Author Archives: glhermine

Prince Edward Island and Alberta (Canada) 2015

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Alberta on May 4 and 5, 2015 respectively.

Prince Edward Island

All 27 members of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, the unicameral provincial legislature of the province, were up for reelection. The smallest province by population, PEI also has the smallest provincial legislature in Canada. As in every other province, members – styled MLAs – are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (which are called districts in PEI). However, PEI was the last Canadian jurisdiction to transition to only single-member constituencies – until the 1996 election, PEI’s MLAs were elected in two-member districts, with each of the island’s three counties electing 10 members in 5 two-member districts (until 1966, when 5th Queens was divided to create a 6th Queens district covering part of Charlottetown, the provincial capital). Since PEI did not abolish its old upper house but instead merged it with its lower house in 1893, the two-member districts returned one assemblyman and one councillor. Until 1963, while all voters could vote for assemblymen, only property owners could elect the councillor. Although the property qualification was dropped in 1963, the nominal titles continued to be used until the creation of the single-member districts.

The two-member districts map, which had remained unchanged save for one exception for a hundred years, and contained very large differences in population across districts, was struck down in Mackinnon v. Prince Edward Island in 1993. The successor map was challenged on the grounds that it over-represented rural areas and did not follow municipal boundaries, but it was upheld by the Prince Edward Island Supreme Court in 1996.


Prince Edward Island, located in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and connected to mainland Canada (New Brunswick) by the Confederation Bridge, is Canada’s smallest constituent unit (province or territory) in land area and smallest province by population (the three territories have a smaller population than PEI). According to the 2011 Census, PEI’s population was only 140,204 – basically a medium-sized regional town (the Sherbrooke urban area in Quebec has a similar population), which also means that PEI’s electoral districts, with an average population of only 5,000 in each, are very small units comparable to municipal wards in most countries. The provincial capital, Charlottetown, has a population of only 34,562 (although the census agglomeration has 64,487 people. Summerside, the Island’s second-largest city, has a population of 14,751 and is the only other community on the Island with a population of over 10,000.

PEI is a fairly linguistically homogeneous province: 92% of residents in 2011 reported English as their mother tongue, with only 3.7% (or 5,190 people) saying French was their mother tongue and 3.5% with a non-official language as their mother tongue. 87% of Islanders are unilingual Anglophone and 95% speak English most often at home. The Francophone (Acadian) minority in PEI is largely concentrated in Prince County (the western third of the island), in the provincial district of Évangéline-Miscouche (where they may make up a majority of the population) and more specifically in three census subdivisions (Lot 15, Abrams Village and Wellington). In racial terms, PEI is also – unsurprisingly – quasi-homogeneously white, with visible minorities making up only 3.1% (4,260) of the population, with Chinese being the single largest minority group (with 1,830 people), and an additional 1.6% (2,230) claiming Aboriginal identity. The Mi’kmaq are, like in the other Maritime provinces, the main Aboriginal group in PEI, which has two First Nations reserves (both Mi’kmaq).

Islanders are largely of British Isles ancestries – Scottish, English or Irish. According to the 2011 NHS, 66.8% of residents claimed British Isles ancestry – more specifically, 39.3% claimed Scottish ancestry, 31.1% claimed English ancestry and 30.4% claimed Irish ancestry. PEI has the highest percentage of persons claiming Scottish or Irish ancestries of any province in Canada. Additionally, 36.8% claimed ‘Canadian’ ancestry and 21.1% claimed French ancestry. One of the more salient divides on the island has traditionally been religion (like in the other Atlantic provinces): PEI was 84% Christian as of 2011, with only 14.4% non-religious. Christians are fairly evenly divided between Catholics (42.9%) and the various Protestant denominations (41.1%, including 9.6% of ‘Other Christians’), and the United Church of Canada is the single largest Protestant denomination. Catholics and Protestants are fairly evenly spread throughout the island, although the eastern and western ends of the island (Kings and Prince counties) tend to be more Catholic while central Queen’s County is slightly more Protestant or non-religious (in Charlottetown, which is 20.8% non-religious).

PEI has the smallest economy of any province, contributing only 0.3% of GDP. The island, like most of the Atlantic provinces, has a weak economy which has been struggling for decades (in fact, the Maritimes’ best economic days, in general terms, were probably before Confederation). PEI has the lowest GDP per capita of any province ($39,780), and its median household income in 2011 ($55,311) was significantly lower than the national median HH income ($61,072). 59% of Islanders, in 2011, fell in the bottom half of the Canadian population (by income decile) and 15.8% were classified as low income (after-tax), compared to 14.9% of all Canadians. Only 82.2% of income came from ‘market income’, the second lowest in Canada (after Newfoundland), while 17.8% of Islanders’ income came from government transfer payments – including a full 5.8% from Employment Insurance (EI), compared to 1.8% across Canada. In April 2015, finally, PEI’s unemployment rate – 10.5% – was the third highest in Canada (after Newfoundland and Nunavut) and significantly higher than the national average (6.8%).

After Confederation, federal economic policies such as the National Policy primarily benefited the industrial powerhouses of central Canada and hurt the Maritimes, as did changing patterns of trade. Furthermore, PEI, an agricultural province lacking in natural resources and transportation links essential to industrial development, was unprepared for industrialization. The province, like the other Atlantic provinces of Canada, have benefited from post-1945 federal economic policies, social programs and transfer payments. In recent years, the provincial government has tried to break the province’s dependence on federal transfers by developing industries such as tourism. However, like the other Maritime provinces of Canada, PEI’s traditional dependence on federal funding and programs has meant that its provincial government has typically not been assertive or one to rock the boat in federal-provincial relations.

PEI was historically a predominantly agricultural province, thanks to its rich soil, ample supply of arable land and temperate climate. PEI is widely known across Canada for its potato production: in 2012, potatoes were the single most profitable crop, earning $246 million out of a total farm cash receipts of $467 million. The province is the nation’s largest supplier of potatoes. Fishing is also a major activity for the coastal communities. However, since the 1950s, the number of farms on the island has declined considerably and existing farms are large enterprises. In 2014, 8.4% of the labour force was directly employed in agriculture or fishing, which made it the fourth largest industry behind public administration (9.5%), retail trade (13.5%) and health care/social assistance (14.2%). Comparatively, across the country, only 3.8% of the labour force was employed in agriculture, forestry or fishing in 2014. Additionally, fisherman was the second most common specific occupation in 2011 (3.2% of the employed labour force), whereas across Canada it was ranked 219th and employed only 0.1%. Nowadays, public sector employment – public administration, education, healthcare and federal services – has replaced agriculture as the major employer on the island, alongside tourism (Anne of Green Gables, PEI’s red cliffs, beaches and unspoiled landscape), construction and light manufacturing (often primary resource-related).

The most common occupations (NOC) in 2011 were sales and services (22.4%), trades transport and equipment operators (15.3%), business finance and administrative occupations (14.9%) and occupations in education, law and social, community and government services (11.3%).

Political history

Prince Edward Island hosted the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, the first in a series of interprovincial conferences which would culminate in Canadian Confederation in 1867. However, the island declined to join Confederation immediately. By 1873, however, construction debts from the provincial railway threatened to bankrupt the colony, and the Liberal government of Premier Robert Haythorne sent a delegation to Ottawa to seek terms for admission to Confederation in return for the federal government assuming the colony’s extensive railway debts.

The other major issue in 19th century PEI was the land question. In 1767, Britain had divided the island into 67 lots owned by ‘proprietors’ (mostly absentee landlords in England) who collected rent from tenant farmers. The issue had been a hot button issue since the 1790s, but London blocked several attempts at land reform by colonial leaders prior to the advent of responsible government (1851). Afterwards, despite significant activism from tenant farmers, the cash-strapped and rather weak colonial government struggled to find a solution to the land question – which dragged on for over two decades after the introduction of responsible government. In 1873, one of the terms of joining Confederation was that the federal government would provide $800,000 towards the purchase of absentee landholdings on the island. In 1875, the province passed the Land Purchase Act, which made compulsory the sale of estates on PEI larger than 500 acres. To this day, non-residents are not permitted to purchase land on the island in excess of 2 hectares without approval from the cabinet.

The issue of separate schools – establishing a parallel system of separate Catholic schools – continued to divide the Liberals and Conservatives in island politics for a few years following Confederation, until 1876, when a coalition of Protestant Liberals and Conservative won power and created a non-sectarian, secular public school system.

With the three major political debates of the 19th century being settled within a few years, PEI politics moved towards the traditional political culture of the other Maritime provinces, characterized by parochialism, tradition, conservatism, pragmatism and a dose of cynicism and caution. Ideology has played a relatively minor role in PEI politics, and most observers have pointed out that few if any meaningful issues or ideologies divide the Liberals and the Conservatives. The parties reached their positions more on grounds of political expediency rather than principles, and they have always operated as patronage machines alternating in power rather than ideological parties. If the two parties were to be ideologically classified, both would end up in the centre, with the Liberals usually a bit more to the left and the Conservatives a bit more to the right.

Like in Nova Scotia, no great ethnic, religious, class or ideological antagonisms have had a strong, lasting influence on Island election. Religion has sometimes been identified as the main cleavage between Liberals and Conservatives, with the former being favoured by Catholics and the latter by Protestants, but PEI politics have never been sectarian and the parties have always had voters, members and leaders from both religious groups. Regionally, the Conservatives have usually been stronger in eastern Kings County and the Liberals in western Prince County, but this has hardly been a set rule: for example, in the 2008 federal election, the federal Conservatives (Gail Shea, a former provincial politician) was elected to the House for the western riding of Egmont while the Liberals retained the three other seats.

PEI is the Canadian province which has remained the most loyal to the old two-party (Liberals and Conservatives) system from Confederation. With the exception of independents elected in the first two provincial elections, no third party won a seat in the provincial legislature until the New Democrats (NDP) won a single seat in 1996, which they lost in 2000. No third party ever won over 10% of the popular vote, with the provincial NDP peaking at about 8% in the 1996 and 2000 elections.

Despite the little ideological differences between the traditional parties and the low stakes of most provincial elections, partisan identification and voter turnout have remained unusually high (turnout has almost always been over 80%, only falling to an historic low of 76.5% in 2011).

Since Confederation, Island politics have been dull to outside observers. The Liberals and Conservatives have alternated in power, and, with the exception of a series of one-term governments in the 1920s and early 1930s, all governments have been reelected at least once. However, neither party has managed to build a monopoly on power – no government has won more than three terms in office since 1978, when Premier Alex Campbell’s Liberals won a fourth (but final) term in office. After three terms in office, voter fatigue tends to set in and the governing party loses to the opposition, which campaigns on the vague promise of ‘change’ and open-ended criticism of some unpopular government decisions. The last change of government on the Island happened in 2007, when Premier Pat Binns’ Progressive Conservatives (PC) sought a fourth term but were soundly defeated by Robert Ghiz’s Liberals, who won 23 seats to the PCs’ 4 and won the popular vote 53% to 41%.

The relative social and political homogeneity of the Island has meant that elections, in terms of seat count, tend to be very lopsided, even if the popular vote has always remained quite close. Governing parties win huge majorities with the opposition being kept to a tiny caucus. The last time the seat count was close was in 1978 (the election split 17-15 between the Liberals and PCs).

Most PEI premiers since Confederation have been unremarkable, with few making a lasting mark by staying in power for a very long period of time or by attaching their names to landmark policies (which have been few in Island politics). Historically, many PEI premiers used the office as a stepping stone in their careers, leaving the job for a judicial appointment or an upgrade to federal politics. In the recent past, the most important PEI premiers have been Liberals Alex Campbell (1966-1978) and Joe Ghiz (1986-1993) and Tory Pat Binns (1996-2007). Alex Campbell supported government intervention in the economy to help diversify PEI’s mainly agricultural economy, and modernized some aspects of Island politics and institutions. Joe Ghiz gained some national notoriety by opposing free trade and supporting the two failed attempts at constitutional reform (Meech and Charlottetown). Pat Binns presided during fairly good economic times.

The provincial Liberals, led by Robert Ghiz – the son of former Premier Joe Ghiz – defeated the PCs in 2007. Remaining fairly popular throughout their first terms, the Liberals were widely expected to win a landslide in the 2011 election. However, the Liberals unexpectedly hit a bump, with a scandal involving the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). The program allows provinces to nominate foreign nationals for entry to Canada, where they can fill local labour market needs. The PEI PNP program was set up in 2001 but shut down by Ottawa in 2008, after the federal government cracked down on years of irregularities in the province’s administration of the PNP. However, just as the program was about to be shut down, the province rushed through a large number of applications in order to maximize benefit from the embattled program. Immigrants invested their money into PEI businesses in return for immigrant status (for critics, ‘buying their way’ into Canada), but the program spun out of hand and a lot of the investment was pocketed by intermediaries and businesses who had no real relations with the immigrant-investors, while few immigrants actually moved to PEI. Relatives of the Premier, along with cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and several MLAs, benefited financially from the PNP. During the election campaign, the federal government called the RCMP and CBSA to investigate allegations of fraud and bribery in the PEI immigration program. Citizenship and Immigration Canada had received information from three former provincial public servants who claimed that would-be immigrant investors gave senior PEI bureaucrats cash-stuffed envelopes during a meeting in Hong Kong in 2008. Ghiz’s Liberals called the allegations politically motivated, but the opposition PCs went on the offensive in the hopes of shaking the government’s support. The RCMP investigation continued for three years but closed in January 2015 without any charges laid.

The PCs gained 5 points in polls in a month with the scandal, and probably spoiled Ghiz’s hopes of a clean-sweep of all 27 seats. In the end, the Liberals, however, were reelected with a barely reduced majority – 22 seats and 51.4% against 5 seats and 40.2% for the PCs. Once again, the provincial New Democrats or Greens failed to make any breakthroughs, winning 3.2% and 4.4% of the vote respectively.

In its second term, the Liberals have also been mixed up in another major scandal; a complicated e-gaming scheme. A number of islanders, including Ghiz’s close confidantes and the PEI conflict of interest commissioner, invested about $700,000 in a US-based tech firm which wanted to set up global banking platform on the island. The province had been trying to get into the online gambling business for some years, in the hopes of generating millions a year, but faced several thorny legal questions. Although the provincial government axed the e-gaming side of the deal due to legal and technical problems, it remained interested in turning the Island into a financial services hub. In 2012, it signed a MOU with a company which ended up embroiled in a securities investigation some months later. Questions have been raised about the conduct of current and former elected officials and staff.

The Liberals have also been criticized for the government’s poor record on the deficit. Since 2011, the Liberals have announced three successive deficit elimination plans, none of which have seen a successful conclusion. Before the 2011 election, the government announced that it would eliminate the deficit by 2013-14, but after they were reelected, the Liberals announced that the deficit was bigger than expected. In 2012, the government came out with another plan, aiming for a small deficit in 2014-15, instead of balance in 2013-14. The finance minister said increased costs of public pension were having a big impact on the budget. The Liberals’ 2012 plan announced 0% increases in all departmental budgets, with the exception of health (which would get a 3% annual increase), until the budget was balanced. In 2012, the Liberals broke a 2011 campaign promise by introducing the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) to PEI, an introduction which would not be revenue neutral. Despite the introduction of the HST, the government’s budget presentation in 2013 announced a much larger budget deficit (missing the target by $25 million). The Liberals now aimed for balance in 2015-16. To raise revenues, the Liberals increased taxes on gas (by 9 cents) and adult clothing, previously exempt from the provincial sales tax. The limits on government spending also meant important cuts in post-secondary education.

2015 election: Campaign and issues

Premier Robert Ghiz somewhat unexpectedly announced his pending resignation as Premier in November 2014, the day after his government opened a new session of the legislature with a Speech from the Throne. In February 2015, the PEI Liberals acclaimed Wade MacLauchlan, the 60/61-year old former president of the University of Prince Edward Island (1996-2011), who is also openly gay (somewhat notable, perhaps, for a traditionalist and conservative province like PEI). None of the senior cabinet ministers in Ghiz’s cabinet stepped up, but instead they all lined up behind MacLauchlan, who ended up as the sole candidate in the race. MacLauchlan was a successful president at UPEI, but is a political rookie. Upon his selection as Premier, MacLauchlan introduced new conflict of interest regulations for politicians and signalled that he’d like the Auditor General to look into the e-gaming scandal. As an outs

PEI last voted in October 2011, and PEI’s fixed election dates law mandates that the next election should have been held on the first Monday of October. However, the newly-elected Premier was eager to seek a mandate from Islanders – and take on the opposition parties, especially the PCs, before they were quite ready – so he dropped the writ for an election on May 4.

Indeed, the PEI PCs went through a deeply chaotic period in 2013. Olive Crane, the PCs’ leader in the 2011 election, stayed on after the election defeat, but her party performed poorly in polls, which showed very high levels of support for the PEI NDP, up to 22% in December 2012 (just 6 points behind the PCs). In December 2012, she survived a leadership review but got a very poor result, which led to her resignation as Leader of the Opposition and PC leader in January 2013. The 5-member PC caucus elected Hal Perry, the MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road, as Leader of the Opposition. However, the PC party – the caucus and the executive – decided to elect Steven Myers, MLA for Georgetown-St. Peters as interim PC leader. Perry initially announced that he would stay on as opposition leader, but the situation became chaotic and ridiculous: the 5-member PC caucus had one MLA as party leader and another MLA as opposition leader. The Liberal Speaker recognized Perry as opposition leader, which added to the ridiculousness of the situation – the Liberals picking the PC leader for them. However, Perry was soon forced to resign his untenable position and Myers got both jobs, although with limited caucus support. The March 2013 CRA opinion poll showed the PCs, after their leadership troubles, down to disastrous third place with only 16% support against 51% for the Liberals and 26% for the NDP (which won, you’ll recall, all of 3.2% in 2011). The PCs climbed back up to second place with 22% in May 2013, but by August 2013, they had fallen back to third again with 23% against the NDP’s historic 32% and the Liberals’ 42%.

In October, the chaos in PC ranks started anew when the PCs lost two-fifths of their caucus within 48 hours. On October 3, Hal Perry crossed the floor to join the Liberals, officially citing the PCs’ reluctance to criticize the federal Conservatives’ changes to Employment Insurance. On October 4, Myers expelled Olive Crane from the PC caucus for rather long-winded reasons: basically, Crane spoke to the media about Perry’s departure when she wasn’t supposed to according to official PC directives. Crane continued to sit as an independent. The PCs, therefore, were down to 3 MLAs. In November 2013 and February 2014, the CRA polls again showed the PCs languishing in a horrible third with only 17% support while the NDP continued riding high at 26% and 22% support respectively.

The PCs brought forward their leadership convention after the Liberals elected their new leader (on February 21), holding theirs on February 28. In a contested race, the PCs elected outsider Rob Lantz, a Charlottetown city councillor, who defeated James Aylward, the MLA for Stratford-Kinlock who had the backing of interim PC leader Steven Myers and the other sitting PC MLA (Colin LaVie). Polls in 2014 had shown the PCs struggling with poor polling numbers, but pushing their way back into second as the NDP’s remarkable (but unrealistic) momentum wore off. In February of this year, CRA showed the Liberals enjoying very strong support (58%) after MacLauchlan’s coronation with the PCs a poor second (26%) and the NDP in a strong but weaker third (12%).

As usual, the Liberals and the PCs did not differ much on the major issues – healthcare, jobs, economy, education and the like – and mostly had the same positions phrased differently. The PCs mostly focused on change, running on the slogan ‘A New Direction’, and sometimes hitting the Liberals quite hard on ethics issues and promising “major governance reforms to increase accountability, transparency and open government.” The PCs also promise to rebate the 9% provincial portion of the HST on residential electricity and a 20% reduction in copay for seniors’ drugs. Both parties steered clear of the abortion debate – PEI is the only province in Canada where a woman still cannot get a surgical abortion (as there are no abortion providers on the island), instead she must go to Halifax (Nova Scotia). Neither the Liberals or the PCs are interested in opening up abortion services on the Island (although the NDP and the Greens are). Even federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who has famously demanded that his MPs and candidate be prepared to cast pro-choice votes, sidestepped the issue of on-Island abortions when campaigning with MacLauchlan.

The PEI NDP and Greens both made a much stronger run than in any other election in the past. The PEI NDP, the weakest of all provincial New Democrats in the country, peaked at 8.4% of the vote in the 2000 election and won a seat in the Legislative Assembly only once – in 1996 – when then-NDP leader Herb Dickieson was elected in West Point-Bloomfield, a victory owed mostly to local issues at the time. In 2011, the NDP ran only 14 candidates and won 3.2% of the vote; as in 2007, it placed fourth, behind the Greens, who ran 22 candidates and obtained 4.4% of the vote. Both parties went into this election led by new, ambitious leaders. The NDP was led by Michael Redmond, who ran in Montague-Kilmuir against a Liberal incumbent. The Greens were led by Scottish-born dentist and perennial Green candidate Peter Bevan-Baker. The NDP put up a full slate of 27 candidates, while the Greens had 24 candidates. Unlike the NDP, the Greens followed the new federal and provincial Green parties strategy of putting the most resources in the leader’s riding (in this case, Kellys Cross-Cumberland), a strategy which notably saw the New Brunswick Greens elect their leader in a Fredericton riding in last year’s provincial election.

Results and Analysis

Turnout was 85.9%, up 10.5% from the last election, when turnout hit an Island low of 76.2%. Compared to 2011, this election was closer, more disputed, more open-ended (with the NDP and the Greens both making a much stronger run than in any other election).

Liberal 40.83% (-10.55%) winning 18 seats (-4)
PC 37.39% (-2.77%) winning 8 seats (+3)
Green 10.81% (+6.45%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NDP 10.97% (+7.81%) winning 0 seats (nc)

PEI 2015

In one of the most exciting provincial elections in recent PEI political history, the Liberals were – as expected – reelected to a third term majority government, but they suffered significant loses and won a narrow majority with 18 seats out of 27 seats, a loss of 4 seats compared to the 2011 election. While in terms of seats the main beneficiaries of the Liberals’ loses were the opposition Tories, who gained 3 seats and now form a much stronger official opposition caucus of 8 (up from 5 in 2011 and 3 at dissolution), in terms of vote share the PCs did rather poorly as well, losing about 3% of their vote from the 2011 election. That being said, given how terrible the PCs did in opposition and how they managed to climb out of chaos only a few short months ago and elect a permanent leader only two months before the election (after 2 years with an interim leader), they should be pleased with their performance. In fact, the main winners of this election were the third parties – the NDP and the Greens. The Liberals’ 40.8% was the lowest vote share for a winning party in Island history, the Tory vote is the lowest it’s ever been since 1989 and above all the combined Liberal and Tory vote share – 78.22% – is the lowest in Island history.

The NDP and the Greens, together, won an amazing 21.78% of the vote, a remarkable feat in PEI. Naturally, both the NDP and the Greens won their best popular vote results in their (short, especially for the Greens) history, both winning nearly 11% of the vote. The NDP and the Greens’ results show that Islanders were displeased with both Liberals and Tories – one an unpopular governing party with a few ethics problems, the other an uninspiring and bland opposition party – and that some of them, for the first time, looked for an alternative to the two traditional parties in the NDP or the Greens.

However, of the two third parties, the Greens had the better election – even if they placed fourth in vote share, they won a seat, with an astonishing landslide for Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker in his riding of Kellys Cross-Cumberland (23% of all Green votes on the Island were cast for Bevan-Baker!). On the other hand, the NDP won more votes than the Greens and were generally stronger than the Greens in ridings where both parties competed against each other, but the NDP once again fell short of actually winning a seat. NDP leader Michael Redmond had a decent result in Montague-Kilmuir (23%), but he still ended up in third place in that rural Kings County seat which isn’t natural Dipper country; the NDP came within 109 votes in Charlottetown-Lewis Point.

This is very reminiscent of what happened last year in New Brunswick: the NDP stronger than the Greens in terms of votes, but the Greens coming out as the stronger of the two because they managed to elect their leader to the legislature while the NDP remained shut-out. The Greens, as in the federal election (2011), BC (2013) and NB (2014), used the successfully tried-and-tested strategy of dumping their scarce resources on the leader’s seat (or, if not, a limited number of seats, as in BC 2013) and going all-out there. In Canada’s FPTP system which really hurts a party like the Greens, this strategy has proven to be very successful for the Greens. The NDP, in provinces like PEI and NB where it is very weak and has the same FPTP issues as the Greens there, hasn’t really gone for the same strategy as the Greens and they’ve paid the price.

The PCs did best in Kings County/eastern PEI, holding the four seats they were defending there (including retiring ex-PC MLA Olive Crane’s riding) and gaining the marginal riding of Belfast-Murray River from the Liberals. Belfast-Murray River was former PC Premier Pat Binns’ seat, which the Liberals gained in a 2007 by-election (after Binns stepped down after his defeat) during their long honeymoon and held by only 8 votes in the 2011 election. This year’s race, a rematch of the 2011 contest between Liberal MLA Charlie McGeoghegan and PC challenger Darlene Compton, went in the Tories’ favour, who won the seat with a more comfortable margin of 108 votes. The Liberals held Vernon River-Stratford by a tiny margin of only 2 votes for Liberal incumbent Alan McIsaac on election night. After a recount, the result there actually ended up as a perfect tie, and the Liberals only won the seat by coin toss. The Liberals had an easier time in Montague-Kilmuir, winning 41.8% against 31% for the PCs and 23.1% for NDP leader Michael Redmond. Compared to the NDP’s results in surrounding districts (7-9%), this was a strong performance for the NDP, but they still fell short by a good distance.

The PCs also had good results in rural central PEI (Queen’s County), a key swing region where elections are won. The Tories gained Borden-Kinkora, Kensington-Malpeque and Rustico-Emerald from the Liberals (incumbents standing down) – with fairly consequential margins in all three. Liberal leader and Premier Wade MacLauchlan was elected in his riding of York-Oyster Bed, with a 600 vote victory over the Tories (47.7% to 32.9%) while the Liberals also held the Charlottetown suburban districts of Cornwall-Meadowbank (46.3% to 33.8%) and Tracadie-Hillsborough Park (45.7% to 27.8%). However, the Liberals held the other suburban district, West Royalty-Springvale, by only 59 votes against the PCs. In Kellys Cross-Cumberland, a predominantly rural/small town riding on the south-central coast of PEI, Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker saw his hard work pay off, winning in a shocking landslide – a margin of 1,031 votes, taking 54.8% of the vote against only 27.6% for the Liberal incumbent. In fact, Bevan-Baker’s margin of victory (in terms of votes, not percentages), was the largest of any winning candidate on the island!

Of decisive importance to the Liberal victory was Charlottetown – where they won every seat, despite tough challenges in a number of them and loses in most. In Charlottetown-Brighton, one of the key races of the election, Liberal candidate Jordan Brown defeated PC leader Rob Lantz by a 24-vote margin (39% to 38.1%). In Charlottetown-Lewis Point (many students from UPEI live in this district), the Liberals held on despite a tough challenge from the NDP – the NDP lead for a good part of the night, but the advance polls won it for the Liberals, by a thin 109 vote margin (34.3% to 30.7% for the NDP, with 27% for the PCs). The Liberals didn’t sweat as much in Charlottetown-Victoria Park, Charlottetown-Parkdale and Charlottetown-Sherwood. However, the Greens did win some very good results in Charlottetown-Victoria Park (18.8%) and Charlottetown-Parkdale (19.2%), winning a number of polls in both (in the downtown core areas and surrounding areas, with a young population, and gentrified low-income areas)

The Liberals swept western PEI, and won tight but decisive victories in the two districts of Summerside, PEI’s second-largest city. In Summerside-St. Eleanors, the Liberals won by 148 votes against the PCs, while in neighbouring Summerside-Wilmot, Liberal MLA Janice Sherry was reelected with a lead of only 30 votes against the Tories. The Liberals had an easier time in Tyne Valley-Linklater (337 vote victory) and O’Leary-Inverness (247 vote victory), while their incumbents won by big margins in Évangéline-Miscouche (62.6% for Liberal MLA Sonny Gallant in PEI’s Acadian riding), Alberton-Roseville and Tignish-Palmer Road. In the latter, floor crosser incumbent Hal Perry – elected as a Conservative in 2011 but running for reelection as a Liberal this year – was handily reelected, with a 668 vote lead and some 58.2% of the vote.

The Liberals won four districts by less than 100 votes (including one by only 2 votes) – if the PCs had won them, they would have held 12 seats to the Liberals’ 14, a wafer-thin majority for the Liberals. If the Liberals also lost the two other ridings which they won by less than 200 votes, we’d be looking at a Tory minority government and a Legislative Assembly with 13 Tories, 12 Liberals, 1 Dipper and 1 Green.

PEI political history dictates that the Liberals will be defeated as they try to win a fourth term in 2019. In the meantime, however, the PCs – who, in spite of everything, remain the only alternative governing party on the Island – will need to manage their time in opposition far better than they have since 2011. Rob Lantz turned out to be a strong and competent leader on the campaign trail, who managed the PCs well after the chaos of 2013, but unfortunately for them he was narrowly defeated in his own bid to enter the Legislative Assembly, although he will remain (for now) as the PC leader from the outside. The PCs will also need to deal with this potentially tricky situation. As for the third parties, the NDP comes out with a strong showing but also a frustrating and disappointing end result, while the Greens come out with a foothold in the legislature for their amiable and popular leader, and will thus have a stronger voice than the NDP. However, neither the NDP or the Greens can be seen as realistic alternative governing parties for the Island (although this is Canada we’re talking about, and considering I’m about to talk about Alberta’s election…).


All 87 members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, the unicameral provincial legislature of the province, were up for reelection. Members – styled MLAs – are elected by FPTP in single-member constituencies (or ridings).


Alberta, located in Western Canada and bordered by British Columbia (to the west, across the Rocky Mountains), Saskatchewan (to the east), the United States (to the south) and the territories (to the north), is Canada’s fourth-most populous province – after Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. According to the 2011 Census, Alberta had a population of 3,645,257 while the latest population estimates for the first quarter of 2015 pegged Alberta’s population at 4,160,044 – or 11.7% of the total Canadian population. Between 2006 and 2011 and again between 2011 and 2014, Alberta had the second highest population growth rate of any jurisdiction in Canada – +10.8% from 2006 to 2011 (only Yukon had higher growth) and +13.7% from 2011 to 2014 (only Nunavut had higher growth). In the past 100 and 50 years, mainly because of its burgeoning economy, Alberta’s population has grown dramatically – in 1911, Alberta’s population was a mere 374,295 and in 1966, Alberta’s population was 1,463,203.

The Albertan population is one of the most mobile in the country: in 2011, 44.9% of Albertans lived at a different address than they did 5 years ago, compared to 38.6% of Canadians. 6.5% of Albertans in 2011 were interprovincial migrants (lived in a different province 5 years before), compared to only 2.8% of the Canadian population in 2011. Alberta’s strong economy and employment opportunities have famously attracted Canadians from other provinces, most notably the Atlantic provinces. Only 53.6% of the population in 2011 was actually born in Alberta, compared to two-thirds of Canadians who were born in the same province that they resided in.

Alberta has two major cities, Calgary and Edmonton. In 2011, the Calgary CMA had a population of 1,214,839 while the Edmonton CMA had a population of 1,159,869 – taken together, 65% of Alberta’s population in 2011 lived in these two metropolitan areas, which have also seen rapid population growth throughout the 20th century and particularly in the last 10-15 years. The relatively equal weight of the two cities has produced a lasting political, economic and sports rivalry between them, with began when Edmonton was selected as the provincial capital over Calgary in 1905. Other large cities in Alberta include Red Deer (90,564) in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, Lethbridge (83,517) in southern Alberta, St. Albert (61,466) in the Edmonton CMA, the oil boom town of Fort McMurray (61,374) in northeastern Alberta, Medicine Hat (60,005) in southeastern Alberta and Grande Prairie (55,032) in northwestern Alberta.

Compared to the rest of the country, while Alberta is aging it has of the youngest populations in Canada – in 2011, the lowest median age (36.5) and the lowest percentage of the population aged 65+ (11.1%).

Alberta is Canada’s third largest economy, contributing 17.9% of the national GDP. The province’s economy is famously driven by oil – Canada is now the world’s fifth largest producer of oil, and Alberta is the largest producer of conventional crude oil, synthetic crude and natural gas in the country. More importantly, Alberta has the largest reserves of unconventional oil in the world – in the form of the oil sands (or tar sands), found mostly in the Athabasca region in northeastern Alberta. Oil sands now account for the vast majority of Canada’s rapidly increasing oil production: of the 173 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered with today’s technology, 168 billion of those are found in the oil sands (giving Canada the third largest proven crude oil reserves in the world). Conventional oil production in Alberta began in earnest in 1947, a date which marks the beginning of the oil era in Alberta’s economy. Because of the high cost of developing the oil sands and the difficulty of extraction (today, most oil sands extraction in Canada require advanced in situ technologies in most cases), commercial production has only become viable when the price of oil is high. Commercial production of oil from the Athabasca oil sands only began in 1967, but only took off with rising oil prices since the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since the 1960s, Alberta’s economy has followed the oil cycle, doing well when oil prices have been high but struggling when oil prices fall. Therefore, Alberta’s economy was doing very well between the late 1990s until 2008.

Alberta has the highest GDP per capita of any province ($84,390) – only the Northwest Territories, with a far smaller population and due to its booming diamond mining industry, has a higher GDP per capita in Canada. Moreover, its median household income in 2011 ($78,632) was the highest of any province, significantly higher than the national median HH income ($61,072). Calgary and Edmonton are two of the most affluent metro areas in the country, along with Ottawa-Gatineau.

60% of Albertans, in 2011, fell in the higher half of the Canadian population (by income decile), with 17% in the highest decile. 10.7% were classified as low income (after-tax), compared to 14.9% of all Canadians. 92.7% of incomes in 2010 came from market income, the highest of any jurisdiction in Canada, and only 7.3% came from government transfer payments. In April 2015, Alberta’s unemployment rate – 5.5% – was below the national average (6.8%), tied with Manitoba for the second lowest unemployment rate behind Saskatchewan. Although low compared to other provinces, Alberta’s unemployment rate has been increasing in the last few months and is quite a bit higher than what it used to be during pre-recession boom days – in 2006, for example, unemployment was as low as 3% in the province. In March 2015, 38,750 people received regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefits in Alberta, up 24.7% on the previous year (by comparison, the number of beneficiaries rose by 0.5% in Canada over the same period).

Alberta has always been an export-oriented economy, but the economy has changed substantially as different export commodities have risen or fallen in importance. Over the province’s history, the most important products have been fur, wheat and beef and oil and gas. With the expansion of the railway to Western Canada in the late 19th century, commercial farming – mostly wheat farming – became viable and replaced fur trading as Alberta’s main industry. Agriculture dominated the Albertan economy from around the time it joined Confederation in 1905 until the expansion of the oil and gas industry in the 1950s. Naturally, the changing nature of the Albertan economy has had major impacts on Albertan society, culture and politics. Various authors, for example, have explained Alberta’s unique political culture partly in terms of believed shared interest in a single dominant commodity (Gurston Duck’s ‘Alberta consensus’ theory) or supposed class homogeneity (C.B. Macpherson’s Democracy in Alberta).

In 2014, mining, quarrying and oil and gas extraction contributed the largest share – 27.4% – of Alberta’s GDP, followed at some distance by construction (10.7%) and real estate (9.5%). The top industries in terms of employment in 2011 were elementary and secondary schools (4.1%), hospitals (3.5%) – like across Canada – but 3.3% were directly employed in oil and gas extraction and another 2.9% in support activities for oil and gas extraction, making them the third and fourth most important industries in Alberta, whereas they only rank 55th and 49th nationally. An above average percentage, compared to Canada as a whole, were also employed in architectural, engineering and related services (2.8%) and farms (2.7%). Using NAICS industries, the largest general industries in 2014 were construction (11.3%), health care and social assistance (10.6% of the labour force), retail trade (10.3% of the labour force) and professional, scientific and technical services (8.1%). Compared to Canada as a whole, a large percentage, unsurprisingly, were employed in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction (7.7%; 1.7% in Canada); vice versa, manufacturing and public administration were less significant employers than in the wider country.

In 2011, the most common occupations (NOC) were sales and services (20.7%), trades transport and equipment operators (17.4%), business finance and administrative occupations (16.4%) and management occupations (11.7%).

As with all of Western Canada outside of Manitoba, in terms of official languages, Alberta is overwhelmingly Anglophone: in 2011. 77% reported English as their sole mother tongue and only 1.9% reported French as their sole mother tongue; 92% spoke only English and 85.7% spoke English most often at home. The town of St. Paul, first settled by French missionary activity, has the largest French-speaking population Alberta, making up 15% of that town’s population. While Alberta’s Francophone population is very small, it has a growing immigrant population who speak a non-official language as their mother tongue (19.4%) and at home (10.5%).

18.4% of the population in 2011 were visible minorities, only slightly less than the national average; the largest visible minority groups in Alberta were South Asians (4.4%; mostly Punjabi), Chinese (3.7%), blacks (2.1%) and Filipinos (3% – significantly above the Canadian average). Nearly 11% of all immigrants in Alberta were born in the Philippines and Tagalog had become the third biggest non-English mother tongue in the province after German and French, a sharp increase on 2001 and 2006. Visible minorities make up 22% of the population in Edmonton and 28% in Calgary.

Alberta’s white population is also very diverse in terms of ancestry. The most common ethnic origin in 2011 was English (24.9%), a percentage significantly higher than the Canadian average, followed by ‘Canadian’ (21.8% – over 10% below national average), German (19.2% – nearly 10% above the Canadian average), Scottish (18.8% – also above average), Irish (15.8%), French (11.1%), Ukrainian (9.7%) and Dutch (5.1%). Alberta, like other Western provinces, sticks out by its large proportion of Ukrainians (who make up only 3.8% of the Canadian population), Dutch and Scandinavians. The federal Liberal government under the direction of Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton (1896-1905) allowed for non-British white European immigration to settle Western Canada, the ‘Last Best West’ in the 1890s following the closing of the American frontier. Ukrainians and others mostly settled in ‘ethnic block settlements’, many of them in northern Alberta.

The closing of the American frontier also led to significant American immigration from the United States – English-stock Americans, Canadians who had moved to the US but returned north, European-stock immigrants to the US. In 1916, Americans accounted for 36% of all foreign-born residents of Alberta (and 30% of those in Saskatchewan, but only 8% of those in Manitoba – far more influenced by English Ontarian settlement). Americans mostly settled in rural southern Alberta, while the cities – Calgary and Edmonton – were mostly settled by British immigrants; American immigrants tended to be farmers looking for land in Canada, while British immigrants tended to be workers and/or urban-dwellers. Nelson Wiseman (2011) showed how American immigrants to Alberta have had a significant impact on the province’s political culture, especially in its infancy years.

Alberta is contradictory in religious terms. Evangelical Christianity is important and has played a significant role in its politics, but Alberta is the second-most non-religious province in Canada after BC, with 31.6% of Albertans in 2011 not reporting a religious affiliation compared to 24% of Canadians. 60.3% are Christians, divided between 24% of Catholics, 7.5% of UCC adherents, 3.9% of Anglicans, 3.3% of Lutherans and a large percentage identified as ‘other Christian’ (15.2%). Alberta has Canada’s only significant Mormon population, around Cardston in southern Alberta, who are mostly descended from pioneers who emigrated from Utah. There are also significant numbers of Mennonites, Hutterites, Seventh-day Adventists and evangelical Protestant denominations. The ‘other Christian’ grouping likely includes non-negligible numbers of Eastern Rite Churches – Ukrainian Catholics, Ukrainian Orthodox etc.

There is also a significant Aboriginal population in Alberta – in 2011, 6.2% of residents claimed Aboriginal ancestry, which is higher than the national average (4.3%); most of them being First Nation (3.3%, Cree being the most important tribal group) and Métis (2.7%).

Political history

Alberta has a unique and distinctive political culture and history which sets it apart from the rest of Canada and has generated loads of academic debate. The province is most notable for its dynastic politics – up until this election, four parties have ruled Alberta, each for fairly long period of times: the Liberal Party (1905-1921), the United Farmers (1921-1935), Social Credit (1935-1971) and the Progressive Conservatives (since 1971). There have been no one-term governments (in fact, no government has served less than 3 terms) or minority governments in Alberta. No party which has lost power has ever regained power – in fact, of the three former governing parties, two of them (the UFA and SoCred) basically died out only a few years after their defeat. It can be said that Alberta has had a dominant-party system since entering Confederation in 1905.

C.B. Macpherson (1953)’s Democracy in Alberta described Alberta as having a unique ‘quasi-party system’ – incorporating elements of an ordinary party system, a nonparty system and a one-party system while having significant differences with all of them. In his Marxist analysis, Alberta’s party system was the result of its purported ‘relatively homogeneous class composition’ as an agrarian petit bourgeois society and its quasi-colonial relationship with central Canada. However, Alberta’s party system has never been so unique: large legislative majorities for governing parties are the products of FPTP, there has never been political unanimity in Alberta, political longevity in Canadian politics is by no means limited to Alberta and the dramatic rise of the UFA and SoCred is not particularly unusual in Canada’s political system prone to large swings. Furthermore, Alberta could never have been described as a ‘relatively homogeneous’ agrarian petit bourgeois society – not even in the 1930s, and certainly not by the 1950s. The argument about the West’s ‘quasi-colonial’ relationship with central Canada is more valid, and ‘Western alienation’ has been a major theme in Alberta politics – past, present and future. However, while Albertan governments since 1921 have made use of Western alienation, it was never SoCreds or the PCs’ raison d’être.

More recently, Nelson Wiseman (2011) described Alberta as having a distinctive ‘liberal-individualist populist’ ideological orientation, which he argues is the result of American immigration to Alberta. While Alberta has undeniably been influenced by the general political culture of English Canada, and in general Albertans do not differ as much in their political views as is often imagined, some characteristics of America’s classical liberal ideology – rugged individualism, free market capitalism, egalitarianism and hostility towards centralized federalism – have been important in Alberta’s political culture. At the same time, Alberta has been less influenced by the central Canadian/British traditions of Toryism and later socialism, especially in comparison to Manitoba – a province built firstly by Ontarian settlers, unlike Alberta, a province built by the quasi-simultaneous immigration of a large array of ethnic groups. Nelson Wiseman argues that American immigrants to Alberta (who were mostly of English, rather than European, descent, and thus of higher social status) at the turn of the last century shaped early Alberta’s political culture – particularly its liberal, individualist and populist streak. The American influence was particularly strong in the 1920s agrarian movement in Alberta, the UFA. Henry Wise Wood, the president of the UFA from 1916 to 1931 (and the éminence grise behind the UFA in government), was born in Missouri and active in the US Populist movement in the late 19th century before moving to Canada at age 45. The Non-Partisan League from North Dakota expanded into Canada, but was only somewhat successful in Alberta, and was absorbed by the UFA in 1919. The UFA’s ideas were influenced by the American populist and progressive movements – direct democracy, proportional representation, monetary reform –  which were anathema to central Canadian (and Manitoban) Tories and Grits alike. The difference could be seen within the Canadian progressive movement – Thomas Crerar’s Manitoba Progressives were former Liberals who wanted to ‘moralize’ the federal Liberals and supported the Westminster parliamentary system, the Albertans were more radical populists who rejected the party system and the parliamentary system. Geographically, the UFA and later SoCred performed best in rural southern Alberta, the region most heavily settled by Americans, while Edmonton and especially Calgary – mostly settled by the British – resisted these two movements, preferring the traditional parties and later the socialist movement (mostly built by Scottish and English immigrants in the British Fabian tradition).

The SoCred movement was also heavily influenced by evangelical Christianity (and not the Canadian social gospel of the CCF/NDP), and Mormons were important in the party – Solon Low, the SoCred federal leader from 1944 to 1961, was a Mormon. Although both the UFA and SoCred were populist movements hostile to big business and finance, and the UFA had collectivist ideas, both were – on the whole – liberal and individualist movements. Certainly SoCred, under Ernest Manning, became a socially conservative party hostile to big government and socialism. In more recent years, Wiseman pointed to the Reform Party/Canadian Alliance as influenced by modern American conservatism and the Republican Party. In the 1990s, the so-called ‘Calgary School’ group of conservative academics – including American-born Tom Flanagan and Ted Morton, among others (including Stephen Harper, active in the late 1990s in conservative academia) – expressed a low-tax, small government, anti-centralized government, free-market libertarian/conservative ideology quite similar to American conservatism.

Certainly, Alberta’s ‘liberal-individualist populism’ – if you accept that label to be an accurate descriptor of Alberta’s political culture – sets it apart from eastern and central English Canada, but also neighbouring Saskatchewan – the cradle of agrarian socialism, the first socialist government in North America in 1944 and what Wiseman described as a more collectivist populism.

Liberal era (1905-1921)

Alberta was created as a province, alongside Saskatchewan, out of the Northwest Territories in 1905. Under the terms of the Act which brought Alberta into Confederation, the federal government would retain ownership over natural resources and imposed requirements for separate schools, two terms which were already highly controversial in 1905 and became even more contentious in later years. The federal Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier, as expected, selected a Liberal as Alberta’s first lieutenant-governor, who in turn appointed a Liberal as the first Premier of the province – Alexander Rutherford. The dominant figure of Northwest Territories politics and leading lobbyist for provincial status (although one instead of two provinces), Frederick W.A.G. Haultain, was ‘snubbed’ because he was a Conservative. Although elected from Alberta, Haultain opted to lead the opposition to the Liberals in Saskatchewan rather than Alberta. Therefore, in Alberta, Rutherford’s Liberals, with the benefits of incumbency (patronage) and attacking R.B. Bennett’s Conservatives for their ties to the widely disliked Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), were returned in a landslide with 22 seats to the Conservatives’ 3.

Rutherford set up the main provincial institutions and, despite the Liberals’ usual aversion to government interventionism, made some large-scale forays into telecommunications by investing in a public telephone system and offering loan guarantees to several companies in exchange for commitments to build railway lines. Although disinterested by labour issues, the government intervened to moderate a major labour dispute in the coal mines in 1907, by setting up a commission and legislating a eight-hour day and workers’ compensation. Early in the government, Rutherford alienated Calgary by selecting Edmonton as the provincial capital and added to injury by later ensuring that the new University of Alberta would be in Edmonton (Strathcona). The popularity of the Liberals’ public telephone system carried them to an increased majority in 1909.

However, Rutherford began facing inconvenient questioning from a Liberal backbencher over very generous loan guarantees given to a railway company it knew little about and which had fulfilled virtually none of its promises regarding construction of the railway. The Conservative opposition accused the government of culpable negligence in failing to properly oversee the company’s activities. Bennett claimed that due to the discrepancy in the sale price of the bonds and what the government had received for them meant that the company had made a profit of $200,000-300,000 at the government’s expense. The scandal divided the government – the public works minister resigned as the scandal broke because of his disagreements with Rutherford – and the Liberal caucus. A number of Liberal MLAs voted in favour of a motion of no-confidence. Rutherford failed to quell the controversy with the appointment of a royal commission; the federal Liberal government and the lieutenant-governor intervene to force Rutherford to resign, which he reluctantly did in May 1910. He was replaced by Arthur Sifton, the former provincial chief justice, who had a veneer of impartiality and probity. Sifton repudiated Rutherford’s railway policy, in part, by passing legislation to confiscate the proceeds of the sale of government-guaranteed bonds sold to finance the controversial railway’s construction.

Sifton tried to restore party unity, but Rutherford stayed on as a backbencher critical of his successor. In the 1913 election, although renominated as a Liberal in his Edmonton riding, Rutherford effectively rejected the party label at his nomination meeting and even offered to campaign for the Conservatives (who rejected his offer, ran a candidate against him who ultimately defeated him). Sifton’s Liberals were reelected in 1913 but with a significantly reduced majority, while the Conservatives formed a strong opposition force with 17 MLAs against 38 for the Liberals.

Sifton’s tenure as Premier corresponded to the rise of the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), which was still a farmers’ lobby group, although one with a very large membership and thus a force to be reckoned with. Sifton’s policies were increasingly driven by the UFA. Responding to UFA demands, he built agricultural colleges, allowed municipalities to levy property taxes (and required that rural municipalities tax only land), scrapped plans to privatize hail insurance and incorporated the Alberta Farmers’ Co-operative Elevator Company – a farmer-owned grain elevator company. The UFA also supported political reform – direct democracy, recall, women’s suffrage, so they influenced the Liberal government to pass a ‘direct democracy act’ (1913) which allowed for voters to call a referendum directly by submitting a petition including the names of eligible voters representing 10% of votes cast in the previous general election (and at least 8% in each of the provincial ridings), so a very high number of signatures. The law did not allow for recalls, as the UFA supported. One of the issues which did gather enough signatures for a citizen-initiated referendum was prohibition, which was voted on in 1915 and passed by a wide margin (61% yes) leading to the introduction of prohibition legislation in 1916. Sifton dragged his feet on women’s suffrage and made ridiculously sexist comments on the topic, but feeling pressure from women’s groups and the UFA, he committed to a debate on the issue and women gained the right to vote in 1916.

The Liberals were reelected in 1917, in the midst of World War I and the conscription debate in Canada. The election was fairly low-key – under an amendment to the election law, incumbent members who had signed up for war service were automatically reelected by acclamation (7 Liberals and 5 Tories were reelected this year). Overall, the Liberals won a reduced majority, with 34 seats against 19 for the Conservatives. The election saw competition from the Non-Partisan League (NPL), which originated in North Dakota and called for a ‘business administration’ and the election of a ‘truly people’s party’ rather than a traditional ‘party administration’ – a characteristically non/anti-partisan, grassroots populist discourse later adopted by the Canadian/Albertan agrarian progressive movement. Two NPL candidates were elected, while a Labor candidate was also elected from Calgary. The Albertan labour movement was led by Scottish-born William Irvine, a follower of the social gospel and later an advocate of UFA political participation. Sifton, however, resigned shortly after his reelection to serve as a cabinet minister in Prime Minister Robert Borden’s wartime pro-conscription Unionist government.

The conscription crisis divided Canada and the Alberta Liberals. While most Alberta Liberals backed Borden’s Tories in his pro-conscription coalition government, a significant number of them remained loyal to Laurier’s anti-conscription Liberals. Sifton was replaced as Premier by Charles Stewart, who also supported conscription.

Stewart continued to deal with the UFA, on issues like irrigation and a stillborn committee to look into proportional representation, but relations soured as the UFA had less success in driving the Liberal agenda during World War I.

United Farmers era (1921-1935)

Across Canada, farmers movements like the UFA hotly debated whether or not they should participate in politics and contest elections themselves. Western farmers had several reasons to be unhappy with the Canadian political system and the two major political parties. The National Policy, which imposed high tariffs on the import of manufacturing goods to protect central Canadian industries, was forcing Western farmers to sell their agricultural products at lower prices, and buy farm equipment and manufactures from central Canada at higher prices. At the federal level, low tariffs or free trade were the farmers’ main demand. Other complaints included the CPR high rates and the behaviour of private grain traders. Farmers grew to resent both the Liberals and Conservatives as corrupt central Canadian parties, which did not represent them or their interests – something which became especially true when the Liberals lost their enthusiasm for free trade after the defeat of reciprocity in 1911. In Alberta, UFA leader Henry Wise Wood believed that the UFA should exist only as a farmers’ interests organization om the principle of ‘group government’ – where government would function through the representation of major groups in society with direct democracy. The UFA distrusted traditional parties in part because they aggregate interests, dominated by elite powers who had no interest in extending democracy. The pressure from the NPL in the 1917 election and after the NPL merged with the UFA in 1919, led the UFA to reluctantly allow candidates to run in elections although ultimately leaving that decision in the hands of local branches. The UFA had a vast network of branches throughout the province, a sort of proto-constituency associations. In 1919, the UFA won a by-election in Cochrane from the Liberals, an event which marked the end of the fuzzy UFA-Liberal détente and the beginning of the UFA’s rapid ascent to power. The former leader of the Conservative Party, hitherto the main opposition to the Liberals, crossed the floor to join the UFA in 1920 and created a major split in Tory ranks which would cripple them for years to come. Ironically, Stewart was a member of the UFA and broadly sympathized with the UFA’s aims (and Stewart was fairly well regarded by the UFA leadership), but he opposed the UFA’s political vision and its political participation.

Provincial elections were held in July 1921. Just before the election, the Liberals were hit by a scandal, in which it was learned that the government spent money to have telephone poles crated and shipped in big stacks to remote communities in which they had no intention of installing phone lines in an effort to win support. The 1921 campaign was rather peculiar by any standards. The UFA ran candidates in only 45 of the 61 ridings – most notably, they ran no candidates in Calgary (which now elected five members using block voting) and only one candidate in Edmonton (which now elected five members using block voting), they had no leader (Henry Wise Wood did not run in the election, and neither did the man who would eventually become Premier) and had little in the way of a proper platform (besides opposing ‘partyism’, caucus secrecy and cabinet domination favouring instead direct democracy). Nevertheless, the United Farmers swept the province, winning 38 seats to the Liberals’ 15. The Tories were crushed, holding on to just one seat, while 3 independent and 4 Dominion Labor candidates were returned. In the popular vote, the Liberals won more votes than the UFA, 34.1% to 28.9%, but because the three main cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Medicine Hat) elected members by block voting in multi-member ridings, voters there had up to 5 votes (in Calgary and Edmonton) while rural voters had only one vote in FPTP single-member districts. The UFA also ran less candidates than the Liberals – overall, all but 7 of the 45 UFA candidates won, while 46 of the Liberals’ 61 candidates lost. A few months later, the Progressives/UFA won 10 of the 12 federal seats in Alberta in the 1921 federal election. Both the Tories and the Grits were shut out.

Henry Wise Wood, the president of the UFA, declined becoming Premier, preferring to operate the UFA machinery and the movement. The UFA settled on Herbert Greenfield, the UFA vice-president and an English-born farmer who reluctantly agreed to take the job. Greenfield was not a politician and had troubles controlling his caucus, which included a large number of radical backbenchers who opposed the parliamentary system. In early caucus meetings, Greenfield was challenged to include several Liberals in his cabinet, lest the UFA was to become like other political parties and in a naive hope of encourage sufficient cooperation to kill off notions of an ‘official opposition’. In handling the restless UFA backbenchers, Greenfield turned to his Attorney General, John E. Brownlee, an Ontarian-born lawyer and the UFA’s former solicitor. Brownlee would quickly rise to prominence because of his legal acumen and become the de facto leader of the government. Brownlee provided Greenfield with invaluable support and counsel, and the government relied on him in the legislature, where the Liberals formed a strong opposition. Brownlee led the UFA’s conservative faction – that is to say, the more traditionalist moderates who urged the UFA to reconcile with parliamentary government and tempered the more radical ideas of the backbenchers (like passing a motion which declared that only motions explicitly declaring a lack of confidence in the government should be treated as confidence votes, or the creation of a provincial bank). Brownlee also pushed for fiscal conservatism, advocating for deep spending cuts to reduce the large budget deficit.

Brownlee played a leading role in most of the first UFA government’s main initiatives. On agricultural issues, Brownlee pushed passage of legislation which created a drought relief commission to help indebted and drought-stricken southern Alberta farmers manage their debts with lenders. He played a central role in the creation of the Alberta Wheat Pool in 1923. For years, Western farmers had protested the private grain trade, as they suspected grain traders of being middle men who profited by leeching off the efforts of farmers and believed that they were artificially holding down prices. Wheat pools, farmer-owned cooperatives, purchased the grain and then sold the grain, and all farmers received the same price. Brownlee was also Alberta’s chief negotiator in talks with Ottawa to win control of natural resources from the federal government; for most of the decade, these talks with the federal Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King drew out with no resolution, perhaps due to the pressure from the provincial Liberals, who didn’t want to let the UFA walk away with such a major political victory. As Attorney General, Brownlee was also in charge of enforcing prohibition, which became increasingly unpopular in 1922/1923 after the murder of three policemen by bootleggers. Although the UFA supported prohibition, it was forced to admit that it was unenforceable due to rising public opposition, and a plebiscite was held on the issue in 1923. Voters rejected prohibition in favour of the government sale of all liquors.

By 1925, Greenfield was widely seen as weak and indecisive, while UFA MLAs found his reliance on Brownlee to be embarrassing. Many assumed that, led by Greenfield, the UFA would lose the next election; the provincial Liberals had confidently predicted that they would win back power in the next election. In 1924, Brownlee had rejected an offer from rebel MLAs to replace Greenfield as premier, but in November 1925, Brownlee was persuaded by Henry Wise Wood to accept the office if Greenfield was to relinquish it voluntarily. Greenfield had never wanted to be premier, so he gladly stepped aside for Brownlee. An election was held in June 1926, and the UFA was reelected with an increased majority over a poor Liberal and Tory opposition. Of the UFA’s 46 candidates in the province, only three did not win their seats, giving 43 out of 60 seats to the UFA against 7 for the Liberals, 6 for labour candidates and 4 Tories. The UFA won a seat in Edmonton. The election was the first Albertan election fought using a different electoral system – STV in multi-member Calgary and Edmonton, and IRV (optional counting) in the rest of the province.

Brownlee’s first term government was largely successful. The government had tried to divest itself of money-losing railways under Greenfield’s premiership, but attempts to sell them to the Canadian Pacific (CPR) and Canadian National (CN) failed at the time and the railways continued draining the provincial budget. In 1928, after they began showing a profit, Alberta was able to sell the remaining lines to the CPR. The budget situation was also solid: Alberta recorded a surplus in 1925 and 1926. Brownlee’s rigid fiscal conservatism irked radicals in the party, and he was not keen on increased spending on new social programs or on social programs altogether. His ‘scrooge’ reputation would come to hurt his popularity later on.

However, his government also passed the Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta in 1928, which created the Alberta Eugenics Board, whose role was to review and mandate the sterilization of any mentally disabled psychiatric patient (if there was unanimity among board members and permission of the patient/nearest relative). The law remained in place under Social Credit (which even facilitated its application), and was only repealed by the Conservatives in 1972. Between 1929 and 1972, 4,785 cases were presented to the Alberta Eugenics Board, and 99% of these cases were approved, resulting in the sterilization of 2,832 children and adults in the province. At the time, however, eugenics were supported by progressive moral reformers like early feminist Nellie McClung, socialist leader J.S. Woodsworth and the UFA’s women’s league.

Negotiations with Ottawa over provincial control of natural resources continued; the two sides came close to an agreement in 1926, but Alberta disagreed with Ottawa’s inclusion of an amendment which required the province to continue supporting separate schools, and the issue remained a point of contention which blocked any final agreement until 1929. That year, both King and Brownlee came to an agreement in December 1929. Alberta would receive an annual subsidy in perpetuity, the amount of which would increase as the province’s population grew. The federal-provincial agreement was a major victory for Brownlee, who had succeeded where all his predecessors had failed, and he was hailed as hero in Alberta.

In 1930, despite the onset of the Great Depression, the government was still surfing on the popularity of the resource transfer agreement and the UFA was easily reelected to another majority government – although with a slightly reduced majority, with 39 seats out of 63 (and 47 candidates) against 11 for the Liberals, 6 for the Conservatives and 4 for Dominion Labor.

Brownlee’s second term was characterized by the collapse of the government, the UFA and the rise of a new populist political movement which would replace the UFA as Alberta’s next political dynasty in 1935.

The Great Depression saw wheat prices tumble from $1.78 per bushel in 1929 to $0.45 per bushel by the end of 1930, causing severe economic hardships for most farmers. Banks denied credit to farmers, while Brownlee was unwilling to provide loan guarantees, concerned that such guarantees would encourage lenders to offer loans at high interest rates knowing that the province would repay them if the farmers did not. The government’s cautious measures had some minor successes, but the lack of decisive legislation alienated many farmers. The collapse in prices also bankrupted the Alberta Wheat Pool, which in 1930 was selling wheat at a price well below the $1 per bushel it guaranteed to its farmers. The Alberta Wheat Pool became reliant on provincial support. In the cities, unemployment reached record levels, a situation only exacerbated by farmers’ sons moving to the cities in desperate need of work. Provincial finances deteriorated, and Brownlee adopted severe austerity measures to cut spending – closing all but two of the agricultural colleges, disbanding the provincial police force, shrinking the civil service, cutting government spending and pay cuts for most government employees. The government also increased taxes, and was reluctant to provide relief to unemployed men.

Labour militancy and political radicalism increased during the Depression years, which worried the conservative Brownlee. The socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the forerunner to the modern NDP, was founded in Calgary in 1932. Many UFA members joined the CCF, but Brownlee saw the CCF as dangerously socialist. The UFA base drifted further away from the government: in 1931, Brownlee’s key ally Henry Wise Wood was replaced as UFA president by MP Robert Gardiner, who moved the UFA sharply to the left and was critical of Brownlee. Gardiner advocated for nationalizations, the cancellation of interest payments and concluded that the monetary system had failed.

As if it was not enough, Brownlee was brought down by a sex scandal in 1934. Brownlee was accused of seducing Vivian MacMillan, a family friend and a secretary for Brownlee’s attorney general in 1930 (when the girl was 18) and continuing the affair for 3 years. MacMillan claimed that Brownlee had seduced her and told her that she must have sex with him for his sake and that of his invalid wife, and that she had relented after physical and emotional pressure. Brownlee denied the charges and claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy by MacMillan, her new would-be fiancé and the provincial Liberals. MacMillan and her father sued the Premier for seduction. In July 1934, despite discrepancies in MacMillan’s story, the jury found that Brownlee had seduced her in 1930 and that both she and her father had suffered damages in the amounts claimed. The presiding judge, however, disagreed and overturned the jury’s verdict. In February 1935, the Alberta Supreme Court appeals division upheld the court’s ruling. However, on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the provincial court’s decision was overturned in March 1937 and the SCC ordered Brownlee to pay $10,000 in damages to MacMillan, plus trial costs. Although Brownlee settled with MacMillan, he sought to clear his name and obtained leave from the federal government to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at the time Canada’s highest court of appeal. In March 1940, the committee denied Brownlee’s appeal and endorsed the SCC’s decision.

However, as soon as the jury found that Brownlee had seduced Vivian MacMillan, he recognized that his political career was over and resigned as Premier. He was succeeded on July 10, 1934 by Richard Gavin Reid, the conservative provincial treasurer. Although Reid did take some policy initiatives, the government was very weak. It found itself at odds with the UFA’s membership, and was forced to deal with a serious and dangerous threat: social credit.

Social Credit era (1935-1971)

William “Bible Bill” Aberhart was born in Ontario in 1878 and moved to Calgary in 1910, where he worked as a school principal, a job he held until 1935. He was an able, competent, intelligent and generally respected principal, although he was inflexible and fairly authoritarian. Aberhart was intensely religious, an evangelical Christian who believed in the literal meaning of the Bible. In Calgary, he began preaching at a Baptist church but by 1918 he had established an inter-denominational Bible study group which grew in size. In 1924, Aberhart agreed to do weekly religious radio broadcasts, which carried his voice across the Canadian Prairies and even into the United States. He was a charismatic man, a great story-teller who captivated his listeners. He took little interests in politics until 1932, when he stumbled across the writings of Major C.H. Douglas, a British engineer who had written on the theory of social credit.

Douglas saw that the sums paid out in salaries, wages and dividends were almost always less than the total costs of goods and services produced, and therefore wanted to bring purchasing power in line with production. He therefore proposed to create a national dividend, providing debt-free credit to all citizens over and above their earnings to help bridge the gap between purchasing power and prices; and a price adjustment mechanism, which would forestall inflation and reduce prices by a percentage that reflected the physical efficiency of the production system. The social credit theory’s view of history also included a very heavy dose of crude anti-Semitism: it viewed history in terms of a long-existing Jewish plot to dominate the world. Unlike the UFA, social credit had no time for direct democracy: Douglas’s political theories were extremely authoritarian, calling for representatives to limit their role to consideration of objectives while technocrats would handle the rest. It is unlikely that Aberhart ever fully understood Douglas’ economies theories, and the two men did not like each other much. Aberhart mixed Douglas’ monetary theories with a heavy dose of Christian fundamentalism and meaningless slogans about ‘individual enterprise’ and freedom.

Aberhart’s social credit was centred around the issuance of a monthly $25 ‘basic dividend’ to all Albertans to cover basic necessities – clothing, food, housing – distributed in the form of credit rather than cash. A commission of experts would meet to determine a ‘fair and just price’ for all goods and services in the province, ensuring a fair commission on turnover while not exploiting the consumer’s purchasing power. In the rather utopian social credit theory, individuals would be freed of their debts, taxes would gradually decrease with the introduction of social credit, employment would immediately increase and ‘fair salaries’ would be established (with minimum and maximum wages). The Social Credit Manual from the 1935 election, available here, explains the original Aberhart social credit theory. Aberhart’s social credit offered an attractive, novel and non-socialist populist response to the poverty, deprivation and socioeconomic challenges of the Depression years.

Originally, Aberhart claimed that his intention was not to enter politics but only to persuade existing parties to adopt social credit policies in their platforms. Social credit became quite popular in Alberta, forcing most politicians, even those from traditional parties, to at least pay lip service to the theory. For example, in the 1935 campaign, the Liberals pledged to set up a full investigation into the proposed scheme and submit a social credit plan to the legislature for its consideration. In January 1935, Aberhart was invited to address the UFA convention, which was set to vote on a resolution which would include Aberhart’s social credit theories as a plank in the UFA platform. However, the resolution was rejected by a wide margin, in a significant victory for Reid and other traditionalists in the movement.

The UFA convention’s repudiation convinced Aberhart that his Social Credit League must run candidates in the next election. He transformed his religious study groups into local social credit study groups, which became a key grassroots base for the movement and crucial to the SoCred victory in the 1935 election. To tackle the social credit threat, Reid began overtly attacking Aberhart’s policies, claiming that the $25 ‘basic dividends’ would require major tax increases, and further argued that other parts Aberhart’s ideas – like provincial entry into the banking business – were ultra vires of the province under the British North America Act (the raising of money by taxation, the borrowing of money, banking, incorporation of banks, issue of paper money and saving banks are all exclusive federal powers under s. 91, with provinces having powers only over direct taxation within the province to raise revenue and borrowing of money on the sole credit of the province under s. 92). The other element of Reid’s approach was to invite C.H. Douglas to Alberta, in the hope that he would expose inconsistencies in Aberhart’s theory and discredit him. The strategy proved to be a massive failure: Douglas, a dry technocrat, did not attack Aberhart as forcefully and consistently as Reid hoped he would (in fact, he penned a statement saying that there were no essential differences between Aberhart and himself), and Douglas’ final report concerned itself primarily with political and legal technicalities (rather than economics) and was of little use to the government.

In the 1935 campaign, most voters, living in poverty, were not interested by the UFA’s economic and legal arguments against social credit and felt that it had nothing to lose with Aberhart’s attractive scheme. Besides Aberhart, the charismatic radio evangelical, being a good salesman for social credit, the ideology’s original anti-capitalist (but not socialist) tone, its attacks on bankers and rich, heartless industrialists, and its promise of dividends were unsurprisingly popular in the middle of the depression. Like the UFA before it, the early Social Credit political movement claimed that it was not a political party, but rather an outsider nonpartisan movement which would run government for the benefit of all citizens (and not the ‘privileged classes’) and it sought out ‘honest men’ to run for the movement. The UFA attacked Aberhart for being so vague and evasive about how he would apply social credit in Alberta, but it was to no avail. Given that the UFA offered no alternative to social credit and the Liberals and Conservatives still so weak (and, in the case of the Liberals, running a terrible campaign), the 1935 election resulted in a massive landslide victory for Social Credit and one of the worst defeats for a sitting government. SoCred won 54.3% of the vote and won 56 of the 63 seats in the legislature, leaving the Liberals with 5 and the Tories with 2 seats. The UFA won only 11% of the vote, and all incumbents were defeated, including Reid and Brownlee. SoCred kicked out UFA incumbents in rural Alberta, but was also successful in the cities – winning 4 of Calgary’s 6 block seats and 2 of Edmonton’s 6 block seats. In urban areas, SoCred obliterated the Labour party, which had been rather strong in both cities up until that point. However, the Labour party’s image as a conservative clique of union bosses and the party’s disastrous alliance with the UFA, and its urban working-class based voted heavily for SoCred in 1935 (while wealthier residents stuck with the Grits or Tories). Like with the UFA in 1921, Aberhart himself didn’t run in the election, and he needed some prodding from his enthusiastic rookie caucus to become Premier, but by September 1935, he was Premier of Alberta. In October 1935, Social Credit won 47% of the vote in the 1935 federal election in Alberta and won 15 seats (all but two of the province’s seats) in the province and 17 seats in the country (the other two came from neighbouring Saskatchewan).

SoCred came to power invested with high expectations, but found an empty treasury. In the 1935 election, Aberhart had told voters that he would implement social credit within 18 months of winning government. However, enthusiastic voters and his backbench rookies were initially willing to grant him a long honeymoon and accept the early ‘delays’ in implementation of social credit. In 1936, the government made few concrete steps towards social credit, besides an Act which provided for the registration of citizens (signing covenants in which individuals agreed to “cooperate most heartily” with the government), invited manufacturers and farmers to produce as much as possible and sell 50% of their products in the provincial market. These measures anticipated the creation of ‘Alberta credit’ distinct from Canadian currency, the establishment of price controls (‘just price’) and distribution of the dividend. In April 1936, the government defaulted on a bond payment, further exciting those social crediters eager for the government to stand up to the ‘money power’. That summer, the government also introduced ‘prosperity certificates‘, which many people mistakenly saw as the first step towards their monthly $25. The government also introduced another controversial legislation, including a bill forcing licensing of all trades and businesses as the government wished, a bill authorizing the minister to fix prices for all commodities and products sold in Alberta and a bill providing for the creation of a provincial trading board. All three bills were controversial, eliciting a storm of protest from opposition parties and SoCred backbenchers, so the government allowed them to die.

By late 1936, SoCred backbenchers became increasingly frustrated with the government as Aberhart’s 18 months were running out. In December 1936, some SoCred MLAs welcomed John Hargrave, the leader of the British SoCreds, who gave some unsolicited and unwanted advice, which likely annoyed Aberhart. In late 1936, two ministers resigned from cabinet, officially for reasons unrelated to those of the dissident MLAs but still a troubling sign for the government. In the February 1937 speech from the throne, the government made only limited commitments to social credit and Aberhart later admitted during one of his radio programs that he had been unable to create the basic dividends within 18 months, and called on SoCred constituency branches to decide whether he should resign. In March 1937, after treasurer Solon Low introduced a budget which did not include even one time which resembled social credit, the SoCred backbench rebels began an open insurgency. They threatened to deny supply to the government (which would force it to resign) and considered introducing a motion of no confidence. In his constituency, Aberhart faced a recall effort, as citizens availed themselves of a new recall bill passed by SoCred in 1935 – faced with the recall threat, the government decided to repeal the Act. After manoeuvring, Aberhart reached a deal with the rebels: they would back the supply bill, in exchange for which the government would allow MLAs to establish a board to implement social credit. The Act which established the board also created a provincial credit house which would operate ‘Alberta credit’ (the difference between “productive capacity” and “total
consumption,” would be credited annually to the provincial credit account) and provided for a consumers’ dividend (not fixed over time, but instead subject to variation). This Alberta Social Credit Act was the closest Alberta came to social credit. It was designed to create prosperity by subsidizing consumption. However, the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1938, unanimously ruled the Alberta Social Credit Act to be ultra vires.

The Social Credit Board was made up of five MLAs, four of which were rebels. The board tried to invite C.H. Douglas to come from England as an expert, but he declined, though he did send two of his associates to Alberta to act as the board’s experts. One of the English experts required SoCred MLAs to sign a loyalty pledge to the Social Credit Board, which virtually all MLAs did. The two English experts prepared three laws which became highly controversial: the first required all banks to obtain a license from the provincial credit commission (created by the Alberta Social Credit Act) and be controlled by a ‘directorate’ largely appointed by the Board, the second prevented unlicensed banks and their employees from initiating civil actions and the third prevent anybody from challenging the constitutionality of Alberta’s laws in court without receiving the approval of the provincial cabinet. Lieutenant Governor John Bowen asked for Aberhart and the Attorney General’s views on the constitutionality of the bills; the Attorney General said he did not believe they were constitutional, but Aberhart took responsibility for them and dismissed his Attorney General. The Lieutenant Governor granted Royal Assent to the bills, but they were later disallowed by the federal government. Prime Minister Mackenzie King had originally sought Aberhart’s cooperation in facilitating a reference to the Supreme Court, but Aberhart defiantly answered that he had a popular mandate to uphold and warned of tension if Ottawa sided with the ‘plutocratic bankers’ rather than Alberta.

In the fall, the government reintroduced these bills, and two more: one imposing high taxes on banks operating in Alberta, and the inflammatory Accurate News and Information Act. The latter Act gave the chairman of the Social Credit Board the power to compel all newspapers in Alberta to print government rebuttals or amplifications to any article dealing with government policies and require them to supply the names and addresses of sources. Non-compliance would result in fines or prohibitions on the publishing of the newspaper or some of its materials. The vast majority of the Albertan press was strongly critical of SoCred, pre- and post-election. At the same time, police raided SoCred offices in Edmonton and confiscated copies of a pamphlet which named nine ‘Bankers’ Toadies’ in the province and called for their ‘extermination’. The SoCred chief whip and one of Douglas’ English advisers were both charged and convicted for criminal libel, and the English adviser was deported to the UK.

Lieutenant Governor Bowen chose to reserve assent on the new bills (i.e. referring the bill to the Governor General, or the federal government). Ottawa posed a reference question to the Supreme Court of Canada, which unanimously ruled the three bills (along with the Alberta Social Credit Act) to be ultra vires of the provincial legislature. Significantly for Canadian constitutional law, the SCC’s decision on the press bill was one of the cases which recognized an ‘implied bill of rights’ in the Canadian constitution because of the preamble of the BNA Act. On appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council effectively upheld the SCC’s decision – because the Alberta Social Credit Act had been struck down, the bank licensing and press bills were rendered inoperative and thus the question was moot, while it ruled that the bank tax bill was in pith and substance a measure to regulate banking and was thus ultra vires the province.

Disallowance and the SCC/JCPC decisions meant, in reality, the end of the road for actual social credit measures in Alberta. Granted, the Board was revitalized, but it quickly became more of an outlet for the voicing of SoCred’s anti-Semitic garbage (and C.H. Douglas’ ideas), and it was abolished by Premier Ernest Manning in 1948 when it went crazy (by basically proposing to abolish democracy). However, Aberhart did established the Alberta Treasury Branches, which still exist today, originally for the government to gain a foothold in the financial sector.

Early SoCred definitely had an unconventional, radical side to it – especially in its membership base. Local SoCred organizations in the 1930s and early 1940s passed some fairly social democratic resolutions at conferences (which were, however, ignored or rejected by the government) including calls for free textbooks, state medicine and hospitalization, adequate relief for the poor, producers’ marketing boards, eight-hour workdays and a stand (shared with the CCF) that conscription of wealth should precede conscription of men.

Aberhart’s government also enacted a variety of relief programs, public works projects and a debt relief program (later overturned by the SCC), but also passed very strict socially conservative legislation – notably very strict alcohol laws.

By the time of the 1940 election, the political climate in Alberta was very polarized. The Liberal and Conservative opposition to Aberhart, eager to defeat him, formed a common front – the so-called United Movement or Independent party, whereby the Conservatives, non-socialist remnants of the UFA and some Liberals ran joint candidates as independents against the SoCreds. These independents were hurt by their close association with the old elites of Calgary and Edmonton and the vociferously anti-Aberhart press. ‘Ottawa-bashing’ feature prominently Aberhart’s 1940 SoCred campaign – he claimed that Ottawa, under the influence of the ‘Money Power’, had struck down his legislation. However, radical ideas for monetary reform were already absent from the SoCred manifesto. The SoCreds and independents were evenly matched in terms of vote, winning 42.9% and 42.5% respectively, but the SoCreds retained a significant if reduced majority with 36 out of 57 seats against 19 independents, 1 Labour and 1 Liberal. The socialist CCF, on a platform of social ownership of ‘public property’ won 11% of the vote but no seats.

As World War II broke out in 1939, Aberhart had decreed that all energies should be devoted to Canada’s war effort, which was a further blow to those radicals pushing for social credit. In the 1940s, SoCred was slowly turning into an institutionalized conservative party – the early radical enthusiasm died out (some genuine radicals in SoCred went over to the CCF, which grew in size in Alberta and across Canada during the war) and the social credit study groups dwindled in size as they became useless.

William Aberhart unexpectedly died during a family trip to BC in 1943. SoCred MLAs, not members, selected Aberhart’s loyal chief lieutenant Ernest Manning as his successor. Manning pledged to never give up the fight for social credit, but that was almost entirely for show (though it did issue prosperity certificates from oil royalties in 1957 and 1958). Manning completed the transformation of the Social Credit Party into a conservative political party. As aforementioned, Manning abolished the Social Credit Board in 1948 after they went overboard with the crazy, a move which coincided with Manning’s purge of the more vocal anti-Semitic cranks from the party (although Solon Low, the federal SoCred leader from 1944 to 1958, was a notorious anti-Semite). In 1946, bowing to pressure for the remaining advocates of monetary reform in the party grassroots, Manning’s government passed a Bill of Rights Act, a halfhearted attempt as monetary reform (among other things). The Act promised social and economic security for all with individual freedom, an offer of a social security pension and medical benefits to working-age unemployed or disabled persons, and contained descriptions of how social credit theories would allow the government to pay for those benefits. However, the government added a provision which delayed proclamation of the Act until it had been tested by the courts. The Act was apathetically received by supporters and aroused no great opposition, and when it was declared ultra vires by the Supreme Court of Alberta (confirmed by the JCPC) in 1947, nobody really cared.

Manning was reelected with a large majority in 1944, an election much different from that four years prior. The main challenge to SoCred was now seen as the CCF (the CCF had just swept Saskatchewan prior to Manning dropping the writs), so the SoCred language shifted from attacking the financiers to attacking socialism. With Aberhart of the picture and with social credit disallowed by Ottawa, business leaders and the economic elite of Alberta understood that they had nothing to fear from Manning, and they largely embraced Social Credit as the conservative force against the socialist CCF. Indeed, in contrast to the Saskatchewan CCF, which ran on social programs, the Alberta CCF had a fairly radical socialist platform in 1944, advocating public ownership of natural resources and industries. In the 1944 election, SoCred won 50.5% of the vote and 51 seats out of 60, against 3 for the moribund independents (all their supporters from 1940 had basically defected to SoCred), 2 from the CCF, 1 veterans’ independent candidate and 3 seats elected by Canadian soldiers in active service overseas. In terms of vote share, the CCF was a strong but distant second with 24%.

Populations of Alberta and Saskatchewan from 1901 to 2011 (own graph, data from StatsCan)

Populations of Alberta and Saskatchewan from 1901 to 2011 (own graph, data from StatsCan)

A major crude oil discovery was made near Leduc in 1947, inaugurating the prosperous oil and gas era of Alberta: oil and gas supplanted farming as the primary industry and resulted in the province becoming one of the richest in Canada. The SoCred government set a fairly low maximum royalty rate in 1947, and Manning built alliances with American oil companies. The oil boom in Alberta also led to a population boom: in 1941, Saskatchewan still had a larger population than Alberta, but Alberta’s population grew by 18% in the next 10 years, so that by 1951, Alberta had 939,501 people against 831,728 for Saskatchewan (which lost population during the decade). During the ensuing decade (from 1951 to 1961), Alberta’s population grew by 42%, reaching a population of 1,331,944 in 1961. This population boom also coincided with the urbanization of Alberta: in 1941, 61% of the population was still rural, but this fell to 52% in 1951, 43% in 1956 and 37% in 1961.

Manning was reelected in 1948, holding all 51 seats (plus one independent SoCrediter), against 2 for the CCF, 2 for the Liberals and 1 for the ‘independents’ of years past (ie a Tory). In 1952, SoCred won 56.2% of the vote and 53 out of 60 seats, against only 3 Liberals, 2 CCFers, 2 Tories and one independent SoCrediter. In 1955, however, after opposition charges of corruption, the SoCreds seemed to falter: the SoCred vote fell by nearly 10% and they were reduced to 37 seats out of 61 in the legislature, while the Liberals won 31% and 15 seats, with the remaining seats going to the Tories (3), the CCF (2), two Grit-Tory candidates, one independent and one independent SoCrediter. After the 1955 election, the government abolished the IRV system in the rural single-member seats and STV in Calgary/Edmonton; the SoCreds had lost five rural constituencies in the 1955 to opposition parties on the second counts, after leading in the first count. Second preferences from the CCF had split fairly heavily against the government.

After the 1955 scare, Manning appointed a Royal Commission to investigate corruption (as the Liberals had demanded) and he took up other opposition proposals, like larger fiscal transfers to the municipalities. In the 1959 election, Manning was rewarded by an easy landslide victory – taking 55.7% of the vote and 61 of 65 seats (plus one independent SoCrediter), against only one seat each for the Progressive Conservatives (PCs), Liberals and a Grit-Tory ‘coalition’ incumbent MLA. In terms of votes, the Liberals, who had done well in 1955, were the main losers taking only 14% of the vote to the PCs’ 24%. The CCF’s election was disastrous, losing both of its seats and its vote crumbling further to a mere 4.3%. The provincial PCs likely benefited from the popularity of the federal party, which had won an historic victory nationally and provincially in the 1958 federal election, when the Diefenbaker Tories won a huge majority in Canada but also knocked down all SoCred MPs in Alberta to win nearly 60% of the vote and all 17 ridings in the province. The federal SoCreds had dominated federal politics in Alberta from 1945 to 1958. When SoCred returned 30 MPs in the 1962 federal election, all but 4 of its MPs now came from Quebec with only 2 elected in Alberta, where the PCs remained the new dominant force despite major loses.

Social Credit platform advertisement, 1955 (source:

Albertan politics were “curiously apolitical” in the later half of Manning’s premiership. The legislature seldom met, assembling for only six or seven weeks a year, and even the SoCred caucus virtually never met when the legislature was not in session. Instead, most decisions were taken by Manning and his cabinet. Manning and his government came to market themselves ‘above and beyond’ partisan lines, as is quite common for Albertan governments. In election platforms, SoCred boasted the province’s prosperity (compared to its bankruptcy in 1935) and underlined their consensual conservative record – ‘rapid and orderly development of natural resources’ ensuring huge government revenues (the government claimed Albertans were getting their fair share, a claim which the opposition, especially the CCF, disagreed with), low taxes, reduction of the provincial debt, assistance to municipalities, healthcare and education spending, many public works projects (building roads, schools, hospitals), electrification, welfare policies (partial hospital insurance introduced by the early 1950s) and low taxes.

SoCred was handily reelected in 1963, getting 60 of 63 seats, falling just short of its “63 in ’63” goal. The PCs suffered major loses and won no seats, while the Liberals, on a platform calling for a public electricity company and environmental conservation, made a small recovery to win 19.8% and 2 seats. The New Democratic Party (NDP) improved on the CCF’s result, getting 9.5% of the vote, but was still shut out of the legislature. The NDP called for public ownership of utility companies, increased royalties, a Medicare program, public auto insurance, progressive taxation and collective bargaining for provincial/municipal employees.

Manning was an important figure in federal politics as well. He played a key role in the disputed 1961 federal SoCred leadership convention, in which Manning supported Albertan candidate Robert N. Thompson, who emerged victorious in a close contest against Quebec’s Réal Caouette, who had been told by Manning that Western Canada wouldn’t accept a French Catholic leader. In 1963, the federal party split, with Caouette leading the dominant Quebec faction (Ralliement des créditistes) and Thompson leading a rump Anglophone SoCred party, which won only 5 seats in 1965 (including 2 in Alberta, with only 23% of the vote). Following the 1963 split, Manning offered little support to the federal party, and in 1967 unsuccessfully sought to bring about a merger of the federal party with the PCs to challenge Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals. Although the idea failed, Thompson crossed the floor and was reelected as a PC in 1968, while the remnants of the Anglophone SoCred party was annihilated.

Manning was reelected to his last term in 1967, but in an ominous sign, SoCred lost over 10% of its vote share, winning 44.6%, its lowest popular vote result since 1940, although it retained a hefty majority with 55 out of 65 seats. The Progressive Conservatives were the main winners. In 1965, ambitious Calgary lawyer Peter Lougheed had won the PC leadership, and quickly set about establishing the PCs as a strong and credible alternative to SoCred. While the SoCred government’s campaign once again focused on Premier Manning’s immense personal popularity and the party’s record in government, the Lougheed PCs ran a positive and forward-looking campaign which did not attack Manning directly and made use of some new campaign tactics. The PC platform called for government transparency, local government autonomy, a more assertive government in intergovernmental relations, a more activist government (but clearly aimed at defending individual liberties), fiscal responsibility (but rejecting ‘ultra-cautious fiscal policies’) and development of natural resources to provide ‘adequate returns’ to citizens. It was, in short, a centre-right (Red Tory) platform but one clearly aimed at change and modernization. In the end, the PCs won a strong second place, taking 26% and electing 6 MLAs, most of them (including Lougheed) from urban ridings in booming Calgary and Edmonton. The Liberals, divided after leadership conflict after the 1963 election and led by an unwilling leader, saw their vote tank to only 10.8% although they managed to win 3 seats. The NDP increased its support to 16% but was unable to elect a single MLA.

Ernest Manning retired in 1968, and the SoCreds held their first leadership contest. The favourite was Harry Strom, the agriculture minister who was supported by most senior SoCred ministers but also many young members who saw him as somebody opened to change. He was victorious on the second ballot, his main rival being Gordon Taylor, the respected but bland long-time transportation minister. As Premier, Strom was responsible for several major policy initiatives regarding youth and education, but he was a poor leader – an ineffective and uncharismatic speaker, he also failed to modernize the party’s machinery. Nevertheless, he was an honest, humble and kind man.

The Progressive Conservative era (1971-2012)

Strom did not call a snap election after winning the leadership in 1968, against the advice of his chief of staff. He finally called an election for August 1971, about a year early. The threat to the SoCreds came from Peter Lougheed’s PCs, who had formed a robust and combative official opposition in the outgoing legislature.

Lougheed’s PC platform in 1971, similar to that of 1967, was both a traditionally conservative one and a reformist one – it endorsed conservative values such as free enterprise, private industry, small government, fiscal orthodoxy, rejection of government bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ – but at the same time it was reformist, aiming to change the province and reject the most objectionable aspects of SoCred government. For example, it proposed a human rights act to protect individual rights from government interference (and ban discrimination), protecting local government autonomy from heavy-handed provincial interference (“guidance, advice and assistance”, not “direction, control and restriction”) and increased citizen participation in the democratic process (and greater government transparency and respecting the due role of the legislature). Lougheed criticized the passive rentier approach of the SoCred government towards natural resources, vowing to capture a greater share of resource rents to finance his ambitious ‘province building’ agenda (all while explicitly rejecting any more radical changes which would endanger relations with the oil industry). The PCs promised to invest in ‘job-producing activity’ and called for greater participation by Albertans in the ownership and control of provincial industry. Finally, the PCs attacked the passive ‘isolationist’ attitude of the SoCred government in federal-provincial relations, and aimed to dramatically increase Alberta’s clout in Canada and perform a role of “national leadership, not provincial reactionism”.

Harry Strom led a poor campaign, performing poorly in TV advertisements (which the SoCreds, tellingly, thought little of) and his rallies drew less people than Lougheed. Indeeed, in contrast to the ambitious and charismatic Lougheed, Strom was an ineffective leader who failed to inject new blood in his party and struggled to run a modern campaign.

The Progressive Conservatives emerged victorious from the 1971 election, ending 36 years of unbroken Social Credit rule. The PCs won 49 seats against 25 for SoCred, and a single seat for the NDP (for its leader, Grant Notley, elected in the northern riding of Spirit River-Fairview). In the popular vote, however, the election was quite close and the SoCred result far from catastrophic: the PCs won 46.4% of the vote, up 20.4% on the 1967 election, but the SoCreds won 41.1%, down only 3.5% from the 1967 election. The NDP won 11.4%, down 4.6%, while the Liberals – who only ran 20 candidates (out of 75) collapsed to only 1% of the vote. The Liberals had gone through leadership chaos since the last election, and some had even considered approaching the SoCreds for an alliance or a merger. Besides the Albertan unpopularity of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at the time, many Liberal voters likely defected to the Tories to defeat SoCred.

Results of the 1971 Alberta provincial election (own map)

The conventional view on the 1971 election is that Social Credit, at its roots a rural, small town and lower middle-class movement had little chance of surviving in an increasingly urban and professional middle-class society. Therefore, it was argued, the PC victory was the somewhat inevitable result of social change. However, that view is based on an erroneous notion of social bases of party support. Firstly, while SoCred was slightly stronger in the rural areas than in the cities, the party had received substantial urban support from the very beginning (in 1935) and, after all, Ernest Manning had represented an Edmonton riding from 1940 to 1968. Secondly, survey data from the 1967 and 1971 elections indicate that the new middle-classes did not indicate a decisive preference for the PCs – in 1967, almost all income levels and occupational groups supported the SoCreds over the PCs, while in 1971, the PC victory was more the product of a broad coalition than middle-classes overwhelmingly backing the PCs (although it is true that the SoCreds did better with lower-income voters than high-income voters).

Finally, while the PCs won both Calgary and Edmonton, their victory was by only 4% in Calgary (and SoCred retained some seats there) and it was really only Edmonton which provided an impressive PC landslide (52% to 34% and all seats). In Edmonton, the government had been hurt by threats of a civil servants’ strike and a conflict over telephone services to new suburbs (the government had decided to allow the provincially owned Alberta Government Telephones rather than Edmonton’s municipally owned company to provide phone services there). Social Credit remained strong in southern Alberta, traditionally the province’s most conservative region.

Peter Lougheed became one of Alberta’s most popular Premiers once in office. He had the good fortunes of governing Alberta during a period of unprecedented prosperity, which allowed the government to maintain high levels of public services and the lowest taxes in Canada (including no sales tax), certainly a politically appealing combination. The PC government, in its first term, cut income taxes to the lowest levels in the country, presided over the creation of 96,000 new jobs in three years (giving Alberta the highest percentage of employed working age population in Canada), provided generous benefits to seniors, provided substantial assistance to farmers, improved services and infrastructures in rural Alberta, provided the highest support for education on a per capita basis in Canada and passed the Alberta Bill of Rights (which, among other things, meant the repeal of the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1972). By 1982, Lougheed’s last election as PC leader, the Tories claimed credit for major investments in housing, provision of interest-shielded mortgages, a mortgage interest rate reduction plan, more opportunities for post-secondary students, construction of 22 hospitals and generous social services.

The effect of the first OPEC price shock, combined with the efforts of the PC government to negotiate a new royalty framework, contributed to a dramatic increase in resource revenues. Alberta was able to post large budget surpluses from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. The widespread expectation that energy revenues would continue to grow prompted the government to establish the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund (AHSTF) in 1976, established with three objectives: “to save for the future; to strengthen or diversify the economy; and to improve the quality of life of Albertans.” 30% of Alberta’s oil and gas revenues were initially deposited in the AHSTF. It is also in this period that large-scale development of the tar/oil sands began in earnest, with strong support from the PC government.

Lougheed needed to defend that prosperity in a series of bitter provincial-federal fights over energy policy following the first OPEC oil shock in 1973. With a federal Liberal government led by Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa, Lougheed had ample opportunity to project himself as the defender of Albertans against an overbearing and eastern-dominated federal government. In 1973, in response to rising inflation in Canada, Trudeau asked western provinces to a voluntary freeze on oil prices, and within days imposed a 40% tax on every barrel of Canadian oil exported. Ottawa used the revenues to subsidize eastern refiners while reducing revenues available to the producing provinces and the oil industry. Lougheed called the decision the most discriminatory decision taken by Ottawa against a particular province in the entire history of Canadian Confederation. The Albertan government, in response, announced that it would revise its royalty regime in favour of a system linked to international oil prices. The 1973 oil embargo, which came just a few weeks after Trudeau’s oil export tax, aggravated tensions between the federal government and provincial and industry leaders.

In the 1980 budget, Pierre Trudeau’s federal Liberal government announced the National Energy Program (NEP), which is held in infamy by western Canadians to this day. The NEP was a unilateral attempt by Ottawa to achieve three objectives: “security of supply and ultimate independence from the world market (i.e. make Canada self-sufficient); opportunity for all Canadians to participate in the energy industry, particularly oil and gas, and to share in the benefits of its expansion (i.e. boost Canadian ownership in the industry); and fairness, with a pricing and revenue-sharing regime which recognizes the needs and rights of all Canadians.” To reach these objectives, the NEP included a wide-ranging set of measures: setting a Canadian price of oil below world market prices, new taxes on the oil industry, increasing the federal share of oil production income (largely at companies’ expense) and a target for 50% domestic ownership of oil and gas production by 1990. Alberta, as Canada’s main oil producer, had the most to lose from the NEP and the province and its government were, unsurprisingly, furious. This period saw bumper stickers like “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark.” In 1980, Lougheed responded to the NEP by vowing to shrink the industry’s output to about 85% of its capacity and the provincial government increased support to the oil industry (including a $5.4 billion program in royalty reductions and grants introduced in 1982). To offset the effects of such measures on the budget, the government diverted the investment income earned by the AHSTF to the general fund and reduce the percentage of resource revenues deposited in the AHSTF from 30% to 15%, two decisions which – combined with later renegotiation of some aspects of the NEP –  caused resource revenues to recover and allowed the provincial government to remain in a budgetary surplus until 1985.

In 1981, Lougheed reached an agreement with Trudeau which rejigged the energy-sharing proportions and reduced the much-reviled NEP oil export tax to zero pending a court challenge (which Alberta won in 1982, with the SCC ruling that the feds couldn’t legally tax provincially owned oil and gas wells). A picture of Lougheed and Trudeau toasting Champagne glasses at the agreement was badly received by Albertans and the oil industry, and Lougheed later called the photo-op the biggest mistake of his political career.

Lougheed was a major player in the constitutional debates in the 1970s and early 1980s. Upon taking office in 1971, Lougheed signaled his disapproval of the proposed Victoria Charter amending formula, which would have granted a veto to Quebec and Ontario. The PC government was committed to a vision of ‘provincial equality’, defending proprietary rights (including natural resource ownership) and provincial jurisdiction. Lougheed played the key role in designing what would become the amending formula in the Constitution Act, 1982 – a formula which does not include any special provincial vetoes for Quebec (or other provinces), allows provinces to ‘opt out’ of some amendments it opposes and seeks to strike a balance between rigidity and flexibility in amendments. In the wake of the NEP, Alberta and other provinces successfully pushed for the inclusion of Section 92A which clarified and strengthened the areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction over nonrenewable natural resources. Alberta also supported the inclusion of the ‘notwithstanding clause’ (Section 33) in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows provincial legislatures and Parliament the authority to state that a law will (temporarily) stand notwithstanding the provisions of the Charter as they concern fundamental rights, legal rights and equality rights. At the time, Senate reform did not feature on Alberta’s constitutional agenda. During the Lougheed years, Alberta often found support from Quebec in the constitutional debates, because both sought an expansion in provincial control and a reduction in federal intervention.

During the Lougheed years, the cabinet machinery was reorganized to make it run for effectively than during the SoCred years. The result was a strong cabinet and disciplined caucus, but a weak legislature – whose powers of oversight were render anemic by the PC dominance and the weakness of the opposition benches.

Lougheed’s PCs were remarkably popular. In 1975, the PCs won a record-breaking landslide with 62.7% of the vote and 69 of 75 seats – obtaining a share of the vote larger than what the SoCreds had ever won. The Social Credit party, running on a conservative small government platform, had been a very poor fit for the opposition benches, and saw its support collapsed in 1975, reduced to 18.2% of the vote and only 4 seats (plus one independent SoCrediter). The SoCred leader, Werner Schmidt, was defeated in his own riding and resigned. Obviously, given the ideological proximity of the PCs and SoCreds, many of the latter party’s supporters easily found a home in the new governing dynasty. The NDP won 12.9% and retained its only seat, while a stronger Liberal effort saw them take 5% but no seats. Given the unpopularity of the federal Liberals, the Alberta Liberals cut their ties with the federal party in 1977. In 1979, the PC vote fell to 57.4% but they won 74 out of 79 seats (although they fell short of their “79 in ’79” target). The SoCreds, with 19.9%, managed to hold their four seats and retain Official Opposition, while the NDP won 15.8% and held Grant Notley’s seat. The Liberals won 6.2% but were still shut out.

In 1980, SoCred leader Robert Curtis Clark resigned and was replaced by former Calgary mayor Rod Sykes, who, however, did not have a seat in the legislature. In 1982, Clark resigned his seat of Olds-Didsbury, sparking a by-election. The winner was Gordon Kesler, the candidate of the Western Canada Concept (WCC) party, a very right-wing (with, later, disturbing racist tendencies) separatist party dedicated to the independence of the four western province and the northern territories. The WCC surfed on a wave of loud anti-Ottawa sentiments in Alberta in the wake of the NEP and claims that Lougheed was too weak in his dealings with the federal government. To cut short any momentum for the WCC, Lougheed called an early election for November 1982, and ran a campaign warning Albertans against electing a separatist government. The election proved a major success for the Tories, who won 62.3% and 75 seats in the legislature. The NDP, with 18.8% of the vote, now won two seats – Notley was joined by Ray Martin, elected in Edmonton – and formed the Official Opposition. The WCC achieved a respectable 11.8% of the vote, but with Kessler defeated standing for reelection in another riding, the WCC was shut out and the party’s 15 minutes of fame ended. Social Credit went into the election with no incumbents standing – the parliamentary leader who had succeeded Sykes didn’t want the party to fight the election, but he was overruled, leading him and a colleague to leave the party to fight as independents while the last remaining MLA retired. With no MLAs and the party in shambles, SoCred fielded only 23 candidates and won 0.8% (and no seats, naturally). The two former SoCred MLAs running for reelection were returned as independents. The Liberals, hurt by the NEP, only ran 29 candidates and won 1.8%.

Lougheed retired in 1985. He was succeeded by Don Getty, a former CFL quarterback who had been elected to the legislature with Lougheeed in 1967, but who had taken a time out from politics in 1979. Getty was Lougheed and the establishment’s favourite, but despite that he failed to win the PC leadership on the first ballot. In May 1986, Getty sought and received a mandate from voters – but the PCs did poorly. The Tories won 51.4%, down nearly 11 points, and 61 of 83 seats – a substantially reduced, but still very comfortable, majority. The main change was the election of a strong opposition caucus: the NDP, now led by Edmonton MLA Ray Martin after Grant Notley’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1984, won 29.2% of the vote and 16 seats. The NDP had moderated and ran on a bread-and-butter social democratic platform in the election, distancing itself from more ‘radical’ stances it had taken in the past. The New Democrats won most seats in Edmonton and two seats in Calgary. The Liberals, on a platform mixing concern for the environment with free-market economics, finally recovered and won 12.2% and 4 seats. The Representative Party of Alberta, a right-wing party (imagined as SoCred without the social credit baggage) led by the two former SoCred-turned-independent MLAs won 5.2% and both of their incumbents were reelected. Nevertheless, the party quickly collapsed as one retired and the other crossed the floor to join the PCs.

Getty came in office as Alberta’s rosy economic times became history. In Lougheed’s last budget in 1985, the province had recorded a deficit. Alberta had been hurt by falling oil prices and the NEP since 1980, and suffered badly when oil prices took a tumble in 1985-1986 (after Saudi Arabia doubled its oil production in early 1986). Getty’s first budget was particularly bad: with the fall in revenues, the province recorded a $4 billion deficit. The government increased taxes and cut spending, so that over the time of Getty’s premiership, government spending grew by one of the slowest rates in the country (and, if adjusting for inflation, spending actually fell during his premiership). In 1987, the government abandoned its efforts to save nonrenewable resource revenues and diverted all investment income earned by the AHSTF to the general fund and deposits ended completely. The government did not make another deposit in the AHSTF until 2006-2008. The problem was that the government assumed that the abnormally high oil prices observed in previous years would be permanent and sustainable. Getty’s government was thus reluctant to either quickly raise taxes or quickly cut expenditures, so the 1980s proved to be disastrous for provincial budgets. Furthermore, growing servicing costs on a growing debt meant that the inevitable fiscal adjustment would prove more painful. Throughout Getty’s tenure, the government always posted a deficit.

The slowdown in the energy sector contributed to a decrease in capital spending and reduced demand for labour in the construction industry. Banks, credit unions, farms and oil companies all struggled. Getty’s government was very criticized for its coziness to big business – the government tried to stimulate the energy sector by making loan guarantees to two oil giants for new capital projects, and also granted a loan and loan guarantee to a meat-packing plant which later defaulted on the loan. Edmonton also showered the oil industry with millions in incentives and royalty cuts. The government also faced controversy with the failure and shut-down of a trust company in 1987, after an investigation found that a minister had disregarded earlier warnings that the company was insolvent. The 1992 privatization of Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) was also controversial.

In the field of intergovernmental relations and constitutional debates, the Getty Tories were less successful than Lougheed had been. To begin with, Ottawa-bashing had been made much more difficult with the election of a federal Conservative government under Brian Mulroney in 1984, which enjoyed strong support in Alberta (and therefore provided Alberta with a voice in cabinet, unlike under Trudeau) and quickly dismantled the NEP. Getty was very much on Mulroney’s side in the constitutional debates of the late 1980s, beginning with Meech Lake, despite polls showing that the accord was very unpopular in Alberta. Going into Meech Lake, the centrepiece of Alberta’s constitutional proposals was Senate reform. Initially, since Lougheed, the Alberta government had endorsed a Senate reform model whereby senators would be appointed by provincial governments and the reformed Senate would function similarly to Germany’s Bundesrat in terms of the federal units’ participation in the federal legislative process. However, under popular pressure, Getty’s government came to favour the Triple-E Senate reform model, whereby senators would be directly appointed by the people. In 1985 and 1987, the legislature’s committee on Senate reform endorsed the Triple-E model, which was supported by all legislative parties. In Canada, Alberta’s government took the lead in pushing for Senate reform, but this time it did not find an ally in Quebec. Although Senate reform was on the agenda at Meech, Getty’s government was later criticized for not being able to impose it more forcefully. After Meech’s failure, Getty challenged the federal government to pursue Senate reform by introducing legislation which allowed for ‘Senate nominee’ elections in the province, and the first Senate nominee election was held in October 1989. Stan Waters, from the Reform Party, defeated Getty’s preferred candidate, PC nominee Bert Brown. Waters was appointed to the Senate by Mulroney. In 1992, Getty was successfully able to include the Triple-E reform in the Charlottetown Accord despite Mulroney’s opposition, but Charlottetown ended up being rejected by Canadians, including Albertans, in a referendum.

Getty called an early election in March 1989, seeking to take advantage of a recovering economy and job market. The PCs, however, remained fairly unpopular and while they were reelected to a sixth term in office, their vote share took a big hit again – down 7.1% to 44.3%, winning 59 of 83 seats. Premier Getty himself was defeated in his Edmonton-Whitemud riding by the Liberals, and he was forced to enter the legislature through a by-election in a safe Tory rural seat. The NDP, still led by Ray Martin, attacked the PCs on issues like taxes, healthcare, coziness with big business, labour relations and school user fees, but there were questions about Martin’s leadership and the NDP failed to articulate an alternative economic vision. The party ended up holding its 16 seats and opposition status, although its vote share dipped slightly to 26.3%. The major winners were the Liberals, who were now led by former Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore. The Liberals campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility and open government, criticizing the PCs for their involvement in private businesses, the deficit and the growing debt. The Liberals ended up placing second in the popular vote with a solid 28.7%, up over 16 points from the last election, but were only able to win 8 seats – including 3 in Calgary and 4 in Edmonton. The Liberals achieved such a result despite running a very low-budget campaign.

At the federal level, the Reform Party, led by Ernest Manning’s son Preston Manning, began achieving significant levels of support in Alberta. In the 1988 federal election, although Mulroney’s PCs still swept the province, discontent over some federal decisions and Meech allowed Reform to place third with 15.4% of the provincial vote (but it won no seats). The Reform Party was a grassroots right-wing populist party which channelled feelings of Western alienation and campaigned on themes popular in the west: opposition to official bilingualism, opposition to ‘distinct society’ recognition for Quebec, institutional reform of the federal government (including Senate reform), opposition to multiculturalism, direct democracy and limited government. Between 1989 and 1993, as federal Conservative support collapsed in Alberta, Reform quickly gained in strength and support. Relations between the Alberta PCs and the federal PCs later worsened, to the point that Getty broke off formal ties with the federal party in 1991 and opposed Mulroney’s unpopular GST.

At the same time, Getty’s growing unpopularity and a worsening deficit (the 1992-93 recorded a much larger deficit) meant that Getty’s popularity took a big hit. The Liberals were polling strongly, and other polls showed that an hypothetical provincial Reform party (which never happened) would be another very serious challenge to the Tories. Getty resigned in late 1992, before the national referendum on Charlottetown and the release of a damning report on the AGT privatization.

The PCs held a leadership election in November-December 1992. In 1991, the Alberta PCs had moved from the traditional convention system to a universal ballot (one member-one vote) system in which participation was open to all citizens with the only condition being purchase of a $5 PC membership. With over 52,700 votes in the first ballot and 78,251 votes on the second ballot, the PC election was a major success for the party. On the first ballot, the establishment favourite and ‘Red Tory’, health minister Nancy Betkowski, ended up a single vote ahead of environment minister and former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein (clearly on the party’s right), who had backbench support but insignificant cabinet support. On the second ballot, despite six of the seven other candidates endorsing Betkowski, Klein benefited from a surge in participation and soundly defeated her – 46,245 votes to 31,722.

Ralph Klein was a folksy populist, clearly on the party’s right after two moderate leaders. Klein repudiated Getty’s legacy, stating that the old government had a ‘spending problem’ and he made it his top priority to quickly balance the budget, exclusively through spending cuts rather than through tax increases. Klein inherited a big budget deficit and a $24.5 billion debt (Getty had inherited a debt-free province).

In May 1993, Klein’s government tabled its first budget, which laid out a plan to eliminate the deficit by 1996-97 by reducing government spending by 20% while not increasing taxes. The government targeted ‘eliminating waste and duplication’ and downsizing government, but the cuts also meant a significant hit to frontline public services – healthcare included. It also talked about ‘getting out of the way of business’ by limiting government intervention in private businesses and ending the much-criticized government subsidies to businesses. The government also passed the Deficit Elimination Act, which banned budget deficits after 1997-97. Following the budget, Klein’s new government sought a mandate from voters.

Laurence Decore’s Liberals had been a strong opposition, loudly hammering the PCs on the debt, deficit and fiscal responsibility, and the Liberals had been the favourites to win the next election until Getty retired. Now led by Klein, the PCs went into the election with a platform broadly similar to that of Decore’s Liberals – its four-year plan to balance the budget without increasing taxes or introducing a sales tax, reducing the size of government and the civil service, creating a business climate conducive to job creation (by competitive tax rates, cutting red tape and other barriers to trade), welfare reform, ‘controlling’ healthcare costs and education reform. The Liberals had a very similar platform – also pledging to balance the budget, eliminate the deficit, cut spending, liquidate the AHSTF to pay off the debt and cutting subsidies to businesses. Decore tried to differentiate himself from Klein’s PCs by claiming that the PCs lacked the credibility and moral authority on the economy. Ray Martin’s NDP was the only one of the three parties which didn’t campaign on a platform of fiscal orthodoxy and spending cuts – instead, the New Democrats called for cuts to MLA benefits, job creation, fair labour laws, cuts in government waste, government accountability, reorganization of service delivery and tax increases for corporations and the wealthiest. However, the campaign was very much a two-way contest between the PCs and the Liberals, who believed that they had a real chance at victory. In the end, with Klein in command, the PCs were reelected but facing one of the strongest opposition caucuses in Albertan history. The PCs won 44.5% of the vote and 51 seats, a loss of 8 seats from the last election, while the Liberals won 39.8% and a record 32 seats. The NDP suffered from significant tactical voting from anti-PC voters, who defected en masse to the Liberals, leaving the NDP with 11% and no seats for the first time since 1967. The Liberals swept all seats in Edmonton, gained a foothold in Calgary (with 3 members) and broke through in north-central Alberta.

Between 1993 and 1997, Alberta lived through a period of deep austerity – cuts in government spending, the elimination of over 2,000 jobs in the civil service, cuts in funding for arts, education and healthcare programs. In the civil service, the government introduced the principles of new public management which were in vogue in the early 1990s, and it cut regulations across the board. In healthcare, the government closed hospitals, increased healthcare premiums by 25% and laid off over 15,000 healthcare workers and nurses. In education it increased tuition fees, laid off teachers, leading to larger class sizes (in 1997, Alberta had the highest teacher-student ratio in Canada) and cuts in special ed and extra resources. At the same time, Klein’s government was the first Canadian government to open the way for charter schools and it increased support for private schools, two policies which were very criticized by public education workers. The government aggressively marketed the ‘Alberta Advantage’ – the province’s status as a low-tax, free enterprise, deregulated and economically/fiscal sound place to do business.

Sticking to its promises, Klein did not increase taxes and continued his original plan even when high windfall revenues meant that Alberta was out of deficit by FY 1994-95 (the government had pledged in its 1993 budget not to spend windfall revenue and use it to pay off the debt).

In 1993, the government began a major welfare reform which resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of cases and steadily decreasing social assistance payments for those who remained on it (total annual welfare incomes for a single employable person fell from $8,526 in 1992 to $6,729 in 1997 (and continued falling thereafter – it wasn’t until 2008 that Alberta started steadily increasing rates). Alberta’s welfare reform – later held by some as a model for later welfare reforms in Canada – included discouraging potential applications, tightening eligibility requirements, tightening administration of welfare to reduce caseloads, cuts in welfare rates, stricter work requirements, a shift to ‘workfare’ and lower earnings exemptions. Between 1993 and 1997, there was 60% decrease in Alberta’s welfare caseload. Cuts in welfare were accompanied by declining employment standards – over the 1990s, average hourly wages in Alberta failed to keep up with inflation and fell in real terms.

The government privatized liquor retailing between 1993 and 1994, selling or shutting down all government-owned liquor stores although the government retained warehousing and distribution responsibilities for wine, coolers, imported beers and spirits. Alberta remains the only province to have privatized liquor retailing.

In 1997, the PCs went into the election with a balanced budget, low unemployment, solid GDP growth, a plan to pay back the debt by 2005 and a record of low taxes. The Liberals were led by Grant Mitchell, who had replaced Decore not long after the 1993 election. The Liberals shifted to the left, running on a platform defending public services – maintaining public universal healthcare (against alleged Tory plans to introduce ‘two-tier healthcare’), hiring teachers and reducing class sizes, defending labour rights, protecting the environment while still pledging to not raise taxes and keep the budget in surplus. The NDP went into the election led by Pam Barrett, fighting on a platform vowing to ‘fight back’ against PC policies. The New Democrats focused on labour relations, poverty, the impacts of welfare reform, seniors, PC spending cuts, employment standards, public healthcare and education but also attacked the Tories’ socially conservative stances on LGBT rights (the PC government denied LGBT individual rights protection and spousal benefits). Klein was reelected to a second term with a much more comfortable majority. The PCs won 51.2% of the vote, up over 6% from the previous election, and they captured 63 of 83 seats – a gain of 12 seats. The Liberals remained the official opposition, but saw their vote drop by over 6% to 32.8% and they were left with only 18 seats – almost all of them in Edmonton. The NDP, despite a lower share of the vote than in 1993 (8.8%), gained 2 seats from the Liberals in Edmonton to reenter the legislature. The SoCreds, with 70 candidates, won a strong result (6.8%) but won no seats.

In its second term, Klein’s government continued its orthodox fiscal agenda, now squarely focused on paying off the province’s debt by 2004 and keeping the budget in surplus while not raising taxes. However, with an improved fiscal situation, spending increased beginning with the 1997 budget. Despite fluctuations in the price of oil, Alberta enjoyed very strong economic growth and declining unemployment rates during Klein’s second term in office.

Beginning in 1996, the PC government deregulated the electricity market, a controversial and poorly-handed policy decision which eventually led to significant rate increases for consumers (by 2001, Albertans paid the highest electricity prices in the country). The PCs deregulated the market without first ensuring adequate supply, leading to an unregulated oligopoly.

In 1998, the government began cutting taxes, and in the 1999 budget they began a three-year tax reform plan which culminated with Alberta ‘unhooking’ itself from the federal tax rates and introducing a single income tax rate (a flat tax) in 2001, to be set at 11%. Against claims that the flat tax would benefit middle and upper-income earners, the government responded by raising basic exemption levels by 60% by 2002. On top of that, the government also cut corporate taxes and renewed its commitment not to introduce a flat tax. The Klein government marketed the so-called ‘Alberta tax advantage’.

More controversial were Klein’s moves on healthcare. In the 1997 election, both Liberals and New Democrats had warned that the PCs wanted to move towards ‘US-like’ two-tier healthcare, which is very unpopular in Canada. In 2000, the government introduced Bill 11 (the Health Care Protection Act), which greatly expanded the range of treatments, operations and procedures which could be legally provided outside a public hospital and allowed them, within clearly delineated guidelines (but still granting considerable discretion to the physician) to charge patients extra for providing ‘enhanced medical services’. The government rejected all claims that Bill 11 was an opening to two-tier healthcare and pointed out the bill’s provisions banning queue jumping – so that people couldn’t pay extra to jump the line – but opponents of the legislation claimed that private medical facilities would be able to provide preferential treatment to those who paid. Despite widespread popular opposition, the bill was passed by the legislature in April 2000.

Going into the 2001 election, the PCs boasted Alberta’s low taxes, economic growth, low unemployment, the benefits of the strong oil and gas industry and reinvestment in healthcare and education. A weak Liberal opposition was now led by Nancy MacBeth (formerly Betkowski), the Red Tory who had been defeated by Ralph Klein in the 1993 PC leadership contest. The Liberals attacked the Tories on the declining quality of public education, the electricity deregulation ‘fiasco’ and Bill 11. The NDP was led by Indian-born MLA Raj Pannu, running on a combative platform attacking the PCs for Bill 11 (which the NDP, like the Liberals, pledged to repeal in favour of a ‘Patients Bill of Rights’ protecting public healthcare), the ‘failure’ of electricity deregulation, the flat tax (promising a ‘fair tax’ with breaks for low and middle-income earnings, scrapping health premiums and royalty tax credits), class sizes, employment standards, poverty, First Nations and the environment. Despite Bill 11 controversies and electricity deregulation, the PCs remained very popular. Ralph Klein’s PCs were reelected in a landslide, the biggest Tory victory in Alberta since the Lougheed days. The PCs won 61.9% of the vote and swept 74 of the legislature’s 83 seats. The opposition was reduced to a weak rump: the Liberals lost the most heavily, falling to 27.3% of the vote and holding only 7 seats (all but one of them in Edmonton), while the NDP was able to save its two urban Edmonton seats on a slightly reduced vote share provincially (8%). The SoCreds, who had made a strong run in 1997, collapsed to 0.5%. At a victory celebration in Calgary, Klein summarized the election himself: “Welcome to Ralph Klein’s world.”

After a post-9/11 slump, oil prices increased dramatically between 2002 and 2008 – which meant an era of prosperity and rapid growth for the province. Alberta, already Canada’s fastest-growing province, saw the strongest population growth since the mid-1970s (another boom time): it grew by 10.3% between 1996 and 2001 and by 10.6% between 2001 and 2006. Visible minorities have been one of the major contributors to population growth – their weight in Alberta grew from 11% to 16% in ten years between 1996 and 2006. Since 2001, following the late-1990s municipal amalgamations in Ontario, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city behind Toronto and Montreal. Calgary – home to most oil corporations’ head offices – has seen impressive population growth, even higher than the provincial average (Edmonton has grown, but less rapidly than Calgary). Economically, Alberta firmly established itself as Canada’s booming province and most prosperous jurisdiction in the early 2000s. Unemployment, the lowest in Canada, fell from 5.2% to 3.4% between 2002 and 2006. Alberta experienced strong economic growth during this time period, allowing for strong job creation numbers. High oil prices made developments of the oil sands even more profitable.

After an austerity budget in 2002 following the post-9/11 slump, the PC government increased spending on healthcare, education and infrastructure. Such investments allowed Alberta to rank near the top in Canada on several education and healthcare indicators. In 2003, to shield against oil and gas price volatility, the budget announced that, from that point forward, the government would consistently count on $3.5 billion in oil and gas revenues, and send any additional revenue to an Alberta Sustainability Fund to protect against poorer years. In 2004, the Klein government proudly announced that it had paid off Alberta’s debt in whole by FY 2004-05. With booming revenues far exceeding expenditure growths, the Klein government tabled budgets with increasingly large surpluses between 2002-03 and 2006-07. In 2006, Klein’s last budget as Premier, Alberta revenues stood at $38 billion, up from $21.9 billion in 2001 (not adjusted for inflation).

The 2004 election was a boring affair, as Klein’s mother died shortly after the dropping of the writs and all parties suspended their campaigns for several days. The PCs ran on an uninspiring platform reminding voters of their accomplishments in paying off the debt and reiterating old planks – low taxes, deficit and debt-free, small government and investments in core fields. The Liberals were led by Kevin Taft, who had previously been a fairly high-profile consultant, researcher and author. Prior to entering politics in 2001, Taft had written a book criticizing PC budget cuts in the 1990s (for which Klein called Taft a communist), co-authored a study criticizing the Tories’ electricity deregulation and co-authored a book attacking private healthcare. In the 2004 election, Taft’s Liberals focused on democratic reform, accountability, improving education and public healthcare, electricity prices, municipal autonomy, seniors, social justice, public auto insurance, environment/climate change all while pledging budget surpluses and no sales tax. The NDP, led by Edmonton MLA Brian Mason, campaigned on a bread-and-butter campaign promising to scrap healthcare premiums, bring in public auto insurance, lower home utility costs, scrap royalty tax credits, hire more nurses, lower prescription drug costs, stabilize education and healthcare funding, cut post-secondary tuition by 10% immediately, increase the minimum wage and working on democratic reform.

The PCs, however, also faced a serious challenger on their right – the Alberta Alliance, founded in 2002 by conservatives and libertarians who wished to emulate the federal Canadian Alliance (although the two parties were never affiliated). The party had gained a seat in the legislature when dissident PC MLA Gary Masyk crossed the floor to the Alliance in 2004. The Alberta Alliance criticized Klein’s erratic behaviour and tight control over government decision-making, and the party talked about accountability, electoral reform, free votes, grassroots citizen participation, recall, direct democracy, term limits and Senate reform. On social and economic matters, the Alliance called for strict ‘zero based’ budgeting, using all surplus funds to pay off debt, less red tape, cuts to government waste, privatizations, indexing spending growth to inflation, a 7% flat tax, ‘school choice’, school vouchers and ‘competition’ between hospitals and other healthcare facilities (and scrapping grants/subsidies to them). The Alliance also advocated for Alberta to take control of several key policy fields from Ottawa: unemployment insurance, pension plans (like Quebec), immigration policy, a provincial police force and firearms legislation.

Klein’s Tories were reelected, but Klein suffered his first electoral setback since winning power in 1993. The PCs saw their vote fall considerably, down 15% to 47%, and they lost 12 seats in the legislature – down to 62. Kevin Taft’s Liberals and Brian Mason’s NDP both saw modest increases in their parties’ support – up 2% to 29% and 10% respectively, giving the Liberals 16 seats and the NDP 4 seats. The Liberals and NDP almost swept Edmonton, leaving the PCs with only three seats in the capital, and the Liberals even managed to steal three seats in Calgary. The Alberta Alliance won 8.7%, a strong showing, and even won one seat – Paul Hinman – elected in the very conservative southern riding of Cardston-Taber-Warner, a seat with a large Mormon population. The Greens won 2.8%.

Very high oil prices led to large surpluses in the 2005 and 2006 budgets, which allowed the government to deposit funds into the sustainability fund but also to increase spending, notably on infrastructure projects which were big spending areas in both budgets. Taxes remained low, and it continued bringing down corporate taxes – overall, corporate taxes in the province fell from 15.5% in 2000 to 10% in April 2006. In June 2006, the government abolished the royalty tax credit, a program which allowed oil and gas companies to get a credit on their income tax returns for a percentage of the royalties paid. Since 1974, the credit had cost the province $113 million in 2005.

High revenues also allowed the Klein government to distribute a ‘Prosperity Bonus’, nicknamed Ralph bucks – announced in September 2005, each person in Alberta was to receive $400 (not taxable) from the government in early 2006, at the cost of about $1.4 billion to the government (the money came from the surplus, and accounted for about 20% of the total surplus). Some residents and academics criticized the cheques, as some would have preferred to see the money used for tax cuts, the abolition of healthcare premiums or for spending on core areas.

Prior to the 2004 election, Klein had announced that he would serve only one more term in office, but did not put a firm date on that. Pressure mounted on Klein to set a firm date, and he finally announced in March 2006 that he would resign at the end of October 2007, although the resignation would only take effect after his party chose a successor (so in 2008). The drawn-out schedule for his retirement, along with his announcement that any cabinet minister who wished to run for leader must resign by June 2006, generated controversy including within caucus and cabinet (one minister was fired and suspended from the caucus). On March 31, 2006, Klein received only 55% confidence from delegates at the PC leadership review, a very poor result and thus a crushing blow to his leadership. His poor result was attributed to concerns about his ‘long goodbye’ and how that might affect the party, similar to how Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s lengthy retirement notice was believed to have led to Liberal infighting in 2004. He announced within days that he would resign in September, and the PC leadership race was held in November and December 2006.

Jim Dinning, Klein’s first Treasurer in the 1990s who had been outside of politics since 1997, entered the race as the favourite and had the strongest support from the PC caucus. The first declared candidate was Ed Stelmach, a PC MLA since 1993 who had served in Klein’s cabinets since 1997, but had kept a low profile. Stelmach had substantial support in caucus, but was very much the dark horse candidate in the contest. Besides Dinning, most media attention focused on Ted Morton, a socially and fiscally conservative former academic (from the University of Calgary, where he was one of the figures of the conservative ‘Calgary School’) and freshman MLA. Along with other Calgary School academics and future Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Morton was one of the signatories of the 2001 ‘firewall letter’, a conservative manifesto which called on Alberta to seize new powers from Ottawa – including withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan, provincial collection of income tax (like Quebec), a provincial police force, provincial responsibility for healthcare policy (to allow for private healthcare), forcing Senate reform on the agenda and criticism of equalization payments. On the first ballot, Dinning led with 30% and Morton placed second with 26%, while Stelmach finished a distant third with 15%. However, in the top-three preferential ballot second round, Stelmach – who had been endorsed by three eliminated candidates – won 35.9% against 35.6% for Dinning and 28.6% for Morton. With Morton’s voters largely giving their second preferences to Stelmach, he was easily elected after redistribution of preferences.

Oil and the environment were key issues during Stelmach’s premiership. Oil sands production in Alberta had started to take off since 2003, as a result of high oil prices (which made extraction profitable) and generous investment incentives from the provincial and federal governments. However, as oil sands production increased, so did criticism of the environmental impacts. Oil sands production requires significant amounts of water, so oil sands projects divert about 359 million m3 of water from the Athabasca River, and there have been several cases of water pollution. Oil sands production emits 5-20% more carbon dioxide than average crude oil. Finally, the tailings ponds – byproducts of bitumen extraction from the oil sands – poses one of the most important environmental challenges. The serious environmental issues associated with oil sands productions has given Alberta’s oil industry a fairly bad image and reputation (with certain milieus) in Canada and the United States, forcing both government and oil producers to spend a considerable amount of money on PR campaigns which seek to convince the world that Alberta’s oil sands are environmentally friendly.

Stelmach was a vocal advocate of the oil sands industry in his province. In the run-up to the 2008 federal campaign, Stelmach strongly rejected federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion’s proposal to introduce a carbon tax. Instead, Alberta announced $2 billion in funding to explore carbon capture initiatives, an idea which got a mixed response. In January 2008, Stelmach introduced a ‘made-in-Alberta’ plan to cut carbon emissions – it called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 14% from 2007 levels by 2050, a target judged unambitious and insufficient by environmentalists in light of British Columbia’s plan to cut emissions by 80% from 2007 levels during the same period. Stelmach argued that Alberta’s position as an oil producer justified higher emissions. In April 2008, the death of 1,600 ducks who had landed in a northern Alberta tailings pond belonging to Syncrude were a blow to Stelmach’s efforts to portray the oil sands industry as environmentally friendly.

One of the major projects of the Stelmach government was a royalty review – a major commitment he had made in his 2006 bid for the PC leadership. In February 2007, Stelmach appointed the Alberta Royalty Review Panel to determine whether Albertans were received their ‘fair share’ from the province’s resource wealth. Klein’s government in the 1990s had lowered royalties, and his government was attacked by the opposition for being too weak and friendly with industry. Alberta was receiving much less in royalties than other oil producers, notably Alaska and Norway, were. The panel’s report, released in September 2007, determined that Albertans were not receiving their ‘fair share’ from energy development because royalties had not kept pace with changes in the resource base and the world energy markets. They recommended that total government intake in the oil sands increase from 47% to 64%, which would still place Alberta as a competitive energy producer in the world. In October 2008, Stelmach released its New Royalty Framework, which he claimed would provide Albertans with their fair share while providing ‘stability and predictability’ to industry and ensuring Alberta remains a competitive place to do business. Oil sands royalties had been fixed in 1997, at a time when the industry was nascent and required favourable conditions to get off the ground. Alberta’s 2007 royalty reviews, the base rate (gross revenue royalty) would start at 1%, and increase for every dollar oil is priced above $55 per barrel, to a maximum of 9% when oil is priced at $120 or higher. Royalties on net revenue applied post-payout, which was 25%, would start at 25% and increased for every dollar oil is priced above $55 per barrel to 40% when oil is priced at $120 or higher. The government rejected the panel’s recommendation for an oil sands severance tax. For conventional oil and natural gas, the new framework established a simplified sliding scales determined by prices and well productivity. The government projected royalties would increase by $1.4 billion by 2010. The new framework was introduced in 2009. The government’s royalty review had a fairly mixed response, and a largely negative one from industry. Some in the industry went so far as to compare Stelmach to Venezuela’s Chávez.

A 2015 study by the Parkland Institute, however, showed that instead of collecting an additional $10 billion over five years, total royalties collected went down by $13.5 billion. Most losses came from gas royalties, where the province collected $5.2 billion less per year in royalties following the review. This was due both to the major drop in natural gas prices after 2008 and the new royalty framework for gas. Although the province did get more in royalties from oil sands, the study faulted Alberta for its low royalty rate compared to other countries (and Newfoundland) and for pushing the Canadian price of oil below the European and US price.

Following a throne speech in February 2008, Stelmach called an election for March 2008. The PCs ran on a largely unexciting and uninspired manifesto, more pragmatic than ideological. The Tories promised to gradually eliminate healthcare premiums over four years, recruit and train more nurses and doctors, build 18 new schools, support the creation of 14,000 new childcare places, limit tuition increases, get tough on repeat offenders, establish an Energy Efficiency Act and an $18 billion three-year plan to build and improve transportation infrastructure, urban transit and schools. The Liberals, once again led by Kevin Taft, promised to eliminate healthcare premiums immediately, re-regulate electricity to lower bills, invest 30% of all royalties (in the AHSTF, the infrastructure deficit, a post-secondary endowment fund and an endowment for the arts , cap greenhouse gases in 5 years through a partnership with industry, train more healthcare workers, implement a public pharmacare program, redirect a $250 million natural gas rebate program towards energy efficiency, increase royalty revenues, vigorous enforcement of employment standards and accountable government. The NDP’s Brian Mason campaigned on four main themes: making life affordable (with rent controls, more childcare spaces, capped fees on after-school care, a $10 minimum wage and immediately ending healthcare premiums), full value royalties, a green energy plan (by creating a green energy fund for the creation of a green economy, supporting alternative power generation projects and hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions) and big money out of politics (banning corporate and union donations). The NDP had a populist platform which accused both Liberals and PCs of being on the side of ‘big corporations’ and big oil, while only the NDP was on the side of regular Albertans. On the right, the Alberta Alliance – which was failing to take off the ground – had merged with an ideologically identical unregistered party (the Wildrose Party) in January 2008 and changed its name to the Wildrose Alliance Party. The Wildrose Alliance ran on a conservative platform calling for a 2% cut in the flat-rate income tax, a higher personal exemption, directing savings from slower spending growth to the AHSTF so that income taxes could eventually be eliminated, a school voucher pilot program, a pilot program in a small health region based on per-patient rather than per-capita funding and democratic reform (fixed election dates, citizen initiatives, recall).

Although few people had thought much of Stelmach in comparison to his emblematic predecessor, Stelmach was able to win a landslide victory in the 2008 election. The PCs increased their vote by nearly 6 points to 52.7% and won 72 out of 83 seats. The Liberals and New Democrats both lost votes and seats, falling to 26.4% and 8.5% of the vote respectively. The Liberals fell from 16 to 9 seats, while the NDP fell from 4 to 2. The Wildrose Alliance saw support fall to 6.8% and Paul Hinman lost his seat. The Greens won 4.6% with a nearly full slate. The patterns of the vote were somewhat odd: in Stelmach’s Edmonton base, the PCs made strong gains and won some of their strongest numbers since the Lougheed era, defeating a number of Liberal and NDP incumbents to reduce the Liberals to only 3 seats in the city (from 12 in 2004). In Calgary, Klein’s base but a city which Stelmach had difficult relations with, the Liberals won 5 seats – a gain of one from dissolution and 2 from the 2004 election. The election was also noted for its very low turnout: only 40.6% of Albertans turned out to vote in an election widely considered to be boring and uninspiring.

After the election, the government controversially voted to award cabinet ministers and the Premier a pay increase.

In April 2008, as the Stelmach government delivered the first budget of the new legislature, Alberta’s economy seemed to still be doing well and the government projected a $1.6 billion surplus. The government eliminated healthcare premiums as of January 1, 2009. In the summer of 2008, with oil prices through the roof, the government revised its estimates to project a bigger surplus, but oil prices fell dramatically following the summer of 2008 during the global recession. Ultimately, the government ran a deficit in 2008-2009.

In April 2009, the government delivered the province’s first deficit budget in 16 years. Nevertheless, in a departure from the Klein era, austerity was not the first item in that budget: calling for ‘flexibility’, the government allowed borrowing for capital purposes (not for operating purposes) and it remained optimistic as it dipped into the sustainability fund to supplement revenues. The budget also announced a major $23 billion investment in infrastructure over three years, and did not include cuts to core areas. However, overall spending fell in the 2009 budget – the first incidence of spending cuts since the 2002 budget. The government’s fiscal plan included deficits until 2012-13. Stelmach’s government outlined a four-point plan to deal with deficits: ‘careful management’ of spending, protect and increase funding for priority services, continued investments in public infrastructure and keeping taxes low. In 2010, the government again used the sustainability fund to protect priority programs (education, healthcare, support for the elderly and disabled) and continued investments in infrastructure, while making cuts – mostly outside of frontline departments.

As Alberta slipped into recession in 2009, the PC government faced an unexpected surge in support for the Wildrose Alliance. In a September 2009 by-election in the suburban riding of Calgary-Glenmore, Wildrose candidate Paul Hinman captured the seat – held by the Tories since 1969 – with 36.9% support against 34.4% for the Liberals and only 25.9% for the PCs. Riding on a wave of momentum, the Wildrose Alliance saw its membership swell ahead of its October 2009 leadership race, which was easily won by Danielle Smith – a journalist and provincial director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Smith, a former Tory herself (who had backed Ted Morton in 2006), claimed that she had become disillusioned with Stelmach’s ‘free-spending’ ways. In January 2010, two PC MLAs crossed the floor to join Wildrose, boosting the party’s caucus to 3. In June, another defection gave them a fourth member and qualified them as a recognized political party in the legislature. Wildrose support surged in the polls in late 2009 and early 2010, increasing speculation that Stelmach could be forced out at the November 2009 PC leadership review. But he survived, with over 77% confidence. As the economy and jobs recovered in 2010, Stelmach’s support edged up again.

Stelmach announced in January 2011 that he would retire, and provided official notice of resignation at the end of May 2011. The PCs organized a leadership race for September-October 2011. Once again, the winner was not the early favourite. Gary Mar, a PC MLA from 1993 to 2007 and the province’s representative in Washington DC until March 2011, had the support of 27 PC MLAs and that of former Premier Ralph Klein. Other candidates included Alison Redford, a MLA since 2008 and justice minister, who had previously worked as a human rights lawyer and a senior policy adviser to then-foreign minister Joe Clark in the 1980s; Doug Horner, a MLA since 2001; Ted Morton, who had been promoted to finance minister in January 2010 and Rick Orman, a former MLA. On the first ballot, Mar, the favourite, was miles ahead of the others with 40.8% of the votes against 18.7% for Redford, 14.6% for Horner, 11.7% for Morton and 10.1% for Orman. Morton and Orman, eliminated, endorsed Gary Mar. Even on the second (top-three) ballot, Mar retained a narrow edge with 42.5% against 37.1% for Redford (and 20.4% for Horner), but it was clear that Redford had done the best job in signing up new members and outsiders (notably with a promise to reverse education cuts) and Mar had failed to capitalize on Morton and Orman’s endorsements. With the redistribution of Horner’s preferences, Redford narrowly won with 51.1%.

In the February 2012 budget, the government was unable to deliver on its previous target of balancing the budget by that date, although it now planned for a balanced budget in 2013-14.

The legislature was dissolved at the end of March 2012 for an election on April 23, 2012. As the election was called, Redford’s PCs maintained a narrow but shaky lead over the Wildrose, while support for the hitherto main opposition party (the Liberals) had collapsed to about 12% from over 26% in 2008. As the campaign progressed, Wildrose gained a consistent lead over the PCs – in fact, the rival right-wing party led in all polls conducted in April. The PCs had taken flack from the right for the 2012 budget, which Wildrose argued was a campaign document with unrealistic revenue projections and reckless spending, accusing the PCs of depleting the sustainability fund and AHSTF. Indeed, many critics on the right – not just Wildrose politicians – have argued that, after 2003, with high oil prices, PC governments spent heavily on the assumption that high revenues were permanent and spending increased at a much faster rate than inflation+population growth would allow. During the campaign, news of a ‘no-meet’ committee in the legislature (where MLAs were paid despite not doing any actual work) also hurt the PCs, reinforcing views that after a record 41 years in power, the PCs had become an arrogant and complacent dynastic party.

Wildrose focused on economic issues – the party attacked the 2012 budget, instead calling to limit annual spending growth to inflation+population growth, cuts in government waste (notably the PCs carbon capture projects), ‘targeted’ funding increases for front-line services, controlling the Tories’ ‘unsustainable capital spending spree’, instituting ‘zero-based budgeting’ and restraining government from dipping into the AHSTF to cover deficits. When in surplus, Wildrose said it would use the extra money to grow the AHSTF, pay off the debt, lower personal and business taxes and make investments in critical infrastructure. Furthermore, the party promised to cut red tape, reduce government regulations on businesses, lower oil royalties in order to encourage investment in the oil sands, decentralize (localize) education and healthcare decision making, protect ‘freedom of choice’ in education, ‘patient choice’ and ‘competition’ in healthcare (allowing patients to use their public insurance to obtain treatment with any provider, including private ones; it nevertheless claimed to uphold the principles of the Canada Health Act), democratic reforms (maximizing free votes, citizen-initiated referenda and recall, whistleblower protection, transparency), changes in human rights legislation to protect ‘freedom of speech’ (controversially, Alberta human rights legislation allows for the prosecution of somebody who ‘exposes a person or a class of persons to contempt’), abolish the human rights commission in favour of a new human rights division in the court system and to legally protect property rights. The party’s platform also attacked the federal equalization program, vowed to oppose any federal intrusion into environmental regulation and argued for Alberta to have more power over immigration.

The PCs promised to return to a balanced budget in 2013 with no new taxes and no service cuts; a good part of their platform repeated pledges from the 2012 budget or earlier legislative action – including improvements in student aid and grants, extra funding for education, improvements made to education laws etc. The incumbent party’s platform promised to ‘spend wisely’, build a ‘knowledge economy’, enhance market access for Alberta’s natural resources and agricultural produce, invest in families and communities (and lead the development of a social policy framework), build a network of 140 family care clinics, improve student aid and access to post-secondary education, a ‘Canadian Energy Strategy’, support new pipelines (Keystone XL and Northern Gateway), increase child care subsidies, implement a 10-year poverty reduction plan and build 50 new schools.

On the centre-left, Brian Mason’s NDP polled well but struggled to make major gains in the polls. The NDP ran on a populist platform, attacking the PCs as the party of the rich and powerful, and focused on quality public healthcare (increase the number of family doctors, cheaper drug prices, reducing wait times), affordable electricity through re-regulation, the youth (introducing a child care system with a maximum daily cost of $25 per child, ban school fees, freezing and reducing tuition fees, student loan debt forgiveness up to $1000 per year), a clean environment (energy efficient home retrofit loans, cleanups of tailings ponds) and making oil sands prosperity work for all Albertans (requiring all projects to have plans for upgrading in Alberta). The New Democrats would have funded their projects by increased corporate taxes, increased income tax on the wealthy and changes to bitumen royalties. The Liberals were clearly struggling and sickly going into the election, with 3 of 8 incumbents retiring and having lost two members since the 2008 election. They were led by Raj Sherman, who had been elected in Edmonton-Meadowlark as a PC candidate in 2008 but who had been thrown out of the PC caucus in 2010 before running, successfully, for the Liberal leadership in 2011. Sherman’s Liberals had an unremarkable centre-left social liberal platform – improving healthcare, expansion of early childhood education, immigrant integration support, cheaper hydro, ending school fees, cap and lower undergrad tuition, diversified markets, environmental innovation, green transportation, democratic reform (reducing the number of MLAs, free votes, recall, accountability, an IRV electoral system, eliminating private school funding, increased taxes on bigger corporations and a progressive tax system (targeting only the top 10%). To messy things up further, the Alberta Party – a party which had been founded in 1985 as one of the several hard-right/quasi-separatist parties to challenge the PCs in the late 80s – had shifted to the left since 2009 after the right-wingers joined Wildrose, transforming the party into a progressive party aiming to unite progressive forces (free of the baggage, supposedly, carried by the NDP and Liberals). One Liberal MLA, Dave Taylor, had joined the party in the legislature, although he didn’t run for reelection. The party’s leader, Glenn Taylor, ran a strong campaign in his local riding of West Yellowhead.

Alberta’s 2012 election has become a memorable one. Going into the election, with all polls predicting a Wildrose victory, most expected the end of the PC dynasty after 41 years in power. However, on election night, defying all polls and predictions, Alison Redford’s PCs were reelected to a reduced majority government, winning 44% of the vote (-8.8%) and 61 seats (-5 on dissolution) against 34.3% and 17 seats for Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance Party. The polls had gotten it wrong – even if one poll (Forum Research) on the day before had shown the Wildrose lead cut down to only 2 points, even they missed the mark by quite some distance. There are some explanations as to why the Wildrose wave suddenly failed to materialize: in the last week, Smith’s campaign had been hit by two candidates making crazy statements (about, you guessed it, the gays/lesbians and racism) and Smith refusing to ‘throw them under the bus’, which sparked concerns about a potential Wildrose government and allowed the PCs to – according to their critics – run a scare campaign. There remains debate on what happened – the undecideds breaking heavily for the PCs, Liberal (and NDP) strategic voting to prevent a Wildrose victory, late switchers from Wildrose to the Tories and so forth. The Liberal vote did collapse, by 16.5% to only 9.9%, although they miraculously managed to reelect their 5 incumbent MLAs who ran for reelection. However, the Liberal collapse was not a surprise – it was already clear during the campaign that many Liberals had switched to the PCs, a friendlier option now that it was led by Redford, a ‘Red Tory’, or as a defence against Wildrose. The NDP won 9.8%, a slight increase but also a slight underperformance on polling, and doubled its caucus from 2 to 4 MLAs. The Alberta Party won 1.3% with 38 candidates but failed to win any seats.

In geographical terms, Wildrose swept southern Alberta – winning 9 of 10 rural seats in the south of the province, traditionally the province’s most conservative region – and did well in exurban Alberta, notably defeating Ted Morton in Chestermere-Rocky View. However, the party failed to make its expected breakthrough in Calgary – the party won only two suburban seats there, and Paul Hinman lost in Calgary-Glenmore. The PCs won 46.2% and 20 seats in Calgary, against 35.6% for the Wildrose. The upstart right-wing party was not expected to do well in more left-wing Edmonton, and indeed it won just 18.8% and no seats, while the NDP placed second in the city and took all of its 4 seats there. The PCs won 13 seats in the capital. The PCs also held their ground in Lethbridge and Red Deer, the province’s two smaller urban centres (although Medicine Hat voted Wildrose, in the south). In northern and central Alberta’s rural seats, the PCs won 23 seats against 6 for Wildrose.

The Decline and Fall of the PC dynasty (2012-2015)

The PCs were unable to deliver a balanced budget in 2013. The budget presented in March 2013 forecast a $451 million deficit, due in good part to significantly lower non-renewable resource revenues, particularly bitumen (oil sands) royalties, than originally expected. The 2012 budget had forecast $13.4 billion in resource revenues for 2013, but the 2013 budget now estimated resource royalties to come in at only $7.25 billion. As a result, the 2013 budget froze operating expenses for the fiscal year, as part of what the government called ‘living within our means’. The budget slowed growth in healthcare spending to 3% (down from about 9% in previous years), cut spending for post-secondary education (a decision very badly received by those concerned), cuts to MLA salaries and in public sector management, increased K-12 education spending by 0.6% and included $5.2 billion in capital spending. True to the old commitment, the budget did not raise taxes. The budget also included a savings plan, to replenish the AHSTF and the contingency account (formerly sustainability fund). On the right, opposition leader Danielle Smith called it the ‘get back in debt budget’ and attacked the PC spending plans. Redford’s government also changed its accounting practices, separating out capital spending. The move was explained as being more in line with common accounting principles, but fiscal hawks said it amounted to cooking the books. The Liberals and NDP would have preferred to see tax increases in the budget. The government would eventually report an operational surplus for 2013-14, although excluding $5 billion in capital spending.

In 2013, Redford’s government faced the ire of public sector unions after the legislature passed two anti-unions laws: Bill 45 and Bill 46. The former increased fines for illegal strikes, while the latter unilaterally striped the public sector union (AUPE) of its right to arbitration (a right granted by PC Premier Lougheed) and imposed a two-year pay freeze on public servants. Redford had previously been on fairly good terms with the AUPE, but her anti-union legislation in 2013 changed matters. The AUPE launched a legal challenge against Bill 46, and obtained a major win in February 2014 when a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench granted an indefinite injunction against the bill, arguing that the legislation could irreparably harm labour relations, guts the collective bargaining process and effectively emasculates the AUPE. Redford intended to appeal the decision, but the AUPE and the government reached a tentative agreement after her resignation and the appeal was dropped.

In March 2014, the government delivered a balanced budget, forecasting a $2.6 billion surplus due to higher revenues, both from taxes and non-renewable resources, than originally expected. As part of their ‘living within our means’ focus, however, operational expenditure increased by 3.7% in the 2014 budget, less than the projected rate of population growth plus inflation (4%). The budget’s capital plan included $19.2 billion investments into infrastructure projects in three years, including $6.6 billion in 2014. To finance the capital plan, the government forecast that it would borrow $4.8 billion in 2014, but insisted it was the right decision to make as well as a sustainable one. Wildrose warned that Alberta would carry $21 billion in debt by 2016 as a result of the government’s ‘doubling down on debt’ budget.

Redford’s downfall began with the death of Nelson Mandela, and her decision to attend Mandela’s funeral in South Africa at the cost of $45,000 to the Alberta government. Instead of travelling with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the rest of Canada’s representatives, she took a government plane, flew her aide separately and then flew back early. Further scrutiny into her expenses revealed several abuses, including having her daughter and a friend accompany her several times on government planes, booking first class fights and high-end hotels. Redford apologized for the Mandela trip, but remained defiant about repaying the $45,000 until the very end. She insisted that it was an ‘exceptional situation’ which wouldn’t happen again. Her entourage also faced withering criticism for their exorbitantly high salaries and luxury tastes.

Redford’s approval ratings collapsed below 20% while a poll in March 2014 showed that the PCs had fallen to 19% in voting intentions against 46% for Wildrose, 16% for the Liberals and 15% for the NDP. Having been elected to the leadership with little support in the PC caucus, Redford was left isolated when things got bad for her – although she had made things worse because of her leadership style, which left many MLAs out in the cold while she surrounded herself with outsiders (with few friends at home, she brought in top staff from Ontario). On March 13, PC MLA Len Webber quit the caucus and called Redford a ‘bully’. Redford’s allies attacked, saying he was “a very sad man” who should “go back to being an electrician.” On March 17, Donna Kennedy-Glans, an associate minister and PC MLA, resigned from cabinet and quit the caucus, attacking Redford’s leadership style. Around the same time, Redford was facing a possible caucus revolt, as no less than 10 MLAs were discussion leaving the party to sit as independents. On March 19, Redford announced her resignation, effectively almost immediately (on March 23). Unlike Klein and Stelmach, she did not stay on while a leadership election was organized. Instead, she was succeeded on an interim basis by Dave Hancock, the deputy premier. In August, she resigned her Calgary-Elbow seat. That same month, the Auditor General’s report into her travel expenses concluded that she had used “used public resources inappropriately” and “used public assets (aircraft) for personal and partisan purposes.” The report concluded that these abuses arose due to an “aura of power around Premier Redford and her office and the perceptions that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”

The PCs successfully convinced retired federal politician Jim Prentice to enter the race, in which he was naturally the runaway favourite. Prentice had been active in federal politics for the old Progressive Conservatives, and ran in the 2003 federal PC leadership as a supporter of efforts to ‘unite the right’ (he placed second on the final ballot, losing to Peter MacKay, who at the time opposed a full-fledged union). Prentice was elected as a federal Conservative MP in the 2004 election, and after Harper’s victory in the 2006 election, Prentice was appointed as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and later as Minister of Industry (in 2007) and Minister of the Environment (in 2008). He left those portfolios with mixed records, receiving criticism for not implementing the Kelowna Accords as Indian affairs minister and for his positions on copyright laws, net neutrality and text messaging charges while industry minister. As a federal Conservative, Prentice was widely seen as a Red Tory, given that he had voted in favour of the federal Liberal government’s bill which legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. Prentice resigned from cabinet and the House in November 2010 to take a job at the CIBC. Prentice entered the Alberta PC leadership race in May 2014, and faced only two rivals: Ric McIver, a rookie MLA (elected in 2012) and former cabinet minister, and Thomas Lukaszuk, a PC MLA since 2001 who had held several cabinet portfolios since 2010 including deputy premier (2012-2013). Prentice was easily elected on the first ballot on September 6 with 76.8% of the vote.

Jim Prentice was seen by Tories as the steady hand to right the ship and restore PC fortunes. Despite low turnout in the leadership election (some 23k v. 78.1k in 2011), everything seemed to be going according to plan at first. The PCs regained their lead in the polls. Prentice reversed some of the last government’s unpopular decisions – he let two controversial dealing with public service compensation die on the order paper, he visited a a long term care centre marked for closure by the Redford government and in March 2015 Prentice repealed Bill 45.

On October 27, voters in four ridings – three in Calgary and one in Edmonton – were called to the polls in by-elections. Jim Prentice sought Len Webber’s old seat in Calgary-Foothills, while two of his new cabinet members sought to enter the legislature: health minister Stephen Mandel, the former mayor of Edmonton (2004-2013), ran in Edmonton-Whitemud while education minister Gordon Dirks, a former Saskatchewan minister in the 1980s who aroused some controversy for his socially conservative religious views, ran in Redford’s old seat of Calgary-Elbow. The PCs swept all four by-elections – despite major swings against Mandel in Edmonton (where the NDP placed a strong, but distant, second) and Dirks in Calgary (where Alberta Party leader Greg Clark won 26.9% to Clark’s 33.2%) and a close race in Calgary-West (where Wildrose came within a few points of victory) – and the narrative coming out of the election was that voters were willing to give the PCs, despite their travails in the past month, a chance and that Wildrose (which had hoped to win one or two of the seats) were the main losers.

Wildrose entered a turbulent period following the by-elections. At the party’s AGM in November, members rejected a motion supporting equal rights for all minority groups, reigniting criticisms and fears that the party was bigoted and anti-gay. Nine days later, two Wildrose MLAs crossed the floor to join the PCs, citing turmoil in the party and their confidence in Prentice’s leadership.

In the government’s Speech from the Throne in November, they focused on four key themes: commitment to conservative fiscal principles, ending the culture of entitlement to restore the public trust, maximize the value of natural resources while protecting property rights, protecting the environment and enhancing the quality of life.

Some weeks later, the media started reporting rumours of talks in the Wildrose caucus to merge with the PCs. The idea had been in the works since Prentice became premier and took steps to bring rebel social and fiscal conservatives back into the fold by adopting some key Wildrose issues (like defending property rights and pledging to defend fiscally conservative principles), and a leaked document about a Wildrose-PC mergers included Tory commitments to review Stelmach/Redford property rights bills, ‘patient choice’ in healthcare, free votes on issues of conscience, balance the budget, stop taking on debt and other things. On December 17, in a fairly unprecedented move in Canadian politics, Wildrose leader and Opposition Leader Danielle Smith announced that she and eight other Wildrose MLAs would cross the floor to join the PCs. Smith said that, under Prentice, they could work together “with a renewed focus on the values and principles that we share.” She added that she wanted Prentice to succeed, noted that they shared almost identical values. Smith also implied that social conservatives in the party had effectively pushed her out as well. Despite the rumours of a merger/reunification, however, angry Wildrose members (those who stayed behind) denied any such things. The mass defections were poorly received by some, who painted Smith and the 8 MLAs as power-hungry political opportunists who had betrayed their voters, while many on the left said that the PCs had betrayed those progressives who had voted PC in 2012 to keep the Wildrose out of government. Polls in December 2014, however, showed the PCs with a solid lead – one poll, for example, pegged the Tories at 42% (and another at 44%) against 14% for Wildrose and 18-19% apiece for the NDP and the Liberals.

Danielle Smith went on to lose the PC nomination in her riding of Highwood on March 28, as did two other Wildrose-turned-PC defectors (a fourth, who had left Wildrose earlier to sit as an independent, was denied the PC nomination as well).

In the meantime, however, Alberta’s economy was badly hit by the sharp, sudden and (for Alberta) catastrophic collapse in oil prices which began in August 2014 – something which Alberta’s budget, in March 2014, had certainly not expected. Beginning in January 2015, Prentice warned Albertans of impending austerity in a ‘transformational’ and ‘once-in-a-generation’ budget. Before the budget was dropped, Prentice made his first mistake – a comment about how Albertans “needed to look in the mirror” to understand the serious budget shortfall. It seemed as if Prentice was blaming Albertans for the province’s fiscal problems, when his party had been the one in charge for over 40 years. The reaction online and offline was, predictably, very negative.

On March 26, the Tories delivered a budget which they billed as making the ‘tough choices’ to make public services financially sustainable and with a plan to reduce Alberta’s dependence on non-renewable resources revenue in coming years. The 2015 budget forecast a very big $5 billion deficit – in good part due to the fall in oil prices, which meant that revenues from non-renewable resources fell from $8.8 billion in 2014-15 (forecast) to $2.9 billion in 2015-16, with bitumen and crude oil royalties 73% lower. The budget forecast a return to balance in 2017-18, after another deficit in 2016. The budget brought major changes both in revenues and expenditures.

The budget introduced ‘revenue initiatives’ worth about $1.5 billion in new revenue for 2015-16, in the form of increased taxes and user fees. It is the first budget to raise taxes in the province in years, in a radical change from past PC policy. The budget introduced a new healthcare contribution levy, similar to the old healthcare premiums abolished in 2008, but working in a more progressive manner, exempting low-income earners – the new contribution levy would apply to individual taxable incomes over $50,000 and increase progressively in $200 increments to a maximum contribution of $1,000 for those earning over $130,800. The budget effectively scrapped Ralph Klein’s old flat tax, introducing two new tax brackets starting in 2016, with a provincial income tax rate of 11.5% on taxable incomes over $100,000 once fully implemented in 2018 (with 0.5% tax increases in 2016, 2017 and 2018) and a temporary three-year tax of 0.5% on incomes over $250,000 (so that, by 2018, those earning over $250,000 would pay 12% in provincial income tax, before seeing them reduced to 11.5% in 2019 once the temporary tax expires). Other taxes and user fees also saw increases, some of them immediate: fuel tax (up 4 cents to 13 cents per litre), tobacco tax (up $5 to $45 per carton of 200 cigarettes), a 10% liquor mark-up, insurance premiums tax and numerous fees and charges (traffic tickets, motor vehicle registration fees, land titles transactions, provincial parks access fees, legal documents). Quite controversial was the government’s decision to slash the charitable donations tax credit from 21% to 12.75% for charity donations over $200. To compensate for these measures and spending cuts, the budget, however, also included some enhancements to tax credits for low-income families with children. In a decision which would come back to haunt them, the government did not increase corporate taxes (Alberta’s general corporate tax rate, 10%, is the lowest in Canada), arguing that times were tough enough as it is for businesses. Oil royalties were also left untouched.

The 2015 budget included spending cuts (about $300 million), officially under the objective of bringing the costs of Alberta’s public services in-line with the national average. Some key departments saw immediate budget cuts: health ($160 million), advanced education, environment, transportation and municipal affairs while all departments (including health and education) would have to absorb $1.9 billion ‘growth pressure’ in future years (meaning annual spending increases would be well below population growth+inflation). The budget noted that front-line services would not be affected, and most ‘savings’ would instead come from ‘administrative efficiencies’, exploring ‘alternative’ service delivery methods and eliminating waste. Some 2,000 public service full time equivalent positions were slated for elimination in the budget (the vast majority in the health system), mostly through attrition, while the government warned that new contracts to be negotiated with the public sector would take into account the ‘current fiscal situation’.

The budget’s capital plan forecast for $29.5 billion investments in infrastructure projects over five years, complemented with a commitment to gradually pay off capital debt once the budget is back in surplus (forecast for 2017-18). Finally, as part of the overarching theme of reducing the province’s dependence on non-renewable resource revenue, by 2019-20, only 50% of resource revenue would be used for program spending with the other 50% allocated to savings, the reduction of capital debt and building the AHSTF.

Reactions to the budget were, to say the least, mixed. Some in the business community thought it was a tough but fair budget, while PC supporters said it was a tough but realistic and necessary long-term plan to get Alberta back into surplus and off the “resource revenue roller-coaster”. However, the budget had something in it to displease everyone else, left and right. For the right, there were not enough cuts and the tax increases were repulsive. For the left, it cut spending too much and hit middle-class taxpayers too hard while favouring the corporate sector and big business. For regular Albertans, the hike in sin taxes and fuel tax or the re-introduction of a health care premium or the absence of a hike in corporate taxes were reasons to be unhappy with the budget.

Election Campaign and Issues

On April 7, 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election for May 5, 2015 – going to the polls a year early, disregarding fixed election date legislation. Prentice said he wanted to secure a mandate from voters for his ‘transformational’ budget, in reality he wanted to go early in the face of bad economic news and take advantage of the general disarray of the opposition parties. The early election call was also an example of PC (or long-time governing party) arrogance, in that they appeared so confident of their hold on the province that they were not bothered or took little notice of recent mistakes made or the poor reception of the March 26 budget.

Indeed, as he called the election, almost all the opposition parties were in disarray. The Wildrose Party had barely picked itself up following the mass defections of December 2014, and elected a permanent leader to lead them into an election only on March 28. Brian Jean, a former Conservative MP (Fort McMurray-Athabasca) from 2006 to 2014 – who had been a rather invisible backbencher for the duration of the Harper government, was elected as the Wildrose Party’s new leader. The Liberal Party, which was tied with the Wildrose Party in terms of seats at the dissolution of the legislature, had its leader Raj Sherman resign in late January 2015 and the Liberals headed into the 2015 election campaign led by an interim leader, the well-regarded but unambitious Dr. David Swann (a Calgary MLA and former Liberal leader himself, from 2008 to 2011). Only the NDP, it turned out, went into the election with a solid footing. Brian Mason, the NDP’s leader, had resigned in April 2014 and an October 2014 leadership election was easily won by Rachel Notley, two-term MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona and the daughter of former NDP leader Grant Notley (1968-1984).

The Progressive Conservatives focused their campaign on their March 26 ‘transformational’ and ‘forward-looking’ budget and its main themes – so saving oil revenues in the future, reducing government spending, revenue changes, cutting government waste and duplication, maintaining support for low-income families and disabled people, doubling the size of the AHSTF in 10 years, long-term debt reduction after 2017, capital plan infrastructure investments (building schools, healthcare facilities, improve roads) and a flat-out rejection of any tax hikes for corporations (claiming that it would cost billions in investment and thousands of jobs). The platform laid out a ‘long term plan to secure Alberta’s future’, focused on economic diversification (innovation and technology, agriculture, clean technologies), expanding market access (within Canada, and towards new markets in Asia and the EU), protecting the environment, defending property rights and improving relations with Aboriginals.

The Wildrose Party (WRP) went into the election led by Brian Jean, a rookie leader, elected to the position only days before the writ was dropped. As mentioned above, Jean had served as an unremarkable and anonymous backbench federal Tory MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca between 2006 and 2014, and entered the campaign with relatively low name recognition and a party still trying to pick itself up after the mass defections of December 2014. Amusingly, Jean had donated $10,000 to Prentice’s 2014 PC leadership campaign.

Taxes were at the centre of the WRP campaign, which attacked Prentice’s 59 tax and fee increases and promised to reverse them and balance the budget by 2017 (under a different accounting method which would take into account capital investments) without raising taxes or cutting front line services. It planned to balance the budget by cutting, primarily, in ‘PC waste and cronyism’ – corporate welfare, sole-source contracts, public sector management, government travel, advertising and mandating more transparency. Once the budget is balanced, Wildrose would use all surplus funds for investments into the AHSTF, debt reduction, contingency fund or infrastructure projects. To create jobs and growth, the WRP called for tax incentives to stimulate research, investment, and economic activity, facilitating the recognition of foreign credentials, provincial control over immigration to attract the necessary skilled workers, cuts to red tape and regulatory burdens and promised to ‘aggressively’ negotiate a fairer equalization program so that Alberta keeps more money.

The vague catchphrase ‘patient-centred healthcare’ headlined the WRP’s health platform, focused on improving patient care by cutting bureaucracy in the public health system. However, the platform was devoid of explicit calls for two-tiered healthcare or more private options, although it talked about ‘patient choice’ and use of non-hospital facilities/services (within the system) in vague terms. The rest talked mostly of curbing bureaucracy in health administration, localized decision-making and ’empowering’ patients. On education, the WRP vowed to protect ‘school choice’, speed up completion of new schools, empower school boards to find ‘efficiencies’ and set their priorities and assorted vague platitudes.

Democracy and accountability were key themes in the WRP platform, unsurprisingly. The platform repeated plans to end ‘PC entitlement’ and cut waste and abuse in government (public disclosure of government travel, limiting severance packages for all political staff and senior government and agency officials), complemented with proposals to strengthen independent officers of the legislature (like the auditor general or ethics commissioner), simplify access to freedom of information requests, toughen whistleblower legislation and more accountability/disclosure of government spending. On the issue of democratic reform, the Wildrose platform called for MLA recall legislation, banning floor crossing without a by-election, free votes, improved democracy in legislative proceedings (by enhancing the role of the opposition in committees) and ‘phasing out’ large corporate and union donations.

Reflecting the party’s base and the nature of its 2015 campaign, rural Alberta was an important focus of the platform. Protecting property rights – a major issue for rural voters and a favourite topic of the right – fell under this theme, and the WRP promised to repeal or amend controversial PC legislation which infringed on private property rights. They also talked of improving access to services and infrastructure in rural communities.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) has been a fixture of Alberta politics since the 1940s (when it was known as the CCF), but unlike in neighbouring British Columbia or Saskatchewan, the Alberta NDP had never been able to make a breakthrough in provincial politics – peaking at 29% of the vote in the 1986 election. This election, the NDP was the opposition party which was the most prepared for the election call, having begun nominating its candidates and found a strong leader in Rachel Notley. The NDP entered the campaign on a centre-left progressive platform attacking Jim Prentice and his budget; for example, the platform attacked “a budget that asks you and your family to pay for bad decisions by the Conservatives – through higher taxes and fees, and through deep cutbacks to your family’s health care and education.”

Given the importance of the Prentice Tories’ budget in the election, the NDP’s alternative to that budget came to dominate the election campaign. The NDP campaigned on the idea of ‘everyone contributing fairly’, which in reality meant a plan to increasing the corporate tax (for big corporations) to 12% (which would take Alberta from having the lowest corporate taxes in the country to one more in line with other provinces, albeit higher than BC, QC and ON), introducing a progressive income tax with several brackets for the top 10% of tax filers (12% on income over $125,000, 13% on $150k-200k, 14% on $200k-300k and 15% on income over $300,000) but providing breaks for the other 90% – eliminating the healthcare levy, rolling back the user fees, cuts to the charitable donation tax credit and enhancements to tax credits for low-income families. On that plan, the NDP platform forecast to balance the budget in 2018. The NDP platform also committed to establishing a commission to report on domestic resource processing and fair royalties.

Notley’s campaign also focused on job creation and diversification of the economy to reduce over-dependence on bitumen exports. The NDP proposed a job creation tax credit, increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2018 and supporting other sectors (alternative energies, high tech, research, knowledge industries).

The NDP also attacked the PC government over their spending cuts, notably those which hit healthcare. Besides vowing to reverse the cuts, scrap the healthcare levy and provide stable and secure funding, the NDP also promised to shorten wait times by creating more long-term care beds, expand public homecare, end PC experiments in privatization, properly repair (and constructing new) hospitals and seniors’ facilities. Similarly, for education, the NDP pledged to provide stable and secure funding and reverse cuts, invest to reduce class sizes to deal with growing K-12 enrollment, reduce school fees for essential services (like lunch), build new schools, phase-in all-day KG, restore a summer employment program for youth and implement a ‘real’ tuition freeze. Social issues were also important, unsurprisingly for the NDP. The party’s platform mentioned investments in childcare, immediate enhancements to tax credits for low-income families, a review of employment standards to support ‘family-friendly’ work standards, initiatives for gender equality and ‘smart regulation’ of electricity to ensure lower costs.

The environment was another key issue. The NDP committed to a green retrofitting loan program, phasing-out coal fired electricity generation (and expand cleaner, greener sources), scrapping the ineffective carbon capture program (to reinvest the 2015-16 component into public transit), strengthening environmental regulation and pledged to ‘take leadership’ on climate change. On the controversial and touchy issue of the Northern Gateway, Notley said it was ‘not the right decision’ and signaled that she’d take a hands-off approach to the pipeline, which had been actively pushed by the PCs. She also said that she would end lobbying for the embattled Keystone XL pipeline project.

The New Democrats forcefully attacked Prentice and the PCs on government ethics issues, accusing Prentice of refusing to accept responsibility by telling Albertans to ‘look in the mirror’ and of seeking to ‘game democracy’ with his secret deal with Danielle Smith in 2014. The NDP promised to ban corporate and union donations, transparent infrastructure decisions, strengthen conflict of interest laws, ban MLAs from using government resources during elections and respect all-party committees in the legislature.

Other issues addressed by the party included municipal affairs, a renewed partnership with Aboriginal peoples (notably joining in the calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women) and agriculture.

The Liberal Party has been struggling since the 2012 election, when the Liberals suffered a bad defeat. It has transformed more into an assemblage of like-minded independent MLAs rather than a major political party vying for power. To make matters quite worse, the Liberals’ leader, Raj Sherman, resigned in January 2015 and the party was drawn into this snap election without a permanent leader. The respected but ineffective Dr. David Swann, who had previously served as Liberal leader from 2008 to 2011 (stepping down without leading the party into an election), was interim leader and basically ran a campaign to win reelection for himself as Calgary-Mountain View’s MLA rather than a province-wide campaign. Only one other Liberal MLA, Edmonton’s Laurie Blakeman, sought reelection. Their three other incumbents were all retiring. The Liberals tried to mask their very poor shape by calling for ‘progressive cooperation’ between the left/progressive parties (NDP, Liberals, Alberta Party, Greens) to defeat the PCs; the NDP naturally didn’t care much for that, and the Alberta Party and the Greens weren’t overly keen on it either. However, incumbent Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton-Centre was also endorsed by the Alberta Party and the Greens, while the Greens endorsed the Liberal candidate in Red Deer-North. Overall, the Liberals were unable to run a full slate of candidates and nominated just 56 candidates – all heavily concentrated in urban Alberta.

The Liberal platform was weirdly disjointed, placing unusually large focus on fairly minor issues – for example, they talked about improving vaccination rates, legal aid, infertility (IVF) funding and age-appropriate teaching of consent in sex ed classes. Given the distribution of Liberal candidates, urban issues were important in the platform. The Liberals did not differ much from the NDP in terms of ideas – reducing wait times, phasing out school fees, smaller class sizes, childcare places, reducing tuition fees, hiring more teachers and protecting the environment. On taxation, the Liberals supported a progressive income tax (with 5 brackets, from 9.5% to 15%, with even bigger tax increases for the wealthy), a 2% increase in the corporate tax and eliminating small business taxes.

The Alberta Party, emerging since 2011 as a new centre-left progressive party in Alberta politics, nominated 36, two less than in the last election. Party leader Greg Clark ran in Calgary-Elbow, in a rematch of last year’s by-election in which he finished a strong second against PC education minister Gordon Dirks. Once again, the party’s platform did not markedly differ from that of the NDP – an ‘effective’ progressive income tax, a 1% hike in the corporate tax, new schools, reverse health and education cuts, tuition cap at inflation rate, tough ethics laws, phase-out coal power, carbon pricing for large emitters who don’t reduce their emissions by 30%, economic diversification, clean energy and phasing out small business taxes. The Alberta Party also supported using 100% of future surpluses to pay off the debt and then placed into the AHSTF, along with 50% of resource revenues.

The Green Party has been weak in Alberta, and has gone through complicated times in recent years. In 2008, the Greens managed to win 4.6% of the vote running almost a full slate, but went through major leadership problems shortly thereafter which left the new leadership much weakened and contested from within, and they were unable to file the necessary annual financial statement with Elections Alberta in 2009, and the party was deregistered. A new party, the Evergreen Party, was founded in 2011 and ran 25 candidates in the 2012 election (for 0.39% of the vote). It was renamed as the Green Party of Alberta in late 2012. In this election, the Greens ran 24 candidates. The party’s very left-wing platform included a carbon tax and a moratorium on oil sands development until the environmental impact is established and a global climate change agreement is signed.

Ab 2015 polls

Polls during the campaign period (own graph)

At the outset, given the state of the opposition, most of us expected that the PCs would a thirteenth term in office – extending their 44 year rule over the province, already the longest single-party dominance by any party in Canadian political history. Given the NDP’s strong polling, it seemed likely that the NDP would do well in Edmonton, their base, and perhaps form Official Opposition as the WRP struggled to hold their seats, but a change of dynasty looked unlikely.

The first polls, however, showed that something odd was up. On April 6, a little-known pollster showed Wildrose up on 31%, the NDP on 26% and the PCs in third with 25%. A poll soon thereafter by another little-known pollster showed similar numbers, but with the PCs in second with 27%. Few seemed to put any confidence in these polls, but Forum Research – a more established pan-Canadian pollster – on April 9 confirmed the other polls, with the WRP up 30-28-27 with the NDP in second. Other polls on April 13 and 20 showed the WRP narrowly ahead of a strong NDP and the PC vote dropping to the 24-25% range. While most accepted by this point that something was happening, many probably had a gut feeling that this was all wrong – like 2012, after all – and that the PCs would still win because, hey, this is Alberta.

The debate on April 23 proved to be a game-changer, in retrospect. Notley, Prentice and Jean entered the debate with a lot weighing on them. The PC campaign had run through several difficulties already, notably a poorly orchestrated flip-flop by Prentice on April 21, who desperately reversed the unpopular plan to reduce the charitable donations tax credit, a move which belied the Tories’ claim that the campaign was about the budget. The NDP had run a fairly smooth campaign, although it faced difficulties when it was revealed that their was a big hole in their budget and that they wouldn’t balance the budget by 2017 as originally claimed. In the debate, in the course of back-and-forth argument between Notley and Prentice, the Premier told the NDP leader “I know math is difficult.” The line came to define the budget and was, again, a poor choice of words by Prentice, who was flogged for the comment – which was at best condescending and at worst, sexist. Brian Jean failed to impress during the debate, being fixated on taxes. David Swann didn’t get noticed.

Polls after the debate all showed the NDP running away with the lead and not looking back. A Forum Research poll conducted pre-debate had shown the NDP already surging to a 13% lead (38-25) over the WRP with the PCs on 20%, so it’s not certain that the debate was what caused the NDP to surge ahead. However, all polls post-debate showed a large NDP lead and the NDP climbing over 40% while the WRP fell into the 25% range and the PCs generally in the low 20s. Running scared, the PCs tried modern-day red-baiting, trying to terrify voters over the prospect of a NDP economy, but that was too late and far too desperate. The PCs had already lost their credibility with voters, especially on the economy.

Forum Research’s last poll on May 4 had the NDP leading 45% to 23% for the WRP/PC (tied). EKOS had the NDP on 44%, a 20% lead over the WRP (24%) and the PCs in third (22.5%). At this point, a change of dynasty and NDP victory seemed likely – nothing’s certain in Canadian politics.


Turnout was approximately 58.1%, up from 54.4% in 2012 and an all-time low of 40.6% in 2008. It is the highest turnout since 1993. Turnout has been low in Alberta, where all elections between 1997 and 2012 were boring dynastic landslides – note the low turnout in 2008, an extremely boring election by all accounts, which saw the landslide reelection of a boring and uninspiring Premier and PC party. The 2012 election had been a very interesting election, with the WRP leading all polls and the last minute reversal of fortunes, and saw many apathetic voters turn out either to throw out the PCs or keep the WRP out. The 1993 election, which had 60% turnout, was also a fairly closely contested election with a strong Liberal Party coalescing – unsuccessfully – opposition to the PCs. This election was already very interesting and motivated even more apathetic voters to turn out, likely with different motivations.

Alberta NDP 40.59% (+30.77%) winning 54 seats (+50)
Wildrose 24.22% (-10.07%) winning 21 seats (+16 on dissol., +4 on 2012)
PC 27.77% (-16.18%) winning 10 seats (-60 on dissol., -51 on 2012)
Liberal 4.18% (-5.71%) winning 1 seat (-4)
Alberta Party 2.28% (+0.95%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green 0.49% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Independents 0.4% (+0.13%) winning 0 seats (-1 on dissol., nc on 2012)
Others 0.08% winning 0 seats (nc)

Alberta 2015

After 44 years of uninterrupted single-party PC rule in Alberta, Canada’s longest standing partisan dynasty was toppled in an historic election on May 5. What is more, Alberta – reputed to be Canada’s most conservative province (having been governed by unambiguously right-wing parties for 80 years since 2015 and being a stronghold of the right in federal politics for about the same period of time) – elected a left-wing social democratic government led by the NDP.

The NDP won 40.6% of the vote and won a majority government with 54 out of 87 seats. The NDP gained no less than 50 seats – having won just four seats in 2012 – and boosted its share of the vote by over 30 percentage points. The governing Progressive Conservatives did a bit better than expected in terms of share of the vote, winning 27.8% and placing a distant second in the popular vote, having been pegged at only 21-23% in the final round of polling, but the PCs’ inefficient vote distribution throughout the province meant that they suffered very badly in the seat count – holding only 10 seats, compared to the 61 they won in 2012 and the 70 they held at dissolution following defections from the WRP. With only 10 seats, the PCs placed third in the seat count, allowing the Wildrose to hold on to Official Opposition. The WRP’s share of the vote, compared to 2012, suffered significantly, falling to 24.2% – about 10 points less than in 2012 – but the unusual and historic nature of this election, combined with the inefficiency of the PC vote, meant that the WRP actually won more seats than they had in 2012. They won 21 seats, up from 17 in 2012 and 5 at dissolution. The WRP gained 7 seats from the PCs (vs. 2012), although they lost 2 of their 2012 seats to the NDP and one back to the Tories. Considering how low the WRP had sunk only a few months ago, and how they entered this campaign rather unprepared (with a quasi-nobody as their leader and the party in terrible shape), their result was rather good for them. All 21 WRP seats are either exurban or rural, the party lost its two 2012 seats in Calgary (and lost Medicine Hat to the NDP); of course, it is likely that the fledgling party chose to target their resources on more favourable ground in rural Alberta where they had their strongest base and PC votes to be gained, but if they want government in the future they will need to breakthrough in Calgary.

The Liberals, running a weak campaign with 56 candidates, saw their support collapse further, winning just 4.2% of the vote after an already bleak election in 2012, continuing the party’s collapse into obscurity. Nevertheless, the Liberals did manage to hold one seat – the party’s interim leader, David Swann, was reelected in Calgary-Mountain View, and on election night he seemed elated with the NDP victory/PC defeat (and not too concerned about his party’s poor showing). The Alberta Party, fairly irrelevant in most ridings, successfully elected their leader, Greg Clark, in his Calgary-Elbow riding, where he handily defeated incumbent PC education minister Gordon Dirks in a rematch of their 2014 by-election battle.

The NDP’s victory puts into the question the common wisdom/general image of Alberta as Canada’s most conservative province, as the ‘Texas of Canada’. While Alberta is more conservative than other provinces of Canada – on certain issues, mostly economic issues – the general image of Alberta as an ultra-conservative fortress is a bit off. The province’s distinctive political culture and history is not only the result of conservatism.

Much like the other dynastic changes in Alberta politics – 1921, 1935 and 1971 – this dynastic change was not inevitable and still came as something of a shock. A month before election day, very few people would have expected that the NDP would emerge with a majority government and the formidable PC machine would collapse and end up with only 10 seats. That being said, one could argue, with hindsight, that a dynastic change was due to happen – it would have happened in 2012, if the WRP had not screwed up by allowing their cranks to sprout their nonsense, and if the PCs had not put together a last-minute coalition of moderates and worried progressives to the defeat the Wildrose. The PCs have been in a fairly poor shape for quite some years – arguably since Ralph Klein left office in 2006 – but each time they faced catastrophe, they found ways to stave off defeat. But, even if we accept that the PCs have been in poor shape for some time and that the 2012 election signalled the beginning of the end, why was the PC defeat on May 5 unexpected a month before. And why was it the NDP, almost always a weak third party limited to left-wing ridings in ‘Redmonton’, which defeated the PC dynasty, and not the WRP?

What happened? As noted above, the PCs have been struggling for quite some time, at least since after the 2008 election. In the 2012 election, the PCs faced a very serious revolt on the right, led by those who claimed that the Tories had lost their way by engaging in deficit spending and borrowing, becoming an arrogant and complacent governing party with autocratic tendencies and accountability issues and (for some) insufficiently conservative. Spearheaded by a polished and fairly well-spoken leader in Danielle Smith, the Wildrose insurgency threatened to topple the PC dynasty. However, in a dramatic, sudden last-minute shift, the PCs held back the Wildrose threat by assembling a coalition of conservatives, moderates, undecideds and progressives – largely united by a desire to keep the WRP, which had scared many voters by reminding them of the existence of hard-right and crazy elements within their ranks, out of power. A large number of former Liberal supporters, for example, voted strategically for the PCs – a friendlier option since they were led by Alison Redford, very much a ‘Red Tory’. The WRP won Alberta’s most conservative voters in rural/exurban ridings (largely in the south), but they failed to break through with suburban conservatives in Calgary and ran up against a wall in the progressive city of Edmonton. Alison Redford then proceeded to destroy whatever goodwill voters had in her, by alienating the progressives who had trusted her (by passing anti-union legislation which mobilized organized labour against the PCs) and seeming to confirm all that the Wildrose had said about the Tories being a tired, corrupt and arrogant governing party (when it turned out that she had serious entitlement problems). If Redford had not been thrown out (a very unlikely scenario), the PCs would have gone down to a massive defeat in 2016.

However, like they had done with Don Getty in 1992, they replaced a leader who had become a liability with a new face who they hoped would restore PC fortunes and perpetuate the dynasty. The new face was Jim Prentice, who looked very good on paper – a respected former federal Tory MP and cabinet minister, fairly moderate (but not quite a Redford-like Red Tory) but still able to rally the right of the party, and without any of the baggage which had plagued Redford (by being an outsider to provincial politics). In October 2014, the PCs held four seats in crucial by-elections for them, delivering a black eye to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party, which began to collapse shortly afterwards. In November 2014, the WRP began to collapse and in December, the WRP unravelled entirely. Prentice, it seemed, had managed to defeat the Wildrose insurgency on the right by promising to accommodate the rebels’ concerns and worries with PC rule. Although that move threatened to hurt the PCs with progressives who had voted strategically for them to defeat the WRP in 2012, it would reunite the right after years of painful division.

Confident that the weakness of all opposition parties (especially the WRP) would mean that none of them would be able to seriously challenge the PC dominance, the Prentice government dropped a budget which they billed as once-in-a-generation and transformational, and used that as a springboard for a snap election in which they hoped to win a democratic mandate for this ‘transformational’ budget. Even though the budget was poorly received, that didn’t seem likely to matter, given the state of the opposition.

However, the PCs badly miscalculated everything. Prentice had a chance to fix the party, build a rapport and establish trust with voters, but he failed on every count. The Prentice-Smith deal, which saw most of the WRP caucus defect to the government, was seen by many voters as a dirty backroom deal by power-hungry opportunists; in the words of the NDP’s platform, Prentice tried to ‘game’ the election by orchestrating a deal with Smith. The deal failed to have any long-term impact on the polls, as even a much-weakened WRP retained a decently-sized base once the dust settled and the NDP was beginning to steadily gain support. The deal also proved disastrous, an hilariously terrible miscalculation, for Danielle Smith and many of her ex-WRP colleagues, as Smith was defeated by her new party’s members in her local nomination contest. As for the budget, it was a bad-news budget which alienated everybody: the average voter who doesn’t fancy paying more taxes (while the ‘fat cats’ don’t pay any more, seemingly protected by a corporation-friendly PC party) and seeing the services they like cut, the left-winger who disliked the service cuts but also the tax plan (failing to raise taxes on the ‘fat cats’ while hurting middle-classes) and the right-winger put off by any tax increase (and a repudiation of a fundamental Alberta PC dogma) and angry about mounting debts/deficits. Prentice made a fatal mistake in rushing a vote on a record which he hadn’t established yet and a budget which most normal people disliked.

Prentice and the PCs worsened things by running a bad campaign, which ran into several problems along the way. The debate could have been Prentice’s chance to make Notley and Jean look bad and unprepared, running on unrealistic plans, but instead Prentice came off as condescending and desperate in his exchanges with Rachel Notley. Notley, in contrast, seemed calm, composed, ready and quick on her feet. Although nervous in reality, she was not thrown off by Prentice’s attacks.

The split of the right-wing vote was an important, but probably not decisive, factor in this election. Unlike at the federal level, where Alberta’s conservatives share a common home in the federal Conservative Party, they are split in provincial politics. In contrast, again unlike in federal politics, where Albertan progressives split between the NDP and Liberals, in this election they united behind the NDP while the other progressive forces (Liberals and Alberta Party) were largely irrelevant. The last EKOS poll before the election detailed vote intention by federal voting intention, and showed the split of the right/unity of the left quite well. Those who intend to vote Conservative on October 19 split 45% for the PCs and 39% for the WRP (with a sizable 14% backing the NDP); 87% of those who intend to vote NDP on October 19 and 60% of those who intend to vote Liberal on October 19 indicated support for the provincial NDP. Only 18% of federal Liberal supporters said that they’d vote for the Alberta Liberals. The PCs and WRP gained almost no support from federal Grits and Dippers.

Although exit polling is not very developed in Canada compared to other jurisdictions, Abacus Data released a post-election survey to study the election results. Asked about their thoughts on the reasons for the PC defeat, almost all voters said the election was ‘people wanting change’ rather than ‘people liking the NDP’ and 63% said the election was more about people cooling on Prentice than people warming on Notley (37%). 44% said it was about the budget while 56% said it was about other things; 58% agreed that it was a vote for change but 42% thought it was a vote about arrogance.

Vote choice by demographic group, 2015 AB election (source: Abacus Data)

The survey detailed vote choice by demographic group. The features of the NDP base were not surprising – stronger with women (45%) than men (38%), stronger with younger voters (53% of those 18-29, 27% of those 60+), stronger with renters (51%) than homeowners (38%), very strong with union members (66%), better with poorer voters (49% with those whose income is less than $50k), stronger with non-religious people (46%) and strongest with public sector and non-profit employees (54% and 47%). But the NDP also managed strong support with middle-aged voters (49% 30-44 and 39% 45-59), homeowners (38%), families with children under 15 (45%), the middle-class (44% with those with an income between $50k and $100k) and even the wealthiest (37% with those whose income is over $100k) and private sector employees (44%). Education was also an important determinant, with the NDP polling very strongly with university-educated voters (45%), college-educated voters (42%) but not as well with those with high school or less (38%, vs. 30% WRP/25% PC). The PCs had a much older base (42% with those 60+, but only 14% with those 18-29/45% with retirees); compared with Wildrose, the PCs had, unsurprisingly, a more urban and better-educated base – with 28% support in urban Alberta compared to 21% in rural Alberta, and polling marginally better with university-educated voters (28%) than those with only a high school education or less (25%). The Abacus poll did not see significant variation in PC support in terms of income – instead, it was apparently the WRP vote which varied significantly in terms of income, doing much better with the wealthiest third (28%) than the poorest third (16%). However, other pre-election polling and the geography of the results suggest otherwise – that the PCs did best with wealthy voters (those in urban areas), while WRP attracted a more middle-class clientele. The WRP base was more masculine (an 8-pt gender gap, 28-20), fairly evenly distributed between age groups (although a bit more stacked towards older voters), skewed significantly towards less educated voters (30% with HS or less, only 16% with university grads), significantly more rural than urban (39% vs 20%), perhaps skewed towards the wealthier and very strong with self-employed independent workers (41%) but decent enough with private sector employees (26%, 18% with public servants).

Vote switching, 2012-2015

The Abacus survey also had some useful data on vote-switching from 2012. According to that data, the PCs held only half (49%) of their 2012 voters, losing 31% to the NDP and 17% to the WRP. The significant leakage to the NDP – far more significant than loses to the WRP – confirms that the PCs had attracted a large number of centre-left leaning voters in 2012, voting strategically for the PCs. The WRP held two-thirds of their 2012 support (66%), but lost 19% to the NDP – perhaps fickle voters motivated in both elections by a desire for change more than the ideology of the party in power. The NDP, of course, held nearly everybody who voted for them (93%); the Liberals lost 62% of their 2012 vote to the NDP (add to that the Liberals who voted PC in 2012 and then NDP this year, and most people who voted for the AB Liberals prior to 2012 voted NDP this year) and only 24% repeated their vote for the Liberals. 55% of 2012 non-voters who did vote in 2015 voted NDP, compared to 18% for Wildrose and 17% for the PCs – unsurprisingly, non-voters who turned out were highly motivated by the prospect of change. Abacus also reports that 40% of federal Tories voted PC, against 34% who backed the WRP and 22% who voted NDP. This proves that the NDP’s coalition was much wider than just the result of uniting almost all left-of-centre/progressive Albertans – the widespread anger/dissatisfaction with the Prentice PCs and the attractiveness of Notley’s moderate NDP/the vague idea of change (at any cost) also brought apathetic voters and a few right-of-centre voters.

Compared to the 1971 dynastic change, the NDP’s margin of victory is much wider – 16.4%, compared to 5.3% for the 1971 PCs. The PCs lost more than SoCred did in 1971, losing 51 seats and over 16 points in the popular vote, compared to a loss of only 3.5 points in the popular vote and 30 seats for the SoCreds in 1971. However, the Lougheed PCs won with a larger share of the vote (46.4% vs. 40.6%) and a slightly larger majority (65% of seats vs. 62%). The 1971 election was also very different in that it lacked a strong third party (Grant Notley, incidentally, was the only non-SoCred/PC MLA elected).

All ex-WRP MLAs who defected to the PCs in December 2014 and ran for reelection under the PC banner were defeated – Jeff Wilson in Calgary-Shaw, Bruce McAllister in Chestermere-Rocky View, Kerry Towle in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Ian Donovan in Little Bow and Blake Pedersen in Medicine Hat. In the case of Bruce McAllister in Chestermere-Rocky View, however, he managed to marginally improve the PC vote share (from 35.3% to 36%), the only instance of the Tories gaining from 2012. Ian Donovan in Little Bow also lost comparatively little from the PCs’ 2012 results in that riding. In these five ridings, lost by the PCs from dissolution, the NDP gained two and the WRP held the other three with new candidates. Former WRP MLA Joe Anglin, who had left the party to sit as an independent and ran for reelection as an independent, was also defeated in his riding of Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, winning fourth place with 11.3%.

Geography of a Dynastic Change

The geography of the results provide details as to the nature of the new government’s majority and how the NDP was able to win such an impressive victory in Alberta.

The NDP’s base in Alberta has been in Edmonton, the provincial capital which has long had the reputation (well founded) of being the most left-wing/progressive city in the province, driven by the large provincial public sector. Edmonton has usually been the weakest region in Alberta for the PCs, who were shut out in 1993 (when Laurence Decore’s Liberals swept the city) and did poorly in 1997 and 2004. The last election in which the NDP won seats outside of Edmonton was in 1989, when Ray Martin’s NDP won 16 seats in the province. In all elections between 1997 and 2015, the NDP’s seats in the legislature were exclusively from Edmonton. While the NDP obviously won seats outside of the city in this historic election, the won a formidable victory in the city. The NDP swept all 19 seats in Edmonton, all by huge margins, and overall won 64.6% of the vote in the city of Edmonton proper against only 20.3% for the PCs and a puny 8.2% for the WRP. In 2012, the NDP had won 21.6% in Edmonton, against 40.4% for the PCs, 18.8% for the WRP and 16.1% for the Liberals. They had taken 4 seats against 13 for the PCs and 2 for the Liberals.

Premier-elect Rachel Notley was reelected with an extremely impressive result of 82.4% in her riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, the most left-wing riding in the province. The area, located south of downtown Edmonton, is a typical bobo-style urban riding of highly mobile, young, single university-educated professionals. Former NDP leader Brian Mason was also handsomely reelected in the nearby riding of Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, a lower-income area (it’s Edmonton’s second poorest riding after Edmonton-Centre), with 78%. The two other NDP MLAs, David Eggen (Edmonton-Calder) and Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview) were also reelected with massive majorities, receiving 70.7% and 73.8% respectively. These are predominantly urban/post-war suburban lower-middle income areas, with significant pockets of deprivation in both. In the core downtown riding of Edmonton-Centre, incumbent Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, an active and well-liked legislator who held the seat since 1997, was fighting an uphill battle against the NDP wave in the city and the province. She went down to defeat by a large margin, winning 25.4% against 54.4% for the NDP.

The NDP, unsurprisingly, also gained other low-hanging fruit in the city – demographically and politically favourable to the NDP – places like Edmonton-Glenora (68.5%), Edmonton-Riverview (62.8%) and Edmonton-Gold Bar (68.9%): more central ridings, which already had strong NDP bases prior to 2015, primarily in downtown-ish and lower-income neighbourhoods. In Glenora, PC cabinet minister Heather Klimchuk won only 17.3% of the vote and a very, very distant second. But the NDP wave was stronger than most people had dared to imagine – it also swept up suburban Edmonton. It easily defeated the Tories in Edmonton’s northern suburbs, socioeconomically mixed but predominantly lower-middle and middle income with fairly low levels of education. The Dippers gained Edmonton-Manning (71.8%) and Edmonton-Decore (67.9%) by huge margins; while in the more affluent riding of Edmonton-Castle Down, former PC cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk was badly defeating, holding only 23.1% against 64.5% for the NDP (and this in a riding where, unlike the others, the NDP had been rather weak in the past – only 12.6% in 2012). The NDP also gained Edmonton-Meadowlark with 57% of the vote; the open seat had been won in 2012 by then-Liberal leader (and ex-PC MLA) Raj Sherman, who did not run for reelection.

The NDP also picked up all the seats in suburban southern Edmonton, areas where the NDP – unlike in the northern half of the city – had been fairly weak in recent elections. The party easily gained Edmonton-Mill Woods (64.9%), Edmonton-Mill Creek (55.9%) and Edmonton-Ellerslie (61.6%) – middle-class suburbs (although Mill Creek is probably closer to upper middle-income) with large visible minority populations (35.2%, 52.5% and 40.5% respectively). They also gained Edmonton-Rutherford (with 63.9%), a mix of some very affluent neighbourhoods and generic older middle-class residential suburbia. Edmonton’s most affluent suburban ridings were also swept up in the massive ‘Orange crush’ – senior cabinet minister and former mayor Stephen Mandel was badly defeated in Edmonton-Whitemud, the city’s most affluent riding, taking only 32.2% against 57.5% for the NDP, in what was a rematch of last fall’s by-election. The NDP also gained the neighbouring affluent riding of Edmonton-McClung, with 55.4%; and the new cookie-cutter subdivisions of Edmonton-South West (54.4%).

The NDP also won the affluent suburban municipalities of St. Albert and Sherwood Park, usually quite conservative in their politics. The NDP won the riding of St. Albert with 53.9% and that of Sherwood Park with 52.1%; as well as the very affluent exurban ridings of Spruce Grove-St. Albert with 46.6% and Strathcona-Sherwood Park with 42.6%. Other exurban ridings in the Edmonton area also fell their way, like Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville (45.9%), Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater (40.5%) and Leduc-Beaumont (37.8%). In the case of some of these conservative exurban/rural ridings, however, the split in the right-wing vote between PCs and Wildrose likely played a key role in facilitating NDP gains. Nevertheless, the NDP’s gains, compared to their 2012 levels, are nothing short of impressive. Support for the party surged to high levels in ridings where the party had previously been confined to single digits!

Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, has the reputation of being a very conservative city, driven by the oil and gas companies with their headquarters in the city. It has traditionally been the PCs urban stronghold, although the Liberals had sometimes been able to pick up a few ridings in downtown Calgary. In 2012, the PCs resistance in the city had been crucial to their surprise win and the WRP defeat. In this election, the NDP’s surprisingly strong showing in Calgary proved crucial to their majority victory. The NDP won 15 seats in Calgary, against 8 for the PCs and one each for the Liberals and AP. Overall, the NDP won 34% of the vote against 31.5% for the PCs, 22.7% for Wildrose, 7.2% for the Liberals and 3.5% for the AP. In 2012, the NDP had won just 4.8% of the vote in Calgary, one of the party’s weakest regions. In contrast, the PCs won 46.2% and the WRP won 35.6% (the Liberals won about 12%).

Premier Jim Prentice was reelected in Calgary-Foothills, an upper middle-class suburban riding with a large Chinese immigrant population (it’s the city’s second most affluent riding, and is 47% non-white). Prentice won 40.3% against 32.4% for the NDP. However, voters in that riding will be returning to the polls for the third (fourth if you count the upcoming federal election) time in about a year since Prentice immediately resigned his seat upon his party’s defeat on election night – something which won him more criticism. It’s uncertain if the NDP will be able to pick up that seat, to reduce the PCs to 9 members, in the upcoming by-election on September 3. The word is that the race is expected to be between the NDP and Wildrose. The PCs also held Calgary-North West with a narrow 3% majority over the NDP, but in neighbouring Calgary-Hawkwood, similarly affluent and suburban, the NDP won with 36.4%. The NDP also gained the northern suburban ridings of Calgary-Northern Hills (38.2%) and Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill (36.9%). They scored a narrow victory over the Tories in Calgary-Bow (34.5%), largely due to strong support in the lower-income neighbourhood of Bowness. That seat’s MLA-elect, Deborah Drever, however, found herself in hot water for stupid comments and pictures on social media and the NDP was forced to suspend her from caucus (although her case will be ‘reevaluated’ after a year). The PCs strongest result in the province was in Calgary-West, where they won 46.8% (even improving on their 2014 by-election results). Unsurprisingly, Calgary-West is the most affluent riding in Calgary and the third most affluent in the province (after the oil patch ridings of Fort McMurray).

Liberal leader David Swann was reelected in Calgary-Mountain View, a central riding with fairly typical downtown demographics, on a personal vote rather than any attachment to the Liberal brand (in his absence, the NDP would certainly have won). He won 36.7% to the NDP’s 28.9%. In Calgary-Buffalo, which covers downtown Calgary and has typical demographics for that kind of riding, the NDP gained the seat (held by a retiring Liberal) with 35% against 28.1% for the PCs and 24.7% for the Liberals. In Calgary-Elbow, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark won 42.2% against 30.3% for PC education minister Gordon Dirks. Dirks had been the target of criticism for using his office for political gain in last year’s by-election (by authorizing modular classrooms in his constituency), and his social conservatism made him a poor fit for a rather central riding whose conservatives are mostly of ‘Red Tory’ stock. The NDP won only 15.8% here, so Greg Clark’s victory was the result of his coalescing of much of the anti-PC vote. The NDP also gained the ridings of Calgary-Varsity, Calgary-Klein and Calgary-Currie – older middle-class residential areas (although they also include some more ‘central’/downtown-ish kind of neighbourhoods [renters, socioeconomically mixed, highly educated, young, non-religious etc.] and lower-income neighbourhoods, the most favourable to the NDP this year).

The low-income eastern suburban seat of Calgary-Fort was a top NDP target early in the campaign, when the NDP winning a majority of seats in Calgary seemed like a wet dream at best, because they had a star candidate there – former Calgary alderman Joe Ceci, who is now Alberta’s new finance minister. He was, of course, easily elected – with 49.8% of the vote, the NDP’s best result in the city. Calgary-Fort, like the neighbouring ridings of Calgary-East or Calgary-Cross, are low-income areas (some the poorest neighbourhoods in the city). The NDP did pick up both of these seats as well, although with smaller majorities – 11% in Calgary-East and by only 101 votes in Calgary-Cross. Cross, like the neighbouring ridings of Calgary-Greenway and Calgary-McCall have large (and, in the case of the latter two seats, very large – nearly 70%) visible minority populations, notably a large Punjabi community. The PCs held Calgary-Greenway, with 42.8% against 36.2% (that the PC MLA, Manmeet Bhullar, is himself Sikh may explain why they retained the seat) while the NDP gained Calgary-McCall (held by a retiring Liberal incumbent) with a bit under 30% of the vote against 26.5% for the WRP, with the PCs winning 18.2% and the Liberals 17.5%.

In suburban southern Calgary, the PCs won four seats against 3 for the NDP. In the riding of Calgary-Glenmore, a largely middle-class suburban riding (although with some poorer parts – where the NDP did quite well, naturally), the NDP and PCs ended up tied on election night, but a recount placed the NDP as the winners by 6 votes ahead of the PCs. In Calgary-Shaw, an affluent suburban riding, the NDP won by a hair in a three-way fight against a WRP-turned-PC incumbent and the WRP candidate (31.3 vs. 30.7% and 30.4%). Calgary-Acadia, an older middle-class residential area (not particularly affluent, with some poorer areas), went NDP by a narrow margin as well, 34.7% against 31.4% Wildrose and 29% for PC justice minister Jonathan Denis (who had been forced to resign his cabinet portfolio during the campaign because of legal proceedings with his estranged wife). The PCs actually gained Calgary-Fish Creek, because incumbent WRP MLA Heather Forsyth (who had held the seat as a Tory since 1993 before defecting to the WRP in 2010) was retiring this year. The PCs won 32.9% against 32.2% for the NDP and 29.6% for the WRP. The PCs held Calgary-Lougheed, Calgary-Hays and Calgary-South East, all affluent upper middle-class suburban seats on the outskirts of the city – but even in these parts, the most conservative parts of Calgary, the NDP did surprisingly well, with about 30% support overall (in places where in 2012 the NDP was not even getting 4% of the vote!) and winning a number of polls even in cookie-cutter subdivisions where you wouldn’t expect it.

While the NDP got lucky by gaining so many seats in Calgary (because of the PCs and WRP fighting for the conservative vote), their gains throughout the city remain tremendously impressive. By way of example, unlike in Edmonton where the NDP had an existing base of sorts to build from, the NDP was extremely weak in Calgary in 2012 – it won less than 5% of the vote at the time in ridings like Calgary-Acadia, Calgary-Buffalo, Calgary-Varsity, Calgary-Hawkwood, Calgary-Bow, Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill, Calgary-McCall and Calgary-Northern Hills – all seats which they won this year, gaining close to 30% in some of these seats.

Exurban Calgary, outside city limits, however, remained deeply conservative territory. The WRP won Chestermere-Rocky View, a riding which they had already won in 2012 (knocking off Ted Morton) but ‘lost’ to the PCs in 2014 when the MLA defected; this year, the new WRP candidate won 37% against 36% for Bruce McAllister, the incumbent PC MLA (ex-WRP), who still put in a good performance. The WRP held Airdrie, another exurban riding, with a new candidate (the MLA was standing down), with 35.1% against a bit less than 30% for the NDP. Finally, Danielle Smith’s old riding of Highwood returned to the WRP, 41.1% against 33% for the PC candidate (the one who had defeated Smith in the March PC nomination contest).

The NDP completed its sweep of urban Alberta by winning both seats in Red Deer and Lethbridge, as well as Medicine Hat. In Lethbridge West (which includes the local university), the NDP’s Shannon Phillips, who had already made a strong run for the seat in 2012 (placing second with 30% and losing to the Tories by only 6 points), was elected in a massive landslide – 59.3% against 21% for the Tories. In the city’s other riding, the NDP gained the seat from the PCs with 47.5% of the vote. The NDP even picked up seats in the traditionally conservative cities of Red Deer and Medicine Hat. They narrowly gained Red Deer-North with 29.4% against 24.7% for the WRP, in a riding which saw an unusually strong Liberal result for some unbeknownst reason (19.3%, actually higher than in 2012!), while their victory in the city’s southern seat was more comfortable (35.9% to 27.6% for the PCs). Even Medicine Hat, a conservative city in southern Alberta, was swept up in the orange wave. Incumbent MLA Blake Pedersen (ex-WRP) ran for reelection as a Tory, but ended up a poor third with only 21.1% against 37.9% for the Dippers and 35.6% for Wildrose.

Rural southern Alberta remained true to its conservative traditions and history. The region (part of Palliser’s Triangle, which extends into Saskatchewan), is a sparsely populated and semiarid region (see map) historically unsuitable for agriculture and thus traditionally dominated by mixed farming/ranching, has long been Alberta’s most conservative rural area. Non-conservative parties have never broken through and where conservative insurgents or the most right-wing party of the day have found success – SoCred won the region in 1971 while the PCs swept the rest of the province, and, of course, Wildrose was nearly confined to southern Alberta in the 2012 election. The WRP held Cypress-Medicine Hat, one of Alberta’s most conservative ridings, with 54.6%, the party’s best result in the province. Wildrose also ‘regained’ the rural seats of Cardston-Taber-Warner (which has a large Mormon population, 41.8% vs. 35.5% PC), Little Bow (35.4% vs. 35.3% for incumbent MLA Ian Donovan, now PC) and Strathmore-Brooks (52.6%); while holding Drumheller-Stettler and Livingstone-Macleod. While the NDP did far better than it had in previous years in this part of the world, it still placed third in all these ridings behind the WRP and PCs. The party only gained Banff-Cochrane – the only rural southern seat to vote PC in 2012 – but obviously that riding is unlike all the others, because of the Rocky Mountain tourist resort towns of Banff and Canmore. The NDP won 42.8% against 28.9% for Wildorse and 28.2% for the Tories.

Rural central Alberta, where Wildrose had also managed to break through in 2012, remained largely Wildrose green. The WRP ‘regained’ Innisfail-Sylvan Lake (42.7% vs. 28% PC), Lacombe-Ponoka (35.7% vs. 30.1% NDP), Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills (53.4%) and Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre (40.1%) while gaining Battle River-Wainwright and Drayton Valley-Devon (where the PC environment minister lost) from the Tories. The WRP gained votes from the PCs in rural polls, while the NDP gained some support from the PCs in the small urban centres of Lacombe and Ponoka. The NDP gained West Yellowhead, a mountainous riding in the Rockies home to the tourist/ski resort of Jasper, with 38.9% against 32.3% for PC finance minister Robin Campbell; they also gained Whitecourt-Ste. Anne (with 35.9% against 33% for Wildrose and 31.1% PC), Stony Plain (37.8% – likely the Edmonton influence) and Wetaskiwin-Camrose (43.9%). The PCs, for a reason unbeknownst to me, held Vermilion-Lloydminster quite handsomely, with 47.4% against 33.3% for the WRP.

In northern Alberta, the Wildrose gained the two oil patch Fort McMurray ridings from the PCs. WRP leader Brian Jean gained Fort McMurray-Conklin with 43.9% against 30.8% for the NDP, while his Wildrose colleague gained the other seat (-Wood Buffalo) by a very similar margin against the NDP. The WRP picked up three other seats from the PCs, already low-hanging fruit from the 2012 results – Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock and Grande Prairie-Smoky (while holding Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills). The PCs held Grande Prairie-Wapiti. The NDP, however, swept the Edmonton exurb of Morinville and made major inroads in Grande Prairie (although the rurban nature of the seats in that city meant that the NDP won neither of the two seats covering parts of the city). The NDP gained Lesser Slave Lake (a riding which is 54% Aboriginal), and won narrow victories in Peace River and Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley.


The NDP’s historic election victory in Alberta marks an end to the longest continuously-serving partisan dynasty in Albertan and Canadian history, and will likely carry a good deal of historical significance for Alberta and even Canada.

An NDP government in Alberta means some change in policy direction from the province – on economic, fiscal, tax and perhaps energy policy. While the government will get down to work only in September when it will deliver its first budget, but in a short legislative session in June, the government passed three bills – Bill 1 bans corporate and union donations to political parties (a bill which the PCs, for reasons which should be obvious, opposed); Bill 2 scraps the 10% flat personal income tax and replaces it with a progressive system for those earning over $125,000 (with 4 tax brackets from 12% to 15%, as outlined in the party’s platform) while also raising corporate taxes by 2% to 12%; Bill 3 was an interim supply bill which reversed PC cuts to health, education and human services funding.

Alberta political history over the past 110 years would suggest that the Alberta NDP government will be in office for at least three terms (like the UFA, the shortest government in the province’s history) and will be defeated after at least a decade (if not 2, 3 or even 4 decades) in office by a party which has not previously held power (like Wildrose?). Of course, politics in the 21st century are different – more unstable, unpredictable and less favourable to the kind of partisan dynasties which have ruled Alberta since 1905 – so the NDP’s tenure might be rather short. Alberta remains a fairly conservative province, but it is not a conservative fortress as this election showed. Therefore, if the NDP governs in a moderate direction and is perceived by voters as having done a good job, they will win reelection. A poor performance, however, will likely be punished by voters.

The PCs defeat may spell the death of the party, according to a number of commentators. The party will need to hold a leadership race, but that is likely to be put off by over a year as the party tries to evaluate where it’s going from here. For now, the PCs are led by Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver as interim leader. Many commentators and observers believe that the PCs, like SoCred before them, will have a very tough time adapting to life as a rump opposition (and third party!) caucus after decades in full control of government and that the PCs will likely die off in one way or another. There are rumours of a WRP-PC merger, but it doesn’t seem as if Jean’s WRP fancies that idea; in the absence of a merger, the PCs may see some of their voters drift off to the WRP and gradually die out (as SoCred did after 1971) as the WRP becomes the party of the right in Alberta. However, the WRP has lots of work to do before they can hope to challenge the NDP for government: the WRP is now an exclusively rural party, and to win they will need to breakthrough in Calgary and perhaps even in Edmonton. To do so, the WRP will need a more polished image – continuing to flush out the crazies, adopting a more moderate conservative platform and finding a more refined way to sell their ideas (beyond this year’s tax-centric campaign).

In short, it is an exciting and unpredictable time for Alberta politics.

Alberta’s election may also have played a decisive role in the upcoming October 19 Canadian federal election (more on that, hopefully, in the next months!). Before the Alberta election, the federal NDP was polling about 21-25% in national polls. Right after the election, polls showed a major surge in support for the federal NDP – moving to 30% and up, challenging or leading the Conservatives for first while the federal Liberals dropped to third. It is a pattern which has held up since, including early in the official campaign with the NDP leading or statistically tied with the Tories, with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals struggling in third. The NDP’s surge since May is connected to the Liberals’ sagging fortunes, a trend which had begun prior to the Alberta election for unrelated reasons; but the Alberta win seems to have convinced many voters that the NDP can win (if they won ‘conservative heartland’) and that they’re a credible option.

Guest Post: Denmark 2015

David J. Barrett contributed this excellent guest post covering the Danish election, held on June 18, 2015.

A general election took place in Denmark on June 18th 2015 in order to elect the 179 members of the Folketing (the Danish Parliament).


Denmark has a parliamentary unicameral system elected with a rather complex form of proportional representation. Essentially the country is divided into nine constituencies and voters get to vote for a candidate in that constituency. All of the votes for candidates for that party in that constituency are added up, and if a party wins for instance enough votes that they would be proportionally entitled to two seats from that constituency the two candidates with the most votes would be elected. As there are a number of regional constituencies proportionality is not guaranteed, so there are a number of ‘top-up’ seats that are allocated to parties so that all parties receive the number of parliamentary seats that they are proportionally entitled to. There is a 2% threshold for allocation of top-up seats, but if a party won a seat in a constituency while failing to clear the threshold they would get to keep that seat. In practice, bar the unexpected election of an independent joke candidate in 1994, winning a constituency all but guarantees that a party will clear the threshold of 2% of votes nationally.

Denmark was one of the countries most strongly affected by the 1848 Revolutions – in spite of little unrest actually happening within its borders. The newly crowned King Frederick VII acceded to demands for a new constitution almost immediately and established a constitutional monarchy. Subsequent Danish political history in the 19th century was marked by a series of conflicts between supporters of the monarchy, Hojre (Right), which predominantly seemed to be the aristocracy, and those advocating a more democratic government. These tended to be predominantly rural initially and called themselves Venstre (Left). The 19th century was marked by a series of elections won by Venstre, but after which the King would appoint a government led by Hojre until Venstre ultimately achieved office at the start of the 20th century. Venstre had by this point moved gradually rightwards when faced with the new threat of the Social Democratic Party, who were explicitly a socialist force. Ultimately Venstre split in 1905, with the left of the party forming a new party called Radikale Venstre (Radical Left, or RV), which was much more sympathetic to the social and political reform favoured by the Social Democrats than Venstre had proved to be.

In 1913 RV leader Carl Theodor Zahle became Prime Minister, supported by the Social Democrats. When World War I broke out he pursued a policy of strict neutrality between the combatants, along with strict economic controls that were unpopular with business. Following the war there was serious debate about whether Schleswig, the border region between Denmark and Germany, should be returned to Denmark. A series of plebiscites resulted in the Northern portion of the region opting to become Danish, while the rest decided to stay German. This was unacceptable to many Danish nationalists, including King Christian X, who dismissed Zahle’s government and prompted a constitutional crisis, as Zahle had retained the confidence of parliament. After a period in which it appeared likely that the monarchy would be overthrown Christian X relented, accepted a role as a pure figurehead monarch and called fresh elections, which were won by Venstre. The triumph of the ideological right was short lived however, as the Social Democrats became the largest party in 1924, a position they would hold for the next 77 years and would use to profoundly transform Danish society. They created a very strong welfare state based on high taxation that delivered extremely good public services based on universal provision, similar to policies pursued by Norwegian and Swedish governments at the same time.


Campaign posters

Unlike their Scandinavian colleagues the Social Democrats were not universally dominant, and periodically opposition coalitions led by Venstre or RV could assemble parliamentary majorities. These governments tended to be short-lived and accepted the fundamental premises of the virtues of the welfare state, and did little to it. However in 1973 the so-called ‘earthquake’ election occurred, with heavy losses for all established parties and with the newly founded Progress Party, an anti-tax and anti-immigrant party, finishing in second place, four other parties winning parliamentary representation either for the first time or after decades of absence and rendering any stable government majority all but impossible. The party system never quite recovered. A series of short-lived Venstre and Social Democrat governments followed until the parliamentary right finally achieved a stable government coalition, led by Poul Schutler, the leader of the Conservative People’s Party (CPP), the successor of Hojre. Eventually by 1994 the Social Democrats under Poul Nyrup Rasmussen finally won back office with a government predominantly supported by RV, and pursued third way policies popular  globally in that time, before being defeated in 2002, by Venstre, led by Anders Fogh Rasmussen – which notably overtook the Social Democrats to become the largest party.

Fogh Rasmussen’s government was, mostly, a minority coalition with CPP that was supported outside the cabinet by the Danish People’s Party (DPP), the populist right successor party to the Progress Party. He pursued a variety of tax freezes and immigration restrictions that proved popular with the Danish electorate, winning three successive terms and remaining the largest party throughout. In 2009 Fogh Rasmussen resigned to become Secretary-General of NATO and was succeeded by his Finance Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen (none of the three Rasmussens are related!). This government was less popular than its predecessor due to a faltering economy, and soon entered a consistent polling deficit behind the Social Democrats, led by former MEP Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and its allies. Its primary political achievement was a controversial pension reform that raised the retirement age to 67 that was supported by RV.

Campaign posters

Campaign posters

Nonetheless despite this the 2011 election the election proved to be unexpectedly tight, with Venstre actually gaining a seat and the Social Democrats losing one and coming second for the fourth consecutive election, and with the government primarily losing owing to heavy losses for CPP and corresponding gains for RV, who supported the Social Democrats. Thorning-Schmidt set up a minority coalition government with RV and the Socialist People’s Party (SF), a party to the Social Democrats’ left and supported outside the government by the Red-Green Alliance, a small but clearly growing far-left force. She largely governed as a centrist and was concerned predominantly with unemployment and the deficit. SF soon entered into a period of crisis with the government’s unexpected centrism, where a leadership election resulted in the heavy defeat of Astrid Krag, backed by most of the party’s hierarchy, to left-winger Annette Vilhelmsen in spite of warnings that this might endanger the stability of the government. Vilhelmsen’s leadership did not last long, as she failed to achieve party support for the selling of part of Danish energy company DONG to Goldman Sachs, resulting in her resignation as leader and SF leaving the government, but continuing to support it from outside. Four members of parliament, including Krag and Environment Minister Ida Aukun, left SF in protest with this decision, and joined the Social Democrats or RV. The government’s poll rating were consistently poor mostly owing to SF’s weakness, and consistently showed that parties who supported to the Social Democrats would fail to achieve another parliamentary majority. Local and European elections confirmed this trend, with the left as a whole, and SF in particular, doing rather badly.

RV split in 2013, when former Minister for Culture Uffe Elbaek, who had been forced to resign over a scandal involving placing departmental functions at his partner’s business, formed the Alternative, a new Green party, which polled reasonably well. The backbone of the left became the Red-Green Alliance, which unlike all of the other established parties had actually gained support – likely due to it not actually sitting in the government formally.

Among the right Venstre started to falter owing to accounting scandals when Lars Lokke Rasmussen was PM, mostly to the benefit of DPP, which rose in polls until it was just behind Venstre – and actually became the largest party in the European Parliament election. They were increasingly the only relevant parties of the traditional right – although it remained questionable whether DPP would actually participate in a government or support it from the outside. CPP, after losing more than half of its seats in 2011, was increasingly floundering and indistinguishable from Venstre, and was soon only barely polling above the parliamentary threshold, a situation which a change of leadership did nothing to alleviate. Benefitting from this disintegration was the Liberal Alliance (LA), a right-wing splinter of RV from 2007, which was formed to stop the influence of DPP on Danish politics. They argued that be consistently aligning with the left RV had ensured a situation where the right would have to rely on DPP to win office, and intended to provide a counter-weight. They had quite libertarian policies however, and soon aligned themselves to the right. LA throughout most of this parliamentary term outpolled CPP easily.

Thorning-Schmidt called the election for June 18th, with parties supporting her to continue serving as Prime Minister being her own Social Democrats, RV, SF, the Red-Green Alliance and the Alternative (the Red Bloc). Supporting Lars Lokke Rasmussen were Venstre, DPP, LA and the CPP (the Blue Bloc). Nearly as soon as the election was called Thorning-Schmidt began to poll competitively with the Rasmussen, and the two blocs began to swap very narrow poll leads throughout the election campaign. Notably the Social Democrats as a party entered a consistent poll lead of 4-7% over Venstre, which likely reflected Rasmussen’s own unpopularity and financial scandals and the Social Democrats focused much of their attack literature on him personally. The election was sufficiently tight that which bloc would actually triumph remained in doubt right up until polling day


Party Votes % Seats +/–
Social Democrats 924,940 26.3 47 +3
Danish People’s Party (DPP) 741,746 21.1 37 +15
Venstre 685,188 19.5 34 –13
Red–Green Alliance 274,463 7.8 14 +2
Liberal Alliance (LA) 265,129 7.5 13 +4
The Alternative 168,788 4.8 9 New
Radikale Venstre (RV) 161,009 4.6 8 –9
Socialist People’s Party (SF) 147,578 4.2 7 –9
Conservative People’s Party (CPP) 118,003 3.4 6 –2
Others 32,143 0.9 0 0
Invalid/blank votes 41,073
Total 3,560,060 100 175 0
Registered voters/turnout 4,145,105 85.9
Faroe Islands and Greenland 43,880 4 0
Total 3,603,940 100 179 0

Denmark 2015 - Leading party Denmark 2015 - Majority bloc

Ultimately the Blue Bloc won the election with 90 seats compared to 89 won by the Red Bloc and representatives from the Faroe Islands and Greenland – all of whose victorious candidates supported the Red Bloc.

The biggest news story was undoubtedly the second place finish of DPP, which was not forecast by any poll (including the exit poll). While the party was expected to do well this result was beyond all expectations. In particular the party performed exceptionally well in the South of the Jutland peninsula on the border with Germany – the political base of their leader Kristian Thulesan Dahl, where the party won 28.6% – a swing of 13.6% towards them that predominantly came from Venstre. In some places in this region the swing between the two parties was even greater than this, and DPP essentially stole votes from across the political spectrum. In Aabenraa, a rural area directly on the border, DPP won 31.6%, and bar small vote gains from the Red-Greens and LA, every single other party lost votes. South Jutland was the most dramatic but far from the only region where DPP made big gains. In North Jutland they gained 9.8% to leave them with 21.6%, in Zealand they gained 9.5% and won 25.6% across the region. Their advance was less pronounced in urban areas across the board however. In Copenhagen they only gained 3% and won 11.4% in total. In Aarhus – the largest city in East Jutland, a region where they won 18.9% on a 8.5% swing, they won 10%, 11.4% and 16.7% in the city’s three districts, and never achieved a swing greater than 6.5% in any of them.

% vote for the DPP

% vote for the DPP

While the election was a clear triumph for the DPP it was a disaster for Venstre, which won their worst result since 1990 – when, at least, they made gains relative to the CPP. Their losses were most severe in South Jutland, where the DPP’s gains were greatest, and in North Zealand, where they lost 11.3% to leave them with only 20.2% – a greater loss than the DPP gained. The party seems to have shed votes both to the DPP in rural areas, but also among the wealthy right wing voters to LA, who certainly do not want to vote either for DPP or for the Red Bloc. Venstre held up best in North Jutland, where the party only suffered a 4.2% swing against them – but still finished well behind the Social Democrats, and in Copenhagen and its environs, where Venstre has been historically weak and likely reflects that there are simply fewer Venstre voters for other parties to poach there, as well as the more limited appeal of such populist rhetoric there. In its traditional rural strongholds on Jutland the party did not have a particularly good showing. While it remained the largest party in West Jutland the swing against it was proportional to the national average – and Venstre’s victory reflects how dominant it has been over opposition in the region in the past.

The Social Democrats made small net gains – but this was not distributed very evenly around Denmark, although the party was the largest in every region but West Jutland and South Jutland. In Copenhagen – the main left stronghold in the country and where there was considerable competition from all other parties in the Red Bloc – the party gained 3.4% to win 22.3%. In parts of the inner city the swing towards the party was even greater. In Indre By – the heart of the city centre including the royal palace – the party gained 5.4%. In Falkoner, containing some of the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods, the party gained the same percentage. What these areas have in common is the local strength of their last remaining formal coalition partner RV, who suffered disproportionally there, where it is likely easier to credit the larger coalition partner for achievements in government. By contrast in South Jutland the party actually lost votes, continuing the slow erasure of the party’s traditional working class base to the DPP.

Among the small parties the biggest losers were RV and SF, which both suffered from similar problems. Both were explicitly supporters of the coalition, and both suffered from prominent members of the party leaving their ranks, and finding it difficult to express what exactly they had accomplished in government. Both parties leaked support to others in the Red Bloc that could better express what their supporters valued. RV, as a socially liberal party interested in good governance, the perceived responsibility of the Social Democrats hurt them among their core voters. SF, for its part, was hurt considerably by the Red-Greens and the Alternative. Both parties could reasonably claim to be a better repository for left wing protest voters than the more moderate SF, with its disastrous and brief government foray under its belt, could be. While both parties lost everywhere, their losses were most severe in Copenhagen where their main competition was also strongest. Notably, while Vilhelmsen will not be in the next parliament, defectors Krag and Aukun were re-elected for the Social Democrats and RV respectively.

The Red-Green Alliance had a good election, although a gain of two seats was slightly below expectations. The party actually lost votes in their Copenhagen stronghold – although they still won second place in the capital. The party did however gain votes in areas less friendly to the party. The party for instance won two seats in Fyn – Denmark’s central island, picked up roughly 1% of the vote across Jutland, and consistently defeated SF. However controversial MP Rosa Lund was defeated. The new Alternative’s support base looked quite similar geographically to that of the Red-Greens. It was very strong in Copenhagen – even managing second place in the Norrebro municipality, but polled similarly, if not slightly behind RV, in the rest of the country.

The small parties of the right had contrasting fortunes. LA had reason to very pleased with their result, in spite of the defeat of MP Thyra Frank. They won two seats in Copenhagen and in several of the more left areas of the city they emerged as the largest party of the Blue Bloc. The swing towards the party was starkest in North Zealand, where party leader Anders Samuelsen is based and where he received a very large number of personal votes. The party did best in the wealthy areas where Venstre’s vote had fallen. In Rudersdal for instance the party gained 6.9% of the vote to win 16.9%, gaining more new votes than DPP did in the area and being the primary beneficiary of Venstre’s collapse. In Gentofte, in Greater Copenhagen, the party even managed second place with 17.5%, only 3.8% behind Venstre as the largest party. The party however did gain votes in areas less hospitable to them, just to a lesser degree. In North Jutland the party won 5.9%, a gain of nearly 2%. In the more rural Zealand Proper beyond the pull of Copenhagen the party won 6.2% – a gain of 1.7%. Their victory means that the party will undoubtedly seek to impose their views on the Blue Bloc to a greater degree.

The CPP continued their slow slide into oblivion, which shows no sign of abating any time soon. The party has only gained seats in one election since 1984.In that election the party won 42 seats and the Prime Ministry. In 2015 it won 6 seats and is the smallest party in Parliament. Notably the party failed to return an MP from Copenhagen, resulting in the defeat of former party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Lars Barfoed. The party’s results were nearly uniformly dismal. The one bright spark was in West Jutland, where current party leader Soren Pape is based and where the party’s vote increased marginally. This was entirely due to a big swing towards the party in Viborg, where Pape is mayor, as the party’s vote decreased in nearly every other municipality in the region.  In the two Viborg municipalities the CPP won 11.8% and 8.6% – gains of 8.3% and 5.2% respectively. These were easily the best results for the party nationwide. In recent years the party has been nearly indistinguishable from Venstre apart from sitting in different groups in the European Parliament, and it is difficult to see how that will change if the party enters another government as a junior coalition partner to them.

In the Faroe Islands the Union Party, a partner of Venstre, lost its seat to the pro-independence Republic Party. This meant that as the Faroese Social Democrats held their seat, and the pro-Greenlandic independence party Inuit Ataqatigiit and Social Democrat ally Siumut held their representation in Greenland, every single overseas representative will belong to the Red Bloc. Greenland in particular has been trending left for some time now, so the easy victories of Inuit Ataqatigiit and Siumut was unsurprising. The Faroe Islands was closer, but both the Republic Party and Social Democrats increased their share of their vote. Nonetheless having essentially no representation in the government ranks is unlikely to ease pro-independence sentiment in either place.


Rasmussen was called to form a government, in spite of Venstre not finishing as the lead party of the Blue Bloc. He managed this by repeatedly pointing out that the DPP, LA and CPP had promised to support his candidacy, and successfully out-manoeuvred the stunned DPP, who, like everyone else, had not been expecting their success. The exact composition of his government is yet unknown, although it is likely to be minority government.

Thorning-Schmidt announced her resignation the evening of the vote, and other party leaders in the Red Bloc will also find their positions precarious.

The election must be understood as part of the broader trend towards the populist right across Europe that has been going on for a number of years – and has been particular prominent in the Nordic countries. Both Norway and Finland now have populist right parties in government and the Sweden Democrats continue to show strong and growing poll numbers. In Germany, France, Austria and the UK populist parties have also grown. Denmark is very much on trend.

The only EU government likely to be particularly pleased with this result is the UK, as the new Danish government will likely support their demands to renegotiate their terms of EU membership – as the DPP are interested in this area and in particular on the provisions for the free movement of people.

Guest Post: Italy (Regional and municipal) 2015

As a follow-up to his preview of the Italian regional and local elections (May 31, 2015), here is a guest post from Giovanni Rettore detailing the results of the regional and municipal elections, including municipal runoffs held recently.

As written in my post last month, Italy went to the polls to elect seven governors and regional councils and several mayors and municipal councils. The results of the regional elections have been somewhat mixed, and local issues, which influenced heavily some outcomes, make it difficult to establish a national trend. Although Renzi and his party certainly didn’t perform very well, they didn’t perform awfully bad. It’s a setback from last year’s incredible result at the European elections, but it’s not even a disastrous defeat. As for oppositions, the 5 Star Movement performed so and so, while on the right of the political spectrum, the Northern League emerged as a clear winner, while Forza Italia collapsed. I’ll try to give readers a quick resumé of the seven regional races and try to trace an outcome. There’s however a certainty among the doubts, the turnout was extremely low. Only 52.2% of eligible voters showed up to the polls, a 10 points decline from the 2010 elections. Probably a sign of the electorate’s tiredness with the ongoing scandals that marks the Italian political system, and the inability of the political class to face the severe economic crisis and the rising unemployment. The fact that almost half of eligible voters chose not to vote is a worrying sign for Italy’s fragile political system.

To analyze the results I think that the comparison should be done with last years European elections. I know many will point that comparing those results with last year’s European elections, and not to previous regional election is incorrect, due to local issues and candidates strength (or weakness) influencing the outcome. It’s a fair argument, I recognize. But five years ago the national mood and political climate was completely different. Five years ago Berlusconi was still Prime Minister and his approval ratings were still decent averaging around 40-45%, the League had half of the votes it has now, the 5 Star Movement was still a fringe party with around 3% of national voting intentions, Monti was an obscure technocrat unknown to 99% of Italians, Renzi was a little known mayor of Florence and the economic crisis wasn’t as harsh as today, with unemployment five points lower than current data. So comparing with a regional election held under a completely different political and economical contest will likely led to incorrect conclusions, in my opinion. Although I’m open to critics on this point.

Regional elections



Vincenzo De Luca (PD, UDC, Others) 41.2%
Stefano Caldoro (FI, NCD, FDI, Others) 38.4%
Valeria Ciarambino (M5S) 17.5%
Salvatore Vozza (Far-left) 2.2%
Marco Esposito (Indipendent) 0.7%

Regional Council

De Luca’s Coalition 40.4%
PD 19.5% winning 15 seats
De Luca’s List 4.9% winning 4 seats
UDC 2.4% winning 2 seats
Others 13.6% winning 9 seats

Caldoro’s Coalition 39.9%
FI 17.8% winning 7 seats
Caldoro’s List 7.2% winning 2 seats
NCD 5.9% winning 1 seat
FDI 5.5% winning 2 seats
Others 3.5%

5 Star Movement (Ciarambino) 17.0% winning 7 seats
Sinistra al Lavoro (Vozza) 2.3%
Campania Civic List (Esposito) 0.6%

Turnout 51.9% (-11.1%)

Campania was the closest among the seven regions voting on Sunday. Former mayor of Salerno Vincenzo De Luca won a tight rematch against incumbent governor Stefano Caldoro. Doing so, De Luca had to ally with the Union of the Centre, led in the region by old Christian Democrat crook Ciriaco De Mita, and with supporters of former state secretary Nicola Cosentino, a former Forza Italia member now serving in jail. Due to his alliance with an old Christian Democrat crook and a former Berlusconi state secretary who is now a convicted felon, De Luca has been heavily criticized by his own allies of the left-wing pole, leading the far left to break with the Democratic Party and run their own candidate. De Luca himself was subject of controversies. A court declared him ineligible and now he will likely be forced out of office as soon as he is sworn in, unless the government will change the anti-corruption law that prevents convicted felons like De Luca to held elected offices.

The campaign has been afflicted by polemics surrounding the legal troubles of De Luca and councillor candidates of both left and right. Two days before the election the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission released a “blacklist” of unpresentable candidates running on party lists from both sides, due to their legal troubles and suspicious links with organized crime. The “blacklist” included De Luca himself.

This “blacklist” created vehement polemics inside the Democratic Party. The president of the Anti-Mafia Commission, Rosy Bindi, has been accused of using commission for political ends. Rosy Bindi has been one of the most notable vocal critics of Renzi, since the current Prime Minister started to raise his national profile.

Bindi and Renzi have a long history of feuds and mutual public offences. Renzi often targeted Bindi has one of the old PD politicians who should be dumped because of their ineffectiveness both while in government and opposition. Bindi vehemently answered to Renzi’s repeated offences accusing him of sexism.

Renzi’s loyalists accused Bindi of using her personal power as chairwoman of the commission to influence the outcome to lead to De Luca’s defeat thus giving herself and her faction within the party an excuse to overthrow Renzi in the wake of a defeat. Bindi responded to the accusation, pointing that all parties in the commission, including the PD, upheld her job and the decision of publishing the “blacklist” was unanimous. Maybe the “blacklist” contributed to the extremely low turnout, just 51.9% of eligible voters showed to the polling station, down 11% from five years ago

In spite of the polemics and his ineligibility, De Luca was able to win the election, avenging the defeat of five years ago. De Luca perform very strong in his home province of Salerno and in the province of Avellino, the historical stronghold of his ally De Mita. De Luca won Avellino and Salerno with almost twenty points margin. Additionally De Luca won Benevento province by a razor-thin margin. The victory of Caldoro in Naples province, the most populated of the five province, and in Caserta were not enough to overcome De Luca’s margin in the other three provinces.

However the issue of the eligibility of De Luca remains, and will likely spark a heated debate. If Renzi tries to change the Severino law, either in parliament or by decree, he will likely clash with the left-wing faction of his party, and encounter the furor of the opposition and public opinion.

As for parties’ performance, the PD performance was fairly mediocre compared to last year results. One year ago the PD obtained 35% of votes, while now the Democrats obtained less than 20%. Certainly the presence of almost ten lists in support of De Luca hurt the PD. As usual, civic lists behind gubernatorial candidates, drained votes from the biggest parties, leading them to mediocre results. Forza Italia performed better than in other regions, but still showed a decline from last year’s European elections, losing almost seven points. The New Centre Right (NCD) retained the result of last year, though, considering the fact that last year NCD ran a joint list with UDC, who now endorsed De Luca, its result might be considered moderately positive. The Brothers of Italy (FDI) performed moderately well, increasing their result from last year by 1.4%.

The 5 Star Movement performed so and so in the region. Something that might surprise due to the the polemics surrounding legal troubles of candidates, something that a staunch  anti-corruption movement should exploit in his advantage. However M5S fell by seven points from last year’s election. Though, as probably people will correctly point out, M5S has often troubles repeating national results in local contests, being a new party that lacks the territorial strength of its competitors.

The far left performed poorly, as they did nationwide, losing two points from last year’s election, where the “Other Europe” list obtained 4.1%

As I said in the preview, election in southern regions since the beginning of the so-called “Second Republic” have become increasingly unpredictable and linked to the consensus of powerful local bosses who swings from one party to another, depending on the national mood. In this particular case, De Mita and Cosentino have likely been the crucial factors in De Luca’s victory, helping him winning in Avellino (De Mita) and containing Caldoro’s margin in Caserta (home of Cosentino, where Caldoro’s margin over De Luca passed from 23 points of 2010 to just 4 points in 2015).

It’s a victory for the centre-left, but it’s not a victory I’d be proud of, honestly. And we’ll see if the citizens of Campania will be called again in dew months, due to De Luca’s conviction and ineligibility.



Luca Zaia (LN; FI; FDI; Others) 50.1%
Alessandra Moretti (PD; SEL; Others) 22.7%
Jacopo Berti (M5S) 11.9%
Flavio Tosi (NCD; Others) 11.9%
Alessio Morosin (Venetian Independence) 2.5%
Laura Di Lucia Coletti (Other Veneto-Far Left) 0.9%

Regional Council

Zaia’s Coalition 52.2%
Zaia’s List 23.1% winning 13 seats
Northern League 17.8% winning 10 seats
Forza Italia 6.0% winning 3 seats
Noi Veneto (separatist) 2.7% winning 1 seat
Brothers of Italy 2.6% winning 1 seat

Moretti’s Coalition 23.4%
PD 16.7% winning 8 seats
Moretti’s List 3.8% winning 2 seats
The Greens-SEL 1.1%
Others 1.8% 1 seat

5 Star Movement (Berti) 10.4% winning 5 seats

Tosi’s Coalition 10.7%
Tosi’s List 5.7% winning 3 seats
New Centre Right 2.0% winning 1 seat
Others 3.0% winning 1 seat

Venetian Independence (Morosin) 2.5%
The Other Veneto (Di Lucia Coletti) 0.8%

Turnout 57.2% (-9.3%)

As I pointed out in the preview, Veneto had probably witnessed the most bizarre race of the cycle. Incumbent governor Zaia (Northern League) started has a heavy favourite, as a result of his high personal popularity and as his centre-left opponent, MEP Alessandra Moretti looking increasingly as something like a clownish candidate. Then in January a schism in the League led by Verona’s mayor Tosi, seemed to re-open the race, with Moretti benefitting from Tosi’s siphoning votes away from his former party mate. However, with Moretti’s enduring gaffes and Tosi’s campaign looking not strong enough to help Moretti pull the upset, Zaia took back the lead.

The final outcome was a Zaia landslide, similar to the one of five years ago. In 2010 Zaia won with a 60-29 margin over PD’s candidate Bortolussi, while now Zaia won with a 50-23 margin. So, despite everything that happened during the race, Zaia was able to win re-election with a huge margin, thanks mainly to his personal popularity and his opponent awful campaign. Although probably even the strongest potential candidate, like p.e. Vicenza’ mayor Achille Variati, would have been defeated by Zaia, Moretti’s campaign was a train-wreck from the beginning. If one year ago, in the wake of the European’s election result, that saw the PD winning almost 38% of votes, led leftist dreaming about a potential takeover of Italy’s most conservative region, this was a bad wake up. Not only did Zaia win a second term in spite of the Tosi schism, but Moretti’s result was catastrophic, even lower than the awful 29% the left-wing candidate took five years ago. Zaia also gained the notable result of being the lone gubernatorial candidate to win a majority of votes and not just a plurality in this election cycle. Turnout was the lowest ever, although Veneto still ranked as the region with highest turnout among the seven that voted a week ago, and the one where the growth of abstentions was low, although still impressive (-9.3%).

As for parties result, Zaia’s popularity have been likely confirmed by the success of his personal civic list. Zaia’s List won a plurality of votes, surpassing even Zaia’s party, the Northern League. Summed together, the League and Zaia’s list amassed more than 40% of votes, 5 points more than the League’s 2010 result, and 25 points more than the League result one year ago. Forza Italia however performed badly, winning just over 6% of votes, 18 points less than in 2010 (when it was named PDL) and almost nine points less than one year ago. The Brothers of Italy performance here was barely weaker than one year ago. Zaia geographically performed better in Treviso and Vicenza provinces. The weakest Zaia’s performance was in Verona province where Zaia won “only” 38% of votes. This result was mainly due to Tosi taking 27% of votes in his home province siphoning votes mainly from Zaia’s camp.

Moretti’s result, as mentioned, was catastrophic. Yet five years ago the 29% of Bortolussi was awful, her result was even worse. The PD, summed with Moretti’s personal list, only took 20.5% of votes, down 17 points from last year’s European election and equal of five years ago’s weak result. The joint list between what’s left of the Green Party, and the far-left “Left Ecology and Freedom” (SEL), barely won 1% of votes. Moretti’s best performance came in Belluno, where she won 28% of votes, while her worse performance was, ex-aequo in Vicenza and Treviso, where she only won 20% of votes. Worth noting that Vicenza is Moretti’s home province, and that until two years ago she was deputy-mayor of Vicenza. So, her weak performance in her home province highlight her weakness. Worth noting also that Zaia bested Moretti even in the city of Venice, with Zaia winning 43% to Moretti’s 31%. Five years ago Zaia lost Venice by one point, in spite winning the region by 31 points, now he won it by 12 points, marking the first time a conservative gubernatorial candidate has won in the region’s capital.

Jacopo Berti of the 5 Star Movement came distant third with almost 12% of popular votes. His result was 8 points lower than last year’s European election. His best performance was in Venice province, maybe as a result of the public opinion disgust for the “MOSE” scandal. His worse performance was in Treviso, home of Zaia, where he finished below the double digit threshold. As I said before, it’s hard to judge the M5S result in local elections, due to their lack of territorial rootage. In the specific case of Berti, the fact of being against someone like Zaia might have hurt him even more.

Tosi’s result was not very good. Despite being the region’s second most popular politician until few months ago, he finished distant fourth, not only behind Zaia and Moretti, but also behind the little known Berti. Tosi built around himself a coalition made by a series of civic lists, including his own personal list, and the centrist New Centre Right. Usually if a candidate outside the two main coalitions obtained almost 12% of votes in a regional election, this is saluted as a good result, but in this case it’s not, and possibly this slump marks the end of Tosi’s political career. Even more resounding, in his own city, Verona, Tosi came third behind both Zaia and Moretti, not a stunning result for someone who polls claimed to be “Italy’s most popular mayor”. Tosi strongest performance came in Verona’s province where he took 27% of votes, however his results outside his home province were far weaker. I honestly don’t know what political future Tosi might have. There were whispers that pointed towards a ministerial nomination in case he helped the left defeat Zaia. Those rumors were denied, and, in the wake of the outcome, they have no chance at all of becoming real. Tosi is now seen as a pariah by most conservative voters, who considered him a traitor and a sore loser, while, given his inability to siphon much votes away from Zaia, he is useless for the left. He will maybe follow the sad fate of all the “Third pole leaders” that preceded him, like Casini, Fini and Monti, and will quickly descend into irrelevance both nationally and locally. Once again the centrist dream of resuscitating the Christian Democracy has abruptly failed in the polling stations.



Michele Emiliano (PD; UDC; SEL; Others) 47.1%
Antonella Laricchia (5 Star Movement) 18.4%
Francesco Schittuli (Fitto’s List; Brothers of Italy; New Centre Right) 18.3%
Adriana Poli Bortone (Forza Italia; Us with Salvini) 14.4%
Riccardo Rossi (The Other Apulia) 1.0%
Gregorio Mariggiò (The Greens) 0.5%
Michele Rizzi (Party of Communist Alternative) 0.3%

Regional Council

Emiliano’s Coalition 46.0%
PD 18.8% winning 14 seats
Emiliano’s List 9.3% winning 6 seats
Left Ecology and Freedom (SEL) 6.5% winning 4 seats
UDC 5.9% winning 3 seats
Others 5.5% winning 3 seats

5 Star Movement (Laricchia) 16.3% winning 7 seats

Schittulli’s Coalition 17.6%
Fitto’s List 9.3% winning 4 seats
New Centre Right 6.0% winning 4 seats
Brothers of Italy winning 2.3%

Poli Bortone’s Coalition 13.8%
Forza Italia 10.8% winning 6 seats
Us With Salvini 2.3%
Others 0.7%

The Other Apulia (Rossi) 0.9%
The Greens (Mariggiò) 0.4%
Party of Communist Alternative (Rizzi) 0.2%

As widely expected, former Bari mayor Michele Emiliano was easily elected as governor of Apulia, securing the region for the left for the third time in a row. Partially thanks to the right’s suicide, in presenting two different candidates, and partially to his own personal popularity, Emiliano won in a landslide in a region that the centre-right has always carried quite easily in parliamentary elections since the beginning of the so called second republic.

Despite the scandals that marked the second term of incumbent governor Vendola, Emiliano was able to win easily being personally not touched by Vendola’s troubles and his party’s poor performance. The PD performance in the region was actually not good, winning less than 19% of votes, down 15 points from last year’s European elections. Emiliano’s strongest performance came in the province of Foggia, where he took almost 52% of votes. His weakest, somewhat strangely, came in his home province of Bari where he took less than 45%.

Since anyone knew that Emiliano would have carried the region easily, the real reason for interest was who will be the runner-up. The 5 Star Movement flag bearer, Antonella La Ricchia was able to surpass both conservative candidates, earning the silver medal. Although the Movement result was more than eight points lower compared to last year’s result, it could be considered a positive result for grillinis, having surpassed two powerful conservative  local bosses. La Ricchia’s best performance came in Bari’s province, where she took 22% of votes, her weakest came in Brindisi, where she got only 14%.

Both conservative candidates performed poorly. It’s an easy guess that many conservative voters supported Emiliano, instead of Schittulli and Poli Bortone. Even summed, Schittulli and Poli Bortone would have taken less than 33% of votes, so even a united centre-right would have lost badly to Emiliano. Overall the conservative pole would have performed even worse than in last year European elections, where parties on the right of center obtained 35% of suffrages. In the conservative pole a reason of interest was how Salvini’s personal list will perform in a southern region. “Us with Salvini”, the League’s southern spinoff that supported Adriana Poli Bortone, obtained 2.3% of votes. Not enough to obtain seats in the regional council, but it was an interesting start. We’ll see how Salvini’s project to expand in the south will pursue.

As I said Apulia is a tricky region, it usually votes conservative when it comes to elect the national parliament, but in the last ten years has preferred to support left-wing governors and mayors, and seems willing to continue its awkward electoral behaviour.



Enrico Rossi (PD; Others) 48.0%
Claudio Borghi (Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 20.0%
Giacomo Giannarelli (5 Star Movement) 15.1%
Stefano Mugnai (Forza Italia; others) 9.1%
Tommaso Fattori (Far Left) 6.3%
Giovanni Lamioni (Centrist) 1.3%
Giovanni Chiurlì (Independent) 0.3%

Regional Council

Rossi’s Coalition 48.0%
PD 46.3% winning 24 Seats
Others 1.7%

Borghi’s Coalition 20.1%
Northern League 16.2% winning 6 seats
Brothers of Italy 3.9% winning 1 seat

5 Star Movement (Giannarelli) 15.1% winning 4 seats

Mugnai’s coalition 9.1%
Forza Italia 8.5% winning 2 seats
Others 0.6%

Yes Tuscany’s Left (Fattori) 6.3% winning 2 seats
Passion For Tuscany (NCD-Lamioni) 1.3%

Direct Democracy (Chiurlì) 0.3%

Tuscany, once again, has renewed its traditional loyalty to the left. In spite of the economic crisis and the scandals surrounding the regional banking system, which is heavily linked with local politics and with the PD, incumbent centre-left governor Enrico Rossi won handily.

The lone true chance to defeat Rossi was force him to a runoff, Tuscany being the lone region where a runoff is possible if no candidate reaches 40%. However Rossi was able to pass the threshold easily, winning 48% of votes. As I said in the preview, the true interest of this race was who will be the runner up. Claudio Borghi, of the Northern League came second with a strong performance, bringing his party to results that it had never even come close to achieving in this traditional left-wing stronghold. The PD suffered a 10 points loss from last year’s spectacular 56%, although the party’s margin over its opponents is still extremely comfortable. Rossi’s best performance came in the province of Siena, where he took more than 55% of votes. His weakest performance came in the province of Lucca, as usual the weakest province for the PD, where he obtained 41% of votes

Borghi performed better than expected, and better than the League has ever dreamed in this region, winning 20% of votes in the gubernatorial race and leading his party to an historic 16% of the vote. The League has become the region’s second largest party, and now is the main party on the right of centre in the region. Just one year ago the League only won 2.6% in the region. The Brothers of Italy, who endorsed Borghi slightly improved last year performance winning 3.9%, up 0.7% from the European election. Borghi’s best performances were in the provinces of Grosseto and Lucca, where he took 24% of votes. His weakest in the province of Florence where he took 16% of votes. Though he has been actually defeated, this result meant a lot for the League, who may finally start to make inroads in Central Italy. Borghi centred his campaign on the financial scandals in Monte dei Paschi and Bank of Etruria, which involved indirectly the Democratic Party.

Giannarelli’s performance was so and so. Due to the last year’s shocking victory in the town of Livorno, many expected M5S to perform well. Instead, as usual, the 5 Star Movement suffers a lot in local elections, due to their inability to run credible and competitive candidates. Given the scandals surrounding Monte dei Paschi and Bank of Etruria, you’d expect the Movement to take advantage, but instead Borghi was able to steal them the protest votes against the banking scandals. The Movement itself performed worse than last year’s European elections taking 1.7 point less than one year ago. However as in almost all regions, the inability of the Movement to run good candidates both for governor and regional council still hurts them. Giannarelli performed better in Livorno province, where the Movement governs the city of Livorno.

Forza Italia was perhaps the biggest loser in the region. The historical local boss of the party, Denis Verdini, has often been accused of having no interest in truly challenging the left hegemony in the region. Forza Italia’s candidate, a little known local politician, performed worse than expected, ending distant fourth. The party was doubled by the League in a region where usually the League performed weakly, down more than three points from last year’s yet weak result. Also extremely weak was the performance of the centrist candidate, Lamioni.



Giovanni Toti (Northern League; Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy; New Centre Right) 34.4%
Raffaella Paita (PD) 27.8%
Alice Salvatori (5 Star Movement) 24.8%
Luca Pastorino (SEL; Others) 9.4%
Enrico Musso (Centrist) 1.6%
Matteo Piccardi (Party of Communist Workers) 0.8%
Antonio Bruno (Other Liguria) 0.7%
Mirella Batini (Feminist) 0.3%

Regional Council

Toti’s Coalition 37.8%
Northern League 20.3% winning 6 seats
Forza Italia 12.7% winning 8 seats
Brothers of Italy 3.1% winning 2 seats
New Centre Right 1.7%

Paita’s Coalition 30.3%
PD 25.6% winning 7 seats
Others 4.7%

5 Star Movement (Salvatori) 22.3% winning 6 seats

Pastorino’s Coalition 6.6%
Left Ecology and Freedom 4.1% winning 1 seat
Pastorino’s List 2.5%

Musso’s List 1.6%
Party of Communist Workers (Piccardi) 0.6%
The Other Liguria (Bruno) 0.7%
Sisterhood’s List (Batini) 0.2%

Liguria was considered the closest region by opinion polls, but it turned out that it was not that close actually. Conservative candidate Giovanni Toti eventually won easily, with a six points margin over center-left candidate Raffaella Paita. Paita’s performance was so awful that she risked ending third, even behind the grillini candidate, Alice Salvatori.

Paita’s defeat might be considered a severe blow to Renzi, since he heavily campaigned for her. Paita’s campaign was a train wreck since the beginning. She won the primary but was accused by her opponent in the primary of having bought votes from immigrants, causing a split in the centre-left. The runner up of the primary, Sergio Cofferati, left the party alongside several local members and built a coalition with minor left wing parties like Left Ecology and Freedom and the Communist Refoundation Party. The flag bearer of the “left of the left” coalition was Luca Pastorino, a dissident PD MP.

Then, a few weeks before the election Paita was charged for her role in the disastrous flood that last fall caused the death of a person and millions in damages in the region’s capital, Genoa. Being the regional minister of environment, Paita is accused of several heavy offences, including culprit in murder, culprit in disaster, attempted cover up and failure to properly alarm the citizens.

Paita’s indictment was the last nail in the coffin of an awful campaign in a region where the incumbent centre-left administration was extremely unpopular due to their inability of facing natural disasters in the last years. Though polls showed a tight race, conservative candidate, Forza Italia MEP Giovanni Toti, won with a comfortable margin.

Toti was able to reunite the centre-right, being endorsed by the four major right of centre parties: The League, Forza Italia, the Brothers of Italy and the New Centre Right. Although Salvini had to sacrifice its own candidate, Edoardo Rixi, he heavily campaigned on Toti’s behalf encouraging the League voters to support him. Salvini’s role in Toti’s victory is evident by the League’s great performance. The League won almost 20% of votes, an historical peak in the region and a result almost 15 points higher than last year’s European election, decisively helping Toti in his gubernatorial bid. Forza Italia’s result, despite being the governor’s party, was very poor, as was the performance of the New Centre Right.

The centre of the earthquake that led the centre-left losing one of his historical strongholds, was in city of Genoa, home of a third of the region’s population. In Genoa Paita’s result was catastrophic, finishing only third with just 24% of votes behing both Toti who won 28% and grillini Salvatori who carried the region’s capital with 30% of votes. Five years ago Burlando won the region’s capital with a 57-43 margin, helping him carry the region with a four points margin. Now Genoa, an historical stronghold of the Italian left has been crucial in the PD defeat.

Paita blamed Pastorino for her defeat, and in fact Paita’s and Pastorino’s votes summed are higher than Toti’s, however I wouldn’t be so sure that all of Pastorino’s voters would have chosen Paita. Many of them might have supported Salvatori instead of Paita. The PD performance was also awful. Renzi’s party won less than 26% of votes, down sixteen points from last year’s European elections.

The 5 Star Movement performed moderately well in the home region of his leader, Beppe Grillo. Probably, had Grillo chosen to run himself he would have a very serious chance of victory in a region where his party got 32% of votes in 2013 parliamentary elections, but Grillo is barred from running for electoral offices by the party’s statute. Salvatori was somewhat instrumental in Paita’s defeat, due to her good performance in Genoa, where she somewhat embodied the protest of Genoan citizens against the regional establishment.

Given the fact that both Salvini and Renzi heavily campaigned for their respective candidates, this might have been seen as a preview of the next parliamentary elections, and it was not a good preview for Renzi.



Luca Ceriscioli (PD; UDC; Others) 41.1%
Giovanni Maggi (5 Star Movement) 21.8%
Francesco Acquaroli (Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 19.0%
Gian Mario Spacca (Forza Italia; New Centre Right; Others) 14.2%
Edoardo Mentrasti (Far Left) 4.0%

Regional Council

Ceriscioli’s coalition 43.5%
PD 35.1% winning 16 seats
UDC 3.4% winning 1 seat
Others 5.0% 2 seats

5 Star Movement (Maggi) 18.9% winning 5 seats

Acquaroli’s coalition 19.5%
Northern League 13.0% winning 3 seats
Brothers of Italy 6.5% winning 1 seat

Spacca’s coalition 14.2%
Forza Italia 9.4% winning 2 seats
New Centre Right-Spacca’s list 4.0% winning 1 seat
Others 0.8%

The Other Marche-United Left (Mentrasti) 3.8%

As I wrote in the preview, Marche was home to what was probably the most awkward race of the cycle. Incumbent centre-left governor Gian Mario Spacca was barred by his party’s rules to run for a third term, despite the regional law allowing him to do so.

Spacca decided to split with his party and run as an independent. Forza Italia and the New Centre Right endorsed him, sensing an opportunity to pick the region from the left. However the Brothers of Italy and the League refused to endorse an incumbent governor they spent ten years opposing in regional council, and ran their own candidate, Francesco Acquaroli. The PD in coalition with what remains of the Union of the Centre and minor leftist movements supported Pesaro mayor Luca Ceriscioli, while the far left ran their own candidate Mentrasti.

Polls showed Ceriscioli running far ahead with Spacca and grillino Maggi running neck and neck for the second spot, while Acquaroli was running distant fourth. However the polling boxes revealed the catastrophic slump of Spacca’s candidacy.

The incumbent governor, was not only unable to siphon voters from his former party, but actually damaged the party that supported him (Forza Italia and the New Centre Right) that lost votes in favour of Acquaroli and his coalition (The League and the Brothers of Italy). Spacca ended distant fourth behind both Maggi and Acquaroli, with Ceriscioli winning with an extremely comfortable margin over his opponents.

The support of Spacca’s candidacy was an ill advised choice for the moderate wing of the centre-right, left wing voters were turned off by him and his betrayal and very few followed him, while conservative voters were shocked by moderate conservatives running with the governor they opposed for ten years and turned to Acquaroli instead.

Even in Marche the League surpassed Forza Italia and becomes the biggest force among the right of centre parties. The Brothers of Italy also obtained a good result, with what was the best performance of the party in the regional elections. This was likely due to an Acquaroli effect, himself a member of the Brothers of Italy.

Ceriscioli’s victory came with a wider than expected margin. Although the PD lost ten points compared to last year’s European elections, it can be viewed as a positive result, given Spacca’s schism.

The 5 Star Movement profited from the conservative’s division and ended in second place, though losing six points from last year’s European elections.



Catiuscia Marini (PD; SEL; Others) 42.8%
Claudio Ricci (Northern League; Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy; New Centre Right) 39.3%
Andrea Liberati (5 Star Movement) 14.3%
Michele Vecchietti (The Other Umbria; Far Left) 1.6%
Simone Di Stefano (Sovereignty-Far Right) 0.7%
Amato John de Paulis (Independent) 0.6%
Aurelio Fabiani (Communist Workers Party) 0.5%
Fulvio Carlo Maiorca (Forza Nuova-Far Right) 0.3%

Regional Council

Marini’s Coalition 43.4%
Democratic Party 35.8% winning 11 seats
Left Ecology and Freedom 2.6% winning 1 seat
Others 5.0% 1 seat

Ricci’s coalition 38.5%
Northern League 14.0% winning 2 seats
Forza Italia 8.5% winning 1 seat
Brothers of Italy 6.2% winning 1 seat
Ricci’s List 4.5% winning 1 seat
New Centre Right 2.6%
Others 2.7%

5 Star Movement (Liberati) 14.6% winning 1 seat
The Other Umbria (Vecchietti) 1.6%
Sovereignty (Di Stefano) 0.7%
Reformist Alternative (de Paulis) 0.5%
Communist Workers Party (Fabiani) 0.5%
Forza Nuova (Maiorca) 0.4%

Umbria has usually been an historical stronghold of the Italian left. Alongside Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, Umbria has usually been considered the heartland of the Italian left. However a series of corruption scandal that heavily involved the PD, the hegemonic party of the region, and the severe economic crisis that the region is facing are putting this hegemony in jeopardy.

Last year’s mayoral elections gave a worrying signal for the left. Conservatives won the city of Perugia, the region’s capital, ending seventy years of left-wing dominance in the city. Initial polls showed incumbent governor Marini ahead, but her lead over former Assisi conservative mayor Claudio Ricci, started to dwindle in the final weeks of the campaign. Initial projections on election night seemed to point towards a shocking conservative pick-up in the tiny left wing bastion. However, Marini was able to ultimately survive the conservative attempt to pull a shocking upset. This victory is however a worrying signal for the left. Conservatives for the first time seriously challenged the left’s hegemony and they came very close from pulling the upset. This is a signal that Umbria is no longer a safe region for the left and that conservatives can be competitive when they run credible candidates.

Even in Umbria the League became the first party of the centre-right, surpassing Forza Italia by a 2:1 margin. The League increased by 11 points its result from last year’s European elections, while Forza Italia lost more than six points. The PD lost 13 points from European elections, while the 5 star Movement decreased by 4.6% compared to 2014.

Mayoral elections (provincial capitals only)

Alongside elections in seven of the twenty regions, several municipalities renewed their mayor and city council, including 17 provincial capital including Veneto’s capital, Venice. Regional results were mixed at best for the governing party, but mayoral were not very good, especially runoffs gave some bad surprises for Renzi’s party.


I Round

Virginio Brivio (Democratic Party) 39.2%
Alberto Negrini (Northern League; Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy) 26.5%
Lorenzo Bodega (New Centre Right) 20.2%
Massimo Riva (5 Star Movement) 8.6%
Alberto Anghileri (Far Left) 5.5%


Virginio Brivio (Democratic Party) 54.4%
Alberto Negrini (Northern League) 45.6%

Centre-Left hold


I Round

Mattia Palazzi (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 46.5%
Paola Bulbarelli (Forza Italia; Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 26.4%
Michele Annaloro (5 Star Movement) 7.7%
Alberto Grandi (Independent) 4.7%
Luca De Marchi (Independent) 4.2%
Arnaldo De Pietri (Independent) 2.8%
Maurizio Esposito (Independent) 2.4%
Mohamed Tabi (Independent) 1.6%
Cesare Azzetti (Far Left) 1.6%
Andrea Gardini (Independent) 1.1%
Sergio Ciliegi (Independent) 0.9%
Gilberto Sogliani (Independent) 0.2%


Mattia Palazzi (Democratic Party) 62.6%
Paola Bulbarelli (Forza Italia) 37.4%

Centre-Left pick-up


I Round

Felice Casson (Democratic Party; Others) 38.0%
Luigi Brugnaro (Independent Centre-Right; Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 28.6%
Davide Scano (5 Star Movement) 12.6%
Gian Angelo Bellati (Northern League) 11.9%
Francesca Zaccariotto (Brothers of Italy) 6.8%
Giampietro Pizzo (Independent) 0.9%
Camilla Seibizzi (Far Left) 0.7%
Alessandro Busetto (Far Left) 0.3%
Francesco Mario D’Elia (Regionalist) 0.2%


Luigi Brugnaro (Independent Centre Right) 53.2%
Felice Casson (Democratic Party) 46.8%

Centre-Right pick-up


I Round

Nadia Romeo (Democratic Party) 24.0%
Massimo Bergamin (Northern League; Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 18.6%
Paolo Avezzù (Tosi List) 15.5%
Silvia Menon (Independent) 15.4%
Ivaldo Vernelli (5 Star Movement) 10.1%
Livio Ferrari (Far Left) 5.3%
Andrea Bimbati (Independent) 4.6%
Antonio Gianni Saccardin (Independent) 3.4%
Giovanni Nalin (Left Ecology and Freedom) 2.2%
Federico Donegatti (Far Right) 0.8%


Massimo Bergamin (Northern League) 59.7%
Nadia Romeo (Democratic Party) 40.3%

Centre-Right hold


I Round

Matteo Bracciali (Democratic Party) 44.2%
Alessandro Ghinelli (Forza Italia; Northern League; Brothers of Italy) 36.0%
Massimo Ricci (5 Star Movement) 9.1%
Gianni Mori (Independent) 4.6%
Maria Cristina Nardone (Independent) 1.7%
Ennio Gori (Far Left) 1.5%
Roberto Barone (Independent) 1.4%
Gianfranco Morini (Independent) 1.0%
Alessandro Ruzzi (Independent) 0.5%


Alessandro Ghinelli (Forza Italia) 50.8%
Matteo Bracciali (Democratic Party) 49.2%

Centre-Right pick-up


I Round

Romano Carancini (Democratic Party; UDC; Left Ecology and Freedom) 39.9%
Deborah Pantana (Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 18.0%
Maurizio Mosca (Brothers of Italy) 13.6%
Carla Messi (5 Star Movement) 13.5%
Anna Menghi (Northern League) 7.2%
Mariella Tardella (Independent) 3.8%
Michele Lattanzi (Far Left) 2.7%
Tommaso Golini (Far Right) 0.9%
Maria Adele Pallotto (Independent) 0.3%


Romano Carancini (Democratic Party) 59.1%
Deborah Pantana (Forza Italia) 40.9%

Centre-Left hold


I Round

Pasquale Zacheo (Democratic Party) 24.9%
Paolo Calcinaro (Independent) 22.9%
Giambattista Catalini (Forza Italia; New Centre Right) 17.4%
Massimo Rossi (Far Left) 15.0%
Marco Mochi (5 Star Movement) 10.7%
Mauro Torresi (Brothers of Italy) 9.1%


Paolo Calcinaro (Independent) 69.9%
Pasquale Zacheo (Democratic Party) 30.1%

Independent pick-up


I Round

Umberto Di Primio (Forza Italia; New Centre Right; UDC) 37.0%
Luigi Febo (Democratic Party) 30.3%
Ottavio Argenio (5 Star Movement) 11.1%
Bruno Di Paolo (Independent) 8.6%
Enrico Raimondi (Far Left)
Antonello D’Aloisio (Us With Salvini) 3.2%
Roberto Di Monte (Independent) 2.7%
Donato Marcotullio (Independent) 1.3%


Umberto Di Primio (Forza Italia) 55.0%
Luigi Febo (Democratic Party) 45.0%

Centre-Right hold


I Round

Nicola Giorgino (Forza Italia; Us With Salvini) 52.2%
Sabino Fortunato (Democratic Party) 24.1%
Michele Coratella (5 Star Movement) 20.9%
Savino Losappio (Far Left) 1.7%
Sabino Cannone (Independent) 1.0%

Centre Right hold


I Round

Amedeo Bottaro (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 47.5%
Antonio Florio (Independent) 14.6%
Emanuele Tomasicchio (Forza Italia; Brothers of Italy) 11.1%
Antonio Procacci (Independent) 10.6%
Antonella Papagni (5 Star Movement) 9.9%
Carlo Laurora (New Centre Right) 6.3%


Amedeo Bottaro (Democratic Party) 75.8%
Antonio Florio (Independent) 24.4%

Centre-Left pick-up


I Round

Salvatore Adduce (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 40.1%
Raffaello De Ruggeri (Independent Centre Right) 36.0%
Angelo Tortorelli (Independent) 13.0%
Antonio Materdomini (5 Star Movement) 8.4%
Francesco Vespe (Far Left) 1.4%
Antonio Cappiello (Us With Salvini) 1.1%


Raffaello De Ruggeri (Independent Centre Right) 54.5%
Salvatore Adduce (Democratic Party) 45.5%

Centre Right pick-up

Vibo Valentia

I Round

Elio Costa (Independent Centre Right) 50.8%
Antonio Maria Lo Schiavo (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 37.3%
Cesare Pasqua (Independent) 4.6%
Antonio D’Agostino (Independent) 4.5%
Francesco Bevilacqua (Brothers of Italy) 2.8%

Centre Right hold


I Round
Alessandro Bianchi (Democratic Party; Left Ecology and Freedom) 29.9%
Andrea Soddu (Regionalist; Sardinian Action Party) 21.5%
Basilio Brodu (New Centre Right) 16.5%
Tore Lai (5 Star Movement) 12.0%
Pierluigi Saiu (Independent) 11.5%
Stefano Mannironi (Independent) 8.6%


Andrea Soddu (Regionalist) 68.4%
Alessandro Bianchi (Democratic Party) 31.6%

Regionalist pick-up

Tempio Pausania

Andrea Maria Biancareddu (Independent Centre-Right) 52.1%
Antonio Balata (Independent Centre-Left) 38.5%
Nino Vargiu (5 Star Movement) 5.7%
Salvatore Sassu (Independent) 3.7%

Centre Right pick-up

Sanluri (No runoff, since the town is under 15.000 inhabitants)

Alberto Urpi (Independent) 47.2%
Giuseppe Tatti (Independent) 40.1%
Luigi Pilloni (5 Star Movement) 12.7%


I Round

Lillo Firetto (UDC; New Centre Right; Democratic Party) 59.0%
Silvio Alessi (Forza Italia) 14.9%
Marco Marcolin (Us with Salvini) 9.2%
Emanuele Cardillo (5 Star Movement) 8.8%
Giuseppe Arnone (Independent) 3.2%
Andrea Cirino (Brothers of Italy) 2.9%
Giuseppe Di Rosa (Independent) 2.0%

Centre-Left hold


I Round

Mirello Crisafulli (Democratic Party) 41.0%
Maurizio Di Pietro (Independent Centre Right) 24.4%
Davide Solfato (5 Star Movement) 17.5%
Angelo Girasole (Far Left) 17.2%


Maurizio Di Pietro (Independent Centre Right) 51.9%
Mirello Crisafulli (Democratic Party) 48.1%

Centre Right pick-up

Before this electoral cycle the centre-left coalition held 10 of the 17 provincial capitals that went to the polls, but lost four of them, including Venice, the biggest of the towns that went to the polls.

As I wrote in the preview Venice has always been something of a “Red Sheep” in an overwhelming conservative region. Even in its darkest days the centre-left always held the Venice municipality with good margins. But recent corruption scandals that heavily involved the centre-left local establishment, including incumbent mayor Orsoni who was arrested for corruption, and polemics on issues like the obscene Bridge of Calatrava, the passage of cruise ships in the lagoon, urban decay and rudeness of the tourists led to a surprising upset, with independent conservative Brugnaro defeating the Democratic Party nominee, former prosecutor turned politician Felice Casson. After losing the first round by almost ten points, Brugnaro was able to coalesce behind him all the voters from right of center and also part of Grillini’s voters, thus becoming the first centre-right mayor of Venice since direct mayoral elections began in 1993, ending 22 years of centre-left dominance in Veneto’s capital.

Another spectacular upset came in Arezzo, the home town of Constitutional Reform minister Maria Elena Boschi, who is usually considered Renzi’s de facto number 2. Conservative candidate Alessandro Ghinelli upset centre-left candidate Matteo Bracciali by a razor thin margin, returning the city to the right after nine years. The centre-left also lost Matera and Tempio Pausania to independent conservative candidates, and lost Fermo and Nuoro to independents.

Not all bad news came for the Democrats as the centre-left was able to regain from the right Mantova and Trani, but the overall picture, also counting minor cities, is not a very good one for the governing party.

Few days after the regional election results, and the first round of mayoral elections, the website “Seitrezero” showed a national projection of the regional results. The PD still leads the field, however with “only” 33.4% of votes, seven points less than last year’s European election. The 5 Star Movement followed with 21.7% of votes, 0.5% more than one year ago, while the League gained more than ten points with 16.2%. Forza Italia performed poorly only 12%, almost five points down from one year ago. The Brothers of Italy obtained a bit more than 5.2%, up 1.5%, while the New Centre Right only gained 2.9%, down 1.4% and also below the 3% threshold fixed by the new electoral law. The various far left denomination, if put together, would gain 4.3%, up 0.3% from one year ago far left joint list “The Other Europe”.

What conclusion can we achieve from this local elections?

1-Regional and mayoral elections are becoming increasingly local

Though national mood and national issues have a great influence on the outcome of these elections, citizens are more and more inclined to vote for a candidate instead of his party. Results in Liguria, Venice and Arezzo, traditional left-leaning constituencies won by conservatives, and Apulia, a conservative region that a centre-left candidate won in a landslide, prove the increased tendency of Italians to choose local leadership regardless of their political party

2-The honeymoon with Renzi is over, but…

One year ago the PD’s stunning 40.8% in European elections led pundits and experts to elect Renzi as the new absolute king of Italian politics and paint the Democratic Party as something like a natural governing party, like the old Christian Democracy was. These results certainly challenge this assumption. The Democrats achieved that shocking result in the midst of Renzi’s honeymoon with the Italian electorate, however, after one year, the Florentine leader has still achieved very little, and his party have been plagued by various scandals, most notably in Emilia Romagna; Tuscany; Campania; Liguria; Rome and Venice.

The Democratic Party performance can’t be considered satisfying, but still holds a edge on a divided opposition who still struggles to coalesce around a credible alternative

3-The Centre-Right is still alive, but…

Unlike what most people thought one year ago, Italians conservatives are not dead. Actually they’re still well alive, and, if they’re able to unite around a new national leader, they can give Renzi a true run for his money. But the centre-right coalition is still well divided. The Boschi law recently approved by parliament will make it hard for one of the conservative leader to reach the runoff. The League, who is now officially the biggest party on the right, has made great inroads in central Italy, but its Southern spinoff “Us with Salvini” still has a long way to go to make the League competitive in southern Italy, and so enable Salvini to be truly competitive nationwide.

Italy’s conservatives are facing a big dilemma, divided between the radical eurosceptic and anti-immigration wing, represented by Salvini’s League and Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, and the more moderate pro-European wing represented by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Alfano’s New Centre Right. These elections have sanctioned a big win for the radical eurosceptic wing, but Berlusconi still claims he’s the only one able to unite conservatives, despite his party have been doubled by the League in 5 regions out of 7 and the fact that runoff polls against Renzi constantly put him under 40% in scenarios against Renzi, while Salvini will be much more competitive against the prime minister polling around 45-48% in runoff scenarios.

A reunion of conservatives on a national basis seems unlikely due to Salvini continuing clash against Interior Minister, and New Centre Right leader, Angelino Alfano often labelled by him as inept and incompetent. Berlusconi has repeatedly called for a new leader to reunite the so called “moderates”, however who this new leader will be is still a mystery, probably is Berlusconi himself or more likely one of his five sons. In spite of his party’s national meltdown, Berlusconi still thinks that his brand, maybe carried by one of his sons, is still the only one that can lead conservatives to victory.

4-The 5 Star Movement is also still alive

The 5 Star Movement performance was so and so. In regional elections they’ve been unable to repeat the results of parliamentary and European elections. Though in runoffs they’ve been able to carry some cities, most notably Gela, home of Sicily’s governor Rosario Crocetta.

As I often pointed out, the Movement has usually hard time in local and regional elections, due to their lack of experience. They’ve not been able to carry one of the seven regions, but they did place as runner-ups in two regions, Marche and Apulia. I judge their overall performance as a tie, not a win not a loss. They’re still there, with roughly 21-22% of votes nationwide, however it looks like their peak of 2013 (25.6%) is something they can’t repeat. Although they’ve not melted down like someone expected after last year’s European elections.

5-Abstention is now the first party of Italy

48% of eligible voters opted to not show themselves to polls. In countries like the USA or the UK, the fact that almost half of the population doesn’t show up for local contests won’t surprise anyone. In Italy however, who long claimed to be the country with highest voting turnout in Western Europe, the increasing party of abstention worries political parties since the rise of abstentions makes elections more and more unpredictable.

6-Runoffs might be a lethal trap for Renzi

According to the new electoral law, recently approved by parliament, makes legislative elections increasingly look like mayoral elections. If no single party list passes the 40% threshold, than there will be a runoff between the two most voted parties.

Since no parties is currently close to the threshold, in case an early election is called, there will likely be a runoff.

In the last twenty years runoffs in mayoral elections usually favoured left-wing candidates over conservatives, due to the fact that conservatives tends to be much more damaged by lower turnout in runoffs. This tendency led to some extremely notable upsets. Many conservative cities, sometimes very conservatives cities, were won by the left thanks to extremely low turnout in runoffs. This has probably led Renzi to think this kind of law that, he thought, would have favour his party.

But in the last couple of years something has changed, as 5 Star Movement voters seems to vote in runoffs with no clear partisan leaning. Due to the similarities of the Movement with the League on issues like Europe and immigration, with the 5 Star Movement being just a bit more moderate than the League on both issues, it is very likely that a runoff might be extremely dangerous for Renzi, with the League and the Movement voters will likely unite against him.

The days after the elections have been hot. The left wing of the Democratic Party is accusing Renzi for the result, with is usual arrogance Renzi is denying any responsibility for the disappointing outcome and instead is blaming his internal opponents whom he calls losers. To signal he couldn’t care less of the outcome, Renzi posted a picture of himself playing at the playstation the night of the elections. However these results are certainly a blow for him and his ambitions. To avoid losing the majority in Parliament, Renzi might ask the President of the Republic to call an early election, but the new electoral law will enter in functions only next year. The current electoral law have been modified by the constitutional court into an old style proportional system, making impossible for a single party to achieve a working majority. If Renzi is forced to call for early elections Italy will likely fall under a new caretaker cabinet, and the Florentine bully will see the precocious end of his political career.

Next months will be very interesting for Italian politics, and European institutions should watch very closely what will happen, since Italy looks as the country where parties who openly wish to withdraw from Euro, have a higher chance to conquer the national government.

Guest Post: Irish Referendums 2015

David J. Barrett contributed this excellent guest post covering the results of the two referendums held in Ireland on May 22, 2015

Two referendums and a by-election to parliament took place on Friday May 22nd in Ireland. The referendums took place in order to change the constitution to allow same-sex marriage, and to lower the age of eligibility for candidates running for President from 35 to 21. The by-election took place to fill the vacancy caused by the appointment of Phil Hogan to the European Commission.

The referendum in marriage was a long-time coming, but still moved quickly when it did. Ireland has traditionally been very far from the lead in socially progressive legislation in Europe. Homosexuality was only legalized in 1993 and divorce only won a referendum in 1995 by about 9,000 votes – less than 1%. Abortion is still one of the live-issues of Irish politics and is still effectively illegal. Nonetheless after legalization public opinion moved relatively quickly. In 2010 civil unions, with many similarities to marriage (albeit without being exactly the same) was pushed through by the then governing Fianna Fail-Green coalition, after having been repeatedly proposed by the social-democratic  Labour Party in legislation while in opposition for several years prior to that. It faced nearly negligible opposition when actually brought to a vote – with only a handful of senators in the largely powerless upper house seriously expressing disquiet over the issue. Reaction to the legislation among the Irish LGBT community was generally positive, albeit not uniformly so, with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) expressing their support for the legislation while Marriage Equality – an organization with an eponymous raison d’etre – pointing out the numerous legal differences between civil partnership and marriage.

In the 2011 election Ireland elected openly gay parliamentarians to the Dail – the lower house of parliament – for the first time, having long had Senator David Norris in the upper house. Norris, who led the legal fight in the courts to get homosexuality legalized, was later that year considered the heavy favourite to win Ireland’s largely ceremonial presidency in polls before ultimately faltering, but the popularity of his campaign showed how homosexuality seemed to be increasingly a non-issue in Irish politics.

Same-sex marriage was not in the programme for government of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that took power in 2011. Instead, the issue was put to the Constitutional Convention, a joint assembly of citizen’s and politicians that would consider a variety of civic and political reforms. The constitutional convention voted overwhelmingly to recommend the issue to the government, along with a variety of other reforms, including lowering the eligibility age for presidential and lowering the voting age.

However the step from civil partnership to full marriage was always going to be more difficult. The Irish court system had previously ruled that the constitutional definition of family was limited to opposite-sex couples only. This meant that any change to the legal status of marriage required a referendum – like any other change in the Irish constitution. While the government’s poll rating had slipped since the election, the referendum began to be seen increasingly as the most inevitable of those proposed by the Convention, not least owing to the passionate support it received from the Labour Party, whose then leader Eamon Gilmore called it the ‘Civil Rights issue of our generation’. Fine Gael as well became increasingly more supportive as time went on, with motions supporting same-sex marriage being supported by the youth wing of the party, and with the foundation of an LGBT wing led by popular Cork based deputy Jerry Buttimer, who came out after the 2011 election.

On January 11th 2014 Rory O’Neill, a popular Irish drag queen who is best name as his alter-ego ‘Panti Bliss’, was interviewed by the state broadcaster RTE, in which he alleged that two socially conservative newspapers columnists for the Irish Times, a major broadsheet newspaper in Ireland, Breda O’Brien and John Waters, were homophobic. Both O’Brien and Waters sued RTE for defamation, who immediately settled and paid them a sum of €85,000. There was immediate outrage not only among the LGBT community but among politicians and wider society, which culminated in large protests and a passionate and extremely well-watched speech by Panti in the Abbey Theatre, which currently has over 700,000 views on YouTube. With the referendum very well anticipated by this point it was a seen as an early battleground between the liberal and conservative portions of Irish politics.

The Yes side spent a considerable proportion of their energy initially ensuring that large numbers of county councils passed resolutions in favour of same-sex marriage, in order to help build a sense of momentum for the idea among the body politic.

Much of the work before the referendum concerned the ‘Children and Family Relationships Bill’, which was an omnibus piece of legislation that aimed to address legal ambiguities involving all kinds of non-traditional families, including LGBT ones. While not strictly related to the referendum the passage of the bill before the vote was seen as absolutely necessary for the referendum to pass, as the bill would remove most of the issues that the No side to the referendum would likely raise regarding children and the family. In the event the bill only passed the upper house on March 20th, very close to the final date of the referendum, so much of the issues dealt with in the bill were seen by many as tied up with the referendum.

The Campaign

Both the Yes and No campaigns carefully studied previous campaigns in the US and Eastern Europe for advice over what worked and what did not for their rivals, giving the campaign a much more international than previous referendums.

Irish referendums have been dominated in recent years by the Coughlan and McKenna Supreme Court Judgments. These hold that governments cannot spend public money to promote their own proposal and that the state broadcaster must be ‘balanced’ in their coverage of the issue – which has usually been interpreted as giving exactly equal airtime to both sides.

The Yes campaign was supported by all major political parties, and a major civic society effort. Fine Gael and Labour in particular were active in promoting the government’s proposal with campaigns that emphasized the idea of equality for every citizen, with extensive and costly poster campaigns, and with many deputies running their own campaigns for the proposal in their own local area. The far-left and nationalist Sinn Fein, similarly, strongly supported a Yes vote, with their campaign invoking the 1916 proclamation, a document written by Irish rebels in 1916 declaring an Irish Republic that is considered the founding document of the Irish state, albeit without legal force, that all children of the nation be cherished equally. The centrist and populist Fianna Fail similarly ran a colourful poster campaign, but the party was noticeably more lukewarm in its support than the others and almost non-existent beyond the efforts of Senator Averil Power, based in northern Dublin suburbs, and a few local councilors. Indeed Wexford based Senator Jim Walsh resigned from the party over the party’s support for the proposal and for its support of the Children and Family Relationships’ bill. The party gave a distinct impression of being more interested in campaigning for the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election, which the party was regarded as strongly competitive in, than in the referendum.

ireland2015-1However civic society was undoubtedly the main force of the Yes campaign. GLEN, Marriage Equality and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, who pooled their organisations to make ‘Yes Equality’ (YE), which rapidly became a campaigning behemoth in several areas of the country. YE largely ran a conservative message, emphasizing the importance of family and stability in people’s lives, and how a yes vote would reduce stigma and improve the mental health of young LGBT people. Much of their early literature focused on well known sports and television personalities popular in rural Ireland, as it was felt that these individuals who would appeal to swing voters, rather than the outspoken liberals most associated with LGBT rights before this point.

YE’s actual strategy was similar to that of any political party – knock on as many doors as possible nationwide and speak to voters. While this has long been considered the best strategy for parties in general elections it is normally not done in referendums due to a severe shortage of volunteers. Most parties find it difficult to muster up their own members to campaign even over contentious European treaty referendums, and other volunteers tend to be extremely sparse. This means that the ‘ground war’ in most referendums is limited to things with high visibility, such as distributing leaflets at sporting occasions. However YE had no such shortage of volunteers, particularly in Dublin and Cork, where the number of campaigners in a constituency per night regularly passed fifty. YE was partially motivated in this approach by the (now utterly discredited and found to be fabricated) study of LaCour and Green, which found that people speaking to those that they know to be LGBT helps change attitudes positively significantly.

ireland2015-3The No side ran a significantly more traditional referendum campaign. It had no political parties in support, but a number of politicians did support  them, such independent Mattie McGrath and former Fianna Fail junior minister John McGuinness in the lower house, and Senators Ronan Mullen and Fidelma Healy Eames in the upper house. The Catholic Church also lent their support to the campaign. It was also supported a by a few media figures – most noticeably newspaper columnists David Quinn, Breda O’Brien and John Waters. Most of these figures amalgamated their efforts into the civic society group ‘Mothers and Fathers Matter’ (MFM). Their campaign focused little on the issue directly at hand. Their posters emphasized surrogacy and the importance of gender specific parents biologically related to the child, as well as arguing that No voters were being ‘silenced’ and discriminated against by a liberal society. The overall thrust of their campaign however focused on the ‘air war’, where their lack of volunteers on the ground (certainly relative to YE) was less noticeable and where they would be obliged to receive the same airtime as YE.

Both sides were well funded. YE in particular attracted an exceptionally large amount of small donations and also managed to make a considerable sum on the sale of campaign related merchandise. In particular YE badges became ubiquitous, with over 500,000 in circulation. The source of funding for MFM was more ambiguous – but they could clearly print posters and post literature at the same rate as YE, and also paid a considerable sum for seemingly endless advertisements on YouTube.

A selection of posters from both sides in Dublin city centre can be seen on either side.

Polling in the campaign stayed quite consistent, with support for Yes consistently high, and usually over 70%. Almost no one from either side of the campaign believed these numbers however, as it was felt that there was a strong social desirability factor in voting yes and many Irish referendums see extremely inaccurate poll numbers (with several European treaties and the abolition of the upper house being defeated in spite of no poll showing the Yes side behind). Additionally many spoke of the 1995 divorce referendum, which polled well and then saw the lead for the Yes side dwindle to almost nothing. As, arguably, the referendum most similar to it both sides planned for a similarly close finish.

ireland2015-2Voters could be forgiven for not knowing that there was a second referendum, as the ballot on the presidential age had no campaign launched either for or against it, and received essentially no air time, which was probably related to the issue seeming almost laughably trivial compared to the other item on the ballot paper. There was essentially no polling done on it either, but almost all expected it to be heavily defeated.

The by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny, a predominantly rural constituency in the South-East of the country, was somewhat unusual, as almost every party had reason to expect to do reasonably well. FG was defending the seat and ran a local councillor, but this was also the area that FF received the highest percentage of the vote nationwide in their 2011 wipeout and were running a former parliamentarian for the area, and both Carlow and Kilkenny were among Labour’s best areas nationally in the last local election. SF was also polling exceptionally well nationally, and this was one of the few areas nationwide where the Green Party had a well-entrenched local councilor. The newly founded conservative ‘Renua’ party also managed to recruit a local councilor off FF, and hoped for a strong showing.


Results – Marriage Equality Referendum
Votes Of total
 Yes 1,201,607 62.07%
 No 734,300 37.93%
Valid votes 1,935,907 99.29%
Invalid or blank votes 13,818 0.71%
Total votes 1,949,725 100.00%
Voter turnout 60.52%
Electorate 3,221,681
Results – Presidential Age Referendum
Votes Of total
 Yes 520,898 26.94%
 No 1,412,602 73.06%
Valid votes 1,933,500 99.18%
Invalid or blank votes 15,938 0.82%
Total votes 1,949,438 100.00%
Voter turnout 60.51%
Electorate 3,221,681

The Marriage Equality passed resoundingly, with only one of 43 constituencies – Roscommon-South Leitrim, in the west of the country, rejecting the proposal. By contrast the Presidential Age referendum lost resoundingly. It failed to win a single constituency nationwide and had the lowest Yes vote of any referendum in Irish history. FF won the by-election, being well clear of FG in the final count.

Results of the same-sex marriage referendum by constituency (source: Wikipedia)

While the Yes vote in the Marriage Equality was lower than most polls suggested, it was still well in line with what they were suggesting. Indeed it was the highest vote in favour of same-sex marriage anywhere in the world by nearly 10%.  Based on previous form with referendums and polling this was considered extremely surprising and a result near stunning victory for YE. David Quinn effectively conceded for the No side within less than hour of the votes being counted and suggesting a near-landslide in Dublin.

The reason for YE’s near total victory can be seen in the extremely high turnout figure – which is near, albeit not quite at, general election turnout numbers in Ireland, and is the referendum with the highest turnout since divorce. While a high turnout the level of enthusiasm for actually voting surprised nearly every observer. Huge numbers enrolled on the electoral register for the first time – with nearly 67,000 voters ending up on the supplemental voting register – a resource for those who register after the deadline for the main register which is historically almost never used. Unofficial tallies of the boxes these votes were cast in suggested that they almost unanimously supported Yes. Ireland has no postal voting (which is likely related to large numbers of residents of Northern Ireland and the US who have Irish citizenship but have never actually been resident in Ireland), and in the final days of the campaign #hometovote started trending globally on twitter. With Ireland’s economic difficulties since 2008 a considerable number of young people left the country for jobs and opportunities elsewhere. A considerable number of them returned from very afield in order to vote on the proposal – with virtually all of Ryanair’s flights to Dublin the day before the vote sold out weeks in advance, and with individuals coming from considerably further afield than that (two friends of the author returned from New York and Mozambique to vote – these are extreme but not actually particularly uncommon examples).

However there was still a geographical split. Urban areas, and particularly Dublin, were noticeably more in favour of the proposal than rural ones, with areas in the North and West of the country having particularly low Yes votes compared to the national average (indeed the only No constituency was in this region, as were the next seven closest constituencies). This sort of split is not particularly unusual in Irish referendums.

What was unusual however was the internal breakdown of areas. Normally middle class Southern Dublin leads the way on issues relating to Europe and on social reform. Here the picture was much more mixed. The highest Yes constituency was indeed Dublin South East – an extremely wealthy constituency home to most of Dublin’s south city centre and the base of most of Ireland’s tech companies – making the constituency have an extremely high student and young professional population that naturally favoured a Yes.  However what many of the other most favourable constituencies for Yes in Dublin share is being predominantly working class. By contrast Dublin South, a middle class area of suburban lawns and golf club memberships, which is usually very high on these measures, scoring among the lowest Yes votes in Dublin. While surprising to observers this was certainly not news to Yes campaigners, who regularly reported having a more difficult time in such more ‘settled’ areas, with an older population, more Church influence and less exposure to non-nuclear families generally. Turnout in Dublin was much more uniform than normal between middle and working class areas, suggesting that the latter was more interested in this than normal.

Cork and Limerick were also decisively favourable and above the national average, though with Yes votes below even Dublin’s lowest constituency. This is, again, normal on social issues in Ireland.

Non-urban areas however behaved somewhat differently in the details than they have in the past – again similar to Dublin. The gap between urban and rural was much smaller than in divorce. Many Dublin constituencies moved little from their Divorce vote – in spite of the liberal side winning 62% in contrast to 50.3% then. The most liberal constituency then – Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, went from 68% in favour to 71% in favour this time. Rural Ireland seems to have distinctly moved. There also in this contest a regional divide in the rural constituencies, with the North and West being distinctly less in favour than the South and East. In previous contests rural areas in Cork have been among Ireland’s most conservative – Cork North West had the highest No vote in divorce (Only 34% in favour) and returned enormous margins against abortion. This time it the liberal side of the issue won 58%. Rural areas anywhere near a commuting distance to Dublin saw enormous Yes wins (69% in Kildare North, 66% in Kildare South, 68% in Wicklow), although even areas outside of the pull of the capital were decisive.

No constituency in Connacht or Ulster were above the national average, and the only loss for Yes occurred in this region. Roscommon-South Leitrim, an inland Western constituency with a very poor economy, has traditionally not been the most conservative constituency – albeit it certainly leaned in that direction. What seems to have happened was a near total lack of support for YE among local politicians, combined with a knowledge that this was not actually Ireland’s most conservative constituency ensuring it got no special attention. Nonetheless the defeat in the area was quite narrow.

Much better bets for No constituencies actually returned a Yes vote – both Donegal constituencies in the far North-West and Cavan-Monaghan on the border of Northern Ireland, where local politicians supported YE campaigns seemingly determined the defy the conservative reputations of the area.

Results of the presidential age referendum by constituency (source: Irish Political Maps)

What the rural areas in the North and West seem to share – and that contrasts them with the rest of the country – is the near total non-existence of the Labour Party there at any level at almost any point in Irish history. Labour was for most of its existence predominantly a rural party in the South and East, and the party still has support and can return parliamentarians there even after becoming an urban force. Nonetheless this relationship is not total, and certainly does not explain the narrowing gap between Urban and Rural Ireland on social issues just as Labour has become more urban.

Another explanation is the institutional strength of the Church in certain areas, with No being stronger where they continue to have sway. This seems likely, but does not bode well for for the Church’s future sway over Ireland – particularly since, as the Archbishop of Dublin noted, 90% of Irish young people have spent nearly their whole lives in Catholic educational institutions, and these were the individuals most likely to repudiate their stance.

The Presidential age referendum had essentially the same geographical split, with the highest Yes again being Dublin South East, followed by other Dublin constituencies. The defeat was extremely heavy however, which likely reflected the perceived frivolity of the vote.

FF won the by-election – but their percentage of the vote (28%), was exactly the same as what they won in the area in the General Election, which does not strongly indicate a party in recovery and more reflects the struggles of FG, who both have reason to be disappointed. Renua did quite well – and with a vote only slightly above the 9.5% they received in a by-election perceived as a contest largely between FF and FG they would likely win a seat. One of the more striking features of the contest  was the poor performance of Labour and the comparatively impressive percentages of the various minor Left parties. Labour were strongly associated with the Marriage Equality referendum that got all of these voters to the polls in the first place (and clearly carried Carlow-Kilkenny) and were certainly not rewarded by the electorate for it. By contrast first time voters seem to have rewarded the minor left parties without the established local history that Labour has, but also without Labour’s coalition baggage.


The result turned most of Dublin into a sort of spontaneous joyous street party for much of the day of the count. The most comparable moment in Irish history for such celebrations was Ireland winning through to the soccer world cup quarter-finals in 1990 (which also provoked the same sort of reaction and is still considered arguable the finest moment in Irish sporting history).

Following on from the referendum FF Senator Averil Power resigned from the party, saying that the party lacked the courage to stand for anything by its (effective) refusal to campaign as a party on the issue, in spite of the efforts of many party activists. This fairly quickly deflated the party after their by-election success and much of the subsequent discussion became whether the party had misread their now predominantly rural base by not engaging in the campaign.

The government has followed up the referendum victory with a gender-recognition bill for transgendered individuals. The combination of such legislation, combined with Ireland’s first ever (albeit extremely restrictive) abortion legislation means that the government can make a reasonable case for this being one of Ireland’s most socially progressive governments ever, something that both constituent parties are likely to try to capitalize on in a general election that is now likely less than a year  away.

Guest Post: Election Preview: Italy (Regional and Local) 2015

I have been very fortunate to receive a guest post from Giovanni Rettore previewing the Italian regional elections which will be held on May 31, 2015.

This weekend seven of the twenty Italian regions, including Campania, Veneto, Apulia and Tuscany, will vote to renew their regional council and their governors. Additionally thousands of cities, most notably Venice, will renew their city councils and their mayors.

The outcome of the elections will likely affect the internal debate on a number of hot button issues including the economic and immigration crisis, the education reform and the electoral reform. A good performance by eurosceptic movements like the Northern League and the Five Star Movement, who openly supports Italy withdrawing from the European Monetary Union, might also have repercussion on international politics, especially in light of recent parliamentary elections in the UK, presidential elections in Poland and local elections in Spain that saw victories for eurosceptic parties and candidates.

Regionalisation and the devolution process in Italy has been a hot topic since the end of World War II and the establishment of the new constitution. The constitution of 1948 provided for the creation of twenty regions, however the constitution remained ineffective for more than twenty years. Only five of the twenty regions were provided power and an elected regional council: Sicily; Sardinia; Friuli Venezia Giulia; Trentino Alto Adige and Aosta Valley. Those five regions, still today, enjoys higher fiscal and political autonomy, that often led to polemics by other regions who disagree with the special status that these five regions enjoy.  The other fifteen regions, called “ordinary regions” in Italian law, were finally given an autonomous parliament only in 1970, twenty two years after the approval of the constitution, when the first regional elections were held.

During the so-called “First Republic” the regional elections were held under a proportional representation system with no threshold, thus leading to frequent crisis of fragile coalition governments. In 1995, for the first time, Italians started to directly elect their governors. A new reform, approved in 2001 by citizens, gave ordinary regions more autonomy and power, especially in the sector of health care. However, due to increasing scandals in the health care and the high numbers of trials in front of the Constitutional Courts on the shared competences between state and regions have led to increasing criticism of the new autonomy given to regional executives.

Electoral Law

As written above, the first five regional elections were held under a proportional representation system without a threshold. The governor was not directly elected by citizens, instead his elections came as a result of pact between parties. Due to the electoral law, rarely a party was able to enjoy a majority of seats and often had to rely on fragile coalition governments. Often governors were sacked by their own allies during their terms and replaced by others.

In 1995 the electorate was eventually allowed to directly elect their governors, however during the 1995-2000 regional legislatures many regional governments still suffered from instability and several elected governors were forced to resign due to clash in the coalitions and replaced by parliamentary elected governors. Since 2000 however the law foresees that if a governor resigns or loses a motion of no confidence, this will automatically trigger an early election. Due to this mechanism the last years saw a huge number of regions forced to held early elections. Several governors have been forced to resign as results of scandals or no confidence motions thus leading regional elections to become more and more sparse.

Currently in almost all regions the governor is elected under an electoral system that gives the party, or the coalition of parties, that supports the winning governor a majority of seats in the regional parliament. While the other parties split the remaining seats. Something that can be described as a “winner-takes all” system. Almost all regions, with the notable exception of Tuscany, don’t have a runoff. So, a plurality of valid votes is enough for the elected governor to rely on a majority in the regional parliament. Threshold for parties to enter in the regional council varies between regions, as do laws on term limits with some regions allowing a governor running for only two terms, and other not having term limits laws.

A citizen, to vote for a governor have different options

1. Vote only for governor only, putting a cross only on the name of the governor, thus the vote will be valid only for the gubernatorial elections and have no effect on council composition

2. Vote for one of the parties that supports a gubernatorial nominee, in this case the vote will be valid for both the party and the gubernatorial candidate supported by the party

3. Vote for one party for regional council, but also opted for voting for a gubernatorial candidate not supported by the party voted. In this case, called disjointed vote, the vote is valid for both the party and for the gubernatorial candidate even if the party supports a different gubernatorial candidate

National background

Regional elections have often been seen as a very political test for national government, so usually regional debates have been obscured and influenced by national climate. Though in recent years regional results have become increasingly influenced by local issues and by the personality of the regional candidates, there’s no doubt that the outcome of the election will likely affect, and be affected, by the national climate as often happened in the past.

Last year’s European elections have been sometimes described as landmark and key to opening a realignment in national politics. The Democratic Party, under the leadership of prime minister Matteo Renzi challenged the European climate of protests against establishment parties, and won an historic 40.8% of votes doubling his nearest competitor, the catch-all populist Five Star Movement who won a somewhat disappointing 21.2%. This, according to experts and commentators signed something of a realignment in national politics, with the Democratic Party seen as something like a dominant party like the Christian Democracy used to be during the Postwar years, ‘til the 90’s. Also European elections probably marked the definite beginning of the end for Silvio Berlusconi, with his party Forza Italia finishing distant third with only 16.6% of votes. After 20 years characterized by his rises and falls, the Italian electorate seems to be completely tired of Berlusconi and decided to put him in the past, with Matteo Renzi overtaking him as the leading figure of Italian politics.

The months following the EP election have been characterized by the unexpected rise in polls of Matteo Salvini. The new leader of the right-wing populist Northern League has been able to resuscitate his party. After a fairly good showing in European Elections, Salvini is now seen as the de facto leader of Italian centre-right. Currently the League is polling around 16% in national polls, well above Berlusconi’s Forza Italia which polls now show with just around 10% of voting intentions.

National polls also consistently put Salvini in second place as the most popular political leader in the country, just behind Renzi and well above both Grillo and Berlusconi. Salvini, during his tenure as leader of the League have shifted party platform towards an even more open euroscepticism, putting thewithdrawal from the Euro in the party platform, and increasingly criticism towards refugees policy and the government handling on the illegal immigration crisis. Salvini has personally tied himself with economy teacher Claudio Borghi Aquilini, who is seen as the economy minister of the League, and has been one of the main responsible for the League eurosceptic shift.

The certification of Salvini rise came last fall in Emilia Romagna. Emilia Romagna, an historical left-wing stronghold, had to held early election due to the conviction of incumbent governor centre-left governor Vasco Errani, that triggered an early election. Due to the weakness of Forza Italy, Salvini was able to impose Alan Fabbri as the centre-right candidate. Although the left won Emilia Romagna as usual, the result created some discussion in national public. The League won almost 20% of votes, an historical peak for the regional conservative party in a usual left wing stronghold. The left overall conquered less than 50% of popular votes. Though that meant a comfortable victory, this result was seen as a disappointment given that left wing parties overall lost something like 9 points compared to June European Elections, while the League jumped from 5% in June to almost 20% and the right coalition rose from 19 to 28%. Also a worrying signal was the extremely low turnout, only 39% showed to the polls in the region that historically led turnout statistics.

The Northern League, in its almost thirty years in parliament, has always been a vocal critic of multiculturalism, Islam’s role in the society, immigration from non western countries and Roma’s refusal to integrate, but Salvini made a shift to the right that probably not even his predecessor Bossi had ever imagined. Salvini made interior minister Angelino Alfano, ironically a former allied of the League, his main target accusing him of ineptitude and incompetence in the handling of the illegal immigration crisis that Italy is facing.

Salvini rethoric in opposing “Mare Nostrum” operation that led illegal immigrants from the Mediterranean Sea was helped by a scandal that erupted in Rome. Telephone calls tapped by police leaked to the press and showed some responsible of NGOs laughing and wishing for disasters, catastrophes and more refugees, describing the illegal immigration as a big business for NGOs.

Another statistics that helped Salvini is that only 30% demanded for refugee protection and just 4% of them obtained the status of refugees and only 25% obtained protection. The government’s policy to pay hotels to host refugees only increases popular distrust of government’s ability to handle the illegal immigration crisis. Europe’s answers to Italy’s demands for help in the crisis have been judged as meaningless. Italian rage for the immigration crisis has France as the big target. France is accused to be responsible for the crisis due to their leading role in the downfall of Libyan dictator Qaddafi which threw Libya into a state of permanent civil war. Italy now asks France to take responsibility for it, and take a substantial numbers of immigrants, but the French government has repeatedly refused to help Italy take care of refugees

But Salvini also used the economic crisis as a means to increase his personal consensus. Salvini heavily criticized the EU handling of the crisis, the austerity measures of spending cuts and tax increase that EU organs recommended to the last Italian governments. Austerity measures, that in Italy were enacted with high tax increases, have thrown Italy in its worse economic crisis since the end of World War II. The current economic crisis has been even more severe than the ’29 crisis, that actually didn’t touch Italy as harshly as other Western countries. During the ’29 crisis Italy lost “only” 5% of its GDP, exited from recession in the second half of 1931, and returned to the pre-crisis level in 1935, while in 2014, six years after the beginning of the 2008 recession, Italy still saw a negative GDP growth for the third year in a row and has lost almost 10% of its GDP. Unemployment rate have passed from 6% to 13%. Especially after the Monti government’s austerity package the unemployment crisis was exacerbated with unemployment rate rising from around 8% to around 12% by the time Monti left Palazzo Chigi. Unemployment continued to rise during the Letta and Renzi governments. Current previsions from the IMF signalled that Italy is exiting from recession, although Italy GDP growth will still be anemic in 2015 and much lower than both EU and Eurozone average.

Salvini, as written above, openly supports Italy leaving the Euro and returning to Lira. Salvini has been highly influenced by a group of economists that, in last five years heavily campaigned for Italy to leave the common currency. The most well-known of this group of economists is Claudio Borghi Aquilini, now seen as the Economy Minister of the League, who is currently running for Tuscany governor. This move however met some criticism within the party. Most notably the withdrawal from the Euro was one of the main reasons that led to the expulsion from the League of Verona’s mayor Flavio Tosi, who unlike Salvini supports Italy staying within the European Monetary Union.

Salvini, probably sensing that Berlusconi days are likely over, has led the transformation of the League into a national party. Salvini started to campaign heavily in Southern and Central Italy. Though sometimes met by popular uprising, Salvini descent to south was saluted with good polling results. Polls consistently show the League running ahead of Forza Italia not only in its historical northern strongholds, but also in Central Italian regions, usually refractarian to the League, like Tuscany; Marche and Umbria. Salvini also led the creation of a southern spinoff of the League called “Noi con Salvini” (We with Salvini) that will present a list of candidates in Apulia and will likely be used as a mean to carry the League towards the conquest of the southern conservative electorate, left free by Forza Italia’s national meltdown. Doing so Salvini made something like an “Iron Pact” with the tiny “Brothers of Italy” party. Led by former youth minister Giorgia Meloni, “Brothers of Italy” is a party that coalesced around former National Alliance supporters. After failing by 0.3% the passing of the electoral threshold in June, the Brothers of Italy also profited of Berlusconi’s meltdown and currently polls around 4-5% in national polls. Meloni has, in the last months, closely allied with Salvini in local elections and on national issues, also criticizing government immigration policies and calling for Italy’s withdrawal from Euro.


Due to recent election results in UK, Poland and Spain an affirmation of Salvini’s party in Italian regional elections might be another episode in the ongoing EU meltdown saga.


Regional races


I will now try to do a quick resume of the regional races, giving a synthetic background of the single races. I will start from the most populated of the seven regions to the least populated.



Campania ranks as the third most populated region of Italy, and the most populated among the seven that will renew its governor and regional council this weekend. Campania, home to Naples, the third most populated town of Italy, will likely be one of the closest contests this Sunday. Campania is one of the poorest regions in Italy. Though being the third most populated region it ranks last as GDP per capita, and ranks third among the twenty regions for unemployment rate. Campania’s unemployment rate is currently 22.8%, more than nine points above than the national average. Campania also is frequently cited for its security problems and the high influence of organized crime in local politics.


During the so called “First Republic”, Campania was a conservative region. Like in the other southern regions, left-wing parties were usually weaker than national average, while centrist Christian Democracy and the hard right Italian Social Movement usually performed strongly. In the 90’s, during the so called “Second Republic” Campania became a swing region, like most of the other southern regions. Since the direct election of governor have been introduced in 1995 the centre-right have won two times, while centre-left also won twice.


Like in most southern regions the collapse of the historical parties have led local elections to become highly unpredictable and dominated by powerful local bosses, mostly former Christian Democrats, who depending on the current mood side with either left or right. Clemente Mastella, former Justice Minister and leader of the tiny centrist UDEUR, used to be the most famous of this southern local bosses that, depending on the national trend, sided with one coalition or the other, usually in exchange for pork and barrel spending for their personal constituencies.


In 1995 the centre-right won the election with Antonio Rastrelli, but in 1999 Rastrelli lost a motion of no confidence, mainly due to Mastella changing sides, and the left conquered the region. Elections in 2000 saw the election of then Naples mayor, Antonio Bassolino, who led the centre-left towards victory. The lone bright spot to what was otherwise a nightmarish night for the Italian centre-left. Bassolino easily won re-election in 2005, but his second term was infamously plagued by the well known trash scandal. Naples and its suburbs found themselves covered by trash Bassolino and then Naples mayor, fellow PD member Rosa Russo Iervolino, have largely been considered responsible for the scandal and quickly became pariah even in their own party. In consequence of the trash scandal the centre-right coalition easily won 2010 elections. In 2010 elections the Democratic Party tried to walk away from Bassolino’s toxic legacy and nominated Salerno mayor Vincenzo De Luca, a long time vocal critic of Bassolino within the Democratic Party. De Luca as usually been cold the “Red Sheriff” due to its commitment for law and order. In the most heated days of the trash scandal De Luca was quoted saying that his town, Salerno, was “as clean as Switzerland”. However it was not enough and centre right candidate Stefano Caldoro, a little known former junior minister of Berlusconi cabinet, won with a double digit margin, taking 54% of popular vote to De Luca’s 43%.


Ever since his defeat De Luca has eyed a re-match with Caldoro, hoping that the waning memory of Bassolino might give him a better shot at victory, however a first degree conviction for a spending scandal severely hurt his reputation as a law and order politician.


In spite of this, De Luca once again ran and won the centre-left primaries. However a second conviction came in January, and as a result of the second conviction, due to the new anti-corruption law, De Luca has been punished with one year ban from public offices. If De Luca is elected governor he will probably be forced to resign as soon as he enters in office. To resolve the issue there have been talks of the Democratic Party studying a reform of the Severino law. Such talks have been met with high criticism both from the right, that accuses the Democratic Party of double standards due to the Democrats use of the same law to expel Berlusconi from the Senate, and the hard left that supports the Severino law


This has led the left-wing “Left Ecology and Freedom” to broke with the Democratic Party and run its own candidate MEP Salvatore Vozza. Another candidate that protested De Luca candidacy.


De Luca however has been able to win the endorsed by the Union of the Center and the old political boss of the late Christian Democracy, Ciriaco De Mita. De Mita’s son was the deputy of incumbent governor Caldoro, but his father quickly broke with the governor and now sides with his main opponent.


Caldoro runs for re-election leading a centre-right coalition with Forza Italia, the New Centre Right, a national splinter of Forza Italia’s minister within the Letta government, and the Brothers of Italy.


The 5 Star Movement is represented by political activist Valeria Ciarambino


Initially pre-election polls showed a lead for De Luca, but after polemics surrounding his conviction, the presence of felons in the lists that endorses him and the endorsement of an old crook like De Mita have eroded his initial lead. Current polls points toward a very uncertain race with Caldoro and De Luca running neck and neck both polling around 37% of votes. The 5 Star Movement polls distant third with roughly 20% of voting intentions while the left wing candidates together amount for around 6% of voting intentions. There’s a chance that left-wing dissident and 5 Star Movement candidates perform strong enough to lead De Luca towards a defeat.


As written above, even if De Luca wins, he might be forced out of office as soon as he is sworn in, due to the Severino law.  This fact might lead undecided people to vote for Caldoro knowing that a De Luca administration might end in a blink of an eye. However De Luca is still considered a very strong candidate and might able to overcome is possible ineligibility, at least on election day.


Prediction: Toss-Up




Veneto is the fifth most populated regions of Italy, the second most populated among the seven voting regions and is usually considered one of the richest regions in the country. Veneto ranks third in GDP, fifth in GDP per capita, and is often considered one of the best regions in terms of public services usually ranking high in most public service statistics. Veneto’s unemployment rate is 7.7%, ranking second to last among the twenty regions for unemployment rate. However the enduring recession has put Veneto’s economic system, based mainly on little and medium enterprises, at odds. Several shops and enterprises have been forced to close due to enduring credit crunch and low domestic demand. Though its unemployment rate is much lower than national average, it has almost doubled since the start of recession in 2008. Veneto being one of the richest region in the country, it is usually the main “victim” of fiscal consolidation, meaning that Veneto usually has to pay for much of the tax increase imposed by the austerity measures.


Politically Veneto has always been allergic to the left. In the so called “First Republic”, Veneto was probably the biggest stronghold of the Christian Democracy. Often Christian Democracy won a majority of votes and seats all alone in regional elections. Both the Communist Party and other minor centrist and right parties usually performed very weak in Veneto.


In the mid 80’s however a nationalistic sentiment started to grow in Veneto that led to the quick rise of the Northern League. The League soon started to challenge the Christian Democrat hegemony in the region, becoming the most serious rival that Christian Democracy had to face in 50 years of political dominance. When the Christian Democracy collapsed in early 90’s it looked like the Northern League will take its place as the region natural governing party, but the birth of Forza Italia, and the rise of Berlusconi, ruined the League hegemonic plan, leading to a twenty years rivalry within the centre-right pole between the League and Forza Italia. However, as we’ll see, it finally seems that the League might get rid of its never loved ally and started to act as the region’s natural governing party.


The four elections since 1995 always saw the centre-right pole win with comfortable margins, although, as written above, the internal rivalry between the League and Forza Italia often led to turmoil and heated debates within the centre-right pole. In 1995 elections, where the League ran alone due to their withdraw from the first Berlusconi government, saw the victory of Giancarlo Galan, one of Berlusconi’s closest friend and ally. In 2000, with the League fully re-entered in the centre-right alliance, Galan won re-election with a 17 points margin . Even in 2005, a tremendous election night for the Italian centre-left, Galan won his third term with an 8 points margin.


Galan announced he was running for a fourth term, but was stopped by Berlusconi. The League was willing to elect one of his own member as head of the region, and so Galan withdrew from the race and reluctantly endorsed agriculture minister Luca Zaia of the League. Zaia, a very popular minister within the cabinet, won the election with a spectacular 60-29 margin. Zaia also led the League to finally winning a plurality of votes and seats in regional parliament, surpassing the People of Freedom with a 35-24 margin.


During his tenure Zaia has often led the charts of the most popular governors, with approval ratings averaging around 60%. Though Zaia has usually been seen as extremely popular, his position on Venetian independence is considered controversial. Zaia has often clashed with national government over the issue of allowing a Scottish-style separatist referendum. Zaia attempted to allow it with a regional law, but quickly the law was challenged by the national government to the Constitutional Court. Though Zaia’s high approval ratings seemed to lead towards an easy victory for him, in June 2014 the surprising victory of the Democratic Party in European elections, who won a plurality of votes in Veneto in a huge upset, led people to think that, maybe for the first time, the left might have a shot in winning one of the center-right’s usually inexpugnable strongholds.


The Democratic Party selected young MEP Alessandra Moretti as its flag-bearer in the hard fight to win a region that the left have never came close to conquer even in its best moments. However Moretti soon revealed herself to be an extremely weak candidate, certainly not the kind of candidate that might try to win such a conservative stronghold. Soon after announcing her run for governor, Moretti gave an interview to “Corriere della Sera” that made her the targets of jokes around the Internet. The interview was a Sarah Palin-style disaster in which Mrs Moretti spoke about her beautician, her love for beauty treatments, her ability as a singer and as a chef and her affair with famous TV host Massimo Giletti. Certainly not the kind of topics you wish a gubernatorial candidate talks about. As I said above, the interview quickly became viral and made of Moretti a Sarah Palin-style national joke.


Early polls showed Zaia leading the race with a double digit margins, with Moretti unable to recover from the disastrous interview. Moretti tried to exploit a scandal that erupted in June. The “Mose” scandal, a scandal related to a projected dam that might end the phenomenon of “Acqua alta” in Venice. The scandal led to the arrest of several politicians, most notably former governor Galan and Venice mayor Giorgio Orsoni. But Moretti tactic somewhat backfired due to the fact that Orsoni is a former member of the PD and that many local members of the party in the municipality of Venice, a city where the left won the last five municipal elections in a row, where charged with bribery and corruption.


However, when everybody thought Zaia was cruising towards his second term, then came what could have possibly been the game changer of the race. As I wrote above, not everyone in the League liked Salvini shift to the right. The most notable critic within the party became Verona’s mayor Flavio Tosi. Tosi, often mentioned as one of Italy’s most popular mayors in polls, openly criticized Salvini stances on immigration as too extreme (a funny criticism from someone like Tosi who has been convicted for using racial slur) and openly said he opposes Italy leaving the Euro. Before Salvini meteoric rise to the leadership of the party in the fall of 2013, Tosi was seen as the most likely new leader of the League, and people even started to mention him as a potential national leader of the centre-right in the wake of Berlusconi expulsion from the Senate. Though, as we know, Salvini stole from him both the role of new party leader and the national spotlight frustrating his ambitions to become the centre-right’s Renzi. In December came the final showdown, with Tosi and Salvini clashing on the composition of the list for regional elections that led to Tosi’s expulsion from the League few weeks later. Tosi then announced his run for governor and was quickly endorsed by the New Centre Right and the Union of the Centre.


After Tosi’s schism polls started to show a very tight race, with Moretti looking now as a much more serious threat due to Tosi siphoning votes from Zaia’s block. However both Tosi and Moretti campaign were awful. Moretti continued her palinesque gaffes, while Tosi campaign soon looked as improvised with Zaia quickly widening again his lead on Moretti taking back votes from Tosi. The televised debate between the four main candidates: Zaia; Moretti; Tosi and the 5 star Movement flag-bearer Jacopo Berti, was probably the last nail in the coffin for both Moretti and Tosi. In post-debate polls 36% of viewers proclaimed Zaia as the winner of the debate while 29% stated Moretti as the winner, 23% stated Berti won and only 12% retained Tosi as the winner.


Latest polls see Zaia with a solid double digit lead, over Moretti while Tosi might finish distant fourth, also behind Berti who ran a quite good campaign and performed well in the debate.


Though Zaia would have been a tough candidate to beat for everyone, probably a different candidate, like per example Vicenza mayor Achille Variati or MP Laura Puppato, might had more shots at making the election competitive due to the split of the center-right between Tosi and Zaia. Moretti revealed herself as a disastrous and ill-advised choice and will likely loose badly. Another month and maybe even Berti could have surpassed her. That’s what happens when you choose a candidate only for his/her pretty face and not for his/her real political skills.


An issue that will probably sparks discussion in the coming weeks will be the result of single parties, with Forza Italia predicted to be in lower single digits. Another signal of the ongoing agony of the former leading party of Italian centre-right


Prediction: Likely Center-Right





Apulia is the eighth most populated region of Italy. Like most southern regions Apulia is poorer than the national average. Apulia ranks 17th among the twenty regions on per capita-GDP statistics. Unemployment rate is also higher than the national average. Currently 23.1% of Apulia’s labour force is jobless, ranking the region second only to Calabria in unemployment statistics.


Politically speaking, like most southern regions, Apulia local politics used to be dominated by the Christian Democracy and the hard right Italian Social Movement during the so called First Republic, while left-wing parties were never able to really challenge the Christian Democratic hegemony.  Like most southern regions, after the collapse of the so called First Republic, Apulia local politics became largely unpredictable and extremely volatile.

Initially Apulia was considered a reliable region for the centre-right pole, with conservatives easy winning the region in both 1995 and 2000. But in 2005 a shocking result was the beginning of a dramatic change in Apulia local politics.


Hard left MP Nichi Vendola, in one of the biggest upset in the history of Italian regional elections, unseated incumbent conservative governor Raffaele Fitto, who was considered a big favourite to win re-election, by a razor-thin margin. The election of an openly homosexual hard left politician in a usually Catholic and conservative region, that was one of the few regions which supported the repeal of the divorce law in the 1973 and that heavily voted for the monarchy in 1946, came as a shock to many both on the right and the left.


The centre-right coalition easily won Apulia in both 2006 and 2008 legislative elections. This results led many to think that Vendola election was just a fluke and that in 2010 Apulia would quickly return to its usual conservative loyalty. But things turned out to be extremely different. During his first term Vendola proved to be a quite popular governor, while its right wing opposition was fractious and divided. When Vendola ran for re-election the centrist wing of the centre-left coalition challenged him in primary elections in hope that a more moderate candidate, like Francesco Boccia, might be able to obtain the endorsement of the centrist UDC, something that Vendola couldn’t achieve. Vendola survived the primary challenge and then went on to win the general election. The main reason that gave Vendola his second term was the internal clash on the right between former governor Raffaele Fitto and Lecce’s mayor Adriana Poli Bortone, the two main local bosses of the centre-right. Poli Bortone, who polls showed being the second most popular politician of the region behind Vendola, looked as the natural candidate, but Fitto vetoed her endorsement and instead forced the then People of Freedom to endorse his protégé Rocco Palese. Thanks to the right’s suicide, Vendola easily won re-election with a wider than expected margin. After his re-election Vendola started to raise its national profile, in hope to become the new leader of the left coalition. Vendola endorsed several candidates of its own hard left party, Left Ecology and Freedom, in several centre-left local primaries, most notably the current Milan mayor Giuliano Pisapia. However Vendola quickly lost momentum as his second term in Apulia was not as successful as his first term. Local troubles for Vendola led to his quick downfall in national relevance. He ran for the centre-left primaries in 2012, but came distant third with just 16% of votes. On 2013 general election, Vendola’s personal list “Left, Ecology and Freedom”, who endorsed Bersani, only obtained 3% of votes.


While on his first term Vendola used to be very popular, things changed abruptly in his second term as his administration became increasingly involved in financial and political scandals. Actually scandals started yet in the first term, when his deputy governor Stefano Tedesco was arrested. But Vendola was able to distance himself by his former deputy, given the fact that the two belong to different parties. But in second terms Vendola was repeatedly charged with accusation that ruined his political image and made him increasingly irrelevant on national politics and increasingly unpopular in his region. First he was charged for abuse of authority. Vendola was acquitted of all charges, but few weeks after his acquittal a journalistic inquiry revealed that the prosecutor who absolved him was a personal friend of Vendola’s sister. An inquiry started on the judge, but the inquiry established that the judge was only an acquaintance of his sister and thus this didn’t affected her judgment in the trial. This is Italian justice ladies and gentlemen.


Then again Vendola was charged for an health care scandal, and once again acquitted. But even if acquitted, his image was severely damaged. Then came the last nail in the coffin, Vendola was charged being one of the main responsible for the ILVA pollution scandal in Taranto. It is yet to be established if Vendola is guilty or not, but regardless of the outcome the ILVA scandal has definitely destroyed any chance for Vendola to have a political future in his own region or nationwide. A phone call of Vendola laughing with the public relations manager of the Riva family, owner of ILVA, at the scandal and the death of cancer that resulted from the pollution scandal. Wheteher he is found guilty or innocent now doesn’t matter, Vendola is politically dead. Just another history of a demagogue, like Bossi and Di Pietro, that started his career calling for transparence and end of corruption and ended it being just another member of the club of Italian crooks.


You’d think that, after all this mess conservatives will easily regained the region. After all, the right easily won the 2013 legislative elections in the region with a seven points margin. And even in June Apulia was one of the weakest performance for the Democratic Party who took “only” 34%, a result seven points lower than the national average. But in spite all the scandals of Vendola’s era, and its continuing conservative loyalty in legislative elections, it looks like Apulia will once again elect a left-wing governor. Two main reason for this seemingly unexplainable result


1. Apulia’s centre-left found another very strong candidate in Bari’s mayor Michele Emiliano. Emiliano, a former prosecutor turned politician, became an extremely popular left wing mayor in a usually reliable conservative city, being often cited as one of Italy’s most popular mayors. Emiliano has to date not been touched by Vendola’s toxic legacy, and ranks as the most popular politician in the region.


2, The conservative pole once again opted for a suicide, giving the public opinion a replay of the clash between Adriana Poli Bortone and Raffaele Fitto. Adriana Poli Bortone announced her second run for governor and was quickly endorsed by the Northern League southern spin-off, “Noi con Salvini” and what remains of Forza Italia. But once again Fitto vetoed Poli Bortone candidacy and endorsed former Bari province president Frnacesco Schittulli. Schittulli obtained the endorsement of the New Centre Right, the Brothers of Italy  and Fitto’s personal civic list. This also led Fitto on the way out from Forza Italia and the EPP. Fitto, who in the last year tried to impose himself as the new leader of the party, announced his withdrawal from the party, the EPP group were he seated and the foundation of a new party. In Brussels now Fitto aderes to the ECR, the soft eurosceptic group founded by British Tories, has called for Italy to exit from Brussels’s cage and praised Cameron’s leadership. Another signal of Italy’s growing distrust for EU? Regardless, thanks to Fitto and Poli Bortone ongoing clash, Michele Emiliano will cruise to victory.


Maybe, being Emiliano an extremely strong candidate, even a united centre-right would have find hard to defeat him, but at least they would have given him a run for his money. With the current situation the only thing left undecided his who will be the runner-up, if Schittulli, Poli-Bortone or 5 Star Movement flag bearer Antonella Laricchia. Polls show Emiliano widely ahead with roughly 42% of votes, with Schittulli, Poli Bortone and Laricchia all polling around 17-20% each.


Prediction: Solid Centre-Left




Tuscany is the ninth most populated region of Italy. Tuscany is usually considered a moderate wealthy region, with a GDP per capita higher than the national average and an unemployement rate lower than the national average. Usually Tuscany ranks in the upper half in public services statistics. However the economic crisis has put somewhat in jeopardy Tuscany status as a wealthy region. Unemployment rate, though still lower than national average, is currently at 11.0%, more than doubled in the last four years.


Politically, Tuscany is usually seen, alongside with Emilia Romagna, as the historical heartland of the Italian left. In the so called First Republic the late Communist Party often led the region with a majority of seats. Tuscany and Emilia Romagna have usually been sold by the Italian left as the example of their good governing skills. In the so called Second Republic, Tuscany became an inexpugnable stronghold of the centre-left coalition, and the centre-right never really challenged the left dominance in the region, with left-wing governors usually elected with comfortable margins.


Though incumbent governor Enrico Rossi looks unbeatable, there’s a small chance  he might be forced to a runoff. Tuscany is the only region whose electoral law impose a runoff if no candidate reaches the 40% threshold. Rossi, in current polls is running with roughly 45% of votes. Though even in the unlikely scenario of Rossi being forced to a runoff, he will still be the overwhelming favorite to secure a second term. Even the great scandal of the Monte Paschi di Siena, one of the greatest bank in Italy, (whose board was largely nominated by left-wing run local administrations) which need a billionaire government bailout, seemed to have no effect on the race.


Rossi being an overwhelming favourite to win re-election the real interest is focused on who will be the runner-up. The race for second place is, unlike the overall race, wide open and polls show a tight race between the 5 Star Movement flag bearer Giacomo Giannarelli and the economist Claudio Borghi Aquilini, endorsed by the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy. Stefano Mugnai is Forza Italia candidate, who polls distant fourth, battling with far left candidate Tommaso Fattori for the fourth spot. Though Rossi is almost assured of being re-elected it will be really interesting to see who will come second, and how much will the League obtain in terms of votes


Prediction: Solid Centre-Left





Liguria is the 12th most populated region of Italy. Though GDP per capita in Liguria is higher than the national average and its unemployment rate is lower, Liguria is often considered the poorest region in Northern Italy. Like in most other regions, the crisis hit hard Liguria, leading its unemployment rate to almost double in the last years of recession.


Politically speaking Liguria in the so called First Republic used to lean towards the Communist Party, who won a plurality of votes and seats in four of the five elections held under the proportional representation law. In the so called Second Republic Liguria has become a left-wing leaning region. Though Liguria usually leans to the left, this lean is not overwhelming like the lead that the left has in central Italy region. So, though the left has won three of the four elections held under the current electoral law, most of these elections have been quite competitive. To date however the center-right has been able to win the region only in 2000.


In the last years Liguria’s politics have been overshadowed by polemics over the bad  handling of natural disasters by local governments. Incumbent center-left governor, Claudio Burlando, incumbent Genoa mayor Marco Doria and former Genoa mayor Marta Vincenzi, all centre-left politicians, had to face harsh criticism and even legal troubles over their alleged neglectfulness in facing a series of environmental crisis. In the fall of 2011 a flood in Genoa caused the death of six people, and then mayor Vincenzi suddenly became  object of criticism over her decision of not closing the schools, having indirectly caused the death of a mother, who went out to take back her daughter from school and her two daughters. Few months later Vincenzi was charged for multiple culpable homicide; culpable disaster and false witness, having tried to cover up her role in the decisions that resulted in the death of six people. Vincenzi, in spite this heavy accusation, tried to run for a second term as Genoa mayor, but was defeated in primaries by Enrico Doria, who also easily won the mayoral elections.


In 2014, however a new flood caused again several damages in the city of Genoa, including the death of a man. Genoa mayor, Doria and governor Burlando were both heavily criticized over their ineptitude in preventing those disasters and their environmental policies. Doria was booed by citizens while visiting the neighborhoods hit by the flood.


The center-left primaries saw a heated and harsh internal debate, that led to a regional schism. Longtime heavy weight of the Democratic Party, Sergio Cofferati, was seen as the favourite to win the contest, but was upset by regional minister Raffaella Paita. However Cofferati didn’t recognize the result, denouncing fraud and buying and selling of votes by Paita camp. Cofferati and his loyals in the Democratic Party decided to run against Paita in the general election. In particular Cofferati accused Paita camp of having bought votes from Roma, Chinese and Moroccan immigrants. Cofferati camp then endorsed a loyal MP, Luca Pastorino, who also obtained the endorsement of minor left parties.


Due to the schism in the left and the rage sparked by the scandals in Genoa the right was supposed to have a shot. Early polls showed the Northern League regional leader, Edoardo Rixi, running neck and neck with Paita. But, in a surprise move, Salvini signed a deal with Berlusconi that forced the League to endorse a Forza Italia candidate in Liguria, in exchange for Forza Italia support of Zaia in Veneto. The deal was met with criticism from the League base. The candidate of Forza Italia, former journalist and current MEP Giovanni Toti, was largely seen as a very weak candidate, prompting the left to think the race was over and Paita was on course to win.


But few days after the announcement of the agreement between the main parties on the right, a bomb exploded. Paita was charged in court for the disastrous flood of 2014. Paita, among others, was charged in court for culprit homicide, culprit disaster and cover-up by the prosecutors investigating on the 2014 flood. Voices within the Democratic Party asked Paita to retire, but Renzi reiterated his personal support for Paita and campaigned for her. After the news of Paita trial polls showed her running neck and neck with Toti and also showed a rise in polling intentions for Alice Salvatori, the 5 Star Movement candidate. Final polls show Toti and Paita running neck and neck and pollin around 28% each, while Salvatori was rising with around 24% of voting intentions, Pastorino polling around 13% and the centrist Enrico Musso coming last with around 6%.


Given the rage, the weakness of the right candidate, and the fact that Liguria is Grillo home region I think that Salvatori may have a small (very small) shot to pull the upset, although most likely the election will be a tight race between Toti and Paita. This will probably be the closest region on Sunday night, with a small chance of becoming a three-way toss-up


Prediction: Toss-Up




Marche is the 13th most populated region of Italy. Its GDP per capita is in line with national average, and its unemployment rate is currently 10.6%, lower than national average (13.3). Some statistics pointed Marche as one of the regions that most suffered the current economic crisis. In spite of the crisis, Marche usually ranks moderately well on service statistics.


Politically speaking Marche used to be a swing region in the so called First Republic, with Christian Democracy and the Communist Party often coming extremely close and alternating in the role of first party of the region, with the Christian Democracy winning a plurality three times and the Communist Party winning a plurality two times, often with razor-thin margin.


In the so called Second Republic, Marche shifted towards the left becoming a reliable region for progressive coalition, though never being as left wing as its neighbouring Umbria; Tuscany and Emilia Romagna. 2000 elections have so far been the closest election since governors became directly elected with the centre-left winning with a 5 points margin. All other regional elections ended with double digit victories for the centre-left pole. Though often the center-right put his eyes on the region in recent years but lately have never been able to truly make the region competitive. A signal of potential change came in 2013 legislative elections, when the 5 Star Movement won a plurality of votes in the region, but the Movement have had lot of trouble confirming his national results in local elections.


The race became awkward when incumbent centre-left governor, Gian Mario Spacca, announced his run for a third term. Rules within the Democratic Party prohibits party members to run for a third term as governor, even if the regional law allows them to do so. Spacca, in order to run for a third term split with his party and announce his candidacy as independent. Thinking that maybe this might be a chance to finally conquer the regional government, Forza Italia and the New Center Right endorsed Spacca. But the right failed to unite behind the incumbent governor, as the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy refused to endorse Spacca, endorsing Francesco Acquaroli. The centre-left selected Luca Ceriscioli, a former mayor of Pesaro, that was endorsed by the Democratic Party, while the hard left ran its own candidate Edoardo Mentrasti. The 5 Star Movement nominated Giovanni Massi


This awkward and strange race might led to some surprise, though polls show a lead for Ceriscioli over Spacca close to double digit. Polls give Ceriscioli around 35% to Spacca 25% and 5 Star Movement Massi coming third with around 20%. Acquaroli, endorsed by the League and the Brothers of Italy, runs distant fourth with roughly 12% of voting intentiuons, while the hard left candidate polls around 8%. This is probably a missed chance for the center-right. If the hard right parties decided endorsed Spacca, the conservative pole might have had an historical chance, but the divisions on the right only helped the left in securing a now very likely victory. It will be interesting however to see who, between Spacca and Massi, will come second, and if the League is able to surpass Forza Italia even in a region that never gave that party good results.


Prediciton: Likely Centre-Left






Umbria is the least populated among the regions that will vote on Sunday. Umbria is usually described as the poorer region from north and central Italy. Its GDP per capita is lower than the national average, and ranks 9th among twenty for unemployment rate. Though its unemployment is slightly lower than national average, is higher than all regions from northern and central Italy.


Politically Umbria has always been a stronghold of the Italian left. During the First Republic the Communist Party dominated local politics winning a majority or a plurality of seats in all elections under the proportional representation system. Since 1995 Umbria continued its left-wing loyalty, with centre-left candidate always winning gubernatorial elections with comfortable margins. The centre-right pole has never been able to mount a credible challenge to the left dominance in the region. Five years ago, Catiuscia Marini of the Democratic Party easily won her first term with a 20 points margin. However the severe economic crisis, that hit the region hardly, and a series of scandals might led the region to its closest contest ever. Marini has not been personally touched by scandals, but her predecessor, Maria Rita Lorenzetti, her lieutenant governor, Orfeo Goracci, and former Perugia mayor Renato Locchi have all been involved in high profile scandals of bribery and corruption. Probabily this series of scandals have been the main reason behind the shocking result in last year Perugia’s mayoral elections, that saw a conservative candidate upsetting incumbent centre-left mayor, ending seventy years of uninterrupted left-wing dominance in the region’s capital. Opinion polls show the incumbent governor lead’s over conservative Assisi mayor, Claudio Ricci, who has been able to coalesce all right of centre parties behind him, has decreased to lower single digits in most recent polls. The scandals and the challenge of the hard left, which has its own candidate, and the 5 Star Movement, might help Ricci in creating the closest race Umbria has ever witnessed. Though it’s the smallest of the seven region voting on Sunday, it might be extremely important for the left to hold this historical stronghold. If the right pulls the upset, ending fourty-five years of leftist hegemony, it might sign the end for Renzi’s government.


Prediction: Leaning Centre-Left


Venice mayoral election

Alongside the seven regions, lots of municipalities will vote to renew their mayor and their city council. The most important among the municipalities is Venice, the capital of Veneto.


While Veneto has always been a conservative stronghold, allergic to the left in both the First and Second republic, its capital has an extremely different electoral behavior, due to its particular social and demographic composition. In the so called First Republic, Venice used to swing between the Christian Democracy and the Communist Party. The Communist Party strength in the region capital, in relation to its weakness in the region overall was probably due to support from blue collar workers in Mestre and Marghera,  seats of large petrochemical industry. While blue-collar workers are now no more the main constituent of Italian centre-left, their number decreased in the 90’s while state employees and retirees, who have replaced blue-collars as the main constituents of Italian centre-left, now compose around 60% of the voting age population in the city


In the 90’s with the beginning of the so called Second Republic, Venice became a stronghold of the centre-left. In the last twenty years Venice has been a red stain in an overwhelming conservative region. Massimo Cacciari, a centre-left philosopher, won the first direct mayoral election in 1993 and again in 1997. In 2000, when Cacciari resigned to run for governor, his protégé Paolo Costa easily won the election in a runoff over conservative candidate Brunetta. 2005 was the closest election the city of Venice faced since the beginning of direct mayoral elections. Although the runoff was not between right and left, but between to left-wing candidates. Cacciari came back and defeat fellow centre-left member Felice Casson by a razor-thin margin, mainly thanks to conservative voters who, in the runoff opted for him against Casson, perceived as too extreme. Cacciari however declined to run in 2010, and endorsed Piergiorgio Orsoni, former president of the Venice University. Orsoni, who was also endorsed by the centrist UDC, won the municipal election with an eight points margin over conservative Brunetta.


One year ago Orsoni was arrested due to his involvement in a bribery scandal, algonside former conservative governor Galan. Several other members of the Democratic Party, like former president of Venice province, Zoggia, were largely involved in the scandal. The “Venice system” quickly became a national embarrassment for the Democratic Party. One of the businessmen charged with bribery stated to prosecutors he corrupted all Venice major political figures in the last twenty years, almost all belong to the Democratic Party.


Additionally to the corruption scandal several journalistic inquiries denounced the urban decay of Venice. Photos of foreign tourists, urinating, pooping and even having sex in public in the city, were published by local newspapers in the summer of 2014, and quickly rose to national prominence.


Another inquiry that exposed the city corruption started over the horrible Calatrava bridge that links the train station to the town. The bridge became the subject of jokes and protests, due to its high costs, slipperies and awfulness. The bridge costed almost 13 million euros, the double of what was prevented at the beginning. The personal salary of Calatrava, around 4 million Euros, was also object of an inquiry with Calatrava himself being put on trial. The bridge was also severly criticized for the fact of being slippery. Several people slipped on the bridge, sometimes even get injured.


Trying to walk away from the now toxic legacy of Orsoni and Cacciari, the Democratic Party recalled Felice Casson, the runner up of 2005 elections. Casson, a former prosecutor turned politicians has always been a vocal critic of the Cacciari system, and has tried to pose as a new clean face for the now slandered venetian centre-left. The centre-right was unable to coalesce around a single candidate. Forza Italia and the New Centre Right endorsed the president of the local basketball team, Luigi Brugnaro. The politically independent Brugnaro is, according to pollsters the most likely rival of Casson in a potential runoff. The League split between two candidates, Francesca Zacariotto, a former Venice province president and former League member, who was endorsed the Brothers of Italy, while the League endorsed economist Gian Angelo Bellati, known for his separatist opinions. The 5 Star Movement endorsed Davide Scano.

Felice Casson is considered the front-runner according to polls, but he might face a runoff. Due to what happened last year in Perugia, Livorno and Padua, where left-wing front-runners where upset by challengers from the right or the 5 Star Movement, Renzi came to Venice to campaign for Casson, repeatedly stating that Casson must win in the first round and avoid a potentially dangerous runoff with Brugnaro. In case of a runoff, things might turn dangerous for the front-runner

Prediction: Leaning Centre-Left

Guest Post: Netherlands Provincial elections 2015

I am unfortunately unable to blog at all myself while in Colombia, but I am very fortunate to have received this fantastic guest post on last month’s provincial elections in the Netherlands from an avid reader of this blog, ‘nimh’, who blogs at and tweets as @almodozo. Thanks for your work!

Time permitting, I’d like to do some blogging myself, notably a belated look at last month’s French departmental elections, and other elections down the road in Canada and the UK. But I wouldn’t count on it!

Unprecedented fragmentation, a weakened government that will have to go in search for further allies to keep functioning, and a new record low for the Labour Party. Those were the main features of the outcome of last month’s provincial elections, on March 18, which determined not just the make-up of provincial legislatures but also the Dutch Senate.
Because of the continuing collapse of the Labour Party (Dutch acronym: PvdA), the results also constituted the worst performance for the left overall in provincial elections since 1994, while centrist parties — the Democrats ’66, a party for the elderly and various regional lists — did well.

Pacifying the Senate: Why provincial elections are important

Provincial elections don’t make for the most popular ballot in the Netherlands. Turnout in the last national elections was 74.6%; in last year’s municipal elections it was 54.0%; but in these provincial elections just 47.8% of voters cast their ballot. Only the European elections are less popular — last year turnout in those was 37.3%. It’s not that the issues provincial legislatures deal with are unimportant: especially in a densely populated, waterlogged environment like the Netherlands, their decisive influence on urban planning, environmental protection, energy policy, transport and water management is crucial; but admittedly not particularly exciting. The largely consensual policy making processes at provincial level also preclude the kind of heated ideological antagonisms that will bring out the troops. But there is another reason why the provincial elections are very important — especially so right now.

That’s because the provincial legislatures in turn elect the members of the national Senate (“Eerste Kamer”). The Senate’s role is to scrutinize laws adopted in the main chamber of parliament (“Tweede Kamer”) before they are implemented, and although it doesn’t reject laws often, when it does it tends to cause a ruckus. More than one government has been brought to the edge of collapse when a key piece of legislation stranded in the Senate.

The make-up of the Senate is particularly salient right now. The current government, a coalition of the business- and market-friendly liberals of the VVD and the center-left Labour Party, does not have a majority in the Senate; their parties control just 30 of 75 seats. From the start, major parts of the government coalition agreement were shot down by the Senate, for example expansive pension reforms and a far-reaching plan to introduce income-dependent health care insurance premiums.

To avoid running into one crisis after another, the government parties conducted regular talks with opposition parties, and there are plenty of them. A total of twelve parties are represented in the Senate, and the two government parties eventually arrived at a formal deal with three opposition parties (the so-called “C3”). These three — the centrist Democrats 66 (D66) and two small socially conservative protestant parties, the Christian Union and the SGP — provide “constructive” support in the Senate for the coalition’s extensive labour market, education and health care reforms and the deep budget cuts it pursues in the name of austerity. Having them on board creates a majority of exactly one: 38 to 37 seats.

D66 activists celebrate on election night. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg, licensed under Creative Commons

D66 activists celebrate on election night. Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg, licensed under Creative Commons

When relying on such a narrow margin, it’s no surprise that things fall apart ever so often. A government proposal to cut pensions for elderly people who move in with their children was shot down by the small christian parties. A housing law that will significantly raise rents for many people almost stranded when one rebellious Labour Senator who threatened to vote against was only assuaged in time for a midnight vote. The government and “constructive opposition” parties therefore looked with trepidation to these new provincial elections, which were set to change the numbers once more. Polling had long made it clear that the two government parties would suffer heavy losses. But would the C3 parties — in particular D66 — expand their support sufficiently to compensate for those losses and secure a continued razor-edge margin in the Senate?

Because of the complex indirect election of the Senate, that question remains open; only in May will the newly inaugurated provincial legislators elect the new Senators. But it’s not looking good for the government and its partners. The five parties by themselves are not projected to get over 36 Senate seats. Even though a motley collection of regional interest parties are busily being recruited to help elect government-friendly Senators, the election result makes it almost certain that the government will have to seek agreements with further opposition parties, for example the Christian-Democratic Appeal (CDA) or the Green Left, to pass any further contentious policies. The traditional election night debate, in which the leaders of the main parties sit around a table in the TV studio to collectively evaluate the election results — a Dutch oddity, perhaps — revolved entirely around this question: who would join with whom at what price?

Bewildering fragmentation cloaks a right-ward shift

Before we get to that, though, let’s back up the truck. What does Dutch politics look like?

Most of all, the election result was marked by an unprecedented fragmentation of the political party landscape. Not a single party received over 16% of the vote. Never before was the largest party this small.

Detailed overall results of the provincial elections. Source: Sum of official results by province.

In the end, Prime Minister Rutte’s VVD succeeded in edging out the oppositional CDA, but only just, by 15.9% to 14.7%. At one moment on election night, when it seemed the CDA was slightly ahead, Rutte somewhat cheekily remarked that “there’s no country in the world where the largest party is so small”. That must at least be close to true. The only equivalent I can think of in recent European elections was when elections for the Polish Sejm in 1991 saw no party get more than 12% of the vote, but then the Sejm had a tradition to uphold. The Economist wittily headlined its report on the elections “Dutch voters punish their two governing parties by voting for the 10 other ones”. There is something to that: other than Labour and the VVD, the only party to lose ground since the last provincial elections was the Green Left. Everyone else enjoyed gains.

This somewhat bewildering fragmentation in election results is fairly new. The Dutch parliament always lent itself well to the representation of small parties, since there is no electoral threshold and MPs are elected on national lists rather than in individual constituencies. A seat is secured by getting as little as 0.67% of the national vote. There has been a corresponding multitude of parliamentary parties. But only a few of them stood out: the christian-democratic party (at least since three christian parties merged in the mid-1970s), the Labour Party, and the VVD, as main liberal party.

Last month’s provincial election results in detailed historical perspective. The Socialist Party (SP) is in dark red, the Labour Party in bright red, the centrist D66 party in light blue, the christian-democrats in dark green, the right-wing liberal VVD in dark blue, and the Freedom Party in orange-brown. Data sourced from, the offical state election results portal, with added detail derived from the painstakingly comprehensive

Last month’s provincial election results in detailed historical perspective. The Socialist Party (SP) is in dark red, the Labour Party in bright red, the centrist D66 party in light blue, the christian-democrats in dark green, the right-wing liberal VVD in dark blue, and the Freedom Party in orange-brown. Data sourced from, the offical state election results portal, with added detail derived from the painstakingly comprehensive

When I grew up, people voted overwhelmingly for one of those three parties. D66 existed but was mostly a minor party which enjojyed occasional surges, and any other parties that got parliamentary representation were colloquially grouped together as “the small left” or “the small right”. In 1981, the three main parties occupied 68 of the 75 Senate seats. In the past four years they had 41. Now they’re set to get 33.

The Economist argued, however, that this fragmented landscape masks a fair amount of ideological stability:

The Dutch case is especially confusing because, while voters have turned against the government, they have not actually turned to the right or left. Since 2012 the Netherlands has been ruled by a grand coalition of the centre-right Liberals and the centre-left Labour Party. [..] Because the government is centrist, opposition to its policies has scattered voters in every direction.

I’m not too sure about this; I think the results of these elections indicated an actual ideological shift as well — to the right. At the same time, when looking at the broader evolution of the political landcape over the past several election cycles, they at least confirmed how centrifugal forces have pulled voters away from the mainstream, centrist parties, but that will come up further down in this post. First, let’s focus on the evidence of a right-ward shift.

When Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer boasted on election night that his party was “now definitely the largest on the left,” that may have been true, but that still only made it the fifth-largest party, behind not just the VVD and Christian-Democrats, but also D66 and the far-right Freedom Party. The Labour Party’s Lodewijk Asscher pointed out that “if you see the state of the left in the Netherlands now, there’s no reason for cheers,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Together, the Socialists, Labour, the Green Left, the Party for the Animals (yes, there is a Party for the Animals, and it has seats in parliament) and a few tiny left-wing parties that are only active regionally pooled just under 31% of the vote. That’s the lowest such share in provincial elections since 1995, and lower than any national election result since 2002, which was sui generis.

For the Labour Party, specifically, this was a horrendous election result. The 10.1% of the vote it managed to pull (which, hard to believe as it is, meant actually slightly outperforming the polls) was the smallest share of the vote it has ever gotten in provincial elections. Just like last year’s municipal elections saw the party get the worst result it had ever gotten in those. The party’s fall from grace has been a long time in coming, as the party has been on a trendline of decline since the mid-1980s when it still habitually got a third of the votes. At the same time it still arrived quite suddenly, as the party was momentarily resurgent in national elections just three years ago, when it rebounded to 25% of the vote.

Nothing much seems to have changed since I wrote about the party’s tactical dilemma last year, after the municipal elections:

The Labour Party is in an impossible strategic situation: it suffers an exodus of voters to both D66 and the [Socialist Party (SP)], but those voters, demographically, are each other’s opposites and are leaving the Labour Party for opposite reasons. The voters who have headed, and keep heading, to the SP feel that the Labour Party has lost its left-wing soul. They tend to be gloomy about the country’s economy as well as their own financial perspectives, look to the government to shore up the social protections of the welfare state, and be angry that the Labour Party is instead “selling out” to the VVD, to big business, to the EU. But the voters which are deserting the party for D66 are fairly optimistic about the economy and their own perspective, warmly favour EU integration, and might only be afraid of the country “missing the boat” by not demonstrating enough dynamism and adaptability. [..] The net result is that any move the Labour Party might make to win back the voters on one side will likely just further increase its bleeding on the other side.

See: Of sideshows, curiosities and structural changes: Everything you ever wanted to know about this year’s local elections in the Netherlands (and probably quite a bit more)

One could argue that the left, and the Labour Party in particular, has been here before. The 1994 (national) and 1991 (provincial) elections didn’t go any better for them, as the chart above shows. But there are two differences between then and now:

  • Like now, the weak result for the left in 1991 and 1994 were coupled with particularly strong results for D66 (about 15.5% then, 12.5% now). But today’s D66 is quite a different party from what it was like back then. Traditionally, D66 is a center-left party of social liberals, which strongly emphasized good governance and democratic reforms like introducing referenda, an elected Prime Minister, elected mayors, and a district-based electoral system. The party was instrumental in pushing through major legislative changes that better reflected the country’s secular character, for example on gay marriage and euthanasia but also Sunday shopping. In terms of socio-economic policy, it distanced itself from what it saw as social-democracy’s overly dirigistic tendencies, but generally steered a left-liberal course comparable to, for example, that of Britain’s Liberals and SDP. But the party has shifted rightward significantly over the past fifteen years, notably propping up a right-wing government in 2003–2006. It now presents itself primarily as a champion of (neoliberal) economic reforms.
  • Labour is a different party from what it used to be as well. Back when its then-leader Wim Kok made a push to de-ideologize Labour in the early 1990s it may not have pleased the more left-wing parts of his party, but the “purple” governments he lead between 1994 and 2002 coupled tax cuts as gifts to the right with public investments and employment programs to please the left. Now there is a again a left-right government, but they’re divvying up costs rather than spending, which makes for altogether harsher policies. On election night, Labour Party leader Diederik Samson defensively but proudly declared that this government has implemented the deepest set of budget cuts of any government so far.

As a result, even when compared to the equally dismal electoral results of the left in the early 1990s, the substance of political discourse and policy has shifted to the right.

Doing the rounds: an overview of each party’s performance

Prime Minister Rutte comforted his party by remarking that its losses had been smaller than feared. The result “looks wonderful when you compare it with a year ago,” he said. Which seems a bit overstated: in the European elections last May and the local elections last March, the VVD received 12% of the vote; now it got 16%. The extremely low turnout in those European elections (37%) and the high share of the vote taken by local parties in the municipal elections (28%) also made them ill-suited for comparative purposes. For what it’s worth, a year ago the VVD was polling at 13–17% of the vote; this year, just weeks before the elections, the VVD hit something of a low in the opinion polls of — depending which pollster you trust — 11–17%. The end result looks only slightly favorable in that context; it is pretty much in line with where the party has been polling for the last year and a half.

The proportion between polls and election result was roughly the same for the Labour Party. For all the detail about just how horrible its result was, at least it leaned toward the upper end of the range (7–11%) foreseeen by the polls for the past year or so.

The christian-democratic CDA and its leader, Sybrand Buma, were oddly triumphant about their election result (14.7%). Sure, it’s a fair way back up from the disastrous 8.5% of the vote the party pulled in the national elections of 2012 — easily its worst election result ever. But it’s only six-tenth of a percentage point better than the last provincial elections, four years ago — and that had been the party’s worst provincial election result since it was founded in the 1970s. It was also worse than its result in last year’s European elections, if only by a sliver, and barely better than its result in last year’s local elections, when it got 14.4% of the vote even as local parties took over a quarter of the total vote. It seems like a score of around 15% might be the new normal for the party right now — and considering that the CDA or one or more of its predecessor parties were represented in the national government for an unbroken run of 76 years (1918–1994), that’s really not very impressive.

While touting his party’s strong performance, Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders did express some disappointment that it didn’t end up first, as had seemed possible for a while. For four-five months ahead of the provincial elections, the party had been leading the pack in two of the three national election polls. It had always been clear that this national polling would not necessarily translate into an equivalent result in provincial elections though, given the lower turnout. Moreover, the party’s standing had noticably slipped during the election campaign, as the two governing parties recovered slightly and the Socialist Party made some minor gains.

In the end, the Freedom Party almost exactly replicated its performance in the last provincial elections, again getting 12% of the vote. One aspect of this result which wasn’t mentioned much in the media coverage, however, is that this helped the party seats-wise. After all, it was just last year that around one in six Freedom Party provincial legislators abandoned the party after Wilders’ ill-advised remarks at the party’s rally on the night of the municipal elections, when he made his followers chant that they wanted “fewer, fewer” Moroccans in the country.

The campaign team of D66 leader Pechtold made sure, American campaign-style, that the TV coverage of the party’s election night rally would show him surrounded by a group of young and somewhat multicultural party members. Things were a little more awkward at the Labour Party rally.

The campaign team of D66 leader Pechtold made sure, American campaign-style, that the TV coverage of the party’s election night rally would show him surrounded by a group of young and somewhat multicultural party members. Things were a little more awkward at the Labour Party rally.

What must have smarted though was that the party ended up finishing fourth, behind the Democrats ‘66, whose leader Alexander Pechtold is a frequent and fierce critic of Wilders. With this result D66 successfully followed up on last year’s results, when it already became the third-largest party nationwide in municipal politics. It was the party’s best result in provincial or national elections since 1994 — only in last year’s European elections did it do even better. That’s an impressive achievement especially since, in the interim, the party had dropped to a dismal 2.0% of the vote in the 2006 national elections. I can’t find nationwide election results for the 1970 and 1982 local elections, but this result seems to be the party’s fourth-best ever, in any kind of elections.

The Socialist Party (SP) performed well — certainly better than in last year’s municipal elections, when it also made significant gains in the number of seats it won but its nationwide share of the vote was limited to 6.6%. This time it won 11.7% of the vote, gaining two percentage points when compared to the national elections of 2012 and 1.5% compared to the previous provincial elections. A healthy score, no doubt — its second best ever in provincial elections. And yet one can’t help wondering if it also doesn’t represent a lost opportunity. The party’s main rival, the Labour Party, collapsed, losing a whopping 15% or so from its result less than three years ago — and yet the SP improved on its own score by a mere fraction of that amount. It’s not that it didn’t win a good amount of votes from Labour, it’s that D66 and the Green Left shared equally in those spoils, and many of the SP’s own voters from 2012 abstained this time (see below). Moreover, according to data by Maurice de Hond, about a third of the previous SP voters who did turn out scattered their votes across a range of other parties this time — primarily the Freedom Party, the Party for the Animals, regional parties and, perhaps surprisingly, the christian-democrats.

The small christian parties, the Christian Union and the SGP, performed strongly as always in low-turnout elections, thanks to their disciplined electorate. In the past four provincial elections, they pooled 6–9% of the vote, and this year’s score (7.5%) falls right in the middle of that range. In national elections, however, they will doubtlessly drop back to their usual, pooled 5–6% of the vote.

The result of the Green Left was, just like last year, ambiguous. The 5.4% of the vote it received constitutes something of a resurrection for a party that collapsed so completely in the 2012 elections, getting just 2.3% of the vote, that its obituaries were already being written. But it’s still the party’s worst result in provincial elections since 1994, down a percentage point compared to the last provincial elections, and not a tenth of a percentage point better than its score in last year’s municipal elections, despite the fact that local and regional parties took a much larger chunk of the vote then.


Two pollsters published contradictory numbers about where the 2012 Labour Party voters went this time. On election night, public television cited exit poll results from Ipsos suggesting that, of those who switched votes, 34% went to the GreenLeft, 29% to the SP, and 20% to D66, but unfortunately those data don’t seem to be available online. Maurice de Hond’s polling data shows quite a different picture: of all 2012 Labour voters who voted again now, 36% stuck with their party, 19% went to the SP, 9% to D66, and just 8% to the Green Left.

In general, Ipsos polling data which is available online suggest that the Freedom Party and the Labour party suffered most from abstention, which is not unusual, but the VVD suffered particularly from a failure to turn out its electorate as well, which is less common. In addition, the Labour party saw by far the highest rate of voters coming out to vote but only to switch to another party. As always, the orthodox protestant SGP suffered least from both — but then there’s a reason why the party has had either 2 or 3 seats in parliament since 1925.

What now, little lion land?                  

At the traditional election night debate with the party leaders, each one of them of course hurried to emphasize the positive. As always, winners gloated over their gains, those who didn’t win or lose any particularly great amount stressed how they’d recovered from prior losses, and those who clearly lost asserted that the losses hadn’t been as bad as feared and ground had been recovered during the campaign, even as they contritely admitted that things should have gone better.

But what struck me most was that none of the party leaders other than the SP’s Emile Roemer (the Freedom Party’s Geert Wilders was absent) called for a radical change of course. The government parties regretted not having been able to persuade enough voters, but insisted that they had done what was necessary, even when it was not popular, and there was no alternative to forging ahead. The constructive opposition insisted on staying the course and only making changes to the extent that further speed and determination were needed in the economic reforms. If anything, we’d like to move policies further to the right, the SGP leader said. Work on tax reforms must start immediately, D66 leader Pechtold demanded, but should not threaten balanced budgets. Which means, though he left it unmentioned, that those tax cuts will have to be offset by further budget cuts (something the Labour Party election campaign at least called them out on).

The leaders of opposition parties CDA and Green Left also demanded policy changes, of course, but they, too, highlighted that they were ready to help think through the necessary reforms, to support constructive policies, to take responsibility, and so forth. All in all, in addition to seeming near-collectively wedded to some degree of neoliberal policy as a self-evident necessity, the leaders of opposition and government parties alike seemed to get along fine, in a discussion characterized by friendly banter and a collective attitude along the lines of “we’re in this together and we’ll just have to work this out together”. When there was a bit of occasional showboating, all present seemed to be aware it wasn’t to be taken literally — like when opposition leaders vowed to not take part any back room talks and Prime Minister Rutte reminded them that they already took part in regular behind-the-scenes discussions.

All of this is very much a reflection of the norms and conventions of Dutch political culture. Nevertheless, it is also revealing about the political perspectives of the parties involved. D66 leader Pechtold is on record, after all, as calling his party “his Majesty’s most loyal opposition”. The Economist would argue that this behavior is merely a reflection of the fact that voters sent a fairly ambiguous message:

Much of the voters’ frustration stems from austerity measures the government has enacted over the past two years, such as cuts in health benefits and hikes in excise taxes. But the elections have actually strengthened the political forces demanding austerity. Both D66 and the Christian Democrats insist that the government commit in advance to new deficit-cutting measures to balance out any tax cuts.

This seems a little too convenient though. D66 is riding high, and the CDA made gains at least compared to the last national elections. But the christian-democrats are still at a near-historic low; the Labour Party is at an all-time historic low; the VVD got its worst result in provincial elections in almost 25 years; and the small christian parties got around the same level of support they always get. The mainstream parties, having over time converged onto a consensual commitment to austerity, are collectively doing worse than at any time in Dutch political history. Together, VVD + Labour + CDA + D66 + the small christian parties pooled just over 60% of the vote, an all-time low. In 2012, it was 73%; in 2003 it was 82%; and in 1989 it was 94%.

The parties that have most vocally opposed the government’s austerity policies, i.e. the far-left Socialist Party, the far-right Freedom Party, the Party for the Animals and the senior-interest party 50Plus, may individually have increased their vote by just two percentage points compared to 2012, but each of them did gain 2 points, meaning that together they pooled 30% of the vote compared with 24% two years ago — and 17% at the provincial elections of 2007, before the global economic crisis. The Dutch electorate is increasingly alienated from the mainstream political discourse, and yet there was little hint of a crisis at the party leaders debate.

Aside from the Socialist Party’s Roemer, who accused the government of having failed and leaving many people struggling to get by, the only party leader to express any fundamental disagreement was Marianne Thieme from the Party for the Animals. She pleaded for an economic reorientation away from the logic of growth, and remarked that the substantive differences between all the other parties had come to seem small. But she was gently chided by the Christian Union’s Arie Slob: if ideological differences seemed small right now, he told her, it was because with over 600 thousand unemployed “we’ll just have to set aside our differences”. Of course, Thieme, Roemer and maybe even Wilders would probably argue that if the course which the country has been on has lead to over 600 thousand unemployed, maybe the logical response might not necessarily be for all parties to join in and lend a helping hand, but rather to call for a drastic break and start pulling a different way altogether.

There is at least one Labour politician who also feels that way: Adri Duivesteijn, the Senator who almost brought the government down over its housing policy package. The party’s election result should “at least be reason to take another look at yourself and ask yourself whether it is sensible to continue on the line we have followed over the past two years.” You have to wonder, he added, “if it’s still the Labour Party that’s standing there, or just a few people who have tasked themselves with a mission.”

An SP-friendly political cartoon. Labour leader Samson is wielding the wrecking ball, demolishing the health care system. Socialist leader Roemer is coming running, calling out at him to stop. Samson responds by saying: you guys are just yelling from the sidelines. At least we are taking our responsibility.

An SP-friendly political cartoon. Labour leader Samson is wielding the wrecking ball, demolishing the health care system. Socialist leader Roemer is coming running, calling out at him to stop. Samson responds by saying: you guys are just yelling from the sidelines. At least we are taking our responsibility.

Duivesteijn has little to lose in staking out this position: he has been diagnosed with prostrate cancer at an advanced stage, and will be retiring in May. But at least Labour’s former voters agree with him. When looking at a longer-term perspective than just the gains and losses compared to the last elections, polling data released this week by Maurice de Hond suggested that Labour has lost a lot more ground among working class voters who feel resentful about the dismantling of the welfare state than among the confident middle class voters who are currently gravitating towards D66. It has also lost them more thoroughly.

Dividing up the Dutch electorate between people who would now vote, or at least consider voting, Labour (17%); people who have at some point in the past voted Labour but would not consider it anymore now (24%); and those who never voted Labour and wouldn’t now (59%), the poll found large differences between the former two groups. Those who abandoned Labour are much more likely to have lower education levels: 41% of this group has only lower education, versus 15% of those who’d still consider voting Labour. An overwhelming majority of them (80% or more) agrees with the statements “I don’t know what the Labour Party stands for anymore”, “The Labour Party is betraying its ideals” and “the Labour Party is abandoning the weakest in society”. Of those who still vote, 32% of them now vote SP and 15% for the Freedom Party. And none of the three alternative Labour Party leaders whom de Hond asked about would bring more than 13% of them back.

Meanwhile, the immediate aftermath of the provincial elections has seen some distinct shifts in the polls. The VVD has been making the most gains since it came first in the elections — everyone likes a winner — but D66 has had to yield some ground. The Freedom Party has been losing support, but the Socialists have gained some.

At provincial level, not a whole lot is expected to change in government. As is the case with many municipal governments, the “executive councils” that serve as provincial governments tend to consist of wide-ranging coalitions that include most or even all the major parties. The VVD was part of 11 of the 12 provincial executives in the last four years, and the CDA was represented in 10 of the 12. That’s how you can have provincial governments that include both the VVD and the Green Left (in Utrecht) or both the VVD and the Socialist Party (in South-Holland and North-Brabant). As a result, ideological contrasts are downplayed — much more so, still, than in national politics. In the past four years only Overijssel had an executive with only right-of-center parties (VVD, CDA and the small christian parties).

An informational billboard for the provincial elections with posters for the different parties. The Freedom Party one features Geert Wilders and the slogan Enough Is Enough; the Socialist Party’s slogan could be loosely translated as Settle The Score. D66 has been running with the slogan Now, Forward, while the Party for the Animals appeals to voters to Stick To Your Ideals. Photo by Patrick Rasenberg, licensed under Creative Commons.

An informational billboard for the provincial elections with posters for the different parties. The Freedom Party one features Geert Wilders and the slogan Enough Is Enough; the Socialist Party’s slogan could be loosely translated as Settle The Score. D66 has been running with the slogan Now, Forward, while the Party for the Animals appeals to voters to Stick To Your Ideals. Photo by Patrick Rasenberg, licensed under Creative Commons.

Judging on early negotiation results, the main difference in the upcoming period will be that Labour will be represented in fewer provincial governments, and the SP in more. The Socialists, so far included in just two of them, will now be part of six. Labour, still represented in eleven of the twelve provincial governments in 2003, are now down to five.

In the northern province of Friesland it will be the first time since 1946 that Labour will not be included in the provincial executive. The VVD, on the other hand, despite its losses, will remain included in 11 provinces, and the christian-democrats even look set to be part in all 12. D66 are likely to take part in eight.

The occasional inclusion of even parties as far left or right as the Socialists or the Freedom Party in provincial government also leads to some idiosyncrasies in how provincial parties position themselves — something which, due to the low profile of provincial politics, will likely go unnoticed by their own voters. If you scrutinize a voter test for the province of South-Holland, for example, you will find that the Socialist Party there stakes out positions to the right of both the Green Left and the Labour Party on 8 of the 30 questions, ranging from budget cuts to the environment and asylum-seekers. Especially the first seems pretty atypical, but might well have to do with the party’s inclusion in provincial government there.

Some provincial politicians choose instead to avoid taking a public position on anything much altogether. In Gelderland there was a provincial legislator from the Freedom Party who managed to not utter a single word for the full four years he served — a record, apparently. Perhaps he was following the example of a municipal councilor in the same province back in the 1990s. Henny Selhorst, serving as a councilor for the more radically far-right (and misleadingly named) Centre Democrats in Arnhem, managed to utter a full seven words during the four years of his term, six of which he spoke during the opening session. Selhorst had something of an excuse at least, though, since he spent a total of two of those four years in prison, for two succesive arrests over dealing hard drugs.

Age, income and education

Class cleavages may not determine election outcomes as much as they once did, but they still played an important role, voting patterns by income and education reveal. Both exit poll data by Ipsos and separate polling data by Maurice de Hond confirmed that the VVD, D66 and Green Left do particularly well among those with higher education, and VVD and D66 (but not the Green Left) also do particularly well among higher income voters. Vice versa, the Freedom Party and the Socialist party did especially well among lower education voters and among voters with lower incomes.

Because of the fragmentation of the vote, no party holds much of a dominion over a specific income or education group. Even the VVD’s dominance among upper income voters isn’t what it used to be: it received about a quarter to a third of those voters, experiencing marked competition from D66 and the Christian-Democrats.

Patterns become a little more clear, however, when we group the multitude of competing parties in a few broad categories. The traditionally obvious route is to identify left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties. This is what the data from de Hond looks like when grouping the vote by income category between left, right and center:


Data for this (and the following) charts are from polling by Maurice de Hond

For this chart, I’ve grouped the Socialist Party, the Green Left, the Party for the Animals and the Labour Party together as left-wing — based on history as much as policy, since Labour might not be currently implementing left-wing policies in government but is nevertheless intrinsically identified with the left-of-center camp. The centrist category encompasses D66, 50Plus and the regional parties (which of course vary in ideological orientation, but average out in the center). The right covers the VVD, CDA, Freedom Party and the small christian parties. (It’s become fairly accepted to classify the Christian Union as centrist rather than right-wing, despite its socially conservative positions, but since the SGP and Christian Union ran common lists in some provinces it’s impractical to divide up their vote between the two categories.)

The result is obvious enough: the left does better the lower the income group, the right does better the higher the incomes. Note, though, that even among lower income voters the left is barely ahead.

Support for the right among lower income voters, however, is quite different in nature from that among the upper income electorate. 32% of upper income voters opted for the VVD, according to de Hond’s poll, and just 6% for the Freedom Party. The proportions among lower income voters were somewhat inverted: a fairly modest 14% for the Freedom Party, but just 7% for the VVD. There are similar contradictions among the left — the Socialist overwhelmingly relies on lower income groups (getting 20% of the lower income vote and just 3% of the upper income vote), but support for the Labour Party and the Party for the Animals is more evenly spread.

Another categorisation might therefore be useful. This one, for example:


This breakdown, which tentatively groups together the Freedom Party, the Socialist Party, the Party for the Animals and 50Plus as anti-system parties of sorts, presents an alternative contrast of where the dividing lines by class lie. Upper income groups feel comfortable with what one could call the ruling policy consensus and vote disproportionately for the liberal parties, and more broadly with parties on the center-right. The sentiment starts tipping among lower middle income voters, whose vote is as likely to go to the Freedom Party (14%) or Socialist Party (13%) as to the VVD or CDA (13% each). The alienation from mainstream politics is pitched more sharply among lower income voters, among whom the Socialists rank first and the Freedom Party second.

A similar breakdown by education mostly shows the same contrast. One wrinkle is the role of the center-left parties (Labour and the Green Left). Both of those parties appeal most to voters with low incomes, but also most to those with higher education.


If these contrasts by income and education seem stark, they weren’t actually at their most pointed. In similar polling by de Hond a little over a year ago, the Freedom Party and Socialist Party alone already pooled a massive 56% of lower education voters versus just 16% of higher education voters. Vice versa, the liberal parties VVD and D66 then pooled an identically massive 56% of higher income voters, versus just 12% of lower income voters. That’s a serious class divide, which I would argue places a time bomb of sorts under the Dutch governance model if it is left to fester.

Breakdowns by age group are also interesting — as much for the patterns that don’t appear as for the ones that do. Remarkably, breaking down the vote for left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties, per de Hond’s data, shows little variation by age group at all:


That’s a striking result in itself, especially since it has definitely not always been like that. It poses some uncomfortable questions especially for the left, which has long relied on young voters to bolster its successive challenges to the status quo.

The Labour Party’s electorate in particular has long been aging, and the party is now actually strongest among those aged 65 and up, according to both the Ipsos and de Hond data. But the Socialist Party’s appeal to the youth is similarly lacking. Much like the Freedom Party, it seems to rely largely on middle-aged voters, showing particular strength among those aged 45–64.

In part, this could be a reflection of how insecure people in that age group, in particular, feel about the state of the economy and the country’s social services. Unlike young people, they might be especially aware of how dependent they will be on the latter soon enough, and unlike young people, those in that age group who are unemployed, underemployed, or fearful of being either will have less confidence about future growth and opportunities solving it all.

Regrouping the political categories might seem to bolster this theory. The liberal parties are well over-represented in the youngest age groups, while the vote for the anti-system parties (for lack of a better label) peaks in the age group approaching retirement. This too should constitute a warning sign for the left: in stark contrast with countries like Spain and Greece where the youth has been spearheading leftist revolts against right-wing economic policies, in the Netherlands the generation that grew up with austerity seems to feel pretty comfortable with it. A critic might speculate that this is a reflection of how today’s youth has been told by politicians, pundits and the press alike that there is no alternative for as long as they can remember.


In fact, the patterns in these breakdowns by age could also be interpreted as a reflection of the age in which voters experienced their formative years. A fascinating data visualization by the New York Times last year chronicled the voting behavior of each generation of white U.S. voters as they aged, showing a surprising continuity in preferences that seem to have solidified at an early age. “Events at age 18 are about three times as powerful as those at age 40,” the Times’ model suggested. Thus, “by the time Eisenhower left office in 1961, people born in the early 1940s had accumulated pro-Republican sentiment that would last their entire lifetimes” and “Childhoods and formative years under Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon left [baby boomers] relatively pro-Democratic”.

Applying that theory to the Dutch data, it’s interesting that the polling numbers by de Hond don’t just show support for the Socialists peaking among 45–64 year olds, they also show the Party for the Animals doing best among 55–65 year olds — and while the Green Left generally gets weaker the older voters are, there’s a distinct uptick in its support among that same 55–65 age group. Similarly, the Ipsos data show the Socialists overperforming by far the most among 50–64 year olds. And Ipsos, too, shows the Green Left doing best among the youngest voters, but 50–64 year olds as the only other age group among which it overperforms. All of which would make some sense from the perspective of the New York Times piece. After all, these are the people who grew up in the 1970s, maybe early 1980s — and those are generally seen as the most left-wing years of Holland’s post-war history.


By the same count, of course, this would mean that the current crop of 18–35 year olds is set to retain an inclination towards liberal parties for most of their life, and the relative lack of enthusiasm of voters under 45 for socialist/social-democratic parties isn’t going to change significantly anymore either as they grow old.

Political geography


Map based on official results by municipality, which can be downloaded as spreadsheet from the Electoral Council site.


The electoral map is as fragmented, but also as revealing, as the overall result. As colorful as the whole is, the west of the country is a sea of liberal blue; many rural areas in south, east and west remain christian-democratic green; and there is a notable dearth of socialist/social-democratic red.

The centrist D66 scored a hat-trick, coming first in three of the four main cities (Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht), just like it did in last year’s municipal elections. It also came out on top in the university cities Leiden and Delft, the medium-sized cities of Haarlem, Gouda and Amersfoort, and the commuter town Culemborg. But the party’s appeal remains firmly rooted in the cities of the West, or what the Dutch call the Randstad.

In Rotterdam, the country’s second-largest city and the world’s third-largest port, first place went to the Freedom Party (orange on the map). The vote was very fragmented though, with the Freedom Party getting 17% of the vote. Astoundingly, Labour ended up back in fifth, with a mere 12% — an even worse result than in last year’s local elections. Keep in mind: in 1977 the Labour Party still received 55% of the city’s vote.

Things are only marginally better for the party in Amsterdam. While at least securing second place (behind D66), the Labour Party still only received 15% of the vote. Last year’s municipal elections already marked the first time since World War II that Labour did not emerge as the largest party in the city, getting just 18% of the vote. The social-democrats used to get some 40% of the vote here.

Its not just the Labour Party which is on the defense in the country’s capital; it’s the left as a whole. In the national elections of 2006, parties to the left of D66 pulled a whopping 65% of the vote — an almost Berlin-like score. This time the counter stopped just below the 50% mark. That still made for the second-highest number in the Netherlands (behind Nijmegen), and the left fared a lot worse in the other main cities: 42% in Utrecht, 37% in Rotterdam and 33% in The Hague.



Results by province, in detail


Compared with the provincial elections four years ago, the Labour Party lost ground in every single municipality of the country, the Volkskrant reported. Its collapse was the most comprehensive in the party’s traditional heartland in the Northeast. Of the ten municipalities where its losses where heaviest, nine were in the eastern half of the province of Groningen. In Pekela, Menterwolde and Veendam, the party’s losses from the previous provincial elections exceeded 19%, in the former two reducing the party’s vote to a third or less of its size. In Menterwolde Labour still got 49% of the vote in the national elections of 1998. Now, it received 8.5%, well behind the Socialists (22%), and also behind a provincial interest party and the Freedom Party (which got 12%). In the province of Groningen as a whole, it was the first time since WWII that Labour failed to emerge as largest party in provincial elections.

All of this was a repeat of last year’s patterns, when six of the seven municipalities where the party lost most were in the province of Groningen. This time, however, there was a specific additional cause for its disproportional losses there, one which highly benefited the regional interest parties which ended up pooling over 12% of the vote in the province: earthquakes. Yes, in the Netherlands. Man-induced — or should that be greed-induced? — earthquakes: it’s a long story, and it involves billions of gas revenues flowing to the national Treasury and the locals being stuck with collapsing buildings. Check out this neat visualization too.

The only municipality where a party got over 50% of the vote was Tubbergen, where the christian-democratic CDA received 56% of the vote. That’s still a far cry from 2003, though, when it was 80% — the Freedom Party and the VVD made some inroads in this rural and very catholic constituency. On the other end of the scale, the CDA had to make do with just 3.3% of the vote in Amsterdam, ranking eighth — with barely over half the votes received by the Party for the Animals. The Christian-Democrats didn’t rank first in any of the country’s twenty largest cities: Emmen (pop. 109 thousand) was the most populous town where it lead.


Regional strengths and weaknesses of each party: VVD, D66, CDA



Same as above, but with a common scale, to make comparison between strengths of different parties easier

Curiously, that means that both of the top two parties performed relatively weakly in the country’s cities. When it comes to taking first places, at least, the VVD ‘scored’ only a few among the country’s top 20 cities, and nothing bigger than Breda (pop. 175 thousand) and Apeldoorn (pop. 156 thousand). (All such first places are purely symbolic, of course, since the Dutch electoral system does not have districts; legislators are elected through province- or nation-wide party lists.) The VVD more than compensated for this, though, by coloring most of the provinces of North-Holland, South-Holland and Utrecht blue.

I imagine its success in those provinces (especially North Holland, where Labour used to be strong in rural areas as well, and South-Holland, where the christian-democrats used to dominate the countryside) has a lot to do with sub- and exurbanization. Prototypical VVD ‘wins’ included Haarlemmermeer and Zoetermeer, once-rural municipalities that were turned into commuter towns since the 1970s/1980s.

Further rural communities in the West seem to have seen a fair amount of well-off urbanites move in, converting farmhouses and the like. Perhaps that helps explains how a place like Beemster took a surprise second place in the list of top VVD results, ahead of famously wealthy towns like Wassenaar, Blaricum and Rozendaal that have long been VVD bulwarks. This map of median disposable incomes by municipality in 2012 is helpful in that regard, showing that most of the countryside in between and around the four main cities now counts among the country’s most prosperous municipalities.

Below, I will mention how two villages in North Holland (Warder and Middelie) used to yield an 80%+ vote for the left, right after World War Two; now they belong to the municipality of Zeevang, right next to Beemster, and the VVD received 29% of the vote there. The two villages still exist, but in the national elections two years ago even gave 37% and 46% of their vote to the VVD. This bit of history, translated from the Dutch Wikipedia page, can’t be unrelated: “The increase in scale in agriculture resulted in many farms closing their business. Consequently only ten of the 80 full-time farming businesses that existed in 1945 still exist. The farmhouses that remained empty turned out to be popular objects for people from cities like Amsterdam and Haarlem to renovate into comfortable houses and a migration flow started from the cities to countryside villages like Warder”.

D66 on the other hand, as mentioned above, is by far the strongest in large and mid-sized cities. Outside such cities and away from the West, its popularity flags, and the only four municipalities where it took first place outside the Randstad were clustered around the university towns Nijmegen and Wageningen and the nearby town of Arnhem. In several cities away from the Randstad where D66 had still come out on top last year, it now had to relinquish this honor to the Socialists. All in all, the party received 17% of the vote in the centrally located province of Utrecht, but just 7% up in Frysia and down in Zeeland. The regions where it’s strongest happen to also be those where the population is youngest, growing at the fastest rate, and most highly educated.


Note that the pooled results of these two parties require a different scale of their own: such is the contrast between its bulwarks and the rest of the country. Most everything to the south/east of the Bible Belt is ancestrally catholic; many of the non-urban parts to the north/west of the Bible Belt is traditionally protestant but of the more mainstream or liberal (vrijzinnig) varieties.


If you were wondering what that range of grey municipalities in the map at the top of this section is, stretching from the southwest through to the shores of the IJsselmeer, that’s the Dutch Bible Belt.

In every election, some of the most geographically concentrated results come from the small calvinist State Reformed Party (SGP) and the other socially conservative protestant party, the Christian Union. The SGP, notably, only allowed women to become party members in 2006, and only made it possible for women to run for office on its lists last year — and both times, only in the face of judicial pressure from Dutch courts and the European Court of Human Rights.

Nationally, these two parties may have pooled 7.5% of the vote, but in some municipalities, they rule the roost. In the fishing village of Urk the two of them pooled 72% of the vote; in rural Staphorst 59%. There’s more info about these parties in my post about last year’s local elections.

A eagle-eyed observer may have already noticed in the map at the top of this section that something odd happened in a municipality down in the very south of the country, in the province of Limburg: the honor of ranking first was shared by the Socialist Party (SP) and the Freedom Party (PVV). That’s Maastricht (pop. 120 thousand). Of the some 91 thousand eligible voters there, less than 39 thousand showed up, and the SP and VVD both received exactly 6,284 of them. That turnout rate of 42.5% was low — as was turnout in the whole province of Limburg, at 45% — but it was far from the lowest. Rotterdam won that prize, with a turnout of 35.1%. It’s not altogether coincidental that two cities with low turnout also saw the Freedom Party do so well — alienation from the political system is reflected both ways.

Other Freedom Party ‘scalps’ among the 50 largest towns in the Netherlands were Almere, Zaanstad, Dordrecht, Nissewaard (i.e. Spijkenisse), Purmerend, Lelystad, Schiedam and Vlaardingen. In Nissewaard it received 24% of the vote; in all the others it received more votes than any other party, but less than 24%. All of these municipalities are located in the greater Amsterdam or Rotterdam areas, and most have at some point been the destination of ‘white flight’ from those cities. Some have become fairly multicultural themselves, in turn — according to StatLine, the electronic databank of Statistics Netherlands, the percentage non-Western population is 15–19% for most of these towns, but 27–29% in Almere and Schiedam. (In Amsterdam and Rotterdam themselves it’s 35–37%.)


Regional strengths and weaknesses of each party: PVV, SP, PvdA



Same as above, but with a common scale, to make comparison between strengths of different parties easier

The list of municipalities where the party received the highest percentage of the vote, however, looks quite different. The Freedom Party received 24–25% in three former mining communities in the southeast (Kerkrade, Landgraaf, Onderbanken) as well as Stein, also in Limburg. It got 26% of the vote in Edam-Volendam; its strength there lies in the fishing town of Volendam, where it received 32% of the vote, rather than in Edam (12%). Finally, it received 33% in the municipality of Rucphen, which has a long history of supporting right-wing populist forces whenever they appear. More precisely, it’s Sint Willibrord, traditionally a bricklayers and carpenters village, which does so, and these elections were no exception: in each of the three precincts there, the Freedom Party netted over 50% of the votes!

Onderbanken, Volendam, Sint Willibrord: these places are certainly not cauldrons of multiculturalism. While Kerkrade and Landgraaf include quite a few German residents, CBS statline pegs the percentage of non-Western population in all these municipalities at just 2–5%. Common denominators might instead be, to some extent, rather insular communities and a tradition of exclusion/resentment. But in addition to a couple of larger placed like Heerlen, Venlo and Sittard-Geleen, the top 20 Freedom Party results include plenty of further small-town municipalities which don’t quite have the unique profile of Volendam or Sint Willibrord: Brunssum, Steenbergen, Simpelveld, Roerdalen, Woensdrecht, Vaals, Beek … Many of those are in Limburg, and that province has consistently shown a strong ‘native son’ enthusiasm for Geert Wilders, who was born in Venlo. But not all of them are, and that doesn’t explain why, for example, the Freedom Party received some 30% of the vote in the village of Spijk, part of the municipality of Rijnwaarden.

There are barely any immigrants in Spijk, but “dissatisfaction with the traditional parties, a lack of [political] attention, the disappearance of social services, problems with pensions [were] all reasons why residents of Spijk voted for the Freedom Party,” a local newspaper explained when the party did equally well there four years ago. After citing prof. Pieter Winsemius about how the residents of many Dutch villages feel abandoned, it quoted a local to prove the point: “The young people are leaving because no new houses have been built for years,” all the shops have closed, the local football club has been disbanded, public transport doesn’t get to Spijk and there are too few streetlights along the bicycling path. Another voter added that “we have nothing against foreigners, but they have to behave. Just look at ‘Opsporing Verzocht’ [a popular TV show about crime], it’s all colored people.” You don’t need to actually know any immigrants to have an opinion about them.

The Socialist Party, in addition to its shared first place in Maastricht, came first in Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Enschede, Heerlen, Oss, Helmond, and Hengelo, as well as a range of smaller places. All of these except for Oss and Helmond have long been among the relatively major cities of the country — but not a single one of them is in the Randstad. They’re all out in the provinces, whether north, east or south.

Election posters for the 2015 provincial elections. Photo by harry_nl, licensed under Creative Commons

Election posters for the 2015 provincial elections. Photo by harry_nl, licensed under Creative Commons

Some of these cities boast or used to boast a major industry, like Philips in Eindhoven, or the textile industry of Hengelo and Enschede until it collapsed in the 1970s. Most of them have a strongly industrial tradition, actually: except for Maastricht, every one of them belonged to the 40 (out of over 1,000 then-existing) Dutch municipalities of 1930 where over 70% of the employed population was an industrial worker. All except for Groningen and Helmond belonged to the 28 Dutch towns which, in the same year, boasted at least one factory that employed over 1,000 workers.

That’s very much past tense, though: Maastricht, Eindhoven, Tilburg, Groningen, Enschede and Heerlen now actually belong to the bottom-fifth of Dutch municipalities regarding the percentage of blue-collar workers. Industrial employment and work in the trade and transport sector are mostly concentrated in small towns and rural areas nowadays. Instead, half of these cities (Maastricht, Groningen, Enschede, Heerlen) rank in the top fifth of municipalities when it comes to the share of government & health care employees; but Eindhoven, Helmond and Oss have a below-average share of those.

The full list of municipalities with the highest share of SP votes makes for an intriguing mix. The party received 32% of the vote in Boxmeer, the provincial hometown of party leader Emile Roemer, and 25–26.5% of the vote in neighbouring Cuijk and Gennep — each of which has fewer than 30 thousand inhabitants. But the Socialists also got a quarter of the vote in the above-mentioned Oss, its historic bulwark (pop. 80,000), and Heerlen (pop. 88,000), the city at the heart of Limburg’s former mining country; and two small municipalities (pop. <15,000) in eastern Groningen, up in the traditionally leftist northeastern corner of the country, Pekela and Bellingwedde. (Some of these places, like Oss, Cuijk and to a lesser extent Boxmeer, do still have a strongly blue-collar labour market.)

The Socialist Party’s roots in eastern Brabant go beyond Roemer’s personal background. Like I wrote last year, the SP was getting over 20% of the vote in Oss even when it was still a Maoist splinter with a national vote of just 0.3%. Its brand of local and neighborhood activism apparently fit well with the clientalist tradition of local Catholic politicking. Maybe it made it easier for voters to shake off the stern threats against voting for the “reds” by yesteryear’s priests, which had traditionally kept the Labour Party weak in the south. Comparing the 2012 elections map for the SP with that of catholicism in the Netherlands suggests a definite correlation.

But just like in last year’s local elections, the SP’s electoral map for the provincial elections shows it is more broadly developing an electorate in the peripheries, away from the bustling cities in the West with their multicultural populations and white-collar economies, expanding from its traditional base into more provincial cities and the economically ailing northeast.


Regional strengths and weaknesses of each political current



Same as above, but with a common scale to make comparisons easier

How do these sometimes conflicting geographic patterns translate into the relative dominance of one or the other ideological current? The maps above investigate that question, and unsurprisingly find the christian parties dominant primarily in the (deeply protestant) Bible Belt, but also in the (deeply catholic) northeastern part of Overijssel. The liberal parties do best in the Randstad, though more so in its northern ‘wing’ (Amsterdam/Utrecht) than the southern ‘wing’ (Rotterdam/The Hague), as well as the leafier parts of the countryside in North-Brabant, Gelderland and Drenthe. The ‘red’ (socialist/social-democratic) parties still perform well in Amsterdam, but otherwise rely on provincial strengths in north, east and south. Broadening the scope of left-of-center politics somewhat and including the Green Left and the Party for the Animals changes that image somewhat and gives more prominence to major cities and especially university towns (e.g. Amsterdam, Utrecht, Nijmegen, Leiden, Wageningen).

It’s interesting especially to compare the current map of the left with what it looked in previous decades. Compare these maps of the sum results for left-wing parties in national elections 69 years ago, right after the war, and 33 years ago, in the early 1980s, with the one for these provincial elections:

Historic election data from Maps with historic municipal boundaries via Data Archiving and Networked Services — DANS: Dr. O.W.A. Boonstra (2007), NLGis shapefiles,

Historic election data from Maps with historic municipal boundaries via Data Archiving and Networked Services — DANS: Dr. O.W.A. Boonstra (2007), NLGis shapefiles,


There is a distinct shift in geographic focus over time. For some fourty years, up until the late fourties, left-wing parties would pool over 45% of the vote in the province of North-Holland; in 1946 it was the country’s most left-wing province. Its support there was not limited to the cities either; it extended into most small towns and villages, thanks in part perhaps to the prevalence of liberal protestant denominations. But the left’s relative strength in the province declined steadily until, in the late 1990s, it did barely better there than in the country overall. The province of South-Holland became ever more friendly territory, relative to the national average, from the 1920s through to the mid-1960s, but has been trending away from the left ever since, with no end in sight. In Groningen, however, the left had kept consistently overperforming by roughly the same large margin throughout the post-war era — which makes Labour’s massive losses there this year and last year, only partially offset by SP gains, stand out all the more.

On the flipside, in those parts of the country where the left did very weakly, or was barely present at all, in 1946 it has done much better from the 1970s onward.

The result of these countervailing trends is what stands out most of all in these maps, aside from the left’s general weakness in last month’s elections: the overall blurring of geographical patterns. The huge contrasts which existed between highs and lows in the results of 1946 became ever less pronounced.

Back in 1946, there were 73 municipalities where the Labour Party and the Communists pooled over 60% of the vote — and 151 of them where the vote for the two parties added up to less than a piddling 5% of the vote. There were even six (mostly tiny) municipalities where the cumulative result for the social-democrats and communists was over 80% of the vote, and not one of them was in Groningen: Middelie, Oudendijk, Jisp, Ammerstol, Warder, Idaarderadeel. Vice versa, there were four where they received less than half a percentage point (five votes at most): Beers; Vessem, Wintelre en Knegsel; Westerhoven and Zeeland. All of which were hamlets in the catholic south. Boxmeer, where the Socialist Party got its best result in the country last month, was just another staunchly catholic village back then, where the Catholic People’s Party (KVP) got 94% of the vote.

Because that’s how it was: the religious political camps had even more pronounced strongholds and no-go areas. This was especially the case with the KVP, which received over 90% of the vote in no fewer than 169 municipalities, but at the same time got less than 5% in a massive 339 municipalities. Similarly, the three protestant parties of the time (ARP, CHU and SGP) also managed to pool over 70% of the vote in 89 municipalities, while getting less than 5% in 285 of them.

Sometimes, sharp contrasts could be found even between neighboring municipalities. Finsterwolde may have given 56% of its vote to the communists (and another 24% to the Labour Party), the citizens of the neighboring villages of Midwolda and Oostwold didn’t feel the same way; in their municipality, the Communist Party got just 8%, while over 50% of the vote went to the protestant parties. In Middelie, North-Holland, the Labour Party may have gotten 86% of the vote (with the communists coming in second), but in neighbouring Edam-Volendam it was the KVP which got 66%, with Labour languishing at 17%. Contrasts between neighboring villages of different religions were even starker: in Voorhout, South-Holland, 84% voted for the KVP, but in Rijnsburg 88% voted for the protestant parties ARP (52%) or CHU (36%).


By 1982, the number of such extreme results was drastically reduced. The left, which by then consisted of a large Labour Party and five small parties to its left, got over 80% of the vote in just two municipalities: the communist bulwarks of Finsterwolde and Beerta, up in the country’s northeastern corner. At the same time, there was also just one municipality left where it polled less than 5% of the vote: Urk. Same with the christian parties: KVP, ARP and CHU had by then merged into the CDA, but there were only two municipalities where that new force received over 70% of the vote: Weerselo and Tubbergen.

This year, as mentioned, there was only one municipality where a party received even just over 50% of the vote by itself (Tubbergen, CDA). And there wasn’t a single municipality where the left, even when added up together, polled over 51% of the vote.

Some part of this flattening out of results is due to successive rounds of local government reorganizations, which created ever larger municipalities and served to blend out local political peculiarities (and I’ll get into an example of that below). The main chunk of it, however, is the result of secularization. The religious parties used to hold their respective community ‘pillars’ in a tight grip: if you were catholic, for example, you read the catholic newspaper, listened to the catholic radio station, went to the catholic sports club, married a fellow catholic, and certainly voted for the catholic party (which explains how pale the south is in the left-most map). The so-called ‘depillarization’ of the 1960s-70s lifted many of those barriers, allowing the left to expand into the south; but at the same time depillarization also rapidly eroded what had been the socialists’ own ‘pillar’, which had equally bound its community together with a ‘red’ TV and radio station and social-democratic trade unions, newspapers, sports clubs, hiking clubs and health insurance cooperatives.

A third cause of the evening out of geographic political contrasts, itself contributing to the depillarization as well, must have been a mix of domestic migration/mobility and an increase of scale in daily lives. As villages turned into suburbs, young people moved to the cities, retirees moved to the countryside, white working class residents moved out of the inner cities and immigrants moved into them, workers started commuting longer distances, and people became ever more reliant on mass media instead of local networks for their information (and arguably socialization), differences have blended out ever more. A global phenomenon, of course. But perhaps especially strong in a small, highly urbanized and largely trade and services-reliant country like the Netherlands?

Far left, far right: revisiting Oldambt

Finally, this is where I get to write about one of the most interesting details of Dutch political geography, namely that spot right in the very northeast of the country where the only municipalities used to be where communists were ever dominant in the Netherlands. And where they still held on, quixotically, like Asterix and Obelix in a remote corner of the Roman empire, even after 1989.

The endless skies of the north: grain fields near Beerta. Photo by XPeria2Day, licensed under Creative Commons

The endless skies of the north: grain fields near Beerta. Photo by XPeria2Day, licensed under Creative Commons

That year didn’t just mark the collapse of the Soviet empire, it was also the last year two small, stubbornly communist municipalities called Finsterwolde and Beerta existed as independent entities. The residents of the two villages had been voting communist ever since 1922, and had kept doing so locally even after they’d taken to voting Labour in national elections in the late 1970s. Beerta was the only Dutch municipality to ever have had a communist mayor. Vice versa, both Beerta (in 1934–35) and Finsterwolde (in 1951–53) once had their local government and municipal council disbanded by the Dutch state and replaced by a ‘government commissioner’. Communist strength here was rooted in conditions of extreme local inequality: the local ‘gentleman farmers’, as they were called, used to earn 40–50 times as much as the farm labourers who tilled their land.

In 1990, however, Finsterwolde and Beerta were to merge with Nieuweschans into a larger, new municipality called Reiderland (pop. 7,000 or so). That was expected to deal a blow to the communists’ dominance, especially given world events — not to mention the self-dissolution of the Dutch Communist Party, which merged into the Green Left. But it didn’t. The local diehards just created a New Communist Party (NCPN) and promptly won 50% of the vote in the new municipality’s elections in 1994.

That support rapidly melted away in subsequent years after all, however, to 36% in 1998 and 18% in 2006. So when Reiderland in its turn fell victim to municipal restructuring and was merged into a newly created entity called Oldambt (pop. 39,000), that was sure to sound the death knell for the communists once and for all. The new municipality was to be dominated by the town of Winschoten; and while the residents there were a pretty left-wing bunch too, it had little of the deep communist history of Finsterwolde or Beerta. In fact, the NCPN had tried to relaunch in Winschoten as well in 1994, and gotten just 4% of the vote.

And yet, once again, no death knell. In last year’s local elections, a grandly titled United Communist Party (which ran in only one other municipality in the country) doubled its number of seats and increased its vote share to an altogether decent 16.0%. They came in second only to the Socialist Party, which gives you an idea of how stubbornly leftist this area is. In the Finsterwolde and Beerta precincts, specifically, they got 33% of the vote.

This year, the United Communists were so bold as to run in the provincial elections, so did their luck keep up? Interestingly enough, it didn’t. Not just did the party fail to make any impression province-wide, getting just 0.5% of the vote, it did horribly even in Oldambt, with just 4.1% of the vote. Even at the precincts in Finsterwolde and Beerta it remained stuck under 10% and 8%, respectively. How come? Did the Socialists sweep the municipality?

United Communist Party posters at the former cultural center of Winschoten. Photo by ripperda, licensed under Creative Commons.

United Communist Party posters at the former cultural center of Winschoten. Photo by ripperda, licensed under Creative Commons.

This is where things take a curious turn. In my post last year about the local elections, I already recounted how the New Communist Party (NCPN) dropped the ball somewhat in the 2002 parliamentary elections — the year that Pim Fortuyn swept through the Dutch political landscape, and his anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-Islam party went from zero to 17% of the vote practically overnight, in an election that took place just days after his assassination. In general, the northern provinces weren’t anywhere near as taken with his brand of politics as the rest of the country— in none of the four northernmost provinces did the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) get over 12% of the vote. But there was an exception. That year, the NCPN had decided not to take part in the national elections, since it never made any mark in it anyway. Coincidentally or not, Reiderland promptly provided the best result for the LPF in the entire north.

As this chart suggests, there’s at least a good possibility that a majority of the communists’ local voters, with all their suspicion and resentment of economic and political elites and ‘the lords in the Hague’, had in fact bolted straight to the far right. The only other party that lost big that year was the Labour Party, and the only party that gained big was the LPF. I also imagine that the communists of Finsterwolde are not likely to disagree much with the Freedom Party voter from Spijk who responded to a local press story by saying that “there is one important reason to vote for the Freedom Party, and it’s got nothing to do with foreigners or Islam; namely to taunt the self-satisfied ‘elite’ so us ‘dumb citizens’ can look them in the arse!”

It seems like something similar might have happened this time, though it’s not entirely clear. The Freedom Party did not take part in the local elections last year, but it did take part now, and it received 11.6% of the vote in Oldambt. That was almost identical to its national score, but well above its score in the province of Groningen as a whole (8.0%). It was roughly in line, however, with what the party got in other municipalities in the eastern part of the province, which has been good to the Freedom Party in past elections as well. In fact, its best scores in the north came not in Oldambt but in neighbouring Pekela (18%), nearby Vlagtwedde (15%) and Emmen (15%), across the provincial border in Drenthe. And while the ‘united’ communists had recently expanded into Pekela, it wasn’t like there was a major chunk of communist voters in any of those places.

On the other hand, check out this side-by-side comparison of votes cast in the local elections in Oldambt last year and the provincial elections now. And then, specifically, the one for the Beerta and Finsterwolde precincts. In part, it seems to suggest that communist voters were more likely than most to stay home this time. But still. The fact that there’s only one major winner of votes and one major loser doesn’t prove that there was a direct transfer of votes from the United Communist Party to the Freedom Party, of course. But as they say, “Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.”

figure22 figure23

Guest Post: Tunisia 2014

I was very fortunate to receive a guest post on Tunisia’s 2014 parliamentary and presidential elections from Tom Cui, who knows Tunisia and its politics inside and out.

Map of Tunisia (source: ezilon)

Parliamentary and Presidential elections were held in Tunisia over the past two months, marking the first elections under the new Constitution passed in early 2014. Elections to the Assembly of the Representatives of the People took place on October 26. Elections for the Presidency took place on November 23, with a runoff on December 21.

Seats in the Assembly are allocated on a proportional basis; specifically, Tunisia uses a closed-list, multiple-constituency proportional representation system using highest averages. For electoral purposes, Tunisia’s 24 governorates are divided into 27 regional constituencies, in addition to another 6 for Tunisian expatriates in various countries. The Presidential election is a replicate of the French format; a first round is held with all candidates, and the top two scorers face off in the second. Both the Assembly and the President are elected for five years.

Historical Context

The Republic of Tunisia is a nation of ten million people, spanning no more than a thousand kilometres on either side. Tucked between Algeria and Libya, the nation still has all the features of other North African states: a varied geography from mountains to the Saharan desert and an overwhelmingly Arab Muslim population. And, since the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi at the end of 2010, Tunisians have ousted former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, rewrote their constitution and transitioned into democracy.

As far as international elections go, Tunisia’s may be among this year’s most dramatic. The country is hailed as the Arab Spring’s one success story, home to peaceful transition instead of coups and civil war. Without a careful look at Tunisian history, however, a reader may point Tunisia’s success on pure luck, or the natural outcome of an “educated, westernized” people. Such explanations are unhelpful.

Before interpreting Tunisia’s transition and current political landscape, we must expand on two key ideas rarely mentioned in the foreign press:

  • The Tunisian state’s institutions are distinct from those in other Arab countries. To put it simply, Tunisia does not have a semi-independent military (like in Egypt or maybe Yemen), is not bound up in clear sectarian divides (like in Iraq or Syria), and may have most closely emulated the French bureaucracy out of its former colonies. The old regime in Tunisia was not responsible or representative by most means, but the institutional history has gravitated Tunisian politics toward the role of “The State”.
  • Tunisia has significant regional divisions, and any conflict or political divides between regions did not pop into being right after the Revolution. They are the results of decades of broken promises by and protests against a centralized state that often tried to suppress dissidents. Nor is there a simple division between North and South, but rather of different sections of society still trying to figure out how politics can resolve their problems.

What follows is a rather lengthy overview of modern Tunisian history that emphasizes the above points. Some key takeaways will be repeated in later sections.

The Bourguiba Years

While Tunisian history go back quite a ways (starting from Arab occupation in the 9th century, or even from the Carthaginian Empire’s beginnings), the history of the Tunisian Republic begins in the middle of the 20th. Tunisia’s independence movement caught steam in the thirties, as a wave of Tunisians born under the French protectorate took to protest and resistance. Under the protectorate, the dynasty which ruled the country as the Bey of Tunis retained a degree of autonomy while privileging French business and investment. By the fifties, however, a coalition of union leaders and socialist leaders forced independence in 1956. The same leftists who were the vanguard of the revolution abolished the monarchy and declared a republic in 1957.

By this time, the Tunisian state had a clear leader: Habib Bourguiba. President for thirty years, he defined the modern Tunisian state and its secular, westernized appearance. That would be, of course, a very sanitized version of history.

One of the first independence leaders to radicalize, his ascension to state leader involved tightening control over his Neo-Destour party, seeking to coopt labour and civic forces and purged fellow leaders who did not adopt his agenda of immediate secularization and westernisation. Fraught with fears of counterrevolution, he declared Tunisia a one-party state (ruled by the now-renamed Socialist Destourian Party [PSD] ) in the sixties and built up a formidable security apparatus.

In terms of policy, Bourguiba was a socialist with dreams of appendaging Arab characteristics to the system. A fierce nationalist, slavish to creating a Tunisian identity, he nevertheless wanted to contort the country’s Muslim and Arab culture into an European look. Among his achievements include rights for women, up to banning the hijab; the creation of a public education and health sector; state provision of contraception; the evacuation of all French occupation in the country; state control of religious authorities; and a campaign to suppress Islamic practice opposed to development.

As far as “Bourguiba moments” go, the most memorable may be when he discouraged fasting during Ramadan by drinking orange juice on public television. His strain of deritualized Islam remains readily seen in the country’s coastal, richer areas.

This history is, again, growing sanitized. Economically, Tunisia lurched into its first crisis. An ill-formed farm collectivization scheme in the late sixties lead to chaos and protests in central Tunisia. With collectivization’s failure (and a successful purge of its proponents) Bourguiba changed course and appointed Hédi Nouira, a market liberal who opened up trade with Europe.

The economy did improve, and this event is indicative; for all of the old regime’s faults, it did produce talent, some of which was noticed by leadership as long as it was aimed to “modernize”. Bourguiba lacked great skill in domestic management, and consequently tasked the job to a growing Ministry. He was much more concerned with social policy, diplomacy and building a cult of personality around the nationalist movement, with him as “Supreme Combattant.”

The second crisis came at the end of the seventies. Up to this point, Bourguiba’s PSD maintained its alliance with Tunisia’s general labour union, the UGTT, founded during the days of the independence movement and continually the country’s strongest civic force. Tensions began to form with further liberalization between the UGTT, the employers’ union and the PSD.

A decisive split led to a general strike in 1978—so called “Black Thursday”—turning to violent suppression in Tunis and imprisonment for organizers. This was followed by an armed insurrection in the mining region of Gafsa, purportedly funded by Libya and Algeria.

Bourguiba, by this time allied to France and the U.S., used the West’s military funding to maintain his authority. It came at a difficult time; as a nationalist first and foremost, Bourguiba steered the country against pan-Arabism and toward an equal partnership with the West. (This is not to say that he was not pro-Palestine or antagonistic to the Arab world, only that he was hard to pinpoint.)

In doing so, he has gone against the grain of Gaddafi’s Libya, but also those in Southern Tunisia who have never surrendered the ideas of Salah Ben Youssef, who professed greater Arab unity against all colonial forces. It also comes on the coattails of the Iranian Revolution, and political Islam did not waste time reaching those alienated under Bourguiba’s state.

Though much of this history is undocumented, enough claim that Bourguiba ruled up to this point on a regime of intimidation and torture. His ruthless streak had already resulted in total command of his party, and by the eighties he was willing to confront any resistance with arms. To put it less politely, his grip on reality was losing hold.

As a sign of appeasement, multiparty democracy was announced to be reinstated in 1981. But, since Bourguiba and his state still determined which parties were legal, the newly authorized parties were all socialist in nature (including the Tunisian Communist Party, the liberal Movement of Social Democrats, and the collectivist Party of Popular Unity). Under no chances was the greatest threat to the state approved: the Islamic Tendency Movement, led by a well-travelled professor called Rashid Ghannouchi. What awaited these Islamists was a show trial that locked them away in prison.

The worst was yet to come: Tunisia’s economy remained mostly state-controlled, and by the mid-eighties faced a balance-of-payments and public debt crises. An IMF plan drawn up required an end to subsidies for grain products, which obviously meant more expensive bread. To Tunisians away from the coast or in Tunis’s poorer quarters, this would be fatal.

The result was the “bread riots” of 1984, which involved protest and crackdown in the South, the interior region of Kasserine and Tunis. There was no turning back from this point; the Tunisian state looked like it faced a pincer attack from leftists and Islamist movements. Ghannouchi’s party has now established itself, only for its leaders to be arrested again and sentenced to death or hard labour.

The Tunisian Ministry, having mostly been chosen at Bourguiba’s leisure, turned unstable. Prime Ministers fell as they were blamed for the growing social unrest. One man, however, continued to rise in the ranks; Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, a military man who lead the crackdowns on protests in 1978 and 1984. Bourguiba appointed him as Interior Minister in 1986, then Prime Minister in 1987. The President had now chosen him as his destined successor; Ben Ali, however, moved first.

The Ben Ali years

On November 7, 1987, Ben Ali took the airwaves with an announcement. After summoning doctors who signed a report on Bourguiba’s senility, the Prime Minister has detained the President and assumed executive control. This is the only military coup that Tunisia has seen, though it ranks among the world’s most discreet. Bourguiba lived the rest of his life under house arrest in various places until his death in 2000 (when he was entombed in a very ornate mausoleum he had built in 1963).

Ben Ali started out with a reformer’s look; he promised multiparty democracy and a liberalized politics, and to his credit he never did reinstate single-party rule. Under him, the PSD was transformed into the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). Officials in the MTI, despised and condemned to death under Bourguiba, were released. That did not mean they were allowed to organize themselves.

Open elections in 1989 showed that Islamists were a considerable force in the South and Tunis, even if Ghannouchi’s now-retitled Ennahda Movement could not officially contest. This was enough of a sign for Ben Ali to escalate a crackdown on all Islamist activity, and they were continuously accused of fostering violence and plotting to subvert the state. The police force was bloated to about 150000 in the early nineties, twice as many police officers per capita as the U.K. Ghannouchi and others were fortunate enough to flee to exile in London.

From thereon, Ben Ali ruled with Bourguiba’s degree of ruthlessness. Both presidents were stridently anti-Islamist, anti-pan-Arabist, anti-Caliphate or anything of the sort. While Ben Ali took care to no longer mention Bourguiba and erase his cult of personality, the idea of a secular Tunisian nationalism remained a powerful tool. Ben Ali also sought to capture civil society, and he did achieve some success by fostering close ties with the UGTT, the employers’ union, as well as other NGOs and organizations.

On one hand, the new Tunisian state began to privatize and entwine itself in free-trade treaties, increasing industrial production and developing services and tourism. The country was an IMF poster-child, not to mention an engine of talent. On the other hand, Ben Ali’s security apparatus cracked down on any dissidents to the regime.

Torture was an obvious fact (examples including electrocution, waterboarding, gang beatings and rape) cast upon not only Islamists but any who protested against Tunisia’s widening income disparity. While the coast, already developed during French colonisation and the Bourguiba years, reaped the rewards, those in the South and Interior remained unemployed or worked in more intensive and dangerous professions.

Relations with the West only improved with time; Tunisia became a close ally of France and the U.S., who approved of its modernized bureaucracy and its hardline attitude towards political Islam. Support only grew after 9/11 and the emergence of Salafism, Al-Qaeda and other jihadist movements. Tunisian expatriates became a common sight in Canada, Western Europe or the Gulf States, either descendants of a new middle class or interior workers driven to build a better life. Compared to Algeria (mired in civil war), or any of the more nebulous Arab dictatorships, Tunisia seemed like a good place to be.

The flip side to this economic liberalization was widespread corruption and nepotism. The RCD, which came to dominate political life, was already the main channel through which educated Tunisians passed through to start business or enter public service. The UGTT and other professional unions became lead by Ben Ali stalwarts, though the situation began to change after the 21st century.

At the top of this network was Ben Ali, elected to multiple presidential terms without competition. Whereas Bourguiba had his rhetoric and vanity projects, Ben Ali’s flaw was corruption. With Leila Trabelsi, his second wife, Ben Ali gifted their relatives and other close contacts with control of privatized state corporations. Civic leaders were rewarded with patronage for their cooperation as the Ben Ali family purportedly divested billions of Euros from the country.

While Tunisia was a nominal democracy with opposition parties, they had power only on paper. Ben Ali never faced any serious opposition to his rule, nor was he stopped when he removed any semblance of term limits in 2002. The UGTT had been pacified, and a major crackdown on Ennahda in the early nineties left political Islam without a clear direction. Independent press was nonexistent, and even religious radio was owned by a Ben Ali family member.

To add insult to injury, Ben Ali allowed for a segment of parliament to be reserved for opposition parties while the RCD claimed every constituency. These were the same leftist parties legalized under Bourguiba, along with some liberal ones, and whose leaders openly praised Ben Ali’s rule for further modernizing the country.

The period of political competition and turmoil during the later Bourguiba years, however, created a generation of “secular opposition” who did not cooperate with Ben Ali’s façade while also keeping distance from Islamists. Examples of these figures include lawyers Mustapha Ben Jaafar and Ahmad Néjib Chebbi, communists and organizers Hamma Hammami and Chokri Belaid, and human rights activist Moncef Marzouki.

Many of them were students in the seventies, disenchanted with Bourguiba and Ben Ali. Some looked to liberalism and human rights for the solution, and others to Marxism-Leninism, Baathism and other forbidden pan-Arab thought. Regardless, they were allowed to remain in the country but were frequently detained and tortured when international watchers looked away.

Even if Ben Ali became more accepting of Islam not under state supervision by the new millennium, public expression of the faith was still a subversive act. After 9/11 and the spread of jihadism, Ben Ali had another excuse to rubber-stamp an “anti-terrorism bill” which deprived due process even further.

Far from stopping with terrorists, the regime began persecuting students and activists who learned to spread news of corruption and destitution through the internet.  For what it’s worth, jihadism had become a significant factor in the country; as political Islam was suppressed, anger among the Tunisian underclass found violence as a channel.

Thus began the slow fall of Ben Ali’s centralized state. While it tried to cover up terrorist attacks on the southern island of Djerba and in Soliman, a city close to Tunis, the news became known and condemned by all sectors of Tunisian society.

In 2008, with echoes of unrest in 1984, miners relieved from phosphate mines in the southern region of Gafsa rose up to protest unemployment and discrimination. The movement spread across the region and continued for a month, though it received a mixed reaction from opposition figures. Ben Ali’s heavy-handed response—calling in the army to intervene and arrest—changed minds, who now decry state actions.

In a few years’ time, more Tunisians faced the same problem Gafsa’s miners encountered. The financial crisis hit Tunisia as hard as the rest of the world, playing out alongside a rise in world commodity prices. By 2010, GDP per capita was on the decline, worsening an already troubling degree of inequality in the country. Tunisia, with a burgeoning youth population, had no jobs to provide to these newly educated people.  At the same time, the UGTT, Islamists and opposition figures were regrouping, as well as other Tunisians who received news of protests in the South.

The rest is history. Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor in the south-central but highly undeveloped region of Sidi Bouzid, set himself aflame after state officials seized his business. News of Bouazizi spread across the youth of Sidi Bouzid, and protests spread. By the end of the year, protests have spread to neighbouring Gafsa, Kasserine and Gabes. As the South rose up, so did the agricultural Northwest and Tunis itself.

The revolution by then captured the passion of youth, as well as the older generation of activists, union leaders, lawyers and professionals. General strikes took place across the country, and Ben Ali’s only response was to shuffle state officials and promise policy changes. By this time, protests were even taking place on the coast and in the Northern port of Bizerte, all with the goal of taking down any traces of the RCD.

On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali ordered new legislative elections and a state of emergency. While police have fought off protesters in Tunis, military generals refused to follow Ben Ali’s instructions and sided in support of revolution. With the intention of protecting himself, Ben Ali fled the country for Saudi Arabia the same day. He was lucky to not have been arrested the way others in his family were; he has yet to return.

After the Revolution

This is as good a time as ever to realize Ben Ali’s ouster is not enough. Though the dictators are gone, the state they have built remains; one which is overly centralized, persecutory, dominated by cronyism, unresponsive to concerns outside those of an aged elite, and whose violence has fueled a generation of Islamist radicals. The Revolution’s main phase was not over until the RCD was expelled from the state, and protests continued unabated.

Ben Ali’s last Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, was number three in the party and a noted economist. Noting the power vacuum, he declared himself as acting president on television. This lasted for about three days before Fouad Mebazaa, Parliamentary speaker and loyal RCD official, was constitutionally invested as acting president.

Ghannouchi was reappointed and formed a “government of national unity,” comprising members of the UGTT and major opposition figures (like Ben Jaafar and Néjib Chebbi). The problem: most of these new ministers refused to serve in the same cabinet with RCD stalwarts. With military support, civil society and protesters now engaged in a general strike that will not stop until a RCD ministry is removed.

The strike continued for a month, despite a government reshuffle by Ghannouchi that replaced most RCD officials. Any plans for a single transition government leading the country to new elections became quite unlikely; protesters demanded Ghannouchi’s resignation, the suspension of parliament and immediate investigation into crimes perpetrated by the Ben Ali state. The West, by this time, must have also grown worried; though not everyone was as bad as French politicians in voicing support for the old regime, America risked losing an ally and Italy did not want Tunisian refugees swarming to its shores.

Finally, on February 17, 2011, Ghannouchi resigned and was replaced by Béji Caid Essebsi, a former old regime official (but we’ll get to more about him later). He composed a government of technocrats, not all of which was friendly to an insider like Essebsi, but which was enough to keep the state functioning until elections to a “Constituent Assembly” tasked with rewriting the national constitution. Delays and errors in voter registration led to a late election date of October 23.

The next eight months were a time for social change. Since the press in Tunisia had an anemic presence, Tunisians plugged into the internet, social networks, and the radio. Bloggers and reporters in the country, already a presence before the Revolution, were now free to spread the news about life throughout the country, as well as engage in debate.

The situation had its absurdities: Ben Ali’s state of emergency was retained throughout, and stayed until after the elections this year. The wave of liberalisation was also met with police brutality, and in parts of the interior continued unabated from Ben Ali’s time.

With the Revolution also came something close to freedom of religion. For the first time in many years, Tunisians can wear the hijab in public or engage in prayer without fear of persecution. Add this to an already latent Islamic radicalism, and religious diversity exploded. The division is as much a regional and class one as it is religious: westernized middle classes, French-speaking and educated, would glimpse in public or hear of poor Tunisians who grew their beards and dressed themselves in robes.

This first wave engaged much debate, and from a year onwards Islamists used their freedom to decry blasphemy or sinfulness. It would be fair to describe it as a battle between Islamists and secular forces in the following way: both sides want freedom of expression for their ideas, but find a decent portion of the other side’s ideas intolerable and necessarily forbidden.

The cultural debate, nonetheless, never last as long as foreigners would think they do. Tunisia’s biggest concerns remain chronic unemployment and unequal development. Citizens of Gabes in the South may be religiously conservative, but they also want a solution to a pollution crisis that stemmed from their petrochemicals sector. The revolution heralded instability and a steep fall in tourism, which made a genuine economic recovery even more unlikely. With time, the discourse transitioned to more substantive issues.

As parties were legalized in preparation for elections, the opposition figures from the eighties returned. Back were Ghannouchi, Marzouki and the Ennahda leadership, sharing the spotlight with secular figures. By this time, one would notice that they are all quite old, ranging from the seventies to the late fourties (as is the case for some human rights activists). This is a natural consequence of exile and detainment for twenty years, followed by the one party which absorbed young talent—the RCD—declared as illegal. There are signs of division between the political class and the youth who started the Revolution.

Elections did take place on October, and their results have been covered on this blog already. To summarize, Ennahda used its seven months between legalisation and the election well; it was best suited to reconstruct ties in the South or elsewhere, and build a truly national organization that turned out the vote.

Ennahda alone won 89 seats, or more than two-fifths of the Assembly. Behind them were the Congress for the Republic, led by Moncef Marzouki and composed of various regional activists, running on a platform of human rights, liberalism and a record untainted by regime collaboration. Then there was the Popular Petition, led by expatriate press magnate Hachmi Hamdi, whose lavish welfare guarantees yielded him control of the interior and of his native Sidi Bouzid. Then there is Ben Jaafar’s Forum for Liberties (Ettakatol), Néjib Chebbi’s Progressive Democratic Party, and other non-Islamist parties with variation in participation in Ben Ali’s sham democracy.

Ghannouchi is known to be a moderate in his own party, favouring coalition-building with non-Islamist forces and appearing as compromising as is necessary. With this idea in place, Ennahda formed a coalition government with CPR and Ettakatol in a power-sharing arrangement, known as the “Troika”. CPR’s leader, Moncef Marzouki, was appointed interim president, and Ettakatol’s Ben Jaafar presided over the Assembly. This caused rebuke from supporters of the secular parties, but an Islamist government was formed with Hamadi Jebali, Ghannouchi’s right-hand man, as Prime Minister.

The government was tasked to improve Tunisians’ livelihoods while the Assembly was intended to draft a constitution. On both tasks, it is only fair to say both institutions did poorly. The Assembly was composed of such a heterogeneous group of individuals—not to mention parties united perhaps only by a common occupation in the work opposing Ben Ali’s regime—that consensus was highly unlikely.

Ennahda is a prime example; composed of members of parliament from North and South, some conciliatory and others unmovable in their support for an Islamic legal code (“Sharia”), the party would consider multiple constitutional articles, have their deliberations leaked, face controversy and have to withdraw.

Three ideas that come to mind are the decision to exclude any mention of Sharia in the constitution, a draft article that defined women’s role as “in the family,” and whether to implement a parliamentary or presidential system. More extreme examples are the CPR and Popular Petition, which totally imploded as the Assembly rolled on.

On the government’s performance, the Troika was not remotely close to ensuring sustained, equitable growth. The government itself is not entirely to blame; Tunisia’s internal consumption is already skewed, and demand from Europe that should drive growth vanished with the Eurozone crisis.

What the government faces looks like a repeat of the eighties; the country faces a current account deficit, falling foreign investment, a lacking rebound in tourism and a widening budget deficit (rumoured to be about 8% of GDP). The country looks on track to be as sclerotic as Egypt—and not to mention inflation has never stopped outpacing wages. It could be blamed, however, for a lack of authority; there have not been enough orders from Tunis to resolve what those in the South and the Interior have protested over for decades.

It took late 2012, though, for the stakes to be raised and the political field set up for what we see today. First, it was by this time that Essebsi—the regime stalwart and interim Prime Minister—stepped back into politics, and properly organized his party, Nidaa Tounes or the Call for Tunisia. Second, the recognized jihadist threat that has existed for the past decade had began to act.

There was Ansar al-Charia, a public organization responsible for a media campaign calling for Islamic rule. There were radicalized mosques across the country, left unregulated by the state. Then there were the attacks; on the American embassy in September and against Nidaa Tounes or other regime officials.

The biggest casualty was in February 2013, when Chokri Belaid—a lawyer, fierce secularist and leftist, earlier mentioned—was shot in front of his house. This assassination lead to the greatest anti-government protests since 2011, as the spectre of Islamism threatening national security—a tactic used by the old regime for so many decades—lurched into view. The UGTT, a much more organized force since the Revolution, called for a national general strike as a sign of resistance.

Jebali quickly announced his resignation and proposed another government of technocrats that will ease the transition between new elections, but now he faced a schism within the party over the extent of conceding to regime officials. After some deliberation, Jebali did resign and was instead replaced by Ali Laareydh, another prominent moderate in the party.

The lines were drawn. With economic development, Islam and national identity and national security on the line, Tunisia’s politics coalesced into two sides. On one side was the “Troika,” mostly Ennahda but also what remained of the CPR and Ettakatol. On the other side were the UGTT, the disaffected middle class and suddenly Essebsi, whose record as administrator stood him out among the rest of the accepted political class. With one of their leaders dead, the Tunisian far-left also entered the fray. Their spokesperson, Hamma Hammami, became the most stridently anti-Islamist political figure and captured hearts with it.

A second assassination took place in July 2013, when Mohamed Brahmi—a communist from Sidi Bouzid—was shot in suburban Tunis. Right after, the Tunisian military began a bloody engagement with terrorist camps in the Chaambi Mountains, to the west of Tunisia. This time, the Troika’s opposition was prepared for a sustained campaign.

Those sympathetic to the cause, from youth to old, occupied grounds in front of the Assembly in Bardo and called for the resignation of the Ennahda government. Essebsi also claimed the Constituent Assembly had outlasted its mandate, and therefore had to be abolished. A spade of assemblypeople withdrew their seats to catch the wave. The message: as we are witness to the terrorism that has taken over our country, we no longer have any confidence in the Troika or the Assembly’s incompetence.

Coming at a dark time in Arab Spring nations—a counter-coup in Egypt, civil war in Syria and civil unrest elsewhere—Tunisians feared the democratic transition’s collapse and total chaos. Both sides have turned to accusing the other of conspiracy, violence and creating havoc for political gain. The Islamists were supposedly in cahoots with armed terrorist groups and friendly with them. The opposition was supposedly controlled by RCD operatives readying for a counter-coup.

With so much to lose, the UGTT partnered with the employer’s union, the National Bar Association and the Tunisian Human Rights League to form a quartet of mediators. Representatives from the Troika and its opposition, now structured under a “National Salvation Front,” would engage in dialogue with the goal of agreeing on an interim government and ratification of a constitution.

The dialogue began in October and was rocky from the start. The parties met rarely and with great tension, and close to the end of the year it seemed on the verge of collapse. Yet, by January 2014, the parties came to a miraculous compromise, where Mehdi Jomaa, an Ennahda leader, will assume the Prime Ministership over a technocratic cabinet.

Later that month, the Assembly nearly unanimously ratified a proposed constitution, which established a semi-presidential system and has a comprehensive list of rights: to life and dignity, from torture, to free access of information, to work and unionize, to equality between sexes and for children, and so forth. It became one of the world’s most progressive—and with no mention of Sharia.

Since then, the Jomaa government has focused on national security, working in collaboration with the army. The threat of jihadism dominates the news, particularly as the situation deteriorated in Syria (i.e. the ISIS problem). Tunisia is now known for sending the greatest number of fighters to the Islamic State, never mind its internal strife. The economic situation is stable but still on the downside, though Jomaa’s cabinet has and cannot enact major domestic policy.

The state of emergency remains in effect: Tunisia’s police, unreformed since the revolution, has free rein to persecute and arrest in the name of law of order. The old regime’s power players continue to test Ennahda and likewise, seeing which side would blink first. It is under this context that the second Tunisian political campaign since independence took place.

Parliamentary — The Parties

During the Constituent Assembly’s tenure, a variety of state models were debated. Ennahda began with support for a parliamentary system, where the executive is elected by Parliament and will be dismissed if the chamber loses confidence in it. On the other end were calls for “separation of powers,” or a return to Tunisia’s former presidential model. A president would be elected and have a fixed mandate, but there would be a legislative body and an independent judiciary.

In extreme cases, both models would foster authoritarianism. An executive with a parliamentary majority and total control of his caucus possesses control over most administrative responsibilities. A presidential system is prone to the president subverting the Constitution or locked in conflict with it (like the US). The track record, at least, bodes worse for the presidential system, creators of dictatorships in Latin America and South America.

The consensual model mimics the French model, a strange creation encoded in the midst of political crisis and Marshal Charles de Gaulle’s return as national saviour. The Constitution provides many powers to the president: a fixed mandate, control of internal security, foreign affairs and defense, and abilities to declare a state of emergency, appoint the judiciary and dissolve the legislative body.

What it denies is exclusive control over government formation; the President appoints a Prime Minister, who must maintain the confidence of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People. Nothing stops the Assembly from only accepting a Prime Minister from the President’s rival party, and the intention is for “cohabitation” to occur. The Assembly also has the power of impeachment, activated if two-thirds of the chamber agrees the President has violated the Constitution.

The bottom line is that elections to the Assembly have consequences, and the President should achieve some consensus outside of his party in order to form government. But the President remains the country’s supreme political figure, a result Tunisia’s opposition but personalist parties want and Ennahda opposes. The worst case is that the President becomes as dominating as Bourguiba, who can shuffle his cabinet now and then to buy off support in the Assembly: how much different would that be from the seventies?

HARAKAT ENNAHDA (THE RENAISSANCE MOVEMENT) — Whether in or out of power, no party incites as much passion and speculation as Ennahda (excluding the RCD here) Formed as the Islamic Tendency Movement in 1981,  the party was the idea of two educated professionals: Rashid Ghannouchi, a philosophy professor, and Abdelfettah Mourou, a lawyer turned religious mystic. Their party was the closest thing Tunisia had to political Islam since the days of Ben Youssef in the fifties, and Ghannouchi held Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as an inspiration.

Subject to intense persecution under the Bourguiba regime, when its leaders were captured and almost condemned to death, its leaders were released by Ben Ali as he seized power. Once candidates associated with Ennahda scored above expectations in 1989 elections, however, Ben Ali lead another crackdown that incapacitated the movement for the next two decades. After the revolution, Ghannouchi and other founding members returned and rebuilt the party’s foundation, shocking some observers with its score in the National Constituent Assembly elections.

Ennahda, at its heart, is a big-tent party—it is devoted to political Islam, but this allows for a wide range of opinions. Unlike other variants of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda has an organizational structure which is “operationally democratic”. Party decisions are made by a Shura Council of 24 members, composed of party elders and even a few young leaders.

More strikingly, the party does not allow itself to be dominated by one personality. It is quite possibly the most “parliamentary” of Tunisia’s parties, with a clear structure from top to local branches, public debate between factions and caucus organization.

Under Ghannouchi’s leadership, the party has tried its hardest to play by the rules of the game. It has a large share of female lawmakers (though near-zero leaders) and promised to work in coalition with secular parties, leading the “Troika” government from 2011 to 2014. It has launched an offensive against jihadist and radical forces, though without much success.

After a troubled administration and protests against its rule, Ennahda made a decisive shift when it compromised with opposition forces in a national dialogue. In a blow to the party’s right, Ennahda has conceded on Sharia law in the Constitution, a full parliamentary system and ceded Ministry control to technocrats representative of the old regime.

For the party’s supporters—scattered throughout the South, near the ancient city of Kairouan, or among the lower classes in Northern cities—Ennahda is a movement that defends their values from decades of oppression. It is hard to overstate how well-established Ennahda is in the South, seeing as most of its leaders are from there, it is in contact with prominent Southern leaders and that central government in Tunis has widely ignored their problems.

For the party’s opponents, including national media and the coastal middle class who benefitted under the old regime, Ennahda is a cultish group with unknown origins and intentions. Since most of its leaders were in exile or tortured, they lack government experience and showed this during the Troika government. Some step further and accuse them of conspiring to assassinate anti-Islamists. Unfortunately for the party, it has had isolated incidents where party members have sieged political enemies (though the number of Ennahda regional offices burnt down during the Troika years is greater).

In terms of actual policy, Ennahda is not too distinct from the Tunisian consensus. It is economically centrist, and its greater objective is to roll back Tunisia’s current form of centralist nationalism for a more Islamic and more diffuse state. In the meantime, the party needs to work out how they can survive in the long-term without abandoning the principles that gather it support among marginalized groups.

A slightly cheesy open-air Ennahda rally

NIDAA TOUNES (CALL FOR TUNISIA) — Formed in 2012 by former Prime Minister Béji Caid Essebsi, Nidaa Tounes has enjoyed an astonishing rise in public visibility. Through a series of strategic maneuvers, the party has become the principal opposition party to Ennahda, defining itself and pulling itself together through their opposition to political Islam.

The focus of the party is on Essebsi, who has decades of experience as a minister under Bourguiba and untainted by the drama that has riddled the Assembly and the younger political class; he makes grand speeches, make appearances on national TV and gives interviews to the foreign press.

That is not to say the party has not expanded, but that the focus is necessarily more “top-down” than other established ones. Conflicts exist between regional leaders and Essebsi over “parachuted” candidates, like a controversy over Essebsi picking his son to lead the list in the toss-up Tunis 1 constituency.

The party’s executive council is primarily from the developed coast, uniting former ministers, trade unionists and other leaders from established civil society (contrasted to, say, religious communities or Ennahda’s own networks). Leaders include Taieb Baccouche (secretary-general of the UGTT during the turbulent eighties), Mohamed Ennaceur (minister under Bourguiba’s liberal period), Mohsen Marzouk (international human rights lawyer), and Slim Chaker (economic bureaucrat under Ben Ali).

But—if Nidaa can accuse Ennahda of fostering terror—so can Islamists accuse Nidaa of being a safe house for discredited RCD officials post-revolution. There is some truth to this, moreso in southern Tunisia than anywhere else (and where some have died for their involvement). As far as parliamentary candidates go, however, Nidaa has not made any obvious mistakes.

Their list are lead by bureaucrats or lawyers, human rights activists (one or two defecting from the CPR), and businessmen (like Moncef Sellami, football team owner). Ideologically, these party members are nationalists, with a portion of unionists and a portion of leftists. It remains fair to say that the party has assembled a group of leaders who have done well under the old regime.

As another big tent party united by a cause—or an opposition—Nidaa’s survival is even more surprising. Part of its success must be due to Essebsi realizing this, and making sure that Nidaa leads any secular opposition against Ennahda. This was successful, as Essebsi formed the Union for Tunisia in the wake of Belaid’s assassination in February 2013. It became Nidaa who spoke for the movement, Nidaa who commented on anger against the Troika and Nidaa who approved of a compromise with Ennahda over the transition to a new constitution.

By summer 2014, Nidaa also had enough candidates and connections to make it on its own, spurning the Union altogether. In a way, the party chewed up those on the frontlines against Ben Ali’s regime and used them to its advantage.

Politically, Nidaa is also economically centrist and would like to reform the economy. Their vision of the state is unique—Essebsi spoke gravely about the collapse of national security in the country and the necessity of a strong state to support safety. Nidaa’s state is still the one envisioned by Bourguiba: nationalist, secular and rid of the reactionary parts of Islam. They wear this vision without shame, and has rode on a wave of nostalgia for the old regime.

A CGI Bourguiba head starting off a Nidaa rally

JABHA EL-SHA’ABIYA (POPULAR FRONT) — The Popular Front is not a party as it is a coalition of twelve leftists groups, running on joint regional lists for the elections. Members of these parties were caught in a dilemma; having failed to gain representation running separate lists in 2011, they witnessed the rise and fall of Ennahda and the resurgence of old regime forces, the same who have persecuted them for leftist seditious ideology. The best option was to unite.

The Popular Front’s ideology is not left in the same way that Nidaa or the UGTT is left—its component parties officially subscribe either to Marxist-Leninism or Arab nationalism. Major parties in the Popular Front are the Worker’s Party (led by Hamma Hammami, formerly the Workers’ Communist Party in Tunisia), a Marxist outfit; the Unified Democratic Patriots’ Party, the pan-Arab and anti-Zionist party of the assassinated Chokri Belaid; and the very straightforwardly titled Ba’ath Movement.

Ba’athism, Marxism and other far-left ideologies were viewed with equal suspicion in Bourguiba’s Tunisia, who viewed it as threats to Tunisia’s sovereignty. Under Ben Ali, many of these parties had to go underground, militant as they were. In the latter days of Ben Ali’s regime, they were also hard to categorize among Tunisia’s opposition; they stood out for their support of workers’ strikes in Gafsa’s phosphate mines, isolated from the rest of civil society, and is generally better received in the interior than on the coast.

After the deaths of two leaders (Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi), the Popular Front was thrown into the spotlight as the vanguard of the anti-Islamist movement. It is around this time that the coalition focused their platform on the denunciation of Ennahda, seeing the assassinations as a declaration of war. More critically, party leaders were willing to unite forces with Nidaa Tounes—the old regime!—in negotiations with the Troika, even if their participation was fleeting.

Coming into the election, members of the Popular Front continue to call for immediate action for law and order, suppressing political Islam, and a redistribution of wealth from the coast to the interior. Whereas the alliance takes a distinct position on free trade and collaboration with European institutions, in the media their anti-Islamist policy blends together with Nidaa’s. While Hammami, the coalition’s spokesperson and most prominent media figure, refuse any coalition with Nidaa, he can flip-flop in his opposition to Essebsi’s party. This has led to some tension.

AL MOTTAMAR MIN ‘AJLI AL-JUMHURIYYA (CONGRESS FOR THE REPUBLIC) — A party found by human rights lawyer Moncef Marzouki in 2001, the CPR is a wide coalition of activists from all corners of the country. Based off of its leader’s popularity, the party had a uniform vote distribution across the country and scored 29 seats from 29 constituencies. Its platform is generally leftist, calling for greater rights for all Tunisian citizens and a third-world foreign policy. More interestingly, of all the secular opposition it is the most welcoming to southern Tunisians. This is not due only to Marzouki’s Southern roots, but because his confidants also include prominent Southern figures.

The CPR had collapsed in the polls following 2013, and was not expected to repeat its electoral success. It is worth mentioning as a case study of a Tunisian political self-implosion. It has probably the greatest degree of North-South parity outside of Ennahda, while it is a personalist party held together by Marzouki’s success, similar to Nidaa Tounes. Once Marzouki was elected interim president and left party leadership, the CPR split up over its ideological divisions and lack of a coherent agenda.

After Marzouki’s departure, founding member Abderrayouf Ayadi was appointed secretary-general after delays, only to be stripped of his duties five months later after mocking Bourguiba on television and alienating most of his party. He took five Assembly members with him. Liberal Mohamed Abbou was named to replace him, but he quit as well and took three Assembly members with him after CPR ministers refused to quit after the Belaid assassination. A Marzouki confidant, Imed Daimi, then led the party, and could not stop members moving to Ettakatol, Nidaa Tounes or sitting as independents.

By the Assembly’s end, the CPR had 12 of its 29 elected members.

AL ITTIHAAD AL-WATANI AL-HOUR (FREE PATRIOTIC UNION) — The “UPL” is the brainchild of Slim Riahi, a Tunisian businessman who made a fortune dealing with Libyan oil (more on him later). Having tried to lead his party to victory upon return in 2011 and failed, Riahi waited a few more years to prepare a better campaign. He has bought Club Africain—one of Tunisia’s most popular football teams—and fused his party with other small liberal outfits in a search for staffers.

Riahi is called the Berlusconi of Tunisia for good reason (except he is not remotely as successful). His campaign simply involves pouring much of his own money into publicity; up to 5 million dinars (about 2 million Euros) was spent plastering his name across the country or in media. He has sucked up as much media time as he can imagine doing philanthropic acts, like paying for protesters’ medical bills. The UPL has also been noted for donating food to Tunisians, for whatever reasons one can imagine.

The ISIE can enforce campaign regulations this time, and Riahi’s massive 2011 publicity campaign would now be considered illegal. He seems to have played by the rules, focusing on canvassing on the ground in Tunis and environs. There are a few public rallies, but nothing as lavish as Essebsi’s.

What are the party’s policies? None of it is quite clear, absent a need for cleaner and more representative government. It pays lip service to the big issues, promising to eradicate terrorism and create exactly 422000 jobs. It does not appear to support welfare policies as lavish as another populist party who scored big in the 2011 election. The party also seems to prefer Nidaa over Ennahda, as made evident by Riahi’s statements throughout this campaign.

AFEK TOUNES (TUNISIAN ASPIRATION) — Afek is a conspicuously young party with a market liberal platform. Its leader, Yassine Brahim, works in finance and is 48 years old, making him one of the youngest party leaders. While it is distinct from Nidaa, the party has drifted closer to it over time; indeed, Afek’s leaders represent a display of young talent facilitated by the old regime’s liberalization. Their biggest catch has to be getting Hafedh Zouari, head of the Zouari industrial conglomerate, to lead one of their lists.

Some of its policies are rather specific: there are calls for increasing sports investment, higher education vouchers and a two-tiered public health care system. It remains frustratingly vague on the political Islam issue, but its cooperation with Nidaa and on-the-record opposition to the Troika says more than anything. The party markets itself to a coastal, white-collar base, and supporters may see more dynamism in Afek compared to other parties.

When the party was founded, there were accusations that its members had ties to the RCD, made by lawyers up to President Marzouki. These rumours no longer hold much sway, and Brahim is a popular media figure. The party seems to have a better grasp of social media advertising than most and even made a viral music video.

AL-JOUMHOURI (REPUBLICAN PARTY) — Joumhouri’s roots began in the Ben Ali era as the Progress Democratic Party (PDP), a socially liberal party led by Ahmed Néjib Chebbi. Having started out in politics as a skeptic of Bourguiba, Chebbi may have softened his views but retained harsh criticism of the old regime. Of the parties opposing Ben Ali but still not outlawed, the PDP was the most radical.

The PDP only gained about 4% of the vote in 2011’s election, and garnered 16 seats due to the highest averages electoral system. Though it was well funded and advertised substantially, it did not score substantially outside of the North and metro Tunis. Following the results, the PDP became the largest secular opposition to Ennahda; it tasked itself with the role of leading a united opposition to the Troika.

Al Joumhouri began as a merger between the PDP, Afek Tounes and other centrist figures. A wing of the PDP, led by eight assemblypeople not tied to Chebbi, already split in dissent. Unfortunately for the new party, the merger took place in April 2012, the same time that Essebsi first revealed his vision for Nidaa Tounes. What Chebbi admitted as his greatest strategic error was signing up with Nidaa Tounes to form the Union for Tunisia, an electoral alliance lead by Nidaa instead.

With Nidaa and Essebsi dominating the airwaves, Joumhouri began to fracture; Afek left the party in 2013 to pursue its own list. Nidaa and the Popular Front worked to keep up the opposition to the Troika, and Joumhouri’s idea of a national dialogue mediated by the UGTT did take place, but only after the party had left the spotlight. Nidaa and Ennahda then compromised, a decision Joumhouri protested as non-consensual. The party did vote for the new Constitution, but later left the Union for Tunisia as Nidaa clearly outgrew the vehicle.

A party of the middle class who wanted to stay above the Nidaa-Ennahda duel, Joumhouri has collapsed in the polls to about the CPR’s level. One could say the party wanted to pursue a third way to a new Tunisia, one that does not pay lip service to Islamists or the old regime, and perhaps relied instead on international assistance and civil society. It is their tragedy that they did not see how restless people were at political impasse, the little patience they devoted to the project and how hard Islamist-versus-nationalist rhetoric spurned by the old regime is to go away.

OTHERS — Minor parties at the time of the election include:

  • Ettakatol, the “Democratic Forum for Liberties” founded by Mustapha Ben Jaafar, legal opposition figure under Ben Ali. Particularly strong in metro Tunis in 2011, the party committed electoral suicide by cooperating with Ennahda for three turbulent years. The party has splintered and is destined for 2-3% of the vote.
  • The Union for Tunisia, or the remnants of it. After Nidaa and Joumhouri pulled out, its only major member is the Social and Democratic Path, an alliance centred around the Ettajid Movement, the reformed edition of the Tunisian Communist Party. Totally eclipsed by Nidaa.
  • The Current of Love, formerly the Popular Petition. A party glued together by press magnate Hechmi Hamdi, claiming voters across the nation and dominating in Sidi Bouzid. Hamdi’s wild welfare state plans never came through, and 19 of its 26 Assemblypeople left for other parties.
  • The National Initiative (Al Moubadara) of Kamel Morjane, foreign minister under Ben Ali. Explicitly carrying the RCD’s banner, the party is made up of former regime officials. Scored well in 2011 lacking other channels for nostalgia, but now is eclipsed by Nidaa.
  • People’s Movement, a Nasserist party started by assassinated politician Mohamed Brahmi. Before Brahmi left to join the Popular Front, he claimed the party had been infiltrated by Islamists.
  • Party of the Tunisian People’s Voice, a front cobbled by TV network owner and Ben Ali associate Larbi Nasra for his political career (more on him later).
  • Movement of Social Democrats, legalised as a liberal alternative during the Bourguiba years and played along as loyal opposition during the Ben Ali years.
  • Various splinters of the PDP, the CPR and of the Popular Petition (ex-PDP Democratic Alliance, ex-CPR Democratic Current, quasi-Islamist Wafa movement, regionalist Al Amen). There are also region-specific lists, which will be explored in the results.

Parliamentary — Results and Analysis

As earlier mentioned, Tunisia’s elections follow a proportional representation system with regional constituencies. Three especially populous governorates—Tunis, Nabeul and Sfax—are split into halves for demographic coherence and possibly a smaller range of constituency sizes. As it is, constituency sizes range from electing only one candidate (the expatriate constituency of Germany) to ten (coastal Sousse and Ben Arous, which covers Tunis’s southern suburbs).

In the interests of parity, Tunisian parties by law have to have an equal number of men and women women across their electoral lists. This does not change the reality that there are very few female politicians or businesswomen, and party leadership is predominantly male. Ennahda has a fair distribution of women near the top of their lists to fend off accusations, and Nidaa did similarly. It still remains that Nidaa only had one female list leader, who replaced Essebsi’s son in Tunis after a party revolt. This election produced a chamber that is 31% female, a rate higher than many Western democracies.

Tunisia also uses a largest remainder system for apportionment (or the Hare method). The idea is to create a quota for seats in a constituency, a fraction of all votes cast. Parties’ votes, then, are converted into units of quotas. Parties first receive a number of seats equal to the highest whole number lower than their quota units, then any seats left over are given to parties with the highest remainder of quota units (Wikipedia has a good example).

There are two quirks of this system relevant for these elections. First, largest remainder suffers from the Alabama Paradox: if parties receive the same percentage of the vote across constituencies, but with some larger ones, the large parties can crowd out seats from small parties if the seat increase is not great enough. Second, the system allows tiny parties to still gain a seat if there are only one or two major parties. This is not the case with other PR systems.

As an illustration, refer to this article that computes the 2011 election results and find that Ennahda would have achieved a supermajority under other popular PR systems. In that same election, it also turned out that parties who had more uniform distribution of votes (like the CPR) did much better than ones with skewed voter bases.

How is it relevant in 2014? Though the political debate has been dominated by Ennahda and Nidaa, there is a wide range of people who despise Islamist incompetence and fear the old regime. They can either abstain or head to one of dozens of parties with regional influence. The result is a fractured parliament and a group of kingmaker parties with many more seats than their vote counts suggest. But the results first:


Nidaa Tounes 37.56% winning 86 seats (+82)
Ennahda 27.79% winning 69 seats (-16)
Free Patriotic Union 4.13% winning 16 seats (+14)
Popular Front 3.64% winning 15 seats (+9)
Afek Tounes 3.02% winning 8 seats (+4)
CPR 2.14% winning 4 seats (-8)
Democratic Current 1.93% winning 3 seats (0)
People’s Movement 1.34% winning 3 seats (+1)
National Destourian Initiative 1.32% winning 3 seats (0)
Current of Love 1.20% winning 2 seats (-5)
Al Joumhouri 1.47% winning 1 seat (-6)
Democratic Alliance 1.27% winning 1 seat (-9)
Union for Tunisia 0.82% winning 0 seats (-11)
Ettakatol 0.72% winning 0 seats (-12)
Wafa Movement 0.7% winning 0 seats (-7)
Party of the Tunisian People’s Voice 0.23% winning 0 seats (-6)
Others/Independents winning 6 seats (-30)
Total votes cast: 3579257 (Turnout 68.4%)

Source: ISIE

As the polls predicted, Nidaa triumphed over Ennahda and held a hefty lead in seats. It was not as much of a massacre for Ennahda as the polls suggested—but only slightly, as they performed about 4-6% better than surveyed before polls were forbidden after the summer. With a massive number of undecided voters and selection bias toward the coast, the polls were not very indicative anyways; the actual results show a much wider field outside of Nidaa and Ennahda, with around 35% of voters choosing different parties.

Nonetheless, there is no credible third party yet in Tunisia politics so long as national security and Islamism are the biggest issues. The smaller parties are either regional or are empty hulls of a political class elected in 2011 and swept out in 2014. The biggest loser, far more than Ennahda, is the secular opposition; absent the far-left, they were used by Nidaa and replaced. The final blow was when Essebsi announced on October 20 his view on tactical voting: any vote wasted on non-Nidaa parties is a vote for Ennahda.

The CPR, Ettakatol, PDP and the Union for Tunisia parties had 70 seats between them in 2011. They now have nine.


ISIE, Tunisia’s independent elections agency (whose separation from the Interior Ministry, still full of Ben Ali’s influence, was an early issue), provides legislative results for each constituency. Looking at them gives some ideas about Tunisian political demography.

Ennahda’s defeat, if expected, is still a hard pill to swallow. It may even be so for its opponents, who expected more of a fight. Their vote spread in this election shows a more natural result: their dominance in the South, bases in Tunis and Sfax and middling results elsewhere. The Sfax region, to the middle-right, is right outside of the Sahel and into the desert; Sfax itself is Tunisia’s third-largest city, with a strong industrial base. Similar climate holds for Kairouan governorate to Sfax’s north, whose capital is home to the Kairouan Mosque and has some variation in religious devotion. Tunis I, the western constituency of Tunis governorate, covers most of the old town and the industrial slums to its West and South; Ennahda has done well here since the eighties.

Though much talk is spilt about Ennahda’s dominance in the South, it looked quite less than dominant this election. The party has an iron grip on Gabes and Medenine by the coast, from where most of its leadership was raised and identify. It dominates in Tataouine, the vast expanse of desert also home to Tunisia’s Berber population; it explains trends that, in Bourguiba’s homogeneously Arab Tunisia, Berbers don’t totally exist.

Things change in the other two traditionally Southern governorates. In Kebili, Ennahda received only about 40% of the vote; Nidaa did not sop up the rest, either. At 16% each were CPR’s list (due to Marzouki’s roots in the region, the party having scored almost 30% in 2011), and the People’s Movement list (headed by party leader Zouheir Meghzaoui). In Tozeur, Ennahda got only 27%, the rest of the vote going to fractured secular parties and the list of Abderrazek Chraiet, mayor of Tozeur City and a regional hero after leading the governorate into a tourism destination.


Looking at a map of the percentage of votes Ennahda lost from 2011 to 2014, even accounting for a lower turnout due to disillusionment, we see regional variation. Ennahda’s vote held on well in Gabes, Medenine and Tataouine, less so in Sfax and dismally everywhere to those regions’ North (especially in Tunis I!) Vote stability in Sidi Bouzid is an illusion, as Hamdi’s party in 2011 so dominated the governorate that Ennahda had little to lose.

When thinking about where those votes would go, it’s not unlikely that Ennahda-to-Nidaa voters exist; lower-income people who are in economic crisis and want strong leadership should exist in considerable amounts. The siphoning is also regional; Hammami’s Popular Front could have taken Ennahda voters in the interior, Nidaa on the coast and Riahi’s UPL in Tunis’s western, poorer suburbs and projects.

Nidaa did well throughout the coast, from the northernmost governorate of Bizerte to Mahdia, just north of Sfax Governorate. The coast is really divided into two: Sousse, Monastir and Mahdia make up the Sahel, a temperate area that is Bourguiba’s birthplace and home to his most lavish developments. Despite a fair showing by Ennahda here in 2011, Nidaa got the swing it wanted with a leader as evocative of Bourguiba as Essebsi. Monastir, Bourguiba’s “governorate of birth,” has the country’s highest Nidaa vote percentage.

The Northern portion, with the Cap-Bon peninsula, greater Tunis and Bizerte, is home to the Tunisian elite, the nationalist movement and of tourism and industry. Voters here have seen the Troika’s inability to revive the economy, as well as tune in to media reports on terrorism and political crisis. Tunis II, a swath of whitewashed suburb and private villas, is a Nidaa stronghold. Even in greater Tunis’s poorer suburbs and the port of Bizerte will you see swing voters to Essebsi, hoping the state will intervene to provide a better life.

One distinctive Tunisian region very few have mentioned is the Northwest, a cluster of four regions. The area is mostly agricultural and quite poor, and though the old regime did little for them the Troika did even less. Closer to the mountains, though, and you start seeing terrorist cells; the Northwest has been a hotbed of terrorist fear in the past year, and national security is a paramount issue. Ennahda paid dearly for their policies, gaining five of 26 seats in this area. Nidaa gained eleven.

Though it was not enough to score additional seats, the Popular Front also did well in this region. As is expected of far-left parties these days, the Front did not do very well among the poor in urban areas. They notched fifteen seats due to an even distribution of votes, coalescing youth and interior Tunisians who have never reaped liberalization’s benefits. Its best score is in Siliana, one of Tunisia’s breadbaskets and more importantly coalition leader Hammami’s birthplace. Other highlights include Nabeul (the governorate covering the Cap-Bon peninsula), Tunis’s southern suburbs in Ben Arous, Sidi Bouzid (from the Brahmi sympathy vote) and the miners of Gafsa.

Afek’s vote concentration is almost a mirror image of the Popular Front’s; it has focused exclusively on the rich coast, not even submitting lists for two Southern governorates. It was a serious force in Sousse (where leader Brahim ran), in Mahdia (magnate Zouari’s list) and Ariana (spokesperson Riadh Mouakar’s list). Sympathy among expatriates in Paris and the West was not enough to take a seat.

The real shocker was the UPL: Riahi played the long game and it worked. Outside the deep South, the Sahel, inner Tunis and Sfax, the party scored about 5% everywhere and became the third-largest party. It even gained a seat in Medenine to the far Southwest, as well as scoring big in Tunis’s western suburbs. It is there that Riahi’s football management and publicity paid off most handsomely.

ISIE had a better control of the campaign this time, restricting advertisements and offering public speech times, but the perpetual campaign is uncontrollable. Riahi also has to thank Tunisia’s political consolidation, which allows his party to place a distant third—but third nonetheless—in many constituencies and be eligible for remainder seats.

Not enough have been said about what I consider to be Tunisia’s real interior: Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid and Gafsa. Each governorate has a government uprising to their name, and has not been made much better for it. Nowhere satisfied with parties from the centre, the results in the three governorates are very messy.

Nidaa and Ennahda both got around a quarter of the vote in each governorate, the latter getting its worst score in the interior in Kasserine and Nidaa spurned in Gafsa. They shared 13 of 23 seats between them, thanks to largest remainder wizardry. About a quarter of the votes in each governorate went to purely regional candidates. Hence the spectacle in Sidi Bouzid where the seats were split six ways; and in Gafsa, where 2008 protest leader Adnen Hajji won a seat alongside a candidate from RCD clearinghouse The Initiative.

The expatriate vote, collected from consulates worldwide, is not too indicative. The only trick in the constituency definitions are the two French ones, France 1 representing greater Paris and France 2 representing the rest of the country. Worth noting is Italy’s Ennahda vote, due to the European nation being a receiver of lower-ability migrants and refugees; a much tighter race in the Middle East between the big two than anywhere else; and Nidaa’s strength in North America, where Quebec is a popular destination for well-off Tunisian families.

Two last points should be made about national trends. The elected Assembly gives a much larger seat premium to Ennahda relative to their vote totals (4% absolute percentage difference) than Nidaa. One reason is that Ennahda is simply more dominant in the South, where there is a fewer number of coherent parties than in the North, meaning the party is likelier to grab extra remainder seats.

Another is that there is constituency malapportionment: voters per seat in Tunis, the Sahel or Gabes is up to twice as those in the desert or in the Northwest. This is less of a problem in 2014, if only because both main parties had dominance in overrepresented and underrepresented areas.

Second, total votes are down by 600000, despite a higher turnout of a culled list of registered voters. Bits and pieces of reporting would attribute this decrease to a fallen youth vote. Already disappointed with the old faces in 2011, middle-class or non-Islamist youth have dropped in larger numbers.

Even after the rejection of most of the Constituent Assembly’s members—Ennahda leaders aside—there are few signs of a “new generation” of leaders. At most, this legislature represents a crowd 10-20 years younger, including those who have profited greater from the Ben Ali regime. Ennahda spokesperson Zied Laahari, at 39 years old, is this election’s youngest leadership figure.

Presidential — The Candidates

The division between the parliamentary and the presidential campaigns is somewhat arbitrary. Registration for candidates began in early September and a definitive list was finalized by October; accepted candidates either had to receive 10000 signatures supporting their candidacies, or a 10000 dinar deposit. Given how personality-based Tunisian parties still are, the campaigns essentially blended together.

There is one very important difference: Ennahda, perhaps to the point of appeasement, did not run a presidential candidate from its party. Though it left open the possibility of supporting a consensus candidate, in November the Shura Council decided not to do so either. The decision is an effective concession from Ennahda to Essebsi, who has desired the Presidency since founding Nidaa. An extremely controversial decision (former PM Jebali resigned from Ennahda due to this), it left an Islamist base drifting to find a presidential candidate.

The Constitutional requirements for the Presidency is that one must be over 35 years old, holds only Tunisian citizenship and Muslim. About 70 candidates presented their candidacies to ISIE; after fake signatures were annulled, 27 were approved.

This crowd of candidates can be divided into four groups: administrators in the old regime, members of the secular opposition, millionaire businessmen and nonpartisan members of civil society. In the first round, Essebsi was the clear frontrunner; there were, however, other candidates worth mention.

MOHAMED BÉJI CAID ESSEBSI — Call him “Grandpa” or “Strongman”; Essebsi is a candidate that is radically different from the rest of the crowd. With some skill and some luck, he has gathered decades of experience in government and was brought back into modern Tunisian politics as a transitory Prime Minister. Now the Presidency seems like his to lose.

Born on 1926 in Sidi Bou Said, a Tunis suburb and vacation destination for many French celebrities, Essebsi was caught up in the early protests for independence and entered the youth wing of Bourguiba’s Neo-Destour. Quickly befriending Bourguiba’s son, an Essebsi coming out of law school became known to the President himself. Once the Republic was founded, Bourguiba tasked Essebsi within the Interior Ministry, handling internal security and regional development. His good performance there elevated him higher and, after Bourguiba discovered a coup against him in 1962, he wanted Essebsi to lead the investigation. When the Interior Minister himself died from diabetes, Bourguiba pushed Essebsi to lead the ministry.

Essebsi himself would claim his stint as Interior Minister was dovish, that he would frequently desist from cracking down and that he would become disillusioned by the government. Opponents, some opposition politicians included, would claim he was complicit in torture and should be imprisoned for his crimes. Judging from how Bourguiba relieved him from cabinet in 1969, Essebsi did not do a great job confronting alleged communists, Ba’athists and Islamists, never mind protests against Bourguiba’s collectivism or anti-Americanism. This murky period of Essebsi’s past, though, has not been taken on by the courts—nor is it likely to be if he is elected president.

Essebsi, after being shuffled out of government, had a period where he protested against Bourguiba’s party. Censured, he left politics to practice law. By the eighties, as Bourguiba named a new cabinet to confront a new wave of protests, Prime Minister Mzali called Essebsi to rejoin government. Here is another murky part of history: what prompted Essebsi to rejoin Bourguiba’s government and to remain with it, even though the following years were more and more repressive. Essebsi claimed most of cabinet did not realize Bourguiba fixed elections after his turnaround on democracy, and by that point there was too much to be done.

Shuffled out of government again in 1987, Essebsi was sent out as an ambassador when Ben Ali took over. Here is Essebsi’s last mystery: his time spent in Ben Ali’s RCD from 1987 to about 1998. Elected in Tunis during Ben Ali’s questionable 1989 elections, he was named the legislature’s President from its start to about 1991. On his role in Ben Ali’s legislature, Essebsi said on the record that he respects the law, believed in reform and wanted to lead the way to a deliberative assembly. It makes a huge difference whether Essebsi was relieved of his duties out of his own intemperance or Ben Ali’s paranoia, but we don’t know.

What is the point of that long biography? It is impossible for anyone to have Essebsi’s prestige in the party and not to be accused of participating in the old regime’s vices. For an Ennahda Islamist, Essebsi is craven for power, with a history of torture and mooching with the nation’s elite to retain political influence. To the man himself, he is a firm believer in Bourguiba’s vision and rule of law, only to be alienated by the Presidents and foiled in his attempts to reform politics. The truth, wherever it is placed between those extremes, was not found during the campaign.

Regardless, Essebsi’s return to power began in 2011. Named to lead a cabinet by Fouad Mebazaa—interim president, served in the same cabinet as Essebsi and much more complacent to Ben Ali—the octogenarian lead a transition government to October elections. Though not a perfect administrator, his government seems very competent compared to the Troika’s troubles. After the transition to the Troika, he re-entered politics again to start Nidaa Tounes; what followed was covered earlier.

Since Nidaa is focused on him, his policies and the party’s blend together: strongly anti-Islamist, primarily focused on restoring national security and order. Essebsi himself has wound up all the Bourguiba nostalgia he could muster; his campaign started off with a speech in front of Bourguiba’s mausoleum, its square packed to the brim with supporters. He talks both about restoring the Bourguiba ideal of a secular, coherent Tunisian nation and rebuilding the “prestige of the state.”

Essebsi is well-versed in Islam (as did Bourguiba, to be clear)—his speeches include Quranic verses and he has repeatedly defended the Tunisian state’s unique approach to the faith. Even then, he is heckled and sometimes assaulted when he makes visits to the country’s South. There was also a minor controversy when he dismissed an Ennahda parliamentarian for being “only a woman,” and gender parity does not come naturally to him.

All the controversy aside, there is one more point about Essebsi: without any disrespect, most people with a tenure dating back to his years have died. Essebsi is 88 now; if he assumes office, the only non-ceremonial head of state older than him is Robert Mugabe. There have been some cheap jokes thrown about his age. It does discredit the opposition against him somewhat.

MOHAMED MONCEF MARZOUKI — The incumbent president, Marzouki entered office as a stirring leader and leaving his first term a divisive leader. While Marzouki’s political past is not as storied as Essebsi’s, his faults have been in clear view in the post-Revolution age. He has the dubious honour of being the first Tunisian politician to have a nickname bestowed by the internet: “Tartour,” an insignificant person, a puppet.

Though born on the Cap Bon in the North, Marzouki’s parents originated in the country’s south, a fact he trumpets often. Supporters of Ben Youssef and his more Islamic and less nationalist politics, the family migrated to Morocco during Bourguiba’s early purge of that wing. Marzouki performed well in school, enough for admittance into the French higher education system. He became a doctor and faculty at Strasbourg’s Medical School until he returned to his birthplace in 1979.

Soon after his arrival, he ascended up the ranks of the Tunisia Human Rights League (LTDH). The organization, established during Bourguiba’s calls for multiparty democracy in the eighties, began heavily criticizing the aging President. While its founders were conciliatory with Ben Ali and entered his government, Marzouki was elected League President in 1989. Ben Ali’s brutal crackdown on Ennahda and political opponents quickly followed, and Marzouki broke ties with the regime on the matter.

Facing a strident LTDH, Ben Ali tried amending the law to force the League to accept any members, even RCD infiltrators. The organization was even banned for a brief period before the League decided to cooperate and overthrow Marzouki. Alone, the doctor tried to contest Ben Ali’s Presidency and create independent organizations condemning the regime’s human rights abuses. Arrested multiple times, he became a bit of a cause celebre across international dissidents and human rights organizations.

Forming the CPR with four associates in 2001, he found his party quickly banned and moved to exile to France in 2002. While abroad, his attitudes to the regime hardened, as well as his antagonism of the secular opposition. In 2003, he signed a note of cooperation with Ennahda. He stopped talking about “secularism” and more about “total freedom of belief and religion.” This is the image he presented on the campaign in 2011; a firm believer in Tunisia’s Muslim identity, strongly critical of all regime collaborators, and a man of the people who has placed his life to defend Tunisia’s freedoms.

Scoring very well in the Constituent Assembly elections, Marzouki would enter into an agreement with Ennahda, the so-called Troika government. In the start, he demanded that he would not be subordinated to the Prime Minister and pursue his own agenda of internal reform. He would not have many allies outside of the Troika. Stung by his collaboration with the Islamists, other secular parties wrote in blank votes when he was elected President.

The biggest problem with Marzouki is this: he was not a politician cast into the Presidency, but a member of civil society. Even rarer, he is a member of civil society who burned any connections to the secular opposition successful ones do. To make things worse, he served as an interim President whose role relative to a parliamentary government was blurred. As the “Tartour” nickname indicates, Marzouki was stuck with all of Ennahda’s incompetence while playing a rhetorical role Tunisians found increasingly silly against present crises.

Policy-wise, Marzouki stood out in his two main responsibilities: foreign policy and internal order. With no foreign policy experience before the presidency, Marzouki promised a Tunisia that would focus more on connections to Africa and the Arab World. He is a strident supporter of Arab Spring movements, who feted Gaddafi’s death and one of the few world leaders to cut diplomatic ties with al-Assad’s Syria. He has also called out Arab nations who have suppressed Islamist movements and curtailed democracy: this unsurprisingly dampened ties with el-Sisi’s Egypt and Algeria, Tunisia’s western neighbour and on-and-off ally.

With a government roiled by political crisis, Marzouki could not actually initiate policy shifts with the EU, Africa or its neighbours. As it turns out, Libya’s revolution collapsed into a second civil war, amplifying the security concerns. What he had left was a great deal of invective that did little and maybe alienated the US from him.

The same kinds of invective and ritual became his legacy on internal order. With the region destabilizing due to jihadist flows between Tunisia, Libya and Syria, Marzouki did not have the political capital to unite the region in a crackdown. He also lacked control over the police apparatus, and is still blamed for not capturing the assassins of Belaid and Brahmi. He makes much pomp and gesture after the fact: paying respects to “martyrs of the Revolution,” or throwing flowers into the ocean for drowned asylum seekers. What some only dismisses as sentimentalism is populism to others, or even a sign that the President is conspiring with Ennahda and Qatar to subvert the Tunisian state.

By 2014, Marzouki had ceded the role of preeminent statesman to Essebsi. Faced with criticism in media and on the streets, the President blamed a growing number of “old regime forces” trying to collaborate and roll back the Revolution. He has echoed this theory throughout his tenure, warning that people like Essebsi only wants to guarantee the rights of the few, the elite. This resonates with the rank-and-file of Ennahda, who have similar thoughts after Ennahda’s compromise.

Then the game changer: Ennahda refuses to select or endorse a candidate. Over the course of two months, Ennahda partisans gravitated mostly towards Marzouki. He realised this and started his campaign with fierce speeches decrying the old regime’s efforts. For all of his faults, he is still admired by a section of Tunisians who admire his record, his moral code, his common touch and his passion. With Essebsi as the frontrunner, Marzouki has staffed his campaign with remaining allies and Ennahda officers. He is fighting back with everything on the line, and with a vengeance.

HAMMA HAMMAMI — The 62-year old Hammami is also a storied opponent of the old regime. Born in the fields of Siliana to the Northwest, Hammami radicalized early against Bourguiba. A member of student unions and eventually the far-left Perspectives movement, he was among the rank and guard of the first opposition movements since the Republic’s founding. After the movement organized student protests against Bourguiba in 1972, the President broke apart the organization and sentenced members in show trials. Hammami was sentenced to prison for six years, where he was tortured and was later released at Amnesty International’s request.

By Ben Ali’s presidency, Hammami had founded the Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (PCOT), a Maoist splinter from Perspectives. For that reason, he was hunted down by the state during the police state’s growth in the early nineties. Going underground after several arrests, Hammami was again captured in 1994 and nearly died from torture by police. This is when international organizations began to notice him, and after lobbying he was released a year later. Up to 2011, he spent his life in hiding, in jail before some kind of pardon, and giving voice interviews to Tunisian expatriates. It would be cruel, though accurate, to say among all major Tunisian politicians he was most subjected to state torture.

Despite his record, he was still one of the first opposition figures to call for Ben Ali’s dismissal days before the Revolution. He was arrested again, but released four days later. He then distinguished himself by leading continued protests in the Kasbah, Tunis’s government quarter, until the RCD government removed itself and paved the way to a Constituent Assembly.

His party, the now-legalised PCOT, scored poorly in the Constituent Assembly elections but gained three seats from the Interior and his native Siliana. Hammami, who did not actually sit as a candidate, also began to shift politically. While still a man of the left, he had given up on revolutionary communism and began to play politics. He moved to rename the PCOT to the “Workers’ Party,” to not alienate voters scared by the C-word. He allied with other Arab nationalist movements to form the Popular Front, and he specifically targeted the Troika, a government dominated by Islamists too incompetent in disbanding Ben Ali’s police state and dangerously competent in everything else.

With Belaid’s shooting in 2013, Hammami turned hardline to the Troika. He was among the first to call for the government’s demission and suspension of the Constituent Assembly. With him at its lead, the Popular Front took to the streets and lead an occupation before the Assembly after Brahmi’s shooting. Essebsi and the rest of civil society followed suit. He gained media traction; he won the sympathies of the middle class. Hammami began to talk of himself as an alternative for anyone who refuses to choose between the old regime and the terrorizing Islamists.

Coming into this campaign, Hammami is quite respected by Tunisians (southern Islamists aside). He is the one politician who was untainted by the Constituent Assembly and unabsorbed by Nidaa. But people still see him as a communist, with no government experience and too radical to lead the nation in a post like the presidency.

In response he has organised a very professional campaign, in which he also fostered a grandpa image, coming off as authentic and charming. He has reaffirmed his Muslim faith, gathered the attention of youth and met with urban Tunisia’s middle class. Most distinctively, he personally sounded like an optimist without appealing to nostalgia, Islam or social divisions. Those who were caught up by the Revolution and lost faith in it want to take another chance by voting him.

MOHAMED HECHMI HAMDI — Hamdi is best categorized as a millionaire businessman, but everything about his political career has been bizarre. His policies are so uproarious that the French Wikipedia describes his ideology as “demagogy”. The man himself has a contradictory past, hard to sort out but nonetheless relevant to Tunisian politics.

Born in Sidi Bouzid, Hamdi studied Islam in university and was a figure in Ennahda’s youth wing around the late eighties. He resigned from the party, however, in 1992, right while Ben Ali was torturing the party into oblivion. Being already in London at this time for his studies, Hamdi started out in journalism and wrote columns for his own papers and others.

In 1997, Hamdi met with Ben Ali with an offer: if he offered amnesty to Hamdi and select Ennahda prisoners, the journalist would use his papers to denounce the party. Though Ben Ali apparently never gave the pardon, Hamdi was authorized to have his satellite TV channel, Al-Mustaquilla (The Independent), broadcast in Tunisia.

Suddenly, his channel provided a pivotal role against the President. In 2000, Hamdi produced a show, “The Great Maghreb,” which was supposed to pit government officials in debate against opposition figures. What happened was that opposition figures underground or in exile would show up on the show next to an empty seat, their appearances causing waves of attention in Tunisia. But the authorities shut the show down eventually, and the next decade the channel showed Ben Ali propaganda.

After the revolution, Hamdi—remaining in London all this time—began to use his channel to promote his political movement. The “Popular Petition” promised a very generous welfare scheme for the poor, including universal healthcare and unemployment insurance. He also allegedly used his RCD connections to push votes in rural regions, the reason for which the ISIE at first invalidated his party’s results. In the end he elected 26 assemblypeople, the third-largest party in the Constituent Assembly.

Ennadha refused to enter into a coalition with him, calling him a traitor for his collaboration with Ben Ali. Secular parties spurned him, and the politicians propelled into office on his lists left due to a lack of control over the party. His party had seven elected officials by the Constituent Assembly’s end.

Hamdi declared his presidency in May 2014, running now on a more Islamist platform. Under him there will be an office of zakat, governing the Islamic rite of donating to the poor. He would demand Sharia law and has mocked the current Constitution that lacks it. He would tax the rich, decentralize the country and even move the country’s capital to the interior city of Kairouan. Though he withdrew his candidacy after his party scored only two seats, he changed his mind and returned to Tunisia after 18 years to campaign on the ground.

Hamdi, at least, defies the division between Islamist and old regime seen across the media. (He has also promised to stop promoting himself on his channel if Tunisia’s TV networks end their embargo on his party.) On one hand he has become a total Islamist, aping Ennahda’s concern for the poor. On the other, he has never shaken off his connections to the RCD and may still be calling ex-party officials in the interior. On social media, he has claimed that he will dominate Sidi Bouzid and the interior; maybe he’s right.

SLIM RIAHI — Much of what is known about Riahi’s political history was already covered in the UPL section earlier. Unlike the other four candidates—who have had some run-in with the old regime in their past—Riahi’s history is mostly closed off from public view. His family moved to Libya, since they were Arab nationalists too extreme for Bourguiba’s Tunisia. He then grew his fortune in Libya, with a hand in oil production, manufacturing and real estate. He has ties to Western companies in Libya, as well as an alleged connection with the Gaddafis.

Does he have a connection to the old regime? Is he even offering charity services to the poor like he says he is? Some investigations cast doubt on those questions, all vehemently denied by him. None of that stopped him from his impressive result in the parliamentary elections, and voters found him to be understanding of Tunisia’s youth. His dynamism is recognized despite a much less lavish campaign than his 2011 effort.

While the presidential campaign moved onward, Riahi was already thinking about electoral coalitions. He threw his support behind a Nidaa-led government quickly, and reports are that he is involved in negotiations. No matter his score in the Presidential elections, he seems well positioned to take a chunk of power.

AHMED NÉJIB CHEBBI — The above five candidates, judging from their parties’ results in the parliamentary elections, are the only ones with any chance of contending the Presidency. But something has to be said about Néjib Chebbi, whose career I consider as post-revolution Tunisia’s great political tragedy.

Néjib Chebbi began as a leftist radical about the same time as Hammami. Instead of continuing on with Marxism, he started a reformist wing in the movement and moved towards liberalism. Sentenced to 32 years in prison in 1974, he was pardoned in 1981 and took advantage of Ben Ali’s pluralism in 1988. The most radical of Tunisia’s legalised opposition figures, Chebbi still faced constant harassment from Ben Ali’s state.

As an act of protest, Chebbi took part in two publicized hunger strikes which lasted for a month each. He also ran to oppose Ben Ali in two presidential elections, only to be denied each time. Even after the Revolution he took an independent path, refusing to serve in a unity government with RCD officials. Developing a circle of younger candidates and businesspeople, his party stood out among the secular opposition. His one moment of collaboration was with Nidaa—a fatal mistake.

Chebbi’s Joumhouri party performed disastrously in the elections, which left his presidential campaign up in the air. Despite being steadfastly opposed to the Troika and maybe even less conciliatory to them than Nidaa, Chebbi has lost his influence to Essebsi. His campaign focused on him being one of the original opposition figures and his promise to guarantee fundamental liberties to all Tunisians. By October, Chebbi tried to reach out to Ennahda’s voters to support him as a consensual, neutral president. Nobody listened.

OTHERS — Among the other 21 candidates, about 4 or 5 are of note:

  • Kamel Morjane, Ben Ali’s last foreign minister. Leader of the Initiative/Moubadara Party, he has been on record denouncing the ban on the RCD and wishes to continue the “Destourian” movement. Called by some as reformist and surviving prosecution against him, he has fashioned himself as a consensus creator.
  • Mustapha Ben Jaafar, leader of Ettakatol, the third of the Troika parties. After his party wiped out in the parliamentary elections, he called for the “democrats” to rally behind a single candidate apart from Essebsi and Marzouki. Only one or two listened.
  • Larbi Nasra, an example of a businessman with clear connections to Ben Ali. Creator of Hannibal TV, Tunisia’s first private network, Nasra married into the Ben Ali-Trabelsi family. After supposed arrest and liquidation of his business, he is starting his own party and running again, to little fanfare.
  • Kalthoum Kannou, the only female candidate in this election. That fact has put foreign spotlight on her, as well as attention in Tunisian civil society. In her campaign, however, she has focused on her accomplishments: a judge on Tunisia’s Supreme Court, prone to prosecution during the Ben Ali regime. She refuses any idea of her running “on behalf of women,” saying that “the other 26 candidates aren’t running on behalf of men.”
  • Mustapha Kamel Nabli, economist and interim director of Tunisia’s Central Bank after Ben Ali’s departure. As technocratic a candidate as this election offered, he assembled a team of Tunisian thinkers for his campaign team and retained no traction. Though no names can be removed from the ballot, he withdrew his candidacy, bemoaning dirty money and a candidate trying to divide the Tunisian people, i.e. Marzouki.

Presidential — Results and Analysis

While not all 27 results will be shown, vote totals for candidates mentioned above are accounted for below:


Béji Caid Essebsi 1289384 / 39.46%
Moncef Marzouki 1092418 / 33.43%
Hamma Hammami 255529 / 7.82%
Hechmi Hamdi 187923 / 5.75%
Slim Riahi 181407 / 5.55%
Kamel Morjane 41614 / 1.27%
Ahmed Néjib Chebbi 34025 / 1.04%
Mustapha Ben Jaafar 21989 / 0.67%
Kalthoum Kannou 18287 / 0.56%
Mustapha Kamel Nabli 6723 / 0.21%
Larbi Nasra 6426 / 0.20%
Total votes cast: 3339666 (Turnout 62.91%)

Though Essebsi predictably came out on top, Marzouki’s second-place finish was a surprise: the two only trailed by six percentage points, and commentators suddenly thought that this was a tight race. Further analysis can be seen from the main candidates’ results, which are available at the Delegation level from ISIE. They also proxy as a deeper look at the demographics behind the parties they lead.


General regional trends mentioned earlier (analysis of “the Northwest” or “the South”) will not be repeated here. What follows will be organized less according to candidate and more by environment.

The very uniform results in the South is good evidence for support for Marzouki among Ennahda rank-and-file, corresponding to reports on mass Marzouki rallies and intimidation of Essebsi supporters. A belt, consisting of the governorates of Kebili, Gabes and Medenine, all have Marzouki percentages around 65%. There is a slight drop-off in Marzouki’s vote in the more coastal, industrial cities of Gabes, the remote oases of Tozeur and the southernmost delegations of Tataouine. A bizarrely large cluster of Riahi voters exist in Dehiba, one of two border checkpoints between Tunisia and Libya and has seen violence over the last two years. The phenomenon is as much low turnout as anything.

Consolidation of the vote in Gafsa and Kasserine see Marzouki performing much better than Ennahda, since the many voters who decided on regional lists would rather have Marzouki than the old regime stalwart himself. Marzouki’s lead is fairly consistent, until it disappears in the northern, more mountainous parts of Kasserine. Essebsi wins one delegation, covering the western agricultural hinterland of Gafsa City, and Hammami has strong support among the former miners of Redeyef, instigations of the 2008 protests.

Around here, though, is when Hamdi’s strength becomes very apparent. His brand of Islamist populism is strong in the central governorates of Kasserine and Kairouan (surrounding the city he want as capital of Tunis), but his rhetoric is as much one of giving power to the interior as well as “populism” pure and simple. But it is in Sidi Bouzid where Hamdi’s lead becomes ridiculous: partly a favourite son effect and more probably leveraging off of RCD connections, Hamdi won every delegation in the governorate, some with over 75% of the vote. His total domination of Sidi Bouzid is why he leaps over Riahi in the total vote. Only Essebsi’s voter base is not subsumed into Hamdi’s; even the Brahmi sympathy vote awarded to the Popular Front is barely visible.

Going eastwards, Hamdi’s influence continues. Marzouki and Ennahda, however, escape their nonexistent organization in Sidi Bouzid and become a considerable worse. Marzouki scores especially well in the suburbs of industrial Sfax, mostly slum settlements undeveloped by the state. This would partly be due to Ennahda’s better organization as a social movement in these areas, as well as Marzouki’s common touch. In a first contrast to interior cities, Essebsi does better in Sfax’s city centre than in the greater agglomeration. Essebsi also scored better in the tourist city of Mahres, and Hammami has support in Sfax’s northern olive plantations and the islands of Kerkennah, birthplace to a surprising number of Tunisian trade unionists.

The Northwest’s mountains (northern Kasserine and El Kef) are where Essebsi does the best in the entire country, since these are the areas where the terrorists are best embedded. Marzouki’s vote dissipates here, and the only candidates of mention are Essebsi and Hammami. Hammami scores well in major cities, but a bit eastwards in Siliana is where the favourite son effect dominates. Hammami takes Elaroussa, his home delegation, by 57% of the vote; the leftist is the leading candidate in most of Siliana, losing to Essebsi in the governorate’s mountainous or arid edges.

Essebsi continues to dominate in Jendouba and Beja, where Marzouki’s vote revives somewhat and Riahi’s becomes a factor. If Hamdi practices a type of “interior populism,” Riahi’s populism, more economic and more in-tune with Nidaa’s talking points, is better heard by the North. The governorate of Bizerte is divided between a heavily Essebsi west and the mountainous East, where cities vote for Marzouki and rural areas vote for Essebsi. Marzouki, in the first round, actually takes the more industrial section of Bizerte city, one of the country’s greatest ports.

In the Sahel, Essebsi totally dominates. This is the Bourguiba reviver’s strongest region, with up to 50-60% of the vote in most delegations. Voters who would’ve been appealed by Afek, or Riahi, or any secular opposition, crowd to Essebsi instead. There are two notable exceptions. Marzouki won the delegation of M’Seken in Sousse, a centre of Tunisia’s olive-growing activity. Hammami did not win but scored well in the town of Chebba, with a history of opposing the RCD and booing Marzouki out of its borders.

The Cap Bon is as strongly Essebsi as the Sahel, for it is the home of Tunisia’s independence movement, a tourism industry that has seen a lag and close to the occasional terrorist attack. Now Essebsi’s best delegation is Nabeul, the area’s largest city. Hammami does better outside of the tourist zones, and the populists the converse. Marzouki does not label himself as a son of the peninsula, so no sympathy vote here.

To Kairouan Governorate’s North and Zaghouan Governorate is a temperate and agricultural area, mildly for Essebsi due as much to poor Ennahda organization as anything; turnout is about the same level as those in the interior. Northern Zaghouan, however, is home to the Bir-Mcherga Dam. From there to its Northeast is an industrial belt of sorts, including the complexes in Fouchana and Mohamedia. This is a stretch of land Marzouki won, albeit with less than 10% margins. This is also the southern border of Riahi’s main areas of support.

All that is left in Tunisia is metro, or “Grand,” Tunis. Its southern suburbs are in Ben Arous governorate, incidentally the governorate with the highest turnout. The suburbs can be split into two: a richer, coastal half home to cosmopolitan and educated residents, and an inner half mostly constructed by the state and housing lower-income populations. The coastal half went heavily Essebsi, while the inner half was mostly split. Marzouki did take El-Mourouj, one of Tunis’s largest banlieues. Riahi and Hammami both did about the same on both halves, with Riahi scoring better around the great port of Rades.

The northern suburbs can count for all of Ariana Governorate, still one of the most pro-Essebsi regions overall. Ariana City, home to Brahmi’s shooting, is one of Essebsi’s strongest regions, with fewer but leading support in the Governorate’s dryer North. Marzouki captures Ettadahmen-Mnihla, projects built over former slums. Riahi is more competitive with Marzouki in the projects and in the North than Hammami compared to Essebsi.

The Governorate of Manouba, as well as Tunis Governorate, contain all of the western suburbs. Absent the far west—rural areas going for Essebsi—the western suburbs have Riahi’s highest support as well as Marzouki’s. The slum of Ezzouhour is especially pro-Marzouki, giving even a good score for Hamdi as well (his only good performance in Grand Tunis). Essebsi and Marzouki are locked in a dead heat here.

Downtown Tunis is quite pro-Essebsi, with a division between the northern “New City” and the older South. As one gets further South, one enters the migrant housing around Lake Sijoumi and Tunis’s industrial zone, divided between Essebsi and Marzouki; Riahi also did very well here. As one goes further North and the New City turns to villas and houses, one enters the most pro-Essebsi part of the country. The Menzah neighbourhood, home to Tunisia’s best universities and safest quarters, is the most pro-Essebsi municipality of any sort.

Eastwards are more nouveau riche areas, curling around Lake Tunis and then reaching the Mediterranean. Cities on the water’s edge, like Carthage and La Marsa, are home to the country’s political elite. These also end up being extremely pro-Essebsi, its denizens benefitting as much from the old regime as imaginable.

In Tunisia proper, at least, we can see a solid Ennahda-Marzouki South, a solid Essebsi Sahel, a Northwest that swung equally to Bourguibism and leftism, a rallying behind the anti-establishment candidate in the interior, a class division between poor Marzouki voters and Essebsi voters in coastal cities, and two flavours of populism in Hamdi and Riahi. Class trends probably dominate expatriate results, but it is also telling that Essebsi only won in France 2, which includes the wealthiest Tunisians in the South and the French Riviera. For migrants, Marzouki still represents the new, post-revolutionary Tunisia.

With all that said, the second round came down to Essebsi and Marzouki. Their supporters are furious with each other, and ISIE had to deploy extra security to prevent outbreaks of violence. The campaign turned nasty, with Marzouki coming out and even suggesting fraud for Essebsi at the highest level. Both candidates introduced themselves to the foreign press, both accusing the others of support by a shadowy force. For what it’s worth, Essebsi is worse at equating Islamist voters with Islamist leadership, accusing general “Islamists” as the only thing supporting Marzouki’s campaign.

Marzouki went on the offensive and demanded Essebsi engage in a televised debate with him, as well as blasting Nidaa for delaying cabinet formation he should oversee due to Marzouki not being considered a legitimate president (Marzouki, for the record, was not a member of the national dialogue). Essebsi’s campaign refused the offer, and the two camps festered from there.

The bigger problem belongs to the candidates not named Essebsi or Marzouki, who together received 28% of the vote. Who can they support in the second round without alienating their voter base? For the numerous ministers contesting the presidency who worked in the old regime, the choice was obviously Essebsi. The same went for the secular parties gobbled up by Nidaa. Candidates from civil society, like polemicist Safi Said or Kasserine judge Ali Chourabi, did the same (and reprimanded by the judges’ association with it). Chebbi’s Joumhouri stayed neutral, as did Ennahda after intense deliberation in the Shura Council.

More important, though, are the words from the third to fifth ranked candidates. Riahi met with both candidates, but strongly supported Essebsi in early December. Hamdi did not make an endorsement, asking his supporters to vote for those who can best protect freedom of expression. Hammami and the Popular Front, days before the second round proper, finally released a statement: either vote against Marzouki or vote blank. Such are the torturous wording needed in Tunisian politics.

With no polling allowed, the fears of a tight race dominate. But, in view of the number of anti-Marzouki endorsements alone, Essebsi seemed like the clear favourite. The results confirmed this.


BÉJI CAID ESSEBSI: 1731529 / 55.68%
MONCEF MARZOUKI: 1378513 / 44.32%
TURNOUT: 59% (Approx.)


Despite the dropoff in turnout, both candidates increased their vote count in every delegation. Looking at the map of raw vote percentages for each delegation, we see very few areas swinging from one side or the other. The total amount of votes gained by Essebsi is greater than Marzouki, and in terms of delegations there was only a shift from Marzouki leads to Essebsi ones.

There are two big shifts of note. The first is Essebsi’s reclaiming of Grand Tunis, thanks to support from Riahi, Hammami and other opposition candidates. Marzouki went from winning several delegations to the poorer South and West to only two: Ezzouhour and Ettadahmen, previously mentioned slums. The margins of victory in neighbourhoods Essebsi gained were slim, lower than his 11-point victory on the national level. The area saw decreased turnouts everywhere, with the lowest drops in the richest neighbourhoods and poor migrant ones. (Looking across the city, the two populations would have felt how alien their opponents’ supporters were.)

The second big shift is Essebsi’s retaking of Sidi Bouzid. The turnout map shows a dramatic fall in votes compared to the first round; up to 30 percent, certainly caused by disillusioned Hamdi voters. What is bizarre is that, despite his heavily Islamist platform, remaining Hamdi voters chose Essebsi over Marzouki by a few thousand votes’ worth across the governorate. This is also in contrast to other governorates in the interior where Hamdi did well, where Marzouki’s lead in the first round remains or has increased. I want to think this is further evidence that Hamdi repowered RCD operatives in his home, who remained after his defeat to rally Essebsi voters.

It is, overall, a rather bad defeat for Marzouki. Though we can see there were increases in turnout throughout the South, especially in interior Medenine and Gabes, coupled with decreased turnout everywhere else, it was not enough to overcome an anti-Islamist front. Margins narrowed in poor urban suburbs in Essebsi’s favour, and he scored even better in the Northwest. With very few expatriates voting this time, class divisions seen earlier remained.

We can look at one more statistic: the increase in Essebsi’s or Marzouki’s second-round votes over first-round votes, divided by the number of votes not cast for them in the first round. Under very strict assumptions—that every voter in a delegation who support a candidate turned out in the first round, and every Essebsi or Marzouki supporter did not change support in the second—these statistics are upper bounds on the percentage of third-party voters supporting a candidate. Tunisia’s elections, a landmark event with two very antagonistic sides, is a special occasion that makes these assumptions slightly worth entertaining.

What this shows us is that Essebsi’s upper bound on third-party support is about 50-60 percent in the North and the Sahel, 40-50 percent in Grand Tunis and Sidi Bouzid, 60-80 percent in the Northwest, up to the mountains of Kasserine, and 30-40 percent in other interior areas. More informative than raw turnout numbers, this verifies the intuition that third party supporters do not vote in lockstep. A portion of voters of the two populist businessmen (Riahi and Hamdi) should have supported Marzouki in the second round, or did not vote in protest.

We can also see that almost all areas with an increase in turnout shows either similar increases in votes for both candidates or a wide lead for Marzouki. The theory could be that Ennahda members saw that Marzouki could actually win and ramped up their canvassing accordingly. In areas with a strong third-party presence, the sight of this pushed those voters and Nidaa sympathizers to vote.

When all is done and said, Essebsi did emerge triumphant; he had good reason to celebrate right after polls were closed and exit polls showed lead even smaller than the actual result. Though Marzouki had lambasted these early celebrations and cast doubt on ISIE’s management, he did accept the results in the end. Ennahda partisans in the South did not, hence news reports of protests and tear gas in Hamma, Rachid Ghannouchi’s birth town, on election night. The cycle, in a way, begins anew.


After three years of revolution, protest and reconciliation, Tunisians have a new democratic Constitution and a legitimate, elected government. This government is also oddly similar to those first assembled by Tunisia’s first two presidents, with a stridently nationalist President staffed by a group of close associates. The Islamists, warning of an Essebsi administration cracking down on religious freedoms and the movement itself, waits in suspense.

The story, though, is more complicated than this. If we exclude support from Ennahda (-69), leftists who will not support the government’s liberal economics (-18), secular opposition (-9) and other independents unlikely to yield support (-3), the largest coalition Nidaa can build will have 118 seats, a majority of eleven. Consequently, the UPL alone has enough seats to decide the government’s fate.

There is another option: both Ennahda and Nidaa have expressed interest in working with the other to form a grand coalition. As much as such an act would spark inner revolt, party leadership has repeated this for reasons of fostering a unity government who can solve Tunisia’s problems.

The weirdness of these declarations arrives when both sides say they wait for the other to begin negotiations, and rumours of Ennahda ministers in the new government is shot down by the party’s assemblypeople. Progress, however, seemed to show after the Assembly already approved three presidents of the chamber, including current Nidaa leader Ennaceur but also Ennahda elder Moutou.

On January 5, one week after Essebsi’s swearing in, government formation began. The President named Habib Essid as Prime Minister designate; he is a senior bureaucrat in Ben Ali’s Agriculture Ministry, but more relevantly was shifted to the Interior Ministry for four years in the late nineties before advising on national security in the Essebsi and Jebali governments.

For someone with that kind of experience, his nomination was strangely welcomed by every major party except the Popular Front. A week after, Ennahda’s Shura Council okayed any participation in the next government. Supposing all other parties will enter Essid’s unity government, four major problems await resolution:

  • Balancing national security and freedoms.
    • Obviously the top issue facing the government, the elimination of domestic terrorism is a problem with no easy answer. The Tunisian Military, along with police, are continuing to attack terrorist hideouts on the Tunisian-Algerian border, the South and in major cities. But, in an attempt to accomplish this, the country’s state of emergency was extended up to this year, and bloggers have been jailed for writing supposed threats to public officials. This is not to mention that the police is mostly unreformed, charged with incidents of unwarranted assault, seizure and rape. The rights of independent domestic observers to monitor the state must be better acknowledged.
  • Sustaining equitable growth across regions and age groups.
    • Absent members of the far-left, Tunisia’s Parliament are willing to accept reforms to cut the government deficit and privatize state institutions. The Troika has not had the power to enact policy changes, such as an end to byzantine tariffs used to protect businesses close to Ben Ali. Educated youth, facing no demand in the labour markets, also need to be supported by the state in their search for adequate employment. Same goes for developing Tunisia outside of the rich coast, at least providing those in the interior with basic services and new industries.
  • Decentralization of power.
    • Municipal and governorate elections should be held in the future, another departure from the Ben Ali years; the old regime appointed these officials. These local entities’ powers, however, remain to be defined in law. Finding an appropriate balance between state responsibilities and local governance is necessary to achieve the equitable growth talked about earlier.
  • Prosecution of old regime offenses.
    • Slowly but surely, Tunisia’s courts have sentenced old regime figures for charges of corruption and abuse of power. Unlike what one hears about in Egypt or Turkey, the Tunisian judiciary form an independent faction of civil society. But, while someone like Marzouki took his chance to publish records of Ben Ali’s abuses from the Presidential Library, Essebsi ought to take a different path. Nidaa is on the record for opposing Constituent Assembly legislation that created a Truth and Reconciliation Committee responsible for prosecuting past offenses. A future conflict over the prosecution’s extents could break Parliament’s grand coalition.

After all that has been written, there is still much left unmentioned: not enough was written about Tunisia’s foreign policy with Middle Eastern countries, the role of female leadership, deteriorating health in the interior, the state of the self-employed, identity among Berber or Afro-Tunisian populations or the role of migration in modern Tunisia. Not enough is known, either.

What we do know is that, four years after revolution, Tunisia is still in transition. Many overcome with optimism in 2011 had become disillusioned by politics, unwilling to vote. For those who still vote, we saw the electorate was roughly divided into thirds. One supports Ennahda while the other supports Nidaa, spiteful of each other for their respective records of incompetence and alleged conspiratorial alliances with foreign forces to destabilize the nation. The other wants a new generation of politicians, who can represent the concerns of their region or age group.

It is a minor miracle that, after it all, Tunisia has made a democratic transition. To whom do we credit this to? Many American observers want to tip their hats to Ennahda, for being a moderate Islamist party that has played by the rules, unlike all others. But there are less altruistic reasons for Ennahda’s compromise: they sense they are in a position of weakness, and its leaders would rather maintain some degree of power than to lose it and be susceptible to another state-led purge.

Nidaa does not deserve much praise either: it has worked the fear of Tunisians to its advantage, cannibalizing the vote of other secular parties. Maybe it would be better to credit “civil society” in general: the quartet of organizations that started the national dialogue, down to the constant clusters of protesters across the country.

What we could conclude is that the major political forces see control of state institutions is the one legitimate way to gather power, and there are harsh consequences for not playing by the rules. These conditions are enough to create an equilibrium where democracy exists, though not necessarily one where there is consensus. And why should any serious observer expect consensus in four years’ time?

Modern Tunisia, though born in myth, was founded on unequal growth, unequal suppression and unequal levels of optimism and resentment. It took fifty years for the state to engender these problems. It would not be surprising if the state took fifty years to resolve them.

Important announcement

Dear readers and loyal followers of the World Elections blog,

As of January 12, I will be moving to Colombia for some four and a half months. During this time period, I will, most likely, be blogging significantly less than usual and/or at a much slower pace. While I would like to continue this blog at the current rate given the avalanche of exciting elections around the corner in the coming first months of 2015 – Greece, Israel, the UK, Finland or Zambia – I’m afraid that I won’t be able to cover them quite as I’d like. I will, conditions and lifestyle permitting, still be doing some blogging on the most interesting elections (in my eyes), which is actually kind of what I’ve been doing for the past few months anyways. If unable to do much at all, I may at the very least offer some brief impressions on the results of a few major elections and/or make some maps of the results.

Naturally, if anybody would like to contribute guest posts on any relevant topic over the coming months, I would be more than happy to welcome them.

This is only a partial and temporary hiatus, and I want to get back to ‘full-time’ election blogging afterwards. You can subscribe to this blog, follow me on Twitter or like this blog on Facebook to be kept informed of any new posts and updates.

Thank you for your understanding, and thanks again for reading and following this blog.

The editor.

Brazil 2014

Presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and state elections were held in Brazil on October 6, 2014, with a presidential and gubernatorial runoffs on October 26, 2014.

No, this blog isn’t dead! This superbly detailed but ridiculously long post took up most of my busy time, preventing me from posting about other elections as I had wished. I hope to cover a few of the elections I have missed. I still welcome guest posts, on any topic and recent election. Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas to all readers, and warm wishes for a happy election-filled New Year 2015.

Political and electoral system

The President of Brazil, the head of state and government of Brazil, is elected directly to a four-year term, renewable once (but with the possibility to run again after leaving office). The President is elected using a two-round system, in which a second round is held three weeks later if no candidate has won an absolute majority in the first round. Presidential candidates select a running-mate, who serves as Vice President in the event of their ticket’s election.

The National Congress of Brazil (Congresso Nacional do Brasil) is a bicameral legislature composed of the 81-member Federal Senate (Senado Federal), which represents the states and the 513-member Chamber of Deputies (Câmara dos Deputados), which represents the people. In the regular legislative process, both houses have equal powers – meaning that both of them must approve a bill for it to pass, and both houses must vote to override a President’s veto on a bill. Both houses have some reserved powers – for example, the Senate must confirm some presidential appointments and holds impeachment proceedings (which are initiated by the Chamber).

The Senate is composed of 81 senators representing Brazil’s 27 constituent units – 26 states and the Federal District (DF) – with 3 senators for each constituent unit, elected to eight-year terms with no term limits. Senators are elected every four years – two-thirds of the Senate is up for election at one time when each state elects two of its senators, and one-third is up four years later when each state elects one senator. Senators are elected by first past the post.

The Chamber of Deputies has 513 members, supposed to be apportioned between the states on the basis of population, but the Constitution establishes that no state may have more than 70 deputies or less than 8 deputies. This means that there is major misrepresentation in the Chamber, with deputies in the state of São Paulo representing over 570,000 people each while the eight deputies from the smallest state, Roraima, each represent only 53,000 people. Deputies are elected in each state by open-list proportional representation. Voters may vote for a party or a candidate on a party list, with the votes cast for the party directly and all its candidates being added with the seats distributed proportionally. Most Brazilians vote for individual candidates, rather than the party list. The candidates elected are those who have won the largest number of votes for a party. The effect of this electoral system is that political parties seek to maximize their votes, and thus seat count, by running celebrity or star candidates who are able to win a large number of votes. For example, a small party which has a very popular candidate who wins a large number of votes him/herself can drag other party candidates in with him, even if they won very few votes. In 2002, for instance, a small party run by a charismatic and popular leader had their leading poll over 1.5 million votes and therefore elected six seats – including four candidates who had won less than 1,000 votes!

Brazil is a federal state divided into 26 states and one Federal District. The states have power over matters not explicitly forbidden to them in the Constitution. Each state and the DF has a directly-elected Governor, who serves a four-year term renewable once. The Governor, elected on a ticket with a Vice Governor, is elected using a two-round system. The legislative power of each state is vested in a Legislative Assembly (Assembleia Legislativa), with the number of deputies in each state set according to a formula in the Constitution (Article 27). The largest state, São Paulo, elects 94 state deputies; the smallest states have 24 state deputies. Deputies in Legislative Assemblies are known as deputados estaduais (state deputies) or, in the DF, deputados distritais (district deputies) to differentiate them from members of the Chamber of Deputies, who are deputados federais (federal deputies). The DF’s government is organized like a state government, with an elected Governor and state legislature, but the DF has no state constitution and it has the powers of a state and a municipality.

Brazil has a strong and independent judiciary. The Supreme Federal Court (Supremo Tribunal Federal, STF) is the court of last resort with responsibility over constitutional law. It has 11 judges (called ‘ministers’) appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The 33-member Superior Court of Justice (Superior Tribunal de Justiça, STJ) is the highest appellate court for all non-constitutional questions of federal law. Courts have decided on a number of important issues in recent years, including same-sex marriage, but also on electoral matters including the Ficha Limpa law (Clean Slate Law), which renders ineligible for 8 years any candidate whose mandate was revoked, resigned office to escape impeachment or who was convicted by a collective body (the STF ruled in 2011 that the law could not apply to the 2010 elections and ruled it constitutional for future elections in 2012).

Registration and voting is compulsory for all citizens between 18 and 70, excepting the illiterate; registration and voting is voluntary for voters aged 16 to 18 and those over 70. Compulsory voting is enforced, with voters who did not vote being forced to provide adequate justification for not voting within 60 days after the election, or else they are fined. Candidates for any elected office must be registered with a political party (they may not run as an independent), and all candidates for office receive free airtime on radio and TV. While candidates in second rounds have equal airtime, the duration of each candidate’s airtime in the first round is determined by the size and weight of the parties in a candidate’s coalition – meaning that there exists a real incentive for candidates to be supported by a large number of parties, even small ones, in order to increase their airtime.

In order to run for another office, the President, cabinet ministers, governors and mayors must resign from their respective offices at least six months before the election. An incumbent seeking reelection to the same office, however, does not resign, which has sometimes raised questions about incumbents using the advantages of their office and state resources to campaign for reelection.

Although Brazilian political parties play an important role in the political process, many parties in Brazil have little formal ideologies or coherent principles, and function as patronage machines seeking power with little interest in the general ideological direction of the government. Because of legal regulations on free airtime or the number of candidates allowed to run, larger parties have an interest in contracting electoral coalitions with smaller parties – oftentimes the smaller parties are the most venal and corrupt parties – for strategic electoral purposes. Many of these small parties which form coalitions with one another are known as ‘rental parties’ or ‘parties for hire’ (partido de aluguel) meaning that they will sell themselves to the highest bidder when election season rolls around. In return, these ‘parties for hire’ can win seats in Congress and, as it gets a substantial number of seats, its bidding power on the government increases and it gains access to the spoils of power (lucrative posts in public institutions and agencies, government contracts, public works in their state). The harsh and unpleasant reality of Brazilian party politics means that it is very difficult for a politician to be elected to high office without making strategic alliances with these powerful patronage parties.

There are, of course, parties with more coherent ideologies and politicians with principles – although these parties and politicians are forced to deal with the venal parties if they want to get anywhere.

Historical background

In the 2010 elections, Dilma Rousseff was elected President of Brazil as the anointed successor of popular two-term outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), first elected to office in 2002.

Lula was a left-wing trade unionist, who grew up poor in Brazil’s impoverished Nordeste (Northeast) before moving, like many Northeasterners, to São Paulo – Brazil’s economic powerhouse – to work in the factories in São Paulo’s industrial suburbs. He rose through the ranks of the steel workers’ trade unions in São Bernardo do Campo due to his leadership skills and charisma, and gained national prominence due to his leadership in large strikes in favour of workers’ rights during the military dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985). In 1980, Lula led the foundation of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT), a socialist party founded by independent left-wing trade unionists, left-wing intellectuals and Catholics influenced by Liberation Theology and, in 1983, he participated in the foundation of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), a trade union confederation which broke with the corporatist system of labour relations instituted by President Getúlio Vargas (1930-1945, 1951-1954) and practiced by the old varguista Brazilian Labour Party (PTB). The PT became one of the smaller parties which opposed the military regime in its waning years and supported democratization, notably the large-scale Diretas Já campaign for direct presidential elections in 1984. Between 1989 and 2002, Lula lost three successive presidential elections.

After having been ruled by the military since a 1964 coup, Brazil’s transition to democracy was negotiated and controlled by the military regime, beginning with General Ernesto Geisel (President, 1974-1979) policy of distensão, or political opening. Geisel’s successor, General João Figueiredo (1979-1985), decreed a general amnesty in 1979, passed a political reform which ended the rigid two-party system imposed by the military’s Ato Institucional Dos in 1965 (allowing for the registration of parties such as the PT) and allowed for the direct election of state governors in 1982 (the first direct elections of governors since the 1960s, after the regime abolished direct elections of governors in 1966 through AI-3). However, Figueiredo struggled to retain control of the transition process, facing strong pressure from a united and energized opposition movement (led by the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro, or PMDB, the successor to the MDB, the sole tolerated legal opposition party to the regime) and reactionary opposition from military intelligence hardliners (linha dura). The Democratic Social Party (PDS), the pro-military party, split over the choice of a presidential successor ahead of the 1984 elections (which would still be indirect, through an electoral college dominated by the PDS, after the failure of the Diretas Já‘s campaign to amend the constitution for immediate direct elections). The PDS nominated Paulo Maluf, the infamously corrupt former ‘bionic’ mayor and governor of São Paulo; a choice which was immediately rejected by Maluf’s opponents including Vice President Aureliano Chaves, former Pernambuco governor Marco Maciel, the very powerful Bahian political boss Antônio Carlos Magalhães (ACM) and Maranhão senator José Sarney. Chaves, ACM and Marco Maciel participated in the foundation of the Liberal Front Party (Partido da Frente Liberal, PFL) and endorsed the opposition candidacy of Tancredo Neves, a veteran moderate opposition politician (who had served under the presidency of Getúlio Vargas and as Prime Minister under João Goulart prior to the 1964 coup) who was spearheading the movement for democratization in Brazil. José Sarney joined the PMDB and was Tancredo Neves’ running-mate, thus forming a broad coalition allying long-time opponents of the regime with defectors from the pro-regime party. Tancredo Neves was elected President by the electoral college, but he was rushed to the hospital on the eve of his inauguration and he died after seven surgical operations a bit over a month later. To allow for a smooth transition, it was agreed that Sarney would be allowed to become President, despite Tancredo never having been inaugurated formally.

Sarney’s government faced, besides the management of the transition and the adoption of the Constitution, hyperinflation. Sarney’s first response, the Cruzado Plan – which included a price and wage freeze, a new currency and a ‘wage trigger’ to automatically adjust wages when inflation reached 20% – was initially very popular, leading to an explosion of consumption and a massive victory for the PMDB in the 1986 elections, but ultimately failed because the price freeze distorted the profit margins of companies, leading to disinvestment and declining production and resulting in a serious supply crisis. The government ran through two other plans to tackle hyperinflation, but both failed. When Sarney left office, he was highly unpopular, seen as corrupt and unable to handle the economy. Nevertheless, Sarney did oversee the adoption of the 1988 Constitution and the restoration of democracy – with universal suffrage, civil and political liberties.

In 1989, the first direct presidential election since the 1964 military coup, Lula placed second in the first round with 16.1% and went on to face Fernando Collor de Mello, a young and suave populist-conservative governor of Alagoas (a small state in the Nordeste) who ran a very anti-Sarney campaign. In a dirty runoff campaign in which Collor was openly favoured by the powerful Globo media empire, Lula’s image as an angry radical worried conservative voters throughout the country and he was ultimately defeated by Collor, 49.4% to 44.2%. Collor took office as Brazil was facing hyperinflation. Collor quickly adopted drastic measures to fight inflation by aiming to sharply cut the amount of money in circulation. His Plano Collor included the introduction of (yet another) new currency, an 18-month freeze in all overnight deposits over US$1,300, a tax on financial transactions (stock shares, gold and financial titles), a price and wage freeze, an increase in utility prices, the dismissal of 360,000 public employees, exchange rate liberalization, elimination of tax incentives, abolition of several government institutes and Collor’s government promised wide-reaching neoliberal reforms to the economy including privatization and deregulation. Inflation did fall from 2947% in 1990 to 477% in 1991, but the Plano Collor’s initial success proved fleeting and inflation shot up again – to 1022% in 1992. In 1991 and 1992, Collor’s government was hit by an avalanche of revelations which showed that PC Farias, Collor’s sketchy campaign treasurer, was running a huge corruption scheme and embezzling millions in public monies by manipulating public contracts. In late September 1992, the Chamber achieved more than the two-thirds majority required to suspend Collor from office and Collor resigned at the end of the year hours before the Senate voted on his removal from office – which it ended up doing anyway.

His Vice President, Itamar Franco – a rather odd and erratic personality – needed to deal with the crisis of hyperinflation. Facing a real social and economic crisis, with inflation roaring at over 2075% in 1994, Itamar turned, in May 1993, to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a prominent academic and sociologist exiled during most of the military regime. FHC took a gamble and presented an ambitious plan with the potential for high rewards but huge risks: the Plano Real. His plan cut public spending (by forcing Congress to kill its pork-barreling habits), increased tax collection, cracked down on tax evasion, required heavily indebted states to pay off their debts to the federal government and introduced the Unidade Real de Valor, a non-monetary reference currency (mandatory conversion of values) designed to break the psychological inertia of Brazilian inflation and ease the transition to the introduction of the Brazilian real on July 1, 1994. The Plano Real was a real success – inflation dropped from 46.6% to 6.1% between June and July 1994 (the introduction of the real), and inflation in 1995 fell to 66% and 16% in 1996. FHC, backed by powerful conservative bosses, announced his presidential candidacy in March 1994 and, after July, rode on the successful introduction of the new currency. In October, FHC was elected by the first round with 54.3% against 27% for Lula, who had been the initial favourite since the fallout from the Collor crisis.

FHC was a member of the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira, PSDB), a party which he had helped create in 1988. The PSDB was founded by progressive reformist dissidents of the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) which had, under Sarney’s presidency, taken the form of an ideologically incoherent patronage-based alliance of regional political bosses. The PSDB’s founders included, besides FHC, Mário Covas, Franco Montoro and former student opposition leader José Serra. In 1989, the PSDB supported Lula in the second round over Collor and the party – especially Mário Covas – were opponents of Collor’s government before it was cool. FHC’s 1994 candidacy was made possible through the support of the PFL, particularly ACM, who provided FHC with his Vice President, Marco Maciel.

In office, Cardoso’s government maintained a strict macroeconomic policy aimed at ensuring the long-term success of the Plano Real and Brazil’s economic recovery. His government promoted privatizations of various state-owned companies (notably Telebrás, the state-owned monopoly telecom company); liberalized the energy sector with a 1997 law which broke Petrobras’ monopoly on exploration, production, refining and transportation of oil by allowing concessions of ‘well to wheel’ activities to private Brazilian companies (a model for the recent reform to Mexico’s public energy monopoly) and passed a fiscal responsibility law to impose controls on states and municipalities’ spending. The government’s HIV/AIDS policy, which encouraged production of generic drugs, was very successful and prevented an AIDS pandemic similar to that in South Africa. In 1997, Congress approved a constitutional amendment allowing for the immediate reelection of the President, governors and mayors – an amendment which allowed Cardoso to run for a second term in office in 1998, which he handily won by the first round, once again defeating Lula. There have been allegations that the government bribed congressmen to approve the reelection amendment.

In his second term, FHC faced a far more difficult economic situation. Brazil’s growing but fragile economy was hit by the successive regional and global economic crises of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and structural problems in the Plano Real – such as deflationary monetary policies and an overvalued semi-fixed exchange rate – worsened the problems. The economic crises in Mexico, Russia and Asia during this period caused sharp drops in prices of commodities exported by Brazil and outflows of capital. In 1999, the Central Bank devalued the real and the government later decided to float the currency. The economic effect of the devaluation was less negative than originally expected, and the economy grew by 4% in 2001. However, the government’s popularity was hurt by power cuts in 2001-2002, the result of a lack of investments in electrical infrastructure in the past 10 years. FHC left office having presided over a welcome period of political and economic stability in Brazil. While his legacy is somewhat controversial, with his opponents on the left considering him a neoliberal (an inaccurate label – FHC is far closer, ideologically, to the centrist Third Way promoted in the late 1990s by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton) while his supporters claim that he laid the bases for Brazil’s good economic performance in the 2000s under Lula.

Lula’s fourth presidential candidacy was his successful one. His 2002 victory, with 61.3% in the runoff against FHC’s health minister José Serra, was the result of a calculated ideological moderation in the PT and the creation of a more appealing personal image for the candidate. Lula contracted the services of Duda Mendonça, a famous advertising guru and political strategist who had managed to elect Paulo Maluf as mayor of São Paulo in 1992; Lula became ‘Lula peace and love’, a consensual and moderate candidate very different from the angry bearded union radical of 1989; Lula’s PT allied with some of the ‘for hire’ small parties – his running-mate was senator José Alencar, an evangelical Christian textile businessman  from the small centre-right Liberal Party (PL) and Lula pledged not to nationalize companies or default on Brazil’s foreign debt (two of his ‘scariest’ promises from 1989). Upon his victory, Lula promptly moved to allay the fears of investors by appointing an orthodox economist, Henrique Meirelles, as President of the Central Bank and another moderate, Antonio Palocci, as his Minister of Finance.

Lula pursued a conservative fiscal and monetary policy during his two terms in office. The Central Bank, which enjoyed wide autonomy, followed a strict inflation targeting policy which aimed – successfully – at keep inflation within a narrow band with a target of 4.5% in place since 2003. When Lula took office, inflation had been quite high – over 12.5% in 2002 and 9.3% in 2003 – but, in every subsequent year until he left office, Brazilian inflation was kept within the Central Bank’s bands (real inflation during Lula’s term fell between 7.6% and 3.1%). The Brazilian economy enjoyed strong growth rates during his term in office, at an average of 4% GDP growth per year between 2003 and 2010 – a higher average growth rate than under his predecessor’s two terms in power. Brazil weathered the 2008-9 global recession far better than most other G20 powers, with a small recession of 0.3% in 2009 but record growth of 7.5% in 2010. Lula’s terms in office also saw a significant decline in the unemployment rate, which fell from 12% when Lula took office in 2003 to 6.7% in 2010; with the Ministry of Labour reporting the creation of over 15 million jobs during his eight years in power, not considering layoffs – although job creation was erratic in the first term. Brazil’s public debt, which had increased significantly under FHC’s second term (79% in 2003), was reduced under Lula’s presidency, falling to 65% of GDP in 2010. The government and the Central Bank stuck to IMF commitments in achieving a ‘primary fiscal surplus’ and stuck to Cardoso’s anti-inflationary fiscal responsibility law. Brazil’s export economy performed well under Lula, thanks to increased exports of natural resources and agriculture (soybeans) and a great diversification of Brazil’s export partners which reduced Brazil’s traditional dependence on US and EU markets. In a change of course from his past anti-globalization rhetoric, the Lula administration worked within the WTO and became an active player in trade disputes – notably against EU and US agricultural and sugar subsidies.

Although the Central Bank’s strict deflationary policy and high interest rates were criticized, Brazilian interest rates declined gradually during Lula’s presidency. The government’s orthodox and conservative economic policies displeased many leftist members of the PT, but were praised by investors. Critics attacked the government for insufficient investments in infrastructure, healthcare and education. To the PT’s base, however, the drop in the price of food and the rise in the minimum wage were real tangible achievements.

By far, the most successful and popular aspect of Lula’s presidency was the significant reduction in poverty and income inequality in one of the world’s most unequal countries. Upon taking office, Lula introduced a strategy to combat malnutrition: Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), whose initiatives ranged from creation of ‘people’s restaurants’, expanding access to microcredit, creation of cisterns in the Nordeste’s sertão, food banks to hold supplies, direct support for family agriculture. The efficiency of Fome Zero was soon brought into question, with claims that it was badly administered and not reaching enough people. In 2004, the program was effectively replaced by what has become the government’s biggest lasting achievement – Bolsa Familía. The program replaced FHC’s Bolsa Escola, a conditional cash transfer for poor families with children attending school. Bolsa Familía is a conditional cash transfer program to poor and very poor families granted on condition that children/dependents are attending school and vaccinated. The program currently serves about 14 million families, who receive an average of R$149.46 per month. Some critics of Bolsa Familía have claimed that the program ignores the quality of education and promotes welfare dependency rather than job creation, while other critics have charged that it is a clientelist program aimed at buying poor voters’ support. However, the program has generally received praise and international interest, including from the World Bank (which has debunked a number of myths about the program’s effects on dependency), and has contributed to the significant reduction in poverty and income inequality in Brazil. In 2003, 43% of Brazilians lived on less than $4 a day. In 2011, that number had fallen to 24%. While Brazil remains one of the world’s most unequal countries, the Gini coefficient has fallen from about 0.59 when Lula took office to 0.53 in 2011. Income inequality and poverty had remained high, with little change, under Brazil’s previous democratic presidents – including under FHC’s two terms.

Lula’s government took steps to confront racial inequalities (a longtime taboo subject in a country founded in good part on the myth of ‘racial democracy’), cracked down on slave labour in remote regions of the Amazon and Nordeste (over 32,000 people were freed from slave labour under Lula’s presidency), supported a rural electrification project, supported family agriculture and PT supporters pointed out that Lula distributed more land to landless peasants than his predecessor did. Brazil’s education system continues to be ranked near the very bottom in PISA rankings, despite real efforts by Lula’s government to improve educational outcomes. His government created ProUni to grant full or partial scholarships to low-income students and created 11 federal universities. On environmental issues, the government’s record was shoddier – Lula constantly tried (and struggled) to straddle both sides of the dispute, being sensitive both to environmentalists’ demands for conservation of the Amazon rainforest, and the importance of agribusiness to the economy. Marina Silva, Lula’s environment minister, faced constant hostility from other sectors of the government as she sought to limit deforestation and environmentally-destructive development, until she resigned from cabinet in 2008.

Lula’s government saw Brazil adopt a much more active foreign policy, breaking with a certain passivity in the past administrations, and Lula put much personal energy and time during his two terms in foreign state visits and hosting foreign leaders. His foreign policy aimed to open more markets for Brazilian exports, deepen ties with other major developing states through BRICS (Russia, India, China and South Africa), promote South American integration, rebuild the Mercosul and boosting Brazil’s weight in international organizations such as the UN (Brazil was a major contributor to the UN mission in Haiti) in the hopes of gaining a permanent seat for Brazil on the UNSC. Lula’s relations with the US, under the George W. Bush administration, were not as friendly as they had been under Cardoso (who had gotten along well with Clinton) – Brazil opposed Bush’s FTAA idea, strongly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Brasília took some stances at odds with American foreign policy (on issues such as Iran, Israel-Palestine). Lula, as one of the key left-wing leaders elected in Latin America’s ‘Pink Wave’ in the 2000s, was friendly to Hugo Chávez and other left-wing regional leaders. But Brazil’s economic and strategic interests in some of these countries – particularly Bolivia and Paraguay – were at odds with the rhetoric of left-wing leaders in those countries (like Bolivia, where Petrobras had $3.5 billion investments when Evo Morales nationalized oil and gas). Lula’s policy with regards to Iran, Cuba and China was criticized by the opposition.

To win and maintain power in Brazil, politicians require to forge broad coalitions inevitably including slimy politicians and venal parties which represent vested interests and/or demand tangible benefits in exchange for their support. Lula’s 2002 coalition included the PT and Alencar’s PL and other small left-wing parties such as the Brazilian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Brasileiro, PSB) – founded in 1985 and later joined by Miguel Arraes, a three-time left-wing governor of Pernambuco (first elected in 1962 in the then-conservative northeastern state, with Communist support, his government forced sugar mill and plantation owners to pay their employees minimum wage and he supported the creation of unions and peasants’ organizations); the Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil, PCdoB) – based on the 1962 faction which supported Maoism (later Hoxhaist after 1976, although ironically its Hoxhaist shift coincided with political moderation) and opposed ‘revisionism’ and was famous for bogging down the military regime for years in the Araguaia guerrilla (1969-1976); and the Brazilian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Brasileiro, PCB) – the PCdoB’s rival, disputing the legacy of the original Communist Party (founded in 1922) but marginalized by refusing the armed struggle during the military regime, the rise of non-communist trade unionism and later the fall of the Wall (the remaining PCB is now a hardcore left-wing party and abandoned the Lula coalition by 2006). However, Lula needed to seek the support of other parties to gain a congressional majority, meaning that he became reliant on the backing of fickle, venal parties – parts of the PMDB (which had officially backed Serra in 2002), the Progressive Party (Partido Progressista, PP – actually Paulo Maluf’s party and the descendant of the most conservative factions of the old military party, ARENA/PDS) and the Brazilian Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro, PTB – the 1979 refoundation of Getúlio Vargas’ old corporatist workers’ party, and now a slimy ‘party for hire’ which has backed every government since Figueiredo). Some critics of the government claimed that Lula’s social policies only aimed at cosmetic amelioration rather than real changes, stemming from his unwillingness to challenge vested interests (which included the PT’s base in organized labour).

Shortly after taking office, the magazine Época showed that an advisor to José Dirceu (a loyal PT veteran), the then-Minister of the Casa Civil (Chief of Staff) and Lula’s éminence grise, had attempted to extort money for the PT from the sketchy boss of an illegal gambling game (jogo de bicho), Carlinhos Cachoeira. Lula rejected Dirceu’s offer to resign.

A far bigger scandal began in May 2005, when the opposition-aligned news magazine Veja released a video showing the boss of the state postal service negotiating a bribe. As part of the coalition agreement, the boss of the state postal service was nominated by the PTB’s federal deputy Roberto Jefferson, which intended to use control of that agency to milk money out of it. Feeling the pressure, Jefferson, in June 2005, decided to drop a bomb by alleging that the PT, coordinated by Dirceu and other PT apparatchiks, was paying a ‘monthly salaries’ (mensalão) to federal deputies (mostly from the PL, PP, PTB and PMDB) in exchange for their support. According to Jefferson, the elaborate vote-buying scheme (which was, however, not a novel idea in Brazilian politics) was coordinated by José Dirceu, administered by Delúbio Soares (the PT’s treasurer) and the money was handled by Marcos Valério (a PR/advertising businessman who received the money, by diverting resources from ad contracts, private bank loans or milking cash from telecom companies).

Jefferson was later impeached and stripped of his mandate and political rights for 8 years, but the scandal became one of the biggest corruption scandals in modern Brazilian democracy and had a grave impact on Lula’s government. The government and the PT initially denied all allegations, and tried to prevent the formation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI) and later, when proof added up, accused Delúbio Soares and Marcos Valério of negotiating loans without the knowledge of the PT leadership, or spinning the scandal as a mere (‘normal’) case of an illegal parallel campaign fund. The PT also tried to paint the opposition parties as hypocritical, pointing out similar vote buying cases involving PSDB politicians (notably the illegal financing, by similar means and with the help of Marcos Valério, of the 1998 reelection campaign of the PSDB governor of Minas Gerais Eduardo Azeredo) and accepted a CPI into the mensalão after extending its mandate to cover vote-buying allegations against the Cardoso administration for the re-election amendment. José Dirceu, however, resigned as Chief of Staff in June 2005 and was stripped of his mandate as federal deputy in December 2005. In July 2005, José Genoíno – a PT deputy and the president of the PT – resigned the party presidency after an aide was arrested with R$200,000 in a bag and $100,000 in underpants; later that month, Delúbio Soares, who had also resigned his party position, was expelled from the PT after taking full responsibility for illegal parallel campaign funds used for the PT’s electoral campaigns. Duda Mendonça, the political marketing guru, told a CPI that the PT had paid him for his services through an offshore account in the Bahamas. The finance minister, Antonio Palocci, was accused of receiving monthly payments from businessmen when he was mayor of Ribeirão Preto (SP). In August, Lula asked the Brazilian people for forgiveness and said that he felt betrayed – there is no definitive proof that Lula knew anything of the bribes being paid by his party to his congressional allies.

The revelation of the mensalão unleashed a wave of public attention into other cases of congressional greed and political corruption. In September, the PP president of the Chamber, Severino Cavalcanti – a corrupt personage whose appeal was based on lobbying for backbenchers’ spoils and privileges – was forced to resign the presidency of the Chamber for taking bribes from a restaurant owner in the Congress building. Cavalcanti, when he was elected to the Chamber’s presidency in February 2005 (replacing PT deputy João Paulo Cunha, accused of participating in the mensalão), had been a dissident from the government benches and beaten a PT deputy backed by the presidency, but by September he had become an ally of the PT in the mensalão scandal in return for a few goodies. He was replaced by PCdoB deputy Aldo Rebelo.

The scandals severely damaged the PT’s reputation, breaking its old (pre-power) reputation as an honest party fighting for less corrupt politics in Brazil. However, by early 2006, the scandal was running out of steam despite attempts by the PT’s opponents to keep it alive. Some other scandals hurt the government in 2006 and in its second term. In March 2006, Palocci was forced to resign after a buildup of reports of financial misbehaviour while he was mayor, that he had received illegal gambling money and that he leaked the bank records of a concierge who told the press about Palocci’s presence at parties organized by associates. Other scandals included a long-running scheme, tolerated by the health ministry, where deputies from small parties took commissions when mayors bought overpriced ambulances; the arrest of PT operatives very close to Lula attempting to illegally purchase an incriminating dossier against José Serra in the 2006 election; an expense scandal involving misuse of corporate credit cards by ministers or the participation of the son of Lula’s Chief of Staff in an influence peddling scheme in September 2010.

The corruption scandals during Lula’s term exposed the business behind Brazilian politics and governing. Deputies, for electoral and political purposes, seek access to pork or access to the spoils. A vast spoils system operates at the top of Brazilian politics – politicians from coalition partners are able to appoint the heads of public agencies or corporations or get their own ministerial portfolios, and proceed to milk the money out of those jobs by receiving contributions from appointed bureaucrats, rigging public tenders and controlling patronage. The mensalão scandal started with such a scheme – as part of the business transaction between the government and the PTB, the PTB appointed the head of the postal service, who was in turn expected to pay monthly bribes to the PTB. José Dirceu, a ‘prime minister’/Rasputin-like éminence grise in Lula’s first administration, was the man responsible for handing out appointments to the PT’s slimy allies. However, despite the intense corruption, Brazilian institutions worked – the government took real steps to increase transparency, independent law enforcement agencies (the federal police, the independent Prosecutor General of the Republic) and the courts did their jobs freely and Brazilian campaign finance legislation is tougher and more transparent than similar legislation in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. Brazilian candidates for all offices must publicly disclose all of their assets to the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the body which administers elections.

Lula was reelected in October 2006. The mess of the mensalão had faded in the minds of most voters, and Lula’s base rewarded him for his social policies. Lula was officially supported by the PT, the PCdoB and the new Brazilian Republican Party (Partido Republicano Brasileiro, PRB), founded by PL dissidents (including Vice President José Alencar) and considered by some as the ‘political arm’ of the evangelical neo-Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), the third-largest evangelical denomination in Brazil and one of the most powerful and controversial evangelical churches (the UCKG is one of the richest religious denominations, owns several media sources, built a humongous replica of the Temple of Solomon in São Paulo and its leader bishop Edir Macedo is a billionaire). He received unofficial backing from the PL, the PSB and most of the PMDB.

His main opponent was the PSDB governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin. Alckmin’s political mentor was Mário Covas, one of the PSDB’s founding members, and he was elected vice-governor of the state of São Paulo as Mário Covas’ running-mate in 1994 (and reelected in 1998). He assumed office as governor in March 2001, after Covas died.  Alckmin was reelected governor in 2002, winning 58.6% in the runoff against José Genoino (PT). Paulo Maluf (PP), the early favourite, was defeated in the first round. After a successful term as governor, Alckmin imposed himself as the PSDB’s presidential candidate over rival claims. Fairly uncharismatic and introverted – he was nicknamed chuchu (a bland green vegetable) – he had trouble taking off. Alckmin’s candidacy was supported by the three main opposition parties: the PSDB, the PFL (which would rename itself ‘Democrats’ or Democratas in 2007 in a bid to modernize its image, as a right-wing liberal party rather than a bunch of old conservative coronels from the Nordeste) and the Popular Socialist Party (Partido Popular Socialista, PPS). The PPS was actually founded in 1992 by reformist dissidents of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), led by Roberto Freire, mimicking the transformation of the Italian PCI into the social democratic PDS (and, like in Italy, a small hardline minority remained communists, in Brazil being led by famous architect Oscar Niemeyer). The PPS opposed FHC’s two governments – supporting Lula in 1994, and then running its own candidate – Ciro Gomes, a former governor of Ceará (1991-1994) and PSDB finance minister (1994-1995), in 1998 and 2002 (11% and 12% respectively), although Gomes (who had become Minister of National Integration in Lula’s cabinet) left the PPS to join the PSB when the PPS left the governing coalition in 2003.

Lula also faced candidacies from two PT dissidents. Heloísa Helena, an outspoken Alagoas senator from the PT’s left, had broken with the PT in 2003 due to major disagreements with the conservative direction of Lula’s economic policies and his opportunistic alliances with corrupt parties. Expelled from the PT in December 2003, she was one of the founding members of the Socialism and Freedom Party (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade, PSOL). Senator Cristovam Buarque, a former PT governor of the DF (1995-1999) and education minister (2003-2004), who left the PT in 2004, ran for the Democratic Labour Party (Partido Democrático Trabalhista, PDT). The PDT was founded in 1979, led by veteran leftist politician Leonel Brizola (the brother-in-law of deposed President João Goulart), who as PTB governor of Rio Grande do Sul (1959-1963) and federal deputy for Guanabara (1963-1964) was one of the main players in the highly-charged political debates which led up to the 1964 coup, pressuring Goulart to speed up controversial left-wing reforms including agrarian reforms and regulation of profit remittances by foreign corporations. In exile during the military regime, Brizola returned to Brazil with the amnesty in 1979 and created the PDT after losing the rights to the name PTB to Ivete Vargas, Getúlio Vargas’ grand-niece. In 1989, Brizola placed a close third in the first round of the presidential election (15.5% to Lula’s 16.1%). Brizola and brizolismo remained very powerful in the state of Rio de Janeiro, where he served as governor between 1983 and 1987 and again between 1991 and 1994. Brizola died in 2004. The PSOL and PDT both welcomed dissidents from the PT, as did the smaller Green Party (Partido Verde, PV).

In the first round, Lula won 48.6% against 41.6% for Alckmin, with Heloísa Helena winning 6.9% and Cristovam Buarque receiving only 2.6%. Lula had been widely expected to be reelected by the first round, but suffered from a late swing against him because of the backlash against the PT’s dirty tricks in the fake dossier against José Serra (the PSDB’s candidate for governor of São Paulo) and Lula’s refusal to participate in televised debates against his opponents. Alckmin, on the other hand, finished strong. However, Lula seized the initiative in the runoff campaign and claimed that Alckmin would privatize state-owned corporations and dismantle the Bolsa Familía (largely false accusations, besides the PSDB’s campaign focused on hitting the PT and Lula for corruption). Alckmin was unable to build on his first round result, and the runoff ended up as a Lula blowout: 60.8% to 39.2% for Alckmin, who lost votes from the first round.

Interestingly, the 2006 election was the realigning election in terms of voting patterns and the main coalitions/parties’ bases of support. Whereas in 2002, ‘Lula peace and love’ had fairly evenly distributed support throughout all regions and demographic groups, the 2006 election showed a much more polarized map and electorate. Lula swept the Nordeste with 77% (61.5% in 2002), Brazil’s poorest (and blackest/brownest) region, thanks to massive swings in his favour in the rural regions (particularly the arid and inhospitable sertão, home to the infamous latifúndios) – traditionally under the grip of conservative barons – where poor voters benefited from federal spending and Lula’s social programs. The success of the Lula coalition in the Nordeste has also had repercussions at the congressional and state level, where the PFL/DEM have suffered significant loses in their old regional base. On the other hand, Alckmin won the state of São Paulo and the South, the wealthiest (and whitest) regions of the country. Alckmin won 52.3% in São Paulo (state), which has always been fairly conservative despite being the PT’s cradle, and 53.5% in the South region; in 2002, Lula had won 55.4% in São Paulo and 58.8% in the South. In 2006, there was a clear polarization of voting patterns, with wealth, education and race (to a lesser extent) becoming the key variables. In past elections, such as 1989, there had been similar left-right polarization, but around different variables – in 1989, the main cleavage between Lula and Collor, for example, had been rural-urban.

The PMDB replaced the PT as the largest party in the Chamber of Deputies, while the opposition PSDB and PFL/DEM ranked as the third and fourth largest parties respectively. Paulo Maluf, who was himself elected federal deputy with the highest vote count of any candidate in the country, saw his party, the PP, win 42 seats. The PSB, PDT, PTB, PL, PPS, PV and PCdoB all won over 10 seats in the Chamber. In Amapá, former president José Sarney (PMDB) was reelected to the Senate, where he had been a key backer of the Lula government. In Alagoas, former president Fernando Collor was elected to the Senate for the tiny Partido Renovador Trabalhista Brasileiro (PRTB), although he jumped ship to the PTB within days.

In gubernatorial races, José Serra (PSDB) was elected governor of São Paulo in the first round, taking 57.9% against 31.7% for PT senator Aloizio Mercadante. Mercadante’s campaign, already in poor shape, was killed off by the PT’s fake dossier scandal. In Minas Gerais, popular PSDB governor Aécio Neves, the grandson of Tancredo Neves, was reelected with a huge 77% of the votes against the PT – all while Lula defeated Alckmin in the state, indicating a very strong ‘Lula-Aécio’ vote-splitting campaign, which Aécio tolerated much to the national PSDB’s displeasure. In Rio Grande do Sul, the PT’s Olivío Dutra – one of the party’s founders and the first PT mayor of Porto Alegre (1989-1992) – was unable to regain the office he lost in 2002, losing in the second round to Yeda Crusius (PSDB). In Rio de Janeiro, PMDB senator Sérgio Cabral was easily elected in the second round against right-wing candidate Denise Frossard (PPS). At the time, Cabral was supported by former governor Anthony Garotinho (a party-hopper, who was also PMDB back then) and his wife, outgoing governor Rosinha Garotinho. Garotinho, an evangelical Christian and former ally of Leonel Brizola, is a classic (but clownish) populist who is popular with poorer voters because of his pro-poor policies (meals and hotel nights at the symbolic price of R$1) but disliked by others for his thinly-veiled religious proselytizing and corruption (vote buying, illegal campaign funding). Garotinho, then in the PSB, had run for President in 2002 and placed third with 18% thanks to strong evangelical support. He had unsuccessfully tried to receive the PMDB’s nomination for President in 2006, but a short-lived ‘electoral verticalization’ rule in place at the time which forced parties to have the same alliances at all levels led the PMDB to remain neutral to retain its state-by-state alliances. Although Garotinho had (controversially) endorsed Alckmin in the runoff, Lula supported Cabral.

In Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos (PSB), the grandson of Miguel Arraes and the Minister of Science and Technology (2004-2005), was elected governor in the second round, winning 65.4% against 34.6% for incumbent governor Mendonça Filho (PFL), who had replaced powerful right-wing governor Jarbas Vasconcelos (PMDB) in March 2006. In the first round, the PT’s favourite – health minister Humberto Costa (who had been defeated by Jarbas Vasconcelos in 2002), was defeated, placing a close third. In Maranhão, Roseana Sarney (PFL but pro-Lula) – José Sarney’s daughter – was narrowly defeated in the second round by Jackson Lago (PDT), 48.2% to 51.8%, marking one of the first defeats of the Sarney clan in its own backyard in some 40 years. However, since Lago was soon embroiled in a corruption sting by the federal police, the TSE invalidated all votes cast in his favour in 2009 and Roseana Sarney was proclaimed elected in his stead. In Bahia, the hitherto hegemonic ‘carlist’ machine of ACM (which had ruled without interruption since 1989) suffered an historic – and unexpected – defeat when Jaques Wagner (PT), who had been minister of institutional relations under Lula, defeated incumbent governor Paulo Souto (PFL) in the first round (52.9% to 43%; Souto had led in all polls). In Ceará, incumbent governor Lúcio Alcântara (PSDB) was defeated in a landslide by Cid Gomes (PSB), the brother of Ciro Gomes.

The 2010 elections came at the peak of Lula’s popularity – the outgoing term-limited President had approval ratings over 80% (the highest for any Brazilian President), the economy was performing very well after recovering from a short economic crisis and Lula’s social programs were widely hailed as great successes and best-practices in reducing poverty. Lula handpicked his successor, choosing Dilma Rousseff, who had been Minister of the Casa Civil (Chief of Staff) since Dirceu’s resignation in 2005, and Minister of Mines and Energy prior to that. Dilma, as she is widely referred to in Brazil, was born in a middle-class family in Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais) to a Bulgarian father and Brazilian mother in 1947. She was politicized as a student around the time of the 1964 military coup, and joined a non-communist far-left organization and opted for armed resistance (in the Comando de Libertação Nacional and then in VAR-Palmares) although she largely took an underground leadership rather than guerrilla role. As a member of VAR-Palmares, Dilma may have participated in that group’s most famous action – a raid on the safe of Ademar de Barros, an infamously corrupt populist former governor of São Paulo. Dilma was arrested in 1970 and tortured for 22 days, and was finally released from prison in 1972. She never returned to underground resistance, instead opting for non-electoral political activism by way of think-tanks linked to the MDB in Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul). In 1979, Dilma and her husband joined Leonel Brizola’s PDT – her husband was a PDT state deputy from 1982 to 1990 and a two-time unsuccessful mayoral candidate for the PDT in Porto Alegre, losing twice to the PT. Dilma herself never held elected office, serving as a technocratic cabinet member in a municipal administration in Porto Alegre (1985-1988) and then twice as secretary of mines and energy in the state government of Rio Grande do Sul (1993-1994, 1999-2002). Dilma broke with the PDT and joined the PT in 2001, after the short-lived PT-PDT alliance in the state fell apart during the 2000 municipal elections.

Her expertise on energy issues recognized – as well as her pragmatic relations with private businesses – she was appointed Minister of Mines and Energy in Lula’s cabinet. As minister, Dilma respected (and even expanded) all existing contracts with private firms, and her style received praise from the business sector. However, Dilma’s projects to expand the Brazilian electricity infrastructure to prevent another energy crisis often clashed with environment minister Marina Silva’s concern for such projects’ ecological footprints. As minister, she was also responsible for the development of the Luz para Todos (light for all) project, which aimed at providing free access to electricity for poor rural regions. In 2005, after José Dirceu’s resignation, Lula surprised many by appointing Dilma to replace him as his Chief of Staff.

Dilma’s candidacy for the PT as Lula’s preferred successor was in the works as early as 2008 but was only officially announced in June 2010. Dilma’s candidacy was supported by a broad coalition including the PMDB (which provided Dilma’s running-mate, the president of the Chamber of Deputies Michel Temer), PDT, PCdoB, PSB (which withdrew the early candidacy of Ciro Gomes, who only begrudgingly endorsed Dilma after the first round), PRB, the new Republic Party (Partido da República, PR) and three smaller parties including the Social Christian Party (Partido Social Cristão, PSC). The PR, a venal and slimy populist assemblage of various opportunistic politicians, had been founded in 2006 by the merger of the old PL with the remnants of the far-right populist/nationalist PRONA, whose popular and charismatic leader Enéas Carneiro died in 2007.

The main opposition candidate was José Serra, who had served as governor of São Paulo since 2007 and was leaving office with fairly high approval ratings. Serra was supported by the PSDB, DEM, PPS, PTB and two smaller parties.

Marina Silva, who had served as Lula’s environment minister from 2003 to 2008 and had been a member of the PT for over two decades, had quit the PT in 2009, a year after she left cabinet in disagreement with the government’s environmental policies. As noted above, while she was environment minister, she clashed several times with Dilma over environmental policies and conservation. While Lula tried hard to straddle both sides in the environmental protection/economic development debate, some of his policies – such as the São Francisco river diversion project, the push of agribusiness in the rainforest regions and road construction in the rainforest – were criticized by environmentalists, while those leading those projects criticized Marina for delays in the issuing of permits. In 2009, Marina – who had been a PT senator from the Amazonian state of Acre since 1995 – left the PT, which she had joined in 1986, and joined the Green Party (Partido Verde, PV). The Greens had been part of Lula’s coalition in 2002, but left the government in 2005 over environmental policy differences (but Gilberto Gil, the famous Green-aligned singer who was Lula’s culture minister, stayed in). The PV has tended to be one of the more ideologically consistent and principled minor parties, although the PV has been divided between those friendlier to the PT and those more aligned with the PSDB-led right-wing opposition. Fernando Gabeira, a writer famous for his participation in the 1969 kidnapping of the US ambassador served as a PV federal deputy from Rio de Janeiro from 1995 to 2011 (with a brief switch to the PT in 2002-2003) and came very close to becoming mayor of Rio in 2008, and in recent years he has favoured alliances with the right. On the other hand, Sarney Filho – José Sarney’s son and PV federal deputy – began his career in ARENA/PDS and nowadays supports alliances with the PT. Marina became the PV’s candidate, without any other allies.

Marina is an evangelical Christian since 1997, and has some controversial socially conservative views (which are very out of the mainstream for a Green politician) – she is pro-life, opposes same-sex marriage, stem cell research, drug legalization and expressed sympathy for creationist views.

The candidates differed little on issues such as monetary and fiscal policy (both Serra and Dilma supporting the existing macroeconomic framework and orthodox policies), while clashing on questions such as the role of the state in the economy and foreign policy.

Dilma’s support, which was as low at 3% in 2008, shot up instantly as Lula started actively campaigning for her as his anointed successor in May 2010. With the beginning of free electoral programming in August 2010, Dilma had an unassailable lead over Serra’s faltering campaign and was set to win by the first round until the last week as Marina rapidly gained in the polls (8-10% since the beginning of the year, she began gaining in the last stretch). In the first round, Dilma underperformed and won 46.9%, while both Serra and Marina overperformed their polling: Serra won 32.6% and Marina came out as the real winner, with 19.3%. Marina managed to build an unusual composite coalition with middle-class socially liberal urban bobo voters and conservative evangelical voters.

Serra managed to build a stronger campaign in the runoff, while Dilma faced a wave of attacks from Serra concerning her inexperience and from religious leaders who alleged that she was personally pro-choice (she clarified that she would not touch Brazil’s restrictive abortion laws). Nevertheless, Dilma was handily elected, with 56% of the vote.

Dilma’s coalition won a three-fifths majority in the Chamber and the Senate, with the PT replacing the PMDB as the largest party in the lower house. On the right, the PSDB, PPS and especially DEM all suffered substantial loses in Congress. The most voted candidate for the Chamber in the county was Tiririca (PR), a professional clown and singer-songwriter, who basically ran a protest joke campaign and managed 1.348 million votes (the second-highest all-time number of votes for a candidate, after PRONA’s Enéas Carneiro in 2002). Upon his election, he faced serious questions about his literacy and was forced to pass a literacy test. His support, plus that of Anthony Garotinho (also from the PR, and the second-most voted candidate in Brazil), allowed the PR to win 41 seat, making it the fifth largest party in the Chamber.

In Minas Gerais’ senate race, term-limited governor Aécio Neves (PSDB) and former President Itamar Franco (PPS) were elected to the Senate. In the gubernatorial contest in MG, Aécio’s successor Antônio Anastasia was elected to a full term with over 62% in the first round. In São Paulo, in an amusing game of musical-chairs, Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) was elected to succeed Serra as governor, with 50.6% in the first round. Aloysio Nunes (PSDB), a former federal deputy and justice minister under FHC, was elected to the first seat in the Senate with a surprisingly massive vote (he broke the existing record for the highest number of votes for any senatorial candidate in Brazil); the second seat went to Marta Suplicy (PT), a former mayor of São Paulo (2000-2004) but her co-candidate and presumed favourite, singer and TV star Netinho de Paula (PCdoB), was narrowly defeated after a story of domestic assault. In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent PMDB governor Sérgio Cabral was reelected with two-thirds of the vote against 20.7% for right-wing candidate Fernando Gabeira (PV). Lindberg Farias (PT), a former student leader and key player in the 1992 caras-pintadas movement for Collor’s impeachment, was elected to the Senate with the most votes while incumbent Senator Marcelo Crivella (PRB), a UCKG bishop and gospel singer, was reelected. In Rio Grande do Sul, PSDB governor Yeda Crusius’ administration became a trainwreck before it even began in 2007 (broken promises, corruption allegations, coalition infighting) so she was handily defeated (18.4% and third) while Tarso Genro (PT), was elected in the first round. In the DF, the DEM governor elected in 2006 – José Arruda – had been arrested while in office and later impeached after a vast corruption scandal (the mensalão do DEM). Former federal deputy Agnelo Queiroz (PT), hardly cleaner himself, was elected in the runoff with 66% of the votes against the wife of another corrupt former governor Joaquim Roriz (PSC).

In the Nordeste, the old right-wing barons suffered some major defeats. In Bahia, PT governor Jaques Wagner was reelected in a landslide (63.4%) despite having broken with the PMDB. In Pernambuco, governor Eduardo Campos (PSB) was one of the most popular governors in the country, so he was reelected with a phenomenal 82.8% against Jarbas Vasconcelos. In the senatorial contest, veteran PFL/DEM senator and former Vice President Marco Maciel was defeated in a landslide, with both seats going to the left (including one to the PT’s Humberto Costa). In Ceará, in what was perhaps one of the most unexpected result, popular PSDB senator Tasso Jereissati was defeated after Lula campaigned strongly against him. In Alagoas, incumbent governor Teo Vilela Filho (PSDB) was ultimately narrowly reelected in the second round of an exciting gubernatorial race which saw a fierce first round battle with senator/impeached President Collor (PTB) and Collor’s nemesis, former two-term governor Ronaldo Lessa (PDT). Collor was narrowly defeated by Lessa for second place in the first round (28.8% to 29.2%, with 39.6% for the incumbent), but despite an unholy alliance with Collor, Lessa was defeated in the second round. In the senatorial contest, incumbent senator Renan Calheiros (PMDB) had no problems with reelection, despite a major scandal in 2007 (Renangate: a business was accused of making payments to Renan’s ex-mistress, with whom he had an illegitimate daughter). He had narrowly survived an impeachment vote following that scandal. In Maranhão, despite another wave of corruption allegations hitting the Sarney clan (José Sarney was by then back as President of the Senate), governor Roseana Sarney (PMDB) was reelected in the first round.

Dilma’s presidency

Upon her election, Dilma – like Lula in 2002 – reiterated her commitment to follow Lula’s macroeconomic policy. Alexandre Tombini, another supporter of low-inflation policies, replaced Meirelles as President of the Central Bank, while Guido Mantega – a more ‘developmentalist’ petista, stayed on as finance minister (a post he has held since 2006).

Dilma’s cabinet was the product of a tricky balancing act, in which she needed to please every part of her broad coalition. Most ministerial portfolios went to the PT – including key ones such as finance, justice, education, health and industry – but the PT’s allies were rewarded with some portfolios. The PMDB, for example, received the Ministry of Social Security, the ministry with the highest operating budget. The PMDB, however, was disappointed with the meager clutch of ministries awarded to them. The PR received transportation, the PCdoB retained sports, the PDT got labour and the PRB received fisheries and aquaculture. These smaller parties, as it turned out, came to feel that they ‘owned’ these ministries and treated them as their private property. The President also has over 25,000 jobs in boards, agencies, state-owned firms and public institutions in her gift – although the government has insisted that these jobs largely go to professional civil servants, the truth is that a lot of these jobs are patronage posts used to reward allies. Antonio Palocci, dismissed as finance minister in 2006 following a scandal, returned to a highly powerful position as Dilma’s Chief of Staff (Minister of the Casa Civil)

After the booming economy in the last year(s) of Lula’s term, the economy was clearly overheating and Brazil’s structural economic problems became clearer. In 2011, the economy grew by only 2.7%, the slowest growth rate in South America and lower than any of Brazil’s other BRICS partners. Inflation was also fairly high as Dilma took office, and inflation hit 6.5% – the upper limit of inflation set by the Central Bank – in 2011. The government raised interest rates from 10.75% to 11.25% (with further increases to 12.5% by summer 2011), increased the minimum wage to R$545/month and cut the federal budget by R$50 billion – all measures adopted in order to cool the overheating economy and reduce inflation. Critics, however, pointed out that Dilma did little to slow the hectic increase in federal spending (which has been growing since Lula), especially on salaries, pensions and resources for the BNDES (the national development bank) for loans on infrastructure projects. In 2010, a large part of the huge GDP growth had come from the typical pre-election binge spending by all levels of government.

The government continued the social programs which had made Lula so popular, again aimed at improving the standard of living for low-income Brazilians. In March 2010, the government renewed the Growth Acceleration Program (Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento, PAC) as PAC-2, continuing the federal government’s large public works and infrastructure stimulus program first introduced in 2007 (Dilma, as Chief of Staff, had been a key player in the launch of the first PAC in 2007). PAC-2 foresaw R$1.59 trillion investments on a range of government projects and public works, including projects such as Minha Casa, Minha Vida (aimed at providing 2 million homes by 2014, 60% of them to poor families). In 2011, the government launched Brasil sem Miséria, a social program (in reality an expansion of the Bolsa Familía) aimed at removing 16.2 million people from ‘extreme poverty’ (living on less than R$70 per month) and ensuring that all welfare recipients have a monthly household per-person income over R$70Other programs included support to microentrepreneurship, construction of cisterns for consumption and agriculture and ‘Science without Borders’ (funding 75,000 scholarships for post-secondary students to study STEM subjects abroad). Official sources claim that the government’s anti-poverty programs and initiatives have been very successful at alleviating poverty, improving poor families’ living conditions, empowering women, expanding education and improving health outcomes.

Early in her first term, Dilma continued her predecessor’s moderate economic policies, much to the chagrin of forces further left and the PT’s traditional allies in organized labour. A notable example came with airports – passenger numbers have expanded in recent years, and the organization of major international sporting events – the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics – required larger, modern and well-managed airport. Brazilian airports are managed by Infraero, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Defense which is a byword for bureaucratic obstruction and mismanagement. In April 2011, the government announced that it would grant concessions to private companies to manage some of Brazil’s largest airports. Thus far, 6 major airports (Natal, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Campinas, São Paulo-Guarulhos, Rio de Janeiro-Galeão) are administered by private companies with concessions with minority participation (49%) by Infraero in 5 of them.

The government also cut payroll taxes for selected industries, widened a scheme which allows small businesses to use a simplified system for filing tax returns, worked to rationalize interstate taxes and sought to improve productivity by offering more scholarships and technical training.

Public spending on pensions and old age dependency in Brazil and other major economies (source: The Economist, Sept. 28, 2013)

One policy area which is of growing urgency for the federal government is pensions – Brazil has an absurdly generous constitutionally-entrenched pension system for private and public sector workers. Brazil spends about 11% of its GDP on pensions – slightly less than Italy and France, but far more than the UK, Canada or the US; all countries which have a much older population than Brazil. The pension system is extremely generous – for old age pensions on full pay with a high cap, private sector workers need only contribute for 15 years and work until 65 (men)/60 (women), with the possibility for a slightly less generous pension if one has contributed for 35 (men)/30 (women) years. Public sector workers have it even better – with a slightly earlier retirement age (60 and 55, only for those hired since a 1998 reform which increased the retirement ages from 53 and 48), and a minimum of 10 years of work (before 1998, there wasn’t even a vesting period). Contribution rates are very high, which may discourage formal employment.

There is a very strong re-distributive element in the pension system – there are exemptions from contributions and reduced contribution rates for low-wage earners, and a guaranteed right to a minimum monthly pension of R$678 to poor men and women (above the ages of 65 and 60) even if they have never contributed. Rural workers, regardless of income, can retire earlier and get R$622 per month without ever contributing. All pensions must exceed the minimum wage, which increases every year. Finally, bereaved spouses – unlike in almost every other country – get the full sum of the deceased’s pension (even if they were not retired) for the rest of their lives. On the whole, Brazilians – on average – can retire on 70% of final pay at 54, compared to 61 in Greece (whose pension system was held as one of the culprits for the crisis). As a result, the pension fund has a large deficit.

In contrast, while Brazil spends a lot on pensions (roughly half of the federal budget goes to pension, with another large chunk for salaries), it spends very little on infrastructure, investments and children. Therefore, old age poverty is less of an issue, but child poverty is a major problem in Brazil. Children-oriented benefits are sparse and meager – the means-tested Bolsa Família grants only average R$155 per month. Reforms to the pension system are seen as inevitable, but they remain very tough – partly because the constitution guarantees lots of rights to workers and pensioners, partly because it requires a lot of political capital. In February 2012, Congress passed a reform which caps the defined-benefits plans of future federal government employees at the private sector’s levels (R$3916 per month). In 2013, the government was forced to abandon a reform which would include a minimum retirement age. Many analysts insist that further, tougher reforms are necessary – The Economist proposed a minimum retirement age, less generous benefits (which are currently constitutionally tied to the minimum wage) and is critical of the yearly increases in the minimum wage (it is increased by the sum of the previous year’s inflation and GDP growth from the year before that), but admitted that such changes are unlikely to find much congressional support.

In her first years in office, Dilma faced an avalanche of scandals coming from her cabinet. In June 2011, Antonio Palocci, the Chief of Staff, was forced to resign after an unexplained 20-fold increase in his personal wealth as a result of consultancy work. Taking advantage of the government’s weakness, the PMDB in Congress took the opportunity to defy the government by granting an amnesty for illegal logging prior to 2008; while the ‘evangelical bench’ (a caucus of evangelical congressmen) forced the government to drop plans for anti-homophobia education in schools. In July 2011, Veja revealed a corruption scheme in the Ministry of Transportation, under Alfredo Nascimento (PR-AM), with the the PR demanding a 4% kickback from contractors interested in government contracts – the money went to fill the PR’s treasury or ‘commissions’ to congressmen from states where those contracts would be. Nascimento resigned quickly, but a rather pissed off PR stopped actively supporting the government. In August 2011, the Minister of Agriculture Wagner Rossi (PMDB-SP) was forced to resign after investigations revealed that a ‘criminal organization’ existed under his eyes in his ministry (according to the Federal Police). Rossi was accused of being chummy with lobbyists, covering up bribes and electoral crimes and using public funds to pay off the debts of private companies. In August 2011, a police raid dismantled a scheme to divert public funds in the Ministry of Tourism, and Sarney ally Pedro Novais (PMDB-MA) was forced to resign the portfolio. In August 2011, the Minister of Cities, Mário Negromonte (PP-BA) became mixed up in a corruption scheme (bribing congressmen to support him in an internal conflict in the PP) and, later, other corruption accusations forced him to resign in February 2012. In October 2011, the Minister of Sports Orlando Silva (PCdoB-SP) was accused of using the ministry to provide a funding stream, charging kickbacks to offer contracts or funneling them towards affiliated businesses and NGOs, and he was personally accused of receiving kickbacks in return for directing funds to corrupt contractors under a program intended to bring sports facilities to children in poor areas. The scheme allegedly began under Agnelo Queiroz (PT-DF), the Minister of Sports from 2003 to 2006 (as a member of the PCdoB at the time) and governor of the DF since 2010. To save Agnelo, the PT negotiated Orlando Silva’s resignation but the PCdoB retained the sports ministry with Aldo Rebelo. In November 2011, the Minister of Labour Carlos Lupi (PDT-RJ) was accused of charging kickbacks for contracts, extorting NGOs, siphoning off public funds to semi-phantom NGOs and accepting flights from a contractor. Lupi initially denied any wrongdoing or any flights, but was forced to resign when that was proven to be a lie.

Dilma’s tough stance against corrupt ministers – even if, in reality, she only forced them out when things were far too hot for her – was popular, and her approval ratings were very high throughout 2011 and most of 2012.

In 2012, a Federal Police investigation revealed close links between illegal gambling boss Carlos Cachoeira (arrested by the police operation in February 2012) and politicians from both the government and opposition in the Centre-West region. Top among them was opposition senator Demóstenes Torres (DEM-GO), accused of using his influence and power to advocate for Cachoeira’s business interests in exchange for gifts and money; Demóstenes left his party and became the second senator to be impeached by his colleagues in July 2012. A CPI into the Cachoeira case looked at links between the gambling boss and governor Marconi Perillo (PSDB-GO), governor Agnelo Queiroz (PT-DF), governor Sérgio Cabral (PMDB-RJ), deputies from several parties (PT, PP, PPS, PCdoB, PTB, PSDB) and bureaucrats.

In a welcome blow to the tradition of impunity for political corruption, there was finally judicial action on the mensalão case from Lula’s first term. The process was, as is usually the case in Brazil, very drawn-out and convoluted: in April 2006, the Prosecutor General of the Republic had indicted 40 people for crimes including racketeering, embezzlement, money laundering, bribery and tax evasion; the STF received most of the accusations and began a trial in August 2007 and the STF finally handed down sentences in September 2012. The three leading political masterminds – José Dirceu, Delúbio Soares and José Genoino were found guilty and sentenced to jail (Dirceu received 10 years and 10 months); Marcos Valério was found guilty and sentenced to over 40 years in jail and two other of his associates also received very long jail sentences. After a final round of appeals, in March 2014, the STF reduced Dirceu’s sentence to 7 years and 11 months in a ‘semi-open’ jail regime (Genoino got 4 years 8 months, and Delúbio Soares got 6 years and 8 months) and Marcos Valério’s sentence was reduced to 37 years and 5 months in a closed regime. João Paulo Cunha (PT-SP), who was President of the Chamber during the scandal (2003-2005) and had been accused of receiving money from Marcos Valério, was finally sentenced to 6 years and 4 months in jail. Senior managers from the private Banco Rural and the state-controlled Banco do Brasil were also convicted of fraud and money-laundering.

Growth slowed significantly in 2012, with only 1% GDP growth while inflation remained in the upper band with 5.84%. Controversially, in August 2011, the Central Bank – allegedly pushed by the government – decided to reduce interest rates by 0.5%, to 12%. By October 2012, the Central Bank had cuts its interest rates even further, to an all-time low of 7.25%. The opposition claimed that the Central Bank was losing its independence and succumbing to the government’s push for lower interest rates. The image of the government publicly ‘bullying’ the Central Bank to cut interest rates, undermined Brazil’s reputation for macroeconomic orthodoxy in the eyes of investors and markets lost trust in Dilma. The poor growth rates for 2012 came as a shock to the government, and were partly the product of a fall in investments despite policies to reduce business costs, lower interest rates and Central Bank interventions to engineer a 20% fall in the real’s value.

The primary surplus worsened in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, the government recorded a primary surplus (before interest payments) of 2.39% of GDP, missing the 3.1% target. Besides, the government has tended to engage in (legal) creative accounting to fudge the surplus figures in the past. In 2013, the primary surplus fell to only 1.9%. Many analysts were also worried about the government’s plans to loosen up the praised 2000 fiscal responsibility law, passed by FHC’s administration, which puts ‘breaks’ on excessive spending by all levels of government and requiring accountability from governments.  The trade balance also worsened beginning in 2011-2012. From 2001 to 2012, Brazil ran regular trades surpluses primarily due to the export of mining and agricultural products (soybeans). In 2013, the country started recording trade deficits mainly due to the high exports of consumption products and the growing weight of fuel imports.

Responding to the economic slowdown, the government introduced some short-term protectionist measures while taking modest steps towards more constructive longer-term reforms. In September 2011, it imposed higher taxes on imported cars, in a bid to force foreign carmakers to build factories in Brazil. In 2012, Dilma announced that the government would grant concessions to private companies to invest in roads and railways; inviting them to build, upgrade and operate toll roads and railways. However, in 2013, the auctions were delayed because of the government’s unwillingness to allow a competitive return alienated investors. On top of that, the government had trouble extracting support from Congress – it took typical arm-twisting and pork to get congressmen to approve a law increasing competition and private investment in crowded ports (private ports can now handle third-party cargo and hire their own staff rather than casual workers from the dockworkers’ union).

Dilma’s government also proved quite defiant to public sector workers’ demands for higher wages – teachers and professors in federal universities went on strike in 2012, demanding a substantial pay raise, and the movement was joined by the federal police and other public servants. In the end, they were granted an inflation-only offer of 15.8% over three years. These strikes were led by the CUT, the largest union confederation historically closely linked to the PT.

The custo Brasil (source: The Economist, Sept. 28, 2013)

With rising interest rates in 2013 – inflation reached 5.91% that year, again in the upper range of the Central Bank’s band – the Central Bank finally increased interest rates beginning in April 2013, gradually reaching the current level of 11.25%. The government was initially reluctant to increase interest rates, and tried to control inflation by cutting sales taxes and holding down the price of basic necessities. Some of the government’s anti-inflation policy initiatives were criticized as amateurish and bad for other sectors of the economy – keeping oil prices low weakened Petrobras and the sugarcane ethanol industry, electorally-motivated electricity subsidies and rate cuts have led to fears that Brazil may face another electricity shortage. In late 2013, the government moved to tighten credit, by announcing that it would stop capitalizing the national development bank (BNDES)

One of the major factors holding down the Brazilian economy and weakening the country’s competitiveness is the custo Brasil – the high cost of doing business in Brazil, because of factors including excessive red tape (a long delay to start a business), a slow bureaucracy, the high tax burden (Brazil’s tax burden, at about 38% of GDP, is the second-highest in Latin America after Argentina), high export/import costs, expensive labour costs, high electricity prices, poor infrastructure, high interest rates and economic cartels. Dilma’s government promised to reduce the custo Brasil and repeatedly floated several ideas, but ultimately was able to do very little: nothing came of promises for broad-based tax cuts or abolishing taxes on electricity.

Infrastructure, as noted above, is a major weakness in the Brazilian economy. Brazilian roads, airports, railways and ports are commonly described as being in disastrous shape with little government investment (indeed – the feds spend only 1.5% of GDP on infrastructure). A McKinsey Global Institute report on infrastructure worldwide measured the total value of Brazil’s ‘infrastructure stock’ at only 16%, extremely low compared to a worldwide average of 71% (or 64% in the US, 58% in Canada and 57% in the UK). Obviously, this has ramifications on the economy – Brazilian producers, like farmers, spend far more than their counterparts abroad on transportation costs.

More broadly, the lack of investments weakens the Brazilian economy and, as the electricity crisis in FHC’s last term showed, may have disastrous effects. Because the government can not, constitutionally, shrink pensions or cut the public sector, the ax falls on investments. Even when there are investments, the results are often seen as disappointing – the result of Lula’s first PAC (the big state-led public works program) were disappointing, and state-run companies like Infraero mismanage their investment budgets so little of it actually gets spent properly.

Brazil came to the fore of international attention in June 2013 – not because of the FIFA Confederations Cup, but rather because of the huge wave of popular protests throughout Brazil’s largest cities (described as the largest protest wave in Brazil since the 1992 Fora Collor movement for Collor’s impeachment). The movement began in São Paulo with the Movimento Passe Livre‘s protests against public transit fare hikes (although similar protests on the same subject had already been organized in other cities in 2012 and early 2013) – the city’s newly-elected mayor Fernando Haddad (PT) had announced a fare increase from R$3 to R$3.2 (costs had been frozen for the municipal elections in 2012 and a January fee hike delayed to help the feds massage the inflation figures), sparking protests in early June. The ‘first phase’ of the protests, largely in São Paulo but spreading fitfully to other cities, were more violent, focused quasi-exclusively on transportation/transit and had little sympathy from the press or the population. The conservative media decried the MPL as radical leftist activists with unrealistic aims, and urged the police to crack down. Commuters were originally hardly fond of disturbances caused by the young protesters. However, on June 13, a brutal and excessive crackdown by São Paulo’s military police completely changed the situation – the movement became national, it transformed from a single-issue movement to broad-based protests of dissatisfaction (similar to the Turkish protests in 2013) and the public overwhelmingly sided with the protests.

Beginning on June 17 until the end of the month, and coinciding with the FIFA Confederations Cup, there were huge protests in cities throughout Brazil – with the biggest crowds in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Porto Alegre, Goiânia, Vitória and Recife – with the biggest rallies on June 18 (430,000), June 20 (1.5 million) and June 21 (330,000).

The immediate cause of the mass protest movement was police repression and brutality in São Paulo and other cities on June 13, when the military police used stun grenades, rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas to indiscriminately disperse protesters leading to hundreds of arrests and numbers of wounded protesters and journalists. In the second phase, the aims of the protests became more diffuse – demanding less corruption, better public services, control of inflation and protesting the high spending on the FIFA Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup. The 2014 FIFA World Cup was the most expensive tournament in the history of the World Cup, at a cost of about US$ 14 billion, compared to US$4 billion in South Africa 2010. The lavish (over)spending on the World Cup and the construction of five new stadiums in host cities was one of the major criticisms of the protesters, contrasting the binge spending on first-class stadiums (some in cities, like Manaus, which will struggle to use the stadiums after the World Cup) with the low spending on public services. Economic causes for the protests included the high taxes (with the sentiment that taxpayers get little in return), public transit costs for low-income workers and increased inflation eating into Brazilians’ purchasing power. Political causes included widespread corruption, congressional incompetence and impunity and controversial legislation. Protesters demanded the rejection of PEC 37, a constitutional amendment which would reduce prosecutors’ powers to investigate politicians; and a ‘gay cure law’ (allowing psychologists to consider homosexuality as an ‘illness’ and prescribe ‘gay cure therapy’) which had been approved by the Chamber’s Commission on Human Rights and Minorities, chaired by noted racist and homophobic neo-Pentecostal pastor Marco Feliciano (PSC-SP). Other protesters also called for the resignation of the President of the Senate, Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), who had survived an impeachment vote after the 2007 Renangate scandal (allegations that a lobbyist had paid maintenance on his behalf to a mistress with whom he had had a child, and that he then faked receipts for the sale of cattle to try to prove that he could have afforded to pay her himself). The protests had a marked anti-partisan or non-partisan tone, although many protesters, of middle-class background, had left-wing views.

After politicians and the conservative press dismissed the first wave of protesters as radical vandals who needed to be roughed up, the government and Dilma tried to embrace the protest movement and Dilma claimed that she understood the demands of protesters. Lula claimed that the PT had been wrong to distance itself from young people, and was now paying the price. São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad (PT-SP) and Rio mayor Eduardo Paes (PMDB-RJ) both met with protesters in their cities and proposed freezing public transit fares. On June 21, Dilma called a meeting with the top brass of the state including ministers, Vice President Michel Temer and the President of the Chamber Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN) and Dilma addressed the nation in a televised address that evening. She promised to improve public services, bring foreign doctors to expand the universal healthcare service (SUS), meet with leaders of the peaceful protests, allocate oil royalties to education and healthcare (a proposal rejected by Congress in 2012) and said that government loans for stadiums would be paid back in full and that they didn’t come from the ordinary budget (but rather in the form of subsidized credits from the BNDES to construction firms – who, as it happens, are big contributors to political parties). After meeting with the MPL, mayors and state governors, Dilma later announced five key commitments: investments in public transit, continuing measures to control inflation and ensure economic stability, acceleration of investments in healthcare and attracting doctors to work in remote and poor regions for the SUS, 100% of oil royalties for education/healthcare and political reform including a constituent assembly, declaring corruption a felony (rather than misdemeanor) and a plebiscite on constitutional reform. The next day, however, the likely unconstitutional proposal for a constituent assembly was shelved in favour of a plebiscite (Dilma had apparently decided on a constituent assembly without consultation). Dilma met with union leaders, but was unsuccessful in getting them to call off a general strike for July 11 and union leaders left the meeting angry that the government had used the meeting to boast their plans rather than listen to the unions’ demands (which included 10% of GDP for healthcare, 10% of GDP for education, 40h work week, agrarian reform, political reform, investments in public transit, democratization of the media etc).

Congress suddenly stopped being their usual grubby and self-interested selves, and passed legislation which made corruption a heinous crime, soundly rejected PEC 37 and killed off the ‘gay cure law’. The government moved forward with proposals for a plebiscite (in Brazil, a plebiscite is understood as being before the creation of a law and the people approves or rejects a question; a referendum, which the opposition wanted, is held after the passage of a law to ratify it) – with ideas including campaign finance reform, electoral reform and anti-corruption measures. However, as the protests died down in July and politicians got back to being themselves, the idea for a plebiscite was all but forgotten. The parties disagreed on what form political and electoral reform should take – the PT supports public financing of campaigns and closed-list PR, the PMDB is split on electoral reform but some may favour single-member FPTP while the PSDB supports MMP. No major party seriously supports abolishing the over-representation of states in the Chamber (as it would require a constitutional amendment).

The protest wave died down, however, at the end of June – although some smaller protests occurred in July and once again in the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The June 2013 protests, with hindsight, became a clear before-after moment for Dilma’s presidency. Since taking office, Dilma enjoyed high approval ratings – in 2012 and early 2013, over 60% of respondents evaluated her performance as ‘good/very good’, about 30% as ‘regular’ and only 5-7% as ‘bad/very bad’. She had wide approval across party lines, even on the centre-right. On June 6-7 2013, Datafolha (a major pollster) pegged her approval at 57% good, 33% regular and 9% bad. On June 27-28, the same pollster showed that her approval collapsed to 30% good, 43% regular and 25% bad. Although her ‘bad’ ratings declined in the last months of 2013 and her ‘good’ ratings moved up to 40%, she has never reached the same pre-protest approval levels.

In July 2013, Dilma launched the Mais Médicos (more doctors) program to attract doctors to work in under-served remote regions and the peripheries of major cities (the general spatial pattern in Brazilian urban areas is that the peripheries are poor, while the inner city core is the most middle-class – this is especially the case in São Paulo). Given that the government’s efforts, through various incentives, to attract Brazilian med school grads and doctors to work in remote regions were woefully unsuccessful, it effectively turned towards foreign countries – in particular, Cuba. The Brazilian government signed a contract with the Cuban government to bring Cuban medical professionals to work in Brazil, under controversial contracts negotiated by the Cuban and Brazilian governments (the doctors were paid US$1,000, which was sent to the Cuban government which returned only 40% to the doctors). The program was criticized by the opposition, the Brazilian Medical Association and the Federal Council of Medicine, but public opinion was generally narrowly in favour. Some credited the increase in Dilma’s approval ratings in late 2013 to the program.

Economic indicators did not improve in 2013 or 2014, although growth stood at 2.3% in 2013. Inflation clocked in at 5.91% in 2013 and monthly inflation numbers in 2014 have suggested that inflation will again be quite high this year. Brazil’s trade balance worsened, even registering a deficit in the first two months of 2014 and again in September 2014. In February 2014, finance minister Guido Mantega announced a budget including R$44 billion in spending cuts and 1.9% target for primary surplus (which analysts are now saying Brazil will miss).

Brazil successfully hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Although public opinion was mixed-to-negative about the event prior to the kickoff in June 2014, most became supportive once it got underway and concerns about the risk of a ‘fiasco’ or disaster were proved wrong. Of course, Brazil was shaken by its 7-1 humiliation (Mineiraço) against Germany in the semi-final in Belo Horizonte, but there were almost no riots in the aftermath and it had no political impact (there was certainly some speculation that, in football-crazy Brazil, Dilma could be hurt by the Seleção’s defeat).

2014 election: Candidates, Issue and Campaign

Dilma ran for reelection. Dilma was elected in 2010 largely thanks to her mentor and predecessor’s popularity (especially with poor Brazilians in the Nordeste) and the good shape of the Brazilian economy at the time, although it was already clear in 2010 that Dilma was a strong personality herself and would not be a ‘pawn’ of Lula. Nevertheless, immediately after her victory, many wondered if Lula would run again for a third non-consecutive term in 2014 and that Dilma would only be a placeholder for the four-year term. However, Dilma slowly emerged from Lula’s shadow and proved herself – although less bold in its gestures, her government was more technocratic, feminine, personally loyal and firmer in its principles than Lula’s administration was. Although in the first year in office, Dilma’s ministers mostly got in the news for scandals, the appointments of capable and competent ministers like Eleonora Menicucci (who had shared a jail cell with Dilma in the 1970s) as women’s minister and Marco Antonio Raupp (a respected economist) as science minister were well received. Lula himself was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in October 2011 and underwent treatment and chemo (he cut his hair and beard, a dramatic change in his appearance), and was fully recovered in the spring of 2012.

Lula has retained an active role in politics since 2010. In the 2012 municipal elections, Lula used his power as unofficial party boss in São Paulo to sideline former PT mayor Marta Suplicy in favour of education minister Fernando Haddad (who he felt could have a stronger appeal to middle-class voters) and Lula actively promoted Haddad as his candidate – as a result of his campaigning, Haddad moved from 7% in the first polls into a three-way tie for first in the last poll, and ended up a strong second in the first round with 29% against 30.8% for José Serra (PSDB) and only 21.6% for initial frontrunner Celso Russomano (PRB). In the second round, Haddad soundly defeated Serra (55.6% to 44.4%), despite São Paulo being a conservative city (his victory also owed a lot to Serra’s unpopularity, being seen as an old politician who doesn’t know when to stop and one with little loyalty to the jobs he holds). Lula handpicking Fernando Haddad was initially seen as a potentially disastrous move, but in the end it was a masterful act of genius from a remarkable political operator. Despite his keen interest in politics, Lula repeatedly denied interest in a 2014 candidacy and reiterated his full support for Dilma on several occasions.

Although Dilma never recovered from June 2013, she remained seen as the favourite for reelection in 2014 given her resilient base of support and the weakness of the opposition, which struggled to profit from the protests. Certainly the leading opposition party, the PSDB, was unable to profit much from the protests because it too was identified as part of the corrupt political system and São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin initially supported a hardline policy against the protesters. The PSDB’s administration in São Paulo was also hit by a corruption investigation – companies building and maintaining train and metro lines were suspected of having formed a cartel and defrauding the state of hundreds of millions of reais.

One of the few politicians who stood to gain from the protests was Marina Silva, the Green candidate in 2010. Marina, however, left the PV in June 2011 and launched a new political platform, Rede Sustentabilidade, in January 2013 with the clear aim of getting the party registered with the TSE and running for president in 2014. However, in October 2013, one year before the election, the TSE denied her party’s registration because it had failed to gather the required signatures (492,000).

Dilma had difficult relations with her ‘base’ in Congress throughout her administration, having to deal with prickly and conceited allies who often threw fits when they were unhappy with something. The PMDB, as it usually does, threatened to ditch the PT several times – mostly to extract more concessions from the government. The PT managed to get the corrupt PR back on board before the election.

A key player in the 2010 coalition, the PSB – led by the ambitious and wildly popular governor of Pernambuco Eduardo Campos – began asserting its independence from the PT and the government as early as 2011 and speculation about Campos’ presidential ambitions were commonplace in 2012. The PSB did well in the 2012 municipal elections, with key victories over the PT in Recife, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Cuiabá and Campinas. In Belo Horizonte, PSB mayor Márcio Lacerda was also supported by the state’s popular former governor and likely 2014 candidate senator Aécio Neves (PSDB-MG). As governor of Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos was a pragmatic reformist – he reformed education, extended the school day, attracted a host of new industries to the state, opened new hospitals, teamed up with NGOs and the private sector to reform education and healthcare, challenged public sector unions, worked to tackle poverty, emphasized government transparency and implemented several successful and internationally-recognized programs to tackle gender inequality or crime. As a result of his competent administration, the state enjoyed solid growth, educational outcomes improved, infant mortality decreased, life expectancy increased and the homicide rate fell significantly. To his critics, however, Campos had the trappings of a (modern) Northeastern coronel – at any rate, Campos was a rather skilled and wily politician.

Campos’ presidential candidacy and the PSB’s break from the coalition elicited opposition from the other leading PSB coronels in the Nordeste – the Gomes brothers in Ceará (governor Cid Gomes and his brother Ciro Gomes), who supported Dilma. Ironically, Ciro Gomes had wanted to be the PSB’s presidential candidate in 2010 but his candidacy was shoved aside by PSB leaders who supported Dilma, much to his displeasure. The Gomes brothers joined the Republican Party of Social Order (Partido Republicano da Ordem Social, PROS), a nondescript party which had been founded in 2010.

On the other hand, a group of dissidents from the DEM, PSDB and PP led by the former DEM mayor of São Paulo Gilberto Kassab (2006-2012) moved towards the government and formed the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrático, PSD) in March 2011. The PSD’s ranks also included the governor of Santa Catarina Raimundo Colombo (ex-DEM), senator and agriculturalist Kátia Abreu (PSD-TO), veteran politician and São Paulo vice-governor Guilherme Afif Domingos (ex-DEM).

Dilma‘s national coalition for reelection included the PT, the PMDB (with Vice President Michel Temer as her running-mate once more), the PSD, the PP, the PR, the PCdoB, the PDT, the PRB and the Gomes brothers in the PROS.

Dilma’s campaign focused heavily on the Lula/Dilma record since 2003 – the manifesto submitted to the TSE read like a thorough grocery list of the governments’ achievements in a number of fields, most significant among them being: nearly eradicating of extreme poverty, the major decrease in poverty (with the claim that the two lowest social classes have fallen from 55% to 25% of the population since 2003), macroeconomic stability, expansion of infrastructure, job creation (Brazil’s unemployment rate is low and has remained low), the expansion of education, the success of programs such as Bolsa Família and Brasil sem Miséria. It also proposed much of the same – vague commitments to improving productivity, reducing bureaucracy, boosting entrepreneurship, transitioning to a knowledge economy, environmental protection, expanding early childhood education, investing in the quality of education (overall, the government is committed to investing 10% of the GDP in education by 2024), expanding youth job opportunities, expanding access to medical specialists and a vague promise for political reform including a plebiscite and more ‘popular participation’. Maintaining and expanding popular social programs such as Bolsa Família were front and centre in Dilma’s campaign

On economic issues, Dilma reiterated the importance of macroeconomic stability and low inflation with lower interest rates and flexible exchange rates – in other words, the same policy, although with a different finance minister since Guido Mantega’s departure was confirmed. She defended state intervention in the economy, the use of public-private partnerships to build infrastructure and some protectionist measures. Dilma’s economic record has been the focus of most of the criticism in the last four years, and she has by and large lost the support of investors and the markets – because of what they judge to be inefficient policies against inflation, unfriendliness towards the private sector, excessive state intervention in the economy and too much meddling in the Central Bank’s business.

Aécio Neves was the candidate of the PSDB. Aécio is the grandson of Tancredo Neves, the veteran moderate opposition politician during the military regime who gained a somewhat mythical status as the result of his election to the presidency in 1985 and untimely, tragic death before he could take office. Aécio went on to serve four terms as a federal deputy from Minas Gerais, from 1987 to 2003, and was President of the Chamber of Deputies from February 2001 to December 2002. As President of the Chamber, Aécio pushed an ‘ethics package’ to increase transparency in Congress and ended congressional immunity for ordinary crimes.

In 2002, Aécio was elected governor of Minas Gerais, an office which his grandfather Tancredo had held from 1983 to 1984. The state had major fiscal and economic problems in 2002, with debts and deficits breaking the limits set by the fiscal responsibility law, although Aécio’s supporters may have a tendency to overstate the ‘catastrophic’ nature of the state’s situation (although Aécio’s predecessor as governor, Itamar Franco, had defaulted on the state debt upon taking office in 1999 and inadvertently triggered a devaluation of the real). Regardless, upon his election, Aécio introduced ‘management shock’ (choque de gestão) with the aim of reducing the state’s debt and deficit, modernize and reorganize the state apparatus and implement new management techniques – he reduced public spending, increased taxes, improved tax collection, cut the number of state ministries, capped public sector pay, left over 3000 patronage jobs unfilled, adopted new models of public-private partnerships and pushed for performance targets in the public sector. He also oversaw the construction of a Brasília-like government complex centralizing all government offices in Belo Horizonte. Taken as a whole, Aécio’s reforms in MG bear a lot of similarities to New Public Management (NPM) public sector reforms introduced in some countries since the 1980s. As a result of Aécio’s reforms, the state found R$ 1 billion in savings, the government cut its own expenditures, inefficient public servants were dismissed, bonuses were cut, the government introduced transparent public tenders for government procurement, the governor took a pay cut himself and the state paid off its debt in 2005 (after 14 years in debt). The long-term effectiveness of Aécio’s early reforms has been questioned by some analysts. His government also improved education, created a program to fight rural poverty and paved roads with financing from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Aécio was one of the most popular governors in Brazil – his campaign ads this year boasted a ‘92% approval’ when leaving office. In 2006, Aécio was reelected in a landslide, winning 77% of the vote against a PT candidate. Aécio and the local PSDB branches in MG closed their eyes (or covertly backed) to ‘Lula-Aécio’ campaigns (calling on voters to vote for Lula for president, over PSDB candidate Geraldo Alckmin, and Aécio for governor) – this strong vote-splitting badly hurt Alckmin, although Aécio cared little since he had clear presidential ambitions himself. Aécio tried out for the PSDB’s nomination in 2010, but waiting around too much and focusing on the election of his vice-governor Antônio Anastasia as his successor as governor meant that he ultimately was pushed aside by José Serra. He ran for Senate instead, and although he campaigned alongside Serra he didn’t exert himself too much for him (again, because Aécio was thinking of his presidential ambitions for 2014). As far as he was concerned, 2010 was another successful election – he was elected to the Senate with over 7.5 million votes in MG, and his replacement as governor, Antônio Anastasia, was elected to a full term as governor with a wide majority in the first round.

Aécio’s tenure in the Senate, however, has not been very memorable. In April 2011, he was pulled over by police and refused to take a breathalyzer test while his drivers’ license was seized for being expired. However, Aécio did obviously emerge as a leading opposition voice in the Senate. With Serra’s defeat in the runoff ballot, Aécio immediately became the favourite for the PSDB candidacy in 2014 – however, Serra retained presidential ambitions (despite two defeats) and tried to gather enough support in PSDB ranks to run. In November 2013, Aécio was nominated as the PSDB’s candidate after Serra failed to gather enough support. It’s interesting to note that Aécio was the first PSDB presidential candidate who wasn’t from São Paulo – all six PSDB candidates since 1989 have been from São Paulo.

Aécio’s running-mate was Senator Aloysio Nunes (PSDB-SP), a former federal deputy and justice minister under FHC. Interestingly, Aloysio Nunes was a Communist in his youth and participated in the armed struggle against the military regime (he partook in the raid of a train) before he went into exile in France. With the 1979 amnesty, he returned to Brazil and joined the PMDB before joining the PSDB in 1997. In 2010, he was elected to the Senate from São Paulo with the most votes of any candidate in the country (11.1 million votes).

Aécio’s coalition, Muda Brasil, was supported by the PSDB and the DEM, as well as a whole slew of smaller parties. These were the venal PTB; the new Solidarity (Solidariedade, SD), a party founded by ex-PDT federal deputy and trade union leader (Força Sindical) Paulo Pereira da Silva (Paulinho da Força); the National Mobilization Party (Partido da Mobilização Nacional, PMN), an originally left-wing party which has become an ideology-free venal beast; the new National Ecological Party (Partido Ecológico Nacional, PEN); the tiny National Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Nacional, PTN); the Christian Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Cristão, PTC), a small right-wing party which was originally Collor’s party in 1989 (as the PRN); and the tiny Labour Party of Brazil (Partido Trabalhista do Brasil, PTdoB), which shouldn’t be confused with the PTB (lol Brazilian party names!). In 2010, the PTC and PTN had supported Dilma. The PTB and PTdoB had backed Serra. It’s worth reiterating, at this point, that national-level coalitions have little implications on state-level coalitions: while the PSDB/DEM will rarely ally with the PT (or PCdoB) at any level, the PMDB may ally with the right against the PT or run independently (with smaller allies) against the PT, many small parties will support different parties in different states (eg: parties like SD which backed Aécio backed the PT in some states, the PSD which backed Dilma backed the PSDB/DEM in some states). Confused? That’s fine, everybody is!

Aécio’s platform was similar to traditional tucano (PSDB – the party’s symbol is a toucan) discourse – vaguely centre-right liberal reformism, with a fondness for ideas like ‘efficiency’, ‘simplicity’, ‘innovation’, ‘transparency’ and decentralization. It’s hardly a hard-right neoliberal platform which wants to slash the welfare states (as the PT likes to paint the PSDB as), although the PSDB does share some neoliberal ideas like privatization, NPM theories of public administration and free market economics. The PSDB, however, has also supported social benefits and state spending to alleviate poverty (and supports popular PT programs like Bolsa Família). Nevertheless, the PSDB’s support for privatization (a highly controversial idea in Brazil) and tendency to cut state spending in order to balance the books is often used against the party by its critics on the left and the PT. In recent years, the PSDB has adopted tougher rhetoric on law and order/security issues – this year, Governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB-SP) ran a strong campaign emphasizing law and order themes. Aécio’s 2014 manifesto attacked government policies, stagflation, Dilma’s economic interventionism, ‘out of control’ public spending, corruption and creative accounting.

Aécio’s key themes were decentralization – devolving more autonomy and resources to state and local governments to provide quality public services (contrasted with the alleged concentration of money and power with the federal government under the PT) while sharing a common vision, and shared delivery of services between levels of government; confidence – for citizens, investors, employers and workers (in effect, creating a stable climate of confidence in laws and regulations for business); transparency – fighting corruption and other shady government practices; simplicity – reducing bureaucracy and reforming public administration; innovation – improving global economic competitiveness by investing in R&D; efficiency – a ‘management shock’ to ensure more efficient management of public resources; popular participation – fluff. In concrete terms, the campaign’s main promises were a reform of public services (particularly education, healthcare, public safety and transit), a reform of public safety (eradicating impunity and strengthening security forces), a political reform, a tax reform (to simplify the tax system and reduce the custo Brasil) and a reform (upgrade) of infrastructure (a coordinated investment plan for infrastructure with private participation).

Aécio promised a more liberal economic policy than Dilma – reducing inflation to 4.5%, then reducing the Central Bank’s target to 3% with a 1.5% tolerance range, limiting increase in public spending to GDP growth, increasing investments from 16% to 24% of GDP, closer integration of the Brazilian economy with the global economy (by reducing export taxes, reducing costs, cutting bureaucratic hurdles, tariff reform, supporting free trade agreements and supporting Brazilian businesses internationally), a tax reform (simplifying the tax system and reducing the tax burden in the long run), removing sectoral protections for industry and more competition in the economy (fighting monopolies and cartels). Aécio called for more investments in infrastructure, but in partnership with the private sector through PPPs. To address the pension/social security deficit, Aécio proposed to reduce the size of the informal sector in the economy so there can be more contributors to social security; he also spoke in favour of combating welfare fraud and increasing the specialization of labour to reduce turnover. In the public sector, the PSDB candidate’s manifesto preached in favour of adopting NPM reforms similar to those he adopted as governor of MG. Finally, Aécio Neves promised ‘de-bureaucratization’ – reducing red tape, making it easier to open and run a business, reducing redundancies and time lost to bureaucratic hassles, greater dialogue with the public and civil society and more use of technology.

The tucano candidate promised to retain the Bolsa Família – in fact, as senator, he proposed to upgrade it to a state policy by integrating it in the law on social assistance (guaranteeing it as a permanent right for vulnerable citizens); his manifesto also spoke of the need to adopt a multidimensional view of poverty and proposed to classify low-income families registered in the state’s database (the Cadastro Único) according to six risk levels to attend better to the needs of vulnerable families. He reiterated his promise to retain other social policies, including affirmative action.

On the issue of education, Aécio’s manifesto promised full-day schooling, private school scholarships for poor students, a bonus for students to finish high school to fight high drop out rates, incentives for high school dropouts to return to school (including paying them the minimum wage, more choice for students in secondary schools and strategically-focused professional education/training in high-demand sectors with good employment prospects. In health care, he promised to increase spending to 10% of the overall budget to build 500 new clinics and improve the government’s Mais Médicos programs. His promises on environmental issues were largely generic stuff – transition to a low carbon economy, sustainable development in public policies, conservation of biodiversity, reducing deforestation, fighting illegal logging although with an added focus on the issue of water security.

Aécio’s plan for political reform promised an end to consecutive reelection of the President, governors and mayor (Dilma also supported it), five-year terms, a mixed voting system, reintroducing the ‘threshold’ laws limiting small parties’ access to congressional representation, funding and TV airtime. While Dilma proposed a plebiscite on political reform, Aécio said that reform should come from Congress, which could decide whether or not to hold a plebiscite.

Eduardo Campos announced his candidacy to the presidency for the PSB in October 2013. At the same time, after she failed to register her new political party, Marina Silva announced that she would join the PSB, having found an agreement with the party. In November 2013, Campos confirmed that he would be the PSB-led coalition’s presidential candidate, putting an end to speculation that Marina could be the party’s candidate. In April 2014, Marina Silva was confirmed as Eduardo Campos’ running-mate.

Although Eduardo Campos left office with sky-high approval ratings in Pernambuco and most saw him as a competent and ambitious politician, he failed to take off in the polls – he polled only 8% to 11% in May and June 2014, a distant third behind Dilma (in the driver’s seat with 38-40%) and Aécio (with mediocre numbers between 19% and 24%). However, Campos was only using his 2014 candidacy as a springboard for a much stronger run in 2018.

On August 13, the Cessna Citation 560 XLS+ carrying Eduardo Campos and six other people crashed due to poor weather conditions as it was attempting to land in Santos (SP). All 7 passengers on board died in the crash. The accident and Campos’ tragic death sent shockwaves through the country and shook up the election. The PSB-led coalition had ten days to choose a new candidate and, as was widely expected, it selected Marina Silva to replace Eduardo Campos. She chose five-term federal deputy and Campos loyalist Beto Albuquerque (PSB-RS) as her running-mate.

The PSB-led coalition included, besides the PSB, the Popular Socialist Party (Partido Popular Socialista, PPS); originally the ‘eurocommunist’ reformist dissident group of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) led by Roberto Freire which had been in the centre-right opposition bloc since 2003; the Social Liberal Party (Partido Social Liberal, PSL), a very small social liberal centre-right party; the Humanist Party of Solidarity (Partido Humanista da Solidariedade, PHS), a tiny Christian democratic party; the Free Homeland Party (Partido Pátria Livre, PPL), a party founded in 2011 from remnants of the old far-left armed guerrilla Revolutionary Movement 8th of October (MR8) and the Progressive Republican Party (Partido Republicano Progressista, PPR), a tiny irrelevance.

Marina Silva was born in 1958 in the remote Amazonian state of Acre, the daughter of impoverished rubber tappers. She grew up in poverty, lost her mother at 15, suffered from several health problems in her youth and began working on rubber plantations at the age of 10. She grew up in the tradition of legendary Acrean rubber tapper Chico Mendes, a union leader who was one of the founders of the CUT and PT in Acre. Chico Mendes and rubber tappers in Acre had a strong environmental conscience, aware of the threat posed to their livelihoods by deforestation. In the footsteps of her political mentor Chico Mendes, Marina joined the PT in 1986 and was an unsuccessful PT candidate for Congress alongside Mendes in 1986. She was elected as municipal councillor in Rio Branco, the state capital, in 1988 and moved up to state deputy in Acre in 1990. In 1994, Marina was elected to the Senate from Acre and was reelected to a second term in 2002. As noted above, Marina joined Lula’s cabinet in January 2003 as his Minister of the Environment, an office she held until May 2008, when she resigned to protest the government’s environmental policies. In 2009, she left the PT to join the Greens and ran as their presidential candidate in 2010. In 2011, she left the PV. Marina converted to evangelical Christianity (Assembly of God) in 1997. As a result of her evangelical Protestant beliefs, Marina has socially conservative views on hot-button cultural issues: in 2010, she opposed embryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and the decriminalization of abortion.

Marina surged in the aftermath of her nomination as Campos’ replacement. She breezed past Aécio and was in a statistical tie for first with Dilma by the end of August and she took a solid lead over the incumbent in a runoff scenario. As Aécio’s bland and mediocre campaign floundered in August and early-to-mid September, Marina became Dilma’s main rival and she posed a very serious threat to the President’s reelection hopes. Aécio’s campaign looked like it was effectively throwing in the towel, focusing on shoring up the PSDB in state-level races while hoping that Aécio’s votes which would flow to Marina in the runoff would give the PSDB a strong position to negotiate a deal with her.

Marina’s platform had a heavy focus on political reform – she promised a ‘high-intensity democracy’, which seems to be a cool sophisticated way of saying a less corrupt, more ‘participative’ democracy. She too promised to abolish reelection, single five-year terms, aligned local and general electoral calendars (local elections are currently held 2 years after the general federal/state elections), electoral reform (quite vague on the preferred system), more direct democracy with more referendums/plebiscites and the chance for more popular initiatives, transparent campaign finance laws and a reform of TV airtime regulations. The coalition also proposed to ‘rationalize’ the presence of the public sector, reducing costs but increasing the quality of services, reduced expenditure with the use of PPPs, bringing in NPM-style reforms to the public sector (goals, indicators, performance evaluation, accountability and efficiency), channels for interaction between the public sector and citizens and sustainable/eco-friendly practices in public administration. Like Aécio, she called on a ‘new federalism’, by transferring more tax revenues to the states and municipalities and creating new spaces for dialogue and intergovernmental cooperation.

Marina’s platform on economic issues was fairly right-leaning – criticizing the high tax burden, advocating less government intervention, creating conditions for more private investment (and reducing government subsidies granted through the BNDES), a friendlier business climate (by ending discretionary government policies), calls for greater economic competitiveness on global markets, promises for tax reform (not raising taxes, cutting taxes on investments, more progressive taxation and simplifying tax laws) and calls for greater private provision of credit. However, it also promised to reduce inequality (to a Gini index value of 0.5 in 2018, from 0.53 today) by maintaining and expanding current social programs such as Bolsa Família, criticized Dilma for the drastic decrease in the pace of agrarian reform, promised to distribute land to 85,000 families waiting for land, promised to integrate those living from subsistence agriculture on minifúndios into the agricultural economy and called for broader agricultural insurance to protect against market risks. Marina, like Aécio, called for more investments in infrastructure and a major expansion of infrastructure through PPPs, concessions and direct private investment.

The platform had a green tint, with a major focus on energy policy, where Marina called for more renewable energies in the electricity mix (notably solar power), carbon pricing in the energy sector, better management of supply and demand to avoid rationing, less consumption of fossil fuels and liberalization of the energy market. On wider environmental issues, the coalition’s platform urged immediate action against deforestation, fulfilling international commitments, expanding the area of planted forests by 40%, forcing public agencies to meet GHG emissions targets, providing incentives for low-carbon agriculture and the creation of a ‘Brazilian Market for Emissions Reduction’. Environmental issues, however, were not a key focus of her campaign and many critics found her environmental policies to be uninspiring.

On the issue of education, Marina promised to prioritize comprehensive education in primary schools (for more on this Brazilian concept, see this link in Portuguese), provide universal early childhood education for children ages 4-5, expand access to post-secondary education, accelerate plans to devote 10% of GDP to education, improve teachers’ conditions and pay (one half in relation to the growth of federal budget expenditures for education and the second half tied to teacher performance) and increase R&D spending.

On social policy issues, Marina promised to maintain and expand the Bolsa Família to another 10 million families, adopt a multidimensional view of poverty, gradually increase healthcare spending to 10% of federal revenues, build 100 new hospitals and to increase the number of hospital beds including through contracts with private providers.

Urban policy was the fifth main ‘axis’ of her campaign. She promised to expand the government’s Minha Casa Minha Vida housing program by building 4 million houses by 2018, push states and municipalities to provide infrastructure to these new neighborhoods, implement policies guaranteeing universal access to sanitation (40 million lack access to treated water, 119 million live without a sewage network), improve waste collection, implement a program (with all levels of government) to build 1,000km of LRT and dedicated bus lanes by 2018 in cities with over 200k inhabitants, create a federal program to implement free transit for students (‘free pass’) and push for non-motorized transportation. On security issues, Marina proposed the implementation of a National Plan to Reduce Homicides and a Pact for Life (modeled on the successful anti-crime programs in Pernambuco), strengthen the federal police, increase spending on public safety and stronger coordination of law enforcement efforts.

The final axis of Marina Silva’s platform was human rights, detailing her vision for the state’s relationships to human rights groups, youth, women, LGBT communities, disabled people, traditional communities, minorities, indigenous peoples, quilombolas, blacks (Afro-Brazilians), new social movements and trade unions. In concrete terms, the manifesto talked about promoting regional integration programs geared towards the youth, adoption of the ‘free pass’ (see above), adopting mechanisms to tackle discrimination against women in the labour market (formalization of women’s work and enhanced oversight of the Ministry of Labour to guarantee equal pay for equal work), expanding the range of services offered to women (such as efforts to expand women entrepreneurship), sex-ed in schools, concerted actions to protect women from violence, the recognition of quilombos and indigenous land rights and less state intervention in the arbitration of labour disputes.

On LGBT issues, Marina’s manifesto became the heart of a firestorm early in her campaign. The initial version of the platform, released on August 29, included explicit support for same-sex marriage and for PL 122 (pending legislation to criminalize homophobia and ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity); the next day, a ‘revised’ version released by the campaign removed any mention of support for same-sex marriage (instead ‘guaranteeing the rights arising from civil unions’ – which already exist) and PL 122, and taming down the language on gay adoption rights (from ‘remove the barriers to the adoption of children by homosexual couples’ to ‘giving equal treatment to all adoptive couples’). The manifesto retained calls to tackle homophobia and to back congressional approval of a gender identity bill backed by openly gay federal deputy and LGBT rights activist Jean Wyllys (PSOL-RJ). Marina’s campaign claimed that the initial draft was a mistake, because it didn’t reflect the ‘mediation between the ideas of the various persons which contributed to its formulation’ (read: it didn’t reflect Marina’s beliefs) – it thus deflected accusations of flip-flopping by claiming that Marina didn’t change her mind because she never endorsed gay marriage. LGBT groups were livid at the campaign’s stance. Marina likely backtracked on LGBT rights because of the strong opposition of evangelical pastor/televangelist Silas Malafaia, who is a strong opponent of gay marriage and PL 122, as well as the hostility of the congressional ‘evangelical bench’ – evangelicals, obviously, being a key element of Marina’s personal electoral clientele. Dilma was the only major candidate who support PL 122.

Luciana Genro was the candidate of the radical left PSOL. Luciana Genro is the 43-year old daughter of Tarso Genro (PT-RS), a former mayor of Porto Alegre and governor of Rio Grande do Sul. Originally a member of the PT like her father, she was elected to the state legislature under the petista flag in 1994 and 1998 and then to the Chamber in 2002. Already a member of the PT’s radical/left-wing for quite some time, Luciana Genro quickly became increasingly unhappy with the moderate direction of the Lula government and she was expelled from the PT along with Heloísa Helena and other after rebelling against the party line on a pension reform vote. She was a founding member of the PSOL in 2005 and was reelected to the Chamber of Deputies from Rio Grande do Sul in 2006. In the Chamber, Luciana pushed for taxes on banks and the implementation of a wealth tax, created on paper by the 1988 Constitution but never created by legislators. She was defeated in 2010, largely because of the ridiculous intricacies of the electoral system.

Luciana ran on a very left-wing platform. On economic issues, the PSOL called for lower interest rates, an audit of the debt (against primary surpluses), capital flow controls, tax reform (wealth tax, closing tax loopholes and concessions for businesses), repeal of the fiscal responsibility law (replacing it with a social investment law forcing governments to invest in public services), reindustrialization, low-interest loans and revision of privatizations. On social services, Luciana promised increased public spending on healthcare and education, no privatization in healthcare, regulation of private insurance, patent law reform, free pharmacare, expansion of public education, a massive increase in the minimum wage, introduction of maximum salaries, 40-hour workweek, urban reform (fighting real estate speculation and forced evictions, expropriation of idle land and long-term vacant properties for public housing, reducing costs of rent, guaranteeing public transit as a right, increased spending on transit, expansion of public transit (including non-motorized alternatives) and increased pensions. She also called for the creation of a public broadcaster, a right to internet access, reducing monopolies in the media and the cancellation of TV/radio licenses granted to elected officials. On environmental issues, she supported the repeal of all decrees allowing the use of pesticides, suspending the release of GMOs, a zero deforestation goal, universal access to sanitation, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, renewable energies (including solar power), state control over generation and distribution of electricity and reducing energy waste. The platform also supported agrarian reform.

The PSOL took much more socially liberal/libertarian stances than any of the three major parties. Luciana’s platform supported same-sex marriage, criminalization of homophobia, PSOL deputy Jean Wyllys’ gender identity bill, anti-homophobia education (dropped by Dilma’s government due to evangelical opposition), legalization of abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (currently banned except in the cases of rape, maternal life or fetuses with anencephaly) covered by the SUS, pay equity, state secularism, decriminalization of marijuana, demilitarization of the police, tackling police brutality, abolishing all remaining forms of torture, a revision of penitentiary policy and full commitment to human rights (including, as a key aspect, upholding the right to strike and freedom of assembly).

On the issue of political reform, Luciana called for a constituent assembly, public campaign financing, the possibility of recall, open-list (but pre-ordered list) proportional representation to strengthen ideological parties and the introduction of direct democracy mechanisms (referendum, plebiscite, popular initiative, participatory budget-making).

Eduardo Jorge was the candidate of the Green Party (PV). Jorge was a four-term PT federal deputy between 1987 and 2003, who joined the PV in 2003. Sustainable development, clean energy, protection of the Amazon and Atlantic littoral forest, zero deforestation, greatly developing solar energy, congestion pricing in cities and energy efficiency were some of the Greens’ key priorities. Political reform also ranked high on their agenda – calling for a unicameral legislature with fewer seats, direct democracy, MMP, voluntary voting, a new plebiscite on parliamentarianism (Brazil voted in favour of a presidential republic in 1993), a reduction in the number of ministries to 14, less government agencies/commissions and splitting government revenues equally between all three levels of government. Eduardo Jorge supported the current macroeconomic framework (primary surplus, inflation targeting, floating exchange rate and fiscal responsibility) and further called for tax simplification (and no tax increases), lower interest rates, pension reform (with a single system for both public and private employees – with pension caps and recognizing the need to explore the possibility of more contributions and a higher retirement age) and more attention to healthcare and education. Despite this fairly liberal economic policy, it also supported maintaining current social programs and reducing working time (40hrs/week). Like Luciana (PSOL), Eduardo Jorge defended a very socially liberal agenda – human rights, indigenous rights, gay marriage/adoption, Afro-Brazilian rights, demilitarization of the police, animal rights/vegetarianism, decriminalization of marijuana, a less repressive criminal policy (especially on the drug war issues) and pacifism.

Pastor Everaldo, an evangelical (Assemblies of God) pastor from Rio de Janeiro, was the candidate of the small right-wing Christian Social Party (PSC). Everaldo ran on a right-wing platform promoting family values, free market economics, less bureaucracy and a stronger national defense. He attracted the most attention (and controversy) because of his very vocal socially conservative positions – he is loathed by feminists and LGBT activists because he is strongly pro-life, anti-gay marriage and anti-drug legalization. That being said, Everaldo was sentenced in first instance (in 2012) to pay damages to his ex-wife for moral and material damage and has also been accused by his ex-wife of physical assault and death threats (which he claimed was in self-defense).

Levy Fidelix was the candidate, as in 2010, of the tiny right-wing Brazilian Labour Renewal Party (Partido Renovador Trabalhista Brasileiro, PRTB), which he founded in 1992 (as the PTRB). Something of a perennial candidate, Levy Fidelix has run for some kind of office in every election since 1996 (including local elections) and ran for President in 2010, where he won 0.06%. In all his candidacies, this one included, he is often known for his proposals for a monorail/bullet train between Campinas (SP) and Rio and monorails in major cities. In 2014, he also called for financial/tax reform, the creation of R$510 family wage to replace social programs and the construction of a dozen planned cities in the Centre-West. However, this year, Levy Fidelix grabbed attention and sparked a major controversy for his homophobic statements during a televised debate. Asked by Luciana Genro (PSOL) why ‘family value’ politicians refused to defend same-sex couple families, Levy Fidelix went off on an homophobic rant. He argued that reproduction doesn’t happen through the excretory system (a reference to anal sex), associated homosexuality and pedophilia, claimed that homosexuality was contagious, considered homosexuals to be mentally ill, claimed that homosexuals needed psychological care and said that homosexuals were better kept away from ‘us’. The three main candidates later condemned his statements (but didn’t challenge him on them during the debate); the PSOL, PV and the government’s Secretariat for Human Rights filed charges against.

José Maria Eymael ran for President for the fourth time (previously in 1998, 2006 and 2010), under the banner of his small Christian Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata Cristão, PSDC), a right-wing party claiming inspiration from European Christian democracy. Eymael’s best result was 0.25% in 1998, and won only 0.06% (his lowest vote) in 2010. Eymael’s main claim to fame remains his popular and catchy 1985 campaign jingle Ey Ey Eymael, um democrata cristão (the popularity of which allowed him to be elected to the constituent assembly in 1986). His platform is usually generic Christian democratic in orientation, although more socially conservative than European Christian democracy.

Finally, there were three small far-left candidates. There was José ‘Zé’ Maria de Almeida‘s fourth candidacy for the Trotskyst United Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado, PSTU), a party born in the 1990s from the Trot faction of the PT. Zé Maria supported nationalization of the financial sector, privatized companies and natural resources; higher taxes on the rich; expropriation and nationalization of the banks; decriminalization of drugs and expropriation of latifúndios. Mauro Iasi, a feminist university professor, ran for the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) – which is currently a very small, hard-left Marxist-Leninist party. He supported mass nationalizations (energy, mines, communications, natural resources, transport etc.), higher taxes on the rich, nationalization of public transit to make it free, legalization of abortion, ‘radical direct democracy’, ‘popular education’, agrarian reform and defaulting on the public debt. Rui Costa Pimenta ran for a fourth time as the candidate of the Workers’ Cause Party (Partido da Causa Operária, PCO), another Trot party. He supported similar far-left policies including huge minimum wage increases, nationalizations, high taxes on the rich, land expropriations, legalization of abortion plus the lovely idea of replacing the police/military by ‘popular militias’ (yeah, that would work out well!).

National Results – October 6, 2014

Marina Silva’s wave peaked at the end of August, when he was tied with Dilma in a first round poll, 34% to 34%, with Aécio way back at 15%. Her first round support tapered off somewhat in early and mid-September, allowing Dilma to retake a narrow first round lead, but as Aécio failed to bridge the gap with Marina, she remained the favourite to face Dilma in the runoff. She continued to hold a narrow lead over Dilma until September 20 or so, when she lost the lead in the runoff.

Marina faced unrelenting and harsh attacks from both of her opponents, but particularly Dilma, who attacked her on policy issues but also by using fear tactics claiming (falsely) that Marina would destroy social programs and that she would hand power to bankers and international financial organizations (the unpopular IMF) by guaranteeing the Central Bank’s autonomy. Although Marina’s economic stances were close to those of the PSDB, her stances on other issues were close to that of the PT. She could have siphoned off left-wing voters by playing on her more left-wing environmental and indigenous rights stances, but she chose to focus exclusively on anti-PT voters and therefore mostly emphasized her more right-wing economic views. This made Dilma’s somewhat dishonest attacks alleging that Marina was a conservative more effective.

Dilma also highlighted Marina’s weak partisan base of support, and compared her to former Presidents Jânio Quadros (1961) and Fernando Collor (1990-1992). Quadros was a bizarre, eccentric and wacky populist politician who enjoyed a whirlwind rise to power in the 1950s (from local councillor to President within 10 years); he was elected to the presidency on a moralistic, populist anti-corruption platform in 1960 with the right’s (opportunistic) support but quickly turned out to be quite different to what they had hoped for by embracing a non-aligned foreign policy and meeting Che Guevara. After an extremely bizarre 207 days in office, Jânio got in a drunken stupor and resigned suddenly (lo and behold, Jânio made a political comeback in 1985 by defeating FHC for mayor of São Paulo by claiming FHC was a pot-smoking atheist who would put weed in school lunches). Collor, like Jânio, lacked a substantial personal base of support (Collor’s party, the PRN, won only 40 seats in Congress in 1990) and his government relied on the support of right-wing parties in Congress (PFL, PDS, PTB, PL) who were not totally reliable (especially by the end). By comparing Marina to Jânio and Collor, Dilma warned voters that Marina would lack a strong base of support in Congress. Marina herself, after riding a wave of sympathy for Campos and popular connection to her life story, and after putting up a strong performances in TV interviews and debates, began to stumble and made amateur mistakes. Aécio also attacked her, notably over her inexperience and tried to wean right-wing voters away from her by reminding them that Marina had been in the PT for 25 years. Although Aécio and Marina had similar platforms, Aécio began to sell himself as a more experienced and tested leader who also had a stronger partisan base of support.

Marina having lost the momentum, her support in the polls collapsed in the final week of the campaign. In Ibope on September 20-22, she trailed Dilma by 9 in the first round (38-29, 19% Aécio); in Datafolha on September 25-26, she trailed Dilma by 13 (40-27, 18% Aécio); in Datafolha on September 29-30, she trailed by 15 in the first round and the gap with Aécio was cut down to only 5% (40-25-20), a poll on October 1-2 from the same pollster showed the gap with Aécio down to 3% (24-21). The last two polls from Ibope and Datafolha, released on October 3-4, showed that Aécio had taken back second place, and led Marina by 3% and 2% respectively in the first round. Dilma polled 40%, while Aécio polled 24%. In runoff polls, Marina lost her lead over Dilma beginning on September 25-26, and by the time of the first round, she was trailing Dilma by a consequential margin in an hypothetical runoff. As Brazilians headed to the polls on October 6, Marina’s impressive momentum had totally collapsed and it looked like the runoff would be an anticlimactic Dilma/Aécio runoff (with Dilma heavily favoured).


Turnout in the first round was 80.61%.

Dilma Rousseff (PT) 41.59%
Aécio Neves (PSDB) 33.55%
Marina Silva (PSB) 21.32%
Luciana Genro (PSOL) 1.55%
Pastor Everaldo (PSC) 0.75%
Eduardo Jorge (PV) 0.61%
Levy Fidelix (PRTB) 0.43%
José Maria de Almeida (PSTU) 0.09%
José Maria Eymael (PSDC) 0.06%
Mauro Iasi (PCB) 0.05%
Rui Costa Pimenta (PCO) 0.01%

Blank votes 5.8%
Invalid votes 3.84%

Brazil 2014 - r1

Chamber of Deputies

Compared to dissolution

PT 70 seats (-17)
PMDB 66 seats (-5)
PSDB 54 seats (+9)
PSD 37 seats (-8)
PP 36 seats (-4)
PR 34 seats (+3)
PSB 34 seats (+9)
PTB 25 seats (-7)
DEM 22 seats (-6)
PRB 21 seats (+11)
PDT 19 seats (+1)
SD 15 seats (-6)
PSC 12 seats (nc)
PROS 11 seats (-9)
PCdoB 10 seats (-5)
PPS 10 seats (+4)
PV 8 seats (nc)
PHS 5 seats (+5)
PSOL 5 seats (+2)
PTN 4 seats (+4)
PMN 3 seats (nc)
PRP 3 seats (+1)
PEN 2 seats (+1)
PSDC 2 seats (+2)
PTC 2 seats (+2)
PRTB 1 seat (+1)
PSL 1 seat (+1)
PTdoB 1 seat (-2)
Source: G1 Eleições 2014


Compared to dissolution

PMDB 18 seats (-1) – 5 elected
PT 12 seats (-1) – 2 elected
PSDB 10 seats (-2) – 4 elected
PSB 6 seats (+3) – 3 elected
PDT 6 seats (+2) – 4 elected
PP 5 seats (nc) – 1 elected
DEM 5 seats (+1) – 3 elected
PSD 4 seats (+2) – 2 elected
PR 4 seats (nc) – 1 elected
PTB 3 seats (-3) – 2 elected
PCdoB 1 seat (-1) – 0 elected
PSOL 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PPS 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PRB 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PV 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
PSC 1 seat (nc)- 0 elected
PROS 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
SD 1 seat (nc) – 0 elected
Source: UOL Eleições

Despite the impression that the first round would be quite anticlimactic after the crazy ups-and-downs of the campaign – particularly Marina’s surge and subsequent collapse, and Aécio’s campaign never getting off the ground – the first round of the presidential election reserved its share of surprises. As expected, Dilma and Aécio qualified for the runoff, while Marina Silva ended a mediocre third. However, the results of the two main candidates were unexpected: Dilma, at 41.6%, was significantly weaker than expected (excluding the undecideds, polling suggested that Dilma would win about 45-47%); Aécio, with 33.6%, was extremely strong compared to his polling numbers in the last polls let alone his polling numbers a mere week or two before the election.

Aécio’s performance was quite remarkable. He overperformed his final polling numbers (from October 4) by nearly 10%, and gained about 15% compared to where he stood a week before the election (at 20% and in third). 10 to 15 days before the first round, Aécio was still considered dead in the water.

Marina Silva, with 21.3%, placed a mediocre and disappointing third – although it was about where the last polls, from October 3-4, had pegged her. Ultimately, Marina was the victim of both her own poor campaign and virulent attacks from both her opponents, but particularly Dilma. Dilma’s brazenly negative campaign against Marina succeeded in substantially increasing Marina’s ‘rejection numbers’ (in Brazilian polls, the number of people who ‘reject’ – ie would never vote for – a candidate) from about 10% to 20%, while the government’s positive ratings improved from about 34% to 39%. However, from the results of the first round, it appears that Marina’s lost voters flowed en masse to Aécio rather than Dilma – something which, naturally, makes sense given that Marina’s surge was built by anti-PT/anti-Dilma voters who were hesitating between which candidate to support. Marina, when she looked to be the strongest (and only) alternative to Dilma/the PT, right-wing/anti-Dilma voters flocked to her; however, she failed to lock them down by convincing them why she’d make a better President than Aécio, so when she started losing her momentum, they defected to Aécio.

Marina was also hurt by differences in candidates’ TV airtime in the first round: because Dilma’s coalition had the support of large parties such as the PT, PMDB, PSD, PP and PR, she had 11:24 minutes of free airtime in the first round campaign, compared to 4:35 minutes for Aécio and only 2:03 minutes for Marina. Dilma used her airtime advantage to attack Marina.

That the presidential races in the last 20 years have all opposed a candidate from the PT representing ‘the left’ and one from the PSDB representing ‘the right’ (whether they like it or not) gives a superficial appearance of stability in Brazilian political choices at the top level. In reality, as this election showed, Brazilian voters at the presidential level are just as elastic and fickle as they are at the congressional, state and local levels.

Dilma, with 41.6%, had a fairly mediocre result in the first round. Dilma, as the incumbent with a mixed record, was naturally the most polarizing candidate in this race – polls regularly showed her to have a strong, resilient base of support in the 40% range, but her ‘rejection’ numbers were nearly as strong in the 35-40% range, meaning that over 40% of voters would never vote for her while another 40% were certain to vote for her. Her underperformance in the first round hit her campaign badly, as Aécio came out of the first round with a huge boost in momentum because of his strong numbers.

Indeed, as first round numbers flowed in, it became clear that Dilma would face a much closer and tougher runoff battle than was widely expected, as a result of Aécio’s surprisingly strong showing. With such high rejection numbers and the strength of the anti-PT strategic voters bloc, she was seriously vulnerable to Aécio. In 2010, Marina Silva’s voters had broken by a significant, although not huge, margin for José Serra (the PSDB candidate); in 2014, it was expected that they would break heavily for Aécio, and unlike in 2010, it was widely assumed after the first round that Marina would officially endorse Aécio.

Luciana Genro, the PSOL candidate, did fairly well with 1.6% of the vote – up from 0.87% in 2010. The main winner among the smaller candidates, however, was Levy Fidelix – he won 0.43% and 446,878 votes, up significantly from 0.06% and 57,960 votes in 2010. This strong result, of course, followed the national and international publicity he got for his crazy homophobic rant on the debate (‘reproduction can’t happen through the anus’).

Marina endorsed Aécio Neves on October 12. Eduardo Jorge (PV), Pastor Everaldo (PSC) and Levy Fidelix (PRTB) also endorsed Aécio. State-level candidates including gubernatorial favourites Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB-DF) and José Ivo Sartori (PMDB-RS) or senator-elect Romário (PSB-RJ) also endorsed Aécio during the runoff campaign. Aécio successfully managed, for once, to unite the PSDB behind his candidacy after the first round success – former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, somewhat placed aside by the PSDB in the last few cycles, regained a more prominent position in Aécio’s campaign; José Serra, elected to the Senate from São Paulo, actively supported Aécio; Governor Geraldo Alckmin, one of the main winners of the first round with his landslide reelection in São Paulo, also actively supported Aécio (likely because Aécio promised to abolish reelection). Brazilian football star Neymar also endorsed Aécio. In a much stranger twist, Aécio received unlikely ‘endorsements’ from American actress Lindsay Lohan and English supermodel Naomi Campbell – although Lindsay Lohan’s Twitter and Facebook posts were quickly taken down (it seems that the ‘endorsements’ were part of a paid advertising deal with a Brazilian company which does that sort of thing).

On the left, Luciana (PSOL) did not endorse anybody but called to vote against Aécio. Jean Wyllys (PSOL-RJ) endorsed Dilma and recorded an ad for her.

Datafolha and Ibope’s first polls after the first round, conducted on October 7-8 and 8-9 respectively, gave Aécio a narrow and inconclusive 2-point lead over Dilma; or a 51-49 lead in the valid votes. Their second wave of polls, conducted on October 12-14 (after Marina’s endorsement), showed him retaining a 2-point lead.

Dilma fired back with unrelenting attacks against Aécio, on a number of themes. Some attacks highlighted Aécio’s reputation as a patrician playboy – with allegations that he has used cocaine in the past (obviously, with Lindsay Lohan ‘endorsing’ him, that brought out a lot of easy jokes) and that he beat his model girlfriend Leticia Weber before they got married (a likely false rumour). Dilma ran an ad in which she claimed Aécio had “difficulties respecting women” – because he called Luciana and Dilma leviana, a word (not used often, it seems) which means imprudent or acting irresponsibly or hypocritically, and claimed that he had been disrespectful towards Dilma in a second round debate.

Other attacks concerned corruption and nepotism allegations from his time as governor of Minas Gerais – Dilma’s campaign accused him of building two airports in small towns where his relatives owned land and of employing dozens of his cousins and other relatives in state agencies and government jobs. Aécio failed to respond adequately to the airport and nepotism issues, arrogantly responding that the airports issue was a non-issue. There was also the case of the helicopter from Aécio’s company, Agropecuaria Limeira, filled with 450kg of cocaine which was seized by the Federal Police late last year (cue more jokes about LiLo). The helicopter belonged to state deputy Gustavo Perrella (SD-MG), the son of Senator Zezé Perrella (PDT-MG); both allies of Aécio Neves. Finally, other attacks concerned Aécio’s policy and political record as governor – accusations that Aécio’s government in MG cut healthcare and teacher’s pay (a rather egregious twisting of the truth), claims that Aécio voted against a minimum wage raise (he did, but only because he wanted a higher one than what was proposed) and the PT’s typical scare tactics that Aécio/the PSDB would abolish social programs. She also warned that Aécio’s ‘management shock’ would lead to job loses and cuts. Overall, Dilma’s rhetorically left-wing campaign was successful in driving home the idea that Aécio was the candidate of the elitist, pro-rich, pro-bankers conservative right. At times, Aécio did nothing to challenge this image – by attacking Dilma and even Lula’s record, he seemed to deny the very real progress made by the country and particularly by the poorest Brazilians in the past 12 years. His talk of ‘liberating’ the country from PT rule was very effective in playing to the base, which loathes the PT, but drove pro-PT and some swing voters away. Aécio’s close association with Armínio Fraga, the conservative President of the Central Bank under FHC who was set to become Aécio’s finance minister, also reinforced the image of Aécio as the candidate of an elitist conservative right.

Dilma’s negative campaign further alienated her existing critics, who accused her of dirty campaigning (a la Collor 1989) and of turning increasingly to the left and polarizing the country further in the process.

Datafolha polls on October 20 and 21 showed that Dilma had successfully reversed the situation, taking a 3 and 4-point lead respectively over Aécio (or a 52-48 lead in valid votes). Ibope, in the field from October 2o to 22, showed a 54-46 advantage for the President in valid votes (49-41); Datafolha on October 22-23 showed a 53-47 lead for Dilma.

On the other hand, the second round was also dominated with coverage of a developing political scandal at Petrobras, the oil giant. The anti-government Veja newsmagazine has relayed news and juicy details of the scandal, beginning with a March 2014 Federal Police operation (operação Lava Jato) which revealed a complex money laundering and tax evasion scheme. Shell companies belonging to Alberto Youssef  received millions in unexplained deposits from some of the biggest companies in the country (who have big contracts with the federal government), money which was later transferred to parties and politicians – the same politicians who had appointed the bureaucrats who hired the contractors paying the bribes. Youssef’s clients included three of the most important parties – the PT, the PMDB and the PP. Paulo Roberto Costa, Petrobras’ former director of procurement (2004-2002), was also at the heart of this scheme and was arrested in March 2014. In September 2014, he revealed to the Federal Police the names of politicians who had received bribes from the contracts: his names included the President of the Chamber of Deputies Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN), President of the Senate Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), Minister of Mines and Energy Edison Lobão (PMDB-MA), PP president Ciro Nogueira (PP-PI) and federal deputy Cândido Vaccarezza (PT-SP). He also claimed that the PT received 3% of the value of the contracts from the services, gas and energy and services directorates in Petrobras, as well as 2% from procurement contracts. The PP also received 1% of the value of contracts from the procurement directorate. In the last days before the second round, Veja hit the newsstands with an attention-grabbing headline claiming that Dilma and Lula knew everything (according to Youssef spilling the beans to the cops) and that Dilma used some of the illegal cash to finance her 2010 campaign. Dilma’s TV ads claimed that it was merely part of Veja‘s time-honoured tactics of dropping a ‘huge’ scandal on the PT when they were ahead in the final days (the magazine, in the past, had accused the PT of having received money from the FARC, among other things).

The last few juicy details from Youssef in the Petrobras scandal did tighten up the numbers in the last polls somewhat: Ibope showed Dilma leading 53-47 in the valid votes in their last poll (October 24-25), while Datafolha had her ahead 52-48 in a poll conducted on those same dates. Dilma was the favourite heading into the runoff, but the election promised to be tighter than any presidential runoff in the past.

The first round was also on a regional basis, as is the norm in Brazilian presidential elections since 2010. Dilma triumphed in the Nordeste, winning 59.4% in the region against 21.3% for Marina and only 17% for Aécio. The one exception to this triumph was Pernambuco, Eduardo Campos’ home state, where Marina narrowly defeated Dilma – 48.1% to 44.2%, leaving Aécio with only 5.9%. In the 2010 first round, Dilma had won 61.7% of the vote in Pernambuco. In the Northeastern states of Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Alagoas and Sergipe, Dilma actually improved on her first round numbers from 2010. In the states of Bahia (61.4% for Dilma) and Maranhão (69.6%), Dilma’s 2014 results on October 6 were only 1% or so below what she had won in 2010.

On the other hand, Aécio did very well in the traditionally right-leaning states of the South and Southeast – in those regions he won 48% and 36.5%, against 35.5% and 34.5% for Dilma respectively. Aécio recorded very strong results in São Paulo, where he won 44.2% in the first round against 25.8% for Dilma, who suffered an 11.5% loss from 2010 in SP. In Paraná and Santa Catarina, Dilma also suffered substantial loses from 2010 while Aécio improved significantly on José Serra’s 2010 first round numbers: +5.9% in Paraná and +7.1% in Santa Catarina, which was his best state in the first round (with 52.9%). Dilma narrowly won the key swing state/bellwether of Minas Gerais in the first round, 43.5% to 39.8% for Aécio, although Aécio’s home state advantage allowed him to improve on Serra’s 2010 performance by no less than 9% in MG. In Rio de Janeiro, a left-leaning state, Dilma won 35.6% against 31.1% for Marina and 26.9% for Aécio; compared to 2010, Dilma’s vote fell by 8.1% in RJ and the PSDB’s support increased by 4.4%.

In the Centre-West, Aécio won 40.9% against 33% for Dilma. She suffered major loses in Goiás (-10.1%) and the DF (-8.7%), and more limited loses in the right-leaning states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. In 2010, Marina had won the DF by over ten points (42% to 31.7%) against Dilma; this year, Aécio narrowly defeated Marina in the DF, 36.1% to 35.8%, with only 23% for Dilma. In the North, Dilma won 44.6% against 31.1% for Aécio. She actually improved on her 2010 results in Amapá, Pará, Roraima, Rondônia and Acre; but in Amazonas, where she won 65% in the first round in 2010, her support fell to 54.9%. Marina won her home state of Acre (which she had lost in 2010), with 42% against 29.1% for Aécio and 28% for Dilma; she mostly won through right-wing votes, given that the PSDB vote fell by 22.9% in Acre from 2010.

Marina’s vote, with the exception of Pernambuco and Acre, was somewhat evenly distributed across the regions and the states – she won 24.7% in the Southeast (with over 25% in SP, RJ and Espírito Santo), 23.2% in the Centre-West, 21.4% in the North, 21.3% in the Nordeste but only 12.8% in the South. Marina placed distant seconds ahead of Aécio in the Northeastern states of Bahia, Maranhão, Piauí and Alagoas – although in these cases, her results came at the expense of Aécio, given that Dilma improved on her 2010 showings in much of the region. Marina also performed well in the cities – 31.1% (and first place) in Rio, 23.9% in São Paulo, 25.5% in Salvador, 22.9% in Fortaleza, 63.3% in Recife and 29.2% in Manaus. In 2010, Marina’s urban support had been predominantly middle-class and well-educated, but in 2014, Marina did quite well in poorer areas. In Rio, for example, Marina was strongest in the poorer districts in the north of the city, while Aécio’s support was concentrated in the upscale seaside southern neighborhoods (upper-class areas such as Gávea, Leblon, Ipanema, Barra da Tijuca and Copacabana). Outside of Rio, Marina also did better in poorer working-class suburban municipalities such as Duque de Caxias (31.1%), Nova Iguaçu (32.9%), São João de Meriti (34.8%) and Nilópolis (35.7%) than in middle-class Niterói (29.1%). In suburban São Paulo, Marina also did better in the industrial ABC belt municipalities (traditional PT strongholds, very much eroded this year) – 27.5% in Diadema, 25.2% in São Bernardo do Campo, 34.2% in Guarulhos than she did in São Paulo itself (23.9%). In Brasília, Marina did better in poorer areas than in the more wealthy neighborhoods, where Aécio was strongest. Many of these voters were likely evangelical Christians, given that the poorer peripheries of Rio and São Paulo concentrate large numbers of evangelicals. Other regions where Marina did well – Espírito Santo, the Vale do Paraíba and the RJ littoral region – also have large evangelical populations.

Therefore, the real challenge for Aécio in the runoff was to conquer the vast majority of Marina’s first round vote – including parts of it which could be thought of as more favourable to the PT, because of their demographics.

The very pronounced regional polarization in this election – similar to 2006 and 2010, but even more polarized on regional lines – is due to a number of factors. Firstly, as Brazil’s democracy has matured, vote choice in presidential elections has become increasingly tied to demographic indicators such as income, education, human development, race (which is correlated with income and education) and religion (although this is more complicated). The Nordeste is the country’s poorest region – according to the Atlas do Desenvolvimento Humano do Brasil 2013, all states in the region had a Human Development Index (HDI) value below the national average (0.727), and the two poorest states in Brazil – Maranhão (0.639) and Alagoas (0.631) – are located in the region. The Nordeste’s poverty is the legacy of a history of social and racial inequality, a poorly diversified agriculture, weak industries, large latifúndios and a very unequal concentration of wealth; as well as regular droughts in the semi-arid inland regions (notably the sertão). Despite modernization and very real (and not unsuccessful) attempts at economic diversification, the Nordeste has remained the poorest region with the biggest wealth inequalities, low HDI values and the highest illiteracy rate (17% compared to 5% in the South/Southeast).

The South – Brazil’s whitest region (settled by European – Portuguese, German or Italian – settlers) – and the Southeast – home to the economic and political powerhouses of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais – are the two wealthiest regions in Brazil. The Centre-West, historically a poor and undeveloped inland region, has seen rapid development and rising prosperity in the recent decades, fueled notably by the agribusiness boom in Mato Grosso/Mato Grosso do Sul. The North, poor, sparsely populated and in parts still very remote, is similar to the Nordeste in that it is poor and largely non-white (brown); although the expansion of ‘pioneer front’ capitalist agriculture in Pará, Acre and Rondônia has changed matters somewhat.

In the past, until fairly recently, the Nordeste was politically dominated by an oligarchic paternalist elite, often of a very conservative orientation hostile to any kind of social reform which could endanger their hegemonic power. The old PFL (now the DEM) was, until 2002-2006, the dominant political force in the Nordeste, as a result of the party’s large network of conservative oligarchs who had previously backed the military regime but embraced democracy when the time came. The 2006 election saw a significant realignment of voting patterns in Brazil, with the PT/Lula gaining full dominance of the Nordeste while losing support in the wealthier South and Southeast. At the state level, powerful conservative oligarchs were defeated in Bahia and Pernambuco. The PT/left has retained dominance of presidential politics in the Nordeste following the 2010 and 2014 elections. As Brazilian democracy matured and the traditional power structures lost their influence, voting patterns have finally broken from the old traditions of coronelismo in the Nordeste and other regions.

First round results in municipalities with over 30% of the population receiving the Bolsa Família (source: Veja)

Another highly relevant contribution to voting patterns in recent presidential elections (since 2006) has been federal social programs. As the poorest region, the Nordeste has benefited the most from the federal government’s various social programs launched (mostly) under Lula or Dilma’s presidencies. The most famous and widespread of these programs is the Bolsa Família, which benefits 14 million families in Brazil – many of them in the Nordeste. Critics of these kind of cash transfer programs to poor populations consider these programs to be primarily clientelistic handouts, a very facile claim which demonstrates a piss-poor understanding of clientelistic politics and ignores the nature of the Bolsa Família. Regardless of what it is, the Bolsa Família has been a huge factor in the recent strength of the PT/left in the Nordeste. Veja‘s interactive map of the result (both rounds) allows you to filter the results according to certain variables, including the percentage of Bolsa Família beneficiaries (or, related to that, the municipality’s HDI or GDP per capita); the Folha de São Paulo also did similar work for the first round and runoff. The results are very revealing, as you can see from the map on the right. In municipalities where over 30% of residents receive the Bolsa Família, Dilma placed first in almost every single one of them – in the rural and inland Nordeste, she won over 70% in many of these municipalities. This graph, stolen from the Folha de São Paulo, shows the correlation between the Dilma vote in the first round and the percentage of the population receiving the Bolsa Família. There is a very clear correlation.

On the Veja map, you can also see the rather clear correlation between low HDI and a high Dilma vote, or a high HDI and a high Aécio vote.

In the race for Congress, the parties in Dilma’s coalitions retained – collectively – their large majorities in both houses of Congress. The PT-PMDB-PSD-PP-PR-PDT-PRB-PROS-PCdoB coalition (all parties which formally backed Dilma) won 304 seats out of 513 in the Chamber of Deputies. In addition to those parties, small venal parties such as the PTB can possibly be added to the government’s base in Congress given that they (a) include a lot of congressmen who are pro-government (like PTB senator Collor) and (b) they mostly end up backing whoever governs anyway. In the Senate, the government can count on about 52 seats (give or take a few) out of 81. The bulk of the congressional opposition in the next four years will be made up of the PSDB, PSB, DEM, PPS and PSOL.

The PT and PMDB suffered loses, however, in both houses of Congress; although the PT managed to remain the largest party in the Chamber, with a thin 4-seat edge over its big ally, the PMDB. The PSDB and PSB were the main winners in the Chamber, although the PRB also brought in a whole slew of deputies (like due to the success of PRB candidate Celso Russomano, who topped the poll in SP). The DEM, once again, were the main losers in the Chamber, even if you compare numbers to dissolution (as I did) to account for the creation of the PSD. Talking of the PSD, Kassab’s party was not considered as a big winner, given that the PSD came out with a smaller bench in the Chamber than it held prior to dissolution. The PSB, buoyed by its new-found independence from the PT and Marina’s candidacy, was another major winner, with 34 seats – up 9 from dissolution.

In the Senate, the PMDB’s plurality helps incumbent President Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL) hold his chair for another two-year term. In the Chamber of Deputies, however, with the PT still the largest party, President Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN) may struggle to retain the presidency of the house, especially considering how embattled he finds himself with the Petrobras accusations and his defeat in the gubernatorial race in Rio Grande do Norte.

This post will continue with a more in-depth look at state-level results. It is relevant to look at the most popular candidates for the Chamber in the country. As the largest state, São Paulo often elects the federal deputy who wins the most votes of all candidates for the Chamber in Brazil. This year, São Paulo – and Brazil’s – most popular candidate was Celso Russomano (PRB), who received 1.524 million votes (or 7.3% of the votes cast in the state), becoming the second-most popular candidate in Brazilian history after Eneás (2002). Russomano served as federal deputy between 1994 and 2012 before he ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor of São Paulo in 2012 but lost in the first round (after having been the early favourite). With his victory this year, he is likely a favourite for São Paulo’s 2016 mayoral election. In second place was Tiririca (PR), the professional clown and singer-songwriter elected federal deputy in 2010 with the most votes in the country; this year he won 1.016 million votes, less than 1.348 million votes he won in 2010 but still a hefty showing. In third place in the state was noted racist and homophobic neo-Pentecostal pastor/incumbent federal deputy Marco Feliciano (PSC), reelected with over 398,000 votes. Bruno Covas (PSDB), the grandson of former governor Mário Covas (PSDB), was elected to the Chamber of Deputies with the fourth-most votes in the state. In São Paulo, the landslide reelection of governor Geraldo Alckmin by the first round carried no less than 14 PSDB congressional candidates to the Chamber, compared to 13 in 2010. Paulinho da Força, the trade union leader and SD, was elected in tenth place with some 227,000 votes. The PT was one of the main losers in the state – the party elected 10 deputies, down from 15 in 2010. Its most popular candidate, Andrés Sanchez, the former president of the popular Corinthians football club, only placed 20th.  Cândido Vaccarezza, one of the leaders of the PT in the Chamber, was defeated, placing 98th (0.2%). Among those defeated in the state were Netinho de Paula (PCdoB), a former black singer and TV star who had unsuccessfully run for Senate in 2010. Elected to the city council of São Paulo in 2012, he has since faced a corruption allegation which saw his assets frozen by court order. In 2010, his senatorial campaign had been hurt by the revelation of an old case of domestic assault. He placed 65th with 0.4%. One prominent incumbent who went down to defeat was Roberto Freire (PPS), the longtime president of the PPS, who came in 84th place. In the fun world of Brazilian politics, a candidate registered as ‘Cosme Barack Obama’ (PMDB) came 601st.

In Rio de Janeiro, the most popular candidate – the third most popular candidate in Brazil – was seven-term incumbent Jair Bolsonaro (PP), a military reservist. Jair Bolsonaro is one of Brazil’s most controversial politicians – he is known for defending the use of torture, his open praise for the military dictatorship, crass sexist/rape apologist commentary (saying that he wouldn’t rape a deputy because she didn’t ‘deserve’ it), homophobic views (calling on fathers to spank their children to ‘cure’ them of homosexuality or ‘prevent’ them from being gay) and racism (against indigenous people, which he basically considers savages, and blacks, referring to interracial relationships as ‘promiscuity’). He was reelected with a much stronger vote than in 2010 – 464,572 votes (6.1%) compared to 120,646 (1.5%) in 2010. I fear that his various racist and homophobic outbursts in 2011 may have further boosted his profile and his popularity in certain social conservative and far-right circles. His son, Eduardo Bolsonaro (PSC-SP), just as repulsive as his father, was elected to the Chamber from SP, coming in 64th place. In second place in RJ was state deputy Clarissa Garotinho (PR), the daughter of former governor and federal deputy Anthony Garotinho – the clownish evangelical populist with strong appeals in low-income evangelical areas, was elected federal deputy with about 335,000 votes (4.4%). In 2010, her father had won 694.8 thousand votes when he was elected federal deputy from RJ. Incumbent federal deputy Eduardo Cunha (PMDB), one of the main leaders of the evangelical caucus, was reelected with 232.7k votes in third position. Chico Alencar and Jean Wyllys (an openly gay LGBT rights activist), two prominent PSOL deputies, were reelected finishing in 4th and 7th places respectively. Marco Antônio Cabral (PMDB), the son of former governor Sérgio Cabral (2007-2014), was elected to the Chamber in 9th place. A candidate named ‘Barack Obama Claudio Henrique’ (PT) came 289th.

In Alagoas, former governor (and Collor’s former arch-nemesis) Ronaldo Lessa (PDT) was elected federal deputy, finishing in fifth place with 6.4%. Pedro Vilela (PSDB), the nephew of outgoing governor Teo Vilela Filho (PSDB), was elected coming in third place with 8.6%. Arthur Lira (PP), one of the leaders of the rural caucus (a conservative coalition of landowners and allies, who take stances opposed to environmental conservation and in favour of laxer deforestation and slave labour regulations) in the Chamber, was reelected coming in fourth with 7.1%. In Bahia, Mário Negromonte Jr. (PP), the son of disgraced former cabinet minister Mário Negromonte, was elected in second place with 2.6%. Lúcio Vieira Lima (PMDB), another leader of the rural caucus, was the most popular candidate in the state. In Pernambuco, the candidates of the late Eduardo Campos’ PSB-led coalition were the big winners, with 8 federal deputies for the PSB – up from 5 in 2010. Former governor Jarbas Vasconcelos (PMDB), a one-time opponent turned ally of the PSB (since 2012), was elected to the Chamber with 5.1%, in third place. In Santa Catarina, incumbent federal deputy and ruralista leader Esperidião Amin (PP) was reelected in first place. In Amazonas, former governor and cabinet minister Alfredo Nascimento (PR), was elected with 7.2%, placing third in the state. In the DF, former deputy Alberto Fraga (DEM) and former governor Rogério Rosso (PSD) were the top two candidates.

In the race for the Senate in São Paulo, José Serra (PSDB) was elected to the Senate in a landslide, winning an impressive 58.5% against 32.5% for incumbent senator Eduardo Suplicy (PT), a 73-year old veteran of Brazilian and paulista politics who had served three terms in the Senate (first elected in 1990). Former mayor Gilberto Kassab (PSD), an ally of the government but a friend of José Serra, won 5.9% though he didn’t put much effort in his campaign. In Minas Gerais, Aécio ally and former governor Antonio Anastasia (PSDB) was elected to the Senate in a landslide, winning 56.7% against 40.2% for Josué Alencar (PMDB), the candidate of the PMDB-PT. In Rio de Janeiro, Romário (PSB), the famous star striker from the Brazilian Seleção’s victorious 1994 US World Cup campaign who was elected to the Chamber in 2010, was elected to the Senate with a massive 63.4% of the vote. The former three-term mayor of Rio (1993-1997, 2001-2009), Cesar Maia (DEM), an old figure of fluminense and carioca politics, was soundly defeated winning only 20.5%. In Rio Grande do Sul, Lasier Martins (PDT), a TV reporter, was elected with 37.4% against 35.3% for Olívio Dutra (PT), a former governor (1999-2002). Incumbent senator Pedro Simon (PMDB), a respected 84-year old veteran of Brazilian politics (active since the 1950s) and a four-term senator (including three consecutive terms, serving since 1991), was dragged out of retirement at the last minute in August to replace initial candidate Beto Albuquerque (PSB) – who ran for Vice President – won only 16.1%.

In Bahia, outgoing vice-governor Otto Alencar (PSD), the candidate backed by the PT and its allies, was elected with 55.9% against 34.5% for Geddel Vieira Lima (PMDB), the candidate backed by the centre-right. In Ceará, former governor and senator Tasso Jereissati (PSDB), defeated for reelection in 2010, returned to the Senate, with an easy victory (57.9%). In Maranhão, Roberto Rocha (PSB) – the son of a former governor and an opponent of the Sarney clan – was elected, with 51.4%, defeating Gastão Vieira (PMDB), the former tourism minister backed by the Sarney clan and Dilma, who won 44.7%. In Alagoas, incumbent senator Fernando Collor (PTB) was reelected easily, taking 55.7% against 31.9% for former senator Heloísa Helena (PSOL), who had some underhanded support from the PSDB.

In the first round of gubernatorial elections, the most notable result was the PSDB’s landslide victory by the first round in São Paulo, where popular incumbent governor Geraldo Alckmin was reelected to a second consecutive term in office with 57.3% against 21.5% for Paulo Skaf (PMDB) and a disastrous 18.2% for the PT’s Alexandre Padilha, the former health minister. Alckmin’s landslide was one of the biggest victories for the PSDB on October 6 and it immediately made him a frontrunner – along with Aécio – for the presidential nomination in 2018. In Rio de Janeiro, incumbent PMDB governor Luiz Fernando Pezão – who took office in April 2014 to replace Sérgio Cabral, the increasingly unpopular two-term incumbent – placed first on October 6, with 40.6% against 20.3% for evangelical bishop and senator Marcelo Crivella (PRB), who narrowly (and surprisingly) qualified for the runoff ahead of former governor Anthony Garotinho (PR), who won 19.7%. Lindberg Farias (PT), a senator, won only 10%, a disastrous result for the PT in RJ. In Minas Gerais, one of the few bright spots for the PT, Fernando Pimentel (PT) – a former mayor of Belo Horizonte (2002-2009) and industry minister (2011-2014) – was elected in the first round, with 53% against 41.9% for Aécio’s candidate Pimenta da Veiga (PSDB). The PSDB had controlled the state governorship since 2003. In Rio Grande do Sul, which is a notoriously anti-incumbent state, incumbent governor Tarso Genro (PT) was in trouble after the first round, where he won 32.6%, quite some distance behind centre-right candidate José Ivo Sartori (PMDB), who could count on the backing of third-place finisher, centre-right senator Ana Amélia Lemos (PP), who won 21.8%. In Paraná, in another major victory for the PSDB, incumbent governor Beto Richa (PSDB) was easily reelected with 55.7% against 27.7% for senator and former governor Roberto Requião (PMDB). Gleisi Hoffman (PT), a close Dilma ally as her Chief of Staff from 2011 to 2014, placed third with a disastrous 14.9% after having been touted as a formidable candidate.

In Alagoas, Renan Filho (PMDB), the son of the President of the Senate Renan Calheiros (PMDB), was elected governor with 52.2%. In Bahia, federal deputy Rui Costa (PT) was elected to succeed term-limited governor Jaques Wagner (PT) with 54.3% in the first round against 37.4% for former governor Paulo Souto (DEM), who had led every single poll except the last one which had indicated a 46-46 tie between the two candidates. In the DF, unpopular incumbent governor Agnelo Queiroz (PT) was defeated by the first round, placing third with 20.1%, with senator Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB) and federal deputy Jofran Frejat (PR) advancing to the runoff. In Maranhão, Sarney opponent Flávio Dino (PCdoB), at the helm of a composite anti-Sarney coalition, was elected in the first round, with 63.5% against senator Edison Lobão Filho (PMDB), the candidate supported by the Sarney clan (outgoing governor Roseana Sarney) and the President. In Pará, after the first round, incumbent governor Simão Jatene (PSDB) found himself locked in a very close contest against Helder Barbalho (PMDB), the young son of famous corrupt senator Jader Barbalho (PMDB) – Barbalho led with 49.9% against 48.5% for the incumbent. In Pernambuco, Paulo Câmara (PSB) – backed by the late Eduardo Campos – was elected in a landslide, winning 68.1% against 31.1% for senator Armando Monteiro (PTB), the candidate supported by Dilma’s PT. In Rio Grande do Norte, where incumbent governor Rosalba Ciarlini (DEM) didn’t even bother seeking an impossible second term, the first round was inconclusive – Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB), the President of the Chamber and member of a highly powerful local political dynasty in RN, was in first with 47.3% against 42% for vice-governor Robinson Faria (PSD), who had broken with the outgoing DEM governor in 2011.

National Results – October 26, 2014

Turnout in the first round was 78.9%.

Dilma Rousseff (PT) 51.64%
Aécio Neves (PSDB) 48.36%

Blank votes 1.71%
Invalid votes 4.63%

Brazil 2014 - Runoff

President Dilma Rousseff (PT), after one of the most exciting and open-ended presidential races in the history of modern Brazilian democracy, was narrowly reelected at the helm of a polarized and divided Brazil, with 51.64% against 48.36% for her opponent, Senator Aécio Neves (PSDB) – who, in the end, came closer to defeating Dilma than anyone could have imagined a few shorts weeks and months beforehand.

Unlike in the first round, there were no surprises in the national results – despite tucanos clinging to faint hopes that Aécio would still prevail as the underdog, the result was in line with was expected: a close race, but with a narrow edge to the incumbent President. Aécio barely overperformed his final polling numbers (47-48%).

The 2014 election – decided by a margin of 3.28% in the decisive round – was the closest direct presidential election in the history of the Nova República (New Republic)/Sixth Republic (that is to say since the end of the military regime) and even the entire history of Brazil. Prior to 2014, the closest post-military election had been Collor’s 1989 victory over Lula, with 6.1% in the second round. Cardoso had won by the first round in 1994 and 1998, Lula won in 2002 and 2006 by 22.6% and 21.7% respectively and Dilma was elected to her first term following a 12.1% victory in the second round against the PSDB’s José Serra. To find a presidential race closer than 2014, we need to go back to the Fourth Republic (1945-1964), which had single-round (FPTP) presidential elections – in 1955, Juscelino Kubitschek won by 5.4%. The 1960 vice-presidential election (back then, the VP was elected separately) was closer than 2014 – João Goulart won by 2.4%.

IBOVESPA stock exchange value, Aug. 1 to Oct. 29 (source: Google Finance)

The 2014 presidential election painted the picture of a deeply polarized and divided country – a reality which has led several Brazilian observers to draw parallels to the US, especially with the rise of voting patterns polarized along regional lines in Brazil and of red states/blue states similar to those in the US (of course, it’s a very academic thing to do, since states don’t matter in presidential races in Brazil, unlike in the US). Dilma, for a whole host of reasons, has become a very polarizing and divisive President, a love-hate figure who has a very strong base of support but also a very vocal base of opponents. Her opponents accuse her of financial mismanagement, rising inflation, low economic growth, complicity in corruption scandals, disrespecting the Central Bank’s autonomy,  the unsustainable growth of the public sector, profligate spending and taxation, opaque and discretionary dealings with businesses and the private sector and the rapid increase of public credit and subsidies (loans by state-owned banks) to companies. Dilma’s economic policies and mediocre record on economic and fiscal issues has also won her the disapproval of Brazilian markets, shareholders, domestic and foreign investors.

During the campaign, it was quite interesting to observe how the value of the BF&M BOVESPA (the São Paulo stock exchange) and the value of the real to the US dollar fluctuated in line with polls and campaign events – the stock exchange fell whenever polls favourable to Dilma came out, rose whenever good news for Marina/Aécio came out. The stock exchange’s value declined throughout September, as the odds increasingly favoured a Dilma reelection, but the stock exchange rose after Dilma’s poor result on October 6 before falling during the runoff campaign as Aécio’s early momentum wore off. It fell to a low after Dilma’s reelection. Similarly, the real fell throughout September as polls favoured Dilma, and rose on October 6 before falling to a new low against the US dollar following Dilma’s reelection. Dilma’s critics point out that she will need to give clear indications and favourable impressions to the markets – notably over her choice of a finance minister to replace Guido Mantega, also disliked by the markets. Her supporters argue, on the other hand, that Dilma was elected by voters and doesn’t owe anything to the markets.

Dilma will face a tough second term. On an economic front, bad numbers have continued to pile up since the election: inflation breaking the upper band (6.5%), low growth, the government failing to meet its primary surplus targets, somber markets and a low real. The appointment of Joaquim Levy, a banker with a PhD from the University of Chicago, as her new finance minister suggests that she will reorient her economic policies in a more conservative, neoliberal direction.

Politically, she becomes a lame-duck president who will see her own party and many of her allies – especially the PMDB – quickly looking ahead to 2018, where there is no obvious government dauphin waiting in the wings. She already had a tough relationship with Congress during her first term, she might face an even tougher one. Finally, the Petrobras scandal is quite big, and it’s not clear how big it could go. The opposition and Dilma’s critics have been pounding her relentlessly on the scandal, and certain people have already talked of impeachment.

Winner’s margin of victory by municipality (source: Folha de S. Paulo)

More than ever before, the election was polarized on regional lines. It is quite interesting to note that, compared to 2010, when Dilma won by 12.1%, only one federal unit – the DF – switched from the PT to the PSDB, despite a much narrower PT victory of 3.3% in 2014. The 2014 election was therefore more intensely polarized on regional lines than ever before – something which many inevitably compare to the US, increasingly polarized with ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’.

Absolutely key to Dilma’s victory was her massive margins in the Nordeste. In the region as a whole, she won 71.7%, compared to 70.6% in 2010. There were significant swings in her favour in the states of Alagoas (+8.49%), Paraíba (+2.71%), Piauí (+8.32%) and most impressively so in Rio Grande do Norte (+10.42%) and Sergipe (+13.45%). In the states of Bahia (-0.69%), Ceará (-0.6%) and Maranhão (-0.33%), the petista vote fell by less than 1% since 2010. The only Nordeste state which did witness a significant swing in line with the national trend was Pernambuco, where Aécio improved on Serra’s 2010 numbers by 5.45% – although even in Eduardo Campos’ old bastion, Dilma still won 70.2% of the vote.

Dilma’s numbers in the Nordeste varied between a high of 78.8% in Maranhão and a low of 62.1% in Alagoas – unlike in 2010, when she had been held under 60% in Alagoas, Sergipe and Rio Grande do Norte, Dilma won over 60% in every single state. In the Nordeste, her best results came from the inland semi-arid sertão – the poorest region in the country – where she won over 70%, if not 80%, of the vote in the vast majority of municipalities. She was weaker in urban areas (a reversal of the pre-2006 situation, where Northeastern cities leaned more to the left than rural areas did), which are wealthier and economically developed/diversified – Dilma won 59.2% in Recife (PE), down from 66.4% in 2010; yet she won 58.1% in Natal (RN), 51.1% in Maceió (AL) and 59.6% in Aracaju (SE) – all of which she had lost in 2010. Dilma won by large, albeit reduced, margins in 68% in Fortaleza, CE (68%), São Luis, MA (70.4%) and Salvador, BA (67.3%). Aécio won 58% in Campina Grande (PB), the second largest city in Paraíba and an affluent high-tech/university centre.

Aécio’s inability to make significant inroads in the Nordeste was one of the factors which led to his narrow defeat. The case of Pernambuco is rather instructive: Marina had won the state with 48% on October 6, causing Dilma’s support to fall by 17.5% compared to the first round in 2010. While Aécio was not expected to come close to winning the state, which remains a left-leaning Northeastern state, he could likely have done better, if he had been able to carry more of Marina’s first round voters. He gained 5.5% from José Serra’s 2010 results in PE (still the largest pro-PSDB swing in the Nordeste).

The importance of the Nordeste to Dilma’s victory led some angry anti-Dilma voters on Twitter to respond with pretty undignified and appalling comments on Twitter, attacking the region and its voters as ‘stupid’ in pretty melodramatic terms (under the hashtag #RIPBrasil).

Results by municipality in MG (source: Estadão)

The state of Minas Gerais was the bellwether swing state of this election. Although it wasn’t the decisive state – Dilma won by 3.46 million votes nationally and by 550,601 votes in MG – it was a key battleground, as well as the closest state (that the tightest state was still carried with 52.4% also shows how polarized the election was). Every victorious presidential candidate in Brazilian democratic history has carried MG, with the exception of Vargas in 1950. Dilma carried MG – Aécio’s home state (she was born in MG as well, but her political career was in RS) – with 52.41%, a substantial 6% loss from 2010, suggesting that Aécio did have a home state effect even if he failed to carry MG.

Minas Gerais is an extremely diverse state, in some ways a microcosm of the country as a whole. The map to the right shows the results of the second round by municipality, revealing some fairly clearly delineated regional differences within the state. The northeast and southeast of the state – the mesorregiões of Noroeste do Minas, Norte do Minas, Jequitinhonha, Vale do Mucuri, Vale do Rio Doce and Zona da Mata – voted heavily for Dilma, particularly the northeastern half. A natural extension of the Nordeste, this region is significantly poorer (and browner) than the rest of the state. The far north of the state is considered part of the sertão and the semi-arid low rainfall polígono das secas. Dilma won over 75-80% in a number of municipalities in the northeastern extremity of Minas, numbers very similar to what she won just across state lines in Bahia.

% vulnerable to poverty in MG (Atlas do Desenvolvimento Humano no Brasil, UNDP)

On the other hand, Aécio did very well in the Belo Horizonte metro area – in the state capital, an affluent urban centre, he won 64.3%, compared to only 50.4% for Serra four years ago. He also swung several suburban municipalities, including Contagem. Aécio also improved in the southwest of the state, an economically developed and fairly well-off region demographically similar to neighboring areas in the state of São Paulo. The one oddity, however, was Dilma’s decisive victory in the Triângulo Mineiro and Alto Paranaíba – the far west appendage of Minas – which is the wealthiest region in the state. Given that demographically similar areas across state lines in Goiás voted PSDB, I hypothesize that this region’s unusual left-wing leanings may be due to the strong regionalist movement in the area seeking statehood.

Another key state for Dilma’s victory was Rio de Janeiro, where she won 54.9%, down 5.5% from 60.5% in 2010. It was a pretty bad year for the left and the PT in particular in RJ, an historically left-leaning state. Dilma lost over 10% from her 2010 result in the city of Rio, squeaking out an extremely narrow 50.8% victory over Aécio. She was defeated in the affluent liberal city of Niterói across the Bay from Rio, with Aécio winning 54.9% compared to Serra’s 47.4% four years ago. Dilma, however, held tight in Rio’s poorer northern suburbs, suffering less severe loses compared to 2010. She won 69.1% in Duque de Caxias, 63.9% in Nova Iguaçu, 66% in São João de Meriti, 74.8% in Belford Roxo and 68% in São Gonçalo.

While the Nordeste trended even further to the left, Aécio raked up some impressive margins in the richer and traditionally right-leaning states of São Paulo and the South. In the key Southeast swing region (made up of MG, RJ, ES and SP), Aécio won 56.2% compared to 48.1% for Serra in 2010. In the South, which was Serra’s best region with 53.9% in 2010, Aécio won 58.9%. He also carried the Centre-West region with 57.4%, a major improvement from Serra’s 50.9% in the region in 2010. In the state of São Paulo, the tucano stronghold par excellence, Aécio won an historic 64.3% – meaning that Dilma lost a massive 10.3% from her 2010 support in the state. In the bloodbath, Aécio carried all of the state’s major cities and demolished the PT even in its old strongholds – the industrial ABC paulista (the birthplace of the PT) and Campinas’ industrial suburbs. In the right-leaning city of São Paulo, which José Serra had won with 53.6% in 2010, Aécio won 63.8%. In the ABC paulista, Dilma only narrowly retained Diadema, with 53.9% (66.5% in 2010); she lost in São Bernardo do Campo (falling from 56.2% to 44.1%), Santo André (falling from 48.8% to 36.7%) and Mauá (from 57% to 43.8%). Although the ABC paulista remains poorer than downtown São Paulo, the region has changed substantially since Lula was a trade union leader in the 1970s-1980s – it has become wealthier, economic liberalization has transformed the local economy and heavy industry has declined in favour of services and commerce.

The predominantly white and wealthy southern states of Paraná and Santa Catarina also swung heavily to Aécio – who won 61% and 64.6% in those states, +5.5% and +8% respectively from 2010. In Rio Grande do Sul – which really forms a distinctive regional subculture on its own, and is politically complicated – Aécio won 53.5%, and the swing was smaller (+2.6% on 2010). Perhaps Aécio would have preferred if Dilma carried RS – the state has voted for the loser in every election since 1989, except 2002!

The only federal unit to vote for a different party than in 2010 was the Federal District (Brasília) – which had the second largest swing of any federal unit in Brazil. Dilma had narrowly carried the DF with 52.8% in 2010; four years later, her vote share fell by 14.7% and Aécio won the DF with no less than 61.9%. The DF has the highest HDI of all federal units; it is a largely middle-class district, with an economy heavily driven by the federal government/public sector. While affluent, its public sector-driven economy has meant that the DF has usually leaned somewhat to the left. This year’s result is part of a broader trend which saw middle-class areas of all kind swing heavily towards Aécio, even those like the DF or Rio which have large public sector employment. Middle-class voters have shifted away from the PT since 2006, this year the swing was even more pronounced. Middle-class voters tend to be particularly sensitive to corruption and they largely dislike Dilma’s economic and fiscal policies. In the DF specifically, Dilma was also badly hurt by the unpopularity of the incumbent PT governor, defeated in the first round.

In the other states of the Centre-West (which all voted for Aécio), Goiás swung towards the PSDB (+6.4%) while Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul had smaller swings (+3.6% and +1.2% respectively).

The North is an odd region when it comes to politics – and it had some odd results this year. Dilma improved on her horrendous 2010 results in Acre and Roraima, gaining 6% and 7.7% respectively (she still lost both, 63.7-36.3 in AC and 59-41 in RR); she also improved in Pará (+4.2%) and Tocantins (+0.6%). However, the state of Amazonas – where she won 80.6% in 2010 – had the biggest swing in the country, with her support falling by 15.6 points to 65%. I’m not quite sure why Amazonas swung so heavily against her while Acre, Roraima and Pará swung particularly heavily towards her – local factors probably a big reason here.

First round results in municipalities with over 30% of the population receiving the Bolsa Família (source: Folha de S. Paulo)

As in the first round the main determinant of voting patterns were class, economic development, race and federal social programs. Going back to Veja and the Folha‘s interactive maps, looking at the results in those municipalities where over 30% of families receive the Bolsa Família is again very telling. There are some exceptions, but basically the vast, vast majority of municipalities where over three in ten receive the Bolsa Família voted for Dilma – usually by big margins. Few of these poor municipalities voted for Aécio. On the other hand, there are relatively few regions where less than 30% receive the Bolsa Família that voted for Dilma. The urban areas of the Nordeste, RJ, the Triângulo Mineiro, Minas’ Zona da Mata and rural RS appear as the only ‘wealthier’ regions which voted for Dilma.

All in all, the 2014 election continued geographic and demographic trends which begun in 2006. However, the class and regional polarization was much deeper in 2014 than in 2006 or 2010. Middle-class states and cities moved further to the right, while poor states and cities swung less heavily or even moved further to the left. The results in the cities of São Paulo, Curitiba (PR), Porto Alegre (RS), Goiânia (GO), Florianópolis (SC), Belo Horizonte (MG), Brasília and Rio de Janeiro – predominantly middle-class cities – are quite telling. They all moved further to the right, even in cities like Porto Alegre, Brasília, BH and Rio which had left-wing leanings in the past.

In gubernatorial runoffs, Rio de Janeiro reelected Luiz Fernando Pezão (PMDB) with 55.8% in a runoff against Marcelo Crivella, the evangelical bishop and senator. In anti-incumbent Rio Grande do Sul, incumbent governor Tarso Genro (PT) was unsurprisingly defeated by a wide margin by centre-right candidate José Ivo Sartori (PMDB), who won 61.2%. In the DF, no surprises as senator Rodrigo Rollemberg (PSB) defeated Jofran Frejat (PR) with 55.6%. In Goiás, incumbent tucano governor Marconi Perillo won a second term with 57.4% of the vote. In Rio Grande do Norte, vice-governor Robinson Faria (PSD) defeated Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB) by a comfortable margin, winning 54.4%. In Pará, governor Simão Jatene (PSDB) won reelection narrowly with 51.9% in a close contest with Helder Barbalho (PMDB). Only one woman was elected governor in 2014, in Roraima.

Continue to read below the fold for full state-by-state results.

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Guest Post: New Brunswick (Canada) 2014

I didn’t have time to cover an interesting provincial election in New Brunswick held on September 22. Luckily enough, Kyle Hutton – who blogs on Blunt Objects – was nice enough to write a fantastic guest post which explores every facet of New Brunswick’s political history and 2014 electoral campaign. Please contact me by email if you would like to write a guest post on any electoral event. 

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of New Brunswick (fr. Nouveau-Brunswick) on Monday, September 22nd. Like all other Canadian jurisdictions, New Brunswick uses the first-past-the-post method for electing members to legislatures, whereby having a simple plurality of the votes means you have won

In the last provincial election in 2010, 55 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were elected, however a redistribution in 2013 overseen by an independent commission reduced that number to 49 to reflect a smaller but more urban population. The redistribution was not without controversy in Canada’s most bilingual province (65% English to 32% French Acadian), with challenges to the new boundary law launched by Acadian advocacy groups and local movements who claimed discrimination due to the loss of clout for Francophones in the province with the merger and elimination of ridings from Acadian regions. In the end however, the commission dismissed many of the complaints on the basis that the “predominate language of a riding does not qualify as a special circumstance” to change the boundaries.

Historical Background

New Brunswick is one of Canada’s four “founding” provinces, being brought into Confederation on July 1st, 1867, along with Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia – though like the latter it isn’t entirely clear that it was supported by the population at the time. The province is nestled between Quebec to the north, the US state of Maine to the west, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to the east, and has a long history of settlement by First Nations (such as the Mi’kmaq) and European colonists.

New Brunswick has a unique set of circumstances as previously mentioned, with an Anglophone majority and significant Francophone minority, and lots of sore history between the two.

The Saint John River Valley in New Brunswick was primarily settled by British Loyalist refugees from the United States following the American Revolution, and New Brunswick was created as a separate crown colony from Nova Scotia in 1784 to accommodate Loyalist refugees (much like Upper Canada/Ontario).

The predominately Francophone and Catholic Acadian minority, descendants of the original French settlers and expellees in the region with Métis (mixed First Nations and European) heritage are centered around the north and east of the province, particularly in the modern counties of Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland, with smaller pockets in Victoria and Northumberland counties. Acadian history is a fascinating, complex, and tragic tale that is often overlooked as most in the Rest of Canada tend to think about Quebec when the subject of English/French relations comes up. If you’re interested more in the history, I suggest looking for the book The Lion and the Lily by historian Peter Landry. It focuses more on Nova Scotia’s Acadian history, but a lot of it connects back to the groups we’re talking about here.

The Acadian population presented a problem for the Protestant and Anglophone majority that government the province, many of them hostile to their Catholicism and, unlike in Quebec, able to push forward with an agenda to roll back the Church’s influence. Government policy such as the Common Schools Act of 1871, which abolished religious schools in the province (an act that was favoured by Protestants and hated by Catholics) often led to riots.

Political parties were not officially formed in the province until the 1930s, but there existed clear caucus affiliations since before Confederation. Early Conservative (Tory) and Liberal caucuses tended to have their bases among the two demographics, with the Conservatives sweeping most Anglophone counties and the Liberals sweeping Acadian counties, but this was by no means set in stone and support ebbed and flowed during various periods. The two parties regularly alternated power with each other, and like in Ontario the control of the Legislature often reflected the trends of the Parliament in Ottawa.

Early Conservatives were, unsurprisingly given their base of voters, usually less supportive of Francophone equality while the Liberal opposition was more supportive. As time went on however, both parties generally supported gradual inclusion of minorities in government, with progress made under both parties – however this tended to be piecemeal reforms or appointments that, while respectful, did not necessarily change the actual standard of living for many Acadians. This led to continued resentment and agitation among residents, who sought to at least be treated equally by the Anglophone-dominated parties.

1960s to 2010

Louis Robichaud (1960-1970)

The movement for equal rights came to a head in 1960 with the election of Louis Robichaud, the first elected Acadian Premier and a Liberal (Peter Veniot, the first Acadian Premier and also a Liberal, served briefly as Premier from 1923 to 1925 but failed to get re-elected). Robichaud was a reformist Premier, modernizing the province’s rather backwater health, education and social service infrastructure throughout many areas of the province, but specifically in the Acadian counties (often called the Equal Opportunity program). Robichaud also moved to introduce key rights and support for the Acadian minority, such as the 1969 Official Languages Act that enshrined official bilingualism in the province, and the establishment of the Univserité de Moncton, the province’s French-language university, among other initiatives.

Though praised by many, critics called Robichaud out as “robbing Peter to pay Pierre,” as Robichaud’s method to pay for his reforms included a restructuring of municipal tax transfers that funnelled money away from the richer Anglophone municipalities to pay for improvements in the Francophone areas of the province (though, in reality, the funds went to every part of the province that needed it). This raised a lot of resentment to the Robichaud government, and by extension Acadians, among certain parts of the province, leading to some not-so-nice campaigns. Robichaud’s Progressive Conservative opponent in 1967, Charles Van Horne, often campaigned around the province lambasting Acadian’s Métis heritage (literally calling Acadians “half-breeds” and drunks – classy).

In the 1970 election, Robichaud called a snap election, banking on an unprepared and disorganized opposition, which had just elected a new leader in Richard Hatfield. But the government ended up with a major gaffe on their hands by not having their own platform prepared in time, missing the publishing deadline for newspapers, many of whom ended up running blank pages where the Liberal platform was supposed to be. Hatfield also had the advantage of not being a buffoon, as he was fluently bilingual and friendly to Acadian interests instead of an English-speaking boogeyman. Still, the 1970 election results showed how starkly divided the province had become, with the province split right down the middle in terms of support.

Richard Hatfield (1970-1987)

Though he was elected with little support from Francophones in the province and arguably because conservatives had simply had enough of Robichaud’s administration, Hatfield continued to promote his predecessor’s Equal Opportunity program and expanded the promotion of Acadian rights and culture. Hatfield established historical Acadian villages, reorganized school boards on linguistic lines, and opened up more government positions to Francophones, while cementing many of Robichaud’s previous acts in law. None of these things impressed much of his base, but they likely continued to prefer Hatfield to another Liberal government.

Hatfield was also well known on the national stage, promoting various inter-provincial forums and became an ally of Pierre Trudeau’s when the Liberal Prime Minister moved to repatriate the Canadian constitution in the 1980s. Hatfield was also instrumental in the creation of the Charter of Rights, and is credited for the inclusion of minority language rights and equalization payments (the federal oversight of provincial transfers from richer, or ‘have’ provinces, to poorer, or ‘have-not’ provinces).

However, Hatfield didn’t always have it easy, falling into scandals throughout his tenure, including the infamous Bricklin debacle. In this, the government moved to subsidize a local car manufacturer to build and provide a cheap alternative vehicle in the province and beyond, but it backfired completely due to cost overruns, poor management, and frankly a ridiculous design. In the end, the company ended up costing taxpayers $23-million.

Hatfield also had a number of personal scandals, especially in his last term. In 1984, he was charged with the possession of nearly 30 grams of marijuana found in his luggage during a royal visit. Though acquitted, rumours popped up soon after that he had given cocaine to possibly underage boys at a Montreal hotel – an allegation that played off other numerous rumours about his sexuality. These personal scandals combined with general fatigue with the PC government over seventeen years led to an historic defeat in 1987.

Frank McKenna (1987-1999)

Though they had been out of power for a decade and a half, the ‘70, ’74, ’78 and ’82 elections had been relatively close affairs for the Liberals. The party still had a strong Acadian base to work off of, and there was an undercurrent of discontent among other voters with the Hatfield government – however the Liberals were hampered by Hatfield’s truly progressive Progressive Conservativism, as well as the growing support of the fledgling New Democratic Party (NDP). The Liberals needed to craft a different kind of message to get the support they needed to form another government.

In 1985, the Liberals chose former lawyer and Chatham MLA Frank McKenna as their next leader. McKenna crafted his campaign around a focus on the perceived Hatfield government failures on the economy and job creation, accusing the PCs of being poor economic managers (Bricklin a stark example) and forcing New Brunswickers to leave the province to find a steady job elsewhere (outmigration). McKenna was also able to successfully tie Hatfield to the at-the-time unpopular Mulroney government, which had just come out of the controversial Meech Lake negotiations and was being blasted on all sides for various issues.

Calling the 1987 Liberal campaign “successful” is a vast understatement. With just over 60% of the vote, McKenna’s Liberals won all 58 seats in the Legislature, sweeping away Hatfield’s Tories and creating an awkward situation for the new government, which had no Opposition to contend with for at least four years. The solution was the creation of an “unofficial opposition” of backbench MLAs who would hold the government to account – more or less.

As Premier, McKenna was not too focused on the issue of Acadian rights (though he was widely respected by Acadians for defending a local boxing champion in a widely-publicized trial), but instead on the issue of jobs, growth, and improving the government’s relationship with the public. Under his leadership, the Liberals made wide investments to encourage small and large business growth in the province, creating viable long-term jobs for New Brunswickers, and reduced the size of bloated government departments. McKenna also worked on improving the government’s relationship with the public, though was criticised for expanding communications personnel on the public payroll and his gimmicky toll-free 1-800-MCKENNA number.

However, in the 1991 election the ugly issue of the Anglophone/Acadian divide came back to the forefront in the form of the Confederation of Regions Party, or CoR. Previously a fringe right-wing party with little support, the party grew after Tories disillusioned with Hatfield’s legacy of Acadian accommodation flocked to the party, including a few former cabinet members. In the 1988 federal election, the first signs of the coming rise of CoR came when the federal party scored 4.3% in New Brunswick, playing off the provincial Acadian divide as well as Mulroney’s image as a Francophone/Quebec appeaser, somewhat mirroring the rise of the Reform Party in Western Canada.

With the provincial Tories still in disarray and stained by unpopular association with the federal PC government, CoR managed to become the Official Opposition with 8 seats – all Anglophone ridings – on 21% of the vote while the PCs clawed their way back, barely, with three seats at 20%. The split vote among the two conservative, Anglophone-based parties allowed the Liberals to return with another strong majority, a situation that, again, would end up mirroring federal results. CoR didn’t last long however, falling to internal discord between the party’s moderate nuts and nuttier nuts over leadership of the party, and by 1995 fell to under 10% of the vote and zero seats.

McKenna won final re-election in 1995 versus now-federal cabinet member Bernard Valcourt at the helm of the PCs, but in 1997 announced his surprise resignation, ten years to the day since he was elected. McKenna went on to work in the private sector and eventually became the Canadian ambassador to the US, as well as the federal Liberal Party’s mythical saviour for a while. He was replaced on a permanent basis as leader and Premier by Kent South MLA Camille Thériault, who led the “unofficial opposition” in the legislature after the 1987 sweep and served as a cabinet member after 1991. Thériault tried to take a slightly different tack than McKenna, focusing on improving social services in the province, though banked on the the McKenna legacy’s continued appeal to muddle his government through the next election. Instead, Thériault’s Liberals fell to the Tories led by a young Moncton lawyer named Bernard Lord, who used the government’s complacency to score a massive upset in the 1999 election.

Bernard Lord (1999-2006)

Lord, elected as Tory leader in 1997, campaigned on a theme of “change” from the tired Liberal government with great success, promising “200 Days of Change,” in which Lord made twenty specific commitments his government would accomplish within 200 days of taking office. These promises ranged from providing a breakfast program for elementary school students, halving government communications staff, and creating 300 nursing positions, though some promises like the elimination of an unpopular highway toll between Moncton and Fredericton apparently went unfulfilled. Though the government’s laser-like focus on the “200 Days” platform caused critics to say that the government was focusing on gimmicks rather than actual governing, the claimed success earned praise for the Lord government from most corners of the province.

However, the new Tory government soon ran into trouble as time went on and issues started to pile up. Lord’s government started facing off against stiff opposition after the Liberals, under new leader Shawn Graham, capitalized on voter anger over skyrocketing auto insurance rates in the province going into the 2003 election. The Liberal campaign ran flawlessly against the fumbling Tories, whose changing positions on key issues contrasted starkly with Graham’s focused platform and government criticism. In the end the Lord government was re-elected with a bare majority – 28 seats to 26 seats for the Liberals and one New Democrat, a virtually untenable position. Just 4,000 votes separated the two main contenders from each other across the province, though unlike previous polarized elections in the Hatfield era, this one did not feature as stark a divide between Anglophone and Francophone counties – the Liberals and PCs were both led by fluently bilingual men from the southeast of the province, and there was little real difference between the party platforms.

The Tory government continued to function, barely, and started dropping in the polls as the government was forced to take unpopular stances, notably with changes to the health care system that closed beds at hospitals in rural areas and unpopular consolidations of hospitals in the Upper Saint John River Valley (areas surrounding Fredericton, Carleton, and Victoria). Graham’s Liberals continued to gain in popularity while Lord was forced to call a snap election in 2006 after the resignation of one of his members reduced his government to a minority in the legislature.

Shawn Graham (2006-2010)

The 2006 campaign featured a tight, too-close-to-call race throughout five weeks that had everyone on the edge of their seats. The Tories campaigned on jobs, healthcare, and Lord’s leadership (and Graham’s lack of it), and by copying some of the tactics from their successful 1999 campaign, including the “twenty promises” idea. The Liberals put out an extensive platform with 250 promises, but most focused on specific themes of education, economic development, and the emerging issue of energy prices (an issue that jumped to the forefront due to the government’s introduction of gas price regulation at the beginning of the year). In the end, Graham managed to lead his Liberals to a majority government with 29 seats to the PC’s 26, though the Liberals lost the popular vote by 1,300 votes. This election continued the positive trend for the party in Anglophone ridings, with the Liberals winning a large number of districts, including sweeping Fredericton and holding three of Saint John’s four seats.

Shawn Graham enjoyed a popular honeymoon early upon taking office, at one point leading with two-thirds popular support in polls. The new Premier acted on some of his promises quickly, cutting the excise tax on gasoline, reduced student tuition, setting aside funds to improve ferry service, and a bunch of other things aimed at pleasing everyone he possibly could. Things continued to go well, with by-election wins and defections from the PCs testifying to the government’s popularity, but issues started piling up one by one. The refurbishment of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Reactor, a costly and controversial venture, started coming into focus; changes to French early immersion in favour of universal curriculum caused considerable opposition (and made Kelly Lamrock, then Education Minister, a popular person to hate); the economic downturn then hit and turned the province’s $12-million surplus into a $285-million deficit; costly bailouts to unpopular corporations caused people to question the government’s judgement; and then, finally, the sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec.

In fairness to the Graham government, this idea seemed like a good one at first, with Hydro-Québec promising to take on the massive debt of NB Power and freezing residential electricity rates in the province for five years. In exchange, most of the energy-related assets (including generation, transmission, and distribution) owned by the province would be transferred to Hydro-Québec’s – essentially giving the government of Quebec control over power and transmission in the province. This of course raised the heckles of other Premiers, specifically Danny Williams of Newfoundland & Labrador, who opposed the deal for several reasons (Quebec and NL have a longstanding rivalry over energy in the region), but provincial business groups widely supported the move, and the decision was supported by audits from independent sources showing that ratepayers would save over $5-billion thanks to the deal.

However, the Tories and New Democrats, under new leaders David Alward and Roger Duguay respectively, saw their opportunity and vigorously stated their opposition to the sale of NB Power, calling it a reckless sellout. Local advocacy groups started to encourage New Brunswickers to build up popular pushback against the government, holding protests outside the offices of government members and cabinet ministers. Eventually a poll showed that nearly 60% of residents opposed the deal, compared to just 22% that supported it. This lead initially to an attempted renegotiation of the deal, but eventually the entire thing fell through. Discredited and unpopular, the Liberals and Shawn Graham then had to call an election.

2010 Election

Eric has a good post on the provincial election from 2010 that I’d recommend people visit to get more detail, but essentially it went really, really poorly for the Graham Liberals. The attempted NB Power sale had completely ruined the government’s reputation, leading many to question Graham’s judgement as Premier and his overall competence. The early opposition from the PCs, even if somewhat hypocritical given the Lord government’s own similar attempts to sell off assets, gave David Alward and his strategists an easy attack line versus the government, while overall playing up a cautious platform. Many of the less severe issues during Graham’s tenure came back to haunt the government, leading to a death by a thousand cuts – vigorous local campaigns targeted several ministers, including Kelly Lamrock and Energy Minister Jack Keir, for their roles in Liberal debacles.

Alward and the Tories ended up winning a fairly impressive victory over the Liberals, with 48.8% support over the Liberal’s 34.5%, a massive swing from 2006 and the lowest recorded level of popular support for the Liberals in their history. Their previous gains in Anglophone New Brunswick were also rolled back, with all but one of the Liberal’s remaining thirteen seats located in Acadian ridings. A rise in support for the New Democrats, as well as the arrival of two new parties – the provincial Greens under former Liberal Jack MacDougall and the People’s Alliance under former Tory Kris Austin – took chunks out of the two major parties’ support. And to add insult to injury, Graham’s government became the first one-term government in the provinces history.

Alward Government

Like his predecessor, Alward came into power with an impressive honeymoon period, but it didn’t last long. By mid-2012, the Tories were already falling behind in the polls as the fairly hapless government stumbled into issue after issue with little to else to say. While the Alward government introduced some popular reforms to pension programs and a prescription drug program, the former of which received quite a bit of support from all sides, the government’s popularity nosedived after a rise in the income tax (that Alward promised he wouldn’t do in 2010), somewhat shady backroom deals (particularly with the forestry industry), and patronage appointments to campaign managers and former MLAs, things that as Opposition leader Alward had criticised Graham for doing. The continuing sad state of the government’s budget, increasing outmigration due to high unemployment, and other various issues also chipped away at the government’s confidence.

In late 2013, escalating protests and RCMP intervention near Rexton made national headlines. The protesters, many of whom were members of the Elsipogtog First Nation nearby, were angry over continuing shale gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing development (“fracking”) in the area, concerned about its impact on the environment after media reporting on the mining process raised alarms in the public. This issue had been stewing for a while and finally exploded after the RCMP intervened to clear road blocks, only furthering the protesters’ anger.

The Alward government, despite popular opinion generally being on the side of the protesters, continued to defend fracking as safe and the best way to create jobs in the province, especially in the Acadian east. The New Democrats and new leader Dominic Cardy seized on the opportunity to make hay out of the issue, calling for legislated bans and moratoriums on fracking and expressing support, if somewhat guarded, for the protests. The Liberals, under new leader Brian Gallant, were much more reserved with their opinion, though finally settled in opposition to continued fracking until more studies were complete. The issue also breathed new life into the Green Party and its new leader, David Coon, a well-known environmentalist who made vocal statements against the industry and its potential impact.

By the time the 2014 election was called, the Alward Tories were sitting behind the Liberals by, in some cases, twenty points or more. Combined with the unpopularity of the federal Conservative government’s EI reforms and the rise of federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, the Alward government looked pretty much cooked – however that was far from the only story, as we’ll get into now.

The 2014 Campaign – Parties, Leaders & Platforms

Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick

pc-logoThe New Brunswick Progressive Conservatives, like their cousins in other Atlantic Canadian provinces, tend to be more moderate (sometimes called “Red Toryism”) than the current incarnation of the federal Conservative Party, though by comparison they are probably the most “conservative” of the Conservatives in the region, simply by nature of their party base in the rural, religious areas in the southwest of the province (Upper Saint John River Valley) and their pro-business base in cities like Saint John, Moncton, and Fredericton. Since Hatfield, they also retain support in a few Acadian ridings with popular local members, such as Madeliene Dubé in Edmundston or Paul Robichaud in Lamèque-Shippagan-Miscou. However the PC base is undoubtedly located in the rural south of the province, with strong support in Carleton, York, Charlotte, Sunbury, Queens, Kings, and Albert counties, with significant support in Victoria and Northumberland as well.

As mentioned above, David Alward led the Tories to government in 2010 but failed to remain popular as issues piled up at his government’s feet. There seemed to be a sense of “drift” with the government, despite proposing some good reforms here and there – there just didn’t seem to be a major motivation to do, well, anything, and the government instead had to react to issues to get itself moving, taking controversial but polarizing stances on things like support for fracking in the province. This could have been due to the general feeling that the government was going down to defeat no matter what, and only until the campaign did that idea ever turn around.

The PC platform was released halfway through the campaign reflected this malaise, with the uninspiring slogan of “Say Yes!”. The platform focused mostly on general accolades about improving the economy, job creation, and how awesome they are compared to the mess left behind by the Liberals. The platform also showed that the PCs were ready to double down on their support for fracking, with clear support for the industry and various promises about supporting it and other industries (forestry, the Energy East pipeline, etc.) as a way to employ New Brunswickers. The calculation here is slightly puzzling, given fracking’s unpopularity in the province – though at the same time, it’s likely they believed it couldn’t hurt any worse than they already were.

New Brunswick Liberal Association

liberal-logoThe Liberals in New Brunswick are, and remain, the traditional opposition to the Tories, though often times the differences between the two are hard to decipher. Many Liberals are proud of their history of supporting Acadian equality and the progress made under Robichaud, though many previous Liberal Premiers served impressive terms as well. Like most other Canadian Liberals, the NBLA has its bout of reformist impulses but generally carries forward a status-quo agenda, leading to accusations of being a party of government rather than ideology, unlike the New Democrats and various conservative parties. The Liberal base is in the rural Acadian counties – Madawaska, Restigouche, Gloucester, Kent, and Westmorland – as well as pockets of support in Victoria and Northumberland counties. The Liberals also do well, on a good day, in Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton, but the cities remain a battleground. As an aside, the NBLA is also officially linked with the federal Liberals, a rarity these days, but a useful one as the two sides share resources during elections.

After such a stinging defeat in 2010, the Liberals remained in some disarray as they tried to refocus. Graham resigned as Leader and was replaced by Shediac-Beaubassin-Cap-Pelé MLA and former Finance Minister Victor Boudreau until the leadership selection in October 2012. Three people entered the race, all of them not members of the Legislature – Brian Gallant, who previously ran against Bernard Lord in 2006; Mike Murphy, former cabinet member and MLA; and Nick Duivenvoorden, former mayor of Belledune, an Acadian town in northern New Brunswick. Many other prominent Liberals declined, which was taken to be a bad sign. Gallant ended up cruising to an easy victory over Murphy, though there was some controversy over the electronic voting process – kind of a theme as we’ll see – leading to hilarity when the Tories’ executive director managed to register his dog and vote online in the contest.

Gallant, a young Moncton lawyer with no previous political experience outside of his run in 2006, won a subsequent by-election in the riding of Kent, vacated by former Premier Shawn Graham. Kent, of course, is right in the heart of the protests against fracking (though the by-election was before the protests erupted into riots), making for a possibly interesting race (it wasn’t). He immediately became popular as opposition to Alward continued to grow, and comparisons were made favourably between him and federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau when the latter was elected in April 2013 – both were young, bilingual up-and-comers who seemed to earn accolades for doing nothing.

The Liberal platform is fairly insipid – and I say that as a Liberal supporter. Much like the PC platform, it focuses on bland assurances that we’ll invest money into this and that to create jobs and make your life better, unlike those dastardly Tories. This election campaign is boring in terms of party platforms, with all the parties sprinkling goodies around here and there but lacking anything inspiring to say. A couple things stand out, such as lowering the small business corporate tax rate to just 2.5% and increasing the taxes on the “richest 1%,” a clear attempt at populism that kind of falls flat, but that may just be me.

On the outstanding issues, the Liberals took the stance of proposing a moratorium on fracking in the province, a position that gave them some breathing space as it was/is the popular position to take, at least among their base, and provided clear contrast with the PCs. Another issue, though mostly among the Liberals and New Democrats and a select few advocacy groups, was abortion services in the province; New Brunswick has some of the most restrictive policies on abortion in Canada (though not as bad as PEI), and the closure of the Mortengaler Clinic in 2013 highlighted the issue among activists on both sides. Gallant, though himself pro-choice and supportive of removing barriers to abortion services, initially waffled back and forth on whether he would whip his caucus when it came to a vote. He eventually relented and said he would, but not before he was knocked around by the NDP and others for being unclear on the issue, and gaining opposition from anti-choice groups in the meantime.

As the campaign went on, Gallant ended up becoming something of a gaffe-machine and less-than-inspiring on the campaign trail, causing support for the Liberals to shrivel quite a bit. The most severe incident occurred during an interview with Gallant on CBC News on September 12th, just nine days before the vote. In it he incorrectly stated numbers relating to his promise to increase taxes on the richest residents, and had to ask for a “redo” (similar to Dion’s infamous interview, though this wasn’t unfairly characterised as that was) five hours later to give the correct numbers. Obviously this didn’t help his reputation at all, and caused a lot of worry up at Liberal HQ (as well as in Ottawa I imagine, where federal Liberal minders worry about Justin’s own gaffe-making tendencies).

New Brunswick New Democratic Party

ndp-logoIf you’ve read everything above, you’ll notice that I rarely mention anything about the NDP in the province’s political history. This is because the NDP’s particular brand of social democratic politics had a rough time catching on in Atlantic Canada, despite strong support for government intervention, fairly robust labour industries (fishing, logging, shipbuilding, etc.), and a need for effective for social services. Part of the problem is the traditional “red-blue” division and patronage, but also that the Liberals and Tories in the eastern provinces tend to be moderate, and the need for a more radical reform party like the NDP isn’t necessary. That said, the New Democrats have had recent success in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, taking the place of the Liberals in major urban centres with left-leaning populations and making inroads among rural ridings as well – well, they were successes, but have unfortunately been rolled back with the defeat of the Dexter government in Nova Scotia and the collapse of the NDP in Newfoundland.

Outside of PEI, the New Democrats in New Brunswick are the weakest provincial cousins, having never held more than two seats in its entire history (the second came from a by-election win in 1984, who crossed the floor to the Liberals in the same term), and reached a previous high of  only 11% under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF, banner in 1944. The party earned its first seat in the 1982 with a surprise win in Tantramar, a seat which was lost in the 1987 Liberal sweep. Greater success came when Elizabeth Weir was elected leader and won her seat in Saint John Harbour in 1991, and held it until her resignation in 2005. Since Weir’s resignation however, the NDP have been shut out of the Legislature.

Weir resigned both her party leadership and then her seat after being appointed by the Lord government to head up Effiency NB, a crown corporation. She was replaced as leader by Allison Brewer, a Fredericton-based social activist who incredibly, somehow, managed to decide to not run in the by-election to replace Weir in Saint John Harbour, which the NDP subsequently lost – badly. Brewer then led her party to its worst result since 1974 in the 2006 election, and resigned shortly thereafter.

The next NDP leader was Roger Duguay, an Acadian and former Catholic priest who earned the most votes as an NDP candidate in the province in 2006. Duguay led the party to mild success in 2010, improving the NDP vote in Acadian areas of the province but overall falling short of winning any seats, himself going down to defeat in Tracadie-Sheila by a fairly wide margin.

In 2011, the NDP took another shot at this leadership thing, acclaiming NDP activist Dominic Cardy as their leader. Cardy had previously worked as a campaign director in 2010 and co-founded moderate internal factions inside the federal NDP (modeled after the politics of Gary Doer, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schröder). In a 2012 by-election in Rothesay, Cardy finished a strong third in a traditionally Tory riding, impressing many despite falling short.

Following his debut, the NDP were hitting highs in public support not seen previously, reaching 27% support – two points behind the PCs, though fourteen behind the Liberals – in May 2013. This confirmed Cardy as a serious contender in the eyes of a lot of pundits, but his changes to party policy, especially in the last year, have alienated former supporters, including former leader Allison Brewer. Their complaints stem over the direction the party was heading, especially in tone, with Cardy adopting “right-populist” appeals, taking on the language of the right – lower taxes, effective but lean government, fiscal responsibility – while combining it with general social democratic values on services and social issues. Though the party started dropping in the polls following Gallant’s arrival, Cardy was successfully able to recruit ex-Liberals (including Kelly Lamrock) and ex-Tories, most notably sitting Hampton-Kings MLA Bev Harrison, to run for his party in this election.

The NDP platform, to its credit, is much more fleshed out than its major party competitors (to the point of being a wall’o’text). The focus is definitely on job creation, balancing budgets, and providing strong support for small businesses, while paying lip service to the traditional NDP muses of social justice and improving government services.

Much like the Liberals, the NDP’s stance on shale gas exploration and fracking changed over the course of the last year, though in the opposite direction. In October 2013, Cardy had stated that he would push for and sign an immediate moratorium on all development; by the time the campaign had rolled around, the NDP had a more nuanced position, calling for a two-year waiting period on development, royalties, and a free vote in the Legislature. This opened up a critical flank on the NDP’s environmental left, with the Liberals and Greens calling out Cardy as “flip-flopping” on the issue. It’s obvious why the direction was taken, however – one of the biggest opportunities for jobs in the province comes from resource development, and that’s what the NDP are all about.

Green Party of New Brunswick

green-logoThe NB Greens are one of the latest additions to the Canadian Green family, forming following a November 2008 convention in Moncton. The party was created at the spurring of federal and provincial organizers, in particular Jack MacDougall, a former Liberal Party organizer and leadership candidate in 2002 who switched parties and became the Maritimes Organizer for the federal Greens in August 2008.

The Green Party in Canada has been around for a couple of decades, but has only really come into focus – especially in Atlantic Canada – in the last decade. In the 2004 election, the first featuring the new leaner and meaner Conservative Party of Canada (the result of the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance/Reform parties), the federal Greens managed an impressive breakthrough, winning over 4% of the vote across Canada, though no seats. Under Torontonian Jim Harris, the Greens combined pro-environmental policies with fiscal conservatism (“blue greens”), appealing to a fair number of different demographics – the Greens manage to win support in both cities and rural areas, with their biggest trouble spot being in Quebec.

Following two unsuccessful elections, Harris stepped aside and was replaced by Elizabeth May, an environment activist and lawyer from Nova Scotia. May has an appeal about her that many appreciate – she is a friendly, positive, and open-minded person who has found a way to connect with voters, though she has faced criticism over perceived centralization of the Party around her. She ran unsuccessfully in a 2008 by-election in London, Ontario, but ended up a surprisingly close second to the Liberals, increasing her profile by leaps and bounds. May ran in the riding of Central Nova in the 2008 federal election against Conservative cabinet member Peter MacKay, ending up an impressive second once again, though nowhere close to winning. The important aspect of that election, however, was her inclusion in the televised leaders’ debates – May was now a major federal player, and the Greens had increased profile across the country, including in New Brunswick.

In 2011, May became the first elected Green parliamentarian by winning a seat in British Columbia, despite her party losing nearly half of its vote from the 2008 election. This strategy of pouring resources into one riding has shown some success; not only has it netted May a win, but in 2013 a Green was elected in the BC provincial election. At the same time, it is fairly controversial, given that other ridings suffer to put up a good showing without any resources – according to some estimates, over half of the federal Green Electoral District Associations have become inactive or deregistered in the past few years.

The New Brunswick Greens made a significant splash in the 2010 provincial election under leader Jack MacDougall, winning 4.5% of the vote and posting impressive numbers, but no wins, in several ridings. MacDougall resigned in 2011 and was replaced by David Coon a year later. Coon is well-known in New Brunswick, heading up the Conservation Council of New Brunswick for nearly three decades and spearheading several initiatives, such as one to make the fisheries working in the Bay of Fundy sustainable, or establishing nature parks and forests near local communities. Much like the federal Greens, Coon focused on prioritizing the Green’s resources on getting him elected in his riding for this election.

The Green platform reflects left-of-centre Green politics, which in addition to being environmentally focused includes a lot of community-based policies, anti-corporate measures, and citizen activist stands. This particular platform makes promises that you don’t see anywhere else, such as capping corporate ownership of print media to 40%, an overhaul of the Right to Information Act, and taxing junk food. It is by far the most left-wing platform of the parties on record, and of course includes admonishments against fracking and what it sees as unsustainable primary industries practices.

People’s Alliance of New Brunswick

panb-logoThe People’s Alliance (or PANB) is a small populist party founded in 2010 by Kris Austin, an interdenominational minister and Deputy Mayor from Minto, a town in central New Brunswick. Austin unsuccessfully ran for the PC nomination in the riding of Grand Lake-Gagetown in 2009, but lost to eventual winner Ross Wetmore. He formed the PANB in response to the NB Power debacle of the Graham government, citing the PC’s uninspiring opposition to the sale and calling for open votes and more MLA independence in the Legislature.

The PANB is a strange creature. Though characterized sometimes as “Tea Party populist,” it seems a tad unfair. The party is certainly right-wing in nature, but it is not a social conservative outfit nor is it really libertarian in economics, though it can be when it comes to certain government decisions. Most of the Alliance’s rhetoric focuses on the perceived entitlement of the two major parties, MLAs, and bureaucrats. It is, in many ways, kind of a right-wing mirror of the Green Party.

One way it is not is in its anti-bilingualism policies. Since 2010, some – particularly in the Acadian media – have said Austin is attempting to emulate the CoR Party of the 90’s. Two party members, including a prospective candidate, made a public split with the party in 2012 over perceived anti-Francophone sentiments from Austin, including his opposition to duality in the education and health care systems, and that the province should loosen restrictions on language requirements for those in the civil service (saying Anglophones are discriminated against). However, that is countered with the PANB’s platform which, while somewhat criticizing bilingualism requirements, proposes to increase education and training to meet the demands of requirements, while also freeing up private businesses to do as they please.

Speaking of, the PANB platform this year focuses on the economy, with upfront calls to reduce the corporate tax rate, eliminate the small business income tax, and bring in a Saskatchewan-style royalties system for resource extraction in the province. Many of their platform statements also end with “Cost Estimate: Zero cost the government,” and promotion of fiscally sound policies. The party also proposes to repeal the “mandatory” aspect of the PC government’s recently introduced prescription drug program, instead making it available on a voluntary basis (which kind of misses the point). This is all in addition to the previous calls for more legislative freedom, community solutions, and so on – including a referendum, not just a free vote, on shale gas fracking.



Unlike in the larger provinces or federal politics, polling in New Brunswick (and the other Atlantic provinces) is scarce with just one company, Corporate Research Associates of Halifax, NS (CRA), doing a poll of voting intentions every three months. We got a little but more in the campaign as CRA put out a couple of polls mid-campaign alongside ones from Forum Research, a Toronto-based company that is probably the most regular pollster in Canada, and as such tends to receive a lot of flak for when pollsters get elections wrong.

That situation didn’t change, with Forum’s final poll for September 21st showing a tied vote, at 40% a piece for the Liberals and PCs. However, the overall trend was pretty clear – as the campaign went on, the PCs started gaining steam while the Liberals and NDP fell back.


Turnout was 65.38%, down just over 4% from 2010, a continuing trend across the country, though New Brunswick remains slightly above-average in terms for voter participation.

Liberal – 42.73% (+8.31%) – 27 seats (+14)
PC – 34.65% (-14.19%) – 21 seats (-21)
Green – 6.61% (+2.07%) – 1 seat (+1)
NDP – 12.98% (+2.57%) 0 seats (nc)
PANB – 2.14% (+0.97%) 0 seats (nc)
Others – 0.89% (+0.28%) 0 seats (nc)

new brunswick-2014

And so New Brunswickers woke up on September 23rd with a new Liberal government, and yet another one-term Premier being shown the door. However, no one knew what was happening on election night itself.

New Brunswick was piloting electronic voting tabulators for this provincial election, a new idea in Canada that has been slow to gain traction outside of municipal elections. Most elections, including federal, are counted by hand at polling divisions within ridings, verified and sent back to a riding elections officer, and then on to Elections Canada through various routes. It is a laborious process that takes time and a lot of volunteers, but issues with the tabulators on September 22nd did not help convince many that changing to these newfangled technology machines was a good idea.

Roughly an hour and a half into the election night broadcasts, voting tabulation stopped dead for two hours, right at the point when there were just a handful of votes in about four ridings separating either the Liberals or PCs from a majority government – literally it was at a tie in seats. Elections New Brunswick defended the tabulator machines (which are used in places like Toronto), saying instead the problem related to the computer program used to enter in the results coming in from the tabulators. Concerns led to calls for manual recounts, but in the end, the results were certified by Elections NB and the PCs had to concede defeat.

Despite holding an impressive margin of 8% over the PCs, the Liberals came away with a bare majority, holding an effective 26 (minus the Speaker, usually a member selected from the government caucus) seats versus 22 for the opposition. Had a handful of votes gone another away, flipping just three seats over to the PCs, the Liberals would be in a minority territory – one more, and they’d be facing a majority PC government instead.

Gallant had a very rough campaign, with his judgement and effectiveness questioned at every turn by a well-run PC campaign that had the unfortunate job of rolling a huge liability up a very steep hill indeed, plus the addition of a stronger NDP and Green presence which didn’t help matters.

In the end though, the Liberals did win, mostly by taking back their old Acadian strongholds from the PCs. Huge swings in ridings such as Tracadie-Sheila (43% PC to Lib), a heavily Francophone riding that was contested by former NDP Leader Roger Duguay in 2010 but went PC, flipped over early on in the night, as did Kent South (23.3%), Restigouche West (35.4%), Madawaska-Les Lacs (34.4%) – all four of which had incumbent PC members – as well as many others.

The Liberals did have some successes in Anglophone ridings, in particular Carleton-Victoria (23.7%) and Charlotte-Campobello (20.6%), but these were the exception rather than the rule. Among the Francophone ridings, the swing to the Liberals from 2010 was just under 25%; among Anglophone ridings, it was only 15.1%. If we were to break down the Anglophone swing even more, we’d likely see that most of it comes from Moncton and Miramichi, while in Fredericton and Saint John saw the Liberals lose votes, raising serious questions about their future, under Gallant, in those two cities. The three saints won in those cities – Fredericton North, Saint John Harbour, and Saint John East – were all won with super-slim margins, including just 8 votes (!) in Saint John East. Some of this can be attributed to the rise in NDP support in those cities, however a lot of the blame for this fumble rests on the Liberal campaign (and its leader).

On the bright side, they took back control of most of the Moncton ridings, which had been in Tory hands since Bernard Lord was Premier. Moncton is a city split by the bilingualism, and though the Liberals did well in the two Francophone ridings in 2010 – Dieppe and Moncton Centre – and the rurban conglomeration of Shediac Bay-Dieppe (where Gallant ran this election), they lagged behind the Tories in the city’s other four ridings (five if you include Riverview, a town across the Petitcodiac River). This year they increased their majorities in their held ridings, while knocking off two notional Tory holds from 2010 and threatening the others with close calls. You can either contribute this rise to Gallant’s connections to Moncton or a general settling back of a pattern of Liberal support in the area.

The Tories certainly had to enjoy election night, despite losing. They maintained a very strong presence in the Legislature, and were really only a handful of votes away from being re-elected. At the same time they took a lot of beatings across the province, especially in their Acadian ridings, losing long-time and presumably safe incumbents to massive swings – they even nearly lost Madeleine Dubé, the safest Francophone incumbent, who won re-election by just 243 votes – in 2010 she won by over 3,000 votes.

However the Tories did end up with some very close calls in Anglophone ridings. In Oromocto-Lincoln, where redistribution dropped incumbent MLA (and probably leadership candidate) Jody Carr’s majority from 81% to 56.5%, the Liberals put a strong challenge, probably mostly inside the friendly Fredericton suburban community of Lincoln. The PCs also faced strong challenges in their two remaining Moncton seats (Southwest and Northwest) from the Liberals. Yet the biggest challenge for many PCs in their ridings occurred not just because of the Liberals gaining ground, but because the NDP saw their support rise intensely in these otherwise strong Tory ridings, showing how well Cardy’s right-populist message appealed. Ridings like Kings Centre, Hampton, Fredericton-York, and Fredericton West-Hanwell (where Cardy ran) saw huge increases in New Democrat support, threatening to topple long-time Tory incumbents in ultra-safe ridings had the Liberals managed just a few hundred more votes in each. With a traditional campaign and traditional rhetoric, the NDP would not have seen those increases in popular support. Alward, after the business with the tabulators was done, announced his resignation from the PC leadership.

Despite their impressive success in many ridings across the province, the NDP, and Dominic Cardy, ended up with nothing to show for it. No New Democrat came within 5% of winning a riding – the closest margins being Cardy in Fredericton West-Hanwell, who lost by a margin of 5.6% or 469 votes, followed by Gary Stackhouse in Saint John Harbour (10.8% margin, or 566 votes) and Kelly Lamrock in Fredericton South (10.9%, or 807 votes). They lost support in most Acadian ridings from Duguay’s previous highs in the region, while falling prey to vote splitting with the Liberals and Greens everywhere else, especially in ridings like Saint John Harbour where an ex-NDP candidate ran and garnered 13% for the Greens. Cardy immediately announced his resignation on election night, probably for the best – despite leading the NDP to their best-ever result in popular support (13%), they remain irrelevant without an actual member in the Legislature, a fact now even more compounded by the success of the smaller Greens.

Outside of the Liberals winning a majority, the two smaller parties had their best nights ever. There is the obvious surprise win for Green Leader David Coon in Fredericton South, the party’s first win outside of British Columbia, an amazing event that knocked off a Tory minister and cemented yet another milestone in the Green Party’s continued momentum across the country, which is patchy but clearly on the upswing. Though it’s just one seat, it’s one more than the NDP, who garnered almost twice as much support across the province, have in the next Legislature. As a CBC commentator pointed out on election night, the Greens will now be treated as the third party in the province, with the media going to Coon for his opinion on the government’s actions rather than the next NDP leader.

The Greens also posted strong numbers in other ridings, including the aforementioned Saint John Harbour; Kent North (second place with 18.2%) and Kent South (third place with 10%), the two ridings at the epicenter of the fracking protests; Memramcook-Tantramar (third place with 15.3%); and Fredericton North (fourth place with 10.3%). Whether Coon’s presence in the Legislature can turn into more victories remains to be seen, but still it must definitely an exciting time to be a Green.

Coon’s success overshadows the near-miss for the other small party leader, Kris Austin. The PANB managed to run a few more candidates in this election (14 in 2010 to 18 in 2014), but there seemed to be a definite upswing for the populist party across the province. Austin managed to make his run in Fredericton-Grand Lake (his base is in Minto, a town located in the riding on the shores of Grand Lake) supremely close, with the PC incumbent, Pam Lynch, winning with a bare 0.3% or a mere 26 vote difference, in a tight three-way race with the Liberal candidate less than a 80 votes behind. Across the province the party earned an extra 3,500 votes (around 1,200 of which came from Austin alone), which is impressive for a party without any federal ties and little name recognition. However, without Austin in the Legislature, and this election likely being his best chance to win a seat, it’s hard to see that success continuing in the future, especially if Austin decides to not run again.


This election has takeaway lessons for every party. The Liberals were ultimately successful, but Gallant’s gaffes and inability to counter the Tory attacks nearly cost them; the PCs lost but were able to use wedge issues like fracking and leadership to retain significant support; the NDP increased their share of the vote among conservatives and became more credible on certain issues, yet failed to motivate their traditional base and impress enough voters to actually gain a seat; and the Greens won yet another seat with a popular activist, but poor results everywhere else show that their movement may not have the broad support needed to affect the change they want. All of these lessons can be, and very likely will be, taken into account for the federal parties’ strategies in the upcoming federal election.

For now, Gallant has the challenge of governing a province that is, more or less, on the decline, all without the ability to outright switch his position on the crucial issue of fracking. The new government was sworn in on October 7th with a smaller cabinet but much larger responsibilities – if Gallant wants to remain in charge in four years, he and his ministers need to forge a different path than the previous two one-term governments before him did. Whether it is in them remains to be seen.

A more immediate concern for the Liberals is a by-election – yes, a by-election. Barely successful Liberal candidate Gary Keating in Saint John East, who won by eight votes, decided to resign his seat two weeks after being elected due to family and health problems, and being unable to do the work he was elected to do. Thanks to this poor foresight on his part, Liberals must be shaking their heads – there is a fairly good chance they’ll lose this by-election, reducing their majority from 27 to 26 seats, effectively 25 with the Speaker as a neutral member, versus 23 members of the Opposition. Yikes.

Finally, the results in New Brunswick represent the fifth straight major election that a party with the name “Liberal” has won in Canada, reversing a previous trend that saw every provincial Liberal party suffering some sort of defeat (culminating in the historical third-place loss for the federal Liberals in May 2011). It is also the third straight vote in which an incumbent government lost re-election. Both these trends look set to continue with the upcoming Newfoundland & Labrador provincial election and polls indicate the same for the 2015 federal election as well.

Voters across the country seem relatively displeased with their governments in the last few years, though when offered a different choice at election time, the incumbents or traditional parties seem to retain a lot more support than expected by pollsters and pundits. It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.


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