Monthly Archives: August 2014
Presidential elections were held in Colombia on May 25 and June 15, 2014. The President is the head of state and government of Colombia, which is a presidential republic.
The President of Colombia is elected to a four-year term in office, renewable once (with no possibility for non-consecutive reelection after two terms in office) by a two-round system. In the first round, a candidate needs to win 50%+1 of the valid votes cast – in Colombia, there is a blank vote (voto en blanco) option on all ballots which is counted in the final tally of valid votes. If no candidate meets this threshold, a second round is held between the top two candidates – once again because of the voto en blanco option, a candidate only needs to win a plurality of the vote in the second round to be elected. Like in the United States, the presidential candidate runs on a ticket with a running-mate, who becomes Vice President if the ticket wins and accedes to the Presidency if the office falls vacant.
These elections followed congressional elections held on March 9. I covered the results of the congressional elections in extensive detail here, and right before that I covered Colombia’s political history and the background to these elections in a preview post.
President Juan Manuel Santos was elected to the presidency in 2010, as the somewhat natural successor of two-term President Álvaro Uribe, who was elected in 2002. Uribe, a former Liberal who had been governor of Antioquia department (centered around Medellín) in the 1990s, was widely known in Colombia and abroad for his tough, uncompromising stance (known as seguridad democrática or ‘democratic security’) against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), the leftist guerrillas-cum-narcoterrorists who have been the most active and violent anti-governmental guerrilla group in Colombia since the mid-1960s.
When Uribe took office in 2002, Colombia was in a chaotic state: guerrilla violence had increased significantly since the late 1990s, in the forms of murders, kidnappings, extortion; at the other extreme, far-right paramilitaries, financed by drug trafficking and assisted by many in government and the military, had grown in size, power and influence and were behind the massacres of hundreds of civilians in the countryside. Between 1998 and 2002, President Andrés Pastrana’s attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with the FARC in exchange for the concession of a large demilitarized zone to the FARC had ended in disaster: the FARC used the DMZ to rearm, train and continue their campaign of terror. Just months before the 2002 election, the exasperated Colombian government ordered the army to retake the DMZ. Uribe promised a hard line against the FARC – there would be no peace until armed groups agreed to demobilize on the state’s terms. Uribe was elected in a landslide. In 2006, having managed to amend the constitution to allow consecutive reelection, he was reelected in a landslide again.
Uribe successfully managed to significantly reduce the toll of political violence on the country – under his two terms in office, the homicide rate fell significantly (70.2 in 2002 to 33.4 in 2010). The largest paramilitary group, the United Self-Defenses of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), were demobilized gradually between 2003 and 2006. Uribe’s government claimed success and argued it had balanced the considerations of peace and justice. However, the demobilization was rife with controversy: the government was found to be lenient on the paramilitaries and a 2005 ‘justice and peace law’ passed by Congress offered shortened jail sentences to paramilitary leaders if they confessed (even if only partially) some of their crimes. Since the demobilization, many demobilized paramilitaries have recycled themselves in new criminal gangs, which may have as many as 6,000-10,000 members. Beginning in 2006, the parapolítica (parapolitics) scandal revealed to the general public the extent of ties between the murderous paramilitaries and high-ranking politicians (ministers, governors, congressmen, military officers). Most of those politicians implicated in the parapolitics scandal were supporters of President Uribe.
The government’s military strategy against the FARC paid off, especially in 2008: in March, a cross-border raid in Ecuador killed the FARC’s second-in-command, Raúl Reyes (sparking a diplomatic row with Ecuador and Venezuela); in July, the military successfully rescued several FARC hostages, including the most well known of them, Ingrid Betancourt, a 2002 presidential candidate who had been held captive by the FARC since 2002. However, by the time Uribe left office, the FARC was still nowhere close to total defeat: they remained a real and potent threat, with a strong offensive capacity and robust bases in remote regions. However, Uribe’s security policies were also criticized – there remains strong concerns regarding human rights violations by the military, tragically exemplified by the ‘false positives’ scandal – a long-standing practice (revealed in 2008) of extrajudicial assassinations of civilians by the army to present them as guerrillas killed in action, to embellish the army’s record.
Human rights concerns were often cited by American lawmakers seeking to reduce the hefty multi-million dollar US military aid to Colombia (officially in the name of the war on drugs, and, post-9/11, in the ‘war on terror’ against the guerrillas). Under Uribe’s presidency, Colombia became the Bush administration’s strongest ally in Latin America in the context of the ‘pink wave’. Washington significantly expanded its contribution to Plan Colombia, blurring the lines between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations. In return, the Uribe administration extradited a growing number of its citizens to face trial in the US. Latin American left-wingers, notably Hugo Chávez, strongly criticized Uribe’s pro-American stance and Bogotá’s military alliance with the US – a 2009 Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US led to a diplomatic crisis with Venezuela, which charged that Bogotá was preparing for an invasion of Venezuela with US assistance. In turn, Uribe’s government often suspected that Chávez was harbouring or assisting the FARC, a view confirmed when the Colombian military seized a laptop from Raúl Reyes’ headquarters and found files detailing meetings between FARC leaders and Venezuelan military officers or the existence of ‘safe areas’ in Venezuela.
Uribe attracted controversy on a wide number of fronts, including his own autocratic style. During the parapolítica scandal, in which over 70 congressmen were implicated, Uribe tried to short-circuit the judiciary’s work by mulling amnesties, reduced sentences for those who confessed and confronting the Supreme Court over an alleged judicial conspiracy against Uribe (which was likely fabricated by Uribe himself). Between 2008 and 2010, Uribe’s allies in Congress tried to hold a referendum to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third consecutive term in office in 2010. These attempts were highly controversial, but the Constitutional Court killed Congress’ referendum bill, declaring both the bill and the legislative process deeply flawed and unconstitutional.
Uribe’s high levels of popularity rested not only on his democratic security policies, but also on the country’s robust economic growth during his two terms – the economy grew by as much as 7% in 2007 and, unlike Brazil and Venezuela, did not go in recession in 2009. In office, Uribe generally favoured neoliberal and free-market policies, with a focus on improving public finances, reforming government and reducing inflation. The government claimed to have made progress in reducing poverty and income inequality in one of the region’s most unequal and class stratified countries. In 2010, 37% of Colombians still lived under the national poverty line and 39.5% lived on less than $4 a day.
Unable to run for reelection himself, Uribe endorsed Juan Manuel Santos, his defense minister (2006-2009) and the scion of a prominent Colombian family – his uncle, Eduardo Santos Montejo, was a Liberal president from 1938 to 1942, and his family owned El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest newspaper, for generations. Santos left the Liberal Party along with other uribistas and later helped created the Party of the U (Partido de la U, formally known as the Social Party of National Unity/Partido Social de la Unidad Nacional or PSUN) to rally many uribistas in Congress. As defense minister, Santos was directly responsible for approving the operations which killed Raúl Reyes and freed Ingrid Betancourt; in his tenure, he also made real efforts to enforce respect for human rights in military actions and handled the ‘false positives’ well (by forcing an end to such actions, and not attempting to whitewash it). Santos was widely seen as Uribe’s preferred candidate (although Uribe’s real favourite was his agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who was defeated by Noemí Sanín in the Conservative primaries), and his campaign repeatedly emphasized both Uribe’s record and his own record as his defense minister.
Santos dominated the first round on May 30 with 46.7% against only 21.5% for Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogotá (1995-1997, 2001-2003) and eccentric outsider running for the newly-created Green Party (Partido Verde, PV). A month later, Santos was handily elected President with 69.1% against 27.5% for Mockus. The election was disturbed by a severe diplomatic crisis with Venezuela – Chávez lashed out at Santos, who he called a ‘real military threat’, a ‘mafioso’ and a pawn of the ‘Yankee imperialists’, and that ‘there would be war’ if Santos won. Colombia revealed proof that of the presence of FARC and ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, a smaller guerrilla organization founded in 1964 and originally inspired by the Cuban Revolution and Liberation Theology) guerrillas in Venezuela, to which Caracas responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with Colombia and moving troops to border regions. Upon taking office, Santos successfully defused the crisis by meeting with Chávez.
Upon taking office, Santos continued the military strategy against the FARC, but he also said that the door to peace talks with the FARC was not closed. However, in 2010, the FARC’s answer to Santos’ more conciliatory attitude was a wave of attacks and ambushes. In September 2010, the military scored a major success in a large-scale and well-orchestrated operation which killed ‘Mono Jojoy’, one of the FARC’s top military leaders. His death was hailed by both the government and the media as a significant blow to the FARC, given that Mono Jojoy was considered as one of the FARC’s leading military commanders and a key person in the organization. In November 2011, in another major blow to the FARC, the military killed Alfonso Cano, Marulanda’s successor as the political leader of the FARC.
Soon after taking office, Santos’ government proposed legislation to address the issue of land ownership – restoring land stolen or purchased under duress by paramilitaries and guerrillas. Unequal land distribution has been both a cause and consequence of the conflict, with some 16,000 people in 2005 owning over 62% of the land and about 6 million hectares illegally or violently seized. The government’s law proposed to return the land to their original owners, placing the burden of proof on owners. The law was passed in 2011, but application has been slow and claimants have lived in fear of neo-paramilitary groups, which have killed or threatened those claiming land.
The law was part of a wider landmark ‘Victims and Land Restitution Law’. The law was welcomed because, for the first time, the government recognized the existence of an ‘armed conflict’ and its legal, humanitarian implications. Secondly, the law also allowed for compensation to those who had been victims of abuses by state forces – not only the FARC and paramilitaries. An Amnesty International report, however, cited major concerns with the law including: definition of victims (excluding those who continue to suffer abuses from neo-paramilitaries, unrecognized as such by the government), the exclusion of many displaced persons from the process and playing down state responsibility. The analysis also looked into barriers to the restitution of land, clauses which may legitimize land theft and inadequate support for victims.
Santos has taken a more diplomatic demeanor in his relations with his neighbors; under Uribe, relations with Chávez’s Venezuela and Rafael Correa’s Ecuador were often strained while relations with left-wing governments in Brazil and Argentina were barely any better. In office, Santos restored diplomatic ties with Ecuador and Venezuela, effecting an unofficial truce with Venezuela. In exchange for Venezuela extraditing Colombian guerrillas, Bogotá extradited a Venezuelan accused of drug trafficking to Venezuela instead of the US. In August 2010, after the Constitutional Court struck down the 2009 defense cooperation agreement as unconstitutional, Santos did nothing to revive the contentious agreement which had soured Bogotá’s regional ties.
Santos’ foreign policy has been only one issue which has soured relations with Uribe. Santos has never been Uribe’s puppet, even when he was his ostensibly loyal defense minister, but relations between the two men started going south in 2011. Uribe faulted Santos for his cordial ties with Chávez, claiming that Colombia could not have diplomatic relations with a country which harboured terrorists. Uribe also began criticizing his successor’s domestic policies – he found Santos’ security policy ineffective and soft, he opposed the land restitution law, he opposed amending a bill to remove responsibility for judging abuses by security forces from military courts and strongly opposed any talks of negotiations with the FARC. The government’s tax reform in 2012 was seen as an attack on Uribe, given that it sought to remove tax breaks and incentives for companies created by Uribe. Finally, Santos welcomed two 2010 presidential candidates known as critics of Uribe into his cabinet: Germán Vargas Lleras became Minister of the Interior (until May 2012, later Minister of Housing) and Rafael Pardo, the Liberal candidate in 2010, was appointed Minister of Labour.
Several high-ranking allies of Uribe have also been prosecuted in corruption cases. Andrés Felipe Arias, Uribe’s agriculture minister, was arrested in 2011 for his role in the Agro Ingreso Seguro, an agricultural subsidy which ended up in the hands of powerful landowners and even a beauty queen. Uribe’s former chief of staff was also arrested for his role in a DAS wiretapping scandal. Uribe has stood by his allies, claiming they were victims of political persecution.
In June 2012, Santos ran into controversy over a proposed judicial reform which started out with fairly good intentions but turned, thanks to Congress, into a disaster for the government. The judiciary opposed the government’s early projects, but the situation became chaotic when Congress approved the bill including various advantages for corrupt congressmen/ex-congressmen: notably stripping the Supreme Court of its power to investigate corruption cases involving legislators. The Minister of Justice announced his resignation in disgust, there were several opposition protests against the bill and the left clamored for a referendum on the bill. Bowing to the enormous pressure, Santos convened Congress to repeal the law only a few days after it was passed.
Santos’ government has felt that, to secure peace, it needed to offer the guerrillas incentives to negotiate. In May 2012, Congress passed a law giving itself the power to decide the criteria determining which crimes would be investigated by prosecutors and which would be investigated by others. The bill was opposed by both Uribe and human rights groups, the latter claiming that it guaranteed impunity for those who committed crimes against humanity. Now that Colombia is a full member of the ICC, crimes against humanity and war crimes are the full jurisdiction of the ICC and amnesty could be challenged there.
In September 2012, Santos publicly confirmed that Colombian officials had been engaged in secret negotiations with the FARC in Cuba and Norway. The talks, in secret, likely began in January and by October, the two parties reached agreement on a framework for those talks. Santos claimed that they had learned the mistakes of the past and they would not be repeated; notably, the talks are being held abroad, and there is no concession of a DMZ to the FARC within Colombian territory. The talks were accompanied with a two-month ceasefire from the FARC, which they generally respected; but in 2013, the FARC returned to kidnappings (albeit many hostages were quickly released) and killing police officers. Some saw the attacks as a way for the FARC to prove that they remain a potent threat, without undermining the peace talks
In May 2013, agreement was reached on the first topic under discussion: rural development. The agreement talked of loans and technical help for small farmers, but nothing will be implemented until there is a final agreement on all matters. Other issues on the list are political participation (allowing the FARC to participate in the political process, while guaranteeing their safety, after drug lords and paramilitaries mowed down UP leaders and members in the 1980s), ending the conflict (the FARC surrendering their weapons and demobilizing), the issue of drugs and drug trafficking (Santos has come out in favour of considering the legalization of soft drugs) and finally victims (both of FARC and government atrocities).
In August, talks were hiccuped when the FARC felt that the government was rushing the talks forward in a (failed) attempt to reach a final deal before the March 2014 elections. But after a three-day walkout, the FARC returned to the table. In November, after reaching tentative agreement on political participation, the talks were rocked by revelations of a FARC plot to assassinate Uribe and other politicians (although it wasn’t clear if they were current plans). The issue of justice and the future of FARC leaders, who may face charges of crimes against humanity, will be very difficult.
Uribe has strongly opposed negotiations with the FARC, viewing it as akin to surrendering to terrorists. He used his Twitter account to publicize, on one occasion with a graphic picture, the FARC’s guerrilla attacks and their victims.
In February 2014, Semana, a popular magazine, reported that a military intelligence unit had been spying on the government’s negotiating team in the FARC peace talks for over a year. Uribe denied being on the receiving end of confidential information; his disclosure of confidential information (in August 2012, announcing the secret negotiations; in 2013, tweeting the coordinates of where an helicopter was picking up negotiators in a jungle clearing) in the past had raised questions. Two weeks after the revelations, Santos fired General Leonardo Barrero, the commander of the military; this time in links to Semana publicizing a transcript of a conversation the general had with a colonel facing charges for the extrajudicial killing of civilians.
Santos has been considerably less popular than his predecessor. There were student protests against a controversial education reform in 2011. In August 2013, large protests including miners, truckers, coffee growers, milk producers, public healthcare workers, students and others erupted in several departments. Both Uribe and the FARC, opportunistically, threw their support behind the protests. The protesters had different gripes: coffee growers demanding government assistance to counter dropping prices, farmers protested disadvantageous export prices and restrictions on the use of Colombian seeds (over foreign seeds, under the FTA), truckers demanding investment in infrastructure to fix Colombia’s bad roads, others opposing the terms of the FTA with the US which was finally ratified in 2011. Mining contracts with foreign mining giants have often led to local protests, motivated by fears that mining would hurt local agriculture and the water supply. In the wake of the protests, Santos’ approval rating in September 2013 tumbled to the low 20s (from about 50%), with voters citing disapproval of the way Santos had handled the protests.
Colombia’s armed conflict, since the 1960s, has claimed the lives of up to 200,000 people and displaced nearly 5 million people, as campesinos were forced to migrate towards the cities by the guerrillas, forced recruitment of family members or paramilitaries/landowners forcibly expropriating millions of hectares. However, the armed conflict has rarely prevented economic growth in Colombia, which has only been in recession one year since 1980. In 2014, the economy will continue to grow by 4.5%, a stronger growth rate than either Argentina or Brazil. Unemployment has come down from 12% in 2010 to 9% today, the macroeconomic outlook is healthy and poverty is down (but 33% of the population remains poor, according to a recent CEPAL study, and over half of the labour force is employed in the informal sector) – the upbeat government is selling Colombia as open for business, especially in the energy and mining sectors. However, income inequality remains a huge issue in Colombia – one of the world’s most unequal countries according to the Gini index (55.9)
Juan Manuel Santos, the incumbent President, was the candidate of the Unidad Nacional (National Unity) coalition, which is formally made up of the Party of the U, the Liberal Party and Germán Vargas Lleras’ Radical Change (Cambio Radical) party.
Santos is affiliated with the Party of the U, originally founded in 2005 by uribista Liberal dissidents (like Santos). Although the U never became a ‘party of power’ (unlike Chávez’s PSUV) but it evolved into a santista party since 2010 as Santos cemented his control over the party. As such, the party has shifted ideologically from a conservative and strongly hawkish position to a more moderate and pragmatic positions. Santos is, if such terms can be used, on the centre-right and declares himself to be an admirer of Tony Blair’s Third Way.
The Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Colombiano, PLC) is one of Colombia’s two historically dominant parties, alongside the Conservatives, and exist since the 1840s. Until 1957, with some exceptions, the Liberals and Conservatives alternated in power not through elections but rather through bloody civil wars. The last such civil war between the two parties, La Violencia, was so violent and destructive – lasting from 1948 until 1957 and killing 200,000-300,000 – that the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to share power and alternate in the presidency. This arrangement, the National Front, which lasted until 1974 (but power-sharing of government jobs lasted until 1990), signaled the end of sharp distinctions between the two parties who were no longer separated by any one issue and agreeing on most issues of the day. The Liberals were hit particularly hard by the defection of several of their members, first and foremost Uribe himself, to uribismo after 2002. The Liberal leadership joined the ranks of the opposition to Uribe; although they retained a fairly significant (if much reduced) bench in Congress, the Liberals have performed terribly in presidential elections since 2002: 11.8% in 2006 and 4.4% in 2010. The Liberals have long since lost all ideological content, and remain largely an assemblage of caciques and veteran politicians – granted, all Colombian parties are like that.
The Radical Change party (CR) was founded in 1998 by Liberal dissidents, supporters of assassinated Liberal politician Luis Carlos Galán (killed by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel in 1989). In 2002, Germán Vargas Lleras, the grandson of a former President and Senator (1998-2008), joined the party along with his personalist outfit, ‘Colombia Siempre‘ (Colombia Always). In the Senate, Vargas Lleras was a noted opponent of the government’s peace talks with the FARC in 1998-2002 and, as such, he grew closer to another opponent, Álvaro Uribe. The CR came to become an uribista party, but it was also very much implicated in the parapolitics scandal – 8 of its 33 congressmen in the 2006-2010 term were arrested, investigated or ordered to be arrested by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General. Vargas Lleras opposed Uribe’s reelection for a third term and ran for president in 2010, placing third with 10.1% of the vote. Vargas Lleras later joined Santos’ cabinet (serving in the interior and later housing portfolios), and he was Santos’ running-mate.
Juan Manuel Santos is an ambitious, wily politician who has always managed to work himself into favourable positions politically, despite a lack of any electoral experience until his election to the presidency in 2010. Santos, as aforementioned, comes from a leading family of the Colombian (Liberal) elite and he received a top-notch foreign education in the United States (University of Kansas and Harvard) and the United Kingdom (LSE). Álvaro Uribe, on the other hand, comes from a much less elitist background (unlike Santos, Uribe is not from Bogotá but from Medellín in Antioquia), which gives him a more populist touch and makes him seem ‘closer to the people’ than the cosmopolitan and elitist Santos. Ideologically, while Uribe is dogmatic, ideologically conservative and inflexible; Santos is at heart a pragmatist if not an opportunist. Santos is often criticized by his opponents of his longstanding political opportunism – he originally was a harsh critic of Andrés Pastrana’s government but joined Pastrana’s cabinet as Minister of Finance in 2000, he opposed Uribe from 2002 until early 2005 (as late as January 2005, Santos penned an op-ed in El Tiempo opposing Uribe’s reelection) before working his way into Uribe’s cabinet as Minister of Defense and taking control of the Party of the U. Nowadays, he is often criticized for having little qualms in allying with corrupt politicians, ex-parapolitics congressmen, powerful local caciques and party bosses.
Santos’ main campaign issue were the peace negotiations with the FARC/ELN and the promise of peace during a second term, which Santos claimed would create a stronger country and argued that peace could create over a million jobs in Colombia. At the same time, Santos also promised to increase safety in the country by increasing sanctions for misdemeanors, intervening in troubled urban areas to restore order, increasing law enforcement capabilities and focusing more closely on domestic violence and sexual crimes. Santos promised to make Colombia a regional centre for outsourcing, call centres and IT; he also supported investments to help young entrepreneurs, facilitating access to credit for new businesses, helping SMEs and job creation in all sectors. He also heavily promoted an ambitious large-scale infrastructure plan to massively expand highways, railways, ports and public transit. The incumbent promised to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020 by building over 1 million new houses (including free housing), promoting traineeships for poor youths, increasing existing subsidies/benefits, providing low-cost housing opportunities and improving education. Like most other candidates, Santos’ platform included promises to improve healthcare access, heavily strengthening and improving education (a major focus as of late for the Colombian government), bolstering Colombia’s regional and international standing and protecting the environment (through financial incentives for businesses).
In March 2014, the three parties of the National Unity coalition won 47 senators (21 U, 17 Liberal, 9 CR) and 92 representatives (39 Liberal, 37 U, 16 CR) – so, a majority in the latter but only a plurality in the former.
Having failed to regain control of the U, Álvaro Uribe has created his own party to oppose Santos’ government, the Democratic Centre (Centro Democrático, CD) in 2013. The CD’s presidential candidate was Óscar Iván Zuluaga, Uribe’s former Minister of Finance and Public Credit (2007-2010) and an uribista Senator prior to that, from 2002 to 2006.
The CD is very much a personalist party built around and entirely dominated by Uribe: it was actually first known as the ‘Uribe Democratic Centre’ and the party’s original logo was Uribe’s face (the current logo is a man’s silhouette, which looks similar to Uribe). The party’s slogan, which is part of its official electoral name, is Uribe’s emblematic 2002 slogan – mano firme, corazón grande (firm hand, big heart). The CD include uribistas from other parties, notably the U and the Conservatives. Prominent members of the CD include Uribe’s Vice President Francisco ‘Pacho’ Santos Calderón (who is also the President’s first cousin) and the former governor of Antioquia Luis Alfredo Ramos. Zuluaga and these two men have been linked to the parapolitics scandal: ‘Pacho’ Santos is under investigation for a meeting with AUC leaders in which he allegedly suggested that the AUC creates a front in Bogotá; in August 2013, Ramos was arrested on orders of the Attorney General for his presumed ties to paramilitaries; Zuluaga was investigated by the Attorney General in 2007 for a 2003 picture of him at an event for a former paramilitary running for mayor.
Zuluaga was nominated as the CD’s presidential candidate in October 2013, defeating ‘Pacho’ Santos and Carlos Holmes Trujillo (a senior diplomat under Uribe) – the latter was later selected as Zuluaga’s running mate.
In March, Álvaro Uribe was the CD’s top candidate for the Senate, where the CD narrowly missed out on first place – winning 14.3% of the vote and 19 seats. In the lower house, however, the CD won only 9.5% and 18 seats.
What differentiated Zuluaga from Santos – and many of the other candidates as well – was his virulent opposition to peace talks with the FARC/ELN, which has been the major point of disagreement between Uribe and Santos. When that admittedly top issue is ignored for a moment, both Santos and Zuluaga actually agreed on a lot of other major topics including the economy, jobs, healthcare, education, the environment, citizen safety, poverty and judicial reform.
On the issue of peace, Zuluaga conditioned the continuation of negotiations with the ‘terrorist groups’ (as the FARC/ELN are called by uribistas) to their an unilateral ceasefire including a rapidly verifiable disarming and demobilization (conditions which the FARC would refuse). He strongly opposed any constituent assembly, demobilization of the Colombian armed forces, demanded that FARC criminals face tough judicial sentences and refused to allow former FARC leader to participate in politics. Defending Uribe’s famous and popular policy of seguridad democrática, Zuluaga also called on strengthening the armed forces at a regional level, conditional release of military personnel imprisoned for certain types of offenses, raising military salaries and strengthening a network of civilian ‘cooperators’. He also proposed a large-scale plan to disarm individuals and groups, with compensation if necessary.
On other issues, as aforementioned, Zuluaga came close to Santos – once you take away the fluff and policy focus differences – on other major issues. Zuluaga appeared less ambitious (more realistic?) with regards to infrastructure and tangible job creation but went further than Santos on healthcare accessibility and fighting rural poverty. The two did differ on minority rights (with Santos being a proponent of stronger self-government for the indigenous and Afro-Colombian minorities, while Zuluaga focused on affirmative action and improving education) and political reform (Santos going further with ideas to abolish reelection, electoral reform and anti-corruption measures; while Zuluaga focused on reducing costs and improving efficiency in government).
La Silla Vacía had an excellent feature allowing you to compare the candidates’ stances on the major issues, and comparing where Santos and Zuluaga in particular stood on these issues (in Spanish, por supuesto).
Marta Lucía Ramírez was the candidate of the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Colombiano, PCC). Ramírez, an ambitious and determined politician, served as Minister of Foreign Trade under President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) and as Minister of Defense under Álvaro Uribe (2002-2006). In the latter job, her aggressive style and daring ideas (centralizing military procurement) clashed with the military, which was already very cool towards a civilian woman as minister. Elected to the Senate for the Party of the U in 2006, she left the U in 2009 to run, unsuccessfully, for the Conservative presidential nomination in 2010.
The Conservatives were, with the Liberals, the other dominant party for over a century. The Conservatives dominated much of the early twentieth century (until 1930) in Colombia, following the collapse of federalism and the adoption of a highly centralist and strongly conservative constitution in 1886. Like the Liberals, the Conservatives have always been a complex web of competing clans and factions – often led by mutually antagonistic caciques. The Conservatives last held the Colombian presidency between 1998 and 2002, with Andrés Pastrana, most famous for the failed peace negotiations with the FARC which very much weakened the Conservatives in the 2002 elections – so much that they ran no candidates and backed Uribe, while taking a major hit in Congress. Joining the uribista coalition, the Conservatives enjoyed a brief resurgence in congressional elections in 2006 and 2010, but their presidential candidate in 2010, former ambassador and two-time (1998, 2002) independent presidential candidate Noemí Sanín, won only 6.1% and fifth place. The party was very much divided over the current government and its strategy for 2014: most of its congressional candidates were santista, but the party has a strong pro-Uribe group – Alejando Ordóñez, the somewhat controversial Inspector General, is a Conservative and close ally of Uribe, known for conservative and Catholic positions on social issues. Ramírez is a moderate uribista and anti-santista, who was nominated despite the best efforts of Conservative caciques. She had the backing of only 6-8 of the Conservative Party’s 19 senators – in general, the base and local structures were in her favour, but congressmen were largely santista (the government having been good at providing congressmen with ‘marmalade’).
Ramírez landed between the ‘doves’ and the ‘hawks’ on the peace issue – she said that she would set a strict four month to finalize negotiations and insisted that the FARC comply with certain immediate conditions: stop recruiting child soldiers, immediate stop to all war crimes and cooperation in the eradication of minefields. Ramírez also promised that there would be a referendum on the deals which had already been reached with the FARC. Her campaign also focused on improving education, expanding access to post-secondary education and boosting youth entrepreneurship.
Clara López ran for the Democratic Alternative Pole (Polo Democrático Alternativo, PDA), the largest left-wing party in Colombia. The country stands out from its neighbors because the left has always been weak: the ties (real or imagined) of many left-wingers to the FARC have brought the leftist brand into disrepute while paramilitaries and drug cartels have often assassinated left-wing politicians – in the 1980s, for example, the pro-FARC Patriotic Union (UP), was more or less exterminated by the cartels and paramilitaries in the 1980s and 1990s until it was forced stop participating in elections. The Polo was founded in 2005, by the merger of two parties. Since then, it has been one of the few parties unambiguously in opposition to both Uribe and Santos. Many of its politicians were members or sympathized with armed guerrilla movements in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the demobilized (in 1990) M-19 group.
In 2006, the Polo benefited from a polarization of public opinion and its candidate, Carlos Gaviria (called a communist by Uribe), won 22% and placed a distant second to Uribe. However, it won only a few seats in Congress (10 in the Senate, 8 in the Chamber). In Congress, however, many Polo leaders over time have gained notoriety for leading charges against the government – under Uribe, then-senator Gustavo Petro blew the whistle in the parapolitics case and the Polo opposed the FTA with the US and backed same-sex marriage bills. In 2010, the party was weakened by rising internal dissent between moderates (clearly anti-FARC) and leftists (some with lingering sympathies for the FARC); the Polo lost seats in the congressional elections (8 and 5 seats in the two respective houses) and the party’s candidate, moderate senator Gustavo Petro, won 9%. After the election, a major internal crisis led to moderates around Petro quitting the party, which is now led by Clara López.
López is the niece of former President Alfonso López Michelsen (1974-1978), a left-wing Liberal who opposed the National Front arrangement with the Conservatives, and López herself made her first steps in local politics in Bogotá under the banner of Luis Carlos Galán’s New Liberalism in the mid-1980s before moving towards the left and the UP. She was a close ally of former Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno (2008-2011), who was removed from office by the Inspector General because of corruption scandals (construction kickbacks). She became acting mayor of Bogotá for six months in 2011 after Moreno’s removal from office, and she made a very good impression. After having been Gustavo Petro’s running-mate in 2010, López became a harsh critic of Petro, especially after his 2011 election as mayor of Bogotá and subsequent controversial policies of his administration.
The Polo agreed with the government on the peace process, and López promised to honour whatever agreements the Santos government had reached. The Polo, however, disagrees with Santos on most other issues. López promised substantial state investments in housing, a judicial reform to make it more democratic and transparent, a restructuring of the health system, reforming private health insurers (who manage public healthcare funds), free education to the university level, doubling spending on education, stricter regulation of big mining companies and banning big mining projects in fragile natural ecosystems.
López shifted her campaign towards the centre, trying to appeal to a wider crowd of unhappy voters rather than the narrower left-wing base. She placed more emphasis on issues which differentiated her from Santos – education, healthcare – and argued that he was disconnected from the reality.
The Polo’s 2014 strategy revolved around harnessing the 2013 social protest movements. Many of its congressional candidates in March were recruited from social movements (miners, truckers, healthcare, academia, agriculture) or trade unions. López’s candidacy was endorsed by the main teacher’s union (Fecode) and the largest trade union confederation in the country (CUT), and supported by the UP (which was recreated in 2013) – López’s running mate was from the UP.
Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, a former coffee worker union leader from Tolima, was the Polo’s top candidate for Senate in March and was the single most voted candidate in the country (191,910 votes or 1.3% of the total votes cast), although that didn’t stop the party from losing a total of 5 seats in both houses of Congress. Robledo gained notoriety and popularity for being an active, competent legislator and as a vocal congressional opponent to Uribe and Santos (free trade, defense agreement with the US, agricultural policy). He was investigated by the Attorney General for presumed ties to the FARC, but it is widely believed that the investigation, now dropped, was politically-motivated.
Enrique Peñalosa was the candidate of the Green Alliance (Alianza Verde) – or perhaps more accurately, the Green Party (Partido Verde, PV). Peñalosa won the Green Alliance’s nomination in a successful open primary organized alongside the congressional elections in March.
The Green Alliance is the result of the September 2013 alliance of the Green Party with the Progressives Movement (Movimiento Progresistas). Located in the centre of the spectrum, the Greens adopted their name in 2009 (although they were founded in 2005) and did, all things considered, remarkably well in the 2010 presidential election with the candidacy of the eccentric former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus. Mockus placed a very distant second with 21.5% in the first round, but lost heavily in the second round (27.5%). In Congress, however, the Greens won few seats in 2010 – 5 senators and 3 representatives. The Greens are something of a big-tent party, with little ideological cohesion – pro-government voices (the Greens were considered part of the governing coalition until recently), some close to Uribe and others on the left opposed the government.
Enrique Peñalosa, who comes from a political family (his father was a Liberal cabinet minister in the 1960s and a diplomat), was elected mayor of Bogotá as an independent Liberal dissident in 1997 (on his third try) and held the office until 2000, when he was replaced by Antanas Mockus, the gadfly maverick who had defeated him in 1994. Given his background in urban studies, Peñalosa’s administration liked big infrastructure projects and expanding public spaces. Peñalosa is hard to define ideologically – he leans to the left on matters such as social equality but strongly supports law-and-order, which made him sympathize with the legal paramilitary groups/private militias (CONVIVIR) in the 1990s (that idea went about just as well as you’d expect it, before it was ruled unconstitutional in 1997) and, later, with Álvaro Uribe’s security policies. In his 2007 mayoral candidacy, Peñalosa was supported by the Liberal Party and the uribista coalition, but lost 28.2% to 43.7% to Samuel Moreno, the left-wing Polo candidate. In 2011, Peñalosa ran for mayor, losing against Gustavo Petro, but Uribe’s endorsement of Peñalosa’s candidacy split the Greens and led Mockus to leave the party.
The Progressives Movement was founded in 2011 by the Polo’s 2010 presidential candidate and former Senator Gustavo Petro, who represented a moderate (social democratic, notably pro-FTA with the US) and more resolutely anti-FARC wing of the fractious left-wing party. Petro left the Polo shortly after the 2010 election, after having lost the leadership of the party to his former running mate, Clara López, and strongly criticizing the corrupt municipal administration of Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno. Petro was elected mayor of Bogotá in 2011; he has been unpopular with some voters (he has a personality which can alienate some) and was criticized for a trash removal crisis in 2012 (he decided to not renew the city’s contract with private companies, and instead hand it over to a public company, but errors by the government and the resistance by the unhappy private firms led to a chaotic trash crisis). He was facing a recall vote.
In early December 2013, the Inspector General’s office removed him from office and banned him from holding public office for a period of 15 years, on the grounds that his actions in the waste collection crisis had violated the constitution. The decision, which was later temporarily suspended by a court awaiting judgement from a higher court, reeked of political persecution (as Petro claims): the decision was unexpectedly severe (especially the long ban from holding office; Moreno faced only a year-long ban from office), the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, is a conservative supporter of Uribe and opponent of the peace talks. In March, the Superior Council of the Judiciary and the Council of State struck down the court’s decision and confirmed the Inspector General’s ruling, but later that month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the immediate suspension of his removal from office, but President Santos ignored the decision. In late April, a higher court in Bogotá ordered the government to comply with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ ruling and immediately reinstated Petro. It is unclear if the recall referendum, originally scheduled for April 6, will still be held.
The primary was a major success, with over 4.2 million votes being cast (over 3 million of them valid). Enrique Peñalosa handily won the primary, taking 47% and 2 million votes, against only 17% for Progressives Senator Camilo Romero and 8.2% for ‘Mockusian’ Green John Sudarsky. However, Peñalosa’s victory continued to divide the newborn alliance – his proximity to Uribe totally alienates a good deal of the left from him. Sudarsky immediately announced that he would not support Peñalosa, adding that he considered Peñalosa’s victory to be illegitimate because he was, he claimed, elected with Uribe’s votes. Two week before the first round, Gustavo Petro and his party announced that they would support Santos, to endorse the peace process.
Despite his left-wing opponents’ constant emphasis of his friendship-alliance with Uribe, Peñalosa still supported the peace process – but criticized the government for playing politics with the issue, and stressing that FARC members should face sanctions in accordance with international law. Peñalosa also focused heavily on education issues, promising to increase teachers’ pay and build more schools. On environmental issues, Peñalosa supported ‘sustainable mining’ respectful of the environment, because such projects would provide resources to fund infrastructure projects; he also supported the use of sustainable methods of public transit in urban areas and measures to protect natural environments.
Results – First Round
The first round was held on May 25. Turnout was 40.09%, down from 49% in 2010 and 43.6% in the March congressional elections.
Turnout in Colombia has generally been very low – in fact, 40% is by no means a record low or even particularly unusual – turnout was about 33% in 1994, and turnout in presidential elections has not been over 50% since 1998, and it had already been quite low since the 1960s. The armed conflict, in which the Colombian government often lacked total sovereignty over its own territory and which saw armed groups bar voters from voting, has played a major role in Colombia’s very low turnout. Areas controlled by the FARC have historically had very low turnout, although on the other hand, in some regions controlled by paramilitaries, turnout was often quite high as a result of some paramilitaries supporting candidates and marshaling voters to the polls. In addition, since the 1960s-1970s, discontent with the political system – seen as corrupt and with few differences between the parties – has likely played a major role in reducing turnout further. All in all, Colombia’s history has meant that there is no strong civic culture promoting electoral participation.
In total, 13.2 million out of 32.975 million potential voters participated. 12.87 million votes (97.3%) were valid – that is, votes for a candidate (94% of the valid votes) or a voto en blanco (6%). Not counted in these totals are invalid votes (2.3% of all votes cast) and unmarked ballots (0.3%). The number of voto en blancos has increased significantly since 2010, when only 1.5% of the valid votes were invalid (about 223k) – but it is down from the congressional elections (in the Senate election, 10.4% of ballots were invalid, 5.9% were returned unmarked and 6.2% of valid votes were votos en blanco. Results are calculated as a percentage of valid votes.
Óscar Iván Zuluaga (CD) 29.28%
Juan Manuel Santos (UN) 25.72%
Marta Lucía Ramírez (Conservative) 15.52%
Clara López (Polo-UP) 15.21%
Enrique Peñalosa (Green) 8.27%
Votos en blanco 5.98%
The results of the first round shook up the incumbent President’s campaign. Santos placed second, with only 25.7%, behind uribista candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who won 29.3%. The actual result was not a surprise or totally unexpected, however. When I wrote my post on the congressional elections, it still seemed as if Santos would win reelection fairly easily, because none of his opponents had managed to stand out by then. He had a double digit lead over his main opponents at the time – Zuluaga and/or Peñalosa, although Santos was only in the high 20s or low 30s himself in those polls. This indicated that Santos was weak himself, because of his relative unpopularity, but remained the favourite because of the weakness of his opponents. Many felt that Santos would win, but that there would be a huge number of blank votes in protest.
Zuluaga’s position was looking so weak at the time, unable to break through, that there was lots of talk in uribista circles about dumping him with a better candidate (who?). Furthermore, from the congressional elections, if anybody came out with momentum, it was certainly Enrique Peñalosa – notwithstanding the bad blood in the Green Alliance – who had won over 2 million votes in the Green primary, nearly as many as the Uribe-led CD list for the Senate. Indeed, Peñalosa did enjoy a surge in the polls after the congressional elections, with polls showing him leading in a runoff against Santos and looking as the strongest candidate against the incumbent President in all runoff scenarios. However, Peñalosa’s surge proved to be short lived, and quickly petered out while Zuluaga finally broke through and cemented himself as Santos’ top rival. Final polls showed the two in a dead heat in the first and second rounds.
Juan Manuel Santos had become unpopular because of some controversial policies (the failed judicial reform, education), his handling of the strikes and social movements in 2013 and the general sense that, since 2010, Santos hadn’t accomplished much at all either in terms of socioeconomic issues or security. He struggled to find a message for his campaign, he showed himself to be somewhat disdainful of the Unidad Nacional‘s caciques and Germán Vargas Lleras’ pick as his running mate created problems within the coalition. At any rate, Vargas Lleras proved to be a disappointment as a running mate and lead figure for the Santos campaign, which meant that he was kept away from the runoff campaign. This also means that his potential presidential candidacy in 2018 might not be such a sure thing anymore.
On the issue of peace, many voters agreed with aspects of both Santos and Zuluaga’s platforms – the vague idea of peace (Santos) appealed, but many voters disliked the idea of political rights for former FARC rebels or letting them get off the hook easy. Many voters who disliked Santos finally found a home with Zuluaga, whose 3.769 million votes far surpassed the 2.045 million votes won by the Uribe-led CD list for the Senate in March. This is not surprising, because it was clear that the CD had not won the support of all uribistas – Uribe continues to be quite popular with a majority of the electorate. On the other hand, Santos failed to match the 4,975,869 votes won by the U+PLC+CR in the senatorial race in March (he won 3,310,794 in the first round) – which, again, is not surprising because a lot of those votes were votes for local senatorial candidates-caciques from these parties rather than votes for the President. A number of Liberal or other strongholds failed to show up for Santos and the personal strongholds of pro-Santos strongmen around the country didn’t follow their local boss. Turnout was very low in the Caribbean coastal region, departments which are strongholds of the Unidad Nacional, and particularly of powerful pro-Santos caciques. Although turnout is usually low in this region, it was very low in the first round – only 24% in La Guajira, 24.3% in Atlántico or 26.7% in Bolívar – indicating that the local caciques might have sat on their hands. The central regions, where Zuluaga won, had higher turnout and – unlike the Costa – tend to show up more for presidential elections than congressional elections.
Marta Lucía Ramírez came out much stronger from the presidential election, despite placing third. With 15.5% and nearly 2 million votes on her name, she definitely proved her naysayers and opponents in the Conservative Party wrong. Despite lacking the support of many Conservative caciques, who preferred to back their benefactor (Santos), she managed to win more votes than her party had won in the senatorial race in March (1.944 million, she won 1,997,980) – keeping in mind that a lot of those Conservative votes were for Conservative caciques who backed Santos. In 2010, Noemí Sanín’s disappointing campaign only won some 893k votes. Her success boosts her profile and standing within the Conservative Party, and places her in a good position to become the party’s leading contender for the presidency in 2018 – however, the party remains internally divided.
Clara López was another winner, which, like with Ramírez, comes out strengthened while her – which was revealed to be internally divided over López’s strategy and its attitude vis-á-vis Santos – is weakened. López won 1.958 million votes, far more than the 540,000 or so votes received by the Polo’s candidates for Senate in March. She still falls far short of the 2.6 million votes received by the Polo against Uribe in 2006, but still more than the 1.3 million leftist base held by the Polo in 2010. Her ‘reinvention’ – a more centrist outlook (despite an alliance with the markedly left-wing UP), an attempt to broaden the party’s reach beyond the narrow left and a physical makeover for the candidate (see this article from La Silla Vacía) – certainly played some role in her success.
The other main loser was Enrique Peñalosa, whose much-vaunted campaign turned out to be a damp rag which quickly petered out. He was hurt by his inability to impose his leadership either within the Green Alliance – which finds itself more or less dead with Petro’s friends backing Santos from the first round – and in the first round campaign. He had a real opportunity to make himself into Santos’ top opponent, but his support ended up collapsing quickly and largely moving (probably) towards Zuluaga. In the Green primary, Peñalosa had won 2 million votes himself, but in the election he lost a bit less than half of that – only left with a bit over 1 million votea. He did not endorse any candidate in the runoff and kept silent – maybe an honourable thing to do, but politically stupid because he became irrelevant (while Ramírez and López kept their relevance).
The first round ‘defeat’ shook up the Santos campaign – it proved to be a major warning call to the President’s reelection campaign, which seems to have awoken them to the risk that he could lose reelection if things didn’t change. Germán Vargas Lleras, who was more centre stage in the first round campaign, was sidelined and former President César Gaviria (1990-1994) – who has retained a major role in Liberal backrooms since then – took the reins of the campaign, which proved to be a good thing for the campaign (and a boon for the Liberal Party, which had kind of gotten shafted when Santos picked Vargas Lleras his running mate). The Santos campaign more or less adopted two, quite contradictory, strategies: appealing to the left (on the theme of peace) and bolstering the positions of the Unidad Nacional‘s caciques in the reelection campaign (as the congressional elections showed, they are the main strength of the U and the other parties, rather than any high-profile national stars). The message also became extremely clear: peace. Santos’ campaign sought to draw a black-white dichotomy between Santos (peace) and Zuluaga (war) – in campaign ads, like the one shown below, the message was that there was ‘only one choice’ – between peace (associated with flowery and colourful images of happy daily life or Colombia’s beauty) and war (a shock, grayscale image of a body bag or rows of graves in a cemetery). Santos’ supporters in the press often painted Uribe as a fascist warmonger, a ‘criollo Rasputin’ or ‘Terminator’ and his allies as obedient sheep. On the other hand, though, Uribe’s allies in the press insinuated that Santos was going to surrender to the FARC.
Ramírez, López and their respective parties found themselves as the main kingmakers for a very closely disputed second round. It also happened that both of their parties were deeply divided, and that the candidate’s word was not gold.
Ramírez’s rivals within the Conservative Party were taken aback by her success, but they remained firmly in the santista camp. Ramírez and her ramirista followers pushed for an official endorsement of Zuluaga by the party, claiming that there was more common ground with him than there was with Santos and because they opposed Santos’ reelection. Santos’ supporters in the party sought to prevent the Conservatives from officially endorsing Zuluaga, which would give them more leeway to use their machines to back Santos. Furthermore, these congressmen have little to no experience in actually being in the opposition, given that they’ve been in government (officially or unofficially) for the good part of the last 15 years, and that they have no taste to abandon the perks of power. Many santista Conservatives also feared that if Ramírez broke all bridges with the Unidad Nacional by endorsing Zuluaga, angry members of the Unidad Nacional coalition would be out for blood and would punish Conservative congressmen by denying them committee chairmanships or the like. Ultimately, the different factions of the Conservative Party resolved to go their separate ways. On May 28, over 30 Conservative congressmen officially endorsed Santos. Ramírez officially endorsed Zuluaga. As a result of Ramírez’s endorsement, Zuluaga took a more moderate and pragmatic tone on the issue of the peace talks – the text of the deal signed between the two candidates made no mention of Zuluaga’s previous maximalist conditions (giving the FARC an unrealistic 8 days to declare a verifiable and permanent cease-fire), and instead read that the new government would evaluate the agreements reached to date and ask the FARC to show goodwill to continue the talks (these ‘signs of goodwill’ being more or less the conditions which Ramírez’s first round campaign had laid out). Zuluaga downplayed the implications of his pragmatic shift, styling his (new) policy as ‘peace without impunity’. Many noted that Zuluaga’s less dogmatic stances threatened to weaken Santos’ runoff argument that it was a black and white battle between war and peace.
As this graphic shows, a large chunk of the Conservative caucus sided with Santos – powerful veteran Senator Roberto Gerlein (from Atlántico, he has served since 1974), Senator Efraín Cepeda (Atlántico), Senator Hernán Andrade and Senator-elect Laureano Acuña (also from Atlántico). Ramírez-Zuluaga’s supporters included senators Nora García Burgos, Myriam Paredes, Javier Mauricio Delgado, Jorge Hernando Pedraza and Conservative leader Ómar Yepes.
The Polo was similarly divided between those who wanted to endorse Santos to defend the peace negotiations and those who opposed any endorsement of the incumbent because of ideological differences (usually economic issues). Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, the most voted senator in March, led those who argued that Santos and Zuluaga were two sides of the same coin and that the Polo, therefore, should endorse no candidate (Robledo personally endorsed a voto en blanco). Senator Iván Cepeda led those members of the Polo, more focused on peace issues than economic issues, who supported Santos’ reelection to protect the prospect of peace. A few days after the first round, the Polo officially decided to not endorse any candidates and leave their voters free to choose. This position sought to conciliate the two opposing tendencies within the parties – the anti-santista one led by Robledo, emphasizing the lack of common ground with Santos on economic issues (who argue that peace is not sufficient reason to endorse Santos); and one led by Iván Cepeda and Clara López, emphasizing the shared commitment to peace (arguing that there is a real, historic need to defend the peace process, and to keep the uribistas out). López’s running mate, Aída Avella, who comes from the UP, shared the latter position.
Clara López, however, decided not only to publicly endorse Santos but to campaign for him and appear in a TV ad for him. Robledo, understandably angry, accused her of breaking the Polo’s agreement, but even soft strategic santistas/anti-uribistas within the Polo were visibly bothered by López’s very public support of the incumbent President. Others in the Polo criticized López and Santos for appropriating the symbols and logo of the party for Santos’ runoff campaign – for instance, there was lots of unease about the use of the Polo’s logo on Santos campaign banners.
Santos was therefore quite successful in giving his runoff campaign the appearance of a broad, civic movement for peace backed by parts of the left and the right. In addition to Clara López and other members of the Polo/UP, the Santos campaign publicized the endorsements of Antanas Mockus (who had been defeated by Santos in 2010), well-known former FARC hostage and 2002 presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, Progressives Senator Antonio Navarro Wolff (one of the Colombian left’s most well-known figures, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla group until its 1990 demobilization who became a leading politician afterwards) and Green Senator-elect Claudia López (the most voted Green candidate in March, who has worked on election observation and investigating corruption and parapolitics). Claudia López, however, in her campaign ad for Santos, underlined that she was only endorsing the President to support the peace talks.
The other, much less publicized aspect of Santos’ reelection campaign was activating the Unidad Nacional‘s lucrative and powerful network of party bosses and regional caciques – including strategic, opportunistic alliances with corrupt caciques which the Santos campaign did not want to be made public. Under Santos’ administration, millions in state funds have been doled out to congressmen by ministries, parastatals and government agencies – the (in)famous mermelada (marmalade), as it has been known in Colombia. The system, described in great detailed by an article from La Silla Vacía, works as follows: government officials negotiate directly with individual congressmen, giving them a ‘quota’ in pork-barrel spending; the congressmen turn around and inform local mayors of the amounts conceded so that they may submit project requests (which get approved and funded from various public sources); the contractor who wins the contract is usually pre-determined and is a local ally who pays a commission to the congressmen. The system operates so that it benefits everybody: the government effectively ‘buys’ the votes of congressmen with marmalade, the local mayors return the favour by getting out the vote for their local cacique and contractors usually get a good deal as well. The government defends itself by saying that marmalade is no different from traditional public investment – of course, omitting to mention that marmalade is a very opaque process and absolutely not transparent. U Senators Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile, political bosses from the Caribbean department of Córdoba, are usually known as being the ‘champions’ of marmlades (ingesting millions of dollars in marmalade). To prove how well it pays off, both men were the most voted U senators nationally in March – with particular strength in Córdoba (where they allowed the U to win 41.2%), although Musa Besaile has used his share of marmalade to build personal networks in other Caribbean departments (Sucre, Magdalena, Bolívar) and parts of Antioquia. The aforecited article details how these two senators increased their preferential votes in March 2014 in the municipalities treated to their marmalade.
Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile were both shunned by the Santos campaign in the first round, because Santos did not want to show himself publicly with these two controversial posterchild of corruption. One even more embarrassing ally of the reelection campaign was Yahir Acuña, a representative-elect from Sucre and leader of his own family enterprise-cum-party, 100% Colombia (which won the most votes in Sucre in the election for representatives in March). Yahir Acuña, who also controls the two representatives for the Afro-Colombian minority in the Chamber, is a fascinating (and very controversial) figure: he is the former protégé of former governor Salvador Arana (now a convicted murderer in the parapolitics scandal, serving 40 years), has close ties to other unsavoury figures of local politics (local businesswoman ‘La Gata’, now convicted for links to paramilitaries and for homicide) and is himself suspected of parapolitics (ties with the local AUC). Acuña aptly built alliances with no less than seven senatorial candidates in March 2014 (which is rare: usually, in Colombia, senators are the ones who back candidates for the lower house), allegedly offering them votes in exchange for money; in the congressional elections, Acuña convincingly imposed himself as the new cacique of Sucre (displacing the clan behind former senator Álvaro ‘El Gordo’ García and his wife, senator Teresita García; ‘El Gordo’ is serving a 40-year jail sentence for links to paramilitaries and masterminding a 2000 massacre which killed 15). Acuña managed to force his way into a first round campaign event with Germán Vargas Lleras (and appear in a picture with him), much to the displeasure of other santistas and Vargas Lleras.
Santos himself is personal friends with former U senator Piedad Zuccardi (currently on trial for parapolitics) and other figures of the García clan in Bolívar department (Juan José García, a former senator and original godfather of the clan – convicted for corruption and paramilitary ties, who is the brother of ‘El Gordo’ and in-laws with an extradited drug trafficker; their son, Andrés García Zuccardi, was elected to the Senate for the U in March). Despite the fact that both husband and wife are convicted or on trial for parapolitics, they were welcomed to the Santos campaign and attended several campaign events and ‘Juancho’ García retains significant influence (he successfully managed to get José David Name elected as President of the Senate – backed in this effort by former U senator Dilian Francisca Toro, indicted for money laundering on behalf of the Cali cartel).
Both Zuluaga and Santos courted the Civic Option, the latest incarnation of the National Integration Party (PIN), a ‘party’ founded and led by politicians tied to paramilitaries or relatives of such politicians. The party, which remains to this day a haven for convicted or suspected ‘parapoliticians’, their families and other criminals, still has 5 senators and 6 representatives. Zuluaga met with the Santander caucus of Civic Option (chaired by Senator Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar, the brother of current governor Richard Aguilar and the son of former governor Hugo Aguilar, arrested for parapolitics in 2011; the Aguilar clan are the local rivals of Liberal strongman Horacio Serpa), but he refused to ally with the Caribbean caucus of the party (which includes Teresita García, Acuña’s ally Julio Miguel Guerra and ‘La Gata”s ally Antonio Correa). The Civic Option gave no endorsement and decided to give its ‘members’ freedom to choose in the runoff – the costeños supported Santos, Mauricio Aguilar endorsed Zuluaga but his brother endorsed Santos (I guess the family wanted to put their eggs in both baskets).
Results – Second Round
The second round was held on June 15. Turnout was 47.89%, up from 40% in the first round and higher than the turnout in March or the last three presidential decisive rounds (runoff in 2010, first rounds in 2002 and 2006).
In total, 15.79 million out of 32.975 million potential voters participated. 15.34 million votes (97.1%) were valid – that is, votes for a candidate (96% of the valid votes) or a voto en blanco (4%). Not counted in these totals are invalid votes (2.6% of all votes cast) and unmarked ballots (0.3%). Results are calculated as a percentage of valid votes.
Juan Manuel Santos (UN) 50.95%
Óscar Iván Zuluaga (CD) 45.00%
Votos en blanco 4.03%
After a tough first round, President Juan Manuel Santos was reelected by a comfortable margin of about 6 points, defeating uribista candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga. However, the victory came at a heavy price for Santos: the campaign showed him to be a fairly week politician and administrator (especially when compared to Álvaro Uribe), he comes out of the 2014 electoral cycle with a much weaker majority in Congress and a reduced majority for himself and the opposition which comes out of 2014 is much stronger than the disparate mess of an opposition which come out of 2010.
The final section of this post (geographic analysis) will provide a detailed answer to the factors which allowed for Santos’ reelection, but to put it quickly, Santos owes his victory to the successful mobilization of first round left-wing voters in his favour in urban areas (especially in Bogotá, one of the few departments which switched from the first round, in his favour) and the Unidad Nacional‘s caciques showing their muscle and mobilizing their powerful political machines (above all in the Costa-Caribbean region) in the President’s favour (after many caciques had only half-assed it in the first round). Much of the turnout increased benefited the incumbent, especially in the Costa. Between the two rounds, Santos’ vote total increased from 3.3 million to 7.81 million – a gain of over 4.5 million votes, from abstention and the Polo, Greens or Conservatives.
Therefore, Santos is indebted to a lot of people as he begins his second term: the caciques (who is not fond of, but must live with), the left (whose support was only strategic and ephemeral) and the Liberal Party (thanks to César Gaviria and other Liberal bosses, who contributed a lot to his victory).
The reelected President faces a number of major challenges in the next four years: a difficult and tortuous peace process with the FARC/ELN, which he would like to finalize before 2015; economic challenges including inequalities and natural resources and corruption. He will need to face these challenges with a reduced congressional majority, and a much stronger and vocal opposition led from the Senate by Uribe himself.
Álvaro Uribe, and Zuluaga, were winners despite losing. Lacking almost all the advantages of the Unidad Nacional – the state apparatus, the political machinery of the caciques, access to the marmalade, the support of most of the media and a good part of the business circles, Uribe’s CD nevertheless managed to impose itself as the leading opposition party to Santos, winning 6.9 million votes (45%) in the second round – that is, an additional gain of over 3.1 million votes from Zuluaga’s first round total (3.75 million), despite most of the left (Polo) and Greens being against him and his potential reserve (Ramírez’s Conservative votes) being only a bit less than 2 million. The 2015 regional and municipal elections will likely confirm the CD as the leading opposition force in Colombia, especially on the back of the CD’s strong results in Antioquia and Medellín. Some have suggested that the emergence of a clear, ideologically coherent right-wing around uribismo and the CD will lead to a realignment of Colombian politics, perhaps following the model of post-Pinochet Chilean politics with the broad-based Concertación coalition opposing a right which is off-putting to many. At the same time, however, given that the caciques and their politics of clientelism were the other main winners of 2014, it is unlikely that Colombia will move towards Chile’s tradition of strongly ideological and party-based politics (which remains fairly unique for South America).
Crucial to Santos’ support in both rounds were the patronage machines of the caciques in the Costa region (departments of La Guajira, Cesar, Magdalena, Atlántico, Bolívar, Sucre and Córdoba). Santos won all of these departments by comfortable margins in both rounds – the main, key difference being that turnout in the Costa in May was low (lower than in March) and Santos failed to capture all the votes cast for the Unidad Nacional in March. For example, in the department of Córdoba, the U – with senators Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile – had won over 270,000 votes in March but Santos won only 206,000. In the second round, the most notable increases in turnout were registered in the Costa (according to the Observatorio de Procesos Electorales, turnout increased from 30% to 44% in the region); an analysis by the Foro Ecónomico found a very strong positive correlation between higher turnout and support for the President (estimating that about 90% of ‘new voters’ backed Santos).
Santos won his best result in the second round in Atlántico, where he won 78.2% against 20.1% for Zuluaga (he had already won 48% in May) – between the two rounds, Santos increased his vote intake from a bit less than 195k to about 541.5k (including an increase from 81.8k to 267.6k in Barranquilla, the departmental capital). Turnout, which was only 24.3% in May, surged to 41.4% in June. While Zuluaga also increased his own vote share from May, it is quite clear that Santos’ massive gains between both rounds in the department played a key role to his regional and national victory (his margin of victory in Atlántico came close to cancelling out Zuluaga’s margin of victory in Antioquia – the second most populous department, while Atlántico is only the fifth). In Atlántico, Santos had the support of the entire local political machinery and caciques – Conservative senators Roberto Gerlein, Efraín Cepeda, Laureano Acuña; the Char dynasty (now represented by CR senator Arturo Char); U senators José David Name and Miguel Amín Escaf and Liberal senator Álvaro Ashton. La Silla Vacía examined the Atlántico ‘phenomenon which gave the victory to Santos’, and cited other factors including government investments following 2010 floods, fear of paramilitaries and a voto de opinión (ideological vote, not ‘tied down’ by the caciques) in Barranquilla (where López won over 16% in the first round).
Santos also triumphed in the second round by wide margins in Magdalena (67.7% vs 30.7%), La Guajira (71.1% vs 27.3%), Cesar (60.6% vs 37.3%), Sucre (60.1% vs 38.3%) and Córdoba (63.6% vs 34.9%), while his tightest margin came from Bolívar (58% vs 39.7%). The President had already done well in the first round, percentage-wise, breaking 50% in Córdoba and Magdalena, but a significant increase in turnout (from 36% to 52.3% in Córdoba) in these departments meant that Santos built up his margin of victory. It was largely thanks to the support of the region’s powerful caciques: Ñoño Elías and Musa Besaile (U, Córdoba), the García-Zuccardi clan (U, Bolívar), Yahir Acuña (100% Colombia, Sucre), the Gnecco clan (Cesar, led by U senator José Alfredo Gnecco, allied with former governor of La Guajira ‘Kiko’ Gómez, arrested for murder in 2013), Sandra Villadiego (U, Bolívar, wife of parapolitician Miguel Ángel Rangel), Yamina Pestana (Conservative, Sucre/Córdoba, heir of her imprisoned brother) and the inconvenient allies from the Civic Option (from Sucre: Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto, Teresita García Romero and La Gata’s senator Antonio Correa). After being snubbed by the President in the first round, the reelection campaign kicked into full gear and activated these cacique’s powerful GOTV operations.
Of course, not all the costeño vote comes from caciques and not all caciques are costeños. There was a significant voto de opinión for Zuluaga and López in the region – Zuluaga, in the first round, placed first in Cartagena (30.1% vs. 24.9% for Santos and a solid 20.1% for López; he lost 41 to 55 on June 15) and López won solid results in Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. Zuluaga had much less machine support (he had some from Conservatives Nora García and David Barguil in Córdoba, a part of the Guerra clan in Sucre around CD senator Maria del Rosario) although he did have some solid bases with cattle ranchers and businessmen in the cities. In the second round, Santos successfully built an amusing alliance uniting the caciques with left-wing activists.
The strongest uribista margin came from the department of Antioquia, the second-most populous department in Colombia centered around Medellín and its valley. The department, which is Uribe’s home turf (he was governor of Antioquia before becoming President), is the stronghold of the CD – uribismo and anti-santismo are very strong in the department, the CD’s senatorial bench is large here (6 senators, led by Álvaro Uribe himself), uribismo is supported by the networks of former governor Luis Alfredo Ramos (now in jail, his son is a CD senator) and the ideological draw of Uribe easily cancelled out the weak machinery backing Santos. In the first round, Zuluaga won 37.5% in Antioquia against 16.2% for Santos, who landed third behind Ramírez (18.9%); in Medellín, Santos placed fourth with only 10% behind Zuluaga at 39.5%, Ramírez at 19.5% and López at 16.2%. In the Medellín suburbs of Bello and Itagüí – despite backing from local Conservative senators – Santos only placed fourth. However, thanks to a mobilization of the vote led by César Gaviria, Santos did manage to close the gap in the second round – Zuluaga still won clearly, 57.8% to 35.8% (and 63% to 29% in Medellín), but Santos grew his vote from 286k to 704.1k, and made some significant gains in Medellín’s metro Valle de Aburrá. However, despite support from parts of the Conservative machines in the Medellín metro and Oriente, Santos still lost badly – uribismo was stronger than any machine support (which was weak and disorganized, compared to the massive GOTV efforts in the Costa). The incumbent President dominated the more remote regions of Urabá and the Bajo Cauca (the far west and north of the department respectively), where the political machines are stronger.
Bogotá, Colombia’s capital and largest city, was the major battleground and a major factor in Santos’ reelection. In the first round, it was practically a free-for-all in the capital: Zuluaga won 22.1% (although this was a poor result, below the CD’s senatorial result in March), López won 20.4% (and placed first in several neighborhoods), Santos won 18.1%, former Green mayor Enrique Peñalosa won 16% and Ramírez won 14.9% (considered a strong result given Conservative weakness in the city). Like in other regions, Santos’ first round campaign was a mess but the runoff campaign was much better coordinated and orderly – around Carlos Fernando Galán (CR senator, son of Luis Carlos Galán), Gina Parody (2011 mayoral candidate, now minister of education), David Luna (an adviser to the President), Armando Benedetti (U senator, known as an advocate of progressive causes and LGBT rights in the U), Germán Varón (CR senator) and others from the Liberal Party. The runoff campaign could also count on strong support from the left – mayor Gustavo Petro, who endorsed Santos before the first round, Clara López (who is now often cited as a leading mayoral candidate for 2015) and other organizations (the UP, Marcha Patriótica, some Greens, trade unions, LGBT rights movements). Zuluaga could count on the support of ‘Pacho’ Santos (a potential mayoral candidate for the CD in 2015), the anti-Petro movement in the capital and the second round endorsement of Marta Lucía Ramírez – on top of the image of Álvaro Uribe, popular in Bogotá like in much of Colombia.
In the second round, both candidates made impressive gains in Bogotá – Santos from 444k to 1.337 million and Zuluaga from 542.4k to 1.075 million – but Santos won, 52.5% to 42.2%, making Bogotá one of the few close races in the country.
Bogotá’s result symbolized the other key aspect of the Santos reelection: attracting voters who had supported the left in the first round, as well as some Conservatives. In other regions of Colombia where López had done well in the first round, Santos clearly dominated in the runoff. In the first round, López had placed first in a number of communities in the Catatumbo region of the Norte de Santander department, the region of campesino leader (and now Polo senator) Alberto Castilla; in the runoff, Santos won over 80% in the three municipalities won by López. As a result, Santos, who had lost the department by 3 to Zuluaga in May won it by 4 in June. In the first round, the Polo’s candidate had placed first in the oil refineries city of Barrancabermeja in Santander (with 32.1% against 29.2% for Santos); in the runoff, Santos won 74.2% in the city. The department of Santander, where Santos could also rely on the old (but weakened) networks of Liberal boss Horacio Serpa, was another department which switched from Zuluaga to Santos (53.2% to 43.1% for the CD candidate).
In the department of Cundinamarca, Santos – while losing 41.4% to 54.2% for Zuluaga – still made substantial gains from the first round, where he won only 17.9% and third place. Ramírez, the Conservative candidate, did very well in the department – 23.1% and second, and she thoroughly dominated most of the Bogotá savanna municipalities located in the high plateau north of the capital (which seems to be her native region). Her support extended in the department of Boyacá, where she won 20.6% (López actually placed second here, with 21%, thanks to the 2013 agrarian strike movement in the department). In both regions, while Ramírez’s vote largely went to Zuluaga (and López’s support for Santos), it is clear that the Conservative vote in May didn’t unanimously support Zuluaga.
The Foro Económico’s analysis, linked above, estimated that over 80% of López’s voters backed Santos in the runoff. Ramírez’s voters split, in majority, in Zuluaga’s favour but Santos attracted a fair share of her voters in the second round. Surprisingly, it also estimated that Peñalosa’s supporters largely supported Zuluaga.
Zuluaga dominated much of central and inland Colombia – besides Antioquia and Cundinamarca, he also dominated the Eje Cafetero (Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío), the Andean region (Tolima, Huila), the Llanos (Meta, Casanare, Vichada; defeated narrowly in Arauca) and parts of the Amazonian region (Caquetá, Guaviare and Amazonas). Most of these regions are strongly uribista, where the CD had already done well in March, and where the Unidad Nacional‘s machines are weaker or lack the GOTV capacity (although in many cases, including the Zuluaga bastions of Casanare and Huila, much of the local machines backed the President). In addition to the weakness of the local pro-government machines, Zuluaga also benefited from some support from local Conservatives – Samy Merheg (Risaralda, the brother of former senator Habib Merheg, under investigation for parapolitics), for example. Zuluaga’s second-best national result came from Huila (70.8%), an Andean department which was particularly hit by FARC violence in the past decade. His best result was from Casanare, a Llanos department (where I assume Zuluaga was supported by cattle ranchers and the oil industry), where he won 77.7% (Santos won less than 10% in Casanare in the first round) – Casanare was ironically Santos’ best department in 2010. Departments like Huila, Casanare, Meta and Arauca were also on the losing side of a recent royalties reform, which may have hurt relations between locals, mayors and the central government.
La Silla Vacía analyzed, after the first round, all departments won by Zuluaga and suggested some reasons for his success in each of them.
Casanare reveals a rather ironic, albeit unsurprising, aspect of this election: there was a negative correlation between Santos’ support in 2010 and his 2014 vote, but there was a strong positive correlation between Zuluaga’s 2014 support and Santos’ 2010 vote. This confirms that Santos’ 2010 vote – at least half of it (since Santos lost half of his 2010 vote in the first round) was an uribista vote which voted for Santos as he was Uribe’s candidate in 2010, but abandoned him to back Uribe’s candidate in 2014. Santos’ 2014 support was very different from his 2010 support – four years ago, he had an uribista map while this year he has a new santista map, including huge numbers in departments (such as Atlántico, Chocó, La Guajira etc) which were always rather anti-uribista and/or of Liberal tradition (while Zuluaga won most, but not all, of the core uribista departments and/or those with a Conservative tradition).
Zuluaga won in departments such as Caquetá, Casanare, Meta, Tolima and Huila which have been hurt by the armed conflict and FARC activity, but a closer analysis by La Silla Vacía of the results in the 76 municipalities which are the most affected by FARC violence actually backed Santos more heavily in both rounds (even in departments which voted for Zuluaga, such as Antioquia). In another analysis of atypical results at the local level, La Silla Vacía identified a few cases of FARC pressure in Santos’ favour in Nariño (on the Pacific coast). After the election, the CD denounced ‘over 200′ municipal results in which they claimed that there was FARC influence in Santos’ favour, but the CD’s numbers are clearly big over-exaggerations.
The other Amazonian departments were more supportive of Santos – the President won 70.5% in Vaupés and 54.6% in Guainía, and won the jungle in Amazonas (Zuluaga won thanks to the Amazon port city of Leticia) and most of Vichada. This may be due to strong support from indigenous organizations – about two-thirds of the population of Vaupés and Guainía are indigenous (the highest in the country), and other regions of Colombia with significant indigenous populations also backed Santos (La Guajira, which is 45% indigenous, and Cauca, which is 21.5% indigenous) thanks to strong support from indigenous organizations (ASI in Guainía, MAIS in Cauca).
On the Pacific coast, Santos clearly dominated. He won than 63.4% in Chocó, a remote and impoverished department with an overwhelmingly (82%) Afro-Colombian population; 72.1% in Cauca, which has large indigenous and Afro-Colombian minorities which heavily backed Santos; 66% in Nariño and – most importantly – 61.5% in the Valle del Cauca, the third-most populous department in the country (it includes the city of Cali).
In the Valle, Santos had won a mediocre 27.4% in the first round, with decent results from Ramírez (19.6%, who had support from local Conservatives), López (18.7%, who won second in Cali with 20.5% and Buenaventura) and Zuluaga (19%). Zuluaga received support from local Conservatives in the second round – freshman senator Javier Mauricio Delgado (the nephew of Conservative governor Ubeimar Delgado and the heir of his uncle senator César Tulio Delgado), who did well in March (especially in the Norte del Valle, culturally integrated with the uribista regions of the Eje Cafetero and Antioquia), and it would appear that a lot of Ramírez’s Conservative votes in the Norte del Valle did indeed flow well to Zuluaga on June 15. Santos, however, was supported by U senator-elect Roosevelt Rodríguez, who is the candidate of former U senator Dilian Francisca Toro, under investigation for money laundering of drug trafficking proceeds for the Cali cartel. With Toro’s machinery, Roosevelt Rodríguez was the most popular candidate in the Valle in March. In the runoff, Santos won thanks to the unification of the left-wing vote behind his candidacy – especially in Cali, where with López’s support (and part of Peñalosa’s 12%) he jumped from 24% to 61.8%; and strong support in the coastal city of Buenaventura (79.3%), a troubled Pacific port city which is overwhelmingly Afro-Colombian (89%) and unfortunately famous for the rife criminality, drug trafficking and its sky-high homicide rate.
In Cauca and Nariño, Santos won several near-unanimity results in several municipalities (over 90% of the vote), thanks to a mix of factors: Afro-Colombian support for Santos (desire for peace and autonomy), indigenous support (see above), Liberal machines, FARC influence (either pressure or a desire for peace) and a left-wing base in some places (Carlos Lozano, the leader of the Communist Party and Green senatorial candidate in March, did quite well in a few municipalities in Cauca).
Compared to the results of past presidential elections, particularly Uribe’s 2002 victory against Liberal candidate Horacio Serpa, there is an imperfect but still very perceptible correlation between anti-uribismo or Liberal votes and Santos’ support in 2014 (at the departmental, macro-level). The Caribbean departments are shown to be Liberal – in 2002, Horacio Serpa carried all of them, with the exception of Magdalena (which still voted for the Liberals in 1994 and 1998); Antioquia and, to a lesser extent, Bogotá and Cundinamarca are Conservative and uribista in 2002; the Eje Cafetero was traditionally Conservative prior to 2002 and voted very heavily for Uribe in 2002; Boyacá and Norte de Santander are Conservative; the Valle del Cauca voted Uribe by a wide margin in 2002 but had leaned to the Liberals in elections past; the Pacific coast, except Conservative Nariño, were Liberal (especially Chocó) and the Amazon regions were solidly Liberal until Uribe made major gains in 2002. In 2014, most departments which supported the Liberals over Uribe in 2002 voted for Santos while Zuluaga won most of Uribe’s 2002 departments, again with the leading uribista stronghold being Antioquia.
Colombia is certainly at a key moment in its history, with the peace negotiations with the FARC offering the prospect of some kind of peace while, politically, the return of uribismo as a major electoral force signals an interesting shakeup of the political system.
Finally, I can wrap up this summer-long analysis of the results of the EP elections in the EU’s 28 member-states, with a final look at the last two member-states in this series – Spain and Sweden.
Turnout: 43.81% (-1.09%)
Seats: 54 (nc)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (national constituency)
PP (EPP) 26.09% (-16.03%) winning 16 seats (-8)
PSOE (S&D) 23.01% (-15.77%) winning 14 seats (-9)
Izquierda Plural (GUE/NGL) 10.03% (+6.32%) winning 6 seats (+4)
Podemos (GUE/NGL) 7.98% (+7.98%) winning 5 seats (+5)
UPyD (ALDE) 6.51% (+3.66%) winning 4 seats (+3)
CEU (ALDE/EPP) 5.42% (+0.32%) winning 3 seats (nc)
EPDD (G-EFA) 4.01% (+1.52%) winning 2 seats (+1)
C’s (ALDE) 3.16% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+2)
LPD (GUE/NGL) 2.08% (+0.96%) winning 1 seat (+1)
PE (G-EFA) 1.92% (+1.92%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Vox 1.57% (+1.57%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PACMA 1.13% (+0.87%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.79% (+2.81%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Map source: Wikipedia
Spain is the EU’s fifth largest economy and also its fifth most populous member-state. Since 2008, Spain has been hit hard by the economic crisis, and the country’s protracted economic and social crisis has had significant political ramifications.
Spain enjoyed several years of solid economic growth at the turn of the century, including five consecutive years (2003 to 2007) of growth over 3%. The roots of this growth – and, subsequently, the collapse and prolonged economic crisis – was a rapid property boom between 1997 and 2007, characterized by an exponential increase in housing prices and a booming construction industry. The housing bubble was caused by a strong push towards home ownership in Spain during the transition to democracy, which was promoted by government policies (15% of mortgage payments were tax-deductible, and the liberalization of land use and construction regulations), low interest rates, the lax terms on mortgage loans granted by banks to individuals and businesses. Between 1997 and 2007, the average price by square metre increased from just over €1000/m² to just under €3000/m². To accede to property ownership, many households became heavily indebted – in 2007, when the bubble burst, household debt stood at nearly 130% of income. Although all the warning signs of a housing bubble and its inevitable explosion had been there for several years, successive governments – both José María Aznar’s conservative People’s Party (PP) government from 1996 to 2004 and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s first Socialist (PSOE) government from 2004 to 2008 – kept whistling the problem away, insisting that Spain’s growth was built on very solid and sustainable foundations, and promoted the myth that Spanish banks were the strongest in western Europe. Politicians, banks, the construction industry and Spanish homeowners in general were all complicit in the bubble. Similar to the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, Spanish banks – especially the cajas de ahorro (savings banks) – granted mortgage loans on extremely lax terms. Politicians invested heavily in the housing sector, and took advantage of the low interest rates and the cajas‘ terms to indulge in ambitious and lavish pet projects – new highways, new airports, new housing developments, new cultural centres and museums, expansion of the high-speed rail network (AVE) and other projects which have become white elephants, symbols to the optimism and illusions of the bubble years. Regional governments – Spain’s seventeen comunidades autónomas (autonomous communities) account for 35-40% of total spending and have extensive powers on matters such as healthcare and education – borrowed and spent heavily. Some of the regions which became the most heavily indebted were the coastal boom regions of the Valencian Community, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Murcia and Andalusia but also interior regions such as Castilla-La Mancha.
In the 2008 electoral campaign, the governing PSOE ran heavily on the idea that Spain was an economic champion, dismissed the opposition PP’s warnings as fear-mongering and made several promises to voters (notably a cheque bebé – a €2500 grant for every Spanish baby). Pedro Solbes, the Socialist finance minister at the time, repeatedly dismissed all warning signs of the impeding collapse as being extremely exaggerated. In any case, the PSOE was reelected with a plurality of seats, and responded to the ‘deceleration’ of the Spanish economy with a stimulus package which injected millions of euros into the banks, public works projects and goodies. However, with GDP growth collapsing to only 0.9% in 2008, the Socialist government was quickly forced to admit that there was a crisis and to adopt austerity measures, which became increasingly hard-hitting and stringent as time passed and the slowdown became a full-blown crisis. Between the third quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010, for example, the unemployment rate increased dramatically from 11.2% to 17.2%. Several cajas threatened to go under, having invested heavily in the construction industry, and the government intervened to inject liquidity into several of them beginning in 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, the Socialist government passed several austerity packages which included tax hikes (a 2% increase in the VAT to 18% in 2009), wage cuts for public servants, a pension freeze, the elimination of the cheque bebé and spending cuts. In 2010, a labour reform which included a shorter term for severance pay and strengthened the employer’s ability to unilaterally modify working conditions led to a general strike in September 2010. In 2011, finally, the government’s pension reform increased the retirement age to 67.
The PSOE’s popularity collapsed in 2010 and 2011, and the party suffered extremely several loses in the regional and municipal elections in May 2011. In July 2011, Zapatero announced snap elections would be held in November 2011 and that he would not be the PSOE’s candidate for the presidency of the government (in Spain, the ‘Prime Minister’ is known as the Presidente del Gobierno). Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who had been the First Vice President of the government under Zapatero, led a demoralized and pessimistic PSOE into the election. Zapatero left behind a catastrophic economic and social situation: unemployment now stood at over 21%, the deficit had ballooned to 9.6% of GDP (between 2005 and 2008, the government had run a surplus), Spain’s low-ish public debt had increased to 70.5% from 40% in 2008 and growth was going red again after a short-lived period of growth in early 2011 (Spain was in recession in 2009 and 2010, with -3.8% and -0.2%; growth was 0.1% in 2011). In this context, the opposition PP – despite its deadwood leader, Mariano Rajoy, having lost two successive elections (in 2004 and 2008) and the party failing to generate much enthusiasm at all, was the runaway favourite to win. In order to maximize its chances of winning, the right-wing PP promised ill-defined ‘change’ and ‘austerity without pain’ – no tax hikes, a revaluation of pensions or cuts where it would hurt (education, healthcare, social services). In fact, the PP even attacked the PSOE for the government’s cuts to social benefits. Regardless of what one might say about this kind of campaigning, the voters trusted the PP on the issues which mattered (the economy and jobs), and the PSOE suffered an historic rout. The PP won 44.6% and 186 in the Congress of Deputies, giving it an absolute majority and its best result in any election. The PSOE, however, won only 28.8%, its worst result in the party’s post-Francoist history. The election also saw an uptick in support for the United Left (IU), the old radical left coalition around the Communist Party (PCE) – which won 11 seats, up 9; the centrist anti-nationalist Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) led by former Socialist Rosa Díez, which won 5 seats. In the regions, the Catalan Socialists (PSC) suffered an historic defeat at the hands of the moderate nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition, which had regained power regionally a year prior; in the Basque Country, the abertzale left (nationalist left) Amaiur coalition placed second with an historically high level of support – the nationalist left in Euskadi has been benefiting splendidly from the 2010 cease-fire and now “definitive cessation of armed activity” (since October 2011) announced by the terrorist separatist organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which has signaled the conclusion of violence in the region after over 50 years.
The economy plunged back into recession in the second quarter of 2011, and remained mired in recession until the third quarter of 2013. On taking power, Mariano Rajoy soon had to deal with the harsh reality of power and the Spanish economy. In its first austerity package in December 2011, the government increased income and land value taxes, froze the minimum wage and public sector wages, froze public sector hiring (except in the security forces, education and healthcare) and cut spending by €8.9 billion; but it still had some goodies to offer – a revaluation of pensions by 1%, continuing a €400 subsidy to the long-term unemployed and the mortgage tax deduction. Madrid, for now, was committed to reducing its deficit to 4.4% in 2012 (from 9.6% in 2011), as agreed upon with the EU, but it soon became clear that Spain would miss its deficit target and that the amount of cuts required to meet the target were unrealistic. In March 2012, Rajoy changed Spain’s deficit target to 5.8%. The government’s first budget, announced at the end of March 2012, announcing savings to reduce the deficit by €27 billion – including the largest spending cuts in the history of Spanish democracy. However, while the government cut spending and raised taxes, it doggedly refused to increase the VAT, cut public servants’ wages or touch pensions and unemployment benefits. The government later changed course, and announced a 3% increase in the VAT to 21%, after having previously refused to raise it. In April, the government also announced further cuts worth €10 billion, mostly in education and healthcare (which meant co-pays in healthcare, increased class sizes, increase in tuition fees), and these cuts led to an historic strike by public education employees in May 2012.
The PP government’s labour law reform in February 2012 aimed at increasing ‘flexibility’ by making it easier for employers to layoff employees by further reducing the duration of severance pay (20 days’ pay for each year worked, for a maximum of 12 months for ‘appropriate dismissals’; and down from 45 to 33 days’ wages for each year worked for a maximum of 24 months for inappropriate dismissals), loosening the reasons for which employees may be laid off (employees must now prove that the dismissal was inappropriate), facilitating collective dismissals including in the public sector and allowing for employers to make unilateral decisions on working conditions in certain cases. Considering it as an attack on workers’ rights, all leading labour unions called for a general strike on March 29.
The government faced another major challenge: the banking sector, which was shackled by ‘toxic assets’ and a high number of bad loans, left overs from the ‘debt binge’ of the real estate boom years when households and contractors took out loans on lax terms. After the bubble burst, banks acquired properties from developers before the loans which supported them went bad. Foreclosures mounted as recession set in, leaving Spanish banks as the owners of a very large stock of empty homes. Many felt that Rajoy’s government evaluated the crisis the wrong way – it treated public finances as the cause of the economic crisis, rather than the symptom, and wasted precious time by attacking the deficit when it should have cleaned up the banking sector. In the spring and summer of 2012, Spain faced a banking crisis, which forced the government to take decisive action. Two financial reforms were approved in February and May 2012, both with the aims of cleaning up the banking sector and restructuring the myriad of failing cajas into stronger, larger financial entities. The state had previously been forced to intervene in several cajas, by nationalizing or recapitalizing them, and despite the financial reforms, would be forced to intervene when Bankia – a large bank created by the merger of seven cajas, badly exposed to the housing bubble, in 2011 – needed injections of €10 billion in public funds, which soon spiraled upwards to €23.5 billion and was nationalized by the state. Rodrigo Rato, the former Managing Director of the IMF and Spain’s economy and/or finance minister under Aznar’s government, had previously resigned as president of Bankia. In the wake of Bankia, in a ‘black Monday’, other Spanish banks saw their shares drop and risk premiums reached all-time highs, close to the levels at which Greece, Portugal and Ireland had been forced to seek EU-IMF bailouts; yet, Rajoy insisted that there would be no need for a bailout of Spain’s banking sector. The government’s handling of the crisis was criticized by the ECB’s Mario Draghi and PSOE leader Rubalcaba.
After other banks required public money, an IMF report estimated the total costs of recapitalizing the banking sector at €40 billion. Despite constant claims that there would be no need for a bailout, in early June 2012, the government announced that it had negotiated a €100 billion rescue package for the banks, to be held by the state through the government’s Fondo de reestructuración ordenada bancaria (FROB), the banking bailout and restructuring fund. The money would go directly to the banks rather than through the government, would not count as sovereign debt, would come from the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and would be directly supervised by the Troika. Rajoy and his minister of the economy, Luis de Guindos, refused to call the loan a ‘bailout’. The loan agreement did little little to alleviate the crisis and even sparked another credit rating downgrade and a surge in risk premium values to even higher levels. In August 2012, the Spanish government set up a ‘bad bank’ to isolate the toxic assets.
In July 2012, the EC agreed to raise the 2012 deficit objective to 6.3% of GDP, in return for immediate cuts to reach this objective. Rajoy announced another massive austerity package of €65 billion in cuts over two years to reach the deficit targets, including further cuts in social benefits, an immediate increase in the VAT, cuts in long-term unemployment benefits, the cancellation of the mortgage tax deduction and public servants’ Christmas bonus and more tax hikes. The health ministry announced a list of drugs which would no longer be covered by social security and abolished free healthcare assistance for illegal immigrants. The government continued the policy of spending cuts and tax increases in 2013, culminating with a pension reform in late 2013. The reform, opposed by all other parties, dissociates inflation from the calculation of pensions, takes into account the expenses and revenues of social security in a new revaluation formula and adds a ‘sustainability factor’ (life expectancy) to determine the size of the pension.
Despite the relaxed deficit target, Spain’s deficit in 2012 – excluding the cost of the bank bailout – still overshot the target, at about 7% of GDP (10.6% with the bailout). For 2013 and 2013, the EC set looser targets of 6.5% and 5.8%, with the aim being to achieve the EU’s 3% deficit limit in 2016. In 2013, Eurostat reported the deficit at 7.1% and the EC projects a 5.6% deficit in 2014.
The last few months of 2013, however, saw the first signs of a very fragile economic recovery. The last two quarters of 2013 saw positive quarter-on-quarter growth rates, and official statistics indicate the growth is steadily picking up – the EC predicts 1.1% growth this year and 2.1% growth in 2012, which means that Spain will finally exit its prolonged economic slump after over two years in recession. Unemployment increased during the año negro of 2012, from 22.6% in the last quarter of 2011 to a peak of 26.9% in the first quarter of 2013. Unemployment has been declining, slowly, since early 2013, falling to 24.5% in the second quarter of 2014, the lowest in two years. However, with over 5.6 million unemployed, Spain has the second highest unemployment rate in the EU after Greece. And, like in Greece, it will take years for unemployment to return to pre-crisis levels (8%) – the EC projects 24% unemployment in 2015. Exports have been growing, turning the external current account from a deficit to a surplus, suggesting that Spain is regaining competitiveness and providing the backbone of recovery. In December 2013, after receiving €41.3 billion, the ESM bailout program for Spanish banks ended on schedule.
Given that Spain’s autonomous communities account for a good deal of public spending in Spain, and that many of them became heavily indebted and were running large deficits when the crisis hit, they too have faced a tough time as they try to reduce their debts and deficits. On the latest figures, the total debts owed by Spain’s 17 regions was equivalent to 21.7% of the national GDP; while their deficits in 2013 represented 1.5% of the country’s GDP – down from 2.9% in 2010 and 2011. The most heavily indebted communities remain the Valencian Community (34.8% of regional GDP), Castilla-La Mancha (33.5%), Catalonia (31%), the Balearic Islands (27%) and Murcia (23%); while the regions with the largest deficits in 2013 were Murcia (3.2%), the Valencian Community (2.3%), Castilla-La Mancha (2.1%), Aragon (2.1%) and Catalonia (2%). The region’s failures to meet the deficit targets set by the central government contributed heavily to Spain’s budget overshoots in the last few years. The central government pressed the regional governments to make major cuts and reforms to reduce their debts and deficits to Madrid’s target, a tough task somewhat simplified by the fact that there was less central-regional feuds because most regions are governed by the PP since 2011. However, the PSOE government of Andalusia and the CiU government of Catalonia both argued that the targets set by Madrid were unrealistic and excessively rigid, and that meeting them would require them to make even deeper cuts. Regional governments – especially those in Catalonia, the Valencian Community or Castilla-La Mancha (among others) – have implemented stringent austerity measures, cutting benefits, public spending, selling public assets and rising taxes as they could. Yet, most regions, like the central government, have continuously overshot the targets.
The government’s austerity measures have been unpopular and led to several protests. After the general strike in March 2012 and the historic general strike in public education in May 2012, several sectoral strikes and anti-austerity protests followed in 2012, ending with another general strike in November 2012. Some movements took even more radical actions – in Andalusia, the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT), a Andalusian nationalist and anti-capitalist union whose most prominent figure is Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, an IU regional deputy and mayor of the anarcho-syndicalist/communist stronghold of Marinaleda since 1979, organized spectacular ‘Robin Hood’ raids on supermarkets in the region, ‘expropriating’ basic foodstuffs or school supplies to redistribute to poor families. The increase in the number of evictions since the housing bubble burst has led to social despair and several highly-publicized suicides.
Education minister José Ignacio Wert’s education reform (LOMCE) in late 2013 has extremely unpopular on the left and with students. The new reform is criticized for introducing standardized testing at the end of each educational level, the greater place given to religious education in the curriculum, the central government’s power to determine subjects and curricula and the reduced place for co-official regional languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician). Coming during the debate over an independence referendum in Catalonia, Wert’s declaration in October 2012 that his aim was to españolizar a los niños catalanes (‘hispanicize Catalan children’) added fuel to the fire, providing the Catalan nationalists with yet another example of how Catalonia is allegedly mistreated by the rest of Spain. The left, which has promised to repeal the LOMCE if elected, has claimed that the PP is ‘dismantling’ public education. The cuts and the PP’s enthusiasm for controversial schemes to contract out managements of hospitals to private companies has led to claims that the government is out to dismantle public services.
Adding to the growing social discontent and dissatisfaction with both major parties have been a series of high-profile corruption cases, involving both major parties but also the monarchy.
Spanish monarch Juan Carlos I, who abdicated shortly after the EP elections on June 2 in favour of his son Prince Felipe, has seen his legendary popularity tumble following royal missteps and corruption scandals, most notably his ill-advised hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 (in addition to revelations of his womanizing). The former King’s daughter, Infanta Cristina de Borbón, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin have been embroiled in a major corruption scandal relating to kickbacks Urdangarin received from regional governments. The infanta Cristina was charged with corruption in January 2014.
Over the last few years, several politicians from both major parties have been accused of corruption. In the Valencian Community, a stronghold of the PP, the regional president Francisco Camps – an ally of Rajoy – was finally forced to resign in June 2011 after years of scandal surrounding his involvement in a huge kickbacks-for-contracts scheme (Caso Gürtel). Camps was later acquitted, but the Caso Gürtel continues to linger in the background. In the same region, millions in international development funds were embezzled by businesses and fraudulent ‘NGOs’ with the cooperation and support of a high-ranking member of the regional government and local PP, who was finally sentenced to jail in May 2014. In Andalusia, which has been ruled by the PSOE since the creation of regional government in 1978, millions of euros were fraudulently siphoned off in government-subsidized illegal early retirement deals. The PP had hoped to benefit from the EREgate scandal and Andalusia’s catastrophic economic situation in the March 2012 regional elections, and polls indicated that Javier Arenas’ PP was on track to win an historic absolute majority in the left-wing stronghold. However, the PP, albeit winning the most votes in a regional election for the first time in its history, failed to win a majority and PSOE incumbent José Antonio Griñán was reelected in coalition with IU (which made significant gains). The PP’s surprise ‘defeat’ in Andalusia was seen as an early warning sign for Rajoy.
Controversially, judge Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most famous magistrate who led judicial investigations into domestic and international cases (most notably the attempted persecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet), was expelled from the judiciary in 2012 for illegally wiretapping conversations (ruled as perverting the course of justice) between inmates and their lawyers in the Caso Gürtel. This sparked an outcry on the left, judging that the ruling against Garzón was excessive and that he was being persecuted by his peers and other enemies in the judiciary.
The biggest scandal, however, has been the caso Bárcenas, first revealed to the public eye in January 2013. El País published handwritten notes belonging to Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of the PP (until 2009), then under investigation in the Caso Gürtel (where he was accused of pocketing millions in illegal donations from businessmen). These notes indicated the existence of a parallel, illegal financing system in the PP between 1990 and 2009 and suggested that regular cash payments had been made from a slush fund (whose donors were mostly construction magnates) to several leading members of the PP including current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy himself allegedly received €25,000 a year for eleven years; other leading figures of the PP including former Prime Minister José María Aznar, Rodrigo Rato (finance minister under Aznar), Ángel Acebes (interior minister under Aznar), Javier Arenas (labour minister, later minister of the presidency under Aznar, and current leader of the Andalusian PP), Jaime Mayor Oreja (MEP and former interior minister under Aznar from the PP’s far-right) and María Dolores de Cospedal (current president of Castilla-La Mancha and secretary-general of the PP) are also suspected of having benefited from illegal party bonuses. Although the bulk of those suspected denied involvement, their credibility was dealt a blow when Pío García Escudero, the president of the Senate, admitted that he had received a bonus from the PP.
Rajoy desperately tried to avoid making a statement on the scandal, and repeatedly denied having taken illegal funds. However, the proof he presented was widely judged to be unconvincing and still left much to be desired. The PP tried to its best to make the scandal go away, but it made a comeback in July, with juicy admissions from Bárcenas that the PP had been financed illegally for the last 20 years and revelations by El Mundo that Rajoy was in contact with Bárcenas until March 2012 in the form of text messages privately lending support to Bárcenas (even after it was made public that Bárcenas had millions of euros stashed away in a Swiss bank account). Forced to respond, Rajoy again denied allegations and obviously refused to resign.
Major corruption cases such as the Caso Gürtel, the Caso Bárcenas and EREgate revealed a corrupt system, involving all governing parties (in Catalonia, the CiU has also been involved in scandals, with allegations that the current President of the Generalitat Artur Mas and Jordi Pujol, the former leader of the region, both have secret Swiss bank accounts), characterized by opaqueness in the awarding of contracts and toxic ties between politicians and businessmen. The responses of both parties to such cases have been quite terrible – denying all involvement or loudly denouncing a ‘conspiracy’ against them. For instance, in the Bárcenas scandal, Rajoy implicitly accused anyone who believed Bárcenas’ accounts of a lack of patriotism and threw his former party colleague under the bus, calling him an inveterate liar just months after he had offered him his private backing. It appears as if the public has become much less tolerant of political corruption since the economic crisis.
Since 2011, the issue of domestic Basque separatist terrorism and ETA has slowly faded away, but the final fate of ETA and particularly ETA prisoners in Spanish jails continues to be a highly contentious issue. Historically, the PP has tended to favour a very tough hard line against ETA, refusing any negotiations with the terrorist organization unless it disarms and repents. In good part, Rajoy’s government has continued on the same general line – refusing to extend a hand to ETA unless the organizations dissolves itself, to the chagrin of many Basque nationalists – including the moderate and anti-violence Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has always had an ambiguous and conflicted attitude towards ETA. However, Rajoy’s government has shied away from being overly hawkish, leaving many of its most conservative anti-ETA supporters quite disappointed. In 2012, the PP and PSOE defeated a UPyD motion to ban Amaiur, the abertzale coalition in the Cortes Generales which is seen by many opponents of ETA as the latest political front for the terrorist movement. In doing so, the PP began viewing the issue of ETA as being both military and political, which it had not done in the past. The government has supported a strategy of conditional ‘individual reinsertion’ of ETA prisioners, which is opposed by the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), an association for victims of terrorism and staunch opponents of any negotiations with ETA. Nevertheless, the government publicly manifested its disapproval after the Constitutional Tribunal lifted the ban on Sortu in 2012, a political party banned in 2011 as it was seen as the latest incarnation of ETA and its illegal political wing Batasuna. Other members of the PP were even more acerbic in their reactions to the decision – Esperanza Aguirre, the then-president of the Community of Madrid, mulled abolishing the Constitutional Tribunal; ABC, a very conservative newspaper, proclaimed that the Tribunal surrendered to ETA supporters.
The prospects for negotiations between the government and ETA’s remnants are low. The government insists that ETA dissolves, disarms and apologize to their victims; ETA’s prisoners have renounced violence and embraced democratic ways, but seeks amnesty, self-determination for Euskadi and does not want a ‘one-sided’ apology which they insist ignores the victims of state repression, the Spanish government’s ‘dirty war’ against ETA in the 1980s and the fate of ‘political prisoners’ (like Arnaldo Otegi, the former spokesperson of Batasuna and current secretary-general of Sortu, who remains imprisoned).
Politically, the abertzale left, which has unambiguously rejected any kind of violence – including that of ETA – and seeks a democratic path to a ‘socialist, independent Euskal Herria’, has met unprecedented success at the polls since 2011, united under the electoral coalition Euskal Herria Bildu (EH Bildu). EH Bildu includes Sortu, the old left-wing/anti-violence Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) founded in 1986 by PNV dissidents, the left-wing/anti-violence Aralar founded in 2001 by Herri Batasuna members who opposed ETA’s violence and intransigence, and Alterniba (a splinter from what was then the local Basque section of IU, EB-B). In the 2012 Basque regional elections, EH Bildu won 25% and 21 seats – placing a very strong second behind the old PNV, which won 34.6% and regained control of the Basque autonomous government (which it had lost, for the first time since its creation in 1980, to the Socialists allied with the PP in 2009). Successive local, provincial, national and regional elections since 2011 have confirmed that the abertzale left, at unprecedented levels of support, has established itself as the second largest party in the Basque autonomous community after the PNV but ahead of both the local Socialists (PSE-EE) and PP.
Unquestionably, however, the most pronounced challenge to the Spanish state has come from Catalonia and a spectacular upsurge in a more explicitly separatist and assertive brand of Catalan nationalism. This represents a sea change in Spain’s peripheral nationalisms – historically, Catalan nationalism was seen as the most moderate and pragmatic (seny catalá) while Basque nationalism was more radical, violent and polarizing. In the historical tradition of the nationalist Catalan bourgeoisie, Jordi Pujol’s Convergence and Union (CiU) nationalist alliance – which controlled the Generalitat (the autonomous government) between 1980 and 2003 – was deliberately ambiguous about the question of independence/sovereignty for Catalonia and instead always sought more devolution and powers for Catalonia, applied a stringent linguistic policy to promote Catalan over Spanish in public and cultural life, used sabre-rattling nationalist rhetoric (Espanya ens roba – ‘Spain robs Catalonia’). This differentiated the CiU from the old Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), which has always explicitly supported the independence of the greater Països Catalans (Catalan-speaking territories including the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands and Northern Catalonia in France).
Catalan nationalism received its first boost in June 2010, with the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal on the new Statute of Autonomy adopted by the Catalan government (made up of the Socialists, ERC and radical left/eco-socialist ICV-EUiA) in 2006. The PP had appeal the new Statute after its approval by the Spanish Congress and in a Catalan referendum; the PP took issue with the definition of Catalonia as a ‘nation’, the preferential status for the Catalan language, the further devolution of powers and the ‘bilateral principle’ (bilateral talks between Madrid and the Generalitat, excluding other regions) among other contentious clauses. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the declaration of Catalonia as a nation lacked legal standing, struck down 14 articles as unconstitutional (notably the decentralization of justice) and 27 were upheld. Although the ruling did not mark a loss of autonomy, the Catalan reaction was livid – it was widely seen as the decision of a partisan, ‘Spanish’ court which was the final straw on top of ‘anti-Catalan’ campaigns from the Spanish right. Shortly after the ruling, a large nationalist rally in Catalonia, Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim, supported by the governing parties and CiU rallied between 500k and 1.5 million people. However, the ruling was the final blow to the much-weakened PSC-led Tripartite government. In the November 2010 regional elections, the PSC was badly defeated by Artur Mas’ CiU, with 62 out of 135 seats. Mas’ CiU had campaigned on the Catalan people’s right to decide (derecho a decidir, or dret a decidir) and his landmark promise was a ‘fiscal pact’ with Madrid, which would allow Catalonia to raise and administer its own taxes – similar to the Concierto Económico held by Navarre and the Basque Country.
The economic crisis has reignited Catalan nationalism. The old issue of the ‘fiscal deficit’ – Catalonia’s old complaint that it pays more in taxes to the central government than it receives in investments, representing an estimated ‘loss’ of 6-9% of the regional GDP and often seen as ‘subsidizing’ poorer region – has returned to the forefront of political debate. Many nationalists feel that an independent state would offer relief from the Spanish recession. With the Generalitat struggling to reduce its deficit and the debt asphyxiating the region, Mas has been accused of opportunistically shifting towards nationalism to distract attention from his unpopular austerity policies and the region’s bad economic situation – arguing that the current financing of autonomous communities is unfair, and Catalonia would recover quickly if its taxes weren’t being used by Madrid to subsidize poorer regions. On September 11, 2012 – the Diada, Catalonia’s national day (commemorating the loss of Catalan autonomy with the 1714 defeat of the pro-Habsburg Catalan forces by the Spanish Bourbons during the Spanish War of Succession), the huge size of the nationalist rally (Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa) organized by the extra-parliamentary separatist Catalan National Assembly (ANC) took Mas by surprise – between 600,000 and 2 million participants turned out. After Mas failed to get Rajoy’s support for his ‘fiscal pact’ and using the nationalist momentum of the Diada, Mas called for early elections for November 2012. Mas announced that he would hold a referendum (even if he lacked legal backing) within the term of the next legislature on Catalonia’s institutional future, and the Catalan Parliament adopted (before its dissolution) a motion calling for a consultation on Catalonia’s future. Mas failed to win an absolute majority – the CiU even fell back, losing 12 seats; but the elections saw strong gains by the separatist ERC (21 seats, up 11 and second in seats ahead of the PSC) and the election of 3 members from the far-left separatist Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). The elections, however, also showed a polarization of political opinions – the divided PSC, defending a vague and unappealing federalist ‘third way’, was crushed (an all-time low of 14.4% and 20 seats), while the staunchly anti-independence Catalan PP (19 seats, up 1) and Ciutadans (C’s, 9 seats, up 6) made gains.
In December 2012, Mas signed a deal with the ERC, in which the ERC supported Mas’ reelection as president in return for the ERC’s input on a referendum to be held as soon as possible. In January 2013, the Catalan Parliament approved a motion recognizing the Catalan people as ‘sovereign’ and holding the ‘right to decide’, with the votes of the CiU, ERC and the left-wing Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA) and the opposition of the PP, C’s and 15 deputies from the PSC. The Constitutional Tribunal struck down the motion in March 2014. After another highly successful nationalist show of force on the Diada in 2013 (an impressive human chain stretching the entire length of Catalonia), Mas announced in December 2013 that a referendum would be held on November 9, 2014 and that voters would answer two questions: “do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and “in case of affirmative answer, do you want this state to be independent?” The two-question structure of the referendum was widely criticized, as were the very ambiguous questions set by the Generalitat – there is no straight up question on sovereignty (a word which Mas is still not keen towards) or separation, and the words ‘state’ and ‘independent’ can be rather ambiguous and twisted different ways. The ERC and CUP wanted a straight up yes/no question on independence, but the ICV-EUiA and the moderate junior party in the CiU (Josep Duran i Lleida’s conservative autonomist Democratic Union of Catalonia, UDC) opposed a straight choice. Nationalists insist that Catalonia would remain in the EU and Eurozone following independence, but most agree that, in the eventuality of Catalan independence, Catalonia would not automatically remain in the EU.
The Spanish government immediately announced that the vote would not take place. The PP, joined by the PSOE, UPyD and C’s, argues that the organization of such a referendum in unconstitutional. On this matter, the Constitution is quite clear: only the Spanish State has the authority to organize a referendum (Article 149.1) and national sovereignty resides in the Spanish people (Article 1.2). The PP denies the Generalitat’s claim that Article 150.2, which allows for the transfer or delegation of the State’s powers to autonomous communities, can be read as allowing for the State to authorize a referendum in Catalonia.
The referendum debate has succeeded in one thing, at least: deeply dividing the PSOE and PSC. The national PSOE has been less centralist than the PP, especially under Zapatero, but has strongly opposed any attempts to hold referendums on independence or declarations of a region’s ‘right to decide’; the PSC, on the other hand, has always been at the very least Catalanist (supportive of a Catalan national identity and extensive self-government) and a significant minority within the PSC has openly supported the ‘right to decide’, the organization of a referendum and even supporting full independence. The PSC’s hapless leader, Pere Navarro, has defended a quite vague and unappealing idea of a federalist ‘third way’ and opposed the organization of a referendum. In January 2014, 3 PSC deputies in the Catalan Parliament voted in favour of the Generalitat’s petition to organize a referendum, disobeying the party line; the PSC deputies in the Congress disobeyed the PSOE’s party line in February 2013 by supporting a CiU-ERC-ICV resolution calling on the government to negotiate with the Generalitat on the organization of a referendum. Some members of the PSOE, notably veteran Socialist leader Alfonso Guerra (the Vice President of the government between 1982 and 1991 under Felipe Gonzáles), openly supported breaking ties with the PSC and founding a clearly anti-independence section of the PSOE in the region. In July 2013, to paper over the cracks, the PSOE adopted the Declaration of Granada, supporting federalism with clearly defined responsibilities, a federalist reform of the Senate and a reform of the financing of the regions. However, federalism has failed to convince many people, and the divisions remain – the PSOE is unwilling to loudly proclaim its federalist conversion by fear of alienating more centralist types in its base and membership, while the PSC supports federalism but some are tempted to go even further. In October 2013, the PSOE voted in favour of a UPyD motion proclaiming that ‘the right to decide resides with all Spaniards’, rendering the PSC (which abstained) even more uncomfortable and kind of casting doubts on what the PSOE’s federalism really means.
The government created another firestorm with justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s changes to the abortion law. In 2010, Zapatero’s Socialist government, as part of its series of socially liberal reforms which alienated the PP and the Catholic Church, removed all restrictions on abortion (which was legal in cases of danger to the mother’s physical or mental health, rape and fetal malformations or defects since 1985), legalizing it on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and allowing minors 16-18 to have an abortion without requiring parental consent. In 2011, the PP’s platform promised to amend the abortion law and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón reiterated the new government’s commitment towards changing the law. In December 2013, the government announced its draft law – abortion would be illegal except in cases of rape and ‘serious risk to the physical or mental health’ of the mother (malformation of the fetus by itself would not be grounds for an abortion, unless the mother proves that it has a serious impact on her mental health), two doctors (who would not perform the abortion or work for the clinic where it is performed) would judge if these conditions exist, minors will require parental consent and only doctors would be punished for the ‘crime’. The government claimed that its law defends the rights of the unborn and protects mothers, but the new law – which has yet to be passed by Congress – is widely unpopular. Many criticize the PP for starting a useless ‘culture war’ only to satisfy its restless and critical hard-right base (which is less than enamored with most of Rajoy’s policies), and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s popularity has dwindled, making him the second least popular minister, after Wert. The abortion law came alongside a new public safety law from interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz which would give the police to fine ‘offenses or insults to Spain’ or dissolves unauthorized rallies in front of the Parliament buildings.
There have been regional elections in five regions since 2011 – Andalucia, Asturias (both in March 2012, both resulted in PSOE governments), Galicia and Euskadi (in late 2012, the reelection of the PP majority in Galicia and the PNV’s return in Euskadi) and Catalonia (see above); these EP elections are the first national elections since the 2011 general election, and it kicks off a series of high-stakes elections in 2015 – regional and municipal elections around May, followed by a general election before December 2015. Parties are clearly gearing up for the 2015 elections, which are likely to be the most open-ended, unpredictable and exciting elections in modern Spain. Dealing with a recession, one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU, a terrible deficit, the unpopularity of its austerity policies, controversial legislation, a ‘separatist threat’ in Catalonia, corruption all around and corruption within the government itself, the PP has seen its support fall significantly since 2011. From an all-time high of 45%, the PP’s support fell to about 29-32% in the polls, which would be the PP’s lowest level since the early 1990s (around the time when the old AP shifted away from Manuel Fraga’s toxic past association with Franco, and José María Aznar’s successful construction of a big tent party after 1990).
In opposition, the PSOE has continued to struggle after its all-time low result in 2011. The PSOE’s leader (at the time of the EP elections), Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, has been a very unpopular opposition leader who has struggled to find a voice for the PSOE in opposition and define a new path for the PSOE after the Zapatero era (which is, fairly or unfairly, widely judged to have been a trainwreck by voters). Rubalcaba’s support in the PSOE has also been less than unanimous: Rubalcaba was elected leader of the PSOE at the party’s XXXVIII Congress in February 2012, with 487 delegates against 465 delegates for Carme Chacón, a popular defense minister under Zapatero and a Catalan Socialist. Rubalcaba was supported by the bulk of the PSOE’s old guard – former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzáles, the old regional barons José Bono (Castilla-La Mancha), Manuel Chaves (Andalusia), Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra (Extremadura); Chacón, the outsider, was supported by the likes of Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Josep Borrell, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Tómas Gómez and Susana Díaz (who became leader of the Andalusian PSOE and president of Andalusia in September 2013). Rubalcaba has generally moved the party towards the left, opposing the PP’s austerity policies (but many remember that Zapatero was the one who began austerity, and many compare the government’s austerity policies to those of the PSOE), supporting bank and wealth taxes, less power for the Catholic Church and – as aforementioned – a fairly vague ‘federalism’. In polls, the PSOE was at or below its 2011 result – 25 to 28%, which meant that the PP remained ahead of the PSOE in all but a handful of polls (although the gap closed significantly in early 2014).
The IU and UPyD, nationally, have achieved strong polling numbers since 2011 – the IU’s support peaked at nearly 15% before coming down a bit to 10-12% in early 2014; UPyD increased to about 7-11%.
The PP leadership appointed Miguel Arias Cañete, Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (until his resignation on April 28 to run in the EP election) as the PP’s top candidate. Arias Cañete, one of the most popular members of the government (although still in the red), was fairly uncontroversial in his job and has EU experience in dealing with the Common Agricultural Policy. Ramón Luis Valcárcel, the PP president of Murcia from 1995 to 2014, was sixth on the PP’s list. The PSOE leadership appointed Elena Valenciano, the deputy leader of the PSOE and a Rubalcaba ally, who served in the EP from 1999 to 2008, as top candidate. Ramón Jáuregi, a Basque Socialist politician and Minister of the Presidency (2010-2011) was second; Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the top candidate in 2009 and former Minister of Justice (2004-2007), was fourth.
La Izquierda Plural (The Plural Left) was the coalition spearheaded by the IU, led by two-term PCE/IU MEP Willy Meyer. The IU is the old coalition of the Spanish radical left, in which the Communist Party (PCE) has always been the largest although not necessarily dominant component. Since 2008, under the leadership of Cayo Lara, the PCE has regained the upper hand in the IU, after the eight-year leadership of Gaspar Llamazares, who was more independent of the PCE. Under Cayo Lara, the IU has further distanced itself from the PSOE (Llamazares had less confrontational relations with the Socialists) and proclaimed the IU as anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal.
In Catalonia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) and the United and Alternative Left (EUiA), with the ICV’s Ernest Urtasun as the third candidate on the national list. ICV, the largest of the two, grew out of the old Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) in the 1980s and transformed into an ecosocialist centralized party – more independent of the national IU – in the mid-1990s. EUiA, which has been ICV’s perennial electoral ally since 2003, was founded in 1998 by traditionalist communists (notably the anti-Eurocommunist PCC and a faction of the old PSUC hostile to the green shift of the ICV) and it is the official Catalan wing of IU. The ICV-EUiA supports Catalan self-determination, but the ICV is split between federalists and separatists. In Galicia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the new alliance of the local United Left (EU) and Anova-Irmandade Nacionalista. Anova is an alliance of Galician regionalist/nationalist left-wing parties born from factions which split from the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) after Xosé Manuel Beiras – a leading figure of Galician nationalism and former leader of the BNG – lost an internal election to the dominant Union of the Galician People (UPG) in 2012. Led by Beiras, the EU-Anova alliance (Alternativa Galega de Esquerda, AGE) in the October 2012 regional elections in Galicia did very well, winning 14% and 9 seats – third ahead of the BNG, a result made more impressive if one considers the weakness of the communist movement in the conservative region. In Euskadi, the local branch of IU (Ezker Anitza, after a nasty split in 2012) was allied with Iratzarri, a small splinter of Aralar; in Navarre, IU was allied with Batzarre, a far-left nationalist party whose roots can be traced to the two major obrerista splinters from ETA during Franco’s regime (ETA Berri in 1966 and ETA-VI in 1970). La Izquierda Plural, finally, also included some members from tiny green parties.
UPyD’s list was led by its sole incumbent MEP, Francisco Sosa Wagner. The centrist liberal UPyD is strongly pro-European, arguing in favour of deeper European integration (it proposes a common immigration policy, banking union, abolishing the inter-governmental European Council to promote EU supranationalism, integrated European defense etc) and warning of the dangers of nationalism. In Spain, UPyD is a fierce opponent of peripheral nationalists – it supports reducing the powers of the autonomous communities, clearly setting out the powers of all levels of government, abolishing the foral rights (conciertos) of Euskadi and Navarre and creating a symmetric, centralized federal state. However, because of its stances, UPyD has been described by critics as centralist and Spanish nationalist. The party has common ground with the PP on issues such as terrorism, centralism and even some structural reforms in the economy but the UPyD’s secularism, mild social liberalism and more centrist economic policies are off-putting to many populares. The party’s reputation is mixed, many accusing it of populism and personalism behind UPyD’s founding leader, former PSOE MEP Rosa Díez.
UPyD is nearly indistinguishable from the Ciudadanos-Ciutadans (C’s), with the exception that the C’s have tended to be a regional party in Catalonia with little presence outside the region, although that is changing. The C’s, like UPyD, are anti-(peripheral) nationalist and support greater centralization, and has also taken strong stances in favour of equal bilingualism between Spanish and Catalan (the Generalitat has tended to heavily promote and favour Catalan). A minor force in Catalan politics until 2010, the party benefited from the polarization of opinion around the issue of independence to gain 6 seats in the 2012 regional elections, winning a record 9 seats. It has provided C’s with an impetus to expand outside of Catalonia and consolidate its new strength in Catalonia. Compared to UPyD, C’s is a bit Eurosceptic and left-leaning – in 2012, C’s took rather populist and left-wing positions on socioeconomic issues; but the main difference remains one of personalities – C’s leader, Albert Rivera, doesn’t get along with Rosa Díez.
The moderate peripheral regionalist and nationalist parties – led by the CiU and the PNV – formed the Coalición por Europa, the same name as a similar alliance for the 2009 EP elections. The coalition included the CiU – more accurately, its two component parties, Artur Mas’ larger nationalist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the autonomist conservative Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC), with the former in the ALDE and the latter in the EPP and the PNV, which is with the CDC in ALDE. The coalition was joined, like in 2009, by the Canarian Coalition (CC) – a makeshift coalition of various insular parties (Canarian politics are extremely insular) which is the governing party in the Canaries since 1993 which, unlike the PNV or CiU, is not as much a nationalist party (although it defines itself as one) as an autonomist and Canarian regionalist party seeking various concessions from the central government. In Galicia, the coalition was joined by Compromise for Galicia (CxG), a small centre-left nationalist party (1% in the 2012 regionals) founded by another faction of BNG dissidents in 2012 (from the Máis Galiza faction of the BNG) and small nationalist parties (the liberal PNG-PG, notably). In Catalonia, the Reagrupment – a small separatist movement – joined the coalition, after moving towards the CDC in 2013. Incumbent MEP Ramon Tremosa (CDC) was the lead candidate, followed by Izaskun Bilbao MEP (PNV) and Francesc Gambús (UDC).
The ERC allied with two small Catalan nationalist parties (Catalunya Sí and Nova Esquerra Catalana – a party led by Ernest Maragall, the brother of former PSC President of the Generalitat Pasqual Maragall) to form L’Esquerra pel Dret a Decidir (EPDD, ‘The Left for the Right to Decide’), running on a strongly nationalist platform endorsing Catalan independence within the EU. The ERC had previously mulled an historic broad nationalist front with the CiU or an alliance with the Basque EH Bildu.
EH Bildu formed a coalition with the Galician BNG (weakened by splits, and led by the communist UPG), a small Canarian separatist party (ANC), the Asturian nationalists, the Aragonese nationalist Puyalón and another small party; the list, led by EH Bildu’s Josu Juaristi, was called Los Pueblos Deciden (The Peoples Decide, LPD). Interestingly, EH Bildu-LPD’s platform was not as separatist as anti-neoliberal and left-wing, with much of it devoted to a left-wing critique of neoliberalism and the economic crisis rather than nationalist calls for self-determination (although they were in there).
Primavera Europea (PE, European Spring) was a coalition spearheaded by the left-wing/green Valencian regionalist Coalició Compromís, a young (2010) alliance of various Valencian nationalist (BLOC) and regional left-wing or green parties. Compromís, which has adopted the ‘third way’ between the warring theoretical schools of Valencian nationalism (Joan Fuster’s pan-Catalanism and the anti-Catalan blaverismo), has been quite successful electorally – 7% and 6 seats in the 2011 regional election, the election of one deputy to Madrid in 2011. It allied, as in November 2011, with EQUO – Spain’s new, but rather unsuccessful, green party; the Chunta Aragonesista (CHA), Aragon’s main left-wing nationalist party; and other small parties.
In January 2014, several academics and civil society actors founded Podemos (‘we can’), a left-wing, anti-establishment movement which would oppose Madrid and the EU’s austerity policies and seek to build on the Spanish indignados movements. Podemos’ list was led by Pablo Iglesias, a 35-year old polisci professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and a regular guest on TV shows; Iglesias’ face was the logo chosen by Podemos to identify itself on ballot papers, a decision which Podemos justified by Iglesias’ greater notoriety and name (face?) recognition. Pablo Iglesias, who was named after the founder of the PSOE and the UGT Pablo Iglesias (1850-1925), was a member of the PCE’s youth wing between the ages of 14 and 21.
Podemos’ platform focuses on six overarching themes: economic recovery, ‘conquering liberty, fraternity and equality’, redefining sovereignty and recovering the land. On economic issues, Podemos supports job creation through public policies and public investments (it opposes the PP’s labour and pension reforms, and calls for a 35-hour workweek and a retirement age at 60, a higher minimum wage and a new maximum wage; it would promote SMEs), an audit of the debt, democratization of the ECB (which would be focused on creation of ‘decent jobs’ and the public financing of member-states by directly buying public debt on the markets), reorienting the financial system to consolidate ‘ethical and cooperative’ banks, public ownership in strategic sectors (communications, energy, food, transport, health, education, pharmaceuticals), subjecting all privatizations to a referendum, cracking down on tax evasion and tax fraud by multinationals, wealth taxes and a minimum basic income.
On the theme of ‘conquering liberty’, Podemos advocates for tougher anti-corruption measures, greater use of legislative initiative referendums and direct democracy, electoral reform, participative budgeting, control of lobbyists, campaign finance regulations, anti-monopoly measures in communications, the defense of basic freedoms (freedom of speech, assembly, association etc), abolishing ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation which restricts civil liberties and LGBTI rights. On the issue of ‘conquering equality’, Podemos supports defending social and cultural rights, defending public services, gender equality in the workplace, a right to free universal healthcare throughout the EU, a right to free public and secular education including university, a right to decent housing (a moratorium on mortgage debts for low-income families, freezing evictions, legalization of squatting in unoccupied places), defending sexual and reproductive rights and a right of free and secure access to information. By ‘conquering fraternity’, Podemos argues in favour of increasing citizen participation, pro-immigration policies, increasing immigrants’ rights, self-determination (right to decide) and a foreign policy based on international development and peace. Podemos supports abrogating the Treaty of Lisbon, abandoning TAFTA, renegotiating free-trade agreements, mandatory popular ratification of all constitutional amendments and various political reforms (transparency, term limits, possibility for recall, less generous benefits and salaries for politicians). Finally, Podemos endorses a new sustainable development policy for the EU, a right to access water, food security, reducing GHG emissions by 55% by 2030, green energies (45% of energy must be from renewable sources by 2030) and rural development. Similar to Italy’s Beppe Grillo, although with much less radical and inflammatory rhetoric, Podemos presents itself as a new party ‘close to citizens’ and not professionals politicians. Several media reports have noted the importance of social media to Podemos.
Podemos’ list was supported by several small parties, the most notable of which was the far-left Trotskyist Anticapitalist Left (Izquierda Anticapitalista), a small movement which was a part of IU from 1995 to 2007.
The PP faced a challenge to its right from a splinter party founded in 2013, Vox. The party was founded by some right-wing rebels in the PP. The party’s right has been uneasy or on bad terms with Rajoy since 2008, when the right unsuccessfully tried to remove him as leader following the PP’s defeat in 2008. Since taking power, some members of the PP’s right have decried Rajoy as a ‘sellout’, a ‘pansy’ and even a ‘social democrat’ – they dislike his tax increases, his handling of Catalonia and his less confrontational stance with terrorism. Vox seeks to return to the PP’s roots – neoliberalism/Thatcherism, visceral opposition to peripheral nationalism and strong support for ‘national unity’. The party’s leader and most prominent figure is Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a three-term MEP and leader of the Catalan PP from 1991 to 1996. A leading opponent of Catalan nationalism and Jordi Pujol’s CiU governments in the 1990s – comparing its linguistic policies to apartheid – and recently called on the Guardia Civil to intervene if Mas’ government continued its ‘rebellion’. Vox was also joined by Santiago Abascal, a former Basque regional deputy (2004-2009) close to former Basque PP leader María San Gil; and José Antonio Ortega Lara, a ETA hostage for 532 days in the 1990s. Other members of the PP’s right, somewhat estranged from the leadership, such as Esperanza Aguirre (who resigned as president of the Community of Madrid in 2012) and Jaime Mayor Oreja (the PP’s top candidate in the 2009 EP elections who declined to run for reelection) have not joined the new party.
The major losers of the election were Spain’s two major parties – the PP and PSOE – who lost over 15% of the vote each from the 2009 EP election. Together, the two parties won just 49.1% of the vote compared to 73.3% in 2011, 80.9% in 2009 (EP) and 83.7% in 2008. It is the first time in the history of modern Spanish democracy that the two largest parties (the PP/AP and PSOE since 1982, the PSOE and UCD from 1977 to 1982) in the country have not won over 50% of the vote. Falling even lower than its disastrous 2011 result (28.7%), the PSOE’s puny 23% sets another record as the PSOE’s lowest result in any national election. The PP’s result – 26.1% – is down 18.5% from 2011 and it is the PP’s lowest result in any national election since the 1991 municipal elections (25.3%). El País summarized the elections with the headline pierde el bipartidismo (the two-party system loses) – as far as summaries go, it’s a very good one given that the election has confirmed what polls have said since about 2012 – Spain’s two-party system (at a national level, mind you) which has endured since the Transition is at its lowest ebb, with both the right and left feeling pressure from new parties, peripheral nationalists and parties to their left.
The PP can take some solace (and it has) in that it placed first – a Pyrrhic victory, but the PP has said that a victory is a victory and it has expressed much satisfaction (publicly) with its result. As far as it’s concerned, the PP managed to place first and beat the PSOE – which remains its only serious rival for government – in a midterm election despite unpopular austerity policies, recortes (cuts) and a difficult economic situation. The PP hopes that the nascent recovery will help it improve its poll standings, although it is another question whether most voters are actually feeling a recovery and if they’re willing to re-embrace the PP after everything. The other good news for the PP is that, despite its major loses, it still faces no major challenge on its right flank – Vox won only 1.6%. If anything, polls indicate that the PP’s loses have come from more centrist voters, while it has held on to more conservative supporters.
Never mind that its first place showing owes more to the division of its opponents in general and the left in particular, and never mind that the PP’s results hide some very preoccupying (negative) trends and indications – the PP would like to think that its ‘victory’ of sorts in the EP election shores up Rajoy and is good omen for 2015. The PP likely seeks to distract attention from its very severe loses, which saw its raw vote fall from 6.670 million in 2009/10.866 million in 2011 to only 4.098 million votes in 2014. The PP’s results are only decent when compared to those of the PSOE.
If there can be only one loser of these elections, it is undeniably the PSOE. The Socialists suffered an historic defeat – just 23% and 3.6 million votes in the whole of Spain – and this despite being the leading opposition party during an economic crisis (oftentimes, regardless of the actual competence or strength of the main opposition party, it is in a good position to be the main beneficiary of a government’s unpopularity in a midterm vote – ask the Portuguese PS right now). The PSOE has been unable to make a clean break with Zapatero’s toxic legacy (Rubalcaba hasn’t helped matters), and many voters still blame Zapatero and the PSOE for Spain’s economic mess. Despite shifting to the left since 2011, the PSOE still lacks credibility and legitimacy to many voters, and its leftwards shift has mainly come off as opportunism and insincere (many remember Zapatero’s own austerity policies). Additionally, the PSOE has been badly divided since 2011, and the issue of Catalonia’s derecho a decidir and the territorial organization of Spain has been a huge headache for the PSOE.
Following the EP election, PSOE leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba announced his immediate resignation as secretary-general and that he would not be a candidate in the presidential (prime ministerial) primaries planned for November 2014. His leadership had clearly become unsustainable and un-salvageable following the EP thumping. An extraordinary congress to elect his successor was held on July 13. Pedro Sánchez, a 42-year old deputy (2009-2011, and since January 2013) who worked with José Blanco (one of Zapatero’s allies) in the centrist wing of the party, was elected with 48.7% against 36.3% for Eduardo Madina (who is 38), a Basque Socialist who has led the PSOE group in Congress since 2009. José Antonio Pérez Tapias, from the party’s most leftist faction, took 15.1%. Pedro Sánchez, who has promised to build the grassroots and transform the PSOE into the party of ‘change’ for 2015, had strong support in all federations – even in Euskadi – but crucial to his victory was his above-average support in Andalusia, the powerhouse in PSOE politics, where Sánchez was supported by Susana Díaz, the regional president who is becoming one of the new major barons in the PSOE. Sánchez, an economist, was a fairly obscure backbencher until not so long ago; one of his first decisions was to instruct PSOE MEPs not to vote for Jean-Claude Juncker’s confirmation. So far, polls have not indicated much of a ‘leadership boost’ for the PSOE after Sánchez’s victory. The PSOE’s next major event will be the presidential primary in November 2014, where it is possible that Carme Chacón will return from her political hiatus (teaching in Miami), although her position has been rendered more fragile with the Catalan situation and the PSC’s decrepit state.
Both the PP and PSOE were significantly overestimated in the polls – according to the last polls, the PP stood at about 31-34% while the PSOE was between 26% and 30%. Both parties’ poor performance on election day was the first major surprise.
The PP and PSOE lost many – if not most – of its 2011 support to abstention, with over half of Spanish voters not showing up to vote. But, with turnout nationally down only 1% from 2009, the PP and PSOE both lost support to other parties, who were, taken as a whole, the main winners of the election.
The major winner was Podemos, which won a remarkable 8% and 5 MEPs. Podemos’ success was quite unexpected – although some late polls had given it up to 1 (even 2) MEPs and about 2-3% of the vote – because few people believed that it would manage to do all that well. Podemos achieved its result despite few financial resources, and a campaign largely built on social media appeal, word of mouth and Pablo Iglesias’ personal notoriety. The new party has been said to have taken a good chunk of the Socialist vote, but Podemos’ success is also cause for concern for IU – without Podemos, many of its supporters would likely have supported IU.
Podemos appeals because it presents a fresh, left-wing and anti-establishment image, and there is definitely a market for Podemos’ anti-politician, anti-system creed. The PSOE is discredited and lacks legitimacy, still licking its wounds from 2011 and trying to figure out where to go from there. IU has gained support thanks to the PSOE’s sad state and the loss of left-wing voters who had supported the PSOE in the first decade of the 21st century, but IU has problems of its own – it is a fairly bureaucratic traditional party itself, it is quite divided internally and its lacks a charismatic or popular leader with Alexis Tsipras (or Pablo Iglesias)’ stature (Cayo Lara is not very popular). Podemos represents a real threat to the PSOE, because it potentially has what it takes to seriously challenge the PSOE’s ‘leadership’ of the broader Spanish left. Podemos is bad news for both IU and UPyD, because it steals both of these parties’ anti-bipartidismo thunder. Its fourth place showing in the EP election already caused UPyD to fall into fifth place. This also frustrates IU and UPyD’s bids to establish themselves as kingmakers ahead of next year’s open-ended municipal, regional and general elections.
Polls taken since the EP election have shown that Podemos came out of the EP election with the most momentum and has become a ‘phenomenon’. It has surged into third place and double digits, ranging between 12% and 15% in most polls, sending the IU into fourth with only 6-8% and UPyD into fifth with 5-7%; the PSOE polls between 21% and 24%.
The most recent poll by CIS (July 2014), often considered as a gold standard in Spanish polling, had the PP leading the PSOE by 8.8% – 30% to 21.2%, with Podemos a strong third with 15.3%, followed by IU (8.2%) and UPyD (5.9%). In the ‘spontaneous’ answers, including undecideds/non-voters, the PP leads Podemos by 0.9% (12.8% to 11.9%), with the PSOE in third (10.6%). Over 80% of respondents still rate the economy as bad or very bad, a bit less than half think that the economy has neither improved nor worsened in the past year and only 25% think it will get better in the next year. Two-thirds of respondents rate the PP government as bad or very bad, and over 85% have little or no confidence in Rajoy.
Although because of the little ideological proximity it has with the PP, Podemos does not threaten the PP directly, but the PP has been leading the charge to kill it in the egg. Esperanza Aguirre has accused Iglesias of being a friend of castrismo, chavismo (one of Podemos’ main figures, fellow polisci prof Juan Carlos Monedero, is a chavista and in fact a former adviser to Chávez) and ETA and some in the PP have alleged that Podemos is financed by Venezuela (Podemos says it is financed through crowdfunding). Rosa Díez has said that she sees elements of SYRIZA, the Italian M5S and the FN in Podemos.
IU, with 10%, actually won its best result in any national election since 1996 (10.5%) and significantly improves on its catastrophic 2009 EP result (3.7%). IU’s gains in the 2011 election – it won 6.9%, up from 3.7% in 2008 – ended a near-constant decline which begun in 1994. UPyD won 6.5%, which is also the party’s best result in its short history, while C’s won 3.1% of the vote. However, the success of IU and UPyD was overshadowed by the Podemos phenomenon, and the surprising result of Podemos – and its implications for both IU and UPyD – tampered the optimism and enthusiasm of these two parties. With at least 1% of the vote in all regions except Euskadi, and at least 2% in 11 regions, C’s showed that they too have national appeal outside of their Catalan cradle.
Overall, the radical left – IU and Podemos – won about 18% of the vote, a record high result for parties to the radical left in Spanish history. Together, UPyD and C’s won 9.7%, also something of a record.
The regionalist and nationalist parties performed, in general, quite well. The biggest success, and one of the more remarkable result, came from Catalonia. In the turbulent region, turnout was up 9.3% from the 2009 EP election (when only 36.9% voted) and reached 46.2%. The increased turnout came as a result of higher nationalist mobilization to defend the planned November 9 referendum, after nationalist parties had called on voters to turn out in large numbers to bring European attention to the referendum and the Catalan issue. The victor was the ERC, with an historic result of 23.7% (9% in 2009) and its first victory in Catalonia since 1936 (during the Second Republic). CiU, with 21.8% – down from a mediocre result of 22.4% in 2009 – did poorly, although Mas tried to spin the issue away by emphasizing the convincing victory of nationalist parties – together, ERC and CiU won 45.5%, compared to only 31.6% in 2009; with the addition of ICV, the pro-referendum vote reaches no less than 55.8% (compared to 37.7% in 2009). In the 2012 regional election, the ERC-CiU-ICV referendum majority won a similar result (which goes up to 58% if the CUP, which didn’t run in the EP election, is included). The ERC won three provinces – Barcelona (21.9%), Tarragona (25.3%) and Gerona (32.9%) while the CiU narrowly won Lleida (31.8% vs. 29.7% for ERC). In the city of Barcelona itself, ERC won 21.8% against 20.9% for the CiU; third place went to ICV (12.6%) ahead of the PSC (12.2%). The main loser in Catalonia was the PSC, whose 14.3% is the lowest result in the PSC’s history (even lower than 2012) and is down massively from the 36% the Socialists took in the region in 2009.
On the anti-nationalist side, the PP did poorly as well (9.8%, its worst national result), losing about half of its support from 2009 (when it did well with 18%) but not as bad if compared with its 2012 result (13%). C’s failed to beat the PP or PSC, as some regional election polls have suggested it may do, but did quite well with 7% of the vote – down slightly from the 7.6% it won in 2012. UPyD won only 1.1% in the region. Podemos, with 4.7%, had one of its worst results in the country.
ERC did well in the Balearic Islands as well, taking 7.3% in the region, where it was supported (unofficially) by Més per Mallorca, a left-wing regionalist coalition on the island of Majorca. The PP won 27.5% against 22% for the Balearic PSOE.
In Euskadi, the results confirmed the new political dispensation which began in 2011. The PNV placed first, with 27.5%, an average result (for an EP election, the PNV does far better in regional elections) down about 1% from 2009 and tied with its 2011 general election showing. In second place, EH Bildu won 23.4%, at the lower end of what the abertzale left has been polling in Euskadi since 2011 (24% in 2011, 24.6% in 2012); but up from the 16% won by a comparable list supported by the illegal abertzale left in 2009 (the Iniciativa Internacionalista, 16% in Euskadi). At the provincial level, the PNV was only victory in Bizkaia, the heartland of moderate Christian democratic Basque nationalism, with a 12-point victory over EH Bildu (31.7% to 19.9%); EH Bildu won by 6.6% in Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist province and hotbed of the abertzale left forever (with 31.2% against 24.6% for the PNV) and took a narrow victory in Álava/Araba, with 18.9% to the PNV’s 17.2%, in the least nationalist and most ‘Spanish’ of the three provinces of Euskadi. In Navarra, EH Bildu was – by far – the dominant Basque nationalist party, with a strong second place and 20.1%, while the PNV won only 2.5% – the PNV has been a tiny rump in Navarra since the 1980s, after being badly hurt by the EA/PNV split in 1986 and the PNV’s participation in a pact with the Spanish and Navarrese right (both strongly opposed to Navarra’s unification with Euskadi). In Euskadi, both the PSE-EE and PP did poorly – with 13.8% and 10.2% respectively – down from 27.8% and 16% in 2009 and 18.9% and 11.6% in 2012.
The CDC and PNV suffered a significant group in the ALDE group, where they were unable to block the admission of UPyD’s 4 MEPs and C’s 2 MEPs to the group, despite the ALDE’s past statements in favour of the Catalan referendum. The CDC and PNV were the only ALDE members to oppose the two Spanish centralist parties’ admission to the group.
In Galicia, where the PP won 35.2% to the PSdeG’s 21.7%, the IP-Anova nationalist left did quite well (10.5%) and Podemos (8.3%) arrived ahead of the BNG (7.9%), which ran a weak and shoestring campaign. Allied with the CiU and PNV, the CxG won only 1%. In the Canaries, the CC placed a poor third with 12.2%, against 23.3% for the PP and 22.2% for the PSOE. Even in the CC stronghold of Santa Cruz de Tenerife province, the CC won only 14.8%. Podemos, with 11% of the vote in the Canaries, won one of its best results in the country. In Aragon, CHA, in the PE coalition, won only 4.5%. In Ceuta, PE won 9%, thanks to the support of Coalición Caballas, a left-wing party representing the city’s significant Arab-Muslim population.
The PP won the Valencian Community with a 7.5% margin, but the results in what has been one of the PP’s major strongholds since the mid-1990s were terrible. With 29.1%, the PP won its worst result in the Valencian Community since the 1991 regional elections (the last election in which the PP did not top the poll in the region). In the last regional election, the PP won yet another absolute majority with 49.4% (despite the Caso Gürtel) and it did even better (53.3%) a few months later in the general election. The EP results confirm what the polls in the region have been saying: the PP leads, but is down significantly from its pre-2011 levels; the Socialists have utterly failed to benefit, winning only 21.6% (an historic low), with the main winners being IU/EU (10.4%), UPyD (8.5%), Compromís (7.9%) and – this year – Podemos (8.2%). If replicated next spring in the regional elections, the PP would lose its absolute majority in the Corts, which it has held since 1999. While the Socialists would remain the leading opposition party, because of the division of its opponents, it could potentially form a coalition with EU, Compromís and potentially UPyD (and now Podemos?).
Another result which should be cause for panic is Madrid, which has been governed by the PP since 1995 and with an absolute majority since then (excluding the first, disputed, regional election in May 2003). In 2009, the PP won 48.6% and it won 51.7% in the 2011 regional elections. This year, the PP’s support collapsed to only 29.9% – although, because of the PSOE’s decrepitude, it still won the region by over 11%. The PSOE, with 18.9%, won its worst ever result. Significantly, Podemos placed third in the Community of Madrid, taking 11.3% against 10.6% for UPyD and 10.5% for IU. With 4.8%, C’s won their best result outside of Catalonia. Madrid was also Vox’s best region (with 3.6%), although it won 6% in the small North African city of Melilla, where Vox was endorsed by a local party of PP dissidents represented in the local assembly.
The PP also did badly in Murcia, one of the PP’s safest regions, but where the populares crumbled to 37.5% – they had won 61.5% in 2009 and 64.2% in November 2011. Although of less symbolic importance and national weight than the populares bastions of Madrid and Valencia, the numbers indicate that the PP could lose its absolute majority in the Regional Assembly in 2015 (it has governed the region with an absolute majority since 1995). It’s a similar story in other regions where the two-party system has historically been extremely dominant – in the conservative stronghold of Castile-León, where the PP and PSOE won about 90% of the vote in 2009, the PP’s support fell from 52% in 2009 to 37.6% in 2014, and combined with the PSOE (23.4%), won only 61% of the regional vote (with UPyD, IU and Podemos each winning about 8%). In Castila-La Mancha, where the two parties took 91% in 2009, they accounted for only two-thirds of the vote in 2014 – with 37.7% for the PP and 28.7% for the PSOE. In Cantabria, where the PP+PSOE won 90% in 2009, they won only 59% this year, split between the PP (34.7%) and the PSOE (24.3%). If replicated in regional elections, the PP’s absolute majorities in several regions would crumble down, leaving them all vulnerable to opposition coalitions.
One of the few bright spots from the PSOE came from the left-wing citadel of Andalusia, where the PSOE won by 9% against the PP – taking 35.1% (a poor result, but comparable to its 2011 and 2012 results) against only 25.9% for the PP, successfully warding off a PP offensive. With 11.6%, IU did well, although it would have done even better without Podemos coming into the picture (with 7%, tied with UPyD). The PSOE was the largest party in every Andalusian province except Almería, the conservative stronghold in the region. The PSOE even won over 40% in Jaén and Huelva provinces, and 37.2% in the Socialist powerhouse of Seville province. The PSOE only managed to be the largest party in two other regions, both of them traditionally left-leaning: Extremadura, which the PP gained from the PSOE for the first time ever in 2011, taking 38.7% to the PP’s 35.5%; and the northern region of Asturias, governed by the PSOE in a tenuous and unstable coalition since 2012, where the Socialists won 26.1% against 24.1% for the PP. With 13.7%, Asturias – an old communist stronghold – was also Podemos’ best region, and IU (12.9%) also won its best national result in the region (where it is in government with the PSOE).
The national and regional results all confirm El País‘ headline – pierde el bipartidismo. Història Electoral, the leading archive for Spanish election data, has projected the potential results of a general election if the EP results were to be replicated: the PP won win 139 seats (its worst result since 1989), the PSOE would fall again to only 105 seats (110 in 2011, already its worst result) while IU would win a record 25 seats, Podemos would send 19 deputies and UPyD 10. In Catalonia, the ERC would elect 15 members against 13 for the CiU (and the C’s would elect 4 deputies). From the Basque parties, EH Bildu would gain one seat (to win 8) while the PNV would gain 2 (to win 7). In Valencia, Compromís would increase its representation to 2 seats. The remaining seats would be split between CC (2) and Vox (1, in low-threshold Madrid). While the PP will likely perform better, and the PSOE may consolidate some of the left-wing vote as well (if it resists to Podemos), it looks very unlikely that either the PP or PSOE will win a majority or even a large enough minority to govern without a coalition or formal confidence-and-supply deal with small parties. Thus, the 2015 regional and general elections will be exceptionally interesting.
Turnout: 51.07% (+5.54%)
Seats: 20 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency, may cast a preference vote for a candidate)
S (S&D) 24.19% (-0.22%) winning 5 seats (-1)
Mp (G-EFA) 15.41% (+4.39%) winning 4 seats (+2)
M (EPP) 13.65% (-5.18%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Fp (ALDE) 9.91% (-3.67%) winning 2 seats (-1)
SD (EFDD) 9.67% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
C (ALDE) 6.49% (+1.01%) winning 1 seat (±0)
V (GUE/NGL) 6.3% (+0.65%) winning 1 seat (±0)
KD (EPP) 5.93% (+1.26%) winning 1 seat (±0)
F! (S&D) 5.49% (+3.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirates (G-EFA) 2.23% (-4.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 0.73% (-3.0%) winning 0 seats (±0)
The Swedish EP elections came only a few months before general elections (local and county council elections are also held the same day) on September 14.
Since 2006, Sweden has been governed by a four-party centre-right coalition (formally known as the Alliance for Sweden, colloquially known as the ‘bourgeois bloc’) led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the senior governing party, the Moderates (M). In the past, Reinfeldt had been very much on the right, authoring a book highly critical of Sweden’s mythical cradle-to-grave welfare state and calling for neoliberal reforms in the 1990s; but following the Moderates’ disastrous performance on the back of a botched low-tax platform in 2002 (15.3% of the v0te), Reinfeldt won the party’s leadership and moved to reinvent the party. Under Reinfeldt, the Moderates, traditionally the most right-wing party in the country, moved to the centre and focused their policies on fine-tuning and reforming, rather than dismantling, the welfare state by encouraging employment through tax reforms. The Moderates have taken to calling themselves ‘the New Moderates’, similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour and presenting themselves as a centrist, modern, competent, responsible and compassionate party. In the 2006 election, Reinfeldt, who had formed a pre-election coalition with three other parties on the right – the Liberal People’s Party (Fp), the Centre Party (C) and the Christian Democrats (KD), defeated Prime Minister Göran Persson’s tired Social Democrats (S), who had governed Sweden since 1994.
In power, the centre-right has largely been pragmatic and moderate, aiming to present an image of ideological moderation and responsibility. The government’s landmark policy achievement, which has been quite popular, is the earned income tax credit, a tax credit targeting low and middle-income workers which reduces the tax to be paid on income from employment. The government’s goal was to increase the after-tax income of those who work compared to those reliant on transfer payments and social benefits – in short, to increase the incentives for those outside the labour market (the unemployed) to proactively look for a job and ultimately increase employment. At the same time, the government tightened the criteria for unemployment benefits, trimmed the numbers on sickness benefits, increased employee contributions to unemployment funds and abolished tax credits for trade union or insurance fund membership – policies which were unpopular in the short term and caused a severe slump in the right’s poll ratings after taking office in 2006. The Alliance government, in its first term, also abolished a wealth tax and replaced a state property tax with a tax at the municipal level.
Although Sweden is often depicted as a left-wing, socialist utopia because of its famously generous universal welfare regime, the ‘Swedish model’ has gone through a lot of changes in recent years – to the point where free-market reformists, such as The Economist, often look to Sweden as an example. The size of Sweden’s public sector has been significantly reduced – Social Democratic governments in the post-war eras famously created a large public sector and in the mid-1990s, government spending accounted for over 65% of GDP. Today, it accounts for 50% or so of GDP. The top marginal tax rate, still very high by international standards, has been reduced significantly since the 1980s, corporate tax has been cut to 22% recently while wealth and inheritance taxes have been scrapped. The retirement age in Sweden is 67, which is high compared to many other EU member-states.
In 1992, school vouchers were introduced under a previous right-wing government (led by Carl Bildt, who has returned to politics as Reinfeldt’s foreign minister) and Swedish parents now have the choice to send their children to public schools or publicly-funded but privately-run free schools which may operate as non-profit or for profit. Much has been made of the centre-right government’s reforms to ‘make work pay’, and Sweden has been cited as inspiration for similar reforms (notably ‘free schools’) under David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. However, education remains a hot topic of debate in Sweden to this day. It is playing a major role in this year’s electoral campaign, after the last PISA schools ranking showed that Sweden has fallen quite a bit.
The ‘marketization’ of public services – such as education and healthcare – has also not been without controversy in Sweden. In 2013, there were several scandals about privately-run (but with taxpayer funding) aged care facilities which cut back on staff and services to increase their profit margins, opening a major political debate on profit in the welfare sector. The centre-right parties are generally favourable to for-profit activities by these private companies in the welfare sector, but the Social Democrats (S) resolved to significantly limit profit and allowing municipalities and counties to determine whether they want for-profit companies operating services and the Left Party (V) wants to ban profit in welfare altogether. Outside of V, however, few politicians left or right question the private sector’s role in providing some welfare/public services. Generally, voters still tend to side predominantly with the left when it comes to defending the welfare state.
In 2008-2009, the Alliance was badly hurt by the economic crisis which saw Sweden fall into a two-year recession (-0.6% and -5% growth in 2008-2009, and rising unemployment) but the government was saved by a spectacular economic recovery in 2010, which saw Sweden’s economy grow by 6.6% – the highest growth rate in the EU that year. Running on the creed of sound, responsible stewardship of the economy, the Reinfeldt government roared back in time for the 2010 election. The government was helped by the centre-left opposition’s sorry state. The Social Democrats, who have been the largest party in every general election since 1917 and have been one of Europe’s most successful parties (in the post-war era, the Social Democrats governed – often without coalition partners – from 1936 to 1976, 1982 to 1991 and from 1994 to 2006), had a tough time finding a leader after their 2006 defeat as many A-list candidates declined (notably Sweden’s well-liked then-European Commissioner Margot Wallström) and they settled on Mona Sahlin, who quickly lost popularity when she faced scrutiny. She built a formal alliance, the Red-Greens, with the Green Party (Mp) and the Left Party (V); the inclusion of V, which grew out of the old Communist Party and is still derided as communist by its opponents (although since 1990 it is a more modern and progressive radical left rather than paleo-communists – although former V leader Lars Ohly had a communist past and was widely depicted as a secret communist sympathizer), was controversial and scared centrist middle-class voters away from S. The opposition presented a botched alternative budget in early 2010, which proved to be its undoing. The centre-right took the lead, with S’ support collapsing and M surging. In 2010, S saved face by placing first, but with only 30.7% the party won its worst result since 1911, while the Moderates won 30.1% – the party’s best result since 1914.
The other major result of the 2010 election was the success of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), who won 5.7% of the vote and elected its first 20 MPs to the Riksdag. The SD’s success meant that, while the Alliance won more votes than the Red-Greens (49.3% against 43.6%), it lost its absolute majority in the Riksdag and was reduced to a minority government. Unlike the far-right/populist right in Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors – which emerged from anti-tax movements (Norway and Denmark) or agrarian protest (Finland), the SD – founded in 1988 – finds its roots in openly racist or neo-Nazi movements (although SD itself was never Nazi, it did have Nazi sympathizers in its ranks), but the SD moved away from the beyond-the-pale far-right towards the FN/FPÖ far-right in the mid-to-late 1990s, and SDs current leader, Jimmie Åkesson (since 2005) has continued to modernize the party to make it more respectable (for example, the old torch logo is now an innocuous-looking anemone hepatica flower). The party’s support increased to 3% in 2006 and they finally broke through in 2010, much later than most of the Scandinavian populist right. Sweden has a large foreign-born population, making up about 15 to 20% of Sweden’s entire population, and the past decades have seen an increase in immigration from the Middle East (notably Iraq, the second-largest immigrant population behind Finns); Swedish immigration and asylum policies have been quite liberal. The integration of immigrants has been problematic in Sweden – many (non-European) immigrants live concentrated in high-rise apartments or social housing projects in low-income and neglected neighborhoods of the major cities and their suburbs (Rosengård in Malmö, Spånga-Testa in Stockholm, Botkyrka outside Stockholm), areas which concentrate many social and economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low education, criminality) and which have sometimes been called ghettos. Non-European immigrants in Sweden make up about half of the unemployed, and about 4 out 10 are poor. The Sweden Democrats are against multiculturalism, seeks to significantly reduce immigration and insists that immigrants should assimiliate fully with Swedish culture; the party is also socially conservative, anti-EU, anti-Euro and defines itself as democratic nationalist (while affirming that they are non-racist and their nation is culturally rather than ethnically-based). The SDs have seen their support increase to new highs since 2010, despite some controversies, but the party remains widely despised by a vast majority of Swedes who often describe it as racist and xenophobic. The SDs have tried to sanitize its image and make itself more respectable, but the media and other political parties remain very much against SD (although the parties can be more pragmatic if needs be); compared to Denmark’s DF and Norway’s Frp, the SD appear to be more radical and less respectable although it is tough to say if this is a result of their policies or the different national environments (both Danish and Norwegian political cultures have become far more accepting of their populist right). For example, despite being in a potential kingmaker situation, SD has been unable to push the Alliance government to more hardline immigration policies (like DF did with the Danish right) – in fact, Reinfeldt preferred to deal with the Greens on immigration and asylum issues, much to Åkesson’s displeasure.
After its 2010 defeat, the Social Democrats went through some very tough patches. Mona Sahlin resigned in March 2011, and after a convoluted and chaotic process, the party selected Håkan Juholt (mostly known for supposedly being S’ defense specialist) as her successor. Juholt turned out to be a dud who dragged down S’ numbers with his gaffes, before he was finally forced out in January 2012 with a scandal concerning an allowance he received from Parliament to pay for his apartment (he received too much money and was forced to pay back some of it. Under Juholt, S’ support in polls fell to as low as 22%. He was replaced by Stefan Löfven, the former head of the metalworkers union in the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), the largest trade union and an informal ally of the party. Löfven has successfully kept a low-profile, not attracting controversy and appearing as reassuring, competent and pragmatic.
One of the centre-right government’s strongest points in the past had been its responsible stewardship of the economy – often emphasizing that Sweden was, compared to other EU member-states, performing very well economically. Both Reinfeldt and his popular finance minister, Anders Borg, have received high marks from voters when it comes to economic management. Since 2010, however, while Sweden has been performing well, there has been a clear economic slowdown because of lower demand and a strong krona hurting Swedish exports. The economy grew by only 0.9% in 2012 and 1.6% in 2013. Unemployment has remained higher than at pre-recession levels – frustratingly stable at about 8% (about 2% higher than in 2006, when the right won) and youth unemployment is very high (23.5% for those under 25, above the EU-28 average of 22%). While the centre-right government’s reforms to the welfare state have been lavishly praised by some, they’ve come under lots of criticism from the centre-left in Sweden, which argues that the government has prioritized tax cuts over welfare and that many people risk getting stuck in a ‘poverty trap’ with unskilled, low-wage jobs or unable to find a job altogether (therefore risking social exclusion). The Social Democrats have made youth unemployment, education and limiting profit in welfare services their key priorities in the September 2014 campaign.
Other scandals have taken their toll on the government’s popularity recently. The purchase of a Dutch energy company Nuon by state-owned energy company Vattenfall for 89 billion SEK in 2013 sparked controversy earlier this year, when it transpired that Vattenfall had likely paid more for Nuon than what it was worth (and that the government had actually been advised that the deal would be unprofitable, and Borg/Reinfeldt’s hardly believable claims that the deal was made by a former cabinet minister, former C leader Maud Olofsson, without their knowledge); in 2012, the defense minister was forced because of a secret deal where the Swedish government helped Saudi Arabia build a weapons factor.
One problem for the Alliance is that, in 2010, the centre-right’s success came only as a result of M’s strong showing (+3.8% and 30.1%) while its three junior partners all lost votes: the Fp (7.1%, -0.5%), C (6.6%, -1.3%) and KD (5.6%, -1%). Although all four centre-right parties came from different traditions and histories, they have lost their distinctiveness in recent years and it has become increasingly tough to tell them apart except in the details: M has become more similar to the liberal Fp, C sells itself as a ‘green libertarian party’ to appeal to an elusive and small young urban clientele while KD is hardly ‘socially conservative’ and is just a standard conservative party nowadays; generally, they have largely become differentiated by their niche clientele and issues. The old Nordic agrarian Centre Party went through a tough patch recently with a botched attempt to transform itself into low-tax (quasi-Thatcherite), pro-immigration libertarian party (egged on by a youth wing often seen by outsiders as being hardcore libertarian), which led to significant infighting and terrible polling numbers. C’s leader Annie Lööf, once seen as a young rising star (at 31) has definitely not lived up to the hype (while she hasn’t been a disaster, her leadership has been pretty poor at best and she was hurt by the infighting and libertarian-shift).
EP elections in Sweden tend to see different results than general elections – generally with the major parties weaker in EP elections and minor parties quite a bit stronger. In 1995, as the leading anti-EU list in Sweden’s first elections after joining the EU, the Greens (Mp) won 17.2%; the Left Party (V) peaked at nearly 16% in 1999; in 2004, the Eurosceptic June List won 14.5% but collapsed to 3.5% in 2009; in 2009, the Pirates surged to win 7.1% but the party’s support petered out by the time the 2010 general elections rolled around. In contrast, both S and M have done poorly – S has never won over 30% in a EP election, while M won only 18% or so of the vote in 2004 and 2009.
The Social Democrats topped the poll this year, although with only 24.2% of the vote – a very mediocre result down 0.2% (but up about 125,000 votes) from 2009, when S had already done poorly with only 24.4%. While the Social Democrats will do better in September, and remain the favourites to win the election and lead the next government, the party’s support has been declining for a few months now – from pre-campaign heights of 33-34% to only 29-31% today. As the campaign heats up and voters scrutinize the parties more closely, a few are finding S’ pragmatic, inoffensive and generic platform to be a bit uninspiring. The party has bled support to the Greens and Feminists (F!), so its lost votes seem to be staying within the broader left-wing coalition rather than spilling over to the unpopular government. It is likely that S’ performance in September will be quite mediocre – hardly higher than its bad result in 2010 (30.7%) in any case.
The major losers of the election, however, were the Moderates. The government, which continues to trail the combined left by at least 10% if not more, is rather unpopular – the economic slowdown, concern with unemployment and the left’s renewed ability to find popular issues with the electorate haven’t helped, but what seems to be the general opinion in Sweden is that the government is out of steam, out of ideas and largely running on empty. Reinfeldt and Borg remain somewhat popular, but they have lost their advantage over the opposition’s leader (Löfven) and their personal appeal no longer suffices. The Moderates in particular have been out of steam, with the party’s electoral campaign – if one even exists – largely consisting of rehashing the government’s successes, vaguely promising to keep doing what has worked and little else. Their EP campaign was said to be terrible, and the end result was that M collapsed to 13.7% and third place (down about 5.2% from the last EP election) – an unexpectedly horrible result. While M will do better in September, it won’t do much better – the party, which resisted fairly well in polls for a long stretch, is collapsing with support down to 19-23%. The liberal Fp, who had won a strong 13.6% in 2009, failed to benefit from M’s collapse, as they too fell back to 9.9%.
The only silver lining for the Alliance is the strong performance from the Centre and Christian Democrats, two parties which were hovering dangerously close to (or even below) the 4% threshold for parliamentary representation, leading to fears that one or both of these parties may find themselves thrown out of the Riksdag in September. With their positive EP results – 6.5% and 5.9% and up from 2009 – their position in the Riksdag is looking far more secure. While it is too early for them to celebrate, polls have been showing C consistently above the threshold now and KD is also looking more likely than not to make it as well. Optimistic C and KD supporters joked that they might be the ones who’ll need to vote strategically to save M (M voters have sometimes tended to vote strategically for C or KD to allow them to pass the threshold). KD is pro-EU while C has traditionally been rather Eurosceptic – it still opposes the Euro and its platform was titled ‘a leaner yet sharper EU’.
There were three winners in this elections: the Greens (Mp), the Sweden Democrats (SD) and the Feminist Initiative (F!). The Greens surprised many by placing second, with 15.4% of the vote. Voters, from the left mostly but also (it would seem) from the right, rewarded the Greens for their clear focus, their realistic EU-focused campaign and the publicized work of Green MEP Isabella Lövin in changing the EU’s fisheries policies. Unlike many of its allies in Europe, the Swedish Greens are historically quite Eurosceptic and while they now support the EU, they remain EU-critical and opposed to European federalism and the adoption of the Euro (however, with the Eurozone crisis, Sweden has rallied massively behind the krona and the issue of the Euro has been dropped, including by its original advocates such as Fp and M).
The far-right SD did extremely well – a record high 9.7% and nearly 360,000 votes. The far-right is clearly on the rise in Sweden, although it still has a fairly low ceiling compared to similar parties in the rest of Scandinavia and Sweden is not really on the verge of living a ‘Danish/Norwegian scenario’ where the far-right is able to push the government towards adopting hardline immigration policies. Few politicians have been moving towards the SD on immigration issues – the centre-right parties and most of their activists remain strongly opposed to SD and retain pro-immigration positions (in 2002, Fp famously proposed language tests for immigrants, but Fp is back to being strongly pro-immigration), the centre-left remains broadly pro-immigration (although the former S mayor of Malmö Ilmar Reepalu proposed ‘conditional’ citizenship for new immigrants, setting up a probationary period where these newly-naturalized ‘citizens’ could still be stripped of their citizenship and deported). The SDs likely benefited from several days of rioting in immigrant-heavy low-income suburbs in Stockholm back in May 2013, during which several cars were burned and properties vandalized (allegedly by outside vandals). SD’s two new MEPs have joined the EFDD group, along with Denmark’s DF. SD was sometimes cited as a member of Marine Le Pen’s EAF, although I believe that SD never officially joined her alliance and only SD’s youth wing was active in the EAF. Joining the EFDD instead of teaming up with Le Pen is likely an attempt by SD to further normalize and clean up its image.
The Feminist Initiative (F!), a party founded in 2005 by former V leader Gudrun Schyman (who was forced to resign V’s leadership in 2003 for a tax fraud offense and left V a year later) which won just over 2% of the vote in the 2009 EP election but less than 1% in the 2006 and 2010 elections despite the significant domestic and foreign attention the party attracted in 2006. F! is a left-wing/radical left feminist party – its general orientation on issues should be fairly obvious, opposing male dominance of politics, gender inequality, gender norms and heteronormativity. It has a detailed platform, but the main areas of focus for F! tend to be fighting discrimination, sexual liberation, reproductive rights/sexual health for women, LGBTQ rights, fighting the patriarchal economic structure, very strong support for liberal immigration and asylum laws and addressing violence against women. F! appears to be broadly pro-European although critical of the EU’s workings, with its European policy focused on increasing women’s rights across Europe, democratizing the EU and liberalizing asylum policies in the EU. F! calls itself feminist and anti-racist; its critic often describe it as living up to the stereotype of radical left-wing feminists held by right-wingers (in the past, F! proposed to abolish marriage in favour of a new form of cohabitation which would possibly open itself to polygamy). F! surged during the EP campaign, likely because of significant media attention on gender issues and a active campaign by Gudrun Schyman (who, however, did not run herself); F!’s virulently anti-SD rhetoric may also have helped pick up a few voters on the left who hate the SDs. F!’s new MEP is Soraya Post, who is of mixed Jewish and Roma ancestry. She has joined, somewhat surprisingly, the S&D group over the GUE/NGL.
The Pirates, the big sensation of 2009, collapsed to 2.2% and lost both their seats, as was widely expected. The Pirates’ short-lived success in 2009 was associated with events at the time (the Pirate Bay trial and the guilty verdict in the district court in April 2009, and other domestic events related to intelligence, privacy and copyright laws) and on the back of young protest voters – some of whom may now be voting SD. The party’s star faded quickly and in 2010 it won just 0.7%.
The results in September will certainly be more ‘normal’, but the centre-left opposition (Red-Greens, even if there is no formal alliance) are the favourites to win and are still leading the Alliance by at least 10% in all polls. Mp and V are both likely to increase on their 2010 results (7.3% and 5.6% respectively), all four Alliance parties will likely lose votes (M being the main victim, but with KD still not totally in the clear with the threshold) and SD will likely repeat its result from the EP election or even break 10%. The Alliance could, like in 2010, close the gap further – but, one month or so out, it seems too late for them to turn the ship around barring a surprise. F! is a wildcard – the EP result gave them momentum, and polls in June indicated that F! could win over 4%, but the latest numbers in July and early August suggest that F!’s momentum is already fading and they are unlikely to win over 4%. Certainly the Red-Greens would prefer that – a fourth left-wing party would only complicate things for them.
The main question remains whether or not, with SD doing so well, the Red-Greens will win an absolute majority. A S-Mp-V victory is likely, but it could very well end up only with a minority, with SD in a strong position between the two blocs and creating a chaotic situation. For the first time, it looks very unlikely that S will form a government alone – the most likely option is a S+Mp government, with V providing critical support from the outside (V may seek to join cabinet itself, but both S and Mp seem to be hostile to that idea – and V being outside serves S better). There is also a lot of speculation about the odds of one of the junior Alliance parties defecting – Fp is seen as the likeliest candidate (C has seemingly gone too far down the libertarian road), because Fp leader Jan Björklund has talked about cooperating with the centre-left on some issues. It is worth noting that C governs with S+Mp in Gävleborg County; Fp governs with S+Mp in Södermanland County; Mp governs with the Alliance in Halland, Jönköping, Scania, Värmland and Västernorrland counties. However, nationally, after eight years in the Alliance, Fp (or C) would likely find it hard to jump over – and that might require change of leadership in the parties.
Finally, for the first time this year, the new Prime Minister will require a formal vote of confidence, replacing Sweden’s negative parliamentarianism, which allowed one to govern until a majority votes against the government. Therefore, Reinfeldt will not be able to hang on in the case that no alliance has a majority – unless, of course, he manages to get the Greens over to his side, but that is very unlikely in 2014.
The broad patterns of Swedish electoral geography were unchanged, the odd results of the election notwithstanding. The Social Democrats owned the north, with over 40% of the vote in Norrbotten County, 39.8% in Västernorrland County, 34.9% in Jämtland County and 32.8% in Västerbotten County. It also polled well in inland central Sweden – over 30% in Västmanland, Örebro and Värmland counties. This traditional pattern corresponds to the diffuse nature of Sweden’s resource-based industrialization – meaning that most major industrial centres are outside the major cities (Stockholm never really was, and certainly isn’t today, an industrial city). Remote and sparsely populated northern Sweden is an old industrial region (mining, forestry, steel and iron works; nowadays the public sector is the main employer), making it a blue-collar and fairly poor region which has leaned heavily left (with the exception of the liberal tradition of the free churches, a pattern which has mostly died out anyhow).
Stockholm County is usually the right’s stronghold, but even there M failed to place first. The Greens won first place with 19.4% against 17.6% for M (its best result in the country) and 17.1% for S (its worst result in the country); in Stockholm itself, the Greens won 21.8% against 16.3% for M and 15.1% for S. With 10.5%, F! broke double-digits in the Swedish capital. M retained first place in the county’s most affluent suburban municipalities – Danderyd (36.5% M), Lidingö (30.2% M) and Täby (27.5%); but looking at the results in these places, and specifically the strong gains made by the Greens (as well as C and KD), we can presume that Mp gained some M (and Fp) voters from 2009, as did C and KD. Inside Stockholm itself, M remained ahead in the very affluent central Norrmalm-Östermalm-Gamla Stan district and the affluent Bromma-Kungsholmen district; the Greens’ best result came from Södermalm-Enskede district (Södermalm is a gentrified central district and traditional Green stronghold), with 26.3% – with F! in second with 14.8%. The Social Democrats topped the poll in Yttre Västerort district, with 26.1% against 18% for the Greens; that outer district includes the low-income immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Spånga-Testa and Rinkeby (areas where S often wins over 50%, if not 60%, of the vote). Outside the city, S also topped the poll in Botkyrka (31% S) – the north of the municipality is a large immigrant-heavy area and in Södertälje (28.5%).
The Greens and Feminists did well in Uppsala County (18.4% and 6.8% respectively) – specifically in the university city of Uppsala (Greens largest party with 21.3%, F! at 8.4%), with the Greens and Feminists again doing well in the same kind of places (university residences/student districts especially – where Mp and F! were often first and second!).
The Sweden Democrats did best in Blekinge County (14%) and Scania/Skåne County (13.4%). Scania, at the southern end of Sweden, is one of the country’s most distinctive regions and tends to have a strong regional identity; it has undergone major demographic transformations in recent years, suffering from deindustrialization in parts while other more affluent parts are increasingly suburban and attracting cross-Øresund commuters/immigrants from Denmark. The SDs’ first successes at the polls, prior to 2010, came from Scania and it can be considered as SD’s main stronghold (Blekinge County, which borders Scania, is quite small). SD performs best in lower middle-class suburban areas (with low percentages of foreigners) and old industrial towns (which have swung hard against the left/S) – generally (and simplifying a lot), as in other Scandinavian countries, SD attracts young blue-collar males with low education who are frustrated about immigration, taxes and/or jobs. SD does poorly in highly-educated places – for instance, SD won only 6% in Lund (a major university town).
On a final, lighter note, the record of write-in votes in the election is quite hilarious: a handful of votes for the ‘Satanist Initiative’ (not sure if this is a parody of F!), a few for Jesus, a number of ‘out-of-the-EU’/’no to EU’/’EUSSR’/’fuck EU’ type protest ballots, a number of write-ins for the pan-European parties or EP groups (ALDE, Greens, G-EFA, PES, EPP), 2 for a ‘Hell’s Angels Freedom Party’… and 3 votes for UKIP!
This concludes my review of the May 2014 European Parliament elections – with much delay, unfortunately, but it’s done as it should be: each country analyzed separately in their own national context. I hope you’ve enjoyed the analysis provided, and that you’ll forgive me for missing a number of elections along the way: I will try to cover a few of them in the next few weeks, without making promises! Enjoy the summer or winter!
All 90 members of the National Assembly (Državni zbor) were up for reelection. 88 of the National Assembly’s 90 members are elected by proportional representation, with a 4% national threshold. The country is subdivided into eight electoral constituencies (electing 11 members each), which are then further subdivided into 11 electoral districts. The seat allocation between the parties who passed the threshold is done nationally, following the d’Hondt method, but the individual parliamentarians are chosen in the constituencies – and, in principle, each district should have one member representing it (but this is not the case) – using the Droop quota. The Italian and Hungarian minorities each elect one MP, who is elected by ranked voting using the Borda count. The Italian and Hungarian minorities are not the largest ethnic minorities in the country – the Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak minorities are significantly larger – but these communities have substantial privileges including language use and representation in the National Assembly by members with a veto power over legislation affecting their communities. This year, about 2,600 Italians and 6,200 Hungarians were eligible to elect their representatives; they also have the right to vote for the other 88 members of the National Assembly.
Slovenia is ‘incompletely bicameral’ – there is a kind of upper house, the National Council (Državni svet), which is a corporatist-type body representing social, economic, professional and local interest groups. The 40 members represent local interests (22), the non-commercial sector including education, healthcare, research, culture/sports and social care (6), employees (4), employers (4) and farmers/craftsmen (4), all being indirectly elected to five-year terms by Slovenian residents (not only citizens!) working in those sectors or, in the case of local representatives, by municipal councillors. The National Council may advise the National Assembly to pass or initiate a bill, give the National Assembly its opinion, require the National Assembly to reconsider a bill one last time (suspensive veto), call a referendum and hold inquiries.
Slovenia has a rather developed system of direct democracy. According to the most recent rules, 40,000 citizens may petition to hold a referendum on legislation and the legislation is rejected if a majority of voters reject it and 20% of registered voters reject it. These new rules are a reaction to the (very) low turnout in most of these referendums, which in the past had allowed 20% of the electorate or so to hold final say on important pieces of legislation.
Slovenia followed a rather unusual and distinctive path compared to other former communist states in the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe in general. Compared to other Yugoslav republics, there was next to no conflict or civil war following the declaration of independence and the country has remained a peaceful and stable country. Compared to most former communist states, Slovenia quickly became a robust liberal democracy. Finally, there was no ‘shock therapy’, messy mass privatizations or economic restructuring in Slovenia. However, since 2004, many of the features which made Slovenia rather unique compared to its neighbors have been lost. Politically, for example, Slovenes were remarkably pro-incumbent in the 1990s but since 2008 or so, Slovenian politics have become very volatile.
Slovenia had never been an independent state prior to independence in 1991. The territory of present-day Slovenia was disputed between the great powers (Italy, Austria, Germany) until 1945, when Slovenia became a republic within socialist Yugoslavia. It was Yugoslavia’s wealthiest, most developed and advanced republic which punched above its weight (it generated about 20% of the Yugoslav GDP while making up only 8% of the SFRY’s population) and enjoyed a fairly comfortable position in Socialist Yugoslavia. In the 1980s, Slovenia – including the Slovene Communists (LCS) became concerned by the rise of Serbian nationalism, while an active civil society and human rights groups clashed with the communist regime and strongly opposed the actions of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and Kosovo. As tensions rose, the reformist leadership of the League of Communists under Milan Kučan reacted, in September 1989, by passing constitutional amendments which turned Slovenia into a parliamentary democracy and foreshadowed future events by recognizing the republic’s right to unilateral secession. In April 1990, the Slovene opposition – a diverse bunch grouped in the Democratic Opposition of Slovenia (DEMOS) coalition – defeated the reformed ex-communists (Party of Democratic Renewal) with around 51% of the vote, but Milan Kučan was elected President, defeating a DEMOS candidate. Lojze Peterle, from the Christian Democrats (SKD), became Prime Minister of a five-party cabinet.
Slovenia declared its independence on June 25, 1991 – the first republic, followed within hours by Croatia, to secede from the SFRY and trigger the breakup of the multinational state. The Yugoslav military attempted to regain control of the republic, but was forced to withdraw from Slovenia after ten days of fighting (which claimed few casualties, compared to subsequent bloody conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo). Because of its geographic location, the relative ethnic homogeneity (Slovenia is largely ethnically Slovene, lacking the Serbian minorities which were found in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro) and Milošević’s interest in other issues, Slovenia gained its independence quickly and with little bloodshed.
The DEMOS coalition soon unraveled under the weight of differences between the parties, and Peterle’s government fell in May 1992. Janez Drnovšek became Prime Minister. Drnovšek came from the Liberal Democratic Party, which began Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) in 1994, a party which emerged from the Union of Socialist Youth of Slovenia, a youth organization which strayed from the old regime’s line quickly and embraced democracy, human rights and civil liberties. In 1990, the LDS had won 14.5%, making it the second largest single party. Drnovšek formed his first coalition government with parties from the opposition (the post-communist Party of Democratic Renewal, which would become the United List of Social Democrats; the Socialist Party, which merged with the LDS in 1994) and the old DEMOS (the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia, or SDS, which would shift hard to the right after 1993 under the leadership of prominent former dissident Janez Janša; the Democratic Party and the Greens, both of which would collapse soon). In December 1992, Drnovšek was reelected, with the LDS placing first with 23.5% and 22 seats (+10). Drnovšek formed a Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats, the United List (which left in January 1996) and the SDS (which left in 1994, after Janša was forced to resign from his defense portfolio following a military scandal). In the 1996 elections, the LDS was further strengthened, winning 27% and 25 seats. The right-wing opposition, however, gained in strength: the SDS placed third with 16% and gained 12 seats, while the right-wing agrarian Slovenian People’s Party (SLS), whose name referred to the pre-war SLS, a clerical conservative party which dominated Slovene politics under Austrian and later Yugoslavian rule (although the SKD was the actual successor party to the pre-war SLS!), won 19.4% and gained 9 seats to become the second largest party. Drnovšek held on to government by a whisker, forming a coalition with the SLS and the new Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS). In 2000, Drnovšek’s cabinet fell after the SLS withdrew from the government, and instead shifted support to a right-wing coalition led by Andrej Bajuk, made up of the SLS+SKD (in the process of merging) and the SDS. However, the government lasted barely five months, collapsing after the government sought to push through a new electoral system (in 1996, in a referendum, voters voted in favour of a two-round system but the government disregarded the result, until 1998, when the Constitutional Court ruled that the referendum was valid, a decision ignored until the new right-wing government took over in 2000), but the SLS+SKD caucus rebelled and voted against the change. Bajuk later left the SLS and founded his own splinter party, New Slovenia (NSi). In the October 2000 elections, the LDS won a record-high 36.3% and 34 seats, against 14 for the SDS and 11 for the United List; the SLS+SKD lost 20 seats, winning only 9 (against 8 for Bajuk’s NSi). Drnovšek formed another Grand Coalition, with the United List, SLS+SKD, DeSUS and the Youth Party (SMS), which governed until Drnovšek was elected President in 2002 and replaced by Anton Rop.
The LDS governed Slovenia between 1992 and 2004, with the exception of five months in 2000, and its electoral support increased consistently throughout the 1990s. This is, of course, in stark contrast with the patterns of anti-incumbency found in many other former communist states (Bulgaria). The LDS era was characterized by several notable aspects, which defined Slovenia as fairly unique: a moderate and consensual government which focused on EU-NATO integration and diversifying trading partners, a gradualist approach to economic reform (no ‘shock therapy’ or messy mass privatizations of parastatals), the domination of politics and the economy by a reformist ex-communist elite (while the right represented, largely, the disenfranchised and upstarts who were outside the elite) and high levels of social dialogue with social partners (employers, employees, the state) similar to a German model. The results were mixed: Slovenia became a well-functioning, affluent and egalitarian liberal democracy which did not suffer from the post-Cold War upheavals faced by other Eastern Bloc countries and peacefully overcame its communist legacy. The country experienced several years of stable 3-5% economic growth after 1990, high levels of employment protection, low inequality (it has one of the lowest Gini index in the world, after the Scandinavian states) and Slovenia had strong labour unions into the post-communist era. In 2004, Slovenia became the first former Yugoslav republic to join the EU and NATO, and in 2007 it was the first ex-communist state to join the Eurozone. Slovenia is the wealthiest of the former communist states in the EU – its GDP per capita is 84% of the EU average (it also ranks above Greece and Portugal on this measure).
Politics under LDS rule rested on robust social dialogue with social partners, which played a considerable role in the formulation and approval of economic and social policy – notably through the quasi-compulsory Economic and Social Council (made up of representatives from unions, employers’ organizations and the government), which worked in tandem with Parliament on matters such as labour laws, contracts, wages, insurance, employment policy and job security. Other similar boards dealt with pensions and healthcare. The government’s gradualist approach towards reform meant that privatization was slow, gradual and incomplete – the state retained control of several sectors; foreign investment was low; several sectors – such as banking and financial services – were inefficient and corrupt; structural reforms were diluted and political immobilism was commonplace under the LDS’ Grand Coalitions. The consensual and ‘boring’ political system and elite reproduction under LDS rule led to rent-seeking behaviour and corruption. With the current economic crisis and the banking crisis in Slovenia, many have suggested that state control of the three major banks and flawed corporate governance poisoned by insider trading and cozy relations with the economic elite are the cause of Slovenia’s economic troubles.
Drnovšek’s election to the presidency in 2002, a largely ceremonial and soft-power office, was the LDS’ last hurrah. The LDS suffered its first defeat, at the hands of NSi, in the l0w-turnout 2004 EP elections and in October 2004, the LDS lost the general election to Janez Janša’s SDS (renamed Slovenian Democratic Party, to finally break all ties with the SDS’ centre-left roots, in 2003). The SDS won 29.1% and 29 seats against 22.8% and 23 seats for the LDS, with the Social Democrats (SD, renamed from United List) remaining a weak third with 10.2% and 10 seats. Janša formed a right-wing coalition with the socially conservative/clerical NSi (9.1% and 9 seats), agrarian SLS (6.8%, 7 seats) and DeSUS (4%, 4 seats). Janša’s first government, the first government to last for the Assembly’s entire four-year term since Drnovšek’s second cabinet (1992-1996), represented a sea-change in Slovenian politics – a shift towards more adversarial and polarized politics, with a decline in social dialogue and political consensus. Under Janša, the unions and employers’ organizations lost their influence in the social dialogue process, which began breaking down under the weight of Janša’s poor relations with them. Membership in employers’ organizations became voluntary, the Economic and Social Council declined in influence and the unions/employers’ organization became less relevant and lost legitimacy in the eyes of their members. Janša came into office with a neoliberal agenda, promising privatizations, deregulation and economic reforms which would break with the LDS era. Once in office, he moved quickly – too quickly, perhaps – to shake up the economy and public sector (his ‘cadre tsunami’ to break socioeconomic power networks was controversial), but the government veered towards economic populism as it chose to ride the wave of economic growth which followed EU membership (5.8% in 2006, 7% in 2007) and did not build budget surpluses. Janša became a polarizing politician – in a way, the modern Janša is very reminiscent of Berlusconi – he has a strong base of supporters who see in him a strong leader and buy into his anti-communist rhetoric, while his opponents see him as arrogant and abrasive. He proved to be quite off-putting to voters in his first term. The right’s candidate, Lojze Peterle, lost the 2007 presidential runoff 32% to 68% to Danilo Türk, the left-wing candidate.
The 2008 elections saw major changes to the political system. Since its defeat in 2004, the LDS – a terrible fit in opposition after having been a party of power – collapsed, with weak leadership (Katarina Kresal, who was largely unknown) and divisions – Gregor Golobič, a former adviser to Drnovšek, became leader of the social liberal splinter party Zares in 2007; former Prime Minister Anton Rop and others joined the Social Democrats; President Drnovšek became a hippie (quite literally) in 2005 and left the LDS. Instead, the 2008 election turned into a battle between Janša’s SDS and the Social Democrats, led since 1997 by the ‘third way’ centrist Borut Pahor. Just a few weeks prior to the vote, the Finnish public broadcaster Yle aired an investigation which alleged that Slovenian defense ministry officials and Janša had received €21 million in bribes for a €278 million arms contract with Finnish weapons company Patria (in which the Finnish government has a majority stake) for an armored vehicles contract in 2006. Janša denied all accusations and went ballistic – the government sued the Finnish journalists, tried to pressure the Finnish government to intervene with Yle, claimed that he was the victim of a political witch-hunt and insinuated that there was conspiracy between the Finnish and Slovenian Social Democrats to discredit him.
Borut Pahor’s SD narrowly won the 2008 election, winning 30.5% and 29 seats against 29.3% and 28 seats for the SDS. Zares placed third with 9.4% and 9 seats, easily beating out the LDS, which barely saved itself by winning 5.2% and 5 seats. Pahor formed a left-leaning coalition with Zares, the LDS and DeSUS (which was making a place for itself as the kingmaker, and a party which punched above its weight). His government coincided with the beginning of the economic crisis, which hit Slovenia particularly hard. In Slovenia, the crisis came from the banks – bankers lent large sums to friends in business, who used the cash to buy the companies they ran using assets as collateral, which meant that banks were stuck with mounting loses on their loans and high levels of non-performing loans (Slovenia, in 2013, had the third highest ratio of non-performing loans in the Eurozone after Greece and Ireland, at 17%). In 2009, Slovenia’s GDP collapsed by 7.9% and grew by only 1.3% in 2010 and 0.7% in 2011. Unemployment increased from 4% in 2008 to nearly 9% when Pahor’s government left office at the end of 2011. The deficit soared from 2% of GDP in 2008 to 8% in 2009, although it fell back to 4.1% of GDP by 2011. Slovenia’s low public debt increased from 22% to 47% during Pahor’s administration. Pahor presented an unpopular agenda of austerity measures (wage and pension freezes, cuts in social benefits), structural reforms (pensions, healthcare, labour laws) and institutional adjustments, which he was determined to move along quickly. Despite claims to the contrary, the tradition of social partnership hardly improved during Pahor’s government.
Pahor’s main success was the arbitration of a border dispute with Croatia, which had been delaying Croatia’s accession to the EU. The old dispute concerned land and water control in the small Bay of Piran, which is Slovenia’s only access to the sea, and Slovenia’s lack of access to international waters. The right, which decried a ‘pro-Croatian capitulation’ (Janša and other right-wing parties have often made nationalist and irredentist claims), forced a referendum on the issue in June 2010, which was narrowly ratified by 51.5% of voters on 42.7% turnout.
Pahor’s undoing proved to be a pension reform in 2010, which the IMF had said was necessary for the country, whose aging population and economy demanded a long-overdue reform of the pension system. The Pahor government acted with excessive haste and without any constructive dialogue with social partners. The reform increased the retirement age from 63 (men)/61 (women) to 65 (for all), rejigged the pension benefit formula and changed rules to access private pensions. The unions proved to be fairly dogmatically anti-reform, while Pahor’s coalition partner DeSUS voted against the pension reform and a budget which froze the indexation of pensions – the government only passed the bill with the support of the opposition SLS. DeSUS left the coalition in April 2011.
In 2011, the government lost a whole string of referendums. In April 2011, on 34% turnout, 80% voted against a new part-time work law which would have allowed unemployed people, students and pensioners to work up to 60 hours/month and 720 hours/year with lower pay, less employment rights, no annual leave, no severance pay and no sick/parental leave. In June 2011, on 40% turnout, voters rejected three laws by wide margins – first and foremost among then, the controversial pension reform. In June 2011, following the pension reform’s defeat at the polls, Zares left the coalition. By this point, Pahor’s government was extremely unpopular and the writing was on the wall, but Pahor desperately tried to cling to power for as long as he could. Zares, a flash in the pan, had been in freefall since 2009, when Zares leader Gregor Golobič was mixed up in a corruption scandal concerning investments he made in an IT company and misleading the public about his real role in that company during the 2008 campaign. The moribund LDS continued imploding in government, and the LDS’ leader and interior minister Katarina Kresal was indicted in a real estate scandal and was forced to resign from the cabinet in August 2011. Pahor was accused of sliding his feet on her case, likely because he was afraid that it would be his government’s demise. Indeed it was – in September 2011, Pahor was topped in a confidence vote, with only his party and the LDS voting for the government and the right and ex-coalition partners (DeSUS and Zares) voting against him.
The 2011 election saw further political upheavals, confirming that the post-2004/post-LDS era has been characterized by anti-incumbency, polarization and high levels of electoral volatility. The one constant remains Janez Janša, whose teflon-like ability to withstand attacks and scandals is quite remarkable. Like Silvio Berlusconi, Janša has become a love-or-hate figure in Slovenian politics – he has many opponents who see him as a corrupt, abrasive demagogue with scant respect for democratic institutions; at the same time, he maintains a high level of support. A part of it comes from Janša’s past: he left the communist movement in the mid-1980s and became a dissident journalist for the left-wing and hard-hitting Mladina news magazine. Janša wrote articles very critical of the Yugoslav military and arms contracts (ironically), and was arrested with three other journalists and an army sergeant in 1988 for exposing military secrets. His in camera military trial, conducted in Serbo-Croatian rather than Slovenian (which was illegal), and his sentencing to 18 months imprisonment (he served 6) led to a public outcry and became a rallying point for the anti-communist dissident movement (the Slovenian Spring), and precipitated the local communists’ shift towards reform. From this experience, Janša retains a high degree of hatred for then-communist boss Milan Kučan (Janša claims that Kučan agreed to the army’s request for his arrest).
The SDS was the favourite to win the 2011 election and its support remained rather stable throughout the campaign. The SDS’ campaign insinuated that austerity would be the order of the day, but it avoided shouting that from the rooftops and couched it in the rhetoric of job creation (by cutting taxes on businesses). Once again, however, Janša and the SDS were faced with the Patria case – in 2010, prosecutors had laid charges against Janša and a bribery trial began in September 2011, with five defendants including Janša and Austrian-Canadian middleman Walter Wolf, who had been identified by Yle as the man who handed out the money to the Slovenians. Once again, Janša claimed to be the victim of political persecution and that the case was designed to interfere with the election.
The 2011 election was the year of newcomers. Prime Minister Pahor’s SD had collapsed to single digits, although a late mini-surge edged them over the 10% line. Zares and LDS had both imploded. Two new parties attracted attention and significant support. On the centre-right, former Janša cabinet minister Gregor Virant founded the Civic List (LGV, later DL), a centre-right liberal party which initially excited a lot of voters and became a major contender. Virant’s momentum took a major blow after revelations that he had received thousands of euros in unemployment benefits while receiving salaries as a lecturer and consultant. The other new party was Positive Slovenia (PS), a new party founded and led by Zoran Janković, a wealthy businessman and popular mayor of Ljubljana (since 2006). Janković, who is of mixed Serbian and Slovene ancestry, was director of Mercator, the largest retail chain in Slovenia (with stores in other Balkan states), between 1997 and 2005 (when he was allegedly forced out by Janša). Janković became very popular as an independent mayor of Ljubljana, for redesigning the city core, improving public transit, building new apartments and a new stadium. In 2011, Janković was already facing corruption allegations, accused of using his mayoral powers to financially benefit his sons. PS is a centre-left, left-liberal or social democratic party; in 2011, Janković was supported by former President Milan Kučan, who is sometimes noted as being Janković’s political mentor.
It was a major surprise when Janković’s PS narrowly defeated the SDS, winning 28.5% and 28 seats against 26.2% and 26 seats for Janša. The governing parties, except single-issue DeSUS, all collapsed: the Social Democrats won 10.5% (10 seats), while LDS (1.5%) and Zares (0.7%) fell out of Parliament entirely. Gregor Virant’s list held on to 8.4% and won 8 seats, DeSUS won 7% and 6 seats, the SLS won 6.8% and 6 seats while NSi returned to Parliament with 4.9% and 4 seats (one academic analysis cited NSi’s vocal opposition to a new law which would allow for same-sex marriage in all but name). The far-right Slovenian National Party (SNS), a fixture of Parliament since 1992, won only 1.8% and lost all seats. Janković’s narrow victory owed to strong support in Ljubljana and tactical voting on the left against Janša; PS more or less replaced the S on the left of the spectrum.
As leader of the largest party, Janković was widely expected to become Prime Minister, likely in a left-liberal coalition with the SD, Virant and (of course) DeSUS. However, Janković was apparently unwilling to submit himself to the deal-making of coalition politics, so Virant withdrew his support from the potential government right before a coalition agreement was due to be officialized in January 2012, and Janković lost the parliamentary vote for Prime Minister. President Danilo Türk refused to appoint Janša as his alternative candidate (because Türk did not trust – or like – Janša and said he lacked legitimacy because of his indictment in the Patria scandal), despite Janša having formed a coalition around him with the support of Virant, DeSUS, the SLS and NSi. Instead, Janša was nominated as a candidate by his coalition in the National Assembly and received the support of the National Assembly at the end of January. Janša returned to power, at the helm of a right-wing coalition with the SLS, NSi, DeSUS and Gregor Virant’s Civic List.
Janša’s government came into power as the country was still battered by the economic crisis, and the coalition agreement was largely devoted to shoring up public finances by cutting public expenditures (notably public sector wages), speeding up privatizations and tackling corruption, but under the weight of king-maker DeSUS, pension reform was placed on the back-burner. To justify his austerity policies, Janša sounded an alarmist (but also rather realistic) note by publicly saying that, unless something was done, Slovenia would face a ‘Greek scenario’ – that is, a EU-IMF bailout. The government was forced to pump €380 million – or 1% of the country’s GDP – into the Nova Ljubljanska Banka, Slovenia’s largest bank and lender in July 2012. The Janša government planned to create a state holding company to speed up privatizations and to set up a ‘bad bank’ where the banks would deposit their bad loans.
As the country remained mired in recession (-2.5% in 2012, -1.1% in 2013), rising unemployment (9% in 2012, 10% in 2013), large deficits (-4% in 2012, -14.7% in 2013) and growing debt (54% in 2012, 72% in 2013), popular anger against austerity measures and especially an increasingly corrupt political elite reached boiling point. Several protests around the country between November 2012 and March 2013 gathered up to a few thousand demonstrators – they began as a local protest against the corrupt mayor of Maribor, but later became general protests against political corruption and austerity. Janša refused to even acknowledge their demands, claiming that protesters, the ‘left-wing media’ (he quickly became quite enamored with the term ‘left-wing fascism’) and education/cultural sectors were under the influence of the old communist regime or, his favourite boogeyman, the ‘Udbomafia’ (referring to UDBA, the secret police of Yugoslavia).
It was in this context that the presidential elections took place in November and December 2012. Incumbent President Danilo Türk, supported by PS and DeSUS, had had very bad relations with Janša and generally opposed the government’s austerity policies. He faced Milan Zver, an MEP supported by the SDS and NSi; and former Prime Minister Borut Pahor, who had lost the leadership of his party in June 2012 and moved to the right, preaching ‘national unity’ (read: get along better with Janša) in times of economic stress. Zver won only 24.3% in the first round and was eliminated; Pahor surprised by placing first, with 39.9%, against a paltry 35.9% for Türk, whose second place showing (when he was expected to place first) largely killed his campaign. Pahor, with the right and Janša’s support, trounced the incumbent in the runoff, winning 67.4% to 32.6%. However, turnout was below 50% in both the first and second rounds.
A complete mess
In early January 2013, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption of the Republic of Slovenia’s report on party leaders’ assets was a massive bombshell which hit both the government and the opposition. The anti-corruption commission cleared all party leaders except two: Janša and Janković, who the commission said had both systematically and repeatedly broken the law. Janša was asked to explain the origin and use of €200,000 in income from an ‘unknown origin’ and failed to report a real estate deal and various other cases of failing to report his assets. Janković failed to report total assets of €2.4 million over 6 years to the commission and was asked to provide details on several financial transactions between his sons’ companies and companies doing business with the municipal government. Interestingly, the commission’s findings only touched the tip of the iceberg: Janša was on trial for the Patria affair and is alleged to have partook in various arms deal, while Janković is usually known for murky real estate deals and nepotism. Both men denied all the allegations – Janša came out swinging, accusing the commission of being illegitimate and politically motivated, while his party lashed out at the communists, UDBA spies and ‘left-wing fascists’ who were pursuing a campaign against their man; Janković was slightly less insane, but denied all corrupt activity and, like the Prime Minister, initially refused to resign. In the government, Janša’s ‘ally’ Gregor Virant called on both men to resign but was later found waffling on the issue with reports that Virant’s party (DL) was divided.
In mid-January, Janković ‘froze’ (rather than resign) his leadership of PS; a few days later, Virant took a stand and issued an ultimatum to Janša, which was predictably thrown out by the Prime Minister. On January 24, Virant walked out of the coalition and reduced the government to a minority. DeSUS and the SLS, two of the other four original coalition partners, also began making noise about leaving the cabinet, leaving Janša with only NSi, the most loyal of the SDS’ allies. In typical Janša style, instead of acting consensual to patch his coalition back together, he began dumping acid on Virant – making it clear that he was determined to cling to power, at all costs (in Slovenia, a resignation is usually an admission of guilt). However, the bottom fell out of the remnants of his government after February 22, when DeSUS quit the coalition and was followed, three days later, by the SLS. By that point, the opposition PS had been getting its act together, with acting president Alenka Bratušek calling for an interim government while the Social Democrats, leading in polls, were keener on snap elections. Faced with a no confidence vote, the SDS resorted to sexism – in a controversial tweet, the party vowed that a Bratušek government would last as long as her skirt.
On February 27, Janša lost a no-confidence vote 55 to 33 – with an hastily assembled coalition of the PS, SD, DL, DeSUS and most of SLS voting against Janša and installing Alenka Bratušek as Prime Minister. She formed a government with PS, SD, DL and DeSUS.
The government continued to be faced with the same problem: the economy, particularly Slovenia’s banking sector and the persistent speculation that Slovenia would be the next Eurozone member to need a bailout from the Troika. Unlike Janša, Bratušek remained insistent that Slovenia was not ‘the next Greece’ and that the country would not require a bailout. Despite vague promises to be more ‘pro-growth’ than Janša had been, Bratušek’s government – pressured by the EU and IMF – had little choice but to continue her predecessors’ austerity policies, although with the focus being on raising taxes and privatization. The government raised the VAT by 2%, but a new real estate tax was nixed by the Constitutional Court; it also laid out plans for the privatization of the Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (the second-largest bank), Telekom Slovenije, Ljubljana airport and Adria Airways.
A crucial moment for the government was an external stress test on the banking sector’s bad loan crisis. In December 2013, the review found that the Slovenian banking system had a total capital shortfall of €4.8 billion and the government was required to pump €3.2 billion to recapitalize the three main banks. The cost of recapitalizing the three main banks was equivalent to 10.3% of the small country’s GDP, and explains the large deficit in 2013 (14.7% of GDP). The country seems to have narrowly avoided a bailout, and there are early signs that recovery may finally be on the horizon: the credit rating outlook was raised to ‘stable’ in May, and the EC is now projecting 0.8% growth in 2014 and the reduction of the deficit to 3.1% by 2015, although unemployment will remain at 10% for some time to come.
In June 2013, a court found Janša (and two other men) guilty in the Patria case and sentenced him to 22 months in prison. The decision was appealed, but in the meantime, Janša became increasingly detached from reality and his rants became even more amusing – the usual boogeyman of the ‘Udbomafia’, ‘left-wing fascism’, the communists, and an international decades-long communist conspiracy against Janša; a bizarre tweet from Janša saying that the DEMOS candidate in the 1990 presidential elections actually got far more votes than the official tally indicates (implying that Milan Kučan was an impostor and that Slovenian elections are probably rigged by the communists) and deciding to unearth old illegal activities of the UDBA to smear Kučan. In fact, the use of the state archives – particularly those records dealing with the communist period – has become something of an obsession for the SDS, after the government passed a law providing for the anonymisation of personal data of people working for and victims of the Yugoslav-era secret services (which did indeed include some questionable and controversial points), which the SDS claimed would allow for excessive redaction. The party’s critics point out that the SDS got in hot water in 2011, after party cadres were caught red-handed fooling around with archives documents in a bid to concoct documents which would tie then-President Türk to a 1970s secret police op in Carinthia, meaning that the SDS’ archive obsession was motivated by petty partisan objectives. The SDS, in any event, successfully collected 40,000 signatures for a referendum on the archive law, the first held under the stricter quorum referendum laws – held on June 8 between the EP election and the general election, 11.7% (or barely 200,000) of voters showed up and two-thirds rejected the law, but the new rules invalidates the results.
Meanwhile, in the main ruling party – PS – Janković slowly broke with Bratušek beginning in August 2013, culminating in October with Janković announcing that he would run for the presidency of the party. The party’s founder and suspended leader did not attack Bratušek directly, but claimed that he was doing this to bring PS – which, by the way, was very low in polls – to its original, more left-wing, roots after the harsh experience of power with the Bratušek government. Although the PS congress was finally delayed till April 2014, Janković’s return to the forefront of party politics opened up yet another coalition crisis. All three junior coalition partners, who had agreed to team up with Bratušek earlier in the year only in exchange for Janković clarifying that he was indeed resigning, immediately indicated that they would leave the government if Janković returned as PS leader.
It was a tough contest. On the one hand, Janković is far more charismatic and ‘politician-like’ than Bratušek, who is more of a colourless technocrat. On the other hand, Janković faced several challenges – he had lost the support of former President Milan Kučan and in February 2014 he was indicted over a scandal related to the new stadium in Ljubljana. However, on April 26, Janković won the PS leadership against Bratušek (422-338). True to her word, she resigned as Prime Minister quickly thereafter (realizing that she could not have realistically hoped to hold on, given that relations with Virant already weren’t so swell) and it turned out that Virant et al weren’t bluffing – they reiterated that they would not work with Janković, opening the way for snap elections. The PS, which was already polling very low, divided in the aftermath of the congress, with 13 deputies staying with PS and 11 splitting to form their own group.
Around the same time, the high court upheld the court’s ruling on Janša and the Patria case. Since June 20, Janša is serving a 22-month jail sentence. Predictably, the SDS’ reaction to these developments have been rather interesting: on his Twitter account, Janša’s bio blurb reads ‘political prisoner during Yugoslav 1989 and SLO 2014 communist regime’; the SDS claimed that these elections would not be free and fair; and the English version of SDS’ website includes articles about ‘communist justice’, the ‘leftist government intimidating the opposition [etc] with fabricated court proceedings’ and a grand claim that Slovenia is controlled by a communist network of oligarchs led by Milan Kučan. Apparently, ‘free Janez Janša’ and – gasp – ‘#freeJJ‘ are now things.
The messy political situation was further complicated by the creation of new parties. On the left, activists from civil society and the 2012-13 protest movement founded, in late 2013, Solidarnost (Solidarity), which is anti-neoliberal and made vague noises about strengthening democracy. Also on the left, the former President of the Court of Auditors, Igor Šoltes, founded Verjamem (I believe), which largely talked about change, political reform and ethics with a lot of flowery and feel-good rhetoric. Šoltes, who is the grandson of Slovene communist leader Edvard Kardelj, had been in contention earlier in 2014 for the health ministry, but SD scuttled his nomination. On the radical left, three minor parties (the Initiative for Democratic Socialism, founded in 2014; Party for the Sustainable Development of Slovenia, founded in 2011; and the Democratic Labour Party, founded in 2010) got together in March 2014 to form the United Left (ZL). The new coalition, often compared to the Greek SYRIZA and which supported Alexis Tsipras’ ‘candidacy’ in the 2014 EP elections, defines its ideology as ‘democratic ecological socialism’. Its platform is anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal and anti-privatization; it supported higher taxes on the rich, workers’ self-management, public oversight of banks, an audit of the debt, Eurobonds, defending the welfare state, direct democracy, environmental transformation, minority rights (including LGBT rights) and – its last plank – demanded that Germany pays Slovenia €3.5 billion in war debt for World War II.
It was in this context that the first election – by far the least important one – was held, to elect Slovenia’s MEPs. It was pretty much a non-campaign, with no mention of EU issues and all attention focused on the EP elections as a dress rehearsal for the July 13 legislative elections.
Turnout: 24.55% (-3.82%)
MEPs: 8 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, no threshold (national constituency)
SDS (EPP) 24.78% (-1.88%) winning 3 seats (nc)
SLS-NSi (EPP) 16.6% (-3.56%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Verjamem! (G-EFA) 10.33% (+10.33%) winning 1 seat (+1)
DeSUS (ALDE) 8.12% (+0.94%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SD (S&D) 8.08% (-10.35%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PS 6.63% (+6.63%) winning 0 seats (nc)
ZL (GUE/NGL) 5.47% (+5.47%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Jelko Kacin (ALDE) 4.92% (-6.56%) winning 0 seats (-1)
SNS 4.03% (+1.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Sanjska služba 3.54% (+3.54%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 2.56% (+2.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Solidarnost 1.67% (+1.67%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DL (ALDE) 1.14% (+1.14%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Zares (ALDE) 0.95% (-8.81%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Greens (G-EFA) 0.83% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Slovenski narod 0.36% (+0.36%) winning 0 seats (nc)
There were many losers in the EP elections. The biggest of them were the Social Democrats (SD), who, notwithstanding their lead in polls for most of 2013, received a major thumping and SD leader Igor Lukšič – who had controversially more or less imposed himself as the SD’ candidate in the EP election (and he got defeated personally by SD MEP Tanja Fajon, who got more preferential votes than he did) – was the main victim of the EP elections, being shown the door by his party’s executive. SD and Lukšič were caught woefully unprepared in the whirlwind of Slovenian politics which preceded the EP vote, with the disintegration of the government/PS and the emergence of several new parties on the left. The Slovenian liberal constellation, which has turned from dominant force to hopelessly divided and weak irrelevance, also did very poorly. Jelko Kacin, the incumbent MEP from the quasi-dead LDS, ran for reelection on his own independent list and won 4.9%. Zares lost its sole MEP, Ivo Vaigjl, to DeSUS (but he himself apparently forgot that, saying that he was a Zares candidate in a debate when in fact he was now with DeSUS), and the remnants of the flash-in-the-pan liberal party won only 1%. Gregor Virant’s Civic List (DL) won only 1.1%. As a result of their ass-whooping, the leaders of DL (Virant) and Zares both resigned. On the broader liberal-left, the only winners were the newcomers: Igor Šoltes, despite not having founded his party at the time, won third place with 10.3% and was elected to the EP. The United Left fell short, but 5.5% was a strong result for them.
The two main winners were the SDS and SLS-NSi (who ran a common list), although parties lost vote. The SLS-NSi common list was led by incumbent MEP and former Prime Minister Lojze Peterle. However, the only real winner was abstention – over three-quarters of Slovenes did not vote, which speaks volume both to the wider disinterest in EU affairs and the general disgust with the political leadership in Slovenia. Slovenia had one of the lowest turnouts in the EU.
The EP election was not even, in the end, a dress rehearsal for anything – because the game was turned upside down only a few days later, on June 2, with the creation of a new party – announced as Pahor formally dissolved the National Assembly for early elections on July 13. Miro Cerar, a distinguished law professor and recognized expert in constitutional law, who had previously been brought up as a potential technocratic ‘national unity’ Prime Minister in 2013 after Janša’s fall, founded his own party – the Miro Cerar Party (Stranka Mira Cerarja, SMC). Cerar also comes from a fairly famous family in Slovenia – his father, Miroslav Cerar, is a former Olympic gymnast who won gold on the pommel horse in Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968; his mother, Zdenka Cerar, is a former youth gymnast who became prosecutor general and later justice minister for a few months in 2004. She was a member of the LDS.
The SMC immediately became the darling of Slovenian voters – an extremely vague anti-corruption, ‘pro-change’ party led by a respected individual, who managed to become what his different voters wanted him to be. Usually, running on platitudes only gets you so far, but in this context, Cerar deliberately went out of his way to keep the SMC as an ideology-free zone and to campaign entirely on platitudes and vague general stances. The party’s platform (in Slovenian) largely stated valence issues as political opinions and policy measures (better education, fighting corruption, efficient and responsive government and other general topics of the kind). It took moderate stances on contentious issues – it may support liberalizing the economy, but speaks only of ‘optimizing’ government and of ‘controlled’ privatization where vital infrastructure will remain with the state (one of the rare clear stances taken by the SMC was opposition to the privatization of Telekom Slovenije – although Cerar still said he’d only try to stop that if possible). In a concerted bid not to offend anyone at all, the SMC refused to sign a LGBT group’s pledge to support extending the full scope of rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples to homosexual couples – saying that they refused to back the human rights of ‘only specific groups’. With its platform and talk of bridging the left-right divide, the SMC appears to me as a Moderate Hero party – that is, a party which takes the middle ground on every issue just for the sake of appearing ‘moderate’ and ‘reasonable’ (and, in the case of the SMC, appealing broadly while offending few).
Around the same, caretaker Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek formalized her split from PS and founded her own party, the Alliance of Alenka Bratušek (ZaAB). Like the SMC, the ZaAB appears to be centrist and moderate, although obviously Bratušek is far less popular than Cerar and by being an established politician, it was harder for her to appeal broadly. ZaAB’s goal was to get into Parliament and/or to win more votes than the remnants of PS, led by Janković.
Turnout on July 13 was 51.73%, down from 65.6% in 2011. This is, by far, the lowest turnout in a legislative election in Slovenia since the fall of communism, with the previous low being 60.6% in 2004 and the record high being over 85% in 1992. This other aspect of the election results hasn’t been picked up much in the analysis – the election is notable not only for the results of the parties, but also for the fact that just under 49% of Slovenians did not vote in what is traditionally the highest-stakes elections in the country which brings out a large majority of voters. Slovenia’s political elites – but also other social actors, including the Catholic Church (already unpopular with some for its thinly-veiled endorsements of Janša, it has faced major financial scandals), trade unions, the judiciary – have lost a lot of their legitimacy, as they appear to be either incompetent or corrupt (or both at the same time) while the collapse of the LDS era social order poses several challenges to Slovenian governments (which have generally failed to respond to them adequately).
SMC 34.49% (+34.49%) winning 36 seats (+36)
SDS 20.71% (-5.48%) winning 21 seats (-5)
DeSUS 10.18% (+3.21%) winning 10 seats (+4)
SD 5.98% (-4.54%) winning 6 seats (-4)
ZL 5.97% (+4.1%) winning 6 seats (+6)
NSi 5.59% (+0.71%) winning 5 seats (+1)
ZaAB 4.38% (+4.38%) winning 4 seats (+4)
SLS 3.95% (-2.88%) winning 0 seats (-6)
PS 2.97% (-25.54%) winning 0 seats (-28)
SNS 2.20% (+0.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pirates 1.34% (+1.34%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Verjamem! 0.78% (+0.78%) winning 0 seats (nc)
DL 0.64% (-7.73%) winning 0 seats (-8)
Others 0.83% (-3.22%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Italian and Hungarian minorities winning 2 seats (nc)
The huge winner of the election was Miro Cerar and the SMC, who took 34.5% and 36 seats – that’s the second highest vote share for a party in Slovenia’s democratic history (the LDS won 36% in 2000) and the highest seat count for a single party in any election (in 2000, LDS won 34 seats). Cerar’s remarkable victory owes to what he represented to a lot of people – a respected, modest, introverted and well-known public figure (but not politician) who was completely untainted (by corruption or the unpopularity of previous governments), a political novice who can overcome the political stalemate and polarized political system in place since 2004. In other words, an inspirational figure who offers an attractive (but undefined) idea of ‘change’ and ‘reform’ – while being reasonable, intelligent – and a break with the discredited political elite.
As noted above, Cerar deliberately strove to be an ideology-free zone, who offered a nice mix of flowery rhetoric, soft populism and vague objectives to strive towards. Although many people not totally sold with Cerar rightly pointed out that he took very few specific stances on the issues and avoided addressing the tough questions, it must be understood that this ambiguity was calculated and is at the root of the SMC’s victory. As with other new parties, voters can project their own personal hopes and aspirations on Cerar and the SMC, and Cerar more or less offered them mirror reflections of these projections. Cerar won by such a large margin because he was able to be all things to everybody, appealing to the centre-left (in majority) and the centre-right.
The SDS took a major thumping – one which was quite a bit bigger than most people had expected. It’s the party’s worst result since 2000, when the SDS had won only 15.8%. The SDS has the most loyal electorate of all parties (and the pensioners’ DeSUS, unsurprisingly, has the second most loyal electorate), which explains why the SDS has remained a major party despite Janša’s general unpopularity and his countless travails. However, for a party with a supposedly solid core, the loss of over 5% from its 2011 result is quite spectacular. The party’s campaign was heavily focused on Janša, with regular demands that he be released from prison and loudly proclaiming that the elections weren’t free and fair in his absence, but that apparently did not convince the entirety of the SDS’ base. According to some transfer analysis here and here (dismiss the misleading headline), the SDS’ loses were largely to abstention – according to the first link, about 4.7% of the total 2011 electorate went from SDS to abstention in 2014. Even worse, perhaps, for the SDS is that some of their vote went to other parties (1.9% of the total 2011 electorate went from the SDS to the SMC).
The party dismissed the election results out of hand, saying – again – that the elections weren’t free and fair and, thus, the result was not legitimate. This news release, in English, from the SDS, is quite a read: it quickly shifts to comparing Janša’s fate to the arrest of opposition leaders in Iran, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, detailing the various official visits by Slovenian officials to these countries (and China, for good measure), quoting Churchill on ‘the fascism of the new era’ being called anti-fascism, “the omnipresence of neo-communist ideology” in Slovenia, a weird line about “unbelievable media and capitalist monopoly”, saying that the next Prime Minister will be a Slovenian Lukashenko and a vow to “fight for the consequences of the illegitimate elections to be removed”. The SDS initially indicated that they may even boycott Parliament, but when they realized the implications thereof (and of their silliness), they did a U-turn. The SDS continues, for now, to be officially led from prison by Janez Janša, who interestingly was unable to vote but got a brief prison furlough to attend the inaugural session of Parliament. With Janša stuck in prison for the foreseeable short-term future, and the SDS in a weakened state, there is a chance that the party’s unity will begin cracking.
The Social Democrats were badly trounced, completing a collapse from 29 seats (2008) to a mere five seats in 2014. This result is even more incredible when you take into account that the SD actually led the polls for quite some time in 2013 and even early 2014, and were said to be one of the parties who would benefit from early elections as recently as in January. What happened next, however, confirms that left-wing voters were only parking their votes with SD for the time being, in the absence of a more convincing alternative. Before the SMC and ZL came up, the SD were basically the only option on the left – PS had been hurt by Janković and the austerity policies of the Bratušek government, and had nothing to offer to left-wing voters. The SMC, identified by most voters as being centre-left, had the strongest appeal to the centre-left which faced a dearth of options: PS was dead, Bratušek was now too centrist, SD was murdered in the EP election and were thoroughly unconvincing and uninspiring. The SMC’s surge also killed another party – Verjamem!, one of the main winners of the EP elections less than two months before, won only 0.8% of the vote. Verjamem, in the EP elections so at a much lower level, likely attracted left-wing voters who abandoned PS/SD, but these people then left in droves to back Cerar.
According to the aforecited poll numbers, the bulk of SMC’s support came from people who had voted PS or SD (or DL) in 2011 – RTVSLO reports that 29% of SMC’s voters had voted PS in 2011 and 25.5% had voted SD, compared to only 6% who had voted SDS. The SMC also gained some voters from people who hadn’t turned out in 2011. The geography of the result also confirms that the SMC won most centre-left votes: the party’s support was well distributed throughout the country, but won 37.6% in Ljubljana Centre constituency and 35.9% in Ljubljana Bežigrad constituency, which lean to the left, and also performed better in left-leaning urban areas (Maribor, Koper, Piran).
Another major winner (and it was quite surprising) on the left was the United Left (ZL), thanks to a strong debate performance from young co-leader Luka Mesec. ZL, from a small hard-left base which had voted for two of its current component parties in 2011, added defectors from PS and SD and some other parties.
One of the few existing parties to hold their ground very well was DeSUS, who actually won a record-high result of 10.2% and 10 seats, confirming DeSUS as the world’s strongest (and most influential) pensioners’ party. After the SDS, DeSUS has the second most loyal base, and DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec has a Teflon-like like ability to withstand several corruption allegations in the past and his reputation as less-than-stellar foreign minister under the outgoing government. With its position as the kingmaker in any government, left or right, DeSUS has carved a very strong place in the system for itself, and as a result of its very large influence, it has managed to defend its clientele (pensioners) well by opposing or watering down any pension reform in the past. As a niche party, it doesn’t have a very good reputation with those who don’t vote for it, being seen as opportunist and narrow-minded, but it has tremendous influence on governments.
On the right, the old SLS was thrown out of Parliament, falling just below the 4% threshold while NSi stayed put and won 5 seats. SLS lost votes to Cerar and abstention, while NSi attracted defectors from the SDS and DL.
Alenka Bratušek achieved what she had set out to achieve – to beat PS, which itself was thoroughly decimated, with the Janković-led rump taking only 3% of the vote, which is down over 25.5% from the 2011 election. Although Janković still managed around 5% of the vote in the capital, where he is still mayor, he faces a lot of troubles – both legal and political – in the future. With local elections coming up later this year, Janković, who hitherto had faced no serious challenge from the right or left to his municipal regime, now appears extremely vulnerable. What a difference three years can make…
As it so happens, the other of the ‘new parties’ from 2011 – Gregor Virant’s DL – was killed off, in even more spectacular fashion. Virant’s group, which isn’t even led by Virant since the EP election, collapsed to 0.6%. DL’s support had begun falling even before the 2011 election, and the party proceeded to collapse as it entered government and made a pretty bad impression as a junior partner. The old centrist, vaguely centre-left liberal family of Slovenian politics is definitely a pitiful shadow of its former self: Zares and LDS didn’t even bother running, DL is joining them in the dustbin of history, PS is also set on eventually joining them there in a few months/years, and only Bratušek’s alliance can be considered as representing the liberal centre/centre-left of Slovenian politics – although Miro Cerar is actually rather reminiscent of the old consensual, pragmatic, moderate and inoffensive liberal style which ruled Slovenia with the LDS and remains favoured by a lot of voters.
The hard work begins now for Cerar, who faces the difficult task of not squandering his victory and of transforming very vague promises into tangible action in the tough and thankless world of politics. He is Prime Minister-presumptive, and all the talk is that Cerar will form a coalition with DeSUS (technically, Cerar would have a thin majority in a small coalition only with DeSUS, but Erjavec would be too picky and dangerous in such a setup), SD and ZaAB. There is an outside chance that NSi could join as well. In one of his few clear pronouncements during the campaign, Cerar excluded a coalition with the SDS, although here again he was just reacting to Janša ruling out a coalition with Cerar. If he so chooses, Cerar also has the ability to keep DeSUS out and form a government with SD, ZaAB and maybe NSi, a coalition which would have the advantage of being less dependent on DeSUS and fulfilling his ‘uniting left and right’ mantra.
However, the new coalition-in-waiting (whatever it ends up being) has been facing its first problems over the partisan horsetrading and wrangling over Slovenia’s European Commissioner, in the new Juncker commission. Cerar has insisted that, as PM-presumptive, he should be actively involved and kept in the loop on this business, even though he has no legal standing as of yet and Slovenia remains governed by Bratušek’s caretaker cabinet. DeSUS has been playing hardball, demanding the office of speaker of the National Assembly (although that office has just gone to a SMC MP) and speculation that Erjavec would be interested in the Commissioner job. However, SD would like to put forward their MEP, Tanja Fajon, as their candidate for Brussels and Alenka Bratušek is also a likely contender, who may even be favoured by Brussels.
Once in office, Cerar will be dealing with a difficult reality: a fragile economy which has just begun recovering, a large debt and deficit, high unemployment, trust in politics and other institutions at very low levels and several corruption scandals involving politicians. His laudable aims, vague goals and feel-good objectives will need to adapt themselves to the reality of government. It remains to be seen if Cerar, a political novice, will have what it takes to be a successful politician and head of government. It also remains to be seen how far his party, whose appeal is wide but also rather fragile, can survive as it goes from a moderate, anti-establishment outsider party to being the party of government. New parties of this kind often tend to collapse as they lose their novelty and outsider/non-political status. Slovenian politics remain in an unpredictable and highly interesting state of flux…