October electoral roundup

Time for a quick rundown on some of what’s been happening in the electoral world.


Iceland went to the polls three weeks ago (see my preview here), in an election in which the governing parties did rather better than expected. The Independence Party (centre-right) held its 16 seats while the Progressives (agrarian-centrist) gained 6.6% and five seats to become the second-largest party with 13. Only the Left-Greens – who previously provided the prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, despite having fewer seats than the centre-right – went backwards, finishing with 12.6% (down 4.3%) and eight seats (down three).

That means the existing coalition will have 37 of the 63 seats, an increase of two. Five parties shared the remaining 26 seats: the same five as last time, with the new Socialist Party on 4.1% falling just short of the 5% threshold. Turnout was 80.1%, down slightly on 2017 but still a remarkably high level of engagement. (Official results here.)

Last time around, four centre-to-centre-left parties, namely the Progressives, Left-Greens, Social Democrats and Pirates, had a majority between them but failed to agree on forming government together. They still have that majority (increased, in fact, by one) so they may make another attempt. Most reports, however, suggest that the existing coalition is likely to continue in office, although the Left-Greens’ chances of retaining the prime ministership are not good.

This analysis of the result from an American conservative viewpoint is particularly interesting.


Japan is to go to the polls in a fortnight’s time, on 31 October. New prime minister Fumio Kishida is seeking a mandate, which he will almost certainly get, after being elected last month as the new leader of the governing Liberal Democratic Party.

You can read my report here on the LDP leadership contest following the resignation of the previous leader, Yoshihide Suga. In keeping with the party’s traditions, the least exciting candidate triumphed: Kishida, aged 64, won with 60.2% in the second ballot, against 39.8% for the younger and slightly more liberal Taro Kono. That was despite the fact that opinion polls showed a clear voter preference for Kono.

Kishida had led by only 0.2% on the first ballot, in which the votes of party members count for more and those of MPs comparatively less. Conservative Sanae Takaichi trailed with 24.6% and was eliminated after the first ballot. (Those with proficiency in Japanese can read the official results here; I’m mostly relying on Wikipedia’s version.)

After being sworn in as prime minister Kishida announced the date of the election, in which the LDP, as usual, is unlikely to be troubled. None of its opponents are polling in double figures, and the electoral system will again work strongly in its favor.


Last month we looked at the political crisis in Romania produced by a falling out between the two largest governing parties, the centre-right PNL and the liberal USR. Attempts to paper over their differences failed, and last week USR’s MPs crossed the floor and joined with the opposition Social Democrats and far right to vote no confidence in the government of PNL prime minister Florin Cîțu.

On Monday, president Klaus Iohannis, an ally of the PNL, nominated USR leader Dacian Cioloș as the new prime minister, but his chances of winning a parliamentary majority appear slim. Reports suggest that Iohannis’s goal is actually the reappointment of Cîțu, after demonstrating the lack of a viable alternative.

The USR has previously indicated that it would be willing to serve again under a PNL leader, but that Cîțu was unacceptable. The latter’s position has been strengthened, however, by his election last month as head of the PNL, replacing former prime minister Ludovic Orban. While that confirms him and Iohannis as the reigning powers of the centre-right, it won’t help them much if the USR is willing to force an early election.


Finally to Iraq, which voted in parliamentary elections two weeks ago. This was the sixth election since the country was invaded by the United States and others in 2003, resulting in a complete reconstruction of its political system. The new democratic constitution, approved by a (slightly dubious) referendum in 2005, provides for a parliamentary system of government and a non-executive president elected by the parliament.

The invasion of Iraq was probably the greatest geopolitical disaster of the last fifty-odd years. Its sheer lawlessness poisoned the well of support for democratic values around the world; the current strength of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping is impossible to understand without it. It also brought carnage on a grand scale to Iraq itself, with casualties ultimately exceeding 100,000 (some estimates run much higher). But on the credit side it did at least overthrow a brutal dictatorship, and the country’s governments since 2005, whatever their faults, are a vast improvement on Saddam Hussein.

That said, those faults are numerous; governments have been corrupt and unresponsive, and have often been in abeyance for long periods while the politicians haggled over deals. The last election, in 2018, resulted in a broad coalition under prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a veteran pro-Iranian leader. Widespread anti-corruption protests the following year forced his resignation, and after a six-month hiatus he was replaced by the current incumbent, Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

This time around the election system has been re-jigged to provide better local representation; preliminary results show gains for independents and an improved showing by the party of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which was already the largest force. There will now be a long period of negotiation to settle on a new government – in the meantime, Juan Cole has a typically acute report.


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