International Election Digest: New French president wins big legislative majority to advance agenda

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The Daily Kos International Elections Digest is compiled by Stephen Wolf and David Beard, with additional contributions from James Lambert, Daniel Nichanian, Daniel Donner, and Julia van Hoogstraten, and is edited by David Nir.


• France—legislature (June 11 & 18)

La République en Marche! (“The Republic Onwards!,” or REM), the new centrist political party created by recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron, secured a solid majority in France’s powerful lower house of parliament in last month’s runoffs. That follows REM’s dominant first-round result, which we previously covered in detail. Although many polls predicted a more lopsided result, REM fell somewhat short of expectations, winning 53 percent of all seats in the National Assembly. However, another centrist party called MoDem won seven percent, giving the two allies a combined three-fifths majority.

MoDem leader Francois Bayrou and other members of his party quit Macron’s cabinet shortly after the election over an investigation into party funding, but MoDem is still likely to support the president’s legislative agenda. Consequently, Macron should have little trouble getting many of his proposals passed.

This legislative dominance unfortunately leaves France without an effective opposition leadership for the time being, since both the center-left Socialist-led bloc and the center-right Republicans have each fractured between those who oppose and support Macron, making his working majority even larger than the election results would indicate. The broader left is deeply fragmented between several parties, while many on the center-right are likely to agree with with Macron’s proposal to weaken labor laws and his tax cut plan, which a recent study found would provide 46 percent of its benefits to the wealthiest top 10 percent of French households.

Having secured a firm grip on the reins of power, Macron has proposed a wide array of political reforms, including reducing the number of members of the National Assembly by roughly one-third, while also introducing an unspecified “dose” of proportional representation. Some of these reforms could improve democratic outcomes, but others, such as term limits, are part of an effort to shift power away from parliament and toward the presidency. Indeed, Macron is planning on using executive powers to push through his labor reforms by decree and sidestep parliament entirely.

As for the other major parties, the Socialist-led bloc won just eight percent of seats in parliament after many of its voters defected en masse to REM, costing the center-left its previous governing majority. However, the Republicans and their allies also tumbled, from 40 percent in the last election to just 24 percent in June. Meanwhile, the number of women in parliament surged from 27 percent to 39 percent, thanks to the fact that nearly half of REM’s slate of candidates consisted of women.

Even though populist fringe parties won over 40 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in April’s presidential race, that didn’t translate into gains in the subsequent elections for the National Assembly. Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front did quadruple its seat count, but that just meant an increase from two seats to eight—just one percent of the 577-member chamber. Similarly, radical-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (“Unsubmissive France”) and the far-left Communist Partytogether hold just four percent of seats, in part because they ran competing slates of parliamentary candidates even though the two parties had united behind Mélenchon’s failed presidential bid in the spring.


• East Timor—parliament (July 22)

East Timor elected president Francisco Guterres Lú-Olo in March and now returns to the polls for parliamentary elections. There are four parties worth watching: the left-wing FRETILIN; the center-left National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT); the small center-left Democratic Party (PD); and the new People’s Liberation Party (PLP). FRETILIN and CNRT are the traditional major parties in the country, but they formed a coalition in the previous parliament, and jointly supported Lú-Olo’s presidential bid.

The PD, which had previously served in coalitions with CNRT, hopes to grow into the main opposition party. But they may get quickly surpassed by the new PLP, formed by former president Taur Matan Ruak in the wake of the FRETILIN/CNRT coalition.

• Mongolia—president (June 26 & July 7)

Following a tumultuous campaign and the country’s first-ever runoff election, Mongolia has finally chosen a new president after businessman and former world champion martial artist Khaltmaa Battugla comfortably defeated legislative speaker Miyeegombyn Enkhbold by a 51-41 margin. Battugla’s victory means the opposition center-right Democratic Party will retain control over the presidency, and with it, the power to veto laws and appoint judges. However, Enkhbold’s center-left Mongolian People’s Party(MPP) will continue running the government thanks to its veto-proof majority in parliament.

Battugla’s win follows a divisive first round where he earned a plurality of 38 percent, while the MPP secured the other runoff spot over the center-left Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) by just 30.3 percent to 30.2 percent. MPRP’s upstart populist candidate Sainkhüügiin Ganbaatar decried those results as fraudulent, and many of his supporters likely spoiled their ballots in protest in the low-turnout second round, in an unsuccessful effort to deny anyone a majority and force a new election. All three candidates faced allegations of rampant corruption.

A major issues for the incoming president is how Mongolia’s economy will deal with the sharp drop in the value of natural resource exports to its much larger neighbor China, which has caused its growth rate to plummet from the world’s highest to nearly nonexistent. The MPP-led government agreed to unpopular fiscal austerity measures earlier in 2017 in exchange for an International Monetary Fund-led bailout. While its decisive defeat could spell trouble in the next legislative elections, the MPP is fortunate that those aren’t until 2020.

Middle East/North Africa

• Israel—Labor Party leadership election (July 4 & 10)

Earlier this month, Israel’s center-left opposition Labor Party elected Avi Gabbay as their new party leader. Gabbay is a telecom executive who had recently been a part of the centrist Kulanu party, which supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition. As a previously unknown outsider who made millions in the business world but lacks high-level security experience, Gabbay is a sharp break with past Labor leaders. That helped Gabbay in the race, as the Labor Party has not won power in an Israeli election since 1999 and, both many adherents and critics have long asserted, is in desperate need of a change.

• Iraq: Kurdistan—independence referendum (Sept. 25)

The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has announced that an independence referendum will be held on Sept. 25, after having been delayed several times since 2014. The referendum will take place both within the autonomous Kurdistan Region in the country’s far north and in disputed areas adjacent to it (some of which Kurdish fighters have taken in the war with ISIS), including the diverse oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Iraq’s central government strongly opposes the referendum and any move to split up the Iraqi state, but from a practical standpoint, it can’t prevent the referendum from moving forward. Meanwhile, Kurdish officials have said that the referendum will not automatically lead to a declaration of independence, but rather argue that a vote in favor would strengthen the Kurds’ hand in negotiating with Baghdad.

• Lebanon—parliament (May 2018)

Lebanon last elected its parliament in 2009, and new elections have been overdue since 2013. The major political factions in this deeply divided country had been unable to reach an agreement on how to conduct elections, leading parliament to twice extend its term despite public outcry. Although elections were supposed to be held this summer, parliament once again extended its term for another year. However, the parties appear to have finally resolved their longstanding issues after lawmakers approved a new electoral law in June, paving the way for fresh elections at long last by May of 2018.

As we explained back in January, Lebanon’s political system is architected around power-sharing between the country’s many sectarian groups, chief among them Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims. But this system has long been deeply unpopular and has helped produce political paralysis, although it’s possible that it has also forestalled a return to the violence that marked Lebanon’s devastating civil war that ran from 1975 to 1990.

The country’s new electoral system will allocate parliamentary seats using proportional representation in multi-member seats, replacing a more majoritarian system that favored entrenched major parties at the expense of outsiders and independents. However, the electoral districts are drawn largely along sectarian lines, which, at least to some degree, will still ensure that Lebanon’s major religious groups will be able to elect their preferred candidates.


• Albania—parliament (June 25)

The incumbent center-left Socialist Party won Albania’s parliamentary elections with an increased margin last month, gaining an absolute majorityof parliament and allowing it to govern without a coalition. The Socialists won 74 of 140 sets while the center-right Democratic Party came in a distant second with 43 seats. (The Democrats had threatened to boycott the election, but an agreement resolved the crisis and the contest went relatively smoothly.) Despite gaining ground to win 19 seats, the splinter center-left Socialist Movement for Integration will return to the opposition after previously participating in the last governing coalition.

The Socialists’ majority now gives the party an opportunity to tackle corruption in the country’s judicial system, a key step in European Union accession talks that the Democratic Party has resisted. The previous coalition between the two Socialist parties had become strained, making governing difficult, but all three major parties strongly support entering the European Union.

• Kosovo—parliament (June 11)

Despite losing seats in last month’s elections, a coalition led by Kosovo’s center-right Democratic Party (PDK) still managed to come in first place with 39 of 120 seats. The big winner, though, was the radical-left nationalist party Vetëvendosje (VV), which doubled both its vote share and seat count (up to 32), putting it in second place. VV’s success was largely due to its strong anti-corruption stance. An alliance headed by the right-wing Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), which had governed in partnership with the PDK until losing a no-confidence in May, did slightly worse, losing one seat to drop to 29.

PDK leader Ramush Haradinaj has said that he has the votes to form the next government, which would include his 39 seats, the 20 seats reserved for Serbs and other ethnic minorities, and a handful of members of the LDK’s coalition.

• Spain: Catalonia—independence referendum (Oct. 1)

The regional government in Catalonia, a relatively wealthy corner of northeastern Spain that’s home to Barcelona and one-sixth of the country’s population, has set an official date of Oct. 1 to hold a binding referendum on secession. Catalonia has long had a distinct regional identity and its own language (called Catalan), but though its government is autonomous, it lacks key powers in Spain’s non-federal system. Polls show the public deeply divided over the question of independence.

However, the national government in Madrid has steadfastly opposed the planned referendum as illegal and vows to use all legal means available to prevent it from taking place. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government is very unpopular in the region, and both the Catalan government’s attempt to press forward with the referendum and Rajoy’s promise to thwart it could further inflame political tensions.

Sub-Saharan Africa

• Senegal—parliament (July 30)

President Macky Sall’s United in Hope coalition holds an overwhelming majority of seats in Senegal’s unicameral parliament, but economic frustrations have grown over his presidency, potentially giving the opposition an opening. However, several opposition parties were unable to form a joint coalition, raising the risk that their fracture will help Sall’s allies maintain power thanks to Senegal’s strongly majoritarian variant of mixed-member proportional representation.

Former President Abdoulaye Wade, a 91-year-old Democratic Party leader who lost his attempt for a constitutionally dubious third term against Sall in a landslide in 2012, has returned from living abroad to lead the biggest opposition faction. Meanwhile, Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall, who runs the country’s capital and largest city (but is no relation to the current president), is leading another opposition bloc despite being jailed on embezzlement charges. However, he has not been convicted and contends that the charges against him are politically motivated.

North America

• Canada: British Columbia—government formation

The government led by British Columbia’s center-right Liberal Party has officially been defeated after winning a bare plurality of seats in the provincial legislature in May’s elections. In one of the narrowest wins in Canadian history, the Liberals won 43 seats to the center-left New Democratic Party’s 41, with the eco-centrist Green Party claiming the remaining three, a historic achievement for the tiny Greens. But despite finishing with a plurality of seats and votes, Premier Christy Clark’s hope of extending the Liberals’ 16-year streak in power was dashed when the NDP and the Greens brokered a deal to allow NDP leader John Horgan to become the province’s next premier based on their combined numerical majority in the legislature.

Nevertheless, the NDP had to overcome an initial hurdle, since according to tradition, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly—who has to be selected before any other action can proceed—takes on a largely nonpartisan, non-voting role, even though he or she is an elected member of the body just like any other. Consequently, if the NDP had been forced to choose a speaker from its own ranks, there would have been an effective 43-43 tie, producing a stalemate that could have allowed Clark to remain on as a caretaker premier.

Indeed, for a time, the Liberals resisted putting one of their own forward as speaker, precisely in order to foment this deadlock. The Liberals ultimately blinked, though, and elected veteran Liberal MLA Steve Thomson as speaker. While the reasons for this move are somewhat unclear, it may have been part of an effort to convince Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon to dissolve the legislature and call a new election. (Clark rather absurdly claimed to Guichon that an NDP-Green government would involve “bending the rules of democracy.”)

Fortunately for the NDP and Greens, that ploy was unsuccessful: After Clark lost the confidence vote in the legislature on June 29, Guichon rebuffed her desperate pleas, clearing the way for Horgan to become the province’s first NDP premier since 2001. However, Thomson consequently resigned as speaker to force the NDP to fill the role, and it’s likely that a new NDP speaker will indeed have to break tradition in order to get bills passed. Even then, Horgan will be relying on an extremely precarious balance of power, so it would not be surprising to see another election take place before 2021, when the next legally mandated elections are scheduled.

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