Monday, 19 September 2016

My analysis of recent international elections of September 2016

Whilst I have been busy, the German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (home to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who represents the northern half of the state in the Bundestag) and Berlin, the federal capital, held their 2016 landtag elections; the nation of Croatia held its parliamentary election just ten months on from the previous one, caused by a vote of no confidence in Tihomir Oreskovic and his cabinet; and there was the 2016 election for Russia's State Duma (parliament).

As expected from this Croatian election, turnout decreased significantly, from nearly 61% to just over 54%; just because a nation has fair proportional representation does not mean that turnout will be particularly high. It nevertheless saw substantial change, with the moderately conservative Croatian Democratic Union alliance gaining 3 extra seats with the SDP-led People's Coalition losing two from 2015, giving HDZ and its leader Andrej Plenkovic a critical lead. However, the kingmakers from last year, the liberal Bridge of Independent Lists (Most) party, lost 6 of their 19 seats meaning that if Andrej Plenkovic wishes to become Croatia's next Prime Minister, he will have to seek help from regionalists as well as Most to gain power. The anti-establishment Human Blockade Party meanwhile won 8 seats, and importantly in government formation in Croatia is unwilling to cooperate with any coalition containing 'establishment' parties. It was meanwhile an unfortunate day for progressive politics in Croatia, with its main green party, ORaH, not securing even 1% of the vote in spite of entering an alliance, and with the Croatian Labourists paying the price for their previous alliance with the SDP by polling worse still.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was another low for progressive politics in Germany. For the first time in five years, the state Green Party failed to pass the 5% threshold, and they only missed it by 3000 votes. Die Linke lost five seats and finished fourth, and the Pirate Party dropped back into political irrelevance by polling a dismal 0.5%; even with Mecklenburg-Vorpommern being the weakest German state for liberal and progressive parties that is a bad result. The UKIP-like Alternative fur Deutschland scored another strong second place, with their 20.8% vote share enough to beat the CDU into third place and this strong showing is second only to their performance in Lower Saxony earlier this year, and a critical blow to Angela personally even though CDU support held up considerably better in the north of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern who she is MP for. Like UKIP in Britain, they have been able to win over poorer and less well-educated supporters who traditionally either voted for the SPD or CDU, especially in former industrial areas and rural areas in the East/Ost, and they are becoming a functional party of protest despite their new leader Frauke Petry's more hardline and Islamophobic views compared to her predecessor, Bernd Lucke, who left AfD after Frauke's successful leadership bid. (Incidentally, UKIP last week also elected a woman, Diane James, as their new leader)

Meanwhile in Berlin, where at Wahlkreis (single member constituency) level three-way marginal constituencies are becoming the norm instead of the exception, the SPD set a Landtag record in modern German history for the lowest winning percentage-they polled just 21.6% of the vote but still came top of the poll in erststimmen (constituency vote) as well as zweistimmen (list vote) terms. Despite AfD winning 25 seats with 14.2% of the vote, Die Linke actually increased their seat total to tie with the Greens on 27 (and Die Linke won a few more votes than the Greens as well); usually, AfD has been eroding Die Linke's support especially in the poorer industrial parts of the former East Germany. The collapse of Die PIRATEN (the German Pirate Party)'s share of the vote, with the consequential loss of all of their 15 seats, is very significant and shows how far they have fallen from their initial bursts of glory in 2011 and 2012, where they frequently won at least a few Landtag seats per Landtag, and their agenda of copyright reform and internet freedom is appearing less and less in offline and online media. This is in stark contrast to Iceland (whose parliamentary election comes next month) where their Pirate Party could top the poll. The Free Democrats also re-entered the Berlin Abgeordnetenhaus but with the distinction of being the only party there not to win, or come close to winning, a single direct mandate; they generally performed best in the outer suburbs. The Greens did much better in the centre of Berlin than in the outer reaches by contrast, with the CDU and SPD performing best in the western suburbs and AfD and Die Linke fighting hard over the eastern suburbs, frequently winning direct mandates with less than 30% of the vote for their respective candidate.

On the same day, the United Russia Party, devoted as ever to maintaining President Vladimir Putin's power and influence in Russia, won Russia's parliamentary elections yet again, this time with an enormous increase of 105 seats, bringing their total to 343, although given how frequent election irregularities and fraud occur in Russia, in addition to suppression of opposition parties by various means, this particular election cannot be considered truly free and fair. The only opposition parties in the Duma are tired and old and fading (Communist), extremist and racist ('Liberal Democratic Party of Russia', so badly named, and Rodina), or not really an opposition at all (A Just Russia and Civic Platform). The Russian Green Party did not even get a look in, polling only 0.76% of the list vote; the threshold is very strict at 7%.

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