Italy 2018: Interim government, early elections

It seemed as if the Lega and Five Star Movement (M5s) were about to form a coalition, and then things turned. The mostly ceremonial President refused the coalition’s proposed finance minister, and now the coalition plan is off.

President Sergio Mattarella has tasked Carlo Cottarelli, a non-politician (till now, that is), to form a government, with elections to be held in early 2019. However, if the government is unable to get a program approved in parliament, which the BBC (second link above) says it probably can’t, elections could be this August.

Further, the BBC reports, “A source from Five Star told Reuters the party could campaign with the League in a fresh vote.”

Recall from the previous F&V discussion that the new electoral system is not proportional–although about 5/8 of the seats are indeed allocated proportionally. The other 3/8 are elected in single-seat districts, and thus it is a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system.

Encouraged by the majoritarian component of the system, several parties had joined together in pre-electoral alliances. However, emphatically, the Lega and M5s were not in such an alliance. Moreover, the Lega was in alliance with other parties, including Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which were not going to be in this proposed post-election coalition. (See summary of how the electoral system affected the results.)

The breaking of a pre-election alliance–in which the parties presented joint candidacies for the single-seat districts–would always tend to be difficult, and troubling from a representative “mandates” perspective. So, from this perspective, it is arguably good that it will not happen, even if it is a bit anomalous how it came about. That is, the president–chosen by parliament, not the people–would not normally be expected to intervene in this manner in a coalition’s choice of a minister. (It is within his powers, but still unusual.)

I do not claim knowledge of the current Italian political moment, but I have to assume that Lega and M5s actually wanted an election and were quite willing to provoke a crisis. Otherwise, surely they could have found another finance minister. The one they proposed was considered too hostile to eurozone rules.

This actually could be a good outcome. If the Lega and M5s really do contest the next election in an alliance, the voters will have a clear opportunity to support a coalition of “populists”. They did not have such an opportunity in the last election, yet one almost emerged via a post-electoral realignment of the party blocs.

A key question is whether the “establishment” parties can coordinate to give voters an alternative. Another is whether the president just handed the populists a glorious opportunity to say, see, the Italian and European establishment is against us.

Unhappy coalition partners make for very quotable politicians

There is a coalition crisis in Israel–or at least a lot of posturing. The immediate issue is a bill that would restructure the state broadcasting authority. But usually these things are about something other than what they are claimed to be about. In any case, the point of this post is not to comment on the substantive issues, but to draw out some very nice quotes by politicians unhappy with something or other in the coalition bargain. These come from an article in Hamodia.

Likud MK Oren Chazan said that smaller parties in the coalition knew how to make demands to fulfill their agenda, but were less amenable to helping the Likud carry out its agenda. “We bend over backwards to help them, but when it comes to helping us carry out our platform they are nowhere to be found. This hurts us with our voters, and small parties have to realize that being in a coalition is a matter not only of taking, but of giving.”

The article goes on to say that PM Netanyahu sees the role of Finance Minister as too “prestigious” for Moshe Kahlon, given how little his party, Kulanu is, and how badly that party is doing in current polling. Then there is this from Transport Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud):

There are no differences of opinion in the coalition on the really important matters. You don’t call new elections over which broadcasting company will remain in business. There is no support in the Likud for this.

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) offers a somewhat different take on whether there is consensus in the coalition–or even the party–over that very question:

No one in the Likud is afraid of elections. Let the public decide whether or not coalition agreements should be respected. We cannot have a situation where each time the Likud asks that its agreements be enforced we get excuses from our partners as to why they should not be enforced. This is not about the IBC versus the IBA, but about the principle of coalition agreements.

[IBA and IBC are the Israeli Broadcasting Authority and Corporation, respectively.]

Finally, despite his own periodic threats to leave the coalition, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennet says, “I call on everyone to act with responsibility and prevent expensive and unnecessary elections that will harm Israel’s economy and our citizenry.” In other words, don’t take my previous threats seriously.

Coalition bargaining often occurs before an audience. And that audience can be treated to some really nice quotations!

Various recent polls show it could be a close call for largest party between Likud and opposition party Yesh Atid if an election were held now.

 

Australia 2016

Australia will elect all members of the house of representatives and the senate on 2 July. This is an extended campaign by Australian standards. The timing was dictated by a series of interlocking provisions in the constitution relating to double dissolutions.

Australia has a general election on 2 July for all seats in the house of representatives and the senate. The constitutional reasons for this double dissolution are canvassed in the advice tendered to and accepted by the governor-general which has been published. Sidebar: you often read British and Canadian authors who argue that conversations and advice between head of government and head of state must be private but Australian governors have been publishing ministerial advice and their response on major issues since 1975. I am not usually an enthusiast for Sir John Kerr, but in this at least he established a good precedent.

The headline view is that Labor appears to be gaining, but it is by no means clear that they will gain enough seats for a majority government. It is equally unclear who would be best placed to form a minority government in the event of a deliberative, balanced or ‘hung’ parliament. The prime minister’s personal standings have been tanking for some time but that appears to have levelled off. The opposition leader’s standings have been rising significantly. Newspoll, widely regarded as definitive, has a snapshot of how they see the situation here. Historically pollsters have relied on second preferences from the previous election to estimate preference flows because that tends to give a more accurate result than asking poll respondents.

Here is the Gazetted enrolment (30 April 2016) published by the AEC.

NSW 107 323

VIC 105 929

QLD 101 302

WA 97 228

SA 106 398

TAS 74 009

ACT 139 025

NT 65 444

The dramatic gap between the ACT and NT is a rounding error, the NT is just over 1.5 of the uniform quota and the ACT is just under 2.5. The low figure for Tasmania is a consequence of their minimum representation of 5 in the house. In my view a variation from 139 025 to 65 444 is not really acceptable in the 21st century.

The election will probably be decided in New South Wales and Queensland. Labor did quite well in Victoria in 2013, against the national trend, and has probably peaked at 19 out of 37 seats. The nest result for Labor in the snaller states and the territories would be gains of 1 seat each in South Australia, Tasmania and perhaps the Northern Territory. Western Australia is showing a marked swing to Labor and as many as 4 seats could change hands, Labor would be looking at a net gain of 6 outside NSW and Queensland. The Newspoll page has a convenient calculator that lets you estimate seat gains for particular swings.

That takes us to the battleground states with 47 seats in New South Wales and 30 in Queensland.

The magic number to form a majority government is 76. From the Australian Financial Review:

If Labor wins the July 2 election it will become the first opposition in 85 years to regain government after just one term. To do so, it needs to win a net minimum of 19 seats.

The Coalition, to avoid becoming the first government to lose power after one term since the Scullin Labor government lost in 1931, needs to lose fewer than 15 seats.

The situation is complicated by minor party and independents who may (again) be called on to decide who forms the government. I plan to do separate posts for the situations in New South Wales, Queensland and the minor parties and independents. My guess is that there will be a minority government but it is too early to say who will form government.

Labor is making loud noises about never again making a confidence and supply agreement with the Greens. Both major parties seem to think the solution to a deliberative parliament is to call a second election.

They made similar noises in Tasmania in 2010 and were rebuffed by the governor. It is hard to imagine the governor-general granting a second election for the exact some reasons that the governor of Tasmania refused to grant one in 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denmark coalition crisis?

On the rare occasion that a government is headed by the third largest party in parliament, and is backed by the second largest, which happens to be a “far-right” or “populist” party, one might expect the governance to be challenging. So it goes in Denmark.

This week, eight months into the single-party minority government of Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, one of the government’s parliamentary support parties has threatened to pull its support. But it is not the right-wing Danish People’s Party that is causing the problem, it is the smaller governing partner, the Conservatives, who have just 6 seats in the 179-seat parliament.

According to The Local, the Conservatives have “lost confidence in Environment and Food Minister Eva Kjer Hansen.”

Kjer Hansen’s critics specifically accuse her of giving into the farm lobby on norms governing the use of fertilisers, leaving water supplies exposed to increased pollution from agricultural runoff.

Thus far, Rasmussen is backing the minister, and has called for talks with his partner.

[the above was edited on 28 February in response to a clarification in the comments]

 

Denmark election, 2015: Connecting election results and government under multipartism?

For better or worse, Denmark’s election yesterday is a clear example of the connection (or lack of connection?) between election results and likely governing alliances in a multiparty system.

The party of the (outgoing) Prime Minister, the Social Democrats, actually gained seats and remains the largest party by a 10-seat margin. However, Helle Thorning-Schmidt submitted her resignation because her “Red” bloc will have fewer seats than the (former) opposition.

Meanwhile, the core party of the traditional Danish right, the Venstre (liberals, not actually “left”) lost 13 seats, but will be part of the new government. In fact, its leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, is the most likely next PM. A Guardian headline even declares that he “wins slender victory”.

The big gainer in the election is the “populist” Danish People’s Party, which gained 15 seats and finished second. It is thus the largest party in the expected new governing “bloc” (if it is even accurate to call it that). However, its leader surely will not be prime minister, and may not even be in the government. More likely it will support a minority government* of the center-right.

So there we have it: the PM’s party gains seats, the largest party by a good margin will head the opposition, the second largest party will be an outside support party, and the PM will come from the party whose seats declined the most!

None of the above is meant necessarily as criticism: in a multiparty parliamentary system, the government is comprised of that set of parties that is at least tolerated by a majority of elected representatives, not necessarily the largest (or even second largest!) party. In general, I admire the Danish electoral, party, and governing systems. But an outcome like this does raise questions about the accountability mechanisms of this pattern of multiparty politics. At the very least, it offers a great teaching case–too bad the Danish could not hold this election a couple of weeks ago when I was indeed teaching a course for which this is highly relevant!

Finally, for fans of Borgen, some help from The Local Denmark.

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* I can’t argue with the first two sentences of that article: “It seems to be the season for shocking elections. Rarely has the job of political scientists been so interesting.”

The Lib Dems’ demise–and what might have been

I have long been something of a fan of the Liberal Democrats (and their immediate predecessors in the Alliance). So the result of the election saddens me to an extent. While (ex-)party leader and Deputy PM Nick Clegg held his seat, several of their best MPs, like Vince Cable and Simon Hughes, were dumped. This is a loss for British politics.

It is obvious that the party was punished by many of its previous voters for choosing to go into coalition with the Tories when many of their supporters would have expected them to partner with Labour if the opportunity ever came up. However, let’s put the strategic choice in context and ponder the alternatives the party’s leaders faced.

I suspect they would have fared worse from a coalition with Labour given that (1) Labour had clearly lost the 2010 election going from a majority to second place, and (2) It would have been a minority coalition dependent for survival on the SNP (and others).

The more interesting question is what would have happened if they had just agreed to back a minority Tory government, which was what I expected at the time.

The reason for not doing that was probably the fear that the Tories would call an early election and win a majority. The coalition, and the passage of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, prevented that. However, the political situation, as it turned out over the five-year term, meant that an early election was never in the Tories’ interests anyway, and in the end the Tories still won a majority. Would the LibDems have benefitted in this election from not being in power, and making the case that only liberalism could save the union? Yes, I think they would have. Maybe we’d be looking today at a real chance of a Lab-Lib coalition, which would have 4-5 seats in Scotland and an ambitious program of political reform.

Hindsight…

On the (minimally) bright side: The LibDems retain seats in England, Scotland, and Wales. Liberal ideas, still bridging divides. I hope the party will recover from this setback. It is too long and significant a fixture of the UK scene to whither away.

And I still agree with Nick.