Tag Archives: parliamentary elections

Lithuania – A surprise victory of the Union of Peasants and Greens

This is a guest post by Dr Raimondas Ibenskas, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. raimondas-isbenskas

The second round of the Lithuanian general election on the 23rd of October resulted in a surprise victory of the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union. Having received only one seat in the previous election in 2012, this party scored 56 seats (40% of the total) in the Lithuanian parliament Seimas. Its victory notwithstanding, the party faces a challenge of forming a majority government. Neither the Social Democrats, the leading party in the outgoing centre-left government, nor the main opposition party, the conservative Homeland Union, seem to be keen on joining the coalition government with the Peasants and Greens.

outcome-of-the-lithuanian-parliamentary-election-2016_

 

Another major surprise of the election was the poor performance of the incumbent parties. The Social Democrats, despite leading in opinion polls throughout their term, came only distant third in the election after the Peasants and Greens and the Homeland Union, while the Labour Party was diminished from 29 seats in 2012 to 2 in 2016. The electoral decline of the Order and Justice party was more modest, although the party came perilously close to not reaching the 5 percent electoral threshold required for obtaining representation through the PR tier of the electoral system. The electoral losses of government parties could at least partially be attributed to multiple corruption scandals related to some of their politicians. They have also likely been hurt by the major welfare reform implemented shortly before the election. The liberalization of labour relations in the new labour code adopted as part of the reform was negatively perceived by the electorate and openly opposed by trade unions.

The Union of Peasants and Greens was the main beneficiary of this dissatisfaction. The party existed as a minor political force since the early 1990s and was a government coalition partner in 2004-2008. In the 2008 and 2012 parliamentary elections it did not cross the 5 percent electoral threshold, but some of its candidates were elected in single member districts. Despite its name, and somewhat similarly to the coalition between agrarian and green parties in Latvia, the party is socially conservative. On the economic dimension, it can be placed to the left of the centre, thus providing an attractive alternative for the supporters of centre-left government parties. Somewhat ironically, the party is led by one of the wealthiest people in Lithuania Ramūnas Karbauskis, an owner of the Agrokoncernas Group, which was worth an estimated 55 million Euros in 2016. Although elected as an MP, Karbauskis ruled out the possibility of becoming Prime Minister by arguing that his knowledge of foreign languages was insufficient for this position.

Two factors played a crucial role in propelling the Peasants and Greens to the position of the strongest party in Lithuania.  First, they managed to attract popular independent Saulius Skvernelis, a Police Commissioner General in 2011-2014 and Minister of Interior in 2014-2016. Although delegated by the Order and Justice Party, he kept his distance from this party and declared in March 2016 that he would be running in the parliamentary election with the Peasants and Greens. Although he did not formally join the party, he was its most visible leader during the election campaign, obtained the highest share of individual preference votes in the PR tier and also won a seat in a single member district in the capital city of Vilnius. While the addition of Skvernelis and several other prominent politicians or personalities provided the party with the image of newness, it may also lead to internal divisions and conflicts. A sign of the things to come was the indication from Karbauskis after the election that his party’s nominee for Prime Minister’s position may not necessarily be Skvernelis, as generally stated during the election campaign; an MEP and long-term insider of the party Bronis Ropė was put forward as an equally likely candidate.

Second, the Peasants and Greens also benefited from the mixed electoral system of Lithuania. Although they gained only 19 seats in the PR tier, thus coming only close second to the Homeland Union, 37 out of 42 of their single member district candidates won seats in the second round of the election (including 2 candidates that ran as independents in their single member districts but were on the party’s list). Being perceived as an attractive second choice for the supporters of most other parties, the Peasant and Green candidates had an advantage over the two major parties – the Homeland Union and the Social Democrats – that did well in the majoritarian tier of the electoral system in most previous elections.

In the aftermath of the election the latter two parties were indicated as potential coalition partners by the Greens and Peasants. Although a coalition with either of them would be a majority one, the Social Democrats may prefer to stay in opposition following their defeat while the Homeland Union insists that any coalition should also include their long-term partner Liberal Movement. The latter, being both economically and socially liberal, and having recently experienced a major corruption scandal involving its former leader, has been ruled out as a coalition partner by Karbauskis. Karbauskis also repeatedly excluded the possibility of the cooperation with the ideologically quite similar Order and Justice party by considering the latter as tainted by corruption allegations. A coalition with the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance would be more feasible, but it would not provide the Peasants and Greens with parliamentary majority. Finally, a single-party minority government of the Peasants and Greens is another possibility, although it was considered as unlikely by some observers.

The strategic situation in parliament therefore suggests that government formation will be an arduous process with an uncertain outcome. Additionally, the Peasants and Greens will have to deal with President Dalia Grybauskaitė, who in 2012 did not shy away from an (unsuccessful) attempt to prevent the inclusion of the Labour Party in the coalition government. Grybauskaitė, although formally independent, is also quite close to centre-right parties, especially the Homeland Union. Although after her first post-election meeting with Karbauskis and Skvernelis she declared that the responsibility for forming a majority coalition government falls on the Peasants and Greens and that she will not initiate “artificial” coalitions, she also indicated that she will actively shape the selection of ministers. The Peasants and Greens only need to look at the experience of the Labour Party, whose multiple ministerial candidates were rejected by President after the 2012 election, to know that this may prove as an important challenge to putting together a new government.

Raimondas Ibenskas is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. His research interests lie in the field of comparative politics with a specific focus on political parties and party systems. The main strand of his research examines key, yet under-studied aspects of instability of political parties, such as party splits, mergers, and electoral coalitions, in both Western and Eastern Europe.

Are you with Milo or not? Parliamentary elections in Montenegro

Parliamentary elections are readily perceived as a new beginning. Not so in Montenegro. In the last years the dominant figure in Montenegrin politics was one person: Milo Đukanović. Unlike any other politician in this region, he remained on the forefront of political decision-making for now 25 years and switched between being prime minister and president. His political career and his ideological adaptation mirror the development of the country since the end of communist rule.

Once again this parliamentary election was not about new ideas or a vision for Montenegro. It was a medley of a struggle for survival by the ruling elite, accusations of election fraud by the opposition, and pressure by external actors (namely EU, NATO and Russia). The overarching question was rather simple, carry on as before or choose a new path? Based on these introductory remarks, I will in the following post, briefly describe how Milo Đukanović shaped the course of his country in the last 25 years, the specifics of the 2016 campaign and election and its consequences for the country.

To give you the executive summary of the election: Đukanović’s party won the election but without securing the absolute majority in parliament.

Milo Đukanović has and had formative influence on the democratic practice, the political process and the development of the society in Montenegro. His political career started after the end of communist rule and in the beginning he was a close ally of Slobodan Milosevic. He served as Prime Minister from 1991-1998, from 2003-2006, from 2008-2010 and since 2012. In between he was President of the Republic from 1998-2003 (Prime Minister Montenegro 2016). His personal dominance was not clearly evident right from the beginning. Contrary to Croatia or Serbia, Montenegro was dominated by a so-called ruling oligarchy (Vukicević and Vujovic 2012, 56). Members of this oligarchy were e.g. Momir Bulatovic, Svetozar Marovic and most certainly also Milo Đukanović(see Banovic 2016). Đukanovićremained the dominant force since then and has changed his political allies and orientation that “(t)oday, he’s a leading voice for EU and NATO integration” (Rujevic 2016).

The campaign for the 2016 parliamentary elections was consequently described as choice between two directions: 1) EU membership with NATO Integration and thus a clear orientation towards the West or 2) to become once again a “Russian Colony”, as Đukanovićdramatically put it in one of his pre-election rallies (see for reports e.g. Deutsche Welle 2016). This harsh contrast provides a clear choice that does not necessarily exist beyond the electoral campaign and the blurry lines of everyday politics. And even more importantly, it diverts the attention of the citizens.

The way towards the West and the possible accession of NATO is a difficult topic for Montenegro: (U)p until 1997, Montenegro shared Serbia’s fate under the authoritarian Miloševićregime“( Banovic 2016, 290, see also Vujadinović 2002, 14).
 This fate included also the shared experience of the NATO bombings on the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Hence, neither the economic development in Montenegro nor the level of corruption were an important topic in the campaign as one would expect. One further reason for this obvious neglect of a serious evaluation of the political development of Montenegro is the division among oppositional forces. A 3% threshold is necessary to gain parliamentary representation and 34 parties (RFE/RL 2016) were competing in this parliamentary election.

Within this context, on October 17, Montenegro elected a new parliament. The arrest of allegedly Serbian paramilitaries on election day was only one of various events that arguably influenced the election. Some of these event, like the arrest, looked from the outside sometimes as propaganda moves by the government to gain support for its course toward the West. On an important side note: Serbian influence on Montenegrin politics is a very sensible topic and as author I would like to make it clear that any assessment of the substance of these motivations behind the arrests is not possible. It is also not clear if this event influenced the election substantially. Several polls – although I could not confirm their reliability – were already showing a significant lead for Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS, Demokratska Partija Socijalista Crne Gore) over the last few months. This expectation was confirmed on Sunday with a 41% majority, which will result in 36 seats in parliament (RFE/RL 2016) for DPS. This result forces the DPS to form a coalition government and include one of the opposition forces to gain the absolute majority in the 81-seat parliament.

But the opposition is reluctant to accept the results of the election and questions its fairness. They accuse government that the arrests in the morning of the Election Day were made merely for propaganda. Another serious issue – that goes right to the core of democratic elections and free speech – was the blocking of Viber and What’sApp on Election Day. This was also part of the concerns described by the OECD observation team. This team declared that the 2016 parliamentary election was “held in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected” (Stojanovic 2016). But members of the observation team – foremost Marietje Schaake (member of EU parliament) criticized the limitation of freedom of speech by blocking main tools to communicate (Stojanovic 2016). As the official report of the OECD will only be published in a few weeks, it remains unclear how substantiated the claims of electoral manipulation are. But, one thing is for sure; these claims will not make the coalition building for Đukanovićand the DPS easier.

References

Banović, Damir (2016): Montenegro, in: Fruhstorfer, Anna, and Michael Hein (eds): Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, 289-306.

Deutsche Welle (2016): Montenegro’s longtime ruler faces ballot test (October 16), in: http://www.dw.com/en/montenegros-longtime-ruler-faces-ballot-test/a-36052927 [last accessed October 18, 2016]

RFE/RL (2016): Montenegro’s Opposition Refuses To Recognize Pro-West Party’s Election Win (October 16), in: http://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-russia-west/28056584.html [last accessed October 18, 2016]

Rujevic, Nemanja (2016): Election in Montenegro: For Milo, against Milo (October 14), in: Deutsche Welle, http://www.dw.com/en/election-in-montenegro-for-milo-against-milo/a-36045962 [last accessed October 18, 2016]

Prime Minister Montenegro (2016): Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic – Biography, in: http://www.predsjednik.gov.me/en/primeminister/Prime_Minister_s_biography [last accessed October 16, 2016.]

Stojanovic, Dusan (2016): WhatsApp, Viber blocked during Montenegro election day (October 17), in: http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/world/article/Opposition-claims-major-irregularities-in-9975486.php [last accessed October 19, 2016]

Vujadinović, Dragica. 2002. “Predgovor.” In Između autoritarizma i demokratije. Edited by Edited by Dragica Vujadinović, Veljak Lino, Vladimir Goati and Vladimir Pavićević, 9–17. Beograd: Cedet.

Vukičević, Boris, and Vujović, Zlatko (2012): Ustavni i političkopravni okvir parlamenta u Crnoj Gori 1989–2012, in: Demokratske performance parlamenata Srbije, Bosne i Hercegovine i Crne Gore. Edited by Slaviša Orlović, 55–76. Podgorica/Beograd/Sarajevo: Faculty for Political Sciencies in Belgrade, Sarajevo Open Centre and Faculty for Political Sciencies in Podgorica.

Croatia – Snap elections that made the moderate leader of the not-so-moderate HDZ the most likely candidate for Prime Minister

 

Dissolution of the Hrvatski sabor

In June 2016 a majority of deputies voted for the dissolution of the Croatian Parliament, which became effective July 15, 2016. This early dissolution came only a few months after the last parliamentary elections in November 2015. Unfortunately this election did not result in a clear majority for any of the two main parties (the nationalist, center-right HDZ and the center-left SDP). It was however expected that the then-ruling SDP and its Prime Minister Zoran Milanović would form the new government with the support of the newly established, and widely seen as independent, platform MOST. Yet, in a very surprising move, MOST formed a coalition government with the conservative HDZ. This coalition forced the SDP into opposition and was led by a widely unknown new Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković (Vlahovic 2016). The brief period of government until the dissolution of parliament in June was strongly influenced by the growing tensions between the main political representatives of MOST and HDZ, in particular between the MOST leadership and Tomislav Karamarko (then deputy prime minister and party leader of HDZ). MOST accused Karamarko of conflicts of interest by engaging into a public discussion of the national oil company (see for more detailed information Matijaca 2016).[1] Although it is widely reported that the calls of MOST for the resignation of Karamarko and thus the enduring conflict between MOST and HDZ were the trigger for the vote of no-confidence by HDZ deputies, the 5-months coalition government was also characterized by a growing gap between the policy interests of these two parties. What followed was an astounding act of self-destruction, the vote of no confidence initiated by the deputies of HDZ against their own prime minister. After the vote of no confidence was initiated and confirmed by a parliamentary majority President Grabar-Kitarović followed the provisions of Art. 104 of the constitution and dissolved the national assembly.[2]

Campaign between Andrej Plenković and Zoran Milanović

After the devastating experience of the 5 months government and the inability to form a new governmental majority the chair of the HDZ, Karamarko, resigned. Karamarko pursued a highly nationalist agenda and was partly responsible for increasing nationalist sentiments in the public discourse. He was succeeded by Andrej Plenković. Plenković pursues a very different agenda and started with the promise to push the HDZ closer to the middle. He was elected by the HDZ party members in July 2016 “in a sign it [HDZ] was distancing itself from ultra-conservative elements” (Byrne 2016). With the new party head of the HDZ, the duel between the two leading politicians – Plenković for the HDZ and Zoran Milanović for the SDP – started. And the campaign was right from the start personalized and at times left decency far behind. It became obvious that Milanović was prepared to fight against Karamarko but failed to find a proper way to campaign against Plenković. Personal insults were in particular made by Milanović against Plenković, one perceived offense against Plenković’s parents was widely reported. However, these personal attacks did not help Milanović, it rather helped HDZ in two ways: First, Plenković behaved differently in public and was thus inspiring more confidence and second, MOST aligned with HDZ in their pursuit to change the political culture in the country (Milekic 2016).

Election and election results

The election was held on September 11, and a total of 151 members of parliament were elected. According to the information provided by the Sabor (the Croatian Parliament) 140 members of parliament are elected in 10 territorial constituencies in Croatia. 3 are elected by Croatian citizens living abroad. 8 seats are reserved for ethnic minorities (Parliament of Croatia 2016). The deputies are elected in a proportional representation system and similar to other countries a 5 % electoral threshold is necessary.

The earlier mentioned rival parties, HDZ and SDP, each formed a party list. HDZ with Andrej Plenković run on the list called “Patriotic Coalition” and Zoran Milanović and the SDP on the list called “Croatia is Growing” (in cooperation with HNS, HSS and HSU).[3] In addition MOST and a number of other parties and coalitions stood for election.

Within this short campaign period between July and September, opinion polls frequently showed a tie between the two main competing parties. Yet, the official election results were different and presented a surprisingly clear winner, Andrej Plenkovic and the HDZ. Upon the report of the State Election Commission HDZ won 61 seats and the People’s Coalition only 54 seats (Milekic 2016a). The most likely option for a coalition will be once again HDZ with MOST – similar to the unsuccessful attempt earlier this year. Petrov, the leader of MOST, which won 13 seats in the National Assembly, obviously has this experience in mind when he announced after the election results were made public: “This time, we don’t expect only promises from them [potential coalition partners], but doing it as well. Parliament must be constituted, realise the conditions, and then only will the government be formed” (Milekic 2016a). The most likely coalition will however also need the support from the minority party representatives as they lack the absolute majority, necessary for example to investiture the government (Art. 111 constitution).

Literature
Byrne, Andrew (2016): Conservative HDZ wins Croatia vote. September 12, in: Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/278002c2-7874-11e6-97ae-647294649b28 (accessed September 12, 2016).
Croatian News Agency (2016): SDP to run in coalition with HNS, HSS and HSU. July 9, in: https://aboutcroatia.net/news/croatia/sdp-run-coalition-hns-hss-and-hsu-28485 (accessed September 10, 2016)
Matijaca, Danni (2016): It’s Official: Tomislav Karamarko Was in a Conflict of Interest. June 15, in: total croatia news, http://www.total-croatia-news.com/item/12461-it-s-official-tomislav-karamarko-was-in-a-conflict-of-interest (accessed September 10, 2016)
Milekic, Sven (2016): SDP Leader’s Tirades Leave Croats Bemused. August 30, in: Balkan Insights, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/leftist-leader-tries-antagonizing-croatia-s-elections-campaign-08-29-2016 (accessed September 12, 2016).
Milekic, Sven (2016a): HDZ Looks to Form Croatia Govt After Surprise Win. September 12, in: Balkan Insights, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/hdz-wins-on-croatia-elections-promises-government-09-12-2016 (accessed September 13, 2016).
Vlahovic, Natko (2016): Opinion. Business-minded PM could transform Croatia. January 25, in: EUobserver, https://euobserver.com/opinion/131967 (accessed September 10, 2016).

Parliament of Croatia (2016): http://www.sabor.hr/English

[1] Karamarko has over the years faced a broad range of accusations but has politically survived everything thus far.

[2] Grabar-Kitarović’s own term as president is characterized by partisanship towards the HDZ.

[3] Initially Plenković announced that HDZ will not run on the coalition platform. The abbreviations stand for Croatian People’s Party (HNS), the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the Croatian Pensioners’ Party (HSU), see Croatian News Agency (2016).

Serbia – Snap elections and the political gamble of Aleksandar Vučić

Dissolution
After the Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić dissolved the National Assembly (Narodna skupština) in March and called for early elections, this election was characterized as necessary for EU accession, but also as a political gamble by Prime Minister Vučić. Serbia’s president has an important role in the dissolution of parliament and the election of a new prime minister after a vote of no confidence. Art. 130 of the constitution reads as follows: “The proposal for the vote of no confidence in the Government or the member of the Government shall be accepted by the National Assembly, if more than a half of the total number of deputies votes for it. If the National Assembly passes a vote of no confidence in the Government, the President of the Republic shall be obliged to initiate proceedings for election of the new Government. If the National Assembly fails to elect the new Government within 30 days from the passing of a vote of no confidence, the President of the Republic shall be obliged to dissolve the National Assembly and schedule elections” (Constitution of the Republic of Serbia 2006). The early elections come as sort of a Serbian tradition, as only 2 parliamentary elections in the last decade actually took place at the end of the legislative term of 4 years.

Campaign
The decision of the president was not unexpected and is widely viewed as move to cement the ruling of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and its chair Aleksandar Vučić. President Nikolić is also no stranger in the SNS, as he is one of the founding members of the party. Both politicians have declared a pro-EU stance, but are also controversial figures when it comes to the strengthening of Serbia’s democracy. The main motive for the snap election is widely assumed and pointedly formulated by the following quote: “Vučić may simply […] cash in on his popularity, while it lasts” (Stojanović and Casal Bértoa 2016).

However, one further possible explanation why the SNS pushed for early elections should be added: Constitutional amendments in Serbia require a 2/3 majority, and an amendment is absolutely necessary for the accession to the European Union. In particular, “several provisions in the constitution also state that international agreements cannot be in contradiction with the constitution […] (and) does not provide the possibility for the transfer of competences” (Banović 2016). Thus, the goal of Vučić to gain the necessary legitimization for this process could also be one explanation.

Furthermore, the EU accession was also the essence of the election campaign. This campaign – after the president’s decision – provided a new experience for Serbian voters, namely the clear concentration on domestic policies and the necessary reforms (public service and the economy) to join the European Union. And apart from two rightwing parties, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), all campaigning parties were in favor of the EU accession of Serbia. Though, the unexpected acquittal of the leader of the SRS Vojislav Seselj by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, also revived themes of earlier election campaigns (e.g. the situation of Kosovo) but only shortly. In sum, clear electoral programs were not observable, rather most statements had the character of day-to-day politics and reactions to short-term political situation (Beckmann-Dierkes et al. 2016, 2).

Election and election results
The election was held on April 24 in a nationwide constituency with proportional representation. Similar to other countries a 5 % electoral threshold is necessary, however this threshold does not apply for groups representing ethnic minorities. Part of the electoral process in Serbia is the formation of electoral lists. The list “Serbia is Winning”, chaired by Aleksandar Vučić, won a 49% majority. Based on the preliminary election results, the political move of Vučić did not work as expected. As more parties than two years ago seem to have crossed the threshold, the SNS will most probably receive less parliamentary seats (according to the most recent counting 27 fewer seats than in the last term, see MacDowall 2016). After the DSS failed to get the necessary number of votes, protests and accusations of electoral fraud started to gain momentum. A diverse group is now demanding a re-run, among them certainly representatives from the nationalists and right-wing parties but also the moderate social democrat (and former president) Boris Tadić. Because of these protests the electoral commission decided on a re-run in 15 polling stations. The majority of Vučić might increase depending on the results of the partial recount. This recount will most probably show that the DSS/Dveri list failed to reach the 5 % threshold; their – now 13 seats in parliament – will be distributed among the other parties (RFE/RL 2016). Now, with another – probably less stable majority – it remains to be seen whether the new and old prime minister will keep his promises and reform the public sector and try to prepare Serbia for the accession to the EU.

Literature
Banović, Damir (2016): Serbia, in: Fruhstorfer/Hein: Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems. VS Springer.
Beckmann-Dierkes, Norbert; Gogic, Ognjen; Kawohl, Steffen (2016): Vorgezogene Wahlen in Serbien Akteure und Themen. KAS-Länderbericht, in: www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_44931-544-1-30.pdf?160420120833.
Constitution of the Republic of Serbia (2006), in: https://www.constituteproject.org/.
MacDowall, Andrew (2016): 5 takeaways from the Serbian election, in: http://www.politico.eu/article/5-takeaways-analysis-from-serbian-election-aleksandar-vucic/ (April 25).
RFE/RL (2016): Outcome Of Serbia’s Elections Unclear Until May 4 Partial Repeat Vote, in: http://www.rferl.org/content/serbia-partial-repeat-vote/27706066.html (May 2).
Stojanović, Boban and Casal Bértoa, Fernando: There are 4 reasons countries dissolve their parliaments. Here’s why Serbia did, in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/22/there-are-4-reasons-countries-dissolve-their-parliaments-heres-why-serbia-did/ (April 22).

Cabo Verde – Opposition wins power after 15 years

Cabo Verde’s main opposition party won an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections, which were held last Sunday, 20 March. The centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD) led by José Correia e Silva managed to beat the ruling socialist African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), taking back power after 15 years.

A record number of six parties participated in the parliamentary elections. Preliminary results show that the MpD won an absolute majority (40 seats) in Cabo Verde’s 72-member National Assembly. The ruling PAICV, led by former minister of youth, employment, and human resource development, Janira Almada, lost roughly 30,000 votes and saw its parliamentary representation decrease from 38 to 29 seats. Cabo Verde’s third largest party, the centre-right Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union (UCID), consolidated its support, gathering three seats in parliament.

Since the 1991 multi-party elections, the MpD and PAICV have dominated politics. The MpD controlled both the presidency and the National Assembly from 1991 to 2001. The next 15 years the PAICV ruled with José Pereira Neves as the head of government and Pedro Pires (PAICV) as the head of state. The 2011 presidential elections generated a unique political situation in Cabo Verde, namely cohabitation when incumbent President Jorge Fonseca (MpD) defeated PAICV candidate Manuel Sousa.

The electoral victory of the MpD was not entirely unexpected. The MpD defeated the PAICV in the 2012 local elections where the former won 14 of 22 municipalities, two more than in the 2008 local elections. The PAICV has come under attack for running up the public debt on expensive infrastructure projects and failing to tackle rampant youth unemployment. The Cape Verdean economy recorded an unemployment rate of 15.5 per cent and a public debt of 120 per cent of the GDP in 2015.

How to boost economic growth was one of the central themes in the election campaigns. The MpD promised to create 45,000 new jobs and to achieve economic growth of seven per cent, which is currently at three per cent. Cabo Verde’s next Prime Minister, Correia e Silva (born 1962), is an economist and has vast experience in the banking sector. He served as state secretary of finance between 1995 and 1998 and was minister of finance from 1999 to 2000.

With the MpD in power, President Fonseca’s chances of getting re-elected increase. Presidential elections that are scheduled for August this year.

Slovakia – Government loses majority in elections but cohabitation likely to continue

On Saturday, 5 March, Slovakia held its seventh parliamentary election since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Although the SMER party of Prime Minister Fico emerged as the clear winner, it lost its absolute majority. Given that SMER only won 49 out of 150 seats in the Slovak National Council (falling short of the 63 seats predicted by the last opinion poll), Fico will have a difficult time forming a government. Nevertheless, a coalition of former and new centre-right opposition parties is unlikely and cohabitation between a (arguably only nominally) social democratic party-led government and the centre-right (yet independent) president could continue at least for another few years.

Party Votes Percent Seats
SMER – sociálna demokracia 737,481 28.28% 49
Sloboda a Solidarita (SaS) 315,558 12.10% 21
OBYČAJNÍ ĽUDIA a nezávislé osobnosti (OĽANO – NOVA) 287,611 11.02% 19
Slovenská národná strana (SNS) 225,386 8.64% 15
Kotleba – Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko (ĽSNS) 209,779 8.04% 14
SME RODINA – Boris Kollár 172,860 6.62% 11
MOST – HÍD 169,593 6.50% 11
#SIEŤ 146,205 5.60% 10
Kresťanskodemokratické hnutie (KDH) 128,908 4.94%
Strana maďarskej komunity – Magyar Közösség Pártja 105,495 4.04%
Others 108,874 4.12%
TOTAL 2,607,750 100.00% 150

When Prime Minister Robert Fico announced in early 2014 that he would run for president, it came as a surprise given not only the presidency’s limited powers but also the fact that his party held an absolute majority in parliament and was on course to form the next government if not alone then easily with support from a minor party. However, since Fico’s defeat in the presidential elections by independent Andrej Kiska, support for his government has dropped and a number of new political parties have appeared on the scene and each attracted a small, but significant share of the electorate. Although the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), Fico’s coalition partner from 2006-2010, re-entered parliament after having been absent during the last legislature, their 15 seats will not be enough to form a majority government. A potential third partner could be the far-right ĽSNS of regional governor Marian Kotleba, yet its inclusion in the government might be costly for SMER which is already facing internal divisions over its anti-refugee policies and facing criticism from Western European social democratic parties.

Already after the publication of the first exit polls, Richard Sulik – leader of the second-placed centre-right SaS – announced that he would attempt to form a government of right-wing parties. A coalition of moderate centre-right and right-wing parties (SaS, OĽaNO-NOVA, MOST-HÍD, Sme Rodina and #SIEŤ) would however only have 72 seats and thus have to rely on deals with other parties or – more likely – individual deputies from the opposition. Among these parties, the failure of #SIEŤ to garner more votes was the most surprising. Its leader, former KDH-deputy Radoslav Procházka, set up the party after finishing third finish in the 2014 presidential elections with 21% of the vote (only 3% less than first-round runner-up and eventual winner Andrej Kiska). His initial support and momentum did not translate into more seats and the party eventually barely passed the 5% electoral threshold. The other right-wing parties represented in parliament, SNS and ĽSNS, are unlikely to be included in a right-wing coalition – their nationalist views but also their desire for more/continued state intervention in the economy and welfare provision are incompatible with the traditionally economically very liberal Slovak centre-right.

In contrast to previous Slovak parliamentary elections, the president refrained from intervening directly. President Kiska continued to stand by his election promise to be the country’s first non-partisan president (Kiska never belonged to any political party, his policy views can however be described as centrist to centre-right). While the Slovak constitution foresees that presidents appoint the Prime Minister who is then subject to parliamentary approval, no Slovak president to date has used these stipulations to overly involve themselves in government formation and have appointed the party leader who presented a ready-formed majority government (similar stipulations in the Czech Republic have however allowed president Zeman to install the Rusnok government in summer 2013 which lacked any parliamentary support). It is clear that Kiska would prefer a coalition government that does not include Fico’s SMER, yet just like the parties of the moderate right, he might have to be more to gain from an unstable SMER-SNS-ĽSNS coalition. Not only would such a government have greater difficulties in overriding his vetoes (which generally only require a relative majority) but a weak government would also give the opposition parties (particularly new ones such as #SIEŤ) the opportunity to make their mark and win early elections triggered by SMER’s loss of support in a few years, potentially allowing him to win his second term in office on the coat-tails or even with the support of a new centre-right government.

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More detailed information about the election results, including preference votes for individual candidates, can be found at http://volbysr.sk/sk/data02p.html (Slovak and English).

Turkey – After a period of violence and threats of political instability Erdoğan’s party wins back its dominant position in the parliament

Turkish voters went to the polls once again on the first of November, only six months after the June 7 general election. Eventually, 49 per cent voted for the ruling AKP, thus reinstating the AKP’s single party rule and its dominant status once again. The main opposition party, CHP, sustained its votes, whereas the nationalist MHP and the pro-Kurdish HDP saw a decline in their support even though they passed the ten per cent national threshold. This result came as a surprise for many as even the pro-government polls failed to predict such a strong result for the AKP.

The AKP’s nine percent gain came after a period of increasing political violence, threats of instability, and authoritarian pressures over free press and atmosphere of fear. After losing their parliamentary majority in the June election – which was turned into an informal referendum for a presidential system by the President – the AKP continued to govern the country. Parliament stayed closed and opposition parties failed to come together to form a legislative or executive coalition. Meanwhile, President Erdoğan continued exercising de facto powers despite the fact that his recent aggressive campaign for a type of hyper-presidential system failed.

The rising star of the June 2015 election was Selahattin Demirtaş the leader of the HDP pro-Kurdish party, who famously declared that his party would not allow Erdoğan to form a presidential system. He led his party to crossing the ten per cent national threshold for the first time, and thus prevented President Erdoğan and his party from realising their goal of a presidential system by simply taking their fair share of parliamentary seats. As votes for parties which are unable to pass the electoral threshold are assigned to the biggest party, giving them a significant overrepresentation under the Turkish D’Hondt system, votes for the HDP in previous elections often translated into an increased seat share for the AKP.

Four parties entered parliament following the June 7 elections: the AKP, CHP, MHP and HDP. However, none of them had a clear single majority. In a highly polarised political climate this meant stalemate. Prime Minister Davutoğlu, the new “official” leader of the AKP was given the mandate to form the government but returned it unsuccessfully to President Erdoğan. The president also made it clear that he was in favour of a snap election rather than forming a coalition.

The six months period in which Turkey first discussed coalition formation, and later the possibility of snap election, coincided with the end of peace talks and a ceasefire agreement between government forces and the PKK. Bloody clashes between the PKK and security forces took place in civilian occupied town centres as well as mountains resulting in heavy civilian, military and PKK losses. Furthermore ISIL suicide bombers attacked two different political demonstrations in Suruç and Ankara, killing 136 people.

It was not only the increasing threat of political violence that contributed to the political instability of the country. Within this climate fears of economic crisis have been rising together with threat of political instability. In addition, there were attacks on newspapers and journalists opposed to a government run solely by the AKP members and MPs. Some of the opposing newspapers and TV channels have been seized, sparking reactions from journalists all over the world. Many of the TV channels’ and newspapers’ coverage have been pro-government and opposition parties were unsuccessful in voicing their opinion in a free, equal or fair election atmosphere.

The AKP’s election strategy was formed on the idea of stability. Single party rule against coalition governments, peace against violence, economic growth against economic crisis -propagating that coalition meant instability, political violence and economic crisis.
Furthermore, President Erdoğan was overall less visible as part of AKP campaigns and plans for the introduction of a presidential system were not mentioned this time around. This campaign strategy seemed to have worked well as the AKP regained the votes that it lost six months ago. It has been claimed that Erdoğan new strategy after June 7 election was reinstituting single party rule by the AKP which would enable his de facto presidential rule. In other words, a type of semi-presidential system without being forced to cohabit.

Meanwhile the HDP and its rising star Selahattin Demirtaş could not campaign after the Suruç and Ankara bombings which mainly targeted the party and its supporters. Campaign events had to be cancelled in fear of more violence. The CHP partly followed the same path and decided not to lead an aggressive campaign. The pro-nationalist MHP and its leader Bahçeli, who blocked any possibility for a coalition with the AKP or opposition after the June election, led an unsuccessful campaign trying to explain why he refused to form a coalition. In the end, the MHP lost more than 4 per cent of its votes to the AKP.

With this result Turkey’s chances for re-establishing a parliamentary system are significantly slimmer. President Erdoğan now has a free hand to control executive, legislative and judicial powers, resulting in a strong form of semi-presidentialism. There is no doubt that he will increase the pressure on the political opposition, free press or any force that opposes his neo-patrimonial rule. It is also highly likely that he will seek to change the constitution – even though his party lacks the necessary three-fifths majority with a referendum – to establish a so called “Turkish Type” of presidentialism.

Poland – President’s party wins absolute majority in parliamentary elections

After the presidential election in May this year and the referendum in September, Poles were called to the polls once again yesterday to vote in elections to the Sejm (the politically dominant lower chamber) and the Senat (upper). According to first exit polls and results, the ‘Law and Justice’ party (PiS) of recently elected president Andrzej Duda has clearly won the election and – according to first exit polls – might even be able to form the first single-party majority government in Poland’s recent democratic history.

TVP exit poll

Results of the first exit poll by IPSOS for state broadcaster TVP and TVN24.

The victory of PiS had been foreshadowed by the victory of its candidate Andrzej Duda in the presidential elections earlier this year, yet achieving an outright majority in parliament had been seen as unlikely as smaller parties were assumed to enter the Sejm. Having won 39.1% of the vote, PiS will take up to 242 seats in the 460-seat Sejm. Until now, only the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) once came close to winning an absolute majority of seats (it won seats in 2001). PiS fought the election campaign with their deputy chairman Beata Szydlo as candidate for Prime Minister. However, Szydlo – even if eventually elected Prime Minister – is unlikely to enjoy much discretion in her decisions. After it had been widely rumoured that former Prime Minister and PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski would still pull the strings from behind the scenes, the fact that he (and not Szydlo) was the first to address co-partisans and the press on election night was universally interpreted as a sign of his continued dominance in the party. In 2005, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, too, held back on his ambition to premiership to increase the chances of his twin brother Lech to win the presidential election. However, only half a year later he took over the position of Prime Minister and led the last PiS government until the 2007 elections.

The PO experienced significant losses, not the least due to appearance of the neo-liberal ‘Nowoczesna’ party, but still performed better than predicted by several pre-election polls. It remains by far the largest opposition party with around 133 seats and was thus punished significantly less severely by voters than the Electoral Action Solidarity (AWS) in 2001 or the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) in 2005. Nowoczesna has not been the only new party to successfully enter parliament. ‘KUKIZ’, the party of Pawel Kukiz – the surprising runner-up of the first round of this year’s presidential elections – gained 9% of the popular vote and is thus the third largest party in parliament (44 projected seats). Two other new parties – KORWIN lead by far-right MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke and the leftwing ‘Razem’ (Together) seem to have failed to cross the 5% threshold according to national projections. The new electoral alliance ‘Zjednoczona Lewica’ (United Left), made up of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance, ‘Your Movement’ and a number of smaller leftist parties also failed to cross the electoral threshold (which lies at 8% for electoral coalitions). This is the first time since Poland’s return to democracy that the SLD, is not represented in parliament (and in fact no other left-wing party). The Polish Peasant Party (PSL) is thus the only political party to have been continuously represented in parliament since 1989. Nevertheless, as it gained only 5.2% of the vote according to exit polls it may still find itself out of the Sejm, too.

President Andrzej Duda will certainly not hesitate to appoint a PiS-led government, but it remains to be seen what policy implications this constellation with bring. The last time when both presidency and government were controlled by PiS in 2005-2007, Poland underwent a phase of diplomatic isolation. A strong anti-Russian sentiment (many members and activists still blame the death of late president Lech Kaczynski on Vladimir Putin) and euroscepticism are firmly anchored in the party which will not make Poland an easy partner to work with. Domestically, PiS could once again try to increase state (and ultimately party) control over the judiciary and media – Jaroslaw Kaczynski has long expressed an admiration for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, yet at the moment changes as controversial as in Hungary seem unlikely.

Portugal – Parliamentary elections: ruling coalition wins but loses majority in parliament

On 4 October parliamentary elections were held in Portugal. No coalition or party managed to win an outright majority in the ballot. Both the ruling centre-right coalition and the main opposition party lost seats in parliament. Together, they won around 70 per cent of the vote but refuse to govern together. The formation of another central bloc is thus unlikely.[1]

Portugal’s single chamber parliament is elected for a four-year term and its 230 seats are allocated according to the D’Hondt formula. The ruling ‘Portugal Ahead’ coalition formed by the Social Democrats (PSD) and Christian Democrats (CDS-PP) won 104 seats, 12 seats short of an absolute majority in parliament. The Socialists (PS) moved up from 74 seats to 85, while the Left Bloc (BE) claimed a record 19 seats and the Communists (CDU) elected 17. The Party for People, Animals and Nature (PAN) makes its debut in Parliament after electing one MP. The turnout set a new record low of 56.9 per cent of the registered voters.

The Constitution gives the president the power to appoint the government formateur, which in Portugal is the prime minister. President Cavaco Silva has allocated this responsibility to Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, leader of the most voted party PSD, a move which the Socialists denounced as ‘extemporaneous’. Meanwhile, the PS has started negotiations with the Left Bloc and the Communists in an attempt to form a majority coalition.

Minority or majority government?

If the leftist parties manage to form a majority coalition, it would become the first leftist government in the history of democratic Portugal. The parties BE and CDU have never been included in any government since 1976. Such a scenario would clearly pose a dilemma for President Cavaco Silva who prefers a centre-right government led by his (former) party PSD. The President’s rapid decision to nominate PM Passos Coelho as government formateur is only one example of this.

A minority centre-right coalition would only be viable if it reaches an agreement with the Socialists regarding the 2016 state budget. Political instability looms in the case that the PS rejects the budget. Worse still, the President cannot resolve the political impasse. The Constitution not only prevents the president from dissolving parliament in the last six months of a presidential term, it also states that parliament cannot be dismissed during the first six months after parliamentary elections.

Presidential elections are scheduled for January 2016. According to opinion polls PSD candidate and university professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is most likely to become President Cavaco Silva’s successor. The new president can only dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections by April 2016.

[1] Central Bloc (Portuguese: Bloco Central) is the name given in Portugal to the grand coalition PS and PSD which ruled from 1983 to 1985.

Poland – As referendum is thwarted by low turnout, new president tries to shake up rules of the game

On Sunday, 6 September, poles were called to the urns for the second time this year to vote in a referendum on three largely connected questions. The only common denominator was that the referendum itself was a remnant of the presidential campaign during which incumbent (and now ex-president) Bronislaw Komorowski – shocked by only placing second in the first round and the sizeable vote share won by anti-establishment candidate Pawel Kukiz – tried to sway voters by promising them to decide on said three questions. Just as Komorowski’s bid for re-election failed, so did the referendum as only 7.80% voters made their way to the polling stations. At the same time, Komorowski’s successor Andrzej Duda is trying to shake up the political scene in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in October which – after the president – might also remove the government of the Civic Platform from power.

Results of the Polish referendum on 6 September 2015

Question % Yes
Are you in favour of the introduction of single-member districts in elections to the Sejm? 78.75
Are you in favour of maintaining the current system of state funding of political parties? 17.37
Are you in favour of introducing the principle that uncertainty about the interpretation of the tax code should be resolved in favour of the taxpayer? 94.51
Turnout: 7.80% (outcome invalid/not binding; threshold 50%)

In the referendum, voters were asked whether they favoured the introduction of single-member electoral districts for parliamentary elections to the Sejm, the lower and politically significant chamber of the Polish parliament (Poland currently uses preferential voting in multi-member districts; elections to the Senate are already being held SMDs). The reason for this question is the fact that one of Pawel Kukiz’ (admittedly few) campaign promises was the introduction of such a system – officially to increase accountability of deputies towards voters. The two other questions were likely aimed to pander to the general public. The public financing of political parties has long been a subject of debate in Poland. The Civic Platform – Komorowski’s former party – even did not formally register as a party for several years, thus making them unable to claim state subsidies, to demonstrate their opposition to state financing of political parties. The last question referred to the interpretation of tax law in favour of the taxpayer; however, the Sejm already passed a bill to that effect on 10th July (i.e. after the referendum was already scheduled and Komorowski lost the run-off to Duda) so that it’s only function now would have been to remind citizens of the government’s ‘good deeds’.

The low turnout which eventually rendered the outcome of the referendum invalid had been expected by many analysts and politicians. The outcome also stresses the fact that Poles – while voting for Pawel Kukiz in suprising numbers (20%, the best result of a third-placed candidate in Polish presidential elections) – did not actually want the introduction of SMDs. Kukiz political movement ‘Kukiz 15’, once predicted to win as many as 20% of votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections has recently dropped to just 6% in the polls and the results of the referendum might well have delivered its death sentence. Interestingly, the fourth-placed presidential candidate, far-right MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke (4.40%), and his newly formed party KORWIN have also failed to gain significant support – the latter is currently predicted to receive between 2-3% of the vote. Last, fifth-placed candidate Magdalena Ogórek, rumored to aim for a safe list place rather than the presidency during the course of the campaign, has disappeared from the political scene and will not run for parliament.

While other parties might struggle to enter parliament or will at least experience significant losses, ‘Law and Justice’ (PiS) the party of president Duda has been leading in the polls for months. Yet Duda’s first month since taking office has not been without controversy. During his first official foreign visit to Germany, Duda tried to propose a new format for talks about the Ukrainian crisis which was quickly panned and its necessity questioned by all parties involved. While the Polish has a formal role in foreign and defence policy, his initiative was also generally negatively received as overstepping established boundaries between governmental and presidential responsibilities. It later emerged that Duda had also told his German counterpart Joachim Gauck that he did not consider Poland to be a state where everybody was treated equally, triggering another wave of criticism. Duda’s latest gaffe – although it is likely that this was planned in order to appeal to the PiS core electorate – was when he refused to shake hands with Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz during the commemorations of the outbreak of the WW II in Danzig.

Up to this point, Duda has is far from being a non-partisan president but his actions are almost reminiscent of PiS’ last president Lech Kaczynski and the 2005-2007 period when PiS-led governments led to Poland’s increasing isolation in foreign affairs and the questionable use of administrative resources and the judicial system against political enemies. Most recently Duda’s request to the Polish Senate for another referendum – to be held on the same date as the parliamentary elections and covering question ranging from the state retirement age and the management of state forests to the school starting age and thus mostly relating to changes introduced by the current government – was still denied. Nevertheless, the fact that letters still sent to his predecessor were sent back with a stamp ‘This person does not work in the Presidential Office’ rather than answered, shows how quickly Duda and his people have changed the character of the institution.[1] Duda has already declared that he will campaign on behalf of his party in the forefront of the parliamentary elections in late October, but (as always in Polish politics) it is too early to tell how his activism will impact on its electoral fortunes. On the one hand, PiS might benefit form the coattail effect; on the other hand, the Civic Platforms recently announced decision to co-opt several well-known conservative and left-wing politicians on its list might still sway voters in the other direction.

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[1] Interestingly however, the head of the important legal and institutional department and the presidential office’s longest serving employee, Andrzej Dorsz, who under Lech Kaczynski had still been banished to head the archive, has so far remained in his place.