I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter holiday. Here’s a quick look at what’s been happening in the electoral world.
The lesson of Costa Rica is, don’t trust the Latin American opinion polls. As I said in my preview last week, they predicted a close race in the second round of the presidential election between centre-left-populist Carlos Alvarado and right-wing Christian fundamentalist Fabricio Alvarado.
But it wasn’t close at all. Carlos Alvarado made it two in a row for his Citizens’ Action Party, winning with 60.7%, a margin of more than 450,000 votes. Fabricio Alvarado promptly conceded defeat and promised to work constructively with the new president.
That’s good news for Costa Rica’s reputation as a moderate and progressive country. It’s probably too much of a special case for one to draw broad conclusions, but it at least gives some encouragement to embattled centre-left parties elsewhere in Latin America – notably Brazil, which votes in October.
Last week’s presidential “election” in Egypt had no such democratic credentials. Incumbent dictator General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, running against only a token opponent, was credited with 97.1% of the vote. Actual opposition figures (those who are not in jail) either boycotted the poll or were intimidated out of running, and government control of the media and the electoral apparatus was comprehensive.
Turnout, however, was only 41.1%, well down from the already embarrassing 47.5% of 2014. Perhaps el-Sisi will consider compulsory voting for next time.
Future historians will debate whether the Egyptian coup of 2013 or the deepening civil war in Syria over the previous year or so was the decisive factor in ending the Arab Spring. Clearly the conjunction of the two proved fatal to the high hopes of 2011. But the Arab masses had at least showed that they were capable of independent action, and el-Sisi may one day need to remember that.
Last week’s other election was in Sierra Leone, in West Africa. In the first round, held on 7 March, Julius Maada Bio, from the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (broadly centrist), led narrowly with 43.3% of the vote, less than 15,000 votes ahead of the government’s candidate, Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (broadly leftist), on 42.7%. Another 14 candidates shared the remaining 14% – about half of which went to Kandeh Yumkella of the National Grand Coalition, despite doubts about his eligibility.
Bio and Kamara therefore contested the runoff on Saturday. Official results have not yet been released (here is where they should appear); both sides have claimed victory, but Bio’s claims seem rather more credible since they are backed by an actual tally, showing him with 54.1% of the vote. Turnout was reported to be low.
And in referendum news last week, agreement has been reached on the form of the question that will be put in New Caledonia’s independence referendum, to be held on 4 November.
The referendum is required by the Noumea accord of 1998, which provided for increased autonomy for the French territory while postponing a decision on independence for up to 20 years. That time is now up, and a fortnight ago the local legislature voted to set the date for the referendum.
That left the precise question to be determined, but it was settled by compromise after long negotiations between prime minister Édouard Philippe and representatives from the different New Caledonian parties. Voters will be asked, “Do you want New Caledonia to achieve full sovereignty and become independent?”
Opponents of independence, of course, wanted the question to sound as blunt and unequivocal as possible; supporters wanted it to be softer and not mention the word “independence”. But with the anti-independence forces having won convincing majorities in the last three territorial elections, a “no” vote seems overwhelmingly likely.
We’ll have another look at the referendum closer to the time, but in the meantime this story from a few years back gives some of the background.
This week’s big election is on Sunday in Hungary; I’ll preview that in a couple of days’ time. There’s also the continuing saga of Italy’s attempt to form a government out of the results of last month’s election, which deserves some attention. And there have been some fascinating developments in Israel’s ongoing refugee crisis, which in many ways parallels our own lamentable history with the issue.
Stay tuned for all those and more.