Time for our regular roundup of recent electoral news that you might have missed, which I’ve extended to cover the whole of summer – winter, that is, in most of the places we’re looking at.
Latvia went to the polls last October, in a rather unsatisfactory election that saw a lot of voters unrepresented when their parties fell just short of the 5% threshold. It took until just before Christmas for a new government to be formed and win confirmation in parliament, but there was never much doubt about its shape.
Centre-right prime minister Krišjāņis Kariņš remains in office; his New Unity party won the largest share of the vote with 19.0% of the vote and 26 of the 100 seats. As before, he partners with the right-wing National Alliance (9.3% and 13 seats). But since the other two government parties (liberals and conservatives) dropped out of parliament he needed a new coalition partner, and as expected he turned to the United Lists (Greens, centrists and regionalists), who had 11.0% and 15 seats.
So although the new government has a workable 54-46 majority, it represents less than 40% of the vote. Its position is strengthened by the great diversity of the opposition, which includes centre-left, far right, Greens & Farmers and pro-Russians. And with Latvia now on the geopolitical front line, sticking with the status quo makes a lot of sense.
Antigua & Barbuda
The West Indian nation of Antigua & Barbuda (often just called Antigua; the smaller island of Barbuda has less than 3% of the population) held a general election on 18 January. I find that it has not previously been mentioned in this blog, but you can get a general idea of the problem of elections in that part of the world by reading what I wrote a year ago about nearby Barbados.
Antigua is even smaller than Barbados, with about 100,000 people, mostly the descendants of enslaved West Africans. But the British bequeathed it the same electoral system: very small single-member districts with first-past-the-post voting. Small changes in support therefore easily translate into very lopsided results.
The last election, held in 2018, was a good (or rather bad) example; the governing Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party won just under 60% of the vote but walked away with 15 of the 17 seats. This time things were a little more even. Labour’s vote fell about 12 points to 47.1% and it lost six seats to finish with nine, a bare majority.
The opposition United Progressive Party gained about eight points and five seats, taking it to six – less than 800 votes behind Labour. An independent also picked up a seat, and the Barbuda People’s Movement again won the single Barbuda seat. Labour leader Gaston Browne remains as prime minister, and has promised a referendum on becoming a republic.
Vietnam is another country that rarely gets a mention here. There’s a good reason for that: it’s a dictatorship, where a single political party – the Communist Party – holds a legal monopoly on office. Regular elections are held, but they are a mere formality.
Since it’s a significant power in our region, however, it’s worth noting that Vietnam has lost a president, with the resignation last month of Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who was less than two years into a five-year term. His vice-president, Vo Thi Anh Xuan, takes over as acting president until the national assembly elects a new president.
This being a Communist system, the president is not quite the powerful figure you might think. Real power is held by the party secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, in office since 2011, and he will be the one who has given Phuc his marching orders – nominally as part of an anti-corruption campaign (which has already claimed the scalps of two deputy prime ministers) but presumably as the result of a power struggle.
As the BBC’s Jonathan Head puts it, “the likely rise now of more security-focused officials to the top of the party will be bad news for human rights and for those few Vietnamese brave enough to criticise the party.”
The second round of the Czech presidential election was last week (see my preview here). It came out pretty much as expected, with retired general Petr Pavel beating former prime minister Andrej Babiš by nearly a million votes, 58.3% to 41.7%. Despite having run a very divisive campaign, Babiš promptly conceded defeat and congratulated Pavel.
Babiš’s defeat has prompted a new round of commentary on the rise and (possibly) fall of “populism”. My oft-expressed view (see particularly here, in my preview of Czechia’s 2017 parliamentary election) is that we should confine “populist” to movements that are ideologically amorphous, as Babiš evidently is, rather than those that have a clear political line, and that we should especially avoid having it become just a euphemism for “far right”.
David Hutt’s analysis at EuroNews fails to make that distinction clear, treating far-right leaders in Poland and Hungary as populists and therefore downplaying the difference between them and Babiš. But he’s nonetheless got some interesting things to say; it’s well worth a read.
Finally to our near neighbor, where Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation as prime minister a fortnight ago. Chris Hipkins, previously minister for police and education, was elected unopposed by the Labour caucus to replace her, and was sworn in last week as prime minister. Carmel Sepuloni becomes deputy prime minister.
Hipkins now has a delicate balancing act to manage between now and the 14 October election. On the one hand, he was a loyal supporter of Ardern and wants to build on her successes. On the other hand, he knows that to continue on the trajectory she was on means heading for defeat: he needs to do something different to turn Labour’s fortunes around.
The precedents are against him; none of the last seven people who have taken on the job mid-term have succeeded. But that doesn’t prove that Hipkins can’t.
PS: On New Zealand, don’t miss Richard Shaw yesterday in the Conversation. He has some sensible things to say about Hipkins’s prospects, but what’s most striking is his cavalier attitude towards democracy. He worries that proportional representation’s “inherent tendency towards policy moderation [could] become a problem,” and in particular could preserve “a tendency to fiscal conservatism and orthodox monetary policy.”
In other words, if the voters aren’t willing to vote for the policies he approves of, then the system should be changed so that they can be implemented anyway. This argument usually comes from the right – “reform” is supposed to require bold action that it’s impossible to build majority support for beforehand – so it’s depressing to find someone from the left now buying into it as well.
The idea that the voters might be right about economic policy and he might be wrong does not seem to have occurred to him.
8 thoughts on “Summer roundup”
Charles, you rightfully point out elsewhere here that the term “fascism” has a very specific meaning while most of our friends on the left use it to mean “anything post-1980s right wing that i disagree with”. Once Corbyn was up against not Teresa May but someone halfway electable, his campaign for a return to nationalisation and obsolete socialism went down as well as can be expected with modern British voters. Sadly, McKim etc. refuse to realise that most Australian voters also have no taste for going back to before the 1980s.
Yes, Andrews is bringing back the SEC, but it will be alongside private competitors, as QANTAS and the Commonwealth Bank were back in the day. The Greens and the rest of the far left want state monopolies.
The term ‘our friends’ has a very specific meaning, but here Paul Ninteen Fifty-Four is using it to mean ‘people I want to sneer at’.
The thing that strikes me about what Richard Shaw has written is that near the end I see this–What happens in a nation that likes to think of its parliamentary system as one of consensus and compromise, when those two things are breaking down in the wider culture?–which is written as if compromise is a good thing and desired by the writer, but much of the rest of the piece seems to be suggesting that compromise is not a good thing and is not desired by the writer.
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Yes, my thoughts exactly!
There is nothing wrong with sneering at the Lidia Thorpes and Nick McKims and Bandts and Corbyns of this world. I recognise that most Australian – and British – voters have no taste for a return to obsolete socialism and expropriation of private buisnesses. I support the return of the SEC here in VIC but i don’t support McKim’s seeming desire for state monopolies and McKim’s wanting the changes of the last 40 years to be reversed and for us all to go back to before the 1980s.
If you sneered at me, would there be something wrong with that? How about if I sneered at you?
Sneering if okay if it is at political dinosaurs like Bandt or McKim, supporters of suicidal pacifism like Jordon Steele-John and at political disasters for their own people like Lidia Thorpe and Ruby Wharton (though if i possessed a surname that could be turned into “Whoreton”, i would have changed it a long time ago…).
They were two simple questions. Obviously if you don’t want to answer them, you won’t.