Browsing articles in "Elections"
Jun 9, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Popular Europhobics. EU’s Parliamentarian Elections

Successful campaign by the National Front in France.  Source: ANDRIEU / AFP / Getty Images.

Successful campaign by the National Front in France. Source: ANDRIEU / AFP / Getty Images.

Any democratic government needs to have opposition in order to fully represent people’s interests. This fosters political balance, helps keep policy expenditures under control and assists citizens in reaching an ideological compromise. But when the opposition engages in promoting exclusionary political platforms, this challenges democratic advancement while instilling authoritarian features. According to provisional results by the Wall Street Journal, it is estimated that the right won 297 seats out of the 751 total seats in the European parliament. WSJ also calculates that left-wing parties only won 232 seats. Right-wing parties in this region blame European bureaucracy and immigration for the sluggish economy. However, it is precisely international cooperation that can help European nations rise from the chronic economic depression. Despite the fact that the EU increased to 28 members last year, voter turnout remains low –barely a 43.1%. This reveals that left-wing supporters are discouraged to vote and some might have made a switch to the right. So far, left-wing parties have not built up a strong enough nor convincing platform to get the EU out of its depression. More importantly, where have the supporters of the EU model gone?

The electoral results are remarkably discouraging. Conservative parties have had an impressive advance in people’s hearts. These parties have strong supporters in several countries now: the UK, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Latvia and Ireland. Although some of them like France’s Front National and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang have had to tone down their anti-immigration sentiments, their rhetoric remains discriminatory. In Germany, the right took 34 seats of the EU parliament and is represented by the CDU/CSU alliance. This collation rejects Turkey’s membership to the European Union although Germany is Turkey’s greatest trading partner and has the largest Turkish diaspora. In Denmark, the right took 5 seats of the 13 EU seats that the country can take. It is mainly represented by the Danish Popular Party (DF), which opposes immigration and proposes to re-establish border controls but is not anti-Semitist as France’s National Front is. The DF doubled its number of seats since 2009. In France, the far-right National Front (FN) gained a large amount of votes –26% or 4.1 million votes. With its anti-immigration and anti-EU party discourse, it won 25 out of the 74 seats in the EU parliament that correspond to France. The FN “earthquake” not only has had an effect in its home country but it has also had an effect in its European neighbors. Thus, the trend is spreading.

But the reasoning behind the Europhobia is the economic depression.  The highest economic growth in the EU area during this last decade was 3.4% in 2006. The financial crisis hit hard the zone by having the GDP contract 4.5%. In 2013, the GDP growth rate stood at 0.1%. Unemployment has been strikingly high and only narrowly reduced in 2008. In the EU-28 area, unemployment was at 9.3% in 2004; 7% in 2008; and, jumped to 10.8% in 2013. A sluggish economy in the EU is a clear indicator of uneasiness among European countries that feel having contributed more than received. Such is the discourse of the right-wing in Germany and France. This is precisely one of the complaints that parties like the FN have been able to use as a leverage for their campaign. Certainly, the more economic strain, the more the perceptions exists that money needs to be preserved even at the cost of liberal values. Clearly, the economic downturn inhibited EU lovers from voting as the economic crisis appears not to end.

The emerging right-wing European parties are exclusionary. For the most part, they do not intend to continue embracing the EU project as there exist perceptions of economic abuse by states in Southern Europe. But despite their views favoring segregation, these parties should not be precluded from participating in the democratic project. Rather, they should be included. However, these parties need to realize that the EU compromise cannot be undone. Instead, they need to seek alternative solutions to the economic crisis. They should create more realistic platforms to help nations cope with their deficits. The solution is not diminished cooperation but rather an increased one. One that is fostered through debate, bringing to the table the brightest ideas by inviting the smartest political scientists, economists, respected financial leaders, among others, able to envision and craft a better and brighter EU.

Other
May 31, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Egypt: A New Hybrid Regime?

 

El-Sisi supporters. Source: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

El-Sisi supporters. Source: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Presidential elections in Egypt finalized this Thursday with a voter turnout of 46% – a slightly lower turnout than the 2012 presidential elections with a 51.85% turnout. It is not surprising that the volatile situation and fear of retribution could have played an influential role on this. Not only was voting extended to a third day but substantial propaganda was used by the government. Today, it is clear that Egypt’s military is not a purely professionalized institution as army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi accepted to become presidential candidate for this year’s elections. What is astounding is that, his charismatic character appears to be fusing already with militarism. In the following years, it is highly probable to see that Egypt’s regime becomes a hybrid regime like Pinochet’s Chile –a military-personalist one.

Voter turnout was so low for presidential elections that voting was extended to a third day. The government tried first to allure citizens through declaring a last-minute holiday. It then tried to coax citizens by threatening to fine those who did not vote. It is quite possible that this strategy was aimed at convincing the international community about the support that el-Sisi has as well as to demonstrate an alleged disapproval for the Muslim Brotherhood. However, all this has demonstrated to political analysts is Egyptians’ discomfort with the current political situation. It is obvious that a large percent of the population supporting the Brotherhood did not vote and also considering that one million ballots were casted blank. El-Sisi’s left-wing rival, Hamdin Sabbahi, obtained less than 4% of the votes. Moreover, social inequality does not appear to have played an important role. Despite perceptions that a strong inequality might have driven revolutionary spirits, a study by the World Bank showed that, in fact, inequality had decreased. However, according to the World Values Survey, expectations for a better living surpassed the moderate economic gains.

The new regime type that is being brewed is a hybrid regime because it has several authoritarian traits while apparently holding free –albeit not so fair– elections. For starters, el-Sisi announced on May 16 that the Muslim Brotherhood would be finished. Second, he and his supporters have already been blamed for the deaths of several of the Brotherhood’s supporters in August of 2013. In an aim to continue modernizing Egypt à la Nasser, the military is excluding a relevant societal sector. Without inclusiveness –a necessary condition for democracy to flourish as per Robert Dahl– Egypt’s democratization will be doomed to failure. Egypt’s regime has the initial features of the hybrid “military-personalist” regime. For Geddes (2002), under this kind of rule the military remains professionalized but the dictator makes most decisions, such as Chile under Augusto Pinochet’s rule. For this researcher, the combination of such features can make regimes last significantly more than if they only were pure militarism. If we were to use Geddes theory on the length of military-personalist regimes, we could expect an approximate duration of el-Sisi’s rule of 10.3 years (average), holding constant economic and other political factors.

Egypt’s elections low voter turnout must be considered as a red flag. Transition periods are usually characterized by large numbers of citizens wanting to participate in the political process, depicted by a high voter turnout. Nevertheless, the recent repressive tactics have intimidated voters from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood as no representatives from the Brotherhood were allowed to participate in elections. Indeed, many were unsatisfied with their rule but ignoring their presence only increases resentment that can accumulate as a pressure cooker. The following weeks will reveal whether such type of regime is possible and if it will possess the durability that Pinochet’s regime had. Indeed, time will tell. So far, we can already observe that personalism is a tool that the new polity is to employ.

Apr 13, 2014
PEstrada

Elections in Hungary: Fidesz Round Two

Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of the Fidesz

Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of the Fidesz (from The Guardian).

Hungary held general elections on Sunday 6. As expected, the ruling party, Fidesz (Hungarian Civil Alliance), jointly with the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), won 44 percent of the vote, which translated into 133 seats in the 199-member parliament thanks to the rewarding electoral laws. This represents a reduction in the vote share for this party in the 2010 election, when it got 53 percent. Still, Fidesz maintains the control of 67 percent of the parliament (versus 68 percent of the outgoing legislature). With this position, Fidesz and its leader, Viktor Orbán, will continue unmatched their series of reforms that many domestic and international observers have classified as increasingly authoritarian.

Fidesz first came to power in 2010. The vote for this extreme-right party was a punishment to the Socialist Party (MSZP). In 2006, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány gave a supposedly confidential speech, which was recorded and made public by the media, in which the recognized he had lied about the state of the government, that he had nothing to be proud of during his tenure, and that the economy was in a really bad shape. Fidesz, the second party in parliament at the time, made the best of this leaking and managed to win its second government (the first one being from 1998 to 2002) in the 2010 general election.

Back in office, Fidesz promised to bring the strength back to Hungary. Orbán renationalized industries, supported by an aggressive discourse saying that foreign capital was stealing the wealth of the country away from Hungarians, succeeded in reducing unemployment, increased wages, and cut energy bills. However, Hungary is still greatly reliant on loans from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Although Hungary has not seen the severe austerity measures in countries as Spain or Greece, which have also received help from these organisms, the government has had to implement some reforms to ensure the fiscal viability of its social security system, including eliminating early retirements and forcing welfare recipients to get back to work.

The apparent success of Fidesz in the economic arena, mostly in comparison to the antecedent Socialist government and the turmoil in other assisted European countries, has prompted citizens to vote again for it. Yet, Fidesz has also managed political institutions to secure its position. Since his 2010 inauguration, the Orbán government made more than fifty changes to the constitution, finally adopting a new one in 2012. Most of these changes are aimed at reducing counterweights to the government. For instance, the power of the courts, especially in reviewing legislation and questioning the constitutionality of the administration’s actions, has been curtailed. Also, the party has put at the heads of expectedly autonomous agencies (such as the state audit office, the public prosecutor’s office, or the budget council, which can veto the budget) party members or figures close to Orbán. Further, a new media law prompts broadcasters to limit government criticism under fears of sanctions from the politicized regulating agencies. Under this scenario, official electoral publicity and pro-Fidesz coverage flooded this campaign, leaving little space for the opposition. In spite of this, there were no acknowledged vote fraud or coercion. With the ruling party working to entrench itself in state institutions and leaving little margin of action for its opponents, some foreign observers have called this Saturday’s election “unfair but free”.

This label and many of the political developments in Hungary are fit the description of the so-called hybrid regimes or electoral authoritarianisms. While democratic practices, such as elections, continue to happen, the government is imposing a series of controls to limit the plurality that is expected to exist for multiparty contests to take place. By attacking the autonomy of agencies and changing the laws to its favor, the Orbán government is limiting the possibilities for contestation. There is no way to know if this is a first step in becoming more exclusionary. For some, the fact that the power of churches to carry out social work has been diminished, or that Roma are being left out of some of the government’s policies, indicate attempts to secure the party’s and ethnic Hungarian’s position at the expense of other social actors.

Yet, this leads to other question. Are these changes to be explained only by the authoritarian desires of the incumbents? Orbán has repeatedly used the electoral fallacy that as people freely voted for him, it must be understood that everything he does is what Hungarians want. Thanks to his economic performance, Orbán could be authentically popular, to some extent. Even more, his project is accepted by Hungarians as opposed to what? Socialists, as commented above, are punished by voters. Yet they are the second force in parliament, with 38 seats, almost a hundred less than Fidesz. The third party is another extremist, Jobbik, the Union for a Better Hungary. It proposes privatization, rejects the EU, and constantly attacks Jews, Roma, socialists and homosexuals. In this election it got 23 seats, increasing by 5 percent its vote share. Thus, the opposition represents no clear, or acceptable, alternative to Fidesz for Hungarian voters. Theorists of democracy tend to emphasize the coercive capacities and coercive state building of incumbents in trying to explain the rise of authoritarianism. But as the Hungarian case points out, for voters the choice might not necessarily be between democracy and no democracy, but between bad or worse. And, as has been the case in other countries, parties failing to appeal electors coinciding with other parties able to capitalize such discontent is a formula that easily steps away from democracy.

Apr 5, 2014
Erika Hernandez

Surviving and Thriving. France’s Front National

 

Marine Le Pen celebrating FN's electoral success at a press conference. Source: AFP/ Huffington Post

Marine Le Pen celebrating FN’s electoral success at a press conference. Source: AFP/ Huffington Post

The most recent municipal elections in France suggest that the right has gained ample ground in elections, mostly favoring the National Front (FN) and the Union for Popular Movement (UMP) parties. Despite Marine Le Pen’s considerable work in having the FN embrace a more conciliatory discourse, the FN is still considered as an extreme-right party around the world. The UMP, a center-right party, also performed fairly well as it was reported to have been taken “some hundred cities” from the left. President Francois Hollande’s party, the Socialist Party (PS), had major losses (150 towns were lost) that appear to be related to very poor economic performance and lack of political expertise.

The rise of the right in France came as early as the Third Republic and it has risen in moments of crisis. Several scandals triggered the emergence of the extreme right, such as the well-known “Capitan Dreyfus” affair, when this Jewish captain was forced to lifetime jail for having allegedly sold state secrets to the enemy. Antisemitist feelings became obvious for the first time in France. Eight years later, the sentence was reversed as it was discovered that document was forged to deliberately blame him. France’s right has slowly penetrated political circles. Today, the rise of the French right is strongly related to poor economic performance. Such a situation also comes along a very low voter turnout –61.5% of voters showed up. It is assumed that right-wing voters were more motivated to vote than their left-wing counterparts. French citizens are also disappointed with President Hollande in that his party has been unable to deliver political and economic promises. Doubtlessly, such as situation has taken a toll. The strength of the right is such that it has penetrated cities that have been predominantly left since 1912 –Toulouse, Roubaix, Amiens, Tours and Reims. During the second round, the combined left vote was 40% while for the mainstream right was 46%. Furthermore, a study showed that in 15 cities where the unemployment rates had been the lowest, the FN is present in only 11 cities. In the 15 cities with the highest unemployment in France, the FN systematically presented a candidate list and scores as high as 20% of votes –almost double.

FN’s good performance is also related to negative perceptions about immigration. During the period of 1975-1999, immigration in France was stable at an average rate of 7.4%. However, starting 2000, the French national statistics institute (INSI) reports higher immigration rates at an average of 8.6% per year. In periods of economic downturns like the one France is undergoing, immigrants tend to be regarded as job-stealers by nationals. Thus, citizens with these perceptions vote right as a way of rejecting immigration and embracing national identity. In addition to immigration, France’s unemployment rate is very telling in evaluating the reason why the extreme right won greater ground. When Francois Hollande came to power, unemployment was at 9.5. Today, France’s unemployment rate is about 11%. Yet, could it be possible that inequality has influenced the emergence of the right despite its welfare state? France is one of the major countries that prides itself for having a broad welfare system, through which it seeks to mitigate inequalities. Yet, data from the European Commission shows that there exists a rising trend of inequality – in 2002, its Gini was 27 and in 2012 was 30.5.

Will France’s future fall into right-wing hands? Current gains by the right can tell us about France’s future panorama. As a solution to the crisis, one austerity measure could be to cut state welfare provisions. Nevertheless, French people highly value their welfare system and many of them rely on it, particularly for medical emergencies. By mid-April, France needs to submit its spending plan to the European Commission, along with a plan for public-spending savings of 2015-2017. But how will public-spending will be reduced? The coming weeks will tell. If the economic cycle in the following years does not improve, it is likely that we will see some major cuts to France’s welfare state. Such policy-making would be supported by the continual rise of the right (FN) that advocates for a small state. Only if the leading left-wing party in the future, the PS, is elected once more and matches a period of good economic performance, then France’s welfare system could remain strong.

Mar 29, 2014
PEstrada

Elections in Turkey, Round One

Women cheering Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan while giving a speech in early March (from RT.com).

Women cheering Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan while giving a speech in early March (from RT.com).

On Sunday, Turkey is holding local elections: mayors and local counselors will be voted for throughout the country. This contest is the first iteration of the electoral calendar that will continue in the late summer with the first-time ever direct Presidential election in August this year and will conclude with the Parliament election in 2015. Although there is the broad question of how Sunday’s results could affect party strategies for the rest of the election cycle, what most citizens wonder is the position in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and in particular Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, will emerge after this electoral round.

Turkey is a centralized state. As more or less has been a worldwide tendency, it has undertaken a series of reforms giving more powers to local administrations. However, the national government still has a lot of saying in local affairs. In spite of this, there are two big issues that make municipal management politically and socially relevant. First, they are in charge of a social welfare system providing food, education, or health to the poor; the provision of these services is what “government” or “state” means for many people. Second, local administration has a saying in planning and implementing public investment. In large cities, particularly Istanbul, those investment decisions have the potential of becoming the motor of the country’s economic development.

There are three large parties that will compete in the Sunday elections, and that are expected to meet again in the rest of this electoral cycle. First, the nationally incumbent Justice and Devleopment Party (AKP), led by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. The AKP and Erdogan are widely noticed has being responsible for the successful stabilization of the country’s relation with its neighbors and the promotion of the image of a modern Turkey since they came to power more than ten years ago. At the same time, Erdogan and the AKP have been the target of several scandals suggesting an increase in their authoritarian attitudes and behavior: corruption accusations involving stealing public money for his family, the use of sexual material to blackmail political opponents, bans on Twitter and YouTube (the former of which was overturned by the Court), the desire to extend the President’s power on the eve of Erdogan’s expected decision to run for the Presidency after he cannot run for a fourth term as PM, violent dissolution of protests against Erdogan, or the increasing Islamization of his political discourse, contrasting with the secularism of his early years.

Two alternatives to the AKP are the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP). The CHP is the oldest of the largest parties in Turkey. It is also well organized; for instance, it will deploy half a million people to monitor polling stations throughout the country. Further, it governs one of the most affluent districts in Istanbul, whose head will be competing for the city’s mayoralty. But these strengths could be diminished by the fact that many see the CHP as close to the army (the ultimate arbiter of stability in Turkey, intervening by means of coups, thus generation suspicions about its commitment to democracy) and with an old-fashioned statism. The MHP is the extreme right, with a radical nationalist discourse despising peace talks with the Kurds and rejecting attempts to join the European Union. It comes in third place. According to a poll, in Sunday’s municipal elections the AKP will get 42 percent of the vote, CHP would receive 29 percent, and MHP could have 19 percent.

An initial question is whether the AKP will get out of this contest strengthened or weakened. Most analyses suggests that as long as it does not get around 40 percent of the vote, the AKP will be on firm land. A second issue, possibly more relevant, is how the AKP will react to whatever result it gets. As mentioned above, Erdogan’s reported intention is to expand the powers of the President and run himself for that office. If the AKP does not get the expected votes, how would it try to strengthen its position? Would it tighten the authoritarian screws of the system? Or would the party try to adopt more liberal policies to garner the support of electors? If the AKP does as expected, would its reading be that Islamization and contention of the opposition work for it objectives? Or would it try to increase its margin of victory by improving its behavior to attract more voters? The results of Sunday’s election will clearly set the stage for this summer’s presidential election.

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