Category Archives: Referendums

Italy referendums 2011

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

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 The third question repealed a law allowing for the construction of nuclear power plants in Italy. The fourth question repealed Berlusconi’s immunity law which allows for the immunity of sitting ministers and of the President of the Council facing criminal charges.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

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

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

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English locals and AV comments

Continuing from yesterday’s post on elections to devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales, today comes an overview of the results of local elections in England as well as an overview of the AV referendum held on May 5.

English locals

In the patchwork of English local government, 279 councils of various types were up for reelection and in half the entirety was up and in the other half only a third was up. In all 36 metropolitan boroughs, a third was up. In 30 unitary authorities (UAs) the entirety was up while in 19 UAs only a third was up. In 126 district authorities, the whole council was up and in 68 districts a third was up. Finally, five direct mayoral elections were held. I believe these particular seats were last contested in 2007, though I’m probably wrong. These elections are notable for being the first held under a Tory government in years, and the first locals in a very, very long time where the LibDems are in government. As you all know, government hasn’t been a good experience for LibDems.

The headline results are:

Conservative 157 councils (+4) and 4820 councillors (+81)
Labour 57 councils (+26) and 2392 councillors (+800)
LibDems 10 councils (-9) and 1056 councillors (-695)
Residents Association 1 council (nc) and 48 councillors (-3)
Others 0 councils (-1) and 602 councillors (-177)
Green 78 councillors (+13)
Liberal 8 councillors (-2)
UKIP 7 councillors (nc)
Boston Bypass Indies 0 councils (-1) and 4 councillors (-14)
BNP 2 councillors (-11)
EDs 2 councillors (+1)
Independent Community and Health Concern 1 councillor (-3)

The BBC’s results page has fuller details on all councils. The overall picture is favourable to Labour, slightly favourable to the Tories and a disaster for the Liberal Democrats. The LibDems have obviously been hit for their participation in cabinet, but the Conservatives themselves haven’t suffered all that much from the government’s relative unpopularity. It has kept its base intact, which obviously can’t be said of the LibDems.

In the details, the LibDems suffered numerous routs in various cities in northern England where they had managed to build themselves a base in local government. They had already lost Liverpool, which they had held since 1998, in 2010, and suffered an utter rout there after a pathetic campaign which allowed Labour to win a supermajority, picking up 11 seats for a total of 62 against 22 LibDems. A pitiful result. Labour picked up its largest target in the region, Newcastle, held by the LibDems since 2004, with a gain of 10 seats from the LibDems to take 43 seats against 32 LibDems. In Sheffield (Clegg’s home turf), governed by the LibDems since 2008, Labour gained 9 seats to take 49 seats against 32 LibDems and enough for absolute control. I haven’t run through all the details, but the general word is that the LibDems seem to have performed better in places where contests were Tory/LD.

AV referendum

When Nick Clegg accepted to form the ill-fated coalition with David Cameron, holding a referendum on electoral reform was one of his demands. If successful, general elections would have been held under the alternative vote (AV) system rather than the current FPTP system. AV is used in Australia for elections to the House of Representatives and in some local elections in the US, where it is known as IRV. The Wikipedia page on AV/IRV explains the system in more detail, and Britain-vote’s guide to AV is well worth reading as well.

As a very brief overview, an AV/IRV system keeps single-member constituencies but instead of having the candidate winning the most votes win outright, voters must rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate has 50%+1, the lowest placed candidate is eliminated and his votes redistributed. This process continues until a candidate has 50%+1 or, alternatively, when there are only two candidates left standing. In Australia, voters are required to preference all candidates (those who don’t have their ballots voided) whereas the proposed UK-AV did not require voters to preference all candidates. The guide to AV, linked above, explains the details of the working and of the effects of AV on elections in much more breadth.

AV is not proportional representation in the pure sense of PR. AV does not lead to more proportional elections than FPTP, and in some cases it might lead to some results which are even more disproportionate than FPTP. AV’s main advantage, for its proponents, is that winners elected under AV have a much broader base of support or, in Australia, 50%+1 support. But they’re not necessarily the “most liked” candidate, rather they often tend to be the “least disliked” candidate. As to the above point of AV not being PR in the pure sense of PR, Australia provides a good example as the Greens hold only one seat out of 150 even if they polled nearly 12%. Research by the BBC on the the effects of AV on past British elections shows that while the LibDems would be stronger they would not be represented to their actual weight (especially in years such as 1983). Furthermore, in 1997, the Tory rout would have been an absolute humiliation if AV has been used as AV allows voters who hate one party (eg; LibDem and Labour voters who were anti-Tory in 1997) to coalesce even more than under FPTP.

Both campaigns were pretty atrocious, though I personally found the no campaign even more demagogic and atrocious through its use of strawmen arguments or worthless demagogic drivel. One NO2AV ad could basically be summarized as “AV is way too difficult, so it sucks”. I guess the reason why both yes and no campaigns resorted to such demagoguery and drivel is that electoral reform is a non-issue for most people aside from psephologist, some hardcore partisans and people who read books on such stuff and throw hissy fits because the 1986 election in country X was not proportional. Most voters don’t care much about such stuff, a lot don’t understand or don’t bother to understand proposed changes and those who have minimal interest will be easily convinced by lies and deceit rather than by thought-out 10-page papers arguing both sides. In most cases, finally, unless voters have memory of a very disproportional election not too far back, they’ll lean heavily in favour of the status-quo (FPTP). I also believe wording of the question matters somewhat. This question asked ‘do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?’. My opinion is that using words like ‘current […] system’  or similar phrases do hold sway for the low-information voters who do bother to vote and influences them to favour said ‘current system’.

In this particular referendum, the LibDems supported the yes and the Tories supported the no. Labour doesn’t have an official position, but Ed Miliband supported the yes. Smaller parties such as the SNP, Plaid, SDLP, Greenies, APNI, UKIP and Scottish Greens supported the yes. The DUP, BNP, UUP and GPNI opposed AV. A handful of voters, who I wager are overwhelmingly well-informed PR partisans, opposed AV because it wasn’t proportional enough.

Turnout was 42%, and results were as follows:

NO 67.9%
YES 32.1%

The Guardian has a cool interactive shaded map of results by counting area.

Opposition was highest in England, and somewhat lower in Scotland and Wales (but still over 60% opposed) and lowest (56% no) in Northern Ireland. Scotland and Wales are used to some form of non-FPTP system. Northern Ireland uses STV for all elections except Westminster. Opposition was very high in Conservative rural England, often over 70% opposed, but also significantly high in working-class areas throughout England.

Support was highest in urban areas, or in areas with significant concentrations of students. Oxford and Cambridge voted 54% in favour, while more or less well-off urban areas in Glasgow and Edinburgh voted in favour. In London, areas which voted in favour are not, in general, particularly wealthy but a lot seem to have significant bobo-type populations but also large deprived immigrant populations. The pattern of areas with a highly educated population or a young population leaning more heavily in favour of electoral reform seems to be a constant throughout those places which have held referendums on such matters.

Egypt Referendum 2011

A referendum was held in Egypt on March 19 following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. This referendum ratified a series of constitutional changes, or patching, to the old authoritarian 1971 Constitution to make it more democratic and slightly weaken the powers of the president and strengthen independent judicial mechanisms. Notably, the changes include limiting the President to two consecutive terms of four years; judicial oversight of elections; require the new parliament to write a new constitution and reformed the presidential nominating process. Ratifying these amendments speeds up the process towards the end of military rule, given that parliamentary elections would be held in September and presidential elections in November. Following that, a constituent assembly would be elected in March 2012, a new constitution adopted in 2012 and a full democratic state by early 2013. Opponents said that these changes didn’t go far enough and wanted to elect a constituent assembly to scrap this one entirely as soon as possible which would lead to a democratic state by early 2012.

The supporters of this constitution included the old NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood, who would benefit from holding quick elections thanks to their grassroots network and strong organization which can afford quick elections. The Muslim Brotherhood claims that it won’t run a presidential candidate (the NDP will) but probably seek to gain its political foothold and influence from a strong parliamentary caucus. Opponents included the youth movement which led the revolution, Arab League boss Amr Mousa, Mohamed El Baradei and most of the revolutionary movements.

Turnout was 41%

Yes 77.27%
No 22.73%

Welcoming the first election map of Egypt… in, well, first time ever? Surprisingly, pulling out an analysis of the map wasn’t that hard. Support was lowest in Cairo, where 59.9% voted in favour. It isn’t a stretch to assume, obviously, that Cairo is the centre of the more or less secular and “liberal” opposition revolutionaries. The Red Sea Governorate, which includes the resort town of Hurghada, saw 62% support. South Sinai, which includes the resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh voted 66% in favour while Alexandria was 67% in favour. Giza and Minya saw support below 70% – Minya has a large Coptic population. Support in Port Said, Helwan, Aysut, Gharbia and Ismailia had support below average as well. Aysut has the largest Coptic population, Helwan and Gharbia seem to be small industrial towns which have universities. Port Said and Ismailia are major cities. Support was highest in remote and sparsely populated, breaking 90% in the two Libyan Desert governorates and being generally above average in other predominantly rural areas.

Welsh referendum and Barnsley Central by-election

A devolution referendum was held in Wales on March 3, along with a Westminster by-election in Barnsley Central.

Wales has a devolved assembly since 1997, but unlike Scotland is does not have tax-levying powers nor does it have broad legislative powers. As part of the 2007 One Wales coalition agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh devolved government engaged itself to hold a referendum which would give full legislative powers to the Assembly in the twenty fields of competence established in the Government of Wales Act 2006. As of now, the Assembly’s legislation in these matters needed to be confirmed by Westminster whereas under the new system, it won’t need to seek Westminster approval. All parties in the Assembly supported the deal, but the Tories and LibDems wanted to hold it in March rather than with the Assembly elections on May 5, probably so it didn’t conflict with the AV referendum that day.

Turnout was 35.2%. Turnout was highest in Welsh-speaking areas, which also voted the most heavily in favour (along with the South Wales valley) Overall, 63.49% voted in favour while 36.51% voted against. Monmouthshire, probably the ‘least Welsh’ local government authority, was the only one to vote against though it did still give 49.4% of its votes in favour of further devolution after having voted heavily against the original devolution deal in 1997.

A by-election was held in the Westminster constituency of Barnsley Central on the same day following the resignation of incumbent Labour MP Eric Illsley for false accounting in connection with his expenses. Barnsley Central covers basically the town of Barnsley and nearby villages in the larger local authority. Barnsley itself is a working-class industrial town developed around coal and glassmaking, while the constituency also includes some pit villages. As such, it is heavily Labour and the area has voted Labour since 1922 (except for 1931) and prior to that voted Liberal, so no Tory has represented Barnsley since it got a constituency of its own. Eric Illsley has represented Barnsley Central, which was created in 1983 (though boundaries have moved around since), since 1987. From a huge 67% majority for Illsley in 1997, his majority fell to a mere 30% in 2010 and his vote that year was only 47.3% against 61% in 2005. Labour did badly in Yorkshire in 2010, and Illsley’s dodgy accounting was known by then.

Turnout was 36.5%, down from 56.5% in 2010.

Dan Jarvis (Labour) 60.80% (+13.53%)
Jane Collins (UKIP) 12.19% (+7.53%)
James Hockney (Conservative) 8.25% (-9.01%)
Enis Dalton (BNP) 6.04% (-2.90%)
Tony Devoy (Independent [Labour]) 5.63% (+3.58%)
Dominic Carman (Liberal Democrat) 4.18% (-13.10%)
Kevin Riddiough (English Democrats) 2.25%
Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 0.82%
Michael Val Davies (Independent) 0.25%

Not a huge majority of the yesteryears for Labour, but still a huge majority and a solid win. The Tories did badly, falling to third but the sixth, yes, sixth place finish for the LibDems is especially bad (or great, depending on your perspective) for them. UKIP likely took some angry Tories, and got a nice result in a place which isn’t naturally good for them. The BNP, who polled 9% in 2010, is the other major loser after an already poor showing in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Swiss Referendum 2011

Switzerland held one of its traditional referendums on Sunday, February 13. This time, Switzerland voted on a popular initiative which would basically ban the storage of military-grade weapons in private households. The ban was supported by the Socialists, the Greens, the PST (communists) and smaller Christian-left type parties. Radicals, Christian democrats and the nationalist SVP opposed it. Homicides resulting in death are pretty rare in Switzerland, and only 20% or so of them are done through use of a handgun.

Gun referendums in the world are pretty rare, and they’re always of some interest given that it’s a politically controversial subject matter in a lot of places. The last major one was a 2005 referendum in Brazil aiming to control firearms, which failed badly.

Turnout was 48.86%, which is pretty good for Switzerland.

No 56.26%
Yes 43.74%

The initiative was soundly rejected despite some polls showing that it had a decent chance of passing. The low homicide rate in Switzerland likely played a role, as did arguments by opponents that storing guns in private households was a deterrent to criminals.

The map is largely the traditional one, and reveals yet another urban-rural split and liberal-conservative division common to such wedge issues. Urban communities voted 48% in favour, while barely 32% of rural inhabitants voted in favour. The more socially liberal and ‘bobo’ type voters of urban French Switzerland voted in favour (56% yes), very heavily so in the case of Geneva. While French rural areas voted against (58% no), working-class areas of the Jura and Neuchâtel such as La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Delémont seemingly voted in favour (which doesn’t seem to be the case in German Switzerland). Opposition was strongest in the historical heart of Switzerland in the mountains of German Switzerland, a traditionally deeply conservative and very rural region. The very conservative and isolated mountainous half-canton of Appenzell-Inner Rhodes had the most opposed, with 72% voting against. Outside of Zurich, Luzern, Basel and Arlesheim no district of German (or Italian) Switzerland voted in favour.

Welcoming the 194th

So, by July of this year we’ll probably be welcoming the 194th (or 195th, or even 204th) independent state on the planet to the concert of nations. South Sudan held an independence referendum between January 9 and 15. The results will come out, officially, in a bit less than a month. But already we have the one number which allows us to declare the results without having any official results: turnout was 83%, up and above the 60% turnout threshold required for validation. Based on early rumours, as expected, the secession option will gather roughly 90% or so of the votes.

Explaining what led to South Sudan’s independence entails explaining the confusing and intricate Sudanese Civil War(s) as well as much of recent Sudanese history. Briefly, and perhaps far too briefly to offer a fully correct explanation, the referendum is a direct result of the 2005 peace talks which came as the resolution to Sudan’s main conflict in the last decade of the twentieth century.

South Sudan is ethnically different from northern Sudan, which dominates the politics of the country. In contrast to the arid deserts of the north, inhabited by Muslims and paler-skinned Arabs, South Sudan is, to put it briefly, largely Christian/animist as well as largely ethnically African. It is also not as desertic as the north, being dominated largely by grasslands and thus by settled populations rather than nomads and pastoralists. The civil war, the second in Sudanese history, started around in 1983 and picked up steam in 1989 after an Islamist-instigated and supported military coup led by Omar Al-Bashir, who serves to this date as Sudan’s President. The conflict opposed the north and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and led to one of the bloodiest wars since World War II. Summarizing it to a conflict between the Khartoum state and the SPLA would miss the point, as this “civil war” very much involved neighboring nations who all pretty much hate Bashir. Uganda, Chad, the CAR have had or still have internal conflict bordering on civil wars involving rebels groups such as the Ugandan LRA which were actively backed by Sudan (while Uganda, Chad and other countries backed the SPLA). Bashir, in addition to funding and harbouring various foreign rebel groups, also used (and uses, in the case of Darfur) paramilitary forces of which the Janjaweed are the most infamous.

The Civil War also took place in Darfur, but it is best thought of as a separate conflict ran concurrently with the war in the South. The Darfur case is extremely complex, and was not covered in this referendum. Officially, there is to be a referendum in 2011 in Darfur to choose between centralism and some sort of autonomy with a regional government dominated by Darfur’s two largest rebel groups (JEM and SLM). However, the referendum is in reality infinitely delayed because talks between the rebels and the government are stalled.

It might surprise that a pariah president like Bashir is being so smooth and conciliatory in the run-up to the vote as well as in the consequences of the vote. This surprisingly conciliatory attitude from a dictator likely stems from a lucid recognition of both the inevitability of secession and that not all that much will change. In the 2005 peace deal, the SPLA, the most powerful of all rebel forces in the country and basking in abundance of weapons and machinery, accepted the northern institutions while Bashir accepted the southern institutions which the SPLA had setup during the war, during which the SPLA controlled most of the south. Since then, the reality has been that the SPLA has let Bashir run the north according to his will while Bashir has let the south run its affairs quasi-independently under the auspices of the SPLA. After July, it will largely stay this way. Bashir and the NCP will still have control over the north, and the SPLA will continue running the south as they have since the peace deal. Except that the south will be independent. Another reason for Bashir’s conciliatory is that he may be seeing a smooth and peaceful transition to independence in the south as a way to bail himself out of isolation. Already the Americans have thanked him for his attitude by dropping sanctions and the bellicose tone about human rights and the Darfur genocide.

There are two iffy regions not covered in the vote. The first is Abyei, a buffer zone between north and south, which held a vote at the same time on whether it wanted to define itself as southern or northern. Not all of Abyei voted, and the north has been assured control over the part of Abyei which has oil. The other regions are the Blue Nile and South Kordofan, which held rigged popular consultations which will award these regions to the north. These regions sided with the south in the war but have in effect been ceded to the north, and thus could be a headache in the future for both countries.

The next step will be to strike a deal between north and south on the sharing of oil revenues. Most Sudanese oil comes from the south, but it is refined in Khartoum and exported from Port Sudan. Oil fields also straddle the border between north and south.

The next question, also, will be the fate of the north. Freed of the south, will the north’s government close in and return to the dark Islamic days of the 1990s with Sharia law? Or has the NCP been discredited in the north for the secession of the south and will its hold on power be strenuous? There is a mix of fear and apprehension in the international community in regards to the north’s future.

As for the south, which might adopt a new name (such as Equatoria), it won’t satisfy the desires of those who wish to see more democracies spring up in Africa. The SPLA has total and dictatorial control over the south and its rule over the south will continue unabated following independence. Former southern rebel groups who were once funded by Khartoum have since joined in with the SPLA with the lure of rewards and jobs for its supporters. The new South Sudan will be a one-party authoritarian regime where the SPLA and the government will be intricately linked (if not formally connected).

 

Turkey Referendum 2010

A constitutional referendum was held in Turkey on September 12. At stake in this referendum was the ratification by voters of 26 constitutional amendments to the 1982 Constitutions, amendments which will significantly change the balance of power in Turkey.

These amendments include more protection for labour, including the recognition of unions and the right to strike, and also expands the right for collective bargaining to government employees. In addition, increased rights to personal privacy will be safeguarded in the constitution, and an article which prevents military coup leaders from facing trial or legal reprisal will be repealed. The power of military courts will be curtailed, removing their authority to try civilians in peacetime. Finally, the Constitutional Court will be revamped so that it has 17 (instead of 15) members, three of whom are appointed by Parliament while the President nominates the rest. The procedure to ban political parties, one of the Turkish’s judiciary’s most important power, has also been amended so that members of banned political parties remain in Parliament and aren’t kicked out as they were in the past.

The background to these amendments is a long-running desire by Turkey’s (civilian) moderate Islamist government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to curtail the Turkish military’s power over politics. The military, which sees itself as the guardian of Kemalism and Turkey’s secular constitution, has long been opposed to Erdoğan’s policies which they see as going against Turkish secularism. They tried to prevent Erdoğan’s nominee for President, Abdullah Gul, from being elected in 2007, to which Erdoğan responded by amending the constitution to allow for direct election of the President (the referendum passed rather easily). These amendments, which would curtail the military’s influence further and make it harder for Turkey’s Kemalist judges to ban Erdoğan’s AKP (as they tried to do in 2009), were keenly supported by the AKP. It should be no surprise, however, that the opposition, both parliamentary and military, opposed these changes.

Here are the results of the referendum approving the amendments:

Yes 57.88%
N0 42.12%
turnout 73.71%

The results, while a major victory for the government and another defeat for the old Kemalist politicos of yesterday, does highlight that the government still has to deal with significant opposition from the ballot boxes. The numbers on this referendum, with 42% taking the position of the Kemalist opposition, are also quite a bit higher than the numbers from the 2007 referendum, in which only 31% of voters backed the opposition; meaning that discontent with the government is edging up, as seen more recently in the 2009 local elections in which the AKP did rather poorly all things considered.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the highest numbers for the NO side were all found in the strongholds of the opposition. The coastal region of Turkey along the Mediterranean, open to European secular influences and more urbane than the interior, have always been the strongest region for the CHP (the main opposition party, which was also Ataturk’s party), along with European Turkey itself where the NO side got some of its highest support. The coastal region is also one of the main bases for the third party in parliament, the far-right crypto-fascist MHP which is strongly linked to the military (though less militantly secular than the CHP). Isolated in a sea of green, the island of red in western mainland Turkey is Eskişehir, a major industrial area and base of the DSP, a left-wing ally of the CHP and equally as Kemalist. As for the deeply red outcast in the middle of deeply green eastern Turkey, it is the province of Tunceli (81% NO), which distinguishes itself from the rest of interior Turkey by the fact that the Alevis – a liberal current of Islam – form a majority of the populations. The Alevis, officially Shi’a, are known for their values of gender equality, religious tolerance and love/respect for others. The Alevis, which are key supporters of Kemalist secularism, have been the AKP’s weakest demographic, and thus Tunceli has been the weakest point of the AKP in 2002 and 2007 (only 12% of the vote in 2007). One will note that Turkish Kurdistan distinguishes itself by its massive support for the amendments, giving the wrong impression that Kurds backed the changes, which isn’t true because turnout in these provinces were low, in some cases extremely low (9.1% in Hakkâri, for example); meaning that only Turks voted while Kurds didn’t turn out. Aside from that, support was also high in central Anatolia, the AKP’s main electoral base; though Istanbul, which is often portrayed as Turkey’s bustling western city, also supported the changes (or so I assume, given that the province of Istanbul isn’t limited to the city proper).

There are two conflicting interpretations of the consequences of this result. Those whose political sympathies in Turkey lie more with the government than the military will argue that the amendments go a long way to make Turkey a democratic country and that the curtailing of the military is a good thing for Turkish democracy. Those hardcore Kemalists or otherwise supporters of a secular Turkey, by definition wary of anything the AKP does, will argue that this is the latest step in Erdoğan and the AKP’s goal at making Turkey an Islamic republic, or, less alarmingly, a step by Erdoğan to seize control of the judiciary to cement the AKP’s place in Turkish politics and to significantly reduce the power of the opposition judges and generals. Arguably, though, the military does still have the power to stage a coup if ever (or whenever) Erdoğan or the AKP tries to move Turkey closer towards an Islamic republic.

Moldova referendum 2010

A constitutional referendum was held in Moldova on September 5, 2010. The referendum aims to resolve more than a year of political deadlock in this former Soviet republic caused by Parliament’s inability to elect a President even after a normal election in April 2009 and a snap election in July 2009. Since a 2000 amendment, Moldova’s Constitution states that the President is elected indirectly by Parliament, but with a strict three-fifths threshold mandatory to win. The Communist Vladimir Voronin had a huge majority of 71 out of 101 seats in 2001 and while he lost his three-fifths majority in 2005, he was re-elected without much trouble with support from smaller centre-right parties. While the Communists came one seat next to the 61 seats needed for a three-fifths majority in April 2009 and theoretically needed only one dissident vote from the right to assure the election of Voronin’s hand-picked puppet, questions over the legitimacy of the April 2009 election led the opposition to block two successive attempts to elect a President. In these cases, the constitution requires a snap election, which was held in July 2009. The new election only added to the deadlock because while it gave the four opposition parties (widely known as the “liberal parties”) a majority of five over the Communists, the liberal opposition, which became the de-facto government, fell far short of the 61 votes needed to elect its candidate, Marian Lupu, in presidential ballots in November and December 2009. Because two snap elections in one year are unconstitutional, new elections will wait until fall 2010. However, the interim government, formed by the liberal parties, formed a commission for constitutional reform, of which the most important aspect is a return to the pre-2000 system of directly electing the president. The question was put forward to the people in a referendum, backed by the government though the Communists called for a boycott of the referendum. That being said, the government parties led a disconcerted campaign in which each of the four parties went their own ways instead of campaigning as a bloc. Yet, polling and general impression indicated a strong victory for the YES, with turnout generally assumed to be sufficient. A rather low turnout threshold of 33% was set to guarantee the referendum’s validity.

Would you agree with the constitutional amendment, which would allow the election of the President of the Republic of Moldova by the entire population?
Yes 87.58%
No 12.42%
turnout 30.79%

While those who actually voted backed the referendum by a overwhelming margin, as expected, the main facet of this referendum was the extremely low turnout. The low turnout, which has made this referendum  – which passed –  failed, is a severe blow for the government and a major boost for the obstructionist Communists, who have blocked any attempt to give the country a permanent President. Given the extremely low coverage of Moldova in the Anglosphere’s mass-media and the scarcity (and unreliability) of local polling, it is hard to say how much this vote was influenced by the government’s policies since it took office a year or so ago. It was generally assumed that people would look favourably upon better relations with Romania and the EU as well as a fresh IMF loan, but given that Moldova’s economy is still in wrecks and the country lacks a permanent government, voters seem to long for the tough iron-fist leadership of Voronin between 2001 and 2009.

The government now needs to dissolve Parliament for snap parliamentary elections to be held in November, likely on November 14. While it seems quasi-certain that the Communists will still pull a plurality, the question is if it can win a majority (denying the liberals even their right to continue their de-facto governing) or, more unlikely, a 2001-like super-majority which would allow the Communists to elect one of their own to the presidency. Yet, the likelier outcome seems to be further deadlock, in which the Communists and liberals continue their obstruction to the other’s right to form permanent government when the others hold a plurality of seats. The failure of this referendum, which should be blamed largely on the Communists, means that Moldova’s unfortunate political deadlock will continue in the midst of a grave financial crisis. It is hard to think of a worse system of electing a president than Moldova’s post-2000 system.

Kenya Referendum 2010

Kenya held a constitutional referendum on August 4 pertaining to the ratification of a new constitution to replace the much-amended but outdated constitution in practice, not without much amendments, since 1991. Kenya, usually noted by analysts of African politics as a rare stable semi-democratic regime without civil wars or coups like in French West Africa, defied these traditional standards following the 2007 election. The allegedly rigged results of the 2007 election led to bloody ethnic violence between Kenya’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Luos and Kikuyus – who were usually political allies of convenience in the past. The conflict was resolved when President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, who had been re-elected in the controversial 2007 election, accepted to form a national unity government with his rival, the Luo Raila Odinga as Prime Minister. While cohabitation between the two has been shaky, Kenya seems to have returned to a facade of political stability.

Kibaki’s first government, between 2002 and 2007, promised constitutional reform and held a referendum in 2005 on a draft of a new constitution, though it was defeated in a 2005 referendum. The results of the 2005 referendum should have served as a warning to the world of the division of the country along ethnic-tribal lines following the 2007 election, because the constitution proposed in 2005 was widely opposed by the Luos and led to the formation of a wide opposition coalition around, notably, Raila Odinga.

The new constitution, drafted despite fights between Kibaki and Odinga, has the advantage of being acceptable to both sides of the equation. It will remove the temporary office of Prime Minister created in 2008 to accommodate Odinga, ushering in a return to a normal presidential system. Some sort of devolution and de-centralization with the creation of 47 new counties each with an elected governor and assembly is also included in the draft. In addition, an upper house, the Senate, will be created and seats allocated to the counties. Some sort of redistricting for the existing lower house, which has 210 seats today, will be done which will likely augment the number of seats to 290 including 47 seats reserved for women (1 women per county, basically). Some sort of land reform is also included in the text. More controversially, an article concerning abortion is made slightly vaguer though in practice the status of abortion is not changed. Furthermore, the constitution provides for the establishment of Muslim Kadhi Courts with jurisdiction over marriage, divorce and inheritance within the country’s small Muslim minority. The Muslim minority is also exempted from broad sections of the Bill of Rights based on their religion.

The constitution was backed by Odinga and Kibaki, but the opposition included incumbent cabinet ministers but most notably the Church which was opposed to the vague language of the abortion clause and the Kadhi Courts’ entrenchment into the new constitution. Former President Daniel Arap Moi (a Luo, I think) also opposed the constitution. Yet, all polling has shown a wide majority in favour of the constitution.

Turnout was heavy at 72.1% and Raila Odinga’s prediction of 70% in favour was close to the final count:

Do you approve the proposed new constitution?

Yes 66.9%
No 33.1%

The constitution passed by rather wide margins in all but one of the country’s provinces, and the results showed wide multi-ethnic support for the constitution. Nyanza, on the shore of Lake Victoria, Odinga’s best province in 2007 (82%) gave the YES over 90%, while at the same time, the Central Province, Kibaki’s best province in 2007 (97%) gave the YES over 80%. In the North Eastern Province, which has a large Muslim population, due to its proximity to Somalia, support for the constitution peaked at 96%. It failed only in the Rift Valley, former President Daniel Arap Moi’s home turf and a strongly (65%) Odinga province in 2007. The wide multi-ethnic support is likely a good sign for the country, but remains to be seen if such a rosy situation will hold when the presidency is at stake again in 2012.

Slovenia border dispute referendum 2010

A map showing territorial waters and claims in the Bay of Piran (source: Wikipedia)

A binding referendum on approving an agreement which will bring a border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia to an international arbitration tribunal was held in Slovenia on June 6. Slovenia and Croatia have fought a diplomatic war since 1991 concerning land and water control in the small Bay of Piran, which is Slovenia’s only access to the sea. Slovenia’s current territorial waters are surrounded on all sides by other national waters – to the north, those of Italy and to the south, those of Croatia. Slovenian ships and fishermen thus have no access to the high seas through neutral international waters. Slovenia would like to expand its territorial waters to provide it a link to the high seas, something which Croatia opposes. Slovenia, an EU member since 2004, has used the dispute to veto Croatia’s bid to join the EU as the 28th member.

Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor, a Social Democrat, signed an agreement with Croatia in 2009 which would hand arbitration in the issue over to international arbitrators while Slovenia would stop blocking Croatia’s bid to enter the EU by 2012. The deal was ratified by both national parliaments but the right-wing opposition in Slovenia was able to force a binding referendum on the issue. The Slovenian right denounced the agreement as a pro-Croatian capitulation. As in most referendums, voters also tended to answer the person who asked the question rather than the question itself. The Slovenian government isn’t extremely popular right now, so it explains the relative closeness of this referendum which some would assume would be a slam-dunk for the YES side.

Do you support the implementation of the Law on the Ratification of the Arbitration Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of the Republic of Croatia, which was adopted by the Slovenian Parliament at its session of 19 April 2010, becoming valid?
Yes 51.49%
No 48.51%
turnout 42.36%

Support for the agreement was greatest in the area directly concerned, that is, the Bay of Piran and Slovenia’s sole major harbour in Koper. One would assume that these voters, directly concerned by this issue, are supportive of a rapid arbitration of this issue and the development of better business relations with Croatia, which remains a major business partner. However, voters in the more mountainous and rural areas of eastern Slovenia voted against the agreement by a large margin. Nationalist rhetoric and distance from the issue likely explains part of their opposition, as does the area’s conservatism (it voted for the right in 2008 while the area which includes the Bay voted for the left). Full results are available here.

The resolution of this issue comes as a relief for both Slovenia’s government – which has prevented an embarrassing defeat of its efforts of resolving bilateral disputes in the Balkans through compromise; and of Croatia’s government – which will now have a much easier road to EU membership which is likely to come as early as 2012. Slovenia seeks to make this agreement an example of conflict resolution in the historically tumultuous Balkans through peaceful compromise and agreement. Their optimistic hope is that it will influence relations between Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia.