I think I owe Sri Lanka an apology; this is the second time running that I’ve missed out on doing a preview of its presidential election. Last time around it turned out to be one of the big upset results of 2015, with then-incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated by challenger Maithripala Sirisena, 51.3% to 47.6%.
This was seen as an important win for democracy, since Rajapaksa’s rule had involved growing authoritarianism and major human rights concerns. But the alternative didn’t work out very well either. Last year, relations within the government broke down; the president’s party withdrew from the coalition government and Sirisena tried to dismiss his prime minister and replace him with, of all people, Rajapaksa.
The Supreme Court overturned the move and prime minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, of the United National Front, remained in office. Sirisena decided not to seek a second term, and his Sri Lanka Freedom Party nominated Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to replace him. The UNF nominated Sajith Premadasa, son of a former president.
The election was held last Saturday, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa scored a reasonably comfortable win with 52.2% to Premadasa’s 42.0%, a margin of 1.36 million votes. He promptly announced the appointment of his brother Mahinda as prime minister, so the old guard appears to be firmly back in charge.
A couple of weeks ago I previewed the off-year elections in the United States. As expected, the Democrats comfortably held control of the legislature in New Jersey (losing four lower house seats for a 50-30 majority), and won complete control in Virginia (55-45 in the lower house and 21-19 in the upper).
The most unexpected result was in Kentucky, normally a solidly Republican state, where Democrat Andy Beshear narrowly won the governorship, beating incumbent Matt Bevin by a little over 5,000 votes. But it wasn’t all bad news for the Republicans: they held on for governor of Mississippi, with Tate Reeves winning 52.1% to 46.6% despite a big swing to the Democrats.
That left one more governor’s race, in Louisiana, for which the runoff was held last Saturday. Incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards led comfortably with 46.6% in the first round (held last month), but his two Republican challengers had 51.0% between them, so he needed some leakage in the Republican vote. He got it, winning narrowly with 51.3%.
The first round of Romania’s presidential election, held on 10 November (see preview here), didn’t produce any surprises. Centre-right incumbent Klaus Iohannis led with 37.8%, almost a million and a half votes ahead of former centre-left prime minister Viorica Dăncilă, who had 22.3%. They will now contest the runoff on Sunday.
Another twelve candidates shared the remaining 39.9%, of which the leaders were two centrists, Dan Barna with 15.0% and Mircea Diaconu with 8.8%. The bulk of their support is likely to flow to Iohannis, who is on track for a comfortable second round victory. That in turn will put his National Liberal Party in a good position for parliamentary elections due in a year’s time.
And finally to Israel, which, having already had two elections this year, is not – yet – having another one. But it’s still having great difficulty working out how to avoid it.
My report from two months ago explains the problem. The two obvious possible coalitions are both just short of a majority, with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu – far right, but incompatible with much of the rest of the far right – holding the balance of power between them.
A grand coalition between the two largest tickets, Blue & White and Likud, would also have a majority, but there is an apparently insuperable stumbling block: the fate of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister since 2009 but now facing criminal charges and desperate to retain the shield of office.
Following the September election, president Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first chance to try to form a government. After four weeks he admitted failure, and Blue & White leader Benny Gantz was given the commission. This week, his 28 days were also up, with no breakthrough.
There is now a three week period in which anyone can try to reach a parliamentary majority of 61 votes; otherwise, there will have to be a third election. To avoid that, either one of the leaders will have to blink, or some of the elements of Netanyahu’s coalition (whether within Likud or its smaller allies) will have to decide that he is dispensable.