Pre-Christmas election roundup

As we wrap things up for the holiday season, there’s time for a quick look at some electoral news around the world.

Ghana

Ghana went to the polls two and a half weeks ago to elect both president and parliament. It continued its long run of close but apparently fair elections, with incumbent president Nana Akufo-Addo winning a second term with 51.5% of the vote, almost half a million votes ahead of former president John Mahama (whom he beat four years ago) on 47.9%.

But the ruling party, the New Patriotic Party, lost its majority in parliament: it and Mahama’s National Democratic Congress finished on 137 seats each, with a solitary independent holding the balance of power between them.

The campaign was marked by the death last month of former president Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, who seized power in a coup in 1981 and had three of his predecessors shot, but is now revered as the father of Ghanaian democracy.

Romania

Also on the same weekend was the Romanian election, which we reported on a fortnight ago. An initial round of negotiations failed to reach agreement on a new government, but after a bit more haggling a three-party coalition was announced last Friday between the National Liberal Party (PNL; centre-right), the Save Romania Union (PSR; liberal) and UDMR, the party of the ethnic Hungarian community.

The PNL’s Florin Cîțu, formerly finance minister, will be the new prime minister. His government holds 169 seats in the 330-seat Chamber of Deputies, and will probably also be supported by most of the 18 representatives of ethnic minority parties, so parliamentary approval should pose no problem.

The PSR had apparently held out for the right to provide either the prime minister or the speaker of the lower house; they got neither, but they were bought off with additional ministries and the presidency of the Senate.

Israel

After some months of speculation it’s now official: Israel will go the polls yet again on 23 March, its fourth election in two years. The election was triggered automatically by the failure to pass a budget, after legislation to avoid it failed by two votes earlier in the week.

As sometimes happens, Israel’s government of national unity has been a disaster for both parties participating in it. Likud, the far-right party of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has split under the strain of Netanyahu’s efforts to evade conviction on corruption charges, and will be opposed by a right-wing breakaway, “New Hope”, under former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar.

In the meantime its centre-to-centre-right rival, Blue & White, has largely disintegrated over leader Benny Gantz’s decision to join the unity government. But there is little sign so far of a viable alternative being formed to challenge the far-right forces that dominate Israeli politics.

As far as I can tell, this run of elections is quite unprecedented. Spain’s last four elections spanned just under four years, and going back further Weimar Germany held four elections in just under two and a half years, from 1930 to 1933. But if anyone can find a country that’s previously reached its fourth election in less than two years I’d love to hear about it.

Kashmir

Finally, don’t miss this BBC report from last week on local elections in Kashmir – the only election the territory is likely to have for a while, following the abolition of its autonomous status last year by the Indian government of Narendra Modi. The government is apparently working on gerrymandering the electoral system before allowing territorial elections to take place.

It’s a depressing story, of locals doing their best under appalling circumstances but being disillusioned to the point of despair. Reporter Aamir Peerzada closes with this vignette:

“If the police or the army picks up anyone here, there is nobody we can go to ask for help. I think I can at least go to the person I voted for to ask for help. That’s why I voted today,” said a 48-year-old voter who didn’t want to be named.

But notice also the way the BBC tiptoes around the fundamental issue and avoids giving the reader the most important information: that the majority in Kashmir never wanted to be part of India and have maintained that position doggedly for more than seventy years. Until world opinion is ready to confront that fact and push India towards granting self-determination, it’s hard to see how anything much is going to change.

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