Time for another look at recent electoral news from around the world.
Last month we looked at Samoa’s parliamentary election, where the addition of an extra member due to affirmative action had produced a 26-all tie. Prime minister Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, whose Human Rights Protection Party has been in power for almost 40 years, advised the head of state to dissolve parliament before it met, for a fresh election to be held today.
But the opposition party, FAST, launched a legal challenge, and on Monday the Samoan Supreme Court ruled against the appointment of the additional MP, restoring the opposition’s one-seat majority. Later the same day it invalidated the dissolution, and this morning the Court of Appeal refused an application for a stay order pending the government’s appeal.
Unless the HRPP has more tricks up its sleeve, FAST will have control of parliament when it meets next week and its leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa will become Samoa’s first female prime minister. It’s a major victory for democracy in the region, and also a setback for Chinese influence: Tuila’epa has been a strong ally of China and the opposition had made growing indebtedness to China a big election issue.
Not such good news in Ethiopia, where elections were originally supposed to be held last August but were postponed due to Covid-19. With the new date of 5 June only a fortnight away, the electoral commission, citing logistical difficulties, this week announced a further postponement, to 21 June.
There’s no doubt the logistical problems are real. Following the first postponement, civil war erupted in the Tigray region, whose ruling party rejected the attempt of prime minister Abiy Ahmed to merge the separate ethnic-based parties of the governing coalition into a single party. It held its own regional election in September (in which it says it won 98.2% of the vote), but the government and its Eritrean allies have now occupied most of Tigray, with widespread reports of atrocities on both sides.
Abiy won the Nobel peace prize in 2019 on the basis of his record as a reformer and peacemaker. That record no longer looks quite so impressive. But he has promised to persevere with democratisation, saying that “we will do our very best to hold a better, free and fair election than previous years.”
We’ll see how that turns out.
Still in Africa, where one of the continent’s longer-serving authoritarian leaders, Chad’s Idriss Déby Itno, was unsurprisingly declared the winner of a presidential election held on 11 April. Official results showed him with 79.3% of the vote against nine mostly tame opponents – one of them his own prime minister, Albert Pahimi Padacké, who came second with 10.3%.
This was to be Déby’s sixth term in office since seizing power in a rebellion against his predecessor, Hissène Habré, in 1990. But on 20 April, just the day after the preliminary results were announced, he was killed while fighting on the front line against rebels north of the capital, N’Djamena.
His son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, who also has a military background, was quickly installed as acting president and has promised an 18-month transition to new elections. His government has since claimed victory over the northern rebels. There is considerable pressure, however, for a more democratic process and dialogue with opposition voices.
It’s only fair to say that Déby père was far from the worst authoritarian in the region, or even the worst in Chad’s own history. Elections were held, although they were clearly dishonest, and constitutional forms were broadly respected even in difficult circumstances. Despite originally coming to power with the support of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, he was valued by France (the former colonial power) and other western countries as a source of stability and an ally against Muslim fundamentalism.
Readers may remember that Bulgaria went to the polls last month in a parliamentary election that threatened to end the tenure of centre-right prime minister Boyko Borisov. Although Borisov’s party, GERB, won the largest share of the vote, its support was well down and there was no plausible route for it to put together a majority. Nor, however, was there any obvious alternative.
Borisov put forward his colleague, former foreign minister Daniel Mitov, as potential prime minister, but he quickly gave up the attempt after the opposition refused to talk to him. The second-largest party, the anti-establishment ITN (There Are Such People), also refused a commission to form a government; having promised not to negotiate with any of the three traditional parties (GERB, the Socialists and the liberal DPS), it also had no way of getting to a majority.
That left the Socialists, who proposed an alliance with ITN and two smaller anti-corruption parties. But when they made it clear they were not interested, Socialist leader Kornelia Ninova also turned down the commission. President Rumen Radev thereupon announced that a fresh election would be held on 11 July, with former defence minister Stefan Yanev appointed to lead a caretaker government until then.
Most observers seem to think that ITN leader Slavi Trifonov bears the chief responsibility for the failure to form a new government; it looks as if he is gambling that the momentum is on his side and that support for the establishment parties will fall further in a new election. It might, but it might also be that voters will blame him for being forced back to the polls and take an appropriate revenge.