The week’s election news

Portugal

For once the pollsters had a good result: Portugal’s election last Sunday (see preview here) came out very much as expected. Centre-right prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho has lost his parliamentary majority but is expected to form a minority government. With 104 seats out of the 226 so far decided (official results here – four seats representing voters outside Portugal are still to come), Passos Coelho’s “Portugal Ahead” coalition is 19 seats ahead of the opposition Socialists.

That’s better than you might think from the BBC report, which evidently failed to realise that the two parties in the governing coalition run separately in Madeira and the Azores, so the five seats won there by the Social Democrats need to be added to the coalition’s 99 from the mainland. The reporter then came to the conclusion that “the coalition lost almost one-third of the votes that its two constituent parties gleaned in the last general election,” although the actual drop was 50.4% to 38.5%.

The far left did well, with the Left Bloc (Syriza-style radical populists) taking 10.2% and the Democratic Unity Coalition (more traditional communists and Greens) 8.3%, for 19 and 17 seats respectively. The Socialists plan to hold an internal referendum as to whether they should attempt to form a united front with the far left parties, but opposition leader António Costa is clearly very cool on the idea.

[ADDED 15 OCTOBER: The four external seats have finally been decided, with the centre-right winning three and the Socialists one, giving the government 107 out of 230. The three opposition parties are still talking to one another about the possibility of forming a left-wing government, but I’d say the odds are against it.]

Belarus

Belarus went to the polls yesterday, with president Alexander Lukashenko seeking re-election for a fifth term in office. Official results show him, unsurprisingly, scoring a landslide win, with 83.5% of the vote and none of his three opponents managing more than 4.4%. (There is apparently also a “none of the above” option, which might account for the otherwise puzzling arithmetic.)

That’s pretty similar to the last election, in 2010, which saw Lukashenko returned with 80.4% against nine opponents, none of whom registered more than 2.5%. That election was followed by opposition protests and large-scale repression, and also by the wonderfully disingenuous comment from Lukashenko that “he could not imagine what else he could have done to make the elections more democratic.”

Lukashenko is renowned as the “last dictator in Europe”, but in recent years his relations with his long-time ally, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, have evidently deteriorated, resulting in a somewhat more conciliatory attitude towards the west. The ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine has served as a reminder that Russian patronage can have a fairly serious downside, so Lukashenko wants to keep his options open – most obviously with his resistance to the plan for a Russian air force base on Belarusian territory.

So far there’s no sign of that translating into increased openness or democracy, but at least a mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe was invited to observe the election.

United States

Finally, to update my report from last month on the United States presidential election, the race for the Republican nomination has seen some movement back towards what counts, relatively speaking, as the mainstream. Celebrity businessman Donald Trump still leads in the polls, with 23.2% in the latest RealClearPolitics average, but that’s down significantly on three weeks ago, when he peaked above 30%.

Another way-out candidate, Ben Carson, is still holding down second place with 17.2%, but he too has been losing support. The top three mainstream candidates, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, now have about 28.7% support between them – up about 5.2% since my last report, when even in aggregate they were polling below Trump. Pundits seem to be coming around to the view that Rubio is now the best placed.

But the big news in Republican politics has been the resignation of House speaker John Boehner and the failure so far of the Republican caucus to find anyone to replace him. It looks a lot as if the far-right contingent of Republican House members, not content with making the country ungovernable, has now made its own party ungovernable as well. I hope to have some more to say about this during the coming week.

 

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