Confessions of a Political Animal

April 27, 2009

European Left Watch: Mini-states head left

Althing, Reykjavik

Althing, Reykjavik

April 27th 2009 represents a bright new dawn for the European Parliamentary left. With the global financial crisis throwing traditional right-leaning governments into disarray, over the weekend left-of-centre parties romped to victory in no fewer than two European nations. With a combined population a little more than that of the London Borough of Croydon.

Iceland has, since January of this year, has been governed by its first ever centre-left government, in the form of a caretaker administration of the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) and the Left-Green Movement(Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð) led by the Social Democrat’s Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who as well as being her country’s first left-leaning Prime Minister, is also thought to be the world’s first openly gay head of government. Following Sunday’s elections, this pairing of parties is now in a position to form a fully-fledged four year administration, having taken 34 of the 63 seats in the Althing, and 51.5% of the vote. The caretaker administration, laking a parliamentary majority, had required the support of smaller Progressive and Liberal Parties, with which Sigurðardóttir can now dispense – indeed, the Liberal Party has now lost all parliamentary representation.

Given the manner of the collapse of the previous 18-year old Independence Party(Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn) led government in January under the weight of mass popular protests over the immolation (for want of a better word) of Iceland’s economy, the election result will have come as a surprise to very few. The Independence Party’s result is almost painfully bad: its vote share fell by more than 35% compared to 2007 and it barely held on to the second placed position in the Althing. The Party’s previous status as a pillar of Iceland’s civil society is demonstrated by the claim on its website that it has almost 50,000 registered members, nearly a sixth of the nation’s total population. Despite this claimed figure, the Party only managed to achieve 44,000 votes…!

The four months of caretaker government in exceptional economic circumstances have given little opportunity to ascertain how well the two coalition partners will function together. The Left-Green Movement is itself a break-away party from the Social Democratic Alliance, having left over a right-wards shift in policy positions following the merger of four parties to form the Alliance in 2000. Having significantly increased their seat tally, the Left-Greens enter the coalition in a very strong position, with their leader Steingrímur Sigfússon retaining his position as finance minister. With Iceland having been bailed out by the IMF to the tune of $10bn, the inevitable spending cuts seem a likely focus point for early friction between the parties, as may be Iceland’s involvement with NATO, to which the Left-Greens are opposed. Perhaps the key flashpoint, however, will be over EU membership, to which the Social Democrats are enthusiastically committed, with their coalition partners opposed (as was the Independence Party led government). Sigurðardóttir has already announced that she considers the election result to be a mandate to commence accession negotiations with Brussels; with such negotiations likely to be very straightforward, this division within the governing coalition will have to be faced sooner rather than later.

The results are summarised below:

Party Politics Vote share Change from 2007 Seats Change from 2007
Samfylkingin (Social Democratic Alliance) Social democrat 29.8% +3% 20 +2
Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn (Independence Party) Liberal conservatism 23.7% -12.9% 16 -9
Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð (Left-Green movement) Eco-socialist 21.7% +7.4% 14 +5
Framsóknarflokkurinn (Progressive Party) Liberal 14.8% +3.1% 9 +2
Borgarahreyfingin (Citizens’ Movement) Anti-corruption/ Direct democracy 7.2% n/a 4 n/a
Frjálslyndi flokkurinn (Liberal Party) Conservative/ anti-immigration 2.2% -5.1% 0 -4

Casa de la Val, seat of the Consell General, Andorra la Vella

Whilst Iceland’s elections were a ‘wild-cat’,  unscheduled poll, Andorra’s elections – also held over the weekend – were scheduled and widely anticipated by hordes of Pyrenean politicos. These are, after all, only the 82,000 person-strong mini-states fifth elections: until 1992, Andorra was officially feudal. Like Iceland’s, Andorra’s elections were held under the shadow of the global financial situation, although with a somewhat different focus. Like most European mini-states, Andorra is basically a tax haven, something which has become very un-flavour of the month amongst the international community in the last few months. One of the principality’s co-princes, a M.Nicolas Sarkozy, has come under a certain amount of pressure in his day job (not least from a Mr Gordon Brown) to ensure that Andorra signed up to the G20’s standards on information exchange for non-resident bank accounts. It is possible that the other co-prince, Joan Enric Vives  i Sicilia, Bishop of Urgell, came under similar pressure, but this isn’t as well documented.

The incumbent centre-right Reformist Coalition signed up to the G20 proposals, committing any new government elected in April to amending Andorra’s banking secrecy laws by September. This move was supported by the opposition Partit Socialdemòcrata. Key dividing lines between the parties of the incumbent coalition (led by the Partit  Liberal Andorrà) included changes to the tax system to compensate for losses incurred by the end of banking secrecy – the Social Democrats proposing the truly radical steps of introducing income and value added taxes – and relationships with the EEA and EU. On this issue, the Social Democrats proposed developing existing bilateral agreements into association agreements.

With all 28 seats in the Consell General de les Valls up for election on Sunday (half elected through geographical parishes, half nationally by PR), the Partit Socialdemòcrata pulled comfortably ahead of the parties forming the Reformist Coalition, although short of an overall majority. However, this was precisely the same situation in which the Reformist Coalition found itself in previously, and does not appear to be likely to prevent the Social Democrat leader Jaume Bartumeu from forming a government, although deals will need to be made with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis. The difficulty likely to be faced with this is that the balance of seats in the Consell are held by the Andorra pel Canvi (Andorra for Change) party, who in fact appear to be in favour of anything but change, particularly in regards to the taxation system

The results are summarised below:

Party Politics Vote share Change from 2005 Seats Change from 2005
Partit Socialdemòcrata Social democrat 45.03% +7.03% 14 +3
Coalició Reformista Liberal conservatism 32.34% -8.86% 11 -3
Andorra pel Canvi (Andorra for Change) Social liberal 18.86% n/a 3 n/a
Centre Demòcrata Andorrà – Segle 21 Christian Democrat  Took 2 seats in 2005 – now part of Coalició Reformista
 Renovació Democràtica  Social liberal  Took 1 seat in 2005 – now support Andorra pel Canvi

All in all, when combined with the re-election of President Rafeal Correa in Ecuador  fine start to the week of International Labour Day!

1 Comment »

  1. […] and failed to break out of opposition in Albania. Positives included victories in Greece and Iceland at the expense of incumbent centre-right governments (although both new leftist governments may […]

    Pingback by European Leftwatch: The year to come « Confessions of a Political Animal — January 13, 2010 @ 9:15 pm | Reply

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