Confessions of a Political Animal

January 13, 2010

European Leftwatch: The year to come

Ivo Josipović, the new Social Democrat president of Croatia

With 2010 now well underway, and with one election under it’s belt already, it is high time for a quick look ahead at the prospects for the Socialist International‘s member parties over the course of the next 12 months (an overview of what European Leftwatch is about can be found here).

2009 was a pretty mixed bag for the democratic socialist and social democratic parties of Europe, who for a variety of reasons have failed in many cases to reap any significant rewards from the continuing crisis of laissez-faire capitalism. The biggest story was, of course, the disastrous showing for the SPD in Germany, ending the grand coalition and ushering in (an already rather tarnished looking) right-wing coalition. The centre left was also heavily defeated in Bulgaria and Macedonia 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 well be seeing their victories as poisoned chalices by now) and the Partido Socialista’s re-election in Portugal.

With the centre left firmly out of power for the foreseeable future in France, Germany and Italy, that leaves only Britain and Spain of the major EU powers in Socialist International hands (and if you want to add Poland to the list of major powers, that shows no signs of shifting left any time soon). I don’t think the vast majority of readers of this blog are going to need reminding of the prospects for the British social democrats during 201o; basically, it seems highly unlikely that 2010 is going to be a vintage year for the European left. Below, we take a quick skim over national elections that either will or are likely to be held during the course of the next twelve months, starting with a calendar of those with fixed dates, then moving on to those with flexible term lengths.


10th: Croatia Presidential (2nd round) – This one’s already happened (in fact, the first part took place in 2009) and has chalked up a comfortable win for the candidate for the local Socialist International member. Whilst the post of President has relatively little executive power in the Croatian system, he or she does hold a degree of foreign and defence policy influence. The incumbent president, Stjepan Mesić, was term limited after 10 years in office. Mesić has had a complex political past, which included being the final president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and membership of three different parties since Croatian independence. During his tenure as Croatian President he has been a member of Hrvatska narodna stranka – liberalni demokrati (Croatian People’s Party – Liberal Democrats), a left-leaning liberal grouping which generally holds fourth party rank in Croatian politics. The run-up to the presidential election saw some degree of turmoil within both major parties – in the governing Hrvatska demokratska zajednica (HDZ – Croatian Democratic Union) over its unpopular response to the economic crisis; in the opposition Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske (SDP – Croatian Social Democratic Party) over its choice of presidential candidate. The disagreements with the SDP proved particularly divisive, leading to the popular fourth-term Mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandić leaving the party and running as an independent against the official candidate Ivo Josipović, an MP who had played a leading role in the SDP’s transition from its roots in the League of Communists of Croatia. The first round of voting, held on 27th December, saw the remarkable result of the SDP official candidate and the break-away independent topping the poll, with 32.4% and 14.8% respectively. This pushed Andrija Hebrang, the governing HDZ’s candidate, into third place (with 12.0% of the vote) and out of the contest. The candidate of the outgoing President’s party, Vesna Pusić, came fifth with just 7.3% of the vote. The first round results massively favoured Josipović in his second round run-off against Bandić on January 10th – and this proved to be decisive. Josipović swept the board with 60.2% of the vote (a far higher share than that predicted by opinion polls), translating into a majority in all but one of Croatia’s counties. Surprisingly, Bandić failed even to take his mayoral seat of Zagreb, winning only the (rather empty) northern Dalmatian county of Lićko-senjska. Josipović will take office in February, with overseeing accession to the European Union likely to be one of the major challenges of his term of office. Whether the SDP’s sweeping victory in the presidential elections can be taken as any indication of likely success in the next legislative elections is open to debate: opinion polls currently give a slight advantage to the SDP over the HDZ, but voting could be two years away yet – December 2011 is the deadline for the polls.


25th Austria Presidential After inconclusive legislative elections in 2008 which saw the reluctant continuation between the two main parties and a surge for the hard right, Austria goes to the polls in the spring to elect a President, a role that could be particularly important if future legislative elections prove equally close run. The incumbent President, Heinz Fischer – of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ – Social Democratic Party of Austria) – has announced his intention to seek re-election for a second term, possibly with the support of the Greens. To date, the SPÖ’s centre-right grand coalition partners (the ÖVP) have proved very tardy in selecting a candidate, with former front-runner Erwin Pröll (governor of the important Niederösterreich länder) rulin g himself out. With candidates also not yet chosen by the two hard right parties, it is unsurprising that opinion polls are showing huge leads for Fischer, possibly taking a little over 50% in the first round against various hypothetical match-ups. Fischer is evidently highly popular in Austria, outperforming his own party by some way, hence the lack of eagerness of any challengers to come forward.


12th Slovakia Legislative The coalition led by the Socialist International member party Smer – sociálna demokracia (Direction – Social Democracy) will be seeking to win a second term in office, having defeated the centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union led government in 2006. The choice of coalition partners of Smer’s leader, Robert Fico, proved controversial: they included the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party. This led to an 18 month suspension for Smer from the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament. There would appear to be a reasonably strong chance of Fico’s government achieving re-election: in presidential elections held in April 2009, the coalition-backed candidate Ivan Gašparovič won re-election by a 56%-44% margin over the centre-right candidate.

Unfixed date Czech Republic Legislative The Czech Republic has seen a high degree of political instability over the past twelve months, following a succesful no-confidence vote against Mirek Topolánek’s right-wing coalition government, led by the Občanská demokratická strana party (ODS – Civic Democratic Party, incidentally one of David Cameron’s partners in the new European Conservatives & Reformists grouping). Since April 2009, the Republic has been governed by an interim government composed half of the previous coalition government and half of the opposition Česká strana sociálně demokratická (CSSD – Czech Social Democratic Party), under the leadership of an interim prime minister, the non-partisan Jan Fischer (formerly head of the National Statistics Office). Plans for early elections fizzled out, and are now to be held at some point in June. Latest opinion polling suggest that the CSSD, led by former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek are on course to obtain largest party status, but with a margin of only around 5% over the ODS will certainly have to form a coalition government.


19th Sweden Legislative The right-leaning Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party) Swedish government of Fredrik Reinfeldt has acquired some significance in the UK, being seen as a major influence on David Cameron’s ‘modernised’ Conservatives. Ironically, the likely Conservative victory in May could well be followed by the Moderates being defeated in September. Right-wing periods of government in social-democrat dominated Sweden have traditionally been short, and opinion polling suggests that this may be no exception. Reinfeldt’s coalition (Alliance for Sweden) achieved a narrow majority over the Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (SAP – Social Democratic Labour Party of Sweden) and it’s partners (Red-Greens) in 2006, but quickly slipped behind in the polls. Despite some narrowing, the Red-Greens, led by SAP’s Mona Sahlin, have retained a reasonable sized lead. However, disappointing results for SAP in last year’s European Elections suggest there is little room for complacency on Sahlin’s part.


Unfixed date Bosnia-Herzegovina Legislative & Presidential Elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina are complex affairs, with a tripartite presidency – one president for each set of constitutional peoples (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs), an ethnically divided House of Representatives and two Entity Parliaments. Recent tensions within the federation make the October elections hard to call – indeed, some have cast doubt over whether they will happen in their expected form at all. The 2006 elections saw Socialist International member parties win two of the three presidencies: Nebojša Radmanović of the Savez nezavisnih socijaldemokrata (SNSD – Alliance of Independent Social Democrats) took the Serbian presidency and Željko Komšić of the Socijaldemokratska Partija Bosne i Hercegovine (SDP – Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzgovina) the Croat presidency. The SNSD also currently hold the Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers.

Unscheduled Elections that must be held during 2010

Hungary Legislative (at latest May 2010) The Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP – Hungarian Socialist Party) is currently eeking out what will almost certainly be its final few months in power, governing as a minority administration since its junior coalition partner walked out in May 2008 (when anger against the government led to serious civil unrest), and trailing badly in opinion polls. The MSZP Prime Minister since 2004, Ferenc Gyurcsány was deposed in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April 2009 and replaced by the reluctant Gordon Bajnai, who took office only after his own party agreed to the implementation of significant austerity measures. The new Prime Minister was unable to prevent disastrous European Election results for the MSZP, which took just 4 of Hungary’s 22 seats. Bajnai will stand down at the election, with the MSZP nominating Attila Mesterházy as candidate for Prime Minister. However, the likely outcome of the election is a centre-right government led by the Fidesz party under Viktor Orbán.

Latvia Legislative (at latest October 2010) Latvia’s politics were thrown into crisis by the effective collapse of its economy in the early part of 2009. At one stage, early elections appeared inevitable when violent protests erupted against the conservative People’s Party led coalition government, which had secured re-election in 2006. Following the effective collapse of the government in February 2009, President Zatlers convened talks with all parties, and early elections were averted when an interim government of five centre and right-leaning parties was formed. It remains to be seen if left-leaning parties, most notably the Saskaņas Centrs (Harmony Centre) alliance of three parties of various degrees of leftist radicalism, can benefit from the seismic shift in Latvia’s economic fortunes.

Poland Presidential (likely to be late in 2010) The remaining half of the populist right-wing twins who once ran Poland together is likely to seek re-election in 2010. Lech Kaczyński, whose Prime Ministerial brother Jaroslaw was heavily defeated by the more moderate right-winger Donald Tusk in 2007, is likely to face a hard battle as his Law & Justice Party (another of Cameron’s interesting friends) appears to have lost the affections of the Polish people. However, the challenge seems unlikely to come from the left, with Socialist International member Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej (Democratic Left Alliance) and the break-away Socjaldemokracja Polska (Social Democracy of Poland) splitting the limited left vote between their candidates. The succesful candidate would seem likely to come from the governing Civic Platform, although the identity of their candidate is not yet known (Prime Minister Tusk is considered a strong possibility)

United Kingdom Legislative (at latest June 2010) – You know the drill.

So, to round off, a summary of my unscientific and uninformed predictions for the European left’s fortunes in 2010:

Likely left gains: Czech Republic legislative, Sweden legislative

Likely left holds: Austria presidency, Slovakia legislative

Likely left loses: Hungary legislative, UK legislative

Likely left total irrelevancy: Latvia legislative, Poland presidential

Could end up anywhere: Bosnia-Herzegovina presidential & legislative

1 Comment »

  1. […] Original post: European Leftwatch: The year to come « Confessions of a Political … […]

    Pingback by European Leftwatch: The year to come « Confessions of a Political … | Croatia today — January 14, 2010 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

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