Category Archives: Slovakia
This next post on the May EP elections covers Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia – Slovenia, which had legislative elections on July 13, will be covered separately.
Note to readers: I am aware of the terrible backlog, but covering the EP elections in 28 countries in detail takes a very long time. I will most likely cover, with significant delay, the results of recent/upcoming elections in Colombia (May 25-June 15), Ontario (June 12), Indonesia (July 9), Slovenia (July 13) and additional elections which may have been missed. I still welcome any guest posts with open arms :) Thanks to all readers!
Turnout: 23.83% (-0.7%)
MEPs: 51 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Open-list PR, 5% threshold (13 EP constituencies)
PO (EPP) 32.13% (-12.3%) winning 19 seats (-6)
PiS (ECR) 31.78% (+4.38%) winning 19 seats (+4)
SLD-UP (S&D) 9.44% (-2.9%) winning 5 seats (-2)
KNP (NI) 7.15% (+7.15%) winning 4 seats (+4)
PSL (EPP) 6.8% (-0.21%) winning 4 seats (nc)
SP (EFD) 3.98% (+3.98%) winning 0 seats (nc)
E+ – TR (S&D/ALDE) 3.58% (+3.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PR (ECR) 3.16% (+3.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RN 1.4% (+1.4%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Greens (G-EFA) 0.32% (+0.32%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Direct Democracy 0.23% (+0.23%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Samoobrona 0.04% (-1.42%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Poland, the sixth most populous country in the EU and the largest of the ‘new’ member-states from the Eastern enlargements, has become one of the major players in the EU and certainly the most important of the new member-states. Although Poland’s GDP per capita does not make it the ‘richest’ of the post-2004 member-states, it has the biggest economy of all post-2004 members (and the eight-largest in the EU). Under the present Polish government, more pro-European than its predecessor, Poland has taken a leading role in European politics, especially on matters related to Eastern Europe and Russia.
From 1991 until about 2007, Polish politics – similar to that of most other Eastern European post-communist states – were unstable, characterized by weak political parties coming and going, unpopular governments governing in difficult circumstances leading to a very high degree of anti-incumbency (until 2011, no incumbent government won reelection) and very large swings from election to election. The story of Poland’s post-communist left, led by the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), is an excellent example of this instability. The left enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s, with the election of Aleksander Kwaśniewski to the presidency in 1995, defeating incumbent President and anti-communist resistance icon Lech Wałęsa; and then with the landslide victory of Leszek Miller’s SLD in the 2001 legislative elections, where the left won 41% of the vote against a divided and demoralized incumbent right (the incumbent right-wing government, Jerzy Buzek’s AWS, won only 5.6% and lost all 201 of its seats). However, Prime Minister Leszek Miller and his party quickly became extremely unpopular due to economic policies enacted to counter high unemployment, debt and economic stagnation and by major corruption scandals, notably Rywingate (the bribery of senior politicians, likely acting on behalf of Miller and his government). Therefore, in the 2005 legislative elections, the SLD collapsed to 11% and the left has been unable to recover from its defeat.
Since 2007, politics have stabilized around two major parties complemented by minor parties; both major parties are on the right of the spectrum, although grouping the two together as ‘conservative’ parties is deceptive and obscures the wide schism – ideological and cultural – between the two parties and their supporters. Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO), which has held government since 2007 and the presidency since 2010, is a centre-right liberal conservative and pro-European party. At the outset, PO, which was founded in 2001, was a very liberal (neoliberal) party promoting aggressive economic reforms including privatizations, a flat tax, decentralization, reduction of the size of government and structural reforms. In government, however, Tusk’s party has widely been accused of having morphed into a centrist ‘party of power’ having lost its initial reformist zeal and instead motivated only by securing reelection – which it did in 2011, becoming the first Polish government to win reelection. To some extent, Tusk’s PO has been unwillingly assisted by his main opponent, Law and Justice (PiS), a nationalist-conservative, socially conservative and fairly Eurosceptic party led by former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński (2006-2007), the identical twin brother of former President Lech Kaczyński (2005-2010), who was killed in April 2010 when his presidential plane crashed while landing in Smolensk (Russia), killing all 96 passengers and crew. PiS’s very conservative and nationalist rhetoric, influenced by the very powerful and traditionalist Catholic Church in Poland, appeals to a particular segment of the Polish electorate, but at the same time it is very off-putting to the other half of the Polish electorate. PiS has not won a national election in Poland since 2007.
Therefore, although both PO and PiS are parties of the right, there are real and important ideological differences between the two. Economically, PO ostensibly supports European liberal policies, including privatizations, low taxes, compliance with EU budgetary rules and, in the long-term, adoption of the euro; on the other hand, PiS has, since its 2007 defeat, shifted towards interventionist and populist policies and opposed the government’s reforms (although, it should be noted, PiS was quite economically liberal in its own right when in power). The PO is strongly pro-European, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s name comes up every now and again in speculation for a potential top EU job. PiS is a Eurosceptic or anti-federalist party – it does not support withdrawing from the EU (a fringe opinion in Poland) but, similar to the British Tories (PiS are the Tories’ most important European allies), opposes a ‘federalist’ EU and often argues against further devolution of national powers to the EU in the name of Polish sovereignty. PiS was placed in an awkward position last year, as an ECR member and Tory partner, after David Cameron said that he would work to change EU regulations to withhold welfare benefit payments to EU migrants working in the UK with their families back home (and specifically mentioned Poles, one of the largest migrant communities in the UK).
PiS is often strongly nationalist – it has regularly engaged in anti-German and anti-Russian rhetoric, and a good chunk of the party – including Jarosław Kaczyński – believe that the plane crash which killed President Lech Kaczyński in Russia in 2010 was a Russian conspiracy. Law and Justice is vociferously anti-communist – it wishes to take lustration even further, by banning all university professors, lawyers, journalists and managers of large companies from holding their jobs if they are found to have collaborated with the communist-era secret service. Poland is one of the EU’s most socially conservative countries, and the Catholic Church – which in Poland tends to be highly conservative and somewhat politically active – retains a good deal of influence, although there is a strong secular or anti-clerical movement as well. PiS is the most socially conservative party, strongly opposed to abortion (which is already illegal with exceptions maternal life, mental health, health, rape, and/or fetal defects), same-sex marriage (and oftentimes hostile to homosexuality in itself) and IVF; PO is internally divided, with a powerful conservative faction opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, meaning that PO has – until recently – largely made sure to not alienate the Church or conservatives in the party.
Poland was the only EU member-state to escape recession in 2009, with +1.6% growth, according to The Economist “thanks partly to luck and partly to a mixture of deft fiscal and monetary policies, a flexible exchange rate for the zloty, a still modest exposure to international trade and low household and corporate debt”. Poland benefited greatly from EU accession in 2004, and continues to receive billions of euros worth of development funds. Fairly strong growth in 2010-2012 (averaging about 4%), a fairly low debt (51% of GDP in 2009, now 57%) and a government generally well regarded by its EU partners (notably neighboring Germany) have given Poland extra weight in the EU.
In 2011, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s PO was reelected to an unprecedented second term, winning 39.2% against 29.9% for PiS, with both parties losing about 2% of the vote from the 2007 election. Tusk retained power, in coalition with the small agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL), a venal and opportunistic party which is amenable to a coalition with anybody to protect its rural voters’ interests and its own ministerial portfolios. In 2010, the PO had won the presidency in snap elections held after the death of President Lech Kaczyński. PO candidate Bronisław Komorowski defeated Jarosław Kaczyński 53% to 47%, and his election has inaugurated a much calmer relation between the Prime Minister and the President – between 2007 and 2010, Tusk had often clashed with his nemesis, Lech Kaczyński, and used the latter’s intransigence and vetoes to deflect blame for the lack of reformist vigour from his government.
Tusk’s reelection, and a friendly relationship between the presidency and government, boosted hopes that the new government would prove more ambitious in its agenda. Upon his reelection, Tusk outlined a reformist agenda with austerity measures to reduce Poland’s large deficit (7.8% in 2010 and 5.1% in 2011) and structural reforms, notably to the pension system. In 2012, the government passed a pension reform which will increase and equalize the retirement age for men and women to 67 by 2040 (currently, men retire at 65 and women at 60), despite major protests outside Parliament. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński embraced the protests, enthusiastically proclaiming that the crowds reminded him of his earlier glory days in the anti-communist Solidarity trade union. The opposition criticized PO for reneging on an election promise and forcing reform without consultation, but the opposition’s motion to hold a referendum on the reform was shut down by the PSL, the loyal ally which sided with PO in exchange for minor concessions on early partial retirement. Other reforms were also met with significant push-back: measures to cut the previleges of protected workers (journalists, professors), moves to liberalize a number of regulated professions while a bill to allow the state to partially cover IVF costs for both married and unmarried women faced significant opposition from the Catholic Church but also a socially conservative faction of PO led by then-justice minister Jarosław Gowin. The hardliners in the Catholic Church had at one time threatened to excommunicate any MPs who voted for anything other than banning IVF, which they described as ‘refined abortion’.
The government faced a very tough time in 2013. Economic growth has slowed, to 2% in 2013 and a projected 1.6% in 2014. The government has been assailed from every angle for a whole number of reasons. PO has again been accused of having lost its reformist energy, and focusing increasingly on what it set to be a tough fit for reelection for 2015 and eschewing more ambitious structural reforms. A recent OECD report called on Warsaw to close the productivity gap, severely trim a bloated public sector, invest in growing industries, boost productivity, liberalize labour laws to make it easier to fire employees, push Polish firms to become globally competitive and improve the ease of doing business in Poland (the country often gets poor marks, compared to its Eastern European partners, on ‘business-friendliness’ or ‘ease of doing business’ indexes) by tackling corruption and reducing red tape. Labour force participation remains low by EU levels, and Poland faces a demographic problem in the long-term because of its low birth rate and emigration which is still high. The OECD and liberal economists have also faulted the government for dragging its feet on privatization, criticizing its tendency to declare large parastatals as ‘strategic’ to prevent them from being privatized. While foreign investors and financial institutions point out the lack of reformist energy, at home, the government is criticized for the content of its austerity-minded policies and reforms (notably to labour laws). With an increasingly sluggish economy and high unemployment (9.6%, was over 10% for most of 2012 and 2013), Poles have been gloomy about the economy and increasingly unhappy with a government which seems to spend more time on ineffective crisis management than long-term reforms.
Tusk also needed to attend to divisions within his party and to take care of an increasingly prickly and inconvenient justice minister, Jarosław Gowin, the leader of a socially conservative strand in PO which clashed with Tusk and liberals on issues such as IVF and civil unions. In February 2013, Poland’s lower house, the Sejm, debated three civil union bills, and all three bills (one of which was proposed by a PO member) were voted down, with Gowin leading 46 PO MPs to vote against the PO proposal. The debate was marked by homophobic comments from PiS MPs. In April 2013, Gowin was finally sacked after he said that German scientists were buying Polish embryos from IVF procedures and using them for scientific experiments. His insensitive (especially given history between Poland and Germany) and provocative statement rattled Germany and was the last straw for Tusk, who dismissed Gowin from cabinet a week later. Gowin challenged Tusk for the PO leadership later in 2013, winning 20% of the vote, and left the party shortly thereafter. In December 2013, Gowin founded a new splinter party, Poland Together (PR). The party claims to represent the PO’s original social conservative and neoliberal (tax cuts, deregulation, fiscal orthodoxy) roots, with an added dose of so-called ‘Eurorealism’. It teamed up with recently-disbanded Poland Comes First (PJN), a failed 2010 moderate free-market splinter from PiS (2.2% in the 2011 elections). PR had four MEPs in the old EP – one from PO, one from PiS and two from PJN – who sat in the ECR group.
Responding to the troubles, Tusk tightened his grip on the PO by sidelining PO deputy leader Grzegorz Schetyna and then shuffling his cabinet in November 2013. Jacek Rostowski, his finance minister since 2007, who had received credit for his good management of the economy in the 2008-9 global recession but was facing flack for unpopular reforms, was replaced (only months after a February promotion to Deputy Prime Minister) by Mateusz Szczurek, a young economist. Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the minister of regional development, received a major promotion to Deputy Minister and a super portfolio of infrastructure and development, focused on managing new EU funds (Poland was a major beneficiary in the latest EU 2014-2020 budget).
The opposition PiS has made major gains over the past year, with a consistent advantage over PO in polls and two victories in senatorial by-elections in 2013. However, Kaczyński’s party has hesitated between tried-and-true inflammatory and polarizing rhetoric or trying its hand at a soothing, conciliatory strategy. Playing on the unpopularity of the government’s reforms, PiS reached out to those threatened by lay-offs by promising to roll back Tusk’s reforms and increased benefits for the poor – a populist and dirigiste platform similar to that which PiS had in 2011 (it had promised tax cuts for families, a two-layered income tax to replace the flat tax and opposed cutting welfare spending). In 2013, PiS successfully focused on ‘bread and butter’ socioeconomic concerns and landed some heavy blows on the government. However, there’s still been plenty of drama and traditional fire-breathing stuff from PiS. Every now and again, Kaczyński or a PiS parliamentarian brings up the 2010 Smolensk plane crash which killed Lech Kaczyński and alleges a Russian conspiracy. A good chunk of PiS’ base loves the Russian conspiracy theories, but to other voters, it often comes out as craziness. Because Kaczyński continues to be a polarizing figure, PO has managed to retain sizable support despite a clear dip in its popularity.
Kaczyński did fight off a challenge from his right, from Zbigniew Ziobro, a former justice minister and MEP originally seen as Kaczyński’s dauphin. However, after the 2011 defeat, as Ziobro criticized Kaczyński’s leadership, he and some colleagues were expelled from PiS. Ziobro founded Solidary Poland/United Poland (SP) in March 2012, a hardline social conservative (pro-life, anti-gay marriage) and Eurosceptic party. The party had 4 MEPs in the old EP, including Ziobro, and they had left the PiS’ ECR group to join EFD, because of ECR’s liberal stances on gay marriage and belief in global warming.
On the embattled left, the SLD suffered a historic defeat in 2011, with only 8.2% and fifth place behind the Palikot Movement, a new flash-in-the-pan anti-clerical and very socially liberal (pro-gay marriage, drug legalization, free condoms, legalizing abortion) led by eccentric maverick PO dissident Janusz Palikot, which finished third with 10% and 40 seats. Former Prime Minister Leszek Miller (2001-2004), whose tenure as Prime Minister was marked by unpopular orthodox liberal economic polices, pro-American stances (along with centre-left President Kwaśniewski, Poland joined the American-led coalition in the invasion of Iraq in 2003) and corruption scandals, returned to active politics and the SLD as the party’s leader. Miller has criticized the government’s policies from the left and taken on a calm and predictable image, but there were constant rumours that the SLD would join the governing coalition. This did not materialize, due to reluctance on the part of both the PO and the SLD, but there are still rumours that it’s only been delayed till after the 2015 elections.
The Ukraine crisis shuffled the cards ahead of the EP elections. Poland has a difficult history with Russia, and the country has been a strong supporter of an independent Ukraine since 1991, has actively spearheaded efforts for EU engagements with Eastern European countries such as Ukraine and successive Polish governments have usually taken strongly pro-American positions. Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government usually was friendlier and more diplomatic towards Russia than the opposition PiS, and the 2010 Smolensk plane crash led to a significant thaw in Warsaw-Moscow ties – President Kaczyński and senior Polish politicians, bureaucrats and military personnel on the flight had been travelling to a memorial for the 70th anniversary of the 1940 Katyn massacre. After the tragedy, the Russian State Duma passed a motion recognizing that Joseph Stalin had personally ordered the massacre. With the Ukrainian crisis and the Russian annexation of Crimea, Warsaw has taken a tough line against Russia.
Politically, inter-party unity soon disappeared as both the PO and PiS tried to benefit electorally from the Ukrainian crisis. Tusk, as the incumbent Prime Minister, took the lead to assume the role of a ‘strong leader’ and refocused the PO’s EP campaign around the issue of Polish and European security. He aptly invited Vitali Klitschko, a leading Ukrainian opposition leader (and now mayor of Kiev) to PO’s campaign launch and signed a cooperation agreement with Klitschko’s party, UDAR. The Prime Minister and other leading PO officials, such as foreign minister Radosław Sikorski, began adopting a PiS-like nationalist and anti-Russian tone which often drew parallels with Poland’s painful and tragic history during World War II. Finally, the government argued that the Ukrainian crisis highlighted its effectiveness in promoting Polish interests abroad by active membership in a strong, united and integrated EU without being Russophobic. In response, PiS claimed that the events in Ukraine vindicated its assertive policy vis-à-vis Russia and attacked Tusk’s apparently naive and shortsighted approach. PiS has long advocated a tough stance against Russia, notably during the 2008 Georgian/South Ossetian conflict, to counter Russian expansionism. However, voters largely sided with the incumbents, and PiS’ lead in polls tightened up significantly.
Although Ukraine was a major point of political debate, it failed to motivate voters to turn out in the EP elections. Poland saw, once again, some of the lowest turnout in the EU – only 23.8% of voters turned out to vote, down a bit less than 1% from 2009. Turnout was higher in the cities than in rural areas, with 35% turnout in the 4th constituency, which covers Warsaw and its adjacent suburban counties, 32.7% turnout in the city of Poznań, 35.9% turnout in the city of Gdańsk and 31.1% in Katowice.
The ruling PO won an extremely narrow victory over the opposition PiS, winning 32.1% against 31.8% for PiS – a difference of 24,325 votes. In terms of seats, both PO and PiS elected 19 MEPs. It is a significant victory, albeit narrow, for the ruling party. Although the low turnout means that these elections cannot be worth much, it is a symbolic victory for an embattled governing party in elections which are generally hard on incumbents. Like across the EU, EP elections in Poland are ‘second order’ elections in which voters often use the opportunity to punish incumbents without taking any risks, and as such they tend to be difficult for the incumbents – although in the 2009 EP election, the PO government – although at that time a young and popular government – had won a landslide, with 44.4% against only 27.4% for PiS. The symbolic victory is also important because these EP elections kicked off a string of four elections – the EP elections in May, followed by local elections in November, presidential elections in the spring of 2015 and finally parliamentary elections in the fall of 2015.
Nevertheless, it is far from all roses for PO: its EP victory has been assigned to the effects of the Ukrainian crisis, and the concomitant boost in the government’s popularity. However, as the Ukrainian crisis drags on and only worsens, the government’s popularity on the issue has fallen and the issue is ‘normalizing’ and no longer benefits the PO – in the long term, it’s hard to see Ukraine becoming a game-changing issue for the government – although the victory could provide momentum. PiS’ counter-offensive, attacking the PO’s credibility on security topics and trying to reemphasize domestic concerns, may have helped to reduce the government’s momentum, although PiS led (within the margin of error) most of the last polls before the election. Furthermore, regardless of the results, PO’s share of the vote is down significantly not only from its 2009 high-water mark but also its 2011 result.
Since the EP elections, the government has been hit by a firestorm surrounding a newspaper’s publication, in June, of secret tape recordings of several months’ worth of conversations involving current/former ministers. The interior minister asked the governor of the ostensibly independent National Bank for help in stimulating the economy and financing the deficit, and warned that investors would flee if PiS won in 2015; in exchange, the governor asked for the head of finance minister Jacek Rostowski. In another, foreign minister Radosław Sikorski – one of the leading foreign ministers in the EU – said that Poland’s alliance with the US was worthless and said that Poles had low self-esteem. The government and the secret service have searched the newspaper’s editorial office to identify the leaker and unsuccessfully tried to confiscate the editor’s laptop. Tusk has since regained control, somewhat, and won a confidence vote 237 to 203. He has resisted pressure to dismiss the interior minister and foreign minister and downplayed the significance and ethical issues raised by the recordings. PiS lost the advantage and was unable to get the opposition parties to agree with its proposal for a technocratic national unity government led by Piotr Gliński. Still, the issue has hurt and may continue to hurt the government. A June poll showed PiS leading by 9. A blow, but likely not a fatal blow for PO.
PiS’ narrow defeat is quite disappointing. Its losing streaks in national election continues – it hasn’t won a single national election since 2007, although this is likely the closest they’ve gotten to winning. Expecting to win handily because the government’s unpopularity and the traditional nature of EP elections, PiS found itself wrong-footed by PO’s skillful use of the Ukraine issue.
In additional good news for the government, PO’s quiet and undemanding junior partner, the agrarian PSL, had a decent election – holding its 2009 levels and its four MEPs – and the PSL’s new leader, Janusz Piechociński, who won the PSL’s leadership in 2012 after defeating longtime leader and former Prime Minister (in the early 1990s, with the ex-communist left) Waldemar Pawlak, survived his first electoral test. Janusz Piechociński, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Economy, had been criticized over his soft-mannered style and apparent failure to make an impact or make his party’s voice heard in government. Many in the PSL felt that the PSL was isolated in Tusk’s government since 2012, citing the lack of consultation with the PSL’s leader in the cabinet shuffles in February and November 2013. In general, the PSL has been rather undemanding and ‘constructive’ partner – basically, as long as the PO doesn’t touch the PSL’s ministerial portfolios or reform (as is said to be much-needed) the state-subsidized farmers’ social security system (a key niche topic for the PSL and its rural, agrarian base), the PSL doesn’t care much. Given internal dissatisfaction, the EP elections were seen as a first and decisive electoral test for Piechociński’s leadership. The PSL hovered dangerously close to the 5% threshold in some polls, leading to fears that it may fall below – but, as always, it held up well (despite low turnout in the PSL’s rural bases) and Piechociński can be happy.
On the left, the SLD did fairly poorly. The SLD won 9.4% of the vote and lost 2 MEPs, down from 12.3% and not performing much better than it did in 2011. Miller was likely hoping for a strong result in the vicinity of 15%, which would have boosted the SLD’s standings and allowed it to be taken more seriously ahead of the key elections next year (in which the SLD may be seeking to enter government). However, the silver lining for SLD here is that it has recovered its ‘traditional’ (post-2005) third place position in Polish politics. In 2015, it is very unlikely that either PO or PiS will secure an absolute majority – and if PiS wins, it is a major problem for them, because, as the makeup of regional executives show (PO leads or participates in 15 out of 16 voivodeship governments), PiS is politically isolated and has few allies (its prickly and insane far-right coalition partners from 2005-2007, the clerico-nationalist LPR and populist-nationalist Samoobrona, have both died off).
The SLD has also won the battle for control of the left, against the Europa Plus – Your Movement (E+ TR) coalition. The E+ coalition was launched by Janusz Palikot’s party – renamed Your Movement (TR) recently – and joined forces with smaller parties on the left and, most importantly, former centre-left President Aleksander Kwaśniewski (1995-2005). Kwaśniewski remains fairly popular at home and had an international standing while President, so there were high hopes for the alliance. However, Palikot faced criticism that he was uninterested by the actual coalition itself and just using it to build support for his own movement, while Kwaśniewski – who was not a candidate himself – seemed to give only half-hearted attention to the election (in April, he showed up to a campaign event reportedly under the influence of alcohol) and most recognized that, while still popular, Kwaśniewski is from a by-gone era and he has lost his appeal to Polish voters. The alliance began foundering as minor parties were wooed over by the SLD instead (such as the Labour Union, UP) and the alliance failed to attract many star candidates. Palikot’s own appeal since 2011 has predictably decreased significantly as well – his flamboyant, provocative and coarse style lost its charm quickly, and the party was embroiled in a few controversies (it lost the support of feminists after it dumped Wanda Nowicka, a pro-choice campaigner who was elected Vice Marshal of the Sejm, and Palikot removed her from the caucus and accused her of ‘wanting to be raped’).
Below the threshold, both Gowin and Ziobro’s right-wing political projects failed their first test. Ziobro’s SP did best, with just about 4%, while Gowin’s PR won only 3.2%.
The election was marked, finally, by the sudden success of Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s Congress of the New Right (KNP), an anti-establishment, anti-EU and right-libertarian movement. The KNP is the latest political avatar for Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a veteran enfant terrible of Polish politics since the 1990s. In the 2010 presidential election, he won 3.5%. He may be Europe’s closest thing to American libertarianism and Ron Paul – his support with young voters on the internet, his conservative and isolationist brand of libertarianism and his history of controversial statements. His very unusual and colourful views on political issues include: hardline opposition to the ‘communist project’ which is the EU, styling outgoing EC president Barroso a ‘Maoist’, saying that democracy is the stupidest form of government (he is a monarchist), proposing to turn the EC building into a brothel, opposition to women’s suffrage (because he says women are dumber than men), eating his tax return to protest taxes, saying that women often fake rape, arguing that the difference between rape and consensual sex was very subtle, agreeing with Putin that Poland had trained ‘Ukrainian terrorists’ and arguing that there was no proof that Hitler was aware of the Holocaust. The KNP wants to reduce the government to its very bare minimum (notably by abolishing income taxes, privatizing almost everything, abolishing tax redistribution and downsizing government), but is socially conservative – it supports the death penalty, opposes abortion, contraception, IVF, euthanasia and civil unions.
The KNP owes its success – 7.2% and 4 MEPs – to young voters. It won 28.5% of the vote with those 18 to 25. This blog post said that “some sociologists have argued that many of these voters are drawn from what social commentators sometimes refer to as ‘Generation Y’: the large numbers of young and fairly well-educated unemployed in Poland who live at home with their parents and are frustrated that the country has not developed more rapidly, with an apparent ‘glass ceiling’ of vested interests and corrupt networks stifling their opportunities.” These voters face the choice of emigration or low-skilled jobs at home. These well-educated young voters are highly active on the internet, and Korwin-Mikke is a big hit on Facebook and YouTube. Because it was an EP election, the KNP may be a flash-in-the-pan, but the KNP will try to use its success and Korwin-Mikke will use his platform in the EP (he has already promised to raise hell) to win seats in 2015 – but in a higher-turnout and high-stakes election, it is unlikely that the marginal KNP will find similar levels of support and Korwin-Mikke’s insane statements will likely be scrutinized closer by voters. Poland certainly has a long list of fleetingly successful minor protest parties who are one-hit-wonders but disappear quickly thereafter – like everybody’s favourite Beer Lovers’ Party in 1990!
There is a strong and fascinating regional dichotomy in Polish politics. The ruling centre-right PO’s support, in orange on the map above, is largely concentrated in territories which were ruled by Prussia/Germany until 1918/1945 (what is rather interesting is how PO’s support does not correlate with the western borders of interwar Poland but rather with those of the Kaiserreich in 1914); PiS’ support, in blue on the map, is concentrated in territories which were ruled by Russia and Austria (Galicia) until 1918. Overlaying the map of the 2014 EP election on the map of the region one hundred years ago, in 1914, would produce a near-perfect correlation between German territories for PO and Russian/Austrian territories for PiS. The lingering effects of the partition of Poland as it stood in 1914 is not a mere historical coincidence: all three former imperial powers ruled their Polish territories in their own distinctive ways, built (or not) infrastructure and industry and tolerated (or not) Polish institutions such as the Catholic Church. The German territories of western Poland were slightly more urban than those in Russia or Austrian Galicia, but the infrastructure was significantly more developed and industry slightly more important (notably with coal mining and the industrial basin of Silesia, although the textile town of Łódź was Russian) resulting in a significant gap in wealth and development between the German and Russian/Austrian regions, which remained far less developed, poorer and predominantly agricultural (largely in the form of small-scale, subsistence farms). The west/east divide is extremely perceptible in 1950s maps of the Polish rail network (and even in the modern rail network). However, the 1914 German territories are no longer ethnically German – Poland’s German minority nowadays only counts about 150,000 people largely in Opole Voivodeship (formerly German Upper Silesia) – and western Poland was extensively resettled after World War II – the large German population was forcibly expelled to Germany and the region was resettled by Poles, largely from the eastern territories of interwar Poland annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945. Therefore, the modern population of most of the PO-voting western regions – especially those which were German until 1945 – have only been settled by their current inhabitants for 70 years or so. The western population therefore is far less rooted in the region, while the population of Galicia and the Russian territories have seen no comparable demographic upheavals. The former German territories, partly because of Bismarck’s kulturkampf, have been less clerical than the Austrian and Russian territories, where local authorities tolerated the influence and authority of the Polish Catholic Church; under communist rule, therefore, the communist regime likely faced less clerical resistance and challenges in the ‘recovered territories’ of the west. Under communist rule, the east also tended to remain less developed – for example, collectivization of agriculture was abandoned early on in the east but was more ‘successful’ in the west. In conclusion, earlier and more thorough industrialization, better infrastructure, relative affluence, high population mobility and lower religiosity have led to more liberal and pro-European views in western Poland while a traditional agricultural past, higher poverty, high religiosity and clerical influence, low population mobility and poor infrastructure have led to social conservatism and traditionalist views in eastern Poland. To this day, eastern Poland remains poorer than urban and western Poland, although eastern Poland has been drawing in a lot of EU funds.
This divide, however, is not absolute (not all parties, far from it, have a east-west map) or frozen in time. Nor is the “German PO vs Russian/Austrian PiS” a universal rule. The east-west divide partly covers a strong urban-rural divide. Warsaw, which was in Russian eastern Poland, is a PO stronghold: the party won 43.8% against 26.5% for PiS in the Polish capital this year (a much larger margin, I will add, than those in ‘rural’ western counties). Other large eastern cities join the western cities in voting for PO, often by significant margins. The eastern city of Łódź gave 46.4% to PO against 28.4% for PiS this year. In Kraków, PO won 37.8% against 25.7% for PiS. In all three cases, these dots of orange on the map stand out from their very conservative surroundings. Lublin and Białystok, however, both went to PiS with margins over 10%. PO won some of its best results nationally in the cities of Gdánsk (54.2%), Gdynia (53.5%), Chorzów (50.8%), Opole (50.4%), Katowice (48.8%), Poznań (44.5%), Wrocław (42.9%) and Szczecin (42.7%).
One major exception to the east-west rule in the form of a ‘blue island’ in the formerly German west is the region around Polkowice, Głogów and Lubin counties in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, the heart of the Legnica-Lubin-Głogów copper mining district, home to a major (but struggling) copper mining industry.
Turnout: 33.84% (-2.93%)
MEPs: 21 (-1)
Electoral system: Closed-list PR (d’Hondt), no threshold (national constituency)
PS (S&D) 31.46% (+4.88%) winning 8 seats (+1)
Aliança Portugal PSD/CDS-PP (EPP) 27.71% (-12.37%) winning 7 seats (-3)
PCP-PEV (GUE/NGL) 12.68% (+2.02%) winning 3 seats (+1)
MPT (ALDE) 7.14% (+6.48%) winning 2 seats (+2)
BE (GUE/NGL) 4.56% (-6.17%) winning 1 seat (-2)
Livre (G-EFA) 2.18% (+2.18%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PAN 1.72% (+1.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PCTP/MRPP 1.66% (+0.45%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PND 0.7% (+0.7%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTP 0.69% (+0.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PPM 0.54% (+0.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PNR 0.46% (+0.09%) winning 0 seats (nc)
MAS 0.38% (+0.38%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Pro-Vida 0.37% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PDA 0.16% (+0.16%) winning 0 seats (nc)
POUS 0.11% (-0.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Portugal has been hit hard by the economic crisis – it was one of the so-called ‘PIGS’/’PIIGS’ countries along with Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain (and now Cyprus) and it received a bailout from the ‘Troika’. However, unlike in Greece, Spain or Italy, the economic and social crisis in Portugal has not triggered major changes in the Portuguese political or party system.
Since the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which overthrew the Estado Novo dictatorship (1933-1974), Portuguese governments usually ran deficits above and beyond the EU’s 3% deficit limit – in 2009, Portugal’s deficit was 10.2% of GDP and 9.8% of GDP in 2010 – and the size of the public sector grew exponentially (the number of public servants increased from 372,000 in 1979 to a peak of 663,100 in 2010, surpassing the average number of public servants per inhabitant in the rest of the EU). Furthermore, Portugal – which was the EU’s poorest member-state prior to the 2004 enlargement (and has since fallen even further behind) suffered from sluggish economic growth in the years leading up to the global recession and Eurozone debt crisis. For example, in 2005 and 2006, the Portuguese economy grew by only 0.8% and 1.4% (because of competition from China and Asia for the traditional textile and footwear industries) while the EU-27 grew at rates of 2.2% and 3.4% in those pre-crisis years. Portugal also had very high levels of household debt. Despite all that, governments spent quite lavishly on public works projects, bonuses and wages for public sector and parastatal bosses and mismanaged EU funds. In 2009, Portugal’s GDP fell by 2.9% and the government was forced to bailout and nationalize two major banks – the Banco Português de Negócios and Banco Privado Português – who had been accumulating loses due to bad investments, embezzlement and accounting fraud. The BPN’s president, who had close ties to several politicians including President (and former Prime Minister) Aníbal Cavaco Silva, was later arrested for suspected tax fraud, money laundering and forgery.
The Socialist Party (PS), led by moderate Prime Minister José Sócrates, was the incumbent government when the Eurozone debt crisis hit Portugal beginning in 2010. Sócrates’ PS had been elected in a landslide (winning an absolute majority by itself) in 2005, on the heels of the unpopular governments of Prime Ministers José Manuel Barroso (2002-2004) and Pedro Santana Lopes (2004-2005). Sócrates’ government was accused by the centre-right opposition of having failed to anticipate the economic crisis when he took office in 2005 and general economic mismanagement. Pressured by financial markets and the EU, the Sócrates government passed three successive austerity packages in 2004 which included tax increases, pay cuts for public servants and spending cuts. These policies did little to alleviate the crisis, as Portugal’s credit rating was downgraded and risk premiums on Portuguese bonds reached record highs. Nevertheless, the Sócrates government resisted pressure to seek European help. In the spring of 2011, Portugal was left with little option but to seek a EU bailout. However, in March 2011, the opposition parties on the left and right – which held a majority in the National Assembly – joined to reject a fourth austerity package put forward by the PS minority government and Sócrates resigned, prompting early elections in June 2011. As a caretaker Prime Minister, Sócrates finally admitted the need for a €78 billion Troika bailout.
The main party of the Portuguese centre-right is the misnamed Social Democratic Party (PSD). Portugal has an acute case of sinistrisme, where what passes as the right elsewhere in Europe shies away from adopting labels such as ‘right’, ‘conservative’ or even ‘liberal’ due to the association with the Estado Novo dictatorship in general and Salazar’s regime in particular. The PSD’s name also reflects the party’s origins and mythical founding leader, Francisco Sá Carneiro (died in 1980), a ‘Portuguese social democrat’ who developed a moderate, anti-collectivist and anti-statist form of social democracy adapted to the Portuguese context, influenced both by Catholic social teachings (humanism and Emmanuel Mounier’s personalism) and German social democracy. The PSD even applied to join the Socialist International. However, after Sá Carneiro’s death in 1980, the PSD clearly shifted to the mainstream European right (although the PSD would deny it) under Prime Ministers Aníbal Cavaco Silva (1985-1995) and José Manuel Barroso (2002-2005), who both implemented liberal economic policies. The PSD originally joined the liberal family in the EP, before leaving it for the Christian democratic EPP family in 1996. The PSD’s traditional junior ally, the People’s Party (CDS-PP), identifies with ‘centrism’ (the party’s original name – CDS – stood for ‘Social and Democratic Centre’) but lies further to the PSD’s right – socially conservative, softly Eurosceptic, mildly nationalistic and somewhat populist. The PS, PSD and CDS-PP are ideologically similar, moderate parties which have governed from the centre and found common cause in opposing the left-wing revolutionary movement in the chaotic transition years of 1974-1976 (the Processo Revolucionário em Curso, PREC), which was spearheaded by the Communist Party (PCP) and left-wing sectors in the military.
The PSD seized on anti-incumbency and the unpopularity of the PS government associated with the economic collapse to win the 2011 elections, with Pedro Passos Coelho’s PSD ultimately defeating Sócrates by an unexpectedly comfortable 10.6% margin (38.6% to 28.1%). Polls had indicated a much closer contest, but the PS ended up badly underperforming its polling. Pedro Passos Coelho, in contrast with the right-wing opposition parties in Spain and Greece, ran a brutally honest pro-austerity (and pro-bailout) campaign – most notably, Passos Coelho said that he would go beyond what the EU-IMF were asking from Lisbon, determined to make Portugal stand out (from Greece, notably) as the ‘good pupil’ of austerity in southern Europe. The PSD formed a coalition with Paulo Portas’ CDS-PP.
Portugal received a €78-billion bailout from the ‘Troika’, in return for austerity measures and structural reforms. Passos Coelho set out to go further and be even more ambitious than what the Troika asked, to meet the EU-IMF’s demands ahead of schedule and to complete the bailout program within the planned timeframe. The PSD’s platform in 2011 was unusually right-wing and neoliberal for a traditionally left-of-centre country like Portugal, including proposals for constitutional reforms which would allow private sector participation in healthcare, education, social security and the privatization of water and postal services. The government quickly set out to introduce tough austerity measures including: spending cuts (notably in education and healthcare); income and corporate tax increases; abolishing the ’13th and 14th month’ bonuses (for Christmas and July) for public servants; a continued pay freeze for public servants (and a fall in real wages from 2010); privatizations; halting public work projects (notably a high-speed railway); selling the state’s golden shares in the electricity, telecommunications and energy companies; significant hikes in electricity prices due to a major increase on the VAT on energy (from 6% to the standard rate of 23%); reduction of the public sector payroll through attrition; public transit fare increases; an increase in working hours (30 minutes per day, unpaid); devolution of powers to local governments but cuts in fiscal transfers to these same local governments and the elimination of four public holidays. Passos Coelho originally claimed that even deeper austerity was necessary because his government had discovered a €2 billion ‘hole’ in the budget left behind by the PS, but the opposition parties claimed that it was only an excuse for deeper cuts.
These austerity policies had little success in creating economic growth or even reducing the deficit. In 2011, it was revealed that the autonomous region of Madeira – the personal preserve of PSD baron Alberto João Jardim since 1978 – had been under-reporting its public debt since 2008, hiding a total of €1.218 billion in debt between 2008 and 2010, while the regional government had a total debt of €6.328 billion. Despite the scandal, Alberto João Jardim was reelected to a ninth full term in office with yet another absolute majority in October 2011, although the PSD’s support fell by 15.7%. The deficit was brought down to 4.3% of GDP in 2011 but increased again to 6.4% in 2012, before falling to 4.9% in 2013 (but, in 2011, the original Troika demand had been pushing for a 3% deficit in 2013). Portugal has been in recession since 2011, with -1.3% in 2011, -3.2% in 2012 and -1.4% in 2013. The government’s forecasts had initially predicted positive growth in 2013, but current estimates show that the economy might finally grow again only this year (+1.2% predicted by the EC). The government had more trouble than it had expected because its austerity policies in 2011 and 2012 led to a major collapse in consumer spending, and lower than expected revenues for the state. Furthermore, despite the austerity, Portugal’s bond yields remained high and refused to budge for most of 2012 (in contrast to Ireland or Spain) and Portugal’s credit rating was again downgraded – the country currently has a negative outlook BB rating from Standard & Poor’s.
The unemployment rate soared from 12.6% when the PSD took office in June 2011 to a high of 17.4% in early 2013, although it has since begun declining to stand at 14.3% in May 2014. In September 2012, ostensibly to reduce unemployment, Passos Coelho announced cuts in the social security paid by employers (from 23.25% to 18%) – financed by a concomitant increase in social security contributions from employees (from 11% to 18%), which meant a clear fall in employees’ take-home pay. The Prime Minister’s policy unleashed a firestorm of criticism – it united the radical left, trade unions and the PS against the government, and was criticized on the right by a former PSD leader (Manuela Ferreira Leite) while Paulo Portas, the leader of the CDS-PP and foreign minister, indicated his disagreement with the idea and raised the specter of a coalition crisis between the PSD and its junior partner. In late September, after a very successful strike and protest movement against the government, it was finally forced to scrap the idea of toying around with social security contributions. But forced to meet the Troika’s demands, the government chose to raise taxes. Even after the decision, the CDS-PP continued to show its thinly-veiled displeasure with the government, although the government’s junior member still voted in favour of the budget in October 2012.
However, in January 2013, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva – a member of the PSD, but who has often acted as he saw fit while President (an unconventional and often interventionist style which has won him many critics and low approval ratings for a Portuguese head of state) – announced that he would take several items from the 2013 budget to the Constitutional Court for a decision on their constitutionality. In April 2013, the court ruled that three items from the budget were unconstitutional: abolishing the ’13th and 14th month’ bonuses for public servants (on the grounds of not respecting equality between public and private employees), abolishing the ’13th and 14th month’ bonuses for retirees and a special tax on unemployment and sickness benefits. It upheld, however, a ‘solidarity tax’ on pensions over €1,350 a month. The court (who declared its ruling to be retroactive) blew a €1.3 billion ‘hole’ in the budget. The government was livid and its attacks on the court’s ruling were unexpectedly violent – accusing it of placing the country’s stability in jeopardy and fueling rumours that Portugal would need a second bailout. Yet, forced to conform, Passos Coelho announced that spending cuts would replace tax hikes in 2013. The court has continued to reject austerity measures proposed by the government, heightening tensions between the government and the judiciary. The government would like to open the constitution to amend clauses and allow for more spending cuts and a reorganization of state-provided health services and public education, as the IMF has proposed, but the PS has refused to discuss such reforms.
In July 2013, the government faced another crisis – this time within its own ranks. It began with the resignation of Vítor Gaspar, the technocrat finance minister (embattled by the failure of austerity policies which failed to meet targets), and his replacement by María Luis Albuquerque, from the PSD. Paulo Portas, the leader of the CDS-PP and foreign minister, handed his resignation to the Prime Minister – and said it was ‘irreversible’. However, Passos Coelho refused to accept his resignation and created a political crisis with an uncertain resolution – Passos Coelho tried to mediate the crisis internally by promoting Paulo Portas to Deputy Prime Minister (a new title) while the President reiterated his old demand for a ‘national salvation’ government with the PS and snap elections in 2014 after the bailout program’s conclusion. The PS quickly shut the door on any ‘national salvation’ coalition, and Cavaco Silva was forced to accept the reshuffled coalition cabinet with Portas now sitting as Deputy Prime Minister.
Portugal’s economic health has only just begun improving. The economy should grow in 2014, for the first time since 2010; bond yields have fallen; unemployment should keep falling; the debt has peaked at 129% of GDP and should begin decreasing and Lisbon is projected to finally meet the EU’s 3% deficit limit in 2013. Part of the growth has come thanks to exports, as the country now boasts a current account surplus. The country managed to successfully exit the Troika bailout program on schedule in May 2014, without a safety net line of credit. The successful exit from the bailout program was a big victory for the government, which had repeatedly insisted that Portugal would complete its structural adjustment program within schedule. The EC praised the ‘efforts’ made by Lisbon but at the same time warned against complacency and underlined the need to continue pushing forward with structural reforms. The centre-right cabinet wishes to simplify rules to set up businesses, loosen a rigid labour market and lighten the burden on firms shackled by high charges from the protected non-traded sectors (utilities etc). The OECD says such measures could lead to a significant increase in the GDP by 2020.
However, the Portuguese mood remains overwhelmingly pessimistic and gloomy, with over 90% of respondents in the most recent Eurobarometer saying that the country’s economy is in bad shape (a level similar to Greece) and a significant number of Portuguese who are unconvinced that recovery is here for the long-term. The pessimism with regards to the economy has also been mixed with anger against the government and austerity. Since November 2011, the government has faced several strikes and large protest movements (of varying success), led by trade unions. The CGTP-IS, the largest trade union confederation and an ally of the Communist Party (PCP), has usually been the most inflexible of the unions and been on the frontlines of all anti-austerity and anti-government protests. However, the effectiveness of the unions has been weakened by divisions in the wider movement – for example, in early 2012, the more moderate UGT (linked to the PS), refused to join the CGTP-IS in another strike. Many workers also stayed away from picket lines, unwilling to lose a day’s pay in a bad economy. In contrast to Greece, where protests since 2010 have often been heated, all protests in Portugal have been well-disciplined and peaceful.
Unlike in Greece but also Italy, Spain and even Ireland, the economic crisis in Portugal has not seen major changes in the political system. In addition to pessimism and anti-government feelings, common to all ‘PIIGS’ countries, Portugal has also been hit by apathy and general resignation in the face of the crisis. Voters unhappy with the government has not turned to new parties (there really aren’t any), far-right populists (like in Spain, the far-right in Portugal is an irrelevant joke) or even minor parties – instead, they’ve reacted with run-of-the-mill anti-incumbency and supported either the PS or the Communists. The PS – quite unlike the Spanish Socialists – has recovered quite nicely from its 2011 defeat under the new leadership of António José Seguro. There is little enthusiasm for the PS – in fact, most know that a PS government would apply similar austerity policies anyway (the PS has opposed the current government’s austerity policies, harshly at times but more softly than the radical left at other times) – but the PS seems to benefit from anti-incumbency and the lack of strong alternatives on the left.
The PS won the local elections in September 2013 – although the PS’ vote share fell slightly (by about 1%) from 2009, the PS won 36.3% of the vote for the municipal executives and won 149 municipalities, a gain of 17. The PS easily held Lisbon with over 50.9% of the vote, and the PS gained cities including Coimbra, Vila Nova de Gaia, Sintra, Vila Real and the Madeiran capital of Funchal (an historic defeat for the PSD). On the other hand, the PS lost Braga and Guarda to the PSD and lost three major municipalities (Loures, Beja, Évora) to the Communists. An independent candidate backed by the CDS-PP gained Porto from a term-limited PSD mayor, winning about 39.3% against 22.7% for the PS and only 21.1% to the PS.
The PS won the EP elections with a fairly strong result (31.5%). However, the narrow margin of victory (3.8%) and the underperformance compared to polling (the PS was polling about 36-38% and predicted to win between 9 and 10 MEPs) in a context which should have been quite favourable to the opposition, makes it a very bitter victory indeed for the PS. With elections due in 2015, António José Seguro, the PS leader, may face a leadership challenge from António Costa, the popular PS mayor of Lisbon. That being said, the result can hardly be considered a victory for the centre-right governing parties, who ran a common list (like in the 2004 EP elections) known as Aliança Portugal. The two parties won only 27.7% of the vote, compared to 40.1% for the two parties running separately in the 2009 EP elections (a surprise victory for the PSD over the then-governing PS) and 50.4% in the 2011 election. The right’s result is so catastrophic that it is even lower than the result of the PSD alone in either 2011 (38.7%) or 2009 (31.7%), and the Aliança Portugal coalition also badly underperformed its polling (29-30%, predicted to win between 7 and 9 seats). The centre-right parties returned only 7 MEPs – 6 from the PSD and 1 from the CDS-PP – compared to 10 in 2009.
One of the main winners of the election was the Democratic Unitarian Coalition (CDU), the permanent coalition between the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and the Greens (PEV) – although the PCP is the dominant and only relevant party of the two, with the Greens more or less acting as the PCP’s section for environmental issues. The Communists remain fairly unreconstructed – the party’s logo still has the distinctive hammer and sickle and the PCP continues to issues communiqués praising communist regimes or denouncing ‘imperialism’ – although, in practice, the PCP largely offers fairly innocuous and standard-fare leftist populism around bread-and-butter issues (which makes the PCP more in touch with reality than the Greek Communists, who are completely in the 1950s). In the EP campaign, for example, the CDU called for a renegotiation of the debt, increasing national production, higher wages and pensions, higher taxes on capital gains and profits, defense of public services and defense of Portuguese national sovereignty against the EU and the Troika (held responsible for what it calls the ‘aggression pact’). The PCP The Communists have been on an upswing recently, having won their result since the late 1990s in the 2013 local elections (11%) and, with 12.7%, it has won its best result in an EP election since 1989. However, because of low turnout, the CDU’s result in terms of raw votes (416.4k votes) is lower than its 2011 intake (over 441 thousand votes, or 8%), so the result is likely one of differential turnout and the Communists’ ability to hold and turn out their loyal base. Nevertheless, the PCP did increase its raw vote in the 2013 local elections – both compared to the previous local elections in 2009 and 2011 – so the Communists have seen a real increase in support. However, their potential for growth is still fairly limited.
The Communists have retained a sizable and loyal electoral base since the Carnation Revolution, although it has seen its support decline somewhat from the 1970s and 1980s. The PCP’s electoral base is very regionalized – it retains very strong support, at all levels of government, in the Alentejo region and Lisbon’s industrial hinterland in the Setúbal Peninsula. In this election, the PCP was the largest party in the districts of Setúbal (29%) and Beja (35.3%) and placed a very strong and close second behind the PS in Évora (31.3%). In contrast, the Communists won less than 5% of the vote in the Azores, Madeira and northern districts such as Bragança and Viseu. Although Portugal is, politically and administratively, a heavily centralized state with only weak local governments, there is a real regional diversity in the country – politically, which reflects a social and economic diversity. The inland south, the Alentejo region (districts of Beja, Évora, Setúbal and Portalegre) – to the south of the Tagus river and to the north of coastal Algarve – was historically a poor region characterized by latifundios, big landowners, landless peasants, anti-clericalism and rural agitation. The Communists were well organized with landless peasants, and the party played a major role in the land seizures and aborted agrarian reform which immediately followed the Carnation Revolution. The region, which remains quite poor and increasingly dominant on the public sector (especially in suburban Lisbon), is a left-wing stronghold in which the PSD regularly places a poor third. Northern Portugal was historically a region of smallholders, small and dispersed private property and often depicted as being very Catholic. Catholic smallholders violently resisted communist collectivization and agrarian reform during the Carnation Revolution/PREC. The north has usually leaned to the PSD, but it is far from being politically homogeneous: the PS has significant support, notably in the cities – Porto, an old republican and liberal bastion and the north’s major industrial centre, but also Braga and Coimbra.
The other winner of this election – a surprise winner – was the Party of the Earth (MPT), a small centre-right green party (it is part of a rump, right-leaning green international in which the German/Bavarian ÖDP and the French MEI are the only other relevant members) founded in 1993 which has regularly participated in all elections but has never really achieved much success – in the 2009 EP elections, running as the Portuguese ally of Declan Ganley’s Libertas, the MPT won only 0.66% and in 2011 the MPT took 0.41%. Its sole parliamentarian was a regional deputy in Madeira, reelected in 2011, with 1.9% of the vote. Its success in the EP elections, with a exceptional 7.1% and nearly 235,000 votes, was totally unexpected. Nobody had predicted that the MPT would win one seat, let alone two. The MPT’s success likely owes to two factors: its top candidate and its populist, anti-establishment platform. The MPT’s top candidate on its list was Marinho Pinto, a fairly well-known Portuguese lawyer and former president of the Portuguese Bar Association, who has often attracted media attention because of his controversial statements (he famously said that Brazil’s main export to Portugal were prostitutes and he has ranted about the ‘gay lobby’ in the past). The MPT had a populist and anti-establishment platform – although a lot of the platform is mostly feel-good, touchy-feely white noise, the MPT called for a renewal of the political elite, criticized EU technocrats and their illegitimacy and attacked financial deregulation all while still being fairly pro-EU. The party’s vote distribution was fairly homogeneous – it polled quite well in Madeira and coastal districts on the mainland (Porto, Aveiro, Coimbra, Viana do Castelo), but its vote did not have any major peaks or troughs. Unlike the German ÖDP, which joined the G-EFA group, the MPT’s two new MEPs have joined the ALDE group.
A major loser was the Left Bloc (BE), a radical left party which often compares itself to Greece’s SYRIZA, and like the Greek party it was originally founded as an alliance of various hard-left movements and minor parties (Maoists, Trotskyists, anti-globalization activists, New Left, Marxists). Usually focused on social issues such as non-discrimination, abortion, same-sex marriage (both of which are now legalized and have largely dropped off the political radar), the BE quickly gained ground in the early 2000s as a hip, trendy and modern radical left party – peaking at 10.7% in the 2009 EP elections (or 9.8% in that year’s legislative elections), and surpassing the Communists. Since that high water mark, however, the BE’s support has declined as the party’s niche issues have become far less relevant and the party’s profile and credibility on economic issues is both weaker and less distinctive from the other parties (often seen as lacking ideas of its own). Quite unlike its Greek friends, the BE has been unable to benefit from the economic crisis. In the 2011 election, the BE’s support fell back to 5.2% and the party lost half of its seats. Since then, the BE’s support in polls has jumped around a bit, but it has not really made new inroads. The retirement of the BE’s longtime leader and MP (since 1999) Francisco Louçã in November 2012 and his replacement by two rather anonymous coordinators hasn’t helped. The BE also faces serious infighting. In 2011, MEP Rui Tavares defected and joined the G-EFA group in the EP, and went on to found Livre, an eco-socialist party. Other members of the BE has pressed, unsuccessfully, for the party to become a potential left-wing governing partner for the PS. On economic issues, at the forefront nowadays, the BE has trouble distinguishing itself from the PCP – it favours an audit and renegotiation of the debt, higher incomes, nationalization of bailed-out banks and rejects the Fiscal Compact – it only really breaks from the PCP in being pro-European and calling for a broad leftist government. However, the BE lacks the PCP’s advantages – the Communists have a loyal electorate, strong trade union roots and an old grassroots presence in the Alentejo and other regions. Livre, running independently with Rui Tavares, won 2.2% of the vote – a result which would allow it to win at least one seat in a legislative election.
Some small parties below the threshold did quite well too. The Party for Animals and Nature (PAN), an animal rights’ party which elected its first regional deputy in Madeira in 2011, won 1.7% nationally and 3.3% in Madeira. The Portuguese Labour Party (PTP), the fourth largest party in the regional parliament in Madeira now led by José Manuel Coelho, a populist and loudmouth critic of PSD boss Alberto João Jardim, won 6.6% and fourth place in Madeira. Nationally, the Portuguese Workers’ Communist Party (PCTP/MRPP), an old Maoist party (of which José Manuel Barroso was a member, before being expelled) last famous during the Carnation Revolution in 1974-5 for being an inflexible enemy of the PCP (a ‘social-fascist’ fraud funded by the CIA, it claimed), won 1.7%. The PCTP amusingly seems to be doing better than ever before, on the heels of a record high performance of 1.1% in 2011.
Political apathy bred by the crisis also expressed itself in the form of the lowest ever turnout in a Portuguese EP election – only 33.8% of voters turned out on May 25, compared to 36.8% in 2009. There was also a high number of white and invalid votes: 4.41% and 3.06%, compared to 4.63% and 2% in 2009.
Turnout: 32.44% (+4.77%)
MEPs: 32 (-1)
Electoral system: Closed-list PR, 5% threshold for parties only – doesn’t apply to independents (national constituency)
PSD-PC-UNPR (S&D) 37.6% (+6.53%) winning 16 seats (+5)
PNL (ALDE>EPP) 15% (+0.48%) winning 6 seats (+1)
PDL (EPP) 12.23% (-17.48%) winning 5 seats (-5)
Independent – Mircea Diaconu (ALDE) 6.81% (+6.81%) winning 1 seat (+1)
UDMR (EPP) 6.29% (-2.63%) winning 2 seats (-1)
PMP (EPP) 6.21% (+6.21%) winning 2 seats (+2)
PP-DD 3.67% (+3.67%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PRM (NI) 2.7% (-5.95%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Forța Civică (EPP) 2.6% (+2.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PER (G-EFA) 1.15% (+1.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 5.63% (-1.07%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Romania is, after neighboring Bulgaria, the second poorest member-state in the EU and also one of its newest members, having joined the Union with Bulgaria in 2007. Romanian politics in the past few years have been marked by growing apathy and dissatisfaction with the political system, as seen by the declining turnout in national elections (41.8% in the 2012 legislative election, which was actually up from 39.2% in 2008!). Politics in Romania are far more personal than ideological – although there are parties, who have somewhat coherent ideologies and do line up with European ideologies, the political debate is often largely around personality rather than ideological issues. As such, politics have tended be quite bitter and acrimonious, and it has become increasingly so under President Traian Băsescu, who leaves office later this year after ten years as Romania’s head of state. Parties have little ideological differences, and should perhaps be understood as patronage machines or personal vehicles; in contrast with other post-communist countries, however, Romania has not really seen the rapid rise and subsequent collapse of new parties. Partisan loyalty has been increasingly thin, with an increasing number of politicians who have switched parties. The parties themselves have switched alliances repeatedly in the past years, making coalitions tenuous and governments increasingly unstable. Romania suffers from a toxic conflation of political and business elites, and the media – when it is not owned outright by politicians – is intensely partisan.
The Romanian Revolution in 1989, which overthrew Nicolae Ceaușescu’s brutal and ‘Sultanistic’ communist regime, is increasingly seen as an ‘internal coup’ in which second-tier Communist apparatchiks, such as President Ion Iliescu (1990-1996, 2000-2004), quickly moved in and seized power for themselves, replacing Ceaușescu’s personal clique with a new elite. This new elite proved to be corrupt, unwilling to engage in deep reform and autocratic – in power, it was predominantly concerned with shoring up its own power and settling scores with political opponents and the opposition parties. Since then, Romanian politicians and governments have often been more interested by personal vendettas against their opponents than dealing with issues such as corruption and economic reform. The National Salvation Front (FSN), the provisional government which replaced Ceaușescu and which was largely staffed by formerly sidelined Communist apparatchiks (like Iliescu) or second-tier regime and the ubiquitous secret police (Securitate), did not hold together for long and various factions alongside warring political bosses soon went their own ways. Iliescu’s faction, more allergic to reforms, eventually became the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a rather powerful collection of former communist officials, Securitate assets and corrupt local political barons. Although Iliescu’s administrations were largely marred by corruption and sluggish reforms, the PSD has become more reformist under recent leaders – critics would contend that the reforms were deceitful, aimed at tricking the EU into accepting Romania and putting up an outward appearance of change while a corrupt and autocratic elite blocked real change. The slightly more reformist and liberal faction of the FSN founded the Democratic Party (PD) in 1993, which merged with dissidents from the National Liberal Party (PNL) to become the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL).
In 2004, Traian Băsescu, a former ship captain and PD mayor of Bucharest, was narrowly elected President in alliance with the PNL, a centre-right liberal party (based on the powerful interwar party) supportive of economic reforms and neoliberal policies (such as the flat tax). Under the agreement, the PNL’s Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu became Prime Minister in coalition with the PD, the Hungarian minority party (the UDMR) and the small ‘Humanist Party’ (now the Conservative Party, PC). Băsescu, a right-leaning populist known for his hot temper and abrasive bully personality, was elected on an anti-corruption, anti-elitist and anti-communist platform. He has often lashed out at his political opponents and media critics in foul-mouthed tirades, or making offensive statements. His political opponents have repeatedly accused him of breaking or bending the constitution, and – like his predecessors – has often used his office to settle scores or wage war on his opponents. Băsescu utterly failed to live up to his promises – going after corruption in Romania is often a one-sided affair, mostly motivated by partisan ends, and Băsescu’s opponents claim that he has only used the presidency to replace an old guard with his cronies.
Given his hot temper, it is no surprise that relations between Băsescu and his first Prime Minister quickly broke down beginning in 2005-6 and culminated with Popescu-Tăriceanu dismissing all PDL ministers from his cabinet in April 2007, forming a minority government with the UDMR and PC which received support from the opposition PSD. Under the Romanian constitution, the President appoints but may not dismiss the Prime Minister, much to Băsescu’s chagrin. His opponents in Parliament voted to impeach him on fairly flimsy grounds in April 2007, but Băsescu survived the impeachment referendum in May 2007 – turnout was under 50% and thus invalid anyhow, and those who did vote opposed his impeachment with three-quarters against. In 2008, the PDL and PSD emerged from legislative elections as the two largest parties, with the PNL trailing in third. Băsescu successfully blocked the formation of an opposition PSD-PNL cabinet, and instead appointed a PDL-PSD coalition led by Emil Boc, the PDL mayor of Cluj-Napoca. However, relations between the two warring partners worsened with the very heated 2009 presidential election (in October 2009, the PSD joined the opposition parties in voting a no-confidence motion in Boc’s government), in which Băsescu faced a very difficult challenge from the PSD’s Mircea Geoană in the second round. The PNL’s first round candidate, Crin Antonescu, endorsed Geoană in the runoff. Băsescu was reelected in an extremely narrow election, with 50.33% of the vote and a 70,000 vote majority; the PSD cried wolf, but the Constitutional Court dismissed the PSD’s claims of vote rigging. Băsescu was returned to office, but the election had pushed the PSD and PNL even further away from him, creating a highly-charged and polarized political climate.
Băsescu’s Prime Minister, Emil Boc, now governing with the UDMR and opportunistic pro-Băsescu PSD-PNL dissidents, also needed to deal with a poor economy (-6.6% recession in 2009, -1.1% recession in 2010) and a large budget deficit (9% in 2009, 6.8% in 2010, 5.5% in 2011). The government received a €20.6 billion loan in 2009 from the IMF, in exchange for stringent austerity policies. Public sector wages were cut, spending was cut, the VAT was increased and social benefits were cut. These austerity policies brought a strong reaction from Romanians, who were tired of low wages and tax increases while politicians continued to line their pockets. They took to the streets in early 2012, initially to protest a health reform which would have cut benefits and privatized a good deal of the healthcare sector, but the protests later became a broad anti-government movement. They successfully obtained the resignation of Emil Boc in February 2012, who was replaced by Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, a former boss of the foreign intelligence services, who tried to form a coalition based around the same parties. In late April 2012, however, Ungureanu’s cabinet was toppled by a no-confidence motion supported by the opposition – the PSD, PNL and PC had formed an electoral coalition, the Social Liberal Union (USL) in February 2011.
Băsescu was forced to appoint Victor Ponta, his sworn enemy and leader of the PSD, as Prime Minister at the helm of a clearly anti-Băsescu USL cabinet. The new cohabitation between the two enemies of Romanian politics unleashed a major constitutional crisis, where both sides acted like elementary school kids in a schoolyard brawl. Victor Ponta was accused of plagiarizing his doctoral thesis – over 80 pages of his thesis were plagiarized, lifting entire pages and arguments from other authors. Ponta – who dismissed the commission in charge of academic integrity and refused to resign – claimed that Băsescu’s allies had leaked the plagiarism scandal to the press to sully him, and reacted by leaking details of corruption allegations surrounding Băsescu. Matters got even worse when, at around the same time, Ponta’s doctoral thesis advisor and political mentor, former PSD Prime Minister Adrian Năstase (2000-2004, defeated by Băsescu in 2004), was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years in jail (and tried to commit suicide when the police came to escort him to jail).
In June 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled against Ponta in a dispute between him and Băsescu over who from Ponta and Băsescu should have represented the country at a European summit. In reaction to this judicial rebuke, Ponta went all-out against the judicial system, claiming that the courts were stacked with Băsescu loyalists. The government threatened to fire Constitutional Court judges, fired and replaced the ombudsman with a party loyalist, seized control of the official journal, replaced the heads of both chambers of Parliament and tried to remove the Constitutional Court’s ability to rule on parliamentary matters. Ponta’s attack on judicial independence and his autocratic behaviour were badly received by the EC and EU leaders, and many began painting Ponta as Romania’s own Viktor Orbán. The EC issued a stark warning to the Romanian government in early July, and Angela Merkel minced no words in condemning Ponta’s actions. The EC has debated which sanctions, if any, should be adopted against Romania. A freeze in EU transfers was seriously considered, but the crisis derailed or at least significantly delayed Romanian attempts to join the Schengen area. Unlike Orbán however, Ponta has not been defiant of European institutions and moved to soothe fears that he was staging something akin to a coup d’état. Ponta claimed that there had been misunderstandings, and reassured that he would withdraw his controversial laws if they were to cause any trouble for Romania in the EU. The PSD’s allies in the S&D group in the EP lined up to defend Ponta, criticizing the EPP and the European centre-right governments of being biased against Ponta and unfairly attacking him, while pointing out that the EPP was far less vocal in attacking Orbán’s actions in Hungary (likely because Orbán’s Fidesz is a member of the EPP).
In July 2012, the Parliament voted to impeach the President, accusing him of usurping the Prime Minister’s powers, using the secret services against political enemies, refusing to appoint cabinet ministers, trying to influence prosecutors in criminal cases and engaging in illegal phone tapping. Băsescu has flatly denied these allegations, and regardless of their veracity, the case for his impeachment is constitutionally flimsy and is definitely politically motivated. Given that the impeachment of the President requires both support from a majority of those who voted and turnout over 50%, the government unsuccessfully tried to remove the turnout requirement to guarantee their chances of success. He was forced to reinstate the turnout requirement after domestic and European criticism. Băsescu, denouncing a constitutional coup d’état and a grave threat to democracy, called on his supporters to boycott the referendum (with the hope that less than 50% of voters would turn out and invalidate whatever the verdict was); but the referendum was a much more heated battle than the 2007 one, because Băsescu was now very unpopular – in June 2012, Băsescu’s PDL won only 15% against 50% for the USL in local elections. In the end, however, Ponta and the USL lost their gamble. Even if those who turned out overwhelmingly approved the turnout fell short of the 50% threshold required for the referendum to be valid (it was 46.5%). Ponta argued that the court should validate the result anyway, but ultimately – as expected – the courts invalidated the results before turnout was below 50%. The no-win outcome of the vote extended the political battle between Ponta and Băsescu to the December 2012 legislative elections.
Even if Ponta learned his lessons and shied away (somewhat) from overly controversial measures, his government rammed through a media bill which makes changes to the national council which regulates the mass media (considered as right-leaning); the bill seems destined at shoring up the business interests of one of the USL’s most prominent backers: Dan Voiculescu (the founder of the small ‘Conservative Party’), a former Securitate informer and a media mogul behind a large media conglomerate which owns several TV channels and print media. The PC is weak on its own, but remains a powerful and useful ally for the major parties, and it has tended to ally itself with the PSD more often than not and there’s very little sign of genuine right-wing politics or conservatism from them. The USL ran a populist campaign for the legislative elections, pledging to roll back austerity, increase the minimum wage and lower taxes (such as the VAT); the PNL’s leader, Crin Antonescu, alleged that Băsescu’s right-wing allies in the EU (Merkel) were discussing plans to ‘federalize’ Romania and warned that the country would not be the ‘servants’ of EU institutions – this rhetoric shows how little value we can attach to ideology in Romania, given that the PNL was often identified as the most pro-EU party (and the most economically liberal). The discredited and unpopular centre-right, led by the PDL, disingenuously presented themselves as defenders of Romanian democracy against a corrupt and authoritarian government.
It didn’t work, as the USL won about 60% of the vote against 16% for the PDL and its small allies, winning a two-thirds majority in both houses. The other winner of the election was the People’s Party – Dan Diaconescu (PP-DD), a new populist party founded by Dan Diaconescu, the owner of the OTV TV channel and the host of his own popular talk-show on OTV, a sensationalist and very populist ‘infotainment’ show. He had begun going after Băsescu in 2010, and grandly proclaimed himself (and OTV) to be the messiah and only opponent of Băsescu’s dictatorial-like regime. His going into politics was partly an attempt to escape sanctions for repeated violations of broadcasting rules and tax evasion. His party promised giving €20,000 to Romanians who start a business, raising all salaries and pensions and cutting salaries for MPs and top officials. The PP-DD won about 14% of the vote, electing 47 deputies and 21 senators, but Diaconescu himself was defeated – losing against Ponta in the Prime Minister’s district. Predictably, he lost interest quickly thereafter and Diaconescu’s OTV was shut down by the National Audiovisual Council in January 2013 after it was showed that OTV had not paid over 1 million lei in fines. Diaconescu was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2013 on the charge of blackmailing a mayor, and OTV has linked up with România TV, a channel owned by a PSD deputy.
Although the knives remained drawn between Băsescu and Ponta in the aftermath of the elections, with thinly-veiled threats from Băsescu that he would not appoint Ponta as Prime Minister and comments from Ponta warning that Băsescu’s time was over, both politicians ultimately agreed to settle down – guaranteeing institutional cooperation and a commitment to respect the constitution. Băsescu’s term is ending later this year, and he has seemingly shifted his attention to his own political future post-presidency and to infighting within the PDL. Ponta has not turned out to be a Viktor Orbán, although his autocratic penchants and corrupt political alliance is cause for concern. Nevertheless, the EU has been happier with Romania’s behaviour – in a recent report (by the EC Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification in Bulgaria and Romania), the EU praised the pace of judicial reform in Romania although it still listed concerns about judicial independence and anti-corruption measures.
Economically, Ponta’s government has largely continued the austerity policies and economic liberalization of his predecessors – Romania negotiated a second €6 billion loan from the IMF in 2011 and a third one worth €6.5 billion in 2013. However, the economy is now doing better – the deficit is now under the 3% limit, the economy grew by 3.5% in 2013 (and should grow by about 2.5% in 2014) and unemployment is low-ish at around 7%. In 2013, The Economist ran a piece titled ‘Romania is booming’, to allay Western European (especially British) fears of ‘massive’ Romanian and Bulgarian immigration as freedom of movement for workers came into effect for both countries in 2014. That being said, there remains significant political dissatisfaction in Romania, which has seen several major protests since 2013 from postal workers, railway employees, doctors, teachers, electricity employees, Jiu Valley miners, transport employees and students – mostly because of low wages, job insecurity, fears of mass layoffs, taxes, corruption, the IMF presence and a controversial new penal code (which would immunize politicians from corruption charges by removing their status as ‘public officials’). Although a few protests were partisan, a lot where both anti-Ponta and anti-Băsescu.
There have also been major protests around environmental issues – since September 2013, there have been large protests against an open-pit gold mining project in Roșia Montană (a concession was granted to the local subsidiary of a Canadian mining company) which managed to convince Parliament to reject the mining deal; since 2012, there have been many local protests against shale gas projects by Chevron. In both cases, protesters are angry with Ponta because he changed his mind, from initially opposing them while in opposition to supporting them while in government. In the shale gas protests, there have been accusations of police brutality against protesters.
Meanwhile, politicians shifted their attention to the presidential election in November 2014. Under the original USL agreement, Crin Antonescu was set to be the USL’s candidate for President in 2014. Once in power – and with the goal of removing Băsescu more or less done, however, the USL alliance began to show cracks in the form of tensions between the PSD and PNL, its two largest members. The USL was a ragtag alliance of diverse parties united by little more than shared opposition to Băsescu – for example, the USL included Gigi Becali, the owner of the Steaua Bucureşti football club and ultra-nationalist avowed admirer of the pre-war fascist Iron Guard movement. The PNL claimed that Ponta was trying to isolate and sideline the party, and tensions over the eventual presidential candidate increased. In February 2014, the PNL withdrew from the government and joined the opposition. Ponta formed a new government with the PSD, PC, the Hungarian UDMR and the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR, founded by opportunistic PSD-PNL dissidents in 2010 who supported Băsescu but who fled back to the PSD as soon as Băsescu became a liability – I suppose it still exists because a party registration is quite lucrative and they’re intent on milking the cow for as long as possible). Thanks to defections from the PP-DD (which has retained only 15 of its 47 deputies) and other parties, the PSD-UNPR group in the Chamber of Deputies has 184 members – up from 159 after the elections.
Băsescu lost control of the PDL, which had behaved more or less as Băsescu’s party since 2004 – even though the President is not constitutionally able to join any party and must be politically neutral. In early 2013, Elena Udrea, a former minister of regional development and close confidante of the President, was defeated in a PDL leadership election by Vasile Blaga, a former president of the Senate who wished to follow a more independent line. After her defeat, Băsescu announced that he was cutting off ties with the PDL and he formed his own party, the People’s Movement Party (PMP). The right-leaning PMP has little ideology besides supporting Băsescu. The PMP’s ranks include other Băsescu loyalists including former foreign minister Teodor Baconschi, PSD/UNPR defector and former foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu and Băsescu’s daughter, outgoing MEP Elena Băsescu. Elena Băsescu was elected to the EP as an independent candidate (backed by her father and parts of the PDL, after she was denied the PDL nomination) in 2009; prior to her election, she had been a top model and ‘showgirl’ (compared to Paris Hilton) who was ridiculed for her bad grammar and incompetence. She joined the PDL upon her election, but has since joined her father’s party. Traian Băsescu attracted controversy with pictures of him wearing a t-shirt calling to vote for the PMP, something which is likely unconstitutional because the President, constitutionally, is a politically neutral mediator between state and society who may not join any party. Ponta indeed referred the issue to the courts, with an annoyed Băsescu responding by denying that he had broken the constitution because he was free to wear what he wanted and that he’d vote for the PMP because ‘voting is not illegal’. The court found in favour of the President.
The EP elections set the stage for the presidential elections, which will see higher turnout and more interest from voters. Prime Minister Victor Ponta’s PSD-PC-UNPR alliance won the EP elections by a wide margin, taking 37.6% against only 15% for their closest rival, the PNL. The PNL’s poor result – only 15% of the vote, unchanged on its 2009 result – prompted PNL president (and presidential candidate) Crin Antonescu to resign. The party’s new leader and presidential nominee is now Klaus Iohannis, the German mayor of Sibiu and former member of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania (FDGR); Iohannis has been mayor of Sibiu since 2000, even if the German minority in the town is now tiny, and has been reelected by huge margins in successive elections (most recently 77.9% in 2012). Victor Ponta has confirmed that he will be the PSD’s candidate in the presidential election, likely entering the race as the favourite.
On the right, the PDL was crushed – its result was done 17.5% in its 2009 performance, and it lost half of its MEPs. It lost support to President Băsescu’s PMP, which won 6.2% and elected 2 MEPs. The PDL’s defeat and the PNL’s mediocre result has ushered in a major realignment of the Romanian right – the PNL and PDL have announced that they will merge into one party, and the centre-right Civic Force (FC) party led by former apolitical Prime Minister Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu may join the new party as well. It will need to face the competition of Băsescu’s allies in the PMP, who will be supporting his former foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu in the November 2014 elections, although he is unlikely to be a top contender. Shortly after the EP elections, the PNL announced that its MEPs would be leaving the ALDE group to join the EPP group, on the grounds that they didn’t want a ‘socialist president’ of the EC (although I’m really not sure how being the EPP rather than ALDE would have made that less likely).
For the third successive time, Romanians elected one independent MEP – this year, it was Mircea Diaconu, a former actor and culture minister associated with the PNL. His candidacy was originally rejected by the electoral authorities, but reinstated by an appeals court. He ran as an independent politicians persecuted by a bureaucracy which wanted to keep him from office, and his independent candidacy allegedly received underhanded support from Ponta and the Intact Media Group of Dan Voiculescu, the PC founder. Diaconu placed second in Bucharest with 16% of the vote (the PMP also placed ahead of the PDL and PNL there), and the PNL has accused him of eating into their electorate. He has joined the ALDE group and has said that he will be an honest representative of Romanians in the EP, ‘speaking the truth’ about a country which is often depicted as backwards or dirt poor by the Western media.
The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), the centre-right party representing the Hungarian minority in Romania (6.5%), lost one seat and saw its vote share fall by about 2.6% from the 2009 election. The UDMR lost votes from the last EP election, although it may have suffered from turnout changes – in 2009, turnout in the heavily Hungarian counties of Covasna and Harghita in the Székely Land was significantly above national average. The UDMR is a crucial party in coalition politics, having governed with both the PSD and the centre-right parties (PDL) in the past; the party lobbies for Hungarian minority rights, most notably for regional autonomy for the Székely Land in eastern Transylvania (the largest concentration of ethnic Hungarians in Romania) – a contentious issue debated since 1990, but which has ended nowhere each time. The UDMR’s ethnic-nationalist campaign spoke of the need for Magyar MEPs to represent Hungarians’ interest, or else their place would be taken by Romanian MEPs.
Populist parties did poorly. Dan Diaconescu’s PP-DD has collapsed, winning only 3.7% of the vote. The far-right Greater Romania Party (PRM) led by the theatrical Corneliu Vadim Tudor, collapsed – winning only 2.7% and losing its three MEPs. Tudor’s PRM offers a weird mix of nostalgia for Ceaușescu’s national communism (Tudor began his career as a ‘court poet’ for Ceaușescu, writing sycophantic poetry praising the greatness of Ceaușescu), wartime pro-Nazi dictator Ion Antonescu, irredentism (regaining the formerly Romanian territories in Bessarabia and Bukovina which are now in Moldova and Ukraine) and – historically – crude anti-Semitism. The PRM’s heyday was in the late 1990s, culminating in the 2000 presidential election in which Tudor placed second in the first round and went on to the runoff against Iliescu, drawing obvious comparisons with the 2002 election in France and Jean-Marie Le Pen. It only won seats in the 2009 EP election due to low turnout; the PRM’s support has now collapsed entirely.
On a final note, inspired by the above write-up on Poland, I note that there’s an obvious historical map hiding in the electoral map in Romania (and this is nothing new) – the ‘old kingdom’ of Romania (minus Dobruja), which was Romanian prior to 1918, is the PSD’s base; while Transylvania, the Banat and so forth – which have been Romanian since 1918 – support the right (outside the Magyar regions). In this case, I have little explanation (and would be quite curious to hear anyone’s views).
Turnout: 13.05% (-7.59%)
MEPs: 13 (nc)
Electoral system: Semi open-list PR – preferential votes for one candidate, 5% threshold – candidates receiving at least 10% of their party’s votes are elected (national constituency)
Smer-SD (S&D) 24.09% (-7.92%) winning 4 seats (-1)
KDH (EPP) 13.21% (+2.34%) winning 2 seats (nc)
SDKÚ-DS (EPP) 7.75% (-9.24%) winning 2 seats (nc)
OĽaNO (ECR) 7.46% (+7.46%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NOVA-KDS-OKS (ECR) 6.83% (+4.73%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SaS (ALDE) 6.66% (+1.95%) winning 1 seat (+1)
SMK-MKP (EPP) 6.53% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Most-Híd (EPP) 5.83% (+5.83%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Strana TIP 3.69% (+3.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SNS (EFD) 3.61% (-1.94%) winning 0 seats (-1)
ĽSNS 1.73% (+1.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 12.45% (-3.93%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Slovakia’s EP elections will largely be remembered for their extremely low turnout. In 2004 and 2009, Slovakia had already set the EU records for the lowest turnout in EP elections – 17% in 2004 and 19.6% in 2009 – and it did so again this year, with only 13.1% of voters (or barely 575,000 people out of a registered electorate of 4.4 million!) turning out, the lowest turnout in the EU in 2014 and the lowest turnout in any EP election ever. As in other Eastern European countries and new EU member-states, the stakes of the election and the purpose of the EP both seem extremely distant and unclear to Slovak voters; worsened this year the timing of the election – on May 24, it came right after high-stakes presidential elections on March 15 and 29 (the runoff attracted about half of registered voters), and it is likely that voters were tired of voting. Furthermore, because the presidential election and its results dominated the media’s focus, no attention was given to an extremely low-key EP campaign. As such, the above results of the EP election should – even more than the other results – be treated with caution.
One man has been at the centre of Slovak politics since 2006 – Robert Fico, the incumbent Prime Minister (2006-2010, 2012-) and leader of the ruling Smer-SD (Direction-Social Democracy) party. Fico had emerged as a forceful opponent of the second centre-right coalition government of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda (1998-2006). Dzurinda’s bold and ambitious liberal ‘pro-market’ reforms (a 19% flat tax in 1994, healthcare, pensions and labour reform, privatizations) and strongly pro-European outlook (the government guided Slovakia’s entrance into the OECD, the EU and NATO) were lauded in Brussels and Washington, they were criticized by Fico’s left-wing populist party for being overly one-sided (in favour of the wealthy elite and business community) and unfair. Fico is, at the end of the day, a pragmatist and skilled political tactician, but he may rub a lot of people the wrong way by virtue of being rather mouthy, caustic and autocratic. His party won the 2006 elections, becoming the largest party, but he lacked a majority. He formed a highly controversial coalition with Ján Slota’s far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar’s People’s Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS). Ján Slota’s party, which won a record-high result of 11.6% in 2006, is highly controversial because of its (now ex-) leader’s comments on topics such as the Hungarian minority in Slovakia/Hungary (‘a cancer on the Slovak nation’ or a ‘ugly Mongoloid people’, and he once drunkenly threatened to lead tanks to flatten Budapest), the Roma people (the best strategy for them was a ‘long whip in a small yard’) and the wartime Nazi client regime of Jozef Tiso (one of the most enthusiastic collaborators with the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’ during the Holocaust, who was proclaimed by Slota as being one of Slovakia’s greatest sons); Slota also attracted controversy for priding himself on beating up a Hungarian or how he owned an expensive Bentley. Vladimír Mečiar’s HZDS, the largest party in Parliament between 1992 and 2006, ruled Slovakia for the vast majority of its early history as an independent state between 1992 and 1998. His mildly nationalist, authoritarian, corrupt and ‘crony capitalist’ administration made Slovakia a ‘pariah state’ in Europe and delayed the country’s European integration by several years. Mečiar lost control of government in 1998, when he was replaced by a pro-European and liberal coalition led by Dzurinda and in 1999, he lost a presidential runoff election. After his defeat, Mečiar tried to make his party more palatable – it tried to join all mainstream European political groups, finally settling down with the small liberal European Democratic Party and ALDE – but the HZDS’ downwards trend accelerated and tumbled from first to fifth in 2006.
Robert Fico’s alliance with the far-right earned him widespread condemnation, and Smer was suspended from the PES between 2006 and 2008. His first government had poor relations with the local media (there exists a mutual hatred between Fico and the Slovak media, and his government passed a new media law which was widely seen as curtailing the freedom of the press) and Hungary (because of Slota’s anti-Hungarian and disputes over issues such as Slovak language legislation), but Fico remained very popular at home – he reversed some of Dzurinda’s unpopular neoliberal policies and increased social spending, although he largely kept his predecessor’s pro-European and liberal outlook. Nevertheless, Fico polarized the political culture around him. The fragmented centre-right opposition accused him of being a populist autocrat, and claimed that Fico’s economic policies – which created a large deficit (8% in 2009 and 7.5% in 2010) and increased the public debt (41% of GDP in 2010) were unsustainable and reckless. In the 2010 elections, Smer increased its support to 35% and 62 (out of 150) seats, but the SNS lost 11 seats and Mečiar’s HZDS lost all seats. As a result, the divided centre-right opposition cobbled together a shaky four-party coalition led by Iveta Radičová including Radičová (and Dzurinda’s) mainstream liberal centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS), economist Richard Sulík’s new libertarian Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), the more clerical and conservative Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the new liberal Hungarian minority party Most-Híd (which replaced the older and more ethno-nationalist Party of the Hungarian Coalition, or SMK-MKP). The Radičová cabinet, fractious and torn by ideological differences between its members (notably between the pro-EU SDKÚ-DS and the more Eurosceptic SaS), followed a cautious (but austere) path and did not privatize or deregulate the economy as Fico warned that they would. Smer faulted the governing coalition for high unemployment (14%) and the rising cost of living.
The unstable government fell in October 2011, when SaS voted against the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) – a matter which Radičová tied to a vote of confidence – arguing that Slovakia, as one of the poorest Eurozone members, did not have the means to bailout richer countries. Smer strategically let the EFSF fail, in a bid to force the government to call snap elections – which it did – and then vote in favour of the EFSF in a later vote – which it did. Fico sailed smoothly through the 2012 campaign, as the voice of government stability and the defender of Slovaks’ way of living and a strong welfare state. The campaign was turned upside down by the Gorilla scandal – the revelation, based on hidden secret service wiretaps from 2005-6 alleging that elected officials received millions of euros in bribes from foreign multinationals and Slovak tycoons (notably the leading investment fund Penta, dubbed the ‘fifth partner’ of Mikuláš Dzurinda’s centre-right coalition from 2002 to 2006) to win public procurement contracts and privatization deals. Ministers, foreign investors, politicians and the four parties in Dzurinda’s old coalition (including the SDKÚ-DS and KDH) were all cited – as was Fico’s Smer, which allegedly met with members from Penta (but Fico claimed to have cut all ties with Penta since, and Fico is mostly known for acrimonious relations with big business). The Gorilla scandal ruined the centre-right, particularly the SDKÚ-DS. To make matters worse, Radičová – respected for her reformist, clean and anti-corruption image – retired and SDKÚ-DS’ leadership was reclaimed by Dzurinda, who by now was a corrupt old ‘gorilla’ of Slovak politics compromised by the scandal. The libertarian SaS tried to go on an anti-corruption crusade with this, but that blew up in their face when it turned out that SaS had the file back in 2010 and that, meanwhile, SaS’ defense minister order the wiretapping of a journalist and that Richard Sulík failed to inform police that one of his MPs had been offered a bribe to vote in favour of the prosecutor general’s renomination (the ‘Sea-flower scandal’).
Smer, mostly untainted by Gorilla and the voice of stability, won 44.4% of the vote and an absolute majority by itself, an historic feat. The SDKÚ-DS, traditionally the strongest party of the divided centre-right, collapsed from 15% to 6.1% and lost 17 seats, placing fifth. The KDH, which won 8.8%, placed a very distant second while third place was taken by Ordinary People (OĽaNO), a new conservative populist party which had been aligned with SaS in 2010. SaS won sixth place, falling from 22 to 11 seats. Most-Híd lost only one seat. The SNS lost its last 9 seats, while the SMK-MKP and ĽS-HZDS remained out of Parliament (the latter won 0.9%!) – ĽS-HZDS finally dissolved itself in 2014.
Robert Fico came into office for a second term with a much stronger governing majority (without any troubling or crazy coalition partners) and on a fairly pragmatic platform. It signaled its commitment to respecting the EU’s 3% limit for deficits (requiring savings of €1.85 billion), but Fico has slammed EU-wide austerity measures for being unable to support growth and job creation. Instead, the government chose to reduce the deficit by effectively abolishing Slovakia’s flat tax, introduced by the right in 2004, by increasing corporate taxes to 25% and creating a second income tax bracket of 25% for high income. It declined to raise the VAT by 1% as it originally proposed. According to EC data, Slovakia’s deficit was successfully reduced to 2.8% of GDP in 2013. Slovakia’s economic performance has been lackluster, because of low European demand for its exports. Growth slowed from 3% in 2011 to 1.8% in 2012 and 0.9% in 2013, unemployment has remained high at 14% (and youth unemployment is very high, at over 30%). On the whole, Fico has remained pragmatic and slightly less controversial than in his first term, but his nationalist penchants and pro-Russian sympathies irk a lot of his critics. In 2013, Fico said that Slovakia had been “established for Slovaks, not for minorities” (he later insisted his words were misinterpreted); his opponents claimed he was turning to minorities as an easy scapegoat to distract attention from the crisis and unemployment. He has also been criticized by the Roma and LGBT communities – he sarcastically dismissed opponents to his proposal for boarding schools for Roma children as ‘human rights angels’ and a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was passed in June 2014 with the KDH’s support. Relations with Hungary have remained frosty, largely because Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s nationalism alienates many Slovaks, who often feel threatened by the large Hungarian minority in Slovakia (about 9% of the population, concentrated in the south along the Hungarian border) – in 1938, Nazi Germany had allowed Hungary to annex southern Slovakia (and, in 1939, Carpathian Ruthenia, which was then part of Czechoslovakia) – and are irked whenever Budapest makes noises about the Hungarian diaspora. In 2010, when Orbán passed a new citizenship law making it easier for ethnic Hungarians abroad to gain the Hungarian citizenship, Smer retaliated by amending Slovakia’s citizenship law to strip any Slovak citizenship of their citizenship if they acquired another citizenship.
Fico is a very polarizing figure, who is simultaneously the most popular and least popular politician in Slovakia. Fico recently ran for the largely ceremonial office of President in the March 2014 presidential election – a risky bet likely motivated by his wish to retain power for five more years (as Prime Minister, he may lose reelection in 2016) and ‘presidentialize’ Slovak politics like President Miloš Zeman has done in the Czech Republic since 2013. He was supported by outgoing term-limited President Ivan Gašparovič, and his own ruling Smer party. Fico’s potential victory concerned many Slovaks, in part because control of the presidency would give Smer near-total control of the country – the executive, legislative, regional government (it holds 6 out 8 regional governorships) and the courts; in turn, Fico pledged to be a President who would unite Slovaks, and cited Austria’s popular and consensual President Heinz Fischer as his model. In the first round, Fico performed poorly with only 28% (although he placed first) and was thrown in a difficult runoff against Andrej Kiska, an independent businessman-turned-philanthropist (he founded two companies in the 1990s which provided high-interest loans by allowing consumers to buy appliances in installments, and later sold these firms to found a charity providing help to families with children suffering from long-term illnesses and parents who have serious diseases) who won 24%. Radoslav Procházka, a conservative KDH dissident standing as an independent on a socially conservative platform, won 21.2%; Milan Kňažko, a former centre-right cabinet minister standing as an independent, won 12.9%; Hungarian SMK-MKP candidate Gyula Bárdos took 5.1% while Pavol Hrušovský, the official candidate backed by the KDH, SDKÚ-DS and Most-Híd won only 3.3%. The vote indicated uneasiness about Fico and the prospect of ‘presidentialized’ politics, but also the continued fragmentation of the right and the little trust in partisan politicians – Kiska emphasized his political and financial independence, and attacked corruption and a public sphere characterized by ‘selfishness, nepotism, political affiliation, strong elbows and cynicism’. The second round saw a bizarre attempt by Fico to tie Kiska to the Church of Scientology, apparently because one of Kiska’s old firms was called ‘Trinangel’ and the sign of the Scientology is a triangle(!). Kiska was endorsed by most defeated candidates, and the March 29 runoff was very much a referendum on Fico (Fico said so himself) – and he lost it badly, ending up with only 40.6% against 59.4% for his rival. It was the first major electoral defeat for Fico and really shook the ruling party – his defeat drew comparisons to Vladimír Mečiar’s defeat in the 1999 presidential runoff against a liberal independent candidate. Kiska, despite (or because?) being a political novice, appealed because of his independence and rhetoric of being a President who would unite Slovaks and provide a healthy counter-power to Fico.
The EP election had little at stake, the parties (and voters) were tired and there were no great debates or nasty brawls. The vote was won by Fico’s ruling Smer-SD, but with only 24.1% and the loss of one MEP from 2009, it was a very underwhelming result which is likely due to low turnout/differential turnout (turnout was slightly higher, at 18.6%, in Bratislava, a right-wing stronghold) and demobilization of the party’s base after the blow suffered in March 2014. The other seats were won by old and new parties from the right. The opposition KDH, the main opposition party since 2012, increased its support from the 2009 election by about 2%, while the SDKÚ-DS – still suffering from Gorilla and the big defeat in 2012 – saw its support fall by 9.2% from the 2009 election (but still held its 2 MEPs). One seat was taken by a new-ish centre-right alliance of three parties: The New Majority (NOVA), the Conservative Democrats (KDS) and the Civic Conservative Party (OKS). NOVA was founded in late 2012 by KDH (Daniel Lipšic) and SaS dissidents, and it has a reformist and liberal attitude (supporting direct democracy, FPTP, direct election of judges, e-government, reducing bureaucracy and cutting taxes) and is mildly anti-federalist. The KDS was founded in 2008 by another batch of KDH dissidents, while the OKS was founded in 2001 on a Eurosceptic platform similar to that of the British Tories or Czech ODS; both of these parties are weak, although the OKS held four MPs between 2010 and 2014 thanks to an alliance with Most-Híd. The NOVA-led list won 6.8%, and its MEP joined the ECR group
SaS, which had fallen just below the threshold with 4.7% in 2009, won its first MEP – party leader Richard Sulík – with 6.7% of the vote. The libertarian party is liberal on social and economic issues – supporting fiscal orthodoxy, small government, low taxes, liberalization, the flat tax but also same-sex marriage and cannabis decriminalization (unlike almost all Slovak parties) – and mildly Eurosceptic, having opposed the Greek bailout, the EFSF and Lisbon, although the party no longer wishes to withdraw from the Euro (which Slovakia adopted in 2009). Despite its Eurosceptic stances which might have made it a better fit for the ECR, Sulík ended up joining the pro-European ALDE. The Ordinary People (OĽaNO), a populist and anti-corruption right-wing party which was allied with SaS in 2010 and become Slovakia’s third largest party in 2012, won a single seat with 7.5% of the vote.
On the Hungarian side, Most-Híd, which was founded in 2009 by former SMK-MKP leader Béla Bugár – who claimed that his former party had become too ethno-nationalist, and instead emphasized inter-ethnic cooperation, won one MEP and 5.8% of the vote. However, the SMK-MKP still showed some signs of vitality, holding on to 6.5% and 1 MEP, which may suggest (as other polls have shown) that the old Hungarian minority party may return to Parliament in the next election. Together, both parties won more than the SMK-MKP had in 2009 – unsurprisingly, because Most-Híd has some Slovak support and members.
The far-right SNS, which gained one seat in the EP in 2009, lost it this year, falling to only 3.6% of the vote. Also notable was the failure of the neo-Nazi/neo-fascist People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), a party which received international attention in late 2013 when leading party member Marian Kotleba was elected governor of Banská Bystrica Region with 55% of the vote (but 25% turnout). Kotleba referred to the Roma (‘gypsies’) as ‘parasites’ and, in the past, he had loudly praised Jozef Tiso’s Nazi client state during World War II and finishing his speeches with the salute of the Hlinka Guard, the paramilitary wing of the ruling party of the Slovak State. This likely confirms that his election was a one-off fluke.
Although turnout was very low and this ‘election’ is no more reliable than an opinion poll – it confirms that Smer is weakened, suffering from the blow of Fico’s defeat in the presidential race, but remains the strongest party. It will likely lose its absolute majority in the next election, meaning that it would again have a tough time finding coalition partners, but at the same time, the right is a mess. On these result, no less than seven right-wing parties would make it into Parliament, two more than in 2012. In addition, presidential candidate and KDH dissident Radoslav Procházka has founded his own party, SIEŤ (Network) on yet another right-wing, economically liberal platform. In polls so far, SIEŤ would win about 10-15% and place second, while Smer would be reduced to only a third or so of the vote. All right-wing parties could conceivably form a government, although it would be a fractious mess, or Smer may be able to form a coalition with a Hungarian party or the KDH (the two parties have cooperated in the past and formed alliances in some regions in the 2013 regional elections).
Next: Slovenia’s EP and legislative elections (May 25-July 13), Spain and Sweden’s EP elections
Legislative elections were held in Slovakia on March 10, 2012. All 150 members of Slovakia’s unicameral legislature, the Národná rada or National Council, were up for reelection. There is a 5% threshold for representation in Parliament.
These elections are held a bit less than two years after the last elections in 2010, the third snap elections in the country’s post-independence history. The 2010 election had seen the formation of a four-party centre-right government led by Iveta Radičová, who became the first woman to be Prime Minister of Slovakia.
In 2006, the left-populist Smer-Social Democracy party led by Robert Fico won a plurality of seats, defeating Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda’s incumbent centre-right government, led by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS). Under Dzurinda’s tenure, Slovakia was lauded by its European partners for its bold structural reforms and pro-European liberal outlook, but at home its economic policies were perceived as being one-sided and unfair, while his government also faced allegations of corruption. Fico, who campaigned as a populist and has a reputation as being a mouthy type, formed a controversial coalition with Ján Slota’s far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar ĽS-HZDS. Mečiar, who served as Prime Minister between 1992-1994 and 1994-1998, had turned Slovakia into a semi-authoritarian pariah state shunned by the West for Mečiar’s autocratic tendencies, corrupt administration and statist economic policies. He was defeated in 1998 by a liberal coalition led by Mikuláš Dzurinda.
Fico, despite campaigning against them, largely stuck to Dzurinda’s liberal economic policies, but observers and the opposition accused his government of leading populist, unsustainable high-spending policies. The deficit increased under his years in power, but prior to the 2009 recession, it had no discernible impact on the country’s strong economic growth which had begun under Dzurinda. Abroad, Fico’s alliance with Slota, who has a very strong penchant for inflammatory anti-Hungarian statements (the country’s Hungarian minority makes up some 12%), did not win him many friends – especially not in Budapest – nor did his rather autocratic attempts to curtail press freedom (Fico and the Slovakian press, by and large, hate each other). In 2010, when Slota’s SNS lost seats and Mečiar’s party lost all its seats, Fico’s party, which had increased its seat count by 12, was left without coalition partners. Four right-wing parties, led by the SDKÚ-DS and including a new Hungarian party, Most–Híd and a libertarian party, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) led by economist Richard Sulík formed a coalition led by Iveta Radičová, the SDKÚ-DS’ 2009 presidential candidate.
Relations between Radičová and her government’s main junior partner, Richard Sulík’s SaS worsened over the course of her tenure. The two came to an head in October 2011, when SaS joined Smer to reject the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) in a vote which Radičová tied to a confidence motion. Sulík claimed that Slovakia, the second-poorest Eurozone country, did not have the money to loan to states. On the other hand, Robert Fico used the EFSF-confidence vote to stage a very ingenious political ploy: force snap elections, in which he fancied his chances given that the government had failed to dethrone Smer as the most popular party in the country. Following the international chaos which ensued from the EFSF vote, Fico got what he wanted when the government was forced to call snap elections. In return, Smer voted for the EFSF in a vote a few days later.
Slovakian politics during the campaign were rocked by two huge corruption scandals. The first one, “Gorilla”, was leaked in December and concerns a wiretapping operation between 2005 and 2006 into privatization deals during Mikuláš Dzurinda’s government. At the heart of it all are juicy details about millions of bribes paid to officials to win contracts or privatization deals. The Gorilla files named ministers, foreign investors, a very powerful local investment fund (Penta) and the four parties in Dzurinda’s coalition government including the governing SDKÚ-DS. Penta has denied any wrongdoing, Dzurinda – now foreign minister – called the entire thing a fake while SaS went on an anti-corruption crusade which kind of blew up in its face when it was revealed that the SaS defense minister had gotten the secret services to spy on a journalist and when it emerged that Sulík failed to inform the police of another case, Sea flower, in which the government bribed MPs large sums of money in return for their support in a messy vote last December. The stench of Gorilla led thousands of protesters to throw bananas at Parliament during mass-protests earlier this year in Bratislava.
Gorilla seriously damaged the credibility of all governing parties, especially Dzurinda’s SDKÚ-DS. Incumbent Prime Minister Iveta Radičová retired, and with her the party lost her reformist, non-corrupt image (her government was fairly tough on corruption and accountability), replacing that with Dzurinda, seriously compromised with Gorilla and increasingly looking like an old corrupt “gorilla” of politics rather than the liberal reformer he had been seen as in the past, especially by the West. Robert Fico’s Smer was named in the files, and Fico had apparently met Penta co-owner Jaroslav Haščák in the infamous “safe flat” named in the files. Yet, that was ages ago, and Smer has claimed to have cut off all links with Penta and Fico has been known for his rocky relations since then with big business in Slovakia. Fico and Smer were basically the only ones left unscathed by the scandal.
The scandal prompted a flurry of new parties to raise to the scene, hoping to cash in on popular disgust over corruption and old politicians. Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) separated from SaS, on whose list it had won a few seats in 2010. OĽaNO appears to be a populist conservative party. More on the left, a party inspired by the OWS movement, 99%, emerged and some believe it was behind the leaking of the Gorilla files. Eastern Europe seems to be a good place to start a new party; the Czech Republic being the most well-known case, though Poland and Hungary both had new parties enter their legislatures in their last elections.
Economic issues played a major role in the campaign, given the country’s 13% unemployment rate and weakened 3% growth rate. The outgoing centre-right government passed some important reforms, including a pension reform, and it claims to have put the country’s finances on the right track. As in the last election, the governing parties have warned against Smer’s populist economic policies. SaS campaigned on a more Eurosceptic platform, hoping to hold a referendum on Europe on election day and Sulík described the EFSF as the greatest theat to Europe. The right-wing Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), led by Ján Figeľ, were far more pro-European and warned against Smer’s ‘socialist policies’ which would lead to Greek-like debts. Robert Fico has seemingly been trying to hit two birds with one stone on economic issues. While reassuring the EU about his commitment to sound finances, the Euro and financial stability; at home he talked about maintaining the welfare state, opposed privatizations, raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, repealing Dzurinda’s government’s 19% flat tax and against a VAT increase.
Turnout ended up very strong at 59.11%, up 0.28% from 2010. Given Gorilla and the anti-politician movements it has inspired, many had feared that turnout would drop to its lowest level in years, but it ended up holding up strongly. The most likely explanation is that voters chose to express their backlash against the corrupt politicians by voting rather than symbolically not voting. The results would indicate that this is true:
Smer-SD 44.41% (+9.62%) winning 83 seats (+21)
KDH 8.82% (+0.3%) winning 16 seats (+1)
OĽaNO 8.55% (+8.55%) winning 16 seats (+16)
Most–Híd 6.89% (-1.23%) winning 13 seats (-1)
SDKÚ-DS 6.09% (-9.33%) winning 11 seats (-17)
SaS 5.88% (-6.26%) winning 11 seats (-11)
SNS 4.55% (-0.52%) winning 0 seats (-9)
SMK-MKP 4.28% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
99% 1.58% (+1.58%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 8.86% winning 0 seats (nc)
Smer outperformed both polling and the exit polls and won an absolute majority, the first time since independence that any party has won the right to govern alone. It increased on its already fairly strong 2010 performance by nearly 10 percentage points and gained 21 seats to take 83 seats in the country’s 150-seat legislature. Smer had always been confident of its chances in a general election, thus the reason for Fico’s ploy in the EFSF vote in October. But the Gorilla scandal, far from hurting Smer, was a godsend for the party given that it totally destroyed whatever credibility the fractious governing parties had, especially the credibility of his main opponent, Mikuláš Dzurinda and the SDKÚ-DS. Smer appealed for a strong, stable and cohesive government which could take the right decisions. It also appeared relatively clean to those concerned at least a bit about corruption, and Smer’s more populist rhetoric of sorts on issues such as unemployment has always been popular with the electorate.
On the right, the main victims were Dzurinda’s SDKÚ-DS and SaS. The Gorilla files directly hit Dzurinda and SDKÚ-DS, so understandably the party’s ratings took quite a tumble and it was even hovering on the verge of falling below the threshold and thereby losing all seats. It has saved all seats, but the party, Slovakia’s main right-wing force since the early 2000s, is in shambles and Dzurinda will face internal opposition if he decides to stick on as leader until the next party congress. SaS was unable to use its anti-corruption, clean hands image to turn its image around, likely because it happened that Sulík and SaS’ record on the issue was less than crystal. The party’s shenanigans on the EFSF debacle hurt its image a lot, and its more Eurosceptic rhetoric since then has not really helped the party. It lost a bit more than half of its 2010 votes. OĽaNO, the new populist-right party, was likely the main benefactor of its collapse. With 16 seats, it emerges as the third strongest force. The far-right SNS lost all seats, likely losing a handful of voters to Smer. Mečiar’s career, meanwhile, ended when his old beast, the ĽS-HZDS, won only 0.93% of the vote.
The KDH, led by Ján Figeľ, did well despite its presence in the ‘infamous’ Dzurinda-2 cabinet, though it does not appear that the party was hit much by Gorilla. Its minor gains likely came at the SDKÚ-DS’ expense, but they allowed the KDH to become the main opposition party.
The Hungarian parties had a fairly bad night, with Most–Híd losing a bit more than 1% of its vote and the old party of Hungarian interests, the SMK-MKP, failing to reenter the legislature.
Robert Fico had said that he wanted to form a two-party coalition government no matter what, and some have thought that KDH could be its most likely partner. Fico, who knows that he will need to take some tough measures to curb the country’s deficit and debt load, is seen as being keen on sharing the blame for such measures with another party. However, of the remaining batch of parties, none of them appear as likely allies for Fico. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how different a Smer majority government is from Fico’s old controversial Smer-SNS-HZDS cabinet. On a foreign policy front, this could be especially interesting, given that part of the spat between Budapest and Bratislava during the first Fico government was because of Slota’s inflammatory anti-Hungarian pronouncements. Fico has some nationalist inklings, which might still augur poorer relations with Budapest, especially given that Budapest is now led by Viktor Orbán, who has similar nationalist inklings in his autocratic nature. At the European level, relations will likely be smoother in Slota’s absence. Smer voting the EFSF should not, I think, be interpreted as sign of an anti-EU streak in the party, but rather as a domestic political gambit. Fico can probably be counted on to lead fairly moderate economic policies. His relations with big corporations (which he wants to tax more), the Slovakian media (which he loves going on foul-mouthed tirades against) and the authorities investigating Gorilla will prove interesting to observe.
Slovakia’s 150-seat Národná rada or National Council was up for election on June 12. Following the last election in 2006, Smer led by Robert Fico formed a majority coalition government with the right and far-right.
Slovakia became independent on January 1, 1993 after the peaceful divorce with the Czech Republic. Nationalist feelings have always run high in Slovakia, despite their cultural affinities with Moravia. During the Czechoslovakian years, Slovaks felt that they were second-class citizens in a “Prago-centric” government dominated by Bohemia. Furthermore, an Hungarian minority (12%) living along the Hungarian border has often contributed to nationalist feelings, because Slovaks are wary about Hungary’s territorial or political pretensions in Slovakia (Hungary already annexed these ethnic Hungarian areas in 1938). When Slovakia became independent, it became politically dominated by a nationalist and conservative movement led by Vladimír Mečiar and his party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). Mečiar’s party won the 1992 and 1994 elections and fell only two seats short of a majority in 1992. Under Mečiar, Slovakia became something of an international pariah and Mečiar was lauded by the west and Washington for his statist economic policies, his authoritarianism and growing corruption in his government. He also entered into open warfare with the President, Michal Kováč, to the point that the opposition alleged that Mečiar had organized for the kidnapping of Kováč’s son. Mečiar lost the 1998 elections despite the HZDS coming out in front of the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition led by Mikuláš Dzurinda. Dzurinda formed a government with the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP) and the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL). From that point on, Mečiar’s influence slowly diminished – he lost the 1999 presidential election 57-43. Dzurinda’s liberal economic policies as well as his efforts towards Slovakian integration into the OECD (in 2000), the EU and NATO won him much praise from the west and Washington who regarded Slovakia’s late liberalization with a positive eye. However, at home, Dzurinda’s government suffered allegations of corruption as well as attacks from the left that his policies were hurting poorer Slovakians. Dzurinda’s new party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and its coalition partners won the 2002 election, though the HZDS remained the largest party while the SDL collapsed to 1.4% to the benefit of Robert Fico’s Smer, which quickly gained popularity as the SDL’s popularity dwindled through its association with the government, unpopular on the left. Despite the apparent success of Dzurinda’s policies, Slovaks felt that the neoliberal reforms were hurting poorer people. Fico’s Smer won the 2006 election, winning 29% of the vote and 50 seats against 18.4% and 31 seats for Dzurinda’s SDKÚ-DS. The far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), founded in 1990 and led by the loudmouthed controversial Ján Slota returned to Parliament with an historic 11.7% and 20 seats. Slota’s SNS is best known for its extremely inflammatory anti-Hungarian (“the cancer on the Slovakian nation”) and anti-Roma (“the best strategy with them is a long whip in a small yard”) rhetoric. Fico formed a very controversial government with the SNS and Mečiar’s ĽS-HZDS (which won 8.8% and 15 seats). Some have argued that Fico’s coalition with the SNS is only an opportunistic move which does not reflect any fascistic desires on Fico’s part, but the Smer government thus far has proven that Fico has a penchant for saber-rattling nationalism. Fico’s economic policies have been described as populist, and, according to the right, unsustainable. He was also lauded for legislation aimed at curtailing press freedom as well as his nationalist policies which have stirred tensions with Hungary and significantly worsened inter-ethnic relations in Slovakia. The results have also been negative: in terms of corruption rankings, Slovakia fell from rank 49 to rank 56. While his economic policies were at first successful, boosting growth, his insistence on raising social spending during a bad economic crisis has led to a -4.7% growth rate in 2009 and the deficit now represents 6.8% of the GDP. Slovakia’s budget deficit may swell to 7.4% of its GDP this year.
The opposition has had a very hard time throughout Fico’s term as his government and party maintained high poll ratings. Dzurinda’s leadership was criticized within the SDKÚ-DS, and the party suffered from division as well as Fico’s government being more than happy to launch probes into corruption in Dzurinda’s government between 1998 and 2006. The MKP has also suffered recently from the creation of a new party, Most–Híd (the Slovakian and Hungarian words for ‘bridge’) which has criticized the MKP as a narrow-minded and single-issue party while it wishes to appeal to Slovakian voters and build strong inter-ethnic relations. On the positive side, Mečiar’s party continued its route down the drain and is now in terminal state. Ján Slota’s aggressive rhetoric as well as the general incompetence of SNS ministers has also hurt the SNS, though the SNS managed to win its first MEP in 2009 though on only 5.6% of the vote. Dzurinda recently resigned the leadership of the SDKÚ-DS and was succeeded by Iveta Radičová, the party’s 2009 presidential candidate but a low-key public speaker and authoritarian party figure. Out of this situation, a new and somewhat unusual party has emerged, led by Richard Sulík and named Freedom and Solidarity (SaS). SaS is a neoliberal/libertarian eurosceptic party which is also liberal on social issues – supporting marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. It has accused Fico of lying on the state of the country’s finances. SaS has significantly helped the opposition as it represents the type of “change” which voters want – that is, something that’s new and less corrupt than either Smer or SDKÚ-DS. Through an innovative internet and Facebook-based campaign, it has managed to lure young voters as well as Smer voters. Smer has had a harder time in this campaign than originally expected partly as a result of SaS, but also increased public blame laid on Fico for the pitiful state of finances.
Here are the results:
Smer 34.79% (+5.65%) winning 62 seats (+12)
SDKÚ-DS 15.42% (-2.93%) winning 28 seats (-3)
SaS 12.14% (+12.14%) winning 22 seats (+22)
KDH 8.52% (+0.21%) winning 15 seats (+1)
Most–Híd 8.12% (+8.12%) winning 14 seats (+14)
SNS 5.07% (-6.66%) winning 9 seats (-11)
MKP-SMK 4.33% (-7.35%) winning 0 seats (-20)
ĽS-HZDS 4.32% (-4.47%) winning 0 seats (-15)
SDL 2.41% winning 0 seats (±0)
turnout 58.53% (+3.86%)
On a geographical basis, Smer dominates in almost all of Slovakia and most particularly in ethnically Slovakian rural or small town land. Smer’s nationalist and populist rhetoric likely does very well in these parts, and has always been the base of either Smer or the ĽS-HZDS in the past. Smer is much weaker (20% wins) along the Hungarian border, which has large concentrations of Hungarians. Unsurprisingly, SDKÚ-DS did best in Bratislava and its suburbs, wealthier and more liberal. Bratislava was also the SaS’s best result, with around 18%. While the old MKP-SMK polled only 1% or so in Bratislava, Most–Híd did poll around 12% or so in Bratislava, maybe an encouraging sign for inter-ethnic relations and an inter-ethnic party in Slovakia. Outside of Bratislava and the Hungarian areas, Most–Híd did predictably poorly.
The incumbent Smer-SNS government (ĽS-HZDS is out) has only 71 seats out of 76 required for government. A ‘right-wing’ government comprised of SDKÚ-DS, SaS, KDH and Most–Híd has 79 seats, and given SaS leader Richard Sulik’s statement that his party would consider any option to unseat Fico, it seems likely that a centre-right government, likely led by Iveta Radičová will emerge from this election. The SDKÚ-DS campaigned on a platform to cut spending and to reduce to debt against Fico’s plan to increase social spending while not increasing taxes (while still promising to cut the budgetary deficit…).
Some people who like pointing out international electoral trends often know less than they actually know, but it is interesting to note (while not necessarily attempting to infer trends) that the last three European ballots (or four, if you include the UK) – Czech Republic, Netherlands and now Slovakia have been won by coalitions of or individual centre-right parties which aim to cut spending in order to cut the budgetary deficit. That being said, the PS’ likely big win in Wallonia on a platform of being “the best shield against the crisis” (aka, we won’t cut social spending) could contradict that.
Here is the first post in a series of posts concerning the various Euro results from June 7. The results for the major parties winning seats (or not, in a few cases) are presented here, along with a very brief statistical analysis of what happened. If applicable, a map of the results is also presented. Again, except for the Germany map, all of these maps are my creations.
ÖVP 30% (-2.7%) winning 6 seats (nc)
SPÖ 23.8% (-9.5%) winning 4 seats (-3)
HP Martin’s List 17.7% (+3.7%) winning 3 seats (+1)
FPÖ 12.8% (+6.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Greens 9.7% (-3.2%) winning 2 seats (nc)
As I expected, the junior partner in government, the centre-right ÖVP came out on top but the most surprising was the ÖVP’s decisive margin of victory over its senior partner, the social democratic SPÖ. In fact, the SPÖ, like the German SPD, has won its worst result since 1945. This is probably due to a poor campaign a poor top candidate – Hannes Swoboda. Swoboda ranted against job losses and outsourcing when he himself did the same thing to his employees at Siemens. The good result came from Hans-Peter Martin’s anti-corruption outfit, which got a third seat and increased it’s vote. While improving on its poor 2004 result, the far-right FPÖ is far from the 17.5% it won in the 2008 federal elections. A lot is due to abstention (anti-Euro voters being a large contingent of the abstentionists) and also Martin’s success. The Greenies have unsurprisingly fallen, though they held their second seat due to late (and still incoming) postal votes. The BZÖ of the late Jorg Haider fell just short of the threshold, and it did not win Haider’s Carinthian stronghold. Turnout was 45.3%, slightly up on 2004.
GERB 24.36% (+2.68%) winning 5 seats (nc)
BSP 18.5% (-2.91%) winning 4 seats (-1)
DPS 14.14% (-6.12%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Attack 11.96% (-2.24%) winning 2 seats (-1)
NDSV 7.96% (+1.89%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Blue Coalition (UDF and DSB) 7.95% (-1.14%) winning 1 seat (+1)
The pro-European centre-right GERB won, as in 2007, defeating the Socialists (BSP, officialy grouped with smaller parties in the ‘Coalition for Bulgaria’). The Turkish minority party DPS fell significantly compared to its surprisingly excellent 2007 result. This is due to higher turnout and to competition (by Lider) in the very active vote buying market in Bulgaria. The liberal NDSV led by former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II came back from the dead to win 2 seats and increase its vote share – all this due to a top candidate who had a high personal profile and popularity in an election where person and popularity are very important.
Democratic Rally 35.7% (+7.5%) winning 2 seats
AKEL 34.9% (+7%) winning 2 seats
Democratic Party 12.3% (-4.8%) winning 1 seat
Movement for Social Democracy 9.9% (-0.9%) winning 1 seat (+1)
European Party 4.1% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
To my surprise, the opposition centre-right (albeit pro-reunification) DISY defeated the governing communist AKEL. However, both parties increased their share of the vote compared to 2004, mainly on the back of the centrist anti-reunification DIKO and the Social Democrats (who won a seat due to the collapse of the liberal European Party).
Civic Democrats (ODS) 31.45% (+1.41%) winning 9 seats (±0)
Social Democrats (ČSSD) 22.38% (+13.6%) winning 7 seats (+5)
Communist Party (KSČM) 14.18% (-6.08%) winning 4 seats (-2)
KDU-ČSL 7.64% (-1.93%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Of the shocking results of the night, the Czech result was a shocker to me. I had predicted the Social Democrats to win all along (most polls agreed, albeit very late polls showed a narrow ODS lead), and you have this very large ODS victory that really comes out of the blue. This is really quite a piss poor result for the ČSSD and its controversial and, in my opinion, poor, leader, Jiří Paroubek. I wasn’t surprised by the results of either the Communists (on a tangent, the KSČM is the only formerly ruling communist party which hasn’t changed it name and it remains very much stuck in 1950) or the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). The KSČM’s loses were predictable because 2004 was an especially fertile year for them (the ČSSD was in government, a very unpopular government). Two small parties which won seats in 2004 – the centre-right SNK European Democrats (11.02% and 2 seats) and the far-right populist Independents (8.18% and 2 seats) suffered a very painful death this year. The SNK polled 1.66%, the Independents (most of which were Libertas candidates) won 0.54%. The Greens, a parliamentary party, won a very deceiving result – 2.06%. This is probably due to turnout, which remained at 28%.
Social Democrats 21.49 % (-11.1%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Venstre 20.24% (+0.9%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Socialist People’s Party 15.87% (+7.9%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Danish People’s Party 15.28% (+8.5%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Conservative People’s Party 12.69% (+1.3%) winning 1 seat (nc)
People’s Movement Against the EU 7.20% (+2.0%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Social Liberal Party 4.27% (-2.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
June Movement 2.37% (-6.7%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Liberal Alliance 0.59%
Red: SD, Blue: Venstre, Purple: SF, Green: DF
No real surprise in the Danish results, which were as I expected them to be. The Social Democrats drop compared to their superb 2004 showing was to be expected, obviously. Obviously, these loses were profitable not to the government (Venstre, Liberals) but to the Socialists (SF) and the far-right (DF). SF and DF have won their best result in any Danish election, either European or legislative. The June Movement, the second anti-EU movement which is in decline since it’s shock 16% in 1999, has lost its sole remaining MEP. The older (and leftier) People’s Movement has picked up some of the June Movement’s vote, though its results are far from excellent. Despite an electoral alliance with the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals (Radikal Venstre) lost its MEP.
Centre 26.1% winning 2 seats (+1)
Indrek Tarand (Ind) 25.8% winning 1 seat (+1)
Reform 15.3% winning 1 seat (±0)
Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica 12.2% winning 1 seat (±0)
Social Democrats 8.7% winning 1 seat (-2)
Estonian Greens 2.7%
Turnout was up 17% in Estonia over 2004, reaching 44% (26.8% in 2004), correcting the weird result of 2004 which saw the normally weak Social Democrats come out on top. However, the surprising result here was Reform’s rout (compared to the 2007 general elections) at the profit of Indrek Tarand, a popular independent. The opposition Centre Party, however, came out on top. However, the map clearly shows that Tarand took votes from all places – Centre, Reform, right, Greenies (winning a very deceiving 2.7%), and Social Democrats. The Centre came out on top purely due to the Russian vote in Ida-Viru and in Tallinn, the capital (despite the name, the Centre performs very well in urban areas – it’s not at all a rural centrist party a la Finland).
National Coalition 23.2% (-0.5%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Centre 19% (-4.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Social Democratic Party 17.5% (-3.7%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Greens 12.4% (+2%) winning 2 seats (+1)
True Finns 9.8% (+9.3%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Swedish People’s Party 6.1% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Left Alliance 5.9% (-3.2%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Christian Democrats 4.2% (-0.1%) winning 1 seat (+1)
No surprises from Finland, which came out roughly as expected. The junior partner in government, the centre-right National Coalition (Kok) defeated its senior partner, the agrarian liberal Centre Party. However, the Finnish left (SDP and Left) suffered a very cold shower, winning its worst result in years. The Left even lost its sole MEP. A lot of that left-wing vote probably went to the Greenies (who won a very good result) and also the anti-immigration True Finns (in coalition with the Christian Democrats, which allowed the Christiandems to get one MEP). The Swedish People’s Party ended up holding its seat. The map is quite typical of Finnish elections, with the agrarian Centre dominating in the sparsely populated north and the National Coalition dominating in middle-class urban (Helsinki, where they narrowly beat out the Greenies for first) and suburban areas. The Swedish vote is concentrated on the Åland islands (over 80% of the vote for them) but also in small fishing communities on the west coast of Finland (which does not show up on the map).
CDU/CSU 30.7% + 7.2% (-6.6%) winning 42 seats (-7)
SPD 20.8% (-0.7%) winning 23 seats (nc)
Greens 12.1% (+0.2%) winning 14 seats (+1)
Free Democrats 11% (+4.9%) winning 12 seats (+5)
The Left 7.6% (+1.5%) winning 8 seats (+1)
In the EU’s most populated country, the Social Democrats took a major hit by failing to gain anything after the SPD’s horrible (worst since 1945) result in 2004. Overall, the Christian Democrats (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel and its Bavarian sister, the CSU, won as in 2004 but their vote also took a hit (the CDU/CSU was a popular opposition party then, they’re the senior government party now). The winners were of course the Greens, who held on to their remarkable 2004 result and in fact gained a 14th MEP, but certainly the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). The Left also gained slightly compared to 2004. The Left’s map remains largely a map of the old DDR but, for the first time, you have darker shades appearing in the West – specifically in the industrial regions of the Saar, the Ruhr and Bremen city. In the end the CSU had no problems with the 5% threshold and they won a relatively decent (compared to most recent results, not 2004 or 2006) result – 48% – in Bavaria. Frei Wahler took 6.7% in Bavaria, and 1.7% federally.
PASOK 36.64% (+2.61%) winning 8 seats (nc)
New Democracy 32.29% (-10.72%) winning 8 seats (-3)
Communist Party 8.35% (-1.13%) winning 2 seats (-1)
Popular Orthodox Rally 7.14% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Coalition of the Radical Left 4.7% (+0.54%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Ecologist Greens 3.49% (+2.88%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pan-Hellenic Macedonian Front 1.27%
No Greek surprise overall, though the Greenies’ poor result could be one. As expected, the opposition ‘socialist’ PASOK defeated the governing unpopular and corrupt right-wing New Democracy. However, there remains no great love for PASOK, partly due to the fact that both ND and PASOK are very similar. The Communist Party (KKE), one of Europe’s most communist communist parties (it still lives in 1951, decrying bourgeois and capitalists), won 8.35%, slightly above its 2007 electoral result but below the KKE’s excellent 2004 result (over 9%). The surprise came from LAOS and the Greens. The Greenies, who were polling 8-11% in the last polls, fell to a mere 3% partly due to a controversial video by the Green Party leader who said that Macedonia (FYROM, the country) should be allowed to keep its name (s0mething which does not go down well in Greece). Most of the Green strength in polls came from disenchanted ND supporters who ended up voting LAOS (the ultra-Orthodox kooks). The Radical Left (SYRIZA) won a rather poor result, probably due to the fact that it is seen as responsible for the violence and lootings during the 2008 riots in Athens.
Fidesz 56.36% winning 14 seats (+2)
Socialist 17.37% winning 4 seats (-5)
Jobbik 14.77% winning 3 seats (+3)
Hungarian Democratic Forum 5.31% winning 1 seat (nc)
The surprise in Hungary came from the spectacular result of the far-right quasi-Nazi Jobbik (which has its own private militia), which did much better than any poll or exit poll had predicted. Jobbik’s results significantly weakened the conservative Fidesz which won “only” 56% (down from 65-70% in some polls). The governing Socialist MSZP took a spectacular thumping, as was widely expected. While the right-wing MDF held its seat, the liberal SZDSZ (f0rmer coalition partner in the MSZP-led government until 2008) lost both of its seats.
Fine Gael 29.1% (+1.3%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Fianna Fáil 24.1% (-5.4%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Labour 13.9% (+3.4%) winning 3 seats (+2)
Sinn Féin 11.2% (+0.1%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Libertas 3.1% (new) winning 0 seats (new)
Socialist 1.5% (+0.2%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Green Party 1.1% (-3.2%)
As expected, Fine Gael came out on top of FPVs in Ireland, inflicting a major defeat on the governing Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil, did not, however, slip to third behind Labour as some pollsters made it seem. This is due in a large part due to Labour’s complete lack of organization in most rural areas. In Dublin, both Fine Gael and Labour incumbents made it through without much sweat. The race, as expected, was for the third seat between the Fianna Fáil incumbent (Eoin Ryan), Socialist leader Joe Higgins and the Sinn Féin incumbent (Mary Lou McDonald). Surprisingly, Sinn Féin was the first out leaving the final seat between Ryan and Higgins. In the end, Higgins got the quasi-entirety of McDonald’s transferable votes and defeated Ryan with 82,366 votes against 76,956 votes for Ryan on the 7th count. Former Greenie (against the party’s participation in government) Patricia McKenna won 4.3% on first preferences against 4.7% against the official Greenie (however, further transfers from joke candidates got McKenna all the way to count 5, while the Greenie got out by count 3). In the East, Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness got elected on the first count, quite the feat indeed. However, no luck for Fine Gael’s second candidate in holding the third seat held by a retiring Fine Gael incumbent. Labour’s Nessa Childers, second on first prefs, far outpolled John Paul Phelan (FG’s second candidate) and got the second seat. Fianna Fáil held its seat. In the North-West, all incumbents (1 Independent ALDE, 1 FF, 1 FG) held their seats with Marian Harkin (Ind-ALDE) topping the poll (however, both Fianna Fáil candidates combined outpolled him and Fine Gael’s MEP). The founder and leader of Libertas, Declan Ganley polled a respectable 13.66% on FPVs and held out till the last count but lost out to Fine Gael due to rather poor transfers from the other anti-Lisbon outfit, SF. In the South, FF incumbent Brian Crowley topped the poll and won easily, as did Sean Kelly (FG). The third seat was between the incumbent Independent (eurosceptic and social conservative) Kathy Sinnott and Labour’s Alan Kelly. Kelly won.
In the local elections, the final seat share is as follows:
Fine Gael 340 seats (+47)
Fianna Fáil 218 seats (-84)
Labour 132 seats (+31)
Others and Indies 132 seats (+40)
Sinn Féin 54 seats (nc)
Socialist 4 seats (nc)
Green Party 3 seats (-15)
People of Freedom 35.26% winning 29 seats
Democratic Party 26.13% winning 21 seats
Lega Nord 10.20% winning 9 seats
Italy of Values 8.00% winning 7 seats
Union of the Centre 6.51% winning 5 seats
Communists (PRC+PdCI) 3.38% winning 0 seats
Sinistra e Libertà 3.12% winning 0 seats
Italian Radicals (Bonino-Pannella List) 2.42% winning 0 seats
Pole of Autonomy (La Destra+MPA) 2.22% winning 0 seats
South Tyrolean’s People Party 0.46% winning 1 seat
Berlusconi Coalition (PdL+LN+Autonomy) 47.68% winning 38 seats
PD Coalition (PD-SVP+IdV+Radicals) 37.01% winning 29 seats
Red: PD, Blue: PdL, Green: Lega Nord, Yellow in Aosta Valley: Valdotanian Union (PdL ally), Yellow in Sudtirol: SVP (PD ally)
The Italian results were certainly a setback for Silvio Berlusconi and his “party”, the PdL, which performed a bit lower than what he and polls had expected (38-41% range). The centre-left PD did relatively well, and this will atleast keep the party from splitting up into the old Democrats of the Left and the Daisy. In terms of coalitions, the two large parliamentary blocs stand almost exactly where they stood overall in 2008, with a very very slight improvement for Berlusconi’s coalition. The marking result of this election is probably that of Lega Nord, which has won its best result in any national Italian election (narrowly beating its previous record, 10.1% in the 1996 general election). The Lega has expanded its support to the “south” (north-central Italy), notably polling 11% in Emilia-Romagna and 4% in Tuscany. The support and future of Lega Nord is to be watched closely in the future, due to a potential new electoral law which could significantly hinder it’s parliamentary representation (more on that later). The other good result is from Antonio di Pietro’s strongly anti-Berlusconi and anti-corruption populist Italia dei Valori, which has won its best result ever, by far. It has almost doubled its support since last year’s general election. After being shutout of Parliament in 2008, the Communists and other leftie parties (Socialists and Greens) are now out of the European Parliament, depsite improving quite a bit on the Rainbow’s 2008 result. Of the two coalitions, the old Communist one made up of the Refoundation Commies and the smaller Italian Commies polled slightly better than the Sinistra e libertà, the “New Left” coalition (Greenies, Socialists, moderate “liberal” Commies). Such was to be expected, but the irony is that both leftie coalitions were formed to surpass the new 4% threshold, and none did. However, if there had been a new Rainbow coalition (the 2008 Rainbow included both the hardline Commies and the New Left), they would have made it. As expected, those small parties which won seats in 2004 due to the old electoral law have been eliminated. These include the fascists, La Destra-Sicilian autonomists/crooks, and the Radicals. The South Tyrolean SVP only held its seat due to an electoral clause which allows these “minority parties” to ally with a party to win a seat. The SVP was the only one of these which was successful in doing so. Two smaller Valdotanian parties (one allied with PdL, the other with IdV) failed to win a seat. In provincial elections held the same days, the right was very successful and of the forty provinces decided by the first round, they had won 26 against 14 for the left. 22 provinces will have a runoff. I might do a post on that if I have time.
Civic Union 24.33% winning 2 seats (+2)
Harmony Centre 19.57% winning 2 seats (+2)
PCTVL – For Human Rights in United Latvia 9.66% winning 1 seat (nc)
Latvia’s First Party/Latvia’s Way 7.5% winning 1 seat (nc)
For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK 7.45% winning 1 seat (-3)
New Era 6.66% winning 1 seat (-1)
Latvian politics are very confusing, mostly due to the huge swings. This time was no different. A new party, Civic Union (probably EPP) topped the poll over the Harmony Centre, a Russian minority outfit. The PCTVL, another Russian outfit, fell slightly compared to its 11% result in 2004, but remained remarkably stable. TB/LNNK, a UEN party which topped the poll in 2004 fell down three seats. The conservative New Era, senior party in the governing coalition, won only 7% (a lot of its members, along with TB/LNNK members apparently joined the Civic Union). The People’s Party, the senior party in the old coalition which fell apart this year due to the economic crisis won barely 2%. The Union of Greens and Farmers, which won something like 16% in the 2006 election polled a mere 3.7%.
Homeland Union-LKD 26.16% winning 4 seats (+2)
Lithuanian Social Democrats 18.12% winning 3 seats (+1)
Order and Justice 11.9% winning 2 seats (+1)
Labour Party 8.56% winning 1 seat (-4)
Poles’ Electoral Action 8.21% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberals Movement 7.17% winning 1 seat (+1)
Liberal and Centre Union 3.38% winning 0 seats (-1)
Remarkable stability for a Baltic nation in Lithuania. The winner of the 2008 election, the Homeland Union (TS-LKD) won a rather convincing victory, improving on its 2008 result (only 19.6%) and obviously on its 2004 Euro result (12.6%). The LSDP has picked up an extra seat and has cemented its place as the opposition to the TS-LKD, along with the third-placed populist Order and Justice. Labour, the centrist party which won the 2004 Euro election has seen its seat share cut down from 5 to one, a logical follow-up to its collapse in 2008. The Poles have probably benefited from low turnout (21%) to motivate their base and won an outstanding 8.2% and elected one MEP. I don’t really follow Baltic politics, but if I remember correctly, a government rarely wins re-election, so if that’s true, the result of the TS-LKD is even more remarkable.
Christian Social Party 31.3% (-5.8%) winning 3 seats
Socialist 19.5% (-2.5%) winning 1 seat
Democratic Party 18.6% (+3.7%) winning 1 seat
The Greens 16.8% (+1.8%) winning 1 seat
Alternative Democratic Reform 7.4% (-0.6%)
The Left 3.4% (+1.7%)
Communist Party 1.5% (+0.3%)
Citizens’ List 1.4%
Remarkable and unsurprising political stability in Luxembourg, with no changes in seat distribution. While the CSV and LSAP suffer minor swings against them, the DP and Greens get small positive swings. The Greens’ result is their best ever and one of the best Green results in European elections.
On election night last week, I also covered the simultaneous general election. Here are, again, the full results.
CSV 38% (+1.9%) winning 26 seats (+2)
LSAP 21.6% (-1.8%) winning 13 seats (-1)
DP 15% (-1.1%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Greens 11.7% (+0.1%) winning 7 seats (nc)
ADR 8.1% (-1.8%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Left 3.3% (+1.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
KPL 1.5% (+0.6%)
Labour 54.77% winning 3 seats (nc)
Nationalist 40.49% winning 2 seats (nc)
Obviously no surprise in tiny Malta, where the opposition Labour Party has defeated the governing Nationalist Party. Both sides made gains in terms of votes, feeding off the collapse of the green Democratic Alternative (AD), which won a remarkable 10% in 2004 but a mere 2.3% this year.
Civic Platform 44.43% (+20.33%) winning 25 seats (+10)
Law and Justice 27.4% (+14.73%) winning 15 seats (+8)
Democratic Left Alliance-Labour Union 12.34% (+2.99%) winning 7 seats (+2)
Peasant Party 7.07% (+0.67%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Map by electoral constituency. Key same as above table
Polish politics move quickly, but it seems that this ‘setup’ is here to stay, atleast for some time. The governing right-liberal pro-European Civic Platform (led by PM Donald Tusk) has won a crushing victory over the national-conservative eurosceptic Law and Justice of President Lech Kaczyński. PO’s margin of victory is slightly larger than its already important victory in the 2008 elections. The SLD-UP electoral alliance, which is what remains of the Left and Democrats (LiD) coalition of the 2008 election (encompassing SLD-UP but also a small fake liberal party), won 12%, the average result of the Polish left these days. The Peasant Party, PO’s junior partner in government, won slightly fewer votes than in 2008 (or the 2004 Eur0s). The 2004 Euros, marked by the excellent result of the ultra-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR, now Libertas) and the left-wing populist Samoobrona saw both of these parties collapse. Libertas-LPR won 1.14% and Samoobrona won 1.46%. Smaller ultra-conservative jokes also did very poorly. After the 2004-2006 episode, sanity seems to have returned to Polish politics.
Social Democratic Party 31.7% winning 8 seats (+1)
Socialist Party 26.6% winning 7 seats (-5)
Left Bloc 10.7% winning 3 seats (+2)
CDU: Communist Party-Greens 10.7% winning 2 seats (nc)
Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party 8.4% winning 2 seats (nc)
Blue: PSD, Red: PS, Green: CDU (PCP-PEV)
Cold shower for the governing Portuguese Socialists after the huge victory of the 2004 Euros. The centre-right PSD has won a major victory by defeating the PS, albeit a relatively small margin between the two. The lost votes of the PS flowed to the Left Bloc (the Trotskyst and more libertarian component of the far-left) and the CDU (the older and more old-style communist component of the far-left), both of which won a remarkable 21.4% together. These voters voted BE or CDU due to the PS’ economic policies, which are far from traditional left-wing economic policies. The PS will need to fight hard, very hard, to win the upcoming general elections in September.
Social Democratic Party+Conservative Party 31.07% winning 11 seats (+1)
Democratic Liberal Party 29.71% winning 10 seats (-6)
National Liberal Party 14.52% winning 5 seats (-1)
UDMR 8.92% winning 3 seats (+1)
Greater Romania Party 8.65% winning 3 seats (+3)
Elena Băsescu (Ind PD-L) 4.22% winning 1 seat (+1)
The close race in Romania between the two government parties ended in the victory of the junior partner, the PSD with a rather mediocre 31%. The PDL’s 30% was also rather mediocre. The PNL also did quite poorly. The two winners are the Hungarian UDMR, which won a rather remarkable 9%, probably benefiting from high Hungarian turnout in a very low turnout election. The far-right Greater Romania Party overcame past setbacks and won three seats and a surprisingly good 8.7%. This is due in part to the participation of the far-right quasi-fascist PNG-CD on its list (the party’s leader, the very controversial Gigi Becali, was the party’s second candidate on the list). László Tőkés, an Hungarian independent elected in 2007 (sat in the Green-EFA group) has been re-elected as the top candidate on the UDMR list.
Smer-SD 32.01% winning 5 seats (+2)
Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) 16.98% winning 2 seats (-1)
Party of the Hungarian Coalition 11.33% winning 2 seats (±0)
Christian Democratic Movement 10.87% winning 2 seats (-1)
People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS) 8.97% winning 1 seat (-2)
Slovak National Party 5.55% winning 1 seat (+1)
Smer’s result is definitely deceiving for them and possibly a sign that their past stellar poll ratings will slide to the benefit of the opposition SDKÚ-DS. However, the SDKÚ-DS (but also the KDH and obviously the ĽS-HZDS) have slid back compared to their 2004 Euro results. While the collapse of the ĽS-HZDS (formerly led by former quasi-dictator Vladimír Mečiar) is good news, the entry of the quasi-fascist Slovak National Party, Smer’s charming coalition partners, is not. However, the SNS’ 5.6% is not the 10% it used to poll and hopefully they stay low.
Slovenian Democratic Party 26.89% winning 2 seats (nc)
Social Democrats 18.48% winning 2 seats (+1)
New Slovenia 16.34% winning 1 seat (-1)
Liberal Democracy 11.52% winning 1 seat (-1)
Zares 9.81% winning 1 seat (+1)
In Slovenia, the oppostion centre-right SDS has defeated the ruling Social Democrats. Here again, the current political setup between SDS on the right and SD on the left, a rather new setup, seems set to stay for a few years. The NSi, which won the 2004 election, and the LDS, which used to dominate Slovenian politics, have both slumped back. The new liberal Zares won 9.8%, roughly its level in the 2008 election.
People’s Party42.23% (+1.02%) winning 23 seats (-1)
Socialist 38.51% (-4.95%) winning 21 seats (-4)
Coalition for Europe (EAJ-CiU-CC) 5.12% (-0.03%) winning 2 seats [1 EAJ, 1 CiU] (±0)
The Left 3.73% (-0.38%) winning 2 seats (±0)
Union, Progress and Democracy 2.87% winning 1 seat (+1)
Europe of Peoples 2.5% (+0.05%) winning 1 seat (±0)
As expected, the conservative PP defeated the governing PSOE, but due to the polarized nature of Spanish politics, no landslide here. However, the PSOE definitely polled poorly, though the PP didn’t do that great either. The regionalists held their ground well, and CiU got some little gains going in Catalonia. Aside from UPyD’s narrow entry and the obvious PP gains, it was generally status-quo.
Social Democrats 24.41% (-0.15%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Moderate Party 18.83% (+0.58%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Liberal People’s Party 13.58% (+3.72%) winning 3 seats (+1)
Greens 11.02% (+5.06%) winning 2 seats (+1)
Pirate Party 7.13% (new) winning 1 seat (+1)
Left 5.66% (-7.14%) winning 1 seat (-1)
Centre 5.47% (-0.79%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Christian Democrats 4.68% (-1.01%) winning 1 seat (nc)
June List 3.55% (-10.92%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Sweden Democrats 3.27% (+2.14%)
Feminist Initiative 2.22%
First map: Parties (SD in red, M in blue) – Second Map: Coalitions (Red-Green in red, Alliance in blue)
The Swedish results must come as a major deception for both major parties, the Social Democrats and the governing Moderates. Both had done horribly in 2004 and the 2009 results are no improvements for either of them. In fact, the opposition SD has in fact dropped a few votes more from the 2004 disaster. These loses profit to the smaller parties in their respective coalitions (Red-Green for the SD, Alliance for M). The Liberals did very well, unexpectedly well in fact, and elected a third MEP. The Greens drew votes from Red-Green voters dissatisfied by the unpopular SD leader, Mona Sahlin, and its vote share increased by 5%. Of course, Sweden is now famous for electing one Pirate MEP, and even a second MEP if Sweden gets additional MEPs as planned by the Treaty of Lisbon. The Left’s vote fell significantly from its good showing in 2004, while the vote for smaller coalition parties – the Centre and Christian Democrats also slid a bit. The eurosceptic June List, which had won 14% in 2004, fell to a mere 3.6% and lost its 3 MEPs. However, this result might have prevented the far-right Sweden Democrats from picking up a seat. The Feminists, who had one MEP after a Liberal defection, won a surprisingly decent 2%, far better than what polls had in store for them. In terms of coalitions, the governing Alliance actually won with 42.56% against 41.09% for the opposition Red-Greens.
Longer, special posts concerning the Euro elections in Belgium, France and the UK will be posted in the coming days.
The runoff of the Slovakian presidential election was held yesterday. The runoff opposed the incumbent, Ivan Gašparovič, supported a majority of the current left-wing/nationalist government, to the moderate centre-right and Hungarian opposition, represented by Iveta Radičová.
The results are as follows:
Ivan Gašparovič (HZD-Smer-SNS) 55.53%
Iveta Radičová (SDKÚ-DS-MKP-KDH) 44.47%
Slovakia is quite polarized. Radičová ended up winning all counties won by the Hungarian Coalition (MKP) in 2006, and a huge majority of the counties she won were won by the MKP in 2006. Her voter base is therefore largely Hungarian, but she is also strong in the capital, Bratislava and other urban areas. Gašparovič is quite strong in rural inner Slovakia, and he effectively eaten up what remains of Mečiar’s 2004 base. He got some of his biggest victories in Mečiar’s strongest areas. On the other hand, he lost some of the counties (such as the Hungarian ones and Bratislava, for example) he won in 2004 purely because he was the least-worst or least-fascist candidate then. Which is probably not true today.
Although this is a ceremonial position, the President has veto power, and Gašparovič’s victory is therefore good news for the Robert Fico government and ensures that Fico will finish his term with a friendly President in office. Not that Gašparovič’s is all that surprising. It was quite inevitable. For starters, Gašparovič is personally popular for his non-confrontational style in office (even though Gašparovič’s personal party, the HZD, continues to poll crumbs). Second, Fico’s government and especially Smer is very popular and is assured, unless there’s something drastic, of a huge victory in the next election which could potentially allow Fico and Smer to tell their fascist junion coalition partners to go screw themselves. Fico (and Smer)’s support of Gašparovič helped him, in addition to his personal popularity. A Radičová victory was, for those reasons, very unlikely.
The first round of the Slovakian presidential election was held yesterday. Despite it being a largely ceremonial position, Slovakia’s president is directly elected by the people since 1999. Before 1999, the Parliament elected the President.
In 2004, Ivan Gašparovič of the small Movement for Democracy (HZD) defeated his former ally and Prime Minister, the controversial Vladimír Mečiar of the People’s Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS).
Ivan Gašparovič, seen as a moderate nationalist by most, is running for re-election supported by his small HZD (which has no MPs) but also by Smer, a left-wing nationalist party and the largest party in government, and by it’s quasi-fascist junior coalition partner, the Slovak National Party (SNS). Iveta Radičová, a former cabinet minister in a centre-right cabinet has united all the parliamentary opposition, led by the centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS). Radičová is also supported by the Hungarian Coalition (SMK-MKP), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and the extra-parliamentary Civic Conservatives. Other candidates include František Mikloško of the Conservative Democrats (split off the KDH), Zuzana Martináková of the liberal Free Forum, Milan Melník supported by Mečiar’s collapsing ĽS-HZDS (the third party in the Smer-SNS coalition), Milan Sidor supported by the Communist Party (KSS) and Dagmar Bollová (former KSS member).
The electoral commission decided that to win the first round, a candidate must win 50%+1, but also a majority of eligible voters.
The results of the first round are:
Ivan Gašparovič (HZD-Smer-SNS) 46.71%
Iveta Radičová (SDKÚ-DS-MKP-KDH) 38.05%
František Mikloško (KDS) 5.42%
Zuzana Martináková (SF) 5.12%
Milan Melník (ĽS-HZDS) 2.45%
Dagmara Bollová (ex-KSS) 1.14%
Milan Sidor (KSS) 1.11%
Looking at it geographically, Radičová is the Hungarian areas + Bratislava. Banská Bystrica, that blue county in the centre is weird. But she only won it by a very thin margin. Of Radičová’s victories, only 5 of the 14 counties she won did not vote for the MKP (Hungarian Coalition) in 2006. It also seems as if Gašparovič ate up Mečiar’s 2004 support base in northern and northeastern Slovakia.
Gašparovič is quite popular and will probably win in the runoff. And he’ll probably win big. Sadly.