Apologies to all for the recent hiatus in blogging. Other projects have got in the way for the last couple of weeks, but now starting to get back on track. What follows is a very quick roundup of current and recent election news, as a sort of promissory note of topics that I hope to give more extended treatment to over the next few days.
The first round of voting for a new Greek president will be held tomorrow. The president is just a figurehead elected by parliament, so this wouldn’t usually be a matter of great interest. It’s become important because the governing coalition in Greece lacks the supermajority necessary to elect a president, and the constitution provides that if no president is elected by the third round (scheduled for 29 December) then parliament must be dissolved and fresh elections held.
What’s happened is that prime minister Antonis Samaras, the centre-right leader who governs in coalition with the centre-left, has brought forward the presidential ballot by several months in a gamble to try to outmanoeuvre the radical left party, SYRIZA, which has consistently led in the opinion polls and would be favored to win an early election. Financial markets are worried, although of course financial markets can usually find something to worry about.
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe led his centre-right government to victory in early elections held last Sunday. The government’s overall majority emerged largely unchanged, but among the opposition parties there was a pronounced shift from the hard right to the centre-left. The Democratic Party of Japan, severely punished at the 2012 election, now looks a bit more like a credible opposition, although its leader Banri Kaieda lost his seat.
As is common in Japan, the result in votes was somewhat at variance with that in seats. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party improved its vote significantly, but that failed to translate into a commensurate gain in seats because reforms since the last election have reduced the extent of malapportionment. Turnout was down, to a record low of 52.7%.
The United States faces the enthralling prospect of fighting its next presidential election (almost two years off, but in American terms that isn’t long) partly on the issue of torture. A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released last week detailed – even in its public portions – the horrific extent of the torture program implemented by the CIA in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.
President Obama stated that “these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests,” but it was a relatively mild response given what had been revealed. Hillary Clinton, still heir presumptive to the Democrat nomination, was even more tepid.
The Republicans, however, doubled down, implicitly and sometimes explicitly defending the torture program. Former vice-president Dick Cheney was particularly egregious, either not noticing or not caring that he was publicly confessing to a crime that the US is treaty-bound to prosecute and punish.
This year’s crisis in Ukraine has led to an occasional focus on Moldova, the mostly-Romanian former Soviet republic to Ukraine’s west. Its politics have long been a contest between more or less unreconstructed Communists and a diverse pro-western coalition. Elections held on 30 November showed this to be still the case, with the pro-western forces again, narrowly, in the majority.
Five parties won seats: the Communists were outperformed by their new allies, the Party of Socialists, with the two parties between them winning 38.4% of the vote and 46 seats. The three pro-western parties – basically centre-right, centre-left and centrist – together managed 46.1% and 55 seats, and will now try to put together a new coalition government.
Tunisia is holding a runoff election for president next Sunday. The first round, held on 23 November, saw as expected a plurality for the veteran secularist candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, but with only 39.5% he was well short of a majority. He now faces the current interim president, moderate Islamist Moncef Marzouki, who had 33.4%.
Observers praised the conduct of the first round, and it’s hoped that Sunday’s vote will be a successful culmination of Tunisia’s transition to democracy.
Interesting developments in Hungary as well, where prime minister Viktor Orbán last week called for mandatory drug testing of journalists. Hungary under Orbán is becoming more and more a lone wolf in central Europe, with its pro-Russian and anti-liberal orientation, although it may serve as an inspiration for such parties as the National Front in France and even UKIP in Britain.
A critical by-election in February could deprive Orbán’s government of its two-thirds majority in parliament – a mark that it reached with just 44.5% of the vote, due to a distorted electoral system. But since Victoria has just elected a government with a clear majority on 38.1% of the vote, perhaps we’re not really in a position to criticise.