Archive for March, 2009

India 2009: Uttar Pradesh

The first round of voting in the world’s largest election will take place in just over two weeks. Indian politics is far too big and complex to cover on a national level, so I thought I’d start doing posts on the election in individual Indian states, starting with the  largest state of Uttar Pradesh.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s largest state, covering a large stretch of northern India. The state borders Nepal to the north, and reaches the outskirts of Delhi in the east. Uttar Pradesh is home to 190 million people. Only five countries, including India, have a larger population.

Uttar Pradesh will elect 80 members of the Lok Sabha in single-member constituencies at the upcoming election. 16 constituencies vote in the first round of voting on April 16, with roughly a fifth of constituencies voting in each of the five rounds of voting.

The political environment in Uttar Pradesh reflects the decline of the major parties in Indian politics. At the 2004 election, only 19 seats were won by the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party.

Uttar Pradesh politics is dominated by two socialist parties: the Samajwadi Party, which is now allied with the Indian National Congress, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, one of the leading parties in the Third Front of left-wing and regional parties. Both parties are almost entirely based in Uttar Pradesh, with practically no federal representation in other states.

The 2004 election saw the Samajwadi Party win 35 seats and the BSP 19. At the 2007 state election in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi minority government was defeated, with a BSP majority government elected, headed by former Chief Minister Mayawati. She led the first majority government in Uttar Pradesh in over a decade.

Since the launch of the new leftist Third Front, Mayawati has emerged as the party’s unofficial leader, and has ambitions to be the next Prime Minister, and will likely be a key powerbroker if neither major parties manages to achieve a dominant position in the election.

The other prominent figure in Uttar Pradesh to appear in the election is Varun Gandhi, the 29-year-old grandson of Indira Gandhi. While the Indian National Congress includes amongst its leaders the wife and son of the slain PM Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira, another branch of the family is aligned with the BJP.

In 1980, Indira Gandhi’s eldest son Sanjay was killed in a plane crash. After his death, his wife Maneka became involved in politics, and fell out with Indira Gandhi. Following Indira Gandhi’s death she formed a new party and ran against Rajiv Gandhi in his constituency. She served as minister in a number of non-Congress governments in the 1990s and ended up joining the BJP.

Her son Varun is running for the BJP for the first time in 2009, and his campaign has become a national issue with his own “macaca moment”, when he was recorded making derogatory comments about Muslims. The case saw the Electoral Commission recommend he be barred from standing (a recommendation the BJP has rejected) and, on Suunday, he was charged and jailed by the Uttar Pradesh state authorities under the harsh National Security Act for his alleged hate speech, with many drawing links between the charge and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s attempts to appeal to the Muslim community.

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Abolishing the Electoral College?

Via FiveThirtyEight, there’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal outlining efforts to effectively abolish the Electoral College in the US without changing the constitution.

This approach, called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, would see states pass legislation committing them to a binding agreement that they would cast all of their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. The compact won’t come into effect until states which hold a majority of electoral votes have signed on. The WSJ article continues:

The debate hits full stride now in Colorado, a state that political analysts say presents a key test for the National Popular Vote project. So far, the states most receptive to doing away with the Electoral College have all been solidly Democratic — not the swing states that have been high-profile players in presidential elections.

But Colorado last year joined a small cluster of newly minted swing states that drew a disproportionate share of candidate visits and campaign spending. It will now help answer the question of whether swing states will take the leap.

As Nate Silver points out, only 50 EVs so far have been committed to the compact, and all the states who have passed the legislation or close to passing it have been very Democratic and very safe states when it comes to presidential elections.

Nate Silver further argues that there is a high hurdle to be jumped before any electoral college reform can gather enough steam to be passed:

What would it take for there to be a real chance of abolishing (or end-arounding, as the Compact seeks to do) the Electoral College? I think it would take two elections in relatively rapid succession in which there’s a popular:electoral split, particularly if these two elections are won by candidates of opposite parties. The memories of 2000 should linger for a few more cycles, and so if there’s another such occurrence before, say, 2020 or 2024, things could get very interesting.

Apart from the issues in getting it passed, the biggest barrier to electing the US President by popular vote is the current US system of election administration. Unlike the Australian Electoral Commission, elections are conducted on a very local level in the US, and votes are never counted across state boundaries. Indeed, there is no official record of the popular vote, it is simply tallied by media organisations based on state tallies of the popular vote.

In the case of an extremely close national vote, the issues that popped up in Florida in 2000 would take place on a massively expanded scale. On the other hand, a directly-elected presidency could be just the thing the USA needs to finally bring election administration completely under federal control.

Another NSW Greens senate candidate

I’m avoiding making personal comment on the worth of particular candidates or using my internal knowledge within the NSW Greens to comment on the Senate preselection, so I’m just restricting myself to posting information easily available on the internet.

In addition to NSW Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon’s announcement that she would resign from the Legislative Council to run for the Senate, another prominent Greens member has announced she is running.

Cate Faehrmann, Executive Director of the Nature Conservation Council and former Greens staffer and candidate, has announced she will stand in the preselection. The announcement appears at the bottom of a page on her blog, where she outlines her history with the Greens for those who may only know her from her NCC role.

Nominations close in just over two weeks.

Web 2.0 psephology

*Wait a moment while I clear away the cobwebs*

Hello all and welcome back from the post-Queensland unscheduled week-long break.

I thought I’d return to the blog by throwing out some ideas I had late in the campaign for how we can cover future campaigns.

Every election campaign, William Bowe at Poll Bludger and Antony Green at ABC Elections post their election guides, with an entry for each electorate, with a list of candidates, past results, a map of the electorate (usually just the electoral commission’s basic non-interactive map) and a short analysis of the seat. And they are fantastic.

But I’ve been thinking about ways to expand on those models. The problem is that, with only one person having access, these posts tend to be largely written before the election campaign and not updated. Furthermore, election blogs tend to gather gossip and election news from many different electorates, but this information is presented largely in chronological threads.

I doubt there’s any one person who could write better electorate profiles than Antony does, but we have hundreds of people involved in the psephoblogosphere, including half a dozen regular bloggers, and my experience tells me that the collective wisdom produces a better result.

I was thinking that we could set up a wiki, as a subpage of this blog. I could then start it up before an election campaign with a page with a pendulum and links to pages for all electorates. It would then be up to you to fill in the rest, Wikipedia-style. You could use material produced by others (like Antony and William, although I wouldn’t want it just to be a ripoff of what they are doing), as well as editing and adding material as the campaign goes on, and this would allow locals to add their own inside knowledge from their seat to the Wiki.

Anyway, it’s probably going to be a while before there is another state election, with Tasmania and the Commonwealth looking unlikely to hold an early election anytime soon and elections in SA, NSW and Victoria fixed so that none of them take place for at least twelve months, so it might be a little while before we can try this idea out.

So another question I had for you all to consider is, if I set up a psephological wiki, what other sorts of things could we include on there? It doesn’t have to just be an interactive electorate guide, but I wanna hear what people think would be worthwhile.

On another note, thanks to the couple of you who gave small amounts of money towards the upkeep of the blog. Thanks to one donation I have enough to upgrade to the next plan, which should allow the wiki to function and ensure that I don’t have to worry about election-night outages like the one we saw in Queensland. I’m not gonna keep harping on about donations, since that’s I’m not doing this for money, but if people ever have any money or you think this blog is worth paying a little bit of money for, then please send me a small donation. My employment status at the moment is a bit uncertain, which makes keeping the blog going harder, so any revenue makes it easier for me to focus on the blog.

I have heard from one person that there is a problem with the paypal donation process on the right-hand side of the blog. I haven’t had a chance to work out if this is a problem yet, so if you try and donate and it doesn’t work, let me know and we can either work out another way or I can let you know when it’s fixed.

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Bullshit

The Brisbane Times:

The Queensland Greens’ sole MP, Ronan Lee, isn’t unduly fazed that the party’s best ever result in Saturday’s election didn’t translate into extra seats.

The statewide result will almost certainly ensure that Queenslanders elect a senator from the Greens at the next federal election, he says.

Mr Lee, who defected from Labor last year over their environmental record, says he’s not prepared to concede his seat of Indooroopilly to the Liberal National Party’s (LNP) Scott Emerson.

Mr Lee said it would be two weeks before a winner would be declared in Indooroopilly, adding that it was arrogant of the LNP to claim it.

Bullshit.

I repeat – the Greens WENT BACKWARDS on Saturday. The only reason the overall primary vote held up and didn’t plummet was that the Greens stood in an extra fourteen seats. The Greens went backwards in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Ipswich (although, really, those areas never matter in a Queensland election).

Even if you ignore that, the point remains that the Greens only polled 8.2%. That on its own isn’t bad for the Queensland Greens, and the party managed to avoid its vote collapsing. But Greens supporters should be spoken to honestly. Unless the Greens can win 13-14% in primary votes at the 2010 election in Queensland, the election of a Senator will all be about the ALP and Coalition votes, as well as preferences.

It turns out that the chances of a Green being elected in Queensland (and in NSW and Victoria) have increased because of the swing from the Liberals to the ALP, which should give the party a surplus and give the Greens a chance to take the third Coalition seat in all three large states. But to say the Greens will “almost certainly” win a seat in Queensland is dishonest in the extreme.

Another thing, is why the hell hasn’t Lee conceded in Indooroopilly? Everyone knows the LNP has won the seat, the ABC has called the seat, and Greens scrutineers tell us that there are large numbers of ALP voters going out of their way to put Ronan Lee last. The Greens lost. The ALP and LNP candidates who lost tough races on Saturday had the humility and respect for democracy to concede when the race was over. So should Ronan Lee.

Antony Green!

In celebration of the end of an election campaign, sing along to one of my favourite songs from Keating! the Musical, “Antony Green”:

More information on Indro bogus flyer

Today’s Australian carries an article reporting on fake how-to-vote cards handed out by a “Kristy Burchert”  in Indooroopilly calling Greens MP Ronan Lee a “turncoat” and asking voters to “Just Vote 1″. I reported on the flier yesterday morning while voting was going on, and I’ve now got my hands on some details which add credibility to the argument that the flier was distributed as part of the Liberal campaign.

I’ve uploaded a PDF version of the flyer. Below I have included photos demonstrating links between the flyer and the Liberal National Party.

Photo of "Phil" handing out the bogus how-to-votes while talking to a News Limited journalist

Photo of "Phil" handing out the bogus how-to-votes while talking to a News Limited journalist

"Phil" talking to Senator George Brandis (left, in the LNP hat)

"Phil" talking to Senator George Brandis (left, in the LNP hat)

Make of this what you will.

Queensland ’09: winners and losers

WINNERS

As the results shake out, the biggest winner, of course is Anna Bligh and the ALP. In spite of the party ruling for 18 of the last 20 years, and the last eleven consecutively, the party has emerged relatively unscathed from what appeared to be a close campaign. The party’s campaign in the final days successfully discredited Lawrence Springborg as alternative Premier and scared people out of a large protest vote. The party remains twenty seats ahead of the opposition, and could end up only losing two seats, compared to Beattie’s last election in 2006.

The biggest winner on the opposition benches is the right wing of the (former) Liberal Party. The Liberal/National merger was spun by some as a takeover of the Liberal Party by the Nationals, and that isn’t wrong. But it has also been an opportunity for a shift in the balance of power within the LNP. The 2006 election saw the Nationals with 16 seats, double the Liberal contingent. A similar division existed between seats outside South-East Queensland and those in the metropolitan area. Yet former Liberals now hold 12 of the 30 seats won by the LNP, with 17 former Nationals and one seat impossible to classify as either. The merger,  combined with this shift in the internal balance of power, opens up the prospect of a Liberal from the right-wing of the former party becoming Leader of the Opposition. Even if such a leader (like Tim Nicholls) is no more progressive than a traditional National Party leader, his urban roots and image could be enough to put the party over the line in 2012, and solidify the urban Liberals’ control of the conservative side of politics, just as they dominate in every other state and in the federal Parliament. The LNP, without Lawrence Springborg, could be the key to ending the paradox that has helped keep Labor in power for 20 years: the conservatives can’t win the seats they need to take power without shedding their country image in Brisbane.

Another winner, you’d have to say, is the people of Queensland. In the end, it’s a good thing to have heavily contested elections, and this was the first time in a long time that the ALP has had its supremacy challenged, which can only be a good thing, as well as the fact that a stronger opposition makes for a better political environment. The LNP also promised a gross feed-in tariff, which forced the ALP to agree to that, which will be a significant advance in encouraging private innovation to deal with climate change.

LOSERS

Lawrence Springborg – In spite of managing to unite the Liberals and Nationals as a single party, and put the ALP on the run, in the end Springborg proved too much for the Queensland public to digest. The ALP won the campaign in the last days by directly campaigning against Springborg, both by reminding the public that he would be the LNP’s Premier, and using the photo of Springborg scratching his head, which screamed “country bumpkin”. In the end the public wasn’t willing to accept Springborg as Premier, even once he’d successfully shifted the image of the LNP to be acceptable to the public.

The final loser of the election campaign was Ronan Lee and the Greens. The Greens only gained a swing of 0.2%, despite the election demonstrated great levels of apathy and disappointment amongst supporters of both the ALP and LNP. The result has been spoken of as a success, but these stories neglect the fact that the Greens have never before run in all 89 seats. In 2006 the party only ran in 75, and you would find, once more comprehensive analysis is done, that the Greens vote in the seats contested in both elections would likely have gone backwards. This can be seen in William Bowe’s post at Pineapple Party Time, which demonstrates that, in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the Greens vote clearly went backwards. It’s natural for a party to look for a positive spin on a result after working hard, but if I were a Queensland Green I would be disappointed both with the campaign’s strategy and result.

When you consider that the Greens have managed major swings in recent elections in Western Australia and the ACT, the Mayo by-election and council elections in New South Wales and Victoria, you would have to question what went wrong with the Greens’ strategy.

The Greens focused most of their energy, and expectations, on the seat of Indooroopilly in the person of Ronan Lee. I’m not commenting on the wisdom of Lee’s defection for either Lee or the Queensland Greens, but you would have to say that, looking at the numbers in Indooroopilly, the decision to focus resources on Indooroopilly was a major strategic blunder.

Despite the benefits of  incumbency and most of the party’s energy being focused on his seat, Lee managed a dismal 26%, while Larissa Waters managed almost 24% with much less profile and support in neighbouring Mount Coot-tha. You would have to think that the chances of winning Lee’s seat were always miniscule. All of the energy drawn into Indooroopilly to limit the swing against Lee to a large 14% has seen the party suffer swings against it in most seats in Brisbane.

The party isn’t a complete loser though. As far as I could see, the statewide campaign was the most professional run by the party in Queensland, and the party’s effort in running a candidate in every seat has to be commended. The party should be in a strong position in 2012 to challenge an even-more-tired Labor government in seats like Mount Coot-tha.

Yet another outage

So yet again I underestimated traffic, which resulted in the blog again going down overnight. I’ve had to upgrade to a higher hosting plan. I thought I’d open up the option that, if anyone thinks it’s worth donating, I’d appreciate any donations to help offset the cost of upgrading my hosting plan. There’s a “donate” button now on the right-hand side.

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Interim results

So it’s pretty obvious the ALP has won a fairly solid victory. The LNP has gained seven seats: three in Brisbane (including one from the Greens), two in the Gold Coast, one in Central Queensland and one near Cairns.

There are a further four seats that are too close to call, three in southern Brisbane: Chatsworth, Cleveland and Redlands, and Gaven in the Gold Coast.

So here are the electoral maps. Seats won by the LNP off the ALP or Greens are light blue, while the four undecided seats are coloured white.

brisbane1

Greater Brisbane area

Cairns-Townsville area

Cairns-Townsville area

Gold Coast region

Gold Coast region

Central Queensland (including Hervey Bay)

Central Queensland (including Hervey Bay)