March electoral roundup

Time to review some recent electoral events that you might otherwise have missed.


Following the presidential election held last November, in which incumbent Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was re-elected with 81.3% of the vote, Kazakhstan held an early legislative election last Sunday, a bit over two years into the term of the previous parliament, or Mäjilis.

Tokayev is clearly not inclined to permit any serious challenge to his rule, but within the confines of a basically authoritarian system there does seem to have been some liberalisation going on, following the sidelining of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Parliament’s powers have been increased and some changes will make it easier for opposition voices to be heard, including a reduction in the threshold for proportional seats from 7% to 5%.

Preliminary results show the main government party, Amanat, dominant as usual with 53.9% of the vote. Five other parties, all broadly complicit in Tokayev’s system, had another 37.0% between them (although one of them, the Greens, was below the threshold), while the sole opposition party – the Nationwide Social Democratic Party, which had boycotted the previous election – managed 5.2%. The remaining 3.9% went to “none of the above”.

On my calculation, that will give the opposition four of the 69 proportional seats. There are also 29 members from single-member districts, of which 22 appear to have been won by Amanat and nine seven by (presumably pro-government) independents.


Montenegro also went to the polls on Sunday in the first round of its presidential election. Incumbent Milo Đukanović led the field with 35.4%; he will contest the runoff on Sunday week, 2 April, against Jakov Milatović, from the new centrist movement Europe Now!, who placed second with 28.9%.

Đukanović, whose party is called the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), has been in charge of Montenegro in one capacity or other for most of the time since before independence in 2006. But that changed in 2020 when the opposition won parliamentary elections and Đukanović was obliged to appoint its nominee – conservative Zdravko Krivokapić – as prime minister.

The anti-Đukanović alliance was a diverse lot, and not surprisingly it has not survived intact. Krivokapić’s government fell on a no-confidence vote in February 2022; he was replaced by Dritan Abazović, from the centre-left component of the alliance, who pushed a strongly pro-western line following the invasion of Ukraine. But a few months later he too was ousted, in a vote he blamed on the influence of organised crime. He remains in office in a caretaker capacity, ahead of a fresh election scheduled for 11 June.

Going by the first-round results, Đukanović’s chance of retaining office, much less of returning to real power, looks slim. Most of the vote outside the top two went to two other candidates from the anti-Đukanović alliance, Andrija Mandić (19.3%) and Aleksa Bečić (11.1%); their support should flow strongly to Milatović. And opinion polls for the parliamentary election show the DPS stuck around 30%, maybe five points down from its losing result in 2020.


You might recall the British supreme court case of Miller/Cherry, from the Brexit heyday of 2019, which voided Boris Johnson’s attempt to evade scrutiny by proroguing parliament. Now the constitutional court in Kuwait has gone one better, declaring void the dissolution of parliament last June – and therefore the subsequent September election – and reinstating the old parliament.

As I explained when previewing the September election, Kuwait comes closer to democracy than the other gulf states: elections are generally fair (although parties are officially not allowed), and parliament has considerable power to criticise or frustrate royal government. The price for that is recurrent gridlock and frequent elections.

Last year’s election had seen major opposition gains, leading prime minister Ahmad Nawaf al-Sabah (like his predecessors, a member of the royal family) to offer his resignation. The natural assumption is that the government might have had something to do with the constitutional court’s decision, except that going back to the previous parliament is not going to be much of an improvement from its point of view; it was already facing a major lack of co-operation, which last year’s election was supposed to solve.


Finally to the Netherlands, where provincial elections held last week received some breathless media coverage. A new anti-environmentalist party, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB), topped the poll both nationwide and in each of the twelve provinces. It was formed last year to fight government plans to cut nitrogen emissions, and has become a catch-all far-right party – or, as the BBC puts it, “a populist platform that represents traditional, conservative Dutch social and moral values.”

This isn’t as scary as it might sound, for two reasons. First, the Netherlands is very much a multi-party system, so topping the poll is still a long way from a majority: BBB won 19.2% of the vote nationwide, with its best result being 33.5% in Drenthe. The four parties composing the Dutch centre-to-centre-right government all lost ground but still had 27.8% between them; the Greens and centre-left had another 17.4%.

Second, some of BBB’s vote has evidently come from the collapse of another far-right party, the Forum for Democracy, which flourished around the time of the last provincial elections, in 2019, but this time dropped 11.5 points to just 3.1%. As I said at the time, “mercurial rises and falls are part of the nature of extremist politics, and novelty can wear off quickly.” The more established far-right party, Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom, also lost ground.

Comparisons with the French “yellow vest” movement are inevitable, and it seems likely that BBB will fade in due course in much the same way. For now, however, it is enjoying the spotlight. Its success means it will also have the largest delegation in the Senate, which is elected by the provincial councils: one projection gives it 17 of the 75 seats, as against 22 for the government and 15 for the Greens plus centre-left.


4 thoughts on “March electoral roundup

  1. There are also 29 members from single-member districts, of which 22 appear to have been won by Amanat and nine by (presumably pro-government) independents.

    They use a different version of addition in Kazakhstan?

    First, the Netherlands is very much a multi-party system, so topping the poll is still a long way from a majority …

    So here’s my prediction of one possible scenario for what might happen if the BBB does not decline as precipitately as it rose and the next Dutch general election (in 2025, or whenever) produces results reflecting the current opinion polls: there will be agonising extended negotiations which will go round and round, with various parties refusing to work with each other and negotiations stalling as if deadlocked and then being restarted with somebody else in charge and agreements looking close and then falling apart at the eleventh hour until, after eighteen months, when everybody’s utterly exhausted, a deal (truly satisfactory to nobody at all) is stitched up to form a six-party government with the four in the present government (VVD, D66, CDA, CU) and two now in opposition (PvdA, GL), because none of those six parties wants to work either with PVV or with BBB and they will finally have to admit that there’s no other alternative.

    I expect the opinion polls will move around a lot between now and the election, and if the eventual results are substantially different from current opinion polling (as they well might be) then different scenarios become plausible. It’s just that, for now, I don’t have anything better to go by than the current opinion polls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops, typo – thank you! Should be 7 independents; now fixed.
      As to the Netherlands, yes, I think that’s pretty much right. Apart from the far right (and a small far left) the parties are sufficiently close that there’s no major barrier to them working together if they have to – it just takes a lot of haggling to get there.


  2. Yes, as far as I can see BBB is much less toxic than the far-right parties it has displaced. It seems to be mostly about airing rural grievances. Inevitably that’s going to have a rightwing slant, but it’s much less about racist hate than Wilders

    Liked by 1 person

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