Yesterday was a bumper day on the electoral calendar. Some of these will require more analysis over the next week or two, but here’s my attempt at a quick summary.
The big one was the second round of Brazil’s presidential election. Centre-right candidate Aécio Neves had scored a surprisingly strong second place in the first round three weeks ago, winning 33.5% of the vote and knocking out environmentalist Marina Silva. That put him into the runoff against centre-left incumbent Dilma Rousseff.
The polls tipped a close race between them, and they were right, but Rousseff has emerged victorious. Official results give her 51.6% of the vote, a lead of about 3.4 million votes. Turnout was 78.9%, substantially the same as in 2010.
Broadly speaking, it was a typical left-right contest: Rousseff’s support is drawn mostly from the poorer parts of Brazilian society, while Neves appealed more to the middle class and the wealthy. But both are relative moderates, and although the campaign was reportedly confrontational, their programs reflected differences of emphasis rather than radical differences of approach.
Brazil has had a pretty good twelve years under the centre-left, but its recent economic performance has been disappointing and many obviously perceive the government as stale and out of touch. Neves argued that policy needed to be reoriented more towards growth while preserving a strong welfare system.
The majority were not convinced this time, but if the economy fails to pick up then the centre-right will be well placed on Rousseff’s retirement in 2018.
There are no official results yet from Ukraine’s parliamentary election, also held yesterday. Widely reported exit polls, however, show that moderate pro-western parties are likely to control the new parliament.
The two largest blocs are expected to be those led by president Petro Poroshenko and prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, each with between 20% and 25% of the vote. Other European-leaning parties that should win representation include the new group Samopomich or Self-Help, based in western Ukraine, and the Fatherland party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The Opposition Bloc, associated with the old Party of Regions of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, has scored a respectable 8% or so. The far-right Svoboda (Freedom) party, Vladimir Putin’s favorite bogeyman, appears to have just cleared the 5% threshold, although the Communist Party failed to do so.
Only half of the parliamentary seats are elected proportionally; the others are based on single-member constituencies, elected by first-past-the-post. However, 27 of the 235 constituencies were not voting yesterday – 12 located in the Crimea, annexed by Russia, and 15 in rebel-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. The latter are supposed to vote next week, but the relationship between this and the official election is uncertain.
Now permanently tagged as the most successful of the Arab Spring countries, Tunisia also went to the polls, for the first parliamentary election under its new constitution. Turnout late in the day stood at either 51% or 65%, depending on whether you read the Guardian or the BBC.
The Islamist party Ennahda topped the poll with 37% in 2011, in Tunisia’s first democratic election. It is again expected to do well, and has promised to again pursue a coalition with more secular parties. Presidential elections next month should complete the transition to a functioning democracy.
While Tunisia obviously still has some major problems, its relative success seems attributable both to the luck of its geographical position – far enough away from the Middle East’s centre of gravity to not become a victim of grand strategy – and to the moderate, consensus approach taken by its politicians. There’s not much countries can do to imitate the former, but they could potentially learn a lot from the latter.
Yesterday’s fourth election was in Uruguay, where voters were choosing a replacement for incumbent president José Mujica, who is constitutionally limited to one five-year term. Mujica, from the leftist Broad Front coalition, has been renowned for his simple lifestyle and his liberal social policies, including legalisation of marijuana and same-sex marriage.
Uruguay has also enjoyed strong economic growth, but rising crime and poor educational standards are apparently matters of concern for voters.
The Broad Front’s candidate this time is Mujica’s predecessor, Tabaré Vázquez, who became the country’s first leftist president after winning a first-round majority in the 2004 election. His main opponent is Luis Lacalle Pou, of the centre-right National Party. Further back in the polls is Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorado Party – nominally centrist, but now regarded also as leaning to the right.
I can’t find any official results yet, but the BBC reports that exit polls put Vázquez in the lead with between 44% and 46% of the vote, well clear of Lacalle Pou’s 31-34% but short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff, set for 30 November.