August election roundup

Time for a quick update on election-related stories from around the world.

Trinidad & Tobago

Last week’s election in Trinidad & Tobago (see my preview here) seems to have been a fairly sedate affair. The government of prime minister Keith Rowley and his People’s National Movement (centrist) was returned for a second term, winning 49.1% of the vote and 22 of the 41 seats – a drop of 2.6% and a loss of one seat since 2015. (Official results here.)

The opposition United National Congress (centre-left) finished with 47.1% (up 7.5%) and 19 seats (up two seats). The only other party represented in the old parliament, the Congress of the People, lost almost all of its vote and its single seat. Turnout was 58.0%, well down from last time’s 67.3% but still quite respectable in light of the health crisis.

First-past-the-post systems don’t do much for minor parties. The third placegetter was the Progressive Democratic Patriots, way back on 1.6% overall but with 44.9% and 32.5% in the two Tobago seats. No-one else passed the 1% mark; the only other party to be anywhere in the running for a seat was the Independent Liberal Party, which had 22.3% in the single seat it contested.

That said, this is the sort of election, close but not very close (like last year’s in Australia), that the system is most likely to get right. A three-seat majority is a pretty fair outcome for a two-point lead. But the duopoly remains firmly in place.

Belgium

It’s a while since we looked at Belgium, where an indecisive election result in May 2019 has yet to yield a proper government. Caretaker prime minister Sophie Wilmès (Francophone liberal) remains in office pending agreement on a coalition that might be able to command a parliamentary majority.

Two weeks ago King Philippe took the initiative and appointed the leaders of the two largest parties – the Flemish separatist N-VA and the Francophone centre-left – as joint informateurs to undertake coalition talks. But the attempt didn’t last long; the Greens and liberals refused to be played off against one another. Without them, there was no route to a majority except by resorting to the far right or far left.

No-one wants to force the issue while Covid-19 is still rampant, but at some point the politicians are going to have to make some hard decisions. Unfortunately for them, a fresh election is most unlikely to help; while there’s a shortage of recent polling, indications are that the two extremes would significantly increase their representation at the expense of the fractious mainstream.

Ivory Coast

Readers might remember a (rare) good news story from earlier this year when the president of Ivory Coast (also called Côte d’Ivoire), Alassane Ouattara, in office since 2011, agreed to respect the spirit of the law with regard to term limits and not run again at the election scheduled for 31 October.

Prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly was subsequently endorsed as the ruling party’s presidential candidate. Events, however, conspired against the plan; in May Gon Coulibaly was hospitalised in France for heart trouble, and soon after his return to Ivory Coast he was taken ill at a cabinet meeting and died on 8 July.

So on 6 August, Ivory Coast’s independence day, Ouattara announced that he would be a candidate for a third term. The news has not gone over well; the opposition maintains that he is constitutionally ineligible for re-election, although Ouattara argues that a constitutional revision in 2016 reset the clock for term limits. Protests against the decision have led to widespread violence and at least four deaths.

New Zealand

And finally to our near neighbor. New Zealand has been one of the most successful countries in tackling the coronavirus, but a fresh outbreak last week led to calls for the postponement of its parliamentary election, originally scheduled for 19 September.

Yesterday prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that after consultation with the opposition parties she had decided on a four-week delay, to 17 October. New Zealand has fully flexible three-year terms and the new date is well within the permitted period, so there is no constitutional problem.

Nor does it seem that Ardern is scheming for any great political advantage. Her Labour Party enjoys a commanding lead in the polls and is on track to win a majority in its own right – something that has never happened since the introduction of proportional representation in 1993.

The opposition National Party has had a bad year and is now on its third leader since the last election. At least now it has a bit more time to get its act together and run a competitive campaign. If the latest outbreak can’t be brought under control, Ardern might still pay an electoral price.

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