February election roundup

Time to catch up again on some electoral news that you might have missed.

Costa Rica

First to the presidential and legislative elections in Costa Rica a week ago (see my preview here). Six candidates ranging across the ideological spectrum were serious contenders for president, all getting more than 8% of the vote (there were another 19 also-rans with less than 1%), but the two who made it to the runoff are both from the centre.

José María Figueres of the National Liberation Party (PLN), a former president and son of a three-time president, led comfortably with 27.3% of the vote. Rodrigo Chaves Robles of the Social Democratic Progress Party (PPSD) came second with 16.7%, not far ahead of right-wing evangelical Fabricio Alvarado on 14.8%. (Official results are here; about 12% of polling places are still outstanding, but they are spread across the country so unlikely to change things much.)

Figueres and Chaves will contest the second round on 3 April. Meanwhile, six parties – the same six as the main presidential candidates – won seats in the Legislative Assembly, the PLN again taking the largest share with 18 out of 57. Citizens’ Action, the party of outgoing president Carlos Alvarado, was wiped out, winning only 1.9% of the vote and losing all of its ten seats.

(Oddly enough, the election was covered quite widely in the Australian media: here’s the report in the Yass Tribune, for example.)

New South Wales

State by-elections don’t usually provide much excitement, but New South Wales held four of them simultaneously on Friday, prompted by the retirements of three former party leaders (including former premier Gladys Berejiklian) and a well-regarded former minister. Even so, and despite blanket media coverage, the implications of the results for politics in general (either state or federal) are murky at best.

That’s partly because the electoral commission, as a Covid measure, distributed postal votes to everyone, and something like a third of voters took advantage of that. But those votes won’t be counted until the end of the week, and no-one really knows how different they will be from the on-the-day and pre-poll votes. (No doubt less so than usual, but it’s impossible to say how much less.)

So although we can say Labor has done reasonably well, that could end up ranging anywhere between “just OK” and “exceeding expectations”. But for what it’s worth, Labor and the Nationals have each held their own seat (Strathfield and Monaro respectively) fairly comfortably; Labor has won Bega from the Liberals with a swing that’s currently 12.9% (large, but not exceptional for a by-election); and the Liberals appear to have held Willoughby, which Labor didn’t contest, despite a large drop in their vote.

You can check out official results here, the ABC’s coverage here, and more detailed analysis from Kevin Bonham. One interesting aspect is the almost complete absence of Covid-denial or “libertarian” candidates: the only one to appear was a Liberal Democrat in Willoughby, who came last with 2.7%. (PS: My friend Stephen Luntz informs me that there was an independent in Monaro, Andrew Thaler, who was also a Covid-denialist; he managed 6.1%.)

Castile & León

The central Spanish state of Castile & León went to the polls yesterday in an early election called by its centre-right premier, Alfonso Mañueco, to try to shaft his coalition partners in much the same way as his Madrid counterpart did last year. It wasn’t quite as much of a success.

The bit about shafting the centrist party, Citizens, worked well: their vote collapsed from 14.9% to just 4.5%, with the loss of all but one of their 12 seats (see official results here). But Mañueco’s People’s Party benefited hardly at all; its vote was static at 31.4% and it picked up just two seats, taking it to 31 in a parliament (cortes) of 81. That does at least make it the largest party, since its main rival, the Socialists, dropped 4.8% and seven seats to finish on 28.

The big winner was the far-right Vox, whose performance was the mirror image of Citizens’: it jumped from 5.5% and one seat to 17.6% and 13 seats, making it the third-largest party. Assorted regionalists had 6.9% and seven seats between them, and the far left dropped a bit to 5.1% and just one seat.

No doubt the far right will keep Mañueco in power, but it’s unlikely to be smooth sailing. (PS: the Guardian has now caught up with the story.)

Switzerland

Finally, Switzerland also voted yesterday, in its regular quarterly series of referenda. There were four questions on the ballot: two citizen-initiated proposals – one to ban animal experimentation and one to restrict tobacco advertising – and two federal laws that had been petitioned against, one cutting stamp duty for corporations and one expanding government subsidies to media outlets.

Three out of four went down: 79.1% voted no to the ban on animal experimentation, 62.7% voted against the stamp duty reduction and 54.6% against the media subsidies. The only success was the restriction of tobacco advertising, which was carried with a “yes” vote of 56.6% and majorities in 16 of the 26 cantons. (See official results here.)

I confess to mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, smoking is a killer; I’m all in favor of tobacco companies (many of which are headquartered in Switzerland) being held to account for having spent decades peddling a poison after their own research – which they kept to themselves – told them how deadly it was. But I also believe in freedom of speech; as long as people are made aware of how poisonous the stuff is, I’m uncomfortable with the state banning anyone from talking about it.

In an ideal world, the tobacco company executives would be serving long jail terms and media companies would voluntarily refuse to accept their advertising. But politics is all about second-best solutions.

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