Confessions of a Political Animal

October 5, 2009

European Left Watch: Gaining Greece

President of the Socialist International, George Papandreou Jnr, into the office of Prime Minister on his third attempt.

Vouli ton Ellinon, Athens
Vouli ton Ellinon, Athens

Whilst most of Europe’s attention was focused on voting in a small country at one end of the EU over the weekend, at the opposite end of the continent another country, Greece, was electing a new government. And, whilst barely compensating for the loss of any left influence in the governance of one of Europe’s economic powerhouses last week, the result will help to ensure the retention of a reasonable sized left-leaning bloc on the Council of Ministers. It has also catapulted the 

Greece has been governed by the centre-right Néa Dēmokratía(New Democracy – ND) and Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis since 2004, following an eleven year period under Panellinio Sosialistikó Kínima (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – PASOK). Since the early 1980s, PASOK has very much been the default party of government – helped by its birth in the struggle against the dictatorship of the Generals – with brief intervening periods of ND rule. Yesterday’s results suggest that this may not be about to change.

The five year government of Karamanlis has been a relatively unhappy period for Greece, beginning with a failure to capitalise on the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics, a poor government responseto the series of devastating summer fires, through to the violent rioting of last December. Despite being elected on a promise to clean up Greek politics, entrenched issues of corruption, graft and cronyism seem, if anything, to have got worse during the lifetime of Karamanlis’ government. On top of this have come the inevitable effects of the global recession: 2009 is expected to be the first year of negative economic growth for decades and government debt is touching 100% of GDP. (more…)

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September 28, 2009

European Left Watch: Germany & Portugal

BundestagOne weekend, two elections. And two rather differing stories for the European centre left.

Germany: After what was, by all accounts, a dull campaign, Germany went to the polls for elections to the Bundestag on Sunday. This could perhaps be described as a two headline election. The first was already written well before this week: the centre-right CDU‘s Angela Merkel would win a second term in office as Chancellor. The second part was more interesting: who would she be governing with? Merkel and the CDU made no secret throughout the campaign (and well before) that it wanted to end the grand coalition with the centre-left SPD it was reluctantly forced into following the tight 2005 election. The CDU’s choice of partner was quite clear – the economically liberal FDP (who for some reason always get described in the British media as ‘pro-business’, as if the CDU and SPD weren’t), the longstanding king-makers of post-war German politics.

The SPD, going into the election trailing heavily in the polls under the grand coalition Foreign Secretary Frank-Walter Steinmeier was less clear about its preferred outcome, guessing perhaps that beggars weren’t in the best of positions to be choosers. Having, foolishly to my mind, ruled out a coalition government with Oskar Lafontaine’s Die Linke party – which the opinion polls briefly suggested could take power as part of an SPD-Green-Linke coalition, they appeared to go through the campaign seeing a forced continuation of the grand coalition as their only hope of retaining power. At no point did it look like the SPD and their Schröder-era coaliton partners in the Greens would by themselves be able to command a majority.

Fan or not of his heavily reformist brand of social democrat politics, it has become increasingly clear that the SPD is still suffering from being deprived of two term chancellor Gerhard Schröder. On two occasions he bought the SPD back from seeming certain defeat: to a narrow victory in 2002 and to a defeat so narrow in 2005 that it gave some of his colleagues four more years in ministerial Mercedes. Equally, it is clear that Merkel (or someone else in CDU high command) drove a great bargain in demanding that Schröder should play no part in the CDU-SPD government. (more…)

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. (more…)

March 25, 2009

European Left Watch: Macedonian Misery

Outgoing Macedonian President Crvenkovski

Outgoing Macedonian President Crvenkovski

The first European national elections of 2009 took place over the weekend, with Macedonia going to the polls on Sunday in the first round of its Presidential elections, choosing a replacement to outgoing incumbent Branko Crvenkovski. Crvenkovski, who had been Macedonia’s first post-independence Prime Minister before becoming President (in 2004), is from the Socijaldemokratski sojuz na Makedonija (SDSM), Macedonia’s Socialist International member party.

Following on from the SDSM losing parliamentary power in a general election of June 2008, it appears that the party’s run of bad form has continued, with the party’s nominee, Ljubomir Frčkoski trailing in a poor second, with 19.81% of the vote,  to the centre-right Gjorgje Ivanov’s (of the wonderfully named Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation) 33.95%. (more…)

November 7, 2008

European Left Watch: Endgame in Slovenia

Borut Pahor, Slovenia's new Social Democrat Prime Minister

Borut Pahor, Slovenia's new Social Democrat Prime Minister

Just briefly posting to note the conclusion of that other election saga that has been gripping the world’s attention: Slovenia is about to have a new government. We reported back in September that the Slovenian Social Democrat partyhad narrowly emerged as the largest party in the Parliament following the general election, apparently ending the reign of the centre-right coalition led by Janez Jansa.

A mere seven weeks on from the results being declared, the negotiations for a new coalition have concluded, with a new government about to be formed by the expected coalition of the Social Democrats, two liberal parties (Zares and the Liberal Democrats) and the left-leaning Pensioner’s Party. The new coalition will hold 50 of the 90 seats in the National Assembly, providing a sizeable majority, and will be headed by Social Democrat leader Borut Pahor. Pahor will be confirmed as Prime Minister by the National Assembly tomorrow (yes – a parliament meeting on a Saturday apparently!).

Despite it being centre left-led, I wouldn’t expect anything too radical from the new government – (more…)

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of (more…)

October 27, 2008

European Left Watch: Out of office in Lithuania

Seimas (Parliament) Building, Vilnius

Seimas (Parliament) Building, Vilnius

We reported two weeks ago on the first round of Lithuania’s parliamentary elections. From the first set of results it was clear that the Social Democrat-led coalition was headed for a particularly nasty defeat, with the lead party itself set to arrive in fourth place overall. Well, two weeks on the news isn’t any better, with the constituency seats now declaring.

The Lietuvos socialdemokratų partija (Lithuanian Social Democratic Party) do appear to have done a little better in the constituency run-offs that took place yesterday than they did in the proportional list based seats decided last week – presumably because the power of incumbency for established party representatives allowed some in-roads to be made against the newly-established populist parties who did remarkably well in the list votes. This means that the Social Democrats are likely to be able to claw themselves into second place in terms of Seimas seats, but well short of the resurgent Tėvynės sąjunga – Lietuvos krikscionys demokratai (Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats).

The two new ‘populist’ parties, the National Resurrection Party founded just last year by Lithuanian TV personality Arünas Valinskas who hosts the country’s version of Pop Idol (Politicalbetting considers if (more…)

September 22, 2008

European Left Watch: Breakthrough in Slovenia

Slovenian Parliament, Ljubljana

Slovenian Parliament, Ljubljana

In the early life of this blog, I promised to keep a watch on the electoral fortunes of Labour’s sister parties in Europe. And whilst it isn’t big (but is certainly beautiful), and the current incumbent of the White House isn’t quite sure about its identity, our first point of call is the republic of Slovenia, pop. 2.02 million and the richest of the former Yugoslav states.

Slovenia went to the polls yesterday in a parliamentary general election for the Drzavni zbor (National Assembly), with a turnout of 62.2%. Whilst the results are not yet official, at least in part due to the need to await overseas votes (these account for over 2.5% of the electorate and are expected by Wednesday), it seems highly likely that a coalition led by the Socialni demokrati(Social Democrats – in part a descendant of the Yugoslav Communist Party) will have narrowly defeated the incumbent centre-right coalition of Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The result is something of a surprise, as opinion polls as late as last week were giving a sizable lead to Jansa, despite corruption allegations, although the most recent polls suggested the race was tightening.

It now seems likely that Social Democrat leader Borut Pahor (currently an MEP) will become Prime Minister at the head of a three party coalition involving (more…)

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