Tag Archives: election

Kyrgyzstan – Central Asia’s Lone Democracy Elects a New Parliament

Citizens in Kyrgyzstan went to the polls on Sunday, October 4, to elect 120 deputies to the country’s unicameral legislature, the Zhogorku Kenesh [Supreme Council]. It was the second parliamentary election under a new constitution that was introduced in the wake of the April 2010 revolution and the interethnic violence of June of that year. Although observers in Kyrgyzstan label the country a “parliamentary republic,” the constitution in fact created a semi-presidential system in which the directly-elected president, currently Almazbek Atambaev, enjoys considerable powers, including the ability to appoint and supervise the “power ministries,” such as defense, interior, and secret police. President Atambaev also serves as the de facto leader of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, which received the largest share of the vote (27.41%) in Sunday’s election. As President, he has the right to select the formateur of the new coalition government, which will clearly be the Social Democrats, who finished seven points ahead of their nearest rival, the Respublica–Ata Jurt Party.

Given the violence and chaos that wracked the country only five years ago, the mere holding of a peaceful and highly-competitive election must be considered an accomplishment of the first order.[i] There were certainly irregularities in some polling places, accusations of vote buying, and a suspicious jump in the turnout rate, from almost 46 percent at 6pm to approximately 60 percent by the close of polling at 8pm. However, international observers monitoring the elections assessed them as highly-contested and noteworthy for the use of the latest technologies in electoral administration.[ii] For the first time, the Central Election Commission used biometric data (thumbprints) to identity voters at the polls. It also forbade the use of mobile phones or cameras in the voting booths in order to maintain the sanctity of the secret ballot and discourage vote-buying or intimidation. The biometric data requirement was not without its downside, however. Observers estimate that there were almost one million fewer voters on the rolls because of this registration requirement.[iii]

The high level of competitiveness of the electoral campaign benefitted from a reduction in the use of administrative resources by officials allied to the President as well as the presence of numerous well-funded parties that were able to get out their message to voters across this mountainous country, where a sizable portion of the population lives in remote areas. According to preliminary figures, campaign expenditures of the parties securing seats in the new parliament ranged from less than 3 million soms ($43,500) per seat by the Social Democrats to over 9 million soms ($130,400) per seat by the Ata Meken party.[iv] The 14 parties that contested the election were also able to reach voters through a series of televised debates whose spirited exchanges and high production value rivaled debates in mature democracies. In fact, the television anchors questioning the candidates–using a bilingual format in both Kyrgyz and Russian–were models of professionalism.

Although the recent increase in the national threshold from 5 to 7 percent in Kyrgyzstan’s closed list PR system was designed in part to reduce the number of parties in parliament, the new parliament will have one more party than the old (6 instead of 5).[v] The preliminary seat totals are as follows:

Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan 38
Respublica-Ata Zhurt 28
Kyrgyzstan 18
Onuguu-Progress 13
Bir Bol 12
Ata Meken 11

Falling out of the new parliament is the Ar-Narmys Party, whose leader, Felix Kulov, had been unable to impose discipline on his members in the previous parliament.[vi]  The incoming parliament will have three new parties–Kyrgyzstan, Onuguu-Progress, and Bir Bol–while one bloc, Respublica-Ata Zhurt, represents a fusion of two existing parties.[vii]

In at least two important respects, the results appear to consolidate democracy in Kyrgyzstan. First, although the Social Democrats were able to increase their seat total by almost 50 percent from the last election, from 26 to 38, they will need to share power with at least one other party, and many commentators believe a three-party coalition, with Kyrgyzstan and Onuguu-Progress, is most likely. Thus, the election did not produce a dominant “party of power” whose support for the president could diminish the political accountability of the executive, a common pattern in post-Soviet states. Second, and in many ways more importantly, the deep political divisions between the North and South of the country that were on full display in 2010 and 2011–during the revolution, ethnic violence, and parliamentary and presidential elections–have receded in this electoral cycle.[viii] Instead of parties with dominant bases of support in the North or South, Kyrgyzstan in this election has moved decidedly toward national parties that appeal to significant numbers of voters in all of the country’s seven electoral regions and its two main cities–Bishkek and Osh.[ix] This nationalization of parties will certainly not eliminate regional divisions, but it should allow the main locus of politics on this issue to shift from the public square to party caucuses.[x]

Although the regional divisions may be subsiding, tensions between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the South of the country show few signs of abating. The strong showing of the Social Democrats in Osh city and Osh regions almost certainly reflects the support of the ethnic Uzbek population for the party of the president. It is doubtful, however, given the virulence of ethnic Kyrgyz nationalism in recent years, that this Uzbek support will translate into significant concessions to the Uzbek population on cultural or political issues.

If the last electoral cycle is a guide, it may take some weeks before the Social Democrats can form a ruling coalition. Besides negotiating over the usual claims to ministerial portfolios and the speakership of the Zhogorku Kenesh, parties will be arguing over the division of the spoils for lower-level appointments in Bishkek and the provinces. What is unlikely to delay the negotiations are disagreements about policy. Kyrgyzstan remains a personality and identity-driven political system, and the October 2015 parliamentary election does not appear to have altered that orientation, which the country shares with most of the developing world.[xi]

Notes

[i] For an overview of conditions in the country at the time of the election, see International Crisis Group, “Kyrgyzstan: An Uncertain Trajectory,” Crisis Group Europe and Central Asia Briefing No. 76, 30 September 2015. http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/central-asia/kyrgyzstan/b076-kyrgyzstan-an-uncertain-trajectory.aspx

[ii] See the press conference of the OSCE Monitoring Team at http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/kyrgyzstan/177111, and the assessment of the largest internal election-monitoring NGO (Dinara Oshurakhunova, “Vybory proshli chisto, dlia vsekh partii byli sozdany odinakovye usloviia,” Gezitter.org, 5 October 2015). http://www.gezitter.org/vybory/44059_d_oshurahunova_predsedatel_koalitsii_za_demokratiyu_i_grajdanskoe_obschestvo_vyiboryi_proshli_chisto_dlya_vseh_partiy_byili_sozdanyi_odinakovyie_usloviya/

[iii] Six weeks before the elections, as part of a bureaucratic turf war, the head of the Central Election Commission severely criticized the State Registration for putting together a voters’ list that he described as “the lowest quality in the history of the country.” “Takogo nekachestvennogo spiska izbiratelei v istorii Kyrgyzstan eshche ne bylo–Abdraimiov,” KirTAG, 29 August 2015. http://kyrtag.kg/society/takogo-nekachestvennogo-spiska-izbirateley-v-istorii-kyrgyzstana-eshche-ne-bylo-abdraimov

[iv] “14 partii potratili na vybory v ZhK 778 mln somov,” AkiPress, 5 October 2015. http://kg.akipress.org/news:624801

[v] Because the new threshold is based on the percentage of actual voters, whereas the earlier threshold was based on the percentage of registered voters, the current threshold of 7 percent is in practice less restrictive than the former 5-percent threshold.

[vi] An indication of the instability of parties in Kyrgyzstan is that during the previous parliamentary session, 56 percent of Ar-Namys deputies switched parties, a level that was on par with that for Respublica (60 percent) and Ata Zhurt (53 percent). The most stable parties were the Social Democrats and Ata-Meken, which witnessed 7 and 16 percent defections, respectively, from their ranks.

[vii] On recent party realignments see Arslan Sabyrbekov, “Party Restructuring in Kyrgyzstan Prior to 2015 Elections,” The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 27 May 2015. http://www.cacianalyst.org/publications/field-reports/item/13211-party-restructuring-in-kyrgyzstan-prior-to-2015-elections.html

[viii] Eugene Huskey and David Hill, “Regionalism, Personalism, Ethnicity, and Violence: Parties and Voter Preference in the 2010 Parliamentary Election in Kyrgyzstan,” Post-Soviet Affairs, vol. 29, no. 3 (June 2013), pp. 237-267; David Hill and Eugene Huskey, “Electoral Stakes, Labor Migration, and Voter Turnout: The 2011 Presidential Election in Kyrgyzstan,” Demokratizatsiya, no. 1 (January 2015), pp. 3-30.

[ix] Regional results are available at “Predvaritel’nye rezul’taty golosovaniia na parliamentskikh vyborakh,” Sputnik, 4 October 2015. http://ru.sputnik.kg/infographics/20151004/1018946828.html Despite the adoption of sophisticated new technologies in some areas of electoral administration in Kyrgyzstan, the website of the Central Election Commission, which publishes results at the precinct, district, and national level, has not been accessible since the election. http://www.shailoo.gov.kg/

[x] One potential source of tension surrounds the failure of a party with its primary electoral base in the South, Butun Kyrgyzstan-Emgek, to cross the 7 percent threshold, garnering just over 6 percent of the votes. This party, led by the charismatic and divisive politician, Adakhan Madumarov, also fell just short of securing seats in the parliament in the 2010 parliamentary election.

[xi] Despite some suggestions to the contrary in the Russian and Western press, foreign policy did not appear to be a major issue in the election campaign. Almost all major parties accept the basic pro-Russian orientation of Kyrgyzstan, and Russia appears to have made its peace with the more competitive and open environment in Kyrgyzstan. Unlike in 2010, when Russian leaders, including President Medvedev, warned that Kyrgyzstan could not survive the transition to a system with a strong parliament and multiple parties, the official line today from Moscow is more tolerant of Kyrgyzstani exceptionalism. See, for example, Vladislav Vorob’ev and Konstantin Volkov, “Liudi ustali ot revoliutsii,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, 2 October 2015, p. 6. Kyrgyzstan’s recent entry into the Moscow-dominated Eurasian Economic Union further solidified ties between the two countries.

Bosnia Herzegovina – Presidential election report

This is a guest post by John O’Brennan from Maynooth University, Ireland

John-O'-Brennan-Sociology-Staff-Web

On Sunday 12 October beleaguered Bosnia Herzegovina went to the polls for the seventh time since the signing of the Dayton Agreement. The election took place after a turbulent period when the Balkan state was rendered politically catatonic by legislative stasis and simultaneously rocked by street protests which underlined the deep social tensions which have accumulated since the 1990s.

A total of 65 parties, 7,743 candidates and 732 candidates’ lists were certified by the Central Election Commission. Bosnia Herzegovina has a unique tripartite presidency. Bakir Izetbegovic, son of the country’s wartime leader, was a clear winner of the seat of the Bosniaks. Dragan Covic of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZBiH) won the contest for the Croat seat. But in a major shock Zelka Cvijanovic, the candidate of Republika Srpska (RS) strongman Milorad Dodik and the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SSND), may well lose out to Mladen Ivanic of the opposition Party of Democratic Progress (PDP). Ivanic is perceived as a moderate by RS standards and as someone who will be more accommodating of Bosniak and Croat sensibilities. Whilst Dodik, who has strong ties to Moscow, and has been a long-time thorn in the side of pro-Dayton forces, did hold onto the Presidency of Republika Srpska, his position within the Bosnian Serb community has been considerably weakened, not least because his party has lost its grip on the Republika Srpska Assembly in Banja Luka.

The election saw little change in the approach of the ethnically-based parties across the country with Bosniaks arguing for greater centralization of the Federation, Bosnian Croats arguing for greater autonomy within the Muslim-Croat Federation, and Bosnian Serbs asserting the separatist case as they have in every electoral contest since 1991. The fossilizing impact of the consociational Dayton model means that ethno-nationalist agendas remain the only game in town within an ossified electoral architecture. But observers see some hope in the changed constellation within some key regional assemblies (such as that of RS) which may finally signal a change in the ways Bosnia is governed.

The Bosnian crisis is multi-faceted and truly existential, encompassing simultaneously economic, demographic, constitutional, institutional and social elements, which taken together point to something approaching a ‘failed state’ on the borders of the European Union. Endemic corruption and organized crime blight the country after two decades of unsuccessful attempts to ‘bed down’ the Dayton Agreement, which brought an end to the war in Bosnia in 1995. Engagement with the European Union through the enlargement process has been haphazard and crippled both by poor coordination on the Bosnian side and ‘enlargement fatigue’ on the EU side. If transition was meant to lead to an EU-anchored transformation of administrative, economic and social standards in Bosnia that goal seems as far away now as at any point in the post-war period.

In the wake of Dayton Bosnia became increasingly associated with discernible patterns of state capture as criminal groups managed to suborn political, judicial and economic structures, hampering much-needed reforms (the reforms which were being implemented across much of Central and Eastern Europe), and depriving citizens of an impartial rule of law. Organized crime groups succeeded in instrumentalizing municipal and national political actors with the result that organized crime seeped into every discernible crevice of public life, bearing significant influence over political stability, rule of law, and socio-economic development.

Bosnia thus conforms to what Jeffrey Winters terms a ‘criminal democracy’ in that it is both democratic and deeply corrupt and oligarchs use their wealth both to compete unfairly for office and to defeat the rule of law where their interests are threatened. Its agents sponsor political supplicants who walk and talk like politicians of a normal European state, but in practice loyally serve their network allies.

Bosnians have suffered under this predatory and vertiginous regime for two decades as deregulation, privatization and monopoly practices have enriched the ‘elect’ and substantially eroded the social contract. National regulatory bodies are pitifully ill-equipped to match the excesses of organized crime units which increasingly operate within a global regime which facilitates financial largesse. To make matters worse the Bosnian judiciary is also deeply implicated in these activities. The state – far from representing a countervailing force to oligarchy – is comfortably accommodated within its tentacles. Little wonder then that, for a majority of Bosnian voters, these elections constituted an absurd pantomime act where ‘one bunch of criminals replaces another’.

Politicians from all three sides eschew cooperation in favour of carving up the public sphere at every level of the political matrix. The period since the last elections in October 2010 saw all three ethno-political blocs fragmenting as they quarrelled over the distribution of spoils. An existential legislative crisis was evident in the extreme stasis which pervaded parliamentary activity: virtually no legislation of any substantive kind was passed in the four year mandate of the previous parliament. The perception remains widespread that the convoluted (and now hydra-headed) Dayton model of representation has inordinately aided the creation and maintenance of a ‘hierarchy of thieves’.

But 2014 has seen Bosnians mobilize against these pathologies which pervade the economy and political system. The immediate trigger was in Tuzla in February where workers from several privatized factories united to demand their unpaid salaries and pensions. They were soon joined by a wide range of groups, including students and Bosnians from all ethno-national communities. Responding to a dramatic deterioration in incomes and living standards, the demands of protestors included calls to reverse what are perceived to have been illegal and/or criminally-linked (and extremely opaque) privatizations, the replacement of party-based local government with competent technocratic administration, a reduction in the salaries of Bosnian politicians (which are amongst the highest in Europe in relative terms at approximately five times the average Bosnian salary) and an end to the outrageous abuses of public procurement processes. The economic figures tell us an important part of the story. Unemployment across Bosnia now exceeds 550, 000, or 44 per cent of the population, with youth joblessness significantly higher again, even against a backdrop of sustained outward migration by the young. And this is hardship which crosses the traditional ethno-national lines: unemployment and corruption do not stop at internal borders in Bosnia.

The protest movement threw up so-called ‘Civic plenums’ (or self-governing citizens’ assemblies), which took place in numerous jurisdictions with citizens encouraged to openly debate issues and problems. This was a true anti-politics and anti-regime rebellion as Bosnians railed against oligarchy and political corruption. And it was different in that participants crossed ethnic and religious lines in arguing for a polity based on dignity of the person and respect for the rule of law. The poison of ethno-nationalist conflict gave way to normalized discourses of citizenship. That the protest movement fizzled out matters little: it put down a marker which Bosnia’s politicians can no longer evade.

The protests were followed by devastating floods and landslides in May and June which destroyed houses, businesses and a wide range of infrastructure. This was the worst such natural disaster in modern times in Bosnia and is estimated to have cost €2 billion, equivalent to 15 per cent of Bosnia’s GDP, and displaced almost 100,000 people. Politicians made little attempt to address the crisis. Months after the floods struck international observers complain that virtually no action plans have been drawn up to properly coordinate re-construction efforts.

Bosnians now face yet another period of instability as the political parties begin negotiations on forming a government. Absent any real differences on policy these negotiations will revolve around a familiar pattern of distributing spoils. But the dramatic events of the spring and summer may well have changed Bosnia in ways that the ethnically-rooted political class now cannot ignore. Any reversion to the status quo ante will run up against lingering anger amongst Bosnian citizens at egregious corruption and recurring failures of economic management. The extreme social dislocation which the Dayton model is now associated with means that this time around Bosnia’s very existence may well be at stake.

John O’Brennan lectures in European Politics and Societies and is Director of European Studies at Maynooth University, Ireland and is currently on sabbatical leave in the Balkans.

Madagascar – Legislative election

In Madagascar, the legislative election was held concurrently with the presidential election late last year. However, the results took even longer to appear than for the presidential election itself. Now, though, some figures are available.

As reported by one source, the situation looks something like this.

The so-called MAPAR (Miaraka @ Prezida Rajoelina) party has won 49 of the 151 seats in the legislature. This is the party that supports Andry Rajoelina, who ousted President Ravalomanana in 2009 and who then held the post of President of the Transition.

The Mouvance Ravalomanana has won 17 seats. This groups supports the ousted president, Marc Ravalomanana, and the losing presidential candidate, Jean Louis Robinson.

The VPM-MMM (Vondrona politika miara-dia Malagasy Miara-Miainga) movement has won 17 seats. They supported the candidacy of Hajo Herivelona Andrianainarivelo at the presidential election. He came third and said that he would not support either of the top two candidates.

The Parti Hiaraka isika, which supported the presidential candidacy of former general and Rajoelina PM, Albert Camille Vital, won 7 seats.

The LEADER-Fanilo (or Libéralisme Économique et Action Démocratique pour la Reconstruction Nationale won 5 seats.

A couple of other national parties won a handful of seats, local parties won a number of seats and the rest went to independents.

One recent article suggests that around 30 independents would support the new president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who was backed by MAPAR. This would have given him a parliamentary majority.

However, things seem to have changed. The new president, who was inaugurated on Saturday, has sidelined Andry Rajoelina. There were rumours that Rajoelina wanted the position of PM so that, in effect, he could still govern. However, President Rajaonarimampianina has indicated that he will appoint someone else. As a result, MAPAR appear to have withdrawn their support from the new president. This makes it very difficult for him to appoint a PM who will have the confidence of the legislature.

There is even a scenario where President Rajaonarimampianina could face a period of cohabitation. According to the constitution, as the largest group in the legislature, MAPAR looks to have the right to nominate the PM. However, the wording is ambiguous.

In short, Madagascar’s troubles are not yet over, even if some form of electoral democracy and constitutional government has been reintroduced.

Bangladesh – Parliamentary election

Bangladesh held its parliamentary election on 5 January. The outgoing government was headed by Sheikh Hasina of the Bangladesh Awami League, which had a large majority in the outgoing legislature.

The election was  boycotted by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and the alliance of parties that it led. The main reason for the boycott was the refusal of PM Hasina to step down prior to the election to allow a neutral caretaker government to take office. This had happened before the previous election in December 2008. However, there had also been violent and widespread protests across the country in the months previously. The opposition contested the legitimacy of the government. The election itself was marred by violence. The army was deployed to try to maintain control. However, polling centres were attacked across the country on election day.

Partly due to the opposition’s boycott, only 147 of the 300 seats in the parliament were contested at the election. According to BDNews24, the PM’s Awami League won 125 of the uncontested seats and 105 of the contested ones. The Jatiya Party, which broke from the Awami League last year, won 20 and 13 seats respectively. A number of other parties won the remainder.

PM Hasina met President Abdul Hamid yesterday evening and was asked to form a new government. President Hamid is also from the Awami League. The President of Bangladesh plays a role in cabinet formation, but in the context of this outcome the nomination of Sheikh Hasina was purely formal. She is expected to form a coalition government even though the Awami League has a large majority.

Turkmenistan – Legislative election result released

The election of the deputies of the National Assembly of Turkmenistan took place on Sunday 15th December.  More than 90% of the Turkmen registered voters turned out to cast their votes in the first-ever multi-party election in the history of this post-Soviet country. The 125 members of the Parliament are elected for a 5-year term with majoritarian system in 125 single-mandate constituencies, each returning one deputy. In total, 283 candidates were competing for election. Candidates were regrouped in the Democratic Party, which has dominated the political scene of Turkmenistan since national independence in 1991, and in the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Beyond these two main parties, “independent” candidates were also running for the Organization of Trade Unions, the Women’s Union and the Youth Organization of Turkmenistan. As reported by the national Central Electoral Commission, the pro-presidential Democratic Party won 47 of 125 seats, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs won 14, and independent candidates won 64. Human rights and advocacy groups highlighted that all parties running in the election are loyal to the incumbent president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, thus hardly represented a genuine political choice for voters.

Turkmenistan is a presidential republic, with executive powers exerted by the government, led by the president. The current government is led by the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, which until today was the only party sitting in the Parliament along with independent representatives nominated by public associations. However, the Turkmen Parliament passed a new law on political parties in January 2012, introducing a multi-party system which attracted some international credibility and praise. Subsequently the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which Amnesty International described as a government’s ally rather than as a real contender to power, was established. Nevertheless, the new law is quite restrictive as it limits party membership to citizens permanently residing in Turkmenistan, requires that parties should have at least one thousand members, and prohibits parties to be formed on ethnic or religious grounds. Moreover, political parties are obliged to permit representatives of the Ministry of Justice to attend or take part in their activities, such as for example the party’s internal process of selection of candidates for elections.

Despite formally having a multi-party system, Turkmenistan’s credibility is questioned when it comes to its capability of engendering a genuine electoral and political competition. This is so not only because no political party seems to be willing to challenge Berdymukhamedov’s hegemony, but also because of the state monopoly over the media sector, where no private or independent media can be found, and the restricted access to civil liberties in the political sphere, which human rights groups describe as characterised by an “all-permeating fear”. Moreover, access to the Internet is very limited and state television remains the main source of information for the population.

Nepal – Constituent Assembly elections

On 19 November Nepal held elections for a Constituent Assembly. The Assembly is tasked with drawing up a new Constitution, but will also act as the legislature during the constituent period.

This is Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly. The first was elected in 2008. However, this assembly failed to agree a constitution by the time it was dissolved in May 2012. In the first Assembly the largest party was Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). There were two other main groups, the centre-right Nepal Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist−Leninist). These two parties combined had around the same level of support as the Maoists and, together, the three parties held about two-thirds of the seats in the Assembly, the rest being split among a large number of smaller groups. There were deep divisions between the three main parties. These divisions and the fragmentation of the legislature generally meant that a new Constitution proved impossible to agree. One of the main points of contention was whether there should be a presidential, semi-presidential or parliamentary constitution. The parties seemed to have agreed on semi-presidentialism, but there was still an unresolved debate about the powers of the president, the PM and the legislature.

The results of the new Constituent Assembly have not been finalised. However, the preliminary results show a major shift of power. The Maoists have done very badly, winning only 26 of the 240 first-past-the-post constituency seats. In 2008, they won 120 of these seats. Instead, the Nepal Congress party has emerged as the largest party, winning 105 seats, while the Marxist−Leninists have won 91 seats. According to the Himalayan Times, the Congress party is leading in the PR vote too with 1,835,048 votes so far, followed by the Marxist−Leninists with 1,724,931 votes, and the Maoists with 1,072,486 votes. The relative strengths of the parties are unlikely to vary, giving Congress and the Marxist−Leninists about 400 of the 600 seats in the new Assembly with fewer than 100 for the Maoists compared with 229 in the last Assembly.

The Maoists have cried foul with claims of irregularities and vote-rigging. Their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) had indicated that they would boycott the Assembly. However, there are some signs that they might have shifted their position.

Generally, the constitution-making process should be easier this time. Last time, the main sticking point was the issue of federalism, which was one of the Maoists main demands. However, for all parties the devil was in the detail and this is unlikely to change. So, we should not expect a final constitution for a few years yet.

Chile – Presidential Election to be Decided in Run-off

On Sunday, Chile held concurrent presidential and legislative elections, producing one of the least surprising results in recent Latin American electoral history.[1] Michelle Bachelet of the Partido Socialista (PS) and Nueva Mayoría alliance, received 46.7 of the vote, just short of the 50 per cent threshold needed for outright victory and so will compete in a run-off election on December 14th with the second place candidate, Evelyn Matthei, of the Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI), who received 25.01 per cent.

This election signals important changes ahead in Chilean politics. Firstly, the election, occurring against the backdrop of the 40th anniversary of the military coup in Chile, which ousted Salvador Allende and installed the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, was widely considered to be the most ideologically polarized in the country since the return to democracy.

It also highlights the disorientation of the right in Chile. From the outset of the campaign, the right was in disarray and fell foul to in fighting over their choice of presidential candidate. Evelyn Matthei, a former labour minister under the current right incumbent, Sebastián Piñera, was only the third choice candidate for the right-wing alliance, Alianza por Chile. Alianza has also suffered in the legislative elections held on Sunday, winning only 48 of the 120 seats in the lower house and 7 in the senate.

However, this does not mean it will all be plain sailing for Michelle Bachelet if (and when) she wins the run-off election in December. During the campaign, Bachelet promised to change the constitution, raise corporate tax rates, and oversee significant education reform. While the Nueva Mayoría alliance won 68 seats in the lower house and 12 in the Senate (giving them 21 of 38 senate seats), this still falls far short of the 60 per cent needed to change the electoral system, or the 67 per cent supermajority needed to change the constitution. The two-third requirement for constitutional change is a legacy of the Pinochet era dictatorship, together with Chile’s rather unique binomial electoral system, which ensures that it is virtually impossible to ever win such a majority in the house.

Nonetheless, this majority should be sufficient for tax reform, and if Bachelet can meet the demands of at least one of the four newly elected independent candidates linked to the highly mobilized and militant student movement, it should also be enough for the 57 per cent majority needed to reform the education system.

This election also recorded a total turnout of 6,691,840, by far the lowest turnout in a presidential election since the return to democracy in Chile. This is particularly interesting given that this was the first Chilean election to be held without compulsory participation and penalties for not voting.

It is widely expected that Bachelet will win the run-off election on December 14th.


[1] All 120 lower house seats were up for election, and 20 of 38 senate seats.

Ukraine – Law designed to prevent Vitali Klitschko from standing for the presidency

This is a guest post by Josh Black, the Editor of Vostok Cable (reesvostok@gmail.com, www.vostokcable.co.uk)

Vitali Klitschko is not a man to be knocked down easily. The multiple Heavyweight Boxing Champion turned politician first entered Ukrainian politics in 2006 when – unsuccessfully – running for mayor of the capital city of Kiev. After having led a variety of political formations in local and regional elections, Klitschko’s UDAR party (roughly translated as ‘Blow’ or ‘Punch’) entered parliament in 2012 winning 9% of seats. As leader of the UDAR faction, Klitschko has certainly not lost his punch. However, challenging the country’s ruling elite might prove to be his toughest fight yet.

Klitschko’s interest in running for the presidency of Ukraine has been a more or less open secret since he first entered politics. The official announcement, however, came with less fanfare than he might have hoped. On October 24, Klitschko was forced to stand in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s unicameral parliament) and denounce a law disqualifying presidential candidates who had paid tax abroad on residency grounds. Klitschko told the assembly that he hoped to run against the present incumbent, Victor Yanukovych, in 2015, and that he would not stand for attempts to disqualify him.

The row speaks to many features of modern Ukrainian politics. The country can essentially be considered a competitive authoritarian regime – there is electoral choice, and opposition candidates do sometimes prevail, but there is also an inordinate amount of unnecessary hurdles and dirty tricks, usually favouring the incumbent. There is a free press, to the extent that there are newspapers owned by rival oligarchs and there is no party with a majority in the Rada, save that which can be created and manipulated using administrative resources and compromising PR.

There are presidential elections, the last of which were deemed relatively free of corruption, save that President Yanukovych’s rival in 2010, Yulia Tymoshenko, was shortly afterwards convicted and imprisoned on charges of abusing her prime ministerial powers in 2009 (in order to restore gas supplies following a dispute with Gazprom and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Tymoshenko signed a new contract without the approval of the full cabinet. The law under which she was convicted dates back to Soviet times). Many in the European Union have perceived the case to be one of selective justice and have pressured Yanukovych to pardon the country’s most charismatic and recognisable politician.

The centrality of the presidency in Ukraine’s constitution makes this a particularly important battleground. With the parliament fragmented and dysfunctional, and trust in political parties low, presidential elections become the focus for opposition movements to exert influence, and for ballot spoiling on both sides. The President appoints the country’s Prime Minister, and has tended to be able to manufacture coalitions to avoid dealing with rivals. Potential presidential candidates are therefore a more serious threat. Yuriy Lutsenko, a former Interior Minister in Tymoshenko’s government (but from a different political background), was released earlier this year, yet while he has not given up his opposition to the current government, he has ruled out running for president. The current leader of Tymoshenko’s party, Arseniy Yatsenyiuk, soured relations with UDAR by self-servingly suggesting that the boxer run for Mayor of Kyiv instead.

Klitschko’s candidacy for the presidency introduces a new element of controversy to this kind of politics. Given Ukraine’s linguistic and cultural differences, as well as the influence of its more nationalistic emigre population, patriotism is a keenly discussed issue. Tymoshenko’s gas deal with Russia in 2009 gave Yanukovych’s party the perfect pretext to attack her as acting outside of Ukraine’s national interests (a widely discussed but relatively peripheral part of the charges against her), and Yanukovych in turn has been described as the Russian candidate for the presidency, having received considerable support from Kremlin spin doctors in his fraudulent campaign in 2004. The passing in 2010 of a law sponsored by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, making Russian an official language of state, led to riots and the rise of the nationalistic Svoboda party in 2012 parliamentary elections.

Against that background, Klitschko raises troublesome questions of what it is to be Ukrainian. While most ordinary citizens view his sporting prowess as a matter of pride (and mutter cynically that at least they can clearly discern the source of his wealth), the fact that he trains in Germany is far less flattering to national feeling. Now pro-government politicians are attempting to make capital from the fact that Klitschko’s honestly gathered millions are not benefitting Ukrainian tax collectors.

The timing may make Yanukovych’s Party of Regions seem cynical, but residency requirements are a common feature of many modern constitutions. Even the United States famously allows only those citizens born on American soil the opportunity to run for President. In the post-Soviet space, ten years residency is a common requirement, with Georgia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan among those countries opting for 15-year residencies. Bulgaria is slightly more forgiving, at five years, while others have no residency requirements.

Only Turkmenistan specifies in its constitution that a presidential candidate must have worked in the country’s businesses or institutions (although primary legislation is beyond the scope of this article – if you know of similar regulations in any other country, please let us know in the comment section). However, Ukraine does fall into a class of countries including Kazakhstan, Moldova and Turkmenistan that requires presidential candidates to speak the state language to be eligible for election.

Before the latest attempt to nobble Klitschko’s candidacy, almost half of Ukraine’s population was believed to have a positive opinion of him. That level of support in elections would almost guarantee his success, something feared by politicians from all sides of the spectrum. On the other hand, it is important for Ukraine to progress towards democracy that so-called authoritarian elements are removed to make way for free political competition. Playing on national feeling is an astute tactic for the Party of Regions, but may underestimate the likely reaction from the EU, and the ability of ordinary Ukrainians to perceive this as a cynical measure. Above all, it will be a test of Klitschko’s own character, and his ability to unite disparate groups around a common direction for Ukraine’s politics.

Josh Black is the Editor of Vostok Cable, a blog for students of Russian and Eastern European Studies. In 2013 he completed an MSc at Oxford University, receiving a distinction for his dissertation on the causes of party failure following Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Vostok Cable is open to contributions and suggestions for new articles. For more information, e-mail reesvostok@gmail.com or visit www.vostokcable.co.uk

Maldives – Presidential election first round re-reun

Maldives held the re-run of its first-round presidential election vote on 9 November. The first vote, which was held in early September, was annulled in controversial circumstances. This was the second attempt to re-run the election, the first having been postponed the previous weekend on the day of the ballot itself.

In the first vote in September the top two candidates were Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected in 2008 but who was ousted in February 2012, and Abdulla Yameen, a relative of former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was in office prior to Mohamed Nasheed. In the September vote Nasheed won 45.5% and Yammen won 25.4%, just ahead of the third-placed candidate, Qasim Ibrahim.

In the re-run this weekend, the Government is reporting the following result:

  • Mohamed Nasheed – 46.9%
  • Abdulla Yameen – 29.7%
  • Qasim Ibrahim – 23.3%

So, as in September, there will be a second round between Nasheed and Yameen.

However, as we already know, one vote does not an election make. The aftermath of the re-run has been difficult.

When should the second round of the election be held? The term of President Waheed, who came to power in February 2012 and won only 5% of the vote in the September election, was due to expire on 11 November. Previously, he had declared that he would not stay in office a single day beyond this date. However, he did not step down on 11 November, even though his Vice President did. This is despite the fact that Parliament had voted an interim president.

There were reports that in order to head off the potential for legal chaos, the second round of the presidential election would be held on 11 November, just two days after the first ballot. Then, the Supreme Court ruled that the election would take place on 16 November. However, the ruling lacked the signature of any of the judges.

Overnight, President Waheed has announced that he will remain in office until 16 November and that the election will take place then. He is certainly under intense pressure from the international community to step down.

A week is a long time in politics and this coming week will definitely feel like a long time for politics in the Maldives.

Madagascar – Presidential election

Madagascar’s long-awaited presidential election finally took place on 25 October.

This was the first election since the ‘coup’ in March 2009, whereby President Marc Ravalomanana resigned, or was forced to resign depending on your interpretation of events, and his place was taken by Andry Rajoelina, who became the President of the High Transitional Authority. A new constitution was approved and promulgated in December 2010.

The post-‘coup’ political process has been marked by ongoing negotiations between the three major players in the system – Rajoelina, Ravalomanana, who is in exile in South Africa and who has not been able to return safely to Madagascar, and Didier Ratsiraka, another former president. Various agreements have been reached at different times, only for them to collapse. For example, Ravalomanana announced that he would not stand as a candidate at any future presidential election and Rajoelina agreed. However, Ravalomanana’s wife was then put forward as a presidential candidate and Rajoelina decided that he too would stand.

Finally, an agreed list of candidates did emerge and the election took place. The electoral process was relatively calm and international observers seemed relatively happy with the election.

There were 33 presidential candidates. The full results are not yet available, but the top two candidates who will compete at the second round on 20 December do seem to have emerged.

  • Jean-Louis Robinson – 27.7%
  • Hery Rajaonarimampianina – 14.6%

The third-placed candidate, according to the Electoral Commission’s figures, has only 9.4% of the vote. So, it does look likely that the second round will pit Robinson against Rajaonarimampianina (a nightmare name for Twitter). As the results are updated, for example here, the percentages do not seem to be shifting very much.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Robinson is the preferred candidate of former president Ravalomanana, whereas Rajaonarimampianina is Rajoelina’s preferred candidate.

So, all is to play for, and anything could happen. Will Rajoelina allow a Ravalomanana candidate to win? Will he be able to stop it? How will those who voted for the eliminated candidates vote at the second round? Given parliamentary elections were held on the same day, what will be the make up of the new parliament? These and many other questions remain unanswered, even though Madagascar’s long transition process has taken a big step forward.