Electoral loose ends

Time for a roundup of some recent electoral events.

El Salvador

No second round will be required in El Salvador’s presidential election, held last Sunday (see my preview here). Nayib Bukele, from the broadly centrist Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), has won a comfortable victory with 53.0% of the vote, against 31.8% for the right’s Carlos Calleja and 14.4% for the left’s Hugo Martínez.

He will be the first president since the 1980s not to come from one of the two major parties, ARENA on the right or the FMLN on the left. But since ARENA and its allies retain a majority in congress (the two are out of alignment, with the legislature’s term running until 2021), Bukele will probably need to compromise to get his program adopted.

Greece / North Macedonia

Success, finally, in the Balkans, where Greece and North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia) have both ratified their agreement from last year to resolve their dispute over the latter country’s name. It passed with just one vote more than the required two-thirds in the Macedonian parliament, and then by a seven-vote margin in the Greek parliament.

The agreement became possible due to left or centre-left governments in both countries. In each case, those on the right of the spectrum opposed it: in Greece because they thought the Macedonians hadn’t conceded enough, and in North Macedonia because they thought they’d conceded too much.

That means potential trouble ahead, since Greece is headed for an election later this year, with the centre-right opposition holding a clear lead in the polls. But in the meantime North Macedonia has signed the accession protocol to join NATO, and is moving forward with its plans to join the European Union – both ambitions that had previously been blocked by Greece.


Belgium also goes to the polls later this year: on 26 May, the same day as the European parliament elections. But it looks like doing so under a caretaker government, since the government of prime minister Charles Michel lost its majority before Christmas, with no real hope of reconstructing it.

The government had consisted of four parties: Michel’s French-speaking liberals and three Dutch-speaking parties – liberals, Christian Democrats and the right-wing Flemish separatists, N-VA. But N-VA, which is anti-immigrant, walked out when the other three agreed to support the Global Compact for Migration.

Parliament approved the compact by a large majority, but nonetheless the opposition parties were unwilling to back Michel in government, leaving him with only 52 of the 150 seats. He therefore resigned, but agreed to stay on in a caretaker capacity until May.

Long caretaker periods are not unknown in Belgium, which famously took 541 days to agree on a government following the 2010 election.

United States

A milestone of sorts this week, since there’s now less than a year until voting starts to select candidates for next year’s presidential elections, with the Iowa caucuses scheduled for 3 February.

Last time we looked at this, a month and a half ago, no serious candidates had yet announced themselves for the Democratic nomination. Now there are at least half a dozen with either official announcements or exploratory committees: Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

Others will follow, with Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke considered likely contenders, as are the two veterans of the field, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Polling still shows Biden as the most popular candidate, both in Iowa and nationwide. But Sportsbet’s odds make Harris the leader at 11-4, followed by O’Rourke at 4-1 and Biden 5-1.

For more (much more) on the Democrat race, check out FiveThirtyEight’s series exploring each candidate’s potential path to the nomination.


And finally, Latvia has a government at last. Its election, back in October, saw the Social Democrats (also called “Harmony”) emerge again as the largest party, with 19.8% of the vote and 23 of the 100 seats. But the other six parties all announced that they wanted to keep them out of government.

The problem is that the Social Democrats mostly represent the country’s ethnic Russian minority, and are therefore regarded by some as a potential fifth column in the event of tension with Russia. So after several rounds of negotiations, five of the six agreed on a coalition (the Union of Greens and Farmers dropped out).

Krišjāņis Kariņš of the centre-right New Unity (oddly enough, the smallest of the five) was named prime minister, with the participation of Who Owns the State? (populist), the New Conservative Party (centre-right), Development/For! (liberal) and the National Alliance (right wing). Several members of Who Owns the State?, including its former leader, voted against the new government, but it was approved with 61 votes.

Something rather similar happened after the last election in neighboring Estonia. Other parties put together a rather unwieldy coalition to keep out its pro-Russian party, the Centre Party. But that fell apart after less than two years, and a new government was formed under the Centre Party’s leadership, which seems to have been reasonably successful (it’s up for re-election next month).

It probably won’t be long before Latvia’s Social Democrats will have to be brought within the tent as well.



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