Two elections in the coming week, two more big ones approaching, and two that are still waiting final resolution.
Paraguay votes tomorrow for both president and legislature – it’s an American-style presidential system where the two are quite separate. There are eleven candidates for president, but it looks like being mostly a contest between the country’s traditional two major parties: the centre-right Colorados, whose candidate is Horacio Cartes, and the centrist Liberals, who are running Efrain Alegre.
The last election, in 2008, was the first time in more than 60 years that the Colorado Party had been defeated, although for more than half of that time the country was under the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner (deposed in 1989). The winner in 2008 was left-wing priest Fernando Lugo, who ran in coalition with the Liberals (whose full name is the Authentic Radical Liberal Party).
After the election the Liberals deserted the coalition, leaving Lugo in a small minority in Congress. Last year the Liberals and Colorados voted together to impeach him in what was described as an “institutional coup”. He was replaced by his Liberal vice-president, Federico Franco.
Despite these rather discreditable proceedings, Paraguay appears to be gearing up for a genuinely competitive election. Cartes seems to be regarded as the front-runner, but at least one recent poll puts Alegre narrowly in the lead, 36.7% to 34.8%. The centre-left’s Mario Ferreiro, with 9.9%, was the only other candidate with significant support.
Iceland, another small country with a colorful recent political history, is voting for a new parliament next Saturday. The current coalition government of the Social Democrats and Left-Greens is facing almost certain defeat.
I’ll do a full-scale preview during the week, but in the meantime you can go to the comprehensive report on Wikipedia. I haven’t yet checked its details against other sources, but it seems very informative (although the description of how the electoral system works is only slightly more comprehensible than if it were written in Icelandic).
Malaysia votes on Sunday 5 May, in an election where the National Front, which has governed the country since independence, is facing probably its toughest electoral test. In case you missed it, go back and read Lindsay Murdoch’s piece in the Age last week in which he described the remarkable reappearance of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who retired in 2003 and is now 86 but apparently still as feisty as ever.
Mahathir has been attacking all his usual targets, including democracy, the west, and of course his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who is now leader of the opposition. But he doesn’t seem to have a lot of time for his own side either; according to Murdoch he “has put Prime Minister Najib Razak on notice that if he does badly in the election he will lose the prime ministership in an internal party coup.”
Very much an election to watch.
Then there’s Pakistan, whose elections, scheduled for 11 May, are being overshadowed by the continuing saga of its former dictator Pervez Musharraf.
Yesterday Musharraf was placed under house arrest after a court revoked his bail on charges of abuse of power. This is a major step for Pakistan, whose military rulers have never been held to account. As Al-Jazeera reports, “This is the first time that the Pakistani judiciary has ordered the arrest of a former army chief of staff.”
It’s not at all clear why Musharraf chose to end his comfortable exile when all this was waiting for him. A long survey piece the other day by the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan is well worth reading for a rundown of the issues. (I enjoy criticising the BBC at times, but it does this sort of thing very well.)
Unfortunately it all diverts attention from the election itself. It’s reminiscent of the leadup to February’s Italian election, in which the media were unable to see past the colorful Silvio Berlusconi. But Berlusconi at least was the chief of a major party, and in fact came close to winning; no serious observer thinks that Musharraf could do that well even if he is allowed to run.
The Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted in 1999, is generally regarded as the front-runner, but with three weeks to go it remains a wide open contest.
The Venezuelan electoral commission has agreed to conduct an audit of all the voting machines from last Sunday’s election that had not already been checked. That’s a sensible move in view of the closeness of the result. It’s not a recount, just a process to check that the electronic machines are working and that what they are registering corresponds with the printed receipts. In the absence of some identified problem, a margin of 273,000 votes really doesn’t justify a full recount.
The Americans are apparently still not happy, but at some point they will probably have to cut their losses, recognise that Nicolás Maduro is the winner and do what they can to mend fences and encourage him along a more consensus-driven path. (See previous report here.)
And finally Italy, still without a new government almost eight weeks after its election. There was a burst of enthusiasm this week when agreement was reached between the two main parties, centre-right and centre-left, on a candidate for president to replace Giorgio Napolitano, whose terms ends next month.
The president, a Westminster-style ceremonial head of state, is elected by a joint sitting of both houses of parliament, augmented by 58 regional representatives. Generally they elect an elderly and respectable retired politician.
The agreement was important for two reasons: firstly because it showed at least some ability of the parties to co-operate, and secondly because a new president might do a better job at cajoling the politicians into forming a government that can actually command a parliamentary majority – a task at which Napolitano has been conspicuously unsuccessful.
Alas, it all came to nothing. The agreed candidate, Franco Marini, failed to win election on the first ballot. He had 521 votes out of 1,007: a majority, but well short of the required two-thirds. The problem was mass defections from the centre-left, who are discontented with the leadership of Pier Luigi Bersani. Bersani’s failure to translate his apparent election victory into an actual government may have damaged him beyond repair.
Marini then withdrew and most of the centre-left abstained on the second and third ballots. For the fourth and subsequent ballots only a simple majority is required, and the centre-left swung behind former prime minister Romano Prodi. But he couldn’t get there either, managing only 395 votes. (Official tallies are here.)
So Italy seems as far as ever from sorting itself out. Stay tuned for further updates.