Tag Archives: parliamentary election

Finland – Political parties prepare for late spring elections

Late spring 2019 looks set to become a busy and important period for Finnish political parties. The elections to Eduskunta, the unicameral national legislature, are scheduled for 14 April, with the European Parliament elections following in late May. There is also still the chance that the first regional elections ever held in the country would take place on the same day as the European Parliament elections. However, for that to occur, the necessary legal reforms related to the reorganization of social and health services and the establishment of the new regional councils would have to be approved by the Eduskunta around six months prior to the election day. Hence the current prediction is that the regional elections will not take place in the spring.

The Finnish party system is very fragmented, with the largest party normally getting at most 20-25 % of the votes. The latest poll, conducted from 10 September to 2 October, puts the Social Democrats in the first place with 22,6 % of the vote. This would be the first time that SDP would be the biggest party since the 1999 elections, and hence also the first time that Finland would have a centre-left prime minister since 2003. The party chair, Antti Rinne, has obviously criticized heavily the contested project of reorganizing social and health services, not least on account of the reform providing a bigger role for the private sector in delivering such services. Rinne, who has a trade union background, has also together with the unions been strongly questioning the government’s policies aiming at improving economic growth and competitiveness. However, for the most part Rinne and the other opposition leaders have basically been content to sit back and let the government make its own mistakes.

The reorganization of social and health services has indeed caused serious turmoil also inside the cabinet. Basically the project is a deal between the Centre Party and the National Coalition, with the former getting the regional councils (the Centre Party is likely to perform strongly in regional elections given its often dominant role in the rural parts of the country) and the conservatives wanting to increase the role of the private sector. The two parties have been questioning each other’s commitment to the project, with particularly individual MPs of the National Coalition voicing strong public dissent of the reform as they doubt its economic benefits and also are concerned that the various constitutional constraints mean that the role of the private sector would in the end be much smaller than initially planned. According to the latest poll the National Coalition would finish second with 18,9 % of the vote, while the Centre Party would come third with 17,6 %. Apart from losing support on account of leading the government, supporters of the Centre may be worried that the party is heading in a too market-friendly direction under the leadership of PM Juha Sipilä.

The third governing party, the Blue Reform, is truly anxious as its support is only 1,1 %. The party was established following the split inside the populist Finns Party in summer 2017 when the Finns elected the MEP Jussi Halla-aho as its new leader. Halla-aho, who has been convicted in court for hate speech, and the entire new party leadership focuses strongly on immigration issues, and hence Halla-aho will no doubt make his best to push immigration to the campaign agenda. The latest poll shows the Finns Party getting 9,3 % of the vote, but one has to remember that in both the 2011 and 2015 elections the party performed much better than predicted by the opinion surveys. The Blue Reform seems to suffer from lack of credibility: the party was essentially put together by the more populist or moderate senior party figures that also were cabinet ministers, and hence many feel that they were just protecting their own ministerial positions. The Blue Reform has also been struggling to find its own niche and agenda between the more outspokenly nationalist the Finns Party and the conservative National Coalition.

The support of the Green League has declined fairly consistently over the past year. Excluding European Parliament elections, it won over 10 % of the vote for the first time in national elections in the municipal elections held in April 2017 when it received 12,5 % of the vote. The party’s popularity had been on the rise under the leadership of Ville Niinistö and peaked during the summer of 2017, with the Greens finishing even second in the polls with around 17-18 % of the vote. Touko Aalto, the new party leader, took office in June 2017 and even some leading party figures have publicly questioned Aalto’s image and leadership. The past year or so has been tough for Aalto, who has been in the headlines through his divorce, new relationship with a Green League party central office worker, and through partying shirtless in a Stockholm gay night club. Aalto’s leadership style has also been considerably more cautious than that of Niinistö, who was widely praised for his critique of the government. Aalto is currently on sick leave due to work stress and exhaustion, and it is not clear when he resumes his duties. The latest poll indicates the Green League getting 11,6 % of the vote, which would nonetheless be around three percent more than in the 2015 elections.

The Left Alliance has found an energetic new party chair in Li Andersson, and the party is doing well in the polls with 9,8 % of the vote, also almost three percent more than in the 2015 elections. Of the minor parties, the Christian Democrats would get 4,1 % of the vote and the Swedish People’s Party 3,7 %. Were these predictions to materialize, it would mean a moderate shift towards the left – but of course the right-leaning parties would still hold a comfortable majority of the seats in the Eduskunta. In terms of agenda, much depends on whether the reorganization of social and health services is indeed approved by the parliament before the elections. If it is, then there is more room for other issues such as immigration, education, or the European Union. But one thing seems fairly certain: political parties will invest most of their resources into the April Eduskunta elections, meaning that the European Parliament elections to be held in May will truly be ‘second-order’ for the party leaders.

Timor-Leste – President’s party wins parliamentary elections

Last Saturday parliamentary elections were held in Timor-Leste. Provisional results show that the President’s party FRETILIN, the former resistance party has won the largest share of the votes, albeit not an absolute majority. Most likely and for the first time since independence a FRETILIN president and prime minister will govern the country.

On Saturday morning polling stations opened for 750,000 people to cast their vote on 21 parties, vying for 65 parliamentary seats.[1] Yet, just five parties managed to obtain parliamentary seats. The turnout was 76.74%, slightly higher than in 2012 (74.78%).

Provisional results Timor-Leste 2017 parliamentary election

Party Votes % +/- Seats +/-
Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor-Leste FRETILIN 168,422 29.65 -0.41 23 -2
National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction CNRT 167,330 29.46 -7.2 22 -8
Popular Liberation Party PLP 60,092 10.58 New 8
Democratic Party PD 55,595 9.79 -0.57 7 -1
Party of National Unity for the Children of Timor Khunto 36,546 6.43 3.46 5 0

The results indicate that the ruling parties CNRT, FRETILIN and PD have lost ground to the opposition. Dissatisfaction amongst the electorate is related to slow economic growth and alleged government corruption.[2]

Important to note is that in 2015 the CNRT, FRETILIN, PD, and Frenti-Mudança formed a government of national unity, which together held 57 seats in Timor-Leste’s 65-member parliament. This situation virtually eliminated opposition. During this all-inclusive power-sharing arrangement former non-partisan President Taur Matan Ruak acted as a national opposition leader, attacking the government in parliament over accountability issues in early 2016, and vetoed the initial version of its budget.

Timor-Leste’s semi-presidential constitution states that the president appoints and swears in the party or alliance of parties with parliamentary majority after consultation with political parties sitting in the parliament. So, President Lu-Olo Guterres is expected to appoint to a party member to become prime minister when the latter manages to form a majority government. FRETILIN Secretary-General and former Prime Minister Marí Alkatiri has already announced that he is open to form a coalition with the CNRT, led by the popular former resistance leader Xanana Gusmão. “We will do everything to embrace everyone but we will continue to work with Xanana Gusmao, the inescapable figure of this country, in order to respond to the clear message from our people,” he told the Portuguese newsagency Lusa.

If FRETILIN will share power with the CNRT, the key question will be whether opposition parties are willing to join a new unity government. Timor-Leste needs an opposition to hold the government to account. This is especially crucial when the president and prime minister are members of the same party. To be sure, in such a situation the president might be less inclined to act and oppose government policy.

[1] Following the promulgation of a new electoral law on May 5, 2017, the minimum percentage of valid votes that a political party or coalition must obtain to be included in the distribution of parliamentary seats was raised from 3% to 4%.

[2] BEUMAN, L. M. 2016. Political Institutions in East Timor: Semi-presidentialism and democratisation, London, Routledge.

Armenia – Shortcomings in the parliamentary elections and the long shadow of the future

On 2 April 2017, a parliamentary election took place in Armenia. This was a particularly remarkable event in the political life of the country, as it was the first national vote after the approval of the constitutional reform, in December 2015 and the subsequent adoption of a new electoral code. The victory of the Republican Party, which has been in power since 1999, makes it possible for the incumbent, President Serzh Sargsyan, to think of taking on a prominent political role after the end of his second (and last) presidential mandate in 2018. In spite of the emphasis by the ruling political cadres, the president included[1], on the proper management of the electoral process, domestic and international observers have lamented malpractices both during the electoral campaign and the election itself. In spite of these concerns, most international observers have refrained from condemning the overall result.  This post will offer a detailed account of these issues.


On Monday 10 April, the results were published by the Central Committee Election (CEC).

Of the 105 seats in Parliament, 58 were won by the Republican Party, 31 by the Tsaroukyan bloc (led by the businessman Tagik Tsaroukyan), 9 by the Yeld bloc, and 7 by the Dashnaktsutyun Party (ARF) [2]. As prescribed by the new electoral code, four representatives of ethnic minorities were elected under a special quota. Three of them were allied with the Republican party (Assyrian, Kurdish and Yazidi) while the other one, a representative of the Russian community, run with the Tsaroukyan bloc.

The formations which did not meet the 5% threshold, and therefore were not assigned any seat, were: the ANC–PPA Alliance, the Ohanyan-Raffi-Oskanian Alliance, Armenian Renaissance, the Free Democrats Party and the Armenian Communist Party.

While the results could be interpreted as a narrow victory for the Republican party and will mean that the party will probably resort to a coalition, it is undoubtedly a more favourable result than what was predicted by surveys immediately before the election[3].  Notably, the opinion polls released at the end of March by the KOG Institute and the Demokratijos projektai foresaw the “Tsarukyan bloc” as the clear-cut winner, with 40,4% of the vote, and the ruling Republican Party collapsing to 19.4%. Meanwhile, the poll organised by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) predicted the Tsarkukian’s bloc would gain 41% of preferences, and the Republican Party 39%.


This plurality of candidates had an impact on the electoral campaign, which was characterised by an unusual level of activism by candidates. Most of them were campaigned on a similar political platform, based on day-to-day economic issues, such as unemployment, low salaries and rampant emigration rather than macro issues such as any geopolitical confrontation. Citizens reported an unusually high number of visits from party representatives and pamphlets sent to their address. In spite of this genuine electoral competition, some misconduct has been reported. Notably, at the end of March, the Union of Informed Citizens (UIC), an Armenian civic organisation, declared that school principals across the country were urging their staff and their students’ families to cast their vote for the Republican Party. While the ruling party did not deny this allegation tout court, the actions were dismissed as the spontaneous campaign of private citizens in a manner that was perfectly consistent with the provisions of the electoral code. This last point was contradicted by the UIC’s findings, which outlined 136 cases of school directors being given instructions by representatives of the Republican Party[4]. Due to these episodes, the opposition ORO and YELK blocs appealed to the CEC, asking for the disqualification of the Republican Party. Both appeals were rejected.

In addition, some disinformation campaigns seemed having been attempted.

In March, some Russian Twitter accounts posted the above e-mail supposedly leaked from USAID to demonstrate that external forces were actively manipulating the election results. USAID immediately dismissed the e-mail as a fraud, claiming that the staff would not have sent anything like that (in broken English) from a Gmail account.

External actors were concerned about the conduct of the campaign. On 16 March  Piotr Switalski, the head of the EU delegation in Armenia, invited Armenian voters not to get involved in electoral fraud, either by participating actively or by looking the other way. During his speech, he openly mentioned vote-buying, saying: “Don’t be exposed to the temptation of selling your vote. You may be approached by people who will be offering you money, services, promises in exchange for your vote. There is no money in the world that can be worth selling your vote”. This was not an isolated comment, as, in the following weeks, the United States and the EU Mission in Armenia put out a joint statement noting their concern about: “allegations of voter intimidation, attempts to buy votes, and the systemic use of administrative resources to aid certain competing parties.” In other words, in spite of the electronic system of voter identification provided by international donors (already mentioned in this blog), foreign diplomats based in Yerevan voiced their concern about a fraudulent electoral environment.


Most assessments of the Election Day, except by the CIS monitoring mission[5], mentioned some types of irregularities. However, external observers refrained from labelling the overall process as not free and fair. The International Election Observation Mission (EOM) reported that: “The 2 April parliamentary elections were well administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. [However], the elections were tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies”. In other words, while the overall process was not dismissed as fraudulent, the broader electoral climate was described as plagued by illegal practices and petty corruption. A similarly cautious statement was made by an EEAS spokesperson who, while fully endorsing all the shortcomings pointed out by the EOM, commented that: “The election result nevertheless reflects the overall will of the Armenian people”. It also added: “We look forward to working with the democratically elected new Parliament and Government”. This statement was not complemented by any declaration of the EU delegation in Armenia, as ambassador Switalski declined to comment on the electoral result.

Domestic criticism, from both civic and political activists, was much more critical. The Citizen Observer Initiative denounced widespread violations in the conduct of the elections, outlining episodes such as controlled voting, the manipulation of voter lists, pressure and bribes, inefficient commission work, insufficient vigilance at polling stations, and the failure of the technical devices[6]. The unelected ANC-PPA not only complained about fraud, but formally appealed to the CEC for the invalidation of the electoral result. Even though this claim was rejected[7], the parliamentary election results were annulled in a central village in the Aragatsotn province due to widespread fraud. Remarkably, the handing out of vote bribes was admitted even by Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesperson of the Republic Party, who, however, added that isolated episodes did not affect the overall result. In spite of the shortcomings mentioned above, plus others that had not been included in this post (for reasons of space), people did not take to the streets to demonstrate against the dubious result. That is surprising, considering that, in the past years, elections have almost always triggered widespread demonstrations. Notably, both in 2008 and in 2013, several thousand activists protested against the allegedly rigged presidential election[8].


In spite of all the controversies, both during the campaign and the vote, the Republican Party has emerged as the winner of this election. While the current Prime Minister, Karapetyan, will keep his job until May 2018, the scenario after the end of the presidential mandate of Serzh Sargsyan is still to be defined. As reported previously in this blog, the recent constitutional reform will reduce the prerogatives of the president, making this office mainly ceremonial, and increase those of the prime minister. This power-sharing innovation, introduced shortly before the end of the second presidential mandate of Serzh Sargsyan, has been widely interpreted as an attempt by Sargysan to avoid relinquishing power. For his part, Mr Sargsyan has been extremely laconic in declarations about his future plans. For example, a few days after the elections, he declared in an interview: “I have never planned where I will be in the next stage of my life. I always found myself in places where I was of greater help to our security.” Turning to Prime Minister Karapetyan, he is by far one of the most popular figures in the party. Even though he was not a candidate for parliament, since he did not meet the residency requirement, his image dominated the campaign of the Republican Party. However, he does not seem to have a solid support network in Yerevan that would enable him to determine his own political future. In conclusion, while no open declaration about the future of Mr Sargsyan has been made, this electoral success may give him the option of avoiding an early political retirement.

This research was supported by a FP7/Marie Curie ITN action. Grant agreement N°: 316825


[1] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Serzh Sargsyan: Big work has been done on conducting elections in accordance to international criteria”, April 3 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[2] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Armenian CEC presented the final results of Parliamentary elections”, April 10 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[3] Some speculations are made on the relationship between the Republican party and the Tsarukyan bloc. For example, it has been hypothesised that President Sargsyan covertly supported it, since it subtracted support from other opposition forces. Similarly, before the elections, the analyst Emil Danielyan conjectured about Tsarukyan and Sargsyan having a “tacit understanding” for the future, which could lead either to a formal coalition or a role for the ‘Tsarukyan bloc’ as “constructive opposition”. As of this writing (11/04/2017), a coalition between the two has not been announced.

[4] Some school principals involved have sued the Civic Initiative which brought the scandal up to public attention.

[5] Armenpress News Agency (English). 2017. ‘CIS observer mission assesses Armenia’s parliamentary election as “open and transparent”’, 3 April (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[6] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2017. “Armenia: Observers say polls tainted by vote-buying, pressure”, April 3 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[7] Arminfo News Agency. 2017. “Sharmazanov to Ter-Petrosyan: Parliamentary elections are the best indicator of Armenia’s democratic development”, April 10 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[8] Loda, Chiara. “Perception of the EU in Armenia: A View from the Government and Society.” In Caucasus, the EU and Russia-Triangular Cooperation?, pp. 131-152. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, 2016, 146.

Macedonia – Parliamentary elections postponed, again

The Macedonian political crisis, which started in February last year and intensified over the last few months, reached another peak last week. This post was initially intended to present the results of the early election on June 5th. In the course of the events over the last few days, the topic slightly shifted: away from the parliamentary elections towards an analysis of the political crisis in Macedonia and the president’s role in it. In the following I will briefly describe the spying and corruption scandal, which triggered the political crisis and analyze the presidential role in the pardoning of a variety of accused and involved persons.

In February 2015, Zoran Zaev, head of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and leader of Macedonia’s opposition made the news of a dramatic spying operation public. The information on the spying was shared – most probably – by a whistle blower within the intelligence service. This operation was reportedly initiated and used by then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (VMRO-DPMNE). Media reports and international observers argue that Gruevski – as one media outlet put it “wanted to know exactly was going on in the country” (Less 2016). Gruevski used this knowledge to preserve and even expand his political influence and power. It is also reported that he had knowledge over a variety of business enterprises and used this for his personal gain. These tapes revealed fraud, government corruption, criminality and various events of misconduct by all levels of government. Thus, not only did these tapes reveal massive corruption and illegal behavior but also that the highest level of government was informed. Florian Bieber characterized the tapings as follows: „The content of the tapes reveals a comprehensive, deep, and sophisticated system of corrupt and authoritarian rule, while the conversations are marked with profanity, hate speech, slander and ethnic slurs that are unacceptable in everyday communication“ (Bieber 2015).

After months of political unrest and protests the European Union finally became involved and forced the rivaling political parties of Macedonia to settle their conflict with the Pržino Agreement (EU Commission 2015). This agreement was aimed to allow for a peaceful resignation of the government (in particular PM Gruevski in January 2016) and the establishment of a special prosecutor to investigate the corruption revealed by the tapes.

Against the suggestions of the leading opposition party, early parliamentary elections were scheduled for June 5, 2016 after a controversial dissolution of parliament. To further hamper the accounting of the tapings and thus increase the conflict intensity, President Gjorge Ivanov pardoned “dozens of public figures embroiled in a wiretapping scandal” (RFE/RL 2016). This decision was criticized by nearly all political parties (also from some of those involved in the scandal) and triggered again massive protests throughout the country (Marusic 2016).

The decision to pardon is – from a more general perspective – part of a legal tradition one would associate primarily with common law countries as the power of the monarch. However, most civil and common-law countries have traditionally established some form of clemency or executive pardon (Novak 2015). Most famously is probably the U.S. context, particular the 1974 pardoning of former President Richard Nixon by then President Henry Ford (see Crouch 2008). In Eastern Europe we can observe a variety of ways in which the president has the right to issue a legislative amnesty or executive clemency; e.g. the Polish case comes to mind. The Polish President can issue a pardon without countersignature by the responsible minister or the prime minister (although for some competences the countersignature is indeed necessary, Art. 144 constitution). In the Macedonian case, the president possesses similar power in this respect, Art. 84 of the constitution reads: “[the president] grants pardons in accordance with the law”. As in the polish case, a countersignature by the prime minister is not envisaged (and is in general not stipulated in the constitution).

In line with this competence, President Ivanov pardoned a group of 56 politicians (and their associates), who were involved in the earlier mentioned spying and corruption scandal. Among the pardoned persons were the former Prime Minister Gruevski and other presidential allies. Furthermore, in an attempt to offer a „blanket amnesty“ (Casule 2016) he also pardoned the opposition leader Zoran Zaev as an ally of the whistleblower. In yet another move, facing massive public protests, Ivanov revoked his decision for 22 of the 56 persons initially pardoned. Parliament had in an earlier decision provided the legal means to revoke the pardoning decision.

This was accompanied by the decision of the constitutional court to stop all activity related to the snap elections. After the constitutional court declared the dissolution of the assembly unconstitutional – following the complaint of one coalition partner (DUI, Democratic Union for Integration) – parliament decided to move the elections as all political parties, except the ruling VMRO-DPMNE, boycotted the elections in the aftermaths of the pardons (Mikhaylova 2016). Deputies of the national assembly then decided to postpone the snap election (without confirming a new date). The decision was made with 96 votes in favor out of 123 votes (Marusic 2016).

To contribute one more element to the political crisis, parliament – upon the proposal of 50 deputies from the Social Democrats – decided to start proceedings for the impeachment of President Ivanov (Parliament 2016). It is highly unlikely that the parliamentary groups will find a consensus and cooperate in this matter. Thus, the impeachment process will most likely fail. Yet, it remains to be seen if the uprising against the corrupt practices in the streets of Skopje and throughout the country will lead to a genuine democratic development or will run its course.

Bieber, Florian (2015): Gruevski Does Not Deserve Any More Chances. June 23, in:  http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/blog/gruevski-does-not-deserve-any-more-chances (last accessed June 5, 2016).
Casule, Kaev (2016): Macedonian president pardons 56 in wiretap scandal, U.S. raps move.  April 13, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-wiretap-usa-idUSKCN0XA1ZB (last accessed June 5, 2016)
Crouch, Jeffrey. “The law: Presidential misuse of the pardon power.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 38.4 (2008): 722-734.
European Commission (2015): Agreement in Skopje to overcome political crisis. July 15, in:
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/hahn/announcements/agreement-skopje-overcome-political-crisis_en (last accessed June 5, 2016).
Less, Timothy (2016): Macedonia is reaching crisis point and the West is looking the other way. June 2, in:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/macedonia-reaching-crisis-point-the-west-is-looking-the-other-way-a7061541.html (last accessed June 3, 2016).
Marusic, Sinisa Jakov (2016): Macedonia President Pardons Politicians Facing Charges,. April 12, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-president-abolishes-incriminated-politicians-04-12-2016#sthash.w6BHkrby.dpuf (last accessed June 2, 2016).
Mikhaylova, Marina (2016): Macedonia’s Constitutional Court annuls parliament dissolution. May 25, in: https://seenews.com/news/macedonias-constitutional-court-annuls-parliament-dissolution-526229#.dpuf (last accessed June 5, 2016)
Novak, Andrew. Comparative Executive Clemency: The Constitutional Pardon Power and the Prerogative of Mercy in Global Perspective. Routledge, 2015.
Parliament (2016): Седници на работни тела. June 6, in: http://www.sobranie.mk/agenda-2016-ns_article-committee-on-evaluation-6-6-16.nspx (last accessed June 6, 2016).
RFE/RL (2016): Macedonian Opposition Sets Conditions For Talks On Settling Crisis. April 21, in: http://www.rferl.org/content/macedonian-opposition-sets-conditions-talks-on-settling-political-crisis/27687571.html (last accessed June 3, 2016).

Paola Rivetti – The Politics of Iran’s Parliamentary Election

This is guest post by Paola Rivetti, Lecturer in Politics in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

On February 26th, Iranians went to polls to elect the tenth consultative assembly or Majles. As in several constituencies the candidates failed to obtain at least 25% of the votes, a second electoral round took place on April 29th. The Majles exerts legislative power in Iran, but its legislative functions are supervised by the Guardians’ Council, which, if any of the laws approved by the parliament is considered to be not Islamic enough, sends it back to the assembly for revision. Although its power is limited by the Guardians, the parliament has a crucial political role as it can facilitate the government or significantly reduce its executive power by impeaching ministers or blocking governmental proposed laws and policies. As Rouhani administration’s achievement in reaching a nuclear deal has been controversial in the country, with some political factions celebrating the deal while others fiercely criticised it as a bad deal, the latest parliamentary elections have a crucial role in revealing the people’s and political elite’s feelings about the direction that the Islamic Republic has been taking in the past few years. Despite the overall electoral result seems to confirm a landslide victory for Rouhani’s supporters, a closer look may reveal a slightly different reality.

The final composition of the current Majles, which contains 290 seats and will start its mandate on May 28th, is as follows. The List of Hope, which is supportive of Rouhani’s administration, obtained 121 seats. The Great Coalition, which reunites the conservative forces, obtained 83 seats. The People’s Voice Coalition, which is headed by Ali Motahari and is composed of moderate conservatives, namely those who have been very critical of other conservatives during Ahmadinejad’s government and the latest Majles but do not support Rouhani’s government, obtained 11 seats. Finally, independents got 65 seats. The remaining seats are divided between the representatives of the religious minorities and the candidates who were supported by both the List of Hope and the Great conservative Coalition. There also is a relevant gender aspect to this electoral result, as 17 women have been elected as MPs (the highest number ever) and they all are supportive of the government. The youngest is Seyedeh Fatemeh Hosseini, who campaigned denouncing female unemployment. As reported by Narges Bajoghli, Hosseini also spoke against the securitisation of education policies and university campuses since 2009, and focused much of her electoral promises on getting better employment conditions for the younger generation.

Despite several observers reporting an explosion of joy and relief amongst Iranians when the nuclear deal was reached last July, data from the parliamentary elections are less clear in suggesting a widespread support for the government. This is particularly relevant, as Rouhani’s administration and the future Majles will need to take positions, formulate or halt policies on the crucial issues that (will) follow the lifting of economic sanctions.

As argued by Arang Keshavarzian, the 2015 nuclear deal can be considered as a new social pact between the population and the regime. After the revolution, the process of legitimacy-seeking on the part of the newly established regime revolved very much around the instrumental legalisation of economic situations that were previously considered to be unlawful. Later, the war against Iraq further strengthened the regime and its legitimacy. The 2015 nuclear deal can be considered as a re-assertion of that old social pact, through which the regime confirms its capability of providing for the people.

However, despite the fact that candidates linked to the list supporting Rouhani’s administration won the majority of the seats in the parliament, Rouhani’s opponents also received significant support. In particular, this is true for independent candidates who will play a fundamental role in directing the government’s policies in the future. As noted by Ali Vaez and Fulvio Scaglione, the second electoral turn that took place in April has confirmed their political relevance. Ali Vaez points out that, although this is not a new phenomenon, independent MPs’ behaviour is difficult to predict. Independents could form their own parliamentary group, align with the two main blocs (the List of Hope and the Great conservative Coalition) heating up the confrontation over policies, or they could vote with no predictable patterns making the policy-making process more difficult for the government. According to Vaez, if such situation had to take place, most probably independent MPs would throw their weight behind the pro-Rouhani moderates/reformists on economic policies while siding with the anti-Rouhani conservatives on socio-political matters.

This prediction is strengthened by the fact that the ‘new social pact’ symbolised by the nuclear deal has received fierce criticism on the part of several political factions and personalities, who accused Rouhani and his administration of ‘selling out’ Iran and his nuclear programme in exchange for very little advantage. In particular, while economic benefit will pay off only in the future, the newly-elected Majles will be called on to vote on the economic direction of the next economic plans and budget laws elaborated by the government. While Rouhani’s administration favours the integration of Iran in the neo-liberal global market, the conservative are more cautious as they fear for the loss of the economic benefits that domestic actors (such as the pasdaran and the bonyads) have been able to enjoy thanks to partial economic isolation, as well as the penetration of anti-revolutionary influence from abroad. It follows that it can be expected that the debate around the next budget law will be very heated. Likewise, all issues linked to the 2015 nuclear deal will also be at the centre of a lively debate. In fact, the 2015 deal also poses limitations on the possession of some weapons, such as missiles, that military forces, whether the regular army or the pasdaran, can enjoy. It follows that all issues linked to military expenses will be at the core of contentious debates, adding to already extant contention around Rouhani’s preference for the regular army to the pasdaran.

Despite having a reasonably sympathetic Majles on his side reflecting a new, neo-liberal and pragmatic hegemony being established in Iran, Rouhani and his government may still face significant opposition. Much of the outcome of such a process will depend on the government’s ability to deliver the economic benefits promised by the deal, and to distribute them equally and without creating further discontent within both the elite and the population.

Kazakhstan – March 2015 early parliamentary elections: unexpected predictability

This is a guest post by Dmitry Nurumov and Vasil Vashchanka

The 20 March 2015 parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan did not surprise seasoned observers. Yet again, elections attested to the President’s Nazarbayev’s firm grip on the political life of the country and the absence of real political opposition. Like many previous parliamentary elections, these were also called early after the parliament’s unanimous vote to dissolve itself. The decision to hold elections followed a recent pattern when (early) presidential elections precede (early) parliamentary elections. This cycle serves to ensure the President’s full control of the political process. The “unexpected predictability” allows taking by surprise any potential opposition and the voters, leaving little time to contemplate these decisions or organize and run an effective campaign.

Six of the seven political parties registered in Kazakhstan contested 98 seats in the lower chamber of parliament, elected from party lists. The opposition Azat party, which remains formally registered, decided not to participate in these elections. Following the announcement by Azat leader, Bulat Abilov, his withdrawal from politics in 2013, the party has not been visible. The remaining nine seats in the lower chamber of parliament are elected by the unelected Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, whose members are nominated by President Nazarbayev.

The six parties, as in the previous elections, displayed choreographed labels ranging from the communists to social democrats, aimed to demonstrate diversity and dynamism of the political life in Kazakhstan.  But this show yet again exposed the well-honed and practiced art of controlled political environment, where only players loyal to President Nazarbayev are admitted on the political stage. Kazakhstan’s political parties largely exist on paper and command little support among the population, with the exception of the ruling Nur Otan party. Nur Otan is led by the President and is inseparable from his vertical power structure. Its dominance reinforces the message that stability of the country is dependable on the incumbent’s continuing rule. President Nazarbayev did not miss opportunities to publically endorse Nur Otan and call for voters’ support.

Muted criticism of the ruling party came only from the Nationwide Social-Democratic Party (NSDP), which positioned itself as “opposition” and was for several years in merger talks with the Azat party. Thus, the number of registered election contestants did little to inject pluralism in the election campaign.  International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) and Council of Europe found that “the parties’ campaign platforms and rhetoric were complementary to and aligned with the president’s long-term strategies and refrained from proposing political alternatives”.

Shortly before elections, on 22 February, a well-known journalist and influential media personality, chair of the Union of Journalists, Seitkazy Mataev was arrested and criminal proceedings were launched against him on charges related to his business. The case stunned many in Kazakhstan, as Seitkazy Mataev was not known as a prominent opponent of the regime.  At the same time, the criminal case against a well-known figure sent shock waves among the ranks of public activists. Earlier, several criminal cases against political bloggers were opened in the second half of 2015. These moves sent a clear message that any political activism diverging from the official position will not be tolerated.

However, even if dissenting voices were allowed to contest elections, getting their message to the voters would be difficult. Years of suppression left Kazakhstan’s media landscape devoid of critical views to the president’s policies. Major media outlets are either in loyal hands or exercise self-censorship to avoid the fate of their critical predecessors that were forced to change ownership or close down. In the words of international observers, “the lack of independent sources and a restrictive legislative framework […] have profoundly challenged freedom of expression.” Compliant media paved the way for smooth and unchallenged campaigning by Nur Otan and its satellite parties.

With all conditions in place for a safe electoral victory of the ruling party, it might seem that there would be no special need to resort to mischief at the ballot box. But in the stage-managed process nothing is left to chance and election machinery is programmed to deliver the expected result. The core of election administration is formed from reliable ruling party supporters and public sector employees who have much to lose from an insufficiently convincing victory of Nur Otan. It is hardly surprising then, that international observers found that voting proceeded “with significant violations in the process”, while counting and tabulation of votes were marred by serious irregularities and “an honest count […] was not safeguarded”.

Official results announced by the Central Election Commission on 22 March gave Nur Otan 82.20% of votes, resulting in 84 seats; while the Communist People’s Party and Democratic Party “Ak Zhol” received 7.14% and 7.18% respectively, giving them 7 seats each. Other parties reportedly failed to cross the high 7% threshold.  These results were not very different from the previous elections in 2012, when Nur Otan received 83 seats, Ak Zhol 8 seats and the Communist People’s Party 7 seats. The nearly identical results in 2012 and 2015 show that holding early elections became a part of “political ritual” that successfully secures reproduction of the ruling elite and serves to demonstrate President  Nazarbayev’s uncontested and unyielding dominance on the political landscape of Kazakhstan.    

Some commentators linked the timing of these elections with the deteriorating economic situation, which may worsen later this year and negatively affect electoral moods. This may be true insofar as orchestrating a smooth electoral process goes. Given the parliament’s largely decorative functions, it is hard to see how it could seriously contribute to solving the country’s economic woes.

After casting his vote, President Nazarbayev hinted at possible changes in the distribution of power between the president, the parliament and the government. Such changes, if and when they are introduced, are likely to offer little more than “recalibrating” the existing system that leaves the 75-year-old President Nazarbayev with all leverages to remain in control and have the necessary time and flexibility to decide on his succession.

In this context, the trajectory of President’s daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, is  important to follow. After 2012, Dariga Nazarbayeva became an MP and led the work of the Committee on social and cultural development. In April 2014, she was unanimously voted Deputy Chair of the lower chamber of parliament and leader of Nur Otan faction in the parliament. In September 2015, she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan. She was on the list of Nur Otan for these elections and some expected her to become speaker of the lower chamber. However, she remained in her post in the government. Dariga Nazarbayeva is seen as a likely, but not the only prospective successor to her father. A pliant parliament would play an important role in a succession plan that would approve her as Prime Minister or support her as a presidential candidate. No risks are therefore taken with parliamentary elections, which serve to remind the President’s circle that their political survival is in the President’s hands and depends on their continuing loyalty. In other words, these elections were held within the existing model of “superpresidential republic” and they were not intended to send signals of democratic transition.

Dmitry Nurumov served as Legal Adviser and then as Senior Adviser to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (OSCE/HCNM) from 2011 to 2015. Prior to that, he worked at the ODIHR Rule of Law Unit as OSCE/ODIHR Rule of Law Coordinator in Central Asia. Before joining the OSCE/ODIHR he was a Legal Expert for the OSCE Centre in Almaty from 2001 to 2003. In the past, he also worked for a number of other international organisations. He holds a PhD degree in International Public Law from Moscow State Institute (University) of International Relations (MGIMO).

Vasil Vashchanka (LL.M.) was a Rule of Law Officer (2002-2009) and Deputy Chief of the Rule of Law Unit (2010-2012) at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (Poland) before joining the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (Sweden) as a Programme Officer (2012-2014). Currently, he consults international organizations on rule of law and democracy-related issues.

Ireland – The problems of government formation

This is a guest post by Gary Murphy from the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University


The Irish general election of 26 February 2016 has thrown up an inconclusive result which has made government formation extremely difficult. A month on from the election we know that when the Dáil reconvenes for the second time since that election (today 22 March) a new government will not be formed. The new Dáil originally met on Thursday 10 March and with no new government or Taoiseach elected on that day a caretaker Fine Gael Labour government led by a caretaker Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny continues in office. The intervening two weeks have seen no substantial progress made on forming a government and in that context we can expect that the caretaker government will continue in office for some more weeks yet.

The result of the general election continued the trend of austerity governments in Europe being rejected by their electorates. The two party coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour elected in 2011 with a massive majority of 30 seats in the 166 seat parliament was roundly rebuffed by the Irish voters. Fine Gael’s vote fell from 36.6 per cent in 2011 to 25.5 per cent in 2016 and they lost twenty six seats since 2011 falling to 50. Their coalition partners Labour did even worse collapsing from a record high vote of 19.6 per cent in 2011 to a record low of 6.6 per cent while recording a crushing loss of thirty seats going from thirty seven to just seven.

The main beneficiaries of these catastrophic losses for the government were the main opposition parties, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin and a plethora of independents ranging from those on the far left of Irish politics to a number of former members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil known colloquially as gene pool independents.

Fianna Fáil the party which has dominated governance in the Irish state since it first entered government in 1932 performed a Lazarus like resurrection in the 2016 election. Dumped unceremoniously out of office after the economic crash by an angry electorate in 2011, Fianna Fáil’s vote fell to 17 per cent in that election down from 41.5 per cent in the previous 2007 election. They also lost a barely believable 58 seats going from 78 in 2007 to just 20 in 2011. Many (but not the present writer) predicted that Fianna Fáil was in terminal decline and would no longer be a major force in Irish politics. But despite being somewhat becalmed in opinion polls for the past twelve months on between 17 and 19 per cent of the vote Fianna Fáil had an excellent campaign and ended up polling 24.4 per cent of the vote and winning 44 seats, just six behind Fine Gael. In fact the 2016 general election results mirrored the 2014 local election results giving lie in an Irish context at least to the view that second order elections are meaningless come a general election.

This was nevertheless Fianna Fáil’s second worst general election since the foundation of the Irish state. Just over three decades ago the three main parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour received 94 per cent of vote. Now it stands at barely 55 per cent and the combined vote of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is less than 50 per cent. As recently as 1977 Fianna Fáil received over 50 per cent of the vote on their own. The stability of the party system that was the hallmark of Irish politics since the foundation of the state was originally diluted by the collapse of Fianna Fáil in 2011 and has surely been finished off by the Fine Gael result in 2016.

For their part Sinn Féin won 13.8 per cent of the vote, up 4 per cent since 2011, and increased their seat total from 14 in 2011 to 23 in 2016. Yet while this result on the surface looks impressive there can be little doubt that Sinn Féin, running on an anti-austerity agenda will be ultimately disappointed that both their vote and seat tally did not increase more substantially, particularly given the levels of dissatisfaction the electorate clearly felt towards the governing parties.

The fragmentation of Irish politics and the anti-party sentiment that has been pervasive within Irish society since the Troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund arrived to bailout the Irish state in November 2010 was crystallised in 2016 by the rise of independent candidates who won 23 seats and received seventeen per cent of the vote. We can also add in the new Social Democrats party into this independent mix as their three existing TDs, all independents prior to the party’s formation in July 2015, were re-elected and they managed to have no other candidate elected. The People Before Profit – Anti Austerity Alliance can be included here as well as party cohesion has never been a strong point for those of the far left of Irish politics.

Given that Fine Gael were 30 seats short of being able to govern and Fianna Fáil 36 seats, as the new Dáil contains 160 seats, down from 166 in 2011, government formation has proved exceedingly difficult since the election. The only plausible coalition option is one between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil yet for that great Rubicon to be crossed in Irish terms will take a great leap. The antipathy both parties feel for each other is very great indeed. The alternative of a minority government led by either main party and tacitly supported by the other aided by help from like-minded independents and smaller parties seems far-fetched at this stage. The difficulty here is that any Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil led minority government which doesn’t have some sort of binding agreement by both parties would be very difficult to make work. Such a government would most likely fall and pretty quickly at that as it simply couldn’t govern effectively knowing that the main opposition party could bring it down at any opportunity. An added difficulty here is that the third main party in the Dáil, Sinn Féin, refuses to have any input into government formation at all, seemingly content to grow in opposition while those in government wither.

But government formation and the difficulties therein were not on the minds of the Irish voter when they went to the polls on the last Friday in February. The RTE exit poll showed that just nine per cent of voters viewed government stability as the most important issue when casting their ballot. Further data from that exit poll shows that just 13 per cent of voters viewed a Fine Gael Fianna Fáil grand coalition as their preferred governmental option. Only 15 per cent of Fine Gael voters and 20 per cent of Fianna Fáil voters wanted it when they went to the polls and it’s most likely probably even less now given Fianna Fáil’s resurgence and Fine Gael’s retrenchment.

In a previous post I wrote on the limitations of the role of the President in the Irish system. One of the few substantive powers the Irish president does have is the absolute discretion to refuse a dissolution of Dáil Eireann – Article 13:2:2 of the Irish Constitution Bunreacht Na hEireann. There has been much talk in the Irish media of the possibility of a second election in the next short number of months if a new government cannot be formed. In that context it might yet fall on President Michael D. Higgins to play a far more central role in government formation in Ireland if those TDs elected to Dáil Eireann cannot agree on a new government. By the power vested in him by the Constitution he will be fully entitled to refuse to dissolve the Dáil and to thus insist that some form of government be formed. These are strange days in Irish politics and they could become even stranger in the fraught weeks ahead.

Gary Murphy is Professor of Politics and Head of the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University. His latest book Electoral Competition in Ireland since 1987: the politics of triumph and despair will be published by Manchester University Press in March. Twitter @garymurphydcu

Azerbaijan – In the aftermath of the Parliamentary Election

On 1 November a parliamentary election was held in Azerbaijan. A total of 767 candidates competed for 125 seats. As largely predicted, the ruling New Azerbaijan (Yeni Azerbaijan) party won the vast majority of seats in the Milli Majilis.

Azerbaijan election results:

YAP- 69 seats
Loyal non-partisan – 40
Other pro-govt – 16

Incumbent reelection rate – 80%

These figures confirm that, as always in the recent history of the country, President Aliyev will be able to count on a huge parliamentarian majority. This element will further reinforce the preponderance of the executive over the legislature. According to official figures, turnout was over 50 per cent.

The electoral campaign, which lasted 23 days, was plagued by controversy.

The campaign started the 8th of October and closed the morning of the 31st, exactly 24 hours before the opening of the polling stations. The Central Electoral Committee, chaired by Mr Mazahir Panahov, was responsible for setting the formal rules of the competition. The national media gave great preponderance to the provisions taken to enhance transparency and inclusiveness, such as the installation of cameras in the polling stations, the streaming on-line of the voting process, the printing of the ballot papers and the placement of ramps for disabled voters. Furthermore, the importance of involving the international media was stressed so as not to cast any shadow on the electoral process.

In spite of these praiseworthy measures, some other points seemed to restrict the national debate. For example, candidates had to be extremely accurate in filling their candidacy forms since mistakes could lead them to being excluded from the competition. Additionally, campaigning tools and venues were regulated in detail. Candidates were not allowed to put up any promotional material on buildings and monuments or to openly criticize the government. Furthermore, only media located in Azerbaijan and approved for state legislation could be used for promotional purposes.

The opposition was also concerned by the economic barriers to access media outlets. In fact, differently from previous parliamentary elections, free airtime was not given to parties presenting candidates in fewer than 60 constituencies. In practical terms, only the New Azerbaijan Party (which declined) would have been entitled to that. It resulted in the Azerbaijani public Television ITV (İctimai Televiziya) costing paid airtime at the colossal sum of 3540 Manat per minute. This provision was criticised as setting unequal conditions for independent candidates. Mr Panahov backed this provision saying, first, that it was due to economic difficulties (even though ITV is fully subsidized by the state)[1] and, second, that it was nonsensical to grant national coverage to parties that were eligible to stand in only some constituencies. He also pointed out the availability of other campaign tools such as: “Meeting directly with voters, preparation and distribution of campaign materials and paid election airtime in media outlets, including media outlets operating across the country.” However, the opposition forces complained that campaign restrictions, together with the unaffordable cost for the election-related advertisements, severely hindered the substantial competitiveness of the campaign.

Another point that raised some questions was the absence of the OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission. Even though the election was observed by 365 international observers from 36 different organizations, OSCE/ODIHR was not among them. The inability of reaching an agreement on the appropriate number of observers was the main reason behind this forfeit. In its “Needs Assessment Mission Report” (31 August 2015), OSCE/ODIHR recommended the secondment of 30 long-term observers and 350 short-term ones from OSCE-participating states. The Azerbaijani authorities dismissed this request as unacceptable. As a result of this controversy, on the 11th of September ODIHR Director Michael George Link announced, through a press release on the official web site, that: “due to restrictions imposed by the Azerbaijani authorities“, ODIHR had decided to withdraw from observing the election. The Azerbaijani authorities described this choice as a unilateral move and invited the group not to comment further.  More specifically, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said that the ODIHR’s proposal to send around 400 observers was disproportionate for a country of 9.5 millions. Ramiz Mahdiyev, the head of Azerbaijani Presidential Administration, backed this position and added, in terms of comparison, that 700 observers were recently sent in Ukraine, where the population was 45 million[2]. The top official Ali Hasanov stated that OSCE/ODIHR has been generally biased toward Azerbaijan. By contrast, Rebecca Vincent, a former US diplomat currently coordinating “Sports for Rights”, an international campaign raising awareness on Human Rights in Azerbaijan, observed that “This election is taking place with no credible international observers”:

This is not the first time the OSCE/ODIHR’s actions in Azerbaijan have been plagued by controversy. In the presidential election of 2013, it was the only group to unequivocally assess the election as rigged. By contrast, authoritative bodies such as PACE (the monitoring mission of the Council of Europe) endorsed the elections as free and fair. Investigating the reasons behind this dramatic discrepancy, the ESI Think Thank argued that some enthusiastic rapporteurs had long-standing personal connections with the Azerbaijani elites and that, by virtue of these ties, in the past they enjoyed fully-funded trips to Baku and generous gifts (which is where the name “Caviar Diplomacy” comes from). The ESI report had great resonance and triggered angry reactions from the Azerbaijani establishment.

The aforementioned electoral controversies lead some opposition parties to announce their intention to boycott the elections (even if individual candidates still decided to run). The Republican Alternative party (REAL) also said it would not recognize the results. It was also proposed to postpone or re-hold the ballot. Remarkably, REAL, whose leader Ilgar Mammedov has been in jail since March 2014, suggested first working to ensure the conditions for a free and fair environment (release of political prisoners, free airtime, etc) and then to repeat the election in 2016. Similarly, the Musavat party asked to reschedule the election and to restore democracy in the country.

Looking at the actual conduct of the election, the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF, a platform of opposition parties) said that, in spite of the official claims, the turnout was no higher than 10 per cent and that the result was unrepresentative of the popular will. On the same note, the pro-opposition Turan Information press reported cases of carousel voting and ballot stuffing. Similar comments were made by independent Azerbaijani observers. By contrast, various international observers said that the election were free and fair. Among them the PACE Election Observation, the Bulgarian delegation, observers from Kyrgyzstan and Latvia and the CIS mission.

This research was supported by a FP7/Marie Curie ITN action. Grant agreement N°: 316825

[1] “Candidates will not get time on OTV” (2015, 09 October), Turan Information Agency (Retrieved through Lexis Nexis).

[2] “Senior Azeri official accuses Europe of double standards” (2015, November 1) BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit (Retrieved through Lexis Nexis).

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]


[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.

Estonia – Ruling Reform Party wins election but coalition loses parliamentary majority

On Sunday 1 March Estonia held regular parliamentary elections. The Reform Party of Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, which has dominated the country’s political scene for the last decade, once again managed to win the election. Yet as both the Reform Party and its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, lost several seats, they will now have to look for another party to stay in power – potential options include a revival of the cooperation with the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) together with which they held power between 2007 and 2009 and the newcomer ‘ Free Party’.

EST election 2015

The topics of the election campaign were dominated by the Ukraine crisis and economic issues. The Reform Party, the Social Democrats as well as the IRL were particularly keen to stress the former as well as their commitment to NATO and EU. This was not only due to the general salience of the issue among voters, but also in order to distance themselves (and discredit) the Centre Party. The party is generally considered ‘ Russia-friendly’ and the main, albeit unofficial, representation of Estonia’s ethnic Russians. Despite the unwillingness of the Centre Party’s leader, Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar (who has led the party since the early 90’s), to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine/Crimea the party came head-to-head with the Reform Party in the latest polls and eventually even gained a seat. Nevertheless, the Centre Party is regularly shunned by other parties (quite similar to the Harmony Centre in Latvia) and has no chance of participating in the new government. The Centre Party also differed from other parties by vocally opposing the current 20% flat tax system – although the Social Democrats also called for a progressive tax system, they are more likely to give up these demands if it means that they can stay in government.

After only four parties were represented in the last parliament, two new parties now entered the Riigikogu – the liberal-conservative ‘Free Party’ and the national-conservative/populist ‘Conservative People’s Party’ winning and eight and seven seats respectively. Due to its anti-immigration and eurosceptic policies, the latter is unlikely to be able to cooperate with any party in the parliament. The ‘Free Party’ however, might hold the key to keep Prime Minister Rõivas in power (see below). It is noteworthy that about 30% of voters cast their vote via the internet which constitutes a new record since e-voting was introduced in 2005. Furthermore, in contrast to other Central and East European countries turnout remained stable and even increased slightly from previous years.

It is almost inevitable that president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who since his first election in 2006 has been particularly close to the Reform Party (despite being a former leader of the Social Democrats), will ask Taavi Rõivas to form another government following customary exploratory talks. A continuation of the coalition between the Reform Party and the Social Democrats appears to be a done deal, yet it remains to be seen which party will contribute the additional six seats required for a majority. In terms of ideological closeness, the most natural coalition partner for the Reform Party would be the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), yet given their seat share might be able to make greater demands. Furthermore, the last coalition between the three parties broke down due to disagreements (Reform Party and IRL continued as a minority government) which Rõivas will be keen to avoid.  The ‘Free Party’ on the other hand is also still compatible with the current coalition parties might – also due to its smaller seat share and resulting weaker leverage – be a more likely choice as coalition partner.

More information (in Estonian) on the website of the Estonian Electoral Commission: