World election news, part II

Macedonia

Macedonia went to the polls last Sunday (see my preview here), and as expected, the centre-right VMRO-DPMNE again emerged as the largest party. But it was much closer than expected: the centre-left Social Democrats were less than 18,000 votes behind, 39.4% to 37.9%. That gave VMRO-DPMNE 51 seats (down ten from 2014) to 49 for the Social Democrats (up 15) and 20 spread across four smaller parties that represent the country’s Albanian minority.

There are also supposed to be three seats representing Macedonians overseas, but according to Wikipedia they were not filled due to insufficient turnout.

The largest of the Albanian parties, the Democratic Union for Integration, has ten seats (down nine), so if it again teams up with VMRO-DPMNE it will have the barest possible majority. Given the country’s recent turmoil, that’s an unsatisfactory basis for government – particularly since centre-right leader Nikola Gruevski has made play with nationalist anti-Albanian feeling, leading to likely tensions in the coalition relationship.

The Social Democrats have alleged voting irregularities and are challenging the result. The election that was supposed to resolve Macedonia’s crisis seems to have just exacerbated it.

Bulgaria

And completing the Balkan trifecta with Romania and Macedonia, we have Bulgaria, which looks set for another early election (its third in succession). Centre-right prime minister Boiko Borisov resigned last month after the presidential election, which saw his candidate defeated badly by the nominee of the opposition Socialists, Rumen Radev.

That makes things awkward, since the outgoing president, whose term expires in a month’s time, now has the responsibility of finding a new government.

Borisov assembled a coalition after the last election, in 2014, consisting of his own party GERB and the Reformist Bloc (also centre-right), with further support from the further-right Patriotic Front and the centrist Alternative for Bulgarian Revival. But GERB has refused to make the attempt to form government again, as have the Socialists, to whom the president turned next. The Reformist Bloc, with the support of the Patriotic Front, has now been been given the chance; if they fail, there will have to be a caretaker government until the new president takes over.

Italy

Following the defeat of Italy’s constitutional referendum and the resignation of the prime minister who proposed it, Matteo Renzi, Italy now has a new government. Former foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni was appointed at the weekend and confirmed this week by both houses of parliament.

Like Renzi, Gentiloni represents the centre-left Democratic Party, and the new government will look much the same as the old one. It also relies on the same parliamentary majority, consisting primarily of the Democratic Party, the New Centre-Right of Angelino Alfano (who becomes the new foreign minister), and a number of smaller centrist groups and independents. That makes it relatively secure in the lower house, but less so in the Senate, where the vote of confidence was 169 to 99, with another 47 not voting (apparently from the Five-Star Movement and the Northern League).

Gentiloni thus becomes the fourth successive prime minister not to have come to power via an election. Although the next election is not due until early 2018, there’s considerable doubt whether he will be able to last that long. But he at least wants to tidy up the electoral system and maybe get some runs on the board in economic policy before seeking his own mandate.

By the way, on the question of Renzi’s referendum and his fate don’t miss this piece last week from James Panichi at Inside Story, which contains some excellent analysis as well as the most pithy summary of the referendum’s problem: “Renzi’s constitutional reforms suffered from mission creep.”

Gambia

Gambia, the smallest country on the African mainland, is one of those places that doesn’t make the news much. When it does, it’s unlikely to be for anything good. So it seemed a welcome exception a fortnight ago when its authoritarian president of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, was beaten in an election and promptly conceded defeat to opposition candidate Adama Barrow.

Jammeh seized power in a military coup in 1994 and had used a variety of dirty tricks to stay in office since then, including shutting down the country’s internet access prior to the election.

Alas, the news proved too good to be true: Jammeh changed his mind and decided not to accept the election result after all. He has now sent soldiers to occupy the electoral commission’s offices; prior to that, its revised figures showed Barrow winning with 43.3% to Jammeh’s 39.6%. A third candidate, Mamma Kandeh, had 17.1%. (Being a former British colony, there is of course no second round.)

Mediation from Gambia’s neighbors has so far failed to induce Jammeh to accept the result, but Barrow says he is planning for his inauguration on 18 January regardless. Tough talk from the United Nations – its special representative said that “under no circumstances can [Jammeh] continue to be president” – suggests that West Africa’s wave of democratisation will not be stopped.

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