If I was president, I’d get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, and buried on Sunday

March 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

We have three elections on Saturday: Benin and Haiti both have second round Presidential elections, and the Central African Republic will have runoff elections in 70 of the 105 seats in its Parliament.

The CAR is the simplest so we’ll do it first. I discussed the result of the first round earlier so you can see the problem. If you scroll down here you can read the back story as to how this could have been a quite interesting election. It won’t be. The KNK will win a stonking majority and the only real question will be how stonking.

Benin has a quite interesting but also straightforward election which again is well set up by my piece here and the country profile here. Since then the only thing to add is that it is going to be really close. It also will almost certainly be delayed as final first round results haven’t been confirmed yet. Partial results suggest Houngbedji may be leading Yayi on partial results but Yayi will probably edge ahead and it will almost certainly be a runoff: Abdoulaye Bio Tchane appears to have secured a third but a distant third.

It is not clear yet how much of the psephology surrounding the election is mere speculation but the received wisdom appears to be that Yayi’s native north have voted heavily for him but the nation’s political elites and the voters they control have gone for Houngbedji.

Which brings us to Haiti and I barely know where to begin.

Scroll down here (and go to previous entries) and you will begin to get a feel for what a bizzare, problematic, and prolonged election this has been.

They vote on Sunday. After many court cases, much controversy, wrangling and at least four failed attempts at compromise it has finally agreed that the runoff will be between Mirlande Manigat and Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly. Manigat is the wife of a military-imposed dictator of the 80s and is vaguely rightist. Martelly is a former crooner who used to dance around naked and is vaguely centrist – although a bit all over the place. The main political forces of the country are kind of divided as most were motivated by support or animosity towards the Preval regime candidate – Celestin – who it was finally determined didn’t even make the second round.

Also up for election in the first round were 11 senate seats (just over a third) and all 99 deputies. Both Senate and Chamber of Deputies were dominated by the Preval/Celestin regime’s Front for Hope which has rebranded itself for this election as Inité – although Haitian politics is fragmented enough that they don’t have a majority in either.

So far they have won 1 senate seat and 10 chamber seats, with 1 other senate seat and 8 other chamber seats going to 6 other parties. The other 9 senate seats and 71 deputy seats also go to a runoff on Sunday. So it looks like whoever of Martelly and Manigat win there will be a fragmented legislative dominated by the old regime.

Sound like a recipe for chaos? Well then Baby Doc Duvalier showed up.

Baby Doc is the son of Papa Doc. He was the dictator for fifteen years, and so played a major part in shaping modern Haiti, although not as large a part as Papa Doc’s (also interestingly only 15 year) rule did. He was not as much of a monster as his father, but he was still fairly appalling. It is not clear what he thought would happen when he arrived back in Haiti after many years of exile, but what did happen is exactly what I expected: he was arrested and charged with human rights abuses and massive corruption.

So surely it couldn’t get any more unstable? Well the day before polls open Aristide is due to return to Haiti.

Aristide is a seminal and controversial figure in the modern political history of Haiti. According to his many fans he was a modernising, initially leftist and then centrist, democratically elected leader who did more than anybody to help the poor, and whose only crime was to get on the wrong side of a US administration who didn’t want anything resembling socialism on their doorstep. According to his equally numerous detractors he was a corrupt totalitarian who burned political opponents alive.

He was first elected in 1991 with 67% of the vote, the first Haitian president elected by anything which could even vaguely be called a fair vote. After less than eight months he was deposed by a military coup arguably with US backing. He was then reinstated in 1994 (again actually, arguably with US backing) and allowed to serve out the last fifteen and a half months of his term. He then successfully installed Rene Preval as his successor (having technically  come up against the term limit of the time despite having been out of power for most of his term) but irrevocably fell out with Preval in a matter of months. He was then re-elected in 2001, and this time managed to serve 35 months before again falling victim to an arguably US backed coup.

It is not clear what his motivation is for returning – he cannot enter the election in any form. It may be that with a dangerous political vacuum potentially arising he wants to start a revolution or a popular Egypt/Tunisia stype movement for fresh elections. It may just be that with the Preval/Celestin regime clearly falling he now feels safe to re-engage with politics at what – one has to admit – is an interesting time.

It is also not clear what the reaction will be: Martelly has helpfully called for him to be murdered whilst the US and much of the international community has suggested the timing is unhelpful and are trying to dissuade or stall him. This article provides an interesting alternative take on that view.

So it could be interesting. Whatever happens I cannot recommend this report highly enough and if you don’t have time to read it then this article has a decent overview of who is who.

Results time

Irish election results have finally been confirmed. As World Elections, who have all the details, said it was an epic Fail.

Updating the detail on the Chad results, it appears parliament will look like this:

MPS: 83

The MPS are Deby’s party and have an outright majority. In addition many seats were won by MPS candidates running on joint tickets with allies  such as VIVA ( a split off from the National Rally for Development and Progress), RDP (Rally for Democracy and Progress – a northern based party) and RNDP (National Rally for Development and Progress – a southern based party). You may remember these parties used to be the principal opposition parties, but how times change. In full:

MPS/RDP: 27

MPs/VIVA/RNDP: 14

MPS/VIVA/RDP: 4

MPS/VIVA: 3

So a total of 131 seats. Many news outlets are counting the RDP as effectively the same as the MPS and so quoting a figure of 11o for the MPS. In actuality all these parties are effectively the same as the MPS

UNDR: 9

This is the National Rally for Democracy and renewal, a southern based party with an ambivalent attitude to Deby. One more of their MPs got in on a joint ticket:

UNDR-PLD: 1

URD: 8

This is the Union for Renewal and Democracy of Kamougué who I also mention in the piece linked above.

RNDT: 6

This is the moderate National Rally for Democracy in Chad (they spell it with a T). In addition two more seats went to what I assume are two allies:

RNDT Le Reveil: 2

FAR-PF: 4

A southern, pro-federal state party

And then we get into the really tiny local parties:

CTPD: 2

PDSA: 2

UDR: 2

AND: 1

AND/R: 1

ART/CNDS: 1

MPDT: 1

MPTR: 1

PAP-JS: 1

PDI-RPT: 1

PLD-UNDR: 1

PPJE-ART-CNDS: 1

PUR: 1

RAPAD: 1

SONOR: 1

UDT: 1

UET-V: 1

UFD-PR: 1

USND: 1

Aside in which I blow my own trumpet: those results are not available anywhere else on the internet yet to my knowledge. The media just reported the headline figures, and the Chad election commission website only put the details up without flagging up who won – this is what I crunched to produce the results.

There is more on the story of the Chad elections if you scroll down here.

Moving on: Samoa

The HRPP absolutely mullahed the TSP, willing 36 seats to 13. I wrote a preview here explaining that that means.

Benin I covered at the top of the Page and Estonia was superbly summarised by World Elections.

Micronesia elected 14 independents as it always does. I don’t think they’ve elected a president from among their number yet.

Niger

I wrote about the background here and here. In the end Issoufou beat Oumarou by 58% to 42%, which is kind of what was expected. Most of all it appears the vote was fair

Parliament is now Issoufou’s PNDS: 39 seats, Oumarou’s MSND 26, Amadou’s MDN 24, the ANDP-Zaman Lahiya 8 seats, the RDP-Jama’a 7 seats, Ousmane’s CDS 2, others 5 – in other words the runoffs didn’t really help the big parties.

6 elections in 8 days

February 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

Or it could have been. Actually we are due a mere five as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni won emphatically enough on the first round to negate the need for a second.

First up on the 4th of March is Samoa. Samoa’s system of government is – depending upon your point of view – either delightfully bonkers, deeply iniquitous or both. 47 members are elected to the Parliament – or Fono – by multi member first past the post, although in practice it is now virtually single-member as there are now 35 single member seats and only 6 two member seats. The Fono elects a Prime Minister who has the confidence of the house and an O le Ao o le Malo – or symbolic head of state – for a five year term.

Meanwhile the politics of day-to-day Samoan life is dominated by the network of 35,000 tribal chiefs – the Matai – all of whom answer to the four paramount or royal chiefs: the Tama a Aiga. When the 1960 constitution was established it was envisioned that the leaders of government would always be one of the four Tama a Aiga. In actual fact that is not required but  – tradition being what it is – the O le Ao o le Malo has always been one of the Tama a Aiga, and the first Prime Minister not to be one wasn’t elected until 1982. Up till 1990 the Matai were the only people allowed to vote and, to this day, only the Matai can stand for election.

O le Ao o le Malo is Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi – and he is not up for re-election until 2012. He was also Prime Minister up until 1982. These days he is seen as a fairly non partisan and consensual figure but it was not always thus. In the 1980s opposition to his economic reforms led to the creation of Samoa’s strongest political force: the Human Rights Protection Party.

They have now been in power for more than twenty years (nearly thirty years bar six months in 1987)  and are most likely to win again, securing another term for Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi. At the last election they had 30 of the 49 seats and briefly gained another five when five independents joined them. They are campaigning on the success of the 2007 switch from right hand driving to left hand driving, their response to the recent Tsunami, and their desire to turn Samoa into a renewable energy and sports hub.

The remaining seats at the last election went to nine independents (which became four when five joined the HRPP) and to the Samoan Democratic United Party: a centre-rightish pan opposition grouping who won the remaining 10. However the SDUP lost one seat following a court case and two more following defections and so ceased to be recognised as a political party. Some the former SDUP leadership joined the HRPP whilst a group of 11 independents mainly comprising of the backbenchers clubbed together and formed a new opposition party: the Tautua Samoa Party.

They are campaigning at this election primarily on the HRPP’s plan to legalise gambling – which the HRPP claim makes financial sense but the TSP claim will increase crime. The TSP also want to shorten parliamentary terms and cut public spending. Part of their campaigning strategy – sending their leader to spend a week fasting in the woods in search of divine intervention – is unlikely to be particularly successful, but other parts – reaching out to smaller opposition parties like the anti right-hand-drive People’s Party (the change from right to left was incredibly controversial and led to the biggest protests in Samoan history) and the anti tribalist Samoa Party – may well stand them in better stead.

The field is made up by the small left wing Samoa Progressive Political Party and the Christian Party – who despite the name mostly campaign on Women’s issues.

Here are some former Samoan Rugby heroes Sapola and Palu telling you to vote – they may be somewhat over-egging the point:

Then on the 6th of March we have Estonia and Benin.

I’m writing about Benin for Think Africa – and will put the piece up once it is up there. In the meantime I wrote about Benin before here.

Estonia uses a modified form of d’Hondt PR to elect 101 members using two tiers (there are district constituencies and then the final result is averaged over the nation) semi-open lists (lists are open at the district tier with anyone meeting the Hare quota automatically elected – lists are closed at the national tier), a modified formula (the number of seats is multiplied by 0.9 to slightly prioritise larger parties), a 5% threshold (at the national tier only), and full internet voting (the only country in the world to do so).

Currently the government is formed by the market liberal Reform Party (32 seats) led by the popular PM Andrus Ansip, in coalition with the liberal conservative Respublica (19 seats). He formerly had an outright majority with the Social Democrats (13 seats) but they walked out in 2009 and he has been in a technical minority (as the Speaker is also Reform making it 50-50) ever since after talks with the agrarian People’s Party (2 seats) failed.

The main opposition comes from the centrist socially liberal Centre Party (28 seats), although the Greens (6 seats) and one independent also enjoy representation.  Unemployment of around 14% is set to be the big issue, and should hurt the government, Ansip’s personal popularity notwithstanding.

Here’s a jolly guide to voting online:

Then on the eighth of March it’s The Federated States of Micronesia. Elections are non partisan so there’s not much to say – the relative populations of, and turnout on, the islands seems to be the main determining factor. Ten members are elected by first past the post every two years, four are elected by d’Hondt PR across the whole federation every four years (this is the four yearly election). That makes a parliament of 14 who then elect the President and Vice President from amongst the four elected by PR. By elections are then held to replace the winners in Parliament.

Finally on the 12th of March its Niger. As I wrote before it’s Seini Oumarou vs Mahamadou Issoufou with twenty parliamentary seats still to decide. It should be close and it will be interesting.

Now here’s some results:

The Central African Republic which I wrote about here and here several times (scroll down).

President:

François Bozizé – KNK – 66.08%

Ange-Félix Patassé – independent – 20.10%

Martin Ziguélé – MLPC – 6.46%

Emile Gros Raymond Nakombo – Central African Democratic Rally (RDC) – 4.64%

Jean-Jacques Démafouth – ARPD- 2.72%

Parliament:

KNK: 26

Ind: 8

MPLC: 1

Going to a second round runoff on March 20th: 70

Chad which I wrote about here and here several times (scroll down):

MPS: 133

National Union of Democracy and Renewal: 11

15 other minor parties (details sketchy): 44

Uganda, I gave some results and background here (scroll down).  Here are the full Parliamentary results:

NRM 279

Ind 37

FDC 34

Democratic Party 11

UPC 9

Conservative Party 1

Justice Forum 1

Ireland, more background here (scroll down)

FG 70

Lab 36

FF 18

Sinn Fein 13

Soc 2

Others 14

Still recounting 13

Guest post: Irish ire

February 24, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’m delighted to introduce a new guest poster. Felim McMahon is a sub-editor and student of international relations based in Dublin. He is on twitter @felimmcmahon. Here are his views on tomorrow’s election, and they are his personal views:

IRELAND goes to the polls on Friday, February 25 in what is already being touted as a ‘historic’ parliamentary election. Journalistic cliches aside, the vote is set to break many records and radically alter the political makeup of the next Dáil*. The truly big decisions affecting the Irish electorate’s prospects, however, will decided by the leaders of the European Union. A broad consensus is emerging, at least among economic commentators, that Ireland is not just heavily indebted, but could be heading towards default if it does not get an adjustment to its EU/IMF financing arrangement and on the debts that originated in its runaway banking system. In this regard, the country finds itself caught in a political standoff between the eurozone’s creditor and debtor nations. To be clear, addressing its overspend counts for at least two-thirds of Ireland’s problems by most estimates, but the crisis is so acute that debt relief on the non-sovereign part of the country’s debts has become a pressing issue. This background and its impact on the vote, which is the focus of this piece, is critical to understanding the election.

In October 2008, the state guaranteed the debts and deposits of five financial institutions to the tune of €440bn or almost three times Ireland’s gross national product (GNP). With bank losses mounting and exchequer returns collapsing, government debt rose from 25pc of GDP in 2007 to 95pc in 2010.

Ireland has been effectively locked out of the bond markets since last November, when default fears pushed the rate at which it could borrow to almost 9pc. In response to the crisis, the outgoing government agreed a three-year deal with the IMF and the EU to provide a €85bn lending facility in return for a programme of austerity measures and other ‘reforms’, and the safeguarding of senior debt in the guaranteed banks.

There is little chance of those markets opening up to Ireland anytime soon. Last month, just over half investors, traders and analysts surveyed by Bloomberg ranked an Irish default as ‘likely’. The data also suggest that the markets believe the outlook for bank debt is also bleak. A leader in the Guardian asserts that the guarantee has “bankrupted the Irish state and dumped the consequences on the taxpayer”. Not many people on this side of the Irish Sea would disagree.

Economist and author David McWilliams estimates that 1.5 million Irish households are now on the hook for €250bn in sovereign debt, which will require over €12bn in annual interest payments by the end of 2012 — or 85pc of the country’s income tax take. He is not alone in suggesting that Ireland needs to restructure its debts if it is to deal with what the FT’s Martin Wolf rightly calls  “economic collapse, financial implosion and fiscal disaster”.

The EU, however, has so far resisted calls to either renegotiate the interest rate or write down any Irish bank debt, fearful of ‘contagion’. To say that Ireland’s prospects are heavily hinged on upcoming negotiations over Europe’s debt-resolution mechanism is putting it mildly. And the suspicion in this jurisdiction is that some of our EU ‘partners’ would be happy to leave Ireland swing. The truth is that a serious political struggle between Europe’s debtor nations and creditor nations is pitting Irish, Spanish, Italian, Belgian, Portuguese and Greek citizens against their fellow europeans in Germany, France, Finland, Denmark and elsewhere in the eurozone.

Our European cousins understand that we didn’t cheat as much as Greece did, but they will greet with horror any suggestion that the only course of action to head off an Irish default is for them to agree to, as McWilliams puts it, “knock a few zeros off the bank-debt figure”. A front page headline from Ireland’s colourful ‘Sunday Independent’ at the time of the Greek rescue, last April, may serve as a humble reminder that nations have no friends, just interests in the international community.

‘Help Greece?,’ it teased, ‘Pass the hemlock.’

The author of the piece, also a well-known TV presenter, asked: “So what did the Greeks do for us? Tragedy? Yes, but arguably we had enough of that ourselves already.” He is not wrong about the tragedy. Ireland has been devastated over the last two years, with the financial crisis rapidly becoming a jobs crisis, a social crisis, a mental health crisis, an identity crisis and an ongoing crisis of political legitimacy.

The current ‘solution’ sees its people going guarantor on an obscene amount of formerly non-sovereign debt as the EU collectively kicks the can of a far wider and deeper crisis a little further down the road. This buys everyone time to order their affairs, but that time is being bought by Irish citizens at a premium when they can least afford it.

The three main parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour) have all, in their own way, signalled their intention to negotiate a better deal for Ireland – on the interest rate it receives, and perhaps even the principal with varying degrees of rhetoric. In this regard, they are helped by the fact that the ECB has pumped €100bn in liquidity into the Irish banks which could, in a worst-case scenario, be converted into (almost worthless) bank shares. On the whole, the big three have been keen to fight the election on other issues including their radical and varied plans to reform politics, the public service and health system; to create jobs and, to a lesser extent, to reduce the deficit.

This consensus has successfully limited public debate on the issue, but the  elephant in the room has not gone away. Ranged against the main parties’ debt consensus, and making the serious political hay from opposition to austerity measures, are two leftwing groupings and a historically high number of independent candidates. On the whole, they are more focused on the principle of the debt than the principal. As Irish economist Ronan Lyons put it, the bank bailouts have given people the perfect excuse to ignore the fiscal crisis. He estimates that tax burden on Irish households arises as follows: €120pm to service banking debts at 6pc; €320pm to pay for government debt (including €220pm for the debts expected to be run up between 2008 and 2015); €800pm on social welfare; €300pm on education; €400pm on health and €200pm on capital projects. But if there is magical thinking outside the main political parties on matters economic, then it has also been apparent at the very centre of the political establishment.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan famously declared in 2009 that the country had “turned the corner”, a year before the tricolour over his department of finance was  run down the flagpole and handed to the IMF. Instead of planning for the worst and praying for the best, the outgoing administration was engaged in a game of ‘pretend and extend’. It claims it had no choice. With private debt and increased – taxes being loaded onto their backs, and with social welfare, services and jobs disappearing, the electorate are more angry, engaged, and uncertain than at any time since independence. It has created an appetite for what many commentators have decried as too-simple solutions.

The most significant challenger to the big three in party political terms is the left-wing republican party Sinn Féin, which rejects partition, is closely associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and organises itself on an island-wide basis. While it may be in government in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is still a political ‘outsider’ in the south, despite the fact that a single-party government hasn’t been in power there since 1989. All other parties (Labour, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the defunct Progressive Democrats and the Green Party) have — in one alignment or another — taken their place at the cabinet table.

Sinn Fein proposes a go-it-alone approach that would see Ireland not drawing down any further funding from the IMF/EU, and imposing haircuts on bank bondholders while protecting depositors. Its economic policies have been fiercely contested in the media and scored lowly by economist Ronan Lyons in a comparative exercise matching party manifestos with a survey of voter preferences. But ‘tough on Europe’, and ‘fighting cutbacks’  has never sounded so good to the electorate. The platform of a looser grouping – the United Left Alliance – is similarly constructed. The heavy hitter in that group is Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins, who recently challenged European Commission President Jose Barosso in a fiery exchange that drew plaudits from across the spectrum at home as it highlighted the chasm that now exists between Ireland and its ‘partners’ abroad.

The third grouping putting pressure on the big three over the debt transfer and/or cutbacks is a large field of independents. The first thing to note about the independents is their sheer number. On election day, they will comprise 233 out of the 566 candidates (41pc) compared to 108 out of 470 candidates (23pc) in the 2007 General Election. This compares to 105 for Fine Gael, 75 for Fianna Fail, 68 for Labour, 43 for the Green Party, and 41 for Sinn Fein.

Nineteen independent candidates aligned with a grouping called New Vision, which is advocating the separation of banking and sovereign debt as part of a four-point voting ‘commitment’ its candidates are signed up to, which leaves them unwhipped on all other issues. New Vision are not to be confused with a new political party of the same name, but in Irish, called Fis Nua — a kind of Green offshoot also standing on a red/green platform.

A number of high-profile independents running in and around the capital also oppose the debt transfer, but come from a more fiscally conservative background, often in economics or finance. Dubbed the ‘Irish tea party’ by one political commentator, they come minus the social conservatism. These prominent economic liberals include outgoing senator, journalist and author Shane Ross, who exposed an expenses scandal at the state training agency FÁS and other Irish quangos; financial analyst Paul Sommerville; management consultant Stephen Donnelly; and mother-of-five, law student and charity co-founder Kate Bopp (running in North Tipperary). Sommerville and Donnelly, interestingly, have raised their profile using social media, and through regular appearances on a late-night politics show. They also have the backing and advice of high-profile economics commentators like McWilliams and Constantin Gurdgiev. Expect to see one or two in the Dail, and perhaps in government. Although they are often lumped with the Sinn Fein and left-leaning groups by the establishment, their economic common ground really doesn’t go beyond the debt issue. At a town hall meeting in support of Sommerville’s candidacy last week, it was put to McWilliams that Sinn Fein were the only party in the field advocating the separation of private and sovereign debt. “Are we going to have to vote Sinn Fein or wait for a referendum that may never happen?” he was asked. McWilliams summed it up thus: “I think that Sinn Fein know how to avoid insolvency, but don’t know what to do after that; and the other parties don’t know how to avoid insolvency, but know what to do after that.”

A fourth candidate in the same vein, who opted to run for Fine Gael is banking expert Peter Matthews, who has been a strong critic of the National Management Asset Agency (NAMA) — a state body that is buying bad loans from Ireland’s banks at a discount in the hope of realising a profit on the eventual sale of the associated assets (mainly land and property), while cleansing the balance sheets of the toxic institutions. He is running in a constituency that saw the economics editor of the state broadcaster, George Lee, elected for the party in a by-election only to part company with Fine Gael and resign his seat just months later on the basis that he wasn’t being listened to. As they push for an overall majority, which would see them ruling without the backing of putative coalition partners, Labour, Fine Gael has also asked its supporters to transfer to Sommerville. Fianna Fail, for its part, has signalled its willingness to engage in constructive opposition, and to support an FG minority government from the opposition benches.

State of the parties in final poll. 1500 respondents by telephone Feb 19 — 22.

Irish opinion polls

opinion polls in irealnd

Adrian Kavanagh predicted:

Seat estimates based on Red C-Paddy Power poll: FF 21, FG 80, LB 34, SF 13, GP 0, OTH 18 (7, Right, 11 Left – 6 ULA)

 

Fine Gael

The last poll before the election puts Fine Gael on 40pc, which brings the possibility of the party achieving an overall majority of 84 tantalizingly close. Having seen their share of the vote rise in a series of polls, meanwhile, the party has momentum. Most commentators have settled around the 80 mark in their predictions, but some went the full stretch. State broadcaster RTE’s political editor Brian Dowling predicted that vote management, and the relative weakness of the opposition would deliver a majority for Enda Kenny’s party. Fine Gael might also have the option of teaming up with a small group of like-minded independents — leaving their putative coalition partners in the Labour party out in the cold. The most likely scenario, however, remains a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, perhaps with some right-leaning independents to shore up FG’s position against a Labour walkout. The draconian budgets that lie ahead for the country in any imaginable scenario will put a premium on stability — even if this means accommodating a centre-left partner with close ties to the country’s unions. Coalition with Fianna Fail, although it makes sense ideologically, would seem to be entirely implausible … for now.

Labour

After polling at up to 35pc in the months before the IMF arrived, Labour is on course to reap a disappointing 18pc of the vote — but will still double its tally in the 2007 general election. That should see its representation rise from around 20 seats to the mid-thirties. It should be borne in mind that Labour peaked in the polls at a time when FG was fighting a bitter internal leadership battle, and as the consequences of the blanket bank guarantee (which Labour was alone in opposing) were becoming evident to the public. Such a result would bring it to a level it has not seen since 1992, when Labour-backed independent Mary Robinson was president. But the slow pace of public sector reform, links to the trade unions and the party’s adherence to the IMF/EU consensus have put it in a difficult position. It faces a straightforward austerity/debt challenge from the left, on the one hand, while some voters on the right of its ‘market’ may be put off by worries about higher taxes, and the party’s vote-compatibility with a desire for public sector reform. Labour’s union links (and donations) have it anchored to a social partnership model that served Ireland well in the 1990s, but which is now associated with stagnation, loss of competitiveness and sectional interests. The last government has been criticised for securing industrial peace at the price of reform. It is possible that some Labour-inclined voters now share a conviction that party’s public-service union links and its support for the IMF/EU deal may be too closely linked — at their expense. Whether the party can balance the social democratic and reform agendas remains to be seen.

Fianna Fail

The big loser of this election is Fianna Fail, Ireland’s erstwhile party of power, which is on course to win just 15pc of the vote and return around 20 TDs. Their lowest return before this was in the high-60s. The party is now perhaps inextricably associated in the public mind with a clientelist, even corporatist mode of politics that is being blamed for Ireland’s downfall. Under three-times Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, FF seemed unstoppable. Dubbed the ‘teflon Taoiseach’, he even survived leaks from a planning corruption tribunal on the eve of the 2007 vote that shone a light on his highly unorthodox financial affairs and cash ‘dig-outs’ he received from a series of developer ‘friends’. He was forced out of office in May 2008 with nothing proven but, as FG leader Enda Kenny put it in on the steps of the Dáil, in Irish, there was ‘a cloud over his head’. Ahern was replaced by giveaway finance minister Brian Cowen, who chose barrister and former children’s minister Brian Lenihan as his treasury guardian — the best qualification of the latter, perhaps, that his polished image acted a foil to the gruff persona of the man dubbed BIFFO (Big Ignorant Fecker from Offaly).

The cracks were also apparent in the Irish economy in May 2007, but the public answered an election pitch that implored them: ‘You don’t change horses when you’re crossing the stream.’ Besides, there was still plenty of money in kitty, even as Ireland’s property bubble burst, and the main parties had converged on a soft-landing consensus — leaving the writing on the wall unread. Since then, FF has become as toxic a brand as Ireland’s zombie banks were tainted by dismal failure and financial scandal. They have suffered a reversal that has brought to the satirical Irish mind images of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq, and the deposed leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

New party leader Micheal Martin in many ways represents the very best face of Fianna Fail. Sometimes satirically portrayed as a altarboy, he has committed to rebuilding the party and returning it to power within 10 years. But while his radical reform platform for national government has scored highly with the experts, and his personal ratings are high, Martin has not done much beyond shoring up FF’s die-hard vote. Tony Barber and John Murray Brown are worth quoting on the future of Fianna Fail in the FT: “If Labour remained in opposition, occupying the social democratic space, questions would arise over the future direction of Fianna Fáil, which lacks a clear ideological profile. Though the party could soon be reduced to a rump in parliament, it would be foolish to write it off. It was once said of Charles Haughey, a former prime minister who served as Fianna Fáil leader from 1979 to 1992, that if he was buried at midnight at a crossroads with a stake through his heart, people should still wear a clove of garlic round their neck just in case. Fianna Fáil’s opponents feel certain the party will be back.”

Green Party

If Charles Haughey was often portrayed as a bogeyman, then the fate of Fianna Fail’s coalition partners suggests there is something of the night also about the monumentally corrupt ex-Taoiseach’s party. The rightwing Progressive Democrats met their downfall in the 2007 election, by which time many of their policies had become mainstreamed. Now it might be the turn of the Greens. Unfortunately, a party that did much to fight corruption in local government faces a real prospect of losing all its seats in parliament too — having already seen its councillors all but wiped out in the 2009 local elections. If there is a ray of hope for the Green party it is that their main concern — environmental sustainability — is likely to remain high on the agenda.

Sinn Fein

Set to win its highest number of seats since the days of the pre-independence Dáil, Sinn Fein could more than double its representation to 13, making it a considerable presence it the Dáil. With Labour most likely in government, and Fianna Fáil perhaps supporting the broad thrust of government policy, Sinn Fein is set to benefit from its position as a significant leftwing player at a time of austerity and financial crisis.

Recommended reading:

Elaine Byrne

Michael Lewis

Reform Card

Olivia O’Leary link

PRSTV 1 PRSTV 2

 

*The Dáil is the lower house of Ireland’s bicameral Westminster-style Oireachtas or parliament.

Ireland is having an election on Friday

February 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

I hadn’t not noticed, but I have to admit that I did think I had a bit more time. Fortunately occasional contributor Chris Terry of Britain votes has written this fantastic guide over on his site.

I’d only add a couple of things – well four. One: I love the Irish Labour Party’s election broadcast

Two: FF vs FG. It might seem odd that Ireland has two major economically liberal centre right parties (there used to be 3 until the Progressive Democrats imploded), but –  as Chris says – the roots of this split go back a long way. To the decision as to whether to accept the 1922 peace offer from the British or keep fighting for full independence. They then formed the two sides of a bloody civil war. Even so one would think that 89 years after the fact, and 74 years after Ireland got full independence, one could let bygones be bygones.

The way I see it there are two main reasons this hasn’t happened. The first is that the question of Ulster is still very real to most Irish people in a way which we elsewhere don’t really appreciate. FG have always been seen to be softer on Ulster – FF more Republican.

Secondly, so many years of deeply entrenched partisanship (Dev only died – still in office – in 1973, and he handed over to Erskine Childers’ son, so the shadow of the war was long) have meant that FF and FG have developed very different constituencies. FF are still the party of those who backed them in the war: rural areas and such working class as there is in Ireland; likewise FG are still the party of those who stood by them in the war: the urban middle class. So whilst the policy is often similar, the offer is couched in the terms of benefits to different members of society. It has also influenced their policy and their language: FF are the nationalist, populist right; FG are the economic, material, and they would say rationalist right.

I had thought- as had others – that the collapse of the liberal right meant that there might be a détente, and FF and FG might finally decide to bury the hatchet and band together against the left. But there just isn’t a climate for that discussion yet – nor are the left strong enough to merit it.

Also the Republican movement’s roots in the socialism of James Connolly and Countess Markiewicz mean that FF still have strong links with the powerful Trade Union movement, despite their total lack of left wing policy for some 50 odd years. FF are a “Kings party”;  like the Pakistani PML, the Tunisian RCD, or the Armenian Republican Party, they are the party of the establishment and of the institutions. As such no matter how bad it gets they can’t disappear entirely.

Three: In fact I’m going to go out on a limb and make some predictions:

FF: trounced but not as badly as everyone assumed because they’re just too damn big – 35 seats

FG: 70 seats – any less would frankly be an embarrassment.

Labour: if they’re not going to do well this time they never will, and yet their campaign just doesn’t seem to have sparked – 30 seats

Sinn Fein: This could be where I get it totally wrong but my feeling is that love them or hate them (and there are plenty of good reasons for the latter) they’ve come along at just the right time with momentum (they were lucky in a way in that the Gerry Adams allegations were just so so so bad that they can’t really be used against him) and with a different offer – 20 seats

Greens: If ever anyone has screwed up how to be a junior coalition partner, this was it – 0 seats

Others – 11 which sounds high but its a fragmented election and with STV you do get a lot of independents.

Four: Events dear boy. Irish elections produce some real humdingers. Anyone who likes elections should read the amazing story of Mary Robinson’s stunning win from a position of being the considerably second choice candidate for a party barely holding on to third place. That all happened very late in the day: Flynn’s extraordinarily counterproductive outburst took place only three days before polling day – and (whilst I can’t find any polls) I imagine that Robinson only actually took the lead on the day before polling day or even the day itself.

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