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.

North Rhine-Westphalia election, 2012

Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, will go to the polls in May, following the parliamentary defeat earlier this month of its minority coalition government.

The coalition consists of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, but these two parties emerged from the July, 2010, election two seats short of a majority.

Minority governments are essentially unheard of in Germany. I do not know how this one survived initially, whether with tacit outside support from the Left Party or with tactical abstentions from the Christian Democrats (CDU) and/or Free Democrats (FDP). However, at this point, polls have been showing that the SPD and Greens would win a clear majority in new elections. So I assume this defeat was strategically planned by the government–sending up a budget the combined opposition would “have to” defeat.

As in many federal systems with staggered national and regional elections, in Germany state elections are often seen as bellwethers for the next national election. If that is the case, then not only the expected NRW result, but also recent elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Baden-Wurttemberg, and Rhineland-Palatinate, give the CDU and FDP reason to be very, very worried.

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Some scenes of Dusseldorf, NRW, from my travel collection (June, 2010) follow. Dusseldorf, the city of Altbier!

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Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania election 2011

The run of bad election results for the party of German federal leader, Angela Merkel, continues. Her Christian Democrats (CDU) lost over five percentage points in the party vote, relative to the 2006 election, in state parliamentary elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The Free Democrats (FDP), the CDU’s partner in the federal coalition, suffered an even more dramatic fall. With only 2.7%, down from 9.6%, they will have no seats now in the state’s parliament.

The big winners were the Social Democrats (SPD), with 35.7% (up from 30.2%) and the Greens, with 8.4% (3.4). The Left Party gained slightly (18.4, from 16.8). The neo-nazi NPD dropped a bit (6.0, from 7.3) but remains in the parliament.

The combined seat total of the SPD (28) and Greens (6) remains short of a majority in the 71-seat assembly. Thus a coalition of the SPD and Greens would be a minority government, and would need a working arrangement with the Left (or the CDU). The current government is a grand coalition of the SPD and CDU; Spiegel states that this arrangement is likely to continue. Maybe, but after the last election, those two parties were almost tied in seats (23 SPD, 22 CDU). With such a big swing against the CDU and to the SPD, one wonders whether the rank-and-file of either party will want to remain in a grand coalition.

(A sidebar to the last-linked item says that there is no 5% threshold at the local level, and it appears that the NPD will be represented now in “virtually all” the state’s district councils.)

Left out in India

The world’s longest-ruling democratically elected Communist parties have been voted out of office as results of four key Indian state legislative elections were released today.

As has been widely anticipated since at least the dust-up in the central government over the Left Front’s resistance to the Indo-US nuclear agreement, the West Bengal result shows a crushing defeat in the Left’s most important stronghold. In the 2009 national Lok Sabha (parliament) elections, an alliance headed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) dominated the state. In 2009, as well as in these state elections, the TMC was in a pre-electoral alliance with the federal ruling party, the Indian National Congress (INC). TMC’s leader, Mamata Banerjee, is the federal Railways Minister in the coalition cabinet of the INC-led United Progressive Alliance.

The TMC-INC alliance has won 226 seats out of 294. The TMC itself won 184. The various parties of the Left Front, which has ruled the state for 34 years, will have only 60.

In Kerala, another long-time Left stronghold in the southwest, the result was close between the United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the INC, and the Left Democratic Front. Projections of seats kept swinging between the two fronts, but in the end the UDF emerged with 72 seats out of 140. Of these 72, the INC will have 38 and the Kerala Muslim League 20. (Several smaller pre-poll allies split the rest.) The Communist Party of India (Marxist) ((Yes, that is it’s name; the parenthetical term being needed to distinguish it from various other Communist Parties in India that perhaps are not Marxist enough, in some folks’ eyes.)) will have the most seats in the Kerala assembly of any single party, 45, but it does not matter, given that the pre-poll UDF won a majority.

Another southern state, Tamil Nadu, saw a setback for Congress, as one of the main Dravidian parties displaced the other. The AIADMK and its pre-poll allies (which include left parties as junior partners) defeated the Congress-allied DMK. The outgoing government was a DMK minority cabinet, backed by the INC.

In Assam, in the northeast, Congress scored a big reelection victory. It will have 76 of the assembly’s 126 seats. The opposition regional party, Asam Gana Parishad (AGP), and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were unable to conclude a pre-poll alliance to challenge the INC.

The run-up to the elections saw some interesting brinksmanship between the INC and its allies. The AIADMK and, especially the TMC, held out for many more districts than the INC was initially willing to concede. Because these are pre-electoral alliances to contest single-seat districts (decided by FPTP), the key to how many seats each alliance partner wins lies in how many winnable districts it gets to contest. The TMC forced the INC to back down, leaving the latter with far fewer seats than it originally demanded as a bottom line, and thereby underscoring how dependent the INC is on its state-based partners. In the dealing, however, the TMC had to trade off an attempt to expand its base of operation further into neighboring Assam. ((Like many an Indian regional party, TMC harbors aspirations of becoming a “national” party; in fact, its full name is the All-India Trinamool Congress. Similarly, the “AI” in the AIADMK name in Tamil Nadu also means “All India.”))

The Congress Party seems to be steadily rebuilding its strength in recent years, but it remains reliant on regional parties to do so in some key states. Its main rival for power nationally, the BJP, was scarcely a factor in these states (other than contributing to vote-splitting in Assam).

All eyes have already shifted to the next huge prize, Uttar Pradesh, which has state elections next year. Neither Congress nor the BJP currently has much a foothold there, and the main competition is between two state parties that have declined to join national alliances. The intrigue is already getting intense, with protests and counter-protests over state government land acquisition for development projects, ((Similar conflicts fueled the TNC-INC opposition to the Left in West Bengal)) and Rahul Gandhi’s midnight ride.

A Green dream come true

It’s official, the Green Party has “won” the Baden-Wurttemberg state assembly election today. It won 24.2%, nearly doubling its showing of 12.5% in the last election. Via DW:

“It’s a dream come true… we could never have dreamed of a result like this a few days ago,” said Franz Untersteller, a Green party spokesman.

To say the Greens “won” with less than 25% is, of course, in need of some qualification, given that this does not even make them the plurality party. That would be the Christian Democrats (CDU), on 39%. However, the Greens edged out the Social Democrats (23.1%), and the “Green-Red” combo thus has a majority. That means the Greens will have the premiership in the new coalition government.

The CDU’s partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), just held on to their place in the assembly, with 5.3%.

In neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, the FDP fell below the 5% threshold and thus will not be in the assembly. There the incumbent SPD lots its majority (36.1), but the Greens won 15.1% (up by 10.5 points), making a Red-Green coalition the most likely result there.

As noted previously, the Green surge owes much to the Fukushima effect.

Baden-Wurttemberg: A Green-led government?

The state assembly election this Sunday in Baden-Württemberg has a decent chance to result in Germany’s first state premier from the Green Party.

The state has been led by the Christian Democrats, the party of German federal Chancellor (PM) Angela Merkel, for nearly 60 years. The party has slid in polls nationally recently, down to around 33%, according to Spiegel. Among the issues contributing to the slide, in addition to a plagiarist ex-minister, is the government’s stance on nuclear power. It recently announced a temporary shutdown of seven nuclear reactors in response to the Fukushima crisis. In Baden-Württemberg, the political problem for premier Stefan Mappus and his CDU is even especially acute:

Mappus’ problems, however, go beyond his party’s sinking numbers nationwide. The Baden-Württemberg governor, after all, has long been a firm, even boisterous, supporter of nuclear energy. Last year, as Merkel’s government was preparing legislation to extend the lifespans of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors, Mappus even went so far as to hint that Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen — a CDU party ally — should resign due to his reluctance to support the extension.

The combined Green-Social Democratic vote could be larger than that of the CDU and its partner the Free Democratic party.

Current polls show that even though the CDU can still count on 38 percent support on Sunday, it may not be enough to keep Mappus in power. His current coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), stand at 6 percent in the polls. The Social Democrats and the Green Party, for their part, add up to 47 percent support — three points ahead of the CDU-FDP alliance — with recent Green gains suggesting it may be possible that the party could claim the state’s governorship.* It that happens, it would be a first for the Greens in Germany.

The Greens and Social Democrats (SPD) are close in the poll, at 25% and 22%, respectively; the Green gain is 5 points in the past week (The Local).

The Green Party’s strength is not only due to Fukushima, as it has been gaining for months due to its leading of the opposition to a controversial redevelopment project in Stuttgart, the state capital.

If the Greens pass the SPD and the SPD-Green combo is greater than the CDU-FDP combo, the Green leader could become premier. That’s two “ifs” and both races are close. This will be one to watch.

Aside from some municipalities, is there a government anywhere that has been led by a Green chief executive?

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* Contrary to Spiegel, I prefer “premiership,” as that captures the fact that the state executive emerges from and is dependent upon the assembly majority.