Monthly Archives: June 2011

Italy referendums 2011

Abrogative referendums were held in Italy on June 14, 2011. Article 75 of the constitution allows voters or five regional councils to propose the full or partial abrogation of a law through referendum. However, for an abrogative referendum to be successful, turnout must be over 50% or the vote will be deemed invalid. That means that opponents of the repeal of the laws in question more often than not abstain in mass and allow the referendum in question to fail, while those who do vote overwhelmingly favour the repeal of the laws. The last such referendum in 2009 saw paltry 23% turnout on questions related to electoral legislation. The last abrogative referendums which were valid were in 1995.

After Silvio Berlusconi’s defeat in the local elections two weeks ago, the referendums were another major test to the now unpopular cavaliere. The first question was about repealing a law allowing for the privatization of public services such as water distribution. The second question dealt with profits made in water distribution by private investors. The third question repealed a law allowing for the construction of nuclear power plants in Italy. The fourth question repealed Berlusconi’s immunity law which allows for the immunity of sitting ministers and of the President of the Council facing criminal charges. Berlusconi had passed this law so he wouldn’t have to attend his trials, notably in the Rubygate scandal.

Given how hard it is for turnout in these things to come close to 50%, let alone meet the threshold, the road ahead for the opposition was tough. But the winds have suddenly changed on Berlusconi, rather dramatically. A bit more than a year ago, the 2010 regional elections still gave the right victory. But the local elections in May, with the left gaining Milan and holding Naples, showed a major change in the popular mood. Berlusconi’s erratic flamboyant populism, which has always worked wonders for him, blew up in his face during the local elections. Voters turned soured on his populism, seeing his scaremongering rhetoric on Muslims and gypsies as cover for his corruption and a bad economic situation. That represents a major sea change, and maybe the beginning of the end for Berlusconi. The referendums gave another major blow to Berlusconi. Voters got motivated to go out, and around 57% of Italians voted for a final turnout of 55% when Italians abroad are counted. Berlusconi himself didn’t vote, spending his weekend at his luxurious mansion in Sardinia.

Berlusconi’s supporters stayed home, so all four referendums passed with 95.3%, 95.8%, 94.1% and 94.6% in favour respectively. But that still means that nearly 57% of Italian voters voted against Berlusconi. That is important, and that is a real boost for the opposition and a real disaster for the government. Berlusconi is a shrewd, intelligent politician who has come back from the dead more than once in his political career. He is the personality driving Italian politics since 1994, so he has had his ups and downs. But with his trademark flamboyant populism blowing up in his face, this could represent a major blow. The left itself still needs to find itself a strong voice. The PD’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani remains a pretty poor leader who has trouble leading the PD to a break through. Instead, left-wingers are increasingly attracted to the New Left outfit (SEL) of Nichi Vendola, the charismatic and popular president of Apulia.

Turkey 2011

A general election was held in Turkey on June 12, 2011. Turkey’s unicameral Grand National Assembly is composed of 550 members, who since 2007 are elected for four-year terms. Turkey has an extremely high threshold for representation, 10%, a threshold intended to keep out Kurdish parties but they circumvent that threshold by running as independents, given that independents are not affected by the 10% threshold. The 10% threshold has made for lots of wasted votes, the most egregious example being the 2002 election where roughly 45% of votes were cast for parties which did not achieve the 10% requirement.

Turkey has been ruled since 2002 by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The AKP was founded in 2001 by a group of reformist members of the banned Islamist Welfare Party, a group which sought to paint the AKP as a moderate European conservative party. The AKP is a mildly Islamist party which mixes social conservatism with economic liberalism and pro-European attitudes, such as favouring elusive EU membership for Turkey. The AKP, which increased its vote considerably in the 2007 elections, owes its popularity to a successful economic policy: a 31% increase in GDP since 2002, an increase in per capita income, strong 8.9% GDP growth in 2010, a decrease in inflation from 30% to 6.4% and increased investment on social programs such as healthcare, housing and energy. Turkey’s remarkable economic growth and political stability since 2002 has made it a model for democracy in the Muslim world, with the AKP depicted as a model for a democratic, moderate Islamist party. But the situation is not perfect. The AKP is accused by Turkey’s secular Kemalist establishment and military of working to undo the secular state built by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, notably by relaxing restrictions on veils in universities or by various conservative policies towards women including public calls for women to stay at home and have children. Secular Turks point to a marked increase in conservative attitudes in Turkey, notably in central Anatolia, the AKP’s stronghold. Erdoğan, undoubtedly one of Turkey’s most charismatic and successful politicians in decades, has often clashed with the secular Kemalist military, which tried to ban his party in 2008. Erdoğan struck back by amending the constitution to his desire in 2010, and seeks to do that again after these elections by writing a new constitution altogether and scrapping the secular-nationalist document written up by the military in 1982 after the military’s last coup in 1980. Opponents accuse Erdoğan of increasingly authoritarian tendencies. A lot of it is true: Turkey has the largest number of jailed journalists, even more than Iran or China, most of them banned for ‘crimes’ including referring to the leader of the Kurdish separatist terrorist organization PKK Abdullah Ocalan as “Mr.” Students calling for free state education are risking 48 years in jail. The AKP is increasingly intolerant towards criticism, notably deriding The Economist as an actor in a “global band” in cahoots with Israel.

The main opposition party is the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Atatürk’s old party and the traditional party of Kemalism, the staple secular-nationalist ideology turned into the driving ideology of the Turkish state by Atatürk. The CHP, which was refounded in 1992, is a centre-left social democratic party though its main ideology is staunch Kemalism, including opposition to the AKP’s traditionalist derive and staunch Turkish nationalism. The CHP is criticized by liberal and libertarian academics for its authoritarian leanings, including its staunch defense of Article 301 of the penal code which makes it illegal to insult Turkey or ‘Turkishness’. The CHP’s old corrupt boss since 1992, Deniz Baykal, was forced to resign in 2010 after a sex scandal. He was succeeded by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has significantly reformed the party’s image. He swept out Baykal’s old guard, and moved away from Baykal’s centrist hardcore Kemalism to a more left-wing and conciliatory position. The party has become more conciliatory on the wearing of the veil, and Kılıçdaroğlu made significant overtures towards Kurds by supporting the abolition of the 10% threshold and showing himself favourable to talks with the PKK. The CHP, which is slightly less pro-European than the AKP, garners most of its support from the secular middle and upper-class “white Turkish” elite as well as from the military, civil servants, academics, students and entrepreneurs.

The far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) regained parliamentary representation in 2007 by winning 14.3% of the vote. It was founded in 1969 by a coup-plotting colonel, Alparslan Türkeş. The MHP for a long time was overtly racist, and closely connected to thuggish militias such as the neo-fascist Grey Wolves terrorist organization, known for assassinating left-wingers until 1980. The MHP, which mixes nationalism with toned-down secularism, has become less nasty under Devlet Bahçeli, the leader since 1997 and a former deputy prime minister who ironically lifted the death sentence on Ocalan while in office. The MHP has been hurt in recent weeks by a series of sex scandals affecting MHP leaders and candidates.

The Kurdish minority is represented by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a social-democratic party founded in 2008 after their previous party, the DTP, ended up being banned. The Turkish government accuses the BDP and the Kurdish politicians of being the political wing of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the blacklisted terror group aiming for Kurdish independence. Its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is currently in jail but is thought to be giving orders to terror cells – and allegedly the BDP – from behind bars. The PKK declared a cease-fire in 2010, but broke it less than a year later and has since been responsible for attacks on AKP campaign events and a bombing in Istanbul. The AKP government has made some significant openings to Kurds, notably lifting the state of emergency in 2002 or lifting restrictions on Kurdish language courses. But the AKP has been seen as moving back towards a more nationalist attitude towards the Kurds.

The results are as follows:

AKP 49.9% (+3.32%) winning 326 seats (-15)
CHP 25.91% (+5.03%) winning 135 seats (+23)
MHP 12.99% (-1.28%) winning 53 seas (-18)
Independents 6.65% (+1.41%) winning 36 seats (+10)
SP 1.24% (-1.11%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The AKP won its highest vote share to date, but thanks to the workings of Turkey’s electoral system, it won its lowest seat count to date. It is amusing that as the AKP’s vote increases (from 35% to 50% since 2002), the AKP’s seat count decreases. True, in 2002 they won an artificially huge majority thanks to the fact that only two parties crossed the threshold which was brought back to earth when the MHP won seats in 2007.

The result is a strong vote of confidence in favour of the AKP, which has been helped by the strong economy and unprecedented political stability. Erdoğan becomes the first Turkish leader to win a third term since Adnan Menderes won a third (but final) term in 1957. But despite those gains, the AKP has fallen short of the 367-seat two-thirds majority which Erdoğan sought in order to win the right to create a new constitution alone without consulting opposition parties or having to ask the people for ratification in a referendum. And with 326 seats, the AKP will have an even harder time to amend the constitution than it did in the past. That will be a relief to the AKP’s opponents, who might also celebrate at the symbolic fact that the AKP has been held below the magic 50% line. But the AKP’s hegemony is yet to be seriously challenged, and the AKP remains the dominant party. Erdoğan makes no secret that he wishes to become President by the next presidential election, when Turks will directly elect their president. Erdoğan’s goal, which is why he wants to have a new constitution, is to create a presidential regime which opponents argue would only create an authoritarian state.

The CHP was reinvigorated by the leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and won its best result since its 1992 refoundation. But even though the Baykal old guard has been swept out and the CHP has moved away from its authoritarian base, it has yet to prove itself to be a viable alternative to the AKP. It is unlikely that any party other than the AKP will emerge as such as long as the AKP is seen by voters as being the architects of Turkey’s rapid economic growth and political stability. But that may change. A rise in domestic demand and lending is overheating the economy, and the CHP has warned of the country’s rising public deficit and a rise in inflation. Long-delayed reforms to the minimum wage, informal economy and reducing energy costs are seen as being increasingly necessary. Instability in Syria and Libya, where Turkey has major contracts, are being delayed and may hinder Turkey’s economy. In addition, the results of the 2010 referendum showed a polarized country which these elections do not show. Erdoğan may well control over half of the country’s population’s support, but the opposition represents a significant bulk of voters. But the CHP, as the main alternative, remains far too concentrated in the middle and upper echelons of society and with the ‘westerners’ in Turkey. It needs to break through in Anatolia, the conservative religious heart of Turkey which forms the AKP’s heartland.

The MHP didn’t collapse, but was hurt significantly by the series of sex scandals though it has cleared the 10% threshold necessary for representation. Also noteworthy is the collapse of smaller parties below the threshold, which in 2002 polled strongly and were still a significant presence in 2007. There seems to be growing polarization and strategic voting as small parties have lost the bulk of their voters. Notably, the Islamist Felicity Party (SP) fell back by 1% while the right-wing Democratic Party (DP) won a paltry 0.65%, 4.8% lower than what it had won in 2007. The Democratic Left Party (DSP), a former governing party and, in 2007, an ally of the CHP, won only 0.25% running on its own. The vote has become increasingly polarized between the AKP and CHP, leaving third parties with no chance whatsoever.

The electoral geography of Turkey is pretty straightforward. The CHP remains concentrated in Thrace (European Turkey) and along a handful of provinces along the Mediterranean coast notably Izmir. Outside Ankara, some Black Sea provinces and some major urban centres; the CHP remains very weak in the conservative AKP heartland of central Anatolia. This year, the CHP also won big (56%) in Tunceli province in eastern Anatolia, a province dominated by the liberal Muslim Alevis, old enemies of the Sunnis. Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi himself, which might explain the big swing to the CHP.

The AKP’s heartland is Anatolia, the rural conservative traditionalist heart of Turkey which stands in sharp contrast to the bustling western metropolis of Istanbul. But that itself is a stereotype as well: Istanbul is defined to foreigners by its ‘western-like’ neighborhoods. Istanbul province gave 49.5% of the vote to the AKP against 31.3% for the CHP, which finds its support in the wealthy neighborhoods and western-leaning neighborhoods.

There was a marked swing away from the AKP in Kurdistan, where the AKP’s vote fell significantly to the benefit of independent Kurdish candidates who won huge results in many provinces: 80% in Hakkâri, 73% in Şırnak, 61% in Mardin, 62% in Diyarbakır (the capital of the region), 51% in Batman, 49% in Van and 44% in Muş. In most of these provinces, the independent vote significantly, sometimes up to +24%. If the CHP’s new found opening to the Kurds was meant to appeal to them, it failed badly given that the CHP not only maintained their awful showings in Kurdistan but their vote fell back compared to 2007. I’m not sure what the surge in Kurdish independent support can be attributed to. It could be turnout (but voting is compulsory though unenforced), or it could be the AKP’s move towards Turkish nationalism. I don’t know how many of the 36 MPs are Kurdish nationalists, but probably a vast majority of them are. They also won support in Istanbul, where the famous young lawyer Sebahat Tuncel was reelected.

Belfast West by-election 2011

Belfast West

A by-election in the Westminster Northern Irish constituency of Belfast West was held on June 9, 2011. The by-election was sparked by the resignation of the constituency’s Sinn Féin MP Gerry Adams in December 2010 in order to run (and win) for a seat in the Irish Dáil. Belfast West, Sinn Féin’s stronghold has been held by Gerry Adams since 1997 and prior to that between 1983 and 1992.

Belfast West is by far the most heavily Catholic seat in Northern Ireland, with a 82.7% Catholic community background in the 2001 census and only 16.2% having a Protestant community background. It is also the poorest seat in Northern Ireland, with 80% of census areas in the constituency being amongst the poorest 20% in Northern Ireland. The population is largely young and poorly educated. Belfast West includes the heavily Catholic working-class areas of Lower Falls and Upper Falls, which both split 4-1 in Sinn Féin’s favour against the SDLP in the 2011 local elections. The constituency also expands to include most of the Court electoral area, more specifically the Shankhill area, which is a heavily Protestant (and very poor) neighborhood north of the barricades. In 2011, the Court district elected 3 Democratic Unionists, one Unionist independent and one Progressive Unionist. The seat has been held since 1966 by nationalists, being represented by Gerry Fitt who won the seat in 1966 as a Republican Labour candidate, founded the SDLP in 1970 and left the SDLP in 1979 to sit as an independent. Fitt was defeated by Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams in 1983, who was himself defeated on a wave of tactical voting and rare cross-community voting by the SDLP’s Joe Hendron, one of the few Northern Irish politicians to enjoy a cross-community appeal. Hendron was defeated by Adams in 1997, who increased his margins in every election since to reach a record high of 71% of the vote and a 54.7% majority in 2010. Since 2007, Sinn Féin’s mastery of vote management has allowed them to win 5 out of the 6 Assembly seats with the SDLP’s Alex Attwood (the Environment Minister) winning the last seat. The DUP lost its seat here in the 2007 elections.

The candidates were Sinn Féin MLA Paul Maskey, SDLP MLA Alex Attwood and DUP councillor Brian Kingston who were joined by 2011 Assembly candidate Bill Manwaring for the UUP (the UUP won 4.2% in 2011), 19-year old student Aaron McIntyre for the Alliance and Gerry Carroll of the far-left People Before Profit which won 4.8% in 2011, their second best showing in Northern Ireland after Foyle. The by-election was boring, and turnout was 37.53%. Turnout in the Protestant areas must have been terrible, given that turnout there is always lower than in the Falls area.

Paul Maskey (SF) 70.63% (-0.45%)
Alex Attwood (SDLP) 13.45% (-2.92%)
Gerry Carroll (PBP) 7.62% (+7.62%)
Brian Kingston (DUP) 6.06% (-1.52%)
Bill Manwarring (UUP) 1.68% (-1.43%)
Aaron McIntyre (Alliance) 0.53% (-1.32%)

Shockingly unsurprising results, with Sinn Féin holding the seat with a huge majority (57.1%, the largest ever majority for any party in this constituency) though losing a bit of votes from the 2010 Gerry Adams high, though its showing is stronger than its 66% result in the May elections. Aside from the UUP’s disastrous result and the overall piss-poor showing of the Unionists, the main noteworthy result is Gerry Carroll’s very strong showing for the PBP which managed to place third and hold its deposit.

Peru 2011

A presidential runoff election was held in Peru on June 5, 2011. I covered the first round held April 10 and prior to that had previewed the election with a run-through of Peruvian politics and the presidential contenders. The second round opposed left-wing candidate Ollanta Humala to right-wing populist candidate Keiko Fujimori. Humala, a Quechua and former military officer, was defeated by Peru’s outgoing President Alan García in the 2006 runoff. Fujimori, a congresswoman, is the daughter of former authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2001) who is currently serving 25 years in jail for corruption and human rights violations.

The runoff election was a very interesting contest, because it pitted two very polarizing candidates against one another. Mario Vargas Llosa, who never misses an opportunity to get his name out there and make a snide remark, previously said that the runoff was a choice between AIDS and terminal cancer. These two polarizing candidates, who would probably both have lost to more centrist candidates, got into the runoff because the “moderate” vote was split between three candidates and because Humala and Fujimori were the two candidates with the most motivated base. They were also the most polarizing candidates, with over 40% of voters saying they would never vote for either. Such runoffs between negatively polarizing candidates are often quite rare, and runoffs between negatively polarizing candidates who are of roughly equal strength are even rarer. A parallel might be drawn to Chirac-Le Pen in France in 2002, but this runoff had no Le Pen candidate, that is to say a candidate despised by a vast majority of voters. Both Humala and Fujimori were despised by a good lot of voters, but had a solid base of roughly similar size.

Ollanta Humala is a left-wing nationalist candidate. A Quechua (like roughly four in ten Peruvians) and a former military officer, the 48-year old Humala was defeated by current and outgoing President Alan García in the 2006 runoff. That year, Humala ran as a candidate mixing ethnic nationalism with Chavist socialism. Such combination was toxic, and Humala was seen as an insane authoritarian nutcase. This year, Humala toned down both the nationalism and socialism and instead cast himself as the left-wing candidate, promising to expand the fruits of Peru’s 5% economic growth to his native Amerindian base while upholding the market economy and macroeconomic policies which has allowed such strong (but unequal) economic growth. As such, he appeared to be remaking himself from the Peruvian Chávez to the Peruvian Lula.

Keiko Fujimori is widely known for being the daughter of former authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori, an elected autocrat whose neoliberal reforms allowed for strong economic growth and whose security policies eradicated the terrorist Sendero Luminoso organization but at the price of human rights violations, corruption and authoritarianism. As such, she invoked fear for many Peruvians but also appealed to poorer Peruvians who have a fonder memory of her father. Fujimori campaigned as a populist right-winger, which is different from the traditional Latin American right-winger who tends to represent liberal, urban wealthy (and, often, white) middle-class citizens. She promised to be tough on crime, maintain the market economy and expand its fruits to the poorest citizens. Finally, she probably would amnesty her father.

The Humala-Fujimori runoff took the common saying that voters choose the least worst candidate in runoffs to a whole new level. Given that voting is mandatory in Peru, voters had the choose which of the two they disliked the least (if they liked neither). It was an amusing process to watch, though it did not unfold very surprisingly. The right and the business community, which in Peru is largely mestizo and urban, backed Fujimori. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a liberal right-winger who won 18.5% in the first round and Luis Castañeda, a right-wing former Lima mayor who won 9.8% both endorsed Fujimori. The governing APRA did not make any official announcements but by far and large unofficially backed Keiko. The left had already united behind Humala in the first round, but he received the support of those who have reason to hate the Fujimori family the most. This included former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) who won 15.6% in the first round. Aside from being an old opponent of Fujimori, the centrist (or centre-right) former president is also of Amerindian ancestry. Humala also received the reluctant backing of Nobel laureate and 1990 right-wing presidential candidate (defeated by Keiko’s dad) Mario Vargas Llosa, who loathes the Fujimoris. No candidate ran away with a major lead at any point in the nearly two month period which separated both rounds. Humala led narrowly at first, but was overtaken by Keiko in May who had the lead going into the final stretch and final few days. But a string of final polls all gave Humala a narrow lead. It’s hard to say what caused the last-minute turnaround from Keiko to Humala. It might be last-minute fears of authoritarianism and a Fujimorista dynasty. It might be last-minute unease with Keiko’s father. It might also be proof of Peru’s conservative patriarchal society. Keiko was backed quite heavily by women, while Humala was backed by males. Perhaps some women bowed to the patriarchal tradition and changed their voting intentions (the old story of the wife “cancelling” the husband’s vote by voting differently).

The quasi-final results are as follows. There were 5.5% of invalid ballots, up from 2.3% on April 10. That result might reflect a small contingent of protest voters who refused to choose. But blank votes fell from 8.9% to 0.7%.

Ollanta Humala (Gana Perú) 51.48%
Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011) 48.52%

So, Humala won. He was probably the candidate who invoked the least fear about any return to dictatorship or authoritarianism (ironically, he did in 2006). Fujimori invoked fear because she failed to dissociate herself from her closest backers, which were largely old cronies of her father’s regime. She tacked to the right, while Humala managed to move towards the centre and downplay some of his past hard-left talk. Her defeat is probably a relief to many people, Peruvians and foreigners, who dislike her father and consider her to be an apologist for her father’s crimes. Humala’s promises to extend the fruits of prosperity and economic growth to Peru’s poorest also struck a chord in a country where 31% of the country is considered to be living in poverty.

Ollanta Humala received his strongest support in the sierra inland region of Peru, most notably the core of Peru’s Quechua and Aymara peoples who are his strongest backers. He won upwards of 60%, oftentimes over 70%, in most of this inland core region which notably includes the old Inca capital of Cuzco and Lake Titicaca. He also won other inland regions, but with narrower margins. These sparsely populated regions are largely inhabited by other ethnic Amerindian groups.

Keiko Fujimori’s base of support was found in the urban areas of Lima and Callao, where she won roughly 57%. Lima and Callao, which are traditional strongholds of the Peruvian right, are also located in the broader coastal region of Peru (which Keiko won most of) which is mostly populated by wealthier, whiter mestizos who have traditionally dominated Peruvian politics since independence. Her results within the capital city of Lima clearly show that the business sector and upper-classes, very strong backers of right-winger Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in the first round, heavily supported her as the least worst candidate. She won, for example, 80% of the vote in the Lima district of San Isidro which is the wealthiest place in the country. Fujimori also performed well on the northern coast, which is not as wealthy but is largely mestizo as well. These regions, most notably La Libertad (which includes the city of Trujillo) are APRA’s traditional strongholds. These regions are traditionally more working-class, with a history of unionized non-Amerindian labour in sugar plantations. She also won the votes of Peruvians abroad, probably largely wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs, with 70.3%.

Humala would probably not have won if he had not clearly indicated as he did his commitment to the market economy. The pressure is on him to be a Lula as President, and not a Chávez. That pressure is heavy considering how distrustful investors and the market is of him: Lima’s stock exchange fell by over 12% on June 6 (but later recovered most of its loses). Humala has promised a government of national consensus and re-affirmed he would promote investment and the free market. His transition teams includes old names from Toledo’s centrist administration, and Humala might keep Julio Velarde, respected by investors, as head of the Central Bank. It also calms fears that Humala’s coalition has only 47 out of 200 seats and that Toledo’s coalition, which holds 21, will provide a calming force on Humala’s more radical ambitions which include (or included) changing the constitution (of Fujimorista creation). But Humala also speaks at lengths about poverty and social issues. He vows to expand a small cash-transfer program, expand child care and introduce pensions for those who lack them. Such stuff is not controversial and popular. More controversial are his plans for a windfall tax on mining and his prior opposition to the exportation of natural gas. The main cause of unease might be that Humala, unlike Lula, is not a pragmatic trade unionist and old democratic activist. Rather, Humala is a retired military officer who led one military rebellion and backed another led by his insane brother. Such a career and tough talk on crime appeals to the caudillo tradition of Latin America, but serves to scare off easily scared investors, businessmen and liberal elites.

Humala has a fantastic chance to be a successful president, if he can maintain the current high economic growth and combine it with more social equality and expand the fruits of prosperity to those who have yet to see its colour. But the success rate for Peruvian presidents is extremely low, and it seems as if all Presidents of Peru face huge odds to be competent let alone successful.

Macedonia 2011

Early legislative elections were held in [the former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia on June 6, 2011. All 123 members of the Macedonian Parliament, the Sobranie, were up for reelection. 120 MPs are elected in six 20-member electoral districts through the d’Hondt method of PR with no threshold. Right before this election, three seats representing Macedonians abroad were added. One member is elected to represent each of Europe-Africa, the Americas and Asia. There were only 7,213 registered voters living abroad, electing three members, a massive overrepresentation of their weight considering that each MP on the “mainland” represents roughly 17,600 Macedonians while each new overseas MPs represents only 2,400 or so voters. The results of the overseas seats will show why they were added in.

Macedonia has been ruled since 2006 by the centre-right populist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) which has a very cool name. The VMRO-DPMNE is a centre-right, populist and nationalist party though it favours Macedonian membership in the EU and NATO. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski won an overall majority in the 2008 elections but governs with the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), one of the parties representing Albanians who make up 25% of the population (and probably more now). The DUI is led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, whose NLA fought the Macedonian army in the 2001 civil war until the Ohrid agreements of 2001 re-established peace. The opposition is formed by the left-wing Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which governed for all but four years (1998-2002) between 1992 and 2006. The SDSM’s current boss, Branko Crvenkovski, served as President once and Prime Minister twice most recently between 2002 and 2004. The SDSM is joined in opposition by the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), which governed with Gruevski between 2006 and 2008.

The SDSM walked out of Parliament in January, protesting a 2010 raid on the offices of a private TV company. The powerful media group led by Velij Aramkovski was targeted officially for tax evasion, but unofficially for being critical of the government given that tax fraud is commonplace in Macedonia. Gruevski dissolved Parliament for early elections in a bid to catch the SDSM by surprise. The elections took place in the context of a political crisis but also 30% unemployment, low GDP growth (1.8% in 2010), corruption, violations of civil liberties, an impasse in the name dispute with Greece, ethnic tensions and an FMI “semi-bailout” given to Macedonia without preconditions.

Turnout was 63.5%, up a bit since 2008. Results were:

VMRO-DPMNE 38.98% (-9.8%) winning 56 seats (-6)
SDSM 32.78% (+9.14%) winning 42 seats (+15)
DUI 10.24% (-2.58%) winning 15 seats (-3)
DPA 5.89% (-2.37%) winning 8 seats (-3)
NDR 2.67% (+2.67%) winning 2 seats (+2)
VMRO-NP 2.51% (+2.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Gruevski’s gamble to take the SDSM by surprise didn’t work out entirely. The governing party lost nearly 10% of the vote, though still holds 56 seats (45.5%). On this front, it might have fallen victim to the poor economic situation and the impasse in the naming dispute with Greece. The opposition still needs to regain credibility with voters if it wants to govern, given that Crvenkovski had to deal with similar problems and got no further than Gruevski at solving them. Still, the SDSM has gained significantly. Both the BDI and DPA lost ground, a phenomenon observed in the 2009 presidential election, but the ethnic Albanian Demokracie e Re whose candidate took 15% then won a pitiful 1.76%. The National Democratic Revival, another Albanian party, took 2.7% of the vote but seemingly a part of the total Albanian electorate abandoned the main Albanian parties, maybe in favour of the SDSM which has managed to emerge as the only alternative in an increasingly bi-polarized political system.

The overseas results tell us why the government gave the handful of voters living outside Macedonia three seats: the VMRO-DPMNE won between 57% and 95% of the vote in the three constituencies for Macedonians abroad.

A continuation of the VMRO-DPMNE/DUI coalition is assured a majority, with 71 seats. Relations, however, might be strained between the two after the DUI led violent protests to the construction of a controversial building for the Culture Ministry in Skopje.

Portugal 2011

A legislative election was held in Portugal on June 5, 2011 to elect all 230 members of the Assembly of the Republic, Portugal’s unicameral legislature. The legislature’s 230 members are elected in twenty-two multi-member districts through the d’Hondt method of proportional representation. These districts correspond to mainland Portugal’s 18 districts, the two autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira and two additional constituencies for Portuguese abroad: one for those in Europe, one for those outside Europe. The number of seats attributed to each constituencies varies based on population, and often changes before an election. Lisbon elects the most MPs, 47, followed by Porto electing 39. The overseas and Portalegre elect only two members. Before this election, Coimbra lost one seat (down from 10 to 9) at the benefit of Faro which gained one (from 8 to 9).

This election comes less than two years after the 2009 election and was caused by the opposition’s refusal to support more spending cuts proposed by the minority Socialist government, in a precarious position since the economic crisis hit Portugal extremely hard. During the election campaign, the IMF and EU approved a bailout package for Portugal worth billions of dollars.

Portugal has been ruled since 2005 by the Socialist Party (PS)’s José Sócrates who won an overall majority in 2005 and was reelected to a minority in 2009. A run-of-the-mill European social democratic party, the PS under Sócrates has taken a decisive turn towards third-way centrism typical of contemporary European social democracy. The PS, under Mário Soares and later António Guterres, governed Portugal between 1976 and 1978, 1983 and 1985, 1995 and 2002 and since 2005.

Portugal suffers from an acute case of sinistrisme, the leftover shreds of the right-wing Salazar dictatorship in Portugal. The mainstream Portuguese right is led by the Social Democratic Party (PSD). The PSD’s name both reflects the little appeal of the right-wing labels ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ in Portugal since Salazar, and the ideological thought of its founder Francisco Sá Carneiro. Sá Carneiro, who died in a plane crash in 1980, was a populist at the helm of an ideological current of “Portuguese social democracy”, at the outset a progressive non-communist and anti-statist ideology perhaps influenced by some elements of Christian social teachings. The PSD later moved to the right, notably under the 1985-1995 rule of Aníbal Cavaco Silva (the incumbent president) who ushered in economic liberalization, tax cuts and several years of economic growth. The PSD’s most prominent figure is, of course, José Manuel Durão Barroso, the current President of the European Commission and Prime Minister of Portugal between 2002 and 2004. Barroso was succeeded by the hapless Pedro Santana Lopes who lost the 2005 election in a landslide. The PSD has been led since 2010 by Pedro Passos Coelho, a centrist within the PSD. He is generally viewed as competent and though not especially popular on his own, he’s far more competent and far more popular than his hapless predecessor Manuela Ferreira Leite.

To the PSD’s right is the Democratic and Social Centre – People’s Party (CDS-PP), the PSD’s junior partner between 2002 and 2005. Broadly similar to the PSD, the CDS-PP mixes economic liberalism with social conservatism (it is vocally pro-life) and soft eurosceptic nationalism. The party has been led since 2007 by Paulo Portas, a former cabinet minister and party leader between 1998 and 2005.

The ‘left of the left’ in Portugal features two parties. The oldest party, which is actually a permanent coalition, is the Democratic Unity Coalition (CDU) which is dominated by the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and their sidekick, the Greens (PEV). The PCP, which remains one of Europe’s most successful communist parties, has maintained a high level of influence in its southern strongholds. The PCP is an unreformed communist party of the old days, best derided as Stalinists. The PEV is basically irrelevant. The strongest party of the ‘left of the left’ in 2009 was the Left Bloc (BE), a party founded in 1999 by Maoists, Trots, anarchists and various other New Left-type movements. Compared to the archaic Stalinists, the BE is the ‘libertarian’ (in social terms, obviously) faction of the far-left and enjoys strong support from academics and students.

Portugal has suffered extensively from the economic crisis, necessitating a bailout and the associated spending cuts prescribed by the IMF and the EU. Naturally, the poor economic situation, at the outset, benefited the PSD which had a large lead over the incumbent Socialists in opinion polls. But as the election was called, the PS under Sócrates managed to roar back to a tie and even pull ahead (narrowly) in some polls. The PSD “opposed” the spending cuts which brought down the government, attempting unsuccessfully to make people believe that they wouldn’t apply the same spending cuts if elected. Sócrates was able to present himself as the defender of Portugal’s sovereignty in negotiating the bailout and holding out in opposition to such a bailout until the last minute. At any rate, voters expressed deep pessimism about their economic future and had little illusions in that both a PS and PSD government would adopt the same spending cuts. The popular mood seemed resigned to suffer the spending cuts and other prescribed medicines. The PSD, however, gained in the final stretch leading by roughly 5-7%.

In this context, it might be surprising that the CDU and BE didn’t benefit more from the economic situation. The BE, which achieved a record success in 2009 on the back of protest votes from many PS voters, was down considerably from its 2009 levels in polls. The BE’s Francisco Louçã has since become unpopular, with the BE being perceived as having little to offer on its own aside from opposition. The CDU did lead a good campaign, appearing more modern, but the hard-left nature of the PCP probably precludes major gains for them outside their traditional range.

Turnout was 58.9%, down slightly since 2009 but an historically low turnout since the Carnation Revolution. Here are the results for all 226 seats elected in the Republic of Portugal but excluding four overseas seats which will be counted on June 15. For better comparison, seat results are compared to the 226 seats elected in Portugal.

PSD 38.63% (+9.52%) winning 105 seats (+27)
PS 28.05% (-8.5%) winning 73 seats (-23)
CDS-PP 11.74% (+1.31%) winning 24 seats (+3)
CDU (PCP-PEV) 7.94% (+0.08%) winning 16 seats (+1)
BE 5.19% (-4.63%) winning 8 seats (-7)
PCTP/MRPP 1.13% (+0.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PAN 1.04% (+1.04%) winning 0 seats (nc)

In the end, the PS’ strong campaign was not enough to turn the tide against the incumbents in the midst of a recession. The PS was unambiguously swept out of office, taking its worst result since 1987 while the PSD and the CDS-PP will have enough seats to form a right-wing coalition. The Socialists have suffered from the effects of the crisis, and while voters probably fully realize that a PSD government will have similar policies, it went with the opposition if only because they’re not the government. On the far-left, the BE drops back from an artificially high result in 2009 back down to its 2005 level. The CDU largely failed to benefit from the unpopularity of the government, and actually lost ground in its Alentejo strongholds but did gain a seat in Faro for the first time since the 1980s. The CDS-PP won its strongest showing since 1983, benefiting from a strong campaign.

The consensus seems to be for a PSD/CDS-PP coalition, similar to the one which governed in Portugal between 2002 and 2005. But that coalition saw much dissonance between the two partners, and with Paulo Portas (the main cause of dissonance back then) still in the decor, it is likely that a new coalition between the two allies will see more infighting. A PSD minority supported by the CDS-PP might in fact see much less arm twisting and infighting.

The map might not be beautiful for left-wingers, but it shows beautifully the north-south division inherent in Portuguese politics. Northern Portugal is the conservative heart of the country, with high levels of church attendance and geography marked by small property, individual property and large families as the basic social unit. This is traditionally the core of the PSD’s support, but the PS is traditionally powerful in Porto, an old industrial town and a republican stronghold in the past. Moving south, the church’s influence is weaker and geography is marked by larger and larger properties before finally reaching the latifundios of the sparse arid lands of the Alentejo (a region similar to Andalusia). Most land in the Alentejo remains in the hands of single families, following the failure of the PCP-driven agrarian reform in the 1970s. The Alentejo, which is also very poor, is the most left-wing region in Portugal and, traditionally, the stronghold of the PCP. The PCP, in better years, won and can still win the districts of Évora, Beja and Setúbal. Though traditionally included in the Alentejo, Setúbal is largely driven by the industrial harbour city of Setúbal and Lisbon’s working-class suburbs situated across the river from the capital, which is traditionally a PS stronghold. The Algarve, separated by mountains from the Alentejo, is politically and socially distinct from the rest of southern Portugal. El Publico gives you more results by municipality while the official website is also fantastic.

The PS took a thumping in the Azores, where it currently holds the autonomous government. The PSD won 47.36% to the PS’ 25.67% (in 2009, the PS took 39.7% to the PSD’s 35.7%). In conservative Madeira, ruled as a single-party state by the PSD boss Alberto João Jardim since 1978, the PSD won 49.39% against 14.68% for the PS. Notably, José Manuel Coelho, Madeira’s second most influential and equally controversial politician, who won 39% in Madeira in the presidential election earlier this year, took only 2.13% for his new party, the PTP. On an additional note, another 2011 presidential candidate, Fernando Nobre, a maverick NGO worker and doctor (and independent candidate) was elected to Parliament as the PSD’s top candidate in Lisbon. Nobre’s choice was controversial, and will continue to create controversy given that the office of president of the Assembly has been promised to him and he has indicated that he would resign if not elected to that office.

Overseas mandates will be counted on June 15. Two seats come from Europe, two from outside Europe. In 2009, they split 3-1 in the PSD’s favor. Turnout is ridiculously low (23% in Europe, 9% outside Europe), but Portuguese citizens living in Europe are more favourable to the PS while the few Portuguese living outside Europe who bother to vote (largely in Brazil, the US and Canada) are strongly PSD which won 54.5% in that constituency last time around. The seats will very likely split 3-1 in the PSD’s favour again, bringing them up to 108 and the PS up to 74.

The loss of Lisbon, Porto but also of Portalegre and Castelo Branco (Sócrates’ home turf) make this election a very bad one for the PS. It is similar to the 2005 election, albeit with the PS as the governing party taking the thumping. But the PSD alone did not win an absolute majority. The PS itself, even though badly beaten, has not been dealt a mortal blow and will very probably roar back as the new governments gets the have the fun task of dealing with a recession. This election is neither a realignment or deviating election, it is merely example #8956 of “government losing reelection [during an economic crisis]”. Pedro Passos Coelho’s government will be comepelled by outside forces (the so-called ‘troika’ of the IMF, EU and ECB) to apply stringent spending cuts to receive the IMF-EU bailout. The PSD’s program, to give an idea of what this means in details, spells out the party’s plan: decentralization for health and education (probably a keyword for exploring privatization of social security and down-shifting costs to equally bankrupt local governments), corporate tax cuts, privatizations in telecommunications, reducing the legislature to 181 members, 15% spending cuts in each ministry, and not replacing four out of five retiring public servants. Tough medicine, and usually the type of government agenda which doesn’t make the head of government win popularity contests.

On a irrelevant note, this election ends six years of socialist rule over both countries on the Iberian peninsula.

Latvia (President) 2011

An indirect presidential election was held in Latvia on June 2, 2011. I don’t usually cover these indirect elections as they tend to be quite dull, but this one occurs right in the midst of a political crisis in the small Baltic state and was quite interesting. The last general election in the economically troubled country was held in October 2010 and saw Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ governing coalition composed of the centre-right Unity coalition and the centrist green-agrarian alliance reelected with a majority. But the country has been going through a political crisis, with the legislature at odds with the executive.

At the root of the crisis is a corruption probe into prominent right-wing politician Ainārs Šlesers, accused of graft. The Saiemas, Latvia’s unicameral legislature, rejected a law which would have limited Šlesers’ immunity and allowed him to be punished. The Latvian President, who is elected to a four-year term by the Saiemas, Valdis Zatlers, accused the legislature of being soft on corruption and announced the dissolution of Parliament. Latvia’s President is constitutionally allowed to dissolve Parliament, but doing so involves great political risk to him as a referendum ratifying the dissolution must be held, and the dissolution will only be valid if voters ratify the President’s decision in a referendum. If the President’s decision is rejected by voters, he must resign his office. As such, it had never been used since independence in 1991. A referendum ratifying Zatler’s decision will be held on July 23.

Valdis Zatlers, a centre-right politician in office since 2007, was presumed to be coasting to reelection until he got into that nasty spat with the Saiema. Two days before the nomination deadline, five deputies nominated Andris Bērziņš, a former bank director and politician from the green-agrarian Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS).

In a first round held on Thursday, Bērziņš won 50 votes in favour and 48 against while Zatlers won 43 in favour and 55 against. In a second round held later, Bērziņš won 53 votes to 44 in favour while Zatlers got 41 votes in favour to 56 against. It is hard to guess how the partisan breakup of the vote looked like, Bērziņš probably getting ZZS’ votes, maybe the votes of the Russian left-wing Harmony Centre and probably the corrupt cronies from the ‘For a Good Latvia’ alliance of which Šlesers is a prominent member.

Zatlers was most likely defeated by parliamentarians angry at his decision to dissolve Parliament and alienated from the President after the verbal spat between the two branches of government. There is a not-so-cool story to all this. The people might side with Zatlers, given that Latvians largely distrust their politicians and think that politics is run by corrupt oligarchs, thus an attitude which goes along well with Zatlers’ corruption crusade. The rejection of the immunity-lifting law and Zatlers’ defeat might be the work of these ‘oligarch-politicians’ who are not so keen on having one of their clan investigated. However, Bērziņš has said he won’t be the pawn of oligarchs.

It is my understanding that Zatlers’ dissolution will stick and a referendum will be held in July. I do not, however, know if President-elect Bērziņš would be forced to resign office if the referendum is defeated considering that the dissolution was pronounced by Zatlers rather than Bērziņš himself.

Italy municipal 2011

Municipal and provincial elections were held in Italy on May 15-16 and 29-30. Roughly 135 major municipalities and eleven provinces were up, most notably the second and third largest cities in Italy – Milan and Naples. Given how personalized Italian politics is (around Silvio Berlusconi, of course) since 1994, these elections were yet another referendum on Berlusconi. Berlusconi, of course, has been taking hates with ‘Rubygate’, ‘bunga-bunga’, his judicial ‘reforms’ and various other things.

Milan and Naples were the most symbolic contests. Milan has been the symbol of Berlusconi’s Italy, having been ruled by centre-right mayors since 1993, and is widely considered to be the centre of Berlusconi’s electoral machinery and his home base. Naples was counted on by the right as the certain pickup, to complete the right’s recent clean sweep of Naples province and the region of Campania. Naples has been ruled by the centre-left’s Rosa Russo Iervolino since 2001. Other major cities up for re-election in the runoffs included Trieste (PdL incumbent) and Cagliari (PdL incumbent). The left held Turin and Bologna easily in the first round two weeks ago.

The contest in Milan pitted the left’s Giuliano Pisapia against incumbent mayor PdL Letizia Moratti, in office since 2006. Giuliano Pisapia is a lawyer and former parliamentarian for Proletarian Democracy and the Communist Refoundation, and surprisingly won the PD primary despite not being a PD member thanks to strong support from Nichi Vendola’s Left-Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party. Berlusconi, himself the top candidate on the PdL list in Milan, rambled on about how Milan would be overrun by Muslims, Roms and gays if Pisapia won and derided Pisapia as a communist. Moratti, in a debate, falsely accussed Pisapia of having a conviction for a car theft. That accusation, later proven to be false, may have served to turn the table against her. In the first round, Pisapia won 48% against 41.6% for Moratti, with the UDC’s Manfredi Palmeri taking 5.5% and Mattia Calise from Beppe Grillo’s grouping taking 3.2%. Turnout was 67.6%, a number which declined only slightly to 67.4% during the runoff.

In Naples, the centre-right’s Giovanni Lettieri came out ahead two weeks ago, but with a disappointing 38.5% against a divided left. The PD’s Mario Morcone placed third with 19.15% against 27.5% for Luigi de Magistris, a former prosecutor and candidate of the Italy of Values (IdV) party. Raimondo Pasquino, the UDC/FLI candidate won 9.7% and Clemente Mastella of UDEUR won 2.2%. The results of the first round, in which turnout was 60.3%, placed Lettieri in a surprisingly feeble position if the left could unite its forces.

Here are the main runoff results:

Giuliano Pisapia (SEL-PD) 55.1%
Letizia Moratti (PdL) 44.89%
turnout 67.38%

Luigi De Magistris (IdV) 65.37%
Giovanni Lettieri (PdL) 34.62%
turnout 50.57%

Roberto Cosolini (PD) 57.51%
Roberto Antonione (PdL) 42.49%
turnout 51.55%

Massimo Zedda (PD) 59.42%
Massimo Fantola (PdL) 40.57%
turnout 62.23%

The first round saw major left-wing gains, but the runoffs saw a left-wing landslide in most of the towns and provinces up for election. In Milan, Pisapia was able to win the bulk of the UDC and Beppe Grillo’s voters, while Moratti increased her showing by only 3% from the first round. The fearmongering campaign of the PdL, accusing Pisapia of all sorts of things and talking about the gays and Muslims taking over the place backfired badly. The first round results made a left-wing victory likely in Milan, but the crushing margin was not expected and, at any rate, it remains a major symbolic blow to Berlusconi in the city which has been the symbol of right-wing Berlusconian Italy since 1993. In Naples, turnout dropped roughly 10% (turnout also dropped a lot in Trieste and Cagliari), and judging from the results there was a major enthusiasm GOTV gap between left and right. The narrative of the media between the two rounds talked extensively about how the first round had been a blow to the right, a narrative which probably motivated left-wingers to deal a blow-out blow in the runoff but demotivated right-wing voters. Lettieri won less in the runoff than in the first round, which means that not only did he fail to pickup any new voters from the centre-right UDC/FLI or UDEUR, but he also failed to hold on to a few of his first round voters. De Magistris won a landslide, all the more impressive and disastrous for the right considering how Naples was the right-wing target. The left also picked up Trieste and Cagliari, two right-wing cities, the latter of which has apparently been held by the right since World War II. La Repubblica‘s graphic tells me that the left-right balance, 73-54 in the left’s favour before these elections, turned 83-36 in the left’s favour this year.