Common flop party

What happened to the Aam Adadmi (Common Man) Party, which was such a media sensation following its electoral breakthrough in Delhi last year?

It won 4 seats in the Lok Sabha polls; that’s 0.74%. It did win almost a third of the vote in Dehli, and came in second in every constituency. In a plurality system that doesn’t cut it.*

All of its seats came in Punjab, where it tied for the lead in seats with 4 of the state’s 13. It was third there in votes (24.4%), behind Congress (33.1%, and yes, Congress is still the plurality party in a few states!) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (26.3%). The SAD is the incumbent government at the state level, and is the other party that won 4 seats; it is part of the BJP-led NDA.**

The AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal made a massive miscalculation that it would be rewarded for resigning after failing to secure assembly support on its central campaign plank (an anti-corruption body), rather than attempt to build a record of governance on what it could accomplish as a minority administration in Delhi. It decided to go for “national party” status, and ran over 400 candidates (more, I believe, than any other party). The outsider stuff will carry one only so far.

Despite my “flop” remark above, the party did win a higher share of the vote in Delhi than it had in the assembly poll (29.5%, which put it second to the BJP’s 33.1%). New elections in Delhi are likely some time later this year. The AAP is not seeking my advice, but if it was, I’d say focus on the 8 districts won by Congress last December and a few of their own strongest constituencies, because likely they will be playing for minimizing a BJP win, rather than an immediate new shot at the power they had and gave up rather too easily.

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* The BJP won all 7 Lok Sabha seats with 46.4% of the vote. The Congress managed 15.1%, which is quite a collapse even from its bad result in the assembly poll in December, when it was a close third place, on 24.5%.

** The BJP won 2 seats on just 8.7% of the statewide vote, but this is again a case of stand-down arrangements between the BJP and a stronger local ally.

Bihar and Indian electoral alliances

Continuing the theme of why I do not think the big BJP win means a fundamental change in how India is governed, let’s look to the case of Nitish Kumar, leader of the Janata Dal (United) party of the state of Bihar. He has now resigned as Chief Minister of the state, and there is speculation about whether the BJP will attempt to form a government there. It would probably fail, but then that would set up early elections in the state that the BJP would be well positioned to win.

Kumar’s party is in disarray–thereby not living at all up to its (name)–following its disastrous result in the polling for the state’s Lok Sabha delegation. The JD(U) won only two of the state’s 40 LS seats. The BJP won 22.

In votes, the JD(U) sank to third place, on only 15.8%, although the BJP’s majority in the new Bihar delegation comes on only 29.4% of the votes. Another regional party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) came in second in votes, with 20.1%, yet managed only 4 seats.

What is the significance of this for my thesis of Indian politics not having changed fundamentally? When Kumar became Chief Minister in 2005 and then was returned following the 2010 election, he was suddenly the media darling. Bihar voters supposedly rewarded him for his laser-like focus on development, and various stories suggested not only that he offered a model for a more results-oriented government, but that he was on track to be a serious candidate for Prime Minister of India. This was an idea Kumar himself took seriously even during the run-up to the recent campaign. And now his party will hold 2 seats in the first chamber of the federal parliament.

What changed? Alliances! His victory and reelection as Chief Minister were at the head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state. However, reliant as he is on Muslim voters in his state, he broke with the BJP (the central party in the NDA) when it became clear that the BJP would project Narendra Modi as its leader. Competing separately, obviously the JD(U) was no match for the BJP in the current Lok Sabha polls.

Kumar is now “rethinking” his resignation, and one possibility is a new alliance with the RJD and the Indian National Congress.* Had such an alliance been put together before these LS elections, the BJP surely could not have won over half the state’s LS seats, and possibly would not have a majority in the incoming Lok Sabha. For that matter, had Kumar not had the alliance with the BJP in past elections, he probably never would have been Chief Minister, would not have had the 20 seats the JD(U) won in the 2009 Indian general election**, let alone been a alleged PM-in-waiting.

Modi will need to keep this lesson in mind, as some of his alliance partners will not be as keen on some of his projects as are the more Hindi-nationalist and economic-liberalizing elements of his own support base.

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* Based on the 2010 Bihar state assembly results, this combination would have about 48% of the seats (JDU 115, RJD 22, Cong 4). The BJP won 91 (meaning the then-alliance won 206 of the 243 seats, or almost 85% by the two parties’ not competing against one another). Obviously, the potential new JD(U)-led alliance in the assembly would require either the support of parties/independents, or defectors that it may have brought in since the election.

** In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, in addition to the JD(U)’s 20, its pre-poll ally the BJP won 12 seats in the state.

AAP minority government of Delhi resigns

Well, that did not last long. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) tendered his resignation today after his minority government was refused support by both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party for tabling its signature Jan Lokpal Bill to create an anti-corruption body.

The federal dimension of the Indian system is critical to the story here, as the Congress, which had earlier promised support (at one time even saying it would be “unconditional”) to the AAP, is now claiming that an anti-corruption bill for Dehli can’t be submitted without clearance from the central (Congress-led) government.

The legislators from the Congress and BJP who voted today to prevent him from tabling the Jan Lokpal Bill say they support the proposal, but cannot ignore the fact that it has been vetoed by Delhi’s constitutional head, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung. The chief minister had firmly rejected the opinion that before it is presented for review in the legislature, the bill must be vetted by the Lieutenant Governor as a representative of the centre.

Of course, the underlying story here is that the BJP expects it might lead the next central government, after elections in April-May this year. The upstart AAP is one of its principal competitors in some parts of the country for voters turning away from the Congress party. If the resignation holds, most likely the assembly would be put in “suspended animation” under rule from the center until new elections would be held. Those elections could be concurrent with the federal election.

For background on December’s Delhi assembly election and formation of the government, see my earlier post.

Canadian Senate being debated in Supreme Court

Via CBC:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to advise whether it can proceed unilaterally to impose term limits on senators and create a process for electing them.

The government contends that some such reforms can be imposed by the central government, citing the imposition of a retirement age for senators in 1965. However, the government’s question also considers the question of possible abolition of the senate. Here the question is whether unanimous consent of the provinces would be required, or whether the “750 formula” must be adhered to. The latter means seven provinces, accounting for half the national population.

of favourite sons and distant cousins

Next year South Africa faces a general election.

The absolute certainties are that the ANC will win a (probably reduced) majority in the national assembly and the opposition Democratic Alliance will win a majority in the Western Cape provincial legislature. After that, all bets are off.

Before 1994 South Africa was divided into the four provinces of The Cape, Transvaal, Natal and the Orange Free State. There were also a large number of bantustans. Both the old provinces and the bantustans  were abolished by the 1994 interim constitution and a new system of nine provinces was set up. In the time since the provincial boundaries have become set in stone. The ANC has always controlled all the provincial legislatures except KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. It looks like Gauteng, the province formerly known as Johannesberg, will be in play next year for the first time.

And then the story gets interesting. There is some talk of the DA running their strongest possible candidate, Hellen Zille, their national leader, a former mayor of Cape Town, former World Mayor of the Year,  and the current premier of the Western Cape. If the DA took Gauteng, or even gave the ANC a run for their money there, it would be a political earthquake. The earthquake would be magnified by Zille’s ethnicity. She is a very white former anti-apartheid journo who would be running in a very black province.

Interstate politician transfers are very rare in Australia, although one is being attempted at the next federal election. And Australian and American political observers would become mildly hysterical over the premier of one province running for premier of another province.

Lower Saxony election (and a discussion of the impact and advisability of thresholds)

Today’s election for the state assembly of Lower Saxony, Germany, was considered too close to call as polls closed. It is regarded as one of Germany’s most important bellwethers, given the state’s large size and that its election is occurring several months before a federal election.

The state’s incumbent government mirrors the federal: a coalition of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats. The latter party has had a string of bad results in state elections, and many pre-election polls suggested it might not pass the 5% threshold in today’s election. If it did not, the Christian Democrats (CDU) would not be able to govern except in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD).

However, exit polls suggest the FDP has reached 9%:

Its gain was attributed to the CDU governor of the state, half-Scot David McAllister, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to split their ballot to make sure the FDP would clear the 5-percent hurdle needed to remain in parliament — a precondition for him remaining in office.

Pre-election polls had put the CDU at 42% or higher, but all those threshold-surpassing list votes for the FDP had to come from somewhere. As a result, the CDU is down to 36%, according to the exit polls.

As for the SPD, its former federal chancellor (PM), Gerhard Schröder was shown on DW-TV campaigning directly on the promise of an SPD-Green coalition. He said (paraphrasing from the translation on DW English): voters know the SPD and Greens served them well when we governed before, because the SPD took care of jobs, while the Greens took care of the environment”.

Thus Schröder offered an explicit indication of inter-party cooperation with the Greens, just as McAllister engaged in “tacit” electoral cooperation with the FDP. Note the contrast with the relations between two Israeli parties in the run-up to that country’s general election later this week.

The SPD is on 32% and the Greens on 13.5%. Thus the two opposing combines have almost the same combined vote totals. Both the Left and Pirates are below 5%. ((I had seen some polling that had the Left well above the threshold; maybe there was some tactical voting there, too, by soft Left voters who feared voting for the Left would only increase the odds of a grand coalition, given that SPD-Green-Left post-electoral cooperation would have been unlikely.))

The campaign signs, photographed from the DW Journal (aired in the USA by Link TV), are interesting. Note how the CDU and SPD both emphasize their leaders, while the FDP and Greens explicitly call for list votes (Zweitstimme, or “second votes”) in the state’s two-vote mixed-member proportional system.

CDU

Green

FDP

Nepal’s constitutional deadlock

Nepal has been at a deadlock for months in its constitutional process. When yet another of numerous deadlines for a new comnstiution was missed on 27 May, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the constituent assembly and set new elections for November. However, last week, the Election Commission advised that the elections can not be held, for reasons that include lack of political consensus. The opposition parties had protested the dissolution and announced a boycott of new elections.

Constitution Net published an interview that offers an “insider’s perspective” on the impasse.

Thus Nepal remains in a serious deadlock. Among the contentious issues is a classic one in the debates over federalism. While all the parties agreed early on to define Nepal as a “federal” republic, they disagree on a fundamental question of federal design for ethnically plural societies: should the sub-units be designed to be themselves multi-ethnic, or should their boundaries follow (as much as possible) the regional concentrations of various groups? The latter option, which seems to be what most experts on federalism advise, obviously requires delicate compromises on where new boundaries should be drawn and how many sub-units to have, which in turn shapes the number of minorities that can be local majorities in at least one unit.

Notwithstanding the breakdown–which may yet prove temporary–the assembly had made considerable progress. It apparently had reached a consensus on a semi-presidential system. In fact, Nepal may be one of the few countries ever to have had a full debate over all three major types of executive-legislative structure: parliamentary, presidential, and semi-presidential. Nepal has been previously parliamentary–largely because it was also a monarchy. In most constitutional-design processes that I know of, the debate is either between presidential and semi-presidential or between parliamentary and semi-presidential (if there is any such debate at all).

According to Jan Sharma (who also covers several other aspects of the process and its deadlock), the parties divided over the executive-legislative type. The old parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist initially wanted a Westminster parliamentary system, while the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist favored a strong directly elected presidency (presumably a presidential system). Guess who must be confident about having a popular individual leader who could win a presidential election, and who isn’t?

From various subsequent news items I saw back in May (and which I don’t have immediate access to now) suggest that they had compromised on a semi-presidential system, and evidently of the premier-presidential sub-type.

But federalism? That’s another matter.