June electoral roundup

An early election, a successful no confidence vote, change in the Caribbean and more figures from Australia.

Israel

In March last year Israel set what’s believed to be a record by holding its fourth election within the space of two years. That election finally produced a broad coalition government that ousted far-right prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The equally far-right Naftali Bennett took over, with centrist Yair Lapid as his deputy.

The plan was that Lapid would rotate into the top job halfway through the term, but the government’s narrow majority and extreme ideological breadth always made it unlikely that it would survive that long. And sure enough, after defections from Bennett’s party had put the government into a minority, he announced earlier this week that parliament will be asked to approve its dissolution for yet another election, probably at the end of October.

As a nod to fulfilling the coalition agreement, Lapid will serve as caretaker prime minister until then, but it remains to be seen whether the outgoing government will be able to present itself to voters as a coherent force – and, even if it can, whether it will be able to win a majority. Netanyahu is currently on trial for bribery and corruption, but he clearly sees this as no particular obstacle to trying to win back power.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria also set a record of sorts in 2021 with three elections in the space of a single calendar year. The third of them, in November, led to a coalition government headed by the new liberal anti-corruption party We Continue the Change (PP); its leader, Kiril Petkov, became prime minister.

There were high hopes for the new government, which followed a period of increasingly authoritarian rule under centre-right leader Boyko Borisov. But the war in Ukraine has put Bulgarian politics under major stress: the country is both a member of the European Union and a traditional Russian ally. In March Petkov sacked his defence minister for adhering to the Russian narrative about the war.

So it’s no great surprise that things eventually fell apart. Earlier this month, one of the coalition partners, the anti-establishment ITN, walked out; although several its MPs remained loyal to the government, it was not enough. On Wednesday a vote of no confidence was carried 123 to 116.

It will be difficult for the opposition parties to agree on any sort of new government, so if Petkov cannot win back the necessary support, an election later in the year is likely. Voters in that event will face a clear choice on whether or not to continue down the road of European integration.

Grenada

Summer in the northern hemisphere means a shortage of elections at this time of year. This week the only action was in Grenada, a small West Indian country that was briefly famous in the early 1980s but has since returned to quiet stability.

In the previous election, held in 2018, the centre-right New National Party scored (for the second time running) a clean sweep, winning 58.9% of the vote and all 15 of the single-member seats. (Voting is first-past-the-post, as is usual for former British colonies).

Yesterday voters decided it was time for a change, although the result was much closer. The opposition National Democratic Congress (centre-left) scored 51.8% of the vote and nine seats, to the NNP’s 47.8% and six seats. Another four parties managed the princely total of 240 votes between them, or 0.4%.

NDP leader Dickon Mitchell has claimed victory and will become the new prime minister.

Australia

Finally to Australia, where another important stage of counting has been finalised from last month’s federal election. The two-party-preferred count for all seats (including the “non-classic” ones, discussed here a couple of weeks ago) was completed on Wednesday, and it shows Labor winning with 52.1%, a lead of about 625,000 votes over the Coalition.

That might not sound like a lot, but Australia tends not to do big swings. Among recent federal elections this one sits very much in the middle of the pack; the average winning score across the last ten is only 51.9%.

Of the four elections that Labor has won from opposition since the Second World War, this was its smallest win. The striking thing, however, is how similar they all are – even the largest victory, in 1983, was only 53.3%.* (Coalition wins have tended to be bigger, but not by much.)

The point of the preferential system, when introduced, was to stop the non-Labor parties from splitting their vote, but for a long time now it’s Labor that has mostly benefited from it. On this occasion its final tally represents a gain of 19.5 percentage points over its primary vote, whereas the Coalition picked up only 12.2 points.

Of the 16 crossbench seats, Labor won the two-party-preferred vote in seven, giving it an underlying majority (if such a thing is still a useful concept) of 84 to 67, and putting it 2.4% away from losing on a uniform swing. The AEC will eventually publish a full dissection of the preference flow, showing exactly whose votes went where (here’s the 2019 version), so we might have more to say about the subject then.

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* The Australian Electoral Commission has all the figures here. Note that prior to 1983 not all preferences were distributed, so two-party-preferred figures from then are only estimates.

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