February election roundup

Quite a lot has been happening in the electoral world this month: here we take a quick look at some news that you might have missed.

Liechtenstein

The duchy principality of Liechtenstein went to the polls on 7 February and saw a phenomenally close contest, with the Patriotic Union (broadly liberal) finishing just 42 votes ahead of its rival, the Progressive Citizens Party. Liechtenstein isn’t very big, but that’s still a tiny margin; it represents 0.02% of the vote, and a smaller proportion still of the voters, since each person gets multiple votes.

But the difference isn’t quite as important as it might seem, since the two major parties govern in coalition. (My preview from 2017 explains the odd constitutional structure.) They each won ten of the 25 seats from 35.9% of the vote (up three between them on last time); the Greens won 12.9% and held their three seats.

The loser was the Independents, a right-wing populist party that won five seats from 18.4% of the vote in 2017 but split the following year. The splitters, called Democrats for Liechtenstein, managed 11.1% and two seats, but the Independents themselves fell to 4.2% and lost both of their remaining MPs.

Kosovo

Kosovo, a not-fully-recognised nation in the Balkans, elected a new parliament a week later, on 14 February. The previous one didn’t last long, having been chosen only in October 2019; the coalition that had been formed following that election had fallen apart under the stress of Covid-19. Parliament endorsed a new government last June, but it was unseated by the courts on a technicality and a fresh election ordered.

The result was a landslide victory for the centre-left party that had topped the poll last time, Vetëvendosje (“Self-determination”), which gained more than 20 points to finish on 47.8% of the vote. The Democratic Party of Kosovo (centre-right) was a distant second on 17.4% (down 3.8%), followed by the Democratic League of Kosovo, the more centrist party that deserted Vetëvendosje’s coalition last year, on 13.1% (down 8.1%).

Seat allocation will depend on final figures, including votes still to come in from overseas polling places, but on those numbers Vetëvendosje will be close to a majority in its own right. With the aid if need be of some of the representatives of ethnic minorities (for which 20 of the 120 seats are reserved), its leader Albin Kurti is set to return as prime minister.

Niger

Niger, in west-central Africa (not to be confused with Nigeria), voted on Sunday in the second round of its presidential election. In the previous election, in 2016, Mahamadou Issoufou won a second term as president by a landslide after the opposition boycotted the second round. But he respected the constitutional limit of two terms, and this time the ruling party, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, has nominated Mohamed Bazoum in his place.

In the first round, held at the end of December, Bazoum led with 39.3% of the vote against a large field of 29 opponents. Former president Mahamane Ousmane was the clear leader among them with 17.0%, but understandably started as the underdog in the runoff. And sure enough, with 78.9% of communes reporting, Bazoum is looking comfortable with 57.8% of the vote, a lead of a bit more than half a million votes.

Even though the same party will stay in power, this is the first peaceful handover from one president to another in Niger’s history. Niger is an extremely poor country with massive problems, so it’s worth pointing out that many leaders with much less excuse have shown less respect for constitutional propriety than Issoufou.

Haiti

The West Indian nation of Haiti, however, won’t be having an election this month. Its president, Jovenel Moïse, has decided that his term expires this time next year, not this year as his opponents allege. Earlier this month he arrested a number of leading opposition figures, including a supreme court judge, for allegedly plotting to remove him.

Since he was sworn in in February 2017 for a five-year term, Moïse would appear to have a good case. The opposition’s claim is that the five years should run from the February following the election that was scheduled (and the first round held) in 2015. But that election was abandoned following claims of fraud; an acting president was appointed instead, and after several postponements a fresh election – which Moïse won in the first round – was held in November 2016.

His continued tenure would be much less problematic were it not for the fact that Moïse has been governing without parliamentary scrutiny since January 2020. Parliament finished its term without passing a new electoral law, and elections have been repeatedly delayed. Moïse has ruled by decree in the meantime, and now proposes a referendum in April to approve a new constitution before holding elections later this year.

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