers some interesting insights into the Grillist phenomenon. The study’s findings are based on a survey of over 1,800 Grillist supporters on Facebook.
The Demos study revealed that the movement’s online supporters tended, disproportionately, to be males. A full 63% of the movement’s supporters on Facebook are males (about 54% of Italian Facebook users are males). This is in line with studies done after the 2012 local elections which found that Grillist voters tended, in large part, to be male. What is more surprising, however, from the Demos study is that the M5S’ supporters are actually older than the average Italian Facebook user: 64% of its supporters are over 30 years old (compared to 51% with all Italian Facebook users), and the M5S is actually underrepresented with the youngest age groups (16-20, 21-25). Although 12% of their supporters on Facebook are over 51 years old (against 10% of Italian Facebook users who are over 51), their supporters tend to be largely middle-aged. Other populist movements in Europe, including many far-right parties, tend to find their strongest support with middle-aged males.
The Grillist phenomenon in Italy has been linked to the brief Pirate phenomenon in Germany in 2011-2012. The M5S’ support is certainly deeper and stronger than Pirate support in Germany, given that the Pirates largely responded to ephemeral distaste with the entrenched political system while the M5S is based on deeper distrust of and opposition to the political system and entrenched political corruption. But the M5S might be attracting a similar demographic that the Pirates attracted in Germany: left-leaning males, who are rather well educated and live in urban areas, but many of whom are also unemployed or lower-income (which was the main difference between Pirate and Green support in Germany). However, the Pirates attracted mostly first-time voters, young males (many of whom were unemployed) and many students. The M5S certainly appeals to students and younger age groups as well, but the Grillist voter definitely seems to be older than the Pirate voter – perhaps a result of the M5S’ electorate being far larger than the German Pirate electorate was, even at its height.
The Demos study also showed that the M5S’ supporters on Facebook tended to be considerably more educated than the average Italian. This may reflect, in part, the digital divide. 54% of Grillo’s supporters online have a high school diploma (compared to 35% of Italians) and 27% have a university degree (compared to 12% of Italians). On this count, M5S supporters have more in common with Pirate voters in Germany (well educated) rather than right-wing populist movements in western Europe (who attract those with less education and are weak with the most educated voters).
However, the study also showed that the M5S attracted a considerable number of unemployed voters. 19% of the movement’s Facebook supporters sampled in the study were unemployed, against 8% of Italians at the time of the study. Only 50% were employed full time. 18% were students, which is much higher than the share of students in the Italian population (3%) but also much lower than the share of students in the Pirate Party’s online supporters in Germany (about 35% are students).
On political matters, the study confirms what we could have guessed: Grillist voters are pessimistic, extremely dissatisfied towards the state of Italian democracy and exhibit very deep distrust towards politics, politicians, parties and democratic institutions. The movement’s supporters more favourably disposed to activism (signing petitions, boycotts, unauthorized strikes, occupying factories or buildings) than the wider public.
66% feel that the country’s economic situation will get worse in the next 12 months, compared to 43% of Italians who think likewise. 31% even think that their own lives will get worse, compared with only 18% of Italians who say the same (and while 55% of Italians say their lives will stay the same, only 26% of Grillists say likewise.
Only 4% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the state of democracy in Italy (compared to 32% of Italians) and a full 83% said they were very dissatisfied (only 19% of Italians think likewise). Most (78%) also feel things are going in the ‘wrong direction’ in Italy and in the EU (70%).
M5S supporters, unsurprisingly, exhibit deep distrust towards various institutions, organizations and traditional media outlets. 94% distrust political parties (84% of Italians), 86% distrust government (80% of Italians), 80% distrust big companies (54%), 92% distrust banks, 62% distrust the EU (49%), 82% distrust religious organizations (43%) and 75% distrust unions (56%). They also display a deep aversion towards traditional media outlets and older technologies, but are extremely keen on new technologies. 91% distrust the TV (49%), 83% distrust the press (53%) and 56% distrust the radio (40%). But 76% of Grillists trust the internet, compared with only 37% of Italians. They also tend to be more supportive of SMEs than the average Italian (61% trust vs 53% Italians trust SMEs). Interestingly, however (and in contrast with right-wing populist parties again), Grillists are not disproportionately distrustful of other people – in fact, they seem to distrust others less than other Italians do.
The top two most important issues for Grillist supporters on Facebook were the economic situation (62%) and unemployment (61%). 43% of respondents also cited taxes as one of their top two issues, 36% said rising prices/inflation, 33% were concerned about education or the environment. Immigration, housing, terrorism and foreign policy were less important for most supporters. On the particular topic of immigration, there is a clear difference with right-wing populists in other European countries: most M5S supporters favour immigration, with 56% (compared to 28% of Italians) saying that immigration is more of an opportunity for Italy.
When asked why they backed the M5S, 41% of Facebook Grillists said they backed the movement because they were disillusioned with the main parties and political system and/or wanted change. 28% adhered to the M5S’ values, 20% felt it represented ‘the people’ and 6% support the M5S because of Beppe Grillo’s personal integrity. Only 2% said that they backed the M5S because of economic concerns.
What are the political origins of Grillist voters? Prior to the 2012 local elections, the M5S’ few supporters were clearly on the left of the spectrum (48% of M5S supporters at the end of 2010 placed themselves on the left, only 11% on the right) and the M5S represented a fairly attractive option for left-wingers dissatisfied with the PD and its mediocre performance in opposition. After the 2012 local elections, the M5S’ electorate diversified politically, attracting much more support from the right and weakening the presence of left-wingers within the M5S electorate.
The Demos study in August 2012 still found that the party’s Facebook supports skewed to the left of the wider Italian electorate (the average placement on the 1 left-10 right scale was 3.88). The study’s sample had mostly voted for left-wing parties in 2008: 23% for Antonio Di Pietro’s anti-corruption IdV, 22% for the PD; but also 13% for the PdL and 5% for the Lega. 25% had either voted for other parties, not voted at all or had been too young to vote.
An ISPO study after the 2012 local elections (see here) revealed that 24% of M5S voters in 2012 had voted for the PD in 2008, 16% for the Lega, 13.6% for the PdL, 6% for the Left-Rainbow and about 4% for IdV. 30.5% had not voted or cast invalid ballots.
Demopolis’ post-election study this year analyzed where M5S had come from. 32% of them had voted for the PdL in 2008, 23% had voted PD, 13% had not voted (or were too young), 12% had backed the Lega, 11% supported Di Pietro’s IdV and 9% had voted for other parties. ISPO’s post-election study also asked a similar question to all voters. Overall, 24% of M5S voters this year had backed the PD or IdV in 2008 (21% PD, 5% IdV) and 23% had voted for the right (19% PdL, 4% Lega). 16% voted for the first time this year and 19% did not vote in 2008 (or cast invalid ballots). 16% and 13% of the PD and PdL’s 2008 voters, respectively, voted for the M5S in 2013. 11% of the Lega’s 2008 voters also voted M5S.
Mario Monti’s failure
The biggest loser in these elections was certainly Mario Monti and his centrist coalition. Monti’s decision to enter electoral politics and support a centrist coalition in these elections had excited the Italian centre-right (Casini’s UDC and Fini’s FLI) and foreign observers (the European centre-right and The Economist mostly). Monti and his allies’ goal was clearly to renew the Italian centre-right and recreate the political structure of the First Republic, with a moderate and vaguely centrist DC-type party at the core of the system which could govern either with the moderate centre-left or the right (most often with the centre-left, of course). Casini and Fini both saw in Monti their political saviour, the ostensibly popular non-politician who would lift their fortunes and allow them to retain influence over Italian politics. The Casini-engineered Third Pole with the UDC and FLI never took off and died before it reached maturity; Gianfranco Fini’s dream of renewing the Italian right and preparing it for the post-Berlusconi era had not worked out and his FLI had very low support in polls.
Things did not work out as planned for anybody in the centrist coalition. Mario Monti commanded the respect of many voters only because he was a technocrat who stood above politics and did not associate with any of the established political parties, he lost this significant advantage when he joined partisan politics himself (even if he always denied he was not really joining traditional left-right partisan politics). Monti was campaigning on an unpopular pro-European and liberal/reformist agenda which unambiguously endorsed his cabinet’s unpopular austerity policies and economic reforms/liberalization agenda. On the right, when voters faced between a charismatic populist who promised to solve problems by refunding an unpopular tax and ‘creating jobs’ or a gloomy technocrat who preached austerity and more sacrifices; the choice was quite easy.
Monti also had the misfortune of running a terrible campaign which never got off the ground – his campaign was even worse than the centre-left’s disastrous campaign (only 5% of voters felt that Monti ran the most convincing campaign). The reason for all this is quite simple: Monti is an economics professor and a pure technocrat, not remotely close to being an actual politician. He is uncharismatic, his rhetoric and demeanor is boring and stale, and he was awkward on television. This election confirmed the heavily personalized nature of Italian politics since 1994. Those politicians who do well in elections are those, like Berlusconi and Grillo, who are charismatic larger-than-life figures who master political communications. Those who don’t do well are politicians like Bersani and Monti, who are not telegenic and who are not very charismatic at all.
The result was basically a disaster for Monti’s coalition. It won 10.6% of the vote in the Chamber (barely clearing the 10% threshold to be recognized as a coalition for seat allocation purposes) and only 9.1% for the Senate. It will have a small caucus in both houses of Parliament.
In the Chamber, where the coalition’s three components each ran separate lists, about 78% of the coalition’s voters supported Mario Monti’s civic list (Civic Choice, SC) – which won 8.3%. Casini’s UDC won only 1.8% (down 3.8% since 2008) and Fini’s FLI won a disastrous 0.5%. The UDC fell below the 2% threshold a coalition party needs to win seats, but it salvaged 8 deputies by virtue of the ‘largest coalition party below the threshold’ rule. However, by winning less than 2%, the UDC destroyed the FLI. Gianfranco Fini’s party lost its two dozen seats in the Chamber of Deputies (it might have saved a few senators through the coalition’s common list for the Senate). Both the UDC and FLI felt that allying themselves with Monti would be their political salvation; it backfired on both of them. Gianfranco Fini lost reelection – interestingly, he is the second President of the Chamber of Deputies in a row to lose reelection, the communist Fausto Bertinotti lost reelection in 2008.
Other parties fell flat
Civil Revolution, a left-wing anti-corruption list led by former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio Ingroia and which included the two moribund communist parties, Di Pietro’s IdV, Naples mayor De Magistris’ new party and the irrelevant greens, fell far short of winning seats. It won 2.3% and 1.8%, underperforming its polling numbers. RC suffered from competition from M5S, which took many potential left-wing and/or anti-corruption voters the RC would have needed to win. Beppe Grillo was a far more popular option for those voters, RC never really broke out and unlike the Grillists it never attracted lots of media attention or coverage during the campaign. The RC’s failure likely spells the end of the road for Di Pietro’s IdV, already half-destroyed by deep divisions and internal rifts. Di Pietro resigned as IdV leader following the election, it is tough to see how his party would be able to survive without any parliamentarians and its long-time standard bearer. The two communist parties, PRC and PdCI, will remain deeply irrelevant.
Oscar Giannino’s neoliberal/libertarian Act to Stop the Decline went nowhere, barely winning 1% of the vote. It attracted a very economically liberal/libertarian right-wing voters, but little else besides that.
Geography of the Vote
Geographically, the election saw both persistent old traditions and voting patterns (such as the left-right divide) but also a lot of new patterns, linked to the emergence of the M5S. Grillist support was one of the most important and interesting aspect of the election, and its geographic distribution could be instructive as we try to decipher the nature of Grillo’s support.
YouTrend (and igraphics.gr, the Greek company which did those similarly fantastic map of the Greek elections last year) has produced a fantastic interactive map of the result, which allows you to explore results down to the comuni level but also visualize the support for coalitions and parties or compare 2013 results to those of the last election in 2008.
Under the current electoral law, control of the Senate is decided by elections in individual regions. The left is somewhat penalized by the concentration of some of its votes in the Red Quadrilateral, it won by about 20 points in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany and about 13 points in Umbria (in all three cases, the M5S placed second). It also won Basilicata, the centre-left’s usual southern stronghold (largely because the local DC cadres turned to the left after 1994), by 11 points over the right.
The centre-left was able to pull off important victory in “swing regions” – it won by 3 in the Lazio, Marche, Liguria, Sardinia (in the latter three cases, the M5S was second), by 0.5 in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Piedmont. However, the right was able to walk away with a bare plurality of senators (excluding the Aosta Valley, TAA and the abroad seats elected by a different system) because it managed to sweep the main ‘swing regions’ including Lombardy, Veneto, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. The left severely underperformed in Lombardy (in the senate contest), the right took the region by 7 points. It also won Veneto by 8 points. The left also did much worse than expected in Campania, the region surrounding Naples, it lost that region by an unexpectedly large 9 point margin to the right. The right won Apulia by 6 and Sicily by about 4 points (6 points over the left, which placed third). It also won Calabria by 4 points. The left’s unexpectedly weak performance nationally served as a major drag on the centre-left in individual regional Senate races and allowed Berlusconi to walk out with many more seats than originally predicted.
The centre-left won a bare plurality of seats in the Senate thanks to its results in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtiro, where the PD and its local allies (the SVP, the PATT and the UPT) won 6 seats, against only one for the PdL-Lega; and abroad, where the PD won 4 seats (out of 6).
In northern and central Italy, the traditional left-right divide remained visible. The centre-left coalition won 40.1% in Emilia-Romagna, 41.5% in Tuscany and 35.5% in Umbria (for the Chamber). The right won 35.7% in Lombardy and 31.8% in the Veneto. Piedmont remained a swing region, with the left winning the region in the Senate contest with 29.8% against 29.3% for the centre-right (it also won 28.3% in the Chamber of Deputies in Piedmont). At the provincial and municipal level, the old Red Quadrilateral/Red Zones of central Italy – the PCI’s strongholds during the First Republic – are naturally quite visible, and provided the centre-left with some of its best results in the entire country.
The centre-left won most major urban centres in the country. In the core of the Red Quadrilateral, it won 48.3% in Florence and 46.9% in Bologna. It won in Rome, with 33.7% against 27.3% for the M5S, but lost nearly 13 points compared to the 2008 election. In Milan, the Berlusconian right lost over 20 points (the left lost ‘only’ 5.6) can placed second with 29% against 33.6% for the left. The centre-left also won Venice (with 33.9% against 27.6% for M5S), Trieste (by a hair – M5S and the left both took 28.7%), Turin (34.6% against 25.6% for M5S) and Genoa (35.2% against 32.2% for M5S). In southern Italy, however, the right won Naples by a hair (30.3% vs 30% for the left) and M5S won Palermo in Sicily (with 32.8%). The right also won Bari (Apulia) and Catania (Sicily). The largest city won by the right in the north was Verona, the largest city won by the left in the south was Cagliari (Sardinia).
In the Senate, the M5S did not win any region; but in the Chamber, the M5S topped the poll in Liguria (32%), Marche (32%), Abruzzo (29.9%), Sardinia (29.7%) and did best in Sicily (33.5%). The party’s worst results, outside German-speaking Bolzano, were in Lombardy – particularly the Prealpine provinces where the Lega does best, the inland regions of the Red Quadrilateral in Tuscany and Emilia and parts of the south including Campania and the tip of Calabria. Although the Grillists won up to 40.2% of the vote in one province (Trapani in Sicily), their vote was fairly homogeneously distributed throughout the country – the worst province (besides Bolzano) was Bergamo (Lombardy) and the M5S still took 16.8% there.
The M5S’ support reveals how heterogeneous its electorate is. The party broke the traditional left-right patterns, doing best in right-wing regions (Sicily, parts of Liguria, parts of rural Lazio, parts of Veneto) but also in left-wing regions (Marche, parts of Piedmont, parts of Sardinia). It did well both in urban areas and in some rural areas, it won both left-wingers and right-wingers, both middle-class voters and working-class voters.
Regional patterns and local factors certainly played an important role in the M5S’ vote. Grillo himself is from Genoa and his movement did very well in Liguria. In the province of Turin, where M5S won 29% of the vote, it did extremely well in the Val di Susa – a valley extending westwards from Turin – taking over 40% in most comunis in that valley. In this particular case, the M5S benefited from a particular local issue: opposition to the TAV, a proposed high speed train which would connect Turin to Lyon (in France), the proposed route would go through the Val di Susa. The M5S opposes the TAV and a few of its new MPs from Piedmont are linked to the anti-TAV social movements.
Throughout the north but also in parts of central and southern Italy, it is interesting to point out that M5S did best not in the urban cores (Milan, Turin, Venice, Rome etc) themselves but rather in all surrounding suburban or exurban municipalities, so that its support forms a kind of halo around major cities. This does not mean that the Grillists did poorly in major cities – it won 25.6% in Turin, 27.6% in Venice, 28.7% in Trieste, 32.2% in Genoa and 27.3% in Rome – but it did even better in municipalities surrounding these cities. This is particularly clear in Venice, where the left won the city itself but the M5S swept surrounding areas, including Chioggia, Mira and Mirano; but also in Milan, where the M5S won only 17% in Milan itself but won well over 20% in surrounding municipalities – most of which formed part of a solidly left-wing proletarian hinterland (‘Red Belt’) under the First Republic. In Rome, the left won the capital city itself but the M5S won a lot of the city’s suburban areas; including working-class Guidonia Montecelio and Monterotondo (33% in both) but also Fiumicino (36%), Aprilia (35%) and Civitavecchia (35%). It also won Tarquinia (33%), Viterbo (32%) and Rieti (32%). In parts, there appears to be a superficial correlation between municipalities were the PCI did well in the 1970s and the 1980s and the municipalities won by the M5S.
Urban and suburban areas concentrate well educated young and middle-aged voters, which seem to have formed the core of the Grillist base. The M5S clearly won both working-class and middle-class voters in urban and suburban areas. It would be interesting to compare the M5S’ support at a municipal level in these areas with variables including unemployment. Urban and suburban areas would likely be the most sensitive to Grillo’s style of campaigning; middle-aged voters, lower middle-classes and the working-class have also suffered disproportionately from austerity measures and economic reform, and their Grillist vote expresses the despair of well-educated voters who have lost their jobs and many of whom are forced to seek employment in other regions or in other countries.
Southern Italy is a politically volatile regions, and factors such as ideology play a less important role in forming voting patterns than in northern Italy. In the 2012 local elections, the M5S did not really do all that wel in southern Italy, leading some to think that it would have a tougher time breaking through the old walls of clientelism and political traditionalism in southern Italy. But in the Sicilian regional elections in October 2012, it surprised all observers by winning 18% of the presidential vote and 15% of the list vote. In some cases, the M5S still had some trouble breaking through in rural areas of the south, particularly in Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and parts of Apulia; at the same time, however, the Grillists did extremely well in most urban areas in southern and insular Italy.
Sicily was the M5S’ best region, winning 33.5% of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies and the Sicilian provinces of Trapani (40%!), Ragusa (39%), Siracusa (37%), Caltanissetta (36.6%) and Agrigento (36%) were the M5S’ five best provinces in the country. The Sicilian results are extremely interesting, and somewhat puzzling. The Grillist’s strong performance may be due to them already having a base of elected officials in Sicily since October 2012 – the M5S also did quite well in Parma province (29%), where they have held the mayoralty of Parma since last year.
Politics in Sicily and other parts of the Mezzogiorno tends to be less ideologically-driven and more volatile than politics in northern Italy. Ideology and partisanship is a factor, but the personality of the candidate tends to play a much stronger role in the south and voters tend to be drawn to populism. The SEL’s strong performance in Apulia (6.5%), Basilicata (5.9%) and Molise (5.5%) confirms this; these are three Catholic and small-c conservative regions which are not usually associated with the SEL’s ecosocialist ideology. Rather, the SEL’s vote in these regions was a friends-and-neighbors vote for regional favourite son Nichi Vendola (regional president of Apulia).
Hence, southern and insular voters were likely drawn to Grillo because of his strong personality and his populist style – two things which southern voters tend to like in their politicians. In Sicily and the south, the Grillists likely took most of their votes from the Berlusconian rights (though they took a lot from the left as well).
In Sicily, the results at the comuni level tell us some things about the nature of Grillist support on the island. Even if his support was, once again, spread relatively homogeneously, there are a few regions which stand out. Firstly, the five aformentioned provinces are located on the southern or southeastern/southwestern coast of the island; he did not perform as well along the northern coast, particularly in the province of Messina (25.7%). Secondly, the Grillist vote was – once again – strongest in urban and suburban areas – 33% in Palermo (and even higher in some surrounding towns), 39.6% in Trapani, 38% in Marsala, 43% in Mazara del Vallo, 41% in Sciaccia, 37% in Agrigento, 39.7% in Caltanissetta, 43% in Vittoria, 41% in Ragusa, 40% in Modica, 35.3% in Siracusa, 42% in Augusta (an industrial area with a big petrochemical refinery), 32% in Catania (even higher in surrounding towns) and a low of 27.7% in Messina. He did not do as well in small towns and villages, especially in mountainous areas in the province of Palermo and Messina. Thirdly, and rather interestingly, the M5S’ map shows a superficial (although quite imperfect) correlation with those municipalities where the PCI used to poll well in the 1970s and 1980s. Trapani was also the only Sicilian province to vote for the republic in 1946; the republican vote was also stronger in those southern provinces where the M5S performed best.
While the Grillist took more from the right than from the left in Sicily and southern Italy – a region where the Berlusconian right has usually performed better than the left since 1994 – the M5S likely took more from the left in Marche, a traditionally solidly left-wing region in the Red Quadrilateral. Marche and Abruzzo are two other rather puzzling results.
Interestingly, in both regions – particularly Abruzzo – it is striking how the M5S performed best in urban/suburban areas, along the coast and in other low-lying areas while it did not do as well in mountainous regions. Similar patterns are also apparent in parts of northern and central Italy – for example, in Emilia-Romagna, the M5S did not do as well in the Apennines; and it performed poorly in the Alps. Is this only a pure coincidence and geography cannot explain anything about Grillist support? After all, the Grillist vote was very high in a bunch of rural mountainous villages in Liguria.
Or could it still be the beginnings of a (partial) explanation of the Grillist vote? Perhaps mountainous villages were more permeable to Grillo’s unorthodox style of campaigning – based on the internet and organizing large rallies in the piazzas of main towns (both of which would be more likely to reach a urban or suburban clientele) – and perhaps did not experience a ‘late swing’ to Grillo as a result? Could relative isolation from the main modes of communication and transportation still have an impact on the diffusion of new political ideologies in 2013?
In northern Italy, the M5S certainly stole a lot of votes from the Lega Nord – particularly in the Veneto. However, exploring the results at the comuni level reveals that there is no correlation – on the contrary, if there is a correlation it is probably a negative one – between the Lega Nord’s results and the Grillist vote. In Lombardy and the Veneto, the M5S polled best in urban and suburban areas – there is a noticeable ‘halo’ effect around Milan and Venice – or in other low-lying areas, such as the province of Mantova (the most left-wing province in Lombardy) or the province of Pavia (these areas are often old small industrial centres, which were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in northern Italy). On the other hand, the Lega Nord usually finds its strongest support in rural areas, particularly the Pedemontana, the region at the feet of the Prealps and in mountainous regions themselves. The Lega won 22.5% in Sondrio, 19.7% in Bergamo, 17.6% in Brescia and 16.1% in Varese – with the exception of Varese, the M5S’ result was below the regional average (19.7%) in all those provinces.
The Grillist vote is a fascinating new political phenomenon, and it certainly merits a much more thorough explanation. Unfortunately, Italy tends to lack academic interest in electoral geography and electoral sociology. The M5S movement is a new populist movement quite unlike the traditional far-right populism seen elsewhere in western Europe; but also different from the left-libertarian populism represented by the Pirate Party in Germany. A more thorough study of its vote, down to the comuni level, would be fascinating and reveal tons about modern Italian society and the socio-political effects of the crisis in Italy.
Monti’s map was rather interesting. In part, it resembles the old map of the DC – strongholds in the north (Veneto, rural Lombardy and Piedmont) and in the conservative south (Campania and Basilicata). Monti did well in northern Italy. He won his best result, 20.7%, in the Trento – but that was largely due to an alliance with Lorenzo Dellai’s local Union for Trentino (UPT) for the Chamber of Deputies. But he still won 11-15% in most northern provinces in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Lombardy and the Piedmont. Monti’s reformist and liberal agenda was a fairly good fit for some voters in the north, traditional Christian democrats or reformist right-wingers drawn to Monti’s pro-European centre-right and more repelled by the PdL and the Lega’s shift towards populism and anti-austerity rhetoric. Northern Italy has a strong and vibrant culture of ‘progressive Catholic’ small business owners and entrepreneurs who formed the backbone of the northern DC up until 1992 and have traditionally backed the right.
By virtue of his alliance with the UDC and the FLI, whose supports lies primarily in the south and Sicily (regions where the DC vote held up better than in the north in the 1990s and where the post-DC centre has been able to do best), Monti performed quite well in the south as well. He won 19.5% in the Campanian province of Avellino, where the DC’s networks of political patronage and clientelism proved surprisingly resilient after 1994 (the PPI won Avellino in 1994 and 1996); and took 10-12% in much of the Mezzogiorno. However, Monti’s performance in the south was quite mediocre. Despite his alliance with Casini and Fini, Monti was unable to hold traditional centrist voters in the south. In these poorer and more populist regions, Monti’s liberal, elitist and pro-European style likely turned off a lot of voters.
Monti’s best results came from Italians abroad – he won second place with 18.4% of the vote in the international vote in the Camera. He took 27% in Europe, 27.8% in North and Central America and 31.2% in Asia/Africa/Oceania (it did not run in South America). This should not be too surprising: a lot of expats, particularly those who lean to the right, tend to be educated professionals or affluent businessmen and these voters would naturally love a centre-right candidate like Monti. By living abroad, they were also relatively unaffected by austerity (therefore less likely to dislike Monti because of it) and perhaps somewhat disconnected from the campaign back home.
Voting Shifts since 2008
An important key to understanding these results is the shift in votes since the 2008 election. YouTrend/igraphics.gr’s maps gives you the ability to visualize the voting shifts since the 2008 election. These shifts are extremely important in helping us understand the ideological and political nature of the Grillist electorate.
The map on the left shows the ‘trend’ in the centre-left since the 2008 election: municipalities shaded in green indicate areas where the swing against the centre-left was smaller than the national average; those shaded in red indicate areas where the swing against the centre-left was larger than the national average. Nationally, according to YouTrend’s calculations, the centre-left lost 9% since 2008. In my calculations above, I excluded the IdV from the centre-left’s vote share in 2008; YouTrend’s map includes the IdV in the centre-left’s 2008 vote share.
The left suffered heavy loses along the Adriatic coastline in Marche, Abruzzo and Molise. It also suffered similarly heavy loses in the Val di Susa in Turin province, around Genoa and Savona in Liguria, in the Lazio, in parts of Calabria (Cosenza and Crotone), Sicily and Sardinia. In Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, the left generally suffered some large loses as well; though it resisted well in mountainous regions (the Apennines) and in Piacenza (Bersani’s native province in Emilia).
From the map, it is quite clear that the Grillist vote along the Adriatic in Marche and Abruzzo fed heavily on the left. In the Lazio, the Red Quadrilateral, Calabria (and other parts of southern Italy), parts of Liguria and the islands; the left also lost a good number of votes to the M5S. Even in Sicily, the huge Grillist vote also came from the left – notice how the northern parts of the island (Messina and Palermo province) had swings lower than the national average.
In Molise, the loses are due to the IdV being counted as part of the centre-left coalition in 2008. The PD itself actually improved its vote share in the region, where the IdV vote was extremely strong in 2008 (Molise is Di Pietro’s native region).
In the north, the left’s vote generally held up a bit better. The lowest swings against the left came from Lombardy and eastern Piedmont, where the Grillist vote likely came disproportionately from the right. The centre-left had also performed poorly in those regions in the 2008 election, and it could not fall much lower.
Berlusconi’s PdL saw its share of the vote drop by about 15.8% since the 2008 election. The PdL’s heaviest loses came from Sardinia, the Lazio, parts of Sicily and Campania, and the provinces of Imperia and Savona in Liguria. The PdL vote held up much better in the north, particularly in the Veneto and eastern Lombardy. In the north, it likely managed to gain a few votes from 2008 Lega Nord voters; helping to limit the bleeding. The PdL could not fall much lower in the left-wing strongholds of the Red Quadrilateral.
Sardinia is fairly interesting. Clearly, both the left and the right lost heavily to Grillo on the island; but the PdL had been doing quite poorly in Sardinia ever since the 2009 European elections (which followed the right’s victory in snap regional elections in Sardinia). In the Lazio, the particularly heavy loses suffered by the PdL – which once again benefited Grillo. The swing in the Lazio was perhaps exaggerated by the dismal state of the PdL and the right in the Lazio after regional president Renata Polverini was forced to resign following a scandal involving embezzlement of public funds by right-wing regional councillors. In Liguria, the Grillist vote – in part a favourite son vote – gained a lot of votes from the right, particularly in the conservative provinces of Imperia and Savona.
While the Grillist vote in the Marche and Abruzzo was clearly a left-wing vote in large majority, the PdL was not immune to the Grillist surge in those regions either.
The Lega Nord lost about 4.2% nationally. Obviously, the swing was largest in those northern regions where it was strongest while the swing was much lower in central regions where it is quite irrelevant.
The Lega accounts for most of the centre-right’s loses in the Veneto, where the right’s general performance was surprisingly well. The Lega polled extremely well in the Veneto in 2008 and 2010, doing better than in Lombardy (27% in Veneto and 21.6% in Lombardy in 2008). This year, the Lega won only 10.5% in Veneto, while it won 12.9% in Lombardy. In the Veneto, the Lega mostly lost votes to the M5S, but also to the PdL and Monti.
There were also regional elections – for the regional president and regional legislature – in Lombardy, Lazio and Molise on election day.
Nicola Zingaretti (PD) 40.65% winning 10 seats
Francesco Storace (La Destra-PdL) 29.32% winning 1 seat
Davide Barillari (M5S) 20.22%
Giulia Bongiorno (FLI-Centre) 4.73%
Sandro Ruotolo (RC) 2.17%
Simone Di Stefano (Casapound) 0.79%
Alessandra Baldassarri (Fare) 0.57%
Giuseppe Rossodivita (amnistia giustizia libertà) 0.44%
Roberto Fiore (Forza Nuova) 0.37%
Luca Romagnoli (Fiamma tricolore) 0.34%
Luigi Sorge (PCL) 0.27%
Giuseppe Strano (Rete dei cittadini) 0.08%
Zingaretti Coalition 41.63% winning 18 seats
Storace Coalition 32.80% winning 11 seats
M5S 16.64% winning 7 seats
Centre (Bongiorno) 4.42% winning 2 seats
RC 2.09% winning 0 seats
Casapound 0.65% winning 0 seats
Fare 0.5% winning 0 seats
Amnistia giustizia libertà 0.39% winning 0 seats
Forza Nuova 0.27% winning 0 seats
Fiamma tricolore 0.26% winning 0 seats
PCL 0.2% winning 0 seats
Rete dei cittadini 0.09% winning 0 seats
As expected, centre-left Nicola Zingaretti – the president of the province of Rome – was elected regional president of Lazio by a solid 11% margin over Francesco Storace, a former AN regional president (2000-2005) who is now the leader of La Destra. The outgoing PdL regional president, Renata Polverini, was forced to resign following a scandal concerning the embezzlement of public funds by right-wing regional councillors who used those funds for personal purposes or to organize lavish purposes. The scandal left the regional right in disarray, deeply weakened. The young and fairly charismatic Nicola Zingaretti, the popular president of the province of Rome, ran a good campaign, and won easily.
The M5S did not do as well in the regional elections; it won 28% in the Chamber election, but its candidate took only 20% of the vote. Given that the right performed only marginally better regionally, many M5S voters at the national level must have voted for the centre-left’s candidate at the regional level. The centre, which won 8.8% in the Chamber election, also did significantly worse in the regional election.
Many Roman politicians go on to play prominent roles in national politics – Francesco Rutelli and Walter Veltroni, two former centre-left mayors of Rome both went on to lead the centre-left coalition in general elections (in 2001 and 2008 respectively). Zingaretti’s victory makes him a potential player nationally.
Roberto Maroni (Lega Nord-PdL) 42.81%
Umberto Ambrosoli (PD) 38.24%
Silvana Carcano (M5S) 13.62%
Gabriele Albertini (Monti) 4.12%
Carlo Maria Pinardi (Fare) 1.18%
Maroni Coalition 43.07% winning 48 seats
Ambrosoli Coalition 37.27% winning 21 seats
M5S 14.33% winning 9 seats
Centre-UDC (Albertini) 4.05% winning 0 seats
Fare 1.26% winning 0 seats
In the most disputed and important regional election, Roberto Maroni – the national leader of the Lega Nord – scored an important win for the Lega and the centre-right in Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region and economic powerhouse. Lombardy is a right-wing stronghold, but the resignation of longtime centre-right president Roberto Formigoni because one of his allies was accused of buying votes from the Calabrian mafia had allowed the left to hope that it could finally score a big win. It was thus a high-stakes contest for both sides: the left hoping for a major win in a right-wing stronghold, and the Lega Nord trying to conquer – with the PdL’s backing – its birthplace and the most important region in northern Italy.
Maroni won by a bit less than 5 points, a wider margin than predicted by polls (all had basically shown a close race) although the centre-left still performed decently considering the national circumstances. The M5S’ candidate did not do as well as her party did in the national election – she won 13.6% (the regional list won 14.3%) while the Grillists won 19.7% in the Chamber election. This proves that a fair number of Grillist voters preferred to vote for the traditional left or right in the regional election. Many of them likely voted for the Lega Nord: the Lega and Maroni’s personal list won 23.2% of the regional list vote put together (13% for the Lega itself), while the Lega won only 12.9% in the Chamber election. Still, a substantial number also voted for the left, which did about 10% better in the regional election than in the general election. One party which did horribly, however, was Monti’s centrist coalition. Although it had a solid candidate (Albertini is a MEP and former Berlusconian mayor of Milan), it won only 4% of the vote – while it won 12.1% in the Chamber.
Maroni’s victory is a major boon for the Lega, which paradoxically finds itself in control of northern Italy’s three most important regions while it is in a precarious shape at the national level.
Paolo Di Laura Frattura (PD) 44.70% winning 3 seats
Angelo Michele Iorio (PdL-UDC) 25.8% winning 1 seat
Antonio Federico (M5S) 16.76%
Massimo Romano (Centre-Fare) 11.01%
Antonio De Lellis (Rivoluzione Democratica) 1.12%
Camillo Colella (Lavoro Sport e Sociale) 0.59%
Frattura Coalition 50.14% winning 9 seats
Iorio Coalition 27.54% winning 4 seats
M5S 12.18% winning 2 seats
Romano Coalition 8.67% winning 1 seat
Rivoluzione Democratica 0.93% winning 0 seats
Lavoro Sport e Sociale 0.52% winning 0 seats
Angelo Michele Iorio, the incumbent centre-right regional president of the small southern region of Molise (since 2001) lost reelection by a wide margin. He had won reelection by a tiny margin in the 2011 election, but the 2011 election was overturned because of irregularities in the election. The PD’s Paolo Di Laura Frattura, who had narrowly lost the 2011 election, won in a landslide.
In the general election (Chamber), the centre-left won 28.9% against 28.4% for the right, with the M5S at 27.7%. Iorio actually did worse than his coalition did in the general election – despite his alliance with the UDC at the regional level. The centre-left candidate did much better than the centre-left did in the general election, about 16 points better. Given how the M5S underperformed at the regional level, most of these additional voters simultaneously voted for the M5S in the general election.
The regional elections all show that a substantial number of M5S voters are quite ready for the centre-left (or centre-right). Although the Grillist rhetoric is uncompromising towards other parties, the new Grillist electorate is not as uncompromising as it might appear.
What next for Italy?
On the basis of these results, Bersani’s centre-left coalition has a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies because of the electoral system and the national supermajority bonus. However, the Senate is deadlocked. Bersani’s centre-left coalition narrowly emerged with a plurality of seats – 123 – but fell far short of the 158 seats needed to form an absolute majority on its own.
Before the election, when it looked as if Bersani would win by more than a point, most had predicted that even if the centre-left was to lack an absolute majority, it could easily form an alliance with Mario Monti’s centrist coalition in the Senate and cobble together a more or less solid governing majority. That was not to be. Both Bersani and Monti did horribly, and the result is that even when put together, the centre-left and the centre lack an absolute majority on their own. They hold 142 seats in the Senate, and at least 158 seats are needed for an absolute majority (and, ideally, a stable government in Italy needs more than a bare absolute majority in the Senate to protect itself from defectors – just ask Prodi).
In a lot of bicameral countries – like in Spain for example, this would not be a major problem because the lower house is often the more powerful of the two houses and a government is able to govern even if it lacks a majority in the Senate. Italian bicameralism, however, is ‘perfect bicameralism’ – both houses are equals, they must both approve bills (and no one house can override the other house’s opposition) and – most importantly – a government may only be formed and then continue to govern as long as it enjoys the confidence of both houses. A government, however, does not necessarily fall if one of its bills is rejected by one house.
The new legislature only convenes on March 15, so Bersani and the other parties have until that date to try to reach an agreement. As per the Italian constitution, the President – Giorgio Napolitano – would likely appoint Bersani to form a government. The constitution gives him ten days following his appointment to receive the confidence of both houses.
Bersani needs to find at least 16 senators to obtain the confidence of the Senate, where abstentions seem to be counted as votes against the government. Bersani could either turn to Berlusconi’s PdL and form an unprecedented and unruly Grand Coalition with the right, or he could turn to the M5S and lobby individual M5S senators to gain their support.
A coalition with Berlusconi would have been disastrous for both sides – and it would have been the best thing ever for Grillo. There are differences between Bersani and Berlusconi, and a government which includes both of their parties would have been unruly, chaotic, unstable and unable to take action on any major issue (economic reform, corruption etc) because of deadlock between both parties. A coalition between the two old coalitions of Second Republic politics would have been perfect, politically and electorally, for Grillo. Neither the centre-left nor the centre-right were ever warm on the idea to begin with. SEL leader Nichi Vendola flatly opposed any coalition with Berlusconi and Bersani recently closed the door on any such deal.
The only option for Bersani is now to seek the confidence of at least 16 (if not more) Grillist senators. Beppe Grillo has always refused any electoral coalitions or political alliances/deals with the traditional parties, always preaching “a plague on both their houses”. Grillo’s rhetoric brands both traditional parties/coalitions on the left and right as corrupt parasites which must be overthrown and replaced with a new political order and a new political system. Bersani has recognized his precarious position and has said that he is willing to offer various concessions to the M5S – supporting a Grillist to be President of the Chamber, electoral reform and new laws against corruption. He has also more or less signaled that this would be a short-lived government, which would focus on electoral reform and anti-corruption legislation, before quickly returning to the polls – perhaps as early as the fall.
Grillo, as noted above, is the central icon of his movement. Although he claims to reject traditional party discipline and partisan hierarchy, and claims that the M5S is a movement rather than a political party; it is quite clear that Grillo is the leader of the movement/party/whatever and that he controls the M5S with an iron hand. For example, he expelled two M5S members in December 2012 – one local councillor for appearing on TV, and one regional councillor for daring to speak out about internal democracy in the M5S. The only other rather prominent and well-known figure in the M5S is Grillo’s right-hand man, Gianroberto Casaleggio – an entrepreneur and businessman. Casaleggio is a controversial figure, his opponents say he is a shadowy and mysterious ‘guru’ who controls the Grillist machine from behind the scenes.
However, the Grillist movement is thrust into uncharted waters now. The M5S now has 163 parliamentarians (109 deputies, 54 senators). Almost all of them are political novices with no prior parliamentary or even political experience. Its new caucus includes a wide array of students, businessmen, activists, environmentalists, academics, researchers and young men and women. Their leader, Beppe Grillo, did not run and will not be in Parliament – he will continue to control the movement through his blog, from the outside.
The movement’s new parliamentarians are newbies in Parliament, but they are the real kingmakers who will make or break any government and decide the country’s future. How will they act? Grillo is ‘radical’ and intransigent. He has refused any deal or parliamentary pact with Bersani, and has announced that Grillists will not give their confidence to the centre-left or anybody else. Will the new Grillist deputies follow the words of their leader and flatly deny confidence to any other party?
As a new movement born – in large part – on the internet and recruiting from different social horizons, many in the M5S’ caucus have made clear that they will act independently as parliamentarians, and vote their conscience rather than adhere to any party line or subject themselves to partisan discipline. Not much – if anything – is known about the new Grillist parliamentarians, but perhaps a good number of them are more pragmatic than their leader, and more inclined towards reaching consensus. Apparently, by the comments on his blog, Grillo’s announcement that he would not vote in favour of any government, did not go down all that well with many Grillist activists. There are signs that the Grillist electorate and perhaps the caucus is more pragmatic and would be amenable to endorsing a short-term Bersani government which focuses on electoral reform and anti-corruption laws. Some new Grillist deputies have openly said that they would support legislation which they judge to be ‘good’.
Canadian readers will be familiar with the experience of the Progressive Party in Canadian politics in the early 1920s. The M5S is by no means identical – the Progressives were always a sectional party, the M5S is anything but a sectional or regional party. However, like the M5S, the Canadian Progressives were a new movement which burst onto the scene. It represent political interests and voters which other parties had not been able to represent or accommodate, and expressed the alienation of a certain segment of voters from the traditional party system and their policies. And although the issues behind the rise of both parties are separated by over 90 years and were quite different, there were still some similarities. Like the M5S, the Progressives made a big splash in their first election (in 1921, they were the second largest party ahead of the Conservatives) and their novice MPs were forced into assuming major political responsibilities. The subsequent experience of the Progressives might be parallel to that of the M5S today.
The Progressives were quickly wrecked by internal divisions. You had the so-called “Liberal-Progressives” whose focus was on redressing short-term economic conditions for their region/electorate and integrating the traditional partisan system; many of these MPs later joined the governing Liberal Party. On the other hand, you had the “Gingers”, a radical group of novice MPs which wanted a whole new political system (they opposed representative democracy and supported some kind of group government/corporatism) and wanted more far-reaching social reforms. They refused to subject themselves to partisan discipline. Many Gingers went on to form what is today the NDP.
Could the M5S, which also has a large caucus of first-time novice parliamentarians, have the same experience as the Progressive Party? Could more pragmatic members integrate the traditional party system or at least collaborate with the traditional parties, like the Liberal-Progressives did in Canada in the 1920s? Seeing M5S parliamentarians ‘institutionalize’ themselves by integrating the current political system is certainly what the centre-left and other established parties would love to see.
For now, Bersani’s path to confidence in the Senate is to win the support of individual M5S senators. Grillo has virulently attacked him, but Bersani – to his credit – has appeared quite good at maneuvering these treacherous waters thus far and he understands that while he will not be able to convince the entire M5S or its leader, he could be able to win individual M5S senators to his side. If he does succeed in winning the confidence of the Senate, he will rely on individual M5S parliamentarians who will offer him case-by-case support for legislation. This is what is currently happening in Sicily – the regional governor, on the centre-left, lacks a legislative majority, but he wins supports on a case-by-case basis from M5S representatives. This could provide a major divide within the M5S, but it seems to be the option which most Italians – and most M5S voters – prefer.
Nevertheless, whatever emerges from the Senate after March 15 will not last for very long. The main word coming out from these election is ‘ungovernable’. Indeed, the country appears to be ungovernable and early elections by the end of 2013 seem nearly inevitable.
The two houses will need to elect a president (speaker) once they convene. Their next task – which they cannot ‘duck’ – is the election of a new President once President Napolitano’s seven year term draws to a close in April-May. Napolitano is eligible to run for reelection, but he has said that he will not seek reelection. The Italian President is elected by Parliament and regional delegates; any candidate requires a two-thirds majority to be elected on the first three ballots and only an absolute majority in the fourth and subsequent ballots. Therefore, electing a President will require a deal between the centre-left, the M5S and/or the centre-right. Mario Monti was once seen as a favourite for the ceremonial office, after his participation in this election it seems less likely. A number of names are swirling around, one of the favourites might be Giuliano Amato, a former centre-left Prime Minister who might be acceptable to the centre-right.
The constitution does not allow for the Parliament to be dissolved in the last six months of the President’s term, meaning that dissolution and early elections are impossible until May-June at the least.
Interestingly, the Italian constitution allows for the President to dissolve one or both chambers. This could allow for a snap election only for the Senate; this seems rather unlikely as there have never been elections for only a single house of Parliament in Italy, and it would likely be poorly received by the electorate.
If Bersani is able to cobble together a short-term government to prepare for new elections at the end of the year or early next year, one of the main issues he will face will be electoral reform. This election proved how unfair and unrepresentative the current electoral system is. The 2006 and 2008 resulted in a Parliament more or less representative of the voice of the electorate, because two large coalitions won – by far – most votes (99% in 2006, 84% in 2008). This year, no coalition won more than 30% of the vote and the traditional left and right blocs won only 59% of the vote together. The supermajority bonus in the Chamber of Deputies allowed the centre-left, on 29.5% of the vote, to win 54% of the seats.
The Gallagher Disproportionality Index, which measures for ‘disproportionality’ in election results by comparing the popular vote to the seat totals, was 17.34 for this election – higher values represent a more disproportional outcome, and indices above 10 tend to be quite disproportional. The indice for the 2008 Italian election was 5.7 and this is, by far, the most ‘disproportional’ election result in Italy since the war. Quite tellingly, with this result, Italy currently has the second most ‘disproportional’/unrepresentative legislature in the EU after France (17.66) and ahead of the United Kingdom (15.1). But unlike either France or the UK, Italy officially uses proportional representation.
Almost everybody agrees on the need for a new electoral law, which might be in place before any new election. But there is probably a lot of disagreement as to what electoral system should be used instead. The PD seems partial to the “French” system, with two-round voting in single-member constituencies. The M5S has often criticized the disconnect between MPs and their constituents, a disconnect made worse by the fact that a single individual may run for election in multiple constituencies and then choose which constituency they will represent. Italy already experimented with single-member constituencies between 1994 and 2005, when most deputies and senators were elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies and a smaller number elected by a PR list vote. The PD would like any electoral system which would narrow the field to two major parties, but Italy is always going to be a multi-party system. The experience with FPTP in the 1990s did not see a narrowing of the field to two parties, rather the coalitions on both sides distributed seats between the various component parties. And now, with the rise of M5S, the establishment parties might prove cooler on single-member constituencies.
Other options likely include a “German” system (either MMP or parallel voting), purer proportional representation, a reform of the current system with either a much smaller majority bonus (and changes in the Senate majority bonus system) or a “Spanish” d’Hondt PR system at a constituency level which would advantage larger parties.
In the meantime, Italy’s economy is still is a perilous position. The news of the results – Berlusconi’s near-victory, the rejection of Monti’s policies by voters, the Grillist wave and ungovernability – sent financial markets into panic mode. European markets dropped, the Euro dropped and Italian sovereign bond yields jumped. The results in Italy may have brought the Euro crisis back to centre stage and reopens the door of a Eurozone breakup. Foreign reactions to the results of the Italian election were almost overwhelmingly negative. The Economist opined that “confronted by the worst recession in their country since the 1930s and the possible implosion of Europe’s single currency, the people of Italy have decided to avoid reality.” Peer Steinbrück, the gaffe-prone candidate of the German SPD in the German federal elections this fall created a mini-crisis when he called Grillo and Berlusconi ‘clowns’.
Although Italians will probably return to the polls before long, this election will likely mark a decisive in Italian political history. Berlusconi was not eliminated and trounced as many had predicted and wished, but he is no longer the ‘central’ figure of Italian politics (although he remains very influential and important). The traditional left-right polarization was disturbed by the Grillist wave, which represents a fascinating new form of populist movement unlike other existing populist movements in western Europe. This election may not be as significant and epoch-making as the 1994 election, but it does mark at least the beginning of the end of the ‘Second Republic’ political system.
What will replace it is very unclear. Will the M5S be a passing fad and go the way of so many other populist movements, or will it become a major political actor for years to come? Where will the Italian left and right go from here? How will the Italian right manage the necessary transition to a post-Berlusconi era when Berlusconi fully retires or leaves politics? Italian politics is entering uncharted waters, and it is more unpredictable than ever.
While everybody was busy with Italy, an important by-election was held in the UK – in the constituency of Eastleigh. Chris Terry was nice enough to offer me a fantastic guest post on this by-election. Chris is a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society in the United Kingdom and you can follow him on Twitter here.
A by-election was held in Eastleigh, England on the 28th of February.
The by-election was caused by the resignation of Chris Huhne MP. Huhne was a prominent Liberal Democrat, originally Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the UK’s coalition government. He had twice run for leader of the party, both times coming second. The second time he was only very narrowly beaten by 1.2% by current Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg. 1,200 votes were held up in the Christmas post and an unofficial check of them revealed that Huhne had had enough votes to win the leadership, though, to his credit, he stood by the result.
Shortly after being made a Minister in Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government in 2010 Huhne had split from his wife, Vicky Pryce, a former head of the Government Economic Service. He had left her for his press officer, Carina Trimingham. The nature of this revelation caused Pryce to leak to the press that Huhne had had her claim responsibility for speeding when he had been caught by a speed camera. Lying in this way was perversion of justice, and so a court case started against Huhne and then also against Pryce, as she, too, had been complicit in this. Pryce claimed not guilty due to ‘marital coercion’, a rarely used defence in UK law. Huhne eventually pleaded guilty on the 5th of February. He has not been sentenced yet but, as it was clear he would receive jail time he resigned his seat. Pryce’s trial is currently subject to a retrial as the Jury could not reach a decision in the original trial.
The 2010 election had resulted in Britain’s first hung parliament since 1974 and the first peacetime Coalition government since before the war. After thirteen years of Labour governance Britain was suddenly faced with a Coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. During the 2010 election the Lib Dems and their leader, Nick Clegg, had become briefly extremely popular, riding a wave known as ‘Cleggmania’ from Clegg’s strong performance in Prime Ministerial debates. Polls early in the campaign had shown the Lib Dems challenging for the most votes. On election day, however, they fell back from these optimistic predictions, winning 23.0% (a gain of 1%) of the vote, and remaining in third. They also lost six seats. Nonetheless this was their strongest popular vote since 1983, and their second strongest since 1923, shortly after Labour had leap frogged them to being the main opposition to the Conservatives. They also held the balance of power in a hung parliament, and formed a Coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives.
After forming the Coalition, Lib Dem fortunes quickly deteriorated. Lib Dem voters are a heterogenous group but perhaps a majority in 2010 were either protest voters or left-of-centre. Many voters had voted for the Lib Dems because they saw them as more left-wing than Labour. A particularly symbolic moment for many was the vote on University tuition fees. The Lib Dems had long been against University tuition fees and during the 2010 campaign its MPs had signed a cast-iron pledge designed by the National Union of Students to the effect that, as a MP, they would not vote for any rise in tuition fees. This was a short-sighted policy in many ways, both Labour and Conservatives clearly favoured tuition fees in private and considering Britain’s economic position (a budget deficit equivalent to around 10% of GDP) it was difficult to see where the money would come from. The Lib Dem’s therefore ended up having to agree to raising tuition fees from a maximum of £3,000 a year; to £9,000 a year (it is very rare to see a University charging less than the maximum). The Lib Dems had had a very strong youth and student base and this was seen as a massive betrayal. The Lib Dem party itself split in the Commons. 27 Lib Dems, almost all ministers in the government, voted for the rise, 21 voted against and 8 abstained, in an atmosphere notable for the massive student protests in London.
From 23% in 2010, opinion polls indicated that the Lib Dems may have fallen into the single digits nationally, with some polls showing the Lib Dems as low as 8%, though some higher, at around 15%, with the polls mostly averaging around the 10% mark. Considering Britain’s First Past the Post electoral system if uniform swing applied this would mean the loss of a startling number of Lib Dem seats, the vast majority. However a glimmer of hope remained for the Lib Dems in their results in local elections where they demonstrated a capability to maintain strength in the areas where they have MPs and particularly against the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats as a party have often relied on strong local figures maintaining a strong profile as ‘local MPs’ and therefore having a strong personal vote. Indications were that this was continuing. A tradition of Labour supporters tactically voting Lib Dem to stop Conservatives getting in also seemed to continue. It was in areas where the Lib Dems had strong second or third places in 2010 where they lost the most votes. This suggested that the Lib Dems may save more seats than uniform swing indicated, especially as 38 of the party’s 57 seats were in seats where the Conservatives were in second place.
The Conservatives had had started in government fairly well, with a surprisingly long honeymoon period in the initial days of the Coalition in contrast to their Lib Dem partners. However since the 2012 budget things started to fall off the Conservative wagon. The government had cut the new top rate of tax introduced by Labour for those earning over £150,000 a year from 50% to 45%, whilst also removing certain exemptions from the tax code. A particularly odd argument that raged on was that of the ‘pasty tax’. The government had removed an exemption from VAT for hot takeaway food, such as pasties, a savoury pastry filled with meat and vegetables. The pasty is seen as a food of the working class, and so the ‘pasty tax’ was seen as symbolic of a government that did not understand ordinary people. Embarrassing photo ops had to be arranged where politicians explained just how much they enjoyed a pasty. At one point David Cameron was asked at a press conference when the last time he had a pasty was, he responded with a story about buying a pasty at Leeds railway station, but it was later revealed that the pasty shop he mentioned had shut down at the time he said! The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and many other prominent Conservatives come from aristocratic backgrounds and the Conservatives have often been seen as the ‘Party of the Rich’. There was therefore a contrast between the ‘tax cut for millionaires’ as Labour framed it, and a tax raise on a beloved lunchtime meal of the ordinary working man. The Conservatives have also been tainted by associations with the Murdoch press after the fall out from the phone hacking scandal and had to deal with an increasingly rebellious and unruly set of backbench MPs, who feel that the Coalition government has been insufficiently right-of-centre. Cameron has had to deal with an increasingly vocal and rebellious backbench who apparently feel that his moderation was beyond their failure to win in 2010. Unlike Blair who was able to hold moral authority over his party by virtue of his large majorities and therefore claim superior democratic legitimacy Cameron has had no such luck and many Conservative MPs feel a weak attachment to the Coalition Agreement, feeling that their party’s manifesto is more important. One particular backbench MP, Peter Bone, is well known for his almost weekly calls for Cameron to end the Coalition. While his is a lone voice, it is nonetheless a sign of the times in the party.
Labour had been launched into a leadership contest immediately after the 2010 election. The favourite was David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, a former aide to Tony Blair widely seen as on the right of the party. His main competitor was Ed Miliband, his younger brother, the former Energy and Climate Change Secretary and a former aide to Gordon Brown, who was seen as closer to the centre-left of the party. To the surprise of many commentators Ed Miliband won, just.
Ed’s earliest period in power was problematic for the party. He was painted out in the right wing press as ‘Red Ed’, opposed to any and all cuts to the state. He was seen as uncharismatic, nerdy, and even a little weird. There was a strong public perception that he had ‘stabbed his brother in the back’ with rumours that the two no longer spoke.
However as the Conservative’s problems grew Labour grew in strength in the polls, and this led to a change in the narrative about him. Ed also became more confident in front of a camera and in the Commons. While Ed still has his problems and is not riding any Obama-like wave of ascendancy, he is no longer seen as the unremitting disaster he was initially presented as.
Nonetheless, approval ratings for all three party leaders are now pretty terrible and there is a certain anti-establishment feeling in the UK. This has fed into the rise of a new(ish) force – UKIP. Originally short for UK Independence Party (the party recently changed its official name to just the acronym), UKIP was originally a very minor party, eclipsed by the similarly Eurosceptic Referendum Party of millionaire former Conservative donor Sir James Goldsmith. UKIP was originally a single-issue party with a single raison d’etre – the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The party had done well in European Parliamentary elections in the UK, aided by a broadly Eurosceptic electorate, a proportional voting system and low turnouts UKIP had managed to get 3 MEPs elected in 1999 (coming fourth), 12 elected in 2004 (beating the Lib Dems into third) and 13 in 2009 (beating Labour into second).
UKIP had never been particularly good at winning votes in general or local elections however. In 2010 it won 3.1% of the vote in the UK, but came nowhere close to a seat anywhere, with its most prominent candidate, current leader Nigel Farage, only succeeding in third place against Commons Speaker John Bercow (by convention the three main parties do not run against the Speaker). However since 2010 UKIP has been gaining steam, pulling off a string of impressive by-election results, often coming in second, though never actually winning. The party’s best record is 21.7% of the vote in Rotherham in November 2012. The party has also climbed in the opinion polls, where it ranges between 8% and 16%. The party’s success has been due to a variety of factors. Firstly their current leader, Nigel Farage, is a ‘straight talking’ sort of politician who has become popular with news organisations due to his bombastic style replete with quips and put downs for his political contemporaries. In one infamous speech in the European Parliament he lambasted the President of the European Council, the former Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy, as having the “charisma of a damp rag”, as “looking like a low-grade bank clerk” and as coming from a “non-country”. UKIP has also rounded its policies with policies designed to appeal to right-wing Conservatives in particular. The party increasingly concentrates on opposition to immigration and gay marriage. It is said to be pulling away significant numbers of activists from Conservative Future, the Conservatives youth wing. Finally the party appears to be benefitting from the removal of the Lib Dems as a viable protest vote.
All the seats that had been up for by-election so far had been either Labour safe seats, with the exception of Corby, a Lab/Con marginal which has tended to be the former rather than the latter in recent years. In all of these bar one notable exception (Bradford West, where the former Labour MP George Galloway won backed by his far-left RESPECT coalition) the Labour candidate had won, often fairly resoundingly. Eastleigh, however, was a LD/Con marginal. The Eastleigh by-election therefore provided an interesting opportunity for the psephologically-inclined to see how the Lib Dems might perform against the Conservatives at the next election, scheduled for 2015. It was also important to both Coalition parties. For the Lib Dems, a win would mean rare positive press, a significant morale boost for their base and a demonstration that the party was not heading towards electoral wipe-out. For the Conservatives the win was less necessary but it would show that the party was capable of defeating the Lib Dems, who hold significant numbers of Conservative target seats. Eastleigh was therefore, by many measures, the most important by-election since 2010.
Eastleigh is a railway town (a town that primarily developed because of its railway station) in the South of England. It is just 5 miles North of the city of Southampton, one of the larger cities in the South of England, besides London. Like most of Southern England outside London, Eastleigh is overwhelmingly White British, predominantly middle class, though there are working class areas, and economically active.
Up until 1994 Eastleigh had been regarded as a Conservative safe seat, won by the Conservatives at every election since the seat’s creation in 1955. In 1992 the Conservatives had won it with 51.3% of the vote, defeating the second placed Lib Dems with a majority of 23.3%. The sad death of the Conservative MP, Stephen Milligan, a rising star in the party, from what appeared to be a sex act gone wrong led to a by-election in 1994. By this point John Major’s Conservative government had become exceptionally unpopular and in the by-election the Conservative vote collapsed, with the Conservatives winning less than half of their 1992 vote, at 24.7%, coming third with the Lib Dems winning the seat with 44.3% for their candidate, David Chidgey. The seat was held by the Lib Dems from then on. The Conservatives, however, targeted Eastleigh which continually remained just out of reach. The Conservatives would gain votes, but the Lib Dems would succeed through tactical voting in their favour from Labour. Chidgey stood down in 2005, to be replaced by Chris Huhne. In doing so the party lost Chidgeys personal vote and Huhne was only able to defeat the Conservatives by 1.1% of the vote. He increased this in 2010 to 7.2%.
In many other respects Eastleigh has become something of a fortress for the Lib Dems. The party currently holds all of the council seats in the constituency, giving it a stupendous majority on Eastleigh borough council of 40-4 against the Conservatives (with the 4 Conservatives holding seats in areas outside the constituency boundaries). Remarkably the Lib Dems have even managed to gain seats in Eastleigh since 2010, gaining 2 in 2011. No other council is so dominated by the Lib Dems. They also hold all six county council seats in the constituency and even managed to top the poll locally in the super-low turnout Police and Crime Commissioner elections held last year. The Lib Dem machine in Eastleigh is infamous for its effectiveness and ruthlessness at Lib Dem ‘pavement politics’, the art of taking to the streets and campaigning viscerally on local issues. So effective is the Lib Dem machine that local businesses advertise on the back of their leaflets due to their reach. Having such a strong activist base and so many councillors gives the Lib Dems a strong advantage in terms of knowledge of the seat and voting data, something the party exploits.
At the last election the result had been as follows:
Chris Huhne (Liberal Democrat) 46.5%
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 39.3%
Leo Barraclough (Labour) 9.6%
Ray Finch (UKIP) 3.6%
The candidates and the campaign
The four most notable candidates (in order of their party’s performance in the 2010 election) were:
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrats). The Lib Dems took the safe route with the selection of their candidate in the form of Mike Thornton. Thornton is a local councillor, which gave them the opportunity to localise the contest somewhat and avoid the associations with Nick Clegg that would have happened if the Lib Dems had run a Westminster insider. Some on the campaign trail said he was boring, but this also meant he was uncontroversial.
During the campaign it seemed as if the entire Lib Dem activist base had decamped to Eastleigh for the month. The Lib Dems have traditionally been very good at targeting seats they hoped to win and highly effective at by-elections. They are very good at focusing a campaign on local issues – in this particular case opposition to a local housing development project in a classic piece of British NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard). While all parties notionally support increasing the housing stock nationally in practice at a local level people tend to think that the houses should be somewhere else! This strategy was masterminded by former Lib Dem Chief Executive Chris (now Lord) Rennard and is known as ‘Rennardism’ in some circles. In a twist of fate for the Lib Dems, Rennard was publicly accused of sexual harassment by 10 female former Lib Dem activists during the campaign with the intimation that this is why he lost his position as Chief Exec. The Rennard allegations created significant questions for the leadership, with their knowledge of the allegations being a key question. Rumours about Rennard had circulated in the Westminster village for years, but there had never been proof. Clegg’s claim on the Sunday prior to the by-election that he had not heard the allegations before therefore stretched credibility, and he quickly had to release a statement to the effect that he had heard rumours but nothing more. The Lib Dems were therefore faced an ironic situation where they may have lost the by-election due to the behaviour of Chris Rennard, a man who had previously been seen as responsible for many historic Lib Dem by-election wins. Nonetheless the party broadly remained the favourite, though not overwhelmingly so, during the campaign.
Maria Hutchings (Conservative). The Conservatives once again ran their candidate from 2010, Maria Hutchings, a local businesswoman. This was unsurprising given that the party needed a candidate with local credentials to take on the Liberal Democrat strategy of localised pavement politics. With the party having no local councillors Hutchings almost certainly represented the person in the party who knew the seat and its voters the best.
Hutchings was on the right of the party and stated during the campaign that she would have voted against the government’s recent same-sex marriage bill, a source of consternation on the Conservative backbenches and amongst party activists. She also stated that she would have voted for a motion backed by many Conservative rebels in the Commons for a referendum on European Union membership, another source of great division in the heavily Eurosceptic party. She also uttered some statements which were seen as controversial, such as stating that she had sent her son to an independent (fee-paying) school because he was gifted and wanted to be a surgeon and therefore the right kind of education for him would be “impossible” to find in the state system. This was in contrast to Thornton, whose daughter had had a state education and who is now currently studying Medicine! Hutchings also failed to attend two hustings (local Q&A sessions) for the candidates, the first time apparently because she was campaigning with Cameron, the second because she was “meeting with voters”. This led to allegations from her opponents that the party was trying to ‘hide her’ away.
John O’Farrell (Labour). In the 1994 by-election Labour had succeeded in coming second in Eastleigh, beating the Conservatives into third place. As recently as 2005 the party could still pull in more than 20% of the vote, but their vote had collapsed to less than half that in 2010. While no one expected Labour to win the by-election unless extremely lucky, there was an opportunity here to give a sense of momentum by winning back tactical voters from the Lib Dems, and put down a marker that Labour were viable in the South of England outside London and a few urban conurbations, the weakest area for the party. Compared to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the party took a radically different tack in its approach to candidate selection, however, selecting John O’Farrell, a comedian, television broadcaster and writer, who lives in Clapham, South London. O’Farrell is best known for his appearances on comedy panel shows such as Have I Got News for You. He has run for parliament before – running in 2001 in a Conservative safe seat, he is also known in Labour circles for his bestselling book Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter. The book is a memoir tracing the eighteen years of opposition that Labour found itself in between 1979 and 1997 and O’Farrell’s story is a story familiar to many Labour activists and to the party as a whole – that of the transition from radicalism to moderation.
O’Farrell’s campaign was predicated on suggesting that a Lib Dem or Conservative MP for Eastleigh was essentially the same thing as they would both be supporting the same government. Being a comedian his twitter feed included many humourous quips about the by-election. O’Farrell is well known and popular within the Labour Party and I suspect his candidacy helped to galvanise supporters and donors in favour of his campaign. During the campaign O’Farrell was attacked for excerpts from his bestselling memoir when he spoke about a momentary glee on hearing about the 1984 bombing of the Conservative Party conference by the IRA and of supporting the Argentines in the Fawklands War. In the book O’Farrell highlights these as examples of what he sees as the idiocy of radical knee-jerk politics and explains that he is now disgusted by both views but this was still used as a stick to beat him with. Perhaps more damagingly however, friends of mine who were campaigning on the ground say that Eastleigh voters appeared to feel that in nominating a South London based Comedian Labour were not taking the by-election ‘seriously’.
Diane James (UKIP). UKIP nominated Diane James, a councillor and healthcare expert from Waverley in Surrey, originally elected as an independent, James had later joined UKIP. Eastleigh had a special resonance for UKIP as during the 1994 by-election their candidate had been none other than Nigel Farage, their current leader. Farage turned down the opportunity to campaign in the seat again, however.
UKIP ran a surprisingly slick campaign in Eastleigh, and managed to succeed in gaining momentum as the campaign went on. The party nonetheless gained controversy when its leaflets claimed that when immigration laws are relaxed later this year 4 million Bulgarians would come to the UK (the population of Bulgaria is 7.4 million, so this would represent a very large number indeed!) but this did not seem to hurt the party. On Election Day the party pulled ahead of the Conservatives in the betting odds and there were many rumours of a late surge for the party.
In the grand tradition of British by-elections many minor party, fringe and joke party candidates stood. In all 14 candidates stood. The others were Danny Stupple, an independent standing on an anti-gay marriage platform, Michael Walters for the English Democrats, Darren Proctor for the far-left Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and Kevin Milburn for the Christian Party. The National Health Action Party, a single-issue party that has gained some media attention for its opposition to NHS privatisation and particularly the government’s controversial new health law stood a candidate, Dr. Iain MacLennan, for the first time. Jim Duggan stood for the Peace Party, Colin Bex stood for the Wessex Regionalists and Ray Hall ran for the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet party, a single issue party which campaigns against pub closures and for the rural way of life. By-election favourites, the Official Monster Raving Looney Party, a joke party that dates back to the 1960s, ran their leader Alan “Howling Laud” Hope. Finally perennial by-election candidate, David Bishop, stood under the latest of his Elvis Presley themed joke labels, ‘Elvis Loves Pets’.
Five polls were carried out during the campaign. Three showed the Lib Dems ahead by 3-5% and two showed the Conservatives ahead by 3-4%. The most notable thing from the polls was the fall in the Labour vote and the increase in the UKIP vote. The last poll of the campaign, by Populus, showed Lib Dems 33%, Conservatives 28%, UKIP 21%, Labour 12% and Others 6%.
Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 32.06% (-14.44%)
Diane James (UKIP) 27.80% (+24.20%)
Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 25.37% (-13.93%)
John O’Farrell (Labour) 9.82% (+0.22%)
Danny Stupple (Ind) 1.85%
Iain Maclennan (National Health Action) 0.94%
Ray Hall (Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party) 0.56%
Kevin Milburn (Christian) 0.39%
Howling Laud Hope (OMRLP) 0.33%
Jim Duggan (Peace) 0.31%
David Bishop (Elvis Loves Pets) 0.17%
Michael Walters (ED) 0.17% (-0.33%)
Daz Procter (TUSC) 0.15%
Colin Bex (Wessex Regionalist) 0.07%
Turnout was 52.8%, down by 16.5% from 2010 but still a very healthy turnout for a by-election.
The Lib Dems therefore succeeded in holding their seat, something which they are exceptionally happy about. Nick Clegg described the victory as “stunning”. The Lib Dem victory does indeed have much to commend it. Despite the hard times of coalition, the Rennard scandal, the jail term of Chris Huhne which had started the whole by-election the Lib Dems had succeeded in running a well-targeted, slick campaign won on local issues, with a solid dependable local candidate. This will be the model the Lib Dems will pursue in 2015 and on this by-election gave them some confidence that they may save more seats than many expect. That said, this is a rather pyrrhic victory. The party still lost almost 15% of the vote compared to 2010, most likely to a combination of abstention of the historically unreliable Lib Dem vote and to UKIP, in the form of protest votes. In a sense they only won because the Conservatives lost almost as much of their vote as they did, and the Lib Dem loss is in line with national opinion polls too. According to an ‘exit poll’ of sorts, (with a low sample, 760) by Conservative Party election expert Lord Ashcroft, 43% of Lib Dem voters voted for the party tactically suggesting that despite the Coalition the party successfully retained Labour tactical voters. 26% of Lib Dem voters also stated that the main reason they voted for the party was local services, totally unprompted. Only 43% of Lib Dem voters said they would ‘probably’ vote for the party in 2010, however now he is the MP Thornton will no doubt pursue the traditional Lib Dem strategy of working very hard as a local MP and building a strong personal vote, so they probably have the advantage in 2015.
UKIP also pulled off a victory of sorts. While they didn’t win the seat, their 27.8% of the vote represents their best every score in a parliamentary constituency, and they came within 4.3% of victory. This gives the party a continued feeling of momentum. According to the Ashcroft polling the party won roughly equal amounts of the Lib Dem and Conservative vote from 2010 (around a fifth in both cases) and 83% of their voters said they “unhappy with the party they usually support nationally” and three quarters said that they were “unhappy with all the main parties at the moment” further evidence that UKIP’s appeal is primarily anti-establishment and ‘plague on all your houses’ based. There does indeed appear to be a late surge element – 31% made up their minds in the last week, 18% on the last day. As with the Lib Dems only 43% said they would probably vote UKIP in 2015, with 10% saying they would likely vote Conservative.
The Conservatives are reeling. Coming in second would have been poor, but understandable, coming third puts the party in an extremely difficult position. The party is calling this a mid-term protest vote and noting that voters often vote against the government in these types of elections. While that’s true, the voters did elect a MP from a party that is in the government! The Conservatives have historically been poor at by-elections as the party is bad at targeting its campaign activities, and not as good at the ‘ground war’ aspect of a by-election as other parties. Sections of the party have also blamed Cameron for moving the party too far to the left and abandoning the party’s core vote to be picked up by UKIP. However as Professor Tim Bale, the leading academic expert in the Conservative Party, notes, the Conservatives have been attempting to ape UKIP for some time in many respects in the form of Cameron’s recent call for an EU referendum and the Home Secretary, Theresa May’s promise to cut immigration by another quarter. In Bale’s view by doing so the Conservatives could be creating the impression that UKIP’s concerns about both are perfectly valid and giving the party credibility, as he puts it “Rather than shooting Nigel Farage’s fox, all Cameron has done is feed it”. The whole argument also ignores that Maria Hutchings stood on a platform that was clearly right of the party leadership. Yet the party leadership is once again under significant pressure from its activists and backbenchers to shift right as a response, and Sunday’s right wing newspapers are replete with references to getting rid of the Human Rights Act, a particular object of hatred for the right-wing media.
Labour are the only one of the main three parties to have gained votes, but they remain below 10% of the vote. This is hardly the marker that they can win votes in the South of England which the party wanted. The party appears to have made a serious tactical misstep by selecting O’Farrell. Polls suggest that the party lost around half its support over the course of the campaign with most probably going to the Lib Dems, but some also likely going to abstention or UKIP. By running a comedian from South London Labour appear to have given the local electorate the idea that they were not taking Eastleigh seriously. The party will have to work harder to convince the electorate that it can succeed in the South of England – a particular focus will be on this year’s county council elections.
Legislative elections will be held in Italy on February 24 and 25, 2013. All 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and 315 members of the Senate (Senato della Repubblica) are up for reelection. In addition, there will be regional elections (direct election of the regional president and the regional legislautre) in Lazio (Latium), Lombardy and Molise.
Italy’s Electoral System
The Italian electoral system is the dictionary definition of convoluted and absurd. The current election law for the Parliament was adopted in 2005, sponsored by then-interior minister Roberto Calderoli, the law’s namesake. It is commonly known as the porcata (a ‘shitload’, which is how Calderoli described his own law) or the legge porcellum (piglet law). The Italian electoral system is based on closed party-list proportional representation, but it is a significantly altered form of PR which automatically guarantees the winning electoral coalition an absolute majority in the lower house, though not in the Senate.
The Chamber of Deputies has 630 seats. 617 of these seats are elected in 26 multi-member constituencies in Italy proper – these constituencies correspond to the administrative regions, although six of Italy’s regions (Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Lazio, Campania, and Sicily) have two or more (Lombardy has three) constituencies. 12 additional seats are elected by Italians living abroad in four international constituencies, and one member represents the autonomous region of the Aosta Valley. For the 617 seats, voters vote for closed party lists. These parties are allowed to form formal electoral coalitions with other parties whereby they still run separately but their votes will be counted together (for certain purposes). To be recognized as such, however, a coalition must win over 10% of the vote together; if a coalition does not win over 10% its constituent parties are treated as unaffiliated separate parties. Individual parties must win over 4% of the vote to qualify for seats; however, parties representing “linguistic minorities” (read: German-speakers in South Tyrol/Südtirol; the clause also applies in Friuli-Venezia Giulia) may win seat(s) if they win over 20% of the vote in one constituency.
The initial allocation of the 617 seats between qualified coalitions and parties is based on largest-remainder PR. However, the Italian electoral system for the Chamber has a big ‘majority bonus’ (similar to the one in Greece): if no coalition has won 340 seats (55%) on its own, the coalition is automatically awarded 340 seats – ensuring that it has a substantial absolute majority even on a weak mandate (say, 35% of the vote). From my understanding of the law, however, the majority bonus only applies to coalitions and not parties. If a party which is running individually were to out poll all coalitions on its own, it would not – as far as I know – receive the 340 seats bonus. The remaining 277 seats are apportioned to the other qualifying coalitions or individual parties with largest-remainder PR.
Within coalitions, the seats are allocated to the various component parties through the same method. Coalition parties must win at least 2% of the vote to qualify for seats – there is, however, an absurd twist: the largest coalition party below the 2% threshold also receives seats. The linguistic minority clause applies to coalition parties as well. The apportionment of seats between the 26 constituencies is weird and confusing, taking place later and sometimes resulting in a change in the number of seats in each constituency. These constituencies are also quite meaningless because candidates may run in more than one constituency. In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini topped their party’s lists in all constituencies.
The single deputy from the Aosta Valley is elected through FPTP. The 12 deputies representing Italian citizens abroad are elected through open-list PR in four multi-member constituencies (Europe with 6 seats, South America with 3 seats, Central and North America with 2 seats and the rest of the world with one seat).
The Senate has 315 directly-elected senators (there are a variable number of nominated senators-for-life), 309 of these seats are elected in Italy and 6 are elected abroad. The electoral system is basically the same as the one used for the lower house, with a few important modifications and some regional peculiarities. The major difference is that the allocation of seats and the majority bonus takes place at the regional, and not national, level. The majority bonus – all but three regions have a bonus accounting for roughly 55% of the seats – is allocated at the regional level, meaning that different coalitions will win the majority bonus in different regions. Therefore, unlike the Chamber where the winning coalition at the national level is ensured a comfortable majority, regardless of its margin of victory or popular vote total; in the Senate, there is no guarantee that a winning coalition will be able to gain an absolute majority – and if it does it will naturally be far more tenuous than its lower house majority.
The thresholds (applied at the regional level) for coalitions, component parties and individual parties are higher in the Senate. Coalitions must win 20% of the vote to qualify for seats, individual parties need 8% and parties within a coalition need 3%.
This system has regional peculiarities. While all regions are guaranteed a minimum of 7 seats, the small region of Molise elects only two senators and there is no majority bonus in the region. The region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol has seven seats, but six of these seats are elected in single-member constituencies with one final seat elected through compensatory PR. Like in the Chamber, the Aosta Valley’s single seat is elected by FPTP and the 6 members for Italians abroad are elected by open-list PR in four constituencies (Europe with 2 seats, South America with 2 seats, Central and North America and the rest of the world with 1 seat each).
This confusing electoral system has been the subject of controversy and political debate since the start. The focal point of much of the criticism is the majority bonus, and how it is applied differently in the two houses. In the Chamber, the huge majority bonus given the winning coalition tends to significantly overrepresent the winning coalition at the expense of the losing coalitions and parties. While in the two general elections fought under the law (2006 and 2008) the winning coalition won a large enough number of votes to prevent egregious distortions, at the local level (local elections are fought using a similar system) there have been many cases of lists winning huge majorities with a small number of votes. While the principle of regional representation in the Senate is a laudable idea in a relatively decentralized country like Italy, in practice the regional majority bonuses make the Senate a source of constant headaches for many government. The Italian parliamentary system is based on perfect bicameralism, where both houses have the same powers and the incumbent government requires the confidence of both houses to continue governing. The regional majority bonuses in a regionally polarized country such as Italy may, as in 2006, result in near-deadlock in the Senate – a major contributing factor to continued governmental instability and the difficulty of governing in Italy.
The electoral system also incites small parties – which would struggle to survive independently – to tie themselves to bigger coalitions in a bid to win seats in Parliament and have a chance to have leverage over the larger coalition. Especially in the Chamber, the law discriminates against small non-coalesced parties in favour of just as small (or even smaller) parties in coalition with larger parties.
There was, again, talk of changing the electoral law before the elections but it appears that it was another false alarm. This election will be fought under the 2005 law again, but as it becomes ever more unpopular – even with its former backers on the right – there is a chance that the law could be changed after the election.
The First Republic and its Demise (1946-1994)
There have been two clear eras in Italian politics since the country became a republic in 1946. The first era, widely known as the First Republic, lasted between 1946 and 1994. The second – and current (for now) – era, dubbed the Second Republic, began in 1994. There is little overlap between these two political eras; there was a major break between the two ‘republics’ in 1994. What makes this election particularly interesting, even more so than past elections, is that Italy might be standing at a turning point in its political history. There are some indications that we might be witnessing the end – or at the very least the beginning of the end – of the Second Republic and the rise of the ‘Third Republic’ in Italian politics.
The First Republic is commonly associated with extreme governmental instability, marked by cabinets coming and going and a rapid succession of Prime Minister (Presidents of the Council of Ministers, or Presidente del Consiglio dei ministri). Indeed, most cabinets were short-lived, lasting on average only 11 months. However, this instability was more apparent than real – it was ‘stable instability’ if you will. Italian governments between 1946/1948 and 1994 were dominated by the Christian Democracy party (Democrazia Cristiana), a big-tent anti-communist and centrist party which participated in all governments between 1946 and 1994 and held the office of Prime Minister for most of this period. The DC’s major rival was the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of the most powerful communist parties in Western Europe at the time though also one of the most moderate communist parties – the PCI broke with Moscow in the 1970s and shifted towards ‘Eurocommunism’. The PCI participated in the first governments after the war, but after being kicked out in 1947, it never participated in any other national governments. It retained a solid electoral base and was the major opposition to the DC-led cabinets, but it never stood a chance at forming a government on its own throughout this period.
The First Republic’s political system was dominated by political parties – the era is often called, derogatorily, a partitocrazia (particracy). The Prime Minister, in contrast to the theory of the Westminster system, was fairly ineffectual and could not act as a true executive himself. Instead, party leaders held considerable power. Political parties – especially the DC – were composed of various semi-official factions with their leaders, members, bases and sources of financing. The power struggles between warring partisan factions was the main reason for the apparent political instability: cabinets needed to be reshuffled regularly in accommodate various factions or other allied parties, on the basis of events which had indicated the power of one faction/party over another.
Italy has always been a multi-party system, and the First Republic’s closed-list PR system with a low threshold allowed for the proliferation of various parties. Besides the DC and the PCI, the other major force of Italian politics throughout this era was the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), which hovered between 9% and 14% during the First Republic. The PSI originally maintained close ties with the PCI; the two parties ran a common slate in the decisive 1948 election. However, the PSI broke with the PCI – the dominant force of the left after 1948 – over the Hungarian invasion in 1956 and by 1963 the PSI responded to the DC’s overtures and started participating in centre-left coalition governments with the DC and other parties. In the 1970s, under Bettino Craxi – who served as Prime Minister between 1983 and 1987 – the party moved further to the right and became an integral part of the political ‘system’ and establishment.
Three other parties were the mainstays of most DC governments during the First Republic: the Italian Liberal Party (PLI), the Italian Republican Party (PRI) and the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI). The PLI was a carryover from the inter-war era, when the party had represented the old right-wing (what would pass as conservative in the rest of Europe was known as ‘liberal’ in Italy after unification because of the circumstances of how unification came about) tradition. After the war, the PLI was displaced as the main right-wing force by the DC and managed to salvage support only in Southern Italy, where old Liberal oligarchic networks had been left relatively unscathed by the war. The party shifted to the right in the 1950s and 1960s before moving towards the centre in the 1970s, becoming a vaguely centre-right party which was an integral part of most DC-led governments.
The PRI predated the republic as well, having been the political avatar of the old democratic/republican movement under the monarchy (what would have been styled liberal in other European countries at the time). Its raison-d’être having been republicanism, the PRI’s influence declined somewhat until it regained support in the 1980s. It became a vaguely liberal centre-left party, and an integral part of almost all DC-led cabinets after the 1960s.
The Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) was founded in 1947 by the anti-communist wing of the PSI, led by Giuseppe Saragat, which opposed the PSI’s alliance with the PCI in the 1948 election (the two parties ran a common slate, the Popular Democratic Front, which was heavily dominated by the PCI). After winning 7% in 1948, the PSDI’s support stabilized at 3-4% until the late 1980s. Professing to be a modern social democratic party, the PSDI quickly became a venal party largely devoid of ideology and operating as a consistent junior partner in almost all DC-led cabinets after 1948.
Excluding smaller parties which won seats during this time period, the only two opposition parties throughout the era were the PCI and the Italian Social Movement (MSI). The MSI, a neo-fascist party, was formed in 1946 by fascist veterans and supporters of the former regime. As a political party which participated in elections, the MSI was forced to adapt itself to the constraints of the democratic environment and tended to downplay old-style fascist rhetoric. The party was divided between a northern-based radical and ideological neo-fascist wing and a southern-based authoritarian conservative wing which was less dogmatic and radical than the neo-fascist faction and tried to integrate the MSI into the mainstream right. The party oscillated between 5 and 6% support for most of its history, though it won up to 9% of the vote (in 1972). Most of its support came from southern Italy, where the fascist regime’s oligarchic conservative networks had been left unscathed by the war (the south had not suffered a bloody civil war after 1943).
The ‘stable instability’ of the First Republic created a corrupt and fossilized political system in which a few political parties and their powerful leaders entrenched themselves in power and shared the spoils of power amongst themselves. This system extended beyond cabinets and the civil service, state-owned conglomerates were controlled by prominent politicians or their friends. The different governing parties came to carve up their own personal preserves in government, claiming various ministries for themselves and awarding them to loyal – though often incompetent – party stalwarts. The politicians who partook in this system of entrenched corruption often became particularly rich. Political parties and their leaders were funded through bribes from contractors and entrepreneurs. In southern Italy, most governing parties were tied to the mafia.
Italy enjoyed a period of relatively strong economic growth between the 1960s and the late 1980s, despite a few troughs and unemployment problems. However, the Italian economy was undermined by the devaluation of the Italian lira and the issuing of excessive amounts of high-interest treasury bonds, which led to a ballooning deficit and public debt in the 1980s. By the late 1980s, economic growth slowed to a halt. Bettino Craxi (PSI Prime Minister between 1983 and 1987) was able to reduce the high inflation rate by eliminating a system by which wages had been automatically tied to inflation, but his government’s high spending policies (including very generous pensions for civil servants and tons of dirty public works projects) led to a worsening debt and deficit problem. By 1994, Italy’s public debt stood at 121% of the GDP.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 had a major effect on Italian politics, which had been marked by a Cold War confrontation of communists and non-communists since its foundation in 1946. For example, in the watershed 1948 election both major parties (the DC on the right and the PCI-PSI coalition on the left) were proxies for foreign powers – the DC was bankrolled by the CIA, the PCI was funded by Moscow. Even if the PCI under Enrico Berlinguer had broken with Moscow and tried to integrate the system (the ‘historical compromise’), the right continue to play up the ‘red threat’ and anti-communism remained a powerful force on the right. The PCI, at the forefront of the evolution of the European communist left once again, split up in 1991. The party’s leader, Achille Occhetto, founded the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) as a post-communist democratic socialist party. The hardline minority which disagreed with the PCI’s dissolution formed the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC). The fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the PCI reduced, for a time, the clear left-right polarization in Italian politics.
The First Republic political system collapsed between 1992 and 1994. The intricate web of corruption, graft and bribery at the highest levels of power – a system nicknamed tangentopoli (bribesville) – was revealed by the Mani pulite investigations (clean hands) which began in February 1992. Initially involving only a PSI stalwart quickly denounced by his nervous party superiors as a rogue element, the investigation eventually uncovered the entire system and caused the political system and the governing parties to collapse. Opposition parties like the PCI were not left untouched, but most of the investigation concerned the governing parties – particularly the DC, PSI, PLI and PSDI.
The explosive revelations of prominent politicians filling their pockets with taxpayers’ money and living on the public dime led to the collapse of the First Republic and the emergence of new political forces. The beginning of the end was apparent by the 1992 elections, in which the governing parties – particularly the DC – did rather poorly. While the PSI, PSDI, PLI and PRI managed to perform well, the DC fell to a record low 30% of the vote. 1992 saw the emergence of the Lega Nord, a northern-based regionalist party which exploited disgust with endemic corruption and the north’s (primarily fiscal) grievances with the central government and southern Italy. The new populist party won 9% of the vote and took votes away from all traditional parties in the north. However, by the time of the 1992 election, only the tip of the iceberg had been in sight. In 1992 and 1993, the investigations uncovered the rest of the iceberg. In 1993, the PSI Prime Minister Giuliano Amato’s government (a DC-PSI-PLI-PSDI coalition) was forced to resign and replaced with a technocratic government led by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose cabinet also received the support of the left (PDS and Greens). The traditional parties, which had formed the backbone of an exceptionally solid and stable (despite apparent instability) political system since 1948, all collapsed overnight. The DC dissolved in 1994 and split between its left-wing and right-wing factions. The PSI’s leader, Bettino Craxi (a central figure in the corrupt system) had resigned in 1993 and the party collapsed in 1994. The PLI disbanded in 1994. The PSDI and the PRI kept going, but they become very small parties.
Silvio Berlusconi and the Second Republic (1994-2011)
The 1994 elections saw unprecedented political change and turnover. To begin with, the parties which had dominated the First Republic either disappeared or fundamentally transformed themselves. Above all, however, the 1994 election saw the dramatic emergence of a new political actor and movement on the right which went on to define contemporary Italian politics. Worried by the prospect of a left-wing victory in the 1994 election, wealthy Milanese businessman Silvio Berlusconi – the owner of Fininvest, a financial holding company which controls a football club and a TV station among others – “entered the field” and created his own party, Forza Italia – a populist right-wing party which sought to appeal to disoriented anti-communist/right-wing voters left homeless by the collapse of the pentepartito coalitions. Running a shrewd, well-oiled and classically populist campaign, Berlusconi won the 1994 elections. His party, FI, had formed two coalitions in the run-up to the elections – with two separate parties who disliked one another. In the north, he allied with Umberto Bossi’s federalist/separatist Lega Nord (LN). In the south, he allied himself with Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance (AN). Fini, who became leader of the MSI in 1987, had actively tried to transform the neo-fascist party’s image by dropping its original fascist ideology and becoming a nationalist and conservative party instead. FI won the most votes of any party (21%) and the two right-wing coalitions won 366 seats in the Chamber against 213 seats for the left (an alliance of the PDS, PRC, Greens and other parties including a moribund PSI which won 2%).
Berlusconi formed a coalition government including FI, LN, AN and two right-wing ex-DC parties. This new coalition, however, proved unable to overcome its internal contradictions. Bossi’s Lega Nord advocated a very federalist and decentralist agenda, which clashed with Fini’s AN, which had not yet broken all bridges with neo-fascism and was a centralist and Italian nationalist party. The Lega, alleging that Berlusconi had broken his promises, left the government and the cabinet collapsed in January 1995. He was replaced by Lamberto Dini, a technocrat whose government received the support of the left and the Lega.
A centre-left coalition, L’Ulivo (The Olive Tree), composed of the PDS, the Italian People’s Party (PPI, the left-wing of the old DC), a party led by Dini and smaller parties won the 1996 elections. The centre-left, led by Romano Prodi, a former left-wing Christian democrat, won 285 seats in the Chamber, against 246 seats for Berlusconi’s FI-AN coalition. The Lega Nord’s decision to run separately doomed the right; on its own, the Lega won a record high 11% and 59 seats. The PRC, which had pledged to back a centre-left cabinet, won 35 seats.
Romano Prodi became Prime Minister, serving until the PRC withdrew its support in late 1998. Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist who some claimed engineered the collapse of Prodi’s government, replaced him as Prime Minister and served until 2000. Giuliano Amato returned to office and served a bit over a year until June 2001.
The three successive left-wing governments, especially Prodi’s government, continued Lamberto Dini’s economic policies aimed at restoring the sick country’s economic health to allow Italy to meet the strict parameters of the European Monetary System and eventually join the Euro. Italy’s economic situation in 1994 – a huge public debt, a very large government deficit (over 7% of the GDP) and over 11% unemployment – was catastrophic and most believed that the country would never meet Europe’s strict parameters. However, the government’s policies were quite successful. Italy quickly met the conditions required: its debt fell to 108% of GDP in 2001 and it came close to budgetary balance in 2000 (the deficit was only 0.8% of GDP in 2000). However, the right was able to retain momentum by focusing on the country’s high tax burden. Berlusconi promised tax cuts and a simplification of the tax brackets.
Berlusconi returned to power in 2001. Having patched up with the Lega, Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition (House of Freedoms) won 368 seats in the Chamber against 247 for the centre-left L’Ulivo, led by Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli. Berlusconi had signed a 5-point ‘contract’ which pledged to reduce the tax burden, reduce criminality, raise the minimum pension, reduce unemployment by 50% and make significant investments in public works. Unlike in 1994, Berlusconi was able to create a solid majority cabinet which lasted for the duration of the parliament’s 5-year term (a rarity in Italian politics). A more astute politician, he was able to keep the lid on internal tensions between his federalist, nationalist and centrist allies.
However, Berlusconi’s government eventually became rather unpopular. The country’s economy performed poorly during his term, with sluggish economic growth and a larger deficit than under the previous government. He was unable to deliver on most of his key promises, particularly tax cuts. He did manage to pass a pensions reform, a labour market reform, a judicial reform and an unsuccessful constitutional reform (rejected by voters in 2006). The weak economy and the widespread perception that he had not delivered on most (if any) of his 5 landmark promises hurt Berlusconi and his government. The left was victorious in the 2004 European and 2005 regional elections; all trends seemed to indicate that Romano Prodi, the top candidate of a broad left-wing coalition including the PRC, would win a comfortable majority in the 2006 elections.
Prodi and the left did win a majority in the 2006 elections, but Berlusconi made a remarkable comeback and ended up losing the election by a hair. The left won a strong majority in the Chamber thanks to the new electoral law, but it held a tiny 2-seat majority in the Senate – something which considering the very heterogeneous nature of Prodi’s coalition came back to haunt him shortly down the road. Prodi’s government led a reformist agenda, but it was constantly dogged and weakened by constant infighting between the plethora of parties which made up his big-tent coalition (from the far-left to centre-right). In 2007, the PRC almost brought down his government over foreign policy. In January 2008, a small right-wing ally of the government whose leader objected to same-sex civil unions and was being implicated in a corruption scandal pulled the plug on the government. It lost the confidence in the Senate and was forced to call early elections.
Berlusconi, like the proverbial phoenix, returned in force in the 2008 snap elections. His coalition won 46.8% against 37.5% for Walter Veltroni’s centre-left coalition. The elections did see a further polarization of public opinion, as the ex-DC centre-right (running independently from Berlusconi) did poorly and the communist coalition was crushed and shut out of Parliament (the first Italian legislature without any communist members since 1921).
Berlusconi’s third term in office was marked by the slow collapse of his government and the country’s economy. Politically, troubles began when Gianfranco Fini, who had been one Berlusconi’s closest allies in the past, started turning against him. Fini increasingly took positions opposed to il cavaliere on issues such as justice or immigration. Following months of conflict, Fini was kicked out of Berlusconi’s party in July 2010 and created his own party, followed by about 30 deputies and 10 senators. By December 2010, having lost its majority in the Chamber, Berlusconi’s government was on the verge on the collapse and was expected to lose a no-confidence vote. Against all odds, however, Berlusconi’s government survived – the motion failed by 3 votes – it was later shown that Berlusconi had bribed opposition MPs to back him in the vote.
Berlusconi remained relatively popular throughout the first two years of his government. The right performed quite well in the 2009 European and 2010 regional elections. However, as the economic crisis deteriorated further and the Prime Minister became embroiled in an even larger number of corruption/lifestyle scandals in 2011, his government’s popularity slowly declined. The beginning of the end came in May 2011, when the Berlusconian right was defeated in a series of local elections (including in Milan, the cavaliere’s political base). Then in June 2011, ‘abrogative referendums’ which sought to repeal controversial laws including a partial immunity for the Prime Minister were succesful, breaking the 50% turnout threshold required to be valid (similar referendums often fail in Italy because turnout is under 50%).
Italy was hit particularly badly by the European debt crisis and continues to suffer the aftereffects of the initial crisis. Italy’s economic troubles date back to the 1980s, when the post-war ‘Italian economic miracle’ ended and the country entered a long spell of low growth, high unemployment, rising deficits and a huge public debt. One of Italy’s main economic ills is its lack of competitiveness; unit labour costs in Italy since the birth of the euro in 1999 have risen must faster than in other EU countries (such as Germany) and productivity has declined.
The Euro debt crisis and Italy’s own economic crisis worsened in the final months of 2011. Berlusconi’s government had largely failed to tackle the crisis and, by November, Italy was said to be on the verge of default. Indeed, Berlusconi’s government since 2008 had seemingly been more preoccupied with il cavaliere‘s judicial travails than actually tackling the crisis; although his government did implement several (controversial) austerity measures between 2009 and 2011. By this point, investors, foreign markets and other European governments – particularly Berlin – felt that Berlusconi had lost all credibility and legitimacy. On November 8, an austerity plan was passed but a majority of deputies abstained (the bill passed with 308 votes, less than the absolute majority). It was clear that the government had finally lost its majority in the lower house, and Berlusconi officially resigned from office four days later.
Italy, by November 2011, was in crisis-mode as it teetered on the cliff. The country’s ceremonial President, Giorgio Napolitano, managed to get the main parties – including the left and right – to agree to a technocrat (or ‘technical’) government to be led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and a respected economist. The new government’s immediate task was to ‘save’ the Italian economy from collapse through urgent reforms. Monti immediately set to work on passing an emergency austerity package which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. His government also undertook several other major reforms aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy. His government passed measures aimed at introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and got serious on targetting the very high rates of tax evasion in Italy.
The results of Monti’s austerity policies have been a mixed bag. On the one hand, Monti definitely managed to save Italy from default and he took the first steps in righting the ship before it sank. His reformist policies have won him the plaudits of investors, foreign markets and his European partners (especially Angela Merkel). The deficit, which was never really catastrophic in Italy compared to other countries, was projected at 2.6% of the GDP in 2012 (5.4% in 2009). Italy’s public debt, however, remains high at 126% of GDP and is still growing. On the other hand, Monti’s austerity policies have prolonged the recession, the country’s economy shrank by 2.3% in 2012 and will shrink by 0.7% in 2013. Similarly, Monti’s reforms have led to a major increase in unemployment, from 8.4% in 2011 to around 11% today; youth unemployment is even higher at over 36%.
Monti’s government lost the support of Berlusconi’s party in December 2012, compelling Monti to announce his immediate resignation following the approval of the 2013 budget by Parliament. With the budget approved, the Parliament was dissolved and elections scheduled for February 24 and 25 2013.
Silvio Berlusconi has been the single most important figure of Italian politics since 1994. He has fundamentally transformed Italian politics and political culture, and it would not an overstatement to say that the Second Republic was structured around his personality and ideology. While Italian politics remain structured around a traditional left-right opposition, it often seems that the traditional left-right divide is secondary to the Berlusconi-not Berlusconi divide which played a key role in the 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2008 elections. Similarly, under Berlusconi, the Italian right has been transformed. The DC was a centre-right party and it appealed to conservative Catholic voters with its anti-communist and Christian democratic ideology. However, the DC – with some exceptions in the 1950s and 1960s – often preferred to govern from the centre-left in coalition with parties such as the PSI. Economically, the DC implemented fairly interventionist (statist) policies, including a generous welfare state.
However, the Berlusconian right has been significantly to the right of the old DC. Berlusconi rehabilitated and integrated Gianfranco Fini and his party, which most considered an unpalatable neo-fascist party in 1994. He developed, despite a few hitches over the years, a close alliance with Umberto Bossi’s populist and often controversial Lega Nord. Several prominent far-right figures, who were associated with neo-fascist or other far-right movements in the past, have played a major role within the Berlusconian right.
Politically, Berlusconi liked to view himself as the later Italian incarnation of the Reagan-Thatcher. His populist rhetoric and political style, based on a repudiation of the ‘elites’ and the ‘partitocrazia‘ of the First Republic, in addition to his virulent attacks on ‘left-liberal elites’ which he claimed dominated the judiciary (a haven of communists according to il cavaliere) and even the media, marked a sharp break from the centrist and consensual politics of the First Republic. Berlusconi’s rhetoric was close to that of the New Right of the 1980s – which sought to represent the ‘hardworkers’ over the professional political elites and ‘moochers’; which denounced government bureaucracy, wasteful spending, a heavy tax burden and endorsed a tough law-and-order approach to criminality and ‘family values’. This was, again, a departure from the post-war economic interventionism favoured by the DC and its allies. Most would see a fundamental contradiction between Berlusconi’s ostensible reformist neoliberalism and his own personal business interests which he often sought to protect and defend while in government. Berlusconi, however, never saw any conflict between his own personal business interests and that of the country as a whole.
Under Berlusconi, Italian politics have become very personalized and political parties have lost the power and influence they held under the First Republic. The electoral system has favoured this personalization of politics. Parties, not individuals or personalities, dominated under the First Republic. Since 1994, however, Italian politics have become very personalized. This personalization has become very apparent in all Italian elections since 1994/1996, where great emphasis has been placed on the various ‘candidates’ for Prime Minister on all sides of the aisle. Political parties have remained powerful, but they are no longer the powerful political machines they were during the First Republic – where parties had large memberships and maintained close links with organizations in civil society.
On the right, Berlusconi’s political parties have certainly been personal vehicles for his own political ambitions. On the left, opposition to Berlusconi has often been the glue which kept the warring factions and parties of heterogeneous left-wing coalitions since 1994 together. Politicians and parties who chose to stand outside this system, often trying to represent a centrist third-way, have been marginalized and all have failed to become credible alternatives.
2013: Coalitions, Parties, Contenders and Issues
Centre-right led by Silvio Berlusconi
The People of Freedom (Il Popolo della Libertà, PdL): The PdL, currently the largest party in both houses of Parliament, is the latest partisan incarnation of the Berlusconian right, centered and built around the charismatic and populist figure of Silvio Berlusconi.
Silvio Berlusconi is a billionaire businessman who made his fortune with Fininvest, a financial holding company which still controls a football club (AC Milan) and a powerful private media empire (Mediaset). A cloud of secrecy surrounds Berlusconi’s personal wealth and his business empire and his business and political career has been racked with controversy including numerous accusations of conflict of interest stemming from his failure to sell his personal share in his companies after entering politics in 1994. Over the years, Berlusconi has been accused and charged on numerous cases of corruption, bribery, tax fraud, mafia collusion, tax evasion and embezzlement. In October 2012, Berlusconi received his first conviction in a tax fraud involved Mediaset, he was sentenced to four years in jail; but he will ultimately never serve jail time thanks to an amnesty law and the statute of limitations. In all other cases, Berlusconi was either acquitted, saved by the statute of limitations or the trials archived.
Berlusconi is a controversial and colourful character. His extensive control over a large private media empire in Italy has been criticized by numerous analysts who claim that his control of a media empire has stifled freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Italy’s press freedom rankings are pretty atrocious for a western European nation – ranking 57th by Reporters Without Borders and classified as ‘partly free’ by Freedom House. He is also a colourful character with a well-known reputation for making gaffes or insensitive remarks: he compared German MEP Martin Schulz to a concentration camp guard, he complimented Barack Obama on his ‘tan’, said that it was better to ‘like girls than be gay’, made disparaging remarks about Finland and Finnish cuisine and famously annoyed Queen Elizabeth II by yelling at a G20 summit.
Berlusconi is a noted womanizer, something which has gotten him in trouble in recent years. Berlusconi has always made comments about his appreciation for ‘good-looking girls’ and he likes to have ‘good-looking girls’, even those without any political experience or talent, on his party’s electoral lists. However, since 2009 Berlusconi has been embroiled in a number of sex scandals. His second wife, Veronica Lario, filed for divorce in 2009 after he attended a girl’s 18th birthday party in Naples. In 2010, he was accused of having paid for sex with an underage Moroccan dancer (known as ‘Ruby’) and he is currently awaiting trial on charges of underage prostitution.
Berlusconi created his own political party, Forza Italia, only two months before the February 1994 elections. The First Republic system having collapsed with the Mani pulite investigations and all dominant parties of that era having either dissolved or fallen into disrepute because of their involvement in corruption scandals. There was a large electorate on the centre and centre-right which found itself disoriented and politically homeless following Mani pulite, a large electorate ready to be picked up by any ambitious politician. Berlusconi, a charismatic populist and astute politician, with a mastery of media, communications and marketing was that man.
The 1994 election was a success for Berlusconi, whose new party won 21% of the vote. The party and its leader was weakened by his ouster from government in 1995 and the right’s defeat in the 1996 elections, but Berlusconi survived his first dry spell. He slowly reemerged as the leader of the opposition and the Berlusconian right won the 2001 election, in which FI won a record 29% of the vote. In the 2006 elections, however, FI suffered the brunt of loses incurred by the governing right-wing coalition.
The idea of a merger between Berlusconi’s FI and Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance (AN) first came up at the time of the 2006 election. Berlusconi took the initiative by announcing the transformation of FI into a larger party in November 2007, although Fini opposed the idea at the time. Both leaders reconciled before the 2008 election and Berlusconi’s FI and Fini’s AN formed a common list – The People of Freedom (PdL) – the 2008 election. The PdL also included a plethora of small, irrelevant parties on the centre-right and the right including Alessandra Mussolini’s far-right Azione Sociale (AS). The PdL won a fairly impressive 37.4% of the vote on its own in the 2008 election, a hefty sum in Italy’s fragmented multi-party system. The party was officially founded in March 2009.
The alliance between Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini, once widely seen as Berlusconi’s anointed successor, was short-lived. As early as 2009, Fini – now the president of the Chamber of Deputies – became a vocal critic of Berlusconi’s policies and broke from the conservative party line on certain issues. The ambitious heir-presumptive, Fini also took issue with Berlusconi’s personalist and centralist leadership style. Fini supported a more structured party leadership which relied less on il cavaliere‘s charisma. In April 2010, Fini set up his own association within the party and by the end of July he was pushed out of the PdL and created his own group in Parliament.
There was increasing unease within the party after the disastrous showings in the May 2011 local elections, in which the PdL lost its Milanese bastion and failed epically in its quest to win Naples. In response to both of these factors, Berlusconi tried to refresh the party’s worsening image by appointing his justice minister, Angelino Alfano (a Christian Democrat from Sicily), as the party’s secretary and new heir-presumptive. He later announced that he would not seek reelection in 2013. However, as the economic crisis worsened, the PdL became increasingly divided as a number of parliamentarians broke with the party and called on Berlusconi to resign.
The formation of Monti’s technocratic government in November 2011 divided the party. An anti-Monti faction of the party wanted snap elections, but others supported the new government. Ultimately, the PdL opted – reluctantly – to support the Monti government, at the price of breaking the alliance with the Lega Nord and being forcibly associated to the new government. The PdL was a restless and often petulant reluctant ally of the government, which often prevented Monti from doing more on issues such as liberalization or corruption.
The PdL suffered a humiliating beating in the 2012 local elections. Throughout the summer, with polls showing the bloodless party agonizing in third place, it seemed as if the Berlusconian era was over. Even il cavaliere, depressed and demotivated by his resignation in November 2011 and pursued by the courts on various charges, seemed to have accepted that. In October, Berlusconi announced that he would not run in 2013 and set the stage for PdL primaries in December. But Berlusconi, playing a confusing but also rather amusing game of in-and-out, quickly had second thoughts and called off the primary at the end of November. In early December, Berlusconi announced that he would in fact run. On January 7, after a last-minute coalition deal with the Lega, Berlusconi announced that he would lead the party but that, if elected, he would not serve as Prime Minister but rather as finance minister under Angelino Alfano.
The PdL, like FI before it, is a diverse big-tent party which has often struggled to find internal coherence. FI included former members of the DC (Giuseppe Pisanu, Roberto Formigoni, Claudio Scajola), the PLI (Giancarlo Galan, Alfredo Biondi) and the PSI (Giulio Tremonti, Franco Frattini, Renato Brunetta; Berlusconi’s political mentor was Bettino Craxi); as such, it attempted to synthesize these divergent political cultures (christian democratic conservatism, liberalism, reformist social democracy). In good part, today’s PdL is more or less a renamed FI dominated by former FI cadres with conservative ex-AN members as an appendage. There is a regional dimension to the PdL’s internal ideological diversity. Northern members, most of whom came from FI, tend to be libertarians who support fiscal federalism (like the Lega), deregulation and lower taxes. Southern members, many of whom are from the old MSI and AN, tend to be socially conservative but also more statist and authoritarian.
Under Berlusconi, populism has often tended to be the glue which held the various factions together. Since his entry into politics in 1994, Berlusconi – in line with Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher – has sought to present himself as an ‘outsider’ who spoke and understood the language of the ‘common man’; in his first election in 1994 he ran as the right-wing populist outsider, vilifying the old partitocrazia and corrupt establishment politicians of the First Republic, a rhetoric which he has used on-and-off since then. Another aspect of Berlusconi’s populism is his demonization of magistrates (painted as communists) and the left-liberal elites which controlled the institutions and dominated the media (seriously). Under his leadership, there was clear symbolic shift in attitudes towards the Mani pulite investigations of the early 1990s as Berlusconi tried to rehabilitate the fallen political leaders and vilify those who had gone after them. Most of this anti-elitist rhetoric was a self-interested attempt by il cavaliere to rally support for himself against the magistrates who gone after him in various corruption scandals.
Berlusconi is a master populist who excels at electoral strategy, campaigning and political communication. He is not an ideologue, far from it. He has always tried to be all things to all people, in the hopes of building the broadest coalition possible. For the northern petite bourgeoisie, he promised lower taxes; for statist conservative southerners, he promised public works. Berlusconi is likely an asset for his party, given how central he is to the entire party. Forza Italia and even the PdL today function as a personal vehicle for Berlusconi’s political ambitions, he is the boss at the helm of the party and has free reign over a fairly decentralized and poorly structured party.
Geographically, one of Berlusconi’s strengths has been his appeal both in northern and southern Italy. Although the Lega Nord takes right-wing votes away from the Berlusconian right in the north, the PdL is nonetheless quite strong in northern regions such as Piedmont (34% in 2008), Lombardy (33.5%) and the Veneto (27.4%). In the 2008 election, the PdL did especially well in southern Italy; maximizing support from former MSI-AN voters but also unideological voters who had backed Prodi’s coalition in 2006. The party won a very impressive 49% in Campania, the region which includes Naples, and also took over 40% in Apulia, Calabria, Sicily (46.6%), Sardinia and the Latium (the region around Rome, 43.4%). The FI and later the PdL’s electorate has traditionally consisted of small businessman, entrepreneurs (especially prominent in the north), conservative Catholic voters (especially in the south but also in some northern regions), traditional right-wing demographics such as high income earners but also a strong base with manual workers. For example, in 2008, the PdL swept the working-class suburbs of Milan – the old Communist ‘Red Belt’ which surrounds the city.
Berlusconi has transformed himself into a right-wing populist with nationalist inklings for this election. After 1994, Berlusconi and FI had worked hard to gain acceptance as a mainstream European centre-right party and gaining acceptance into the EPP; today, he has reincarnated himself as the anti-system, anti-elitist right-wing outsider he was in 1994. He has railed against austerity, even if he implemented austerity measures as recently as 2011 when he was Prime Minister himself. Quite bitter with Angela Merkel who precipitated his resignation in November 2011, Berlusconi’s campaign has also adopted nationalist and Eurosceptic undertones. He is now a vocal critic of Angela Merkel and Berlin’s actions in Italy’s economic crisis, he has said that the European Fiscal Compact is hampering growth and that the ECB should only be a lender of last resort. Berlusconi’s anti-austerity platform includes a pledge to cut taxes. One of his most popular positions is his promise to abolish and refund the IMU, a very unpopular property tax (to be levied on all residents) recreated by Monti after Berlusconi’s government had abolished a similar property tax (the ICI) in 2008.
Northern League (Lega Nord, LN): The LN is one of Italy’s most famous but also controversial party. The Lega, founded in 1991, is a federalist and regionalist (formerly separatist) party in northern Italy which has played a major role in Second Republic politics, most significantly on the right.
The LN reflects the major regional schism which exists between northern Italy and southern Italy (the Mezzogiorno). Italy’s existence as a nation-state is fairly recent, the country only came to be in 1870; but even following Italian unification the new country struggled to find internal unity. Until fascism, Italian politics were largely dominated by the Piedmontese elites which had spearheaded Italian unification under the King of Piedmont, Victor Emmanuel I. Northern Italy quickly became a ‘European’ industrialized and affluent region. Southern Italy, on the other hand, afflicted by deep socio-economic liabilities, remained (and, to a certain extent, has remained) a poor, agrarian and underdeveloped region. Poverty, social inequality (powerful landowners owned large tracts of land and employed landless labourers) and opposition to Piedmontese centralism led to an upsurge in organized crime (either banditry or mafia activities) and emigration (many southerners moved to North and South America, or northern Italy). In southern Italy, the oligarchic power of powerful landowners and the emergence of the mafia as a potent force in the 1850s diluted any communitarian feelings and created a conservative, individualist and atomized society. Until 1946, southern Italy had been ruled almost exclusively by autocratic regimes who maintained formal feudal structures into the early nineteenth century and which subsequently based their power on support from the rural landowning elite. The relation of the average southern Italian with corruption and the mafia is different than in other places; and to a certain extent, corruption is accepted as part of the political process.
The regional divide was quite apparent in the 1946 referendum, when 54% of Italians voted in favour of the republic. In industrialized, affluent and slightly more progressive northern Italy, two-thirds voted for the republic. In rural, poor and conservative southern Italy, 64% voted for the monarchy. Under the First Republic, the government actively sought to industrialize the south through an ambitious program of land reform and public investments (60% of government investment would go to the south). These policies were largely unsuccessful, as the south became subsidized and dependent on the state while deep regional disparities remained. Unemployment is much higher in the south while average incomes and labour force participation remains lower in the south than in the north.
In northern Italy, particularly in Lombardy and Veneto, the view that “hard-working” northern taxpayers were subsidizing the corrupt and “backwards” south created widespread resentment starting in the mid-1980s. A number of regionalist, federalist or separatist “leagues” started to proliferate throughout northern Italy in the mid to late-1980s, the most prominent of which were Umberto Bossi’s Lega Lombarda and the Liga Veneta. In the 1983 and 1987 general elections, these ‘leagues’ enjoyed weak support. Their first breakthrough came in the 1990 regional elections, when the Lega Lombarda took 19% in Lombardy and the Liga Veneta won 7% in Veneto (leagues also did well in Piedmont and Liguria). The Lega Nord, created in 1991, merged these different regionalist leagues in a single federal structure.
The party’s national breakthrough came in the 1992 elections, when the LN won 9% nationally (56 deputies and 26 senators) and became the fourth largest party in Italy. The Lega was able to exploit the north’s regionalist grievances with the central government and southern Italy, but as a radical anti-system voice, it also benefited from growing disgust with the corrupt partitocrazia just as the tangentopoli system was revealed. The party’s support grew in 1993 (notably winning the local elections in Milan) and 1994, but Berlusconi’s FI cut the grass under its feet and seized some of the party’s anti-system, anti-establishment right-wing support. In the 1994 elections, the party, in coalition with FI, won 8.4% nationally – but thanks to its alliance with FI, it doubled its parliamentary representation and came out with 117 deputies and 56 senators. The Lega originally participated in Berlusconi’s short-lived government in 1994, but it was the party’s decision to pull the plug on il cavaliere within a few months which led to the government’s demise.
Between 1995 and 2000, the party operated independently, having broken off its alliance with the right. At the outset, this new positioning was politically lucrative. The Lega won 10.1% of the vote in the 1996 election (59 deputies, 27 senators), its best result. Buoyed by these results, the Lega adopted a hardline separatist line and unilaterally declared the independence of ‘Padania’ – its name for a sovereign state in northern Italy. However, by 1998 the party’s heyday passed because of internal divisions and damaging splits by prominent leaders. It took a beating in the 1999 European elections, with only 4.5% of the vote nationally. The poor results convinced Bossi that the Lega could only survive in the long term through an alliance with the Berlusconian right. The party de-emphasized separatism and focused on devolution, for a federal country in which the north would have fiscal autonomy.
The alliance with the right, patched up before the 2001 election, held for the 2006 and 2008 general elections as well. The Lega did poorly in the 2001 elections (3.9% nationally); but it held powerful positions in the new Berlusconi government and Bossi developed a close working relationship and alliance with Berlusconi, whose right-wing populism and anti-elitist discourse was quite similar to that of the Lega. The party did poorly in 2006 as well (4.1%). A few months after the 2006 election, Berlusconi’s controversial constitutional reform, supported by the Lega – which would have strengthened executive powers and granted fiscal autonomy to regions (in addition to more powers) – was rejected by the electorate with 61% against. There was a clear regional divide in the vote: northern Italy voted against with only 53% (and Lombardy and Veneto voted in favour with about 55%) while opposition in southern Italy was nearly 75%.
Lega substantially increased its support in the 2008 election (largely at the expense of the PdL), winning 8.3% nationally and emerging much stronger with 60 deputies and 26 senators. The party had gained even more leverage over the government, using its new pivotal position to claim key portfolios and extract policy concessions from Berlusconi. The party’s support kept growing in 2009 and 2010, winning 10.2% in the 2009 European elections and around 12% in the regional elections in 2010. In the 2010 regionals, the Lega compelled the PdL to concede two major regional presidencies to it, and both Lega candidates in those regions (Roberto Cota in the Piedmont and Luca Zaia in the Veneto) eventually won the regional presidency.
However, in 2011, as the government’s popularity fell, the Lega entered a downward spiral and was split by a brewing internal battle between the long-time boss, Umberto Bossi and his deputy, Roberto Maroni. Maroni was a ‘moderate’ within the party and had been quite critical of the Lega’s close alliance with Berlusconi; while Bossi (and Roberto Calderoli) supported the close alliance with the right. He slowly gained more and more power within the party hierarchy. The party did poorly in the 2011 local elections, except in Verona where the incumbent Lega mayor, Flavio Tosi, easily won reelection (but he was a prominent opponent of Bossi’s inner circle). When Berlusconi’s government fell, the Lega broke off its alliance with the PdL and became the leading opposition to the Monti government. It used its position as the opposition to Monti’s cabinet to regain lost support.
The party faced an existential crisis in 2012. In April 2012, it was revealed that Bossi and his inner circle had massively embezzled the party’s public financing funds and used this money to ‘remunerate’ Bossi’s sons, buying them diplomas in Albania and crazy stuff about links with the Calabrian mafia and trafficking in Tanzania. Bossi, the party’s founder and longtime leader, was finally forced to resign and replaced with Maroni.
The Lega’s raison-d’être and dominant ideology is northern Italian regionalism or nationalism. The party continues to use thinly-veiled separatist rhetoric and constantly talks about ‘Padania’, but in reality nobody takes the Lega’s separatist pretensions very seriously and it is widely understood to be a federalist party. It supports the devolution of more powers to the regions and, in particular, fiscal autonomy for regions. Fiscal federalism would allow the northern regions to collect and administer their own taxes, without the central government redistributing (‘stealing’ as the Lega would say) tax revenues to the south. The Lega’s fiscal federalist scheme would like cripple southern Italy, given its dependence on transfers from the central government. The Lega has always been quite successful at exploiting northern Italy’s particular regionalist grievances, presenting the hypothetical ‘Padania’ as an ideal state unencumbered with the rest of Italy, represented as either corrupt, inefficient or a burden on the north. The Lega, like Berlusconi, is populist and anti-elitist.
Outside of federalism, the Lega is more or less a right-wing party, although it has some more left-wing positions (the environment, welfare state, pensions). On economic issues, the party supports low-taxes, small government and small businesses/entrepreneurs. It is Eurosceptic and moderately isolationist. The party’s notoriety also comes from its tough line on immigration, being the most vocal anti-immigration party in Italy. The party has often been widely accused of using racist, hateful and xenephobic rhetoric. The party’s stance on immigration, to a certain extent, pushed Berlusconi on the right on the issue and forced Berlusconi’s last government to adopt tough measures against illegal immigration.
The Lega finally reached a coalition deal with Berlusconi and the centre-right in January. In return for Lega’s participation in his coalition, Berlusconi announced that Alfano would serve as Prime Minister if the coalition won and the PdL supported Roberto Maroni’s candidacy in the concurrent regional elections in Lombardy.
The party’s support, naturally, comes from northern Italy. The Lega has defined the north as everything to the north of the Latium – hence including Umbria, Marche, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna (which are all traditionally defined as being central Italy). The party’s support in those central regions has usually been limited, although the Lega scored impressive breakthroughs in all of those regions – especially Emilia-Romagna – in 2009 and 2010, the Lega won nearly 14% in Emilia-Romagna in 2010 and even won 6% in Tuscany and Marche. The party’s core northern strongholds are Lombardy and the Veneto, where the Lega won 26% and 35% respectively in 2010. In those regions, the Lega polls best in rural areas, especially in the Pedemontana, the northern region at the feet of the Prealps in the Padanian plain. The party has had more trouble in the Piedmont and Liguria, although it is a major political actor in both regions. At its creation, the Lega stole votes across the ideological spectrum (mostly from DC but also from the PCI, PSI, PLI etc) and the party’s leadership is ideologically diverse with various partisan backgrounds. The Lega Lombarda leadership, including Bossi and Maroni, have left-wing backgrounds; the Liga Veneta’s leadership tends to be right-wing with DC backgrounds. In northern Italy, there is significant ideological overlap between local PdL and Lega cadres.
Great South – Movement for Autonomies (Grande Sud-Movimento per le Autonomie, GS-MPA): Grande Sud-MPA is a southern regionalist alliance which will run in 14 constituencies for the Chambers and in six regions for the Senate. The list is a coalition of two groupings: Grande Sud (Great South) and the Movement for Autonomies (Movimento per le Autonomie, MPA). Grande Sud itself is a coalition of three regional parties; namely Gianfranco Micciché’s Sicilian Forza del Sud (Force of the South), Arturo Iannaccone’s Campanian Noi Sud - Libertà e Autonomia (We the South – Liberty and Autonomy) and Adriana Poli Bortone’s Apulian-based Io Sud (I the South).
There is a confusing array of vaguely regionalist parties in Southern Italy. It is certainly debatable to what extent these parties are actually fundamentally and genuinely ‘regionalist’ or autonomist or if they merely empty kleptocratic shells founded by regional political bosses to further their political interests or lobby for their constituencies. None of these parties are separatist and few (if any) may be considered as radical in their demands as the much more powerful and influential Lega Nord. To a certain extent, most Southern regionalist parties have tried to be counterweights to the Lega within the Berlusconian right. They mostly tend to lobby for Southern interests in government – either supporting further devolution of powers (Sicily already has special autonomy with full fiscal autonomy) or pushing for government investments, such as Berlusconi’s ambitious Strait of Messina Bridge between Calabria and Sicily.
The Movement for Autonomies (MPA) was founded in 2005 by Sicilian dissidents from various national centre-right parties and led by Raffaele Lombardo, a former Christian Democrat. The party allied with the Lega to form a common list in the 2006 election, but given the enmity between northern and southern regionalists, the alliance was shortlived. In 2008, the MPA – which had expanded outside of Sicily – ran separately in Berlusconi’s coalition. Winning 1% nationally, it won 8 deputies (and 2 senators) because of the ‘largest coalition party under the threshold’ clause of the electoral law. Lombardo was elected regional president of Sicily in regional elections that same day. The MPA’s political alliances have since been schizophrenic. In 2009, the MPA allied with the far-right but also other regionalist parties (including some in the north) for the Euros and won 2% nationally. In December 2009, Lombardo formed a new regional cabinet excluding members of the national PdL. The MPA’s slow breakup with the PdL and the Berlusconian coalition caused a rift in party ranks as 4 deputies were expelled for the party for supporting the alliance with the PdL. In November 2010, the MPA left the Berlusconi cabinet and announced that it would join the ‘Third Pole’ centrist coalition with Gianfranco Fini and the christian democratic UDC. Lombardo was forced to resign as president of Sicily in August 2012, precipitating early regional elections in which the MPA ran separately from the PdL, backing Gianfranco Micciché (a PdL dissident)’s presidential candidacy.
The Grande Sud is a coalition of the three aforementioned parties. The Forza del Sud was launched by Gianfranco Micciché in late 2010, the longtime regional leader of the FI and PdL in Sicily who wanted to build a broader southern regional parties. However, only a minority of the PdL’s Sicilian deputies followed Micciché in his adventures, and like most ambitious attempts at creating a new coalition/party the scheme has been an unmitigated disaster. Noi Sud was launched in January 2010 by those former MPA members expelled from Lombardo’s party for opposing the divorce with the PdL. The party attracted half of the MPA’s 8 deputies, and is led by Arturo Iannaccone, who represents Campania. Io Sud is an Apulian-based party led by Adriana Poli Bortone, a former AN MEP.
Gianfranco Micciché ran in the 2012 Sicilian regional elections, backed by the Grande Sud, MPA and Fini’s FLI. He won 15% of the vote, placing fourth. The MPA won 9.5% of the list vote, the Grande Sud won 6%. The MPA is in decline at this point, having been badly weakened by divisions and defections. It ultimately agreed to join Grande Sud and rejoin the Berlusconian coalition, although the MPA will run a separate list in Sicily for the Senate (in addition to a Grande Sud list). The MPA won up to 15% in Sicily (in 2009) and it had won 7% on the island in the 2008 general election, but its support will likely be marginal. Given the presence of two other small right-wing lists within the coalition, the Grande Sud-MPA are locked in a tough battle to either break 2% nationally (unlikely) or be the largest coalition party under the threshold.
The Right (La Destra, LD): The Right, or La Destra, is a far-right party which ran independently in the 2008 election (winning 2.4% nationally) but which is running as part of Berlusconi’s coalition this year.
The party was founded in July 2007 by Francesco Storace, a member of the AN. Storace had been the leader of the AN’s most right-wing and ‘unreconstructed’ wing, which was nostalgic of the MSI’s neo-fascist heritage and criticized Gianfranco Fini’s more moderate leadership of the AN. Storace had been critical of Fini’s visit to Israel in which he had described fascism as an absolute evil. Although many felt that Berlusconi had a hand in the creation of the party, to weaken his rival Fini, La Destra ran independently in the 2008 election. Its top candidate was Daniela Santanchè, another AN defector who is known for her controversial views on Islam. The party won only 2.4% nationally and won no seats. The poor result led to a leadership struggle between Storace and Santanchè, the latter supporting an alliance with Berlusconi. Santanchè left the party in September 2008.
La Destra, under Storace, started moving closer to the Berlusconian coalition starting in 2010. The party will run with the Berlusconian right this year, with Storace as the right-wing candidate in the concurrent regional elections in the Latium.
La Destra rejects the far-right or neo-fascist labels, although it allied with the openly neo-fascist Forza Nuova and Fiamma Tricolore in 2008. It is conservative and nationalist, with its economic program including both ‘statist’ planks (strong welfare state) and more libertarian planks (flat tax, fiscal federalism).
Brothers of Italy – National Centre-right (Fratelli d’Italia – Centrodestra Nazionale, FdI-CN): The ’Brothers of Italy – National Centre-right’ is a new national conservative party, founded in December 2012.
The party was launched by ex-AN members of the PdL (Ignazio La Russa, Giorgia Meloni; Guido Crosetto was not AN however). La Russa, within the AN, had represented the party’s moderate ‘liberal-conservative’ wing which was closest to Berlusconi and FI, and somewhat critical of Fini. Within the PdL, La Russa and the others remained loyal to Berlusconi throughout the Fini breakup. Like most of the PdL’s ex-AN members, the party’s founders opposed Monti’s government. The party’s creation was a calculated move by Berlusconi to create a spinoff for more nationalist and right-wing (anti-Monti) voters who somehow cannot bring themselves to vote for Berlusconi’s party but who nonetheless support Berlusconi’s candidacy.
The party has received little attention or support, and – alongside fellow coalition ‘allies’ GS-MPA and La Destra – it is locked in a tough battle to either win 2% themselves or be the the largest party in the coalition below the 2% threshold.
The party’s name is rather amusing: Fratelli d’Italia, or ‘brothers of Italy’, is the first line (and common unofficial name) of the Italian national anthem. I can’t wait for the O Canada Party or the Star Spangled Banner Party!
The centre-right coalition also includes the Italian Moderates in Revolution (Moderati Italiani in Rivoluzione), Popular Agreement (Intesa Popolare) and Pensioners’ Party (Partito Pensionati).
Italy. Common Good (Italia. Bene Commune) coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani
Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD): The PD is the main centre-left party in Italy and the dominant party of the centre-left coalition. The PD was founded in 2007 by the merger of the two largest parties of the post-1994 Italian centre-left – the Democrats of the Left (Democratici di Sinistra) and Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (Democrazia è Libertà – La Margherita) in addition to numerous smaller parties.
The social democratic Democrats of the Left (DS) was created in 1998 after the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) merged with smaller (irrelevant) parties. The PDS was created in 1991 by the transformation of the Communist Party (PCI) into a post-communist democratic socialist/social democratic party, led by the PCI’s last secretary-general Achille Occhetto. The PCI had been at the forefront of the evolutions of the western European communist left since the 1970s, having broken with Moscow’s autocratic rigidity and adopted a more consensual and moderate ‘Eurocommunist’ line. The PDS was confirmed as the main left-wing opposition force in the 1992 and 1994 elections, winning 16% and 20% nationally in those two elections respectively. In the 1996 election, the PDS, with 21% of the vote, was the largest force in the victorious centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi. After Prodi’s government fell, Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist, became Prime Minister. Under D’Alema’s leadership, the PDS became a mainstream European social democratic party. In 1998, after merging with smaller ex-PCI, PSI, PRI and DC micro-parties it became the DS. It won 16.6% in 2001 and 17.2% in 2006, remaining the largest party of the centre-left coalition. Despite a small left-wing socialist faction, the DS was firmly controlled by moderate/Third Way social democrats who were avidly pro-European and support orthodox fiscal policies.
Following the collapse of the First Republic system between 1992 and 1994, the DC (Italy’s natural governing party) and the wider centrist (from centre-left and centre-right) coalitions which had led Italy since 1947 were in decrepitude. The DC, a big tent party with a right-wing and a left-wing, split between left and right – more or less between those who backed Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition and those who backed the centre-left coalition. The left-wing of the DC founded the Italian People’s Party (PPI), envisioned to be the main successor party to the DC. The PPI formed its own centrist coalition in the 1994 election, running with DC maverick Mario Segni’s Patto Segni; the PPI won only 11%. The PPI itself split between leftist and rightists in the 1995, with pro-Berlusconi right-wingers going off to form their own party (United Christian Democrats) and the PPI remaining under the leadership of a centre-left majority. Allied with smaller party and supporting Prodi, it won about 7% in 1996. The Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (DL) was formed by the merger of the PPI, The Democrats (a party which included Romano Prodi) and Lamberto Dini’s Italian Renewal. Their common list did well in 2001, winning 14.5%. The DL gathered support from different ideological horizons, including social liberals (like party leader Francesco Rutelli, a former Radical), social conservatives, progressive left-wing Catholics (Christian left) and reformist liberals. The DL often compared itself to the US Democratic Party, an apt comparison.
Centre-left cooperation and electoral coalitions have existed since 1994. The most famous of these coalitions was The Olive Tree (L’Ulivo), founded by Prodi in 1995 and the centre-left coalition in the 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections (but also a common list in the 2004 Euros). Following the 2006 election, talk of a DS-DL merger increased. The creation of the PD was formalized in 2008, besides the DS and DL it also included six smaller parties (mostly moderate centre-left parties). Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a former DS leader, was an open primary in late 2007 with over 75% and became the first leader of the PD. Veltroni was competent albeit a bit boring and uncharismatic (although many liked to call him an ‘Italian Obama’), under his leadership he gave the PD a modern, reformist/Third Way and pro-market orientation. Veltroni, as the main opponent to Berlusconi in the 2008 election, won 37.5% while the PD itself won 33%. It was a very good result for the PD, which had succeeded in imposing itself as the major centre-left opposition force in an increasingly bipolarized system, but it was not enough.
The PD’s performance in opposition between 2008 and 2011 was fairly mediocre, hurt by uninspiring and stale leaders and internal divisions. The PD was defeated in regional elections in Abruzzo (2008) and Sardinia (2009), and its performance in the 2009 Euro and 2010 regional elections were disappointing at best. Veltroni quit following the bad defeat in the Sardinian elections in early 2009. He was replaced by Dario Franceschini (ex-DC unlike Veltroni, who was from the PCI), another stale and boring leader. Franceschini, however, lost the PD leadership during a leadership election in October 2009. He won 37% against 56% for Pier Luigi Bersani, a social democrat (ex-PCI) who had been a minister in past centre-left cabinets. PD moderates, led by former DL leader Francesco Rutelli, interpreted Bersani’s victory as a sign that the PD was being dominated by ex-DS/PCI cadres and moving into a left-wing direction. Rutelli and his allies quit the party in November 2009 to create the Alliance for Italy (ApI), which allied with the centre. The PD supported Monti’s government, although some on the party’s left often took issue with Monti’s austerity measures or economic liberalization reforms.
One of the PD’s problems since 2008 has been its internal diversity. The PD was meant to be a big-tent party which would move Italy towards a two-party system by uniting the various non-communist components of the anti-Berlusconi left and centre-left; including social democrats and ex-PCI left-wingers, social liberals, ex-DC progressives and liberal reformists. It has struggled to find a coherent ideology and identity besides ‘we hate Berlusconi’. Some, like Rutelli and Veltroni, wanted to model the PD on the US Democratic Party and differentiate it from the mainstream centre-left in the rest of Europe (SPD, PS, Labour, PSOE etc). Those who came from the PCI and the DS, however, wanted to integrate the PD with other European social democrats. The previous partisan allegiances of members (DC/PPI/DL, PCI/DS etc) are the main factional divides within the PD, although in recent years some factions and alliances within the PD have bridged old DC/PCI divides. In 2009, Bersani’s majority was backed by social democrats (around Massimo D’Alema) and most ex-DS members but also some moderates/centrists (Rosy Bindi, Enrico Letta). Franceschini was backed by most ex-DC moderates and centrists, social liberals but also by those like Veltroni or Rutelli who envisioned the PD as a big-tent American-like party. In 2010, Franceschini and former DS leader Piero Fassino joined Bersani’s majority, a move opposed by Veltroni and ex-DC/PPI moderates.
The domination of the party by an old guard of stale, boring and relatively uncharismatic leaders has been another of the PD’s main problems. Bersani, Franceschini, Rosy Bindi, Piero Fassino and above all Massimo D’Alema are widely seen as being stale ‘old guard’ leaders. In the open primary to determine the coalition’s top candidate for these elections, held in October 2012, there was a much-discussed contest between Bersani and the 38-year old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi. Renzi is a rising star and reformist ‘modernizer’ within the party. In addition to his anti-establishment creed, his support for economic liberalization, economic reforms, debt reduction and labour market flexibility make him a bit of a pariah for the PD’s left. Renzi won 35.5% in the first round of the primaries, and 39% in the runoff against Bersani.
Ideologically, the PD is close to mainstream European social democracy. Under D’Alema’s leadership, the DS firmly integrated the European centre-left mainstream and often edged close to Tony Blair’s Third Way reformism by supporting orthodox fiscal policies including debt reduction and a balanced budget. In government, the left has often being moderate and reformist. Even if Bersani is identified with the PD’s left (though there is a significant minority further to his left within the PD), as minister under Prodi’s second cabinet he was reformist, leading the liberalization of television broadcasting, local public services, and energy as well as cutting red tape. The PD supported, not without some reservations, Monti’s reformist policies.
Bersani’s platform in this election is a bit anti-austerity, though it agrees with the need for debt reduction and fiscal responsibility. It feels that the austerity policies are not healthy and not conducive to growth, instead it prefers more interventionist Keynesian policies. However, Bersani does not support major changes to European treaties such as the Fiscal Compact although he does support Eurobonds (but most Italian politicians advocate for Eurobonds). The left’s platform supports raising taxes on the rich while reducing them on low and middle earners. The PD also wants to do away with the IMU, replacing it instead with a ‘super tax’ targeting those persons with private residences whose value exceeds €1.2 million. It claims that such a super-tax would alleviate the tax burden on single home owners and middle-class families.
The left, the PCI in the past and the PD today, has found its strongest support in the ‘Red Quadrilateral’ of central Italy: Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Marche and Umbria. The PD won 46.8%, 45.7%, 41.4% and 44.4% respectively in those regions in 2008. These regions are wealthy and not industrial powerhouses (despite a few major industrial cities), but as former territories of the Papal States, there is a strong anti-clerical and republican/socialist tradition. The anti-fascist resistance movement was also very active in central Italy during World War II. The left is also strong in Basilicata (a poor and conservative southern region) and in major urban areas including Turin (Piedmont) and Venice or working-class regions in Liguria. It is weaker in Lombardy, Veneto, Sicily and other southern regions.
The PD’s lists for the Chamber of Deputies include members of the Socialist Party (PS), which will run independently for the Senate in Latium, Campania and Calabria. In the Aosta Valley, the PD is backing the local left-leaning local/regionalist coalition which won the Chamber seat in 2008 (but the right-leaning local/regionalist coalition won the Senate seat).
Left Ecology Freedom (Sinistra Ecologia Libertà, SEL): The SEL is a left-wing (democratic socialist/eco-socialist) party led by Nichi Vendola, it is the smaller (but still relevant) member of the centre-left coalition led by Bersani’s PD.
Nichi Vendola is the ‘gay (ex-)atheist communist’ who has been regional president of Apulia, a conservative and Catholic region of the Mezzogiorno, for two terms since 2005. Vendola was a member of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) until 2009. The PRC had been founded in 1991 by PCI hardliners led by Sergio Garavini who opposed the PCI’s evolution into the PDS. The PRC cooperated with the centre-left in the 1994 and 1996 elections, and joined Prodi’s coalition in 2006 but it remained a very unreliable ‘ally’ throughout, often breaking governments over disagreements on economic or foreign policy. In 2007, the PRC broke with the centre-left and formed a left-wing alliance with a smaller communist party (itself a PRC breakaway) and the very leftist Greens; in the 2008 election, this coalition ended in an unprecedented disaster for the ‘left of the left’ winning only 3% nationally and no seats whatsoever. The 2008 disaster led to an internal power struggle, with the party’s hard left defeating incumbent leader Fausto Bertinotti (who had tried to move the party away from doctrinaire communism towards a New Left, anti-globalization and eco-socialist line). Bertinotti silently encouraged PRC reformists/New Leftists around Vendola, on the losing side (but with 47.6%) of the leadership struggle in 2008, to leave the party. Vendola’s faction, the MpS, left in January 2009. Running separately from each other in the 2009 Euros, Vendola’s red-green alliance won 3.1% against 3.4% for the the ‘paleo-communist’ Anticapitalist List led by the PRC.
The Greens and the Socialist Party left Vendola’s coalition in 2009. The PD and SEL have formed electoral alliances in most elections since 2009, although in some cases they went separate ways. In 2010, Vendola won a second term as regional president of Apulia thanks to the divisions of the local right. In 2011, Giuliano Pisapia, an independent close to SEL, became mayor of Milan in a major victory for the centre-left. The SEL rode on a wave of momentum in 2011, often polling up to 8%. Vendola is a competent and intelligent politician, who is also particularly charismatic (in short supply on the left) and eloquent.
Vendola ran in the 2012 centre-left primaries, winning a fairly disappointing 15% in the first round (third place) although his support proved crucial to Bersani’s easy victory in the runoff. Vendola had been acquitted on corruption charges in November.
Ideologically, Vendola disagrees with Bersani and the PD on some economic and fiscal issues. From outside Parliament, he was a a vocal critic of Monti’s austerity policies, which he saw as strangling the working-classes while serving the elites which created the crisis. Vendola has also frequently attacked the global financial system. While he supports European federalism ‘as the only way out of the crisis’ and is open to debt reduction, he is anti-austerity and has opposed parts of the Fiscal Compact which he feels are limiting the decision-making powers of democratically-elected governments. Social issues also feature prominently on the SEL’s agenda. Vendola is a longtime supporter of feminist and LGBT causes, and his party supports gay marriage. A devout Catholic country with the Roman Catholic Church a powerful actor in civil society, Italy lags behind on gay rights – no same-sex unions are recognized in Italy, the centre-left’s attempts to introduce civil unions in 2007 failed. The right (PdL, LN) are pretty uniformly socially conservative (opposing civil unions, adoption or marriage); the PD, with a significant socially conservative wing, does not support gay marriage although it supports civil unions and stepchild adoption.
Democratic Centre (Centro Democratico, CD): The small and rather irrelevant CD is a small moderate party. But as it will be the largest coalition party under the threshold, it will win seats in Parliament.
The CD was founded in late 2012 by Bruno Tabacci (ex-UDC and ex-ApI) and Massimo Donaldi (ex-IdV). Tabacci is a former maverick member of Pier Fernando Casini’s centre-right UDC, who joined Francesco Rutelli’s bland centrist Alliance for Italy (ApI) outfit. Any momentum which the ApI had its foundation in 2009 quickly petered out as it became the irrelevant third component of the stillborn ‘Third Pole’ centrist coalition. In late 2012, the ApI moved back to the centre-left and Tabacci ran in the primaries and came last with 1.4%. Tabacci teamed up with Donaldi, a defector from Italy of Values (IdV) to create the CD. Rutelli is not running and keeps insisting that ApI is not dead. The moderate and centrist CD includes chunks of the ApI and most of Donaldi’s Rights and Freedom outfit.
South Tyrolean People’s Party (Südtiroler Volkspartei, SVP): The SVP is only a regionalist party active in one region, but it is worth profiling given that it will win seats in the new Parliament.
The Italian province of South Tyrol (Südtirol/Alto Adige), part of the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, was part of the Austrian Empire until it was annexed by Italy in 1919. Unlike the southern province of Trentino which has an Italian majority and had a significant Italian population even under Austrian rule, South Tyrol still has a German majority (64%). Under fascist rule, there was an aggressive campaign of Italianization and state-sanctioned discrimination against German-speakers in the province. South Tyrol was annexed by the Nazis in 1943, but it was returned to Italy in 1946 following an agreement with Austria in which Italy granted self-government to the region. However, Italian immigrantion into South Tyrol (which had begun under fascism) and the lack of specific self-government for South Tyrol itself made the region’s status an international issue in the 1960s. Trentino-Alto Adige now benefits from extensive autonomy, and keeps nearly 90% of tax revenues.
The SVP was founded in 1945 to represent German-speakers (but also a small Ladin minority) in South Tyrol. The party leans to the right, although it is a diverse party which includes a significant left-leaning faction. It has governed South Tyrol since 1948, although its support has declined in recent years – falling below 50% for the first time in a provincial election in 2008. At the national level, the SVP used to be allied with the DC, but under the Second Republic it has usually aligned with the centre-left coalition which tends to be more favourable to autonomy. The SVP won 2 deputies and 3 senators in the 2008 election. It won about 44% of the vote in South Tyrol. Most of its competition now comes from right-wing German parties, notably The Libertarians (right-wing separatist).
The SVP, in coalition with the Tyrolean Trentino Autonomist Party (PATT) in Trentino, is running for the Chamber in Trentino-Alto Adige.
The centre-left coalition also includes Moderates for Piedmont (Moderati per il Piemonte) running for the Senate in Piedmont and Rosario Crocetta’s The Megaphone (Il Megafono) running for the Senate in Sicily.
With Monti for Italy (Con Monti per l’Italia) coalition led by Mario Monti (not candidate)
The Monti coalition will run in separate lists for the Chamber of Deputies but will run a single, common list for the Senate. Mario Monti, who is a senator-for-life, is not a candidate in this election but supports the coalition.
Civic Choice (Scelta Civica, SC): The ‘Civic Choice’ is a new centrist party formed to support Mario Monti and his reformist agenda.
Mario Monti is an economist and former European Commissioner (1994-2009) who became Prime Minister of Italy in November 2011, at the helm of a technocratic cabinet. Monti became Prime Minister in a period of crisis, on the verge of default. Monti’s reformist agenda included an emergency austerity package in 2011-2012 which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. He has implemented various measures aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy, including introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and targeting fiscal evasion in Italy. Monti’s reforms have succeded in saving Italy from default and significantly reducing the country’s budget deficit; but his austerity policies have been criticized by the left and the Berlusconian right for having significantly increased unemployment and slowed economic growth in 2012 and 2013. Monti, as an individual, remains widely respected by the electorate, who view him as an honest man (a rarity in Italian politics at times) with a true desire to reform the Italian economy (despite disagreeing with his policy choices). His austerity policies, however, have become unpopular with most voters.
In the run-up to this year’s election, the recurring question was whether or not Monti would join the fray and run in the elections. Those who were the keenest on the idea where those who knew that they were destined to be an irrelevant sidenote in the election – namely the stillborn centrist ‘Third Pole’ with the UDC and FLI. These centrist parties were the most enthusiastic supporter of Monti’s government in Parliament and actively lobbied him to run. For those centrist parties, Monti was everything they could ever wish for: a centre-right leader who was not Berlusconi, and a leader with enough stature to take them places. After his government fell in December 2012, Monti announced just before New Year’s that he would be ‘supporting’ a coalition in the election (he cannot run himself).
The Civic Choice list for the Chamber of Deputies consists of various individuals, defectors and a small party. The party includes ‘Toward the Third Republic’ (VTR), a party which includes a group led by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the former chairman of Ferrari and president of Confindustria (the employer’s organization). Some of Monti’s ministers including Andrea Riccardi (international cooperation/integration) Renato Balduzzi (health) and Enzo Moavero Milanesi (European affairs) are running in the election on the party’s lists. It has welcomed dissidents from both the PdL (Franco Frattini, Berlusconi’s former foreign minister, is not running but supports the SC) and PD as well as smaller parties.
Monti’s coalition is also supported by the European People’s Party (of which the PdL is a member), The Economist (a longtime enemy of Berlusconi) and L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s unofficial voicepiece. The European Union and Angela Merkel have been very supportive of Monti’s policies.
Monti is running a Europhile, reformist and economically liberal campaign. It has claimed, disingenuously, that is neither left, right or centre but rather that it is a different reformist alternative. In reality, it is a centrist/centre-right and pro-European liberal coalition. Monti’s platform supports continued fiscal rigor and reforms to liberalize the economy and open up even more noncompetitive industries to competition. He also wishes to tackle corruption and increase labour force participation by the youth and women (Italy’s labour force participation rate for the young and women is very low). He is an ardent Europhile, supporting further European integration and he fully adheres to the European Fiscal Compact although he too would support Eurobonds.
The gist of Monti’s agenda is broadly captured by The Economist‘s op-ed piece on ‘True Progressivism’ from October 2012. The Economist‘s article presents ‘True Progressivism’ as the modern alternative to both Keynesian social democracy and raw right-wing capitalism (which has spawned too much social inequality). The premise of ’True Progressivism’ and Monti’s liberal reformist agenda is that excessive inequality, as it currently stands, hampers growth; hence the priority should be to attack monopolies and vested interests (which is what Monti has done with ‘closed’ industries in Italy), focus spending on the poor and the young rather than the elderly (raising the retirement age) and reforming taxes to eliminate deductions which benefit the wealthy and narrowing the gap between tax rates on wages and capital income (rather than the left’s ‘tax-the-rich’ planks). It is a broadly liberal platform, though with a twist – there is less emphasis on reducing the size of government or tax cuts across the board.
Union of the Centre (Unione di Centro, UDC): The UDC is the latest partisan embodiment of a plethora of various centrist (centre-right) parties, heirs of the right-wing of the former DC. The UDC is a coalition which includes a number of local and regional parties but whose hegemonic force is Pier Fernando Casini’s Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC).
Casini’s UDC (the party) was founded in 2002 by the merger of three parties; most significantly the Christian Democratic Centre (CCD), basically the right-wing of the DC which backed Berlusconi, and the United Christian Democrats (UCD), a pro-Berlusconi right-wing breakaway from the leftish PPI. CCD-UCD join lists in 1996 and 2001 had won 5.8% and 3.2% of the vote respectively. At its foundation, the UDC was the third largest party in Berlusconi’s coalition, surpassing the Lega. The UDC stuck with Berlusconi in the 2006 election (6.8%), but the party was sometimes a critical voice in cabinet. The CCD’s old leader and Berlusconi critic, Marco Follini, split from the UDC in 2006. Casini took an increasingly critical tone against Berlusconi after 2006.
For the 2008 elections, Casini’s UDC formed an independent list, the Union of the Centre which was basically the old UDC taking up a few random politicians and parties (including Bruno Tabacci’s White Rose) while the pro-Berlusconians joined the PdL. The centrist list won 5.6%, 36 deputies and 3 senators, a disappointing result for the party. After the election, Casini stayed in the centre. At the local and regional level, the UDC has allied both with the right and the left or gone their own way.
Casini was the driving force behind the creation, in 2010, of the ‘Third Pole’ (or New Pole), an attempt at a centrist alternative to both the left and the Berlusconian right. The Third Pole included Casini’s UDC, Fini’s FLI (see below), Rutelli’s ApI and Lombardo’s MPA. The longstanding pipe dream of the UDC and the post-DC centre has been to recreate the DC and regain its central, dominant role over politics. However, Italian politics under the Second Republic have become increasingly polarized between left and right and personalized around charismatic figures (Berlusconi mainly), Casini’s UDC lacked the clout and he lacked the charisma to take on the entrenched left and right. Furthermore, politics – both domestically and internationally – have changed since the First Republic’s heyday, and it is harder for a big tent centrist party (especially drawing its strength from its ties to the Catholic Church) like the DC to become the central force in politics. As such, the Third Pole quickly died out despite brief momentum in 2011. More or less, Monti’s coalition has replaced the Third Pole.
Ideologically, the UDC is a very socially conservative party (because of its close ties to the Church) but it has some interventionist economic positions because most of the UDC’s base consists of southerners, who tend to be more dependent on the central government. Indeed, as the First Republic faded away, the DC and its venal allies (particularly the PSI and PSDI) had seen their support shift to the south (while parties such as the Lega were taking their northern voters), where the networks of political patronage and clientelism had built a resilient electoral clientele which endured post-1994. The UDC’s support has been heavily southern and Sicilian. In 2008, the UDC won 9% in Sicily, 8% in Calabria and Apulia and 6.5% in Campania. Its best northern region was the Veneto (5.6%), it won only 4-5% in northern and central Italy.
Future and Freedom for Italy (Futuro e Libertà per l’Italia, FLI): The FLI is a centre-right party founded and led by Gianfranco Fini, the former leader of the neo-fascist MSI and later the national-conservative AN.
Gianfranco Fini, the dauphin of longtime Italian Social Movement (MSI) leader Giorgio Almirante, became leader of the MSI in 1987 and transformed the party, dropping its controversial neo-fascist past and shifting in a more palatable nationalist/conservative direction. The MSI, untainted by the First Republic’s scandals because of its exclusion from the system, came out strengthened from the system’s collapse. Fini launched the National Alliance (AN) to take the MSI’s place in 1994. Under Fini’s leadership, the AN became a close ally of Berlusconi’s coalition (despite disagreements with the Lega on federalism). It won 13.5%, 15.7%, 12% and 12.3% in the 1994, 1996, 2001 and 2006 elections respectively. Fini gradually kept moving the AN closer and closer to the mainstream right, leading some neo-fascists or other hardliners to leave the party. Fini became widely seen as Berlusconi’s heir-presumptive. The AN merged with the PdL in 2009.
However, Gianfranco Fini became increasingly critical of Berlusconi after the 2008 election. On the one hand, Fini had moved towards more liberal/progressive positions on some issues, including stem cell research, euthanasia, voting rights for foreigners and even immigration (even if Fini had authored a restrictive law on immigration under Berlusconi’s 2001-2006 government). There was also a power struggle at work between the two men. Fini disagreed with Berlusconi’s leadership style and particularly the organization of the PdL as a Berlusconian personality cult which ran on Berlusconi’s charisma and little (if anything) else. Fini wanted to prepare the right for the post-Berlusconi era and establish himself as the next leader of the right, he felt that the right needed to be renewed and moved closer to the European mainstream right a la Sarkozy and Cameron (Fini is a supporter of both).
In April 2010, Fini and his finiani supporters created an association within the PdL. The conflict between Berlusconi, backed by the PdL but also most ex-AN (who disagreed with Fini’s social liberal turn) and Fini kept increasing. At the end of July 2010, Fini’s supporters were excluded from the PdL. On July 30, 33 deputies and 10 senators split from the PdL to create the Future and Freedom (FLI) group in both houses. In November, it was transformed into a political party.
Fini’s FLI quickly joined the Third Pole with the UDC and other parties. However, the party’s initial momentum quickly died out. It has been severely weakened and politically marginalized by several divisions and defections. Some in the party, who were not too keen on burning all bridges with the PdL, have since rejoined the PdL and new defectors from the PdL have not compensated for their departure.
Ideologically, the FLI is on the centre-right. It is definitely very different from the the MSI or even the AN, even if it has retained its strong focus on national unity. In part, many of the FLI’s supporters are southern conservatives who are suspicious of the Lega and strongly support national unity. On economic issues, many of the FLI’s members are fairly interventionist and statist, in line with the MSI-AN’s more statist economic positions.
It is yet to be seen where the FLI’s electoral support will come from. If the MSI and the AN are any indication, the party will be strongest in the Latium region around Rome and in southern Italy. Indeed, the neo-fascist MSI found most of its support (during the First Republic) in southern Italy, where it was backed by shopkeepers, bureaucrats, some oligarchs and the ‘underclass’; but also in and around Rome, the capital city which had been promoted and developed by Mussolini’s fascist regime and where some bureaucrats or conservative shopkeepers remained nostalgic of the fascist regime. Rome’s current mayor, Gianni Alemanno (PdL), is a former fascist. The AN was the largest party in Rome and the Latium in the 1990s. In 1996, the AN won 29% in the Latium, 23% in Calabria, and 18% in Campania and Apulia. By 2006, the AN’s support in the far south had dropped off a bit, compensated by new voters in the north and centre (10-11% of the vote); but in remained strong in the Latium, as always (19%).
Five Star Movement (MoVimento 5 Stelle, M5S) led by Beppe Grillo (not candidate)
The M5S is the new movement which may shake up Italian politics, the party (or ‘movement’) which may achieve a significant electoral breakthrough this year. The party is fairly young, it was founded in 2009 by popular and successful comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo.
The M5S is a populist, anti-corruption, anti-establishment, anti-system and anti-elitist movement – basically a true populist ‘outsider’ party which wants to destroy the existing political system, which virulently attacks and opposes everything it sees. Besides this anti-system populism, the M5S is tough to place ideologically. The party’s ‘five stars’ stand for public water, public transportation, development, connectivity (internet freedom) and the environment – those are more or less the party’s main ideological orientations. At the outset, the M5S was classified as a left-wing or even far-left party. Indeed, the M5S is radical ecologist (of the ‘degrowth’ kind) and it has strongly supported maintaining public services and social justice.
At the core of the M5S is a vitriolic and foul-mouthed denunciation of the entire Italian political system. Italy’s political system is very flawed, with endemic political corruption being chief amongst Italy’s political problems. Many politicians, both left and right, have campaigned against corruption and been vocal critics of corrupt politicians or groups. What makes Grillo different is that he denounces the entire political system; for him, the system is rotten to its core and must be destroyed entirely. He represents career politicians as ‘parasites’ who live at the expense of taxpayers and bring nothing but ruin and corruption to the country, and voters must get rid of them. As such, the M5S feels that traditional representative democracy is dead, the party wants to replace it with direct democracy in which internet and new technologies would play a major part.
Beppe Grillo is not the formal leader of the party, and he is not a candidate in this election (because of a criminal conviction in the 1980s, apparently); but M5S is pretty clearly his party. Grillo, a former comedian, is a charismatic (others would say demagogic) populist leader, whose speeches consists of tirades and insults against the system and politicians. He also enjoys generating controversy by making bold pronouncements: politicians are worse than the mafia, and more recently a “call” on terrorists to blow up the Parliament.
‘Grillist’ lists started to flourish about a year before the M5S’ official creation; in the 2008 election, a ‘Grillist’ list had won 0.2% nationally. The party first gained notoriety in the 2010 regional elections when the party took 2-6% of the vote in some regions, enough to allow the right to win. In its early days, the M5S mostly attracted far-left voters, unhappy with the PD’s mediocre performance in opposition and left disoriented by the disarray of the communist left. It won 7% in Emilia-Romagna, a left-wing stronghold, and took 2 seats there. In the Piedmont, where it won 4%, it ‘stole’ votes from the left and allowed the Lega’s Roberta Cota to win the regional presidency. The party’s support may also have ‘spoiled’ the 2011 regional election in Molise, where the M5S won more votes than the right’s margin of victory over the left.
The party burst onto the scene in the May 2012 local elections, where it surprised almost everybody by performing extremely strongly in both major cities and smaller towns. While the PdL was annihilated at the polls, the M5S came out of nowhere to perform very strongly: it won 14% in Genoa (ahead of the PdL), 12% in Alessandria, 9% in Verona, and 10% in Monza and Piacenza. In the runoff, the biggest upset came from Parma, where the M5S’ Federico Pizzarotti had won 19.5% in the first round and qualified for the first round against the left (which came out far ahead of the pack with 39%). But in the runoff, Pizzarotti won 60.2% of the vote, trouncing the left. It owed its victory to the support of first round right-wing voters. But the victory in Parma and two smaller cities (Mira, Comacchio) put the party on the map. The M5S surged nationally, riding a wave of momentum. It regularly polled 15-20%, often second ahead of the PdL, throughout summer 2012.
In the October 2012 Sicilian regional elections, the party – despite a little-known candidate and a shoestring campaign dependent on Grillo’s antics (swimming across the Strait from the mainland) – won 18% in the presidential race and 15% in the list vote (becoming, in the process, the largest party in a divided landscape). The Sicilian elections confirmed that M5S was not merely a flavour of the month or a passing trend.
The M5S’ momentum has leveled off a bit during the actual campaign, but the party will nevertheless do very well on January 24-25. What explains the M5S’ surge to such heights?
The economic crisis and austerity has played a major role. The other side of Monti’s austerity measures have been a prolonged economic recession, increasing unemployment, particularly among the youth, lower pensions for retirees and even higher taxes for entrepreneurs or small businessmen (given that Italy’s tax burden is already very high). The austerity and the reforms (particularly tax increases, the IMU and pension reform) have created resentment and major social discontent. As in all economic crises, many Italians – especially the youth, the poor and low-income retirees – are suffering considerably.
What Grillo says about Italian politicians also resonates with many voters. There are many worthy politicians in Italy, but at the same time the observation that many (most?) Italian politicians are corrupt criminals, stale and boring party hacks, selfish career politicians, incompetent or self-absorbed egomaniacs holds some truth – Italy ranks as the third most corrupt country in the EU after Greece and Bulgaria and is rated as more corrupt than Brazil, South Africa, Romania and Turkey.
One of the main subjects of debate in Italian politics since Monti took over has been the privileges of la casta, a previleged caste of politicians, MPs, senior bureaucrats and public servants (who have lifelong pensions).
Corruption is nothing new in Italy, whose political system has long been riddled with political corruption, arch-corrupt politicians and links between organized crime and senior politicians (the DC, for example, had close ties to the mafia; the mafia is tied to both left and right-wing politicians in the south). But voters either accepted corruption as a part of life, sought to benefit themselves from political corruption or sighed powerless as corruption was something impossible to fully tackle. However, with the climate of austerity and a government demanding ‘sacrifices’ from all Italians, there has been a major upsurge in popular anger towards privileged political elites and those who abused the system and filled their pockets. Beppe Grillo’s virulent attacks on the entire political system and corrupt politicians everywhere has certainly resonated with many voters who want to express their frustration and anger.
The M5S benefited, especially in 2012, from the decrepitude of the Berlusconian right – the PdL was falling apart without Berlusconi there to hold together; the Lega lost all its credibility and its original anti-corruption populist appeal with the Bossi embezzlement shenanigans. In the 2012 local and regional elections, many right-wing voters abstained – turnout in the locals and especially in Sicily was abysmal by Italy’s high-turnout standards – but many right-wing voters also voted for the M5S, as the nature of the M5S’ victory in Parma shows. One must remember that the Lega, especially in its early days (1992) but even in later years, chased the anti-establishment protest vote which the M5S is now appealing to. Despite ideological disagreements between the Berlusconian right and Grillo – although both share a similar anti-tax rhetoric – the M5S has proven to be a good receptacle for angry right-wing voters, especially those who voted for the Lega in the past.
Grillo’s platform in this election is rather vague on some matters, but clearer on other issues. It is clearly anti-austerity, and also anti-Euro. The M5S opposes the common currency and is nostalgic of the “lovely old lira we could immediately devalue by 40% to 50%” which would make Italy, it claims, more competitive. Grillo promises to organize a referendum on exiting the Euro. He also opposes public funding for political parties and would naturally crack down on corruption and conflict of interest. On other issues, however, the manifesto is vaguer: to reduce the budget deficit, for example, Grillo’s party wants to ‘cut waste’ and introduce ‘new technologies’ to allow ‘public access to information and services without the need for intermediaries’.
Civil Revolution (Rivoluzione Civile, RC) led by Antonio Ingroia
The Civil Revolution is a left-wing anti-corruption list which includes Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori, IdV), the Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, PRC), the Party of Italian Communists (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, PdCI), the Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdi) and the Orange Movement (Movimento Arancione). All these parties form a single list for both the Chamber and Senate. The coalition was formed in January 2013.
The coalition is led by Antonio Ingroia, an anti-mafia magistrate with no prior political or electoral experience.
Italy of Values (Italia dei Valori, IdV): IdV, whose heyday of political relevance has seemingly passed, is a uniquely Italian party which reflects the oddities of the Italian political system, especially since 1994. IdV is a centre-left/left-wing party, but its raison-d’être is fighting political corruption and promoting honesty and integrity. Its law-and-order orientation would make it an odd fit for the left in any other western European country.
The party was founded in 1998 by Antonio Di Pietro, a famous Milanese anti-mafia/anti-corruption magistrate who spearheaded the mani pulite investigations which brought down the First Republic in 1994. Di Pietro had already served as a cabinet minister in the Prodi I cabinet in 1996, and as a novice politician he became known for his vocal opposition to Berlusconi, who had used the breakdown of the First Republic to launch his political career but who later vilified those who brought it down as ‘communists’. In its early years, IdV cooperated with Prodi’s party, the Democrats; IdV ran with the Democrats in the 1999 Euros and they won 7.7%. However, Di Pietro opposed Prime Minister Giuliano Amato’s centre-left cabinet (Amato, a former PSI stalwart, had been investigated by Di Pietro in the past) and IdV stood alone in the 2001 election, winning 3.9% and falling just short of the threshold for PR seats.
Between 2001 and 2006 it slowly walked out of its isolation and joined The Union, the left-wing coalition. It won 2.3% in the 2006 election, but because of its alignment with the centre-left coalition it won 17 deputies. The party did not join the PD, but it was part of Walter Veltroni’s coalition in the 2008 election. It made sizable gains, taking 4.4% of the vote and 29 deputies and 14 senators. With Di Pietro’s virulent opposition to Berlusconi and his tough, uncompromising style against the government, IdV benefited from the PD’s underwhelming performance in opposition and enjoyed high levels of support between 2009 and 2011. It won 8% of the vote in the 2009 European elections and in the 2011 local election in Naples, IdV candidate Luigi De Magistris eliminated the PD candidate by the first round and crushed the PdL in the runoff. In 2012, Leoluca Orlando, a longtime anti-mafia icon in Sicily and former mayor of Palermo in the 1990s, won the local election in Palermo. The party originally backed Monti but joined the ranks of the opposition after the first austerity decree.
Luigi De Magistris, a left-wing (ex-PCI) former prosecutor in Catanzaro, emerged as a forceful rival to Di Pietro’s leadership of the IdV. De Magistris wanted to move the party to the left, somewhat at odds with the party’s membership in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and its nature as a big-tent party uniting anti-corruption activists of various ideological backgrounds (many deputies had a DC background). De Magistris pushed Di Pietro to align with the left, alienating some IdV deputies in the process – two IdV deputies even voted for Berlusconi’s cabinet in December 2010 and proved crucial to his government’s survival in that vote. The party’s momentum ended abruptly in 2012 with M5S’ emergence on the scene. M5S is like a more radical version of IdV, which rejects traditional party politics and brands all politicians as crooks.
IdV’s strong anti-corruption, moralistic and law-and-order stances are somewhat odd for a left-liberal or left-wing party; although in the context of Italian politics since 1994, anti-corruption politics is often associated with the left because of Berlusconi. On other issues, the party may find common ground with the right (on federalism) but in most other aspects it aligns with the left.
Luigi De Magistris and other IdV left-wingers left the party in October 2012 and founded the Orange Movement (Movimento Arancione).
The Communist Refoundation Party (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista, PRC) was, as related above, founded in December 1991 by PCI hardliners led by Sergio Garavini who opposed the PCI’s evolution into the PDS. Between 1992 and 2006, the PRC usually won in the vicinity of 5-6% nationally although it peaked at 8.6% in 1996. The PRC was unofficially allied to the centre-left coalitions in the 1994 and 1996 elections. The PRC propped up Prodi’s cabinet from the outside until 1998, when it withdrew its support and caused his government to collapse. Those PRC members, led by Armando Cossutta, who disagreed with the decision to withdraw from the government formed a new party, the Party of Italian Communists (Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, PdCI) which continued the alliance with the centre-left but never achieved much success electorally in doing so (1-2%).
The PRC reunited with the centre-left coalition ahead of the 2006 general election. It joined Prodi’s cabinet, and although it disagreed with the government on some foreign policy matters it never went as far as bringing it down (that was done by a venal centre-right ally, Clemente Mastella).In 2007, the PRC broke with the centre-left and formed a left-wing alliance (The Left – The Rainbow) with the PdCI and the very leftist Greens; in the 2008 election, this coalition ended in an unprecedented disaster for the ‘left of the left’ winning only 3.1% nationally and no seats whatsoever (the first Parliament with no communists since 1921).
The 2008 disaster led to an internal power struggle, with the party’s hard left defeating incumbent leader Fausto Bertinotti (who had tried to move the party away from doctrinaire paleocommunism towards a New Left, anti-globalization and eco-socialist line). Bertinotti silently encouraged PRC reformists/New Leftists around Vendola, on the losing side (but with 47.6%) of the leadership struggle in 2008, to leave the party. After Vendola left the party, the PRC allied with the PdCI to form a Federation of the Left (FdS), which has had limited success – Vendola’s SEL was a much more attractive force on the left.
The Federation of the Greens (Federazione dei Verdi) is Italy’s main green party. Green politics in Italy, in contrast to its neighbors, has been a miserable failure since they kicked off in the 1980s. Most of green politicians who would lead a green party in Germany or France are members of the PD, where they form a sizable faction. The Greens have never managed to win over 2% of the vote on their own in any election (they first ran in 1987). They did have, at their origins, considerable success in the Veneto region – winning up to 7% in the 1990 regional elections there.
The party shifted to the far-left in the twenty-first century, abandoning their ertswhile moderate left-wing orientation and firmly aligning with the PRC. After the 2008 disaster, the Greens briefly joined Vendola’s coalition for the 2009 European elections, but fearing that they would stop being a miserable failure, they quickly decided to tie its fortunes to the moribund FdS. To mimic the French greens (which is rarely a good idea), they recently founded some kind of green superstructure – the Ecologists and Civic Networks.
Outside these five major actors, the most relevant also-ran outfit – out of over a million – is Stop the Decline (Fare per Fermare il Declino), a neoliberal/libertarian party which supports major debt and deficit reductions, tax cuts, federalism, economic liberalization and privatization. It is led by Oscar Giannino, a journalist. The party only made headlines recently, but for the wrong reasons: Giannino fabricated his resume by falsely claiming he had an Italian law degree and a masters from the University of Chicago’s prestigious School of Business.
What to expect
This election hasn’t worked out like the pundits wanted it to. This election was supposed to be the ’1994 election’ all over again, the election which marked a clean break with a political era and ushered in a new political era – the Third Republic. Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011 and the subsequent unraveling of both his dominant right-wing coalition and his own party left many thinking that this election would mark the end of Berlusconi’s influence over Italian politics. The PdL and the Lega had basically been annihilated and left dying on the side of the road after the 2012 elections; as recently as October, the Sicilian elections had shown that the Berlusconian right was facing extinction.
The Italian political system since 1994 was rather unusual within western Europe. Most other western European countries have a traditional left-right political system, with relatively strong partisan and ideological traditions which have subsisted – albeit not unchallenged – for decades, despite trends towards ‘de-ideologization’ and greater convergence between the left and the right after the fall of communism. Even if charismatic politicians are powerful leaders in those countries, political legitimacy in those countries is based on ‘legal authority’ as described by Max Weber. Italy under the First Republic was even the epitome of such a system, given the strong power of political parties and the relative absence of dominant charismatic political leaders. And Italy, like western Europe, went through a clear process of ’de-ideologization’ following the end of the Cold War; the clear left-right division was blurred a bit by the dissolution of the PCI and the legitimization of previously marginalized or irrelevant political forces (right-wing populism and nationalism with the MSI-AN, regionalist populism with the Lega).
In Second Republic Italy, however, despite the presence and relevance of a left-right cleavage and past ideological traditions; politics have been heavily structured around one man, Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi revolutionized Italian politics; he personalized a political system which under the First Republic had been extremely impersonal and driven by parties, not individuals. Berlusconi imported American-style campaigning techniques (TV advertising, mass mailings, focus groups) in Italy, and he radically changed the structure, direction and style of the Italian centre-right. He structured his parties – personal vehicles – along the ‘business-firm party’ model and relied extensively on his own personal charisma to lead his parties. Political legitimacy under the Italian Second Republic has been based, not entirely but in good part, on ‘charismatic authority’ rather than traditional modern ‘legal authority’.
The 2013 election was seen by many as the election which would change Italian politics, as profoundly as the 1994 election had changed Italian politics then. Berlusconi had lost all credibility and legitimacy in government between 2008 and 2011; his poor record, his governance style, his incessant buffoonery and antics, his sexual travails and corruption scandals had alienated most voters as Italy teetered on the edge of the cliff. Even if he returned to take the helm of the PdL for a final time, he would no longer be an asset to his party. The right’s collapse in 2012, combined with the rise of an anti-system receptacle of protest votes (the M5S) which was similar to what the Lega Nord had been in 1992, seemed to confirm that 2013 would see a major political realignment and the birth of the Third Republic. At that point, the right would ‘de-Berlusconize’ and find new bases and styles, perhaps with the ‘Third Pole’ of 2010-2011.
But Berlusconi has already proven almost everybody wrong. When everybody thought he was going to retire, he came back with a splash, truly like the proverbial phoenix rising from the flames one last time (or the Titanic’s stern rising one last time?). When everybody dismissed him, judging by his party’s abysmal polling in 2012, he came back with a roar.
The main headlines of this election have been “Berlusconi’s comeback“, not unlike his comeback from the lows of 2004-2005 in the 2006 election. From around 23-25% support for his coalition in early January, Berlusconi has boosted his support to 27-30% today. The surge is slightly less impressive than often portrayed. Part of the surge illusion comes from comparing apples and oranges: the Lega’s decision to back the coalition added 4-6% to its totals; before the Lega rejoined him, the PdL alone was polling at 15-17% alone. Today, the PdL is polling about 19-22% or so, the Lega has 4-5% support and the other parties poll around 3% altogether. Nevertheless, it is clear that Berlusconi has boosted his support in polls.
Berlusconi remains a master at campaigning, probably the best campaigner in Italian politics today. Like in 1994, he is a master at political communication; television remains his medium and he knows how to work it and his speeches interlaced with jokes and snide remarks are still successful. Although Berlusconi is far more unpopular with the wider electorate than in 2008, his well-oiled and well-run populist campaign have reignited latent support for the old Berlusconian right and has regained some lost supporters, who fell out with him in 2012 and turned to abstention or other parties.
Berlusconi’s somewhat outlandish pledges have also resonated well with a part of the electorate. His big promise to abolish and refund the hated property tax (IMU) decreed by Monti’s cabinet is popular with voters who feel strangled by even higher taxes. Berlusconi also knows to milk the popularity of his IMU promise to its maximum; he didn’t only promise to abolish it, he then promised to refund it and he sent out a mass mailing to households detailing his plan to refund the IMU.
Monti was always going to have an uphill battle in his attempt to recreate the pre-1994 vaguely centre-right moderate coalitions of boring politicians. Since 1994, Italian politics (like those in other countries) have become heavily personalized and the personality of the ‘top candidates’ for Prime Minister have played a major role in every election. More or less, successful candidates need to be charismatic, telegenic leaders who are able to communicate.
Monti was not that kind of candidate. Even without taking into account the unpopularity of his policies with most voters, Monti is a competent technocrat but he is a terrible politician. He is uncharismatic and has a fairly stale and boring style and demeanor. He’s awkward on television and is bad at communicating his platform.
If only The Economist, The Financial Times and Angela Merkel’s cabinet could vote, then Monti would win a landslide. His close association with these various groups, his strongest supporters, don’t play well in Italy. A fairly horrible campaign, a stale and unexciting technocrat selling policies which are unpopular with most voters and a close association with foreign actors which are distrusted or disliked at home has made this campaign a tough one for Monti.
The left has been the favourite to win this election since 2011. While the right ripped itself apart and while the M5S surged out of nowhere, the left was comfortably riding atop it all. It is not to say that the left, the PD in particular, was doing all that well. It too failed to excite many voters, given its mediocre leadership and its poor performance in Parliament since the last election. Nichi Vendola was a brief exception to this, briefly riding a wave of momentum to around 6-8% support in polls until last year. But his momentum has since petered out and the SEL will come out with a paltry 3-4% of the vote when all is said and done.
In part, the left – if it wins – will have won a Pyrrhic victory, with lower support than in the 2008 election. Not, by any measure, an emphatic endorsement of either the PD or its broader coalition. It will have won partly by default, partly by managing to remain above the fray and not tear itself apart like the right. It will not have won by assembling a large coalition of new or first-time voters excited by the prospect of a centre-left government or a Prime Minister Bersani. What has changed since 2008 is that the ‘threshold’ for victory is much lower, because of the fragmentation of the political landscape in 2013.
Bersani, like Monti, is a boring and stale politician who delivers sleep-inducing stump speeches. He also has the damaging image of being one of the PD’s ‘old guard’ party bosses who have prevented renewal and change on the centre-left. If Matteo Renzi, the young reformist mayor of Florence who threatened the PD establishment and challenged party orthodoxy on major issues, had been the left’s candidate, many believe he would have done much better in this election and would be riding to victory.
But while the Italian left is good at governing, it is absolutely horrible at actually winning elections. It once again showed off its time-honoured ability to turn sure victories into elections which are far too close for its comfort. The left tried to take the easy way out throughout the campaign by remaining above the fray and hoping that it would not get pulled down by the actions of the other actors. This strategy hasn’t really worked out. Grillo’s support didn’t evaporate during the campaign and Berlusconi reignited the right and started pulling down the left.
This election has confirmed the personalization of Italian politics since 1994. The two men who came out stronger during the campaign were Berlusconi, the slick and wily old politico who worked the crowds; and Grillo, the brash and histrionic outsider who fired up new crowds. The two men who didn’t come out stronger during the campaign were Monti, the technocrat who isn’t a politician; and Bersani, the boring ‘old guard’ politician and unremarkable former cabinet minister.
It should be noted, however, that control of the television is not the only route to success. Grillo’s campaign deliberately avoided many TV appearances, instead focusing on the internet/social media and traditional rallies in town squares across Italy. Grillo, with his “mad-as-hell” style, has managed to turn out crowds of thousands. His final huge rally in Rome turned out thousands.
Polls and predictions
Italian law bans the official publication of polls in the last two weeks before the election. The average of the last polls by all pollsters, on Feb 6-8, was as follows:
IBC/Centre-left 34.3% (32.2%-37.2%)
Centre-right 28.9% (27.4%-32.7%)
M5S 15.6% (12.5%-18.8%)
Monti 13.4% (10.2%-14.8%)
RC 4.3% (3.5%-5.9%)
Others 3.4% (1.3%-8.4%)
All pollsters, throughout 2012 and the campaign, have shown the centre-left coalition leading. Only three pollsters (Euromedia, SpinCon, Piepoli) have had the centre-right coalition at over 30% in polls in 2013.
However, while the law bans the publication of polls, it does not ban polling and pollsters have continued polling in secret since February 8. These polls are disguised, dressed up and published ‘unofficially’ on various blogs or news outlets. One way, on NotaPolitica.it, has been to shift the focus from politics to “horse racing”; on YouTrend, the focus is now a running commentary on a Papal Conclave with a leftist cardinal from Piacenza (Bersani) and a conservative cardinal from Monza and Brianza (Berlusconi).
The horse race numbers on February 22 (by Piepoli) showed the ‘Bien Commun’ running on 36 minutes, ahead of the ‘Maison Liberté’ which is trailing on 30 minutes. Igor Brick (M5S) is up to 18.5 minutes, solidifying his advance on the Ipson team (Monti) which is down to 10.5; Galopin du Zacapa (RC) is disqualified, it only has 3.5 minutes. The papal conclave shows different results: the cardinal from Piacenza is at 33 supporters, his conservative rival from Monza and Brianza has 28 supporters (20 of which support him directly). The surprise in the conclave could be a strong showing by an exuberant chap from Genoa, denouncing the previliges of the clerical elites, he has 19 supporters; this places him well ahead of the icy cardinal from Milan who has only 14 supporters. The ‘inquisitor from Palermo’ has the backing of only 3 cardinals.
These conclaves and horses seem to confirm that Bersani’s centre-left has maintained its momentum and retains a lead over the right (but a poll has shown its lead down to only 1.5%), while Grillo is the late surger of this campaign and is heading to a strong third place showing with nearly 20% of the vote – well ahead of Monti, who will place a paltry fourth.
The expectation is that the centre-left coalition will come out victorious on Monday evening. The leaked polls still have it ahead. By nature of the electoral system, Bersani’s coalition – even on an underwhelming level of support – will win an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. The Piepoli poll leaked above, obviously, predicts 340 seats for the left (302 PD, 28 SEL, 10 CD) against 141 for the right (111 PdL, 23 LN, 7 others). Monti would win 49 seats (36 SC, 11 UDC, 2 FLI) and M5S would take 87 seats. If Berlusconi staged an upset and won the election, regardless of the margin, it would also win a majority (over 340 seats).
Within the respective coalitions, the PD has coalesced almost the entirety of the centre-left coalition’s votes around it. In 2008, the PD had won 33% of the vote, a very good result. This year it could win around 27-30% of the vote, while Vendola’s SEL will come out with only 3-4%. Vendola likely peaked way too soon, and some of his erstwhile likely preferred the more radical and uncompromising M5S and RC.
On the centre-right, Berlusconi’s own party – the PdL – is not polling particularly well despite his ‘surge’. Most polls peg him at around 18-21% support, with a chance that Grillo could beat him to become the second largest party. The Lega Nord is consistently polling around 4-6%, which would be down from its 2008 result. The other parties in the centre-right coalition, collectively, poll around 3% support – but for each one of them, the race will be tough to either break 2% or become the largest centre-right coalition party below the threshold.
The leaked polls in the final days have shown late momentum for Grillo’s party, which will almost certainly finish at least in third place and place comfortably ahead of Monti’s coalition. Grillo has about 17-21% support in the polls, and he could even become the second largest party.
Monti’s coalition will probably be in for bad news for Monday. While it should manage to break into double digits, polling around 10-13% together, it will be in a distant fourth. Monti’s SC has managed to coalesce almost the entirety of the coalition’s support behind it, and should emerge with 7-10% support, while Casini’s UDC and especially Fini’s FLI will be crushed. The UDC could poll about 2-3% at most, while the FLI should stay in the 1% range. However, by virtue of being in a coalition with only three parties, the FLI will manage to eek out a few seats in the Chamber – but it will still be a horrible showing by Fini’s party.
For Ingroia’s Civil Revolution, it will be touch and go. Most polls show him barely below the 4% threshold, stabilizing at around 3-3.5% support, but there is an outside chance that he could be pushed over 4%.
The race will be for the Senate, where the majority bonus works at the regional level. The leaked Piepoli poll for the Senate showed that the left would fall short of a majority there (it needs 158 seats to win a majority), even with a 7 point led nationally over Berlusconi. It would win 148 seats (141 PD, 7 SEL) against 89 for Berlusconi (71 PdL, 18 LN), 42 for Grillo and 22 for Monti. If the right won an upset victory, it would probably not win enough to win an absolute majority in the Senate either.
There are a few major battleground regions, closely watched like in American elections, which will decide the senatorial race. One of those regions is Lombardy, traditionally a right-wing stronghold which is highly competitive this year and a major trophy for whoever wins it. A leaked poll on February 22 had the right with 40.5% against 39% for the left (9% Monti, 7% M5S). A ‘papal conclave’ leaked poll also had the right ahead recently, up 3.5% on the left.
The right is said to hold a comfortable lead in the Veneto, one of the most conservative regions. The papal conclave poll had it up 4 points there. Friuli-Venezia Giulia is also a battleground region, likely with a narrow lean to the left. If Piedmont were to go for the right on election night, the left would be in major trouble.
In the south, Sicily – traditionally a right-wing stronghold – is the main battleground region. The papal conclave poll had the right up 3 points there. But the race in Campania and Apulia is also closely contested. The same leaked poll showed a tied race in Apulia, while the left had a statistically insignificant 1 point edge in Campania.
Scenaripolitici sums up the various options for the Senate in a handy chart here. If the right wins only Veneto and Lombardy, the left would hold a tiny majority on its own. If it added Sicily to that, the left would lack a majority but could govern with Monti’s support. A victory in FVG or Apulia, in addition to those three regions, would make a left+Monti upper house majority shakier. If the right, in an upset, were to sweep all uncertain regions, it would hold only a tiny plurality over the left according to these scenarios and would be unable to form an upper house majority.
Therefore, if Berlusconi won, he would have the confidence of the Chamber but he would certainly lack the Senate. It is very hard to see Berlusconi reaching a deal with either the left or Monti (M5S won’t deal with anybody) in the Senate, given how the left/Monti hate Berlusconi and how he hates them in return. Berlusconi’s victory on Monday would probably mean a snap election very quickly, unless he achieves the impossible in the Senate.
There will also be regional elections in Lombardy, Lazio (Latium) and Molise on Sunday and Monday. All three are snap elections in which the regional president will be directly elected alongside the regional legislature.
Lombardy, Italy’s most populous region and the economic powerhouse of northern Italy (Milan), will be the big prize of these regional elections. It has been a right-wing stronghold since 1948, it only had a single left-wing regional president (1992-1994). Roberto Formigoni, one of the leading ex-DC figures in Berlusconi’s party (FI and later PdL), has been the region’s president since 1995. He has always won comfortable majorities, in the 2010 regional elections he was reelected with 56.1% against 33.3% for the centre-left candidate. Even in the 2005 regional elections, a ‘red wave’ year throughout Italy, he beat the left by about 10 points.
Lombardy is also the birthplace of the Lega Lombarda, and while the Veneto has usually been the Lega’s strongest region, the Lega’s leadership (Bossi, Maroni) comes from Lombardy and the Lega is a very powerful force. In 2010, the Lega won 26.2% (second largest party behind the PdL) on the list vote and swept the mountainous provinces of Bergamo and Sondrio. The Lega briefly held the regional presidency, between 1994 and 1995.
The left has been weak in the region for decades, but the Second Republic proved especially tough for the centre-left. The left is strongest in the low-lying border provinces of Mantova, Cremona, Lodi and Pavia; it also has substantial support in Milan’s working-class suburbs (the old ‘Red Belt’ where the PCI was dominant) but Berlusconi and the Lega made major inroads in those areas since 1994.
Formigoni was forced to resign when one of his allies was arrested on accusations he bought votes from the ’Ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia) and extorted favours and public building contracts.
One of the points in the Berlusconi-Lega coalition deal in January was that the PdL would support Roberto Maroni’s candidacy for the regional presidency. If he wins, the Lega would control the regional presidencies of the three largest regions in northern Italy: Piedmont, Lombardy and the Veneto. Maroni’s left-wing rival (also supported by RC) is Umberto Ambrosoli, a lawyer. The Monti’s coalition candidate is Gabriele Albertini, a PdL MEP and the right-wing mayor of Milan between 1997 and 2006. Silvana Carcano is the M5S’ candidate.
The race is extremely competitive this year. The last official polls had Ambrosoli (PD) with a statistically insignificant 1 or 2 point edge over Maroni (LN-PdL) with Carcano (M5S) at around 10% and Albertini (Monti) with about 7% support. A final leaked poll showed Maroni’s horse a short distance behind Ambrosoli’s horse, 41-39. But another recent leaked poll had Maroni up 44.5 to 42 over the left.
Lazio (Latium) includes Rome and surrounding provinces and it is the third most populous region in Italy. Unlike Lombardy, the Lazio has been a hotly contested ‘swing’ region since 1948, with close DC-PCI contests under the First Republic and similarly close left-right battles since 1994. The right, with Renata Polverini (a trade unionist linked to a right-wing union, UGL), regained the region from the left in 2010. Polverini won 51.1% against 48.3% for Emma Bonino, a former European Commissioner and leader of the Italian Radicals. The left had won the region in 2005, defeating Francesco Storace (AN) who had himself defeated a left-wing incumbent in 2000.
The left enjoys strong support in the province of Rome, both in the capital itself and in industrial suburban towns surrounding the city to the north and east. The right is usually strongest in the Roman hinterland, particularly strong in the coastal Latina province – a province built and promoted by Mussolini. The fascist regime has had a strong influence over regional politics. Mussolini’s grandiose imperial dreams meant that he developed, modernized and promoted Rome and its hinterland and envisioned to turn a fairly marginal region into the lavish capital of a reborn Roman Empire. Even if Mussolini’s imperial projects failed, his regeneration of Rome and the Lazio were rather successful. Electorally, after the end of the war, fascist nostalgia was particularly strong in the region – the MSI was strong, and after 1994, the AN was the dominant right-wing party in Rome and the Lazio (with strong support, peaking at nearly 30% and rarely dipping below 20%).
Polverini was forced to resign amid a scandal over the alleged embezzlement of public funds by regional councillors who used those funds to buy cars, holidays, lavish dinners and even a bawdy masked ‘toga party’. This scandal came at a particularly inappropriate time, given the austerity and calls on ‘sacrifices’ by regular Italians. It reinforced views of politicians as corrupt and overpaid.
The left’s candidate is Nicola Zingaretti, the PD president of the province of Rome. The right’s candidate is former regional president Francesco Storace, leader of the hard-right La Destra. The centre is backing Giulia Bongiorno, a finiani FLI deputy; the M5S candidate is Davide Barillari. Zingaretti is the favourite to win, the last polls had him with about 45% against only 28% for Storace.
The tiny southern region of Molise is a rural, conservative and devout Catholic region. Under the First Republic, it was one of the DC’s best regions – the DC won an absolute majority in the regional council in every election between 1970 and 1990. Since then, the left has been stronger in the region – partly because Antonio Di Pietro’s IdV has been rather strong in his native region. The left won the regional presidency in 1995 and 2000, but the 2000 election was later invalidated and the right won the 2001 election. The right’s Angelo Michele Iorio (FI/PdL) was reelected in 2006 and 2011. In the 2011 election, Iorio won 46.9% against 46.2% for the left – a close election in which the M5S’ 5.6% likely allowed the right to win. The election was overturned in 2012.
Iorio is running again. The left’s candidate, backed by IdV, is Paolo Di Laura Frattura. While the UDC is backing Iorio, Massimo Romano seems to be a local centrist candidate. Polls are hard to come by, but Scenaripolitici’s poll showed Iorio running one point ahead of the left with Romano in third on 21%.
Italian politics are almost always a mess, this year they’re an even bigger mess (hence why this post is absurdly long!). The polls, the trends and common wisdom seem to indicate that Bersani and the left will pull out an underwhelming, Pyrrhic victory on Monday evening. But the left had been supposed to pull out a comfortable victory in the 2006 election, but Berlusconi ended up almost winning the election which was decided by less than one percentage point. The ‘Berlusconi comeback’ this year and the left’s shrinking lead in the last stretch of the campaign has left-wingers in Italy and abroad worried about the prospect of a Berlusconi upset, like in 2006. But the circumstances seem different this year, and even the leaked polls are not showing any last minute Berlusconi surge – if anybody is in a position to do extremely well and surprise everybody on Monday, it’s Grillo, not Berlusconi. Besides, even if Berlusconi was to win on Monday, he would lack a senatorial majority and would find it impossible to govern.
The Italian left in government has usually been moderate, reformist and hardly radical. What seems to worry foreign investors and Monti’s foreign fanclub is Vendola’s presence in the centre-left coalition. Few are worried about Bersani, who was a reformer while in Prodi’s second government and will likely govern in a way which will not ruffle feathers and upset his European partners or investors. However, they fear that Vendola, who is anti-austerity and unambiguously left-wing, could be in a strong position to influence the government and push it in a left-wing direction. Vendola, for example, supports a Hollande-like super tax on high-income earners, which is totally unpalatable for foreign investors and the markets.
Monti’s foreign fanclub is resigned to a left-wing victory, but their best-case scenario is one where Bersani lacks a majority in the Senate and is forced to come to an agreement with Monti. Monti doesn’t dislike the PD or the left, he just dislikes Vendola and some left-wingers in the PD who are closely tied to the left-wing trade union CGIL. A Bersani-Monti deal for a senatorial majority is not impossible, in fact it is probably even likely. But Vendola is opposed to any deal with Monti and could find it hard to go along with such a deal, which would likely mean that Monti would retain a certain degree of influence over economic policy and would pressure Bersani’s government into supporting further economic liberalization and austerity measures. Then again, with the PD coming out as the hegemonic force on the centre-left, he could afford – though it could prove costly later – to break off the alliance with the SEL altogether and team up with Monti.
Italy’s election on Sunday and Monday could prove of capital importance to the future of the country and its political system. Besides, Italian politics are always fun to follow.
I did not plan to cover the Armenian elections, but I am incredibly fortunate that one this blog’s readers, Chris Terry, agreed to do a guest post on the election. Chris works as a Research Officer for the Electoral Reform Society in the United Kingdom and was in Armenia as an election observer for the OSCE. He offers fascinating insights into the country and this election. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
Armenia held a presidential election on February 18, 2013. I served as a Short Term Observer (STO) for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the election meaning that I was in Armenia from the 14th until the 21st of February, during which period I observed the elections, including voting, counting and tabulation of votes on Election Day. In addition to the usual commentary you’ve come to expect from this blog I’ll also include my own reflections on the fairness of the election.
Armenia is a presidential republic. The President is elected for a five-year term renewable once in a two round system. Parliament is elected by a MMP system with 41 constituencies and 90 PR seats. Armenia has never had a peaceful exchange of power.
Armenia appears on some of the oldest maps in the world, and Armenians trace their history back more than 4,000 years with the first country called ‘Armenia’ being formed in 190 BC. Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion (in 301 AD), and the Armenian state church, the Armenian Apostolic Church is very powerful. 93% of Armenians belong to the Church, which a very ritualistic, Ancient feeling sort of Christianity.
Armenians are also fiercely proud of their language which has its own unique alphabet of 38 letters. Armenian is an Indo-European language but sits on its own unique branch. Of the other Indo-European languages it shares the most in common with Greek.
Armenia has shifted borders, and at times completely disappeared from maps, during its history. At times it has been a Great Power, at its greatest extent the Kingdom of Armenia ruled from Damascus and the Mediterranean all the way to the Caspian Sea. Large portions of Turkey have also traditionally been in Armenia. The national symbol of the country is Mount Ararat, which is, of course, located in eastern Turkey, though on a clear day the mountain can be seen towering above the horizon from almost any point in modern day Armenia. Armenia itself has also been surrounded by Great Powers itself. To its south lies Iran, and Armenia has been part of various Persian Empires. To its west lies Turkey, and to its north lies Russia. Armenia has the odd feel of a country at a crossroads between Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia all at once.
Recent Armenian history has been tragic. Armenian sovereignty essentially ended in 1375. The country then shifted between Ottoman, Persian and Russian control. The Apostolic Church took on a role not only as a religious organisation but as a unifying authority for all Armenians, an organisation essentially heading a national liberation movement. Modern day Armenia essentially corresponds to a province of the Russian Empire known as the ‘Province of Yerevan’ (the country’s modern capital).
Ottoman Armenians were subject to what Armenians and many scholars view as genocide by the Young Turk government of Turkey from 1915 until 1923. Turkey virulently denies that the events were genocide, however between 600,000 and 1,800,000 Armenians died and 20 countries recognize it as such. The genocide also led to the movement of very large movements of Armenians out of the region, forming the Armenian diaspora. The genocide still looms large in the Armenian national conscious and Armenians often call it simply, the Great Crime.
Today there are more Armenians outside the country (5 to 7 million) than in it (approximately 3 million). The diaspora is tight knit and has a tendency to strongly lobby governments over recognition of the genocide and aid for Armenia. Armenia is also largely dependent on money from the diaspora. Armenian diaspora members you may be familiar with include the metal band System of a Down, the former French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, the Kardashian family and Cher. California (home to a large number of members of the diaspora) has also had an Armenian-American Governor, George Deukmejian (R, 1983-1991).
After the collapse of the Russian Empire during the Russian Civil War, Armenia was briefly able to become independent in 1918. Almost immediately Armenia began a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed areas of Kazakh-Shamshadin, Zanghezur, Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh. These areas all had a largely mixed population, but the truth is that both groups had lived side by side each other for centuries. The Caucasus was an ethnic patchwork of Azeris, Armenians, Georgians, Russians, Persians, Turks, and Caucasian Albanians (unrelated to the country in the Balkans) amongst others. Armenian and Azeri academics have often traded attempts to undermine each other’s nations, with Azeris, for instance, attempting to classify prominent medieval Armenians as Caucausian Albanians instead. Census figures are also used in this battle, but are flawed for the reason that in this period large numbers of Azeris were nomadic, going from highland to lowland and back again between summer and winter. Therefore many regions would have an Azeri majority at some points of the year and an Armenian one at another. Relations with Azerbaijan are also complicated by the fact that Azeris are closely related to Turks, and Azeri is a Turkic language. Armenians therefore have a tendency to label Azeris as Turks, with all the implications with regard to the Genocide that that implies. Yet Azeris and Armenians are more similar than they would like to admit and during the Soviet period lived side by side. The current Armenian President, Serzh Sarsyan (note: there are many Sargsyan’s in Armenia, the name is like ‘Smith’ in Anglo-Saxon countries, the current PM many other political figures share this name but are unrelated) has spoken in interviews with international journalists of the many Azeri friends he had as a child growing up in Nagorno-Karabakh, whilst still insisting that Armenians and Azeris could not live in one state.
Armenia and Azerbaijan were both incorporated within the USSR on its formation. The Soviet response to the ethnic patchwork of the Caucasus was to create a series of bizarre internal borders. A Soviet Republic of Armenia was created and so was a Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. Within Azerbaijan they created the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, a self-governing region where Armenians were the majority. Nagorno-Karabakh was an enclave of Azerbaijan. They also created the exclave of Nakhichevan which lies between Armenia, Turkey and Iran.
During the Gorbachev era Karabakh politicians and activists started agitating for Karabakh to be transferred from Azerbaijani sovereignty to Armenian sovereignty. A series of tit for tat for pogroms across the region also began. Armenian nationalism was particularly strong and Armenia became the first country to secede from the Soviet Union on the 21st of September 1991, three months before the USSR’s end after an independence referendum.
As in 1918, war almost immediately broke out with Azerbaijan. Originally this took the form of a guerrilla conflict by Armenians in Karabakh being supported by the Armenian state, but Armenia eventually entered the war directly. Due to the position of Nagorno-Karabakh as an enclave Armenia had to invade Azerbaijan proper. The war was complicated by internal political instability within Azerbaijan. The events leading up to the installation of the current President of Azerbaijan, Heidar Aliev, were particularly problematic for the Azeris, essentially amounting to a military coup many military units simply vacated Karabakh in preference for Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Towards the end of the war Armenian soldiers were able to simple walk into empty Azeri villages. Both sides committed atrocities in the conflict. The conflict was eventually left essentially frozen, with a ceasefire called at what the Armenians considered to be defensible borders for Karabakh. The two sides rejected a plan for Russian peacekeepers and maintain an uneasy border. Exchanges of gunfire are still common across the border. Last year nine soldiers, five Azeri and four Armenian, were killed in exchanges across the border. As the war is only on ceasefire and no treaty has been signed it is technically still ongoing.
Karabakh is a self-declared republic, but it is unrecognized, even by Armenia. In reality, Karabakh is under occupation by the Armenians, and Armenia is occupying 14% of the territory of Azerbaijan. Armenia also occupies a very large portion of Azerbaijan outside Karabakh. Indeed, in terms of area more of the occupied region came from Azerbaijan proper than from Karabakh. While officially a self-governing republic in reality Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied territories are governed as an Armenian province.
As a result of the war, Armenia finds itself under economic blockade from two neighbours, Azerbaijan and its closest ally, Turkey. For a small (the smallest in the region) landlocked country like Armenia this is economically disastrous. Armenia was one of the wealthiest of the Soviet Republics, and had a high standard of living by Communist standards. It is now the poorest country in the region; around 30% of Armenians live below the poverty line. Armenia has the potential to be quite wealthy. As it exists at the crossroads between Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East Armenia could be an important component of a trade route. However, when Azerbaijan struck oil in the Caspian Sea, for instance, they decided to route it through Georgia. Armenia has therefore had to promote good relations with its most powerful direct neighbour, Iran, and regional superpower Russia in order to have any meaningful trading partners.
Politically, Armenia’s first President was Levon Ter-Pertrossian. A nationalist activist and president of the Pan-Armenian National Movement, Ter-Petrossian had an uneasy Presidency. His re-election in 1996 was marred by widespread fraud, which harmed his credibility. Ter-Pertrossian was forced to resign from the Presidency due to a combination of this, the poor economic situation and his advocacy of an unpopular peace settlement with Azerbaijan. He was replaced by his Prime Minister, Robert Kocharian in what essentially amounted to a palace coup by his own ministers.
Kocharian was a former President of Nagorno-Karabakh, and his election marked the ascendance of what was known as the ‘Karabakh party’ an informal group of politicians who had gained prominence in the war. In 1999 a group of armed men entered the Armenian parliament and killed 8 men. Amongst the dead was Vazgen Sargsyan, the Prime Minister, Karen Demirchyan, the speaker of parliament, and a former First Secretary of Soviet Armenia, and several other MPs. The events rocked Armenia. It was later revealed that Kocharian and Aliev were close to a deal on Nagorno-Karabakh at the time and this was essentially scuppered. The perpetrators of the attack are unclear. A popular theory is that Russia hoped to stop the deal, but as the talks were being conducted in secret at the highest level it is unclear how they would know.
Kocharian stepped down in 2008, in line with term limits. He was replaced by his PM, Serzh Sargsyan. Sargsyan’s election was accompanied by massive opposition protests. The opposition alleged fraud and as many as 100,000 Armenians took to the streets. Hundreds were injured and eight were killed.
In 2011 there were more large scale protests in Armenia. These protests lasted for 10 months and demanded a mix of democratic and socioeconomic reform.
In these elections Sargsyan made his bid for a second term of power.
Armenia’s parliament has six political parties. They are:
The Republican Party of Armenia (RPA). Seats in parliament: 69. The RPA is often described as a ‘national-conservative’ party, but as in similar countries such ideological boxes do not really apply. It was described by The Economist as “a typical post-Soviet “party of power” mainly comprising senior government officials, civil servants, and wealthy business people dependent on government connections”. The RPA is the party of both Sargsyan and Kocharian. The Republican Party had originally been a small ally of Ter-Pertrossian’s Pan-Armenian National Movement which grew in strength due to the involvement of many of its members in the Karabakh war, often directly on the front line as volunteer troops. Entire RPA detachments were formed during the war.
Prosperous Armenia (PA). Seats in parliament: 37. It was founded and is led by Gagik Tsarukian, a local oligarch, and PA is essentially his personal vehicle. PA is a conservative and pro-business party. PA has a mixed relationship with the RPA. Before the parliament elections last year the PA and RPA worked in coalition but PA has since left the governing coalition. However they worked closely together in the local elections late last year and many observers see signs of a rapprochement between the two parties. PA did not run or support any Presidential candidate in this election, saying that it did not expect a clean election.
Armenian National Congress (ANC). Seats in parliament: 7. It is the successor of the Pan-Armenian National Congress and is led by former President Levon Ter-Pertrossian. The ANC is not technically a party, but rather a coalition of multiple parties. Since his ousting Ter-Pertrossian has tried to make a name for himself as a democratic opponent of those who ousted him and the ANC is a prominent opposition voice. The ANC’s internal parties are known for often squabbling amongst themselves, however. Ter-Pertrossian ran in the 2008 election winning 21.5% of the vote, coming second. The opposition protests around the election were primarily ANC led and other opposition parties were critical of them. The ANC did not run a candidate in this election, with Ter-Pertrossian claiming to be too old. However, one of the constituent parties of the ANC, the Freedom Party, nominated a candidate, Hrant Bagratyan, who had served as a PM of Ter-Pertrossian between 1993 and 1996.
Rule of Law. Seats in parliament: 6. Usually seen as a centrist party, Rule of Law is the junior coalition partner of the RPA. Despite this it has a sometimes fractious relationship with the RPA. For instance its leader, Artur Baghdasaryan claimed ‘serious ballot stuffing’ during the 2005 constitutional referendum. Rule of Law did not run or support a Presidential candidate in the election, even though Baghdasaryan had come third with a respectable 17.7% in the 2008 Presidential election.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), also often known by its Armenian name, Dashnakhsutyun. Seats in parliament: 5. The ARF is Armenia’s oldest party and the only one to pre-date independence from the Soviet Union. The ARF was founded in 1890 in Tbilisi, now in Georgia. It is a party that combines socialism and nationalism. The ARF is the best organised of the Armenian parties apart from the RPA, and possibly the only one apart from the RPA with deep links into Armenian society. The ARF is probably the party which most corresponds to Western notions of what a party should be with a clear ideology. However it is a polarizing party, which inspires passionate activists but equally passionate detractors. However the ARF has not shown itself beyond working with the government at times. The ARF receives a lot of financial support from the Armenian diaspora and maintains organisations wherever the diaspora is in large numbers. In some countries it runs in elections. Indeed in Lebanon it currently has two MPs and two ministers. The ARF’s candidate, Vahan Hovhannisyan got 6.2% of the vote in 2008. In true ARF style he then resigned his position as Vice-President of the National Assembly in objection to the handling of the election but his party still refused to participate in the ANC-led protests with the ARF accusing Ter-Pertrossian of an attempted coup.
The Heritage Party. Seats in parliament: 5. Heritage is the party of Armenia’s first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian. The US-born Hovannisian had poor relations with Ter-Pertrossian and resigned from the government. Heritage’s slogan is ‘national by roots, liberal by economic principle’ (in the European sense of ‘economically liberal’). Heritage is a free market and pro-democracy orientated party and possibly the most strongly opposed to the government. Hovannisian is also known for some irredentist sentiments regarding lost Armenian territories in both Azerbaijan and Turkey. In 2008 Heritage did not run a candidate, preferring to support Ter-Pertrossian, though Hovannisian was against this decision. The ANC and Heritage have strained relations, possibly reflecting historical problems between their leaders. Heritage played a notable role in the 2011 protests, with Hovannisian going on hunger strike at one point. His party has a noticeably youthful activist base. He stood in the election, though officially as an independent not as a Heritage candidate, and most polls had him in second place.
After nominations and one withdrawal, seven candidates stood for election:
Serzh Sargsyan was the incumbent candidate, standing for the Republican Party of Armenia. Said to be an affable fellow, Sargsyan has been referred to as a ‘natural leader’. A Karabakhi by origin, Sargsyan led the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Self-Defence Forces Committee and organised several battles in the war and is considered a founder of Armenia’s military. He was a close ally of the prior President, Robert Kocharian, and his handpicked successor. The two had rose in power in tandem together with Sargsyan serving as Kocharian’s defence minister and then PM before his election in 2008. Polls, although highly untrustworthy, had Sargsyan on between 60 and 70% of the vote.
Raffi Hovannisian, standing as an independent but leader of the Heritage Party. Born in the US to two members of the diaspora, Hovannisian was a lawyer by training who moved to Armenia in the wake of the devastating 1988 earthquake which killed up to 50,000 people. Hovannisian served as the first foreign minister of Armenia. Hovannisian is said to be extremely charismatic. Members of my STO team in Armenia attended a rally of Hovannisian supporters on the 16th of Feb, the last day of campaigning. They described the rally as very American-esque with Hovannisian effectively working the crowd. Polls had Hovannisian broadly between 10 and 30% of the vote, the only candidate besides Sargsyan in double figures.
Hrant Bagratyan, standing for the Freedom Party, a component party of the ANC. Bagratyan was PM of Armenia from 1993 and 1996. My interpreter told me at one point that Bagratyan came across as very boring on the campaign trail, often quoting long lists of statistics. Polls generally had Bagratyan around the 5% mark.
Paruyr Hayrikyan. The leader of a minor party, Hayrikyan gained substantial attention for the election when he was shot in the chest. Hayrikyan’s candidacy was very pro-Western and he accused the Russians of being behind the attack (though the true perpetrators are unknown). Hayrikyan could have postponed the election by two weeks but eventually decided not to (to the relief of electoral observers with pre-booked flights). Polls generally had Hayrikyan around the 5% mark.
Andrias Ghukasyan. A radio host and political activist in Yerevan, Ghukasyan spent the entire election campaign on hunger strike, protesting outside parliament with a large banner saying ‘stop fake elections’. Ghukasyan was highly critical of electoral observers and suggested that all they did was legitimize Armenian elections. This was probably related to the OSCE’s report on the 2008 elections which found the elections to be free and fair, despite the following protests.
Vardan Sedrakyan. An academic specializing in epic poetry. Sedrakyan campaigned on a nationalist platform.
Arman Melikyan. The head of a NGO working on immigration and refugees, Melikyan eventually stated that he had spoilt his own ballot in protest.
The last three candidates had negligible support in public opinion polls.
The presidential campaign was notable primarily in terms of its absence. Arriving in Armenia on the 14th of February it was hard to believe there would be an election four days later. The streets were empty of activists, political posters or any signs or campaigning. What campaign there was focused primarily on personality. The issues such as they were, were the state of democracy in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh (an issue on which everyone in Armenia agrees, and so which was primarily a contest of ‘who can agree hardest’) and other foreign and security issues. The economy, probably the biggest real issue in a country that is the poorest in the region and which is being blockaded from two sides.
Media in Armenia is generally considered as biased towards the ruling elite, with the President’s brother-in-law in charge of its regulation. Pro-opposition TV stations have been shut down. However, TV did not black out coverage of the opposition, though I am unaware of what the tone was in that coverage, though the OSCE stated that the public and most popular television channel, H1, showed bias against opposition parties and candidates.
Concerns were also raised about the ruling party’s abuse of administrative resources. In some areas public buildings were used as campaign offices, for instance.
Final results from Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission:
Serzh Sargsyan (Republican Party of Armenia) 58.64%
Raffi Hovannisian (Heritage) 36.75%
Hrant Bagrantyan (Freedom Party) 2.15%
Paruyr Hayrikyan (Union for National Self-Determination) 1.23%
Andrias Ghukasyan (Independent) 0.57%
Vadran Sedrakyan (Independent) 0.42%
Arman Melikyan (Independent) 0.24%
Additionally 50,988 invalid votes (3.36%) were cast. It is difficult to tell how many of these are protest votes and how many are problems with the ballot. Armenian electoral law requires a very precise ‘V’ sign to be made to vote for a candidate. While this sign is marked quite clearly on the ballot paper and is in the polling booth in such a way that while filling out your ballot you look directly at it, this does still mean it is plausible many voters could have used other signs. However it is worth noting that this figure is an increase of more than 10,000 invalid votes from the prior Presidential election despite a significant fall in turnout.
Turnout was 60.05%, significantly down from 72.14% in 2008. There were noticeable regional disparities in turnout with turnout in Yerevan (the capital) at 53.99%, and turnout in Ararat Province at 73.92%.
For the purposes of the election results are collated by the 41 parliamentary constituencies. A man of results by constituency can be seen below, having been shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia:
Hovannisian’s result is a surprisingly good performance, nearly 40% of the vote. Compared to opinion polls Sargsyan has done worse than expected and so have Bagratyan and Hayrikyan. That suggests that Hovannisian pulled votes from both Sargsyan and from his fellow opposition candidates. As his candidacy gained steam, the opposition seem to have informally united around Hovannisian as the candidate with the best chance of beating Sargsyan.
Hovannisian won seven constituencies in all. The rest were all won by Sargsyan. The three constituencies in the northeast of the country all cover Shirak province. Shirak is home to Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri. I had a friend stationed in Gyumri who reported that in the polling station he was in during counting the polling station staff were clearly nervous as the results came in and it became increasingly clear Hovannisian was ahead. The chairman of the polling station even rang her husband, who was working at a different polling station to check whether this was happening elsewhere. My friend stated that the polling station staff questioned whether this would mean that the financial tap to Gyumri would be cut off completely.
Hovannissian also did well in Yerevan, winning 3 of its 12 constituencies and allowing Sargsyan a majority of the vote in only one district. One of the three constituencies was not previously known to the OSCE as an opposition stronghold, however another organisation had decided to place international observers in all of its polling stations throughout the entire day, from opening of the polling station until counting. The seventh constituency is that covering Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city.
The pattern that emerges therefore is that Hovannisian did best in urban areas. Several factors may explain this. Firstly urban districts tend to be home to younger, better educated, wealthier populaces. Secondly, Hovannisian’s activist base was much smaller than Sargsyan’s but found it much easier to campaign in the cities where more voters can be reached. Thirdly, life is easier on electoral observers in cities because there are shorter distances between polling stations and therefore less time to travel. Therefore more polling stations can be monitored. Yerevan polling stations also had to deal with the international press.
Fairness of the Election
I was stationed in Constituency 9 in Yerevan. Constituency 9 covers Kentron, the centre of the city, meaning that, purely through the luck of the draw (4 STOs were stationed in Kentron, out of 250 and you have no choice where you are stationed) I found that the hotel I was staying in was in my district and within a ten minute drive of all my polling stations. Throughout the day I did not witness any proof of fraud. However I did see something which I thought was questionable, which I will now recount.
In my area there were two polling stations in one building very close together. As we approached these polling stations there were very large crowds outside. We entered and observed the voting. As we observed the voting we noticed a suspicious looking man milling around the entrance. We approached him and asked what he was doing. He responded that he was waiting to vote. However he did not seem to be in line but instead chatting with voters as they came in. He had no ID or accreditation (which party and non-party observers must have). When we made the move into the second polling district of the polling station we spoke to the proxy in that station of Hovannisian. He seemed very pleased to see us as we entered.
Throughout the day we had spoken to polling station staff, candidate proxies and observers. However getting information had proven difficult. Our feeling was that people were afraid of speaking up in front of us. Hovannisian’s proxy in this station, however, had very good English. He told us that the large crowds outside were due to busing. Large crowds all turned up at once because the Republican Party was busing around voters to polling stations where they knew there was a problem with the ink (polling station staff had to stamp each voter’s internal passport. The ink was supposed to disappear after 12 hours, but there were reports that in some cases it could be rubbed off with a wet napkin). Whilst he told us this we noted that it had indeed become very quiet in contrast to the incredible clamour that had preceded (and had been very unusual throughout the day). We also noted that the same suspicious man from earlier was still there. We had been at this polling station for more than an hour. It seemed unlikely he was waiting to vote as even in the busiest circumstances I don’t thing I saw anyone waiting to vote for more than 5 minutes!
Conversations with other teams were similar. Many saw circumstantial evidence which seemed to imply busing. One person I spoke to reported that people had run away as they saw them approaching one polling station with their interpreter telling them that someone had yelled a warning that observers were coming. One team’s driver spotted carousel voting (a particular type of voter fraud where someone stands outside a polling station with marked ballots, they give a marked ballot to a voter, who hides it under their shirt. The voter then walks in, takes a ballot, votes using the marked ballot, and then brings out the unmarked ballot. The voter then gives the unmarked ballot to the person they took it from, who then marks it for future use. The voter is then given money for this). One team I spoke with said that a voter they had spoken to had had problems voting due to an administrative problem at one of their polling stations, but at this point she revealed that she was a civil servant and had been told that she would be fired if she could not produce proof she had voted (through the ink mark in her internal passport).
The OSCE preliminary report on the election states that “The 18 February presidential election was generally well-administered and was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms. Contestants were able to campaign freely. Media fulfilled their legal obligation to provide balanced coverage, and all contestants made use of their free airtime. At the same time, a lack of impartiality of the public administration, misuse of administrative resources, and cases of pressure on voters were of concern. While election day was calm and orderly, it was marked by undue interference in the process, mainly by proxies representing the incumbent, and some serious violations were observed.” In a sense, I think this is fair. The OSCE cannot be seen to be criticizing elections like these without proof, reports like mine, are, ultimately circumstantial. Certainly my report would not hold up in a court of law!
Yet this perhaps illustrates a problem with electoral observation. At a certain point it becomes very difficult to detect fraud. Ballot box stuffing and the like has become passé. I agree with the OSCE that the election was well-administered. The polling station staff I saw were exemplary. If there was fraud, that was not where it was, rather it was outside the polling station in many cases. There is an argument that electoral observation simply makes fraud more sophisticated. To some extent the accusation that observation legitimizes flawed elections may have some worth. The OSCE’s press conference on the elections was actually hijacked by some Armenian activists who briefly took the stage to scream for the OSCE to ‘stop legitimizing fraudulent elections in Armenia’.
Defenders of the official result may point to opinion polling and exit polling, with which the result is broadly in line. However the exit poll is attributed to ‘Gallup’ but in fact was carried out by a Swiss company called Gallup International Association, which is involved in a legal dispute with the better known Gallup, inc. Opposition politicians have labelled GIA ‘fake Gallup’.
I must also admit concerns about the official turnout figure. While I was in a low turnout area, I find it hard to believe that Yerevan reached the official figure of 53.99% turnout based on what I saw on the day which was exceedingly quiet. The whole election had been quiet. My entire impression of Armenians and the electoral process was that they really did not care about the election at all. This is not even considering the problems of the voting list. In the run up to the election the opposition were claiming that up to 700,000 voters on the voter list were out of the country. It is true that many Armenians have left the country since independence in the search for work. Many have gone to Russia, for instance. While 700,000 seems an overestimate, my feeling based on what the OSCE said was there was some truth behind this. To my mind this implies that turnout was artificially raised.
That said, I do not think that the entire result is fraudulent. Rather there has been a biasing of the result rather than complete falsification in my view. Most votes counted are probably perfectly valid. I certainly do not believe that Hovannisian has ‘won’ the election which is what the opposition are claiming.
At the time of writing Hovannisian has spent two days on the trot protesting in Freedom Square in central Yerevan. I saw some of the protests myself as my hotel was literally around the corner. Hovannisian’s protests, a couple of thousand strong, do not compare to Ter-Pertrossian’s approx. 100,000 protesters in 2008 however. On the 21st of February, Hovannisian and Sargsyan met to discuss the situation. Hovannisian has stated he will disclose the details of the meeting on the 22nd of February saying that “We are committed to our victory and the Armenian people will have their victory tomorrow in Liberty Square at 5 pm.”
Assuming the result stands, which I think is more likely than not right now, the next Armenian elections will be the parliamentary elections in 2015.