2009 election preview Archive

Elections in Spain

Tomorrow will see the first major elections in Europe since the onset of the global economic crisis. Up to four million voters in Spain will head to the polls to elect governments in the Basque and Galicia regions.

Spanish politics is fairly diverse, particularly at the regional level, where conservatives, social democrats, communists, and separatists all achieve representation. This election will be complicated by the economic crisis (Spain fell into recession last year), infighting within the main conservative Popular Party, corruption allegations and terrorist attacks by Basque separatists.

Since the restoration of democracy in Basque, in 1980, the Lehendakaris (President elected from parliament) has always come from the relatively moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). The more radical left-wing nationalist parties include the Communist Party, Basque Nationalist Action, Democracia 3 Millone and Askatasuna, all of who have been banned by the Supreme Court due to their connections to the terrorist organisation ETA.

The PNV looks like it will lose its grip on power in Basque with voters flocking to the non-separatist Socialist Party, the regional party allied with Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party who is in government federally. The recession is playing against both the centrist PNV and the Popular Party as it appears the voters trust the centre-left Socialist Party to manage the economy. Another factor in the rising support for the Socialists is their attempt at negotiating with ETA, a critical issue in a campaign that has recently been marred by bombings.

The Basque Parliament consists of 75 members elected using the D’Hondt method of proportional representation which, with a threshold of 3%, favours larger parties. The Socialists are running neck and neck with the PNV in opinion polls but it looks unlikely either party will win an outright majority. The PNV will be hampered by the banning of other separatist parties who have in the past supporting them over anti-independence parties. Polls show that most voters would support a coalition between the Socialists and the PNV but this appears unlikely given the party’s opposing policies regarding Basque autonomy. The most likely outcome is a coalition between the Socialists and the Popular Party which could provide a majority of 40 seats, according to the latest opinion polls. This would be a remarkable result as both parties are historical foes and it would be the first time in thirty years a party firmly against Basque independence would be in power.

Galicia is the other region to go to the polls tomorrow. It looks like a relatively straightforward affair, especially compared to the mess that is Basque politics. The major issues have been the economy and corruption scandals involving the Socialists and the Popular Party. The Socialists, in a coalition with the Galician National Bloc, currently have a very slim majority of 38 seats against the Popular Party’s 37. The Popular Party is hoping that the economic crisis and rising unemployment will create a backlash against the government but recent opinion polls indicate the Socialists will increase their majority by at least one seat. A Socialist victory would reflect voter trust in the government to ride out the economic problems and jeopardise the national leadership of the Popular Party who have historically governed Galicia.

Update: With almost all the votes counted in Galicia, the Popular Party have secured a majority of 39 seats – wresting control back from the Socialist and Galician National Bloc coalition who won 24 seats and 12 seats respectively.

In Basque the Socialists made expected gains, picking up 6 news seats giving them 24 overall against the PNV’s 30. The other nationalist parties won 7 seats collectively. This means that the potential nationalist coalition will be one seat short of a majority. The Popular Party won 13 seats and a new, non-separatist party, the Progress and Democracy Union  (UPD) won 1 seat. This could see a potential non-nationalist Socialist-PP-UPD coalition for the first time in Basque history. Negotiations are expecting to begin soon and given the nature of the parties involved (social democrats, conservatives and liberals) they could be a very bumpy ride.

Interesting trivia for today – After the leftist Basque parties were banned, their supporters were told to cast a vote for  Demokrazia Hiru Milioi (D3M) even though the ballot would be void. More than a 100,000 voters did so and if you treat their votes as real votes, they would have potentially picked up 7 seats – giving the nationalist coalition a majority.

2009 election preview: British Columbia

The Canadian province of British Columbia will go to the polls on May 12, 2009, to elect 85 members of the Legislative Assembly, and vote on a referendum to change the electoral system used in future provincial elections.

British Columbian politics is particularly unusual in Canada. The two major parties are the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, but they fill very different roles in the provincial political environment. The Liberal Party is the centre-right party, and has no affiliation to the federal party. Many BC Liberals are aligned with the Conservative Party of Canada. The NDP fills a more centrist role than in federal politics.

The Liberals, under Premier Gordon Campbell, have governed BC since the 2001 election, when the ruling NDP lost all but two of their seats, with the Liberals winning 77 of 79 seats. This was the culmination of half a century of volatile provincial politics.

BC’s peculiar political system dates back to the 1940s, when the major Liberal and Conservative parties formed a coalition to prevent the left-wing Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor to the NDP, from gaining power. The 1952 election saw the coalition split and saw the fringe Social Credit League form a minority government. The CCF was in opposition with the Liberals and the Conservatives reduced to the crossbenches. Social Credit was founded to pursue the policies of social credit parties, who remained a fringe movement in most of the English-speaking world.

The party quickly broadened into a centre-right conservative party, with the CCF, then the NDP, becoming the main centre-left party, and the Liberals and Conservatives almost entirely disappearing from BC politics. This state of affairs continuing for the next thirty-nine years, with the exception of three years of NDP government in the 1970s. In 1991, the Social Credit party was decimated, not only losing the election to the NDP, but being pushed into third place behind the resurgent Liberals. The Socreds disappeared at the 1996 election, and the Liberals defeated the NDP in the 2001 election. 2005 saw a resurgent NDP gain ground but fail to unseat Campbell. The province has one of the strongest provincial Green parties, with the Greens peaking at 12% at the 2001 election, although they went back slightly in 2005.

The huge margin of victory in 2001 was followed by the Liberals carrying out a promise to create a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The body was made up of randomly selected citizens selected from all provincial ridings. After a period of examination of the various options available, the Assembly approved a variant of the Single Transferable Vote system used in Ireland and Tasmania (known in Australia as Hare-Clark). The proposal was taken to the 2005 provincial election as a referendum, and managed to gain 57% support, as well as majority support in all but two ridings. However the legislation required the referendum to win 60% support, and thus it was defeated. Gordon Campbell’s government has pushed ahead with their plans to introduce BC-STV, and will introduce another referendum alongside the election in 2009, again with a 60% threshold imposed.

British Columbia will also be voting using new electoral boundaries in 2009, and as part of the boundary review process the Commission proposed a set of boundaries to be used in an STV election. These boundaries combine single-member ridings together. For example, five ridings in eastern Vancouver will be combined to make Vancouver East riding, which will elect 5 MLAs as a group. I have converted these files to Google Earth and uploaded them to my maps page. However, I haven’t been able to find any calculations of the notional margins on new boundaries. I would appreciate it if anyone has information on that front.

The prospect of British Columbia adopting the Hare-Clark system is exciting for anyone interested in electoral reform. A successful implementation of BC-STV would not only influence fellow Canadian provinces, and the Canadian federal system, which also suffer from similar problems, it could also see an impact on the neighbouring US west coast, where relatively progressive regimes in California, Oregon and Washington have been the most eager to experiment with new electoral systems. The province of Ontario has already adopted BC’s Citizens’ Assembly model, with an Assembly proposing an MMP system similar to New Zealand, which was soundly defeated at a referendum in 2007. While this failed, victory in BC in 2009 would be a big step towards the end of First Past the Post elections.

Ecuador goes to the polls

After my series of election previews, I’m not gonna add another one to the pile (although my British Columbia post should come out tomorrow). But at Not a Hedgehog, you can read the second post in a series examining the upcoming election in Ecuador in April. Enjoy.

2009 election preview: Indonesia

Indonesia will go to the polls during 2009 for their second direct presidential election and to elect the new Indonesian Parliament. The legislative election will take place on April 9, with the first round of the presidential election in July. In the likely case that no candidate wins a majority, a presidential runoff will be held in September 2009.

Indonesia directly elected its president for the first time in 2004. The system involves a direct vote of all Indonesian citizens, followed by a runoff. The legislature includes a 560-member People’s Representative Council and a 128-member Regional Representative Council, both of which are elected on a provincial basis using proportional representation.

The election in 2004 saw a divided result in the Parliament, with the largest faction, Golkar, winning less than one quarter of the lower house. The sitting President Megawati Sukarnoputri saw her party, Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle, come second, followed by a number of other parties, including the Democratic Party, which came fourth with 57 seats.

The presidential election was contested by five candidates. Former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (or SBY) came first with 33.58%, leading over the sitting President with 26.24% and General Wiranto of Golkar with 22.18%. The runoff saw SBY defeat Megawati, with 60.9% of the vote. Between 106-113 million voters voted in the three election rounds.

Thirty-eight parties are contesting the legislative election, from a wide variety of positions, making it hard to predict results. At least thirteen candidates are running for President, including sitting President Yudhoyono, and his two predecessors Megawati and Abdurrahman Wahid. General Wiranto, who came third in 2004, is also considering running.

There has not been a great deal of opinion polling done in Indonesia, although a January 2009 poll put SBY well in front on 43%, with Megawati trailing on 19% and all other candidates on 5% or less. This makes Yudhoyono the clear front-runner to win a second term as President in July and September.

2009 election preview: Japan

Japan will go to the polls for a national election in 2009, at any point up to September. The election will be contested by LDP Prime Minister Taro Aso and Democratic Party leader Ichirō Ozawa.

Japanese politics has been dominated by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party for most of its post-war history. The LDP was formed by a merger of right-wing parties in 1955, including the governing Democratic Party. The LDP has remained in power for all but one of the intervening 54 years. The LDP ruled unhindered from 1955 until 1993, when they lost their majority to a coalition of smaller parties led by the Social Democratic Party, but the LDP returned to power at the 1996 election, and have led Japan ever sine.

Japanese politics has seen remarkable stability in terms of political party rule, but not so stable in terms of personalities, and most significant changes in Japanese politics have taken place through change of leadership in the LDP, rather than a change of government. The 1955-1993 LDP government was led by 15 prime ministers, and seven Prime Ministers have led the sitting LDP government over the last thirteen years.

The Japanese Diet is elected by a mix of single-member electorates and proportional representation. The lower house, the House of Representatives, has 480 seats. 300 members are elected to represent single-member constituencies. The other 180 represent 11 large multi-member constituencies, elected by proportional representation. Unlike Germany or New Zealand, however, the PR list seats are not fillled as “top-up” seats. The two sections are elected independently.

The upper house, the House of Councillors, is filled at elections every three years, with half of the House up for election at each election. Because of the varied terms, elections for the upper house and lower house take place at different times. Approximately two thirds of the upper house are elected to represent Japan’s prefectural districts, with the rest filled by national party lists by proportional representation.

Recent politics in Japan has been dominated by the figure of Junichirō Koizumi, who was Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006, an almost-unprecedented term in office. Most LDP Prime Ministers served for 1-2 years, with three PMs, including Koizumi, serving a 4-5 year term. Koizumi retired in 2006, following a successful 2005 election, when the LDP gained substantial ground on the Democratic Party, a party formed in 1998 from a number of pre-existing anti-LDP party which quickly became the dominant opposition party. Koizumi was succeeded by Shinzō Abe in September 2006. Abe’s popularity didn’t last long, with it particularly suffering following the May 2007 suicide of Toshikatsu Matsuoka, his agricultural minister, who was in the middle of a financial scandal. The July 2007 upper house election saw the Democratic Party build on its victory at the 2004 election to win a solid victory, and with its allies gained control of the upper house. In September 2007, less than a year after he took office, Abe resigned, citing his unpopularity as hindering the passage of legislation through the upper house.

Abe was succeeded by Yasuo Fukuda, who again lasted just short of a year, resigning in September 2008, again citing his inability to pass legislation. He has been succeeded by Taro Aso. Aso was Foreign Minister for two years under Koizumi and Abe. He will be facing off against Ichirō Ozawa, leading the Democratic Party. Ozawa himself was an LDP minister in the late 1980s and 1990s.

In the last few days, as Japanese politics enters 2009, it appears that Aso is in a poor position to win the next election, with his government suffering from an approval rating of 19%. It appears that Japan is on track for a rare change of government in 2009.

2009 election preview: South Africa

The Republic of South Africa will go to the polls for its fourth national election since the end of Apartheid, with the election expected between April and June 2009. The election will see the African National Congress attempt to win a fourth term in office, the first under a new leader since the deposition of Thabo Mbeki as leader in 2007.

South Africa elects its 400-member National Assembly through a proportional party list system. 200 seats are filled on national lists, while another 200 are filled from provincial lists. Despite the fact that the President is the head of the executive government, South Africa resembles a parliamentary democracy, as the President is elected following each parliamentary election by the National Assembly and is reliant on support in the NA to remain in office, making him more like a Prime Minister. The constitution limits Presidents to two full terms in office, which in practice is about ten years.

Since the first multi-racial election in 1994, South African politics has been dominated by the African National Congress. The party has decisively won all three elections, winning 62% in 1994, 66% in 1999 and almost 70% at the 2004 election. The party was led into the 1994 election by Nelson Mandela. Mandela retired in 1999, and was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki, who remained in office until September 2008.

Because of the ANC’s complete dominance, much of South Africa’s politics that would be fought out between political parties in most countries takes place within the internal structures of the ANC. This has resulted in the ANC being a broad party with widely diverging ideologies between different sections of the party. This came to the fore at the National Conference in December 2007, when former Deputy President Jacob Zuma challenged Mbeki for the ANC’s Presidency, which is generally considered a precursor to becoming President of South Africa. Mbeki was defeated by Zuma. Zuma had been dismissed as Deputy President in 2005 over corruption charges and had a generally poisonous relationship with Mbeki. His supporters are considered to be the left wing of the party, including the South African Communist Party and much of the trade union movement, while Mbeki was considered to support more neoliberal economic policies and be supported by the right wing of the party.

In September 2008, corruption charges against Zuma were dismissed, and allegations were made of political interference in the trial by Mbeki and his supporters. In response, the ANC National Executive Committee, dominated by Zuma supporters, called on Mbeki to resign, which he did on 25 September. The South African constitution requires that a caretaker president be either a deputy president or a sitting MP. As Zuma was neither, Zuma supporter Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma’s Deputy President of the ANC, was chosen by the National Assembly. Zuma will be the party’s presidential candidate at the upcoming elections.

While the ANC dominates South African politics, there are other parties who will contest the elections. While fifteen parties have representation in the Assembly, only three, including the ANC, have more than a handful of MPs. The Opposition is led by the Democratic Alliance, led by Helen Zille. The DA is the successor-party to the Progressive Party, which was the only white party in Parliament to oppose Apartheid for much of the 20th century. The party holds 47 seats.

The third-largest party is the Inkatha Freedom Party, or IFP. The IFP was originally an anti-apartheid rival to the ANC, and was once close to the size of the ANC. However, the party has done worse at each national election, polling 7% in 2004.

The only other significant challenger is a new party, Congress of the People, formed by right wing elements of the ANC who left after Zuma’s defeat of Mbeki. The party is led by Mosiuoa Lekota, Mbeki’s Minister of Defence, and is pursuing a neoliberal policy approach and is critical of Marxist elements within the ANC. It is hard to gauge their support levels, due to the lack of opinion polls and South Africa’s floor-crossing legislation, which only allows party changes for a few days every two years, and only if 10% of a party caucus agrees, making it impossible for ANC MPs to defect to the new party prior to the election. While it remains unclear if the new party will be successful in threatening the ANC’s domination, it appears to be the most likely path for South Africa to take to become a genuine multiparty democracy.

Breaking news: It appears that Zuma’s corruption trial may be back on, with charges possibly being reinstated today. Zuma has also released his party’s platform for the 2009 election, including a shift to the left on economic policies.

2009 election preview: Germany

Germany goes to the polls on September 27 for a federal election to elect a new Bundestag. Germany has been governed by a grand coalition of the two major parties in German politics. Angela Merkel has served as Chancellor as leader of the Christian Democratic Union and its sister party the Bavarian Christian Social Union, and has served in coalition with the Social Democratic Party.

The grand coalition came to office after an early election in 2005 which saw the end of seven years of coalition between the SPD and the Greens, led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The 2005 election saw strong support for the new Left Party, campaigning against the SPD-Green government from the left. No major party could form a coalition without the Left Party, thus forcing the major parties to govern together.

There are six political parties in German federal politics. The major right-of-centre party is technically two parties: the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union. The CSU only runs in Bavaria, where the CDU does not run, so the two parties are not in competition. The CDU/CSU is led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) is the largest left-of-centre party, and is led by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

There are also three significant minor parties, with similar levels of support and numbers of deputies in the Bundestag. The Free Democratic Party is a centre-right neoliberal party, which has existed since shortly after the Second World War and has served in federal coalition governments for 41 of the first 50 years of the post-war Federal Republic. The FDP has generally leaned towards the CDU/CSU, although they supported an SPD government from 1969 to 1982.

Germany is also home to the original Green Party, whose name was then adopted by many other Green parties around the world. The party has been in many coalition governments on state levels, mainly with the SPD but occasionally with the CDU, and was in federal government from 1998 to 2005.

The other minor party is the Left Party. The party was formed in 2007 by a merger of two parties who had campaigned together for the first time at the 2005 election. The party consists of the former PDS and WASG. PDS, or Party of Democratic Socialism, was the successor-party to the former East German governing party, and polls strongly in the East without any luck in the West. WASG split off from the SPD in 2005 out of disenchantment with the Schröder government. The Left Party is led by Oskar Lafontaine, a former SPD finance minister and Chancellor candidate.

Germany has used the mixed-member proportional since it was adopted by West Germany at the end of the Second World War. 299 deputies are elected to the Bundestag representing single-member constituencies. Approximately 300 more deputies are elected on state lists to “top up”. For those familiar with the similar system used in New Zealand, the key difference is that list MPs represent an individual state, rather than the entire country. Parties must win at least 3 constituencies or poll 5% across the country to receive list seats.

Recent opinion polls suggest that the CDU/CSU is well in front of the SPD, polling around 36-37%, up slightly from their 2005 result. In contrast, the SPD has fallen sharply, polling around 23-26%, down from 34% at the last election. Clearly the SPD is suffering from being a junior partner in the current government. The lack of an opposition major party has also aided all three minor parties, all of whom are polling consistently in the low teens, up from the 8-9% range they each polled in 2005.

With nine months before the next election, it appears that the most likely outcome will be a CDU/CSU/FDP coalition, with an outside chance of an unstable SPD/Green/Left government.

2009 election preview: European Parliament

As well as the world’s largest electorate in India, the world’s second largest electorate goes to the polls in June, when all 27 European Union member states will elect over 700 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in the seventh European Parliament election. Elections have been held for the European Parliament every five years since 1979, which was the world’s first election to cross national boundaries. The European Parliament remains the world’s only directly elected supernational body.

With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria two years ago, the EU has over 515 million citizens. As of the 2004 election, 342 million voters were eligible to vote, with a further 26 million in Romania and Bulgaria eligible to vote at national elections in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

The 2004 election saw 154.3 million voters go to the polls. In comparison, 131.2 million votes were cast in the recent US presidential election. Overall, turnout levels across the EU were at 45.6%, although these levels varied wildly amongst the member states. 7 states saw a majority of voters come to the polls, while 18 had turnout levels below 50%, varying from 16% turnout in Slovakia to 90% in Belgium and Luxembourg.

Voting will take place over four days, 4-7 June 2009, in accordance with each member state’s traditional election day. It is also common for member states to hold local or regional elections simultaneously. All English county councils will go to election on 4 June 2009.

All MEPs are elected using varied forms of proportional representation, according to rules set by national legislatures. 21 member states elect their entire delegation as a single electorate. Belgium divides their MEPs proportionally between the Dutch-speaking, French-speaking and German-speaking populations. France, the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Italy divide their MEPs amongst a handful of regional electorates. For example, England is divided into nine regional electorates, while MEPs are also elected to represent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Poland elects its MEPs to represent thirteen electorates.

The European Parliament is fascinating due to the transnational nature of the Parliament and its elections, not found anywhere else in global politics. However, the fact remains that the European Parliament remains very weak for a Parliament, and doesn’t fill the role of federal parliaments in federations like Australia or the US, with most power remaining in the hands of national governments.

Even within the EU’s transnational political system, the European Parliament is effectively the lower house, and the weaker house, in a bicameral legislature, with the Council (made up of a representative of each member state’s government) effectively the upper house. After years of evolution in the Parliament’s role, most legislation must now pass through the Parliament, which also is gaining greater influence over the executive branch of the EU (the European Commission), although the Commission remains largely decided by the Council. The Parliament has more power in practice than in theory, due to its unique democratic legitimacy.

The Treaty of Lisbon would also expand the role of the Parliament, as well as changing the number of seats allocated to each member state. If the Treaty is adopted prior to the 2009 election, there will be 751 seats, whereas 736 MEPs will be elected if Lisbon is not ratified. 25 of 27 EU states have ratified the Treaty of Lisbon, but the defeat of the Treaty at a referendum in Ireland makes it likely that the treaty will not be ratified in the next five months.

The European Parliament electoral process has resulted in a new party system, built on top of the existing party systems in each member state. Most MEPs are members of a national political party, and these parties group together with other parties of similar ideologies to form groups in the European Parliament, which are gradually coalescing into Europe-wide parties. The current Parliament includes MEPs in ten parties, which organise as seven groups. There are also 32 Non-Inscrits, those who do not belong to any group. These parties are:

  • European People’s Party-European Democrats (Blue) – The largest group, with 288 MEPs, the EPP-ED fills the role of the centre-right major party. The EPP is the larger group, and includes Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, Angela Merkel’s CDU and CSU, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Irish opposition party Fine Gael. The European Democrats were once a large separate group, but now are largely dominated by the British Conservative Party, which stands out from its French and German counterparts by its more Eurosceptic position.
  • Party of European Socialists (Red) – The PES is the centre-left major party, and includes most centre-left major parties in Europe, such as Labour in the UK and Ireland, France’s Socialist Party and Germany’s Social Democratic Party. The PES has 215 MEPs.
  • Alliance and Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Yellow) – This alliance is made up of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, made up of centrist liberal parties, including the UK Liberal Democrats, and the European Democratic Party, a centrist pro-European party, led by Francois Bayrou, of the French UDF. The ALDE has 101 MEPs.
  • Union for Europe of the Nations (Light Blue) – The UEN is made up of largely conservative parties in a handful of European countries. It is dominated by right-wing Italian parties and a number of conservative Polish parties. It also includes the Irish governing party Fianna Fail, which is considered out of step with most of the UEN parties. The largest UEN parties in the European Parliament is the Italian post-fascist National Alliance and the Polish Law and Justice party, led by the Kaczyński twins.
  • European Greens-European Free Alliance (Green) – The European Greens include 33 MEPs from 13 Green parties in eleven countries, and includes Green parties in almost every EU member state. The European Greens were the first party to move away from a loose alliance to a Pan-European party running on a continent-wide platform. The EFA is made up of those regionalist parties on the left-wing side of the spectrum. Including the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Basque Eusko Alkartasuna. The EFA only holds six seats, three of those in the UK, but includes many parties without European Parliament representation. The EG-EFA holds 42 seats.
  • European United Left-Nordic Green Left (Dark Red) – The EUL-NGL consists of the Party of the European Left, largely far-left and communist parties in mainland Europe, and the Nordic Green Left, which is made up of similar parties in Scandinavia. The EUL-NGL has 41 MEPs.
  • Independence/Democracy (Orange) – ID is made up of Eurosceptic parties, formed shortly after a strong performance at the 2004 election. It includes the UK Independence Party amongst others. It only holds 24 seats, after large parties in Poland and Italy left during the last Parliamentary term.

The last election in 2004 produced yet another indecisive result. In practice, the European Parliament is led by a grand coalition of the EPP and PES, and no election has produced a solid victory for either side.

2009 election preview: Israel

The first big election of 2009 will take place on 10 February when Israelis go to the polls to elect a new Knesset. The election was triggered in late 2008 following the resignation of Ehud Olmert as leader of the governing Kadima party. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected Kadima leader but failed to get the agreement of all coalition parties, which has resulted in an election being called a year early.

Israeli politics is one of the most fragmented and confusing political systems in the West. This is derived both from the ultra-proportional electoral system and the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on domestic politics. Israelis vote for a 120-member Knesset on a pure party list system. No MKs represent local electoral districts, rather all are elected to represent the entire country. Parties must receive at least 2% of the vote to gain representation in Parliament.

This system is primarily responsible for the large number of parties. Twelve parties won representation at the 2006 election, with five of them winning at least 10 seats. Israeli politics is also dominated by issues of security and the approach to the peace process. The left-right spectrum more reflects attitudes towards relationships with Palestinians, with parties like Meretz on the left-wing end of the spectrum more amenable to working with the Palestinians, and parties on the far right being the most opposed to cooperation.

Israeli politics for most of the last 35 years was dominated by Labor, the main centre-left party, and Likud, the dominant conservative party. Yet neither party has held a majority government, except for a short period in the late 1960s. Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left Likud in late 2005, joining with fellow defectors from both Likud and Labor to form the centrist Kadima party, due to divisions in Likud regarding Sharon’s disengagement plans. Sharon suffered a devastating stroke in early January 2006, and has remained in a coma ever since. His deputy Ehud Olmert led Kadima into the election, which he won.

In addition to the three major parties, there are also a number of right-wing religious parties, including Shas and United Torah Judaism, who both represent different Ultra-Orthodox communities, and National Union-National Religious Party, a generally nationalist and zionist right-wing party.

There is also Meretz, a social democratic party. The neoliberal party Shinui has also previously had representation in the Knesset, a split before the 2006 election saw the creation of the Hetz party, and both were knocked out of the Knesset. Some polls have also suggested that the Greens may finally break through the 2% threshold after polling 1.5% in 2006.

Yisrael Beiteinu, a party representing Russian immigrants, and Gil, a party standing for pensioner rights, also have representation. There are also three Arab parties representing Israeli Arabs. Due to their anti-zionist policies, the option of including Arab parties in coalition governments is a non-starter, making it even harder to form a 61-seat majority.

As of the 2006 election, the numbers were:

  • Kadima – 29
  • Labor – 19
  • Likud – 12
  • Shas – 12
  • Yisrael Beiteinu – 11
  • National Union-National Religious Party – 9
  • Gil – 7
  • United Torah Judaism – 6
  • Meretz – 5
  • United Arab List – 4 (Arab)
  • Hadash – 3 (Arab)
  • Balad – 3 (Arab)

After the 2006 election, a coalition was formed with Kadima, Labor, Shas and Gil, for 67 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu has also participated in the government.

Despite the poor performance of Likud in 2006, the party has recovered under the leadership of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Polls since October have put Likud ahead of Kadima, while Labor lingers far behind. Kadima will be led into the election by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, while Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who was Prime Minister from 1999-2001, will lead Labor.

According to the latest Dialog poll of December 31, Kadima would lose two seats, Labor three, and Likud would gain twenty. If you group the smaller parties, you come up with:

  • Likud – 32
  • Kadima – 27
  • Labor – 16
  • Yisrael Beiteinu – 11
  • Arab parties – 10
  • Meretz – 7
  • Right-wing religious parties – 17

If you assumed the right-wing religious parties went with Likud, while Meretz and Labor went with Kadima (not necessarily the case), you would have Likud 49, Kadima 50, with Yisrael Beiteinu in the balance of power. This clearly indicates that the race could go either way at the moment between Netanyahu and Livni, although the numbers would suggest that Kadima is slightly stronger, as you would think that, with 10 Arab MKs, and 50 if Labor and Meretz go with Kadima, it is extremely difficult for Likud to gain a majority.

The biggest factor in this campaign has clearly been the conflict in Gaza, and how that plays out over the next month could very much influence the campaign. In particular, it appears that Livni and Barak, as the key figures in the government during the campaign, are hoping to gain support amongst right-wing Israelis and dent Netanyahu’s support. How Gaza plays out over the next month will likely determine the next Israeli Prime Minister. In particular, the campaign appears to have greatly assisted the Labor Party’s campaign, with an increase in campaign workers volunteering for the party.

2009 election preview: India

At the recent US election, over 131 million people cast votes in the presidential contest. Yet Indian elections take place on a much larger scale.  The last federal election, in 2004, saw 389 million votes cast for 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Indian lower house.

The world’s largest democracy goes back to the polls by May 2009. The last election in 2004 saw the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and his allies in the National Democratic Alliance, defeated by the United Progressive Alliance, dominated by the Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi.

Following the election Gandhi declined to become Prime Minister, with the Prime Ministership going to former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Indian party system is simultaneously fractured and coalesced into two major party alliances. The 2004 election saw 39 parties win seats in Parliament. Yet the election was a clear contest between the UPA and the NDA, which between them covered 21 of those 39 parties, and the result was a clear majority for the United Progressive Alliance. The two alliances are dominated by the Indian National Congress, a centrist party dominated by the Gandhi family, and the Hindu/nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party respectively. In addition, 60 seats are held by a variety of communist and socialist parties who have lined up as a third alliance. Many regional-based parties run independently of the alliances and collectively hold over a quarter of the Lok Sabha’s seats.

Elections take place over a number of stages. In 2004, four election days were held between April 20 and May 10, with constituencies being allocated to different election dates. Counting did not commence until the final votes had been cast, with ballot boxes being opened on May 13.

The Indian general election isn’t the typical sort of election I would cover. However, it is a Commonwealth country using a similar first-past-the-post electoral system. Add that to the fact that it is the world’s largest electoral contest, and it is a fascinating demonstration of Westminster politics outside its Western habitat. Clearly I’m no expert on Indian politics, so if anyone is an expert, please comment below.