Time for a quick run through news of some recent electoral events.
It’s not as if Afghanistan’s elections ever seem to change anything; the country has been in a state of more or less continuous civil war since the Soviet invasion of 40 years ago, although of course many of the key actors have switched sides over time. But for what it’s worth, a presidential election was held on 28 September, with a second round to follow, if needed, at some indeterminate date.
There were 18 candidates, but the election was essentially a rerun of the 2014 contest between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. On that occasion Ghani was declared the winner with 55.3% in the runoff, but credible accusations of fraud led to a US-brokered power-sharing agreement, in which Abdullah was appointed prime minister.
All reports suggest that this year’s poll was just as problematic. Interim results are due to be released later this week, but Abdullah has already claimed victory. But even if he becomes president this time, it seems likely that the major decisions about the country’s future – especially involving a possible peace agreement with the Taliban – will be made by others.
Tunisia is much more like a democratic success story. The second round of its presidential election was held last Sunday, a month after the first round, in which candidates of the more established political forces were all eliminated.
Law professor and conservative independent Kaïs Saïed scored an emphatic win with 72.7% of the vote, beating populist media magnate Nabil Karoui. Turnout was 49.0%, up 4% on the first round – which isn’t bad when you consider that parliamentary elections had also been held a week earlier, meaning Tunisians went to the polls three times in the space of a month.
The new parliament will be much more fragmented than its predecessor. The 2014 election produced something like a two-party system, with the secular Nidaa Tounes and the Islamist Ennahdha winning more than 70% of the seats between them. But this time Nidaa Tounes was almost wiped out, and while Ennahdha is now the largest party it only has 52 of the 217 seats. Karoui’s party, Heart of Tunisia, came second with 38.
Lacking a political base of his own, Saïed will probably need to show some good negotiating skills in order to get much done.
Mozambique is another country that doesn’t get much coverage here, but there was good news earlier this year with the signing of a peace agreement that provides for the opposition Renamo to lay down its arms.
The right-wing Renamo and the Marxist Frelimo had fought a fairly typical if brutal post-colonial civil war that ended in 1992. Since then, Frelimo has remained in government but Renamo has participated in sometimes reasonably competitive elections, while also maintaining its armed guerrilla wing in the countryside.
You might have hoped, then, that this week’s presidential election would be less contentious than in past years. Not so far at least, with the BBC reporting that 73 Renamo supporters have been arrested in connection with “electoral offences”, including an attempt to steal ballot boxes.
The election pits incumbent Filipe Nyusi of Frelimo against Renamo’s new leader, Ossufo Momade, and two other candidates. Last time around, Nyusi won with 57.0% of the vote. Results are expected to be announced tomorrow.
Finally to Austria, where last month’s election gave centre-right leader Sebastian Kurz a clear plurality, putting him in the position where support from any of far right, centre-left and Greens would be enough for a majority government.
As I suggested at the time, the addition of postal votes changed a few seats but not enough to disturb the basic arithmetic. Kurz’s People’s Party dropped back two seats to 71; the Socialists and the far-right Freedom Party each fell back one (to 40 and 31 respectively); the Greens, who clearly have a good postal vote operation, picked up another three for 26; and the final seat went to the liberal Neos, who finish with 15.
After a first round of discussions among the parties, the Freedom Party dropped out of the process, but signalled that it could reconsider its position if other options fail. Commentators are saying that an alliance between the People’s Party and the Greens is the most likely outcome.
Although it hasn’t happened before at federal level, such a combination already governs in three of Austria’s nine states. Its prospects have been helped by the fact that one of those state governments, in Vorarlberg, faced the voters last Sunday and did well: centre-right and Greens each gained a seat, as did the centre-left and liberals – all at the expense of the Freedom Party, which lost four of its nine seats.