Let’s have a quick look at how the weekend’s various elections panned out.
The big one was Brazil (see preview here), and it’s also the scariest. With all but the last 197 polling places in, right-wing authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro has a big lead in the first round of the presidential election, with 46.0% against 29.3% for the centre-left’s Fernando Haddad.
Ciro Gomes, also from the centre-left, is third with 12.5%, the centre-right’s Geraldo Alckmin managed only 4.8%, and a further nine candidates have collected the remaining 7.5% between them. Turnout was 79.7%, down fractionally from 2014.
Bolsonaro and Haddad will now contest the second round on 28 October, but Haddad will need to pull something out of the hat if he’s going to win it. No-one expected him to top the poll yesterday, but his deficit is much greater than the opinion polls had predicted.
The one consolation is that there’s a bit of a history of neo-fascist candidates underperforming in runoffs, as if some voters know that the first round doesn’t really matter so they indulge in a protest vote. It will be interesting to see what the polls do over the next couple of weeks.
For more, don’t miss the long report in the New York Times.
Latvia, on the other hand, produced very much the result that the polls predicted (see preview here). The Social Democrats lost ground but again led the field, with 19.9% and 23 seats (down 3.6% and one seat from 2014).
Another five parties then bunched close together: Who Owns the State (14.3% and 16 seats), the New Conservative Party (13.7% and 16 seats), For! (12.1% and 13 seats), the National Alliance (11.1% and 13 seats) and the Union of Greens and Farmers (10.0% and 11 seats).
The only other party to clear the 5% threshold was Unity, the formerly-dominant centre-right party now beset by divisions, which managed 6.7% (down 15.2%) and eight seats (down 15). The Latvian Association of Regions and For Latvia from the Heart both dropped out of parliament as expected, although with 4.2% the former came close to holding on.
There will now be a prolonged period of negotiations to settle on a governing coalition. Change is definitely likely, since the three parties of the governing coalition (Greens & Farmers, National Alliance and Unity) are a long way short of a majority, having won only 27.8% of the vote between them.
Most probably the traditionally pro-Russian Social Democrats will need to be brought within the tent, but exactly how this is going to happen remains uncertain.
Cameroon, in equatorial Africa, also voted yesterday. There’s no sign of any results as yet, but since president Paul Biya has been in power since 1982, it seems very unlikely that he will allow anyone else much of a chance this time. Last time he won with 77.8% against 22 opponents.
Reports depict a country facing serious problems, including a separatist movement in the English-speaking north-west, which the 85-year-old Biya seems poorly equipped to deal with. But the opposition, despite pockets of enthusiasm, is fragmented and powerless, so the prospect of significant change seems remote.
Nor are there results yet, as far as I can tell, from Bosnia & Herzegovina. For reasons I explained in my preview (jointly with Latvia), they’re unlikely to be very useful anyway, since the country’s institutions force it into a sort of fragmented ethnic politics pretty much regardless of what the voters want.
But establishment Europe seems to have run out of ideas to deal with this situation. Only those from outside the mainstream even raise the issue: here, for example, is Austria’s far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache. He comes from a very different philosophical position to mine, but I think his basic point is correct – that “Today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina can’t function.”
Finally, not an election but a referendum: Romania voted over the weekend on whether to insert a prohibition on same-sex marriage into its constitution. (Politico had a good preview here.)
The referendum required a turnout of 30% (recently reduced from 50%) and a valid vote of 25% (excluding informals) to be valid. Despite being held over two days, it didn’t even get close, with turnout of just 20.4%.
As with the Macedonian referendum a week earlier, opponents of the change had called for a boycott of the vote, which was strikingly successful. (Although it’s fair to point out that turnout in Romania is usually low at the best of times.) And just as in Macedonia, I’m unhappy with the idea of rules that create a reason for people not to vote.
It’s fair enough to require a minimum level of support for making constitutional change, but counting the “no” votes towards the threshold gets the incentives wrong. As commenter Tom R pointed out last week, “Referenda rules should be monotonic” – that is, “it should not be possible for you to help a proposal pass by turning out and casting a NO vote against it.”
I doubt that Romanians are really in favor of same-sex marriage (which is already illegal), but it’s at least good to know they are not strongly motivated to ban it. It’s been suggested that the government (led by the centre-left) was using the referendum as a diversion from its other problems, and that may have aroused voter resentment.