Electoral Digest: October 24-30 2011
The Electoral Digest covers some elections around the world which were not covered in larger, individual posts due to lack of time, lack of broader knowledge or because the election was of lesser importance or general interest. These posts are short and pretty basic, but aim to give a really brief overview of what happened.
Ireland held a presidential election on October 27. Ireland’s President is a largely ceremonial role, though it is elected for a seven-year term directly through the single-member variant of Irish STV. Since 1997, Ireland’s President has been Mary McAleese, originally elected as a member of Ireland’s former natural governing party, Fianna Fáil (FF). She was reelected unopposed in 2004. FF has won all but one presidential election – that of 1990, won by Mary Robinson of the Labour Party. McAleese’s two-terms came to an end this year, leaving the presidency wide open and resulting ultimately in the most crowded field ever – seven candidates in total.
Fine Gael (FG), traditionally the perennial second-largest party behind FF before emerging as the big winner in this year’s earth-shattering general election, has never won a presidential election before and it was apparently eager to build on its success in March to win the presidency. Apparently the party members didn’t agree, because they chose MEP Gay Mitchell, widely derided as a phenomenally awful candidate. FG’s junior ally and Ireland’s second largest party, Labour, was apparently more serious. It nominated former TD Michael D. Higgins, a 70-year old man who is a rather good embodiment of Ireland’s symbolic presidency. Meanwhile, FF did not field a candidate of its own nor did it officially endorse any candidate, a good sign of the party’s calamitous state following its Epic Fáil result in March. Seán Gallagher, a businessman and former FF member, emerged as the candidate closest to FF though with no official links – at least not right now. The race became particularly interesting when Sinn Féin nominated Northern Irish Deputy FM Martin McGuinness as its candidate, a surprise move which shows SF’s desire to durably implant itself south of the border as the main left-wing opposition force to Labour and the FG-Labour government. Earlier in the race, the frontrunner had been Senator David Norris, a well-known liberal campaigner for gay rights (he is gay himself) and other civil liberties. However, he dropped out after it had been publicized that he had wrote letters seeking clemency for his former lover accused of rape in Israel. He did a Ross Perot and came back into the race and received nominations from four county councils. The other candidates, far more minor but not any less interesting, were former Special Olympics activist Mary Davis and former presidential contender and weird social conservative Dana Rosemary Scallon.
Seán Gallagher emerged as the other man in the race besides Higgins in the final weeks, and he took a comfortable lead in most polls. However, Gallagher’s momentum was derailed at a final debate where McGuinness crippled him with an accusation that he had fundraised money for FF including from some shady people despite Gallagher’s earlier claims that he had never fundraised for FF. Judging from the results, it pretty much killed Gallagher’s campaign.
Higgins (Labour) won 39.6% of FPVs against 28.5% for Gallagher and 13.7% for McGuinness. McGuinness’ result is above SF’s good 9.9% result in March, but it’s a bit underwhelming and shows that his campaign was unable to surmount his past affiliation with the IRA. His candidacy was still a net positive for SF, however. Unsurprisingly, Mitchell won the worst FG result in a presidential race with only 6.4% – only a bit ahead of Norris who got an equally disappointing 6.2%. Dana took 2.9% and Davis really sucked with only 2.7%. In the final count, Higgins beat Gallagher decisively with 61.6% against 38.4%. The beautiful blog Irish Political Maps reviews the election and has a nice map of who won where on first counts, as well as links to maps of all candidates. Higgins performed best in his native Galway and in Dublin, while Gallagher did best in rural areas (45% in his native Cavan-Monaghan) and in lower middle-class suburban areas. McGuinness won Donegal North East, that isolated and heavily republican part of Ulster which has become an SF stronghold as of late.
There were also two referendums held alongside this vote: one allowing the government to intervene in judicial pay and another granting the Parliament (Oireachtas) more powers of inquiry in to “matters of public importance”. While the judges’ pay was not controversial, as most agreed that in times of recession the government should be allowed to lower judges’ pay (something banned by the Constitution), the Oireachtas inquiries was more controversial as civil liberty groups said that it threatened civil liberties and gave too much power to the Oireachtas. The judges pay passed easily with 79.7%, but the Oireachtas inquiries failed with 53.3% against. It only passed in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s constituency of Mayo and in Wexford.
A Dáil by-election was held in Dublin West due to death of former FF finance minister Brian Lenihan Jr. Lenihan had only narrowly survived in 2011, and he had been the only FF member to be returned in metro Dublin. Dublin West is largely a working-class commuter belt constituency with a strong far-left base, this being Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins’ constituency. Labour nominated Patrick Nulty, who had lost to Lenihan in the final count in March while FF nominated David McGuinness, who had won 1.5% in March as FF’s second candidate. Nulty polled 24.3%, down from 29% for Labour in March. Surprisingly, FF did quite well with 21.7% – up from 16.6% in March. FG placed fourth with a terrible 14.7%, when it had won 27% in March. The Socialists did really well, with 21%, which is higher than the 19% share of first prefs won by Higgins in March. SF (9%, up from 6%) and the Greens (5%, up from 1%) also did well. Nulty won pretty easily in the sixth count against David McGuinness. Irish by-elections are very much anti-incumbent as no governing party has won one since 1982 and no governing party has gained a seat in a by-election since 1975. On this front, Labour’s victory as a governing party is pretty big. But it speaks more to the terrible state of Ireland’s opposition – FF is crippled and has little to no legitimacy left as a governing party and SF has trouble breaking past its IRA past to establish itself as a major alternative – than to the strength of the government – FG had a terrible day on October 27 and Labour is not reaching new heights.
Kyrgyzstan held presidential elections on October 30. In April 2010, protests had ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev who had grown too authoritarian despite himself having been the victor of a revolution in 2005 which had ousted another authoritarian ruler. The provisional government soon faced ethnic riots between ethnic Kyrgyz and and ethnic Uzbek in Bakiyev’s native south (around Osh) and the October 2010 legislative elections were won by the southern-based pro-Bakiyev nationalist Ata-Zhurt party won 28 seats against 26 seats for the centre-left moderate Social Democrats (SDPK) who dominate the provisional government and favour a parliamentary system. This election was to replace interim President Roza Otunbayeva (SDPK). The government’s candidate was Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, who is seen as the man behind the reforms and new constitution. The main opposition candidates were Adakhan Madumarov and Ata-Zhurt’s Kamchybek Tashiev, both from the nationalist and ethnically unstable south. Atambayev was the runaway favourite and had the most funds, and indeed he won easily: 63% against 15% for Madumarov and 14% for Tashiev. The opposition has called foul, but it is hard to say whether there were real frauds or this is more the case of grubby opponents who are unhappy they lost in a landslide and thus call out for fraud. The OSCE noted a few irregularities but no independent observers, as far as I know, have claimed massive frauds.
Bulgaria held presidential elections on October 23 and 30. This is a largely ceremonial office as well, and has been held since 2001 by Georgi Parvanov, elected as a Socialist. The last elections in 2006 had seen low turnout (42%) and Parvanov face far-right leader Volen Siderov in a runoff, which Parvanov won with 76%. Parvanov was not eligible for reelection this year. The governing right-wing GERB party nominated Rosen Plevneliev, the former popular Minister of Regional Development and a rival of sorts to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The Socialists, who lost the 2009 elections to GERB in a landslide, nominated former foreign minister Ivaylo Kalfin. Former EU commissioner Meglena Kuneva, formerly a member of the liberal NDSV, ran as an independent. In the first round, Plevneliev won 40% against 29% for Kalfin and 14% for Kuneva. Siderov won just 3.6% of the vote. Plevneliev won on Sunday with 52.6% against 47.4% for Kalfin, a very strong showing for Kalfin and the BSP. Turnout was 51% in the first round but only 48% in the runoff. Local elections were also held on both days, but the electoral commission doesn’t have an English webpage, so I didn’t find out a lot about those. Apparently GERB held Sofia and Burgas easily by the first round, and it won Varna in the runoff.
These elections were marred by some irregularities in the vote count process, leading 6% of first round votes to be disqualified – apparently at a whim by GERB observers. GERB has also been accused of controlling the media while there are the eternal problems with vote-buying and voter rolls which have way too many voters on them.