This is a lean month for elections. Madagascar votes on (apparently) the 23rd, but apart from that the next national election is Australia’s on 7 September. While we’re waiting, it’s a good opportunity to tie up some loose ends from recent stories.
The first round of Mali’s presidential election was held two weeks ago. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, a former prime minister, led with just under 40% of the vote, about double the tally of Soumaïla Cissé, runner-up in the 2002 election. (Figures cited in the media vary slightly; Wikipedia’s are probably as good as any.) They face each other in yesterday’s runoff. (See my original preview here.)
Keïta is the overwhelming favorite; he has been endorsed by most of the unsuccessful candidates, and with his long experience (he’s 68, or 69 according to the BBC) may be able to bring some stability to Mali. But he is also clearly the choice of the forces behind last year’s military coup, which was the biggest factor in the country’s recent trouble.
Cissé has been more critical of the coup leaders and appears more committed to reconciliation with the north. But with the influence of both the army and the moderate Muslim establishment against him, he looks to be facing an uphill task.
September will be a big month for elections in Europe: Norway on the 9th, Germany on the 22nd, Austria on the 29th. Now it looks as if the Czech Republic will be not far behind, following the fall of its new government on a vote of confidence last Wednesday.
The background to this was the resignation of prime minister Petr Nečas two months ago as a result of a complex sex and espionage scandal. That left an apparent choice of two courses of action: either the reassembling of his governing centre-right coalition under a new leader, or a caretaker government that would prepare for an early election.
But president Miloš Zeman had other ideas and chose a third option, appointing a government of his own design headed by his economic adviser, Jiri Rusnok. The centre-left – Zeman’s original home, although his relations with its current leadership are poor – supported Rusnok in parliament, but he still lost the vote, 100 to 93.
The Czech president is supposed to be mostly a figurehead, but Zeman has exaggerated ideas of his own importance; the Independent quotes a local columnist saying he “hoped to move the country towards the French system with a powerful president.” That project has now suffered a setback, but it’s possible that Zeman has some further tricks up his sleeve.
Following his surprising and impressive first-round victory in June’s election, Hassan Rouhani was inaugurated last week as the new president of Iran. His inaugural address was conciliatory in tone, saying “The people voted for moderation. The people want to live better, to have dignity and to enjoy a stable life. They want to regain their deserved position among nations.”
Barack Obama responded with a small olive branch of his own, neglecting to offer Rouhani congratulations but offering that he “will find a willing partner in the United States” if he moves towards a peaceful solution of the nuclear issue.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, was quite unrepentant, saying baldly that “Iran’s intention is to develop a nuclear capability and nuclear weapons in order to destroy the State of Israel.” Netanyahu has been saying this for so long that he may now even believe it himself; certainly his supporters in the US appear to, and they are sufficiently powerful in Congress to prevent the administration from reaching out too far to Rouhani.
Iran’s supreme leader, theocrat Ali Khamenei, has for the moment identified himself with Rouhani’s approach. But tension between them is inevitable, and it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to do what it can to boost Rouhani’s standing for that trial of strength.
Don’t miss the Guardian’s report on the inauguration, which explains that it’s the first time Iran has really done this sort of thing, with a ceremony in the presence of foreign dignitaries. Israel and the US, however, were not invited; nor, apparently, was former president Mohammad Khatami, Rouhani’s ally and onetime boss. Khatami’s journey from hope to frustration over his two terms of office is a standing warning both to Rouhani and to the west.
And finally to Venezuela, where the supreme court has rejected an appeal against the result of April’s presidential election by losing candidate Henrique Capriles. The court, not surprisingly, found that the opposition’s allegations of fraud lacked sufficient proof.
One can’t help feeling sympathy for Capriles. He lost by only a bit over 200,000 votes, a tantalisingly narrow margin, despite the fact that all the organs of the state that Hugo Chávez built were marshalled against him. It was a very impressive achievement.
Nonetheless, Capriles is now showing himself to be a bad loser. The legal process has had its say, correctly or not, and it’s time to accept the result and settle down to holding the Maduro government to account as opposition leader.