2010’s Top 10
Last year, around at the same time, I listed the most important elections of the last decade. This year, no such fun, but instead a much more modest ranking of the top 10 elections of 2010. There are diverse criterion for doing this, but I’ve chosen to focus on elections which have or will have an important effect on the short or long-term future of the country. Given that not all elections, far from it, change the world; my second criteria is how interesting the election was even if it may not have been all that ground-breaking in the short and long term. I have given priority to national elections, and lesser priority to subnational elections. By-elections are not taken into consideration. So, here’s my take on 2010’s top 10.
1. United States mid-terms: The 2010 midterms in the United States saw the emergence of an activist conservative movement, the Tea Party, and a strong popular rebuke of Obama’s more interventionist response to the economic crisis. The primaries, especially on the Republican side, saw the defeat of a number of old incumbents who fell victim to a challenge from their right (the Tea Party). The defeat of Arlen Specter (the Republican-turned-Democrat in Pennsylvania), Bob Bennett (in Utah), Lisa Murkowski (in Alaska) and Mike Castle (in Delaware) will remain for a lot of us some of the most interesting primary fights in recent American political history. The general election saw the Republicans take over the House (but Democrats hold the Senate), something which will entail deadlock in the next two years but which – some say – be good for Obama once 2012 comes up – he’ll be able to run against, like Truman in 1948, a “do-nothing Congress”. The general election in Alaska also witnessed the historic and almost unprecedented (at least since 1954) write-in reelection of Lisa Murkowski against her Palin-backed Tea Party rival Joe Miller. The stretch between primaries, meanwhile, provided us with much fun. Christine O’Donnell, the witch, saying that she’s you. Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s popular Democratic Governor who wanted to be Senator, shooting legislation with his shotgun. Dale Peterson, the delightful all-American Alabama cowboy, running for AgCommish against the ‘thugs and criminals’ who steal his yard signs. Tim James, the businessman from Alabama, who wants us to speak English in Alabama and stop giving driver license exams in twelve languages. Rand Paul, the new Tea Party hero from Kentucky, who made women bow down to him and his “Aqua Buddha” God.
2. United Kingdom: Is it me or does it seem as if that election was a century ago? At any rate, the UK’s May election resulted in the defeat of a 13-year old Labour government, the first hung parliament since the 70s and the first formal coalition government in a very long time. This government might not get reelected to a second term in 2015 and certainly the LibDems are on route to take quite a thumping in the next election. Yet, the election will have important short-term effects with the government’s austerity policies and its repercussions on the country and the LibDems. During the election, while the expected LibDem wave amounted to zilch, it provided for a very amusing and fun election with the media and people going into either mass panic or mass admiration in front of Nick Clegg (how that has changed).
3. Belgium: This year’s Belgian elections are important because they have and will continue to intensify the political deadlock in the country, as a government is unable to be formed as a result of an election which saw a party dedicated to the breakup of the country poll the most votes and win the most seats. The continuation of such deadlock will certainly have important effects on Belgium itself, given that, according to some, it might speed up the destruction of the country.
4. Australia: The campaign was extremely boring and lackluster, but what makes Australia’s August election worth remembering is the deadlock which followed the vote. For at least a week, nobody knew who was going to be Prime Minister given that both the government and the opposition had the same amount of seats. In the end, the conclusion to this slightly surreal election hinged on the decision of three rural independent MPs of which two finally gave their support to Labor’s Julia Gillard.
5. Côte d’Ivoire: After delaying it a million times, Côte d’Ivoire finally held its first election since 2000 and unlike in 2000 the run-up was all fair, with no candidates excluded on shaky grounds. The first round went off without a hinge, and many people hoped that the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo would, if defeated in the runoff, leave without issues and peacefully transfer power to the person who is seen as the rightful winner – Alassane Ouattara. Then, of course, all hell broke lose when it became clear that Gbagbo had lost and that he didn’t feel like giving up power. Tensions have flared and they continue to escalate, and it’s still possible that things will end badly. Another election which dashes our hope for free elections and peaceful transfer of powers from a defeated incumbent to a legal winner in West Africa…
6. Guinea: Not all hope in West Africa is lost though. Guinea held its first really free election since 1958, and all went off relatively smoothly despite there being a military junta of doubtful honesty in power. It is too early to tell now, but there is hope that the election of Alpha Condé – a longtime opponent of Guinea’s various madmen-dictators, could finally right the country and do at least something, anything, to get it out of its position as one of West Africa’s poorest and most corrupt nations.
7. Sweden: When the Swedish right wins power, it rarely holds it for more than one term and often suffers a large swing against it when it runs for reelection. Quite the opposite happened this year in a country known for its socialist tradition. The governing centre-right coalition was reelected, although it lost its majority, with a significant swing towards the largest party in the coalition – Prime Minister Reinfeldt’s Moderates. On the other hand, the dominant Social Democrats almost lost their century (or so) old first place position and still won its worse result in a very long time. This election represents a significant victory for Reinfeldt’s moderate brand of European conservatism (since adopted, allegedly, by David Cameron) which accepts the welfare state but pushes for welfare reform with programs such as back-to-work incentives and the like. On the other hand, this election also saw the entry of the far-right into the legislature of a country not traditionally known for being very anti-immigration.
8. North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany): Regional elections are rarely of much importance (for example, the French regional elections were of interest but of no impact), but state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) – which is Germany’s most populous and most powerful (economically) state are always important. In 2005, the SPD’s defeat in one of its traditional strongholds led to the CDU led to snap elections. In 2010, the defeat of the governing CDU-FDP administration was seen as a major setback for Angela Merkel’s federal CDU-FDP coalition, which is indeed doing very poorly these days (especially the FDP, which risks losing all seats in an election as of now). The strong showing for the Greens – their strongest ever in NRW – also coincides with the Greens raking up some of their highest ever polling numbers in Germany (18-21%) and puts them on track to claim first spot in Berlin and perhaps first spot amongst the left in Baden-Württemberg – both of which vote next year.
9. Brazil: Brazilian elections are always interesting (of course!), but these elections were not of much impact. There was little suspense over the winner, although there almost was at times, given that Lula’s preferred successor Dilma was always the overwhelming favourite. It still is of interest on this list because it was quite interesting, and downballot races for Senate and Governor were often quite interesting with old right-wing politicos such as Tasso Jereissati and Marco Maciel going down to defeat after decades in power. The presidential campaign, with its late swing against the frontrunner Dilma over abortion comments and the late surge of Green candidate Marina Silva were quite interesting. Not the election of a lifetime (even 2006, arguably, with the massive changes in the Nordeste emerging, was more interesting).
10. Poland: Held in the wake of President Lech Kaczyński’s death in a plane crash in April, Poland’s early presidential election saw a battle between interim President Bronisław Komorowski and Lech’s twin brother Jarosław Kaczyński. Komorowski’s victory signaled both approval for the PO government led by Donald Tusk (up for reelection in 2011) and a final shift away from the national-conservatism and Euroscepticism of the Kaczyński years, a shift which started in 2007. Buoyed by a strong economy, the governing liberal coalition is favoured to win reelection – something which has never happened in Poland (I’m not talking about the presidency) since the fall of communism.
Honourable mentions in this list would go out to Iraq, Ukraine, Netherlands and Japan (House of Councillors).