A nimiety of elections

November 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

I don’t know what the collective noun for elections is so I’ve made one up. I like the way it sounds like enmity and means “way too much” in Latin. Anyway we have five fascinating elections in the next five days.

On the seventh we have Burma and Azerbaijan

Burma has been written about at length elsewhere – here’s Chatham House on the subject – and I’ve written about it myself here. There’s not much to add to what I said there: on the one hand the elections will be a  farce and will be swept by pro-junta parties, on the other the fact that there is a process at all is a positive development, a natural progression of the Saffron revolution, and there might just be some democratic change via the National Democratic Force.

Similarly Azerbaijan’s election is reasonably predictable but still interesting, and I have written about the background before. The elections are Parliamentary: Aliyev himself will not be up for election for another 3 years. I expect that Aliyev’s New Azerbaijan Party will walk it, most of the other seats will go to “non partisans”  – or Aliyev supporters in disguise – and elections to the Nakhchivan Parliament will be insultingly rigged.

However the extent to which elections will be free, and how united the opposition will be, could prove very interesting. Flawed elections in the post-Soviet space have often been the catalyst for colour revolutions – leading to regime change on the streets in Yugoslavia in 2000 (bulldozer – not strictly a colour), Georgia in 2003 (rose), Ukraine in 2004 (orange), and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010 (tulip one and two). Early reports suggest that these elections are going to be even more contentious than the 2005 ones, with 279 candidates already having been refused registration.

The two main opposition parties – the Popular Front and Mussavat – have again agreed to work together. Meanwhile two newish parties: the Civic Solidarity Party and the Party of Hope have both claimed to have massively grown in support in recent years – it will be interesting to see how true that is.

Jordan has elections on the 9th. These are deeply contentious. Jordan’s king, Abdullah, is in executive control but he rules with the support of an elected parliament – although it had been seen as a bit of a rubber stamp exercise. Last year, Abdullah took everyone by surprise by dismissing the assembly and calling for a totally new system, ostensibly to broaden political representation. These are the first elections under the new system.

The reforms are fairly minor. There had been vocal opponents of the system who objected to the way single non transferable vote  was used to ensure independents were elected under tribal lines and stymie the development of political parties. Reformers have called for a system of PR, or single member districts, to allow the development of parties.

Instead the system has been kept largely the same: the hugely unpopular single non-transferable vote was kept, albeit it is now done in a slightly different way. Each of the 45 districts will hold a number of FPTP elections  (usually two or three) and voters can choose to vote in one – but only one – of them. This was kind of clever, the Government can claim to have introduced single member districts, as per the reformers’ demands, whilst still retaining the essence of SNTV. However, precisely nobody has been fooled

The number of seats will be increased from 110 to 120 (the extra seats largely going to the cities – dominated by Palestinian refugees and historically under-represented). The system whereby some extra women are elected by the electoral commission awarding seats to the highest preforming unsuccessful female candidates has been retained – but the number of seats thus awarded has doubled to twelve, and a new rule has been stipulated whereby only one woman can be elected in such a manner from each of the twelve regions (three of the regions are actually not geographical places but groupings of nomadic Bedouin tribes who wonder through the nine geographically based regions). In addition nine seats are reserved for Christians and three for Cirassians via reserved constituencies.

It all appears to be designed to encourage tribal voting and ensure the elections of non partisans who will support the monarchy. This is not surprising given that the system was masterminded by the King’s chosen interim Prime Minister Samir Rifai – a powerful and deeply conservative member of the aristocracy – and his deputy Rajai Muasher, a vocal opponent of reform. It all seems to suggest that reformers have been losing the king’s ear of late and conservatives gaining it.

If any political party does make a breakthrough it will be the Islamic Action Front who area  group of reasonably liberal and moderate Islamists who tend to act as an umbrella group for all democratic opposition

At this point I’m including a picture of Queen Rania. It helps break up the text and it’s not totally irrelevant.

Queen rania

Then on the 10th we have elections in Egypt. Again it is only a legislative election – President Mubarak is not up for election until next year – and there is a feeling that the poll lacks credibility: “Hosni Mubarak awaits his managed landslide” reads one headline.Mubarak’s National Democratic Party will win almost all the seats, they have allegedly done some deals with minor opposition parties to allow them to win some seats in exchange for not opposing Mubarak too strongly.

Meanwhile the main real opposition are the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood; indeed it was the rise in popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in the early noughties which led to Mubarak’s crackdown on democratic representation. The Muslim Brotherhood are banned, but last time 20 members managed to get in as independents to become the largest opposition group. They are trying to do so again, and already 57 candidates have been found out and barred. It will be interesting to see how many sneak past this time.

Finally, also on the 10th, Haiti will elect 10 if its 30 senators by first past the post, all of its 99 members of the Chamber of Deputies by runoff first past the post. They will also elect a President. This man:

will not be running, having been disqualified on reasonably fair residency grounds. However the electoral commission’s rather trigger happy approach to disqualifying candidates has concerned many.

President René Preval cannot run again, and it is thought his chosen successor from their left wing Lespwa party -Jude Celestin – is the frontrunner. However he may suffer from splits in his support: Preval had previously endorsed former PM Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who is also running.

Another strong candidate is Mirlande Manigat, the wife of former President Leslie Manigat – who won a military backed election in 1987 on a 10% turnout. Not much is known about her politics but we can assume she is an authoritarian.

Then there is Charles H. Baker, a rich businessman who ran for election last time and has attempted to build a support amongst poor rural peasants.

Another musician, Michel Martelly (Sweet Mickey):

is running. Opinion is divided as to how serious a candidate he is. Some think he could actually win, based upon his popularity with the young, others regard him as a joke who could never be taken seriously given that in the past he has performed concerts wearing dresses, wearing nappies, and wearing nothing at all. Not much is known about his politics.

Then there is Jean Henry Céant who is thought to be popular with the creole speaking poor and supporters of former President Aristide. The last credible candidate is Chavannes Jeune, who is backed by the evangelical Protestant churches. Then there are 12 others, 8 of whom have been government ministers.

There’s not much in the way of polling so no-one really knows what’s going to happen. Whilst most commentators thought it would be Celestin vs Alexis the one poll that has been published says:

Manigat 23%

Baker 17%

Celestin 8%

Which of course leaves 52% of the electorate split amongst minor candidates or undecided.

No one knows what will happen in parliament: party formation is pretty fluid despite the FPTP system – parties have too small a following and come and go too quickly. Currently there are a dozen parties in the Chamber and almost as many (and not all the same) in the Senate. No one has more than 20 seats. Expect a fresh crop of new small parties, and then for the winning President to cobble together a coalition.

This study really is excellent.

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